"I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets."
The revelation made to St. John in the isle of Patmos, was a comfort to the suffering apostle, and a blessing to the church. "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the word, of this prophecy." The beginning indeed was dark; the prophetic sketch, was for sometime, gloomy: It unfolded a strange scene of declensions and abominations, which were to disgrace the church of Christ and mar its beauty; and dismal series of woes on woes, for many ages. The church then so pure, was to be corrupted, to become "the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth, and to make herself drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus!" When the apostle "saw, he wondered with great admiration." Had the vision closed with similar discoveries, no joy would have been occasioned by them; but grief ineffable. The apostle might have sunk under them. But they finally appeared diverse, and adapted to comfort him, and fill his heart with joy. He saw the cause of Christ triumphant -- true religion to have become universal, and heavenly glory the reward of the faithful!
When the veil which had been spread over these things was drawn aside, and they broke out to the view of this man of God, he seems to have been enraptured and lost in ecstacy. He prostrated himself in adoration of the celestial messenger: But was forbidden by the angel -- "See, thou do it not; I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus. -- Worship God." This happened at the beginning of the joyful part of the vision, when the triumphs of Christianity were first disclosed. *
* Revelation xix.10.
We are under no temptation to give undue honors to bearers of evil tidings; But even "the feet of those who bring good tidings are beautiful."
The angel having thus restrained the apostle from paying him divine homage, proceeded to finish the sketch which he had begun of the glory which remains for the people of God. When it was nearly completed, the still imbodied saint, again forgot himself, and overcome by a sight too strong and glorious for frail humanity fell down in humble adoration of the heavenly minister!
Mad with joy he appears to have been bewildered, and in a momentary delirium; but was again prevented by the angel; and the same reason assigned as before -- I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets.
This declaration is remarkable. How are we to understand it?
It should seem that this messenger from above was originally one of our race. I am thy fellowservant. --
We are inclined to believe that he had once inhabited a human body, and had his residence on earth -- that this was one of the old prophets, who having been released from the work to which he had been first called, was now serving God under another form, in a more dignified station and with greater powers than he had possessed while yet on probation.
We may mistake the Scripture but have been induced to believe that when the saints drop these bodies, and are joined "to the spirits of the just made perfect," they become angels, and are afterwards employed in the service of God, as his messengers and agents, whom he "sends forth to minister to the heirs of salvation," and to transact business for which he hath fitted them, and in which he is pleased to employ them.
Some reasons for this belief are adduced in the following discourse.
When a child of God is released from the body, he is freed from the remains of depravity, and form this native bias to evil, and according to his nature, made perfect in holiness. His reason is retained; yea, his rational capacity is enlarged; and those who are associated with the blessed inhabitants of the upper world, doubtless enjoy better means of information than are to be found on earth.
Some indeed, have fancied, that soul and body sleep together from the epoch of death till the resurrection. That during that term, the soul is chained down in a state of insensibility! That the happiness of the saints, during the intermediate term, is no other than a sleep without dreams -- a temporary nonexistence! Strange!
The thoughts of death would make the good man tremble, did he conceive such to be its nature. Here he is compassed with infirmity, and groans, being burdened. But such an existence, which capacitates him to do somewhat to honor God, and benefit man, is preferable to a suspension of existence.
Suspension of existence! What is a suspension of existence, but a temporary annihilation! -- A complete solecism! From such a state there could be no resurrection. There could be only another creation, which must constitute not the same, but another creature. The idea of a suspension of existence, is scarcely supportable; and the reality of it contradicted by every part of revelation.
Death is represented in the Scriptures, as a separation of soul and body; not as their sleeping together. "Thou changest his countenance, sendeth him away;" is a description of death drawn by Job -- which answers to that given of Rachel's --
"As her soul was departing, for she died." And a resurrection is represented as a return of the soul to the body from which it had been seperated: As of the widow's son whom Elijah raised from the dead -- "And the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived." The language of the New Testament is the same. "This day thou shalt be fellow sufferer on the cross, whose body was the same day committed to the grave." St. Paul "had a desire to depart and to be with Christ," which he opposed to abiding in the flesh. If soul and body sleep together in the grave, he would have been no sooner with Christ. than though he had lived here till the resurrection. When St. John was indulged a sight of heaven, he saw the souls of the martyrs who had been slain before that period, and heard them crying for vengeance on the murderers who were yet living on earth. *
* Revelation vi.9, 10.
The Scriptures are so explicit respecting the state of the dead, that a suspicion that they remain senseless while their bodies moulder in the dust, appears strange. The righteous dead certainly rejoice in God's presence and are associated with fellow saints. The Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, feed them, and leads them "to fountains of living waters; and God wipes away all tears from their eyes."
Neither do they remain inactive -- "They serve God day and night -- in his temple," some may say. God's temple may here mean the universe, that vast temple which he hath built in every part of which his saints may serve him. *
* Revelation xxi.22.
Surely the glorified spirit is not confined to a single apartment in the house of God, and not suffered to go abroad, and see his glory, and the exercise of his perfections in the works of creation and providence! Were such his situation, it would differ little from that of the delinquent who is confined to his cell, or prison. Such cannot be the state of a glorified soul -- of a soul released from a body, which while on trial, served as a clog to restrain the servant, and prevent him from quitting the station, in which he had been placed, or leaving the work assigned him. It cannot be the state of one sanctified throughout; of one raised above temptation, either to stray into devious paths, or be slothful in the service of his God.
Much of our felicity here ariseth from a contemplation of the works of creation and providence. In these we see divine wisdom and goodness; learn to know God; to fear and love him. The good man carries this disposition with him when he exchangeth worlds; his desire of knowledge, and especially the knowledge of God, and the works and ways of God. And is there not reason to believe that glorified saints have power and liberty to range among the works of the all perfect Sovereign; trace the evidences of the divine perfections, and witness their effects, and that this is one source of their happiness?
A relish for knowledge is a quality of the mind, natural to it, and inseparable from it. We observe it in children, who at an early period discover a desire of information, and perpetually seek it by questioning those more advanced. The same disposition is resident in adults, and productive of the attainments in science which both delight the mind and dignify the man. In heaven, the glorified spirit, hath doubtless advantages for attaining the knowledge of God and divine things, and opportunity to satisfy his desire after it, if it can be satisfied; for it is itself a happiness. It gives a zest to information, and will probably continue, and be an endless source of enjoyment. The creature may never know so much of god as to desire no farther knowledge of him; or so much of the works and ways of god, as to with no increase of that knowledge. Acquisitions in knowledge and enjoyment may progress together in the world of spirits. And who can fix their limits? They may be as boundless as eternity!
Turn now your thoughts on Sir Isaac Newton that renowned philosopher and Christian. Was his enlarged and inquisitive mind satisfied at death? Did not he carry with him a desire to visit every planet, not only of our own but of other systems, and pry into the arcana of nature to be found in them all? If enabled and permitted, he may still be ranging among the works of God, to learn yet more of his wisdom, power and goodness, in his works and ways, which are unsearchable, and past the comprehension of created beings! Probably other glorified Spirits have a Share; it, may be a large share of the same temper.
And if they are capable of bearing the message of their divine Sovereign, or doing aught for his honor, it must be a pleasure to glorified spirits to be so employed. Here the good man delights to serve the Lord. Will this cease to be his disposition when the remains of depravity shall be done away? Will not this disposition be increased and strengthened? Or is there reason to think that those will have no power to serve God, who are freed from sluggish bodies?
Of certain glorified spirits it was declared to the apostle, as we have seen, that they "serve God day and night" -- They have no need of rest -- they never grow weary. How they serve God without the use of bodily organs, is to us unknown. But it doth not follow that they are incapable of it. God can give them power, and teach them to accomplish all his pleasure.
That departed saints have sometimes been sent down to our world, to make known God's will, and deliver his messages, we believe to be taught in the scriptures -- I am thy fellow servant and of thy brethren the prophets.
Who not of our race could have made such a declaration? A fellowservant, is a servant of the same species, or rank. Our fellows are our equals; those of the same class in creation. Brutes are creatures; but we do not consider them as fellow creatures. We might, however, with as much propriety as the angel could call himself John's fellowservant, had he belonged to another species, or class or servants.
The term prophet, carries, in our apprehension, the same thing in it -- speaks the heavenly messenger to have been one of our race. By prophets, we understand inspired men. We believe this to be every where its meaning in the scriptures. And the term brethren -- "of thy brethren the prophets", confirms our sense of the text -- I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets. Strange language, if this was one of the angels who kept their first estate; one who never dwelt in flesh, nor inhabited a human body! But if this was one of the old prophets, Samuel, Nathan, Daniel, or any other of those who had tabernacled in flesh, and been sent to warn his brethren, and foretell things to come, the language is easy and natural. *
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* Sundulos sou gar eimi, xai ton adelphon sou ton prophaton. Doct. Doddridge in his notes on this passage observes, that it may be rendered I am thy fellow servant and the fellow servant of thy brethren the prophets.
But the translation in the Bible is perfectly literal. The sentence is elliptical. The elipsis may as well be filled by tis, as by sundoulos. If filled by the former, it reads thus, I am a fellow servant, and one of the brethren the prophets. This, for the reasons given above, we conceive to be the sense of the passage. The learned reader wilt judge for himself.
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If we search the scriptures, we shall see that the saints whose bodies were in the grave, have been sometimes thus used of God.
When Saul went to consult the powers of darkness, because the Lord did not answer him in the time of his distress, Samuel, who had died some time before, was sent of God to reprove that rebellious prince, and denounce his doom.
Some indeed suppose that the apparition was not Samuel, but an infernal! But the sacred historian represents it as being Samuel, and why should we reject his testimony?
The sorceress had not power by her charms, to call back the prophet from the world of spirits. But God had power to send him on his business; to enable him to make himself visible, and foretel the evils which then hung over Saul and Israel: And from several considerations we think it evident that he did do it.
The woman appears to have been surprized when she saw Samuel. To her, he was an unexpected visitor. By his means she found out Saul, whom before she did not know in his disguise. -- Apostate spirits if they ever gave responses to those who consulted them, commonly flattered them in their crimes, or gave ambiguous answers to their inquiries; but not so the ghost which appeared on this occasion. Most pointedly did it reprove the abandoned prince, who was adding iniquity to transgression, and hardening himself in the time of trouble! And most expressly did it foretel the evils which were coming on the offending inquirer, his family and people! Could an apostate spirit have done these things? Or would he if he could? God hath sometimes used wicked men to foretel future events, and compelled them to denounce his judgments; but have we any account of his making this use of fallen angels? Of his making known his purposes to them, and enabling them to give the genuine proof of true prophets? It is further observable, that part of the message related to taking the kingdom from Saul, and giving it to David -- "The Lord hath done to him as he spake by me," is his language. God had foretold this by Samuel; not by Satan, or a messenger of Satan.
There is every reason to believe that Samuel really appeared on this occasion -- that God sent him to deliver the sad message to the impious rebel, who instead of humbling himself in the time of his trouble, sinned yet more against the Lord.
If we attribute these divine communications to infernal agency, why not others? If once we turn aside from the literal sense of scripture, where shall we stop? But should we doubt whether in this instance, a departed saint was sent down to visit earth, and transact the business of HIM who is Lord of all, other instances may certainly be adduced -- if not in the Old Testament, yet beyond a doubt in the New. But this will be the subject of another discourse.