And I looked, and, see, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand…
What can be the meaning of this singular announcement of a song not to be taught even to the other inhabitants of heaven? We need but refer to a familiar principle of the mind's operations, whose religious significance is often not perceived; by which toil, pain, and trial, however grievous in the experience, turn to comfort and delight in the retrospect. As, by the influence of chemical attraction, the most glossy white is brought out on textures originally of the blackest dye, or as the mere constant falling of the bleaching sunlight makes a dull surface glisten like snow, so do the soul's melancholy passages change as they are acted on by reflection, and the darkest threads of its experience brighten in the steady light of memory. There are few enjoyments more exquisite than the father feels in telling his son of the hardships of his early life. How he dilates on the efforts and sacrifices with which he began his career! But would he spare one hard day's labour, though it wore and bent his frame? one hour's thirst, with which his lips were parched? Not one: not one act of self-denial, not one patient stretch of endurance; for all these, by this transforming principle, have become most pleasant to his mind. On the same principle, we can understand, without referring to unworthy motives, the soldier's interest in his oft-repeated narratives. Oh, the dark and deadly scene! the ground wet with blood, and the smoke of carnage mounting heavy and slow over the dead and the dying I It is not necessarily that his soul breathes the spirit of war; but it is that these, like other trials, turn to joys, as viewed from the height of his present thought, stretching picturesquely through the long valley of the past. The same principle operates in the hardships of peaceful life. The sailor has a like gladness from the dangers with which he has been environed on the stormy deep. He interprets the almost intolerable accidents that overtook him into good and gracious providence, and sings of his calamity, privation, and fear. So all the sweetest songs, and all the grandest and most touching poetry, that have ever been on earth breathed into sound or written in characters, have sprung out of such work and strife, sorrow and peril. And why should not a new song, unknown even to the elder seraphs, be so composed and framed in heaven, out of all life's trouble and disaster; while the mercy of God, the atoning influence of Christ, all heavenly help and guidance that they have received in their struggles, shall add depth and melody to those voices of the redeemed? Such is the mystery and bounty of the Divine. Paradoxical as it may seem, God means not only to make us good, but to make us also happy, by sickness, disaster, and disappointment. For the truly happy man is not made such by a pleasant and sunny course only of indulged inclinations and gratified hopes. Hard tasks, deferred hopes, though they "make the heart sick," the beating of adverse or the delay of baffling winds, must enter into his composition here below, as they will finally enter into his song on high. There is more than pleasant fancy or cheering prediction in that language about beauty being given for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; for out of dust and ashes alone beauty can grow; supreme gladness glistens nowhere but upon the face where grief hath been sitting; and the highest praise to God is sung when He hath delivered us from the pit of woe and despair. The opening of one of the most strangely beautiful flowers, from the roughest of prickly and unsightly stems, is an emblem of the richest blooming of moral beauty and pleasure from thorns and shapes of ugliness in the growth of the immortal mind. But there is a strict condition. They who would blend their voices in that happy choir, to which the hosts of heaven pause to listen, must be faithful in performing this toil, in overcoming this temptation, in enduring this trial. An ancient poet says, it is a delight to stand or walk upon the shore, and to see a ship tossed with tempest upon the sea; or to be in a fortified tower, and see hosts mingled upon a plain. But what is such pleasure compared with that felt by those who look down from the firm ground of heaven upon their own tossings in the voyage they have with a sacred and religious faithfulness accomplished, and fix their retrospective eye on the fight they, with a holy obstinacy, waged with their own passions and besetting sins?
(C. A. Bartol.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads.