Then said he to me, See you do it not: for I am your fellow servant, and of your brothers the prophets…
Our first remark on this passage is, how very palpably and how very nearly it connects time with eternity. The character wherewith we sink into the grave at death, is the very character with which we shall reappear on the day of resurrection. The moral lineaments which be graven on the tablet of the inner man, and which every day of an unconverted life makes deeper and more indelible than before, will retain the impress they have received unaltered by the transition to the future state of our existence. Our second remark suggested by this Scripture is, that there be many analogies of nature and experience which even death itself does not interrupt. There is nought more familiar to our daily observation than the power and inveteracy of habits, insomuch that any decided propensity is strengthened by every new act of indulgence; any virtuous principle is more firmly established than before by every new act of resolute obedience to its dictates. The law which connects our actings of boyhood or of youth with the character of manhood, is the identical Jaw which connects our actings in time with our character in eternity. Be he a saint or a sinner, he shall be followed with his own ways, so that when fixed in his own place of everlasting destiny, the one shall rejoice in eternity in the pure, elements of goodness which here he loved and aspired after; the other, the helpless and degraded victim o! those passions which lorded over him in life, shall be irrevocably doomed to the worst of all torments — the torments of his own accursed nature, the inexorable tyranny of evil. Our third remark suggested by this Scripture is, that it affords no very dubious prospective of the future hell and future heaven of the New Testament. It is indeed be true that the moral rather than the material be the main ingredient, whether of the coming torment or the coming ecstacy, then the hell of the wicked may be said to be already begun, and the heaven of the virtuous may be said to be already begun in the breast of the good man. The one, in the bitterness of an unhinged and dissatisfied spirit, has a foretaste of the wretchedness before him; the other, in the peace, and triumph, and complacency of an approving conscience, has a foretaste of the happiness before him. Each is ripening for his own everlasting doom, and, whether in the depravities of the one or in the graces of the other, we see materials enough either for a worm that dieth not, or for the pleasures that are for evermore. But, again, it may be asked, will spiritual elements alone suffice to make up either the intense and intolerable wretchedness of a hell, or the intense beatitudes of a heaven? In answer to this question, let us go in detail over the different clauses of the verse now submitted to your consideration, and let us first turn your attention to the former of these receptacles; and we ask you to think of the state of that heart, in respect of sensation, which is the seat of a concentrated and all-absorbing selfishness, which feels for no other interest than its own, and holds no fellowship of truth, or honesty, or confidence with the fellow-beings around it. The man of cunning and concealment, however dexterous or triumphant in his wretched policy, is not at his ease. The stoop, the downcast regard, the dark and sinister expression of him who cannot lift up his head among his fellow-men, or look his companions in the face, are the sensible proof that he who knows himself to be dishonest feels himself to be degraded; and the inward sense of dishonour which haunts and humbles him here, is but the commencement of that shame and everlasting contempt to which he shall awake hereafter. Now, this is purely a moral chastisement, and, apart altogether from the infliction of violence or pain on his sentient economy, is enough to overwhelm the spirit that is exercised by it. Let him, then, that is unjust now, be unjust still — and in stepping from time to eternity he carries in his own distempered bosom the materials of his coming vengeance along with him. Character itself will be the executioner of his own condemnation; and instead of each suffering apart, the unrighteous are congregated together as in the parable of the tares, where, instead of each plant being separately destroyed, the order is given to bind them up in bundles and burn them. But there is another moral ingredient in the future sufferings of the wicked, besides the one we have now spoken of, suggested by the second clause of our text, and from which we learn that not only will the unjust man carry his fraud and falsehood along with him to the place of condemnation, but that also the voluptuary will carry his unsanctified habits and unhallowed passions thitherward. "And he who is filthy, let him be filthy still." The loathing, the remorse, the felt and conscious degradation, the dreariness of heart, each following in the train of guilty indulgence here — these form but the beginning of his sorrows, and are but the presages and precursors of that deeper wretchedness which, by an unrepealed law of our moral nature, the same character entails on its possessor in another state of existence. They are but the penalties of vice in embryo, and may give at least the conception of what these penalties are in full. It will add inconceivably to the darkness and disorder of that moral chaos in which the impenitent shall spend their eternity, when the uproar of the bacchanalian and licentious passion is thus superadded to the selfish and malignant passions of our nature, and when the frenzy of unsated desire, followed up by the languor and compunction of its worthless indulgence, shall make up the sad history of many an unhappy spirit. Before quitting this part of the subject, we have just one remark to offer. It may be felt as if we had overstated the force of mere character to beget a wretchedness at all approaching the wretchedness of hell, seeing that that character is often realised in this world, without bringing along with it intolerable discomfort or distress. Neither the unjust nor the licentious man is seen to be so unhappy here as to justify the imagination, that there these characteristics will have the power to effect such anguish and disorder of spirit as we have now been representing. But it is forgotten, first, that this world presents in its business, its amusements, and its various gratifications, a refuge from the mental agonies of reflection and remorse; and, secondly, that the governments of the world offer a restraint against those outbreakings of violence which would keep up a perpetual anarchy in the species. But we now change this appalling picture for a delightful contemplation. The next clause of the verse suggests to us the moral character of heaven. We learn from it, on the universal principle, that as they that are unjust shall be unjust still, so also the righteous now shall be righteous still. Just imagine, for a moment, that honour, and integrity, and benevolence, were perfect in the world; that each held the property, the rights, the reputation of his neighbour to be dear to him as his own; that the suspicions, and the jealousies, and the heart-burnings, whether of hostile violence or envious competition, were altogether banished from human society; that the emotions, at all times delightful, of good-will on one side were ever and anon calling the emotion, no less delightful, of gratitude back again; that truth and tenderness held their secure abode in every family; and, in stepping forth among the wider companionship of life, that each could confidently rejoice in every one he met with as a brother and a friend, we ask of you if, by this simple change — a change, you will observe, in nothing else than the morale of humanity — though winter should repeat its storms as heretofore, and every element of nature were to abide unaltered, yet, in virtue of a process and revolution altogether moral, would not our millennium be begun, and a heaven on earth be realised? Now, let this contemplation be borne aloft, as it were, to the upper sanctuary, where, we are told, "there are the spirits of just men made perfect; where those who were once the righteous on earth are righteous still." Let it be remembered that nothing is admitted there which worketh wickedness or worketh a lie; and that, therefore, with every virulence of evil, detached and dissevered from the mass, there is nought in heaven but the pure, the transparent element of goodness. Think of its unbounded love, its tried and unalterable faithfulness, its confiding sincerity; think of the expressive designation given it in the Bible: "The land of uprightness." Above all, think of the revealed and invisible glory of the righteous God, who loveth righteousness, there sitting upon His throne in the midst of a rejoicing family, Himself rejoicing over them, because formed in His own likeness; they love what He loves; they rejoice at what He rejoices in. The last clause of the verse is, "Let him that is holy be holy still." The two clauses descriptive of the character and the place of celestial blessedness are counterparts of the two clauses descriptive of the character and the place of eternal woe. He that is righteous in the one stands compared with him that is unjust in the other; he that is holy in the one stands contrasted with him that is licentious in the other. But I would have you to attend to the full extent and significance of the term holy. It is not abstinence from outward deeds of profligacy alone; it is not a mere recoil from impurity in action. It is a recoil from impurity in thought; it is that quick and sensitive delicacy to which even the very conception of evil is offensive; it is a virtue which has its residence within, which takes guardianship of the heart, as of a citadel or inviolated sanctuary, in which no wrong or worthless imagination is permitted to dwell. It is not purity of action that is ell we contend for; it is exalted purity of heart — the ethereal purity of the third heaven; and
II. it is once settled in the heart, it brings the peace, and the triumph, and the untroubled serenity of heaven along with it. In the maintenance of this, there is a conscious elevation; there is the complacency, I had almost said the pride, of a great moral victory over the infirmities of an earthly and accursed nature; there is a health and a harmony in the soul, a beauty of holiness which, though it effloresces in the countenance and the manner and outward path, is itself so thoroughly internal as to make purity of heart the most distinctive evidence of a work of grace in time — the most distinctive evidence of a character that is ripening and expanding for the glories of eternity.
(T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.