And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives to the death.
They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, etc. Without attempting to identify "Michael and his angels," or "the dragon and his angels," or the "heaven" where no longer "place" was "found any more" for them; nor attempting to explain exactly what is meant by the dragon being "cast out into the earth," or how he "accused" the "brethren... before our God day and night" — what all this means none know; but we may take the text as telling of that holy war which all Christians have to wage, and of the weapons whereby they overcome. Note -
I. THE PEOPLE WHO OVERCAME. Those spoken of:
1. Stand for the whole Church of God, the whole company of the redeemed. "There is no discharge in this war." Not one will be in glory by and by who has not waged, who has not won, this holy war. We, as they, must take our part. And:
2. They did as we must. We paint fancy pictures of the saints in glory, as if they were beings different from ourselves, and had never known the strain and stress of life as we know them. But they did know it all. Christ, our Lord, was "in all things made like unto his brethren," and therefore all of them have the common characteristics of this warfare upon them. Only:
3. The lot of those specially referred to here was harder than ours. Had St. John lived in our days of quiet ease, when persecution, much less death, for Christ's sake is a thing unknown or most rare, he would hardly have used imagery of so tremendous a kind as he has here. But it was because the trial was so terrible for all those "who would live godly in Christ Jesus," the foe so fierce and cruel and strong in those dreadful days during which St. John wrote, that imagery so vivid, startling, and terrific is made use of. But it would be affectation if we were to say our lot today is as theirs was in St. John's day. How much more, then, may God require from us than from them! Will he obtain it?
4. In this holy war they all fought. It was not merely appointed for all, but accepted by all of them. They did not refuse or retreat from it. That was not their way. Like as the brave little drummer-boy, when captured by the French army, was bidden sound the "retreat," he replied that he did not know how to, for the British army never retreated; so may it be said of every true soldier of Christ's army - they never retreat.
5. And they overcame. "Oh, remember the slaves of sin are not the children of God. If Satan has dominion over you, you are not in Christ Jesus. Where the ark of the Lord is, Dagon must fall upon his face and be broken. 'That which is born of God overcometh the world.' Are we, then, resisting? are we conquering? Do not let us deceive ourselves. If sin is our master, we perish. Grace must reign in us, or we are wretched indeed. Holiness is not a luxury for the few, it is a necessity for all."
II. THE POWER IN VIRTUE OF WHICH THEY OVERCAME. It is said that this was:
1. By the blood of the Lamb, i.e. in virtue of, on account of, on the ground of, that blood. Now this is so because the blood of the Lamb is:
(1) The basis of our peace. There must be steady standing ground if a man is to fight. The engineer is very careful to have firm foundation for his work. And if we are to contend in this warfare, our souls must be at peace in regard to our acceptance with God. The torture of doubt and the torment of fear will be fatal to our accomplishing aught worthy of the name. We must have peace with God; and we have this only in virtue of Christ's atoning sacrifice.
(2) The antidote of our sin. Many think the doctrine of full, free forgiveness through the blood of Christ a doctrine that encourages men in sin. They argue that what is so freely forgiven will be freely incurred. The elder son in the parable thought it was scandalous that his young ne'er do well of a brother should be so freely forgiven by his father, and so "he was angry, and would not go in." And there have ever been people who have thought this. But we appeal to the records of the Church. Who have been the most faithful, the most pure, the most Christ like? Has it not been they who have clung, like Paul did, to this blessed truth with all their hearts? And we appeal to experience. Is it not the memory of our crucified Lord that is mighty to the purification of the heart? Can the recollection of his love and the love of sin abide together? It is impossible. So does the blood of Christ cleanse us from all sin.
(3) Worketh in us patience. How this is needed, in such a warfare as that which the much tried believer has to wage, is evident. Blessed is he that endureth. But what an aid to such patient enduring is found in the example of our Lord! We think of him in all his holy meekness; how "as a sheep before her shearers is dumb," etc. And as we contemplate that perfect pattern of patient enduring of wrong, how our own trials and sorrows become little, and less and less in comparison with his!
(4) The inspiration of our love. "Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself," said Napoleon, "founded great empires; but upon what did the creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded his empire upon love, and to this very day millions would die for him." Thus does the blood of the Lamb become to us a power indeed, in virtue of which we overcome.
2. The word of their testimony. This is joined on to that which we have but now spoken of. For the blood of the Lamb, unseen, unbelieved, unaccepted, will do no one any good, will aid no one to overcome; but it is when that blood is seen, believed, accepted, and confessed by the word of their testimony, the open avowal, the good confession - then, in virtue of this, the Father confesses them. In response to the word of their testimony goes forth the word of his power, and they become mighty through God. Committing ourselves to any course, breaking down the bridges, burning the ships that would help us to retreat - such conduct greatly strengthens purpose and resolve. And so, when by spoken word of testimony for Christ we have committed ourselves to follow and serve him, the very fact that we have done this strengthens us and gives us fresh force for his service. Both by way of Divine reward, and by way of natural consequence such word of testimony Would help to overcome.
III. THE PROOF OF THE OVERCOMING. "They loved not their lives unto the death." They went on resisting, when not only it involved much suffering and distress, but even when it involved death itself. That is the meaning. And what proof of overcoming is there comparable to this? As at Waterloo, when the English forces endured, all that long summer Sunday, the fierce and incessant cannonading of the French, together with their repeated charges, led as they were by the most famous of the marshals of France, what did such endurance show but that they were not to be conquered? And so the resistance told of in Christ's holy war - the loving "not our lives unto," etc. - this shows that we are not to be conquered, but will conquer, will overcome. If we see a man swerve, and edge back, and shift his ground, and retreat, that is not a proof of victory, but vanquishment. But he who is steadfast, immovable, even though death threaten, neither sin nor Satan will ever conquer him. Are we giving this proof of our really belonging to the number of the overcoming ones? When the adversary assails us, as we know he does, do we or does he gain the victory - which? Let us not think that there is any other proof of our being victors at last beside this one of our being, in the main, victors now. It will not do to rely on anything else, however specious, however plausible, however popular. It is in the overcoming now that we have the evidence that we shall be victors at the end. And that we may now overcome, let us draw near unto our crucified Lord, and come under the influence of his unspeakable love. And confess him. So shall our text then become true of us, as God grant it may be of us all! - S. C.
Parallel VersesKJV: And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.