And before the throne there was a sea of glass like to crystal: and in the middle of the throne, and round about the throne…
In the understanding of this place, what, or who these four creatures are, there is difficulty. And so we shall well do if we interpret these four creatures to be first and principally the four evangelists, and then enlarge it to all the ministers of the gospel. So, then, the action being an open and a continual profession of the whole Christian religion, in the celebration of the Trinity, which is the distinctive character of the Christian, the persons that do this are all they that constitute the hierarchy and order of the Church. And before we come to their qualification in the text, first, as they are said to have six wings, and then as they are said to be full of eyes, we look upon them as they are formed and designed to us in the verse immediately before the text, where the first of these four creatures hath the face of a lion, the second of a calf, or an ex, the third of a man, the fourth of an eagle. Now, says St. , these four creatures are the preachers of the gospel; that we had established afore, but then we add with St. Ambrose, all these four creatures make up but one creature; all their qualities concur to the qualification of a minister; every minister of God is to have all that all four had — the courage of a lion, the laboriousness of an ox, the perspicuity and clear sight of the eagle, and the humanity, the discourse, the reason, the affability, the appliableness of a man. All must have all, or else all is disordered — zeal, labour, knowledge, gentleness. Now besides these general qualifications, laid down as the foundation of the text, in the verse before it, in the text itself these four creatures have also wings added unto them; wings, first for their own behoof and benefit, and then, wings for the benefit and behoof of others. They have wings to raise themselves from the earth, that they do not entangle themselves in the business of this world; but still to keep themselves upon the wing in a heavenly conversation, ever remembering that they have another element than sea or land, as men whom Christ Jesus hath set apart, and in some measure made mediators between Him and other men as His instruments of their salvation. And then as for themselves, so have they wings for others too, that they may be always ready to succour all in all their spiritual necessities. And then, their wings are numbered in our text: they have six wings. For by the consent of most expositors, those whom St. John presents in the figure of these four creatures here, and those whom the prophet Isaiah calls seraphim, are the same persons. The Holy Ghost sometimes presents the ministers of the gospel as seraphim in glory, that they might be known to be the ministers and dispensers of the mysteries and secrets of God, and to come from His council, His cabinet. And then on the other side, theft you might know that the dispensation of these mysteries of your salvation is by the hand and means of men, taken from amongst yourselves, and that therefore you are not to look for revelations, nor ecstasies, nor visions, nor transportations, but to rest in God's ordinary means, He brings those persons down again from that glorious representation as the seraphim to creatures of an inferior, of an earthly nature. These winged persons, then have eyes as well as wings; they fly, but they know whither they fly. God gives them wings, that is, means to do their office; but eyes too, that is, discretion and religious wisdom how to do it. And this is that which they seem to need most, for their wings are limited, but their eyes are not; six wings, but full of eyes, says our text. But then, especially, says our text, they were full of eyes within. All my wings shall do me no good, all mine eyes before and behind shall do me no good, if I have no prospect inward, no eyes within, no care of my particular and personal safety. If the Lord open thy lips, let it be to show forth His praise. That they speak, declare the glory of God. For this is that ingenuity, that alacrity, which constitutes our first branch. And then the second is the assiduity, the constancy, the incessantness, "They rest not day nor night." But have the saints of God no vacation? Do they never cease? Nay, as the word imports, they have no rest. God Himself rested not till the seventh day; be thou content to stay for thy sabbath till thou mayst have an eternal one. If we understand this of rest merely, of bodily rest, the saints of God are least likely to have it in this life; for this life is a business, a warfare, a voyage, and a tempestuous voyage. If we understand this rest to be cessation, intermission, the saints of heaven have none of that in this service. It is a labour that never wearies, to serve God there. To conclude all, this eternally of our God is expressed here in a phrase which designs and presents the last judgment, that is, "Which was, and is, and is to come." And, therefore, let us reverently embrace such provisions, and such assistances as the Church of God hath ordained, for retaining and celebrating the Trinity, in this particular contemplation, as they are to come to judgment. And let us at least provide so far, to stand upright in that judgment, as not to deny, nor to dispute the power, or the persons of those judges.
(John Donne, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.