And I looked, and, see, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand…
We shall begin our meditation on this vision by considering the occupation of those referred to. They sing. Praise is often spoken of as the chief occupation of the saints in heaven. Nor need we wonder that such is the case. They have passed to the land of pure delight. They mingle in congenial society. Above all, they behold Him, whom they have long adored afar off, and with Him they maintain unbroken communion. His presence and voice fill their hearts with joy, deep and intense. Nor does the inspiration of their song come only from the present; it comes also from the past. Then they fully learn what has been done to them and for them during their earthly journey. This praise, too, is unceasing. Other engagements and interests concern men in this life. They have wants that must be supplied; they have burdens that must be borne; they have battles that must be fought. And these urge them to prayer as often as to praise. Even up to the Jordan's bank they must stretch forth their hands and raise their voice in supplication. But, in that better land, they enjoy satisfaction and rest. Full provision has been made, and they have only to celebrate the goodness that has done it all. That which they sing is called "a new song." It is heavenly in origin and character. It is no feeble strain of earth, weak in thought and poor in expression. It far transcends in matter and in form the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs of the Church below. These were suited to the partial knowledge of this lower sphere, but they are inadequate to the fuller view and the deeper experience to which the redeemed have risen. Of that anthem we catch some echoes in the revelation which John has given us. It is a song of salvation, it is a shout of triumph. It is called "the song of Moses and of the Lamb," and this title is suggestive of its tenor. From a danger greater than that to which the Israelites were exposed have those who are with the Lamb been delivered. Not from physical evil or an earthly enemy, but from spiritual loss and death, and from the power of the wicked one, have they been rescued. Not only, therefore, do they sing the song of Moses; they sing also the song of the Lamb. Being a new song, it must be learned by those who would sing it. But the text warns us that this is possible only for those who have undergone a certain training. Without discipline we cannot take our place in the choir above, engage in the occupations, or enjoy the beauties and delights of the Paradise above. This, indeed, we might understand apart from revelation. All experience combines to suggest it. In the material world everything has its place and work, and is specially fitted for filling the one and performing the other. We recognise in that sphere the reign of law. Every branch of industry has its own rules and its own methods. To learn these an apprenticeship must be undergone. And this is as applicable to the moral region as it is to the social and the intellectual. Place a man of dissolute habits, of vicious temper, of impure thought, of blasphemous speech, in the company of men and women who are spiritual in tone, pure in thought, reverent in speech, and what will his experience be? Not certainly one of satisfaction and enjoyment. He will be wretched. He will long to escape that he may go to his own company and to his own place. Now, this truth, which is received and acted on in all spheres of human activity, has force beyond the limits of earth. It touches the constitution of things: it rests on our nature, and must, therefore, determine our experience not only here but hereafter. To occupy our minds with the foolish, if not the wicked, things of earth, is to render ourselves incapable of dealing with the concerns of heaven; that before we can even learn the song of the redeemed we must have been prepared, for not every one can learn the new song that is being sung before the throne, before the four beasts, and before the elders. But we are not only warned that preparation is required; we are also taught in what it is to consist. Its general character may, indeed, be gathered from what has just been said. We have been reminded that to engage heartily in any occupation we must make ourselves acquainted with its rules and methods, that to enjoy any society we must have in some measure risen to the attainment of its members. In order, then, to discover what is needful, by way of training, before we can join this company, enjoy their fellowship, and sing their song, we have only to inquire by what features they are marked. They are spiritual in character, they are with the Lamb on Mount Zion, they are pure and holy. From this it follows that the education which those who would join them must undergo is spiritual. It is not intellectual only. Mere acquaintance with what concerns persons is not of necessity sympathy with them. Only when knowledge touches heart and life can there be fellowship, for only then are companions animated by the same spirit and interested in the same subjects and pursuits. Nor, on the other hand, can the training be merely mechanical. By no outward washing or cleansing can we free the soul from its foul blot; can we make ourselves pure, worthy to stand before the great white throne and Him who sits thereon. The one hundred and forty and four thousand who do learn the song are said to have been "redeemed from the earth." They have been "redeemed." This indicates that by nature they are not fit for the occupation referred to. The faculty qualifying them for it has been lost, and has to be restored. The dormant faculties must be roused and developed, the powers that have been misapplied must be converted. The term "redemption" is employed in Scripture in two different senses, or rather to suggest two aspects of the change which it indicates. At one time it signifies release from the bondage of the Evil One without; at another, release from the bondage of the evil nature within. Here it is the inner rather than the outer reference that is in view. It is less escape from slavery and danger than purity and elevation of character that is thought of. Not at once are we made fit for heaven in the fullest sense: not at once is the hold which sin has gained on us relaxed. That comes by struggle, by warring against the powers and principalities arrayed against us, and to which we have submitted. Emancipation in this view is education, growth, advance. The possibility of it rests on living faith, and the realisation of it is gradual, to be carried forward day by day. We have not yet attained, neither are we already perfect, but we follow after, pressing "toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." In His footsteps we should be seeking to walk, and only as we are doing so are we preparing ourselves for the engagements and the delights of the Better Land. That such is the nature of the redemption spoken of in the text becomes still clearer when we observe that those spoken of are to be redeemed "from the earth." By the earth is meant the lower nature, and what stands related to it. To be redeemed from the earth is to be lifted above it, to use it without abusing it, to act under the control of the Spirit, and this is a movement that should be upward as well as onward — not monotonous progress on a dead level, but achievement, victory, exaltation. It must be apparent to every one that redemption from earth means meetness for heaven, Heaven and earth, in their spiritual use, stand opposed to each other. To be subject to the one is to be beyond the range and influence of the other. We should then be striving after this redemption; we should be seeking to value aright the things around, and we should be endeavouring to free ourselves from their dominion; we should be struggling, that the evil powers within may be subdued — knowing that only thus can we be prepared for joining the glorious company above, for learning the new song, and for celebrating the praise of Him who hath wrought salvation for us.
(James Kidd, B.A.)
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.