And I looked, and, see, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand…
We do not, of course, take the number here specified as implying more than greatness and completeness. It is based, probably, upon the number of the twelve apostles, and of the twelve tribes largely multiplied, and expresses, as has been said, the native and not degenerate progeny of the apostles. They are the princes of the kingdom, perfect in a multiform unity, which are so delineated, equally derived from every quarter. What has won them their high pre-eminence? What has caused them to excel their brethren, so as to stand nearest to the Lamb upon the heavenly mount? Others may be pure, for the pure alone shall see God; others are redeemed, for otherwise there could be no salvation; but that which builds the thrones of the twelve and the long line of saints who come after is the following — the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.
I. IT IS PROBABLE THAT THERE ARE FEW, IF ANY, AMONGST YOU WHO DO NOT HOLD WHAT CALLED THE MAIN TRUTHS OF THE GOSPEL. Complete unbelief is yet a rare thing amongst us. But if we go a little further and inquire to what the acceptance of the Christian Faith on the part of the multitude amounts, it will be found that their belief is but vague and general, that a vast element of scepticism mingles with their faith. To a certain extent, and to a certain extent only, do they follow the leading of Christ. Whilst He speaks of that which is easy of apprehension, which accords with the natural instinct, or is of palpable utility, they attend Him closely. Lo! He tells of meekness, and purity, and uprightness, and charity; they go heartily along with Him. He warns of a judgment to come, by which the inequalities of this earthly life shall be adjusted; this squares with the conclusion of human intellect and is cordially received. But when He would lead them further, to the acceptance of truths which cannot be demonstrated, which to some extent, at any rate, must be believed on the witness of others, they recoil. Thus the duty and expediency of public worship is admitted. It is a national acknowledgment of duty, an instrument of Christian instruction; but to partake of the Blessed Sacrament involves the admission of certain supernatural powers still operating among us, and forthwith the great congregation dwindles to a scanty company. Nay, is not this sort of feeling on the increase? Just as there have been those who would not neglect prayer, though abstaining from Holy Communion; so, because prayer involves the .present action of God, we are now hearing of men refusing to pray, and reducing religion yet further to the hearing and acting out moral lessons. Thus, while the guidance of the Lamb conducts to the knowledge of what is within the grasp of human reason, men are well pleased to wait upon His steps; but no sooner does He move, as it were, out of the open country, and pass onward into the narrower defiles of a land on which rest clouds and darkness, and there is nothing to guide save His footfall, than their steps halt. They follow Him not whithersoever He goeth.
II. But we would not confine the application of the text to the case of doctrine; IT MAY WELL BE EXTENDED TO THAT OF PRACTICE ALSO. There is no more sad spectacle than that of a man whose conduct falls short of his convictions. He can admire the nobility of character, the self-devotion, the unworldliness of the saints of God; he is acute enough to perceive that the doctrines which theoretically he has accepted do, if fairly worked out, lead to a higher line of life; but, withal, he shrinks from pursuing it. He foresees how much must be surrendered, how many difficulties must be encountered, how few, perhaps, will appreciate him when all is done; and so he continues to live on a commonplace life of coldness and self-indulgence, with high principles and low practice — a splendid ideal, but no personal approach to it. "These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth!" How do they stand out, those saintly ones, in sharpest contrast with the half-obedience of ordinary Christians! Once having embraced the faith, theirs was the firm, unflinching tread of men prepared to resign all, to lose all. Through evil report and good report, through honour and dishonour, they followed their Lord whithersoever He led. Whithersoever — to the snapping asunder of closest ties, to the abandonment of our cherished hopes. Whithersoever — to the restraint of the reasoning faculty, to the submission of private opinion, to the subjection of the will, to the quenching of the passions. Would to God we might only drink in a little of their temper! There is, it has been well said, a first superficial will in man which resents opposition, refuses chastisement, as the child puts from it the medicine draught. So even Jesus Christ prayed that the cup might pass from Him. There is a second, deliberative will in man, which is formed upon reflection, and which is, in fact, the real act of volition. By this Jesus Christ took the cup and drank it to the dregs. That, whatever our first impulse, this second truest will shall in all things acquiesce in what God speaks and does about us and for us, must be our effort; so only can we train ourselves here for following the Lamb whithersoever He goeth along the infinite windings of the Everlasting Hills.
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.