I. ETERNAL REALITIES BROUGHT TO THE CONSCIENCE OF INDIVIDUAL MAN. "And I John am he that heard and saw these things," etc. "I John," the beloved disciple of Christ. "I myself heard and saw these things." How did he hear them? And how did he see them? Was it with the outward ear or with the outward eye? I trow not; for have we not read, the whole was a vision, a kind of dream - a long, grotesque, terribly suggestive dream? In truth, all outward Vision and sight are but emblems of the mental faculties of sight and sound which are within us, and which are ever active, voluntarily and involuntarily. What are the creations of poetry, the inventions of romance, and the revellings and riotings of our visions in the night, but sights and sounds? In visions John saw this, as I have elsewhere indicated.
II. THE INSTINCT OF WORSHIP WRONGLY DIRECTED. Psychology, as well as the history of our race, show that deep in the centre of our nature is the hunger for worship. Man must have a God, whatever else he may lack. He has been called a worshipping animal. The wonderful things which came within the mind of John seem to have aroused this religious instinct to a passion. "He fell down to worship before the feet of the messenger." Superstition has ever been, and still is, one of the regnant curses of the race.
III. THE RECOIL OF GENUINE SAINTS FROM FLATTERY. "See thou do it not," etc. This angel, or messenger, a man, was superior to that vanity which will do everything, almost, to attract attention, to win a cheer or receive an empty compliment. What does he say? "See thou do it not: I am a fellow servant with thee and with thy brethren the prophets, and with them which keep the words of this book: worship God." This genuine saint, whilst he repudiated the idea of being a God, humbly identified himself with truly good men of every order, sphere, and time.
IV. THE PRACTICAL ALLEGIANCE OF CHRISTLY MEN TO ONE GOD. "Worship God." What a name! The Cause, Means, and End of all things in the universe - but sin. God! The Supreme, not only in might and wisdom, but in all goodness and truth; the one Being in the universe around whom all thoughts and sympathies should revolve in all reverence and devotion.
CONCLUSION. Here, then, are subjects for thought most quickening, elevating, and devout. - D.T.
I. THE SPIRITUAL ENJOYMENTS OF THE HEAVENLY LIFE ARE ABUNDANT IN THEIR MEASURE. "And He showed me a pure river." Great cities are generally built on the banks of rivers to ensure health, commerce, and pleasure. The spread of the Gospel is sometimes set forth under the emblem of a river (Ezekiel 17:1; Habakkuk 2:14; Psalm 16:4). Here, however, we have the spiritual enjoyment of redeemed and glorified humanity imaged forth. St. John did not see a brook, or a well, but a river flowing from the great Throne. The spiritual enjoyments of heaven are not scanty. On this river the richest products will be borne to glorified humanity.
A pure river of water of life, clear as crystalI. IT IS A RIVER OF HEAVEN. They that drink of .it must drink immortality and love. "It is the river of God."
II. IT IS A RIVER OF GRACE. It FLOWS from the throne of the Lamb; and everything that has connection with the Lamb is necessarily of grace.
III. IT IS A RIVER OF POWER. It comes from the throne — the throne of God; and therefore possessing the properties of that throne. It communicates power into the soul of every one that drinks, or even that walks along its banks. The power and authority of God are in it; for it issues from the fountainhead of universal power.
IV. A RIVER OF PURITY. "A pure river of water of life!" Like the Lamb from whose throne it comes, who is without blemish, and without spot! Like the city through which it flows, into which nothing that defileth shall enter! As it pours its heavenly waters on us now, it purifies.
V. A RIVER OF LIFE. Wheresoever the river cometh it quickeneth (Ezekiel 47:9). Each drop is life-giving; it contains everlasting life, for the Spirit of life is in that river.
VI. A RIVER OF BRIGHTNESS. The words "clear as crystal" should be "bright as crystal" — the same word as in ver. 16, "the bright and morning star." It is river of splendour, Divine and heavenly splendour.
(H. Bonar, D. D.)
II. THE SPIRITUAL ENJOYMENTS OF THE HEAVENLY LIFE ARE PURE IN THEIR NATURE. "Pure" — "Clear as crystal." Are we to judge of the purity of water by its cleansing properties? Then none so pure as this which flows from the Throne of God, as it can purify the unclean soul. It can wash out sins of the deepest dye from the garments of the moral nature, and make them white as no fuller on earth can whiten them; hence, the faultless multitude before the throne.
III. THE SPIRITUAL ENJOYMENTS OF THE HEAVENLY LIFE ARE INVIGORATING IN THEIR ENERGY. "Water of life." This great river of heaven is not sluggish in its flow, but quick and rapid. It gives life and verdure wherever it comes. The things of earth are dead and barren, but when touched by the influence and grace of the Divine Spirit they teem with vitality. But the life of the soul now is nothing in intensity as compared with what it will be when it attains the enjoyment of heaven. Then it will become possessed of an immortal vitality which shall know from decay or decline.
IV. THE SPIRITUAL ENJOYMENTS OF THE HEAVENLY LIFE ETERNALLY MEET THE NEEDS OF THE HUMAN SOUL. The thirsty there have a river at which they can drink, and which will never be exhausted. The Divine gifts in heaven will be adapted to the requirements of our renewed and glorified natures. Thus the soul will be made glad.
V. THE SPIRITUAL ENJOYMENTS OF THE HEAVENLY LIFE ARE THE OUTCOME OF THE SOVEREIGN MERCY OF GOD. "Out Of the Throne of God and of the Lamb." And so all the spiritual enjoyments of heaven, in abundance, in purity, in life, in satisfaction, and in perpetuity will be the outcome of the Sovereign Grace of God as exercised through and manifested in the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ. Lessons:
1. That we should prize the ordinances through which the water of life is conveyed to men.
2. Contemplate the active spiritual enjoyment of the good.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Homilist.I. EXHAUSTLESS. It rises from the infinitude of the Divine nature — a source unfathomable.
II. UNIVERSAL. This river rolls everywhere. It rolls under the universe: and all things float on its waves. It refreshes and beautifies all.
III. EVER FLOWING. The inexhaustible fountain is always active, outpouring itself. Creation is a work never finished, for the river of Divine love is overflowing.
IV. RESTORATIVE. It at once resuscitates and cleanses: it quenches thirst and removes defilement. Christ is the channel through which flows this soul-restorative love.
Homilist.I. It is transcendental in its VALUE. What on earth is of such worth as water? But what is the character of this water?
1. It is a "river" — not a stagnant pool, a sleeping lake, or a purling brook; but a river, profound in depth, majestic in volume, resistless in movement.
2. It is a "pure" river. How pure is Christianity! How holy its morals, how morally perfect its leading character — Christ!
3. It is a pure river of life.
4. It is a pure river of life that is transparent. "Clear as crystal."
II. It is transcendental in its ORIGIN.
1. It proceeds from "the throne" — the centre of universal authority. Christianity is a code rather than a creed, more regulative than speculative.
2. It proceeds from the "throne of God." Christianity is a Divine system; its congruity with all collateral history, with our moral intuitions, with all our a priori notions of a God, proves its Divinity.
3. It proceeds from the "throne of God and of the Lamb." Christ has to do with it. Conclusion: Such is the gospel. Value river. Kind Heaven, speed the course of this river! May it penetrate every region of the world, and roll its waves of life through every heart!
(Homilist.)I. WHEREIN THE GLORIFIED LIFE IN HEAVEN WILL BE SIMILAR TO, AND WHEREIN IT WILL DIFFER FROM, SPIRITUAL LIFE ON EARTH.
1. The first truth that meets us in this passage is, that the influences which will sustain the future life in heaven are described in precisely the same figurative language as that used by our Lord and the inspired writers in relation to the spiritual life on earth. That which John saw flowing in the midst of the street from its perennial source in the throne of God and the Lamb was a river of "water" of life. This is exactly the language used in Scripture to indicate the powers and influences which sustain the spiritual man in this world. Isaiah invites men to partake of spiritual blessings in the words: "Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters." Jeremiah thus laments over the unfaithfulness of the Jews: "'For my people have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and have hewn out to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith unto thee, Give Me to drink, thou wouldst have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water." We are clearly taught, therefore, by this vision of the apostle, that while the outward condition of the life in heaven will be vastly changed, the weak and sinful body giving place to one like the glorified body of Christ — yet the life itself will be the same. We shall then continue to be what we begin to be now. Heavenly life, in its deepest and inmost reality, is begun on earth. As, in the unopened bud, there are in microscopic form all that will afterwards expand into the flower; as, in the child, there are all the incipient faculties that will afterwards develop into the full power and maturity of manhood; so with man as a spiritual being. Grace is the infancy of glory, and glory is the manhood of grace. Natural death, which, when seen from the human side, appears an overwhelming catastrophe, can have no power over that life — it only separates the germ from the material husk in which it has been enclosed.
2. As then the future life will be a continuation under changed conditions of the life we possess now, it follows not only that present experience must in its measure be the only true interpretation of the future, but, further, the glory of that future life reflects light back upon the present. It becomes us not only to fix our hopes upon the blessings yet in reserve, but to prize highly those we have already received. While we think of heaven as the one hope of the present life, let us learn to set more value on and use more diligently the grace which sovereign mercy has already bestowed.
II. WHEREIN THE GLORIFIED LIFE IN HEAVEN WILL DIFFER FROM SPIRITUAL LIFE ON EARTH.
1. Observe, as the first special characteristic of this water of life, that it flows in a river, at once suggesting the idea of unfailing abundance. Our great rivers never become dry. Generations of men are born and perform their part in life and then die, while the rivers of which they drank, and beside which they built their cities, remain the same. Some, like the Nile, have been flowing from long before historic times. "Men may come, and men may go, but they flow on for ever." And the blessings that will be given in the future to sustain the spiritual life of the believer are here symbolised by a river of water of life, denoting certainly, among other things, that in heaven there will be an unfailing abundance of whatever is necessary to sustain the life and growth of the spiritual nature. No pressing need will ever darken the brightness of that Divine home, or promote the decay of spiritual vigour. The river flows from the throne of God and the Lamb. Its source is perennial. Sooner shall all the powers of the universe fail; sooner shall God Himself cease to be God, than the fountains from which spiritual blessings flow become dry or empty.
2. Observe, as a second point, that John saw the river of water of life flowing in the midst of the street. To understand the symbolism here, we must remember that the street is the place where men meet together, where they pursue their varied occupations. And the golden undefiled street of the New Jerusalem represents the scene of the common activities of the life there. And the position of the river flowing in the midst of the street teaches the truth that whatever the occupations may be, there will be nothing in them antagonistic to the highest interests of the spiritual life. Now the street is the scene of ears and toil. Here on earth it is the place where temptations have to be met, where sin assaults and wickedness displays itself. No river of water of life flows in the midst of our streets, but rather the waters of ungodliness and iniquity. The man who longs for communion with God does not go into the open highways of human traffic to find strength and peace: he goes, rather, into his closet. He must put the world outside in order to pray for the lessening of the power of the world within. But in heaven fellowship with God will need neither abstraction nor privacy. Every occupation will harmonise with the highest aspirations of man's renewed nature. All outward things will perfectly accord with and promote the well-being of his spirit.
3. Observe, further, John speaks in the most emphatic manner of the purity of that river. "A pure river of water of life clear as crystal." Spiritual influences, the truth that enlightens, the Divine grace that quickens and sustains the spirit, are in themselves always pure. But how continually on earth they become dimmed and weakened by mixing with what is human and worldly! How strangely truth becomes mixed with error, and Divine influences marred and weakened by human passions and prejudices! What man can maintain that he has received and holds only the truth? that he has made no mistakes? that in him the grace of God is unmarred by any human weaknesses or by any contrary affections? But in heaven the river of water of life is "pure, clear as crystal"; it has no admixture of error or imperfection; it has never become adulterated by inferior elements.
4. Then observe, as a last point, this vision of John teaches that in heaven faith will give place to sight. John "saw the river of water of life proceeding from the throne of God and the Lamb." How much of unbelief and misbelief mingles with the strongest faith on earth! How insidiously doubts creep into our minds and rob them of their joyful confidence! There are times when our fear suggests that the ground of our faith is slipping away from beneath our feet. But those who will drink of that pure stream will behold the source whence it comes; they will have no need of faith, and they will have no temptation to doubt. Every joy will be permeated and intensified by a sense of blessed certainty that it is the true gift of the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb.
(W. H. King.)I. ITS SOURCE.
II. ITS PROGRESS.
III. ITS PROPERTIES.
1. Living. "Water of life" (John 4:10).
3. Bright. "Clear as crystal." Radiant with light. Illuminating.
IV. ITS EFFECTS.
(E. H. Hopkins.)Philo on the verse quoted: "The holy city, which exists at present, in which also the holy temple is established, is at a great distance from any sea or river, so that it is clear that the writer here means figuratively to speak of some other city than the visible city of God." It is evident, therefore, that the mention of a pure, fresh stream flowing through the midst of Jerusalem was a figure of a very striking nature; and we say that the basis of this magnificent description in the Apocalypse lies in the insufficiency of the water supply of the ancient city. The life of the future, and by that we mean heaven on earth as well as heaven, shall be as different from that which you are now realising as the water supply of Jerusalem would be if a river flowed in the midst, from what it is now with merely Kidron and Bethesda and Siloam and Solomon's Pools.
1. It is not a standstill life: no one can stand still who lives with God. There must be fresh discoveries of truth and duty every day; and fresh inquisition made into the heights and depths of Redeeming Love. Abandonment to God must mean advancement in God.
2. Neither in earth nor in heaven is the life to be an intermittent one. There should be no such word as "revival" in the dictionary of the Christian Church: we want "life," not "revival." You hear people saying of certain religious movings — "They are having quite a revival"; alas! and were they dead before? Indeed, I am sure this intermittent fountain expresses only too accurately the lives of many of us. The best that God can do with us is to make us an occasional blessing — a sorrowful thing to confess when there are suffering ones around waiting and watching the surface of our hearts to see whether there is any moving of the water.
3. It is not a life for which the world is too strong, and which cannot therefore be kept pure. It is not figured by a little brook, as Kidron, defiled with all the impurities of a city, and that an Oriental city. And yet how many lives there are of which we have to say, "The world is too strong for them"; well-intentioned people, but feeble in grace, and who have received but little of the Life of God.
4. It is not a humanly-devised life, as Solomon's aqueducts. Our faith stands not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. The Divine Life is not sect, and it is not system. The channel of a sect! it is a pipe that bursts when the tide of life rises beyond a certain point. The channel of a system I it is an aqueduct through which, if one stone be taken out, the water ceases to reach you. If one travels on the continent, one can see (I think it is at Avignon) the ruins of the ancient Roman aqueduct; but the Rhine and the rest of the rivers of God flow on still, full of water.
5. Finally, we may say, that the Life is one of absolute dependence, and is conditioned on the sovereignty of God and of the Lamb. Grace and the Holy Ghost are the portions of the dependent soul: they only flow from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
(J. Rendel Harris.)
The throne of God and of the LambIsaiah 3. and 53.). At last the fulness of time is come; when a strange new prophet appears, announcing the kingdom of God now at hand. "Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world." Now at last the advances and preparations of so many ages are ended, the Lamb of God is come. And then what does He Himself do, three years after, when He encounters the two disciples going back, heavy-hearted, into the country, but open to them all the ancient scripture, showing out of it how certainly Christ ought to suffer, and so to be the Lamb of prophecy. And what does He give them to see, in this manner, but that all sacrifice and passover are now fulfilled forever in His Divine passion? Then, passing on a stage farther, we are completely certified in our impressions, by the discovery that, at this same Lamb and passover blood, all apostolic preaching begins. God's new gospel of life is the revelation of the Lamb. For this, says Philip to the eunuch, is the prophet's "lamb that was dumb before His shearers." And this, says Peter, is "the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot."
1. What does it signify, that God has now the Lamb throned with Him, but that He is now to be more and more distinctly conceived as a susceptible being; to be great, not as being absolute, or an infinite force, not as being impassive — a rock, a sea, a storm, a fire — but as having great sentiments, sympathies and sensibilities. Nothing has been so difficult for men as to think of God in this manner. The human soul is overborne, at first and for long ages, by the satutral dimensions of God; filling up this idea with mere quantities; putting omnipotence in the foreground, and making Him a grand positivity of force; adding omniscience, or absolutely intuitive knowledge, adding also will, purpose, arbitrary predestination, decrees: exalting justice, not as right or rectitude, but as the fearful attribute of redress, that backs up laws regarded mainly as rescripts of will in God, and not as principles. He has always been at work to mend this defect in us; protesting by His prophets, in the matter of His sensibilities, that He is "hurt," "offended," "weary," "was grieved forty years," that "in the affliction of His people He was afflicted, and bare and carried them all the days of old." All this in words to little or no effect; but now He shows us in the Lamb, as the crowning fact of revelation, that He is a God in moral sensibility — able to suffer wrong, bear enemies, gentle Himself to violence, reigning thus in what is none the less a kingdom, that it is the kingdom and patience of Jesus. Physical suffering is of course excluded by the fact of His infinite sufficiency, but that is a matter quite insignificant for Him, compared with His moral suffering. Under such conceptions of God we of course approach the great matter of atonement, in a wholly different predisposition. We shall look for something that belongs to the Lamb, something in the nature of suffering patience, and sorrow. What we call grace, forgiveness, mercy, is not something elaborated after God is God, by transactional work before Him, but it is what belongs to His inmost nature set forth and revealed to us by the Lamb, in joint supremacy.
2. God's nature itself is relational to both sin and redemption. Sometimes we begin to imagine that the sense of sin is likely, as things are just now going, to quite die out. No, the Lamb is in the throne, and it is impossible henceforth, that a God unrelational to sin, or a fate unbeneficently relational, should ever be accepted by the settled faith of the world. Simply to think the supreme eminence there of the Lamb is to look on Him we have pierced, and see Him rising higher and yet higher, age upon age, and feel the arrows that were hid in His sorrows growing even more pungently sharp in our guilty sensibility. All the more resistless too will be the stabs of bad conviction, that they are meant to be salutary, and are in fact the surgery of a faithful healing power. We are also shown by this revelation of the Lamb in the throne, and shall more and more distinctly see, that the nature of God is, in like manner, relational to redemption. The two points, in fact, go together and are verified by the same evidence. It is not for one moment to be imagined that Christ the Lamb has somehow softened God and made Him better. He came down from God as the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world, and the gospel He gave us is called the everlasting gospel, because it has been everlastingly in God, and will everlastingly be. God's nature is so far relational to redemption, that His glorious possibilities are bleeding always into the bosom of evil. There is a fixed necessity of blood, and He has the everlasting fountain of it in His Lambhood. So that condemnation for evil, or sin, is not a whir more sure to follow than forgiveness, sweetened by self-propitiation.
3. Having the Lamb now in the throne, it will be more and mere clear to men's thoughts that God's most difficult and really most potent acts of administration are from the tenderly enduring capacity of His goodness, represented by the Lamb. The richness and patience of His feeling nature, in one word His dispositions, are the all-dominating powers of His reign. What He is in the Lamb — determines what He is and does universally.
(H. Bushnell, D. D.)I. "BEHOLD THE LAMB of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." Look at Him in the dawn of His ministry, when first He comes within the range of mortal vision — a man, a lowly man, one chosen out of the people. He lived and He died in the presence of many witnesses: what further evidence could be desired that Jesus was a man and not a myth, a lamb-like man, and none of your pretenders to greatness? His character, too, is so purely natural that the example of excellence He sets needs no explanation. How lamb-like He is I Thus you see the Lamb of God among men: will you track His footsteps still farther on till He becomes the Lamb of sacrifice, and actually takes the sin of man upon Himself, that He may bear its penalty?
II. BEHOLD THE THRONE. Let us see it first from the Lamb's side of it. Of course there is only one throne: God and the Lamb are not divided. The Lamb is God, and the interests of God and the Lamb are one. Acknowledging the oneness of the throne, we proceed to inspect it from the point of view in which the Lamb chiefly challenges our notice. You will remember that He is portrayed to us as "the Lamb in the midst of the throne." The midst of the throne means the front of the throne, according to the Greek. The Lamb was not on the throne in that vision, but standing immediately before it. That is a position in which our Lord Jesus Christ would have us see Him. To the awful throne of God there could be no access except through a mediator. The throne of heaven is the throne of God and of the Lamb. His dominion over nature always appears to me a delightful contemplation. Lord of all the realms of life and death, His providence runs without knot or break through all the tangled skeins of time. All events, obvious or obscure, great or small, are subject to His influence, and fostered or frustrated by His supremacy. The Lord reigneth, and of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end. Well, that is the aspect of the throne from the side of the Lamb. Let us now take another look and behold the throne of God. The throne of God is the throne of the Lamb. The throne of God, if we view it as sinners, with a sense of guilt upon our conscience, is an object of terror, a place to fly from. Henceforth eternal praises to His name, the throne of God is the throne of the Lamb. It is a throne of righteousness, but no less a throne of grace. There, on the throne of the Almighty, mercy reigns. According to the merit of the sacrifice and the virtue of the atonement all the statutes and decrees of the kingdom of heaven are issued. The altar and the throne have become identical. One fact remains to be noticed — it is this: the throne of God and of the Lamb is in heaven. We must pass beyond this earthly region, and join the company of those who people the celestial realm before we can see the throne of God, so as to obtain a complete view of it. Is not this among the chief joys of heaven? What hallowed communion with Him we shall there enjoy. In His Church below He has given us some pleasant foretaste of His sweet converse; but there the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall always feed them, and shall lead them to living fountains of water.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
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