And before the throne was something like a sea of glass, as clear as crystal. In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, covered with eyes in front and back.
I. REVIEW THE SCRIPTURE NOTICES OF THE CHERUBIM. They are mentioned in connection:
1. With the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden. We read, "So he drove out the man, and he placed at the east end of the garden of Eden cherubim, and a flaming sword, which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24). Now, from this passage we learn but little as to the nature of these exalted beings - only that they were deemed worthy to occupy the place where alone perfect righteousness could dwell. But from the word rendered "to place," which signifies rather "to place in a tabernacle," and from expressions which we find in Revelation 14:14-16, it seems as if this "place" wherein God had appointed the cherubim had become a sort of local tabernacle, and was called "the presence of the Lord," from which Cain mourned that he was driven out; and so for a long time it remained, probably until the Deluge. For how else could the idea of the cherubim, so connected with that place, and apparently so familiar to the Jews, have continued in their minds? That it did so is shown by the fact that Bezaleel (Exodus 31.), when he was bidden make cherubim of gold for the ark of God, knew exactly what he was to do. Here, as at Eden, they were where sinful man could not approach. Then the next mention of them is:
2. In connection with the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:18-20). Such were the commands of him who, but a little while before, amid all the majesty and awe of Sinai, had commanded, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, nor any likeness of anything," etc. (Exodus 20.). This command was engraven upon stone, and placed within that very ark of the covenant upon which the golden cherubim stood. And Solomon, too, with apparently the full concurrence of David and of the priests of the Lord, substituted for these cherubim, or else added to them, two others of colossal size, whose wings, stretching overhead, filled the most holy place in his new and gorgeous temple (1 Kings 6:23). Besides this, the figures of cherubim were multiplied in the varied forms of gold work and tapestry which were about the temple. Woven into curtains, placed as supports of the priests' laver at the entrance of the sanctuary, they were found on all sides, although they certainly seemed like plain contradiction and disobedience to the law which forbade the making of all such images. But we have no clear idea what they were like. We are told only of their wings, their faces, and their posture - not anything more. And the command against graven images helps us, I think, to understand partly what they were not. For that command contemplates only objects, regarded as sacred, which might be used as idols and for worship. And these cherubim fulfilled the very letter as well as the spirit of the Law. They were unlike "anything in heaven above," etc. If you seek to put together the various descriptions given of them in the Bible, you get an impossible combination, an unnatural union of bodily parts and organs, such as no known creature of God ever possessed. And still less were they designed to represent the supreme God. They were simply symbols divinely appointed, the meaning of which it is ours to discover. Then:
3. Isaiah's and Ezekiel's visions. (Isaiah 6.; Ezekiel 1:10.) Ezekiel describes certain "living ones" that he saw in vision. In Revelation 10. he sees again, but now in Jerusalem, these "living ones;" and he says, "This is the living one that I saw under the God of Israel by the river of Chebar, and I knew that they were the cherubim." And then he proceeds (Revelation 10.) to describe them. And:
4. In the vision of St. John. (Cf. Revelation 4:6-9.) With slight modifications, it is evident that we have the same mysterious beings referred to. Therefore inquire -
II. WHOM DO THEY REPRESENT? They are called "living ones," and therefore not the mere elemental forces of nature. This has been argued from Psalm 18:10, where it is written, "He rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind." But the swiftness of movement attributed to these beings, their many wings, so that Ezekiel compares their going to "a flash of lightning," is sufficient to account for what we read in the psalm. But now, gathering together the scattered notices of them which we have reviewed, we learn:
1. They represent servants of God. Every passage that speaks of them shows this. In Eden; in the tabernacle and temple; in Isaiah's vision in the temple, and in Ezekiel's; so, too, in St. John's.
2. Chief ministers of God. See how near they are to him, standing to represent him or in closest attendance upon him.
3. But human, not merely creatural and sentient. From the creature forms, or rather countenances, ascribed to these "living ones," they have been regarded as representations of God's sentient creation (cf. homily on vers. 1-11). But they worship God; they join in the song, "Worthy is the Lamb;" they are in sympathy with God's servants here on earth, bearing golden censers "full of odours, which are the prayers of saints." So, then, as they are chosen and chief amongst the servants of God, so also are they human. But:
4. Holy also. These "living ones" represent, not humanity as we see it, but as it shall be in the presence of God by and by. Their position in Eden, where no sin might be, and in the most holy place, and in closest attendance upon the throne and upon him that sat upon it,—all prove how holy, how sinless, they must be. And:
5. Redeemed. They could only be where they are in consequence of redemption. We know that sinful man was not allowed to enter Eden, whence he had been driven out, nor the most holy place, nor the presence of God. Therefore something must have been done, in and upon and for them. Moreover, their song, "Worthy is the Lamb" (Revelation 5:12), and their standing on the mercy seat over the ark of the covenant - that mercy seat which was sprinkled with the blood of atonement - show that it is to redemption they, as we and all the saved, owe their all. And:
6. Perfected. See the creatural symbols, the lion, ox, etc. (cf. former homily), which tell of those qualities which go to make up the perfected character of the saints of God - courage and submission, aspiration and thought. Of such service and servants do the cherubim, these "living ones," tell.
III. THEIR MINISTRY TO MAN NOW. It is full of interest to observe the seasons when the visions of the cherubim were given. These occasions have all one common characteristic - they were when the way man had to take was very dark and drear. As when our first parents went forth from the blessed Eden to the thorns and thistles of the wilderness which was to be their future home. So, too, when "that great and terrible wilderness," amid which the Israel of God had to wearily wander for so many years. And when Isaiah was called to his ministry of sorrow because of his people's sin (Isaiah 6:9, 10). And Ezekiel, when in the sore captivity at Babylon he strove to comfort and cheer the hearts of his countrymen. And St. John saw them in the midst of the tribulations and persecutions which befell the Church of his day. So that the ministry of the cherubim seems to have been, besides all else that it was, a ministry of consolation to troubled and sorrowful men. To tell them what and where one day they should surely be, whatever their hard lot may be now; that they should be redeemed, holy, in the presence of God, serving him day and night in his temple - serving him, too, with perfect service, and he who "dwelt between the cherubim" should dwell among them forevermore. It was as a "Sursum corda" to the dejected, downcast children of God, bidding them be of good cheer and "hope in the Lord." And this is the purpose of this revelation still. - S.C.
A sea of glass like unto crystal.
1. Some expound this glassy and crystal-like sea, of contemplative men.
2. Some conceive it to be an abundant understanding of the truth, a happy and excellent knowledge given to the saints, and that in a wonderful plenitude.
3. Some understand by this glassy sea like crystal, the fulness of all those gifts and graces which the Church derives from Christ.
4. Some intend this glassy sea like to crystal to signify the crystalline heaven, where the eternal God keeps His court and sits in His throne.
5. Some expositions give this sea for the gospel. And their opinion is probably deduced from the two attributes, glassy and crystalline.(1) The first expresseth a bright and clear matter. Which sets a difference betwixt that legal and this evangelical sea. That was duskish and shadowy matter, not penetrable to the sight. This is a sea of glass, more clear and transparent.(2) Crystalline is the other attribute. Now as the other attribute takes from the gospel all obscurity, so this takes from it all impurity.
6. Some by this glassy and crystal sea conceived to be meant baptism, prefigured by that Red Sea (Exodus 14.). The accordance of the type and antitype stands thus: as none of the children of Israel entered the terrestrial Caanan but by passing the Red Sea, so, ordinarily, no Christian enters the celestial Caanan but through this glassy sea. The laver of regeneration is that sea, wherein we must all wash.
7. Lastly, others affirm that by this glassy sea is meant the world. This being the most general and most probable opinion, on it I purpose to build my subsequent discourse. A special reason to induce me I derive from Revelation 15:2, where the saints, having passed the dangers of the glassy sea — all the perils of this slippery world — and now setting their triumphant feet on the shores of happiness, they sing a victorious song. Now for further confirmation of this opinion, in the third verse, the exultation which they sing is called the song of Moses the servant of God. So that it seems directly to answer in a sweet allusion to the delivery of Israel from the Egyptians. Our adversaries like theirs, our dangers like theirs, our warfare like theirs; but the country we sail to far transcends that earthly Caanan.Against this construction it is objected —(1) This sea is before the throne; how can the world be so said? Properly, to show that all things in the world are not subject to fortune, but governed by Him that sits on the throne.(2) The world is rather thick and muddy; how can it be called crystal? Fitly, not in regard of its own nature, for so it is polluted; but in regard of God that beholds it, who sees all things done in it so clearly as in crystal.
I. A SEA.
1. The sea is an unquiet element, which none but the Maker's hand can bridle (Matthew 8:27). The world is in full measure as unruly. The Psalmist matcheth roaring waves and roaring men; the raging of the sea with the madness of the world. And yet God is able to still them both (Psalm 65:7). The prophet calls the sea a raging creature, and therein yokes it with the wicked (Isaiah 57:20). The world is full of molesting vexations no less than the sea.(1) Sometimes it swells with pride, as the sea with waves.(2) Vain-glory is the wind that raiseth up the billows of this sea.(3) The world, like the sea, is blue with envy, livid with malice.(4) Sometimes it boils with wrath: and herein the world and the sea are very similar.(5) The sea is not more deep than the world. A bottomless subtilty is in men's hearts, and an honest man wants a plummet to sound it.(6) There is foaming luxury in this sea; a corrupt and stinking froth, which the world casts up. The steam of lust fumes perpetually.(7) The world, as the sea, is a swallowing gulf. There are four great devourers in the world, luxury, pride, gluttony, covetousness.
2. The sea is bitter. The waters thereof are salt and brinish. All demonstrates the world to have an unsavoury relish. So it bath truly, whether we respect the works or the pleasures of it. But how bitter, saltish, and unsavoury soever the sea is, yet the fishes that swim in it exceedingly like it. The world is not so distasteful to the heavenly palate as it is sweet to the wicked.
3. The sea is no place to continue in. No man sails there to sail there; but as he propounds to his purpose a voyage, so to his hopes a return. The world in like sort is no place to dwell in for ever. Self-flattering fools that so esteem it (Psalm 49:11).
4. The sea is full of dangers.
II. A SEA OF GLASS.
1. There is a glassy colour congruent to the sea. All the beauty of glass consists in the colour; and what in the world, that is of the world, is commendable besides the colour? A cottage would serve to sleep in as well as sumptuous palace, but for the colour. Russets be as warm as silks, but for the glistering colour.
2. Glass is a slippery metal. The wisest Solomon, the strongest Samson, have been fetched up by this wrestler, and measured their lengths on the ground. How dangerous, then, is it to run fast on this sea, where men are scarce able to stand.
3. This glass denotes brittleness. A fit attribute to express the nature of worldly things; for glass is not more fragile. "The world passeth away and the lust thereof," saith St. John. Man himself is but brittle stuff, and he is the noblest part of the world (Job 14:1). Now, since the world is a sea, and so brittle, a sea of glass, let us seek to pass over well, but especially to land well. A ship under sail is a good sight; but it is better to see her well moored in the haven. Be desirous of good life, not of long life; the shortest cut to our haven is the happiest voyage. Who would be long on the sea?
III. Thus far we have surveyed this glassy sea, the world, in regard of itself. The other two attributes concern ALMIGHTY GOD'S HOLDING AND BEHOLDING.
1. That God may most clearly view all things being and done in this world; it is said to be in His sight as clear as crystal. As in crystal there is nothing so little but it may be seen; so there is nothing on earth, said or done, so slight or small, that it may escape His all-seeing providence (Hebrews 4:13). God beholds, as in a clear mirror of crystal, all our impurities, impieties, our contempt of sermons, neglect of sacraments, dishallowing His sabbaths. Well, as God sees all things so clearly, so I would to God we would behold somewhat. Let us open our eyes and view in this crystal glass our own works.
2. Lastly, this glassy sea is not only as crystal for the transparent brightness that the Almighty's eye may see all things done in it, but it lies for situation before His throne; generally for the whole, and particularly for every member, subject to His judgment and governance. His throne signifies that impartial government which He exerciseth over the world (Psalm 9:7, 8).
Four beasts full of eyes before and behindI. IT STANDS IN IMMEDIATE CONTACT WITH THE PRESENCE AND GOVERNMENT OF GOD.
1. It is the ideal of intelligent creatureship to live in the immediate presence of God.
2. It is the ideal of intelligent creatureship to serve in connection with the celestial government of all things.
II. IT HAS NUMEROUS INLETS OF KNOWLEDGE WHICH AID IN A VIGILANT CONDUCT OF LIFE.
1. They have a power to understand history: eyes behind.
2. They have a power to comprehend prophecy: eyes before.
3. They have power to interpret self: eyes within.
III. It is gifted with a combination of varied and well-balanced abilities.
1. Great courage.
2. Enduring industry.
3. True intelligence.
4. Sublime aspiration.
5. Swift service.
IV. IT IS EVER ASCRIBING DEVOUT PRAISE TO THE GREAT GOD. Lessons:
1. There are in the unseen universe intelligent creatures vastly superior to man.
2. As these creatures find the highest joy in the service of God, so should man.
3. Man should seek to enter into the vigour of an ideal creatureship.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Full of eyes withinI. A FEW THOUGHTS RESPECTING THESE AWFUL INTELLIGENCES OF WHOM WE READ IN THE TEXT. Every manifestation of the glory of God has usually been accompanied with the presence of these living creatures. In the column of fire at the gate of Eden were seen the mystic forms and evolutions of these wondrous beings. In after times, God was addressed as dwelling between the cherubim. In the holiest of all, there was the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. The symbol of the Divine presence seems associated with them. It is to be remembered that the Oriental court was framed on the principle that it was the pattern of the Divine. The monarch was the visible representative of God. His laws, like those of God, were immutable. No one without permission could see his face and live; and the highest princes of the realm stood in his presence. In the court of our sovereign the most exalted personages — the highest in title, rank, and wealth — minister to royalty. Their very greatness is necessary to qualify them for service, and thus they manifest the glory of the monarch. Those created beings who stand before God in an official character are represented as possessing all possible perfections. They are the highest order of created intelligences; they are the ministers of the great King — and yet between them and God how great, how inconceivable the distance! The impropriety of terming these living creatures "beasts" has been admitted by every writer — the term is utterly at variance with their character and perfections. They are evidently official personages. All their acts are official. That these living creatures possess the highest capacities may be presumed from their dignified station. Their penetrating and comprehensive knowledge is intimated by their being "full of eyes, before and behind." They see the past as well as the present; they can look all ways and see all things. They have, in its perfection, the faculty of introspection, for they have "eyes within." This singular statement is but the symbol of their knowledge of themselves, as well as of outward things.
II. A FEW SUGGESTIONS RELATIVE TO THE FACULTY OF INTROSPECTION. Man is related to the outward and to the spiritual world to the things that are seen and to the things that are unseen — to the things that are temporal and to the things that are eternal. He has an outward and an inward life — the sense of sight and the faculty of introspection. Man is "fearfully and wonderfully made"; he has the faculty of introspection, but through disuse it becomes dimmed, or paralysed, and dead. Christ comes., that men may see. "He opens blind eyes." The regenerated men is the spiritual man, with the full use of spiritual powers, with the faculty of spiritual discernment. But more particularly —
1. Man does not recognise his own spiritual nature. He does not know how awful and mysterious that nature is. His outward life overshadows his inner life. His body is the prison-house of his soul. The spiritual man has "eyes within." He communes with his own heart; he listens to the utterances of his spirit; he is familiar with the sorrows and joys of his soul. We may well pray, each for himself, Open Thou my eyes that I may see myself.
2. Man does not study the phenomena of his own mind. He thinks, but he thinks about his calling, about his trade; his thoughts are like his tools, his implements, he does not employ the powers of his mind on spiritual realities, or make his thoughts the chariot in which he can ascend to God. If we had eyes within we should see that there is nothing more wonderful than thought. We should see "that as a man thinketh in his heart so is he"; that if he thinks worldly thoughts, he is worldly; that if he thinks sensual thoughts, he is sensual; that if he thinks spiritual thoughts, he is spiritual; that thoughts are of moment and of the utmost importance.
3. Men do not know their own hearts. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" There is only one Being who knows it. If our eyes were opened, we should cry out, "Create in me a clean heart, O God."
4. Men do not form a correct estimate of their own capabilities. "Man," says Pascal, "is the scorn and the glory of the universe." You have a nature that can only find its completeness in God, and therefore you can only find your satisfaction in Him. You have capabilities that you do not conceive of, for joy or for misery. You can become a partaker of a Divine nature, or you can sink into the most fearful degradation and infamy.
(H. J. Bevis.)
(Canon Scott Holland.)
They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy
I. IN EDEN THERE WAS REST WITHOUT LABOUR. Eden in its innocence gave no trouble to its inhabitants. They trimmed its roses, and trod its velvet lawns, and ate its fruits, and drank its transparent rivers, and enjoyed the tranquillity of unbroken rest. And this is the reason why, though man now cannot be really happy without employment, he naturally turns in imagination to such a state as one of perfect enjoyment. It was his primary condition before sin entered into the world.
II. WE TURN TO LABOUR AND REST — THE RELATION WHICH EXISTS ON EARTH AS IT IS. That in this state of things there should be labour is expressly declared after the fall. "In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread." That there must be rest is expressly taught: "Man goeth forth to his work and to his labour until the evening." And we know, in practice, that within certain limits there may be a change in the relation subsisting between the two, but that if these limits are exceeded either way, the result is ruin to man's moral and physical constitution. It degrades him to be without labour; it destroys him to be without rest. There is but one who has lived in this ruined world without sin. Christ, as man, is the model of what man ought to be in a world which is as it ought not to be. In Christ's example we see what ought to be man's state in the present world, as it respects labour and rest: that the two should interchange — that because it is paradise no longer there must be toil, and because it is still earth there must be rest — rest for bodily refreshment, rest for the friendly intercourse of one with another, rest for communion with Him whose presence alone can give the soul of man true rest.
III. There is another solution of the problem of the relation between labour and rest — LABOUR WITHOUT REST. And this is only to be found in hell. Satan himself is always represented as a being of restless activity: "going about," "walking up and down." There is a faint reflection of hell in the bosom of each unconverted man; and of such we read (Isaiah 57:20). And let me say that whatever makes earth approximate to a state of restlessness, so far makes it approach to a resemblance to the place of everlasting misery.
IV. We come to the last and best relation between rest and labour, THAT WHICH EXISTS IN HEAVEN, where they "rest not day and night," because they rest in labour. In heaven employment is unceasing — for those who are there are freed from the weariness of the flesh. Free from all infirmity, they rest not day and night. And employment is unceasing in heaven — for the employments of heaven are restoring instead of exhausting. They have life in them.
(S. Garratt, B. A.)
1. It will be a continuous service. There will be no break or intermission on the part of those who join in it. The now that is there is always.
2. It will be united worship — all join and all join alike.
3. The character of the worship will be one and the same.
4. The worship will be "before the throne," i.e., in the conscious immediate presence of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, with all the surroundings of visible glory.
5. The worship will be all-absorbing in contemplation of the Divine glory and perfections. No thought of personal doings or deservings can find place there. There is only the acknowledgment that all are His gifts — all has come from Him — and there is the humble tendering back of everything. "The crowns are cast before the throne" in adoring thankfulness to Him who is the Giver of them all. Worship, as distinct from prayer and praise and thanksgiving, is the conscious lifting up of the soul to God in contemplation of Him, in His Being and acts, whether towards ourselves in particular, or towards our whole race, or in all His works, according to our knowledge of them. We cannot really worship without knowledge — we cannot worship a blank; we must have knowledge of Him to whom we pay homage; and that knowledge must be received into ourselves from without. Thus worship is both a taking in and a giving out: taking in, i.e., receiving, and following out, and expanding, and setting forth before ourselves, who that great Being is with whom we have to do, whose works encompass us, and to whom we desire to draw near, to know better and to hold communion with; and then giving back, as it were, this knowledge at which we have arrived, in acts of adoration and praise, expressed in different ways according to the subject matter as regards Almighty God, in which we may be engaged. The two must go hand in hand: you cannot rightly worship except you have acquaintance with Him whom you worship, and you cannot have this acquaintance without worship. You cannot come at a right knowledge of Almighty God, much less of Almighty God as revealed under the Christian dispensation, except the knowledge acquired and the spirit in which that knowledge is dwelt on and followed up, be with a mind of adoration and worship. And the two (the knowledge and the worship) grow and advance together. Increased knowledge of God carries us on in worship, and fuller worship leads up to fuller knowledge. What is set before us in the text is the type of the perfect worship of heaven, and it is toward this that our life on earth should lead. For man's eternal joy will be in praising God. The power of fully appreciating the love of God towards us will prompt the unceasing praise, and in that unceasing praise will be the joy of heaven. The Divine love, which receives the praises of that innumerable blessed company, will ever fresh inspire their song, will pour into it new depth and richness, and will receive it into the fulness of the Divine life. There is no intermission, there is no end; for God's glory cannot be known in its eternity except by the gift of an eternal power of contemplation and of union with Him. People talk a great deal about places of worship and forms of worship. But do they consider what worship means? They think perhaps of edification by sermons, or of instruction out of God's Holy Scriptures, or of joining in prayers and hymns, or of the good they may feel, or of the things they need to ask, but these are not worship. In all these we look for something for ourselves, something to get. But worship does not mean getting anything, but it means giving something. And what? Money, costly offerings, such things as come by birth, high station, or intellect? Not so; not so, in the truest sense of giving. For these things are not our own. It is of them that the man after God's own heart said, "Of Thine own have we given Thee." Wherein, then, consists that offering which we may more truly call our own than all such things without, though in a sense, and for a time at least, they do belong to us? Something there is, more nearly and more truly our own, which we are to give. That more costly offering, that in which God has delight, is ourselves. We make an offering of our mind, when we withdraw our thoughts from the business of the world, from those things which engross our thoughts and make any lengthened devotion wearisome and distasteful; when we calmly and resolutely set ourselves to mediate on God and things of God; when we try to shut out the distractions of things, and to fix our thoughts upon God, and upon God only, for the time. Again, we make an offering of our heart, which is the seat of the affections, in earnestness of devotion, calling up before us His goodness, His love, His bounties towards us, as well in respect of His gifts in this life as still more for all His gracious and abundant promises for the life to come. Again, as God made the mind, He requires an offering of that; and as He made the heart, He demands an offering of that also; so, too, as He made the body, He requires that the body shall bear part in worshipping Him. This we do by outward acts of worship, bowing, kneeling, singing, and joining in the services of His house. Thus the whole man, body and soul, may take part in worship; after this manner here below preparing for the perfect worship of heaven. And He who invites us thus to worship here will be with us, and make that worship approach little by little towards the perfect worship of heaven.
(R. F. Wilson.)I. THE WORSHIP OF HEAVEN WILL ENGAGE THE ACTIVITIES OF ALL CELESTIAL CREATURESHIP.
II. THE WORSHIP OF HEAVEN WILL BE INSPIRED BY CLEAR VIEWS OF THE DIVINE CHARACTER.
III. THE WORSHIP OF HEAVEN IS RENDERED WITH THE GREATEST HUMILITY OF SOUL.
1. This humility is inspired by a true sense of the Divine majesty.
2. This humility is awakened by a due estimate of the unworthiness of self.
3. This humility is manifested by the external attitudes of worship. The crown of an adoring soul gains its worth and brightness by being cast before the throne of God.
IV. THE WORSHIP OF HEAVEN IS CELEBRATIVE OF THE CREATIVE PLEASURE OF GOD.
1. Celestial worship ascribes the plan of creation to the creative power of God.
2. Celestial worship recognises the creative power of God as calling for the highest worship of intelligent creatures.They ascribe to God —
1. It is the privilege and duty of all intelligent creatures to worship God.
2. In praise we should seek to have clear views of the Divine character.
3. We should endeavour to approach God with a becoming sense of unworthiness.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
(W. B. O. Peabody, D. D.)
(John Donne, D. D.)
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