Then I watched as the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say in a thunderous voice, "Come!"
Revelation 2 and 3 - of a vast picture gallery. And this not so much because of the number of the pictures, as their sublimity and extent. Revelation 1. is the portraiture of "the Son of man." Then there is a vast canvas, stretching from Revelation 4 to 11, and representing the judgment and fall of Jerusalem. Then from Revelation 12 to 19 another similar one, representing the judgment and fall of Rome. Then yet another, much smaller, representing the final conflict and overthrow of the enemies of Christ; and then, the last and most precious of all, in Revelation 21. and 22., the glowing picture of the new Jerusalem, the saints' eternal home. Now, in looking at a great picture we need to study it carefully, closely, continuously, and portion by portion. We have tried to do so in regard to the first of these, and also in regard to two most important sections of the second one. In this vast second scene we have viewed the high court of heaven, and the inauguration of Christ's mediatorial reign, which was the subject of Revelation 5. And now we come to another most interesting but unquestionably difficult part of the same great subject - the opening of the seals. Indeed, the interpretation of this book, from the beginning of this chapter onwards, is one concerning which the only certain thing is that absolute certainty concerning any given interpretation is unattainable. It matters little, however, for the profitable reading of the book, that there is and must be this uncertainty as to the actual meaning of the many mysterious symbols with which it abounds; for whether we regard them as telling of the history of the Church in its relation to the world continuously to the end of time; or whether, as surely is the more reasonable way, we take them as telling of those tremendous events which, when St. John wrote, had begun, and were shortly to come to pass, the time being at hand, and by which the Church of Christ was so much affected, - whichever way we read these symbols, their main lessons for us and for the Church in all ages is one and the same; and these, by patient, prayerful study, we may hope to learn. As to this Revelation 6., the sheet anchor for its interpretation is our Lord's discourse in Matthew 24. and its parallel in Mark. No doubt that discourse, as this book, looks on to the times of the end; but as surely it contemplated, as does this book also, events which many of them - not all - were nigh at hand. God's judgment on Judaism and the Jews is its near subject, as the same is of the vision of which this chapter forms a part. And now let us look at -
I. THE SIX SEALS TOGETHER, or rather, at what is disclosed by the opening of them all. And, without doubt, terror is their one badge and mark. The four horses with their riders all tell of terrible things. The souls under the altar, whom we see at the opening of the fifth, cry for vengeance on their murderers, and all horrors seem accumulated in one at the opening of the sixth. The reading of the chapter makes one's heart tremble; our flesh shudders with fear at the visions of distress which, one after the other, are unfolded. There is a seventh and a very different vision at the seventh seal; but the opening of that will not be for a long while, and therefore we first consider these six which are near in time and in character also. And whether we read the pages of Josephus, or whether we regard Gibbon as furnishing the more accurate explanation of these symbols, - in either there will be found more than enough to warrant all that St. John has here portrayed. The dreadful days of the fall of Jerusalem were drawing on, and none who know the history of the horrors that preceded and accompanied that event can question that they were more than enough to fill up all that these vivid and terrible symbols import. Our Lord says of those days that "except they should be shortened, there should no flesh he saved." And yet - and here is the marvel - it is "the Lamb," he who is the Ideal of all grace and love, he it is who presides over, directs, and governs all these events, dreadful as they are. And then the highest, the holiest, and most beloved of his ministers, they who cluster closest round the throne of God and the Lamb, appeal to him and pray him to "Come." At the opening of each of the first four seals one of the four living ones thus appeals to Christ. It is evident, therefore, that they are in full sympathy with him in this matter, and would not have him do otherwise. And it is the same with the whole of that high court of heaven. There must be, then, in all these and in all such things - and this is their lesson for us - a force for the furtherance of God's blessed will amongst men such as less stern methods could not have. True, in one aspect it is all the result of man's wild wickedness and folly.
"Man, proud man,
II. THE OPENING OF THE FIRST SEAL. (Ver. 2.) The vision of the white horse and its rider bearing a bow, with its sharp arrows ready for conflict, and wearing a crown, the emblem of victory. In Zechariah 1:7-11; Zechariah 6:1-8; Habakkuk 3:8, 9; Isaiah 41:2; Psalm 45:4, 5; we have similar representations of the horseman told of here, and his identity seems settled by Revelation 19:11-16, where he is distinctly called "the Word of God." When the first seal was broken, then there passed across the stage, as it were, this vision. But of whom else can we think as corresponding to the rider of the white horse, than of him of whom we read in Psalm 45., "In thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things. Thine arrows shall be sharp in the heart of the king's enemies; whereby the people fall under thee"? Of the Lord Jesus Christ going forth conquering and to conquer, in spite of, in the midst of, and by means of, all the dread events which are afterwards declared - of him we believe the vision tells. Not of any ordinary human warfare; still less of the prosperous condition of the Roman empire under the Antonines; but of Christ our Lord. And most cheering is it to be taught that, let come what will, however calamitous and distressful the events of life, nothing can stay his course. They cannot bar his way, but will be made by him to further that way. This first vision is, therefore, full of good cheer. And let it not be forgotten that the vision has an individual application as well as a world wide one. It tells every believing soul, "Christ will overrule all that happens; thy trials and crosses, thy disappointments and disasters, shall not hinder his purposes of good for thee. He goeth forth 'conquering and to conquer,' and who can turn him aside?"
III. THE OPENING OF THE SECOND, THIRD, AND FOURTH SEALS. These give the visions of the red, the black, and the pale horses. Cruel war, black famine, and all-devouring death, by pestilence probably, are meant by these visions. And more summarily and distinctly they are foretold by our Lord. "Wars and rumours of wars," "famines and pestilences," - these with other woes he plainly predicts; and his meaning is, we are sure, the meaning of St. John. Famine and pestilence were the common accompaniments of war. But they are not to have unrestrained power. For as in the discourse of our Lord, so here in the vision of St. John, there are plain suggestions that in wrath God remembered mercy. The voice that proclaimed the nearly twelve times enhanced cost of wheat and barley, tells - as does also the blackness of the horse which suggests the black lips, the sign of extreme hunger - of dreadful famine. But that same voice tells also of distress mitigated, not suffered to become utter destitution. This is the meaning of the added charge, "See that thou hurt not the oil and the wine." It is a difficult saying, but coupling it with the express words of our Lord that "for the elects' sake" these dreadful days should "be shortened," we take them as telling that, whilst owing to the ravages of war there should be, as there could not but be, great scarcity in those things which, as corn and barley, depended upon constant cultivation; yet the olive and the vine should still yield their increase, they not requiring to be replanted year by year, and being in various ways likely to be less affected than the level corn lands which lay along the plains, and which therefore became the common camps and fighting grounds of hostile armies, to the utter destruction of all things grown thereon. Moreover, that to death and Hades were given power, not over all the earth, but over only one-fourth part, this seems also to point to the same blessed truth that the instruments of God's judgment are held in and not allowed to do their work a hairbreadth beyond their appointed limit. "He does not willingly afflict nor grieve the children of men," though, as these visions do plainly tell, he will ruthlessly both afflict and grieve when man's sin and folly make it needful that he should. As a loving mother will hold down her own dearly loved child to the surgeon's dreadful knife, if only so it can be saved from death, so will the Lord, the Lamb of God, pour out upon us of his awful judgments, if by our sin we force him thereto. As we read of these visions, this should be our prayer that never may we thus force him to deal in such manner with us. May his love constrain us, never our sin constrain him.
IV. THE OPENING OF THE FIFTH SEAL. Here no living creature cries: "Come," but the appeal comes from the martyred saints themselves. We have had no mention of an "altar" before, but now it is seen as part of the vision which untolded itself before St. John. "They shall deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you" - so had our Lord foretold, and here the actual fulfilment of that word is symbolized. Not to the martyrs under Diocletian, yet less to those under papal Rome, but to those who were, in St. John's own day, fast falling beneath the persecutor's sword, does this vision specially belong. Nevertheless, it is designed for the consolation and support of all Christ's persecuted people in every age and in every land. Hence Milton, with all possible appropriateness, sang concerning the martyrs of the Alpine mountains, whose sufferings righteously roused the rage of their fellow believers here in England —
"Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones Forget not: in thy book record their groans The vales redoubled to the hills, and they "Careless seems the great Avenger; history's pages but record V. THE OPENING OF THE SIXTH SEAL. (Vers. 12-17.) Nearly every detail of this dread event is given by our Lord (Matthew 24.). And St. John's language is modelled largely on that of the older prophets (Joel 2:30, 31; Isaiah 50:3; Isaiah 34:3, 4; Isaiah 2:12, 19; Hosea 10:8; Jeremiah 4:23-26). And in the great catastrophe by which Judaism was overthrown, and in the fall of Rome, and in the events which usher in the last great and terrible day of the Lord, have been and shall be seen the fulfilment of this awful vision. There is that which is called "the wrath of the Lamb"! Not Scripture alone, but historic fact alike declare this. And it will be poured out on the ungodly when the Lord shall come again. How will that day find us? Confident, or ashamed and dismayed? The answer may be known. How does Christ find us now? Trusting and obeying him, or disregarding and disobeying? As now, so then. "Lord, in this thy mercy's day,
Forget not: in thy book record their groans The vales redoubled to the hills, and they "Careless seems the great Avenger; history's pages but record V. THE OPENING OF THE SIXTH SEAL. (Vers. 12-17.) Nearly every detail of this dread event is given by our Lord (Matthew 24.). And St. John's language is modelled largely on that of the older prophets (Joel 2:30, 31; Isaiah 50:3; Isaiah 34:3, 4; Isaiah 2:12, 19; Hosea 10:8; Jeremiah 4:23-26). And in the great catastrophe by which Judaism was overthrown, and in the fall of Rome, and in the events which usher in the last great and terrible day of the Lord, have been and shall be seen the fulfilment of this awful vision. There is that which is called "the wrath of the Lamb"! Not Scripture alone, but historic fact alike declare this. And it will be poured out on the ungodly when the Lord shall come again. How will that day find us? Confident, or ashamed and dismayed? The answer may be known. How does Christ find us now? Trusting and obeying him, or disregarding and disobeying? As now, so then. "Lord, in this thy mercy's day,
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they "Careless seems the great Avenger; history's pages but record V. THE OPENING OF THE SIXTH SEAL. (Vers. 12-17.) Nearly every detail of this dread event is given by our Lord (Matthew 24.). And St. John's language is modelled largely on that of the older prophets (Joel 2:30, 31; Isaiah 50:3; Isaiah 34:3, 4; Isaiah 2:12, 19; Hosea 10:8; Jeremiah 4:23-26). And in the great catastrophe by which Judaism was overthrown, and in the fall of Rome, and in the events which usher in the last great and terrible day of the Lord, have been and shall be seen the fulfilment of this awful vision. There is that which is called "the wrath of the Lamb"! Not Scripture alone, but historic fact alike declare this. And it will be poured out on the ungodly when the Lord shall come again. How will that day find us? Confident, or ashamed and dismayed? The answer may be known. How does Christ find us now? Trusting and obeying him, or disregarding and disobeying? As now, so then. "Lord, in this thy mercy's day,
Golden vials full of odours.I. THE PRAYERS OF GOD'S PEOPLE ARE AS SWEET TO HIM AS INCENSE.
1. This is not due to any natural excellence or merit which they possess in and by themselves. Christ Jesus possesses such an abundance of precious merit that He puts fragrance into our supplications. I think it is who uses a very pretty figure concerning believers' prayers. He says we are like little children who run into the garden to gather flowers to please their father, but we are so ignorant and childish that we pluck as many weeds as flowers, and some of them very noxious, and we would carry this strange mixture in our hands, thinking that such base weeds would be acceptable to him. The mother meets the child at the door, and she says to it, "Little one, thou knowest not what thou hast gathered"; she unbinds this mixture and takes from it all the weeds and leaves only the sweet flowers, and then she takes other flowers sweeter than those which the child has plucked, and inserts them instead of the weeds, and then puts back the perfect posy into the child's hand, and it runs therewith to its father. Jesus Christ in more than motherly tenderness thus deals with our supplications.
2. Note well, that true, acceptable intercession must be composed of the prayers of saints. "Golden goblets full of the prayers of saints." Nothing is here said of the prayers of officials, hirelings, and functionaries. And who are the saints? They are men whom the Lord has made holy by the power of His Spirit, whose nature He has purified. Then, in the matter of intercession, one of the most important things is the character of the person. We must, by the Spirit's power, maintain the saintly character; we must walk apart from worldliness and covetousness; we must put aside uncleanness, anger, wrath, and every evil thing, or else we shall not be able to present unto the Lord such sweet odours as His soul delighteth in.
3. Note next, that these prayers must be compounded of precious graces; for they are compared to incense, and, as you know, the incense used in the temple was made up of divers sweet spices, compounded "according to the work of the apothecary." In prayer, that which is sweet to God is not the words used, though they ought to be appropriate; not anything perceptible to the outward senses, but in secret qualities, comparable to the essence and aroma of sweet spices. Let us bless God that the Holy Ghost is the believer's apothecary. He helps each believer's infirmities, and makes for us a mixture of all choice graces, so that when we pray our pleadings are accepted as sweet incense.
II. BLENDED PRAYERS ARE PECULIARLY ACCEPTABLE TO GOD. "The prayers of saints." The prayers of a saint are sweet, but the prayers of saints are sweeter. United prayers possess the power of harmony. In music there is melody in any one distinct note; but we have all recognised a peculiar charm in harmony. Now, the prayers of one saint are to God melody, but the intercessions of many are harmony, and to God there is much that is pleasing in the harmony of His people's prayers. No two children of God pray exactly alike. There is a difference of tone. If taught of God each one will pray graciously, but there will be in one prayer what there is not in another. If all the fruits of the garden be luscious, yet each one has its own special flavour. All the bells may be of silver, and yet each one will have its own tone. Now, if these varying tones are melted into one, what masterly harmony they make! Therefore, the Lord promises great things when two of us agree as touching anything concerning His kingdom.
III. And now, lastly, LET US BLEND OUR PRAYERS, however faulty and feeble they may be, with the general supplications of the period. If united prayer be sweet to God, oh, let us give Him much of it.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(J. R. Miller, D. D.)
They sung a new songI. First, BEHOLD THE WORSHIPPERS; for, remember, that we must be like them if we are to be with them. It is a well-known rule that heaven must be in us before we can be in heaven.
1. The first point about the worshippers is this, they are all full of life. I should not like to dogmatise upon the meaning of the four living creatures; but still they do seem to me to be an emblem of the Church in its Godward standing, quickened by the life of God. At any rate, they are living creatures; and the elders themselves are living personages. Yet alas, that it should be needful to say so trite a thing; but the dead cannot praise God! "The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day." Yet how many dead people there are in this great assembly to-night! Those in heaven are all full of life; there is no dead worshipper there, no dull, cold heart that does not respond to the praise by which it is surrounded; they are all full of life.
2. And further note, that they are all of one mind. Whether they are four-and twenty elders, or four living creatures, they all move simultaneously. With perfect unanimity they fall on their faces, or touch their harps, or uplift their golden vials full of sweet odours. I like unanimity in worship here.
3. Note, next, that as the heavenly worshippers are full of life, and full of unity, so they are all full of holy reverence. In heaven, they fall down before the Lamb; should not we serve God better if we did more of this falling down to worship the Lamb?
4. Note, next, that while they are all full of reverence, they are all in a praising condition: "Having every one of them harps." They did not pass one harp round, and take turns in playing it; nor was there one who had to sit still because he had forgotten his harp; but they had, every one of them, his harp. I am afraid those words do not describe all God's people here to-night. Where is your harp? It is gone to be repaired, is it not? Where is your harp? You have left it on the willow-tree, by the waters of Babylon, so you have not one here.
5. They are all ready for prayer. Are they not crying, "O Lord, how long"? Why should they not pray, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven"? They would understand that prayer better than we do. We know how God's will is not done on earth, but they know how it is done in heaven. Well, they, all of them, had "golden vials full of odours." Are we always furnished and prepared for prayer?
II. Now, having thus spoken of the worshippers, I want you to HEARKEN TO THEIR SONGS.
1. It is rather an unusual thing to take a hymn and treat it doctrinally; but, for your instruction, I must take away the poetry for a moment, and just deal with the doctrines of this heavenly hymn. The first doctrine is, Christ is put in the front, the Deity of Christ, as I hold. They sing, "Thou art worthy, Thou art worthy." Next, the doctrine of this hymn is that the whole Church delights in the mediation of Christ. Notice, it was when He had taken the book that they said, "Thou art worthy to take the book." To have Christ standing between God and man is the joy of every believing heart. But now, notice, in the Church's song, what is her reason for believing that Christ is worthy to be a Mediator. She says, "Thou art worthy, for Thou wast slain." We rejoice in our Mediator because He died. Well then, notice that they sing of the redemption which His death effected, and they do not sing of the redemption of the world. No, not at all: "Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation." So much about the heavenly hymn doctrinally.
2. Now about it experimentally: "Thou hast redeemed us to God." I have said that you cannot sing this song unless you know something of it now. Have you been redeemed? Has the embargo that was on you through sin been taken off you? Do you believe in Jesus Christ? For every man who believeth in Jesus Christ has the evidence of his eternal redemption. That was their experience: "Thou hast redeemed us." They felt free; they remembered when they wore their fetters, but they saw them all broken by Christ. Have you been set free?
3. Thus have l spoken of the song doctrinally and experimentally: now let me speak of it expectantly. There is something to be expected: "And we shall reign on the earth."
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. There was first the believers' song. Its theme was redemption, the salvation of the soul through the blood of the Lamb. So its singers were the ransomed.(1) This song was "new" necessarily, for the theme was absolutely fresh in celestial history. There had been sin in heaven, and there had been justice wrought on those who had sinned. Some of the angels had fallen from their high estate. No atonement was ever made or offered in their behalf. Here was therefore a subject never before celebrated in the songs of God's house. It was exclusive also, for only those who knew what it meant could sing it with the spirit and the understanding. Emphasis must be laid upon the expressions of personal acknowledgment. "Thou hast redeemed us"; "Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests." The experience of each child of God is individual. Reminiscence is a part of his duty, and it always leads to gratitude, and starts a new song.(2) It was a great song. For the multitude of singers was simply innumerable. So the sound rose "like mighty thunderings, and the voice of many waters."(3) It was likewise a royal song. The redeemed do not say "we shall reign," but "we are reigning." Christians are the regal and the regnant race in the world now.
2. Next came the song of the angels. The theme of this was the character and rank of Jesus Christ. Observe the vast numbers of the singers, and the stress they put on their strain with a "loud voice" "And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels," etc. Observe the vast ascription of honours to Christ: Saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb," etc. This seems to include everything that mind can conceive of supreme ownership and control. They lay the universe down at His feet. Observe the special reason they suggest for their surrender. It is as "the Lamb that was slain" that they exalt Him to the eminence. These angels had no part in the atonement, but they knew just where Christ's greatest exploits had been done. They had for ages "desired earnestly to look into" this mystery of His humiliation; now they understood what it meant.
3. Then the choir of creatures begins the anthem assigned to them; and now the theme is the dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ (ver. 13). Just notice the very singular voices employed in this choir. Birds and beasts, and worms and fishes — oh, wonder! how will such creatures be able to sing together? God is to listen, and He will understand them and be satisfied. God hears and loves what does not ever reach us; our silences may be full of singing to Him.
4. Now we reach the grand chorus with which the singing concluded. Led by representatives, whose mysterious nature and office we cannot altogether explain, it would seem as if the whole three choirs burst forth into one final ascription: "And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped Him that liveth for ever and ever."
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)I. A NEW SONG. If a new tune be started in church there is only here and there a person that can sing it. It is some time before the congregation learn a new tune. But not so with the new song of heaven.
II. A COMMEMORATIVE song. We are distinctly told that it makes reference to past deliverances. Oh! how much they have to sing about.
III. It will be an ACCOMPANIED song. I love the cymbals, for Israel clapped them in triumph at the Red Sea. I love the harp, for David struck it in praising the Lord. I love all stringed instruments and organs, for God demands that we shall praise Him on stringed instruments and organs. There is, in such music, much to suggest the higher worship.
IV. An ANTICIPATIVE song. Why heaven has hardly begun yet. All the world is yet to be saved. After that there may be other worlds to conquer. Mightier song as other garlands are set on the brow of Jesus. Mightier song as Christ's glories unfold. I stayed a week at Niagara Falls, hoping thoroughly to understand and appreciate it. But, on the last day, they seemed newer and more incomprehensible than on the first day. Gazing on the infinite rush of celestial splendours, where the oceans of delight meet, how soon will we exhaust the song? Never! never!
V. An UNANIMOUS song. There will, no doubt, be some to lead, but all will be expected to join. It will be grand congregational singing. All the sweet voices of the redeemed. Grand music will it be when that new song arises. God grant that at last we may all sing it. But if we do not sing the praise of Christ on earth, we will never sing it in heaven.
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
Homilist.I. It is JUBILANT. "They sang." Singing is the natural language of joy. The worship of heaven is not mechanical, not irksome. It is the outbreaking of the soul into rapture, of gratitude, admiration, reverence and love.
II. It is FRESH. "A new song." There is nothing monotonous in heaven. Souls have an instinctive craving for variety, and the Creator has amply provided for this instinct. In the life of souls in heaven, there is something fresh every hour — fresh sceneries, fresh occurrences, fresh engagements, fresh connections, fresh thoughts; it is a "new song." Heaven is ever fresh.
(W. Wayte Andrew.)
Thou art worthy to take the bookI. The bright ones before the throne adore the Lord Jesus as WORTHY OF THE HIGH OFFICE OF MEDIATOR. They put in no claim for worthiness, but by their silence, and their subsequent song when Christ came forward, they admitted that He alone could unfold the purposes of God and interpret them to the sons of men. Notice care fully to what they ascribe this worthiness — "Thou art worthy to take the book, and open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain." As mediator our Lord's worthiness did not merely arise from His person as God and perfect man: this fitted Him to undertake the office, but His right to claim the privileges written in the Magna Charta which God held in His hand, His right to take possession for His people of that seven-sealed indenture lies in this, that He has fulfilled the condition of the covenant, and hence they sing, "Thou art worthy, for Thou wast slain."
II. In heaven they adore the Lord as their REDEEMER. "Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood." The metaphor of redemption, if I understand it, signifies this. A thing which is redeemed in the strict sense belonged beforehand to the person who redeemed it. Under the Jewish law lands were mortgaged as they are now; and when the money lent upon them, or the service due for them, was paid, the land was said to be redeemed. An inheritance first belonged to a person, and then went away from him by stress of poverty, but if a certain price was paid it came back. Now "all souls are Mine" saith the Lord, and the souls of men belong to God. The metaphor is used — and, mark, these expressions are but metaphors — but the sense under them is no metaphor; it is fact. We come back to God again, to whom we always and ever did belong, because Jesus has redeemed us unto God by His blood. And notice that the redemption they sing about in heaven is not general redemption. It is particular redemption. "Thou hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation." Oh, may we have a share in this particular, efficient redemption, for this alone can bring us where they sing the new song.
III. In heaven they praise Christ as the DONOR OF THEIR DIGNITIES. They are kings and reign. We too are kings; but as yet we are not known or recognised, and often we ourselves forget our high descent. Up there they are crowned monarchs, but they say, "Thou hast made us kings." They are priests too, as we are now, every one of us. The priesthood of God's saints, the priesthood of holiness, which offers prayer and praise to God — this they have in heaven; but they say of it, "Thou hast made us priests." What the saints are, and what they are to be, they ascribe to Jesus. They have no glory but what they received from Him, and they know it, and are perpetually confessing it.
IV. They in heaven adore the Saviour as DIVINE. Depend upon it, you never will go to heaven unless you are prepared to worship Jesus Christ as God. They are all doing it there: you will have to come to it, and if you entertain the notion that He is a mere man, or that He is anything less than God, I am afraid you will have to begin at the beginning and learn what true religion means. You have a poor foundation to rest upon. I could not trust my soul with a mere man, or believe in an atonement made by a mere man: I must see God Himself putting His hand to so gigantic a work. I cannot imagine a mere man being thus praised as the Lamb is praised. Jesus is "God over all, blessed for ever."
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood. —I. WHAT THE HEAVENLY SINGERS THINK OF THEIR REDEEMER, OR WHOM THEY TAKE HIM TO BE. The very words, "Thou," "He," "Him," imply that their Redeemer is a person — a living being — who has willed their good, and to whom grateful acknowledgments are due. But whom do these saints take their Redeemer to be? They call Him "Lord" and they call him "Lamb." They would not call Jesus "Lord," especially in the presence of the Eternal Throne, and in the very same breath with which they say, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come," if they were not assured that He still thinks it is no robbery to be equal with God. They would not call Jesus "Lamb" if they did not recognise In Him that true human nature which He wore on earth, when John called Him "the Lamb of God," and in which He made Himself an offering for sin.
II. HOW THIS SONG DESCRIBES THE MANNER AND THE NATURE OF REDEMPTION. "Thou wast slain." Death is a very common thing in this world's history. Nor is it even an uncommon thing to be slain! In this wicked world life has been the frequent victim of violence. There is nothing, then, in the purity of Christ's character to make it surprising that "He was slain." But numerous as have been the martyrdoms of the world, and honoured and blessed as are the martyrs before God, there is only one of them whose honours are celebrated in heaven. And He is Jesus Christ. There must be something peculiar in His martyrdom, something to single it out from every other. The next note of the song reveals the peculiarity of the death of Christ — "Thou hast redeemed us by Thy blood." If Christ has ten thousand fellow martyrs, He has not one fellow redeemer. He gave His life a ransom for many, and by that ransom the many are redeemed. The words of the song of redemption, while they distinguish the death of Christ from every other, teach us the true nature of the redemption of which the gospel tells us. It is a redemption by blood, and of consequence we know that it must be a redemption from guilt. The poet and the sentimentalist may dream of a redemption of which he has some vague sense of need, but which he does not understand; the gospel believer rejoices in a redemption which is felt by him a simple reality, and in virtue of which he stands pardoned and sanctified before his Maker
III. CONSIDER THE PERFECTED FRUITS OF REDEMPTION AS CELEBRATED IN THIS SONG OF HEAVEN.
1. "Thou hast redeemed us to God." There is something remarkably instructive in this little phrase — "to God." They were lost to God — His creatures, but, in the strictest sense of the terms, "unprofitable servants," "cumberers of His ground." Again, they were enemies to God. And in that position they were separated from God, both by their own enmity and by the legal liabilities of their guilt. They had wandered from their centre, and, consequently, out of their orbit, they were wandering in darkness; the moral world within them was reduced to disorder, chaos, and death. But now restored, the light of God shines full upon them, and order, beauty, and life again adorn and animate the soul. Redeemed to God, they are redeemed into a state of nearness to Him whose infinite fulness supplies a universe with good, and are the objects of His love whose favour is life, whose loving-kindness is better than life.
2. They have been made kings unto God. That is, they have been exalted to a state of royal, or more than royal honour. They may have been slaves on earth, they are kings in heaven.
3. And, as their song intimates, they are priests likewise. They realise in its fullest import the prayer of David (Psalm 27:4). Not some, but all the redeemed are priests unto God. Such are the perfected fruits of redemption.
IV. CONSIDER THE PRAISE WHICH IS OFFERED TO CHRIST ON THE GROUND OF THE REDEMPTION WHICH HE HAS WROUGHT. The very angels, with voices whose number is ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands, say "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain," etc. It is not the redeemed alone that say this — there can be no suspicion that grateful emotion exaggerates the benefit, or is too lavish of its praise. They that needed no redemption sing the praise of the Redeemer as well as those who were redeemed by His blood. There is no high quality manifested in the works of creation and providence which does not shine forth more illustriously in the work of redemption. Do you speak of power? It is here in all its irresistible might, as well as there, though in other forms. Do you speak of wisdom as manifested in the creation and government of the world? In the work of redemption you have the perfection of wisdom (Romans 11:33). Do you speak of holiness and righteousness? The song of creation and the song of providence will both embrace these attributes in tones of varied praise. But the song of redemption will speak of them with a fulness and emphasis all its own. Both Sinai and Calvary will be summoned to bear witness that God is a holy and righteous God. In conclusion, the very idea of song of redemption involves in it two great lessons.
1. It teaches us that we need redemption.
2. You are taught by this song of heaven that you are worth redeeming. Christ adjudges every one of them of more value than a world.
(John Kennedy, M. A.)1. Who He was that was slain.
2. This memorable decease was no casual event. The true spring, both of His death and of that eternal purpose by which it was foreordained, was no other than the free, unmerited, and sovereign love of a three-one God to sinners.
3. According to all the principles that are capable of influencing human nature, the highest evidence of love that can be given is "for a man to lay down his life for his friend" (John 15:13; Romans 5:7). But they for whom Christ died were neither righteous nor good.
4. Our matter of praise and wonder is still increased when we consider how Christ died.(1) As to what He suffered, it was not simply death such as ordinary persons undergo. He may be said to have begun to die as soon as He was born. And He died ten thousand deaths in one.(2) If we take a view of the manner in which He suffered all this, it was not leas wonderful. Though His sufferings were thus severe, He was far from repining or murmuring under them.
5. We have additional matter, both for praise and wonder, when we consider what great designs He had in view, and actually accomplished by being slain.(1) He appeased the justice of God and made way for our restoration to His favour.(2) He "blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us and was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His Cross."(3) He broke down "the middle wall of partition" that was betwixt Jew and Gentiles, and so made way for the introduction of the posterity of Japheth, to "dwell in the tents of Shem."(4) He overcame all our spiritual enemies who held us in bondage and stood in the way of our enjoying the benefit of that redemption which He purchased for us.
6. We have matter of the highest praise, as well as of the deepest wonder, when we consider that though Christ was once slain, He is now alive, and is "set down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens."Lessons:
1. The people of God have a ready answer to all the charges that the law of God brings against them, and to all the accusations of conscience; for Christ was slain.
2. There is no want of spiritual .provision in God's house for any sinner that is willing to make use of it.
3. Here is a strong incitement to the duty of mortification.
4. We see here a plain and patent way, yea, a new and living way, opened and consecrated for us, into the presence of God, through the veil of the flesh of a slain Redeemer.
5. There is good reason why all who profess to be Christians should submit with cheerfulness to the government of Christ as King of Zion.
6. The disciples of Christ need never be at a loss for a subject of sweet meditation by themselves, nor for a subject of sweet counsel, as they go to the house of God in companies.
7. Here is a broad and sure foundation for the faith of every hearer of the gospel, of whatever character or condition he be. The Lamb of God was slain, and, through His death, eternal life is freely offered.
(John Young, D. D.)I. THE NEED OF REDEMPTION.
1. It is proved by the conduct of the species; by the various modes of expiation to which men of all ages and nations have had recourse.
2. It finds an evidence in the breast of every individual.
II. THE SUFFICIENCY OF REDEMPTION BY THE BLOOD OF CHRIST.
1. The victim was provided by Jehovah Himself. Infinite goodness and love had nothing more to give.
2. Nor should it ever be forgotten that the vicarious suffering was endured to its full extent — to blood and to death!
3. We may rely on the competency and perfection of redemption by the blood of Christ, inasmuch as its success has already appeared in the actual salvation of so many of Adam's race.
III. THE TRUTH OF MAN'S REDEMPTION BY THE BLOOD OF CHRIST.
1. One objection advanced by the enemies of the atonement of Christ is, "that repentance and amendment constitute of themselves an acceptable and adequate means of reconciliation with God." Confidently as this maxim is advanced, we do not see that it takes place in the governments and legal institutions of men.
2. Another of the most plausible of those objections adduced against the doctrine of redemption by the blood of Christ is "that we can perceive no reason for, or connection between, the shedding of that blood and the acceptance and salvation of men." But is the statement in this objection true? Might we not say that when the Son of God became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross, an act of obedience so stupendous became a reason or consideration not only why God should highly exalt Him and give Him a name above every name, but also why He should forgive and accept all who repent and believe in Him?
IV. THE PRACTICAL INFLUENCE of this momentous doctrine.
1. It is eminently qualified to impress us with holy fear.
2. It should inspire us with the fullest confidence.
3. It should compel our gratitude and praise.
1. Like the chapter before us, the Scriptures everywhere teach us to regard the death of Christ in a peculiar manner. While the Scriptures have recorded the history of His birth, of His life, of His sufferings and conversation, they have manifestly done this only in explanation of His character and to give us a just view of His amazing condescension; and all these things they concentrate to one point, as they gather them all around the crowning matter of the whole — His amazing death! He became incarnate that He might be able to die.
2. The manner in which He met death was peculiar. He met it as no living man could have expected; as no righteous man that we know of ever did. How would you expect Christ to die, who lived without sin, if a life of holiness was His main work here, and if He had no more of difficulty to encounter with the king of terrors than falls to the lot of the righteous? He had more. And hence He quailed at the prospect. Willing to die, ready, He still trembles; in agony He prays, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me."
3. The sacred Scriptures uniformly speak of this death in a manner totally different from that in which they mention the death of any other being. Isaiah, Abel, Zecharias, Stephen, Peter, James, Paul — not one of the whole army is spoken of as making atonement for sin or any procurement of eternal life. But, on the contrary, the death of Christ is uniformly mentioned as having such an intention and such a result.
4. On the ground of this death the Scriptures found the argument for even the common morality of life.
5. The holy Scriptures uniformly expect to affect us most, and to furnish us the highest lessons of holiness, by affecting our hearts with the contemplation of the death of Christ. They want faith to fix there. Christ loved me and gave Himself a ransom. They expect to furnish an antidote to the love of sin by leading us to faith in Him who died to expiate it.
6. This death of Christ is an incomparable manifestation of Divine love, and hence is calculated to have an unequalled moral influence. All else must yield to it.Conclusion:
1. This is the adoration of heaven. Hearts on earth ought to assort with hearts in heaven over every contemplation of the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God.
2. As love constitutes the mode in which God seeks to save us, and at the same time constitutes the highest manifestation of His unfathomable perfections, the religion, whereby we hope to be at peace with Him, must very much consist in the same kind of affection. Open your heart to God, just where God opens His heart to you. Consent to love Him as His child.
3. There is no occasion for that gloomy despondency which sometimes feels that it may not confide in Christ, because it has nothing but a heart to offer. Christ wants nothing but your heart.
4. You need not fear to worship Christ. He is worshipped in heaven.
5. Finally, what unequalled humility and penitence become us at the communion-table!
(I. S. Spencer, D. D.)I. THE REMEMBRANCE OF THE REDEEMER'S SUFFERINGS IS CONSTANTLY KEPT UP BY THE BLESSED INHABITANTS OF HEAVEN.
II. WITH WHAT PECULIAR ADVANTAGES DO THE WORSHIPPERS ABOVE PURSUE THEIR RESEARCHES INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST.
1. The inhabitants of heaven enjoy an undisturbed leisure.
2. They possess perfect, inward rectitude and vigour. No irregularity of thought, no languishing of affection, can invade them.
3. They are wonderfully illuminated in the knowledge of those Divine truths, which are supposed in the gospel mystery, and on which it is built.
4. They have the fulness of evangelical illumination.
5. The presence of the Lamb, or of the Mediator in His human nature, in the midst of them.
6. The presence and experience of the glorious fruits of His death.
III. THE HAPPY AND PRECIOUS EFFECTS WHICH CONSTANTLY ATTEND THOSE PERFECT VIEWS OF THE REDEEMER'S SUFFERINGS, IN THE MINDS OF SAINTS AND ANGELS.
1. Their views of these wonderful sufferings are the chief means of their beatific vision of God.
2. While the blessed thus look upon the Three-One God, they love Him with an increasing, and most joyful and pure love. They rest, delight, and rejoice in God with ineffable pleasure.
3. While they thus love God supremely, they are knit together in the most endeared mutual affection to each other; each member of that vast assembly passionately loves the whole, and is beloved by all.
4. These inward feelings are attended with most perfect acts of worship to God, and expressions of kindness to each other.
(J. Love, D. D.)
I. Christ redeemed us TO GOD, to be His property, His children, His freedmen; to live with Him and for Him.
1. We are redeemed to God for our own happiness; we are brought near to Him, united to Him, made like to Him. In God's favour is life: His lovingkindness is better than life. How shall guilty sinners obtain peace with God? By washing in the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness. Our iniquity is forgiven, our sin is covered. Again, the Redeemer brings us into the family of God. Adoption is bestowed on us as an act of free grace for His sake. The prodigal sons are welcomed back to the plenty and endearments of their Father's house. We have boldness to enter into His presence by the blood of Jesus. But further, besides reinstating us in the favour and family of God, Christ restores within us His image. Our eyes are opened that we may see Him, and our hearts renewed to love His holiness. Once more, we were brought to the enjoyment of God. Being freely justified, we have a right to be happy; and amidst the tears which bereavements cause, and the anxieties which arise from blighted harvests and empty stalls; when health fails, and friends forsake, and life is a-departing, may we not joy in the God of our salvation?
2. Let us view our redemption to God as it respects His glory. For example, God's power is magnified. For the Son to bear the sins of an apostate world is more than to poise the earth upon nothing, and stretch out the heavens like a curtain. He bruised Satan's head, magnified the law, punished sin, and saved sinners. Divine holiness, likewise, and justice and truth, are glorified. How marvellously were all the promises and all the threatenings accomplished! And rather than one jot or tittle should fall to the ground, the sword was awaked against Jehovah's Fellow! Comparable with this, where is there an evidence of truth and righteousness? We are redeemed, also, to the glory of God's wisdom. Finally, what shall be said of the mercy and the love which shin's, as they nowhere else shine, in redemption?
II. The text tells us of THE PRICE by which Christ redeems us to God, not by the simple fiat of power, or by the bare exercise of mercy, nor by any compromise or unworthy concession, nor with corruptible things, as silver and gold; but with His own precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. Scripture uniformly testifies, that the ransom which the Son of Man paid was His own life. But it is very worthy of regard how frequently it is described by this name of blood. In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, and in the Epistle to the Hebrews, you may see what a value was attached to blood under the Old Testament. Why is the Saviour's blood thus prominently, in both dispensations, pressed on our attention? One end which this mode of expression serves is to certify to us the reality of His death. We see His heart pierced, and the blood drawn off; and we know that the penalty has been borne, and our peace secured. I suggest two additional reasons for this interesting phraseology.
1. That we may be constantly reminded of the manner of His death. It was not natural, but affected by violence. It was .not by hanging or suffocation; it was bloody. Conscious of innocence, of benevolence, of the greatest love to His enemies, the buffetings of His body were only emblems of the grievous wounds with which His soul was stabbed.
2. In order to affect us, to excite to penitence, gratitude and love.
(J. C. Herdman, M. A.)
Hast made us unto our God kings and priestsI. THE REDEEMER'S DOINGS.
1. He made us kings and priests, virtually, when He signed the covenant of grace.
2. But He did not stop there. It was not simply agreeing to the terms of the treaty; but in due time He filled it all — yes, to its utmost jot and tittle.
3. Christ finished the great work of making us what we are, by His ascension into heaven. If He had not risen up on high and "led captivity captive," His death would have been insufficient. He "died for our sins," but He "rose again for our justification."
II. THE SAINTS' HONOURS.
1. His royal office: a Christian is a king. He is not simply like a king, but he is a king, actually and truly. However, I shall try and show you how he is like a king. Remember his royal ancestry. Again, the saints, like monarchs, have a splendid retinue. Kings and monarchs cannot travel without a deal of state. If you had eyes to see, you would perceive a body-guard of angels always attending every one of the blood-bought family. Now, notice the insignia and regalia of the saints. Kings and princes have certain things that are theirs by perspective right. For instance, Her Majesty has her Buckingham Palace, and her other palaces, her crown royal, her sceptre, and so on. But, has a saint a palace? Yes. I have a palace! and its walls are not made of marble, but of gold. Have Christians a crown too? Oh, yes; but they do not wear it every day. They have a crown, but their coronation day is not yet arrived. They have been anointed monarchs. they have some of the authority and dignity of monarchs; but they are not crowned monarchs yet. Kings are considered the most honourable amongst men. They are always looked up to and respected. A monarch generally commands respect. Ah! we think that worldly princes are the most honourable of the earth; but if you were to ask God, He would reply, "My saints, in whom I delight, these are the honourable ones." Lastly —
1. Kings have dominion: and so have the saints.
2. Saints are not only kings but priests.We are priests because priests are Divinely chosen persons, and so are we. "No man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron." But we have that calling and election; we were all ordained to it from the foundations of the world. Then next, we are priests, because we enjoy Divine honours. None but a priest might enter within the vail; there was a court of the priests into which none might ever go, except the called ones. Priests had certain rights and privileges which others had not. Saint of Jesus! heir of heaven I thou hast high and honourable privileges, which the world wots not of! Then another remark shall be, we have a Divine service to perform.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)Proverbs 16:32): — Wilberforce was once asked, who was the greatest man he had ever known. He replied, "Out of all comparison, Pitt, but I never think of his superiority without reflecting, that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." So real, earnest, supremely noble, is a true Christian life. The best things in it are not those which dazzle by their glitter and their glare. It was an old heathen saying, "the wise alone are kings." Of those who have been made "wise unto salvation," it is infinitely more true that they alone are kings. They have been made kings unto God by Jesus Christ. From Christ's pierced hand we receive a royal sceptre to reign on earth. The song of the redeemed in heaven is descriptive of our dignity in this world, and our glory in the next, as "kings unto God." This royal honour, with the sovereign power it insures, we are slow to appropriate. It is a truism, perhaps, to say that to lead a healthy Christian life, we must live by the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, seeking the accomplishment of right objects in a right spirit, subduing the world, the flesh, and the devil, in a way that men cannot do who live "after the law of a carnal commandment." We are under great temptations of living so that we may make money, and gain influence and power, and this to the almost total exclusion of the grander requirements of self governance. Christ has made us kings, and the first subject He gives us to rule is our own spirit. The man "who ruleth his own spirit is greater than he that taketh a city." To rule our spirit, to get the ascendancy over ourselves, to be able, under all circumstances, to do the thing that ought to be done, not only in the right way, but under the influence of the right motives — this ought to be the life-long endeavour of every true Christian. No grander empire, no brighter crown can be won. The ruler of his spirit is the only real potentate. He who has no command of himself is "like a city broken down and without walls" — defenceless, open to the attack of every enemy, an object of reproach to every beholder. The man in such a plight is weak at the very place where he should be strong; and this weakness impels him to play the coward, when he ought to be valiant in the fight. He flees from himself and seeks company. He can live in turmoil, business, amusement, and enjoy his activities there; but he sadly lacks the courage to seek a solitude — to close and grapple with the enemy, the evil which he consciously knows and feels is gaining the tyranny over him. Hence it is that some of the earth's greatest heroes have been the basest moral cowards, because they have shirked self-discipline and self-control. "For a man to overcome himself is to overcome the world; for a man is a microcosm, a little world," So, when Epictetus was asked, "Who is free?" he replied, "He who masters himself" — with much the same tone of expression as Solomon, "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city." This leads to the inquiry, wherein lie the rebelliousness and disobedience of the spirit we are to rule? Our spirit is loosed from law by transgression. Our foes are those of our own household: sinful thoughts, carnal desires, unholy dispositions. These must be repressed, subjugated, conquered. We are to do battle with the inward corruptions and propensities of our degenerate nature. The town of Mansoul is like a besieged city, having within its citadel an enemy not unwilling to help the besieger; sometimes, indeed, really anxious to put into his hands an important battery or stronghold. Incessant watchfulness, untiring warfare is needed, until the traitor has been either expelled or crushed. Of all the faculties of the human soul we may affirm that they are good servants but bad masters. Every one of them must be ruled and regulated by right reason and God's pure counsel, so as to perform its proper work at the right time, and in the spirit of loving obedience to our Redeemer-King. Our judgment must not be overthrown by wild desire or vaulting ambition, yet covetousness is good, if I "covet earnestly the best gifts"; and ambition is good, if its object be to excel in all that is pure and lovely and of good report. The ambition that would wade remorselessly through slaughter to a throne, if directed to a worthy end, would become an enthusiasm for goodness and God, which could say of itself, "The zeal of Thy house hath eaten me up." Stiff-necked stubbornness and firm determination to have our own way are not evil in themselves. They are good, ennobling, and Christ-like, when with unflinching courage we seek through their action the God-like and the true. When, in doing our own will, we are doing God's will, there is only one road to go, and that is straightforward, without bend or divergence to the right hand or the left. It was thus that Christ, our Lord, was so self-possessed — so thoroughly master of Himself It was His meat to do the will of Him that sent Him. And herein He left us an example. The gospel of Christ does not propose to root out our desires, or even to repress them in any way. It proposes rather to purify, regenerate, and intensify them, only turning them away from what is selfish and mean to what is worthy and good. Christ has made us kings, not unto ourselves but unto our God; not for our own selfish ends, but for His glory and the good of men. Therefore, we are to get the governance of our spirits, to make them nobler and loftier, more Christ-like in character, more unselfish in aim. Of one of our English kings it was said that, "endowed with a great command over himself, he soon obtained an uncontrolled ascendancy over his people." This is the royal road to real power. Every one of us has his own battle to fight; the battlefields may vary, but the conquest in every case is to be for self-conquest, for rule of spirit, for the inheritance of the conqueror. The struggle, taxing and tasking all our energies, becomes through Christ a triumph. Made kings by Him, we are made more than conquerors through Him. Our very struggles for self-mastery become a possession, crowning us with a glory which apart from them we could never acquire, and we come to realise in our own experience that "he that ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city."
(Wm. Leitch, B. A.)I. POWER. His power is applied in three directions.
1. Selfward. One of the first blessings conferred by the gospel is self-control. Our kingship is not merely prospective. We are to live like kings.
2. Manward. The most Christian nations are to-day the most powerful.
3. God-ward. By our relation to Christ we are raised to a rank where we may treat with heaven. The Christian has power with God.
II. GREAT POSSESSIONS. Who would not be a Christian?
III. ADMINISTRATION. The whole question of royal right, duty and responsibility, may be summed up in one word, administration. And this word, with its sublime right of meaning, applies with full force to the Christian. In a high and kingly sense, and in a sacred, priestly sense, he is administrator for the kingdom of God in this world. True Christians are not only royal livers but royal givers.
(J. C. Allen.)
I. KINGS — that is, half, the lasting, eternal half of their Christian greatness. They are kings, because they are members of that Christ who is King of kings and Lord of lords. This royalty of Christ on earth, thus partaken by the Church His body, is clearly stated in many passages of Holy Scripture. To Christ as man, all "power was given both in heaven and in earth" (Matthew 28:18); and, again, "all things are delivered unto Him by His Father" (Luke 10:22). He is "the heir of the world," so that all is of right His. And it is the Father's good pleasure to give this kingdom to His little flock (Luke 12:32), that is, the Church; whereby the meek, that is, the little ones (Matthew 5:5), the saints of God, become in Him the rightful inheritors of the earth.
II. Thus are they kings; BUT THEY ARE ALSO PRIESTS. In earlier days, before the blood of sprinkling had been shed, and men made members of the great High Priest, they had no access to God themselves. If they desired to approach Him it could be by some intermediate help, some priest who, deprecating the wrath of God by the blood of victims, might on their behalf offer prayers for them, and, if it might be, become the channel of blessing to them. But Christ being come, the only true Priest (Hebrews 9:7-14, 24; Hebrews 10:19-22) and the single Victim of price, the access to God is opened, the veil rent, the entrance to the holiest unclosed. Thenceforth may every member of His body exercise a child's right of approaching his Father. In connection with the great doctrine, which in its consequences is obviously of great importance to the whole theory of the Church, its powers, and privileges, there are, in these distracted days, two main errors, held on two opposite sides, both of which are of imminent danger. The one of these is the doctrine of some of the liberalising or neologian party, the other, that of the Roman Catholics. The former, or neologian party, so hold fast the doctrine of the separate priesthood of Christians as to deny and disown altogether all authority and power and priestly offices as exercised towards some Christians by others; thus making each single Christian his own standard of doctrine, life, authority, and worship. The latter, or Roman Catholic party, so hold the existence of authority and priestly offices within the Church, exercised towards Christian people, that they really deny, in a great many important points, the royal priestliness of single Christians. The former reject lawful and necessary authority, for the sake of vindicating the personal rights of baptized people; the latter tyrannise over the just and inalienable rights of baptized people, for the sake of maintaining an excessive And unscriptural authority.
We shall reign on the earthI. The fact that THE CHURCH OF GOD WILL EVENTUALLY TRIUMPH OVER EVERY OBSTACLE, and that all its members will partake in the joys of its bloodless victory, is as certain as anything in revelation. According to heathen mythology, Astraea, the daughter of supreme power anal law, and therefore the protector and benefactor of men, dwelt with them during the golden age, in free and familiar association. On the introduction of the silver age which followed, she ceased such friendly intercourse, and made her abode chiefly among the lonely mountains; and though she occasionally still visited the abodes of men, it was only amid the shades of evening when she could not be seen. But when the brazen age began, she fled to heaven to return no more. Such is the classic myth; and well does it display the hopelessness in which heathen fable finds and leaves the human race. But we have the fact, not the fable; and the fact, thank God, is far more cheering than the fable. 'Tis true the golden age has passed away, and the silver age has come, and, worse than that, the brazen and the iron age. It is true also, that because the fine gold has become dim and the pure gold adulterated, a curse has fallen on our world, and the Divine favour has been in a measure withdrawn. But still, not wholly. Though in measure God has turned away His face from us, yet, with loving-kindness and tender mercy is He gathering us again to Himself. The origin and history of the Church of God and Christ are proof. Every civilised nation this moment on the earth is in possession of Christianity, in one degree or another. Christianity made them civilised; for though in some cases, in a measure, civilised before its introduction, alas, what a civilisation! how false and how impure!
II. THE FORM OR MODE OF THIS DOMINION — how the saints shall reign upon the earth. When we would rightly understand these words of promise, that the "saints shall reign upon the earth," we must east out of our minds everything that panders to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, and look for a meaning more spiritual and heavenly.
1. The saints shall reign, as reigning implies holiness. Every true servant of God, in a measure, now reigns over sin and Satan — over an evil nature, and over the Prince of this world; and so far forth, therefore, he reigns in holiness.
2. They will, in the next place, reign numerically. Now the true and undoubted servants of Christ are a small minority in the world; and yet, even now they exert a mighty influence. But, in the happy times to which we are permitted to look forward, what is now but partial will be almost total. Christians will have the control of all things; it will belong to them of right, numerically, and it will belong to them because of their fitness to use it. They will fashion public opinion, because, in fact, they will constitute the public.
3. Again, they will reign because their Master will then triumph. He is triumphing now in every individual that is converted to God, in every increase of holiness in the Church, in every new introduction or further spread of the gospel in heathen or Mahometan lands. But His triumph then is to be more marked and decisive.
4. Lastly, the saints will reign in millennial times, as reigning implies happiness. The great English dramatist makes one of his monarchs say, "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown"; and no doubt there is much truth in it; but still, the secret conviction of poor human nature is more faithfully expressed in the proverbial phrase, "Happy as a king." On the strength of this we may say, that when it is foretold that the saints shall reign upon the earth, it is meant to be intimated by the figure, in conformity with this universal feeling, that they shall be highly blessed and enjoy great felicity. Can it be doubted that such will be their lot?
(W. Sparrow, D. D.)
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