The Book Is Opened
And I saw upon the right hand of Him that sits upon the
throne, a book [or scroll], written on the inside and on the back, fast-sealed
with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a great voice: "Who
is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals of it?" And no one was able,
in the heaven, nor on the earth, nor under the earth, to open the book, nor
even to look upon it. And I was weeping much, because no one was found worthy
to open the book, nor even to look upon it. And one from among the elders said
to me: "Weep not; behold the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David,
overcame (see 3:21), to open the book and its seven seals."
And behold, and amidst the throne and the four living ones, and amidst the elders, a Lamb standing as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth. And He came and took [the book] from the right hand of Him that sits upon the throne.
And when He took the book, the four living ones and the 24 elders, fell down before the Lamb, having each a harp and golden bowls full of incenses, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sing a new song, saying: "Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals of it; for You were slain, and redeemed us to God by your blood, out of every tribe and tongue, and people, and nation and, You made us unto our God, kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth."
And I saw and heard a voice of many angels around the throne, and the living ones and the elders, and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb which has been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honour, and glory, and blessing." And every creature which is in the heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and upon the sea, and all the things in them, heard I saying, "To Him that sits upon the throne and to the Lamb [be] the blessing, and the honour, and the glory, and the dominion for the ages of the ages." And the four living ones said, "Amen;" and the elders fell down and worshiped (Revelation 5:1-14, Rev. Text).
This chapter continues the description of the vision last had under consideration. The scene is still in the sky. The throne, the Elders, the Living ones, are still in view, the same as in the preceding chapter. But there is a making ready for great things, and hence a disclosure of new items, which now claim our attention.
The Sealed Book
Prominent and first among these is a book, or roll, upon the right hand of Him that sits on the throne, written on the inside and on the back, fast-sealed with seven seals. It was doubtless there from the very first glance the seer had of this sublime display; but it was kept out of his notice, at least reserved from the particulars of his description, until this point.
Now starts one of the most sublime scenes in heaven, and the occasion of the most tremendous convulsions and changes on earth. The meaning of it has been differently represented by different expositors. But the outlying facts - that it and it alone, brings upon the scene the prime mover of the new song in heaven, and the great actor of all the succeeding events of earth; that He appears and deals with this book only in the character of the Lamb which had been slain; and that what He does with it is something from which all creation has shrunk back in unworthiness and inability to perform - ought to be sufficient to set us upon the track of the conclusion, that this book has its primary and most essential reference to redemption.
If it is at all admissible that the Seven Epistles (Revelation 2,3) cover the entire career of the present dispensation, it is simply impossible, in any direct and proper sense, to accept this sealed book as the book of the fortunes of the Church during these ages. The book does not appear until after the career of the Church is run. Those commentaries, therefore, which undertake to find in the opening of the seals of this book merely the history of the present dispensation, and think to exhaust their meaning in what they find in the writers of this worlds annals, must all pass for about so much labour lost.
Having myself experienced the unfortunate bewilderment and confusion which they involve, and seen the confessed hesitation and embarrassment which they have ever entailed upon all their authors and adherents, and tested, as I believe, the utter sandiness of the foundations on which they rest, I am satisfied, convinced, and confident, that they are just what I here pronounce them to be, namely, learned blunders and erudite but by no means harmless mistakes. It is not ecclesiastical history which this book is introduced to foretell, but something to which all ecclesiastical history is only the prelude and introduction and which the Scriptures call "The redemption of the purchased possession."
The Meaning Of Redemption
It may be well here for us to correct a misapprehension that largely obtains in the common conception of what redemption is. When this word is used, most mens minds go back to the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and think of something already accomplished and complete in the blessed facts of the blessed Saviours history. This is well enough as far as it goes, and touches indeed, the great central particulars on which redemption reposes.
But, viewed as a whole, redemption is a vastly wider and more wondrous thing. It stretches back through a history of 6,000 years, and yet its most sublime part is still future. It includes all past dispensations and theophanies, and the coming and achievements of Christ in the flesh; but it embraces still other dispensations, and more wonderful theophanies, and a more glorious advent of Christ, and vastly more far-reaching achievements, of which His miracles were the symptomatic pre-intimations.
There is already much of redemptive power and blessing in the world. The truth is that everything on earth rests on a mediatorial basis. The world stands and man exists only because of Christ and His undertaking to be our Saviour. But for His mediatorship, Adam would have perished the day that he transgressed and never a human being would have been born. The very ungodliest of the race owe whatever blessings they enjoy to the blood and engagement of Christ. Even the lower animals, and the very grasses of the fields, live and flourish by virtue of the same. Redemption is therefore so far a living force. Like a golden chain, it girdles the world, upholds it from destruction, and Sustains and blesses all the varied and successive generations on its surface.
But all this sea of mediatorial mercies is as nothing compared with what is yet to come. Redemption has its roots and foundations in the past, but its true realisation lies in the future and connects directly with the period and transactions to which our text relates. The Scriptures everywhere point forward to Christs Apocalypse as the time when first the mystery shall be finished and the long process reach its proper consummation.
Jesus talked to His disciples about the signs which were to precede His coming, and said, "When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draws nigh" (Luke 21:28). In His view, then, redemption proper, or in its true reality, lies far more in the future than in the past; so much more that the past is hardly to be named apart from what is yet to come.
With all Pauls glorying in the cross, he did not hesitate to say, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are, of all men, most miserable" (1 Corinthians 15:19). He also stated that "the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now; and not only they, but ourselves also, which have the flrstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body" (Romans 8:22-23). He speaks of Christians as indeed "sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise," which he commends greatly, but which he pronounces the mere "earnest" or pledge of something vastly greater - of an "inheritance" still future, which is only to come at a yet unaccomplished "redemption of the purchased possession" (Ephesians 1:13-14).
To him, therefore, redemption is still largely a subject of hope. There is an inheritance pledged and a possession purchased, but it is not yet redeemed. The action of claiming, disencumbering, and taking possession of it is still future. And it is just this action that is brought to our view in the taking up of this book and the breaking of its seals.
The word redemption comes to us and takes its significance from certain laws and customs of the ancient Jews. Under these laws and customs, it was impossible to alienate estates beyond a given time. Whatever disposition one may have been forced to make of his lands, and whoever might be found in possession of them, the year of Jubilee returned them to the lawful representatives of their former owners.
Upon this regulation there was founded another, which made it the right of the nearest of kin to one who, through distress or otherwise, had alienated his inheritance to another party, to step in and redeem it. That is, he could buy it back and retake it at any time or at such times not falling within certain stipulated intervals.
When an inheritance was given away by its rightful possessor, there were two books, or instruments of writing, made of the transaction - the one open and the other sealed, specifying price and particulars. These books or mortgage-deeds went into the hands of the one to whom the property was thus made over. A sealed book thus became a standing sign of an alienated inheritance, but so held as to be liable to be recovered on the terms specified.
When any one legally representing the original proprietor, was found competent to lift and destroy that sealed instrument, and thus to buy back what had been given away, he was called the goel, or redeemer. The inheritance was considered redeemed, so far that he now had full right to dispossess of it whoever might be found on it and to enter upon its undisturbed fruition (see Ruth 4).
From this it will be seen that the transactions that John witnessed, in regard to this sealed book, accord precisely with this ancient arrangement for the redemption of inheritances. The coincidence is so complete, and sealed books in Scripture are so much confirmed to these particular sorts of writing (Jeremiah 32:6-12), that I take it as separating this book in Gods right hand from all other subjects to the one subject of forfeited inheritances.
The idea that it must refer to matters of knowledge, or information to be communicated, is a mere prejudice derived from modern things and not at all from any Scriptural allusions to sealed books. It is also incompatible with the intent of Gods word, for it to be sealed up, in the literal sense of this passage. His word is given for opening, not concealing. For treating it as a sealed book, and not opening it to the people, Isaiah prophesied, and Christ himself confirmed fearful judgment upon the doctors of Jerusalem. To make this book refer to things to be revealed is also in disagreement with what follows the breaking of the seals. Its being opened was not for the reading of the book, for no reading followed, but only shouts of praise that a worthy Redeemer was found, and the action of judgment and destruction to dispossess usurpers and aliens.
We also know very well that there has been an inheritance forfeited for these thousands of years, and that for all this time the proper heirs have been out of it and had no proper possession of it. That inheritance we know to be just ta panta - the all things - in which man, in his first creation, was installed, and which God made good and sin made evil. Everything testifies that it was a high, holy, and blessed investiture. But, alas, its original possessor sinned, and it passed out of his hands to the disinheritance of all his seed.
The sealed book, the title-deeds of its forfeiture and mortgage, are in the hands of God, and strangers and intruders have overrun and debased it. From the days of Adam until now, those deeds have lain in the Almightys hands, with no one to take them up or to dispossess the aliens. Even when the saints are caught up to the sky, they will find it still lying there, awaiting this very scene of the text, when the Goel adjudged worthy shall appear and take it up, and destroy the sad testimonial by breaking its seals forever.
"Seven seals" are upon this book, indicative of the completeness of those bonds of forfeit which have all this while debarred Adams seed from their proper inheritance. The original estate is totally gone from man, apart from some competent Redeemer. Just as the final taking of the book, and the breaking of its seals, eventuate in complete redemption and the full reinstatement of the acknowledged seed into the blessedness which sin forfeited and the Goel redeemed, so those seals unbroken, set forth the completeness of the alienation and the thoroughness of the incumbrances which are upon the estate until that competent Goel has performed his work.
This book was "written within and on the back. "This again tends to identify it with these books of forfeited inheritances. Within were the specifications of the forfeiture; without were the names and attestations of the witnesses, for this is the manner in which these documents were attested.
It is in the right hand of God. No literal hand is described; but, so to speak, it was on the right hand of the undescribed and indescribable One who occupied the throne. This is significant of His high and supreme right to what the sealed instrument binds. Failing from man, it reverted to the original Giver. Sin cannot vitiate any of the rights of God. Satans possession is a mere usurpation, permitted for the time, but in no way detrimental to the proprietorship of the Almighty. The true right still lives in the hand of God until the proper Goel comes to redeem it, by paying the price and ejecting the alien and his seed.
The same is significant of the fact that this matter of the book and its seals is the principal subject of the transaction displayed. Furthermore, that the most intense holiness and most sublime power are required to be able or worthy to approach and take possession of the record, for to come to the right hand of God is to come to the highest place of exaltation and authority in the universe.
Who Will Open The Book?
Along with the sealed book, appeared a mighty angel, asking with a great voice if anyone was prepared to take the book and break its seals. This further accords with our interpretation of the nature of this book and shows that the forfeited inheritance was now open for redemption. The description is not as if the privilege to redeem was now first opened. For all that John saw and heard, the proclamation may have been sounding long. But the time had come when, if a competent Goel was to be found, he should come forward and exercise his right. The way was open before; but, with no one having appeared till now, the great, universal, final call is made - if anyone is worthy, he should now exercise his power.
The result of the call was that "no one was able, in the heaven, nor on the earth, nor under the earth, to open the book, nor even to look upon it." Angels shrunk back from it as beyond their qualifications. Heavenly principalities and powers stood mute and downcast as they surveyed the requirements for the work. And yet, it would seem as if somewhere there had been efforts making to achieve it.
What, indeed, have been all the endeavours of unsanctified men, in politics, in science, and in all the arts of civilisation, improvement, philosophy, and even religion, but to work out this problem of successful repossession of what was lost in Adam? They have attempted to attain to that forfeited perfection and supreme good which has ever danced before their imaginations. What, indeed, has been the spring of the activity of the underworld, in these ages of seductive effort with mortals, but to persuade men that they can make good the lying promise, "You shall be as God"? In spite of the Almighty, and without Him, they have tried to realise, through human expansion and demonic guidance, the dream of a better destiny for the world and the race.
It has also been in the plan of God so far to drop the reins to His rebellious creatures, to permit the experiment to be carried to its utmost, and to give scope for its most conspicuous failure at the last. Varied, and many, and complicated, have been the attempts, all of which, as they always must, have resulted in disastrous failure.
Egypt attempted to play the goel for the world and cringed to the bloodiest tyrannies, bowed to the worship of the basest of creatures, and went down in ignominious ruin. Babylon tried it and became the worlds great symbol of all that is blasphemous in power, impure in life, besotted in affection, and terrible in desolation. Greece tried it and only consummated her destruction in the marriage of the intellect of heaven with the vices of hell. Rome tried it and became the iron arm that threshed the world in blood, and then dissolved in the putrefaction which itself had wrought. The spirit of liberty, democratic confederation, and universal communism and enlightenment, uniting largely with elements of infernal origin, is now trying it and will perpetuate its efforts to the most gigantic and bewitching consummation that the world shall ever have seen. But it will only work out to be the most dreadful failure that has yet occurred.
In heaven, on earth, and under the earth, the ultimate record will be what is here written: "no one was able to open the book, nor even to look upon it." The lost estate of man - by man, or angel, or spirits of the underworld - can never be recovered.
It is a sad and melancholy contemplation. Heaven, itself, seems to grow silent and breathless under it. And the tender and loving heart of John overflows as the picture opens before him. "I was weeping much, because no one was found worthy to open the book, nor even to look upon it."
Some speak of these tears as mere tears of disappointed curiosity. This, indeed, is the common explanation. We are told that the book had unknown revelations in it which John was very impatient to understand and that his much weeping was caused by the prospect of having his personal desire to obtain a knowledge of the future, ungratified. Poor John! What a silly mortal, to be troubling himself about unrevealed prophecy and to keep up this crying in heaven because there was no one to open the book for him! The thing is absurd. It is beneath criticism. And if we cannot get through our interpretations without such left-handed compliments to the "natural emotion" of men "in the Spirit," it seems to me that it would be the part of fairness and honour to confess frankly that the subject is beyond our comprehension. I am very certain that if John had looked upon these solemn and mighty transactions as some of his commentators have represented them, we would not only never have heard of these tears, but they never would have been shed. What a picture of inspiration, that it should thus strip a venerable and disciplined servant of God of all manly dignity, and make of him a silly and peevish child!
No, no; John knew, by that Spirit in which he was, what that sealed book meant. He knew that if no one was found worthy and able to take it from the hand of God and to break its seals, then all the promises of the prophets, and all the hopes of the saints, and all the pre-intimations of a redeemed world, must fail. He understood the office of the Goel, and that if there was failure at this point, "the redemption of the purchased possession" must fail. Could it be possible that this should be? Had he all this while been hoping, and preaching, and prophesying what should, after all, not be accomplished? Was the promised inheritance, now at the ripened moment for its recovery, to go by default into eternal alienation? How could he bear the thought? Yet such were some of the suggestions of this interval of blankness and awful pause in heaven.
In this view of the case, well might an earnest prophet weep without damage to his meekness or his honour. But in this chief mourner over the unopened book, we may see the state of the Church up to that time - a widowhood household, weeping before the Lord over the spoliation of its inheritance. Do not His own elect "cry day and night unto Him" to avenge them in this particular? Do not the sons of the bride-chamber continually weep and fast because the Bridegroom is taken from them and His house oppressed by the children of the alien?
That book, unlifted and unopened, is the Churchs grief and distress. It bespeaks the inheritance unredeemed - the children still estranged from their purchased possession. But that book opened is the Churchs joy and glory. It is the assertion of her reinstatement into what Adam lost - the recovery to her of all of which she has been so long and cruelly deprived by sin. Until, therefore, that book is opened and its seals broken, the people of God must remain in privation, sorrow, and tears.
The Lion From The Tribe Of Judah
But blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Such anxious and tearful longing for the "better country" and the ransomed inheritance is noticed in heaven and has many precious assurances from there. One of the Elders said unto John, "Weep not, behold the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, overcame to open the book and its seven seals." And this is what the Church has been hearing from her elders, and prophets, and apostles, and ministers, in all the ages. It is the very essence of the Gospel, which has been sounding ever since the promise in Eden, that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpents head. It is what all the ancient types prefigured, what the songs of the prophets foretold, and what the first Christians and their successors went heralding over all the earth. It has been the only comfort of Gods children in all these ages of their disinheritance, a comfort which has cheered their pilgrim steps through life, illumined their passage to the grave, and will be the joy of their souls as they stand waiting in heaven for the consummating victory of Him who has thus far been so uniformly triumphant on so many trying fields.
Jesus is the Lion sprung from Judah. He is this Root of David - the foundation on which the Davidic hopes repose. He overcame in the trials of life, in the temptations in the wilderness, in the agonies of the garden, in the terrors of death, and in the bonds of the grave. He has gone up, leading captivity captive. He is Victor now over law, and sin, and death, and hell. He has paid the redemption price of the forfeited inheritance. He is the true Goel who, having so far triumphed and been accepted, will also prove ready and worthy to complete His work by lifting those long-standing deeds of forfeiture and breaking their debarring seals. Such is our faith, and hope, and comfort, here reconfirmed to us from heaven. And what we find in the further particulars of this vision, is simply the picture of its accomplishment.
The Lion Is The Lamb
"And behold, and amidst the throne, and the four Living ones, and amidst the Elders, a Lamb, standing, as it had been slain." The description of the location of this Lamb is of the same sort with that of the Living ones. They were "in the midst of the throne, and around the throne"; that is, they were seen everywhere within the bounds of the throne, from centre to circumference, as if they were the life and being of it, present in every part. And so this Lamb was in the midst of the throne, the Living ones, and the Elders - visibly omnipresent within these bounds, as if the animating soul of all - the Life of the life of the throne, and of the forms of being and dignity about it.
He who appears here as a Lamb is the same whom the Elder had just described as a Lion. The two titles might seem to be incongruous. What could be more opposite than the monarch of the forest, in strength and majesty inflicting terror and death, and the lamb, in its uncomplaining meekness in the hands of the sacrificer? But the two pictures do not conflict. They supplement each other and combine to bring out what could not be otherwise so well portrayed, and yet what the nature of the case required.
The opening of the seals is an act of strength - an exploit of war - a going forth of power to take possession of a kingdom. As one after another is broken, out flies a strong One in fierce assault upon the enemies and usurpers who occupy the earth. There is terror and destruction at every successive movement. And in the accomplishment of this, Christ is a Lion, clothed with power, and majesty, and terrible strength.
But the character in which He overcame and became in that respect qualified for this work, and that in which He presents Himself before the throne as a candidate to be adjudged worthy to do it, is that of the sacrificial Lamb. He is the Lamb who had innocently and meekly suffered, bearing our sins in His own body and vanquishing all legal disabilities by His atoning blood. It is in this character of a Lamb that was slain, who overcame by His perfect obedience unto death, and who paid the price of redemption in His meek sufferings, that He is adjudged "worthy to take the book, and to open the seals of it."
It is by His sacrifice as a Lamb slain that He comes to the qualifications for the further office of a Lion, to assert and enforce His supremacy. Both these characters are essential, so both appear in the description. "He was led as a Lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth" (Isaiah 53:7); but He is yet to "send forth judgment unto victory" (Matthew 12:20). As the Lamb, He has "borne our sorrows and carried our iniquities" and stands before the throne in passive humiliation and loyal suffering. But it is reserved for Him, as Judah's Lion, "in righteous- ness to judge and make war" and to enforce the indignation of that throne against all who stand out in rebellion against it.
He is here described not by the ordinary word (amnos) used to signify a lamb, but by another (amios) more intensely significant of gentleness and domesticity -a pet lamb - in sharp contrast with the wild beasts in opposition to whom He is arrayed. This the more fully brings out His particular mildness and familiar identification with His people, and the utter inexcusableness and guilt of those savage and untamed ones who persist in rejecting, persecuting, and warring against Him. They wrong and injure the gentlest and most inoffensive of beings - they murder the pet Lamb of the family of God.
You will notice the attitude of this Lamb - "standing." " Though He had all the appearances of recent slaughter, He is alive and upon His feet. The resurrection of Christ is not a myth, but a fact. The same John who saw Him dead on Calvary, here sees Him alive in heaven - alive in the body, with the marks of slaughter upon Him. We believe not in a dead Christ only. Our faith does not terminate with a tomb. It takes in a living Redeemer who is as much upon His feet as if He never had been dead, and qualified by His having died for what He never could have done, had He not surrendered His life and gone down among the dead. And with these tokens of His slaughter, as the once dead but now living Lamb, He stands before the throne - stands accepted and approved - stands for those who accept Him as their Redeemer - stands for the maintenance of their cause and the fulfilment of their hopes.
"Having seven horns." Here is the intimation that something more than sacrifice and intercession is now to be His business. The horn is the symbol of strength and aggressive power. Moses, in blessing Joseph, says: "His glory is like the firstborn of His bullock, and His horns are like the horns of unicorns; with them He shall push the people together to the ends of the earth" (Deuteronomy 33:17). We find the same imagery in Psalms (89:17,24) applied both to Christ and His people, and in both instances connected with strength and conquest. Zechariah 1:18-19 says: "I lifted up mine eyes and saw, and behold four horns. And I said unto the angel that talked with me: What be these? And he answered me: These are the horns [that is, the powers] which have scattered Judah, and Israel, and Jerusalem."
The horn thus stands for imperial, kingly, and aggressive power. Seven is the number of completeness. So while Christ appears here as the sacrificial Lamb, He is at the same time possessed of the fulness of imperial strength and mighty force. He has ability for invincible conquest, as well as meekness for patient suffering.
With the "seven horns" are "seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth." When Isaiah prophesied of the Rod out of the stem of Jesse, he said: "The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon [have its home in] Him." And he enumerated seven in the blessed fulness of the holy endowment. First, "the spirit of wisdom;" second, "the spirit of understanding;" third, "the spirit of counsel;" fourth, "the spirit of might;" fifth, "the spirit of knowledge;" sixth, "the spirit of the fear of the Lord;" and seventh, "the spirit of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord" (Isaiah 11:1-3).
Thus has inspired prophecy identified and described in advance these very "seven Spirits of God," which here come to view as the "seven eyes" of the Lamb. His horns show His fulness of imperial power; His eyes show His fulness of intellectual and spiritual power. His is not a blind force, but an almighty power directed by perfect and all-searching intelligence and divine understanding. Upon that BRANCH which God was to lay as the chief cornerstone of the mystic temple, were also "seven eyes - eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth" (Zechariah 3:8-9; 4:10). This Lamb is that selfsame Branch and Cornerstone; and these are the selfsame eyes of all-penetrating vision and completeness of spiritual and universal wisdom.
Three grand qualities of the Goel are thus brought to view - first, sacrificial virtue, to take away sin; second, aggressive strength to conquer and to overcome all foes; and third, perfect and universal intelligence, direct from the indwelling Spirit of God in all its fulness. Such were the qualifications with which He appeared amidst the throne, the Living ones, and the Elders, and advanced to take the book and break its seals. When it is considered that no qualifications less than these would answer, we need not wonder that no one else in heaven, earth, or under the earth, was found worthy to open the book, or even to look upon it.
Who among the angels of God could show such spotless innocence, maintained amid such trials - such meek and meritorious submission - such victory over the inexorable demands of a violated law - such triumph over the unlimited power of death - such perfection of aggressive might - such intensity of spirituality, intelligence, wisdom, and Godly comprehension! Well might the mightiest messenger of God, with the greatest voice, send out through the universe, and all heaven pause in mute and solemn waiting, and not find such another. Brethren, there is but one sun in our system, and there is but one Christ in the universe.
He Is Worthy To Open The Book
"And He came and took from the right hand of Him that sits upon the throne." This is the most sublime individual act recorded in the Apocalypse. It is the act which includes all that suffering creation and the disinherited saints of God have been sighing, and crying, and waiting for all these long ages - for 6,000 years of grief and sorrow. It is the act which carries with it all else that is written in the succeeding part of this glorious revelation. It is the act by virtue of which the world is subdued, Babylon judged, Antichrist destroyed, the dragon vanquished, death overthrown, the curse expunged, the earth made new, and the reign of everlasting blessedness and peace made to cover its hills and illuminate its valleys and transform it into an unfading paradise of God. It is the lifting of the title-deeds of the alienated inheritance - the legal act of repossession of all that was lost in Adam and paid for by the blood and tears of the Son of God.
Heaven looks on in solemn silence as that act is being performed. The universe is stricken with awe and grows breathless as it views it. And the Living ones, and Elders, and all the hosts of angels, are filled with adoring wonder and joy as if another fiat had gone forth from God for a new creation.
"When He took the book," there went a thrill through the universal heart of living things. "The four Living ones, and the 24 Elders fell down before the Lamb." A song that was never sung before broke from their lips. John hears the lofty anthem rolling sublime through heaven. "YOU ARE WORTHY TO TAKE THE BOOK, AND TO OPEN THE SEALS OF IT. For You were slain, and redeemed us to God by Your blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and You made us unto our God, kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth."
Nor were they alone moved to new and more intense adoration, but "around the throne, and the Living ones, and the Elders," and far in the depths of space, he "heard the voice of many angels, and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: WORTHY IS THE LAMB WHICH HAS BEEN SLAIN TO RECEIVE THE POWER, AND RICHES, AND WISDOM, AND MIGHT, AND HONOUR, AND GLORY, AND BLESSING."
And wider and still wider spread the sympathetic response of adoring rapture. There was not a holy heart unmoved, nor a holy tongue that did not lift up its song. "Every creature which is in the heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and upon the sea, and all things in them," John "heard saying, TO HIM THAT SITS UPON THE THRONE, AND TO THE LAMB, [BE] THE BLESSING, AND THE HONOUR, AND THE GLORY, AND THE DOMINION FOR THE AGES OF THE AGES. And the four Living ones said, AMEN; and the Elders fell down and worshiped."
Now to take all this sacred pomp and universal thrill of adoration as the mere Proem [preface] to a few chapters of dim and often untraceable outline of the Churchs history in this world, I confess to you looks to me as little less than blasphemy. Not for my right arm, nor for my right eye, could I consent so to regard it. Where in all the revelations of eternity is there another such scene? Where in all the disclosures of God and His awful administrations is there another such picture or another such crisis? Search the book of inspiration from end to end and you will find no parallel to it. Even the great voice of the mighty angel would inquire for the like in vain.
I must therefore take this act of the Lamb, so far from being the mere fancy work of John, or even of the Holy Ghost, as involving the heading up and highest consummation of the highest things of our faith, and of all the contents of the revelation of God. And as the view that I have given of it, and that only, assigns to it a significance commensurate with such awful and universal solemnities, I feel that I am planted on the rock of immutable truth in teaching you so to accept it.
The Prayers Of The Saints
Strikingly confirmative is still another particular in the description, which does not appear until after the Lamb has taken the book. In the preceding chapter, when the Living ones and Elders paid their adoration, it was unto Him that sits upon the throne; and their cry of WORTHY, was to Him who created all things, and by whose will they were, and were created. But here they fall down before the Lamb and cry their WORTHY unto Him that was slain and had redeemed them with His blood.
In connection with their new song to Him who holds the book, they are described as "having each a harp and golden bowls full of incenses, which are the prayers of the saints." I find here nothing of that doctrine of the saints as mediators, with which the Church in some sections and ages has been so much debauched and the glory of her true Intercessor so much obscured. Christ has just now been acknowledged as the possessor of the ability and the right to enter, with His redeemed ones, upon their inheritance. It is therefore the time for all the prayers of all the saints of all the ages to come into remembrance, that that which has ever been their chief burden may now be answered and fulfilled.
"THY KINGDOM COME. THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN." So have all Christians ever prayed. Such is the theme of all true supplication, as it looks out over futurity, and utters the spirit of faith and hope. And who can reckon up the volumes and oceans of such entreaties, which, remain to this day unanswered? But not one of them is lost. They are all carefully, treasured in golden bowls. They are as sweet incenses before God and before the Lamb. And when we come to take our places with our Lord, and He takes the book of forfeiture to break its debarring seals, then will those supplications come into play; and blessed is he who has his bowl full of them.
The picture is not that of saints in heaven officiating for saints on earth but of saints in heaven holding up to Christ their own prayers, and the prayers of one another, and the prayers of all saints, that now they may be fulfilled to the making of things on earth as they are in heaven. Now the answer which has been so long delayed may be speedily accomplished.
And the harps bear upon the subject in the same direction. As the incense connects with the priests office, so the harp connects with the prophets. Samuel said to Saul, "You shall meet a company of prophets coming down from the high place, with a psaltery, and a tambourine, and a pipe, and a harp before them, and they shall prophesy" (1 Samuel 10:5). We read of six sons of Jeduthun, "who prophesied with a harp" (1 Chronicles 25:3). David says of his prophetic utterances, "I will open my dark sayings upon the harp" (Psalm 49: 4).
The purpose of holding up these incense prayers and prophetic harps together before the Lamb as He takes the book is that He may now remember and fulfill what all His holy prophets have spoken and sung, as well as what all His saints have prayed. Both combine to assure us that it is the very summit and consummation of all pious desire, and all sacred prediction and song, that is involved in this taking of the book.
We Shall Reign With Him
To the same purpose is the hopeful and joyous exclamation at the conclusion of the lofty anthem which these Living ones and Elders sing to Him who holds the lifted book. "And we shall reign on the earth." Why express themselves thus, just at this point? Because this taking up of the book was the pledge and proof that now He was fully invested and ready to redeem the inheritance and to carry into effect the blessed promises that "the meek shall inherit the earth," and that "the kingdom, and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High" (Matthew 5:5; Daniel 7:27). It was now certain to sight that all was about to be literally fulfilled and that their golden crowns and dignities were not mere empty things, but carrying with them all that such marks import.
Some people tell us that it is quite too low and coarse a thing to think of the earth in connection with the final bliss of the saints. But if the ransomed in heaven, with golden crowns upon their brows, kneeling at the feet of the Lamb before the very throne of God, and with the prayers of all saints and the predictions of all prophets in their hands, could sing of it as one of the elements of their loftiest hopes and joys, I beg to turn a deaf ear to the surly cry of "carnal" -"sensual" - "unspiritual" - with which some would turn me from "the blessed hope."
Shall the saints in glory shout, "We shall reign on the earth," and we be accounted heretics for believing that they knew what they were saying? Is it come to this, that to be orthodox we must believe that these approved and crowned ones kneel before the throne of God with a lie upon their lips? Shall they, from thrones in heaven, point to earth as the future theatre of their administrations and give adoring thanks and praises to the Lamb for it, and we be stigmatised as fanatics and Judaizers for undertaking to pronounce the blessed fact in mortal hearing? Oh, I wonder, I wonder how the dear God above us can endure the unbelief with which some men deal with His holy word.
Shall we then keep silence on the subject? When the Living ones and Elders fail to sing about it in heaven; when inspired apostles no longer admit the subject into their holy writings; then, but not till then, let it be dropped from the discourses of our sanctuaries, and from the repeated cries of them that fear God. And woe, woe, to that man who is convinced of its truth but, for the sake of place or friendship, refrains from confessing it! Well has it been said of him: "He barters away his kingdom for the applause of men. He eclipses the glory of Christ to enhance his own." He stultifies the adoring songs of celestial kings that he may win a little empty favour by base pandering to the pleasure of an ignorant, unbelieving, and godless world.
Home | Links | Writings | Biography