Horatius Bonar Commentaries
And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads.
And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps:
And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.The Church Dwelling Alone.
2 Corinthians 6:17Let me call attention to these four tests, as making up the different parts of one great truth concerning the Church's true position in this present evil world, her 'unearthly' calling and 'unearthly' walk. She is the 'redeemed one;' redeemed from the earth; redeemed from among men, or literally 'from men.' She comes out and is separate; she dwells alone; 'separate from sinners' (Psalm 1:1; Hebrews 7:26).
She is 'redeemed fromthe earth' that she may dwell alone.She is 'redeemed from men' that she may dwell alone. She comes out and is 'separate' that she may dwell alone. For she is not of the world, even as He who redeemed her is not of the world. She is 'sanctified in God the Father' (Judges 1:1). She is a stranger in strange land. Her calling is heavenly; and her affections are set on things above. Her 'citizenship' is in heaven and she sits loose from all below—riches, pleasures, honors, vanities!'Unspotted from the world' is her designation. (Jam 1:27)
I wish to bring out all this specially in connection with the third of the above texts, concerning Israel's dwelling alone.
'Israel shall dwell in safety alone' (Deuteronomy 33:28). 'Lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations'(Numbers 23:9).
These were true sayings, though one of them comes from the lips of a false prophet. In them we seem to have a contradiction of the divine word, 'It is not good for man to be alone.' Yet is so only in appearance. These two 'alones' are very different—the 'alone' of Adam and the 'alone' of Israel; the persons are different, the circumstances are different, the words are different; that which was not good for the one was good for the other.
It looks also like an exception to the proverb, 'Two are better than one—for if they fall, the one will life up his fellow—but woe to him who is alone when he falls' (Ecclesiastes 4:10). But it is not really so; for everything in such a case depends on the friendliness of one's companion. Better to be alone when falling, than to be with an enemy.
Up until Abraham's day the 'godly seed', the 'saints of the Most High,' had not been alone (except in heart and feeling); but were scattered everywhere; hidden and mixed. Hence before the flood the sons of God intermarried with the daughters of men. But when He called Abraham, He unfolded His purpose of separation from the rest of men.Then He carried out His condemnation of this present evil world, which in and by Noah He had already proclaimed. He appeared unto Abraham as the God of glory; and in that character He called him 'out' of Chaldea and its idolatry. He called him out to be 'separate' and to 'dwell alone'—no, to dwell in 'tents'—temporary dwellings. It was not the removal from one nation to another, or one land to another, that we see in Abraham, but the call to 'dwell alone'—the manifestation of God's purpose to this end.
Abrahamdwelt alone. So did Isaac.So did Jacob.So also did Mosesat last; though for a time he was drawn into the world, not out of it. Yet afterwards he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, counting the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. First drawn out of the water, then out of Pharaohs house. Egypt soon cast him out, and he 'dwelt alone' and 'separate' In the land of Midian—as a stranger and a sojourner. All his later life was of the same separated kind. He was a true Nazarite, set apart from the world to God.
So was it with Israel.Even 'in Egypt' there was little affinity or sympathy between them and the Egyptians; and the more that their 'hope' came out and brightened—the fellowship became less—and the antagonism the more decided. In 'the desert' they were separate—they 'dwelt alone'—with no society but that of God. When they entered Canaan, they did it to dwell alone. Even there they were not numbered among the nations. They were in the midst of all that was incongruous and hostile; and all things seemed meant to keep them separate, to make them feel their separation. Their place, their character, the calling, their testimony, all corresponded with each other.
First there was round them a wall or barricade of enemies—the Phoenicians on the north, the Philistines on the west, the Edomites on the south, the Moabites and Ammonites on the east. Then there was an outer belt of deserts, and mountains, and seas, accomplishing a double separation; and beyond these there was an interminable stretch of hostile territory—the vast nations of heathenism spreading wide over the world, all of them hostile to Israel.
Truly Israel was separate and dwelt alone. They were not numbered among the nations. The Gentiles never spoke of them but with contempt. To a Greek or Roman, a Jew was the name for all that was weak, morose, foolish, and ignorant. The great worldly streams swept by the tribes and around them, but the Israelites remained alone—unaffected by these mighty motions of earth's kingdoms—until at last their sins drew them into the currents, and they no longer dwelt alone.
But for ages they did dwell alone. They had all things of their own—borrowing from none, dependent on none. With their own self-sustaining land, their own religion, their own city, their own temple, their own God, they dwelt alone. Their internal resources were enough. They needed not to go down to Egypt for help; and what could Babylon and its idols, or Greece and her gods, do for them? They needed nothing from the world. Jehovah was their God, their all; and with His fullness for their inheritance, they could afford to 'dwell alone.'
What was Babylon, or Assyria, or Egypt, to Israel? An enemy, or it might be a tempter—but certainly not an ally or a friend. A distant peace might be between them; but as for fellowship, or brotherhood, or sympathy—that could not be!
What is the world to the Church, or to any single saint? Just what Babylon or Egypt was to Israel. No more. She dwells alone. We know that we are of God—and that the whole world lies in wickedness!
Israel was 'separate' and dwelt alone. This was her position, her portion—such as was appointed her by the purpose of God. The Church is to dwell alone, like Israel. Let us set both these together, illustrating the one by the other.
1. Israel did not need the world's HELP.The nations were stronger than she, but she did not require their strength to lean upon. Their strength was their weakness; her weakness was her strength. They would have helped her, but she would not be helped; and when at last she did accept their aid—it was her ruin! Her help was in Jehovah. Her security was in His favor. With Him upon her side, what was the array of the whole world against her? Her pious kings, such as Asa and Hezekiah, felt this—they prayed and acted accordingly.
Neither does the Church need the help of the world. The less of the world there is in her projects, her enterprises, her hopes, the better. Never has she prospered when she departed to an 'arm of flesh', or to the strength of human greatness, or to the influence of the world's smile. For the world cannot really help one who is not of this world, who has nothing in common with her joys, or cares, or ambitions. And never has the world helped the Church without exacting a favor in return—insisting on or tacitly giving it to be understood that she expects some compromise, some relaxation of her testimony, less of strictness and spirituality—more of congenial fellowship and participation in her pleasures, if not her lusts and sins!
The Church's help is neither in the world—nor in the god of this world. Her help is in the Lord who made heaven and earth. With this divine help she is able to undertake any enterprise, to encounter any foe. Let her lean on His arm alone. It is on this arm that faith leans; it is this arm that unbelief flings from it—to take hold of one more visible, more sensible, more congenial to flesh and blood.
II. Israel did not need the world's RICHES.The world was rich—rich in its own way, and according to its own standard. Israel might have had a share in that wealth. But God had said, It is not for you. You need it not. I have given you a land flowing with milk and honey, abundance of corn and wine. What more do you need? Be content. Be strangers with Me and sojourners—as all your fathers were. When you need the gold of earth, you shall have it. You needed it once when you were leaving Egypt, and you got it without toil. You needed it when you were building a temple for me in my city, and you got it. But seek it not. When required, it will come to you.
Israel! the world's gold is not for you! Church of the living God, your richest are not of earth—your treasure is in heaven. Labor not to be rich! Covet not luxury, and ease, and splendor! Grudge not to be poor. The cross of 'poverty', which your Master bore—you be satisfied to bear also. In the early Church it was so. 'Not many rich, not many noble,' were called. God chose the poor to confound the riches and greatness of earth. Poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing all things. Your riches are God's; they are the unsearchable riches of Christ; they are divine and everlasting. They take not to themselves wings and flee away. You shall have enough before long—when the Lord comes. Meanwhile, be rich in faith, rich in love, rich in all good works!
III. Israel did not need the world's WISDOM.Egypt had learning,Babylon had wisdom,Greece had philosophy.It is easy to see how Israel might covet these; for these have always been—even more than gold—objects of highest ambition of man. But with these Israel was not to meddle. When she tried to do so, she failed. Earth's wisdom would not suit her. The cup of Chaldean magic was not for her. The cloak of Anthenian philosophy did not fit a Jew.
Beside, she had wisdom of her own; wisdom of heavenly origin; not the wisdom of 'conjecture or speculation'—but of certainty, of absolute truth—wisdom which could alone fill and satisfy—wisdom which could gladden and illuminate. In a small volume, no doubt, was that wisdom contained. To the secrets of science it did not extend; of man's goodness or greatness it spoke little; to earthly glory or fame it did not point the way. But it was full of God and the things of God; full of infinite and perfect truth; full of all that could fill, and purify, and ennoble the human soul. One page of it was worth all that Gentile sages could boast of. Israel surely did not need to go to Chaldea or Egypt for wisdom and learning. She had all she needed within herself. She might dwell alone and enjoy it all. Happy Israel! Saved from a thousand doubts, and uncertainties, and vain reasonings, which vex, and fret, and shrivel up the soul! Happy Israel! Led at once God into the green pastures of eternal wisdom, and made to like down beside its quiet waters!
Church of God, all Israel's wisdom—more than all Israel's wisdom—is yours! You have now the fullness of Him in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell; Him in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Rest there. If other wisdom crosses your path, take it, if you are sure that it is truth. But let it be subordinate to the wisdom of Scripture. Place nothing side by side with the wisdom of Christ. Above all, beware of entangling yourself in the perplexities and sophistries of the day, thus rushing into the very thickets from which God, by giving you such a certain revelation, has sought to keep you back.
What! Do you covet 'doubt', when 'faith' is before you? Do you covet 'speculation', when revealed 'certainty' is presented to you? Do you prefer the 'vexed and boiling whirlpool' to the quiet haven or more quiet lake? Be on your guard against the wiles of the devil in these last days. Should not a people seek unto their God? Is His wisdom not the surest, safest, best? Oh, dwell alone! Enter your chamber—shut your door behind you! Learn of God. Fear not the taunt of the world—that you are not abreast of the age—nor imbued with its spirit. Retire to God. Let the world's Babel-sounds of boasted wisdom pass around you, or over you—unheeded. In patience possess your souls. Get your wisdom in communion with God—and in the study of His book.
IV. Israel did not need the world's PLEASURES.And why? Was a Stoic? No! She was happy without the world's pleasures. She had her God to make her happy! Her Sabbaths were happiness. Her feasts were happiness. Her ways were ways of pleasantness—and all her paths were peace. Happy were you, O Israel! Who was like unto you—a people saved by the Lord? How goodly were your tents, O Jacob, and your tabernacles, O Israel! She was the specimen of a happy nation, a prosperous nation—yet dwelling alone—indebted to no nation round for her gladness; indebted to God alone. All other joy was poor and transient when compared to hers. What could Phoenicia, or Philistia, or Syria, or Egypt, give her of true happiness?
So and even more with the Church. The joy unspeakable is hers; the peace that passes all understanding is hers. She does not need to borrow from the world. She is not so poor as to be indebted to any man. She has all and abounds. O child of God, is not the joy of God enough for you? Do you require the pleasures of sin, the gaieties of the ballroom, the excitement of the theater, the music of the opera, the frivolities of the world's card-table, the stolen pleasures of the dance, to make up for deficiencies in what God has given you? If He has not given enough, go tell Him, and He will give you more. But do not go to His enemies to borrow! Do not go to Endor, or Ekron, or Egypt—to the world's haunts of vanity, where the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life are cherished! Dwell alone with God, and His Christ, and His Israel. Let these joys suffice. They have proved enough for prophets and apostles; enough for angel and archangel—they may well be enough for you.
V. Israel did not need the world's SOCIETY.Israel knew what this meant—'It is not solitude to be alone.' The society of Gentile idolaters she was commanded not to seek. It would profit her nothing. It would bring neither joy nor strength. It would only weaken and corrupt. 'Evil communications corrupt good manners.' The twelve tribes were society to themselves; and, within the circle of Palestine, Israel found all that was congenial, and elevated, and blessed. For companionship she did not need to go beyond her own narrow bounds. Within these her fellowships lay.
Christian, be separate—dwell alone! Do not seek the society of the world. Don't you know that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? If you have any sympathies with that world—if it contains attractions for you—if God and the things of God are not enough for you—there is something wrong! Do not love the world! Do not seek its friendship. Seek the things above. Beware of the fascinations of worldly company, the spells which gaiety throws over the young. Stand your ground. Be not whirled away into the tossing current of gay society on any pretext whatever!
Church of the living God, be separate—dwell alone! That is your security, your strength, your influence. Let the world see that you are not of it; that you do not need it. It needs you—but you do not need it. And you will serve it best by dwelling alone. Not by coldness, sourness, distance; but by love, congeniality, gentleness, patience, by all acts of benevolence and words of peace. These are things which are only to be found by 'dwelling alone.'
These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.The Model of a Holy Life.
2 Peter 2:21.
2 Corinthians 10:1.
These four passages point more or less to our responsibility for a holy life—and to Christ as the true model of that life. We are redeemed—that we may be holy. We are freely pardoned—that we may be holy. We look to Jesus—that we may be holy. We are filled with the Spirit—that we may be holy. The true religious life rises out of redemption—and is a copy of Christ's walk on earth. Beholding Him—we are changed into His image, from glory to glory.
The first of these passages refers specially to the future honor of the saints. Their peculiar privilege is to be attendance on the Lamb—'forever with the Lord;' forever beholding His face; forever waiting on Him, sharing His fellowship, doing His will, enjoying His blessedness, when day has broken, and the shadows fled away. They are to be to the Lamb in His exaltation, what the twelve disciples were in His humiliation—'followers'—though in a far higher sense than was known in the days of His flesh. Yet we may use this verse to point out Christ—as our present leader and example. We follow Him here in suffering and service—as we shall follow Him hereafter in glory and in joy!
Christ was our substitute when He was here on earth—we are His representatives now that He is absent. We are to be 'lights in the world,' as He was. For this end we are to 'follow His steps,' live as He lived, love as He loved, speak as He spoke. He is our pattern and model. Shine as He shone! He was the 'Israelite indeed,' the true Nathanael, in whom was no deceit. He was the true Nazarite. Let us be Nazarites as He was—consecrated to God, and separate from the world. Look up, Christian, look up! Not Babylon; but Jerusalem, is your hope and your home. Thus Peter points to Christ as our 'example,' remembering perhaps His last words to himself, 'Follow me.'
The third of these passages connects together the suffering and the example. In it Peter places both before us at once, that we may have our eye on both, not separating the blood from the holiness, yet keeping both distinct, the former as the fountainhead of the latter. Jesus by His blood 'washes,' 'sanctifies', 'justifies' (Romans 5:9; 1 Corinthians 6:11). And while doing so, presents Himself as our model—the true doer of the Father's will.
Let us note Peter's words more at length. Christ for us, or Christ our substitute—that is the first thing. Christ in us, or Christ our life—that is the next. Christ before us, or Christ our model—that is the next. These three great truths make up a large portion of Christianity.
We look to Christ for salvation, and we obtain it as surely and simply as Israel obtained healing by looking at the brazen serpent. We look to Christ for conformity to His likeness—and we are changed into His likeness as we gaze upon Him!
The model or pattern is a COMPLETE one. Others models have only one feature of beauty, and are imperfect. Christ is perfect. Every feature is there; every line is there. We are to grow like it; to be imitators of Christ. We are to copy Him. In copying a man, there is danger of producing a stiff, second-hand, second-rate resemblance. Not so in copying Christ. He is the divine model. It is God's purpose and desire that we copy Him. He is gone to heaven, but has left this pattern as a legacy.
A Christian, then, is a copy of Christ. His inner and outer man are to be copies of Christ. It is Christ's footsteps he is to walk in. It is Christ's image that he is to reflect. It is not Paul, nor Peter, nor Luther, nor Calvin, nor Rutherford that he is to copy—but Christ Himself. Other models may illustrate this, and so help in the imitation of Christ; but only as doing this are they useful; otherwise they are dangerous.
What then is a Christian man?
I. He is a man of FAITH.It was by giving credit to God's word that he became a Christian man; for it is by faith that we become sons of God. And his whole life is to be a life of faith. As Christ lived by faith on the Father, so does he. Christ is his model as a believing man. The more that he understands of Christ's life, the more will he see the faith that marks it, and will learn to copy it, to live, act, speak, and walk by faith.
II. He is a man of PRAYER.In this too he follows Christ. Christ's life was a life of prayer. In the morning we find Him praying a great while before day. All night we find Him praying more. No one, we would say, needed prayer less—yet no one prayed more. And the disciple herein imitates the Master. He prays without ceasing. He is instant in supplication. His life is a life of prayer—constant communion with God.
III. He is a man of HOPE.Christ looked to the joy set before Him—and so endured the cross. He anticipated the glory, and so was a man of hope. There is the hope, the same glory, the same joy for us. The things hoped for are the things we live upon and rejoice in. Our prospects are bright—and we keep them ever in view. The kingdom, the crown, the city, the inheritance—these are before our eyes. They cheer, and sustain, and purify us! Were it not for the hope, what would become of us? What would this world be to us? Learn to hope as well as to believe.
IV. He is man of HOLINESS.He is the follower of a holy Master. He hears the voice—Be holy, for I am holy. He knows that he is redeemed to be holy—to do good works—to follow righteousness—to be one of a peculiar people. He is not content with merely being saved—he seeks to put off sin, lust, evil, vanity—and to put on righteousness, holiness, and every heavenly characteristic. He seeks to rise higher and higher—to grow more unlike this world—more like the world to come. He marks Christ's footsteps, and walks in them. He studies the Master's mind, and seeks to possess it; mortifying his members and crucifying the flesh. He aims at shining as He shone, and testifying as He testified.
V. He is a man of LOVE.He has known Christ's love, and drunk it in, and found his joy in it. So he seeks to be like Him in love—to love the Father, to love the brethren, to love sinners—to show love at all times, in word and deed. His life is to be a life of love, his words the words of love, his daily doings the outflow of a heart of love. He is to be a living witness of the gospel of love. Love—not hatred, nor coldness, nor malice, nor revenge, nor selfishness, nor indifference—love such as was in Christ—that he endeavors to embody and exhibit.
VI. He is to be a man of ZEAL.'Zeal for Your house has eaten me up,' said Christ. His life was one of zeal for God—zeal for His Father's honor and His Father's business. So is the disciple to be 'zealous of good works.' Zeal steady and fervent—not by fits and starts; not according to convenience, but in season and out of season; prudent, yet warm and loving; willing to suffer and to sacrifice; no sparing self or the flesh, but ever burning; zeal for Jehovah's glory, for Christ's name, for the Church's edification, for the salvation of lost men—this is to give complexion and character to his life.
These things are to mark a Christian man. He is not to be content with less. He is to grow in all these things—not to be barren, not to stagnate, not to be lukewarm—but to increase in resemblance to his Lord—to be transformed daily into His likeness, that there may be no mistake about him—as to who or what he is.
The last of the passages set down at the head of this mediation takes up something special in Christ which we are to imitate—His 'meekness and gentleness.' In the book of the Revelation He is chiefly known by the name of 'the Lamb.' That is His chief name in heaven. He has other titles, but this is given as peculiarly His in the place of His glory.
As Peter thus points to Christ as our model, so also does Paul in the above passage. One feature in His character he specially notes, which shone out very brightly in this coarse, crude world—a world where, all along, man has trodden down man, the stronger the weaker; where strong deeds, as well as strong language, have been accounted heroism and manliness—the proper expression of dignity and superiority—this feature is the Lord's submissive and non-resistance, even with the full consciousness of superior power—His 'meekness and gentleness.'
This meekness of Christ Paul takes up and points to. On this he bases his entreaties to the Corinthians. This is one of the strongest and most earnest of Paul's 'beseechings.' He has many of these; for he 'entreats' when he might 'command;' he uses love when he might wield the rod. 'I beseech you by the mercies of God' (Romans 12:1). 'I beseech you by the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the love of the Spirit' (Romans 15:30). 'We beseech you by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ' (2 Thessalonians 2:1). Here, it is by the meekness and gentleness of Christ that he beseeches.
And why does he beseech them by this? For two reasons—(1) He reminds them of this meekness and gentleness, as if to say, 'Imitate Him who you call Lord and Master and do not proudly withstand the authority of me His servant;' (2) he reminds them of it, as if to say, 'Do not constrain me, the servant, to make use of anything but the meekness and gentleness of the Master.' It is the apostle's last argument in dealing with the rebellious members of the Church. Is it not weighty? Is it not irresistible?
But it is chiefly the 'character of Christ'itself that we would dwell upon here, yet noticing also the bearing of that character upon the obedience of saints, and the submission of sinners to His rule.
I. The PERSON.It is 'the Christ of God.' He has many names, each revealing His person—the Word; the Son; the Only-begotten of the Father; the Light; Immanuel. These express the marvelous constitution of His person as the Christ; Son of God, and Son of man; very God and very man; the Word made flesh; having all divine and all human perfections, all created and all uncreated excellencies exhibited in Him, all fullness deposited in Him; full of grace and truth; the glory of Godhead; the glory of the King of kings.
II. The CHARACTER.It is that of meekness and gentleness—meekness in bearing and forbearing; gentleness in His tender loving treatment of us—both in word and deed. He is 'meek and lowly;' He did not strive nor cry, neither did any man hear His voice in the street; the bruised reed He broke not, the smoking flax He quenched not; He entered Jerusalem on an donkey's colt, as the prophet had written, 'Behold, your King comes' (Zechariah 9:9). No doubt there are other declarations which speak of wrath, and judgment, and vengeance; but these are His 'strange acts' as the great Judge.
His character, as exhibited on earth in all His words and works—was that of lowliness and love. Fury was not in Him. He bore the insults of sinners against Himself; when He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not. He loved, He pitied, He wept, He invited, He entreated, He blessed. He frowned on none except the Pharisee. He spoke no harsh words—He displayed no repulsive looks or tones—He was ever courteous, polite, and affable. All in Him was grace—grace to the uttermost. He was the embodiment of that love which the Apostle Paul has described. He was patient , kind, not easily provoked, thinking no evil, rejoicing not in iniquity, bearing all things, believing all things, enduring all things, never failing! Meeker than Moses, gentler than John, more patient than Job, tenderer by far than His own tender earthly mother—He is in the embodiment of all that is winning and attractive.
All this He was on earth—all this He is still—unchanged and unchangeable—with nothing in Him or about Him to repel us—but everything to attract us—everything to win our confidence. At once the highest of the high, and the lowliest of the lowly. His is the almightiness of divine royalty, for all power is given here—yet the disposition to use that almightiness only to save, and comfort, and bless. Almighty meekness, and meek almightiness! Almighty gentleness, and gentle almightiness! How admirable! How glorious! How blessed! So holy, yet so meek and gentle to the unholy! So abhorrent of sin, yet so pitiful and patience toward the sinner! So capable of executing vengeance and utterly destroying His enemies, yet so patient, so gracious; not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance! So terrible as the Judge, yet so tender as the Savior! His is the iron rod, and the sword of vengeance, and the purging fan, and the devouring fire—yet He says—Come unto me. He weeps over Jerusalem. He prays for His murderers. Ah, what meekness and gentleness are His! Nothing like it on earth, or in heaven—the meekness and gentleness of the God-man. 'Christ did not please Himself!'
III. The bearing of all this on us.It is not in vain that He is thus presented to us. This meekness and gentleness ought to show both on the believer and the unbeliever.
(1.) On the BELIEVER.The meekness and gentleness of Jesus is the strongest motive to our obedience and submission. It is the most impressive rebuke to all pride, or murmuring, or self-will. Having daily to do with one so meek and gentle, shall we not become like Him? Shall we not love Him, and shall we not honor His laws? Shall we not fear to offend Him, and shrink from wounding Him? O believer! Look at this meekness and gentleness, and put away all stubbornness, and self-will, and self-pleasing. And having to do with one so meek and gentle, shall we not put away from us all doubting, all despondency? Shall we allow one hard, one suspicious thought to linger within us? Shall we not put ourselves implicitly into His hands and trust Him forever?
(2.) On the UNBELIEVER.'Come unto me' are the His first words to you. And His second are like unto them, 'Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.' Yes, He bids you come; He asks you to learn. He is the most accessible of all beings. His door is ever open; His heart is ever open; His arms are ever open. There is nothing in Him or about Him to repel you, though you are the chief of sinners, and the worst of men. His words to the sinner are pre-eminently the words of meekness and gentleness. They are infinitely attractive and encouraging. 'Him who comes to me I will never cast out.' Look at Him; listen to Him; draw near to Him; speak to Him; doubt not, despair not, depart not. Go up to Him—He will receive you. Tell Him your case—He will bid you welcome. He will not cast you away. He has patience to bear with all your foolishness, and ignorance, and stupidity, and unteachableness!He will not get angry with you, as proud men lose their temper with the unteachable or obstinate. He will bear with you. The greatness of your sins shall be no hindrance. The desperateness of your diseases will not make Him repel you. He will receive you graciously, and love you freely. Yes, He comes to you and says—'Behold, I stand at the door and knock!'
And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.
And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,The Everlasting Gospel.
This worldwide proclamation of the glad message has been going on for ages. It is to be wider, and louder, and more urgent as the end draws near. The gospel is to be preached to all nations for a witness before the end comes.
The proclamation is made by an angel—an angel flying in mid-heaven, the position of the sun at noon—that all may see and hear. Angels in the book of Revelation, are representatives of the invisible agencies at work on earth.
They are living and personal agencies, though invisible—superhuman powers, setting in motion the whole machinery of the world; and in the case of the present angel, the special machinery for the promulgation of the everlasting gospel. This book of the Revelation (like Daniel and Zechariah) takes us 'within the veil that hides the material from the spiritual', the human from the superhuman. It gives us the hidden, or supernatural side of Church history; the secret springs and invisible agencies which produce events and facts—changes for good or evil; it gives us a glimpse of the true laws of nature, or at least of those living powers and processes by which these laws are regulated and made to subserve the Creator's purpose. It shows us that angels have far more to do with our world and its history than we suppose; it keeps before us, what is so much needed in our day, the supernatural world of intelligence, and life, and strength, outside of ours—yet quite as real and true—closely though invisibly connected with us, and operating at all points, animate and inanimate, spiritual and physical, upon the course of things in this lower sphere of ours. These 'ministering angels' (Hebrews 1:14) have far more numerous and various ministries in connection with earth and its history than we usually ascribe to them.
This angel is seen 'preaching' (he has the 'evangel to evangelize,' as the words are literally), making the good news known. Not that he actually preaches as men do; both by stirring up human agencies and in other more secret ways communicating it to men. Satan and his angels work for evil, in the dissemination of error, the sowing of tares, the inventing of strong delusions; and why should it be thought incredible that good angels might, in their sphere of good, do the like service for truth and righteousness? How Satan tempted Christ—how he made Ananias lie to God—how he sowed the tares—how he leavens the world with error—how he beguiles us with his subtlety—we know not; but he does so. Just as the law was given by angels, as the 'word was spoken by angels' (Hebrews 2:2), as 'the angel testified these things in the Churches' (Revelation 22:16), so this angel in mid-heaven may be understood as proclaiming the everlasting gospel. Angelic lips may not be heard; but human lips, set in motion by agencies which eye has not seen, may proclaim it. There is here a new proclamation of an old thing; a re-promulgation on a wider circle of the everlasting gospel in the last days, just before the great act of judgment is consummated.
I. The GOSPEL.It is a 'glad message' from God to man; good news from heaven to earth. In it we have not man speaking to God, but God to man; not earth crying to heaven, but heaven to earth; it is love descending, not love ascending. It is the gladdest of all glad tidings that ever came to earth. It is the true good news—
(1)It is the true good news of God's free love.To be good news, it must be the news of love. And for that love to be available or accessible to the sinner, it must be absolutely and unconditionally free. God's free love is the very essence and marrow of the gospel. And it is as large as it is free.
(2)It is the true good news of God's great gift.God gave His Son—and the Son gave Himself. Here is a gift beyond all measure and price—an 'unspeakable gift.' Of this the gospel is the glad message.
(3)It is the true good news of God's propitiation for sin.It was not a mere gift, but a gift which was to be a propitiation—an atonement—a sacrificial gift—the gift of a substitute and surety. One special part of the value and suitableness of this gift—that which made it so pre-eminently a gift of sinners—was its sacrificial character. It was an offering for sin. It contained cleansing and reconciling blood. Yes, Christ is the propitiation for our sins! God has set Him forth as a propitiation. This is the very gladness of the glad message.
(4)It is the true good news of God's righteousness.He is the righteousness of God—and He was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. We bring glad tidings of a divine righteousness in preaching the gospel of the grace of God—righteousness for the unrighteous, yes, for the most unrighteous of the sons of men!
(5)It is the true good news of God's kingdom.The 'gospel of the kingdom' is its special designation. It is good news of a kingdom, and of the new and living way, and of the open gate into that kingdom for sinners. There is a glorious kingdom—there is free access to it; its gates are open; God bids us welcome. This is our gospel. Enter in, O man, O sinner, into the kingdom of God!
II. The EVERLASTING gospel.We read of eternal or everlasting salvation, eternal or everlasting redemption; and here is the same word applied to the good news concerning these.
(1) Its pastis everlasting—It came forth from the bosom of Him from who the only-begotten Son came; it is the embodiment of His eternal purpose. It was hidden in the eternal ages; and from these it has come out to us. It is no new thing to God; no unexpected thing devised to meet a sudden emergency. It is from everlasting—like the love and grace out of which it sprang.
(2) Its futureis everlasting—It is forever and ever. Its gladness is forever; its provisions last forever; and what it does for those who believe it, it does forever. The eternal future is filled with the trophies and bright with the splendors of this glorious gospel.
(3) It is illimitable—It extends on all sides, through all space as well as through all time. Its center is the cross; its circumference is nowhere, or rather everywhere, round the whole universe of God.
(4) It is unchangeable—Like Him of whom it brings good news, it is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It is without variableness or shadow of turning. One gospel, only one—yet that one sufficient for worlds of sinners—the same forever. It does not know progress or progressive development, for it is perfect.
(5) It is the gospel of every age and nation—It is not for one century more than another, but for all; not for one nation more than another, but for all. It suits the nineteenth century as truly as the first; civilized Europe as truly as barbarian Madagascar. It is the gospel for the ages—in every age the same, supplying the same needs, addressing itself to the same kinds of sinners pardoning the same sins, removing the same fears and sorrows. It is the everlasting gospel; more truly such than the everlasting hills or the everlasting stars. It is a gospel for fallen men—human, and yet divine—of earth, and yet of heaven.
And this gospel is to be enforced in the last days by a special argument—'Fear God, and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment is come.' The gospel changes not, yet each age furnishes its own potent reasons for receiving it—the last age the most potent and irresistible of all. Now or never! For the last trumpet is about to sound. Now or never! For the son of man is just at hand!
Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.
And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.
And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand,
The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:
And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.
Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.
And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.
And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.
And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.
And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.
And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.
And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.