Horatius Bonar Commentaries
And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.
In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him:
And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads.
And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.
And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done.
Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.
And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things.
Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.
And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.
He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.
And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.Entrance Into The City.
The last three chapters of Revelation correspond with the first three of Genesis. Creation—and new creation; the Paradise of man—and the Paradise of God; Paradise lost—Paradise regained; man expelled—man brought back. This fourteenth verse fits in with the twenty-fourth verse of the third of Genesis. Let us look at its parts.
I. The CITY.It is the new Jerusalem. At the first creation there was no city—only a garden with one man in it; now there is a city in the midst of the garden, and the citizens are the multitude that no man can number. It is a glorious city; well-built, well-watered, well-founded, well-paved, well-lighted—altogether perfect! 'God has prepared for them a city'—a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
II. The GATES.These gates are twelve; each one a pearl; gates for redeemed men to enter by; gates never shut; gates for both men and angels; gates which lead into the palace of the King, through which the sons of the second Adam can enter into the new Jerusalem. They are made by God's own hand. They are the everlasting gates or doors sung of by David, at which the King of glory enters. They are the gates through which there is the 'abundant entrance' into the everlasting kingdom. No longer 'narrow', but wide; not painful to pass through, but pleasant and glorious. Divine gates, for a divine city, in the midst of which there is the palace of the King.
III. The TREE.It is the tree of life, spoken of in Genesis, and also specially noted in the promise to the Church of Ephesus. It is the life-giving tree—not only now in the midst of the earthly Paradise, but the Paradise of God; nor only in the midst of Paradise, but in the midst of the city—for Jerusalem and Paradise are now one. The tree, which no doubt symbolizes Christ Himself (as does the water of life), is doubtless a real tree; only more heavenly, more spiritual, than that which grows on earth. The tree is laden with fruit; it has twelve kinds of fruit; it has a monthly harvest; its leaves are for the healing of the nations. As there is the bread of life, and the hidden manna, so is there also this tree of life—this true plant of renown.
IV. The BLESSED ONES.It is God who calls them blessed, and they must be so whom He calls by such a name. Throughout this book this word occurs several times. 'Blessed is he who reads;' 'blessed is he who watches;' 'blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.' In our text let us notice three points of BLESSEDNESS.
(1.) They keep His commandments.This carries us back to the 119th Psalm, and reminds us of the blessedness in which David rejoiced. In keeping of these commandments there is great reward, and great peace. We are called and forgiven, that we may keep these. It is to a life of such keeping that we are called. By such a life, we partake of blessedness as well as glorify God. We are redeemed that we may be holy—that we may walk in the commandments of the Lord our God and delight in His law after the inner man. This delight is blessedness. Thus one of the names of a Christian is a 'keeper of the commandments of God'.
(2.) They have a right to the tree of life.Not by merit, only by grace—yet still a right; something which they can claim. The reception of pardon is simply in believing; but the reward is the result of good works. This statement as to keeping the commandments and its fruits, is no more inconsistent with a free salvation than such an expression, 'Holiness, without which no man can see the Lord;' nor with our Lord's 'Beatitudes,' each of which gives expression and forfeiture reversed, and we introduced into the better Paradise, with the conscious certainty that we cannot fail or be driven out! No flaming sword to guard the way! All open and free! To feed on that tree forever; and in feeding find ourselves nourished and invigorated in every faculty! No death, nor disease, nor weakness, nor weariness, in sight of such a tree as this! All life and health forever!
(3.) They shall enter in through the gates into the city.They are blessed in a threefold way, as doers of the commandments, as partakers of the tree of life, as triumphant conquerors, entering in procession through the gates into the city.
(a.) The city is their city—Its name is the new Jerusalem. It is not for angels, but for men. God has built it for them; and so He is not ashamed to be called their God. The 'fire' into which the unrighteous are cast is not prepared for these redeemed ones. Their citizenship is in heaven, though they shall not enter it until their Lord returns as the King of glory. As Paradise was Adam's garden, so is the new Jerusalem their own city.
(b.) They shall enter through the gates into it—Not over the wall; not by stealth; but as conquerors in triumphal procession, their Lord, as King of glory, at their head. They are the conquerors so often mentioned in this book; and they shall be seen as such in the day of their entrance.
(c.) They shall possess it forever—This is evidently implied. Eternal possession! They shall go out no more. They are citizens of a magnificent city—a joyous city. They shall not be driven out. They, as the true cherubim, shall occupy the true Paradise, in which not only shall the tree of life be assessable, but the tree of knowledge shall be no more forbidden.
Come, O Savior! Come, O Sinner!
The speaker here is Jesus Himself, as the context shows. But who is the one spoken to? Is it one person or more than one? Is it the sinner that is addressed (as most think)? or is it first Christ and then the sinner? The last is the truth. The verse is twofold. In the first part, Christ is addressed; in the second, the sinner—though the word 'come' runs through the whole. 'The Spirit and the bride say, Come! and let him who hears say, Come!' are words addressed to Christ, pleading for His advent. 'Let him who is athirst come! and whoever will, let him take the water of life freely!' are the words of invitation from Jesus to the sinner.
I. The cry for Christ's coming.It is this advent that is the great theme of the Apocalypse, and the central object of its scenes. It opens with, 'Behold, He comes;' it goes on with, 'Behold I come as a thief;' and it ends with, 'Behold, I come quickly.' All the predictions throughout the book bear upon this event, and carry forward the Church's hopes to this great goal. But there are three parties here represented as uttering this prayer—
(1.) The Spirit.He cries, 'Come.' He who has been speaking to the Churches; who has inspired all the predictions relating to the event—He Himself is brought in personally as breathing the desires which He has dictated. He has sympathized with them all; and those longings which He had put into the lips of others, now come forth from His own. 'The Spirit says, Come.' What so interests the Spirit in the advent?
(a.) Christ will then be fully glorified, and it is the Spirit's office to glorify Christ. He has not yet got His glory on earth at all, nor even His full glory in heaven.
(b.) Then the whole earth will be converted, and the Spirit will get full scope to all His longings and yearnings over men. He shall no longer strive, but prevail. He shall no longer be vexed, and grieved, and quenched. No wonder that He cries, 'Come!'
(2.) The Bride.The Lamb's wife, the whole Church as a body, as a virgin betrothed, looking for the marriage day. In one sense an injured widow, in another the bride. She expects the marriage; the union, the fellowship, the blessedness, the glory; the ending of loneliness and weariness, of sorrow and shame. No wonder, then, that she sighs for the Bridegroom's arrival, 'Come!'
(3.) He who hears.'Blessed is he who hears.' Not as if the hearer was not part of the bride; but the word thus singles out each one on whose ears the message is falling. The moment you hear it, you should cry, "Come! Come, Lord Jesus! For then our sins and sorrows are ended; then our victory is won; then this vile body is changed; then we meet and unite forever with the loved and lost; then shall the ransomed of the Lord return, and come to Zion with songs." Let this, then, be the theme of our morning and evening cry, Come! as we read of wars, and blood, and human passion, cry louder and louder, Come!
II. The invitation to the sinner.In this latter part it is clearly the sinner that is spoken to—'Let him who is athirst come; and whoever will.'
(1.) The inviter—Christ Himself; the same who said, 'Come unto me.' He invited once on earth; He now invites from heaven with the same urgency and love. He speaks to us with His own lips; He would have us know that He is the same yesterday, and today, and forever; that He still receives sinners; that there is still joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.
(2.) The persons invited—They are first described as the 'thirsty'; but lest this should be supposed to narrow the message or to exclude any class of men, it is added, 'whoever will.'
1. The thirsty—Those who would gladly be happy, but know not how; who are seeking rest, but finding none; who are asking for good, 'any good,' anywhere; who are hewing out broken cisterns; who are betaking themselves to dried-up wells; who are drinking of the Dead Sea's bitter water. 'Ho, every one who thirsts! (Isaiah 55:1; John 4:10, John 7:37).
2. Whoever will—This is a wide enough description. It shuts out none; it names every one. Are you in quest of water for your soul? It is here. Do you want to be happy? Joy is here for you—whoever and whatever you are.
(3.) The blessings invited to—The water of life. 'Water,' that which will thoroughly refresh you and quench your thirst; 'water of life,' living and life giving; a quickening well; a well of water springing up unto everlasting life. Not a shower, nor a stream, but a well—a fountain (Revelation 21:6). This water is the Holy Spirit Himself, who comes to us as the bringer of God's free love, with all the joy which that love introduces into the soul. His wrath withers up the soul, His free love revives it, like rain upon the mown grass. His condemnation carries death, and gloom, and bondage; but His forgiveness reverses all this. What is there that this free love of God does not contain?
(4.) The price—Freely! without money; so that the poorest can have all they need. The free gift of God! Free as the rain and dew; free as the sunbeam; free as the reviving air around. Absolutely, unconditionally free! Free to each one as he is—though the chief of sinners, the emptiest, wickedest, thirstiest of sons of men.
(5.) The time—The invitation comes forth at the close of that book which sums up all revelation. It contains Christ's last words, meant specially for the last days of a weary, thirsty world; when men, having tried every pleasure, vanity, lust, folly, and found nothing, having exhausted every cup and broken every cistern, will be found more thoroughly weary and thirsty than before. The last generation of earth, as it will be the wickedest, so will it be the thirstiest of all. Just when human thirst is at its height, when the gates are about to close, when the last trumpet is about to sound, the message of free love to the sinner comes forth, in greatest largeness, in undiminished fullness. It is no feeble, no fettered gospel—no dried-up well!
The Divine Word, and the Doom of its Defacers.
This warning in reference to the Book of Revelation is applicable to all Scripture, and carries us back to Deuteronomy 4:2and 12:32. 'You shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish from it.'
It is given in the form of a testimony—from the faithful and true witness, to show its importance, and its truth. To everyone who hears that testimony the warning comes. How great the responsibility of those who have the Bible in their hands! How solemnly they should look on it, and listen to it, and handle it! In this testimony, then there is declared to us—
I. The perfection of God's word.Man may not meddle with it—either to add, or to take away. He may meddle with his own words, or doings, or plans—to alter, to correct, to complete—but not with what is divine. The words and things of God are not for him to touch. They are perfect; perfect for the ends required; perfect for God's purpose in speaking them to man. Can man improve the works of God? the mountains, rivers, flowers? the blue sky, the stars, the sun? Even so is the word of God too perfect for him to touch.
II. The honor God puts on it.He has magnified it, even above His works; so that he who disparages the word of God is more guilty than he who disparages the works of God. Whether we see its perfection is not the question. We may be blind to it; but whether blind or seeing, God expects honor at our hands for His word. It is the fullest expression of His mind, the completest revelation of His character. It is such a declaration of the name of God as can be found nowhere else.
III. Our responsibilities in regard to it.It is not given us for mere speculation or gratification; but for something far higher. We are responsible for the way we treat it, study it, profit by it. Its perfection makes our responsibility very great, and appeals to our consciences most powerfully. Were it not so perfect, we might deal with it as we deal with a human volume; were it not divine, we might forego the honor to it of which we speak. Hence the modern dislike to the idea of a perfect Bible; because the pressure upon the conscience is felt to be so solemn and so overpowering, with no possibility of evasion or escape. Definite Bible doctrine, the age hates, as trammeling its freedom—specially doctrine defined by a divine revelation.
IV. The sin of tampering with it.In regard to many of the things of God, the idea is, that while it is a misfortune to be in error, there is no sin in it. No sin in differing from God! No sin in trifling with His truth, or denying it! No sin in undervaluing His revelation! The sin of tampering with the Bible is one of which man is not easily persuaded; yet in the reckoning of God it is real and great. Every low thought about the Bible is sin. Every attempt to touch it, either in the way of addition or subtraction, is sin.
V. The danger of meddling with it.The danger is exceeding great; and the punishment awarded to the meddlers is the declaration of the danger. God will not be mocked in this!
There are two opposite ways in which men treat the Bible—to add or to take away; and both these our text condemns in the most fearful way.
(1.) The doom of those who ADD.'God shall add unto them the plagues written in this book.' Those plagues are very fearful. Read the plagues of the seals, the trumpets, the vials. Are they not fearful? They are for this life, as well as for that which is to come. The very mention of them is appalling. Who in our day credits such things, or believes that God will execute such terrible vengeance upon all such as add to His word! The Pharisees added to it; the Romanists add to it; and we ourselves often add to it, by the way in which we enter on its perusal with unteachable hearts, with preconceived opinions, which would make the obvious meanings of the word give way before them. Let us tremble at the word! Add not unto His word, lest He reprove you, and you be found a liar. God adds His plagues to the adders of His book!
(2.) The doom of those who TAKE AWAY from it.This is especially the sin of our age. We sit in judgment upon its verities; we tamper with its certainty; we trifle with its words. We take from it; we render it null and void; we deny its authority; we object to its inspiration; we cut off what books we please! But let us not be deceived. God is not mocked. He also can take away—and He will! He will take away—
(a.) Our part of the book of life—effacing our names, and inserting them in the book of death!
(b.) Our part in the holy city. No holy city, no new Jerusalem—for the deniers of His word!
(c.) Our part from the things written in this book. These are many—the promises to the seven conquerors, the first resurrection, the marriage supper! How much we lose! What a condemnation is there for those who reject or mutilate the divine word!
The Free Love of Christ.
Thus the Bible closes with blessing. In this prayer we have the summing up of all the blessings which the word of God has uttered.
In the prospect of the Lord's coming, and with His voice proclaiming, 'Surely I come quickly!' the apostle breathes out the prayer, 'The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.' It was sent to the seven Churches of Asia—it is sent to usin these last days. Nor do we need it less. It suited well the Church in the beginning of her history—it suits her as well at its close. The love which passes knowledge is contained in it—and in that love all that a sinner needs at first, as well as all that a saint needs to the last.
Grace abounding, grace reigning, grace conquering, grace justifying, grace comforting, grace purifying—such is the key to the history of the Church of God. It is the history of Christ's free love, and of 'salvation to the uttermost,' through that free love flowing down to earth. For everything pertaining to the sinner's deliverance and eternal life comes down to us from God. Man is simply the receiver and the enjoyer of a love as boundless as it is unbought!
I. What is this grace of the Lord Jesus Christ?Free love! Divine favor, unbought, unsolicited, and undeserved! With this the Bible begins, and with this it ends. The free love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! This is the 'good news' which the messengers of God have brought to us; the 'good news' which the cross of Christ has made available and accessible; the 'good news' which remains 'good' to the last, unchanged and unweakened by the lapse of time. The gospel has not become a dried-up well or broken cistern. The free love of God, coming to us through His Son, has not been exhausted or made less free. In these last days, we can take up the old message of grace to the sinner, and sound it abroad as loudly and as freshly as at the first.
No delight in the death of the wicked! Delight in his turning from his ways and living! Yearning over the impenitent, tears for Jerusalem sinners, stretching out of the hand to the rebellious, invitation upon invitation to the weary; the open door, the universal call, the beseeching to be reconciled, the pressing of the cup of life to the lips of a thirsty world—all this, continued to the last, marks he unutterable compassion of God to the sinner, the riches of the divine grace, the boundless fullness of God's heart, as it pours out its longings, and proclaims its long suffering to the chief of sinners. Return to your Father's house, and be blessed! Come, and be forgiven! Look, and be saved! Touch, and be healed! Ask, and it shall be given!
II. How this grace has been shown.In many ways, but chiefly in the Cross. The words of Christ were grace—the doings of Christ were grace—but at the cross it came forth most fully. Grace all concentrates there—grace shines out there in its fullness. The cross is the place and pledge of grace. The cross did not make or originate the grace; but it made it a righteous thing that grace should flow out to us. It threw wide the gates of the storehouse; it unsealed the heavenly well. From the cross comes forth the voice of love, the message of grace, the embassy of peace and reconciliation. This grace flows everywhere throughout a guilty earth; but its center is the cross; and only in connection with the cross is it available for and accessible to us. The 'it is finished' of Golgotha was the throwing down of the barriers that stood between the sinner and the grace.
The grace itself was uncreated and eternal; it did not originate in the purpose—but in the nature of God. Still its outflow to sinners was hemmed in by God's righteousness; and until this was satisfied at the cross, the grace was like forbidden fruit to man. Divine displeasure against sin, and divine love of holiness, found their complete satisfaction at the altar of the cross—where the 'consuming fire' devoured the great burnt-offering, and gave full vent to the pent-up stores of grace. The love of the Father, giving His son, was there. The love of the Holy Spirit, by whom a body was prepared for Him, and by whom 'He offered Himself without spot,' was there. The cross is the great exhibition of the grace!
III. How we get this grace.Simply by taking it as it is, and as we are; by letting it flow into us; by believing God's testimony concerning it. Grace supposes no preparation whatever in him who receives it, but that of worthlessness and guilt, whether these be felt or unfelt. The dryness of the ground is that which fits it for the rain; the poverty of the beggar is that which fits him for the alms; so the sin of the sinner is that which fits him for the grace of Christ. If anything else were needed, grace would be no more grace, but would become work or merit. Where sin abounds, there it is that grace much more abound. How many are shutting out the grace by trying to prepare themselves for it! Open your mouth wide and I will fill it, is all that God asks. Our thirst may be but the thirst for happiness; our hunger may be but the hunger of earth; our feelings may be altogether unspiritual; our sense of sin nothing—yet all this does not make us less qualified for Christ's free love, or that free love less immediate or less bounteous in its flow. In the belief of God's testimony to the grace of His Son, we let in the grace, and become partakers of the pardon and the joy.
IV. What grace does for us.It does so many things, that we find it not easy to reply to this question, any more than to such—What does the light do for us? What does the air do for us? It does for us exceeding abundantly, above all we ask or think.
(1.) It pardons—Forgiveness through the grace and work of Christ is the beginning of the good news. He who believes God's record of the grace of Christ is forgiven.
(2.) It pacifies—It brings peace to the conscience. Not the grace without the blood—but still the grace that comes to us through the blood, pacifies.
(3.) It liberates—Dread of God's anger kept us in bondage; the knowledge of the grace of Christ reaching us through the finished propitiation of the cross sets us free, by removing this dread.
(4.) It enlightens—With the grace there pours in light from Him who is the Light of the world. The grace dispels the darkness.
(5.) It strengthens—The sight of the free love brought to us by the blood invigorates the soul. Until we see it, our hands hang down, and our knees fail us.
(6.) It purifies—It is holy grace, holy love; and it carries its purifying power into the soul that receives it. The cross is the wondrous revelation of divine holiness—and the love which comes to us through the cross, is purifying love.
(7.) It comforts—Only such free love can sustain the soul in sorrow, or speak consolation, or bind up the wounds of the broken-hearted!
V. How long grace lasts.Forever! It has not end. Christ loves forever. His grace is unchangeable like Himself. Its fullness is inexhaustible. It will be a perpetual fountain throughout eternity. It does for the evil days here—and for the glorious days hereafter. It suits us on earth—it will suit us in the kingdom. There is grace that is to be brought to us, at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and in the ages to come God will show us the exceeding riches of His grace, in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus our Lord!
For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.
I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.