Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
illustration of the great truths dictated by reason and confirmed by the consciousness of every man, they come to us as a priceless revelation. The great truth which this chapter suggests to us, and strikingly illustrates, is that there is predestined suffering in the government of the world. There are "seven plagues," sufferings, that have been developing, still are being developed, and will be to the end. The abyss of agony contained in these seven plagues is immeasurable to all but the Infinite. The old dogma fabricated by the old makers of our theology, viz. that the physical suffering in the world is caused by sin, is an exploded fallacy, which all geological museums ridicule in mute laughter. Suffering is an element in the government of this world. Taking the whole of this chapter, we shall find it illustrative of three subjects, viz.
(1) that all the dispensations of this suffering are under the direction of God;
(2) that they have all a great moral purpose; and
(3) that they have all an influence coextensive with the universe. Observe -
I. ALL THE DISPENSATIONS OF THIS SUFFERING ARE UNDER THE DIRECTION OF GOD. "And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go you, ways [Go ye], and pour out the vials [seven bowls] of the wrath of God upon the earth" (ver. 1). From the very shrine of the Almighty, the holy of holies, he deals out and regulates every item of the sevenfold plagues.
1. He orders their agents. Each of the "seven angels" or messengers are sent forth by him. "Go your ways." The supreme Governor of the universe conducts his affairs through the agencies of others - a vast system of secondary instrumentalities. Thus, through all nature, he gives life, supports life, and takes away life. Albeit he sits at the head and is the absolute Author of all. There is not a pain that quivers in the nerve of any sentient being that comes not from him. He says, "Go your ways," and nothing moves but by his behests. He kills and he makes alive. Is not this a soothing and a strengthening thought under all the dispensations of sorrow?
2. He appoints their seasons. The "seven angels" do not all come together; each has its period. Every impulse that moves throughout the creation, whether it be to shake a leaf in the forest or to wheel systems throughout immensity, goes forth at his own time. All times and seasons are with him. When Shakespeare says, "Troubles come not singly, but in battalions," he is not right. Mercifully they do come singly to individuals and communities, some in one period of life and some in another. To man, collectively, they are ages apart - from the groans of Abel to the throes of the last judgment. There is not a drop of sorrow in any cup that comes not from Heaven.
3. He fixes their places. Each of the seven angels who, under God, are to dispense the plagues, has his place assigned him. Each had his "vial," or bowl, and each bowl had a place on which it was to be poured. The first came upon" the earth," the second on "the sea," the third upon "the rivers and fountains," the fourth upon "the sun," the fifth upon "the seat [throne] of the beast," the sixth upon "the great river Euphrates," and the seventh "into the air" (vers. 2-12). Whether there is a reference here to plagues in Egypt, or suffering elsewhere, I know not; no one does know, nor does it matter. They were phantoms that rolled like clouds in the vision of John, and as such they illustrate the grand truth that even the very scenes and seasons of all our sorrows come from him who is, and was, and is to be, the Everlasting Father.
4. He determines their character. The sufferings that came forth from the bowls were not of exactly the same kind or amount; some seemed more terrible and tremendous than others. It appeared as a painful "sore" upon the men of the earth; it was as "death" to those on the sea; it appeared as "blood" upon the fountains and the rivers; it appeared as scorching "fire" in the sun; it appeared as "darkness" and "torture" upon the throne of the beast; it appeared as a terrible "drought," and as the spirits of devils like "frogs," on the rolling Euphrates; and it appeared as terrible convulsions of nature in the air. How different in kind and amount are the sufferings dealt out to men! The sufferings of some are distinguished by physical diseases, some by social bereavements, some by secular losses and disappointments, some by mental perplexities, some by moral anguish, etc. "Every heart knoweth its own bitterness." So much, then, for the fact that all the dispensations of predestined sufferings are under the direction of God.
II. ALL THE DISPENSATIONS OF THIS SUFFERING HAVE A GREAT MORAL PURPOSE. The suffering of the sevenfold plagues is settled in the government of God for moral ends. These ends are not malignant, but merciful. They are not to ruin souls, but to save them. They are curative elements in the painful cup of life; they are storms to purify the moral atmosphere of the world. Disrobing these verses of all metaphorical incongruities, they suggest the grand purpose of God in all the dispensations of suffering. They appear to involve three things.
1. The righteous punishment of cruel persecution. "And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord [Righteous art thou], which art, and wast, and shalt be [thou Holy One], because thou hast judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy" (vers. 5, 6). To "shed blood" anyhow is one of the foulest crimes man can commit; it is an impious infraction of a fundamental law of Heaven, "Thou shalt not kill." Words which apply to man in every conceivable capacity and relation - to the hangman and the warrior as well as to the assassin. They speak as truly to Wolseley amidst his murdering exploits in the Soudan as to any other man on the face of the earth. Blood guiltiness is the chief of crimes. But to murder "prophets," good men and true teachers, is the chief of murders. For this Heaven would be avenged, and the whole intelligent universe will so recognize this as to break into the anthem, "Even so [yea], Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments" (ver. 7).
"Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints," etc.
2. The righteous punishment of supreme worldliness. "And the fifth angel poured out his vial [bowl] upon the seat [throne] of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain" (ver. 10). Worldliness in the ascendant is indeed like this beast portrayed in the Apocalypse. It sits supreme; it has a throne, a crown, a sceptre that extends over all. Supreme worldliness, whether in the individual or the society, is a "beast" coarse and hideous; and this beast, with all its votaries, is to be crushed. The whole government of God moves in that direction. Truly "blessed is he that overcometh the world" - this "beast."
3. The overwhelming ruin of organized wrong. "And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath" (ver. 19). Great Babylon, what is it? The moral evils of the world organized into its metropolis. Falsehood, sensuality, pride, ambition, impiety, fraud, tyranny, embodied in a mighty city. This is the Babylon, and all unredeemed men are citizens in it. The Divine purpose is to destroy it. All his dispensations are against it, and will one day shiver it to pieces. "The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever." Wrong will not stand forever before right. Though mountains of ice may stand before the glowing sunbeams of a thousand summers, wrong is bound to fall ultimately before the right. Take courage; be of good cheer!
III. ALL THE DISPENSATIONS OF THIS SUFFERING HAVE AN INFLUENCE COEXTENSIVE WITH THE UNIVERSE. There was not a drop from the bowl in either of the angels' hands that terminated where it fell. The contents of these bowls are not like showers falling on the rocks in summer, which having touched them are then exhaled forever. No, they continue to operate. The bowl that fell on the earth became an evil and painful sore; that which fell on the sea became blood and death; that which fell upon the sun scorched mankind; that which fell on the beast spread darkness and agony in all directions; that which fell upon the Euphrates produced a drought, and drew out of the month of the dragon wild beasts and strange dragons; the bowl that poured out its contents on the air produced lightnings and thunders and earthquakes, causing Babylon to be riven asunder, and every mountain and valley to flee away (vers. 2-13, 19, 20). Observe:
1. Nothing in the world of mind terminates with itself. One thought leads to another, one impression produces another elsewhere, and so on. In matter the roll of an infant's marble shakes the massive globes of space. "No man liveth unto himself." Each step we give will touch chords that will vibrate through all the arches of immensity.
2. Whatever goes forth from mind exerts an influence on the domain of matter. These angels, unseen messengers of the Eternal, go forth from that shrine into which no eye has ever pierced - the secret place of him "who dwelleth in the light, whom no man hath seen or can see." Who are they? What eye has ever seen them? what ear has ever heard the rustle of their mystic wings? the "vials" or howls they bear in their mystic hands, what eye has seen them, and what hand has touched them? And yet these invisibilities from the invisible world produce an influence upon the material. Not only do sentient creatures from the earth and the waters and the air writhe and bleed and die, but inanimate matter also. The earth quakes, the mountains tremble at their influence. Human science seems to be reaching a point when we shall find that human minds in all directions exert an influence upon the forces and the operations of material nature. Mind is the primordial and presiding force of all forces. Morally, like Jacob on his stony pillow at Bethel, we are all dreaming, unconscious of the presence of the great Spirit. Ere long, however, we shall be wakened and exclaim, "Surely God is in this place, and I knew it not." - D.T.
I. THAT JUDGMENT PROCEEDS FROM GOD. They are the judgments of the "Lord God, the Almighty." "Righteous art thou, which art and which wast, thou Holy One, because thou didst thus judge."
II. THAT THE JUDGMENTS ASSUME THE FORM OF WRATHFUL INDIGNATION. "In them is finished the wrath of God." "Seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who liveth forever and ever." The terribleness of that "wrath" must be gathered from the character of the symbols of its expression. The nature of that "wrath" must be ascertained from the teachings on the nature of him whose "wrath" it is.
III. THAT THE JUDGMENTS ARE CHARACTERIZED BY GREAT SUFFERINGS ON THE PART OF THEM ON WHOM THEY ARE INFLICTED. Here, doubtless, the spiritual is represented by the visible and material.
IV. THAT THESE JUDGMENTS ARE JUSTLY AND RIGHTEOUSLY INFLICTED, "Righteous art thou, which art and which wast, thou Holy One, because thou didst thus judge;" "Righteous and true are thy ways, thou King of the ages;" Yea, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments." From these direful words we must exclaim truly, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," when he ariseth to judgment. How definite is the call to men:
1. To guard against that devotion to evil which is "worshipping the beast and his image."
2. To the faithful to await with awe the final judgments of God upon the enemies of the truth, when he will "separate the just from the unjust," when "the tares shall be cast into the fire"! - R.G.
lex talionis - the law that ordains "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth;" that "with what measure ye mete, it shall be meted to you." And here in the text we have a vivid and awful illustration of it. And there have been a vast number more. They, everywhere and always, who have shed the blood of God's servants, have had given to them, sooner or Later, "blood to drink." Their turn has come, and it has been the more terrible because of what they have done to bring it upon themselves.
I. CONSIDER SOME ILLUSTRATIONS OF THIS LAW. Egypt. The memory of how she shed the blood of God's servants, and how blood was given her to drink, not merely in symbol by the water of her river being turned into blood, so that her people loathed to drink of it, but actually by the destruction that came upon her - the memory of all this is evidently fresh in the writer's mind. The atmosphere of Egypt, the bondage, and the Exodus, is all around this record of the seven vials. Israel under Ahab and other idolatrous kings. He and they shed the blood of God's prophets. But sure revenges came. At Carmel; in Assyria, where Israel was carried away captive, and where as a nation she perished. Assyria. Cf. the Book of Jonah for its sins and its predicted doom. Fate of Sennacherib. Destruction of Nineveh about B.C. 606, when Sardanapalus the king, in despair, burnt himself, with his concubines, eunuchs, and treasures. Persia. Cf. the Book of Esther, and the king's edict for the destruction of the Jews, and how averted and avenged. Greece. Cf. the Books of Maccabees, as to persecutions under Antiochus Epiphanes; his miserable death. Jerusalem. Cf. our Lord's words, "It cannot be that a prophet should perish out of Jerusalem," etc. (Luke 13:33, 34). Her siege and fall. Rome, both pagan and papal (cf. Gibbon, for fall of pagan Rome; Alison, for calamities that came on Rome and Italy during the wars of the Revolution). France. Her persecutions of the Huguenots led on to the horrors of her revolution. Spain, once the greatest of European powers, became infamous for her bigotry and cruelties on all outside the Romish Church; she was the home of the Inquisition, and the auto-da-fe. But the persecutor's doom came upon her. Her glory has departed. The Stuart dynasty in England, who harried and drove tens of thousands of godly men out of the Church and out of the land; and then their turn came, and their race and name passed away in ignominy. And had England's loss of her American colonies nothing to do with her maintenance of the accursed slave trade? And did not America's civil war spring from that same bad cause? Such are some fulfilments of this law, some more, some less, evident. Doubtless Jerusalem, at the hour when St. John wrote in the very throes of her mortal agony, when blood was indeed given her to drink; and Rome, racked with civil war and the fierce factions fomented by this chieftain and that, and for whom yet more fearful fate waited - these were uppermost in St. John's mind. But the law lives yet, and lived before St. John's day; not one jot or one tittle of it has failed or can ever fail. And the Bible and the facts of life supply illustrations not a few of the fulfilment of this law in individuals as well as nations. And where the eye cannot trace the fulfilment, it is not to be thought that the law has failed. In his moral life - that which is within and unseen - the law can lay hold on the transgressor, and does so. Every man's sin finds him out, even if he be not found out.
II. ITS MODE OF ACTION. It is, like as most of God's laws are, self acting. There is no need for God to interfere to see that the law is vindicated. Power, perverted to persecution and oppression, and pampered by such means, becomes hideous and hateful to mankind, who after a while will turn upon the tyrant and hurl him from the place of power which he has prostituted to such vile uses. And so because he or they have "shed blood," blood is given, etc. Man may as well think to put in motion any given cause and to hinder the due effect from following, as to hinder the fulfilment of the law we are considering. Sow the seed, and its harvest will follow, not some other; there will be no need of miracle to secure this. And the seed of blood shed will infallibly secure a like harvest. Men may deny the existence of God, but they cannot deny the existence of laws, self acting, and which have an awful power of ensuring their own vindication, let men's opinions be what they will.
III. ITS LESSONS TO US ALL.
1. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that," etc.
2. The inveteracy, violence, and virulence of sin. Notwithstanding all that God has done, and does, to deter men from it, they will cling to it still.
3. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." "When he maketh inquisition for blood, he remembereth them." - S.C.
Revelation 9:20, and in this chapter again at vers. 11 and 21. This repeated reference is designed to, as it well may, impress our minds with a fact at once so sinful, so solemn, and so sad. For such impenitence is -
I. A VERY CERTAIN FACT. The late Mr. Kingsley, in his book, 'The Roman and the Teuton,' draws out at length the evidence both of the horrible sufferings and the yet more horrible impenitence of the Roman people in the days of their empire's fall. He refers to these very verses as accurately describing the condition of things in those awful days, when the people of Rome "gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed," etc. (ver. 11). And it is to Rome and her fall that St. John is here alluding. There can hardly be doubt of that. But the sinners at Rome were not the only ones who, in spite of the judgments of God resting upon them, have, nevertheless, hardened their hearts. Who has not known of such things?
II. AND VERY WONDERFUL. We say a burnt child dreads the fire, but it is evident that they who have been "scorched with great heat" (ver. 9) by the righteous wrath of God are yet not afraid to incur that wrath again. Nothing strikes us more than the persistent way in which, in the "day of provocation in the wilderness," the Israelites went on sinning, notwithstanding all that it brought upon them in the way of punishment. There was every reason and motive for them to obey God, and yet they did scarce anything but provoke him. And it is so still.
III. AND VERY AWFUL. "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone." "Why should ye be stricken any more?" - no good comes of it, punishment does not make any difference. Such are the despairing words of the prophets of God. There are few surer signs of perdition than when a man is hardened in sin and more set in enmity against God by reason of his righteous judgments. What can even God do then? If what is designed to lead us to repentance only drive us into more sin, what hope is there? See those told of here; what a description of unspeakable distress - "gnawing their tongues for pain," but blaspheming God the while and repenting not! "From hardness of heart,... good Lord, deliver us."
IV. BUT YET NOT INEXPLICABLE. For:
1. Times of such distress as are told of here are just the most unfavourable times of all others for that serious, earnest thought which would lead to repentance. Distress distracts the mind, drags it hither and thither, so that it cannot stay itself upon God. To trust to the hour of death to turn unto God is, indeed, to build upon the sand.
2. Resentment against their ill treatment holds their mind more than aught else. Thrice are we told how the men who "gnawed their tongues for pain" blasphemed God. Burning rage against him enwrapped their souls. As if he were to blame, and not they! They explain that difficult verse in the ninetieth psalm, "Who regardeth the power of thy wrath? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath." It is only they who have a holy fear of God who will regard his wrath; according to the measure of that fear will be the measure of right regard of the wrath of God. Where that fear is not, God's wrath will exasperate, enrage, and harden, but there will be no repentance.
3. They attribute their sufferings to every cause but the true one. How easy it is to do this! how commonly it is done! How men snatch at every suggestion that will help them to lay the blame upon other men or things! It is part of "the deceitfulness of sin" to make men do this. But until a man is led to cry, with him of old, "God be merciful to me, the sinner!" (Luke 18:13), he may groan in agony of body or mind, but he will never turn in heart to God.
4. Sin has such hold on them that they cannot give it up. Yes, deeper than the dread of its punishment is the love of the sin. Once it might have been broken through as easily as the cobweb that stretches across the garden path; but, indulged and indulged, it has become a cable that holds the man in spite of all the storm of God's judgments and the tempest of his wrath. Cries and tears, protestations and prayers, may be extorted from the man through his terror and pain; but they are but surface sounds, and touch not the depth or reality of the man's soul.
5. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the hearts of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11). The interval between the sentence and its being carried out is given for repentance; but men have made it a means of greater sin. Such are some of the reasons that explain the seemingly wonderful fact we are considering.
V. AND IT IS FULL OF WARNING. Even torture does not turn a man, nor suffering save. That old and awful puritanic cry to sinners, "Turn or burn!" - a cry which, we believe, never yet turned one heart to God, for it is not the nature of terror to do that - has a yet more dread sequel; that if a man will not now, in "the day of salvation," turn to God, he may burn and yet not turn. Such is the teaching, not of our text alone, but of all experience too. O God, fill our hearts with the fear and love of thee! - S.C.
infra). But these verses tell of a great event connected with it.
I. WHAT WAS THIS? It is called "the battle of that great day of God Almighty" (ver. 14). Whether St. John had some literal battle taking place in his day present in his mind, we cannot certainly say. Not improbably he had. Most of the symbols of this book refer, we think, to events with which he was familiar. Thus is it with all prophecies, not least with this one. Such events form the basis of those wider facts which alone can fill up the prophet's words. In this case it is the last great conflict with evil to which his words point, and of which we have not a few premonitions in the Scriptures. How far we are to understand what we read, here and elsewhere, literally, and how far figuratively, it is impossible to say, as the prediction is for the future, and is yet unfulfilled. But why it is called Armageddon may be because the Plain of Esdraelon was the battlefield of Palestine. And at Megiddo - and Armageddon means the hill of Megiddo - it was that King Josiah was defeated, and great sorrow had come upon God's people. And it was the hope of the adversary of God that what had been done to Josiah should be done to Jesus (Hengstenberg). Also it was, like Marathon, Waterloo, etc., a name for a decisive conflict, and this last one should be such. But this Scripture will be of little avail to us if we think only of the past or of the unknown future. The conflict of good and evil is ever proceeding. And, in this soul and that, Armageddons - decisive conflicts - are continually being fought. See, in the conversion of Saul at Damascus, how the forces of evil were overthrown. There comes in most men's lives a crisis in which the question - Whose shall I be - the Lord's servant, or the servant of selfishness and sin? - has to be settled. When all the clamour of passion and the might of temptation are resisted, and the heart goes over to the Lord's side, that has been the spiritual fulfilment of this mysterious vision.
II. WHAT CAME OF IT? This is given not here, but in Revelation 19:17-21, where the utter discomfiture of Christ's enemies is told of in the vivid, graphic way common in this book. Yes, the last great conflict shall be a triumphant one for Christ's Church. Oftentimes now the Church, in this or that part of the battlefield, seems to be worsted; but, at the last, victory "all along the line" shall be the Lord's, and, through him, hers also. And in those spiritual Armageddons which today are fought, and every day, there, too, victory is the Lord's. Let the noble army of martyrs tall. Let all who have witnessed faithfully for him say, "If he who will be with his people in the last decisive battle be with us now, then all the unclean spirits of hell, all the devil's might and power, bearing down against us shall leave us the victor still."
III. WHAT LED TO IT? Two facts, and very suggestive ones, are named.
1. The drying up of Euphrates. (Ver. 12.) That was an apparent providential preparation and prospering of the devil's purpose. Such things do happen. Some have thought that the drying up of Euphrates means the conversion of the East, the coming to the Lord's help against the mighty, of those remote lands. But what is told of here is part of the sixth vial of judgment; it is not a manifestation of grace, but of wrath. Therefore we understand by this symbol a seeming furtherance of evil designs by providential means. When Jonah went to flee from the presence of the Lord, there was a ship at Joppa ready for him. When men determine they will follow evil ways, how smooth the path becomes! Facilis descensus, etc. How many aids and abettors they meet with! A way being easy, a Euphrates dried up, a barrier removed, is no proof that God approves that way. Israel murmured for quails, and they had them, and died. These "kings of the east," who were part of the great aggregate of kings told of in ver. 14, like the rest, had been persuaded to this awful war by the "unclean spirits" (ver. 13). And lo, it seemed as if it were certainly the right and wise thing to do; for here was the great hindrance taken out of the way - Euphrates was dried up. What a Euphrates against evil a Christian home, or religious surroundings, or God-fearing friends, or wholesome public opinion, may be! But God's providence may take these away from you, and so that barrier against sin be put out of the way. But God does not mean you to sin on that account, nor will he excuse you if you do.
2. The power of the unclean spirits. They are said to have been "like frogs."
(1) Whom do they represent? See whence they issued.
(a) From the dragon; that is, the devil. Therefore the unclean spirit that thence came forth represents the malignant, wicked spirit that ever opposes itself against God.
(b) From "the beast;" that is, the world in its hostile manifestations against Christ's Church. It was represented chiefly by Jerusalem and Rome in St. John's day.
(c) From the false prophet, or the beast from the sea (Revelation 13:11); that is, the superstitions, lies, and manifold deceits of heathenism, whereby the people were beguiled and bound to the will of the godless world, which is emphatically called "the beast." Malignant hate, worldly power and policy, deceit, - these are the three frog-like, unclean spirits.
(2) What do they do? They persuade the nations to war against Christ. They are a sort of hellish trinity: the spirit of the dragon as opposed to the Father; of the beast, as opposed to the Son; of the false prophet, as opposed to the Holy Ghost (Hengstenberg).
(3) And they are likened to "frogs," partly because of the Egyptian symbols which are prevalent in this chapter, and this was one of their plagues. Also because of their loathsomeness - mud and mire their habitation, hideous in appearance, repulsive and abhorrent everywhere. Thus would St. John excite detestation of these spiritual evils, which he likens to these loathsome creatures.
(4) And these spirits are at work still, and do yet the same deadly work in leading human hearts to fight against God. Does not that old serpent, the devil, still stir up hard thoughts of God, and make God's "Law" the very "strength of sin"? And the spirit of "the beast," the world, its manifold opposition to Christ, how conscious we all are of its working day by day! And that of the false prophet, that second beast, which gave his strength to the first - how, in the subtle sophistries, the plausible philosophies of the day, the deceitful handling of Divine truths, the pandering to our lower likings, which so many of the popular teachings are chargeable with, do they not beguile and seduce many hearts into opposition to God and to his Christ? Without doubt they do. And, therefore, the lesson of the whole, which in ver. 6 the Lord himself solemnly interposes to teach his Church, is for us today as for them of old. "Behold," he says, "I come as a thief." Many there were, many now are, in open association with his people who are not really of his people. To such especially he addresses his warning word. The time of trial, of his judgment, will come thief like - suddenly, unexpectedly, stealthily, surprisingly, with hostile intent - to those who do not watch. For these will be as a man who has laid himself down to sleep, and has put off his clothes. And so the sudden coming of the thief finds him unclothed. All which means that we are never to allow ourselves to be separated from Christ. We are to abide in him whom we profess to have "put on," never to put off. The love, faith, and fear of him are to be our garments, the Christian state and condition, in which we are always to be. Now, he who does not watch puts off, if, indeed, he ever really put on, that state. And hence, when trial comes, he will be detected, exposed, and scorned, for the pretended, but not real, Christian, which he really is. Abide in Christ, then, is the word to us all, and we need fear no conflict, not even the fiercest, which our foe may wage. - S.C.
the final removal of all hindrances to the perfect development of the antagonistic spirit of evil and error. That the symbols have a cumulative, an increasing force, seems most obvious; this sign is "great and marvellous;" this is the preparation for "the war of the great day of God." The effectual conquest can only be made when all let and hindrance shall have been taken off the enemy. Error must fully develop itself. The utmost malignity of evil must be revealed. "The way" must be "made ready for the kings that come from the sunrising." Doubtless in the great human history all forms of error and evil shall present themselves to "the truth," and the truth shall vindicate itself in presence of all. Foul sin shall put forth its utmost vileness; but righteousness shall hold its own, and be finally triumphant. Thus is "revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming" (2 Thessalonians 2:8). The enemies of "the Church of the living God" - that is, and must be, the living Church of God - shall be crushed. That they may be so crushed, let the way for their coming be opened. Comforting is this word of assuring, confident faith. The "little flock" need not fear, even though their enemies be let loose. The practical lessons are simple. The scene urges -
I. TO FIDELITY TO THE RIGHT, EVEN THOUGH EVIL GAIN POWER.
II. TO FEARLESSNESS IN PRESENCE OF THE GREAT FORCES OF EVIL.
III. TO A PATIENT ENDURANCE OF THE OPPRESSION OF EVIL.
IV. TO ASSURANCE OF ULTIMATE VICTORY, FREEDOM, AND PEACE. - R.G.
frogs some respect is had, according to the just remark of Bossuet, to one of the plagues of Egypt. The point of comparison is the uncleanness, the loathsomeness, which is expressly noticed." Our attention is called to spirits and powers of evil who are directly under the control of the evil one, and subject to his inspiration ("the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas, ... then entered Satan unto him") - "the spirits of devils." These "go forth unto the kings of the whole world, to gather them together unto the war of the great day of God, the Almighty." The servant of sin obeys the behests of sin. He whose heart is open to Satan will find Satan walking in sooner or later. With the great battle we have not now to do. We see how the Church has to maintain her wrestling against "the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." This vision seems to represent an especial malignity and effort of evil in this "war of the great day of God." We can hardly forbear seeing some final intensifying of the Satanic power, some temporary prevalence of evil. But the admonition of the Lord sounds with especial force upon our ear, and must be removed from its merely parenthetical position. "Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments." In order to this let the Church be roused to behold the evilness of the enemy and the greatness of the danger.
I. THE UNCLEAN SPIRITS ARE "SPIRITS OF DEVILS." The devil stands as the representative and head of all that is unlike God, and that is antagonistic to his Name and kingdom - "the adversary."
II. THE SPIRITS ARE SPECIALLY DISTINGUISHED AS "UNCLEAN SPIRITS." All unholiness is uncleanness. They prompt to all disobedience and worldly lust and foulness of life, all unbelief and evilness of conduct.
III. THEY STIMULATE AND INSPIRE "THE KINGS OF THE EARTH" - the subtle ruling powers, passions, habits, and other forms of evil which hold sway and dominion over men. The king is the symbol, not of weakness, but of power and authority and government; fit emblem of whatever domineers over the life of man.
IV. THEY STAND IN DIRECT ANTAGONISM TO GOD. This is the utmost evilness conceivable. To be led astray by temptation, to fall by unwatchfulness, to yield to evil, is bad enough, and entails just and merited punishment; but the utmost vileness is that which places itself in direct and active opposition to the Holy One. "He that opposeth God and exalteth himself against all that is called God."
V. THEREFORE LET THE LOWLY BELIEVERS
(1) take heed: watching;
(2) keep free from the contamination Of sin in every guise: "keepeth his garments."
(3) For the danger is great;
(4) and the great Master cometh at an hour when we think not: "Behold, I come as a thief in the night."
(5) He that so watcheth is verily "blessed." - R.G.