After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.Revelation 4:1Heaven Near, though Hidden.
I. The division between earth and heaven. The fact that earth and heaven are divided by so wide a gulf seems to me one of the strangest facts in our experience, though long habit prevents the strangeness from striking us so much. We should have expected the very opposite. Allowing that men are unfit to enter heaven, yet it would have seemed most natural that we should have had the full evidence about it which direct communication could have given. Comparatively few cross the Atlantic to America, yet, though we may never see it, we require no act of faith to realise its existence and condition; but the world of heaven, the home of God, is so far removed beyond the range of our knowledge that we have need of faith to be convinced even that it exists, of faith which, though based on reason, sometimes fails. If only we could identify heaven with some distant star, that would be a handle for our confidence as we caught its glimmer in the night; but even such a satisfaction is withheld. Where heaven is, where God is, even that God is, we cannot demonstrate by our reason. God has so cut us off in space, in our little island world, from the rest of His dominions that we cannot cross the ocean or read or hear of others reaching His eternal shore.
II. The connection between earth and heaven. One point of connection between the two which at least helps to make heaven seem nearer to us is that life in heaven, just as much as our life here, is proceeding now. We think of heaven too much as a future state; we should remember that to countless multitudes it is a present state. Heaven is not a dim and distant promised vision merely which God may not call into existence for unknown ages yet; heaven is an actual, living world, whose inhabitants are conscious at this moment of life and joy. Its worship is ascending now to God. His servants there are busy with their noble work; their bliss is a present feeling arising from the presence of God now.
III. The door is set open between earth and heaven. The division is maintained between the two in order that our discipline may not cease. But sometimes the door is opened that our faith may not fail. That has happened "in those sundry times and divers manners when God spake unto the fathers by the prophets." The revelations they received of God and of man's destiny were glimpses through a door opened in heaven, and were exceptions to the seclusion which God maintains; to them He broke the silence. A door was set open in heaven also when the Son of God passed through. And whenever a Christian pilgrim reaches his journey's end, then, too, it may be said that the door between earth and heaven is set open to let the wanderer pass into his home.
T. M. Herbert, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv., p. 395.
References: Revelation 4:1.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv., No. 887; H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, The Life of Duty, vol. ii., p. 1; Homilist, 2nd series, vol. ii., p. 367; A. P. Peabody, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 70; Talmage, Ibid., vol. xiv., p. 202.
Revelation 4:2The Revelation of the Triune God and its Diffusion.
I. The form which both Prophet and Apostle saw seated on the heavenly throne was of a clear, brilliant flame colour, partly red like the sardine, or, to use a modern term, the carnelian, and partly of the lighter hue of yellow amber. The truth symbolised in this appearance is thus set forth in plain terms by the Apostle to the Hebrews: "Our God is a consuming fire." The first attribute under which God presents Himself to a soul which He proposes to renew and sanctify is that of transcendently clear and brilliant holiness; He will be known in the first instance as a God with whom moral evil cannot dwell, who cannot endure, in those who approach to Him, a single stain of impurity. We cannot but grant that, awful as the spotless perfection of the Divine character is to a sinner's gaze, it is yet exceeding brilliant and glorious. The jasper and the sardine stone, although the infirm eye of man cannot bear to gaze upon them when they flash and kindle up in the sunlight, are yet of a hue exceedingly beautiful and brilliant.
II. It is the Mediator between God and man, even the Lord Jesus Christ, "which is our hope," who is here symbolised to us under the lovely and appropriate emblem of an emerald rainbow. What sweet refreshment to the aching eyeballs to rest for a while upon an emerald green, the very colour which, when the power of sight is enfeebled, is calculated to preserve it! In the existence of light, the existence of the rainbow is involved; for what is the rainbow but light reflected from the raindrops? And what is the Lord Jesus, considered as a Divine Person incarnate, but God reflected in the infirm medium of a manhood pure as crystal?
III. "Seven lamps of fire burning before the throne." Fire, we know, is a constant emblem of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is that Person in the Triune Jehovah whose office it is to sanctify the mind of man, not of one man, but of many, to abide in the Church, yet not in one local Church, but in all the branches of the Church universal. Contemplated in His office character as distinct from His essence, He is multiform; and to His multiformity the text certifies.
E. M. Goulburn, Occasional Sermons, p. 267.
Revelation 4:3The Throne and the Rainbow.
I. At this wonderful throne. Of course we understand such a thing to be the symbol of government, of the Divine government in the universe, for that Being on the seat of royalty is God. But what do the other emblems mean? The whole chapter seems to glitter with a blaze of precious jewels, some of them with strange names. (1) The exalted monarch is said to be like a jasper and a sardine stone. I find the soberest commentators agreed in declaring that what is here called jasper must be the diamond, and the sardine is only what we call a carnelian, that is, a flesh-coloured gem in hue, as the name signifies. And hence these expositors would have us believe that this personage, with a Divine brightness and a human expression, is none other than the Lamb in the midst of the throne. (2) The attendants. The very nobles are crowned, and wear royal raiment; their ordinary seats are thrones. (3) This vision teaches that earth can always and everywhere be seen from heaven. (4) Observe once more, this is an unimpeachable government. These living creatures are worshipping while watching.
II. The rainbow. This represents a covenant, as the other represented a rule. (1) The ancient covenant has in it the promise of the covenant of grace. (2) Its appearance just here in John's vision is welcomed more for its graciousness than for its antiquity. (3) Observe how well this vision teaches us that God's covenant is completed. This rainbow is a circlet; it goes around the throne. (4) The covenant is abiding; it will stand for ever. (5) This covenant is to each of us individual and personal.
III. Note the collocation of the two symbols. (1) God's promise surrounds God's majesty; (2) God's grace surrounds God's justice; (3) God's love surrounds God's power; (4) God's glory surrounds God's children.
C. S. Robinson, Sermons on Neglected Texts, p. 297.
Revelation 4:3I. The rainbow. We are all familiar with it as a natural phenomenon. (1) In the Bible history it proclaimed the fact of the Divine reconciliation; (2) it intimated that providence is administered under the reign of grace; (3) the grand purpose of the rainbow was to seal or ratify the covenant of God.
II. The position of the rainbow. The rainbow is round about the throne, not above, as dominating, or upon, as occupying, but round about, as encompassing the throne; and in this regard its position is as significantly instructive as it is itself. (1) It evidently carries us up to the Divine origin of the covenant; (2) it intimates that the Divine majesty rules in the covenant throughout; (3) it assures us that the covenant will never pass from the Divine remembrance.
III. The aspect of the rainbow, the natural rainbow round about the throne, here said to be in sight like unto an emerald. Observe why this rainbow has so much in it, not of heaven's, but of earth's, colour, not sky-blue, but emerald green. (1) It indicates that there is a refreshing beauty in the covenant which is never wearisome to look at; (2) it may be held to indicate that there is an essential unity in the covenant, whatever variety may circumstantially distinguish it; (3) the everlasting duration of the covenant may be said to be shadowed forth in the emerald aspect of the rainbow round about the throne. For the green of the emerald is as an unfading hue.
E. Thomson, Memorials of a Ministry, p. 208.
References: Revelation 4:4, Revelation 4:10, Revelation 4:11.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii., No. 441; Ibid., Evening by Evening, p. 255.
Revelation 4:8New Year's Day.
There is something exceedingly solemn in the opening of a new year. At such times more than others, when even the trifler is visited for an instant by serious thought, does the Christian love to trace the hand of God in the Church and in the world, to abstract himself from the whirl of business, and politics, and controversy, and calmly answer the important question, "Where am I, and whither tending?"
I. The words of the text form part of the ascription of praise uttered in heaven by the four living creatures, who symbolise, as I believe, the creation of God. They express a sense of the holiness and eternity of the Almighty, that He is essentially pure, and just, and merciful, and that His being and operations extend through past and present and to come. Now just such a sense of the holiness and providence of God befits us at the opening of another year of our lives. To have a firm persuasion that He is a pure, and just, and merciful Being, to trace His operations as such in this His world, is the most precious result of human knowledge and the highest triumph of the intellect of man. And as this view of the world is the highest result of wisdom, so is it likewise a cause of abundant consolation to the believer in Christ. It furnishes to him the comforting assurance that all things are working together for good, that the Lord reigneth, be the earth never so unquiet; and every onward step in the advancement of man, while it elates others with unbecoming pride, fills him with humble joy.
II. At present much of what God has done is unintelligible to us; more of what He is doing, seeing that we ourselves are a part of it, is hidden from us; and what He will do and bring on the world, who shall presume to say? But let us remember that to His people, those who in their hearts and lives serve and love Him, a day will come when, gifted with nobler faculties, breathing a purer air, and gazing with a keener vision, they will trace all His dealings with men in their completeness, and confess that He hath done all things well. Then the blurred and blotted map of the world's history will be restored, the vacant regions of human memory filled up, every corner of darkness and mystery lit with the beams of the Sun of light and righteousness.
H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. i., p. 1.
Revelation 4:8(with 1 John 5:20)
Preached on Trinity Sunday.
To-day we are called upon to keep the festival of revelation. Every other great festival of our Church commemorates a fact through which God has been pleased to teach men something of His purpose of love; Trinity Sunday encourages us to reflect for a brief space on that final truth, most absolute, most elementary, most practical, which gives unity and stability to all knowledge. The view of the Divine nature which it offers for our devout contemplation is the charter of human faith.
I. The conception of the Triune God is not given to us first in an abstract form. The abstract statement is an interpretation of facts, a human interpretation of vital facts, an interpretation wrought out gradually in the first years of the Church, and still mastered gradually in our individual growth. We are required each, in some sense, to win for ourselves the inheritance which is given to us, if the inheritance is to be a blessing. We learn through the experience of history and life how God acts, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and by the very necessity of thought we are constrained to gather up these lessons into the simplest possible formula. So we come to recognise a Divine Trinity, which is not sterile, monotonous simplicity. We come to recognise One in whom is the fulness of all conceivable existence in the richest energy, One absolutely self-sufficient and perfect, One in whom love finds absolute consummation, One who is in Himself a living God, the fountain and the end of all life.
II. The conception of the Triune God illuminates the idea of creation. It enables us to gain firm hold of the truth that the learning which we observe under the condition of time answers to a Being beyond time; that history is the writing out at length of that which we may speak of as a Divine thought. The same conception illuminates the idea of the Incarnation. It enables us to see that the Incarnation in its essence is the crown of the Creation, and that man, being made capable of fellowship with God, has in his very constitution a promise of the fulfilment of his highest destiny.
III. This truth is not speculative, but practical. The Chris tian conception of God is the translation into the language of thought of the first Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide. By our faith in these facts we confess that the Divine life has been united with human life. We confess, even if we do not distinctly realise the force of the confession, that the Divine life is the foundation and the end of human life. And we live, so far as life deserves the name, by this faith by which consciously or unconsciously we are stirred to toil and sustained in sacrifice.
Bishop Westcott, Oxford Review and Journal; May 24th, 1883.
References: Revelation 4:8.—F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxiii., p. 357. Revelation 4:10.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix., No. 1002; Homilist, 1st series, vol. vi., p. 425. Revelation 4:10, Revelation 4:11.—M. Dix, Sermons Doctrinal and Practical, p. 145; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 286. Revelation 4:11.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 12. Revelation 5:1-10.—Ibid., vol. i., p. 417. Revelation 5:4, Revelation 5:5.—A. James, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxix., p. 21. Revelation 5:5, Revelation 5:6.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 414.
And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.
And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.
And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.
And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.
And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.
And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,
The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.