Blessed is he that reads, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein…
Blessed is he that readeth, etc. By the readers are meant those who, in the congregation, should read this book; and by the hearers, the congregations themselves; but neither readers nor hearers, ministers nor people, win this benediction unless, in addition to the reading and the hearing, they keep its saying. But, notwithstanding the solemn commendation of this book, it is known to all students of God's Word that for a while it was not regarded as a constituent portion of the sacred Scriptures. Doubts were entertained concerning it by many writers of the fourth century, and some of them of much eminence in the Greek Church especially; but it has outlived all their objections and others of more modern days, and it was never more accepted as a genuine part of Holy Scripture than it is at this day. As one says, "We have seen its rise, as of a pure fountain, from the sacred rock of the apostolical Church. We have traced it through the first century of its passage, flowing from one fair field to another, identified through them all, and everywhere the same. As it proceeded lower, we have seen attempts to obscure its sacred origin, to arrest or divert its course, to lose it in the sands of antiquity, or bury it in the rubbish of the dark ages. We have seen these attempts repeated in our own times. But it has at length arrived to us such as it flowed forth from the beginning." The book is, therefore, all the more worthy of our reverent regard because of the ordeal through which it has had to pass, and its benediction on those who hear and obey it may be all the more confidently expected. Nor is that blessing barred by the unquestionable fact that very much in this book is difficult, obscure, and hard to be understood. No doubt it is so. But "even in the darkest parts there is already a glimmering light. Already we can see a clear testimony running through it to the holiness of God, to the power of Christ, to the providence which is working in or overruling all things, to the Divine purpose which all things and all men are willingly or unwillingly subserving, and to that final triumph of good over evil, of Christ over antichrist, of God over Satan, which will be the last and most decisive justification of the ways of God to men. All this lies on the surface of the book. And I know not that a more profitable occupation could be found for men of the world - men of business, men of activity, men of intelligence and influence - than the repeated perusal of a part of God's Word which says to them, even in its most obscure and mysterious disclosures, 'God is at work, God has a purpose, God will at length manifest his reign, in this world which you treat too much for the present as if it were all your own.' Take heed that you be not disregarding, that you be not 'even fighting against God,' and destined, therefore, to be overthrown when he triumphs. I know not that there is one chapter of the Bible which does not enforce upon us this great lesson (Vaughan). But if it be asked, as it will and should be asked - wherein does the blessedness consist of which this text tells? we reply, in the beautiful words of the Litany, that they who read, hear, and keep the sayings of this book will find that these sayings do, by God's grace, "strengthen such as do stand, comfort and help the weak hearted, raise up them that fall, and finally beat down Satan under our feet."
I. THEY "STRENGTHEN SUCH AS DO STAND."
1. Those to whom St. John wrote - for he it was, we feel persuaded, who wrote this book; he, the "son of thunder," who was so prompt to desire that fire might fall from heaven on the Samaritans who received not his Master, he would find in the denunciations of the dread judgments of which this book tells, a theme not altogether uncongenial; but those to whom he wrote - sorely needed to be strengthened. Whether the fiery trial which was to try them - " the great tribulation" as it is called in the seventh chapter - was the persecution under Nero or that under Domitian we cannot certainly say, but only that it was very terrible. The fear of it, falling on them with its frightful force, might well bear them off their feet and down into the depths of apostasy and denial of their Lord; and doubtless, but for the strength imparted through the sayings of the prophecy of this book, it would have done so.
2. But these sayings gave them strength still to stand, and to stand firm.
(1) For these sayings showed them Christ in the midst of his Church. St. John saw him, not now as the despised and rejected of men, but in might and majesty; and saw him, too, walking amidst the seven lamps of gold, and holding in his hand the circlet of the seven stars, symbol of the angels of the Churches, as the lamps of gold were of the Churches themselves. So then they were not left forlorn and helpless; not left like a tempest-tossed ship bereft of her skilful helmsman, and for whom, therefore, no other fate than to be driven on the rocks or otherwise completely shipwrecked was possible. No; it was not so with them; for there in the midst of his suffering Church, walking amid the several congregations of the faithful, with eyes like a flame of fire, and feet like brass, there was their Lord; and what, then, need they fear the worst that their enemies could do? Yes; they were shown this by these sayings. And we of today are shown the like amid "all our troubles and adversities, whensoever they oppress us." "Lo, I am with you alway," was said, and this glorious vision of the Lord in the midst of the seven lamps of gold was given, not for believers of the primitive Church alone, but for us also on whom the ends of the world are come. Shall we not, must we not, therefore, be blamed if we read and hear, and keep not these sayings?
(2) Furthermore, they showed the Lord actually using these very trials to accomplish his own gracious purposes towards his Church. For by them he was drawing the faithful closer to himself; compelling them, by the very stress of the storm that was beating on them, to come, as he would have them do, yet more closely within the sure shelter of his love. And was he not also by these terrible trials fulfilling the word spoken by his forerunner and herald, who said of him, "his fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire"? Yes; he was in this terrible way winnowing out the chaff, sifting the wheat, ridding the Churches of those elements which were false and hurtful, and making it undefiled and pure. The army of the Lord would thus be delivered from those who would only bring defeat and disgrace upon it, and those only would be left in it who could be depended upon to fight manfully the good fight of faith. And this testing would be also a revealing time, as all such times are, to every individual amongst them. It would find out their weak places, and make every one of them, who was really Christ's servant, take to himself afresh the whole armour of God. And was he not establishing a testimony through their fidelity, by which future ages should be enabled more manfully to confess, and more steadfastly to endure, for his sake, as they, by like testimony of those who had gone before them, had themselves been enabled? The blood of the martyrs has ever been the seed of the Church, and even if they did "go forth weeping, bearing this precious seed," doubtless they should "come again with rejoicing, bringing their sheaves with them," "The noble army of martyrs praise thee." So we delight to sing; but how more mightily do they or could they praise him than by bearing testimony, as they have done and do, that the grace of Christ can sustain, and the love of Christ inspire, and the approval of Christ compensate, for all that here on earth man may inflict or our weak flesh endure?
(3) And these sayings showed them also the end of all that was then befalling them. For the vision of St. John pierced the gloomy clouds of this lower world, and penetrated into the very presence chamber of God. And there - what was it that was shown to them? What but the sure triumph of Christ, the utter downfall and doom of all his foes; and the glorious recompense of reward which awaited his faithful ones when they shall have come out of the great tribulation, and God shall have wiped away all tears from their eyes? If, then, these sayings were not only read and heard, but also kept, how could they do otherwise than impart strength of spirit, of heart, and mind?
II. And so also would they "COMFORT AND HELP THE WEAK HEARTED." No doubt there were many such, as how could there but be, amongst those to whom St. John wrote? What fear and misgiving would throng many hearts in those dreadful days! What an agony of inward conflict would they have to go through ere ever they could take their stand firmly for their Lord! How would dear life, and ease, and the entreaties of beloved friends, and the many ties which bound them to life, - how would they all plead against the martyr spirit and endeavour to overcome it, and to persuade the soul threatened with persecution for Christ's sake to some easy compliance, some plausible compromise, whereby the awful fate of those who refused obedience to the persecuting power might be escaped! What wavering of the will there must have been in instances not a few! what making and unmaking of resolution! How would timidity and weakness clamour and weep and break the heart of the terrified one! And whence was their help to come? Whence but in the promised presence of their Lord, that presence which the sayings of this book showed to them, realized in their hearts? Then, as troops dismayed and ready to retreat are rallied and recalled to resolute action by their leader coming to them and placing himself at their head, and encouraging them by word and look and deed, so would the weak hearted to whom St. John wrote find comfort and help as they saw their Lord with them, at their head, beckoning and encouraging them on, and holding out to them the glorious promise of his reward. "To him that overcometh;" seven times over are these heart-stirring words addressed to the Churches; and at the hearing of them, as the soldier at the hearing of the trumpet call, so would the faint and faltering follower of Christ recognize and respond to the summons to follow on, though his heart had been faint enough heretofore.
III. Blessed, too, would he be who rightly received the sayings of this book; for they would do not a little to LIFT UP THE FALLEN.
1. And there were fallen ones amongst them. Those who like the recreant Church at Laodicea, had gone utterly astray from Christ, and to whom no solitary word of praise could be addressed, but only loud call to repentance and solemn warning against their sin.
2. But these sayings of this book, how they would reveal their Lord whom they had so forsaken coming to them both in anger and in love! He could say to them, "I know thy works;" and to the hardened and impenitent his eyes flashed as a flame of fire, but to those who confessed and would forsake their sins these same sayings would show him as standing at the door and knocking for admittance, and promising that all should be forgotten and forgiven as in the fellowship of love they sat together at the same board, he with them and they with him. These sayings would be like the firm strengthening grasp of the Lord's hand to his sinking apostle, who but for that had perished amid the waves upon which he had ventured to walk. So would many a one who had stumbled and fallen find their feet again uplifted and upborne by the exceeding great and precious promises made to the repentant in these same sayings of this book.
IV. And so will the other great necessity of the Christian man - THAT HE SHOULD BEAT DOWN SATAN UNDER HIS FEET - be greatly aided if he hear and keep these sayings. For that vanquishment of Satan is no sudden act, no victory gained all in a moment, but is the result of long-continued Christian habit against which the assaults of our great adversary rage in vain. No rush of holy emotion, no mere giving up of ourselves to devout meditation, will ensure our victory. But it is the daily practice of Christian obedience in avoiding evil and following after that which is good, which makes it more and more hopeless for the tempter; he is compelled to give up the attack, and by his withdrawal from the contest confesses his defeat. So is he beaten down under our feet. The experience of every faithful Christian man confirms all this. He is not tempted as other men are, for it would be of no avail to try and seduce such as he. The habits of his life, the principles of his conduct, are far too settled in the opposite direction to that in which the tempter would lead him; he has so long resisted the devil that the promise has been fulfilled for him, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." But the great service which the sayings of this book, when they are heard and kept, render to such is that they foster and cherish those habits the result of which is the victory desired. The realization of Christ's presence, the dread of his displeasure, the longing for his approval, the love which he has enkindled, - how do all these, how must they, steady the wavering will, holding it back from what would displease Christ, and urging it on to that which he would approve? Fear, love, hope, - these mighty motives are ever at work, and all in the same direction of holy habit and obedience, until that which was painful and difficult at first has by long practice become easy, and that from which at first he shrank back he now goes forward to with cheerful alacrity and undaunted courage. It is the love of Christ, that love of which the sayings of this book so frequently tell, that love which carries along with it both hope and fear, it is this which constrains him, and by means of it he comes off more than conqueror in this holy war.
CONCLUSION. And for them and for us in all like circumstances of trial the force of these sayings of this book is greatly increased by the recollection that "the time is at hand." If a man deem that he may procrastinate and delay, if repentance and obedience be resolved on only for some future time, he will miss the benediction promised here. But if, on the other band, he live day by day in view of his Lord's coming - and the coming of the Lord is for us practically the day of our death - if he feel that the time when all that the Lord has said shall be fulfilled is indeed at hand, then will all that this holy book has urged on him be listened to with yet greater attention, and the obedience rendered will be yet more prompt and eager. When he realizes, as God grant we all may, that the opportunity for winning the blessing promised is but short-lived, and that lost now it is lost forever, how will, how must this spur us on, and make us diligent indeed to make our calling and election sure? We shall "give the more earnest heed to the things that we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip," or "drift away from them," as the truer rendering is. The shortness of time, the nearness of Christ's judgment, will lend fresh force to the assurance, "Blessed is he that readeth," etc. - S.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.