Then I turned, and lifted up my eyes, and looked, and behold a flying roll.…
The object of this discourse is to present to you the Scriptures as a phenomenon of the world around us. Consider them as an appearance in the circle of our observation, a fact in the history of our race, and ask, what account is to be given of it? The attention of our age is taken up much and wisely with the study of phenomena. We may interpret the Scriptures in one way or another; we may study or neglect, revere or despise them; we may consider them to be the dictates of observation, or below the level of human intelligence; we may call them a word of delusion, or the Word of God; but in the extremest varieties of opinion no one can escape from this, — that they are a leading phenomenon in the history of civilisation and religious thought, in the aspect of the moral world as it now stands and moves before us. In the text an angel speaks in vision to one of the last of the prophets, and asks, as if in the very spirit of modern research, "What seest thou?" The prophet raises his eyes and sees a winged book, "a flying roll." It is of gigantic dimensions. It is of restless speed. It "goeth forth over the face of the whole earth." It was the roll of the Lord's judgments — a consuming fire. In this respect the Bible corresponds with it only in one of its parts, but in that part perfectly: in its testimony against, unrighteousness, its sentence upon those who love and practise dishonour, its "fiery law." Dealing with the "flying roll" more generally, what are the points that we discover in it?
1. The extraordinary dimensions of the book, "its length twenty cubits, and its breadth ten." What a space does the Bible fill in the gaze of mankind, though it can be carried about in the hand of the feeblest wayfarer! Do we not speak truly of its wonderful dimensions when it holds on its ample pages such a widely scattered wisdom, and is discerned from so far?
2. Its preservation and continuance through so long a sweep of time. This is remarkable even at a first glance. Since faithful Abraham came out from Chaldaea vast tribes and strong nations have risen to renown and passed away into silence. Founders of states have not so much as secured the name of what they founded. Dispensers of religion have left neither a priest for their successor nor a shrine for their monument. Oracles of wisdom have grown forgotten as well as dumb. Genius and learning have gone down into the dust, and there is not a finger track of an inscription upon it for their posterity to read. Whole literatures have disappeared, their tongues having ceased, and their characters become illegible or blotted entirely out. But here is writing, from many hands, and in a long series of instructions, dating as far back as the school lessons of human improvement. It has defied time. It has repelled decay. The linen, or the parchment, or whatever frail material it was confided to, held fast its trust, while brazen trophies were melted down and marble columns were pulverised. The temple of the Lord protected its archives; though its huge stones were unable to hold themselves together, and its sacred vessels served at last but for the ornaments of a heathen triumph.
3. Its spread. It is, indeed, a "flying roll." The Scriptures move rapidly. They are not only preserved, but incredibly multiplied. They were addressed for the most part to one people, and they now speak to all people. They were written in their own peculiar tongues, and now they call all tongues their own. Have they not "gone forth over the face of the whole earth"? They are among the studies of learned men, who find there a wisdom higher than all else they know; while the ignorant and the simple, reading as they run, are made wise to life everlasting.
4. The honour with which they have been received as they have flown along. They are recognised in the public worship of most of the civilised tribes now under heaven. They are enshrined in cathedrals. They are revered, at least with all outward forms of homage, in the courts of the proudest empires. They are sworn upon when the most solemn vows by which we can be bound are to be attested. The patient fingers of holy recluses could for centuries find no better task than to copy them; and countless presses are now perpetually busy, that they may be distributed over the globe. The rarest genius and the profoundest learning are employed upon the illustration of them. It may be objected that we have said nothing of the disrespect and derision with which the Scriptures are regarded by multitudes, and have always been. We may admit this, but press the consideration, that they have withstood even this trial. Familiarity and levity have not subjected them to contempt. Nothing could better show how deeply they are seated in the veneration of mankind.
5. Their influence, their surprising power. There may be a high repute without any true efficiency. But that roll of the Divine covenants has always been of a Divine force. It has acted upon communities, wherever it has been introduced, so as to accomplish the most astonishing consequences. Are you inquiring what overthrew many of the massy oppressions, the enormous abuses, of the elder times? It was its paper edges that smote upon all that dark strength, and before those thin leaves buttress and battlement went down. How much has it done for individual minds.
6. Their immeasurable superiority, as mere traditions, above everything that has been handed down to us from the ancient world. There is in their contents a deep spring of instruction, such as the old generations nowhere furnish, and the coming ones are not likely soon to exhaust. Your own minds will surely leap to the inference: the finger of God was here. You may be perplexed with many passages in your Bible. You may slight some things as unimportant, and repel others as uncongenial. You may think you discern great blemishes and errors here and there. But what of that? It should throw no mistrust over the spontaneous conclusion: the finger of God was here. Yes, the Divine providence ordained and protected this charter of man's truest liberty and highest good. Let us look thoughtfully at it, then, as it flies on its holy errand.
(N. L. Frothingham.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then I turned, and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a flying roll.