Then the kings of the earth who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her will weep and wail at the sight of the smoke rising from the fire that consumes her.
literal interpretation, but have affirmed that, as a rule, such interpretations of dreams or visions can seldom, if ever, from the nature of the case, be correct; and more especially so with the visions and dreams recorded in this book. The objects seen, the voices heard, the acts performed, are so incongruous with the course of nature and the concurrent experience of mankind, that the attempt at a literal exposition would seem to be the height of absurdity. Anyhow, though it has been tried a thousand times, and is still being tried, all the results are utterly unsatisfactory to the unprejudiced and unsophisticated intellect and conscience of mankind. Common sense repudiates all such interpretations. Using, however, such visions and dreams as the great redeeming Teacher of mankind used the blooming lily, the fruitful vine, the toiling fishermen, the flowing river, the booming sea, and the beaming heavens - viz. to suggest and illustrate the eternal realities of the supersensuous realm - is to use them not only legitimately, but usefully in the highest degree. Still proceeding on this principle, we may perhaps get out of the strange scenes here recorded some things that may quicken our intellect, encourage our conscience, and inspire our hope. The subject here is - The fall of the corrupt in human life. The corrupt thing is here symbolized by Babylon. "Babylon is fallen." If Babylon here be understood to mean the old cry of whose infamous history we have all read, the language used is historically true, for it had fallen to ruins five hundred years before this, and had become "the habitation of devils, and every foul thing." If, as some say, it means pagan Rome, it is not true, for that is as strong and numerically influential - if not more so - now as it ever has been. Take Babylon as standing for wrong everywhere throughout society, and the expression is not true. Moral Babylon in the aggregate still lives and works on this planet. Albeit, regarding it as an event perpetually occurring, it is true enough. Wrong, including all that is morally evil in human thought, feeling, and action, is constantly failing. It has been falling from Adam to Christ, and from Christ to this hour. Such stupendous events were occurring in connection with it in the days of John, that he might well have dreamt that he heard some angel say, "Babylon is fallen." The false and the wrong everywhere are constantly falling, and must continue to do so. Do not, then, understand that the whole of corrupt society on this earth will in some distant day in the mighty aggregate be at once clearly swept from the face of the earth. There is no reason to believe this. The idea is contrary to the analogy of nature, where all things move gradually. Wrong has a very slow death. If we use the word "falling" for "is fallen," it will give us a universal truth - viz, that moral Babylon, the corrupt in society, is falling. I stand upon the brow of some firm and lofty mountain, and I say, "This mountain is falling;" and I say truly, for there is not a moment in its existence when it is not crumbling into the atoms that made it up, for the great physical law of disintegration will never cease operating upon it, until it shall "become a plain." "The mountains falling cometh to nought," etc. Or I stand by the trunk of some huge tree, and I say, "This tree is falling." And I speak truth, for the great law of vegetable decay is working in it, and will one day bring it down into the dust. So with the wrong thing in human life. Though it stand as a huge mountain filling the horizon of humanity, it will, by the eternal law of moral disintegration, be one day brought down. Or though it stand as some huge tree whose branches spread over the race, and under whose shadows mighty populations live, the invincible and unalterable law of moral retribution will rot it clean away. The record here given of this highly symbolic vision suggests its influence upon two classes of mind. It excites -
I. THE LAMENTATION OF THE BAD Who are the men who feel distressed at the fall of the wrong thing - the moral Babylon? We find at least two classes in these verses.
1. The ruling class. "And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously [wantonly] with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her [weep and wail over her], when they shall see [look upon] the smoke of her burning" (ver. 9). Throughout the human race the world over, we find a class of men who are the chiefs, the masters, the kings, who control and determine the destinies of others.
2. The mercantile class. "And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn," etc. (vers. 11-17). The mercantile principle is an instinct Divine and beneficent. Its operations are not limited to shops, storerooms, markets, exchanges, or land; it extends to the ocean. "And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors [every one that saileth anywhither, and mariners]," etc. (ver. 17). The ships of commerce are found ploughing every sea and lying in every port. The principle is found working among savage hordes as well as amongst civilized men. But whilst the principle is right enough, and transcendently beneficent when rightly directed, it has, like all other instincts of our nature, been sadly perverted. It is perverted when it is directed not to the good of the commonwealth, but to the gratification and aggrandizement of self. Hence the enormous private fortunes on the one hand, and the starving destitution of millions on the other. Now, this morally wrong thing, this every man for himself, is a principle that has been so much criticized, not only by political and moral philosophers, but by the thinking men in all conditions of life, that it is getting weak, beginning to fall, and must ultimately be destroyed. When the grand altruistic truth of Christly socialism becomes realized by the masses, "Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth," then this every-man-for-himself principle will fall, and with its fall what will become of the enormous possessions which they have obtained merely by working for themselves? No wonder they are distressed at the prospect. Every day this wrong thing is gradually falling, and the best men everywhere are becoming altruistic. "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you." How they struggle to arrest this wrong principle in its fall, to buttress it up; but it is the fiat of eternal justice that it should fall and rise no more.
II. THE JUBILATION OF THE GOOD. "Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets," etc. (ver. 20). Whilst those who have a vested interest in the maintenance of the wrong thing - whose pomp, and wealth, and luxurious sensualities, and gilded pageantries would have never existed but for the Babylonian spirit that permeates social life - howl in anguish at the fall of wrong, there are others transported with rapture as they see it giving way. Who are these? Unfallen angels, saints, and holy intelligences throughout the empire of God. "Thou heaven, and ye holy apostles [ye saints] and prophets." Heaven knows what is going on on earth, and is thrilled with delight at the sight of even "one sinner that repenteth." The change of governments, the fluctuation of markets, the revolution of empires - such things as these awaken the deepest concern of the ignorant and erring sons of men. But they wake no ripple on the deep translucent river of celestial minds. Whereas every fraction of wrong which they see falling into ruin from this huge Babylon gives them a new thrill of delight. Why should these peers in the spiritual universe thus exult at the fail of wrong?
1. Because the fall is just. Evil has no right to exist; it is an abnormal thing. The father of lies is a usurper in the universe. All the wrong systems, theoretical and practical, in every department of human life, political, commercial, ecclesiastic, he has built up on falsehood and deception; and their destruction is an act of eternal justice. God speed the right! This is the instinctive prayer of all consciences.
2. Because the fall is beneficent. The giving way of the wrong thing in society is as the breaking up of the dense cloud that darkens the whole heavens of man, the bringing down of fertilizing showers on the earth, and brightening the sky into sunny azure. It is the uprooting of those thorns and thistles and noxious weeds that have turned the paradise of our being into a howling wilderness. What benevolent nature could fail to exult in such an event as this? "Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets."
3. Because the fall is complete. "And a mighty [strong] angel took up a stone like a [as it were a] great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence [a mighty fall] shall that great city Babylon [Babylon the great city] be thrown [cast] down, and shall be found no more at all," etc. (vers. 21-23). All this imposing symbolical description suggests the enormous curses associated with moral Babylonianism, and the strong reason for jubilation at its final fall. The fall of moral evil, even in part or whole, in the individual soul, in small or large communities, is not a temporary event. Destroyed once, it is destroyed forever. "It shall be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all." It is "cast into the sea." What does the mighty "millstone" suggest? What was the "little stone" in Daniel's vision cut out of the rock without hands, and which became a great mountain? This, I trow - the gospel, which is the "power of God," - this is the only instrument that can hurl Babylon into the depths of the sea. - D.T.
The merchants of the earth shall bewail her, and lament for her.
I. THE LAMENTATION OF THE BAD.
1. The ruling class. True kinghood is the majesty of intellect and goodness.
2. The mercantile class. When the grand altruistic truth of Christian socialism becomes realised by the masses — "Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth" — then the every-man-for-himself principle will fall, and with its fall what will become of the enormous possessions which they have obtained merely by working for themselves?
II. THE JUBILATION OF THE GOOD.
1. Because the fall is just. Evil has no right to exist.
2. Because the fall is beneficent. It is the uprooting of those thorns and thistles and noxious weeds that have turned the paradise of our being into a howling wilderness.
3. Because the fall is complete. Destroyed once, it is destroyed for ever.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)1. We should first of all learn that the hold of God on all that we have and are is absolute. We are but tenants-at-will. The proud and conceited talk as if the world were ours — "My river is my own, and I have made it for myself" — is an abomination to the Lord. God has never waived His rights in entrusting to us His loans. Let merchants, stockbrokers, bankers, bondholders, traders learn this lesson. At any moment God may bring all our possessions to nought; and He will do that at His own time, not waiting for ours.
2. It may well yield us matter for lamentation that the use of so much earthly capital is a perverted one. Many of God's gifts are put in alliance with overreaching, corruption, and fraud. But when things of wealth and beauty become the instruments of apostacy it is sad indeed.
3. Let us learn to look at whatever is beautiful and costly and artistic as precious in the truest sense only as it is allied to or in harmony with righteousness. Beauty and wealth are only of genuine value when employed in accordance with God's will and Word.
4. Let us take care that, so far as we are concerned, we have no share in this heart-apostacy of Babylon the great, even in the commercial world. The voice cries now, "Come out of her, my people" (Isaiah 48:20; Isaiah 52:11; Jeremiah 1:8; Jeremiah 51:6, 45; 2 Corinthians 6:14-17). If we would not share her plagues we must not share her sins. There are those who are in Babylon the great, the slaves of godless gain or godless pleasure. There are those who belong to the new and eternal city, the New Jerusalem, who engrave on the bells of the horses, "Holiness to the Lord," and whose daily toil is being sanctified for Him. It may cost something to renounce all fellowship with Babylon. But it is worth infinitely more than it costs. Yea, to be right is so transcendently great, that the question of cost should scarce be deemed worth a thought. Better die with Christ than reign with Caesar.
(S. Conway, B. A.)
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