Then one of the seven angels with the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb."
the heavenly or, the earth. The ornate language suits its heavenly character and its heavenly prototype. Babylon was the scat of the beast; this is the city of the great King. It may be practically impossible to decipher the symbolical writing, especially in its details, and it may be as unwise to attempt it as it is impracticable to accomplish it; but the main features of the symbolical teaching, considered in the light of our previous interpretations, may doubtless be traced. Not without fear that our prepossessions may mislead us, we will attempt to find in the words of this section a setting forth of the essential glories of the true and actual Christianity, however ideally considered.
I. ITS FIRST CHARACTERISTIC IS HOLINESS. It is set up in the midst of evil and in opposition to it. It is holy, for it is "from God;" it is holy, for it promotes holiness in its subjects; all who pertain to it are called to be saints. Whatever is not in harmony with true ideas of holiness can have no part in the holy city.
II. ITS ORIGIN IS DIVINE. "It cometh down out of heaven from God." The true Church has its fount in him. He calls the first band out of the surrounding darkness. All is of his grace. He gives the Word which is the seed of the kingdom, he is the Father of all. The Church's grandest idea is that it is of God.
III. IT HAS ITS HIGHEST ADORNMENT IN THE MANIFESTATION OF THE DIVINE GLORY. But "the glory of God" is the symbol of God himself. We approach the true Shechinah. The glory of the Church is the presence of God. How near is that manifested glory brought to us in the Incarnation! how near in the abiding Spirit's presence! This is the true light that shineth over the city.
IV. ITS STABILITY, HARMONY, AND ORGANIC UNITY ARE REPRESENTED IN THE FIGURE OF THE CITY. Here are taught the intercourse, the fellowship, the safety, the mutual interest, of the holy ones. What is here ideally presented may not always be actually found. We deal with the patterns of the heavenly things.
V. THE FREEDOM OF ITS ACCESS TO ALL NATIONS is here declared. The gates of the city, ever open, stand to the east, the west, the north, the south. But one city; but all may enter.
VI. THE CHURCH IS BUILT UPON THE FOUNDATION OF THE APOSTLES AND PROPHETS. All the living Christianity has its basis here.
VII. THE SPLENDOUR, BEAUTY, PERFECTNESS, STRENGTH, AND GREATNESS OF THE CHURCH OF GOD - the living Christianity of ours and of every day, and the whole idea of the same - are set forth in the utmost wealth of symbolical extravagance.
VIII. THE INTIMATE ALLIANCE OF THE DIVINE SETS ASIDE THE EARTHLY AND IMPERFECT ELEMENTS. There is no visible temple. "The Lord God the Almighty, and the Lamb, are the temple of it." The illumination of the whole city is found in the life and grace of Christ.
IX. THE UNIVERSALLY DIFFUSED BENEFICENT INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIANITY is declared. The nations walk in the light of it, and -
X. THEIR RECIPROCAL ACKNOWLEDGMENT is found in that they "bring their glory and honour into it."
XI. ITS IMMUNITY FROM THE CONTAMINATION AND DEFILEMENT OF EVIL is indicated. Nothing unclean, nothing untrue, nothing of evil nature, enters it. It is ideal. True. Yet no evil elements shall ultimately be found in the Church of Christ; and, as at first we stated, the earthly is lost in the heavenly, of which it is at once the beginning, the type, and the pledge. - R.G.
I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife.I. WHO AND WHAT SHE WAS BEFORE SHE BECAME THE BRIDE. She had no high descent to boast of. Her lineage was not royal, but low and mean. Without goodness, without beauty; without personal or family recommendation; unloving and unlovable; an alien, a captive, a rebel. Such were you once, O saint; such are you still, O sinner!
II. HOW AND WHY SHE WAS FIXED UPON. Of the "how" and the "why" of this sovereign purpose, what can we say but this, that in one so unlovable and worthless it found opportunity and scope for the outflow and display of free love, such as could be found in no other? It was the Father's free choice, and the Son's free choice, that made her what she is now, the bride, and what she is through eternity to be, "the Lamb's wife."
III. HOW SHE WAS OBTAINED. She is a captive, and must be set free. This the Bride-groom undertakes to do; for her sake becoming a captive. She is a criminal, under wrath, and must be delivered from condemnation and death. This also the Bridegroom undertakes; for her sake submitting to condemnation and death, that so her pardon may be secured, her fetters broken, and life made hers for ever.
IV. HOW SHE WAS BETROTHED. The Bridegroom Himself came down in lowly guise to woo and win her for Himself. But now He is carrying on His suit in absence, through the intervention of others, as Isaac's proposals to Rebekah were carried on through the faithful Eliezer of Damascus. We tell of our Isaac's noble lineage, His riches, His honours, His worth. We tell of all that He has done to win your love, and set before you the glory of His person, that you may see how worthy He is of all this love; how blessed, how honourable it would be for you to be the bride of such a Bridegroom; and we say, "Wilt thou go with the Man?"
V. HOW SHE IS PREPARED AND ADORNED. It is through the Holy Spirit that this is carried out. This Spirit having overcome her unwillingness, and persuaded her to consent to the glorious betrothment, immediately commences His work of preparation. He strips her of her rags, and puts on royal apparel. He cleanses her from her filthiness, and makes her whiter than snow.
(H. Bonar, D. D.)
1. Often, in the old days, John had heard from his Master teaching, parabolic and otherwise, which suggested the thought that His saved people should, in their corporate capacity, constitute His bride. This, in turn, would recall to the reverent student of the Old Testament all the bridal imagery of the prophecies — notably of Isaiah and Jeremiah-imagery so curiously and suggestively interlaced with the whole circle of paradise, city, and temple symbolism. Out of all this material, so familiar to him, John had no difficulty in constructing a distinct picture of the New Jerusalem, the virgin daughter of Zion, married as a bride to her Lord. Already Ezekiel, with extraordinary elaboration of detail, had pourtrayed this ideal bridal-city, and not a few of Ezekiel's details are transferred, with but little change, to this New Testament picture.
2. It requires no stretch of fancy to believe that John, during his residence in Ephesus, had frequently read the famous circular-letter which Paul sent, first to Ephesus. And it is a significant fact, that in the Epistle to the Ephesians we have precisely the same combination of temple-city and bride which meets us in this chapter. It is a highly figurative picture of a perfected Christ-ideal at present, but an ideal one day to be realised.The practical use to which the vision may legitimately be turned is twofold.
1. It is an inspiration of hope. You see what is the hope of your calling. To this ye are to come. This is the final destiny of the saints.
2. It is also — and this I believe to be its main purpose — a "pattern in the Mount." One of the great peculiarities of the Church of Jesus Christ is this, that its golden age does not lie in the past, but in the future. And when we desire an example — a pattern up to and after which we may work — we find it in the revealed future; and that is the only justification of the revelation of the future — to supply us with a "mark for the prize of our high calling."
I. "HAVING THE GLORY OF GOD." The first thing noted is the radiant beauty of the bride — a beauty which consists in the striking resemblance between her and her Lord. The Church, in her ideal condition, has been so long with her Lord, coming up through the wilderness, that she has caught the beauty of His face and form, and is a "partaker of the Divine nature," and falls only a little way short of "the measure of the stature of His fulness." This is her golden wedding-day-the jubilee of her redemption. We may read earlier in the Book how she was caught up into heaven out of the wilderness, and now she is "coming down from God out of heaven," arrayed in garments white and glistening, "having the glory of God." The first impression often produced on Church review days — at conferences, and congresses, and unions — is not altogether so noble as this. What an influential Church! So many hundred thousand members! What perfect organisation! What resources of wealth and culture! What buildings! But in the great review-day — the day of "the marriage of the Lamb" — the first thought will be this, "having the glory of God." This is the ideal at which we are to aim. If you desire to form a distinct idea of the glory of God, read the descriptions of God's glory as seen in ancient times by Moses or Isaiah; as revealed in God's name, or in ancient song; as shining in the face of Jesus Christ; as manifested in His life and works; as revealed in words fallen from His lips, or written by St. Paul, or pictured in the visions of this Book. Think of the purity, the holiness, and righteousness, of the mercy and truth, of the faithfulness and lovingkindness, of our God and Father! This is "the image of God" in which we are to be renewed. This is to be "the mark for the prize."
II. "HAVING A WALL GREAT AND HIGH." Walls, in ancient times, were for three purposes:
1. Defining. The position of the Church in relation to the world must be clearly defined. Everywhere throughout the Bible this is taught. "Having a wall great and high," — a clearly defined creed, resting on foundations of precious stones, bearing the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb; an equally clearly defined discipline; a distinct organisation of fellowship — "A wall," built of good stones — well bounded — "great and high." Not that the Church is to be narrow, little, without elbow-room, stifled, "cribbed, cabined, or confined." The Holy City which John saw — the ideal Church — was vast beyond our poor power to conceive — twelve thousand stadii — all the cities of the earth are mere villages in comparison. By the same measurement, London would be but a small and straightened dwelling-place.
2. Walls were for purposes of enclosure. We are to be an enclosed people. Not nomadic — mere wilderness wanderers, heedlessly roaming hither and thither, like unclean spirits, "walking through waterless places, seeking rest and finding none"; but a people with a home, "a city of habitation," and, therefore, with a work, living for s definite purpose, sharing a common life, helping one another, "bearing one another's burdens."
3. Walls were for defence. If they prevent lawless wandering, they also prevent lawless incursions. The success of Christian work depends very much on the Churches' power to protect. And a Church cannot protect unless it has this "wall" of sound doctrine and faithful discipline, and clearly defined fellowship — "a wall great and high." One feature of the Bride's resemblance to her Lord — one true sense in which she may have "the glory of God" — is this, that she is able, not only to save, but also to keep. Like her Lord, she may say, "Of all whom Thou hast given me I have lost none, save the son of perdition." "I have lost none." A Church cannot say that, if she carelessly allows any part of her protecting walls to be mere mud-heaps, "daubed with untempered mortar." And do not lose sight of the adornment — "with all manner of precious stones." Do not frighten the people away from the Church by dull, heavy, rough, ugly buildings. You are not rearing a prison, or a criminal lunatic asylum; but a temple, a palace, a bridal city.
III. HAVING TWELVE GATES. The Church is not to be imprisoned, nor is it to imprison its members, or its influence, its light, its melody. But, at all times, and on all sides, it is to have perfect power to "go through the gates."
(N. Curnock.)I. Now you know, idle curiosity prompts a great many persons to go and see great sights; and frequently, when persons have been into the metropolis from distant parts of the country, the neighbours ask when they return, "Did you see such a sight?" Well, what are they after all? "the things which are seen are temporal"; "the eye is never satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing" them. But when the soul gets a sight of Christ, he never wants to turn from it. I advise you, as the angel did John, to "come hither" along with me to this "great and high mountain," that we may get this lovely and enamouring sight. The advice, you see, is that of an aspirant — to get away from the position which he was occupying — the low ground of earthly attractions; one of the most important points in our whole Christianity, to get away from things on earth, to rise, and aspire, and soar on high. Moreover, this advice calls for the obedience of faith — obedience to the Divine call. This messenger was one of God's messengers, an angel sent with a direct errand to John, to tell him to "come hither." Now, wherever this obedience is yielded, there is a mighty deliverance, because we are by nature so entangled with the things of the world, so entangled with self-righteousness, so entangled by sin and Satan, that it requires a mighty deliverance to get us away, to draw us from, and bring us out of, our love and practice of the things that are only earthly. But I hasten to remark, that decision is all-important in thin act of obedience to the Divine call. There must be no hesitating about the matter. There must be no looking back, with a lingering, longing look, upon Sedum. "Get thee out hence." When Jehovah calls by His messenger, and says,. "Come hither," delay is dangerous, decision is important. And then this coming up hither, this aspiring after heavenly things, must be devotional. It is that which is created by the power of the Holy Ghost in the soul, and amounts to nothing less than the aspiring of all the graces in lively exercise. Faith will aspire, and hope will aspire, and love will aspire, and all the graces of the spirit must aspire, as moved, supplied, acted upon, and constrained by the omnipotence of the Holy Ghost. Now glance at this aspiring soul, and see his progress. He is rising and rising, higher and higher every hour; just as you see the skylark ascending from its nest where it had been grovelling; when it first warbles, it seems but a little above your head, but it sings and mounts, and sings and mounts, till it is almost out of sight. Once more observe, that as we rise in knowledge, we shall rise also in enjoyment, we shall rise in love to Him. Then mark, we shall rise in anticipation. "Come hither" to the top of this great and high mountain, and anticipate the bliss that is to be revealed, that glory that is about to open to view.
II. Now upon this position we may expect THE SIGHT WHICH FOLLOWS, "Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife." What a sight! Now I want to show you the bride, because there are a great many persons who presume to assume the name to whom it does not belong.
1. And, in the first place, you may know her by her wedding dress. What do you think it is? Why, the imputed righteousness of her loving Lord. And therefore she sings as Isaiah taught the Church to sing in olden time — "My soul shall rejoice in the Lord and be joyful in my God, for He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness and clothed me with the garments of salvation, as a bride adorneth herself for her husband."
2. Moreover, "I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife," in her indissoluble union. The husband that is really married has not only a bride, but a wife. Now, before time began, before the world was formed, before angels fell, before sin existed, Jesus and His bride were betrothed in love, and engaged in eternal union. Moreover, this indissoluble union is effected by Him in the fulness of time. I confess I like to talk about this courtship, and this marriage too.
3. Well, let us go on a step further — it is enjoyed. This union which is indissoluble between Christ and His Church, is enjoyed in communion, enjoyed in fellowship, enjoyed in association, enjoyed in every possible expression of affection, enjoyed in mutual help. There are pangs frequently felt in the most affectionate unions upon earth at the idea of separation; but "I am persuaded," says St. Paul, that in this union there can be no separation; "for neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Is not she a happy bride, then?
1. In the first place, it is clear that the ideal city in this character of "Bride" is in living union with God. So that the figure of the "Bride" as conceived in the New Testament is one of loving dependence and living unity. She finds her joy, her fulness, her splendour, her very life, in Him for whom she is adorned. She is a very part of His life, and finds her true glory in losing herself in Him. Such is the relation to God of that city that would realise God's ideal. This is precisely what is implied in the picture before us — namely, that all the vast secular organisations of society must find their ideal in being the "Bride of the Lamb." What is thought to be the peculiar characteristic of a number of people that have certain religious and spiritual affinities must come to be recognised as the best thing for all the busy world, and as the normal attitude of the city or State that would attain true and abiding prosperity. We cannot keep the higher ideal in its strength by our religious combinations and assemblies unless we insist upon its maintenance in and for the busy hum of life. The worshipping attitude of the sanctuary is also the ideal attitude for the mart, the exchange, the council chamber, and the senate. But let the Church realise that it is not the ideal of a select coterie, however worthy and however divinely elected, but the ideal that must sweep the world, and sit upon the throne of every State, an ideal that is as good for the market-place as for the sanctuary. Then it will have new power and influence, and our Churches will rise to higher levels of worship and consecration. The old Puritans realised this when they knelt together for prayer in the British House of Commons. They believed that the grandest thing a State could do was to worship God, provided it were done in spirit and in truth, and not by the mockery of mechanical enactments. The city that will not be the Bride of the Lamb shall perish.
2. This condition of living union with God involves the development of holy affinities with God. The ideal city must construct its life and frame its ends according to the pattern on the Mount. If it is to be in living union with God, it must live according to the divinest motives and ideals. The Bride must be adorned for her Husband in the jewels that He loves. Many tell us that the heavenly and spiritual ideas that we place before them are not necessary or suited for the great life and problems of the city. They say that the city has to do with earth, not with heaven; that its development and prosperity and elevation depend upon philanthropies and social revolutions and political changes. For this worship is not necessary, thoughts and hopes of heaven are hampering, and ideas of spiritual renewal, holiness, and Divine peace are altogether Utopian. They tell the Church, in effect, that its ideas are altogether out of place in this world of states and cities. And some good men have unfortunately fallen victims to this modern falsehood. They have forsaken the Christian ideal, and accepted the ideal of the social revolutionist and the secular politician. What they think the gospel cannot do they hope to do by some loud-sounding Ism, and proclaim this as the world's salvation, rather than the Divine ideals of Jesus Christ. The scornful wisdom of the world will again, as in times past, be brought to confusion. The present glorification of material things and material ends and methods will end in failure. The ideal city will be the Bride of the Lamb.
(John Thomas, M. A.)I. COME HITHER AND SEE THE BRIDE AS THOU HAST NEVER SEEN HER BEFORE.
1. In the enjoyment of nearer communion.
2. Participating in the highest honours.
3. Possessing enlarged knowledge.
4. Entirely absorbed in contemplation of Him.
II. COME HITHER AND SEE THE BRIDE WHERE SHE NEVER WAS BEFORE.
1. Beyond the tempter's power.
2. Beyond the rags of poverty and the experience of famine.
3. Far removed from the darts of the enemy.
4. Away from the vineyard. Toil a thing of the past. The curse revoked.
III. COME HITHER, AND SEE THE BRIDE AS SHE HERSELF NEVER EXPECTED TO BE.
IV. COME HITHER, AND SEE HER AS SHE WAS DECREED TO BE.
V. COME HITHER, AND SEE HER AS SHE SHALL FOR EVER REMAIN.
1. Her Husband has paid her debts.
2. Her Husband is unchangeable.
3. No fear of divorce.
4. No fear of estrangement on her part.
5. No death.
VI. COME HITHER AND SEE HER AS SHE SHOULD NOW AIM TO BE.
(R A. Griffin.)
That great city, the holy Jerusalem
I. ITS DERIVATION. John sees it "coming down out of heaven from God." It is of celestial origin. It is the direct product of Almighty power and wisdom. He who made the worlds is the Maker of this illustrious city. No mortal hand is ever employed upon its construction. The saints are all God's workmanship. They are all begotten of His Spirit, and shaped and fashioned into living stones from the dark quarries of a fallen world, and transfigured from glory to glory by the gracious operations of His hand. They reach their heavenly character and places through His own direct agency and influence. And He who makes, prepares, and places them, makes, prepares, and places their sublime habitation also.
II. ITS LOCATION. This is not specifically told, but the record is not without some hints. John sees it coming down out of heaven. The idea is that it comes close to the earth, and is intended to have a near relation to the earth; but it is nowhere said that it ever alights on the earth, or ever becomes part of its material fabric. Though coming into the vicinity of the earth, it is always spoken of as the "Jerusalem which is above" (Galatians 4:26).
III. ITS SPLENDOUR. Here the specifications are numerous and transcendent, as we would expect in a city erected and ornamented by Jehovah, and coming forth direct from the heavens. Everything built by God's direction is the very best and most splendid of its kind. And this city has, and is invested with, the glory, light, brightness, and radiating splendour of God.
IV. ITS AMPLITUDE. There is no stint or meanness in God's creations. When He set Himself to the making of worlds, He filled up an immeasurable space with them. When He created angels He added myriads on myraids, and orders on orders, till all earthly arithmetic is lost in the counting of them. When He started the human race it was on a career of multiplication to which we can set no limit. When He began the glorious work of redemption, and commenced the taking out and fashioning of a people to become the companions of His only begotten Son and co-regents with their Redeemer, these pictures of the final outcome tell of great multitudinous hosts, in numbers like the sands of the seashore. And the city He builds for them is of corresponding dimensions. Amplitude — amplitude of numbers, as well as glorious accommodations — is unmistakably signified, in whatever way we contemplate the astonishing picture.
V. ITS SYSTEM OF ILLUMINATION. What is a city without light! The glory of God's brightness envelopes it like an unclouded halo, permeates it, and radiates through it and from it so that there is not a dark or obscure place about it.
VI. ITS LACK OF A TEMPLE. "A temple," says the seer, "I saw not in it." What a vacuum it would create in every earthly city if its temples were taken away! What would ancient Jerusalem have been without its temple? But it is no privation to the New Jerusalem that there is no temple in it. Nay, it is one of its sublimest peculiarities. Deity will then have come forth from behind all veils, all mediating sacraments, all previous barriers and hidings because of the infirmities of the flesh or the weaknesses of undeveloped spirituality. Himself will be the temple thereof. The glorious worshippers there hold direct communion with His manifested glory, which encompasses them and all their city alike. As consecrated high priests they will then have come into the holiest of all, into the very cloud of God's overshadowing glory, which is at once their covering, their temple, their God.
VII. ITS RELATION TO THE WORLD AT LARGE. Of old, the song of the Psalmist was: "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King" (Psalm 48:2). In every land into which the Jewish people wandered, there was a glad thrill upon their souls when they remembered Jerusalem. We cannot look back upon those times, even now, without a degree of fascination which draws like a magnet upon every feeling of the heart. And what was then realised on a small and feeble scale, in the case of one people, is to be the universal experience with regard to this blessed city. It is to be the centre and illuminator of the world.
VIII. ITS SUPREME HOLINESS.
(J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
I. THE CITY — WHAT IT IS. Talk of great London! Rome! Nineveh! Babylon! — the vision of St. John conveys the idea of something much more vast and beautiful in the last home of the saints. City and country, street and garden, Jerusalem and Eden, are mixed in the picture here, to show, I suppose, that heaven will have in it all that is fairest in nature with all that is richest in civilisation. The city is built of "precious stones" — all manner of precious stones piled together. Precious stones are in themselves more astonishing than any form, however curious and beautiful, into which they can be carved. In their nature they are images of heavenly things. Just think: no objects last so long as precious stones: they are the oldest and the strongest things in nature. No objects are so pure and clear as precious stones. The crystal is purer than the water, when the water is said to be like crystal. No objects are so free from corruption and decay, so utterly beyond the reach of inward stain. And no objects are at once so richly dyed, so rainbow-like in colour, and yet so well seen through, so ready to get and to give light. Are they not striking images of the things of heaven? The lasting nature of heaven! the bright clearness of heaven! the impossibility of staining heaven! the truth, the faithfulness, the love, the justice that dwell and reign in the city of heaven! The life lost by Adam's sin is brought back, and perfected and made to last by Christ's obedience. Redemption more than repairs the fall; the Lamb has slain the serpent; simplicity has got the better of subtlety; the patience, self-denial, and sacrifice of the atoning Mediator have destroyed the mischief of the tempter's pride, selfishness and cruelty; for a heaven better than Eden is opened to men driven from Eden. In the New Jerusalem there are none of the drawbacks and evils of an earthly condition. Especially we are taught that the city is "holy." The tabernacle and the temple were patterns of things in the heavens. Now, in every possible way they showed the quality of holiness. In the other world, as much as in this, physical purity as well as moral, moral purity as well as physical, are indispensably needful. A clean heart in a clean house — that is wanted for comfort in this world and in that. Clean hands, pure worship, and a soul full of health and joy — that was the order of things in Jerusalem; so it is in the Christian Church, and will be in heaven. Heaven is pure: it must be so; the necessity is grounded on the deepest reasons. It follows, from its being the habitation of God; of God the holy; — whose eyes are called the eyes of His holiness; whose arm is called His holy arm; whose name is a holy name: who swears by His holiness; who cannot look upon sin; whom to rob of His moral perfection, in our thoughts, is to insult even more than by the denial of His being. It follows, from the perfection of the saints. Any defilement in them would destroy their perfection. Any defilement in their companions would endanger their perfection. It follows, from its being a world of bliss. Sin would spoil the bliss. The consciousness of it would unmake heaven.
Homilist.This figure of heaven suggests —
I. ITS RELATION TO GOD'S EMPIRE. What the Metropolis is to a country, heaven is to the universe.
1. The central influence of the kingdom.
2. The dwelling-place of its chiefest and strongest.
3. The residence of its sovereign.
II. ITS MARVELLOUS CONSTRUCTION.
1. Heaven is a vast city — a city, not a mere hamlet for a handful of the elect.
2. Heaven is a secure city. Its walls, its gates, etc. "Nothing can hurt or destroy."
3. Heaven is a magnificent city. Nothing impoverished, no by-ways of shame, no lurking places of misery; its very streets are of gold.
III. ITS FAMOUS POPULATION. The population is —
1. Immense in number; "a great multitude," etc.
2. Honourable in occupation. Jerusalem a city of priests; Athens, of sages; Rome, of soldiers; London, of shopkeepers: heaven, of saints, who serve God day and night.
3. Holy in character. This the glory of the population; they are robed in white. Their moral lustre is their beauty.
(Homilist.)Hebrews 9:23.). Why did such a city need " purifying:? Not because unclean, but because sinners were to dwell in it; and they would have defiled it, had it not been for the great sacrifice. for the blood does two things — it makes the unclean clean, and it keeps the clean from being defiled.
1. It is a great city. There has been no city like it. It is the city, the one city, the great metropolis of the mighty universe.
2. It is a well-built city. Its builder and maker is God. Its foundations are eternal; its walls are jasper; its gates pearls; its streets paved with gold. It is "compactly built together," lying foursquare, and perfect in all its parts, without a break or flaw, or weakness or deformity.
3. It is a well-lighted city. Something brighter than sun and moon is given to fill its heaven. The glory of God lightens it; the Lamb is its "light" or "lamp," so that it needs no candle, no sunlight.
4. It is a well-watered city. A pure river of the water of life flows through its streets, proceeding from the throne of God and the Lamb. What must its waters be! What must be the rivers of pleasure there!
5. It is a well-provisioned city. The tree of life is there, with its twelve variety of fruits and its health-giving leaves. It has more than Eden had. It is paradise restored; paradise and Jerusalem in one; Jerusalem in paradise, and paradise in Jerusalem.
6. It is a well-guarded city. Not only has it gates, and walls, and towers, which no enemy could scale or force; but at the gates are twelve angels keeping perpetual watch.
7. It is a well-governed city. No misrule is there, no disorder, no lawlessness, no rebellion.
8. It is a well-peopled city. It has gathered within its walls all generations of the redeemed. Its population is as the sands or the stars; the multitude that no man can number; the millions of the risen and glorified.
9. It is a holy city. Nothing that defileth shall enter; no spot or speck or shadow of evil. All is perfection there, Divine perfection.
10. It is a glorious city. The glory that fills it and encircles it is the glory of God. Everything resplendent is there. It shines like the sun.
11. It is a blessed city. It is truly "the joyous city." It is the throne of the blessed One, and all in it is like Him.
(H. Bonar, D. D.)
(C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)I. THE VARIOUSNESS OF MEN'S MANNER OF APPROACH TO THE HEAVENLY CITY. The "gates" open in all directions, because an almost infinite variety of travellers, and journeying from most dissimilar regions, are to be gathered there. Said our Saviour to His disciples, "Other sheep I have, who are not of this fold." The gospel He proclaimed was not for one nation only, but for the world. And so this New Jerusalem, to which that gospel points the way, must be accessible to men of all languages and lands. But it is not this geographical variousness of approach to the New Jerusalem alone which the fourfold aspect of the heavenly gates suggests to us. There is a moral variousness still greater than any geographical one. The people who gather, are gathered not only out of unlike regions, but out of unlike faiths, ideas, habits, deficiences. Those must needs be, in many respects, very different pathways of approach, intellectually and morally, which are traversed to the heavenly city by one who comes thither out of African ignorance, out of Oriental mysticism, out of Indian savagery, and out of European refinement. How unlike, after all, are the dwellers who live door to door in a city like this; or sit side by side in this Sabbath sanctuary! What diverse dispositions, inclinations, experiences, characters! And in leading men and women so variously constituted to the heavenly Jerusalem, the Spirit of God conducts them in most diverse ways. Here is one who arrives thither through the throes and agonies of an experience as stormy as that of Luther or of Paul. Here is another whose Christian experience is like that of Fenelon or John. Almost natural it seems for this man, when he heard the words, "Behold the Lamb of God," to turn and follow Him. Here are those on whom in their journey Zionward the sun always seems to smile. Others come, but it is always under a stormy sky. More and more alone as they go forward, heavier and heavier weighted with suffering and with care, they arrive at last, spent and buffeted, like a shipwrecked sailor, smitten by a thousand seas, stripped and exhausted, at the heavenly refuge.
II. THE UNEXPECTEDNESS OF THE ARRIVAL OF MANY THERE. As many of the travellers to the city were on their way thither, they often seemed at least to be journeying in different directions. Their pathways sometimes ran not parallel but crosswise, and even in contrary courses, according as each was led by the Good Spirit which guided him to one or another of the opposite gates. And it would not be strange if, while they thus crossed and traversed one another, doubt should arise, and even controversy, as to the probability of one another's arrival. Sometimes the road insisted on has been the road of a particular church organisation. Sometimes the prescribed pathway has been a particular form of some Christian ordinance. How reassuring, in view of an almost interminable catalogue of controversies like these, to remember the many and opposite-looking gates of the heavenly city! How comforting to know that not one road, but many roads, leads thither! And what a suggestion this affords of the surprises which will await those who finally enter; the unexpectedness to multitudes of the arrival of multitudes besides.
(Leon Walker, D. D.)
I. EXAMINE THE ARCHITECTURE OF THOSE GATES. Proprietors of large estates are very apt to have an ornamented gateway. Gates of wood and iron and stone guarded nearly all the old cities. Moslems have inscribed upon their gateways inscriptions from the Koran of the Mohammedan. There have been a great many fine gateways, but Christ sets His hand to the work, and for the upper city swung a gate such as no eye ever gazed on, untouched of inspiration. There is no wood, or stone, or bronze in that gate, but from top to base, and from side to side, it is all of pearl Not one piece picked up from Ceylon banks, and another piece from the Persian Gulf, and another from the Island of the Margarette; but one solid pearl picked up from the beach of everlasting light by heavenly hands, and hoisted and swung amid the shouting of angels. The glories of alabaster vase and porphyry pillar fade out before this gateway. Julius Caesar paid a hundred and twenty-five thousand crowns for one pearl. The Government of Portugal boasted of having a pearl larger than a pear. Cleopatra and Philip
II. dazzled the world's vision with precious stones. But gather all these together and lift them, and add to them all the wealth of the pearl fisheries and set them in the panel of one door, and it does not equal this magnificent gateway. An Almighty hand hewed this, swung this, polished this. Against this gateway, on one side, dash all the splendours of earthly beauty. Against this gate, on the other side, beat the surges of eternal glory.
II. COUNT THE NUMBER OF THOSE GATES. Imperial parks and lordly manors are apt to have one expensive gateway, and the others are ordinary; but look around at these entrances to heaven and count them. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve. Hear it all the earth and all the heavens. Twelve gates. Gate the first: the Moravians come up; they believed in the Lord Jesus; they pass through. Gate the second: the Quakers come up; they have received the inward light; they have trusted in the Lord; they pass through. Gate the third: the Lutherans come up; they had the same grace that made Luther what he was, and they pass through. Gate the fourth: the Baptists pass through. Gate the fifth: the Free-will Baptists pass through. Gate the sixth: the Reformed Church passes through. Gate the seventh: the Congregationalists pass through. Gate the eight: the Episcopalians pass through. Gate the ninth: the Methodists pass through. Gate the tenth: the Sabbatarians pass through. Gate the eleventh: the Church of the Disciples pass through. Gate the twelfth: the Presbyterians pass through. But there are a great number of other denominations who must come in, and great multitudes who connected themselves with no visible Church, but felt the power of godliness in their heart and showed it in their life. Where is their gate? Will you shut all the remaining host out of the city? No. They may come in at our gate.
III. NOTICE THE POINTS OF THE COMPASS TOWARD WHICH THESE GATES LOOK. They are not on one side, or on two sides, or on three sides, but on four sides. What does that mean? Why, it means that all nationalities are included. On the north three gates. That means mercy for Lapland, and Siberia, and Norway, and Sweden. On the south three gates. That means pardon for Hindostan, and Algiers, and Ethiopia. On the east three gates. That means salvation for China, and Japan, and Borneo. On the west three gates. That means redemption for America. It does not make any difference how dark-skinned or how pale-faced men may be, they will find a gate right before them. Hear it! oh, you thin-blooded nations of eternal winter — on the north three gates. Hear it! oh, you bronzed inhabitants panting under equatorial heats — on the south three gates. But I notice when John saw these gates they were open — wide open. They will not always be so. After awhile heaven will have gathered up all its intended population, and the children of God will have come home. And heaven being made up, of course the gates will be shut.
IV. THE GATEKEEPERS. There is one angel at each one of those gates. You say that is right. Of course it is. You know that no earthly palace, or castle, or fortress would be safe without a sentry pacing up and down by night and by day; and if there were no defences before heaven, and the doors set wide open with no one to guard them, all the vicious of earth would go up after awhile, and all the abandoned of hell would go up after awhile, and heaven, instead of being a world of light, and joy, and peace, and blessedness, would be a world of darkness and horror. So I am glad to tell you that while these twelve gates stand open to let a great multitude in, there are twelve angels to keep some people out. Robespierre cannot go through there, nor Hildebrand, nor Nero, nor any of the debauched of earth who have not repented of their wickedness. There will be a password at the gate of heaven. Do you know what that password is? Here comes a crowd of souls up to the gate, and they say: "Let me in. Let me in. I was very useful on earth. I endowed colleges, I built churches, and was famous for my charities; and having done so many wonderful things for the world, now I come up to get my reward." A voice from within says: "I never knew you." Another great crowd comes up, and they try to get through. They say: "We were highly honourable on earth, and the world bowed very lowly before us. We were honoured on earth, and now we come to get our honours in heaven;" and a voice from within says: "I never knew you." Another crowd advances and says: "We were very moral people on earth, very moral indeed, and we come up to get appropriate recognition." A voice answers: "I never knew you." After awhile I see another throng approach the gate, and one seems to be spokesman for all the rest, although their voices ever and anon cry, "Amen! amen!" This one stands at the gate and says: Let me in. I was a wanderer from God. I deserved to die. I have come up to this place, not because I deserve it, but because I have heard that there is a saving power in the blood of Jesus." The gatekeeper says: "That is the password — 'Jesus! Jesus!'"
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
I. THE CHURCH IS A WALLED CITY WITH MANY GATES. "And had a wall great and high, and twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels." Evidently there is no exclusiveness here, but there is protection from unsanctified and unlicensed intruders. The wall is for a bulwark, but not for a barricade; it separates from the world, but it does not shut out the world. And angels stand at the gates-large-hearted, loving angels, not bigoted priests, not stern and crabbed formulators of creeds, but angels with the sweet face of charity; and they stand there, not so much to challenge intruders, as to trumpet forth into every corner of the world their summons, "Come in and welcome." A walled city, but with an abundance of open gates. That is the true idea of the Church. Separate from the world, yet always uniting the world; offering freedom of access to all, but license to none. But men have always been trying to improve on this idea. Heaven's methods are too simple for their self-conceited ingenuity. The pattern in the mount wants accommodating to the state of things below. Men have always been trying to improve on this idea of the Church, and in improving have defaced and marred and impoverished and corrupted it. On the one side we have the gates of the city closed, and nothing left but some narrow back stairs entrance, and that so covered over with a network of forms and creeds and subscriptions and questions that only the most pliable and yielding souls can worm their way through. But on the other side — and this is by far the greater danger at present — we have not only the gates multiplied, but the very walls thrown down, and the guardian angels dismissed, as though they were no longer needed. Come in where you like, how you like, believing what you like, or as little as you like. Let us take care that we abuse not in this way the sacred name of charity. I am willing to pay a great price for brotherly love, but to buy it at the cost of truth is a losing bargain. There are twelve gates lying open to all the world, and voices on every watch-tower singing the song of welcome: "Come in, come in. But come in the name of our Lord and Saviour."
II. A CITY WITH GATES ON EVERY SIDE — NOT ONLY PROTESTING AGAINST EXCLUSIVENESS BY THEIR NUMBERS, BUT PROCLAIMING THE GRAND CATHOLICITY OF THE CHURCH BY THEIR POSITION. "On the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates." It is another rendering of the Saviour's words, "They shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north and south, and sit down with Abraham in the kingdom of God"; and a picture of the same kind as that magnificent vision which floated before the Saviour's eyes when He stood under the shadow of the Cross and looked through the scorn and mockery of universal rejection at a world bowing at His feet, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me." All the ages travail for its fulfilment. The gates of this city which point north and west have been crowded for a thousand years.
III. EVERY GATE HAS ITS OWN PECULIAR BEAUTY AND ATTRACTIVENESS. "The gates of the city were twelve pearls, every several gate of one pearl"; that is, there are no two gates alike, but they are all alike beautiful. Here, firstly, is the carrying out of the thought which runs through the whole description — that the Church below, like heaven above, manifests its life, and power, and graces in infinite variety. There are all manner of precious stones; all manner of fruits; all manner of gates; all imaginable colours and forms. It is God's vindication of individuality; God's protest against cramping uniformity — against all attempts to fashion Christians in the same mould and turn them out after the same pattern. It means that Christ, in fashioning men, never repeats a design; that no two Christians are beautiful in exactly the same way; that no two Christians have the same training, the same experience, the same thoughts and feelings, but that God sends every one a different school and subjects every one to a different discipline, that at last He may present every one perfect after a different fashion. All the pictures of heaven which I have seen are gross caricatures, for they represent rows of saints and angels as much alike as rows of pins. God does not fashion His jewels in that way. All very well for pins, but God's elect are not machine-made, turned out by the gross. They all glow with the same Christ-light, but each of them is cut after a unique pattern. But further: there is a special meaning in the distinction and variety of the gates. It means that men enter the Church by different ways, and are drawn to Christ by various attractions. The promise which brought me peace as I knelt at the Master's feet would perhaps hardly have touched you at all; and the word which thrilled you would perhaps have fallen dull and meaningless on my ears. Christ has a separate song for every heart. Here is a youth, restless, fiery, full of activity, eager for some great field of battle. Christ chants this battle-song to him: "Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life." Here is a student panting for knowledge, fired with a passion for truth, ready to suffer martyrdom for it. He hears a voice behind him saying, "In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Here is a mystic, who longs to break the veil of the unseen, dreamy, idealistic, half inclined to believe in spiritualism, courting fellowship with invisible souls. Christ sings to him thus: "Ye are come unto an innumerable company of angels, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant."
IV. THE GATES ARE ALWAYS OPEN. "The gates shall not be shut by day." Yes, the gates are open! You have heard of that girl who had left her father's house and wandered into paths of sin; and one night there came over her a flood of shameful remorse and the agony of a great repentance, and she thought she would go back and look at the old home again, but not to enter. Ah, no! those doors were closed for ever. Just to look — one stolen look — at the old Paradise, and then back into darkness and despair! And with tear-blinded eyes and wearied feet she crept up to the door in the silent midnight hours, and half mechanically put her hand upon the latch; and lo, the door opened, and she entered. For the father had said, "It shall be left open night and day; it may be that she will come back again." And there she lay until the morning, and awoke to find him kneeling by her side, kissing her with the sweet kiss of forgiveness.
(J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
1. Consider first what is said in ver. 13 "on the east three gates," etc. What do these twelve gates mean then, three on each side? What, save that the city lieth open and accessible to all quarters, and to all quarters alike? Now let us not fail to notice how strongly this contrasts with the character of all human institutions. How obvious it is that they are accessible to the few only, and almost in exact proportion to the advantages they offer is the smallness of the number of those who are admitted to share in them. The prizes of this life are only for the rich, the successful, the talented, the favourites of fortune; only its miseries, its sicknesses, its bereavements, seem the common heritage of all, of rich and poor, high and low, one with another. But it is not thus with the glories of the holy city; they lie equally open towards every quarter, equally accessible to men of every race and clime, and colour, and circumstance. Therefore take courage, O traveller Zionwards; if only thy face be set towards the holy city, thou too shalt surely find a gate open to admit thee, from whatever direction thou shalt come.
2. Consider next what is written about the city in ver. 15 that it "lieth foursquare," etc. The city is the same in every direction — thoroughly symmetrical, with no inequality about it; all is full, complete, utterly satisfactory, nothing falls behind the mark of the rest. How great and striking, again, is the contrast between this and any human happiness, any earthly good, so unequal, so incomplete as that always is!If well in one direction, so certainly ill in another; if pleasant for the body, so generally bad for the soul; if wholesome for the spirit, so generally grievous to the mind. But in heaven nothing will be wanting; perfect and equal extension will be the law of being; life will have its threefold expansion, in fulness infinite, in intensity perfect, in duration eternal.
3. Consider, again, how it is written in ver. 18 that "the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass." We shall remember at once that no gold on earth is like this, for it is one of the qualities of gold to be opaque, however thin it may be beaten out; even gold-leaf is not transparent: the beauties of pure gold and of clear glass are never combined in this world. Nor, if they were, would the result be at all desirable for building purposes. For what would be the consequence if a city were made of such material? Why, that every house and every chamber would be transparent, and that one could look through the whole city from side to side. But what does this universal transparency signify in heaven, save that there will be nothing to hide, nothing to keep secret, but that all will be open to all, because nothing will be shameful and nothing selfish? And now, since we have gone round about our Sion, and marked well her bulwarks and considered her palaces, tell me, O my fellow-pilgrims, shall this be really our home? It is ours, no doubt: we are heirs of it, joint heirs with Christ of all that He as man hath won for man; but shall we certainly come into our inheritance? Oh, my fellow-pilgrims, travellers together, as ye say, towards the heavenly' Jerusalem; this holy city, this happy city is certainly ours; its joy is our joy, its glory is our glory. Shall a little toil, a little need for earnestness, a little necessity for patience, daunt us and defeat us? Shall we fall short of so great and full salvation for want of a few years' careful watching, a few years' resolute striving?
(R. Winterbotham, M. A.)
(H. Macmillan, D. D. , LL. D.)
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