The Revelation of Jesus Christ!
by Horatius Bonar (1808—1889)
"I know your works, and your labor, and your patience, and how you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tried those who say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them liars. And have borne, and have patience, and for my name's sake have labored, and have not fainted."—Revelation 2:2,3.
'CHRIST did not please Himself' (Romans 15:3). Yet if any one were entitled to please Himself, it was the Son of the Blessed, the Son of the Highest. He was no flesh-pleaser, no man-pleaser, no self-pleaser. He 'pleased the Father' (John 8:29). He was the highest type or specimen of that which was found so pre-eminently in Enoch, who was commended as one who pleased God. (Hebrews 11:5).
PAUL did not please himself. 'I have made myself a servant to all' (1 Corinthians 9:19). 'I keep under my body' (1 Corinthians 9:27; Greek, 'I buffet or maltreat'). There exists no picture of a self-denied man like that of 2 Corinthians 6:3-10. Let us study the whole passage, especially these words—'In much endurance, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonment, in tumults, in labors, in watching, in fastings.' What minister of Christ, what Christian man or woman, does not blush and hang the head as he reads these words?
What do we say to our self-indulgence, our sloth, our love of ease, our avoidance of hardship, our luxury our pampering of the body, our costly feasts, our silken couches, our brilliant furniture, our gay clothing, our braided hair, our jeweled fingers, our idle mirth, our voluptuous music, our jovial tables, loaded with every variety of wine and rich viands? Are we Christians? Or are we worldlings? Where is the self-denial of primitive days? Where is the separation from a self-pleasing luxurious world? Where is the cross, the true badge of discipleship, to be seen except in useless religious ornaments for the body, or worse than useless decorations for the sanctuary? "Woe to those who are at ease in Zion!" Is not this the description of multitudes who name the name of Christ? They may not always be "living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry." But even where these are absent, there is 'high living,'—luxury of the table or the wardrobe—in conformity to 'this present evil world.'
'At ease in Zion!' Yes! there is the shrinking from hard service; from 'spending and being spent;' from toil and burden-bearing and conflict; from self-sacrifice and noble adventure, for the Master's sake. There is conformity to the world instead of conformity to Christ. There is a following afar off, instead of a keeping pace with Him whom we profess to follow. There is a laying down, instead of a taking up of the cross. Or there is a velvet-lining of the cross, lest it should gall our shoulders as we carry it. Or there is an adorning of the cross, that it may suite the taste and the manners of our refined and intellectual age. Anything but the bare, rugged and simple cross!
We think that we can make the strait gate wider and the narrow way broader, so as to be able to walk more comfortably to the heavenly kingdom. We try to prove that modern enlightenment has so elevated the race, that there is no longer the battle or the burden or the discipline; or has so refined the world and its pleasures, that we may safely drink the poisoned cup, and give ourselves up to the inebriation of the Siren song.
'At ease in Zion!' Even when the walls of the city are besieged, and the citadel on the point of being stormed! Instead of grasping our weapons, we lie down upon our couches. Instead of the armor, we put on the silken robe. We are cowards when we should be brave; we are faint-hearted when we should be bold as Elijah or as Paul. We are lukewarm when we should be fervent; cold when we should be full of zeal. We compromise and shuffle and apologize, when we should lift up our voice like a trumpet. We pare down truth, or palliate error, or extenuate sin, in order to placate the world, or suit the spirit of the age, or 'unify' the Church.
At Ephesus we find them from the first—a self-denying Christianity; and now, some fifty years after its foundation, we still find, even amid the decay of first love, the same self-denial, and endurance of toil and suffering. It still bore noble testimony to a self-denying Lord and a self-sacrificing religion. It was still a noble and unworldly church, amid much declension and coldness. What must have been its original nobility and self-crucifixion, when even in its declension and coldness, it can be spoken of in the way here done by its gracious Lord!
'The angel' of the Ephesian church is sent to bear from Patmos the following message, partly of commendation and partly of rebuke—first the former, and then the latter—to show the tenderness and patience of the Lord, who will not reprove us until he has said all He can in our favor.
The SPEAKER or writer takes to himself two special titles. (1) He who holds the seven stars in His right hand; (2) He who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. The skies with all its stars is His; the earth also is His; all above and below is His. He walks among His churches; constantly moving to and fro with watchful care and love. For eighteen centuries He has thus been walking and watching—trimming His lamps, and supplying them with oil—sometimes also removing them out of their places. Thus this glorious One spoke to Ephesus; He speaks also to us.
(1) I know your WORKS. He knows what they are exactly. He knows their value precisely. He will neither under-estimate nor over-estimate them. The cup of cold water shall be duly valued and rewarded.
(2) I know your LABOR. The word denotes hard toil. Ephesus had had her days and nights of toil—and all this is acknowledged. She had not pleased herself; she had not lived in ease and luxury. She had set herself to self-denying work. Of what kind we know not. It is registered above—and we shall one day know it all.
(3) I know your PATIENCE. The word means patient endurance of suffering or toil—the patience of Christ, the patience of men who knew that they were called to a self-denying life in following a self-denying Lord. Not impatience, nor fretfulness, nor anger, nor excitement; nor yet ease, and comfort, and luxury—but patience. 'Fret not yourself' (Psalm 37:1) is the Church's watchword in evil days. It is to this that she is called—to calmness, forbearance, control of spirit—unruffled temper in the endurance of wrong—or the bearing of burdens an crosses.
(4) I know how you cannot bear those who are evil. It is not compromise or tame submission to sin, and evil, and error, and apostasy that is commended here. It is bold resistance to sin; bold rebuking of error and departure from truth and holiness and Christian consistency; for the Lord lays great stress upon the TRUTH, and upon testimony for the truth—as well as upon a HOLY LIFE. All true religion is founded upon truth—upon a true creed—a creed that rests upon God's testimony to His own truth.
(5) I know you have tried those who say they are your apostles, and are not. This church had been zealous for the truth; zealous against error; zealous against all false pretensions to apostleship. Error came in very early. Scarcely had Paul left Galatia, when the whole Church went astray into deadly error; receiving 'another gospel,' and other teachers; and drawing upon itself the sharpest rebukes the apostle ever gave. It was against the teachers of this false gospel that he said, 'Let him be accursed.' Such stress did he lay upon truth, as the foundation of a church—in such abhorrence did he hold all departure from the truth. She must hold up that truth to the world. She must make known a true and full testimony, otherwise she becomes unfaithful to Him who is the true and faithful witness—to Him of whom it is said, 'The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy'—to Him who said, 'You are my witnesses.' A true church will 'try' all pretenders to apostleship; and try them by the unerring touchstone—the testimony which her Head has entrusted to her to maintain until He come.
(6) I know you have found them liars. They were discovered to be liars, in two senses.(1) As respects their teaching, which was false; (2) As respects their pretensions to apostleship, which were found untrue. 'Liars' is the fearful name which the Master gives to all such. In our day departures from the faith are not accounted evil things, but as "the excellent development of modern liberty and enlightenment." Heresy is becoming identical with liberal thought, which refuses to be bound by any restraints. Truth is made light of. The Church's testimony for God and for His truth is denied, and she is regarded as a mere literary institution for fostering speculation and free thought. Such she was not in the Father's purpose. She was to be the witness for God on earth; and if she failed in her testimony, she became useless, and was to be branded as a liar—one of those of whom it written, that 'all liars have their portion in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.'
(7) I know you have borne, and have patience, and for my name's sake have labored, and have not fainted. This is, so far, a repetition of the previous commendation. Endurance, patience, unfainting toil for Christ's name—these are the features of the Ephesian church. She was not what she once was; yet she has still a high place and a noble name for self-denial and self-sacrifice. She still bears her cross—and follows her crucified Master. She is not slothful, nor easy-minded, nor luxurious, nor self-pleasing; she is still an earnest laborer in the vineyard, bearing the burden and heat of the day. She had, amid much declension, upheld the truth which was given to her. She had proved herself a faithful witness or testifier. She had not let go of sound doctrine. For this the Lord still honors and blesses her. He is jealous of His truth—hates all departure from it. For what is truth? It is the embodiment of Himself, whose name is the truth, and who is the witness for the truth sent by the Father.
1. Learn self-denying Christianity.Not the form or name, but the living thing. 'Christ did not please Himself.' Let us in this respect be His true followers; bearing burdens for Him; doing work for Him; submitting to the sorest toil for Him; not grudging effort, or cost, or sacrifice, or pain; spending and being spent for Him; relinquishing the lazy, luxurious, self-pleasing, fashionable religion of the present day. A self-indulgent religion has nothing in common with the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ; or with that cross of ours which He has commanded us to take up and carry after Him, renouncing ease and denying self. Our time, our gifts, our money, our strength, are all to be laid upon the altar. We are to be 'living sacrifices' (Romans 12:1)
2. Learn faithfulness to His truth.We hear it often said that what the age needs, and what the Church needs, is religion—not theology. But the whole Bible takes for granted that there can be no true religion without a true theology. The Bible is God's testimony to Himself and to His Son—the Christ of God. There can be no acceptable religion or worship or service except that which is founded upon that testimony. The belief of that testimony is life everlasting—the belief of any other testimony is death eternal. Let us be true witnesses for the truth—let us shun and hate error—trying those that propagate it, and finding them 'liars', as the Ephesian church did. Let the Master's word in reference to the errors of the early churches sound in our ears—'Which thing I hate.'
A church may, no doubt, have a true testimony, and yet be a very unfaithful church; she may have the FORM of sound words and the form of godliness—and yet be cold like Sardis, or lukewarm like Laodicea. Yet, on the other hand, it is not possible that, with a false testimony, or a testimony to what is untrue, she can represent her Master and Head. A false testimony must make a false church. The belief of a lie will not save a man; nor will the belief of a lie win for a church the favor of the Lord. A true creed is of unspeakable importance, even though at times it has been associated with inconsistency and death.
FIRST LOVE LEFT
"Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love."—Revelation 2:4.
There are some words which smite like a hammer, or cleave like a thunderbolt—words of mere power and terror—words like those which broke forth in fire from Sinai. But the words of our text are words which drop as the rain, and distill as the dew; words which pierce, yet soften; which rouse, yet soothe; which wound, yet bind up; which combine the biting north wind and the healing south wind. Such are these. They are not the earthquake nor the fire nor the whirlwind, but the still small voice; more resistless than all these together; mingling the rebuke and the consolation; the severity and the love; the father's rod and the mother's tears.
There are words which lead you away from the speaker, and absorb you in themselves. The words of our text are not such. There are others which carry you wholly past themselves to the speaker. Neither are the words of our text such. There are yet other words which divide you between themselves and the speaker, or rather which so engross your whole person with both, that you feel yourself passing continually from the one to the other, as if the eye could not be satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing. Such are the words of our text. You have both the picture and the artist, the poem and the poet, so interwoven, that each recalls the other; no, each is seen and heard in the other.
No sooner do we hear these words of the Son of God—so searching, so alarming—than we are carried up to Him who uttered them, and our souls are absorbed in the mingled majesty and grace of the only-begotten of the Father; and while they send us down into the depths, to learn one of the most humbling lessons that was ever taught concerning the weakness, the fickleness, the faithfulness—of a Christian's heart, they carry us upward irresistibly, far above all heavens, to gaze upon the surpassing glory and meditate on the matchless love of Him who died for us, and who rose again!
The words are those of complaint; some would call it fault finding; and, as such, might have repelled us from the complainer. But such is the nature and tone of the complaint, that we feel attracted, not repelled; humbled, but not hurt nor affronted; made to blush, and yet not chilled nor estranged—no, rather drawn more closely to a friend so affectionate and faithful. The reproof is keen, yet it casts no shadow on the grace of the reprover—rather does it magnify that grace into sevenfold brightness, by embodying in the admonition an utterance of the most generous, the most profound, yet, as we may call it, the most sorrowful affection that the world has ever seen!
Next in tenderness to the tears shed over Jerusalem by the Son of God in the days of His flesh, is this outflow of 'disappointed love' over the estrangement of Ephesus, given vent to upon His throne above. It is not weeping. No! that cannot be, now when from His face all tears have been forever wiped away! But it is akin to this—it is the nearest thing to it that we can imagine—it is that which would have been tears anywhere else than in the heaven of heavens.
But the preface to the complaint claims special notice; for that complaint does not stand alone—it is a gem set in fine gold, and the verse which introduce it are as marvelous as itself. And what strikes us most in it, is the minute enumeration of services performed by this church, as if the speaker were most unwilling to come to the matter of complaint, to touch the jarring string; being desirous of recounting all the good deeds and faithful services of the church before He speak the words of censure. 'I know your works and your labor, and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear those who are evil—and you have tried those who say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them liars—and have borne, and have patience, and for my name's sake have labored, and have not fainted.'
What an introduction to the 'Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love!' How fitted to disarm all risings of anger; to anticipate and smooth down the offence-taking that might have been stirred; to make Ephesus feel that He who was complaining was complaining in love, not exaggerating the evil, but much more disposed to dwell upon the good; that He was no austere man, no hard master, no censorious fault-finder—but loving and generous, possessed to the uttermost of that love which is "patient and kind; which seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and never fails."
But it is not the mere recital of His servant's good deeds that so strikes us—it is His manifest appreciation of these, His delight in them, His grateful sense of the service rendered. Faults there would be in these labors—but He sees none. Imperfections in the endurances of trial—but He makes mention of none. He speaks as one full of gratitude for favors conferred. He weighs the works, and finds them not lacking. He names His servant's name, and is not ashamed to confess him. He points not merely to the cup of cold water—but to the toil and the testimony and the faithful discipline—commending them, rejoicing in them, thanking His servant for them.
And not until He has done all this, and shown how well He remembers and appreciates each act of happy service, does He come in with the complaint, 'Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love.' What tenderness, what delicacy, what nobleness of love, what divine courtesy—is here! What an honor is put upon our poor doings and endurings for Him, when they are thus so gratefully recounted and so generously commended by the Son of God! What an importance, what a dignity, what a value, is thus affixed to every act, even of the simplest, commonest service for Him!
But our text goes beyond all this. It teaches us His desire for our love, and His disappointment at losing it, or any part of it. It is not so much our labor as our love that He asks; and with nothing less than love can He be satisfied. As God, He claims it; as man, He desires it; as the God-man, He presents to us this mingled claim and longing for love, as that without which He is robbed of His desire and His due. He has not left His real humanity behind Him here in the tomb. He has carried up into heaven His true human heart—with its yearning affections and cravings for love. Neither the Godhead to which that humanity is united, nor His high throne at the Father's right hand, has in the least altered that humanity, or made it less susceptible to love and fellowship. And it is this unchanged and unchangeable manhood that is giving vent to itself in the tender admonition of our test—'You have left they first love.'
It is the language of wounded friendship, complaining of undeserved estrangement. It is the utterance of unrequited love, mourning over the loss of an affection which was better than life. He wants not merely to love—but to be loved. He seemed to have found this at Ephesus—that noble church for which the apostle prayed that it might be rooted and grounded in love, and might know the love that passes knowledge. But the kindness of their youth, the love of their espousals, had passed away. The star grew dim, the flower faded, warm love had cooled, and the Ephesus of the second generation was not the Ephesus of the first. Over this 'lost first love' He mourns, as the gem which of all others He prized the most. And the voice which we hear, sounds like that of Rachel in Ramah weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted, because they are not.
It is not slothful service, or waning zeal, or failing liberality, or slackening warfare, that He complains. His remonstrance rather assumes the existence of much Christian fruitfulness; and even though there had been some failure in labor or endurance, that might have been more easily remedied; nor were these such a necessity to Him who fills all in all. But it is over lost love that He laments; lost love, for which there can be no compensation and no substitute, even to Him; lost love, which cuts so keenly even into the callous heart of man, and leaves such lifelong blanks even in common and inferior souls.
Yet it is not love altogether lost—nor love turned into hatred.
The failure has not got so far as this, nor descended to such a depth. It is of ebbing love He speaks, not love wholly dried up; it is love that has lost the freshness and the edge of other days; love that has sunk below the temperature at which it once stood. This is the substance of the complaint, the burden of His disappointment—the loss of half a heart! So that it would almost seem as if the total drying up would have been more endurable than this ebbing; as if the entire withholding would have been less painful than the stinted giving; as if complete and downright cessation would have been, as in the case of Laodicea, so in that of Ephesus, less hateful than this diminishing, this declining to a lower range of feeling, this grudging gift of a divided heart where once there was entire love.
Strange that the risen Christ, the ascended King, should feel so much the loss of creature-love; that He should be, as one may say, so dependent on our affection; that He should treat this failure not so much as an affront or a crime, but as a wound and a slight; that He should be touched with the alienation of 'half a heart', and speak of it as a bereavement and a sorrow! Oh, what must be His estimate of love; what must be the value of our love to Him; and what is the honor put on us by a condescension so amazing as this!
A complaint like this coming from any quarter is deeply touching. The wife has ceased to love the husband; the husband has ceased to love the wife; the brother has ceased to love the brother or the sister; the friend has ceased to love the friend—these are complaints which we recognize as real among ourselves, seeing we are so dependent for happiness upon each other's love.
But that a complaint like this should come down from heaven—from Him who has the Father's love and all the love of angels; from Him to whom they sing, in their everlasting songs, 'Blessing and honor and glory and power;' to whom they ascribe 'riches and wisdom and strength,'—is far more profoundly affecting, and appeals to every noble and tender feeling of our nature with irresistible potency. What true hearted man but must be humbled and melted down beneath it?
Why should He love so much—and I so little? Why should He love so truly, so constantly, so warmly—and I return Him nothing but fickleness and insincerity and coldness? Why should He be so concerned about my love, and I so careless about His? Is my love so precious—and His so worthless? Where but in His own infinitely loving and loveable nature can I find a reason for a difference so strange? How marvelous, and how affecting, to hear Him mourn over the 'changed affection' of one of the least of His saints on earth, and to hear Him say, 'I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love?'
What should move Him to desire my love—and to grieve when it is withheld—or when given for a time, and then withdrawn? Has He not love enough in heaven? That 'one pulse in the universe' should beat more feebly—what should that be to the infinite heart above? He who rules that empire on which the sun never sets, need not trouble himself though one worthless subject should renounce allegiance. The ocean does not miss the exhaled drop, nor the forest the faded leaf, nor the sun one wandering ray. Why, then, should He who is King of kings and Lord of lords care so much about the waning love of Ephesus—the loss of the one half of a human heart? Yes! Why should He? Why but because He is love; and because His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways.
He who could utter a complaint like this, and utter it with such manifest sincerity and earnestness, yet with such gentleness and delicacy of tone and word—must be one of whom we cannot know too much. 'I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love,' are the words which embody as precious a revelation of the mind of the ascended Christ as the more explicit announcement—'Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood'—and do they not wonderfully teach us the deep meaning of the old words of the Song of Songs—"Place me like a seal over your heart, or like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, and its jealousy is as enduring as the grave. Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame. Many waters cannot quench love; neither can rivers drown it. If a man tried to buy love with everything he owned, his offer would be utterly despised." (Song 8:6-7)
It was as one who knew both his own heart, and the heart of Him who was claiming it, that old John Berridge wrote these memorable words—"Oh heart, heart, what are you? A mass of fooleries and absurdities! The vainest, foolishest, craftiest, wickedest thing in nature! And yet the Lord Jesus asks me for this heart, woos me for it, died to win it. O incredible love! Adorable condescension! O take it, Lord, and let it be forever closed to all but You!"
But let us follow out a little further this divine rebuke—this touching remonstrance—
"You have left your first love!"—And for what reason? Did the coldness begin on my side or on yours? Have I been to you a wilderness or a land of darkness? What iniquity or unkindness have you found in me, to justify your change? Can you point to one word or deed of mine as an excuse for the withdrawal of your heart? Have I become less lovable, less loving?
"You have left your first love!"—And what or whom have you substituted? Has your power of loving ceased, and your heart become contracted? Or is there some 'second love' that has usurped the place of the first? Is it the WORLD that has thus come in? Is it pleasure? Is it literature or science? Is it business? Is it politics? Is it the creature in some of its various forms, and with the seductive glitter of its many-faceted beauty? What, oh what, is the equivalent for a lost first love? And is there in this new, this second love—a satisfying substitute, a sufficient compensation to your soul for a loss so infinite? To one who has looked upon 'Jerusalem', what is there in Egypt or Babylon, in Rome or in Athens, to admire? To one who has got a glimpse of the heavenly Jerusalem, what is there in all the splendor of earth to attract or satisfy? He whose eyes have seen the King in His beauty (if ever he lowers his love to any baser object) must bear about with him an aching heart ,and an uneasy dissatisfied eye.
"You have left your first love!"—And what have you gained by the leaving? What has this strange turn of 'capricious affection' done for you? Has it made you a happier, holier, truer, stronger, more noble, more earnest man? Has it disarmed the world's enmity? Has it conciliated the devil? Has it nerved you for the battle with the principalities and powers of hell? Has this scattering over a hundred objects—of affections that were formerly centered upon me—brought with it enlargement and liberty—an increase of joy and peace? Ah! Ask your hearts what your gain has been? A few indulgences which once you did not dare to venture on. A few mirthful smiles of worldly companionship. A few pleasures, for which, until your first love had gone—you had no relish. A more unrestrained enjoyment of the things which perish with the using—a keener appetite for trifles and frivolities, for foolish talking and jesting—a contentment with religious forms, and names, and words, and creeds, and doctrines—a wider sympathy with fashion and vanity—less decision and more compromise—weaker recoil from the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life—growing desire for reunion with a present evil world, in its amusements and tastes, its revelings and banquetings, its self-pleasing, its flesh-pleasing, its love of show and costly attire.
These are some of the things for which you have exchanged your first love! For these you have sold your Lord! Judge for yourselves if the bargain has been a good one—if the 'thirty pieces of the world's silver' by which your eye has been attracted and your heart won will prove an equivalent for a lost first love! One day or other it will cost you dear. Sooner or later you will repent of your 'bargain'—and bewail your folly. Remember that 'no man having drunk old wine immediately desires new—for he says, the old is better.'
You have not indeed renounced Christ—but you have come down from your noble elevation. You have not perhaps ceased to love Him, but you love Him less—and other objects have now a place side by side with Him who once filled up your heart so as to leave no room for a 'rival affection'! You may possess many things (as your gracious Master most kindly allows you)—but you have failed in love. You have a name among the Churches; you have intelligence, wisdom, wealth, honor, position, influence, political and social standing—but you have left your first love! No, you have a zeal, hatred of error, patience, courage, perseverance in well-doing—but you have left your first love!
Insignificant as a descent like this may be in the eyes of men, it is great indeed in the estimation of Him who prizes love above all gifts and offerings, above all gold and frankincense, and myrrh; for is it not written, 'Now abides faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love?' What, then, though 'you could speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love? You have become sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.' 'If a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned' (Song 8:7).
And who are you that think it a right thing to give but 'half a heart' to Him who asks the whole—to Him who loved you and gave Himself for you? Who are you that claim the liberty of giving or withholding affection at your pleasure? Do you not call to mind the thrice-repeated question of your risen Lord 'Do you love me?' And what will you answer Him when He comes again in His glory? Oh, heartless Ephesian—is your Lord's love nothing to you? Is His gracious jealousy, His longing for your love, His grateful remembrance of all your poor services, His entreaty that you should repent and to your first works, His promise, 'To him who overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God'—are all these light things in your eyes?
And if all these are trifles, is a warning like this a trifle, 'Remember whence you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works, or else I will come unto you quickly, and will remove your candlestick out of its place, except you repent?' And is it a trifle to be told, from lips which cannot lie, 'If any man does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maranatha'?
Oh, heartless Ephesian, retrace your steps at once! You did run well—who has hindered you? Begin once more at the beginning. Go back to the fountainhead of love—I mean your Lord's love to you, the sinner—there refill your empty vessel! Go back to the blessed Sun, whose light is still as free and brilliant as ever; there rekindle your dying torch; there warm your cold heart, and learn to love again, as you did at first. So shall the love of Christ constrain you; you shall love Him who first loved you; you shall feel the quickening power of the living One; you will rise up again to your former warmth, by knowing His love which passes knowledge, and finding that, in spite of all your fickleness and faithlessness, that His love is still the same towards you!
We bring to you the glad tidings of that great love of Christ which was preached at first to Ephesus and by means of which her first love was kindled—the love, not of the Son only, but of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the free and infinite love of Godhead. It is this which is the true remedy for your lost first love. Go to that love again, and learn it in all its fullness and exceeding riches! Learn that God, who is rich in mercy, for the great love with which He has loved us, even when we were dead in sins, quickens us together with Christ. Learn anew the length and breadth, the depth and height, of this love! Know the love which passes knowledge—that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
THE LOVE AND THE DISCIPLINE
"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten—be zealous therefore, and repent."—Revelation 3:19.
How quickly a believer may become lukewarm! How quickly his love and holiness and zeal fade away! His cheek becomes pale, with the symptoms of deadly decline; or flushed with the passions produced by drinking the world's cup, and partaking of the world's fellowships.
Spirituality loses ground. Worldliness, either in a gross or a refined form, steals in. Reality in religion disappears. Enjoyment of prayer and the Bible ceases. Pleasure, politics, and exciting literature supply the place which the things of God once held. First love is gone. Joy and peace become strangers.
Religious formalism, routine, and ritualism are adopted, by which a man is enabled to quiet his conscience with a few external performances--while devoting the rest of his time to vanity or business.
The soul withers; the eye that looked upward now looks downward; and the once 'religious man,' who 'did run well,' takes the downward path into lukewarmness or death. Yet Jesus leaves him not. He hates divorce. He pursues His fugitive. He pleads with the backslider—'Return, and I will heal.'
I. The love.The 'I' here is emphatic, and by its prominence Christ presents Himself specially as—the lover, the rebuker, the chastener. His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor our ways His ways. He loves where others would hate. He shows His love by chastening where others would show theirs by indulging. "He who spares the rod, hates the child!' 'Whom the Lord loves He chastens!' Herein is love—love to Laodicea, even in her lukewarmness. It is not 'Repent, that I may love you.' It is, 'I love you, therefore repent.' The lukewarm backslider, whether of Ephesus, or Sardis, or Laodicea—as long as he remains self-satisfied and happy in his worldliness, cares only for the love of the creature. He loves the world, and he would gladly have the world love him. This world would be his heaven—his gods and goddesses would all be here!
But when trial comes, and sorrow lays hold, and the deep consciousness of evil burdens, and the prospect of coming wrath rouses him, then he looks round and asks for love. 'Is there anyone to love me, anyone that can love one so unlovable?' The answer is, None on earth! But One in heaven! Jesus loves still. All Laodicea's unloveableness has not quenched His love! The worst of the seven Churches is that which receives His fullest words of love—'that love which passes knowledge.
II. The discipline of love.Mark the way in which this love deals with Laodicea. It deals in tenderness, and yet in solemn severity. Instead of letting Laodicea escape, it takes hold of her, as a wise father of his disobedient child, and makes her sensible how much it hates the sin. Love cannot bear lukewarmness. It expects love for love—and will leave no method untried in order to win back the straying heart, however far it has gone, either in indifference or hatred.
(1) I REBUKE. He reproves by word and deed. His words are full of tenderness, yet also conveying solemn and searching rebuke. Such rebuke may be 'His strange work,' for 'fury is not in Him.' Yet He does administer the rebuke when it is needed—not harshly, yet sometimes severely—for He speaks as one who has authority, and who will not be mocked.
(2) I CHASTEN. What the chastening was we know not—it would be something specially suited to the self-sufficiency and worldliness of the Laodiceans. Perhaps they were stripped of their riches; perhaps visited by sickness and death; perhaps laid desolate by grievous sorrow; some heavy blow, or some long-continued trial stroke upon stroke, crushing and emptying them. The chastisement, we are sure, would correspond with the cherished sins, searching the conscience and breaking the heart in pieces. For the Lord leaves not His own, even in their backsliding; nor indeed any who name His name. The unbelieving world may be allowed to go on unchecked in its wickedness and vanity, but those who call themselves Christ's may expect discipline. By naming His name, they have brought themselves under His special rule, and He will deal with them as He dealt with Laodicea. They profess to be His, to have been bought by Him, to follow Him; they must therefore know His rod, and be treated differently from those who reject His sway and service. Discipline, because of permitted sin, because of indulged worldliness, because of defection from truth or holiness—discipline, it may be, of great severity—they must be prepared for. In faithfulness as well as love He will chasten. Whatever it may cost, they must be made to feel the evil of their ways.
III. The exhortation of love.'Be zealous, therefore, and repent.' The word zealous contrasts with lukewarmness, and implies true warmth and fervor. While He says, 'I wish you were either cold or hot;' He shows by this word 'zealous' that He desires to see zeal quickened in this Church, and lukewarmness done away. Be zealous! Be fervent in spirit! Be done with coldness and half-heartedness! Rouse yourself into the fervor of your early days, before this lukewarmness falls upon you!
Repent also! Repent of your present miserable estate; of your apostasy, and declension, and worldliness! Repent in dust and ashes! Retrace your steps! Awake from your lethargy! Your estimate of yourself is high—come down from your loftiness. You say—I am rich, and increased in goods, and have need of nothing. Come down from the self-sufficiency, and learn that you are not what you think yourself to be. God's estimate of you and your estimate of yourself are widely different. Know yourself—as He knows you. Take His estimate of your poverty and blindness, and cast yourself down before Him. You are not the Laodicea of other days. You must go back to your early zeal, and faith, and love. Be not high-minded, but fear. Abhor yourself—and turn from your lukewarmness!
All this is the language of love; it is the treatment of love. It is love that is rebuking, and chastening, and exhorting. Hear the voice of love—the unchanging love of Him who yearns over you in your declension, and longs to see you restored. This was the beginning of your love, as well as of your confidence. 'We have known and believed the love which God has to us.' Go back to this, and what you first got there—you will get there again. Know that God is love!
THE CROSS OF THE LORD JESUS
"Where also our Lord was crucified."—Revelation 11:8.
"The cross of Christ."—1 Corinthians 1:17.
"The preaching of the cross."—1 Corinthians 1:18.
"Where also our Lord was crucified."The first of these passages strikingly identifies the Master and the servants—our Lord and His witnesses. They were to suffer as He suffered and where He suffered—one with Him in life and death, in shame and glory—one with Him on the cross, in the grave, in resurrection, in ascension, and on the throne. The words, 'Where also our Lord was crucified,' come with a strangely solemn power. It is the last reference to the cross of Christ in the Bible, and corresponds well with that frequent expression in the Revelation, 'the Lamb slain,' carrying us back to the 'the seed of the woman' and 'the bruised heel.'
The second passage is one of the many (nineteen in all) in which Paul refers to the cross and its meaning, the cross and its connection with the good news, the cross and the way of preaching it. In his estimation that cross stood out pre-eminently as the great center around which his faith revolved. It was the basis of his hope towards God; it was the main article in his creed, from which all others shot forth like rays from the sun. It stood alone and unapproachable in the matter of salvation; as the altar of the burnt-offering—as the place outside the gate where the sin-offering was consumed—as the point where all the offerings meet.
It was not to him the mere place of the great self-surrender, the example or model of self-sacrifice; it was the place of propitiation, the substitution of life for life—the Just One there suffering for the unjust—the Blessed One bearing our curse—the Holy One bearing our sin. In preaching this cross, the apostle dreaded and shunned the wisdom of words—human eloquence—lest thus the naked cross should be disguised and disfigured. It must stand out bare and unadorned, 'majestic in its own simplicity,' as the brazen serpent on the pole. That serpent and that pole need no ornament of man. There they stood, with the divine remedy for Israel. To cover them, to deck them, to paint them, would be to destroy their power to heal—to make them of none effect. So is it the naked cross that does the work of healing. To deck it with flowers, and rites, and pomp, and eloquence is to destroy its power—to grieve that Spirit whose office is to turn the sinner's eye to it as the health of the world. Look and be healed! Look and be saved! The virtue of the cross is drawn out by simply looking. Know and be blessed! For 'by His knowledge (the knowledge of Himself) shall my righteous Servant justify many.'
'The cross of Christ!' O world, this is your one hope. That cross contains all that you need of love, and healing, and peace. Under its shadow the chief of sinners may sit down and rejoice.
'Where also our Lord was crucified.' O Israel, O Jerusalem, here is your condemnation. O world, here too will be your condemnation, if you look not, and believe not! That cross will utterly condemn all its rejecters and despises. That cross overthrew Jerusalem, city and temple, for her rejection of the crucified One; it scattered Israel—what will it not do to each person who has slighted it? Round it the world's history revolves—on it the world's destiny hangs.
(1.) It was the place of GUILT and CONDEMNATION.(Matthew 27:22, 26, 28)—The condemned of men were there. The thieves were there; it was their 'own place.' Connection with the cross inferred crime, worthy of death.
(2.) It was the place of SHAME.(Hebrews 12:2) It was shame that was there; and each one who was sent there was treated as a shameful thing—one of whom his fellow men were ashamed, and who might well be ashamed of himself. It was the type of the shame and everlasting contempt in reserve for the unbelievers. Hence it was a 'reproach' and 'offence' (Galatians 5:2).
(3.) It was the place of WEAKNESS.(2 Corinthians 13:4) Christ was 'crucified through weakness.' It was the exhibition of man reduced to the extremity of helplessness. In order to save us who were 'without strength' (Romans 5:6), our Surety took our helplessness upon Him, and became 'without strength' for us.
(4.) It was the place of PAIN.(Hebrews 13:12) Anguish of body was there to the uttermost; and thirst was there; wounds and bruises were there. There is no pain like that of crucifixion. Here is the fulfillment of the roasted lamb of the Passover—here is the passing through the fire.
(5.) The place of the CURSE(Galatians 3:13) 'Cursed is every one who hangs on a tree.' The Blessed One was made a curse for us. He went to the accursed place, and there bore our curse, that we might receive His blessing.
(6.) The place of REJECTION.(John 19:6) 'Away with Him!' was the cry; 'not this man, but Barabbas.' Those who were nailed to the cross were the outcasts of men. Christ was 'despised and rejected of men' (Isaiah 53:3).
(7.) The place of HATRED.(Matthew 27:25) 'Let Him be crucified!' 'His blood be on us!' Here was human hatred speaking out. 'His citizens hated Him!' This is the heir; come, let us kill him!' 'They gave me hatred for my love!'
(8.) The place of DEATH.(Matthew 20:18,19) It was death that was there; here we read, 'The soul that sins it shall die.' Death, the death of the cross, was our Surety's doom. The place of death became the place of life to us. 'By His stripes we are healed.'
Such were the evil things connected with the cross, which by the work done by the Son of God have all turned into good. All our evils He took upon Him that He might secure for us all the good belonging to Himself. For condemnation, He gives us pardon; for shame, honor and glory; for weakness, strength; for pain, ease and comfort; for the curse, the blessing; for rejection, acceptance; for hatred, love; for death, life everlasting. He who believes has all these things! All the evil passes to Jesus, and all the good to us, on our crediting the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the cross and the things done there.
This cross, where so many evil things meet, is the place where all GOOD THINGS are to be found. God gathered all the evil to that spot, that He might utterly make away with it, through Him who took all the evil on Himself, that He might bring out of it only good. At the cross it was consumed by fire—it was buried out of sight. The crucifixion transformed the evil into good!
(1) It is the place of PROPITIATION.(Leviticus 16:15; Romans 3:25).The altar was there for the burnt-offering. The place outside the gate for the sin-offering was there. 'He His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree' (1 Peter 2:24). The sin-bearing work was completed there, when the cry went up, 'It is finished!' The expiating blood was shed on the cross. The atoning work—the work that justifies—was consummated on Golgotha. Nor can justification be separated from the cross, or transferred to resurrection. ''The chastisement of our peace was on Him; and by His stripes we are healed.' 'He was wounded for our transgressions He was bruised for our iniquities.' The ending of His vicarious course on earth was the giving life for life. His death, instead of ours, satisfied the law. A divine death was the substitute for a human death. All the sacrificial virtue of the transaction, and all the value of the substitute, were transferred to us. Jesus died that we might not die. He was the propitiation for our sins. He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The cross is the place of exhausted penalty and magnified law. That which covers the sinner entirely and shields him from wrath was finished there. That covering, that propitiatory covering, whose power and virtue are unchangeable throughout all ages, and underneath which we are secure from wrath, was wrought out there. The propitiation of the cross is the substance of the glad tidings which we bring. It originated in the love of God; it contained and embodied the love of God; it gave effect to and carried out the love of God; it brought home the love of God to us as sinners.
(2) It is the MEETING-PLACE.(Exodus 29:42) It is the place where we meet with God, and God meets with us in friendship, and love, and joy. It is the place where the Father meets the prodigal and embraces him. On this spot alone, and underneath this tree alone, can God and the sinner look each other in the face, without fear on the one side or displeasure on the other. There God speaks with us, and there we speak with Him. We take the Lamb, lay our hands upon it, present it as ours, confess our sins over it, that so all the evil in us which stood between us and God may pass from us to Him, may be carried by it to the altar, and there consumed, so as no longer to hinder the meeting.
With sin thus transformed from us to the divine victim, thus carried away and consumed by fire, we are no longer afraid to look up to God, and no longer stand in doubt of His favor towards us, and His willingness to bless us. Ten thousand times a day we sin; but as often as we sin, that sin passes immediately away from us to the sacrifice, which, once offered and accepted eighteen hundred years ago, is better than ten thousand times ten thousand sacrifices to keep up the reconciliation, to secure perpetual forgiveness, and to maintain unchanged the security of the meeting place—the place of communion and fellowship between us and God.
(3) It is the place of LOVE.God's love is there, shining in its full brightness, unhindered and undimmed. 'God so loved the world' gets its interpretation at the cross. On the one hand, we see how much man hated God, and, on the other, how much God loved man. Herein is love! It is love that has found for itself a channel whereby to flow down to us; love that has opened a well of blessing gushing forth from the foot of the cross.
(4) It is the place of ACCEPTANCE.Here we become 'accepted in the Beloved.' Here the exchange takes place between the perfect and the imperfect. Believing in the perfect One, we become 'complete in Him.' Conscious only of evil, we take refuge in Him in whom there is no evil, that we may be represented by him before God, and so treated by God as being without evil, even in the eye of His holy law. Feeling our utter lack of goodness, we flee out of ourselves to One in whom there is all goodness—who is absolutely perfect; so perfect, so infinitely perfect, that He has enough and to spare of His perfection for us. The fullness of evil that is in us is thus not only covered over by the atonement of the atoning Son of God, so as to become invisible, as if it were non-existent—but is supplanted by the fullness of all goodness, is exchanged for the perfection of another, even of the perfect One, so that God, looking at us, sees only our Representative, and deals with us according to His excellency and preciousness. What we should have received, in the shape of punishment, He gets for us; what He claims and deserves in the shape of reward, and glory, and favor, we get, as represented by Him, and treated by God as entitled to all that to which He is entitled.
Our consent to be treated on the footing of this foreign merit, this perfection of another—is what God asks of us. Such is the proposal which the gospel makes to us. This is substantially the meaning of our believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Receiving the divine testimony to the sin-bearer as true, we give our consent to be represented by Him before God. Thus we exchange places and persons with Him. He was made sin, we are made righteousness; He takes the curse, we take the blessing. We hear the cry upon the cross, "It is finished"—and we know that the work which justifies is done. All that follows—resurrection and ascension—is the result of the completed work; not the completing of it, but the fruits of its completion. 'He was delivered, because we had sinned; He was raised, because we were justified' (Romans 4:25). As it was 'by the blood of the everlasting covenant' that He was brought from the dead (Hebrews 13:20), so was it because our justification was finished on the cross that He rose from the dead. The knowledge of this brings to him who knows it forgiveness, acceptance, justification—we become 'accepted in the Beloved.'
The cross accomplished such things as the following—
(1.) The cross removed the wall of partition.(Colossians 2:14) Between Jew and Gentile it threw down the middle wall of partition. It rent the veil in twain from top to bottom. It swept away all that hindered a sinner's access, and said, 'Come boldly to the throne of grace;' 'come unto me.'
(2.) The cross made peace.(Colossians 1:20) The great quarrel between heaven and earth, between God and the sinner, it made up; for it removed the ground of that variance, and provided a righteous basis for reconciliation and peace. The peace is made. It is paid for. It is finished. It is a true and righteous peace.
(3.) The cross has secured oneness.(Ephesians 2:15-16) Thus oneness is not simply between Jew and Gentile, but between both of these and God; between them both, because between both and God. Both are reconciled in one body by the cross, the enmity being thereby slain. He was 'numbered with the transgressors' (Mark 15:28), that we might be numbered with the righteousness.
(4.) The cross has brought life. (2 Corinthians 13:4) 'He was crucified through weakness, yet He lives; we are weak in Him (as He was on the cross) but we shall live.' His weakening and emptying on the cross gave opportunity for the whole life-giving power of God to flow in. We, thus weakened and emptied (when, in believing, made one with Him), are filled with the same life-giving power. The cross, the place of weakness and of death, thus becomes to us the place and fountain of life. From a crucified Lord life flows to the dead.
(5.) The cross contains power.(1 Corinthians 1:18, 23) It is 'the power of God unto salvation.' Power for us, for the weak, for the sinful—'the power of God'—is there. Omnipotence has made its dwelling there. The cross is its storehouse or treasure house. There is the hiding of divine power. There is the arm of the Lord revealed.
(6.) The cross is the focus or center of all wisdom.(1 Corinthians 1:24) The wisdom of God is there. It is the fullest and most glorious exhibition of Jehovah's wisdom. Here is the perfection of wisdom; and all the wisdom which the sciences exhibit—(astronomy, anatomy, or the like)—cannot to be compared with this. The world thinks it foolishness. God thinks it wisdom; and every soul that has come to know its own needs and sins thinks the same.
(7.) The cross crucifies the world.(Galatians 6:14) To the believing man the world is a crucified thing. There is now enmity, not friendship—hatred, not love—between the woman's seed and the serpent's seed. The cross has produced the enmity. It has slain the world, and made it altogether unlovable. One sight of the cross strips the world of its false beauty and attractiveness!
(8.) The cross furnishes a theme for glorying.(Galatians 6:14) Paul gloried in it, counting it the only thing worth boasting of, worth admiring, worth caring for. The cross is the scorn of the world—it is the glory of the saint. It is the theme of the church's song, the theme of her praise. She glories in the cross.
(9.) The cross is the model and test of service.(Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23) It calls us to liberty, yet to service also—the service of liberty. Thus it both liberates and binds. It takes off one yoke to give another (Matthew 11:29). It gives us the perfect example and pattern of obedience and service, in Him who was obedient unto death—the death of the cross. It tests our service by giving us a cross to carry; not Christ's cross—that no man can carry—but a cross of our own. Each man must take up his own cross and follow the great Cross-bearer. Self-denial, self-surrender, self-sacrifice, are all exhibited there. There especially 'Christ did not please Himself' (Romans 15:3). "Not my will, but Yours be done"—is to be our motto, as it was His. Looking unto Jesus and His cross fits and nerves us for this. 'Follow me' is the voice of the cross.
(10.) The cross is the badge of discipleship.(Luke 14:27) The disciple is not above his Master. He is a cross-bearer—a 'crusader,' in the true sense of the word. No cross—no discipleship. He who is ashamed of the cross is ashamed of Christ. The daily life of a disciple is to be a carrying of the cross. He who does so will find few admirers and sympathizers. He will know the loneliness of his Lord and Master.
(11.) The cross is God's way of salvation.(Acts 10:39-43) Pardon is written on the cross; salvation; eternal life. The saved thief, who went from his cross to paradise, is the great illustration of the saving power of the cross. For salvation we know nothing, except for Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). The glad tidings are written on the cross—good news of a free salvation to the unsaved—salvation through Him who came to seek and save the lost—who upon the tree of death bore their guilt in His own body, and now sends out the glorious message—the tidings from the saving cross! The love of God is written on it—no, 'God is love,' is the true inscription for it. 'God is love' beams out from every part of it—and to know this to be saved!
(12.) The cross is the measure of Christ's endurance and obedience.(Philippians 2:8) He descended from the highest heaven, that He might take flesh, and in our flesh endure and obey as man. It was a vicarious endurance and obedience—all His life long. He stood in our stead from Bethlehem to Golgotha. The cross, with its agony, and shame, and death, was the extremity of His willingness to do the Father's will—to bear our burdens—to drink our bitter cup of wrath and woe. Thus the 'perfection of our substitute' not only covers our imperfection, but is legally and judicially ascribed to us by God Himself. The law lets go its hold of us—and deals with our Substitute.
(13.) The cross is the pledge and standard of divine love. (Romans 5:8) The Father's love is here—for God so loved the world that He gave His Son. Christ's love is here—the love that passes knowledge, the love which many waters could not quench, nor the floods drown; love to the uttermost; love grudging no toil, nor pain, nor weariness, nor reproach for us! If you want to know how much you have been loved, look to the cross of Jesus! That meets and answers all our doubts.
(14.) The cross is the revelation of God's character.(1 John 4:10) In the person of the God-man, 'the Word made flesh,' God's character is contained—all that is in God is there. In the life of the God-man there is the unfolding of that character as the gracious God. In the death of the God-man upon the cross there is a yet further revelation of the character of 'the God of all grace.' Here the divine perfections came out in full harmony—all that seemed discordant being here reconciled—truth and mercy meeting—righteousness and peace kissing—God just and the justifier of the ungodly—infinitely holy, yet pardoning the unholy!
In the cross God has given us His true name, and the true interpretation of that name. His whole character and actings are here announced, explained, and harmonized. Let us listen to the testimony which the cross gives respecting God's gracious nature—His loving heart—His compassionate purposes to sinners; and in accepting that testimony all blessing will flow in. Let us accept God's interpretation of His own character in the cross! Let us beware of misconstruing Him. Let us acquaint ourselves with Him.
(15.) The cross is God's lamp of light.The world is dark. The cross is light. The cross shines with the very light of heaven. He who is the God of light hung there! That which the cross makes known concerning God and His love is the light of a dark world. Only from the cross can the sinner derive his light. 'They looked and were enlightened;' for He who hangs there says, 'I am the light of the world.' And never was He more its light than when He was nailed to the cross in helplessness. From the cross that light still shines out to a dark world. Let us walk in the light of the cross. God says to us, 'Arise, shine, for your light has come!' 'The true light now shines!' 'The day has broken, and the shadows have fled away.' The ever-burning lamp of the cross is sufficient for the darkest child of a dark world—in his darkest day and hour!
(16.) The cross is the universal magnet.(John 7:32) 'I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.' Here is the true center of gravitation. Here is the great attraction, or attractive force. The Christ of Bethlehem attracts; the Christ of Nazareth attracts; the Christ of Bethany and Nain attracts; the Christ of Sychar and Jericho attracts—but most of all, the Christ of Golgotha! There is that in the cross which wins the sinner's heart. The cross beckons him; it calls him; it invites him; it beseeches him; it draws him. A crucified Christ, the uplifted Son of man, is the one universal magnet! Its magnetic power is irresistible; yet it is the irresistible of love and not of law. Law compels; love attracts. Law crushes; love lifts up. And all love is in that cross—the fullness of God's forgiving love!
(17.) The cross is the universal balm and medicine.The cross is the balm of Gilead—and the crucified Christ is the Physician there. From that tree distills the healing for the sons of men. The leaves of it are for the healing of nations. Its medicinal properties have been tested by time—and have been found divine. There is no disease which is able to resist its medicinal powers—they flow out on all sides, and flow down everywhere. He who approaches, he who touches—no, he who 'looks', is healed! Eternal health is yonder. Let it flow in. The world is sick—sick unto death. Here is healing for it. Will you be made whole, O man? Go to the healing cross—go to the divine Healer and become whole!
(18.) The cross is man's estimate of sin.Not only was the deed of crucifixion a denial of sin and a defiance of God, but it was the setting up of a new standard of sin. It was man saying, We do not need a Sin-bearer; we are no such sinners as to need a Substitute; sin is not such an evil as to require expiation. This was 'the way of Cain;' it was Cain's rejection of the burnt offering, his refusal to acknowledge the evil of sin, or to own himself worthy of death. God's intention in the cross was to declare the evil of sin; man's intention was to make light of it, and to defy its consequences. For man, in making light of sin, despises God's threatenings against it, and braves the divine penalties.
(19.) The cross is God's verdict against sin, and His estimate of it.(Romans 8:3) Here is God's condemnation of sin—of the flesh—of the world. Look at that cross!—and learn how God hates sin! How He unveils the flesh with all its lusts—how He strips off the world's mask, and exposes its deformity. When disposed to make light of sin, or to indulge the flesh, or to admire the world, let us hear God's voice bidding us look to the cross, and to Him who was nailed to it by that sin, that flesh, that world.
The cross says—Oh, don't do that abominable thing which I hate! If God thought as slightly of sin as man does, would that cross have been needed? Would Christ have needed to suffer? Would any expiation have been needed, beyond a few tears or sights? God points to Christ's cross as the proof of His hatred of sin!—and when man would treat it lightly, He bids him listen to the expiring agonies of the Sin-bearer! Or when man would excuse himself, or palliate his guilt, God answers—Did your sin crucify my Son? What do your sin deserve, though other sins might be light?
(20.) The cross is man's estimate of the Son of God.Already He had been valued at thirty pieces of silver. But here we have a still lower estimate. Here is the value man sets on His person, His life, His teaching, His blood. God asks us—"What do you think of Christ?" Our answer is the cross—"Crucify Him!" Here is man erecting the cross, the nailing the Son of God to it! Such is the heart of man! Such is man's rejection of the Christ. The cross is the standing proof and witness of man's rejection of God's beloved Son and His salvation. To this day the cross is foolishness and a stumbling block to man. He both hates and despises it!
(21.) The cross is God's interpretation of law and its penalties.Not merely grace, but righteousness is unfolded here—the righteousness of law—of the law. God here shows us what law is, what law requires, what law can do, how law can avenge itself, how law can vindicate God, as well as how God can vindicate law. In this aspect it is truly law that planned and erected the cross; law that demanded the victim's death; law that cried "Crucify!"; law that nailed Him to the tree! In the cross we see how holy, and just, and good is that law, (Galatians 4:4). The cross had undertaken to answer law's demands for us—He was seized by it and led out to the place of execution as the worst of evildoers. If the law were not holy, and broad, and pure, why did the Son of God—the giver of the law—hang on the cross? Why was He forsaken by God there? Why did He die there?
Thus interpreted by the cross, how perfect does the law appear! God has given us many interpretations of it, but the cross is the most explicit, and clear, and complete. In the cross, God protests against all attempts to undervalue or dilute the law. Man may think it too strict. God does not; and in proof of this points to the cross and His Son there, bearing our penalty. Would the Father have laid these burdens and pains upon His Son—unless the law had absolutely required them? Would he who most honored the law have been punished by the law—unless He had been bearing sin? Let those who speak of the gospel being a modified law, by obedience to which we are saved, look at the cross. Is there any appearance of a modified law there? No! we see the law in all its undiluted perfection exhibited in the life, and in all its unmitigated strength and penalty, in the death of the Son of God! The gospel is founded on a fulfilled and unmodified law—a law unchangeable and inexorable. Our pardon and salvation are all legal and righteous, springing from law—as truly as from love. Our life comes from the substituted death of another!
Thus we see in the cross, an epitome of the Bible. The whole revelation of God is there! From the cross we hear the truth, 'where sin abounded, grace has super abounded.' All the love of God is there. The sinner's condemnation and the sinner's pardon are there. God's invitation issues forth from it, to the chief of sinners. 'Come!' 'Look unto me and be saved.' God's eternal purpose is here unfolded—'the good pleasure of His will.' The fountain opened for sin is there. The rest for the weary is there. The relief for the conscience is here. The refuge for the guilty is there. The balm of Gilead is there. Peace to the troubled is there. There God meets with man, and man meets with God—heaven and earth embrace each other. Herein is love! It is love that takes in the worse—love that took in the dying thief—love that knows not bounds—love that looks for no qualifications in him who comes, but that he needs it—love which is yearning over the lost, and stretching out its hands to the most rebellious and unholy—love which offers not merely pardon, but the perfection of the Son of God to the sinner—with all which that perfection can claim!
Yet in the cross also is the doom of the unbeliever! He who takes the cross for what God tells him who it is, is saved, and no amount of sin can hinder its virtue from flowing out to him perpetually! He who refuses or neglects the cross must not only bear his own sin, but the sin of rejecting God's salvation. That cross will be the millstone tied round his neck to send him to the lowest hell! When He who hung upon the cross ascends the throne, where will the rejecter of the cross appear, and what will he say for his rejection?
STRANGERSHIP AND PILGRIMAGE
"The woman fled into the wilderness!"—Revelation 12:6.
"Stranger and pilgrims."—1 Peter 2:2.
"They took their journey from Elim."—Exodus 16:1.
The woman fled into the wilderness! Well would it have been with her had she continued there. But she came forth into earth's cities, and dwelt in its palaces, and put on its gay apparel, and said, 'I am a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.' In unbelief and forgetfulness of her true character, she sought to reign where she should have remained a stranger, and put on purple robes when she should have worn only sackcloth (1 Corinthians 4:8).
'The earth helped the woman,' no doubt; and in so doing saved her from unceasing persecution, giving her some respite. Christianity became fashionable; and the immense number of mere professors of that faith, while really a source of internal weakness, was yet a source of external strength and protection. It was earthly protection, no doubt, and on that account perilous; yet it was just the protection which God Himself had given to the Jewish Church in Babylon, in Shushan, and in Egypt. The flood of persecution was sweeping the Church away, when 'the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.' This cessation of persecution, this earthly help, became a snare. The woman said, 'I am rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing.' She forgot her heavenly calling, her future kingdom, her incorruptible inheritance, her unearthly hope, and became part of the world which had helped her. Civilization, science, literature, intellectual enlightenment, became her gods. She set them between her and the cross, between her and the glory. Influence, power, wealth, knowledge apart from God and His Christ, were sought after and obtained. The Church wooed the world, and the world wooed the Church; compromises were agreed upon; the world ceased to persecute, and the Church ceased to 'condemn the world.'
Yet God is ever calling His own out of this mingled mass, and bidding them walk alone. We are not simply to leave the world, but to 'go forth outside the camp,' bearing Christ's reproach; and oftentimes that reproach comes sharper from the lips of so-called Christians, than from a pleasure-loving world.
Abel was a stranger upon earth—so are all God's Abels still. Enoch was a stranger—yet he was partaker of the heavenly calling. Abraham was a stranger—yet he was one of the seekers of the better, even the heavenly country (Hebrews 11:16), looking for the New Jerusalem, the Church's special home (Hebrews 11:10). David confesses himself a pilgrim—'We are strangers before You, and sojourners, as were all our fathers' (1 Chronicles 29:15; Psalm 39:12).
'Leave of your country,' said God to Abraham (Genesis 12:1). 'Arise and depart,' were the prophet's words to Israel (Micah 2:10). 'Let us go forth,' said Paul (Hebrews 13:13). 'Stranger and pilgrim' is descriptive of a believing man (1 Peter 2:2). 'In journeyings often,' said Paul of himself (2 Corinthians 11:26). Again and again is it said of Israel, 'They took their journey' from such and such places.
Strangers and pilgrims! Yes! For this world is not our rest or our home! We are wayfaring men, tarrying but a night. We are sojourners, as were all our fathers; and we pass the time of our sojourning here in fear; not looking back, but up and on; with girded loins and staff in hand hastening to the heavenly city. What have we to do with Egypt's treasures, or Babylon's glory; with Corinth's lusts, or Rome's magnificence; with Athenian philosophy, or Ephesian magic—with worldly wantonness or luxury? We see what eye has not seen—we hear what ear has not heard—and we pass by these earthly beauties and pleasures! They perish with the using! The fashion of this world passes away!
These are memorable words of Paul—'In journeyings often.' Such is a brief but true picture of a Christian man's life. Rooted, yet unrooted; settled, yet unsettled; at rest, yet ever moving; anchored, yet hurried along with storms; unburdened, yet burdened; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.
Such was the life of Abraham and the patriarchs; such the life of Moses; such the life of Israel in their desert-wanderings. Here have we no continuing city—not even a continuing tent. No certain dwelling-place; no rest—sure of a dwelling somewhere, yet not sure of it anywhere. Patriarchal life was made up of comings and departings, of greetings and farewells. Men were then 'strangers and pilgrims on the earth.' They were like seamen, the greater part of whose time was spent in pulling up and letting go the anchor, in spreading and taking in their sails. Their life was the remotest possible from that of the hermit on the one hand, or the bustling merchant on the other. They seemed hardly to touch the soil over which they passed, or to have any firm connection with the things seen and temporal.
Paul's history was in many respects a repetition of Israel's, and even more a repetition of the Master's, who was, above all others, 'in journeyings often;' whose ministry was a continual moving to and fro, having no place to lay His head; to whom even Bethany was only a single night's resting-place from which He must depart on the morrow. From the day that the Lord shone upon Paul on his way to Damascus, his life was that of Israel in the desert, only with more of conflict, and weariness, and sorrow, and labor. He had his Ethams, his Succoths, his Marahs, his Elims, his Rephidims, his Kadeshes—with many an intervening resting-place—certain of nothing but that the pillar-cloud was above him, that his bread would be given him, and his water would be sure—that there was no condemnation for him, and that all things would work together for his good!
Many and pleasant resting-places had Paul, like his Master at Jacob's well, enjoying shade and provision of which the world knew nothing—but the intervals between were long and wearisome. At Corinth, at Antioch, at Troas, he rested once and again, enjoying sweet fellowship with the brethren; but he had scarcely begun to enjoy this, when he was called away. The pillar-cloud rose, and he was constrained to move. Each movement, each stage, was the encountering of a new storm of the desert, or the endurance of more scorching heat. Gladly would he have remained at such places, in the bosom of churches he had planted; but the Spirit allowed him not, leading him on from place to place—to bonds and imprisonment—to labors and stripes—to beating and stoning—to shipwreck and peril by sea and land—to weariness and painfulness—to hunger and thirst—to fastings and cold, and nakedness. He was a stranger and pilgrim on the earth—through much tribulation entering the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).
Of Israel we read that 'they came to Elim' (Exodus 15:27), where were the wells and palms; and then that they 'took their journey from Elim' (Exodus 16:1), into the wilderness, where there was neither bread nor water.
They had left Egypt, the land of worldly plenty, where they walked by sight, not by faith—and they had come into a land where sight was nothing, and where faith must be all. The closing waters of the Read Sea, while they cut Israel off from their enemies—cut them off from the land of plenty—and shut them into one of dearth and desolation. They were now alone with God! For good or for evil, they had now to deal with Him alone—and that face to face, in a desert land, where earthly supplies were unknown. If He were against them—who could be for them? If He were for them—who could be against them?
Their arrival at MARAH tested them. Is their life to be by faith or by sight? Is earth or heaven to be their recognized storehouse of blessing—their fountainhead of abundance? This was their first real taste of the true wilderness life and walk. It began with the bitter—and it ended with the sweet. The first taste of the waters was distasteful—the second most pleasant. The bitterness was of earth—the sweetness was of heaven.
Yet at Marah the comfort was of a mingled kind. It was not their faith that had turned the bitterness into sweetness—and this was humbling and sad. God had met their murmurings with His own free love—their distrust of Him with overflowing bounty—and, if we may so say, had answered them according to their unbelief, not their faith. He had, in wondrous grace, reversed His own rule of action, and had done the miracle because of their unbelief—not their faith! Yet even the outward blessing Marah was not a full one. It sufficed for the moment, but it was incomplete. There was water, but no shade; wells, but no palms. The water had issued from their unbelief, not their faith; and God marked His displeasure by making them drink it on the unshaded burning sands.
There was little then to bind them to this shadeless spot, saddened with the recollection of their own unbelief, though in a measure sweetened by the gracious dealings of Him whose love passes knowledge. Their journey from Marah would not be an unwilling one, and their arrival at ELIM would be most grateful—for Elim contained all that such sojourners required. Sweet spot! Close girdled with low hills; the higher peaks of the desert not far off; covered with desert shrubs, tall or stunted; wells bubbling over, and losing themselves in the desert sand; a tiny stream finding its way through the sandy hollow to the Red Sea; and clustering palms (now, in our day quite a forest) stretching their shades over the smiling valley in all directions!
Israel might say—Here let us abide. If we are to have a home in the desert, let it be here. They would say, 'This is our rest;' but God said, 'This is not your rest.' So they left the shade and the cool waters—'they journeyed from Elim.' The journey to Elim was pleasant; the stay at Elim was still more so. The journey from Elim must have been sad and dreary—behind them the refreshing verdure; before and around the hot wind of the desert, and with no resting-place in view. But such was the will of Him who was leading them on—such was the silent beckoning of the pillar-cloud. They must not stay—though they would have gladly stayed. It is not to softness, and luxury, and ease that they are called, but to hardness and trial—and a life of faith on an unseen God and a yet distant 'Canaan'!
So it is with us. We are 'in journeyings often.' Egypt is left behind forever—the blood has been sprinkled, and we have found protection and deliverance from the destroying angel—the march has been begun—the Red Sea is crossed—we have sung the song of Moses—we have entered on the desert—we are pressing toward 'Jerusalem'! Our desert life is the life of discipline, and faith, and hope. We come to Elim, and rest for a few pleasant days beneath its palms. But Elim is not Jerusalem, and we must leave it. Oppressive words these, 'They journeyed from Elim!' And yet, since Elim is not 'Jerusalem', our hope still shines in front of us. It is not on Canaan that we turn our backs; it is not Jerusalem that we are called to leave; for that city once entered, is entered forever. From it we go out no more.
But here "in the wilderness," we have our changes—our risings and our fallings—our rejoicings and our sorrowings—our movings and our restings—our sickenings and our healings—our partings and our meetings—often coming close together, like Marah and Elim in the same desert, and within a day of each other. We are 'in journeyings often!' Ours is a continual tent-life—this wilderness world is not our rest! Often we wish it were our rest, we get so tired of these unceasing movements—but it must not be so. We could not be trusted with ease, and comfort, and painless, prosperous days. We would forget ourselves—and forget our inheritance. Every change or sorrow says to us—"Onward, upward! Elim is pleasant, with its wells and palms, but it is not Canaan—it is not Jerusalem. It is only a brief resting-place; a rest to recruit and fit you for your further journey. You must leave it on the morrow!"
Yet the pillar-cloud is here, for shade, for protection, or guidance. It will not mislead. You shall just have as long at Elim as is for your good—and not a minute longer! Therefore gird up your loins; be ever in readiness either for resting or journeying—for the battle, or the march, or the triumph. Let patience have her perfect work; let faith keep her hold of the unseen; let hope burn brighter and fuller as the journeyings are drawing to their close—and as we near the gates of the glorious city—and the banks of the river of life—and the palms of the paradise of God!
Be holy. Be separate from the world. Abstain from fleshly lusts. Lay aside all filthiness. Walk soberly. Beware of earth's folly and idle laughter. Set your affection on things above. Be prepared for suffering. Endure hardness. Take up your cross daily and bear it aloft—and be not ashamed of it. The footsteps of the old pilgrims are still visible on the sands of time. Follow them! Their voice is still heard, and their hand still waves, beckoning you to follow. Until you find a nobler faith than Abraham's, a better book than the Bible, a truer creed than Paul's—believe what they believed. For these things are not yet obsolete. Centuries do not alter truth. Time and science have not yet leveled the eternal hills. The cross still stands erect amid the ruins of ages—the blood of Jesus still purges the conscience—and the believing man is still a stranger here in this world!
THE CHURCH DWELLING ALONE
"Redeemed from the earth."—Revelation 14:3.
"Redeemed from among men."—Revelation 14:4.
"The people shall dwell alone."—Numbers 23:9.
"Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you." 2 Cor. 6:17
Let me call attention to these four tests, as making up the different parts of one great truth concerning the Church's true position in this present evil world, her 'unearthly' calling and 'unearthly' walk. She is the 'redeemed one;' redeemed from the earth; redeemed from among men, or literally 'from men.' She comes out and is separate; she dwells alone; 'separate from sinners' (Psalm 1:1; Hebrews 7:26).
She is 'redeemed from the earth' that she may dwell alone. She is 'redeemed from men' that she may dwell alone. She comes out and is 'separate' that she may dwell alone. For she is not of the world, even as He who redeemed her is not of the world. She is 'sanctified in God the Father' (Jude 1). She is a stranger in strange land. Her calling is heavenly; and her affections are set on things above. Her 'citizenship' is in heaven and she sits loose from all below—riches, pleasures, honors, vanities! 'Unspotted from the world' is her designation. (James 1:27)
I wish to bring out all this specially in connection with the third of the above texts, concerning Israel's dwelling alone.
'Israel shall dwell in safety alone' (Deuteronomy 33:28). 'Lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations' (Numbers 23:9).
These were true sayings, though one of them comes from the lips of a false prophet. In them we seem to have a contradiction of the divine word, 'It is not good for man to be alone.' Yet is so only in appearance. These two 'alones' are very different—the 'alone' of Adam and the 'alone' of Israel; the persons are different, the circumstances are different, the words are different; that which was not good for the one was good for the other.
It looks also like an exception to the proverb, 'Two are better than one—for if they fall, the one will life up his fellow—but woe to him who is alone when he falls' (Ecclesiastes 4:10). But it is not really so; for everything in such a case depends on the friendliness of one's companion. Better to be alone when falling, than to be with an enemy.
Up until Abraham's day the 'godly seed', the 'saints of the Most High,' had not been alone (except in heart and feeling); but were scattered everywhere; hidden and mixed. Hence before the flood the sons of God intermarried with the daughters of men. But when He called Abraham, He unfolded His purpose of separation from the rest of men. Then He carried out His condemnation of this present evil world, which in and by Noah He had already proclaimed. He appeared unto Abraham as the God of glory; and in that character He called him 'out' of Chaldea and its idolatry. He called him out to be 'separate' and to 'dwell alone'—no, to dwell in 'tents'—temporary dwellings. It was not the removal from one nation to another, or one land to another, that we see in Abraham, but the call to 'dwell alone'—the manifestation of God's purpose to this end.
Abraham dwelt alone. So did Isaac. So did Jacob. So also did Moses at last; though for a time he was drawn into the world, not out of it. Yet afterwards he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, counting the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. First drawn out of the water, then out of Pharaohs house. Egypt soon cast him out, and he 'dwelt alone' and 'separate' In the land of Midian—as a stranger and a sojourner. All his later life was of the same separated kind. He was a true Nazarite, set apart from the world to God.
So was it with Israel. Even 'in Egypt' there was little affinity or sympathy between them and the Egyptians; and the more that their 'hope' came out and brightened—the fellowship became less—and the antagonism the more decided. In 'the desert' they were separate—they 'dwelt alone'—with no society but that of God. When they entered Canaan, they did it to dwell alone. Even there they were not numbered among the nations. They were in the midst of all that was incongruous and hostile; and all things seemed meant to keep them separate, to make them feel their separation. Their place, their character, the calling, their testimony, all corresponded with each other.
First there was round them a wall or barricade of enemies—the Phoenicians on the north, the Philistines on the west, the Edomites on the south, the Moabites and Ammonites on the east. Then there was an outer belt of deserts, and mountains, and seas, accomplishing a double separation; and beyond these there was an interminable stretch of hostile territory—the vast nations of heathenism spreading wide over the world, all of them hostile to Israel.
Truly Israel was separate and dwelt alone. They were not numbered among the nations. The Gentiles never spoke of them but with contempt. To a Greek or Roman, a Jew was the name for all that was weak, morose, foolish, and ignorant. The great worldly streams swept by the tribes and around them, but the Israelites remained alone—unaffected by these mighty motions of earth's kingdoms—until at last their sins drew them into the currents, and they no longer dwelt alone.
But for ages they did dwell alone. They had all things of their own—borrowing from none, dependent on none. With their own self-sustaining land, their own religion, their own city, their own temple, their own God, they dwelt alone. Their internal resources were enough. They needed not to go down to Egypt for help; and what could Babylon and its idols, or Greece and her gods, do for them? They needed nothing from the world. Jehovah was their God, their all; and with His fullness for their inheritance, they could afford to 'dwell alone.'
What was Babylon, or Assyria, or Egypt, to Israel? An enemy, or it might be a tempter—but certainly not an ally or a friend. A distant peace might be between them; but as for fellowship, or brotherhood, or sympathy—that could not be!
What is the world to the Church, or to any single saint? Just what Babylon or Egypt was to Israel. No more. She dwells alone. We know that we are of God—and that the whole world lies in wickedness!
Israel was 'separate' and dwelt alone. This was her position, her portion—such as was appointed her by the purpose of God. The Church is to dwell alone, like Israel. Let us set both these together, illustrating the one by the other.
1. Israel did not need the world's HELP.The nations were stronger than she, but she did not require their strength to lean upon. Their strength was their weakness; her weakness was her strength. They would have helped her, but she would not be helped; and when at last she did accept their aid—it was her ruin! Her help was in Jehovah. Her security was in His favor. With Him upon her side, what was the array of the whole world against her? Her pious kings, such as Asa and Hezekiah, felt this—they prayed and acted accordingly.
Neither does the Church need the help of the world. The less of the world there is in her projects, her enterprises, her hopes, the better. Never has she prospered when she departed to an 'arm of flesh', or to the strength of human greatness, or to the influence of the world's smile. For the world cannot really help one who is not of this world, who has nothing in common with her joys, or cares, or ambitions. And never has the world helped the Church without exacting a favor in return—insisting on or tacitly giving it to be understood that she expects some compromise, some relaxation of her testimony, less of strictness and spirituality—more of congenial fellowship and participation in her pleasures, if not her lusts and sins!
The Church's help is neither in the world—nor in the god of this world. Her help is in the Lord who made heaven and earth. With this divine help she is able to undertake any enterprise, to encounter any foe. Let her lean on His arm alone. It is on this arm that faith leans; it is this arm that unbelief flings from it—to take hold of one more visible, more sensible, more congenial to flesh and blood.
II. Israel did not need the world's RICHES.The world was rich—rich in its own way, and according to its own standard. Israel might have had a share in that wealth. But God had said, It is not for you. You need it not. I have given you a land flowing with milk and honey, abundance of corn and wine. What more do you need? Be content. Be strangers with Me and sojourners—as all your fathers were. When you need the gold of earth, you shall have it. You needed it once when you were leaving Egypt, and you got it without toil. You needed it when you were building a temple for me in my city, and you got it. But seek it not. When required, it will come to you.
Israel! the world's gold is not for you! Church of the living God, your richest are not of earth—your treasure is in heaven. Labor not to be rich! Covet not luxury, and ease, and splendor! Grudge not to be poor. The cross of 'poverty', which your Master bore—you be satisfied to bear also. In the early Church it was so. 'Not many rich, not many noble,' were called. God chose the poor to confound the riches and greatness of earth. Poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing all things. Your riches are God's; they are the unsearchable riches of Christ; they are divine and everlasting. They take not to themselves wings and flee away. You shall have enough before long—when the Lord comes. Meanwhile, be rich in faith, rich in love, rich in all good works!
III. Israel did not need the world's WISDOM.Egypt had learning, Babylon had wisdom, Greece had philosophy. It is easy to see how Israel might covet these; for these have always been—even more than gold—objects of highest ambition of man. But with these Israel was not to meddle. When she tried to do so, she failed. Earth's wisdom would not suit her. The cup of Chaldean magic was not for her. The cloak of Anthenian philosophy did not fit a Jew.
Beside, she had wisdom of her own; wisdom of heavenly origin; not the wisdom of 'conjecture or speculation'—but of certainty, of absolute truth—wisdom which could alone fill and satisfy—wisdom which could gladden and illuminate. In a small volume, no doubt, was that wisdom contained. To the secrets of science it did not extend; of man's goodness or greatness it spoke little; to earthly glory or fame it did not point the way. But it was full of God and the things of God; full of infinite and perfect truth; full of all that could fill, and purify, and ennoble the human soul. One page of it was worth all that Gentile sages could boast of. Israel surely did not need to go to Chaldea or Egypt for wisdom and learning. She had all she needed within herself. She might dwell alone and enjoy it all. Happy Israel! Saved from a thousand doubts, and uncertainties, and vain reasonings, which vex, and fret, and shrivel up the soul! Happy Israel! Led at once God into the green pastures of eternal wisdom, and made to like down beside its quiet waters!
Church of God, all Israel's wisdom—more than all Israel's wisdom—is yours! You have now the fullness of Him in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell; Him in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Rest there. If other wisdom crosses your path, take it, if you are sure that it is truth. But let it be subordinate to the wisdom of Scripture. Place nothing side by side with the wisdom of Christ. Above all, beware of entangling yourself in the perplexities and sophistries of the day, thus rushing into the very thickets from which God, by giving you such a certain revelation, has sought to keep you back.
What! Do you covet 'doubt', when 'faith' is before you? Do you covet 'speculation', when revealed 'certainty' is presented to you? Do you prefer the 'vexed and boiling whirlpool' to the quiet haven or more quiet lake? Be on your guard against the wiles of the devil in these last days. Should not a people seek unto their God? Is His wisdom not the surest, safest, best? Oh, dwell alone! Enter your chamber—shut your door behind you! Learn of God. Fear not the taunt of the world—that you are not abreast of the age—nor imbued with its spirit. Retire to God. Let the world's Babel-sounds of boasted wisdom pass around you, or over you—unheeded. In patience possess your souls. Get your wisdom in communion with God—and in the study of His book.
IV. Israel did not need the world's PLEASURES.And why? Was a Stoic? No! She was happy without the world's pleasures. She had her God to make her happy! Her Sabbaths were happiness. Her feasts were happiness. Her ways were ways of pleasantness—and all her paths were peace. Happy were you, O Israel! Who was like unto you—a people saved by the Lord? How goodly were your tents, O Jacob, and your tabernacles, O Israel! She was the specimen of a happy nation, a prosperous nation—yet dwelling alone—indebted to no nation round for her gladness; indebted to God alone. All other joy was poor and transient when compared to hers. What could Phoenicia, or Philistia, or Syria, or Egypt, give her of true happiness?
So and even more with the Church. The joy unspeakable is hers; the peace that passes all understanding is hers. She does not need to borrow joy from the world! She is not so poor as to be indebted to any man. She has all and abounds. O child of God, is not the joy of God enough for you? Do you require the pleasures of sin, the gaieties of the ballroom, the excitement of the theater, the music of the opera, the frivolities of the world's card-table, the stolen pleasures of the dance, to make up for deficiencies in what God has given you? If He has not given enough, go tell Him, and He will give you more. But do not go to His enemies to borrow! Do not go to Endor, or Ekron, or Egypt—to the world's haunts of vanity, where the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life are cherished! Dwell alone with God, and His Christ, and His Israel. Let these joys suffice. They have proved enough for prophets and apostles; enough for angel and archangel—they may well be enough for you.
V. Israel did not need the world's SOCIETY.Israel knew what this meant—'It is not solitude to be alone.' The society of Gentile idolaters she was commanded not to seek. It would profit her nothing. It would bring neither joy nor strength. It would only weaken and corrupt. 'Evil communications corrupt good manners.' The twelve tribes were society to themselves; and, within the circle of Palestine, Israel found all that was congenial, and elevated, and blessed. For companionship she did not need to go beyond her own narrow bounds. Within these her fellowships lay.
Christian, be separate—dwell alone! Do not seek the society of the world. Don't you know that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? If you have any sympathies with that world—if it contains attractions for you—if God and the things of God are not enough for you—there is something wrong! Do not love the world! Do not seek its friendship. Seek the things above. Beware of the fascinations of worldly company, the spells which gaiety throws over the young. Stand your ground. Be not whirled away into the tossing current of mirthful society on any pretext whatever!
Church of the living God, be separate—dwell alone! That is your security, your strength, your influence. Let the world see that you are not of it—and that you do not need it! It needs you—but you do not need it. And you will serve it best by dwelling alone. Not by coldness, sourness, distance; but by love, congeniality, gentleness, patience, by all acts of benevolence and words of peace. These are things which are only to be found by 'dwelling alone.'
THE MODEL OF A HOLY LIFE
"These are those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes."—Revelation 14:4.
"Follow me!"—John 11:22.
"Leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps."—2 Peter 2:21.
"I Paul myself beseech you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ."—2 Corinthians 10:1.
These four passages point more or less to our responsibility for a holy life—and to Christ as the true model of that life. We are redeemed—that we may be holy. We are freely pardoned—that we may be holy. We look to Jesus—that we may be holy. We are filled with the Spirit—that we may be holy. The true religious life rises out of redemption—and is a copy of Christ's walk on earth. Beholding Him—we are changed into His image, from glory to glory.
The first of these passages refers specially to the future honor of the saints. Their peculiar privilege is to be attendance on the Lamb—'forever with the Lord;' forever beholding His face; forever waiting on Him, sharing His fellowship, doing His will, enjoying His blessedness, when day has broken, and the shadows fled away. They are to be to the Lamb in His exaltation, what the twelve disciples were in His humiliation—'followers'—though in a far higher sense than was known in the days of His flesh. Yet we may use this verse to point out Christ—as our present leader and example. We follow Him here in suffering and service—as we shall follow Him hereafter in glory and in joy!
Christ was our substitute when He was here on earth—we are His representatives now that He is absent. We are to be 'lights in the world,' as He was. For this end we are to 'follow His steps,' live as He lived, love as He loved, speak as He spoke. He is our pattern and model. Shine as He shone! He was the 'Israelite indeed,' the true Nathanael, in whom was no deceit. He was the true Nazarite. Let us be Nazarites as He was—consecrated to God, and separate from the world. Look up, Christian, look up! Not Babylon; but Jerusalem, is your hope and your home. Thus Peter points to Christ as our 'example,' remembering perhaps His last words to himself, 'Follow me.'
The third of these passages connects together the suffering and the example. In it Peter places both before us at once, that we may have our eye on both, not separating the blood from the holiness, yet keeping both distinct, the former as the fountainhead of the latter. Jesus by His blood 'washes,' 'sanctifies', 'justifies' (Romans 5:9; 1 Corinthians 6:11). And while doing so, presents Himself as our model—the true doer of the Father's will.
Let us note Peter's words more at length. Christ for us, or Christ our substitute—that is the first thing. Christ in us, or Christ our life—that is the next. Christ before us, or Christ our model—that is the next. These three great truths make up a large portion of Christianity.
We look to Christ for salvation, and we obtain it as surely and simply as Israel obtained healing by looking at the brazen serpent. We look to Christ for conformity to His likeness—and we are changed into His likeness as we gaze upon Him!
The model or pattern is a COMPLETE one. Others models have only one feature of beauty, and are imperfect. Christ is perfect. Every feature is there; every line is there. We are to grow like it; to be imitators of Christ. We are to copy Him. In copying a man, there is danger of producing a stiff, second-hand, second-rate resemblance. Not so in copying Christ. He is the divine model. It is God's purpose and desire that we copy Him. He is gone to heaven, but has left this pattern as a legacy.
A Christian, then, is a copy of Christ. His inner and outer man are to be copies of Christ. It is Christ's footsteps he is to walk in. It is Christ's image that he is to reflect. It is not Paul, nor Peter, nor Luther, nor Calvin, nor Rutherford that he is to copy—but Christ Himself. Other models may illustrate this, and so help in the imitation of Christ; but only as doing this are they useful; otherwise they are dangerous.
What then is a Christian man?
I. He is a man of FAITH. It was by giving credit to God's word that he became a Christian man; for it is by faith that we become sons of God. And his whole life is to be a life of faith. As Christ lived by faith on the Father, so does he. Christ is his model as a believing man. The more that he understands of Christ's life, the more will he see the faith that marks it, and will learn to copy it, to live, act, speak, and walk by faith.
II. He is a man of PRAYER. In this too he follows Christ. Christ's life was a life of prayer. In the morning we find Him praying a great while before day. All night we find Him praying more. No one, we would say, needed prayer less—yet no one prayed more. And the disciple herein imitates the Master. He prays without ceasing. He is instant in supplication. His life is a life of prayer—constant communion with God.
III. He is a man of HOPE. Christ looked to the joy set before Him—and so endured the cross. He anticipated the glory, and so was a man of hope. There is the hope, the same glory, the same joy for us. The things hoped for are the things we live upon and rejoice in. Our prospects are bright—and we keep them ever in view. The kingdom, the crown, the city, the inheritance—these are before our eyes. They cheer, and sustain, and purify us! Were it not for the hope, what would become of us? What would this world be to us? Learn to hope as well as to believe.
IV. He is man of HOLINESS. He is the follower of a holy Master. He hears the voice—Be holy, for I am holy. He knows that he is redeemed to be holy—to do good works—to follow righteousness—to be one of a peculiar people. He is not content with merely being saved—he seeks to put off sin, lust, evil, vanity—and to put on righteousness, holiness, and every heavenly characteristic. He seeks to rise higher and higher—to grow more unlike this world—more like the world to come. He marks Christ's footsteps, and walks in them. He studies the Master's mind, and seeks to possess it; mortifying his members and crucifying the flesh. He aims at shining as He shone, and testifying as He testified.
V. He is a man of LOVE. He has known Christ's love, and drunk it in, and found his joy in it. So he seeks to be like Him in love—to love the Father, to love the brethren, to love sinners—to show love at all times, in word and deed. His life is to be a life of love, his words the words of love, his daily doings the outflow of a heart of love. He is to be a living witness of the gospel of love. Love—not hatred, nor coldness, nor malice, nor revenge, nor selfishness, nor indifference—love such as was in Christ—that he endeavors to embody and exhibit.
VI. He is to be a man of ZEAL. 'Zeal for Your house has eaten me up,' said Christ. His life was one of zeal for God—zeal for His Father's honor and His Father's business. So is the disciple to be 'zealous of good works.' Zeal steady and fervent—not by fits and starts; not according to convenience, but in season and out of season; prudent, yet warm and loving; willing to suffer and to sacrifice; no sparing self or the flesh, but ever burning; zeal for Jehovah's glory, for Christ's name, for the Church's edification, for the salvation of lost men—this is to give complexion and character to his life.
These things are to mark a Christian man. He is not to be content with less. He is to grow in all these things—not to be barren, not to stagnate, not to be lukewarm—but to increase in resemblance to his Lord—to be transformed daily into His likeness, that there may be no mistake about him—as to who or what he is.
The last of the passages set down at the head of this mediation takes up something special in Christ which we are to imitate—His 'meekness and gentleness.' In the book of the Revelation He is chiefly known by the name of 'the Lamb.' That is His chief name in heaven. He has other titles, but this is given as peculiarly His in the place of His glory.
As Peter thus points to Christ as our model, so also does Paul in the above passage. One feature in His character he specially notes, which shone out very brightly in this coarse, crude world—a world where, all along, man has trodden down man, the stronger the weaker; where strong deeds, as well as strong language, have been accounted heroism and manliness—the proper expression of dignity and superiority—this feature is the Lord's submissive and non-resistance, even with the full consciousness of superior power—His 'meekness and gentleness.'
This meekness of Christ Paul takes up and points to. On this he bases his entreaties to the Corinthians. This is one of the strongest and most earnest of Paul's 'beseechings.' He has many of these; for he 'entreats' when he might 'command;' he uses love when he might wield the rod. 'I beseech you by the mercies of God' (Romans 12:1). 'I beseech you by the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the love of the Spirit' (Romans 15:30). 'We beseech you by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ' (2 Thessalonians 2:1). Here, it is by the meekness and gentleness of Christ that he beseeches.
And why does he beseech them by this? For two reasons—(1) He reminds them of this meekness and gentleness, as if to say, 'Imitate Him who you call Lord and Master and do not proudly withstand the authority of me His servant;' (2) he reminds them of it, as if to say, 'Do not constrain me, the servant, to make use of anything but the meekness and gentleness of the Master.' It is the apostle's last argument in dealing with the rebellious members of the Church. Is it not weighty? Is it not irresistible?
But it is chiefly the 'character of Christ' itself that we would dwell upon here, yet noticing also the bearing of that character upon the obedience of saints, and the submission of sinners to His rule.
I. The PERSON.It is 'the Christ of God.' He has many names, each revealing His person—the Word; the Son; the Only-begotten of the Father; the Light; Immanuel. These express the marvelous constitution of His person as the Christ; Son of God, and Son of man; very God and very man; the Word made flesh; having all divine and all human perfections, all created and all uncreated excellencies exhibited in Him, all fullness deposited in Him; full of grace and truth; the glory of Godhead; the glory of the King of kings.
II. The CHARACTER.It is that of meekness and gentleness—meekness in bearing and forbearing; gentleness in His tender loving treatment of us—both in word and deed. He is 'meek and lowly;' He did not strive nor cry, neither did any man hear His voice in the street; the bruised reed He broke not, the smoking flax He quenched not; He entered Jerusalem on an donkey's colt, as the prophet had written, 'Behold, your King comes' (Zechariah 9:9). No doubt there are other declarations which speak of wrath, and judgment, and vengeance; but these are His 'strange acts' as the great Judge.
His character, as exhibited on earth in all His words and works—was that of lowliness and love. Fury was not in Him. He bore the insults of sinners against Himself; when He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not. He loved, He pitied, He wept, He invited, He entreated, He blessed. He frowned on none except the Pharisee. He spoke no harsh words—He displayed no repulsive looks or tones—He was ever courteous, polite, and affable. All in Him was grace—grace to the uttermost. He was the embodiment of that love which the Apostle Paul has described. He was patient , kind, not easily provoked, thinking no evil, rejoicing not in iniquity, bearing all things, believing all things, enduring all things, never failing! Meeker than Moses, gentler than John, more patient than Job, tenderer by far than His own tender earthly mother—He is in the embodiment of all that is winning and attractive.
All this He was on earth—all this He is still—unchanged and unchangeable—with nothing in Him or about Him to repel us—but everything to attract us—everything to win our confidence. At once the highest of the high, and the lowliest of the lowly. His is the almightiness of divine royalty, for all power is given here—yet the disposition to use that almightiness only to save, and comfort, and bless. Almighty meekness, and meek almightiness! Almighty gentleness, and gentle almightiness! How admirable! How glorious! How blessed! So holy, yet so meek and gentle to the unholy! So abhorrent of sin, yet so pitiful and patience toward the sinner! So capable of executing vengeance and utterly destroying His enemies, yet so patient, so gracious; not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance! So terrible as the Judge, yet so tender as the Savior! His is the iron rod, and the sword of vengeance, and the purging fan, and the devouring fire—yet He says—Come unto me. He weeps over Jerusalem. He prays for His murderers. Ah, what meekness and gentleness are His! Nothing like it on earth, or in heaven—the meekness and gentleness of the God-man. 'Christ did not please Himself!'
III. The bearing of all this on us.It is not in vain that He is thus presented to us. This meekness and gentleness ought to show both on the believer and the unbeliever.
(1.) On the BELIEVER. The meekness and gentleness of Jesus is the strongest motive to our obedience and submission. It is the most impressive rebuke to all pride, or murmuring, or self-will. Having daily to do with one so meek and gentle, shall we not become like Him? Shall we not love Him, and shall we not honor His laws? Shall we not fear to offend Him, and shrink from wounding Him? O believer! Look at this meekness and gentleness, and put away all stubbornness, and self-will, and self-pleasing. And having to do with one so meek and gentle, shall we not put away from us all doubting, all despondency? Shall we allow one hard, one suspicious thought to linger within us? Shall we not put ourselves implicitly into His hands and trust Him forever?
(2.) On the UNBELIEVER. 'Come unto me' are the His first words to you. And His second are like unto them, 'Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.' Yes, He bids you come; He asks you to learn. He is the most accessible of all beings. His door is ever open; His heart is ever open; His arms are ever open. There is nothing in Him or about Him to repel you, though you are the chief of sinners, and the worst of men. His words to the sinner are pre-eminently the words of meekness and gentleness. They are infinitely attractive and encouraging. 'Him who comes to me I will never cast out.' Look at Him; listen to Him; draw near to Him; speak to Him; doubt not, despair not, depart not. Go up to Him—He will receive you. Tell Him your case—He will bid you welcome. He will not cast you away. He has patience to bear with all your foolishness, and ignorance, and stupidity, and unteachableness! He will not get angry with you, as proud men lose their temper with the unteachable or obstinate. He will bear with you. The greatness of your sins shall be no hindrance. The desperateness of your diseases will not make Him repel you. He will receive you graciously, and love you freely. Yes, He comes to you and says—'Behold, I stand at the door and knock.'
DEATH AND THE GRAVE
"And death and the grave were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death."—Revelation 20:14.
It is of His two chief enemies that God here speaks—'death and the grave,' or 'place of the dead' (Hades)—for such, and not hell, ought to be the rendering of the latter of the two words.
This is not the first time, nor the only place, in which they are thus classed together. There is a striking series of passages, running through all Scripture, in which they are names as allies—fellow-workers in the perpetration of one great deed of darkness from the beginning. Often are death and the grave in the lips of Job. David thus speaks of them—'In death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who shall give You thanks?' (Psalm 6:5.) Solomon thus uses them in figure—'Love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave' (Song 8:6). Hezekiah thus refers to them—'The grave cannot praise You; death cannot celebrate You' (Isaiah 38:18). Isaiah thus mentions them in their connection with Messiah—'He made His grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death' (53:9). Hosea thus proclaims their awful fellowship in evil—'I will ransom them (His people) from the owner of the grave; I will redeem them from death; O death, I will be the plagues; O grave, I will be your destruction—repentance shall be hid from my eyes' (13:14). Paul thus takes up the language of the old prophets—'O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is the victory?' (1 Corinthians 15:55.) And then, as the summing up of the whole, we have these strange words of the Apocalypse—'Death and the grave delivered up the dead which were in them; and death and the grave were cast into the lake of fire.'
These last words accord strikingly with those in Hosea; yet they are not meant as a mere quotation or reference, but as an intimation of fulfillment—an announcement as to the way in which God is to execute His threat. 'O death, I will be your plague; O grave, I will be your destruction,' is the old prediction; and of this John records the awful fulfillment, 'Death and the grave were cast into the lake of fire.' This is the end of that death-power which was let loose in Paradise, and which has continued to exercise dominion upon earth through these two channels. The reign has been long and sad; it has been one of dissolution, and blight, and terror; but it ends at last! This dynasty of darkness, this double vice-regency of hell, is broken in pieces—death and the grave are cast into the lake of fire—which is the second death, the death that absorbs all other deaths, the death of deaths, the deepest death of all, the death after which there is no life, and no resurrection, and no deliverance forever.
These two enemies of God and man are here personified as two powers of evil, the one the handmaid of the other—twin demons, coming forth from the blackness of darkness, and returning to the darkness from which they sprang—servants of, or rather co-operators with, the prince of darkness, with him who has the power of death, even the devil, in carrying out the inexorable sentence, 'Dust you are, and unto dust shall you return.' They are treated as two hideous criminals; who, though for a time permitted to go forth, like the Assyrian and Babylonian ravager, to execute the divine commission, are at last called to reckoning, for the havoc they have wrought, and dragged forth, as pre-eminent in crime, to receive their sentence of doom—and to be cast into the lake of fire.
DEATH has been the sword of law for ages; but when it has done its work on earth, God takes this sword, red with the blood of millions, snaps it in pieces before the universe, and casts its fragments into the flame, in the day of the great winding-up, in token that never again shall it be needed, either on earth or throughout the universe.
The GRAVE has been the chain and the prison-house of justice; but when its purpose is served, and justice has got all its own in the heaven of the saved, and the hell of the lost—God gathers up each link of the chain and flings them into the lake of fire upon the head of the great potentate of evil! He demolishes the dungeon to its foundation, and buries its ruins in a grave like that of Sodom—the lake of the everlasting burnings. Death and the grave were cast into the lake of fire!
The great truth taught us here is God's abhorrence of death, and His determination not merely to end it, but to take vengeance on it. Let us then inquire into this, and into the reasons for it.
I. God abhors death.The fact of its existence on earth by His permission, is of no proof of His non-abhorrence; else would the prevalence of sin, side by side with death, be demonstration that He does not hate it. Accustomed with death, as WE sometimes are by its frequency—HE abhors death more truly than even we do who are the subjects of his ravages. We cannot but hate death, even when we have ceased to fear it, and know that for us its sting has been extracted. We hate it, and thrust it from us; loathing its advances, and waging daily war with it—seeking by every contrivance of skill to overcome it and ward off its stroke. We hate it because of its darkness—and its coldness—and its silence. We hate it as the great "robber of our loves and joys"—who gives nothing but takes everything. It cuts so many ties; it rends so many hearts; it silences so many voices; it thins so many firesides; it comes with its dark veil, its screen of ice, between friend and friend, between soul and soul, between parent and child, between husband and wife, between sister and brother. Of human sympathies it has none; it concerns not itself about our joys or sorrows; it spares no dear one, and restores no lost one; it is pitiless and mute; it is as powerful as it is inexorable, striking down the weak, and wrestling with the strong until they succumb and fall.
No wonder, then, that death is so unlovable to us—no, of all objects the most unlovable in itself, though occasionally acquiring some faint attractiveness, or at least losing some little of its hatefulness by its being made the termination of pain, and conflict, and weariness, and the gate into the presence of Him who is our life and joy.
After all, however, our estimate either of its attractiveness or repulsiveness would be of little significance, were it not that on this point God takes our side. His estimate of death coincides with ours. It is to Him even more unlovable than it is to us. He has set limits to its power; He has made it to His saints the very gate of heaven—for blessed are the dead that die in the Lord. He has proclaimed resurrection and incorruption. But still, with all these abatements, He hates it—nor is reconciled to it in one act or aspect. It is, in His eyes, even more than in ours, an enemy, a destroyer, a demon, a criminal, a robber. So thoroughly does He loathe it, that in order to make His displeasure known, He reserves it to the last for doom; He sets it apart for a great striking condemnation, and then casts it into the lake of fire.
But besides this final condemnation, He has given us others equally explicit. He calls it 'the king of terror;' 'the last enemy;' and thus addresses it—'O death, I will be your plague; O grave, I will be your destruction—repentance shall be hid from my eyes'—that is, never will I revoke my sentence against you (Hosea 13:14). Hardly could words be found to express more strongly God's estimate of death, and His determination to abolish it utterly and forever. For six thousand years death has been the fulfiller of His purposes, His rod for the chastisement of His saints, His scourge for clearing earth of His enemies—yet He hates it; and as soon as His ends with it are accomplished, He will show His displeasure against it by casting it into the lake of fire.
There is then abundant consolation for us in this dying world, from the thought that God sides with us in our abhorrence of death and the grave. He is the enemy of our enemies; and specially of this, the chief. When He raised His Son from the dead, He showed us that life and not death, was His purpose, both for Him and for us. Resurrection is at once our faith and our hope. In His great love He has revealed to us the coming victory over death, when He who is our life shall appear to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all those who believe. Because He rose, we shall arise. He has taught us to say, 'I know that my Redeemer lives;' and to add, 'God shall redeem my soul from the power of the grave.' He has made us to hear the sure words—'Your brother shall rise again;' 'I will raise him up at the last day;' 'He shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His own glorious body.'
So that in covering dust with dust at the grave of a saint, we look beyond the tomb and see the glory; our eye rests not upon corruption, but upon incorruption; our fellowship is not with death, but with life. We shall arise. That which is sown in weakness shall be raised in power. The reign of death is hastening to a close, the reign of life about to commence its eternal gladness. Our true life is coming; the conqueror is on His way; He will redeem His own people from the power of the grave, and swallow up death in victory. Behold, I come quickly, He cries. We respond, Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
II. God's reasons for abhorring death.It contains nothing in itself that is lovable; nor has it done any excellent works because of which God or man might love it. Its history is one of evil, not of good; of wrong, and sadness, and terror; of breaking down, not of building up; of scattering, not of gathering; of darkness, not of light; of disease, and pain, and tossings to and fro, not of health and brightness. But God counts it specially unlovable for such reasons as the following—
(1) Death is the ally of sin—'Sin entered into the world, and death by sin' (Romans 5:12). With sin it has gone hand in hand, passing down the generations, and spreading itself round the earth. Partners in evil—sin and death have held dark fellowship together from the beginning—the one reflecting and augmenting the odiousness of other—like night and storm, each in itself terrible, but more terrible as 'companions in havoc'. God abhors death as the fellow and the offspring of sin!
(2) Death is Satan's tool—One of the most fearful of Satan's designations is, 'he who has the power of death.' Death is Satan's most satisfying work—his trustiest weapon. To inflict disease—but not to heal; to wound—but not to bind up; to kill—but not to make alive—these are the works of the devil—which God abhors, and which the Son of God came to destroy. The evil workman and his tool—the master and his servant—are alike hateful in the eyes of that God who loves not evil—but good; not death—but life.
(3) Death is the undoing of His work—'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good.' Specially did he rejoice in man as His handiwork and His property, and in man's body as that material form which His Son was afterwards to assume. God did not intend creation to crumble down or evaporate. But death has seized it! Death—the poison of hell has penetrated everywhere! Man's body and man's earth are falling to pieces, undermined by some universal solvent; the beauty, and the order, and the power giving way before the evil invader! The sculptor does not love the hand that spoils his statue, nor the mother the fever that preys upon her darling—so God has no pleasure in that enemy that has been ruining the work of His hands.
(4) Death has been the source of earth's greatest pain and sorrow—Pain is the messenger of disease, and disease is the touch of death's finger—and with disease and death what an amount of sorrow has poured in upon our world! We come into contact with sorrow only in 'fragments' or 'drops', as it falls upon ourselves and our friends. We cannot estimate the accumulated grief of a year or a century, or even of one day, all over earth. There is no 'sorrow-gauge' to measure the quantity that has fallen all over our earth, since the first drop alighted. If there were such a measurement, we would be appalled at the amount of sorrow which death has inflicted on our race!
But God has measured it! He knows what the amount of human grief has been; and He abhors alike the evil and the doer of it. He does not love sorrow—He has no pleasure in pain—He is not indifferent to creation's groans—and He will yet avenge Himself, and avenge man and man's earth for all the woe which death has wrought—in the day when He destroys death, and banishes pain, and dries up tears, and delivers creation from the bondage of corruption!
(5) Death has laid hands on God's people—Though He permitted Herod, and Pilate, and Nero, and the kings of the earth, to persecute His Church, He was not thereby indifferent to the wrong—far less in sympathy with the wrong-doer. He treasures up wrath against the persecutor—He will judge and avenge the blood of His own. So will He take vengeance on death, the last enemy. He will yet vindicate His saints, and honor the 'holy dust' that has been scattered over sea and earth. Death and the grave shall be cast into the lake of fire, to make known to the universe eternally—His sense of the wrong done. Speaking of the resurrection of His own, and His plucking the prey from the spoiler, He says, 'I will redeem them from death, I will ransom them from the power of the grave;' and then, shaking His hand against the spoiler, He proclaims His purpose of vengeance—'O death, I will be your plague! O grave, I will be your destruction! Repentance shall be hid from my eyes.' For in proportion to His love for His own, is His abhorrence of their injuries—'He who touches them, touches the apple of His eye.'
(6) Death laid hands upon His Son—Death smote the Prince of life—and the grave imprisoned Him! This was treason of the darkest king, the wrong of wrongs, perpetrated against the highest in the universe—God's incarnate Son! And shall not God avenge for this? Shall not His soul be avenged on such a destroyer—for such a crime? If the lowest of His saints shall be avenged—how much more His beloved Son? In the day when God shall judge the world, this deed of darkness shall come into remembrance; and God, in casting death into the lake of fire, shall intimate His abhorrence of death, and His displeasure against this the worst of all his deeds—the slaying of His only-begotten Son!
It is not then resurrection merely, but something more than this, that our text reveals—even God's condemnation of all that death has done. We see, too, His joy in resurrection, and His determination to prevent the recurrence, more—the possibility of the recurrence of such an evil as death. To take the sting from death was much—to abolish death was more—but it is something more still to cast death and the grave into the lake of fire! Surely as over Babylon, the prison-house of the saints, so over death and the grave, when they are thrown into the abyss—we may sing this song of triumph, 'Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you of her—for in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.'
Then shall resurrection be not merely a prospect and a hope—but an accomplished fact; and not merely an accomplished fact—but an irreversible condition of creaturehood. 'Neither shall they die any more,' is the consummation to which resurrection brings us. The inhabitant shall not say, 'I am sick.' The eye shall not be dim, and the ear shall not be dull, and the brow shall not wrinkle, nor the hair be gray, nor the limbs totter, nor the memory fail. There shall be no more curse, nor death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain; for the former things have passed away!
We know that our Redeemer lives, and because He lives, we shall live also! He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and when He appears, we shall appear with Him in glory. And He who shall come, will come, and will not tarry—and those who sleep in Jesus God will bring with Him.
We preach Jesus and the resurrection; Jesus the resurrection and the life; Jesus our life. We bring glad tidings concerning this risen One, and that finished work of which resurrection is the seal; glad tidings concerning God's free love in connection with this risen One. The knowledge of this risen One is forgiveness, and life, and glory. Oh then, what is there in our dying world like this to impart consolation and gladness? We shall not die, but live. Eternity is a life, and not a death; a life with Christ, and a life in Christ. For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall lead us to the living fountains of waters, and God Himself shall wipe away all tears from our eyes!
THE VISION OF THE RESTITUTION OF ALL THINGS
"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth—for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away—and there was no more sea."—Revelation 21:1.
Of these two last glorious chapters, we could say, 'You have kept the good wine until now!' They take us into the shrine of shrines—into the very heart of the glory—into the paradise of God; into the royal banqueting-house—into the very splendor of eternity! What a summing up of God's purposes is here! What a conclusion of the divine oracles! What a termination to the long, long desert-journey of the Church of God, calling forth from us the exulting shout which broke from the lips of the Crusaders, when first from the neighboring height they caught sight of the holy city, 'Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
The first book of Scripture—and the last—fit well into each other; the first two chapters of Genesis and the last two of Revelation fit together like the two halves of a golden clasp set in gems. Enclosed between the two is the history of six thousand years. And what a history! What a beginning, and what an ending! It began with the new, and it ended with the new—the strange checkered 'old' lying mysteriously between.
'In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.'
'I saw new heavens and a new earth.'
Of these Revelation visions, some were seen by John on earth, and some in heaven, according as the point of view suited best the vision and the prophet. His sight of Jesus in His priestly glory was from earth, Patmos itself. Jesus had come down to him and showed Himself face to face. The epistles to the seven Churches are written from Patmos also.
But after this John is called up to heaven, like Paul, to see and hear unspeakable things, which, however, unlike those which Paul saw, would be 'lawful for a man to utter;' and most of the subsequent visions are from this heavenly standing-place. What eyes must his have been—to look upon such terrors and such glories unmoved and undazzled!
Let us notice a few of the many things regarding which he says, 'I saw'—while standing in these heavenly places. We cannot cite even one half. 'I saw twenty-four elders sitting,' 4:4. 'I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice,' 5:2. 'I saw under the altar the souls of those who were slain,' 6:9. 'I saw, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands,' 7:9. 'I saw, another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud,' 10:1. 'I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire,' 15:2. 'I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet-colored best,' 17:3. 'I saw the woman drunken with the blood of saints,' 17:6. 'I saw an angel standing in the sun,' 19:17. 'I saw thrones, and those who sat upon them,' 20:4. 'I saw a great white throne, and Him who sat on it,' 20:2. 'I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God,' 20:12. 'I saw a new heaven and a new earth,' 21:1. 'I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven!' 21:2.
This new heaven and earth which John saw were still future. He saw the future as if it were the present. Yet this new creation shall not be shadowy, but real—as real as that described in Genesis. The former creation passes away, and the new creation comes—new heavens, new earth, new sea. The old creation is not annihilated but only purged and renewed. It passes away as the gold passes into the furnace—to come out purified. It passes away as this 'vile body' does into the grave, to come forth glorious and immortal, yet the same body. The 'restitution of all things' is to do for earth and heaven what resurrection is to do for the body. What a change! What a perfection! What a holy blessedness! Oh when shall the day break, and the shadows flee away!
This first verse most significantly brings before us such things as these—all of them blessed.
I. Here is the end of SIN.The world has lain in wickedness—but it shall do so no more! The overflowing flood of evil shall then be dried up, and sin be known no more upon this earth and under these heavens. What an ending shall be the ending of sin! For six thousand years it has triumphed—then its triumph ends. Not the 'shadow' of sin or evil in any form shall pass over this fair globe. It shall, even more than at the first, be very good!
II. The end of the SERPENT and his seed.How many ages had run out from the time that the serpent seduced Eve and ruined our world—from the hour when God said, 'You are cursed above all cattle—I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed!' The seducer's triumph is now over—he himself is cast out of this earth and bound—the terrible battle of so many ages has been fought, and the battlefield cleared forever—earth is now no longer at Satan's mercy—and no trace of his long dominion over it remains. The creation that he marred, rises from its ruin and sorrow more glorious than at first. His reign is ended—his legions are in chains—his spell is dissolved—his work of disfigurement all undone!
III. The end of the CURSE.From this time there shall be 'no more curse.' He who was made a curse for us, has cancelled earth's curse forever! No cursed thing in any shape shall again be seen—only that which is blessed and holy. The earth and its fullness shall then be the Lord's, in a way until now unknown. Blessed kingdom, and blessed King! From every particle of dust—from air and earth and sea—shall the curse be expelled forever! O fair and spotless creation, great paradise of God! The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose!
IV. The end of CORRUPTION and MORTALITY.These are the FRUIT of the curse—and with the curse they disappear. Death is no more. The grave is emptied. Disease is abolished. The inhabitant shall no more say, I am sick. Feebleness and weariness are unknown. The head aches not, nor the heart. The eye grows not dim, nor the ear dull. All is immortality and incorruption—and beauty and eternal health.
V. The end of SORROW.Into this new creation no grief shall ever enter. The days of mourning shall be ended. Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. God Himself shall wipe away all tears. There shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying. There shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun—for it is written, 'The Lord shall be the everlasting light, and your God your glory!' 'You shall weep no more.' Everlasting joy shall be upon our heads. The valley of tears, shall then be the land of song!
And with the end of these things, shall come the beginning of the glorious and the blessed. The old passes away, and the new comes up like the sun in its strength. Winter is over and gone. It is sweet spring and perpetual summer now. It is the kingdom which cannot be moved—the undefiled inheritance—the reign of righteousness—the reign of the righteous King. Into this nothing that defiles shall enter—nothing unworthy of the presence of the glorious King!
All this for those who once were sinners—the lost and worthless! Blood has brought it. The cross has done it all. Through death, life has come. The crucified Christ has opened the gate for us—and all may go in. The same Jesus who has brought the glory for us, bids us come. Far and wide go out the messages of invitation—Come in, Come in! At each gate waves the blessed hand afar, beckoning us with all urgency to enter. Echoing amid earth's vales and hills, through every land, the trumpet sounds that summons the wanderer, and assures him of most loving welcome. Will you hesitate, O men, or neglect, or scoff, or refuse? All this glory waiting you! These open gates inviting you! And this poor, dark, death-stricken earth speaking to you each hour, and saying, This is not your rest; I have nothing for you but sorrow, and pain, and despair! O men of earth, will you miss the prize thus placed within your reach? Will you despise the love that yearns and weeps over you in your folly? Will you not listen and live? Will you not listen, and go in and become heirs of the glory and the joy?
THE COMING OF THE PERFECT, AND
THE DEPARTURE OF THE IMPERFECT
"The former things are passed away."—Revelation 21:4.
'The things which are seen are temporal,' says the Apostle Paul; and again he says, 'Old things are passed away;' and again, 'The fashion of this world is passing away.' These are words that suit us well in our changeableness, and vanity, and mortality. It would not be well for us, if our present earthly condition were immoveable and eternal. Fading and dying, and then entering on the possession of an unchanging life—this is surely far better than a 'prolonged mortality of pain and weakness' like that which we have here and now.
The words do not teach annihilation of any kind—of man or matter. When one is renewed of the Spirit, there is a new creation—old things pass away, all things become new, yet the man's identity is unchanged. He is the same individual, and yet a new man. So is it here. Former things pass away, all things are made new—yet all are in the truest sense the same—the same, only without the sin, and the evil, and the pain, and the decay.
These former things are many—great and small, material and spiritual—all of them more or less connected with earth and man. Note some of these:
I. The former things connected with the BODY have passed away.Our bodies shared the ruin into which sin brought our race. Mortality and corruption took possession of them. They became subject to pain, and weariness, and disease—in every organ and limb. The one drop of poison coming from Adam's sin has spread itself out and pervaded every part of us. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint. We begin with pain—and we end with it. Our flesh, from the cradle to the tomb, is feeble, broken, ready to faint—the cause and the inlet of a thousand sorrows. It is truly an 'earthly house,' a frail tent, in which we groan, being burdened; a 'vile body,' needing such perpetual care, and food, and medicine, and rest—yet, after all, incapable of being preserved; the seat of a daily warfare between life and death; in spite of all our pamperings, hastening on to the sick-bed and the separation from its guest, the soul.
All this shall yet be reversed. Former things shall pass away. This head shall ache no more; these hands and feet shall be weary no more; this flesh shall throb with anguish no more. 'God Himself shall wipe away all tears from these eyes; and there shall be no more death; neither, sorrow, nor crying, for the former things are passed away.' 'He will take these vile bodies of ours and change them into glorious bodies like His own!'
He who once hung upon the cross, but now sits upon the throne, says, 'Behold, I make all things new.' 'This corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal immortality, and death be swallowed in victory!
II. The former things connected with the SOUL have passed away.The beginning of this renovation was our 'being begotten again into a living hope.' This rebirth displaced the old things and introduced the new. The sin, and the darkness, and the misery, and the unbelief, and the distance from God—all these shall come to a final end. In their place shall come holiness, and love, and light, and joy, and everlasting nearness—unchanging and unending fellowship with that Jehovah in whom is life eternal. Every fragment of evil shall be expelled from our souls—and we shall then know what perfection is—perfection according to the mind and after the image of God—perfection without a flaw, or taint, or shadow—perfection without the possibility of reversal or diminishing. From our heart, from our conscience, our intellect, our feelings, our affections, from every part of our spiritual being—shall all evil depart. 'Former things shall pass away.' We shall be holy as God is holy; we shall be perfect as He is perfect; we shall be children of the light and of the day in the fullest sense—no trace of remaining sin in any part of us. We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is! We shall be changed into His image from glory to glory! He who is righteous shall be righteous still; he who is holy shall be holy still.
III. The former things connected with the EARTH have passed away.Since man fell, this earth is the seat of evil. The curse came down on it—creation was subjected to the bondage of corruption—Satan took possession of it. It has been overshadowed with sin, overspread with misery. Its air full of sighs and groans—its soil made up of decomposed bodies—its cities the centers of ungodliness and rebellion—its thrones the fountainheads of misrule—God disowned—Christ rejected both in State and Church—the Bible despised—the gospel mocked—blasphemy resounding on all sides—evil everywhere!
These are the former things which shall pass away. Satan shall be bound, and his angels traverse earth no more. The devouring lion shall be in chains, and 'no lion shall be there.' The curse shall vanish from creation; the blight disappear. Beauty shall clothe all things. Paradise shall return. Holiness shall revisit earth. God shall once more delight in it and set His throne in it. The second Adam shall be its Lord and Ruler. His scepter shall supersede the oppressive scepter under which the race has groaned from Nimrod downwards. Righteousness shall flourish, and holiness to the Lord be inscribed everywhere. The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads. The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the lamb. The meek shall inherit the earth—and the glory of the Lord shall shine over all its skies. There shall be the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwells righteousness.
And all this irreversible! No second fall. No second overflow of evil. No failure on the part of the righteous King. No waxing old; no ruin; no decay; no return of disease and death. All is everlasting! Messiah—even He who died for us and who rose again—is on the throne, and no usurper can assail it! He ever lives and ever reigns!
Blessed consummation and hope! It draws nearer and nearer. Soon shall 'time' no longer be. Soon shall this present evil world give place to the glorious world to come. Our king is coming! He will not tarry. Our Bridegroom is at hand! He is not slack concerning His promise. In an hour when we do not think, He will arrive. Are we ready? Is the oil in our vessels? Have we put on the garments of beauty? Are we preparing to bid Him welcome? 'Lo, this is our God, we have waited for Him!'
THE GLORIOUS BRIDE
"And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, come here, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife."—Revelation 21:9.
These are two names for the church of God, the redeemed from among men. They are not the same in meaning, though both referring to the Church's peculiar relationship to Christ. They point out her two successive states, her present and her future, in the former of which she is the bride, in the latter the wife. First she is the bride—then the wife. The 'bride' up until the day of the Bridegroom's return—after that the 'wife'—the 'Lamb's wife.'
She is represented here as the new Jerusalem; but this is in a figure, just as God speaks of the old Jerusalem as His wife—meaning thereby the people, the dwellers in that city, His chosen Israel, whom He had betrothed to Himself by an everlasting covenant (Isaiah 54:5-10). In the wilderness, Israel was the bride or betrothed one (Jeremiah 2:2); in Jerusalem, she was the 'married wife' (Isaiah 54:1, 62:5)—so is it with the Church. In this, her wilderness state, she is the bride; in her coming city-state, or Jerusalem-state of glory, she shall be the wife—the days of betrothment being ended, and the marriage come. Hence, it is that the bride addressing the Bridegroom says, 'Come!' and the Spirit, who had been preparing and adorning her for the marriage day, joins her in desiring its arrival—'The Spirit and the bride say, Come' (Revelation 22:17).
Regarding this 'bride' or 'wife'—for we consider her as both in what follows. We inquire—
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 base. Of the old Jerusalem it was said, 'Your father was an Amorite, and your mother an Hittite' (Ezekiel 16:2, 3); all this, and much more may be said of the Church. She was an outcast, utterly poor and unknown—no, defiled and hateful. Without goodness, without beauty; without personal or family recommendation; unloving and unlovable; an alien, a captive, a rebel. She lacked everything that could make her lovely in the eyes of one seeking a bride; she possessed everything that could forbid and repel. Such were you once, O saint; such are you still, O sinner!
II. How and why she was fixed upon.The Father chose her; that is all that we can say. 'Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.' In the good pleasure of His goodness, and according to the exceeding riches of His grace, He fixed on her—the unlikeliest of all—to be the bride of His Son. 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? She is the object of the Father's eternal choice, as Rebekah was the choice of Abraham for his son. She is also the object of the Son's choice and love, as Rachel was Jacob's choice, and as Pharaoh's daughter was Solomon's. 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 Bridegroom 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 forever. Thus she is plucked from the dungeon and the curse and the wrath—which were her portion.
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 suite in absence, through the intervention of others, as Isaac's proposals to Rebekah were carried on through the faithful Eleazar of Damascus. It was with this suit that Paul felt himself charged, when he went about 'preaching Christ'; for, speaking to the Corinthians, he says—'I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ' (2 Corinthians 11:2). So it is with this suit that ministers are charged—no, all friends of the Bridegroom. We come to sinners as did Eleazar to Rebekah. We tell of our Isaac's noble lineage, His riches, His honors, 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 honorable it would be for you to be the bride of such a bridegroom—and we say, 'Will you 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 the snow. Having taken her out of the horrible pit and the miry clay—having drawn her with the cords of love and the bands of a man—He proceeds to divest her of everything that made her unlovable—and to bestow on her everything that could make her lovely and attractive in the eyes of the Bridegroom.
Part of the preparation is now in this present world—but much is reserved for the future, and especially for the day of the first resurrection. White robes are given her—not purple, or scarlet, or glittering jewels, such as the harlot Church is decked with—but the fine linen, which is the righteousness of the saints. For her a throne is prepared; a beautiful crown set upon her head; a royal banquet is made ready; and all this in the Bridegroom's own glorious city, the new Jerusalem!
Of this wondrous future we know but little now. It does not yet appear what we shall be. But we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. To that day when the marriage shall take place, and the long-waiting bride shall become the Lamb's wife, Scripture has bidden us look forward as our hope. And it is a blessed hope. For then shall the long absence cease, and we shall see Him face to face, whom not having seen we loved. Then shall the day break and the shadows flee away. Then shall the everlasting festival begin in the great palace hall of the new Jerusalem. Then shall the Bridegroom rejoice over the bride. 'He shall rest in His love, He shall joy over her with singing.' Then shall the Song of Songs be sung and understood, in a way such as it could not be sung or understood before; and we shall hear the Bridegroom call his bride the 'fairest among women,' 'His love, His dove, His undefiled;' and we shall hear her call Him 'the Chief among ten thousand!'.
Such then is the honor in store for the redeemed—to be 'the bride, the Lamb's wife!' As such He writes upon her the name of His God, and the name of the city of His God, and His own 'new name;' so that after the marriage is completed, the bride loses her own and takes her Husband's name; the Lamb and the Lamb's wife becoming more indissolubly one—one in name, and nature, and glory, and honor, and dominion—forever! To get the tree of life and the hidden manna—to get the white stone, and white clothing, and the morning star—all that is much. But to be the bride, the Lamb's wife, and as such to be partaker of His love, and blessedness, and glory—this is surely more—how much more only the day of the Bridegroom's coming will reveal!
Such is the love of God. It is the love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father chooses in His own sovereignty; the Son washes in His own blood; the Spirit purifies and prepares by His mighty power. Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us! It is free love! Sovereign love! Eternal love!; Unchanging love! Boundless love! Love which not merely delivers from wrath—but which makes the delivered one an heir of God, more—the bride, the Lamb's wife!
This is the day when the proposals are made to the sons of men; when, in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we urge the blessed entreaty upon sinners, that they may be partakers of this infinite honor. We set before you all the worth, and the glory, and the love of this divine Bridegroom—and ask you to accept the proposal and ally yourself to this glorious One. Among men, to be offered the prince's hand in marriage is counted no small honor; what then must be the offered hand of the King of Kings?
O men, accept the glory! Listen to the proposals made to you in the name of the Son of God. We describe His excellency and beauty. We tell you also of the honor for which the church is destined. We say, 'Come here, and I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife!' We point you to the resplendent glory of that city, which is after all but part of her dowry, part of her adorning; and we invite you to a share in its glory! We make known the Father's testimony concerning His own free love, and concerning the blood and righteousness of His Son. We demand your present acceptance of that testimony, that in the belief of it you may become a sharer of the glory and the kingdom!