A Glimpse of the Redeemed in Glory!
James Hamilton, 1814-1867
"After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: 'Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.' All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: 'Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!' Then one of the elders asked me, 'These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?' I answered, 'Sir, you know.' And he said, 'These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes!'"
There can be no question that this description unveils a state of glory. It is a glimpse of Heaven—one of the fullest and most satisfactory which the Bible gives. Perhaps it may do us good to dwell on it. It may give us more lifelike and more homelike thoughts regarding those who have gone to it; and it may make us more diligent in insuring that we ourselves shall go thither!
All that need be said may be summed up in answer to these two questions:
Who are there?
And what are they doing there?
We speak not now of the original inhabitants, but of the Redeemed from among men, and we ask:
1. Who are there?
A MIGHTY multitude."A great multitude, which no man could number." Not a stinted few—not a scanty and reluctant remnant, but a mighty host; like God's own perfections, an out-flowing and exuberant throng—like Immanuel's merits which brought them there, something very vast and merging into infinity.
A MISCELLANEOUS multitude."Of all nations, and kindred, and people, and tongues." For many ages, one nation supplied most of the inhabitants. Most of those who passed the pearly gates, had spoken the Hebrew tongue while on earth. But Jesus broke down the partition wall; and since his gospel went into all the world, all the world has contributed its citizens to the new Jerusalem.
The Latin tongue has sent its Cornelius and its Clement; the Greek tongue has sent its Apollos and its Stephen, its Lydia and its Phoebe. The Philippian jailor is there; and there is the Ethiopian treasurer. All kindred and people are there—men of all aptitudes and all instincts—men of all grades and conditions; the herdsman of Tekoah—and the fisherman of Galilee; the head that once wore Israel's crown—and the genius which managed all the realm of Babylon. And there, suffused with sanctity and softened into perfect subjection, we may recognize the temperament or the talent which gave each on earth his identity and his peculiar interest.
David has not laid aside his harp, and there is still a field for Isaac to meditate. Solomon may have still the eagle-eye which searches Nature's nooks, and scans the infinitude of things; and Moses may retain that meek aspect to which no future was anxious, and no spot suspicious, for every place and every future was filled by a Covenant-God. Peter's step may still spring elastic and eager on the sapphire floor; while Paul triumphs in some lofty theme, and John's love-curtained eye creates for itself a brighter Heaven.
Blended and overborne by the prevailing likeness to the elder Brother, each may retain his mental attributes and moral features; and in their magnitude, and the tinting of their rays, the stars of glory may differ from one another.
A multitude who once were MOURNERS."These are those who came out of great tribulation." To live in a world like this was itself a tribulation . . .
a world of distance from God,
a world of faith without sight,
a world of wicked men.
To have had to do with sin was a terrible tribulation; from the time that they were first convinced of it, and abhorred themselves in dust and ashes, all along through the great life-battle, contending with manifold temptations—contending with the atheism and unbelief within—contending with their own carnality and sloth, their pride and worldly-mindedness, their unruly passions and sinful tempers. But these in white robes have come out of that tribulation! They are forever done with conviction for sin, and the broken spirit, and the daily struggle, and the entire tribulation of sin.
And most of them had sorrows of another sort—the tribulation of personal trials.
One of them had a noble family and a splendid fortune—but the same black day saw that fortune fly away, and the grave closed over seven sons and three daughters!
Another was a king; and his heir-apparent was his pride and joy—a youth whose beauty was a proverb through all the realm—so noble and yet so winsome that his glance was fascination, and the people followed his chariot with delirious plaudits. But while the doting father eyed with swelling bosom his gallant successor—the selfish youth clutched at his father's crown; and the old monarch fled with a bursting heart, to return with a broken one—for his misguided son was slain!
One of them filled a place of power in a heathen land, and fidelity to his God brought him into constant jeopardy; until, bereft of title, and torn from his mansion—he was flung, food for lions, into their howling den.
Another was an evangelist, who delighted to go from city to city proclaiming that Savior whom he dearly loved; until the grasp of tyranny bore him away to an ocean-rock, and left him to chant the name of Jesus to wailing winds and booming waves.
Many others were "destitute, afflicted, tormented"—but from all tribulation they have now come out, and are a safe and happy multitude before the throne.
A multitude who shall form AN ETERNAL MONUMENT OF THE REDEEMER'S GRACE AND POWER—a multitude who "have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb!"
There was a time when their robes were not white. Of many, their character was stained by sensuality, and earthliness, and sin. And though some had little more than the dingy dye of the natural depravity—others were filthy with many a crime, and much vile pollution.
But in His marvelous grace, God opened a fountain for human guilt, and filled it with the precious blood of his own dear Son; and in that sin-purging fountain, these ransomed ones had washed their filthy robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb!
It was there that Abel, so amiable and innocent, felt it needful to seek a cleansing, and trusted to a more excellent sacrifice than that which smoked on his own altar.
It was there that Enoch found the white robe in which he walked with God.
It was thither that Manasseh carried his clothing, red with the blood of Jerusalem, and found it suddenly white as snow!
And it was there that the dying thief, blackened with many an atrocity, washed away his stains, and was that same hour fit for Paradise!
White is the uniform of glory—the spotless righteousness of Immanuel. This is the only garb which a child of Adam can wear before the throne of God! And though the apparel of some may be more curiously wrought and exquisitely embroidered than that of others—though the hand of the beautifying Spirit may have made it "clothing of needlework"—the hue and luster of each is the same.
Every redeemed sinner in glory wears the vesture radiant with redeeming righteousness—the snowy robe which speaks of the fountain opened, and which will commemorate the blood of the Lamb through eternity!
Such are the human inhabitants of Heaven.
2. But what do they do there?What is their employment and their blessedness?
They celebrate a victory.They have "palms in their hands." They are what the second and third chapters describe as "overcomers." They have fought a good fight, and won the battle. Or, rather, they celebrate the victory which the Captain of their salvation has won for them. As the fifth chapter explains these palms: "You are worthy; for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and have made us unto our God kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth!"
It was once very likely that they would be worsted.
The WORLD opposed them. As Amalek withstood Israel as soon as he knew that Israel wished to go to Canaan—so the world opposed the believer as soon as he set his face towards Zion. First the world laughed—and then it frowned. First friends jeered and jested, and tried to shame him out of his religion—and then they looked severe. Ungodly relatives censured his foolish preciseness and fantastic scruples; and ungodly comrades sought to entrap him into ridiculous or wrong positions; and he felt so weak and friendless, that he was often ready to lose heart and give up this battle.
The FLESH opposed him. It fawned on him, and flattered him, and said, "Master, spare yourself!" It coaxed him to be absent from the sanctuary, and to slur over secret devotion, and to make slight work of God's service. And again he was ready to give up. He felt that he had acted a part so ignoble and imbecile, that it would be more consistent to abandon his Christian profession altogether, and become once more an easy-minded worldling.
The DEVIL opposed him. The great adversary filled his mind with fearful doubts and impious suggestions. Fiery darts were constantly landing in his bosom; and in the face of his most sober convictions, he would find himself questioning the most essential truths—the atonement's sufficiency, or the gospel's efficacy, or even the existence and perfections of God. Or he would find his heart dying away from the objects which once were dearest; rather shunning, than courting Christian fellowship; sitting with averted eye, or delinquent heedlessness, under the preaching which once engrossed him; tossing aside the books with which he used to be so enchained and edified; seeing no force nor fullness in those texts which used to feed his soul as with marrow and fatness; and deliberately eyeing that same Savior whom his soul once loved, but perceiving in him no beauty that he should desire him.
And again he was ready to halt. "Am I not a hypocrite?" he asked himself; "and would it not be more honest to quit the name, seeing I have lost the reality?"
But while he was thus trembling on the very verge of apostasy, an unseen power came to his rescue. The truths of God, or the terrors of judgment, or the attractions of the Savior—affected him afresh; and, he hardly knows how, but he was constrained once more to turn his face to the foe. The battle began anew; and though he cannot boast of his exploits, he was fighting when he fell. The sword of the Spirit was then in his hand—a palm is in it now. And he wonders. How strange that such a dubious fight should end in such a glorious victory!
But here is the explanation: "You are worthy!" It was you, Captain of salvation, who shielded my head in the day of battle. It was you who upheld my slipping feet, and revived my fainting spirit. It. was you who repelled those temptations which I hardly resisted, and gave me victories where I put forth no valor. It was you who slew the foe that wounded me, and by conquering death for me, have secured that your servant shall be conquered no more. Thanks be to God, who gave me the victory, through my Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks for this vicarious conquest; and thanks for that bloodless, but blood-bought palm.
They SERVE God."They cry with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb!" "They are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple." Adoration at the throne, activity in the temple—the worship of the heart, the worship of the voice, the worship of the hands—the whole being consecrated and devoted to God; these are the service of the upper sanctuary.
Here on earth, the flesh is often wearied with an hour of worship; there, "they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come."
Here on earth, a week will often see us weary in well-doing; there, they are drawn on by its own deliciousness to larger and larger fulfillments of Jehovah's will.
Here on earth, we must lure ourselves to work by the prospect of rest hereafter; there, the toil is luxury, and the labor is recreation—and jubilees of praise and holidays of higher service will not be lacking to diversify the long and industrious Sabbath of the skies. And it matters not though sometimes the celestial citizens are represented as always singing, and sometimes as always flying—sometimes as always working, and sometimes as always resting—for there, the work is rest; and every movement is song; and the "many mansions" make one temple; and the whole being of its worshipers are one tune, one mighty anthem, as long as eternity, and large as its burden, the praise of the great Three-One—the self-renewing and ever-sounding hymn, in which the flight of every seraph, and the harp of every saint, and the smile of every enraptured spirit, is a different note, and repeats ever over again, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come!"
They SEE God."He who sits on the throne shall dwell among them." Or, as we have it in chapter 22:4, "They see his face!" Where the natural enmity is destroyed, and the soul is brought really to love God and delight in him—there will be times in its history when it will desire more fruition of the great I AM than it has ever experienced yet. And when it is thus breaking, for the longing which it has to look upon infinite excellence, it can sympathize with the exclamation of Augustine, "Lord, have you said, 'There shall no man see me, and live?' Then, let me die, that I may see you!"
Or rather, it can sympathize with the exultation of the patriarch, when he espied afar off his living Redeemer, and forgetful of his miserable plight, started from the dust-heap, and triumphantly exclaimed, "In my flesh shall I see God!"
This is Heaven. To be brought so near the perfection of beauty, that every competing perfection will look paltry—so near the Fountain of life, that we shall know no blessedness in which God does not form the largest element—so near the Light of life and the Source of love, that we can never more drag our hearts away! This is to dwell in God, and have God dwelling in us; and what more is needful to make it Heaven?
They follow the Lamb."For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water." Even in Heaven something of the mediatorial economy survives. Even where they see God, they follow the Lamb, and a close and conspicuous relation continues to exist between the Redeemer and his ransomed ones. He remains the leader of his blood-bought company; and while he prescribes their occupation, he is the immediate source of their blessedness.
They will have faculties capable of vast expansion, an avidity for excellence which is now insatiable, and a susceptibility of sacred enjoyment which nothing can content short of all the fullness of God. And the spiritual food—the soul-expanding and heart-gladdening truth—the Savior supplies. The Lamb feeds them.
And in his care for them, he guides them to one well-spring of wonder and one river of pleasure after another. He leads them to living fountains of waters. The Godhead is a boundless sea, on which the thin island of creation floats; and though the region is ever so dry and arid—a burning Baca—and though the object is ever so bleak and bald—a grim Horeb, a flinty rock—it needs only the touch of the prophet's rod, and forthwith a fountain springs as exhaustless as that divine perfection whence it flows.
In that better country the Horeb never stops, and the Baca never dries. The fountains play perpetually, and the waters ever live. And the Lamb is familiar with them all. To the woody brink of one, he leads his white-robed followers; and in its fringing glories and populous profound, they read the riches of creative power and skill. To the melodious verge of another, he conducts them; and in the fountain of light which gushes high, and flings its rainbow wide—in the balm scattered by its wafted dews, and the songs with which the branches wave—they hear it endlessly repeated, "God is love!"
And to another still—he guides them; and, simple as the margin looks, and limpid as the waters are, it dilates and deepens as they gaze—deepens until it mocks the longest line, widens until Gabriel's eye can see no shore; and in its fathomless abyss, and ever-retreating bound, they recognize the divine unsearchableness. In Paradise every fountain lives, and each living fountain is a lesson full of God.
And, just to complete the glance—there are some things which there they never do. They do not want, they do not weary, and they do not weep. "Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes!"
And now, if any of your friends have slept in Jesus, is it not blissful to know how they are engaged? You and they once journeyed together; but a sudden door opened, and your father, or brother, or child was snatched from your side; and before you could follow, or even glance in, the door closed again. But the Lord has opened a crevice in the enclosing wall, and bids you to look and see. See where they are—see what they are doing now. You are in great tribulation—it is even your tribulation to be deprived of them; but they have come out of all tribulation.
You often find it hard to reach the throne of grace—hard to prevail with yourself to pray—but they never leave the throne of God, but serve him day and night in his temple.
It is only by faith that you can walk with Jesus; but they see God, and follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
You suffer much from sickness, and languor, and bodily discomfort—our summers are too sultry, and our frosts are too keen—and you lose much time through infirmities of the flesh, but, "Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat."
Your heart is often likely to break; between the unkindness of some and the sufferings of others, you have tears to drink in great measure. But God himself has wiped away all tears from their eyes.
Your best frames and most blessed services are very brief; there is only one Sabbath in your week, and that is soon gone. But their palm never withers; their hallelujahs never cease; their congregation never breaks up; their Sabbath knows no end!"
"Therefore, comfort one another with these words!"