<< Revelation 7: The Blood of the Lamb >>
14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. REVELATION VII
The study of the Book of Revelation is one of great interest. It is the last book of the Word, and, like all other last things, it contains the result of all that has gone before. In it the Lord is presented as the First and the Last. In it you have paradise brought again to view, as in the first part of the Word, but paradise with a city — the innocent happiness of early days, with the cultivation of all succeeding times. The struggles spiritually represented in the wars of Israel — the struggles of the soul and the Church against evil and error — are here reproduced, and are shewn to find their final end in the triumph of the Lamb. They end by the reduction of all conditions, states, and ages, to the government of Divine Love, Wisdom, and Order, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. ” The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ ; and He shall reign for ever and ever. The prophecies are represented in this book, for it is all prophetical; and the Lamb, which is constantly kept before us in its sublime representations, never allows us to forget the gospel of Him who taketh away the sins of the world. The expressive symbols, too, which fill this, book will afford us the key to arrive at those divine correspondences by which the whole Word of God is given to men. As in true order everywhere the last contains the first and all the intermediates, the results are the effects of all which has gone before. Works always flow from principles, and contain them; so in this Divine Book all the great subjects of the Word are finally brought forward, and find their crowning exposition in this last portion of Holy Writ.
Another important lesson to be derived from the Book of Revelation is the nearness, fullness, and grandeur of the spiritual world. To behold its scenes, St. John had to traverse no wide distances, to seek no remote spheres. His spirit’s senses were opened. He was in the spirit, and then saw and heard. He found the spirit-world, though unseen, was near, and its inhabitants as real and more beautiful than the tenants of this outer world. We shall do well to attempt to realize the magnificent scene which the apostolic seer then beheld. “I saw,” he says, “a great multitude, whom no man could number, of all nations, and kindred, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.” The veil which hides the eternal world from view was for the time withdrawn. And there were seen the countless myriads of the redeemed — not formless nothings, but glorious as they were good — clothed with white robes, the emblems of their purity; with palms in their hands, the emblems of the victory which each one of that glorious company had won over self and sin. There stood an innumerable host of those already redeemed. And, their hearts glowing with love, poured out their song of gratitude, “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.” They feel, and they confess with adoring love, that God in Christ has saved. Unless the Divine had saved them by the Human, not one would have been there. God the Infinite, they worship, as the fountain of all redemption. But God, by His humanity, came nigh to them, and brought them nigh to Him. He is the everlasting Father and their Father; all their help and all their blessings are from Him. Again, then, and again, they exultingly adore, saying; ” Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever.” May this, my beloved hearers, when we arrive in eternity, be our feeling and our glorious song.
Let me now invite your attention to the question put to the apostle. It is of very interesting import. One of the elders came to the apostle,- who was doubtless filled with admiration at the astonishing scene he beheld, and to lead him to more exact information, said to him, ” What are these who are arrayed in white robes, and whence came they ? These questions are of great significance, when we bear in mind that, under the names of the twelve tribes, of each of whom twelve thousand were sealed, are represented all who belonged to the Lord’s true Church in the world. There are various degrees of goodness and truth in the Church. These are signified by the different tribes. All who are genuinely in any of these are preserved and protected from harm in those wondrous judgments in the spiritual world, which take place at the end of a dispensation of religion on earth, and prepare the way for a new one. It was an error which clung to many of the early Christians, and to which all Christians are too prone to suppose that none but those who belong to the true Church are saved. Many of those who shrink from and condemn individual selfishness have not the same vigilance against the selfishness of sect. Hence many of the early Christians imagined that only those who kept the Jewish law and were Christians besides could be saved, and this opinion led to much dispute about keeping the law and not keeping the law in that sense. Others, since their time, have imagined that salvation could not be found out of the pale of their respective Churches, even after those Churches had become very different from the Church of Christ. And we all need to be much upon our guard, lest we respect and approve persons, not because of the Christian virtues they possess, but because they belong to our denomination. And, on the other hand, we should even fly from the danger of approving of the worthless, if only they acknowledge the same name as we. We should form communities, band together, and work together, because only so can extensive good be done in the world. But we should never esteem a bad person because he belongs to us, nor despise a good one because he bears some other name. We should never let our kind feelings be circumscribed by party, but, on the contrary, look upon our party only as a means by which we can extend the government of goodness and truth, and be a blessing to mankind. We should work faithfully and earnestly with our section of the Lord’s family, but honour all who are good and true to that which they believe right. Our Lord said, “Other sheep have I that are not of this fold, them also I must bring, so that there may be one fold and one shepherd. There is not only the true Church in the world, but, under every form of error, the Lord has a Church known to Him, consisting of those who love Him and love to do good to others: who can say with St. John, “By this we know that we have passed from death to life; because we love the brethren” These, in every communion, are nearer to the like-minded of other denominations than they are to the selfish and worthless of their own. These, then, when they are purified from their mistaken views, when their robes are fully washed, so that no spot of error remains upon them, stand before the throne as accepted and victorious ones in the sight of the Lamb. For this reason, then, the apostle was first shown the twelve tribes, and they were sealed. Of course you are aware that, literally, there had been no twelve tribes for nearly eight hundred years before the vision of St. John. Since Tiglath Pileser carried away the ten tribes of Israel there had only been two. It was not, therefore, to the tribes themselves the scene alluded, but to the Church they represented. After then the Church itself is described as saved; then the great multitude which no man could number are described. They were from all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues. These were neither despised nor forgotten. They stood before the throne. The black and the white, the slave and the free, the polished Greek and the untutored barbarian, the patient Hindoo, the plodding Chinese, the roving Indian, and the praceful Persian— all who shunned evil as sin in the sight of God, and did justly to others so far as they knew it — these would be inwardly clothed in white, and have the palm of victory. Oh! how delightful it is to think of this glorious addition to the heaven of our Lord! And, while we rejoice to see His visible Church extending among men, we can also rejoice to think that, from the thousand millions of human beings who people this earth at one time. He is drafting a great multitude whom no man can number, and making them everlastingly happy in some of the many mansions which form our Heavenly Father’s kingdom.
They are said to have white robes, because the dress of the soul is meant. The Lord is said to clothe Himself with light, as with a garment; the soul clothes itself with truth, as with a garment. Good surrounds itself with truth, as fire does with light. Truth adorns the soul as a heavenly garment. Truth protects us from the chilling blasts of sneering assaults. Let a person be sure that he is right, and when he is bitterly assailed he will wrap himself in this consciousness of having the truth on his side, and remain unshaken and invulnerable. Truths thus protecting the soul from danger, and adorning it with graces, are what is meant by the beautiful garments of which the prophet speaks: ” Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean.” — Isa. lii. 1. It is not, however, knowledge as furnished to us that forms a heavenly garment; that is only the rough material. What we hear and read must be pondered over and turned on every side; we must then bring the varied lessons to bear upon one another. We must see their harmony, their coherence together, and their relation to other truths. Thus, by the activity of the intellect, we shall turn the separate lines into spiritual cloth, which may afterwards form a dress. But it is only when we adapt the system of doctrine we have learned our own requirements of heart, mind, and life, that it really becomes a dress for us. And when this is really done, it is wonderful to observe how much there is alike in the dress of every one earnest to be good. He may belong to those who confess to believe in God as three equal divine persons ; but in spiritual struggles he will be so habituated to look to the Lord Jesus Christ, and find help in Him, that He will really be the object of the affections and inner thought. The Unitarian may, in words, deny the proper divinity of the Lord Jesus; but when he looks above Him he finds nothing — no form, no object. He cannot make a Father out of air. The earnest seeker in his soul’s sorrow goes to the Saviour, as his Helper, Mediator, and Friend; until, finding this glorious Being ever before him, he at length finds the great manifested God is only to be met with there. The humanity of the Lord is the mercy-seat — the propitiatory where the Father can alone be seen, alone be met. “No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me,” He said; and this is practically realized by all who seek a real salvation, until everything inconsistent with this falls unheeded on the ear, however much it may be said or sung in creeds. So with the love and life of religion. Although one person may have been taught that those only will be saved who were ordained from all eternity to be so, another that faith only is the saving principle, and a third that they only can be saved who have had faith in a Church which thinks it has been blessed, not with apostolic principles, but apostolic succession. Yet those who are interiorly good, of these, and all the other varied forms of religion, will seek to shun evil which would harm another in any way, will carefully endeavour to carry out the precepts of devotion, charity, and kindly feeling, will try to fulfill their duties most carefully in all their daily operations, and thus inwardly supply themselves with the white robes of pure and true heartfelt religion. The outer dress they wear before men, the profession they make, is greatly different; but the inner dress, the pure robe they wear in the sight of the Lord, is equally white and spotless in each.
These are the robes to which our Lord alluded when He said to the church of Philadelphia, “I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich, and white robes that thou mayest be clothed. ” — Rev. iii. 18. For wanting such a robe, he who had got already among the guests of the great king was rejected, as we read in Matt. Xxii 11, 12:And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man who had not on a wedding garment: and he said unto him, Friend, how earnest thou in hither, not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.” Each person must have a robe, and it must be a wedding garment. They have no garments of celibacy in heaven. The truth of every one there is joined to love. There is no cold light, like that in winter. Everything there is conjoined. Charity and truth, love and wisdom, knowledge and affection, word and work. All heaven is full of the marriage principle, and the whole is united to the Lord, the grand husband. All who are invited there are welcomed to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. xix. 9). Of heaven it may be truly said, in the words of the prophet, ” Thy land shall be married.” — Isa. lxii. 4. Hence, then, the robe in which the soul must be clothed must be a wedding garment. And each one must have his own robe. That religion only which a man has adapted to himself, and made his own, will be serviceable to his everlasting state. And here allow me to notice the strange and unscriptural error of those who maintain that we are saved by the imputed merits of the Lord Jesus; meaning His righteous acts being imputed to us, or set down to our account, as if His merits became our merits. It is said, “We are clothed in His righteousness,” and thus only can appear in heaven. The practical effect of this is as sad as its statement is unscriptural and destitute of reason. Just as much right have we to pretend that the merit of creation may be attributed to us, as the merit of redemption. The Lord’s works are all those of one infinitely excellent, and can none of them be assigned to any other. ” I am the Lord, that is my name, and my glory will I not give to another.”
The robe of the Lord Jesus can never be worn by finite mortals. “On His thigh and on His vesture is a name written. King of kings, Lord of lords.” — Rev. xix. 16. What can man have to do with that robe? Besides, how strange it is to imagine that God, the all wise, can deceive Himself, by supposing and accounting men pure, because they are wrapped up and covered with the purity of the Saviour, although altogether impure. Can the Judge of all the earth account man other than he is? Surely not. ” He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are an abomination to the Lord.” — Prov. xvii. 15. Shall we, then, charge Him with this very proceeding which, makes man an abomination in His sight? Yet the whole doctrine of imputed righteousness, and imputed sin, does this. The Lord imparts righteousness to us, and what we receive is imputed. That becomes ours though it descended from Him. “Their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.” — Isa. liv. 17. The righteousness we embrace with the heart, and make our own by so doing, this really imparts a character of purity and heavenly fitness to us, and this the Lord accounts ours. “And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is at this day. And it shall be our righteousness, if we OBSERVE TO DO all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He hath commanded us.” — Deut. vi. 24, 25.
The doctrine of imputed righteousness has been one of the most fearful plagues of the church. In the vast number who have too readily grasped at it, it has made many entirely indifferent to real religion. The struggles which practical regeneration entails against harsh tempers, unjust dealings, selfish aggrandizement, impure statements and acts, have to them been nullified. What use could there be in these battles against self and sin, when they would be justified at last, however impure, simply by believing in the righteousness, and being clothed in the merits, of the Redeemer? Why trouble themselves to attain purity of heart when all their filthiness would be covered by the Saviour’s holiness ? By this delusive fancy the power of religion, the only regenerating power in the world, has been diverted and set aside, and men have been left a prey to all those passions and impurities which only religion can conquer. Hence the world is practically heathen, though nominally Christian. Few, indeed, are they who dethrone the idols of selfishness, worldliness, and wickedness, and really seek to live from the principles of innocence, justice, truth, and order, which reign in heaven, and which alone can make us heavenly. Let us, then, my beloved brethren, not dream of purloining the grand robe of the Lord Jesus, infinitely spotless and of infinite merit, but let us obtain meekness, robes suited to our own states, and which may become whiter and purer as we rise to greater purity by His power ; for ” the fine linen is the righteousness of the saints.” — Rev. xix. 8.
We must not fail to notice, that the robes mentioned in our text are washed and made white. How clearly does this indicate that they signify principles which can be further purified, not the merits of the Lord Jesus, which are beyond all purification. These robes must be washed. They have many spots upon them, many failings, many errors and mistakes, and not a few of graver frailties. But as we steadily persevere and receive new outpourings of divine influence from the Holy Spirit, our spots are removed, and our robes become whiter.
Sometime ago, as I visited an aged lady friend, not far from the end of her pilgrimage on earth, she remarked that she had received much comfort in a dream the previous night, —for our dreams have their significance, if we learn them rightly, as well as our wakeful hours. She said, “She had seen herself in dream represented as young again, and dressed in a beautiful white robe. Here and there, however, she saw there were spots upon it. And I took it as a token,” she said, ”that my spirit was indeed clothed in white, but there were spots which yet required removal.”So may it be with us. Our dress may be heavenly, yet require washing. Naaman dipped seven times in Jordan before his flesh came again like that of a little child. And so will it be with us. We must ever yearn for greater purity. Again and again must the living truth of the great Saviour pervade and purify us, until we have come up to the standard of heaven’s own whiteness.
The robes are said to be “washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb.” And not uncommonly do we find persons employing this, and other similar phrases in the Scriptures, as if the outward material blood shed upon Calvary was meant: a gross idea, which is not at all intended by the Word. The Lord’s flesh and blood are often spoken of as imparting spiritual life, before the Lord suffered in Calvary at all. “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life. My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” — John vi. 53 — 56. The Jews had the same carnal idea of the Lord’s flesh which many now have of His blood; and they said, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? But the Lord answered such mistakes once for all, by saying, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” — John vi. 63. The flesh that is meat indeed is the Divine Goodness; the blood which is drink indeed is the Divine Truth. He who receives these is conjoined with the Lord, dwells in the Lord, and He in him. It is the living blood of the Divine Truth which purifies. the soul, not the dead blood which was removed by the soldier’s spear. Hence, we are sometimes said to be sanctified through truth, sometimes by blood. “Sanctify them through the truth, Thy Word is truth.” — John
xvii. 17. “Now ye are clean through the Word that I have spoken unto you.” — John xv . 3. And here, it is said, “They have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The spirit of the Lamb, the living, glowing influence which flows from Him, and penetrates and purifies the heart of the believer, this is the blood of the Lamb. How could the spirit’s robes be washed in any other blood than the quickening word, the living wisdom, of the Lamb. Robes of any kind could never be made white by outward blood. In this respect, as in others, ”the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”
Those who imagine the blood, in the text before us, to mean earthly blood, when asked how this could bring about our salvation, say it reconciled the Father to us. They are ever thinking of changing God, whereas Scripture always represents the operations of the Lord Jesus as changing us. Look on the words before us, ” They have washed their robes, and made them white, in the blood of the Lamb.” There is nothing in Scripture like those wild words of Dr. Watts, before he knew better, —
” Sweet were the drops of Jesus’ blood
Which calmed His frowning face ;
And, sprinkled o’er the burning throne,
Have turned His wrath to grace.”
There is no word in our text, or elsewhere in Scripture, of calming the frowning face of the Father, cooling His burning throne, or turning His wrath to grace. These terrible representations of the Most High are man’s portraiture of the God of love, when he thinks Him such an one as himself. The truth is precisely the reverse. God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself. His blood is given to wash our robes, and make them white. We are to be changed from uncleanness to purity, from darkness to light : ” from dead works to serve the living God.”
O that persons would endeavour to realize what they read, so that they would delight in the language of truth and soberness, not to revel in phrases which have no meaning, and which draw men away to wild fantasies, like those deceptive lights which arise in morasses, and often lure travellers to their ruin. Let us, for an instant, observe what takes place when a man is saved, and we shall see what is meant by the blood that washes him, and makes him white. By some book, or preacher, or circumstance, he is brought to reflect on his previous life. He feels self-condemned, and fears for the future, unless he turns to his Saviour. Fear is followed by hope. The invitations of the Word comfort and attract him. He determines to live a new life. He applies to the Word to learn what is required of him; and when be learns his duty he comes again and again to learn how to do it. He prays to the Lord for His Spirit, His blessing, and His help; and he finds these are given to him. He has sorrow for a time, and then joy comes. He becomes a soldier of Christ. He puts on His uniform. He marches in His army. As some truths unfold his faults to him others teach him how to overcome them. All truth leads him to the Lord Jesus, as a loving, living Saviour. He labours, first, to remove any acts which are plainly wrong, and he does so with much fear ind trembling. As he succeeds he acquires confidence; and as he knows the Lord better, and more of His ways, fear gives place to purer emotions, and at last to the full glow of heavenly love.
He rejoices to find the path to heaven not so difficult and unpleasant as he used to suppose; but, on the contrary, he finds the Saviour’s yoke is easy, and His burden light.
Now in all this it is manifest that Divine Truth has been the great instrument of washing the soul, first from its grosser sins, then from its mistaken views of the religious life and the divine character, and lastly, from all mistrust, and all those impurities of motive and interior feeling which constitute the more subtle specks which must be removed from the white robes of the Christian. This then is the blood of the Lamb. The divine wisdom which flows from the Lord Jesus Christ, and as we receive more abundantly of it in study, in prayer, and in practice, we rise to higher purity and to sublimer peace. We become daily more prepared for the bright assembly of the faithful, the pure and the wise.
“Lo, these are they, through sufferings dire,
Who came to worlds of light.
And in the Lamb’s pure mystic blood
Have washed their robes so white.”
But let us next inquire why the Divine Influence of the Lord is called the blood of the Lamb ? The Lamb is the emblem of innocence. And this name is indicative of the Divine Innocence which was manifest in the Lord’s Humanity, and at length filled it. When John the Baptist saw Jesus, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.” Divine Innocence is not a negative principle, meaning simply the absence of guilt. It is that inmost of every real heavenly principle which disposes to bless, hoping for nothing again. It is the principle that goes forth guilelessly to do good, that has no selfish aim, no idea of merit, no object but the happiness of others, that can work no ill to any, that disposes the soul inmostly to find delight in the fulfillment of every duly. Such is innocence; such is the Lamb. And, therefore, the prophet says, “Send ye the Lamb to the ruler of the land.” — Isa. xvi. 1. And the Lord Himself declared to His disciples, ” Go your ways; behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves.” — Luke x. 3. But while men can be lambs in a human and finite degree, He was the Lamb of God; that is, the Divine Innocence itself in human form. This innocence when it enters the heart, takes away the sins of the world. The very desire to injure another, or to claim riches, or rule for self only, fades away before the blessed Lamb, and we become lamb-like. The whole life of the Lord Jesus was the manifestation of
the Lamb. He came to save a world which had neglected Him, He sought to heal, and to help all around Him. When railed at, He answered not again. A gentle spirit of love shone around Him, and He overcame evil with good. He was taunted, insulted, smitten, and He answered not again. He was led as a Lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth. He suffered with divine patience, still triumphing by love in death. Divine forgiveness, divine care for others, divine benevolence, flowed forth in every word and every look in His death, and in His resurrection He represented, embodied, and inaugurated the highest of all principles, then too high for the world to understand, too high for the Church to understand; for the Lamb has still been slain, while the lion has been worshipped in the Christian Church since its foundation; but the New Jerusalem will be the bride, the Lamb’s wife. Love filled with innocence divine, as embodied in the divine man, will reign over the coming age, and is alone worthy to reign. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.”
Such, then, is the Divine Innocence meant by the Lamb. The blood that purifies then is called the blood of the lamb, because it means the wisdom that flows from the Divine Innocence of the Saviour. When this spirit of innocence and love is felt in the soul, it removes anger and hate, and all the causes of ill-will. It is often overlooked that the Lamb of God is not spoken of as having taken away, but as that which TAKETH away the sins of the world. It is now operative, removing from the hearts of all who admit it, everything harsh and unholy, everything unkind and ungentle, and introducing in their stead a whole heaven of love, and peace, and joy. It is not said, which taketh away the punishment of the world, but the sin of the world. When sins are removed, sorrows cease as a consequence. The blood then that saves is the blood of the Lamb.
Lastly, let us observe the assurance of the angel respecting the tribulation the beatified company had passed through. “These are they who came out of much tribulation.” We may conceive that allusion may be made in these words to the persecutions endured by converts in the early ages of Christianity, but whether that be so or not, the truly regenerate will always be those who come out of great tribulation.
Without the troubles incident to human life, there is no softening of the asperities of the soul ; no redaction of selfishness. ” Tribulation worketh patience, and patience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed.” Under one form or another every soul must have tribulation. It is the wintry frost which pulverizes the soul. It is the bitter taste which precedes the sweet juice of the ripe fruit. It is the dark shade which precedes the morning. The circumstances of the regenerate life itself entail great tribulation. ” Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Can the real Christian forget the period in his spirit’s history when he first became earnest respecting eternal things, when he became concerned at the unveilings of his inner nature to himself ? Can he forget how dark all seemed around and all above him ? How gloom and sorrow filled him with anxiety almost with despair ? The misery which some endure under their convictions of sin is unspeakable. The heavens above seem brass, the earth iron. All things are cold, threatening, condemnatory. They are like the struggles in the rapids above the Niagara,— scarce a hope of escape remains. They almost wish to die, yet fear it. They are in great tribulation. They go, however, broken-hearted to the great Saviour, they agonize in prayer, and an answer of peace comes. The Israelites have come out of Egypt ; they have passed the Red Sea. Their prison is broken open. The stormy clouds are dissolved. The Sun of Righteousness appears with healing in His wings. Brightness and glory come round about them. They walk on rejoicing ; ” Old things are passed away, all things are become new.” ” These are they who have come out of great tribulation.”
Those who are not well instructed in the character and circumstances of the regenerate life, imagine this first struggle and triumph to be the whole work of God in the soul. It is, however, only the beginning. The entire change of the whole conscious man is not to be effected by one struggle.
“Nor will I dream the heart and life
Are in a moment clean;
But long and painful is the strife,
That must be felt within.”
The Israelites sang their song of victory on the shore of the Red Sea which had buried their enemies. If, however, they imagined their labours were all over, and they were ready to enter the land of promise, we know how much they were mistaken. They soon came to the bitter waters of Marah. So during their forty years’ travel and toil, what assaults they had to suffer! What punishments to receive! What expulsions and purifications from their camp to undergo!—until at length none of the first generation remained to enter the land of Canaan, but Joshua and Caleb. All these things are figures for us. We must be in alternate joy and sorrow. We must be tempted and tried. We must suffer assault after assault, from evils which at first we do not even suspect to exist within us. Sometimes these troubles are extremely severe and protracted; but they are necessary to bring out the new man to perfection, to train the soldier of Christ, and to expel the enemies of his own household. Daring these trials, it will be a subject for severe spiritual distress, often, that past times of joy and peace have gone : that the divine light seems no longer to shine on our dwelling. “Father, if it be Thy will, let this cup pass from me,” was the language of the great Captain of our salvation, and it will at times be ours. But if we bravely bear and suffer, we shall surely have our intermissions of comfort and peace, and our final conquest will be certain. Again will it be said, ” These are they who have come out of great tribulation.” One cause of great tribulation is suggested by these blessed ones being no part of the twelve tribes, but a great multitude out of all nations, and tribes, and languages. They would have to change views which were dear to them, habits, and religious customs which have been woven with their very being, and their best affections. Those who have not gone through this ordeal, have no complete idea of its severity. Where the convert has been sincere and earnest in his previous opinions, the change is always accompanied by great tribulation. It seems at first as if the whole foundation of faith and hope is giving way. The soul is shaken as it were to its centre. Perhaps to the internal trial there is added, the pain arising from the reproaches of well-meaning and affectionate, but mistaken friends. There is the fear of going wrong, the struggle between truth and error, the change of outward and endeared habits, the breaking off from cherished friends and beloved relatives sometimes, all these things bring intense sorrow. Those who pass through tem, come out of great tribulation. It is well, no doubt, that change should not be too easy, but those who encounter all its difficulties and embarrassments for conscience’ sake are worthy of all respect. The reception of truth, the blessing of the Lord, and the life of true religion will no doubt abundantly repay for all our sufferings. To have the robe made white, and the palm of victory, we would drink the cup of sorrow were it twice as bitter; but it will ever be the characteristic of the really faithful, — ” they have come through much tribulation.”
But, now, what is the result ? Delivered from their imperfections and their sorrows, in complete human form, clothed in white robes, they serve the God of heaven. They have no unsatisfied wants. They hunger no more, neither thirst any more. Their every wish is blessed by its fulfillment. No sun of selfishness lights on them nor any of its passionate heat. The Lord is their sun, a sun which will never go down, and the days of their mourning are ended. The Lamb who is in the midst of the throne, the very centre of heaven, and of all things there, shall feed them, and lead them to fountains of living water. They will be supplied with goodness and truth, goodness and all its joy and truth in all its freshness for ever. The living fountains of waters will now supply them with fresh advancement in heavenly wisdom, for the fountains of truth in heaven are all alive. They live from the love that is in them. They live too from their progressive character. Some have imagined that when we enter heaven all progress is over. We are made perfect in everything, and thenceforward are stereotyped; but it is not so. Such a heaven would not be a happy one. With nothing to learn, no advances to be made, all pleasure would cease. Dullness would cover it with universal gloom. Oh, no! heaven is the land of progress, life, happiness, and peaceful activity.
Every thing lives, springs, and blesses there. The troubles of time are forgotten in the raptures they now enjoy.
“Once, indeed, like us below.
Pilgrims In this vale of tears,
Pain they felt and heavy woe,
Gloomy doubts, distressing fear;
But these days of weeping o’er.
Past this scene of toil and pain,
They shall feel distress no more.
Never, never, weep again.”
When then we are enduring tribulation, let the glorious assurances of our text console us. Whatever be the sorrow, whether of an outward or inward kind, let us bear in mind it is the common necessary lot. Riches are fleeting, power is soon prostrated, health fails, misfortunes come, and come to all. Troubles of conscience arise, convictions of sin, harassing temptations, wearing cares, all cause tribulation; but what then? We are supported in them, and purified by them. Angel friends sympathize with us and succour us. The universal Saviour aids and delivers us if we go to Him, and then comes our triumphant release from time, and our reception among those who have gone before us out of great tribulation.
How marked a manifestation is our text of the erroneous view sometimes put forth to explain the appearance of angels to men. When one has been seen, it is said God made a body for the time being so that He might be visible, and when the interview is over the body is dissipated, and the angel has no form, as before. They are called men it is said, because while they are so clothed with a body they appear to be men. But can any one conceive that all the innumerable host was furnished each with a body for the purpose of being seen by the one apostle? This would indeed be a cumbrous contrivance. How simple it becomes, however, when we know that man is a spirit, and when his spiritual sight is opened, he beholds what before was unseen. Spirits and angels too are men in lighter bodies clad, for there are ” celestial bodies,” and when these celestial ones are seen, they appear in form and in apparel glorious in beauty like the blessed ones before us.
Again and again let us reiterate to ourselves that we must look for the blood of the Lamb to wash our robes, not to alter another divine person. ” Wash you, make you clean ; put away the evil of your doing from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well.”—Isa.i. 16,17. “O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from iniquity, that thou mayest be saved.” — Jer. iv. 14. “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” — Ps. li. 7. Such must be our prayer, and such the washing for which we must prepare ourselves. Nor should we look elsewhere but to our own hearts, thoughts, and lives, for the impurities which should be removed. Many admit themselves to be sinners in general phrase, but never own to any particular practical sin. Nothing in temper, nothing in habit, nothing in act can they see wrong, although every one else can see much to improve, and they can readily enough detect the shortcomings of others. Let us cast such delusions away. Let us be practically true, and cast our evils from us as our most hurtful foes, and thus shall we in due time be able with the apostle to say, “I have fought the good fight ; I have finished my course: henceforward there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.”
But, oh! let us be guarded against any of the delusions which would make us neglect obtaining the real white robes which will fit us, and be ours. Let us not dream that we are all right because our great Head is robed in righteousness divine. That can never be attributed to us. His merits must ever be His alone. We must be clothed with religion as we learn it, and love it. We must be conjoined with the Lord Jesus as branches in the vine, abide in Him and He in us, and then His holy influence, like divine blood, will constantly descend into us and purify us. Day by day shall we remove one impurity after another which His spirit gives us to see, and to feel; and our robes, acquiring the whiteness of truth and purity, will befit us to associate with those triumphant ones who before us have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY –From The Divine Word Opened (1887)