<< Revelation 12: The Sign of the Woman in Heaven >>
1And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: 2And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. REVELATION XII
The vision thus related by St. John is of a very striking and wonderful character. It follows after a series of scenes which imply the end of the former church and state of society, and it is intended to represent the commencement of the New Church under the form of this glorious woman. To comprehend fully the divine lesson offered to our meditation, it will be well to notice three things; first, the manner in which visions are seen, secondly, the law in which the scenes beheld in visions are to be interpreted, and thirdly, the interpretation of the especial scene before us.
And firstly we would remark that visions are spiritual sights of that inner world with which we are always mentally connected, and by which we are constantly surrounded, but which is invisible except to the eyes of those whose spiritual eyes are for the time opened by permission of the Lord. Natural vision is natural sight, spiritual vision is spiritual sight. There might be several persons together, but in a case of true vision only one might see the objects which were plain to him, because his inner eyes were opened. This is often made clear to us by the instances of vision related in the Word. Daniel states this very clearly in his case. “And I Daniel alone saw the vision : for the men that were with me saw not the vision; but a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves.” — Dan. x. 7. Hence those who had visions were in ancient times styled seers. “Beforetime in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, thus he spake, Come let us go to the seer: for he that is now called a Prophet was beforetime called a Seer.” — 1 Sam. ix. 9. Another apellation equally significant, which is used in Scripture concerning those who had these real spiritual sights, is ” The man whose eyes are open.” We have an instance of this in Baaam. “He took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said: he hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open.” — Num. xxiv. 3, 4. Vision according to the Scriptures is not fancy, but inward spiritual sight. It is a perception of that spirit-world into which we all enter after death, and with which we hold inner, invisible, but most real communion during life, a communion of thought and affection with such as are like-minded with ourselves. True vision is even represented in the sacred pages as a high and holy gift, and most important to the human race. Thus it is said in the days of Eli, ” The word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision.” — 1 Sam. iii. 1. And it is written again, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” — Prov. xxix. 18. To assure us of the existence of the eternal world, and thus sustain our hope of heaven, to give us an insight into that inner world which is to this the world of causes, whence the influences descend which change and renew this outer world of human society; these are the great objects of vision, and where these are not maintained the people perish. The grand scenes which passed in succession before the spiritual eyes of John, were given to show him, and through him every student of these wonderful visions, the state of the church as it would be in after days, and which we have seen to a great extent realized. ”Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.” — Rev, iv. 1.
Let us endeavour to rise to the contemplation and comprehension of these wondrous scenes, that we may also know the things which shall be hereafter. To do this, however, effectually we must consider, secondly, the law by which the scenes beheld in vision are to be interpreted. That law is the law of correspondences. That very relationship of principles within, and outward forms which correspond to them, which we have often endeavoured in our discourses to show, pervades all things in this world, and is the rule for obtaining the spiritual sense of the Word everywhere, is the law which reigns entirely in the spirit-world. There mind rules entirely, and thoughts and sentiments embody themselves in corresponding forms at once. Hence we obtain the true law for the interpretation of the visions, and another striking illustration of the universal character of the wonderful rule of correspondence. It exists in both worlds. It pervades nature, and it pervades spirit. In nature, it comes out slowly, in spirit it manifests itself rapidly. In the spirit- world, what is thought is seen in corresponding forms. He, therefore, who knows the correspondences can readily interpret the vision. Worses of fire, trees of life, golden cities, and the numerous symbols exhibited before him, are full of meaning and of wisdom. They unfold to the student those thoughts of God which are as much higher than our thoughts, as heaven is higher than the earth (Isa. lv. 9). Let us in the light of this law consider the scene presented before us. There is a woman clothed with the sun, crowned with stars, and having the moon under her feet.
In the previous chapter there is represented an examination of the state of Church, signified by measuring the temple of God, the altar and the worshippers (ver. 1). The Church’s degradation is described by the holy city being trodden under foot of the Gentiles for forty and two months, or three years and a half. The two witnesses which prophesy in sackcloth twelve hundred and sixty days, again three years and a half, which are slain, but after three days and a half revive, are the two grand principles of love to God and love to man, which become feeble in a falling church, and at last are slain, but rise again in a new dispensation. The three and a half represent the completion of one dispensation, signified by three; and the commencement of another, meant by the half. The same is meant by the time, times, and half a time. The earthquake (ver. 13) represents the sinking and complete falling down of the principles of the Old Church, and their utter inadequacy to support and save mankind: and then come the great voices in heaven announcing the commencement of a New Church, and a new state of the world, in which one Divine Person, who is God and Christ, shall gradually bring all things under His blessed government. The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He (not they), shall reign for ever and ever (ver. 15). That which is thus announced in the preceding chapter, is brought forth more fully in the glorious object in our text, the woman clothed with the sun.
A woman has ever been the chief symbol of the Church, The relation between the Lord and the Church is most correctly presented by the relation between a true husband and a faithful wife. Thus in the Old Testament it is written : ” Thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord (Jehovah) of hosts is His name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth shall He be called.” — Isa. liv. 5. “For the Lord (Jehovah) hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith my God.”— Ver. 6. Here it is evident that the Lord is considered as the Divine Husband, and the Church as His wife. This idea pervades the whole Word. When the Jewish Church became false, faithless, and idolatrous, it is regarded as a rejected and condemned wife: and the Gentiles who embraced the Christian religion, are described as a new wife who had previously not been blessed with children, but who would far surpass her degraded predecessor. ” Sing, barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord (Jehovah) ” — Ver, 1. When the Lord would represent the Church’s separation to be from her own corruption, not from Him, He says, by the prophet: ” Thus saith the Lord, Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, whom I have put away ? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you ? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.”
The same idea is conspicuous in the Gospel, only there the Lord Jesus is the bridegroom and husband, and the Church is His wife: a circumstance only in harmony with the truth that He is Jehovah manifested in the flesh; for the Church would surely not be like a wife who has two husbands, or three. John the Baptist represents himself to be the friend of the bridegroom, but the Lord Jesus as being the bridegroom Himself. “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.” — John iii. 29. The apostle Paul speaks in a similar manner. “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” — 2 Cor. xi. 2. And again in the epistle to the Ephesians: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it. For this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall be joined to his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.” The reason and the beauty of this correspondence will appear if we reflect upon the mutual relations of husband and wife to each other. The husband is delighted to supply his wife with every comfort; his counsel guides, his counsel defends her. Whatever wisdom or intellectual power he possesses from God, he uses to give firmness and energy to his home, and happiness to his beloved partner. So is the Lord to the whole universe, but especially to heaven and the Church. A wife, on the other hand, loves her husband, and him only, as a husband. She trusts in his judgment, she has confidence in his strength and protection, she delights in carrying out his views so far as she can see them to be right. She seeks daily to become more fully possessed from the Lord of that real virtuous heavenly affection which, combined with her husband’s truth, may form a sweet atmosphere throughout their circle, of wisdom and love combined. So is it with the Church, the bride and the wife of the Lamb. She loves the wisdom and laws of the Lord Jesus, and worships Him alone: she looks to Him only for light, and strength : His will is to her the divine law : she loves His ways, and looks to an ever-lasting abode in His kingdom : she is that king’s daughter of whom is said: “Hearken, daughter, and consider, and incline ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house; so shall the king greatly desire thy beauty, for He is thy Lord, and worship thou him.” — Ps. xlv. 10, 11. The Church, then, the Lord’s wife: she loves Him — leans upon Him — twines her affections around Him — confides in Him — is jealous for His honour, worship, and dignity, and clings fondly to Him in life, death, and eternity. She, therefore, is represented by this glorious woman. And the teachings of this chapter show us that when the Church would be manifested to the world, she would be a great wonder, she would startle and astonish mankind, and would have to encounter the fierce opposition of those who are meant by the dragon, which sends out floods from his mouth to destroy her and her man-child.
The Church, then, especially as to her love for the Lord, His law, His kingdom, and His children, is meant by this woman, truth, it is this love which forms the very essence of the Church. The Lord said, ” A new commandment I give unto, that ye love another ; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.” — John xiii. 34, 35. No other qualifications have the Church in them if there be not charity in them. “Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge ; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” — 1 Cor. xiii. 2. Those who perish, do so, says the apostle, ” Because they received not the LOVE OF THE TRUTH that they might be saved,” — 2 Thess. ii. 10.
To be, then, in the love of truth and goodness, is to be in the blessed community, the Church, which is represented by the magnificent symbol presented to the spiritual sight of St John, “a woman clothed with the sun.” Happy, thrice happy are we, when, however gifted we may be in knowledge, understanding, and intellectual talents and attainments, we entreat the divine mercy to fill and sanctify them all by the central saving principle, the principle of holy love. Love purifies the soul, love elevates the soul, love links the soul to God and to man, ” love is the fulfilling of the law.” This woman, it is said, was clothed with the sun.
We have often mentioned the correspondence of the heavenly bodies, and here it is very strikingly brought out. No one would give them in this place a literal interpretation.
The sun corresponds to the Divine Love, and this all-essential source of blessedness appears to the angels of heaven as a sun immeasurably surpassing ours in splendour, and while its holy glow warms, it also blesses them. The Lord (Jehovah) is a sun and a shield. He giveth grace and glory : no good thing will He withhold from those that walk uprightly (Ps. lxxxiv. 11). The same sun is described by the Lord, through the prophet, in the last chapter of the Old Testament : ” But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings.” — Ver. 2. The sun is the centre of the solar system. Divine Love is the centre of the spiritual system. The sun warms all nature, Divine Love warms all heaven, and every heaven-seeking spirit in the world. The sun is a grand attractive centre, preventing the planetary bodies who revolve round him from whirling lawlessly away into destruction: the Divine Love draws all who receives its influence towards their heavenly Father, and preserves them from being broken away from God and happiness, by the downward tendency of their selfhood. The sun is the active cause of all the beauteous flowers and goodly fruits: until he warms the earth in spring all is cold, stiff, and cheerless ; when he comes forth, the earth is robed in loveliness; every flowery mead and lovely garden, the balmy air, the glorious forest, and the sparkling river, all announce tho blessing of his presence. So is it with Love Divine. The soul is cold, chilled and barren, until Divine Love cheers, encourages, and quickens the affections. When that holy principle is shed abroad in the heart and diffuses energy, joy, and peace, then lovely thoughts, like beauteous flowers, expand themselves in the mind ; then fruits of righteousness begin to adorn the life; then the soul feels its feels itself breathing a sweet and hallowed atmosphere; then, old things, indeed, pass away, and all things, as Paul said, become new. The woman, then, was clothed with the sun, to teach us that the Church in her purity is filled, nourished, embosomed, and blessed by the Divine Love of the Lord. Those sacred words of the prophet are realized in her: “The Lord (Jehovah) shall be to thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord (Jehovah) shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.” — Isa. lx. 19, 20.
To be clothed with the sun is then the privilege of the Church, when she is single-hearted and true to the Saviour. She feels His presence cheering, purifying, exalting, and blessing her; He raising her up far above all that is low and sordid, with “healing in His wings.”
The object next offering itself for our attention is the moon. “ The moon was under her feet.” And when we remember the two great lights mentioned in Genesis, ” the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night,” we shall readily perceive that the moon corresponds to the light which shines in the soul when we are in states of spiritual night. The soul has its nights as well as its days. There are periods of obscurity and darkness, which come on, and alternate with those of brightness and joy. It is day when all is cheerful, bright, and happy with us. The sun shines upon our path, the birds sing, we can see our course readily, and we can ” work while it is day ” (John ix. 4). But after a time the night cometh, and nights are various. Sometimes the night comes as a calm and friendly one; it is simply an alternation of state. Spiritual things have gone into shade, we think little of them. We have been exulting in the holy light and joy which Divine Love poured about us, but a finite wing cannot always soar. Our limited powers tire, and must have rest, variety, and restoration. He giveth His beloved sleep. A natural state comes on, and spiritually it is night ” So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast a seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself ; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full com in the ear.” — Mark iv. 26 — 28. Day and night are as necessary in spiritual things as in those of nature. We should be worn out without change. In wakefulness we consume the power God has given us in the hours of rest and silence. In sleep we are renewed. Divine mercy operates in secret, and we arise recreated and strong for another day. Such is the blessing of the night. In spiritual things the mind opens with delight to the beauties of the Divine Word. Worship is welcome and we enjoy a delightful season of refreshing. There are showers of blessing, and like the apostles of old, we exclaim, ” It is good for us to be here! Let us make tabernacles and abide.” It is full day. But, after a season, we feel the necessity of a change. We have been hearing and enjoying, now we must go and act. We have ascended the heavenly ladder with the angels; we must, with them, now descend. We have gone in and found pasture, now we must go out. We have had our spiritual day, now we must have night, and that is often the period of external activity. We are engaged in natural business, and our spiritual feelings and perceptions become dim. It is night; we are no longer conscious of the cheering presence of the light of love in which we formerly rejoiced, but we are not without light, we have the light of faith: this is the moon. Faith, like a beautiful moon, rules the night. Like nature’s moon, which shines by borrowed light, but is an evidence that the sun still shines, although he is not seen, faith still speaks of God’s love, and assures us that it will return again. Faith brightens our night, and, like a brilliant moon, lights the pilgrim on his way. “Faith is the evidence of things not seen.” — Heb. xi. 1. It speaks of God and His love, of heaven and its blessedness. It cheers the weary soul with assurances of hope and coming joy. When the spirit feels its sin it says, like the little maid in Syria, “Would God my master were with the prophet that is in the midst of Israel, and he would heal him.” And like the prophet Elisha, when the soul is surrounded by enemies, it says, ” Fear not, they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” It whispers confidence and quietness in duty and in sorrows. When the heart is sad the faith may still be bright. The sun’s golden light has gone, but the moon’s silvery ray is there. And the soul can pass through the night state, cheered by encouragements to firmness, trust and hopefulness, which thus brightens the otherwise sombre scene. Though we do not pour forth our energies in works of love, we can still maintain our ground by works of faith. The tree of life, in the midst of the New Jerusalem, is said to bring forth “twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” — Rev. xxii. 2. The spiritual months are the states of the soul which result from the brightness or dimness of faith. And if our religion be true and solid, whatever be the internal clearness or dimness in which our minds may be, we shall still bring forth fruit every inonth. We may be cold and cheerless, but we shall still hold to the right and do justly. We may be suffering a storm of temptation and opposition, but we shall bring forth with patience, resignation, firmness, gentleness, charity, perseverance. “In every state, when there are not precious things brought forth by the sun, there will be precious things put forth by the moon.” — Deut xxxii. 14. Faith will not only be sufficient to sustain us, but to inspire us to sing songs in the night. “The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.” — Psalm xlii. 8.
Of the Church triumphant it is said, “Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself, for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.” When love is warm and powerful, and faith is full and clear, and these have been fixed triumphantly by all opposition in us being subdued, the days of our mourning are indeed ended.
Upon such a moon, then, the woman was observed to stand. And so it is with the true Church. She relies on an enlightened faith, not upon dark mysteries. The moon reflects light, and illuminates the darkness, and just in proportion as it faces and reflects the sun. Faith, in proportion as it perceives the Divine Love prevalent in all things, affords light and comfort to its possessor. When it perceives this slightly, it is new moon; when it beholds the Divine Love, not only in creation but in redemption, and in every change of the regenerate life, the moon increases in splendour until it becomes full; and then, even while shade is around, the soul can realize the grateful adoration expressed in the beautiful words, slightly altered, —
“O blest be His name, who in sorrow’s stern hour
Hears the prayer of affliction, and sends forth His power;
Like the moon o’er the valley, night-shadowed and dim,
O’er the heart breathes the spirit of mercy from Him ;
Oh bless His name!”
While, then, the sun of the Divine Love is described as embosoming the woman, the moon of faith is under her feet. The one affords nourishment, support, and joy, the other yields a firm foundation. Faith is a rock, derived from the rock of ages. And a clear, firm, heartfelt, rational, spiritual faith, will enable the members of the Church to stand firm under every trial, and to conquer in every conflict. Upon this rock the Lord builds His Church, ” and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” — Matt. xvi. 18. ” This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” — 1 John v. 4. May it be our happy lot, my beloved brethren, not only to have that affection for the Lord’s truth which constitutes us part of His bride and wife, but also find, in every change, and in all our course of duty, that security against falling on the road of life which is obtained by the moon being under our feet.
” There was upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” The stars are used to represent the glorious possessions of this woman, because they correspond to the smaller lights of religion afforded by individual truths. When we clearly see and know the spiritual lesson afforded by each verse of the Holy Word, it becomes a star in the firmament of the soul. When the mind is well stored with the sacred knowledges of divine things, it is like the heavens in the night-time, when the sky is radiant and robed with brilliancy. When the soul has no longer the bright manifest presence of the sun of righteousness, and shade and darkness come on, it is a blessed thing to have first one and then another small but holy light breaking in upon us like star after star, which shows its lovely ray in the evening, until the whole gorgeous canopy is lighted up. “We have also,” says Peter, ” a more sure word of prophecy ; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a fight that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” — 2 Peter i. 19, 20. Here the apostle says the inward light of truth is a star which shines within the heart. The same use of star is clearly intended by the promise in the Revelations, to him that overcometh in the church of Thyatira it is promised. ” And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and I will give him the morning star,” — ii. 26, 28. But certainly it is not in the way of the divine dealings to give to any one who overcomes his evils the morning star of nature. No intelligible or consolatory lesson would come from thus understanding the passage. But to those meant by the church of Thyatira, those who make their outward life to illustrate and confirm their interior religion, the Lord always gives the morning star. Each state through which they pass, opens the way to another. The evening of one is followed by the morning of another ; and their knowledge of the Lord is ever a clear and bright beacon before them to herald in a new dawn. It is the morning star. Its light is from the Lord himself, shining in the soul. ” I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and the morning star.” — Rev. xxii. 16.
The twelve stars represent all the knowledges of divine things. The number twelve in the usage of the Divine Word represents all things both of goodness and truth; it is the compound of four and three multiplied together. Even numbers, and especially two and four, refer to goodness, which induces evenness, smoothness, and completeness, while the number three, which is the base of all measurement, and the means of all correct calculation, is the symbol of completeness in truth. Because of this representative character of twelve it was that the whole Church, in the typical dispensation of the Jews, was represented by the twelve tribes of Israel. In the Gospel also, the Lord chose twelve apostles. In this whole book of Revelation, the number twelve appears with remarkable frequency, and always with this signification of completeness, both as to goodness and truth. Those who were sealed, as the sacred ones in the seventh chapter, are twelve thousand of each tribe. Those who follow the Lamb wheresoever he goeth, are twelve times twelve thousand. The new Jerusalem has twelve foundations, with the names of the twelve apostles in them. It has also twelve gates. The city was measured, and found to be twelve thousand furlongs: the wall was twelve times twelve cubits high. In all these cases the idea is that of completeness, both as to goodness and truth. Here it is the same. The woman is said to have a diadem of twelve stars, to teach us that she loves and honours all the instructions that come from the Lord : all the knowledges of goodness and truth are to her so many stars, and she makes them her glory and her crown. The head represents the highest intellectual capacity and a diadem the wisdom which enriches and adorns that faculty in the Lord’s true servants. They do not esteem the knowledge of Him and His kingdom as things indifferent; they are the glories of their intellect: they do not wear them about their feet; they are their crown.
Such was the wonderful and magnificent sign, which the beloved John beheld in heaven. It was a glorious representation of the church, such as is common in the spiritual world, where the ideas of thought and instruction immediately embody themselves in scenery. It described the church as it would at length be unfolded in the world. But the difficulty that would attend it at first is described by the further divine words, ” And she being with child, cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.”
The man-child which she desired to bring forth, represents the new system of doctrine and order of society, which she desired to initiate. Instead of the love of self which had so long desolated society, and made God’s earth a scene of turmoil, struggle, and distress, she desires to substitute the love of God, and love to one another. Instead of injustice to others, and the effort of each to subject his fellow to himself, she would she would substitute justice, fairness, a regard for the rights and happiness, the possessions and comforts of others. Instead of mystery she would substitute light: light in all things. She would abolish duplicity and subterfuge of every kind, and in all the works and ways of life, religious, literary, political, and commercial. The wild mass of selfish, dark, and false axioms upon which actual society has too long acted, she would displace for the divine law of “doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with the Lord.” The idea of seeking for happiness in dignified uselessness, she would replace by the assurance from heaven, that even the blessedness of the angels is from their usefulness. The kingdom of Heaven is a kingdom of uses, and he who would be like an angel in happiness, must be like an angel in earnest, loving service. The jealous insolence with which nations have too long regarded each other, she would exchange for that aim of each to advance the interest and happiness of all the rest, which comes from a deep conviction of the brotherhood of nations. Instead of life’s business being regarded as a mere worldly pursuit, she would teach all men in all things to live the life of heaven. She would regard them as angels in training. Their daily life is a daily opportunity of becoming heavenly. The ruling love when celestial, is the sculptor who, from the rude rough block of the natural man, is to form angelic beauty. Every holy impulse, every useful effort, every exertion which goes into just acts especially, chips off some excrescence, and brings out some lovely feature more perfectly. The virtues which spring from love to God, by daily habit diffuse themselves through every feature ; and innocence, reverence, justice, gentleness, trust beam from the eyes and the whole countenance, and portray the blessed work which habit is doing within. Life in the world is this sculptor’s workshop ; each bargain, each work, each event is the opportunity for another stroke, and the result at last is the beautiful spiritual body, breathing benevolence and wisdom combined, the likeness of God and the outbirth of love. Unlike Prometheus, who made his form from clay first, and then vainly sought with stolen fire to simulate creative life, this wise sculptor asks first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, first for the holy fire of heavenly love to create within a new heart and right spirit, and thence comes the outer beauty of the spirit of God in man.
Such is the new system of doctrine and practice which the Lord’s New Church would fain engender, But ah! she cries, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
When society has been so long formed upon the two great sources of mischief, selfishness and mystery, as so-called Christendom has, we need not wonder that purer principles should first be received with difficulty. This difficulty arises from causes, a contrary faith, and a contrary life. The understanding has been wedded to mystery, and led to think that God conceals His way from man, and still requires him to believe, so safety can only be had by our concealing our ways from one another, and covering all our operations with mystery drected by self-seeking. Hence each trade, each business, each art, the concerns of each nation, have been covered as much as as possible from others, and surrounded by selfish regulations. Each community by selfish scheming has sought to overcome others, and get as much as possible for itself. Religious communities have not been less grasping and less vindictive than others, but more; there, have been the centre and focus of the wrong : witness their bitter animosities and persecutions of each other. When then a better system is proclaimed, firstly it can hardly be believed, and secondly, when a few receive it, they have difficulty bringing it into practice.
To be told that God is love, that God is light, and that infinite love and light embodied in Jesus Christ send out their Holy Spirit to create, save and bless the universe, and these are the Divine Trinity, makes the ears at first to tingle. What, are the mysteries of the Godhead to be given up, and can we know plainly of the Father? Are we no longer to wonder and admire that venerable collection of contradictions which the Church has said every one must believe “whole and undefiled,” or ” without doubt we shall perish everlastingly?” Dare we venture to think of God as an all-loving, all-glorious Divine Man, who has all power in heaven and on earth, and look to Him for every blessing ? Dare we throw aside the mysterious phases which declare that God has no body, nor parts, nor passions, and yet that He has three distinct personal forms or bodies ? Dare we indeed believe that Jesus, in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, loves us infinitely, has ever loved us with an changeable love, and in His love and in His pity redeemed us ?
Dare we think this strange doctrine true with all its consequences, and thus pass from the religion of terror to the religion of love ? It is hard, but still the woman cries in pain to be delivered: she urges, that the whole word, and the whole world are proofs that God is love. She cries there is only one God, and never can be other (Isa. lxiii. 11). She cries, What you have been taught your God is, you feel you ought not to be yourself; she cries, Evil loves mystery, goodness loves the light; she cries, Try to become such a person yourself as a God of Love is, and you will find you come nearer to Him, and feel His blessed presence : she cries, Love God, and you will know Him ; in Him is no darkness at all. He is the ” Father of lights, in whom is no variableness, nor shadow of turning.” — James I. 17. She cries, God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself; and God is in Christ, and will reconcile you unto Himself. Come unto Him, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. She cries, with the voice of Scripture, ” Jesus is the first and the last ;” she cries, with the voice of reason, “One hand has made and sustains the universe.” She cries, with the voice of science, All things are manifestly the result of the love which impelled, the wisdom which directed, and the power which executed their creation ; and these three are one. She cries, and is pained to be delivered. But after a time a few receive her testimony intellectually ; but then comes a greater struggle. They have conformed their thoughts to the truth, but their hearts and lives are yet to be brought into the order of truth and goodness. Here is a greater struggle. Self has been enthroned in the heart, and must be cast down, or the infant cannot yet be truly born, much less grow up and rule. The heart finds it hard to give up its idols, and trust to goodness, justice, and order alone for happiness : we hang to the love of great wealth, and fear we cannot be happy without it : we are prone to rush forward in the race for dignity and distinction, and hang upon others for that peace which comes from God only : we are inclined to follow the world’s rules, and the world’s law, when we admit they are what has made the world miserable in its long race of misrule and injustice. When we would do good, evil is present with us. We are slow to move when only duty, truth and goodness require our action ; but quick when some selfish advantage is to be attained. Our nature has been so thoroughly perverted, that we find it a heavy and a daily task to bring ourselves to walk in the light of the Holy City : to grow up to the stature of a man in Christ Jesus. Yet this is what must be done. There is no church in us, and will be no heaven for us, without it. ” The kingdom of God is within you.”— Luke xvii. 21. The woman still travails in birth to be delivered, and though with difficulty, yet the man-child is born. And he is indeed a noble infant. Oh what a glorious society will be formed when this goodly child shall rule the nation : His grand requirements will be from all, justice, truth, usefulness, peace. This doctrine from heaven will incessantly say, Thy will be done, as in heaven, even so upon the earth: Thy Kingdom come. The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever. ” Glory to God in the highest, and on earth , goodwill toward men.” This doctrine will say, No one can do the will of God, unless he knows what that will is, and he reasons for its being done, and the misery which springs its violation: see, then, that every child is educated, and ts faculties properly developed. That doctrine will say to parents and to friends, Diffuse the truth in love, make your religion strew around you the blessings of life : make a heaven at home: never represent the Lord as the curtailer of human joys, but as the soul of them : give those around you as many roses as possible, but deprived of sinful thorns. That doctrine will will proclaim, Shun sin as the curse of life, the separator from God, the destroyer of peace, the serpent which poisons homes, hearts, kingdoms, the relentless foe of a happy death, the creator of a miserable hell. Its incessant invitation to all will be, ” Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.”
Oh, how changed will earth’s homes become as this man-child becomes more fully acknowledged, and grows, and rules. How sad it is to see mankind, at this stage of the earth’s progress, so far from what they might be. Millions even in this country, growing up in neglect, ignorance, filth, and poverty. Did true Christian principles prevail, cleanliness, comfort, and knowledge, would be found in every home. None should hurt nor destroy in all God’s mountain. “The earth would be full of the knowledge of Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”
Did trust in the love of God prevail among us, what a change would be produced in that mass of hurry, care and keenness, denominated business. Why need men wear themselves to death and harass their neighbours, in the wearisome struggle for those necessaries of existence which are sure to be provided, if, from love, we do our duty? Trust in the Lord and do good, and thou shalt dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.”
Was love to our neighbour the established divine law of living, how earnest we should be for his rights, his comforts, his good! Whatsover we would that he should do to us, we should do the same to him, and do it with pleasure, for he is our brother!
Oh that the time for this blessed state of things may be hastened! The woman is indeed crying to be delivered; may myriads come to aid. She is gloriously beautiful, earnest to bless. She is the Lamb’s wife, and adorned for her husband. Let us seek to receive her blessed child into our bosoms, and pray that the little one may become a thousand, and the small one a strong nation. May the Lord hasten it in His time!
The New Church now, as former churches have done in ages gone by, yearns to be visible and effective among men. Heavenly as she is within, glowing with love, steadfast in faith, and brilliant with knowledges, she cries in pain to be delivered. May her heartfelt cries never be unheeded by us. First let us faithfully bring her principles into living action in ourselves. May we be wisely led to question our motives, and ascertain if they originate in God. Do we wish his will to prevail in all our proceedings? Do we wish his wisdom to mould and direct all our ways? Remembering that time is fleeting, and we know not how long it may be ours, do we keep, like our Lord, eternal ends in view ? Do we inwardly ask how far our business transactions, or our daily work, contribute to form in us a spirit of justice, a desire of fairness to others as well as duty to ourselves ?
“Religion’s path they never trod
Who equity contemn;
Nor ever are they just to God
Who prove adjust to men.”
Let it then be our first and chief aim to bring the rule of the man-child fully into our daily conduct, and evincing an example in our lives of the blessedness of living for heaven and earth at the same time, we shall then be able to assist others in their life-work by encouragement and counsel, and that not only in private but in public matters. For surely the woman cries loudly, that the earth is groaning from a thousand sorrows, which are but the results of ignorance, folly, and falsehood. The dark parts of the earth are full of cruelty. She longs to displace ignorance by knowledge, folly by wisdom, and falsehood by truth. She feels strong in the power of God, to make earth a terrestrial paradise. She burns to bless by diffusing her holy and happy teachings. May her sacred impulses be soon successful, and earth will then be transformed to an image of heaven. Men shall dwell under their own vine, and under their own fig-tree, none making than afraid.
Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY –From The Divine Word Opened (1887)