Yet if it remain there, who can penetrate it? The seven seals show it to be absolutely hidden from saint or angel. Let it be proclaimed with a voice mighty enough to reach all the inhabitants of heaven, earth, and the underworld, there is nowhere any answer to the challenge, "Who is worthy to open the book?"
God's counsels imply blessing. It may be indeed through much tribulation - the light checkered with shadows - evening and morning together making up the day. Even so, we name it "day" from the light, not from the darkness. The conflict of good with evil must end in triumph, not in defeat. And who is worthy to proclaim that triumph? Only He who can insure it and carry it out; for this only it is, as we shall see, that opens the book. It is no longer, at the time to which this change brings us, a question of making prophetic announcements, but of manifesting God's purposes by decisive acts of power. True, we are enabled, as having the prophecy, in measure to anticipate what is to come. But that, with all its value for us, is not what we see in this picture. It is not the inditing of a book, nor the uttering of a prophecy, that we have before us, but the opening it by fultillment. Here, then, One alone can be found "worthy" to open it. And though we know well who it is, yet we must note the character in which He is introduced to us.
The prophet weeps because no one is "found worthy to open the book, neither to look thereon. And one of the elders saith unto me, 'Weep not : behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book and the seven seals thereof.'"
This is in complete and striking accord with what we have already seen as to the change of dispensation which the vision shows to be taking place. The time of gathering from heaven being fulfilled, the body of Christ completed, and the saints of the New Testament period caught up with those of former times to meet the Lord in the air, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, long suspended, begins again, and in the forefront of the world's history Israel find their place as of old. The "Lion of the tribe of Judah" here announces One who is taking up once more their cause, to crown it with speedy and entire victory. Power is soon to manifest itself in that sudden outburst of irresistible righteous anger of which the second psalm warns the kings of the earth: "Be wise now, therefore, 0 ye kings! be instructed, ye that are judges of the earth! Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with reverence. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath shall suddenly kindle."
In this title, "Lion of the tribe of Judah," the whole significance of Jacob's ancient prophecy flashes out. "Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be upon the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he hath stooped, he hath couched as a lion, and as an old lion, - who shall rouse him up?"
From this we must not disjoin what follows: "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and to him shall the gathering of the people be" (Gen. xlix. 8 - io).
Thus it is Christ that Jacob has in spirit before him, when he sees Judah assuming the lion-character. And when in David it actually rose up for a short time in the predicted manner, the brief glory of his kingdom only foretold and heralded the better glory of Christ's enduring one. And in this way the Lion of the tribe of Judah is not only the "Branch of David," springing out of the cut-down tree, but, as here, the Root also of David, from which David himself derives all real significance.
It is plain, then, that now the appeal of the eightyninth psalm is to be answered. David's throne is to be lifted up from the dust, and Judah's long-delayed hope is to expand into fruition. Strange is it to think how critics and commentators can, in the Lion of Judak opening the book of God's counsels, see only the general truth of Christ upon the throne of providential government, when it is plain, according to the undoubted reference, that the thought of Judah's Lion is inseparably connected with that of Judah taking the prey, and then couching with a front of power which none will dare to excite: "Judah, thou art a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he hath couched as a lion - who shall rouse him up?"
It is not only ignorance of Scripture, but also of the perfection of Scripture, which operates in these beclouding views of the great prophecy before us, in which every expression, every nicety of utterance, is to be marked and estimated at its worth, because it has worth. If not one jot or one tittle could pass from the law, as the Lord Himself declared, till all were fulfilled, how impossible, then, for prophecy to have an irrelevant jot or tittle which can be safely disregarded ! Go on, with this character that Christ has now assumed present in the mind, and is it strange or doubtful what can be meant by the sealing out of the twelve tribes, in the seventh chapter, with the separate gathering of the Gentile multitude afterward, "come out of (not merely great, but specifically) the great tribulation"? All is clear and consistent in detail when we have correctly the general thought.
It is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, then, who prevails to open the book. The hindrance to the blessing of Israel and the earth is now removed. Christ has overcome. But how then overcome? What could be the impediment to the execution of divine purposes of goodness toward men, and how alone could evil be met, subdued, - nay, made to minister to higher blessing? This is what is now to be declared.
"And I saw standing in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb, as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth."
The Lamb is not here represented as upon the throne, but in the midst of a circle formed by the throne, the living creatures, and the elders. Lamb as He is (and the word used emphasizes the connected thought of feebleness in some way), the attribute of perfect power is seen in the seven horns as that of omniscience is seen in the seven eyes, with the still more decisive interpretation given them. Still the feebleness is again marked, and to the extreme, in the note appended that it was "as though it had been slain." Weakness, then, we are to mark in the One depicted here as well as power, and the evident tokens of past suffering even to death, although alive out of death.
Evidently this is how He has prevailed. He has conquered death through dying, conquered it in its own domain by going into it, giving Himself a sacrifice, a vicarious offering, for the lamb was well known as that. Sin has been thus met by atonement; evil triumphed over by good, the might of pure love acting according to holiness, where power otherwise there was none, or it was against the Sufferer. This was the victory that opened the book.
But we must not read this as if it was meant to assure us that the Christian view of the Lamb has replaced or set aside or come as in a mystery to explain the Jewish conception of the Lion. This is the thought of many, but it is entirely wrong and hopelessly confusing. The Lion and the Lamb are but one blessed Person; and, moreover, One who remains, through whatever changes of position, wholly unchanging Himself, - "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever" (Heb. xiii. 8). This is true, and necessarily true, and it is our joy and consolation for all time; but it does not turn condemnation into salvation, or make the judgment of wrath a piping instead of mourning.
The Lion of the tribe of Judah is not a mere Jewish notion, but a true and scriptural conception. It is Jewish indeed - not Christian; and for that very reason cannot be the equivalent of the "Lamb as it had been slain." And yet it is in His victory over death that He acquires the power which as the Lion of Judah He displays. This is how the two views, in themselves so manifestly different, find their relation to one another.
Yet it is the Lamb that takes the book, and the Lion of the tribe of Judah who does so. As the first, He is the Interpreter of the counsels of redeeming love, as they embrace the whole circle of its objects. As the second, He takes up Israel specifically to deliver them from surrounding enemies and establish them in peace under the shield of His omnipotence. His title here has plainly to do with power displayed against the foes of His people. And this is what plainly gives the necessary standpoint from which we can see aright the meaning of the chapters which follow for the larger part of the remainder of the book.
Yet it is no wonder that up in heaven, among the redeemed, it is as the Lamb slain that the myriad voices celebrate Him, and the Lion of Judah seems to be forgotten. This is not really so; nor does it show that the one title is not to be distinguished from the other. When He acts according to the latter, we shall find how intense are the sympathies of this heavenly throng. To no act of His can there be indifference. But the praise and homage of heaven are to the Lamb slain. Redemption is what declares Him to the heart, and that a redemption by purchase, though redemption by power be its necessary complement. The Lamb slain gives the one side; the Lion of the tribe of Judah speaks of the other.
When the Lamb takes the book, the redemption song is heard in heaven. "And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sing a new song, saying, 'Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with Thy blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and madest them unto our God a kingdom and priests, and they shall reign over the earth."
In this "new song," the living creatures and the elders are united. The angels we find in the verses succeeding these, worshiping in a circle outside and in other terms. This surely is another sign of what is taking place, and where the vision brings us. The symbols of administrative government, which the living creatures present to us, are now connected with redeemed men, and no longer with angels. "Unto angels hath He not put in subjection the world to come whereof we speak. But one in a certain place testified, saying, 'What is man, that Thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that Thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; Thou crownedst him with glory and honour; Thou didst set him over the works of Thy hands" (Heb. ii. 5 - 8).
This is, of course, spoken of the Lord Jesus, but in Him man, according to the will of God, comes to the place of authority in the world to come, in which, in the book of Daniel, we find the angels. It is when the Son of Man takes His own throne that the saints reign with Him. Thus, in this song of redemption we have now "they shall reign over the earth." It is plain, then, that the vision here brings us to the eve of the millennial day.
Not only are the heavenly saints seen as about to enter on their reign over the earth; they are already in their character as priests, "having golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints." It is not said that they are offering them: they are, in fact, at that moment in another attitude; and this seems pointed out as to them, as if to be another of the marks of the period which is now beginning. Observe, they are never looked at as themselves interceding. They are charged with the prayers of others, but add nothing to them. There are no supererogatory merits that they have acquired, to give efficacy to what they present; and the prayers themselves are the incense, not incense is added to them. Romanism finds here no atom of justification, such as some have alleged; but the statement of the text is plain, and we must abide by it. The risen saints are priests and kings to God. In the former capacity, they have the incense prayers in their hand; in the latter, they are presently to reign over the earth, so that the cherubic living creatures and the elders are now seen together. Thus the period of the vision is made as plain as possible, and the song of the redeemed is thus a "new" song, not because redemption itself was yet a new thing, but because it was now, as far as heaven itself was concerned, accomplished. Resurrection, the redemption of the body, was now accomplished, and the Lamb about to commence what He alone could undertake - the redemption by power of the earth also. At this point, the song of praise celebrates the completion of all as to the singers save the reign over the earth involved in what He is now taking in hand to do. Thus the song is new.
But is it their own redemption they are celebrating? The text as it used to be read made no doubt of this; but it is abandoned by the general consent of the editors, who accept substantially what the R.V. gives, except that, as to the last clause, there is still dispute whether it should be "they reign" or "they shall reign." I prefer the latter, as most according to the fact, authorities being divided. The result as to the whole is that the elders do not say, "Thou hast redeemed us, and we shall reign," but "Thou hast redeemed a people, and they shall reign." Instead of being specific, it is general, as to who the people are, although the last clause limits it to the heavenly family of the redeemed. The millennial saints do not reign over the earth. They inherit it in peace and blessing, but it is they who suffer with Christ who shall reign with Him (2 Tim. ii. 12).
The change puts emphasis upon the redemption, rather than upon the persons who are partakers of it; and this commends itself to spiritual apprehension. The Lamb and His wondrous work fill the souls of His own with rapture as they fall before His feet: "THOU wast slain, and hast redeemed to God." But there seems to me no ground for what some allege from this change of text, that the heavenly saints here are celebrating the redemption of others and not their own! Why should this be? The language does not necessitate it; for if we say, "Thou hast redeemed a people," even though we are speaking of ourselves, it is quite in order to say, keeping up the third person all through, "and they shall reign." I agree with those who hold the view with which I cannot agree, that there is a company of martyrs after this who are, as such, to be joined to this heavenly company, and who are seen in this way as added to them in chap. xx. 4 - 6. But to think that in the vision before us the saints are praising Christ solely for the redemption of another class than themselves, is, I venture to say, extreme and incongruous. Surely we should not think, in praising Christ for redemption, of wholly Omitting the thought that we ourselves are among the subjects of it! Every consideration here, moreover, would forbid the supposition.
Outside the circle of the redeemed, the angels have now their place and their praise. It has been often and justly remarked that they do not "sing." Their peaceful lives, not subject to vicissitude, nor touched by sin, furnish no various tones for melody. The harps which we have above are tuned down here, where the Davids, signalized by their afflictions, are the sweet singers of Israel. Wondrous and eternal fruit of earth's sorrow, though by divine grace only, the redeemed among men will be the choir of heaven! Blessed be God!
"And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying as with a great voice, 'Worthy is the Lamb that has been slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing."
Redemption has thus added to the angels' praise. It is not to the Creator only. And in this new praise, a new element of blessing, a new apprehension of God, has entered into their hearts. They are nearer, though in this outside circle, than they ever were before. In truth, though in some sense outside, our earthly idea of distance fails to convey the thought. Larger and smaller measures of apprehension there may be and will be, but true distance of the creature from the Creator is in heaven the one impossibility, where of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ every family is named. "Whither shall I go from Thy presence?" is never whispered; and the whisper of it, even in heaven, would make it hell.
And now, in a wider sweep again, -"Every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, even all that are in them, heard I saying, 'Blessing and honour and glory and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever.' And the four living creatures said, 'Amen,' and the elders fell down and worshipped."
This is the voice of the lower creation in echo to the praise of heaven. It is such a response as many of the psalms call for in view of the coming of the Lord; and is another mark of the time of the vision. The earth under the desolation of the fall has for the time lost its place, as it might seem, and wandered as a planet from its orbit into the starless silence around. Christ, as her central Sun, has come back to her after the long polar darkness, and her voices wake up as the spring returns. Blessed it is to realise (so simple and natural as it is) the response to this response on the part of the human elders, as this sound is heard. The governmental powers of earth - the living creatures - utter their glad "Amen" to it. Earth is to repay the long labour and service of rule at last. And the elders, with their own memories of sin and darkness (now forever but memories, though undying), hear it in a thrill of sympathetic joy that (as all the joy of heaven) melts into adoration: "The elders fell down and worshipped."
THE OPENING OF THE SEALS: THE FIRST FOUR SEALS.
(Chap. vi. i, 2.)
The Lamb having taken the book, the opening of the seals at once follows. When they are all loosed, - and not before, - then the book is fully opened. The seals then give us the introduction to the book, rather than (as many have imagined,) the complete contents. Beyond the seals lie the trumpets, contrasted with the seals in their nature: the latter are divine secrets opened to faith; the trumpets, loud-voiced calls to the whole earth. These go on to the setting up of the kingdom in the seventh trumpet; and after that, we have only separate visions giving the details of special parts, until in the nineteenth chapter we reach again a connected series of events, stretching from the marriage of the Lamb through the millennium to the great white throne.
The opening of the seals, then, gives us events introductory, as regards both time and character, to what follows, and which have their importance largely in this very fact. The opening of them is the key to the book; for when they are opened, the book is. Yet they only set us upon the threshold of the great events which precede the setting up of the kingdom of Christ, the time of the trumpets; while on the other hand they contain the germ and prophecy of these, which spring out of them as it were necessarily.
In the Lord's great prophecy of Matt. xxiv., which similarly sets before us the time of the end, we have, before the period of special tribulation connected with the abomination of desolation in the holy place, an order of things which has often been compared with what we find under the seals. Nor can we compare them without being struck with the resemblance. The Lord specifies here, as warning-signs of His coming, false Christs, wars, and rumours of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes, and persecution of His people. In the first and second seals we have correspondingly war - that of conquest and civil war; in the third, famine; in the fourth, pestilence; in the fifth, the cry of the martyrs; and in the sixth, a great earthquake, though perhaps only as a symbol of national convulsion. Only the false Christs seem to be entirely omitted, and some have therefore imagined that the rider on the white horse in the first seal - coming, it must be admitted, in the right place to preserve the harmony with the gospel, - might fill the gap. But this we must look at later on. The correspondence is sufficiently striking to confirm strongly the thought that the seals refer to the same period as does the passage in the gospel, the time preceding and introducing the great tribulation of the end.
Looking again at the seals, we find they are divided, like most other septenary series, into four and three; the first four being marked from the rest by the horse and rider which is in each, and by the call of the living beings by which each is introduced. Their relation to each other is plainer (or more outward) than in the case of the last three, as may be observed also in such series generally. And how beautiful and reassuring is this rhythm of prophecy! The power of God everywhere controlling with perfect ease the winds and waves in their wildest uproar, so as for faith to produce harmony where the natural ear finds only discord. Significant is it that in no other book of Scripture have we so much of these numberings and divisions and proportionate series as we have in the book of Revelation. The call of the cherubim at the opening of the first four seals is also significant. It is to be noted that it is not addressed, as in our common version, to John, but to the riders upon the horses, who then come forth. It is not "Come and see," but "Come," as the R.V., with the editors in general, now gives it. The living beings utter their call also in the order in which they have been seen in the vision: for although in the first instance it is said, "one of the four living beings," not "the first," yet in the case of the other seals they are named in order - second, third, and fourth. And we shall find a correspondence in each case between the living being and the one who comes forth at his call.
We have seen that the cherubic figures speak of the government of God, in the hands of those who are commissioned of Him to exercise it. And thus the vail of the holiest, the type of the Lord in manhood - " the vail, that is to say, His flesh" (Heb. x. 20)_was embroidered with cherubim. To Him they have peculiar reference as the King of God's appointment; and the four gospels, as has been seen by many, give in their central features these cherubic characters in the Lord, and again in the order in which the book of Revelation exhibits them. The Lion of Judah we find in Matthew's gospel, where Christ is looked at as Son of David. Mark gives us, on the other hand, the young bullock - the Servant's form. Luke meets us with the dear and familiar features of manhood, - the "face of a man ;" while in John we have the bird of heaven - the vision of incarnate Godhead. These aspects of the Gospels I may assume to be familiar to my readers - here is not the place to consider them.
Now Christ has been seen in heaven in a double character: - the Lion of the tribe of Judah is the Lamb that was slain. It is the title under which He takes everything, for it is that which shows Him as the One who has bought every thing by His surrender of Himself unto death. He is the "man" who, according to His own parable, having found in a field hidden treasure, went and sold all that he had, and bought that field. "The field," He says again Himself, "is the world."
But the Lord's death had also another side to it. It was man's emphatic rejection of God in His dearest gift to him, - just in his sweetest and most wonderful grace. While every gospel has a different tale to tell of what Christ is, every gospel has also, as an essential feature, the story of His rejection in that character. As Son of David, as the gracious Minister to man's need, as God's true Man, or as the only begotten Son from heaven, He is still the crucified One. Man has cast out with insult the divine Saviour, - has refused utterly God's help and His salvation. What must be the result? He must - if in spite of long-suffering mercy he persist in this - remain unhelped and unsaved. He has cast out the Son of God; and why? Because he was His. essential opposite: "the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me." The world which rejects Christ as finding nothing in Him naturally is the world which owns Satan as its prince. He who rejects Christ is ready for Antichrist; and so He says to the Jews, "I am come in My Father's name, and ye receive Me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive."
This shows us, then, that it is not Christ who is thus represented. Many have supposed so, naturally comparing with it the vision of the nineteenth chapter, where Christ comes forth upon a white horse to the judgment of the earth. But the comparison really proves the opposite. We have not, certainly, under the first seal, already reached the time of Christ's appearing. And the symbol of judgment is unsuited for the going forth of the blessed gospel of peace. The gospel dispensation is over now, and the sheaves of its golden harvest are gathered into the barn. Not peace is it now, but war. Peace they would not have at His hands: its alternative they have no choice as to receiving. Christ received would have been an enemy only to man's enemies. Power would have been used on his behalf, and not against him: that rejected, the foes that would have been put down rise up, and hold him captive.
This, then, is the key to what we have under the first seal: a few words must suffice for the present as to the other details.
The horse is noted in Scripture for its strength, and as the instrument of war: other thoughts believed to be associated with it seem scarcely to be sustained. It indicates, therefore, aggressive power, and a white horse is well known as the symbol of victory. In the rider, who of course governs the horse, there seems generally indicated an agent of divine providence, though it may be not merely unintentionally so, but even in spirit hostile. The rider here is not characterized save by his acts. His bow is his weapon of offence, which speaks not of hand-tohand conflict, but of wounds inflicted at a distance. The crown given li/rn seems certainly to imply, as another has said, that he obtains royal or imperial dignity as the fruit of his success, though by whom the crown is given does not appear. Altogether we have but a slight sketch of the one presented to us here, and one which might fit many of whom history speaks; but this is divine history,and the person before us must have an important connection with the purposes of God, to earn for him the leading place which he, fills in the beginning of these visions of earthly doom.
We naturally ask, Can we find no intimations elsewhere of this conqueror? It appears to me we may; and I hope to give further on what I think Scripture teaches as to it, not as pretending to dogmatize as to what is obscure, but presenting simply the grounds of my own judgment for the consideration of others. If it be not the exact truth, it may yet lead in the direction of the truth.
Some preliminary points have, however, first to be settled; and for the present it will be better to content ourselves with noting the detail as to this first rider, and to pass on. The second living creature is the patient ox. True figure of God's laborer, strength only used in lowly toil for man, it speaks to us of Him who on God's part laboured to bring man back to Him, and plough again the channels back to the forsaken source, so that the perennial streams might fill them, and bring again to earth the old fertility. Yet here the ox calls forth one to whom it is "given to take peace from the earth, and that they should slay one another." Civil war is bidden forth by that which is the type of love's patient ministry. Yes, and how fitly! For just as if received, God having His place, all else would have its own; so, rejected, all must be out of joint and in disorder. Man in rebellion against God, the very beasts of the earth rebel in turn. Having cast off affection where most natural, all natural affection withers. Man has initiated a disorder which he cannot stop where he desires, but which will spread until all sweet and holy ties are sundered, and love is turned (as it may be turned) to deadliest opposition.
In the third seal the third living creature calls: the one with the face of a man. At his call, famine comes. We see a black horse, and he that sits on him has a pair of balances in his hand; and there is heard in the midst of the living beings a voice which cries, "A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine." A denarius, which was the ordinary day's earnings of a laboring man, would usually buy eight quarts of wheat, one of which would scarcely suffice for daily bread. It is evident, therefore, that this implies great scarcity.
The congruity of this judgment with the call of the living being is not so easy to be understood as in the former cases. Were we permitted to spiritualise it, and think of what Amos proclaims, "Not a famine of bread, nor a thirst of water, but of hearing the words of the Lord, such a famine would, on the other hand, suit well: for "the face of a man" reminds us how God has met us in His love, and revealed Himself to us, inviting our confidence, speaking in our familiar mother tongue, studying to be understood and appreciated by us; and assuredly this familiar intercourse with Him is what we want for heart satisfaction. "Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us," was not an unintelligent request so far as man's need is itself concerned. The unintelligence was in what the Lord points out, "Have I been so long time with you, and hast thou not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father."
Here, then, man's need is fully met. The hunger of his soul is satisfied. The bread from heaven is what the Son of Man alone gives, and it is meat that "endures to everlasting life." And this rejected, - the true manna loathed and turned from, - what remains but a wilderness indeed, a barren soil without a harvest?
But this gives only a hint of the real connection: for this seal following the other two, seems evidently to give a result of these. What more simple and natural than that after conquest and civil war, - above all, the latter, - the untilled soil should leave men destitute? Still more, that the oil and the wine, which do not need in the same way man's continual care, remain on the whole uninjured?
An ordinary famine seems to be intended, therefore; yet the connection has been hinted as already said: for the natural is every where a type of the spiritual, and depends on it, as the lesser upon the greater. Our common mercies are thus ours through Christ alone. Take away the one, the other goes. A natural famine is the due result of the rejection of the spiritual food. With the substance goes the shadow also.
That the third living creature calls for famine, then, may in this way be understood, and it shows how the greater the blessing lost, the deeper the curse retained. Christ rejected strikes every natural good.
And when we come to the fourth seal, and the flying eagle summons forth the pale horse with its rider Death, Hades following with him to engulf the souls of the slain, the same lesson is to be read, becoming only plainer. John's is the gospel to which this flying eagle corresponds, - the gospel of love and life and light, each fathomless, each a mystery, each divine. Blot this out - reject, refuse it, what remains? What but the awful eternal opposite, which the death here as from the wrath of God introduces to?
These initial judgments, then, are seen to speak of that which brings the judgment. The day of harvest is beginning, and man is being called to reap what he has sown. The darkness which begins to shut all in is the darkness not merely of absent, but rejected light.
This, in its full dread reality, no one that is Christ's can ever know. Yet before we leave it, it is well for us to realize how far for us also rejected light may be, and must be, darkness. We are in the kingdom of Christ, children of the light, delivered from the authority of darkness. Around us are poured the blessed beams of gladdening and enfranchising day. And yet this renders any real darkness in which we may be practically the more solemn. It too is not a mere negative, not a mere absence of light, but light shut out. And darkness itself is a kingdom, rebellious indeed, yet subject to the god of this world. To shut out the light - any light - is to shut in the darkness, and thus far to join the revolt against God and good. And the necessary judgment follows, - for us, a Father's discipline, that we may learn, in our self-chosen way, what evil is, but learn it, that at last we may be what we must be, if we are to dwell with Him, "partakers of His holiness." But will it not be loss, - aye, even eternal loss, to have had to learn it so?
Who would force the love that yearns over us to chasten, instead of comforting, - to minister sorrow, when it should and would bring gladness only? THERE IS NO MERE NEGATIVE. In that in which we are not for Christ, we are against Him. To shut Him out is a wrong and insult to Him. And these quick-eyed cherubim, careful for the "holy, holy, holy God" they celebrate, will they not, must they not, call forth the judgment answering to the sin?
THE LAST THREE SEALS.
(Rev. vi. 9 - 17)
The first four seals have thus shown to us judgments poured out upon the earth, - judgments which are the necessary result of the rejection of Christ, now completed by the refusal of the gospel for so many centuries of divine long-suffering. The fifth opens to us a very different scene: here are beheld "under the altar, the souls of them that were beheaded for the word of God and for the testimony which they held." Persecution has broken out against the people of God; for such there are still upon the earth, though the saints of the present time are with the Lord in glory. Heaven being filled, the Spirit of God has been at work to fill the earth with blessing; and here, as we know, God's ancient people are the first subjects of His converting grace. The remnant of that time could be fitly represented by those disciples of the Lord to whom He addressed the great prophecy of His coming, Jewish as they were still in conceptions and in heart; and to these, after such warnings as had been fulfilled in the former seals, He says, "Then shall they deliver you up to tribulation, and shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all the nations (the Gentiles) for My name's sake." The two passages agree with one another and with nature.
Woe unto those who in a day of wrath upon the world for the rejection of Christ go into it to insist upon His claim! And that is what is meant by "the gospel of the kingdom" which the Lord tells us "shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all the nations, and then shall the end come" (Matt. xxiv. 14). "Glad tidings" though it may be that the kingdom of righteousness at last is to be set up, and the King Himself is at hand, - to those who reject Him, it is the announcement of their doom. And we see under this fifth seal what will be the result. The Word of God will again have its martyrs, but whose cry will not be with Stephen, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge!" but with the martyrs of the Old Testament, "The Lord look upon it, and require it!" "And they cried with a loud voice, 'How long, 0 Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge, and avenge our blood on them that dwell upon the earth?"
The cry is now in place, as is the pleading for grace in a day of grace. Judgment is indeed to come, and the time when God "maketh inquisition for blood" (Ps. ix. 12); but though at hand, there is yet a certain delay, for, alas! even yet, the measure of man's iniquity is not reached. "And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants and their brethren, who should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled."
Two seasons of persecution seem to be marked here, though with no necessary interval between them; though the crash that follows under the sixth seal, with the terror thus (if but for awhile) produced, might well cause such a cessation of persecution for the time being. Whether this be so or not, the two periods are surely here distinguished. A much later passage (chap. xx. 4) similarly distinguishes them, while it enables us to recognize the latter of these periods as that of the beast under his last head: "And I saw thrones, and they sat on them" - those already enthroned in chap. iv. and v., - "and the souls of those that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for the word of God," - those seen under the fifth seal, - "and such as had not worshipped the beast, nor his image, and had not received his mark upon their foreheads or in their hands"- here are their "brethren that were to be slain as they were"- "and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years."
The distinction between these two periods proves the introductory character of the seals, at least as far as we have gone. The time of the great tribulation is not come; just as, in Matt. xxiv. the persecution prophesied of precedes it. Thus the martyrs here, while owned and approved, have yet to wait for the answer to their prayer. Sonic answer, it need not be doubted, the next seal gives; but plainly, it cannot be the full one: there are decisive reasons for refusing the thought entertained by many, that it is really the "great day of the Lamb's wrath" which is come. Men's guilty consciences make them judge it to be this; but that is only their interpretation, not the divine one.
A terrible break-up of the existing state of things it is: "And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and lo, there was a great convulsion; and the sun became as sackcloth of hair, and the whole moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, as a fig tree casteth her unripe figs when she is shaken of a great wind. And the heaven was removed as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of theiv places. And the kings of the earth, and the princes, and the chief captains, and the rich, and the strong, and every bondman and freeman, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains; and they say to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of His wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?" Well may it seem to be so; and just such physical signs are announced in Joel (ii. 31 and iii. 5) before "the great and terrible day of the Lord shall come." Just so also the Lord speaks of what shall take place after the tribulation: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken; and then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then shall the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matt. XXIV. 29, 30). The sixth seal precedes the tribulation, however, as we have seen; except this could occur between the fifth and sixth, and were passed silently over. This would be a very violent supposition in view of what we have already seen, and of what follows the sixth seal itself, as we may see presently. The rolling up the heavens as a scroll, moreover, goes beyond the language of Joel or of the Lord, carrying us on, indeed, to the passing away of the heaven and earth which precedes the coming in of that "new heavens and earth in which dwelleth righteousness" (2 Pet. iii. 13). But this is impossible to be thought of as occurring in this place. The only other practicable interpretation, therefore, must be the true one, - the language is figurative, and the signs are not physical, though designedly given in terms which remind us of what indeed is swiftly approaching, though not yet actually come.
And in this way the general significance is not difficult to apprehend. The heavens in this way represent the seat of authority. Nebuchadnezzar had to learn that the "heavens rule" (Dan. iv. 26). And they represent figuratively rule also on the part of man. In the Old Testament prophets, we have similar pictures to that before us here (Isa. xiii. io; XXX1V. 4), where the context shows that national convulsions are prophesied of. Here, it is evidently the collapse of governments, the shaking of all that seemed most settled and secure. All classes of men - high and low, rich and poor, are involved in the effect of it, and their stricken consciences ascribe it as judgment to the wrath of God and the Lamb. In their alarm, they imagine He is just about to appear; but He does not, and the panic passes away. A new state of things is introduced, of which the features unfold themselves.
When we might now expect the opening of the seventh seal, we find instead the parenthetic visions of the seventh chapter; and there is a similar interruption in exactly the same place in the trumpet series: the vision of the little book and the two witnesses comes in between the sixth and seventh trumpets. This exact correspondence claims our attention. One result of it is to make the septenary series an octave, and to give, therefore, to the last seal and the last trumpet the character of a seventh and yet of an eighth division. Let us inquire for a moment into the significance of these numbers in this connection.
The numbers are, in their scriptural meaning, in some sense opposite to one another. "Seven" speaks of completion, perfection, and so cessation. Seven notes give the whole compass in music. On the seventh day God ended all His work which He had made, and rested. The eighth day is the first of a new week, - a new beginning. The eighth note is similarly a new beginning. The essential idea attaching to the number in its symbolic use in Scripture is that of what is new, in contrast with the old which is passed away, - as the new covenant, the new creation. As outside the perfect seven, it adds no other thought?
Now if we will remember the character of these seals, that they keep the book closed, it follows of course that the seventh seal opened opens for the first time really the book itself. This in fact introduces us therefore to what is a new thing. We were up to this time in the porch or vestibule merely. Immediately the last door is opened we are in the building itself. Does not this account for the fact that on its opening there is simply a brief pause - " silence in heaven for the space of half an hour," - and then come the trumpets? This is exactly according to the seven-eight character of the closing seal. One period is over, and with this we begin another. The last seal is open, and this discloses, not a bit more introduction, but the book itself.
The seventh trumpet will be found in these respects very like the seventh seal. It too is brief; and while closing the trumpet series of judgment - in fact the three special woes, - opens into another condition of things, not woe at all, but the time long looked for, when "the kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever" (chap. xi. 15). Thus the seven-eight structure justifies itself in both series, of seals and trumpets.
But before the seventh seal comes a parenthetic vision, which is not a part of the seals really, but a disclosure of what is in the mind of the Lord, His purpose of grace fulfilling steadfastly amid all the strife and sorrow and sin which might seem to prevail every where. Let us now give it our careful attention.