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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Revelation 15

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-8

Moses and the Lamb

Revelation 15:3

This is a marvellous conjunction of names. The song sung by the saints who overcame is a song of the human and divine; a song of the servant and the Son; and it may be worth our while to trace, so far as we may be able, this remarkable and even startling conjunction. It is not proposed to go in quest of remote analogies or resemblances, or to force meanings upon passages contrary to their plain import. We know that Moses was very meek above all men upon the earth, and that Jesus Christ was meek and lowly in heart. We know that Moses was the deliverer of Israel, and that Jesus Christ was the Redeemer of the world; and we are not prepared to deny that many just and impressive analogies might be wrought out by comparing the work of Moses in Egypt and the wilderness with the work of Christ among men; there is undoubtedly abundant scope for legitimate exercise of sanctified genius in giving spiritual and Christian interpretations to many points in the eventful ministry of Moses; and if I do not avail myself of the goodly stores which may be found in such interpretations, it is because I have in view a task, which is sufficiently comprehensive to engage our attention during the whole time allotted to our studies. Let us read, in order, a set of passages which will indicate the ground which it is intended to traverse:—

"Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river" ( Exodus 1:22).

"Herod will seek the young child to destroy him" ( Matthew 2:13).

"This Moses whom they refused... the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer" ( Acts 7:35).

"The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner" ( Matthew 21:42).

"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life" ( John 3:14-15).

"The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" ( John 1:17).

"They sing the song of Moses... and the Lamb" ( Revelation 15:3).

The first remark that occurs upon reading these texts is that the highest human powers are quite unable to baffle the schemes of God. Pharaoh and Herod were intent upon murder. Bad kings have always been afraid of young life; they have never been the friends of intelligent and progressive manhood. History convicts them of the direst crimes which human wickedness can perpetrate. Their short but never easy method has been summed up in the decree, Slay all who threaten you; throw them into the river—kill them with the edge of the sword! May not we learn something from this ruthless method of upholding bad purposes? If wicked men have been afraid of young life, is there not a power in young life which may be trained to the highest uses? Ought we to be indifferent when kings have been struck with mortal terror? Where they have seen vengeance, ought not we to see energy that should be sanctified? Where they have proposed murder, ought not we to propose education? Train your children as if God had called them to a special ministry; do not set up a low standard of possibility; not that you are to overtax their powers, or encourage them in unnatural conceit; set before them the highest examples, animate them by the noblest considerations, point out the road which lies towards heaven, aid them in every endeavour to lighten human misery, and work diligently, as God may put opportunities in your way; and you will help to train a race of men, before whom all throned evil and all sceptred terror shall quake, and perish in unpitied and irrecoverable ruin. The devil gives ungracious welcome to every child that carries the faintest sign of moral nobility or special destiny. Moses was laid upon the river; the Lamb was pursued by the sword of Herod. It was a hard beginning, but the world has had history enough now to know that hard beginnings are the winters out of which spring is quickened, and by which summer is enriched and glorified. Have any of you had a hard beginning? Look at Moses and the Lamb! Write a list of men who have ever done anything remarkable for the world, whose beginning was bright, and full of joy, and I will engage to throw it into insignificance, by a list long, illustrious, and imperishable, of men who have been cradled in the manger, exposed on the river, pursued in early life by un-kindness, by malice, and by all uncharitableness, which darkens in the direction of murder itself.

"This Moses, whom they refused, the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer.... The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner."

Here we come to a different class of opponents and enemies, but to an opposition, if possible, more malignant and wicked. When a man"s enemies are those of his own household, he has reached almost the last trial of his faith and patience. When David"s equal, and guide, and acquaintance, with whom he took sweet counsel, and walked to the house of God in company, reproached him, and magnified himself against him, David"s heart failed, and he spake bitterly with his tongue. Jesus Christ came unto his own, and his own received him not; he was in the world, the world was made by him; and the world knew him not. No man received his testimony. He was as a king of whom his own citizens said, "We will not have this man to reign over us." Yet God hath set this stone of stumbling and this rock of offence as the head of the corner, and on him the spiritual house is established for ever. Very wonderful is God"s method of electing and calling men to his service; so wonderful as to throw into confusion all human probabilities and calculations. He raiseth the poor out of the dust, and lifted up the beggar from the dunghill; to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory. He destroys the wisdom of the wise, and brings to nothing the understanding of the prudent; he chooses base things of the world, and things which are despised; yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are. By the foolish things of the world he confounds the wise; and by the weak things of the world he confounds the things which are mighty. God"s election fell not upon Eliab, but upon David, the keeper of sheep; he called Elisha from the plough, and set Amos , the herdman and gatherer of sycamore fruit, to prophesy unto Israel. Men are confounded when probabilities are upset, and when their inductions from what they mistake for facts are contradicted by unexpected events. Men talk about cause and effect; they say that the cause must be equal to the effect; they read life, and work in life in the light of theories which have a great deal to recommend them; yet God often baffles them—often calls the unlikeliest men to the front—often gives the race to the slow, and the battle to the weak—and gathers the whole kingdom of heaven around a little child, as its best earthly type and illustration. "This is the Lord"s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes."

"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up."

Here the names of Moses and the Lamb are brought into conjunction by Jesus Christ himself. No sign of inferiority is attached to Moses. There is nothing in the terms of the conjunction to denote inequality. Is Jesus Christ degraded by such a remarkable association? Ours is a poor reverence—in fact only a drivelling superstition—if we tremble lest Christ"s honour be divided. Was not the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness a divine arrangement? Is not the apparent insignificance and contemptibleness of the device quite consistent with God"s method of doing his work? It was not the scheme of Moses; it was not the proposition of the suffering Israelites; it was the direct command of God, and, therefore, not unworthy of being spoken of in illustration of the Great Redemption. But is not every human attempt to recover and heal the world, a movement in the direction of the Christian redemption? Men are not always aware of the full significance of their work. Every man who studies and toils that he may alleviate human suffering, is moving in the line of divine beneficence. He may not see all that he is doing; it may be an unconscious and, in fact, an unintentional movement, yet not the less certain, and not the less a basis of appeal to himself on higher concerns. God"s argument with men regarding the recovery and sanctification of their souls is strengthened and made logically irresistible, by their own efforts in the lower region of healing, and education, and satisfaction. The text may be expanded so as to embrace all those efforts. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness; as physicians seek healing virtue in plants and minerals; as parents strain their affections and their outward resources for the advantage of their suffering children; as philanthropists make great efforts to better the state of society; as human life, in its best condition, is a continued attempt to raise and bless the world; even so is the lifting up of the Son of Prayer of Manasseh , the whole scheme of divine mediation, the great, the transcendent expression of divine love, the all-inclusive and sublime consummation of all your human processes—and if you did but understand your own care about the welfare of the world, you would see in it a sign of God"s infinite love as shown in the lifting up of the Son of man. In this union of the names of Moses and the Lamb you have a hint of the co-operation of the human and the divine, which should help to an understanding of the great special work which is entirely of God, and cannot be shared by men. In all our attempts to do good, though they be divinely suggested, we are but working with broken faculties, and our sinfulness mars the beauty of our ideals: we cannot work with whole-heartedness and purity; we struggle and blunder; we become discouraged and weary—but God works from the other end. With infinite power, infinite Wisdom of Solomon , infinite love, he answers the cry of the heart, and reveals the Cross bearing his own Song of Solomon , as the great end towards which we have been moving, but which of ourselves we could never have attained.

"The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."

Here we have at once a parallel and a contrast—a parallel, in that law and grace are both of God, and a contrast, in that while law came by the servant, grace and truth came by the Son. Yet grace is not lawless, nor is truth an unregulated sentiment. We could never have known grace had we not first known law; nor could we, as sinful men, ever have come to the spirituality of truth, but through the definiteness and severity of commandment. In a very important sense we have to begin with Moses, and to traverse the initial and preparatory stages of the old Testament; the Old Testament and the New are yet to be to us as Moses and the Lamb. They are distinct, yet united; and as Jesus Christ himself began at Moses and all the prophets, and found in all the Scriptures things concerning himself, so we may find in the ancient records of inspiration the law which, unchanging as the Lawgiver, is yet carried to fulness of grace and truth in the work of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. There is a difference between law and grace, and law and truth, which need not be pointed out at great length in this connection, as the one object of our discourse does not require any collateral discussion. It is enough for us to lay hold of the fact that in the working out of his purpose God sent us a schoolmaster, to conduct us through a severe yet invigorating discipline, that we might be prepared to enter upon the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Children can understand a command when they cannot understand the reason on which it is based; they can obey the law, when they cannot explain the truth; they can walk by the letter when they cannot comprehend the spirit. Yet there comes a time in their growth, if they grow according to the divine law, when, under the sternness of the commandment, they see the tender purpose of grace, and through the hardness of the letter they see the brightness and beauty of truth. Jesus Christ, then, did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil it; he did not depose Moses and the prophets, but gave them exceeding honour; he did not relax the law of the seasons, but showed that in himself alone came the bloom and splendour of eternal summer. It is true, blessedly true, that we are not under the law, but under grace; yet I question whether any man can be under grace until he has first been under law; and I deny that any man who is in grace can make light of law; on the contrary, he will see in law the first motion of the divine love which culminated in the grace of Jesus Christ. If any man is carrying the law as a burden, which prevents his coming to the gospel, he is abusing the law; and if any man says that because he is under grace he can therefore dispense with the law, he is dishonouring grace. But, being under grace, we are the servants of righteousness,—we are not without law to God, but under the law to Christ

"They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb."

Wonderful is the song of Moses and the Lamb—the song of the human and the divine—the song of law perfected in grace—the song of earth and heaven. How human nature is thereby glorified,—apostate, ruined human nature associated with the Lamb in the song of heaven! Christianity, instead of depreciating human nature, exalts it,—it is only in Christianity that we see the real worth of human nature. If a man would know what he really Isaiah , and what he may become, let him look, not at himself, but at Jesus Christ. Was not man made in the image and likeness of God? True, he is a fallen creature; yet in his fall he attests his origin—there is not a fragment of the shattered temple which does not prove that its builder and maker was God.

The song of Moses and the Lamb are not two distinct songs; the song is one and the same. Nor is the Lamb dishonoured by being thus associated with the great representative of the human race; it is his own doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes! It is not the song of Peter and the Lamb, though Peter was the first Christian disciple; it is not the song of John and the Lamb, though John pointed out the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. It is the song of Moses and the Lamb—the Old Testament and the New are one; the law and the gospel are one.

From the beginning to the end the divine dispensations are one; God"s love, as shown in Jesus Christ, was not a merely chronological development. From eternity to eternity God is love—now thundering on the mount that burned with fire, now entreating upon Mount Sion; now smiting the nations with the rod of destruction, and now sending the gospel to every creature; now commanding the pestilence to make havoc in the earth, and now causing the sun to arise with healing in his wings. God"s love has many servants; Moses, Elias, and Jesus are to us separate names; are they not, viewed from an earthly point, as Faith, Hope, and Charity?—all God"s gifts; yet the last, and best, and greatest, is Jesus.

From the outset I have spoken of The People"s Bible as my life-work. God indeed has enabled me to set up other memorials, but this is peculiarly the witness by which I would remember his daily ministry in my spiritual education. Wherein the work is likely to be useful to others I wish with my whole heart to ascribe all praise and honour to the Divine Spirit. "This is the Lord"s doing." As the five-and-twenty volumes have nearly all been reported, and printed from the reporter"s notes, there has been no attempt at literary composition or polish. It is not my habit to write sermons. All the discourses, with hardly an exception, were delivered from the briefest possible notes. The language is the language of the moment. This will explain whatever may be observed of verbal crudeness, repetition, abruptness, and ellipsis. It is mainly for this reason that attention is called to what may or may not be a defective method of pulpit preparation. Every man can best follow his own method. I have followed mine. The People"s Bible is the result.

From the beginning, even whilst The People"s Bible was merely a prospectus, I promised to annotate much of the sacred text with the best available criticism. In this matter I gratefully acknowledge the careful assistance which others have rendered, for in many cases they have happily illuminated the inspired text. By this arrangement The People"s Bible has become, in an important sense, a conspectus of critical opinion and suggestion.

The work is done. "What is writ, is writ: would it were worthier." Life hastens to the evening twilight. Even my pensiveness veils a most inspiring joy. Others must increase: I must decrease. I close my book amongst the fast-thickening shadows of the nineteenth century. I believe that the New Century cannot do, and will not attempt to do, without the Bible. No poet has surpassed its sublimity, no dramatist has deposed its tragedy, no moralist has rivalled its purity. The Bible stands alone. Other books are as trees which men have planted and trimmed and pruned with periodical care; but the Bible belongs to that forestry of thought, event, direction, and sovereignty, which human hands never planted,—a church built, and aisled, and lighted in a way beyond the ways of man.

In my judgment, the only preaching that can do profound and lasting good must be Biblical. Such preaching cannot be monotonous, nor disappointing, to men who sincerely wish to commune with God, and obey his will. Any pulpit that founds itself on personal invention, cleverness, ingenuity, audacity, or affected originality, will most surely cover itself with humiliation, and pass into merited oblivion. Revelation enriches us with truths, which Reason never could have discovered, but which, being given, Reason can accept without loss of dignity or remission of responsibility. To me the Bible is a Divine revelation—a revelation of God, Providence, Sin, Atonement, Faith, Immortality. The Bible is not a book containing a Revelation , it is a revelation accepting the risks and limits of a book. Man is not a body containing a spirit, he is a spirit inhabiting a body. In both instances I think the distinction of vital importance. It is upon this distinction that this work is largely based. This, indeed, is the key of my interpretation of the whole Kingdom of God as brought near in Nature, Providence, Humanity, and Revelation. Within the suns is the God who made them, and who wears them as a robe: in all history there is a directing and controlling mind: in humanity there is a Divine purpose: in Revelation there is a Godhead accessible to faith and love and penitence.

We assume an immense responsibility in claiming that any book is a final and authoritative standard in faith and morals. We place the Book itself in an awful position. We separate it from all other books, we make sceptical criticism a profane offence, and devout obedience an essential element of spiritual character. The mind has simply to receive, the will has simply to obey, the heart has simply to trust. The Book is to us verily as God himself. Are we, in nineteenth century light, to stand by such a position or to abandon it? Is the Bible still to stand alone, and to demand the obeisance of all other books; is the dream-book to stand in the harvest fields of literature and to receive the homage of the bending sheaves? There is only one Book in the world which can prove the inspiration of the Bible, and that is the Bible itself. Possibly in our early reading of the Scriptures we put ourselves into a false relation to the Book by taking with us some preconceived notion or theory of inspiration, and trying to make the Bible exactly fit our mechanical orthodoxy. This was like timing the sun by our chronometers, instead of timing our chronometers by the sun. What wonder if we have lost much by this process? What wonder if the supposed orthodoxy has originated the real scepticism? Inspiration, like its author, is a term which has no equivalent in other words, and therefore can have no complete theory. Strange as it may appear, there are some words which lexicography cannot break up into explanatory syllables, and amongst them the word Inspiration holds a foremost place. We must feel some meanings, as blind men feel the morning light. Illustrations of inspiration we can have, also reverent suggestions respecting it, also such confirmations as arise from coincidence, unity, purpose, and issue,—here, indeed, is the most inviting and productive field of devout and even intellectual research; but to say authoritatively where Inspiration begins, where it ends, how it operates, what it involves, where it separates itself from genius, how it burned for a brief day in shepherd or king, fisherman or tent-maker, and then was withdrawn to heaven, nevermore to glow upon earth, would be to have the very inspiration which is said to have completed itself in revelation. Unless in the most limited and severely guarded manner, I cannot but think that the less we theorise about Inspiration the better. Theories are human. As such, they are, as to their verbal form, matters of opinion and subject to change. Every man has of course the right to form an opinion, but no man has the right to say it is the only opinion that can be formed; otherwise it would be inspired, and inspiration is said to have ceased. My counsel would be, Let the Book speak for itself. When inquirers come with their questions, objections, and difficulties, insist, as a condition of conference, that the Book itself be read through and through from end to end until the inquirer is thoroughly acquainted with its contents.

That reading will do its own work. That reading has made me an unquestioning and grateful believer in the plenary inspiration, the divine authority, and the infinite sufficiency of Holy Scripture, and, therefore, I can the more earnestly and definitely encourage others to impose upon themselves the sacred task. I now know that the Bible is inspired. It addresses itself to every aspect and every necessity of my nature; it is my own biography; I seem to have read it in some other world; we are old friends; the breathing of Eternity is in us both, and we have happened together, to our mutual joy, on this rough shore of time. I never know how great a Book it is until I try to do without it: then the heart aches; then the eyes are put out with the great tears of grief; then the house is no home of mine; then life sinks under an infinite load of weariness. In great moods of moral exultation I cannot stoop to the unworthy fray of intellectual encounter, to compare theories, to discuss contradictory scepticisms, and to institute comparisons between the cleverness which baffles me and the faith which impels me to service. I know well all the criticisms which this kind of confession never fails to evoke; if I knew less of them I would make more of them, but knowing them well, in all their scope and meaning, I will no longer allow them to rob the heart of its most sacred joys.

Has Inspiration really ceased out of the Church? Is the Holy Spirit but a term in ancient theology? Is he not the abiding Paraclete? Jesus Christ distinctly promised that the Paraclete should abide "for ever," and can he be in the heart without inspiring the whole range of the mind? I have no doubt as to the continuance of Inspiration in the Church, for it seems to me to be the one gift which must, of gracious necessity, abide for ever—the gift, indeed, without which the Church could not exist. But the gift is not always to be used in one direction. There are inspired readers as certainly as there are inspired writers. "There is a spirit in Prayer of Manasseh , and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding," in the deep and true reading of the Word.

I am not alarmed by the perils which must instantly suggest themselves to apprehensive minds, though some of those perils, viewed from unequal distances, are unquestionably portentous in outline. The gift of inspired reading is the gift of the whole believing and suppliant Church. There is no inspired class in the Church, divinely marked off for special reverence and remuneration; indeed, it seems to me that the Song of Solomon -called priests are the only uninspired followers—the mere craftsmen and pensioners—of the Church; they are "shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter." "Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind." You need not, therefore, fear that I am pointing to a priestly class. The kind of inspiration I mean can be had for the asking by all humble souls. "If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" The proof of such inspiration will be found less in intellectual splendour than in spiritual docility and childlike obedience; we shall be unconscious of the shining of our face, but shall know that in our hearts there is a great softness of love, a holy yearning after our Father"s perfectness; we shall be most inspired when we are most teachable; we may be sure that the purpose of the Holy Spirit is being accomplished within us when we say, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth," and ask him, beside whom are the two anointed ones, not to withhold his revelation from babe-like souls. Verily, Inspiration hath not ceased. Let us pray for an inspired ministry, in other words, that our ministers may be blessed with a double portion of the Holy Spirit. This is our protection against priestism. This will sanctify every Prayer of Manasseh , body, soul, and spirit, and make the whole Church the living temple of the Holy Ghost.

When ministers are divinely inspired, their public reading of the Scriptures will be an exposition; every accent will be as a tongue of fire, and every emphasis will give new hints of meaning. The inspired writers wait for inspired readers. How the Holy Book leaps, so to say, in recognition of the sacred touch and the loving glance! Inspired reading gives us a Bible which cannot be taken from us; not a mechanical Bible, which cunning hands can disjoint; not an artificial Bible, which relies upon scattered proof-texts; but a living Revelation , a voice which awakens faithful echoes in the heart; a self-attesting Book; its own mystery and its own lamp; without beginning or end; an infinite surprise, an infinite benediction. Have no fear that the Ark of the Testimony will be taken. We lose our inspiration when we lose our Faith, and then we are the subjects of irrational panic. Rather say, "Come up, ye horses; and rage, ye chariots; and let the mighty men come forth;... for Pharaoh king of Egypt is but a noise." Theories and dogmas, propositions and controversies, orthodoxies and heterodoxies, come and go, but the Word of the Lord abideth for ever, "surely as Tabor is among the mountains, and as Carmel by the sea."

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Revelation 15:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/revelation-15.html. 1885-95.

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