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Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

Revelation 21

 

 

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Verse 1

Revelation

NO MORE SEA

Revelation 21:1

‘I John,’ says the Apocalypse at its commencement, ‘was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the testimony of Jesus.’ In this, the one prophetic book of the New Testament, we find the same fact that meets us in the old prophecies, that the circumstances of the prophet colour, and become the medium for, the representation of the spiritual truths that he has to speak. All through the book we hear the dash of the waves. There was ‘a sea of fire mingled with glass before the throne.’ The star Wormwood fell ‘upon the sea.’ Out of the sea the beast rises. When the great angel would declare the destruction of Babylon, he casts a mighty stone into the ocean, and says, ‘Thus suddenly shall Babylon be destroyed.’ And when John hears the voice of praise of the redeemed, it is ‘like the voice of many waters,’ as well as like the voice of ‘harpers harping on their harps.’ And then, when there dawns at the close of the vision, the bright and the blessed time which has yet to come, the ‘new heavens and the new earth’ are revealed to him; and that sad and solitary and estranging ocean that raged around his little rock sanctuary has passed away for ever. I suppose I need not occupy your time in showing that this is a symbol; that it does not mean literal fact at all; that it is not telling us anything about the geography of a future world, but that it is the material embodiment of a great spiritual truth.

Now what is meant by this symbol is best ascertained by remembering how the sea appears in the Old Testament. The Jew was not a sailor. All the references in the Old Testament, and especially in the prophets, to the great ocean are such as a man would make who knew very little about it, except from having looked at it from the hills of Judea, and having often wondered what might be lying away out yonder at the point where sky and sea blended together. There are three main things which it shadows forth in the Old Testament. It is a symbol of mystery, of rebellious power, of perpetual unrest. And it is the promise of the cessation of these things which is set forth in that saying, There was no more sea.’ There shall be no more mystery and terror. There shall be no more ‘the floods lifting up their voice,’ and the waves dashing with impotent foam against the throne of God. There shall be no more the tossing and the tumult of changing circumstances, and no more the unrest and disquiet of a sinful heart. There shall be the ‘new heavens and the new earth.’ The old humanity will be left, and the relation to God will remain, deepened and glorified and made pure. But all that is sorrowful and all that is rebellious, all that is mysterious and all that is unquiet, shall have passed away for ever.

I. Let us then, by way of illustrating this great and blessed promise, consider it first as the revelation of a future in which there shall be no more painful mystery.

‘Thy way is in the sea, and Thy path in the great waters, and Thy footsteps are not known.’ ‘Thy judgments are a mighty deep.’ ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! ‘Such is the prevailing tone of expression when the figure appears either in the Old or in the New Testament.

Most natural is it. There are, too, sources of obscurity there. We look out upon the broad ocean, and far away it seems to blend with air and sky. Mists come up over its surface. Suddenly there rises on the verge of the horizon a white sail that was not there a moment ago; and we wonder, as we look out from our hills, what may be beyond these mysterious waters. And to these ancient peoples there were mysteries which we do not feel. Whither should they come, if they were to venture on its untried tides? And then, what lies in its sunless caves that no eyes have seen? It swallows up life and beauty and treasure of every sort, and engulfs them all in its obstinate silence. They go down in the mighty waters and vanish as they descend. What would it be if these were drained off? What revelations - wild sea-valleys and mountain-gorges; the dead that are in it, the power that lies there, all powerless now, the wealth that has been lost in it! What should we see if depth and distance were annihilated, and we beheld what there is out yonder and what there is down there?

And is not our life, brethren, ringed round in like manner with mystery? And, alas! wherever to a poor human heart there is mystery, there will be terror.

The unknown is ever the awful. Where there is not certain knowledge, imagination works to people the waste places with monsters. There is a double limitation of our knowledge. There are mysteries that come from the necessary limitation of our faculties; and there are mysteries that come from the incompleteness of the revelation which God has been pleased to make. The eye is weak and the light is dim. There is much that lies beyond the horizon which our eyes cannot reach. There is much that lies covered by the deeps, which our eyes could reach if the deeps were away. We live - the wisest of us live - having great questions wrestling with us like that angel that wrestled with the patriarch in the darkness till the morning broke. We learn so little but our own ignorance, and we know so little but that we know nothing. There are the hard and obstinate knots that will not be untied; we bend all our faculties to them, and think they are giving a little bit, and they never give; and we gnaw at them, like the viper at the file, and we make nothing of it, but blunt our teeth!

Oh! to some hearts here, surely this ought to come as not the least noble and precious of the thoughts of what that future life is - ‘there shall be no more sea’; and the mysteries that come from God’s merciful limitation of our vision, and some of the mysteries that come from God’s wise and providential interposition of obstacles to our sight, shall have passed away. It is no dream, my brethren I Why, think how the fact of dying will solve many a riddle! how much more we shall know by shifting our position! ‘There must be wisdom with great Death,’ and he ‘keeps the keys of all the creeds.’ Try to conceive how some dear one that was beside us but a moment ago, perhaps but little conscious of his own ignorance, and knowing but little of God’s ways, thinking as we did, and speaking as we did, and snared with errors as we were, has grown at a bound into full stature, and how a flood of new knowledge and Divine truth rushes into the heart the moment it passes the grave I If they were to speak to us, perhaps we should not understand their new speech, so wise have they become who have died.

What mysteries have passed into light for them? I know not. Who can tell what strange enlargement of faculty this soul of ours is capable of? Who can tell how much of our blindness comes from the flesh that clogs us, from the working of the animal nature that is so strong in us? Who can tell what unknown resources and what possibilities of new powers there lie all dormant and unsuspected in the beggar on the dunghill, and in the idiot in the asylum? This, at least, we are sure of: we shall ‘know, even as also we are known.’ God will not be fathomed, but God will be known. God will be incomprehensible, but there will be no mystery in God, except that most blessed mystery of feeling that the fullness of His nature still surpasses our comprehension. Questions that now fill the whole horizon of our minds will have shrunk away into a mere point, or been answered by the very change of position. How much of the knowledge’s of earth will have ceased to be applicable, when the first light-beam of heaven falls upon them! Those problems which we think so mysterious - why God is doing this or that with us and the world; what is the meaning of this and the other sorrow - what will have become of these? We shall look back and see that the bending line was leading straight as an arrow-flight, home to the centre, and that the end crowns and vindicates every step of the road. Something of the mystery of God will have been resolved, for man hath powers undreamed of yet, and ‘we shall see Him as He is.’ Much of the mystery of man, and of man’s relation to God, will have ceased; for then we shall understand all the way, when we have entered into the true sanctuary of God.

Men that love to know, let me ask you, where do you get the fulfilment, often dreamed of, of your desires, except here? Set this before you, as the highest truth for us: Christ is the beginning of all wisdom on earth. Starting thence I can hope to solve the remaining mysteries when I stand at last, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, in the presence of the great light of God.

Not that we shall know everything, for that were to cease to be finite. And if ever the blasphemous boast come true that tempted man once, ‘Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil,’ there were nothing left for the soul that was filled with all knowledge but to lie down and pant its last. It needs, by our very nature, and for our blessedness, that there should be much unknown. It needs that we should ever be pressing forward. Only, the mysteries that are left will have no terror nor pain in them. ‘There shall be no more sea,’ but we shall climb ever higher and higher up the mountain of God, and as we climb see farther and farther into the blessed valleys beyond, and ‘shall know, even as we are known.’

II. Secondly, the text tells us of a state that is to come, when there shall be no more rebellious power.

In the Old Testament the floods are often compared with the rage of the peoples, and the rebellion of man against the Will of God. ‘The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice. The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters; yea, than the mighty waves of the sea.’ ‘Thou stillest the noise of the waves, and the tumult of the people.’ In like manner that symbolic reference surely supplies one chief meaning of Christ’s miracle of stilling the tempest; the Peace-bringer bringing to peace the tumults of men. Here, then, the sea stands as the emblem of untamed power. It is lashed into yeasty foam, and drives before it great ships and huge stones like bulrushes, and seems to have a savage pleasure in eating into the slow-corroding land, and covering the beach with its devastation.

‘There shall be no more sea.’ God lets people work against His kingdom in this world. It is not to be always so, says my text. The kingdom of God is in the earth, and the kingdom of God admits of opposition. Strange! But the opposition, even here on earth, all comes to nothing. ‘Thou art mightier than the noise of many waters’; the floods ‘have lifted up their voice’; but Thou ‘sittest upon the floods, yea, Thou sittest king for ever.’ Yes, it is an experience repeated over and over again, in the history of individuals and in the history of the world. Men, fancying themselves free, resolved to be rebellious, get together and say, mutteringly at first, and then boldly and loudly, ‘Let us break His bands asunder, and cast away His cords from us.’ And God sits in seeming silence in His heavens, and they work on, and the thing seems to be prospering, and some men’s hearts begin to fail them for fear. The great Armada comes in its pride across the waters - and the motto that our England struck upon its medal, when that proud fleet was baffled, serves for the epitaph over all antagonism to God’s kingdom, ‘The Lord blew upon them, and they were scattered.’ The tossing sea, that rages against the will and purpose of the Lord, what becomes of all its foaming fury? Why, this becomes of it - the ark of God ‘moves on the face of the waters,’ and though wild tempests howl to beat it from its course, yet beneath all the surface confusion and commotion there is, as in the great mid-ocean, a silent current that runs steady and strong, and it carries the keel that goes deep enough down to rest in it, safely to its port. Men may work against God’s kingdom, the waves may rave and rage; but beneath them there is a mighty tidal sweep, and God’s purposes are wrought out, and God’s ark comes to ‘its desired haven,’ and all opposition is nugatory at the last.

But there comes a time, too, when there shall be no more violence of rebellious wills lifting themselves against God. Our text is a blessed promise that, in that holy state to which the Apocalyptic vision carries our longing hopes, there shall be the cessation of all strife against our best Friend, of all reluctance to wear His yoke whose yoke brings rest to the soul. The opposition that lies in all our hearts shall one day be subdued. The whole consent of our whole being shall yield itself to the obedience of sons, to the service of love. The wild rebellious power shall be softened into peace, and won to joyful acceptance of His law. In all the regions of that heavenly state, there shall be no jarring will, no reluctant submission. Its ‘solemn troops and sweet societies’ shall move in harmonious consent of according hearts, and circle His throne in continuousness of willing fealty. There shall be One will in heaven. ‘There shall be no more sea’; for ‘His servants serve Him,’ and the noise of the waves has died away for ever.

Before I pass on, let me appeal to you, my friend, on this matter. Here is the revelation for us of the utter hopelessness and vanity of all opposition to God. Oh! what a thought that is, that every life that sets itself against the Lord is a futile life, that it comes to nothing at last, that none hardens himself against God and prospers! It is true on the widest scale. It is true on the narrowest. It is true about all those tempests that have risen up against God’s Church and Christ’s Gospel, like ‘waves of the sea foaming out their own shame,’ and never shaking the great rock that they break against. And it is true about all godless lives; about every man who carries on his work, except in loving obedience to his Father in heaven. There is one power in the world, and none else. When all is played out, and accounts are set right at the end, you will find that the power that seemed to be strong, if it stood against God, was weak as water and has done nothing, and is nothing! Do not waste your lives in a work that is self-condemned to be hopeless! Rather ally yourselves with the tendencies of God’s universe, and do the thing which will last for ever, and live the life that has hope of fruit that shall remain. Submit yourselves to God! Love Christ! Do His will! Put your faith in the Saviour to deliver you from your sins; and when the wild tossing of that great ocean of ungodly power and rebellious opposition is all hushed down into dead silence, you and your work will last and live hard by the stable throne of God.

III. Lastly, the text foretells a state of things in which there is no more disquiet and unrest.

The old, old figure which all the world, generation after generation in its turn, has spoken, is a Scriptural one as well, and enters into the fullness of the meaning of this passage before us. Life is a voyage over a turbulent sea; changing circumstances come rolling after each other, like the undistinguishable billows of the great ocean. Tempests and storms rise. There is wearisome sailing, no peace, but ‘ever climbing up the climbing wave.’ That is life! But for all that, friends, there is an end to it some day; and it is worth while for us to think about our island home, far, far beyond the sea.’ Surely some of us have learned the weariness of this changeful state, the weariness of the work and voyage of this world. Surely some of us are longing to find anchorage whilst the storm lasts, and a haven at the end. There is one, if only you will believe it, and set yourselves towards it. There is an end to all ‘the weary oar, the weary wandering fields of barren foam.’ On the shore stands the Christ; and there is rest there. There is no more sea, but unbroken rest, unchanging blessedness, perpetual stability of joy, and love in the Father’s house. Are we going there? Are we living for Christ? Are we putting our confidence in the Lord Jesus? Then, ‘He brings us to the desired haven.’

One thing more: not only does unrest come from the chaos of changing circumstances, but besides that, there is another source of disquiet, which this same symbol sets forth for us. ‘The wicked is like the troubled sea which cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. That restless, profitless working of the great homeless, hungry, moaning ocean - what a picture it is of the heart of a man that has no Christ, that has no God, that has no peace by pardon! A soul all tossed with its own boiling passion, a soul across which there howl great gusts of temptation, a soul which works and brings forth nothing but foam and mire! Unrest, perpetual unrest is the lot of every man that is not God’s child.

Some of you know that. Well, then, think of one picture. A little barque pitching in the night, and one figure rises quietly up in the stern, and puts out a rebuking hand, and speaks one mighty word, ‘Peace be still.’ And the word was heard amid all the hurly-burly of the tempest, and the waves crouched at His feet like dogs to their master. It is no fancy, brethren, it is a truth. Let Christ speak to your hearts, and there is peace and quietness. And if He do that, then your experience will be like that described in the grand old Psalm, ‘Though the waters roar and be troubled, and though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof, yet will we not fear,’ for the city stands fast, in spite of the waves that curl round its lowest foundations. Death, death itself, will be but the last burst of the expiring storm, the last blast of the blown-out tempest. And then, the quiet of the green inland valleys of our Father’s land, where no tempest comes any more, nor the loud winds are ever heard, nor the salt sea is ever seen; but perpetual calm and blessedness; all mystery gone, and all rebellion hushed and silenced, and all unrest at an end for ever! ‘No more sea,’ but, instead of that wild and yeasty chaos of turbulent waters, there shall be ‘the river that makes glad the city of God,’ the river of water of life, that ‘proceeds out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.’


Verses 1-7

Revelation

THE NEW JERUSALEM ON THE NEW EARTH

Revelation 21:1-7; Revelation 21:22-27

The ‘new Jerusalem’ can be established only under a ‘new heaven’ and on a ‘new earth.’ The Seer naturally touches on these before he describes it. And the fact that they come into view here as supplying the field for it makes the literal interpretation of their meaning the more probable. If ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ means a renovated condition of humanity, what difference is there between it and the New Jerusalem planted in it? We have to remember the whole stream of Old and New Testament representation, according to which the whole material creation is ‘subject to vanity,’ and destined for a deliverance. Modern astronomy has seen worlds in flames in the sky, and passing by a fiery change into new forms; and the possibility of the heavens being dissolved, the elements melted with fervent heat, and a new heavens and new earth emerging, cannot be disputed. In what sense are they ‘new’? ‘New’ here, as the application of it to Jerusalem may show, does not mean just brought into existence, but renovated, made fresh, and implies, rather than denies, the fact of previous existence. So, throughout Scripture, the re-constitution of the material world, by which it passes from the bondage of corruption into ‘the liberty of the glory of the children of God’ is taught, and the final seat of the city of God is set forth as being, not some far-off, misty heaven in space, but ‘that new world which is the old.’

‘And the sea is no more’ probably is to be taken in a symbolic sense, as shadowing forth the absence of unruly power, of mysterious and hostile forces, of estranging gulfs of separation. Into this renovated world the renovated city floats down from God. It has been present with Him, before its manifestation on earth, as all things that are to be manifested in time dwell eternally in the Divine mind, and as it had been realized in the person of the ascended Christ. When He comes down from heaven again, the city comes with Him. It is the ‘new Jerusalem,’ inasmuch as the ideas which were partially embodied in the old Jerusalem find complete and ennobled expression in it. The perfect state of perfect humanity is represented by that society of God’s servants, of which the ancient Zion was a symbol. In it all the glowing stream of prophecy dealing with the ‘bridal of the earth and of the sky,’ the marriage of perfect manhood with the perfect King, is fulfilled.

II. The vision is supplemented by words explanatory to the Seer of what he beheld {vs. 3, 4}, and all turns on two great thoughts - the blessed closeness of union now perfected and made eternal between God and men, and the consequent dawning of a new, unsetting day in which all human ills shall be swept away.

The former promise is cast in Old Testament mould, as are almost all the symbols and prophecies of this Book of Revelation. In outward form the tabernacle had stood in the centre of the wilderness encampment, and in the symbol of the Shekinah, God had dwelt with Israel, and they had been, in name, and by outward separation and consecration, His people. In the militant state of the Church on the old earth, God had dwelt with His people in reality, but with, alas! many a break in the intercourse caused by His people defiling the temple. But in that future all that was symbol shall be spiritual reality, and there will be no separation between the God who tabernacles among men and the men in whom He dwells. The mutual relation of possession of each other shall be perfect and perpetual. That is the brightest hope for us, and from it all other blessedness flows. His presence drives away all evils, as the risen moon clears the sky of clouds. How can sorrow, or crying, or pain, or death, live where He is, as He will be in the perfected city? The undescribable future is best described by the negation of all that is sad and a foe to life. Reverse the miseries of earth, and you know something of the joys of heaven. But begin with God’s presence, or you will know nothing of their most joyful joy.

III. The great voice speaks again, proclaiming the guarantees of the vision, and the conditions of possessing its fruition {vs. 5-7}.

How can we be sure that these radiant hopes are better than delusions, lights thrown on the black curtain of the unknown future by the reflection of our own imaginations? Only because He that sitteth on the throne,’ and is therefore sovereign over all things, has declared that He will ‘make all things new.’ His power and faithful word are the sole guarantees. Therefore seers may write, and we may read, and be sure that when heaven and earth pass away His word shall not only not pass away, but bring the new heavens and the new earth. So sure is the fulfilment, that already, to the divine mind, these things ‘are come to pass.’ Faith may share in the divine prerogative of seeing things that are not as though they were, and make the future present. He who is Alpha, the beginning, from whom are all things, is Omega, the end, to whom are all things. There lies the security that the drift of the universe is towards God, its source, and that at last man, who came from God, will come back to God, and Eden be surpassed by the new Jerusalem.

The conditions of entering the city are gathered up in words which recall many strains of prophecy and promise. Thirst is the condition of drinking of the water of life - as John the Evangelist delights to tell that Jesus said by the well at Samaria and in the temple court. Conflict and victory make His children heirs of these things, as the Christ had spoken by the Spirit to the churches. The Christian victory perfects the paternal and filial relation between God and us. And all three promises are but variations of the answer to the question: How can I become a citizen of that city of God?

IV. A fuller description, highly symbolical in colouring, of the city, comes next {vs. 22-27}, on which space will only allow us to remark that we have, first, two representations, in each of which the city’s glory is expressed by the absence from it of a great good, occasioned by the presence of a greater, of which the lesser was but a shadowy similitude.

There is no temple, no outward shrine, no place of special communion, no dependence on externals, because the communion with God and the Lamb is perfect, continuous, spiritual. There is no sun, moon, nor artificial light, for far brighter than their feeble beams is the light in which the citizens see light. That light is perpetual, and no night ever darkens the sky. That light draws all men to it. Possibly the Seer thinks of kings and nations as still subsisting, but more probably he carries over the features of the old earth into the new, in order to express the great hope that all shall be drawn to the light, and royalties and nations be merged in citizenship. One solemn word limits the universality of the vision. Nothing excludes but uncleanness, but that does exclude. The roll of citizens is the Lamb’s book of life, and we may all have our names written there. Only we must be pure, thirsty for the water of life, and fight and conquer through Jesus.


Verse 3

John

‘THREE TABERNACLES’

John 1:14. - Revelation 7:15. - Revelation 21:3.

The word rendered ‘dwelt’ in these three passages, is a peculiar one. It is only found in the New Testament-in this Gospel and in the Book of Revelation. That fact constitutes one of the many subtle threads of connection between these two books, which at first sight seem so extremely unlike each other; and it is a morsel of evidence in favour of the common authorship of the Gospel and of the Apocalypse, which has often, and very vehemently in these latter days of criticism, been denied.

The force of the word, however, is the matter to which I desire especially to draw attention. It literally means ‘to dwell in a tent,’ or, if we may use such a word, ‘to tabernacle,’ and there is no doubt a reference to the Tabernacle in which the divine Presence abode in the wilderness and in the land of Israel before the erection. In all three passages, then, we may see allusion to that early symbolical dwelling of God with man. ‘The Word tabernacled among us’; so is the truth for earth and time. ‘He that sitteth upon the throne shall spread His tabernacle upon’ the multitude which no man can number, who have made their robes white in the blood of the Lamb; that is the truth for the spirits of just men made perfect, the waiting Church, which expects the redemption of the body. ‘God shall tabernacle with them’; that is the truth for the highest condition of humanity, when the Tabernacle of God shall be with redeemed men in the new earth. ‘Let us build three tabernacles,’ one for the Incarnate Christ, one for the interspace between earth and heaven, and one for the culmination of all things. And it is to these three aspects of the one thought, set forth in rude symbol by the movable tent in the wilderness, that I ask you to turn now.

I. First, then, we have to think of that Tabernacle for earth. ‘The Word was made flesh, and dwelt, as in a tent, amongst us.’

The human nature, the visible, material body of Jesus Christ, in which there enshrined itself the everlasting Word, which from the beginning was the Agent of all divine revelation, that is the true Temple of God. When we begin to speak about the special presence of Omnipresence in any one place, we soon lose ourselves, and get into deep waters of glory, where there is no standing. And I do not care to deal here with theological definitions or thorny questions, but simply to set forth, as the language of my text sets before us, that one transcendent, wonderful, all-blessed thought that this poor human nature is capable of, and has really once in the history of the world received into itself, the real, actual presence of the whole fulness of the Divinity. What must be the kindred and likeness between Godhood and manhood when into the frail vehicle of our humanity that wondrous treasure can be poured; when the fire of God can burn in the bush of our human nature, and that nature not be consumed? So it has been. ‘In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.’

And when we come with our questions, How? In what manner? How can the lesser contain the greater? we have to be content with the recognition that the manner is beyond our fathoming, and to accept the fact, pressed upon our faith, that our hearts may grasp it and be at peace. God hath dwelt in humanity. The everlasting Word, who is the forthcoming of all the fulness of Deity into the realm of finite creatures, was made flesh and dwelt among us.

But the Tabernacle was not only the dwelling-place of God, it was also and, therefore, the place of Revelation of God. So in our text there follows, ‘we beheld His glory.’ As in the tent in the wilderness there hovered between the outstretched wings of the silent cherubim, above the Mercy-seat, the brightness of the symbolical cloud which was expressly named ‘the glory of God,’ and was the visible manifestation of His real presence; so John would have us think that in that lowly humanity, with its curtains and its coverings of flesh, there lay shrined in the inmost place the brightness of the light of the manifest glory of God. ‘We beheld His glory.’ The rapturous adoration of the remembrance overcomes him, and he breaks his sentence, reckless of grammatical connection, as the fulness of the blessed memory floods into his soul. ‘That glory was as of the Only Begotten of the Father.’ The manifestation of God in Christ is unique, as becomes Him who partakes of the nature of that God of whom He is the Representative and the Revealer.

And how did that glory make itself known to us? By miracle? Yes! As we read in the story of the first that Christ wrought, ‘He manifested forth His glory and His disciples believed upon Him.’ By miracle? Yes! As we read His own promise at the grave of Lazarus: ‘Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?’ But, blessed be His name, miracle is not the highest manifestation of Christ’s glory and of God’s. The uniqueness of the revelation of Christ’s glory in God does not depend upon the deeds which He wrought. For, as the context goes on to tell, the Word which tabernacled among us was ‘full of grace and truth,’ and therein is the glory most gloriously revealed.

The lambent light of stooping love that shone forth warning and attracting in His gentle life, and the clear white beam of unmingled truth that streamed from the radiant purity of Christ’s life, revealed God to hearts that pine for love and spirits that hunger for truth, as no others of God’s self-revealing works have done. And that revelation of the glory of God in the fulness of grace and truth is the highest possible revelation. For the divinest thing in God is love, and the true ‘glory of God’ is neither some symbolical flashing light nor the pomp of mere power and majesty; nor even those inconceivable and incommunicable attributes which we christen with names like Omnipotence and Omnipresence and Infinitude, and the like. These are all at the fringes of the brightness. The true central heart and lustrous light of the glory of God lie In His love, and of that glory Christ is the unique Representative and Revealer, because He is the only Begotten Son, and ‘full of grace and truth.’

Thus the Word tabernacled amongst us. And though the Tabernacle to outward seeming was covered by curtains and skins that hid all the glowing splendour within; yet in that lowly life that was lived in the body of His humiliation, and knew our limitations and our weaknesses, ‘the glory of the Lord was revealed; and all flesh hath seen it together’ and acknowledged the divine Presence there.

Still further the Tabernacle was the place of sacrifice. So in the tabernacle of His flesh Jesus offered up the one sacrifice for sins for ever. In the offering up of His human life in continuous obedience, and in the offering up of His body and blood in the bitter Passion of the Cross, He brought men nigh unto God.

Therefore, because of all these things, because the Tabernacle is the dwelling-place of God, the place of revelation, and the place of sacrifice, therefore, finally is it the meeting-place betwixt God and man. In the Old Testament it is always called by the name which our Revised Version has accurately substituted for ‘tabernacle of the congregation,’ namely ‘tent of meeting.’ The correctness of that rendering and the meaning of the name are established by several passages in the Old Testament, as for instance, ‘There I will meet with you, to speak there unto thee, and there I will meet with the children of Israel.’ So in Christ, who by His Incarnation lays His hand upon both, God touches man and man touches God. We who are afar off are made nigh, and in that ‘true tabernacle which the Lord pitched and not man’ we meet God and are glad.

‘And so the word was flesh, and wrought

With human hands the creed of creeds,

In loveliness of perfect deeds.’

The temple for earth is ‘the temple of His body.’

II. We have the Tabernacle for the Heavens.

In the context of our second passage we have a vision of the great multitude redeemed out of all nations and kindreds, ‘standing before the Throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands.’ The palms in their hands give important help towards understanding the vision. As has been often remarked, there are no heathen emblems in the Book of the Apocalypse. All its metaphors move within the circle of Jewish experiences and facts. So that we are not to think of the Roman palm of victory, but of the Jewish palm which was borne at the Feast of Tabernacles. What was the Feast of Tabernacles? A festival established on purpose to recall to the minds and to the gratitude of the Jews settled in their own land the days of their wandering in the wilderness. Part of the ritual of it was that during its celebration they builded for themselves booths or tabernacles of leaves and boughs of trees, under which they dwelt, thus reminding themselves of their nomad condition.

Now what beauty and power it gives to the word of my text, if we take in this allusion to the Jewish festival! The great multitude bearing the palms are keeping the feast, memorial of past wilderness wanderings; and ‘He that sitteth on the throne shall spread His tabernacle above them,’ as the word might be here rendered. That is to say, He Himself shall build and be the tent in which they dwell; He Himself shall dwell with them in it. He Himself, in closer union than can be conceived of here, shall keep them company during that feast.

What a thought of that condition-the condition as I believe represented in this vision-of the spirits of the just made perfect, ‘who wait for the adoption, to wit, the resurrection of the body,’ is given us if we take this point of view to interpret the whole lovely symbolism. It is all a time of glad, grateful remembrance of the wilderness march. It is all a time in which festal joys shall be theirs, and the memory of the trials and the weariness and the sorrow and the solitude that are past shall deepen to a more exquisite poignancy of delight, the rest and the fellowship and the felicity of that calm Presence, and God Himself shall spread His tent above them, lodge with them, and they with Him.

And so, dear brethren, rest in that assurance, that though we know so little of that state, we know this: ‘Absent from the body, present with the Lord,’ and that the happy company who bear the palms shall dwell in God, and God in them.

III. And now, lastly, look at that final vision which we have in these texts, which we may call the Tabernacle for the renewed earth.

I do not pretend to interpret the scenery and the setting of these Apocalyptic visions with dogmatic confidence, but it seems to me as if the emblems of this final vision coincide with dim hints in many other portions of Scripture; to the effect that some cosmical change having passed upon this material world in which we dwell, it, in some regenerated form, shall be the final abode of a regenerated and redeemed humanity. That, I think, is the natural interpretation of a great deal of Scriptural teaching.

For that highest condition there is set forth this as the all-sufficing light upon it. ‘Behold, the Tabernacle of God is with men, and He will tabernacle with them.’ The climax and the goal of all the divine working, and the long processes of God’s love for, and discipline of, the world, are to be this, that He and men shall abide together in unity and concord. That is God’s wish from the beginning. We read in one of the profound utterances of the Book of Proverbs how from of old the ‘delights’ of the Incarnate Wisdom which foreshadowed the Incarnate Word ‘were with the sons of men.’ And, at the close of all things, when the vision of this final chapter shall be fulfilled, God will say, settling Himself in the midst of a redeemed humanity, ‘Lo! here will I dwell, for I have desired it. This is My rest for ever.’ He will tabernacle with men, and men with Him.

We know not, and never shall know until experience strips the bandages from our eyes, what new methods of participation of the divine nature, and new possibilities of intimacy and intercourse with Him may be ours when the veils of flesh and sense and time have all dropped away. New windows may be opened in our spirits, from which we shall perceive new aspects of the divine character. New doors may be opened in our souls, from out of which we may pass to touch parts of His nature, all impalpable and inconceivable to us now. And when all the veils of a discordant moral nature are taken away, and we are pure, then we shall see, then we shall draw nigh to God. The thing that chiefly separates man from God is man’s sin. When that is removed, the centrifugal force which kept our tiny orb apart from the great central sun being withdrawn, we shall, as it were, fall into the brightness and be one, not losing our sense of individuality, which would be to lose all the blessedness, but united with Him in a union far more intimate than earth can parallel. ‘The Tabernacle of God shall be with men, and He will tabernacle with them.’

Do not let us forget that this highest and ultimate hope that is held forth here, of the union and communion, perfect and perpetual, of humanity with God, does not sweep aside Jesus Christ. For through all eternity the Everlasting Word, the Christ who bears our nature in its glorified form, or, rather, whose nature in its glorified form we shall bear, is the Medium of Revelation, and the Medium of communication between man and God.

‘I saw no Temple therein,’ says this final vision of the Apocalypse, but ‘God Almighty and the Lamb,’ and these are the Temples thereof. Therefore through eternity God shall tabernacle with men, as He does tabernacle with us now through Him, in whom dwelleth as in its perennial habitation, ‘all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.’

So we have the three tabernacles, for earth, for heaven, for the renewed earth; and these three, if I may say so, are like the triple division of that ancient Tabernacle in the wilderness: the Outer Court; the Holy Place; the Holiest of all. Let us enter into that outer court, and abide and commune with that God who comes near to us, revealing, forgiving, in the person of His Son, and then we shall pass from court to court, ‘and go from strength to strength, until every one of us in Zion appear before God’; and enter into the Holiest of all, where ‘within the veil’ we shall receive splendours of revelation undreamed of here, and enjoy depths of communion to which the selectest moments of fellowship with God on earth are shallow and poor.


Verse 5

Revelation

AN IMPOSSIBILITY MADE POSSIBLE

Jeremiah 13:23. - 2 Corinthians 5:17. - Revelation 21:5.

Put these three texts together. The first is a despairing question to which experience gives only too sad and decisive a negative answer. It is the answer of many people who tell us that character must be eternal, and of many a baffled man who says, ‘It is of no use-I have tried and can do nothing.’ The second text is the grand Christian answer, full of confidence. It was spoken by one who had no superficial estimate of the evil, but who had known in himself the power of Christ to revolutionise a life, and make a man love all he had hated, and hate all he had loved, and fling away all he had treasured. The last text predicts the completion of the renovating process lying far ahead, but as certain as sunrise.

I. The unchangeableness of character, especially of faults.

We note the picturesque rhetorical question here. They were occasionally accustomed to see the dark-skinned, Ethiopian, whether we suppose that these were true negroes from Southern Egypt or dark Arabs, and now and then leopards came up from the thickets on the Jordan, or from the hills of the southern wilderness about the Dead Sea. The black hue of the man, the dark spots that starred the skin of the fierce beast, are fitting emblems of the evil that dyes and speckles the soul. Whether it wraps the whole character in black, or whether it only spots it here and there with tawny yellow, it is ineradicable; and a man can no more change his character once formed than a negro can cast his skin, or a leopard whiten out the spots on his hide.

Now we do not need to assert that a man has no power of self-improvement or reformation. The exhortations of the prophet to repentance and to cleansing imply that he has. If he has not, then it is no blame to him that he does not mend. Experience shows that we have a very considerable power of such a kind. It is a pity that some Christian teachers speak in exaggerated terms about the impossibility of such self-improvement.

But it is very difficult.

Note the great antagonist as set forth here-Habit, that solemn and mystical power. We do not know all the ways in which it operates, but one chief way is through physical cravings set up. It is strange how much easier a second time is than a first, especially in regard to evil acts. The hedge once broken down, it is very easy to get through it again. If one drop of water has percolated through the dyke, there will be a roaring torrent soon. There is all the difference between once and never; there is small difference between once and twice. By habit we come to do things mechanically and without effort, and we all like that. One solitary footfall across the snow soon becomes a beaten way. As in the banyan-tree, each branch becomes a root. All life is held together by cords of custom which enable us to reserve conscious effort and intelligence for greater moments. Habit tends to weigh upon us with a pressure ‘heavy as frost, and deep almost as life.’ But also it is the ally of good.

The change to good is further made difficult because liking too often goes with evil, and good is only won by effort. It is a proof of man’s corruption that if left alone, evil in some form or other springs spontaneously, and that the opposite good is hard to win. Uncultivated soil bears thistles and weeds. Anything can roll downhill. It is always the least trouble to go on as we have been going.

Further, the change is made difficult because custom blinds judgment and conscience. People accustomed to a vitiated atmosphere are not aware of its foulness.

How long it takes a nation, for instance, to awake to consciousness of some national crime, even when the nation is ‘Christian’! And how men get perfectly sophisticated as to their own sins, and have all manner of euphemisms for them!

Further, how hard it is to put energy into a will that has been enfeebled by long compliance. Like prisoners brought out of the Bastille.

So if we put all these reasons together, no wonder that such reformation is rare.

I do not dwell on the point that it must necessarily be confined within very narrow limits. I appeal to experience. You have tried to cure some trivial habit. You know what a task that has been-how often you thought that you had conquered, and then found that all had to be done over again. How much more is this the case in this greater work! Often the efforts to break off evil habits have the same effect as the struggles of cattle mired in a bog, who sink the deeper for plunging. The sad cry of many a foiled wrestler with his own evil is, ‘O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’ We do not wish to exaggerate, but simply to put it that experience shows that for men in general, custom and inclination and indolence and the lack of adequate motive weigh so heavily that a thorough abandonment of evil, much more a hearty practice of good, are not to be looked for when once a character has been formed. So you young people, take care. And all of us listen to-

II. The great hope for individual renewal.

The second text sets forth a possibility of entire individual renewal, and does so by a strong metaphor.

‘If any man be in Christ he is a new creature,’ or as the words might be rendered, ‘there is a new creation,’ and not only is he renewed, but all things are become new. He is a new Adam in a new world.

Now {a} let us beware of exaggeration about this matter. There are often things said about the effects of conversion which are very far in advance of reality, and give a handle to caricature. The great law of continuity runs on through the change of conversion. Take a man who has been the slave of some sin. The evil will not cease to tempt, nor will the effects of the past on character be annihilated. ‘Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap,’ remains true. In many ways there will be permanent consequences. There will remain the scars of old wounds; old sores will be ready to burst forth afresh. The great outlines of character do remain.

{b} What is the condition of renewal?

‘If any man be in Christ’-how distinctly that implies something more than human in Paul’s conception of Christ. It implies personal union with Him, so that He is the very element or atmosphere in which we live. And that union is brought about by faith in Him.

{c} How does such a state of union with Christ make a man over again?

It gives a new aim and centre for our lives. Then we live not unto ourselves; then everything is different and looks so, for the centre is shifted. That union introduces a constant reference to Him and contemplation of His death for us, it leads to self-abnegation.

It puts all life under the influence of a new love. ‘The love of Christ constraineth.’ As is a man’s love, so is his life. The mightiest devolution is to excite a new love, by which old loves and tastes are expelled. ‘A new affection’ has ‘expulsive power,’ as the new sap rising in the springtime pushes off the lingering withered leaves. So union with Him meets the difficulty arising from inclination still hankering after evil. It lifts life into a higher level where the noxious creatures that were proper to the swamps cannot live. The new love gives a new and mighty motive for obedience.

That union breaks the terrible chain that binds us to the past. ‘All died.’ The past is broken as much as if we were dead. It is broken by the great act of forgiveness. Sin holds men by making them feel as if what has been must be-an awful entail of evil. In Christ we die to former self.

That union brings a new divine power to work in us. ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’

It sets us in a new world which yet is the old. All things are changed if we are changed. They are the same old things, but seen in a new light, used for new purposes, disclosing new relations and powers. Earth becomes a school and discipline for heaven. The world is different to a blind man when cured, or to a deaf one,-there are new sights for the one, new sounds for the other.

All this is true in the measure in which we live in union with Christ.

So no man need despair, nor think, ‘I cannot mend now.’ You may have tried and been defeated a thousand times. But still victory is possible, not without effort and sore conflict, but still possible. There is hope for all, and hope for ME.

III. The completion in a perfectly renewed creation.

The renovation here is only partial. Its very incompleteness is prophetic. If there be this new life in us, it obviously has not reached its fulness here, and it is obviously not manifested here for all that even here it is.

It is like some exotic that does not show its true beauty in our greenhouses. The life of a Christian on earth is a prophecy by both its greatness and its smallness, by both its glory and its shame, by both its brightness and its spots. It cannot be that there is always to be this disproportion between aspiration and performance, between willing and doing. Here the most perfect career is like a half-lighted street, with long gaps between the lamps.

The surroundings here are uncongenial to the new creatures. ‘Foxes have holes’-all creatures are fitted for their environment; only man, and eminently renewed man, wanders as a pilgrim, not in his home. The present frame of things is for discipline. The schooling over, we burn the rod. So we look for an external order in full correspondence with the new nature.

And Christ throned ‘makes all things new.’ How far the old is renewed we cannot tell, and we need not ask. Enough that there shall be a universe in perfect harmony with the completely renewed nature, that we shall find a home where all things will serve and help and gladden and further us, where the outward will no more distract and clog the spirit.

Brethren, let that mighty love constrain you; and look to Christ to renew you. Whatever your old self may have been, you may bury it deep in His grave, and rise with Him to newness of life. Then you may walk in this old world, new creatures in Christ Jesus, looking for the blessed hope of entire renewal into the perfect likeness of Him, the perfect man, in a perfect world, where all old sorrows and sins have passed away and He has made all things new. Through eternity, new joys, new knowledge, new progress, new likeness, new service will be ours- and not one leaf shall ever wither in the amaranthine crown, nor ‘the cup of blessing’ ever become empty or flat and stale. Eternity will be but a continual renewal and a progressive increase of ever fresh and ever familiar treasures. The new and the old will be one.

Begin with trusting to Him to help you to change a deeper blackness than that of the Ethiopian’s skin, and to erase firier spots than stain the tawny leopard’s hide, and He will make you a new man, and set you in His own time in a ‘new heaven and earth, where dwelleth righteousness.’


Verse 6

Revelation

CHRIST’S FINISHED AND UNFINISHED WORK

John 19:30. - Revelation 21:6.

One of these sayings was spoken from the Cross, the other from the Throne. The Speaker of both is the same. In the one, His voice ‘then shook the earth,’ as the rending rocks testified; in the other, His voice ‘will shake not the earth only but also heaven’; for ‘new heavens and a new earth’ accompanied the proclamation. In the one, like some traveller ready to depart, who casts a final glance over his preparations, and, satisfied that nothing is omitted, gives his charioteer the signal and rolls away, Jesus Christ looked back over His life’s work, and, knowing that it was accomplished, summoned His servant Death, and departed. In the other, He sets His seal to the closed book of the world’s history, and ushers in a renovated universe. The one masks the completion of the work on which the world’s redemption rests, the other marks the completion of the age-long process by which the world’s redemption is actually realised. The one proclaims that the foundation is laid, the other that the headstone is set on the finished building. The one bids us trust in a past perfected work; the other bids us hope in the perfect accomplishment of the results of that work. Taken singly, these sayings are grand; united, they suggest thoughts needed always, never more needful than to-day.

I. We see here the work which was finished on the Cross.

The Evangelist gives great significance to the words of my first text, as is shown by his statement in a previous verse: ‘Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, said, I thirst,’ and then-’It is finished.’ That is to say, there is something in that dying voice a great deal deeper and more wonderful than the ordinary human utterance with which a dying man might say, ‘It is all over now. I have done,’ for this utterance came from the consciousness that all things had been accomplished by Him, and that He had done His life’s work.

Now, there, taking the words even in their most superficial sense, we come upon the strange peculiarity which marks off the life of Jesus Christ from every other life that was ever lived. There are no loose ends left, no unfinished tasks drop from His nerveless hands, to be taken up and carried on by others. His life is a rounded whole, with everything accomplished that had been endeavoured, and everything done that had been commanded. ‘His hands have laid the foundation; His hands shall also finish.’ He alone of the sons of men, in the deepest sense, completed His task, and left nothing for successors. The rest of us are taken away when we have reared a course or two of the structure, the dream of building which brightened our youth. The pen drops from paralysed hands in the middle of a sentence, and a fragment of a book is left. The painter’s brush falls with his palette at the foot of his easel, and but the outline of what he conceived is on the canvas. All of us leave tasks half done, and have to go away before the work is completed. The half-polished columns that lie at Baalbec are but a symbol of the imperfection of every human life. But this Man said, ‘It is finished,’ and ‘gave up the ghost.’ Now, if we ponder on what lies in that consciousness of completion, I think we find, mainly, three things.

Christ rendered a complete obedience. All through His life we see Him, hearing with the inward ear the solemn voice of the Father, and responding to it with that ‘I must’ which runs through all His days, from the earliest dawning of consciousness, when He startled His mother with ‘I must be about My Father’s business,’ until the very last moments. In that obedience to the all-present necessity which He cheerfully embraced and perfectly discharged, there was no flaw. He alone of men looks back upon a life in which His clear consciousness detected neither transgression nor imperfection. In the midst of His career He could front His enemies with ‘Which of you convinceth Me of sin?’ and no man then, and no man in all the generations that have elapsed since-though some have been blind enough to try it, and malicious enough to utter their attempts,-has been able to answer the challenge. In the midst of His career He said, ‘I do always the things that please Him’; and nobody then or since has been able to lay his finger upon an act of His in which, either by excess or defect, or contrariety, the will of God has not been fully represented. At the beginning of His career He said, in answer to the Baptist’s remonstrance, ‘It becometh us to fulfil all righteousness,’ and at the end of His career He looked back, and knowing that He had thus done what became Him-namely, fulfilled it all-He said, ‘It is finished!’

The utterance further expresses Christ’s consciousness of having completed the revelation of God. Jesus Christ has made known the Father, and the generations since have added nothing to His revelation. The very people, to-day, that turn away from Christianity, in the name of higher conceptions of the divine nature, owe their conceptions of it to the Christ from whom they turn. Not in broken syllables; not ‘at sundry times and in divers manners,’ but with the one perfect, full-toned name of God on His lips, and vocal in His life, He has declared the Father unto us. In the course of His career He said, ‘He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father’; and, looking back on His life of manifestation of God, He proclaimed, ‘It is finished!’ And the world has since, with all its thinking, added nothing to the name which Christ has declared.

The utterance farther expresses His consciousness of having made a completed, atoning Sacrifice. Remember that the words of my first text followed that awful cry that came from the darkness, and as by one lightning flash, show us the waves and billows rolling over His head. ‘My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ In that infinitely pathetic and profound utterance, to the interpretation of which our powers go but a little way, Jesus Christ blends together, in the most marvellous fashion, desolation and trust, the consciousness that God is His God, and the consciousness that He is bereft of the light of His presence. Brethren! I know of no explanation of these words which does justice to both the elements that are intertwined so intimately in them, except the old one, which listens to Him as they come from His quivering lip, and says, ‘The Lord hath made to meet on Him the iniquity of us all.’

Ah, brethren! unless there was something a great deal more than the physical shrinking from physical death in that piteous cry, Jesus Christ did not die nearly as bravely as many a poor, trembling woman who, at the stake or the block, has owed her fortitude to Him. Many a blood-stained criminal has gone out of life with less tremor than that which, unless you take the explanation that Scripture suggests of the cry, marred the last hours of Jesus Christ. Having drained the cup, He held it up inverted when He said ‘It is finished!’ and not a drop trickled down the edge. He drank it that we might never need to drink it; and so His dying voice proclaimed that ‘by one offering for sin for ever,’ He ‘obtained eternal redemption’ for us.

II. Now, secondly, note the work which began from the Cross.

Between my two texts lie untold centuries, and the whole development of the consequences of Christ’s death, like some great valley stretching between twin mountain-peaks on either side, which from some points of view will be foreshortened and invisible, but when gazed down upon, is seen to stretch widely leagues broad, from mountain ridge to mountain ridge. So my two texts, by the fact that millenniums have to interpose between the time when ‘It is finished!’ is spoken, and the time when ‘It is done!’ can be proclaimed from the Throne, imply that the interval is filled by a continuous work of our Lord’s, which began at the moment when the work on the Cross ended.

Now it has very often been the case, as I take leave to think, that the interpretation of the former of these two texts has been of such a kind as to distort the perspective of Christian truth, and to obscure the fact of that continuous work of our Lord’s. Therefore it may not be out of place if, in a sentence or two, I recall to you the plain teaching of the New Testament upon this matter. ‘It is finished!’ Yes; and as the lower course of some great building is but the foundation for the higher, when ‘finished’ it is but begun. The work which, in one aspect, is the close, in another aspect is the commencement of Christ’s further activity. What did He say Himself, when He was here with His disciples? ‘I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you.’ What was the last word that came fluttering down, like an olive leaf, into the bosoms of the men as they stood with uplifted faces gazing upon Him as He disappeared? ‘Lo! I am with you alway, even to the end of the ages.’ What is the keynote of the book which carries on the story of the Gospels in the history of the militant Church? ‘The former treatise have I made. . . of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which He was taken up’-and, being taken up, continued, in a new form, both the doing and the teaching. Thus that book, misnamed the Acts of the Apostles, sets Him forth as the Worker of all the progress of the Church. Who is it that ‘adds to the Church daily such as were being saved?’ The Lord. Who is it that opened the hearts of the hearers to the message? The Lord. Who is it that flings wide the prison-gates when His persecuted servants are in chains? The Lord. Who is it that bids one man attach himself to the chariot of the eunuch of Ethiopia, and another man go and bear witness in Rome? The Lord. Through the whole of that book there runs the keynote, as its dominant thought, that men are but the instruments, and the hand that wields them is Christ’s, and that He who wrought the finished work that culminated on Calvary is operating a continuous work through the ages from His Throne.

Take that last book of Scripture, which opens with a view of the ascended Christ ‘walking in the midst of the seven candlesticks, and holding the stars in His right hand;’ which further draws aside the curtains of the heavenly sanctuary, and lets us see ‘the Lamb in the midst of the Throne,’ opening the seven seals-that is to say, setting loose for their progress through the world the forces that make the history of humanity, and which culminates in the vision of the final battle in which the Incarnate Word of God goes forth to victory, with all the armies of heaven following Him. Are not its whole spirit and message that Jesus Christ, the Lamb who is the Antagonist of the Beast, is working through all the history of the world, and will work till its kingdoms are ‘become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ?’

Now, that continuous operation of Jesus Christ in the midst of men is not to be weakened down to the mere continued influence of the truths which He proclaimed, or the Gospel which He brought. There is something a great deal more than the diminishing vibrations of a force long since set in operation, and slowly ceasing to act. Dead teachers do still ‘rule our spirits from their urns’; but it is no dead Christ who, by the influence of what He did when He was living, sways the world and comforts His Church; it is a living Christ who to-day is working in His people, by His Spirit. Further, He works on the world through His people by the Word; they plant and water, He ‘gives the increase.’ And He is working in the world, for His Church and for the world, by His wielding of all power that is given to Him, in heaven and on earth. So that the work that is done upon earth He doeth it all Himself; and Christian people unduly limit the sphere of Christ’s operations when they look back only to the Cross, and talk about a ‘finished work’ there, and forget that that finished work there is but the vestibule of the continuous work that is being done to-day.

Christian people! The present work of Christ needs working servants. We are here in order to carry on His work. The Apostle ventured to say that he was appointed ‘to fill up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ’; we may well venture to say that we are here mainly to apply to the world the benefits resulting from the finished work upon the Cross. The accomplishment of redemption, and the realisation of the accomplished redemption, are two wholly different things. Christ has done the one. He says to us, ‘You are honoured to help Me to do the other.’ According to the accurate rendering of a great saying of the Old Testament, ‘Take no rest, and give Him no rest, till He establish and make Jerusalem a praise in the earth, Christ’s work is finished; there is nothing for us to do with it but trust it. Christ’s work is going on; come to His help. Ye are fellow-labourers with and to the Incarnate Truth.

III. I need not say more than a word about the third thought, suggested by these texts-viz., the completion of the work which began on the Cross.

‘It is done!’ That lies, no man knows how far, ahead of us. As surely as astronomers tell us that all this universe is hastening towards a central point, so surely ‘that far-off divine event’ is that ‘to which the whole creation moves.’ It is the blaze of light which fills the distant end of the dim vista of human history. Its elements are in part summed up in the context-the tabernacle of God with men, the perfected fellowship of the human with the divine, the housing of men in the very home and heart of God; ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ a renovated universe; the removal of all evil, suffering, sorrow, sin, and tears. These things are to be, and shall be, when He says ‘It is done!’

Brethren! nothing else than such an issue can be the end of Creation, for nothing else than such is the purpose of God for man, and God is not going to be beaten by the world and the devil. Nothing else than such can be the issue of the Cross; for ‘He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied,’ and Christ is not going to labour in vain, and spend His life, and give His breath and His blood for nought.

Nothing but the work finished on the Cross guarantees the coming of that perfected issue. I know not where else there is hope for mankind, looking on the history of humanity, except in that great message, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come, has died, lives for ever, and is the world’s King and Lord.

So for ourselves, in regard to the one part of the work, let us listen to Him saying ‘It is finished!’ abandon all attempts to eke it out by additions of our own, and cast ourselves on the finished Revelation, the finished Obedience, the finished Atonement, made once for all on the Cross. But as for the continuous work going on through the ages, let us cast ourselves into it with earnestness, self-sacrifice, consecration, and continuity, for we are fellow-workers with Christ, and Christ will work in, with, and for us if we will work for Him.

 


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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Revelation 21:4". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/revelation-21.html.

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