Then I looked again, and I heard the singing of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus—
"The Lamb is worthy—the Lamb who was killed. He is worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!" Revelation 5:11-12
What an anthem is this!
We have, today, been assembled at Christ's Sacramental Table, contemplating the memorials of His dying ever-living love. The sublime passage just read contains also a superb description of a Communion. But the place of convocation is not a Temple on earth, but Heaven—the fellow-guests, not a few perishable mortals, but a glorified multitude which no man can number. It may form no unbefitting theme, surely, for this evening's service, to connect our sacrament below with the Supper of the Lamb above—The eternal festal Sabbath; no mock kiss of pretended friendship to mar—no anticipated hour and power of darkness to ruffle the deep rapture of its joy. How profoundly interesting the thought that we have here depicted what is now transacting in the Upper Sanctuary. How delightful to reflect, that in ourselves ascending the Mount of Ordinances, we have been identified with the redeemed around the Throne; that the Church militant and the Church triumphant are associated in the same grand commemorative rite. Lo! as faith catches up the echoes of the Heavenly minstrelsy, it tells that our theme and our song are one—"The Lamb is worthy—the Lamb who was killed. He is worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!" In their connection with the previous and succeeding context, let me advert to a few consolatory truths with which the passage is replete. We may learn—
(1.) The delight with which Christ looks back on His own Atoning work and sufferings.It was predicted, "He shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied," and it would appear from the text, as if this were to be a perpetual sight and ever new satisfaction. If, even on earth, when the appalling prospect was before Him of treading the winepress of the wrath of God; when, at hand, was the gleam of the midnight torch, the assassin-band, Gethsemane's hour and power of darkness, and other deepening shadows beyond—if, even then, anticipating the results of Redemption, He could say, as if longing for the final triumph—"I have a Baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished!"—now, when His work is completed, the vision informs us with what holier satisfaction He regards the retrospect of His agony and endurance. Rejoicing still to talk with His redeemed, as He did of old on the Mount of Transfiguration, of "the decease accomplished at Jerusalem," beholding on every side the evidences of His conquest—living trophies in their robes of light and with palms of triumph—contemplating the influence His death has exercised, not on the family of earth only, but on the varied orders of intelligence throughout the universe; what an attestation to God's immaculate holiness, His unimpeachable rectitude, His burning purity, His boundless mercy!
Shall the record be allowed to perish, or be henceforth an unknown and unpondered theme in Heaven? No—exceptional as it is, there shall still be one everlasting memorial there of anguish and suffering, in a place where pain never enters and suffering is unknown. Accordingly, when the Redeemer puts the coronation anthem into the lips of His worshipers, He reveals Himself, not in the glories of Godhead, but as a slain Lamb, wearing the marks of humiliation. He tells them to make Calvary still their meditation, and His Cross and Passion the great Sacrament of eternity. The print of the nails in His hands, and the spear-mark in His side, are not the mementoes of shame but of victory—remembrancers of a love whose depths the ages cannot fathom.
The vision of the text thus becomes the mightiest of preachers, replete to the hosts above with the Story of grace. There is a tongue in every wound of the glorified Sufferer, silently but expressively proclaiming, "Great is the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh!"
(2.) The Vision of the slain Lamb would seem symbolically to point to the perpetual efficacy of the Savior's sacrifice."Christ was once offered to bear the sin of many." "By one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified." By that one oblation He has made the bestowment of love and mercy compatible with every demand of justice and every requirement of righteous law. Nearly nineteen centuries have rolled by, since those wounds were opened and that blood shed. But the power and sufficiency of the Atonement are undiminished—still is He "able to save to the uttermost." And what is His plea when, as the ever-living Intercessor, He bears the names of His covenant people on His heart in every approach to the Throne? It is the plea of His own precious blood-shedding. He appears as "the slain Lamb." He points to the mute but expressive traces and symbols in His own adorable Body, as the grounds of His Advocacy. The live coals in the censer of the true Aaron (the fire of suffering) give the odor-breathing incense of His merits all its fragrancy. By His death He wrought out atonement; by intercession He perpetuates it and renders it forever efficacious; so that in the noblest of senses it may be said of Him, "He being dead, yet speaks." When on earth He poured out His soul in strong crying and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, "He was heard in that He feared." In heaven He pleads in silence. He is heard in that He suffered.
(3.) The Vision informs us of the continued identity of Christ's Person as God-man Mediator. It assures His people that He is the same Savior now that He was on earth. "Behold the Lamb of God!" said John, when pointing out the Man of sorrows in this valley of tears. "Behold the Lamb of God!" exclaim myriads in the Heavenly Sanctuary, when gazing on the exalted Savior. It is indeed a glorified humanity He now wears; but it is humanity still—His risen Body a human Temple enshrining the Shekinah of Godhead. As the slain Lamb He proclaims that the same heart which throbbed in anguish on the Cross still beats on the Throne—that He is still the elder Brother, "the living Kinsman," the Almighty Friend; still feelingly alive, exquisitely sensitive to every pang which rends the human soul. What were the comforting words which the angels, on the Mount of Ascension, addressed to the disciples as they saw the bright cloud hearing their Lord to Heaven? "This same Jesus." Precious assurance! Jesus unchanged and unchangeable—"this same Jesus"—of Bethlehem and Nazareth, of Jerusalem and Galilee—"this same Jesus," who mingled His tears with the widow at the gate of Nain; who wept over the memory of a cherished friendship, and was melted in a flood of tenderest compassion over a fated city and an apostate land—"this same Jesus," who breathed balm-words of comfort on the very eve of His own agony, and in the midst of it welcomed a dying felon to Paradise—is now, with a heart of unaltered love and sympathy, wielding the scepter of universal empire!
And He will continue "this same Jesus" until these clouds be once more parted, and the celestial gates once more opened, that He may "come again and receive us unto Himself." This is, and ever shall be, His name and memorial, "I am He who lives and was dead." "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever."
(4.) We may yet further infer from the Vision, that Redemption is the grand theme of adoration for unredeemed angels, as well as for the redeemed family of God.It is a mighty throng of worshipers the text discloses. It is not one company alone. We have angels, "living ones," and elders—redeemed and unredeemed. No harp is unstrung, no voice silent. One strain thrills on every tongue—"Worthy is the Lamb, the Lamb who was slain!" It is only one of the many ranks who may be said to be personally interested in the subject-matter of the anthem; and yet the whole celestial hierarchy would seem to dwell with devout and delighted amazement on the marvel of marvels. We may picture them exclaiming in turns, as they gaze on the significant symbol of sufferings, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!" How spotless His righteousness! How inexorable His justice! How unsearchable His wisdom! How infinite His love! How He hated sin, yet loved the sinner! How He magnified the law by showing He could by no means clear, and yet how He has 'cleared, the guilty!'
Dear Friends, it is surely an elevating thought, that you have been this day associated in your Sacramental feast, not with the Church triumphant alone, ransomed sinners who have exchanged the pilgrim warfare for the pilgrim rest, but with the whole Family of God, from the archangel nearest the throne to the least in the kingdom. Though requiring not, as we do, the personal application of the blood of sprinkling, they love to assemble as spectators at the Great commemorative rite, and make it the theme of devoutest contemplation; for, we read, "unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places is made known, by the Church, the manifold wisdom of God." When they search for the richest displays of the Divine character, where is it, we are told, they direct their gaze—with what do they task their immortal energies? With folded wings they bend over Gethsemane and Calvary, and exclaim, "The whole EARTH is full of His glory!"
(5.) The Vision of the text informs us, of the preeminent dignity and bliss of the ransomed saints.The Evangelist heard the voice of many Angels round about the throne, and round about the living ones, and round about the elders. What does this unfold, but a succession (so to speak) of concentric circles encompassing the all-glorious and glorified CENTER; and that the innermost circle—those standing nearest the slain Lamb, permitted the nearest glimpse of His Presence—are "Elders," that is, the Redeemed from the earth. It was the white-robed multitude, with crowns and palms, who in a subsequent vision were beheld "before the Throne," God sitting on the Throne and dwelling among them. They would seem (to use the language of the old divines,) as if reckoned the blood-royal of Heaven—"Kings and priests unto God," "sitting with Christ on His throne." Wondrous spectacle! the ranks of cherubim and seraphim, angel and archangel, making way, that redeemed sinners may take the station nearest "the excellent Glory," and pour in their own special chorus, in which no unredeemed tongue can join—"He was slain for us!"
(6.) We learn further from the Vision, the unity which pervades the heavenly ranks."Angels," "Living ones," and "Elders." No discordant voice to disturb the symphony. Not only so, but among the elders themselves (the ransomed from earth) there is blessed harmony. We read of the whole aggregate Church triumphant, "the four-and-twenty," symbolizing the varied churches of Christ gathered from "every kindred and tongue and people and nation," singing in sweet concert the new song, and falling down in blissful accord at the feet of Him who lives forever and ever. However different on earth, there, at least, variance ceases. No jarring sound—no party or separating shibboleth. The trumpet of discord mute. All seeing eye to eye and heart to heart. Then (alas! for the first time) that which is often spoken of as so beautiful in theory in the Church militant, will be realized in the Church glorified, "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."
The only ambition amid the mighty convocation will be, what harp will yield the richest melody, what tongue the loftiest tribute of grateful and adoring homage to "the Lamb—the Lamb that was slain!"
(7.)Finally, let us draw one other concluding lesson. The vision seems intended to prepare the Church on earth for her own sufferings, and reconcile her to her approaching tribulation. The scene is placed near the beginning of the Apocalypse; a preliminary to the pouring out of a succession of vials on the nations. But, before the thunders awake, the Church receives a wondrous vision of consolation. What is that? It is the sight of an Almighty Fellow-Sufferer! What can better reconcile her to have her own vestments dipped in blood, than looking up to the crimsoned vesture of her Adorable Head? How can she repine, when she looks to heaven and beholds the once Crucified Savior—reminding her that in her struggles she can fare no worse than her Master and Lord—that if persecutions be appointed, what are they, when she sees on the Throne the visible memorials of suffering, in comparison with which all her experiences of scenes and ages of agony would be but as dust in the balance?
We know nothing more consolatory for the child of God, in the midst of sorrows too deep for utterance and tears, than to take the vision of the text and dwell on its profound teachings. Afflicted believer! trial upon trial, like wave after wave, may have been rolling over you—deep calling unto deep. But is there not a voice from that Slain Lamb proclaiming—"I am a Fellow-Sufferer," and may you not well be mute under the unanswerable challenge—"Was there ever sorrow like unto My sorrow?" Precious vision! it tells me, when my heart is overwhelmed and in perplexity, that there is One at the right hand of God who can say, from identity of experience, "I know your sorrows," for as the Slain Lamb, the Man of sorrows, He has felt them all Himself. Ah! it is a Lamb too, the token and emblem of innocence. Can I, a guilty sinner, repine at my afflictions, when this spotless, sinless, innocent Lamb of God was mute before His shearers? Is there not a voice stealing from that glorious and glorified One, addressing every child of tribulation, 'O bleeding heart, look at My wounds, and then say, can you murmur?'
Men and brethren, we have celebrated another high festival on earth; and as we descend the Mount, let us do so with the anthems of glory we have now been considering sounding in our ears. Lo! the immortal ranks (to repeat our opening sentence)—are busied with the same festive rite as ourselves. They echo back the motto and watchword as their own, which has ascended from not a few spirits among us today—"God forbid that we should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." O Lamb of God, who did so freely shed Your blood; we entreat that that blood may plead mightily for us!—that when we bid farewell to Communions here, and rise to the everlasting festal Sabbath in Heaven, it may be to prolong and perpetuate words which have been now uppermost in our hearts; which form our rejoicing while pilgrims on earth; which will compose our death-song and smooth our death-pillow; which will be our passport at Judgment and our triumphant anthem through Eternity—"Worthy, worthy, worthy is the Lamb, the Lamb who was slain!"