An Emerald Rainbow!
Archibald G. Brown, April 16th, 1871, Stepney Green Tabernacle
"After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in Heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said: 'Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this!' At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in Heaven with One sitting on it. And the One who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne!" Revelation 4:1-3
The apostle John had just received a glorious revelation as recorded in the previous chapters, when he had tokens given to him to expect fuller manifestations yet of things to come. It happened thus. One day as he was gazing upwards from his rocky, sea-girt home of exile, he beheld a portion of the blue canopy roll back, and lo! "A door was opened in Heaven." Astonished, he watches this strange phenomenon, and awaits the result. He is not left long in doubt. A voice clear and sonorous, resembling the blast of a trumpet, calls him, and commands "Come up here!" and promises him a sight of things yet veiled in futurity. With the command also came the power — for immediately the apostle was in the Spirit; and borne aloft by celestial wings, he entered through the gate into the city.
The first object that met his enraptured sight was a throne all-glorious in itself, the glory of which was in a moment forgotten by the view of Him who sat on it. Notice how particular John is in declaring it was no vacant throne on which he gazed, "Before me was a throne in Heaven with One sitting on it!" True to the experience of all believers, he thinks far more of a risen Savior, than all the grandeur of that Savior's palace. It was not the throne — but Him who occupied it that riveted his attention and his thoughts.
There are vacant thrones in Heaven — but this one is never among them. The vacant thrones are those reserved for saints on earth who, unnoticed by the world, and often steeped in poverty, are yet uncrowned monarchs — and but await the moment of death to enter onto their public regal state.
But this throne was no throne for a redeemed one — but the throne of the Redeemer himself. It was Christ's throne of grace which the translated exile then beheld. The same Person who in the tabernacle of old was sometimes filled with the shining glory of His presence. Transferred from earth to Heaven, the glory never departs; the manifested presence never becomes dim; for Jehovah-Jesus, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, forever sat down at the right hand of God; from then on waiting until his enemies would be made his footstool. Heb 10.13.
After mentioning the throne, and declaring that one sat upon it, the apostle goes on to describe the royal occupant. "And the One who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian."
What was it that gave this flashing, glowing beauty to Him who sat upon the throne? Was it the brightness of those gems which as high priest he wore upon his breast, the dazzling beauty of which rendered it impossible for human eye to detect all the different hues? Perhaps so. Suffice it for us, the aspect of the whole exalted Savior was such as John could only compare to the united glory of the two gemstones, jasper and the carnelian.
The jasper was a stone of brilliant white — the carnelian one of blood-red glow. "White and ruddy" was our Beloved, as beheld by the apostle. It is not our purpose this morning to expatiate upon the meaning hidden in these blended colors. We will simply say that they have been thought to teach the two-fold relationships of Christ, namely, to His people and to His enemies. To the former, the light of His countenance is as jasper — clear as crystal — to the latter His frown is as the angry color of the fiery carnelian. While he occupies the throne to ever intercede for His chosen ones, He also waits for his foes to be beneath his feet. The mercy and majesty — the love and justice of our Savior blended — alone set forth the completeness of His glory.
The third thing that demanded the apostle's notice was a rainbow remarkable for many things. No ordinary bow was this — no common semicircle of blended hues. It was a complete rainbow, not broken in half — but encircling the throne. It was a circle of beauty. Not only was its form exceptional — but its color also. It was, we read, "like an emerald." The gentle hue of emerald green predominated over all the fiercer colors. It was soothing to the sight.
In this emerald rainbow, I detect infinite mercy. Surely it would have been all but an impossibility for John to have endured the insufferable light of the jasper and the carnelian, had not their effulgence been mellowed and softened by the emerald rainbow through which he then beheld them. Let us for a few minutes this morning get within the gentle light of this rainbow, and try to discover its heavenly teaching. We will have but two divisions, and those are very simple ones,
First, the rainbow;
secondly, its position, "encircling the throne."
I. The Rainbow.This was a sign and symbol intended to teach some truth. What? I think there can be little question, if any, that this emerald rainbow is a lovely figure of the covenant of grace. No other idea has ever been linked with the rainbow, than that of being a token of the covenant. Let me remind you of the earliest record we have of the rainbow in the cloud. Noah and his family have for many weary weeks been living in the ark that floated over a drowned world. At last, as we read at the commencement of this service, God remembered Noah and caused the waters to abate from off the face of the earth. The ark rests upon the mountains of Ararat, and when the earth has become dried, the God who has shut them in, opens the door and bids them go forth into what was virtually a new world. Filled with boundless gratitude for his salvation, the first thing Noah does is to build an altar to the Lord and offer burnt offerings. The smoke ascends to Heaven as a sweet savor, and God blesses the worshiper.
And now, lest Noah should live in perpetual dread of a second flood, Jehovah enters into a covenant with him that no more shall a flood destroy the whole earth. And to keep this covenant in remembrance, he adds a token: "I set my rainbow in the cloud, and I will look upon it that I may remember the everlasting covenant I have made."
From that moment, the rainbow became a pledge of safety — a sign of the covenant. It was so looked upon by God when His Spirit spoke through Isaiah, and said, "for this is like the waters of Noah to me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you; for the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed — but my kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall the covenant of my peace be removed, says the Lord that has mercy on you."
Surely John would, in a moment, catch the blessed meaning of that emerald rainbow. It was that the covenant of grace encircles the throne of Heaven. Let us now see in what respects the rainbow serves as an illustration of the covenant:
First, the rainbow is the child of the cloud and the sun. There can be no rainbow without the black rain cloud — it is necessary for the background. Yet on the other hand, the dark cloud of itself is utterly powerless to give birth to the smiling arch of light. The bright rays of the sun are requisite to paint its glowing colors. It is the junction of the two, that results in mercy's pledge. If I may so express it, it is only when the sun with its rosy lips kisses the dark face of the storm cloud — that it becomes wreathed with beauty.
Is this not a picture of the covenant of grace? There can be no grace where there is no unworthiness. The very word grace implies complete lack of merit. It is only to a fallen creature, that grace can offer itself. The black cloud of our depravity and sinfulness has, by the infinite wisdom of God, been made subservient to the exhibition of His mercy and His grace.
But just as the cloud alone can make no rainbow glitter on its breast, so sin left to itself can never relieve its gloom — the sun must shine. Here O my soul, rejoice and sing, and tell the matchless triumph of your Lord. Had no gleam of mercy shone — had no sun of righteousness arisen — then mankind must forever have lived in the outer darkness of despair.
But lo! the remedy was provided before the disease broke out; the restoration was secured before the fall took place. From all eternity, Jesus was the lamb slain, and before we stood in Adam, our human head, we stood in Christ, our divine representative. No sooner did man fall, and consequently the cloud gather, than the light which had been shining from before all time, flew apace and darting through the gloom, kissed with its golden rays the threatening cloud. In a moment there was a heavenly transformation — a belt of light encircled the cloud in the shape of that sweet promise given to our parents: "The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head." Mercy met misery — and the result was the covenant grace.
But although it is owing to the cloud that the rainbow is seen — yet it is equally true that the rainbow does not rest upon the cloud; it is suspended by the hand of God. Man's depravity forms the dark background that throws up in glorious contrast the brightness of God's grace. But the covenant of grace, blessed be His name, rests on other foundations. It is founded on the purposes of God; and although its sweet engagements are for man, they do not rest on man; it is a covenant of "I will" and "you shall." If it rested on anything less fixed, its arch of hope would have been broken ten thousand times.
Let us pass on to another resemblance. The rainbow is beautiful for its variety. True, in this rainbow which John saw, the color green so predominated, that it appeared as a whole like emerald.
I purpose to speak of this shortly; but now I am running the parallel between the covenant of grace and rainbows in general, and I need not tell you of the charming variety ever seen in them. We have all beheld the orange and the green and the red, so melting into one another that it has been difficult to say where one ended and the other commenced. In all God's works, from the moss on the wall, to the clouds in the air; from the daisy of the lawn, to the stars in skies, variety abounds — but nowhere is this more beautifully manifested than in the rainbow that follows the storm.
Wait, I correct myself! There is something in which more colors blend and harmonize: it is the covenant of grace. All the covenant, like the rainbow, is but one; and yet what a multitude of different blessings are found within its range. All I am and all I have, and all I hope to be when Jesus comes — the covenant includes.
What is the first step in a sinner's salvation? I mean, what is the first step taken on earth? Why certainly, it is God's effectual call to salvation. That call which carries with it power, draws the sinner from the world and makes him willing to be saved God's way. Where does this willingness come from? Why has his old stubbornness departed? The answer is, it is secured in the covenant, "Your people shall be willing in the day of your power." Psalm 110.3. You would never have come to Jesus if the spirit had not called you; and the spirit called you in accordance with the gracious covenant. Sweet color in the heavenly rainbow, well may I sing,
"Why was I made to hear your voice,
And enter while there's room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?
'Twas the same love that spread the feast,
That sweetly forced me in;
Else I had still refused to taste,
And perished in my sin!"
But when called and convinced by the Spirit — what repentance was ours!! What bitter tears we shed; how we upbraided our wicked hearts for holding out so long!! Where did this repentance and joyful grief come from? Did it spring from self? Was it our hand that opened the fountains of the great deep of our soul? No, repentance is a gift from Heaven, and one of the blessings of the covenant; for I read concerning Jesus, "God has exalted Him with His right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance." Act 5.31.
Being now called and convinced, the sinner exercises faith, and reposes his soul upon the finished work and all-glorious atonement of Jesus. O, marvelous act, whereby a sinner becomes a saint; an heir of wrath becomes a child of God. May not the soul say concerning faith, "This at least, is my work"? No, it is but another color in the varied covenant; He who gives effectual calling, gives faith also. "By grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves — it is the gift of God."
Immediately after faith comes an intense yearning after holiness, and with the yearning, there will be a gradual growing up into the likeness of Christ. The beauty of holiness will begin to be apparent; and as days and years pass by, it will shine more and more unto the perfect day.
Has the covenant anything to do with this, or is it merely an addendum to the work of the covenant, the result of the soul's own unaided efforts? The answer is at once given by scripture, "He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love;" Eph 1.4. "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son." Rom 8.29. Holiness, which is the road to Heaven, is as much provided for in the covenant as that we should be saved at all. "From Me," says the Lord, "is your fruit found." Hos 14.8.
How sweet also is the exercise of prayer; it is as natural for a child of grace to pray, as for a child of nature to cry. The Christian must pray. Does this come from himself, or is it like all that we have mentioned, a gift of God included in the covenant of grace? The answer to this question is just as readily given in scripture as to the former. "Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities, for we do not know what we should pray for as we should; but the spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." Romans 8.26.
No prayer ever yet ascended up to God, except what first came down from God. Our happiest seasons of communion are but one of the hues of the many-colored rainbow of grace.
Living in the world of sin and grief, subject to daily trials and burdens, we need a strength sufficient for our day. Native strength at its strongest, is but native weakness. We feel we need a power that can always be equal to the uncertain demands that may be made upon it. Beloved, we have it.
There is one radiant streak of glory in the covenant, I cannot dare pass by in silence. If I say but little on it, I must just point you to it, and let it speak for itself. Meeting our daily requirements and including the most extraordinary circumstances that can possibly fall to our lot, it says, "Your shoes shall be iron and brass. As your days are — so shall your strength be." Deu 33.25.
O say believer, was I not right when I said that no rainbow earthly eye has ever seen possessed such varied charms, such countless colors, as the rainbow of our God's covenant with us?
Another thought occurs to me connected with this portion of our subject. It is in the rainbow that we see the component parts of the one color of light; that color appears to us as white — but in the rainbow we behold it broken up and distributed into its different shades. So it is in the covenant of grace; it is in that covenant, that the varied beauties of our God are best discerned. "God is light," and as such His very brightness dazzles — His glory becomes a darkening veil.
Where is it that we can with unblinded eyes, behold the beauty of our God? If we turn to nature, we only find a manifestation of His eternal power and Godhead, a manifestation which, like the sun in the meridian, tells of streaming light. It is to the covenant of His grace that we must turn, and there at once we discover the different colors which, united, make the light. It is there that we see the red of His justice, blending with the violet of his mercy; the orange of his truthfulness, kissing the emerald green of his compassion. God, to be seen with delight, must be viewed as a God in covenant.
Again, the rainbow is an emblem of reconciliation and security; it was so to Noah. It told him that wrath was over, and that mercy reigned; and it softly whispered that never more need he tremble for fear of another coming worldwide deluge. It was God's pledge to him of future safety. If fear ever took possession of his breast when a more than ordinarily dark cloud gathered upon the horizon, he only had to behold the smiling arch in order to have his fears scattered, and believe that it was only "big with mercy, and would break in blessings on his head." Is it not so with the covenant? Does it not gleam with mercy, and sing of reconciliation?
As John beheld it, it appeared "like an emerald." The softest and most refreshing color to the eye, was the one that predominated and mellowed all the rest. Mercy is triumphant in the covenant, and rightly has our God called it "the covenant of my peace." Even the fiery red of the carnelian stone, may be beheld with joy through the softening medium of the emerald. Well might we sing as we did just now.
"Your covenant the last accent claims,
Of this poor faltering tongue;
And that shall the first notes employ,
Of my celestial song."
Child of God, get your assurance and confidence from the conditions of the covenant. The reason why many live devoid of all abiding peace, is because they seek it in the wrong place. They look within, they watch their changing experiences, they analyze their frames and feelings — and then wonder that they are a prey to doubts and fears. I would wonder if they were not. The one place and the only place where full assurance flourishes, is just under the radiant rainbow of God's gracious covenant. Never mind what you feel, or what unbelief mutters in your ears. The thing is, what has God said about Christ in the covenant? Find that out and live upon it, and you will reach an atmosphere where no clouds or storms can rise. God has said "I will look upon the rainbow;" well then, you look upon it too, for in that covenant rainbow you are reconciled to Him with a reconciliation that He has declared shall never be broken.
The rainbow was God's handiwork. "I set my rainbow in the cloud." Jehovah fashioned the light and bent this rainbow; He set it also in the heavens. Noah might look at it — but he could never have made it. Its very value as a pledge of security, arose from the fact that it was God's, not man's. Just so with the everlasting covenant of grace, from first to last it is God's.
It is His in conception. It was the mind of infinite wisdom that first drew a plan whereby the guilty might be saved — whereby God might be just — and yet the justifier of him that believes. It bears on its very surface the impress of Him whose thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor His ways as our ways.
It is His in provision. All that was necessary for its accomplishment has been provided by the same One who sketched the marvelous plan. The sacrifice — the blood — the power, are all found apart from man. Man's finger has never been raised to supply one requisite!
It is also His in execution. This I have already attempted to demonstrate.
The power that convinces,
the grace that draws,
the faith that accepts,
the peace that follows,
the security that abides
— are all, all of God.
Lastly on this division, on which I have dwelt for longer than I intended, this rainbow never melts away. The one on which Noah gazed soon lost its brilliance; fainter and fainter still it grew, until like a colored haze, it just quivered in the air and then faded from his sight. Ten thousand rainbows since then have arched this earth, and then melted away in the clouds — but this heavenly rainbow ever abides. It shone with undiminished brilliance when John beheld it encircling the throne, and from eternity it had been there. It gleams in Heaven this morning with hues as fresh as ever; and when time has run its course, and given way to eternity, it shall remain forever the subject of the ceaseless song of spirits glorified in Heaven.
II. The POSITION of the Rainbow.
This rainbow encircled the throne. As I have remarked previously, this rainbow was an exceptional one in its form, being a complete circle, and as such, going completely encircling the throne. Surely there are some truths hidden here that will, if found, well repay our research. I will but mention a few ideas that have been suggested to myself and others by this position.
First then, may not the fact of the rainbow being all around the throne, teach that God in all his persons is included in the covenant of grace? It is a blessed truth that it is so. The covenant embraces the whole Trinity; not one of the persons is omitted. The rainbow encircles the whole throne. Father, Son and Holy Spirit all have their glorious part in the salvation of man by grace:
The FATHER chooses and gives over the subjects of His choice into the hands of the Son.
The SON receives them, fallen as they are, and covenants to make the provisions necessary for their eternal safety. These provisions are an atonement to satisfy the righteous demands of a justice they have outraged; blood to cleanse their souls, steeped in blackest sin; and righteousness to justify and give them title to everlasting bliss.
The SPIRIT'S blessed work is equally as necessary, and must never be forgotten in our praises. He covenants to convince the sinner of the necessity for a Savior; to make him feel his sins are a grievous load; to break the hard heart and set it seeking after mercy; to heal it when broken; to lead to Christ's atoning blood and give it peace. The Spirit takes from the things of Jesus, and reveals them to blind eyes.
As it was in the first creation of man, so it is in the second. The whole Trinity works in the formation of man. God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." And in the restoration of man to God's image, it is still, "Let us do it." The rainbow is round about the throne, including God in all His three glorious persons.
"Give to the Father praise,
Give glory to the Son,
And to the Spirit of His grace
Be equal honor done."
Being encircling the throne, it was always in view. I speak with reverence — but it was impossible for Him who sat upon the throne not to behold the rainbow; it was around Him on every side; its emerald hue would be ever attracting attention. John only saw Him who was like jasper through the rainbow, and He only looked upon John through the same hallowed medium.
Believer, do you catch the blessed truth that my soul is anxious to convey? It is this — God only looks upon His people as they are in covenant relationship with Himself. Whenever He sees them, He beholds the glory of the emerald rainbow abiding upon them. It would indeed be a sad, sad thing for us if our God looked upon us as we are in ourselves. But heart-rejoicing fact, He never beholds us apart from Christ, our covenant head. He does not look upon our sinful sin-stained persons — but on the perfect righteousness of His Son, which covers us as with a garment of righteousness. So we are ever in His sight, "without spot or wrinkle or any such thing."
We sometimes forget the covenant — but He never does. Depressed by sinfulness and deluded by unbelief — we often forget the emerald rainbow around the throne, and only think with fear of Him who shines like the jasper and glows like the carnelian. He never forgets it. Around Him on every hand, it ever remains in sight.
Being encircling the throne, it follows that no matter in what way God comes out to His people, He ever comes forth in the way of covenant, that is, through the rainbow. Doubtless there are many of us here this morning rejoicing in the loving-kindness of our God; mercy of all sorts has been scattered upon our path; we have health, strength, happy homes and ten thousand comforts that are denied to others; the sun of prosperity is shining upon our life, making all things bright and gladsome; care is almost unknown, and sorrow is a comparative stranger.
Well, let us rejoice in so happy a lot; but at the same time let us not forget we have none of these happinesses on the ground of our merits. It is all of grace — all of covenant mercy. Let this thought save us from indulging pride or vain glory.
But there are many here who have an experience the very reverse of this. Care is a constant companion, and sorrow is never absent. The body is sick — the home is sad — many a comfort is lacking — bereavement has torn the heart, and difficulties distract the mind. No sun of temporal prosperity shines — but the whole sky is black with clouds of adversity.
Well, dear friend, are you to suppose from this that God has forgotten you and ceased to be gracious? Let the thought be far from you. Different though God's dealings with you are compared to others — they are just as much in covenant. He has come through the same rainbow to chasten you, as He did to prosper others. While in the former case we remembered this to save us from vain glorying — we ask you to remember it to keep you from dark despair.
Afflictions are no proof of lack of love or of covenant relationship, for "whom the Lord loves — He chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives." Heb 12.2. Let providences be bright or black, pleasing or painful — they are equally in the way of covenant.
Lastly, and for a moment only. As the rainbow was all encircling the throne, it follows that there is no coming to God except through it. Sinner, would you be saved? Then you must be saved by grace. There is no coming to God by merit. Cast away all dependence upon your own works and rest for salvation upon the grace of God in Christ. Are you afraid and trembling because of the blood-red glow of the carnelian? Behold the emerald rainbow nearer to you than the fiery stone; and encouraged by its gentle smile, approach and trust.
May the Lord bring us all to Heaven, and throughout eternity will we sing the praises of that rainbow which is like "an emerald." Amen.