White Robes and Palms
John Angell James
"After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying: Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" Revelation 7:9-10
"Clothed with white robes."
White is the emblem of purity—and a justified sinner is spotless in the view of infinite Justice, for he is clothed with a robe of righteousness, on which no speck ever lights. All in that world have been pardoned, and accepted into the favor of God. They could not be there without a white robe. What would an unpardoned sinner do in Heaven? The nearer he was brought to the Divine presence, the nearer would he be brought to that, which must inevitably be a source of unutterable torment to him.
Heaven is not only closed against the unpardoned, but it could in fact be no Heaven to them; every view of the glory of "Him who sits upon the throne," that was attended with the consciousness that He had not forgiven their sins, and that they did not stand spotless before Him, would fill the mind with intolerable anguish. But all there are clad in "white robes;" every sin has been pardoned; not a transgression of all the multitude they committed upon earth, will, as to the defilement of it upon the conscience, be taken with them to glory. One single unpardoned sin, one spot upon the "white robe"—would render a soul in Heaven restless through eternity. It must be forgiven—blotted out; the soul must be completely accepted of God, or there can be no Heaven for it!
"They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb!" Revelation 7:14
And so it is. They are all "washed." And how? Not in the tears of their penitence; all the weeping that our world has ever witnessed could not wash out the stain of one sin from the conscience. Not in the baptismal fluid, administered by sacerdotal authority. No; but in "the precious blood of Christ."
What must that atonement be, which of itself is sufficient to take away the sin of all that countless multitude that shall be gathered round the throne! We have only to look at the scene before us, to see the indispensable necessity of the divinity of Christ to constitute the efficacy of the atonement. These two stand or fall together. If there is an atonement for sin, it must of necessity make way for as clear a display of Divine justice as well as mercy—in the salvation of the redeemed, as if they had suffered the penalty of their transgressions in their own proper person, and had sunk under their guilt down to the lowest Hell. There must be an equivalent paid by Jesus' atonement, whatever that equivalent it is. I do not mean a money equivalent; I do not mean to reduce the matter to this; but there must be a moral equivalent. It would be no atonement if a way were not made for the manifestation of Divine justice, as clear and as impressive as it would have been if the whole redeemed had sunk under the chains of their transgressions.
The principles of moral government must be left as clear and as strong, and the government itself as secure—as they would have been had justice taken its own course, and the punishment been inflicted on the original transgressor.
Look, then, to the redeemed, and think of countless myriads washed in the blood of the Lamb—and who must that Lamb be, but, in another view of His nature, the Son of God, equal with the Father?
But the expression imports another thing with respect to the redeemed—their entire and perfect sanctification. Their robes are washed in the blood of the Lamb; their sanctification is effected by the work of the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is granted through the mediation of Jesus Christ; the Holy Spirit uses as the means and model of our sanctification the great truths presented in the atoning sacrifice of the Cross; and therefore our sanctification is effected by the blood of Christ, as well as our justification. White and clean in the blood of the Lamb! Holy! all holy! all perfectly holy!
Do you long, amidst the imperfection of which you are conscious in yourselves, and which is your pain to witness in others, even the best of the people of God—to see a perfect saint? Do you long, to set your eyes on one on whom shall not be found one single spot of defilement? one whom you shall approach without suspicion that there is anything concealed, anything lost in the splendor of his excellencies, but which will come out to your notice upon a more perfect acquaintance with him? You must wait until you get to Heaven for that; and then you shall see nothing else. Instead of one perfect saint, reflecting without the smallest flaw the image of God, you shall see a whole world of such. Heaven is to be peopled with such.
Sometimes when I think of this, I wonder that I can bear not merely with the world, but with the Church. When I am told, that through eternity I am to dwell with men who have been raised into the character of "spirits made perfect," oh! I am astonished that I do not ask for wings to fly away and be at rest with them.
There no cloud of error shall rest upon the judgment; no taint of depravity shall corrupt the heart; all shall be pure. The believer shall then be a saint, in the fullest sense of the term; and all the imperfections which disfigured his moral beauty, which interrupted his usefulness, which occasioned so many tears and groans to himself, shall be lost; you may search through Heaven, and not find a sinner, nor a soul in which one spot of sin shall be found!
"Those holy gates forever bar
Pollution, sin, and shame."
Every soul shall have a "robe," and every robe shall be spotless. It will be a world of holiness, and into which none but such as are holy shall ever enter. What would an unholy man do there? It would be no Heaven to him. He could find no sympathy with his views and feelings. He could have no sympathy with the views and feelings of others. Everything in Heaven is holy;
there dwells the holy God;
there is the holy Savior;
there are the holy angels;
there all the occupations and all the pursuits are holy.
You must give up all hope of going there, if you are not made holy.
"Palms in their hands." The palm branch was the emblem of victory. In every triumphal procession, the hero or the conqueror carried a palm in his hand, waving it amidst the plaudits of the multitude; and was thus indicated to be the individual who was the center of their admiration and the object of their delight. When our Lord made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, they not only cast their garments in His path, but they waved palm branches in their hands.
There are palms in Heaven, figuratively speaking; indicating that Heaven is filled with victors. And this, of course, throws back the idea to earth, and suggests the fact that they have come from a conflict.
And have they not? What is true religion, but one incessant conflict? The man who knows nothing of this is a stranger to the religion of the New Testament. It is a conflict; every part of the Word of God represents it as such.
The field is described;
the foes are marked;
the armor is provided;
the Captain of the host is presented to us,
alling His soldiers to battle, and leading them on to victory.
Look at the FOES which the believer will conquer on his way to glory, and in the victory over which he will gain his palm:
1. There is SATAN: that adversary which "goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." What a mystery hangs about the subject of Satanic influence and temptation! What a dreadful secret! Who can solve it? The very fact of its mysteriousness makes the subject more terrific. The enemy which I can see, whose movements I can watch, whose efforts and whose plans I can detect—is less to be feared than an enemy invisible, impalpable, enrapt in a dark cloud; and this is the case with our ghastly foe.
It strikes me that we have never yet penetrated even the surface of this deadly mystery; and that one of the wonders to be disclosed to us in the heavenly world, and that will come out amidst the light of eternity, is that a creature so feeble as you and I could overcome a foe so gigantic and malignant. But he will be crushed, "bruised under our feet." His machinations will be unraveled; his schemes will be frustrated, his efforts will be baffled; his malignity will be defeated. We shall trample upon this foe, and wave the palm branch of victory over him. And then, farewell forever to this foe. He follows us not into the celestial world. Nothing will remain there but the recollection of the conflict, and the consciousness of the victory.
2. There is the WORLD. O. Christians! O professors! hear the word of warning in reference to the world. God grant to you His mighty grace to overcome this subtle foe. He is never more busy, never more successful than in the present day with the professors of religion. This foe, that assumes a thousand shapes, that follows us everywhere; that attacks us by the snares of business, by the comforts of home, by those sweet, endearing objects that throw their influence over the very heart to its innermost center, that now caresses with its smiles, that now terrifies by its frowns.
The world, professors, take care that the world be not your ruin! Take care that this busy, subtle, ever-changing foe does not ruin you. "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord," for they have conquered, and forever "rest from their labors."
Think, believer, (for I would wish to elevate your views and comfort your heart,) think of being in that state where the world follows you not; where the sordid deity of wealth shall never throw its fascination over your mind. You shall be done with him. You will have gained the victory, and will sing the song of conquest forever. But again:
3. There is indwelling sin—that enemy which transfers the conflict to a man's own heart, and makes that the seat of a constant and interminable warfare. Now, there must be daily watchfulness and prayer, and much more watchfulness and prayer than many seem disposed to give to the subject. In order to vanquish indwelling sin, there must be daily mortification, self-denial, crucifixion. Sin is dethroned in the heart, but not destroyed; and sometimes the believer is ready to say, almost in petulance and in weariness, "What! must I fight forever? Must I ever be in the battlefield? What! never doff my armor; never feel that I am safe?" Never until you are safe in Heaven! Never until you have stepped across the threshold of eternity, where you will carry no sin, and where you will find no tempter.
This should be the encouragement to the Christian to go on with watchfulness and prayer and struggling; to recollect that all his fighting will be here on earth. This is the scene of conflict; Heaven will be the scene of repose.
But this is not all; the powers of the world have arrayed themselves against the Christian. The continuance of a Church of Christ in this world, considering all that the Church has had to contend with, is a phenomenon to be explained by no principles of ordinary reasoning. My brethren, here is the fact: the Church of Christ is sustained in the world; but how shall we account for the mystery?
Her hope is that she shall continue forever; but to mock that hope, and to blot out her memorial under Heaven—all the most furious efforts of fanaticism, the most determined devices of statesmen, the concentrated might of empires, have been employed. The blood of her children has flowed upon the scaffold; "the smoke of their torment" has ascended in volumes from the stake; the tribes of persecution have sported over her woe, and, as they imagined, erected memorials of her destruction.
But what have they done? Where are the tyrants that have oppressed her? and where their names? Their empires have passed like shadows over the rock; their names have gone down to posterity on the roll of infamy. And where is the Church? She has risen from age to age from her very ashes, like the phoenix, fresh in glory and in might; has dashed down the monumental marble of her foes, and they that hated her have fled before her. She has celebrated the funeral of kings and statesmen who plotted her ruin, and with the inscription of their pride, has handed down to posterity the record of her triumphs.
How is it? Because Jehovah has betrothed the Church to Himself in covenant forever. His Spirit lives in her; and she can no more be crushed by the powers of the world, than the throne of Deity itself can be overturned. Men whose hearts are not stayed upon the Rock of Ages, and whose faith is not equal to the promise of their God, may and do often quake for the safety of the Church. Now, when Popery and Puseyism are rising up in their strength, and going on, "men's hearts are failing them for fear." Fail! the ark is launched upon the flood, Jesus is on board, and the ark cannot sink, unless the pilot perishes! The Church is safe; let what will happen, all is right there.
And where is the Church seen? Triumphant, upon the summit of Mount Zion; presenting to our view an army of victors. Yes; typified by a host, that has just returned from the field of conflict, where they have waged battle for their country's liberty, and overcome the foe; in which every man has been a soldier, every soldier a warrior, every warrior a hero, and every hero a conqueror; greeted by the admiration of their fellow-countrymen. And now, as they bask beneath their fig-tree, and enjoy the fruits of peace, even those fruits will be sweeter, by the contrast of the perils through which they have passed to gather them.
So it will be in Heaven, Christians. Heaven will be the sweeter for the power of contrast. We, in the enjoyment of victory, shall think of the conflict. While waving the palm, we shall think of the sword; while there in peace and happiness, we shall think of the danger and the peril through which we pressed, to reach that blessed world of safety. Believer! Persevere! Victory is before you; the palm-branch awaits you!