By Horatius Bonar, 1867
It is "the true Witness" who speaks here. He speaks from heaven; and not to his apostles merely, nor to the seven Asian churches, nor to the saints of his own age; but to us in these last times.
This is the final burden of the Church's great prophet; and these last words of his are heard, not in Jerusalem or its temple, by crowds of listeners in the old land of prophets; but in a Gentile island afar off, amid desolate silence; as if to intimate that the glory had departed from Israel, and that the sure word of prophecy, though still issuing from Jewish lips, must no longer be spoken in Israel's land. The voice which we hear is that of "one crying in the wilderness;" and speaking, across the waves of the Aegean, to the distant nations of earth, and to the ages yet to come.
Yes; the Speaker is the "Faithful Witness," the "Amen," the first-begotten of the dead, the Alpha and the Omega—He of the "golden belt" (1:13); and the "golden candlesticks" (1:12); and the "seven stars" (1:16); and the "flaming eyes" (1:14); whose "voice is as the sound of many waters" (1:15). It is He, indeed, "the root and the offspring of David, the bright and morning star!"
It is of the last things that he speaks; and these concern us more deeply, as the ages roll by. The time has been long; longer than the church believed in early days; but the lapse of so many ages is to us the best assurance, that the time of tarrying is drawing to a close; that the night is far spent, and the day at hand.
There are five last things here which form the contents of this final theme—the last testimony; the last prophecy; the last prayer; the last blessing; the last Amen.
I. The last TESTIMONY.The whole Bible is the testimony; for in it Christ, is both the teacher and the lesson, the witness and the testimony. But the Revelation is his last testimony; and the marvelous words of the latter part of this chapter are more especially so. Let the Church listen; let the world give heed.
These are more than the words of dying men. They are Christ's last words from the heaven of heavens; fraught with infinite significance; breathing both love and terror, like the very "trumpet of God." Terrible is the warning, "He who is unjust, let him be unjust still;" yet winning is the grace, "Whoever will, let him take of the water of life freely." Glorious is the proclamation, "I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright and morning star;" yet blessed the attitude in which it seeks to place us, "The Spirit and the bride say, COME; and let him who hears say, COME." Truly this final testimony is the fullest, the most startling of all. It sounds like the voice of the last trumpet.
II. The last PROPHECY."Surely I come quickly." Brief but distinct is this announcement; and it comes from his own lips. He heralds himself and his kingdom. He puts the trumpet to his own mouth to sound abroad this last message, "I come!" I came—and I am coming again! I who came, and departed, am coming again. Yes, I myself! Not certain great events, whether terrible or glorious; not revolutions merely, or wars, or the overthrow of kingdoms, or famines, or pestilences; but I myself in person! Not the latter-day brightness only, nor the spread of truth, nor the restoration of Israel, nor the conversion of the world; but I myself in person! Ah, yes; this is the one mighty event which fills up the vast future of the world's history, and makes all other things to seem as nothing.
"I come quickly." Here is something more. He will lose no time; nor delay a moment longer than is absolutely necessary. He will not be slack concerning his promise (2 Pet. 3:9); he will come, and not tarry (Heb. 10:37). A faithless church shall not be able to say, "My Lord delays his coming" (Luke 12:45); nor a world of mockers to ask, "Where is the promise of his coming" (2 Pet. 3:4)? Yes; "Surely I come quickly." Appearances may indicate no such thing; the world's sky may be cloudless, and its sea smooth; men may have assured themselves of prosperous days, and be saying, "Peace and safety;" yet surely he comes! As a snare, as a thief, as lightning—he comes! He, the very Christ, the risen Savior, Jesus of Nazareth—he comes! In his own glory, in his Father's glory, with his mighty angels, in the clouds of heaven, King and Judge, Conqueror and Avenger, Redresser of wrongs, Opener of prison-doors, Binder of Satan, Renewer of creation, Bridegroom of his Church, Star of Jacob, Sun of Righteousness, Owner of the golden scepter, Wielder of the iron rod, Wearer of the crowns of earth—he comes!
III. The last PRAYER."Amen. Even so come, Lord Jesus!" Or, as the words more literally run, "Yes, surely, come, Lord Jesus!" For the words the apostle here uses, in his response, are the same as those used by Christ in his announcement; as if he caught up the Master's words and echoed them. Thus gladly and fervently does the Church respond to the promise; as one who felt the blank created by the Lord's absence, and welcomed with her whole heart the intimation of his return; for she is her beloved's and her beloved is hers; his desire is toward her, and hers is toward him. This is the summing up of her petitions, as was the seventy-second Psalm the filling up of all David's prayers (Psalm 72:20).
Are our hearts, like hers, thus beating toward the Beloved One? Is this the burden of our prayers? Or, at least, does this petition always form a part of them? Alas! Is not this the petition most commonly left out? Is not the Lord's advent the thing but seldom prayed for? We plead for the coming of the kingdom—but not for the arrival of the King! Yet this, more than ever in these last days, ought to be the first and last of the Church's prayers; for all that she desires for herself, for the world, and for her Lord himself, is comprised in this. It was the beloved disciple that first burst forth with this eager response, "Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus." The words came from the inmost soul of him who had, sixty years before, leaned on the Master's bosom. Sad because of the long absence, wearied with exile, tired with persecution, sore at heart because of the backsliding in the Churches, overwhelmed with the terrific announcements he had just been the instrument of uttering in his island-prison, he quickly took up the glad promise, and responded, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"
It ought to be so with us. We have many things to trouble us, and to make us long for the arrival of the Lord. We have this vile body to weigh us down. We have fightings without and fears within. We have sin and error and defection in the Church. We have abounding iniquity in the world. We have dear ones that have been laid to sleep by Jesus, in the grave, to await resurrection and reunion. Shall not these things; enforced by personal attachment to the Lord himself, prompt the unceasing petition, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus?"
IV. The last BLESSING."The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all." Thus the Holy Spirit shuts up the volume; and the beloved disciple sends out this as his last salutation to the saints; as if he could ask nothing greater for the Church on earth than the communication of the free-love of him to whom he here gives his full designation, Lord Jesus Christ. It was on this free-love that we took our stand when first we received the Father's testimony to the beloved Son; and it is our belief of this free-love that makes us what we are, and separates us from a world to whom this free-love is nothing. "We have known and believed the love that God has to us."
A small point of difference this may seem to many; but in God's estimation everything—the belief or disbelief of the free-love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is on this free-love that we rest; it is out of this fountain that our enjoyment flows; and it is under the shadow of this pillar-cloud that we pass through the wilderness to the city of habitation. Let no evil heart of unbelief separate us from this grace, or make it seem less precious and divine. This is the pure river, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. He who drinks is refreshed for evermore. What then can an apostle, knowing, as John did, the contents of this vessel of grace, desire more for the saints, than the continued possession of the Master's grace. It is this that, upon its calm current, carries into the soul all joy and strength, all health and consolation; and he who will allow these heavenly waters thus to pervade him, will lack nothing.
Earthly, human love, is of all things here the most fitted to gladden; how much more, then, that which is heavenly and divine! It is food, and water, and wine, and medicine; it is light, and air, and liberty, and refreshment; and what more can we desire, for the best beloved of our hearts, than this free-love of God; or what larger prayer can we breathe out towards them than this, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you?"
V. The last AMEN.This is not an amen to this chapter only, or the book of Revelation only; but to the whole Bible; of which the theme, from Genesis to Revelation, is Jesus Christ, the seed of the woman. It is an amen to the prayer for the grace of Christ; it is an amen to the sigh for the Lord's appearing. It is an amen to the prophetic announcement of all the glorious and all the terrible things written in this book. It is the concentrated utterance of the Church's longings; her glad response to all that God has spoken; the subscription of her name to her belief in all that the Holy Spirit has written; the summing up of her unutterable groan. How much does this amen comprise! Faith, hope, and love are in it; and, with these, such a boundless satisfaction of spirit as can only get vent to itself in that one brief word, which sums up all the aspirations of its joy, "Amen and amen!"
As a golden clasp, it draws together and fastens into one the now finished parts of the heavenly volume; reminding us of its verity and perfection, its fullness and its accuracy, as the record not only of the thoughts—but the words of him who is himself the Word, the Truth, the divine Amen. As God's seal, it vouches for the infallible certainty of Scripture as man's seal, it expresses his acquiescence in that revelation, as well as his confidence in its teachings of wisdom, as the unchangeable and the true.
We, too, in this last age, add our Amen, as did David when he said, "The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended." Ours is, indeed, but a fragment of the universal amen of heaven and earth, one note of the Church's triumphant utterance in the day when all shall be fulfilled that God has written from the beginning. Still, we speak it, as the setting of our seal to the truthfulness of that Holy Spirit by whom holy men of old spoke as they were moved. Yes—we add our Amen—solemn, yet joyful; retrospective, yet also prospective; the out-breathing of prayer, yet of hope as well; in the assurance, that what we read is no volume of speculation or opinion, still less of cunningly devised fables; but the book of truth—fixed, authentic, divine—the one genuine book of unmingled truth which an untrue world contains.