Revelation 5:1-10

The CREATION song of the preceding chapter is now to be blended with grander anthems, the song of PROVIDENCE and the song of GRACE. These are evoked by new objects or figures in the sublime Heavenly Vision. The Almighty Father, seated on the throne of jasper and carnelian, has, lying on His open right hand a Roll, similar to what was used by the Prophets in recording their divine utterances. It was the Roll of Providence, the symbolic Volume of the Divine counsels, containing the prophetic history of the Church, and the destinies of the nations to the end of time. This roll was "written on both sides"—that is, not only on the upper side which met the Holder's eye as it was unwound from its cylinder; but on the back also it was filled with lettering. There were no blanks in it—no vacant spaces that would admit of new entries. This crowding of the writing indicated exhaustive fullness. It was, moreover, "sealed (lit. "sealed down") with seven seals"—again the mystic memorial symbol of completeness, betokening, in another way, that it formed an all-comprehensive record and register of the will and ways of the Supreme, its contents reaching onwards through the world's six work-days to the great seventh day—the Sabbath of eternity.

The sealing further implied that its contents were sacredly locked and concealed from public gaze; and yet, lying on the open palm of the hand indicated also that there was no unwillingness on the part of the enthroned One to divulge its contents, if any worthy to undertake the task could be found.

"A mighty angel" appeals to his fellows. He asks if there be no potent arm that can wield its strength in breaking open these seals and revealing the hidden mysteries? He proclaims with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the roll and to open the seals thereof?" There is silence in Heaven. Amid the adoring ranks around, no one responds to the summons. None in the heights of glory—none on the platform of earth, none "under the earth (that is, in the deeps of Hades—the region of departed spirits) were able to open the roll, neither to look thereon."

The awe-struck and wondering Seer "weeps" at the confessed failure. He had received the invitation and assurance, on the first opening of the heavenly door, "Come here, and I will show you things which must be hereafter." Is He, whose name was "Faithful and True," to belie His own promise and to defraud His servant of his fond expectation? John knew the priceless value of what that Book contained. Let only the seals be broken, the parchment unfolded, and a flood of light would be thrown on an enigmatical future; many an anxious fear and foreboding would be stilled; many a perplexity solved. Whether in dark characters of mourning and woe; or in golden and silver lettering, he knew there would be a glorious revelation of Truth and Righteousness, and a sublime "vindication of the ways of God to men."

What a boon would such a Revelation be to the Church in every coming age! But when the proclamation of the herald Angel is unanswered—the secrets of the scroll likely to remain locked in impenetrable mystery, the tears of the lonely man on his lonely island begin to flow, tears akin to those of Mary Magdalene when she stood by the blank sepulcher "weeping," mourning over the apparent ruin and frustration of her fondest hopes. This is surely a touching episode in the apocalyptic drama! the Apostle, in his moment of glowing rapture at the very gate of Heaven, with a tear, (or rather a flood of tears, for he 'wept much',) furrowing his cheek, in the sincere sadness of baffled and disappointed expectations.

It reminds us of yet another kindred weeper, whose hero-heart was proof against all cowardly weakness, but who was similarly moved when he heard of those who were enemies to the cross of Christ. Paul was jealous for the Cross and the Sacrifice; John for the Crown and Kingdom of their common Lord and Master. Both were in unity in their unselfish interest for the advancement of His cause, the vindication of His name, the promotion of His glory! Yes! it is indeed an impressive picture to see men who never wept for themselves weeping for that which was to them dearer than self—dearer than life. It lets us into the tender agony of great souls. We have heard of patriots mourning for their Fatherland—noble natures throbbing at the contemplation of iron-handed tyranny and cruel wrong—men whose brave spirits would never permit them to wince or falter under the threat of torture or in the storm of battle, but who could only speak through tears and choked utterance in proclaiming their country's woes.

Such too is the anguish of earnest Christian patriots—such the tears shed by them over the misapprehension and misinterpretation of the Divine ways and counsels, the rejection of the Divine offers of mercy through stern unbelief and defiant pride. Such ought to be the feelings and emotions of every true soldier of the cross as he sees thousands perishing around him—the Gospel-trumpet sounding its warnings apparently in vain—honest efforts apparently frustrated and baffled—all a gigantic failure. We lately heard of one of the standard-bearers in the Missionary battlefield—a noble and a true man—weeping like a little child, because the work he had so near his heart seemed to be progressing so tardily—the little done, the much undone—the colossal walls of heathendom frowning defiance on his puny endeavors, and he left to cry through his tears and prayers, "Lord, how long?"

Would that there were more of a similar spirit! And such there would be, were the surpassing grandeur and importance of that work and its awful responsibilities realized as they ought. There is a saying of one of our old divines, that "the sins of men are enough to make devils triumph and angels weep." If a tear can thus be said to befit the eye of an angel-spectator of earth's depravity and corruption, what should it be in the case of those, who, partakers of the frailties and sins of humanity, are themselves called as God's witnesses and ambassadors to stand between the living and the dead!

It well becomes all Churches and all their members, from time to time, as if it were at Heaven's opened door, thus to ponder the shortcomings of the past; opportunities of good neglected; souls around still perishing; God's name blasphemed; Christ's cause dishonored; vice unrebuked; infidelity rampant; and yet Death, Judgment, and Eternity at hand! May God kindle some of the fervid spirit which dictated the impassioned agonizing declaration of the Prophet of Judah—"Oh, that my head were as waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!"

But to return. The aged Apostle's 'much weeping' is immediately changed into joy and triumph. One of the Elders—one of those forming the redeemed white-robed multitude—bids him dry his tears—for some Being had been found infinitely worthy "to open the Book." John was at this time the most illustrious believer in the Church on earth—a giant among his fellows. Few if any in Heaven had been so honored as he; yet an unknown member of the Church triumphant is now his instructor; showing that there are revelations of truth made to the glorified which are withheld from those who, as ministering priests in the lower sanctuary, are still compassed with infirmity; so that it may be said with regard even to the most advanced in knowledge and faith and love among the latter, "He who is least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than he."

But who is He who is thus discovered to be worthy? When all Heaven is silent, who is the favored one found equal to the task? It is "the Lion of the tribe of Judah." The Lion—the victorious symbol of the favored and the royal tribe, of whom the dying Patriarch thus spoke in his farewell benedictions: "Judah is a young lion that has finished eating its prey. Like a lion he crouches and lies down; like a lioness—who will dare to rouse him?" But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, "Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David's throne, has conquered. He is worthy to open the scroll and break its seven seals." It is Christ—He who was alike of the tribe of Judah and of the lineage of David, that is pronounced worthy to be the unfolder of the hidden mysteries.

But He is so by conquest. It is as the Divine Vanquisher of sin and death He has qualified Himself (so to speak) to be the exponent and interpreter of the Divine counsels. "It is," says Augustine, "by reason of His humiliation as man, that Christ received the roll, and not by reason of His Godhead." It is as the Mediator of His Church He has the right and prerogative to break the seals and unfold the contents.

John gazes upwards in joyful expectancy. But what sudden change has taken place in the mystic figurations? He turns his eye in the direction of the Throne, where the worshipers already described are bending before some One adorable object. That object was seen "standing in the midst of the Throne" (or rather perhaps "in front of the Throne"); and from this time onwards, occupies the most conspicuous place—the central point in the Heavenly Visions. The Apostle looks for the majesty of Judah's Lion. He expects to see some Being of unutterable might. But—strange thing for Heaven!—the object of adoration is no longer symbolized by the Lion, but by A LAMB. The word used in the original is also remarkable. It is "a little Lamb"—a word peculiar to the Apocalypse, occurring here alone in this diminutive form in the New Testament, with the single exception of its use in Christ's charge to Peter in the closing chapter of John's Gospel, where he employs the same expression, "Feed my little lambs."

More than this, the Lamb of the vision appears covered with wounds and blood-scars, as if recently killed in sacrifice; and the closing ascription of the heavenly throng is not "worthy is the Lion that has conquered"—but "worthy is the Lamb that was slain!" What is this but the Divine Redeemer proclaiming, in expressive similitude, both the tenderness of His nature and the perpetual efficacy of His mediatorial sacrifice and work, in the midst of the Church purchased by His precious blood?

In conjunction, however, with these symbols of meekness and gentleness, humiliation and suffering, there are two others added of omnipotence and omniscience. That little Lamb had "seven horns" (horns—the invariable emblem of kingly power) and "seven eyes," which are interpreted as "the Seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth"—the Holy Spirit, in the sevenfold symbol of perfection and manifold operation, sent forth according to Christ's own promise as His Glorifier and Testifier.

All seems now ready for the longed-for disclosure. This glorious Being "came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat upon the Throne." The Apostle, we may imagine, is all eagerness to listen to the stupendous revelations of the future which are to be made on the breaking of the seals. But he must for a time at least suspend his anxiety until two grand doxologies are sung—two new and distinct ascriptions of praise welcoming the approach of the Lord of Providence and the Lord of Grace, who was thus alone found worthy. "And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints." We have in these the twofold symbols of praise and prayer. The Harps, whether gold or silver, were for purposes of adoration, while the golden bowls were filled with the prayers of the Saints (or literally, of "the holy ones") of earth. Beautiful picture! the prayers and cries from the sorrowing, suffering Church below, are received into these golden bowls by "the ministering ones," and placed, as we shall afterwards find, in the hands of the One only Intercessor, to be perfumed with the incense of His adorable merits.

Meanwhile, the first part of the "new song" rises from the conjoined voices of these Saints and living Beings; "new," because evoked by the sudden appearance in the midst of the Throne of the Unfolder of the roll, the majestic Expositor of the otherwise inscrutable counsels. The words sung are these—"You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." "We shall reign on the earth;" not, as in our rendering, in the future tense, as if some glorious kingdom were in store—but it is a present reign. Cheering, as it has been observed, must the utterance have been to the Apostle, that even that afflicted, despised, persecuted remnant called 'the Church on earth,' was recognized in Heaven as a reigning power—exercising dominion and lordship through its great Head, anticipatory of that period when, as King of kings and Lord of lords, He will put all things under His feet, and vindicate His claim to universal sovereignty as celebrated in the fourfold enumeration of "every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation!"

Such was the First song, or the first chorus of the "new song." But it was sung by a comparatively limited number of representative voices. The vast myriads of unfallen angels—the originals of Heaven, if we may so call them—had taken no part in it. There is a pause; and then we listen to a strain sublimer still, which may be designated the Great Redemption anthem joined in by the entire heavenly host. We shall do no more than give its own grand words without comment. It is a mighty volume of praise, which sends its multiplying echoes out to the very circumference of being. Not now the few favored representatives—but the countless multitudes of angels, principalities, and powers, in their endless concentric circles, have gathered to this great inauguration festival, to present their lofty homage and adoration to the slain Lamb.

We seem to realize for the first time the sublime meaning of the saying, "Inhabiting the praises of eternity;" for the wide vault and circuit of heaven, the vast corridors of limitless space and time, are crowded with ministering spirits, and have become vocal with song. This is their doxology, "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." And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They also sang: "Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever."

Such is the ascription. It has waxed louder and louder like the noise of many thunderings; the waves of sound have extended themselves in ever grander and increasing cadence until they reach the outskirts of being. Then gradually receding, they seem to rock themselves to rest; and the terminating strain is given by those who struck at first its key note—" And the four living creatures said AMEN." Then all is silence. The twenty-four Elders prostrate themselves in silent adoration, and worship Him who lives for the ages and the ages!

There are many thoughts, alike of grandeur and comfort, which crowd upon us on a review of this vision. We must be content with alluding to the two leading consolatory ones. The first embodies the same truth we met with in the preceding chapter, but which is more fully developed here—that the roll of Providence is in the hands of Jesus. There are times, in the history of the world, we spoke of in connection with the former vision, when, amid political complexities—the prevalence and triumph of human tyranny and wrong—still more, times in our individual experiences, in the mysteries of daily life—amid startling providences or baffling dispensations, that the old moorings threaten to give way, or have momentarily given way, and we feel ourselves drifting out on the cheerless sea of human doubt and distrust—when all is dark around, no rift in the cloud—no star in the midnight sky—and in the anguish of bitter unbelief we are tempted to mutter the querulous complaint, "Where is now my God?" Or, if that God lives and reigns, does He live as a God of terror? does He answer to the fire-god of the Phoenician in his Baal-worship, or to the Jupiter-god of the Roman, armed with the thunderbolt and forked lightning? or, in the phantasies of a later philosophy, has He abdicated His throne, and left man and his fortunes to wild chance, to be driven, as things of fate, here and there on the fitful waters—the vessel without a pilot, the world without a ruler?

No! the roll of Providence, containing the fortunes of the nations as well as all that concerns His Church and people, is in the keeping of the Christ of Calvary. "The Lord is King! He sits between the Cherubim!" It is He who mingles every drop in the cup, and lights every furnace, and orders every trial, and draws every tear. Oh! what would many have been in those hours of gloomy despair, when the props of existence were tottering underneath them—what they thought were life's strongholds giving way like the yielding ice beneath their feet—what would they have been, but for the sustaining assurance that that roll of human destiny is in the hand of the Lord who died for them!

We can now understand the reason of this strange, mingled symbolism—the appropriate figure of the Lion of the tribe of Judah in conjunction with a slain Lamb—that anomaly in Heaven—the memorials of pain and suffering in a place where sorrow never enters and suffering is unknown. Is it not to tell us of a blessed union of might and tenderness; that we may confidently commit our everlasting destinies to Him; for as the Lion of the tribe of Judah He is able to defend us—as the slain Lamb He is able to sympathize with us? What more could we desire, than this combination of Omnipotence and Love—the greatness of Godhead and the sympathy of Humanity in the Person of the now Living One, who once was dead? Let the seals be opened and the vials descend! We will trust in Him who alone is found worthy to open the book; add our "Amen" to that of the four living creatures; and with the Elders fall down and worship Him who lives forever and ever!

The second memorable thought or reflection here suggested is, that it was the SLAIN Lamb in the midst of the Throne, who summoned forth this loud anthem peal. It was sung by myriads of myriads; and among those myriads, by the lips of unsinning Angels who had no personal interest in His great atoning work. How much more surely ought that amazing sacrifice, thus symbolized, to evoke our loftiest praises and stir our deepest gratitude and devotion! Let us fondly grasp the magnificent truth in all its wondrous reality—not diluting it to square and dovetail with modern theologies—not eliminating from it its grandest mysteries because they are mysteries; but rather content to receive them and rejoice in them as stupendous mysteries of love: "Christ crucified! the power of God."

While we delight to adore Him as the Lion of the tribe of Judah—while earth's lowly praises blends with the grander symphonies of the skies, "You are the King of glory, O Christ! You are the everlasting Son of the Father!"—let the ever-present recollection of His anguish, His bleeding love and atoning sacrifice, give deeper fervor and intensity to the prayer—"O Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us your peace! O Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us!"

It is the cross of Christ, the everlasting love of God in 'so' loving the world, which will form the theme of eternity. Angel-intellect from every corner of the universe of being, will stoop over the fathomless abyss and exclaim, "Oh, the depth!" Not to Elders alone, with their white clothing and redemption-crowns and golden vials full of incense—the representatives of the ransomed—but "to principalities and powers in heavenly places, will be made known by the Church" (through the glorified Person and adorable work of her living Head and King), "the manifold wisdom of God."