Revelation 6:1-8

The strains of the threefold song having now died away, all is ready for the opening of the seven seals. "As I watched, the Lamb broke the first of the seven seals on the scroll. Then one of the four living beings called out with a voice that sounded like thunder, 'COME!'" In the context, Jesus had made twice over the announcement, "Behold I COME quickly." And in the words immediately preceding, He had proclaimed that speedy Advent under the most beautiful and appropriate simile—as if the long weary night-watch of earth were near over, and the glorious sun-rising were at hand—"I am the Bright and Morning Star." This herald-voice wakes into expectant joy the whole multitude of His ransomed people. Immediately the prayer goes up from the Church militant on earth, and gets a glad response from the Church triumphant in Heaven—it is the echo of His own announcement—"And the Spirit and the Bride say COME! and let him that hears say COME!" And then, as the Apocalyptic drama is closing—as the last inspired vocables are dying away on the ear of the Apostle, that prayer seems answered. The words "COME! COME!" ascend before the Throne. The reply is given, "He who testifies these things says, surely I COME quickly." And yet again, the impassioned exclamation issues from the conjoint Church on earth and Heaven, forming, as we have repeatedly noted, the terminating cry of the Inspired Record, "Even so, COME Lord Jesus!"

We should regard this four times repeated 'COME' (verses 1, 3, 5, 7) as identical with that which the Spirit and the Bride utter at its close. In the present case, however, it emanates not from the Church, but from the four living creatures; those symbolic beings which we have already described as the representatives of God's vast Creation. As such, we may well regard that fourfold repetition as Creation's loud and anguished cry for the advent of her great Deliverer. We can hardly fail, in connection with this passage, to call to remembrance the Apostle's striking words in his Epistle to the Romans, "For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who His children really are. Against its will, everything on earth was subjected to God's curse. All creation anticipates the day when it will join God's children in glorious freedom from death and decay." The call of these Four living beings then, is just the jubilant hope of material nature embodied in a sublime prayer.

Creation 'in earnest expectation,' 'groaning and travailing in pain,' had been longing for the hour when her birth-pains would be over—when her iron chains of sin and sorrow would be broken, and she would be ushered into her glorious liberty. This "subjection"—these pains and sorrows—could only terminate by the COMING of her Great Lord. That was the grand event towards which all her longings and prayers were directed—the bright rainbow of hope that spanned the lowering sky of a distant future. What can be more beautiful, therefore, than that these four living beings—the impersonations of that Creation—should make heaven and earth ring with the loud Advent-cry—that the breaking of each of the four seals should be accompanied, like the reverberations following the flash of lightning, with the fourfold "Come! Come! Come! Come!"

They had just sung in concert the anthem of material Nature. They had joined with the representatives of the redeemed Church in the New Song of Providence. They had heard the mighty chorus of redeemed and unredeemed in the song to the slain Lamb. And now, when those who had first awakened the strain, see the Lamb opening in succession the four seals of that roll which they knew contained every event that was to transpire previous to the Second Advent; how befitting (though all in ignorance of its contents, and only desirous that no delay should frustrate the fulfillment of creation's hopes), that they should give utterance to her longing desire, 'Make no tarrying, O my God,' by the emphatic declaration, 'COME!'

And this, moreover, would be in strict harmony with the two additional seals—the fifth and sixth. The slain martyr's cry, though in different words, is also for their Lord's coming, "How long, Lord?" And the sixth seal conducts to the very threshold of the Advent-scene—creation's sorest travail heralds the coming of the Prince of Peace. Shall we be wrong, then, in interpreting these four successive exclamations, as nature's voice—or rather the unsyllabled sighs and groanings of a dumb creation taken up by the four living ones, addressed, not to the Apostle, but to his enthroned Lord, the Opener of the seals?—a voice from every corner of a now sin-stricken, woe-worn world, to Judah's Lion and the slain Lamb—'COME! O Great Being of combined might and tenderness: break these fetters, and usher us into our glorious and promised freedom!'

"Your whole creation groans,
And waits to hear that voice
Which shall restore her loveliness,
And make her wastes rejoice.
COME, Lord, and wipe away
The curse, the sin, the stain,
And make this blighted world of ours
Your own fair world again.
COME, then, Lord Jesus, COME!"

This fourfold cry receives a fourfold answer. A vision is given to the Apostle at the opening of each seal of the prophetic roll. In other words, four preparations for the Second Advent are symbolically unfolded to him. Alas! they are visions more of trouble than of comfort. The roll, like that of Ezekiel, is full of lamentation, and mourning, and woe; for it speaks of God's four dreadful judgments as these were revealed of old to the same Prophet—the Sword, War, Famine and Pestilence. He, however, who tempers judgment with mercy, begins in the opening vision with a theme and pledge of comfort: for it is none other than John's adorable Lord Himself who appears in the scenic representation. The Lion and the slain Lamb still retain their places in the midst of the Throne. But apart from these, under the new and expressive symbolism of "a Rider on a white horse" (a horse 'white as light'), with a bow in his hand and a royal crown on his head—Jesus, the King and Lord of all, appears, heading a strange and varied equestrian procession. It is the reappearing of the prophetic Conqueror of the 45th Psalm—The King "fairer than the children of men," with His sword girt upon His thigh, in His majesty riding prosperously, because of truth, and meekness, and righteousness; His arrows sharp in the heart of the King's enemies, whereby the people fall under Him: recalling also the subsequent, where the same Rider, similarly mounted and adorned, appears under the title of "King of Kings and Lord of Lords."

Moreover, while in the three seals which follow, we only have, in equestrian symbol also, His followers and retainers—His approach is in the present case heralded by "the great voice" of the first chapter. There it was spoken of as "The voice of many waters." Here it is, "As it were the noise of thunder," as "He went forth conquering and to conquer" (or, 'in order that He might conquer'). The kingdom of this symbolic warrior, unlike the gigantic ones of Babylon, Nineveh, Macedonia, and Rome, which triumphed, only in their turn to be overthrown—was to be ever advancing. That God-man Conqueror rides forth, invisible, on an errand of victory which cannot be frustrated: "Of the increase of His kingdom and government there is to be no end."

We have already had occasion to note the similarity between some of the visions of Ezekiel and those of John. There is another Jewish Prophet who seems to give the original framework of the present. Zechariah records two visions which bear a striking resemblance to it. In the one he saw, by night, "a Man" (the same Divine-human Conqueror) riding on a red-colored horse, and reining it up in the middle of some myrtle bushes that were growing in a valley. Behind Him were followers mounted on horses also—their color, red, speckled, and white; representing either His attendant ministering angels, or those providences which follow in His train and are subservient to His wishes.

The other vision of the same Prophet is that of four chariots with red, black, white, and dappled-gray horses, going forth to different corners of the earth; representing, in slightly diverse form, these same ministering spirits, or ministering providences, under the bidding and control of the Great Head of the Church: for it is added, "These are the four spirits of the Heavens, who go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth."

Alike in these Old Testament and in the present New Testament figures, the theme and thought of comfort is, that Christ, the Lord of all, either heads the procession or gives His agents their mission and decree. He Himself goes forth, the first in the heavenly scene, marshaling all the other agencies and events, and making them subordinate to His will and pleasure. The very color of the horse on which He is seated is not without its symbolic significance. Unlike the red, and ashen, and black which follow, it is the White horse—the sure pledge of righteousness and ultimate peace and victory.

Such, then, was the first memorable vision given to the Seer of Patmos. Whatever might be those which follow, John could never forget this opening one. His thoughts might be occupied with the details of the subsequent procession as it swept by, after the Leader was out of sight. But the animating presence of that Divine Precursor would never be obliterated. All were following in His wake. The declaration had gone forth from Him who sat on the Throne, alike regarding angels and providences and human agents, "Behold, I have given HIM for a Witness to the people, a Leader and Commander to the people." With a commencement of the Divine drama so full of sublime consolation, the Apostle is so far prepared for the very different visions which were next to follow. We shall do little more than simply specify these.

There was the fiery Red (blood-red) horse with its appropriate rider, the too truthfully symbolic color of terrible war.

There was the Black horse—its rider holding a pair of balances in his hand—the ordinary image of peaceful commerce, of barter and exchange; but here, the equally appropriate emblem of scarcity—when provisions have to be portioned out, not by bulk or measure, but by weight—when the toiler of seed-time could reap nothing from the blighted fields—when the harvest sickles hang rusting in the granary, and the 'famine pines in empty stalls.' "The wheat and the barley, the wine and the oil" specified, are at famine prices: the usurious vendors dealing out a stinted pennyworth to the famishing and hunger-stricken.

There was the Pale horse—ashen, corpse-like—with ghastly skeleton—Death as his rider—Hell or Hades, in grim co-partnership, tracking his desolating path; the symbols and impersonations of the pestilence which walks in darkness, and the destruction which wastes at noonday—the mortality so sweeping, that the wild beasts of the earth are represented as holding their carnival in the waste and devastated region—the valleys of the shadow of death!

What are these successive figures, but Christ Himself, under expressive imagery, rehearsing the significant sayings of His own great prophecy on Mount Olivet, as to the fearful judgments which were to be the forerunners of His second coming? Is it the Red horse? "You shall hear", said He, "of wars and rumors of wars, nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom." Was it the Black and the Pale horse? "There shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in diverse places—all these are the beginning of sorrows." Appalling visions indeed! partially fulfilled in the history of the last eighteen hundred years; but which will doubtless have their main fulfillment in the times immediately preceding the Advent.

And if the reflection suggests itself, How is it that that loving Prince of Peace to have so ghastly and dreadful a train of followers? We answer, they are to be regarded, not as ministers of chastisement on His Church, but rather as His judgments on the unbelieving world—as an illustrious commentator calls them, "The three scourges of the wrath of God." And it is because, even as such, they are anomalies in the kingdom of a great, and good, and beneficent Ruler—(the curses evoked by the sin of man)—that the fourfold cry goes up loud and plaintive from a suffering creation, 'COME! COME! Why tarry the wheels of Your chariot? Undo the bandages that bind and cripple this wounded, anguished earth, and set her forth from her pining couch, walking, and leaping, and praising God!'

Never let us forget that it is SIN which has been the author of all the miseries of our unhappy world! It is sin which has let slip from their leash, the dogs of war. It is sin which has given the commission alike to the black horse of Famine and the pale horse of Death. It is sin which has written so many houses and hearths and hearts desolate, and made the world we dwell in, more a tomb of mortality, than a home of the living. Shall we not long for that event, 'the Blessed hope,' which will terminate these symbols—these realities of sadness? When the Royal Conqueror on the white horse shall turn around to His followers and say, "Thus far shall you go and no farther?"—when these followers shall dismount their ghastly steeds, the sword of war slumbering forever in its scabbard: "When Death shall yield his ancient reign, and vanquished leave the field?"

Oh! with all these untold miseries which sin has entailed and perpetuates to this hour, how appropriate, how sublime, is the loud, anguished cry which this vision so strikingly describes as going up into the ear of the Sovereign God, or rather into the ear of the great King and Head of His Church, from every corner of a burdened creation! All nature seems to have become vocal—the earth has resolved itself into one vast oratory for united prayer. Its litany is monosyllabic. Its misery is too deep for language. It can articulate its grief only in the one expressive word—that word is "COME!"

Come! cry the four representative living ones. Come! It is echoed back from rocks and mountains, dens and caves. Come! It is warbled by streams, and repeated by torrents, and thundered by ocean-waves. Come! It is chanted by winds, it is borne on the breath of the tempest, it is wafted amid the shrieks of perishing crews. Come! It rises in mute agony from the battlefields of the slain, the homes of haggard famine, the couches of the suffering, the beds of the dying. Come! It is heard amid the tramp of the funeral procession. It mingles with the wail of the mourner. It ascends, saturated with tears, from ten thousand graveyards. Come! Blessed Redeemer! break the seals, unfold the roll, let loose the judgments. Prepare the pathway for Your chariot—end the night-watch and usher in the glorious day!

CREATION, God's great world, animate and inanimate, is thus with giant voice, like a mighty Levite in the courts of her own temple, ever pleading for the hour of emancipation by the coming of her King. Shall we—shall the Church—with all her grander, profounder interest in that majestic event, fail to reciprocate her longings, and pray that her cry be heard and ratified? Shall not the Bride say COME, and him who hears say COME? "Even so! COME Lord Jesus! COME QUICKLY!" "Make haste my Beloved! be like a roe or young deer upon the mountains of spices!"