OPENING OF THE FIRST FOUR
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!"