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given to describe, says, in a voice uttered from his glorious throne in heaven, "Blessed he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this Book." All this is additional to the seven times repeated admonition, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (Revelation 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22). Is there another Book in the Holy Canon so intense, so emphatic, so constant, so full from end to end, in its expressions of the good to be gained and the ill to be avoided by the heating and learning of its own particular presentations?
It is precisely as if the Saviour knew and foresaw, as he certainly did, what neglect, prejudice, and mistreatment this Book would encounter in the later ages of the Church, and how it and the students of it, and especially the believers in its wonderful descriptions, would be ridiculed, avoided, and put aside, as not in the line of proper and wholesome edification. And how will some of these pious scorners, whom Christ has set and ordained to feed his sheep and give them meat in due season, feel and fare, when from the judgment-seat he shall say: "Sirs, I gave you the complete chart of my promised Apocalypse; I caused it to be made as plain as words and visions can make anything of the sort; I told you over and over of the momentous importance of studying, treasuring, and making known to the churches what I thus sent my angel and my beloved disciple to show you; and yet you have held it to be a crazy Book, one which either finds or leaves crazy those who study it, and have not believed my word, nor taught it to my people, nor allowed it to speak in the appointed Lectionaries, and have only sought to explain away its momentous import into a little dim foreshowing of a few ages of ordinary earthly history! Was this the way for good servants of their Lord to act? Was this being faithful stewards of the mysteries of God? Was this the way to treat what I have been at such pains to give, and pointed you to with so much solemnity, and promised to reward your study of it with such special benedictions?"
Alas, alas, what answer will they make? Will they say that it was too difficult a Book for them to understand? This would only be adding insult to their unfaithfulness. Dare we suppose that the merciful Jesus would hang his benedictions so high as to be beyond the reach of those to whom they are so graciously proposed? Would he mock us by suspending his offered blessings on terms beyond our power? Yet this is the charge people bring against their Redeemer when they think to plead the incomprehensibility of this Book for their neglect and practical rejection of it. The very propounding of these blessings and rewards is God's own seal to the possibility of understanding this Book equally with any other part of Scripture. Would he, the God of truth, lie to us? Would he, the God of mercy, mock us? Would he who gave his life for us, and ever lives and ministers in heaven and earth for our enlightenment and salvation, give us a Book to tell us of the outcome of all his gracious operations, command us to note its words, to believe and treasure its contents, and promise us a special blessedness in so doing, if what he has thus put into our hands is not at all within the limits of our comprehension and successful mastery?
Does not everything that we know of the dear God above us rise up to condemn all such thoughts as slanderous of heaven, and blasphemy against our precious Saviour's goodness? Therefore these very benedictions pronounce against the common notion that this Book is too difficult for ordinary Christians, and rebuke all who despise and avoid it. If it is anything, these proffered blessings are more than a divine justification for all the time and pains which we have been bestowing upon it, and for accepting, believing, holding, and testifying as the very truth of God all that we have found herein written. Let people estimate us and our work as they please, we have here the unmistakable authority of heaven for it, that this Apocalypse is capable of being understood; that its presentations are among the most momentous in all the Word of God; and that the highest blessedness of believers is wrapped up with the learning and keeping of what is pictured to us in it.
And if Christians would rise to the true comfort of their faith-if they would possess themselves of a right philosophy of God's purposes and providence,-if they would be guarded against the greatest dangers and most subtle deceptions of the Old Serpent-if they would really know what Redemption means, and what the height and glory of their calling is-let them not despise or neglect this crowning Book of the New Testament, but study its pages, take its statements as they read, get its stupendous visions into their understandings, treasure its words in their hearts, and believe and know that it is comprehensible for all who are really willing to be instructed in these mighty things. If we wait until they are fulfilled, it will then be too late to get the blessing which the reading, hearing, and keeping of what is said concerning them is to bestow. It is in our understanding of them before they come to pass that the blessedness lies; for when once Christ comes in the scenes of his Apocalypse, the time to begin to put ourselves in readiness for it will be past.
We must understand beforehand, as this record was meant to advise us beforehand, or it will be useless to think of getting ourselves in position when once these momentous scenes become accomplished realities. By all that is sacred, therefore, let us beware how we treat this Book, and the showings which it contains, remembering this word of the Lord Jesus, spoken to us from heaven: "Blessed he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this Book."
(NOTE: Old James Robertson, in issuing his book on the Revelation in 1730, made this remark: "Some are not ashamed directly to flout at, and spit contempt upon these that meddle with the exposition of this Prophecy; which is an indirect battering of a great part of God's word. Thus, Dr. South, in one of his sermons, affirms, that none but a madman will meddle with the Revelation; or, if he has wits at the beginning, before he has done they will be cracked. And Davies, a Welsh bombastic barrister, has the impudence to insult a learned and reverend prelate, yet alive, because he consumed two full years and more on this Prophecy." But we can afford to let people sneer when we have the sure benediction of God.)
III. Another particular to be noticed is, the effect which these showings had upon the Apostle at the time. So wonderful were the revelations, and so wonderful was the knowledge and understanding of the angel which communicated these things, that John was filled with the profoundest adoration. Twice he fell down before the feet of the angel to worship him. He meant no idolatry; but so wonderful in wisdom and intelligence was his heavenly guide, and so transcendent were the things shown, that he could not but think that it was God himself. The presentations all along were such as to make it hard to distinguish whether it was God himself speaking, or whether it was through a created messenger that he spoke. And in this instance particularly, it certainly was the Lord Jesus whom he heard say, "Behold I come quickly;" and not distinguishing between him who spoke, and the messenger through whom he spoke, John "fell down before the feet of the angel."
This clearly shows that the holy Apostles held Christ to be a worshipful being, and that he was none other than true God as well as true man. John knew that it was and must be Christ who spoke, and his instant adoration was meant for Christ, therefore he held Christ to be adorable God. The only mistake was that he did not at the moment perceive that it was a created angel speaking for Christ, and not Christ himself in the form of an angel. Even the best and holiest of people may make mistakes from their human impulses, as Moses when he broke the tables of the Law, and Peter when he avoided the Gentile Christians at Antioch. But innocent mistakes, and those which result from the truest and devoutest intentions, may be very injurious, and need to be promptly corrected. There was danger here of a double sin, one on the part of John in giving worship to the angel instead of Christ, and one on the part of the angel in accepting worship which belongs only to Deity. But John was in doubt, which the angel had not, and therefore it belonged to the angel in truth and fidelity to John, as well as to God and himself, to correct John's mistake on the spot.
The Devil solicits adoration, but holy angels repel it as a detraction from Yahweh. Hence, when John fell down to worship before this holy angel's feet, promptly came the word," Take heed, no; I am fellow-servant of thee and of thy brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this Book. Worship God!" The misapprehension being dispelled, the Apostle of course desisted. The incident shows that no saint or angel worship can have the approval of heaven. If it was wrong to worship this glorious heavenly messenger, in and through whom came forth the very voice of Jesus, how can it be right to worship and pray to the Virgin Mary, to whom is assigned no such dignity or office? The impulse and intention may be devout and good; but it is a great mistake, and we take the side of heaven and holy angels when we say to those who do it: "See, no, no; you do greatly err; you are taking Christ's honor from him and bestowing it upon his human mother or friends; worship God, for it is written, 'Him only shalt thou serve.'"
But while this incident brings out the fact that the best of people may mistake, even out of the holiest motives, it also brings out the more important facts, that John fully believed all these revelations, that he was most profoundly convinced that they were from God, that angels also treasure them as the great divine lights touching what is to be, and that John is recognized in heaven as a genuine prophet. The angel calls him a fellow-servant with himself, the same as the whole brotherhood of sacred prophets. Mistaken as he was for the moment in not distinguishing his heavenly guide from his Lord, he yet was duly illuminated as a prophet, and still had the office and inspiration of God for the understanding of these mysteries, and the making of them known to the churches. Angels have often been commissioned to disclose to people important sacred truths. It was an angel who was thus employed in acquainting Ezekiel and Daniel with many of the most important features of their wonderful prophecies; and so it was in the giving of these particulars of the Apocalypse to John. In this respect angels are prophets too, and propheticly minister to the heirs of salvation. Not only as servants of God are they the fellow-servants of the prophets; but they also become fellow-prophets when engaged in communicating a knowledge of the divine mind and purposes to people. And in this fellowship of servants of the same Lord, and of service in making known divine things, John is here acknowledged as a co-partner with the angel himself. What he writes us, therefore, is true prophecy, and demands to be received as such.
IV. A further particular here to be noted is the direction to John what to do with these revelations. Whether from Christ direct, or through the angel whom Christ sent to show him these things, command was given him: "Seal not up the words of the prophecy of this Book." Some take this as antithetical to the command given Daniel with regard to his prophecies (Daniel 8:26; 12:4,9). But that is plainly a mistake. There is no reference whatever to Daniel. Besides, the direction given to Daniel was the very reverse of what is thus assumed.
(NOTE: See my Voices from Babylon, pp. 304-306.)
The true antithesis is the command with regard to what the seven thunders uttered, as referred to in Revelation 10:4. From the beginning of these marvelous experiences John was directed to write what he saw and heard, and to make the same known to the churches. So, "when the seven thunders spoke," he "was about to write;" but a voice from heaven said, "Seal up those things which the seven thunders spoke, and write them not" (Revelation 10:4). The sealing enjoined stands over against writing and making known, and hence is quite a different sealing from what was commanded Daniel. John was to bury up the thing in his own breast, not to write it, not to make it known at all. But what he was not to do respecting the utterances of the seven thunders, he was to do with reference to all other "words of the prophecy of this Book." He was not to seal them up; that is, not to conceal them, but to record them, to make them known, to publish them to the churches.
Not from any self-will on his part, therefore, have these Apocalyptic records been put before us; but by direct command of our God and Saviour. They constitute his last and crowning legacy to his Church and people. They are written by his appointment and command. They are put into our hands by the specific direction of eternal power and Godhead. They are therefore God's word to us. And if he commanded the writing of them, I cannot see how people are to excuse themselves from the reading and study of them; or how any Christian can think lightly of them, or put them from him as of no practical worth, and yet retain his holy faithfulness to the plain will and inculcations of our blessed Lord and Judge. O my friends, let us beware how we neglect or despise a Book upon which God Almighty has laid so much stress, urgency, and importance. If John had sealed it up, or failed to lay it before us as it is, he would have forfeited his place and standing as an apostle of Christ; how, then, can we think our duty discharged, or the provisions for our highest blessedness duly accepted and used, if we pass it by as a dead letter, or make it to us as if it had never been?
V. Again, there is added here a very singular argument. It is not easy to give the exact literal sense of the especially constructed phraseology; but taking the whole connection and bearing of the passage, it may perhaps be best rendered, "Let the unjust one do injustice more and more, and the filthy one defile more and more, and the righteous one do righteousness more and more, and the holy one sanctify more and more." Many take the statement as referring to the eternal fixedness of character, both for the bad and good, when once these Apocalyptic scenes have been fulfilled. It is indeed a great truth, that a time comes to every one when the seal of permanence is set upon the spiritual condition, rendering the unjust one unjust forever, and the righteous one righteous forever. The same is also involved in this statement. But it is hardly to be taken as the main thought. The meaning has immediate reference to the non-sealing, that is, the writing and publication of "the words of the prophecy of this Book," and the nearness of the time of their fulfillment.
The direct bearing of the statement is that of an argument for the writing and publishing of these revelations, and the holding of them up to the view of all people, over against the non-effect or ill effect they may have upon the wicked and unbelieving, or upon the antichrist and his adherents, who is emphatically the unjust and unclean one. Though "wicked men and seducers shall wax worse and worse" (2 Timothy 3:13), and even wrest what is herein predicted of them as if it were a license for their wickedness or a fixing of it by an irresistible necessity, and so are only the more encouraged and urged on in their injustice and abominations; still, this is not to prevent the freest and fullest proclamation of the whole truth. Let the unjust one be the more confirmed in his unbelief and wickedness; let the filthy one go on in his idolatries and moral defilement with all the greater hardihood and blasphemy; that is not to restrain the making known of what shall come to pass.
If it accelerates the anti-Christian development, and the wicked are only the more indurated in their wickedness, let it so be. Though the sun breed pestilence and death in the morasses, and