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Good Words 1860
A Door Opened in Heaven


Who that has ever read the ''Pilgrim's Progress," has not been thrilled by that touch of its wonderful author, at the very close of the allegory—"Now, just as the gates were opened to let in the men, I looked in after them, and behold," &c. And yet nearly the whole of that closing scene, which is allowed to be unsurpassed in any human composition, is but an appropriation and adaptation of the ideas and phraseology of the Apocalypse, whose matchless visions are introduced by these words—"After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven," &c., (chap. iv. 1.) Let us take a glance at this closing, portion of the canon of Scripture.

Much of this remarkable book is wrapt in obscurity. Its seals, and trumpets, and vials; its thunderings and lightnings, and earthquakes, and hails; its seas, and rivers, and fountains of waters; its celestial music, and its mystic numbers; its battles and victories; its deaths and resurrections;—these have exercised the sagacity of expositors, and divided the ablest of them, and baffled utterly not a few of them. But, as if to make amends for this, that we might not be quite scared away from this divine book, there have been thrown around it charms peculiar to itself. It rises above all the books of Scripture in the grandeur of its scenes, in the sharpness and breadth of its teaching, in the splendour of its conceptions, in the richness of its colouring, in the majesty of its language, in the heavenliness of its whole air. What in other books of Scripture is simply announced, is, in this dramatic book, sceni-cally enacted on the stage of these heavenly visions. What is elsewhere just stated, here sweeps upon the ear in celestial music, or reveals itself to our entranced gaze as if heaven itself had opened to our view. "To them that look for Him," says the Epistle to the Hebrews, ''shall He appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation." Delightful announcement! you are ready to say. But as if that were too tame for this book, ''Behold," exclaims the rapt seer of Patmos—''Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen!" (chap, i. 7.) Nay, the beloved disciple here rises above himself. Says he in his First Epistle, in calm, sweet prose, "We love him, because he first loved us," —a golden saying, which to Christians has been ever since a household word, and will, to the Church in all time, be greater riches than the treasures in Egypt. But in this book our beloved doesn't say this—he sings it: "Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." (chap. i. 5, 6.) And to take but one other example: "Whom he justified," says Paul to the Romans, "them he also glorified;" vaulting delightfully, at one bound, from the first stage of grace to final glory. But in one scene of this wonderful book, (Bev. vii. 9, to end,) we see the curtain of heaven itself drawn up, and lo! the whole ransomed Church is disclosed to view at once, in the robes of their justification and the beams of their glory, with their Lord—as the enthroned Lamb and radiant Shepherd—in the midst of them. "Who are these?" eaid one of the four-and-twenty elders that sat on thrones, and had on their heads crowns of gold, to the wondering seer. What could the poor mortal, all unused to such a presence, answer to this, but just roll back the question on him that asked it: "Sir, thou knowest." Whereupon the elder, as if •only waiting for an ear to listen and a pen to record, hastens himself to expound the scene: "These are they which came"—but it should be," which are coming" —"out of [the] great tribulation;" f— for when John was in Patmos, very few of them had arrived in glory, but they were coming trooping in; and the elder charmingly represents the translation from earth to heaven as even then going on; —"and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb: therefore are they before the throne of God." The conflict is over with them; the storm is past; the sky serene, "full of odours sweet;" the shore is won; they are within the veil; and the talk of the place is about how it was reached, and what their bliss is made up of! As for us here below, we are still in the land of the shadow of death, in the vale of tears, on the field of battle; "black but comely, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon;" "lying among the pots," but hoping to "be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers of yellow gold."

Let us look a little at this scene of heavenly life, not chopping it up into theological propositions, but just trying to catch its leading features, if haply our spirits, worried by distractions, and ofttimes borne down by heavy loads, may thus be calmed and uplifted to things above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God.

The first thing that arrests one's attention in this scene of life above, is the countless multitude that compose it: "a great multitude which no man could number." And yet whole classes—and these frightfully large—will not have one representative there. The drunkards shall not be there—not one; the unclean shall not be there—not one; the profane shall not be there—not one; nor liars, nor the impenitent at large. For "there shall in nowise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie," (Rev. xxi. 27.) Hideous gaps these, some one will say, in the heavenly ranks. No gap at all, say I. "My house shall be filled," says the Master of the feast. And here the ranks, you see, are full; the scene is positively crowded; the only difficulty, you would think, is to find room for all. Oh yes, the dregs will not be missed. "Death and hell," says this wonderful book, whose imagery startles us by its boldness, while its disclosures have peculiarities of their own— "death and hell were cast into the lake of fire." Thither will be collected the scum and refuse of God's universe—no longer tainting the air, and cumbering the ground, and breaking the hearts of God's children.

But another lovely feature of this scene is the catholicity of this heavenly multitude. They were "of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues." For nearly fifteen centuries the seed of Abraham had the visible Church all to themselves—other nations being left to walk in their own ways, or, at most, admitted to outer-court privileges. But here the Jew is nowhere. He is lost in the crowd of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues. The subtle Greek is here, with the citizen of mighty Rome, both mingling with the rude barbarian and the hardy Scythian; the Christian English are here, with the African slaves whom they have made doubly free; "from Greenland's icy mountains to India's coral strand," —all of one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

But more striking still, observe their dress. They were "arrayed in white robes." This, however, was not their first dress; or rather, they were not white at the first. They had to put them through the process of washing ere they became so: "They washed their robes, and made them white." Oh yes, the robes of the redeemed in heaven were once as filthy as those of any that "shall in nowise enter therein." Somn had deep, deep stains to wash out—"murders, adulteries, fornications, theft, false witness, blasphemies, and whatsoever defileth a man." "Such were some of you," says Paul to the Corinthians, after enumerating some of the blackest crimes and loath-somest practices which have ever disgraced humanity, "but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified." Others had no stains of this sort to wash out. "As touching the righteousness that is in the law, they were blameless." Still there is no difference; for "all have sinned"—not to the same extent, any more than in the same way—but the debtor that owes "fifty pence" is as insolvent as he that owes "five hundred," or is ten times deeper a debtor; and so "there is no difference." Accordingly, here it is said of all alike, that "they washed their robes, and made them white." But what did they wash them clean in? Their tears, for having ever stained them? Ah! no. Oceans of tears will never wash out the stain of one sin. "Though I wash me with snow water, and make my clothes never so clean, yet shaft thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me." (Job ix. 30, 31.) What then? "In the blood of the Lamb." Not in the innocence of the Lamb, not in the meekness of the Lamb; as if Christ's incarnate loveliness were the secret of a sinner's pardon. Oh no, but in "the blood of the Lamb;" or, in other words, the sacrificial, atoning virtue of His death. It is this, and this only, that imparts whiteness to their stained robes. And in connexion with this, another feature of this remarkable book may here be mentioned, that though Christ is called "the Lamb of God" twice by the Baptist, when pointing Him out to his disciples, as he first beheld Him approaching him after His temptation, and thus quietly emerging into public life, He is so called by none of the New Testament writers save the beloved disciple, and not even by him in his Gospel, nor in any of his Epistles, but exclusively in this book of the Revelation. And how often does that sublime title occur here? No fewer, if we mistake not, than eight-and-twenty times. Nor is it said, "They were washed," as if they themselves, in this business, were absolutely and in every sense passive; but "They washed their (own) robes, and (they) made them white" in this blood. Does this mean nothing? Not likely. It expresses the voluntary, cordial, eager surrender of themselves to that divinely-provided way of purification. Those words of our Lord have their true sense here symbolically expressed: ''This is the work of God, that ye believe in Him whom he hath sent," and, "believing, may have life through his name."

The attitude of this countless multitude is as eloquent as their dress: ''They stood before the Throne and before the Lamb, with palms in their hands." In a later vision of this book, the seer beheld "a great white Throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away, and there was found no place for them," (Kev. xx. 11.) They could not abide the lustre of that face; the very look of the Judge chased them away. But this washed company could stand that gaze. They "stood before the Throne." How so? They were white as the Throne itself. But as they were indebted for this to the blood of the Lamb, they are privileged to behold Him too, in all His sacrificial virtue, "in the midst of the throne"—they "stood before the Lamb;" drinking in, as they looked upon the One, inspirations of conscious right to "stand in the judgment." (Ps. i. 5,) but fetching from the Other the whole ground of that right—as if even still, in their glorified state, they would say, as they were wont to do on earth,

"Upon Thy streaming wounds my weary eyes
"Wait, like the parched earth on April skies."

But is this, you will ask, the true meaning of the attitude in which they were seen? They shall answer you themselves. They not merely say it, they shout it. "They cried with a loud voice"—in token both of the depth and the exultancy of their feeling—"saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb:" —We are here, they say, not as those "angels that stand round about the throne," that never fell, but purely as sinners saved: Salvation is the song we have to sing, the free gift of everlasting love in the deep bosom of Him that sitteth in that throne, and reaching us, its guilty objects, only through ''the sacrificial virtue of the Lamb that was slain:" We cannot be silent; and thus their undying hallelujahs are spontaneously, and, as we shall see, ceaselessly poured into the ear of both.

I have not space to enlarge upon the palms. But they are not, I take it, triumphal palms, as if the allusion were to the palm or laurel wreaths with which the victors in the Grecian games were crowned. Paul certainly alludes to these (1 Cor. ix. 24, &e.) when writing to the Corinthians, to whom such allusions would come strikingly home. But this prophetic book leans wholly upon the Old Testament, and fetches thence all its imagery. To it, therefore, we must go for the meaning of these palms. And since we there find (Lev. xxiii. 40) that at the feast of tabernacles, palm branches were to be used in the construction of the booths in which the Israelites from year to year celebrated the safe and happy termination of their wanderings through the wilderness, "rejoicing before the Lord their God," I doubt not that the palms of our white-robed multitude just represent their festal recollection of all the way by which the Lord led them through this waste howling wilderness, and their eternal "rejoicing before the Lord their God" in the happy termination of their "pilgrim's progress."

Accordingly, they are here represented as "coming out of great tribulation." Some, it is true, like the penitent thief, are transported, straight from the fountain opened, to this heavenly platform. There also shall be seen babes

"Who reach the shore
They never saw nor sought before."

But these, and such like, are the exceptions. The rule, the law of the kingdom, is thus sweetly expressed by Peter,—"The God of all grace, who hath called you unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while," (1 Pet. v. 10.) In times of fierce persecution, the tribulation is indeed great, the furnace hot. But even in times of peace, the road by which some get to heaven is rough, rough. But they get home; and the crowned elder directs the gaze of our seer to them in the act of "coming out," as it were one by one, to swell the ranks that could not be counted. As "brands plucked out of the fire," they doubtless bore the smell and the smoke of the fire about them; but in this vision, the washing of their robes is put after their escape out of tribulation, as if over and above their first great washing, they needed and got one final plunge into the fountain opened, (Jo. xiii. 10,) that they might appear there, straight from this dusty scene, "without spot or wrinkle or any such thing."

All this, however, does but answer the question, " How came they to the blissful seats Of everlasting day?"

The details of their actual condition and positive felicity fall next under our view.

It is a life of immediate and ceaseless worship. "Therefore" —on the ground already disclosed— "are they before the Throne, and serve Him day and night in His temple." That throne was their familiar and loved resort even here; but it was as a throne of grace. They came boldly to it, and obtained mercy, and found grace to help them in time of need. They even "stood before it," entering into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. But all as through a glass darkly: now it is face to face. Then all was nickering, unsteady at the best; and it was not always at the best. With broken hearts and weeping eyes they would try, amidst many stains and not a few shameful defeats, to hold their ground, faint yet pursuing. But now they are before the Throne—openly, unchangeably, for ever. It is a temple they are in, and in this temple they offer priestly service. True, it is afterwards said, "I saw no temple therein;" (chap. xxi. 22;) but that merely means that there was no part more sacred than another, but it was all temple together, one glorious worshipping place. But I think we shall gravely err if we take this to mean that the occupation of the redeemed in heaven will be confined to acts of worship. Nay, what if the worship of heaven should consist of no acts whatever apart from other occupations? If the representation here given should be meant to convey nothing more than this, that whatever the activities of the redeemed may expend themselves upon, they will be all and always steeped in the spirit of an immediate, and perfect, and ceaseless worship? We cannot tell; yet, angel-like, we would reverently look into these things. But that "day and night"—how different from the very best of earth's poor services! Here, how brief are the moments we are able to spend steadily in spiritual exercises! What with lassitude of body, what with sluggishness of spirit, what with manifold interruptions and distractions, it is poor work enough in its most golden seasons. But there all that is gone; and untroubled calm, untiring buoyancy, seraphic fervour, reign in all the occupations which—whatever may be their nature—will have for the soul of them love to Him who so loved them, and is worthy of their spirit's deepest homage and affection. But this is not all.

It will be a life of intimate fellowship with Him that sitteth on the throne: "He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them"'—literally, "shall pitch His tabernacle" (or, dwell as in a tent) "over them." The idea and the language are both taken from that remarkable ancient promise to Israel,—"And I will set my tabernacle among you, and my soul shall not abhor you, and I will walk among you," &c. (Lev. xxvi. 11, 12.) The thing meant in both places is, familiar and endearing intercourse: in the one case, partial and comparatively distant, as befits the earth; in the other, expressing the nearest approaches and the fullest disclosures of the blessed Godhead of which redeemed and glorified creatures are capable. But other features of their felicity have yet to be reported.

It will be a life of entire freedom from all the ills of this present state: "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them, nor any beat." Plainly, the allusion here is to the wilderness-journeyings of the children of Israel, during which they were ever hungering, ever thirsting, and under the burning heat and amid the rough and desolate wastes of Edom "the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way," and their unbelief in consequence provoked the Lord to send fiery serpents among them, from whose venom only the sight of the brazen serpent could heal them. (Numb. xxi. 4-9.) This confirms what I said about the "palms," that the predominant reference in this scene is to the pilgrims' progress of God's ancient people, by vivid contrast with which their heavenly felicity is set forth. In cold and moist climates, such figurative language conveys but feeble conceptions. But our own countrymen in India have recently had mournful experience of its deadly import; and some who have tried to live there have all too speedily found that the "heat" here spoken of was their summons into another world. How speaking, then, to such must be the assurance here given, that, in the land whither the redeemed have gone, these ills shall be for ever unknown, and no want, no pain, no exhaustion shall ever be experienced in work or in worship, in body or in spirit, because the causes of them shall have wholly departed, and a nature to which such things are unapproachable shall be possessed in perpetuity. But the confirmation of all this which follows, adds some delightful particulars to our knowledge.

The supplies of this heavenly life will more than compensate for the wants of the present. The language here—which, though borrowed from Isa. xhx. 10, rises far above it—is astonishingly suggestive. ''For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and lead them unto living fountains of waters." He who, as the Lamb, redeemed them to God by His blood— "that great Shepherd of the sheep, brought again from the dead through the blood of the everlasting covenant," (Heb, xiii. 20)—shall conduct them in person to those ordained supplies from which their heavenly life is to derive its eternal sustenance and refreshment. The Lamb, it seems, shall not only be there to he gazed upon as the one way to the Father, but, as the paraphrase beautifully expresses it, "Shall o'er them still preside." What He will feed them with we may not know in detail; nor do the lovely paradisaical figures of the last chapter of this book, about the tree of life which bare twelve manner of fruits in succession, answering to the months of our year, and whose very leaves were for the healing of the nations, do more than assure us of the rich and endlessly-varied provision that will there be found for the heavenly life, proceeding from its living Head. His "leading them to living fountains of waters," delightfully expresses not only the presence and companionship of Jesus with the redeemed, but, as is fitting, His pre-eminence and presidency in all their felicities. Their never-failing, ever-fresh, eternal satisfactions shall be somehow ministered by the Lamb himself. If this should mean, that in ways ever new He shall disclose to them His immense, overpowering love, while they, as they drink in these inspirations, shall feel as if every moment they were afresh redeemed unto God by His blood, newly brought out of great tribulation, and placed before the throne,—would not that, or something like that, be a worthy sense?

But the last, if not the best, is, to weeping believers, the most grateful of all.

''God himself shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." I take this not so much as an additional particular, but rather as a sublime and affecting summation of the whole. Tears—for what? Ah me! Is there one in this vale of tears that needs to ask that question? Eut there is one element in all the tears that will ever be wiped away, without which they are not the tears here meant,—The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. xv. 56, 57.) Every ill that afflicts humanity, and every sorrow which bedews the eyes, must be seen to spring from sin, else it is seen in a false light, and is not removed in the divinely-provided, the only way. But even when it is so, believers here are left to groan, being burdened. When they would do good, evil is present with them, and they weep for that. Their old perversities die hard, and they weep for that. Nor is it their own sins only that trouble them, for they have learnt to feel that they are their brother's keeper. Rivers of waters run down their eyes, because men keep not God's law. They have yearned, haply, over those whom God gave them to bring up for Him. They have reared them faithfully, they have given them to Him heartily, they have seen their gifts unfolding, their attainments and resources day by day increasing, and have fondly hoped and fervently prayed that they might be consecrated to that Same which is above every name, in whatever walk of life the providence of God might direct their steps; they have seen them at length set out, ard, their preparation all completed, ready to enter on life in earnest—when the fell disease, as a summons to depart, took hold of them, and they see their face no more. It is not their dying out of Christ which moistens the eye of a Christian parent in the way we here refer to. That is anguish unutterable. But it is when their last days give evidence of a grace, which if they had lived, would have shed its lustre on all their future, and made it a blessing to many, that the tears will come down. And they are not forbidden; nay, they are intended to flow, and flow on to the last, as if God would secure to Himself something to wipe away, which earth, when they left it, could not remove from them. The fact announced in this last clause, is scarcely more wonderful than the language in which it is concluded,—"God himself shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." And the paraphrase not unworthily expresses it—

"His gracious hand shall wipe the tear
From every weeping eye."

To one who, at the close of such a scene, is tempted to doubt whether the things which it brings before us be not too good to be true, how reassuring are those words which were addressed to the seer by Him that sat upon the throne, "Write, for these words are true and faithful!" (chap. xxi, 5.) Yes, and they shall soon be here. For "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!" (chap. xxii. 20.)


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