THE LAMB STANDING ON MOUNT ZION WITH
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It was expressly asserted in the preceding chapter, as one blasphemous usurpation of the third Beast, or monster from the earth, that "he causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand or in their forehead." This was Satan, the great counter-worker, mimicking and counterfeiting the work of God, as described in the previous sealing-vision, thereby deceiving, if it were possible, the very elect.
John had just seen crouching nations stooping to the usurper, and, allowing the degrading mark of vassalage to be put on their foreheads. He looks up to the Church in glory. He sees the redeemed, with the indubitable brand of a diviner vassalage, bearing in their bodies, (on their foreheads,) "the marks of the Lord Jesus."
Then he listens to a strangely-mingled psalmody, whose combined cadences come floating to his ear, as if it had been one voice from Heaven. It was made up of 'many waters,' 'great thunder,' and 'the voice of harpers harping with their harps.' It was the loudness of the thunder-peal and of the ocean-waves, combined with the dulcet tones of the sweetest musical instrument. The song he heard was as it were "a new song." We are not told in what its newness or novelty consisted, nor what formed the theme of its magnificent melodies; probably it would be an ascription of joyful thanksgiving for their safe deliverance, on the part of those who had now exchanged the pilgrim warfare for the pilgrim rest: those who, with eagle-wings, had once taken themselves to the desert shelter, but who had now soared to the heights of Heaven, and made their perch on the Tree of Life in the midst of the Paradise of God.
It may have been a song in which was mingled a celebration of safety and joy, with the rehearsal of former struggles—the trials they had patiently borne, the temptations they had successfully resisted; or it may have been a song of heart-cheer and encouragement directed to the toiling warriors and sufferers below, anticipatory of a like sure triumph if faithful unto death; or it may have been a song only "as it were" new, but which was really the ever old one—the same which Abel sang at the gates of Eden, and which John had either sung that day on the rocks of Patmos, or subsequently in his home at Ephesus, "Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood!"
All the information he gives us regarding the song is, that no man could learn it but the hundred and forty-four thousand. It could not be understood or sung by the saintliest of human lips, inasmuch as, very possibly, until the spirits of the just are 'made perfect'—until they are ushered into their state of glorification—they cannot fully comprehend the language of Heaven; those "unspeakable words which it is not lawful (or possible) for a man to utter." Even this favored Apostle, in entering the
Such being the scene of worship in Heaven unfolded to the eye of the Apostle, let us proceed to note the delineation here given of its WORSHIPERS.
(1.) They are described as Redeemed (verse 3) "Who were redeemed from the earth." And, again (verse 4), "These were redeemed from among men." Not that modern amplification of Scripture—that travesty of a revealed truth—which would read it, "the redeemed of the earth," as indicating the universal ransom and restoration of the race. But "the redeemed from among the earth"—the ransomed elect—those represented in a former vision as specially sealed, or in the preceding chapter as having overcome the red dragon, (yes, all their foes,) by the blood, or "owing to the blood, of the Lamb." In other words, they are God's own seven thousand (distinguished from the Baal-throng), once hidden in the wilderness-caves of earth, now forever in the clefts of the True Rock of Ages—safe from the windy storm and tempest.
This warrant for the possession and occupancy of their thrones and their crowns, occupies, as well it may, the forefront and vanguard of their characteristics. It is the repetition, in another form, of the words of a recent figure we specially considered, "Who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." As on the earthly mount of Transfiguration, so on this heavenly
(2.) The worshipers are represented as being undefiled. Not only in this world were they justified by the blood, but they were regenerated and sanctified by the Spirit of Christ. Not only had they the righteousness imputed, but the righteousness implanted: and one special element in that subjective righteousness here mentioned, is that of chastity of life—virgin purity. How searchingly does the language of the vision come home to every heart, with its deep corruptions and impurities of thought and deed—making inquisition of those fleshly lusts that war against the soul, which blunt and wound and defile the conscience, and all the sensibilities of our higher natures, setting these on fire of hell—the fierce antagonists to that holiness, without which, it is declared, no one can see, and, doubtless, no one can enjoy, God!
How it brings down the sentence of withering condemnation on those, whose unchaste imaginations and unchaste lives have converted their souls (yes, these souls that were designed to be God's temple) into chambers full of all pollution and sensual imagery—a den of foul beasts, a cage of unclean birds—those whose every look is impurity, and who are as reckless of the virtue and innocence of others as they are of their own! How could any such, wallowing ever deeper in the mire, dream of joining that unspotted band in the Heavenly Zion? How could these polluted lips think of warbling the virgin-song of the undefiled?
Those who are thus earthly, selfish, sensual, devilish, would be as incapable of appreciating that bliss, as the uncultured and untutored savage, to whom noise is alone music, and gaudy tinsel is alone beauty, could appreciate the exquisite harmonies of Mozart or Beethoven. Ascend to Heaven? join the faultless choir before the throne? No, they are self-conscious that they carry a chronic hell within them. The words which our own great epic poet puts into the lips of Satan, are indorsed by such, as containing a too truthful description and photograph of their own feelings and history: "Each way I fly is hell—myself an hell!"
"Myself an hell!"—its fires already kindled—the hell of fiendish, lustful, polluted thoughts, with their corresponding hell of remorse and upbraiding—the eagles of vengeance already preying on the carcass—the fabled lash of the Furies already descending—retribution already begun.
On the other hand, blessed truly are "the undefiled, who walk in the law of the Lord"—who have escaped the corruptions that are in the world through lust; in the volume of whose heart the white leaves have their virgin purity unblotted and unstained. You, too, who are mourning the loss of those whose sun has gone down in early morning—who, full of high promise, have perished "at the threshold-march of life"—rejoice in the thought that they have "clean escaped"—that these lambs of the flock have passed into the heavenly fold, with the fleece of early innocence unpolluted. Before impurity stirred the well of pure thought, they have been taken away, it may be, from much evil to come!
More blessed and honored, in one sense, are those—and many such there are—who, by dint of resolute self-discipline and high principle, have bravely fought the long fight, and come out of it unwounded, unscathed; who with unabashed face can make the appeal to the great Heart-Searcher, of a good conscience and a pure life: but safer at least are they, who, away from the sudden gusts and hurricanes of temptation, have soared early upwards, and, with unsoiled plumage—unruffled wings, have sank into the clefts of the Rock forever. If they had been allowed to remain longer on earth, who can tell but some crude storm might have blighted fair promise and belied fond hopes?
But before summer's sun could scorch, no, before spring's frost could nip one bud or blast one leaf or blossom, the Great Giver, in mercy, took the flower to His own safer paradise—gave the summons,
"Waft her, angels, to the skies,
Far above yon azure plain;
Glorious there like you to rise,
There like you forever reign."
Oh! What would thousand and thousands give, who is now drifting, as miserable, shattered wrecks on life's sea—health, innocence, purity, gone—what would such give, to be as they are, inheriting in all its grandeur that best beatitude, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God!"
"She is not dead, the child of our affection,
But gone into that school,
Where she no longer needs our poor protection,
Where Christ Himself does rule.
"In that great cloister's stillness and seclusion,
By guardian angels led,
Safe from temptation, safe from sin's pollution,
She lives whom we call dead."
(3.) They are represented as following Christ (verse 4) "They follow" (or literally 'who are following') "the Lamb wherever He goes." They are seen indeed, in common with their great Lord, "standing" on the Mount Zion. But it is standing ready for His service—prepared to embark in ministries of holy love for Him—and, along with "the armies which are in Heaven," spoken of in a subsequent vision, ready to follow Him "upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean." Is this our conception of a future state of bliss? Not a dreamland of inaction, consisting only of a series of negations, the absence of the sad catalogue of evils which beset us here; but do we realize it as a sphere of holy, spiritual activity, where we shall be enlisted in embassies of love and loyalty to the dear Lord who redeemed us? If so, Heaven—the manhood of our spiritual being—should have, at all events, its childhood on earth—what we are to be, should have its dim and shadowy reflection in what we now are. If we are to follow the Lamb in glory, that path of trustful and loving obedience should have its commencement here on earth.
Is it so? Are we thus following Him—following Him as a flock trustfully follows its shepherd? following Him, not fitfully or capriciously—not at set times and seasons only, when the summer sky is overhead, and the birds are on the boughs, and the valleys of life are shouting for joy—but willing to follow Him when the sky is lowering—when the birds have folded their wings, and these valleys of existence are shrouded in mist and darkness—no patches of verdant grass to be seen, the music of no still waters to be heard, yet ready to say, "Though He slays me, yet will I trust in Him?"
Do we follow Him in the sense of seeking to be like Him—to have our wills equivalent with His?—setting His great Life of purity and obedience and self-sacrifice before us, and desiring that ours be a feeble transcript of its spotless excellencies? Do we follow Him, moreover, with the realizing thought before us of a Living Person?—not as the votaries of a creed, linked to some dry and formulated dogmas from which the great living 'life' has departed—but following, as these undefiled and faultless on the Mount Zion are represented as doing—following Himself—the Lamb of God—anticipating the time when "we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is," and when we shall be able to say the words of Peter, "We are eyewitnesses of His majesty: we are with him in the Holy Mount!"
(4.) One other characteristic of the hundred and forty-four thousand is here mentioned—they are honest and sincere. (verse 5) "And in their mouth was found no lie." It is the echo in the New, of an Old Testament beatitude, "Blessed is the man. . . .in whose spirit there is no deceit." The great Lord of all could pronounce no higher encomium on an earnest seeker becoming a beloved follower, than this, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit." We need not consider strange the special closing reference which is here made to this attribute of heavenly bliss, when we think how much of the reverse is, alas! manifested on earth—how much duplicity, double-dealing, lack of candor, truthlessness, how much finessing and deceit, counterfeiting the pure and the real with what is base admixture and alloy—pretentious blossom with an utter failure of fruit; a world of appearances, mocking and deceiving; like the apples of Sodom, beautiful to look upon, but perishable caskets enshrining dust and ashes.
They who have grown thus weary with the world's falseness and hollow hypocrisy will cease to wonder how, amid higher elements of bliss, John finishes the record of one of the grandest of his visions with the assertion regarding the redeemed—"And in their mouth was found no lie, for they are without fault before the throne of God."
This entire figure, as we have seen, was primarily intended as a vision of comfort for the Church in her dark days, when the wilderness was her home and the dragon of persecution was tracking her flight. She is encouraged to look forward to that bridal-hour, when, as the affianced Spouse of the Heavenly Bridegroom, she shall come up from the wilderness leaning on the arm of her Beloved, to sing her nuptial song on the Hill of Zion.
But it is a vision of comfort and consolation also, to every individual pilgrim and child of sorrow. It is a glimpse above and beyond the clouds, into that calm world where the voice of wailing is no more heard—"wasting nor destruction within its borders." It tells, that whatever be the needed wilderness-discipline here, the redeemed of the Lord shall at last come to Zion with everlasting songs on their heads. To all of us, it is an answer to the question, 'What are the characteristics, what the qualifications, of that heavenly citizenship?' "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart—who has not lifted up his soul unto vanity nor sworn deceitfully." "He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart." "He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation."