Sermon 441. The Elders Before The Throne
A SERMON DELIVERED ON SUNDAY MORNING, MARCH 23, 1862, BY REV. C. H. SPURGEON, AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON.
"And round about the Throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting clothed inwhite raiment. And they had on their heads crowns of gold." The four and twenty elders fall down before Him that sat on theThrone and worship Him that lives forever and everand cast their crowns before the Throne, saying, You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for You havecreated all things, and for Your pleasure they are and were created."
Revelation 4:4; 10,11.
THE universe of God is one-Heaven and earth are not so separate as unbelief has dreamed. As the Lord has but one family, writtenin one register, redeemed with one blood, quickened by one Spirit, so this whole household abides in one habitation evermore.We who are in the body abide in thelower room which is sometimes dark and cold but bears sufficient marks that it is a room in God's house. For it is to theeye of our faith often lit up with heavenly luster and we, even we, while we are yet here, are by blessed earnests made partakersof the inheritance of thesaints in light.
It is the same house, I say, but ours is the lower room, while our glorified Brethren are up there, in the upper story, wherethe sunlight streams in everlastingly, where no chilling winds or poisonous breath can ever reach. It was well said that God'sgreat house seems to have two wings. The onewas a hospital and the other a palace. We are as yet in the wing on the left hand side, which is the hospital. We came intoit sick even unto death, leprous to our very core, polluted from head to foot, having no soundness in us anywhere.
And in this hospital we are undergoing the process of cure-a cure which is already certain, which is soon to be perfected.And then we shall pass from the hospital, the lazar-house, into the palace, where "without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing,"we shall be recognized as the aristocracyof God, princes of the blood-royal of the universe. Sons of God and joint-heirs with Christ Jesus. Still is it but one building-oneroof covers the whole, both lazar-house and palace- one family, we dwell in it-one Church, above, beneath, though now dividedby the narrow partition of death.
Now, to a great extent there is a likeness between the lower room and the upper room. As on earth we prepare for Heaven, sothe state of the saints on earth is Heaven foreshadowed. In many respects the condition of the child of God on earth is atype of his condition in Heaven. And I may saywithout fear of question that what the character of the saints is above, that should be the character of the saints below.We may very safely take for our example those glorified spirits. We need not be afraid that we shall be led astray by imitatingthem, by learning theiroccupations, or by attempting to share their joys. Surely the things in Heaven are patterns of the things on earth and asthey are before the Throne of God so ought we to be, and so shall we be in proportion as we live up to our privileges andreceive the likeness and image of ourLord Jesus Christ.
Brethren, it is upon this subject that I want to speak this morning. God is making Heaven very near to us. We are now so largea Church that according to the laws of mortality, we lose five or six every month by death, and frequently two or three areremoved in a week. We can hardly hope to meettogether upon a single Sunday without hearing that another of the stars is set. Some little time ago we went to the gravewith an excellent elder of our Church, who had long known the Master and had served Him well-and now, during the coming week,it will be our lot to performthe same mournful office for another Brother who has been in Christ, I suppose, these forty or fifty years, and who hasserved this Church for some little time with industry and zeal-but this week has been removed from our midst to join "thegeneral assembly and Church of thefirst-born whose names are written in Heaven."
The veil grows thinner and thinner, and our faith in the unseen grows stronger. As the advanced guard of the army wades throughthe stream, and we hear their triumphant shouts upon the other shore, this world fades away and that better land stands outin stronger and more glorious reality than itdid before. Come, let us talk to one another by the way, this morning, of that better land and let us encourage each other'shearts to make ourselves through God such as they are who sit upon their thrones and to make this land, through the Spirit,such as that land is where Godsheds His light forever.
With regard to the spirits before the Throne of God, we shall have three things to say this morning. First, a little concerningtheir state and enjoyments. Then, further, concerning their occupations and spirit. And a few words with regard to their testimonyand precepts to us, as, speaking fromthe upper spheres, they urge us to follow their example.
I. First, then, Brethren with regard to THE STATE AND ENJOYMENTS OF THE SPIRITS BEFORE THE THRONE OF GOD. In John's vision,you perceive that the Church of Christ is represented by the four and twenty elders who sat round the Throne of God. We areto look upon them as being the representatives ofthe great body of the faithful gathered to their eternal rest.
Mark, then, in the first place, that the saints in Heaven are represented as "elders," which we take to refer not merely tothe office of the eldership, as it is exercised among us, although it seems most fitting that the officers should be the representativesof the whole body-but thereference is rather to the fullness of growth of Believers before the Throne of God. Here we have elders and those who areelders in office should be chosen, because they have had spiritual experience, are well taught in the things of the kingdomof Heaven and are, therefore, eldersby Divine Grace as well as elders by office.
But in all our Churches we have many who are babes in Christ, who as yet can only receive the elements of the Gospel. We havemany others who are young men, strong but not matured. They have the vigor of manhood but they have not yet the ripeness ofadvanced age. The elders in the Church are thosewho, by reason of years, have had their senses exercised. They are not the saplings of the forest but the well-rooted trees.They are not the blades of corn springing up, but the full corn in the ear awaiting the reaper's sickle. Such are the saintsbefore the Throne of God.
They have made wondrous strides in knowledge. They understand now the heights and depths, the lengths and breadths of thelove of Christ, which still surpasses even their knowledge. The mean, if there are such differences, the mean of the glorifiedunderstands more of the things of God than thegreatest Divine on earth. The rending of the veil of death is the removal of much of our ignorance. It may be that the saintsin Heaven progress in knowledge-that is possi-ble-but it is certain that at the time of their departure they made a wondrousspring.
They are babes no longer. They are children and infant beginners no more. God teaches them in one five minutes, by a sightof the face of Jesus, more than they could have learned in threescore years and ten while present in the body and absent fromthe Lord. Their heresies are all cleared away withtheir sins. Their mistakes are all removed. The same hand which wipes away all tears from their eyes wipes away all specksfrom their eyes, too. Then they become sound in doctrine, skillful in teaching. They become masters in Israel by the suddeninfusion of the wisdom of God by theHoly Spirit. They are "elders" before the Throne of God. They are not unripe corn gathered green and damp-they are all fullyripe and they come to the garner as shocks of corn come in their season.
Perhaps they are represented as elders to show the dignity and gravity which shall surround saints of God in Heaven. We sometimeshear complaints made about the younger members of Churches, that they are somewhat light in their conversation. Well, thishas always been the fault of young people and,as I said the other day, when one complained, I could not make lambs into sheep-and while they were lambs I suppose theywould show some playfulness. It seems to be the natural failing of young people to be overflowing with mirth and sometimesovertaken with levity.
But there is a gravity which is very becoming in Christians and there is a solidity which is extremely comely in the youngBeliever. And I think when we make a profession of our faith in Christ, though we are not to cast away our cheerful facesbut to be more happy than ever we were before, yet wemust put away all unseemly levity and walk as those who are looking for the coming of the Son of Man, hearing this voicein our ears, "What manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness!"
Now that fault can never be brought against the Church of God before the Throne. There they are elders, glorious, blissful,happy-but yet serene and majestic in their joy. Theirs is not the prattling joy of the child, but the deep silent bliss ofthe full-grown man. As the senators in theRoman senate sat down in solemn grandeur, so that even the barbarians were overawed by their majesty bearing, so let ourholier tranquility and joyful serenity cast an influence over the foes of our religion.
Look upwards, Christians. There are the elders before the Throne of God, representatives of what you and I, and all of uswho trust in Christ, shall soon be. Let us be laying aside childish things. Let us be getting ready for the elders' dignity.Let us leave the toy, the trifle, the plaything, tothose who know not the immortal manhood of Believers and let us go on unto perfection, growing in Divine Grace and in theknowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In passing, I may observe that the number of four and twenty is somewhat puzzling. There have been different attempts madeto account for it. They say that this was the number of the Sanhedrim. But that is not clear. Others think that as the numbertwelve was the symbol of the Jewish Church, in thetwelve tribes, so twelve more may have been added to represent the accession of the Gentile Church. Or it may show the multiplicationof the Church, that though small, so that it is numbered by twelve, its number, while still definite and complete, is nowlarger than it was before.
But, still better, I think, as there were twenty-four courses of Levites, who were porters at the gate of the temple and twenty-fourcourses of priests who offered sacrifice, so the number twenty-four is made use of to show that the service of God in Histemple is complete-that there are asmany as will be wanted-that every part of the Divine service will be taken up and around that altar which smokes beforeGod eternally, there shall be a full complement of those who shall bow before Him and do Him homage.
2. But, secondly, you will notice that these elders are said to be around the Throne. We suppose, as near as we can catchthe thought of John, sitting in a semi-circle, as the Jewish Sanhedrim did around the Prince of Israel. It is a somewhat singularthing that in the passage in Canticles, whereSolomon sings of the king sitting at his table, the Hebrew has it "a round table." From this, some expositors, I think withoutstraining the text, have said, "There is an equality among the saints." In Heaven they are not some sitting at the head andsome sitting lower down butthere is an equality in the position and condition of glorified spirits.
Certainly that idea is conveyed by the position of the four and twenty elders. We do not find one of them nearer than theother, but they all sat round about the Throne. We believe, then, that the condition of glorified spirits in Heaven, is thatof nearness to Christ, clear vision of His glory,constant access to His court and familiar fellowship with His Person. Nor do we think that there is any difference beforethe Throne of God between one saint and another. We believe that all the people of God, Apostles, martyrs, ministers, or privateand obscure Christians, shallall have the same place near the Throne, where they shall forever gaze upon their exalted Lord and forever be satisfiedin His love.
There shall not be some at a distance, far away in the remote streets of the Celestial City and others in the broad thoroughfares.There shall not be some near the center and others far away on the verge of the wide circumference. But they shall all benear to Christ, all ravished with His love,all eating and drinking at the same table with Him, all equally His favorites and His friends.
Now, Brothers and Sisters, as we bade you imitate the saints in their eldership and perfection, so would we exhort you toimitate them in their nearness to Christ. Oh, let us be on earth as the elders are in Heaven, sitting round about the Throneof God. May Christ be the center of this Church! MayHe be the center of your thoughts, the center of your life. If an angel should fly across this assembly this morning, whenhe came back to Heaven, could he say, "I saw them in the House of God, sitting around the Throne. Their eyes were gazing onthe slaughtered Lamb. Their heartswere loving and praising Him. They were desiring to do Him homage and to pay Him reverence"?
And what do you think of tomorrow and the other days of the week? Will it be true of you that you are sitting before the Throneof God? Brothers and Sisters, we are out of our proper place when we are looking after anything but Christ. "We are not ourown. We are bought with a price." Why live asif we were our own? He is our Husband, our soul is espoused to Him. Oh, how can we live at such a distance from Him? Heis our life. He makes us live, He makes us blessed- how can we be so much forgetful of Him? How can our hearts be such strangersto their Beloved?
Jesus! Draw us nearer to Yourself! Oh to be nearer to Your Throne, Lord, even while we are here! O take us up to You, or elsecome down to us. Say unto us, "Abide in Me and I in you." And permit our souls to say, "His left hand is under my head andHis right hand does embrace me."-
"Abide with me from morn till eve, For without You I cannot live. Abide with me when night is nigh, For without You I darenot die."
3. A third point of likeness strikes us at once. It seems that the elders sitting around the Throne were represented to theilluminated eye of John as "clothed in white raiment." Not in raiment of party colors, where there were some spots and yetsome signs of whiteness. They are without faultbefore the Throne of God. They have "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb," and the Spirit ofGod also has so thoroughly renewed them, that they are "without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing."
They have been presented holy and unblameable before the Throne of God. Brothers and Sisters, in this, too, they are an exampleto us. Oh that the Spirit of God might keep the members of this Church, that our garments might be always white. Perfectionwe must not hope to see here-but oh, wemust aim after it. If one should never unite with a Christian Church till he found one which is perfect, and free from allfault, then such a man must be a schismatic for-ever-for with no Christian people could he ever join. Yet, this is what weaspire unto-to befaultless before God. We desire to so walk, and to so act among men that our conduct may never bring a slur upon our profession-thatour language, our actions, our motives-everything that is about us, may witness to the fact that we have been with Jesus andhave learnedof Him.
O Brothers and Sisters, it is impossible for one pastor, assisted even by the most earnest of elders, to oversee so largea flock as this. Let me ask, have you kept your garments white this last week? Oh, if you have stained them, I beseech you,repent, repent bitterly before God. And if any of youhave backslidden, I pray you, do not be hypocrites. Let your guilt be fully confessed before God. If you cannot honor thisChurch, do not dishonor it. If you cannot glorify Christ by your walk and conversation, at least do not trample under footHis blood and put His Cross to anopen shame.
There is nothing which can so injure a Church and cut the sinews of its strength, as the unholiness of its members. When weare "fair as the moon and clear as the sun," then we shall be "terrible as an army with banners." But not till then. Thoseblots upon the escutcheon, those spots upon thegarment, are soon perceived by a lynx-eyed world. And then they turn round and say, "Ah, these are your Christians. Thisis your religion!" The sons of Belial make excuses for their own conscience and go on in their sin, hardened by our mistakes.Oh, let this be your prayer, Iexhort you, you who are mighty in prayer, never forget this day and night, "Lord, keep Your people! Hold them up." I cansay it has been at all times the bitterest draught I have ever had to drink, when any who have professed the name of Christhave turned back unto vanity.
To bury you is but a blessed duty in comparison with noting and correcting backsliding and apostasy. I know my prayer formyself has been a hundred times, "A speedy death, a soon and sudden sleeping beneath the green turf, or even a painful, agonizing,languishing decay, upon a bed of pain, ratherthan you should live to see your pastor stain his profession and fall from his integrity." If it be so with the minister,it must be so with each of you. Better for you that you depart at once than that you should live bearing the name of Christ,to make that name a reproach and abyword among the heathen. Lord, help us, that we, like Your saints above, may be clothed in white garments.
4. Further, to carry on the parallel. You perceive that these elders exercised a priesthood. Indeed, their being clothed inwhite garments, while it is an emblem of their purity, also represents them as being priests unto God. They themselves expresslysing in the 10th verse of the 5th chapter,"You have made us unto our God kings and priests." They exercise the office of the priesthood, as you perceive, by the doubleoffering of prayer and praise. They hold in their hands the censers full of sweet incense and the harps which give forth melodioussounds.
Brethren, in the wilderness of old they were not all priests. One special tribe and one family out of that tribe, alone, couldexercise that office-the rest of the people stood in the outer court. As for the most holy place, into that only came thehigh priest and he only once a year, so muchexclusion was there in that age of shadows. But now all Believers are priests. We have all a right to stand in the priest'splace, to offer sacrifice and incense. No, more-through Christ we enter into that which is within the veil and stand in themost holy place and look atthe bright light from the Shekinah, fearing not that we shall die, but having boldness and confidence through the new andliving way, the rent body of Christ.
The saints before the Throne of God are represented as all of them in the holy place, round the Throne, all officiating, everyone of them presenting sacrifice. Brethren, what are we doing? Let us look up to them as the priests of God and then ask ourselves,are we celebrating His worship, too?Brother, did you this morning, before you came up to this house, lift up your hand with the bowl of incense in it, in yourearnest prayer for a blessing upon His people? Have you this day in our sacred song, been laying your fingers mystically amongthe strings of your golden harp?
What did you do last week, my Brethren? What were you? Can you say that you were a priest? Or, must you not blush that youwere rather a buyer and a seller, or a thinker and a writer, than a priest unto our God? And yet this is our high calling.This is our blessed vocation. Our earthly calling isbut little honor to us, nor should it engross our richest thoughts. Our heavenly calling is of the most importance. It isthat which is to last forever. It is that which should have the cream of our soul's attention. We are priests.
Oh, Brothers and Sisters, if we have failed in the past, may God give us Grace for the future! And during the coming daysof the next work-day week, may He help us, that our buying and our selling, our traveling and our tarrying at home, may allbe the exercise of priesthood! You know, you can make"the bells upon the horses" holiness to the Lord, and the very pots of your house can be as the bowls upon the altar. Youneed not go out of your everyday callings to be priests, but be priests in your callings. Sanctify the Lord God in your workshops,in your fields, in yourmarketplaces, in your exchanges. And whatever you do, whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do it all in the nameof the Lord Jesus, who has made you priests and kings unto Him.
I know there is a sad tendency among us all to leave the priesthood to some peculiar clan. Mark you, members of this Church,I will be no priest for you. It is as much as I can do to exercise the priesthood to which God calls me on my own account,to offer my own thanks and my own petitions. I willhave none of your responsibilities. You must be priests for yourselves. You cannot shift this burden off, nor would youwish, I am sure, if you are true-hearted. You, you say, are poor! You are unknown! You have no talent! You need it not, thesecannot make you priests. How came thesons of Aaron to the priesthood? By birth.
So with you. You have been "born not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, nor of blood, but of God," and thepriesthood is the inalienable inheritance of the new birth. Exercise your office, then, be you who you may, O Beloved of theLord. In the name of Him who has begotten you againunto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, live as men sanctified for Divine service, who cannotand must not be servants of men and slaves of sin.
5. Once more and I think I shall have said enough upon this first point. There is yet another likeness between the saintsin Heaven and those on earth. You perceive that these had on their heads crowns of gold. They reigned with Christ. He wasa king and He made them kings with Him. As in the oldPersian court the princes of the blood wore crowns, so in the court of Heaven the princes of the blood, the Brethren ofthe Lord, are crowned, too. They are royal senators. They sit upon thrones, even as He who has overcome and sits down withHis Father on His Throne.
These thrones they have to show their dominion, their rights and jurisdiction. Know you not that we shall judge angels, andthat when Christ shall come He will bring His people with Him and they will sit upon His throne as co-assessors with Him?Then the wicked, the persecutors, the revilers ofGod's people, shall be brought to judgment and the saints whom they despised shall be their judges! So that when Christshall say, "Depart, you cursed," there shall be heard the thundering assent of the ten thousands of His saints, as they say"Amen," and confirm from their heartsthe sentence of the All-Righteous Judge. Therefore do these elders sit upon their thrones.
Now, Beloved, let us imitate them in this. "Oh," you say, "but I cannot wear a crown as they do." Nevertheless, you are aking. For they who are Christ's are kings. Take care, Brother, that you wear your crown, by reigning over your lusts. Reignover your sins. Reign over your passions. Be as aking in the midst of all that would lead you astray. Christ Jesus has broken the neck of your sin-put your foot upon it.Keep it under-subdue it. Be king in the dominions of your own being. In the world at large act a king's part. If any wouldtempt you to betray Christfor gain, say, "How can I? I am a king. How shall I betray Christ?"
Let the nobility of your nature come out in your actions. Forgive in a royal manner, as a king can forgive. Be ready to giveto others as God has helped you, as a king gives. Let your liberality of spirit be right royal. Let your actions never bemean, sneaking, cowardly, dastardly. Do the rightthing and defy the worst. Dare all your foes in the pursuit of that which is right and let men see while they look uponyou that there is a something under your homely appearance which they cannot understand. Men make a great deal of fuss aboutthe blood of the aristocracy. I daresay it is not very different from the blood of crossing-sweepers.
But there is a great deal of difference between the life-blood of the saints and the life-blood of the proudest prince. Forthey who love Christ have fed upon His flesh and have drunk of His blood and have been made partakers of the Divine nature.These are the royal ones. These are thearistocrats. These are the nobility and all are mean beside.
Christians, perhaps some of you have not reigned as kings during the last week. Perhaps you have been either murmuring, likepoor whining beggars, or you have been scraping, like dunghill rakers, with your covetousness. Or perhaps you have been sinning,like idle boys in the street, who roll in themire. You have not lived up to your kingship. Now I pray you, ask God's Grace that during the week to come you may say ofsin, "I cannot touch it, I am a king. I cannot demean myself with it." That you may say of this earth's dross, "I cannot godown and scrape that-myheritage is above." That you may be able to say of everything that is low and mean, "Shall such a man as I do this? Howcan I come down from the elevated position to which God has called me, to act as others act, from their motives and with theirends?"
Let, then, the state of the saints above, while it is the theme of our delightful thought-while we anticipate the time whenwe shall fully partake of it-be also an example to us while in these lands below.
II. Briefly upon our second point-THE OCCUPATION AND SPIRIT OF THOSE GLORIFIED ONES, AS THEY SHOULD BE IMITATED BY US BELOW.
1. Notice their occupation. First of all it is one of humility. At the tenth verse in our fourth chapter we perceive it iswritten, "They fall down before Him." They are kings but yet they fall down. They wear royal crowns, but yet they prostratethemselves. They are second to none in God'suniverse. They stand as first in the peerage of creation. Yet before the King they have no honor and no esteem. As if theywere slaves and menials, they cast themselves upon their faces before His Throne, having nothing of their own whereof to glorybut boasting alone in Him.
Where holiness is in perfection, there humility is in perfection, too. The cherubim veil their faces with their wings, whilethey cry, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth." So do these elders, taking the same posture of humility, they bow beforethe Throne of God.
Brothers and Sisters, are we as humble as we should be? If we think we are, we at once betray our pride. But let us understandhow unseemly anything but humility must be to us. We are yet on earth. If they in Heaven boast not, how dare we? We are yetsinful and erring. If the spotless ones bow,what shall we do? If we threw dust and ashes on our heads and acknowledged ourselves to be the vilest of the vile, yet werethe words not too coarse for us, nor the action too humiliating. Far from us be the pride which would let us exalt ourselves!Pride is natural to us all,Brethren, we cannot get rid of it, even though we strive against it. What shall we say of those who nurture it-whose verycarriage and walk betray the pride of their hearts?
What shall we say of the pride which finds root in the purse, or that which shows itself in outward array and garments? Whatshall we say of the pride of station and of rank which will not permit the professedly Christian man to speak with his poorerBrother? Oh, these are damnable things! I hopewe despise and are rid of these. But there is a subtler pride-a pride which mimics humility-a pride which comes in afterprayer, or after preaching, or after anything that is done for Christ. Let us strive against it and be it our constant anddaily endeavor to fallbefore the Throne of God, "While less than nothing we can boast and vanity confess."
2. But as they fall before the Throne of God in humility, you will note that they express their gratitude. It is said theycast their crowns before the Throne. They know where they got them from and they know to whom to ascribe the praise. Theircrowns are their own and, therefore, they wear themon their heads. Their crowns were Jesus' gift and, therefore, they cast them at His feet. They wear their crown, for Hehas made them kings and they cannot refuse the dignity. But they cast the crown at His feet, for they are only kings by rightreceived from Him and acknowledge Himthus to be King of kings and Lord of lords.
It was a custom, you know, in imperial Rome, for those kings who held dominion under the emperor, on certain occasions, totake off their crowns and lay them down before the emperor, so that when he bade them put them on again, they had fully recognizedthat their rights of kingship flowed onlythrough him. So do they who are before the Throne of God. With what rapture, with what joy, with what delight, do they casttheir crowns there! To think they have a crown and a crown to cast before Him!
Brothers and Sisters, I am afraid when you and I get any Graces, or have been made useful in Christ's cause, we are glad forthe thing's sake. But we are not right, if so. We should be glad because we have something to cast at His feet.
Have you faith? I must thank Him for faith, I must lay it at His feet and say, "Jesus, use my faith for Your glory, for Youare its Author and Finisher." If you and I shall, by Divine Grace, persevere to the end and shall arrive at Heaven, it willbe a joy to think that we are saved, but we willlay it all at the door of Divine love.
Will you wear a crown, Believer? Will you accept jot or tittle of the glory? O no, you will each of you disown anything likethe Arminian's proud boast of free self-will. It will be Grace, Grace, Divine Grace, alone, in Heaven. There will be no divisionand no discord in that eternal hymn. We willcast our crowns at once before Him and we will say, "Not unto us, not unto us, but unto Your name be all the praise." Weimitate them, then, in this-in our gratitude mingled with humility.
3. Further, I well perceive that these elders spent their time in joyous song. How glorious was that strain-"You are worthyto take the book and to open the seals thereof: for You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood, out of everykindred and tongue and people and nation."These elders knew that the time was come when all earth and Heaven should be more than usually glad. They, with the fourliving creatures, whom we take to be the representatives of some special order of presence-angels, about whom we know butlittle-led the strain.
And as the music rolled through the aisles of Heaven, distant angels, who were in all parts of God's dominion keeping watchand ward, stood still and listened till they had caught the strain. And then they joined with loudest notes, till from northand south and east and west, from the highest starand from the uttermost depths, there came up the blessed refrain from ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands,"Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing."
Then, as these angelic ones sent up the song, the inferior creatures caught the Divine infection and in Heaven and earth,in the sea and the uttermost depths, the voice was heard and all creatures responded, while the universe echoed with the song,"Blessing, and honor and glory and power, be untoHim that sits upon the Throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever." This is the occupation of saints before the Throne ofGod. Be it yours, Brothers and Sisters. Let us, as God's redeemed, sing with all our hearts and let us enlist others in thestrain. Let us remember that we areto be leaders in the hymn of God's works.
We are to begin with, "Bless the Lord, O my Soul." But we are not to end there. We are to go on bidding all God's works praiseHim, till we come to a climax like that of David, "Bless the Lord, you hosts, you ministers of His that do His pleasure; blessthe Lord, all His works, in all places of Hisdominion; bless the Lord, O my Soul." The world is the organ-we are the players. We are to put our fingers upon the notesand wake the universe to thunders of acclaim. We are not to rest with our own feeble notes, but we must wake even the dumbearth itself, till all theplanets, listening to our earth and joining her song, shall sing forth the music of the ages.
God give you, Brothers and Sisters, a desire to imitate the saints! Some of you, perhaps, are good hands at groaning-perhapssome of you have come up here today mourning and murmuring. Lay these things aside! Take up your proper vocation and now smitethe strings of your harp! Magnify theLord. Let the day of jubilee come to your spirits. You saints of God, rejoice! Yes, in your God, exceedingly rejoice!
4. Yet once again-these saints not only offered praise, but prayer. This was the meaning of the bowls, which are so foolishlytranslated vials. A vial is precisely the opposite of the vessel that was intended-the vial is long and narrow- whereas thisis broad and shallow. A bowlis meant-full of incense, covered over with a lid and perforated with holes- through which the smoke of the incense rises.This does not mean that the four and twenty elders offer the prayers of the saints below, but their own prayers.
Some have asked, Is there any prayer in Heaven? Certainly, there is room for prayer in Heaven. If you want proof, we haveit in the chapter which follows the one out of which we have been reading this morning-the ninth verse of the sixth chapter-"Isaw under the altar the souls of themthat were slain for the Word of God and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, Howlong, O Lord, holy and true, do You not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?"
There is prayer. Perhaps the prayers of the saints are the major portion of that perpetual litany which goes up to Heaven.But leaving that for a moment, let us imitate them. If they pray, how much more reason have we? If they plead for the universalChurch, they who enjoy the rest of God, howshould we pray who are still in this land of temptation and of sin, who see the perils of our Brethren, know their weaknessesand their afflictions? Let us draw near unto God. Let us never cease, day and night, to offer intercession for the whole companyof the elect.
5. I must not forget, however, that these elders before the Throne of God were ready not only for prayer and praise but forall kinds of service. You remember there was one of them, when John wept, who said, "Weep not." Depend upon it-that elderhad been occupied in visiting the sick when hewas on earth. And often when he had gone into their cottages and found them sorrowing, he had said unto them, "Weep not."And the good man had not lost his character when he went to Heaven, although it had been spiritualized and perfected. Andseeing John weeping, he said to him,"Weep not."
Ah, those saints before the Throne of God, if there were mourners there, would comfort them, I know. And if they could besent down here to visit any of the sorrowing children of God, they would be too glad to do it. Then there was, you remember,another of the elders, who said to John, for hisinstruction, "Who are these that are arrayed in white robes and from where came they? And I said unto him, Sir, you know.And he said to me, These are they that came out of great tribulation." I venture to believe that this elder used to teacha catechumen class on earth. That hehad been in the habit of teaching young people, and he put the question to John first, as he had been in the habit previouslyof putting it to young disciples on earth. The saved ones would be ready to teach us now, if they could. And they do todaybear testimony for Christ, for tothe ages to come God through His Church makes known to principalities and powers the exceeding riches of His Divine Grace.
Now, those before the Throne are willing to comfort the weeper or to instruct the ignorant. Let us do the same! And may itbe ours to wipe the tears from many an eye, to chase the darkness of ignorance from many a young heart. Have you been doingthat lately Brothers and Sisters? If not, mend yourways. Be more earnest in these two good works-visit the fatherless, the widow, the suffering, the mourning, those in prison,and teach the ignorant and those that are out of the way.
III. And now, lastly, WHAT IS THEIR WORD AND LESSON TO US THIS MORNING? Bending from their shining thrones, being dead theyyet speak-and they say to us:
First, by way of encouragement, Brethren, follow on. Be not dismayed. We fought the same battles that you fight and passedthrough the same tribulations. Yet we have not perished, but enjoy the eternal reward. Press on! Heaven awaits you-vacantthrones are here for you-crowns which noother heads can wear-harps that no other hands must play. Follow courageously, faithfully, trusting in Him who has begunthe good work in you and who will carry it on.
Hear them, again, as they say-Mark the footsteps that we trod. For only in one way can you reach our rest. We have washedour robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. They say to all the world, If you would be clean wash there, too.None but Jesus can save your souls. Trust in Him.Repose in His atonement, confide in His finished work! Flee to His sacrificial blood. You shall be saved by faith in Him,even as we have been-
"I asked them from where their victory came. They with united breath Ascribed their conquest to the Lamb, Their triumph toHis death."
Friends! Are you trusting in Christ? My Hearers, many of you are perfect strangers to me this morning. I ask you, are youputting your trust in Christ? Have you come under the shadow of His Cross, to find a refuge from His vengeance? If not, nogolden crown can be for you. No harp of gold. But,whoever you may be, if you will believe in Christ Jesus and put your soul into His hands, you shall be a partaker of theglories which He has laid up for them that love Him.
Lastly, they say to us, as they look down from the battlements of Heaven-Are you getting ready to join our ranks, to takeup our occupations and to sing our songs? Answer for yourself, my Brothers and Sisters, as I must answer for myself. Are youliving for your own pleasure? Then you mustdie. For, "he that sows to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption." Are you living for Christ? Then shall you live,"because He lives you shall live also." Are you a priest to God today? You shall bear the golden bowl in Heaven. Are you insteada servant of your own body,your own lusts, your own gain, your own pleasure? Then the lowest depths must be your portion. Heaven is "a prepared placefor a prepared people." Are we prepared?
Brothers, Sisters, can we say, "We hope in Christ. He is our only trust." And do we endeavor to live to Him? And though withmany failings and frailties, yet can we still say, "For me to live is Christ"? Oh, if it is so,
"Come, death andsome celestial band, to bear our souls away!" But if it is not so, then our end must be destruction, becauseour God has been our belly.