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It was intimated, that this tranquillity should continue but a short time. Another angel of superior dignity rises from the east: it is the Redeemer, who rose in the east as the glorious Sun of Righteousness, and thence shed the light and consolations of the gospel: you recollect that he is elsewhere termed "the angel of God's presence;" (Isaiah lxiii. 9.) "the angel who bears God's name;" (Exod. xxiii. 21.) "the angel or messenger of the covenant;" (Mal. iii. 1.) and "a mighty angel." (Rev. x. 1.) He has authority over the four other angels, as he has over all the heavenly host, and speaks to them as their Ruler and Lord. He perfectly knows all his true followers; he has power to seal them, and does actually seal them by the conferment of the Holy Spirit of promise. The gift of this Spirit, whereby Christians are elsewhere said to be "sealed unto the day of redemption," distinguishes them as clearly in the view of God as an external mark impressed upon their foreheads would point them out to their fellow-men. The angels are commanded to suspend the execution of those calamities which, under the trumpets, will be brought upon the world, till the real disciples of Jesus are thus sealed: are thus designated as his peculiar and purchased possession: and are as certainly assured of the divine protection as were those sealed ones in Ezekiel ix. upon whose foreheads was set a mark, because they sighed and cried for the abominations done in the midst of the city, and concerning whom, those that carried the slaughter-weapons were charged, "Come not near any one upon whom is the mark.”
The number of those who were thus sealed, is said to be one hundred and forty-four thousand: a definite for an indefinite number, and alluding at once to the
twelve tribes under the old dispensation, and to the twelve apostles under the new. They were few in comparison with the multitudes that then professed Christianity; but, alas! in every age how many are there who have the external seals of the sacraments who are destitute of the internal seal of the Holy Spirit?
Those who are sealed are said to be gathered "out of all the tribes of the children of Israel." I have already remarked to you, that throughout the greater part of this book, the images are derived from the Jewish temple and worship: and that when the tribes of Israel are spoken of, the true Israel of God, the church of the Redeemer, is meant, and not merely the natural posterity of Jacob. This is a mode of speaking familiar to all the apostles: how often does Paul term believers "the seed of Abraham," because they have the same faith?" the circumcision," because their hearts are purified? How often do Jerusalem and Zion signify the whole church? It is not then at all surprising, that this phraseology should be common in so mystic a book. The sealed are those who belong to the invisible church, whether they originally were Gentiles or Jews. In the enumeration of the tribes, Dan and Ephraim are omitted; perhaps because these tribes were the leaders in idolatry, and therefore not calculated to represent the pure church, and in their stead are substituted Levi and Joseph: the former indeed had no portion among his brethren, but is entitled to the same celestial blessings with the rest; the latter, to whose two sons Jacob gave such a blessing as constituted them heads of two distinct tribes.
In addition to those who were sealed during this short period of the church's tranquillity, the apostle was taught that in every age, whatever might be the corruptions or the persecutions of the church, there should always be the sealed ones of Jesus. To encourage Christians, there was then exhibited to St. John the glorious assembly that shall at last appear in purity and joy before the throne of God. As the prophets of the Old Testament frequently interrupt the series of their predictions, to speak of the advent of Messiah, the great object of ancient prophecy, so St. John has several times interspersed in the course of this book, views of the church as it shall finally appear triumphant over all its enemies, and crowned with felicity and glory by its Redeemer. These views are introduced with great beauty and propriety, to animate believers under those sufferings they are called to endure; to make them stand firm in the faith in the darkest and most disastrous times; and by an enlarged and comprehensive view of "the general assembly and church of the firstborn in heaven," to dissipate the gloom which rests upon the mind in contemplating those divine judgments, or those human corruptions, which constitute so large a portion of the history of the church on earth. From the 9th verse to the end of the chapter, we have such a view of that church triumphant, to become members of which ought to be the great object of our desire and pursuit. Let us arrange under a few different heads the chief traits of this beautiful and sublime picture.
1. We are pointed to the chief beings who shall inhabit the world of glory :
There is the great God; every where present, yet in heaven he more peculiarly manifests himself:
there is his palace, his throne: there he unveils his. perfections in a more resplendent manner than in any other part of his dominions; so displays himself, that the beatific vision, the great source of felicity to the redeemed, is enjoyed by them when removed from the sorrows of earth, they enter "the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."
There is the Lamb of God, Jesus, in his mediatorial character. We stand not only before the throne, but also before the Lamb. He who shed his blood for our salvation; he to whom we have so often devoted ourselves; he whom our souls adore, and desire more clearly to see, and more fully to enjoy, shall be there. We shall behold him who for us submitted to such agonies, inconceivably glorified and exalted.
There are the angels of God: even now they form part of the family which acknowledges Christ as its Head; even now they hold an uninterrupted intercourse with the church of the Redeemer upon earth; they minister to the heirs of salvation; and in the world to come, informing us of many offices of love they have performed to us, they shall unite with redeemed sinners in their praises and hallelujahs. It is true, having never sinned, and been exposed to the curse of the law, they cannot raise so high a song for recovering grace as we can: they therefore appear in this chapter, as well as in other parts of this book, as standing further from the throne than the elders and living creatures, the representatives of the ransomed children of Adam: yet they still unite with the church triumphant, falling on their faces, worshipping God, and crying, “ Amen: blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour,
and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen!"
There, are all good men," of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues." Those who have lived at different periods of the world, will there meet: an Abel will bow with Isaiah, a John with a Watts. Those from various parts of the world will there be united: the believing Hindoo and the converted American; all the followers of the Redeemer who love one another upon earth, but who are prevented by distance of place, by interposing seas, or mountains, from seeing each other in the flesh; all who have lived in various states of the church; those who have obtained the crown of martyrdom; and those who have preserved their integrity amidst the smiles and allurements of the world; those who just opened their eyes upon the earth, closed them in death, and soared to glory; and those who long and successfully warred under the banner of the Redeemer. All good men who here were divided by various sentiments, and prevented by their peculiarities of belief from having a perfeet union, though their souls were supremely attached to Jesus, shall there mingle their hearts, and wonder at their former coldness and distance: one blaze of light shall irradiate every heart; and all dissention shall for ever
2. We are taught what is the number of the blest, or rather, are assured that they will consist of" a multitude which no man can number." From the time of Abel, the first redeemed sinner, accessions have continually been making to the society of the glorified. There is not a day that passes, in which there are not some, shaking off the burden of sin and corruption, who are admitted to the plenitude