Revelation 5:9 And they sung a new song, saying, Thou ... hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation ...
The extent, variety, and order of the creation, proclaim the glory of God. He is likewise, * Maximus in Minimis . The smallest of the works, that we are capable of examining, such for instance as the eye or the wing of a little insect, the creature of a day, are stamped with an inimitable impression of His wisdom and power. Thus in His written Word, there is a greatness considering it as a whole, and a beauty and accuracy in the smaller parts, analogous to what we observe in the visible creation, and answerable to what an enlightened and humble mind may expect in a book, which bears the character of a divine revelation. A single verse, a single clause, when viewed (if I may so speak) in the microscope of close meditation, is often found to contain a fulness, a world of wonders. And though a connected and comprehensive acquaintance with the whole Scripture, be desirable and useful, and is no less the privilege, than the duty, of those who have capacity and time at their disposal, to acquire it; yet, there is a gracious accommodation to the weakness of some persons, and the circumstances of others. So that in many parts of Scripture, whatever is immediately necessary to confirm our faith, to animate or regulate our practice, is condensed into a small compass, and comprised in a few verses: yea, sometimes a single sentence, when unfolded and examined, will be found to contain all the great principles of duty and comfort. Such is the sentence which I have now read to you. In the Messiah Oratorio, it is inserted in the grand chorus taken from the 12 th and 13 th verses of this chapter. And as it may lead us to a compendious recapitulation of the whole subject, and, by the Lord's blessing, may prepare us to join in the following ascription of praise to Him that sits upon the Throne, and to the Lamb; I purpose to consider it in its proper connection, as a part of the leading song of the redeemed before the Throne, in which the angels cannot share. Though the angels, from their love to redeemed sinners, and from their views of the manifold wisdom and glory of God, in visiting such sinners with such a salvation, cheerfully take a part in the general chorus. * Maximus, means Greatness' ; Minimis, means Tiniest
The redemption spoken of is suited to the various cases of sinners of every nation, people and language. And many sinners of divers descriptions and from distant situations scattered abroad into all lands, through a long succession of ages, will, by the efficacy of this redemption, be gathered together into one (John 11:52) They will constitute one family united in one great Head (Eph. 3:14, 15) . When they shall attain the end of their hope and encircle the Throne, day without night, rejoicing, their remembrance of what they once were, their sense of the happiness they are raised to, and of the great consideration to which they owe their deliverance, and their exaltation, will excite a perpetual joyful acknowledgment to this purport. They were once lost, but could contribute nothing to their own recovery. Therefore they ascribe all the glory to their Saviour. They strike their golden harps and sing, in strains, loud as from numbers without number, sweet as from blest voices, Thou art worthy -- for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.
But though this song, and this joy, will only be consummated in heaven, the commencement takes place on earth. Believers, during their present state of warfare, are taught to sing it; in feebler strains indeed, but the subject of their joy and the object of their praise are the same which inspire the harps and songs in the world of light. May I not say, that this life is the time of their rehearsal? They are now learning their song and advancing in meetness [fitness] to join in the chorus on high, which, as death successively removes them, is continually increasing by the accession of fresh voices. All that they know, or desire to know, all that they possess or hope for, is included in this ascription.
I take the last clause of the verse into the subject. The words suggest three principal points, to our consideration.
I. The benefit, Redemption, to God.
II. The redemption price, by the Blood.
III. The extent of the benefit --to a people out of every kindred, and tongue, and nation.
Thou hast redeemed us to God . Redemption or ransom, is applicable to a state of imprisonment for debt, and to a state of bondage or slavery. From these ideas taken together, we may form some estimate of the misery of our fallen state; a theme, which, if I cannot insist upon at large in every discourse, I would never wholly omit. For we can neither understand the grace, nor enjoy the comfort of the Gospel, but [except] in proportion as we have a heart-felt and abiding conviction of our wretched condition as sinners, without it They who think themselves whole, know not their need of a physician (Matthew 9:12) , but to the sick He is welcome.
If a man, shut up in prison for a heavy debt which he is utterly incapable of discharging, should obtain his liberty, in consideration of payment made for him by another, he might be properly said, to be redeemed from imprisonment. This supposition will apply to our subject. The law and justice of God have demands upon us, which we cannot answer. We are therefore shut up under the law, in unbelief, helpless and hopeless, till we know and can plead the engagement of a surety for us. For a time, like Peter, we are sleeping in our prison (Acts 12:6-10) , regardless [unaware] of danger. The first sensible effect of the grace of God is to awaken us from this insensibility. Then we begin to feel the horrors of our dungeon, and the strength of our chains, and to tremble under the apprehension of an impending doom. But grace proceeds to reveal the Saviour and Friend of sinners, and to encourage our application to Him. In a good hour the chains fall off, the bars of iron and brass are broken asunder, and the prison-doors fly open. The prisoner understands that all his great debt is forgiven, blesses his Deliverer, obtains his liberty, and departs in peace.
We are likewise in bondage. The servants, the slaves of a harder task-master than Pharaoh was to Israel. Satan, though not by right, yet by a righteous permission, tyrannizes over us till Jesus makes us free (John 8:34, 36). The way of transgressors is hard (Proverbs 13:15) Though the solicitations and commands of that enemy, who works in the children of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2) are, in some respects, suited to our depraved inclinations, yet the consequences are grievous. A burdened conscience, a wasting constitution, a ruined fortune and character, swiftly and closely, follow the habits of intemperance and lewdness. And they who seem to walk in a smoother path are deceived, mortified and disappointed daily. If persons, who openly and habitually live in a course that is contrary to the rule of God's Word, speak swelling words of vanity (II Peter 2:18, 19) , and boast of their liberty, believe them not. We are sure they carry that in their bosom, which, hourly, contradicts their assertions. Yea, sometimes their slavery is so galling that they attempt to escape, but in vain. They are soon retaken, and their bonds made stronger. The issue of their short-lived reformation, which they defer as long as possible, and at last set about with reluctance, usually is, that their latter end proves worse than their beginning. At most, they only exchange one sinful habit for another, sensuality for avarice, or prodigality for pride. The strong one armed will maintain his dominion, till the stronger than he interposes and says, Loose him, and let him go, for I have found a ransom. Then, by virtue of the redemption price the prey is taken from the mighty, and the captive is delivered (Isaiah 49:24, 25) . Then the enslaved sinner, like the man out of whom the legion was cast, sits at the feet of Jesus, in peace, and in his right mind (Mark 5:15) . He becomes the Lord's freedman.
For he is not only delivered from guilt and thrall [enslavement]; he is redeemed to God. He is now restored to his original state, as an obedient and dependant creature, devoted to his Creator, conformed to His will and image, and admitted to communion with Him in love. These are blessings which alone can satisfy the soul, and without which it is impossible for man to be happy. While he is ignorant of his proper good, and seeks it in creatures, he is, and must be, wretched. Madness is in his heart, a deceived, disordered imagination turns him aside, and he feeds upon ashes, and upon the wind (Isaiah 44:20) . But by grace he is renewed to a sound judgment, his mind receives a right direction, and he is turned from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26:18)
What unspeakably and beyond conception, enhances the value of this deliverance, is the consideration of the means by which it is effected. For it is not merely a deliverance, but a redemption. It is not an act of mere mercy, but of mercy harmonizing with justice. It is not an act of power only, but of unexampled, and expensive love. Thou has redeemed us by Thy blood!
The sentence, denounced by the law against transgressors, was death. And therefore when MESSIAH became our surety, to satisfy the law for us, He must die. The expression of His blood' is often used figuratively for His death; perhaps to remind us how He died. His was a bloody death. When He was in agony in Gethsemane, His sweat was as great drops of blood, falling down to the ground (Luke 22:44) . His blood flowed when He gave His back to the smiters, under the painful strokes of the scourging He endured, previous to His crucifixion. It flowed from His head when the soldiers, having mocked His character of King by crowning Him with thorns, by their rude blows forced the thorns into His temples. His blood streamed from the wounds made by the spikes which pierced His hands and His feet, when they fastened Him to the cross. When He hung upon the cross, His body was full of wounds and covered with blood. And, after His death, another large wound was made in His side, from which issued blood and water. Such was the redemption price He paid for sinners -- His blood, the blood of His heart. Without shedding of blood there could be no remission (Hebrews 9:22) . Nor could any blood, but His, answer the great design. Not any -- not all the bloody sacrifices appointed by the law of Moses, could take away sin as it respects the conscience, nor afford a plea with which a sinner could venture to come before the high God (Micah 6:6) . But the blood of MESSIAH , in whom were united the perfections of the divine nature and the real properties of humanity, and, which, the Apostle therefore styles the blood of God (Acts 20:28) , this precious blood cleanses from all sin. It is exhibited as a propitiation of perpetual efficacy, by which God declares His righteousness, not less than His mercy, in forgiving iniquities (Romans 3:25, 26) , and shows Himself just to the demands of His holiness, and the honour of His government, when He accepts and justifies the sinner who believes in Jesus.
If these things were understood and attended to, would it be thought wonderful that this Saviour is very precious to those who believe in Him, and who obtain redemption by His blood? How can it possibly be otherwise? Grace like this, when known, must captivate and fix the heart! Not only to save; but to die, and to die for His enemies! Such costly love, productive of such glorious consequences, and to such unworthy creatures! Surely the Apostle's mind was filled and fixed with these considerations when authenticating an epistle with his own hand, he subjoined this emphatic close, If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be * Anathema Maranatha! (I Cor. 16:22) * Anathema: accursed' ; Maranatha: The Lord is coming!' or O Lord, come!'
Do you think, my brethren, that the Apostle took pleasure in denouncing so severe a sentence against all those who did not see (as we say) with his eyes? Had he so little affection for sinners, that he could thus consign them to destruction by multitudes, for differing from him in what some persons only deem an opinion? Rather, consider him not as breathing out his own wishes, but as speaking in the name, and on the behalf of God. He knew it must be, and he declared it would be so. It was no pleasure to him to see them determined to perish. On the contrary, He had great grief and sorrow of heart for them, even for the Jews who had treated him with the greatest cruelty. Even for their sakes, he could have been content to be made an Anathema himself (Romans 9:3) that they might be saved. But upon the whole, he acquiesced in the will of God, and acknowledged it to be just, right and equal, that if any man would not love the Lord Jesus Christ, after all He had done and suffered for sinners, he should be accursed. By this comparison of the Apostle's severe language, with his compassionate temper, I am led to digress a little farther. It suggests an apology [defence; extenuation] for ministers of the Gospel in general. When we declare the terrors of the Lord, when we assure you that there is but one solid foundation for hope, and that, unless you love the Lord Jesus Christ, you must perish; some of our hearers account us bigoted, uncharitable and bitter. But if you could see what passes in secret, how faithful ministers mourn over those who reject their message, how their disobedience cuts them to the heart, and abates the comfort they would otherwise find in your service; if you could believe us when we say (I trust truly) that we are ready to impart unto you, not the Gospel of God only, but our own souls also, because you are dear to us (I Thessalonians 2:8) , and we long for your salvation, then, you would think more favourably of us. But after all, we cannot, we dare not, soften our message to please men. What we find in the Word of God, we must declare. It would be at the peril of our souls to speak smooth things, to prophecy deceits (Isaiah 30:10) to you; and, so far as we preach the truth, it will be at the peril of your souls, if we are disregarded.
The benefits of this redemption extend to a numerous people, who are said to be redeemed out of every kindred, tongue and nation. I have, upon a former occasion, offered you my sentiments concerning the extent of the virtue of that blood, which takes away the sin of the world (Volume I, Sermon XVI) . But the clause now before us, invites me to make a few additional observations, upon a subject which, I conceive, it much concerns us rightly to understand.
The redeemed of the Lord, are those who actually experience the power of His redemption, who are delivered from the dominion of sin and Satan, and brought into a state of liberty, peace and holiness. That the people of every kindred, nation and tongue are not redeemed, in this sense, universally, is as certain as evidence of faith and express declarations of Scripture can make it. Without holiness no man shall see the Lord. Multitudes, thus disqualified, will be found trembling, on the left hand of the Judge, at the great day. But, a remnant will be saved, according to the election of grace. For they who differ, who are redeemed to the service of God, while others live and die in the love and service of sin, do not make themselves to differ (I Corinthians 4:7) . It becomes the potsherds of the earth, to ascribe to their Maker the glory of His sovereignty, and to acknowledge that if they have a good hope, it is because it pleased the Lord to make them His people, who once were not His people (I Corinthians 4:7) . Yet, a way of conceiving of the doctrines of the divine sovereignty [Yet, an understanding of the doctrine of divine sovereignty] , and of a personal election unto life, has often obtained [has often been held], which seems to have a tendency to render the mind narrow, selfish and partial, and to strengthen the exercise of that philanthropy, which the genius and spirit of the Gospel powerfully inculcate [powerfully impress upon the mind]. The best of us, perhaps, are more prone than we are aware of, to assimilate the great God to ourselves, and to frame our ideas of Him, too much according to our own image. So that, often much of man's natural disposition may be observed in the views he forms of the divine perfections and conduct; as on the other hand, his conceptions of the character of God, strengthen and confirm him in his own tempers and habits. There are persons, who being persuaded in their minds (we would hope upon sure grounds) that they, themselves are of the elect, appear to be little concerned what may become of others. Their notions of God's sovereignty, and His right to do what He will with His own, though often insufficient to preserve them from repining and impatience under common events of human life, raise them above all doubts and difficulties, on a subject which the Apostle speaks of as unsearchable and untraceable. Where he acknowledges depths which he was unable to fathom (Romans 11:33) , all appear to them quite plain and easy. Where he admires and adores, they arrogantly dispute, and determine ex cathedra [from the chair of authority] , and harshly censure all who are not so eagle-sighted as themselves. Methinks they who know the worth of a soul, from its vast capacity for happiness and misery, and its immortal duration, cannot justly be blamed for allowing no limits, to their benevolent wishes for the salvation of mankind but the will of God, as it is plainly made known to us in His Word. To this we are to submit, not as of necessity only, but cheerfully, assured that His will is wise, holy and good; that the Judge of all the world will do right; and to wait for the day, when He will condescend to clear up every difficulty and give us that satisfaction, which in our present state of ignorance and weakness, we are incapable of receiving. Shall mortal man be more just, or can he be more merciful, than God? It is a false compassion, founded in a blameable disregard of what is due to the glory of His great name, that prompts us to form a wish, that His unerringly wise appointments could be otherwise than they are. Yet it is a comfort to think that His mercy, in which He delights, in which He is peculiarly said to be rich, and which is higher than the heavens, will, in its exercise, far exceed the bounds which some fallible mortals would peremptorily assign to it. We must not indulge conjecture and hypothesis farther than the Scripture will warrant; but while we humbly depend upon this infallible light, we need not be afraid to follow it, though it should, in some particulars, lead us a little beyond the outlines of some long-received and, in the main, very valuable human systems of divinity.
I have repeatedly expressed my belief, that many prophecies, respecting the spread and glory of the Kingdom of MESSIAH upon earth, have not yet received their full accomplishment, and that a time is coming when many (perhaps the greater part of mankind), of all nations, and people, and languages, shall know the joyful sound of the Gospel, and walk in the light of the Redeemer's countenance. At present, I would confine myself to consider, what ground the Scripture affords us to hope that there are many of every nation, people and tongue, even now, singing this song before His Throne.
The Revelations vouchsafed [graciously granted] to the beloved Disciple in Patmos, exhibit a succession of great events, extending (I suppose) from the spotless days, to the end of time. But while only the learned can so much as attempt to ascertain, from history, the dates and facts to which the prophecies already fulfilled refer; or to offer probable conjectures concerning the events, as yet future (in which the most judicious commentators are far from being agreed); there are passages, interspersed, which seem designed to administer consolation to plain believers, by representations suited to raise their thoughts to the state of the Church triumphant. Though they are unable to explain the particulars of what they read, there is a glory resulting from the whole, which animates their hope and awakens their joy. Of this kind I think is that vision - Revelation 7:9 ad finem , in which the Apostle saw the servants of God, who were sealed in their foreheads, in number a hundred and forty-four thousand. And besides these, a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands, and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God, who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb, etc. I confess myself unable to expound this sublime passage, and to give full, or even the principal sense of it, with certainty. But that it has some reference to what is now passing, within the veil, which hides the unseen world from our view, I cannot doubt. I propose my thoughts upon it with caution and diffidence. I dare not speak with that certainty, which I feel myself warranted to use when I set before you, from Scripture, the great truths which are essential to a life of faith in the Son of God. Yet, I hope to advance nothing that is contrary to Scripture, or, to any deductions fairly and justly drawn from it.
Having premised this acknowledgment of my incompetence to decide positively, I venture to say, that by the hundred and forty-four thousand sealed in their foreheads (a definite for an indefinite number, which is frequent in Scripture language) I understand, those, who, living to mature age and where the Gospel is afforded, are enabled to make a public and visible profession of religion, and are marked, as it were, in their foreheads, and known to whom they belong, by their open and habitual separation, from the spirit and customs of the world which lies in wickedness. And the exceeding great multitude, contradistinguished from these, I conceive to be those, who are elsewhere styled the Lord's hidden ones; and that these, are a great multitude indeed, gathered by Him, who knows them that are His, out of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples and tongues. I may distribute them into the following classes:
Infants. I think it, at least highly probable, that when our Lord says, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:14) , He does not only intimate the necessity of our becoming like little children, in simplicity, as a qualification without which (as He expressly declares in other places) we cannot enter into His Kingdom; but informs us of a fact that the number of infants, who are effectually redeemed to God by His blood, so greatly exceeds the aggregate of adult believers, that, comparatively speaking, His Kingdom may be said to consist of little children. The Apostle speaks of them as having sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression (Romans 5:14) , that is, with the consent of their understanding and will. And when he says, We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, he adds, that every man may give an account of what he has done in the body, whether it be good or bad (II Corinthians 5:10) . But children who die in their infancy have not done anything in the body, either good or bad. It is true, they are by nature evil, and must, if saved, be the subjects of a supernatural change. And though we cannot conceive how this change is to be wrought, yet, I suppose, few are so rash as to imagine it impossible that any infants can be saved. The same power that produces this change in some, can produce it in all. And therefore I am willing to believe, till the Scripture forbids me, that infants of all nations and kindreds, without exception, who die before they are capable of sinning after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who have done nothing in the body of which they can give an account, are included in the election of grace. They are born for a better world than this. They just enter this state of tribulation, they quickly pass through it, their robes are washed white in the blood of the Lamb, and they are admitted, for His sake, before the Throne. Should I be asked to draw the line, to assign the age at which children begin to be accountable for actual sin, it would give me no pain to confess my ignorance. The Lord knows.
A people hidden among the most degenerate communities, civil or ecclesiastical, that bear the name of Christian; where ignorance and superstition, or errors, which, though more refined, are no less contrary to the Gospel, have prevailing dominion and influence. What can be more deplorable, in the view of an enlightened and benevolent mind, than the general state of the Roman and Greek churches! Where the traditions, inventions and doctrines of men, a train of pompous and burdensome ceremonies, a dependence upon masses, penance and pilgrimages, upon legends and fictitious saints, form the principal features of the public religion. Many nations are involved in this gross darkness, but they are not wholly destitute of the Scripture; some portions of it, are interwoven with their authorized forms of worship; and we cannot, with reason, doubt, but a succession of individuals among them, have been acquainted with the life and power of true godliness, notwithstanding the disadvantages and prejudices of their education. There are likewise amongst Protestants, schemes of doctrine supported by learning, and by numbers, which are not more conformable to the standard of the New Testament, than the grossest errors of Popery; and yet, here and there, persons may be met with, who, by the agency of the Holy Spirit enabling them to understand the Scriptures, are made wiser than their teachers; and who, though still fettered by some mistakes and prejudices, give evidence in the main, that their hopes are fixed upon the only Atonement, that they are redeemed to God, and are partakers of that faith which works by love, purifies the heart, and overcomes the world.
I will go one step farther. The inferences that have been made, by some persons, from the Apostle Peter's words, That God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation, he that fears Him, and works righteousness, is accepted with Him (Acts 10:34, 35) , are, undoubtedly, rash and unscriptural. They would conclude from this verse, that it is of little importance what people believe, provided they are sincere in their way. That the idolatrous heathens, even the most savage of them, whose devotion is cruelty, who pollute their worship with human blood and live in the practice of vices disgraceful to humanity, are in a very safe state because they act, as it is supposed, according to their light. But if the light which is in them be darkness, how great is that darkness! Such a lax candour as this tends to make the Gospel unnecessary; if they who have it not, are therefore excusable, though they neither love nor fear God, and live in open violation of the law of their nature. The declaration, that without holiness no man shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14) , holds universally, and without a single exception. But if we suppose a heathen, destitute of the means of grace by which conversion is usually wrought, to be brought to a sense of his misery, of the emptiness and vanity of worldly things, to a conviction that he cannot be happy without the favour of the great Lord of the world, to a feeling of guilt, and a desire of mercy; and that though he has no explicit knowledge of a Saviour, he directs the cry of his heart to the unknown Supreme, to this purport, Ens entium, miserere mei -- Father, and Source of beings, have mercy upon me! who will prove, that such views and desires can arise in the heart of a sinner, without the energy of that Spirit, which Jesus is exalted to bestow? Who will take upon him to say, that His blood has not sufficient efficacy to redeem to God a sinner who is thus disposed, though he has never heard of His name? Or who has a warrant to affirm that the supposition I have made is, in the nature of things, impossible to be realized? But I stop--I do not often amuse you with conjecture. And though, for want of express warrant from Scripture, I dare not give the sentiments I have now offered, a stronger name than, probable' or conjectural,' I hope I do not propose them for your amusement. They will prove to your advantage and my own, if they are helpful to guard us against a narrow, harsh, and dogmatic spirit; and if, without abating our reverent submission to the revealed will of God, they have a tendency to confirm our views of His goodness, and the power and compassions of the great Redeemer.