By J.R. Miller
"Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy." The character with which men reach the judgment--will be their permanent character forever. The man who lives in sin, refusing the cross of Christ unto the end--is making his own destiny. Habits of sin--make the whole life sinful. It is this that gives such solemnity to life. The seeds of our future--lie in our present. Out of our little acts--habits grow; from our habits--character springs; and character--fixes our destiny, for everyone goes to his own place--that is, the place for which he is fitted by his life on the earth. He who has always sinned here on earth--will continue to sin forever. Eternal death--is simply eternal sin, with the punishments and consequences thereof. The punishment of the wicked will not then be an arbitrary punishment--but the natural result of their own choices and acts in this life.
Another thing which seems to be taught very clearly is, that this final fixing of character takes place at the close of the life on earth. Nothing but divine grace can change the tendencies of a sinful life, regenerating it, and making that holy which was wicked; and when sinners pass out of this world--they pass away from the sway of grace, and he who does wrong--will continue to do wrong; and he who is vile--will continue to be vile--forever!.
As the tree falls--so must it lie.
As the man lives--so must he die.
As a man dies--such must he be,
All through the ages of eternity!
In the words, "let him who does right--continue to do right; and let him who is holy--continue to be holy," there is a hint of the nature of the heavenly home. The same good things we have learned to do here on earth--we shall continue to do there in heaven. Righteousness is the doing of right things, and the righteous life is one that has been transformed by divine grace into Christlike character. This verse says simply that those who have learned here to do righteousness, shall continue in the next life to do righteousness. We shall still obey God there, and do His will--only we shall be more obedient, and shall do His will there better than here. We shall never in the smallest thing, disobey or cross God's will. We shall love God there, and love each other, and our life shall be a perfect brotherhood!
Heaven shall be a perfect home. It will still be more blessed there to give, than to receive. They shall still be chief there, who shall serve. Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, meekness, gentleness, goodness, truth--will still be fruits of the Spirit there, as they are here. Life in heaven will not be so strange to us as we think, if we have learned to do God's will in this world. The "everlasting life" begins the moment we believe on Christ. While we remain here on earth, it is hindered and hampered by the limitations of earth--but in all true Christian experiences, there are intimations of what the full blessedness will be. When we reach heaven, the life begun here will go on, only without hindrance, limitations, or imperfections, forever!
It makes a great difference, therefore, how we live in this world. There is an false impression in some people's minds, that they can live in sin all their days, and then by a few tears of penitence and a few cries of mercy in a dying hour--can change all the course of their life and spend eternity in heaven. This verse does not favor such a view. The future life is but the harvest of this present life.
Men will be judged by their deeds. The New Testament everywhere teaches the same solemn truth. This does not mean that salvation is by works. We are saved by grace--but grace changes the life and makes us holy. There is no evidence in the unregenerate life that Christ has wrought there at all. Of course the deathbed repentance may be genuine, and if so, it will avail. Only one repentance in the hour of death is recorded in the gospel--but even then the man lived long enough to show that his repentance was true, that his life was indeed regenerated. Christ can any time work the same miracle, changing the heart and transforming the life in an instant; but this is not the usual way. "To die is gain" only to those have been able to say, "To me to live is Christ!"
"Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city." What is it to wash one's robes? It implies sinfulness and guilt in every life, which must be removed before heaven's gates can be passed. Without holiness it is impossible to see God, or to dwell in His presence. The words imply also that nothing but the blood of Christ will remove the guilt and the pollution of sin. We must accept Christ's atonement for the cleansing of our guilt, and depend altogether upon the merits of His sacrifice for our salvation; and we must depend altogether upon the Holy Spirit for the renewing and cleansing of our natures.
It must be noticed here also, that we ourselves must do the washing. That is, no one is cleansed of sin's guilt or pollution, excepting those who voluntarily turn to Christ and receive Him as their Savior. This shows us at once where the responsibility rests. After all that Christ has done in making at such great cost the glorious salvation for sinners--none can enter into heaven but those who come to Him and wash their robes in His blood.
"OUTSIDE are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood." It is well sometimes, to study heaven from the outside. We often talk about what it will be like inside, who will be there, what they will do, how they will live. Here we get a negative view. So there will be an "outside." Some people would have us think there will be nobody outside of heaven, that all will somehow get inside. This verse does not favor such a view. It certainly was not so in John's vision.
In another place we learn that heaven has twelve gates. So many gates indicate abundance of entrance room. From whatever point you approach heaven, there is a gate before you. Yet the fact that there are gates indicates that there are conditions of entrance, and that people cannot flock in indiscriminately. We have just learned in the previous verse, that only those whose robes are washed, or those who do God's commandments, can enter these gates. Then here we see who are excluded. There is admission for the worst of sinners--but not while they remain sinners; they must be washed and sanctified and made fit for the heavenly inheritance. A casual glance over the description of those outside, shows the kind of company they will be in, who reject Christ and heaven. Who wants to live forever in such society? It would be worse even than living forever in a state's prison, among convicts. It would be well, too, to take a glimpse of the excluded characters described here, to see whether we are in danger of being kept out.
"The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life!" The invitation to enter heaven is wide and free. No one will be shut out for lack of room, or because there is no invitation for him. Those who are finally lost, will be lost simply because they will not be saved. Through the whole New Testament Jesus labors to show men that His salvation is for all who will take it; it is even pressed upon all. Every page of the book glows with invitations. Even here, as the volume is about to be closed, the invitation is given again in the most earnest, affectionate, beseeching way. As we come to the last words of the Bible, and find this blessed invitation here, we should ask ourselves whether we have accepted it or not.
"The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen." The Book closes with a blessing. Its last word is grace. It is interesting to compare with this the last words of the Old Testament, "Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." The old volume ended, leaving a threat of curse hanging over the earth. The New Testament, however, closes with a blessing, a message of grace and mercy. As the sunshine floods the fields and hills and waters--so the love of Christ is poured out upon the earth. God's thoughts toward men, are thoughts of peace. He is not willing that any should perish--but earnestly desires that all shall be saved. If we are not saved, it will be because we reject the light and love darkness and death better!
With this blessing resting over us, shall we not hasten now under its bright wings? It will be a blessed shelter for us! A traveler plodded on, weary and hungry, not knowing where to turn to find food and rest. A storm broke upon him, and he fled under a wide-spreading tree for shelter. Here he found not only refuge from the storm--but food also, for the tree gave him of its fruits to eat; and rest, too, for his weariness. Just so, the weary people who will flee under this blessing, shall find shelter, rest and bread!