Revelation of John 22St. John in this and the four following verses, goes on with the description of the heavenly Jerusalem, which he had begun in the former chapter; and here we have observable,
1. The city described, as having a clear river running through it, and this of the water of life; an illusion doubtless to the earthly paradise, Gen 2:4-20 which was well watered, without which accommodation no place can be happy; the heavenly paradise here, or the New Jerusalem, is said to have a pure river of water in it, denoting the pure and unmixed joys of heaven, and those rivers of pleasure which are at God's right hand for evermore. Here is not a well of water, but a river, not a muddy or feculent water, but clear as crystal, not corruptible or dead, but living water, water of life.
Observe, 2. The head or spring of this river declared, from whence it doth arise; not from the hills, which may be cut off, diverted, or dried up, but it proceeds out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, and therefore can no more fail than God and Christ can fail; no river can fail, unless the springs that feed it fail; the saints in heaven shall be refreshed with such consolations as flow from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and their comforts cannot fail until they fail. He showed me a pure river, &c. proceeding out of the throne of God.
Note here, 1. That as there was a river and a tree of life in the terrestrial paradise, so in allusion thereunto both are said to be in the heavenly paradise; behold here a tree of such vast proportion and extent, that its branches extend to both sides, that all may receive benefit by it; who can this agree with but Jesus Christ, who is called a tree of life, because from him we have our natural, our spiritual, and our eternal life? from this tree do bud forth all the fruits of grace and comfort, and that for all seasons and conditions.
In Christ, 1. Our souls have all necessaries for food and physic. Its leaves are for healing, as well as its fruits for food.
2. All variety of fruits, called here twelve manner of fruits, that is, variety of graces, and comforts of all sorts.
3. In him are these fruits at all times: this tree bears fruit every month, winter fruits as well as summer fruits, even in the black month of sickness and death.
Christ is continually distributing of his divine fulness to the satisfaction of his people; he is all in all, in the enjoyment of mercy; he is all in all, in the want of mercy; he is all, in order to his people's salvation; and he is all in their glorification.
Quest. But will there be any need either of food or physic in heaven? if not, what need of the fruits of this tree for food, or of its leaves for healing?
Ans. We cannot suppose that in the heavenly state there will be any want either of meat or medicines, any hunger that shall require food, or any sickness to stand in need of physic; but as food and physic are the instrumental means of the preservation of natural life, without which it will certainly and suddenly decay; In like manner of our Lord Jesus Christ doth not only give spiritual life unto his people, but he is the conserving cause of it, he doth maintain, and will preserve it, without the least decay, to all eternity: thus are the leaves of this tree for the healing of the nations.
St. John has not yet done with this copious description of the New Jerusalem, but here he closes it by doing these two things,
1. He shows what shall not be found there: there shall be no curse, no accursed person, or accursed thing, no sin, nor any thing sinful, that deserves the curse; and there shall be no night there, no darkness of ignorance or error, or darkness of affliction, temptation, or desertion, no night of natural darkness, no night of spiritual darkness, much less of eternal darkness, which is the portion of the wicked: farther, there shall be no need of natural light, the light of the sun; no need of artificial light, the light of a candle; no need of the spiritual light of the word and ordinances, all which shall then and there cease.
2. He shows what there shall be there, namely,
1. The throne of God and the Lamb, that is, the glorious and everlasting presence of God and Christ, as on a throne of royal majesty, insomuch that the name of the city may be Jehovah Shammah, the Lord is there.
2. It is added, that his servants shall serve him, that is the glorious angels and glorified saints shall continually stand before him, and administer unto him, not spend their eternity in a perpetual gazing upon God, but executing his commands, obeying him with vigour, praising him with cheerfulness, loving him above measure, fearing him without torment, trusting him without despondency, serving him without lassitude and weariness, without interruption or distraction, praising God, and singing eternal hallelujah's to the Lamb for ever and ever.
3. It is declared that they shall see God's face, which imports fruition as well as vision of him, together with a sweet and satisfactory delectation in him. Matt 5:8; Heb 12:14 Blessed are the pure in heart, and holy in life, for they shall see God: that is, have a clear and apprehensive, though not a full and comprehensive, knowledge of him.
4. His name shall be in their foreheads: his name, that is, his holy nature, his image and likeness, by which they shall be known, as a man is by his name: an allusion probably to the high-priest, who had holiness to the Lord written on his frontlet; or a reflection upon the worshippers of the beast, who have his name on their foreheads; in like manner the name of God shall be on his servants' foreheads; they are thankful for imperfect lineaments here, but shall be satisfied with his likeness then and there.
Lastly, It is closed with this, they shall reign for ever and ever, not for a thousand years, as the militant church is said to reign on earth after antichrist's destruction, but for eternal ages, and this not partially, but fully and completely, when all their spiritual enemies, sin, Satan, and the world, yea, death itself, shall be put under their feet, and that for ever.
From the whole learn, That when we are at any time dejected upon the account of our dark and imperfect knowledge,or afflicted upon the occasion of many wearisome nights and days of sin and sorrow, of trouble and temptation, of misery and desertion, which we have here on earth, let this meditation comfort us, that the happy day is coming, when there shall be no night, but an eternal sabbath of rest, light, and life, with plenty of all good things, even fulness of joy and rivers of pleasure for evermore.
O Lord, the well of life so pure Doth ever flow from thee, And in thy light thy saints are sure Eternal light to see. --The Lord giveth them light, and they shall reign for ever and ever.
The prophetical part of this book being now ended, here follows the conclusion, which is managed in a way of dialogue, between Christ, the angel, and the apostle.
Note here, 1. How the divine authority of this book is strongly asserted, and its excellences commended: These sayings are faithful and true: that is, all things contained in this book of prophecies are certain, and infallibly true. The Holy Spirit of God foresaw that this book would be more questioned than other books of holy scripture, therefore he confirms the divine authority of it by an holy angel, and the truth of all things in it, and especially that which relates to the happiness of the saints in heaven, the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem, with a frequent assertion, viz. These sayings are faithful and true. It is added, they shall shortly be done; this is spoken of the beginning of their accomplishment, they shall begin to be fulfilled, and to take effect, and shall receive their full and final accomplishment in due time.
Behold here in Christ's omnisciency an evident proof of his divinity; he knows all things to come, as well as all things past: and whereas Christ says these things shall shortly be done; we learn, That the time of the church's suffering is a limited time, it is a short time after which shall follow an eternal deliverance, and a great reward.
Observe farther, That Christ subjoins a promise and assurance of the certainty and suddenness of his coming to judgment, for the support of his church, during the short time of her sufferings and services, Behold, I come quickly; next he pronounces them blessed who keep the word of this book, not only in memory and profession, but in practice and performance.
Observe lastly, The sincerity of St. John, the penman of this book: he leaves here upon record his relapse into that error into which he had fallen before, Rev 19:10. The good man relates his own sin; yea, records his relapse into the same sin, once and again, which, as it discovers that he preferred the glory of God before his own reputation, so it evidently declares that a holy man may possibly relapse into the same sin through inadvertency, or the power of a temptation, and how much it is the duty of every one that thinketh he standeth, to take heed lest he fall.
Of St. John's weakness in worshipping the angel, see the notes on chap 19.10 as also the angel's answer, Worship God: as much as if he had said, "Thou mistakest the object of thine adoration, I am a created being, and can accept of no such homage as this, which is peculiarly due to the great Creator."
Observe here, 1. A strict charge given unto St. John, not to seal or close up the words of this prophecy, but to publish and make it known for the use and benefit of the church, for which reason this book is called a revelation: Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book.
Where mark, That although this book be the obscurest part of the scripture, yet it is Christ's command that it should not be concealed from the knowledge of the people: how sacrilegious then is the practice of the church of Rome in robbing the common people of all the scriptures, locking them up in an unknown tongue, and forbidding the people to read the same!
Observe, 2. How the Holy Ghost here pre-occupates an objection, which St. John might be ready to make, "If I seal not up, but make known this prophecy, the wicked men of the world, persecutors especially, will be made worse by it; they will be unjust still, and filthy still, and more so than ever." Be it so, says he, yet the righteous will be more confirmed in their course of obedience: and such as are holy, will be holy still, and such as are righteous, will be righteous still. There is, we see, a dangerous perseverance in sin, as well as a desirable perseverance in grace and holiness; let him that is unclean, be unclean still.
Where mark, this is no permission, much less a persuasion, to sin, but a dreadful threatening or commination, that such as give up themselves to sinning, shall be judicially given up by God to sin as a punishment; such a liberty as this to sin, is the worst of bondage.
Again, he that is holy, let him be holy still; the words carry with them not only the force of a command, and the direction of a rule, but the sweetness of a promise, and a gracious privilege that they shall persevere in holiness unto the end.
The former verses contained a dialogue or interlocutory discourse between the angel and St. John: here Christ begins to speak, and continues his speech to the middle of the 20th verse, wherein he declares, that it will not be long before he comes to judge the world, to give unto those who are good everlasting happiness, and to them that are evil everlasting punishment.
Here observe, 1. An excitation, Behold!
2. The celestial object, Christ Jesus, I come quickly.
And, 3. The end of his coming, My reward is with me to render to every one according to his works.
Learn hence, 1. That the notices of our Lord's coming to judgment, are usually, in scripture, ushered in with great solemnity, with a mark of attention and observation; this word, Behold, is generally prefixed and set before; thus, Jude 1:25.
Behold! the Lord cometh with then thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all. So the apostle James gives an awful admonition, Behold! the judge standeth before the door, ready to pass a final sentence. And St. John in this book of the Revelation seldom speaks of Christ's coming, but he breaks forth into an ecstasy of admiration: Behold! he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they which pierced him.
Learn, 2. That the special distribution of rewards and punishments is reserved until the second coming and appearance of Jesus Christ: My reward is with me to give to every man according to his work.
Learn, 3. That it is our wisdom and duty to represent, by actual and solemn thoughts, the certain and speedy coming of Christ to the righteous judgment of the world: I come; behold, I come; behold, I come quickly, to render unto every man according to his works.
As if Christ had said, "I am the eternal God, the first cause and the last end of all things; I first made the world, and I will at last put a period to it; and when time shall be no more, they shall for ever be happy in the enjoyment of me, who have here obeyed me, and lived in conformity to my doctrine and example; they shall through holiness enter the gates of the New Jerusalem, that glorious city, having the tree of life in it; present blessedness, as well as future happiness, belongs to those that obey God's will, and keep his commandments; blessed are they, and blessed for ever shall they be."
Without, that is, without the gates of the city of the New Jerusalem, are all filthy and unclean sinners, all cruel and bloody persecutors, all raging and furious enemies to me and my people, all idolaters and all liars; these shall be shut out of heaven, as dogs are shut out of the house; and shut into hell, to be imprisoned with devils and damned spirits, and that everlastingly, to lie for ever in that mysterious fire, whose strange property it is always to torture, but never to kill, or always to kill but never to consume: they would die, but they cannot die; they seek for death, but cannot find it; they desire it, but it flies from them.
Observe here, 1. That the Lord Jesus Christ is the author of this Revelation, and owneth it to be his; the angel did but declare it, St. John did but write it, Christ himself was the inditer of it; they were not the inventions of St. John, nor the sayings of the angel, but the revelation was Christ's; which leaves all men inexcusable who believe not the same, but question the divine authority thereof.
Observe, 2. The titles here by Christ given of himself,
1. The root of David, that is, as God, from whom by creation David and all mankind had their being, and did spring.
2. The offspring of David, according to his humanity; Christ as God was the root of David: but considered as man, David was the root of Christ, There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Isa 11:1
3. Christ styles himself the bright morning star, that is, the light of the world, enlightening and enlivening the new creation; the fountain of all knowledge, grace, and comfort, on earth, and of all glory and happiness in heaven. As the morning star first brings light to the world, so Christ first published the light of the gospel, and now, by this revelation, gives a superadded light to his people, informing them what shall befall his church until his second coming to judgment.
Observe here, 1. The persons mentioned, The Spirit and the bride; by the Spirit understand the Holy Ghost, and by the bride the whole Catholic church in general, both in heaven and earth, and every true believer in particular. Behold how the Spirit speaks in the bride, and how the bride speaks from and by the Spirit. Christ by his Spirit is present with her, by his influence he is assistant to her.
Observe, 2. The title here given to the church, she is called Christ's bride, and he elsewhere called her bridegroom; now this title of a bride given to her, is,
1. A title of eminency and excellency, and stands in opposition to adultery: she is a bride, not a whore; the false church is not a bride, but the whore, and so often called: she desires not Christ's coming, no more than an adulteress desires the return of her husband; but the bride, being a chaste virgin, longs for it.
2. As the word bride is a word of excellency, as it stands in a distinction from matrimony and complete marriage; it is the bride, not a married wife. The saints are contracted to Christ in this world; the marriage is near, and shall be consummated in the next. A bride is a spouse on the confines of marriage, near the approaches of the conjugal solemnity. Blessed be God! it will not be long before Christ and his church, Christ and every believer, who are now betrothed and espoused, shall be fully and completely married, and in the perfect enjoyment of each other.
Observe, 3. The affection which this bride expresses towards her bridegroom; she says, Come, she passionately and impatiently desires, and vehemently longs for his coming. Come, is a word of invitation; "I pray come, it is my earnest suit and request that thou wouldest come."
Learn hence, That the glorious coming and appearance of Jesus Christ to judgment, is vehemently desired and earnestly longed for by all believers. The Spirit in the bride, and the bride by the Spirit, say, Come.
Observe, 4. The invitation of access returned by Christ, the bride says, Come; says Christ, Let him that is athirst come; we must first come to Christ by faith and repentance, before we can ever desire Christ's coming to us by death and judgment.
Observe lastly, The intimation given by Christ of a gracious acceptance, and a grateful entertainment: Whoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.
Here note, 1. The benefit mentioned or the mercy offered, water of life, all grace here, and glory hereafter; grace, as it leads to glory, and glory as it follows upon grace: grace carries life in the bosom of it, even eternal life.
Note, 2. The persons to whom this benefit is offered and tendered, that is, to whosoever will; to show that salvation is not forced upon us against our wills, but bestowed us in the use of our faculties, and in the exercise of our own endeavours; we are the subjects of this willingness, but God is the author of it, Ps 110:3. Certum est nos velle, cum volumus; sed Deus facit ut velimus; praebendo vires efficacissimas voluntati: says St. Austin.
Note, 3. The offer itself, let him take it freely: grace is the free gift of God, as well as eternal life. Such is God's munificence and royalty, that he will not sell his good things; if he did, such is our indigence and poverty that we could never buy them; therefore, says God, take freely. Yet must we understand it only of a freedom from merit, not a freedom from endeavour. God's offers in the gospel are conditional; he proffers his Son, and all good with him, but upon condition of our acceptance on his own terms. Let none then straiten the grace of God, where he has enlarged it. If a man has a mind to keep his sins, he shall have no mercy, be they never so small; but if he be willing to leave his sins, and to accept an offered Saviour, as offered, he shall not be excluded from mercy, be they never so great; for, says Christ, Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.
Here we have a dreadful commination and severe threatening denounced by Christ against all such as shall add any thing to the scriptures in general, and to this prophecy in particular; not by way of true interpretation, but either formally, by joining any thing to be received as scripture which God never revealed to be such; or virtually, by putting such a sense and meaning upon scripture as God never intended, and the words cannot rationally bear.
Almighty God here declares, that he will add to such his plagues, and shut them out of the holy city, the New Jerusalem, the kingdom of heaven: and if so, learn we what great guilt the church of Rome contracts, and what a dreadful curse she lies under, by making oral tradition of equal authority with the scriptures, and by adding new articles of faith, new points of doctrine: which is, in effect, to accuse God of ignorance or inadvertency.
True, the doctrine of christianity is a tradition; it was delivered by Christ to the apostles, and by the apostles to their successors; but now they being long since dead, we cannot receive from them the doctrine of life by word of mouth, but must stick to the scriptures or written word, for these things were written for our sake. But if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.
We reject not all traditions, because scripture itself is a tradition; but we blame the church of Rome, and deservedly sure, for making her private unwritten traditions of equal authority with the scriptures, and for urging that they ought to be received apri pietatis affectu, with the same pious affection with which we receive the holy scriptures.
And thus they set their post by God's post, and equal their traditions with the doctrines of faith: thier opinion is bad, but their practice is worse; for they value their own traditions above the scriptures, and prefer them before the scriptures; they never called their own traditions "a nose of wax, and dead letter, a dumb rule, an obscure doctrine;" but in this manner have they stigmatized the holy scriptures; and how they will escape Christ's severe commination here before us, for adding to, and taking from, the word of God, concerns them to look to it; for they must certainly answer for it at the bar of God.
That is, Jesus Christ, the faithful and true Witness, from whom St. John received this revelation, as he formerly had done the holy gospel, saith, Surely I come quickly.
Where note, 1. That this prophecy or promise of Christ's second coming to judge the world, is here left as Christ's second coming to judge the world, is here left as Christ's last word upon record; it is almost the last word in the Bible, doubtless, that it might be seriously minded and frequently remembered by us. Christ had in this chapter twice before, namely, at ver. 7 and 12, testified that he came quickly; yet he repeats it here again, to excite us to prepare for it, and to live continually in the expectation of it.
Note, That as Christ has several times in this chapter given us the assurance of the certainty of his coming, so he prefixes an, Ecce, or Behold, before it, Behold! I come quickly; and here he prefixes the word surely before it, Surely, I come quickly, to awaken the security, and leave the incredulity of sinners without excuse, who live as if they did not believe any such day would come.
To the fore-mentioned assurance of the certainty of our Saviour's coming, St. John, in the name of the whole church, subjoins a hearty Amen, an earnest wish, a passionate desire and longing for our Lord's coming, saying, Even so, come, Lord Jesus, as thou has promised, and thy people long expected.
Learn hence, 1. That the coming of Christ to judgment is a truth firmly believed, and earnestly desired by all good christians.
St. John here, in the name of the church, takes, as it were, the word out of Christ's mouth like a quick echo, and presently improves the promise into a prayer. Christ's farewell word to his church is, I come quickly; the church's farewell wuit to Christ is, Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.
Quest. But why is Christ's second coming so exceedingly desired by his church and children?
Ans. For finishing the days of sinning, and destroying the works of Satan; for accomplishing the number of his own elect, and for hastening his kingdom; for freeing the creature from subjection to vanity; for manifesting the glory of his justice and mercy, and for putting his saints into the full and final possession of their promised inheritance.
Learn, 2. That it is the unfeigned desire of God's faithful servants, to have the full fruition of Jesus Christ; this is the habitual desire of their hearts, that Christ would come, and receive them to himself, though at the same time they may tremble at some circumstances of his coming: there is a degree of sinful bondage, which hinders much our spiritual confidence nad boldness; but the more holy we are, the more emboldened we shall be against the day of judgment.
This is an epistolary conclusion, used almost in all the epistles of the New Testament, and so here, because this prophecy was in the manner of an epistle directed to the churches.
St. John began this epistle with this salutation, Rev 1:4 and so ends with it here; he knew there would be a long tract of time intervening between the giving of the promise and the fulfilling of it, between the bride's making herself ready, and the day wherein the marriage was to be solemnized; he well knew that before the consummation of all things, there were many sad dispensations which the churches would certainly meet with, many false doctrines would be spread, many duties to be performed, many afflictions to be endured, all which would require an extraordinary assistance and special grace; therefore he prays that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ may be with them all; teaching us incessantly to desire for ourselves, and to crave for others the auxiliary aids of divine grace, to enable to the acceptable performance of every duty, and to the patient enduring of every trial.
The greatest mercy that can be wished to any, or that any can wish for themselves is the grace of God, to excite and quicken us to our duty, and to assist and help us in the performance of it; and accordingly St. John shuts up this book, and therewith the canon of the whole scripture, in these words, The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
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