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THE APOSTLE'S INTRODUCTION, IN WHICH JESUS
CHRIST IS REVEALED BY NAMES.
REV. i. 4-8. John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be
unto you, and peace, from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne ; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful Witness, and the First-begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth. Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty
The single object of this book is, as we have shewn in our former discourse, to reveal or disclose the person and the office of Jesus Christ, as God hath constituted him since his ascension into glory, and as God would have him to be believed on in the churches. This no one can deny is the highest object which a communication from Heaven can have. If God's glory be the one great object of a creature's being; and if that glory is to be seen in the face of Jesus Christ, and there only to be seen; then, this book, which proposeth to take the veil from off the countenance of Jesus, and shew it to the intelligence of the creature, is the book of all others most concerning to the glory of God, and to the chiefest end of man.
In our former lecture, when treating of the subjectmatter of the book (pp. 54–57), we laid it down in general, that the object of the first vision, which is contained in the first three chapters, is to reveal Christ as the Universal Bishop, or the only Head and High Priest of his church. This, therefore, we set down as the general title of our discourses upon the first three chapters; which, containing one, and only one subject, ought to be expounded in subordination to that subject which they contain. But upon inspecting the subject matter more closely, we find that it consisteth of three parts : the first, which is the prelude to the whole book, being contained between the fourth and the tenth verses ; the second, which is the first vision, being contained in the remaining verses of the first chapter; and the third, which is the seven epistles, being contained in the second and third chapters. Here then is a general division of the subject-matter. First, the prelude or overture to the whole book; secondly, the vision of the Son of Man in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; and, thirdly, the epistles to the churches. Of these, the last falleth likewise into three parts: first, the superscription of the epistles, or, in other words, the titles which Christ assumeth to each of the churches; secondly, the epistles themselves; and, thirdly, the sayings of the Spirit unto the churches. This seems to me a complete subdivision and arrangement of the matter of the first three chapters; to the due and orderly consideration of which we do now address ourselves.
And first, of the prelude, or overture to the whole book. It begins with the inscription of the book to the seven churches which are in Asia --Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. These were seven principal cities of Asia Minor; which remain unto this day, and nearly in that state threatened or foretold in the seven epistles to the churches which were planted therein. To these seven churches the Apostle inditeth the book which he had received from the angel of Christ, and which Christ had received from God, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass. God, in giving it, indites it to all his servants, and the style of it throughout is, to every one that hath an ear to hear, to all the churches (Rev. ii. 23); and according to its destination of God, it hath come to all the churches. Wherefore, then, it may be asked, doth John address it to these seven only? The answer to this question is found in ver. 11, where Christ expressly commandeth him so to do. This command John faithfully obeys, by addressing the account of what he saw to these seven churches, with such an introduction as seemed to him best. Wherefore the Lord commanded him to address it unto them peculiarly, is a question which it may be as well to answer at once in this place.
The number seven is employed in this book several times, and always, as we judge, with the same significa. tion, denoting unity out of diverse things, completeness out of diverse parts, totality out of diverse particulars : and this property of expressing completeness, totality, and unity, the number seven deriveth, as I conceive, from the only work of God, which is finished ; to wit, the work of creation, which was accomplished in seven successive acts, and yet is one complete work. From this God appointed the enumeration of time by weeks of seven days each, being the most common and simple circle, or cycle of time. From this constant custom of counting seven days, and then beginning to count again, the number seven hath acquired that property of denoting a whole, which a number can only obtain by such a means; while by consisting of several individuals it denotes a complete whole, consisting of many parts; the root of this signification being, as I have said, that the only complete and all inclusive work, the work of creation, was ordered in this wise. But whatever may be the account rendered of this matter, there can be no doubt with respect to the fact that the number seven is so used in this book; a few instances of which we shall adduce. In this very verse the Holy Ghost is denoted by the seven Spirits, to signify unity of subsistence in a variety of persons. In the 6th verse of the vth chapter the Lamb is represented with seven horns. and seven eyes; whereas the four living creatures which worship the Lamb are full of eyes, within and without; and the Lamb who is worshipped hath only seven,a clear and decisive proof that the number seven expresses more than fulness of eyes, even all vision, complete and perfect knowledge. So likewise do the seven horns ex
press complete and perfect power. In like manner, the seven-sealed book expresseth the complete unrevealed mystery of God; and the seven trumpets the complete action of his judgment. And, in short, throughout this prophecy, whatever is characterised by the number seven, doth express totality, or the inclusion of all the parts. This being admitted in general, as indeed it is on all hands admitted, when applied to the churches, it must likewise signify the whole of them; all the particular churches in all ages, whose completeness doth constitute the unity of the church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven. Not, therefore, to those seven individual churches alone, nor yet to all the churches in that age, but to all the churches in all ages, until the number of the elect shall be accomplished, is this book of the Apocalypse indited. The seven churches in Asia, whose names are Written, were indeed the first custodiars of the precious treasure; as were the churches of Rome, and Corinth, and Ephesus, and Thessalonica, of their several epistles. But as a matter of more deep concernment, this book is given in charge to seven churches; and that in such a way as to import that they, in that charge, did but-represent all the churches of God, which were to be, till Christ should come again. Upon which most striking distinction, I observe, first, the superlative dignity thereby conferred upon the treatise, that it should be addressed to all the churches, as that without which they would find themselves incomplete. And blessed be the care of God to give this book dignity and importance: cursed be the arts of man, or of the devil, to lessen or undervalue it. I observe, secondly, how idle are those, and contradictory of the truth, who say that it is a book whose importance hath not yet come to be felt by the church ; nor will, until the very time of the coming of the Lord. For if so, it would not thus solemnly and universally have been addressed. Paul would not have addressed an epistle to the Ephesians which concerned not the Ephesians; nor any one else for many generations. No more would God have given a book to Christ, and Christ to the angel, and the angel to John, and John to the seven churches, unless it were instantly to come into profitable use. --And I observe, thirdly, upon this inscription of the book, how preposterous are those who would hoard it up
for the Jews; as if they had not enough of Scripture already, and more than they have made good use of. If the Jews, as Jews either converted or unconverted, had possessed such an interest in it, why indite it to seven Christian churches ? I wish men would not part with common sense, when they interpret God's word. But more of these things hereafter
2. We now come to the benediction, which is expressed as in the other books of Scripture, “ Grace be unto you and peace.” This is no part of the Revelation, but of John's indorsement of it; as indeed are all the six following verses. Now because these words, grace and peace, do ever occur at the outset of the Apostolical communications, and form the substance of their benediction, we may well believe that they are words most pregnant with meaning; and therefore worthy always of the most grave consideration. Grace is that attribute or quality in God's being, which Christ fully and truly revealed; as it is written, “Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” It expresseth the aspect of his countenance, and the dispositions of his mind towards the sinful children of men: being the aspect of benignity, and the disposition of love. Not only forgiveness of sin, but endowment with undeserved unpurchased favour. Grace is directly opposed to works, in that
passage where it is written, “If it is of grace, then it is no more work, otherwise grace is no more grace.” When, therefore, the Apostle saith “Grace be unto you,” he doth wish, and, so far as they had faith, communicate unto them that light of love with which God shineth upon men, in Jesus
and when he likewise wisheth unto them peace, he doth repeat that which Christ came from heaven to preach, as it is written, “preaching peace.” Now as grace implieth a condition of humiliation whereto to be gracious, so doth peace imply a condition of warfare whereto peace may be proclaimed. The humiliation to which God is gracious in the Gospel, is man's miserable and lost estate by nature through sin; the state of warfare to which he preacheth peace, is the rebellion and alienation of his will from the will and mind of God. Conditions these, anterior to a Gospel, Grace and peace have no meaning, no blessing, yea no object, unless we grant the world to be in a state of condemnation and alienation without a Gospel.