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A SERMON PREACHED IN THE NEW JERUSALEM CHURCH, Cross STREET, LONDON,
BEFORE THE GENERAL CONFERENCE OF THE NEW CHURCH, APRIL 8, 1871.1
Tue Apocalypse is a prophecy respecting the last times of the Church and the second advent of the Lord. All its mystic wonders treat, in their internal sense, of the varied afflictions of the Church when it approaches its end, and of the glories of the new dispensation by which it will be succeeded.
The coming of the Lord involves two providential events : the predicted judgment, and the establishment of a new Church-a Church in harmony with the new arrangements of angelic society, which would follow the accomplished judgment.
These providential events are presented in the Apocalypse in a series of wonders. In its pages are displayed thrones of judgment, the opening of the books of the interior life; the uprooting of mountains of self-love, contention, and strife, the overthrow of the Babel of confusion and insane love of dominion by the things of the Church, the reaping of the harvest, the gathering of the vintage, and the treading of
1 “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to Him ; for the hour of His judgment is come: and worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.”—Rev. xiv. 6, 7.
the wine-press, in which is explored and made manifest the secret quality of the consummated Church. And in this Apocalypse also is the promise of His coming and the glad alleluias of the angelic host, because the Lord has taken to Him His great power and commenced His everlasting reign : the whole prophecy ending in a vision of glory and an assurant hope of endless progress to the Church on earth.
So long as men interpret these prophecies literally, they expect a natural coming and an earthly judgment.
In this expectation they overlook the fact that all the great epochs of providential mercy have been attended by the execution of judgment upon the wicked and the revelation of light and truth to the righteous, or to those who are to become the subjects of the new condition of the Church and recipients of its opening intelligence and spiritual life. The earliest ages of the Church bear witness to this fact. The Flood was the judgment of the consummated Church of the period to which it refers. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah were similar events in a later period of the Church's history. But the most striking manifestation of this great truth is presented in the fulfilment of the prophecies which related to the first advent of our Divine Redeemer. These prophecies are expressed in the language, and abound in the imagery, which are employed in the announcement of His second coming. The heavens and the earth are to depart, the throne of judgment is fixed, the Son of Man is brought near the Ancient of Days, the powers of darkness are overthrown, and a kingdom of righteousness established, which is given to the saints and which is to abide for ever. Nor is the fulfilment of these prophecies matter of obscurity and doubt. “For judgment,” says the Saviour, "am I come into the world." “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the prince of this world be cast out." The judgment thus executed constituted one of the leading features of the Lord's redemption, which consisted in the condemnation and overthrow of the powers of darkness, and the deliverance of the Church from their fearful captivity. This deliverance from hell was effected by judgment executed in the spiritual world, and was followed by a new revelation of truth from heaven, and by the setting up of a new Church which was the Christian Church. A similar divine work attends the second coming of the Saviour, which is predicted to take place at a time when“ iniquity shall abound, and the love of many shall wax cold.” A time, therefore, when the Church, so far as relates to its internal life of faith and love, has come to an end. That which brings the Church to its end is the prevalent
influences of wicked spirits secretly and subtily operating upon the minds of men on earth, poisoning their thoughts by seductive falses, and infecting their lives with deadly evils. The removal of these fearful influences is necessary before light and truth can be efficaciously revealed to the Church. And this removal is effected by the judgment predicted to accompany His advent. By this judgment, the wicked in the spiritual world are condemned to their own abodes of darkness, and the minds of men on earth delivered from the poisonous influences of their fearful infestations. The place of judgment is, therefore, the inner world, where the spirits of the departed are assembled; and its accomplishment is to prepare the way for new arrangements of angelic society, and the new outpouring of truth and righteousness from the Lord through the angelic heavens to the Church on earth. This new arrangement of angelic society, constituting the first-fruits of the harvest of regenerated humanity under the Christian dispensation, is presented in all the grandeur of its accomplished glory, in the commencement of the chapter from which our text is taken. The Lamb, the title of the Lord in His Divine humanity, stands on Mount Sion, and with Him an hundred forty and four thousand, having His Father's name written in their forehead, i.e. having His wisdom and love inscribed in their hearts and lives.
The formation of this heaven is a source of universal angelic joy. The consentaneous voice of the whole angelic host is represented as to its spiritual element by the voice of many waters, as to its celestial power and penetration by the voice of a great thunder, and as to the harmony of the spiritual confession of the Lord in the inferior heavens by “ the voice of harpers harping with their harps.” And while the Lord thus speaks through the heavens, and excites, by His nearer presence and the accomplishment of His Divine purposes of judgment and mercy,
the fervid affections and thoughts, and the glad confessions of His ransomed children, those who have experienced their deliverance, and are collected into their new and abiding habitations in His kingdom of glory, "sing a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders; and no one could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, that were redeemed from the earth.” The new song is the song of their deliverance and the glorification of their divine deliverer :
“Him they proclaim through realms of rest,
God over all, for ever blest."
But the attainment of their seats of glory does not render them indifferent to the lot of those who are still struggling with the clouds and darkness which are round about them. They are urgent that the mercy and love that gladdens their hearts, and the wisdom and truth that fills their minds with light, should become the inheritance of the Church on earth. And this is needful, if the Church on earth is to imbibe their wisdom and reciprocate the glad affections of the angels in heaven.
The Apostle sees therefore “ an angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth.”
The Apocalypse is filled with angelic appearances. They appear as angels of mercy, and as angels of judgment. They are messengers and servants who fulfil the high behests of the Master they serve. That, however, which intrinsically constitutes the angel, is of and from the Lord alone, and is essentially the Lord in the angel. It is the Divine principle of the Lord which makes heaven, and which is supreme in the minds of all the angels of God. In the highest sense, therefore, the Lord is himself the only angel, just as in relation to the Divinity of His Humanity, He is the only man. He is man and angel, because He is intrinsically and essentially what they are derivatively from and dependently upon Him. Their highest perfection and glory is to become finite images and likenesses of His infinite perfection and glory.
This introduction of the angel is an intimation of the close connection of the Church in heaven with the Church on earth. Angels are “the spirits of just men made perfect," and from their heavenly abodes they minister to those who are struggling with the cares and anxieties, the doubts and perplexities, the temptations and distresses of their earthly condition. They sympathise with the Church in her night of darkness and error, and are the first to announce the approach of the Sun of Righteousness, Who is to chase away the darkness, and to arise upon her horizon as a morning without clouds. And at the close of the dispensation, when the consummated Church no longer fulfils the benign purposes of her establishment, they supplicate the Son of Man to hasten His coming, to thrust in His sickle and reap the harvest and the vintage to the earth, i.e. to enter into judgment with the fallen Church, and to explore and make manifest the secret quality of her simulated faith and pretended virtues.
And if the angels are urgent for the close of the consummated dispen
sation, they are assuredly not less eager for the introduction of the better and brighter hope whereby it is to be succeeded. If, from their habitations of glory they witness with satisfaction the shaking of the heavens and of the earth, the sea and the dry land, it is that the Desire of all nations may come, that the Church may be again filled with glory, and that the things which cannot be shaken—the everlasting principles of truth and righteousness—may be established and abide
Another angel is a new revelation of truth to the Church. And this angel is seen flying in the midst of heaven to denote the urgency with which the message is imparted. The act of flying denotes also circumspection and presence; and hence the manifestation everywhere of the message the angel is commissioned to deliver. This
is the everlasting gospel.
This gospel is not of man but of God. It is the expression of His infinite wisdom and love ; and, like its Divine author, abides for ever. The gospel here alluded to is the higher revelation which accompanies the Lord's second advent, and is the result of His advent. It is not another gospel, but the clearer manifestation of the gospel revealed through prophets and apostles. Primitive Christianity was a thing of beauty and a tower of strength. It entered its protest against the idola- . tries of the prevalent faiths and corruptions of its day, but its power was in its teaching and maintenance of “the truth as it is in Jesus;" and in the practical exemplification of this truth in lives of righteousness and true holiness. And such is also the province of the higher teaching of the everlasting gospel which is to distinguish the new dispensation which will attend the second coming of the Lord. This teaching will be a swift witness against the errors which have infected the popular faith and the evils which have corrupted the popular practice, but this exposure will arise from the light which makes manifest the truth, and issues in the formation of Christian character and the perfection of Christian life. It is this manifestation of the truth—this ability to teach and lead in the path of true life, which is the distinction and glory of a true Church and the purpose of its institution. We lift up our voice because we have something to announce, something which the world needs, something which the Lord and His angels desire should be made known, and which they are urgently seeking means to make known to “all the dwellers upon earth, to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.” This enumeration involves the several classes who will