First part of Sermon XLVII. for Trinity Sunday.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the
Name of the FATHER, and of the SON, and of the HOLY GHOST.—ST.
MATT xxviii. 19.
THE seasons of our sacred year have carried us through the great events
of our Redemption, our Lord’s Birth and Temptation, His Passion, His Resurrection
and Ascension, and the coming of the Holy Ghost; and now we may say, “After
this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in Heaven;” the mystery of
the Blessed Trinity is revealed; and for one half of the year from this
time we commemorate by lessons of obedience this doctrine of the Three
Persons in One God. This the Scripture appointed for the Epistle
sets before us, by a variety of very glowing images, in the fourth chapter
of the Apocalypse, referring for the most part to the Old Testament.
After this I looked, and behold, a door was opened in heaven: and
the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with
me; which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must
be hereafter. It was a voice speaking, and yet it was
as of a trumpet. This combines together the two great events
of Pentecost—the awful trumpet of Mount Sinai on the giving out of the
Law, and the living tongues on the descent of the Spirit; the one expressive
of fear, the other of love; the fear and love with which we are henceforth
to live in the great mystery of Godliness, as revealed to us in the Old
and New Testament. For as Whitsuntide is the giving out of the law
written on the heart, so the Sundays after Whitsuntide are the keeping
of that law.
And immediately I was in the Spirit; and, behold, a throne was set
in heaven, and One sat on the throne. These words, “immediately
I was in the Spirit,” may well express the dispensation of the Spirit as
coming down at Whitsuntide. As in another place, “I was in the Spirit
on the Lord’s day,” says St. John. And the "throne set in Heaven,”
and “One sitting on the throne,” speak of the Kingdom of the Incarnate
Word which we commemorate at this season as now established; “the King
of Glory,” the only Son of the Father, exalted with great triumph unto
His Kingdom in Heaven.
And the description then given of Him is by figures like those of the
Prophet Ezekiel. And He that sat was to look upon like a jasper
and a sardine stone, that is, of exceeding beauty and brightness, like
the fire in the bush, yet of enduring substance. “I saw,” says Ezekiel,
“as it were the appearance of fire.” And it seems to have a reference to
the precious stones, by which God revealed Himself on the breast of the
High Priest; for the jasper and the sardine are the first and last of the
twelve stones. (Exod. xxviii. 17. 20.) It was the “appearance
of the likeness of the glory of the Lord,” (Ezek. i. 28.) or of the Word
And there was a rainbow round about the throne; i. e. the symbol
of God’s covenant of mercy; “as the bow that is in the cloud in the day
of rain,” says the Prophet in the same place; yet not altogether such as
the passing rainbow; for it was in sight like unto an emerald—of
an imperishable green, as setting forth that covenant of God which endureth
unto everlasting life.
And round about the throne, where sat the Incarnate Son of God,
were four and twenty seats. As our Lord Himself says to the
Apostles, “I appoint unto you a kingdom, as My father hath appointed unto
Me, that ye may sit on thrones.” (St. Luke xxii. 30.) And “to him
that overcometh,” He says, “I will grant him to sit with Me on My throne.”
(Rev. iii. 21.) And upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders
sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of
gold. By the twenty-four elders, signifying the twelve Prophets
and the twelve Apostles; or rather, perhaps, the priesthood of the New
Covenant. “He hath made us,” says St. John, “Kings and Priests unto
God and His Father.”
And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings, as
intimating the terrors of the law, and voices, as blending with
them the gracious calls of the Gospel. And there were seven lamps
of fire burning before the throne; as the seven lamps in the temple
of old, but now meeting with their true fulfilment in the sevenfold powers
of the Spirit, sent down from above by “the Father of Lights,” which
are, it is added, the seven spirits of God. As in another
place the Spirit sent by the Incarnate Son is called the “Lamb, having
seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the
earth.” (Rev. v. 6.) Whereas the Lamb Himself is likewise spoken
of as the Light of the City of God. (Rev. xxi. 23.)
And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal;
that is to say, that as there was a molten sea in the Jewish temple,
so was there now to be in the Christian Church that which is signified
by it, the layer of regeneration,—that Baptism by which we are made sons
of God. In the same Book it is spoken of as “a sea of glass mingled
with fire,” (Rev. xv. 2.) indicating the Baptism of Him Who shall
“baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”
And in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were
four beasts; or rather, four “living creatures,” as they are called
in Ezekiel, things that were all life, full of eyes before and behind.
As cherubic figures about the Mercy-seat, but full of spiritual eyes, like
the soul of man which looks before and after. And the first beast
was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast
had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
This may perhaps signify the whole multitude of the redeemed, which are
parts of Christ’s mystical Body; yet of various characters and dispositions,
of zeal, of meekness, of love, or of heavenly contemplation, as members
of Him Who is revealed to us in His four Gospels; of Him Who is “the lion
of Judah,” is as the calf of atoning sacrifice; (St. Luke xv. 23.) hath
“the likeness of a man,” (Ezek. i. 26.) and beareth us ‘with eagle wings,
as Scripture says, unto Himself.
And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they
were full of eyes within; and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy,
Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, Which was, and is, and is to come.
That is to say, that when Isaiah saw the “glory” of Christ on His throne,
and the seraphims in adoration, it was but the symbol of what is now fulfilled
in the Christian Church, while the souls of His saints in Heaven and on
earth worship the Three Persons in One God, saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy,”
as to each Person in the Godhead; and add the threefold expression, “ Lord,”
and “God,” and “Almighty;” and “Which was,” i. e. our Creator, Which “is”
our Redeemer, Which “is to come,” our Sanctifier.
And when those beasts give glory, and honour, and thanks to Him that
sat on the throne, Who liveth for ever and ever; when all created things
are brought by the blessed Gospels, full of wings and full of eyes, full
of love and full of knowledge, to worship Christ sitting at the right hand
of God; then the four and twenty elders fall down before Him that sat
on the throne, and worship Him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast
their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive
glory, and honour, and power; for Thou hast created all things, and for
Thy pleasure they are and were created; that is, when the multitude
of those that are saved, represented by those living creatures, give thanks
for their salvation, then the Christian priesthood fall down and cast their
crowns before the throne; that is, they attribute all to Christ, nothing
to themselves. The more they are exalted, the more do they humble
themselves in the sight of God; for the better any one becomes, the more
is he capable of the knowledge of God, and the more he knows God, the more
is he himself lost in His Presence. Thus is it with all the saints.
As St. Paul so often speaks of himself: “I laboured more abundantly, yet
not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” He speaks of his
crown: he says to his converts, “Ye are my crown,” and “henceforth is laid
up for me a crown of righteousness.” Yet whenever he sees the fruit
of his labours, ever in heart and soul does St. Paul seem, as it were,
to fall down before Him that sits on the throne, and to cast his crown
before the throne, ascribing all to the undeserved goodness of God.
Indeed, this memorable passage in the Apocalypse describes the very nature
of all Christian righteousness which consists of faith, and the more it
labours, the more it comes to know that all is of Christ in God.
Thus this reverential adoration is but the acknowledgment in heart and
life of that awful Name into which we are baptized; of the Three Persons
in one God.
So peculiarly well suited and instructive is this passage in the Apocalypse
to this season and this great day, having in it a peculiar living power
of expression, as consisting of very striking imagery, whereby the Christian
Church is portrayed after the descent of the Holy Spirit.
And now let us consider what connexion this may bear with the Gospel
for this day... (for the second part, on the Gospel.)