And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth; a star from heaven fallen unto the earth (Revised Version); not saw a star fall. (For the distinctive character of the last three judgments, see on Revelation 8:2.) "A star" sometimes signifies one high in position. Thus Numbers 24:17, "There shall come a star out of Jacob;" Daniel 8:10, "And it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground." In Revelation 1:20 "the stars" are "the angels of the seven Churches;" in Job 38:7 the angels are called "stars;" in Isaiah 14:12 we have Satan referred to thus: "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!" It seems, therefore, that Satan himself is here referred to under this symbol. The trumpet visions hitherto have portrayed troubles affecting the outer man; now begin to be set forth these yet more terrible visitations which, affecting his spiritual nature, are seen more directly to emanate from the devil. He has fallen "from heaven unto the earth;" that is, whereas formerly heaven was his abode, the sphere of his work while yet obedient to God, he now has no office or power, or entrance there, but is permitted to exercise what influence he possesses on the earth (cf. Luke 10:18, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven"). This is the view of Tertullian, Aretbas, Bede, Vitriuga, Alford, believe an evil angel is meant; Wordsworth thinks an apostate Christian teacher is signified; Andreas, Bengel, and De Wette believe a good angel is intended; others see particular emperors, etc.; while Hengstenberg thinks the figure represents not one, but a number of persons, including Napoleon. And to him was given the key of the bottomless pit; of the pit of the abyss (Revised Version). That is, as Wordsworth explains, of the aperture by which there is no egress from or ingress into the abyss. Christ holds the key (Revelation 1:18), but for a season Satan is permitted to exercise power. The abyss is the abode of the devil and his angels; the present abode, not the lake of fire, into which they are subsequently cast (Revelation 20:10).
And he opened the bottomless pit; pit of the abyss, as above. This phrase is omitted by א, B, Coptic, AE thiopic, and others. It is inserted by A, B, many cursives, Vulgate, Syriac, Andreas. And there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace. The smoke of the incense (Revelation 8:4) purified the prayers of the saints, making them acceptable before God; the smoke which ascends from the abyss clouds men's minds and darkens their understandings. And the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. The air, becoming filled with the smoke, obscured the light of the sun, so that both appeared dark. This darkening of the atmosphere may have been suggested by the description of the locust plague (Exodus 10:15), or by the account in Joel 2:1-32. But it is the smoke, not the locusts, which is here said to cause the obscurity; the locusts issue forth out of the smoke. It is doubtful whether we ought to seek any particular interpretation of the smoke; it is probably only accessory to the general picture. If we may press the meaning so far, it is perhaps best to regard the smoke as the evil influence of the devil, which darkens men's understandings, and from which issue the troubles which are the result of heresy and infidelity, portrayed by the locusts (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4, "In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving," etc.).
And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth. The locust is constantly referred to in the Bible, and various illustrations are drawn from their characteristic features. In the East they appear in great numbers and men are helpless against their devastating power. Sometimes an attempt is made to check their progress by lighting fires, and this practice may have suggested the above description of the locusts proceeding from the smoke. The irresistible destruction which they cause is alluded to in Deuteronomy 28:38; Joel 2:25; 2 Chronicles 7:13; their number in Psalms 105:34; Nahum 3:15. The air is sometimes tainted with their dead bodies (Joel 2:20). The natural features of the locust are fully dwelt upon in Nahum 3:7-10. As an illustration, we may quote Niebuhr, who gives an Arab's description of the locust: "In head like the horse, in breast like the lion, in feet like the camel, in body like the serpent, in tail like the scorpion, in antennae like a virgin's hair." Three out of these five points of resemblance are mentioned in Nahum 3:7-10. The locusts here symbolize heretics and infidels. Some writers (e.g. Wordsworth) apply the symbol to the Mohammedans (see Wordsworth, in loc., where the parallel is very fully worked out). But though this may be, and probably is, a fulfilment of the vision, it would be wrong to thus restrict our interpretation. Scarcely any one cause has contributed more to the trouble and destruction of men than the violence which is the result of religious hatred. Whether it be the heathen idolater, the warlike Mohammedan, or the Christian bigot, who is the agent, the effect is the same. It may be said, too, that if the minds of Christians also had not been darkened by the prejudicial influence of Satan, who is the cause of their unhappy divisions, heresies, and apostasies, these troubles could scarcely have fallen upon mankind. The innumerable occasions of such violence may be well illustrated by the countless number of the locusts; and the effect lives after the death of the authors, tainting the moral atmosphere. It is true that the true Christian sometimes suffers also; but tidal is an aspect which is set forth in the visions of the seals. Here another view is set forth, namely, that the ungodly are themselves punished, and punished severely, by means of this evil influence of the devil. Many other interpretations have been suggested:
And unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. That is to say, just as the natural scorpions of the earth have power to cause suffering, so these allegorical locusts of the vision appeared to possess the means wherewith to plague mankind. The scorpion is "generally found in dry and in dark places, under stones and in ruins, chiefly in warm climates.… The sting, which is situated at the extremity of the tail, has at its base a gland that secretes a poisonous fluid, which is discharged into the wound ... In hot climates the sting often occasions much suffering and sometimes alarming symptoms" (Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible ').
And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree. The force of this plague is to fall directly upon mankind, not, as in the former judgments, upon the earth, and then indirectly upon men. This appears to be stated with the greater plainness, because it might readily be inferred, from the nature of locusts, that the immediate object of their destructiveness would be the vegetation of the world. But only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads; but only such men as have not, etc. (Revised Version; cf. Revelation 7:3, to which this is an allusion). Here, by proleipsis, the servants of God are described as "those that have the seal of God in their foreheads." It is not stated, nor is it necessarily implied, that the seal is visible to man at the time of the infliction of this judgment upon the ungodly. In a similar way our Lord speaks of the elect (Matthew 24:22), not thereby implying that there is any visible manifestation by which the elect may be known to men, though known to God. Thus also it is said in 2 Timothy 2:19, "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his." The frequent use of the term to denote those who were sealed by baptism may have led to the employment of the expression in this place, as being equivalent to "the servants of God" (cf. Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30; 2 Corinthians 1:22). The locusts may not hurt God's servants (see on 2 Timothy 2:3). Thus we are taught that God in reality preserves his own, though it may sometimes appear to man as though the innocent suffer with the guilty.
And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months; and it was given them [i.e. the locusts] that they [the locusts] should not kill them [the unsealed], but that they [the unsealed] should be tormented five months. The devil and his agents have not unlimited power committed to them; they are restrained within limits by the will of God. The evils which follow in the train of heresy and infidelity are not as yet permitted to kill (cf. Job 1:12), for this judgment extends only to the natural life of man. God reserves the final killing to himself at the great judgment day. This is shown in the limitation, "five months." This apparently meaningless period becomes explicable, when we remember that the usual duration of a locust plague is five months, viz. from April to September. The visitation is for the natural period of such occurrences; the torment is to extend to the natural period of man's sojourn on the earth. It does not extend into the next life; other and special means are adopted for man's punishment then, as set forth under the seventh trumpet. Various other explanations have been given of the five months.
(a) of the Saracens, A.D. 830—A.D. 980 (Mede);
(b) Mohammed's conquests, A.D. 612—A.D. 762 (Elliott).
And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them; shall in no wise find it … and death fleeth from them (Revised Version); οἱ ἄνθρωποι, "the men;" that is, the unsealed, who suffer this judgment. This is a characteristic biblical method of expressing great anguish. Thus Job 3:20, Job 3:21, "The bitter in soul; which long for death, but it cometh not" (cf. also Jeremiah 8:3; Job 7:15; Luke 23:30; and Revelation 6:16). The description portrays great anguish of mind, and should not be pressed to a literal interpretation, though many have illustrated the passage by pointing to actual occurrences of the kind.
And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; rather, the likenesses of the locusts; that is to say, the general appearance. This similarity is brought out in Joel 2:1-32, and is alluded to in Job 39:20. The parallel is worked out at some length in Tristram's 'Natural History of the Bible,' p. 314. In what way they appeared "prepared unto battle," is shown in Job 39:9. And on their heads were as it were crowns like gold; crowns like unto gold. The language is carefully guarded so as to make it understood that this feature is altogether supernatural. The crowns of gold probably denote the conquering nature of the locusts, and thus they add to the power with which the locusts have already been invested. They may also signify the exalted temporal position of those symbolized by the locusts. Some writers believe the helmets of soldiers are typified, and others the turbans of the Mohammedans. And their faces were as the faces of men. Notwithstanding the general resemblance of the locusts to horses, which resemblance is most clearly shadowed forth in the structure of the head, yet their faces gave the seer the idea of the human countenance. How this was brought about we are not told. Probably St. John himself in his vision received the impression without knowing by what means. The circumstance seems to point decidedly to the fact that human agents are denoted by the locusts..
And they had hair as the hair of women. This (like the succeeding clause) seems merely the enumeration of an additional feature, in which these creatures resembled locusts, and which helped to establish their claim to the name. The antennae of the insect are probably referred to. Wordsworth sees here an allusion to the flowing hair of Mohammed and the Saracens. And their teeth were as the teeth of lions. The powerful nature of the teeth of the locust is a remarkable feature of the insect; and it is here more fully referred to in order to enhance the general terror of their aspect (cf. Joel 1:6).
And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron. Again, a natural feature of the locust is specifically alluded to, in order to portray the terrible nature of their appearance. The horny substance which appears behind the face of the locust is not unlike the plates of iron with which the breast and shoulders of war horses were protected. And the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle; the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to war (Revised Version). The sound of the two things together, viz. that of rushing horses, and that of the chariots which they draw. The same simile is used in Joel 2:5.
And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails; and they have tails like unto scorpions, and stings (Revised Version). The next words are included in the following clause. Not that their tails possessed the appearance of scorpions (as Bengel, Hengstenberg, and others), but that their tails were like the tails of scorpions in respect of having stings in them. Cf. 2 Samuel 22:34; Psalms 18:33, "He maketh my feet like hands" (omit "feet"); also Revelation 13:11, "Two horns like a lamb" (see the description of the scorpion quoted above, under Revelation 13:3). And their power was to hurt men five months; and in their tails is their power to hurt, etc. (Revised Version) (see the preceding clause). As no Greek manuscript gives the reading of the Textus Receptus followed by the Authorized Version, the probability is that this is an example of a passage in which the Greek of his edition was supplied by Erasmus, by the simple process of retranslating into Greek the Vulgate Version. By the possession of the noxious sting, the locusts here described are represented as being yet more terrible than the natural locusts. (See the description of the locusts given under Revelation 13:3. For the signification of the "five months," see on Revelation 13:5.) They limit the period of this judgment to the time of man's existence on this earth.
And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit; they have over them as king the angel of the abyss (Revised Version). Most commentators contrast with the condition of the natural locusts, who have no king (Proverbs 30:7). "The angel" evidently, points to the star of verse l, who is Satan himself. Some think a particular angel, not Satan, is intended. Alford unnecessarily hesitates to decide that Satan is meant, owing to Revelation 12:3, Revelation 12:9. Whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon. Abaddon is the Hebrew נוֹדּבַאֲ, a noun representing the abstract idea "destruction" (Job 31:12 ), but more frequently employed to designate the netherworld (Job 26:6; Job 28:22; Proverbs 15:11; Psalms 88:12). Apollyon ( ἀπολλύων, present participle) is the Greek ἀπώλεια (by which the LXX. renders נוֹדּבַאֲ ) personified. It is in conformity with St. John's usual practice to give the two forms of the name (cf. John 1:38,John 1:42; John 4:25; John 9:7; John 11:16; John 19:13, John 19:17). In the name we have summed up the character of him who bears it. He is the "destroyer," the one who causes "perdition'' to mankind. Cf. the words of our Lord given by St. John (John 8:44), "He was a murderer from the beginning." Bengel and others contrast with "Jesus" the "Saviour." Perhaps the height of absurdity is reached by those writers (Bleek, Volkmar) who see in the name Apollyon a reference to (N)apoleon.
One woe is past; the one woe, or the first woe. "Woe" ( ἡ οὐαί) is feminine; perhaps because expressing the idea of tribulation, such words being generally feminine in the Greek. Some have thought that these words are a further announcement by the eagle of Revelation 8:13; but there is nothing to lead us to suppose that they are not the words of the writer. And, behold, there come two woes more hereafter. Omit "and:" behold, there cometh yet two woes hereafter. The verb is singular in א, A, and others; the plural is found in א, B, P, and others. Alford says, "singular, the verb applying simply to that which is future, without reference as yet to its plurality." But probably οὐαί , although written as a feminine in the preceding clause, being really indeclinable, is treated as a neuter; and thus the singular verb is made to agree with the neuter plural, in conformity with the rules of Greek grammar. The second woe extends from this place to Revelation 11:14, and the third woe is contained in Revelation 11:14-19, especially in Revelation 11:18.
And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice; I heard one voice, perhaps in contradistinction to the four horns next mentioned. From the four horns of the golden altar which is before God; the golden altar before God. The balance of authority seems in favour of retaining τεσσάρων, "four," although the Revisers omit it. It is inserted in B, P, Andreas, Arethas, Primasius, etc., but emitted in א A, Syriac, Coptic, Bede, etc. Many commentators (eg. Vitringa, Hengstenberg) lay special stress upon it; and some represent the horns as the four Gospels, which speak with one voice. The voice issues from the altar, as in Revelation 6:10; Revelation 16:7. The voice, issuing from the resting place of the souls of the martyrs, denounces the impending woe. The altar is the golden altar of incense (Revelation 8:3) which is before (the throne of) God, and which, in the earthly temple, stood before the veil (Exodus 40:26). This altar had four "horns" projecting at the corners (Exodus 30:2; see also Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible,' art. "Altar").
Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet. Tregelles reads, "Saying to the sixth angel, Thou that hast the trumpet," etc.; but the common rendering is much more probable. Here the angel is represented as directly causing the incidents which follow; in the other cases, we are only told that each angel "sounded." Loose the four angels which are hound in the great river Euphrates. This vision has led to a great variety of interpretations. Some are obviously absurd; in all these is considerable doubt and difficulty. The following is offered as a possible solution to some extent, though it is not pretended that every difficulty is satisfactorily disposed of. In making this suggestion, the following circumstances have been borne in mind:
And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men. The alterations in the Revised Version make the meaning much plainer: which had been prepared for the bout, and day, and month, and year, that they should kill, etc. That is to say those "which had" in God's foreknowledge "been prepared" in order to operate at the exact period required—the exact year, month, day, and even hour. Each knew his appointed time. Four is the number used to denote universality in things of this world (see on Revelation 4:6). The number, therefore, seems to imply that the power of the angels is of universal extent. The third part are destroyed; that is, a great part, though not the larger (cf. Revelation 8:7, et seq.).
And the number of the army of the horsemen; and the number of the armies of the cavalry. No horsemen have hitherto been Minded to; but they are apparently the destroying host under the direction of the four angels. The symbol is, no doubt, chosen to signify power, of which horsemen or cavalry are an emblem. Were two hundred thousand thousand; or, twice myriads of myriads (cf. Jud Revelation 1:14-16, which is a quotation from Enoch; also Daniel 7:10). The number is, of course, not to be taken literally, but as signifying an exceeding great multitude. And I heard the number of them. Omit "and." St. John "heard the number" possibly from one of the elders, who had before instructed him (cf. Revelation 7:13). He states this, since so vast a multitude would be innumerable.
And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them. That is, according to the description following, not "thus, in such numbers as I have described." Having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone. ἔχοντας, "having," probably refers to both horses and riders, though it may refer to the riders only. The Revised Version renders jacinth more exactly as hyacinth. Alford translates, "breastplates, fiery red, fuliginous, and sulphureous." It seems to be rightly concluded that the hyacinhine hue answers to the "smoke" further on in the verse. "The expression, 'of jacinth,' applied to the breastplate, is descriptive simply of a hyacinthine, i.e. dark-purple colour" (Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible'). The description intensifies the terrible nature of the vision, and it is doubtful whether these details should be pressed to a particular interpretation. If they bear any meaning at all, they seem to point to the doom in wait for the wicked, whose portion is fire and brimstone (cf. Psalms 11:6). And the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone; proceedeth fire, etc. (Revised Version). Here, as in the preceding clause, the intention is evidently to enhance the terrible appearance of the vision. The "smoke" corresponds to the hyacinth hue, mentioned in the previous part of the verse (vide supra). The horses, in accordance with a well-known poetic figure, are said to breathe out "fire and smoke." Brimstone is mentioned in addition, in order to set forth plainly the fact that their acts are directed against the wicked (cf. Genesis 19:24; Job 18:15; Psalms 11:6; Ezekiel 38:23; Isaiah 30:33; Luke 17:29). Lions' teeth are mentioned in the description of tire locusts, with the same purpose (Revelation 9:9). It is difficult to see why Alford should imagine that the fire, smoke, and brimstone proceed separately from different divisions of the host: it was not so in the case of the breastplates.
By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths; by these three plagues (as in Revised Version)... the brimstone, which proceeded. Although the last clause technically is attached to "brimstone" only, yet the description applies to all three of the things mentioned. "The third part" again a large, but not the largest, part of mankind (see on Revelation 8:7). The locusts were forbidden to kill (Revelation 9:5); these horsemen are permitted to do so. Each judgment of the trumpet visions appears t) increase in severity. We may here see portrayed the terrible and destructive character of the results of sin. Such results are experienced to the full by the third part of men, the large class who" repent not of their murders, nor of their sorceries," etc. (Revelation 9:21).
For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails; for the power ,f the horses is, etc. Another example of disagreement between Erasmus and all the Greek manuscripts (see on Revelation 9:10). For their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt. "Are like," and "have heads," in the present tense. Here (unlike Revelation 9:10) the tails are like serpents themselves. The image is not uncommon among the ancients. We may paraphrase the passage thus: "Their power is for the most part in their mouth; but also, to some extent, in their tails; for their tails are like serpents," etc. An endless variety of interpretations have been given to these details, which are probably not intended to bear any distinct signification. Bengel refers to a species of serpent in which the head and tail were so alike as to be with difficulty distinguished; which he thinks may have suggested the image. Many apply it (though in different ways) to the Turkish horse, who fight as they retreat, etc.
And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues; the rest of mankind (Revised Version). That is, the two thirds (Revelation 9:18). Some understand "these plagues" to refer to the first six trumpets. It may be so, but it seems more correct to limit it to the sixth, as the same phrase, which occurs in Revelation 9:18, must be so limited. Mankind must be taken to mean the worldly only. Of the ungodly, some are killed (the third part), the rest yet do not repent. The vision is not concerned with the fate of the righteous. Yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk. "The works of their hands" refers to idolatry, as shown by the succeeding words. This verse begins to prepare us for the seventh judgment. Men will not repent; therefore the last final judgment becomes necessary. The absurdity of idolatrous worship is frequently thus set forth by Old Testament writers (cf. Psalms 115:4; Psalms 135:15; Isaiah 2:8; Ezekiel 22:1, Ezekiel 22:4; Hosea 13:2). See also the description in Daniel 5:23 which seems to have suggested the wording of this part of the vision. It has been well remarked that in this verse mention is made of sins against God; in the following verse man's sins against his neighbours are detailed.
Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts. Sorceries; magic, witchcraft, and enchantments; e.g. the magic of the Egyptian magicians (Exodus 7:22). Sorcery is mentioned in Galatians 5:20 (where it is described as "witchcraft") in connection with idolatry. Fornication (cf. Bengel, "Other crimes are perpetrated by men at intervals; there is one continual fornication within those who are wanting in purity of heart ").
See homiletic section, Revelation 8:1-13.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Man's stubborn will.
"And the rest … yet repented not." The fatal obstinacy of wicked men, the dreadful hardness of the human heart, sin's searing of the susceptibilities of the soul,—such is the mournful fact that the text, repeated again in the next verse, as if to summon our special attention, vividly reveals. Implied or stated in it are such truths as these—
I. ALL MEN NEED REPENTANCE. The judgment fell only on some, but all deserved it; all had sinned, and all should have repented. When we see God's judgment falling on any one, our reflection should be not, "How evil he must have been!" but "How merciful of God to spare me!"
II. GOD PLEADS WITH MEN TO BRING THEM TO REPENTANCE. These judgments of which we read are not God's primary dealings with men. He does not begin in this manner. There has been much that has preceded this. God has pleaded with men by his Spirit in their consciences. By his goodness, giving them all manner of providential mercies. Then, more especially by his Word, delivered by revelation, through his messengers, etc. And in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, in the message of the gospel. Men always knew that their deeds were evil; the sense of sin was everywhere; and they knew that God would have them repent. And there were some who did, and therefore held aloof from the abominations of the rest. And since Christ has come the Divine pleadings have been more than ever heard.
III. BUT THESE MILDER METHODS OFTEN FAIL. All history shows this, as well as the Bible, and our own experience confirms it. See our Saviour weeping over Jerusalem. That sorrow had been known before, and has been since.
IV. STERNER METHODS ARE THEN TRIED. In these Apocalyptic visions we have portrayed over and over again these more awful means which God employs to bring men to repentance. In Israel's history how often they were tried! and they often succeeded, as, blessed be God, they often succeed now. This is their purpose.
V. BUT EVEN THESE, AT TIMES, AND FOR LONG TIME, FAIL. This is the declaration of our text (cf. also Jeremiah 5:3; Jeremiah 8:6; Romans 2:4, Romans 2:5). So was it with Pharaoh, when the plagues one after another, which in many respects resembled these trumpet plagues, came upon him. The invariable effects of the Divine law, which ordains that sin persisted in becomes fixed habit which cannot be shaken off, and of which, therefore, the writer of the Book of Exodus says, "The Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart; "this Divine law was illustrated in him. So again and again in Israel's history, "until the wrath of the Lord arose against them, and there was no remedy." In men, too, like that wicked King Amon, of whom it is said, "But Amon sinned more and more." True, the psalmist says, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I kept thy Word." But though it might have been true of him, it is as often as not, if not more often, true that men go astray after affliction just as they did before. "Though thou bray a fool in a mortar, yet will not his folly depart from him." So, with equal, if not greater truth, does the proverb assert that opposite and most melancholy fact of which the Bible, all life, and our text here say so much. "God's visitations pass lightly over souls asleep in sin. Which of us has not lived through a thousand of them, and never seen, never noticed, never given heed to, one? Death, sudden death, coming into our street, or into our home,—which of us has not hardened his heart again, after a very brief pause, against lessons which this ought to teach, and sinned on as before? Oh the desperate hardness of the human heart! What can melt it save omnipotent grace?"
VI. WHAT IS THE REASON OF THIS? The answer is manifold, as, for example:
1. Those that are spared argue from that fact that they need not repent. The Jews thought that those on whom the tower of Siloam fell must indeed have been sinners. Our Lord told them that was not the case, and, said he, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." And no doubt "the rest of mankind" told of in our text congratulated themselves, not only that they were spared, but that they did not deserve what had befallen the others. There was, therefore, no need for them to repent—so would they argue, as do and have done their successors ever since.
2. Sin deadens belief in God. It makes men practical atheists. God, therefore, is not recognized in aught that occurs.
3. God's judgments are put down to secondary causes. Everything can be explained; they know how and why things fell out as they did. They look not beyond or above those causes which are close at hand and can be readily understood. Hence their own sin and God's displeasure thereat, being far too abstract and remote factors, are not even considered.
4. "Perfect love casteth out fear." This is true in a sense the apostle never meant. Let the heart love sin, as it is so prone to do, and that love will utterly cast out the fear of God. And some sins, especially, will do this; those that are named in these verses will. Idolatry, which lulls the conscience whilst it gives free licence to sin. Gain gotten in ungodly ways—"thefts," as they are here called. Who does not know how the petty pilferer develops into the practised thief, embezzler, robber, and forger, until he has graduated in all such villainy? Lust—"fornications," as it is here termed. Let those who have known its hell and have told its dark dread secrets be believed, when they affirm that, indulged, it becomes ungovernable. Against it the fear of God has no chance. Cruelty—"murders" is the name given it here; that, too, grows with deadly speed and three. The Herods, Neros, and Henry the Eighths, Duke Alvas, and the entire spawn of the Inquisition,—they were once tender, humane, gentle hearted. But, like the tiger that has tasted blood, it will have blood whenever it can. And:
5. The law of habit. We spoke of this just now. Character ever tends to become permanent. "He that is holy" to be "holy still"—blessed be God for this!—but "he that is unrighteous,… he that is filthy," to be "unrighteous," to be "filthy still." You may bend the sapling, but not the tree.
VII. HOW INTENSELY SERIOUS ARE THE TEACHINGS OF THIS FACT! Is it true that, though God sends judgment after judgment upon men, they will yet not repent? Then:
1. More judgments and worse will come. Assuredly it will be so. We cannot imagine God allowing himself to be for ever baffled by the unruly wills and affections of sinful men. "Our God is a consuming fire;" and until the dross be separated the fire will burn on. How awful, therefore, is the prospect for ungodly and impenitent men!
2. How we need to watch and pray lest we be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin! Ah, what fools they are, "who make a mock at sin;" who dally with it, count it a trifle! Better play with vipers and scorpions.
3. What imperative need there is of the power of the Holy Spirit! The disciples were in despair about their work. However should such as they persuade and convert men? The Lord promises to send the Holy Spirit, and "when he is come he shall convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment." The baptism of the Holy Ghost—that is the need of the Church if she is ever to win the world for Christ.
4. Surrender to Christ, prompt, complete, abiding, that he, according to his Name, may save us from our sins,—this assuredly is our bounden duty, our true wisdom, because our sure safeguard, and our only one.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
The evil effect of degeneracy: the fallen star.
Homiletic expositions aim to avoid as tar as possible the topics of controversy. Yet must they be definite in their view of the interpretation of the words of Holy Scripture. Their own sphere is the moral and practical. They speak with no authority in the department of exposition. The view taken of this figure does not confine its reference to any individual person; although some individuals have gained a special notoriety. Many who have occupied the place of "stars," which are "the angels of the Churches," have fallen from their place and ceased to be illuminating powers, and their degeneracy has been the occasion of a temporary triumph of evil in one form or other. These have let loose the spawn of hell. Here the sad picture is presented of the ill effects of such degeneracy. It may be moral or intellectual descent; although the alliance with evil would seem rather to confine it to a departure from goodness and righteousness. A mere mental aberration not equally destructive. The great power of evil is found in that unfaithfulness to truth which issues in degeneracy of manners and life. The evil of such degeneracy is—
I. WIDESPREAD. From the position and influence of him who has been as a leader and guide of others. His life known, his influence great, his example contagious. Men follow leaders; and the welfare of the world is now advanced, now retarded, by the fidelity or unfaithfulness of them who are charged with high trust and responsibility.
II. DESTRUCTIVELY INJURIOUS. In proportion to the influence which any one wields is his power for good or evil. If one falls from a high position, he drags down others. The angel of light, become an agent of evil, opens the bottomless pit. He brings the utmost evil upon men such "as have not the seal of God upon their foreheads."
III. BITTERLY AFFLICTIVE. The injury caused is great in the social degeneracy, in the weakening of moral principle. A pillar of the house trembles, all becomes less secure. But the painfulness is great:
1. To him who falls.
2. To them whom he drags down with him.
3. To them whose sympathies being only with goodness are afflicted by anything that tends to degeneracy of manners, to feebleness of faith, or to the lowering of the tone and felicity of human life.
4. To the widespread, outlying multitudes, amongst whom the spread of goodness is retarded by every act of unfaithfulness and every instance of degeneracy and defection.—R.G.
The triumph of evil through unfaithfulness.
Satanic power is encouraged by human unfaithfulness. The utmost power of evil is let loose, and with destructive energy works only evil, and the direst evil, amongst the children of men. The evil character of the effects of unfaithfulness is represented by figures which suggest the greatest painfulness, and which are repulsive in the extreme. The sun and the air are darkened by "smoke" issuing from the opened "pit of the abyss"—the smoke "as of a great furnace." The power of "locusts" and "scorpions of the earth" reveals the most painful and repulsive effects, for "their torment was as the torment of a scorpion when it striketh a man." So great is this that men "seek death," though unavailingly. They are as "horses prepared for war," crowned with kingly power, having faces as of men, and hair as of women, and teeth "as the teeth of lions," covered are they with "breastplates of iron," and the sound of their wings as "the sound of chariots of many horses rushing to war;" they have "tails like unto scorpions, and stings," and in these is "their power to hurt men." The whole are leagued together under the leadership of "the angel of the abyss," whose name "in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek Apollyon, i.e. Destroyer." Thus is set forth the evil, repulsive, and deadly power of those forces which are called into play by unfaithfulness and degeneracy. One falls, but he lets loose many forces of evil, which he, once having called into activity, cannot arrest. It is a bitter woe to the earth, such as it has suffered many, many times in the great history. The lesson is for all times; for in many times the sad scene has been enacted. This section of the "revelation" declares to us—
I. THAT IN THE DEPARTURE FROM TRUTH AND GOODNESS ERROR AND EVIL BECOME PREVALENT. Every false doctrine is a cloud of darkness upon the path of the human life.
II. IN THE DIMINUTION OF THE HEAVENLY THE HELLISH POWERS PREVAIL. Finally, darkness shall be held back as in chains. But here it is let loose, and in the loss of the heavenly power the earthly, rather the hellish, gains ascendancy.
III. IN A DEPARTURE FROM THE PEACEFUL OBEDIENCE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS THE DESTRUCTIVE AND PAINFUL EFFECTS OF SIN ARE PROVED. The ways of pleasantness and the paths of peace forsaken, there are only the hard ways of the transgressor to walk in.
IV. THE BROKEN ALLEGIANCE TO GOD ISSUES IN THE TRIUMPH OF THE DESTROYER. The authority of the Prince of peace being rejected, another king, even Apollyon, usurps his throne. So men carelessly exchange good for evil, and sell life for an empty world.—R.G.
The inefficiency of judgments to lead all to repentance.
The voice of suffering innocence does not pass unheeded. The Lord of sabaoth is long-suffering and very merciful, even towards the disobedient and towards the enemies of the truth; but the angels of judgment and punishment, bound and restrained, must at length be loosed. Though the Lord suffereth long and is kind, yet he will avenge his own elect which cry to him day and night. We learn—
I. THAT THE END OF JUDGMENT IS REPENTANCE. This is the object always kept in view by him who judgeth right. All his judgments are therefore blessings in disguise. "He doth not willingly afflict." The cry from them who suffer wrongfully is not immediately answered in judgment upon their oppressors. He can requite his own in other ways. Yet, though judgment be stayed against an evil work, it is finally "loosed," lest the hearts of men be set in them wholly to do evil.
II. THAT THEY WHO PLACE THEMSELVES IN OPPOSITION TO THE SERVANTS OF TRUTH EXPOSE THEMSELVES TO THE JUST AND TERRIBLE JUDGMENTS OF GOD. Even the prayers of the righteous, which are accepted before the throne, cry for vengeance. The evil workers who place themselves in antagonism to the struggling Church are met, not only by the feeble arm of "the little flock," but by the might of him who, as a good Shepherd, defends even with his life them who are his own sheep.
III. THAT EVEN THE SEVERITIES OF JUDGMENT ARE INSUFFICIENT TO LEAD ALL TO REPENTANCE. That many are saved through the judgment is obvious to all observers. Yet is there a hardness of heart that seems to increase by the pressure of outward calamity. All do not see the Divine hand in the meted judgment; and many rise in greater rebellion by how much the strokes of that hand are severe. "The rest of mankind, which were not killed with these plagues, repented not of the works of their hands."
IV. We further learn that IT IS THROUGH DEVOTION TO EVIL THAT MEN ARE PREVENTED FROM REPENTANCE. Men harden their hearts even in the midst of Heaven's fiery judgments. Many happily learn righteousness, and repent of their evil ways, but of some—"the rest"—alas! always a remnant—it is to be said, "They repented not." They are devoted to evil. They are the willing slaves of lust and vice. They are greedy to do iniquity. The fiendish spirit finds its embodiment in them, and men are as though possessed with devils. If these are to be saved, other means must be devised.—R.G.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Moral evil in the universe.
"And the fifth angel sounded," etc. We take these verses to illustrate moral evil in the universe. Moral evil is a "pit." A pit is a scene of confinement and darkness. Moral evil, or sin, wherever it exists in the spirit, imprisons the faculties and blinds the vision. Socrates has well said, "No man is a free man who has a vice for his master." All corrupt souls are reserved in chains of darkness. Sin is slavery, sin is midnight. In relation to moral evil as a "pit," four things are suggested.
I. IT IS EXPOSABLE. "The fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit." Moral evil, in its incipient state, so stupefies the faculties and blinds the conscience that the subject only becomes aware of it by the advent of a messenger from heaven; an angel from heaven uncovers it, makes it bare to the soul. How do the savages, how do the millions whose souls are buried in sensuality, become conscious of sin? Only by a special message from heaven. What says Paul? "I was alive without the Law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." That is, Paul fancied he was alive—that is, all right—until the Divine message came. Every genuine gospel minister may be said to be a star from heaven with the "key of the bottomless pit," that key with which he opens it and exposes it to the consciences of his hearers. Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, was such an angel; he uncovered the pit of moral evil within his hearers, and they exclaimed, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"
II. IT IS FATHOMLESS. "Bottomless pit." It is an abyss without a bottom. Moral evil is fathomless.
1. Who can fathom its origin? We can account for sin in this world on two principles.
2. Who can fathom its issues? What are its bearings, ramifications, ultimate results? Problems these which the highest created intellect could, perhaps, never solve. Moral evil is, indeed, a "bottomless pit."