« PreviousContinue »
they honour the Father, John v. 23; and when you compare chap. iv. 10, with the verse before us, you cannot but perceive, that the same persons give the same kind of homage to both. If Jesus is nothing but a mere creature, John has accused the whole church of idolatry; for every saint is here represented as worshipping and paying the same divine honours to the Lamb that were paid to the Father. Yea, all the angels of God must be idolaters, for they are represented in ver. 11, as paying him also the homage and adoration which are due to God.
These worshippers were, in some measure, fitted for the ser. vice in which they were engaged: they had every one of them harps and golden vials. Harps and other musical instruments were frequently employed in the services of the ancient church. The tones of the harp are plaintive and solemn, but peculiarly pleasant, Isa. xvi. 11. Psal. lxxxi. 2. It was therefore an.in. strument admirably suited for that branch of the service of the worldly sanctuary, in which instrumental music was employed. The figure is intended to intimate, that every feeling of the souls of these worshippers accorded with the service in which they were engaged.-But, as in the militant state of the church, there is always room for prayer as well as continued occasions of praise, so the living creatures and the elders were furnished with censers as well as harps. While they skilfully touched the strings of the harp with the one hand, they held a censer, or goblet, smoking with incense in the other. As the burning of incense was a figure of the inter. cession of Christ, and as the work of the people, during the time in which the officiating minister burned incense upon the golden altar, consisted chiefly in prayer, so, to speak to a Jew about burning incense, was the same thing as to speak to him of prayer : Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice,' Psal. cxli. 2.' This figure, therefore, shews their disposition for the work of prayer ; and accordingly the odours or perfumes with
which their censers were filled are said expressly to have been the prayers of saints.
The text is not a description of the exercise of the church in her triumphant, but in her militant state ; and, therefore, the saints spoken of in this last clause must be intended of the saints on earth, and not of the saints in heaven. It says nothing respecting the exercise of those who have departed this life: and no one will doubt the propriety of militant saints making request for one another; or of prayers
and supplications being addressed to God for all men. No where do the Scriptures give the smallest encouragement to litanies and supplications for the dead ; or that we address our prayers to the saints in glory, that they may present them before God, perfumed with the odours of their supposed merit. Prayer being an act of worship, must be addressed to God only; for to him exclusively belongs the title, The God that heareth prayer, Psal. Ixv. 2. In the two following verses we are presented with a copy of
of these worshippers, in which we may notice, first, the title or designation of this hymn: it is called a new song, The subject or matter of the song is very ancient ; for though it was not till the fulness of time that the Surety of men actually died, he was viewed, by the faith of the church, as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world : and as there cannot be either past or future, but all is present, with God, so the merit of the sacrifice and oblation of Christ must have been continually before him. Abraham saw the day of Christ afar off, and was glad: the death of Christ and its blessed. consequences were realized by his faith. And in so far as these things were the objects of an assured faith, and the spring of comfort, they were the matter of the song of the church from the earliest periods of her existence. But any view which the church had of the work of Christ under the law, was very dark and indistinct compared with her attain ments in New Testament times. She could formerly sing only
of what Messiah had engaged to perform; but now she can sing of what he hath actually done : and since all things written in the law and in the prophets have had their accomplishment, though the matter of her song is still the same, she can sing it with new life and vigour. For this reason it may be called a new song --But the principal reason of the title lies in the excellency of its matter. It is impossible that any theme can be more noble or exalted, than redemption through the blood of Christ. Things that are obsolete, of little interest, or of little value, are sometimes, by way of derision, called an old song
But the redemption of the soul, through the meritorious service of the Son of God, will never cease to be a matter of deep interest and of immense value ; and as the song of the church continually bears upon this grand and interesting subject, it will always be entitled to be called new.
O sing unto the Lord a new song ; for he hath done marvellous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory.' Psal. xcviii. 1. A sweeter and a more exhilarating theme is not sung in heaven, than redemption through the blood of Christ. Through eternity, the redeemed will be incessantly employed celebrating the praises of Him that loved them, and gave himself for them. When, therefore, you consider the excellency of its matter, it will always bear to be called a new song.
In this delightful exercise they celebrate the honours of their deliverer; Thou art worthy, say they, to take the book and to open the seals thereof. The high dignity of Christ's person rendered him infinitely worthy to approach the throne, and to receive the book out of the right hand of the King; and the wonderful constitution of his person rendered him every way fitted for the performance of all that the proclamation required. But the ascription here seems to bear more directly upon the honours which result from the work, than upon the constitution or excellencies of his person. When they sing, 'Thou art worthy,' it is the same as if they had said, Thou art best entitled to the high honour of receiving and opening this book. And the reasons which they assign for the ascription confirm this view of it; for they immediately add, Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood. He did not grasp at too much when he came forward to receive the book : having finished the work of redemption, as to purchase, he was well entitled to receive all the honours connected with its application; and these are so great, that the weight of them would have overpowered the strongest angel before the throne. Jesus only is worthy and qualified to bear them.
The grounds of the ascription are specified; they praise him, first, because he was slain. This is a very singular ground of praise. Other warriors are celebrated because they carried death into the ranks of the enemy; or if they fell in battle, especially in the arms of victory, their country is disposed to weep over their fall. But the death of the Deliverer of the church is here stated as the ground of praise, the principal occasion of her song; and, wonderful as it may appear, the Prince of Life was killed, the Lord of Glory was crucified, the Holy One and the Just was laid in the grave. But it is not the design of this note of the song merely to announce the fact, that he died, it is also intended to intimate the peculiar character in which he submitted to be slain. It is the same word that is used in ver. 6, and therefore reminds us, that he died as a victim to make reconciliation for iniquity. It is this that affords matter of triumph to the church ; without it she could not have been saved, nor would she have had any special matter of praise.
This wonderful death was the true price of the redemption of his people. This they cheerfully acknowledge in their songs of praise: Thou hast redeemed us to God by thy blood. They were in the most deplorable circumstances; like so many bond-men whose inheritances were mortgaged, and whose persons were in close custody; they were like so many felons lying in a state of condemnation, from which they could not be liberated, but in the way of a surety bearing a capital punishment for them. And as Messiah has paid the whole sum of their criminal debt, by bearing the true and adequate punishment of their iniquities, it is most reasonable that they should acknowledge, with grateful hearts, the service and sacrifice which he has presented to God for them.
When they speak of his having redeemed them unto God, it implies some previous interest which God their Maker had in them. We do not speak of redeeming, but only of purchasing, a thing in which we had no previous interest. Man was originally the property of God; in no period of his existence could he ever be at his own disposal ; his being and all his endowments were to be exclusively devoted to the service and honour of his proprietor; and when he sold himself into the hands of Satan, he alienated what was not his own. He became like an inheritance, which, by some fraudulent measures, had passed from the heir-at-law into another line; or like an inheritance, upon which debts had been contracted to a greater amount than the funds of the occupant could discharge, and which was therefore sold on account of the debt with which it was burdened. But the redemption that is through Christ restores man to his proper owner; it liberates him from the power of Satan, and brings him into the glorious light and liberty of the children of God. Hence these worshippers speak of themselves as being redeemed unto God.
The several individuals of which the redeemed company is composed lie scattered among the different tribes and generations of men. Accordingly they speak of being redeemed out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation. When they are brought home to glory, they will be found to have been collected from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south, from very different regions of the globe, and from very different ranks of life, and likewise from all the different generations which appeared between the erection of a church state in the world and its dissolution. Messiah was never to be without a seed in any age to do him service; but it was never meant that every individual pertaining to the different generations of men should sit down with Abraham,