« PreviousContinue »
I. 3. There remains yet one character of these martyrs to be considered, in those words; These were redeemed from among men, being the first-fruits unto God, and to the Lamb.' By being redeemed from among men,' we are to understand, that they were delivered from the common corruptions of the world; supported under temptations, by which others were subdued ; and kept by the grace and power of God' unto salvation. All which are privileges, owing to the merits and efficacy of Christ's blood, delivering from the bondage of sin, and ransoming those who had otherwise continued captives to the tyrannical enemy of souls, into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.' So that the proofs they gave of their unshaken obedience, are not an act entirely their own, but must be ascribed to an unseen and supernatural assistance; to the Spirit of God, strengthening their weakness, confirming their resolution, and producing that perseverance, which flesh and blood, alone and left to itself, is not now in a condition of attaining.
And these again are called the first-fruits' to God, in allusion to the custom of offering the first and the best of the crop, as an acknowledgment due to the Giver of all (good gifts; and an expedient instituted to sanctify the rest of the field. In the former sense, as the first, we are to look upon these persons as our leaders, placed in the fore-front of the battle, such as have borne the hottest of the engagement, and were exposed to the fury of the enemy. The martyrs, by this post of honour, have not only gained promotion to themselves; but have, by. their example, done service to all that come after them: for how ought we to be quickened by the constancy of their sufferings ! And how scandalous is our cowardice, if we shall faint and give ground, after they have so bravely broken the force of our enemy !
As the first-fruits again import the best of the field, so are we to regard them as persons particularly favoured by God and the Lamb. For though the death of all his saints be precious, even of those who live and die in peace; yet we cannot but see good reason, why some preference should be given to that death, which is voluntary and chosen, violent, and attended with infinite torture and pain, above that which is natural and necessary, and hath no agonies, but such as the parting of soul and body renders common to all mankind. There is a manifest difference between dying in the faith, and dying for it. . All the righteous,' we are assured, shall shine in the kingdom of their Father,' but not all with equal lustre. For that justice which “rewards men according to their works,' is not more concerned to crown every one that strives lawfully,' than it is to see, that those who have borne a heavier cross, be as much distinguished in the measures of their recompense.
II. And this will lead us to consider the circumstances of that blissful state, in which these martyrs are here described, as a reward for their virtues and past sufferings.
II. 1. The first of these is being with the Lamb upon Mount Sion,' that is, the heavenly Jerusalem;' of which that on earth, where the temple of God stood, and the marks of his especial presence were exhibited, is, in sundry places of this and other books in the New Testament, said to have been a figure. And yet, though but a figure, what glorious things do we find spoken of it in Scripture! What devout raptures of joy in the holy Psalmist, when at liberty to approach it! What tender complaints, what moving lamentations, when debarred of this most valuable privilege ! But if the shadow could deserve such honour, how ought we to be affected with the substance! If the symbolical representations only were so magnificent, what must the lustre of that presence be, when this veil of flesh shall be done away, and we admitted to see God as he is ;-to be with him whom our souls love ; with him who loved our souls so dearly, as to be born, to be afflicted, to bleed, to die for them; to be with him for ever; to enjoy him in a league of inviolable, everlasting friendship, in the mansions he is gone before to prepare for us; to partake in his glories, as we have taken part in his sufferings; and to feel our own glories advanced then in proportion as our sufferings are multiplied here ! No dangers, no fatigues, are esteemed insupportable by the men of this world, in rendering faithful service to a prince, who is thought to pay them well with a gracious look, with a title of honour, and a small revenue to their family. But what are these, in comparison of the constant favour and presence, the intimate and unalterable affection, of the King of kings, the being admitted into a share of all our Master's glory, nay, even of his royalties themselves? This is what the highest favourite, the worthiest patriot must not have the vanity to hope for, from the most gracious monarch upon earth. And yet this is the condescension of our heavenly Lord, this is the ho
nour and partnership, to which saints and martyrs have a title. For these Christ is said to make kings and priests ; and to all such is promised, for their encouragement, that if they die with him, they shall also live with him; if they do suffer with him, they shall also reign with him.'
II. 2. A second circumstance of the bliss, described in this chapter, results from the numbers to whom it is imparted. Great part of the satisfaction, taken in the blessings of this world, depends upon comparison. Few would esteem themselves happy in the enjoyment, did not this make a difference between themselves and others that want them. Nor is this altogether from narrowness of spirit; but, in great measure, from the insufficiency of the things themselves. But now the blessings of our future state being boundless, and such as can never be exhausted, -as these qualities leave no room for envy and emulation, so neither will glorified souls retain any dispo sition to them. Every other's happiness will then be an addition to every man's personal happiness; but more especially will they all be affected with the honour of our God and Saviour, and the conquests and successes obtained by his blood; which the more the redeemed and glorified are, the greater and more wonderful they are ; and, therefore, it had taken from this bliss, and represented it much less, to have said, that one, or å few, than that a hundred and forty-four thousand of these saints were altogether with the Lamb on Mount Sion.' And the Apostle to the Hebrews hath therefore added, that we shall then come to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.'
Imagine with yourselves two friends, dear as their own souls to each other; these, both engaged in enterprises of the utmost difficulty, in distant parts of the world; each exercised with dangers and hardships, for the service of his country; and, with a vast expense of blood and toil, succeeding so well, that no marks of honour are thought too much for them ;-imagine these two friends, after long absence, thus laden with conquest, and adorned with laurels, meeting and finding each other, just as they could wish ;-what joyful welcomes, what mutual rejoicings, what reciprocal fruition of their past labours, and
present triumphs, must such an interview create! And when you
have carried this image as high as you can go, and multiplied it to ten thousand times as much, by supposing ten thousand such cases; know that such, and much more than this, are the mutual gratulations of the blessed in heaven. As much more, as their sufferings have been sharper; as much more, as the cause in which they suffered is nobler; as much more, as the enemies they have vanquished are stronger ; as much more, as the reward for their service is more bountiful, more lasting, more unenvied; in a word, as much more, as these mystical members of Christ's body are united with a more entire and disinterested affection, and consequently more transported with the gallant actions, and successes, and glories of each other, than it is possible for the sincerest and most generous friends on earth to be. And this love, this unanimity it is, that qualifies them to join in that which I would observe from the third verse, as another circumstance of their felicity;
II. 3. The singing together hymns of praise to God and the Lamb. For that such is the subject of their song, we may learn from several like passages of this book. (Chap. v. 9, 10. 12, 13. vii. 10, &c., xix. 1. 7. And this must needs be an eternal subject. For if even we who see things very darkly, might yet, with very little application, find matter more than enough to employ the whole of our lives in holy thanks and wonder; how plentifully must they be furnished, who are placed in a nearer and more distinct view of the essential excellencies, and marvellous works of God! how delightful must their contemplation be of the majesty and power, the wisdom and the goodness, the holiness and the justice of God! how pleasing the reflections of these, which are cast upon their minds; from the glass of the creation, the nicest and most beauteous parts whereof are at present hid from our sight; from the dispositions of Providence, and those secret overrulings of events, which make all things work together for good to them that love God;' from the mysteries of our redemption, and that love of Christ which passeth knowledge;' and, not to mention more, from their own past labours and sufferings, and that condescension, which counted them worthy to endure reproach for the sake of Christ ;' permitted their blood to be shed in so glorious a cause; and made them so ample a compensation for every drop they spilt, for every tear they shed, for every torture they felt, for every dying agony they so magnanimously sustained ! Who can see, and feel, and meditate on, these things in silence ? 'who can speak of them in any language, but that of praise ? And who, that hath begun to praise, can ever desist again ? But withal, since this song of praise, it is expressly said, could not be learnt by any but such saints, who would think any cost too much to purchase a part in such felicity ? Who count even his life dear to him, so that he might finish his course with such joy' as this? And therefore it is that these joys are revealed, that they may excite in us a becoming zeal and fervent desire; the same, that men of like passions, and like good sense at least, with ourselves, have been fired with, and found their account in : the same, that will add to our reproach that condemnation, if we resolve to perish slothfully and ingloriously, and will neither be attracted to virtue by such prospects, nor shamed into courage by such examples. : These are some of the many considerations, offering themselves, from the account now before us, concerning the martyrs in general ; which the Church hath propounded to our medi. tation this day, as containing some things, not improperly applicable to those infants in particular, whose barbarous murder by Herod was made instrumental to the glory of Him for whom they died. For they, in the most literal sense, 'were not defiled with sensual pleasures, who left the world in 'vir. gin' innocence. They were most truly redeemed from among men,' whose early translation to a state of bliss prevented the temptations of a corrupt age. They were, strictly speaking, 'the first-fruits unto God and the Lamb,' who began to shed their blood in the cause of a new-born Saviour, and were the first-fruits of the martyrs themselves. By this earliest experiment of cruelty against his blessed Son, it pleased God to demonstrate, how vain all future attempts of his enemies should be, whose implacable and bloody malice laboured to destroy this hated king of the Jews, either in his person or his members: and that such wicked designs should have no other issue than those of this day, disappointment and vengeance to the inhuman contrivers, happiness and reward to the innocent sufferers, and increase of honour to the Person in whose cause they suffered. Thus Herod shortly after lived and died a remarkable monument of the divine justice, and perished by a complication of VOL. I.