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the part to which it was attached taken off and read, and the seals attached to the parts which were beneath it might be unaffected.
The number seven was employed by the Jews as the symbol of perfection. In this sense the figure is used in the foregoing chapter, and applied to the gifts and influences of the Holy Spirit ; in the same sense it may be understood here. By the revelations about to be made to the church, the canon of sacred Scripture was to be completed and perfected ; no further revelations of the Spirit were to be expected, nor would they be needed. Accordingly, in the close of the book, there is an awful denunciation against the man that would either add to the things contained in the prophecy, or take away from them, chap. xxii, 18, 19.—But though this figure may symbolize the perfection of the work, the great profundity of its mysteries, and the absolute certainty of their accomplishment, its immediate design is to specify certain portions of time, which were to follow each other in succession, every one of which was to be distinguished by a feature of character entirely its own. Hence, in the following chapter, the opening of every new seal appears to be the commencement of a new æra, and to present us with a different order of things.
The deeply-interesting nature of the subjects contained in this book, and the extreme difficulty of understanding to what they referred, were sensibly impressed upon the prophet, by the ministry of an angel, as described in verse 2: and I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? The allusion is to a herald, or public crier, who gives all the tone and pathos to his voice that he can command. This angel lifted up his voice like a trumpet : indeed, the blast of no trumpet was ever equal to the voice of this crier ; for, as he challenged all the inhabitants of heaven and of earth to perform the mighty task of opening the book, he must have raised his voice so as to be heard in all the abodes both of angels and of men.
Two things were required to be done : First, that the book
should be opened ; and, secondly, that the seals should be loosed. The one that is last mentioned we would suppose to be the first in the order of execution ; for how could the book be opened till the seals were loosed ? But when you consider what these expressions are intended to intimate, the order of the proclamation will appear to be just and natural. The opening of the book is meant of the disclosing of its contents ; and the loosing of the seals, of their execution. The import of the angel's proclamation is simply this: Who is possessed of such dignity and moral excellence, as to be qualified to disclose this important part of the mind of God unto the church, and to carry the plan of government which it describes into execution ?
The undertaking was too great even for an angel to accomplish: for we are assured, as in verse 3, that no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. The word translated no man would have been better rendered no one, as it is evident from what follows, that angels as well as men are excluded. No individual, among all the different orders of being whom God Almighty had been pleased to form, was equal to the undertaking. None of the inhabitants of heaven, either among holy angels or the spirits of just men made perfect, could open the book ; nor could any of the inhabitants of this lower world perform it; and, indeed, if none among the bright intelligences of the skies were qualified for the undertaking, it was not to be expected, that one qualified for the service would be found in any of the ranks of being which inhabit this earth. John, though greatly beloved, and more intimately acquainted with the mind of God, than any in his day, was as little qualified as other men to look directly and immediately into the secret will and purpose of God, or to execute his designs. For any thing that John or others could accomplish, the contents of the book would have remained for ever profound secrets to the whole human family.—Neither could the inhabitants under the earth make the disclosure. By those under the earth may be understood, devils and damned human spirits. If none of the inhabitants of the two regions formerly mentioned were equal to the task, it would be vain to expect, that it could be performed by one that might come either from hell or from the
grave. Whatever might be the contents of the book, John was persuaded, that it contained matter which was deeply interesting to the church, and which it was of great importance for her to know. And the more her interest was at heart with him, the more he was desirous to know what this book contained. Every circumstance here was fitted to work upon his public spirit, and increase his desire to know its contents; but, as all the different orders of being had been challenged to make the disclosure, and no one had been found competent for the task, there appeared to be little probability that his wishes would be gratified. He was therefore oppressed with sorrow, and gave vent to the keen anguish of his spirit, in a flood of tears, as stated in verse 4: And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.
John did not weep, because his curiosity was not likely to be gratified, but because it appeared as if the church were to be denied a revelation of things, the knowledge of which would have been of the most essential advantage to her. So far as his sorrow proceeded from this generous principle, it is much to be commended; but, in other respects, it was extremely reprehensible. He had been addressed by a voice from heaven, assuring him, that he would be shewn things which must be hereafter. What reason had he now to doubt of the disclosure? Though neither angels nor men could open the book, Jesus, the Mediator and Interpreter, one among & thousand, was every way qualified for the undertaking; and as his heart never was indifferent about the interests of the church, he was in readiness to make a full disclosure of all that was necessary for her, in this militant state, to know. So far as this sorrow sprung from inattention to the office or character of Christ, it was extremely culpable.-But, as the design of the vision was to unfold the mediatorial character and work of Christ, John had no sooner fallen into this state of despondency, than he was relieved and strengthened, by an assurance, that all that he so passionately desired would be granted. The work which no mere creature could accomplish, the Son of God, the Root of David, the Lion of the Tribe of Juda, would perform.
Ver. 5, And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not : behold, the Lion of the Tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. This minister of consolation was one of the elders. Though John was an intelligent and able minister of the word, he is nevertheless represented as having received both instruction and consolation through the medium of a private church-member. There is nothing unnatural in the representation ; for on many points, both of doctrine and experience, private Christians may be much wiser than their teachers. Apollos was mighty in the Scriptures ; there were nevertheless some articles, and these of great importance in the system of truth, with which Aquila and Priscilla were better acquainted ; and in full consistency with their inferiority of station, as private members of the church, they took him aside, and acted the part of instructors to him. Acts xviii. 26. To this day, private Christians often prove the best instructors to those in public office. At the bed of the sick, and especially at the bed of the dying, ministers will sometimes acquire more correct and enlarged views of the truth of religion, the power, and sovereignty, and absolute freedom of the grace of God, the strength of corruption, the deceitfulness of sin, the wiles of Satan, the fiery darts of that adversary, and the contest between faith and unbelief,—than the labour and study of ages could have afforded. And through the same medium, some of the purest and most generous of their consolations are received. How pleasing to see any happy fruits of their ministrations ! How encouraging to proceed in their work, when they see that they have already been the honoured instruments of bringing souls to the Saviour, or of confirming and establishing any of the saints in their most holy faith!
That this elder should be qualified to give information, even to an apostle, need not be matter of surprise, if you keep in mind the circumstances in which John was placed, when he met with him. The scene of the vision is laid in heaven; and, as if a certain number of the spirits of just men made perfect had been selected to represent their brethren upon the earth, this kindred spirit, seated upon his throne in the heavens, was certainly much more intelligent than any prophet or apostle of the militant church. He is no doubt the hieroglyphic of the members of the church on earth; but as the symbol is selected from the members of the church triumphant, we must conceive of his attainments, in accordance with the state of perfection at which the spirits of just men departed have arrived. To John the scene was quite new; he had never been in heaven before ; but it was otherwise with his instructor; he was a residenter in the place, and might therefore be qualified to give information respecting many things with which John was little acquainted.
He first addressed him in the way of caution ; Weep not, said he. It is as if he had said, There is no just cause of sorrow, much less that you should be overwhelmed with it; you cannot indulge this temper but at the expense of dishonouring Him who was in the bosom of the Father from eternity, who is intimately acquainted with all his designs, and who is equally willing and able to disclose them, and to carry them into execution. What though no angel in heaven, nor any of the spirits of just men made perfect, be able for this great undertaking ; so long as Zion's counsellor is not perished, so long as her Almighty King is in the midst of her, all necessary disclosures will be made, and all that relates to the plan of the Divine government will be carried into effect. There is then no occasion for grief or despair ; dry up your tears, and be no longer sad; prepare to listen to the song which is just about to be sung.