Project Canterbury

Sermons on the Apocalypse, the Holy Name, and the Proverbs

by John Mason Neale.

London: J.T. Hayes, 1871.


Preached on Low Sunday, 1863.


"And they sing the song of Moses the servant of GOD, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are Thy works, LORD GOD Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of Saints. Who shall not fear Thee, O LORD, and glorify Thy name? for Thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before Thee; for Thy judgments are made manifest. And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in Heaven was opened: and the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles"--REV. xv. 3-6.

WE have come to the other extremity of the glorious Easter rainbow. The Feast of the LORD'S Resurrection is over: the Octave, "Because I live, ye shall live also," takes its place. And so in the text we hear of those songs and of that music, of those victors, those happy palm-bearers, who are keeping the true Feast of Tabernacles: who with joy and gladness have been brought, and have entered into the King's Palace. And we hear too of the mighty tribulation through which they passed: how they got the victory over the fourfold enemy, over the Wild Beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name. That Antichrist, who, conquered, the warfare of the Church will be accomplished, her iniquity pardoned: that image, no doubt some devilish caricature of the miracle of the Resurrection; and his mark and his name, the impressing of which, whatever it may be, will bring on the final persecution. It is worth while to notice how, from the very beginning, Satan has seemed to exult in imitating GOD'S miracles: as when Jannes and Jambres cast down their rods, and they were turned into serpents; or changed water into blood, or brought forth frogs on the land. So, as the greater number of holy writers piously believe, that deadly wound of the wild beast which was healed, will be a diabolical parody of the Resurrection. For it goes on directly, "All the world wondered after the wild beast;" as if that were the crowning, the stupendous miracle, which clinched his authority. And notice: as we are marked in our foreheads with the LORD'S sign, so will his unhappy servants be with the mark of the wild beast; and as the promise to him that over-cometh was the white stone and the new Name, the LORD'S new and everlasting Name, written on it, so must the others have the wild beast's name r or (and time only will show what is the difference), the mark of his name. Owing to that unhappy division into chapters, you may never have noticed the antithesis in these, at the end of the thirteenth and at the beginning of the fourteenth: "And he caused all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with Him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads."

And yet once more. Notice how the acclamations on earth, "Who is like unto the Wild Beast? Who can make war with him?" find their counterpart in the triumphal hymn of Heaven, "Who shall not fear Thee, O LORD, and glorify Thy Name?"

It is not useless, my Sisters, to look on to that time of terrible tribulation, when the fountains of the great deep of temptation will be broken, and to the victors that even over that shall conquer; and then to look back to our own little trials, and consider how we, who so often fail now, could hope to stand then? It is very probable, after all, that the famous number, six hundred and sixty-six, is only a type of concentrated and supernatural temptation; six being, as we have often seen, the number of temptation. Doubtless it may also have reference to some especial name; but that the other meaning was intended to be there also, I can hardly doubt. A fearful thought: these daily trials, these petty temptations, these fearful assaults of Satan are the same in kind, and only different in degree, with that final trial of which the terror is so great that, except those days were shortened, no flesh could be saved; that GOD has but to relax for one moment the chains which hold Satan, and he would fall on us, as he will fall on them. It is as with the inhabitants of a volcanic country; subject, every now and then, to slight shocks of earthquakes, foretelling that terrible eruption, which, though they little think it, is some day to overwhelm their country.

But now, "If ye then be risen with CHRIST, seek those things which are above." It is a marvellous thing, that, while they fully make good what S. Paul tells us, that it is impossible for one who had been admitted for awhile into heaven, to explain to earthly minds what he had seen, yet that (if I may use the word without irreverence) those sketches of heavenly scenery should, while so mysterious, have such ravishing beauty. Here, for example, "The sea of glass mingled with fire;" there, in that description in Exodus, when the elders saw the GOD of Israel, "There was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of Heaven in his clearness:" or again, in Ezekiel: "The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness; and the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creatures was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above." Ah me! Sometimes, when I speak to you of that next world, and realize to myself that some of you (some, who have listened to me here, as you now), know what it is; have given in their account, perhaps are present here, adoring that Body of their LORD and ours, which now they can never again receive: I think with what a kind of tender pity they must hear what I say, they must enter into what we all feel. "That the happy world? These the good things prepared?" It must indeed, my Sisters, be the wonder:--"Oh how could we have imagined, in our wildest imagination, that only which is so utterly below the reality!"

And, about the sea of glass. Notice: there was but One, Who, in this world, walked even on the sea: His one follower, who so desired to walk,--we know how his attempt ended. But, put the whole mystery together--the boundlessness of the sea, the transparency of the glass, the brilliance of the fire. I remember once when, in one of the narrow sea-straits that divide the little islands of Denmark, I was voyaging this way and that way a whole summer day, with nothing to do, but to lean over the boat-side, and to watch how the glorious rays of the sun shot in through the pure green sea, working out those ripples of gold and emerald which no earthly words can describe: how the sight brought to my mind that true sea; that sea, glorious in its boundlessness, and in its depth, but which yet has the element of fire added to it, and perhaps some little thing more of that Future Kingdom was then made known to me.

Then, they shall not pass over it; then they shall not say, "LORD, if it be Thou, bid me that I come unto Thee upon the water." No: then they shall stand on the infinite abysses of GOD'S judgments: shall see how all things have worked together for good to them that love GOD; shall perceive how all the waves of this troublesome world were bearing them onwards to the calm of the Everlasting Port; and that, with the clearness of the glass; that, with the love of the fire. They stand on the sea of glass.

And they sing--what song? The song of Moses; and not only that, but of Moses the servant of GOD, and of the Lamb. Yes! it is a wonderful testimony to the oneness of the two worlds. That we are one, we and they, in some sort, we know: as a holy man of old says, "So far as I can judge, they who, by the infinite mercy of GOD, enter into that Kingdom, will be astonished at this above all things, how things earthly are but the types of things heavenly. But," he continues, (for he was speaking to a Religious House) "whether that or not, what matters? If only we attain it, whether in the transfiguration of our old way of seeking Him, or in a new life in, and to Him, why should we care?"

But, a little more yet. The song of Moses: Of Moses: with what title? The servant of GOD. As if we were thereby taught that all these hymns, all this ritual, is not of earth, earthly, only: GOD forbid!

More or less:

"The Church on earth, with answering love
Echoes her mother's joys above."

[The train of thought thus abruptly broken off, is thus carried on in another unpublished Sermon:]

Can we doubt then that there is a marvellous analogy between the service of the two? especially when we know that even now they sing the song of Moses and of the Lamb. One then of our Canticles they do employ: why not more? Music we know they have; the temple music was from the pattern of that, as ours from the temple; and surely, if it were only for the remotest possibility that our tones are some faint shadowings out of the celestial harmonies, and that when we come to the other side, we shall but find their transfiguration, is not that a reason for clinging to them with all our strength?

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