It would afford us much pleasure to be able to explain satisfactorily all the scriptures which are presented by our readers, who ask for our views on them. Frequently, however, the subjects on which we are requested to enlighten others prove to be the same on which we feel sensible that we are also in the dark. We, however, sometimes attempt to give some views on passages in the scriptures under an embarrassing consciousness of our utter inability to do justice to the subject; but hoping that what we write may be carefully and prayerfully compared with the standard of truth; and only received so far as it is clearly sustained by the word and spirit of our divine Lord and Master. We feel that a weighty responsibility rests on us. What we write is read by thousands - some of whom are very babes in the kingdom - some are weak, but confiding, and may, perhaps, be misguided, and led to form wrong conclusions from what we write; and a sense of our own liability to err in these important matters would deter us from writing at all, if it were not a settled truth that God has used the weak things of this world for the comfort and edification of his children; and that frequently a word spoken in fear and much trembling has been directed by the gracious Spirit of truth to the comfort of the little ones of the spiritual household.
There is much expressed in this chapter on which we would not dare at this time to offer any comments; and on the verses named by our sister we will not attempt to give a full explanation. What we may be enabled to write, we wish to have regarded only as general remarks, showing just what is asked for, namely, Our views on the text. Whether our views are right or wrong, the text can not be wrong. The scriptures are inspired by the Holy Ghost, and are the infallible truth of God. What we may think of them, though we greatly desire to entertain only correct views, is liable to be incorrect. Just so far, but no further, as we are taught their meaning by the Spirit that inspired them, we are right; and God will himself vindicate and sustain his own truth as taught by his Spirit.
The language of our text is awfully grand and sublime. "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat upon it from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away: and there was found no place for them." This throne is undoubtedly the one of which our Redeemer spake when he said, "When the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory," he would put his sheep on his right hand, and say unto them, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." It was mentioned in Old Testament prophecy as a glorious high throne from the beginning, and the place of the sanctuary of the saints of God. In the second Psalm God has said, "Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion." And again unto the Son he saith, "Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever." It is here presented to the vision of John as a great throne, signifying its boundless power in heaven and in earth; power over all flesh, and power over sin, death, hell and the grave; power to do all his pleasure in all the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of earth. A special allusion may here be intended to his having taken to him his great power and had reigned in the destruction of the beast and of the false prophet, and all the powers of darkness. This throne is not only great, but it is white, which is emblematic of immaculate purity. The King presiding upon it "reigns in righteousness." The sceptre of his kingdom is a right sceptre. He loves righteousness and he hates iniquity, and therefore, he is crowned with the oil of gladness above his fellows. Justice and judgment are the habitation of this throne, and, therefore, righteousness and truth goes before the face of its august occupant. Could all the records of time and eternity be searched with an omniscient scrutiny, not a spot of wrong, not a blemish of injustice could be fastened upon this great white throne. This throne, or power, is the almighty power of God, and it has always been a great white throne; but perhaps never before so fully manifested to men in the flesh as when John, on this occasion, saw it. He saw not a vacant throne, or a throne unoccupied; but he saw him that sat upon it: the King Eternal, Immortal, Invisible, the Only wise God our Savior. He saw the only and blessed Potentate, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, who only hath immortality dwelling in the light; whom no man hath seen, nor can see; whom no man can approach unto, to whom be honor and power everlasting. Amen. (I Tim. 6:16)
"From whose face the earth and the heaven fled away." How supremely gloriously must he be, from whose presence earth and heaven recedes, and vanishes away! What must be the transcendent glory, which at once puts out the sun, the moon, the stars, and wipes out at once the glory of the earth and skies. When he appears, what little things these worlds become; they seem as less than nothing and vanity. The fleeing away of the earth and heaven may be considered in a three-fold application.
First - In relation to the figurative elements, or rather the terms as figuratively used throughout this vision of John in which the earth has been so generally used to signify all religious, and religious institutions which have not their origin in God; and the heaven is used to denote the militant church, where Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and from which the dragon was vanquished, drawing with his tail the third part of the stars of this heaven, which were with him cast into earth. The scene presented here to John shows the consummation of the militant, (or warfare state of the church). She comes up out of all her great tribulations, and appears now as a bride adorned and fully prepared for her husband. At his appearance all the jarring elements of the old man and the new man, flesh and spirit, church and world, truth and error, at once are driven away, like shades of night when the rising sun appears.
Second - Whenever and wherever a revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ is made, experimentally, on his great white throne, the earth and heaven recedes from our view, and there is no place found for them. When he was transfigured on the mount the disciples were so fully enraptured that they had no room in their full hearts for any thing more. They were unconscious of any thing more than what they saw. They were cut loose from the world and the elements thereof, and so totally eclipsed by the surpassing glory of his presence, they fled away. So Paul, when caught up to the paradise of God, and saw the splendor of the eternal throne, was released for the time being from a consciousness of the elements of this world. So Stephen, when to his faith the heavens were opened, seemed totally indifferent to the tortures inflicted upon his body, lost sight of personal injuries so madly heaped on him, and in an ecstasy cried, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And so in the experience of all the saints, just in proportions as Jesus is clearly revealed to our faith, and we are enabled to gaze upon the great white throne, and him that sits thereon, we are absorbed in the vision, and dismiss the world with its vanities, having no place for them under such happy circumstances. But,
Lastly - This language is used in connection with the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, and shall be fully realized when our God shall come in the glory of his majesty to raise the dead and judge the world, at the last day. The awful grandeur of that scene, who shall describe? The heavens shall be rolled together like a scroll - the elements of nature shall melt with fervent heat, and like a vesture shall they be folded and laid aside - the earth and sea shall be consumed, and there shall no place be found for them. If it were possible for the saints to take this world to heaven with them, it would only be in their way; it is in their way now; but Glory to God, in the highest, there shall no place be found for it in that bright world to which we go. Christ will be all in all, and not a saint in glory shall find in him a vacant place where he could store away the world, or room to set up a single idol.
"Had I a view of thee, my God!
Kingdoms and men would vanish soon;
Vanish as though I saw them not,
As a dim candle dies at noon."
"And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God." This seems to indicate a general resurrection of all mankind. The sea and death, and hell, or the grave, as the word hell in this place evidently means, delivered up the dead that were in them; so that without discrimination, the small and the great, alike are amenable to God, and all shall come forth at this call, obey his summons just as John saw them. In reality the dead and all the living always were before God, that is, they were always in his presence, or where he had a perfect knowledge of them; but this subject seems to manifest them as brought before his judgment throne, without distinction of grace or position, the small as well as the great; none so great as to claim exemption, none so small as to be overlooked.
"And the books were opened, and another book, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books according to their works." Finite beings require books and records to preserve a testimony of facts, because we are liable to forget; but God is infinite, and all things are naked and open to the view of him with whom we have to do; consequently we understand the books to be figuratively used in this subject. The purpose and fore-ordination of God is spoken of as a book in a figurative sense. "Lo I come, in the volume of the book it is written of me, to do thy will, O God." The Book mentioned in the tenth chapter which was sealed, and none could unseal it or look upon it until the Lion of the tribe of Juda prevailed, was evidently metaphorical; and the unsealing of it signified the development of those things which are presented in this Book of Revelation. The books which are mentioned in our text seem to signify that God has an accurate and exact knowledge of all things. The secrets of all hearts are perfectly known to him, and when he shall disclose them, it will be like the opening of volumes in which all secrets of all ages are recorded. As the poet sings -
"Chain'd to his throne a volume lies,
With all the fates of men;
With every angers form and size
Drawn by the eternal pen."
Again, the books may signify the books of the scriptures, the book of the law which we have transgressed, and the judgments and decisions which are recorded in all the scriptures, in which we are told that "He that believeth not is condemned already, and the wrath of God abideth on him." Paul says, "God will judge the world according to my gospel;" or as we understand him to mean, according to the testimony which Paul and other inspired men had before testified. So we may rest assured that however blind men may be as to the bearing of the divine testimony on this matter, in the final development which shall ultimately be made, the books shall be opened. The dead shall be judged out of those things, or according to those things, which are written in the books. We think no intelligent christians will dispute that the final and everlasting destiny of all men, both saints and sinners, will be in exact accordance with the testimony already written in the books of the inspired scriptures. No sinner will be doomed to hell but such as the scriptures already testify shall perish; nor will any be permitted to the blissful mansions of eternal day but those who are born again. Who all these are, none can tell, until the eternal Judge shall open the books, only so far as the saints have, by revelation of the spirit, been sealed, and have received the earnest of their incorruptible inheritance above. The judgment disclosed by the opening of the books of the Eternal Judge will be according to their works. The works of all unregenerate men are works of darkness, works of iniquity, works of the flesh, and by these works they now show that they are dead in sins, under the curse of the divine law, and unless the opening of the gospel book shall disclose some works which are wrought in Christ for them and in them, they must certainly perish. If the tree is made good the fruits thereof will be good, and so witness the quality of the tree. But if the tree be evil, as all of us are by nature, if not made good by the cleansing blood of Jesus, and the quickening power of the Holy Spirit, the fruits will show that they are nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned. And when the sea shall deliver up its dead, and death and the grave shall deliver up their dead, they shall be judged, every man according to his works. Those who work for life, being dead, their works also are dead works, and they are called workers of iniquity. No man can bring a clean thing out of an unclean. It will not be denied that they have worked, but it shall assuredly be said to them, "Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity." And all the saints whose works are wrought in God, and in whose hearts God has worked, both to will and to do of his own good pleasure, it shall as certainly be said, "Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."
"And death and hell (or the grave) were cast into the lake of fire. The last enemy to Christ and his people that shall be destroyed is death. Christ has destroyed death, and him that had the power of death; that is, the devil. O! death, I will be thy plague! O! grave (or hell), I will be thy destruction! Repentance shall be hid from mine eyes! He shall swallow up death in victory, and the resurrected saints shall put on immortality, and sing, "O! death, where is thy sting? O! grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law; but thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." The lake of fire into which death and the grave shall be cast, signify by strong figurative words their utter destruction. As fire is the most destructive element in nature, it is used to signify this final destruction.
"This is the second death." According to what is written in this chapter, in the fourth, fifth, and sixth verses, there is a first death, in which the just as well as the unjust participate; the death of our mortal bodies is alike. But the saints are, by participation in the first resurrection, delivered from the effects of the first death; that is, they have secured to them a happy resurrection, in immortal and spiritual bodies on which the second death can have no power.
"And whosoever was not found written in the book of life, was cast into the lake of fire." This book of life is the same which in the former part of our text is called "Another book, which is the book of life." It is also called the Lamb's book of life, written from the foundation of the world. And again it is called the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. It is an ancient record; and all who on the opening of the books shall be found written in the Lamb's Book of Life are secure from the power of the second death. But all whose names are not so written in the Lamb's Book of Life, whatever else they may have relied upon for acceptance before the great white throne and before him who sits thereon, from whose face the earth and heaven fled away, shall, with death and hell, be cast into the lake of fire; that is, they shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.
We do not assume that this text has no allusion in its figurative design, to things which shall transpire before the final consummation of all earthly things; but we have given such views as we have, and pray that God may give us all that bright and more perfect understanding that we need, in due time.
February 15, 1862.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 5
Pages 140 - 147