A Sermon Preached By Walter Brooke On Lord’s Day Evening, May 5th, 1907
In any remarks I made this morning respecting the conflicting opinions of men, I did not for one moment cast any uncharitable reflections upon honest efforts to obtain a clue to the exposition of those wonderful symbols given in the book of the Revelation as regards the Church’s passage through her state of trial and toil to her eventual triumph in her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It would be very unbecoming of me to do so.
But I do say this, that it needs much heavenly wisdom and divine understanding to come to conclusions as it regards the times that are therein mentioned. You will notice the 18th verse of the 13th chapter which I have already read in your hearing. “Here,” saith the inspired penman, “is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast.”
My judgment leans to a careful historical exposition of this book. That means very great labour in fixing a judgment, but I believe it is the only safe line of interpretation to proceed upon,—a careful investigation of the Church’s history from the days of the apostles till the present.
But, however, I am not to deal so much with the general line of things, as I said this morning, as to proceed to open a little, as God may enable, the symbol in my text. Evidently this chapter and the one following speak of the ultimate, victorious, glorified condition of the Church of Jesus Christ, and among other very blessed statements made respecting the felicity of those who are privileged to enter in through the gates into this blessed city is” that of my text—” there was no more sea.”
Now, I opened up a little this morning, or tried to do so, of what the sea represents. And one thing I spoke of was that it sets forth that which is dark to us, incomprehensible, mysterious, and unfathomable. And, my dear friends, the Apostle Paul—the preacher next to our Lord Jesus Christ I call him—favoured with so comprehensive a view of the nature and mission of the work of the Lord Jesus, as he ponders some of the things in connection with the grace of Christ, has to come to this conclusion: “How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” (Rom 11:33). And it will be so. O what little views those people have who think they can sit down and in a very few hours sum up what a divine revelation is! Why, the more the things of God are looked into by spiritual intelligence and by living faith, the more incomprehensible and unfathomable they become; and the more God’s dealings are sought out by those who have pleasure therein, the more wonderful and past all human reasoning they will become.
God is great to His people, Infinite to those who are humbled by His grace, and how truly Dr. Watts summed it up for us,—
“The more Thy glories strike my eye,
The humbler I shall lie.”
But then I went on to describe a little of the sea as an emblem to us of that which is devouring and unmanageable, and I just mentioned that perhaps the afflictions, persecutions, distresses that have arisen in the Church of Christ may be set forth here, together with the various heresies that have devastated her for a time, and seemed to leave for a season the fruitful field a barren wilderness; something like that scene you get depicted in the 8oth Psalm, where it speaks of the vine that God has brought out of Egypt, which He carefully planted and tended and gave it room, so that it sent out goodly boughs. And then we read the wild boar of the wood got into this garden of God and laid it waste, so that it seemed nothing but, for the time being, a barren wilderness, and the Church in her desolation and humiliation cries out, “Return, we beseech Thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold and visit this vine.”
That is a mysterious thing to us, a thing we cannot reckon in order according to our poor rules of thinking, how God should leave the Church at times to be so downtrodden and persecuted, how He should permit such terrible heresies and blasphemies to arise which seem for the time being to lead men away entirely from the things that He has revealed. So, I say, the sea, that which is devouring, which is unmanageable, sets forth those turbulent scenes that take place in the Church.
III. But again, the sea sets forth that which is of a restless and raging nature; the waters thereof, when troubled, cast up their mire and dirt. For instance, you read in the prophecy of Isaiah (57:20), “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.” And what an emblem this is of the agitation and the unrest of man as a rebel before God! A nature which cannot be subject to the wise laws and regulations of God but, as soon as it realises those prohibitions, rises in all its fury against God who reigns above. Here is man’s natural state set forth as a rebel and an alien.
We do not want to go far for illustration. You cannot pass many days or weeks in this wilderness state, can you, without realizing that that passage I have quoted really sets forth your natural condition? “O,” say you, “there is no nature on earth more wicked than mine, there is none more naturally rebellious against the law of God than mine, and when lashed, as it were, into fury by the temptations of the wicked one playing upon it, it does cast up its mire and dirt indeed.”
What you want then is to realize what we read of in the first verse of the next chapter: “And He showed me”— note that! only by divine manifestation can we get at it!— “a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” O, what a rest to the spirit when our eyes are taken away from this restless view of our agitated condition, that we can no more conquer by any efforts of our own or human reasoning than we can still the restless waves of the angry sea—when, I say, our eyes are taken from that turbulent scene of the oppositions of the flesh, and we are enabled to stand on the brink of this “pure river of water of life” proceeding majestically ever onward, what a change! W e can see something of what grows along its banks. I think that is a very beautiful passage which fits in here, in the 46th Psalm, “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God,” and if you carefully read the verses preceding that passage, you will find that it also is in connection with great natural convulsions. “Though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea,” says the psalmist, though all nature becomes agitated, “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God;” setting forth the peace of God, the love of God, flowing on unmoved by this restlessness of human passion and human opposition, and one sip of that pure river, O how healing! how refreshing! amidst all we realize of the native inbred corruption, agitation, and turbulent rebellion of our sin-polluted nature. The sea, then, sets forth that which is restless and agitated.
IV. Then, my dear friends, the sea also represents to us that which divides. How many there are who have dear ones divided from them by the sea, and consequently all communication for the time being is cut off, and yet God in His infinite mercy and kindness to us causes, by the wisdom He has given to His creatures, that even that which naturally divides from one another should be a means of communication one to another. So, we may say, this sets forth the snapping sometimes of earthly ties. For one thing, death is compared to the river which separates one from another, and yet how God in His mercy sometimes orders it that that which naturally divides, death, shall be the means in His blessed hands, by His divine love and wonder-working wisdom, of bringing into operation that which is spiritual, which never can be divided.
Not only the snapping of earthly ties and relationships perhaps may be intimated here, but also that which divides between God’s people as His people. O how the enemy gets between the faithful sometimes! those who are really brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ. And for a time being it seems as though there is quite a separation, and the enemy gloats over this division; but, my dear friends, real union—I have often felt this—real spiritual union can never be really severed, and when God brings about the re-union, to the defeating of the great enemy and the undoing of his efforts to destroy, and to darken, and to confuse and perplex, then we feel that sometimes God has over-ruled the very things that have divided for the humiliation of our spirits, and the bringing into operation of a firmer union in the things of His grace. The sea, then, represents to us that which divides.
V. Then it also sets forth, I take it, that which is treacherous and unreliable. When we set out on a voyage on the sea we never know what we shall meet with before we get to the haven. It may be as calm and smooth as glass when you start, but in a very few hours it may be just the reverse ; the waves may rise mountains high, showing us how the creation is entirely out of the management of human hands and wisdom; and who can say nay to it when God brings it into operation? That which is treacherous and unreliable. And can we call the things beneath the sun anything better than this?
O how changing are the scenes of our earthly life! How many “gourds” some of us have seen withered! How many things that have promised us good cheer, and content, and peace, and enjoyment, have slipped from our grasp! How that which we have promised to ourselves should be long continued has been indeed fleeting! So I say it sets forth the unreliable, changing condition of all things that have been tainted by sin. Everything beneath the sun has vanity stamped thereon.
Not only so, but it may be that some of you have known what the sea means in your experience too, having to prove treachery in those in whom you have trusted. Perhaps there are some here this evening who can sympathise with the man after God’s own heart, and say, “It was thou, a man mine equal” (Ps 55:13). Had it been an enemy I could have borne it. I should not have minded so much, I should have stood the shock better because I should have been somewhat looking for it, but when the treachery, and the difficulty and opposition arises from one in whom I have trusted, “My familiar friend hath lifted up his heel against me” (Ps 41:9), this seems hard indeed. Here we have the following on of the emblem, then. That which is treacherous and unreliable. And there is only one who deserves to be trusted freely and fully, and that is the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
VI. Then the sea also sets forth, according to the Word of God, that position where leviathan plays. You read in 104th Psalm, “So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts. There go the ships, there is that leviathan whom Thou hast made to play therein” (verses 25,26). And is not this a figure of our great enemy? O what power at times he is permitted to have! How he rises, as it were, out of the sea by the raising up of that which is contrary to the truth of God, contrary to the Church of God. As I read in 13th chapter 1st verse this evening, “I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns.”
Perhaps that may mean the Papal power. I am not deciding this evening, but whatever it represents in detail, in principle it means a ferocious, determined opposition to the Church of Christ and the truth of God, that which is blasphemous to the Most High.
The great enemy in this sin-polluted, changing condition is at work in all the ways I have been trying to describe, making the deep, as it were, to “boil like a pot” (Job 41:31), causing everything to be confused and agitated, and all with the design of wrecking the Church of Christ. But the leviathan is under the management of Him who created him, and although God asks Job when he appears what he is going to do with him, how he will tame him, unarm him, bring him under, yet His own prerogative is to destroy that which He Himself has created; yea, He said to Israel of old (changing the figure, but the truth remaining the same), He said to Israel in the days of trial and tribulation, “I created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work, and I have created the waster to destroy” (Is 54:16). Not one of the enemies of the Church can carry out their intentions, not one thing can move against the saints of the Most High but by My Own divine, express permission. And O that precious promise! “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper ; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord.” The sea, then, is emblematical, according to the word of truth, of those details I have been trying to set forth.
But I want now to turn your attention to another representation. “There was no more sea,” John says; that is, all that is confused, all that is dark and impenetrable, all that is of an opposite character to the Church of God, there is nothing of it to be found. But in the 15th chapter I read a most blessed description of the Church of God in heaven. “I saw,” he says, “as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire; and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.” Here again expositors are divergent in opening this symbol, and therefore in my simplicity I must say a few words to you of what it seems to me to represent. I would not be dogmatic in what I say, and the Lord God only can reveal that to us which shall be profitable and helpful spiritually.
And it seems to me in this “sea of glass,” this solid thing, altogether opposite to what we have been considering of the restless uncertainty and so forth of things, here is something fixed, solid, that the Church of Christ stands upon before the throne of the Eternal. And don’t you think that the Holy Ghost may possibly here in this figure lead John’s mind back to the laver in the temple’s service that stood outside the holy place, where the priests who went in to minister went to cleanse themselves? You see in the Bible a smaller quantity of water is sometimes called a “sea.” And if we admit that the imagery in that way is connected with the ancient service which God instituted in Israel, then, my dear friends, what have we less here than the precious blood of Christ? the atonement, that which the Church of Christ can stand upon before the eternal God. A solid foundation,—the one solid foundation, “For there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ.” When we speak of Jesus Christ the Saviour, do we not immediately speak of Him who is the Mediator of the better covenant, who has made peace by the blood of His cross? who has enabled poor sinners, by the peace that He has procured, to stand before God consistent with the honour, the truth, the justice, and the majesty of God?
“A sea of glass,” a solid thing, pure as crystal. And “mingled with fire,” denoting that the justice and majesty of God, as well as the mercy of God, meet in reference to the atonement of God’s dear Son. This is a simple declaration of my own thoughts upon the subject, and I must leave it to your consideration. I feel I cannot hope to stand before the throne to sing the song of Moses and the Lamb upon any other foundation.
“Mercy through blood is all my plea,
O God, be merciful to me.”
Now, my dear friends, in conclusion, What do we realise of these things? They were shown to the Apostle John in the Isle of Patmos. Heaven was opened to him; “A door in heaven opened,” he tells us. We can get it in no other way today but by divine teaching, by waiting upon God and learning out in His own way, “here a little and there a little,” the precious realities that these things set forth. And as we ponder these things sometimes, do we feel a desire to know a little more of the heavenly nature of them here below? of these secret things of the Church’s victory over the beast, the Church’s triumph in her Head, stirring up a living desire to participate in these victories? And do we feel that if we have a name and a place among those who received the mark of the Father’s name in their foreheads we shall have all that is necessary to make us happy eternally? You know those who have not the mark of the Father’s name have the mark of the beast. There is nothing between. We have one or the other of these marks upon us. You know what the word said I read just now, what comes of all those whose names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life—for that is the sweeping declaration of divine truth, that everyone receiveth the mark of the beast but those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. What is the issue of this? What is the end of it—receiving the mark of the beast? The lake of fire! “No rest day nor night for those who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.”
So that you see the subject is of the most vital kind. O that, therefore, when we sit down to contemplate these solemn things we may feel the need of begging and intreating for divine, sacred witness that we have passed under the rod of God’s covenant, that we have entered into the sheepfold by the door, of which the Lord Jesus says, “I am the door; by Me if any man enter in he shall be saved, and shall go in and out and find pasture ” (John 10:9).
Now I feel I would like to say a word or two in reference to our dear departed friend whom we have upon our minds today.
It was my privilege to visit him in the midst of affliction and fiery trial, and to hear from his lips statements of self-denunciation, self-abegnation, the language of spiritual need ; that holy jealousy lest there should be deception in any way; and then when God’s comforts came, raising a sweet and blessed hope in the soul of participation in the victory of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, O what joy and pleasure there was in witnessing of it!
I hope never to forget one season I had with him, when he told me of a very sweet way in which the Lord made him know a little of His peace, and its sweet effects, in granting him relief from the days of adversity, and enabling him to rest in His loving arms. And so we sorrow not today as those who are without hope, but we feel that it is a removal from where the sea agitates, where the sea divides, to that place where there is no more sea, where there is no more opposition, no more pain.
O that as our dear friends depart from us heaven may become nearer to us in personal contemplation. Sometimes I sit down in my simple way and think really that heaven seems a little nearer to me than it did twenty years ago. I have seen so many of my dear friends pass the river, and they have told of the faithfulness of Jesus, and of His care and kindness in lifting them above their fears, that you know, when we think of them as having gained the victory through the blood of the Lamb, there seems to be a keener apprehension of that heavenly rest and peace.
O that it may be ours this evening to search after these blessed realities of eternal life as for hidden treasure, and to rest not in any deceptive comforts—may God forbid that!—but to press on for clear, undoubted evidence of the Spirit of God in our souls that we stand by faith now upon that sure foundation which God has laid in Zion, that, when the last great enemy, death, shall have to be faced, we shall realize that it is swallowed up in victory.
I leave these few poor, straggling remarks, for such I feel they have been. May the Lord bless them to your souls and get honour and glory to His own eternal name, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.