The Face of the Deep (1.3)

I continue here with Christina Rossetti’s The Face of the Deep: A Devotional Commentary on the Apocalypse (London: SPCK, 1892). The other entries are found in the Poetry category in the right column.

3. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein, for the time is at hand.
“Understandest thou what thou readest?” asked Philip the Deacon of the Ethiopian Eunuch. And he said, “How can I, except some man should guide me?” Whereupon flowed forth to him the stream of light, knowledge, and love. Yet not then did his illumination commence: it already was his in a measure to enjoy, respond to, improve, even before his father in God preaced Christ unto him. What could he do before that moment? He could study and pray, he could cherish hope, exercise love, feel after Him Whom as yet he could not intelligently find.

So much at least we all can do who read, or who hear, this Book of Revelations: thus claiming, and by God’s bounty inheriting, the covenanted blessing of such readers and hearers. Any who pray and love enjoy already no stinted blessing. Even the will to love is love.

A reader and hearers stand in graduated degrees of knowledge or of ignorance, as the case may be. The reader studying at first hand is in direct contact with God’s Word: hearers seek instruction of God through men. The reader requires most gifts: hearers may exercise fully as much grace. Most of us are hearers: having performed conscientiously the duty of hearers, we shall be the less prone to make mistakes if ever providentially promoted to be readers. Our dearest Lord, Who deigned to become the patters nf every grade of aspirant, as a Boy showed hearers how to hear (St. Luke ii. 46, 47); and as a Man showed readers how to read (St. Luke iv. 16—27).

Lord, I am feeble and of mean account;
Thou Who dost condescend as well as mount,
   Stoop Thou Thyself to me
And grant me grace to hear and grace to see.

Lord, if Thou grant me grace to hear and see
Thy very Self Who stoopest thus to me,
   I make but slight account
Of aught beside wherein to sink or mount.

It suffices not to read or to hear the words of this prophecy, except we also “keep those things which are written therein.” How keep them? One part in one way, another part in another: the commandments by obedience, the mysteries by thoughtful reception; as blessed Mary, herself a marvel, kept mysterious intimations vouchsafed to her, and pondered them in her heart. Yet never had she gone on in pursuit of all mysteries and all knowledge if she had not first answered in simple obedience: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy Word.”

O bountiful Lord, to Whom they do the will of God are as brother and sister and mother, number us in that blessed company, that here we may obey and suffer as Thy patient exiles, and hereafter rule and rejoice as Thy nearest and dearest.

“Blessed are they . . . for the time is at hand.” Even now, eighteen centuries later, we know not when that cry shall be made, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet Him.” Nevertheless the time was then at hand, for so the Bible certifies us, and still must it be at hand. What time? Doubtless the time of fulfilment after fulfilment until all be fulfilled. Likewise also that (so to say) secondary time when each one of us, having done with mortal life and probation, shall await judgment. For truly the end of all flesh is at hand, whether or not we possess faith to realize how a thousand years and one day are comparable in the Divine sight.

“A thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.”

Blessed are the wise virgins whose lamps burn on unto the endless end. “Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching.” “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”

“The time is at hand,” ever at hand; yet it waits long for us: “Who knoweth if he will return and repent?” But if we will not return or repent, “iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall . . . whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instant.”

O Lord of time and eternity, Who makest us creatures of time to the end that when time is over we may attain to Thy blessed eternity; with time, Thy gift, give us also wisdom to redeem the time, lest our day of grace be lost. For our Lord Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Astonished Heaven looked on when man was made,
   When fallen man reproved seemed half forgiven;
Surely that oracle of hope first said
   Astonished Heaven.

Even so while one by one lost souls are shriven,
   A mighty multitude of quickened dead;
Christ’s love outnumbering ten times sevenfold seven.

Even so while man still tosses high his head,
   While still the All-holy Spirit’s strife is striven;—
Till one last trump shake the earth, and undismayed
   Astonished Heaven.

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