The Face of the Deep (1.4-6)

4. John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before His throne;
5. And from Jesus Christ, Who is the faithful Witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth. Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood.
6. And hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

“John to the seven Churches.”—Gracious the speaker, because his mouth was filled with a grace not his own. Whoso speaketh for God must take heed to speak like God. If St. Paul made himself all things to all men, that he might by all means save some, how much more Christ! St. John saluteth, but not with his own salutation: “What hast thou that thou hast not received?”

Nothing perhaps ever brought more vividly home to me the condescension, not of the servant, but of the Master, than once when at a Communion which was to me almost a sick Communion, the Celebrant in administering moved a chair slightly for my greater convenience. “He knoweth whereof we are made; He remembereth that we are but dust.”

“Grace be unto you, and peace.”—Before we tremble, God reassures us. “Yea, like as a father pitieth his own children, even so is the Lord merciful unto them that fear Him.”

O God Almighty, by Whom and before Whom we all are brethren, grant us so truly to love on another, that evidently and beyond all doubt we may love Thee. Through Jesus Christ Thy Son, our Lord and Brother. Amen.

“Grace . . . and peace.”—“Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee; because he trusteth in Thee.”

“From Him which is, and which was, and which is to come.”—Not “was—is—is to come.” “Is” abides perpetual, unalterable, dominant. Antecedent to creatures, antecedent to time, is revealed to our finite conception by “was”: outlasting time, by “is to come”: whilst parallel with creatures, with time, with all beginnings and all ends, abides the eternal “is.” We creatures of time, who might instinctively have written “was—is—is to come,” are thus helped, not indeed to understand, but to adore the inconceivable, eternal, absolute Unchangeableness of God. We run a course; not so He.

“And from the Seven Spirits which are before His throne.”—These words appear to correspond with those of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord . . . the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.” Also, with the description of the golden candlestick in the Mosaic Tabernacle: “And thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold . . . And thou shalt make the seven lamps thereof: and they shall light the lamps thereof, that they may give light . . .”

A mystery confronts us. We read of Seven, yet we dare not think except as of One.

“O God the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son: have mercy upon us, miserable sinners.” “Lighten our darkness, we beseech Thee, O Lord.”

Multitude no less than Unity characterizes various types of God the Holy Spirit. Water indefinitely divisible, and every portion equivalent in completeness to the whole. Fire kindling unlimited flames, each in like manner complete in itself. Dew made up of innumerable drops: so also rain, and if we may make the distinction, showers. A cloud is as a cloud is one, while as raindrops it is a multitude. And as in division each portion is a complete whole devoid of parts, so equally in reunion all portions together form one complete whole similarly devoid of parts: let drops or let flames run together, and there exists no distinction of parts in their uniform volume.

“Before His throne.”—As the golden candlestick stood before the Holy of Holies.

“And from Jesus Christ, Who is the Faithful Witness.”—Not John, but Jesus: or rather Jesus through John, and John only because of Jesus. St. John, the Apostle of love, becomes here the mouthpiece of very Love. So that in this Apocalypse not glories only, joys unutterable, perfection, are witnessed to us by Love, but terrors likewise, doom, the Judgment, the opened Books, the lake of fire. Love reveals to us these things, threatens now that it may spare then, shows us destruction lest we destroy ourselves.

Let us not in all our tremblings forget or doubt that it is Faithful Love which speaketh.

         My God, Thyself being Love Thy heart is love,
     And love Thy Will and love Thy Word to us,
     Whether Thou show us depths calamitous
Or heights and flights of rapturous peace above.
O Christ the Lamb, O Holy Ghost the Dove,
     Reveal the Almighty Father unto us;
     That we may tread Thy courts felicitous,
Loving Who loves us, for our God is Love.
Lo, if our God be Love through heaven’s long day,
     Love is He through our mortal pilgrimage,
     Love was He through all aeons that are told,
We change, but Thou remainest; for Thine age
     Is, Was, and Is to come, nor new nor old;
We change, but Thou remainest: yea, and yea!

“The Faithful Witness” demands faith: “the First Begotten of the dead” invites hope: “the Prince of the kings of the earth” challenges obedience. Now faith may be dead, hope presumptuous, obedience slavish. But “He that loved us” thereby wins our love: and forthwith by virtue of love faith lives, hope is justified, obedience is enfranchised.

Loveless faith is dead, being alone. Loveless hope leads to shame. Loveless obedience makes fair the outside, but within is rottenness. Balaam seems to exemplify all three.

“Without shedding of blood is no remission,” wherefore Christ washed us from our sins in His own blood.

But God Almighty declared of old: “Surely your blood of your lives I will require.” Whence it follows that if after such cleansing we give ourselves over to pollution, we become guilty of the Blood of the Lord, and bring upon ourselves destruction. Our sins crucified Him once, and He forgave and cleansed us: if by obstinate sin we crucify the Son of God afresh, who shall again cleanse or forgive us? for there remaineth no more offering for sins.

Lord, by Thy Love of us, that great Love wherewith Thou hast loved us, let not our latter end be worse than our beginning.

“Kings and Priests.”—At the least and lowest, each of us king with subject self to rule; priest with leprous self to examine and judge. At one step higher “the King’s face gives grace,” and we edify our brethren. “Let your light so shine before me, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” Another step upward, and we execute our priestly function of intercession, offering up prayers and thanks for all men: and highest of all, we offer up ourselves to God in will and in deed as His reasonable and lively sacrifice, beseeching Him to sanctify and accept our self-obligation.

O Good Lord God, Who uniting us with Thine everlasting King and Priest Jesus Christ, makest us unworthy in Him to be Thy kings and priests, constitute us what Thou requirest, endow us with what Thou desirest. Give us royal hearts to give back ourselves to Thee Who bestowest all, and priestly hearts to sacrifice ourselves to Thee, and keep back nothing, through the grace of Thine indwelling Holy Spirit, by Whom Christ dwells in His members. We ask this for His sake, for Whose sake we cannot ask too much. Amen.

Long and dark the nights, dim and short the days,
Mounting weary heights on our weary ways,
     Thee our God we praise.
Scaling heavenly heights by unearthly ways,
Thee our God we praise all our nights and days,
     Thee our God we praise.

“The First begotten of the dead.”—“The Firstborn of every creature.”—“He is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto Him.”—“To this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living.” Thus tenderly does God provide for all estates of men, whether dead or alive. Though His elect be dead, He accounts and keeps them alive in Christ, and blots not their names out of the book of His remembrance, and suffers not earth so to cover their blood that they should be overlooked, and knows whence to recover their dust, and holds their souls in His hand. “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them . . . They are in peace.”

St. Paul has left us words of mutual comfort: “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

And years before, as one whom his mother comforteth, saintly Martha had been comforted by Christ Himself: “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.” Amen, Good Lord.

[Our Church Palms are budding willow twigs.]

While Christ lay dead the widowed world
     Wore willow green for hope undone;
Till, when bright Easter dews impearled
     The chilly burial earth,
All north and south, all east and west,
     Flushed rosy in the arising sun;
Hope laughed, and faith resumed her rest,
     And love remembered mirth.

“The seven Churches in Asia” on whom first alighted so great a benediction ceased centuries ago to flourish locally: nevertheless the Divine salutation has not returned unto God empty. All Christendom being the abode of the Son of peace, peace rests upon it and will rest to the end, although without respect of particular place or particular person. Those Seven Churches are representative of the entire Church Militant, the number seven standing for completeness: as seven tints paint the rainbow, and Wisdom hews out her seven pillars, and after seven weeks of years dawned the new year of the Jewish Jubilee, and a mystical seventh day closes the great week of time.

Yet as to forgiveness, seven sums not up our debt:—“Peter . . . said, Lord how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”

O Christ our God, Who of us requirest so much, suffer us to plead with Thyself for more than that measure which from us Thou requirest. For Thine own love’s sake.

“Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his Maker?”

If thou be dead, forgive and thou shalt live;
     If thou hast sinned, forive and be forgiven;
God waiteth to be gracious and forgive,
     And open heaven.

Set not thy will to die and not to live;
     Set not thy face as flint refusing heaven;
Thou fool, set not thy heart on hell: forgive
     And be forgiven.

How can man effectually ascribe to Christ “glory and dominion for ever and ever”? Not merely by uttering Amen, but by living Amen. To use the grace of God’s most bountiful salutation, thereby attaining His peace, constitutes us His faithful servants and patient saints: servants who shall see His face and serve Him in perfection; saints in whom He shall be glorified when He cometh to be admired in all them that believe.

“Lord I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.”

Lord Jesus, what joy was that, what covetable good, for whose sake Thou didst endure the Cross, despising the shame? Not for glory and dominion for ever and ever simply and for their own sake. Already Thou hadst glory with the Father before the world was, and dominion and fear were with Thee before man transgressed Thy commandment. Nay, rather, it was that as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so mightest Thou rejoice over us. If Thou hadst given no more than all the substance of Thy house for love, it might have been contemned: but Thou hast given Thyself. What shall we give Thee in return? What shall we not give Thee?

Christina Georgina Rossetti. The Face of the Deep—A Devotional Commentary on the Apocalypse. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1892.

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