George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
The Rainbow and the Throne
And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven.., and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald--Rev 4:2-3
This vision, like all the visions of the Apocalypse, is given for the most practical of purposes. It is not the dreaming of an idle seer. It is a message of comfort for bad times. You know the kind of scenery one meets with in the latter portion of this book. There are pictures of famine and of bloody war, pictures of sickness and of death upon his horse. Here, then, before the unveiling of these horrors we have the eternal background of it all. "And I looked," says John, "and lo, a door in heaven; and I saw a throne, and Him that sat thereon." God's in His heaven, all's right with the world--that was the meaning and purpose of the vision. Let famine come and fearful persecution; let the Christians be scattered like leaves before the wind--there was a throne with a rainbow round about it; and in the heavens a Lamb as it had been slain.
The Permanent Is Encircled By the Fleeting
Now I would like to dwell for a little while on the rainbow round the throne like to an emerald. Do you see any mystical meanings in that rainbow? I shall tell you what it suggests to me.
In the first place it speaks to me of this, that the permanent is encircled by the fleeting.
Whenever a Jew thought of the throne of God, he pictured one that was unchangeable. "Thy throne, O God, is an everlasting throne," was the common cry of psalmist and of prophet. Other thrones might pass into oblivion, other kingdoms flourish and decay. There was not a monarchy on any side of Israel that had not risen and had fallen, like a star. But the throne of God, set in the high heaven where a thousand years are as a day, that throne from all eternity had been, and to all eternity it would remain. Such was the throne which the apostle saw, and round about it he beheld a rainbow. It was engirdled with a thing of beauty which shines for a moment, and in shining vanishes. The permanent was encircled by the transient. The eternal was set within the momentary.
God Has a Purpose for Every Life
The same thing also is observable as God reveals Himself in human life. God has His purpose for every heart which trusts Him, nor will He lightly let that purpose go. We are not driftwood upon the swollen stream. We are not dust that swirls upon the highway. I believe that for each of us there is a path along which the almighty hand is guiding. Through childhood with its careless happiness, through youth with its storm and manhood with its burden, every one is being surely led by Him who sees the end from the beginning. And I looked, and lo, a throne in heaven--and "the kingdom of heaven is within you." And round about the throne there was a rainbow--symbol of the transient and the fleeting. And so it is that you and I are led amid a thousand evanescent things, under the arch of lights that flash upon us, and have hardly flashed ere they have disappeared. It is commonplace to speak of fleeting joys--and our troubles are often as fleeting as our joys. And then what moods we have; what moments of triumph; what bitterness of tears! And often they visit us just when we least expect them, and we cannot explain them as they come and go; and yet, through every mood and every feeling, the will of God is working to its goal.
The Bow, a Symbol of Mercy
Another truth which is suggested here is that power is perfected in mercy. The rainbow has been symbolical of mercy ever since the days of Noah and the flood. God made a covenant with Noah, you remember, that there should never be such a flood again. Never again, so long as earth endured, was there to fall such desolating judgement. And in token of that, God pointed to the bow, painted in all its beauty on the storm cloud,--that rainbow was to be forever the sign and sacrament that He was merciful. Do you see another meaning of that bow, then, which John discerned around the throne of God? What is a throne? It is a place of power; the seat of empire, the symbol of dominion. So round the infinite power of the Almighty, like a thing of joy and beauty, is His mercy. Round His omnipotence, in perfect orb, is the enclosing circlet of His grace. It is not enough that in heaven is a throne. God might be powerful, and yet might crush me. It is not enough to see a rainbow there. God might be merciful, and yet be weak. There must be both, the rainbow and the throne, the one within the circuit of the other, if power is to reveal itself in love, and love to be victorious in power.
We see that union very evidently in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. One of the deepest impressions of that life is the impression of unfathomed power. There are men who give us the impression of weakness. We cannot explain it perhaps, but so it is. But there are other men, who, when we meet with them, at once suggest to us the thought of power. And you will never understand the life of Christ, nor the bitterness of hate which He evoked, until you remember that always, in His company, men felt that they were face to face with power. Think of His power over the world of nature--He spake, and the storm became a calm. Think of His power over disease and death--"and Lazarus came forth, bound in his graveclothes." Think of His power, more wonderful than either, over the guiltiest of human hearts--"Thy sins, which are many, are forgiven thee." And I looked, and lo, I saw a throne--wherever Jesus was, there was a throne. But was that all, and was there nothing else, and was it power unchecked and uncontrolled? Ah, sirs, you know as well as I do, that around the living throne there was a rainbow--a mercy deeper, richer, more divine, than Noah had ever deciphered on the cloud.
Might and Mercifulness
The same thing is also true of human character. It takes both elements to make it perfect. When human character is at its highest, its symbol is the rainbow round the throne. All of us admire the strong man--the man who can mold others to his will. There is something in titanic strength that makes an irresistible appeal. Yet what a scourge that power may become, and what infinite wreckage it may spread--all that needs no enforcement for a world which has known the evil genius of Napoleon. Mercy without power may be a sham; but power without mercy is a curse. It is not a throne which is the ideal of manhood; it is a throne encircled by the bow. It is power stooping to the lowliest service; it is strength that has the courage to be tender; it is might that can be very merciful, with the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I sometimes think, too, that this heavenly vision is just a type of what our homes should be. In the ideal home there will be kingship, and yet around the kingship will be beauty. There are many homes today which have no throne. There is no government; there is no subjection. The thought of fatherhood has been so weakened that it has lost its attribute of kingship. The children are the real masters of the home; by their inexperience everything is regulated. And I looked, and lo, a door into the home--and within it, no vestige of a throne. Then in other homes there is no rainbow. There is no beauty; there is not any tenderness. There is no play of color on the cloud; no shining when the rain is on the sea. And the merriment of the children is repressed, and the father does not understand his child; and the child, whose heart is yearning for a father, has no one to appeal to but a king. Surely, if home is to be heaven, we want a vision like that of the apostle. We w ant a throne in token of authority, for without that, home is but a chaos. But if little lives are to be glad and beautiful, and if there is to be radiance on the cloud, we also want the rainbow round the throne.
The Encircling Radiance of Hope
There is just one other lesson I would touch on--the heavenly setting of mystery is hope.
As the apostle gazed upon the throne, there was one thing that struck him to the heart. "Out of the throne came voices, thunderings and lightnings." Whose these voices were, he could not tell. What they were uttering, he did not know. Terrible messages pealed upon his ear, couched in some language he had never learned. And with these voices was the roll of thunder; and through it all, the flashing of the lightning; and John was awed, for in the throne of God he was face to face with unutterable mystery. Then he lifted his eyes, and lo, a rainbow, and yet it was different from earthly rainbows. It was not radiant with the seven colors that John had counted on the shore of Patmos. It was like an emerald--what color is an emerald? It was like an emerald; it was green. Around the throne, with its red flame of judgement, there was a rainbow, and the bow was green. Does that color suggest anything to you? To me it brings the message of spring time. You never hear a poet talk of dead green; but you often hear one talk of living green. It is the color of the tender grass and of the opening buds upon the trees. It is the color of rest for weary eyes and hope for weary hearts.
Brethren, is not that the message which has been given us in Jesus Christ? When you see God, mysteries do not vanish. When you see God, mysteries only deepen. There is the mystery of nature, red in tooth and claw; so full of cruelty, so full of waste. There is the mystery of pain, falling upon the innocent and bowing them through intolerable years. There is the mystery of early death with its blighted hope and with its shattered promise. There is the unutterable mystery of sin. Out of the throne came thunderings and voices. Out of the throne voices issue still. And we cannot interpret them--they are too hard for us, and we bow the head and say it is all dark. Nay, friend, not altogether dark, for around the throne of God there is a bow, and all the rest of the green fields is in it, and all the hope of a morning in the spring. Have we not Christ? Has He not lived our life? Has He not taught us that the worst and vilest sinner is good enough to live for and to die for? Has he not conquered death?--does He not live today?--is not the government upon His shoulder? A man can never be hopeless in the night who once for all has cast his anchor there. Have you done that? Are you a Christian? Have you cried, "Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief?." Why then, my brother, you are in the spirit, and for you a door is opened into heaven. And though for you mystery will not vanish and much that was dark before will still be dark, yet round and round all that is unfathomable, there is the encircling radiance of hope.
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