"And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid His right hand upon me saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold. I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death." -- Revelation i. 17, 18.
We have nothing now to think of but our Lord. We come to Him that He may cause us to forget all others. We are not here as ministers, cumbered with much serving, but we now sit at His feet with Mary, or lean on His bosom with John. The Lord Himself gives us our watchword as we muster our band for the last assembly. "Remember Me," is His loving command. We beseech Him to fill the full circle of our memory as the sun fills the heavens and the earth with light. We are to think only of Jesus, and of Him only will I speak. Oh, for a touch of the live coal from Him who is our Altar as well as our Sacrifice!
My text is found in the words of John, in the first chapter of the Revelation, at the seventeenth and eighteenth verses: --
"And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death."
John was of all men the most familiar with Jesus, and his Lord had never needed to say to him, "Lovest thou Me?" Methinks, if any man could have stood erect in the presence of the glorified Saviour, it would have been that disciple whom Jesus loved. Love permits us to take great liberties: the child will climb the knee of his royal father, and no man accuses him of presuming. John had such love, and yet even he could not look into the face of the Lord of glory without being overcome with awe. While yet in the body, even John must swoon if he be indulged with a premature vision of the Well-beloved in His majesty. If permitted to see the Lord before our bodies have undergone that wondrous change by which we are made like Jesus that we may see Him as He is, we shall find the sight to be more than we can bear. A clear view of our Lord's heavenly splendour while we are here on earth would not be fitting, for it would not be profitable for us always to be lying in a swoon at our Redeemer's feet, while there is so much work for us to do.
Permit me, dear brethren, to take my text from its connection, and to apply it to ourselves, by bringing it down from the throne up yonder to the table here. It may be, I trust it will be, that as we see Jesus even here, we shall with John fall at His feet as dead. We shall not swoon, but we shall be dead in another sense, most sweetly dead, while our life is revealed in Him. After we have thought upon that, we shall come to what my text implies: then, may we revive with John, for if he had not revived he could never have told us of his fainting fit. Thus we shall have death with Christ, and resurrection in Him. Oh, for a deep experience of both, by the power of the Holy Spirit!
I. If we are permitted to see Christ in the simple and instructive memorials which are now upon the table, we shall, in a blessed sense, fall at His feet as dead.
For, first, here we see provision for the removal of our sin, and we are thus reminded of it. Here is the bread broken because we have broken God's law, and must have been broken for ever had there not been a bruised Saviour. In this wine we see the token of the blood with which we must be cleansed, or else be foul things to be cast away into the burnings of Tophet, because abominable in the sight of God. Inasmuch as we have before us the memorial of the atonement for sin, it reminds us of our death in sin in which we should still have remained but for that: grace which spoke us into life and salvation. Are you growing great? Be little again as you see that you are nothing but slaves that have been ransomed. "God's freed-men" is still your true rank. Are you beginning to think that, because you are sanctified; you have the less need of daily cleansing? Hear that word, "If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another," yet even then "the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin." We sin even when in the highest and divinest fellowship, and need still the cleansing blood. How this humbles us before the Lord! We are to be winners of sinners, and yet we ourselves are sinners still, needing as truly the Bread of life as those to whom we serve it out.
Ah! and some of us have been very special sinners; and therefore, if we love much, it is because we have had much forgiven. We have erred since we knew the Saviour, and that is a kind of sinnership which is exceedingly grievous; we have sinned since we have entered into the highest state of spiritual joy, and have been with Him on the holy mount, and have beheld His glory! This breeds a holy shamefacedness. We may well fall at Jesus' feet, though He only reveals Himself in bread and wine, for these convey a sense of our sinnership while they remind us of how our Lord met our sin, and put it away.
Herein we fall as low as the dead. Where is the "I"? Where is the self-glorying? Have you any left in the presence of the crucified Saviour? As you in spirit eat His flesh and drink His blood, can you glory in your own flesh, or feel the pride of blood and birth? Fie upon us if there mingles a tinge of pride with our ministry, or a taint of self-laudation with our success! When we see Jesus, our Saviour, the Saviour of sinners, surely self will sink, and humility will fall at His feet. When we think of Gethsemane and Calvary, and all our great Redeemer's pain and agony, surely, by the Holy Ghost, self-glorying, self-seeking, and self-will must fall as though slain with a deadly wound. "When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead."
Here, also, we learn a second lesson. Jesus has placed upon this table food. The bread sets forth all that is necessary, and the cup all that is luxurious: provision for all our wants and for all our right desires, all that we need for sustenance and joy. Then, what a poverty-stricken soul am I that I cannot find myself in bread! As to comforts, I may not think of them; they must be given me or I shall never taste them. Brothers, we are Gentlemen Commoners upon the bounty of our great Kinsman: we come to His table for our maintenance, we have no establishments of our own. He who feeds the sparrows feeds our souls; in spiritual things, we no more gather into barns than do the blessed birds; our heavenly Father feeds us from that "all fulness" which it hath pleased Him to lay up for us in Jesus. We could not live an hour spiritually without Him who is not only bread, but life; not only the wine which cheereth, but consolation itself. Our life hangs upon Jesus; He is our Head as well as our food. We shall never outgrow our need of natural bread, and spiritually we shall never rise out of our need of a present Christ, but the rather we shall feel a stronger craving and a more urgent passion for Him. Look at yonder vain person. He feels that he is a great man, and you own that he is your superior in gifts; but what a cheat he is, what a foolish creature to dream of being somebody! Now will he be found wanting; for, like ourselves, he is not sufficient even to think anything of himself. A beggar who has to live on alms, to eat the bread of dependence, to take the cup of charity, -- what has he to boast of? He is the great One who feeds us, who gives us all that we enjoy, who is our all in all; and as for us, we are suppliants, -- I had almost said mendicants, -- a community of Begging Fr¸res, to all personal spiritual wealth as dead as the slain on Marathon. The negro slave at least could claim his own breath, but we cannot claim even that. The Spirit of God must give us spiritual breath, or our life will expire. When we think of this, surely the sight of Christ in this bread and Wine, though it be a dim vision compared with that which ravished the heart of John, will make us fall at the Redeemer's feet as dead.
The "I" cannot live, for our Lord has provided no food for the vain Ego, and its lordliness. He has provided all for necessity, but nothing for boasting. Oh, blessed sense of self-annihilation! We have experienced it several times this week when certain of those papers were read to us by our brethren; and, moreover, we shrivelled right up in the blaze of the joy with which our Master favoured us. I hope this happy assembly and its heavenly exercises have melted the Ego within us, and made it, for the while, flow away in tears. Dying to self is a blessed feeling. May we all realize it! When we are weak to the utmost in conscious death of self, then are we strong to the fulness of might. Swooning away unto self-death, and losing all consciousness of personal power, we are introduced into the infinite, and live in God.
II. Now let us consider how we get alive again, and so know the Lord as the resurrection and the life. John did revive, and he tells us how it came about. He says of the Ever-blessed One, -- "He laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death."
All the life-floods of our being will flow with renewed force if, first of all, we are brought into contact with Jesus: "He laid His right hand upon me." Marvellous patience that He does not set His foot upon us, and tread us down as the mire of the streets! I have lain at His feet as dead, and had He spurned me as tainted with corruption, I could not have impugned His justice. But there is nothing here about His foot! That foot has been pierced for us, and it cannot be that the foot which has been nailed to the cross for His people should ever trample them in His wrath. Hear these words, "He laid His right hand upon me." The right hand of His strength and of His glory He laid upon His fainting servant. It was the hand of a man. It is the right hand of Him who, in all our afflictions, was afflicted, who is a Brother born for adversity. Hence, everything about His hand has a reviving influence. The speech of sympathy, my brothers, is often too unpractical, and hence it is too feeble to revive the fainting; the touch of sympathy is far more effectual. You remember that happy story of the wild negro child who could never be won till the little lady sat down by her, and laid her hand upon her. Eva won poor Topsy by that tender touch. The tongue failed, but the hand achieved the victory. So was it with our adorable Lord. He showed us that He was bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh; He brought Himself into contact with us, and made us perceive the reality of His love to us, and then He became more than a conqueror over us.
Thus, we felt that He was no fiction, but a real Christ, for there was His hand, and we felt the gentle pressure. The laying on of the right hand of the Lord had brought healing to the sick, sight to the blind, and even life to the dead, and it is no strange thing that it should restore a fainting disciple. May you all feel it at this very moment in its full reviving power! May there stream down from the Lord's right hand, not merely His sympathy, because He is a man like ourselves, but as much of the power of His deity as can be gotten into man, so that we may be filled with the fulness of God! That is possible at this instant. The Lord's supper represents the giving of the whole body of Christ to us, to enter into us for food; surely, if we enter into its true meaning, we may expect to be revived and vitalized; for we have here more than a mere touch of the hand, it is the whole Christ that enters into us spiritually, and so comes into contact with our innermost being. I believe in "the real presence": do not you? The carnal presence is another thing: that we do not even desire. Lord Jesus, come into a many-handed contact with us now by dwelling in us, and we in Thee!
Still, there was something else wanted, for our Lord Jesus, after the touch, gave the word: "Fear not; I am the first and the last." What does He say? Does He say, "Thou art"? Open your Testaments, and see. Does He exclaim, "Fear not; thou art the beloved disciple, John the apostle and divine"? I find nothing of the kind. He did not direct His servant to look at himself, but to remember the great I Am, his Saviour, and Lord. The living comfort of every swooning child of God, of everyone who is conscious of a death-wound to the natural "I," lies in that majestic "I," who alone can say "I am." You live because there is an "I am" who has life in Himself, and has that life for you.
"I am the first." "I have gone before you, and prepared your way; I loved you before you loved Me; I ordained your whole course in life before you were in existence. In every work of grace for you and within you, I am the first. Like the dew which comes from the Lord, I waited not for man, neither tarried for the sons of men. And I also am the last, perfecting that which concerneth you, and keeping you unto the end. I am the Alpha and the Omega to you, and all the letters in between; I began with you, and I shall end with you, if an end can be thought of. I march in the van, and I bring up the rear. Your final preservation is as much from Me as your hopeful commencement." Brother, does a fear arise concerning that dark hour which threatens soon to arrive? What hour is that? Jesus knows, and He will be with you through the night, and till the day breaketh. If Jesus is the beginning and the end to us, what is there else? What have we to fear unless it be those unhallowed inventions of our mistrust, those superfluities of naughtiness which fashion themselves into unbeliefs, and doubts, and unkind imaginings? Christ shuts out everything that could hurt us, for He covers all the time, and all the space; He is above the heights, and beneath the depths; and everywhere He is Love.
Read on, -- "I am He that liveth." "Because I live, ye shall live also; no real death shall befal you, for death hath no more dominion over Me, -- your Head, your Life." While there is a living Christ in heaven, no believer shall ever see death: he shall sleep in Jesus, and that is all, for even then he shall be "for ever with the Lord."
Read on, -- "and was dead." "Therefore, though die, you shall go no lower than I went; and you shall be brought up again even as I have returned from the tomb." Think of Jesus as having traversed the realm of death-shade, and you will not fear to follow in His track. Where should the dying members rest but on the same couch with their once dying Head?
"And behold, I am alive for evermore." Yes, behold it, and never cease to behold it: we serve an ever-living Lord. Brothers, go home from this conference in the power of this grand utterance! The dear child may sicken, or the precious wife may be taken home; but Christ says, "I am alive for evermore." The believing heart can never be a widow, for its Husband is the living God. Our Lord Jesus will not leave us orphans, He will come unto us. Here is our joy, then: not in ourselves, but in the fact that He ever lives to carry out the Father's good pleasure in us and for us. Onward, soldiers of the cross, for our immortal Captain leads the way.
Read once more, -- "and have the keys of hell and of death." As I thought over these words, I marvelled for the poverty and meanness of the cause of evil; for the prince of it, the devil, has not the keys of his own house; he cannot be trusted with them; they are swinging at the girdle of Christ. Surely I shall never go to hell, for my Lord Jesus turned the key against my entrance long ago. The doors of hell were locked for me When He died on my behalf. I saw Him lock the door, and, what is more, I saw Him hang the key at His girdle, and there it is to this day. Christ has the keys of hell; then, whenever He chooses, He can cage the devouring lion, and restrain his power for evil. Oh, that the day were come! It is coming, for the dragon hath great wrath, knowing that his time is short. Let us not go forth alone to battle with this dread adversary; let us tell his Conqueror of him, and entreat Him to shorten his chain. I admire the forcible words of a dying woman to one who asked her what she did when she was tempted by the devil on account of her sin. She replied, "The devil does not tempt me now; he came to me a little while ago, and he does not like me well enough to come again!" "Why not?" "Well, he went away because I said to him, Chosen, chosen!" "What did you mean by that?" "Do you not remember how it is said in the Scripture, 'The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee'?" The aged woman's text was well taken, and well does the enemy know the rebuke which it contains. When Joshua, the high priest, clothed in filthy garments, stood before the angel, Satan stood at his right hand to resist him, but he was silenced by being told of the election of God: "The Lord which hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee." Ah, brethren, when Christ's right hand is upon us, the evil one departs! He knows too well the weight of that right hand.
Conclude the verse, -- "and of death." Our Lord has the keys of death, and this will be a joyful fact to us when our last hours arrive. If we say to Him, "Master, whither am I going?" He answers, "I have the key of death and the spirit world. Will we not reply, "We feel quite confident to go wherever Thou wilt lead us, O Lord"? We shall then pursue His track in His company. Our bodies shall descend into what men call a charnel-house, though it is really the unrobing-room of saints, the vestibule of heaven, the wardrobe of our dress where it shall be cleansed and perfected. We have a fit spiritual array for the interval, but we expect that our bodies shall rise again in the likeness of "the Lord from heaven." What gainers we shall be when we shall take up the robes we laid aside, and find them so gloriously changed, and made fit for us to wear even in the presence of our Lord! So, if the worst fear that crosses you should be realized, and you should literally die at your Lord's feet, there is no cause for dread, for no enemy can do you harm, since the divine right hand is pledged to deliver you to the end. Let us give the Well-beloved the most devout and fervent praise as we now partake of this regal festival. The King sitteth at His table, let our spikenard give forth its sweetest smell.
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