Lectures on Revelation 18-19

Revelation 18‑19  •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 9
His righteous soul was vexed with their unlawful deeds, he himself was the object of their taunts. “This one fellow,” said they, “came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge.” They saw the incongruity of his position, as worldly men generally are quick to perceive the failures of the believer. Alas it is easy to understand how a man may be godly in the main, and yet found in circumstances where a Christian ought not to be, and that so far he is not a true witness for God. Whether I look at the individual Christian or at the church, I see that God's object is to have a testimony to His own glory in the world; to have those who are for Him, not in the way of putting down the world, much less of seeking to get the honor and riches of the world; but willing, for Christ's sake, to abandon what they liked best, because they look not at the things which are seen, but at the unseen and eternal. This is grace's triumph, and so far as it is true of us, we are real witnesses for God. On the other hand, if we are seeking to gain or retain the world along with Christ, the principle of Babylon is begun.
No doubt, Rev. 17, 18 go much farther than this, and show that a vast religiously corrupting system is meant. This is made very plain by comparing chap. 17:1, 2, 3, with chap. xxi. 9, 10, 11. In chap. xvii. 1, it is said, “There came one of the seven angels,.... and talked with me, saying, Come hither; I will shew thee the judgment (i.e. sentence) of the great whore, that sitteth by the many waters.” But again, in chap. xxi. 9, we have another scene. “There came unto me one of the seven angels, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife.” Now it is evident that the Holy Ghost uses the same kind of introduction for these two women, for the purpose, I think, of our connecting them together. The same guide, one of the seven-vial angels, takes John, and shows him in the wilderness this earthly and corrupt woman; after wards, in the closing scene, he takes him to an exceedingly high mountain, and shows him a heavenly one. As the heavenly woman is the symbol of the heavenly church, so is Babylon of a corrupt religious body. It is that which takes the place of the church, and of being the witness for God upon earth, while it carries on every wicked commerce with those who are exalted here below. There is first, as usual, the carnal and earthly, then the spiritual and heavenly. After the false system of men and Satan disappears, the true is displayed in the glory of God.
Now, though we may look for a future development of Babylon, as opposing God's final testimony of the kingdom to all nations before the end come, yet I think that, even at the present moment, there need be no difficulty in judging where the features of Babylon are found most fully. It is a religious system that governs a number of kings; not an establishment that is at the mercy of the secular government. This is sin, but it is not the wickedness spoken of here. Babylon is an incomparably darker, deeper, and more wide-spread system of religious corruption—arrogating to itself the name of the church of God exclusively, setting itself above kings, intriguing with them, but at the same time maintaining its supremacy above them all; stupefying the masses with the poison of her exciting falsehoods: arrayed in all the meretricious splendor of the world; the fountain-head of the worst idolatry under the sun; and, finally, manifesting a spirit of blood-thirsty persecution against the true saints and witnesses of Jesus, under the awful pretense of His will and authority. There is one that does claim this place—one that takes it as given by God—one whose seat and center are found in the very heart of what was once the Roman empire—a religious system that affects universal dominion, and that, in order to accomplish it, either wins by every enticing art, or extinguishes all opposition in the blood of heretics so-called, her victims “By thy sorceries were all nations deceived...And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain, upon the earth.” (Verses 23, 24.) For any unprejudiced person who reads this description of Babylon calmly, and asks himself, What is that professing Christian body so abounding in idols, so authoritative over the kings of the earth, so indulgent to the wicked, and so cruel to the righteous? it is impossible not to see the answer.1
As to the Greek and Oriental churches, as to the English, Scotch, and other reformed national establishments, they are, more or less, notoriously subservient to the government which has to do with each of them. This may be, and I believe is, evil. But there are two ways in which a religious system may act contrary to Christ: either by a guilty subjection to the world, or by a still more guilty supremacy over it—in short, by being the world's slave or the world's mistress. At the present time there is only one religious system which pretends to have kings as its feet; and this is the church of Rome, which, therefore, answers to Babylon. It is a great mistake to suppose that we have done with it, or that its day is over. Rome may yet have a short-lived triumph. Its emissaries are actively abroad all over the world, and the foundations of Protestantism are being undermined every where. Those who are looking for Christianity, as things are, to overthrow all its adversaries on earth, are, in my opinion, in great danger of being deceived, through the unscriptural hope of getting a church as great or greater in good than that of Rome is in evil. For there will come a fearful struggle yet, and Rome, as I conceive, will acquire universal influence, and will put down every contrary voice, except the feeble whisper of the few witnesses spoken of here, who either die by her or come out of her. God will hear them, but as far as all open or public testimony for Him is concerned, it will be swamped by Babylon. And as to putting Babylon down, it is not by the gospel, or by the force of truth that it will be done, but by the will and wrath of men. Wherever Romanism gains the day, infidelity is the necessary consequence; and, therefore, Babylon always prepares the way for the last effort of the beast against the Lamb. But before the close, the beast gets thoroughly the upper hand, and Babylon becomes food for him and the ten horns.
Is this what is introduced to us here? Man is left out; the ten horns are not once alluded to in chap. xviii., though the kings of the earth are. The difference is this. “In the kings of the earth,” I apprehend, are embraced all those rulers of Christendom with whom she had been on terms of bad intimacy, or who had had evil connection with her. The ten horns are the chiefs of the final divided state of the empire and the active instruments of her devastation, as we were told in chap. xvii. The kings of the earth are her mourners, not her burners. Here in chap. xviii. her hour is come, and it is the Lord God that has judged her.
You will observe the voice from heaven here: “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (ver. 4). The receiving of her plagues is not the divine motive for separation. Men would be anxious enough about that. But the great thing that God looks for from His people is this—that they should not be partakers of her sins. I would put it to every Christian, how far is he in sympathy with God's mind, touching Babylon and its sins? How far does he feel the evil of it, and judge it?
Babylon does not seek heaven, but the earth—not the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow; but to sit as a queen and to see no sorrow. Babylon is content with worldly exaltation. If you steer clear of this, Babylon has no attractions for you; and the present danger of every soul from Babylon is the gradual caring for and allowance, in Christians, of what man values on the earth. Of late years there has been no little change in the thoughts of Christians as to the present enjoyment of prosperity and pleasure in this world. But there is amazing danger in it. For what is the great thought of it all? Man rising, progressing, exalting himself—man showing what he can do, and how improve; and this is sought to be connected with the name and sanction of Christ! Alas! it is Babylon the great. (Ver. 9-19.) In her we see the end of the heart's desire, along with Christ, to enjoy all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. I do not wonder at an unconverted man seeking to make the world pleasant: Cain did it, and there is such a thing now as going in the way of Cain. These are the people that handle all sorts of musical instruments, and the artificers in brass and iron. It is true that these things sprang up in a very early hour of the world, but still the Spirit of God does not tell us for nothing that they were in the family of Cain, not in the family of Seth.
Every child of man stands responsible to God, whether converted or not, to own his outcast state as a sinner: he has no right to drown his conscience in the pleasures and glory of the world. But bad as this may be, the thing that God most hates, and that He will judge in an awful and public manner, even in this world, is the tacking on the name of Christ to the indulgence of worldly lusts. Is it not the desire, even of many Christians, to have the grandeur and riches of the world at their back? I do not doubt that they heartily wish to have people converted, but they would like them to bring their earthly influence along with them. This is the spirit of Babylon. What the Lord looks for from us is doing the will of God, suffering for it, and taking it patiently. Any of these things which the heart covets will be found to involve the will of man. There is not a single position of distinction or of glory in the world, but what requires a man to give up a good conscience towards God. In other words, you cannot be a member of the world, and act faithfully as a member of Christ. If you value and wish to follow the world, you will make all sorts of excuses, and argue for a compromise; but this only shows how far the leaven of Babylon has affected your soul.
God gathers souls round Jesus—that is, Jesus rejected, and gone up to heaven. Therefore the Church is based on these two fundamental truths. She has got the cross, and she is united to Christ in heavenly glory by the Holy Ghost sent down. And the cross and heavenly glory will not mingle with the world. This is the very thing that puts my heart to the test. If Christ is my object, I shall not want the world; I shall be looking up, it may be feebly, but still looking up to heaven; and there will be the one object that God uses to strengthen me by, giving me willingness to suffer in the consciousness of having Christ in the glory. Whenever the church craves after something else, as the esteem and honor of the world, or even social improvement, she denies her proper glory.
Popery mistook the true character of the church, followed the Jewish system, and thought that people ought to bring their gold and silver and precious stones and goodly things to honor the Lord with. (See verses 12-14.) But God was wiser than men, and shows that all this pretense of honoring God is a mere sham, and that what people really want is to honor themselves. They are seeking what attracts and makes them an object of attraction, whilst they cover up their real object under the plea of the name of Christ. This is what God will judge, and what infects the whole of Christendom increasingly before judgment comes. You may ask me how that can be possible, when there are so many societies growing up, and such an active energy, religious and moral, dealing with the various forms of public evil throughout the world. I am not telling you what I see, but what God's word shows—the all but universal prevalence, before the close, of a corrupt system, which plainly has its center in Rome, though taking a larger compass, so as to embrace every religious institution2 which, however opposed it may seem to popery now, does not link a soul with heaven. There is no safety for any person who is building on the earth. The heavenly saints will be taken away before the judgment falls upon Babylon. They are not referred to in that word, “Come out of her, my people.” This is spoken of God's earthly people3 by and by. But at the same time, its principle fully applies. For the essence of Babylon is the union of the world with the name of Christ. “Wherefore come out from among, them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.”
The Lord will not hold any man guiltless who has a conscience of what is due to Christ and does not follow it. To such I would say, this is what you will prow: you will go on for a time and be troubled with the truth, for it will condemn you; but, ere long, you will find that all taste for it is lost if you will tire of it and even turn against it, and then will become morally ripe for Babylon when it bids seriously for you. If I am guilty of the spirit of Babylon, this is what God looks at, as far as I am concerned. The person who travels in her path, cannot but be a partaker of her sin. And who so oppose the truth, as those that corrupt it? Who so hate, as those that are condemned of themselves?
There is a great work, not only of dissolving and breaking up what is old, but of uniting and amalgamating for various purposes, going on now; and as this was found in Babylon at the very beginning (Gen. 11) so, in the long run, it will be found to serve the purpose of that great city before the Lord God has forever judged her.
There will be, I believe from various Scriptures, an astonishing mixture of professing Christianity with Judaism: and the latter, as judged by the new and full revelation of Christ in the New Testament, is no better than heathenism. (Gal. 4) We know how tender the Spirit was in bearing with the weakness, the scruples, the attachment to old religious habits in such of the Christians as had been Jews (Rom. 14); but it was a very different thing when teachers sought to impose Jewish ordinances on the Gentile converts. The same Spirit treated a ritual borrowed by Gentiles from Jews as the same thing in principle as old and open pagan idolatry. “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, of the world, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.” Popery is the most salient and hateful exhibition of this amalgam now; but greater abominations shall appear. Sacramentalism and Rationalism, in these and other Protestant lands, are each provoking the other to excesses previously unexampled. When, too, was ever known such public indifference, which desires leisure for commerce abroad and social development at home? The result will appear in the last stages of Babylon and the beast.
In the scene before us we have had the lament of kings, merchants, and all who had to do with the unholy traffic of Babylon. Heaven, and especially the “saints” (for so it should be read) and the apostles and the prophets, are called to rejoice at God's judgment, “God hath avenged you,” or literally judged your judgment “on her.” In the mighty angel's solemn act and word, which closes the chapter (ver. 21, &c.), not only are set forth the violence of her ruin and its totality, but the reason of it as regards the nations—deceiving them all by her sorceries. The last verse adds another and awful cause—Babylon's inheritance of Jerusalem” in blood-guiltiness. “And in her was found the bleed of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.”
The Lord grant that, instead of merely looking without and occupying ourselves with condemning others, we may take good care that our own souls are preserved from the contaminations of Babylon. May our affections be kept true to Himself—the only real guard against the seductions of the enemy! We are espoused as a chaste virgin to Christ. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
(Continued from page 269.)