Remarks on the Revelation: Part 2

Revelation 1-22
I feel, prevented by ignorance from tracing out the distinctive connection between the respective parts of creation, as represented by the four living creatures, and the works and spheres of these riders. Each of the riders is announced by a living creature: and if the living creatures speak here according to the order. in which they are mentioned in chapter 4, then that order would be, first, the lion-faced creature; then, secondly, the calf-faced creature; thirdly, the man-faced; and fourthly, the eagle-faced creature. In this order they are mentioned in chapter 4: 7, but the word, the first, is there found as before, the lion-faced creature; while in chapter 4: 1 it is not said the first, but simply, I heard one; which, of course, might have been that which is called the fourth in chapter 4, and so the order of the rest of the series called the second, third, and fourth be quite deranged. I desire, therefore, here simply to plead, “If any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant,” and to wait on the Lord for further light.
As to the interpretation of these riders, I would speak not with decision, but merely as suggesting to others, who have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things, who with me also are learning to prove all things, and hold fast that which is truth, what has struck my own mind in communion with the Lord as His mind about them. I do this with the more confidence, as believing it to be the will of our Father, and of His gracious ways of leading us all on, for us to have great liberty of speech one with the other as to what we believe to be the mind of our God, never putting forward either the notions we have learned from others, nor being backward to put forward in its proper place and season that which we believe we have learned in holy, blessed communion from our God. And sure I am that we should all be ready to say, “We seek not to establish, we love not our own opinions: if others can prove they savor not of both ‘grace and truth,' as in Him, let them pass as the morning cloud!” These four riders, then, seem to me the representation of the Lord God Almighty's recognition of what I may call “the ways and means” of providential rule. Those things which from the beginning were used by God to keep man's wickedness in a lapsed world so far in check, as to render it possible for His own people to abide in it, and His own purposes to be carried on, here seem recognized, as connected with this new throne and its objects. The throne, be it remembered, is a new throne; not the throne of God as the Father—not the throne of the Divine eternal glory, as seen in the light to which no man can approach—not the millennial throne either, for that is the Lord's in the character of Messiah, and not as this, which presents the Lord God Almighty overruling (for the Lamb, so as to bring in His name of Lordship) all in nature, creation, and providence.
None of the actions of the riders seem to me to be judgment, properly so called, so as for a disciple to be able to plead exemption from them. Any one, whose mind sweeps through the disastrous history of the earth with the eye of faith, will see how the very goodness of God has been aggressively acting upon the course of things below, even when there was no pillar and no cloud to sight, marking His near presence. It is just this which seems taken up here, as the first means to be used toward bringing in the Lordship of the Lamb that was slain. As to the first, we know, concerning the Son of God as God, that it is written, “by him all things consist.” (Col. 1:1717And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. (Colossians 1:17).) “Upholding all things by the word of his power.” (Heb. 1:33Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; (Hebrews 1:3).) Now the thought which presses upon my mind is, that this first horseman is the Son as God, not as the Lamb, nor as the Lord, but as God, secretly and from the distance using the powers of providence in their natural course, as thus witnessing for God; using, not the delegated power which grace makes it his boast to wait for (see Phil. 2), but in the power and majesty of His own Godhead acting as He will. And while we worship and love the meek and lowly Jesus, we never surely should forget that even all through His course on earth, and while now as the Man He is waiting for His appointed inheritance, He has been, and is, and ever must be, as God, the Sustainer and Director of that which Himself created. The Lord pardon His servant if a dim eye, or a film upon it, has seen Him in that in which He is not! But I do feel very strongly the peculiar dignity of that first rider.1
Secondly: the more immediate and natural connection, in a world of sin, between man and war, may account for the comparative insignificancy of the second as compared with the third and fourth seal; while the positive character of wickedness in war, not merely like sickness and affliction and trouble, proofs of sin, but fuller developments of it, may account for its commissioned agent; besides, as connected with the object of the throne, the needs be of its being guided and directed and its course.
Thirdly: the close connection between God as the Creator and God of providence, and His testimony of Himself as such, fully accounts, to my own mind, for the comparative importance of the third rider. His action is not aggressive to appearance: balances were in His hand when first He appeared, but nothing seemed his to do, till his commission comes forth that he should rule in the famine and necessity which not he had made, but the God who commissioned him. Reference might be made, as illustrative of the balances, to Ezek. 4:10-1610And thy meat which thou shalt eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day: from time to time shalt thou eat it. 11Thou shalt drink also water by measure, the sixth part of an hin: from time to time shalt thou drink. 12And thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight. 13And the Lord said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles, whither I will drive them. 14Then said I, Ah Lord God! behold, my soul hath not been polluted: for from my youth up even till now have I not eaten of that which dieth of itself, or is torn in pieces; neither came there abominable flesh into my mouth. 15Then he said unto me, Lo, I have given thee cow's dung for man's dung, and thou shalt prepare thy bread therewith. 16Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem: and they shall eat bread by weight, and with care; and they shall drink water by measure, and with astonishment: (Ezekiel 4:10‑16).
Fourthly: this seems indeed to have a service of sadness and horror, but all, still (though faith would see God in it, as it does in everything), merely in the natural course of events apparently. His commission seems limited to a fourth of the earth. His name, Death; his follower, Hades; and the powers used by them, black famine, red warfare, death and the beasts.
When I look through the earth, I see sorrow, trouble, affliction, and trial of every kind natural to man as fallen. I see too not merely natural death, but warfare and all its attendant horrors; famine, and its wretchedness; and sometimes, as has strikingly been the case lately in India, all of these combined together, and not only so, but, ere combined, each so augmented in itself as to be fearful. How fearful is the account of the item of famines alone in India during the last thirty years! by one, three millions swept off in a few months, the atmosphere of districts putrid from unburied corpses, rivers choked with the bodies of the famished dead and of babes and children cast therein by their parents! These wild fruits of the fall are growing everywhere naturally and spontaneously, yet not now to us as disciples without our God. As upon the throne of the Lord God Almighty, He has commissioned agents over them all. The swelling and flowing of their course is all overruled, little as we may see it, for the bringing in of the Lordship of Jesus. As disciples also, we may be subject to them in whole or in part, for they are not, properly speaking, either judgments or chastenings: if in them, we should know not only that all things are of Him who hath reconciled us to Himself (the blessing we get from our adoption by Him), but more than this, that they are the precursors (His purpose in them who sits upon the throne) of the Lordship. They are the cover of the hand of God overruling even wickedness, so as to keep it in check, and give it guidance, that it may, though unconsciously, work on toward the introduction of the glory of the Lord; and, while so doing, work together for good to them that love God even now. How wonderful are the ways of our God! If warfare or famine, or aught else, sprang up, the thought it surely should awaken in us is that of the preparation for Jesus' coming Lordship. And while I recognize that into judgment we cannot come, because accepted in the Beloved, I do not see that the saints are guaranteed against providential trials of any kind; nor do I see in these four horsemen any signs whatsoever, as for a particular season or period of time for which we must look as to precede the appearing of Jesus to us. The whole, for what I can tell, may have had its full accomplishment long since.2
The gradual increase of the pressure from the first to the fourth seal assures me of the consecution of their order, though I fully believe that the actions of the preceding cease not necessarily with the introduction of the succeeding. I would merely remark, that while I state the very deep interest which is common to the living creatures collectively in all the works of these riders, whose services to the throne are in that which these living creatures represent, I incline to believe that fuller light will show a distinctive connection of some one of the living creatures with the works in particular of each several rider.
Hitherto, then, the Lord God Almighty had been acting simply in the common routine of his providential arrangements; those who knew and loved Him, who might be on earth, being partakers of the heavenly calling, and thus not only dissociated from the earth, but fully associated with the person of the Lamb wheresoever He might be: definite judgment, as a thing let loose to take its course through the earth, there had been none, for that would have been dishonor unto Jesus. As a Father He may in the church have both judged and chastened, but as the Lord God Almighty ruling in the world He had kept His children distinct in His mind from the world, and either spared it entirely for their sakes, or merely judged it in measure (as in seal 4) for their sakes—but distinct general judgment there had been none. Now, however, the time was nearly come when it should commence; but preparatorily to it we must have, first, the removal out of the way of those who had been partakers of the heavenly calling; and, then, the bringing in of another witness in connection with the earth.