The Song Of The Redeemed And Of The Angels - Rev. Herman Hoeksema
10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
11 And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God,
12 Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.
A Heavenly Song
I think that we have a perfect right to call this outcry of the numberless throng and of the angels who surround the throne and the elders and the four living creatures a song. For, in the first place, it is safe to say that in the perfected economy of all things all our expressions shall be in the form of a song in a certain sense of the word. If we take "song" now as a higher and fuller and more beautiful, harmonious expression of all our conscious life in glory, then indeed it may be asserted that in heaven and in the state of perfection and glory we shall always sing. There our human language shall have reached the height of perfection. There the human voice shall sound in all the fulness of its perfect beauty. And there we shall be able to give the most harmonious expression to what we think and feel, to all our conscious life and experience. In that sense we shall always sing in heaven.
But also the text itself indicates that we should think here of a song, a song which these redeemed of God and the angels sing together to the glory of the Most High and of the Lamb. This is not so apparent as long as we take these expressions separately and look upon them as two separate expressions, the first of the redeemed and the second of the angels. But that is evidently not the case. It is true that in our text they are separated by a few clauses; besides, they are expressions of different beings and with apparently different contents. And yet, if we look a little more closely and consider these two expressions of the redeemed and of the angels more carefully, we will soon find that they belong together both in form and in contents. As far as the form is concerned, let us notice that the part which the angels sing is really a reply to the shout of the redeemed throng. This is clear from the fact that they begin their song with the corroborative "Amen." This "Amen" evidently means to be an answer to the outcry of the redeemed. The redeemed cry out, "Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." And the angels take up their song and answer: "Amen. So be it. So it certainly is forever and ever." Even as
in olden times the daughters of Zion would meet one another in courses and in their song respond to one another, so also in this heavenly choir the angels respond to the song of the redeemed. The latter sing that salvation belongeth to God; and the angels meet them and respond with their solemn adoration and ascription of glory to the Most High. And therefore the form plainly indicates that the two expressions belong together and must not be separated.
The same is true also of the contents of this song. It is essential that a song must have unity of thought and theme. This is certainly true of the song of the redeemed and the angels. The theme is the same in both. That theme is the glory of God as it has become revealed in the mighty work of salvation. The redeemed throng sing of the fact that of this salvation God and the Lamb are the authors: they have wrought it; they have planned it; they have completed that salvation. And the angels conclude by pointing out that therefore all praise and glory and honor and thanksgiving and wisdom and power and might belong to the Most High, and that all the powers of creation unite in ascribing glory to Him Who sitteth upon the throne.
Hence, we repeat: in the theme and form and outcries of angels and redeemed we have the record of a heavenly song, sung by all the moral and rational creatures in God's glorious creation.
Let us fasten our attention for a moment upon these singers.
We do not mean to determine now who they are: that has been settled in our previous chapter, at least in as far as the numberless throng is concerned. This throng consists of the redeemed and glorified and perfected children of God who have passed through the great tribulation and have now been gathered from all peoples and nations and tongues and tribes into everlasting glory. And those who reply to their outcry are the mighty angels, ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands in number.
But we must watch and consider them for a few moments as singers of this wonderful song. And then we shall find that there never was a better qualified chorus upon earth than this mixed choir of men and angels. A song is chiefly a matter of perfect and harmonious expression. The clearer our consciousness and knowledge of the contents of our song, the fuller and more beautiful our song will be. The more deeply we feel and realize the depth of meaning which there is in the song we sing, the more impressive will be the song we are singing. It must be admitted that from these points of view the chorus which is here singing in the new heavens and the new earth, according to the words of the text we are now discussing, is perfectly qualified. They have, in the first place, arrived in the state of perfect knowledge. Their consciousness has been cleared; and the cloud of sin which here overshadows and bedims our knowledge, the knowledge of the people of God, has been dispersed.
It is true that also here on earth we often sing, but our song is as imperfect as ourselves. Our minds are still darkened by the influence of sin; our consciousness is beclouded by the effects of sin. We do not fully understand the truth of God and the contents of that of which we sing. As the apostle Paul has it, "We behold a dim image, as in a dark glass; but we do not as yet see face to face." Sometimes the darkness seems to break, and there are moments when we see more clearly than at other times. There are moments when we behold more clearly the beauty of God's plan and of the work of salvation. In such times we sing rather consciously with the inspired poet of old, "O how love I Thy law; it is my meditation all the day." But even at those best moments of our present life upon earth, the darkness of sin has not been fully dispersed; and we do not see face to face. And as it is with our knowledge, so also it is with our will, with our feeling and with our desires. Our will is still under the influence of sinful perversion. The lust of the flesh often still dominates and controls us to a certain extent, and we do not live the fulness of our spiritual life in the present dispensation. We are by no means perfect. There is, in fact, but a small beginning of the new obedience. There is but a small principle of the new life within us. And the result is that here we cannot sing in the perfect and true sense of the word. How often we even sing merely from an aesthetic point of view, merely for the enjoyment of the sound of the trained human voice. How often we sing mechanically, without realizing the depth of meaning there is in the songs of Zion. How often we sing without our heart being expressed in the song which we are singing. The best of our songs is under the influence of the power of sin and imperfection.
This, we understand, is not true of the song of the redeemed throng and of the angels who respond to their song. The redeemed are now perfectly delivered from the power of sin. Their minds have been cleared. They see no more a dim image in a dark glass, but now they see face to face. The cloud of sin has been dissipated. They know as they are known. Their consciousness has been purified. Fully they understand the implication of their song. With all their clearest consciousness they understand the full implication of the words which they sing: "Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." All the more do they realize the depth of meaning which is hidden in their song, and all the more fully can they express their inmost heart in this song because it is a song of their own perfected experience. They do not sing of something which does not and never did concern them. It is not a song which, for instance, has been composed for them by one of the great masters of music among them, the meaning of which is foreign to them and the tune of which is strange until they have learned it by heart. On the contrary, they themselves are the authors of this song; and they simply sing of what they have experienced, in the light of their glorified consciousness. Here upon earth they often did not understand themselves when they sang. They could not fully interpret their own experience. They could not understand their own feelings and desires. They could not see the reason of the way in which they had to walk, in which they were led. here in the world by the God of their salvation. But now all is different. Clearly they understand their own experience. Here upon earth they often sang, "Sometime, sometime we'll understand," because they realized that they did not understand themselves. But now that "sometime" has been changed into the everlasting present. Now they know!
And their own experience, that which has been realized in and for and through them by the Lord their God, the God of their salvation, in the light of their redeemed consciousness, is the subject of their song. They were sinners. They used to be in the power of sin and death. And while they were in this life in the midst of the world, they sometimes felt the horrible implication of the truth that they were in the power of corruption. But the full reality of this terrible fact we really never feel in this present life. We do not know what it means to live the life of perfection. We do not know what it implies to be entirely perfect, without sin and corruption, in mind, in heart, in will, in all our feelings and emotions. We do not know what it means to be completely free from the effects of sin. We only faintly feel sometimes that it must be unspeakably blessed to live the full and abundant, eternal life of perfection. But in perfection and glory we shall realize it all. Then, looking back, we shall certainly be conscious of our former state in the midst of the world. O, this shall not be the case in the sense that the sins of this present life shall still be a cause for sorrow and repentance. In heaven, in eternity and glory, in the new creation, God shall wipe all tears from our eyes, also the tears of repentance and sorrow over sin. But it shall certainly be true in this sense, that we shall recollect the depth of misery from which we are saved. Now we cannot know the contrast; then we shall see it clearly. Now we can only faintly feel what it means that we are still in the power of sin and death; then we shall clearly understand how deeply we had fallen and from what depth of misery we are saved.
Still more: in this present life the saints of God were in tribulation. The enemy,-Satan, sin, the power of the Antichrist,-left them no rest. Some of this numberless throng have been in the hottest of the battle. They were poor and despised. They were persecuted and subjected to the most awful suffering. They were bearers of the cross. But now they are perfectly delivered. They live in the new heavens and the new earth. Wherever they turn, there is fullest freedom. Wherever they go, the Lord their God spreads His tabernacle over them. Wherever they go, there is their God and their Savior. Wherever they turn, there they see the beauty of their God, and they may serve Him day and night in His temple. They do nothing else. Constantly they serve Him Who sitteth upon the throne. They are now perfectly redeemed. They therefore can realize now the contrast fully and clearly between what they were and what they are now, between their former and their present condition. And it is small wonder that they altogether cry out in their song with a tremendous shout of deliverance: "Salvation belongeth unto the Lord that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." It is the song of their deepest conviction. It is the song of their fullest knowledge, their clearest consciousness. It is the song of their own deepest personal experience.
The same is true of the angels.
We know, of course, that it is not true in the same sense as of the redeemed throng who constitute the new humanity. However, we must never forget that also the angels are interested in the plan of God with regard to the salvation of the world. Personally they were not affected by sin and misery. They are and remained in the state of perfection. God had created the angel world differently from the world of man. Man was created an organism. A man, therefore, could not sin and fall away from God as a mere individual. Man was created under one head. Adam was the head of the whole human race, the head both in a legal and in an organic sense of the word. Hence, when that one head fell, all the members of the human race were involved and dragged down to the abyss of sin and death. This, however, was not the case with the world of the angels. It is true, of course, as we know, that sin did not have its origin in the world of man, but in that of the angels. Satan, the prince of the devils, was the first one to fall away from and to rebel against his God. But that fall and rebellion of the devil affected only part of the world of angels, and the rest remained perfect and upright. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the angels are deeply interested in the redemption of God's people and of the entire universe.
In the first place, this is true because in their state of perfection they must have a far clearer view and deeper insight into the meaning of all that happens in the present world than we do. They know the mighty Satan far better than we do. They have had fellowship with him while still he was perfect. They knew that he was one of the mightiest among the mighty, yea, perhaps we can say that Satan was the very mightiest of all. They also clearly and fully realize the awful power of his rebellion. On the other hand, they live for the glory of the Most High, Who sitteth upon the throne. They long to see His glory fully realized historically. They know that this glory of their God shall not be fully realized before the redeemed have all been gathered and perfected, the world shall have been renewed, and the mighty Satan shall have been forever subjected and cast out into outer darkness along with all who took his side in his rebellion against the Most High. Hence, the angels long to see that day of universal perfection. They are even eager to catch a glimpse of it. They rejoice over every sinner that cometh to repentance. They are always ready to serve in the bringing of that glorious kingdom.
Besides, we must not forget that because of sin also the harmony between heaven and earth has been disturbed, even the harmony in the world of the angels. That world has been broken up by the fall and rebellion of the devil. There is disharmony everywhere, a disharmony which is to be removed and to be replaced by perfect harmony under Christ Jesus, the eternal King, under God, over all creation,-King also over the angels. In that eternal kingdom, in which heaven and earth shall be reunited, they also shall have a place, a definite place, a place which they cannot occupy till all shall have been accomplished. But now, at the moment when these angels respond to the song of the redeemed, all is accomplished and perfected. Satan has now been cast out and destroyed forever. Now all the works of darkness have come to an end. Now heaven and earth are the temple of God, in which angels and men, under Christ Jesus as their everlasting head, serve God forever, day and night. And therefore also they are perfectly qualified as singers in this heavenly choir; and they sing with perfect consciousness and from deepest emotion when they respond to the outcry of the redeemed: "Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen."
The Contents Of The Song Of The Redeemed
Let us pay attention for a moment to the contents of their song. The redeemed throng sing: "Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb."
In order to understand this song we must make an attempt to place ourselves on the vantage-point of the redeemed in the glorified creation. Only then can we fully understand what they mean by salvation. The meaning of the entire sentence of this song is rather clear: these people out of all nations and tongues and tribes mean to say, "Salvation belongeth unto our God; salvation is entirely out of our God; God is the only author of salvation; and salvation therefore can only be to the glory of the Triune God."
It is plain that this is not a preaching of the gospel: for the gospel cannot be preached in perfection. There is no more an audience to whom the gospel can be preached. The saints in this throng do not mean to proclaim the glad tidings that there is salvation with God and that the Most High is willing and able to save. For the work of salvation is at an end. There is no salvation to be accomplished any more. All that had to be performed is now fully finished.
Hence, these redeemed and these angels can only think of the complete wonder of the work of salvation. Just as we can speak of creation in more than one sense of the word, so also these redeemed now employ the word "salvation" in the sense that all is now finished. I can imagine that Adam in Paradise, when he beheld the wondrous works of God round about him, when he was still standing in perfect knowledge and was conscious of his Creator in all things, would sing, "Creation unto our God." The meaning naturally would be that Adam recognized that the works round about him were the finished product of the Almighty Creator, Who had wrought all these things and through all of them glorified Himself. So it is also with the song of these redeemed. Salvation has now been realized. It is a completed work. And when they sing of it, they take it as they see it, as they have it before their very eyes, and as they experience it and enjoy it.
They sing of it in its all-comprehensive sense. By it they refer, in the first place, to their own condition and state, as well as to all that was necessary to lead them to this state of glory. They were guilty and miserable. They were in the power of sin and death. They were condemned, as far as they were concerned, to everlasting corruption. And they were subject to the just wrath of the righteous God. They might sing with the poet of old, "Cords of death compassed me about." And now they are delivered from all sin and death and corruption, and they enjoy the fulness of eternal life and glory. There is no guilt, nor any consciousness of guilt, that oppresses them any more. There is no power of sin any more that corrupts them and rules over them. There is no darkness that beclouds their minds. There is no transgression that perverts their will. There is no hatred that causes them to rise in rebellion against their God. There is but one life, but one desire, but one constant longing: that is to enjoy the full communion of Him Who sitteth upon the throne, and of the Lamb. They do not look for it in vain. Their every desire is now satisfied. They hunger no more, neither thirst any more. Wherever they go, they find themselves in the temple of their God, and they find themselves covered by His tabernacle. They find that they dwell with Him, and He with, them, and that they serve Him day and night. For not only they personally have been saved; but also all creation has been completely redeemed, according to their present perfect state. All things have now been brought into subjection to man in Christ Jesus their Lord. All creation has become a kingdom under man, in Christ, a kingdom with its King standing before the throne of the Most High, serving Him day and night. In a word, when these redeemed sing of their salvation, they understand it in its all-comprehensive sense; and they refer to the redemption of all the world in its fulness and to the restoration of perfect harmony in the new heaven and the new earth. In a word, salvation is the state of universal perfection.
What do they sing of this salvation? The answer is that it is unto God and unto the Lamb. This implies that they ascribe to God and to the Lamb all the authority, all the authorship and power, all the perfection and completion of what they behold in the new creation and of what they now experience in everlasting glory.
This implies, in the first place, by way of contrast, that it is in no sense of the word the work of creature, that it is not at all the work of man, and that man has no part in it whatsoever. Salvation belongeth unto God and unto the Lamb, and to no one else.
This is a song which, it would seem, is often difficult to sing in the present world and in the present dispensation. There seem to be even among the people of God in this world who cannot accept this truth now which once they hope to sing with the throng in the new creation, "Salvation is of our God and of the Lamb." To be sure, they probably will go a good way along with you and Scripture in confessing that salvation is of the Lord. They admit with us that Christ has performed all the work which needed to be done for our salvation. He has paid the debt. He has fulfilled the law. He is our all. And we come empty-handed. And with us they will confess, "Surely, He hath borne our sin and our transgressions. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him. And by His stripes we were healed." But for the rest, they make salvation, - in part, at least, - dependent upon man. Christ has opened the way, but that is all He could possibly do. If man now refuses to walk in that Christ-opened way, then God stands impotent, and His kingdom will be a failure. And it is, after all, due to a large extent to this willingness of man to believe in Christ and to accept Him that God is successful in the realization of His kingdom. Or, what is worse, and what is surely impossible for a Christian to maintain, according to the modern view, Christ has simply taught us the principle of His kingdom; and He has by His life shown how to realize it; and now it is up to us. We must bring the kingdom of God in the world. We must be up and doing. And if we do not bring the kingdom, it will never come and be perfected. Man is powerful, man is willing, man is essentially good and is by nature a fit subject of that kingdom of God in Christ. Hence, we must simply believe in the power and the goodness of man, and must set to work to realize the kingdom and to redeem the world from the curse and the effects of imperfection.
Over against this stands the song of the redeemed in the new world. They do not sing, "Salvation is unto our God and unto man." But they sing, "Salvation unto our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." No doubt, among this throng there are many who did not confess this in all its fulness while they were still in the midst of the world. But now, in perfection, now that their minds have been delivered from the darkness of sin and imperfection, now that they know as they are known,-now they have changed their conception. Now they confess in all its fulness and in all its meaning that the entire work of salvation is the work of God and of Christ as the Lamb Who was led to the slaughter and Who overcame and was raised from the dead. It is God Who from all eternity gave unto Christ a people whom He chose in order to show forth His virtues and His power of salvation. It was God, the Triune God, Who ordained the Mediator, Jesus Christ the righteous, to redeem that people of His choice and to reveal the love and grace of their God. It was God Who sent that Mediator, His only begotten Son, into the flesh at the appointed time as the Lamb Who would be slain. It was the Lamb Who obeyed. It was the Lamb Who bore the wrath of God, Who took upon Himself all the sins of all His people and carried them upon the accursed tree. It was the Lamb Who fulfilled the law and all righteousness. It was the Lamb Who blotted out all our sins and transgressions and Who, having fulfilled all, rose to glory on the third day. It was the Lamb Who ascended into highest heaven and received all power in heaven and on earth, Who realized His kingdom spiritually by pouring out the Spirit of grace. It was the Lamb Who through that Spirit regenerated His people, called them out of darkness into His marvellous light, Who gave them the true and saving faith, Who justified them and sanctified them, Who protected them and led them in the way of life in this present dispensation. It is the Lamb Who receives the book with its seven seals and Who opens seal after seal, Who controls all things in this present world. It is the Lamb Who will overcome the last manifestation of the Antichrist, Who will judge the world in righteousness, Who will by His Spirit cause the people whom the Father gave Him to rise to glory. It is the Lamb Who thus completes the kingdom of God. And when all shall have been completed, then the Lamb shall deliver that kingdom to the Father, and, subjecting Himself, shall eternally be at the head of all His people, leading them unto fountains of living water forever and ever. Such is salvation! Man and the world are the object, never the subject of it. Is it a wonder that in the new world, when all this shall be clearly understood, there shall be no more controversy about these truths, but all shall sing with all their heart and mind, "Salvation,-this completed work of salvation,-is unto our God which sitteth upon the throne, and is unto the Lamb for ever and ever?"
The Angels' Response
The angels respond in one grand eulogy. They fall before the throne on their faces, and they worship.
And what is the expression of their hearts in this worship? "Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen." This is a seven-fold ascription of glory to the Most High.
To the relation between their song and that of the redeemed we have already called your attention. It is a corroboration, and at the same time a more detailed explanation, of what the redeemed have sung. The latter have shouted that salvation, that is, the completed work of salvation as it shines forth in the new world, in the new heavens and the new earth, is the work of God and of the Lamb forevermore. These angels now sing in brief that therefore all the glory and praise and honor and wisdom and thanksgiving and power and might which shine forth from this new creation are of our God and shall be ascribed to Him forever and ever.
As in His temple you listen to the songs and sounds of the new creation, you will find that notes of praise reach your ear. And who is the object of all this praise that rises from the new kingdom, from man and angel and from every creature? God, and God alone! As you look about you in this new creation, you find that a wonderful glory shines forth and is reflected in and through it all. Whose glory is it that thus shines forth from the new world? It is God's, and God's alone! As you walk about in His temple, in this temple of your God, you will more and more notice how all speaks of wisdom and highest intelligence. Whose is this wisdom? It is the wisdom of God, and of Him alone! You will notice that under the leadership of the Lamb all creation serves one and only one, day and night, and gives honor to just one. Who is that one before whom all bow in humble worship? It is God, and God alone! From the bosom of creation rises a note of thanksgiving and heart-felt gratitude, speaking of love and of grace and of mercy revealed. For whom is that note of thanksgiving? It has its object in the Most High God, and in Him alone! Power and talent and mighty strength are now beautifully revealed and shine forth harmoniously from all the new creation. It is the power and strength and the glorious virtue which belong to the Almighty God, Who sitteth upon the throne. Thus it is and will be in the new and eternal economy of all things. Thus shines forth the new world!
And God's conscious and rational creatures take notice of it all. They find in it all a reflection of the glory of God. And being conscious of this, they sing. They sing the new song. They sing in heavenly notes of music, sing with all their heart and mind enraptured by so much glory: "Salvation is of the Lord Who sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." And all the mighty angels join in the song of the redeemed as they shout: "Amen, yea, Amen. Praise, and glory, and wisdom, and honour, and thanksgiving, and power, and might be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen."