The Sure Hope
This is a very glorious account, and yet we need not wonder, for it was a vision of heavenly things: you may call it a short glimpse within the veil which separated this world from the world to come. We read in the verses before our text, that the apostle John saw in the spirit a great multitude which no man could number, clothed with white robes, and bearing palms in their hands, standing before the throne and before the Lamb: and not knowing himself who or what these might be, he received information from one of the elders or chief angels, and was told in the words you have heard, that these were the blessed company of all faithful people, the redeemed out of every nation and kindred and tongue, the true children of God, the heirs of everlasting salvation.
I propose this morning to consider fully the account which this elder gave. I counsel you, beloved, to search and see what you know of it in your own selves. The day shall come when the sun shall become black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon shall become as blood, and the stars of heaven shall fall unto the earth, and they who are strangers to the character described in our text shall find it had been better for them if they had never been born. Blessed are they who are not ashamed to confess that they seek a more abiding city than this world, even a heavenly one, and count all things loss if they can only win Christ and be found in Him.
Now there are three points to be examined in our text.
I. First, where did these saints come from whom John saw.
II. Second, how they had been able to reach the place where he saw them.
III. Third, and last, what was their reward.
I. First, then, we learn that God's saints have come out of great tribulation - that is, they have come out of a world full of sin and danger, a world in which they have so much to encounter which is hurtful to their souls that you may truly call it a place of great tribulation. How strange that seems! This earth so fair and lovely as it appears, is full of everything to make life enjoyable, this earth on which millions do set all their affections and have not a thought beyond it, is a wilderness beset with trials and difficulties to every true believer. Write this down on the tablet of your memory, that if you make up your mind to follow Christ and have your soul saved, you will sooner or later have to go through tribulation.
Brethren why are these things so? Because the world you live in is a fallen world, the devil is the prince of it, and by far the greater part of the men and women on it have shut their eyes and given themselves up to his service. Once become a follower of Christ, you will see iniquity abounding on every side, you will see your blessed Saviour's laws trampled under foot, you will find the immense majority of those around you to be spiritually dark, sleeping and dead - some altogether thoughtless, some resting on a form of godliness without the power; and if you love the Lord Jesus in sincerity, to see your Redeemer thus despised will make the world a place of tribulation.
But this is not all. The earthly-minded, the thoughtless, will never let you hold on your way in peace. Oh no! You are condemning their practices and fashions, you are a witness against their deadness and neglect of religion; and so if you set your face towards Zion they will try to turn you back. Perhaps it will be laughter, perhaps it will be hard words; one day they will accuse you of pride, another of self-conceit; sometimes they will annoy you with arguments, sometimes they will avoid your company; but, one way or another, you will soon discover that the worldly-minded will never let you go quietly to heaven. You cannot please them. You may exercise yourself like Paul to have a conscience void of offence towards all men; it matters not, you cannot serve the Lord and Mammon, and if you walk with God, you will find your way is spoken against by nearly all.
And then there is your own heart - deceitful, treacherous, and cold - the flesh lusting against the spirit and the spirit warring with the flesh; your readiness to make excuses, your deadness in the use of means, your wandering thought in prayer, your lack of faith in sorrow, your presumptuous self-confidence in joy. O Christian, you have an enemy within which needs your constant watchfulness; you have a fountain of trials in your own breast; you will have daily occasion to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts. And add to this those cares which you have in common with all children of Adam - sickness, disease and pain, the loss of property, the unkindness of friends, the daily toil for a livelihood, the fear of want, the many nameless causes of anxiety which every week almost brings around, and say whether it be not true that all God's people come out of great tribulation. They must deny themselves, they must take up the cross, they must reckon on many a trial, if they would enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Mark well, beloved, this truth - the path to glory has been always filled with thorns; it is the experience of all those holy men and women who have left us an example that we should walk in their steps: Abraham, and Jacob, and Moses, and David, and Job, and Daniel, there was not one of them who was not perfected through sufferings.
We are all too much disposed to think a time may come when we shall have a season of repose and not be harassed with these vexations and disappointments. Almost every one supposes he is tried more than his neighbors; but let us not be deceived - this earth is not our rest; it is a place for working, not for sleeping. Here is the reason that so many run well for a time, and seem to have the love of Christ in their hearts, and yet, when persecution or affliction ariseth for the word's sake, they are offended. They had not counted the cost; they had reckoned on the reward without the labor; they had forgotten this most important point in the character of God's saints - "they are men and women who have come out of great tribulation."
(continued with # 19)