“AFTER THIS ”
Sermon delivered by Mr. E. Roe at Fenstanton on Lord’s Day Morning, November 20th, 1966.
“After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven.” Rev. c. 4, v. 1.
I do not want any of you to think I am going to lead you into mysteries, beyond my own sounding, about what is prophetical. That is not what I am thinking about at all. Far greater men than I, whose shoes’ latchet I am not worthy to unloose, have made shipwreck of themselves in venturing along those lines. There have been men of God who were tremendously blessed in their sphere of labours while they kept to the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but who became ensnared with the study of prophecy, as they term it. Then their ministry became dry and shrivelled up, and some of their congregations just faded away. Not that we ignore prophecy. Prophecy is not given to us that we may know what is going to happenÂ—time only can resolve prophecyÂ—and time will unfold infallibly what God means in the prophetic part of His Book.
I am anxious to give you a few thoughts that I had when this Scripture came to me early this week. I should think some of you must wonder how ministers get their texts. Well, they do
not always get them, they come. When they come of their own accord, as we say, and arrest the mind, one humbly concludes there is a reason, a purpose one may never live to see. I would like to see it, but mine is to deliver the messageÂ—it is God Who blesses it to whomsoever He will.
When these words rested on my mind I thought at once of their connection. “After this”Â—after what? Put yourselves in John’s place; that is the best thing to do when you are looking at words like these. John is in the lonely Isle of Patmos, banished there because the Roman Emperor would not let him preach the Gospel. He is not the only one to suffer at the hands of the Roman Emperor, but he is one of them, and he is altogether humanly alone. If you look at your maps and look at a picture of that Isle of Patmos it looks just about the last word in misery and desolation.
Picture yourself there and then you read “After this. After what?” “Well, after what I saw in the first chapter”. “What did you see, John?” Oh, he saw a beautiful sightÂ—he saw the Lord Jesus Christ enthroned in glory as the Head of the Church. That is the substance of the first chapterÂ—as the Great High Priest walking in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, that is, the churches. His people, attending to their light, watching over them by day and by night. “Well, John, you must have been a happy man when you had that vision.” “I was, and then, PatmosÂ—desolation, loneliness, suffering.” It is often like that. If ever God leads you in your mind and heart by His Divine favour so that you can write your name, as it were, as an interested party in His love and blood, look up. I do not want to dishearten you, but look up. Do not expect it is always going to be like that. May it be so with you, please God, but do not expect it to be so. After the heights of the revelation will come the gloom, the dreariness, the loneliness and the misery of Patmos very often, but there is always an “after this.” No matter what you go through, if it be light or dark, pleasant or painful, affliction or health, prosperity or adversity, there are always these two words “after this”. You will not stop where you are, fellow-believer. It may look as if you will. It may look as if there is no end to your trouble, your difficulty, but cheer up, do not be so foolish as to think you will always be like this. What is going to become of your God, your covenant God, Who has sworn in blessed covenant bonds never to leave, never to forsake, to knock mountains over, level the plains and make straight ways before His people? Surely you do not think He is deadÂ—you cannot think that. Well, do not expect then always to be in the trouble. He will make a way out. “After this” will come.
Then John in the second chapter gets a terrible picture of the churches under the metaphors of the seven golden candlesticks Â—the seven churches of Asia Minor. I need not enlarge, but you
surely know enough of them to see where they all end in the Laodicean conditionÂ—spued out of the mouth of God. Well, that would be enough to make any minister of God downhearted. John might well have said, “Well, where is all the preaching going to end? Where is all the labour and the toil, mental, physical and spiritual, where is it all going to end?” To be spued out of the mouth of God is most objectionable!
You and I can look round the Churches today and feel sickÂ—sick at the sight. What do you see? You do not see godliness manifest. You do not see the fear of God strongly in activity; you do not see the love of God manifested one toward another among those who bear the Christian name. Where is the warmth of fellowship, the godly companionship, the blessed reception of the Gospel, that some of us have known, seen and felt? You can look at the church’s state till you get in despair, but ‘after this’. “Ah! yes, John, that is good news, after this there is something better.” We shall not always be troubled and plagued with dead profession, formalism, coldness of heart and all the rest of it in religion. “After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven.”
As I look at it in the light that John must have looked at it, putting myself in John’s position, what would strike me? In the first place, referring to the fact that Christ is the Door by His atoning blood into heavenÂ—that is perfectly true, and let it be put down as the foundation truthÂ—still there is no other way for you or me or anyone else to enter heaven only through Jesus Christ and what He has done.
I came across a remark recently and it came from a good man, and a man I know that knows what he is talking about, for he is an accomplished scholar in the things belonging to the New Testament and the Old. Speaking of Christ as the Surety for His dear people, he spoke of Him as “the believer’s other Self”. That got hold of me. Yes, and that is true. We speak of our wives as our other selves, why? Because we have engaged in a solemn covenant of matrimony that we will abide by and love and remain faithful to them until death do us partÂ—our other self. Well, Christ has done all that. Yes, He made a matrimonial covenant with His people, and, forget the people, look at the individual, for, after all, the church is made up of individuals; look at the individual child of God. That man and that woman today, trudging along with a heavy load on heart and mind through his or her sin, and feeling just about ready to drop into the pit of perdition, knowing full well they deserve it, they can hardly hold their heads up, feeling that will be their ultimate doom. Christ, well, what about Him? Ah! what about Him? Come, you know, surely, that He said, “I will be Surety for him”. (Gen. 43, v. 9. See Hebrews 7, v. 22). Oh! He is the Surety of the new covenant. He becomes legally involved, voluntarily but blessedly and really soÂ—it is no empty expressionÂ—it is absolutely solid Gospel that He became
voluntarily, legally liable for what you and I have done and shall do while we live. He took every one of those dreadful obligations to Himself, suffered under them and so opened a doorway into heaven for the guiltiest of the guilty. Blessed truth,
That is not just what John was looking at here. What he does see here is further light, further instruction in the things of God. A door was opened in heaven and the first voice which he heard was, as it were, of a trumpet talking with him, “Come up hither and I will shew theeÂ—see, I will give thee deeper and further instructions on things which must be hereafter”. So, what you and I want to do just now, if we can, is to find some illustrations of this beautiful principle that, after a period of sadness, darkness and what not, further instruction is givenÂ—a door is opened into heavenÂ—you receive further light and information.
Let me instance that man of whom I read to you from Genesis 22, Abraham; if ever there was one who was tried by God it was he. I did not stop to comment in the reading because I sometimes think it can be a hindrance, a barrier, but when one is reading the Word of God privately, it is good to note every word. The command of God to Abraham seems as if God meant to pierce him through and through. “Take your son”. “What, that son of mine?” “Yes” “But Lord, Thou didst give me a promise 20 years ago that I should have a son and what Thou wouldst do with him; it cannot be true”. “It is. Take him”. “But, Lord, it is pulling to pieces everything Thou hast said” Abraham might have thought. “Now, take that son that I promised you 20 years ago and never mind your thinking that I am going to tear My promise to piecesÂ—I am notÂ—you take that son, thine only son”. It was not as if Abraham could say “I can spare one. I have plenty of others to make up.” No, “Thine only son” and then the third cut “Whom thou lovest”. Does it not look as if God is really tearing poor old Abraham to a thousand shreds? He did tempt him, try him. “Isaac, that boy of yours, who caused so much laughter and merriment when he was born;” the whole thing amounts to this, “Take that which you have clung to, looked upon, depended upon the most, where your heart has been treasured, take that one”. “Something else. Lord?” “No, this is it, I command you, Abraham, take that son and offer him up for a burnt offering”. “But, surely. God can never command me to offer a human sacrifice; heathens may do that, but God would never permit it, surely, and, not only permit it, but command it to be done; why, it is against reason”. Ah! there is many a thing contrary to your reason and you cannot make head nor tail of some of the things you have to go through, some of the things that happen to you. It knocks your wisdom to bits many a time, as it has mine. You may have thought you were pretty clever at understanding things, putting two and two together, and coming to a nice conclusion, but God sometimes so works that He knocks
the whole thing to bits and you to pieces under it. “Take him, offer him up for a burnt offering”. And it was not to be done in a momentÂ—three days’ journey. There is time to think about it. Ah! there is time for the iron to enter into the soulÂ—three days’ journey. Presently they come to the place which God had told him of, and now Abraham takes his boy, binds him on the altar and, look! he takes the knife, he is so determined to obey God, let the price be what it may. Ah! where is our faith? I have none in comparison. Ours is only on the lip. Why, when it comes to real practice, where is our faith of which we boast so much? He takes the knife and in a split second would have cut his throat but God stopped him.
Now, what is all this going to lead up to? Ah! “After this” he is going to have a look and see “a door opened in heaven”; he is to see instruction that he had never seen before. What is that? Well, there is a ram behind him caught in the thicket and Abraham takes that ram and offers him up in the stead of his son, Isaac, and he calls the name of that place “Jehovah Jireh; the Lord will provide”. Do not put the interpretation first on His providence. This is perfectly correct, but it is not the first thing here. Death, a sacrificial victim, was the first thing here, and Isaac was to have been that victim, for Abraham was perfectly resolved that it should be as God commanded it. God stopped it and, instead of that, provided a ram for a burnt offering, and Abraham says “The Lord will provide”. What? Why, what indeed? He will provide a sin-atoning sacrifice, a redemption, a salvation. “Your father, Abraham, saw My day; he saw it and was glad”. He leapt for joy when he saw that beautiful day of Christ in this particular aspect.
Well, there you have an illustration of my text. “After that, I looked, and behold, I saw God providing a lambÂ—a trial I shall never forget”. Could Abraham forget it? Even some of your bitterest sorrows, they will terminate, not in distress, not in doubt, not in fear, not in bondage. You have all that in going through with them, but they will terminate in some enrichment of knowledge to you of the grace and glory of the dear Redeemer that you have never had before, and you will say “I bless God for that trial”.
Would you like another example? The Bible is full of them. Take our dear old brother, Jacob, I know what his name means, so do you, and well, let it be said kindly, he that is without the fault of supplanting his brother let him cast the first stone. Jacob, deceitful, crafty, cunning, yes so are you, so am I, and, if left to ourselves, we can soon give displays of it. So we are thankful that God had a Jacob in His family. Now Jacob, he is all alone, and it would be, we think, his first night from home. He had had a mothers’ care lavished upon him. In fact, she did just about spoil him, which is a thing mothers can do, and it is very unwise when
they do it, but here he is now, he has to walk the plank nowÂ—no drawing-room experience now for Jacob, and he is left alone. He is weary and worn with his journey and is glad to lay down with stones for his pillowÂ—a little bit different from what he had at home, so what happens? He dreamsÂ—and he dreamed of that beautiful ladder, the top of it reached unto heaven. Why, he is going to get an insight into heavenly truth now that he never had before and which he will never forget, for at the top of the ladder the voice from heaven spoke and said “Jacob, I am with thee, and I will be with thee in all places withersoever thou goest and I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of”. “After this”Â—what a beautiful discovery of the loving kindness of God! Oh for a dream like that, with the voice from heaven above it. What beautiful ways after all God does take with His children. He does not mean to hurt you really, and He will not hurt you. Your deepest bitterness, as Jacob found, shall be rich with the consolations of His presence and provision, and Jacob goes for 20 years’ collegiate training under his tutor uncle. That training, how profitable it was, until God says to him, “Go back”. “I told you I would be with you in all places and I would bring you back; now you go back and I will be with you and deal with you”. He goes back and is in trouble again. His brother Esau comes to meet him and 400 men with him “Oh! whatever will happen to me now! It is all up”. Well, he falls to prayer and you know what happened in the sequel. He looked and there was Esau. Instead of murdering him, they are just kissing one another. Whoever would think that God would work like this? So AbrahamÂ—so Jacob.
I might tell you, also, of Jeremiah, when he was in prison, he had the door of heaven opened to him.
So Ezekiel, when he stood a captive by the River of Chebar, and the heavens were opened to him. It is no new thing. The principle of the text is that God brings His people in a variety of ways through that which is most unpleasant, in order to open their vision to things superior, clearer, fuller than ever they would have known before.
Poor old John also, his ministry at least temporarily closed. That could have been and must have been a dreadful affliction for our brother John in Patmos, to lay down the work he loved so well and so faithfully administered. Yet it must be so, but “It is not to last, John, no”. “I will shew you things that are to come”.
There was another John, John Bunyan. He went to prison, but God shewed him so many things in prison that he had never seen outside of prison. He wrote ‘The Pilgrims’ Progress’ and ‘Grace Abounding’ and on one occasion when he was released from imprisonment and was again taken before the judge it felt like “going home” to go back to prisonÂ—beautiful words. There was not much in that old prison to cheer him up literally, but God
had flooded his soul with such rich foretastes that it was like “going home”. Ah! there is a reality in the real thing. If only you and I have a real Holy Ghost religionÂ—not man-madeÂ—ah! we shall get through. It does not matter what happens. God will see to that.
Now, it may be that you have had this occur in other ways too. There are so many ways in which the meaning of our text can be experienced.
There may have been under the preaching of the Gospel by someoneÂ—a period that you will never, no never forgetÂ—during which service it would be literally true to say that your mind did see a door opened in heaven; you looked right within the veil. You were completely blinded to your present surroundings on earth, your sin, your guilt, your filth, your worries, your perplexities, whatever they were that had held you captive. Someone came along in the providence of God, and in his preaching so preached into your heart that he preached all the rubbish out, so that you went home reeling to and fro, staggering like a drunken man, in the sweetness and power of the revelation of the truth of God in your heart. I remember one such caseÂ—it happened many years ago but I have never forgotten it. It was the late Mr. White who used to be at W … and in Suffolk I heard him take for his text, “They shall look upon Him Whom they have pierced”. I can see the man now and I can hear his voice as clear as I can hear my own, and I know there was one looking at a pierced Christ that afternoon. Yes, and I still have some landmarks I could tell you of, if I had time, but I must not.
Let me illustrate what I mean. You have heard a certain man for years, what have you gained? Have you had anything that made you glad? Anything like that, once now and againÂ—once a year, once in 5 yearsÂ—may God give you more than thatÂ—such a door opening into heaven through the preaching of the Gospel that you have been completely at home, not in this world, but at home for the time being, and you have come back to terra firma with an aching heart. Ah! blessed treasures. Do value them, and may God repeat them too.
Perhaps some of you may remember when you went through the ordinance of believers’ baptism. I never put that much to the frontÂ—it is an ordinance of His houseÂ—I cannot urge and try to persuade folk to go through thatÂ—but I do say this, that if any person is exercised about it, scripturally, it is yours to attend to it. Some can remember doing so, and some can tell you why they remember it. They had many fears and much bondage beforehand as to whether they were right or wrong in it, but in the actual moment of it, was it not similar to what it was to Christ when He was baptised? The heavens were opened and the voice from Heaven said, “This is My Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased,
hear ye Him”. I do not mean to say that God the Father speaks with such clarity of voice as He must have done with respect to His Own dear Son, but, in spirit, there has been the communication of relationship, the experience that I am doing what is right. This is pleasing to God, not meritoriously, but as an act of my affection to and confession of His Son, hearing Him, God approves itÂ—a time some will never forget. They look, at that moment and, behold, a door was opened in heaven.
All this will be ripened into maturity one day as we have never experiencedÂ—I mean the day when we die. No child of God that can follow me this morning in his or her heart is going to be left out of this, no. Many go down to death with plenty of fearsÂ—I know all about thatÂ—seen so much of it and read so much about it, but there comes a time when their fears are banished and, like that dear Apostle of the Lord, Stephen, when they were stoning him to death; what did happen to him? He said that he saw the heavens opened and the Lord Jesus Christ standing at the right hand of God ready to receive him. Of course they thought it was blasphemous, but what blessed reality to the dear man; and, in spirit, the same thing has happened, and I believe, does happen, and will happen to the family of God one by one, as they are called henceÂ—not each one able to express itÂ—that does not matterÂ—we put too much emphasis on the talk, the expression. It is nice if one can express it, but heaven does not depend upon expression. Heaven depends upon the fact of what Christ has done. Oh! you may be sure the child of God, even the feeblest believer in His Name, is never left in the last moments to go out alone. No never. “When I pass through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me”. That’s it. His shining presence eliminates the fear, though one may not talk about it, and one enters into heaven in peace and blessedness.