On the Book of Revelation (Part 1)

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Lectures on The Principles of Unitarianism
Lecture 8 – (By J. S. Hyndman, 1824)

[Please note that Spirit & Truth Fellowship International does not necessarily agree with the full content of this lecture, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]

Revelation 3:14
…the beginning of the creation of God;

There is no book in the New Testament which, in my apprehension, contains in it stronger evidence of the truth of the great principles of Anti-Trinitarianism than the Apocalypse. Every new perusal of it affords me fresh matter of wonder that Trinitarian ingenuity should ever have professed itself adequate to the task of finding support to its dogmas in this part of Scripture, or of reconciling with its peculiarities the numerous clear and distinct intimations of the personal unity of God and the peerless majesty of the Father which run through the whole of it.

Considering the character of the Apocalypse, it may with the utmost propriety be affirmed, that had the Deity of Jesus been the fundamental doctrine of Christianity, as it is strongly enough supposed to be, we should have found it blazing forth in this book in the most splendid manner imaginable. There, if anywhere, we should have found the glory of Christ’s person as God-man depicted in the most lofty, august, and impressive manner—illuminating almost every page with its effulgent splendor, bespangling every leaf with its beauteous attractions, and from its transcendent, dazzling, and overwhelming grandeur and majesty, totally eclipsing the glory of all the characters of the visions set forth to our view.

That the representations of the glory of the person of Christ, given in this portion of Scripture, are of a description much more elevated and sublime than those of the other characters introduced into the scenes, is certainly true. But instead of its having been the design to exhibit Jesus to view in the character of the Infinite God, the uniform and formal manner in which all the addresses to the churches are introduced by Christ with the mention of his inferior, finite character and capacity, naturally leads us to suppose that in forming these prefaces he had in view the errors concerning his person that were soon to make their appearance in the church; that the several introductions to the letters were intended to afford a positive voice against such errors when they should arise.

These prefatory statements of the Apocalypse, together with the general tenour of those parts in any way connected with the subject, appear to me to afford as complete evidence for the unrivaled Majesty of God the Father as can possibly be conceived. What, my brethren, have Trinitarians upon which to build their most singular conclusions? Nothing more than a few scattered passages of the Old and New Testaments, thought by them to ascribe to Jesus the names and titles, the attributes, the works, and the worship of the Supreme. These form no prominent or essential part of the subject with which they stand connected. It was not the exclusive or the special purpose of the writer to state the doctrine supposed by Trinitarians to be conveyed by them, and though the expressions were understood in a different sense from that which Trinitarians attach to them, the general sentiments and ideas in the passages in connexion with which they occur would not appear to be either incoherent or incomplete; either more or less than the writer meant to convey by the words.

The case is altogether different as it respects those passages that either state or from which it may be inferred that the Father alone is God, and that Jesus is a being distinct from and inferior to him. In the book before us we find one continued string of passages that either state or clearly and directly warrant the inference that Jesus is not Jehovah. We find the names and titles of Deity; the attributes, the works, and the worship, belonging to the true God, given to one being in distinction from another being called ‘the Lamb,’ and the argument from this in favour of our sentiments is very much strengthened by some circumstances that attend the application of these, to the one in distinction from the other.

In their acclamations and ascriptions of praise, it seems to have been the grand aim and prominent object of some of the characters in the visions to delineate the highest glories of Christ as well as of the Father; and we nevertheless find that almost all they appropriate to Christ is inconsistent with the infinite perfection and absolute supremacy of Deity, and of a cast and complexion different from that which they appropriate to the Father, and wholly inferior to it. These positions we shall make good by the following review of those parts of the book of Revelation that have any connexion with the point.

First, then, you will observe that the titles GOD, LORD, and LORD GOD, are given to the Father in distinction from the Son.

Out of the thirteen I shall adduce merely four passages in which this appears: chap. xxi. 22. xix. 6, 7. xv. 3, 4. In each of these instances the Father is distinguished also from the Son by the ascription to him of the attribute of omnipotence, and in one of them by that also of infinite holiness. In it the occurrence is very peculiar, because the titles and attributes of Deity are not merely given to the Father in distinction from the Son, but are ascribed to the Father by the Son himself in conjunction with Moses the ancient legislator of the Jews. The circumstance of the titles and attributes of Deity being ascribed to one person, is a plain proof that no other person is what the appropriation of these titles and attributes shew that person to be to whom they are applied, because the notion of the plurality of supreme divinities is opposed to the conclusions of reason and the dictates of Revelation, and because no reason can be assigned why, especially in such a part of Scripture as that we are considering, the Son should not be set before our view in the same glorious light as that in which the Father is, were he indeed one with the Father or in personality equal to him.

The circumstance of the titles and attributes of Deity being given to the Father in distinction from the Son, affords an additional species of argument for the exclusive Deity of the Father. Both of these kinds of evidence we have in the already mentioned passages, but in the last (chap. xv. 3.) there is another and still more powerful kind of proof of the inferiority of Jesus Christ to the Father.

Had we found the Father addressed in the language of that passage by Moses only, this of itself would have been a plain ascription to the Father exclusively of perfection which is distinctive of Godhead; and this would have proved in the very terms the exclusive Deity of the Father. But when the ascription is by the Son himself, does he not in the very words exclude himself from the possession of infinite holiness? Does he not do so as much as Moses did, who tuned along with him the hymn of praise which so sublimely employed their tongues? Can the attributes ascribed and the titles given, be appropriated also to him who is the Lamb, and who under that distinctive character joins with Moses in calling the object of their praise “The Lord God Almighty, and the only holy.” Surely the Lamb was not in any sense the very same being with—surely he was not in any sense equal in glory to him whom he thus joins with Moses in praising? No, my brethren: Jesus never claimed Deity at all. What were his words to the lawyer who styled him ‘good master?’ Do they not contain a clear and manifest intimation of the truth we are proving? “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is God.”

‘God’ and ‘the Lamb’ are used as distinctive epithets in every part of the work. How, if these titles be equally applicable to the Father and the Son, the former should be confined to the Father and the latter to Jesus, is certainly a singular circumstance; a circumstance of itself sufficient to shew that the one is exclusively what he is exclusively denominated, ‘God.’ The superiority of the Father to the Son is also manifest from those passages which represent God as sitting upon the throne, in distinction from the Lamb, who is said to be merely in the throne, or, as the expression means, in the middle space between the throne and the elders. To this purpose see chap. v. 6, 7, 13. vi. 16. vii. 9, 10, 15—17. The expression ‘upon the throne‘ is no doubt figurative; but it is evidently meant to denote a state of supreme majesty, unrivaled glory, and absolute dominion. Now the circumstance of the Father only being represented as sitting upon the throne, is a plain proof that the Son does not possess a unity of essence with the Father, or an equality of perfection and dominion with him. Because, had the Son been the compeer of Jehovah the Father, he certainly would have been represented as occupying the same station of dignity with the Father. But more than this, the dignity denoted by the phrase ‘sitting upon the throne’ is not only exclusively represented as belonging to the Father, but appears clearly to be ascribed to the Father by way of distinguishing him from the Son, who is represented as merely ‘in the midst of the throne;’ a plain and obvious indication of the unrivaled majesty of the one, and the subordination and inferiority of the other.

It is indeed true that the throne is once called “the throne of God and the Lamb.” What then? The station of the Lamb was certainly within the floor and footstool of the throne, which is represented in the description as bounded by a circle or an emerald. The Lamb occupies indeed the same throne as the Father, but his station is beneath that of the Father; he does not occupy the same part of the throne with the Father; he does not sit upon it, which the Father does. And perceiving this marked difference, you cannot think, I should suppose, that the mere occupation of the same throne, or sitting in the middle space between the throne and the elders, is a circumstance that tends in the least degree to prove the Deity of Christ.

Lest, however, this should enter your conceptions, let me tell you that though indeed the occupying of the station denoted by ‘sitting in the midst of the throne’ must be honourable and glorious in a very high degree, yet not so much so, after all, as to lead us to conceive of Jesus as sustaining an office and exalted to a dignity which no other intelligence appears in. For from chap. iv. 6. & v. 6. it appears distinctly enough that there were more than Jesus in the midst of the throne. The elders, whomsoever they are intended to represent, sat along with him in the floor of the throne. Moreover, how or by what means did Christ reach that kind of dignity which is thus denoted? Hear his own account of the matter: “He that overcometh shall sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” From whom, I ask, could such expressions proceed? From none but a being who in consequence, and solely in consequence, of having done his duty, was rewarded by that Superior whose commands he obeyed. It was on earth that Jesus fought his victory. It was not, therefore, till after he was on earth that he was admitted to sit in the precincts of Jehovah’s throne. Had he been the God of the universe, could he have been exalted; could he have been subjected to temptation; could he have ‘overcome?’ Surely no. Had he been the infinite God, having had an eternal and inherent right to sit upon the throne of universal government, could his being exalted to sit upon that throne (supposing it were said that he had been so) have been attributed to his having ‘overcome?’

Further, I ask, does Jesus give to his followers the promise of being raised to sit upon the throne of the Almighty, of becoming colleagues and assessors of Deity, of being exalted to an equality with himself or with God? Yet this must be applied to the passage I have quoted, if ‘sitting in the throne’ does not denote a state of dignity subordinate to that of Jehovah.

In further establishment of my position respecting the evidence of Unitarianism that is to be found in the Apocalypse, I remark that in several parts of it, God is worshipped as distinguished from the Lamb, who is merely praised in conjunction with the Almighty. See chap. iv. 11. vii. 11, 12. xi. 15, 16. v. 13, 14.

Now the very circumstance of worship being confined to the Father, is sufficient to shew that Christ is not that being to whom worship is due, because no reason can be assigned why, if Jesus be entitled to supreme worship with the Father, that worship should not be given to the Son as well as to the Father, and because there cannot be more objects of supreme worship than one. But, besides this, God is worshipped to distinguish him from the Lamb, who is only praised. It has, however, been contended by Trinitarians that the circumstance of Christ’s being praised in the same terms with God, warrants the inference that he is praised on equal grounds with his Father, and that he is consequently God. It is true indeed that “blessing, and glory, and honour, and praise,” are ascribed to both God and to the Lamb, and to the latter as well as the former this tribute was due; for we are elsewhere informed that Christ is raised to this pre-eminence as a reward of his conduct as the Messiah. The praise of the celestial choir is therefore quite consistent with the principles and sentiments of Unitarians.

But may not the same terms be used in an inferior sense when applied to Christ? “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power,” admit of degrees, and may therefore be applied to two objects in the same sentence with different modifications of meaning. If “all Israel greatly feared before the Lord and Samuel,” as in 1 Sam. xii. 18.—if all Israel “bowed down their heads, and worshipped Jehovah and the king,” as in 1 Chron. xxix. 20.—if Hezekiah and certain princes “blessed Jehovah and his people Israel,” as in 2 Chron. xxxi. 8.—if David said to Abigail, “Blessed be Jehovah, God of Israel, who sent thee this day to meet me; and blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou,” as in 1 Sam. xxv. 32, 33.—and yet Samuel, the king, the people, Israel, and Abigail, be inferior to Jehovah? may not “blessing, and honour, and glory, and power,” be ascribed in the same sentence “to him that sitteth upon the throne and to the Lamb,” and yet the Lamb be inferior to him that sitteth upon the throne?

The very appellation by which the Father is distinguished in the ascriptions of praise, and which is applied throughout the book to him only, is evidently designed to imply his superiority, and indicates therefore, on the part of the celestial choirs, an express acknowledgment to his claims to a profounder homage. We may express feelings of the same kind by the same words, but they are always understood to vary in intensity as their objects are more or less calculated to excite them. Moreover, if one being only is worshipped, which we have already seen to be the case, he alone must be praised in the character of God; the other therefore receives the homage of the song upon very different accounts from those on which the other receives it, and in a very inferior degree. Worship is not merely praise. Worship is given only to God.

It is not unworthy of remark also, that both the passages which represent Jesus as receiving praise are followed by a representation of the characters of the vision “worshipping God,”—not merely ascribing “salvation, glory, and power,” as in the previous ascription to God and to the Lamb, but worshipping,—not God and the Lamb, as in the song of praise, but God only; a circumstance that indicates the difference of character in which each is regarded, and the difference of the nature and degree of homage given to the Father from that given to the Son.

In chap. xv. 3. we have seen that Jesus himself joins in the anthem of praise to God the Father, whom he denominates “the only holy.” He cannot therefore be the very being whom he joins with Moses in praising. He who united with Moses the man in tuning a hymn of praise to the Lord God Almighty, could not himself be entitled to praise either in kind or in degree to that which he and Moses were employed in rendering.

The ascriptions of praise, moreover, while only few in number to the Son, are numerous to the Father. Before God also the characters of the vision are represented as “falling on their faces—casting their crowns—covering their faces with their wings—resting not day nor night from the work of praise,” sounding aloud their hallelujahs, all clearly indicative of their sense of the unequaled majesty of him whom they exclusively addressed, and before whom they stood in adoring wonder.

Finally, on this part of our subject I may remark, that to anyone who candidly reads from ver. 8 to 14 of chap. xxii. it must appear that Jesus himself was the angel who refused the worship that John was about to give him. And, at any rate, the answer of the angel (who, if not Jesus, was his messenger, and as such might be supposed to claim for him all the honour that was his due) is a plain and evident presumptive proof that Jesus was not entitled to religious worship. “Worship God,”—not God and the Lamb, observe.

Are we wrong then, my brethren, in refusing to call Jesus the Omnipotent God? Are we wrong in refusing to place Jesus on the throne of the Eternal? Are we wrong in refusing to give Jesus that supreme worship which Heaven’s intelligences never gave him, and which to all appearance he absolutely refused? Lofty indeed are their strains of praise; but to the God of the Lamb is their worship confined. While under the consciousness of nothingness they bow before uncreated excellence, and with overwhelming admiration and transport they cast their crowns before the throne, they speak of and praise him who is now worshipped as God Almighty, in the character of the Lamb who shed his blood to make a cleansing of sin. High indeed was his excellence when he was upon earth! Higher now it must be when he is in heaven! But in the light of underived and boundless perfection, finite goodness and finite glory must dwindle behind the shade.

I declare there is no honour given by the powers of upper Zion to Jesus Christ our Lord, which we do not count it our privilege, our honour, and our duty to give him. Ready always are our tongues to publish forth his excellency, and to sound his praise. “Worthy, worthy, is the Lamb,” are words which find a responsive echo in our inmost souls. The glories of his character, his triumphs, and his reign, we do sincerely admire, and we rejoice in the prospect of ascribing to our victorious and mighty Redeemer “salvation, and glory, and honour, and power.”

His highest happiness arose from doing his Father’s will, and to do that will in obedience to him as the ambassador of the Everlasting, under the sanction and principles of his Gospel, is to honour him in the highest manner he ever claimed, or which God, his God, ever commanded or does authorize us to do. And, O how happy would it be to behold those whose zeal for his Godhead flows like an impetuous torrent, acting towards him in the way that the belief of his mere Messiahship ought to dictate.

Though at the notion of his Deity we do certainly spurn, we would nevertheless ever speak of his holy life; of that moral glory which encircled his career in this thoughtless and maddened world, and which shining around him with a dazzling and a matchless radiance, distinguished him as the most dignified and most worthy of the race. Touched would we be with admiring sympathy in the agonies of that death which confirmed the everlasting covenant, and that seized the Saviour only that he might shew the race of Adam the “power of an endless life.” We would revere and obey his excellent mandates; we would copy his illustrious example; we would rejoice in his mighty powers, in his celestial glory, and in his future coming.

Do we, my brethren, look forward in joyful anticipation of the felicities of Zion? Jesus is embodied in the thought. With every view of the world to come that elevates the soul in solemnity and joy, Jesus is associated. Are we to exult in the beatific presence of the Lord of sabaoth? Are we to join in the acclamations of the multitudes that fill the mansions of unceasing bliss? Are we to soar aloft in the sublimity of adoration in concert with the higher strains of those august intelligences that encompass the Eternal’s throne, and make heaven’s arches ring with their enraptured swells of holy joy? The bliss and glory of the whole will secondarily arise from Jesus. Upon his diadem of beauty will we not gaze—the meridian splendor of his countenance will we not admire? He will lead the human and angelic hosts; he will conduct us in our blissful career; he will be an object of our harmonious praise.

Compared indeed with the glory of infinite perfection, the excellence of creatures must ever be nothing—must be as the feeble glimmerings of a taper compared with the blaze of the ruler of the day. And though seraphim cannot speak forth half Jehovah’s praise, and though therefore our most lofty hymns cannot reach the majesty of his attributes; though as the great source of all that is great and worthy to be adored, he does claim and must receive our most mighty, our divinest bursts and songs of hallelujah; yet it is his will that to Jesus, his Son, we should raise our notes of admiration, in accent loud, in harmony delightful; so that the excellence of the Lamb, as well as the peerless glories of his God, shall forever swell the tone of our celestial melody.

Ultimately, however, shall we be praising him who made our Saviour what he is; from whom all his dignity, his power, and his glory proceeded. “Every tongue shall indeed confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,” only however “to the glory of God the Father.”

[Please note that Spirit & Truth Fellowship International does not necessarily agree with the full content of this lecture, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]