We live in a day when all too often the concern of the church and of the members of the church is strictly this-worldly.
War and rumor of war run rampant through our world. In fact, there has never been an era like ours, in which there has been so much talk of peace, but so little of peace itself among the nations. Your children and mine are growing up, or have grown up, since the onset of World War II, in years during which there was at no time even the semblance of peace among the nations of the world. The armed forces of the nations have been encamped in Europe ever since the war supposedly ended. The Korean War has never yet been brought to a conclusion. The Vietnamese Conflict is still raging, and no one can see an end to it. The great powers of ‘the world stand opposed to one another in so-called “cold war” which can at any time become very “hot.” Nuclear and thermo-nuclear sabers are constantly being rattled by the world-giants who worship Mars. Our young men face the prospect of preparation for war, if not the prospect of the dangers of war itself. Everywhere men cry, “Peace, peace!” But there is no peace!
And what spectacle do we behold in the church, among those who are supposed to be the people of God, and in much of the religious press? Churches and councils of churches declare themselves either for or against the Vietnam War and our involvement in it. Clerics and religious leaders forget the adage, “Shoemaker, stick to your last,” and fancy themselves as experts on the question. Others, forgetting altogether the Biblical injunction to be in submission to the powers that be, busy themselves encouraging Christian young men to rebel against and even to evade the military draft. Still others, in the name of Christianity, seek to incite the patriotic feelings and loyalties of Christian people by alluding to the present conflict as part of a Christian crusade against international communism. And yet others in the churches would have God’s people run to the throne of grace with a clamorous petition for world peace and for the success of a godless organization like the United Nations.
But whatever the stance, the underlying viewpoint is altogether this-worldly. It is that of a concern, and even an anxiety, about the things of this present time.
The same is true of the domestic scene, where violence and strife are everywhere evident. Racial conflict and rioting, street protests and marches incited by rabble-rousers of all kinds, power struggles and sit-ins and outright revolution at colleges and universities, arson and destruction of property and bloodshed,—these are the order of the day. Giants of industry and commerce constantly fight to gobble up still more of their “share” of our booming economy. Giants of labor continually jockey for position and exert coercion in the form of strikes and boycotts and the threats thereof, in order that they also may gain their “fair share” of the gains that are to be gotten in the on-going struggle of covetousness. A new brand of giants, giants of the poor, purpose to hold the sword of coercion at the throat of government in order to gain a hand-out; but these also aim only at the same materialistic gains of covetousness. Everywhere there is conflict and strife!
And what do we behold in the churches? They join the fray, the materialistic fray. Some openly foment revolution in today’s world, in the name of social justice, prostituting themselves for the gods of this world in devotion to the principles of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.” Others would impress upon men the necessity of the church and the people of God becoming “involved” in the problems of this world, and the solutions thereto,—all in the name of Christ. Others would bring in the kingdom of Christ into this world through the means of so-called Christian social action. Some proclaim a mealy-mouthed repent-and-accept-Christ evangelism as a solution to all problems and as the salvation of a world which they vainly hope to “win for Christ.” Others more suavely and less bombastically, more polishedly and less crassly, pretend to preach a gospel of grace, “grace for black and white,” while they do not preach the sovereign grace of God at all, but merely seek to become engaged in the same struggles and to be relevant; and then they pride themselves about recognition from a national radio network, apparently not realizing that the world’s recognition is hardly a recommendation of Reformed preaching. But few, if any, rise above the fray in the sereneness of an other-worldly faith and hope.
What is wrong?
Has the church and have God’s people no eye for the signs of the times?
Are they so engrossed in the things of this present time, so swept along by the swift and mighty tide of materialism, so far removed from the gospel of grace, so carnally involved in the things of this world, so enamored of the philosophy and the pseudo-gospels of this world, so concerned to have a place under the sun, to have status and recognition in this world, to count for something in intellectual and social and political circles, so afraid to be different, to be outcasts, to be pilgrims and strangers in the earth, that they have lost completely the ability to view things in the light of their other-worldly hope, in the light of their antithetical calling, in the light of their heavenly citizenship, in the light of their expectation of their Lord from heaven?
Seldom, if ever, do you hear a note concerning the signs of the times, a note cautioning God’s people to behold the events which literally swirl about us as so many increasing manifestations of the signs of the times, signs of the quick coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Overwhelmingly, the outlook is this-worldly, not other-worldly.
And what of ourselves?
Is it not true that only too often our own eyes are directed horizontally, not vertically, earthward rather than heavenward? Is it not true that only too often we also are inclined to view things in the light of human wisdom and in terms of human solutions, rather than in the light of the Word of God and in terms of the radical, the catastrophic solution of the gospel of grace? Is it not true that only too often, just because we do not assume the right viewpoint, do not see things in the light of Christ and His coming, we become upset and fearful because of the events of this present time, or tend to become engrossed in the vain attempt to solve the insoluble problems of a hopeless and perishing world, or are tempted to fix our hopes on the solutions which this world proposes, or are so allured by the lusts of this world (and all that is in the world is lust!) that we are troubled with spiritual myopia, can see no farther than the limited horizons of this world’s material prosperity, and have no eye for and no inclination to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness?
But the horses are running! I mean: the horses of the Apocalypse!
The Lamb is reigning! Clothed with all power in heaven and on earth, He opens the seals on the book of God’s counsel!
The things that must shortly come to pass are coming to pass indeed! And they are coming to pass according to God’s determinate purpose. They are coming to pass in order that Christ’s Word of promise may be fulfilled, “Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to render unto every man according as his work shall be!” They are coming to pass in order that Christ may realize His everlasting and heavenly and glorious kingdom in the new heavens and the new earth!
Indeed, the red horse is running! He is the horse of violence and bloodshed, of war and rumor of war, of conflict and tumult and turmoil among the nations of men. Wherever he runs his course through this world, violence and conflict and bloodshed come about. When blood flows on the battlefield, when violence rages in our streets, then remember: the red horse is running his course!
The black horse is running too! His rider holds a pair of balances in his hand. And as he runs his course, a cry is heard, “A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.” The color of this horse is the color of scarcity, of want and famine. Wherever he rides, this horse brings with him the sharp contrast between scarcity and plenty, between luxury and miserable poverty, and the attendant social contrast and conflict between the haves and the have-nots. This is the contrast that is at the root of many of the events in the present day. This black horse is the cause of the feasting and riotous living, on the one hand, and the dissatisfaction and misery and protest and rebellion and revolution and bloodshed, on the other hand, which are so characteristic of our times. Yes, the black horse of the Apocalypse is running! He that hath eyes to see, let him behold it!
And the pale horse and its rider, Death, is running his course, making his drive through the earth! Hades follows with him. Death as he riots in our streets, as he stalks over the battlefields, as he kills by the sword and by pestilence, in homicide and suicide, in plague and epidemic, in storm and flood and fire, in hurricane and typhoon and tornado, in earthquake and tidal wave, by the beasts of the earth,—death in all its forms rides through the earth, killing its one-fourth and sometimes its one-third, but always its proper quota, just as many as is in harmony with the history of the world according to the divine plan. And no one is powerful to stop him!
It is not my intention to offer an exposition of the meaning of these horses and of their relation to one another. My purpose is rather to call attention to the fact that these horses are making their drives through the earth, and that as people of God we should view current events in the light of the Word of God, which establishes a close connection between the history of this dispensation and the drives of these horses. Rather than allowing ourselves to be bound to a horizontal, this-worldly, humanistic view of events, we should by faith view things in the light of eternity, the light of revelation.
And then I would briefly call attention to a few very comforting and very practical items.
In the first place, let us never forget that the seals are opened and the horses are therefore sent forth into the earth by our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb Who is worthy to open the book with its seven seals. Not men control and direct the history and the destiny of this world, but our Lord Jesus Christ, Who loved us and gave Himself for us. He is Lord alone! And He rules the universe. He is indeed the Lord of history. No matter what may betide, He causes all things to work together for good unto them that love Him, the called according to His purpose, Nothing can be against u as the people of God because nothing can in deepest reality be against the cause of God in Christ, and because God in Christ is for us! The vision of the horses and their riders assures us that all the various forces and trends in history are not so many uncontrolled forces, running fatalistically rampant through the world. But they are strong and irresistible forces which are well directed and controlled, which proceed from the book with its seven seals, the counsel of God, and which must serve God’s purpose.
In the second place, let us take note of the fact that the first horse in this vision is the horse which I have not heretofore mentioned: the white horse, who goes forth conquering and to conquer. That horse represents the victorious progress of the cause of Christ’s kingdom in this dispensation. He represents the power of Christ’s kingdom as it goes forth into the world and makes subjects for the kingdom of heaven. He represents the victorious power of the Spirit and of the Word which changes men from enemies of God into subjects of the Lord of lords and King of kings through the wonder of grace. He represents the cause of Christ as it shall finally and manifestly triumph in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. And let it be noted that this is the only horse of the four who is pictured as victorious, who goes forth conquering and to conquer. The cause of Christ, no matter what may betide, goes on and is victorious!
In the third place, let us remember that the white horse of the victorious cause of Christ’s kingdom is the first horse, and that the other horses follow him. This means not only that historically the red and the black and the pale horses appear wherever the white horse takes his course through the world and through history. But it means, too, that these horses are subservient to the white horse and his victorious progress. Again, I do not purpose to go into detail, but only to call attention to the fact. War and rumor of war, violence and bloodshed, social contrast and conflict, and death in all its manifestations,—these are all subservient to the victory of the kingdom of Christ, to the final realization of Christ’s purpose, namely, His everlasting kingdom, of glory. All the events of history occur in order to’ bring in the kingdom of God. If you ask the question, “Why must these horses run their courses in history?” there is but one answer, and that answer applies to them all in their relation to the white horse. That answer is: they, the forces symbolized by the four horses and their riders, must all exist and be active for but one purpose, the bringing in of the glorious kingdom of Christ, the only possible terminal for all history.
And the conclusion of the matter?
In the first place, be not as the world in your outlook upon all the disturbing events of this present time. Be not dismayed; be not anxious; be not disturbed and upset. Look at things in the light of eternity, the light of revelation.
In the second place, as surely as the drivers of these horses stand inseparably related to the coming of Christ’s kingdom, so surely should we also behold in them signs of the coming of Christ. Be not afraid, ye citizens of the kingdom! All these things must needs come to pass. Rather, when they come to pass, lift up your heads: for your redemption draweth nigh! And in times of war and turmoil, of famine and pestilence and social upheaval, when the red horse drives through the earth and the black horse appears in your streets, or when the pale horse enters into your homes and your family circle, let your hearts rest in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who holds the book with the seven seals, and Who controls all things in heaven and earth to the ultimate completion of His glorious kingdom!
The horses are running!
Do I not hear also the trumpets sounding?
Christ is coming!