by Augustus Toplady
“These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb: therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple."
The scripture particularly sets forth these three things, viz. 1. What we are by nature. 2. What we must be made by grace: and, 3. What those, who are possessed of grace, shall be in glory.
St. John had a blessed vision of the latter; of the glory of the saints in light: and of the delightful employ, in which the spirits of just men made perfect, are engaged. Their number exceeded the utmost arithmetic of angels and men: yet are they all minutely numbered by that omniscient Being, who wrote their names in his book; and whose praise they celebrate, in ceaseless songs of adoration, harmony, and love. They stand before the throne, and before the Lamb; clothed with white robes, and palms of immortal victory in their hands.
Do we ask, "Who are these, that are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? An heavenly intelligence will inform us. Pause then, my soul, a moment. Fix thy meditation on the solemnly delightful subject; and may it have a happy tendency to raise thy affections to things above!
1. They came out of great tribulation: ek thv qleyewv thv megalhv. The words signify, very grievous oppression, affliction, and trouble, of every kind. The distresses of God's people are various, and flow from a vast multiplicity of sources. They are tried by the world, outwardly; and, inwardly, by their own corruptions. A believing man's greatest foes are often those of his own house; and, especially, the many evils that are in his own heart. How pathetically did St. Paul complain of the body of sin and death, which he carried about him; and how deeply did he groan, being burdened! The Christian is frequently, like Gideon's men, faint, yet pursuing. God is pleased sometimes to hide his face; then are the souls of his people cast down, and disquieted within them. But a great (perhaps the greater) part of their trouble and distress arises from a consciousness of their own barrenness, ingratitude, and want of fervour in their Redeemer's service; although,
2. They are enabled to wash their robes, and make them white in the blood of the Lamb.
By their robes, I presume, we are not here to understand the robe of imputed righteousness, in which they are justified, and stand perfect before God: for that robe does not need washing, being no less than the complete obedience of God incarnate. Their own best duties, services, and religious performances, of any and of every kind, were the robes, in which they visibly appeared before men, and by which their faith was made manifest to the world. For though good works do not procure (so far from it, they have no share in procuring) a believer's justification in the sight of God; yet they follow after the grace of Christ, and are pleasing to God, and profitable to men. So just is that remark of St. Austin, - Bona overa non faciunt justum, sed justificatus facit bona opera. This is also agreeable to St. Peter's strain of arguing: 1Pe 3:3-4. Moreover, the blood of the Lamb, in which the righteous wash their robes, is and must be a very different thing from the robes themselves. May not this be the simple meaning?" True believers, after all they do and suffer, trust not in their doings and sufferings, either in whole or in part; but in the atonement made by Immanuel's blood; and in that work of vicarious righteousness, which Immanuel accomplished by his obedience unto death."
3. Their bliss and exaltation are described in these charming words: Therefore are they before the throne of God. Not because they came out of great tribulation; but because they and their robes were washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. Being freely interested in Jesus, they are saved by grace; and the God of grace has all the glory.