On an All Saints Day, John Keble delivered the sermon “Praise to God from All Saints”, which can be found (with difficulty thanks to the uselessness of search engines) in Plain Sermons, vol. 6, sermon CLXXXIX. He expounded upon the stirring verse, Revelation 19:5.
In that chapter, the multitude of heaven rejoices and praises God for the judgement of Babylon and for the coming marriage supper of the Lamb. The rejoicing and alleluias are so great they are like the roar of many waterfloods and of many thunders. Then Heaven is opened, and the Kings of Kings and Lords of Lords, Faithful and True, goes forth on a white horse to “judge and make war,” the holy armies of God accompanying Him.
In the midst of this great and rousing chapter, “a voice came out of the throne, saying, ‘Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great.’” This is the verse John Keble preached on that All Saints Day.
Keble rightly interprets the voice from the throne as being the voice of Christ himself. But before so doing, he dwells on how counterintuitive is that exhortation from the throne. Why should God care whether we praise Him or not? In a way, our praising God would seem not to be appropriate. It is like “a criminal, in hopes of being pardoned beyond his deserts, to begin praising and commending the Judge, as though it were his place to pass any kind of sentence upon his superior.”
Yet “Almighty God, by His infinite condescension in Holy Scripture, encourages us not to keep silence.” He even provides a whole book of scripture, the Psalms, “as a pattern and example.”
Not only that, but in case any Christian think himself too unimportant to have any “part in the merciful invitation of our Saviour” to join the praise and worship of heaven, “that gracious but awful voice” from the throne says, “Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great.” He wants all his faithful people, no matter how humble their station in life, to join in the rejoicing of heaven. Further, that is so important to the Lord, the call is placed in the midst of the climax of the Book of Revelation.
In case one thinks this, being in Revelation, is only about the great by-and-by, the Revelation of St. John deals with the whole of church history, not only the End and Eternity. Hence the seven letters to the churches. Hence Jesus’ command to St. John in the first chapter (v. 19): “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter.” And, without getting much into interpretations of the Apocalypse on which faithful Christians can differ, the stirring worship of Revelation is not only in the future; it is going on here and now. In a way, we are in chapter 5, particularly verse 13:
And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
And, yes, as we see in 7:9, the worship of Revelation includes “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues.” As Keble points out, it is the “grace of the Gospel” and the worship of the One who saves us that unites people from all sorts of backgrounds, not contemporary ideologies.
We get to join in that worship now! One of the glories of Anglican worship is our liturgy joins the worship of heaven and of all time. In the Te Deum, we sing:
The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets praise thee.
The noble army of Martyrs praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee.
This joining the worship of heaven, inspired by the Revelation of St. John, is made even more clear in the Holy Communion service when we pray:
Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious name, evermore praising thee and saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory…
As if this isn’t more than enough reason to join this great company in the worship of the Lord God of hosts, this very Sunday happens to be the Eve of All Saints Day. (And many churches will cheat a little and celebrate All Saints Day this day.) This time of the church year we call to mind that God by his great power and grace has surrounded himself with a great company of the saints, “both small and great.”
And this great multitude of the saints does not remain silent – how can they? How can we? With great joy they thunder praise to God Almighty for the great things he has done and will do for His glory and for us. Great indeed is the Lord in the company of the saints!
On this Eve of All Saints, join the glorious company – even if you consider yourself “small”. Nay, especially if you consider yourself small. Go to church!