The Bottomless Pit of the Human Heart (T.F. Torrance on Revelation 9)

Revelation 9:1-6, 20-21

And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them…The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

(The following sermon excerpt comes from T.F. Torrance, 1959. The Apocalypse Today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp.61-64)

Painting by Aneeke Kai

The next thing we see in John’s vision is the bitterness caused on the earth by prayer and fire. The fire of Jesus Christ afflicts whole regions of human life, land and earth and sea and rivers and sky. Everything if disturbed and flung into bitter tension by the Cross of the Lamb of God…That is something we must recognize once again: the galling effect of the Word of God upon many men. Whenever the Word of God is truly and faithfully proclaimed, it may bring bitterness as well as salvation. Some will believe but others will be embittered. our sin today is that we know this and yet we shut our eyes to its stringent truth. We refuse to press the Word of God upon men until they are forced to decide for or against it. We refuse to challenge the world to make the last bitter choice. We are afraid of the either/or decision. That is why we are neither cold nor hot, but that is not to be the Church of prayer and of the fire of God. Are we ready to pray till our prayer catches fire? Are we ready for the Word of God in its disturbing power?

There is something else that happens when Christians pray in earnest and God’s fire burns, and we see that in the ninth chapter. It is the opening of the bottomless pit. The Gospel always discovers the secrets of a man’s heart; that is why the Jews were so embittered against Jesus because the truth of the Gospel brought to light and laid bare the secret depths of their souls. They crucified Jesus, for they could not stand in His searching presence any longer. They were self-righteous people but the holy Majesty of Jesus showed them to be whited sepulchres, and they were cut to the heart and gnashed on Him with their teeth…

Sometimes, it would appear, there comes a moment when men are beyond repentance, and when the Word of God only seems to harden them in sin. They have sold their souls to the worship of material things and the light that is in them is a great darkness indeed. It seems unbelievable, but that is what happened in the Gospel story of Jesus and His crucifixion. The pressure of our Lord’s finger revealed a bottomless pit of evil in the human heart…There is little doubt that somehow they knew that this Man, who spake as no other, spake the words of the living God. They knew it and hated it. They had so chosen their own selfish ways that no matter what happened they resolved to oppose Jesus Christ…

And so, alas, it often is. Let us not deceive ourselves; the world is doing today exactly the same thing as it did then when it crucified Jesus. How often there is the same unrepenting attitude toward Him, the same love of material goods and material pleasures, the same deification of passion and selfish desires, the same refusal to have our cherished ideas and ambitions upset…If the tribulations of our times have not sobered the earth, may the goodness of God who still waits to be gracious lead mankind to repent in meekness and humility.