OUR LORD AND HIS CHURCHES

 

By

 

F. E.  MARSH

 

Christ had to bring against the Church in Ephesus the solemn charge that they had left their first love.  The word is, "I have this against thee," as the Revised Version indicates, and not as in the Authorized Version, "somewhat against thee." It was a definite and soul-searching summary of their spiritual condition.  There were many things that He could commend, such as their labour and patience and their intolerance of those who were living in error and evil.  He could also commend their labour and the fact that they had not fainted.  Yet His solemn "nevertheless" points out to them that while there was a great deal on the outside which was worthy of note, the inner life of love was lacking.  Does not this tell us that the Lord thinks more of the inner life of a devoted love than of the business of outward activity?  Someone has said that our churches are filled with backsliders, and how many there are who have lost their glow of devotion to Christ which they had in the commencement of their Christian life.  When love is lacking, there is a want in everything.  The Lord does not want the work of our hands if He has not got the love in our hearts.  When love burns within, everything is aflame with devotion to Him.

 

Christ not only brings the solemn charge, but He also directs the Church in Ephesus, and us, what we ought to do when there is the declension of love.  He says, "Remember, repent, and do the first works."  He says, "Ponder the place from which thou art fallen, and then take My side against yourself, and do as you did at the beginning."  How gracious the Lord is, not only to point out the place that has been deserted, but to urge us to come back to all that we have left.  Darby has said: "Repentance is taking Godís side against ourselves."  We are sometimes anxious to have the Lord on our side, but the essential thing to recognize is, when we side with the Lord and His direction, we are sure that He will be on our side for our benefit.

 

Christ gives the solemn warning that if repentance is lacking, He will have to come in discipline to us; and that the character of the discipline will be that of our candlestick of testimony will be removed out of its place.  Historically, this came to pass in the history of the Church in Ephesus.  That Church was highly privileged, but through unfaithfulness to the first love, had its witness put out.  The same thing will happen in the experience of the individual Christian worker, for in Christís dealing with His Church at Ephesus we have the principle of His operation now.

 

There comes to my mind many instances where the Lordís servants have had their lives cut short, and their testimony put out, and the only and seeming explanation was that there had been a declension in the life of devotion to the Lord.  I recall one of the many instances of a prominent Christian worker who was taken away at the comparatively early age of thirty-three, and right in the midst of an unprecedented and useful life for Christ.  He was mightily used of God for a time in following up the work of D. L. Moody, yet suddenly he was taken ill, and his career was abruptly ended.  It was not known, and, as far as I know, it was not known, that he was living in secret sin, but the few who were in the know could see that there was apparently the act of the Lord in discipline.

 

In Christís message to the Church in Pergamos, He is revealed as the One who has the sharp sword with two edges.  As in the previous case, He commends the Church for holding fast to His name, and for not denying the faith, but He also has to reprimand the Church because they tolerated those in their midst who held the doctrine of Balaam, and He says, unless they repent and deal with these He will come and fight against them with "the sword of His mouth."  The one thing in the message to the Church in Pergamos is that Christ will not tolerate error and evil in the life of the Church, nor will He allow a mixture of sin and holiness.  It is a solemn fact that there is sometimes great professed spirituality, we find it coupled with terrible sensuality.  Here again we could record many instances of spiritual alliances in the commencement which have developed into unholy alliances of sin.  There comes to my mind an instance of a Christian man and woman, who, in a time of great sorrow, prayed much together, and yet, as John Wesley once said, the ditch of error lives very near the road of truth, so these two in their fellowship of prayer, through unwatchfulness fell into the awful ditch of an affinity in the flesh.  Christ ever fights against such impurity, and will surely deal in discipline, as He did in the case of the brother who fell into sin in the Church in Corinth, and of whom the apostle said, "Deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 5: 5).

 

In His message to the Church in Thyartira, as in the other instances, Christ commends the things that called for His approbation [commendation], and of which He says, "That which ye have, hold fast till I come."  That which they had is enumerated in Revelation 2: 19.  They had the love of devotion, the ministry of service, the faith of trust, the steadfastness of patience, and yet there was a possibility of being contaminated by the prophetess Jezebel, who was disseminating a doctrine which again was aimed to lead astray from the path of virtue and pure worship.  To this Church Christ bid them to hold fast the good things and expel the bad.  The word "hold fast" has a soul of meaning within it.  Its inner sense is to be strong, to maintain.  It is more than holding on.  It means to master and to rule over things.  Remembering this, it gives added force to what follows when Christ uses the conjunction "and," and says, "And he that overcometh and keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give authority (R.V.) over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron ... and I will give him the morning star" (Rev. 2: 26, 28).

 

When Peter said to Christ, he had renounced everything to follow Him, Christ said to him, "Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt. 19: 27, 28). It is not everyone who knows the grace of God to save, will enjoy a place in Christís [millennial] kingdom and manifest ruleBeing in the glory [of the eternal kingdom] is all of Godís grace, but our position and place in the [millennial] kingdom is dependent upon [grace and] our faithfulness to the Lord. What an incentive this should be, as the apostle Paul so often expresses it, to be sharers in the out-resurrection, to win the victorís crown, and to have our Lordís approval!

 

Christís reproof to the Church in Sardis was that their works were "not perfect"; that they had "a name to live, but were dead";* hence, He charges them to be watchful, but, if they are not, He declares: "I will come upon you as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I shall come upon thee" (Rev. 3: 3).  There is another place in the Book of the Revelation where Christ says He may come as a thief, and that is in chapter 16, verse 15: "Behold, I come as a thief, blesseth is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame."

 

Joseph Rabinowitz, in talking with A. J. Gordon, opened the New Testament and read to him: "Behold, I come as a thief," etc. "The admonition of the Lord," he said, "affected me very deeply when I first read it, for I knew at a glance its meaning.  All night long the watchmen in the temple kept on duty.  The overseer of the temple was always likely to appear at unexpected hours to see if these were faithfully attending to their charges.  If he came upon any watchman who had fallen asleep, he quietly drew his loose garments from him and bore them away as a witness against him when he should awake. My Lord is liable to come at any moment.Ļ  He may come in the second watch, or the third watch, therefore I must be always ready, lest coming suddenly, He find me sleeping."

 

The solemnity of these words of Christ, "I will come on you as a thief," is of startling moment.  The preposition "Epi," rendered "on" and "upon," signifies being over an object with distinct direction and purpose towards it.  As the thief comes to take something away from another, so Christ will take away the defiled garments which will be evidence against us of unwatchfulness. Surely this should be an incentive for us to watch with holy diligence and unceasing attention, lest when the Lord comes He finds us lacking in what He desires.

 

When Christ says, "Behold I come quickly," it means that when He starts there will be no delay, and as we do not know when that "quickly" will operate, His word of warning is: "Hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown."  Failure to hold fast His word in life and service will mean a loss of the victorís crown.  The possibility of losing the crown - [That is, failing to be "considered worthy" - by Christ - "of taking part in that age" - the kingdom age, the age to follow this age, the millennium - "and in the resurrection out of the dead" Luke 20: 35. (Greek)] - should be an incentive for us to do all in our power to retain it.  The word for crown is "Stephanos," and means a victorís crown. The victory is essential to the crownThe Lord has made no provision for us to be defeated.  He has made every provision for us to be victorious.  Frank White, in an address at a Pastorsí College Conference, held in the Metropolitan Tabernacle during the ministry of C. H. Spurgeon, said, "We need to be saved from the untheological devotion, and from an undevotional theology."  In other words, a devotion that is not based upon the [doctrines taught in the] Word of God is sure to be wrong, and on the other hand, a so-called truth which does not lead to a life of consecration is also false.  We need a correspondence to Godís Word and our experience, as Bengel finely says, "Apply thyself wholly to the Word, and apply the Word wholly to thyself."

 

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FOOTNOTES

 

*See "The Personal Indwelling of The Holy Spirit" by G. H. Lang on this website.

 

1. "My Lord is liable to come at any moment."

 

It would be better, (in my opinion) to say: ĎThe rapture of watchful saints may come at any moment,í (Luke 21: 36; Rev. 3: 10): the Lord Himself will not come until the end of the Great Tribulation, (Matt. 24: 29, 30; Mark 13: 24-26; Luke 21: 27-31.): and if any should object by saying: ĎAll the above texts refer to the Jews,í they should read 2 Thess. 2: 1, 8.  There can be no question regarding who are being addressed here! - "the church" (verse 1).

 

2. The Defiled Garments.

 

The regenerate believer should be able to see at a glance that "the garments" (Rev. 16: 15) in this context, do not refer to the imputed righteousness of Christ JesusEvery regenerate person is presently robed in that by the grace of God, which is the impeccable (sinless) righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ! 

 

In my opinion, one of the best commentaries on this section of Scripture is written by G. H. Lang:-

 

"For the forgiveness of sins, and for life as a forgiven man in the camp, neither perfection of form, nor washing at the gate of the tabernacle, nor special clothing, were demanded; but for access to God and for priestly service all these were as indispensable as the atoning blood.  Imputed righteousness settles completely and for ever the judical standing of the believer as justified before the law of God; but practical righteousness must be added in order to secure many of the mighty privileges which become possible to the justified.  Let him that hath ears hear this also, for loss and shame must be his at last who has been content to remain deformed and imperfect in moral state, or is found to have neglected the washing, and so be unfit to wear the noble clothing required for access to the throne of glory. Such neglect of present grace not only causes the loss of heart access to God, as the careless believer surely knows, but will assure [unless repentance is found] the forfeiture of much that grace would have gained in the future.

 

Here lies the weight of the warning which our Lord announces from heaven as to be specially applicable when His coming draws near: "Behold, I come as a thief. [This message is set in the midst of the gathering of the hosts of Antichrist for the battle of Har Magedon, and so indicates the period when the coming will be]. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame" (Rev. 16; 15).  Therefore "garments" may be lost.  If the reference is to the imputed righteousness, then justification [by faith] may be forfeited, and the once [eternally] saved be afterwards [eternally] lost.  But let those who rightly reject this, inquire honestly what it does properly mean as to the eternally justified.  And let them face what is involved in the loss of oneís garments.

 

In the temple of old the guards were placed at midnight at their posts.  The captain of the temple, at any hour he chose, went round with a posse of men unannounced, and if a guard was caught asleep at his post, he was stripped of his clothes, which were burned, and he was left to go forth in his shame.  The shame of his nakedness was the outward counterpart of the deeper shame that he had slept when on duty.  Not in that dishonoured state dare he enter the house of God and sing and serve.  And it would be long ere the disgrace of that night would fade from memory, his own and others.  My soul, keep awake through this short night of duty while the Lord is away! Thou knowest not in which watch of the night He will come, and it were dreadful to be left unclothed ... "

 

The call to REPENT is directed at the backslider.That is, at all of us who do not love and work for the Lord, as we once did.

 

1. Repentance can bring restoration, and renewed fellowship with the Lord:

 

"Repent and do the things you did at first; ... Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will ... fight against them".  "... remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.  But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you." *

 

[* This 'coming' can also be in judgment, as was the case in the lives of Ananias and Sapphira, (Acts 5: 1-10).]

 

2. Repentance can bring us spiritual understanding, sight, and practical righteousness - [that is, the "fine linen" to cover our shame (Rev. 19: 8)]:

 

"You say, ĎI am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.  But YOU DO NOT REALIZE that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and NAKED."

 

3. Repentance can transform one who has been overcome into an overcomer:

 

"SO BE EARNEST AND REPENT."  "If anyone hears my voice," says the:"Amen the faithful and true witness, the Ruler of Godís creation," (Rev. 3: 14): "I will go in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right" - [how strange it is that, for the most part, Christians assume they all have the "right," on the basis of bare faith alone,] - " TO SIT WITH ME ON MY THRONE, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit SAYS TO THE CHURCHES" Rev. 3: 14-22.

 

" ... There is a better kingdom coming, the kingdom of God, the kingdom of the Christ, into which some shall enter when Jesus shall return in majesty to rule over heaven and earth.  Then shall He grant to those who have obeyed Him, to reign with Him a thousand years of glory.  Here is the prize of our calling!  Will you not seek it?  The coming kingdom is to suffer violence, and violent ones, bent on breaking through all obstacles, alone will take it by force. "If that by any means I might attain to the select resurrection (see Greek) from among the dead" (Phil. 3: 11). "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection" (Rev. 20: 5)."

 

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