THE LETTERS OF
A FIRST CENTURY MESSAGE TO
TWENTIETH CENTURY CHRISTIANS
ADDRESSES BASED UPON THE
TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES OF
book is concerned with the letters which our Lord gave to John to be sent to
seven churches. There is no doubt
that these seven churches were actual churches in history; but they do reveal
conditions of church life to be found continuously in the history of the
A church having lost its first love.
A church in tribulation.
A church lowering Christian standards.
THE THYATIRA LETTER
A church tolerating false teaching.
A church with a dead orthodoxy.
A church fulfilling the ideal.
THE LAODICEAN LETTER
A church lukewarm.
to a proper understanding of the purpose of the letters to the churches of
This book contains the last
messages of Christ to men. In some
important ways it differs from any other in the Divine Library. John did not receive it by the
inspiration of the Spirit in the ordinary sense of that expression, but
directly from Jesus Christ, as He appeared to him while in exile in
The usual title, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” is misleading, as the opening words of the book will show, which read, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show unto His servants.” Perhaps no book has been more neglected than this Revelation of Jesus Christ, and yet it is the only one that opens with a distinct and threefold blessing pronounced, a blessing first, upon those who read, secondly, upon those who bear, thirdly, upon those who keep the things that are written therein.
There must be some deep significance in this introductory pronouncement, and because of the difficulty of interpretation, the Church has no right to neglect her Master’s last message.
Yet while it is true that no book has been so sadly neglected, it is also true that around no book has there waged more persistent controversy. So keen has that controversy been, that we find Christian people divided into distinct schools of thought about it, and we hear of Preterist, Presentist, Futurist, and Spiritual interpretations. These differences have no detailed place in our present discussion. Our business lies only with the messages to the churches. That we may see their place, some word must be said about the general character of the book.
The book of Revelation is not primarily a book of Church truth. [Page 8] It is a book of judgment in the broadest sense of that word, judgment, that is, as the method and government of God. It reveals the consummation of the world’s history, and gives a panorama of God’s final dealings with the earth. We find ourselves largely back in the realm of Old Testament truth. Jehovah is introduced in language in keeping with the thoughts suggested by that name to the ancient Hebrew people, “Him which is and which was and which is to come.” The Holy Spirit is spoken of, not as the unified personality that men came to know through the work of Christ, and Who appears in the Epistles of the New Testament. He is seen rather as seven Spirits, that is, in the perfection of activity, and these Spirits, moreover, are before the throne. Jesus is the “faithful Witness, the First-born from the dead, and the Ruler of the kings of the earth”; while the Church, loved and loosed from sin, is a kingdom of priests, perfected in their number, and save in the early chapters, occupying a place in glory. Thus God is revealed as supreme in the government of the universe, the Spirit as the light and activity of that government, and Jesus as the faithful Witness, and as ruling the kings of the earth.
The outlook of Revelation is
larger than the
The whole book of Revelation
reveals the final stages in the work of God with humanity. No one has perfectly understood [Page 9] all its
teaching. Its great principles are
evident. It shows the final overthrow
of evil, and the setting up of the [millennial
In all probability the key to the division of the book is to be found in the words, “Write therefore the things which thou sawest, and the things which are, and the things which shall come to pass hereafter.” This verse divides the book, and marks the subjects upon which John was commissioned by Jesus to write.
1. “The things which thou sawest.”
2. “The things which are.”
3. “The things which shall come to pass after these.”
The first of these undoubtedly has reference to the vision of glory that John looked upon, the second to the condition of things existent as described in the seven letters to the churches, and the things “after these” are the final things, the chronicle of which commences chapter 4, verse 1. Let it be noted that in chapter 1, verse 19, the word “hereafter” is a translation of the two words meta tauta, and in chapter 4, verse 1, “after these things” is a translation of the same two words. Thus evidently the third division begins at the fourth chapter, and from there to the end we have unfulfilled prophecy. With this section of the book we have now nothing to do. Our particular subject is the second division, “the things which are.”
Of this there have been three
interpretations. First, that the epistles were actually written to seven
churches at the time existing in
We shall first look at the vision which arrested John in the Isle of Patmos, then at the seven epistles, endeavouring to gather their message to the age in which we live; so that we are to give attention to a first century message to twentieth century Christians.
In dealing with each of the epistles, we shall notice four distinct matters:
1. Christ’s Title.
2. Christ’s commendation.
3. Christ’s complaint.
4. Christ’s counsel.
These will not always be in this exact order, for in some cases either commendation or complaint is omitted, but for these as main points of interest we shall look in our studies.
* * *
The Vision and the Voice
“And I turned to see the voice which spake with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the midst of the lampstands One like unto a Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle. And His head and His hair were white as white wool, white as snow; and His eyes were as a flame of fire; and His feet like unto burnished brass, as if it had been refined in a furnace; and His voice as the voice of many waters. And He had in His right hand seven stars: and out of His mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword: and His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.”
“The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven lampstands are seven churches.” - Rev. 1: 12-16, 20.
WHEN in the loneliness of Patmos John heard a voice behind him, he “turned to see ... and having turned he saw.” The vision that fell upon him was present during all the messages he received for the churches, lending value and emphasis to these messages. If we therefore are to understand, we also must see the vision. Let us take a general survey, note the first impression produced, and then proceed to a careful examination of the central figure.
“Having turned he saw seven golden lampstands. One like unto a Son of man. ... He had in His right hand seven stars.” He first beheld seven golden lampstands. “Lampstand” is a better translation, and far more perfectly conveys the true symbolism. A candlestick presupposes a kind of light which is self-consumptive. A lampstand presupposes a light which may be perpetually fed by oil, and in Scripture, oil is constantly emblematic of the Holy Spirit. Of these lampstands the Master Himself gives the interpretation. “The seven lampstands are seven churches.” Thus each individual church is seen as a centre of light.
Then “in the midst of the lampstands” he saw “One like unto a Son of man.” Thus Christ is seen in all human sympathy, presiding over the churches in the exercise of their function.
He moreover notices that in the right hand of the Son of man were seven stars, and here again we have the interpretation of the Lord. “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.”
The first impression produced by the vision is peculiar, and apparently contradictory. It is evidently a night scene, as witness the lampstands and the stars, and yet it is a day scene, for behold, the countenance of the Son of man is “as the sun shineth in his strength.” John beheld as in a vision the Church in its present relation and responsibility to Christ and the world. The night all around is the world’s darkness. The only light shining upon that darkness is that which comes from the lampstands. The vision of Christ’s face as that of the sun, is a revelation of what He is to His people. To them it is day time. “For ye are all sons of light, and sons of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.” The Church is here seen as the light bearer, with Christ as unifying Centre and directing Authority. Christ Himself in the midst of the seven lampstands creates their unity. The unity of the Church consists in the common relationship of each church to the Lord Himself Who is present in the midst.
In His right hand He holds the messengers, and herein is revealed the true position that ministry occupies in the Christian Church, whether it be the ministry of authoritative teaching as given through the apostles, the ministry of prophetic utterance, the ministry of evangelization, or that of the pastoral office. Christ the truth, the angel His messenger, the Church that to which truth is made known by the messenger, and in which truth is embodied, that its light may fall upon the surrounding darkness. No man can be a [faithful] messenger of the Master and the Church save as he is held in the right hand of Jesus, and interprets, not his own idea concerning the Church’s well-being, nor the Church’s wish concerning its function, but the will of the Master. The messenger has no authority in himself, no authority which he derives from the Church over which he presides. His authority is the communicated authority of the Son of man, Who is Lord and Master of the whole.
In the midst of the
world’s night, the Church, unified by the [Page 13] presence of the Lord, diversified in the
seven lampstands, is a light shining in a dark place. This perfectly sets forth the one
responsibility of every
Thus having seen the general scheme, before passing to a close consideration of the central Figure we pause for a moment to look again at the lampstands and at the stars.
Let it be emphasized that the lampstands are not the sources of light but the bearers of light, also that their number is seven, and that they are golden. So that if they do not in themselves create light, it is evident that the medium upon which the light is to rest, and from which it is to flash upon the darkness, must be heavenly and perfect. While we have no light of our own with which to help men in the darkness, for God’s light must shine upon and through us, we must in order to that shining, know what it is to partake of that nature which is symbolized by the gold of the sanctuary. Thus we have a symbolism of function, and a symbolism of character.
The stars held in His right hand are symbols of the fact that ministry to be effective, must be of heavenly character, revolving solely around the central sun.
In reverently examining the central figure, we notice first His position. He is “in the midst of the lampstands,” unifying them into one whole, and directing them by individual messages, showing His intimate acquaintance with the details of each.
His general appearance is that of the Son of man. It is important [Page 14] to remember that this phrase occurs in the Gospel narratives with regard to the Master, eighty-five times, and of these, Christ Himself makes use of it eighty-three. The first detail of the vision is a symbolism of function, and the second a symbolism of character.
His function is suggested by His robing. “Clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle.” Two things are suggested by this double figure. The garment to the foot suggests the right to govern and to judge. It is the robing of judicial authority, not the robing of the priest. He is here seen as the central Authority in all Church life, having sole right to pronounce verdict and sentence upon all the service that the Church renders. The girdle is frequently mentioned in Scripture. Sometimes it is the girdle of the loins, and sometimes the girdle of the breasts. The former is the symbol of activity and power, the latter that of faithfulness and affection. In this case the girdle is at the breasts, showing the fidelity of His love. This robing of the Son of man reveals His judicial position among the churches, and that all the exercise of judicial right is based upon the faithfulness of the Eternal Love.
A remarkable Scripture in the
prophecy of Isaiah will serve to throw light upon the robing. “And
it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call My servant Eliakim the son
of Hilkiah: and I will clothe him with Thy robe, and strengthen him with Thy
girdle, and I will commit Thy government into his hand: and he shall be a
father to the inhabitants of
Jesus moves amid the churches with the robe reaching to His feet, marking the fact that He is the sole Governor of His people, having the right to pass His verdict upon their service, and reward or punish them as He will. The golden girdle about the breasts reveals the fact that every judgment He pronounces, and every sentence He passes, is based upon His infinite love and faithfulness. Christ is the one supreme Head, Ruler, Governor, among His people, and all His headship, and His rule, and His government are based upon His infinite and unfailing compassion.
Passing from the symbolism of function to that of character we have the most marvellous and entrancing vision of Jesus Christ contained in Scripture. We can do no more than pass rapidly over, attempting to indicate the significance of the sevenfold glory revealed.
“His head and His hair were white as white wool, white as snow.”
“His eyes were as a flame of fire.”
“His feet like unto burnished brass, as if it had been refined in a furnace.”
“His voice as the voice of many waters.”
“In His right hand seven stars.”
“Out of His mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword!”
“His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.”
Here are seven points to which our attention is directed. His head, His hair, His eyes, His feet, His voice, His hand, His mouth, His countenance.
Let us take them in their order.
“His head and His hair were white as white wool, white as snow.”
Two facts are symbolised by this language, His purity and His eternity. The description is remarkably similar to that in the book of Daniel, describing the “Ancient of Days.” The hair white as wool is the mark of age, and yet of age that is not aged. This whiteness is moreover the symbol of purity, and these two facts are, in the last analysis, but one, for all eternal things are pure, and only purity can be eternal. The doomed things are the base, the impure, the unholy things, and in the glorious vision of the royal head of the Son of man, shining like some snow-capped mountain peak, far elevated, we see Him as Son of God also, His purity the basis of His eternity the crowning of His purity.
“His eyes were as a flame of fire.”
Here the suggestion is that of infinite and infallible knowledge, eyes that pierce and penetrate, from which no secret thing can possibly be hidden, eyes that being as a flame of fire, seeing through and through, detect all that is hidden from ordinary sight, separating with unerring accuracy the alloy from the pure gold. Thus the Son of man amid the churches is revealed as the One from Whom nothing can be hidden. There is no detail in the doings of a church, or in the life of an individual [Page 16] member, that He is not perfectly acquainted with. He has seen and rightly valued every deed of lowly service which the earthly records of the Church have found no place for. The steady, searching eyes of the great Son of man are ever upon the churches that bear His name, and absolutely nothing can be hidden from that gaze.
“His feet like unto burnished brass, as if it had been refined in a furnace.”
The feet are the symbols of procedure, and indicate the continued activity of Christ among the churches, and through the churches, as He marches, the Leader of the hosts of God, toward His ultimate victory.
These feet are of brass as though they burned in a furnace. Brass is invariably the type of strength, and the furnace of fire is symbolic of purification. Thus the Son of man is seen moving amid the churches ever toward the consummation upon which the heart of God is set, with such absolute purity that He can never be contaminated with the evil upon which He treads, and with such tremendous strength that He can never be prevented by the opposition raised against Him.
“His voice as the voice of many waters.”
This exquisitely beautiful statement I think I never appreciated until for the first time I stood near the mighty falls of Niagara, as the water sweeps from height to depth in calm persistent majesty with a cry that excludes all other sounds, possesses all your soul, and yet fills you with a deep peace and quiet. The mighty music of the many waters impressed me as nothing else, and as I listened there came to me with new meaning the words, “His voice as the voice of many waters.”
The suggestion is very beautiful. What is the voice of many waters? it is a perfect concord of divers tones; many waters, one voice. “God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in His Son.” “His voice as the voice of many waters.” These waters have come from the hills of long ago in single streams, all their courses bent toward Him. In Him they mingle and they merge, and in Him is discovered the perfect harmony of the thousand melodies of the past. Close attention by a trained ear will detect each separate value, and it will be found that there is no subject upon which He has not something to say. He speaks to art, to music, to science, to literature, to all life - to [Page 17] each separately, and yet to each in its relation to all the rest. Many waters, many messengers, many messages, yet one voice, one word, one revelation.
So moving amid the lampstands, with hair like wool, telling of His purity and eternity, with eyes as a flame of fire, searching and knowing every detail of all the life of the churches, with His feet like brass that burned in a furnace, moving toward the consummation, He speaks, and the infinite music is a perfect harmony of all tones of the voice of God.
“He had in His right hand seven stars.”
In all the symbolism of the old economy, the right hand is the mark of authoritative administration, and here has the same significance. In the centre of that hand of power rest the seven stars which are the angels of the churches, the place of perfect rest, perfect power, perfect protection. Oh, blessed, blessed place of rest for the Master’s messengers! Oh, high and holy honour to he in that right hand, and listen while He speaks, and still from the same vantage ground to repeat the words of His will.
“Out of His mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword.”
We have heard the voice of many waters that speak of revelation, of His uttering of the deep things of God. Here is symbolised another aspect of His speech to men, that namely of His pronouncement on the things of men. While He was yet on earth, He distinctly affirmed that by His words men should be judged, and the value of this symbolism will be better understood as we hear His verdicts concerning the churches amid whom He moves. It will then be seen how sharp that sword is, and how its double action condemns the fault and approves the excellence.
“His countenance as the sun shineth in his strength.”
The countenance is the sum total of all the features of the face. The dome-like splendour of the forehead, crowned by the white hair, the flashing glory of the wondrous eyes, the marvellous expressiveness of the mouth, from which proceeds the sword-like speech, and the sound of the voice of many waters; take all these, and other things not described, in combination, and the result is a sun of light and glory, shining in strength. “God is a sun,” and the merging of the features of humanity into the perfect impression of the countenance, reveals in might and majesty the Deity of the Son of man.
Take this picture and look at it again and again until the vision holds you in its marvellous power. His head and His hair white like wool, His purity and His eternity; His eyes like a flame of fire. His intimate knowledge, penetrating and piercing; His feet like burnished brass, signifying the procedure of strength and purity; His voice like the voice of many waters, a concord of perfect tones; in His hand seven stars, His administrative right, power and protection; from His mouth a sharp two-edged sword, keen and accurate verdicts concerning His people; His whole countenance as the sun, creating day, flashing light, bathing all the landscape with beauty.
Such was the One Who moved amid
the churches in the vision of the saint at
Thus the Lord is seen in all the fulness and the functions of His glory, presiding over the witnessing of the Church in the midst of darkness, and we now turn to a study of the messages He delivers, ever keeping this vision before us.
* * *
“To the angel of the church in
“These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, He that walketh in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: I know thy works, and thy toil and patience, and that thou canst not bear evil men, and didst try them which call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false; and thou hast patience and didst bear for My name’s sake, and hast not grown weary. But I have against thee, that thou didst leave thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I come to thee, and will move thy lampstand out of its place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. To him that overcometh, to him will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.” - Revelation 2: 1-7.
At the time of the writing of
So far as the history of the
church is concerned, we have a most interesting account of its planting and
progress in the Acts of the Apostles.
This account lies almost completely within chapters eighteen to
twenty. Paul on his journeyings
arrived in the city accompanied by
The next event of note was the
arrival of Apollos. He had learned
of Jesus through the ministry of John, and was a man of [Page 20]
splendid mental equipment and great oratorical power. In
Then came a crisis. Paul returned to
Then Paul began to teach in the
synagogue, and it is a remarkable fact that they suffered him to do this for
three months. The effect of the
preaching was as always. To those
who were disobedient there came hardness, and a spirit of opposition was
aroused. The apostle saw that the
time had arrived for the outward formation of a church. He gathered the disciples out of the
synagogue, and securing the
Then mark what followed. Imitators arose, men desiring to accomplish the same results, but lacking the necessary power. Some of these took upon themselves the work of casting out evil spirits, [Page 21] using the name of Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus Whom Paul preacheth”. But demons were not so to be deceived, and the startling answer came, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was, leaped on them, and mastered both of them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.”
Attempts to imitate the work of the [Holy] Spirit through the servants of God always end disastrously to those who make the attempt. From this experience the work blazed out again in new power. Fear fell upon all, and those that practised magical arts brought their books together and burned them.
Then followed new opposition against Paul, the reason being that he had endangered the craftsmen’s art.
Then Paul left
It is more than probable that at
this time John came down and took oversight of the church. How long he remained it is impossible to
decide. In all likelihood the
message of Jesus to the
The Lord introduces Himself as “He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, He that
walketh in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.” Here as always there is a very
remarkable fitness of selection. It
is evident that the church at
Then follows our Lord’s commendation, a commendation so remarkable that I venture to think a careful consideration of it will [Page 22] leave us inclined to ask, Can there be anything wrong with this church? Had we visited it, in all probability we should have reported that it was the most remarkable church we had ever seen. The commendation is sevenfold. “I know thy works, and thy toil and patience, and that thou canst not bear evil men, and didst try them which call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false; and thou hast patience and didst bear for My name’s sake, and hast not grown weary.” One is startled at the completeness of the commendation. Consider it closely.
“I know thy works.” This has reference to actual service being rendered. The church was not a comfortable club for the conserving of the life of a few saints. It was an active and aggressive congregation of the saints.
know thy toil.”
This word lies deeper, having reference to the effort that produces work
even at the cost of pain. There are
those who boast that their work and their gifts cost them nothing. Wherever that is true the work is
worthless. These people at
“And thy patience,” that is the attitude of persistence in the toil that produces the work. These first three words are closely linked – “works, toil, patience.” And the words are the more wonderful as we remember they fall from the lips of Jesus. It is not merely the opinion of an apostle or a stranger. It is the definitely expressed verdict of the Lord of the church, the One Who with eyes of fire, scans every detail. I know your works, and that behind them there is the toil that speaks of pain, and enveloping that there is the patient endurance that makes work perpetual.
And “I know that thou canst not bear evil men.” There is no impurity condoned within the
borders of this church. It has no
complicity with the evil things in
“Thou didst try them which call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false.” The church had been careful about its doctrine, careful about what it listened to, characterised [Page 23] by discernment and judgment of false teachers. Not only had their discipline been perfect as to the life of their members, but they had refused to tolerate the false teachers that had come to them.
And yet again, “Thou hast patience and didst bear for My name’s sake.” Their persistent fidelity had not been in circumstances that were always easy. Persecution had raged around them, and yet they had maintained their works.
And then the last and most remarkable word, “Thou hast not grown weary.” They had a great reserve of strength. All the achievements had been under the impulse of, and in the power of unswerving fidelity.
This description is surely most remarkable. The church at work, labouring at the work, patiently persistent in the labour that produced the work. The church refusing to have fellowship with evil men, observing the false philosophy of certain teaching and rejecting it. The church, persistent in its faithfulness and unwearying in its service. If the Master, visiting the church to which we belong uttered such words as these, should we not feel that they constituted the highest commendation that could possibly be passed?
And yet once again, after the
complaint which He makes, He adds something more to the commendation. “But
this thou hast, that thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also
hate.” Some doubts exist as to the peculiar views of the
Nicolaitans. Some light may be
thrown upon the subject by reference to the letter to
So wonderful a commendation
seems to leave nothing to be desired.
No eye but the penetrating eye of fire which is the eye of [Page 24] love
would ever have detected the failure of the church at
“I have against thee, that thou didst leave thy first love.” That is all. No other sentence. No other word. Immediately He passes to the counsel which He has to give to the church. And yet how much He has said. Seeing the church now in the light of His declaration, all the radiance of the former things is overshadowed. What is first love, and what is it to lose first love?
First love is the love of
espousal. First love is
marital. In writing to the
Corinthian church, Paul.said, “For I espoused you to one husband, that I might
present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the
serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the
simplicity and the purity that is toward Christ.” That is first love. “I
espoused you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to
Christ.” And this is the
loss of pure love. “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in
his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity and the
purity that is toward Christ.” The elements of first love then are
simplicity and purity. Now think for a moment of what this same man wrote to
this church at
Now what is the mystery to which he refers? It is the mystery of love which has its most radiant revelation in the marriage relationship, and the apostle declares that the relationship is the most perfect symbol of that existing between Christ and His Bride. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church.” Thus it is evident that Christ’s love for the Church is typified by the love of husband for wife. “Wives be in subjection unto your [Page 25] own husbands, as unto the Lord.” Thus the love of the Church to Christ is typified by the love of the wife for the husband. What then is the love of Christ to the Church? Unselfish love, love in which there was no single thought of self. What then is the Church’s love for Christ? The response of love to the mystery of love, the submission of love to perfect love. First love is the love of espousal. Its notes are simplicity, and purity, marital love, the response of love to love, the subjection of a great love to a great love, the submission of a self-denying love to a love that denies self. First love is the abandonment of all for a love that has abandoned all.
First love defies analysis. It loves, it knows not why, save that
the lover has by love attracted love, and the responsive love is pure,
unselfish, ardent, humble. The
Now think of the infinite pathos of that one sentence of complaint. “Thou didst leave thy first love.” The emotion and the enthusiasm and the energy are lacking. Jesus recognises this. Had Judas been a member of this church, he would have found nothing to criticize. He criticized Mary of Bethany, and why? Because the love of Mary of Bethany was the love that overstepped all the bounds of prudence and regularity. Love cannot be weighed in scales or measured with a foot-rule. It overleaps the channel you cut for it, and laughs its way into meadows, leaving behind it the track of fertility and the fragrance of flowers. You cannot compress it into mathematical formulae. It sings in poetry, and forgets calculation. It worships in abandonment, and oversteps [Page 26] arithmetic. It is a vestal flame. It is the crowning consciousness of life.
The church at
“Faultily faultless, icily regular,
After Christ has spoken, we begin to reconsider the commendation, and even in that commendation now it is possible to detect omissions, things He did not say which He might have said, had they not left their first love.
In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians we have inferentially a picture of a church in its first love. There were many irregularities of doctrine and of conduct, but there was a great enthusiasm. The apostle describing their condition says, “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labour of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Here are the same things that
Christ commends in
In the light of these statements moreover, other parts of the commendation may be reconsidered. Is it not more than likely that their very opposition to false men and doctrine partook of the nature of lack of love? I would speak very cautiously at this point, for the Lord commended these things, and they were right, but I am quite sure that there may be right things done in a wrong spirit. I seldom find men strenuously fighting what they are pleased to call heterodox teaching, and in bitter language denouncing false doctrine, without being more afraid for the men denouncing than for the men denounced. There is an anger against impurity which is impure. There is a zeal for orthodoxy which is most unorthodox. There is a spirit that contends for faith which is in conflict with faith. If men have lost their first love, they will do more harm than good by their defence of the faith. Behind the denunciation of sin there must always be the tenderness of first love if that denunciation is not to become evil in its bitterness. Behind the zeal for truth, there must always be the spaciousness of first love if that zeal is not to become narrowed into hate. There have been men who have become so self-centred in a narrowness that they are pleased to designate as holding the truth, that the very principle for which they contend has been excluded from their life and service. All zeal for the Master that is not the outcome of love to Him is worthless. His love is so perfect that nothing can take the place of love as a return. He who woos the bride can never have his heart satisfied with a servant. Activity in the King’s business will not make up for the neglect of the King. He who has lost his first [Page 28] love cannot satisfy with work and labour and patience, and hatred of sin and orthodoxy. The Master waits for love. Your church may pass muster as one of those amid which He walks; but He, walking there, pines for your love, and nothing satisfies Him but love. Oh the pathos of the love! Oh the pathos of the picture! Christ in all His glory seeks amid the churches first for love. As He looks over the outward perfections of Ephesus He discovers that the spirit, the tone, the temper of the church is altered. No eye but His could have detected that the bloom was brushed away, and that the flame was less ardent.
Surely this message needs to be repeated to all our churches to-day. Your work, your labour, your patience are all evident. Never were you busier. Never were your organisations more complete, but where is your first love? A friend of mine some years ago had a little daughter whom he dearly loved, and at the time of my story, she was between ten and eleven years of age. They were great friends, and were always found in each other’s company. But about this time there seemed to come some estrangement between them for which he could not account. He was not able to get her company as he had been. She seemed to shun him, and if he went for a walk, excused herself for she had something she must do at home. He grieved about it and could not understand it, and yet hardly cared to mention to her what was apparent to him. One day his birthday came, and in the morning of that day she came into his room, with her face wreathed in smiles and said, “Father I have brought you a present.” She handed him a parcel, and unfastening it he found an exquisitely worked pair of slippers. He said, “Darling, it was very good of you to buy these for me.” “Oh, Father,” said she, “I did not buy them, I have made them for you.” Then looking at her he said, “Oh, now I think I understand. Is this what you have been doing for the last three months?” She replied, “Yes, Father, but how did you know how long I had been at work on them?” He said, “Because for three months I have wanted much of you, but have not been able to have it. You have been too busy. My darling, I like these slippers very much, but next time buy the slippers, and let me have you all the days; I would rather have my child than anything she can make for me.”
That story has ever been weighted for me with spiritual value. Some of us are so busy here and there about the business of the Lord that He cannot get us much for Himself. There is so much to be done. Do not misunderstand me. We are perfectly sincere in our devotion, and yet it seems to me as if sometimes He would say, “I know your works, your labour, your patience, but I miss the first love.” Do you not remember your first love, with its great thrill, when all Nature seemed to sing a new song, and when your chief delight was to be alone with the Lord, to look into His face, and in silent adoration sit while you listened to His voice? Oh, if that old-time delight has passed, nothing can make up for it to Him or to you.
And now briefly notice the counsel He gives to this church, an injunction, a warning, and a promise. The injunction may be expressed in three words, Remember, Repent, and Repeat. These of course are not the exact words that the Master used, but they will help us to bear in mind the terms of His counsel.
“Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen,” go back and think of the freshness of first love. Remind your heart of the fight that never was on sea or land when you began to love Him. Go back to the rising life of the Spring-time. “Remember.” Oh, the tenderness of that word of Christ. Do not be satisfied any longer with the dead level of your orthodoxy, and your mechanical precision in service. “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen.”
And then “repent.” Turn back in heart and purpose of the old attitude, the attitude of simplicity and purity, the abandonment of everything for love, the love of espousal, the first love that leaves father and mother and house and lands and everything for the loved one. Go back to that, return and do the first works. And what are the first works? Let Jesus tell us, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him Whom He hath sent.” Christ said in effect to these people, “Your lack of love proves your failure of faith. You do not believe in Me as you did, or you would love Me as of old. You have lost confidence. An absolute confidence always blossoms into a perfect love. And if the fruit of your love be smitten, it is because at the root of your faith is some disease.”
Then finally mark His solemn warning. “Or else I come to thee [Page 30] and will move thy lampstand out of its place, except thou repent.” What is this He says? Remove thy lampstand? Yes, notwithstanding all the perfection of your work, and your labour, and your patience, notwithstanding your cold and icy purity, notwithstanding your orthodoxy, unless you love, that lampstand must be removed. It is impossible to witness for Christ in the darkness of the world except in the power of first love. It is not abundant works, nor even a passionate determination to witness against the sin of the world that serves Him. Unless there be first love the lampstand must be removed. It is a solemn warning. Oh, that we might rightly understand it, and see that it is not merely a capricious threatening, but the statement of an inevitable sequence. Loss of first love to Christ will inevitably issue in loss of love to the brethren, and cannot fail to dry up the rivers of compassion toward the outside world. It is the first love of the saint that is the true light that shines in a dark place. When men outside the Church can look at its community and say, “see how these people love,” then they will be attracted to the Centre upon which our love is set. Without first love we may retain ceaseless activity, immaculate purity, severest orthodoxy, but there will be no light shining in a dark place.
It is not our doing that lightens the world. It is not our ceremonial cleanness that helps men. It is not our correctness in the holding of truth that helps a dying race. It is our love first for our Master, then for each other, and then for the world.
Then notice the graciousness of the closing promise. “To him that overcometh, to him will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.” And how may a man overcome? By remembering, repenting, and repeating, by coming back to the beginnings. Then shall he have to eat of the tree of life. See how the great words gather together. Life, light, love. They are the very words that Jesus came to bring us, and it is only as we have life that we love, and only as we love that we shed forth fight.
The supreme lesson of this study for to-day is that for the maintenance of our position as light-bearers our communion with the Master in all the abandonment of first love must be maintained. “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.”
* * *
“And to the angel of the church in
“These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and lived again: I know thy tribulation, and thy poverty (but thou art rich), and the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and they are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Fear not the things which thou art about to suffer: behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.” - Revelation 2: 8-11.
We have no account in Scripture of the planting of the church there, but history tells the story of the persecution of the church, and chronicles the fact of the martyrdom of Polycarp in his ninetieth year. History moreover clearly states the cause of the persecution, showing that it arose from the clamour of the pagan population, excited and incensed by the Jewish community. This statement is valuable as throwing much light upon some of the things incidentally referred to in the epistle itself.
The Master addressing the church, speaks of Himself as “The first and the last, which was dead, and lived again.” These words are a repetition of those which He had addressed to John when, smitten with a great fear in the presence of His glory, he had become as one dead. This church is in the midst of a great sorrow, and the Lord announces Himself as the living One Who has passed through death, and therefore possesses the keys of death and of Hades. In approaching a people dwelling in the region and shadow of death, some of their number having already suffered martyrdom, others of them most certainly approaching the place of death through their loyalty to Him, He reminds them that He is Master of these darker matters also, and holds in His own hand the keys. The description is intended for the consolation of the afflicted people, and indeed out of this description by which our Lord introduces Himself to their notice, flows all the comfort that follows. They are in the midst of sorrow, and He first declares to them that He has been to the uttermost reach of it, and is alive again. They are under the shadow of death, and He tells them that He “has been dead, and is alive for evermore.” They are almost certainly in the midst of those perplexities and questionings which come to men when surrounded by sorrow. He tells them that He, having been dead, is now alive; and, moreover. that He holds the keys of death and of Hades, the symbols of solution and authority.* He has unlocked the problem and is now Master of the situation.
[* That is, ‘He’ reminds them of His ‘authority’ to raise the dead from their present abode in underworld of ‘Hades’ when He pleases! John 11: 40; 14: 3. Cf. Luke 20: 35; Acts 2: 34; Phil. 3: 11; Rev. 6: 11.]
The Master’s method in
commending this church at
Of it He says, “I know” - three things. “Thy tribulation, and thy poverty, and the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and they are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” Let us mention these separately. “I know thy tribulation.” “I know thy poverty.” “I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews and they are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” Tribulation, poverty, reviling. These are the words which reveal the desperate condition of the church at the moment when the Master sent His message to them.
First, “I know thy tribulation.” This is a strong word, not very often made use of. It signifies a pressure of persecution. Jesus did not say I know thy trials, the occasional testings of faith, those experiences which are common to all the saints and necessary for their perfecting, but “thy tribulation.” Our word tribulation suggests the stripe of the Roman whip, but the word that the Master used, suggested rather the pressure of the stones that grind the wheat, or that force the blood out of the grape. It is a word that throbs with meaning. These people were being pressed even to death on account of their loyalty to Christ, and as He looks at the church, He says in tones of infinite tenderness, “I know thy tribulation.”
And yet again, “I know thy poverty.” And the word indicates actual beggary. Here it has no reference to a poverty of spirit. In all probability these people had suffered the loss of all things in the persecution that had broken out against them, loss of trade, loss of social position, loss almost of the bare necessaries of life, reduced to beggary, “I know thy poverty.”
more, “I know the blasphemy of them
which say they are Jews, and they are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” The
use of the word blasphemy is somewhat peculiar here. Evidently the Lord uses the word, not in
its specific sense as against God, but in its simplest sense, that of
vilification or reviling. Here the
Master reveals His intimate knowledge of the causes from which all the trouble
has proceeded. In all probability
the vilifying of the church by the synagogue had issued in the beggary of the
little band of Christians by the pagans of
[* See ‘The Rights of the Holy Spirit in the House of God,’ by G. H. Lang.]
That through which they are passing is in many senses almost identical with that through which He has passed. The force which encompassed His death was the blasphemy of the Jews, acting upon a pagan nation, that stripped Him of all He possessed, and gave Him only death. The persecution that culminated in His own passing had begun within the synagogue, at the very centre of supposed religion, and had proceeded along the line of pagan power to its terrible issue.
Thus addressing these people He says, “I know,” and the force of the word is not merely that He knows by watching, but by His own experience, not alone by observing their suffering, but by having Himself passed through the same experience. I know, for I have experienced the pain of vilification, and the want of poverty, and the final tribulation. I know all these to their deepest depths. Thus He would comfort them with a declaration of His consciousness of their condition, and His experimental sympathy therewith.
With what summary conciseness
and startling force He sums up in a sentence the truth concerning the condition
of the Jews in
Thus He identified Himself with them in their sorrow and suffering, and thus in a sentence uttered the most severe condemnation of those who were causing the trouble.
Now let us mark the
commendation. First the silence,
and what can be said concerning silence.
It is more eloquent than all language. He has no word of complaint to
utter. The character and conduct of
the church at
Of such value is this teaching that I pause to make a passing application. Some child of God, whelmed with great and crushing sorrows is longing for the sound of His voice, and there is nothing but silence. It may be that that silence is a sign not of disapproval but of approval. Do not be cast down. If in the midst of tribulation and suffering there is no voice, it may be that the silence of the Lord is His highest commendation. There is an old and beautiful story of how a nun dreamed that she saw three other nuns at prayer. As they kneeled the Master approached them. As He came to the first of the three, He bent over her with tender solicitude, and smiles full of radiant love, speaking to her in words of softest tenderest music. Leaving her and approaching the next He only placed His hand upon her head, and gave her one look of tender approval. But the third woman He passed almost abruptly without word or glance. The woman in her dream said to herself, How tenderly the Lord must love this first of His children. The second He is not angry with, and yet for her has no endearments like those bestowed upon the first. She wondered how the third [Page 36] had grieved Him, so that He gave her no look, no passing word. As in her dream she attempted to account for the action of the Lord, the Master Himself confronted her, and addressing her said, “Oh, woman of the world, how wrongly hast thou judged. The first kneeling woman needs all the succour of My constant care to keep her feet in the way. The second has stronger faith and deeper love, but the third whom I seemed to pass abruptly by, has faith and love of finest fibre, and her I am preparing by swift processes for highest and holiest service. She knows and loves and trusts Me so perfectly as to be independent of words or looks.”
Do not therefore be surprised if
you have no vision. It may be that
the vision granted is after all but proof of weakness. Peter, James, and John were taken to
behold the vision of transfiguration.
The common interpretation of this is that they were special apostles
being prepared for special service, and while unable to contradict that, I
should not personally be surprised in the perfect day to discover that the
reasons for the Master’s special attention were to be found in their
weakness rather than their strength.
Not a word of commendation did He speak to the church in
And yet there was more than the
silence, just that one word, that flash, that gleam of light, “but thou art rich!” It is as though He bent over them and
whispered the great truth.
The words recall to our mind,
the Lord’s conception of riches as revealed in His parable concerning the
rich fool. He said to himself, “I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for
many years.” As though a life
could be fed with goods! And yet
the only place of worship for many is a dry-goods store. Dry- goods indeed! At the close of the parable Jesus said, “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich
toward God!” Of goods these
Again one calls to mind the word of James, the practical, far-seeing apostle. “Did not God choose them that are poor as to the world to be rich in faith.” This also is what the Master meant. “I know thy poverty,” you are poor as to the world. They have taken everything from you, but you are rich in faith, in the principle that possesses the unseen [reward] and imperishable things.
And yet again, the words of Paul
recur. His conception of his own
position perfectly harmonises with the Lord’s estimate of the people in
All this is intensely
interesting, but we have not yet touched the deepest note of exposition. Read again the old familiar words
concerning the Master from the writings of Paul. “For
ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for
your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might become rich.” The words used are exactly the same, the
same for “rich” and the
same for “poverty.” “He
became poor.” “I know thy poverty.” “He was
rich,” “but thou art rich.”
“I know, I know your poverty. I have been poor with the actual poverty
of beggary, but you are rich, for through that poverty of Mine, you have
entered into that wealth of Mine, and even in the midst of all your poverty,
one day] possess the abiding wealth. I know your poverty, for I have shared
it. I know your wealth, for I have
given it.” It is well to
remember that the word “rich” in all
these cases is the actual word which we use of the world’s wealth. It is the root word from which we derive
our word plutocrat. According to
Christ then, wealth is enrichment of character, not possession of gold. He said in effect to these suffering
What words of counsel then has He to speak to people passing through such circumstances? Mainly two. First, “Fear not,” and secondly, “Be thou faithful unto death.” In reading this epistle I think the most startling thing to me was to discover that there is not a single promise to them that they should escape their suffering. Nay, He rather tells them that heavier trials are to come upon them, and the “fear not” is a preparatory word in advance of the present consciousness of need. He does not say, “Fear not the things which thou hast suffered,” but “Fear not the things which thou art about to suffer.” There is no promise of succour. He does not say, Never mind, these things will soon be over. He comes rather with an announcement of another sorrow. Oh, the comfort of knowing that He is acquainted with the things that are yet to be, and that facing them He says “fear not.” There is no sorrow waiting for them that He is not acquainted with. I know thy present tribulation. I know thy present poverty, the present blasphemy I know. I know more. I know what lies hidden in the womb of the future, that “the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried, and ye shall have tribulation ten days.” Fear not these things then, the persecution will increase, the fearsome darkness will deepen, tribulation will be more severe, the pressure will yet be heavier. Fear not, and let the first [Page 39] comforting thought against fear be that I know and that I have told you.
Then “Be thou faithful unto death,” live upon the principle of faith even to the bound of death. The word “faithful” here is from the root which means to be convinced. Fidelity is born of conviction, and conviction must have a groundwork and foundation. What then is this faithfulness enjoined? The faithfulness of the saints is the assurance of the faithfulness of Jesus. A deep conviction of His fidelity produces their fidelity. Wherever a man, woman, or child under any circumstances of pain or testing is deeply convinced of the fidelity of Christ, they are immediately and necessarily faithful themselves. It is as though He had said to them, You are going to be cast into prison, “the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried.” Be faithful, believe still. Live within the limit of a great assurance. Don’t question Me, don’t doubt Me, depend on Me. The Lord did not mean, Gather yourselves up and go through. He simply meant, trust Me. He did not intend to advise them to gird up their loins and be determined that they would see the business through. That is ever a poor and sorry way of attempting to pass through times of testing. He meant rather, Trust Me, let Me be your courage. I am alive, and I was dead. I have gone to the limit of this matter. There is no depth I have not fathomed, no darkness I have not penetrated. Be faithful, follow Me, not in the effort of a strenuous determination, but with the ease of a simple trust.
Then the gracious promise. “I will give thee the crown of life,” and the word is very full and very rich. This crown that He promises is the crown of royalty. It is more. It is the crown of royalty victorious. It is still more. It is the chaplet that adorns the brow of the victor who comes laden with spoils, the crown of royalty, the crown of victory, the crown of added wealth. It is the crown of life, life which reigns because it has won, and reigns moreover in possession of spoils obtained through conflict. The life is the crown. What wondrous light this flings back upon the process. This pressure of tribulation is not accidental and capricious. Out of the tribulation we shall have our triumph. Out of the darkness we shall come to light. That is the whole philosophy of suffering.*
This may be a message to some saints who are being sorely tried. [Page 40] And yet are you not already, as the mists clear from the valleys, finding your crown of life. I think to-day I see the meaning of past mysteries in my own life. Out of the pressure of tribulation we extract the new wine of the Kingdom,* and out of the deep dark death experience in which the devil sifts and tries, there breaks a new capacity, an enlarged outlook, a new meaning in life, a new tone in the speech. Almost imperceptibly and yet surely, through the process of pain God is putting the horizon further back, and broadening and deepening the experience of life. That is the present value of pain, but its ultimate value is the fulness of which all this is but the foretelling. When presently all the tribulation is passed, and the painful processes of the little while are over, and the last grim pressure ceases, then we shall be crowned with life, then we shall know the meaning of life.
[* See Luke 22: 28-30.]
All this must ever be emphasized
by the perpetual memory of the words with which Christ addressed His suffering
saints. Emphasizing His
experimental acquaintance with the philosophies, He declares “I was dead, and behold, I am alive.” “I know
thy tribulation!” Think of His tribulation. “I
know thy poverty!”
Think of His poverty. “I
know the revilings of them which say they are Jews and they are not!” Think
of the revilings heaped upon Him by them which said they were Jews. “Fear
not!” Think of His unswerving faith in God. “Be
thou faithful until death!” See
Him faithful unto death. “I will give thee the crown of life!” See Him crowned with life, on the [His] resurrection
morning. This is the heart
and centre of the great truth delivered to the suffering saints at
Then there was His added
promise. “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.” It always seems to me as though this
were an inferential note of warning and threatening against the
persecutors. These men of
epistle there can be no immediate application to the majority of those who hear
these words. Sometimes it seems as
though the very reproach of Christ has almost ceased. I am not sure that this is a healthy
sign. It is doubtful if many people
really suffer much to-day for Christ’s sake. I often hear men speak of the
difficulties of their position in business, of the taunts and sneers of certain
opposing ones, but are they really serious when they mention these things? When we think of the actualities of the
And yet there is a sympathetic application of the
epistle. During the Armenian
massacres, and the martyrdom of native Christians in
And yet there is an immediate application to all those who suffer for His name’s sake.
From the meditation, let us gather one or two lessons of general [Page 42] import. First, outward adversity of a church or a people or a person is not a proof of essential poverty or weakness. It is not always the wealthy church financially that is the rich church. The material wealth of members does not create the true riches of the church. How often it has been that some struggling company of believers, fighting with poverty, contending for very existence, has been the truly rich and prosperous church.
Then, secondly, let us gather the inexpressible comfort that comes from this revelation of Christ’s identification with all His suffering saints. Wherever the Church passes through tribulation, He stands and says, “I know.”
And lastly, let us ever rejoice in His assertion that He holds the keys of all the things that most affright and oppress us, of the last foes, of death and of Hades, and the keys in His right hand are symbols of solution and authority. As we pass to the valley of the shadow, He approaches, holding these keys, and saying, “Fear not,” I have unlocked the problem. I have solved it, I have been into the deepest darkness, I know it. I have not borrowed these keys. They belong to Me. I have them for unlocking and for locking.
Oh, suffering saints, and all who approach the shadow-land, fear not, fear not! Trust Him utterly; be faithful, confiding, even unto death, and through the dark chambers of death and of Hades, He will lead to light. Christ never tells us not to fear, until He Himself has fathomed all the mystery. I say to my child, “Do not be afraid,” while yet in my own heart lurks a great fear that I dare not tell him of. This Christ never does. He has not fear, and therefore I need not fear but may sing with the Psalmist:
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me:
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.”
He has probed the shadow and the pain. Let Him lead on, even through tribulation and through death, to the life and the crowning that lie ahead.
* * *
“And to the angel of the church in
“These things saith He that hath the sharp two-edged sword: I
know, where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s throne is: and thou holdest fast My name, and didst not deny My faith, even in
the days of Antipas My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you,
where Satan dwelleth. But I have a
few things against thee, because thou hast there some that hold the teaching of
Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of
We have no account whatever of the planting of the church, and therefore can only look at it as seen in the epistle now under consideration.
Christ speaks to the church as the One “that hath the sharp two-edged sword.” That sword as we have seen is the symbol of the discerning and executive power of truth. The fitness of this [Page 44] lies in the fact that the church is harbouring error. Not that the church has itself adopted the teaching, nor that she has as a corporate whole, committed herself to these heresies, but she has become guilty of Broad Churchism, attempting to find room within her pale for all sorts and conditions of men and faiths.
Approaching the church as the One from Whose mouth proceeds the sword, He comes to deal with the false teachers within it.
First let us notice His
commendation. “I know where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s throne
is: and thou holdest fast My name, and didst not deny
My faith, even in the days of Antipas My witness, My faithful one, who was
killed among you, where Satan dwelleth.” The Lord recognises the peculiar dangers
and difficulties surrounding these people.
The underlying suggestion of the commendation is that it is an
honourable thing to have held fast His name, and not have denied His
faith. The inference is that if
there was any place that it might have been probable that people should have
ceased to hold His name, it would have been in these peculiar and difficult
circumstances in which the church at
The commendation consists in the twofold statement. “Thou holdest fast MY name ... “Thou didst not deny My faith.” “My name, My faith.” And the emphasis of the commendation is discovered by consideration of the peculiar perils threatening these people. “I know where thou dwellest.” That statement in itself is full of comfort. In every circumstance of trial and tribulation and persecution and peril, we may hear the words of the Master, “I know where thou dwellest.”
In this case the place is
described by the startling phrase, “Where
Satan’s throne is.” Satan has ever some base of operation,
some central Place for his throne.
It is very difficult to refer to Satan without wanting to say a great
deal about him, and much needs to be said in these days; and in a study of this
epistle it is necessary to pause for a little upon this subject. Wasting no time over arguments
concerning the personality of Satan, but accepting that as an established fact,
there remains certain co-related facts which need restatement. First, Satan is not God, and therefore
neither has he any of the essential powers of Deity. He is neither omniscient, omnipresent,
nor omnipotent. He does not know as
God knows. [Page 45] He is
not everywhere as God is everywhere.
He is not all-powerful as God is all-powerful. He is a fallen angel, “Lucifer, son of the morning, how art thou fallen.” In his fall and degradation, he has
retained all the essential capacities of his unfallen
state. The wisdom, the possibility
of locomotion, and the marvellous power, which were his before he fell, are his
to-day, but he is not God. He
dragged with him in that awful fall hosts of the bright ones, and with the
marvellous wisdom of that unfallen nature, now
prostituted to base uses, he marshals them for the doing of his work. To state the case bluntly, if the devil
is here, he is not there. If the
devil is there he is not here. His
messengers cover all countries, and include all ranks of life in their
operations, and these ramifications of evil are under the supreme control of
Satan, who is the prince of the power of the air, the god of this world, the
son of the morning, fallen as lightning from heaven. For the carrying out of his enterprises
in the world, he has somewhere a place where his throne is, a base of
operations. It may be that he has
more than one such centre, and he himself will pass from point to point with
the rapidity of lightning. He is
ubiquitous, as we use the word of a general who, on the field of battle seems
to be here, there, and everywhere, only more so. He is not omnipresent as God is without
motion and without effort. At the
time of the writing of this letter, for some strategic reason of his own, he
had his seat at
Now this was the peril of the
The history of evil I think will prove the assertion that Satan loves to have his seat in the midst of worldly wealth, and all that stands for the feeding of the flesh life in men. The Master did not say to men what we often say, “Ye cannot serve God and the devil.” I do not question the accuracy of that statement, but it is worthy of notice that the Master said, “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” Thus He revealed the antithesis between the two great forces which govern human lives, God and Mammon. God governs man through the spiritual side of man’s nature, and man can only be governed in the highest aspects of his life when he is so governed. Mammon, which stands for all the worldly power and worldly greatness, the things which the men of the world value, as a governing force issues in the degradation of man, proving he cannot be perfectly governed in flesh by the things that minister to flesh. The devil lurks behind Mammon, sets his throne up at the point where it gathers its force, and from there rules men. If you think to-day for a single moment of the great evils that are blighting our lands, and if you take time to think far enough back in the history of these things, you will discover that the invariable impulse of evil is Mammon and the love of gold. Behind the drink traffic, behind the unholy and iniquitous crowding of the poor into dwellings of which our cities ought to be ashamed, behind the breath of vile impurity that spoils life as it passes across it, is Mammon, the love of gold; and behind that, using and manipulating it, the devil sits upon the throne of power.
The peril which ever threatens a
church situated in such a city is that it may enter into alliance with Mammon,
and so pass under the control of Satan.
Having recognised this peril,
let us now notice the commendation.
fast My name.”
Christ’s name is ever the symbol of His nature, and this first
word of commendation declares that the church at
Again, “Thou didst not deny My faith.” Note specially that He does not say, You
have not denied your own faith, but “My
faith.” In the letter to
the Hebrews the writer speaks of Jesus as being the “Author and Finisher,” not of
our faith, but “of faith.” That is to say, He lived and wrought
upon the principle of faith, and through His victory, was the Author or the
File-leader, as the word literally is, and Perfecter, or Vindicator of faith as
a principle of life. The faith of
man exercised in His victory, is response to His faith. The fact that the church at
didst not deny My faith,” indicates their confidence in
His mission, confidence in His atoning work. His name marks the glory of His
Person. His faith marks the
perfection of His purpose. It was a
wonderful testimony that the Master bore to this church at
Now mark His complaint. “But
I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there some that hold the
teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the
What then is the doctrine which
is being tolerated and to which our Lord takes objection? “Some
that hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block
before the children of
Now is it to be understood that
the Master meant that Balaam’s teaching was that men were to eat things
sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication? I think not, although they are the exact
things which logically followed the teaching of Balaam, and exactly the same
perils which threatened the church at
May we not reverently attempt to paraphrase the words of Christ, so that their meaning may be clearer to us? It is as though He had said, This is what I have against thee. You have people who, in order that they may eat of the things sacrificed to idols, and in order that they may indulge in the sin of fornication, are holding a doctrine which excuses the actual wrong. The wrong thing is the sacrificing to idols and the fornication, but behind the wrong conduct is the wrong creed, and they are holding the doctrine of Balaam in order to excuse or justify conduct which is wrong.
If this be the interpretation then it remains that we should ask, What was the teaching of Balaam, which made possible such awful conduct? The story of Balaam is contained in the book of Numbers, chapters twenty-two to twenty-four, and at the end of the twenty-fourth chapter it would appear as though that story is concluded, but it is not. Let me in few words epitomise the whole story.
Balak, the king of
Now what happened? God appeared to Balaam and warned him not to go. Balak sent his princes back to Balaam, offering him silver and gold and honours if he would but come. Balaam, lured by the hire, started, and on his way encountered that remarkable incident of the appearance of the angel, and the speech of the dumb ass. The result of Balaam’s conversation with the angel was that the angel warned him not to go. Balaam, terrified, offered to go back, but now the angel said You must go forward. He came to Balak, and on a high mountain seven sacrifices were offered, and he opened his mouth to curse, and instead spoke words of blessing. Balak took him to yet another mountain, with a like result. He hoped that a third place might bring the desired cursing and again the sevenfold sacrifice was offered, and Balaam spoke. There are however, no prophecies in the whole book of God more wonderfully beautiful than the things that then fell from his lips.
The anger of Balak was naturally then kindled, and he said I called you to curse, and behold, thou hast altogether blessed them these three times. He rid himself of Balaam, who returned home. So ends the twenty-fourth chapter.
What then is the doctrine of
Balaam? Now the fact is that it has
not appeared at all in the story as contained in these chapters. To discover it we must pass into chapter
twenty-five, and there we read these startling words, “And Israel abode
in shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of
How has this come about? The answer is to be found by passing still
further to the thirty-third chapter of the book of Numbers, and the sixteenth
verse, and in the words therein contained, the whole mystery is solved. Moses
is speaking, and he says, “Behold these,” that
is, the women of
The doctrine of Balaam broadly stated was undoubtedly that seeing that they were the covenant people of God, they might with safety indulge themselves in social intercourse with their neighbours, for no harm could happen to them. Both Peter and Jude refer to Balaam, and they both tell us that the motive of his teaching was that of hire, but neither of them declare what the teaching was. There can be no reasonable doubt that in effect his declaration to the children of Israel was that their covenant with God was so sure, as would witness the blessing he had been compelled to pronounce, that they need not he anxious about their conduct.
His teaching issued, as Jesus says, in the eating of things sacrificed to idols, and the committing of fornication. It was the perilous and damnable heresy that sin cannot violate a covenant.
Then a second fact in the complaint, “So hast thou also some that hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans in like manner.” What that [Page 52] doctrine was I do not profess to know, but I know its issue, and I am not sure that the words “in like manner,” do not refer to the similarity between the teaching of the Nicolaitans, and that of Balaam, rather than to the fact that men held that doctrine as well as the other. Technically there may have been a difference. The issue of both was the same.
What then was the danger in the
The Lord is terribly severe in
His denunciation. The church at
Turn now to the counsel. “Repent.” This word is addressed not to the people holding the doctrine, but to the church and to the angel. In what sense then can they repent? The only repentance possible to the church was that of the exclusion from its fellowship of the persons who held the pernicious teaching. That doctrine must not be tolerated. The warning is very solemn. “I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.” Unless you exercise your discipline as a church, and exclude these people, I will come and fight against them.
What an inference of love lies
behind this threat. It is as though
the Lord would say “Discipline these people, for
the judgment will be swift and heavy if they are not excluded.” For the sake of the men that hold
pernicious doctrine, they should be excluded from the church. There are men in the borders of our
churches to whom we are doing incalculable harm by allowing them to remain
there. We allow them to remain, and
they imagine that they are in a place of safety when they
are in the place of death.
We are sometimes inclined to treat this warning as though it were not
alarming, but I want to say that it is one of the most solemn in all these
epistles. It is a warning
that the Lord Jesus will come, and by exercise of righteous judgment, will
remove what the church itself refuses to remove. The supreme illustration of the
solemnity of it is to be found in the letter to the church at
Then the Lord, in Whose heart
there was a great tenderness even toward the evil doers, utters His promise, “To him that overcometh, to him will I give of the hidden
manna.” That is the first
half of the promise, Divine sustenance.
And why did Jesus speak of it as manna? Because manna was Divinely supplied, and
yet had to be humanly gathered.
Hidden manna, the Word of God upon which man lives, as against the
doctrine of Balaam, in accepting which man perishes. The true bread, the bread of life. The applicability of this promise to
these people is seen when it is remembered how the very heart of the false
And then the other portion of that sweet promise. “To him that overcometh ... I will give him a white stone, and upon the stone a new name written, which no one knoweth but he that receiveth it.” The suggestiveness of that white stone is not perfectly clear. There have been many interpretations. Personally I would be inclined to think that they all have some value. From them let me select four.
The white stone was given to a man who after trial was justly acquitted, and went forth clear from condemnation. The white stone was given to one who, returning from battle, having won victories, bore his triumphs with him. It was the reward of victory. The white stone was sometimes given to a man as the token that he was made a free man of the city. It indicated his free citizenship.
And yet there is one other meaning, perhaps more beautiful than all, very sweet and tender. There was the white stone known as the tessara hospitalis. Two men, friends, about to part, would [Page 56] divide a white stone in two, each carrying with him half, upon which was inscribed the name of the friend. It may be that they would never meet again, but that stone in each case would be bequeathed to son, and sometimes generations after, a man would meet another, and they would find that they possessed the complementary halves of one white stone, and their friendship would be at once created upon the basis of the friendship made long ago.
All these seem to me to be
probably suggested by this white stone.
First, the white stone of acquittal, which is justification. The white stone of victory, being
triumph over all foes. The white
stone of citizenship, which marks the freedom of the city of
The central lesson of the study
is a very solemn one. The
* * *
The Thyatira Letter
“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
“These things saith the Son of God, Who hath His eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like unto burnished brass. I know thy works, and thy love and faith and ministry and patience, and that thy last works are more than the first. But I have against thee, that thou sufferest the woman Jezebel, which calleth herslf a prophetess; and she teacheth and seduceth My servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time that she should repent; and she willeth not to repent of her fornication. Behold, I do cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of her works. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto each one of you according to your works. But to you I say, to the rest that are in Thyatira, as many as have not this teaching, which know not the deep things of Satan, as they say; I cast upon you none other burden. Howbeit that which ye have, hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh, and he that keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give authority over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to shivers; as I also have received of My Father: and I will give him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.” - Revelation 2: 18-29.
THYATIRA was a small city in
In addressing the angel, the Lord announces Himself as the “Son of God, Who hath His eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like unto burnished brass.” “The Son of God.” This is the first time that He has made use of this description of Himself in these letters, and it marks the assertion of power and authority. He is the infallible One to Whose speech the church must pay attention. When John turned to see the vision, he “beheld One like unto a Son of man,” but yet the glory of the vision spoke also of the fact that He was Son of God. And now in this central letter of the seven, He makes use of the title of supreme authority. From the complete vision He selects two facts concerning Himself, which indicate the special meaning and value of the message He is about to deliver, “His eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like unto burnished brass,” the eyes of fire suggesting His intimate knowledge, His penetrating vision concerning the church, so that in the sentence He is about to pronounce, there can be no mistake, for His understanding of all the conditions is a perfect understanding. The eyes of fire pierce all the deeps of darkness, and know the profoundest secrets. He is also the One Who “hath His feet like unto burnished brass,” and by these statements He practically announces the fact that He is coming in judgment which is strong and pure. His eyes like a flame of fire, He sees perfectly and understands accurately. His feet like unto burnished brass, He marches to judgment, the King amid the seven golden lampstands, and the track of His coming is the track of fire. Righteous, pure, and final are all His judgments. Within the church at Thyatira there is an evil for which no remedial measures are sufficient. It is not one that admits of correction. There is nothing for it but destruction. It has permeated the whole fellowship. Nothing but judgment remains, and so He comes to definite and immediate dealing with this evil.
His commendation commences with the usual words, “I know.” The general statement is “I know thy works.” Then follows an analysis, “and thy love and faith and ministry and patience.” And lastly, “thy last works are more than the first.” Three things are indicated in this commendation. First, the works of the church; secondly, the forces that lie behind the works – “thy love and faith [Page 58] and ministry and patience”; and lastly that those works have not decreased but increased. He thus approves the activity of the church, the principle upon which it is based, and the fact that in true order, it increases. His first approbation is of the church’s work, the things that are seen. His second of the hidden facts that lie behind the outward manifestation. Thirdly, He approves that which is always a sequence of such condition, that the last works are more than the first.
“I know thy works.” He does not name or tabulate them. He declares His acquaintance with them.
Also He recognises that behind them lie the love and fidelity, the ministry and the patience, and the fact that because these works have these principles behind them, the last works are more than the first.
Notice principally, though briefly, the principles He recognises as lying behind the works of the church. “I know ... thy love.” This is a statement of the church’s character. It is the fact that lies at the root, and out of which all springs. Underlying all the works there was a principle toward God and man which the Master had declared to be the sum and substance of the law of God. It was a church character. There was no breach, no division, no schism, but a wonderful manifestation of love.
“I know ... thy faith!” Again the force of the word is thy fidelity. Faith is here mentioned not as the principle out of which an attitude grows, but rather the attitude of fidelity that grows out of the principle of confidence. I know thy stedfastness, I know that in thee is manifested the opposite of fickleness. Too often works of love are alike occasional and spasmodic, but here they were characterised by constancy. In this case the love was not an accident, it was a habit.
know ... thy ministry,” and
herein is a tender and beautiful touch.
He was conscious of love in action, of deeds done because of love to God
and man. There is a difference
between this ministry and the general works already referred to. They are the peculiar and special
activities of the
know ... thy patience.” This is a great word upon which the Master
seemed to set much value. He spoke
of it to the church at
“Yet I argue not against Heaven’s hand or will.
Nor bate a jot of heart or hope,
But still bear up and steer right onward.”
Patience is the capacity for being still when all around is tempest-tossed. Patience is the flower of fidelity. If fidelity is the activity of faith, patience is the condition of character resulting therefrom. It is that peace of heart under pressure of life which is so fair and fragrant a thing to us, and ever seems to give the heart of the Lord satisfaction and joy.
And yet again. “I know ... that thy last works are more than the first.” There had been progress and development resulting from this intermediate group of facts, the outward and evident activity of the church had broadened and deepened. Such was the Master’s commendation, and very beautiful it is. How tenderly the Lord recognises all the best facts in the life of the church. How excellent a thing it would be if when, for any reason, we are called upon to criticize some assembly of the saints, we might take our Lord’s pattern, and utter first our commendation. This He always did unless there were no word of commendation that could be uttered. In His messages we ever discover His recognition of excellent things.
But now we pass to the solemn words of this most mysterious epistle, the words of complaint. “But I have against thee, that thou sufferest the woman Jezebel.” That is all. Nothing more. There [Page 60] is no other complaint against this church. The whole paragraph which follows from the middle of the twentieth verse to the end of the twenty-third contains simply the statement of the facts of the case, which demonstrate our Lord’s right to complain against the church for suffering the woman. It cannot be over-emphasised that the sin of this church consisted in the fact that she raised no protest against the woman Jezebel, that she allowed an outsider to promulgate under her shelter the most terrible doctrine, with the most disastrous results. Jezebel did not belong to the church. She may have been a member of the congregation, even perhaps enrolled on the earthly list of the fellowship, but she had no living relation with the church because she did not belong to Christ. The church incurred a terrible responsibility by suffering her. Not the teaching, nor the result of the teaching, did the Lord charge against the church, save as she becomes responsible for what she suffers. The wrong of this false toleration may be gathered from an examination of the woman, her work, and her judgment.
In attempting to consider the woman Jezebel, we are at once found in the presence of all kinds of questionings and doubts and interpretations. Is the whole language figurative? Does Jezebel stand for an idea, or was she actually a woman exerting evil influences through pernicious teaching in Thyatira? These things perhaps cannot be finally or satisfactorily answered. The greatest probability is that there was an actual woman. The marginal rendering of the message to the angel is, “Thou sufferest thy wife Jezebel,” and there are those who believe that this woman was indeed the wife of the angel of the church. Whether this be so or not, there can be little doubt of the existence of an actual woman. Whether her real name was Jezebel may be doubtful. It is probable that when the Master named the woman, He borrowed a name from the Old Testament in order to light up the fact of her character, and the influence she was exerting.
Turn from these things that are doubtful, and let us examine the actual words of Christ. “Thou sufferest the woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess.” What is a prophetess, and why is the statement made in this form, “she calleth herself a prophetess?” There can be very little doubt that the woman claimed to be an inspired woman, who had received some new revelation. Some [Page 61] vision or enlightenment had been granted to her, denied to the apostles, and she was promulgating this new teaching.
The result is carefully stated by the Lord in the words, “she teacheth and seduceth.” The result of the teaching was the seduction of the servants of God, and the teaching was made forceful because the woman claimed that she was an inspired messenger. The name that the Master uses in referring to her, suggests an analogy with her Old Testament prototype. Let us think for a moment of the Jezebel of old.
a daughter of the king of
that she was not only his consort, but that she was associated with him in the government, with the result that she said in effect, “Let us also set up the worship of Baal. I do not ask that the worship of Jehovah should be set aside, but by the side of it let us have opportunities for Nature worship.” Her method was that of uniting the two worships. The purpose in her heart was that of the setting aside of the worship of Jehovah for the worship of Baal. Of all the women seen in Old Testament history, none was more brilliant, more daring, more unscrupulous than Jezebel.
of this woman in the church at Thyatira drives us back to this woman of the old
economy, and of her the Lord declares that she “teacheth and seduceth My servants to commit fornication, and
to eat things sacrificed to idols.” What was it that she was teaching? Nothing at the moment seems to be said
on the point, but presently when the Master is pronouncing His judgment, He
gives us a clue to the character of the teaching. “But
to you I say, to the rest that are in Thyatira, as many as have not this
teaching, which know not the deep things of Satan, as they say.”
What did the Lord mean by this “as they say”? He
evidently refers to a claim set up
within the teaching of Jezebel, that she had discovered some new deep hidden
philosophy of life. Christ called
it “the deep things of Satan.” This new revelation by inspiration, the
end of which was to show how in the heathen systems were deep philosophies, and
the result of which was to seduce the [Page 62] servants of God into complicity with the
outward corruptions of heathendom, Christ characterises as the “deep things of Satan.” It was evidently an attempt to graft on
to Christianity as revealed in the Church, the mysteries of darkness by which
Christianity was surrounded in that district. As there was the germ principle of
Antinomianism dealt with in the church at
Truly there is nothing new under the sun. The latest of all heresies which names itself by conjunction of words, Christian and Science, of all the facts concerning which it is profoundly ignorant, is but the galvanising of a mummy, under the inspiration of yet another woman, calling herself a prophetess. This latter-day manifestation, dealt with philosophically, might be treated as the amusement of a passing hour, but the terrible effect it is producing among the servants of God, should call the Church to new attention to our Lord’s message to Thyatira, and the estimate it contains of His view of a church that suffers such awful teaching.
What then according to the Master’s estimate was the result of this woman’s teaching? It was a lowering of the standard of separation between the Church and the world. One uses the very word with bated breath, for it is a terrible word. “She teacheth and seduceth My servants to commit fornication.” In the prophecy of Hosea there is a startling revelation of the nature of spiritual fornication. It is God’s estimate of the sin of those who were betrothed to Him, when they return to the things from which they had turned to Him. People who should be satisfied with Christ, wholly possessed by Him, led by Him, taught by Him, are playing the harlot with the things that are against Him. The influence of the teaching of Jezebel was that the separated children of God, redeemed from the present evil world, called to separation from that world, were forming new alliances therewith, and the spirit of worldliness was spreading because of the toleration of the teaching of Jezebel. The members of the church at Thyatira were finding their way to the feasts in the heathen temple, eating the things sacrificed to idols, [Page 63] and descending even to the depth of the vices that ensued. The teaching which made this possible for them was not the teaching of Balaam, which said that the covenant was so sure and strong that sin could not break it. This denied the sinfulness of sin, affirming that within the things that seem to be evil are things of good. It was a practical denial of evil, in that it advocated union between the deep things, or mysteries of the outside world, and the mysteries which are the revelations of the Christian Church. And so the servants of God had become seduced by the teaching. First, the false teaching concerning the “deep things of Satan,” and then the seductions following. His people went over to the forces which were against Him, and committed harlotry and fornication in the spiritual realm by using freedom, bestowed by Him, for the violation of His will. His charge against the church was that notwithstanding these terrible facts, she was silent and tolerant.
Then mark His words of judgment. These are introduced with a declaration of His patience, “And I gave her time that she should repent.” Then follows a statement that reveals the speaker, reveals Him as the Son of God, and reveals Him as the One Whose eyes are as a flame of fire. “She willeth not to repent of her fornication.” No one else could have said that. He Who knows even these deep things of Satan, declares that the will is hardened and set against repentance, and then and never until then, does He pronounce judgment.
There is first, a personal visitation. “Behold. I do cast her into a bed.” The symbolism is graphic and forceful and terrible. It suggests that the woman, who has taught and seduced His servants, shall find her destruction in the midst of the very corruption which she has created. More than that cannot be said.
Then follows the fact that others will share in the doom. “And them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of her works.” The only way to escape the tribulation which He pronounces upon those who have been seduced, is that they shall repent of her works, and turn altogether from the things resulting from her teaching.
And then the last and final word in this connection, “I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and heats.”
This description of the woman, her sin, and her judgment lies in a paragraph in the midst of the epistle, recording our Master’s reason for disapproval. The church’s wrong was that this woman had been permitted. Some of the children of God had been seduced, and yet no protest had been raised. It was a false charity, permitting the teaching of the woman, somewhere and somehow under the patronage of the church itself. The whole church was not contaminated with the doctrine. Of it He said some of His sweetest and strongest things. But in a false charity the woman Jezebel had been suffered. The church had not with sufficient clearness announced the fact that she had no dealing with the heresy taught, that between the inspired truth of which the church was the pillar and the ground, and the hysterical teaching from the self-styled prophetess, there was no complicity, and could be no union.
Now let us turn to our Lord’s words of counsel, full of encouragement and gracious promise. “But to you I say, to the rest that are in Thyatira.” Thus to those who had not been influenced by the teaching, nor consented to its toleration, He said, “I cast upon you none other burden. Howbeit that which ye have, hold fast till I come.” Did He mean that they were to hold fast the burden until He came? Assuredly He did. What then is the burden? The truth as once for all delivered to them; and by saying, “I cast upon you none other burden,” He meant, Do not be led away by any new mysteries, or new perplexities, or new revelations. I have laid upon you the burden of truth sufficient for the moment. “I cast upon you none other burden.” Any new revelation that men claim as from Me, receive it not. Any new philosophy of life that fails to harmonize with that declared, reject. “Howbeit that which ye have,” the truth as revealed, My law of life, that hold fast. Do not suffer anyone to teach something which I forgot to say! “I will cast upon you none other burden.”
Carefully note this. There seems to be almost a play upon words in what Jesus said; there is certainly familiarity with their root meaning. He says, Those of you who have not this teaching, that “know not the deep things of Satan” - that word, “deep things” is the word bathos, that is, the profundities of Satan. And He then says, “I cast upon you none other burden.” That word “burden” is the word baros, which means an impression made. Both bathos [Page 65] and baros spring from the original root basis. It is evident that He was speaking with an intimate knowledge of the history of the words, and indulging in a play upon them. It is as though He had said, These people are professing to discover some new deep things, which they will lay upon you. “I cast upon you none other deep things.” Herein is a great principle for the government of our intelligent life as Christian people. The thing claiming to be new, is therefore to be doubted. The message He has delivered is complete, the doctrine is enunciated, the mysteries are revealed, and whosoever, man or woman, would claim to reveal a new mystery, is the messenger of Satan.
And yet again, “Hold fast till I come.” How often this reference to His coming: and almost wherever found, it has some fresh light and meaning. It is as though He would say, Wait for the deeper things until I come. When I come I will unlock the mysteries, I will reveal the profundities. If I have not told you of them, it is because you cannot bear them yet. There are deep mysteries of life, and great and marvellous secrets, but you are not ready for their understanding. “I cast upon you none other burden.” You have all you can bear. “Howbeit that which ye have, hold fast till I come.” And then we shall know as we are known, and the mysteries, attempting to fathom which to-day we can find corruption only, will flame with light, and lead in the way of truth.
The closing promise and the crowning statement follow. “And he that overcometh, and he that keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give authority over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to shivers; as I also have received of My Father.” Notice the contrast. “Them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of her works.” “He that overcometh, and he that keepeth My works.” This is the promise of a coming authority, an authority to be delivered to the saints, when they have held fast to the trust committed to them, until God’s moment of consummation arrives.*
[* “But about the matter of THE KINGDOM … he did not tell them anything!: (1 Sam. 10: 16, R.S.V.). How disappointing the author has glossed over this fact! I wonder why!]
“I will give him the morning star.” We shall often walk in darkness. There will be many mysteries perplexing us. The burden we have is sufficient for the building of our character, [Page 66] for our growth in life, and ministry and works. The other things will wait. Presently He will give us the morning star. That expression only occurs three times in Scripture. In the book of Job, in the language of God, when He is causing His glory to pass before the astonished vision of His servant, He tells Job of the wonder-working age, when He laid the beams and wonders of Nature, and He says “When the morning stars sang together.” This was the song of the principalities and powers in the heavenly places as they wrought in the spaces of new creation.
I go to the end of the Library, and I find that Jesus says, “I am the bright and the Morning Star.” He is the Prince of creation, He is the First-born, and if we will but wait, and not follow the last false philosophy of impertinent attempts to discover hidden things, He will give us the morning star. We shall know the secrets of life, the deepest problems, and discover His Lordship in all.
How often has the
Is not the voice of Jezebel to be heard in our churches to-day in more ways than one? Is there not sounding all around us a cry as against separation? Is there not a terrible tendency in church life to deny that the Master calls us to places of peculiarity and loneliness in our loyalty to Him? We may still retain our church [Page 67] relationship, and our name Christian, and because of some new voice, eat of things sacrificed to idols, without defilement, and have easy absolution, not by blood, from the filth of fornication. Is it really popular to-day to call church members into the place of separation from worldliness? Is there not a greater eagerness than ever to find some doctrine by submission to which we can be rid of sin, while still keeping it?
Yet surely the New Testament is perfectly clear.
“Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord
“And touch no unclean thing;
“And I will receive you,
“And will be to you a Father,
“And ye shall be to Me sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”
“Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present evil world.”
“If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God.”
“Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a people for His own possession.”
“Be ye yourselves holy in all manner of living.”
Through the whole New Testament the call is to separation, to peculiarity, to a clear line of demarcation between the Church and the world. I fear that the voice of Jezebel is yet tolerated, and that the children of God are being seduced. Things at which our fathers shuddered are to-day being introduced as necessary to the social and financial success of the Church. In the name of God and humanity, let us keep the line clear and sharp, and know on which side we stand. Any doctrine, any philosophy, that makes it easy to sin, whether by excusing it, minimising its enormity, or denying its existence is of hell, and not merely are those held guilty who teach the doctrine and practise the sin, but that church also which is not clear and outspoken in its protests against sin. The church that suffers the woman is guilty.
* * *
“And to the angel of the church in
things saith He that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars: I know
thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead. Be thou watchful, and stablish the
things that remain, which were ready to die: for I have found no works of thine
before My God. Remember therefore
how thou hast received and didst hear; and keep it, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I
will come as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon
thee. But thou hast a few names in
There is a marked change in our
Lord’s method of address to the church at
The Lord addressed the church as “He that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars,” and this description marks those aspects of His personality which characterize His dealing with a church in such condition. “He that hath the seven Spirits of God.” This description indicates His fulness of power, and also His fulness of wisdom. The church for lack of life, is full of unfulfilled works, and the Lord approaches them in all the plenitude of His power and His wisdom. “He that hath ... the seven stars.” This symbol is suggestive at once of the perfection of ministry which He places at the disposal of the churches, and also therefore of [Page 69] His knowledge of all such ministry as the churches have received.
His complaint is startling and
terrible. “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and
thou art dead.” With what changed emphasis we read the
words, “I know.” The whole tone of it has been full of
tenderness and comfort. Now it is a trumpet-blast of
terror. “I know thy works.” The church at
hast a name that thou livest.” That is to say, that there was
The essence of worship is that while it begins in the church, it takes hold upon heaven. If the hymn is simply a musical expression of pleasant feeling, there is no worship in it. But if upon the wings of sacred song our spirits find their way into the Holy of Holies, then that song is fulfilled before God. If the prayer we utter is a compilation of sentences, spoken for the fulfilment of duty, it is not prayer. But if the prayer, expressing a sense of need, finds its way above the mists and the mysteries of life, to the throne, it is fulfilled before God. If our gifts are bestowed that we may be kept square with duty, they are utterly refused in heaven. But if they express a sacrifice and a sympathy, though they be but small according to the arithmetic of men, they are counted of great worth in that temple where gifts are valued according to the givers.
In the church at
Having thus in one swift sentence revealed the church’s lack, He continues in words of gracious counsel. “Be thou watchful, and stablish the things that remain, which were ready to die: for I have found no works of thine fulfilled before My God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and didst hear; and keep it, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.” And then omitting the next verse, “He that overcometh shall thus be arrayed in white garments; and I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father, and before His angels.” His words of counsel contain, first, advice to the church; secondly, an incentive to obedience and a warning; and lastly, His promise to the overcomer.
“Stablish the things that remain.” If the church was dead, what things remained? The unfulfilled things, the very forms and ceremonies which had given the church its name to live. Christ did not suggest that these people should put aside any of their externalities, but that they should fulfil them. They were not to cease assembling for worship, but they were to worship. They were still to send their help, and give their gifts, but these were to be the expressions of their devotion to their Lord, and not the price they paid for the good opinion of others. The forms were not wrong. They needed to be filled with [the Holy Spirit’s love and] power. The dry bones were necessary, but they needed to be clothed with flesh, and become instinct with life. The organisation must not be neglected, but it should act in the power of vital force.
There can, I think, be no other
understanding of this expression, “the
things that remain.” He cannot have reference to a faint life
that needed revival, for He distinctly says “thou
art dead.” This part of the
message is not for the few in
That is ever Christ’s
message to the [regenerate] formalist.
He does not ask that outward form should be given up, or helpful rite
abandoned. He will not suggest the
setting aside of any form or ceremony that in itself is helpful. He has no criticism for these
things. He permits the music and
the methods, always providing that they are expressive of the deeper fact of
life. These things He hates when
they become the grave-clothes wrapped about death. The true ideal of worship is that of man
communing with God. Through what
forms that worship expresses itself is of little moment. Christ does not call the church at
Specially mark the significance
of the words that follow, “which were ready to die.” This is a solemn note of warning. It indicates the fact that even
these outward forms will cease, unless there be behind them the throb of [the Holy Spirit’s indwelling] life. They are ready to die, as all that is
merely outward perishes. The very
things that remain, the outward forms and ceremonies, which give the church a
name to live, are ready to perish if the heart and life [and indwelling Holy Spirit] have passed away.* It is always but a step from formalism to rationalism, and if
external things lack internal force, they themselves will crumble to decay, and
presently there will remain in
[* See Acts 5: 32; John 15: 4, 6. cf. 1 Sam. 16: 14; Judges 16: 20; Psa. 51: 11, etc.]
No man can live long on ritual. How often has the Church had proof of this. Stretching over the hillside yonder is a forest of mighty oaks, and among them I see one necessarily attracting attention by the magnificence of its form, and the splendour of its outward appearance. It is easily the king of the forest. But presently under stress of a sweeping storm that tree is bowed and broken. We approach, in wonder, to discover the reason, and find that through processes we did not observe, which were secret and silent in operation, an inward decay had long been at work. The life forces within had been weakened, and in the rush of the tempest the outward appearance was destroyed.
So also with the Church. When its inward life force has ebbed [Page 73] away into orthodox organisations, it is ready to die, to perish. In the sight of Christ it is dead already, though it has yet a name to live; and when dead in His sight it will surely soon be seen to be dead even by those among whom for the moment it has a name to live.
What is true of the Church is equally true of the individual. No man can become absorbed in the external to neglect of the inward and spiritual without being in danger of losing the external manifestation also. How often have we seen it! Men leave the plain and simpler forms of worship for outward magnificence of manifestation, hoping by these things to compensate for lack of spiritual power, and the next thing we hear of them is that they have abandoned their outward relation to the Church also. It is of little importance what the outward form may be, providing that the inner life is there, and that through the externalities it is finding full expression.
Works unfulfilled before God must sooner or later manifest their emptiness before men. Therefore let the things that remain, which were ready to die, be established.
As an incentive to obedience, the Lord utters a solemn warning. “If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.” How differently the promise of His coming sounds under different circumstances of Church life and Church character. When sacred things lose power, precious things lose blessing. When faith is dead, hope becomes dread. In the early first love of Christian experience, the thought of the advent of Christ is a thought of hope. When that love is lost, and death reigns, that which is the brightest star in the firmament to the trusting heart becomes a dread of darkness. The promise which produces a thrill of joy, becomes a thought of terror to the men who have fallen out of harmony with the Lord and Master.
In Scripture the advent of Jesus is constantly described under two aspects. The last prophecy uttered before His first advent, has the same recognition of dual significance. “For, behold, the day cometh, it burneth as a furnace; and all the proud, and all that work wickedness, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” What a terrible announcement. But yet listen again, for the prophet proceeds without break, “But unto you [Page 74] that fear My name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings; and ye shall go forth, and gambol as calves of the stall.” What a contrast. On the one side a day of burning and destruction. On the other the sun rising with healing in its light. Are these two different advents? No, the difference is created by the condition of the people at the dawning of the day.
To those who work wickedness the day would be one of burning and destructive heat. To those who fear His name the day would be of healing, the dawning of the morning, the breaking of light. The sun has two effects. It will bum up the parched ground until it becomes like a cinder. A plant in such ground, devoid of water, will be killed by the heat; but if a tree be planted by the rivers of water, and its roots go down and take hold of the springs of life, the sun will be the messenger of health and growth and advancement.
So also with regard to the second advent [and “the promise of entering into His rest:” (Heb. 4: 1, R.S.V.) cf. Num. 14: 21-23; Psa. 95: 10, 11.] The church’s attitude toward the doctrine is always a revelation of the church’s spiritual condition; and the attitude of the individual soul toward the thought of the Lord’s return, is always a revelation of that soul’s condition before God. If I have a name to live while I am dead, then His announcement “I will come!” is a thought of terror. But if I have life and love and loyalty, the promise of its coming is the promise of day-break.
In referring to the second advent the apostle of love wrote, “And now, my little children, abide in Him: that, if He shall be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” Two attitudes towards His coming are here revealed, “boldness,” “ashamed before Him.” The difference is created by the condition of those who wait for Him. If abiding in Him, then at His coming we shall have boldness. If not abiding in Him, we shall be ashamed before Him.
This is a very searching test of our personal condition. If when we hear the coming of Jesus [to reign is] spoken of, it is as the voice of music in the soul, then are we fulfilling our works before God. If on the other hand, the mention of the possibility of His approach creates the desire to postpone that coming, it is because our relation to Him is formal rather than living. The soul that lives in Christ, and works with Him amid the defilement of a decadent age, never hears His [Page 75] message, “Behold, I come quickly,” without answering, “Even so come, Lord Jesus.”
This announcement of His coming gives force to the word, “Remember therefore how thou hast received and didst hear; and keep it and repent.” If the church hear His warning, and repent, and watch, and stablish the things remaining, the promise of His coming will have in it no terror, but be a veritable gospel of hope. But if the church abide in the realm of formalism, having a name, but lacking life, then the declaration that He will come can produce nothing but fear.
To the overcomer the Master says, “He that overcometh shall thus be arrayed in white garments; and I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels.” The man that overcomes is the one who remembers and repents. To such He promises the final robing, “He shall thus be arrayed in white garments,” and a recognition in the final roll-call, “I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels.” The robing in white garments is symbolical not of the purity of Christ, but of the manifestation of the works of the saints, works purified by Christ, and revealed in the light of the Father’s house; and the names of such, Christ will confess in the presence of His Father and of the holy angels.*
[* Here again, the author has glossed over a very important clause, “I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life”!! While these words cannot refer to a redeemed soul’s loss of the “free gift” of eternal life (Rom. 6: 23), they nevertheless need to be expounded: and the future “outcome” of our faith - the “salvation of your souls,” (1 Pet. 1: 9, R.S.V.); a select resurrection of Reward (Luke 20: 35; Phil. 3: 11; Heb. 11: 35b, etc,); and ones belief in the intermediate place and state of souls after death in “the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12: 40), are all essential ingredients which cannot be excluded from any satisfactory, scriptural exposition.]
Then there is also that tender
word of commendation almost a parenthesis, not spoken to the whole church as
describing it, but of a remnant that have not passed under the
condemnation. “But thou hast a few names in
Is not some very beautiful light thrown upon the thought by the fact of the transfiguration of Jesus? On the holy mount His raiment became white and glistening, and the glory which the wondering disciples beheld was that of the outshining of His own perfection which made even the homely garment that He wore flash with the splendour of heaven’s own whiteness. Those who on earth did not defile their garments, shah finally walk with Him in white. They shall come to the time when there shall be manifested in outward glory their inward loyalty to Christ.
The chief thought of the church
There is an awful possibility
threatening the life of all our churches, and the church at
The evidences of life are at least fourfold. In a living church there will be growth, compassion, union, and emotion.
There will be growth [in spiritual knowledge].
The principle of life makes stagnation impossible. Growth in the individual
character of the members, and growth in the membership of the
church, not merely by accretion from without, but by expansion from
within. That church is
in a sorrowful condition that has added nothing to its membership through the
propagative life forces of its own communion. [Page 77]
The membership that only
grows by the accident of removals and letters of introduction is in a terrible
condition. If none are born again
directly through the working of the church, we may almost certainly say that
the church is dead. I say that in
all seriousness, and without apology.
I would be afraid to remain as pastor or member of a church if for any
length of time there were none added to its fellowship upon confession of
faith. In this matter the minister
cannot be held wholly responsible.
He may travail in birth for souls, but unless the church is in
co-operative and living sympathy with him, there will be no result. But where the whole communion is serving
in the power of a great life, then through the
Another sign of life is that of compassion. The true consciousness of the Church is the consciousness of the Christ, and the consciousness of the Christ is that of love. That church which has no heart of compassion for the lost, is dead. The suburban church that attempts to buy off its own personal responsibility by making donations to send men down to work in slums which it does not care itself to touch, is dead. Such responsibility can never be delegated. A church into which only one class or caste of persons gathers for purely selfish preservation, is a libel upon the very name of Christ. Every church should be an asylum for the lost, a refuge for the broken-hearted, a home of welcome for the harlot and the publican. In God’s name let us take down the signs that label us churches of Christ if we have no compassion for such: and we have no compassion if it be not strong enough to overcome sentimental prejudices, which result from the mere accident of birth. A girl of good family and excellent opportunities, of much culture and refinement, once said to me, when I asked her to visit in a neighbourhood characterized by suffering and sin, “I really could not do it. I am so sensitive. It makes me ill.” - God have mercy on such idle pretence. Can any be more sensitive than Jesus the Saviour? [Page 78] Can any refinement be superior to that of the perfect One of Nazareth? I blush with shame at a sensitiveness which proves an absence of compassion. It is only as we find our pride and prejudices whelmed in the strong sweep of His great love that we shall ever be prepared to touch the depraved. We are dead indeed if we lack compassion. If the love of Christ is shed abroad in the heart, and the church is swept by that love, there is utter forget fulness of all the things that are objectionable. Refinement that refuses to relieve is nothing more than cultured paganism.
If there be love, there will also be union. Disintegration is a sign of death. If the church be filled with sections and parties, and there be strifes and schism, it is because of the lack of the life element. The prevalence of caste, and the existence of division within the borders of the church is a sure proof of its lack of life. In the full tide of Divine life, there is a constant consciousness of the unity of the Spirit.
And yet again. Where there is life there is emotion. Sometimes it seems as though the day has come when the highest type of life is supposed to be that which is most free from the possibility of emotion, and yet how false is the idea. I am alive, and because I am alive, I weep, I sing, I laugh, I mourn. It is the dead that have no tears, no laughter, no music, no mourning. I have no patience with the man who boasts that his religion lacks emotion. The church without tears and laughter, Christ has little use for. I put these things together for they are together. You cannot have tears without laughter. You never found a man capable of humour that was not also capable of sorrow. And no church that lacks joy has compassion. The church that lives, thrills with emotion, is full of laughter, and full of tears, perpetually breaks into song, and is silent again in the silence of pain. The experience of the individual members is realised within the great union.
If these things be lacking in the church, it is dead indeed. The signs of life are growth, compassion, union, and emotion. These being absent, there may be very many other things that give the church a name to live among men. But Christ, walking amid the lampstands, counts as nothing worth the externalities, and hungers for the growth, the compassion, the union, and the emotion that prove the life.
* * *
“And to the angel of the church in
“These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and none shall shut, and that shutteth, and none openeth: I know thy works (behold, I have set before thee a door opened, which none can shut), and thou hast a little power, and didst keep My word, and didst not deny My name. Behold, I give of the synagogue of Satan, of them which say they are Jews, and they are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou didst keep the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of trial, that hour which is to come upon the whole world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take thy crown. He that overcometh, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out thence no more: and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God, and Mine own new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.” - Revelation 3: 7-13.
This is the second epistle which
contains no word of complaint. To
the church at
The church being in true relationship to its Lord, He approaches it in His rightful character of the Supreme One Who directs the church’s activity. “These things saith He that is Holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and none shall shut, and that shutteth and none openeth.” Thus He announces three facts concerning Himself. Concerning His [Page 80] character, “He that is holy, He that is true”; concerning His official position, “He that hath the key of David”; concerning His administration, “He that openeth, and none shall shut, and that shutteth and none openeth.” Between these things there is a close connection. His character of holiness and truth is His right to Kingship. He is, moreover, King by the official act of God, as witness His holding of the key of David. And because He is King in character and by appointment, He exercises His Kingly office, and administers the affairs of His Kingdom. The relation between these facts must be remembered.
First, let us consider the Kingly character. “He that is holy. He that is true.” The first marks the essential fact, and the second the relative; holy in character, true in action; holy in Himself, true in His government. The two statements give us two sides of the one essential fact. These two statements constitute the complete whole which creates the true Kingliness of Christ, and gives Him what all other kings have lacked, the Divine right of Kingship.
These two facets of the one fact are constantly revealed in New Testament thought. In the prophecy of Zacharias chronicled in Luke, in referring to the result of the conning of Christ it is said that He should establish the people in “holiness and righteousness,” holiness the hidden fact, righteousness its outward manifestation; the rightness of character and conduct. “He that is holy,” that is, right in character. “He that is true,” that is, right in conduct. Holy, and therefore in Himself royal; true, and therefore making others loyal. By His holiness of character and truth of conduct He creates a consciousness which demands the loyalty of those who find Him as their King. It is always impossible to be loyal in all the broadest sense of the great word to that which is other than royal, also in the broadest sense of the word. No man who loves purity can be loyal to impurity. No man that has his heart set upon holy things can be loyal to that which is unholy. Loyalty must be the outcome of royalty. The royalty of earth is created by the accident of birth, or by the questionable right of conquest, and expresses itself in trappings and dwellings. Christ's right to Kingship rests upon the bedrock of character. He and He alone is King by Divine right, because He is holy, He is true.
The second Psalm announces the fact of God’s appointment of a King:
“Yet have I set my King
Upon My holy hill of Zion.
I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said unto Me, Thou art My Son:
This day have I begotten Thee.
Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the nations for Thine inheritance,
And the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession.”
The twenty-fourth Psalm reveals the character of that King.
“Who shall ascend into the bill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in His holy place?
He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart;
Who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity,
And hath not sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive a blessing from the Lord.
And righteousness from the God of His salvation.”
“I have set My King upon My holy hill of Zion.” “Who shall
ascend into the hill of the Lord? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.” This God-appointed King comes to the
And then He declares the necessary sequence, “He that is true.”
proceeds to announce that His position is official. “He that hath the key of David.” In Isaiah’s description of Eliakim
the son of Hilkiah, already referred to in another connection, it is written, “I will clothe him with Thy robe, and strengthen him with Thy
girdle, and I will commit Thy government into his hand: and he shall be a
father to the inhabitants of
in the last place He declares the fact of His [Page 82] administration. “He
that openeth, and none shall shut, and that shutteth
and none openeth.”
Let it be most particularly noted that Jesus did not say, “He that can open and none can shut, and that can shut, and
none openeth.” That is
obviously true, but He said something far stronger. He did not make a declaration of
ability, but of activity. Not
merely that He held an executive position, but that He was executing the
work. “He that openeth, and none shall
shut, and that shutteth and none openeth.” This is not a distinction without a
difference, but a difference with a distinction.
These words should bring to us a great sense of confidence and safety, notwithstanding all the appearances which appal us. He is God’s King to-day, and though for a while man rejects Him, He nevertheless holds the reins of government, sitting upon the holy hill of Zion, King by right of character, King, as witness the key of office which He holds, He moreover acts in perpetual administration. He opens to-day, and He shuts to-day. Amid all the fret and restlessness of the age He is moving toward the final order, and that through the mysteries that enwrap us. Presently the crisis will arrive, and then the process will be vindicated. Let us ever comfort our hearts also with the threefold truth of His character, “He that is holy, He that is true”; of His official position, “He that hath the key of David”; and of His actual administration, “He that openeth, and none shall shut, and that shutteth and none openeth”.
In examining the commendation, a little care must be taken to notice the structure. “I know thy works (behold, I have set before thee a door opened, which none can shut), and thou hast a little power, and didst keep My word, and didst not deny My name.” The words, “Behold, I have set before thee a door opened, which none can shut,” being in parenthesis, must be omitted from the commendation. Of course these words cannot be altogether omitted, neither would it be wise to place them anywhere but [Page 83] where the Lord has placed them. The commendation then consists in this statement, “I know thy works ... that thou hast a little power, and didst keep My word, and didst not deny My name.” Now in the parenthesis in the middle of that commendation comes the declaration concerning the opened door. The question arising is as to whether the Lord meant to say, that because they had kept His word, and not denied His name, He had opened a door; or that, having opened the door, they had kept His word and had not denied His name. Without desiring to dogmatise upon what must be a somewhat difficult matter, let me say that I hold the latter view, that the open door is not a reward for fidelity, but the opportunity in which this church has proved its faithfulness. The statement of reward comes further on in the epistle. It is as though the Lord had said, I set before you a door opened, which none could shut, and I know your works, you had a little power, and didst keep My word, and didst not deny My name. He opened the door in front of them, and they passed through it and filled the opportunity. He opened the door, and they, though having but little power, were yet true to His word, and loyal to His name. It is evident then that the commendation must be considered wholly in the light of the statement concerning the open door.
What this open door was locally, it is impossible to state. We cannot go back and examine in detail the opportunity which the Lord gave the church. In all probability however it was some special opening for missionary enterprise. There is almost certainly a connection between the announcement of the Kingly character of Christ and His opening of the door. It is “He that holdeth the key of David,” which is the insignia of Kingship, Who has opened the door, and the suggestion is that of a passport given to His dominions for the transaction of His business. In the second Psalm, already quoted, of the announcement of the appointment of the King, the Divine promise concerning the King is made:
“Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the nations for Thine inheritance,
And the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession.”
The key opens the territory of the King. He Who held the key had set before the church a door opened. He had given them entrance to some other of His dominions for the transaction of His [Page 84] business. The opening of the door is the King’s governmental preparation of the pathway along which His messengers are to run to do His biddings, to herald His Gospel, to win His dominion for Himself. The opening of the door is the exercise of His executive right.
Turn for a moment from the immediate and local application of these words. Let us think of them as the statement of a great principle. How wondrously in every successive century has the King opened the doors before His Church. In spite of human opposition, and human hatred, He has unlocked and flung wide open the doors of opportunity before His faithful people. Never has this been more conspicuous than in the past century. It is not for us here to stay to illustrate the truth. Those who would follow the thought should obtain Dr. Arthur T. Pierson’s book, “The Modern Mission Century,” one of the most thrilling romances ever written since the first chapter in the history of the open doors, called the Acts of the Apostles. The message of the book will cheer the heart, and nerve the arm.
What the particular opening for
the church at
But who are these that enter through the open door? Mark well His description. Jesus did not say to this church at Philadelphia Thou art strong, but “Thou hast a little power.” But they were faithful to the opportunity in that they kept His word and did not deny His name. That is the true principle of success in Christian service. The greatest rewards that will ever come to churches or to men will be bestowed, not according to the greatness of the strength they had, or the greatness of the opportunity as it appeared to men, but according to fidelity to opportunity, and full use of the measure of strength possessed. The measure of strength was small, but entering the open door the church made use of all in loyalty to His word, and in maintaining the honour of His name. In this two-fold statement there is a revelation of the secret of success in all service, the keeping of the word, and loyalty to the name. Of the first of these there is a double explanation.
The word of Christ is not kept merely by defending its letter but [Page 85] by realising its spirit in obedience to its teaching. No man keeps the word of Christ in duty unless he keeps it as doctrine; and yet no man keeps the word of Christ as doctrine unless he possess it in all the details of duty. If life is to be according to the will of the King, there must be knowledge of His teaching. Knowledge of the teaching is only evident as life harmonises therewith. There is great force in the word “keep”.
The other phrase marks the fact which is correlative, “Thou didst not deny My name”. Holding the word of Christ must issue in unswerving loyalty to His name. Wherever there has been a tendency to undervalue the word, there has resulted the peril of insulting the name by degrading the personality. During recent years there has gone forward within the Church a certain kind of criticism of the words of Christ until we are not surprised, while strangely startled, that to-day the name of Jesus is being assailed by those who are questioning the essential facts concerning His Person and His nature. One hears of those who suggest that perhaps after all the story of miraculous conception is mythic. This is the necessary corollary of speaking of His words as partaking of the ignorance of His age. And such failure to keep the word and maintain the name inevitably reacts upon the Church in her fitness for service. His claim of Kingship is inseparably bound up with the miracles of His nature and the authority of His speech. To deny these is to neglect the open doors. Infinitely better to have a little power, and use it within the doors He opens in loyalty to His teaching and Himself, than to have much power and use it as abetting the work of those who, robbing Him of His dignity, hinder His coming into His Kingdom.
In passing to the Lord’s
counsel to this church, we notice that He emphasises His administration. “Behold,
I give of the synagogue of Satan, of them which say they are Jews, and they are
not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet,
and to know that I have loved thee.” Recognising the difficult conditions
under which this church has borne its witness. He declares His administrative activity,
first with regard to the synagogue of Satan. This reference is of interest, inasmuch
as it closely resembles the Lord’s reference in His other epistle without
complaint, that to the church at
“I come quickly” is the great announcement which unlocks the meaning of this promise of exemption from coming tribulation. There can be no interpretation of the administration by which He shall bring the synagogue of Satan to the feet of the church, or of the church’s being saved from tribulation, save the thought contained in the announcement, “I come quickly”.
In these words the Lord does for
the church at
In the little while that lies between the present moment and His advent, He marks their responsibility in the words, “Hold fast that which thou hast.” What had they? A little power, His word, His name, His promise of return. These they were to hold fast, and the reason, “that no one take thy crown.” The crown referred to was that of reward for service. He had opened the door. They in little power had entered in and had fulfilled His will. He knew their works, that they had kept His word and did not deny His name. He had no complaint to make of them. He Himself was coming, and at His coming they would have their crowning. Not the crowning but the conflict is for to-day, but so surely as the conflict is maintained, and the things now possessed held fast, the crowning must come.
Then, lastly, notice His promise to the overcomer. “He that overcometh, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out thence no more: and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God, and Mine own new name.” The overcoming referred to in this case is not that of some evil in the church, but of the forces which are outside, and these will be finally overcome at His advent. As He has been speaking of that advent as the crisis at which all the rewards He promises will be bestowed upon the church, His promise to the overcomer is here that of those conditions of life to which they shall pass beyond that advent.
First, He promises them position, “I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God.” That is finality. The Bible does not speak of men as being pillars in His temple while on earth. Sometimes we have prayed for our children that they may become pillars in the house of God, and that will be, by and by, always providing that here they are trees of the Lord’s planting by the rivers of water. Then yonder they will have a position conspicuous and abiding, based upon the fact of their approximation to the character of God.
Then secondly, “I will write upon him the name of My God,” this indicating the fact of likeness and the reason of the position of prominence.
And yet again, a definite and specific reward. “I will write upon him ... the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God.” Those who have the right within that city, of permanent dwelling upon the basis of character, are not to be there as foreigners or aliens, but as those who have the city’s freedom, that freedom being the recognition of their overcoming.
And yet once more. “I will write upon him ... Mine own new name.” What strange and mystical statement is this? In the nineteenth chapter of this book of Revelation there is another reference to it. “He hath a name written, which no one knoweth but He Himself.” There are yet honours for Jesus unrevealed, and these are signified in that new name. This then is the name that He will write upon the overcomer. He will share with him all His honours and rewards. There is to be the most perfect oneness between the overcomer and the King. To suffer with Him will be to reign with Him o’er all the territory. To enter the door He opens to-day is to walk with Him in all the spacious realms o’er which He yet must reign.
In this great and gracious promise to the overcomer, mark the reiteration of Christ’s personal pronoun. “I will write upon Him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God.” He came to do the will of His Father. He became the King upon the basis of the perfections of that will. And even in the unutterable anguish of the hour of His forsaking, there was still marked [Page 89] the relationship between Him personally and His Father, for even then He said “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me.” As He looks on to the ultimate triumph, all for Him lies within the fact of His relationship to God, and this is marked by that gracious word “My God.”
To those who in little power, yet fulfil His purpose, He will give, as the reward of service, association with Himself in that union with His Father, which is the full glory and the final centre of perfect government.
From this study there are
certain abiding lessons to be remembered.
The first is a word of comfort, the word that reminds us of the present
administration of Christ. Oh, that
we may turn back to our work with the music of that thought ever sounding in
our hearts. Our crowning may
depend on our fidelity, but God’s ultimate victory depends upon the King
Whom He has set on His holy hill. Let there
be no moment in which we imagine that He has either lost ground, or abandoned
any part of the territory committed to Him. He cannot fail nor be discouraged till
He have accomplished the uttermost purpose of His God, and though at times our
eyes may fad to trace the method of His administration, let our hearts be ever
comforted by remembering “He ... openeth, and none shall shut, and He
shutteth and none openeth.” If we are not
able to see how He opens or how He shuts, it matters little. The fact is full of infinite and
inexpressible comfort. God’s anointed King, though for a
time hidden from the eyes of men, is carrying on His government. As
of old, David the anointed king of
The story of Adullam is full of significance. David, refused by his people, went up to the fastness in the mountains, and there three classes of people gathered round him: men in debt, men in danger, and men that were discontented. Not of much count in the eyes of the nation. In all probability it was looked upon as a happy exodus when they left for the cave. And yet how wonderful the story of their relation to David, and its results. Contact with him turned them into mighty men. The story of David and his mighty men is indeed a romance. The raw material was surely as [Page 90] poor as ever gathered to a man, but than the finished product there has seldom been anything finer.
In process of time the glad day
dawned when David left Adullam and came to his crowning. Concerning that crowning a statement
full of significance is made, “These all
“Our Lord is now rejected,
And by the world disowned,
By the many still neglected,
And by the few enthroned.”
But He is gathering to Himself a company of people in debt, in
danger, and discontented, and those who
have thus gathered to Him in the days of His rejection are by that contact and
comradeship being transformed into His mighty men, and presently the morning
will break when we shall gather with one heart to make Jesus King. Oh, take heart. Let there be fewer dirges sung in the
sanctuary, and more paeans of praise.
Let us have done with the
lamentations of hope deferred, and putting on our garments of beauty, rise from
the dust, and believe in our King. He at this moment holds the reins,
and swaying the sceptre, administers the affairs of the
Such is the comfort to be
gathered from this epistle. Then
there follows a solemn word, marking our responsibility, “Hold fast that which thou hast.” Opposition is not over, Satan still has
a synagogue. Open doors - and never
had the Church such open doors as she has at this moment - open doors do not
make strenuous fidelity unnecessary, but more than ever necessary. One of the most terrible facts
of the present moment is that the Master is unlocking the doors all around, but
the Church is not entering them as she should. Blindness to the fact is utterest folly. A great door and effectual is opened
before the Church in
The Church should stand ready before every door, so that the moment it is open, she may occupy the territory for Christ. When will those who prosecute the commerce of heaven, manifest the same wisdom as that of the merchant princes of the earth? If the Church is thus to be ready and responsive to the call of the King she must hold fast His word, and not deny His name. Alas, that we have too often allowed things essential to be neglected, while we have been dealing with things of minor or of no importance. Back to the word, back to the name. Then will the Church be what God intends she should be, “fair as the moon, clear as the sun, terrible as an army with banners.”
The final word of value from the study is that the test of the Church’s loyalty to Christ is not the measure of her manifestation before men, but her fidelity to the opportunity her Lord creates. Infinitely better to have a little power only, all used for Christ, than much strength bestowed in other ways. If He have opened the door, then let us go through in all the strength we possess, remembering that our all, with the all of all the rest, shall make His all, that is, “the nations for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession.”
* * *
“And to the angel of the church in
“These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God, I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of My mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked: I counsel thee to buy of Me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich; and white garments, that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest; and eye-salve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I reprove and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me. He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with Me in My throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with My Father in His throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.” - Revelation 3: 14-22.
This last of the letters to the churches is in some sense saddest of them all, yet in other respects, it is most full of exquisite beauty. In every other epistle we find some word of commendation. Here there is absolutely none. This very fact seems to account for some of the tenderest and most wonderful words uttered by the Lord in the whole series. It is impossible to study this message without seeming to feel the heartbeat of the Son of God, and in none of the letters has there been more evident the yearning compassion of the Divine heart.
Very little is known of the
In his letter to the church at
Colosse there are no fewer than four references to the church at
In the fourth chapter of the
same epistle, in referring to Epaphras,
the apostle says, “For I bear him witness, that he
hath much labour for you, and for them in
these references show us very clearly one or two things. The apostle was acquainted with the
church, and undoubtedly was interested in it. There was some kind of connection
between it and the church at Colosse.
In all probability they were geographically contiguous. It is quite conceivable that they were
related to each other as mother and daughter, the church at Colosse founding
the church at
Moreover it is probable that the
apostle wrote to the church at [Page 94]
The apostle’s interest in
the church at
In the Authorised Version we
have another reference to the church at
This much, however, is certain
that the church at
In addressing Himself to this church, the Lord uses descriptive words, which at once arouse interest, and arrest attention. “These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.” Here is nothing which symbolises His manifested splendour. This is rather a declaration of His essential glory. The description creates a contrast. To abject failure He addresses Himself as the One incapable of failure. The statement is threefold; positive, relative, and declarative of authority. It is a profound proclamation of authority based upon the facts which are the cause and reason of all things.
First the positive statement, “These things saith the Amen.” Secondly, the relative declaration, “the faithful and true witness.” Thirdly, the authoritative proclamation “the beginning of the creation of God.”
He that is “the Amen.” This word has come from the Hebrew without translation, and to understand its value, we must seek to know its original meaning in that language. The root meaning is that of nursing, or building up, and the derived meaning in perpetual use to-day is that of something stablished, built up sure, positive. The word therefore takes us back to God as the nursing Mother and expresses the truth of the absolute stability and the actual correctness of everything that God has thought, and spoken, and done. It is an essential word, “the Amen.” All truth lies within its compass as to certainty. As a title of Christ it is equivalent in value to the statement which He made when he said, “I am the truth.” It must ever be remembered that He did not say, “I teach the truth,” nor, “I declare the truth,” nor “I explain the truth,” but “I am the truth.” Here we have the same thought put in a form almost more august and splendid. He that is “the Amen,” the essential truth, truth expressed in a Person, truth from which there can be no appeal. The Amen is the conclusion, because it is the finality of nourishment, the perfection of edification, the last word, the end, to which nothing can be added. So Christ approaching this church declares in the first phase of declaration that from Him there can be no appeal. He is the Certainty, the Finality, the Ratification, the ultimate Authority, the Amen.
Then follows the relative statement of the same great fact. “He is the faithful and true witness.” He is that, because He is the Amen. He is that, because He is the truth. He is the Amen even though He never speak. He is the Truth, if He utter no word. But now that the truth has been spoken by Him it is a faithful and true witness that He has borne. He is the faithful and true Witness of God and of the Church. When He speaks there is no exaggeration and no minimising. What He says is faithful and true because He is faithfulness and truth. What He says will he exactly true, because He is in Himself absolute truth, and there is nothing beyond Him in all the realm of truth.
witness concerning all things in Him will be faithfulness [Page 96] and
truth. He is the only one through Whom this perfect witness can be spoken. The church at
Then the last phrase brings us
back into the sublimity of majesty.
As we read it, we are impelled to worship. “The beginning of the creation of God.” Having noticed the reference to
Approaching the church at Laodicea He comes as the One Whose rank is infinitely beyond that of priest, prophet, or king. He speaks with the authority of cause and creation. Wherever the eye rests, whatever the mind is conscious of, is as to first cause the work of Christ. His footprints may be tracked through all creation, [Page 97] and every blush of beauty reveals the touch of His finger. There are no flowers but have in them witness to Him, no marvellous and majestic landscape entrancing the vision of men but that sings the solemn anthem of His power and His beauty. In all the precision of created things, the rolling seasons, the dawn of day, and the westering of the sun, in the emergence of Spring from its garment of Winter, its procedure into the splendour of Summer, and its gorgeous robing in Autumnal glory, is to be discovered the power of the Christ.
Thus coming to a church conceited because of its wealth and independence, He sublimely announces His wealth and independence. If this church had but ears to hear, how it must have blushed with shame as the tawdriness of its wealth became apparent in the blinding splendour of His, and as the blasphemy of its independence was manifest, as the only One of independence declared Himself as the origin of all things. He speaks to them not as the King of a section, not as the One Who enunciates laws for one realm of the universe, but as the beginning of creation, the Cause and the Creator, Who is King of all creation, and enunciates for all the laws which condition life.
To the church at
In this capacity of infinite
majesty He speaks no single word of commendation. Many are the words of hope He
utters. He has not lost all hope
even for this fearful failure at
Three brief statements indicate the Lord’s complaint. First, “Thou art,” and then, “Thou sayest,” and yet again, “Thou art.” In the first He describes the general condition of the church. In the second He describes the church as the church thinks it is. In the third He reveals in minute and detailed truth the actualities.
First, His vision of the church as to its spirit, and not as to its externalities, then a revelation of the church’s belief concerning itself, and then the contrast, terrible and startling, of His view of the church, even as to details.
“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot!” Such is the spiritual condition as He declares it. “Thou sayest, I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing.” That was their consciousness. “Thou art the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked, and thou knowest it not!” That is their detailed condition in contrast with their supposed condition. These descriptions form our Lord’s complaint.
“Thou art neither cold nor hot ... thou art lukewarm.” Let us take these words and attempt to see what they really indicate. “Cold,” frozen, the thought of temperature lowered by evaporation lies within the word. “Thou art not frozen!” The church was not characterized by utter indifference. “Hot,” boiling. “Thou art not boiling.” The church was not characterized by fervent heat. It was not utterly indifferent. It had no fervent zeal. What then is the condition? Lukewarm, and we may with perfect accuracy render the word tepid. Thou art not frozen, thou art not boiling, thou art tepid. If there is anything abhorrent to the heart of Christ it is a tepid church. He would rather have the church frozen. I did not say that. He did. “I would thou wert cold.” He would rather have the church boiling. “I would thou wert ... hot.” But this condition of being tepid is utterly repugnant to Him. No emotion, no enthusiasm, no urgency, no passion, no compassion. I am not sure that the condition of the church might not be expressed in a phrase I once heard fall from the lips of one who called himself a Christian. Said he when raising a protest against evangelistic work, with a very evident assumption of superiority and self complacency, “You know, I am thoroughly evangelical but not evangelistic?” Exactly! Tepid. Evangelical but not evangelistic? It is a lie. No man is evangelical without being evangelistic. A man tells me that he is evangelical, that he believes in the ruin of man, and redemption provided by Christ, and in man’s responsibility, and yet is not evangelistic! Then he is the worst traitor in the camp of Christ, and that is why Christ hates tepid men and tepid churches. It was that condition that drove John Wesley into the lines of irregular itineracy, which became the regular march of the armies of God. It was that same condition that drove William Booth out into the work of the Christian Mission, which developed into the Salvation Army.
I remember him once telling the story how he was made an enthusiast for salvation. Said he, “I was made a red hot salvationist by an infidel lecturer. That lecturer said, ‘If I believed what some of you Christians believe, I would never rest day nor night telling men about it.’” That sentence was the great sentence. William Booth heard, believed, acted. It was like a fire in his bones, and drove him out from that which was tepid to that which was boiling. Tepid is that condition in which conviction does not affect conscience, heart, or will. The Cross is not denied, but it is not vital. The Cross may have been worn as an ornament, as alas it is too often worn to-day, but these sleek saints had never themselves been nailed to a Cross. The silver cross, the golden cross, worn as an ornament upon the breast creates a pleasant sensation. A wooden cross and iron nails and agonising death is a different matter. When the Cross is an ornament there is no death in it, but then there is no life in it. When the Cross ceases to be an ornament and becomes the death, then there is a passion that eventuates in contagious life. Sin? Oh, certainly the fact of sin was admitted, but there was no hatred of sin. They would speak of sinners as persons to be pitied, but no finger would be lifted to save them. They would speak of sin as something objectionable, perhaps as a moral defect, or an obliquity of vision, but never as a damnable poison, rotting the foundations of life and bringing down into awful cataclysm all fair and lovely things. They were tepid, lukewarm in their creeds, and neither cold nor hot in their conduct. Is it any wonder that Christ sighed over them. “I would thou wert cold or hot”?
In the light of this pronouncement the declaration of the church’s opinion of itself is terrible. Hear the language as Christ construed it, remembering He was the faithful and true Witness, and this is no exaggeration, but inward conviction. “I am rich,” possessing abundantly, “I have gotten riches,” the language of perfect self-satisfaction, “I have need of nothing,” independence.
If we had visited the church at Laodicea in all probability they would have shown us the church premises, they would have told us how much they paid for the property, how much the church cost. They would have said, Whatever we want, we have. If we require new premises, we build them. We are independent. Did you suggest some form of service that would create new [Page 100] spiritual power, they would have been astonished. Did you propose a mission? No, certainly not, we do not want a mission here, we have need of nothing. A series of meetings for the deepening of spiritual life? Oh no, hold them in some other district, we have need of nothing. A time of special humiliation and prayer? We have no need of humiliation, we have need of nothing. That was the condition. They needed nothing because they had everything.
Now listen again. Christ gives His view of their condition. “Thou are the wretched one, and miserable and poor and blind and naked.”
First, “wretched,” and the simple meaning of the word is oppressed with a burden. The burden they carried was the very wealth which they imagined carried them. Instead of wealth helping and lifting them, hindered and degraded. As He with eyes of fire looked over the churches, of the one that was perhaps the wealthiest, He said it was a heavily burdened one. How different from the popular estimate. We have often heard of a church being heavily burdened with debt, but the Master speaks of one heavily burdened with wealth.
Again, “thou art miserable,” and the word here means pitiable. The heart of the Lord was moved in pity toward them. He had no congratulation to offer them. His feeling toward them was one of commiseration.
“Thou art poor,” and the word means poor as a pauper by the highway side is poor. From His standpoint of wealth the church was a cringing beggar, possessing nothing worth the having.
“Thou art blind.” That is opaque, seeing nothing clearly, seeing nothing afar. Near-sighted is the word which perhaps most accurately expresses the thought - lacking vision, lacking light, devoid of the sense of the far distances, confined within narrow limits.
“And “thou art naked,” nude, stripped of the clothing of glory and beauty, which ought to adorn the church as the Bride of Jesus Christ. To other churches He has spoken of white raiment. This church has none. Presently the garments of purple, and the jewels of gold will become moth-eaten and tarnished, and the church will be seen in the light of the eternities with no robe of purified service to cover it. Let it be specially noted that all these words which [Page 101] Christ uses to describe the church are words of pity. There is not an angry word among them. He is not angry with the condition of the church. All that, He is able to remedy. His anger is that they are satisfied with these things. Read the words yet once again, and note how they pulsate with the pity of His heart.
“Wretched,” the condition that ever appeals
to the sympathy of the tender-hearted. “Miserable,” in such a condition as to touch
a sympathetic nature.
“Poor,” a beggar by the
highway side, to whom you can hardly refuse help. “Blind,” one groping the way, stretching out hands, that seem to
compel you to stretch out yours in guiding kindness. “Naked,” making
you long to fling some garment of warmth around the denuded form. Such people
are saying, We are rich, and have gotten our riches,
we do not need anything, and in that very fact lies the deepest note of misery
that calls most loudly for a yet deeper compassion. I believe that Christ’s attitude
to the church was one of profound pity.
It was Keith who wrote of
this church, “Sooner would a man in Sardis
have felt that the chill of death was upon him, and have cried out for life,
and called for the physician, than would a man of Laodicea; who would calmly
count his even pulse, and think his life secure, when death was preying on his
vitals.” This is a true
Now turn to our Lord’s counsel to the church, and in it even more supremely is His heart revealed.
First, His wish expressed, “I would thou wert cold or hot.” Secondly, His declared intention, “I will spew thee out of My mouth.” Lastly, His immediate advice, “Buy of Me.”
His wish expressed, “I would thou wert cold or hot.” Is not that a strange thing for Him to
say? We could have understood it
better if He had said, “I would thou wert hot.” And yet a deep abhorrence of the
condition is revealed more forcefully by what He actually said. He would rather have had them cold. There is infinitely greater chance for
someone who is cold than for someone who is lukewarm. There is more hope of the man outside
the [Page 102] church
in all the desolating dreariness of that coldness which is lack of life, and
therefore of love, than for the man within the church who is near enough to its
warmth not to appreciate it, and far enough away from its burning heat to be
useless to God and man. A greater
chance for the heathen who has not heard the Gospel than for the man who has
become an evangelised heathen, if he disobey the
claims of the Evangel. It is
impossible to read this epistle without a sense throbbing through the heart of
the wail of “I would.” We have heard Him say it before. While yet upon earth, with a voice full
of emotion, as He looked on
Then follows His declared intention, “I will spew thee out of My mouth,” or very literally, “I am about to spew thee out of My mouth.” This is not a question of casting a Christian from relation to Himself. It is the casting out of a church from her position of witness-bearing. Christ amid the lampstands is speaking to the churches in their capacity of light-bearers in the darkness of the night, and He says, I am about to reject thee from this work, about “to spew thee out of My mouth,” about to put thee away from the place of witness and testimony. In the form of the statement there is at once a declaration of a decision arrived at, and the intimation of a possible escape from the judgment pronounced. I am about to do it. It is a sentence pronounced, it is a doom descending. I am about to do it. It is not yet done. The blow has not fallen. The light is not yet extinguished.
All this lends urgency to the actual words of counsel, as He now utters them, “I counsel thee to buy of Me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich; and white garments that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest; and eye-salve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see.” He now addresses Himself to the church as He sees her, not to the church as she thinks she is, and He confronts her in all fulness as the One possessing all she most sadly lacks, and in His counsel there is a declaration of the way by which all that is objectionable in their [Page 103] condition may be corrected. You are poor, buy My gold, that you may be rich. You are naked, buy My white raiment that you may be clothed. You are blind, buy My eye-salve that you may see. The church says, “I am rich, and have gotton riches, and have need of nothing.” He says “Thou art miserable and poor and blind and naked.” Buy gold from Me that you may be rich. They say We have gotten all we need, and He says You are naked, buy of Me the white garments that you may clothe yourself. They say We have need of nothing. He says You are blind, buy My eye-salve and anoint your eyes that you may see.
The Lord would teach the church that the true wealth, the true raiment, the true wisdom, the true vision is Himself possessed in all the aspects of His perfection. As Paul had intimated in that letter to the Colossian church. which he desired to be read to the Laodiceans also, “that their hearts may be comforted, they being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, that they may know the mystery of God, even Christ.” If they would be wealthy, they must buy of Him gold refined by fire, they must be rich with what He is. If they would be clothed. it must be with white garments, which are woven out of loyal service rendered to Him, and in the strength of His love. If they would have wisdom they must seek from Him the eye-salve by which they may see things in their true values and perspective. So He approaches the church that He is about to spew out of His mouth in disdain, and opens before them the storehouse of His infinite riches and says if you are only conscious of your poverty, I have riches. If you are but conscious of your nakedness, I have clothing. If you are but conscious of your blindness, I have eye-salve. All that can hinder the church will be continuance in the vain delusion that she is rich and increased with goods and has need of nothing. The way back to blessing will be that the church should get down into the dust, into the place of humbling, into the place of heartbreak, into the place where she shall indeed say I am poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked. Then He will comfort with His own heart’s love, and enrich with His own untold wealth, and clothe with His own white raiment of reward; and anoint with His own inspiration and vision. How graciously He offers to supply the need, and yet with what tender irony mingled with mighty [Page 104] compassion this statement of His ability confronts their false notion of their sufficiency. They said, “We are rich.” He said, “Buy My gold.” They said, “We have need of nothing.” He said, “Seek all from Me.”
Then as in a flash, straight out of His heart of infinite love, comes a statement, “As many as I love, I reprove and chasten.” If He had not loved the church at Laodicea He would have let her alone. He loved them notwithstanding all their failure, and His love was the reason of His rebuke and of His counsel.
And then words follow, full of a
great urgency, “Be zealous and repent.” It is as though the Master would do
anything to arouse them from their lethargy. He calls them to zeal and to
repentance. But how can these
people come back? They have not far
to travel, though their distance be great, for He is close at hand. Hear the words, the gracious words,
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, I will
come in to him, and will sup with him and he with Me.” What startling revelations lie within
the compass of these words. First, He is excluded. They have everything in the church at
Yet He waits, and for what? For one man to let Him in. He is not waiting for a committee to pass a resolution. Then indeed the case might be hopeless. He waits for a man, “If any man hear My voice, I will come in to him, and will sup with him and he with Me.” I will first be his Guest, “I will sup with him.” He shall be My guest, “and he with Me.” I will sit at the table which his love provides, and satisfy My heart. He shall sit at the table which My love will provide, and satisfy his heart.
Supposing a man in
So this man in
We read once in the life story of Jesus how they excommunicated a man. So angry were they with the testimony that he bore to Jesus, that they cast him out of the synagogue. When Jesus heard of it, He found the man and said, “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?” And the man said, “And Who is He, Lord, that I may believe on Him?” And the reply fell with strange strength and sweetness upon the listening ear of that excommunicated man, “Thou hast both seen Him, and He it is that speaketh with thee,” [Page 106] and the man said, “Lord, I believe, and he worshipped Him.” They cast him out of the synagogue, the place of worship, but he found the one Centre of worship. It may be that the Laodicean church will exclude the man who includes the Christ [and all of His teachings]. Then let that man have no sorrow in his heart save for the folly of the church. If there be no other way to find Christ than by leaving the Laodicean church then the sooner it be left, the better. To find Him is to find gold refined by fire, and clothing, so that there may be no shame of nakedness, and eye-salve which broadens the Outlook, and creates all visions. Oh, behold the vision. Apostasy confront with fidelity, falsehood confront with truth, decorated poverty face to face with infinite wealth, lukewarmness and hypocrisy with compassion and devotion. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” What dost thou want, oh, crowned One, knocking? A man, one man, who will open that I may come in and sup with him, and he with Me.
The last thing to be noticed is a promise to the overcomer. For these people the hardest battle had to be fought, and therefore the greatest reward is promised. The Lord seems to recognize that the difficulty of such life in such a church as Laodicea is the most terrible the saint ever has to fight, and so He makes to them the most gracious and remarkable promise. “He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with Me in My throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with My Father in His throne.” Beyond this promise neither hope nor imagination can go.
Is there not a suggestion here
of the peculiar temptation that Jesus had to meet “as I also overcame”? How did He overcome? What can He mean? A hundred answers come to our thoughts,
but do they fit the occasion? There seems to be but one that unlocks the
mystery. He is talking to
people whose supreme wrong is that they are attempting to take everything
have no compassion, no enthusiasm, and He says to them, “Overcome
... as I also overcame.”
Is there not here every evidence of His
remembrance of the subtlest temptation that came to Him? The enemy in the wilderness said “All these
kingdoms will I give Thee” by an easy way,
without the Cross, without the passion, without crucifixion. His own disciple brought to Him the same
suggestion, Spare Thyself, what need for all this outpouring of life in a great
passion and compassion. And even in
[*See Luke 22: 28. cf. Phil. 3: 17, 18.]
Very few words are necessary by way of application of the message of this letter to the age in which we live. The lessons are self evident. I propose to do little more than gather them up, indicating each in brief sentences.
Lukewarmness is in itself a contradiction of all we profess to believe. I do not think in the whole scheme of these letters there is anything of greater importance, or anything more needing emphasis to-day than this truth. The things we profess to believe are of such a nature that we cannot be lukewarm without practically denying them. Better be cold, be frozen. Better abandon all profession of interest in sacred things than to pretend to believe them and sing about them, and yet be lukewarm. We work far more harm to our age by tepid character than by open denial of Christ [and His millennial kingdom]. It is not the people who are frozen, utterly indifferent, but the people who pretend to love Christ, those forsooth, who are evangelical, but not evangelistic, who are hindering the progress of His Kingdom. Men who theorize around the atonement, and quarrel over the forms in which they express the truth, and never stretch out the hand to save the lost souls, these are the men who are cursing the Church, men who love to split hairs about election and free will, and yet let the millions drift and do nothing to rescue them. All the wrath of my heart could not equal the words of Christ to such as are lukewarm, “I am about to spew thee out of My mouth.” He loathes the unimpassioned regularity of the man who [Page 108] professes to believe the facts which constitute evangelical faith, and does not yield himself to the great claims lying within these truths. Lukewarmness is the worst form of blasphemy. Let the tepid churches call themselves Clubs, and we shall know how to deal with them. Let tepid men leave the churches. Let them say they do not believe in Christ, for that is the true statement. Let them say there is no sin, for of that position, their actions prove their acceptance. Anything to be rid of the insolent indifference which to Christ and men is calculated cruelty.
And yet another thought, appalling and awful, abides with us as we turn from this study. It is that of the excluded Christ. Oh, how He has suffered, and how He suffers still. Of His own gracious will He was excluded from His heaven for the redemption of lost men; and then excluded from His nation by the blindness of that nation; and then excluded from His world by the apparent victory of the forces of evil. And now, alas, so often excluded from His very Church by the tepid indifference of those who imagine that they have everything while they have nothing.
And yet once more. Oh, the matchless tenderness and patience of this selfsame Son of God. He is the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, and in this letter where He speaks from the standpoint of these primal facts, more than in any other, is revealed the unquenchable love of the heart of God. Insulted, excluded, and ready to spew out of His mouth that which is utterly loathsome, He yet waits, knocking still at the door, willing to enter into new fellowship with one man. To that simply stated fact, nothing that proves tenderness can be added.
Yet we learn, moreover, that the only cure for lukewarmness is the re-admission of the excluded Christ. Apostasy must be confronted with His fidelity, looseness with conviction born of His authority, poverty with the fact of His wealth, frost with the mighty fire of His enthusiasm, and death [from amongst those redeemed by His blood, but who are spiritually dead (Acts 5: 32; John 15: 6, 10)] with the life Divine that is in His gift. There is no other cure for the loneliness of heaven, for the malady of the world, for the lukewarmness of the Church than the re-admitted Christ.
* * * * *
Let us listen to the Son of Man as He walks amid the lampstands. Let us beseech Him to say to us all He has to say.
What He says to us shall be the truth, for He will preface it with the “I know,” and so true will be the statement following that initial word that we shall be compelled to say, “This is the word of truth.”
* * * * *
If He has commendation for us, the uttering of it shall be our chief reward. If He speak words of complaint, heeding them, let us find our way to true and deep repentance.
* * * * *
Let us listen principally for His words of counsel, and hearing them without reserve let us yield to Him our quick obedience.
* * * * *
He also says to all the churches, “I will.” It is the word of His judgment. It is the word of His promise. This we know, that what He wills is best, so to His chastisements we render ourselves that we may find His great reward.
* * * * *
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.”