The Message to the Church in Philadelphia

By  B. W. Newton.


(This article was originally printed in the 'Patmos' Series. There are no more of this particular booklet in stock but Watching and Waiting still have a number of other booklets in this series available, including some of the letters to the seven churches in the Book of the Revelation, at 5p each. These can be obtained by writing to:- Stephen A Toms, I Donald Way, Chelmsford, Essex, CM2 9JB.).


This passage stands in marked contrast with the address to the Church in Laodicea.  To that Church not one word of commendation was given!  There was nothing in their then practical ways that Christ could praise; not one feature that He could say was acceptable and pleasing to God!  Yet they knew it not: they were utterly unconscious of it: their eye was so dim, they were so accustomed to try things by a false standard, that they knew not their ways were displeasing to Him!  This is often the case.  Believers can little trust the estimate they form of themselves unless they keep closely to the Word of God, unless they seek to keep His standard watchfully before their eyes.  But, lest we should think that all attempts to serve God are hopeless, we find this address to the Church at Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13).  All was commendation there!  There was not one single thing that Christ made the subject of blame: not one single thing that He did not make the subject of praise, even though they were things that were in themselves weak and poor; for observe, all ‘He Who was faithful and true’ could say of their strength was, that they had ‘a little strength


But that which chiefly marked the distinctive character of this Church was, that they had ‘kept the word of His endurance They had regarded Christ’s directions and not despised His words, and that will ever be found to be a path of ‘endurance Were I to say to you ‘those paths will be very difficult to walk in; you will find many things to which you naturally cleave must be given up; many friendships and associations, etc. will have to be broken; many sacrifices made; you had better yield to circumstances and become acquiescent.  Do not seek to maintain too steadfast a testimony for Truth, but give way, for it will cost you too much faithfully to adhere to it: spare thyself; do not for the sake of a truth which does not seem a very important truth, or that practice which does not seem a very important practice, do not for the sake of it incur detriment to thyself Now suppose I addressed you so, that would not be ‘the word of Christ’s endurance;’ that would not be teaching you ‘to endure;’ but on the contrary to ‘give way,’ feeling it would be too great a sacrifice of things deemed desirable here.


But suppose I were to say the reverse: suppose I said hold fast these things; buy the Truth and sell it not; keep it with a tenacious grip; compromise it not either by thy words or by anything thou doest; and if thou hast to give up things in consequence, well, give them up; bear what is to be borne; let the yoke rest on thee,’ those would be words of ‘patient endurance And the Philadelphians had done this: they had not tried to make Christian Truth flexible, to be bent by circumstances like a rule of lead; but they had striven to make circumstances conform themselves to it as a golden rule: therefore, as a reward, they were given the promise of being ‘kept from the great coming hour of temptation;’ the hour of Satanic delusion!*


[* Here is proof of selective rapture.  Compare this passage in Revelation 3: 10 with Luke 21: 34-36: “Take heed to yourselves, lest haply your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that day come on you suddenly as a snare: for so shall it come upon all them that dwell on the face of all the earth.  But watch ye at every season, making supplication, that ye may prevail to escape all these things shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” R.V.


The people of God today need to get their act together and take an interest in Bible prophecy in these evil days of apathy and apostasy.  For the things revealed concerning the Great Tribulation at the end of this evil age, are neared now than they have ever been; and consequently regenerate believers should be intensely concerned to rightly understand and interpret the warnings and prophecies of Holy Scripture: and you do not have to be what the world calls ‘academic quality’ to understand conditional promises and prophetic scriptures.  How foolish it is to disregard God’s truths as unimportant!  The Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth: and He begins by making a distinction between what we get as a ‘Reward’ from what we receive, (by grace through faith in Christ Jesus) as a “free gift” (Rom. 6: 23).]


Now, though those to whom this was first addressed have been removed, these same features may be found in others, and whenever God sees this same character of ‘endurance,’ He would recognise a Philadelphian so to speak, and to such, this promise in all its certainty shall remain.  Scattered they may be and ‘few’,* but they shall be regarded as successors in the place of blessing that the Philadelphians were then ostensibly holding.  So we must not suppose that these promises have lost their practical power.  God does not look at them as dependent on outward circumstances, but He looks to see where the same characteristics are rooted in the heart; and wherever they are, He says ‘There exists the family which I have promised to protect and preserve.’


[* Many are called, but few are chosen.]


Great indeed is this promise of ‘protection,’ and the blessings are two-fold: those which are granted here and those which are granted above.  If Christ speaks of final blessing to be known in the New Jerusalem - the City of God - He also speaks of a present blessing here; of having the ‘Key of David,’ and of being able as a Steward to open all the resources of the palace of the Great King!  When the hour comes for the glory of God to be displayed, this is one of the great offices Christ will hold visibly and manifestly to ISRAEL.  Why will Israel be so blessed, but because heaven is open over their heads, as the evidence of the relation in which the glory and riches of heaven will stand to them! Therefore Christ is regarded as the great Eliakim of that day (Isaiah 22).  But He says ‘though that is postponed to the day of future blessing, yet remember, I hold the 'Key of David' now, and am able to give you these resources of strength only!’  This power was recognised by Mary His mother in the days of His humiliation, and though He seemed to rebuke her it was only to try her faith. ‘Mine hour (i.e. of glory) is not yet come Nevertheless, she said ‘Whatsoever He saith unto you do it;’ and she waited for a great blessing; a blessing that indicated creative power; that indicated joy given where there was sadness - for wine is the emblem of joy - and ‘He spake the word and it was done


Now this was an instance of the way Christ was able to unlock and supply everything.  It is not limited; so that whatever faith asks wisely according to the mind of God, ‘that’ He says ‘I can do Is not this a rich and great blessing in an hour when Satan is to be allowed to open other doors, to give access to his resources?  Glorious, resplendent indeed, will that hour be with everything in which nature glories.  Satan could shew all the glory of the world in a moment, therefore he has his resources.  And we know what is to be the end thereof!  Yet that is what civilised humanity is about to come to, when men will rejoice for a season, but ‘perish for ever So, if we expect that tribulation to come, when there will be a dearth, not of bread but of hearing the Word of the Lord; when it will be a sealed book (Isaiah 29); we see the blessing of this promise that, in that day the door should remain open before all those who have Philadelphian faith!  But it is connected with practical grace. ‘To him that hath shall more be given,’ and where this practical grace is found, God is able to meet it with multiplied grace.  So always remember the connection between practical grace and the increase of practical blessing.


Then in verse 9, another promise is given.  How continually do we see the effort of Satan to bring into contrast with that which is really of the Spirit of Christ and of His Truth, that which assumes to belong to Christ because of ceremonial ordinances and outward ritually-defined position!  We can easily understand how it would be so.  There had been a ritual order established by God religiously among the Jews of old by means of appointed ceremonies, as also there is a governmental order established in the world by God under Kings, governors, magistrates etc. (It may be a Nero, but if in the place of authority, we must bow to him as having the authority of God.  God may displace him, but it is not for us to raise the hand against him).


Now, whilst that principle is introduced by God into the government of the world, has He introduced it into the government of His Church?  The corruptions of Christianity have said ‘Yes, whenever you see a person outwardly appointed, there is to be recognised the real authority of God; the real power of the Spirit of God But it is not so. In the Church of God ‘grace’ and ‘spiritual gifts' are always needful even in such a matter as being elders of a local Church.  Even the apostles never thought of creating those who should be capable of ministering to the Church of God.  It was made dependent on Christ alone.  But what a temptation for men under Satan to arrogate to themselves this power; to displace Christ, and to say ‘We can appoint persons, and when they are appointed they have the authority of God towards His people like magistrates in the world And though the consciences of God’s saints may have been uneasy under this and felt it a delusive lie, they have been outwardly acquiescent in it!  Now these Philadelphians were not.  When they saw persons pretending to be the Israel of God who were not, they disowned the claim; and how Christ praises them for this!  So false ritualism may constitute a congregation (‘synagogue’ means congregation); but Christ calls it the congregation of Satan!


‘They shall come and worship before thy feet and know that I have loved thee How, and in what way this will be performed it is not for us to say.  Christ says that so it shall be; therefore, those who have maintained these Philadelphian principles will be acknowledged as ‘loved ones;’ the synagogue of Christ - a congregation of blessing - when others will be marked as being ‘the synagogue of Satan


Verse 11.  See the importance that is attached in these addresses to the Churches to ‘holding fastbecause it is the reverse that is now seen in the professing Church.  It is the special characteristic of the ‘overcomers,’ and we find here an exhortation given.  ‘Exhortation’ is often made the means of causing those developments of grace in the saints of God which He, in the purpose of His own grace, intends there should be in them. ‘Hold fast that which thou hast’ is a necessary warning to us all.  We have to consider what it is that we have received from God -what instruction, what doctrine, what practice, what truth in any sense - and then keep fast hold of it and not let it go.  We always have to remind ourselves of the things we have received lest they should slip from us.  It is wonderful how things which we thoroughly know are often allowed to evaporate from our hearts!  We sometimes see in outward things a substance vanish, when touched by another substance that science brings near to it; and thus, Satan by his skilful hand is able to bring something that eliminates some of the most precious things which our souls have known: so what need we have of watchfulness!


Observe the definition of the word ‘overcome’ in verses 10, 11 and chapter 16.  It is made dependent on ‘holding fast Persons who ‘hold fast’ are ‘overcomers Those in the professing Church who fall away - who do not continue to the end - let the treasure go; they let it slip from their grasp; Satan snatches it from them, or earthly things cause them to relax their hold.


No doubt in these Philadelphians there was a humble not a proud consciousness of this ‘holding fast They clearly valued what they had received from Christ.  They were like Levites to whom the boards and curtains and vessels of the Tabernacle were committed.  It was a happy service in a waste howling wilderness to be entrusted with the care of the holy Tabernacle of God.  There was not a socket that was not borne along by their means as well as the Ark, the Mercy seat, and all the holy vessels.  They thought about them; they considered them; they did not say ‘this pin is useless,’ etc. they remembered it was God’s Tabernacle.  Not one thing was valueless, each had its place; and thus, while they thought about this, they found it their peculiar business in the wilderness.


And so with God’s Truth.  It is a holy harmonious combination which we have to bear along for the blessing of our own souls and the souls of others; thus we shall be likely to hold that Truth fast.  But suppose we turned from it to something not connected with Truth at all, then most likely some of its precious things would be forgotten!  It is very important for the soul to remember Paul’s injunction to Timothy with respect to the care of Christ’s Truth, ‘Meditate on these things: give thyself wholly to them


Then as to the future (v 12).  There is a certain adaptation in the encouragements which God gives to the practical apprehension of the souls to whom they are spoken; and this is of great importance to those who desire to be strengthened and comforted by them.  Not that all the promises will not be given finally to all saints, but God cannot always use them as a practical stimulus to hearts, because they do not all appreciate them, so we find what we should naturally expect, that the highest promises are put before persons who have made the highest advance in practical grace.  The promise to this Church is ‘Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the Temple of My God.’ The word ‘pillar’ denotes that which sustains a fabric, and the ‘Temple’ is used as an emblem of the system of the government and the worship of God.


Men have their buildings; their systems; and they know who have been and who are 'pillars' in them, and they honour them.  They are able to point to this one or that as a support and sustainer of these buildings, and praise the skill and energy and wisdom to which they feel indebted.  Think e.g. of the Church of Rome and other wicked systems, whose sustainers are marked with honour.  These would be ‘pillars’ in the temple of Satan; but God will by-and-bye govern, and there will be certain holy principles connected with that government and worship, and it is said of the saints that they shall sustain these!  It is His intention to use His saints in all those things that will by-and-bye give blessing to the New Creation of God!  He could do it without them.  He could dispense with them if He pleased, but, for their sakes, for their honour, for their blessing, He will cause them to be those on whom things so momentous in their consequences will rest in order to be sustained; so that indeed believers will feel themselves to be necessary according to God’s appointment, for the carrying out of things on which the blessing of all will hang.


There is no greater happiness perhaps than being employed and being necessary to the carving out of that, the momentous importance and value of which we well know.  If the temporal comfort and happiness only of a household depended on a certain relation being sustained we should feel it no doubt a privilege to be the sustainer of anything that would bring blessing to that household.


Now, if there be a blessed happy feeling in this, and if we feel it an increased joy when the things which we sustain are the eternal things of God, so that we are able even here to be employed about them, what will it be when all the counsels of God are evolved and manifested, and when we are employed in sustaining them?


‘And he shall go no more out We shall not be as we are now, called away to ‘things which perish in the using,’ things which we have to do as earning our bread.  We shall not be called away any more by the necessity of these things.  The priests of old might have to go out from the sanctuary; from its fragrance, from its light: they might have to go away into the waste howling wilderness where defilement was around them.  They might say ‘we like to remain where the incense is, where the light is burning: we had rather be sheltered by that than be in the midst of a scene where sorrow is Still, then it was needful for them to go there.  But an hour is coming when ‘we shall go no more out All will be encircled by the blessings of redemption.  All will then be enclosed within the cords of the Tabernacle.  All will be brought within its blessed circumference.  All will be shrouded in the canopy of God, so there will be no need to ‘go out.’


Then as to the other blessings.  ‘I will write upon him the NAME of My God, and the Name of the CITY of My God, and I will write upon him My New Name Three great spheres of glory to which believers are to have access!  That which pertains to the throne of God; that which belongs to the heavenly city of the saints: and that which pertains to Christ as Head of the New Creation of God; to walk within them, to be as it were at home in them!  From none of those spheres are those who overcome to be excluded!  They are to be allowed to enter; to know them; to contemplate them: to view them as things with which they have fellowship, because of that being written on them which gives access and title to enter, and designate, them as belonging there finally!


It is right our minds should be directed to these future blessings.  Feeble are even our best thoughts about the things which are reserved to be known by-and-bye fully!  Suppose we were brought to God and yet had no power to love Him there, to serve Him there.  Suppose we felt the glory overwhelming; the holiness overwhelming; we could not be said to ‘live’ there.  Or, if we were placed in the heavenly City and felt unsuited to it, saying ‘we feel it is a blessing, but it is too high, we cannot feel it is our home,’ that would not be fullness of blessing.  Or, if we were brought to see the peculiar glory of Christ which, when John saw, we read ‘he fell at His feet as dead If we were brought to see that, without having the same power of life communicated to us, that too would overwhelm us. But His promise here is, that He will so write on those who ‘overcome’ the Name of His Father; the name of the Heavenly City, and His New Name, that they shall have full power to live and act in every one of those distinct spheres of glory!


May we remember these are the heritage of the feeblest that believe: given by Him ‘Who is faithful and true I beseech you to remember these things are true because God has said they are true, not because we appreciate and apprehend them.  That will vary according to our faith and grace and power of apprehension.  If we choose to measure what God has said by our own thoughts, no wonder that our thoughts darken everything; but, if we remember that His Word is true and faithful, and that He intends we should credit it so that we may learn to live by faith and not by sight then we shall find that the true basis for the establishment of our souls’ comfort is firm beneath our feet!