THE OVERCOMER AND THE THRONE

 

ByD. M. PANTON, B.A.

 

Our Lordís letter to the Laodicean Angel is the most wonderful letter to a backslider ever written. As Laodicea is the last church named in Scripture, and closes the Lordís sevenfold summary of the Churches, there is a good reason to believe that its characteristics are a photograph of the Church at the close of the Age. But if we learn much about the end-time churches, we learn much more about Christ. It points out the path, planned by Christ Himself, by which we can escape the tremendous perils of the closing age, and - much more wonderful - how the Laodicean Angel himself can escape. It is a lovely revelation of our Lordís character - His truthfulness, His tenderness, His patience; and how He opens to their worst backslider the most golden reward He names to all the Seven Churches.

 

Modernism

 

Our Lord sums up the situation in words of terrible gravity. This Christianís character - "Thou art wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked": the Christianís peril - "I will spew thee out of my mouth": out Lordís motive - "As many as I love,* I reprove and chasten": the condition of victory - "Be zealous therefore, and repent". Put in modern terms, the Laodicean Church is much what we see around us. A life of deep holiness abandoned as impossible: separation from the world is not desired: the awful truths of Scripture are ignored: constant fault-finding makes an atmosphere that is cold and hard: prayer is largely abandoned: missionary effort is dying: worldly friendships abound: eloquence and music are made to take the place of conversion and devotion: [Lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.] It is exactly what we are watching. "Thou sayest, I am rich, and have need of nothing." And what is our Lordís response? "Because thou art lukewarm, I will spew thee out of my mouth". Spewing out of the mouth can hardly mean less than death: even as Paul says to Corinthian believers who degraded the Lordís Supper to a common meal, - "for this cause many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep" (1 Cor. 11: 30). Three hundred years later the Council of Laodicea decided that the Apocalypse is uninspired; and successive earthquake shocks wiped the city off the face of the earth.

 

[* The Greek word translated "I love," means I love dearly; not merely.]

 

Diagnosis

 

But now observe - our Lordís sharp and piercing words are not the discoveries of a detective, but the diagnosis of a physician; though, if unheeded, they would prove to be the cross-examination of a judge. Even to the Laodicean, far gone in corruption, and filled with the cold, hard atmosphere of the world, Christ offers stupendous spiritual gifts. First, gold - not saving faith, for that the Angel had, for the Lord maintains the Angelís ministry - but "gold refined by fire" - the faith which risks all for God; then, white garments - holy activities; lastly, eye-salve - a vision of the highest, and a heart that follows the vision. And our Lord makes all this possible for any believer. "If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in". In the corruptest church, in the coldest atmosphere, in the darkest declension, it is possible for anyone to obtain the highest faith, the whitest life, the most godlike vision.

 

The Overcomer

 

Now we arrive at the prize which awaits every believer who heeds his Lordís instructions, and lives them. "He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne". As all depends on the meaning of the words - "He that overcometh", it may help those who are unaware of this truth, or have hitherto doubted it, to hear some competent scholars on Ďovercomingí.* Lange : - "The exhortation at the close of all the seven epistles to overcome denotes the victory of a steadfast life of faith over temptations and trials, and over all adverse things in general". Professor H. B. Swete:- "The Only Begotten Son imparts to His brethren, in so far as their sonship has been confirmed by victory, His own power over the nations". Dr. Horatius Bonar: - "He speaks to the overcomers. Though the gifts are not wages, yet they depend on our winning a battle. They are something beyond mere salvation". Professor Moses Stuart:- "This enthronement will be granted to all who prove to be victorious in the contest with the world, the flesh and the devil". Steir:- "Assuredly it is the Millennial Kingdom to which, in a certain sense, all the promises point : that power over the nations is here held out to those who overcome as a reward is very plain".

 

[*We do well to remember that the consciousness of what is at stake - conditional enthronement - provides an incentive of extraordinary power, while the ordinary teaching - that the worst backslider will share the Throne of Christ - robs every believer of the tremendous urge.]

 

Our Peril

 

So then we see the peril. To the Church of Thyatira the Lord Jesus utters the same conditional promise:- "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" (Rev. 2: 26). Again scholars have seen the truth with perfect clearness. "The iron sceptre", says Dr. E. C. Craven, "is not promised to the Church Militant, as an organization, but to individuals; and not to individuals in the present state of conflict, but to those who, at Ďthe endí, should appear as conquerors". In the words of Hengstenberg:- "So long as a man still lives on the earth, however far he may have attained, he cannot say, - ĎI have overcomeí."For the overcomer is the disciple who "keeps my words UNTO THE END". Even Paul could know it only in his sunset: - "I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me THE CROWN" (2 Tim. 4: 7). "He who overcomes", as Dr. Swete says, "is he who keeps: Ďworksí are in these addresses to the Churches constantly used as the test of character". Five crowns - the indispensable signal of a kingdom - are named in the New Testament, and every one of these is conditional on service rendered. "What did Paul run for? Salvation?Ten thousand times, NO! He got that at the Cross. Paul ran for a crown. There will be a great many Christians who will get into heaven crownless" (D. L. Moody).

 

The Appeal

 

So we see the wonder of the appeal. The rewards offered to all the Churches close in Laodecea on their highest peak: the severest rebuke of all is counterpoised by the most golden promise of all. In the words of Archbishop Trench: "He whom Christ threatened just now to reject with loathing out of His mouth, is offered a place with Him on His throne: the last and the crowning promise is also the highest and most glorious of all. The highest place is within reach of the lowest: the faintest spark of grace may be fanned into the mightiest flame of divine love." Even for the Laodicean, so "wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked" - our Lordís own summary of his character - as to be in momentary danger of being spewed out of the mouth of Christ, it is possible so to revolutionize his Christian life as to be seated at last on the Throne with Christ. Here is the marvellous possibility for every child of God. Throughout the Seven Letters it is - "he that overcometh" - not an overcoming church, nor even an overcoming group of believers, but a solitary saint shining like a star above a midnight world, soon to have the unimaginable honour of sharing the Throne of the Son of God over the whole world.

 

The Throne

 

Our Lord confirms the Kingdom as a reward by an argument irrefutable. "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". Our Lord won the Millennial Kingdom: He did not inherit it. The Angel said at His birth : - "The Lord God shall give unto him" - for He did not possess it - "the throne of his father David" - that is, the Millennial Throne, the throne of the thousand years, the throne of the kingdom - "and he shall rule over the house of Jacob" (Luke 1: 32). So far from inheriting that throne, Jehovah said, - "Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession" (Psa. 2: 8).* So also the prize of the Kingdom was one of the incentives that inspired our Lordís overcoming:- "Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12: 2).** The Laodicean, the backslider, who will wake himself from his slumber, who will drop the earthly gold for the heavenly, who will rouse himself to holy and happy and unwavering service - even the Laodicean can attain the incomparable dignity, the incredible wonder, of the coming Glory - actually sharing the Throne of Christ.

 

[* As the Eternal Glory of Christ, the glory He had with the Father before the world was, He inherits as the Son, while His Millennial Glory rests on His perfect obedience as man, so our eternal glory rests solely on our being sons of God, while our Millennial glory can be achieved only by our obedience as servants.

** Our Lordís overcoming, being perfect, achieves a reward that is unique: no one, man or angel, shares with Him the Throne of God.]

 

The Knocking Christ

 

So at this moment the words are true:- "I stand at the door, and knock". He stands at our door knocking, in deep concern, in unbroken love, in wonderful patience. Who knocks? The Son of God, the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Glory, the Almighty to save, the All-sufficient to satisfy: on every backsliderís threshold there stands One who can turn him into a magnificent Christian; and, more wonderful still, on the door of the worst unregenerate criminal. In the bitter persecution of the Christians during the reign of Marcus Aurelius the Emperor himself decreed the punishment of forty of the men who had refused to bow down to his image. "Strip to the skin!" he commanded. They did so. "Now, go and stand on the frozen lake," he commanded, "until you are prepared to abandon your Nazarene-God!" And forty naked men marched out into that howling storm on a winter night. As they took their places on the ice they lifted up their voices and sang:- "Christ, forty wrestlers have come out to wrestle for Thee, to win for Thee the victory; to win from Thee the crown."

 

After a while those standing by and watching noticed a disturbance among the men. One man had edged away, broken into a run, entered the temple and prostrated himself before the image of the Emperor. The Captain of the Guard, who had witnessed the bravery of the men and whose heart had been touched by their teaching, tore off his helmet, threw down his spear, and disrobing himself, took up the cry as he took the place of the man who had weakened. As the dawn broke there were forty corpses on the ice.

 

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