Philadelphia: What is It?

My purpose is, as the Lord enables me, to follow the track of what I have no doubt to be a gracious movement of God in recent times, and with which as such all His people are necessarily concerned ; to seek to show the principles which characterise it, and their meaning and value as taught in Scripture; to speak also of the difficulties and opposition through which it has had to find its way; and in this my aim will he to exercise hearts and consciences (if un-exercised) with relation to it, and still more to help those already variously exercised to a settlement of questions which at the present time are pressing heavily on many.
I do not propose, however, any history of the movement of which I speak. For this I have no special competence; nor, if I had, would it serve so well the purpose that actuates me. It would raise question as to facts, and prejudice minds in opposite ways, by the introduction of names and persons, familiar and in reputation, perhaps the reverse. Our tendency is too much to make men commend the truth, rather than the truth commend the men who follow it. I shall look therefore at principles simply, with their necessary results (as far as these can be traced), only referring to history so far as may be necessary to explain their importance for us, and omitting wholly the names of those who have stood for them, or stood against them.
This may be deemed unsatisfactory by some, and of course leaves the application of principles to be made by every one for himself. But with divine light as to principles, and a soul truly before God, the application will after all be comparatively easy. It will test us, of course, whether we be there; and that seems to me to be in His mind for us, in a special way, just now. Let us not seek escape from it; but that we may stand the test, and find the blessing which He surely designs us in it.
For He does design blessing. This is the end from which He never swerves. When special times of sifting come, the sense of weakness everywhere apparent, and the love we have to one another would make us gladly seek escape, for ourselves anii for others also. But, thank God, it is as vain as it is unwise and unbelieving. Satan is the sifter of God's wheat, and it is a serious thing indeed to have to do with him; but sifting is the ordained method of purification. Take Simon Peter as the great example of it in the gospels: he is in special danger, foreknown by the Lord as specially to fail, and yet cannot be spared the sifting. "I have prayed for thee," says the great Intercessor; not that thou mayest not be sifted, not even that thou mayest not fail, but "I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not; and, when thou art converted," (or restored, as the meaning is,) "strengthen thy brethren." Here was good to come, (even for one who might seem to have failed utterly under it,) from the sifting of Satan.
What comfort for us in this, whether we think of ourselves or of others! And if the Lord had for us, in His abundant goodness, any work for Himself ready to be put into our hands, what wonder if, first of all, He were pleased to let us also - perhaps finding our way into it, even as Peter did, through our own self-confidence and imprudence,- find, though in sorrow and suffering, the value of Satan's sieve? We have, I believe, ground for the conviction that this is the meaning of what is now taking place. But I go on at once to what is the matter that I have in hand, and raise the question which is at the head of this paper.
I do not propose now to work out the proof of what is familiar and accepted truth for most, perhaps, who will read these pages, that the Lord's addresses to the seven churches in Revelation contemplate, in fact, successive states of the Church at large, answering, in the same order, to the condition of these respective churches, or assemblies; and that unitedly they cover the whole period, from the apostle's day till the Lord takes us to be with Himself above. The great proof of this must be in fact the correspondence that can be traced between what is thus assumed to be the prophecy and its fulfillment; and this it is not difficult to trace as far as regards at least the first five churches. Let us briefly attempt this.

1. Ephesus, to which, in its first fresh fervour, the doctrine of the Church was declared by the apostle, is shown heading here a history of decline. Outwardly things still look well. The secret of departure is only realised by Him whose heart, seeking ours, cannot but be keenly conscious of it, if first love is no longer there. Here is the beginning of the end, a root upon which evil fruit of all kinds will be found, if there be not recovery.

2. Smyrna next shows us the double assault of the enemy upon the Church in this weakened condition. Persecution on the part of the world, as under the Roman emperors; internally, the introduction of a bastard Judaism, such as in its beginnings had to be met by the apostle, notably in Galatia, and which, in contrast with the heavenly Church, develops as the enemy's seed, "the synagogue of Satan,"- the mixing together of true and false in a legal and ritualistic system claiming earthly position and promises, and already slandering - this I take to be their "blasphemy "- the faithful remnant.

3. Pergamos shows us then the pilgrim character of the Church lost: they are "dwelling where Satan's throne is." And while Nicolaitans ("subjectors of the laity") preach now their "doctrine," Balaam-teachers seduce the people of God into evil alliances with the world, and mere idolatry.

4. Thyatira carries this on to full development in Romanism, as we see today. That which Balaam-teachers did before as individuals, a woman (type, as we know, of the professing Church) does now, speaking as a prophetess, with the claim of divine authority, and yet branded with the awful name of Jezebel, the idolatrous persecutor of true prophets in Ahab's days. Here development in this line ends: a remnant is beginning to be marked out again ("the rest in Thyatira"), and prepares us for a different condition of things in the next address.

5. In Sardis accordingly, we have no indication of Jezebel or her corruption. There are things that have been received and heard, but they languish and are ready to die. The general state is that of death, though with a "name to live," and a "few names that have not defiled their garments" in this place of the dead. It is easy to see that we have here the national churches of the Reformation, with their purer doctrine given of God, though hard to be maintained in the midst of what - as the world claiming to be the church - is necessarily "dead," with "a name to live." There is here, and all through, to this point, no possible difficulty of identification for a simple and honest heart, of what is presented to us in these churches.

But this brings us, as the next stage, to Philadelphia; and what is Philadelphia? This ought to be a question capable of answer surely, and of satisfactory answer too. There can hardly be a doubt, if the previous applications have been correct, that Philadelphia must be something following Reformation times, outside of the state churches which have already found their delineation, and something which the three hundred years that are past have been ample to develop. But there are things connected with the identification in this case which should rightly make us pause and be very sure of our ground in attempting any explanation.
Philadelphia has, as a whole, the Lord's approval in a way no other of these churches has; except indeed Smyrna, with which in another respect also Philadelphia is linked. For here the "synagogue of Satan" once more appears as there: there seems some recrudescence of the Jewish principles typified by this; or at least something brings these to the front in the Lord's address.
But it is intelligible why people should shrink from appropriating to themselves the commendation that is found here; while yet that very commendation must cause every Christian heart to crave the character which our blessed Master can thus commend. Thus it always must have appealed to Christians; and since no circumstances of our time can ever render it impossible for us to fulfill the conditions necessary to His approval, there surely must have been Philadelphians in every generation of His people since these words were written. And here how blessed to see that what the Lord approves in Philadelphia is given in such absolutely plain speech. Keeping His word, not denying His Name, keeping the word of His patience: how simple all this seems; how simple it is, to a heart that is truly simple! And yet, if we apply it closely, not meaning to let ourselves off easily, these words will be found, I doubt not, capable of searching us out to the very bottom. But though thus there have been Philadelphians in all times, a Philadelphian movement is another matter; and this is what we should look for, from the place of this address among the other addresses. We shall have to face this, if we would be thoroughly honest with ourselves, and would not deprive ourselves therefore of the blessing of such a commendation. For while it is very well to take heed that we flatter not ourselves with being what we are not, there is another thing that is to be considered, and that is, if there be such a movement, our own relation to it. And this may well cause us anxious inquiry, may it not? and it would be a strange disappointment indeed, were we to have to accept that such an inquiry as this could not expect to attain its end. If the Lord have given me in His addresses to the churches to find a clue to His relation to the successive phases, complete or partial, of the Church on earth, then I must surely ask myself, where am I with regard to this? And if I plainly do not belong to that line of development which ends in Thyatira or Papal Rome; if also I do not belong to the state churches of the Reformation, or those similarly constituted, though they may not be established; am I to find no place in that which the Lord addresses? If I am, where must I find it, but in Philadelphia or in Laodicea?
Now if the Spirit of God be at work in the midst of such a state of things as Sardis implies, not merely to sustain a remnant, but in testimony against evil as a whole, in what direction will it necessarily be found working? Will it not be in separation between the living and the dead? that is, in leading Christians to seek out their company; or in giving expression to the "love of brethren"? which is only to say in English, in PHILADELPHIA?
Is it not plain that this has in fact characterized, in various degrees, many different movements that have arisen since Reformation times, in which more or less was affirmed the separation of Christians from the world, and the communion of saints as a visible reality? Every effective protest against the misery of an unconverted church membership has partaken of this character. And the maintenance of the diver-sity between the Church and the world has necessarily led on to the assertion of the related truth of the Church's practical unity. Philadelphia, "brotherly love," is a word which, going to the heart of the matter, covers surely all this seeking after the making visible of the Church so long conceived as necessarily invisible.
Putting all together, we may take this as clearly what Philadelphia means. It stands for a broad and well-defined movement in the history of the professing church, and which has assumed many different characters. These differences may indeed be pleaded against its practical nature as defining any distinct path for the people of God today. But this is only a superficial view of the matter. There are other things to be considered, which will essentially modify this first conception, and make us realise the word of God, here as elsewhere, to be "quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword," and requiring from us a real and complete integrity in our obedience to it, in order to such blessing as the Lord sets before us. Let us turn to consider now the first warning which He gives us in connection with this matter.