Revelation 3

Sardis.

It may be assumed that any discerning reader will perceive that we are entering upon an entirely new order of things in this chapter, or, at least, a sort of fresh start. What was described in the vision of Christ walking in the midst of the candlesticks is not here as in Rev. 2, unless it be the “seven stars,” no longer, however, held in His right hand. It is quite true that what we have been looking at in the former chapter may still exist and be verified at the same time with new features as they are brought out here. Not only may there be points morally like what we have seen in Ephesus, Smyrna, or Pergamos, but a continuing public state like the evil depicted in the message to the angel of the assembly in Thyatira, which goes on to the end in a way that differs from its predecessors. We find in Sardis another condition, and one which answers to the general state of Protestantism after the Reformation. We have not so much open evil, like idolatry and the other horrors that have been described before; but now we have a more correct outward form and orthodox aspect of things. As the four churches in the second chapter follow on consecutively, and describe the state of things before the rise of Luther, etc., so Sardis describes what followed the Reformation, when the glow and fervour of truth and the first flush of blessing had passed away, and a cold formalism had set in.

The way in which the Lord presents Himself is wonderfully suitable. “These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars” (verse 1). This is a new point of view in which to see Christ. In Revelation 1 “the seven Spirits” were distinct from His person and connected with the throne. The seven Spirits of God refer to the Holy Spirit of God, viewed in His various perfections and the ways in which He works; and this not so much in the church as towards the world. In Rev. 5, when the churches are done with, the Lord Jesus is described symbolically as a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth — the Holy Ghost as acting with a view to the government of the earth. It is not the Holy Ghost in all the fulness of the blessing into which He brought the church in its unity or dwelling there. It is the expression of the Spirit in fulness of quality and power to make good God’s will on earth.

But whatever might be the condition of the church, the Lord Jesus possesses the complete power of the Spirit of God, and at the same time fulness of spiritual authority. There were no two things more separated than these at the time of the Reformation. There was then a large body calling itself the church, which claimed the power of settling everything, as being the spouse of Christ. No wonder that the claim of infallibility was strongly advanced; for assuredly those who assume irresponsible authority as Christ’s vicar to settle the affairs of the church, to define doctrine, etc., ought to be infallible. This body had wrought for acres, gathering influence for itself; but at last the struggle came, and it was proved to be a mass of the greatest evil against God and His Son that had ever been congregated on the earth. There might have been true saints of God in it at the worst of times; and even from an early day some excellent men had even helped to give the see of Rome a false and absurd authority. St. Bernard himself sanctioned the persecutions of the Waldenses.

But God can turn such lessons to our profit. For it is well to bear in mind that there cannot be a greater fallacy than to abide in what is wrong merely because we find true saints of God there. Indeed the great aim of Satan is to gain all by getting good people to do bad things. When at last the crisis arrived, and men rose up in a considerable part of the world against this frightful evil, there ensued a divorce between the two thoughts of ecclesiastical authority and spiritual power. Instead of its being a body that claimed both, in derogation and in spite of Christ’s rights, everything ecclesiastical fell into disorder, and men fell back on the power of the world in order to gain freedom from the dominion of the Pope.

Thus Protestantism was always wrong ecclesiastically from the very beginning, because it looked up to the civil ruler as the one in whose hand ecclesiastical authority was vested; so that if the church had been under Popery the ruler of the world, the world now became in Protestantism the ruler of the church. It is not a question of church and state that politicians may discuss; which is a great deal too narrow and low a question for a Christian. There is but one thing satisfactory — to be in the path of Christ, giving honour to Him.

“I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” This describes the cold and formal ways of religion that were found after the Reformation among those that were not really Christians. The Lord Jesus shows what He disapproves of in Protestantism. Why not be thoroughly Christians? It was a poor thing to boast of not being as bad as Jezebel; it was death if not abomination.

In Protestant lands there is ordinarily a measure of truth, as there is still more commonly liberty of conscience. But the object of God is not merely to deliver either from gross evils, or from mistake in detail, but that the soul should be right with God, and should allow the Lord to have His way and glory in the Christian assembly — liberty for the Lord to work by the Holy Ghost according to His will. When He is allowed His right place, there is the blessed fruit of it in love and holy liberty. It is not a human liberty derived from the power of the world that we want (though God forbid that we should speak a word against the powers that be in their sphere), but the liberty of the Holy Ghost. It is the sin of Christians to let the powers assume a false position in divine things. The Lord Jesus touches the root of the whole matter in the way in which He presents Himself to the church of Sardis. Whether it is spiritual power or the outward authority flowing from it, the Lord claims it all as belonging to Him. In Ephesus it was said that He held the seven stars in His night hand, and walked in the midst of the seven golden lamp-stands; but here are united the two things, inward spiritual power, and outward authority. he hath the Spirits of God and the stars. It is not said here that He holds the stars in His right hand, but only that they are His, as well as the fulness of spiritual competency; still less is He said to be walking in the midst of the lamp-stands. It is an assertion of His rights, not of their exercise.

In the great mass of Protestant churches they gave up, as it were, the regulation of the stars into the hands of the powers that be. On the other hand, the persons who revolted from that fell into the sad evil of suffering the church to have the stars in its own keeping. There is not such a doctrine in the whole scripture as either the world or the church having this kind of authority in its own hands. The Lord Jesus has still all under Himself. He has not given it up. Therefore let the church only own what He is, and He will act accordingly. When there is faith to look to Him in His place as Head of the church, He will assuredly supply every need. If He listens to the simplest cry of His lambs, does He not enter into the deep need of the church? Is it not an object near His heart and affecting His moral glory? He took His headship of the church only in heavenly glory, and He went on high not merely to be, but to act, as Head. What is the character of His functions in this respect? He exercises authority, having persons to act under Him here below. Thus the existence of rule and gift in the church of God is the result; and these are not touched by the ruin of the church. The Lord, anticipating the time when there would be a revolt from under the spurious authority of the body calling itself the church, and foreseeing all the confusion that would be the result, presents Himself as the One who is superior to it all. Whatever may be the condition of things here, strength is in Christ: and we can never find strength in looking at the condition of the church, but at Christ.

When the apostles were here below, they were empowered to act for Christ in a very special way; but when they were taken away, the real source of the power in which they had acted subordinately to Christ was not dried up; the Lord Jesus has it all in His own keeping still. There was a name to live, but real death. He was speaking of their condition as a body, and not as individuals. “Be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die: for I have not found thy works perfect [filled up] before my God.” Here we. have again a very striking feature of what took place in Protestantism. In the desire to escape from the abuse of works by the Romish system, it is evident that Christian practice lost its due place in the minds of many — its place for those who have been brought nigh to God. For God does look for a real separate and distinct path to be taken by His people; and He finds fault with Sardis because of their failure in this. The saints of God even in Thyatira were commended of God for their earnestness, in spite of all evil. Their last works27 were more than the first. Protestantism has weakened the idea of obedience, under the plea of “no perfection,” either in the church or in the individual. Thus there has been a lowering of the just criterion wherever Protestantism has prevailed: but our God looks for perfection as the standard His children should judge themselves by — I do not say attain. He has grace to meet failures; but it is quite another thing for persons to settle down in self-complacency, from not having the divine standard before their eyes. The Lord always goes back to this.

It is better, in seeking to have that standard before us, to fail in carrying it out, than to succeed ever so much, if we gave it up. For what does the Lord most value? The heart that wants to please Him. The child may come to its father and say, “See what a pretty thing I have been making;” but if the parent had told him to do something else, he would ask the child, “Is that what I desired you to do?” The Lord has His own will, which meets us in our first need as sinners awakened, and is the source of our very salvation. But it is far from the natural thought of the heart, which dislikes subjection to another’s will. It is but part of the lie of the enemy. The will of God, we know, was that which accomplished our sanctification, through Him who said, “Lo, I come to do thy will.” In Rom. 10 the apostle puts our part of the matter in contrast with Jewish feeling. They thought, if they accomplished as much of the law as they could, that God was merciful and would make up the rest; but the apostle shows that subjection to the righteousness of God is salvation. God’s will is the very spring. and power of our blessing, not only in the matter of forgiveness, but all the way through. Take God’s ways in the church. These were subjects that were particularly neglected at the Reformation. Individual truth, such as justification by faith, was brought out forcibly and over a large field. But this was made the great point and aim of everything, and the consequence was that people never knew thoroughly they were justified. The moment one makes one’s own blessing the one or chief object of research in the Bible, never can anything be known aright; but he who receives God’s thoughts and objects is sure to know directly that he is saved and blessed indeed. He cannot look at the cross of Christ without seeing at the same time his utter ruin, and his complete deliverance in the resurrection. If a man hesitates whether he is so very bad as God declares, he has to wait before he enjoys the riches of His grace; but if he trust himself unhesitatingly in God’s hands, there is not a blessing that does not flow abundantly. We find ourselves to be as bad or worse than Israel, and then we are brought inside a circle of goodness and mercy superior to any thing they ever possessed.

At the Reformation all this was comparatively lost sight of; and, in escaping from the fearful net of popery, men fell into the sin of putting church power into the hands of the civil magistrate. Others again, who avoided this evil, made what they considered a true church to be the depository of this power; whereas it is Christ Himself still working by the Holy Ghost who maintains His own lordship, a truth which is taught at large in the epistles. Supposing a person labours as a pastor or a teacher, from what authority is he to act? Apostles or their envoys did choose those who had to do with local matters; yet wherever it was a question simply of ministry, in the word there was no appointment from the first. Even in the case of choosing a successor to the vacant seat of Judas, the apostles did not themselves elect, but threw it out of their own hands into those of the Lord. (Acts 1:24.) And when the Lord afterwards chose another apostle, we find “one Ananias” indeed sent to baptize him; but there was no idea of that disciple, or any one else, making him an apostle. In what we have afterwards (Acts 13), i.e. the case of hands being laid on the apostles Paul and Barnabas, it was not a bestowal of any orders or mission, for it was done by men inferior to themselves in point of spiritual gift and power; but was simply their brethren commending them to the Lord before they set out on a particular missionary tour to the Gentiles. We have a right to look for the Lord to maintain His authority in the church. In all ages we find Him helping His people in their need, and doing His work by His servants. If a person wants to preach, he naturally thinks he must have the warrant of some authority; but if we seek an. authority at all, we should have a competent one. Although there may be more respectability in the world where these outward credentials are looked for, the question arises, Does the Lord require authority to validate a person’s preaching the gospel? The apostles did appoint elders and deacons; but these might or they might not be preachers and teachers: their being deacons was another thing altogether. Philip was a preacher of the gospel, but this depended on his having a from Christ as the Head of the church, and not on his being one of “the seven.” Men have slipped into habitual departure. from God’s principles; and this is called “order,” because it is the most prevalent custom now in the professing church. Yet when we thus give up true principles, we slip into wrong practice. The Lord attaches great importance to our owning Him as the One who has all power and authority in His own hands. The moment we recognise this it so much the more binds the conscience. If one knows a thing to be wrong, the conscience is held to it. One may not be able to see at once what is the right path to take; but to cease from what is evil is evidently the first step, and it is imperative.

The connection between the end of the second verse (“I have not found thy works perfect before God”) and what follows (“Remember, therefore, how thou hast received and heard,” etc.) is to be remarked. He recalls them to what they had received from God Himself at the first. No such thought is allowed as that because things are not as they were then, therefore every church has a right to form its own laws. If it would be downright rebellion to say, because the Queen does not live in Ireland, that therefore the Irish people were at liberty to make what laws they pleased, it is as bad or worse if we think that because things are changed, the apostles gone, and confusion come into the church, men are left free to desert the word of Christ and do their own wills: the Lord has left us His. The very word of God which tells me what I once was, but that I am washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God, this same portion enters into all questions of the assembly, and the working of the Holy Ghost in it by whom He will. (1 Cor. 12) There may be no tongues, or gifts of miracles, and healings; but is the Holy Ghost here What He continues to do is according to the same principle and presence as at first, though in a very different measure of power: else we have no divine rule in these things.

Remark that the Lord’s coming is spoken of just in the way it was threatened on the world. (See 1 Thess. 5) “If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief” (verse 3). He would come upon them when they were not aware — suddenly and unwelcome. Had they not got into the world? Let them then beware of the portion of the world. If you have taken the world’s ease, you must needs dread the world’s judgment. Such is not the way in which the Lord speaks of His coming to the church. In reality and in all the extent of the words, it will be upon the professing mass, and not upon real believers, that the Lord will come as a thief.

“But thou hast a few names in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, he28 shall be clothed in white raiment” (verses 4, 5). The Lord brings in this suited comfort, that as some in Sardis had sought to act faithfully on earth, they should walk with Him in white. As they had maintained real personal purity here below, they should appear in full justification of their ways before God above. But this is spoken of individually. The state of the church as a whole was beyond question worldly, and as such it should be judged.

The moment a person ascertains that his association is contrary to the word, he should feel how grave that fact is, and consider what is due to the Lord. It might seem incredible, if one did not know the fact, that there have been and are men of God, guides of the flock, who not only abide in evil which they know, but seek to find a palliative in the circumstances of a righteous Asa or a godly Jehoshaphat, who nevertheless did not remove the high places. Alas! that the solemn revelations of God should be thus perverted so as to serve the ends of the enemy, and that a repeated warning should be tortured into a justification of sin. “The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness.” It is not enough to correct thoughts, and rest there; but if the Lord has given a judgment, is it not in order that the walk may be correspondent? Satan contrives to make the path of the Lord appear dark and sad; as he colours a worldly course with the semblance of humility, order, and the like. But the word makes all plain now, as power will by and by even to the world.

May we walk with the Lord now, and surely we shall walk with Him in white hereafter! Instead of a blotted name, ours He will confess before His Father and the holy angels.

Philadelphia

The tone of the epistle to Philadelphia must, I think, confirm the idea presented as to Sardis, that in this portion (Rev. 3) we have not so much the early church, or that of the middle ages, but what is found, or is developed, in modern times, Sardis is the beginning of this: a state of things not marked by flagrant evil, but by one sad and fatal characteristic — it is negative. Any fair persons, who have thought deeply on what is called Protestantism, must know that this is the sorrowful thing which we, who have been Protestants and thus share its shame, have to acknowledge. Men stand up too much, at least too self-complacently, for certain controversial points, which hide in a great measure their own wants and failures; they pride themselves on keeping apart from certain evils, such as the supremacy of the Pope, the infallible authority of the church, the worship of the Virgin, saints, and angels, the doctrine of the mass, purgatory, etc. Supposing the most rigid orthodoxy as to these, there might be a thousand evils of another character, yet, together with outward correctness, the heart be thoroughly away from the love and honour of the Lord. This is precisely what we saw in Sardis — a name to live, but yet dead. As in Israel when the Lord was on earth, the old idolatry had passed away, the unclean spirit had left the house, and had not returned; so the swept and garnished condition of the house answers to that which followed the Reformation. But we must distinguish between that and the work which God gave the Reformers to do. Let none speak disparagingly of these men, whether Luther or others. But while God was working in that great movement. it would have been better and holier if they had left earthly governments to their own proper functions. No doubt their patrons spared them persecutions and secured them honours, which, instead of helping on God’s work, proved a great hindrance. And so, when the fervour of first zeal had passed away, the state of things corresponds with Sardis.

In Philadelphia we have something totally different. The first thing that strikes us is not what the Lord does or has, but what the Lord is Himself. If there is anything that delivers from mere dogma, with all its chilling influences, it is, I apprehend, the person of the Lord appreciated in any special way. And this is seen in the epistle to Philadelphia. The Lord here presents Himself personally more than in any other of these epistles. It is true He is said to have the key of David; but before anything appears about this, He says that He is the Holy One and the True. In the other epistles we do not find the Lord characterised in the same moral point of view. This is, in my opinion, what grace has been making good in God’s children during late years. The impulse given to evangelization by the spread of Bibles and missionary efforts has marked it outwardly; but inwardly the sense of ruin has been used of the Spirit to lead the saints to the word, and hence to a fuller appreciation of the person of Christ — the only object in which we can rest through the Holy Ghost, as He was God the Father’s when He walked on earth.

There is something very beautiful in the way in which the grace of the Lord operates, after the epistle to Sardis, which was in a dead worldly state. Christ made Himself known; and He is the resurrection and the life. And what can give new life, put the church in its proper attitude, or bring a remnant to the walk and sentiments which become a time of ruin, but the Lord presenting Himself personally? This is characteristic of John’s Gospel; the person of Christ in His rights, not only humbling Himself to death, but baptizing with the Holy Ghost, in the activity of gracious power which is suitable to His glory. The first portion of it brings His person before us; the second, the other Comforter, whom the absent Lord was to send down from heaven. It is beautiful thus to see the place that John’s Gospel has in the scriptures of God. It was written very late, the last of all the gospels, and suited to a day of declension. There is no question of Jerusalem or of the Jews, as the immediate object of God, even in the way of testimony. They are noticed as a people outside, whom God his nothing to do with for the time. Hence the Lord speaks of the passover as a “feast of the Jews,” and so on. In Matthew, on the contrary, there is the recognition of Israel for the truth of God. The boar out of the wood may waste, and the beast devour, but it is Israel’s land still; and Jerusalem is called the holy city, even in connection with Christ’s death and resurrection. In John all that is at an end. Not only had Jerusalem and the Jews forfeited all claim upon God, having departed from Him as Jehovah, and the law and the prophets, but they had rejected Christ; yea, and when the Holy Ghost came, they rejected Him too, and would not listen to Him any more; so that there was no resource. God had manifested Himself in every possible way. No manifestation of God, where man was under law, could do any good. Individuals laid hold of God’s grace all through, but the nation was under law. The Gospel of John starts from this point, that all was darkness, and there the True Light shines though the darkness comprehends it not. In Him was life. This ever remains true, though He may deal judicially here.

But to return to these churches: there had been declension from first love, suffering from heathen power, Satan tempting through the power of the world, Jezebel seducing to idolatry, and, in short, every kind of evil commerce with the world, with persecution, but now we find a modern state — outward cleanness, but the heart given up to itself. (See 2 Tim. 3) Sardis gives us this picture: some walking purely, but there was no such thing as the heart thoroughly subjected to the Lord. But will He be content with this? The Lord must raise up a witness for Himself; and the only way whereby He makes a person an adequate witness for Himself is by presenting Himself to the affections. The moment we see the Lord Himself, there is strength to serve Him with gladness.

Here the Lord, disgusted with the state of Sardis, comes, as it were, saying, “I want to have the heart, and must have it.” He removes the veil brought in through the sin of the professing church. When they see that Blessed One, so to speak, a little nearer, there is a state that answers (but oh how feebly!) to His desires for their heart, which will be made good without fail, when we shall see Him as He is.

“Thou hast a little strength.” It is not the way of God to produce great strength at a time of general ruin. At the era of the return from the Babylonish captivity, the Lord wrought in great grace. There was no outward power; on the contrary, they were so apparently contemptible, that it was the taunt of their enemies that a fox could jump over their wall. But we find the same sort of spirit as in Philadelphia. They build no fortification to keep out the Samaritans; the Lord was a wall of fire round about them; but the first thing they erect is an altar to Him. The Lord was the first object of their hearts. If He was their wall, they could afford to wait before building another. There was no such thing as the angel smiting the first-born, no miracle wrought on their behalf, not a word about plagues on their enemies; but “my Spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not.” Whenever Israel were afraid of their adversaries, they had no strength; but in looking to the Lord they forgot enemies.

When we lean on Him now, it strikes more terror into the hearts of those who are against Him than anything else. When the heart is true to the Lord, it tells upon the conscience of others. What joy that the Lord’s heart is toward His people! It is this which produces proper feelings toward Him and toward one another. The very name of this church is significant of the relationship which He had established; but it is also important to remember that it is a holy relationship we bear to one another. While it is certain that those who care for one another’s heavenly interest will not be careless otherwise, still the church is not a club, where men must be ready to help on each other, right or wrong. This would be Chartism or any thing rather than the brotherhood of the Lord.

The first words are the key. “He that is holy, he that is true” (verse 7). Look at the first Epistle of John. The expression is not often used about the Lord, but we find it there. In the second chapter of that epistle, speaking to the little ones of the family of God, it is written, “Ye have an unction from the HOLY ONE, and ye know all things.” He that is Holy, He that is true, has all for them. There might be weakness, but He has the key of David. In the genealogy of our Lord in Matthew we find the expression, David “the king,” not Solomon the king or any other; because David is the person who first characterized royalty in Israel. He was the man according to God’s own heart. As long as David walked in faith, no difficulties could stand in his way. True, the type was imperfect: no type reaches the mark, because it is not Christ, though it may be a witness of Him. We see the failure of the man; but where the power of God wrought in David what was bright, and blessed, and good, we have the germ, as it were, of that which we see fully in the Lord. “The key of David” represents administrative power, the means of access to whatever he possessed. Thus it is said (Isa. 22), “the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut,” etc. This was the consequence; he who had it had all things under his hand; and it was his business to take care of everything.

The Lord presents Himself as having the key of David. Therefore they ought not to look to the power of the world, nor to man; for if He had the key, it was the very thing they wanted. The energy of man might be at work all around, Jezebel, false prophets, etc.; but there was this Blessed One, the Holy and the True; and so much the more needed, because they were weak. They had so little strength that, perhaps, they could not even open the door; but He says that He had opened it for them; He had brought them into a large place where there was no such thing as bondage or constraint. It is plain that the Lord is here marked according to what He is personally and morally; not only as the great source of holiness and truth, but as the Holy One and the True. We find the latter also in the first Epistle of John. “We are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ;” but there he goes farther still, “This is the true God and eternal life.” Thus then we have the Lord’s person brought before them: it was what they coveted. They valued Christ. They wished to know more of Him; and He knew their heart. So it is said, “If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” They were tried by a mere form of godliness; they knew it was as possible to be lost or to dishonour the Lord in orthodoxy as in the world. They turn to the Lord, and He presents Himself as the Holy One and the True; not as against them, but full of tenderness and grace, putting before them an open door, and giving them the certainty that no man could shut it.

“Thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name” (ver. 8). Here we have three expressions concerning them. They are in a state not marked by outward note or strength. Like Himself, they are unknown to the world, but they had kept His word; and more than this, they had not denied His name. Consider what it is to keep Christ’s word. It is evident there had been a departure from His word. It might have been circulated; but had it been cherished? Had it been loved and sought into, as for hid treasure? Was it for this thing that men met together to pray and read — that they might understand it better? What a movement in advance for the church, where the Lord’s person becomes more than ever the object, and the word as His word! It is not mere evangelization, blessed as that is in its place, and in its effect on the world. But here it is the inner circle of the saints, who love, serve, and adore Christ for Himself.

In this epistle we also find the great value of the name of the Lord Jesus. In 1 Cor. 1 the address is not to the Corinthians alone, but “to all who in every place call upon” that name. In other words, the first Epistle to the Corinthians is in no way, more than the second, of private application, but for all Christians everywhere. In fact the generalizing address is not put so strongly in any other; and this, perhaps, because the Spirit of God foresaw that, more than any other, it would be set aside. In these days, when there is no extraordinary manifestation of power, men might say, It is not for us, it belongs to a day that is bygone. True, it is of no use to talk of regulating tongues, if you have not got them. But we have the Holy Ghost, and, blessed be God! the church will never know the day when it will be without the Holy Ghost. Look at its darkest hour — the middle ages, Romanism, etc. The Holy Ghost was always there, not indeed justifying evil, or putting His seal upon disobedience, but He was there for the certainty of faith, according to the Lord’s word, “He shall abide with you for ever.” The idea of looking for the Holy Ghost to be poured out again on us is utterly wrong. Such is the Jewish hope. For the church to make such a petition is in effect to deny that it is the church. It may be well for us to throw ourselves down before the Lord, and own that we have acted as we had it not. But let us bless God that we have the Spirit, not only dwelling in individuals, but binding us together for an habitation of God. The manifestation of this is broken, it is true, but the fact remains; just as we say of a man whose circumstances are bad, that he is a ruined man, while the man still exists. This gives us ground for humbling ourselves the more; that the church had the Spirit and yet went wrong. Men might say, If we had a Pentecost now, and the Holy Ghost sent down again, we should go right; but the fact is that, when they had the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, they declined and fell. What God calls upon us to do is, not now to wait for fresh gifts of power, but to humble ourselves before Him, because we have gone, even as Christians, in the saddest opposition to His will. Alas! though the Holy Ghost dwelt there, one golden calf after another has been set up, till there is as much sin as was in Israel. This is what the Lord calls us to feel. The sympathies of the Philadelphian saints were with Him.

Clearly then what the Spirit presents is a despised company, but the word of Christ specially prized, and the Lord’s name maintained. We have learned that the church is never bound to go on in sin. “Let him that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” There may be moral iniquity and worldly lusts; and what is there so bad as church iniquity, except that which is against the person of Christ Himself? If a man perseveres in violating the outward order of the church, it is evil, but not to be compared with sin against the Lord Jesus personally. This is the worst evil (2 John 7), and the test of souls. The first of all duties is that the heart should be true to Christ. God looks for it. The Father will have Him honoured Himself.

Here then we see Christ bringing Himself out personally to the church, and this not with a general expression of love, but manifesting a special attachment of His heart to them. Hence it is said, “I have loved thee.” The Lord loves all His people, but it is equally true that He has special affections. There may be a peculiar link between Him and saints at particular times of danger and trial. His grace removes the hindrances and makes it to be enjoyed in its strength. They know His place in glory, but that which touches their hearts is that He loves them in all that glory. His love is the great basis and spring of their love.

“Thou hast a little strength.” He knows they are weak; but they have “kept my word and not denied my name.” See here the personal links — “my word,” and “my name.” The name of Christ apprehended by the soul is salvation; but it is much more; it is all. When the heart is brought down to submit to God’s judgment of its sin, He Himself brings before that soul Christ’s name; when it finds that it has no name in which to stand before God, He says, Here is a name, My Son’s name. Faith supposes a man giving himself up as a good-for-nothing, and saying, “God has been good to me, when I was only bad for Him.” God has laid down this name as a foundation-stone for the poor sinner. It looks weak; it is called a “stumbling-stone,” as it is to unbelief; but I ought to believe in it. if I merely look at the gospel, I am lost, because then I reason about it; but if I believe it, I am saved. What did Abraham do? He did not reason; he considered not his own body which was dead, but he gave glory to God. If he had felt strong, he might have sought glory to himself. This is one practical aim that God effects, that we may know our own nothingness.

But is this the only use of Christ’s name? No: He assembles round Himself, Jesus is the great object and attractive point to which the Holy Ghost gathers. Suppose it were the question of a person coming in who holds what people call, Calvinistic views or Arminian, never having learnt fully the ruin of man; you may say, “We do not like to be troubled.” But the test is, what does the Lord say? Has He no power to judge that question? Has He delegated it to our discretion? The Lord has named His name over that saint, and I am therefore to receive him. Another comes and says, “I hear you receive all Christians; but I do not believe that Christ was exempt from the fall, either in His nature or in His relation to God.” “No,” we reply, “you cannot use the name of Christian to dishonour Christ.” But wherever a man is found humbly confessing the name of the Lord (whether he be churchman or dissenter, that is not the point), we are bound to receive him. It is sorrowful that the church should have these names of variance: they will all be at an end by and by. But we must not gainsay the name of the Lord now. Wherever it is heard it becomes a passport all over the church. It is no question of joining us: he who is joined to Christ is indeed joined to us. True, the Lord has His servants; but we do not acknowledge any one as a centre in the church but Christ.

A further use of the name of the Lord is in discipline. What is the object of discipline? Not to keep up our character, but that His name should have its just place and honour, keeping it bright even where Satan’s throne is. In the very camp of the enemy there is a name that cannot be put down. The Holy Ghost is there, not merely to give us comfort, but, having delivered us from anxiety about our own sins, He leaves us free to care for Christ and to serve Him. The question in the maintenance of discipline is, Is there departure from iniquity? The Lord never acknowledges anything as the church where iniquity is sanctioned. There is a difference between sin detected there, and the sanction of sin when detected. Any iniquity may break out; it did in the apostolic churches. The man was put away at Corinth because he was a Christian (as it is said, “that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus”). It might be thought, from the terrible nature of his sin, that he could not have been one. The Holy Ghost shows us thereby that if a Christian slips away from Christ, he is capable of anything except positive indifference to Christ Himself. From this I think the Holy Ghost would always keep; as in the case of Solomon’s judgment, the false woman was determined at all events to have her half of the child, while the real mother would rather yield it than let its life be touched. But a Christian may fall into a cold state of feeling about Christ, unnatural as this may seem; and when in this state, so as not to have a just sense of the name of the Lord, what good can be expected of him? It was not so with the Philadelphian saints. They did not deny His name; and the Lord uses the tenderest expressions of love towards them. All ecclesiastical pretension, it has been well said, was against them. They were quite despised by those who said they were Jews. But He says of them, “I will make them come. and worship before thy feet,” etc. (verse 9.) They were in the midst of a great deal of profession that was hollow. But the Lord promises to vindicate them by His own power. What comfort there is in not seeking to vindicate ourselves, but in going on with the Lord!

It is of the utmost importance to see that the name of the Lord will never oblige a man to choose between two evils; and this is, in my judgment, what God has been pressing of late. There is a path without evil. Not that the flesh of man may not bring in evil; but if a man persists in any sin, you say he is not walking as a Christian; he cannot be owned as a Christian, though we pray for him. Again, take a company of Christians. Evil comes in. We cannot say, “These are not Christians.” No, but bring in the authority of the Lord’s name to put the evil away. He having absolute authority, it is ours to take the place of full subjection to Him. The church belongs to God. If it were ours, we might make our own rules; but woe be to the man that meddles with the church of God, bringing in his own regulations! This was, it would seem, what was felt by these Philadelphians. They valued the authority of the name of the Lord. They avowed that they were weak, but they knew that the power of Christ was strong enough to keep them. Why should they be afraid? When Christians own His name as a gathering centre, it is not said that evil will not come in; but looking to the power of the Lord Jesus and His Spirit, we do not mean to sanction evil. Let us only leave the door open for the Lord to come in. There may be much to try our patience; but what we have to do is to wait on the Lord. This is what the Lord seeks — that we should have confidence in what He is and has, taking the place of weakness and dependence in prayer, however much we may be tried.

It is of great interest to note here the re-appearance of the Catholic system at this point. It developed itself first in its fulness in the era of early heathen persecution under the fathers so called — the Smyrna period. (Compare Rev. 2:9.) Now it comes up again, the enemy’s counterfeit, the real antagonist of the testimony of God in our own day. But the Lord will compel them yet to recognise where the truth is, and where the Lord’s approving love rests especially. “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie” (ver. 9). These claimed to be exclusively the covenant people; others (in particular those meant by the assembly in Philadelphia) they regarded as outside, unworthy of a name save of contempt. For this it is which tries the saint, not persecution from open external enemies as also in Smyrna. The boasters in tradition, antiquity, priesthood, order, and ordinances, shall yet be forced to acknowledge those they despised as the beloved of the Lord. Fidelity to Him, however feeble, is precious in His eyes.

In Pergamos they kept His word: here they did more. “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I will keep thee from the hour of temptation” (ver. 10). In these churches the Lord evidently looks forward to a state of things up to the very close. It is plain that, as the hour of temptation is still future, room is left for the application of this promise up to the end. This is not His word only, but of His patience. Christ is coming to receive His church, and afterwards to be the Judge of all the earth. But we are not looking for signs. God will graciously give signs to the Jews, but the church was never called to be guided in its thoughts by what it saw, like Thomas. “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” It was when the Lord was no longer seen that the church was born into the world; and since then the church is waiting but was never meant to depend on outward tokens. It was when He took His place above as Head that His body, the church, was formed; for there could not be a body except there were first a head. God would have the church waiting not for signs, but for Christ Himself. He will cause His voice to be heard, and the dead in Christ shall rise . . . . and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Christ is waiting for this patiently. As far as I have noticed, the Lord does not speak about His coming as if there were any haste connected with it. He waits patiently for it. He lingers in His love, that there may be a lengthening of mercy to the world, and that souls may be brought to Him. The church knows that He is waiting, and is called to the same patience — to have fellowship with Him in His patience.

“I will keep thee from the hour of temptation” (verse 10). This is not the portion of the Jews. To them, when the time of trial comes, God says, “Come, my people, enter into thy chambers.” (Isaiah 26) Ours is the place of Abraham. He had not to fly to a little Zoar like Lot, who was saved indeed out of the judgment, but not much to his honour. The Lord had a heavenly-minded saint, as well as an earthly-minded one. Abraham was not in the sphere of that temptation at all. So the church will be kept from the coming hour. This is our confidence — not merely preserved in or through it, but “from” it. Take another figure — that of the deluge. Enoch had been translated to heaven before the flood, while Noah was carried through its waters. Thus God gives us blessed witnesses from the beginning of the two-fold preservation, like Enoch and Abraham in spirit on the one hand, and on the other like Noah and Lot. These last were in the circumstances of the trial; and this will be the case with the converted remnant of Israel during the time of the dreadful judgments. The Christian’s hope is to be with the Lord in heaven, and the church ought to be looking for it. Assuredly the cry is now going forth, “Behold the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.”

Let me ask, have you gone out? There were those who not only believed when they heard the cry, but went out. Have you left everything that is contrary to Him? — what you know — not what I know — to be contrary to Him? Ask yourselves whether you are ready to meet Him: if so, you need not be afraid. Be assured that anything the will of man wants to keep is not worth the pains. It is gain to go out from all to meet Him; it is joy to be in the path of His sorrow. Has this reached your heart? Do not be content with saying, “I have got oil in my vessel, and it does not matter where I am.” What more selfish and unholy? The Lord grant that such may not be your feeling! He has saved me that I may think of Him. He wishes me to go out to meet Him — to value the precious hope of His coming. Are you then keeping His word? Do you not know? This is a question between your own conscience and the Lord. When you have kept what you do know, you will learn more and find it the truest liberty ever to serve Him.

“I am coming quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no one take thy crown” (verse 11). This is a precious word. The Lord spoke of coming like a thief even to Sardis, which had taken the world as its mistress, and allowed the unpurged to govern in place of the Lord. Here He comes as one that has a crown to give. The Lord Himself coming to meet us is the jewel He has given us to keep. May He grant us to hold it fast, that it be not taken from us!

We are indeed weak now, but the Lord says, “If you are content to be weak now, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God.” A pillar is the emblem of strength (that which supported the temple) contrasted with weakness. It is a hard thing to be content to be weak. To flesh it is comfortable to feel the world’s strength under one. But if willing to appear what we are now, the Lord tells us what He will do for us then: “I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God” (verse 12). As I have known my God, I will bring you into fellowship with me. You were content to wait for my coming, and none shall take your crown. For those who have thought of Christ now, Christ will provide all the joy He can give them then. The Lord grant that this may be our comfort while we wait for Him! We may for Christ be outside all that looks strong and orderly. In that day we shall go no more out, but enjoy the most intimate association with Christ, be a pillar in the temple of His God, and have the name of His God and of the city of His God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and His new name described on us.

Weak as these were they took the place of weakness; and as they had thought of His word and of His name, the Lord says, When I have you in my temple, I will write upon you “my new name,” and will make you a pillar “in the temple of my God.” He does not say the throne, which would be the expression of power, but the temple, which is another thought from the throne. The temple is the place of worship, where God is exalted in the beauty of holiness. Just so, when it was a question of the worship of God, David wears an ephod. His own wife despised him (she was looking at him as the son-in-law of her father Saul the king) because he did not come out in some robe suitable to royalty: but David had the thought of God before him, and in his eyes it was his greatest possible exaltation to wear the ephod, and so to serve Jehovah and rejoice in His goodness who deigned to be in their midst.

So the Philadelphians seem specially those who entered into worship, because they appreciated the person and character of the Lord Jesus. It is this that draws out the heart. Thus when Jesus revealed Himself after giving sight (John 9), the blind man paid Him homage. Worship is little enjoyed in general even by real children of God. A man might receive favour from God, and give thanks heartily for it, and yet know little of worship. This is a higher step and nearer to Himself. it does not merely appreciate the favours that come down to us from God, but what the God is who gives them. Real worship is always this. The Father seeks worshippers, but it is to draw them back to the source from which the grace has flowed. Not that the word worship is used in the address to Philadelphia, except in verse 9, where it is in quite a different sense, merely signifying that the men, who were now scorners, would have to humble themselves and give honour to these whom they had despised. Worship is the drawing near to God in the appreciation not only of what He does but of Himself. There is this which always prepares the way for worship — the full and simple knowledge of our being brought near to God as well as of the work of Christ and its blessed results for us.

Laodicea.

We have already noticed the strong contrast between the state of Sardis and the previous order of things. Gross corruption, open evil, persecution, hatred of the holiness and truth of God, false prophets had reigned in Thyatira, though there was a remnant found there, and a faithful remnant. If Thyatira represents the dark ages, when the Lord had His faithful saints hidden away in nooks and corners of the world, in Sardis we have a correct appearance of things — a name to live, and death almost universal; yet even in Sardis there were those who had not defiled their garments. If there is so marked a distinction between Sardis and Thyatira, there is an equally strong line of demarcation between Philadelphia and Laodicea.

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea,” not “of the Laodiceans.” (So, as to the first, it should be “the church in Ephesus.” Rev. 2: l.)

Let us look at the character that God gives of this church, and what He brings to light of its condition. If there are two churches that stand in more pointed contrast to one another, it is surely these last. The reason, I think, is this; that when God works in any special way, when He puts forth His grace in some new form and light, it always, since the slipping aside of Christendom, draws in its train a peculiarly dark shadow. So we saw in Philadelphia a bright picture. They were weak, but they were to depend on Him in peace; for the Lord had opened the door, and He would keep it so. Christ was all their confidence, in contrast with the pretentious religionists who appear at the same time claiming to be the people of God with no care for Christ. The church should have been by the Holy Spirit a real testimony to the new creation, of which Christ is both the only source and the bright exemplar. But it had wholly failed and never so much as in this last phase. For when we come to look at Laodicea, what a difference we find!

Does the Lord here speak of waiting upon their need, having the key of David, and presenting Himself as the object of their affections — as the holy and true One, in His moral grandeur, which called out all the heart to worship Him? Does He not now speak in another tone? “These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the beginning of the creation of God.” The end of haughty profession was at hand. He was the “Amen,” the only securer of divine promise, the solitary “faithful and true Witness,” when all else had failed. This presentation of Himself supposes that those to whom He was writing were utterly faithless and had revived the old things which had been buried in the grave of Christ. Even a saint like Job was not in the presence of God when he was thinking so much about himself. (“When the ear heard me and the eye saw me,” etc.) We may say he was in the presence of himself and not of God. It is always a poor sign if we see a man stop to look at himself, whether his good or his bad self. Even if converted, why should we thus dwell on the change in ourselves? This is not to forget the things that are behind (which does not mean, by the way, our sins, but our progress): if the Lord has given us to take a step forward, it is that we may get nearer to Himself, and increase in the knowledge of God. Along with this there will always be increase in the knowledge of ourselves, but never in the way of self-admiration. As belonging to Christ, He is the object that happily keeps us low. When Job was brought at the close really into the presence of God, he was in the dust. He did not know what it was to be thoroughly nothing before God till he was brought there, and his eye saw Him. Before, he had been looking more at what God had produced in him, but now he saw himself to be as dust. After this we find him even praying for his friends, and we have burnt-offerings. This was the spirit of intercession and worship too. It appears to me that such was the spirit into which the Philadelphian church had been brought. They understood worship, because they in their measure knew Him that was from the beginning. The Lord loves us to be strong in Christ, growing up into Him in all things.

In Laodicea there was no such thought — nothing like an entrance into the riches of the Lord’s grace. There is nothing we ought to feel our lack in so much as in worship, just because we do value it. It is spiritual feeling though feeble indeed, that makes us alive to our little power of worship. Be assured that the spirit of worship is our true power for service. Thus in John 10 the Lord says, “I am the door: by me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” It is no longer the Jewish sheepfold and the bondage of the law, but perfect liberty, going in for worship and out for service, everywhere finding food and blessing. How sweet to think that the time is coming when we shall go in, never to come out more! It will be always service in immediate connection with the lord Himself — enjoyment of the presence of God and of the Lamb — eternal worship. And let me again ask, For whom would this be a welcome and happy promise? For those who had valued and enjoyed worship here below; as in Ps. 84, “They will be still praising thee.” The place where the Lord dwelt was graven even in the hearts of those going there — “in whose heart are the ways.” They felt that they must get where God was, and there they dwell.

The Lord does not reveal Himself in the same personal way, and still less ecclesiastically; but certain qualities and titles belonging to Him are taken up, which reach out from what He had been for God to that which links Him with the new scene in which He is about to be displayed as Head over all. This cannot fail. He was “the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the beginning of the creation of God.” They had failed in everything, they had been unfaithful witnesses; but He as good as says to them, “You have not met a single thought of my heart. I will now present myself to you as all you should have been.” He was also “the beginning of the creation of God” (verse 14). Christendom is at its beginning, certainly from apostolic days, a rejected witness. Christ is in relationship with the new creation.

“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot” (verse 15). This is latitudinarianism. It is not ignorance that works this deadly mischief, but the heart remaining indifferent to the truth, after it has been fully brought before it. Such an one does not want the truth, because he feels the sacrifice and the separation from the world which must ensue, if it be really followed. We ought to bear, wherever there is unwilling ignorance; but indifference to truth is quite another thing, and hateful in the sight of the Lord.

Thus latitudinarianism is never the condition of souls that are simple-hearted, but of those by whom the truth has been heard and who are not prepared for the cross. God’s truth must put people’s hearts to the test. It is not merely something I have to learn, but I am proved. If the sheep is in a healthy condition, it will hear the Shepherd’s voice, and not even know the voice of strangers; but if the sheep strays after others, it becomes so confounded that it may cease to distinguish the well-known voice. This arises in Laodicea, and, as it would appear, from despising the testimony given in the former church. Laodicea is the fruit of the rejection of the special truth that formed Philadelphia. There He showed Himself, and assured each heart that received Him, that as His name was everything to us on earth, so He will give us His new name in the time of glory. Every affection that has been spiritual, all that the Lord wrought in our hearts, shall come out more brightly in heaven. To Laodicea He says, “Thou art neither cold nor hot. They must have had some stimulant, as the cold was not absolute. They were not honest. Laodicea is the last state of decay, which the Lord could not allow to go on any longer — a time when persons have had a great deal of truth in a certain fashion, but their souls not touched by it. If the heart had been in ever so little a measure true, even though ignorant, it would have enjoyed all that came from the Lord. In 1 John 2 the persons who are said to have an unction from the Holy One; and to know all things, are not the “fathers” (who of course had been thus anointed also) but “the babes.” The ability to judge what is not of Christ depends on the heart being true to Him. Hence the youngest saint, if single-eyed, can discern with certainty, where the theologian is lost in endless genealogies.

Every spirit that confesses not but denies Christ (the Christ of God) is of antichrist. There were, there are now, many antichrists, and the place to look for them is where He has been named. If Christ had not been known, there could not have been an antichrist, which was the dark shadow that followed the truth. As surely as the Lord works in His gracious way, Satan is at work too. To be “lukewarm” was to be false with the pretension of the truth; and the Lord says, “I will spue thee out of my mouth.” There is not such a contemptuous expression used by Him anywhere else that I know. This is sensibly different from the dealing with Sardis, where the general judgment of Protestantism is given, — judged like the world, and the Lord coming as a thief. Is this the way that we measure things? We should have said probably that Jezebel was to be felt most about; but would it have struck us that to be lukewarm was the worst of all? Yet this was what drew forth all the Lord’s indignation, and He only is wise.

“Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods,” etc. (verse 16). Here is a plain proof that they had heard a great deal about the truth. They thought themselves rich. Learning and intellectualism in religion they counted a prize. If these grow (at least in extent, even though not in depth), what ground for satisfaction? The spread of the outward knowledge of God is what hastens on the last crisis — God’s final judgment and setting aside of all that bears His name falsely and self-complacently. They had sought man and the world, which promise much to the eye. But this is no righteous judgment; for nature thus allowed in the church is so much loss, to the utter exclusion of what is divine and heavenly — the real and bitter impoverishment unto all true riches. This the Lord proceeds next to lay before the angel. Absence of discernment follows. “And knowest not that thou art the wretched, and the miserable, and poor, and blind” (ver. 17). This was because they had rejected the testimony of God. His testimony always produces the sense of being nothing but it never weakens confidence in Him. There may be tests, — the Epistles of John are full of them; but there never is such a thought as the Spirit leading a believer to doubt God’s being for him. He may and surely will work in a soul that is slipping aside from the Lord to bring him back; He may make us feel our weakness; but it is not at all His way to produce a doubt of the truth; and it is ever a sign of the flesh being at work, “lusting against the Spirit,” when we give way to distrust. The Spirit of God always, wherever He is, aims at making a man thoroughly humble himself, judging and renouncing the folly of the flesh. There is and must be reality and truthfulness in God’s presence.

Laodicea says, “I am rich, and am become rich, and have need of nothing.” But we have the Spirit of God pronouncing this to be carnal presumption, the heart knowing not its need, and refusing grace. There had been momentary warmth, which made it so hateful to God. But this is just what men are doing who talk about the church of the future. The early times they call the infancy of the church; afterwards the church became overgrown and haughty: and now they are looking for a church of the future, when it will be no longer subject, but will act for itself — will act like a man. Alas! where will not these aspirations end? For God will be left out of the so-called church, and His authority got rid of.

This is working now extensively. And are God’s children. lukewarm about it? about God’s truth being shut out? Remember what the Lord here says, “I will spue thee out of my mouth.” It would be a grave mistake to suppose that there were no good men among them. It is no question however of individuals, but of the assembly: as such the Lord said He would spue them out of His mouth. People cannot congregate in large masses without Laodiceanism as the result, if it be not also the spring. Popularity is one thing; quite another the Spirit of God gathering souls to Christ at the present time. The Lord be thanked if there are a few gathered out to His name! Let God’s children remember that they must answer to the Lord Jesus, whether they are represented by Laodicea or not; whether they are living for Christ, or for what merely bears His name as a veil over indifferentism.

Yet the Lord does not give them up. He says, “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire,” etc. (verse 18.) Gold is used as the symbol of intrinsic righteousness in God’s nature, or divine righteousness; and white raiment or linen stands for the righteousnesses of saints, as we see from Revelation 19.

Divine righteousness had slipped from their thoughts. They were neither appreciating the righteousness of God, which a Christian is made in Christ, nor the practical righteousness displayed before men, which the Spirit leads in. So He counsels them to buy of Him the true gold, and white raiment that there might be the holiness that became them before others. “Anoint thine eye with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.” There was the secret — the lack of unction from the Holy One. They did not see anything properly, not even their need of divine righteousness.

“As many as I love I rebuke and chasten; be zealous, therefore, and repent” (verse 19). Depend upon it that this is the Lord’s voice for the present moment. Here alas! it was what the Laodiceans needed. The Lord is dealing with His people; He constantly puts before them something to humble them in their thoughts of themselves: He does not tell them to do or try something new, but calls on them “to repent.” He does not ask them to stretch their wings for some greater flight in the future, but to see where they are, and to confess their failure. But this is irksome to the light self-complacent heart.

The call to repentance here, however, as in Sardis, differs greatly from that in the message to Ephesus and Pergamos, where all were thus urged on penalty of the Lord’s solemn chastening, whether general or special. Thyatira had here too an intermediate place: “I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.” Hence the threat of judgment followed, and the vast change ensued in all its extent.

It is a far higher thing to suffer for Christ and with Christ than to be active in doing. When the Apostle once asked, “What shall I do?” the Lord answered, “I shall show thee what great things thou must suffer.” This is what the Lord specially prizes — not mere sufferings as men, but sufferings for Christ. “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.”

Here they were persons as sunken as they were proud, called upon to be zealous and repent, to humble themselves before God on account of their condition. Yet the Lord utters a gracious word, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (verse 20). Is it not a solemn thing that the Lord should be there, thus taking the place of one outside? Nevertheless He was ready to come in where He found a soul true to Him. “If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him,” etc. Need it be said that this is not an address to the world in order to be saved? In John 10 the Lord presents Himself in full grace, saying, “I am the door, by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved.” But here He speaks thus to the church. What a solemn position! How utterly fallen now! What ought to be the enjoyed portion of all the church, whether in approaching God or in display before men, or in the communion of Christ, is proffered in pure grace to him who hearkens and humbles himself before the grace of the Lord. He certainly had no sympathy with their self-satisfaction. He stood outside, knocking at the door, if perchance there should be a heart within, not too much occupied with the things and the persons around, that would open to Him. To such He says, “I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me.” But it is all individual. In presence of the gravest departure, are we to say, “there is no hope”? Not so; for the Lord is standing at the door and knocking. There may not be many to answer His call, but some will; and the promise is, “To him that overcometh will I give to sit down with me in my throne; even as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne.”

It is a mistake to suppose that this is comparatively a glorious promise: we are apt to think so, because we naturally value display. But God does not estimate things thus. His holy love, proving itself divine most of all when Christ humbled Himself, in coming down to man and dying for him — this is the standard of value, rather than power or glory. He could make a thousand worlds with far more ease than He gave His Son to suffer. I do not question the grace of such a word, spite of such evil; but our sharing the kingdom with Christ is not the most blessed thing we shall enjoy. And the promise here does not go farther. What we have and shall have in Christ Himself is much more precious. Yet is this a portion with Christ In John 17:23 the Lord shows that the display of glory is for the vindication of Himself before the world. All the glory disclosed in the future will be the proof to the world, that they may know that the Father loves us as He loved His Son. But we are entitled to know it by the Holy Ghost now. We do not wait till then to know the love that has given us the glory — a deeper thing than the appearing to the world, or thrones in the kingdom. The personal affection of the Lord to His people is a better portion than anything displayed before men or angels.

Here the Lord closes the churches. He had reached the last phase. The wisdom of God has provided in these chapters not so much deep truth as what requires conscience: this rather than great ability is what we are to understand. The need for guidance is the eye fixed on Christ. Besides these epistles being messages to local churches in the name of St. John, we have seen in them a sketch of the whole history of the church till the Lord comes. For properly speaking the Lord’s addresses to the churches themselves or their angels constitute “the things which are,” or the actual state in John’s day. The addresses, while primarily connected with the facts then existing, go far beyond them, and reach out into a prolonged moral application, till there is no longer any recognised assembly, the last (though with mercy to individuals) having been summarily rejected as a public witness by the Lord. After that we never hear of the churches any more upon the earth. On the contrary the curtain drops, and we have a new scene altogether. The seer no longer turns round to see who spoke behind him on earth,29 but hears the same voice above, whither he is now invited to ascend. The government of the world from the throne in heaven, its accompaniments and consequences, are the things which follow, when the church’s time — state is closed. After this we have individual. saints both among the twelve tribes of Israel and out of all nations mentioned as such, but this only makes the contrast more striking. Henceforward, if specified at all, they are named as Jews and Gentiles, because there was no longer any thing of the nature of the assembly of God upon earth: for the very meaning and essence of the church is, that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, because all are one in Christ.

In the detail of these seven epistles there is also abundant practical instruction. It is true that the Spirit addressed them to the churches; but “he that hath an ear” is expressly enjoined to give heed; and this to the challenges of the Lord sent to them all. Such application, however, falls more fittingly within the domain of ordinary ministry in the word.

It may be well, now that we have gone over the ground of the Apocalyptic epistles, to notice the objections urged against the larger view of their meaning by Bishop Newton. “Many contend, and among them such learned men as More and Vitringa, that the seven epistles are prophetical of so many successive periods and states of the church, from the beginning to the conclusion of all. But it doth not appear that there are, or were to be, seven periods of the church, neither more nor less; and no two men can agree in assigning the same periods. There are likewise in these epistles several innate characters which were peculiar to the church of that age, and cannot be so well applied to the church of any other age. Besides other arguments, there is also this plain reason; the last state of the church is described in this very book as the most glorious of all, but in the last state in these epistles, that of Laodicea, the church is represented as ‘wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.’“ (Newton’s Works, vol. i., p. 549, edition 1782.)

Now it is plain that “it doth not appear” is rather an assumption than a proof. Why does it not appear? Another might urge the same objection, and perhaps with quite as much weight, against the seven seals, trumpets, and vials. God has been pleased to specify in each of these instances seven salient points, so to speak, as His complete account of each. “The main subjects of this book,” the Bishop had just before remarked, “are comprised of sevens, seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven vials, as seven was also a mystical number throughout the Old Testament.” If this answer satisfy as to the seven vials, why not as to the seven epistles? Doubtless more spirituality may be required for right discernment in the latter than in the former case; because one series relates to external judgments in the world, whereas the other series takes cognisance of such remarkable spiritual conditions, good and bad, in the history of the church, as it seemed good to the Lord to notice. Hence à priori one might be prepared for a greater divergence of judgment among Christians in their adaptation of Rev. 2, 3, than in their views of any other parts of the book. If there had been therefore a considerable measure of truth in what he says, the general principle would till remain undisturbed. But this is not the case. There is a striking agreement as regards the first three or four churches. This of course is not urged as in the least degree authoritative, but as a sufficient answer to the charge of hopeless discrepancy preferred by Bp. Newton. Retort would be easy on the discordant schemes of interpreting the seals, trumpets, and vials.

It is singular, however, that the Bishop bears testimony in the next page to the mystical meaning of the epistle to Smyrna. For the “tribulation ten days” is there explained of the greatest persecution that the primitive church ever endured, Diocletian’s persecution, which lasted ten years, and grievously afflicted all the Eastern churches. Conscious that such an application, not in the promises attached but in the body of the epistle, is fatal to his own exclusively literal application, the Bishop thereon allows that the “promissory or threatening part foretells something of their future condition,” and asserts that “in this sense, and in no other, can these epistles be said to be prophetical” (p. 550):

But how stop here, once you own, as he does in the Smyrnean epistle, a bearing beyond the bare single church in or near that age, once you extend its scope to all the East, and its date to the beginning of the fourth century? Indeed, that fierce persecution was not confined to the East; for all the empire, not excepting Spain and Britain, was stained with Christian blood. If the principle is true in one epistle, why not in all? And in fact was not general declension within as clearly marked in Ephesus, as persecution from without in Smyrna? and does not Pergamos portray the corrupting influences of worldly exaltation, as palpably as Thyatira sets forth the proud unrelenting false prophetess of Popery?

No doubt the unsactisfactory character attached by our Lord to Sardis must be painful and startling to those whose eye is filled with ordinary Protestantism and its decent orthodoxy. And perhaps yet more distasteful is the sight of another and a subsequent testimony, which sets those who bear it in weakness and scorn outside the religious world, with the coming of Christ their blessed and animating hope.

But it is plain that the picture of the last assembly, in its deplorable lukewarmness and the Lord’s peremptory rejection of it, was the great difficulty to Bishop Newton, because of its inconsistency with his theory of the last state of the church, “described in this very book as the most glorious of all.” But this is a total mistake. The Revelation never describes the church on earth after Laodicea. The glorious description, to which the Bishop refers is probably in Rev. 19-21, where the entire church is glorified above. In a word this reason is plainly invalid. The bride of the Lamb is to reign; but this does not contradict the solemn testimony of the Laodicean epistle, that the last state of Christendom here below is to be, like that of Israel before it, “worse than the first.” The general testimony of the New Testament entirely confirms the witness borne by this particular part, as appears from Luke 17:26-37; 2 Thess. 2:1-12; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; 2 Peter 2, 3; 1 John 2:18; Jude 11-19. The gratuitous assumption that the last phase of the church’s condition on earth must be the brightest is then clearly opposed to the direct testimony of Christ and the Apostles, as well as to the solemn warning of the Apocalypse. How humbling that all this should be explained away for many souls by the unintelligent reasons we have just disproved! Nor is the evil speculative only, but very great practically; and the danger becomes every day greater for those thus misled. For if the soul be taught to view events as gradually moving on toward a glorious future for the closing years of the gospel here below, it cannot but be thrown off its guard and exposed to a loss of discernment in its desire after such a consummation, instead of being called to watch as during a long sad night, and to judge each new move and measure, as good soldiers in an enemy’s land. And if it be certain that the falling away or apostacy is the predicted issue, the means taken for the widest development and apparent triumph of the church on earth, must finally at least be but means for consummating that apostacy, and a prime object for the Lord’s judgment at His appearing.

27 I am far from thinking the Romanist idea of works sounder than their depreciation of faith. The remnant in Thyatira, viewed mystically, were not Romanists, but persecuted by Jezebel.

28 The Alexandrian and Paris uncials with a fair support from cursives, and especially from versions, read οὕτως “thus;” but the Basilian, Vat. and Porphyrian uncials, and most of the juniors with some versions read οὗτος. Cod. Sinaitica gives the former first, and then corrects it by the latter, and perhaps by the original scribe. Externally therefore the balance is nearly even. But in the older MSS. especially the interchange of ο and ω is so common as to make their evidence in such cases of slight value. Internal consideration greatly inclines in my opinion to οὖτος, as in the text.

29 The chief opponent of the future or rather protracted application of the Apocalyptic epistles, draws from the local direction of the voice that, according to a mode of interpretation then prevalent, the visions about to be shown would refer to events yet future and behind, in the course of time. (Horae Apocalypticae, 5th edition, vol. i. page 70.) If there be any truth in that interpretation, it strongly confirms the future bearing of the seven addresses. But it is certain from Rev. 4:1, that when the purely prophetic visions are about to begin, the speaker’s voice is above, not behind. What the turning to the voice behind in Revelation 1 really shows is, that the prophet’s eye was forward, as it were, in the direction of the kingdom, and that he was recalled to take notice of the churches, “the things which are,” as justifying the Lord in His setting aside of Christendom in order to the introduction of His kingdom in power, when patience shall no longer be demanded. For the Lord will create new heavens and a new earth: first, in a partial preparatory sense — the millennium; and then fully and finally, the eternal state. The church state is thus emphatically treated as present time.