REVELATION 3 - The 7 Churches (Continued)
1 And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.
2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
3 Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.
4 Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.
5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
6 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
If the dates of the preceding churches have been correctly fixed, the period covered by the church of Sardis must commence about the year 1798.
Sardis signifies “prince or song of joy,” or “that which remains.” We then have before us, as constituting this church, the reformed churches, from the date above named to the great movement which marked another era in the history of the people of God.
The great fault found with this church is that it has a name to live, but is dead. And what a high position, in a worldly point of view, has the nominal church occupied during this period! Look at her high-sounding titles, and her favor with the world. But how have pride and popularity grown apace, until spirituality is destroyed, the line of distinction between the church and the world is obliterated, and these different popular bodies are churches of Christ only in name!
This church was to hear the proclamation of the doctrine of the second advent, as we learn from verse 3: “If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief.” This implies that the doctrine of the advent would he proclaimed, and the duty of watching be enjoined upon the church. The coming spoken of is unconditional; the manner only in which it would come upon them is conditional. Their not watching would not prevent the coming of the Lord; but by watching they could avoid being overtaken as by a thief. It is only to those who are in this condition that the day of the Lord comes unawares. “Ye, brethren,” says Paul, “are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.” 1 Thessalonians 5:4.
A Few Names even in Sardis. — This language would seem to imply a period of unparalleled worldliness in the church. But even in this state of things, there are some whose garments are not defiled, — some who have kept themselves free from this contaminating influence. James says, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” James 1:27.
Shall Walk with Me in White. — The Lord does not overlook his people in any place, however few their numbers. Lonely Christian, with none of like precious faith with whom to commune, do you ever feel as though the hosts of the unbelievers would swallow you up? You are not unnoticed or forgotten by your Lord. The multitude of the wicked around you cannot be so great as to hide you from his view; and if you keep yourself unspotted from surrounding evil, the promise is sure to you. You shall be clothed in white, — the white raiment of the overcomer, — and walk with your Lord in glory. See chapter 7:17: “For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”
White Raiment. — Being clothed with white raiment is explained in other scriptures to be a symbol of exchanging iniquity for righteousness. (See Zechariah 3:4, 5.) “Take away the filthy garments from him,” is explained by the language that follows, “Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee.” “The fine linen,” or the white raiment, “is the righteousness of saints.” Revelation 19:8.
The Book of Life. — Object of thrilling interest! Vast and ponderous volume, in which are enrolled the names of all the candidates for everlasting life! And is there danger, after our names have once been entered in that heavenly journal, that they may he blotted out? — Yes; or this warning would never have been penned. Paul, even, feared that he himself might become a castaway. 1 Corinthians 9:27. It is only by being overcomers at last that our names can be retained in that hook. But all will not overcome. Their names, of course, will be blotted out. And reference is made to some definite point of time in the future for this work. “I will not,” says Christ (in the future), blot out the names of the overcomers, which is also saying, by implication, that at the same time he will blot out the names of those who do not overcome. Is not this the same time mentioned by Peter in Acts 3:19? “Repent ye, therefore, and he converted, that your sins may he blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” To say to the overcomer that his name shall not be blotted out of the book of life, is to say also that his sins shall be blotted out of the book wherein they are recorded, to be remembered against him no more forever. Hebrews 8:12. And this is to be when the times of refreshing come from the presence of the Lord; may we not also add, in that other language of Peter, When the day star shall arise in our hearts, or the morning star be given to the church, just previous to the advent of the Lord to usher in the glorious day? 2 Peter 1:19; Revelation 2:28. And when that hour of decision shall come, which cannot now be a great way in the future, how, reader, will it be with you? Will your sins be blotted out, and your name be retained in the book of life? or will your name be blotted out of the book of life, and your sins be left to bear their fearful record against you?
The Presentation in Glory. — “I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.” Christ taught here upon earth, that as men confessed or denied, despised or honored him here, they would be confessed or denied by him before his Father in heaven and the holy angels. Matthew 10:32, 33; Mark 8:38; Luke 12:8, 9. And who can fathom the honor of being approved before the heavenly hosts! Who can conceive the bliss of that moment when we shall be owned by the Lord of life before his Father as those who have done his will, fought the good fight, run the race, honored him before men, overcome, and whose names are worthy, through his merits, of standing upon the imperishable record of the book of life forever and ever!
7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;
8 I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.
9 Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.
10 Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.
11 Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.
12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, [which is] new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and [I will write upon him] my new name.
13 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
The word Philadelphia signifies brotherly love, and expresses the position and spirit of those who received the Advent message up to the autumn of 1844. As they came out of the sectarian churches, they left party names and party feelings behind; and every heart beat in union, as they gave the alarm to the churches and to the world, and pointed to the coming of the Son of man as the believer’s true hope. Selfishness and covetousness were laid aside, and a spirit of consecration and sacrifice was cherished. The Spirit of God was with every true believer, and his praise upon every tongue. Those who were not in that movement knew nothing of the deep searching of heart, consecration of all to God, peace, joy in the Holy Spirit, and pure, fervent love for one another, which true believers then enjoyed. Those who were in that movement are aware that language would fail to describe that holy, happy state.
The Key of David. — A key is a symbol of power. The Son of God is the rightful heir to David’s throne; and he is about to take to himself his great power, and to reign; hence he is represented as having the key of David. The throne of David, or of Christ, on which he is to reign, is included in the capital of his kingdom, the New Jerusalem, now above, but which is to be located on this earth, where he is to reign forever and ever. Revelation 21:1-5; Luke 1:32, 33.
He that Openeth, and no Man Shutteth, etc. — To understand this language, it is necessary to look at Christ’s position and work as connected with his ministry in the sanctuary, or true tabernacle above. Hebrews 8:2. A figure, or pattern, of this heavenly sanctuary once existed here upon earth in the sanctuary built by Moses. Exodus 25:8, 9; Acts 7:44; Hebrews 9:1, 21, 23, 24. The earthly building had two apartments, — the holy place and the most holy place. Exodus 26:33, 34. In the first apartment were the candlestick, the table of showbread, and the altar of incense. In the second were the ark, which contained the tables of the covenant, or ten commandments, and the cherubim. Hebrews 9:1-5. In like manner the sanctuary in which Christ ministers in heaven has two apartments. Hebrews 9:24. (See also verses 8 and 12 and chapter 10:19, in each of which texts the words rendered holiest and holy place are plural in the original, and should be rendered holy places.) And as all things were made after their pattern, the heavenly sanctuary has also furniture similar to that of the worldly. For the antitype of the golden candlestick and altar of incense, in the first apartment, see Revelation 4:5; 8:3; and for the antitype of the ark of the covenant, with its ten commandments, see Revelation 11:19. In the worldly sanctuary the priests ministered. Exodus 28:41, 43; Hebrews 9:6, 7; 13:11; etc. The ministry of these priests was a shadow of the ministry of Christ in the sanctuary in heaven. Hebrews 8:4, 5. A complete round of service was performed in the earthly tabernacle once every year. Hebrews 9:7. But in the tabernacle above the service is performed once for all. Hebrews 7:27; 9:12. At the close of the yearly typical service, the high priest entered the second apartment, the most holy place of the sanctuary, to make an atonement; and this work is called the cleansing of the sanctuary. Leviticus 16:20, 30, 33; Ezekiel 45:18. When the ministry in the most holy place commenced, that in the holy place ceased; and no service was performed there so long as the priest was engaged in the most holy place. Leviticus 16:17. A similar opening and shutting, or change of ministration, must be accomplished by Christ when the time comes for the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. And the time did come for this service to commence at the close of the 2300 days, in 1844. To this event the opening and shutting mentioned in the text under consideration can appropriately apply, the opening being the opening of his ministration in the most holy place, and the shutting, its cessation in the first apartment, or holy place. (See exposition of the subject of the sanctuary and its cleansing, under Daniel 8:14.)
Verse 9 probably applies to those who do not keep pace with the advancing light of truth, and who oppose those that do. Such shall yet be made to feel and confess that God loves those, who, not rejecting the past fulfilments of his word, nor stereotyping themselves in a creed, continue to advance in the knowledge of his truth.
The Word of My Patience. — Says John, in Revelation 14:12, “Here is the patience of the saints; here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” Those who now live in patient, faithful obedience to the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, will be kept in the hour of temptation and peril just before us. (See chapter 13:13-17.)
Behold, I Come Quickly. — The second coming of Christ is here again brought to view, and with more startling emphasis than in any of the preceding messages. The nearness of that event is here urged upon the attention of believers. The message applies to a period when that great event is impending; and in this we have most indubitable evidence of the prophetic nature of these messages. What is said of the first three churches contains no allusion to the second coming of Christ, from the fact that they do not cover a period during which that event could be Scripturally expected. But we come down to the Thyatiran church, beyond which only three comparatively brief stages of the church appear before the end, and, as though then the time had come when this great hope was just beginning to dawn upon the church, the mind is carried forward to it by a single allusion: “Hold fast till I come.” We come down to the next state of the church, the Sardis, the church which occupies a position still nearer that event, and the great proclamation is brought to view which was to herald it, and the duty of watching enjoined upon the church: “If thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief.” We reach the Philadelphian church, still further down in the stream of time, and the nearness of the same great event then leads Him who “is holy and true” to utter the stirring declaration, “Behold, I come quickly.” How evident is it from all this that these churches occupy positions successively nearer the great day of the Lord, as in each succeeding one, and in a continually increasing ratio, this great event is made more and more prominent, and is more definitely and impressively urged upon the attention of the church. Here they see indeed the day approaching. Hebrews 10:25.
Faithfulness Enjoined. — “Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” Not that by our faithfulness we are depriving any one else of a crown; but the verb rendered to take has a number of definitions, one of which is “to take away, snatch from, deprive of.” Hold fast that thou hast, that no man deprive thee of the crown of life. Let no one, and no thing, induce you to yield up the truth, or pervert you from the right ways of the Lord; for by so doing they will cause you to lose the reward.
A Pillar in the Temple. — The overcomer in this address has the promise of being made a pillar in the temple of God, and going no more out. The temple here must denote the church; and the promise of being made a pillar therein is the strongest promise that could be given of a place of honor, permanence, and safety in the church, under the figure of a heavenly building. And when the time comes that this part of the promise is fulfilled, probation with the overcomer is past; he is fully established in the truth, and sealed. “He shall go no more out;” that is, there is no more danger of his falling away; he is the Lord’s forever; his salvation is sure.
But they are to have more than this. From the moment they overcome, and are sealed for heaven, they are labeled, if we may so express it, as belonging to God and Christ, and addressed to their destination, the New Jerusalem. They are to have written upon them the name of God, whose property they are, the name of the New Jerusalem, to which place they are going, not old Jerusalem, where some are vainly looking; and they have upon them the new name of Christ, by whose authority they are to receive everlasting life, and enter into the kingdom. Thus sealed and labeled, the saints of God are safe. No enemy will be able to prevent their reaching their destination, their glorious haven of rest, Jerusalem above.
14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and [that] the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
Laodicea signifies the judging of the people, or, according to Cruden, a just people. The message to this church brings to view the closing scenes of probation. It reveals a period of judgment. It is the last stage of the church. It consequently applies to believers under the third message, the last message of mercy before the coming of Christ (see chapter 14:9-14), while the great day of atonement is transpiring, and the investigative Judgment is going forward upon the house of God, — a period during which the just and holy law of God is taken by the waiting church as their rule of life.
These Things Saith the Amen. — This is, then, the final message to the churches ere the close of probation. And though the description of their condition which he gives to the indifferent Laodiceans is fearful and startling, nevertheless it cannot be denied; for the Witness is “faithful and true.” Moreover, he is “the beginning of the creation of God.” Some understand by this language that Christ was the first created being, dating his existence anterior to that of any other created being or thing, next to the self-existent and eternal God. But the language does not necessarily imply that he was created; for the words, “the beginning of the creation,” may simply signify that the work of creation, strictly speaking, was begun by him. “Without him was not anything made.” Others, however, and more properly we think, take the word ἀρχὴ to mean the “agent” or “efficient cause,” which is one of the definitions of the word, understanding that Christ is the agent through whom God has created all things, but that he himself came into existence in a different manner, as he is called “the only begotten” of the Father. It would seem utterly inappropriate to apply this expression to any being created in the ordinary sense of that term. For “beginning,” read “beginner.”
The charge he brings against the Laodiceans is that they are lukewarm, neither cold nor hot. They lack that religious fervency, zeal, and devotion, which their position in the world’s closing history, with the light of prophecy beaming upon their pathway, demands that they should manifest; and this lukewarmness is shown by a lack of good works; for it is from a knowledge of their works that the faithful and true Witness brings this fearful charge against them.
I Would Thou Wert Cold or Hot. — Three states are brought to view in this message, — the cold, the lukewarm, and the hot. It is important to determine what condition they each denote, in order to guard against wrong conclusions. Three conditions of spiritual life which pertain to the church, not to the world, are to be considered. What the term hot means it is not difficult to conceive. The mind at once calls Up a state of intense fervency and zeal, when all the affections, raised to the highest pitch, are drawn out for God and his cause, and manifest themselves in corresponding works. To be lukewarm is to lack this zeal, to be in a state in which heart and earnestness are wanting; in which there is no self-denial that costs anything, no cross-bearing that is felt, no determined witnessing for Christ, and no valiant aggression that keeps sinews strained and armor bright; and, worst of all, it implies entire satisfaction with that condition. But to be cold — what is that? Does it denote a state of corruption, wickedness, and sin, such as characterizes the world of unbelievers? We cannot so regard it, for the following reasons: --
1. It would seem harsh and repulsive to represent Christ as wishing, under any circumstances, that persons should be in such a condition; but he says, “I would thou wert cold or hot.”
2. No state can be more offensive to Christ than that of the sinner in open rebellion, and his heart filled with every evil. It would therefore be incorrect to represent him as preferring that state to any position which his people can occupy while they are still retained as his.
3. The threat of rejection in verse 16 is because they are neither cold nor hot. As much as to say that if they were either cold or hot, they would not be rejected. But if by cold is meant a state of open worldly wickedness, they would be rejected therefor very speedily. Hence such cannot be its meaning.
We are consequently forced to the conclusion that by this language our Lord has no reference whatever to those outside of his church, but that he refers to three degrees of spiritual affections, two of which are more acceptable to him than the third. Heat and cold are preferable to lukewarmness. But what kind of a spiritual state is denoted by the term cold? We may remark first that it is a state of feeling. In this respect it is superior to lukewarmness, which is a state of comparative insensibility, indifference, and supreme self-satisfaction. To be hot is also to be in a state of feeling. And as hot denotes joyous fervency, and a lively exercise of all the affections, with a heart buoyant with the sensible presence and love of God, so by cold would seem to be denoted a spiritual condition characterized by a destitution of these traits, yet one in which the individual feels such destitution, and longs to recover his lost treasures. This state is well expressed by the language of Job, “O that I knew where I might find him!” Job 23:3. In this state there is not indifference, nor is there content; but there is a sense of coldness, unfitness, and discomfort, and a groping and seeking after something better. There is hope of a person in this condition. What a man feels that he lacks and wants, he will earnestly strive to obtain. The most discouraging feature of the lukewarm is that they are conscious of no lack, and feel that they have need of nothing. Hence it is easy to see why our Lord should prefer to behold his church in a state of comfortless coldness, rather than in a state of comfortable, easy, indifferent lukewarmness. Cold, a person will not long remain. His efforts will soon lead him to the fervid state. But lukewarm, there is danger of his remaining till the faithful and true Witness is obliged to reject him as a nauseous and loathsome thing.
I Will Spue Thee out of My Mouth. — Here the figure is still further carried out, and the rejection of the lukewarm expressed by the nauseating effects of tepid water. And this denotes a final rejection, an utter separation from his church.
Rich, and Increased with Goods. — Such the Laodiceans think is their condition. They are not hypocrites, because they “know not” that they are poor, miserable, blind, and naked.
The Counsel Given Them. — Buy of me, says the true Witness, gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich, and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see. This shows at once to the deceived Laodiceans the objects they lack, and the extent of their destitution. It shows, too, where they can obtain those things in which they are so fearfully poor; it brings before them the necessity of speedily obtaining them. The case is so urgent that our great Advocate in the court above sends us special counsel on the point; and the fact that he who has condescended to point out our lack, and counsel us to buy, is the one who has these things to bestow, and invites us to come to him for them, is the best possible guarantee that our application will be respected, and our requests granted.
But by what means can we buy these things? — Just as we buy all other gospel graces. “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Isaiah 55:1. We thus buy by the asking; buy by throwing away the worthless baubles of earth, and receiving priceless treasures in their stead; buy by simply coming and receiving; buy, giving nothing in return. And what do we buy on these gracious terms? — Bread that perishes not, spotless raiment that soils not, riches that corrupt not, and an inheritance that fadeth not. Strange traffic, this! yet thus the Lord condescends to deal with his people. He might compel us to come in the manner and with the mien of beggars; but instead of this he gives us the treasures of his grace, and in return receives our worthlessness, that we may take the blessings he has to bestow, not as pittances dealt out to mendicants, but as the legitimate possessions of honorable purchase.
The things to be obtained demand especial notice. They are enumerated as follows: --
1. Gold Tried in the Fire. — Gold, literally considered, is the comprehensive name for all worldly wealth and riches. Figuratively, it must denote that which constitutes spiritual riches. What grace, then, is represented by the gold, or, rather, what graces? for doubtless no one single grace can be said to answer to the full import of that term. The Lord said to the church of Smyrna that he knew their poverty, but they were rich; and the testimony shows that their riches consisted of that which was finally to put them in possession of a crown of life. Says James, “Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith; and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?” “Faith,” says Paul, “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” To be “rich toward God,” — rich in the spiritual sense, — is to have a clear title to the promises, — to be an heir of that inheritance which is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us. “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:29. And how do we obtain this heirship? — In the same way that Abraham obtained the promise; that is, through faith. Romans 4:13, 14. No wonder, then, that Paul should devote an entire chapter in Hebrews (chapter 11) to this important subject, setting forth the mighty achievements that have been accomplished, and the precious promises that have been obtained, through faith; and that he should, in the first verse of the next chapter, as the grand conclusion to his argument, exhort Christians to lay aside every weight, and the sin (of unbelief) that so easily besets them. Nothing will sooner dry up the springs of spirituality, and sink us into utter poverty in reference to the things of the kingdom of God, than to let faith go out and unbelief come in. For faith must enter into every action that is pleasing in his sight; and in coming to him, the first thing is to believe that he is; and it is through faith, as the chief agent under the grace which is the gift of God, that we are to be saved. Hebrews 11:6; Ephesians 2:8.
From this it would seem that faith is a principal element of spiritual wealth. But if, as already remarked, no one grace can answer to the full import of the term gold, so, doubtless, other things are included with faith. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for,” says Paul. Hence hope is an inseparable accompaniment of faith. Hebrews 11:1; Romans 8:24, 25. And again Paul tells us that faith works by love, and speaks in another place of being “rich in good works.” Galatians 5:6; 1 Timothy 6:18. Hence love cannot be separated from faith. We then have before us the three objects associated together by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, — faith, hope, and charity, or love; and the greatest of these is charity. Such is the gold tried by fire which we are counseled to buy.
2. White Raiment. — On this point there would not seem to be much room for controversy. A few texts will furnish a key to the understanding of this expression. Says the prophet, Isaiah 64:6, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” We are counseled to buy the opposite of filthy rags, which would be complete and spotless raiment. The same figure is used in Zechariah 3:3, 4. And John, in the 19th chapter of the Revelation, verse 8, says plainly that “the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.”
3. The Eye-salve. — On this there is as little room for a diversity of opinion as upon the white raiment. The anointing of the eyes is certainly not to be taken in a literal sense; and, reference being made to spiritual things, the eye-salve must denote that by which our spiritual discernment is quickened. There is but one agent revealed to us in the word of God by which this is accomplished, and that is the Holy Spirit. In Acts 10:38 we read that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost.” And the same writer through whom came this Revelation from Jesus Christ, wrote to the church in his first epistle (chapter 2:20) as follows: “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” In verse 27 he enlarges upon this point thus: “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” By referring to his Gospel, it is found that the work which he here sets forth as accomplished by the anointing is exactly the same that he there attributes to the Holy Spirit. John 14:26: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (See also John 16:13.)
Thus in a formal and solemn manner are we counseled by the faithful and true witness, under the figures of gold, white raiment, and eye-salve, to seek from him, speedily and earnestly, an increase of the heavenly graces of faith, hope, charity, that righteousness which he alone can furnish, and an unction from the Holy Spirit. But how is it possible that a people lacking these things should think themselves rich and increased with goods? A plausible inference may here be drawn, which is perhaps also a necessary one, as there is room for no other. It will be observed that no fault is found with the Laodiceans on account of the doctrines they hold. They are not accused of harboring any Jezebel in their midst, or of countenancing the doctrines of Balaam or the Nicolaitanes. So far as we can learn from the address to them, their belief is correct, and their theory sound. The inference therefore is that having a correct theory, therewith they are content. They are satisfied with a correct form of doctrine without its power. Having received light concerning the closing events of this dispensation, and having a correct theoretical knowledge of the truths that pertain to the last generation of men, they are inclined to rest in this to the neglect of the spiritual part of religion. It is by their actions, doubtless, not by their words, that they say they are rich, and increased with goods. Having so much light and so much truth, what can they want besides? And if, with a commendable tenacity, they defend the theory, and in the letter, so far as their outward life is concerned, conform to the increasing light upon the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, is not their righteousness complete? Rich, and increased with goods, and needing nothing! Here is their failure. Their whole being should cry out for the spirit, the zeal, the fervency, the life, the power, of a living Christianity, and their righteousness should consist in a swallowing up of self and all its works in the merits of their Redeemer.
The Token of Love. — This, strange as it may seem, is chastisement. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” If we are without chastisement, we are not sons. Hebrews 12. “A general law,” says Thompson, “of his gracious economy is here set forth. As all need chastisement in some measure, they in some measure receive it, and thus have proof of the Saviour’s attachment. This is a hard lesson to learn, and believers are dull scholars; yet here and throughout God’s word and providence it stands, that trials are his benedictions, and that no child escapes the rod. The incorrigibly misshapen and coarse-grained blocks are rejected, while those chosen for the glorious structure are subjected to the chisel and the hammer. There is no cluster on the true vine but must pass through the winepress. ‘For myself,’ said an old divine under affliction, ‘for myself, I bless God I have observed and felt so much mercy in this angry dispensation of God that I am almost transported. I am, sure, highly pleased with thinking how infinitely sweet his mercies are, when his judgments are so gracious.’ In view, then, of the origin and design of the chastisements you receive, ‘Be zealous and repent.’ Lose no time; lose not a blow of the rod, but repent at once. Be fervent in spirit. Such is the first appliance of encouragement.”
Be Zealous and Repent. — Although, as we have seen, the state represented by coldness is preferable to one of lukewarmness, yet that is not a state in which our Lord ever desires to find us. We are never exhorted to seek that state. There is a far better one which we are counseled to attain; and that is to be zealous, to be fervent, and to have our hearts all aglow in the service of our Master.
Christ Knocking at the Door. — Let us listen again to the author above quoted: “Here is the heart of hearts. Notwithstanding their offensive attitude, their unlovely character, such is his love to their souls that he humbles himself to solicit the privilege of making them blessed. ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock.’ Why does he? Not because he is without home elsewhere. Among the mansions in his Father’s house there is not one entrance closed to him. He is the life of every heart, the light in every eye, the song on every tongue, in glory. But he goes round from door to door in Laodicea. He stands at each, and knocks, because he came to seek and to save that which is lost, because he cannot give up the purpose of communicating eternal life to as many as the Father has given him, and because he cannot become known to the inmate unless the door be opened and a welcome given him. Have you bought a piece of ground? have you bought five yoke of oxen? is your hat in your hand, and do you pray to be excused? He knocks and knocks. But you cannot receive company at present; you are worn out with labor; you have wheeled round the sofa; you are making yourself comfortable, and send word that you are engaged. He knocks and knocks. ... It is the hour for church prayer-meeting or for monthly concert; there is opportunity to pay a Christian visit to an individual or a family; but you move not. ... Oh, nauseous lukewarmness! Oh, fatal worldliness! The Lord of glory comes all the way from his celestial palace — comes in poverty, in sweat, in blood — comes to the door of a professed friend, who owes all to him, and cannot get in! — comes to rescue a man whose house is on fire, and he will not admit him! Oh, the hight, the depth, of Jesus Christ’s forbearance! Even the heathen Publius received Paul, and lodged him three days courteously. Shall nominal Christians tell the Lord of apostles that they have no room for him?”
If Any Man Hear My Voice. — The Lord entreats, then, as well as knocks. And the word if implies that some will not hear. Though he stands and knocks and entreats till his locks are wet with the dews of night, yet some will close their ears to his tender entreaties. But it is not enough simply to hear. We must hear, and open the door. And many who at first hear the voice, and for a time feel inclined to heed, will doubtless, alas! fail in the end to do that which is necessary to secure to themselves the communion of the heavenly Guest. Reader, are your ears open to the entreaties which the Saviour directs to you? Is the sound of his voice a welcome sound? Will you heed it? Will you open the door and let him in? Or is the door of your heart held fast by heaps of this world’s rubbish, which you are unwilling to remove? Remember that the Lord of life never forces an entrance. He condescends to come and knock, and seek admittance; but he takes up his abode in those hearts only where he is then a welcome and invited guest.
And then the promise! “I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” How forcible and touching the figure! Friend with friend, partaking of the cheerful and social meal! Mind with mind, holding free and intimate converse! And what a festal scene must that be where the King of glory is a guest! No common degree of union, no ordinary blessing, no usual privilege, is denoted by this language. Who, under such tender entreaty and so gracious a promise, can remain indifferent? Nor are we required to furnish the table for this exalted Guest. This he does himself, not with the gross nutriment of earth, but with viands from his own heavenly storehouse. Here he sets before us foretastes of the glory soon to be revealed. Here he gives us earnests of our future inheritance, which is incorruptible, undefiled, and fadeth not away. Verily, when we shall comply with the conditions, and receive this promise, we shall experience the rising of the day star in our hearts, and behold the dawn of a glorious morning for the church of God.
The Final Promise. — The promise of supping with his disciples is made by the Lord before the final promise to the overcomer is given. This shows that the blessings included in that promise are to be enjoyed in this probationary state. And now, superadded to all these, is the promise to the overcomer: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” Here the promises of the Lord culminate. From being at first rebellious, and then fallen, degraded, and polluted, man is brought by the work of the Redeemer back into reconciliation with God, cleansed from his pollutions, redeemed from the fall, made immortal, and finally raised to a seat upon the very throne of his Saviour. Honor and exaltation could go no farther. Human minds cannot conceive that state, human language cannot describe it. We can only labor on till, if overcomers at last, we shall “know what it is to be there.”
In this verse there is not only a glorious promise, but there is also an important doctrine. We learn by this that Christ reigns consecutively upon two thrones. One is the throne of his Father, the other is his own throne. He declares in this verse that he has overcome, and is now set down with his Father in his throne. He is now associated with the Father in the throne of universal dominion, placed at his right hand, far above all principality, power, might, and dominion. Ephesians 1:20-22, etc. While in this position, he is a priest-king. He is a priest, “a minister of the sanctuary;” but at the same time he is “on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.” Hebrews 8:1, 2. This position and work of our Lord was thus predicted by the prophet Zechariah: “And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts [God], saying, Behold the man whose name is the Branch [Christ]; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord. ... And he [Christ] shall sit and rule upon his [God’s] throne; and he [Christ] shall be a priest upon his [God’s] throne; and the counsel of peace [in the sacrifice and priestly work of Christ in behalf of repenting man] shall be between them both.” Zechariah 6:12, 13. But the time is coming when he is to change his position, and, leaving the throne of his Father, take his own throne; and this must be when the time comes for the reward of the overcomers; for when they enter upon their reward, they are to sit with Christ on his throne, as he has overcome, and is now seated with the Father upon his throne. This change in the position of Christ is set forth by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, as follows: --
“Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.”
The truths taught in this portion of Scripture may perhaps be most briefly expressed by a slight paraphrase, and by giving, in every instance, instead of the pronouns, the nouns to which they respectively refer. Thus: --
“Then cometh the end (of the present dispensation), when Christ shall have delivered up the kingdom (which he now holds conjointly with the Father) to God, even the Father; when God shall have put down all rule and all authority and power (that is opposed to the work of the Son). For Christ must reign (on the throne of his Father) till the Father hath put all enemies under Christ’s feet. [See Psalms 110:1.] The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For God (then) hath put all things under Christ’s feet. But when God saith, All things are put under Christ (and he commences his reign upon his own throne), it is manifest that God is excepted, who did put all things under Christ. And when all things shall be subdued unto Christ, then shall Christ also himself be subject unto God that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.”
That this is a correct version of this scripture may be easily verified. The only question that can be raised is concerning the persons to whom the pronouns refer; and any attempt to make the pronouns refer to Christ which in the foregoing paraphrase are referred to God, will be found, when traced through the quotation, to make poor sense of Paul’s language.
From this it will be seen that the kingdom which Christ delivers up to the Father is that which he holds at the present time upon his Father’s throne, where he tells us he is now seated. He delivers up this kingdom at the end of this dispensation, when the time comes for him to take his own throne. After this, he reigns on the throne of his father David, and is subject only to God, who still retains his position upon the throne of universal dominion. In this reign of Christ the saints participate. “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne.” “And they lived,” says John, dating from the first resurrection (chapter 20:4), “and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” This we understand to be a special reign, or for a special purpose, as will be noticed in that chapter; for the actual reign of the saints is to be “forever and ever.” Daniel 7:18, 27. How can any earthly object divert our gaze from this durable and heavenly prospect?
Thus close the messages to the seven churches. How pointed and searching their testimony! What lessons do they contain for all Christians in all ages! It is as true with the last church as with the first, that all their works are known to Him who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. From his scrutinizing gaze nothing can be hidden. And while his threatenings to the hypocrites and evil workers, as in justice they may be, are awful, how ample, how comforting, how gracious, how glorious, his promises to those who love and follow him with singleness of heart!
Gracious words of counsel, messages of love,
Sent to all his children from the Lord on high;
Precious are these warnings from the throne above,
As the world’s last crisis swiftly draweth nigh.
Weak and all unworthy we, his children, are --
Pure and perfect must be ere we see his face;
Now for us the Saviour shows his tender care,
Offering for our purchase every heavenly grace.
Let each boundless promise every bosom thrill,
Bear us through sad ills this world has ever known,
Till we reach the mansions on God’s holy hill,
Till we sit with Jesus on his glorious throne.