"Ye have reigned as kings without us."
As I have already said, we have here the full, ripe fruit of the Church's declension. We have, in a sense, the perfect development, the full corn in the ear, ready for the sickle of judgment at His coming again — a coming first announced here in these addresses. The ripe fruit tells us what the tree is the end tells us what the thing has been from the beginning. If we look at the church of Thyatira, or rather at the woman Jezebel, we shall see that in every way Christ's word and Christ's person are superseded by her. It is the Church that is the teacher and not Christ; and the Church has slipped into the throne and is reigning upon the earth before the Lord's time has come to reign — that is, in the sense in which alone His saints could share the Kingdom with Him.
We shall see directly that there is a sense in which He reigns now. But this is not a throne which the Lord can share with His saints. That throne is yet to be set up, and the Church reigning in the meanwhile without Christ is really reigning in His despite, fulfilling the words addressed long before to the church at Corinth: "Ye have reigned as kings without us." They had left the apostles out, and were reigning, with these still suffering. They were not reigning. "I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last," says one of these, "as it were appointed unto death, for we are a spectacle unto the world, to angels, and to men" (1 Cor. 4:9).
The apostles certainly, whatever may be true of their successors, did not reign. They disclaimed it in the fullest possible way. And the whole of the New Testament is against the idea of any reigning now until the Lord Himself comes, and takes that throne, which, as I said before, He can share with His people.
But let us look now at this state of things in Thyatira, and we shall see how it is in fact a perfect denial, I may say, of two grand features of Christianity. These two grand features are, Christ's absence as rejected and the Church being a mourner until He returns, on the one hand; and, on the other, the supremacy of the Holy Ghost, meanwhile, as come down into the world to represent the Lord Jesus Christ. These are really the two forms of denial which you see in a glaring way in the church of Rome — the woman Jezebel. These are the two things prominently denied there. She reigns, in her thought, rightly even over kings, — Christ Himself not being here but still rejected, — and there is a vicar of Christ, a human vicar in place of the divine One. Jezebel has usurped the authority and attributes of the divine One. She reigns, instead of being subject; and her infallibility becomes her practical denial of His.
Let us look at these two things. In the first place, however, let us be clear that the Lord does reign now. I do not mean to deny that, as a truth, but on the contrary assert it in the fullest way. There is a Kingdom — the Kingdom of heaven now. Do not let us fall into the mistake that the Kingdom of heaven does not exist now. It does exist, although it exists in a form of which the prophets of the Old Testament knew nothing. It exists in that form called in the thirteenth of Matthew the "Mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven." This mystery-form is a form which the prophets and spiritual men of old knew nothing of, and said nothing about. It was hidden from ages and generations. As you find in the same chapter that the Lord spake in parables, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, "I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret since the foundation of the world."
That is what we have here: what has been kept secret from the foundation of the world. The Kingdom was not a secret. It was clear enough that Messiah was to have a kingdom, and sit upon the throne. But the throne and Kingdom in the form in which we now have it, (the Son of God sitting upon the Father's throne, — not the Son of man sitting on His own, a human throne, — but the Son of God sitting upon His Father's throne) is not Old Testament doctrine. And a Kingdom with the King rejected and absent, and true disciples suffering instead of reigning, is an equally strange thought there.
You will find, if you look at the end of the third chapter of Revelation, the Lord reminds Laodicea: "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me on My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne." And the moment you think of that, — the Son of God on the Father's throne, you will see He could not share that throne with His disciples. None of us could sit upon the Father's throne! and thus although it is quite true He is reigning now, it is not true that His disciples are reigning with Him now. It is false, utterly false. He is reigning now on the Father's throne, and we are translated, as you have it in the first chapter of the epistle to the Colossians: "Translated into the Kingdom of His dear Son" (13th ver.), not of the Son of man, but of God's dear Son.
You will notice in the appearing of the Lord, in the day of His manifestation, that it is as the Son of man He appears. "You shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven." That introduces the Kingdom of the Son of man. And going back to Daniel, you will see in the seventh chapter, how the Son of man comes and receives a kingdom. Again in the first part of this book of Revelation, in the first chapter, it is One like the Son of man who walks in the midst of the candlesticks, and who speaks therefore as such to Laodicea.
Now, when the Son of man takes His own throne, as such, He has got a throne to share with His people. He will have His people to share that throne with Him: but in the meanwhile to speak of sharing His throne is utter ignorance; none but Himself can fill God's — the Father's, throne. That is the throne He has now as the Son of God. His own throne is as the Son of man, and then, and then alone, we reign with Him.
Now that at once gives us clearly the present state of things. In the meanwhile what have we here? Why, suffering, as a matter of course. The King is rejected, although on the throne of God. God has placed Him there, until His enemies are made His footstool, and that, however shortly it may be, is not so yet.
You will find the second psalm full of that thought. That psalm, you will remember, the apostle quotes in the beginning of the Acts as true of the Lord in that day, when the whole world was linked together, the nations and the people of Israel too, against the King whom God had anointed on the holy hill of Zion — the King of the Jews. But death cannot hold Him: He is taken up out of the sealed-up sepulchre. "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh" (Ps. 2:4) — that is where He is sitting, "in the heavens." "Then shall He speak unto them in His wrath, and vex them in His sore displeasure" (Ps. 2:6). Then God's voice comes out; "Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion." And the Lord says: "I will declare the decree; the Lord hath said unto Me, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee;" — that is as man. "today I have begotten Thee" would not be applicable to the Lord as the Only-begotten of the Father. It is only true of Him as born upon the earth. "Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession: Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron." A very striking word we have there: that word "rule." The words in this second chapter of Revelation are evidently taken from that second psalm. That ruling, though with a rod of iron, is really shepherding. In the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew the quotation from Micah gives the same thought: "And thou, Bethlehem, . . . out of thee shall come a Governor that shall rule My people Israel." It is the same expression, "shall shepherd My people Israel." Out of Bethlehem God's shepherd-king had come before, king David, the very type of Christ: and where He rules with a rod of iron, that is yet a shepherd's care and love. Love, if need be, can strike. It is a mistake to imagine any inconsistency in this. The "rod of iron" is for preservation no less than for destruction: nay, preservation is the end in view; it is to "destroy them that destroy the earth," and to make even the earth a place where peace will flourish as the effect of righteousness.
"Ask of Me," Jehovah says, and He has not asked; — He is still sitting in patience, and we are therefore, as the apostle John, "in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ" (Rev. 1:9). His long-suffering is now salvation. When it is over, and delay would be, not blessing, not long-suffering, but weakness, it is with the rod of iron that He takes the ends of the earth for His possession, — not, as people imagine, with the gospel. The twenty-sixth of Isaiah shows that grace has been tried, and found ineffectual. The gospel has been going out for centuries and had no effect in converting the mass of mankind. When the Lord comes, this confederacy of the nations against Him will be showing itself in its full character, as the psalm depicts it. They will be saying more than ever, "Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us." And "then shall He speak unto them in His wrath, and vex them in His sore displeasure." He will use, in contrast with grace, the iron rod; and here He associates His people with Himself: "And he that overcometh and keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations, and he shall shepherd them with a rod of iron," — the same word — "as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers, even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star" (vers. 25, 27, 28).
There you have what we are waiting for. In the meanwhile, to have a kingdom, to pretend to rule, or to have the upper hand in a world where Satan is really god and prince is only necessarily to compromise with Satan. We may be sure that he who offered the Lord all the kingdoms of the earth and the glory of them, would not be slow to tempt His people somewhat after the same fashion. And so he has done. But the Church has not been faithful as the Lord was. She has been flattered into believing the world was growing better, when she ought to be ashamed of being less distasteful to it than He was, and has accepted the thought of a Millennium with Christ absent and the devil here.
When the Millennium really comes, and before you hear of the saints' reign, the reign of Satan comes to an end. Satan is bound, and cast into the bottomless pit, and shut up for the thousand years. There is no reigning of Satan then, — no allowing Satan to reign while the Lord is reigning. Christ is coming to put down all opposition and have undisputed sway. As a consequence you will find that a real belief in the Lord's coming is thus a very practical thing.
If, on the other hand, we believe that on the whole the world is going on well, and its conversion by the gospel progressing, how can it but affect all our estimate of its character, and our need of separation from it? How then could we speak of the world as a thing to be overcome — a scene in which all that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution? Did they bare the cross in past generations that we might wear the crown today? Thus the whole character of the Christian life is in this respect changed.
The Lord Himself shows the usurpation of authority, and worldly ways, to be the effect of putting off His corning: "If that evil servant shall say in his heart, my Lord delayeth His coming" — what then? "And shall begin to smite his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken," — there is already what is only perfected in Jezebel.
The time of the Church's reign therefore was necessarily the time of its worst corruption. Men call it the Dark Ages," It was a very distinct step beyond the Pergamos condition we were looking at before. There, if the Church were united to the world, she was not as yet its mistress. On the contrary, the Christian emperors were the rulers, convoked councils, placed and displaced bishops, and had in every way the upper hand. So that the Church became, for her own interests no doubt, but still — a mere tool in their hands.
Again, in the churches of the Reformation, (so far as they were established churches) there the rulers of the State obtained ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and became heads of the Church in their respective countries. This was evil, a terrible evil, but it is not Jezebel. Jezebel had her foot (and in theory always has her foot) upon the necks of kings — and distinctly quoted Scripture for her supremacy: the very same Scripture too that people are quoting now in behalf of what they call a spiritual millennium. The promises of the Old Testament to an earthly people, (which the apostle in the ninth chapter of Romans claims as belonging to Israel still) these promises are spiritualized, as they call it, by being applied to the Church. In our Authorized Version you may find such applications constantly in the headings of chapters and of pages also. But the spiritualizing of the prophecies is, in fact, the carnalizing of the Church. For the promises are not spiritualized. The earthly is not translated into the heavenly, but earthly promises are applied as such to a heavenly people, — with what possible effect but that of making the people earthly?
Do not mistake me. If as Christians, we are "blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus," we are entitled to lay hold of every spiritual blessing, and by faith claim it as our own. Thus if God said to a saint of old, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee," the apostle tells us that so we may boldly say, "The Lord is my helper." The promises to Moses or to Joshua we may apply to ourselves. This does not take them from those to whom they were addressed, nor does it authorize us in applying promises as to headship in the earth and such like in the same way. "All spiritual blessings in heavenly places" sufficiently distinguishes our portion.
That is not confined to Rome: it is everywhere. Rome has acted it out to the full; Rome has given us the ripe fruit and what has the fruit been? What has her reign been? As you know, so far as she actually fulfilled this, it was a reign of terror for all God's real saints. They were hunted into the dens and caves of the earth, to escape the power of what called itself "The Church." Babylon, as we have it in the seventeenth chapter of this book, drunken with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. That is how she used the power which she claims.
But as I said, we cannot leave this there. We cannot say, That is Popery; we have nothing to do with it. The principles are all around us in the present day. We may have given up the fruits of the doctrine, but have we renounced the doctrine itself? Have we taken these words of the Lord as true and applicable — now as ever — "if any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whosoever shall save his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it." These words are as true this day as in the day in which they were uttered. Have we apprehended them? Have we accepted the alternative, — the principles of His kingdom now, in the time of His patience?
What remains for us, then? — the cross! The glory beyond and the cross by the way are principles which the Lord connects together; and rough as the path may be, it is alone the path where the glory shines. God has "called us by glory and virtue." "Virtue" here is "courage," needed for the difficulties of the way. We are "strengthened with all might, according to the power of His glory, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness; giving thanks unto the Father who hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." Israel's desert pilgrimage is the figure of our walk of faith over a soil where nothing naturally grows for us; our bread, — our sustenance, — has to come from heaven; the track of glory is traced on barren sands. Nay more, it is an enemy's country; circumstances are against us; the world is against us. We can purchase even a truce only by unfaithfulness. We are the descendants of martyrs and confessors. We are the followers of One whom the world crucified, and who has left us an example that we should follow His steps in the midst of those inwardly as hostile as ever, even beneath the garb of Christianity itself. His own words warn us: "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. If ye were of the world the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore Both the world hate you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his Lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also."
Has new light in the present century dispelled these things as illusions? or are these things really true of us? Would it not be well to ask ourselves here tonight: What cross do I carry? — Do I carry any? People have got so low, that they talk about taking up their cross in getting up to speak in meetings sometimes. And if that is not our thought, yet how far do we apprehend that there is a cross at all? The common trials which come upon us as men, as in the flesh still, are not the cross. The cross is what is ours as Christians, and it still is ours, so far as we are are practically Christians.
The Lord has not changed His thoughts, because the Church has bought her peace with the world by shameful compromise. No, they remain there in the Word, just as sharp, clear, and unmistakable as ever they were. And those who can read these passages to mean their entire opposite, have lost the power to interpret Scripture — or, rather, Scripture has lost its true power over them.
A few words now about another thing.
If the Church reigns in the absence of Christ, why then there must be something representing Him down here. He must have a vicar. He is not present (even the world cannot mistake that) except spiritually. He is at God's right hand. That is the common faith of Christianity, and it is the faith even of Rome, — although in spite of that her altars are continually proclaiming Him corporally present; the faith of Christianity is that Christ is away. But a visible kingdom requires a visible head. And I need not tell you that such they have given it. The Pope is, for Rome, Christ's vicar; it is the natural development of the thought of church-government which historically preceded and led on to it; and which extends far beyond Rome. Presbyterianism, Prelacy, Popery, are but three steps in the same direction. Apostles are no more; and the Church is orphaned, if not governed in a visible manner. Hierarchical government in some form is a necessity to it.
Now the Lord has indeed a Vicar during His absence — a perfect, infallible Guide for His people, as well as a guide-book absolutely perfect. The Church has not only a perfect body of discipline, but One also who is the Interpreter and Administrator of it. It is the characteristic of God's people, that "as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." So distinctive and so wonderful a blessing is the presence of the Holy Ghost with us now, that, although the disciples in our Lord's day were blessed, by the fact of His presence with them, beyond all the generations previous, yet He could say to them, "It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away the Comforter will not come unto you, but if I depart I will send Him unto you."
His presence in the believer makes even his body the temple of the Holy Ghost. So His presence in the Church makes it also "the temple of the living God." Looking at the Church again as the body of Christ, He is the One Spirit animating the body. As all the members move under the control of the spirit in the natural body, so in the body of Christ also. If the members do not understand and move in harmonious subjection to the spirit, we speak of it as disease; and it is not less, but more truly so in the body of Christ.
If we open the Acts, we shall find everywhere His presence — greater than apostles, higher than the highest there. From the day of His descent at Pentecost, He is supreme over all; and that supremacy becomes the harmony of action, the unity of spirit in the assembly. Sovereignly He calls instruments as He will, and as sovereignly uses whom He calls. "Separate Me Barnabas and Saul," He says to the prophets and teachers at Antioch, "to the work whereunto I have called them . . . And they being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia." How strange to read as power conferred on man to convey office what is really the naming of individuals by the Spirit Himself, as called and sent forth by Him: one of them being the man who asserts his own apostleship to be "not of men nor by man"!
"Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, . . . they assayed to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit suffered them not." "And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days, who said to Paul by the Spirit that he should not go up to Jerusalem." Not ordinarily indeed, perhaps not often, was the bidding of the Spirit expressed as audibly; but the manner of communication was but circumstantial, and not of the essence of the matter. He was present, Comforter, Guide, Teacher, Witness; Spirit of the body, "dividing to every man severally as He will;" a divine Person, with divine power and divine authority.
Yet unseen! I grant the fatal flaw in all this for most. The Bible they can see, but it is not definite enough. The Spirit of God they cannot see, and alas, cannot believe in, in a practical way. "Whom the world cannot receive," says the Lord Himself, of the Holy Ghost, "because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him." And when the line between the Church and the world is gone, who can wonder that this unbelief should be permeating the mass of what is professedly Christ's? It is not only Rome that refuses to the blessed Spirit the place He has come to fill. The unbelief which has denied the sufficiency of Scripture, and supplemented it by creeds which come soon to supplant it, has denied in the same way the sufficiency of the Holy Ghost, and supplemented His authority with hierarchical governments to which, whatever the theory, He is practically unnecessary.
If you ask people what they mean by church-government, you will get various answers, no doubt; but they will all agree substantially in one thing. That one thing is, in an omission of what is indeed the key-stone of the arch. They will tell you, some, that they believe in an Episcopal form of government; some a Presbyterian; some a Congregational. And if you ask them further, Where do they put the Holy Ghost, you will find the mass of people even denying any special presence of the Holy Ghost as characterizing this dispensation. They will tell you, so far truly, that the Spirit of God has always been acting in the world from the creation of it; that the new birth has always been His work from Abel, or from Adam to this time. They believe too, in certain special gifts at the day of Pentecost, and for some time thereafter. But a distinctive "coming" in the place of Christ, a coming so important in character that it was expedient even for Christ to go away, that we might have it, they do not understand, and do not believe in. One well-known man, an Evangelical divine, Dr. Hugh McNeile, of Liverpool, when he had to admit that a personal "coming" of the Holy Ghost after the ascension of Christ, was taught in the Word, could only account for it by the supposition that, during the Lord's lifetime upon earth, all the operation of the Spirit was limited to Himself alone, so that the three and thirty years of our Lord's presence, were years in which no conversions could take place at all, — a barren time in the world's history, and utter desolation otherwise of spiritual influences!
Thus you will find that the radical faith in the Holy Ghost's presence now is scarcely faith in a Person. It is "influence," like rain, or dew, or gentle breeze, — and these are true and scriptural figures so far, but quite impersonal. They talk of a "measure of the Spirit," and every fresh stirring of heart they find is a fresh "baptism" of the Spirit. The evident and necessary result is that they lose the first requisite for faith in Him as one come down to take charge for Christ on earth, to dwell as God in the house of God, to animate and govern the body of Christ, as the spirit in man guides and governs the natural body.
Hence church-government in people's minds has nothing to do really with His presence here. Bishops, priests, and deacons may need, and of course do need, His influences. So in theory does the Pope. But practically the ordering of things is (within certain limits, whether of church-tradition or of Scripture, so far as Scripture is supposed to serve) in human hands, and subject to human wills. "The Church has power to decree rites and ceremonies, and authority in controversies of faith." "And those [ministers] we ought to judge lawfully called and sent, which be chosen and called to this work by men who have public authority given unto them in the congregation, to call and send ministers into the. Lord's vineyard." But the Holy Ghost may not have "called or sent" them! Well, of course; and that is provided for: for "although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ's, and do minister by His commission and authority, we may use their ministry, both in hearing of the word of God, and receiving of the sacrament"!!
Thus they may have Christ's commission although the Holy Ghost had) not "called or sent" them; Christ and the Holy Ghost are made to be at issue; and the Church can go on ordering and ordaining in despite of the Spirit Himself!
And this is order; while those who desire to yield subjection to the Word and Spirit of God alone are convicted of being rebels against proper authority, and sure to end in confusion and (as some have said) in "atoms"! Yet faith will follow where God leads, owning indeed that in His path all will be confusion that is not subjection; and that, leave Him out, we at least have no resource. Let it be so. We will abide the issue.
To churches constructed after a human pattern the government appointed by God could not possibly adapt itself. The only possible one must be available for spiritual and unspiritual, believers and unbelievers alike. The world ever really says, "We do not so much as know whether there be a Holy Ghost," and counts the talk about Him as mysticism, and faith in Him as fanaticism and confusion. But faith, to be faith, must be in the unseen. In the unequal yoke of faith and unbelief, believers must descend to the level of their yoke-fellows. Unbelief cannot rise up to faith. Faith therefore must descend to unbelief. That, alas, has happened.
The effects of all this we have had before us already in some respects. The principles which have led to them are prolific in evil, but it is the principles themselves that are occupying us now. Rome, to which in this epistle we have reached, exhibits whereto the course of departure from God tended from the beginning. He who rules the course of this world has ruled it, and now it is seen clearly to be the adversary's deliberate assault upon the truth of God. The rejection of Christ by the world, he has made us forget, in the world's embraces; the cross he has changed from an inward discipline to an outward ornament; for the dishonored Spirit he has substituted hierarchical dignities; for the coming of the Lord, an ecclesiastical millennium. Thank God, though the tide runs strong, there is yet an overcoming possible; and the Lord's closing words here remind us of it. Let us keep them in our hearts. "And} he that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers, even as I received of My Father; and I will give him the morning star."
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."