Section 1 — Present Things as foreshown in Revelation 1 — 3.
The Addresses to the Churches
Thyatira: the Reign of the World-Church (Rev. 2:18-29.)
Our course has been hitherto continually downward. The church to which we have now come forms no exception to this rule, and in a certain sense it is the end of the course that we reach in it. In Thyatira, our eyes are no more toward the past, but toward the future — the coming of the Lord: there is no more the call to repentance and doing the first works; the word is now, "I gave her space to repent, and she did not repent." The opportunity of repentance is therefore over: henceforth there can only be judgment — judgment which has accumulated terribly during the long delay: "I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of her works; and I will kill her children with death."
But on this account we find a remnant in Thyatira distinguished from that upon which judgment is to fall; a remnant guilty indeed for their toleration of what the Lord has devoted to destruction, but which He cannot for a moment confound, nevertheless, with it. This remnant is exhorted to hold fast until He comes. "And to him 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 pieces, even as I received of My Father; and I will give him the morning star."
We have reached, then, in this line, the final development, as I have said. Thyatira goes on, substantially, unchanged until the coming of the Lord.
What, then, is the character of Thyatira? It is characterized by the suffering of one who calls herself a prophetess, — that is, claims for herself divine inspiration, — and who by her name, Jezebel, carries us back to the idolatry of the worst days of Israel. and the bitter persecution of the saints and servants of God by her who, stranger as she was, exercised royal authority in the midst of the professed people of the Lord. "And she teacheth and seduceth My servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols."
We have already compared the opening parables of the thirteenth of Matthew with the first three of these addresses to the Asiatic churches, and we cannot but be here most powerfully impressed with the appearance of the "woman" alike in the fourth parable of this series and the fourth address to which we have come. It is a new figure in each case. When we come to examine it, we are made to realize without any doubt that the two women are in fact but one. And that in spite of various and discordant interpretations which have been given to these passages. Let us look, then, first at the parable, and then compare it with our Revelation chapter. They are both the words of our Lord Himself.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened."
The common interpretation of this we are all familiar with. It is applied to the universal spread and final triumph of the gospel, which, diffusive as leaven in its nature, is thus to make its way among the nations of the earth, and subject them to its beneficent influence. And at first sight there is much plausibility in this view. It may be urged for it that if the kingdom of heaven be like unto leaven, this settles the question of the leaven itself as to be taken in a good sense, and then undoubtedly it is the kingdom which spreads throughout the world. But a brief examination will assuredly remove all the appearance of truth in this, and force upon us an entirely different conclusion from the common one.
In the first place, to meet the strongest point of the argument: — is the kingdom of heaven here intended to find its symbol in the leaven itself? At first sight, it may be granted that it seems so, but if we compare the style of similar parables, we shall more than hesitate to assert this. To take the second parable of the same chapter, is the kingdom of heaven meant to find its likeness in the Sower of the good seed? or rather, is it not in the whole story of the different seed, and of the issue? Again, in the fifth, if the treasure hid in the field be the kingdom, and not the man who finds it, — yet in the sixth it would be not the pearl itself, but the man who finds it.
The truth is, it is the whole parable that is the likeness, and not any one point in it; and then also this does not decide that the meaning shall be good rather than bad: for the kingdom is not as it will be — set up in power and in the hands of Him whose right it is, but as now with the King absent, entrusted to the hands of others. Thus, while men sleep, the enemy can sow his tares among the wheat, and the proof is conclusive that in the first three parables there is a progressive growth of evil: the first showing the partial failure of the good seed; the second, the success of the bad seed, the enemy's work; the third, the tree-like worldly power which results from the sowing of the least of all seeds; and the fowls of the air, the evil powers of the first parable, securely lodged within it. If, then, the fourth parable shows the universal spread of the gospel, the whole course of things is changed, and the most perplexing contradiction arises, not only to the view presented in what goes before, but also to the view given by Scripture as a whole.
On the other hand, simply interpret Scripture by Scripture, and not only is there consistency throughout, but there is found a definiteness and precision of meaning which is itself a convincing proof of its truth. Every part of the parable becomes full of light. We have not, as before, to omit or interpret at hazard essential features of it, (as the three measures of meal, for instance) and to claim in defense of it that "no parable goes on all fours," though this may be really true, instinct as it is with a life higher than bestial, as with a spirit more than human.
There should be no question that the key of the parable has been rightly found in the second chapter of Leviticus. The "three measures of meal" refer to the "fine flour" of the meal-offering, as the Revised Version very well styles it, into which the leaven was never to be put (Lev. 2:11). The essential point is, that the woman is doing what was expressly forbidden to be done. This at once brings the similitude of the kingdom here into harmony with what has gone before. The process of deterioration which we see going on in the first three only assumes in the fourth a character of more decided evil. For the meal-offering is Christ the bread of life, the food of the priestly people of God, and the mixture of the leaven means the adulteration of Christ as this at the hands of the woman, the professing church.
We must, for its importance, look at this more closely, however. And here the feast of unleavened bread, so peremptorily insisted on in connection with the passover-feast, shows at once the perfect familiarity of the figure to the mind of the Jews whom our Lord was here addressing, and the way in which it could scarcely fail to be apprehended by them. Leaven in meal was to them undoubtedly a thing of evil significance and not of good. The positive word, "For whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel" (Ex. 12:15), was well known and rigidly held by the mass of the people in our Lord's day. The ordinance as to the meal-offering was scarcely less familiar to them, and the prohibition of leaven in any offering to the Lord made with fire was very clear in attaching to leaven as a type the thought of evil abhorrent to the Holy One.
The general use of leaven in Scripture, it is allowed, perfectly corresponds with this. There is no exception, if it be not found in the passage be-before us; and here, the connection of the parable with what precedes necessitates an evil significance.
But there is a specific application of the figure by the Lord Himself, and in this gospel which defines it in a way completely in agreement with the parable before us: He applies it to "the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matt. 16:12).
Now Christ as the food of our souls is ministered to us in the way of doctrine. The Word is constantly, in Scripture, spoken of as food to be eaten, or appropriated by faith to the personal need. Christ is the "Truth," and in the truth we apprehend Him. The doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees is error presented in its common types of an external and self-righteous formalism, or of an unbelieving rationalism. The leaven in either case is the rejection of Christ as God presents Him and as faith enjoys Him. If to these we add what in the gospel of Mark (Mark 8:25) is added — "the leaven of Herod," or the court-party, then we have fully the great triumvirate of evil — the flesh, the devil, and the world — as corrupting influences of the truth of Christ.
But why "three measures" of meal? Upon any other interpretation of the meal, I know not. We find the same thing in the provision made by Abram for his heavenly guests; and both there and here, if we see Christ before us, it is not hard to realize the meaning. It is the Son of Man who gives us the "meat which endureth unto everlasting life;" as man, He becomes our necessary food: but what is the measure of the "Man, Christ Jesus"? Three is the divine measure, the number of the Trinity — of the fullness of God; and "in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." Lesser or lower measure would not fit the truth presented to us here.
Into these "three measures of meal" the woman, then, is putting leaven. But who is the woman? Undoubtedly the Church is in Scripture symbolized by a woman, and this whether it be the true or the nominal professing body, which so readily passes into the shape of the woman "Babylon," the false church of this book of Revelation. Between these two, in view of the other features of the parable, there is not the least difficulty in deciding as to which is before us. In the preceding parable, we have already found the Babylonish character, — the kingdom of heaven, becoming in its earthly administration of the pattern of the kingdoms of the world, the figure of the tree corresponding specifically, moreover, to that under which the power of Nebuchadnezzar is depicted. Thus here it is the reigning world-church, which as possessing empire must make its laws and promulgate its doctrines. Necessarily the leaven comes then into the meal. All features cohere in a picture startling in its vividness.
The woman has in her hands the doctrine of Christ — the Christian doctrine; she has authority over it; she can knead and mould it at her will; she can add her traditions, her unwritten law, equal in authority to the written Word; she can interpret and fix its meanings. Here is the leaven: it is the leaven of Church-teaching, the essential error which wherever found, in whatever modified forms, quenches the Spirit of God, deforms and mutilates the Word of God, gives the conscience another master than the Lord Jesus Christ, and does all this cunningly in His name and by His authority, so that the souls of His people even bow to the forged decrees and shudder at the thought of resistance. For this is "Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of harlots and abominations of the earth;" and her merchants are the great men of the earth, and by her sorceries are all nations deceived.
Turn we now to this other picture that we have in the address to Thyatira, — a picture by the same master-hand, — and put side by side the woman of the fourth parable and the woman Jezebel of the fourth Asiatic church. Who will deny that they are one? This Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and teaches and seduces Christ's servants to commit fornication and eat things sacrificed to idols, is she any other than the leaven-hiding woman of the parable "writ large"? or than the woman Babylon of the later character? But we will take up the address in its due order; we will listen to Christ's words as the Spirit of truth has given them to us; we would not miss the least detail, or the impression that the "due order" should make upon us.
"And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write, These things saith the Son of God, who hath His eyes like unto a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass." It is no longer, as in Pergamos, "He that hath the sharp sword with two edges." That sword is the Word of God as the word of penetrating judgment; for "the word that I have spoken," says the Lord, "the same shall judge [him that receiveth them not] at the last day" (John 12:48). And so, in the nineteenth chapter of this book, men are slain with the sword proceeding out of His mouth.
But in the meanwhile the Word precedes and anticipates this judgment, and in Pergamos it is still there to appeal to, to warn of coming wrath, to separate between joints and marrow, and soul and spirit, and bring men into the presence of Him with whom we have to do, before whom all things are naked and opened. Plenty of perverters of the Word there are too in Pergamos, as we have seen; but the Word is also there witnessing for itself against them. In Thyatira it remains no longer we hear of Jezebel's doctrine, and the word of the living prophets, clearer and more decisive, as her followers claim, has superseded practically the Scriptures. With the Church's word men may be more safely trusted than with the word of God.
Thus it is no more "He that hath the sharp sword with two edges," but the "Son of God," who has to assert His authority as a divine Being over the Church, rising into a sphere where she dare not pretend to be. With Him alone are the "eyes as a flame of fire," the really infallible and holy insight, which the "feet like fine brass" accompany with irresistible judgment.
And He needs to assert His claim, for she who claims to be His bride, in her own self-assertion, is doing what she can to lower it. She has taken the grace of His incarnation to subject Him to His human mother; or if she remember His divine title, it is to raise Mary into the "Mother of God." Systematically Rome degrades Him amid a crowd of saintly mediators and intercessors with God, all more accessible than Himself, foremost of whom is this "queen of heaven" with her woman's heart, more tender than His!
Here, then, He speaks as Son of God to those who would confound the Church's authority with His. Has she His eyes of fire? Has she His feet of brass? If that which she binds on earth is bound in heaven, will she bind with her decrees the throne of God itself? Will His all-conscious wisdom stutter in her infant's speech? or His holiness attach itself to error and frailty and sin?
It is well known, and shortly to come before us, how Rome escapes from such perplexity; and it is safe to assert there is no other way. But to all assertors of Church-authority alike, the Lord here maintains His distinctive place. He alone is the "Son of God," in a place unapproachable by His people, and His glory will He not give to another. He alone is the governing Head; the Church His body, in a wondrous relationship to Him as that, but perfectly distinct and wholly subject.
As "Son of God," also, He now sits upon the throne — His Father's throne, — that of pure deity, which no creature could possibly share. His words to Laodicea afterward bring out the force of the assertion here, — "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" (Rev. 3:2 ). As Son of man the apostle has seen Him in the vision with which the book commences; as Son of man He will presently take a throne which He can share with men, His redeemed. Till then, they are in the field of conflict, to overcome as He overcame, and this is the manifest answer to the dream of authority in the world which in Thyatira possesses the false church. Rome would reign before Christ reigns, or reign upon the throne of God with Him. Thus His claim to be the Son of God is here of the greatest possible significance.
This is as to authority over the world, and in this way, of course, "whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" cannot possibly apply. The passage in Matthew connects it with the maintenance of discipline among the saints, with care for the holiness which His people are to exhibit. It is not founded on relationship to Him, save as disciples to a Master, and then of obedience to Him which they are under responsibility to enforce. In the fulfillment of this responsibility He is surely with them: what they bind He binds; but apart from His word they bind nothing, nor are they even the authorized exponents of it. Themselves subject to that Word, He is for them in all true subjection. It is the Word that has authority, not they; and let it be shown that the Word has not guided them, then Christ cannot bind upon His people insubjection to the Word: it would be to be a party to His own dishonor.
And all claim of ecclesiastical authority other than this is real rebellion against Christ Himself. Here as elsewhere, "no man can serve two masters." The conscience is to be before God alone, and this is a first principle of all holiness, all morality. Swerve from it by a hair's breadth, right is no longer right, nor wrong wrong; all lines are blurred; the unsteady tremulousness of the soul warns but too surely of the approach of spiritual paralysis.
Yes, the "eyes of fire" are still with the "Son of God" alone. Let us take heed how we hear and what! But clear and holy as they are, they are the eyes of the priestly Son of Man, full of an infinite pity and tenderness none can fathom. How blessed to have to do with Him! How full of joy to stand before Him! And even in Thyatira — amid the awful corruption of that "mystery of iniquity," Rome, — still His words to His own recognize all He can: —
"I know thy works and love and faith and service, and thy patience, and thy last works to be more than the first." We must remember that a remnant is distinctly separated in Thyatira, and that neither Jezebel nor her children are included here. Then it will not be hard to realize this testimony on the Lord's part to what He has seen in them. Little, too, do we know of the hidden lives of those who amid the assumption and pride of the days of Romish tyranny walked humbly and in secret with their God. Comforting it is to realize how fully Christ could appreciate and how openly He will yet acknowledge them. Like the devil-coats put upon their victims by the Inquisition of old, how many falsehoods have besmirched the memories often of those who in the day of manifestation will receive their crown of righteousness from the Lord the righteous Judge! Of how many Naboths has Jezebel suborned her witnesses that they have "blasphemed God and the king," because they would not surrender their inheritance for a price! Here is the record, that they are not forgotten, those nameless ones, or of dishonored names: "works and love and faith," how tested! "and service," amid what discouragement! "and thy patience," marked and emphasized in the language used, — that long endurance!
And then comes, last of all, that sweet witness of real divine energy, which does not flag as what is merely human does, — "and thy last works to be more than the first." Not simply the same as the first, — that would be much to say, as it should seem, amid all the opposition, continuous, unrelenting, of all that held power on earth. But here it is "more than the first," for the works recorded are fruits of the life eternal, which, implanted within us, is a growth, a living energy, which, thank God! can burst all bands and defy all imprisonment. We have all remarked how the might of a living tree will break up and burst through the stones around its roots, as it forces its way up into the light of heaven. How much more will the energy of that eternal life whose nature is spirit, and which the Spirit of God sustains, develop itself in the face of whatever hindrances. "They go from strength to strength" is said of God's pilgrims through the valley of Baca; for it is Christ's strength perfected in human weakness.
If we study the record which we have of those dark days also, we shall be inclined too to believe that there was in the line of those patient witnesses, looked at as a whole, a growth in vigor as the days went on. They come more into the light; they take bolder place; the coming Reformation has its precursors; the torch of truth, as it drops from one hand, is taken up by another. Above all, separation becomes more decided, — a great point, one of the greatest; for we see that what the Lord has against these saints of His is declared to be their tolerance of the woman Jezebel. The evil, it is true, was rampant, and might seem supreme; none the less, but the more, became the duty of open testimony against it. It was by such a testimony, in the face of overwhelming odds naturally, the Reformation established itself; and where it was the Word openly preached, God rallied round it defenders of it.
"Notwithstanding I have against thee, that thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess; and she teaches and seduces My servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication, and she will not repent."
Here is the distinctive evil of Thyatira, — an evil so frightful that the Lord calls it further on "the depths of Satan." Beyond it we do not get in this direction. It closes the development of the Church's departure from God in true succession from its germ in the beginning. Afterward, we find a fresh work of God has commenced, although it too is shortly, and indeed w hen first it comes before us, declined and passing. But as the woman closes the first series of the parables of Matt. 13, so does the woman close the first series of the Asiatic churches. We shall speedily find, as has been already stated, that these two women are in fact one and the same, — the woman, "Babylon the Great, the Mother of harlots and abominations of the earth."
Her name is at once significant, and is a striking exemplification of the pregnant speech of Scripture, which with a single word will illuminate a subject with a flood of light. The name, with its attached history, adds features to the picture which carry us far beyond the mere assembly in Asia to which first the Lord spoke, and identically the "woman" in question in the plainest way possible.
Thus she is described here simply as one that calls herself a prophetess, and the effect of her false prophecy is given as seducing to fornication and idolatry; but the history referred to by no means gives us Jezebel as a prophetess. She is a queen, and an idolatrous queen, but this the Jezebel of Thyatira was surely not. Yet in the promise to the overcomer we have evident allusion to a reign over men on earth, which helps us easily to understand that the thought of queenly power is really meant to be implied in the name as used. For the promise, as we see in all these cases, has reference to the state of things in which the overcoming is to be. Here he who overcomes waits in fruitful patience, till he shall reign with Christ. How significant if in that scene which is the full realization of what is in the Lord's mind here, the false church is reigning! Babylon, too, in the after-churches reigns a queen, and thus these two passages are linked together.
Babylon also is red with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus; and here again is a character of the woman which we could not expect to find in the Thyatiran assembly. But the name "Jezebel," interjected in the address, recalls at once to our minds the persecutor. And we need all this to bring out the full meaning of the address. On the other hand, the fourth parable of Matthew says nothing of the queen or of the persecutor, while it speaks clearly of the self-assumed prophetess. Thus the address to Thyatira binds together these two other prophesies, and the three throw their concentrated light upon the solemn reality which is presented to us.
Rome it surely is, drawn with the few bold strokes of a master-pencil, — Rome as the Lord Himself sees and judges it. Good it is, and necessary, to take our estimate of her from the Word of God itself rather than from the judgments of men, shifting and unstable as they have ever proved. The judgment of God abides, and the day that is coming will only affirm its decisions, unutterably solemn as indeed they are. How dare we indulge the false liberality so common in this day in presence of the awful threatenings of the passage before us?
"And I gave her space to repent of her fornication, and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am He that searcheth the reins and hearts; and I will give to every one of you according to your works."
Thus the pitiless persecutor of God's people shall find sure doom from His hand at last; and with that judgment all heaven will be in sympathy: "I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, 'Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power unto the Lord our God, for true and righteous are His judgments; for He hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of His servants at her hand.' And again they said, 'Hallelujah!' And her smoke riseth up forever and ever."
No true charity can possibly soften down the terms of divine judgment here pronounced, but will rather echo the call of mercy in the meantime: "Come out of her, My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues."
Yet it is quite possible to judge Rome without hesitation, and to partake, nevertheless, in what are the works of Rome. We must remember, therefore, that Rome is the "mother of harlots and abominations of the earth." Principles can be received and followed which are essentially Romish, while we reject the full development of them in the canons of the Council of Trent or the creed of Pope Pius IV. The features of popery, if carefully noted here, will often be found under the guise of Protestantism. And there is a tendency in them to reproduce themselves together. Take Irvingism, in which, in the most startling manner, all the doctrines of popery (without the pope) have sprung up into a precocious maturity and here, even the claim of infallibility is found, though the pope is not: there is the voice of the woman calling herself a prophetess, whether the woman's name be "Jezebel" or not.
But in modified forms, the features of Rome may be found where there is no pretension to infallibility, and none at all to worldly supremacy for the Church as such. Wherever the teaching of the Church is maintained as authoritative, though it be over a body of Christians who make no claims to catholicity, or to succession after the Romish manner, and who do not propose to add to the Word of God, but to be guided by it, — still, even here the voice of the woman is heard, although the woman's name be certainly not "Jezebel." Yet here, not only the churches of the Reformation, but all churches almost, stand. Nay, it is considered even that there is no sure guarantee for orthodoxy where this is not so. And indeed it cannot be denied that the abolition of creeds has been very often loudly urged by those who desired latitude as to the most positive doctrines of the Word itself. The deniers of eternal punishment have contended for it; the men who put the inspiration of Scripture on the same footing with the inspiration of Shakespeare; the people who to retain Christianity must leave out Christ. All these, in their various pleas against the stiffness of a creed that they refused, have furnished the most convincing arguments for its necessity. Nor do I now propose to deal with these arguments; they will come before us properly elsewhere. It is nevertheless true that, according to Scripture, the Church never teaches. God teaches by His Spirit, and the one authoritative teaching is that of the inspired Word, — truly authoritative, because absolute truth itself. This much is true in Jezebel's false claim, that infallible teaching alone can demand obedience, as alone it can implicit faith. Allow that the guide may lead astray, and how can you require men to follow her? "If the blind lead the blind, shall they not both fall into the ditch?"
But the creeds are to be submitted to because they may be proved by Scripture, "by most certain arguments," it is said. Well, if Scripture be so certain and so authoritative, what need of any thing else? I believe indeed that it is certain and all-sufficient, and thus the argument proves too much. Why seek to make certain what is already so, or give authority to what is already and only authoritative? In so doing, Scripture is dishonored in the very method by which you would honor it. Its own testimony is, that it is "given by inspiration of God, and profitable for doctrine, for correction, for reproof, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." But the authoritatively imposed creed actually takes away the appeal to Scripture, becoming itself the only permissible appeal. If there be error in the creed, it will have to be maintained as carefully as the truth in it. If there be defect in the creed, the Scripture cannot be allowed even to supplement it. It is, in short, completely displaced from its rightful supremacy over men. The conscience is not allowed to be before God, and the most godly are just those who will be forced most into opposition against the human rule thus substituted for the divine.
This we shall have to look at further at another time, however. But it is evident that Jezebel is right thus far, in that she connects her right of rule over the people of God with the infallibility of the prophetess. She displays, however, the falsity of her pretension by her refusal to submit her claims in this respect to be judged by that which she owns herself to be the Word of God. Her infallibility must not be tested, but received: whereas Scripture itself, with a claim no less absolute, on that very account submits to every possible test, assured that the more complete the test, the more will this claim be manifested and made good. The true coin fears not the test which would at once expose the counterfeit. Faith in Rome is credulity and superstition only: faith in Scripture is intelligent, reasonable, and open-eyed.
In Scripture, the Church does not teach at all. The prophets speak, and the rest "judge." The Word itself is the rule by which all is judged, and the conscience is kept directly in the presence of God Himself. All are exercised as to what is spoken: they are to take heed what they hear, as well as how they hear. This exercise is necessary to maintain the soul in vigor and in dependence. Vigilance, the constant habit of reference to God, and walking before Him are to be ever emphasized and insisted on. We tend continually to follow human authorities and traditional teachings, which God has continually to break through for us, sending us afresh to His Word, that our faith may not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Thus alone true spiritual health is realized and preserved.
Church teaching is one mark, then, of what in Rome has only come to full maturity. The seed is scattered widely, and found in the most diverse places. Another thing often to be met with independently is yet, quite similarly to this, the germ of what is fully developed only in Rome. This is the claim for the Church of rightful supremacy over the world.
In Rome, it is outspoken and defiant. Jezebel reigns as a queen, and is no widow, and shall see no sorrow. With her foot upon the necks of kings, she can apply to herself the words which belong to Christ, — "Thou shalt tread upon the lion and the adder; the young lion and the dragon Thou shalt trample underfoot." This needs, of course, no comment; but how many are there, on the other hand, who sincerely believe that Christians should have their place in the government of the world, — nay, should control it! Who, in fact, so fitted? and what could be so desirable for the world itself?
They do not see that the world is never to be subject to Christ until He take possession of it with the rod of iron; that Satan is its prince and god, never to be cast out until the Lord comes Himself from heaven; that the world remains, therefore, in steadfast opposition to what is of God, and Christianity, if it root itself in it, only becomes corrupted by it, and not its purifier. The yoke with unbelievers, which these principles of necessity bring about, is what at the start forfeits for the child of God the enjoyment of the child's proper place. "For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? or what communion hath light with darkness? or what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an unbeliever? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God, as God hath said, 'I will dwell in them and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be separate; and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, and will be a Father to you; and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.'"
In Jezebel, the full maturity of these principles is reached, and the Church attains its rule over the world; but in so doing, it has entirely changed its character. It is no longer the true Church, but the false, although in historical succession with the true. The world's principles have leavened it; it shelters the unclean "birds of the air," the followers of the "prince of the power of the air;" the true followers of Christ are hunted down and destroyed; and their only hope is here the coming of the Lord Himself, which now for the first time in these addresses becomes the Star of promise. "But unto you I say, even unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden: but that which ye have already hold fast till I come. 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."
Here is, plainly, the attitude of faith declared in contrast with Jezebel's claim of rule. Rule! yes, we are to have it when the Lord comes, — not before. The reign of the saints is to be with Christ, and although it is true that He now reigns, it is upon the Father's throne — a throne which cannot be shared with men. It is impossible, therefore, that Christians can reign now. When as Son of Man He takes His own throne, then indeed they shall be associated with Him. This is in the promise to the overcomer in Laodicea: "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."
It is in that day the rod of iron will be in His hands, which, as we see here, He promises to share with His people. This is a direct reference to the second psalm, where Christ is seen, as in the purpose of God, "set" upon the "holy hill of Zion." It is not a heavenly, but an earthly, throne. And thereupon Christ's own voice is heard declaring the decree which establishes Him in possession of the earth: "I will declare the decree; the Lord hath said unto Me, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee. Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession.'" This is often quoted to show the gradual spread of the gospel over the earth, but how, in fact, is Christ's claim upon the nations to be made good? "Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel."
This is plainly not the grace of the gospel. It is as plainly the exercise of the power in which He associates the saints with Himself. It is again referred to, when in the nineteenth chapter of this book the white-horsed Rider, whose name is called the Word of God, comes forth from heaven, attended by His armies, to the judgment of the nations banded still, as in the second psalm, "against the Lord and against His Christ." "And out of His mouth goeth a sharp, two-edged sword, that with it He should smite the nations, and He shall rule them with a rod of iron, and He treadeth the wine-press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God."
Thus the time of this rule is fixed definitely, and its character it would seem impossible to mistake. Till then, "overcoming" is in patience and long-suffering, keeping Christ's works unto the end.
But the promise of the morning-star goes beyond this, even; and we must look at it with corresponding attention. We have here the Lord's own interpretation, and in the same book. When the whole roll of prophecy has been unfolded and come to an end, He returns to explain to us this significant word. "I Jesus have sent Mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright and Morning-Star." The Revelation, and thus the New Testament as a whole, closes with this announcement. It is striking, therefore, to find the Old Testament closing, in Malachi, with a contrasted announcement, which yet applies to the same glorious Speaker, who thus takes His place in connection with the promises of both parts of the Word. The Old Testament, with its earthly promises, closes with this: "Unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings." The New Testament, with its heavenly promises, speaks, not of the Sun of Righteousness, but of the Morning-Star.
The Old Testament promise may seem the fuller thing. It is more to have the sun rise, surely, one would say, than the morning-star, — to have the day than the promise of the day. And this is true from the Old Testament point of view: the star shines out of heaven, does not brighten the earth at all; but in its own sphere it is bright nevertheless. And this is the key to its New Testament use. The Star shines its welcome for us out of those heavenly places in which our blessings as Christians are. Christ is coming to bring the day to the whole earth. The glory of the Lord, like the solar radiance, is going to cover it, as the waters cover the sea. It shall rise upon Israel, and the Gentiles come to the light, and kings to the brightness of its rising. But before this, our eyes shall have beheld Him; and when this comes, our higher, better place shall be already with Him. For His promise to us is, "I will come again, and receive you unto Myself, that where I AM," — in His own eternal home, — "there ye may be also."
How beautiful this reminder, then, here, where the glitter of earthly rule and dignity seeks to attract and ensnare the saints of God! Like the Lord's words to the seventy when they returned to Him again with joy, saying, "Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through Thy name!" With His face toward the very scenes of which we have been speaking, He replies, "I saw Satan as lightning fall from heaven! Behold, I give you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding," — and here is the parallel so complete, — "in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven."
Though our reign be over the earth, and when He appears we shall appear with Him in glory, yet our "mansions" — our abiding-places, as the word means, — are not on earth, but in the Father's house, of which the temple, with its "patterns of things in the heavenlies," was the type and presentation upon earth. "My Father's house" was Christ's name for the temple. This had its temporary apartments for the priests, as they came up in their courses to fulfill their service at Jerusalem. And is it not in designed contrast that our Lord designates our places in the Father's house above, not as temporary, but abiding-places? To "abide," "continue," is one of the characteristic words in John's gospel, and it is in perfect harmony with the gospel of Christ's deity that it should be so; all that belongs to Deity abides; and here, in the place of the presence of God, are our not temporary but eternal abodes.
But "the Morning-Star" is more than our abode. The abode we shall have, to enjoy it, but Himself it is we are called to enjoy. "I am the bright and Morning-Star." "Father, I will also that those whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me; for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world."
How blessed to be forever where this glory is displayed, and where the eye will be perfect to let in the light! "We know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." And in order to see Him as He is, we must be like Him. The passage is often read the reverse way; as if it were the sight of Him that would change us into His likeness: but I do not believe that to be the thought. The truth is, that as we must have the divine nature to know God, so we must be in Christ's moral image to apprehend Him. Man knows man by reason of the common nature; here, where all obstruction is at last removed, and we enter into life as our abiding and exclusive condition, — the "body of death" gone forever, — here we shall be at last face to face with Christ indeed. And this will seal and perfect the blessedness of a life always in us essentially dependent. We shall still and ever, now with no inner obstruction to prevent its realization, be "complete" (or "filled full") "in Him."
The Morning-Star anticipates the day, and we shall be gathered up to Christ before He appears for the judgment yet deliverance of the earth. Then, those who have suffered will reign with Him. When judgment shall return to righteousness, — the rod, no longer a serpent, returns to the hand of that great Shepherd of whom Moses was but the fore-shadow, — we shall be with Him, to take joyful part in that "restitution of all things" which He comes to effect. When the Sun of Righteousness arises, "then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father." The rod will then be the irresistible "rod of iron," but how beneficent shall be its sway! "Then, judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field; and the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever. And My people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places." For now, as never yet, "a King shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment. And a Man shall be as a hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."
The word, then, to the overcomer is, "Hold fast till I come!" The night-watch is not over; nor will the failed Church recover itself. The watchword of comfort is, "Until I come." The true are but a remnant, and Rome's catholicity is but a decisive proof of the general departure. Revivals there may be, but no return. Good it is for those who accept humbly the lesson, which stains forever the glory of man. "The corruption of the best thing is the worst corruption." We have had God's "best thing" nearly two thousand years in hand: what have we done with it? Shall we do better now? It is easy to judge Rome; to judge, in Rome, our own utter and ruinous failure, is that to which God calls, and in which alone blessing is. Then, blessed be God, the Morning-Star rises in the darkened sky: "At midnight there was a cry made, 'Behold, the Bridegroom! go ye out to meet Him.'"
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches! "