Section 1 — Present Things as foreshown in Revelation 1 — 3.
The Addresses to the Churches
Philadelphia: the Revival of the Word of Christ, and the Brotherhood of Christians (Rev. 3:7-13.)
We come now to a phase of the Church's history of the deepest interest and of the greatest possible importance to us. How great it must be to realize a condition which the Lord can commend and only commend! For in this address to Philadelphia there is no word of reproof throughout. Warning there is, and of this we shall have to take special note; but reproof there is none! How blessed a condition to be in, when the "Holy" and the "True" can smile upon us thus with not a cloud to obscure His love! It should be, of course, the condition of Christians always; and sweet it is to remember that thus, all through the ages of its course, when as a phase of its history Philadelphia yet was not, the Church had its Philadelphians nevertheless. Manifestly it had when John was instructed to write this epistle; and if the general character of things around, even in an apostle's days, did not answer to this, only the greater would be the Lord's approbation of the few who were thus faithful. Overcomers they are whom He is commending; and the adverse condition of things around can never, let us mark it well, be really adverse to the overcoming. They furnish, rather, some of the conditions of it. If we have but the spirit of the overcomer, all the evil, whether in the world or in the Church itself, will only make us this the more.
Before we take up the details of the address before us, let us seek to get hold of the character of the church in Philadelphia. And for this we must remember in the first place what we have seen to be represented by that in Sardis. Sardis undoubtedly stands for the national churches of the Reformation, in which masses of peoples, Christianized externally, not truly, possessed a "name to live," and yet were "dead." Among these, indeed, though few comparatively, were those not only living, but faithful, — men who walked in spirit apart, and did not defile their garments , — men of whom their Lord says, "They shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy." Yet their presence did not alter the general character of that in which they were — in it, but not of it.
Sardis, then, is the world, Christianized as far as possible to be still the world, with Christians scattered through it. Philadelphia stands with its principle of "brotherly love," in essential contrast with it as that in which the brotherhood of saints is found and recognized. It represents the movement of the Spirit, therefore, to recover the true Church, lost amid the confusion of Sardis, uniting the members of Christ together in one, outside the mere profession. This, if once fairly considered, will be evident. It is not meant, however, by this that this movement has any proportionate success as might seem thus assured. It is one of our strange and sorrowful yet familiar experiences, that Christians can grieve, limit, quench, the Spirit in its action, and all the history of the Church that we have been examining is the reiterated assurance of this. Moreover, in the address to Philadelphia itself we have a very impressive warning to the same effect.
It has been already said, and is plain enough in it, that the Lord's message in this case contains no rebuke, but the sweetest possible sanction and encouragement. Not that there is Pentecostal energy or blessing indeed. "Thou hast a little strength" negatives such a thought, if we were disposed to entertain it. Still this is commendation, and not blame, and blame there is none. On this very account there seems a difficulty, which presses for solution. For the final blessing is assured, in this as every other of these epistles, to the overcomer "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go no more out." And here the reference is plainly to such pillars as Jachin ("He shall establish") and Boaz ("In which is strength") in the temple of old, and on the other hand to the "little strength" before ascribed to Philadelphia. He who has little strength becomes in the end a pillar of strength, and the true Philadelphian (it is inferred here,) is in fact the overcomer. Philadelphia is but the company of such.
But then it returns upon us with double force, what can be this overcoming? For in every case beside, but one, throughout these churches, it is plain that the overcoming is of things inside the church in Ephesus, the failure of first love; in Pergamos, the settling in the world; in Thyatira, the doctrines and deeds of Jezebel; in Sardis, defilement with the dead; in Laodicea, the lukewarm condition. In Smyrna, indeed, though there is a Judaizing party there, yet the direct promise seems to refer more to the threatening of death from without, although it cannot be denied that the Judaized Christianity found easier escape from this, and Satan's open violence might therefore well drive many (it can hardly be doubted, did,) into his secret snare.
But in Philadelphia, rich with the Lord's approval, yet with no such front of persecution to endure, it does require answer, — Where, then, the overcoming? By which, moreover, every true Philadelphian seems as much to be characterized as every Smyrnean was. Not every Ephesian was this, still less every one at Pergamos, or Thyatira, or Sardis, or Laodicea. The Philadelphian was such, as he overcame. But what peril then, or difficulty, or opposition? The answer is only one; the question admits no other.
There is nothing but commendation in the address, — that is, no blame. But there is warning, and in this warning is pointed out the danger that threatens. It is the only danger pointed out, and therefore clearly makes known to us what is to be overcome. The warning word is, "Hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown." Here, then, must be the overcoming. The danger is, of letting slip the Philadelphian character. And it is a real and pressing danger, — so pressing, that upon the mastery of it all blessing is suspended. It is the point of peril.
Philadelphia represents the Spirit of God working in living energy to deliver from that which is engulfing the people of God in a flood of worldliness. Alliance with the world is the forfeiture of Christian position practically, and of enjoyed privilege. So the Word of God definitely declares. The unequal yoke, — the yoke with unbelievers, — must be refused, or the unclean thing forbids the Lord Almighty to be to His people the Father that He is (2 Cor. 6:17, 18). Separation from the world is not any the more schism because this has been falsely called the Church; nor will "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life," its moral characteristics, be purged out by the adoption of the Christian name. Thus the state religions are directly accountable for the divisions which have always marked them from the beginning of their history. Every revival tends to break them up. Where there is none, there we find continual gravitation to a lower level, which no orthodoxy of the creed can really avert.
The work of the Spirit, then, will necessarily bring about dissent from the national church. And it will be found that, at their beginnings at least, such movements have been very largely marked by a new fervency of spirit, a zeal and earnestness which have made their first generations men of power. The movement, purified by the opposition it has necessarily to endure, discovers and brings together the most spiritual. Consciences are exercised, the Word is felt and opened, Christ's presence becomes more necessary and more real, the fellowship of saints is valued. In a word, the character of the movement manifests itself as Philadelphian.
It is the voice and person of Christ which are here controlling, and he who is thus controlled is upon a path of unlimited progress and unspeakable blessing. The clue-line is in his hand which will lead him out of all entanglements, from truth to truth, from strength to strength. There is but one condition here, and that is, manifestly, that he "holds fast" the clue-line. If he drops this, progress is at an end, his path becomes devious. Alas! is it a rare thing for those who have begun in the Spirit to be made perfect by the flesh?
Asshur went out from Babylon, — so far, well; but only to found Nineveh, Babylon's rival and counterpart. And this is the history of much that was spiritual in its beginning, and since has grown great. At first there was simplicity and faith, and Christ the Leader of true pilgrims. Now they are but conservators of a tradition of the past, and their glory is a golden age gone from them. They are often in this case earnest in holding fast, but not to a living Leader: they have dropped the clue of progress, and lost their crown to others. No wonder, then, at the emphasis laid upon this warning in the epistle.
This, then, is, in brief, what Philadelphia is. The application in particular may and will be differently made according to what we are and where we are ourselves; and we have special need of care to test ourselves truly by it. For to test ourselves is surely the use that we are called to make of so solemn and yet so blessed a word as this is. We are bound to ask, Are we such as keep Christ's word and do not deny His name, and who keep also the word of His patience? Blessed, thrice blessed for us if we are!
Let us look, then, with something like suited care, into the details of the Saviour's message.
It has been often observed, and is evidently true, that the person of the Lord is more prominent in this address than in any of the others. It is a beautiful testimony that He is being Himself sought after with a new earnestness, to which He with a full heart responds. And the character in which He displays Himself is that of holiness and truth; for there is no way of nearness to Him but by separation from the evil that He hates, and being formed by the truth which He reveals. The Word is separative and formative. The mark of its reception is, the abandonment of all iniquity, marked as such, not by the common conscience of men, but by the Word itself. This is the sign of entrance into the sanctuary — of the presence of the Lord realized, when in His light we see light.
Absolute truthfulness is rare indeed. The penalties attending it are so many, often to be escaped by so slight a swerving from the strict path, — a path often so lonely and without sympathy, and so barren as it might seem in its isolation. Even to Christians, Christ often appears to have deserted it. And then after all to break down there! and what so likely as to break down? In this way we may connive at self-deception; for what do all these reasonings amount to, but that the path is to be a path of faith to us now as it ever was, and difficulties are to be as ever the test of faith?
Here, then, is conscience challenged as we enter on this address to Philadelphia. Have we indeed the "courage of our convictions"? or, perhaps, have we the courage to expose ourselves to possible conviction?
And note that the "holy" goes before the "true." There may be "truth," or "genuineness," as the word means, where after all holiness is not maintained. Satan succeeds by some puzzle for the mind in diverting many from a true issue. Authority may be pressed and bowed to as from God, and the soul awed into subjection to what it dares not approach near enough to recognize in its true character. Conscience may act, but blindfold, at the bidding of another than its "one Master." With Him, on the other hand, the "holiness" it is that guarantees the "truth."
He who thus declares Himself invites after all to no path of uselessness: He has the key of David, is Ruler over the kingdom absolutely, opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens; and to those whom He addresses, pledges an open door, plainly for service, as the whole tenor here implies, and as the apostle three times over uses the expression (1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3). Who could be in Christ's company without finding on the one hand His rejection, on the other how human hearts recognize their Lord? Here is no contradiction, but what every page of the gospels bears witness of to us.
Assuredly faith will still be necessary, and a judgment by results will be often much mistaken. If we wait for these to authenticate our course to us, we must in the meanwhile walk doubtfully, and not in faith. These words are an assurance rather to those who may be pursuing what to sense seems doubtful enough as to its issue. He affirms it to them. If they have the character here, — if they are with the Holy and the True, holy with the Holy, true with the True, — then precisely because of this assurance, they need not ask, Will this be fulfilled is it being fulfilled to us? Our eyes must be upon the path and the Leader. Success, where it seems fullest, must yet be tested rather by the future than the present — rather by eternity than time; and he who follows it most will be most distracted by other voices than His who speaks here. What tempter lures indeed the servants of Christ like this? For how many does success, rather than the Word of God, sanction their measures, while alluring them into direct opposition to the Word! If even gained in true obedience, how often does the flattery of great achievement unbalance a soul which adversity could only school to more endurance! These things are but common-places of experience; and in view of them, we need not wonder if God has, in general, been sparing in measuring out to His people great success.
And yet finally the success is great indeed, as it is certain to those who conform to the rule laid down as of old to Joshua: "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then shalt thou have good success." Alas! how much oftener is this thought to be insured by a supple and worldly wisdom than by a close and undeviating adherence to the Word of God!
The Lord now gives here, as elsewhere, what He approves in them: "For thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name."
A little strength He marks and approves; yet it is but a little. No Pentecostal energy revived, no faith that can move mountains, shall we find here. The "day of small things," in the Christian as in the Jewish history, is not at its beginning, but at its close. It is a great mistake to confound the day of Ezra with the day of David. And although it may be said, and truly, that eternal life and the power of the Spirit know no decrepitude, yet our day and generation leave their imprint on us. They should not; we are not blameless in it; yet they do. Still "a little strength" is here approval.
And how is this marked? Surely in what follows, — "Thou hast kept My word, and not denied My name." It is not in gifts restored to the Church, as some claim now; it is not in ecclesiastical position, nor in numbers, nor in place among men; — in none of these things is there strength before God, but in obedience and devotedness.
We have seen in Thyatira Jezebel's word claimed as inspired and authoritative; we have seen, too, in Sardis, a separation from and refusal of such claim: yet the Church, though no longer inspired, teaches still. There is, as men say, an open Bible, (blessed be God for it!) and with this, a certain necessary diffusion of light. The Reformation creeds insist upon the fundamental truths of the gospel, and these have been sealed by the lives and deaths of the martyrs. At the first, also, these creeds are in harmony with the convictions of those who subscribe them, although very soon dissent has to be embodied in a separate creed. Then a strife of creeds begins which has been the shame and reproach of Protestantism, — which has added schism to schism and sect to sect.
For the creed in Protestantism, — the pretension to catholicity, as in Rome, being gone, means sectarianism. Who that has the thought of Christ's Church would undertake to frame a confession or constitution for it? Hence all such things now are local, and professedly for a part only. It is a fencing off of a greater or less number from the rest. If you cannot agree, you are at best dismissed to go elsewhere, and find or make a party for yourself.
But he who will keep Christ's word can bind himself to none, — must preserve his individuality of conscience, subject to one Master only; as much so as if there were no other Christians but himself on earth: and in a true walk with God, the knowledge of Himself, acquaintance with His Word increases with each step of the way. The light brightens to the perfect day, and in this brightening light we are called to walk, true to it, and to Him whose light it is. An immense thing it is, in a day like this, to be keeping, with an exercised heart, the word of Christ! Not a word here and there; not following it until the cost may be too much; but through honor and dishonor, through evil report and good report. For is there right obedience any where, when there is not in our purpose obedience every where? Can He whom we serve accept a compromise to His own dishonor, when we really tell Him we will do this, but not that, at His bidding? Solemn questions these, which may His grace keep ringing in our ears, until they wake up only harmonies of joy and peace within our souls, and not self-accusation.
Let us understand that keeping Christ's word means, if it mean any thing, honest subjection to the whole of it: to that of which we may not even perceive the importance, as if we did; calling nothing little which He enjoins — of what has equal authority with the weightiest to emphasize it for us. Herein is often the truest test of a right spirit in us, when we obey not in uncertainty, but in darkness; and go out upon His leading, not knowing where.
We have need to remember, too, that our own contrary wills are often the most effectual hindrances to receiving what is really Christ's word. How solemn it is to think that of the mass of things in which we differ from each other as Christians, this contrariety must needs account for very much the larger part. The Lord's words are plain enough, and universally applicable, that "if any one will do God's will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God." It is due to Him to own that as the blessed Spirit of God could not lead into contradictory beliefs, these differences must be of us, and not of Him. But then, found as they are in so many whom we must esteem as godly men, what a warning they give us of how much that is not of God, — of real insubjection — may be found even in such. So far as we have indeed wholeheartedly followed Him, who can doubt that He has led us right? But then how little really unreserved following of Him there must be after all!
And who can measure the loss even now? and who then can measure the eternal loss, when we thus let slip communion with Himself? And how many are trying to win it back, or make up for its absence by filling their hands with work for Him, as if they were almost persuaded that "to obey is" not "better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams."
How plainly perceptible it is when a soul reaches the barrier line beyond which he will not go! Activities may go on, and the whole outward man be no other than it was, yet there is something gone from the soul which at once one with God will discern as hindering fellowship. How sorrowful to lose one another's company this way, while yet perhaps the feet go on together! But if we lose Christ's companionship, what shall replace it?
Naturally and necessarily connected, then, with "Thou hast kept My word," is this: "and hast not denied My name." Christ's name expresses what He is. "They shall call His name 'Emmanuel,' which being interpreted is, 'God with us.'" And to fulfill this, He is named "Jesus" — "Jehovah saving;" for save He must, that God may dwell among us. Thus, again, He is "Christ," the Anointed One, to fill the Mediator's place, — with God for us, with us for God. Who that knows it would deny this blessed name?
What does it express, what does it emphasize for us but communion with God? He hath come out after us, left His place and glory, to let the light of that glory in upon our hearts. It is in Him, this glory, in —
"The person of the Christ,
Enfolding every grace."
Justified we must be, to be able to draw nigh; and without sanctification "no man shall see the Lord;" but the Lord Himself is thus the end and sum of all. "Christ is all," says one whose life spake with his lips; and "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him."
It is, as often said, what gives the peculiar glow to the picture of Philadelphia here, that it is Christ personally who fills the scene of their vision, and who associates them with Himself. This is what gives them their name, surely, in its spiritual power and value; for never was Christ welcomed into a heart but He made room in it for all His people. This is true linking with one another when we are united by the Centre, — when our association is first of all with Christ, and this determines the measure and character of all other associations. For indeed there is much, even among the people of God, that is not Philadelphian, but only a corrupt and evil counterfeit. If our "part" is first of all to be with Christ, let us hear Him say, "Except I wash thee, thou past no part with Me." And this is not spoken of the first general "washing" when we are born anew, which the Lord expressly distinguishes from this washing of the feet, the cleansing from all defilement by the way. If He washes, there can be no compromise with defilement; our feet must be in His hand; there must be surrender to Him at all points, so that He may be able to show us all that is evil in His sight. Thus alone can we have part with Him; and therefore in this way only can we have rightly part with one another.
To this such union as can be obtained by compromise is in essential contradiction. It is mere confederacy, whatever may be the end proposed. God has one method for us by which we may walk together according to His mind, and only one. We are to "follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." By taking the same road, we are necessarily brought together. The road is guaranteed to us by its four decisive marks; and here there can be no compromise, we must not give up any one of these. Moreover, it is thus by a path in the strictest sense individual that we find our company; yet it is wide enough to contain "all that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart." Its characters are, first of all, "righteousness," and this must be maintained before we can properly speak of "faith" at all. But then "faith" marks the conscience in the presence of a living Lord, as well as a heart confiding in Him; and so it is only that we can have this restful, practical confidence, as we walk in conscious recognition of and obedience to His will. Here "love" then comes in due place, — we can now let our hearts out; and in this atmosphere love will develop itself. While lastly, "peace" characterizes it in view of opposition and conflict and trouble: the Lord is over all the uprising of the water-floods.
In all this, it may be said, there is nothing but the most complete individualism; yet here it is we find the divine law of association. There is no confederation, no agreement, no prescription of terms to one another. One Master prescribes to every one his place, and in accepting that place we find the true law of co-operation with one another. United to Him as members of His body, we are, to begin with, "members one of another." This is not a question submitted to us, whether we shall be one; and to form other unions, while it may be ignorance, is none the less complete opposition to His will. Alas! in our day it is not "union is obedience" that is the motto, but "union is strength;" and for whatever purpose men may have, they combine. Strength of a certain sort is found, no doubt; but it is not where he found it who says, "When I am weak, then am I strong" "I can do all things through Christ, who strengtheneth me."
Individuality is thus lost, a majority decides for the remainder; for the advantage gained, certain things which we do not approve must be acquiesced in. Conscience, at first uneasy, becomes more tolerant. More demands made upon it find less and less the power of resistance. Christ's word is given up, and what is due to His name forgotten. How many have thus lost in their souls the sensitiveness to sin they once had; yet the apostle insists, "Let him that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity." Blessed, thrice blessed are they who, if they have but a little strength, yet have kept His word, and do not deny His name.
The next verse seems somewhat strangely to connect Philadelphia with Smyrna: "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." Here again comes before us that class through which Satan had wrought the downfall of the already declining Church. Judaism, set aside by God, is now one of Satan's best weapons and most subtle snares. Great Babylon has built her superstructure upon this foundation, and displaced with the ritualism, the sacerdotalism, and the legalism of an earlier time, the simplicity and open speech, the equal priesthood and completed sacrifice, the free grace and full salvation, of Christianity. It is not after all so strange, therefore, that if in Philadelphia we find the heart fresh awakened after Christ, His Word preached with fresh energy and held with more appreciation, on the other hand Satan's old attempt should be renewed. And this the words here seem to indicate. They assure us also, no doubt, that for the true Philadelphian it will end only in defeat, and the acknowledgment of their enemies that they are objects of Christ's special love, yet this does not assume that the onset will have no success. God permits these things for the trial of His own, and there was only One who could say, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me."
In fact, if we look at the history of the movement which has been for years going on, we shall find that along with revived study of the Word, and energetic evangelizing, and the drawing of Christians to one another, there has been an undoubted revival of ritualism also, and that not in Rome where it never had slept, but in Protestantism. The Puseyite or Tractarian movement, as it used to be called, had all the freshness and energy of a revival, and its success was marked. At the present time, it is less noted only because its influence is become a thing of course; and Protestant Episcopalianism is largely leavened with it.
This may be thought outside Philadelphia, according to our definition of it, but it is one of the things it is called to meet. Nearer home, however, in less developed forms, the same spirit is manifesting itself. The fruits of many a revival and separation from the church-establishments of Protestantism have been blighted by a spirit of conformity to that which had been left. The chapels have become churches, the ministry a priesthood, the congregations multitudinous and indiscriminate under this influence; and the desire for Christian union has been perverted into a desire for denominational union, a more or less ignoring of differences which were once matters of conscience for the soul, but have become rather matters of dispute left to the champions of conflicting creeds.
Even for those most widely removed (as it might seem) from all this, the same influences are at work, and should be no less dreaded. Ecclesiasticism, clerisy, the substitution of corporate for individual conscience, — these are all elements of a return-movement, the ebb of the tide which once seemed as if it could not so soon fail. But they are elements also of that Judaism with which man's mind, if it slip away from God, so readily assimilates. In fact it is all that is natural to man, and of himself he never gets beyond it.
Let us take heed, then, that we be true Philadelphians. Tested we shall be assuredly all round, and in different forms if the spirit be not different. The Word here is the assurance, is it not? for the faith that might quail and question as the results of the trial become apparent. Not now, but by and by, things shall be manifested, and where Christ's heart is shall come out openly.
Meanwhile there is another promise: "Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee out of the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth."
Here is still the keeping of Christ's word: all blessing lies in the track of obedience; but it is now a peculiar character of that Word, and as manifesting a character of Christ Himself, — His patience, or endurance. It was of course a character of His on earth; it is also a character that He is manifesting where He sits now, upon the throne of heaven. He has but to ask, and the rod of iron shall be His to dash to pieces all opposition, like a potter's vessel. Yet He waits; not unobservant of the trials of His saints, not surely as unsympathetic with them. But He waits, that God's purpose may be fully wrought and the discipline of His people fully accomplished. It seems to me another mark of Philadelphia herself being tested by that of which the previous verse has spoken. hey have needed patience: they have learnt it in the apprehension of that patience of His who Himself exercises it, with power in His hands which could change the face of things as in a moment. They have kept that word of His patience, — feeling the trial, but learning the consolation. Then, when the hour of trial for the dwellers upon earth shall come, they shall be out of it! Suited all this is, surely. And that word even, "dwellers upon earth," suits exactly the Judaized synagogue of Satan of which the Lord has spoken. For the expression has a moral force, like that where Pergamos is described as "dwelling where Satan's throne is." The hour is the hour of terrible tribulation, which, involving Israel first (Matt. 24:21), will extend also to the Gentiles (Rev. 7:14, R.V.), and reap with its scythe of destruction the tare field of Christendom; God's wheat having been removed from it.
Into this time of judgment no saint, indeed, of the present time can come. And this has been with some an objection to such an interpretation of the words before us. But it would only be that, if they were to be confined to Philadelphia, which is not the case. The promise to Smyrna is equally such to every child of God that ever was. Will any of these be hurt of the second death? Assuredly no; and yet not the less suited to the sufferers in Smyrna was that word of comfort. So here: doubtless God's people have all been in various ways made to apprehend the word of Christ's patience, and will be kept out of the hour of trial for apostate Christendom.
But the word is suited especially here, because that which separates the saints from it, and from the possibility of sharing its judgments, is at hand. More decisively now He announces, "I come quickly." The day of grace is running out with the day of patience. Soon it shall be Christ's presence and glory. The centuries of delay have come to years, the years are soon to be months, the months days, the days moments. "I come quickly:" this is to be shown in its power for the soul by its keeping the exhortation, "Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown."
But all shows it to be a time of drift, — a time of declensions as well as revivals: overcomer is he only who holds fast. The Spirit of God moving, the Word manifesting its power, conscience responding; yet every where the ebb after the flow, the trial which sifts, separates, individualizes. By and by comes the terrible back-flow of Laodicea. Think not Philadelphia is a haven of refuge where we may lie at anchor and never feel it. Not so, — oh, not so: this is the fatal delusion of Laodicea itself: "Hold that fast which thou hast!" The tug, if it has not come, is coming: hold thou fast!
But to what? — hold what fast? The word, and the name, and the patience of Christ. Not the word of even the leaders of God's raising up. The truth must ever commend the man, never the man the truth. One great danger is, lest, having begun with the former principle, we slip into the latter. Even the truth they teach is not truth received till it has been gotten at the Master's feet and in communion with Himself, — till you can hold it, not with the eyes shut, but with eyes open, — till you can maintain it for truth against the very instrument used of God to give it you, if need be. "If WE, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed."
Then, HOLD FAST! When it is no longer a question if it be the truth, but only of its consequences. Hold fast: though those who have held it with you, or before you, give it up; though it separate you from all else whomsoever; though it be worse dishonored by the evil of those who profess it; though it seem utterly useless to hope of any good from it: in the face of the world, in the face of the devil, in the face of the saints, — "hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown!"
For many a crown has been lost, and many a crown will be lost, if the Lord should tarry. Yet he who will hold fast shall find Christ's arms underneath him, Christ's hands upon his hands. He shall not only keep, he shall be kept; in the might of Christ's victory he shall stand, and the crown given he shall cast before the Giver of it as a trophy of His own conquest, and the fruit of His grace.
"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."
A fixed eternal place in the sanctuary of God; identification with the display of God as revealed in Christ forever; identification with the abiding-place of His affections, in which heaven and earth shall meet at last in an eternal embrace of love; identification with the manifestation of Christ in His new eternal relationship to this whole scene: — this is what seems to be expressed in the promise here. But who shall give it proper utterance? What an end for the weak one who under trial still holds fast to Christ and His word! How blessed the stability of this scene by which He would establish our hearts amid the perpetual flux by which we are surrounded. How sweet the identification with Himself of the feeble one who has but owned on earth the authority of Him whom heaven and earth will own in joy in but a moment! It is a text to be expounded by the Holy Ghost to the heart of the overcomer, rather than to be spread out upon the page here. It is a sanctuary word, and the ear receives but a little thereof.