Section 1 — Present Things as foreshown in Revelation 1 — 3.
The Addresses to the Churches
Laodicea: What Brings the Time of Christ's Patience to an End (Rev. 3:14-22.)
We come now to the solemn close of these addresses, the Lord's last word to the churches; and it is very striking that we come to that close here, just after that epistle to Philadelphia, in which we have seen recognized a certain real return of heart to Christ, and a true revival by His Word and Spirit. Now, there are, on the contrary, prostration and collapse: and the most serious thing is that these are the infallible signs of the failure on the part of Philadelphia itself. Laodicea springs out of Philadelphia. The blessing there leads to the judgment here.
In the states of the professing church which these addresses have already pictured, there is not only historical succession, but development. Even Protestantism sprang out of the bosom of Romanism, as Philadelphia out of Protestantism. In neither case is the one absorbed into the other, however. Romanism continues, outside the Reformation. The signs of a remnant are unmistakable in Philadelphia. Moreover, "overcomers" are implied in each case until the coming of the Lord. In Thyatira, thus, they are exhorted to "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." In Sardis, "If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come upon thee as a thief." In Philadelphia, "I come quickly." In this way, Protestantism, springing out of Romanism, runs henceforth side by side with it to the end. Philadelphia springs out of Protestantism, and similarly accompanies it. And so Laodicea, we may conclude, springs out of Philadelphia, and runs its course parallel with the rest.
But there is more positive proof. For if in Sardis there has been the absolute coldness of death, in Philadelphia, the glow of revival, in Laodicea there is the fatal lukewarmness which shows at once the effect (and the limited effect) of one upon another. And this is why the cold of Sardis itself is preferable to the lukewarmness of Laodicea. All God's grace has been spent in vain upon it.
Laodicea gives us, then, the failure of Protestantism, as Thyatira of that which assumes to be the Catholic Church. It is the complete failure of Christendom the second time; and now, in the full light of an open Bible, and after repeated intervention of God in wide-spread and protracted revival and blessing. The full end of patience has at last been reached, and the time to display also the results of the divine work, which no failure or opposition of man can in any wise hinder.
But before entering upon the details of this address to Laodicea, let us inquire as to the name itself. It was given to the city by Antiochus II., after his enlargement of it, in honor of his wife Laodice, and is a compound of two words — laos, "people," and dike, "Dike" is given by the dictionaries as having the three meanings, closely connected together, (1) of "manner, custom, usage;" (2) of "right;" (3) of "requirement," and so "vengeance," punitive justice. We have thus three possible meanings: "custom of the people," "people's right," "judgment of the people." And these three things have equally plain and solemn connection with one another.
For it is indeed the "people's custom" that is here unfolded. If under popery it is rather the usurpation of the leaders that is the question, in Protestantism, with its open Bible, the people are tested as never before. The earliest ages of Christianity, dependent upon the toilsome labor of copyists for the multiplication of copies of the Word, had in no wise the privileges of which the Reformation, with its providentially furnished printing-press, at once came into possession. Hence, also, responsibilities as great, and brought home to the door of every man. People may still be ignorant, but it is now assuredly a willing ignorance. They may still seek to cast responsibility upon others, and blindly follow still leaders as blind, but this has necessarily now another character from what it had before. Hence it is the people who are now being manifested, — their way which is being made apparent; and judgment, however delayed, must at last follow with proportional energy. Thus two significant applications of this word "Laodicea" are made evident.
But again, and connected with this, there is a feature of the last days which Scripture puts prominently for ward, — the self-assertion which indeed on man's part has never been lacking, but which now pervades, in a manner not before seen, the masses of the population. That Protestantism has favored this, is one of the reproaches of the Romanists. And it is undeniably true that in one sense it has favored it. The breaking of ecclesiastical yokes, — the yoke of a tyranny more prostrating than any other, — with that awaking of the mind of man which is ever found where the light of the Word of God has penetrated, — has produced a state of things in which, if Christ's yoke be not accepted, man's will will assuredly assert itself as never before. And so it has proved; and so Scripture long before declared that it would be. "Laodicea," in its third sense, as "people's right," has become, morally, spiritually, and politically also, the watchword of the times. On the one hand, there is an immense march of civilization, a predicted running to and fro, and increase of knowledge; on the other, an uprise of what threatens civilization, and is ominous of an approaching end of the whole state.
"People's right!" The rights of the masses! and which the masses themselves mean to define and pronounce upon. Here is that condition of things which Hobbes, more than two centuries since, declared to be the natural condition, and which he rightly said meant universal war. For who is to judge as to these conflicting interests? and who is to enforce the judgment? Class will disagree with class, nay, individual with individual: every man's hand will be against his brother; might will make right upon a scale the world has never seen, until out of this surging sea a power rises strong enough to command once more. Then they that will be lords shall have a lord, and they that will not receive Christ shall have Antichrist.
So the Word of God declares. For this ominous watchword, "people's rights," in the end of centuries of divine long-suffering, is a terrible claim in the ears of a God, strong, if yet so patient, and who is provoked every day.
It is a claim which denies the fall, and the sentence confirmed by countless individual sins, — the claim of a world which has refused and crucified the Son of God come into it in simplest loving mercy , — which would take the earth out of its Maker's hand, and enrich itself at His cost and to His dishonor. What wonder if they should quarrel over the spoils of victory, and the nations be quaking, as they are, over the success of their policy of liberty and equal rights? When democracy meant only the curbing of the despotic power of rulers, when it meant still respect for wealth and rank, and law and order, they could rejoice over it, and cite it as the evidence of morally improved times. Arbitrary power only was to be restrained: there was to be equal justice, and quietness and assurance as the effect of righteousness. Certainly the abuse of power had been great enough to provoke reprisals, and make the downfall of absolutism an apparent real advancement. But man was and is the same; and the mistake has been ever to suppose that alterations of this kind could really heal or touch a moral state which was the essence of the trouble. The leprosy, skinned over here, would only break out elsewhere, for it was deeper than the surface, — in the blood, in the vitals of humanity itself.
Who can say where the movement for men's rights shall stop? If they be rights, must it not be unrighteousness to stop any where? Who can say to the restless, resistless, surge of the sea, Come no further! here shall thy waves be stayed? There were, there are, most real and gigantic evils, — tyrannies which no form of government yet devised has taken into account, or probably can take. What does every man's right to his own imply? What is "his own"? How can you take from wealth the power which wealth implies? or allow power without allowing the abuse of it? Settle all inequalities, make one general plain of all the mountains upon earth, you have stopped the fertilizing rivers also which the mountains roll over the plains and in the valleys which you deprecate, but for whose benefit, spite of all, they rise.
Rights! what scale have you of rights? Listen to the voices from a lower level than you desire, which will interpret for you, and enforce their interpretation, — socialism, communism, nihilism, — dread names, not merely for the monarch, but for the man of property also, and for the law-abiding citizen. People's rights are already in terrible conflict with one another, and in their name how many wrongs may be inflicted yet! This Laodicea of politics is destined to be the rock upon which all governmental reform will end in anarchy and chaos. He who can read the great typical book of nature may read the scriptural presages upon a scroll written with lamentation and mourning and woe: "And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth, distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming upon the earth: for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken" (Luke 21:25, 26).
But the removal of the things that can be shaken will only make way for a kingdom, not such as they anticipate, absolute beyond all the tyrannies of old, a "rod of iron," which shall break as potsherds all the opposing powers of man, yet be the shepherd's rod under which the poor of the flock will lie down at last in peace, and none shall make them afraid. How refreshing to turn from what has been engaging us to contemplate such a rule as the world has never seen!
"He shall judge Thy people with righteousness, and Thy poor with judgment. The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills by righteousness. He shall judge the poor of the people; He shall save the children of the needy, and break in pieces the oppressor. . . . In His days shall the righteous flourish, and abundance of peace as long as the moon endureth. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth. All kings shall fall down before Him; all nations shall serve Him" (Ps. 72:2-4, 7, 8, 11).
But, it may be objected, this is altogether political: what has this to do with Laodicea as a condition of the churches? It would have little indeed to do with it if only the Church realized its separation from the world. As it is, it has very much indeed to do, — so much, that in Christendom a political Laodicea involves, as a matter of course, an ecclesiastical one. The world and the Church are so allied, so mingled, so permeate each other now, that ideally alone will they endure separation. And as a matter of fact, "people's rights" has become scarcely less an ecclesiastical than a political watchword. In this sphere, the masses are rising up against the long rule of their spiritual leaders, and claiming their rights at their hands. The oldest and best established oligarchies are accepting popular methods and forms upon all sides. The few must yield to the many. They choose their pastors as they choose their lawyer or their doctor, and insist upon having what they pay for. What can be a better "right" than that? Thus, however, it is clear, they "heap to themselves teachers," if you must not assume that they have "itching ears." But, in truth, the ear it is that is largely consulted; and necessarily so, where the very idea at the bottom is a commercial equivalent, and popular majorities rule, as quantity instead of quality. Even in the Church, and at its best, the most spiritual have never been the larger number. How much less in churches demoralized by heterogeneous mixture, competing for power and popularity!
Think of it, however, as we may, there is no doubt that, in church as well as state, "liberal" thoughts are prevailing, — democratic forms are succeeding to the old aristocratic ones. And here certainly Philadelphia has prepared the way for Laodicea. Distinctive priesthood, and the vested rights of clerisy, have in measure yielded to the free evangelization going on, and the equality of Christian brotherhood, and it is impossible not to rejoice that this should be so. But yet who can doubt that the overthrow, such as it is, of these ecclesiastical superstitions has favored claims that are no more of God than they? The laity may dispossess the clergy, and dominion pass from one class to another without reverting to the hands to which it really belongs. Christ is alone Master, not clergy, and not people. Ministers are indeed servants, as the very name imports, yet not servants of men, — a thing against which the apostle so vehemently contends. "Ye are bought with a price; be ye not the servants of men: if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ." Thus these two things are in essential opposition. Christ needs to be in His true place, — a thing which so marks Philadelphia, but from which. Laodicea excludes Him as does Thyatira. Bring Christ in, and the ministers are His servants. Bring Christ in, and the people are His people. His service, on the part of all alike, is true and equal freedom at once to all.
But the spiritual phase of Laodicea we are now to follow. May we do it honestly, with hearts open to receive rebuke; remembering that, not ecclesiastical place, but spirit, is in question. It is an old deceit to pride one's self on possession of the truth, while yet the sanctification by the truth is unknown. And this indeed makes a large part of the character of what is before us.
The Lord presents Himself here as the One who amid the general failure is "the Amen, the faithful and true witness:" He has not failed.
He is the Amen: "For the Son of God, Jesus Christ," says the apostle, "who was preached among you by us, even by me and Sylvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in Him was yea. For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God by us" (2 Cor. 1:19, 20). No uncertainty, no doubtfulness, is there in Christ or His Word. He is always simple, positive "Yea," speaking one thing, absolutely to be depended on. If we have but a word of His, it is a blessed reality, given us in God's infinite love, which we may rest our souls on for eternity, and which can never fail us. This is a resource which the denial of verbal inspiration would completely take from us; but His own assurance is, "Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). If it be a question, as in the case which the Lord is speaking of here, of but a title applied by an inspired writer to a certain class of men, there must be perfect suitability and divine wisdom in the application. "If he called them gods to whom the word of God came, and Scripture cannot be broken." How precious is this assurance! Coming where it does, is it not itself a significant warning, this claim of His as "the Amen, the faithful and true Witness" to such a generation as the present? Does He not in it challenge the unbelief so common all around us?
But this presentation of Himself as a true and faithful Witness is in contrast with the failure of the Church, which has been any thing but that. He is just about to remove the candlestick because it has been unfaithful and untrue. But His people's shortcoming is not His own. Infidelity may seek to justify itself by the failure of Christians; and even Christians, alas! are almost capable of taking it as in some sort a reflection upon Himself. But "if we are unfaithful, he abideth faithful," as the R.V. rightly puts it now (2 Tim. 2:13). And He is just ready to rise up and bring in that day in which, with the revelation of all things, this faithfulness of His will appear abundantly. In the general wreck, this only now remains to Him.
He proclaims Himself with this: "The Beginning of the creation of God." The old creation, spoiled by sin, is passing away; its history is nearly completed; its judgment has been long since pronounced in the cross, and in Christ risen from the dead is begun all that God owns as really His, — first and always in His thought, and for which the ruin of the old only prepared the way.
When the Psalmist lifted up his eyes to heaven, and in view of God's glorious handiwork there exclaims, "What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that Thou visitest him?" the answer is, "Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels; thou hast crowned him with glory and honor; Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet." But of whom is he speaking? As the apostle in the second of Hebrews assures us, not of the first, but of the Second Man. "We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor." It is Christ in whom the true ideal of man is realized, and of whom the first Adam was but the fleeting image, and in many respects the contrast.
Now in Laodicea, with Christ outside, it cannot be the new creation in which their riches are. Yet they say they are rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing. Thus there are things which are gain to them which they have not counted loss for Christ.
It is an exceedingly solemn thing that the very truth which with all its grace judges and sets aside man most thoroughly is the very truth which he is prone to take and use for the purpose of self-gratulation. Take the law: God gave it "that every mouth might be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God" (Rom. 3:19). But how has man used, and how is he using it? Always to establish his own righteousness by it. The large part of the Christian world, so called, today is taking the "strength of sin" (1 Cor. 15:56) to accomplish holiness by it, and are taking salvation itself to be, "not" indeed "by the merit of works, but" yet "by works as a condition."
So, exactly, with Christianity: God has brought in the truth of new creation, the world before Him lying under death and judgment. Yet man takes the blessed truth of Christianity to patch up the world with it, and make it better if he can. And in the very presence of the ruin and break-up of things on every side, men are vaunting the success of the effort. On the eve of judgment, they are fulfilling the Scripture-portents of such a time by their smooth auguries of prosperity and peace.
No doubt God's Spirit is really and largely working but His end and man's thought are diverse, in that, while He is converting souls to "deliver them out of this present evil world," man's thought is an improved world, a Christian world: the effect of which is, to amalgamate Christians and the world, and spoil the scriptural character of Christianity altogether.
But in these last days God has given many to recognize the truth of the Word as to this. He has revived the truth of new creation, and revealed to us the practical and fruitful consequences which result from a place in Christ, where He is, in the heavens. But the question for us is, What are we doing, then, with the truth we recognize? Shall we talk of being in Christ a new creation, old things passed away, and all things become new, and yet cling to what has in it all the moral elements that make up the world — "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life"? Is it theory with us, or practical reality, to have "put on the new man, who is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him: where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; but Christ is ALL, and in all"? Has the Lord need to appeal to us as the One who is "the Beginning of the creation of God"? If so, is not Laodiceanism with us in that proportion?
To Laodicea, as to the rest, He says, "I know thy works." Here is the test, — the only true one. "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would that thou wert cold or hot. So, then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of My mouth." This is the certain and near end of professing Christendom. Of course He will not spew His own beloved people out of His mouth. He must take these first of all to Himself before He can reject the whole mass as nauseous. And we have already seen, in the address to Philadelphia, that the Lord tells them He will keep them out of the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world: — not merely out of the temptation; He might hide them in the desert so, but out of the hour of it. For this, He must take them out of the world altogether. And that is what the "I come quickly" connected with this also intimates.
Here, then, we have the brief, solemn pause before the Lord takes His people to Himself. He must do this before the professing body can be spewed out of His mouth. He cannot so reject even the poorest, weakest, most wayward of His own. And it is important to insist upon this, because there is abroad a view according to which only a class of better than ordinary Christians will be taken up when the Lord comes, while the rest will be left upon earth to go through the tribulation which follows this, when the earth is enduring the vials of His wrath. They point to the promise to Philadelphia as in this way the promise to a special class; and the ten virgins of our Lord's parable they maintain to be all Christians, as they bring forward the fact of their being "virgins" to prove; — only foolish ones, unwatchful and unready, with indeed the oil of the Spirit in their lamps, but no extra supply in their "vessels." Thus their lamps, which had been burning, cease to burn at last, and the fresh supply of oil they get is obtained too late for admission to the marriage. The Lord rejects them only as the bride: they lose their place in this, and are shut out to be purified by tribulation, and made ready for the kingdom afterward.
But how many precious realities must be denied in order to hold this view! Is it our faithfulness, then, that gives us a place among those who are admitted to the dignity of the bride of Christ? Is the Lord when He comes indeed going to discriminate in this way between less and more faithfulness? — between ordinary and extraordinary Christians? What an engine is this for turning the blessed and purifying hope into a means of self-occupation and despair! If things are so, where is the line of acceptance to be drawn? and on what side of it are we? Is my joyful expectation of this blessed time to be based on the belief in my own superiority to many of my brethren? What comfortable Pharisaism, or what legal distress must such a view involve!
If true, why should such a discrimination be made between the living saints alone? Why should it not equally affect the dead? And then, is there to be a purgatory to purify these?
As to Scripture, the support it gives to any such view is only apparent, and results from an interpretation of single passages, which is at issue with its whole doctrinal teaching. The coming of the Lord to remove His saints is not in Scripture ever connected even with our responsibilities and their adjudication, but with the fulfillment of the hope with which grace has inspired us. Our responsibilities and the reward of our works are connected with that which is called the "appearing" or "manifestation" or "revelation of Christ," — His coming with His saints, not for them. At the door of the Father's house to which He welcomes us when He comes, no sentry stands, no challenge is required. We go into it as purged by the precious blood of Christ, and in Christ. Already are we not only entitled, but "meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."
When He comes to the world, and His people take their places with Him as associated with Him in government, then dignities, honors, rewards of work, will find their place. It will be "Have thou authority over ten" — "be thou also over five cities." But salvation, righteousness, the child's place with the Father, membership of the body of Christ, our relationship to Christ as His bride, — nay, even our being kings and priests unto His God and Father, are things which, as they are not gained, so they are not lost by any work of ours at all. Christ has procured them for us, and grace bestows them, — grace, and grace alone.
When, therefore, the Lord descends from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God, is there discrimination among those in Christ? — of the dead who shall be raised? of the living who shall be changed? Nay, but the "dead in Christ shall rise first, then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; so shall we be ever with the Lord." Blessed words! how they pierce and scatter the chilling fogs of legalism, and make the "blessed hope," not a means of sorest perplexity and doubt, but hope indeed!
Nor are the passages which these writers build upon in contradiction with this at all. The promise to the overcomer at Philadelphia is one of a class which, as the eye runs over them throughout these apocalyptic addresses, show plainly that they apply more or less to every true believer. Take the promise to him at Ephesus, and ask, Will any believer not "eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God"? Take that to Smyrna, and ask, Will any "be hurt of the second death"? And so on through the remainder. Their special significance in relation to the overcomer in the cases there pointed out is not in the least diminished by their general application to all believers.
Again, as to the ten virgins, it is a mistake to suppose that in that character (according to the parable,) Christians are represented as espoused to Christ at all. Those who go forth to meet the bridegroom are not the bride; and to make them this, disjoints the parable. According to the whole tenor of the prophecy in these chapters, the Jewish people and the earth are in the foreground, and the parable of the virgins only parenthetically brings in the connection of Christians with these. According to the common language of the Old Testament prophets, the Lord is coming to take a Jewish bride; and on His way to do this, His people of the present time are called up to meet Him and return with Him. So much is implied in the expression in the Greek. It is thus when He is come to earth that the foolish virgins are rejected, and cast out of His kingdom altogether. The parable is a parable of the kingdom; and the kingdom, in all the parables, speaks of earth, not heaven, and of the whole field of profession. "Virgins," "servants," and the like titles, merely intimate responsible profession, not necessarily the truth of it. He was a servant who had laid up his lord's money in a napkin, and never really served at all. He was a servant, but a wicked one; and so with these "foolish" virgins.
Oil they are explicitly stated not to have; and though their lamps are only represented as "going out," when the cry is raised, "Behold, the bridegroom!" this is the constant style of these parables, in which the inner thoughts of the soul are mirrored and exposed, not dogmatic truth taught. In their own imaginations, the Pharisees were the "ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance;" not in dogmatic reality. Moreover, the Lord's words of rejection, "I know you not," are decisive from One who "knoweth them that are His," and can never disown them.
No, He cannot spew His own out of His mouth, but must have them with Him out of the world before the first drops of the storm of judgment fall. Even then it will be made manifest, before He rejects the public professing body, that they have on their part rejected Him. Christendom ends in open apostasy. The day of the Lord will not come except there come a falling away first, and the man of sin be revealed. Popery, evil as it is, and antichristian too, is not the last evil, nor the worst. It is the sinful woman, not the man. It has been revealed over three hundred years as this, and the day of the Lord is not yet come. The Antichrist will deny the Father and the Son alike.
How solemn to contemplate the last end of what began so differently! How above all solemn to consider that both at the beginning and the end, the sin and failure of the true people of God it is which initiates and completes the ruin! Who can doubt that Christians themselves are largely taking up this self-complacent assumption — "rich, and increased with goods, and in need of nothing"?
Even by some who deem the time of harvest drawing near we are invited to consider the fact that if the tares are ripening for it, yet the wheat must be ripening too; and that this means that the present generation of Christians is spiritually in advance of every other! We are bidden observe the great awakening of the missionary spirit, the restoration of gifts of healing to the Church, and so on. Surely we are rich, and increased with goods, if this be our condition! And is there not a creed, connected very much with the latter claim, and largely professed among those who naturally take their place as the very leaders of the Christianity of the day, which comes very near indeed to Laodicean profession? How could the claim to be rich and increased with goods be more really made than by those who profess what they will not indeed call "sinless" and yet do assert for it what ought to be a still loftier title, — that of "Christian perfection."
Christian perfection is of course the very summit — the ne plus ultra of Christianity. Higher than this no one can hope to go: with such a condition God Himself must be completely satisfied. As Christ is, (so they apply it,) so are they in this world. Perfect knowledge, perfect wisdom, they do not suppose they have, but "perfect love" is the term which exactly fits and describes their condition. They perfectly obey the divine law, and for a large class there remains in them no corruption of nature even, although many would not go as far as that. There are many grades of the doctrine, and correspondingly it affects very distinct classes of Christian profession. Its wide acceptance is a very noticeable thing in these days, an unmistakable sign of the times.
For the term "perfection," and that as applied to Christians, there is scripture, of course. The devil, in deceiving the people of God, will always, if he can, use scripture to accomplish his object. But the term there does not mean what in the dialect of the "higher life" it is made to mean. Take one of the strongest texts used, "Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" — the context shows decisively what is meant. We speak of a thing as perfect which has all its parts, without at all regarding the finish of its parts. So the Lord tells us that as children we must resemble our Father, and for this exhibit all the features of our Father's character. We must not only love those who love us, but as He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends His rain on the just and on the unjust, we must exhibit this feature of His character also: "Love your enemies, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 5:44, 45.)
"Perfection" is also used for the mature Christian condition, as a glance at the margin of Heb. 5:14 will show. The term there — "of full age" — is in the margin rendered "perfect," just as in 1 Cor. 14:20, "be men" is in the margin rendered "be perfect," or "of a ripe age." It is used thus with two applications: in Hebrews, Christianity itself is perfection, or maturity, in contrast with Judaism, which was a state of childhood. But again, among Christians there are those perfect, or mature, in contrast with being babes; and the apostle Paul, in the third of Philippians, in which he disclaims the having attained, or being already perfect, (as a consummation which he would not reach until with Christ in glory,) classes himself immediately after among those who had in another sense "attained:" Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded."
There are many texts which I cannot now go through; but this should prevent the catching at a word, as people are prone to do. Plenty about perfection there is, no doubt, in Scripture; but if we set up any standard short of walking as Christ walked, we are really lowering it. If, on the other hand, we can measure ourselves with Christ, and yet feel no rebuke, we must be indeed inordinately, if not incredibly, self-complacent.
Mischief is wrought in two ways by the idea. In the first place, sin must be palliated, excused, covered by misleading names. Lust is called temptation, and sometimes even daring dishonor done to Christ Himself by the insinuation that He too was in like manner tempted. So people quote, "He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin," as if it meant that He had such inward desires, only restrained them, so that there was no positive outbreak. This, the actual blasphemy of Irving and Thomas, in milder and less pronounced forms infects many in the present day. The text they quote in the common version favors these views too much. And the Revised Version unhappily perpetuates the error. There is properly, as any one may see by the italics (Heb. 5:15), no word in the original representing "yet." "He was tempted in all points, like as we are, apart from sin" is the true rendering. You must not imply sin in any way in the Holy One of God. Sin it is that produces lust, as the seventh of Romans decisively teaches, as on the other hand lust, again, brings forth the positive outward sin. He had neither; no inward incitement as no sin in act, and herein was our total opposite, who, as Scripture assures us, "in many things offend, all." (James 3:2.)
But again, the character of holiness is sadly spoiled by this perfectionism. In the lips of many, "holiness" means "perfection," and nothing else, and so does "sanctification." And yet in fact holiness itself is marred and perverted by this claim as made. It becomes self-occupation, self-assertion. "Seraphic" men are held up to admiration. And how much of Christ really do you find in the experience so largely boasted of by those who advocate the doctrine? It may be in words is it in reality, "not I, but Christ liveth in me"? or is it in fact a glorified, transfigured, but very self-conscious I, that lives and reigns throughout them? They do not see that, as the natural life in a state of health does not engross or claim the attention, — as the heart's pulsation, or the lung's work is not furthered, but disturbed, by thinking of it, — as the man in hospital it is who talks of his good days, because they are scarce, and as the dyspeptic it is who "feels" his stomach, — so this aim at a self-conscious holiness produces but a poor, degenerate, sickly Christianity at best. Is it far off from that which says, I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knows not that it is wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked?
"I counsel thee," says the Lord to Laodicea here — "I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness may not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see."
Three things are here which they are exhorted to "buy." So wealthy are they, the Lord will not talk of giving to them. And indeed it would be a happy thing for them to exchange their riches for them, false glitter for true gold. This is the first thing: gold. A frequent symbol this is, we know, in Scripture, and pure gold (as here, "tried in the fire,") for what is divine. In the ark of the testimony, and in the furniture of the holy places generally, gold covered all. The apostle, I believe, gives us the exact meaning, when he speaks of the golden cherubim as the "cherubim of glory, shadowing the mercy-seat. This "glory" is the display of what God is. God glorifies Himself when He shines out in the blessed reality of what He is; and Christ is the true ark in which two materials are found together — gold and shittim-wood. The radiance of divine glory is the gold; the shittim-wood, the precious verity of manhood.
Can we not see why to Laodicea "gold tried in the fire" is the first requisite? Their riches were but paper money, manufactured out of the rags of self-righteousness, and of merely conventional, not intrinsic value. Christ was what they lacked: divine glory in the only face in which it shines undimmed. This is the power of Christianity, its essence and its power alike, and this is what their false, pretentious Christianity lacked so terribly: occupation with Christ, — discernment of what and where all that is true and valuable in Christianity is to be found. To know where this is, is to have it. Faith that finds this treasure is welcome to its enjoyment. To be without it, is to be poor indeed.
The next thing is, "white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear." This is, no doubt, practical righteousness of life and walk. There is a connection between this and the former, which when we have their meaning becomes evident enough. Unless you have the divine glory in the face of Jesus shining for your soul, you will find no ability to live and walk aright. The "white" is the full, undivided ray of light; and God is light. How is our life to be the reflection of this, except as "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness," is shining in our hearts, "to give out the light of the knowledge of the glory of Christ in the face of Jesus Christ?" Leviticus must precede Numbers ever. We must go in to see God in the sanctuary before we can possibly come out and walk with Him in the world.
Finally, we have here, "and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see." Thus there was utter blindness, — the condition of the Pharisees over again. They did not realize it. They said, "We see," and thus their "sin remained." For the consciously blind, there is with Christ effectual healing; but they, alas! needed not the physician.
These characters, taken in their full extent, reveal a state which is assuredly not Christian. We must not, however, on this account suppose, as some have done, that Laodicea thus represents merely the unbelievers among the Christian profession. Of Sardis it is distinctly said, "Thou hast a name to live, and thou art dead," and yet there are owned among them those who are not only alive, but "have not defiled their garments." This shows that we must beware of ascribing the characteristics of the mass to all the individuals in it. It is a state of things as to which all found in association with it have the gravest responsibility; but to say it is only to be applied to the unconverted is to deprive the warning given of all its power. It is to enable every consciously converted man to wash his hands of the responsibility. Whereas all around us, not only are the signs of Laodiceanism growing continually more manifest, but the infection also of Christians with its spirit. And here again also it is apparent how Philadelphia may open the way to Laodicea itself.
Philadelphia proclaims the brotherhood of Christians, seeks the true Church, insists upon the evil of division, and the maintenance of individual con science in consistency with the recognition of the one body of Christ in all its members. Laodicea — Satan's counterfeit — proclaims also that the church is one, that union is strength, in order to bring about a grand confederacy in which truth shall be sacrificed for company's sake, and the power conferred by numbers. To the eyes of men, Laodicea becomes thus only the true carrying out of the Philadelphian idea, — itself a better and grander Philadelphia. Here Christ may in the very name of Christ be put outside the door, — a development of principles which are far and wide leavening men's minds, and preparing the way for the dark and dread apostasy in which the dispensation is announced of God to end.
Confederacy is, politically and socially, a character of the times. In mercantile affairs of every kind, companies are getting to be more and more every where the rule. The strength realized by union is here well recognized. In the rise of the popular element, combination is not merely an advantage; it is an imperative necessity. By its means alone can the poor man make his voice be heard upon nearer equality of terms with the capitalist, the laborer with his employer. Yet here the true individuality which God would have, — the individuality of conscience with which alone real uprightness of conduct can be maintained, — has to be lost and give way to the will of the majority.
No power can be attained by the body at large thus except by ruinous self-sacrifice on the part of its members. It must have unity, the unity of a machine, or nothing can be effected; but for this, heart and conscience must be leveled down to wood and iron. It is essential that freedom of individual action there should be none; and thus there is no tyranny so great as the tyranny often here exercised, — no more ruthless treading down of the most sacred and personal rights than with those in whose mouths the cry of "People's rights!" is oftenest and loudest.
Religious associations may seem often in their laxity as opposite to this as can be, and yet the laxity itself be as contrary to God, and bind me as much to His dishonor. What seems the largest liberality may thus be the very spirit of disobedience, and to this it is that every thing in the present day is tending. Satan can press upon us the evil of division just there where division is not an evil, but a right and godly separation from evil; and he can point out good to be accomplished, to make us little careful as to the means by which it is proposed to accomplish it. A united Christian church which should become so by making it a matter of indifference whether Christ were God or only the highest kind of man would certainly be his greatest achievement. The startling thing today is, that men considered evangelical can accept associations of this kind; and the platform upon which they stand widens continually: what would have been liberality a short time since is now narrowness. The world moves; but the unbending word of God which moves not, against this it will dash itself only to its destruction.
Amid this concourse and confederacy of men, communion with God becomes continually more restricted: "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me." This door is plainly individual, — not of the church, but of the heart. But then it is as plain that the church-door is shut against Him; not that He has shut it, or Himself spewed the church out of His mouth. He is still lingering in His love, — still saying, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous, therefore, and repent." But they do not repent. He is as when at Nazareth in the days of His earthly ministry (rejected by those who should have known Him best) it is written of Him, "And He could there do no mighty work, save that He laid His hand upon a few sick folk, and healed them." He could not do what He would; He would do what He could: "And He marveled at their unbelief; and He went round about the villages, teaching." So here, rejected by the body at large, He tries one door after another, in this solemn pause before the end. He would not judge in the mass; so He tries in detail. And if any heart responds, — for all seem to have shut Him out, but He will not take it yet as final, — then He will come in there, and sup: that soul shall yet to its everlasting joy entertain its Lord.
But the time hastens, and the nearness of the end is shown by the closing promise to the overcomer: "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 on His throne." He speaks, as He appears to the apostle, as Son of Man here. It is His kingdom as Son of Man He is about to take: that special throne from which as with a rod of iron He will break in pieces all opposition, and bring every thing into subjection to God. For it is His to do this. He has laid the foundation in the work of the cross: His hands shall finish it. All judgment is His, because He is the Son of Man. And judgment itself now is the only work left for mercy to accomplish. So there comes — most terrible of all wrath, the wrath of the Lamb, — the wrath of love itself: the wrath of Him who has been watching all these patient centuries the oppression of the meek, in whose ears have been the cries of the fallen in the terrible strife; He of whom the wicked hath said in his heart, He will not require it; yet who beholdeth mischief and spite to requite it with His hand; to whom the poor committeth himself, who is the Helper of the fatherless. HE now riseth up. "For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord: I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him."
In a word, the present day of grace is in this promise marked as just at its end. And with this the Church, as the vessel of the testimony of that grace, is being removed from the earth. The "present things" at which we have been looking are just over. The Christian dispensation has run its course. The saints removed to heaven, the rest that are left are but reprobate, and fall soon into utter apostasy. Then comes the earth's great trial-time, the time of Jacob's trouble, out of which yet he shall be delivered; the heading up of unbelief in gigantic forms of evil, dimly (and but dimly) now looming up amid the shadows of the horizon. Beyond it yet the glory of a brighter day, when the redeemed of the Lord shall come with singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their head; when 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. And the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Sweeter than all and brighter the joy above, when in the mansions of the Father's house that promise shall be fulfilled, "I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also."