The Lord, seeing in Philadelphia a true reflection of His Church, could flow out to it in unstraitened affection, establishing it (i.e. Philadelphia) in the precious consciousness of the portion which faith realizes that the bride ever possesses in His unchanging love, while it sings
"For thee, His royal bride, for thee,
His brightest glories shine;
And, happier still, His changeless heart
With all its love is thine."
But, alas! in nothing are we a more accurate reflection of the Church of the apostolic days than in the matter of our history. For is not that which claims to be Philadelphia today (and it continues to the Lord's coming, though leavened by Laodiceanism as the last stage becomes characteristic) far below the moral level at which it once stood? Soon, how very soon! the Pentecostal state gave place to "a form of godliness without the power;" and this not alone through the introduction of wood, hay, and stubble, along with gold, silver, and precious stones; but through sloth of heart in those who formed the assembly to grow up into Him in all things who is the head, even Christ. Nevertheless, for this the Lord was careful to make every necessary provision (Eph. 4:11-13, 16); and it was a necessity also to the Church's expression of Him upon earth, whose name it was privileged to bear. And thus has it been with us in both respects. As a consequence of the latter, there is a feeble realization amongst us of the blessings the truth we profess offers, and a still less sense of its claims. Where, therefore, faithfulness to an absent Lord is sought, not only must there be a gracious reiteration of facts already known, but individual responsibility needs insisting upon, the conscience to be kept beneath the light, that the heart may effectually receive; for being on the true ground outwardly by no means implies Philadelphian state, even in believers found there. It is only overcomers, as we hope to see, who as to state merit the Lord's commendation, and are fully capable of entering into the sweetness of His precious words - "I have loved thee." (Rev. 3:9.) Applicable certainly in a primary sense to His Church, but once also corporately enjoyed by the remnant walking in the Philadelphian character.
Through never-failing grace some doubtless will prove faithful in individual and Church responsibilities, living in the power and comfort of "that blessed hope" - as Laodiceanism leavens well-nigh everything, and becomes increasingly manifest even in many on true Church ground - until the Lord comes utterly to reject an unworthy profession. Those most desirous of being found in such a condition then, will not refuse a standard by which Philadelphians may test themselves, and become humbled in the sense of how far below we all are of the standard supplied by Himself, and therefore divine. It is only this which can retain any in the approved condition - that of littleness (v. 8; 2 Cor. 12:10), and can qualify them for the personal contact with the Lord so fully portrayed in the epistle (Rev. 3:8-12), as well as to be reckoned, in the Lord's matchless grace (certainly not in one's own esteem), amongst the overcomers.
It has often been truly remarked, that there is an evident connection between the aspect the Lord presents towards the Church, and the condition it is found in, at each of the seven stages. Thus, in Philadelphia, because He has found dependence, if He favours and establishes the feeble remnant (v. 8), He would also vindicate (v. 9), protect (v. 10), and crown it (v. 11); and when His dealings concern more particularly the individual, He will even condescend to stand by the overcomer to strengthen him by a reiterated expression of His sweetest sympathy (see "My God," v. 12), waiving for the moment His place as Son of God (Rev. 2:18) "over His own house;" stepping out of His attitude of judgment (may we not say?) to encourage by His blessed companionship any desirous of standing for His glory, as everything becomes more and more involved in that disregard for the claims of His person which characterizes the last phase of the Church on earth.
It is also true that there is at all times a moral connection between the workings of Satan, the condition of a faithful soul, and the dealings of the Lord intended to strengthen it under trial. Thus, throughout the churches, it is not difficult to trace the appropriateness of the promises which the Lord gives to overcomers in each stage, in view of the set of circumstances which characterized the day, and put faithful souls to the test. Not only so, but the pressure of those circumstances on overcomers, in each case, fitted them to receive the promises and encouragements with appreciation. Hence we evidently have, by implication, a key to the state of overcomers in Philadelphia, by the promises given in verse 12. It is also plain that to be such, overcomers must possess the marks of the assembly, in so far as they are strictly applicable individually. Using these means, then, of determining the state of a true Philadelphian, we find,
First. "Thou hast a little strength." Blessed that He should notice it, even encouragingly. Whether we are conscious of being in this condition before Him or not, this is His word concerning us. He does not flatter. And how well it would be for us were we in complete unison with Him on so important a point! We should then with joyful patience wait on Him to open doors for service until He might then invite us to share His pleasure in fulfilling the purposes of His love and wisdom in His own way. The overcomer knows the only adequate power for the accomplishment of those purposes, cherishes the self-abasement which can alone constitute any worthy channels of that power, and is rewarded with, "I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God." (Compare 2 Cor. 12:9.) The next mark of the assembly - "Thou hast kept my Word" - when applied to the individual, necessarily develops into a variety of detail which the references in verse 12 seem to give by implication on the principle already explained. There (v. 12) we find the results of the operation of God's word on a soul; firstly, in its attitude towards God; secondly, in its individual testimony in the world; thirdly, in its ecclesiastical connection. Introducing these points into the series already commenced, we have:
Secondly. "He shall no more go out." Now this evidently pre-supposes a state of soul in which worship is a delight. (Ps. 27:4.) In what other condition could any appreciate such a promise? Could it be of any strengthening effect? And what leads into such an adoring sense of the glory of the blessed God but His Word? showing the connection between this mark of the overcomer and the second characteristic of the assembly. So also in the two following points, each determinative of an overcomer's state.
Thirdly. "I will write upon him the name of my God." Jeremiah said, "Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts." Consequently upon this he is found in separation from iniquity. (Jer. 15:16, 17; compare 1 Peter 1, and 2 Tim. 3:19.) The overcomer also, feasting upon God's precious Word, and learning conscious identification with the Holy One, occupies similar ground towards the world; and, enjoying the blessedness of such identification, he receives with appreciation the promise, that what he seeks becomingly to maintain now, will be both perfect and manifest by-and-by.
Fourthly. "I will write upon Him the name of the city of my God." To one who has drunk in the Lord's desire, as expressed in John 17:21 - has observed the establishment in power of that oneness by the Holy Ghost, and its manifestation, at Pentecost - meditated upon the loosening effects of Satan's devices by which the Church was split up, to the setting aside of the Lord's desires already referred to, and now sees with sorrow the fruits of fragmentary testimony in the sceptic's sneer, to say nothing of the seas of iniquity through which the professing Church has dragged the precious name of our Lord - what intense satisfaction it is to look forward to the perfect day when everything will be according to His mind; when what has dishonoured Him will reappear, dressed by His own gracious hand, in all the unsullied perfections of His glory (John 17:22, 23; Rev. 21), the complete expression of Himself What grace it is which, oblivious of everything, will yet allow us to recognize Him as the Lamb, ever adorable; but more still, will establish us in the precious unalterable consciousness of the everlasting relationship - deeper far than what can be displayed expressed in the divinely given title, "The Bride, the Lamb's wife!" Identification with this is a truly blessed prospect, but natural nevertheless to the heart familiar with the boundless love which has made such possible - knowing itself "wrought for the self-same thing" by God. Meditating on the glory of such a prospect so moulds the heart that, on the one hand, nothing will suit it on earth but a reflection, however feeble, of the divinely-ordered city; and, on the other, it is in a condition to receive with gladness the Lord's promise: "I will write upon him the name of the city of my God."
Fifthly. Returning now to verse 8, Philadelphia had learned Him who is holy and true; recognized Him as King of kings, though not yet seated upon His own throne; and Lord of lords, before whom every knee shall bow; as well as Son over His own house; and it afforded Him a suitable resting-place, by owning Him in His true character and full dignities, though only two or three should be found in any place to meet together thus in His name. (Matt. 18:20.) Happy is he who continues faithful to Him, in a scene where ten thousand attractions tend to blind the eye to the glory of Him who in grace took the lowly place here, and because He could not sanction worldly greatness which shut out God, however much its display might invite countenance and approval. To those who overcome the Lord says, "I will write upon him my new name." (v. 12.)
Sixthly. Consistently with the heavenly portion the Church has received as united to her glorified Lord, Philadelphia impugns the notion of Christians taking Jewish ground ("who say they are Jews and are not," etc.); sees, in fact, the contrast as drawn by God Himself in Phil. 3:19, 20. She accordingly keeps faith with Him at the Father's right hand, "expecting till His enemies be made His footstool," - keeps the word of His patience, and in return is introduced into the assurance of the Lord's gracious intentions towards His heavenly Bride; viz., to keep her from the hour which earthly minded ones must have in view (compare Sardis, Rev. 3:3), "the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world to try them that dwell upon the earth." As one with Him who is enthroned above, the faithful soul declines making claims in the world which unrighteously condemned Him - waiving its rights until the day when he can take all with Jesus. And how blessed it is to know He even invites such manifestations of sympathy now in the time of His rejection on earth!
Seventhly. The Lord's coming, as well as being the consummation of all our hopes and prospects, may be looked upon as the crucial test for profession. Its usual connection with practical sanctification, the great aim of truth (John 17:17), is well known, and the profession is of little worth indeed, however brilliant the rays of light emitted may appear, if they converge not upon that one point. Lose heart in the Lord's coming, and all is lost that can be lost. 2 Tim. 4:7, 8 bears upon this, and explains also the connection between the "crown" and the coming of Rev. 3:11. I ask not, Are we looking for the Lord? but, Do we "love His appearing"?
In conclusion, it is evident the above seven marks do not set forth a Christian standing before God: neither does it definitely treat of godliness of walk before men. They strike home, and discover the inner springs - the living energies of a soul at rest in the presence of God, consciously possessed of "gold;" though not to be occupied with it certainly, more than as a platform upon which it stands, while clutching the links which bind it to the blessed object around whom its divinely-wrought affections entwine, in an intelligent love of which He is the source as well as object. What a portion our hearts have in Christ! Formed for Him, linked eternally with Him, and free even now to enjoy Him - the everlasting delight of His redeemed people. J. K.
It is one thing to be safe in the ark on the Ararat of God, and another thing for Christ to dwell in the heart by faith. Oh, what a quantity of care goes out when Christ is there! If Christ is the Master of the house, and dwelling in it, He does not let the dust and the cobwebs accumulate, but He fills it altogether; and should a sudden start come to the heart, there will be found not fear, but Christ. J. N. Darby.
I shall find One in heaven nearer and dearer to my heart than any one I know on earth. Nothing is so near to us as the Christ that is in us, and nothing is so near to God as Christ. Ibid.