Vain repetitions were, we suppose, the iteration of the same entreaties in the same words, because it was thought that there was merit in thus persevering in their cries, and that, as the Lord says, they would be heard for their much speaking. Even the Jews were not free from the same tendency, for their rabbis taught that there was great merit in reciting their eighteen prayers; and certain professing Christians have reproduced the very evil which the Lord here condemns. Even more might be said: for there are very few who are not tempted in this direction. It is well, therefore, to consider the twofold, all-efficacious antidote. The Lord speaks plainly of the one, and as clearly implies the other. The first is confidence in God: "Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him"; and in the consciousness of this the soul will be satisfied to leave its petitions to His care and love. The second is, that prayer must be divinely taught: "After this manner, therefore, pray ye." This was a prayer given to the disciples for their use until the Spirit of God should come, after which all prayer must be in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18; Jude 20, etc.) in order to be efficacious. This cannot be overlooked without great danger. If borne in mind, long prayers in public would be avoided, as well as the catching up and repetition of current phrases and expressions. No prayer is of any avail with God, if it be not begotten in the heart at the moment by the present action of the Holy Ghost. God loves reality, and ten words uttered before Him which are the fruit of the power of the Spirit are of infinitely more value than ten minutes of fluent expression of well-known sentences and truths. The latter, indeed, would not be prayer, but rather "vain repetitions."
John 14:13, 14, etc.
A further question having been asked concerning the distinction between prayer "through" the Lord Jesus and "in His name," we return to the subject. All prayer must be through Him, that is to say, it is only through Him that we approach God. We thus read, "For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (Ephesians 2:18); and again (though here it is thanksgiving, but the principle is the same), "By [through] Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name." (Hebrews 13:15.) This, then, is fundamental, and it teaches that we can only come into the presence of God through the Lord Jesus Christ. When we are there - having come in this way - we enjoy the liberty in the Spirit, through God's unspeakable grace, of making supplication for anything and everything which may be burdening our hearts; in everything with prayer and supplication, along with thanksgiving, we are permitted to make known our requests to God. There is nothing which is a care to us that we may not cast upon the Lord. But prayer in the name of the Lord Jesus is another thing altogether. This may be more clearly perceived if we refer once more, as in the previous note, to believers acting in the world in the name of Christ. (Colossians 3:17.) As so doing they are plainly the representatives of Christ and under His lordship.* In like manner praying in the name of Christ is to be before God as His representatives, and entitled to be there as such through His grace, to pray for things connected with His own glory and interests. In such a case His objects and desires are ours. In the enjoyment of deliverance, and living of His life, and His own desires begotten in us through His words abiding in us, we have no desires for ourselves, for He is our life, and we thus are blessedly free to be occupied with His own things, and to travel out into all the circle of His own interests and affections. It should be also said that when we are thus before the Father in the name of the Son we appear with all His own claim upon the Father's heart; and this will explain the absoluteness of the promise, "And whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in My name, I will do it."** Any further communications upon the subject shall (D.V.) be carefully considered.
*Notice here also that, at the close of the verse in Colossians, it is giving thanks to God and the Father by (through) Him.
**It is also to be remembered that every blessing bestowed in answer to prayer is received through the Lord Jesus Christ. He administers everything from the heart of God to His people.
"Where Satan's Seat is"
It is sometimes a question whether these words are used by the Lord as a statement of fact, descriptive of the place of the Church's sojourn until His return, or as implying a reproach to the Church for having forgotten her heavenly calling and character, and having found her home in the world. The meaning of the expression must first be explained in order to understand what the Lord's mind is. It is Satan's throne rather than seat; and this very plainly points to him as the god of this world, as Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 4. Until the cross Satan was never so described. In anticipation of it the Lord said, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me"; and he proved his leadership of the world by arraying every class, all its representatives, whether of religion, of politics, of human thought in its various aspects, and of the civil power, etc., against Christ. The world accepted his proffered sovereignty, and this was expressed in the cry, "Not this man, but Barabbas." Satan, therefore, as far as man is concerned, holds undisputed sway over the world, and hence John could write that the whole world lieth in wickedness, or more probably (for the word may be translated either way) in the wicked one. It is a matter of fact, therefore, that the Church is in the place where Satan's seat (throne) is.
There is, however, another consideration arising out of the word "dwell." If this were chosen to indicate a danger besetting the Church at this moment, it would at least be a warning and a call to watchfulness. That it was a very especial temptation (not that the temptation is ever absent) at that time is evident from the character of the period. Ephesus represents the phase of the assembly immediately following upon the days of the apostles, and even then the root of all the abounding corruptions which have since followed had appeared in the loss of "first love." The age of persecution followed in Smyrna, wherein the Lord used the enmity of Satan in chastening to purify that Church which He loved, and for which He gave Himself; and for a season there was recovery. Constantine, the Roman emperor, after this professed Christianity, and, as a consequence, the world, which had been bitterly hostile to the Church, suddenly veered round and became outwardly favourable. This was in the time of Pergamos; and thus the Church was in greater peril than ever. Satan, therefore, changed his tactics; he had been a persecuting adversary; he now became a seductive enemy. The chief danger had been from without: now it was within; and of this we cannot but think that the Lord warns Pergamos by speaking of dwelling where Satan's throne is.
This will be more apparent if the connection of the expression is regarded. The whole of verse 13, even if warning is implied, is commendation; for, following upon the expression commented upon, the Lord says, "Thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth." This is very great praise indeed, because in a time of persecution through which this assembly had passed it had furnished a witness who through grace had sealed the testimony with his blood, and who had thus encouraged all to hold fast the confession of the name of Christ, and to be true to the faith, in heart as well as by lip, in the very centre of Satan's power, where he dwelt. It can, however, be scarcely doubted that this refers to a past chapter, if recent, of their history, and that the Lord recalls it to their minds to stimulate their souls to greater energy and faithful devotedness in the presence of their peculiar snares and dangers. (Compare Heb. 10:32-39.) The truth, then, would seem to be that, while the Lord refers to the fact that the Church dwelt (and dwells) where Satan's throne is, He uses the fact to convey a solemn warning of the dangers connected with it.
What follows justifies in a very marked way this interpretation, because it reveals that dangerous corruptions had crept inside, and had become tolerated in, the assembly. We find thus, in verses 14, 15, that the Lord solemnly tells the angel of this assembly that He had a "few things" against him, and these He describes as the doctrine of Balaam and the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes. The angel of Ephesus had been commended for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, being in this in communion with the Lord's own mind; but now the declension of the assembly had made such rapid progress that, in addition to the doctrine of Balaam, those were allowed inside who held the abominable teaching of the sect of the Nicolaitanes. In a word, unconcealed worldliness and immoralities, allied with outward sanctity, had gained a foothold among the saints, and hence were no longer regarded with aversion and abhorrence. The Lord hated this evil thing, while those in responsibility in the assembly tolerated it. Solemn divergence of judgment! And does it not obtain today? Let us challenge ourselves, in the presence of Him who walks in the midst of the churches with His eyes as a flame of fire, as to whether, to say the least, worldliness is not now accepted as a necessary evil, as to whether it is not so common that we have ceased to entertain the Lord's judgment of it?
The way of the Lord in dealing with the evil is much to be remarked. It was in the responsibility of the angel to take measures to banish it; but failing this, as this angel had done, the Lord Himself would take it in hand. He therefore calls first of all upon the angel to repent. A period of grace would be allowed to give time for self-judgment; if this were not taken advantage of, the Lord Himself would come quickly, and, with the two-edged sword of the word of His mouth, He would search through and through, and expose the state of those who were prominent in Pergamos. If we shut our eyes to what grieves the Spirit of God in ourselves or among the people of God, the Lord does not. He never excuses or extenuates evil, for He, in His undying love for His own, cannot allow them to go on with anything which disturbs communion with Himself. We should learn the lesson well, for, dwelling where Satan's throne is, the subtle influences of the world steal, if we are unwatchful, almost imperceptibly into the midst of the saints, and conform them to the age in which they live.
The efficacious antidote to the evil is found in the promise which the Lord makes to the overcomer. After the proclamation, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches," He proceeds to say, "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it." With such heavenly allurements does the Lord seek to encourage the saints to resist and vanquish the evils which He had exposed. He holds out to them the ineffable enjoyment of delighting in Himself while He is hid in God, that, strengthened by feeding upon Himself and His glorious perfections, they, realising what true life is, might be superior to all the attractions which the world could offer. This is the way of victory over the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Such, moreover, should carry in their hearts a divine secret, into which none should be able to penetrate: the sense of the Lord's own approbation springing from a daily growing intimacy with Himself. It is thus by the presentation of Himself in this attractive way that the Lord would preserve His people while dwelling where Satan's throne is, and win their hearts to the present enjoyment of Himself and His love. May we all learn increasingly, first the joy of being absorbed in devotedness to Him, and then His own methods in seeking to help the souls of others.