The Revelation of John


Division 1. (Rev. 1 – 3.)

The Things that are.

The scope of this first division has already been sufficiently considered. The way is open for us to take it up in detail.

There are here two subdivisions, the first chapter being plainly introductory to the two following. In the first of these we have what the Lord refers to as "the things which thou hast seen." The second gives us the addresses to the churches.

Subdivision 2. (Rev. 2, 3.)

The Messages to the Churches.

We now come to the epistles to the churches, the character of which has been already more or less before us: seven in number, they naturally divide, as seven so often does, into the first four and the last three. Some would have it rather be the first three and the last four, and this from what we find in the epistles themselves, that in the first three the call to him "that hath an ear to hear" precedes the promise to the overcomer, while in the last four it follows it. There would seem this difference, that when the call precedes the promise we have the whole assembly in some sort addressed; while, when the promise to the overcomer precedes the call, it would seem rather that there is only hope with regard to this special class. The address becomes more individual; a remnant is thoroughly marked out; but while this may be accepted as truth, yet the result does not follow. The truth is that Thyatira, the last of the four, is looked at as running on to the end. The announcement of the Lord's coming is first of all found here, and the state of things depicted in it goes on through all the after-history.

It not only does so, but it characterizes that which in an especial sense arrogates to itself the title of the Church. Rome, as we know, does this, and we shall see that Rome is reached in the epistle to Thyatira while Babylon the Great, in the second division of Revelation, shows us her end to be after the taking away of the Church, and at the hands of the beast and the ten horns (kings) that receive their power one hour with the beast. In fact, the history during the period shown in these four churches is a progressive history, the end of which is thus fully reached in Thyatira, while in the three following churches, as we shall see when we come to examine them, we have a new departure, no longer the woman and her doctrine, but what is the fruit of a real revival from God, though it ends, alas, once more in a decline which brings it under judgment. Thus also the first four, according to the general character of the number, give a more external view which, as we go on, becomes, as we may say, even political; while the second with all its failure presents that which is at least in its whole claim spiritual, although this claim may in result have to be questioned, or even disallowed.

Section 1. (Rev. 2.)

General identity and unity to Thyatira in which it is more strongly asserted than ever, though division is then beginning, and a remnant being separated.

In the first four epistles, then, we find a general identity and unity, however different they may be in development and in Thyatira that which asserts this more strongly than ever. It is the Church in the fullest way asserted to be catholic, — the Church with its authoritative voice, to which all that are of God are bound to listen. This is the woman who calls herself a prophetess, but who is really Jezebel. Here we find a preparation for what follows, a remnant now becoming separated, although not yet distinctly standing apart: the separation is more in heart and spirit than in outward position but, for all this, the examination of the details is absolutely requisite. It is enough, therefore, simply to indicate it here.

The first section (with its four addresses) divides again into two parts. This, it has been noticed elsewhere, would indicate no bright and happy state of things. Four is, as we know, the number of the world, or of the creature: but creation as manifesting — as it should manifest — the glory of the Creator, is a three and one, these being the numbers of manifestation and of divine unity and supremacy. Two, on the other hand, is the number of division, therefore of essential frailty, contradiction and evil. This is what we find, accordingly, in what we have here.

1. In the first part we find what may be given as its character, Christ's rule over His people in measure maintained. In the second part we shall find, on the contrary, the dwelling where Satan's throne is, implying, of necessity, something opposed to this while the woman Jezebel shows us a further step in departure from it. Here again this can be only stated at present. The proof can only be found as we take up the addresses in detail.

(1) We start, then, with Ephesus. The assemblies, as we have noticed, are all Asiatic assemblies, and we have seen already the significance of this; Asia being the scene of a movement which Paul speaks of distinctly as a departure from himself, that is, evidently from his doctrine, (for that is it with which he identifies himself). Asia also, if the apostle's own voyage to Rome has the typical significance which has been elsewhere given it, represents a stage in the Church's declension; the vessel which carries him, but as a prisoner, being bound first for the shores of Asia, "the miry land," — that is, as it would seem, the significance of the name — the Church being mired with the world; how soon, in fact, that came to be its condition! Ephesus itself was, as we know, the church to which the apostle addressed that epistle which gives us the doctrine of the Church itself; not its earthly, but its heavenly character. The highest truth of Christian position, the wonderful character of the Church as the body of Christ, the house of God, and again the spouse of the Lord Jesus, is developed in it. The saints were yet in their first brightness here, and the apostle's heart was free to give them that which he could not minister to the Corinthians or to the Hebrews, being checked by their condition. It is, therefore, most significant that we find just Ephesus here characterized by the beginning of departure from the Lord, the beginning of all real departure, wherever it exists. Ephesus is characterized now by first love left, and as a consequence the first works also. The two things go necessarily together. Ephesus means "desirable," or "object of desire;" and this may speak of that which makes the picture sadly perfect. It is the Church, the object of the Lord's love, which is leaving the first freshness of its love to Him. This is what makes the whole address so significant. It is not, as many have supposed, that Ephesus is here first addressed as being the metropolitan church of Asia; for the Church in the beginning knew nothing of metropolitanism, and had to be degraded from heaven to earth to bear thus the stamp of earth. Political rank has no place in spiritual things; and if men point to Jerusalem, as they would, and to what they are pleased to designate as the first council there (Acts 15), they only show by this how they have got back to Judaism, and are confounding thereby the earthly with the heavenly.

In the book of Acts we have had necessarily before us that asserted council which we have no need to deny having been such, but with a very different result from that which is sought to be deduced from it. The appeal is certainly made there, on the part of the Gentiles, to Jerusalem; and not only so, but the apostle Paul speaks of going up by revelation there (Gal. 2) so that it was of God that there should be this appeal: but for what purpose? In order that at Jerusalem itself the hold of Jerusalem upon the people of God might be broken, and the Church set free! Nothing could possibly be so effectual as to make Jerusalem itself set aside what was claimed to be her own jurisdiction; and thus it is that in the letter which goes out from thence at this time, it is put as what seemed good "to the Holy Spirit and to us;" not to the Holy Spirit in us or by us, but the Holy Spirit having, as Peter argues, in fact already settled the matter by the bringing in of Cornelius and others with him; Jerusalem had nothing further to do than to profess its subjection to what the Spirit had already done. This is the plain matter of fact, as the whole history demonstrates, and it settles definitely the question of the Spirit of God making known His mind through councils of the Church — the mischief which men inexcusably have made out of this. The metropolitan character of Ephesus, as asserted by tradition, grows naturally out of its actual political place at that time; and when politics began to influence the Church, it became perfectly natural that Ephesus should have the spiritual place answering to its political one. Scripture itself knows nothing of all this. There is in it the Church at large, and the churches (or assemblies); but the Church at large consists, not of churches, but of individuals. The body of Christ has members, and nothing else. Yet there are churches, assemblies, which in each place, in the original condition of things, was but the one assembly in that place — everywhere the assembly of God represented in those who might be gathered together there. The local assembly represented in this way, of necessity, the assembly as a whole, but it was no distinct body. The only body was the body of Christ. There cannot be bodies of Christ, but only the body. The local assembly in this way owed all that was distinctive in it to mere locality. The assembly as a whole, scattered as it is over the world, cannot, therefore, assemble; the actual assembly must of necessity be local. But it was thus at the same time no separate body, and could not be so without an independence being asserted by this, which in Scripture at least is never thought of.

A quotation from a commentary of recent date, and which is in its character much beyond the ordinary, may yet show us how far from the scriptural view Christians have in general departed — "The gospel everywhere speaks of a calling and an election, and the Church is the organized society of the called and elected. It is the assembly or community of those whom God has called out from the world into a common fellowship of faith, hope, and obedience, and which is preserved and perpetuated by means of functions and services included in the call. And wherever there is a company of such as have received and believed the gospel, organized into one body, in the charge of one authorized minister, and coming together in the same stated services, there is a true church; and such societies were the seven assemblies."

How strange the contradiction here! First of all, we have what is perfectly true, that "the Church is the organized society of the called and elected." Who has organized it? He, certainly, who formed it. How is it formed? "By one Spirit," answers the apostle, "we are all baptized into one body." How is the baptism of the Spirit conferred? By man's hands or what? Certainly according to Scripture it is as when, in that sample case which decided things for them in the council at Jerusalem, the Spirit fell upon Cornelius and those with him, as they heard in faith the word of God which was preached to them. He who admits into the body of Christ is thus Christ Himself and no other. But we are told now that, "Wherever there is a company of such as have received and believed the gospel, organized into one body," there is a true church. Is this, then, a body, an organism distinct from the general organization, the body at large? Scripture has certainly no such thought anywhere. The body of Christ is in each place as represented by the members there; but there is, as the apostle declares and as the necessity of the case shows, one body alone. The definition is rendered still more unscriptural by the addition that in order to be a true church it must be "in the charge of one authorized minister." Where shall we find the scripture for this? The same writer will not himself venture to produce for it the angels of the churches, but distinctly disallows this. Where else has he found it? Where else can any one find it today? It is a thing, no doubt, of old date and which is accepted apparently because of what is thought its reasonableness, and much more because of its antiquity. Scripture is absolutely against it everywhere, and the assumption of it has been the cause of untold disaster in the Church at large. We shall find it shortly stigmatized by the Lord Himself under the title of Nicolaitanism. In the body, the Lord Himself has set the members, with gifts corresponding in each case to the place He has given these. Every member is thus responsible to know his place, and responsible for the use of the gift which that place implies. The Head over all is Christ Himself. The Spirit uniting all in subjection to the Head is the Spirit of Christ. It is of the first importance that the conscience here should be before God alone, and that there should be none to dictate as to how or by whom the ministry everywhere is to be determined and regulated. The voice of God must be free everywhere to reach His people, and there must be no order of things which will shut it out, by whomsoever He may please to minister. Must not necessary disaster result from the interposition here of that "one authorized minister" (by whom authorized?) who is to have charge of the whole?

The church at Ephesus comes first, then, here, not because of any metropolitan position that it had, but simply because of the truth which was committed to it, — that truth to which, alas, it is beginning to be untrue. The condition of Ephesus, in fact, stands for the condition of the Church universal from that time to the present. Whatever may be said for individuals, when has the Church gone back to its first love? And that is the root of the whole matter here.

But what then is this angel of the assembly in Ephesus to whom the apostle is directed to write? It is natural enough with the thoughts that fill our minds today, to think of some official who presided over it, and, as we know, it has been sought to make of him either a diocesan bishop, or at any rate such a minister as is almost universal in the present day. It is the angel who is, in fact, looked at as responsible for the condition of things indicated. It is the angel who is therefore rebuked or exhorted. Who is represented here if there be no such official? To this, Scripture in general answers clearly that the word of God is always addressed to the assembly itself, and in no wise to its officials, whatever these might be. Philippi has its bishops and deacons, but it is not either to bishops or deacons that the apostle writes his letter, but "to the saints in Christ Jesus" who are there — to all the saints, along with these. At Ephesus itself, where we know there were bishops, Paul yet writes to "the saints which are at Ephesus and to the faithful in Christ Jesus," and the bishops have in the epistle no peculiar place at all.

In the epistle to the Romans, the address is in the same way "to all that be in Rome beloved of God, called saints;" and to the Corinthians, to whom he speaks of the special order of the Church on earth, it is, "Paul unto the Church of God which is at Corinth, to them which are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, both theirs and ours." There is not, in fact, a hint anywhere of such a responsibility on the part of any officials for the state of the Church as would be indicated, according to the common way of thinking, in the epistles of Revelation. We need not consider the dream of some, that the angels here were literal angels, "guardian" as they are called. This is only, if possible, more baseless than the ordinary thought. Whatever be the truth with regard to the angel, it is most certain that every one that has an ear to hear is called to hear "what the Spirit saith," not to officials, but "to the assemblies;" and is there not just here a key to the meaning of the angel symbol? Revelation is a book of symbols, as is indicated in the opening of it, and as ought to be plain to all who read it; and therefore we need not wonder so much at a symbol here. It has been thought that as "angel" just means "messenger," and is applied to others than the heavenly messengers, there might have been messengers sent to the apostle from these different assemblies, and that it is these which he is called to address thus. This is a possibility, although there is no proof of it that we can find. Nevertheless, if such a thing could be admitted, it would make this clear how the assembly could be addressed in its angel or messenger without in any wise resigning its responsibilities as such. The address to the angel would be, in fact, an address to a representative of the assembly; the assembly would be addressed in him. This is, at any rate, a view of the matter which commends itself far more than the common thought; but we must nevertheless take into account what has been said already as to the angel before the addresses begin. The seven stars, says the Lord "are the angels of the seven assemblies, and the seven lampstands are the seven assemblies." There is a difference surely, as there is a connection also here. The lampstands were on earth, with responsibilities inferred of giving light there; but that light might, as we know, sadly fail, while, on the other hand, the star as the true heavenly light could hardly do so. Now if we consider the double aspect of the assembly which these addresses so thoroughly enforce, the responsible, actually existing assembly on the one hand, the assembly positionally and by profession, and on the other hand, the true people of God who soon cease to be identical with the profession as a whole, but among whom alone there could be found an ear to hear the voice that was speaking, — does it not seem plain that it is these latter for whom the angel stands? If the superscription of the epistles is to the angel of the assembly, the subscription, as we may say, is to him that hath an ear to hear. These, therefore, seem to be the same; and everything would agree with this. Here alone is the heavenly, real light. Here are the stars that shine in the darkness of the night. Here are those who can be considered responsible, and addressed with full urgency of this responsibility by the Lord.

Thus, on the whole, we may conclude that here is the truth as to the angels of the churches, all the more because it does not affirm any official representatives such as can nowhere else be found in Scripture, and that it does bring, as all Scripture does, the responsibility home to every individual heart, whatever may be his place and his gift in the Church of God. Let us see, then, that our hearts are awake to respond to the voice that calls us here, not merely a voice which called to those in Ephesus or Smyrna or the rest of the assemblies, but which calls us, every one of us, and with more fulness and emphasis then ever, at the present day.* To the assembly in Ephesus the Lord presents Himself as "the One who holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks." It is evident that the characteristics here are more general than special. It is what the Lord is for all His people. The heavenly light is sustained by the Lord Himself.** The lampstands speak of responsibility; Christ walks in the midst of them to ascertain their condition. In Israel, as we know, it was the duty of the priest morning and evening to put in order the lamps upon the golden candlestick. Here the general thought is, on the one hand, of power that can always be reckoned upon; or the other hand, of human responsibility.

{*This view is borne out by the use of the term "angel" to designate the spirit as contrasted with the body, as in the passages noted in the references. Peter's angel was his spirit, and they supposed that he had been put to death. Thus the angel of the Church would be the spirit of the Church, that which was really united to Christ as contrasted with its body, that which professed to be it. In this way the angel stands for all there is of God in a company of people — not exactly the spiritual, but all who have life. — S.R.

** As has been already said, Ephesus represents the state of the entire Church ever since the time of the apostles. Loss of first love is what has characterized it. Hence the appropriateness of our Lord presenting Himself as in connection with the whole Church, as described in the first chapter, rather than in any specific way. — S.R.}

The Lord, as always in these addresses, speaks first of what He can approve. It is His desire to approve and justify, and the consciousness of approval puts the soul into the right place to receive also the warnings and the reproof which love in its very faithfulness must give. He begins here with the works, the practical test of everything, which we find emphasized in John's own epistle. He does not pronounce upon the works, but what they connect with here implies at least a measure of approbation. They had not only works, they labored. If it is faith that sets to work and gives character to the working, it is love that labors; so to the Thessalonians the apostle speaks of the "work of faith and labor of love." The labor here implies that it went as far as weariness; not spiritual, of course, but that the labor was real and hard. This might readily exhaust the strength, and bring the labor to an end; but here it was sustained, enduring; and that was in Thessalonians the characteristic of hope. Hope has in it, as we know, the spirit of endurance. Let hope decline, there is no longer energy for this. Thus faith, love, hope, have their proper place here;* but there is more than this. Endurance itself may end sometimes in tolerance of that which is to be endured. At Ephesus they could not bear evil men. There was no tolerance in this way. There was no lessening of evil in their eyes by the having to meet it constantly. They had met it, in fact, as it was making the highest pretensions. They had had to try those who said they were apostles, and were not. How remarkable to find so early such a pretension! They had not been daunted by it, but had tested and found them liars. Already we have an intimation of what was soon to come in. There are, as we know, presumed successors of the apostles at the present time. Paul has taught us in his own case how God has broken through that thought of succession, and that an apostle must produce his credentials direct from heaven. There is no thought anywhere in Scripture of succession to such an office. A succession to Peter himself, as the first of the apostles, was beyond even the height of the pretension here, and God has sufficiently guarded against it. Thus Paul it is who receives both the gospel in its fulness and the truth of the Church in its full character, and takes Peter himself to task for conduct that was inconsistent with this. Peter here disappears from the history, while Paul is the instrument of the Spirit, taken up and presented to us in the Acts, with whom the character and success, or otherwise, of Christian doctrine is henceforth identified; but men are easily daunted by a high pretension, and fear irreverence too much in questioning that which comes in such a way. At Ephesus as yet they had not feared to question. Already, therefore, there was that in the Church itself which would rightly awaken alarm for what was coming in; but they had endured and borne, and for Christ's name's sake too; and as to spiritual energy had not wearied.

{*But is it not significant that neither faith, hope nor love are mentioned here? The works of these were present, produced indeed by them, but with a loss of spiritual energy suggested by the absence of the first love; the motive power has also been lost, and significantly it is not mentioned, suggesting at least its decline. — S.R.}

All thus far is plain commendation then. How strange and solemn that with all this there was yet a worm at the root which might destroy it all! "But I have against thee," the Lord adds, "that thou hast left thy first love." There is no "somewhat," as in our common version. It is not put as if this could be a little thing; and this is the more striking because afterwards, where we find that when evil had grown much beyond what we have here, the Lord does speak of it as "somewhat." Thus to Pergamos He says, "I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there those that hold the doctrine of Balaam;" but we should say, and rightly say, that that was a great thing. Here, on the other hand, Ephesus hates the works of the Nicolaitans, who were only the beginning, as we shall see, of that Balaam evil. Yet the Lord cannot say "somewhat" here. The evil had not yet outwardly appeared at all. It was the Lord alone, as we may say, who could detect the actual decline which had taken place. But this beginning of decline is, after all, the great thing. Were there no beginning, there could be no fruit such as follows afterwards; and the loss of first love here is that which touches most nearly the heart of Him to whom Ephesus is an "object of desire." Love seeks love that shall answer to it, and the stronger the love that seeks, the more is every failure to find it realized. Here was in fact, the beginning of all the long history of evil; first love was already gone; not love, of course, but the first freshness and fulness of it. What characterizes first love is evidently full satisfaction with the object of it; and here is what Christ must be to the soul that knows Him. The knowledge of the new man is, "Christ is all;" and when He has ceased to be all for the soul, the anchor of the soul has slipped. How far one may drift after that, is an open question. Christ, we know, will not be unfaithful; and if He goes after that which is lost until He find it, — if we have all been found when we were lost, — the love that was towards us then will never leave us. But, as far as we are concerned, how far the soul may drift we cannot say, except that, of course, it cannot be into apostasy. But the loss of first love affects everything. Then the "first works" are of necessity gone with it, and so the Lord speaks here: "Remember from whence thou hast fallen, and repent, and do the first works;" for the soul that is no longer finding full satisfaction in Christ must of necessity seek to supplement Him in some way, and must of necessity seek this in that which only increases the uneasiness.* There will be need still more and more of finding that which never can be found. Christ all, to the soul, is fulness of satisfaction. With Christ alone, we cannot fail of entire happiness. But Christ supplemented by something else is Christ dishonored, and thus we find a famine in our own land, and are, as it were, driven down to Egypt perforce — a terrible thing for a Christian, when that which is really his own has thus waned in its power over him: when he has yet so much sense of what Christ is that he can no longer find in the world even what the worldling finds in it, and yet cannot find satisfaction in that which is his own either. Communion is lost, for there can be no proper communion with a dishonored Christ; and thus there is no true repentance for a soul until it has got back to the first condition.

{*Note that the Lord does not say "See to what," but "remember from what thou hast fallen." They were turned back, were not even to be unduly occupied with their present condition. This would enable them truly to measure the distance of their fall, and at the same time held out the means of their recovery. — S.R.}

There is solemn question for us all here, and we can see how this book of Revelation will search out our hearts! No proper servant can there be with a half-heart for Christ, and thus we can understand how we should have this set before us at the very entrance upon that which is addressed to the servant. Christ must have His place, not a place, but His own place; and if not, there will be no proper light for the world. The removal of the lampstand out of its place is naturally what comes of it.* The testimony of the Christian is that he has found an Object of satisfaction which the world has not found. When such an one seeks the world, the world itself knows well how to estimate this. When the objects that other men have become our objects, we may profess what we will as to Christ, but we shall only be the more false witnesses to Him by the very profession. It is a solemn thing to realize that a Christian cannot in this way really give up his place as witness, but he is a witness either for Christ or against Him. Identified with Christ as he is, the world turns necessarily to him to inquire what he has found in Christ. If he is seeking water at all the broken cisterns around him, there will be no need to say that, some way, that continual spring of which the Lord has spoken as in the soul of him that knows Him, is nevertheless failing. Thus the lamp which is lighted to go out to meet the Bridegroom, of necessity fails. It is not a question of doctrine, but of the heart; and we can no longer commend the doctrine when the heart is out of it. The condition here is just so much the more significant that there is no evil work spoken of; and how easily we satisfy ourselves with looking at our lives with a dull conscience which can recognize nothing particularly wrong, and from the world's point of view has nothing, in fact, to recognize. Spite of all this, there may already be at work that which has made distance between the soul and Christ, the very distance itself only making one less capable of estimating evil; recognizing it, no doubt, where natural conscience would, but nothing further. The natural conscience, merely, knows nothing of Christ; and how soon a Christian may get into a condition in which he too is content to judge much as the world judges, and thus does not accept the reproof which a moment with Christ would make him conscious of.

{*Here again the warning is characteristic and significant. It is in keeping with the way in which our Lord presents Himself, as we saw. Holding the lights — the stars — in His hand, He has power to remove the very vessel of testimony. This really looks on to the end when the Church is set aside as in Laodicea. How solemnly thus the beginning and end of a course of departure from the Lord are brought together. — S.R.}

In fact, at Ephesus they had not yet departed far. Only they had had to turn from Him necessarily to depart at all. Yet the Lord closes here with words which once more have a certain commendation in them: "This thou hast, that thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate." We shall find by and by a "doctrine of the Nicolaitans" which has come in. It is no doctrine that is yet spoken of. We may be sure, therefore, in spite of the commentators, that doctrine there is as yet none. Nicolaitanism is as yet something in the heart rather than the mind, — none the less evil indeed on that account, for it is through the heart that the mind is perverted, and we may remember how in the epistle to the Ephesians itself the apostle speaks of the eyes of their hearts being enlightened. The heart that is astray forms its doctrine to justify itself. The error of the heart becomes thus the error of the mind.

But what was this Nicolaitanism? We are referred by Church writers to a set of gnostics, who, if they existed, (which is doubtful,) could only have arisen after this. We are told, also, that what is here is simply Antinomianism; but there is no evidence at all to justify the statement. Any sect of Nicolaitans, known as such, it has been impossible to find; and it is evident, in fact, that whatever tradition may say in the matter is the fruit of the effort to find that which, from what is spoken here, was thought must have existed. How could the Lord speak of Nicolaitans if there were none? It is obvious He could not; but the question is, is the name simply historical, or is it symbolical — as all Revelation so manifestly is? The word means, as there can be no doubt whatever, "One who conquers (or gets the upper hand of) the people;" and the word for "people" here, "the laos," is that from which, significantly, has come "laity," — a word never found in Scripture, but in common use everywhere. It is as plain as can be that there is no Christian laity in the New Testament; and that which is the opposite of it, which is in contrasted connection, the clergy, is not in Scripture either. The clergy, "cleroi," are, according to the name, those who are the Lord's lot, His peculiar portion. It is a term derived from the Old Testament and Judaism, where the Lord, however, was to be the lot in an especial way of those brought near to Him as the people at large were not — the priests and Levites. Nothing remains for us really to judge of what is here except that significant name. If we judge by it, "Nicolaitans" are a class who (themselves, of course, not laity) subject the Lord's people as laity to themselves. There is nothing necessarily immoral about them, and what is stated of them here cannot be rightly held to such an inference. They are not the Balaam-followers who in Pergamos are distinctly separated from them. We have, in fact, nothing that can more define them than the fact that they were Nicolaitans, whose "works" are first spoken of, and then their doctrine. If we are to judge by Scripture, (and we have positively nothing else to judge by,) then these who are not laity must be naturally clergy, a result which one would think would suggest itself to any mind. They are not yet in a positive place as such. There is no doctrine with regard to it. The Lord's people have not been content as yet to take their place as in subjection, as laity, to any separate class of this kind. There are Nicolaitans in deeds, not yet in doctrine. There are people, we may say, who take, in fact, such a separate place, act as if they were in a nearness to the Lord which others have not, and that, we would say, officially. It may seem intensely strong, the condemnation of such in the Lord's words, "which I also hate." He does not, of course, say that He hates the persons, but their deeds; and when we realize what such things mean, when we realize how the whole character of the Church has been affected by them, we shall not, perhaps, wonder any more at the strength of such an expression.

God has given gifts to the Church. Christ gone up on high has given gifts to men. By the very fact of the Church being the body of Christ, gifts are implied (Rom. 12:6), for each member must have its functions. This is what a "body" necessarily means. This is organization, and an organization of the Church is thus of God. It is in no wise left to man's arrangements. The gift is from God Himself, and the responsibility to use it results from the having it. Moreover, every member having its gift, there can be no separation of one from another in this way. There is, of course, diversity in the gifts themselves. Says the apostle, "He has given some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers." Some things here, moreover, are necessarily public in a way that others are not; but there is no special class who are beyond others "God's lot," or to whom beyond others God is their lot. Apostles and prophets laid the foundation. There remains for us only the work that they have accomplished: the foundation does not go all the way up the building. Evangelists, pastors and teachers remain. They are a continual necessity to the Church, and as this are continually being given. We are surely to thank God for His mercy in this way. But are not His chief mercies in our hands oftentimes the things most abused; the best things, capable of worst corruption? With all this we cannot find anywhere in Scripture what the quotation given awhile since makes necessary to the constitution of an assembly, the "authorized minister" who takes charge of it, who is to have in this way the laity subject to himself. Ministers are servants, as the apostle reminds the Corinthians, and belong to the saints and not the saints to them; and, moreover, there is not such an idea anywhere as any teacher being the exclusive teacher of an assembly, nor any pastor being the exclusive pastor of a flock which may thus be called his flock; and as to the evangelist, there needs no assertion that the evangelist is not the evangelist of an assembly, but one who in his very character goes out to the world with the message of life and death, by which souls are to be converted and the Church built up. These gifts are gifts which belong to a common treasury. They are given as common blessings to the whole Church of God. Being men, they are still imperfect and fallible, however qualified by the Spirit for their work, and as thus imperfect and dependent they are not set in solitary places to be all-sufficient even to two or three in any particular place, but as helpers to one another, helpers to the Church at large; they have everywhere their open field of blessed service with which no one can interfere without derogation to the authority of Christ Himself, who is alone their Master. The thought of even the fewest conceivable number of God's people being handed over to any one, — the most highly gifted that could be, — to minister to all their necessities, is not only, as it plainly is, entirely unscriptural, but it is the depriving of the Church at large of the use of gift which belongs to all, and the ready means by which the different assemblies become built up in errors naturally consequent upon such a state of things as this, where the defects of the individual are not compensated by that which is ordained of God for the correction of mere individualities, and the needful supply of that which the individual may be entirely incompetent to give.

The epistle to the Corinthians already shows us the natural growth of what we have here. At Corinth surely there was not, as to the whole, a state of first love. This is clear by what else was going on. Christ was being supplemented in various ways. The wisdom of the world was replacing the wisdom that was in Him; and in spite of their coming behind in no gift, they were at the same time, as the apostle tells them, carnal and even babes in Christ. In such a condition of things Nicolaitanism is the natural result; but we find its growth here not at first due to the assumption of individuals so much as to the condition of the saints as a whole, who were already forming themselves into schools of teaching with such or such a teacher as the leader of the school. They were saying, "I am of Paul and I of Apollos," and were thus making themselves disciples of men. They were coming to belong to those who in God's thought belonged to them. This is the very secret of Nicolaitanism — the people subjected to the one who leads them. It is evident that all that is needed now is for men to step into the places thus prepared for them. Consent is required on both sides before there can be what indeed did prevail at Corinth. Here Paul and Apollos were not those who could adapt themselves to the system forming; and in fact, as the apostle says, he only "in a figure transferred these things" to Apollos and himself. The actual leaders were far different ones; but it is easy to see how, with the worldliness which prevailed among them, such a system would necessarily find favor. The mass might devote themselves to their worldly occupations, assured that their interests would be better cared for by a class devoted to spiritual things, who could give their whole energies to them. It was only a most suitable division of labor in their eyes, and still commends itself to the mass everywhere as such. In Ephesus there were those who were ready to act this part, but the assembly at large refused it. Christ too refuses it with His whole heart. Here it was as yet scarcely even in its forming stage; but we shall by and by find it fully formed, and learn better with what it connects itself, and how sure a sign it is of declension from primitive Christianity.

It is here that the warning voice is heard, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the assemblies." There is need already of such an admonition as this, and let us notice that it is to the assemblies that the Spirit speaks, and it is the assembly that is to know, therefore, what the Spirit says. There is nowhere recognized an intermediate class which, if it existed, would be surely, rather, that which the Spirit would address; but all here is intensely individual. "He that hath an ear, let him hear" points out at once the overcomer and the need of overcoming, and the promise is connected with this: "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God." There is to be an overcoming now in the Church of God itself, and thus no going with the multitude is possible. Each must be awake to his responsibility. He is addressed to be, in a right way, independent of circumstances, of the condition of those around him, dependent upon Christ alone. It is the voice of Christ to which the Spirit gives utterance. The promise itself carries us back, as we have seen it characteristic of Revelation to do, to the beginning; and yet not really to the old state of things as that would imply, but to that which lay hidden as a germ, nevertheless, in that primitive condition. Here is again the tree of life and paradise, but it is not Adam's paradise any more; it is the paradise of God; and the tree of life speaks of another life than what was Adam's naturally — life in dependence still, for that must necessarily be the condition of the creature, and while the life which we have is eternal life it is none the less dependent. It derives its stability from the One in whom the believer finds it. It is life in Christ, and thus abides for us beyond the power of anything within us or around to take away. Here it is the partaking of the fruits that is in question, of course, and we shall find these fruits at the close of Revelation in the picture given us of the heavenly Jerusalem, where the tree of life yields its abundant fruitage continually, and unexhausted. The life itself we have, thank God, already; but the fruits of it, how little can we speak of these as yet! They remain to be known, as the promise here implies, when we are in the blessed scene to which the tree of life belongs.*

{*The promise to the overcomer is in keeping with the general character of the state described, while of course divinely suited to that state. To partake of the tree of life is the common portion of all the Church, and the special contrast with that loss of first love which the believer is to overcome. — S.R.}

(2) We pass on now to the assembly at Smyrna, and here we find what is admitted on all hands to be a perfect representation of the Church in its early persecutions under the heathen emperors. The very name "Smyrna" speaks of this. It means "myrrh," the bitter but fragrant perfume with which they embalmed the dead, but which speaks, therefore, of a death which is not simply death, a death that is precious; that is, as it were, incense to God; for myrrh formed part of the incense which God commanded Israel to prepare, and "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." In such death there must be of necessity the promise of resurrection. We have here, then, the open assault of the enemy on the one hand: we have a much more successful snare even, because secret, of the enemy on the other. The two go suitedly together. The roar of the lion is well suited to drive into the hidden snare; and here, in fact, was the preparation for what we shall find later in Pergamos, where the Church is now "dwelling where Satan's throne is," under the protection, as it were, of Satan himself. The Church assailed by the world is tempted to seek even to the world for defense against this. In compromise with it it will find deliverance from these open attacks, — yea, more than this, even a place and respectability in it, as at Corinth again they were all finding. They were "full," were "rich," had reigned as kings, anticipating the time when the saints indeed shall reign, and losing by this anticipation the fellowship of those who were, as Paul says, set forth even as men appointed to death.

To the angel of the assembly in Smyrna the Lord writes with sympathetic encouragement as "the First and the Last," the One beyond all human changes, and abiding with all the preciousness of this at all times for His saints. Nevertheless, He is one who has been in death and come out of it. They have but to follow Him to find how fully the way is prepared for them through death itself, and that truest life which is beyond it. He recognizes, then, the tribulation in which for His sake they were, and the poverty in a worldly sense which suited well a state of spiritual riches. The words here are in commendation, not such as we shall find addressed to Laodicea at the close. In Laodicea they too were rich, they had grown rich; but not with such riches as Christ could recognize. For Him, although they knew it not, they were the wretched and miserable, the poor and blind and naked. Here, while He recognizes the poverty in which they were at Smyrna, it is He Himself who reminds them of how rich, nevertheless, they are.

The next words here are in question as to their application. By most "the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not" is taken to refer to the well known, constant enmity of the unbelieving nation against the followers of the Messiah whom they had rejected. They are spoken of evidently here as if outside those whom the Lord is addressing. Nor is the angel charged with responsibility for their presence. They thus might easily be understood to be entirely outside Christianity, enemies and nothing else; especially as we know from the history in the Acts itself how thoroughly the Jewish opposers, stirred by the Gentiles against the growing Church, as in the case of Paul himself, were thus largely the authors of Gentile persecution. Nevertheless, if the matter were so simple an one, it is evident that it becomes by so much less significant in such an address as the present. Moreover, as we look at the words, it is hard to understand them of those who were in some sense (however little they were in God's sight such) Jews, really the seed of Abraham after the flesh, however little partakers of his spirit. Nor can we understand the need that they would have for asserting what they were in this way. A Jew was very evidently a Jew, and had his acknowledged status as such in the Roman empire. Again, if these words do not speak of it, then it is certain that what was one of the most striking features in the Church's decline is wholly omitted in what we have here, which, certainly, is just the place in which we might expect to find it.

Judaism was not simply an external evil to the Church at the beginning It was, as we know, from the very beginning that which threatened really its existence according to the constitution God has given it. This was the matter which the assembly at Jerusalem had to consider — the question whether the Gentiles were under the law or no. For a moment and so far, this was decided in that letter in which it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to them to put upon the Gentiles no such burden as was sought to be imposed. The principle here went much further than the letter itself actually did, for if the burden of the law which, as the apostle says, neither they nor their fathers were able to bear was not to be imposed upon the Gentile, then how could it be left upon the Jew? The Church is one. In it there is neither Jew nor Greek, and, as Paul writes to the Galatians, those who were justified, as all were necessarily, apart from the law ("for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified"), could not after this rightly return and put themselves under that law which had thus already been set aside for them. Thus the question might seem decided; but it was not really so, and the Judaizing Church we see beginning in that epistle to the Galatians, in which the apostle speaks after this manner. The Galatians were Gentiles, and not Jews at all. They had received God's grace, and the Spirit as the fruit of that grace — a gift which Judaism had not for its proselytes; and yet those who had begun in the Spirit were now seeking, as he tells them, to be made perfect in the flesh, and going back to carnal ordinances.

In the epistle to the Colossians we find the apostle meeting also tendencies of this nature, where he tells them that the handwriting, or obligation, of ordinances, which was against them and contrary to them, Christ had taken out of the way, nailing it to His cross. They were not to be judged, therefore, with regard to a sabbath, or the meats and drinks of Judaism.

The epistle to Timothy speaks still more decisively of those who, in the Church though they were, were seeking to be teachers of the law, not understanding, as he says, what they were saying — the terrible consequences which would ensue from this. But thus the struggle with Judaism was not a mere outside one, but one which in the Church itself had its fullest significance. It was now, in fact, that in which the attack of the enemy upon the grace of the gospel was most apparent, and the Church itself became changed, not merely in outward form, but in the whole spirit of it, into a mere continuation of what men speak of still as the Jewish Church — no doubt with added privileges, and a certain freedom from the regard of Jewish observances, but still rather the heir of the earthly Jerusalem than that which is above, "our mother." If it is impossible, as it is indeed impossible, that so mighty and significant a change could be overlooked, then we may well realize the strength of the language of the Lord here, which characterizes the party identified with the introduction of such a change as men who said they were Jews and were not, but were "the synagogue of Satan." We could not expect that the assembly would be branded as this. The Lord could not do so. Yet, as we look at what is here, we cannot but see how thoroughly the change which steadily went on is marked for us. The synagogue was, of course, the name of the Jewish assembly, and exactly characterized it. It was not, in the Christian sense, an assembly, an "ecclesia," a people called out of the world and separate from it, but simply "a gathering together," as "synagogue" means, indefinite and promiscuous, believers and unbelievers confounded in it, as in fact was the case in Judaism. The thing sought thus to be introduced, synagogue instead of ecclesia, would be manifestly Satan's synagogue — that which the adversary was setting up in opposition to the truth. For Judaism introduced into Christianity can no longer be the Judaism that once was. It is impossible to recall that. When God gave it, it was, of course, for the time being, according to God; it was something, as the apostle says of the law, which came in by the way as a schoolmaster until the time that faith should have distinctly taken its place as God's principle, the only principle that He can recognize. Thus "Christ died," says the apostle John, "for that nation" (of Israel); "and not for that nation only, but also that He might gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad." The Jewish system necessarily scattered these. It did not own the children of God as such. It did not distinguish them in Israel from those who were not such, and those that were outside of Israel it did not recognize at all. Now the principle is, as was proclaimed to Cornelius, that "God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted of Him." This, of course, could only be the work of divine grace, and the principle itself is, as we see in the case of Cornelius, the setting aside of Judaism.

But thus manifestly also the mixed congregation which Judaism tolerated could not be brought into that nearness to God which faith alone could claim and there being no distinct separation, those that were true children of God must accept the distance which alone was possible in the case of the others. Thus it should be plain what the introduction of a Jewish system into the Church would signify for the Church. The law could not justify. It was intended to condemn, and could rightly do nothing else than this. Could it have done so, it would not have answered the purpose for which God gave it. But thus, as the law could not justify, believers under it could never enjoy that justification which it is now the privilege of every saint to know, assuredly, as the foundation of everything for him. In fact — how soon! Paul's doctrine being left behind, (for he alone it is who distinctly speaks of justification) this came into corresponding uncertainty among professing Christians. For centuries, until the Reformation, justification by faith was known only — and even then scarcely with perfect clearness — by a few scattered if not hunted souls, buried in a mass of mere profession in which the old conditions of Judaism were necessarily found once more.

But again: the knowledge of justification lacking, meant, of course, the impossibility of distinguishing the true Church from the false. The true Church became, as people have even now to say, the invisible Church, and with every one it became a question of how to gather the best way he could the indications of his faith. He had, according to the way the apostle's words are quoted, to "examine himself whether he was in the faith and prove his own self." On the other hand, it became the part of charity to exclude as few as possible from the possibility of being what they professed. Sacraments came in thus to give a kind of certainty which was else lacking. Baptism was "for the remission of sins." It was plainly easy for any to determine for himself whether or not he was baptized, much easier than to prove satisfactorily his conversion. Thus the great stress came to be laid on baptism. In it God's grace could be emphasized in the fullest way, and even a Chrysostom could say, "Although a man should be foul with every vice, the blackest that could be named, yet should he fall into the baptismal pool, he ascends from the divine waters purer than the beams of noon." It is quite true that, in the face of what these baptized Christians very frequently turned out to be, it was impossible to think of a salvation for them eternally, as Scripture makes it. The doctrine as to this was necessarily, therefore, soon lost; and while thus Chrysostom could say again that with baptism "are connected all the benefits of heirship and the community of interests with the family (of God), yet to fall after baptism became not only possible doctrinally, but had abundant examples pleaded in proof. How to find their way back in this case to the condition they had lost was the problem then. It was manifestly much more difficult to find forgiveness of sins once more after having lost it. Here penances and what not naturally came in to give a measure of ease to the conscience, while priestly absolution represented, on the other side, once more, divine grace; and thus a hope, somewhat indefinite, no doubt, could be gained or regained at last by almost any. With this the power of the Church, that is to say, what practically stood for it now, the clergy, grew apace.

The inheritance from Judaism is in all this plainly to be seen, only it was now a Judaism far more pretentious than that of old, and thus very different in character. In Judaism the ceremonies plainly pointed onwards to what was still to come. In many ways their inefficacy for true salvation was made manifest; while, on the other hand, in the Judaized Christianity now coming in, that which had before been only pointed to was asserted to have come. Christ the Saviour had plainly come, and this being all the salvation that He had wrought, it was all the salvation that any could look for. The darkness was no longer the darkness of men who were waiting in hope for the daybreak. It was a darkness this side of eternity little relieved. Those most careless might hope most easily. Those realizing more what sin was would come more completely under the power of the priestly system which had now become the Church itself, but against which, none the less, the awakened conscience pleaded, spite of all that could be done to assure it. Who that will contemplate all this (which is only the statement of what was undeniably the doctrine of what assumed to be the Catholic Church for centuries) but must realize the truth of the title given by the Lord to those who introduced it, of "the synagogue of Satan." It is not meant, of course, that the Church became this, at whatever time in her history and amid all the darkness we are called to contemplate her. The Lord would make a difference, and teach us to make a corresponding difference therefore, between the teachers and the taught, those who introduced the system and those who came into it as a sad inheritance left them by their fathers — Scripture itself more or less kept from them, with only enough pleaded from it to put the Church in the authority sought for it, as in that clipped quotation, "Hear the Church;'' the word of God being thus made to sanction its own abandonment, and to deliver up souls to the most enormous imposture that the world has ever seen.

But we are going on beyond where we have yet arrived, in the period which Smyrna characterizes, and the Lord's words here would teach us that not without a struggle was all this accomplished. Indeed, Church history alone assures us (and that by comparison with Scripture) of the fact of the accomplishment. For it, of course, it was no transformation, but professedly Christianity as it came from the Lord and the apostles. That there was no struggle against it is impossible to be believed, and it is to this that the words here plainly point. The "blasphemy," or slander, of the Jewish party accordingly had been directed against those, who have the Lord's commendation here. Here we must remember that the making of history has been in the hands of what, according to this, would be the triumphant party; and we can hardly expect that, this being so, we should have in it, in any wise as it was, the true account of the matter. It was an age in which men did not hesitate to forge the names of those who were in repute to spurious documents, and even with the express design of giving authority to some favorite doctrine. Scripture itself is decisive as to the rapid departure from Paul, while, of course, his name was held in becoming honor; yet his own words as to what was taking place in this very Asia, at the time he wrote his last epistle, give us more than a hint of what was going on; while at Rome there was already a state of things which would clearly allow of such departure. Solemn it is to realize the completeness of it at so early a date as we are forced to do, but it is only in the order of things with regard to anything entrusted to man from the beginning. How long did our first parents live in Paradise? What has been the constant record of succeeding generations? The history of the ancient people of God closes with the decisive rejection of the Son of the Father sent to them in divine love; and in the Church, with all the additional blessings which God had made its own, we must yet not wonder if history repeats itself. From Paul himself we know that "the mystery of iniquity" was already at work, and that the final issue would be an apostasy, out of which would rise that "man of sin" who is destroyed only by the breath of the Lord, and consumed in the brightness of His coming.

We thus find in Smyrna a second stage of the decline. The Church was seeking to make terms with the world. God in mercy was suffering them, on the other hand, to find what was the world's essential opposition to the grace of which they were witnesses. It was, alas, for the mass ineffectual, as we know, and the Church, come out of her ten days' tribulation prophesied here, came out of it only to clasp hands with the world in full reality.* It is to the suffering, not to the reigning Church that the Lord is speaking; and we need not wonder that to her His words are full only of encouragement and assurance: "Be thou faithful unto death" He could say to those who were thus in fellowship with Him in His rejection; "I will give thee the crown of life." The resurrection of the saint would be, in fact, such a crown of life to these sufferers, the eternal life which was already theirs manifesting itself in supremacy over death, through the power of Him who had vanquished it for them, and who will, as the apostle expresses it in the epistle to the Romans, "reign in life by the One, Christ Jesus." His encouragement to the overcomer is similar in character to this: "He that overcometh shall in no wise be hurt of the second death." He is not here using, as we shall find Him doing presently, "the sharp sword with two edges," but rather applying His own sweet balm for the wounds inflicted by the enemy. He puts alongside of the death which some of them are to suffer the awful darkness of the second death, only to say, You have escaped entirely from this, how light a thing, then, is the other!**

{*The "ten days" persecutions spoken of here are no doubt symbolic, as so much else is in this book. Ten is the number which speaks of the full measure of responsibility. Thus their persecution will be only up to that measure. God would not suffer them to be tried above what they were able to bear — such as was "common to man." This would apply both to the local assembly and to that period of the Church's history which it symbolized. It has been sought to identify these ten days with ten specific times of persecution under the Roman Emperors, but it is difficult and needless to attempt this. In like manner, reference has been made to the ten plagues in Egypt; doubtless the only connection is in the significance of the number in each case. — S.R.

** It is needless to say that life, while spoken of here as a crown, is not in any sense earned by the faithful. It is the gift of God, but in connection with that gift is the reward, not distinguished from it. So too the promise to the overcomer. All believers do overcome and none shall be hurt of the second death. For those, however, who have passed through the Smyrna persecutions there will be special significance in that escape. They might be called to pass through the first death, might incur all the malice and rage of man, but that which God inflicts they will forever escape. — S.R.}

2. As we pass into the second section now, we find the evil threatening become a positive fact, and the Church more openly slipped away from Christ and from subjection to His Word, accepting the enemy's alliance; and here again we have two stages. In the first, at Pergamos, they are dwelling where Satan's throne is. They have accepted, consciously or not, a place in what is his kingdom, in that world whose prince is not Christ, but the adversary of Christ. The consequences are marked and many, as we would expect; but there is still a second stage to follow, in which a more pretentious form appears. The name of Jezebel is connected with the old Jewish history in such a manner as to stamp the woman here without any question; all the more because she assumes, nevertheless, to be a prophetess, and to teach by divine authority. We have had in the parables of the thirteenth of Matthew the woman, in just such connection, introducing the leaven into the meal which is in her hands — the pure doctrine of Christ committed to the Church. Here is certainly in Thyatira the same thing, only more openly done; and from this point, as we look back at Pergamos, we can realize that we have there also one of the parables of Matthew exemplified. The parable of the least of all seeds becoming a tree precedes that of the leaven, as Pergamos here precedes Thyatira; and in that tree — the evident type of the Church rooted in the earth and becoming a worldly power — the birds of the air lodge in the branches. The Lord Himself has interpreted this for us in the parable preceding, where they take away the good seed sown by the wayside; and the Lord refers this to Satan taking away from men what is sown in the heart. Now the tree shelters that which does this — again a picture which in Revelation is given from another side, in which the features are more developed, as we have seen is the case also with Thyatira. In both stages that are before us here the power of Satan manifest is unmistakable.

(1) Pergamos succeeds, then, to Smyrna, and now we find what surely has fullest meaning for us, that He who addresses it reminds them that He has the sharp "two-edged sword." There is reference to this also in the address itself. The Lord is using His Word here as that which is "living and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow;" but it is a Word which will come out in the end, as we find in the nineteenth chapter, as a Word of most positive judgment upon all His adversaries. There is no encouragement at all in such an appeal as this, but we shall find, all the more, a sweeter encouragement for the overcomer before the close. The darker the night, the more His stars will shine in it; and we know that He holds them in His hand all through. But there is now no more the blasphemy of adversaries of which He spoke to, Smyrna. It is the actual state of the assembly itself with which He is concerned. Yet this is put in a way which presents precisely such a difficulty as only enables us to see the more the prophetic character and real power of what is in it. They are addressed as dwelling where Satan's throne is; and immediately it is added, in a way which seems to be commendation, that they hold fast Christ's name, and have not denied His faith, even in the days (martyr days now passed) in which Antipas His faithful witness was slain among them, where Satan dwelleth." Thus it may seem as if, after all, here was, on the whole, a good state to be commended. Their dwelling where Satan's throne was would seem their misfortune more than their fault; and the whole matter becomes, for those who see no more than the actual Pergamos, a mystery scarcely to be understood. Trench even says, in speaking of Pergamos, "Why it should have thus deserved the name of 'Satan's throne, ' so emphatically repeated a second time at the end of this verse, — 'where Satan dwelleth,' — must remain one of the unsolved riddles of these epistles." We may allow that it remains thus a proof of how incompetent a merely local rendering is to explain what has in fact much larger and deeper application. It is somewhat bold, and for one like Trench, to assure us that if he has not solved the mystery in question, it is destined to remain unsolved; but if so, the Lord's exhortation to us to keep the things that are written in this book must remain, in this respect, without any possibility of fulfilment. The fact is, we have little need of any historical inquiry in this case. If the fact be as Grotius and others have suggested, that there is here reference to the worship of Aesculapius, whose symbol was the serpent, this discovery only dismisses it at once from all concern of ours. It makes, as already said, the dwelling where Satan's throne is, as one may say, rather an accident than as anything that would characterize the assembly here; whereas, in fact, in the order of development which these addresses so plainly manifest, we have come exactly to that which in the most marked way characterizes the period which followed that of the heathen persecutions. Every one knows it was Constantine who put an end to these; and that the imperial throne became thus the recognized protector of the delivered Church. It might be urged, no doubt, that it then was Satan's throne no longer; but we must look much deeper before we can get proper assurance as to this. Satan's throne, which the world is, is not a local one. It is neither at Pergamos nor at Rome. It is universal, "The prince of this world cometh," says the Lord, "and hath nothing in Me." That too, it may be urged, was said before the cross, in which Satan received his judgment, and therefore before Christianity had even come in its proper character; but the apostle, as we find elsewhere, has met this argument in the completest way, and overthrown it. Satan, says the apostle, writing to the Corinthians, is not merely the prince of this world, but the "god" of it. He says, literally, not the god of this world, but "the god of this age." "In whom the god of this age hath blinded the minds of those who believe not, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." The difference as to the word is significant. "The age" here is the word used in the second of Ephesians for the "course" of this world. It is the world in its course from the beginning to the end of it; a course which certainly had not ended when the apostle wrote. Christianity had then come, as no one can question; yet Satan still was the god of the age. He ruled the "course of the world," not as an ordinary ruler even, but as one who attracted — awful as it is to think of it — the worship of men's hearts. That is what "the god of this age" means; and that does not cease until, in the period yet to come, Satan is cast into the abyss, and shut up there, to deceive the nations no more until the 1000 years are fulfilled. Thus it is plain how little Satan's throne is limited to Pergamos, or is in any wise local.

Dwelling "where Satan's throne is," therefore, is simply dwelling in the world of which he is prince; yet some may ask as to this also, what moral character attaches to dwelling in the world? But Scripture at least is plain that the world is the place of our pilgrimage, not the place where we dwell.* It is the wilderness, not the "city of habitation," for the saint; and we shall find elsewhere, as we go on in Revelation, the dwellers upon the earth spoken of in this way. They are those who, instead of being pilgrims, have settled down in it. How this connects with Pergamos as giving us the time of the establishment of the Church, as men speak, is plain. In fact, everything was at once and largely changed, and it is quite in accordance with this also that it should be said to those here, "Thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith." It was, truly, a time of zealous orthodoxy; though this was altered afterward, when Arianism for the time came in like a flood. But the Council of Nice, which has given its name to one of the orthodox creeds of Christendom, showed this character. There is a glance here at the past in a special manner — "the days in which Antipas was My faithful witness," (witness and martyr were one in him,) "who was slain among you where Satan dwelleth." Antipas "every one against") was a suited general name for such witnesses, when every one was against the man who testified for Christ. Times had changed since then, as is intimated, and another character belonged to the present. Thus everything suits the time succeeding the persecutions, and the name Pergamos is thoroughly significant. If divided in two, the latter part of the word is "gamos" a "marriage." The other part is "though" — "a marriage though"! as if it were said, in spite of all that had so recently manifested the spirit of the world as against Christ, here now was the Church united to it in permanent relationship. The heart astray from Him, the spouse of Christ has given herself to another — a condition of things to which the words in James are the sharpest rebuke: "Ye adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?"

{*In this connection it is significant that the same word is used to describe Satan's connection with the world; it is, "where Satan dwelleth." Surely that which can be described as the abode of Satan is sufficiently characterized. What reproach, then, when the same expression is also used of the professed people of God! — S.R.}

No doubt they would have said, and indeed did say, that the world was a changed world under these circumstances; but when was the world ever changed so as really to have received Christ? It might throw the mantle of profession over its nakedness, but that was no change, surely, for the better; and if we take Scripture, there is not a hint throughout the New Testament of any betterness to be expected in it in this way The position of the Christian is characterized by this, that he is crucified to the world by the cross of Christ. No doubt the light of Christianity let in upon it had still power to drive many of the unclean things into their native darkness; and that manners were benefited, if not hearts purified, there need be no contention. The latter, the hand of Constantine, imperial ruler of the world as he might seem, was plainly inadequate to accomplish, and his own life was in no wise Christian. It is plain, then, how much was needed the two-edged sword to cut this unholy tie between the Church of Christ and the world of Satan. Such a compromise at the very beginning was necessarily setting God's word aside, and gave up His rights, as the very condition of its existence. Every such compromise is, in fact, but a surrender. The state induced, the Lord's next words show us; although here again they present a certain difficulty such as we have before found, and which requires the spiritual mind to set us free from. How could the Lord say in such a case as this, "I have a few things against thee," when, plainly, there were so many? The secret of this is a sorrowful and solemn one. Where first love is lost, and the soul therefore adrift from its true anchorage, the measure of things becomes necessarily altered. All afterwards would necessarily be little in comparison with the loss of that, to lose which was, in fact, to lose all power for steadfastness. Faith may still be held, while no longer in a good conscience; and, as the apostle warns in that connection, that is the way to shipwreck of the faith itself. The "few things" here were only in this sense few; but when the back is upon Christ, it is only a question of the depth of the resulting darkness. The Church was now settled in the world, and there follows as a matter of course that it should now have in it those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, — prophet of God in some sense, yet loving "the wages of unrighteousness." From hence came his "doctrine," in which the power of Moab (the world) was taught to cast a snare before the sons of Israel. The history we have in Numbers; and Jude has referred us to it as characterizing an intermediate state in the history of apostasy, between those who simply went in the way of Cain, and those who come out openly in the end in insurrection against the divine King and Priest, and so perish in the gainsaying of Korah. It is the ecclesiastical evil here, as Cain's is that of simple unbelief, and Korah's open apostasy. We know how much Balaam could say that was true and right, and how zealously he could profess that not all the silver and gold that Balak could give could bribe him to say other than God had put into his mouth to say. Yet, spite of all this, Balaam was, according to his name, but "the destroyer of the people," who could take advantage of his very knowledge of what the people were to God, and what the God was to whom they were a people, to betray them to their ruin. We know by the history that the snare was to mix up the people of whom he had said, as from God, that they dwelt alone, and were not reckoned among the nations — to mix them up with these, so as to learn their manners.* The eating idol-sacrifices, and the moral evil connected so constantly with these, came in as the necessary result. Here we are not to think of a literal fulfilment. The impurity before us is that which, as we have seen, God speaks of in the same manner as, indeed, adultery; and idolatry soon came in, alas, in various shapes and under Christian names. In truth, it was another God than the One whom Christ had manifested, whom the masses came to worship — an evil against which the apostle John protests so earnestly in the last words of his first epistle, saying — "Children, keep yourselves from idols." Men must have some God; and there is no snare so seductive as what is in fact a false one, worshiped under the name of the true. Jesuitism afterwards taught the heathen everywhere simply to baptize their idols and retain them; and this has been repeated many times in the history of the professing Church. The temples dedicated to the Assyrian Queen of Heaven in Egypt became, one after another, nominally Christian churches, when Christians once had learned to talk of a queen of heaven too. The substitution of Mary for Astarte made no great difference.

{*It will be remembered that this mixture of Israel was with Moab and Midian, which typically suggest profession — Moab being kinsman with Israel according to the flesh — and the world, the "strife" coming in through lust. This is in accord with the spiritual meaning of Pergamos. Here is the unholy alliance with the world, and it is through profession that this is effected. The child of God instinctively shrinks from the world, open and manifest; but then profession is tolerated, so that the union with the world is effected by this go-between. Moab will lead on to the unholy marriage with Midian. — S.R.}

In Balaam himself, as we know, the ruling motive was the seeking of reward. He was, for the time at least, Balak's hired prophet, and prophesied to suit his master, though compelled first to declare the counsel of God. It is easy to understand how, when the Church came to have in her hand the good things of the world, there should be plenty of false prophets after this manner, who would necessarily seek to maintain that worldly association to which they owed so much. Balaam had himself, as far as the history goes, no enmity against the people whom he thus betrayed. He merely sought his own, as the hired prophets of Christendom now would naturally do. There were of course many who, though connected with the system, were not in spirit followers of Balaam; nor is it here put as if this were the universal evil. The thing charged is that the professing Church had now manifest room for these. The system favored, and did not cast them out. The trouble is that men look at the individual without realizing the evil of the system of which the individual is the fruit. Moreover, the fact that all were not alike in this would incline men naturally to such a thought. An Ambrose or a Chrysostom would by his personal character, though exceptional, justify in the eyes of how many that with which they were connected; and when things are once established, the tendency is to accept them very much without question. "Our fathers worshiped in this mountain" is an argument as notable as ever. The comparatively few are those who, as the unsettled souls for which they are counted, disturb others with their desire to dig to the foundations. Tradition grows in honor by the multiplication of the generations who follow it, while truth strangely has no such ability, but needs to be constantly maintained of God, or is inevitably corrupted. Thus Rome has gone on adding doctrine to doctrine, as the years passed; always more and more away from the truth, and never turning towards it. Alas, it is only an exhibition of "the course of this world." Call the world the Church if you like; it does not alter it — a course which is under the rule of "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." How great a snare, therefore, is this union of Church and world, in which necessarily the world gains all the Church loses, and the grieved Spirit seems almost no restraint upon the growth of the evil!

It is no wonder that here we find, along with those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, those now who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans in like manner. The two work well together. Nicolaitanism is, as we see now, a "doctrine." That which is spoken of as "deeds" in Ephesus is now crystalized into a doctrine to be accepted and defended. The people sunk in worldliness have become merely secular, and unfit for spiritual things. They naturally commit them, therefore, to those who are set apart to such things, who have time to devote themselves to them, and a training which they need, to find their way amid all the complexities that are necessarily arising. The Church must have its creeds, its canons, and its councils. The word of God can no more be trusted to settle things, where, on the contrary, so much is needed to be unsettled. Scripture would change the whole condition; but this only sets aside Scripture as unsuited to the times; and the wayfarer must not be a fool, but skilled in much traditional learning, if he would not err. The Jewish character of all this is evident. The work of the synagogue of Satan has wrought disaster enough. Scripture, with its direct simplicity of utterance, its word for individual consciences, its imperative claim of authority, if it cannot be permitted any more to judge, must be judged, or at least must practically drop very much out of thought; and this, we well know, was more and more the case. Souls everywhere in comparative distance from God, even those of the truest, were groping thus largely in the darkness. The spiritual were the clergy, or the spiritual life might be permitted to be realized in those who would bury themselves in the convent or hide in the desert. The Church, instead of the Spirit, was becoming the interpreter of Scripture; the Church determined doctrine for the mass, who, while in the mass they belonged to it, individually had scarcely place at all.

With all this, the ministry had naturally become a priesthood. This would be part of its inheritance from Judaism, but which on that very account was significant of the loss of Christian place and privilege which had come in. The very word "priest," in its history, is an indication of this. In Greek the word is hiereus, "one devoted to God" or "the God," "to the things of God." In this way the offerings, which were the hiera, were naturally in his hand to offer. The Latin word was similar, sacerdos, in the same way, "a person sacred or devoted to God." But this is characteristic of the whole Christian assembly, not of a class among Christians; and it is the apostle Peter himself, pre-eminently the Jewish apostle, and claimed by Rome as its first pope, who claims for them this character. They are, he says, "a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ;" but the very word "priest" shows how this had been departed from, for "priest" is nothing else than a contracted form of "presbyter" or "elder," which had naturally no such connection. With the elders the epistles to Timothy and Titus make us familiar; and we know from the Acts that the apostles appointed them in various assemblies. The elder, as we see in Timothy, was, as the word indicates, a man in years, who could take naturally the place of adviser to others, ministering the wisdom which he had gained by long familiarity with the needs and difficulties of the saints. "Elder" and "bishop" were thus practically synonymous, the last word simply meaning "overseer," thus characterizing the office which the elder had, one of fatherly oversight in the assembly. But there is no thought in it of any special privilege in drawing near to God. The transformation thus of elder or presbyter into priest is intensely significant. It originates in that which shows how the original place that all had as priests with God was lost, and this had become the inheritance of an official class. The special priesthood in Israel's case even, was contrary to that which God proposed for the Jewish people. They were to be what Christians are, "a kingdom of priests;" but under the legal covenant this was impossible. No one could upon that ground draw near to God at all. Even the priests were in the mass shut out from His presence; and the exceptional privilege of the high priest upon the day of atonement was scarcely privilege at all, in view of all the circumstances connected with it. The voice of the law was, as the Lord Himself declared it even to Moses, the mediator between Himself and the people, "Thou canst not see My face. There shad no man stand before Me and live." The official priesthood there, instead of involving any going out in ministry, such as the possession of the gospel necessitates for the Christian, was sustained with the well known fact that in Israel there was really none of this. The way into the holiest was not made manifest. God was in the darkness, not in the light. In very mercy He could not come out to the people, for it would have been their destruction; and thus, as there was no real coming out of God, no real going in to God, there was no message of peace and joy such as now His grace has given us. Christ "came and preached peace," says the apostle (Eph. 2:17) "to those who were afar off," but also to those that were nigh as well; and he significantly adds, "For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father." This is the new thing in Christianity without which even priesthood in its full character was impossible, and thus the Christian priesthood goes far beyond the Jewish one: but in this way it is the priesthood not of a class, but of all. And if it has become that of a class, Christianity has lost of necessity one of its distinctive characters. And this is what the very thought of a laity implies, a "people" such as were Israel, — people of God, in a sense, but not brought near to God: a people who could not therefore, as those brought near, take up the things of God. Thus we see what a doctrine of Nicolaitanism must imply as to the general condition.*

{*While in the mercy of God the extreme of hierarchy ceased in the churches of the Reformation, yet much of the spirit of it remains in the clergyman. He is a person of special privilege, and alone permitted to perform certain rites. Thus the root of Nicolaitanism abides. We may thank God that many who bear the name of clergymen are true-hearted servants of Christ, and would repudiate any thought of being a sacred class. But the principle remains. — S.R.}

We need not wonder then that the Lord said, "which thing I hate." Now His word is, "Repent therefore; and if not, I am coming to thee quickly, and will make war with them with the sword of My mouth." He does not say, with thee — guilty even as all were in the matter; but He knows how, as Jude instructs, of some to have compassion, making a difference." And this sword of His mouth is, as we know, that which is in character discerning, discriminative. It separates between "joints and marrow," between "soul and spirit," and "is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." If we put all this together, it is impossible not to see that we have a growing evil condition among Christians plainly pointed out to us. There is an active energy of evil, a "mystery of iniquity," which already works; a power of Satan which is seeking to get between the soul and God, and under which all evils will be fostered and come more and more to their ripe fruit. There may be, and there is, as the apostle has told us, a present restraint. The Spirit of God is in the Church, and is not to be driven out by all the efforts of the enemy. Nevertheless, the path of His people is becoming more and more individual. Those that are true to Him will of necessity be more and more separated from the corrupt mass, and, if not outwardly, yet will be in spirit mourners over that with which they are in contact.

The address to the overcomer now is in perfect keeping with what we have seen to be the character of Pergamos as a whole. The Lord, significantly, in the first place carries us back to the wilderness, for the world with the Church settled in it is not less a wilderness on that account, but rather the more. But it is only he who realizes this wilderness condition who will find the gracious provision which God has made for him. In the wilderness, because it grew nothing for them, because they were mere pilgrims through it, God provided, as we know, the bread from heaven; and now, says the Lord, "To him that overcometh will I give of the hidden manna." But we must notice, nevertheless, that it is the hidden manna of which He speaks. The hidden manna was that preserved in the wilderness to be carried into the land, that the children of Israel, when there, might see the food with which the Lord had sustained them in the wilderness. For us it is the evident and beautiful picture of what will be the result in eternity of the realization of the wilderness condition here. The food of the wilderness will be there enjoyed again; and, must we not say, in that time, when everything will be perfected, enjoyed in a fuller way than even in the wilderness it could have been? For, what is this manna? It is Christ Himself, as He has declared of Himself, "the bread that came down from heaven," the food of His people ever. Christ has come down, not merely in manhood, but Himself also into the conditions of the wilderness, come down to know all that is proper to man here, apart from sin; and even as to sin, to bear it, though the sinless One, in His own body upon the tree. It is, as we know better day by day, through the trial of the wilderness that we learn continually better the grace of Him who has come down into it, and are made to learn His thoughts, His ways, His grace and tenderness, and to find thus communion with Himself in all the power of this to sustain the soul. But the manna is hidden now; Christ is gone on high; but He is the same Christ, without any possibility of change. On the throne He is still the One who served us in our need in the lowliest condition; and the Servant's heart, that which love gave Him, is still His own. We are to realize that now; but how we shall realize it, when we are above with Him, when we shall be competent to see Him as He is; when we shall be able under the glory manifest in Him better to realize that glory which faith has learned to be in Him, the glory of the love which brought Him down in service! How we shall turn back then to the wilderness itself to read again the old experiences that we had of Him when we went through it, to taste them with a new freshness and sweetness in that place where there will be no more inability, no remnant of indifference, but when every spiritual sense will be always at its highest! What shall we not learn of the Man Christ Jesus there! And one can see in this way how we must have been in the wilderness, must have had the experiences of the wilderness, in order to be able to enter into this. No angel, it is plain, could know Him thus as we do. And must it not be that while every one of us will find with Him a deeper enjoyment than we have ever known, yet this enjoyment will be measured by that which we have had of Him on the way there? We must bring, in this sense, the manna with us out of the wilderness, in order to enjoy it in the land. A solemn consideration for us surely this is, which makes the reward here in a very strict sense the reward of the overcomer, the one whom the world does not overcome, but who overcomes it; all the more difficult indeed when the Church itself is in the world and laying hold of the world as having right to it in a way which, however, does not make him who does this the master, but the slave!

There is another promise here, the promise of the white stone, and it speaks to us clearly also of the time when we shall be with Him, and of that which speaks of the intimacy in which we shall be with Him also. The white stone was that which was put into the voter's urn with the name of the candidate approved upon it; and the white stone here speaks of such approval, but the approval is on His part. In the manna we see the appreciation of Christ by the saint, but in the white stone the appreciation of the saint by Christ. It is His approbation of the overcomer that is emphasized here, and the new name written on the stone is something between Him and the individual alone. "No one knoweth it but he that receiveth it." A "name" is in Scripture not the mere distinguishing of one individual from another. It is always significant. How significant is Christ's own name! He, too, has a new name which He speaks of later on. But if names are thus significant, they are so as really characterizing the person who is named. Here, therefore, the name must characterize that which Christ recognizes in the overcomer, recognizes and appreciates, recognizes as a tie between the overcomer and Himself; as a secret, as it were, of love which can be enjoyed together. What an enjoyment to have His approbation thus! And how brightly the individuality comes out here, forced, one may say, upon His people in a day of departure such as we have before us now, but none the less dear to Him when in faith we accept it, and learn day by day better to walk our individual path under His eye, as if there were no other. How clearly we see in all this that that expression with which His word to Pergamos begins, and which some think is such a hopeless enigma to discover meaning in it, is indeed the very thing that gives character to all here. It is the Church dwelling where Satan's throne is — an evil which we may not realize by becoming so familiar with it; which opens wide the door for the followers of Balaam; with seekers of their own things instead of the things of Christ; with the idolatry which the spirit of covetousness itself is and leads to, and with all else as laxity connected with this. Yet God's way is ever a way of peace and encouragement, and the hidden manna and white stone face thus the overcomer in just such a scene as this.

(2) We come now to Thyatira, to find here only a further development of what we have been looking at. The Lord presents Himself still more with characters of judgment. He is the Son of God who hath His eyes as a flame of fire and His feet like unto fine brass." The eyes speak of the present; the feet, of the future. Those feet are yet to tread "the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God." And He is the Son of God who speaks here. How significant of the degradation which His professing people have been giving Him, who have taken His very humiliation, the lowly door by which He entered into humanity itself, to keep Him at the door and humble Him continually — the Son of a human mother, thus the Babe in His mother's arms to listen to her word and do her will! Who that realizes what we are coming to now but must realize the indignant glance at a Mariolatry which He will not honor more by noticing it, only letting His own divine glory shine out to consume it upon the instant! Yet He is writing here still, after His old manner, patiently ready to own all that He can own, taking forth the precious from the vile, as His mouth always must. "I know thy works, and love, and faith, and service, and thine endurance, and thy last works to be more than the first." One would say, here certainly is something that is even the opposite of Ephesus, as being a condition improving instead of degenerating — last works more than the first. It is quite evident indeed that He is separating those to whom He speaks from that which is, nevertheless, in the Church itself, and, alas, not without toleration more or less of those whom He can yet praise after this manner. As we go on in this address we shall find, indeed, that there is a remnant more and more being separated from a mass which is getting more and more corrupt — the mass itself in fact so corrupt that He does not address it. He had spoken, but He speaks no more. He had given time for repentance, but it was all in vain: and it is here that that significant change takes place which has been noticed before — the address to the overcomer taking precedence of the call to "hear what the Spirit saith." There is no hope of the mass. It is "the rest," "as many as have not this doctrine," those who "have not known the depths of Satan," among whom alone He can look now for him "who hath an ear to hear." The significant thought here is manifestly "the woman Jezebel." She is not a mere disfiguring excrescence, but the very heart of the condition — "the woman Jezebel, who calleth herself a prophetess," while teaching and leading astray Christ's servants to commit fornication and to eat of idol sacrifices. Thus she is herself the direct follower and fruit of those Balaam followers whom we have had to do with in Pergamos; only it is plain that now there is something infinitely more pretentious than anything that has gone before. This woman, while propagating her abominable iniquity, does not hesitate to claim the very authority of God for what she is doing. She is a prophetess. Her voice is thus the voice of God Himself. Yet she is but "the woman Jezebel." That is not accidental, that significant name. It is not a mere piece of history that one with that name happened to be there. It is not meaningless, this link with the history of one of those times of debased apostasy on the part of Israel when Ahab was leading Israelites into the worship of Baal, he "whom Jezebel his wife stirred up." It is from this connection with that history, very probably, that there is a reading here in some old manuscripts which makes it "thy wife Jezebel," instead of "the woman;" but, most certainly, Jezebel is not the wife of the angel whom the Lord addresses here. He could not represent or be represented by Ahab, while none the less Jezebel keeps the significance of her name and of the historical connection, only with added features that Jezebel of old did not even present; for we find nothing, at least as to her, of her calling herself a prophetess, as this woman does, although she had her hundreds of false prophets as her retainers.

If we go back to those parables of the Lord in the thirteenth of Matthew which we have already had to refer to in connection with the addresses here, we shall find another point of significance. Pergamos, it is clear, represents the mustard seed grown into a tree — Christianity rooting itself in the world, and with the powers of darkness, the birds of the air, lodging in its branches. The next parable is that of the woman; and it is a woman who has to do now with the doctrine: doctrine which, as we know, was in fact entrusted to the Church to hold, but in no wise to manufacture. The woman is making a kind of bread of her own. She is putting leaven into the three measures of meal which she has in her hands, a leaven which is by and by to permeate the mass of it. The woman is the constant figure of the Church at large — woman, not man. Christ is the "man," the husband to whom she is espoused, to whom she is to be true and subject — the Church that Christ loved and gave Himself for, "that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing." He shall have that joy at last; but meanwhile there is this external Church that represents Him here upon the earth; fatally at last misrepresents Him, and goes astray in heart to others than Himself. This is the woman Babylon, as we see her in the seventeenth chapter of this book, which gives us all the features, more depraved if possible, of the woman before us now. Jezebel is but the woman with the leaven; and if those three measures of meal represent indeed — as we have seen when looking at it, — the fine flour of the meat-offering, which was not to be adulterated with leaven, but which represents Christ Himself as the food of His people entrusted to the care of His own to preserve it without adulteration, then we can see the full extent of wickedness here in this woman who calls herself a prophetess, but only prophecies to teach and lead astray Christ's servants. The "woman" is the Church, which is taught and can hold what she is taught, but never teaches. And it is significant that that very teaching which claims authority as the teaching of the Church, is that which, for every one who has an ear to hear, has most emphatically led astray God's people wherever it has been listened to. That voice of the Church is a lie on the very face of it, as represented in its principle, "Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus" — "What always has been believed, everywhere, and by all." The moment that is attempted to be justified by history, the consent of the fathers, of councils, or whatever else, it is an open, proved, notorious fraud, just fit for a false prophetess whose very name carries her false pretension, Jezebel, "the chaste," but whom God stamps as a harlot, "the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth."

That which is spoken of as the voice of the Church is simply the voice of chosen witnesses, who have usurped in men's minds the place of the Church, who often witness against one another, as also in most cases against the very system which claims them and would make much of them. The Church becomes thus the councils, the clergy, finally the pope; narrowing continually in proportion as it rises more and more into complete domination of that which is now indeed a mere conquered populace, bound and burdened by that which has assumed the authority of Christ, only to seduce His servants. The long time that she has lasted is interpreted here by the Lord, simply as a time given her to repent, and she will not repent. It is of the very essence of Rome that being infallible she cannot do it. It would be the loss at once of her whole pretension. Thus nothing but judgment can await her. "Behold," says the Lord, "I cast her into a bed, and those that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they shall repent of her works." This evidently contemplates the time of which the Lord promises to Philadelphia that she shall be kept out of "the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world, to try those that dwell upon the earth." It speaks of the time when the ten horns and the beast shall destroy the woman, and eat her flesh and burn her with fire. The children produced by her are not owned as even the possible children of God at all. "I will kill them with death," the Lord says. They are the proper fruit of the blasphemous system, and to be distinguished, as the Lord does immediately distinguish, from those who are indeed suffering her, and who may have felt the power of her seduction, but who, nevertheless, have something better in their hearts than this would intimate; and the Lord is He that searches the reins and hearts, and who, amid all the confusion, will give to each one according to his works.

He turns now from Jezebel and her followers to separate from them a people who are beginning to be more or less separated — in heart, if no more: "To you, I say, the rest who are in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, such as have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I cast upon you no other burden." Plenty of burdens they have, alas, of necessity, in such a condition of things as has arisen and is pictured here, when in the common speech of professing Christians there are what He calls "depths of Satan." Let any one think of the maxims of Jesuitism, for instance, which have gone far and wide beyond themselves. Who can for a moment think that this language is too strong? The very foundations are removed. Morality and religion have no necessary connection. Brigands, as is well known, in Italy bring the gains of their infamy to deposit them at the feet of the Queen of Heaven. The whole system is such that no one can be any longer certain of anything. The child is not baptized if the priest never meant to baptize it, however scrupulously the outward form may be observed. The mass is not celebrated, except the priestly intention is all right about it. And who can any longer say, even according to themselves, what remains to them of these sacramental ordinances, which, after all, are all they have to trust in? What a mockery of Satan it all is! Amid it all there were, as we know, hunted, persecuted companies who, more and more, refused these abominations; and no doubt many who come down to us in history, the victims of the slanders of their persecutors, but whom God will bring out in another character in His own time. Doubtless at the best they might know little, for these were, as is even commonly said, "the dark ages," and darkness there was everywhere — darkness just in proportion as the Church ruled — the light of the world, as she should have been in the absence of the day; but it was much, with God, to maintain any integrity at all in this confusion, and what they have the Lord bids them to hold fast until He shall come.

It is now that we have, first of all, in these addresses, the intimation of His coming: and it furnishes one of those proofs, of which there are many, that the condition here continues more or less to exist until that time. Until the Lord has taken His people to Himself, Babylon will still reign a queen, and count herself no widow and to see no sorrow. But then "shall her plagues come in one day, death and mourning and famine; and she shall be utterly burnt with fire, for strong is the Lord God that judgeth her." How differently men have learnt to speak, in the false and hollow liberalism of the day, from the way in which the word of God speaks of these abominations! It is quite true that God has His own amongst them, as has been already said; but that makes only the things themselves worse, that spatter and befoul the people of God themselves. His servants, there may be many, more or less led astray. Shall we count that less evil which is leading them astray? The Lord's words are now to the overcomer simply; and here, in opposition to the false rule of the woman, it is said, "he that overcometh, and that keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give authority over the nations, and he shall rule them with an iron rod, as the vessels of a potter are broken in pieces, as I also have received from My Father."

At Corinth, where they were already in their measure, though not in this measure, reigning as kings apart from those whom they yet owned their leaders, — men appointed unto death, — we see the beginning of that which has developed into an open assumption of authority, all the worse for its being a spiritual pretension, as with Rome. The time of rule for the Church, says the apostle, will not come until all the saints reign together, and reign with Christ. The very pretension of rule in the meanwhile is stamped thus as necessarily false. When the time to reign comes, there will be no manner of doubt, no need to assert any longer a power which is manifest; and then it will be indeed a rule with an iron rod necessarily: for it is the time when judgment will return to righteousness, and when through judgment the inhabitants of the earth shall learn it. They have despised and refused grace. They must of necessity bow when Christ goes forth in power. And yet the word "rule" here shows the peculiar character of it, the heart which, nevertheless, is directing everything. It is the rule of a Shepherd that is signified by it; and if it be an iron rod, a rod of irresistible power that is in the Shepherd's hands, yet it will always recognize that it is for the flock that He is contending — indeed, for the earth itself, to deliver it from that which has oppressed it for ages, and, as is said afterwards in this book, "to destroy those that destroy the earth." Throughout the long time of patience, God has not been regardless of what was going on: strong and patient, and provoked every day, He will at last arise in irresistible power, and with one blow shatter the power of all His adversaries. Christ's foes shall be put as a footstool under His feet. The mere human clay will be manifested indeed as but the easily shattered vessels of the potter. How different from the thought men have of the quiet conversion of the world by the gospel, and which so many still entertain, in spite of the centuries through which that conversion has lingered, and in spite of the apostasy of a large mass of those that have borne His name! But with the uprising of the Sun of Righteousness the day will arise at last. Suddenly, when the blackest hour of night has come, when darkness covers the earth and gross darkness the peoples, the Lord shall arise upon Israel once more, and His glory shall be seen upon them (Isa. 60:2). But the promise here anticipates the day. The Lord says to the overcomer, not that His people "shall shine forth as the sun" (Matt. 13:43) when the Sun arises, but here, "I will give him the morning star." The morning star comes before, and heralds the day. It does not lighten the earth, but it prophesies of the coming light; and thus the Lord will remove His own, as we have seen in Thessalonians, caught up to meet Him in the air, and they shall be ever with the Lord; when He comes forth, therefore, to come forth with Him. Here is the Morning Star, and it strikingly characterizes the standpoint of the book of Revelation. If Malachi closes the Old Testament with the announcement of the Sun of Righteousness arising upon the earth with healing in His wings, the book of Revelation closes the New with the announcement of the hope of His heavenly saints, Christ as the bright and Morning Star (Rev. 22:16.).

Here ends now the first division of these epistles, in which we have seen the Church still in measure one, but with the growth of evil manifest in it, the mystery of iniquity thoroughly at work, whatever restraint there may be upon it. No doubt Rome, spite of its boast of being the Church, is not after all the whole profession. The Greek and Eastern churches have not known the woman Jezebel. They have halted at Pergamos, of which the civil head of the Russian church is a plain example. It is Constantine, so to speak, who is their ruler still, and not the woman. But this is but a merciful restraint which has hindered the full development of principles which are at work in her; and she has not broken off from the line of development, but simply halted, as it were, upon the way. We are now to see how God, in His grace, has come in to deliver His people, not merely from subjection to the woman's rule, but from the system which would naturally ripen into this. God has come in to deliver. How far His people have profited by His intervention for them, and what will be the final issue, we are to see in the three assemblies which remain to be looked at, and which are no longer histories of the Church in general, but manifestly of a remnant, little as the remnant may show itself to be what God would have it. Failure, alas, is everywhere. We must not expect, if God comes in to deliver, that the deliverance must necessarily be full and entire, as He would have it. He awaits the response of His people to that which He is doing for them; and, (as we find in the history of Israel in the times of the Judges) when God raises up a deliverer who shall judge the people according to the light which God is giving, spite of all this, decline will follow: and the final ruin with which God has already threatened them at Ephesus — the complete removal of the church's candlestick — is only delayed, and not averted.