The Revelation of John


Division 1. (Rev. 1 – 3.)

The Things that are.

Subdivision 2. (Rev. 2, 3.)

The Messages to the Churches.

Section 2. (Rev. 3.)

Further division, with freedom from the teaching of the woman.

We have already seen, then, a remnant more or less separated in Thyatira. We are now to find the history only that of a remnant. Thyatira is left to go on till the Lord comes, substantially unaltered; but now we have churches in which the woman and her teaching no longer appear. There is a clear break from this; and the very first church here, probably, in its name indicates its remnant character. Sardis has been thought, at least probably, to be from the Hebrew Sarid, which means "a remnant." This certainly agrees in the most distinct way with what we have here, and we shall find now in each of the three addresses a distinct intimation that they go on to the coming of the Lord. Thus in Sardis, characteristically dead indeed and not alive, the Lord threatens that He will come to them as to the world, part of which they really are: "If thou shalt not watch," He says, "I will come upon thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know at what hour I will come upon thee." "But," says the apostle to Christians (1 Thess. 5:4), "ye are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief." To Philadelphia there is a more decisive word, with which promise and warning are united: "I come quickly; hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take thy crown." While, finally, to lukewarm Laodicea the Lord says, with no hint any more of a possible repentance which shall avert it, "Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spew thee out of My mouth." Thus the series of addresses closes with the announcement of general disaster, although the Lord's heart towards His people, and His promise to those who listen to His voice, are found all through. W. hat is the real application of all this we can only understand upon a fuller inquiry.

1. Sardis, as already said, means probably "a remnant;" but we must not imagine by this that it is therefore in any full way according to the Lord's mind. We can remember, as to Israel, the story of the return of such a remnant out of Babylon; but how soon, nevertheless, did that bud of promise reveal the disappointment of the hopes that were wrapped up in it! And Israel's history all through is but in too marked keeping with the history of the Church. Spite of the grace which has been shown her, that faith which is the principle by which alone she stands is, alas, but too little to be found in her: and thus the fuller her blessing, only the deeper her declension, the worse the corruption of the better thing. In Sardis we shall find that there is again being attempted that which is impossible, to unite in a true concord death with life. This, in fact, shows us, if we take these addresses as to be read in continuation, as they clearly are, that here, after all, the old unity is still in some sense maintained: that is, this unity of a barren profession with true faith. There has been no departure from this, and we can hardly fail to find the application to the story of those whom God delivered from the reign of the woman, in what we call "the time of the Reformation." Here the Lord speaks in character, as always in these addresses, and we see at once what is lacking, although His grace is ready to supply the need. He speaks as He who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. Thus the fulness of the Spirit is His; but they need, alas, to be reminded of it. The stars, too, are in His hand: but we shall find that in fact they are put into the hand of another than Christ. "Cujus regio ejus religio" became the motto then; that is, "The place in which you live shows your religion." The Church goes with the nation: it is the church of the nation. That is not the rule of the woman any more. It is the rule of the man, but that man is not Christ. It is the official head, or perhaps heads, of the state. It is the principle of the state-church. If you have this, the character of Sardis results as an absolute necessity. You cannot make the state really the Church, however earnestly you attempt it. Preach the Word all over it; hold up the faith of Christ in the fullest way — to make men accept it is wholly beyond man's power. Thus the principle of decadence is sure and manifest.

There is no imputation of false doctrine any more. There is no claim of infallibility, or of inspiration from God. On the other hand, there is, in a way more distinct than heretofore, "a name to live." Under Jezebel there is not this in the same way. With all her pretension, nevertheless the nature of Rome's sacramental system is such as to leave uncertainty in result about all the profession, as they quote from Ecclesiastes, "No man knows whether he is worthy of favor or hatred." Be it so, then, that men are born again in baptism, and are sustained by the body of Christ in the sacrament of the Supper, though they have priestly absolution and the intercession of saints and angels, and of Mary, the gentle mother with her woman's heart, more to be trusted than that of Christ Himself, and who holds the ladder of life by which her votaries ascend to heaven, — yet, after all, at the best there is a long purgation to be accomplished before heaven is reached, and distressing uncertainty. The Reformation, on the other hand, with its announcement of the scriptural truth of justification by faith, made it possible and right for every poor sinner turning to God to find his name in the book of life. How blessed a contrast this with all that the "infallible church" could do for those whom it took in hand to carry through to salvation! But all the more the certainty of this assurance on the part of those who had true faith in Christ, the more impossible, one would say, would it be to give such assurance broadcast among the members of a state-church — that is, the world with the name of Christ.

In fact, this could not be. There had to be a compromise in some way, an adoption of the sacramental system to a certain extent, with a large charitable hope to justify what was really but a giving of that which was holy to the dogs, the attributing of life to that which was dead — every one left very much to determine for himself where he was before God, while others were warned to pass no judgment, and the grace of God availing for the chief of sinners was taken really to make light of necessary saintship in the believer, and so to falsify the power of that which it was intended to honor. Where grace is really, the dominion of sin is broken, as the apostle has shown us, and it is only those who are led by the Spirit of God who can be rightly counted as the children of God. But a state-church in its very nature must attenuate all this to have any warrant for existence, and thus there must of necessity be a compromise, as in fact everywhere there was, and the retention thus far at least of the old Jewish system, the synagogue instead of the assembly of God. Only on the part of some, whose fanaticism the more effectually put its brand upon the truth they had, was there the attempt to find and manifest the Church of God. For the rest, the true Church remained in the old invisibility which had been decreed for it, and thus the truth really proclaimed was everywhere in saddest contrast with the lifeless profession. As the Lord recognizes here, there were those in Sardis who had not defiled their garments; but these were the exception, not the mass. They were a remnant, so to speak, among the Reformed remnant; and the protest against Rome's errors allowed, nevertheless, in this way, one of Rome's chief errors.

That protest was assuredly a necessity; but it was also deemed that there must for this reason be something that would give more stability to it than the testimony of a few scattered and hunted souls. The kings and the nations, alike trodden down under the hard heel of Rome, had plenty of reason for desiring to set up a bulwark against her; and where could they have one more effectual than the profession of a Reformed creed, and putting the power to maintain it into the hands of a civil magistrate? It was the Spirit of God that had raised up a testimony against the evil, but the Spirit of God could not be counted upon by the mass to maintain that testimony. Had not, in fact, the apostle enjoined upon Christians to be subject to the powers that be? Rome had for her followers decreed a large exemption from such a duty. The Church could everywhere, as it pleased, throw the mantle of its charity over those whom the state condemned. On the other hand, for Protestants, the State now was to interfere in that which belonged really to the Church. The creed must be maintained, and non-conformity to the creed be penal. Hence, persecution and laxity went hand in hand. The things of God were committed to hands that were unfit to touch them; and while the purer creed indeed commended itself to a larger circle than of those who had true faith in it, it was thus continually nullified and defiled by its nominal adherents.

We can understand at once, therefore, the Lord's warning here to be watchful and strengthen the things that remained, which were about to die. But the truth can never be maintained by human power. The enforced creed may be, no doubt, a certain safeguard; yet while thus preserved it may actually die out amid the very people whose formula is to preserve it: for this may be but a relic of the dead past, and not a living reality. And this has been seen how often! For, "thou standest by faith" is true of the whole professing body and all that pertains to it, and nothing but faith can finally preserve even the profession of the truth itself. The work of faith was now, therefore, found lacking. "I have not found thy works perfect before My God," says the Lord. If such a condition as the presence of "ten righteous men" might have sufficed to save Sodom, so the actual faith found amongst the comparatively few may give a certain stability to that which without it could have no length of continuation at all; but the general tendency here must needs be downward; and all the churches of the Reformation have proved — whatever truth may have remained in their creed — that it does not involve the maintenance of the creed itself. Rationalism and infidelity are here the evils which threaten it; for if the truth is in the creed, yet infidelity is that which is in the mass of those who should be its supporters, but whose hearts link them with the unbelief, and not with the truth. But there is no power here but the power of the Spirit of God; and that is what has been so much forgotten even among true Christians.

The Lord recognizes in Sardis a work of His grace. He bids them remember how they had received and heard, and keep it and repent. Sad it would be to belittle the wonder of God's grace which wrought in the Reformation, and surely accomplished so much — the effect of which remains with us today. It was that which was not of God which has proved the burden upon it — the hindrance not merely to progress, but even to continuance. The men whom God raised up in various countries of Europe at the time of the Reformation were dependent themselves upon no earthly power, nor even upon one another, as Zwingle did not even derive from Luther: and there was everywhere proof that the Spirit of God was working independently in many hearts. These so taught of Him would necessarily come together as led in the same path, and they did so. The trouble came when men with other motives proffered their help in what they could make in certain respects a common cause with these. It was the old Samaritan cry, "We seek your God as ye do" (Ezra 4:2), but which was not met as those with Zerubbabel met it then; and if then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah and troubled them in building because of their aid rejected, still more now did the people of the land weaken the hands of the true people of God by the help which they accepted.

It is evil association which constantly corrupts the manners of the Lord's people. Mixture is Satan's constant device, and compromise necessarily grows out of mixture. We cannot walk together except we are agreed. People may say, and do say, "We agree so far; why can we not walk together at least in that in which we are so far together?" All right, if Christ and His will and Word be not left out of the agreement; but when the Church joins with the world, this must of necessity be left out. If orthodoxy be but hypocrisy, or self-deception at the best, what value is there in such orthodoxy before God? Alas, it is only the old leaning upon Egypt which we find so much of in the case of Israel; the end of which was only that they found it a broken reed, which even in the judgment of their enemies themselves was such that if a man lean on it "it will go into his hand and pierce it" (Isa. 36:6). And yet how constantly we seek help of this kind still! We invoke or accept help which cuts us off from the help of God; and all such things are manifestly only a denial of Him who is the one sufficient security of His people, and the One to whom our obedience should admit of no compromise.

But here the Judaism which has come in manifests its power for evil; Israel's national religion is pleaded in behalf of a world-church now, and after that faith is come — when God has taken it distinctly as the only principle upon which we stand — can yet go back to the legal schoolmaster. The nation in the flesh which God took up was in no wise the same thing as the Church indwelt by the Spirit of God; and when, by and by, God will be again among them as of old, it shall be under that new covenant when they are at last what they have never hitherto been, a nation "all holy;" where there will be no need for one to say to his neighbor, or to his brother, "Know the Lord," because all shall know Him, from the least even to the greatest. But alas, it is the promise of an arm of flesh which makes all these arguments so acceptable to us! Even if we have faith, we have so little faith to build upon God, to walk in absolute independence of all else, so as to be dependent upon Him alone — this is what costs; but how much another course costs! If we would keep a right balance, we must not forget to count up on both sides.

It is not the Reformation itself, so far as it was that, which the Lord judges here. Alas, it was when they ceased to be reformers, when they became conservatives with the caution of such, and had to build up systems to meet the exigencies of the times, then it was that another element came in which God is judging. And after all, how simple a thing to judge, one would think! If the world can be made the Church because we will have it so; if in the largest charity that can be required of us we can confound one of these with the other, then, of course, the national church-system will commend itself to us as having the broadest liberality that can be — fiercely denunciative as it may be of that which will now be the independent action of the Spirit of God, and therefore of the faith that cleaves to God.

The result is that the national church becomes but a dead weight, a burden upon its living members. The Spirit of God, if He works — as work He will — must needs work in testimony against the evil; and in every such working there will be more and more the disintegration of the body as a whole. The attitude of the Lord toward Sardis here must be that which the Spirit recognizes, and with which He is; and it is an attitude of rebuke and opposition. He thus treats it here as the world, and nothing but the world; a world to which His coming can be nothing but a dread, if realized at all. It is not to His own that the Lord comes as a thief — though people may have adapted this language so as to take off the rebuke of it; rebuke it manifestly is here; yet He owns what He can own. There are still a few names in Sardis (how He speaks as able to call each one by his name!) who have not defiled their garments. They are in the midst of that which would naturally defile them. The touch of death was defilement according to the law in Israel; and the touch of spiritual death, what must that be for those in constant association with it, as in the case before us? Yet, spite of all, Christ is no doubt a sufficiency for every one who seeks to Him; but the result is, if not an outward, yet an inward separation. The Lord owns this fully: "They shall walk with Me in white," He says, "for they are worthy." That does not in the least make light of the worldly mixture which, as we see here, characterizes the whole state of things, and of which the Lord speaks to those who have an ear to hear. But the ear may be strangely dulled, even when the heart is in measure right. We are, alas, so much under the power of the circumstances amid which we are! and a national religion has its necessary seduction, bringing together those akin in nature in the recognition of ties which God does recognize, although He puts them in no such place as they are put in here. Yet to break through them requires a spiritual energy which is found in but few, while yet there are many who, without having the spirit of reformers, are nevertheless in spirit separate from the surrounding evil. God does not give us up to our surroundings. But how few they are who are not more or less governed by them! Still He who could own a righteous Lot in Sodom owns such still; not that they do not suffer, not that their spiritual life is not of necessity overshadowed. How many questions for the conscience, how much exercise of heart, what a burden of sorrow, has to be borne in proportion as one seeks truly to be with God in such a condition of things! God's way would be that they should walk free. Nevertheless, if He only owned those who were in every way according to His mind, how few could He own at all!

The promise to the overcomer here has a somewhat negative character. "I will not blot his name out of the book of life" is plainly negative; and how significant of the general condition! Out of the Lamb's book of life how could a name be blotted? It surely could not, and the book of life therefore must here represent something in the hands of men — that "name to live" of which the Lord has spoken at the outset. How widely, in fact, is this assumed and justified by that false charity which would never wake men up to realize their condition, but leave them to drift on to a doom not the less certain because it is out of sight. The clothing in white garments is more positive, as is also the Lord's confession of His own before His Father and before the angels. Yet in it all there does not seem to be that full emphasis of approval which we find in other addresses. There is not what we have had even in Pergamos of "the hidden manna" and the "white stone." The sense of the wilderness is not upon the soul in the same way, and with all the light that He has been giving there is not that freedom to go with Him which should be the response to it.* The truth is shut up in creeds and stiffened into formulas. The conscience cannot speak for God as it should, and the open Bible of which men make boast, and which indeed is in their hands, is, nevertheless, read too much within the limits imposed by that which is human recognition. The Spirit of God is too little free to interpret as He would, for individuality is lacking; and conscience and heart are nothing if they are not individual.

{*Yet the promise to clothe in white raiment, coupled with that already given the few who had not defiled their garments, — "they shall walk with Me in white," — is beautifully appropriate and definite. Undefiled garments here, maintained feebly but in faith, will mean not only white robes there, but association with Him whose grace alone enabled them to keep themselves unspotted from the world, even when it was in the professing Church. This is, indeed, a foreshadowing of the promise to the overcomer in Philadelphia, though not nearly so full. Have we not also in this remnant in Sardis that which, if true to the light given, later on finds fuller development in Philadelphia, just as we have seen Thyatira having a remnant which is morally linked with Sardis? — S.R.}

2. We pass on now to what should have the deepest interest for us, in that it is plainly the only address which is wholly one of commendation. It is not meant by this that there is no more need of overcoming even in Philadelphia. It is not meant that there is no need of exhortation. Nevertheless, it will be felt by any who simply read the words that are before us, that they show us a different state of things from anything elsewhere. Smyrna may be an exception to this, but yet in Smyrna there is that which we know God has always used to purify His people. There is an active persecution going on which calls men to reality, and of which we have nothing here; though it be always true, of course, that "he that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution;" but there is no crisis of it. There is not in the same way that which forces men to decide for or against Christ. What is here speaks more of a quiet movement of the Spirit, working amid such a lifeless condition as we have seen in Sardis, and recalling men to Christ Himself as the one supreme authority over the soul. It is notable here that Christ speaks of Himself more according to His personal character. He is "the Holy and the True" — words which search out necessarily, and are intended to search out, but which, nevertheless, in connection with the commendation which we find in general, show that there is in Philadelphia's condition that which more answers to His thoughts. They are keeping His word, and not denying His name.

How emphatic that makes the manner of His address here! And the name "Philadelphia" clearly speaks after the same manner. Philadelphia is "brotherly love;" but the love of the brethren would naturally imply a recognition of the brethren, such as is not found in Sardis, for instance. Where the general condition is that of death, it is plain that the relationship of Christ's people to one another cannot be recognized, except in the most partial manner. The true Church, it is said, is invisible. But how, then, can the living affections which are instinctive in Christ's people as such, to one another, find any proper expression? Thus it should be plain that we have here implied an effort, at least, to distinguish the true Church from the false, to make the Church visible; and there is an activity which must be surely of this character, which the Lord recognizes in power as the One who has authority in the kingdom, the key of David, One "who openeth and no one can shut, and shutteth and no one can open." It is only by the context that we can read aright such words as we find here. "I have set before thee," says the Lord, "an opened door, which no one can shut." But for what purpose, then? Plainly, to act according to the character that all indicates — an opened door for saints that are seeking one another, to find and recognize one another. There is, in some manner, an end of the condition of things, of the mixture we have in Sardis; — within how large a sphere, of course, we have nothing to indicate.*

{*The expression "key of David" may find further suggestiveness from its connection in Isa. 22, from which it is quoted. There Shebna, the treasurer in Hezekiah's day, is to be set aside and replaced by Eliakim as ruler of the household. The meaning of Shebna is given as "youthfulness, vigor," and of Eliakim as "God is setting up." There was a good measure of outward activity and prosperity in Hezekiah's day which might well be described by this youthful vigor, of merely human energy. While Hezekiah was a man of faith and diligent, yet there are evident indications that the state of the nation was anything but satisfactory in the sight of God. Shebna is to be displaced by one whom God sets up — fully answering to Christ who must supersede all fleshly energy. Thus Sardis would answer to Shebna, none of its works perfect before God, its vigor merely carnal while in Eliakim we see one who is "a nail in a sure place," who opens the door to the treasure-house of God, and orders all things in that house. Where His authority is recognized, how truly too does He open the door to His people to lead them out of Judaism, or of that which resembles it, into full and sweet fellowship one with another. — S.R.}

Philadelphia certainly has not superseded Sardis. We have, as is implied, (but what for the mass would seem an evil augury rather than good,) a division which is again taking place, a necessary line which is being drawn between the world and the Church, but which will therefore imply separation from the world-church. Thus there is a distinct movement, which the Lord encourages. For if division in Corinth could only be condemned, in Sardis, on the other hand, it would be only necessary obedience to the Lord's words; and that is the obedience of which He speaks here "Thou hast a little power, and hast kept My word." There is an energy which is scarcely found even with the overcomers in Sardis. It is but a little power indeed. How small a power one would think would be necessary to make God's people walk according to the Word which He has given them, in disregard of whatever name or authority might be pleaded against this! Yet, such as there is, He commends it. After a condition such as we have been looking at, it is refreshing to find that which undoubtedly speaks of a new spiritual activity, which the Lord owns, and with which He is.

It is also important to notice here that it is Christ's word that they have kept. In Sardis there were things that had been received and heard, though they were dying out, and to which the Lord would recall them. But here it is not simply something that they have received. It is not something recovered to them out of the Word, but the Word; the Word restored to its rightful place of authority over the soul; the Word with no limitations or reserves; the Word not as defined by human creeds, but as it is in itself, with all the fulness of blessing that is in it, ready for the soul that craves it. This is really a central point in all the commendation here. In Christ's word thus kept, His authority is owned, His sole authority. Nothing must come between the conscience and His word.

Thus, it should be plain, there is room for growth, for progress. A door open in this way, traditions, even reformed traditions, would sadly hinder. The Word is opening, and encouraging souls to take possession of the treasures that are to be found in it. None surely can look at his Bible as he has it today (not simply a Bible open in his hands, but open to him by the Spirit of God) without realizing how much room there is yet in it for fresh explorations; how much there is in Scripture that has never yet fulfilled its character as "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." Do we not need, as it would seem, some door to be opened yet into these many hitherto blank pages, every one of which should shine out with the light of God in them for our souls? For this, however, the first necessity is that we should be keepers of Christ's word; that it should have its practical place with us, that we should crave it all, and not allow ourselves to be willingly ignorant of any of that which is God's means of forming us in the mind of Christ, of giving communion. with Himself, of sanctification. Hopeless it may seem to think of this in large portions of those Jewish scriptures which seem to be merely records of the past, of what for us could have little, if any, significance. What has hindered our getting possession of what must needs be shut up in these apparently barren portions? We may answer, in the first place, it is because of our unbelief as to there being anything there; and it should be simple that this is but dishonor to Him whose Word it is, and which, as His Word, must be "spirit and life" in every part of it. If we will not believe that He has given it all for spiritual profit, it must remain probable that we shall find no profit in it. According to our faith or unbelief it will be to us.

Of course, none can deny that the way in which these things are given to us implies the need of labor, of exercise of faith in waiting on God in order to possess ourselves of them. In proportion as our energy is small, we shall think the labor too great to be compensated by the profit. Yet, assuredly, God has made no mistake. He has given us that which was in His heart to give, and He has given it in the way in which He intended to give it. No doubt there can be found a very large consent of those most trusted in these matters who will unite to assure us that we must not think to find gospel everywhere in these old records. Take the mass of commentators even, and is it not plain, not merely that they have no help for us as to whole pages of the inspired Word, but that they do not even dream of help being given? Here are matters, it is thought, for the antiquarian, matters for those curious in literary research, matters as to which it is possible for some to exhibit whatever they may have in the way of learning; but alas, with all this, how small a crumb of comfort for the soul! If we dare not go beyond our guides, if we can only drink of the water which has been kept in their reservoirs for us, if we have no access to the living streams themselves, if there is not with us the longing of heart which must nevertheless have access, whatever hindrances may seem to be in the way of it, then it is no wonder if an open door here should be thought of as nothing but delusion; and we must go on to believe that God has given what none can find food in, and much that must seem as only a trial of our patience, if we set ourselves once or twice a year, as a duty, to go through it.

We must have faith, then, in what the grace of God has given us, in order to be able to get on with it; but more, we must have faith also in the ability He gives to possess ourselves of it. Here, how many questions naturally assail us! When we think of the centuries during which the Church has been in possession of the completed Word, and think again how little of unity of interpretation there is at the present time, — divisions only increased, as one might think, by coming to it, — divisions for which Rome reproaches Protestants, so far with justice: but her remedy is to take Scripture out of our hands altogether, and to give us only just what and how she may deem fit, — certainly any amount of division is incomparably better than this. Nevertheless, the ruin of everything seems only to become continually more manifest. New heresies start; creeds multiply; Scripture, as is the common urging of unbelief, is appealed to for all, and Satan can boast of the success he has in making that which is the truth itself in some way the apology for error everywhere. But what are we to conclude as we think of it all? That after all there is indeed before us an open door to enter into and take possession of the word of God, to an extent only limited by our lack of faith in Him? Is it humility even to judge others in the way this seems to necessitate? And is it not presumption on our part to think that we may even possibly succeed where the generations have so much and so uniformly failed? Nevertheless, there abides for us one word of Christ which, if we keep it, will outweigh them all: "And when the Spirit of truth is come, He shall lead you into all truth." Is this a sufficient assurance? Is the failure His or ours? Are we given up to failure? To take any such position as these is only, in one way or another, to charge failure upon God Himself. No, rather the fault has been that we have trusted other guides more than this one sufficient One. We have given those whom God has given to us, in order to help us with the interpretation of His Word, a place of authority which belongs to nothing but to the Word itself. We have been the followers of men too much; and thus oftentimes the best meant attempts to preserve the truth to us have only resulted in hindrance and stagnation. If God has given a little revival, if He has recovered for us a few truths that we had lost, the way has been immediately to make that which we have the measure of everything; and this, enshrined in creeds and confessions, has been a sorer hindrance in the path of progress than we may be willing to allow that it could be.

Yet there is nothing wrong in a creed or a confession. If this embodies the present faith of those who put it forth, it may be, and should be, a help instead of a hindrance; but the moment it is made an authority for others, then it becomes prohibitory of progress, unless we can maintain that every detail of it is infallible. But we have rightly given up infallibility of the Church teaching; are we then to follow that which is confessedly fallible, as if it were infallible? We must hold consistently all through to this, that it is not the Church that teaches. God raises up teachers, in His mercy to all; but even here there is no infallibility in the teaching. The word for us is — nay, it always was, "Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the rest judge." We are to take heed what we hear, as well as how we hear; and the healthful exercise which is implied in this we cannot afford to do without. Creeds are, after all, forms of the truth dictated by men; and our faith must not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. God has not given us a creed. He has given us His Word. The creed, if it be authoritative, by its very existence says that Scripture is not enough; God has not taken sufficient care of His people; His Word is not as clear as we can make it; at least, it requires a wisdom which all have not, a learning which cannot be expected of the mass, in order to interpret it to all. Thus the babes are disqualified by their simplicity — those very babes to whom the apostle John says, "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things, and need not that any one teach you." Was he right in saying this? Is that also Christ's word, which we have to keep?

It is no wonder, then, if the enemy has made the creed the means of division really, instead of unity; oftentimes that which maintains error instead of truth. Let us have our creeds, but let them be our own, and not the creeds of other men. Let us get from Scripture all that Scripture can put us in possession of, and that will practically be our creed — what we hold in living faith, and neither more nor less than that. But if it be said there is nothing then to hinder the spread of whatever heresy, this is only once more to proclaim the incompetence of Scripture and of the Holy Spirit. It is strange and sorrowful how those who can insist so rightly upon the need of an open Bible, and that "the Bible only is the religion of Protestants," yet can, nevertheless, allow to any extent these additions to it, and proclaim the indecisiveness of that very Bible which is to be the religion of every one.

How important is this, then, that the Lord says to Philadelphia: "Thou hast kept My Word"! Not My Word as filtered through the thoughts of others; not My Word as certain trusted leaders represent it; not My Word in the measure that others may have learnt it; but only and all of that which the Spirit of God makes good to our souls. No doubt we shall be tested here, for God tests always the faith that He most approves and seeks to have from us. Can we trust Him, whatever others may say? Can we accept that as truth in which we have, perhaps, the mass of His people against us? If it be true that keeping the word of the Church is only practically unbelief, what more is keeping the word of a Church-creed or the word of any others, whosoever they may be, but which is not made good as Christ's word to us? And let us notice here that we have no more right to shorten our creed to bring it within the bounds of those of others, than we have to accept that which is outside of what is ours, of what the Word and the Spirit of God have taught us.

How important it is here that there should be with us a readiness, nay, a desire, to receive all that is Christ's word, and to follow it whatever the cost may be! How many, alas, look on to see what may be the cost of receiving such or such a thing, and for whom such questions avail to prevent all honest searching of the Word, all desire to go further in a way that threatens to cost too much to follow! Here the word of the apostle assures us that we must add virtue (that is, courage) to our faith, in order to be able to add to that virtue knowledge. We must not only have, as men say, thus the courage of our convictions, but we must have the courage to be open to conviction, which, in the unknown quantity that may be involved, may demand much more than the convictions we at present have. How many have stopped short in the pursuit of that which would have been the greatest blessing to them because of such a fancied lion in the way! If Christ is to say to us, Thou hast kept My Word," there must be no reserve, no making terms with Him who is our Lord and Master, and who has not delegated His authority to any teacher or set of teachers, any more than to the Church at large. We must keep here distinctly before us the need of thorough individuality. We cannot merge that aright even in a multitude of God's people, and we need to remember what is implied in the prohibition of going with the multitude to do evil. We may do this when we have, nevertheless, no thought of doing evil, but simply go with the multitude. We shall certainly have often in this way to go beyond our faith, if not to go contrary to it; and whatsoever is not of faith is sin." Faith is as individual as possible. My faith is not yours, nor yours mine. Faith has to do with God, and with God alone; and in this sense all faith in men is out of place where God has spoken.

How much, then, is implied in even a little power to maintain such a path as this; to go on, however conscious of our weakness; to go on, and not to be stopped or turned back! And here, surely, the open door which Christ promises applies. All doors will open to the faith of the weakest one who still must at all costs be true to God; and it is well to notice here how thoroughly the Lord appeals to His people by the power of that which they have found in Himself — by the power of His claim over their souls. It is "My Word," "My name," "My patience," "My God," and "the city of My God," and "My new name." How conscious, in all this, Christ is of His power over the souls of those whom. He is addressing! It is the distinctive character, one may surely say, of Philadelphia to have turned from all other confidences, all other authority, just to Himself. It is a protest, as one may say, against the negative character of mere Protestantism, which can go, as we know full well, with infidelity itself, with the various grades of denial of His name.

It is a thing for us to mark that apparently those whom the Lord addresses here have been tried, or will be tried, in some way by this denial of Christ's name. "Thou hast not denied" seems to suppose some temptation to denial, which may not, of course, have the utter grossness of what men are pleased to call "Unitarianism" now. Christ's name covers all that He is. It is the doctrine concerning Him, the doctrine therefore of His work. His name is Jesus — "Jehovah, Saviour" — just as much Saviour as Jehovah; and thus He was called Jesus because He would "save His people from their sins." And notice, moreover, that His name may be denied in deed as well as in word. The deliberate association with those that deny Him is practically the denial itself; for if He is just what His name imports, then the owning Him thus must be imperative also. How can one own God while denying Him His place as that — while consenting, anywhere and for any purpose whatever, to leave Him out? It is this that is being done by the false liberality of the day, without an apparent thought of what is meant by it. When the churches of the orthodox can be opened to Jewish rabbis, and Christians applaud this as the true spirit of Christianity itself, how near are the masses coming to shameless denial! How important it is to realize that God only gathers men to that Name, and that every gathering which has not thus the truth of what He is as the central attraction, the hold-fast that unites all together, is not a Christian gathering!

There is another word now, in which we are reminded of what first came into view in the address to Smyrna: "The synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews, and are not, but lie." In the view that we are taking of the addresses to the churches now, it may seem strange to find these again in such connection. Nor is it their blasphemy any more that is spoken of. The promise is now with regard to these: Behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee." We may be little competent indeed to say how this, which must certainly be future, is to be fulfilled. We have certainly seen a revival of such things in the midst of Protestantism in the present day, but it seems more to the purpose to remind ourselves that, if there be a return to obedience to Christ, to the acknowledging of His Word, and to the seeking of true fellowship in separation from the merely professing world, (thus a return to the principles of the Church such as we find them in the beginning,) it is natural that we should find in some shape also the revival of that old antagonism which met the apostles already in those early days. It may not take just the same form as of old. Satan is not beggared yet in his resources; and if God is giving in any sense fresh light, we may surely understand that it is as an angel of light that he will come in to antagonize it. We have to speak perhaps more doubtfully here than elsewhere, although, as already said, it is simply a promise to Philadelphia in connection with such as those who, in Smyrna, certainly represent the Judaizing element in antagonism to the grace of God and to that most wondrous revelation of it which He has given us in the Church, that they shall at length acknowledge her in the love that Christ has to her, and the place His love has given her.

The words that follow now show evidently that the truth of the Lord's coming has, to some extent at least, revived. We know how long in the history of the Church there had ceased to be any real expectation of it. In the language of the parable, even the wise virgins slumbered; but now the time of waking up seems to be at least beginning. It is involved in the approbation here, "Thou hast kept the word of My patience."

The kingdom at present takes its character from that. It is, as in the first chapter of this book, "the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ;" the kingdom in which He reigns who sits upon the Father's throne, waiting the appointed time until His enemies are made His footstool. The keeping the word of His patience implies that the truth of this is entered into. We have had promises before, of course, as to the overcomer in Thyatira; instructive as it is to find it there, surely, in the midnight times, in the dark ages, an anticipative cry raised, "Behold, the bridegroom cometh!" Nevertheless, it scarcely penetrated then the hearts and consciences of the saints. Now there is a positive commendation, the word of His patience is being kept; His people have learnt that the present time is but a waiting time, and have learnt more that longing of heart after Him. The promise in connection with it shows us also how near the end we have arrived: "Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee out of the hour of temptation which is about to come upon the whole habitable world, to try those that dwell upon the earth."

There can be no doubt to those who have listened in any wise to the voice of prophecy as to what this refers to. It is evidently that "time of trouble" such as never was, of which the Lord warns in His prophecy upon the mount of Olives. This and the parallel passage in Daniel (Dan. 12:1) have, no doubt, special reference to Israel, as the context shows. But in the seventh chapter of this book we find a company from all the nations who are before the throne, and who are distinctly named as those that come "out of the great tribulation." Thus it affects much more than Israel, and certainly must come practically upon the whole habitable world. It is especially, as spoken of here, for the trial of "those that dwell upon the earth;" and this is a phrase which characterizes some whose profession has been, at least impliedly, one of not belonging to the earth. They are, as in Pergamos, dwelling "where Satan's throne is;" and the whole character of the period following the removal of the Church to heaven is such as would necessarily make it specially apply to these. It is eminently an "hour of temptation," the time of the rise of the last and special antichrist, who sweeps away the masses of those who, when they had the truth, were without heart for it; whose pleasure was in mere unrighteousness (2 Thess. 2:10-12). But the true Church is, as has been already shown, at that time with the Lord; and this throws light distinctly upon the promise here: "I will keep thee out of the hour of temptation which is about to come." Notice, not merely "out of the temptation," but out of the hour of it — out of the time in which the temptation is. To be kept out of the hour is a virtual promise of being taken to be with the Lord; and thus it follows here, "Behold, I come quickly." "Quickly" is the word now. Things are hastening on to that final catastrophe, and the Lord is just about to take His people to Himself, and this intensifies the urgency of the appeal, "Hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take thy crown."

Here is what shows us the special form of overcoming in connection with Philadelphia. At first sight one would naturally ask, What room for overcoming can there be where there is nothing but commendation on the Lord's part for those He is addressing? For the overcoming is, throughout here, not that overcoming of the world merely which faith enables for, but the overcoming in connection with the evils that have come into the Church. This is plain in most of these addresses. Smyrna may seem to be an exception to this, for there, undoubtedly, there is outside persecution; but there also there is an evil within, as we have seen already, that which the Lord calls "the synagogue of Satan," the party of those who are bent upon degrading the Church to a Jewish level. There is not only the roar of the lion, but the snare also, and both have to be overcome; but in Philadelphia, while "the synagogue of Satan" is indeed noticed, yet, as already said, there is no blasphemy on its part, nothing but a promise, so far as we can see, that they shall own the Lord's peculiar affection, which is at the same time His approbation, for the Philadelphian assembly. Thus there seems to be here no evil to overcome. Certainly there is no great power. Yet, with all the weakness, there is approbation all through. How, then, can there be overcoming? The answer is surely to be found in what we have just now. In this very exhortation to hold fast what they have, there is a necessary implication that there is the danger for them of not holding fast; and such words, we may be sure, are not in vain. The danger is not merely hypothetical, but something that the history of His people strongly emphasizes for us.

But who are the people, then? And what distinctly does Philadelphia mean? The only answer that can be given must necessarily be derived from the character ascribed to her here. Philadelphia includes all those who seek to be obedient to Christ's word, in all that this implies, allowing no word of man to be added to or substituted for it. That which is added to it becomes, in fact, something thus far substituted for it: the two things are one. Philadelphia speaks of the refusal of everything of this sort, in order to keep that which can be certified as the word of Christ, and that alone; connected with which also is the necessary aim after pure communion, for a fellowship of brethren, a recognition of those that are truly Christ's, and thus, in some sense at least, a separation from the mere worldly profession which we find so largely in Sardis.

It would not be the place here to seek to reproduce the history of such a movement, which indeed would be easy to show. It began not so long after the Reformation times, when the weight of the worldly establishments favored by it began to be felt by the more spiritual. Indeed, how was it possible that this should not be felt? The conflict with the grosser forms of evil, while it went on, no doubt prevented full realization of it. The times were such that even the world came to be for the moment, so to speak, absorbed in the religious questions. The peril of Rome had been brought home to every one's door, and the hope of deliverance from her made the truth itself, which alone could deliver, a matter of encouraging attention on the part even of the mass. A sober estimate of things could hardly at the time be taken, but as this passed, and when the victory thus far was to a certain extent won, the eye that had been turned so much outside, as a matter of course, turned elsewhere, and the spiritual condition of the world-churches could not but press more and more heavily upon the godly in the midst of them.

If we are to take the character of things depicted in the address before us, we can have no doubt that there were various movements which could be characterized, at least more or less, as Philadelphian in character; and it is noticeable that in the beginning of these things certain truths tended to revive which had long been lost to view. With separation front the world-church, in the companies of believers thus brought together there was often recognized the liberty of ministry in these congregations. The unscriptural distinction of clergy from laity was refused, along with the exclusive right of preaching on the part of an ordained ministry; and with this there came the refusal of a liturgy and forms of worship distinctly as usurping the place of the Spirit as the true Leader of the people of God. Here and there the coming of the Lord became also a more practical reality.

But while we realize these things, the sorrowful lesson is continually forced upon us of how little man is competent to hold fast the best blessings that God has given him. It is just amid that which is best and most hopeful that we find what is necessarily thus the saddest failure, and the words of the Lord's warning press upon us, "Hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take thy crown." Such movements have constantly begun as real and gracious revivals in the power of God, soon, alas, to decline in power and spirituality, even with the very growth in number of those affected by them. God, on the other hand, has come in again and again to give fresh light, and perfect the truth already in measure known. Certain of these, also have taken wider hold of the masses, while at the same time they have sadly changed their form as they have thus spread themselves amongst them: in widening they have lost depth. Through the broken barriers of the world-systems a false liberality has come in, which is but the imitation of that which is truly Christian, and which makes light of the very truth which is the sole means of true fellowship among any. One can only speak generally here of such matters as these, and the Spirit of God alone can give the right application, as He will to every heart sufficiently in earnest to apprehend. It is evident that there is encouragement which remains for us in the midst of that which would seem discouragement wholly. It is evident that we must not discredit with the failure the truth held by those who, nevertheless, have failed.

Amid all this the Lord's claim for His people to manifest individually their obedience to Himself only rings out the more clearly and the more urgently. It is a special appeal to every individual as such: "Hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take thy crown." The crown will never be the portion of any company, even of the Lord's people. The special reward-crown is the recompense of truth and individual fidelity to Christ.

And let us notice here, also, what it is that we are called to hold fast. Sardis may be naturally called to repent in view of what she had received, but in Philadelphia's keeping the word of Christ there is found, not simply the abiding by what has been already received, the keeping a certain fixed and limited deposit of truth, but rather the listening to a living voice which leads on in necessary progress. If we will keep the word of Christ, if there is in us the heart to do this, then it will be found that we have a creed which is continually enlarging. The Word is becoming more and more to us a living voice that leads us on; and certainly there is no holding fast where there is no progress. A certain measure of truth held but not increased, tends inevitably to become less to the one who holds it. It becomes dulled by that sort of familiarity with it which demonstrates its nature by the very lack of desire for increase. Exercise about it is gone. We are established in it perhaps. We cannot, or think we cannot, be moved from it; but it no more calls up in us the energy that it once did, and thus the decline is already manifest: for as all error is connected together, so that one little point of it that we hold, followed out to its results, will blight all the truth that is in connection with it, so, on the other hand, all truth is so connected that every point in this way gained is a point of vantage, and gives us a view of that which is still beyond — a blessed, attractive view also, which leads us on to the attainment of what is not yet attained. It is still the apostle's rule, "Forgetting that which is behind, and pressing on to that which is before;" for indeed, is not all truth, in one way or another, just the knowledge of Christ Himself? and can there be any right pressing on after Himself which does not take advantage of that which He has given, in order to make Himself known to us, and to give us fellowship with Himself?

Thus the word of Christ and growth in knowledge of it become an inevitable necessity. God has not erred in His knowledge of our need and in that which He has given us, but of which we have not yet possessed ourselves. How can we even imagine what there may be for us stored up in that which we have to confess we know not what it is? How can we measure the unknown? Alas, in our estimate of what is essential and what is non-essential, let us remember that if we apply this to the formation in us of the mind of Christ, we must not tell Him that what we know not is not essential to know — that we can afford to leave it out and find no loss by it. Let us be sure that if we would have for ourselves that commendation which the Lord gives to Philadelphia, there must be that quick ear for everything He utters, or would utter to us, which will enable Him thus to lead us on. We may be sure that he who is truly a keeper of the word of Christ shall, in proportion as he is so, find that Word becoming more clear; He will emphasize for us the encouragement of this word, "I have set before thee an open door, and no one can shut it."

The promise to the overcomer is most emphatic and beautiful. The one that has but a little strength is to be made a pillar in the temple of God — "My God," says Christ — and to go no more out, and to have upon him the name of His God and the name of the city, the new Jerusalem, and Christ's new name. "A pillar in the temple of My God" may seem strange in view of what we have at the end of the book, when John tells us that he saw no temple in the city of God, "because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it." There is no need of a shrine any more when God is so entirely enshrined in the hearts of all there, "all" and "in all." God is at home with His people, and His people are all sons; there is no need therefore of restrictions such as have been known in time past. But on the other hand here we have plainly what is symbolical of a place which God fills, and where He is the Object of unceasing worship. Upon earth "the Church of the living God" is responsibly "the pillar and ground of the truth." Alas, she has signally failed in that responsibility, but here to the overcomer there is more than recovery. We cannot but think of those two pillars in the temple of Solomon, the name of the one being Jachin, and the other Boaz, significant names, which show what alone can constitute a pillar anywhere — Jachin, "He establishes," and Boaz, "in Him is strength." If we indeed always remembered this! The strength is not in His creatures, but in Himself; and it is He who establishes the soul — not even truth known apart from Him. The Philadelphian overcomer will be even thus a witness to the strength which has been given him, and to the grace which has made him what he is. Out of this temple he shall no more go, for it is not local, but the presence of God continually realized by the saint in glory; where forgetfulness even for a moment will be wholly impossible. Then there is identification with the name of God, Christ's God; that is, with God as displayed in Christ. On earth those who have the seal of God upon their foreheads are described as having the name of His Father written upon them. Thus they are proclaimed His, and He is seen in them; and this is the work of the Spirit to accomplish. Then there is identification with the city of God, the new Jerusalem, a heavenly, not an earthly habitation; the city in which is indeed the "foundation of peace," peace always abiding secure, never more to be assailed. The city upon earth was constantly in siege. The heavenly city is far above all possibility of this. Peace is based upon righteousness, and Christ is still and everywhere the true foundation of peace. Lastly, there is identification with Christ Himself, His new name written upon the overcomer, that name in which all His new relationships to the Church, His bride, His body, and the whole new creation, are told out.* He is not here Israel's Messiah simply. He is the Father of Eternity, the Lord of endless glory.

{*Considering Philadelphia as representing — as it surely does — a remnant testimony to Christ's truth in days of ruin and failure, how striking is the contrast between it in the eyes of the world and as rewarded in glory! What feebler, apparently, than the stand for truth — often a subject of scorn to the world: but it will be a pillar there. How significant the mention of the temple of God for those who refused the thought of any earthly sanctuary! They refused all names of man here; there they will have a triple name written by the Lord Himself — His God's, His city's, and His own new name. They confessed themselves strangers and pilgrims here; there the name of the heavenly city, with all that goes with it, will be inscribed upon them. And who can tell all that goes with that "new name" of our Lord I Himself? To know Him then as we do not, and cannot, know Him now — who can measure the blessedness held out to the overcomer? — S.R.}

3. The addresses close with that to Laodicea; a name which strikes one painfully at the first glance, and the significance of which is easily seen. Laodicea is composed of two words, which unitedly mean either "the manners," "the right," or "the judgment, of the people." These are all in near connection with one another, and may all have their place in the meaning of what is before us. "People's rights"! Who does not know that this is the cry of the times? and no doubt not without much apparent justification for it, in a world full of oppression; a world in which "Might makes right" has been a constant motto, a principle really acted upon even where not acknowledged. How even the conscience itself goes with this plea of the downtrodden! Who can deny the awful abuse of power everywhere? And who cannot see that more and more, according to the democratic tendency of the times, the people are not merely pleading for but demanding a right to possess themselves of their rights? Who can wonder, either? Leave but God out (and that is, alas, what we find it in general so very easy to do), why should the many accept this overbearing dominancy of the few? Why should the mere casual circumstances which few have ordained for themselves or had anything to say as to bringing about, make all the difference of luxury or penury among those sprung of a common parentage, and creatures alike of Him who is "no respecter of persons"? The case may be fairly argued, but what avails mere argument about it? The question is as to the remedy; and does it not seem as if the remedy were really in the hands of those who are the many against the few? Why should not might again make right, as it has done all through the world's history, and the people settle things with their own right hands?

But the question still remains, What sort of a settlement will be attained in this way? The masses have risen up before, and what has been accomplished? It was but a spasm of effort which exhausted itself as quickly, and things returned, as they ever seem to return, to their former condition; for these "people's rights" — whose rights are they? And who is to determine them? Each for himself, or the many for the few? Can one think there will be in this case righteous principles? — any less wrong? Liberty, equality and fraternity have been written in deep red letters, as we know; and the awful horror of that brief moment in which they were so, scarcely fades with the time that has elapsed since then. Who is to determine the rights, and the extent of them? Who shall apportion to each his due in a way that shall give satisfaction, perhaps, even to any? The world is full of oppression and wrong. Granted. Let the conscience be rightly before God, and there is in each of us that which will point out the cause, and convince one of the inveteracy of the evil. Who can trust himself? And he that trusts himself most, will he be the person most trusted by others? No; it is sin that is at the bottom of the whole, however little, indeed, we may care to know it. It is easier, no doubt, to own it for others than for ourselves; but thus those who own it for us will always be in the majority, and shall not the majority decide?

Scripture has written out in full the condemnation, and our only hope lies, after all, in submitting to Scripture. We are sinners, and this is what has wrecked our fortunes; this is what has brought clouds and darkness over the face of God Himself, and often made His ways so little what we think to be worthy of Him. Alas, we are taking up our own cause simply, in judging thus; and we cannot be trusted in our own cause to give right judgment. Yet is not the world wrong? Scripture speaks, as we know, in the strongest way about this. The socialist and the anarchist can both appeal to the denunciations of Scripture, and have claimed even the Son of man Himself as one with them because of His denunciations of the wrong that is everywhere. Let them look more deeply, and they will find that they are at total issue with Him in regard to the remedy. Power was in His own hands. Did He use it? We know the cross is His emblem. That speaks, if we have learnt it aright, of His submission to the judgment upon Him for their sin, taking that sin Himself in His love to redeem them. But His remedy, then, is to bow, not indeed to man, but to God; or if to man, yet only as in obedience to God. Here is the way out, and the only way. We suffer for our sins. Be it so. Let us own them then, and let Him be the Judge, and let us accept that judgment. Let us not plead rights which, if we argue them out before Him, will prove so fatally against us. The end of all is in His hand; and happy is the one who has learnt to leave it there, and to leave it there in confidence.

But this plea of people's rights is manifestly in connection, not merely with the politics of the time, but with the Church of God; and it has, alas, made these so much its own principles! With politics, as such, we would not expect to have much to do in these addresses to the churches; but if the world and the Church have come together so largely, as in truth they have, — when men can talk about a Christian world, and the powers of the earth have come to be practically the so-called "Christian powers," — then how is it possible to keep politics out of the Church? or to prevent the universal spirit of unrest entering into the most purely ecclesiastical questions? It is certain that today there is a democratic tendency in religion as in all else. The ministry of the Church has long been a systematically hired service, and here, as elsewhere, the masses are rising up, themselves to assert their rights against the pretentious claims of the hierarchy. The Church once ruled, but the Church rules no longer. Alas, it is true that when the Church ruled most absolutely, those were the dark ages for mankind. This rule of the Church did not indeed, as we know, mean a rule of the people, but of a class which had arrogated to itself the claim to be this, and had trodden down the people into the very dust. What wonder that the people should be now asserting themselves here also? Not, indeed, to insist upon Scriptural ruling in the things of God, but upon their own rights, as the masses against the few. Ministry, it is true, means service and not ruling; but if the service be, as by common consent it has so long been, alas, a service of hire, why should not the people claim their money's worth and decide which suits them, the kind of thing they want to hear, and the men that they want to listen to? For what comes of this they cannot indeed plead Scripture, except that which they would not like to fulfil as a prediction, that "men shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears, and they shall turn their ears from the truth and be turned to fables." Bring the Church and the world together, as it must surely be plain to any spiritual mind that they are largely so — practically, even where not in theory; what must be the outcome when the purse rules and the popular voice decides what they care to listen to?

But before we go further, let us look at the address to Laodicea, and see what the picture is that it presents to us. Here Christ, as always, speaks in suited character for that which He is addressing. He is here "The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the beginning of the creation of God:" words that again are, on the one hand, a needed warning; on the other hand, a sweet encouragement to those who can accept the warning. He is the Amen, as the apostle says to the Corinthians: "All the promises of God in Him are yea," and therefore "through Him also is the amen, unto the glory of God through us" (2 Cor. 1:20, R.V.); that is, as the revised reading has it, that in Christ there is the positive assurance of every promise of God, and that which awakens, therefore, in His people the amen, their affirmation of the assurance which they have found in Him. Here, therefore, He is Himself "the Amen." Christ is the answer from the hearts of His people as to the truth of every promise of God, and we may add surely, as to the Church, of every word that He has spoken; His Word abides; not a thing to be trifled with, to be twisted at men's pleasure, and not to be set aside. Christ is thus Himself "the faithful and true Witness." How solemn and yet how cheering the reminder, when the witness of His people on earth has failed, to know that there is One who abides true to Himself, true to God, true to us therefore, in all possible interests — His witness, that which is to be listened to, however men may contradict! This, of course, is practically the affirmation of the truth of Scripture, of that which is His Word throughout, but in which, as we know, men are claiming to find a human element which soon comes to be something that is quite other than "faithful and true," and which is used to obscure His witness: for it is manifest that if we cannot fully trust the terms of that document in which all His own witness is recorded for us, then this of necessity must partake of such uncertainty as all the record has. It is of no use affirming that still Christ remains true when we cannot produce what we can positively say are His own true words. If there be not an absolutely faithful report, then we have practically lost the faithful Witness Himself.

The Lord's last title here, "The beginning of the creation of God," speaks, of course, of new creation. The old, stained with sin, is no longer recognized as His. In fact, new creation was always that which was in His thoughts, which the fall, therefore, could never mar nor set aside — rather, was a means, under the controlling hand of God, of developing. Here Christ Himself is the true beginning of it. He is the One from whom it has its origin; and those who belong to it are created in Him, as the apostle expresses it in Ephesians (Eph. 2:10); and He it is who abides — for the one renewed in knowledge after the image of Him who created him — "where there is neither Greek nor Jew, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all and in all." "People's rights" have no place here, clearly, but God's grace only. At Laodicea He is therefore outside the door, though lingering yet in His grace, if possibly any one may at last give Him admittance.

Thus we see that in Laodicea they have got far away from all that is real with God, among the shadows of their own vain imaginations. But it is noticeable here that we have not the death-coldness of Sardis; they are simply lukewarm, neither cold nor hot. The solemn thing is that the Lord estimates this as a worse condition than absolute coldness; and we may see in this, no doubt, that the revival in Philadelphia has thus affected them. Even that which is dead, if it is under the influence of the heat, can be warmed up, but not to vital warmth; and this is the condition now. In fact, they are valuing themselves upon what they have attained; recovered truth has become in a certain sense their possession, and they value themselves accordingly upon it. In their own apprehension they are rich, and have been growing rich; nay, they have need of nothing. There is perfect self-complacency just at the time when the Lord is saying, "I am about to spew thee out of My mouth." These things, indeed, go perfectly together: the condition here is that of a professed spirituality, which, by its profession, betrays itself: for, even with regard to knowledge, "If a man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know;" and "if a man thinketh that he is anything when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself." That is God's estimate of man, which the truly spiritual has made his own. "We are the circumcision, who worship God by the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." But alas, how hard it is to be thoroughly convinced that all self-confidence is confidence in the flesh!

Thank God, we are rich enough in Christ to be able to contemplate our own poverty without dismay. Our riches are in Him, and here we can boast as much as we will — the more the better; but the one who in any other sense can say, "I am rich," may be sure that this is but the mere unconsciousness of one who is "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." Yet a common pretension of the present day, and which is found in various forms, is a pretension to perfection, which necessarily ignores the standard of perfection which God has given us: for while it is true that "he that abideth in Christ ought himself also so to walk even as He walked," yet who could venture to say, with the full consciousness of the perfection that is set before him, that he has attained it? That faith from which all true and acceptable work is produced is a renunciation of self, in the very fact that it turns off to Another; and every whit of confidence in one's self is just so much taken from that which is due to Him who alone can be the rightful confidence of the saint. It is true that there are fruits of the Spirit. We need not ignore that. Nay, it would be a wrong to the Spirit Himself to ignore it. Yet even so, it is not the work of the Spirit to make us contemplate this, nor can we be trusted to do so. It was through pride, as the apostle tells us (1 Tim. 3:6), that Satan fell from the height in which he was created, to the place of being the Satan that he is, the constant adversary of God and man. "Thy heart was lifted up because of thy beauty. Thou hast corrupted thy wisdom because of thy brightness" (Ezek. 28:17) are the words of God apparently as to this fallen being himself; but whether or not, the lesson is the same.

There is in all this self-occupation a fearful danger which Christians are painfully slow to realize. The subtle Pharisaism of a good self — justified as it is sought to be by the necessity of holiness and fruitfulness for God — will ensnare the saint for whom the gross forms of sin have no attraction; and with it all there will be constantly found a real depreciation of Christ, — to call it by no worse name, — in order that this self-satisfaction may be able to live in the dimmed glory of this Presence. Thus, not only have we the positive heresies of those who, with Irving, assert that the Lord had a fallen nature, which He had to conquer, as we have to conquer ours, but where this is not taught, yet that which the law discovered to the apostle (that the lust forbidden by it was sin) is denied, and the evil which, after all, is discovered within is imputed to Satan instead of to one's self; and it is urged that Christ was similarly tempted of Satan. A Laodiceanism of this spirit is thus manifested in the place which it gives the really perfect One; and along with this naturally goes the assumption that those who thus no longer need the discipline of sickness and suffering have therefore title (through the work of Christ, no doubt), if they have faith, to claim exemption from it. Thus the plain Sadduceeism of infidelized Christianity stalks abroad in company with the highest pretension of Pharisaism.

"I counsel thee," says the Lord, "to buy of Me gold purified by fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white garments, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness may not be manifested; and eye-salve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see." The gold is that which seems everywhere to speak of divine glory. In the ark it covered the shittim wood, the symbol of the Lord's humanity; and the golden cherubim are spoken of by the apostle as "the cherubim of glory shadowing the mercy-seat." Divine glory is the display of what God is in nature, and for us it is in the face of Him now revealed to us as the true image of God. It is in Him indeed that we find all riches for the Christian; for it is as we behold thus "the glory of the Lord we are changed into the same image, from glory to glory." The whole power of sanctification lies in this, and the white garments of which He goes on to speak here are evidently in close connection with this. They typify, as always in Revelation, the practical righteousness which we see in the nineteenth chapter, as that with which it is given the bride to be arrayed. But note, these white garments have to be washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14). The eye-salve is, of course, that which the Spirit furnishes, and the eyes thus anointed have one object alone, from which they would never be diverted, the light of a glory by which alone all other things are rightly seen. The Lord counsels these Laodiceans to buy these things. They are too rich and well-to-do to be asked to receive them freely. Nevertheless, the only purchase here is "without money and without price;" for if in fact to gain these things may cost us much, it is only the sacrifice of the rags of paper money, which was never of any real value, and which, when we see with the apostle, we count it loss, and therefore gain to lose.

This, then, is the character of Laodiceanism. It is a sign that the patience of the Lord is running out. Yet still He lingers, for His heart has not wandered, if that of His people has. "As many as I love," He says, "I rebuke and chasten. Be zealous therefore, and repent." Still He expects no repentance of the mass. All is individual now. He is outside the door as a stranger, knocking; but if any one shall hear His voice and open the door, He will come in to him and will sup with him. Outside the door as a whole, yet it is evident that it is only the individual door that any one can open; while, as to the mass, it is already irrevocably said, "I am about to spew thee out of My mouth." Thus the threat which we find at the beginning, of the removal of the candlestick, is at last to be fulfilled. He has indeed had long patience, but there is here no true witness for Him which He can acknowledge. Thus the Church is to be set aside from its place as the responsible witness for Him upon the earth. Actually, the true saints are to be removed to heaven. This is for them but pure grace. It is the accomplishment of a promise which, the more fully the heart is His, is the more joyfully expected. But for the mass it is rejection, and only that. Nauseous in its lukewarmness to the Lord, He is going to spew it out of His mouth. Christianity proper is ended when the Lord gathers His people to Himself; yet the Christian profession, entirely empty though it may be then, may go on for a while yet; soon, however, to end in open apostasy. The history of it we shall have in the chapters that follow.

For the overcomer there is yet one final word. "To him," says the Lord, "will I give to sit with Me in My throne; as I also overcame, and have sat down with My Father on His throne." This is the announcement of the change which is coming about. On the Father's throne, though the Lord reigns, yet it is His waiting time: "Sit Thou at My right hand until I make Thy foes Thy footstool" (Ps. 110:1). That is the distinct announcement of the time during which the King of Israel, recognized as that, shall nevertheless not be in possession of His kingdom. The sitting upon the Father's throne is a higher dignity, and the kingdom is a wider one. Manifestly, it is what is His by personal right alone, and which He cannot share even with others. Yet He has overcome to reach that place. Although His by natural right, yet He reaches it now as having accomplished a blessed work for God, which was verily a conflict. The strife between good and evil has been in His hand to work out to a conclusion, and He has virtually, though not yet actually, concluded it. He is upon the throne as having vindicated the right, as having glorified God in His ways and attributes, as having removed sin as a hindrance out of the way altogether; nay, as having made sin itself yield its tribute to the glory of the Eternal. Yet still He waits. He is to have a throne as Son of man, holding it in the nature in which He has wrought His triumph. He is to subject all things to God; to be thus "the Father of Eternity," according to the title by which Isaiah announces Him (Isa. 9:6); and this, too, is something much wider than the possession of David's throne would indicate. It is the throne of the Son of man, of One who has linked Himself with humanity, and who must therefore take up every question which affects man or the relation of God to man. But thus He has a human throne, and there He can have those whom in this way He can call "brethren," and who can be associated with Him upon this throne which now He is going to take. All this is the intimation of what is before us in what immediately follows now — "things that are" having come to an end, and a very different state of things ensuing, in which the Church is no more recognized upon earth, and the elders are upon their thrones around the throne of God.

Laodicea closes the history of the Church on earth, and closes it, evidently, not in triumph, according to the expectation of so many still, but in judgment of the mass at the hands of the Lord Himself. Laodicea — "people's rights" — is no less, and even on that account, "people's judgment" also. The Christian dispensation, with all the grace of which it speaks, nevertheless ends as the legal dispensation ended. "Cease ye from man" is the moral throughout, a terribly sad and humiliating one if we go no further; but if "he that glorieth" may no more glory in man, there remains still the unfailing Object to glory in: — he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." And yet here too, wonderful to say, we find a Man, and the Son of man, a Man who has not failed and will not fail; a Man in whom the early promise of creation has been more than fulfilled; a Man who, after all, eclipses the brightness of those heavens, whose glory might seem to make it strange indeed that God should visit him; — man, and even the Son of man, whom God path made a little lower than the angels, to crown Him with glory and honor; under whose feet not simply the beasts of the earth are put, but who is at the same time the Head of all creation, and the One in whom God Himself is manifest in the full glory of His Godhead.