“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write … REPENT.”
  “And to the angel of the church of Pergamos write … REPENT.”
  “And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write … REPENT.”
  “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write … REPENT.” (Rev. 2-3)

We are not surprised that God should “now command all men everywhere to repent” for we know that the world is a prodigal world, gone far from Him, but we are surely shaken out of our complacency when the Lord Jesus “with a great voice, as of a trumpet” calls upon His churches to repent. His churches that He had called out of the world by the gospel, to be no longer of the world, but in it as witnesses for Him. Yet four tunes over this solemn and imperative word rings out to Ephesus, and Pergamos, and Sardis, and Laodicea. Repent, Repent, Repent, Repent.

The Lord had commissioned John to write this Revelation that God had given to Him, and to send it to the seven churches which were in Asia, but it was not for them only but for all the churches. They were representative of all the churches; and not of the churches then existent only, the seven special messages cover prophetically the whole period of the Church’s career on the earth. To four of the seven the burden of the message sent to them was Repent; and none of us can escape this word; if we have “an ear to hear what the Spirit says to the churches” each one of us will be compelled to ask, How far does that solemn call apply to me?

It will be noticed that the Lord did not here appear to John as he had known Him, girded for loving service, “He was clothed with a garment down to the foot.” Nor did He show Himself as the great lover of the church—the love was there, as we learn from the message to Laodicea, but it was restrained; because of the fallen condition of the churches it could not flow out in its inherent fulness, He was “girt about the paps with a golden girdle.”

Moreover His eyes were not like the eyes of the Bridegroom in the Canticles, “as doves eyes, washed with milk and fitly set,” they were “as a flame of fire.” They were eyes that searched out every hidden thing, nothing could escape them, they saw things as they were in the inner depths of the heart, so that He could say to each of the churches “I know.”

Everything that He can commend He does commend, for there is no unrighteousness in Him, but we feel as we read His words that the things that He condemns cast their bight upon everything; they grieve Him to His heart; they are the flies in the ointment of the apothecary that make it stink, they are the little foxes that spoil the vine. The bloom is off the fruit, and the beginning of it all was at Ephesus. At Ephesus, the brightest and most intelligent of all the churches, the choicest flower in all the garden that Paul had planted, the blight had set in, for to that church the Lord had to say, “I have against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” The “somewhat” of our Authorised Version should not be there, it makes it appear as though this first love is but a little thing and of no great importance, whereas it is the greatest thing of all—without it all else is tainted and spoilt. The meaning of Ephesus is, “desirable,” but could that church be desirable when first love had gone and a rival had displaced the Lord in her affections?

“First love” is not first in point of time, but first in quality; it is the best—the same word is used in Luke 15 for the “best robe.” Nothing but the best will suit the Lord. Who will dare to offer Him less than the best? His love passes knowledge: many waters could not quench it, nor the floods drown it. He loved the Church and gave Himself for it; and great love can only be satisfied with a full answer to it, and the stronger the love the more keenly is felt the failure of the response. “I have espoused you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” Paul said to another church, and first love is the love of espousals, and this love is most precious to the Lord. In ancient days He said to Israel, “I remember thee … the love of thine espousals … Israel was holiness to the Lord.” It was this that had waned at Ephesus; it is this that the church has lost; and this is the beginning of the drift that ends in the Laodicean state—the Lord outside a closed door. Therefore the solemn call, Repent.

The Lord saw nothing to condemn in the church at Smyrna. Prophetically the condition in that church covered the period from Apostolic days to the accession of Constantine to the imperial throne in the third century. It was a time of great and continuous persecution, and the sufferings through which the church passed seem to have checked the decline that had set in in the Apostolic times. But when these persecutions ceased and the world smiled upon the church and her leaders were raised to posts of honour in the Empire, the descent was accelerated, and the Lord had to say, “I know where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is, … where Satan dwells.” The Church had lost its heavenly hope, it was no longer a stranger and a pilgrim here, it had settled down to dwell in the world. In the freshness of first love the virgins had gone forth to meet the Bridegroom, but while He tarried they all slumbered and slept. It is but a step from leaving first love to settling down in the world; it is the inevitable consequence. The heart must have an object; and if it ceases to find its all in Christ and if the affections are not set upon the things that are in the world above where He is, it must seek satisfaction where it cannot be found, in the world where Satan dwells. Pergamos means “married.” Here was the unequal yoke between the church and the world; its conscience became blunted and its vision blurred, and within it were tolerated teachings and practices that the Lord hated. Therefore the imperative call, Repent.

We pass by Thyatira. There the depth of Satan had been reached. It describes the Papal system in the dark ages it its worst. There is no call to repentance here. Space hid been given to its corruptness to repent but she repented not, and nothing but judgment awaits that evil system. At the Reformation God intervened in this great darkness and delivered many from the bondage and corruption of Rome. Sardis answers to the results of this. The name, it is said, means “a remnant,” or “that that has escaped.” It was a great deliverance, a mighty work of the Spirit of God. The Bible was put into the hands of the people and the Word of God was freely preached. And yet it stopped short of full recovery. As always men failed. Protestantism has fallen short of God’s purpose, its works are not perfect before Him. Instead of a return to the full truth given by God in the Scriptures—to Christ as the living and all-sufficient Head of the church, and the recognition of the rights and power of the Holy Spirit in the church on earth, the arm of flesh was looked to and human wisdom trusted, and National churches was the result—the form of godliness but the power lacking; a baptised profession—the name to live, but dead. It has been said, “In Papacy the church ruled the world, in Protestantism the world rules the church.” And, alas, it is true; and there could only be one result from this. Spiritual life thrives and grows vigorous in times of persecution and trouble, but it cannot breathe in the atmosphere created by the world’s help and patronage. Therefore the Lord’s word of warning and command, “Remember, therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast and REPENT.”

This union of the church and the world has brought into being the worst and last phase of the church’s drift from first love—the lukewarmness of Laodicea. It is total indifference to Christ. His Name is not discarded by the Laodiceans but He has no place in their counsels. His Truth is emptied of all that it means to His true church. His vicarious sacrifice and saving blood are spurned as relics of a bygone age—and having itching ears they heap to themselves teachers after their own hearts. The pride and self-laudation of Laodicea are nauseous to Him. How scathing is His condemnation of them. “Thou art neither cold nor hot. I would thou wert cold or hot. So then, because thou art lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of My mouth.” And yet He waits in patience even over Laodicea. They have closed their door on Him, but He holds open the door of repentance for them in words that should reach the most indifferent heart. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and REPENT.” His love had not changed; it could not “nourish and cherish” (Eph. 5) as it delights to do, but it would rebuke and chasten in order to win even a Laodicean to repentance.

This decline in the church from Ephesian devotion to Laodicean indifference is sad reading, but it is there in the Holy Word for our instruction and warning. It is written for those of us who have an ear to bear what the Spirit says to the churches. To be deaf to what the Spirit says would be to partake of the Laodicean spirit. There are, thank God, bright gleams in the dark picture. In Thyatira, which with the following three churches runs on to the end, there are “the rest who have not known the depth of Satan,” and to these the Lord gives the “Morning Star”—Himself as the bright harbinger of the day, shining for them even in the darkest hour. In Sardis there are those who have not defiled their garments, and their separation of heart and life from evil delights the Lord. He says “They shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.” And there is Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia the Lord sees nothing to condemn, but much to commend. The love of the brethren is there, for that is what the name means. They have a little strength, which would indicate their weakness cleaving to Him, their dependence on Him. They have kept His word, which would indicate their faithfulness to Him. They have not denied His Name, which would indicate their affection for Him, and they have kept the word of His patience—they are contented to have no place in the world and to be nothing in it because He is still the rejected Lord; which would indicate their suffering with Him. And in Laodicea, surely, some heart would respond to the knocking at the door. I question whether there are words of greater pathos in the whole of the New Testament than these. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him and he with Me.” There He stands, not in anger but in love, unrequited love; not with stern rebuke, but with tender entreaty. He does not knock with glittering sword, but with a pierced hand. Yes, there must be a response to such love as this, even in Laodicea.

“Love so amazing, so divine.”

But, brethren, how do we react to these seven letters? Where do we stand in relation to this downward, away-drift? Are we prepared to say unto Him whose eyes are as a flame of fire. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; prove me and know my thoughts, and see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139, N.T.). First love finds its full satisfaction in Christ; if He has ceased to be everything to the soul, the drift has set in, and self will seek its satisfaction in the world in one form or another. Selfish motives and worldly principles will displace in our soul the word of the Lord which He has given us to keep, and when we come under the domination of the world we are but a step from Laodicean indifference, and Christ outside the heart and life. Can a true Christian descend to that depth of unfaithfulness to Christ? Our answer is, God forbid it, but beware of the first step on the road to it; and if any one of us find himself on that downward plane may he hear the Lord’s word REPENT. “Remember from whence thou art fallen,” do not despair but repent, and repentance is not complete unless there is a return to the place from which we have fallen. Our attention has been called to the fact that the word is, “Remember from whence thou art fallen,” not “to what.” It is not look down into the dark depths, but look up into the bright heights. Think of Him whose love is slighted. He remembers the love of your espousals when your heart was undivided and you were holiness to Him (Jer. 2) and He would have you remember. To Israel of old the Lord said, “I will heal their backslidings, I will love them freely. Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent and he shall know them; for the ways of the Lord are right and the just shall walk in them.”

J. T. Mawson