The Promises to the Seven Churches.

1869 365 There is a point of much interest, which I desire to trace, in connection with the promises to the seven churches. It will be found, on an examination of these promises separately, that they embrace all that God had committed to man, or to the nation of Israel, under responsibility to the Giver; but which had been forfeited either through weakness or wilfulness, and had been in this way stolen by Satan out of the bands which were incompetent to hold them.

God had been good, supremely good, as these promises or actual gifts prove, which He so bountifully showered in the pathway He had chosen for Himself and His creatures. Into this path He had, in sovereign grace, called out the patriarchs to walk with Him as "the God of glory," and with His people Israel under the covenant name of "Jehovah." But a driven-out man from Eden, and a scattered nation from Canaan, tell plainly and sadly of Satan's triumph, of man's disgraceful defeat, and of God's consequent dishonour. Nevertheless, this great fact was established, that the creature to walk with God (as a receiver of blessing) must in life and nature correspond with Him whose delight it is to bless: otherwise must responsibility be, when man is put to the test, but a temporary triumph for the devil.

The book of the Revelation introduces us to "One like unto the Son of man," who laid His right hand upon John, saying, "Fear not; I am the first and the last; I am he that liveth and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death." It is the presence and position of such an One as He who thus proclaims Himself that turns the whole course and order of things round again to God, for His eternal glory with His creatures, but only as redeemed by the blood of His own Son. By His intrinsic obedience when on earth, an obedience unto death, and by His righteous title as "the first begotten from the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth," He gathers up, and connects with His person, as Son of man, every promise and gift which man had forfeited, and holds them till the day when all the promises of God which are now made yea and amen" shall be manifestly established "to the glory of God by us." In the meanwhile, till Christ comes to receive us to himself, He gives to those who "have an ear to hear" a present communion, in the joy of knowing that these promises and gifts are embodied in Himself; and those can best testify how precious this fellowship is who have tasted deepest what forfeited blessing means.

These remarks may suffice to introduce our subject to us, and in confirmation of the fact that the Lord, in His visit of inspection to the seven golden candlesticks, gives these promises out afresh, in connection with Himself to this last vessel of responsible testimony on the earth before He comes, let us take them up in the order in which they are presented by John in the Apocalypse.

To the church in Ephesus He says, "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God." Here we get the earliest of the forfeited gifts between Adam and the Creator in the garden of Eden, "so God drove out the man." But in the new title of "I am he that liveth" the Lord grants the promise in redemption order, as well as in resurrection power; and leads the overcomer to eat of the tree of life (of which Adam never ate) which is in the midst of the paradise of God, where the first man never was. A garden in Eden is lost, it is true; but the paradise of God is gained. The flaming sword, which turned every way to keep the tree of life, is sheathed by the knowledge of a crucified Christ; and He who was dead takes the place of the cherubim and affirms, "I will give to eat of the tree of life and in the paradise of God."

Let it be observed, this new bestowment is not merely regaining a place of blessing between God and man, but, being now embodied in Christ, acquires a fulness of meaning which His own worthiness before the Father brings into it, for the eternal delight of Himself and the redeemed, where the tree of the knowledge of good and evil never grew.

The promise to the church of Smyrna is "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life … He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death." This recognizes the fact that sin had come in where the Creator and the creature were once together, walking in the garden in the cool of the day; and that as a consequence the crown had fallen from the head of Adam, the fine gold had become dim, and death stood before him as the penalty inflicted — the wages of disobedience. But this dark cloud is dispersed by the bright shining of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; and makes even death to be the new measure of faithfulness (as it was in His own pathway upon the earth), and puts upon the head of all such the crown of life. Thus each promise gets its fulness from Him in whom God has been glorified; and so death, in the pathway of an overcomer by obedience, is made a power by which he reaches the crown of life. He shall not be hurt by the second death, for "he that loseth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal." Even Satan, who had the power of death, knows by the risen Lord his own defeat. Death cannot hurt. "We have the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead." Moreover, as regards Satan, "Thou shalt bruise his heel, but it shall bruise thy head."

The promise to Pergamos carries us into the world since the flood, and connects us historically with Israel's journey out of Egypt. "To him that overcometh, will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it." Man had eaten angels' food, as it is written, "He gave them bread from heaven." Your fathers did eat manna, and are dead, but Jesus said, "he that eateth of the bread that I shall give him, shall live for ever." The names of the twelve tribes had been engraved, by the skill of the cunning workman, upon all manner of precious stones; and set in the breastplate of the great high priest of Israel. But these have become things of the past, like the garden which the Lord planted in Eden. Hosea had stood in the midst of a guilty people, and prophesied "the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim." But forfeited blessings are again gathered up by Him who has since trodden this path (as the son called out of Egypt) and substantiated in Himself for this same people in the future day of their history: when they shall say "blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." In the meantime, while all is hidden between the Lord and His heavenly ones (for our life is hid with Christ, in God), we get in Himself the hidden manna, and a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, "which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it." And this is given out to us by Himself in the new associations in which by grace we "have been circumcised by the circumcision of Christ," as one with Him in a new and heavenly position, while hidden from all below. We, as new creatures in Christ, can well understand, by the teaching of the Holy Ghost, what these secret interchanges mean; and what the white stone records — "as Christ is, so are we in this world." Paul was familiar with the stone, and with the new name, and was teaching the Galatians the lesson by it, which they were so slow to learn, that our purification is by death, when he said, "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me."

The promise to the church of Thyatira is "he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star." Here likewise was Israel's place of pre-eminence among the surrounding nations, though now a forfeited one. Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, and Rome, have in their turn broken in upon her, and spoiled her, like the wild beast of the field, and the boar of the wood. Since those days the hope of Israel, the Messiah, has been in their midst, and wept over the city, saying, "If thou hadst known, even in this thy day, the things that belong unto thy peace; but now they are hid from thine eyes." And finally, "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, till the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled." Be that liveth and was dead has recovered this position of pre-eminence by His own righteous title, and holds it for Israel, till the time comes when she "shall blossom and bud and fill the face of the earth with fruit." In the meanwhile, He who has embodied this forfeited place of rule and kingly power in Himself, gives it out to the overcomers of today in association with Himself; "even as I have received of my Father." Nor is this all, for as He connects us with this grant, and promise which is peculiarly His own, He unites us in a hope of which He alone is the fulfilment, "and I will give him the morning star." The saints will be with Him too in the day of retributive righteousness, when He comes out from the opened heavens upon a white horse, and when the armies which were in heaven follow Him, "clothed in fine linen, white and clean, and out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, and he treadeth the winepress of the wrath of Almighty God." (Rev. 19.) Ignorance of the ways of God, and of His purposes in Christ, can alone explain the fact that the Church has thrown itself into the world's vortex as a peace-maker, and so missed her place of real testimony between God and mankind, as regards the coming forth of the Lord from heaven "to judge and to make war." That He was clothed in a vesture dipped in blood forms no part of the Church's present testimony, and indeed how can it, since it would be against herself for being in a voluntary alliance with the world? Neither the consciences of men are aroused by such a coming forth of the Lord, nor the love of Christ acknowledged, which delivers from this impending wrath upon the living and teeming millions of Christendom, by the preaching of a present salvation for today by faith in the atoning blood of the Lamb.

The promise given next to the Church of Sardis carries us still farther on in the history of God's ways with the nation of Israel, and takes up its priesthood. "He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels." In king Solomon's days, when the ark was placed in the temple and the temple filled with glory, "the Levites, the singers, all of them arrayed in white linen, could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud," which had taken possession of the entire scene in the name of the Lord. Further, "her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire;" but the same prophet adds, "their visage is blacker than a coal, they are not known in the streets, their skin cleaveth to their bones." Zechariah shows Joshua the high priest standing before the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. The filthy garments, or the defiled priesthood of Israel, are set aside prophetically, as it will be really, in the future day of their national acceptance, when the fair mitre on the priest's head, and the change of raiment in connection with "The Branch," will enable God to remove the iniquity of that land in one day. He who is the first and the last has likewise secured this forfeited place of blessing in Himself, adding to it (as He gives it out to the overcomers of this day) the assurance of its perpetuity. "I will not blot his name out of the book of life [like the blotted page of Israel's history], but will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels." Our own personal security, and the permanence of every purpose, are alike found in a present companionship with Christ, till He comes. We have it not in the outward display, in which it is to be manifested, and on this account we hold all blessing not merely upon His title who deserves it and has the keys of death and of Hades, but in the delight of His own love. "They shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy." What a place and portion does our sojourn on earth afford us, the little while that we are waiting for His shout and our rapture!

The promise which is given to the church of Philadelphia brings us to the culminating point of Israel's history in its connection with the throne of God; and the earthly centre, the focus of this world's light, the city of the great king. These links which constitute the theocracy, in which they lived and made their boast were all broken, and Jehovah "profaned his throne by casting it to the ground." The vision of Ezekiel most touchingly relates how the glory (which was the witness of the Lord's acknowledgment of His people) moved away from its place, till, like Noah's dove, finding no rest for the sole of its foot, it took back the sad tale of desolation to Him from whom it had come forth. This too has been secured by "the Prince of the kings of the earth" for Himself and for the government of God, and till the day of millennial glory comes gives it out to those who now suffer with Him in communion with Himself. "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God: and he shall go no more out; and I will write upon him the name of my God: and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name." This is the promise to Philadelphia, an assurance that all which had failed on the earth and been forfeited would now be committed no longer to human responsibility, but be seen to come down from God out of heaven to abide for ever. Material pillars and a material temple are superseded; just as stones have been set aside in the spiritual house for living stones, and as God and the Lamb finally take the place of the temple and the city, for that which is perfect is come. In the meanwhile, the Son of man in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, says, "I will write upon him that overcometh the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God." What new links of living associations with Himself, in the sanctuary and the glory, are these as He thus puts us into connection with the New Jerusalem, the city of the living God, which is to bring back again the glory of God! But besides this catalogue of blessing, the Lord adds, "and I will write upon him my new name." What is this? For many and various are His titles and names of renown. The angels introduced Him as Jesus-Emmanuel, the waters of Jordan gave Him forth as the Messiah or the Christ, the anointed One, the temptation in the wilderness as the victorious Son of man, the cross as the Lamb of God for sinners slain, the sepulchre as the destroyer of him that had the power of death, resurrection as the Captain of our salvation, ascension into the heavens as the Great High Priest and Advocate at the right hand of God, so that we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. Redemption by His blood is the new circle into which everything that yet groans is to be brought; and resurrection by His power, the new holding by which all blessing is maintained for ever. Moreover all His enemies are to be made His footstool. There yet remains a new name in which Christ will be manifestly known when He comes forth to put all "the families in heaven and on earth" into relationship with Himself and God. What a day will that be when God and the Lamb are eternally together, and give a new character to the entire scene! Our present joy is in communion with Christ, in the power of this new name, as we keep the word of His patience till He comes.

There is yet another promise to the Church of the Laodiceans: "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with my Father in his throne." Promise and prophecy had alike announced Jesus, the Messiah, as the rightful heir to the royalties of David's throne. "He shall be great and be called the Son of the Highest and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end." In this title, and with these claims, He presented Himself to Israel when He rode into Jerusalem upon a colt, the foal of an ass, "and all the people cried, Blessed be the king of Israel, that cometh in the name of the Lord," But this choicest gift of Jehovah's love they rejected, and set up over His head, when they crucified Him, "This is Jesus, the king of the Jews." Therefore He is set down with His Father on His throne, cast out by the world! Yet this place of blessing, though forfeited on their part, He holds in His own personal title as "he that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore." The rejected king of Israel — rejected by those to whom He came in grace — is nevertheless the One who says, "Even as I also overcame;" for though death and the grave were the limits of Satan's power, there was a path which the vulture's eye had not seen, and resurrection to the Father's throne declared Him, beyond all controversy, to be the overcomer. "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." It is a present fellowship with Himself, in a way that the world knows not, in which He gives the promise, "I will grant to sit with me on my throne;" for the Church by faith through the Spirit can look into the future and distinguish between the Father's throne where the rejected One is set down, and the Son's throne on which He is to sit and reign, and trace the effect which will follow this change of position. How precious for our souls to discover that throughout all the confusion in the pathway of forfeited or rejected blessing from the starting-point in Eden to the Father's throne, the Lord Jesus Christ has been the glorifier of God and the Saviour of the lost! Promises and blessings which were originally put into creature hands are now made "yea and amen in Christ." Gifts and callings which were necessarily on creature responsibility are waiting to be opened out to the glory of God by us. The creature itself is no longer dependent upon its own expectations, but stands on the new footing of redemption. Another life has been brought into the world by the incarnate Son of God, and, by His death and resurrection, is communicated to all them that believe. "He that hath the Son hath life." The hour upon which heaven and earth waits is that of which He said, "Of that hour knoweth no man, neither the angels of God, but my Father only." He will then quit the Father's throne to sit upon His own throne. From that point and by that act above all things below will change into their own respective places and correspondence, either caught up to be for ever with the Lord; or by judicial power commanded to depart — consigned to the lake of fire, where the devil and his angels shall be later.

We are come to the end of the history of God's goodness to man in the flesh, and therefore of forfeited blessing. It is unspeakably gracious in our Lord (who has recovered all that was lost both for Himself and for God; and keeps all in His own hands for the coming day of universal glory) to anticipate that time and give, as we have seen, all these spoils to the overcomers, during the period of His rejection, in a known enjoyment with Himself. In the light of this love, we can accept these promises to the seven churches, and eat the fat and drink the sweet, and know the joy of the Lord to be our strength; while the world is running its own course heedless of the gathering storm. Or we may take the assurance of the Lord Jesus, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." How very precious to find our souls drawn aside from the glory of man by companionship with Christ; and as overcomers, through a closer walk with Him, to hold these various promises in the secret of the white stone, "and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it!" We become independent of everything under the heavens, by being thus consciously united to Christ, and in all which comes down from God out of heaven. All our blessings, while we are waiting for the Lord, are descending blessings; for "every good and perfect gift cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness nor shadow of turning." We owe nothing to the flesh, nor to the world, nor to Satan, except it be to maintain the fact that we do not. On the other hand we are not our own, but bought with a price, and are set by grace in that new place of glorifying God in our body and spirit, which are His.

The overcomers have but a little while in which to do a great deal. "Behold I come quickly" is His parting word to Philadelphia. "Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown," is the encouraging word to us till He does come. J. E. Batten.