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Compare Milton's magnificent apostrophe, in The Remonstrant's Defence: 'Who is there that cannot trace Thee now in Thy beamy walk through the midst of Thy sanctuary, amidst those golden candlesticks, which have long suffered a dimness amongst us through the violence of those that had seized them, and were more taken with the mention of their gold than of their starry light; teaching the doctrine of Balaam, to cast a stumbling-block before Thy servants, commanding them to eat things sacrificed to idols, and forcing them to fornication? Come, therefore, O Thou that hast the seven stars in Thy right hand, appoint Thy chosen priests according to their orders and causes of old, to minister before Thee, and duly to press and pour out the consecrated oil into Thy holy and ever-burning lamps. Thou hast sent out the spirit of prayer upon Thy servant all over the land to this effect, and stirred up their vows as the sound of many waters about Thy throne.'
References. II. 1. R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, p. 341. Expositor (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 65. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Revelation, p. 170. II. 1-7. C. Anderson Scott, The Book of Revelation, p. 49.
Things Jesus Knows About Us
Have you noted how often the Risen Saviour says 'I know' in the letters to the seven churches? Seven times the avowal sounds out Tremendous in their suggestiveness are those 'I knows'. What are the things Jesus knows about us?
I. Jesus knows the activities of His people In five out of the seven letters this formula is found: 'I know thy works'. He cites at least two features of those energies and so reveals His intimate knowledge of them. He knows their quantity. 'I know thy works and thy toil' (ver. 2, R.V.). He knows the quality of our activities, 'I know... thy patience'. Patient activities, 'That thou canst not bear evil men'. Detestation of wickedness. 'And didst try them which call themselves Apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false,' moral and spiritual discrimination. Do these qualities grace our service? (1) Christ knows any deterioration which may mark our activities. (2) But if He knows deterioration He is also aware of all development.
II. Jesus knows the Christian characteristics of His people. (1) In ch. 2:19 the Risen One says, 'I know... thy love' (R.V.). (2) 'I know... thy love, and faith.' (3) 'I know... thy ministry.' If there be faith and love there is sure to be 'ministry'. (4) He recalls their 'patience'. What Miss Rossetti calls 'endurance outliving impulse' is a pearl of great price in the Lord's most precious sight. (5) Jesus knows the faultiness of His people, as well as their excellent features. 'But I have this against thee' (ver. 20, R.V.).
III. Jesus knows the trials of His people. That is a sweet word in ch. 2:9, 'I know thy... tribulation'. What balm that assurance brings! Perhaps scarcely any one else knows it, but if He knows what matters that?
IV. Jesus knows the abode of His people. In ch. 2:13, we read, 'I know... where thou dwellest'. He visits our abode, floods it with sunshine in summer, and lights the household fire in winter. Jesus guards our homes.
Dinsdale T. Young, The Enthusiasm of God, p. 93.
In his introduction to Plato's Republic, Jowett notes how 'the want of energy is one of the main reasons why so few persons continue to improve in later years. They have not the will, and do not know the way. They 'never try an experiment,' or take up a point of interest for themselves; they make no sacrifices for the sake of knowledge; their minds, like their lives, at a certain age become fixed. Genius has been defined as 'the power of taking pains'; but hardly any one keeps up his interest in knowledge throughout a whole life.
The greatest part of the good work of the world is done either in pure and unvexed instinct of duty, 'I have stubbed Thornaby waste,' or else, and better, it is cheerful and helpful doing of what the hand finds to do, in surety that at evening time, whatsoever is right the Master will give.
This fierceness against sin, which we are so proud of being well quit of, is the very life of a church; the toleration of sin is the dying of its lamp.
Ruskin, Fors Clavigera , LXXXIV.
In the following address to each church, its 'work' is spoken of as the state of its heart. Of which the interpretation is nevertheless quite simple, that the thing looked at by God first, in every Christian man, is his work; without that, there is no more talk or thought of him.'
Ruskin, Fors Clavigera , LXXXIV.
References. II. 2. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 146; ibid. (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 400. II. 2-4 J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Apocalypse, p. 1. II. 2, 3, 6. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 242. II. 3. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1069.
All the dear graces are first reckoned up to the honour of the Church of Ephesus: endurance and patience and for His Name's sake, labouring and not fainting. 'Nevertheless,' our dear Lord goes on, 'I have this against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.'
And now see how much we learn by comparing Ephesus with Thyatira.
Ephesus clung to the faith, hating apostates and heretics; the Lord says, 'How thou hast tried them which say they are Apostles and are not, and hast found them liars'. But then, this great, this overpowering accusation. 'Thou hast left thy first love.'
Thyatira had the opposite sin. She suffered the woman Jezebel which calleth herself a prophetess, but she loved, and she showed her love by her works; and the last, He that knoweth all things, knew to be more than the first. On the one side faith, with decreasing love; on the other, increasing love, with more cowardly faith.'
J. M. Neale.
The Church at Ephesus was favoured with apostolic letters from two different Apostles, the one from Paul, the other from John. We know of no other Church that was so favoured. We propose to direct our thoughts to St. John's letter to the Ephesians.
I. The letter, although written by John, was dictated by the Lord Jesus Himself. The words are not the words of John, but of the Divine Master, the Conqueror of death and hell: who was dead, but who hath ascended on high, and is alive for evermore. When writing our letters we reserve our signature for the close; Jesus Christ begins His letters by first announcing His name. To Ephesus He announces Himself as 'He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks'.
II. Having introduced Himself by these Divine names and titles, Jesus Christ now commends the excellences of the Ephesian Church. 'I know thy works.' We have here three commendable qualities specified. (1) The life was right. 'Thou hast borne, and hast patience, and for My name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted' (ver. 3). (2) The doctrine was right. (3) The discipline was right. 'Thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars' (ver. 2).
III. Christ now reveals, and reproves her fault. 'I have against thee, that thou didst let go thy first love.' Our Lord estimates the Ephesian Church, not by her external toil or patience, but by her inward motive, the state of her heart towards Himself. The solemn admonitory lesson taught by the Ephesian Church, is that with incessant activities in the service of Christ and of humanity, there may be at the same time a daily decline of personal piety.
IV. Our Lord now instructs the Church what to do to avoid final apostasy (II. 5). The advice is threefold. Remember, repent, reform. (1) Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen. (2) 'Repent.' Having by a faithful scrutiny ascertained the heights which you once occupied, and the depths into which you have now fallen; and contrasting your present coldness with your former ardour, repent, mourn with bitterness of soul over the change. (3) Reformation. 'Do thy first works.'
Richard Roberts, My Jewels, p. 147.
References. II. 4. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No. 217. II. 4, 5. Ibid. vol. xxxii. No. 1926.
Compare a fragment of Euripides' last drama, 'Archelaus,' thus Englished by Prof. Gilbert Murray:
Sweetness of days and rest and dallying
Have never lifted any fallen thing,
City nor house.
Monday, 5th April. I was surprised, when I came to Chester, to find that there also morning preaching was quite left off, for this worthy reason: 'Because the people will not come, or, at least, not in the winter'. If so, the Methodists are a fallen people. Here is proof. They have 'lost their first love'; and they never will or can recover it till they 'do the first works'.
We imagine that when souls have had a fall, they immediately look up and contrast their present with their preceding position. This does not occur. The lower their fall, the less generally their despair, for despair is a business of the will, and when they come heavily down upon their humanity, they get something of the practical seriousness of nature. If they fall very low, the shock and the sense that they are still on their feet make them singularly earnest to set about the plain plan of existence getting air for their lungs and elbow-room. Contrast, that mother of melancholy, comes when they are some way advanced upon the upward scale.
George Meredith, in Sandra Belloni , XXXIV.
To terrify a man at the possibilities of his neglected nature, is to do something towards the redemption of that nature.
Men will never Jove where they ought to love, who do not hate where they ought to hate.
'I had also great openings concerning the things written in the Revelation,' says George Fox, 'and when I spoke of them, the priests and professors would say that was a sealed book, and would have kept me out of it: but I told them, Christ could open the seals, and that they were the nearest things to us; for the Epistles were written to the saints that lived in former ages, but the Revelations were written of things to come.'
I am not of the opinion of those gentlemen who are against disturbing the public repose; I like a clamour whenever there is an abuse. The fire-bell at midnight disturbs your sleep, but it keeps you from being burned in your bed.
Only evil grows of itself; for goodness we want effort and courage.
In Malcolm, George Macdonald makes Alexander Graham, the dominie, speak as follows to a pupil: 'That's the battle of Armageddon, Sheltie, my man. It's aye ragin', ohn gun roared and bayonet clashed. Ye maun up an' do yer best in't, my man. Gi'en ye dee fechtin' like a man, ye'll flee up wi' a quaiet face an' wide open een; an' there's a great Ane 'at'll say to ye, "Weel dune, laddie". But gi'en ye gie in to the enemy, he'll turn ye intill a creepin' thing 'at eats dirt; an' there'll no be a hole in a' the crystall wa' o' the New Jerusalem near eneuch to the grun' to lat ye creep throu'.' The battle is, of course, that between good and evil.
References. II. 7. G. E. Biber, The Seven Voices of the Spirit, Philippians 1:15 . Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 96. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Revelation, p. 187. II. 8. R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, p. 357. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 251. II. 8-11. C. Anderson Scott, The Book of Revelation, p. 66.
Faithful Unto Death
That does not mean merely, 'Be faithful until death calls you away'. It means far more than that; it means, 'Be faithful, even though it costs you your life'. There are a few thoughts I would present to you.
I. The first is the view we have here of the Christian life apparently defeated. That is the underlying idea that underlies it all. The apparent and the real are often different from one another. Here is a people receiving highest commendation from the Lord Jesus Christ, and yet their whole career seems to be an utter failure. Have you not seen the life of the true man a comparative failure? Is there not something wrong somewhere? Or are we to take it that the Christian life can be defeated, that it can be a failure, that it may make its progress in clouds, and end in darkness?
II. That is just what I wish to show you it cannot do, because the next thought here for our consideration is the real success of this apparently defeated life. 'Be thou faithful.' Faithfulness is victory. When the world kills off the faithful man because it cannot bend his will and take him away from his loyalty, it is not the man that is defeated, it is the world. The truly strong life is the life that can defy circumstances, that can make every failure a stepping-stone to a nobler resolve, that can maintain its integrity when all the world is against it.
III. The next thought here is the spring, the sustaining spring of the Christian life which we once more find in the suggestive words, 'Be thou faithful'. 'Be thou faithful,' or loyal ; that means, of course, loyal to Jesus Christ. He asks for your loyalty, your personal loyalty to Him, and in that loyalty you shall conquer; because the Christian life is sustained by faith in a personal life, a personal power, and a personal love. We are not supported by abstractions.
IV. Then lastly we come to the reward of faithfulness, 'And I will give thee a crown of life'. (1) Notice the contrast! Notice the compensation! 'Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.' The life that is won through the sacrifice of this life is a life eternal, profound, joyous, infinitely great and glorious a life in some wonderful way like the life of God Himself. (2) Notice the giver, 'I will give thee'. Jesus Christ is to be the rewarder of man. It is from Him the gift must come, because after all, it is a gift.
John Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, vol. III. p. 1.
'At that time,' says Dumas in Les Trois Mousquet-aires, 'it was vital to have men like De Tréville round one. Many might take for their device the epithet of "strong," which formed the second part of his motto, " Fidelis et fortis ," but very few gentlemen could lay claim to the "faithful," which constituted the first. Tréville was one of these latter. His was one of those unique organisations which are endowed with an obedient intelligence like a dog, with a blind valour, with a quick eye and a prompt hand.'
The history of persecution is a history of endeavours to cheat nature, to make water run uphill, to twist a rope of sand.
'All of us are weak in the period of growth, and are of small worth before the hour of trial. This fellow,' says George Meredith of a young Englishman, 'had been fattening all his life on prosperity; the very best dish in the world; but it does not prove us. It fattens and strengthens us, just as the sun does. Adversity is the inspector of our constitutions; she simply tries our muscle and powers of endurance, and should be a periodical visitor. But, until she come, no man is known.
It is laid in the unalterable constitution of things: none can aspire to act greatly, but those who are of force greatly to suffer.
References. II. 10. T. Puddicome, Preacher's Magazine, vol. v. p. 223. R. G. Soans, Sermons for the Young, p. 120. R. Brewin, Preacher's Magazine, vol. x. p. 515. H. Moore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 230. J. W. Veevers, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 464. D. Macleod, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 75. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 190. J. Learmount, British Congregationalist, 20th June, 1907, p. 622. A. Rowland, The Exchanged Crowns, p. 1. H. Windross, The Life Victorious, p. 125. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 4. II. 11. G. E. Biber, The Seven Voices of the Spirit, p. 35. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 143. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Revelation, p. 196. II. 12. R. E. Hutton, The Grown of Christ, p. 369. II. 12, 13. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiv. No. 2007. II. 12-17. C. Anderson Scott, The Book of Revelation, p. 81.
I Know Where Thou Dwellest
I. Notice, in the first place, that it is possible to be a Christian anywhere. Pergamos was the place where Satan's seat was; and yet even in that city there was a Christian Church, concerning many of whose members the Lord could say that 'they had held fast His name, and had not denied His faith'. Christianity is not a thing of locality, but of character. As Jonathan Edwards said: "The grace of God can live where neither you nor I could'; and they who work in the streets and lanes of the cities are often cheered by coming in unexpected places on humble Christians who are walking with God as truly as Enoch did. And what is true of places is equally so of occupations. Now, if this be so, if it be true that a man may be a Christian anywhere, what follows: (1) This, that we must not be prejudiced against a man because of the locality in which we find him, or the work in which he is engaged. (2) It follows that we ought never to excuse ourselves for our lack of Christianity by pleading the force of circumstances, or the nature of our business, or the character of the place in which we reside.
II. The words of my text suggest the truth that it is harder to be a Christian in some places than in others. There are households in which it seems to be the most natural thing in the world for a child to grow up into the beauty of holiness; and there are others in which everything like loyalty to Christ would meet with the bitterest opposition, and could be maintained only by strenuous exertions. If that be true, what follows: (1) This, the Lord knows that it is true, and He will estimate our work by our opportunity. (2) We ought to learn to be charitable in our judgments of others.
III. The harder the place in which we are, we should be the more earnest by prayer and watchfulness to maintain our Christian character. Where the danger is greatest, the vigilance should be most wary. What is really the hardest place in the Christian life? It is not always that in which there is the greatest external resistance to Christianity. All history shows that the greatest danger to the Christian is not in that which openly assails him. An avowed antagonist he meets as an antagonist. But when the ungodly meet him as friends, then he is in real peril.
IV. The greater the difficulty which we overcome in the maintenance of our Christian characters, the nobler will be our reward.
W. M. Taylor, The Silence of Jesus and other Sermons, p. 90.
Having Done All, to Stand
I. Antipas was 'My faithful martyr'. Now, is it not remarkable that this glorious title, My martyr, My faithful martyr, given to no other Saint, should not for ever have kept alive the memory of Antipas, what he did, how he suffered? And yet absolutely nothing is known of him. In the later martyrologies, indeed, we have a long history of his passion, but clearly only as a legend, written by one who knew no more of the facts than ourselves. I do not believe that Antipas was the name of any individual martyr. The word πᾶς in Greek means every one. As Antichrist, being interpreted, is he that resists Christ, so Antipas means he that resists every one; that is who simply, by himself, stands up against a world of evildoers. Antipas in this sense, every martyr of every age has been or must be; and singularly enough, one such martyr of Pergamum history tells us of. You have heard of the letter written by the Church of Lyons in France to the Churches in Asia, seventy years later than the Epistles of St. John, concerning the glorious martyrs there in a local persecution; when the slave St. Blandina, being bound in a chair of red-hot iron, thence encouraged her fellow-worshippers to hold out; when the aged Bishop St Pothinus died under the buffeting of the mob; then one of the foremost soldiers in this brave fight, then one of the first athletes in this brave race, was Attalus, a Pergamene. I have seen the dungeon in which they were confined; a dungeon to which you can only obtain access by crawling in like a worm.
II. How did this Church of Pergamum stand firm where Satan dwelt? Look at those two clauses, 'And thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith'. That is one of the texts that at first sight seem so disappointing in their conclusion. Having done all, to stand. To hold your own, and that all; the whole result, simply not to yield. And take another example. 'Therefore seeing we have received this ministry, this ministry of binding and loosing this ministry according to the voice of which the Incarnate Word is given to us under the similitude of bread and wine this ministry of which He Himself is the great High Priest, seeing we have received this ministry and as further, as we have obtained mercy, now, surely it must be, we shall carry the whole world before us! And, alas! it is only, we faint not! Not to faint, the highest results of the great gifts that God can bestow upon man!
J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Apocalypse, p. 6.
I Know Where Thou Dwellest
So is it rendered in the Revised Version. The words thy works are omitted, and the passage stands thus I know where thou dwellest. Now what say you to this? It is very sweet to know that the Master knows where we live. Sweeter still is it, a great deal, that He comes to see us. And yet, what think you? that the Lord should know us at home. But the words mean a great deal more than that. It is much more than the watchfulness of an eager love. The context shows that it is a backward glance at the life which He Himself had lived on earth. The preface to the address indicates the thought that runs through it. 'I am alive, and was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore.' It is as if He bade us not to think that He is far away from us and out of our reach, but that as He is one with us in closest relationship, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, so He is one with us in closest intimacy; that in all the round of the daily life, and in all that we have to do and to be, He knows by His own life as well as by His love. It is of this tenderest sympathy that we are to avail ourselves.
I. 'I know where thou dwellest.' It is spoken to those who are in the home of poverty. With what tenderness and sympathy are the words spoken as the memory of His own life I know. From what depth of experience does He speak! Why there should be such poverty in the world is a mystery; whether such poverty should be at all is a matter that Church and State ought to ask very earnestly. But so long as poverty shall last, so long shall the Master send this message of His love to His poor followers: 'I know where thou dwellest'.
II. The word is for those who are beset with hindrance and temptation. Alas! how many are ready to say that nobody knows the struggle they have, the temptations that beset them. One knows, Who hath all power in heaven and in earth 'I know, I know where thou dwellest'. But it may be that in some hearts these words bring no comfort, stirring rather a sigh. What of the fallen? What can the glorious Lord of heaven know of the slave of lust and the victim of intemperance? For such these words can be spoken: 'I know where thou dwellest'.
The blessed Master declares that He knows our address. But then this knowledge leads to the only climax that can satisfy Him. 'Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in and sup with him, and he with Me.' That and that only is His satisfaction and ours.
M. G. Pearse, Naaman the Syrian and other Sermons, p. 154.
Obscure Servants of God
Antipas is a name only almost as impersonal as an echo. And yet he floats down the stream of centuries, as some memorial of southern climes might be carried down a great river. Unknown but not unnecessary is the epitaph that might be written on the tombstones of some mentioned in the Bible; of many more who have walked in the way of duty, and got their names written in the Book of Life. With our own experience and observation of 'the heart of man and human life,' what can we make certain about this man with nothing but a name? This, at any rate, this, if nothing else:
I. The truth was a real thing to him because he realised it. A truth is not true until it is realised. A man is not saved by what he holds, but by what he is held. (1) I believe in God. So did Antipas. We are all theists. And yet any man who realised the awfully solemn and truly blessed meaning of this would live as in a temple. (2) I believe in the Word of God. So did Antipas. So do you. Your father believed in the Word of God and what a life he lived, what a man he was! An army of such men would sweep across a continent, and leave light and hope, like the trail of an outgoing vessel, behind them. (3) I believe in the sacred presence the divinity that lies behind all life: the godlike that redeems it from insignificance. So did Antipas. Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Spenser, Young, Browning, Tennyson, believed in it; and the glow is seen on every third page they wrote. We may recall these names when told that brain is not on the side of supernaturalism. Nor are the painters one whit behind the chiefest of the Apostles of world-remembered song. And as to the musicians, it is the commonest of commonplaces that living music is Biblical music.
II. He realised the truth, because he lived it. He found it true by experiment. There are certainties in our holy religion. I trust, I hope, I desire, must sometimes give place to I know. We cannot live on dreams. We starve on ideas only. We cannot all think alike. Some are reached through the intellect, others through the emotions. But whether through the intellect or the emotions it must reach the life. We must be changed into its image.
III. He did not fail of his reward. 'Antipas, my faithful martyr.' Here is the Divine recognition of unknown services. Unknown to earth, known to heaven. Our faithful duty is recognised. Kindness done receives grateful acknowledgment. In the world beyond the bounds of time and sense every Antipas shall hear his name read; and know that the Divine purposer has not forgotten the work he did, the pain he suffered, in accomplishing the Divine purpose.
J. H. Goodman, The Lordship of Christ, p. 235.
Many of the best intellectual lives known to us have been hampered by vexatious impediments of the most various and complicated kinds; and when we come to have accurate and intimate knowledge of the lives led by our intellectual contemporaries, we are always quite sure to find that each of them has some great thwarting difficulty to contend against.... However circumstances may help us or hinder us, the intellectual life is always a contest or a discipline.
P. G. Hamerton.
References. II. 13. S. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 12. J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Apocalypse, p. 6. B. J. Snell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 153.
We become Balaams when our influence lowers the tone of any who are about us.
C. G. Rossetti.
References. II. 14. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 203; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 108.
The Overcoming Man
Let us look at this thought the Overcoming Man and his crown, or Christian character the reflection of Christian struggle. Let us look at it in connection with three great battles of the soul the battle with doubt, the battle with sin, the battle with sorrow.
I. First of all, there is the man who has a hard battle to find God.
What a difference there is between some men and others in this respect! Some have no 'ordeal of faith': they drift into the kingdom like a ship on a full tide and an even keel. Others again have years of agony ere their souls find rest. In older days this struggle usually took the form of a search after pardon. The question of questions was this 'Can God pardon me, a chief of sinners like me?'
If you wrestle through your doubts to God, you will fight your way to a grander faith. Out of that experience God will give you a name such as no one but you could have. It is, I believe, the case, that no man has ever nobly defended a truth who was not at first its doubter or denier. 'Out of the eater comes forth meat: out of the strong sweetness.'
There are two ways by which the traveller can reach Land's End from Penzance: one the highroad on the stage-coach, the other struggling up and down the mighty cliffs that flank the last of England's shores. Who shall doubt which is the easier? But who shall say that he is the richer in experience who comes by the easier? The way to God's highest revelations is always hard. It is only the soul that has greatly overcome that learns the greatness of God's 'new name'.
II. The same is true of the struggle with sin; of the man who has a hard time in his conflict with evil.
III. Last, and perhaps most beautiful of all, we see here an illustration of the man who has a hard time in the school of suffering. 'Experience,' said a great preacher, 'teaches fools, but she graduates saints.' Her graduation ceremony, it must be admitted, is often the close of a long and hard curriculum. If you read the record of our great writers, both secular and sacred, you will be surprised to find of how many of them it was true that they were great sufferers. Of more than poets it is true that 'they learnt in suffering what they taught in song'. The fragrant name they possess in literature was won out of 'great tribulation'. The hymns we sing with such comfort to others were bora out of bitter hours of pain and disappointment. Our hymnology is largely a martyrology. The men whose words will never die, often died themselves prematurely, or if they lived, lived in what was a living death.
Nor is it different with character, of which indeed literature is but the expression and flower. It is the man who has had a weary struggle with pain and disappointment who wins the new and tender name of 'a son of consolation'. It is the man who has been chastened by sore affliction, and he alone, who can enter into the holy of holies of perfect trust 'What are these which are arrayed in white robes?' 'These are they that came out of great tribulation.' Of them it is specially true that they receive 'a white stone and a new name which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it'.
W. Mackintosh Mackay, Bible Types of Modern Men, p. 299.
The White Stone
I. Many mediaeval writers have said, that the white stone refers to the Greek custom of marking happy days by throwing a white stone into a box: unhappy days by throwing in a black stone; and according as, at the end of the year, the black or the white were most numerous, so was the year considered happy or unhappy. So, they say, a white stone means the one, long, endless glad day of eternity. But there is this fatal objection. St. John nowhere in the whole of his writings draws a metaphor from heathen games or customs. It was not so with St. Paul; he is constantly alluding to them.
II. What other meaning for this white stone? All the promises to the seven Churches have reference to some special period of the history of the Church of Israel. This then has too; and as we read in the same verse about the hidden manna, so it must have something to do with the time when they were in the wilderness.
Next, the word here translated stone may just as well mean gem; and white is more than merely white; it is glistering or sparkling; but a white glistering gem is surely a diamond.
Now think of the Tabernacle service and of the High Priest's vestments. The most famous of these was the breastplate. The breastplate was a piece of linen, exactly twice as long as it was broad. Folded in the middle, then, it became square; the sides were sewn together, and it became a square bag. Now the Jews are agreed that, in this bag, the Urim and Thummim was kept. Was kept ; for they were one and the same thing; and hence sometimes called Urim only. The two words by interpretation mean Light and Illumination. Whatever it was, it was something at which the High Priest, and he only, looked when consulting the oracle. And what was it? There is a very old tradition that it was a stone on which the incommunicable Name of God Jehovah was engraved. But what kind of stone?
On the outside of the breastplate were fastened twelve precious stones, the names of which you may read in Exodus. It is to be supposed that whatever was kept in the purse was more valuable than anything that formed the outside of the purse. Now most remarkably among the twelve stones, the diamond is not mentioned; although the Jews were very well acquainted with it. Urim and Thummim, then, was probably a peerless diamond, engraved with Jehovah's name.
III. It is the great promise to him that overcometh that he shall be made, in the highest and most glorious sense, a Priest in the heavenly temple where is the beatific vision. If any, under the old law, should be privileged to eat of the hidden manna, the manna laid up in the golden pot within the ark, who but the High Priest, that alone knew where it was concealed? If any should be able to read what was written on the Urim, who but the same High Priest, that alone knew what it was, and by his very office was bound to consult it?
J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Apocalypse, p. 18.
A New Name
I. What is meant by the bestowment of a new name? A glance at some of the historical records of the Old Testament will make it clear to us. When Abram was ninety years old, the Lord appeared to Him, and said: 'Thy name shall not any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for the father of a multitude of nations have I made thee'. Next, you will remember the occasion of Jacob's wrestling with the angel at the brook Jabbok. And when Jacob had struggled and prevailed, the angel said: 'Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for thou hast striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed'. Again, you will remember that when Daniel and his three friends at Babylon were chosen to enter into the royal service, they received new names from the prince of the eunuchs. We may usefully bring these three kinds of application to bear upon the passage before us. (1) The conquering life, as in the case of Abraham, will receive a new revelation of itself. We do not at present know our own true name, and even still less does the world know it. (2) The receipt of the new name, as in the case of Jacob, involves an accession of life and power. (3) Further, as we saw in the case of Daniel and his friends, the conferring of a new name involves the designation to new power and office. Higher life means higher service.
II. So far we have dealt with the promise in its general application, but are now directed by our Lord's word to the important question of individual distinctions: 'which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it'. These words remind us of the proverb: 'Every heart knoweth its own bitterness, and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy'. The meaning is clear. Just as life is divided from life here, and each heart has its own world of possession, so it shall be in the higher life to come. The victors are not crowned in the mass, but singly. There is indeed one general life of holiness and god likeness which all possess in common. This is what the Lord means in 3:12: 'I will write upon him My new name'. But this common possession is linked with profound differences. The pure heaven that shines above all is precisely the same, but not so the image of it reflected in each that stands in the glory. Each shall receive the fulness of his own life, no less and no more. The nobler and larger our service here, the grander will be our new name, and the deeper the wells of joy that are to be peculiarly our own.
John Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, vol. III. p. 268.
The White Stone
We are told that all the ground about Pergamos is even to this day covered with white stones and therefore the Christians of that city could not stir out without being reminded of the promise 'to him that overcometh'. And what is this white stone? The Church has generally believed that it means the body which Christ's true servants will receive at the resurrection day. For just as nothing is more lasting than a stone, as it cannot be destroyed, as it cannot be worn away, so our bodies will be raised incorruptible, and never more subject to sickness or decay. And a white stone, because they will be glorious and shining; just as the face of our Lord in His transfiguration became white and shining, so as no fuller on earth can whiten. 'I will give him a white stone,' then, is the same thing as saying, 'I will give him a new and glorious body, when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality.'
J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College Chapel, vol. IV. p. 17.
Some glances of real beauty may be seen in their faces who dwell in true meekness. There is a harmony in the sound of that voice to which Divine love gives utterance, and some appearance of right order in their temper and conduct whose passions are regulated; yet those do not fully show forth that inward life to those who have not felt it; this white stone and new name is only known rightly by such as receive it.
References. II. 17. M. G. Glazebrook, Prospice, p. 149. W. P. Workman, A Book of Lay Sermons, p. 145. W. T. Davison, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 117. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. iv. p. 163. C. Perren, Sermon Outlines, pp. 179, 339. G. E. Biber, The Seven Voices of the Spirit, p. 63. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Revelation, p. 205. II. 18. R. E. Hutton, The Grown of Christ, p. 381. F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 45. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 372. II. 18-29. C. Anderson Scott, The Book of Revelation, p. 97.
Principal Shairp, speaking of Wordsworth's well-rounded life, lays stress on 'the moral fortitude' which 'appears in the firmness with which he kept his purpose, and the industry with which he wrought it out. Undiscouraged by neglect, undeterred by obloquy and ridicule, in the face of obstacles that would have daunted almost any other man, he held on his way unmoved, and wrought out the gift that was in him till the work was complete. Few poets have ever so fully uttered the thing that was given them to speak.'
In his monograph on Voltaire, Mr. John Morley has occasion to speak of the thirty-third year of life, 'that earlier climacteric when the men with vision first feel conscious of a past, and reflectively mark its shadow. It is then that they either press forward eagerly with new impulse in the way of their high calling, knowing the limitations of circumstance and the hour, or else, fainting, draw back their hand from the plough, and ignobly leave to another or to none the accomplishment of the work. The narrowness of the cribbed deck that we are doomed to tread, amid the vast space of an eternal sea with fair shores dimly seen and never neared, oppresses the soul with a burden that sorely tries its strength, when the fixed limits first define themselves before it. Those are the strongest who do not tremble beneath this grey ghostly light, but make it the precursor of an industrious day.'
'If there is anything of interest in my story,' writes Mark Pattison in his Memoirs, 'it is as a story of mental development.... I have never ceased to grow, to develop, to discover, up to the very last. While my contemporaries, who started so far ahead of me, fixed their mental horizon before they were thirty-five, mine has been ever enlarging and expanding.... Slow as the steps were, they have been all forward.'
'There are lives,' says Mr. P. G. Hamerton, 'such as that of Major Pendennis, which only diminish in value as they advance when the man of fashion is no longer fashionable, and the sportsman can no longer stride over the ploughed fields. The old age of the Major Pendennises is assuredly not to be envied; but how rich is the age of the Humboldts! I compare the life of the intellectual to a long wedge of gold the thin end of it begins at birth, and the depth and value of it go on indefinitely increasing.'
Contrast Bagehot's verdict on Macaulay. 'His mind shows no trace of change. What he is he was; and what he was, he is. He early attained a high development, but he has not increased it since; years have come, but they have whispered little; as was said of the second Pitt, "He never grew, he was cast". His first speeches are as good as his last; his last scarcely richer than his first.... The events of twenty years have been full of rich instruction on the events of twenty years ago, but they have not instructed him.'
References. II. 19. F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 385. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (9th Series), p. 39. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Revelation, p. 215.
Immoral life in one leader of the people is more pernicious than a whole streetful of impurities in the lower quarters of the community, seeing that streams, foul or fair, cannot flow upward.
There is a mercy which is weakness, and even treason against the common good.
I think the world is like Captain Esmond's company I spoke of anon; and could you see every man's career in life, you would find a woman clogging him; or clinging round his march and stopping him; or cheering him and goading him; or beckoning him out of her chariot, so that he goes up to her, and leaves the race to be run without him; or bringing him the apple, and saying 'Eat,' or fetching the daggers and whispering 'Kill'. Yonder lies Duncan, and a crown, and an opportunity.'
References. II. 20-22. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 203.
For my part, I believe that remorse is the least active of all a man's moral senses the very easiest to be deadened when wakened; and in some never wakened at all. We grieve at being found out, and at the idea of shame or punishment, but the mere sense of wrong makes very few people unhappy in Vanity Fair.
Reference. II. 23. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 314.
The Depths of Satan
It is clear that the 'depths of Satan' stand in some sort of contrast with the 'depths of God' (1 Corinthians 2:10 ). There are in God great deeps, vast abysses in which the strongest intellect may search without coming on any limits. There are also in Satan 'deeps'; and they are of such a kind that the deeps of God are the only reality with which they can be put into comparison. But we should be losing all sense of proportion if we were to imagine that the depths of Satan in any way balanced the depths of God, if we were to admit for a moment that there was any equality or even colourable pretence to claim an equality. Let us look into the four depths of Satan, Pride, Despair, Lust and Unbelief.
I. Pride. Milton, as became his Titanic spirit, devoted all his strength to representing the depth of Pride. 'Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven,' is Satan's fixed idea. Satan is the spirit that sets himself up, as against God. Into that depth of moral and spiritual absurdity he sweeps men.
II. The depth of Despair. Man, under Satan's rule, is always passing in a violent transition from self-confidence, defiance and pride, to a servile despondency which admits of no comfort.
III. But of all the depths of Satan none is more mysterious or horrible than the one which is referred to in the text under the image of Jezebel (II. 20). The enemy of souls seizes the natural functions of the body, the very functions on which the life and continuance of the race depend, and manages to pervert them into instruments of lust.
IV. The most seductive depth of Satan, however, in our day is Unbelief. Great is the glamour of Unbelief! It flatters itself with a superiority of knowledge and of intellect. It laughs at the dreams of the earth's raw youth. And yet it is all illusion. God is not less necessary or certain: Christ is not less plainly the Way, the Truth, and the Life, because Mephistopheles, the 'spirit that denies,' has led away many deluded minds into this denial. Christ came to destroy the works of the Devil (1 John 3:8 ). The destruction has begun and proceeds.
R. F. Horton, The Trinity, p. 171.
Reference. II. 24. R. J. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 153.
How respectable the life that clings to its objects! Youthful aspirations are fine things, your theories and plans of life are fair and commendable: but will you stick? Not one, I fear, in that Common full of people, or in a thousand but one: and when you tax them with treachery, and remind them of their high resolutions, they have forgotten that they made a vow. The individuals are fugitive, and in the act of becoming something else, and irresponsible The race is great, the ideal fair, but the men whiffling and unsure. The hero is he who is immovably centred.
Ik the battle of life are we all going to try for the honours of championship? If we can do our duty, if we can keep our place pretty honourably through the combat, let us say Laus Deo ! at the end of it, as the firing ceases, and the night falls over the field.... We may not win the baton or epaulettes, but God give us strength to guard the honour of the flag.
'I was both surprised and grieved,' writes Wesley in his Journal, 'at a genuine instance of enthusiasm. J. B. of Tunfield Leigh, who had received a sense of the love of God, a few days before, came riding through the town, hallooing and shouting and driving the people before him; telling them God had told him he should be a king, and should tread all his enemies under his feet. I sent him home immediately to his work, and advised him to cry day and night to God that he might be lowly in heart, lest Satan should again get an advantage over him.'
References. II. 26-28. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Revelation, p. 223. II. 26-29. G. E. Biker, The Seven Voices of the Spirit, p. 83. II. 27. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 118.
The Gift of the Morning Star
Over the grave of a dead captain of freedom it was said: 'Above the changing fortunes of the cause of which he was the leader, he moved as untroubled as the stars in their orbits. Ha whs never elated by success; never disheartened by temporary disasters and failures. Of ultimate success he was always certain.'
Thus was fulfilled the promise made 'to him that overcometh and keepeth My works unto the end,' I will give him the morning star. Those who refuse to do treason to conviction and principle, who will not weakly comply with the fashions about them receive the morning star. That star is much more than the promise; it is the earnest of the future light of victory. For those who receive it, the battle in a true sense is past. They are conquerors all the time they fight.
I. It is this realisation of victory which has distinguished all great leaders and made them what they are. What is it that makes men spiteful, irritated, ungenerous? Nothing but the fear of defeat. Victors are magnanimous; they can afford to be so, and so can he who knows already the triumph of his cause. It may be laid down with certainty that all great leaders have been magnanimous. Sneering, sarcasm, sharp retort, slander such things have brought men into temporary prominence, but they have never made a name, won a battle, or even permanently advanced a cause. It is the lot of leaders to provoke fierce hatred; to live often under the cloud of almost universal distrust. Their names are at times as 'lightning rods for storms to strike on'. Being human, they may be betrayed into occasional bitterness by injustice, or more likely by their clear perception of the awful contrast between the real and the ideal. And they may lawfully know how to puncture wind bags. But one of their sure marks is reverence for man. They never forget that the mass live in a world of mist and shadow. They do not lose their faith in human nature. They believe to the end that when the human soul can be parted from the 'discouraging clouds of confusion,' from the tumults and passions of the hour, it is ready to give heed to the voice of eternal truth and justice.
II. There is unity in the lives where this light has been kindled the unity of a regal purpose. If all the lives that start on a high level of faith and hope maintained the promise of their beginning, redemption would indeed be nigh. But with most it is far otherwise. They may have seen visions and dreamed dreams in their time, but visions and dreams have faded, and the lofty ardour of youth has gone with them. Now they have given over the fight, perchance have deserted to the other camp; at best they remain timid, irresolute, full of hesitations and misgivings. But those with the earnest of the light are undismayed. They are heroically constant. What wonder if men gather round them and follow them!
Nothing is more strange and affecting, and yet nothing is more true, than that those who take the most vehement part in the conflicts of this world and the keenest interest in its affairs are nevertheless detached from it. They are all the while sons of the high mother city which is free. It is this which makes them magnanimous, patient, resolute; it is this which makes them willing to leave the struggle before victory is proclaimed, and even when it seems as if the infantry of trust were being repulsed. They have achieved a great liberty. While they live they dwell with God; when they die they depart in peace, because their eyes have seen His salvation.
W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten-Minute Sermons, p. 139.
The Morning Star
I love the stillness of the text; receive that text as an assurance that the Lord is the distributor of the prizes and the rewards, and He has promised in these wondrous letters to the Seven Churches of Asia that one day He will have a grand prize distribution: I will give, I will give, I will give, as if He would distribute His universe amongst those who have turned it into an altar. It is wondrous music. 'To him that overcometh I will give to eat of the tree of life.' Observe, it is to him that overcometh. Expect war, expect strenuous contest; the Lord is watching the contestants, and He is breathing down the hot thunderous air this Gospel message: To him that overcometh.... Cheer thee, strike again, contest once more, now again! hearts up! to him that overcometh will I give a great festival; I will pluck the fruit from the tree of life, and he shall have abundance. Nothing for the coward, nothing for the runaway, nothing for him who would magnify his weakness into a kind of piety; but everything to him that overcometh; he that endureth unto the end shall be saved.
I. What I like best, because my heart needs it most, is the promise made unto the faithful in Thyatira: 'I will give him the morning star'. The Lord would seem not to keep any of the universe to Himself; He divides His creation with His children. What have you done? By Thy grace I have fought strong temptations, and I have won. Come thou, sit down under the shadow of the tree of life, and I will pluck fruit for thee. What hast thou done? I have had a strenuous time, every nerve has been strained, temptations were poured upon me like fiery darts. Sit down; thou shalt be recruited with the manna of God. And what hast thou done? I have endeavoured to keep Thy Word in difficult positions and situations; I have been sore pressed to disobey Thee, but by Thy grace, and by Thy grace alone, I have overcome. Stand! I will give thee the morning star, sign of royalty, signet of the King, pledge of more. Morning is the poetry of the day. Who can count its jewels of dew? Morning means more than it seems to mean, for it means vanished night Where is the night? Gone! Where that darksome, fearsome, midnight? Fled away! Where is it? None can tell. The morning star has nothing to do with nightly gloom. The nightmare is past, the sorrowful travelling alone is ended, solitude is a conquered enemy, and the man who has overcome by the grace of Jesus Christ shall have the morning star. Is it a living star? Yes. Have I not heard of it in another relation? Is the morning star but some flash of perishing radiance? Oh no! it is clothed with personality. Tell me how. 'I am the bright and the morning star.' It is a star within the star, a Redeemer, a personality. The stars are embodiments of God. I will pluck for the faithful and true, the valiant and the conquering, heaven's chief jewel, and he shall wear it on his glowing heart. I will give him the morning star.
II. 'Morning. Jesus Christ never associates Himself with night. Do not let the pessimists overcome you; have in you a light that will bum out their darkness. Jesus Christ is the light of life, the light of the world; you are so constituted it may be I speak to the few, not to the many as to be soon nervously depressed, and those grim pessimists would soon persuade you to give up your faith in God. Pessimists never did anything for the world. We cannot judge them by their fruits, for fruits they have none; they are men who darken the soul, their very shadow is descending night; in their voices there is no music, on their face there is no illuminating smile. Jesus Christ always associates Himself with the morning: 'When the morning was come.' And God has always associated Himself with the morning: 'Come up early in the morning,' said He to Moses; and He has always been talking about the morning. Christianity is associated with morning fulness, morning impulses, morning ideas and conceptions and brightness; and not with night-reflections and pessimistic meditations and the killing of the heart by self-impeachment. Always Jesus Christ is associated with the morning light, the white gleam on the eastern hills, the opening portal, the rising of the sun.
III. He who has the morning star has the noon. I wish that idea could penetrate our minds, and hold them; then should we be strong men, and no longer panic-driven and dumb because of fear. He who has the morning star has in that star the pledge that he shall have the noon, the midday, the zenith gleam. He who has Christ has heaven. If we really believed the promises of the Cross, we should now be in the upper sanctuary, there should be no separation, no distance, no sensible disseverance of soul from soul.
IV. 'I will give him the morning star.' Everything else goes out but the Christian faith which, in other words, is, everyone goes down but Jesus Christ, and the man to whom Jesus Christ has given Himself Himself who is the bright and morning star. O soul of man, put away from thee the idea of old age! It does not belong to the new temple, the new sanctuary, the final revelation in Christ Jesus. Bid it begone; old age is not among the jewels of God. But the morning star is chief of those jewels. If thou wouldst always be young, be good; if thou wouldst not know when old age cometh, be stooping to serve some little child, and thou wilt not know that old age has come, and gone, and left thee a child!
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. II. p. 119.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 2". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany