Bible Commentaries
Revelation 3

Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and RevelationSeiss' Lectures

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Verses 1-21

; Revelation 3:1-21

Lecture 6

(Revelation 2:1-29; Revelation 3:1-22)


Revelation 2:1-29; Revelation 3:1-22. (Revised Text.) - To the angel of the Church in Ephesus write: These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven candlesticks of gold: I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy endurance, and that thou canst not bear those who are evil, and hast tried those who say they are apostles and are not, and hast found them false, and hast endurance, and didst bear for my name, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless, I have against thee that thou hast left thy first love. Remember, therefore, whence thou hast fallen, and repent, and do the first works; otherwise I am coming unto thee, and will remove thy candlestick out of its place, if thou dost not repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches. To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God.

And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These things saith the first and the last, who became dead and revived: I know thy tribulation, and thy poverty (nevertheless thou art rich), and [I know] thy reproach from those who say they are Jews and are not, but [are] Satan's synagogue. Fear not the things which thou art about to suffer; behold, indeed, the devil is about to cast [some] of you into prison, that ye may be tried, and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be faithful unto [the endurance of] death, and I will give thee the crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches. He that evercometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

And to the angel of the Church in Pergamos write: These things saith He which hath the sharp sword with two edges: I know where thou dwellest, [even] where Satan's throne [is], and thou holdest fast my name, and didst not deny the faith of me, even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. Nevertheless, I have against thee a few things, [that] thou hast there those who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling-block (an occasion of sin) before the sons of Israel, to eat things offered to idols, and to commit fornication. So thou thyself also hast those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes in like manner. Repent, therefore, otherwise I am coming to thee quickly, and will make war with them with the sword of my mouth. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches. To him that overcometh will I give of the hidden manna, and I will give to him a white stone [a bright gem], and on the stone a new name written [engraved], which no one knoweth saving he that receiveth it.

And to the angel of the Church in Thyatira write: These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes as a flame of fire, and his feet like unto fine brass: I know thy works, and charity, and faith, and service, and thy endurance, and thy last works [to be] more than the first. Notwithstanding, I have against thee that thou sufferest thy wife Jezebel, who calleth herself a prophetess, and teacheth and leadeth astray my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her time that she should repent, and she is not minded to repent of her fornication. Behold, I cast her into a bed [of sickness, torment or perdition], and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, if they do not repent of her works. And her children will I slay with death; and all the Churches shall know that I am He who searcheth the reins and hearts; and I will give to every one of you according to your works. But unto you who are the remnant in Thyatira, as many as have not this teaching, who have not known the depths, as they speak, ([depths] of Satan), I put not upon you any other burden; only that which ye have hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh, and he that keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod [sceptre] of iron; as the vessels of earthenware shall they be broken to shivers; as I also received from my Father; and I will give to him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.

And to the angel of the Church in Sardis write: These things saith He that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars: I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain, that were about to die; for I have not found thy works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, how thou hast received and heardest, and observe and repent. If, therefore, thou dost not watch, I will arrive over thee as a thief, and thou shalt not by any means know at what hour I will arrive over thee. Nevertheless, thou hast a few names in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. He that overcometh thus, shall be clothed in white raiment, and I will not by any means wipe out his name out of the book of life, and will confess his name in the presence of my Father and in the presence of His angels. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.

And to the angel of the Church in Philadelphia write: These things saith the Holy [One], the True, He that hath the key of David [of Hades? Compare Revelation 1:18], Who openeth and no one shall shut, Who shutteth and no one shall open: I know thy works; behold, I have given before thee a door opened, which no one is able to shut; because thou hast a little strength, didst keep my word, and didst not deny my name. Behold, I give [those] of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but do lie, behold, I will make them that they shall come and shall do homage before thy feet, and that they may know that I loved thee. Because thou didst keep my word of patient endurance, I also will keep thee out of the hour of temptation [the appointed season of sore trial] which is about to come upon the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth. I am coming quickly; hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take thy crown. He that overcometh, him will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out of it; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which cometh down out of the heaven from my God, and mine own new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.

And to the angel of the Church of Laodiceans write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning [Head Prince] of the creation of God: I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot; would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need in nothing, and knowest not that thou art the wretched and the pitiable [one], and poor, and blind, and naked; I counsel thee to buy from me gold refined out of the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and [that] the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest; and eye-salve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous, therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hear my Voice, and open the door, I will enter in to him, and will sup with him, and he shall sup with me. To him that overcometh will I give to sit with me on my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne.

In the second and third chapters of the Apocalypse, upon which we now enter, we find a distinct and unique section of sacred literature, which the learned and devout Dr. Bengel used to commend, above everything, to the study especially of young ministers. We call the contents of these chapters Epistles; but they are not so much messages from an absent Lord as sentences of a present Judge, engaged in the solemn act of inspection and decision.

There is much pertaining to these sentences to recommend them to the particular attention of Christians. They are a prominent and vital part of the Apocalypse, which pronounces special benedictions upon its attentive readers and hearers. Like the parables, they consist exclusively of Christ's own words, and are the very last which we have directly from Him. They are, perhaps, the only unabridged records of His addresses in our possession. They are most impressively introduced, and so directly addressed as to beget the idea that they are something of unusual solemnity and importance. They are also accompanied with a seven times repeated entreaty and command to hear what is said in them. And yet there is not another portion of Scripture, of equal extent and conspicuity, to which so little attention has been paid. Strange to say, the Church has nowhere included these Epistles in the lessons prescribed to be read in the public services, except in a secondary and very remote manner. In the Church of England, Archbishop Trench remarks that it is impossible, if the canons of the Church be followed, for these Epistles ever to be read in the public services.[16] Though so specifically and urgently addressed to the Churches, it would seem as if there had been some general concert to prevent them from being seen or heard.

[16] "It is very much to be regretted, that while every chapter of every other book of the New Testament is set forth to be read in the Church, and, wherever there is daily service, is read in the Church, three times in the year, and some, or portions of some, oftener, while even of the Apocalypse itself two chapters and portions of others have been admitted into the service, under no circumstances whatever can the second and third chapters ever be heard in the congregation."--Epist. to the Seven Churches. p. 10.

Exposition is also remarkably barren with respect to these Epistles. Though in every way marked as of equal account with the parables, they have not received a tithe of the attention. We have hundreds of disquisitions on other special discourses of the Saviour, where it would be difficult to find tens devoted to these, His last and most solemn, dictated from heaven, superscribed with His own marvellous attestations, and urged upon all by the sevenfold admonition to hear and ponder what they contain. Even writers on the Apocalypse itself, in very many instances, have passed these Epistles with hardly a word of remark. Erroneously assigning to them nothing but what concerned the particular Churches named, and mistakenly commencing the Apocalypse proper only with the fourth or sixth chapter, writers on prophecy have thought they had no occasion to deal with these divine letters, and have generally passed them by, to the utter discomfiture of their attempts, without them, to understand or expound this book.

I have already indicated the manner in which the seven Churches are to be viewed. They were literal historical Churches, existing at the time John wrote, but, at the same time, representative and comprehensive of all other Churches of all nations, places and ages-a complete sample of the whole body, in the entirety of its character and career. And it is the same with reference to these seven Epistles. They are neither exactly nor only prophetic. They were really messages to these particular Churches, in view of their several conditions, to stir them up to hold fast what was right, and to amend what was wrong, as also all other Churches in like conditions. But as the seven Churches were representative and inclusive of the entire Church, these Epistles also give Christ's judgment of the entire Church, and are necessarily anticipative of its entire history. In other words, they give us, from the beginning, the exact picture of the whole history of the Church, as that history, when finished, shall present itself to the mind of Christ as he contemplates it from the judgment seat, which is really the point from which everything presented in the Apocalypse is viewed. We may therefore read in them what was in the beginning, and what the career of the Church has been since, and will be to the end.

The number of these Epistles is seven, corresponding with the number of the Churches. Each one also embraces seven distinct parts: first, an address; second, a citation of some one or more of the sublime attributes of the Speaker; third, an assertion of His complete knowledge of the sphere, duties and doings of the persons addressed; fourth, a description of the state of each, with such interspersions of praise and promise, or censure and admonition, as the case required; fifth, an allusion to His promised coming, and the character it will assume to the persons described; sixth, a universal command to hear; and seventh, a special promise to the ultimate victor. In the last four, the order of succession is varied from the first three, and the call to attention is there put after the promise "to him that overcometh;" but in each these seven parts may be distinguished, showing that there is a completeness and fulness about the whole, which will not admit of their being confined in their signification to the few particular congregations to which they were originally addressed.

But without descending into all the particulars, I propose to note briefly some of the teachings of these Epistles, considered:



1. The first Churches were very obscure assemblies, without badges save their common adherence to Christ and obedience to his Gospel, and their congregation in quiet, if not in secrecy, around the altars of a simple worship. They were unnoticed by the great world, in the midst of which they were planted, or were observed only to be despised. But, neglected or persecuted on earth, we see from these Epistles that they were considered in heaven, and had the very first place in the blessed Saviour's regard. Wonderful doings among the potencies of this world were about to take place. Seals were to be opened, at which the heavens should shake, the sun be darkened, the stars fall, and mountains and islands move from their places. Trumpets were to be blown, which should turn the very rains to hail, fire and blood, open the pit, and fill the earth with woe. Battles were to be fought, in heaven and on earth, and vials of wrath emptied, and scenes enacted over which heaven should shout hallelujah. But in advance of all, and above all, the mind of the great Judge was on His little companies of believers, and to them He gave His first attention. "Write," said He, "and send to the seven Churches."

2. But when we come to inspect what is written, we find all addressed to the ministers in charge of these Churches. Each Epistle is written to "the angel of the Church." What is written we know to be meant not for him alone, for the command is to every one to hear "what the Spirit saith to the Churches;" but we thus encounter an item of ecclesiastical order, binding up these congregations very closely with their pastors, and their pastors with them. This is important. It shows that there is a ministry-an official order-in the Christian Church, which assigns one angel to one congregation, and makes him its representative and head. The method by which these officers succeeded to their places, or the precise extent of their functions and authority, is not defined. Neither is it denied, that what pertained preeminently to them also belonged subordinately to the whole company of believers. But a special ministerial appointment is recognized, as part of the sacred economy, the proper life, and the wholesome ongoing of the Church, and which no power on earth may disturb without insurrection against God, and invasion of the dignity of our Lord. This is a doctrine from which, indeed, many deplorable abuses have sprung (of which we will have occasion to take notice), and on account of which some have rejected it as not of God. But it is a true doctrine of our holy religion, and, in its legitimate relations, enters essentially into the system which Christ has himself ordained for the bringing of souls to eternal life.

3. From this peculiarity in these Epistles, we may also trace something of the nature and responsibility of the ministerial office. It is not a lordship, but a service; not a service to be commanded of man, but of God. It is the business of the angel to hear for the Church, receive for the Church, and to answer for the Church, which has been committed to bis care. He is its chief, its guardian, its watchman, the under-shepherd of the flock. He is to receive the word at the mouth of the Lord, and at the hands of His inspired servants, and to present it faithfully to bis people, and to see that it is accepted, observed and obeyed according to the true intent of its divine Author. Christ sends His Revelation to these angels above all, and looks to them for the right ordering of His Churches. To them He addresses His judgments, His rebukes, and His directions, as if the whole estate of the Churches were wrapped up in them, and they alone responsible for that estate. And so far as they keep themselves to their true sphere and work, whosoever heareth them heareth Him, and he that despiseth them despiseth Him.

4. But these Epistles show us more particularly what was the moral condition of the primitive Churches. Nor is the exhibition what we would perhaps have expected. Churches founded and instructed by apostles, and ministered unto by those who were the pupils of the apostles, appointed under apostolic supervision, we would think to find models of every excellence, and pure and free from the evils, heresies and defections of later periods. But these Epistles show that the Churches then were much like the Churches now, and of all ages: that is, interminglings of good and bad, and as full of the workings of depravity as of the fruits of a true faith. There was much to commend, but quite as much to censure. There were worthy sons and daughters of the Most High, whose conversation was in heaven; but many more whose love had cooled, whose hearts were in the world, who had a name to live but were dead, and esteemed themselves rich, and increased with goods, and needing nothing, not knowing that they were wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. With five out of the seven, Christ finds serious fault; and in one of these five, He finds nothing whatever to commend. Two alone pass the solemn inspection, and they in contact with elements which He quite condemns.

The first and most distinguished was that of Ephesus. This Church was characterized by strong impulse toward God, earnestness, and zeal, and yet with a giving way in these qualities from what they were at first. This is signified in the word εψεσις, which thus exactly fits to the description. He who holds the seven stars, and walks in the midst of the candlesticks, found in Ephesus works, labour, endurance, steadfast opposition to evil, faithfulness and firmness in discipline, cheerfulness in bearing any burden for Christ's sake, and a just hatred of deeds and practices which Christ also hates. But He found there also this defect, which called for repentance and return to first works, if they would not be unchurched entirely: namely, that they had left their first love. There is such a thing as having and exercising a sharp penetration into the true and the false, a correctness of judgment in sacred things, a zealous and self-sacrificing devotion to the right and true, and an earnest-minded severance from false apostles and all evildoers, and yet being without that warmth and purity of love which is the first impulse in the breast of young disciples, and without which, well cherished and kept in vigorous life, there is unfitness to meet the judgment or to stand in it. And this was the sorry fault of the Church of Ephesus. Of course, it was not the estate of every particular member that is thus described. There were Smyrnaotes and Philadelphians in Ephesus also; but their number was few, and the prevailing characteristic of the whole together was great zeal for truth and right, with a love in fatal decline.

Smyrna is a word three times translated in the New Testament. (Matthew 2:11; Mark 15:23; John 19:39.) It signifies myrrh, an aromatic exudation from a thorny tree, which furnished one of the ingredients of the holy ointment, and was used by the ancients in embalming the dead. It had associated with it the idea of something grateful to God, and connected also with death and resurrection. It well describes a Church persecuted unto death, and lying embalmed in the precious spices of its sufferings, such as the Church of Smyrna was. It was the Church of Myrrh, or bitterness, and yet agreeable and precious unto the Lord, holy in the midst of its tribulations, and full of blessed hopes for the world to which the resurrection is to bring the saints. Nothing of complaint is said of this Church; but neither are any special works or achievements enumerated to its praise, whilst the presence of an evil synagogue is affirmed. A poor Church, in the midst of persecution and suffering, cannot be expected to do much. To endure steadfastly is, then, all that can be looked for, and is worthy of highest commendation. From two sources did these troubles spring: from blaspheming Jews, and from intolerant Pagans; both actuated by the devil. When Polycarp was tried and martyred (whom some regard as the angel of the Church here addressed), we are told that the Jews joined with the heathen in clamouring for the good bishop's destruction, and were the most forward in bringing the fuel for the fire which consumed him. These Jews were blasphemers, in the enmity and contempt which they felt and enacted against Christ and His people; and they were false Jews, and a mere Satanic synagogue, because of that blasphemy. "For he is not a Jew which is one outwardly; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly." It was thus a two-horned Antichrist by which this little Church was gored, bereft, oppressed and trampled; a Church destitute, powerless, crushed, but rich in divine grace, pleasing to God, and comforted with joyous hopes for the world to come, though having nothing but suffering to expect in this, Pergamos carries in its etymology the idea of a tower, and also of marriage.[17] It well describes a Church in close proximity to the centre of the kingdom of evil, and yielding itself to sensual alliances. And such was the Church at Pergamos. There was Satan's throne, the darkest centre of Pagan abominations. It had faith, and courage, and endurance, and faithful witnesses to Christ; but it had also some of the worst of elements. It had those who held to a system of ideas answering to the treacherous teachings of Balaam, by which Israel was seduced to fornication and idolatry. It had also those who held to another system of ideas involving tyrannical lordship over the Church: Nicolaitanes, or people-conquerors. It was a Church with a tower of unrighteous assumption in it, and indulgently compliant with the adulterous solicitations and embraces of worldliness. With all its saintship and fidelity, it had need to repent if it would have the approbation of the Lord. It was a Church of much praiseworthy fidelity, but with wicked pretences to loftiness and power on the part of some, and base alliances with what was earthly and Satanic, on the part of others.

[17] Donegan gives πυργος, a tower; γαμος, marriage; τα πψγαμα signifies things lofty or high.

The Church in Thyatira had some of the same excellencies, but conjoined with even worse defects. It was active in services and charities, patient in reliance upon God's promises, and increasingly vigorous in its endeavours; but it was lacking in proper zeal for the maintenance of godly discipline and doctrine, and was so indulgent toward errors and errorists that falsehood and idolatry permeated, overlaid and modified the whole character of the Church, obscuring the faith, deceiving the saints, and setting up in its very midst the infamous school of Satan himself. With all that is said commendatory of this Church, the idea of effeminacy connects with its whole history and character. The first Christian in Thyatira was a woman. The name, Thyatira, some take as equivalent to thygatira, a daughter. If we take it as a compound of θυγατης and τειρω, we get the idea of feminine oppression. The false prophets who first enticed the members of this Church into apostasy were women. And the great fault which Christ finds with these Christians is their toleration of the false pretences, the miserable domination, and the abominable doings, of one whom He designates as "that woman Jezebel," who, like her namesake of old, seems to have borne down what should have been the governing will, set aside the true prophets of God with her falsities, and entirely taken possession of the Church for her own impurities. It was a Church with much activity of faith and love, but lying in the embraces of an adulteress, and, for the most part, completely in her power.

The name of the fifth of these Churches has been variously derived. Some connect it with the precious stone, called sarda, which was found about Sardis, and sometimes used as an amulet to drive away fear, give boldness, inspire cheerfulness, sharpen wit, and protect against witchcraft and sorceries. Others have derived it from the Hebrew, and have assigned it the signification of remnant, or an escaped few. Ebrard finds for it an etymological derivation denoting something new, or renewed. And there is a further explanation which derives it from a word which denotes a builder's rule, or measuring line. These several explanations, though different, are not antagonistic, as applied to the condition of a Church. They can be very well combined in one picture. Courage and boldness imply great conflict and danger. In a great contest, many would be vanquished, but a remnant would escape. Those surviving and escaping would necessarily involve new features of life and regime. And in this process of renewal there would appropriately come in the use of the carpenter's rule in fashioning the new edifice. We accordingly see in this Church comparative freedom from the sorceries of the domineering prophetess of Thyatira, and an account of things remaining as though they had with difficulty been saved from some far-reaching and crippling danger, and of some names which had clean escaped from the abounding defilements. The ideas of newness from old degeneracies, and of the true role re-given for the new order, run through the entire description. But with all, the boasted new life was in many things but name, and not reality. These Sardians had heard and received that which was right and good; but they did not properly hold or improve what had been given them, and became dead in the very forms and attirements of the new life. Having defied and escaped the sorceress, they suffered their garments to drag in other defilements. There were some noble exceptions, whom Christ pronounces worthy, and who are to walk with Him in white, and whose names He will confess before the Father and His angels, because they were not ashamed to confess Him, and to stand true to His pure Gospel in its spirit and life; but in a large part, the Church of Sardis was but a drooping plant and a dead carcass. It started fresh and new; it had heard and received that to which it is the true life of saints to hold; but it soon had more profession than vitality, and more boastfulness than purity or fruit.

The Church in Philadelphia shows no interminglings of evil, but is addressed as if embracing only a small exceptional company of acknowledged ones in the midst of a larger body who are no longer recognized as strictly a part of Christ's Church. They are spoken of as having kept His word, and not denied His name: as though many had failed in these particulars, and so lost their place in the acknowledged Christian body. These Philadelphians were but a little flock, poor in wordly goods, and of small account in the eyes of men. They had but little strength, and were greatly oppressed by heretical teachers and pretenders; but they held fast to the word of Christ, in patient waiting for His promise. They were an exceptional band, joined by cords of loving fraternity, as the meaning of the word is, and they had promises given them of special exemptions and special triumphs.

Very different was the Church of Laodicea. Here was nothing to commend, though having in it a few suffering ones whom Christ loves and chastens. Its name[18] designates it as the Church of mob rule, the democratic Church, in which everything is swayed and decided by popular opinion, clamour and voting; and hence a self-righteous and self-sufficient Church. It is described as thinking itself the perfection of Churches. It said in its heart, "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need in nothing; "but never was a body of people so woefully self-deluded. With all this boastfulness, the faithful and true Witness found nothing which He could abide, and pronounces them wretched, and pitiable, and poor, and blind, and naked, and about to be vomited up and cast out.

[18] Λαοδικυα, from λαος, people, and δικη, judgment, or justice.

We thus find all sorts and shades of intermingled or coexistent good and evil in the Church of that day. Some were priestridden, and on that account condemned; and some were mob-ridden, and hence unsatisfactory to Christ. Some had great zeal for pure doctrine and godly discipline, whilst they failed in the important element of love and charity; and others, with much faith and beneficence, yet permitted the manlier things of doctrine, and the ruling out of impurity, to be overlaid by the false pretences and dominations of lewd effeminacy. Some in their sufferings were faultless, but feeble; and others in their prosperity were strong, but dead and corrupt. There was true faith, and false faith, and sometimes no faith. There were schisms, and heresies and sects, as well as devout works, and noble self-sacrifices, and instances of fidelity unto death. There were children of the kingdom and children of the wicked one, wheat and tares, truths and errors, sins and sanctities, then as now, and as in all intervening ages. The leaven of evil was even then already working in the woman's meal, and the birds of impurity finding lodgment in the branches of the springing tree.

5. We may also notice, in this connection, the stress which our blessed Lord lays upon the practical features of religion. It is upon these that His commendations and censures turn. What He praises in the Ephesians is their labour, their endurance, their resistance of evil, their patience, their courageous perseverance in well doing; and what He proposed as the remedy for their defects, was that they should return to first works. Love, ministries, patience, labours, works: these are the things to which He refers with most delight, as the marks of the true election, and the proper badges of approved saintship. It is in vain to boast of a correct creed, of right theories, of sound doctrine, if there be no practical godliness, no good works, no positive virtues and active charities and labours. Orthodoxy is important, but orthodoxy alone will not do. The most orthodox in this list is depictured as the deadest. Mere ecstasies, pleasant frames, joyous feelings, loud professions, or dreams that we are rich in grace and in the divine favour, will not do; for the most ecstatic and the best pleased with itself, among these Churches, was the worst. There must be faith, and a true faith; but also a living, working, bearing, self-denying faith-a faith which shows its life and power by love, by charities, by gracious ministries, by active services and sacrifices for God. Persecutions and sufferings may cut off opportunity for such displays, as winter overlies and locks up the germs and life-powers of nature, and hides them from our view; but, as spring-time and summer bring those hidden germs to light, and cause them to put forth and fill the face of heaven with joyous freshness, beauty and fruit, so must true piety in the soul show itself in the life, in good deeds, in devoted endeavours, in a loving spirit, and in faithful standing to the truth, whatever might be the cost or storms.

There are, indeed, such things as "dead works;" works that have no life-connection with piety; works put on from without, and not brought forth from within; fruits tied upon the tree, and not the product of its life; which are not at all characteristics of true religion. There may be prayers, vigils, fasts, temples, altars, priests, rites, ceremonies, worship, and still be no true piety. Heathenism has all these. There may be Christian profession, connection with the Church, observance of the sacraments, where saving religion has never taken root. None of these things alone characterize a Christian. That which distinguishes him, where all other tests fail, is his living, active love to God and man-his charity. If this be lacking, the defect is fatal. All knowledge, all faith, all mastery of tongues, all miraculous powers, cannot atone for such a deficiency. For "pure religion, and undefiled before God and the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep unspotted from the world."

6. These Epistles further set before us Christ's use of the great doctrine of His return, and the very high place it occupies among the motives to penitence, hope, steadfastness and godly fear. In this respect, the language of the blessed Lord harmonizes exactly with that of His inspired servants. Finding the Ephesians cooling in their love. He enjoined on them a speedy repentance and return to their first works, lest His coming should suddenly overtake them. The suffering Smyrnaotes, though taught to look for naught but tribulation in this world, were exhorted to be faithful in view of the crowns which it is assigned to that day to bring. The Pergamites were plied with it as an object of just dread to them, in consequence of their Balaamite and Nicolaitane doctrines, and as the great incentive to immediate repentance. The believers of Thyatira were referred to it as the motive for holding fast to the faith, and as an event which was to end their struggles and temptations. The Sardians are commanded to remember how they had received and heard, and to hold fast, and repent, and watch, on pain of having their Lord and Judge come upon them as a thief, which is contemplated as the worst of calamities. To the Philadelphians it is announced, as a subject of comfort and hope, that Christ shall quickly come. And to the Laodiceans He is represented as already present, knocking at the door, prepared to bless those ready to receive Him, but about to eject with loathing the lukewarm masses who fail in fervency and timely repentance.

Some tell us that death is, to all intents and purposes, the coming of Christ to the individual, and that we are to comfort and exhort men with reference to their mortality. But that is not the method of Christ in these Epistles. With the exception of the one to Smyrna, there is no hint that there was any such thing as death for any of those who really believed. I have my doubts whether the Scriptures warrant any Christian in expecting to die at all. Paul, in several places, has taught us most specifically that there are Christians who shall never die. Such of Christ's waiting and watching people as shall be alive and remaining at the time of Christ's coming, are not to sleep, not to die, but to be suddenly transfigured and caught up to the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. (1 Thessalonians 4:17.) And as Christ may come in any of these passing generations, I cannot see how true Christians of any generation can reconcile it to the Scriptures to count upon dying. Death, to the saint, is not that certainty which it is sometimes represented; nor is it of a character to impress and comfort as the doctrine of Christ's coming, in power and glory, to give deliverance to His sighing and dying creation, and dominion to His saints. It is to that coming, therefore, and the translation of the watching and faithful without tasting of death, and of the glorious honours into which it is to induct the patient waiters for it, and the fearful disasters which it is to bring upon the unprepared, that the Scriptures everywhere refer us, and upon which the Saviour Himself relies in all His exhortations to the seven Churches. And if this was the proper method eighteen hundred years ago, when that coming of the coming One was yet so many centuries in the future, how much more is it the proper method now that threescore generations have passed, and that we have come to the very margin of the great occurrence! People may call it idiosyncrasy in us, that we persist in preaching the near and speedy coming of Christ; but, after all, we only preach as He did when it would seem to have been less in place than now, and as all His inspired apostles also preached when they were yet eighteen centuries further from the event than we are. And if some will have it a sort of amiable hallucination under which we are labouring, it is sufficient for our consolation that the blessed Saviour has trod this path, "leaving us an example that we should follow His steps."

7. There are also important and most interesting hints in these Epistles, respecting the future life and honours which the coming of Christ is to bring to the redeemed. Each Epistle has a promise to a particular victor. These several promises unitedly give us at least a seven-sided view of the future possessions of the saints. To the Ephesian victor Christ awards "to eat from off the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God." To him who abides faithful amid the Smyrna trials, is awarded "the crown of life, and exemption from the second death." To the victor of Pergamos is awarded "the hidden manna, and a white pebble engraved with a new name which no one knoweth saving he that receiveth it." The victor of Thyatira is to have "authority over the nations, to rule them with a sceptre of iron," and to receive "the morning star." The victor of Sardis is to be "clothed with white raiment, and walk with Christ in white," and have his name continued upon the book of life, and confessed in the presence of the Father and of the holy angels. The victor of Philadelphia is to be made a pillar in the temple of God, never again to go out, and to have the name of God written upon him, and the name of the new Jerusalem, the city of God, and the new name of Christ himself. And to the victor of Laodicea is the highest promise of all,--even to sit with Christ on His throne, as Christ overcame and sitteth with the Father on His throne.

Have we here seven orders of rewards, to seven orders of Christians, succeeding in their triumph through seven orders of surroundings? Or have we here seven steps or degrees in the rewards of the saints, unto which each one attains? Or have we really both? They rise in degree from the first to the last, as do the evils and the adversities over which the victories are achieved. They also seem to have been framed in the light of the whole sweep of God's varied dispensations, from the days of Adam onward, until Christ shall have reinstated His saints in the fruition of all that Adam lost. The first refers to a readmission to a paradise and a tree of life, answering to, if not the very same from which Adam was excluded. The next proclaims a triumph over the afflictions, and an exemption from the death, which pertain to the state of expulsion from paradise and the tree of life. The third throws open the same or like storehouses out of which the pilgrim Hebrews were sustained in the wilderness, and imparts the engraved and shining jewel, as on Aaron's breastplate, which admits as a priest into the presence-chamber of the Lord. The fourth promises authority and judicial administrations upon nations, which find their type in Joshua's and David's and Solomon's victories and reigns, with an addition the exact nature of which I have not been able to penetrate.[19] And having thus exhausted the range of the dispensations of the past, the next three move forward to things predicted of the future. The promise to the victor of Sardis links itself with the solemnities which are to end this world: with the resurrection, the opening of the books, and the official acknowledgment of those whose names are in the registry of the faithful. The next takes its elements from the setting up of a new kingdom, and a new city, and rights of celestial citizenship, and a temple, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Whilst the last conducts to a point of settlement and dominion beyond which there is nothing higher to be imagined or desired: even session with Christ upon His everlasting throne.

[19] I have since thought the promise to refer to the exalted position of those saints who are joined with Christ in the judgment of the world, which heralds and brings the final consummation as the morning-star the day.

But in whatever way we take these promises, they set before us a body of honour, and privilege, and power, and blessedness, greater than eye hath seen, or ear heard, or the heart of man conceived. It has been well observed that these seven promises together, in their twofold aspect, form by far the completest description to be found in all the Word of God, of what good things they are which God has prepared for them that love Him.[20] They set before us a destiny to which the faithful shall attain, at which the lean, meagre, shallow, shadowy, flimsy thing some present as heaven, sinks into insipidity and contempt. They present us with something fitting and competent to brace up the courage of the Church, to carry her to the pitch of bearing the cross, and crucifying herself with Christ, and actualizing her professed expatriation from this world. They open to us prospects which put upon the common-places of heavenly anticipation the disgrace and shame of scarcely having caught the first syllables of what is laid up for the true saints of God. But we have not time to dwell here, or even to touch sundry other topics suggested by these Epistles, in their relation to the particular Churches addressed. The consideration of these Churches, in their representative and prophetic character, we therefore necessarily must defer to another occasion. Meanwhile, let us think of the standard which the Saviour has here set up for His people, and seek to animate ourselves to the zeal, self-sacrifice and devotion which alone can secure the prize here held out for our attainment.

[20] Rev. Win. Lincoln, "Javelin of Phineas," p. 149.

Must Jesus bear the cross alone,

And all the world go free?

No, there's a cross for every one,

And there's a cross for me.

How happy are the saints above,

Who once were sorrowing here!

They ever taste unmingled love,

And joy without a tear.

The consecrated cross I'll bear,

Till Christ shall set me free,

And then go home, my crown to wear,-

For there's a crown for me.

Verse 22

Lecture 7

(Revelation 3:21)


Revelation 3:22. - He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.

We have glanced over the contents of these Epistles, considered in relation to the particular Churches addressed. But this is not the only nor the chief aspect in which they are to be viewed. As I have repeatedly affirmed, these particular Churches have a representative character, comprehending the entire Church of all places and ages. It is impossible to find an adequate reason why only these seven were written to in this manner, except upon this assumption. The number is that significant of dispensational fulness, entire completeness. The Saviour speaks of them as involving some sort of "mystery," having significance beyond what appears upon the surface. The command to hear and consider what is said is given with such urgency and universality, as to argue something peculiarly significant to all people of all time. Much of the language is symbolically applied, and fits and receives a comprehensive lucidness, in a prophetic acceptation, which it is not otherwise found to possess. These seven Epistles are also a very prominent and vital part of a book which is specifically described as a book of prophecy. (Revelation 1:3; Revelation 22:18.) There is also an evident historical consecutiveness in the several pictures, as well as contemporaneousness; and such a complete successive realization of them can be traced in the subsequent history of the Church, even down to the present, that it seems to me impossible fairly to get rid of the conclusion, that these seven Churches were selected as affording, in their respective names, states, wants, and messages, a prefiguration of the entire Church in it successive phases from the time John wrote to the end of its history. Joseph Mede has well presented the case, where he says: "If we consider their number, being seven (which is the number of revolution of times, and therefore in this book the seals, trumpets and vials also are seven); or if we consider the choice of the Holy Ghost, in that He taketh neither all, no, nor the most famous Churches then in the world, as Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, and many others, and such, no doubt, as had need of instruction as well as those here named; if these things be well considered, it will seem that these seven Churches, besides their literal respect, were intended to be as patterns and types of the several ages of the Catholic Church from the beginning thereof unto the end of the world; that so these seven Churches should prophetically sample unto us a sevenfold successive temper and condition of the whole visible Church, according to the several ages thereof, answering the pattern of the seven Churches here."[21]

[21] Mede's Works, Book V, chap. 10, p. 90. So also Andreas, one of the earliest writers on the Apocalypse: διὰ τοῦ ὲβδοματικοῦ�. So also Vitringa (Anac. Apoc. p. 32): Omnino igitur existimo Spiritum S. sub typo et emblemate septem Ecclesiarum Asiae nobis mystice et prophetice voluisse depingere septem variantes status Ecclesial Christianae, quibus successive conspiceretur, etc. See also Augustine, (Epist. 49:2.) and Cocceius.

Receiving this, then, as the truth in the case, I now take up the topic deferred when we last had this subject before us, and proceed to note some of the teachings of these Epistles, considered:


And so important and far-reaching is the subject, that it becomes us to approach it with solemn hearts, and to pray God to aid us with His enlightening grace, that we may indeed hear, mark, learn and inwardly digest what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.

1. Viewing these Epistles, then, as descriptive of the entire Church, I find in them this item of fact: that the professed Church, as pronounced upon by Christ himself, is a mixed society, embracing interminglings of good and evil from its beginning to the end. Whether we take the seven Churches as significant of seven successive or as seven coexisting phases, they must needs reach to the end, and so depicture the entire Church. And as there is not one of these Epistles in which the presence of evil is not recognized, so there can be no period in the earthly history of the Church in which it is without bad admixtures. Whether the Ephesian Church extends, as in some sense it must, from the apostolic era to the consummation, or whether it relates mainly to the first period alone, and the Laodicean the last, we still have a vast deal which the Lord and Judge of the Church condemns, stretching its dark image from the commencement to the close. There were fallen ones, and some whose love had cooled, and some whose first works had been abandoned, and some giving place to the base deeds of the Nicolaitanes, and some false ones claiming to be apostles and were not, even among the warm, patient, fervent, enduring and faithful Ephesians. In Smyrna were faithless blasphemers, and those of Satan's synagogue, as well as faithful, suffering ones, and those whom Christ is to crown in heaven. In Pergamos were those who denied the faith, and followed the treacherous teachings of Balaam, and the doctrines of the detested Nicolaitanes, as well as those who held fast the name of Jesus, and witnessed for Him unto death. In Thyatira, we find a debauching and idolatrous Jezebel and her death-worthy children, and multitudes of spiritual adulterers, as well as those whose works, and faith, and charity, and patience are noted with favour, and who had not been drawn into Satan's depths. In Sardis there was incompleteness, deadness, defalcation, need for repentance, and threatened judgment, as well as names of those who had not denied their garments. In Philadelphia we discover "the synagogue of Satan," falsifiers, those who had settled themselves upon the earth, and such as had not kept Christ's word, as well as such as should be kept from the sifting trial, and advanced to celestial crowns. And in Laodicea there was found disgusting lukewarmness, empty profession, and base self-conceit, with Christ himself excluded.

Never, indeed, has there been a sowing of God on earth, but it has been oversown by Satan; or a growth for Christ, which the plantings of the wicked one did not mingle with and hinder. God sowed good seed in Paradise; but when it came to the harvest, the principal product was tares. At earth's first altar appeared the murderer with the saint-Cain with Abel. God had His sons before the flood; but more numerous were the children of the wicked one. And in all ages and dispensations, the plants of grace have ever found the weeds upspringing by their sides, their roots intertwining, and their stalks and leaves and fruits putting forth together. The Church is not an exception, and never will be, as long as the present dispensation lasts. Even in its first and purest periods, as the Scriptural accounts attest, it was intermixed with what pertained not to it. There was a Judas among its apostles; an Ananias and a Simon Magus among its first converts; a Demas and a Diotrephes among its first public servants. And as long as it continues in this world, Christ will have His Antichrist, and the temple of God its men of sin. He who sets out to find a perfect Church, in which there are no unworthy elements and no disfigurations, proposes to himself a hopeless search. Go where he will, worship where he may, in any country, in any age, he will soon find tares among the wheat, sin mixing in with all earthly holiness; self-deceivers, hypocrites and unchristians in every assembly of saints; Satan insinuating himself into every gathering of the sons of God to present themselves before the Lord. No preaching, however pure; no discipline, however strict or prudent; no watchfulness, however searching and faithful, can ever make it different. Paul told the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord should not come until there came a falling away first, and an extraordinary manifestation of sin and guilt in the Church itself; and assured them that that embodied apostasy was to live and work on until the Lord himself should come and destroy it by the manifestation of His own personal presence. The Saviour himself has taught us, that in the Gospel field wheat and tares are to be found; that it is forbidden to pluck up the bad, lest the good also be damaged; and that both are to "grow together until the harvest," which is the end of the economy-the winding up of the present order of things-"the end of this world."

2. But I further ascertain from these Epistles, that, in Christ's judgment of the Church, the evil that is in it is constantly cumulative and growing. The first of nearly everything in the Scriptures is mostly considered the best; and so the Church was purest at its beginning. As Hegisippus has said, "The virgin purity of the Church was confined to the days of the apostles." The further centuries carry it from its first years, the more of its original excellence does it lose, and the more apostate does it become. It was so before the flood. It was so in the Jewish economy. And it is so in our dispensation. If these seven Churches represent so many phases or states of the Church general, those phases or states must also be successive, as well as coexistent. And if successive, then they must succeed each other in the order in which Christ has put them: the first first, and the last last. The Church in Ephesus thus becomes descriptive of the first phase or period; that in Smyrna of the second; that in Pergamos of a third; that in Thyatira of a fourth; and so to the end. Viewing them, then, in this order, we can readily identify the growth of evil, from its first incoming, through its various stages, to its final culmination. Indeed, these seven Epistles are so many photographs of apostasy, taken at different periods of its life, from its infancy to its maturity.

In the first Epistle, the Lord puts his finger upon the origin of the mischief. Here is depictured a first and model estate, which is described as that of "first love." From that "first love" the Saviour notes a decline. This is the first picture. It was in the very hearts of Christ's own people that all corruptions of Christianity and apostasy began. "Thou hast left thy first love." It is to the heart that Christ traces all evils. And it is according to the estate of the heart that He judges of us. Where love declines, bad practices soon creep in. The Ephesians waned in original fervour, and soon were troubled with those who departed from the simplicities of the Gospel, betook themselves to Jewish and Pagan intermixtures, and began to put forward the ministry as a sort of priestly class, depreciating and setting aside the laity. Of these were Diotrephes, who coveted preeminence; and those of whom Peter disapproved, as undertaking to be "lords over God's heritage;" and those whom Paul resisted, as seeking to transfer to Christianity what pertained to the Jewish ritualism and Pagan philosophy. These were the "Nicolaitanes,"[22] whose "deeds" are singled out for reprehension. But so long as the apostles lived, their influence was inconsiderable. At first, they had but few followers and small success. It was not long, however, as Church history shows,[23] until they gained adherents and force, and laid the foundations of all subsequent defections and troubles. What in the first picture was feeble, and vigorously resisted, and found only in isolated cases, in the second picture has already grown to be a distinguished and influential party, whose utterances are heard and felt, and which is now characterized as a "synagogue of Satan." And in the third picture, what were only "deeds" have come to be taken up as doctrine. The false practices now appear in the shape of an article of faith. What had previously been kept pretty well at bay, is now found nestled in the very heart of the Church. What in the first picture was hated and withstood, is now tolerated, and seemingly cherished. And to it is added another feature, equally condemned by the Saviour, and equally favoured by many of these Pergamites. To the Nicolaitanes are added Balaamities: destroyers of the people, as well as vanquishers of them, as the meaning of the word Balaam is.[24] The sin of that prophet was, that he counselled with the enemies of Israel, and advised the drawing of them into forbidden friendships and adulterous and idolatrous alliances, by means of which "twenty and four thousand" were destroyed. (Numbers 25:9.) The Pergamite Church had those who counselled like unlawful unions between the Church and its powerful enemies, thus repeating the apostate prophet, who taught Balak to seduce Israel to sin. And whatever interpretation of the matter we accept, it bears the condemnation of Christ, and in His view so unfavourably characterizes the Pergamites as to furnish a picture of most fearful advances in the inroads of evil.

[22] From υικαω, to vanquish, and λαος, people, or laity.

[23] See Mosheim's Ecc. Hist., Cent. I, Part II, chap. 5.
[24] From עלכ, destruction, and סצ, people.

And the next view gives us a still further advance in the same disastrous tendencies. Here is a heathen, impure and bloody woman, exalted to queenly dominion over God's people, governing them, and domineering over them, and drawing them away into spiritual harlotry and abomination. She is even taken to the bosom of the very angel of the Church, and suffered to assume the prerogatives of a prophetess to the people, though in reality another Jezebel. Have we not here the plain and indubitable evidences of continuity and growth in evil, defection, and apostasy? From the gradual decline of first love we have one steady and onward march, till that line of development reaches its climax in the scarlet woman.

But now comes a new and reactionary movement. The pure Gospel is reproduced, once more heard, and largely received. The old and corrupt order of things is not overthrown or superseded, but a remnant escapes from it, and starts out upon a career of fresh life in a new order. But notwithstanding the re-announcement of the Gospel, and the many noble names whom God enabled to clear their skirts of the abounding and terrific abominations, the growth of evil, though it took another direction, was not stopped. The renewal was hindered, and the works of the Sardians did not come to perfection. Christ does not find them complete before God. What was "received and heard "was not properly remembered and held. The things which were preserved were left to droop, ready to fall into the embrace of death. The new life that had been engendered was soon enfeebled and brought to languishment. And under the name and boast of life, there was death. The old was not changed, and the new which had escaped out of it was stagnant and lifeless. Evil had gained a new victory on a new field. Christendom had completed a new phase, and was one step further in its process of ripening for ultimate rejection.

Another is described, in which the work of God is revived and thriving in many hearts, who are drawn together in united efforts and brotherly affection. An open door of usefulness in the spread of the truth is set before them, which no one can shut. They show a little strength, and in poverty and self-denial hold fast to the word and the name of Christ. But they are an exceptional band of brothers in the Lord. About them are the great multitudes of nominal Christians, dwelling upon the earth, and comfortably settled down in its good things, who require the sifting of great trial to bring them to even a tolerable Christianity. And besides, there is a great herd of errorists and liars, who wear the profession of Christians, but are really "the synagogue of Satan."

One other picture is added, and it is the worst. In the first four, the progress of mischief is in the line of consolidation and concentration of power, with all its abuses. In the last three, the reverse obtains, and the evil runs in the line of disintegration, separation, and individualism, until finally each man comes to be pretty much his own Church. The Laodicean Church is not the Church in Laodicea, as in the other cases, but "the Church of Laodiceans."[25] It would seem as if the Church, in its proper character of an elect company, had quite faded from view, and the world itself had now become the Church. The confessing body is hardly any longer distinguishable from any other body. It is neither one thing nor the other--"neither cold nor hot." And yet, in pride and boastfulness, hypocrisy and self-deception, there never has been its like. It claims to be rich, and increased with goods, and having need in nothing, and yet is the wretched and pitiable, and poor, and blind, and naked. It thinks itself all it ought to be, and appropriates to itself all divine favour and blessedness; and yet, the very Lord in whom it professes to trust is denied a place in it, and is represented as barred out, where He stands and knocks as His last gracious appeal before giving over the infamous Babylon to the judgments which are ready to sweep it from the earth. That which started as a little band of loving, self-sacrificing and persecuted saints, redeemed out of the world, and no longer of it, comes to be a vast, widespread, characterless, Christless, conceited thing, to which Jehovah says, "I am about to spue thee out of my mouth."

[25] Εκκλησιας Λαοδικεων. Some of the MSS., however, have εν Λαοδίκια, the same as in the other

We may trace this continuous growth of ecclesiastical evil, also, in the varying attitude and conduct of the Saviour toward these several Churches. To the first, He utters himself in the utmost gentleness. He first commends with great satisfaction, and then rebukes with great mildness and reluctance. Much the same tone is maintained in the second Epistle, with a stronger insinuation with reference to the closer and more potent presence of a body of Judaizers, whom He denounces as blasphemers. But in the third, His words gather sharpness, and the angel of the Church of Pergamos is reproved with an intensity of displeasure and condemnation for the first time seen, and which heightens with the next. "Thou hast there those who hold the teaching of Balaam.... Thou thyself also hast those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes." And in the fourth Epistle, besides the sweeping severity of His complaints and threatenings, He makes a change in the position of the admonition of the Spirit to hear. Up to this point, that admonition precedes the promise; here, and in the subsequent Epistles, it is put after the promise. In the first three instances, it would seem to be the address of the Spirit from within the professing body, calling to the world without; but in the last four, it would seem that the Spirit itself is without, and that the call is considered now as having the same relation to the body of the professed Church as to the world. It is thus intensely significant of prevailing apostasy, which has so Paganized the professing Church as to make true Christians as exceptional in the Church as in the world. As the pillar of cloud went up from before the camp of Israel, and took its place behind it, to sever the Lord's people from the Egyptians, so this change intimates that the Church, as a body, has become so blended with the world, that a separation needs to be drawn between Christ's true people and it, the same as its calling was meant to sever it from the world. Hence, in all the Epistles in which the Spirit's warning takes its place after the promise, the great body of the professed Church, as such, is treated as apostate, and hopelessly corrupt, whilst at the end the fearful announcement is made that Christ is about to cast it loathingly from Him.

And in still another respect does Christ successively alter His attitude toward these Churches, indicative of growing displeasure on His part, and gradual ripening for judgment on their part. He required of the Ephesians to repent of their decline of love, simply referring to the fact that He "will come." He enjoined upon the Pergamites to repent of their still worse defections, by the sharper announcement: "Otherwise I am coming to thee quickly." Concerning the Thyatirans, he gives a still more fearful picture of His coming to judgment, and declares that He will cast Jezebel and her paramours into perdition, and slay her children with death. Upon the Sardians he threatens the disaster of arriving over them as a thief, at a moment of supposed security. The liars and errorists of Philadelphia He says He will humble in the utmost degree, and bring upon those settled down in the world an hour of dreadful trial, the same as shall befall the world itself; and that He is coming quickly, as already in the very act of it. And with reference to the loathsome Laodiceans, He represents himself as already present, appealing to them for the last time, and ready now to spue them out of His mouth.

What, then, does all this mean, but that the Church, as a professing body, pure and excellent as it was at the beginning, and with all the partial revivals that mark different periods of its career, and with all the myriads of saints it has embraced, is yet, in the judgment of the Son of God himself, a subject of gradual and ever-increasing decline and decay, first in one direction, then in another, until it becomes completely apostate, and, as such, is finally and forever rejected? This will be for many a very sad and startling doctrine. It is a paradox. It crosses many a fond dream. It carries dismay to certain humanitarian theories, which are much preached up. It strikes the deathblow to the doctrine of a temporal millennium, and to the hope of an ecclesiastical renovation of the world. Contrary to much of the thinking which prevails, it shows the professed Church in process of conversion to the world, instead of the world in process of conversion, by its means, to Christ. But I am sure that it is the truth of God. Be the logical consequences what they may, I stand here upon the solid rock of Christ's own presentation of the case, as viewed from the judgment seat.

3. But I further learn from these Epistles, considered in their representative relations, what is equally, if not more, important. They give Christ's own judgment and decision concerning many very grave matters which have agitated, divided, distracted and despoiled the Church in various ages, and some of which are still of the most intense practical moment. In this respect, they differ greatly from most other portions of Scripture. We elsewhere find what, if rightly applied, would give us the same results. But here we have, not only principles, which we in our weakness are to take and apply as facts and circumstances may require, but the facts themselves, under Christ's own eye, and directly and authoritatively pronounced upon by Him; not only the materials out of which to form our judgment of what Christ is likely to think of particular systems, tendencies or measures in the Church, but those systems, tendencies, and measures themselves, brought before the judgment seat, reviewed by His all-searching intelligence, and their true character declared direct from His own lips.

In view of these Epistles which I have been endeavouring to bring out, we can be at no great loss to know what Nicolaitanism is. If they relate to successive phases of the Church general, there can be no disagreement as to the identity of the Smyrna period with the era of the Pagan persecutions. Smyrna was to have a tribulation of "ten days;" and all ecclesiastical writers agree in enumerating "ten" of these persecutions, raging most fearfully during ten years, from the decree of Dioclesian in A.D. 303, to the Constantinian edict of Milan in A.D. 313. Even the opponents of the prophetic view of these Epistles agree, that "Smyrna represents excellently well the ecclesia pressa in its last and most terrible struggles with heathen Rome."[26] The distinctive Pergamite period did not therefore commence before the fourth century. And as we find these Nicolaitanes in full sway in this period, and giving character to it, it follows unmistakably that they were not a primitive sect, of which some have spoken, but of which no one knows anything.

[26] See Trench on the Sev. Epist., p. 309.

Existing already in the Ephesian era, we find Nicolaitanism stretching through centuries, and exerting an influence so marked, that it is not possible that history should be entirely silent with reference to it, although not known by this name. The truth is, that it figures largely in all Church annals; and we have only to look at the signification of the name which Christ gives it, and at the characteristic tendencies of the period succeeding the Pagan persecutions, to identify it. We know that it was a thing which started in practice, and afterwards embodied itself in theory, and became a feature of doctrine. We know that it was something which put down the people, superseded them in their rights, and set them aside; for this is the plain import of the name which Christ gives it, and the names which are divinely given are always exactly descriptive of the things or persons that receive them. We also know, from the Scriptures, and from the common representations of all ecclesiastical historians, that the Church was hardly founded until it began to be troubled with the lordly pretensions and doings of arrogant men, in violation of the common priesthood of believers, and settling upon ministers the attributes and prerogatives of a magisterial order, against which Peter, Paul and John were moved to declare their apostolic condemnation, but which grew nevertheless, and presently became fixed upon the Church as part of its essential system. We know that there is to this day a certain teaching, and claim, and practice, in the largest part of the professed Church, according to which a certain order severs itself entirely from the laity, assumes the rights and titles of priesthood, asserts superiority and authority over the rest in spiritual matters, denies the right of any one, whatever his gifts or graces, to teach or preach in the Church who has not been regularly initiated into the mysterious puissance of its own self-constituted circle, and puts forward its creatures, however glaringly deficient in those heavenly gifts which really make the minister, as Christ's only authorized heralds, before whom every one else must be mute and passive, and whose words and administrations every one must receive, on pain of exclusion from the hope of salvation. We also know that this system of priestly clericalism and prelatical hierarchism claims to have come down from the earliest periods of the Church, and traces for itself a regular succession through the Christian centuries, and appeals to patristic practice as its chief basis, vindication and boast. We know that it first came into effective sway in the period immediately succeeding the Pagan persecutions,[27] reaching its fullest embodiment in Popery, and has perpetuated itself in the same, and in Laudism, tractarianism, and high-Churchism, even to our day, and to our very doors. And if we would know what the Lord Jesus thinks of it, we have only to recur to these Epistles, in which He lays His hand right on it, and says: "This thing I hate."

[27] Even Archbishop Cranmer testifies that "the bishops and priests were at one time, and were no two things, but both one office, in the beginning of the Christian religion."—Burnet's Reform, App., Book III.

Contemporaneous with the flowering of Nicolaitanism, was another influential and characterizing feature manifested in the Church, of which the name of Pergamos itself is significant-a certain marriage with worldly power, which the Saviour pronounces adulterous, idolatrous and Balaamitic. Nor can we be in doubt respecting this, any more than the other. Its development is located in the period immediately succeeding the Pagan persecutions, when the Church, according to all historians, sacred and secular, did consent to one of the most marked and marvellous alliances that has occurred in all its history. We know that there was then formed a union between the Church and the empire, which the fall of that empire hardly dissolved, and which has been perpetuated in the union of Church and State, in the greater part of Christendom, down to this very hour. It was an alliance cried up at the time, and by many since, as the realization of the millennium itself, and the great consummating victory of the cross. But Christ here gives His verdict upon it, pronouncing it an idolatrous uncleanness; Israel joining himself to Baal-peor; a fearful and disastrous compromise of Christianity with the world, which disfigured and debauched the Church, and destroyed myriads of souls. Nor can any one dispute the appropriateness of the imagery, or the justness of the sentence. (See also Hebrews 12:6; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15; Revelation 18:3-9)

And by means of Nicolaitanism and affiliation with worldly power, by which all sorts of corrupting elements were taken up, the Church soon put on another phase, the distinguishing features of which are most graphically sketched. "For such Protestant expositors," says Trench, "as see the Papacy in the scarlet woman of Babylon, the Jezebel of Thyatira appears exactly at the right time, coincides with the Papacy at its height, yet at the same time with judgment at the door in the great revolt which was even then preparing."[28] Systematized prelacy, and Balaamism, made the emperor president of the Church Councils and the confirmer of their decrees, brought the community of saints into conjunction with "Satan's throne," and so gave being to that mongrel but mighty thing in which Pagan life was transferred to Christian veins, heathen pomp and ceremony commingled with Christian rites and sacraments, and the professed Bride of Christ transformed into a queenly adulteress, the harlot mother of a harlot household. And in all history there is not another character which so completely represents the Papal system-its character, works and worship-as the unclean wife of Ahab, the Jezebel of these Epistles. She was a heathen, married to a Jew; and such is the character of the Papal system in its main elements-Paganism joined to an obsolete Judaism. She is described as calling herself a prophetess, and as undertaking to be the teacher of God's servants; and Popery claims and professes to be heaven's only infallible teacher of God's truth. She is described as having a set of "works," emphatically "her works," as distinguished from others which are called Christ's "works;" and Popery is a system of works-a religion of ceremonies, penances, fasts, masses, prayers, vigils, abnegations, bodily macerations, purgatory, and supererogatory and meritorious holiness of saints, by which it proposes to save its devotees. She was an adulteress; and Popery, above all, has been characterized by her unclean dealings with the kings and powers of the earth, lending herself to serve their pleasure, to bring them under her sway, and teaching God's people to accept worldly conformity as a means of Christian victory. She was a persecutor and murderess of God's prophets and witnesses; and the Papacy is marked by nothing more than its severity toward such as stood out against its impious pretences, and its public and secret tortures and butcheries of the saints. "For in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth." According to the most credible reading of these Epistles, this Jezebel is represented as the angel's wife; and it is characteristic of Popery to enforce celibacy upon the clergy, holding them to be married to the Church, and hence teaching all her sons and daughters to call them "fathers." This Jezebel is also described as having "children," alike with her unsatisfactory to Christ; and whence but from that unclean source have we those semi-Papal national religious establishments, by which the Church of Jesus is befouled, hindered and disgraced, even in many Protestant countries? We thus obtain from these Epistles Christ's own direct verdict upon Romanism, both in its more offensive features in the old mother, and in its more modified forms in the daughters.

[28] On the Seven Epistles, p. 310.

And so, if we would know how the Reformation stands in the Saviour's estimation, we also find it here. As to the great spiritual leaders in it. His comforting declaration is, that their garments were undefiled; that their names are held in honour; and that they shall walk with Him in white; "for they are worthy." As to the character of the doctrines on which it was based, His command is to remember them, observe them, and watch, as the means of being ready for Him when He comes. And as to the final outcome of the blessed movement, His plain and unmistakable word, on the other side, is, that it was not complete; that its works have not been found perfect in the sight of God; that the new phase of the Church which resulted from it had not the vitality which it professed; and that the things which it had taken in hand to conserve, it did too much neglect and leave to droop and wither. Its agents were pure and noble, its principles were right and true; but its fruits were incomplete, its results were marred, and its achievements fell short of the mark at which it aimed. The Saviour almost names the great-souled men who led in that glorious work, and seems almost to sign with His own hand the Protest of Spire and the Confession of Augsburg, and to reiterate from heaven the great foundation doctrines:

An open Bible man's only law of faith;

Trust in a crucified Saviour man's only justification;
The glorified Jesus the only Lord and Master of the Church.

But the working out of these principles in what followed, He as clearly pronounces defective; and the embodying of them in the life developed upon them, He adjudges to be a thing of "name" more than reality.

Two centuries passed and the Protestant Churches assumed another phase. The times of the Pietists, and the Puritans, and the Methodists came on, and there was a new stir in dead Christendom. Those who had escaped from the dominion of Jezebel began to remember how they had received, and heard, and to observe, and repent, and wake up to a sense of the common brotherhood of man, and especially of believers. Christians began to see and feel that the Gospel is more than orthodoxy, and that living aggressiveness is one of its fundamental features. The era of revivals, and missions, and united efforts for the general conversion of mankind ensued, such as had not been since the primitive ages. Many indeed continued to live on in ease, settled comfortably upon the earth, and but slightly influenced by the new spirit. Great multitudes of false professors, boastful of their claims, and sneering and censorious toward the men of true faith, yet swarmed throughout Christendom. But, upon the whole, there was great revival of life and fraternity among Christians. All this we find depictured in the Sixth Epistle, and verified in the history of the last hundred years. And Christ's estimate of this state of things is also given. The true men of love He declares He loves. As their hearts have been to extend the victories of the cross, He promises them an open door of success which none should be able to shut, notwithstanding the efforts made to silence and hinder them. Because they kept His word in patient waiting on Him and for Him, He promises that they shall be kept out of the sifting trials which He threatens to send upon those dwelling at ease. And as for the rest, they are the "synagogue of Satan," whom He engages to humble at the very feet of His faithful ones.

There is yet one other phase. Shall I say that it is yet future, or that we have already entered it? Here are still some whom Christ loves,-mostly suffering ones, under the rebukes and chastenings of their gracious Lord. But the body of Christendom is quite apostate, with Christ outside, and knocking for admission into his own professed Church. Paul prophesied of the Church that in the last period, men would be mere "lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God, having the form of godliness but denying the power thereof." (2 Timothy 3:1-5.) This is a fearful picture, almost as dark as that which he gave of the heathen world before Christianity touched it. (See Romans 1:26-32.) But it answers precisely to the Saviour's portraiture of the characteristics of the Church in its last phase.

It is Laodicean,--confirmed in everything to the popular judgment and will,--the extreme opposite of Nicolaitane. Instead of a Church of domineering clericals, it is the Church of the domineering mob, in which nothing may be safely preached except what the people are pleased to hear,-in which the teachings of the pulpit are fashioned to the tastes of the pew, and the feelings of the individual override the enactments of legitimate authority.

It is lukewarm,--nothing decided,--partly hot and partly cold,--divided between Christ and the world,--not willing to give up pretension and claim to the heavenly, and yet clinging close to the earthy,--having too much conscience to cast off the name of Christ, and too much love for the world to take a firm and honest stand entirely on His side. There is much religiousness, but very little religion; much sentiment, but very little of life to correspond; much profession, but very little faith; a joining of the ball-room to the communion-table, of the opera with the worship of God, and of the feasting and riot of the world with pretended charity and Christian benevolence.

And it is self-satisfied, boastful, and empty. Having come down to the world's tastes, and gained the world's praise and patronage, the Laodiceans think they are rich, and increased with goods, and have need in nothing. Such splendid churches, and influential and intelligent congregations, and learned, agreeable preachers! Such admirable worship and music! Such excellently manned and endowed institutions! So many missionaries in the field! So much given for magnificent charities! Such an array in all the attributes of greatness and power! What more can be wanted?

And will it answer to say that all this is not largely and characteristically the state of things at this very hour? Can any man scrutinize narrowly the professed Church of our day, and say that we have not reached the Laodicean age? Is it not the voice of this Christendom of ours which says: "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need in nothing?" And is it not equally the fact that this selfsame Christendom of ours is "the wretched, and the pitiable, and poor, and blind, and naked?" Did the "Mene, mene, tekel upharsin" of Belshazzar's palace better fit the ancient heathen than this modern Christian Babylon? Men talk of it as destined to glorious triumph. They proclaim it commissioned of God to convert the world. They point to its onward march as about to take speedy possession of the race for Christ and heaven. But "The Amen" hath spoken. "The faithful and true Witness" hath given His word: "I am about to spue it out of my mouth."

Friends and brethren, I have not made these pictures; I have found them; and the sevenfold admonition of Almighty God with reference to them is:

"He that hath an ear, let him hear." You have listened to my statements; have you taken in their truths? If there is any just apprehension of Holy Scriptures in them, these seven Epistles stand out in transcendent interest and value, as they do in the urgency with which they are pressed upon our attention. They are Christ's own history of His Church. They are Christ's own criticisms upon all its characteristic features and doings for nearly two thousand years. They are Christ's own verdict upon all the great questions which have agitated it, and upon all the great influences and tendencies, from within and from without, which have affected its character or destiny in every period of its career. The touches are few, but the marks of their divinity are in them. They are comprehensive, true, and unmistakable to Him who will rightly approach and fairly deal with them.

And if these Epistles really are what I have represented them to be, then we have in them what Christians have so much felt the want of, namely, an authoritative settlement of the great questions between us and prelatists, papists, state-churchists, and false pretenders, errorists and radicals of many sorts. Then also we have in them a final settlement of the question whether the Church, or the returned Saviour, is to carry redemption into successful effect upon earth's depraved and rebellious peoples,-whether there is to be a millennium of peace and universal righteousness wrought by present instrumentalities or not,--whether the tendency of Christendom is toward improvement and perfection, or, like everything else with which fallen man has to do, earthward, deathward, and hellward,-and whether or not the true flock of God is ever to be anything else in this dispensation than a feeble, depressed, and hated minority. All these questions, and many more alike interesting, important, and vital, are put beyond all reasonable disputation in these Epistles if the doctrine of their proper prophetic aspect is to be maintained. And I submit it to you, as you shall answer before the bar of God, whether the truthfulness of this acceptation of them has not been credibly and conclusively made out. The key exactly fits the lock, the impression answers to the stamp, the cast bears the precise outlines of the mould; and it would seem to me like trifling with the truth not to admit that, in the mind of Jesus, they belong together. Let us see to it, then, that we hear as the text commands, and learn to view the Church's errors, corruptions, mistakes, and sins, as Christ views them; to love what He loves, to hate what He hates, and to hope only as He has given us authority to hope. And to this may Almighty God grant us His helping grace! Amen.

Help, mighty God!

The strong man bows himself,

The good and wise are few,

The standard-bearers faint,

The enemy prevails.

Help, God of might,
In this thy Church's night!

Help, mighty God!

The world is waxing gray,

And charity grows chill,

And faith is at its ebb,

And hope is withering!

Help, God of might,
Appear in glory bright!

Bibliographical Information
Seiss, Joseph A. "Commentary on Revelation 3". Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and Revelation.