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EPISTLE TO SARDIS
Revelation 3:1. And unto 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.
IF we thought, as some do, that the epistles to the different Churches in Asia were descriptive of the state of the Church, in successive periods of time, to the end of the world, we should be ready to fix on this epistle, above all others, as characterizing the present time. There is much profession of religion in the world, and somewhat of the reality; but very many, who “have the form of godliness, are either wholly destitute of its power,” or so inanimate as to excite suspicions that they are “dead.” Without intending to say that any such parallel was designed of God (for I conceive that all the epistles were merely descriptive of the several Churches at the time they were written), I yet feel no doubt, but that, so far as the circumstances of any particular Church at this day accord with those of any Asiatic Church, what is spoken to that Asiatic Church may well be applied to us at this time. I therefore avail myself of this to point out to you,
The reproof given to the Church of Sardis—
Our blessed Lord, in this, as in all the other epistles, assumes to himself such titles and attributes as are peculiarly suited to the subject-matter of the epistle itself. He was about to declare the real state of the Church at Sardis to be very different from that which was generally supposed: we therefore here find,
His qualifications for exercising judgment—
[He has in himself all the fulness of the Spirit. This is intimated in that expression, “He hath the seven Spirits of God.” The number, seven, denotes both variety and perfection: and he has, both for his own personal endowment and for the benefit of his people, the Holy Spirit in all his diversified powers and operations. As Messiah, it was foretold of him, that “he should be anointed with the oil of joy and gladness above his fellows [Note: Psalms 45:7.];” that is, above all, whether in earth or heaven, who should partake of this divine unction. It was said, “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord, and shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord [Note: Isaiah 11:2-3.].” So endowed, he was able to discern every motion of men’s hearts: not the slightest “imagination of a thought” could escape his notice: “every spirit could be weighed by him” in a perfect balance; and his “judgment could not but be according to truth.” Hence it is expressly said of him, that “all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do [Note: Hebrews 4:13.].” At the same time, “he holdeth the seven stars in his hand;” and observes whether they move with perfect regularity in their respective orbits, and reflect with unclouded splendour, for the benefit of the world, the light which they derive from him. He has formed them for his own glory; and he expects that they exist and move for no other end.
But, from the closest inspection of them, he gives this as,]
His testimony respecting that degenerate Church—
[“Thou hast a name that thou livest, and (but) art dead.” The Church of Sardis was held in repute by the other neighbouring Churches to which the different epistles were written: but they were really in a very degenerate state; many of them being yet altogether “dead in trespasses and sins;” and those who had a spark of life within them, being so cold, as to be to all appearance “dead.” What were the precise points in which they failed, we are not informed. It does not appear that there was any flagrant violation of God’s law among them, or any toleration of principles that were fundamentally erroneous; for then they would have been condemned on these accounts, as the other Churches had been: but, while they were externally blameless, he “found,” and testified, that their inward state was lamentably defective. Of this he complained; and,]
From his complaint, I will take occasion to shew,
How far it is applicable to the Christian Church at this day—
There is doubtless a great profession of religion at the present day—
[Religion, in some respects, has of late become, I had almost said, the fashion of the day. The leading doctrines of Christianity, such as our fall in Adam and our recovery by Christ, are so generally acknowledged now, that, if they were kept out of sight in the degree in which they were withheld from public notice through the seventeenth and the greater part of the eighteenth century, there would be a general complaint against those ministers who so treacherously withheld from men the bread of life. Mere morality would not satisfy men now, as it did through that unhappy period, when the extravagances of those who had professed a more than ordinary zeal for the Gospel had driven men to a contrary extreme, and led them almost to expel the Gospel from their public ministrations. A concern to propagate the Gospel has arisen of late, and pervaded all ranks and orders of men. Even kings upon their thrones have used their influence to send the light of divine truth to the remotest nations of the earth, where not a ray of it had ever shone before. Nobles have also lent their influence, and even personally stood forth to advocate the cause of Christ before men: and vast assemblies of persons, who could find no other common ground to stand upon, have met, to advance the diffusion of divine knowledge, and to help forward, in every possible way, the salvation of the world. Societies have been formed, by every class of Christians, for the furtherance of this good work; and even the poorest in the land have gladly contributed their aid, that, through the collective efforts of the Christian world, ignorance might be banished from the earth, and that the light of the Gospel might shine into the hearts of the most benighted heathen. In this view, it may well be said of the great mass of the Christian community, that “they have a name to live.”]
But, though a profession of religion is general, the actual possession of it is rare—
[The greater part of these very persons, it is to be feared, whilst “they have a name to live, are dead.” Many have patronized the spread of the Bible, and promoted the reading of it by others, who yet have never had it written in their own hearts; and many have advocated its leading truths, who have never experienced them in their own souls. Many have spoken well about repentance, and faith, and obedience, as to be inculcated on others, who have never wept for their own sins; never fled to Christ for refuge from the wrath of God; never yielded up themselves as living sacrifices to God, to be employed, and, if need be, to be consumed for him. And thousands have given liberally to God the pittance they could ill afford, who yet have never given to him their hearts, which alone is the gift that is acceptable to him. Yes, indeed, it is to be feared that the great mass of those who applaud themselves, and are applauded by others, as zealous for the truth, have never so much as had the first principles of the Gospel formed within them. They are still, in all other respects, the very same men that they were before they became thus active, and the same as other persons are who have never once concurred in any one of their benevolent pursuits.
Respecting some we may “hope better things.” But even where there is some spiritual life, it is but a spark, which is scarcely seen under the embers by which it is obscured. The frame of the generality is by no means such as the Christian life requires. How little is there of real spirituality of mind, real delight in God, real devotedness of heart to his service! Where the souls of men are in a right state, a divine savour diffuses itself all around them, and they shine as lights in a dark world. But, if you look at those who appear so zealous for the diffusion of the Gospel amongst others, how few do you find of this character! Truly the state of the Sardian Church is realized to an awful extent amongst us: insomuch, that it may well be said of us, as it was of them, “Ye have a name that ye live, but are dead.”]
Let me then, in conclusion, urge upon you two important duties,
Examine into the real state of your souls before God—
[Be not satisfied with good appearances, or with the good opinion which others have formed respecting you. To what purpose will it be to “have a name to live, when the heart-searching God attests that ye are dead?” It is by his judgment, and not by that of men, that ye will stand or fall: and therefore you must rest in no state which does not approve itself to the heart-searching God. “Examine, then, whether ye be in the faith, and prove your own selves:” for, “not he that commendeth himself will be approved, but he whom the Lord commendeth.”]
Look to the Lord Jesus Christ for the effectual aid of his Spirit—
[The Lord Jesus has received the Holy Spirit, in order that he may give it [Note: Compare Psalms 68:18. with Ephesians 4:8.]; and in him is a sufficiency for all your necessities. You cannot conceive of any want that there is in you, but there is a corresponding fulness in him. Look, then, to Christ for the sevenfold gifts of his Spirit: so shall your future course be bright and regular, and God himself shall be glorified in your deportment.]
EPISTLE TO SARDIS
Revelation 3:2. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
THESE words reflect the true light upon those which precede them. Our Lord did not intend to say that the Christians at Sardis were wholly destitute of life, but that they were in a state bordering upon it; none of their works approving them as perfect, either as to their number or their “intrinsic worth [Note: οὐ πεπληρωμένα.];” on the contrary, every thing which they did was sadly defective, and the “things which remained in them were ready to die.”
In the foregoing discourse, we traced somewhat of the resemblance which there is between the Church at Sardis and that which exists amongst us at this day. And in the counsel which our Lord gave to them we may undoubtedly find much that is applicable to ourselves. Let us, then, proceed to consider,
The state here described—
It is here acknowledged, that they did some works, though not in a perfect way; and that there were some good things remaining in them, though they were in so feeble a state that they were ready to die. Now, that we may be able to form a correct estimate of our own state, I will endeavour to shew, when the same kind of declension has taken place in us. We may discover it as having already taken place,
When our graces languish—
[The exercise of our graces is a sure test of the reality and degree of our spiritual life. We may form a judgment by examining them.
Let us examine our faith.—The office of faith is, to realize invisible things: and when it is in vigorous exercise, “it is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen [Note: Hebrews 11:1.].” Then earth and heaven appear in their true colours; and the things of time and sense are lighter in our estimation than vanity itself, in comparison of those things which are invisible and eternal. Under the influence of this grace, both the promises and threatenings of God are regarded as no less certain than if they were already accomplished before our eyes; and the soul is stimulated by them to an active pursuit of its chief good. But let a man decline in his apprehension of invisible things, how clearly will the effect be seen in his whole deportment! The truths of God’s word, which were once so powerful, will lose their efficacy: the diligence which was once so constant and exemplary will be relaxed: and the man who was once so lively will become almost as one dead.
Let us examine also our hope.—As faith sees the reality, hope anticipates the enjoyment, of heavenly things: and when it is lively, it is an anchor of the soul, which keeps us steadfast, in the midst of all the storms and tempests with which we can be assailed. But oftentimes this is suffered to decline: and then the future prospects are less valued: and earthly things rise proportionably in importance. Then we are discouraged by any difficulties which we are called to contend with; and we lose our enjoyment of those things which formerly constituted our supreme felicity.
Let us further examine also our love.—Love is as wings to a believing soul: it carries us forward with ardour and delight. So greatly does it expand our views of duty, that it makes us dissatisfied with all we do, and urges us to the utmost exertions of which we are capable. But when love decays, we lose all our fervour in holy exercises: duties become a task and a burthen; and they are performed with less frequency and spirituality of mind. Then the hidings of God’s face, which once would have filled us with the deepest distress, are endured without much concern; and, whilst we feel indifferent about his return to our souls, we lose all our solicitude to please and honour him.
Now, I ask, what can indicate the dying state of a soul, if such a decay of our graces do not? Can any one doubt, but that a person who has so degenerated from a life of real godliness is fallen into the very state of those at Sardis?]
When our corruptions increase—
[Graces and corruptions are as the scales of a balance: whichever preponderate, the other kicks the beam. If, then, the decay of our graces manifest a decline in the divine life, so does the growth of our corruptions. Let us examine, therefore, respecting these.
The growth of these, and the consequent decay of the divine life, is manifest, when our besetting sin resumes its former ascendency.—The effect of grace is to mortify our besetting sin. But that sin is rarely, if ever, so extinguished, but it continues, more or less, to harass and defile the soul: and it is sure to return when once we begin to decline from the ways of God; and by that, as much as by any thing, will our declension be discovered. It matters not what that besetting sin is, whether pride, or covetousness, or lust, or anger, or whatever else; if it regain its power over us, we may be sure that it goes ill with our souls.
The same decay is manifest, if the natural hardness and obduracy of our heart return.—Divine grace brings a tenderness of spirit, which shews itself very especially in a way of humiliation and contrition. On the other hand, the effect of sin is to blind the eyes and harden the heart. Now, if we find less sensibility in reference to sin, less aversion to commit it, or less compunction after the commission of it—if, I say, conscience be less active and powerful in the discharge of its office in relation to these things—there can be no doubt that at least a great torpor is come upon us, if we be not actually dead.
I add once more, that this decay is peculiarly manifest, if we are unwilling to be reclaimed.—A heart duly impressed with heavenly things desires the light: it longs for every instruction, whereby it may correct what is amiss, and prosecute with more success its way heavenward. But if a person be so fallen as to feel averse to instruction; if he hate to be told of his faults, and take offence at his monitor for his fidelity; if he palliate and excuse his errors; if he turn from the light, and go to company and worldly occupation in order to stifle his convictions and shake off his uneasiness; truly he is in a Sardian state indeed: for this is the worst symptom that a living soul can possibly experience.]
Now then, brethren, if you have obtained any insight into the condition of your own souls, listen, I pray you, to
Our Lord’s counsel to persons in such a state—
None can need advice for their bodies more than such persons do for their souls. In the Lord’s name, therefore, I say to you,
[Be watchful against self-deception.—There are many things which may hide our condition from us. We may easily mistake our gifts for graces; and may ascribe to the special operation of the Spirit of God what is the result only of natural principles. There have been many amiable traits in the characters of heathens, which yet were widely different from the graces of the Spirit, and which consequently were no proofs that the persons exercising those virtues were children of God. We must therefore be peculiarly on our guard againt this source of self-delusion. We may also be less sensible of decay, because it has come gradually upon us. And the heart itself will suggest many plausible excuses, in order to hide from us our real state: but we must remember that, though we may impose on ourselves and others, we can not impose on God. And to this effect St. Paul cautions us; “Be not deceived: God is not mocked.”
I must say, too, Guard against the occasions of sin. A man of God must, as far as will consist with his duties in social life, flee from contagion, lest he be infected by the evils which prevail around him. Worldly business, worldly pleasure, worldly company, will, if not very carefully watched, draw the soul from God. Too unrestrained an use, even of lawful things, will damp our ardour in our heavenly course. There is not any thing of which we have not occasion to be jealous, lest it draw our souls from God, or interfere with our progress in the divine life. Especially must we be on our guard against a neglect of secret duties, or formality in the performance of them. No wonder our spirituality decays, if we be inattentive to the frame of our souls, or unwatchful against the very first symptoms of declension.]
“Strengthen the things that remain”—
[Doubtless it is the Lord Jesus Christ alone who can impart to you the strength you need: for “He has the seven Spirits of God;” and from him must you derive such “supplies of his Spirit” as your daily necessities require. All human endeavours without him will be in vain. Yet must you exert yourselves to the uttermost, and “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” As bodily strength improves by exercise, so does the strength of the soul: and in proportion as you “stir up the gift of God that is in you,” your graces of faith and hope and love will be increased. If with all diligence you labour to add grace to grace, you are assured that “you shall never fall, but so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Peter 1:10-11.].” In order to stimulate your soul to such exertions, lay home upon your minds all the most forcible considerations which either your knowledge or experience can suggest. Think how painful it is to lose our spirituality of mind, and our sense of the Divine presence: consider how dishonourable it is to God, and how dangerous to our own souls. Supposing we be recovered from such a state, who can tell by what fearful chastisements the recovery may be effected? And who can tell, whether, instead of ever restoring us to his favour, God may not come, in righteous indignation, to execute upon us his threatened vengeance, and exclude us for ever, like the foolish and unwatchful virgins, from his presence? Supposing then, that, notwithstanding our declensions, there be some good thing remaining in us, let us “strengthen it” by every possible means, if peradventure our backslidings may ultimately be healed, and we may attain at last a preparation of heart to meet our God.]
Those who have no marks of life in them—
[If they who are in a declining state be in great danger because of their declensions, what, think you, must be your danger, in whom not even “the root of the matter” can be found? You may say, perhaps, ‘I make no pretensious to religion, and therefore cannot be chargeable with a departure from it.’ But I answer, This very acknowledgment involves in it a greater measure of guilt, than one would suppose any human being capable of contracting. We may suppose a creature to rebel against his Creator: we may even suppose a redeemed sinner to trample under foot the blood of his Redeemer, and to live altogether as “without God in the world.” But that any man should glory in such a state, and make the acknowledgment of it a ground of self-vindication, this does really surpass any thing which we should imagine even Satan himself to be capable of committing. But to every one who so proclaims his own impiety, I must say, “Out of thine own mouth God will judge thee, thou wicked servant.” Thou hast said to God, “Depart from me, I desire not the knowledge of thy ways:” and He will say to thee, “Depart from me, I never knew thee, thou worker of iniquity;” “depart, accursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Keep on then, if ye will, and dream that no evil shall come upon you: but know, of a surety, that “your judgment lingereth not, and your damnation slumbereth not [Note: 2 Peter 2:3.].”]
Those who are “walking with God, as dear children”—
[We are told of “some at Sardis that had not defiled their garments:” and, I trust, there are some of that happy character amongst you. But, when I consider how awfully the great mass of the Sardian Church declined from God, I cannot but be “jealous over you with a godly jealousy, lest Satan by any means prevail” to impede your progress in the divine life [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:2-3.]. I would have you, even to your latest hour, to guard against pride and self-confidence, and to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” When you are weak, then it is that you are really strong.” If you would be perfect, you must look to the Saviour to “perfect that which concerneth you.” You must go on in a simple dependence on his power and grace; and commit yourselves to Him [Note: 1 Peter 4:19.], of whom it is said, “He is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy: to whom be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen [Note: Jude, ver. 24, 25.].”]
EPISTLE TO SARDIS
Revelation 3:3. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shall not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.
IN the Church of God, there must, of necessity, be a great diversity of characters: and the office of a minister is, to make a just discrimination between them, and, like a steward in a great family, to give to every one of them his portion in due season. But to divide rightly the word of truth is no easy matter: it requires much knowledge, much discernment, and much fidelity. The pattern to be followed, is that which is set before us in the epistles to the seven Churches of Asia. In this epistle to the Church of Sardis, one-half is occupied with reproof. In the two preceding verses we have been led to assume the same tone as is there adopted: and we are constrained to continue it in the present discourse; wherein I shall have occasion to notice,
The state of a soul that is backslidden from God—
We shall confine our observations to the point especially referred to in our text; namely, the state of the soul in reference to divine ordinances.
A soul truly alive to God finds great delight in divine ordinances—
[They are regarded as God’s appointed means of conferring his benefits upon the soul. The word is heard, not as the word of man, but as the word of God himself, speaking individually to the person’s own soul. “It is received with meekness as an engrafted word, able to save the soul.” The person, before he goes up to the house of God, implores the presence of God there; and begs that the word may not only be suited to his necessities, but may “come to him in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” Whilst he is hearing the word, he begs of God so to apply it to him, that it may prove “the power of God to his everlasting salvation.” After he has heard the word, he endeavours to harrow it in, and water it, with meditation and prayer; and implores help from God, that he may be enabled to carry into effect every lesson he has received.]
But to one who is in a backslidden state, the ordinances have lost a great measure of their interest—
[They are still attended, lest his declension should be made evident to common observation: but there is not that delight in them which was once experienced, nor that earnest expectation of good from them. The truths that are delivered fall upon a hard and rocky heart, from which Satan easily removes them, even as birds catch up the seed that falls by the way-side. The word is heard either with critical fastidiousness or with cold indifference; and produces neither self-abasement on account of sin, nor elevation of soul on account of the mercy that is there revealed. It is possible that such persons may yet take some pleasure in the ministration of the word, on account of the eloquence of him by whom it is dispensed: but whilst, with Ezekiel’s hearers, “they listen as to one who plays well upon an instrument,” like them they are proof against every admonition which is delivered. Even the strongest declarations of divine truth fail to make any lasting impression on their minds, or to effect any abiding change within them.]
Attend then, I pray you, whilst I declare to you,
The duty of one who is in such a state—
“Remember” whence you are fallen—
[Look back, and see how great a change has taken place upon you. Call to mind the delight you once felt in divine ordinances, and the benefit you derived from them; and compare with those seasons your present coldness and insensibility. What reason can you assign for this melancholy change? Are not the truths as important as ever? and ought they not to be equally influential on your souls? — — —]
“Hold fast” whatever there is of good impression on your minds—
[The truths ye received are yet abiding with you: let them, then, be retained with care and steadfastness: for, if ye let them go, ye have no other anchor for your souls, no other refuge from the wrath of God. I would fondly hope, too, that there are yet within you some good desires, some holy purposes and resolutions: I charge you then, “Hold them also fast:” and beg of God, that, through the influence of his Holy Spirit, you may be enabled to carry them into full effect — — —]
“Repent” also of these shameful, these dangerous declensions—
[Think not that gross outward transgressions alone call for penitence: the inward frame of a man’s soul is as hateful to God in those who profess godliness, as the more flagrant acts of wickedness are in one who makes no profession. Think of the ingratitude which such a declension betrays: Is it for this that God has quickened you from the dead, and revealed his Son in you, and given you such an experience of his power and grace? Is this the return which he has a right to expect? Think, too, of the folly of such a conduct. Do you hope for the pardon of your sins, and peace with God, and glory in a better world? and are you wise in casting it all away, or in endangering the loss of it by departing from God? I tell you, that the deepest penitence becomes you. Yes, “be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into heaviness; and humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, if peradventure, in the multitude of his tender mercies, he may lift you up.”]
And, that you may comply with these exhortations, consider,
The extreme urgency of this duty—
Your Lord threatens to “come upon you as a thief in the night,” to visit upon you your inexcusable neglect.
This you have but too great reason to expect—
[Many in your state comfort themselves with the hope that God will not proceed against them; but that in consideration of what he has already done for their souls, he will, by some special act of his grace, restore them to his favour. They will say, “Where God has begun a good work, he will carry it on, and perfect it till the day of Christ:” and “whomsoever he loves, he will love unto the end.”But will any man take occasion, from such passages as these, to comfort himself while at a distance from God, and to delay his return to God? Will any man “continue thus in sin that grace may abound?” A more damning sin than this it is scarcely possible for him to commit. Brethren, if there be one amongst you disposed to abuse in this manner the grace of the Gospel, let him know that he is as nigh to hell as a man can well be, and that it will be a miracle of mercy if he be not in hell before the light of another day: for our Lord’s express declaration is, that “He will come upon him as a thief in the night, and not let him know what hour he will come upon him.” And this is agreeable to what all the inspired writers have taught. Hear the Prophet Hosea: “Woe unto them! for they have fled from me: destruction unto them! because they have transgressed against me [Note: Hosea 7:13-14.].” Israel hath cast off the thing that is good: the enemy shall pursue him [Note: Hosea 8:3.].” Hear our blessed Lord: “Watch; for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the good man of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh. And if he find any servant unwatchful, the Lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth [Note: Matthew 24:42-44; Matthew 24:50-51.].” To the same effect speaks St. Paul also [Note: 1Th 5:2-3; 1 Thessalonians 5:6.]—. And in the epistles before us the same menace is used again and again [Note: Revelation 2:5; Revelation 3:11.]. Know, therefore, and be assured, that in perverting the truths of Scripture you do but aggravate and ensure your eternal condemnation.]
Awake then, brethren, to your duty, ere it be too late—
[To have “a form of godliness, whilst you are destitute of its power,” is only to deceive your own souls. Look back, and see how you received the word at first; and get back to that childlike spirit which ye then manifested. Your brokenness of heart should be increased rather than diminished; and your tenderness of conscience should be found in full activity. To turn back from these holy ways is to “turn back unto perdition.” May God Almighty spare you yet a little longer, till you have recovered from your declension, and are returned to Christ as the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls! Let this be well settled in your minds, that the only way to ensure the not being taken unprepared, is to watch for the coming of your Lord, with loins ever girt, and your lamp ever trimmed.]
Those who are so far backslidden as to be insensible to their state—
[This, alas! is no uncommon state: for the necessary effect of sin is, to grieve the Spirit of God, and to harden the heart of man. But if God should not cut you off suddenly, though it is greatly to be feared that he will, tell me what you will think of your present state, when you shall be lying on your bed, in the near approach of death and judgment? Let me tell you, that every hour you neglect to turn unto your God, you are filling your dying pillow with thorns, and, alas! are “treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath.” God has indeed said, that “the backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways [Note: Proverbs 14:14.]:” and this may be your unhappy state, in a dying hour: you may be then cherishing the same delusions which you harbour now, and be even more hardened than you are at the present moment. But at the bar of judgment, if not before, you will surely know, “that it is an evil and bitter thing to depart from God.”]
Those who are ashamed and confounded on account of their declensions—
[To you I would speak in a way of encouragement. God himself, as it were, feels for you, and is averse to execute upon you the judgments you deserve. Hear how he speaks concerning you: “My people are bent to backsliding from me. Though they called them unto the Most High, none at all would exalt him. How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee up, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? Mine heart is turned within me; my repentings are kindled together: I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger [Note: Hosea 11:7-9.].” Nor is Jehovah merely thus tenderly concerned for you: he bids you return to him; and puts into your mouth words for that very purpose, even words to which he will return an answer of peace: “Take with you words, and turn unto the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously, so will we render the calves of our lips.” Then he adds, “I will heal their backslidings, and love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him [Note: Hosea 14:1-2; Hosea 14:4.].” The same gracious overtures he makes through the Prophet Jeremiah [Note: Jeremiah 3:12; Jeremiah 3:22.]—; and the whole of his dealings with his people fully attest his readiness to fulfil these promises in their utmost extent. Then continue not at a distance from him; but avail yourselves of his gracious invitations; so, at whatever hour he shall come, you shall be found ready, and “enter for ever into the joy of your Lord.”]
EPISTLE TO SARDIS
Revelation 3:4-6. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.
IN all the preceding part of this epistle, we have been necessitated to dwell almost exclusively on matters calling for reproof. It is with pleasure that we now turn to a subject of commendation. There were, even in the degenerate Church at Sardis, some who walked worthy of their heavenly calling, and were therefore honoured with peculiar marks of the Divine favour: and we shall find it profitable to consider,
Under two distinct images this is set forth. We notice,
[“They kept their garments undefiled,” in the midst of an ensnaring and polluted world. It was no little honour to them, to receive from the heart-searching God such a testimony as this. The world, in all its parts, has a tendency to defile the soul. Its maxims and habits are all contrary to the mind of God: and all its votaries carry with them a contagion which spreads itself with fatal effect wherever they come. Now, to walk in the midst of such a world is dangerous in the extreme; and few can do it without contracting much defilement to their souls. But there were “a few in Sardis” who did so. Though in the world, they were not of the world; but, notwithstanding the intercourse which from time to time they had maintained with the world, they had been “delivered from the evil of it.” They had not been drawn aside by “the lust of the flesh, or the lust of the eye, or the pride of life [Note: 1 John 2:15-16.];” but had “walked holily, and justly, and unblameably, in the whole tenour of their conversation [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:10.].” We are not to suppose that they were so perfect, that never a spot of sin was contracted by them; for “in many things we all offend [Note: James 3:2.];” and “there is not a just man on earth that liveth and sinneth not [Note: 1 Kings 8:46.]:” but in the habit, both of their minds and lives, they were “blameless and harmless, as sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, shining among them as lights in the world [Note: Philippians 2:15.].”]
[In process of time “they overcame;” as indeed all shall eventually do, if only they “walk with God,” and “keep themselves unspotted from the world.” They cannot hope to differ so widely from all the maxims and habits of the world, and yet experience no opposition from those whom they so condemn. “If they will live godly in Christ Jesus, they must suffer persecution [Note: 2 Timothy 3:12.].” But they were alike superior to the terrors and the allurements of the world; being neither deterred from duty by the one, nor allured to any evil by the other. They fought manfully against all. the enemies of their salvation; and never ceased to fight, till all their enemies, and “Satan himself at their head, were bruised under their feet.”
True, they were but few in number; but they were not discouraged by this: they would “not follow a multitude to do evil.” It was no question with them, whether others acted agreeably to God’s commands: the question was, What has God required? and, having once ascertained that, they could not be prevailed upon, by any consideration whatever, to decline the path of duty, or to violate any obligation that lay upon them. They knew it to be their duty to “shine as lights in the world;” and they endeavoured “so to make their light shine, that all who beheld them should be constrained to glorify their Father who was in heaven.”]
In exact accordance with their conduct is,
The coincidence between their conduct and the reward assigned them is remarkable: they had so walked as to “keep their garments clean,” and to honour their Lord before men; and they shall henceforth “walk with their Lord in white,” and “be honoured by him in the presence of his Father and his holy angels.”
Here, you will observe, are promised to them,
The full fruition of all the objects they sought—
[They were, as indeed all true believers are, “a holy priesthood” to the Lord. To him they offered the sacrifices of prayer and praise continually; yea, they yielded up themselves as living sacrifices to the Lord. For God also they maintained a contest against the world and the flesh and the devil; and they approved themselves in all things as “good soldiers of Jesus Christ.” Now, the priests were clad in white; as was even the high-priest himself, when he went within the vail. And conquerors, too, when they went in triumphant procession, were also robed in white. Now, says our blessed Lord, ye, in both capacities, shall have your wishes fully accomplished; for in every respect ye are worthy of the honour which I am about to confer upon you. In both the foregoing respects I have preceded you: I offered myself a sacrifice to God; and am now within the vail, enjoying the nearest possible access to him. I also fought and overcame, and am enjoying all the fruits of victory at the right hand of God. To me therefore shall ye, who have followed me in these respects, be for ever assimilated, and with me shall be partakers of all my blessedness. With me ye walked in this world: with me shall ye walk in the world above. With me ye walked so warily as to keep your garments undefiled: and with me shall ye walk in white for ever, beyond the possibility of ever contracting defilement; having a far nearer access to God than ever ye could attain on earth; and crowned with glory, far beyond all that in your earthly state it was possible for you to enjoy. I regard you as “worthy” of this honour; not indeed on account of any merit that there was even in your best services, but as possessing a meetness for it. Your whole life was a state of preparation for this honour; and I proclaim you both meet for it, and worthy of it.]
The public approbation of the Lord whom they served—
[For the Lord’s sake they had given up their names to reproach, so that their enemies, and even their friends and relatives, had been ready to blot out their names from any book where they might be had in remembrance. To such a degree had they been despised, that “they were counted as the very filth of the world, and the off-scouring of all things [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:13.].” To these things had they meekly submitted, even to their dying hour, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for their Lord’s sake [Note: Acts 5:41.].” In return for these services, the Lord promises them, “I will not blot out your names from the book of life: on the contrary, I will confess your names before my Father and His holy angels;” I will proclaim you as faithful servants; I will acknowledge you as beloved friends; I will honour you in the presence of the whole assembled universe, as partakers of my throne, and as heirs of my glory. Your work shall be seen in your reward; and your reward shall bear proportion to your work.]
And now “let him that hath an ear, hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.” Hear,
Ye who complain of piety as needless preciseness—
[Suppose you saw a man clothed in white garments, and walking in the midst of dirty and crowded streets; and were told, that the man’s life depended on his keeping his garments clean from the morning even unto night: would you wonder that he was circumspect, and on his guard against coming in contact with that which would defile him? Would you wonder that he endeavoured so to take every step, that he might ultimately attain his end, and approve himself to the person that should inspect his garments at the close of the day? What mean ye then by condemning the Christian for his holy walk, and by deriding it as needless preciseness? That it differs from those around him, I grant: and I think ye will clearly see, how much the walk of these favoured “few at Sardis” must have differed from that of those, who “had a name to live, but were dead.” I tell you, brethren, it must be so: and every one of you, who will be approved of the Lord in the last day, must “have the mind which was in Christ Jesus,” and “walk even as he walked” — — —]
Ye who dare to be singular in an ungodly world—
[Amidst the Church of Sardis there were “a few,” and only a few, who walked acceptably to God. But was this their fault? All the others should have resembled them: and if they would not, it was to the honour of that little band that they dared to be singular. But let me not be misunderstood. I am not recommending singularity in matters of indifference: no: such affectation I greatly disapprove: but, in things which are of importance to the welfare of the soul, we should know no example but that of Christ and his Apostles, nor any rule but the written word of God: and if others will not walk with us in this way, and agreeably to this rule, we must say, with Joshua, “Whatever the whole world may do, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord [Note: Joshua 24:15.].” Go on, brethren, even though ye be like Noah in the antediluvian world, or like Lot in Sodom. If others be careless of their walk, “keep ye your garments clean.” And if others be offended at your singularity, and “cast out your name as evil on account of it,” let it suffice to know, that “your names are written in heaven;” and that, when your adversaries shall be disclaimed by God as unworthy of the least mercy, ye shall be approved, as worthy of all the honour and blessedness that your God and Saviour can confer upon you.]
EPISTLE TO PHILADELPHIA
Revelation 3:7-8. To the angel of the Church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works.
THOSE who imagine that the letters to the seveu Churches refer, in a prophetic way, to different periods of the Church, consider this as descriptive of the Millennial age. It is true, there is in this epistle nothing brought forward as matter of reprehension; nor is there any threatening contained in it; but it is very far from answering to that elevation of piety which the whole Scriptures teach us to expect in that day. The particulars addressed to this Church will be considered in our next discourse: at present, we confine our attention to the introductory part of it; in which, as in all the other epistles, we notice the description which our blessed Lord gives of his own character. The attributes ascribed to him are,
Essential, and personal—
He is here spoken of as “He that is holy, and He that is true.” Now, as man, he answered to this character: for he gave to his bitterest enemies this challenge, “Which of you convinceth me of sin [Note: John 8:46.].” And when they had sought by all possible means to find a flaw in him, they were constrained to acknowledge that “they could find in him no fault at all [Note: John 18:38; John 19:4-6.]?” And, so far as truth is concerned, no person was able to controvert or contradict one word he ever spake: he was in all things, and on all occasions, “the True and Faithful Witness [Note: ver. 14.].” But He is not merely holy and true, as all his servants are: no; he is the Holy One, who is truth itself, even “God over all,” essentially and immutably possessing these attributes in all their fulness. He may, in a sense inapplicable to any created being, be designated,
“He that is holy”—
[Holiness is an essential attribute of the Deity. The angels around his throne celebrate this perfection, saying, “Holy, Holy Holy, is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory [Note: Isaiah 6:3.].” Indeed, in a more especial manner is this attribute acknowledged; since, in a peculiar and pre-eminent degree, he is distinguished by it: “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, amongst the gods? Who is like unto thee, glorious in holiness [Note: Exodus 15:11.]?” The very name, “The Holy One,” and, “The Holy One of Israel,” is that by which Jehovah is most commonly designated. And it is so identified with Deity, as to be incommunicable to any creature whatever: “Thus saith the Lord thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the Lord thy God [Note: Isaiah 48:17.].” Yet is this the name by which Christ, the great Bridegroom of the Church is called: “Thy Maker is thine Husband; the Lord of Hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth shall he be called [Note: Isaiah 54:5.].” To him is this name expressly applied, both in citations from the Old Testament, and in direct affirmations by the inspired Apostles. St. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, declares, that in the resurrection of Jesus that Scripture was fulfilled, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption [Note: Acts 2:27. with Psalms 16:10.].” And in his very next address to the Jews, he charges home upon them their sin in these words: “Ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you, and killed the Prince of Life [Note: Acts 3:14-15.].” It is remarkable, that even the devils were constrained to acknowledge Jesus under this character: “Art thou come to destroy us? I know thee, who thou art, the Holy One of God [Note: Luke 4:33-34.]”
To him, in like manner, may be applied the name,]
“He that is true”—
[Truth is also an attribute of the Deity. Moses says of him, “A God of truth, and without iniquity; just and right is He.” He is a “God that cannot lie [Note: Titus 1:2.].” So of Jesus is this same perfection predicated, as constituting an essential and immutable part of his character: “God has given us an undestanding, that we may know Him that is true; and we are in Him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ: this is the True God, and Eternal Life [Note: 1 John 5:20.].”
It must be remembered, that in several parts of the description given of Jesus, in these different epistles, his Divine character is particularly marked. “He who was dead, and is alive again,” is expressly called, “The First and the Last [Note: Revelation 2:8.];” which cannot possibly be applied to any but the one true God. We therefore recognize in the characters assigned to Him in my text, not only his pre-eminence as man, but his essential character as God.]
We now proceed to notice the Lord Jesus in that part of his character which is,
Ministerial and official—
What is said of his “having the key of David” will be best understood by referring to that passage in the prophecies of Isaiah from whence the words are taken. Shebna had been “treasurer over the king’s house,” under Ahaz and Hezekiah: but, for his pride and carnal security, God determined to cast him out, even as a ball is cast out from a sling; and to substitute, in his place, Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah [Note: Isaiah 22:15-20.], to whom should henceforth be given the key of the house of David, so that he should manage every thing with uncontrolled authority, opening where no man should shut, and shutting where no man should open [Note: Isaiah 22:21-22.].” The key that was put upon his shoulder was an emblem of his authority: and in the whole of this office he was a type of Jesus Christ, who, in his mediatorial capacity, was elevated to the throne of David [Note: Luke 1:32-33.], and invested with all power to govern his people agreeably to his sovereign will. This power he exercises,
Over the world—
[Seated at the right hand of God, “he doth according to his will, in the armies of heaven and amongst the inhabitants of the earth; nor can any stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou [Note: Dan 4:35]?” So unlimited is his government, that “not so much as a sparrow falls to the ground” without his special permission.]
Over the Church—
[This is his more special charge. He is constituted “Head over all things to the Church,” that he may order every thing for its edification and advancement [Note: Ephesians 1:22-23.]. To his servants, who go forth to preach his Gospel, he “opens a great and effectual door” which none can shut, or interposes his prohibition, as seems good in his sight [Note: 1 Corinthians 16:9. with Acts 16:6-9.]. To his providential care it must be ascribed, that the Church has stood its ground amidst the most inveterate enemies, and been kept alive as a spark in the midst of a tempestuous ocean. He said that “the gates of hell should never prevail against his Church;” and he has fulfilled his word, even to the present hour. The most powerful nations have been brought to nought: but of his Church and kingdom there shall be no end.]
Over every individual in the Church—
[It is particularly said of Eliakim, that “he should be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah [Note: Isaiah 22:21.]:” and this office does Jesus execute towards every one of his people. It is not possible adequately to express either his affection for them, or his care over them. Suffice it to say, that “not so much as a hair is suffered to fall from the head of any one of them,” except as He is pleased to permit. Conceive of a steward, at the head of a large family; how anxious will he be to provide for every member of that family his portion in due season! So shall every the least and meanest of the saints be supplied out of the fulness that is in Christ Jesus, and be furnished with every thing that he stands in need of, for body and for soul, for time and for eternity. With uncontrollable sovereignty will he appoint to all, as he sees fit; at the same time that every thing is ordered by him with unerring wisdom and incessant care: nor against any one of his appointments shall all the powers of darkness prevail. His power is irresistible; and in every case, without exception, “his counsel shall stand, and he will do all his will [Note: Isaiah 46:10.].”
This is the power committed to him from above; and, as long as there shall continue any scope for the exercise of his mediatorial office, he will exercise it for the good of his Church and people. But, when the end shall be fully come, then will he deliver up this kingdom to the Father’s hands, and “God shall be all in all [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:28.].”]
To whom we are to approve ourselves—
[It is not man’s judgment that we should regard; but the judgment of Him whose holiness will try our most secret thoughts, and whose truth will assign to every one his portion in perfect conformity with the written word. As for man, he, be his judgment what it may, can neither open heaven, nor shut it: but Jesus has “the keys of hell and of death [Note: Revelation 1:18.]:” and, if he open heaven to those who are waiting for him, none shall shut it against them: nor, if he shut heaven against the unwatchful, shall all the entreaties that can ever be urged prevail to gain them admission. I charge you then, brethren, to remember that admonition which he gives to all his Churches without exception; “I know thy works:” for, most assuredly, according to what he sees and knows, respecting every one of us, will his sentence of admission or exclusion be. Then, at all events, whatever his present forbearance may lead us to imagine, “will he judge with righteousness, and reprove with equity; and righteousness will be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins [Note: Isaiah 11:4-5.].”]
On whom, in all things, we are to depend—
[To Christ alone are we to look, both as our Advocate and our Head. He has all fulness committed to him on purpose for us; and we are to receive out of that fulness, according to our wants. Of Eliakim it is said, “They shall hang upon him all the glory of his father’s house, the offspring and the issue, all the vessels of small quantity, from the vessels of cups even to all the vessels of flagons [Note: Isaiah 22:24.].” And this shews on whom we are to rely, even every one of us, from the least to the greatest. All of us must “live” by faith on him, even “by faith in the Son of God, who loved us, and gave himself for us [Note: Galatians 2:20.],” Let us but look to him, and we have nothing to fear: for he is able to supply our every want, “that we, having always all-sufficiency in all things, may abound unto every good work [Note: 2 Corinthians 9:8.],” and “have an abundant entrance ministered unto us into the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Peter 1:10-11.].”]
EPISTLE TO PHILADELPHIA
Revelation 3:8-11. I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly; hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.
IN this Church, as in that at Smyrna, the Lord saw nothing to condemn: and therefore, in the epistle written to them, there is not a word either of reproof or threatening. It is true, that the commendations bestowed on them are not so copious and energetic as those in which some others of the Churches were addressed: but it is no little praise to them, that nothing was found among them deserving of reproof. Such a mediocrity of character is by no means displeasing in the sight of God. For, granting that a man’s piety is not so exalted in some respects as that of others, yet, if it is without that unhappy alloy which in many cases debases and degrades the profession of more distinguished Christians, it is more acceptable to God on the whole. We read of some who were “as a cake not turned [Note: Hosea 7:8.];” burnt up, as it were, on one side, while they are altogether doughy on the other. In contradistinction to such characters, they more approve themselves as “sons of God, who are blameless and harmless, and without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation [Note: Philippians 2:15.].”
The words which I have read contain the entire address of our Lord to the Church of Philadelphia; with the exception of the concluding promise to those who shall finally overcome in the Christian warfare; which promise forms the close of every epistle. That I may bring it before you in one entire view, and render it as useful as I can to ourselves, I will consider,
The peculiar subjects here addressed to them—
The subjects will all appear in their order, if we mark,
The testimony borne—
[Our blessed Lord had “set before that Church an open door” for the ministration of the Gospel and the enjoyment of its blessings; and, by his special providence, had taken care that “no man should shut it.” Great opposition, indeed, had been made to them, and the most violent persecution had raged against them: but they “had kept the word of Christ,” even “the word of his patience;” which is so called, because no man ever embraces it aright without having abundant occasion for patience, whilst he holds it fast, and endeavours to adorn it by a suitable conversation. The trials they had endured in consequence of adhering to that word had been exceeding heavy. Yet, notwithstanding “they possessed but little strength, they had approved themselves faithful to their Lord, and could in no instance be prevailed upon to “deny his name.”
Now, this was an honourable testimony; and the more so, because “their strength was small.” If their talents were few, they endeavoured to employ them to the honour of their Lord: and they thereby performed towards him a good and acceptable service.]
The promise given—
[This was suited to the occasion. There were coming upon the Church trials far more severe than any they had yet endured. The persecution under the Emperor Trajan seems to be that which is here more particularly referred to: for that was of fourteen years’ duration, and destroyed many thousands of Christians throughout all the Roman Empire. God permitted these persecutions to arise, “for the trying of his people,” and the making of a visible distinction between those who were upright and those who were dissemblers with God. Now, to these persecutions the Church of Philadelphia would have been exposed in as great a degree as others, if God had not, in part, averted the storm: but He, in mercy to his faithful people, and as a recompence of their fidelity, screened them in some measure from the violence of the tempest, and, by the mighty working of his power, enabled them to sustain whatever portion of it was permitted to fall upon them: thus fulfilling to them that precious promise, “God is faithful; who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:13.].”
But he further assured them, for their comfort, that those Judaizing teachers who boasted of their eminence as Christians, while they were in fact no Christians at all, but “of the synagogue of Satan;” that they, I say, who were their most inveterate enemies, “should come and worship at their feet,” and “confess that these very persons whom they had persecuted were indeed the favourites of their God.” Such cases had often occurred, in the history of the Lord’s people [Note: Genesis 50:15-17. Esther 8:17.]; and such should occur to them. In what way, and to what extent, this was fulfilled to them, we are not informed: but there can be no doubt, but that, in many instances, their piety was instrumental to the conviction of their enemies, and, in many instances too, to their conversion: so that what had been fulfilled in the Centurion at our Lord’s death [Note: Matthew 27:54.], and in the Jailor at Philippi [Note: Act 16:33-34], was, to a very great extent, realized in them; agreeably to that prophetic declaration, “The sons of them that afflicted thee shall come bending unto thee, and all they that despised thee shall bow down themselves at the soles of thy feet: and they shall call thee, The city of the Lord, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel [Note: Isaiah 60:14.].”]
The caution administered—
[Blameless as they were, and hitherto victorious, yea, and protected by the special providence of their God, yet did they need to be stirred up to holy vigilance, and to persevering exertion in the divine life. Thus far they were entitled to a crown of life: but still they were on the field of battle, and must not indulge security or remissness, “lest their crown should, after all, be lost.” True, the time for their sufferings and their labours was but short, because their “Lord was coming quickly,” to terminate the one, and to reward the other. But still, till he should come, and dismiss them from their warfare, they must “hold fast” every principle they had received, and every practice they had maintained: for on their steadfastness, in fact, depended the final possession of their crown. If they “turned back, it would be unto perdition [Note: Hebrews 10:39.];” and “if they were again overcome by the world which they had vanquished, their last end would be worse than their beginning [Note: 2 Peter 2:20.].” It was only “by being faithful unto death, that they could finally secure the crown of life [Note: Revelation 2:10.]”]
Having thus brought into view the substance of our Lord’s address to this highly-favoured Church, and opened the subjects contained in it, I proceed to point out,
The improvement which we should make of them, for our benefit at this time—
Truly, in these subjects, we may find much,
To encourage the weak—
[Many are discouraged because “they have but little strength.” But what a mercy is it to possess any strength at all! The great mass of mankind are led captive by their spiritual enemies, yea, “are led captive by the devil at his will.” Surely, then, to have strength for the combat, even though it be but little, is a blessing for which we never can be sufficiently thankful. Be it so, “our enemies live and are mighty:” but still, “He that dwelleth on high is mightier;” and his strength, if only we trust in him, “shall be made perfect in our weakness [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:19.].” It should seem that our God and Saviour takes peculiar care to impress on our minds a sense of our weakness, on purpose that we may be led the more simply and implicitly to trust in him. What is weaker than a sheep in the midst of devouring wolves and lions? yet, says our blessed Lord, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom [Note: Luke 12:32.].” We cannot conceive of any thing more disproportionate than the power of a worm to effect any extensive change upon a mountain: yet says God to his people, “Fear not, thou worm Jacob: for thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff, fanning them with irresistible power, and scattering them as a whirlwind [Note: Isaiah 41:14-16.].” Who, then has any reason to despond or be discouraged on account of either the power of his enemies, or the smallness of his own strength? Only see what God enabled the Philadelphian Christians, notwithstanding their weakness, to effect; and the very least amongst you may find reason to “glory rather in your infirmities, because, when you are weak, then are you really strong [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.].” Not but that we should desire to grow “from babes to young men, and from young men to fathers;” but in a sense of our extreme weakness we never can exceed. To our latest hour we must be “strong only in the Lord, and in the power of his might:” and, if we be “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus,” then shall “we be able to do all things through the strength that we derive from Him [Note: Philippians 4:13.],” and shall “be more than conquerors through Him that loveth us [Note: Romans 8:37.].”]
To establish the wavering—
[Who is there that has not been tempted, on some occasions, to a dereliction of his duty? If the Christians of the Philadelphian Church, blameless as they were, and steadfast as they had been in such violent persecutions, yet needed that solemn admonition, “Hold fast that thou hast, that no man take thy crown,” surely we, who have been so often drawn aside by the allurements of the world, and the corruptions of our hearts, and the devices of our great enemy, need to have it impressed deeply on our minds. Now, let me suppose one of you to be going into worldly company and worldly pleasures, or to be plunging yourselves unnecessarily into worldly cares; and to be at the same time, as must necessarily be the case, declining in spirituality of mind, and in heavenly zeal; what shall I say to you? What? O think what you have at stake, and are likely to lose—a “crown!” a kingdom! Again, if there be one of you that is yielding to the fear of man, or “putting his light under a bushel” for fear of its offending some friend, some patron, or some enemy; What shall I say to you also, but this? Think what you have at stake—a “crown!” a kingdom! Who, in his senses, would risk the loss of this, for any thing that this world could give or take away? I pray you, contemplate the glory and felicity of heaven: yea, and take into the account, also, the sad alternative—the shame and misery of hell. Will you expose yourselves to the loss of the one, and the consequent endurance of the other, for any transient pleasure, or to avoid any momentary pain? O beg of God, I pray you, that you may not “fall from your own steadfastness [Note: 2 Peter 3:17.],” and “make shipwreck of your faith.” What does Demas now think of his apostasy? And what will you think, in a little time, of all which appears now so fascinating to your minds? I charge you, brethren, before God, yield not to the tempter; but “be steadfast, immoveable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord; forasmuch as ye know that your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:58.].”]
To humble the self-confident—
[What would those, of whom our Lord speaks in my text, who “said they were Jews, the real people of the Lord, whilst they were not, but did lie, and were in reality of the synagogue of Satan;” what, I say, would they have replied to the accusation in my text? Methinks, there would have been no bounds to their indignation. But it was true, notwithstanding. And it is true, also, of many at this day. A proud sceptic or infidel will call himself a Christian: but “he lies.” A conceited and contentious heretic, who has no zeal but for some notions of his own, with which he labours to divide the Church of Christ, may call himself a Christian: but “he also lies.” To come nearer home, the man who, like the Judaizing Christians, hates the simple doctrine of salvation by faith, and, from a pretended zeal for good works, blends the law with the Gospel as a joint ground of his hope, he, I say, will account himself a Christian of the highest caste and character: but “he lies;” for “he is a perverter of the Gospel,” and is, in reality, “of the synagogue of Satan:” and, if he were an angel from heaven, I must say of him, as St. Paul does, “Let him be accursed [Note: Galatians 1:7-9.].” Now, I am aware that this seems harsh: but what is to be done? It is not I who speak these things, but the Lord: and I dare not keep back his word. I must, at the peril of my own soul, “declare his whole counsel.” Whoever then thou art, that professest thyself a Christian, whilst thou art essentially defective either in the principles or tempers of Christianity, I must warn thee against thy delusions, and tell thee that thou deceivest thine own soul. O that God would humble thee, ere it be too late; and make thee to see, that none but the broken and contrite in heart can ever find favour in his sight! The poor believer, who trembles at his word, and looks to Christ alone for salvation, is “the only person that is beloved of his God.” Come then, and seek salvation in His way: seek it simply and entirely by faith in Christ: then shall you also find acceptance with God, and be made “partakers of the felicity of his chosen.” But, if ye will persist in your enmity to God, and his Christ, and his people, know, that ye shall have your portion with him “of whose synagogue ye are:” for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. To the impenitent and unbelieving “there remains nothing but a certain fearful looking-for of judgment, and fiery indignation to consume them [Note: Hebrews 10:26-27.].” the Lord avert from you that fate, for Christ’s sake!]
EPISTLE TO PHILADELPHIA
Revelation 3:12-13. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is New Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.
HEAR—hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches, and to every individual soul that hath an ear to hear it. We have already heard “exceeding great and precious promises” made unto the Church: but in the passage before us there is a grandeur which overpowers the mind, and a depth which it is scarcely possible to fathom. What a thought! that you, who are here assembled, are soon to be made pillars in the temple of God above, provided you now “fight the good fight of faith,” and obtain the victory over the enemies of your souls! Attend then, I pray you, and lift up your hearts to God for his blessing, whilst I endeavour to set before you,
The reward prepared for God’s victorious servants—
They shall be pillars in the temple of the Lord—
[The precise import of this promise it is not easy to declare; because the allusion which is here made to pillars erected in heathen temples had not any thing to correspond with it in the temple of Solomon. As for the two pillars named Jachin and Boaz, they were in the porch of the temple, and not in the temple itself; nor had they any inscription whatever upon them [Note: 1 Kings 7:21.]. For the elucidation of our subject, we must look, not to them, but to a practice which obtained amongst the Greeks and Romans, of erecting monuments to their generals, who had obtained great success against their enemies. These were often pillars, with inscriptions on them; and they were placed, sometimes near the temples of their gods, and sometimes within them. ‘Now,’ says our blessed Lord, ‘such pillars my victorious saints shall be in heaven: “I will make them pillars in the temple of my God.” ’ And whereas the pillars constructed in earthly temples must in time fall to decay, the saints should retain their honour through eternal ages: “They shall go no more out:” the temple in which they are placed shall stand: and they also shall endure as long as heaven itself shall endure, even through all eternity.]
On them, also, shall there be a suitable inscription—
[On the pillars in the heathen temples were inscribed the name of the god to whose power they ascribed the victories, and whom they sought to honour as the author of them. There was also written the name of the city that had given birth to this great general, or been the peculiar place of his residence: and further, there was inscribed also the name of the sovereign whose servant he was, or of the commander under whose direction he fought.
Now, in conformity with these customs, our Lord says, that on his people, who shall themselves be the pillars, he will “write” the name of “his God;” (for Jesus, as Man and as Mediator, calls Jehovah “his Father and our Father, and his God and our God:”) yes, the name of Jehovah, who enabled them to gain the victory, and to whom alone the glory of it is due, shall be written upon them.
On them also shall be written “the name of the city of his God, the New Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from his God.” The New Jerusalem is the Church of God [Note: Galatians 4:25-26.]. And it “comes down from God out of heaven,” precisely as the tabernacle and temple did; a model of the one being shewn to Moses for a pattern [Note: Exodus 25:40.], and to David for the other [Note: 1 Chronicles 28:12; 1 Chronicles 28:19.]. This descent of the city from heaven is repeatedly mentioned in the Holy Scriptures [Note: Revelation 21:2; Revelation 21:10.]: and it is deserving of particular notice in this place, because there is not a stone in the whole building which was not taken out from the quarry by God himself, and formed and fashioned for its station. The strokes that are given to each stone with the hammer and the chisel, are given in this world, at a distance from the temple above. When the stones are carried thither, the sound of any tool is not once heard [Note: 1 Kings 6:7.]; every stone being already fitted for the place, which, in His sovereign will, he has ordained it to occupy.
Further, on them also will our blessed Lord “write his new name, Jesus” which was given him at his birth: for He it is who called them to be soldiers, and directed all their efforts, and strengthened them for the combat, and beat down their enemies before their face; and, consequently, to Him also, as the Captain of their salvation, must all honour be ascribed.
Now then I say, “Hear,” brethren, if indeed “ye have ears to hear,” what inconceivable honour is reserved for God’s faithful servants: and attend yet further, whilst I endeavour to point out to you,]
The excellency of this reward—
Methinks, nothing can add to the terms that are here used, or enhance the grandeur of the description here given. Yet it may be well to consider this reward in the light in which it will then appear:
As the consummation of God’s eternal purposes—
[From all eternity did God determine to take unto himself a people from our fallen race, and to exalt them to thrones of glory in his kingdom. From all eternity, also, did he “predestinate persons to be his adopted children [Note: Ephesians 1:5.],” and “choose them unto salvation [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:13.],” even to that very salvation which they will in due time enjoy. In their appointed season he “called them by his grace, and justified” them from their sins, and sanctified them by his Spirit: and when they shall be “glorified [Note: Romans 8:30.],” then shall all his counsels be fulfilled, and all the wonders of his love be unravelled, from beginning to end. Then will the reason of all his dispensations appear; just as does the reason of the builder’s conduct towards every individual stone of a pillar, when it shall be found in a place ordained for it. O! how will this enhance the value of the reward, when the conferring of it shall be found to have occupied the Divine mind from all eternity; and all the wisdom, and power, and love, and faithfulness of God shall be seen to have been employed in preparing the soul for the enjoyment of it.]
As the completion of all Christ’s glorious engagements—
[What he undertook was, to redeem our souls by his own most precious blood, and to search us out, and bring us home, and keep us in his fold, and introduce us finally to his fold above [Note: Ezekiel 34:11; Ezekiel 34:23-24.]. The effecting of this was “the joy that was set before him;” in the prospect of which “he endured the cross and despised the shame, till he sat down triumphant at the right hand of God [Note: Hebrews 12:2.].” And when he shall behold the exaltation of his redeemed people, then will he “see the travail of his soul, and be fully satisfied” with all that he ever did or suffered for the attainment of this great object [Note: Isaiah 53:11.]. Contemplate, then, the satisfaction which Christ will feel, in “making us such pillars,” and in “inscribing all these characters upon us,” (for in my text, you see it is his entire work;) and then tell me, whether the reward bestowed upon us be not, beyond all expression, great. If viewed only as a benefit conferred, it is beyond measure glorious: but if viewed as the perfection of the Redeemer’s work, it absolutely far exceeds all the powers of language to express, or of any finite comprehension to conceive.]
As the crown of all our labours—
[This is that reward to which all the patriarchs looked [Note: Hebrews 11:13-16.]: and for which Moses forsook all the pleasures and honours of the first nation upon earth [Note: Hebrews 11:25-26.]. And it is by that, that all the saints, at this day, are sustained in their conflicts with sin and Satan. Whilst here on the field of battle, they have some foretastes of that glory; for now “have they the Spirit of adoption, to cry Abba, Father [Note: Romans 8:15.];” now do they feel themselves to have come unto Mount Zion [Note: Hebrews 12:22.], and to be “fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God [Note: Ephesians 2:19.];” and now is “Jesus truly precious” to their souls [Note: 1 Peter 2:7.]. These names, I say, are already written upon their hearts by the Spirit of God; yea, and “their own names, too, are written in heaven [Note: Luke 10:20.].” But still they have many conflicts, as long as they continue in this world: it is not till they get to heaven that they “rest from their labours [Note: Revelation 14:13.]:” but there they have their happiness unmixed with any alloy of pain or sorrow; “all tears having been wiped from their eyes by God himself; and “every thing that can occasion pain having passed away for ever [Note: Revelation 21:4.]” Was it, think you, a joy to the whole nation of Israel to see all their enemies dead upon the sea-shore? Be assured, that this is the happiness that awaits you: for as, on the one hand, “you shall never more go out” to meet your enemies, so “into that world shall nothing ever enter [Note: Revelation 21:27.]” to disturb your peace.]
As a monument erected to the honour of God himself—
[In monuments raised to out own naval and military commanders, even in those which are erected in the temples of our God, the creature is too much lauded, and God too much forgotten: but in heaven, on every pillar is inscribed the name of God, and of Christ, and of that blessed city, the New Jerusalem, to which we belong: but in no instance is there any record of self. No; self is altogether forgotten there; and no praise is offered but to Him who redeemed us to God by his blood. Even the angels, who never sinned, utter not a word in commendation of themselves; but all unite in one harmonious song of praise, “to God, and to the Lamb, for ever and ever.”
Now, then, conceive of the millions, more numerous than the sands upon the sea-shore, established in heaven as living and imperishable monuments of God’s power and grace: how will this very circumstance enhance the blessedness of the redeemed! To honour God below, and be witnesses for Him on earth, was no little joy: but to be such monuments in heaven, and to exhibit to all eternity the glory of that God who ordered all, and of that Saviour who accomplished all, this will be indeed the perfection of bliss, and may well determine every soul of man to live only for the attainment of it.]
And now, I ask,
[Who amongst you will not enlist in this army? or who, having once enlisted, will not fight manfully against all his enemies? — — — Come, gird yourselves, brethren, for the combat: put on the whole armour of God: and never cease to fight in your Saviour’s strength, till he shall have crowned your efforts with victory. You well know what efforts men will make, what labours they will sustain, what privations they will submit to, and what dangers they will encounter, for a corruptible crown, some title of honour, some earthly estate, or some monumental record, that shall transmit their names to posterity; which yet they may never attain, and which, if attained, must soon perish;—and shall there be any thing for you to do or suffer in the prospect of this sure reward, which will be perpetuated through eternal ages? Fight ye then, I say, and “war a good warfare;” and rest assured, that, at the close of your contest, your triumph shall be complete, and this reward be accorded to you by that adorable Saviour under whom you have fought.]
EPISTLE TO LAODICEA
Revelation 3:14-16. Unto the angel of the Church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
WHEREVER the leading truths of Christianity are maintained and professed, there may be said to be a Church of Christ. But it is too often found, that the angels or ministers of such Churches go on in the external exercise of their functions, without ever feeling the influence of the truth upon their own souls, or stimulating their people to high and heavenly attainments. Thus it was with the Church at Laodicea: the pastor and the flock had shamefully degenerated from their former experience; and were resting in a state worse than any other of the Churches in Asia; a state wherein their Lord could see nothing to approve, but every thing to condemn. Having occasion to testify against them in so severe a manner, our Lord described himself precisely in such terms as the occasion required. Being about to declare what their inward experience was, as opposed to their outward appearance and profession, he spake of himself as “the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness,” whose testimony could not be controverted or questioned: he spake of himself, also, as “the Beginning,” that is, the Efficient Cause, or Ruler and Governor [Note: ἡ Ἀρχὴ.], “of the creation of God;” who, having all things at his disposal, would with irresistible power execute all that his wisdom had decreed, and his lips had spoken. Such being his perfections, “he could not be deceived, and would not be mocked.”
In all of this we are interested, even as they; being alike bound to submit to his reproofs, and to dread his displeasure. Bearing in mind, then, what a glorious Being we have for our Judge, let us, with becoming reverence, consider,
His reproof of that lukewarm Church—
Hear his testimony respecting them—
[“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot.” Doubtless there was amongst them “a form of godliness:” but they were altogether “destitute of its power [Note: 2 Timothy 3:5.].” They would so far maintain religion, as to keep up a fair character before men; but not so regard it, as to approve themselves to God. If only they “had a name to live,” it was all that they felt any concern about [Note: ver. 1.]. In all the sublimer exercises of piety they were habitually and wilfully deficient. As for delight in God, and zeal for his glory, they sought not any such attainments. They had fixed for themselves a far lower standard, which required little, if any, exertion on their part; and beyond that they had no desire to advance.]
In just accordance with this was the judgment he denounced against them—
[“Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” The terms here used to express the Saviour’s indignation against them are doubtless strong, and, to our refined notions, offensive. But they declare precisely the lothing and abhorrence which such professors excite in the bosom of a holy God. In truth, if we justly viewed the sinfulness of sin, and estimated with any degree of accuracy its utter malignity, we should feel, that no terms whatever can be too strong to express its odiousness, and the abhorrence in which it must of necessity be held by God, not only when it is manifested in a way of gross excesses, but when it appears even in a way of secret defect.]
From this address to the Church of Laodicea, we shall do well to consider,
The instruction which it conveys to us—
We must remember, that in every epistle we are called upon to “hear,” with self-application, “what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.”
In this reproof, then, we are distinctly taught,
That the religion of the world is hateful to God—
[The world, especially the more sober and thoughtful part of it, approves and applauds religion, when carried to a certain extent. But it is the external part of religion alone that commends itself to the unregenerate man. That which is really spiritual and heavenly, is rather to him an object of disgust. A carnal man will say, ‘Cast not off all religion: be not “cold,” and regardless of all sense of duty to your God: but, on the other hand, lay not religion too much to heart, neither be “hot” after it, as is the manner of some, who can scarcely speak or think of any thing else. Take a proper medium between these extremes, being “neither overmuch righteous,” nor “overmuch wicked [Note: Ecclesiastes 7:16-17.].” Avoid equally what has the character of profaneness, and that excessive attention to divine things which borders on enthusiasm. Moderation is that which you must aim at; even such a moderation, as, whilst it satisfies God, will give no offence to man.’ But what says God to this? O brethren! far different from this is the standard which God approves; or, rather I should say, it is the very reverse of this. Lukewarmness is that which God abhors, yea, so abhors it, that nothing can be so offensive to the stomach of a man, as that is to him. He even declares,]
That, in some respects, it is worse than a total want of all religion—
[Beyond all doubt, morality is in itself better than immorality, and an outward respect for religion better than down-right impiety and profaneness. But still, when our Lord says, “I would thou wert cold or hot,” he must be understood to say, that, on the whole, either extreme would have been preferable to the medium they had chosen. And this is true: for,
A mere formal religion is more dishonourable to God than open irreligion; because it is understood by all the world as intimating, that such a measure of service is, in our opinion, all that God deserves, and all that he requires; and that not even the love of God, in redeeming our souls by the blood of his dear Son, merits at our hands any better return than this. The ungodly man’s life never has any such construction put upon it.
A mere formal religion, also, is more injurious to our fellow-creatures: for it says to every one who beholds us, This is the way to heaven: this is the precise path, in which, if you walk, you will attain salvation. An ungodly man’s life conveys no such sentiment to those around him. Nobody looks to him for a pattern; and therefore nobody is deceived by him: but by the formal or hypocritical professor the world are stumbled, when they see how little good is effected by religion: and weak Christians are kept back from aspiring after higher attainments.
A mere formal religion is yet further more fatal to our own souls.—A man without any religion is open to conviction; and, if convinced of sin, will gladly accept the remedy provided for him in the Gospel: whereas a lukewarm professor is satisfied with what he has attained, and will not be persuaded that he needs any further progress.
Thus you perceive that the world and God are at issue upon this point: the world approving of no religion but that which God hates; and God approving of none but that which the world abhors. God says, “It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing [Note: Galatians 4:18.].” The world, on the contrary, says, ‘Be as zealously affected in worldly pursuits as you will; but never carry your zeal into religion: in every thing that relates to God and to your souls, moderation and not zeal must direct you.’ In confirmation of this, the world says, “Seek to enter in at the strait gate,” and all will be well: but God warns us to the contrary, saying, “Strive to enter in; for many shall seek, and not be able [Note: Luke 13:24.].” In a word, the world think it better to have no religion at all, than to be wholly under its power; and God accounts it better to have none, than such as does not engage and call into activity all the powers of the soul.]
Let me then entreat you, brethren,
To examine the state of your souls before God—
[You find that these persons, who were so reproved, thought themselves “rich and increased with goods, and in need of nothing [Note: ver. 17.],” Beware lest ye also be led away by a similar delusion. Try yourselves, not by the world’s standard, but God’s. To what purpose will it be to be applauded by man, if God condemn? or what need you regard the judgment of man, if God approve? Look into the Scriptures, and see, Which amongst the prophets did the world approve? or which amongst the Apostles? or when did they approve even Christ himself? The zeal and piety of these were objects of offence to the world, and to none more than to the self-righteous Pharisees: and, if your religion be such as the world approves, you need no other evidence that you are yet in a state offensive to God, and fatal to your souls. God “requires the heart [Note: Proverbs 23:26.];” and will be satisfied with nothing less. “A divided heart” he abhors [Note: Hosea 10:2.]. See to it, then, that you give up yourselves to him without reserve; and let nothing under heaven interfere with your duty to your God.
Yet let me not be mistaken, as recommending enthusiasm. No; brethren, I would be as averse to enthusiasm as any; and would cry out against it as loudly as any. Enthusiasm consists in following some conceits of our own, without duly attending to the word of God. Against that I would guard you, with all my might. But the world condemns all vital and experimental religion as enthusiasm: and by this device they seek to justify their own supineness. Be not ye, however, kept back by them; but, in obedience to the written word, and in dependence upon divine grace, endeavour to serve your God, as God himself is serving you, “with your whole hearts, and with your whole souls [Note: Jeremiah 32:41.].”]
To consider what your feelings will be when “The True and Faithful Witness,” the Judge of quick and dead, shall call you to his tribunal—
[Will you not then wish that you had “followed the Lord fully?” Will you not then have far different sentiments about religion, from those which the Christian world at large approve? And will it not be a matter of deep regret to you, that you feared man more than God, and obeyed man rather than God? Do but conceive what your feelings will be, when the great “Author and Governor of the universe” shall execute upon you the judgment threatened, and cast you out, with the abhorrence which his word has so emphatically declared. Remember, I pray you, it is not gross sin alone that will bring this judgment upon you: no; it is lukewarmness: yes, though ye have been ever so observant of outward duties, if your heart have not been in them, ye are not accepted of your God. To what purpose will any man run, or strive, or fight, if he do not put forth all his strength, and exert himself to the uttermost to gain the prize? So, then, must ye “be fervent in spirit, while serving the Lord [Note: Romans 12:11.],” if ever ye would “receive from him the crown of righteousness which fadeth not away [Note: 2 Timothy 4:8.].”]
EPISTLE TO LAODICEA
Revelation 3:17-18. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
ONE would imagine that a person lukewarm in the concerns of religion must, of necessity, be filled with some good measure of diffidence and fear. But the very reverse of this is found true: for experience proves that self-sufficiency and self-conceit are the invariable attendants of lukewarmness: in fact, they spring out of it naturally, as fruit from the root: for lukewarmness prevents self-examination; and a want of self-examination begets security. The lukewarm person, feeling that he has within himself a sufficiency for all that he is inclined to do, easily persuades himself that he has also a sufficiency for all that he is bound to do: and under this delusion he rests satisfied with himself, without looking out for any foreign aid. Now, this is a most fatal error; and if not removed, it will deprive us of all that Christ himself has purchased for us. That I may remove it from your minds, I will shew,
What mistaken views this people had of their state before God—
“They thought that they were rich, and increased with goods, and in need of nothing”—
[This is the state of the Christian Church generally: I mean of that more respectable part of it which values itself on the avoiding of all extremes. Moral persons, who have a respect for religion, will readily enough acknowledge that they are not so good as they ought to be; but they have no conception of the vast extent of their depravity. Like persons possessed of earthly property, they feel a certain degree of self-congratulation, that they are “rich, and increased with goods, and in need of nothing.” Their wisdom is sufficient to guide them in the way to heaven. Their righteousness is sufficient to recommend them to the Divine favour. Their strength is sufficient to fulfil their duties, whenever they shall address themselves to the performance of them. This was the state of man in Paradise; and they suppose it to be so still. They are unconscious that their locks are cut; and therefore, in encountering their enemies, are under no apprehension of a defeat. It is possible, indeed, that they may not express these things in words, (though the Laodiceans scrupled not to affirm it;) but it is invariably the language of their hearts: and in proof that these are the sentiments of their hearts, we may appeal to their daily experience. See whether, under a consciousness of their great wants, they are crying to God for the relief of them: if they be not, then is it clear that they feel not the urgency of their wants, or the extent of their necessities. And if any man in the universe were to manifest the same insensibility to his earthly wants, and the same indifference about obtaining a supply of them, we should all conclude, either that he was not so poor as he professed himself to be, or that he had means of supplying his wants which were hid from us.]
But, in the midst of all this self-sufficiency, they were indeed in the most destitute condition—
[The force of the original is peculiarly strong: it marks these persons as pre-eminently to be pitied. Respecting every such deluded sinner it may be said, Here is the man most truly “wretched,” most eminently “miserable [Note: See the article prefixed to these two words: “That wretched one,” “That miserable one.”].” And, in truth, there is perhaps no other person in the universe so miserable as he. The man who lives in all manner of iniquity is doubtless a “a wretched and miserable” being: but the man who fancies himself rich in all good, whilst he is altogether destitute, is in a worse condition than he; because he holds fast his delusions, from which the other is free; and despises the remedy, which the other may, in due season, be prevailed upon to apply.
But the grounds of this assertion are here detailed: whilst he, in his own conceit, is “in need of nothing,” he is in reality “poor, and blind, and naked.” He is “poor:” for, whatever he may possess of intellectual or moral good, he has no more of spiritual good than Satan himself. He has no real love to God; no real delight in him; no real desire after him: no real wish to please and honour him. Whatever he may have which may resemble these, it is but a shadow: it has no substance; it has no root; it has no real existence: and in giving himself credit for it, he only deceives his own soul. He is also “blind.” Whatever capacity he may have in reference to earthly things, he has no “spiritual discernment:” he has no just sense of the evil of sin, of the beauty of holiness, of the blessedness of serving God. He has no idea of the loveliness of Christ, who is said to be “altogether lovely.” In a word, he sees nothing as God sees it: and because “he says that he sees,” his guilt is the deeper, and his misery the more intense [Note: John 9:40-41.]. He is “naked” too, having nothing to hide his deformity from the eyes of a holy God: for “all his righteousnesses are as filthy rags [Note: Isaiah 64:6.].” He may, like our first parents, attempt to cover his nakedness with fig-leaves; but they will not suffice: for “the bed is shorter than he can stretch himself on, and the covering narrower than he can wrap himself in [Note: Isaiah 28:20.].” This is, indeed, the state of unregenerate men, especially of those who “have the form of godliness without the power.”]
But let us now fix our attention on,
The counsel given them by our blessed Lord—
In our blessed Lord there is a fulness treasured up for sinful man; and he invites all to come, and receive out of it according to their necessities.
Are we poor? He offers us “gold, to enrich us”—
[What is this “gold,” but the grace of Christ; and especially the grace of faith, which unites us to him, and puts us into possession of all “his unsearchable riches?” This is gold indeed; and has, in cases without number, evinced its sterling worth, having endured the trial of the hottest furnaces which it has been in the power of man to kindle [Note: 1 Peter 1:7.]. See the long catalogue of saints recorded in the eleventh chapter to the Hebrews; see what they thought of it; and how it enriched them. Moses found it amply to compensate for the loss of “all the treasures of Egypt [Note: Hebrews 11:24-26.]:” and multitudes of others found it more effectual for their advancement than all powers in the universe could have been [Note: Hebrews 11:33-35.]. By this the poorest man is elevated to a state of honour and happiness inconceivable; even to peace with God on earth, and to all the glory and blessedness of heaven.]
Are we naked? He offers us “white raiment to cover us”—
[This raiment is the unspotted robe of “Christ’s righteousness, which shall be unto all and upon all them that believe in him [Note: Romans 3:22.].” This the Lord Jesus Christ wrought out on purpose for us, by his own obedience unto death: and every soul that is clothed with that robe is so covered, that “not a spot or blemish [Note: Ephesians 5:27.]” can be found in him; no, not by the all-seeing eye of God himself [Note: Numbers 23:21.]. It was for this very end that the Lord Jesus Christ became incarnate and died upon the cross: “He was the end of the law for righteousness, to every one that believeth [Note: Romans 10:4.]:” and every sinner in the universe, who trusts in Him, may claim him under that endearing name, “The Lord our righteousness [Note: Jeremiah 23:6.].”]
Are we blind? He offers us “eye-salve, to anoint our eyes, that we may see”—
[This “eye-salve” is no other than the Holy Ghost himself, whom the Lord Jesus Christ will give to all who call upon him [Note: Luke 11:13.]. It is the office of the blessed Spirit of God “to open our eyes, and to turn us from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God.” And whoever has received “the unction of that Holy One, is enabled to discern the things of the Spirit, which before he could not see [Note: 1Co 2:9-12]; yea, he is enabled, as the Scripture expresses it, to “know and understand all things [Note: 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27.].”]
These things, indeed, he tells us to “buy of him”—
[But what have we to pay? If, indeed, we are “poor, and blind, and naked,” what can we give him in return for such invaluable blessings as are here offered us? Were it required that we should present to him any thing to merit these blessings, we might well sit down in despair. But the terms prescribed by him are exactly suited to our state: we are to “buy of him without money and without price [Note: Isaiah 55:1.]” Not but that we are called to make some sacrifices, if we will indeed enjoy his blessings. We must give up our pride, and self-sufficiency, and self-conceit, yea, and all other “lusts, whether of the flesh or spirit,” that are hateful in his sight. In other words, we must put off the filthy rags of our own righteousness, if we would possess the unspotted robe of his righteousness; and put far from us all conceit of our own wealth and wisdom, in order to receive the full benefit of his gold and eye-salve. And who will not gladly pay this price? It is the price which the beggar pays for the alms tendered to him: he opens his mouth to ask for it, and stretches out his hands to receive it.]
And now, my brethren, I entreat you,
Be sensible of your wants—
[Whether ye be sensible of your need of these things or not, ye do really need them; and your misery is so much the greater, if ye think ye need them not. What would you yourselves think of a poor maniac who should fancy himself a king? Would you envy him his self-delusion? Just such deluded creatures are ye, whilst you are insensible to your real condition, as poor, and blind, and naked. Moreover, whilst ye continue under this delusion, there is no hope whatever of your ever receiving the blessings which Christ has so freely offered you. It was not the proud self-applauding Pharisee, but the poor self-condemning Publican, that obtained mercy of the Lord: and it is written for the admonition of all future ages, that, in like manner, “he who exalteth himself shall be abased; and he only who humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
Comply, in all things, with the counsel given you—
[Go to Christ to obtain them. Think not to find them in. any other: but say, “Lord, to whom should we go? Thou alone hast the words of eternal life.” And be willing to receive them upon his terms. Dream not of bringing to him any thing as a compensation for them, or as a warrant for your application to him. All your warrant is poverty; and your price is your sins, which you are to cast on him, to be forgiven; and to cast from you, to be mortified and subdued. And remember whose counsel this is: it is the counsel of “the Faithful and True Witness,” who knows all your necessities, and who alone can relieve them. It is the counsel of him who is called, “The Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God [Note: Isaiah 9:6.].” “Listen not then to flesh and blood,” nor suffer any one to make you hesitate one moment: but go to him with all your wants, and receive at his hands all the blessings of grace and glory.]
Enlarge your expectations to the full extent of God’s promises—
[Say not in your hearts, that this is too great, or that is too small to expect at his hands. There is no greater sin than “limiting the Holy One of Israel.” He bids you “open your mouth wide, that he may fill it:” and the more enlarged your expectations are, the more abundant will be his gifts. The fact is, that as there is not a want in you, for which there is not a suitable supply in him, so neither is there any thing in him which shall not be made over to you, if only ye will believe in him. Only come to receive out of his fulness, and he will give to you his grace, his peace, his righteousness, his glory. All shall be yours, the very instant that ye are Christ’s.” Only come to him empty, and ye shall be filled: and the more empty ye come, the more shall ye be filled, and the more will he be glorified.]
EPISTLE TO LAODICEA
Revelation 3:19. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
IN the epistles to the seven Churches of Asia, there is an exceedingly rich variety of instruction, that is quite as applicable to us at this day as ever it was to the Church to whom it was first delivered. It is probable that some in Laodicea would regard the menace which was sent them in this epistle as a prelude to their utter destruction. They could not conceive that the Lord Jesus, who had threatened to “spue them out of his mouth” with the utmost indignation and abhorrence, could entertain, in reference to them, any other sentiment than that of irreversible displeasure: and thus they were tempted to sit down in utter despair. But our blessed Lord assured them, that these very menaces were expressions of his love and pledges of his favourable acceptance, if only they would comply with the directions which he here gave them. But the words I have read contain, not only a particular instruction to them but a truth of universal and unalterable importance to the Church in all ages. We here see,
How the Lord Jesus Christ acts towards the objects of his love—
God not unfrequently gives to his enemies all that their hearts can desire. Are they anxious for wealth, and honour, and power, or for an increase of their families? and do they further desire a freedom from trouble, both in life and death? All this is bestowed upon them with so bountiful a hand, that they bless themselves as the happiest and most favoured of mankind [Note: Psalms 73:3-5; Psalms 73:7; Psalms 73:12.]. Yea, to such a degree does this often obtain, that the most eminent saints are stumbled at it [Note: Job 21:7-13.Jeremiah 12:1-2; Jeremiah 12:1-2.]. But towards those whom he loves, he, for the most part, acts very differently: them “he rebukes and chastens.”
By the declarations of his word—
[“The word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword [Note: Hebrews 4:12.]:” “yea, it is as a fire, and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces [Note: Jeremiah 23:29.]:” and when it comes with power to the soul, not the proudest sinner in the universe can withstand it. When but four words were written upon the wall of the room where Belshazzar was feasting, “the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another [Note: Daniel 5:5-6.]!” And how it wrought upon the murderers of our Lord on the day of Pentecost, you well know: for three thousand of them cried out with one voice, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Doubtless, the terror inspired by this is often exceedingly appalling: but yet it is sent in love, “to convince men of their sin,” and to bring them to repentance: and the deeper the wound that is inflicted by it, the greater evidence there is that God has sent it in love to the soul — — —]
By the dispensations of his providence—
[It often happens, that men withstand the word of God, till they are visited with some afflictive providence: and not unfrequently repeated strokes of the rod are necessary, before they will hear and receive instruction from it [Note: Micah 6:9.]. And these dispensations are thought by many to be tokens of God’s wrath. But, indeed, they are rather indications of his love: they are paternal chastisements, sent for our profit, that we may be humbled by them, and quickened, and “made partakers of his holiness.” It was for this end that many of the Corinthian Church were [Note: Hebrews 12:5-11.] visited with pains and sickness: “they were chastened of the Lord, that they might not be condemned with the world [Note: 1 Corinthians 11:30-32.].” And how beneficially these afflictions operate, may be seen in Ephraim of old: “Surely I have heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus: Thou hast chastised me; and I was chastised as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke. Turn thou me, and I shall be turned: for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth [Note: Jeremiah 31:18-19.].” God then adds, “Is not Ephraim my dear son [Note: Jeremiah 31:20.]?” Had God felt no regard for Ephraim, he would have said, “Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more [Note: Isaiah 1:5.]:” but, feeling towards him the affections of a Father, he says rather, “I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished [Note: Jeremiah 30:11. with Psalms 89:30-33.].”]
This truth established, we may see,
How they in return should demean themselves towards him—
Two things in particular were blamed in the Laodicean Church, namely, lukewarmness and self-sufficiency: and against these especially he directs them to strive, by the daily exercise of zeal and penitence. The same direction is proper for all whom he has chosen in Christ Jesus to be the objects of his love:
[It is not sufficient to perform a mere round of duties, and to abstain from gross sins. Religion is every thing, or it is nothing: it requires all the powers of the soul: and, if any of our faculties be alienated from God, or exercised only in a lukewarm way, the service, whatever it may be, will not be accepted. “In every good thing we should be zealously affected [Note: Galatians 4:18.];” and “be fervent in spirit, when we serve the Lord [Note: Romans 12:11.].” It was thus that Phinehas [Note: Numbers 25:13.], and Elijah [Note: 1 Kings 19:10.], and Paul [Note: Acts 20:24.], and all the saints, served God in the days of old. As for our blessed Lord “the zeal of God’s house even consumed him [Note: John 2:17.].” And we also ought to be “a peculiar people, zealous of good works [Note: Titus 2:14.].” Nor must it be in one thing only that we are to display our zeal. It is possible enough that in one particular line we may exert ourselves with the greatest ardour; and yet be far from having our hearts right with God. We must “have respect to all God’s commandments,” and serve him “without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” In public and in private we must be alike earnest in all our duties: and under “the constraining influence of the love of Christ, we must live altogether unto Him who died for us, and rose again [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.].”]
[This is necessary for every child of man. There is no one so pure, but that he may increase in purity; nor so holy, but that he may grow in holiness; nor so heavenly, but that he may be more entirely devoted to his God. Of lukewarmness especially, and of the entire habit of mind connected with it, it becomes us to repent. Indeed, whatever be the sin that more easily besets us, that we should search out with peculiar care, and for that should we in an especial manner humble ourselves before God. Every day of our lives we should “be sowing in tears, if we would reap in joy.” It is not the person who occasionally feels some remorse, but “he who goes on his way weeping, bearing a precious seed-basket, and scattering this seed from it every step he takes; he it is that shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him [Note: Psalms 126:5-6. See the margin.].”]
This subject clearly teaches us,
What to do under the prevailing influence of corruption—
Pray to God that he would chastise you with scourges or scorpions, rather than suffer you to continue under the power of sin: and if God see fit to put you into the furnace, be more anxious to obtain the sanctifying benefits of the affliction, than to have it removed — — —]
What to do under the Divine rebukes—
[Receive them as the chastisements of a father, “neither despising them, nor fainting under them [Note: Proverbs 3:11-12.]:” and take occasion from them to “humble yourselves under His mighty hand.” Whatever be your sufferings, remember that they are far “less than your iniquities deserve.” By these God designs to “purge away your iniquities [Note: Isaiah 27:9.]:” and, if they are attended with this effect, you will have reason to adore him for them, more than for any exemption from trouble that could possibly be vouchsafed unto you: for so, at least, speaks an inspired Apostle: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for, when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him [Note: James 1:12.].”]
EPISTLE TO LAODICEA
Revelation 3:20. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
OUR blessed Lord, in his sermon on the mount, says, “Ask, and ye shall have; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Now this is exactly what we might expect of a gracious God, and more especially of an all-merciful Redeemer. But who would ever imagine that this process should be inverted; and that, instead of a sinner knocking at the door of heaven in fervent supplications, the Son of God himself should come and knock at the door of his heart, soliciting admittance there? Yet this is the representation given us in my text: so infinitely are “God’s ways higher than our ways, and his thoughts than our thoughts.” Let us contemplate this mystery: let us consider,
The marvellous condescension of the Lord Jesus Christ towards our sinful race—
The hearts of men are shut and barred against him—
[“The strong man armed,” even Satan, occupies the souls of men as his palace, and fills them with all manner of evil; and by his great power “he keeps them in peace,” unconscious of their subjection to him, and altogether satisfied with their bondage [Note: Luke 11:21.]. When the Lord Jesus Christ comes to seek admission there, every possible resistance is made to him. The lusts, which have taken possession of them, bar the door against him. Prejudice and unbelief determine them to obstruct his entrance; whilst the world, and all its lusts, maintain their post, with a steadfastness that bids defiance to every effort, save that which is omnipotent — — —]
But he “stands at the door, and knocks”—
[He comes to men in his word, and demands that they yield themselves up to him — — — He comes also by the secret energy of his Spirit; and warns men of their danger, if they persist in their rebellion against him — — — He comes also by his providence, to awaken them by terrors, or soften them by afflictions, if by any means he may prevail upon them to open to him — — — Year after year does he “stand,” “waiting to be gracious to them,” and importuning them by every kind of argument to admit him. Of Israel it is said, that “forty years he suffered their manners in the Wilderness [Note: Acts 13:18.].” And many are the years that he has borne with us. The generality he finds so fast asleep, that not all the thunders of his law can waken them. Some are just roused from their slumbers: but, averse to receive him, they begin to put him off with frivolous excuses. Their language is like that of the Church of old; “I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my Beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night. But I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them [Note: Song of Solomon 5:2-3.]?” Still, however, does he continue knocking with invincible patience: so true is that saying of the prophet, “All the day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people [Note: Isa 65:2 and Romans 10:21.].”]
What marvellous condescension is this!
[If we were to stand for any length of time imploring mercy from God, and were left without any answer of peace, it were nothing but what our sins have justly merited; nor could we have the smallest reason to complain. But that the Lord Jesus Christ should sue in vain for admission into our hearts, appears incredible; or, at all events, we might expect him, after the first refusal of his overtures, to say, “They are joined to idols; let them alone:” “My Spirit shall strive with them no more;” from henceforth I “give them over to their own heart’s lusts, to follow their own imaginations, till they have “filled up the measure of their iniquities,” and “wrath shall come upon them to the uttermost.” But, “behold!” yes, well may it be said “Behold;” for His condescension exceeds belief. Do but reflect, who it is that thus waits upon us: it is the Creator, importuning his guilty and rebellious creatures: it is the Judge, following the criminal with entreaties to accept of pardon, and to let his sentence of condemnation be reversed: it is the self-sufficient God, who would be equally happy and glorious if every child of man were left to perish like the fallen angels, that labours thus to ingratiate himself with the vilest of mankind, if by any means he may prevail on some of them to accept at his hands all the blessings both of grace and glory. Say, I pray you, Is not this a condescension, that surpasses all the powers of language to express, or of imagination adequately to conceive?]
But this subject will appear more fully in its true light, if we consider,
The mercies which he desires to impart unto them—
These are expressed under a familiar and most significant metaphor—
[The metaphor of a guest is not uncommon in the Holy Scriptures. Our Lord said to his Disciples, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him; and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him [Note: John 14:23.].” And this shall be realized, in the most endearing manner, to all who open to him: “He will come in to them, and sup with them, and they with him.” We cannot conceive of any act of friendship that is not comprehended under this term. But how shall I convey any adequate idea of its import? What sweet manifestations of his love will he impart to the soul, and what rich communications of his grace! Who can fully explain that declaration of the Apostle, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ [Note: 1 John 1:3.]?” We may think of all the familiarities and endearments that ever were enjoyed, even among the most attached friends or relatives, and they will fall infinitely short of that blessedness which he will impart to the believing soul. When he comes in to sup with us, he will, if I may so say, bring his own provision along with him. What “exceeding great and precious promises” will he set before us, for our support! What tastes of his love will he give us, when he shall “shed it abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost?” And what foretastes also of his glory will he communicate, when he bids us to drink of the cup of his salvation!]
Nor is there a person under heaven excluded from this benefit—
[His own word is, “If any man hear.” It matters not how unworthy any man may be: if he had all the sins of Manasseh himself upon his soul, the mercy here proffered should be imparted to him. We are told of Manasseh, that he filled Jerusalem itself with the blood of innocents, and made the people worse than the heathen whom the Lord had destroyed before them: yet, when he humbled himself, God heard his supplication, and made himself known to him under the endearing character of Israel’s God [Note: Jeremiah 19:4. 2Ch 33:9; 2 Chronicles 33:12-13.]. We may be sure, therefore, that no person under heaven shall be excluded from a participation of the grace that is here so freely offered. All that is required of any man is, to “hear the Saviour’s voice, and open to him.” O that this were duly considered by us all! Brethren, you are not called upon to merit any thing at the Saviour’s hands, but only to receive thankfully what he so freely offers. Only be sensible that you have hitherto excluded him from your hearts, whilst you have given a ready reception to the basest lusts; be sensible, I say, of this, and now open your hearts to him, and all the blessings of salvation shall be yours, for your present comfort, and for your everlasting possession.]
Those who are yet strangers to the Saviour’s love—
[The generality of men who call themselves Christians would quite revolt at the expression in my text, and at all the wonders of love contained in it. But, brethren, wherefore is it thus with you? Is it because there is no truth in these representations? or because ye have never yet sought to experience them in your souls — — — Would ye but now open your hearts to him, verily, there is not one amongst you of whom it should not be said, that “Christ is gone to be a guest with a man that is a sinner [Note: Luke 19:7.].” But if ye refuse his entreaties now, the time will come, when ye shall cry to him, but not be heard [Note: Proverbs 1:24-31.Isaiah 55:6; Isaiah 55:6.].]
Those who have had some experience of it in their souls—
[Be not satisfied with any measure of intercourse that you have yet enjoyed with your Lord and Saviour. Ye cannot expect, with Paul, to be caught up into the third heavens: but ye may expect from the Saviour such an abundance of grace and mercy and peace as shall be a foretaste of heaven itself. Only cast out, with increasing zeal and diligence, the lusts that have occupied your heart, sweeping from every corner of it “the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump,” and your feasts with the Saviour here shall be only a prelude to that richer feast which you shall enjoy above: for all with whom he has supped on earth shall “sit down with him at the marriage-supper of the Lamb in heaven” for evermore [Note: Revelation 19:9.].]
THE VICTOR’S REWARD
Revelation 3:21. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
WE have seen at the close of every epistle a promise to him that overcometh. In truth, we all need encouragement in our warfare. It is the hope of profit or of honour that produces industry among all classes of the community: it prompts the philosopher to consume the midnight oil in study; the merchant to risk his property on the tempestuous ocean; and the soldier to brave the dangers and fatigues of war. The same principle may well be extended also to spiritual concerns, and animate the Christian in the pursuits of religion. His reward indeed is infinitely greater than any which this world can afford, and may therefore justly stimulate him to the most indefatigable exertions. The utmost that the labours of man can attain on earth, is, a royal title, and a temporal kingdom; but the Christian victor has a crown of glory laid up for him, and a participation of that very kingdom, which is possessed by Christ himself. The Judge of quick and dead pledges himself to bestow this reward on all his faithful followers. His words lead us to consider,
The Christian’s character—
Every Christian is by profession a soldier; he has enlisted under the banners of Christ; and fights till he has vanquished all the enemies of his soul—
The world is not able to detain him in bondage—
[As for the pleasures of the world, they have no charms for any person who knows the value of his own soul. It requires scarcely any more self-denial to renounce them, than for a philosopher to put away the toys of childhood. A regard for its honours is not so easily overcome. The Christian would gladly at first retain his reputation among his former acquaintance; and sometimes perhaps makes undue sacrifices rather than forfeit his good name: but when he finds how impossible it is to be faithful unto God without incurring the censure of the ungodly, he learns at last to bear “the reproach of Christ,” and to “rejoice that he is counted worthy to suffer shame for his sake.” The interests of the world still subject him to many and strong temptations, even after that he has both done and suffered much for Christ; but when he has weighed both the world and his own soul in the balance of the sanctuary, he determines to forego every interest rather than endanger his eternal salvation. Thus he evinces that “he is born of God by overcoming the world [Note: 1 John 4:4.].”]
The flesh also gradually loses its ascendency over him—
[Our inbred corruption is a more powerful enemy than the world, inasmuch as it is nearer to us, and ever with us. But the Christian maintains a conflict with it. He never is so perfect in this world but that he still carries about with him “a body of sin and death.” “The flesh lusts against the Spirit” to the latest hour of his life; but if any unhallowed appetite arise, he resists it to the uttermost, and will in no wise yield to its solicitations: or if it betray him into any unworthy conduct, he will mourn over it, and cry to God for grace and strength to resist it; and will never be at peace, till it is utterly mortified and subdued. A man’s besetting sin is that which will, for the most part, give him most trouble to the end of his days. Thus “through the Spirit he mortifies the deeds of the body,” and “crucifies the flesh with its affections and lusts [Note: Romans 8:13.Galatians 5:24; Galatians 5:24.].” True, crucifixion is a lingering death: but still he has nailed his besetting sin to the cross: and it shall never regain its power, though it will still continue to pour forth its venom against Christ to the latest hour of our lives.]
Nor can the devil with all his hosts prevail against him—
[Satan is yet a greater adversary to the Christian than even flesh and blood [Note: Eph 6:12]; but the good soldier will not turn his back. He “girds on the whole armour of God,” and “goes forth in the strength of the Lord God.” Satan, like Pharaoh, (of whom he was the perfect archetype) casts every impediment in his way, and multiplies his thoughts of this world, to divert his attention from a better [Note: Exodus 5:6-9.]. When he cannot prevail to keep the Christian from the path of duty, he will endeavour, like that hardened monarch, to limit him in the prosecution of it [Note: Exodus 8:25; Exodus 8:28; Exodus 10:11; Exodus 10:24.]. When that fails, he will contrive, if possible, to lead him astray, and to fix his attention on controversy, or politics, or something of inferior concern. When that will not succeed, he will labour either to “puff him up with pride, and thus bring him into the condemnation of the devil;” or to cast him down with despondency, and thus cause him to desist from his purpose. But the Christian repels all his fiery darts, “resists him manfully till he makes him flee,” and finally “bruises him under his feet” as a vanquished enemy. This accords with the description given by St. John, “Young men, ye have overcome the wicked one [Note: 1 John 2:13.].”]
After having successfully maintained his conflicts, the Christian receives,
As a view of the recompence that awaits us cannot fail of animating us in our warfare, it will be proper to contemplate it with care—
Our Lord declares it in terms the most glorious that can be conceived: “The Christian shall reign with him”—
[Christ is seated in heaven on a throne of glory: but he does not occupy that throne alone; he admits his victorious followers to a participation of it. Nothing less than this is deemed a sufficient reward for them. It were an unspeakably great reward, if we were only permitted to behold him upon his throne; but he assures us that we shall be exalted to sit thereon together with him, and thus to share both his honour and felicity. Such honour have all his saints; and he, as the arbiter of life and death, pledges his word, that he himself will bestow this reward upon them. How blessed then must they be! how poor a recompence would earthly kingdoms be in comparison of this!]
But the comparison which he here institutes, alone can put the promise in its true light—
[Christ was once conflicting with his enemies, just as we are; but he overcame them upon the cross, triumphed over them in his resurrection, and led them captive in his ascension; and is now set down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Let us view him then on his Father’s throne, and we shall see what glory is reserved for us. Like him, we shall rest from our labours: never harassed either by sin or sorrow any more. We shall dwell in the immediate presence of him whom we love; no longer viewing him at a distance, by the eye of faith, through the medium of the word; but beholding him face to face, seeing him as we are seen, and “knowing him as we are known.” We shall moreover receive all the happiness of which our natures are capable. He who was once a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief as his constant companion, now enjoys both in body and soul all the blessedness of the Godhead. In this we shall resemble him as far as any thing finite can resemble what is infinite. Our capacities of happiness will be enlarged beyond our highest conceptions, and every one will be as blessed as his capacity will admit of. Nor is Christ’s exaltation merely a pattern of ours. He is our forerunner; and the exaltation of the Head is a pledge and earnest that all the members shall in due time be glorified together with him.]
[If such be the felicity of all Christian soldiers, who will not enlist under the banners of Jesus? Who will not join himself to the Captain of our salvation, and give up his name to be enrolled among “the worthies of our David?” Let all of you, my brethren, flock to his standard, “like doves to their windows.” Gird on your spiritual armour, and go forth to the fight. You have a Commander who can not only lead you and direct you in the battle, but can shield your heads, and heal your wounds, and strengthen your arms, and ensure you the victory. Soldiers, “quit yourselves like men; be strong.” “Fight the good fight of faith,” and trust in him for a successful issue of your conflicts. It is but a little time that you shall have to engage; and though you go forth only with a sling and a stone, Goliath shall fall before you. Only go forth in dependence upon your God, and you have nothing to fear. But O what have you not to hope for? What blessed triumphs! What glorious spoils! What everlasting shouts of victory! Look at those who have gone before you in the combat; see them on their thrones, crowned with crowns of righteousness, and shouting with shouts of triumph. Soon, very soon, shall you be numbered amongst them. Let none of you then turn your backs. “If any man turn back,” says God, “my soul shall have no pleasure in him [Note: Hebrews 10:38.].” Fight on a little longer, and you shall not only be conquerors, but “more than conquerors.” The completest victories that an earthly hero can gain, will afford him matter for weeping as well as for joy. But your victories shall be unalloyed with sorrow, and crowned with everlasting gladness. “War then a good warfare,” and fight till you overcome. So shall you receive your promised recompence, and reign with your God for ever and ever.]
THE VOICE OF GOD TO HIS CHURCH AND PEOPLE
Revelation 3:22. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.
PERHAPS there is not another expression in the whole Scriptures which occurs so frequently as this. Our blessed Lord, in the days of his flesh, used it very often at the close of his parables: and here, at the close of every one of the epistles to the seven Churches of Asia, did he repeat it. Surely this marks its peculiar importance: and, to impress it upon all your minds, I will,
Make some general observations arising out of it—
The first thing which strikes us, on reading these words, is, that there must be many who have no ear to hear the word of God—
[This is an awful truth. Whilst there are some who “will not endure sound doctrine,” there are multitudes who hear it without being at all affected with it. They even approve of it; but still never receive it truly into their hearts. On subjects connected with their temporal welfare they would feel an interest; but on these, which relate to eternity, they are unmoved: they are satisfied with hearing them; and when they have given them a respectful hearing, they think they have done their duty in relation to them: “they have ears, and hear not; they have eyes, and see not; they have hearts, but understand not:” and, during the course of a long life, they either gain but very little insight into the great mystery of the Gospel, or acknowledge it as a mere theory, without any practical effect upon their souls.]
The next thing which forces itself upon our notice is, that the things spoken to the primitive Churches, so far as we are in similar circumstances with them, demand precisely the same attention from us that they did from them—
[I will grant, that, so far as the Scriptures applied solely to the particular circumstances of this or that particular Church, so far they are applicable to us only in their general tendency, or under circumstances similar to theirs. But the great mass of the inspired volume related to men as sinners, who needed mercy from God, and were bound to devote themselves altogether to God: and, consequently, it is applicable to mankind in all places, and in all ages. Many, if a passage of Scripture be urged on their attention, will say, that it was proper for the apostolic age, but inapplicable to us at this time. But men’s duty to God is the same now as ever it was; and the way of acceptance with God is the same as ever: and therefore this objection is altogether futile, and unworthy of any serious notice. We are not to expect a new Revelation, suited to our circumstances: on the contrary, we are enjoined, at the peril of our souls, neither to add to, nor to take from, the Revelation already given: and the command given, that every one who has an ear should hear what the Spirit has said to the Churches, shews, that not only were Christians then living to pay attention to what was spoken to their own individual Church, but that Christians, at every period of the world, should hear and obey what was spoken to the Churches generally.]
The last thing which I shall mention, as offering itself to our notice from the words before us, is, that we can never hope to be benefited by the word we hear, unless we receive it as from God, and as dictated by inspiration from the Holy Spirit—
[It is “the Spirit of the living God that speaketh to the Churches:” and his authority must be regarded in every part of the written word, and in all that is delivered agreeably to it by those who minister in the name of God. The hearers of the Gospel are too apt to look at man; and to exalt Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, in their estimation, one above another, on account of some peculiarity in their ministrations; forgetting, that, “whoever plants or waters, it is God alone who gives the increase.” Provided it be really agreeable to the standard of truth, the word, by whomsoever delivered, should “be received, not as the word of man, but, as it is indeed, the word of God.” And if, in attending on the ordinances, this were habitually kept in view, there can be no doubt but that the lighting down of God’s arm would be more visible amongst us, and that the Holy Ghost would accompany it with far greater power to the souls of men.]
After these brief remarks, arising out of the words of my text, I will,
Draw your attention to one or two things in particular, that are contained in the foregoing epistles—
The epistles to the seven Churches contain a great variety of matter, applicable to the existing state of each. In that to Laodicea, there is unqualified reprehension; in those to Smyrna and Philadelphia, unqualified applause; in the others, a mixture both of praise and blame. To enter into the peculiarities of those epistles would be altogether foreign to my present purpose. It is my intention to notice only the things which are spoken indiscriminately to all: and these are two:
“I know thy works”—
[This “the Spirit spake” to every one of them, without exception: and therefore we may consider it as spoken to the Church of God in all ages. And a most solemn truth it is. Almighty God inspects the ways of every child of man. He knows what we do in our unregenerate state: he knows also what we do after we become followers of the Lord Jesus. He discerns infallibly the precise quality of all our actions; how far they accord with the written word; from what principles they flow; for what ends they are performed. He discerns also the measure of them, how far they correspond with the professions we make, the obligations we acknowledge, the advantages we enjoy. He sees every thing which enters into the composition of them; how much of what is pure, and how much of what is selfish and impure. In a word, he “weigheth,” not our actions only, but “our spirits;” and according to his estimate of them will he judge us in the last day. He will not form his judgment, in any respect, from the esteem in which we are held by our fellow-men, or from the opinion which we have formed of ourselves: he will weigh us in the unerring balance of his sanctuary, and will “judge righteous judgment” respecting every individual of mankind.]
“To him that overcometh will I give”—
[This also is repeated to every Church. And it is of infinite importance to every child of man. Every saint has a conflict to maintain, against the world, the flesh, and the devil: and he must not only fight a good fight against them, but must continue to do so, even to the end. As, in a race, it is not he who “runs well for a season,” but he who finishes his course well, that wins the prize; so it is not he who wars a good warfare for a time, but he who endures to the end, that will be crowned with victory. There is to be no enemy to which we are to yield; nor any period when we are at liberty to take our ease. We are never to be weary of well-doing, never to sink under any discouragement, never to turn our back even for a moment. We must act as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, and fight under his banner to the latest hour of our lives: and then may we be assured that victory, yea, and the rewards of victory too, shall be ours. “To him that overcometh,” saith our Lord, “will I give to sit down with me upon my throne; even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father upon his throne.”]
That these hints may produce their proper effect, I will,
Point out the special ends to be answered by bringing them to your remembrance—
Certainly I would wish them to be improved,
For your humiliation—
[I will suppose, that, like the members of all the different Churches, you profess to be faithful followers of Christ. I will also suppose that, in a good measure, you adorn your holy profession. Yet, when you remember what the heart-searching God has said, “I know thy works;” which of you has not reason to hang down his head with shame and confusion of face? If it were but a man, who had been privy to all the workings of our hearts since first we professed to serve God, we should not feel altogether easy in his presence: for though, by reason of his own imperfections, we might expect some allowances to be made in our behalf, yet the consciousness of what we were in his eyes would humble us even in our own, and would tend greatly to stop our mouths before him. Should we not, then, put our hands on our mouths, and our mouths in the dust, before God, under the consciousness of our extreme unworthiness in his sight? Let us individually apply to ourselves that solemn admonition, “I know thy works.” It is addressed to us individually, as much as if we were the only individual upon earth: and God has noticed us as particularly as if there had been no other person in the universe for him to notice. I pray you, brethren, bear this in mind; and learn to walk softly before God, all the days of your life.]
For your warning—
[When it is said, “To him that overcometh, will I give,” it is evidently implied, that on this description of persons exclusively will any reward be conferred. Should not this, then, operate as a solemn warning to us? When any temptation presents itself to our minds, should we not consider, what will be the effect, the ultimate and everlasting effect, of our compliance with it? Should we not balance against each other, the gratifications of sense against the joys of heaven, the sufferings of sense against the pains of hell, the transitoriness of time against the duration of eternity? When persons, calling themselves our friends, would dissuade us from an entire surrender of ourselves to God, should we not bethink ourselves what they can do for us hereafter, or what recompence they can make us for the loss of heaven? Let this, then, operate on our minds, with all the weight that it deserves; and let us never forget the admonition given here to every child of man, “To him that overcometh, and to him exclusively, will I give any portion in the realms of bliss.”]
For your encouragement—
[See the rewards held forth to all the different Churches; and then say, whether you want encouragement to persevere? And remember who it is that says, “I will give.” It is no other than the Lord Jesus Christ, the Judge of quick and dead. The world, it is true, makes promises also: but what can it give? If it could give you kingdoms, they were but a poor possession, which you must relinquish in a little time. And as for the mere gratifications of sense, your past experience will tell you how empty and vanishing they are. But, when Almighty God promises to you the glory and blessedness of heaven, that may well allure you; for that shall live for ever; and you shall live for ever to enjoy it. “Have respect then, my brethren, even as Moses had, to the recompence of the reward,” and “hold fast the rejoicing of your hope steadfast unto the end:” and doubt not but that, in due season, there shall be given you “a crown of righteousness and glory that fadeth not away.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Revelation 3". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28