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Sardis--The fickle Church
Among all the messages to the Churches there is no other which is appalling like this to the Church of Sardis. The condemnation and the denunciation are emphatic; the details, however, are obscure, and as we meditate on what is said, it strikes us that this obscurity is due to intentional reserve. This appears, first, in the title given to Christ: “These things saith He that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars.” Here we are bidden think, not of the historic Christ, but of the inhabiter of eternity. It is as if, instead of coming forth to reveal Himself, Christ were withdrawing into the recesses of Deity; He seems to be receding from our approaches, not advancing to kindle His people’s adoration and reward their love. The same reserve appears in the description of the Church’s sinfulness: “I know thy works, that thou hast a name,” etc. That is all, but it is such an all as produces an impression of utter condemnation. The call to repentance, too, lacks something which we are accustomed to find in God’s appeals to His people: “Become watchful, and stablish the things,” etc. There is no hint that what has perished may be restored. More than once I have seen a tree laden with fruit, its broad green leaves betokening vigorous life, while a formless lump in the stock revealed that once the tree was so cankered that it was not expected to recover; and I have read a parable of the revival of dead graces in man’s life. No such alleviating hint is dropped concerning Sardis. The time has not come for it; the need of the hour is for warning, only warning. There is a shortness in the threat: “If therefore thou shalt not watch,” etc. The Lord does not condescend to say more than is needed. The Church of Sardis knows, after what has been declared, that this coming can only be for judgment, and is left to meditate on the nearness and suddenness of the doom. Even in the acknowledgment that there are faithful persons in Sardis, “a few names which did not defile their garments,” and the promise made to “him that overcometh,” the reserve is maintained. So deep is the sin of the Church that it is blessedness only to have been free from it. So dire is the doom that, for them who have escaped it, to have their names not blotted out of the book of life is enough. The Lord will confess their names in heaven, because it is a wonder to find souls from Sardis there. How may we apprehend the condition of Sardis? Perhaps we say, Sardis was a worldly Church; and this is undoubtedly true. “She that giveth herself to pleasure is dead while she liveth.” Addictedness to things that “perish with the using” is both the sign of a languid inner life, and certain destruction of the little life which remains. Or we may say that Sardis was an impure Church. Discipline was unknown in it; even the pretence of discipline must have been wanting, when of only a few could it be said that “they did not defile their garments.” But there is one touch in the description which is full of significance. “I have not found any of thy works perfect [that is, finished] before My God.” The image suggested is that of a fickle Church, rushing from one thing to another, beginning works and growing weary, taking up and dropping down, impossible to be relied on by God or man. Fickleness is a very common fault; therefore the Lord’s words to Sardis need to be dwelt on. There is no graver symptom of our time than its prevailing restlessness. So many men and women follow the ever-changing fashion--in dress, or books, or household decoration, or art, in science, in philosophy, in philanthrophy, in scepticism, or in faith. Theirs is not the versatility of a catholic temper, but of a shallow soul; such persons proclaim that they have no taste, that is, no original perceptions, no standard of excellence. There is the same instability among the Churches; the popular religious catch-words are for ever changing. Yesterday the parrot-cry was “Orthodoxy”; to-day it is “Liberality, freedom of thought.” There is to them no “word of the Lord”; they have no profound sense of duty, no consecrating purpose, nothing about which they can say, “This one thing I do; this is what I believe with all my heart; of this I am sure; to this I cleave, I can no other, God help me.” And if fickleness be thus the sign and symptom that underneath all shews of religious activity there is death, so fickleness works death. The notion such people have that their great need is some new thing, a new impulse, a new call, is part of their soul-sickness. Their real want is the heart to stick to what they are about. Nearly the whole discipline of piety is in the fact that persistency brings lessons which we can learn in no other way. If we try to perfect what we are doing, we learn our defects and how to supply them; we learn what we can do and how to do it; we strengthen the sense of duty, and catch the meaning of hardness; sources of comfort will open to us when” sore weary with our work well done”; God Himself comes to teach us, and lead us, and be our God. In Sardis, as in Laodicea, there is a special word of comfort to the faithful, because they have found fidelity so hard. “Thou hast a few names in Sardis,” etc. The promise is itself an implied charge against the many; they are defiled as well as heartless. So it must ever be; the pollutions of the world, the flesh, and the devil are sure to overtake those who are not steadfast in their piety. All the more impressive is Christ’s assurance that He has not overlooked the few. He who has the seven Spirits is quick to discern fidelity in unlikely places; He watches to discern and to acknowledge them. Fidelity is acknowledged by Christ as of eternal virtue, however it may reveal itself; and the company of those who overcome is one company, whether the victory have been won on a conspicuous or an ignoble field. It seems so reserved an utterance: “I will not blot out his name”; but the book in which the name is written is “the book of life.” It is no small honour which is conferred on the clean souls in Sardis when they are declared “worthy” to walk with Christ in white. There is a touch of exquisite consideration, of appreciation of what their life had been, in the promise with which the message ends: “He that overcometh shall thus be arrayed in white garments.” Heaven shall be to them the consummation of what they had worked for and striven after on earth. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)
Christ’s message to the formalist; or, feeble because incomplete
I. Delusive appearances; or, the death that simulates life. There is nothing so unmistakable as natural death; in tree, animal, or man, it makes itself fearfully plain. Life may exist in a sluggish or imperfect form, but between the feeblest life and death there is an immeasurable distance. But with spiritual death it is often otherwise. The advances are so stealthy, and so swift, that sometimes every grace and gift has perished before the symptoms of the plague are discerned. Wendell Holmes tells us that in the introduction to “Gil Blas” it is said, “Here lies buried the soul of the licentiate.” Where do not souls lie buried? One beneath the self-consciousness of pride, and another beneath ceremonies which are good in themselves, but which may produce evil, if unduly relied upon. Under what sin is thy soul buried. And let us look at the gracious aspect which is presented here of our Lord. When the king of Ethiopia of old heard that the Persian monarch was dead, he remarked, “It is no wonder that he died, when he lived on dirt.” The allusion, of course, is to corn, which at that period was unknown in Ethiopia. Of Darracott, on the contrary, it was finely said, “that he looked as if he lived upon live things,” for he possessed such abundant vitality. So is it that a man is like that which he mentally feeds upon; so that if he communes regularly and constantly with Christ, he wilt become Christ-like, and will live by the life of Christ.
II. Decaying graces; or, bad which may become worse. “The decay was not as yet thorough in the Church at Sardis; there was still a chance of regaining the lost time, and living by Christ. But unless the Church became vigilant, and took the needful measures, the decay would eventually become complete.” The graces of the Spirit are granted only to certain conditions, and they are removed when these essentials depart from us. Incompleteness is decay. “I have found no works of thine fulfilled before my God.” Their acts of charity and faith had been marred; they were introductions without any succeeding chapters, indeed, but a series of failures. And may not the words imply that one grace cannot live without the other, that they are mutually dependent, that if one be absent, or be wilfully left out, the others will languish and perhaps die? In grace as in nature the balance of life must be preserved. So in grace, every virtue sustains some other, and they rise and fall together.
III. The surprises of judgment: the gracious or the just one. “I will come as a thief,” Christ threatens, by which I understand that in reference to His judgment He thus describes its stealthiness. And with the unexpected nature of this visitation, is there not also combined the idea of its being unwelcome?
IV. The true citizen of the world is a native of heaven. The true question which we should ask ourselves and each other is not, Are you prepared to die? but, Are you fit to live? Hence, Baine concentrates the meaning of the passage into the phrase, “Singular piety in degenerate times is dear to God.” (J. J. Ellis.)
The address to Sardis
I. The form of address. Sardis was a city of considerable eminence, nearly equidistant from Smyrna and Thyatira. It was formerly the capital of the kingdom of Lydia, and is celebrated in profane history as the residence of Croesus, proverbial for his great riches, which were seized by Cyrus in aid of his expedition against Babylon. In the usual course of all these cities, it fell, first into the hands of the Persians, then of the Macedonians, and then of the Roman empire. A village only now remains, near which are some ruins of the ancient city. The character in which Christ appears to this Church is taken partly from the dedication in the 4th verse, and partly from the vision in Revelation 1:16. This is proof that the whole book, from the commencement, is supposed to be sent with the addresses to the Churches.
II. The rebuke. Hero is no commendation to the Church generally. It is given afterwards, as an exception to a few. This Church had formerly been in a flourishing state. It was composed, at first, of simple-hearted and pious believers. There was life in their ministry, life in their ordinances, life in their social meetings, life in their retirements, and life in their souls. This state of things, however, did not long continue. There was a gradual and imperceptible falling away from the grace of the gospel. The Spirit’s influences were less desired, and consequently less enjoyed. Zeal was not deficient, nor even fortitude to brave persecution for the sake of their religion. Their works were considerable, and, in some respects, worthy of imitation by those who are actuated by better principles. These are observed by the Saviour, but as serving only to sustain a profession of the vitality of which they were destitute. “I know thy works, that thou hast a name,” etc. This is displeasing to Christ, because of its gross inconsistency, because of the false aspect which it gives to His kingdom before the world, and because of the dishonour which it casts upon the office of the Spirit of God. A further complaint preferred against this Church is, “I have not found thy works perfect before God.” The literal meaning is finished, or complete. Their works were imperfect in the principles from which they emanated, and in the ends to which they were directed. They were forms without life, professions without fruit. Another feature of their declension is indirectly asserted in these words, “Thou hast a few names, even in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments.” This sentence to a Church, which probably boasted most of the Christian name, and aspired most to ecclesiastical distinction, was peculiarly humiliating. Where the life of godliness fails, it were vain to look for its fruits. The name of Christianity presents a feeble barrier to the corruptions of our fallen nature. What safeguard is there in nominal Christianity against moral defilement?
III. The admonitions. The Saviour exhorts the offenders at Sardis first of all to watchfulness. “Be watchful.” Let them reflect upon their condition, rouse themselves to vigilant inquiry. They are exhorted “to strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die.” Here is an acknowledgment that some genuine piety continued amongst them. This Church is reminded, “how it had received and heard,” and is exhorted to hold fast its first instructions, and repent of its deviations from them.
IV. The threatening: “If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come,” etc.
V. The exception: “Thou hast a few names, even in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments.” There were some, even in Sardis, who had escaped the general defilement. In the worse ages of the Church a remnant has been preserved that have kept their garments pure. The Waldenses, Moravians, and others, will be found to authenticate the truth of this observation.
VI. The promise. The threatening is to the many that have fallen, the promise to the few that have not defiled their garments. “They shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.” VII. The application: “He that overcometh, the marne shall be clothed in white raiment,” etc. (G. Rogers.)
The words of Christ to the congregation at Sardis
I. The general character of the many.
1. They had a reputation for being what they were not.
2. They were in a state of spiritual consumption.
3. They were in a state requiring prompt and urgent attention.
4. They were in a state of alarming danger.
II. The exceptional character of the few.
1. True goodness can exist under external circumstances the most corrupt.
2. True goodness, wherever it exists, engages the specific attention of Christ.
(1) Because it is the highest manifestation of God upon earth.
(2) Because it is the result of His mediatorial mission.
(3) Because on it depends the progress of humanity.
3. True goodness will ultimately be distinguished by a glorious reward.
III. The absolute judge of all.
1. In connection with the highest influence.
2. In connection with the highest ministry.
3. In connection with the highest Being. “My Father.”
(3) Reciprocal love. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
I. Notice the title which Jesus Christ assumes. “He that hath the seven spirits of God.”
1. The Holy Ghost is a Spirit of quickening, of conversion, of prayer, of holiness, and of comfort; for all these purposes the Lord Jesus communicates the Holy Spirit, and hence, He describes Himself as having the “seven Spirits of God.”
2. The expression, doubtless, signifies something transcendently above the claim of the most exalted creature.
II. Observe the deplorable state in which the text describes the church in Sardis to have been.
1. In the visible Church of Christ there are many who have nothing of religion but its lifeless and worthless form. They bear the Christian name, but are totally destitute of Christian principles, and Christian tempers. They are externally clean, and internally impure. They employ language expressive of Christian experience, without possessing correspondent feelings.
2. Genuine Christians are subject to declension in religion.
III. Notice some of the symptoms of the affecting state described in the text.
1. Backsliding usually begins in remissness relative to the most secret exercises of religion. The first steps of a backslider are visible only to God and the individual himself.
2. The effect of spiritual declension soon makes its appearance in the domestic circle.
3. Another symptom of this affecting state is worldly-mindedness.
4. A censorious spirit is a certain symptom of lamentable declension in the things of God in the soul.
5. A love of novelty is another symptom of declension in religion.
6. It is evinced by irritability and unsubmissiveness of temper under trials and afflictions.
IV. The seasonable exhortation which our Lord addressed to the Church in Sardis.
V. This subject addresses itself to three descriptions of character.
1. To those whose souls are prosperous, and who enjoy the inestimable privileges of religion. “Be not high-minded, but fear.”
2. To those whose case is described in the text. Your experience teaches you that “it is an evil thing, and bitter, to sin against God.”
3. To those who are totally destitute of genuine religion. Your state is inexpressibly awful, and infinitely dangerous. (J. Hyatt.)
I. The rebuke given in the text to the Church of Sardis. Beware lest the too partial judgment of men mislead thee as to the judgment of God. Bring thyself to a Scriptural test. Judge as thou wilt be judged at the great day of account.
II. The commendation bestowed, in this address, on a few of the members of the Church of Sardis.
1. There are no circumstances so bad as to render goodness impossible.
2. Even the smallest company of true worshippers is not forgotten before God.
III. The counsel given to the Church of Sardis in this address. There are means of revival which may in every ease be employed with success. The page of history presents to us some splendid examples, in which a body of troops, checked and dispirited for a time, have suddenly beheld the banner, or caught the voice of their leader; and at once, throwing away their doubts and fears, have returned to the fight, scaled the rampart, and crowned themselves with fresh triumphs and glory.
IV. The threat connected with these counsels to the Church of Sardis. All the movements of God, especially in the works of creation, are so precisely in order--the sun and the moon knowing their place, and each season following in the train of the other--that it is difficult to persuade ourselves God will in any case interrupt this regular succession of events, and astonish the sinner by any sudden or unexpected explosion of His wrath. But how often do His visitations thus unexpectedly arrest the ungodly!
V. The promises with which the text closes. (J. W. Cunningham.)
He that hath the seven Spirits.--
The seven Spirits of God
By these seven Spirits of God is meant apparently that One Divine Person, the Holy Spirit, to whom, with the Father and the Son, we render homage and praise. And the reason for the peculiarity of the sevenfold Spirit is because in this book that Spirit is contemplated, not so much in the unity of His person as in the manifoldness of His operations. And, further, that the number seven, being a sacred number, expresses completeness. And so, “He that hath the seven Spirits of God” represents Jesus Christ as possessing, and as possessing that He may impart, the whole fulness of that quick and Divine Spirit. Thus the first thought to be presented to the moribund Church is of the fulness of Divine life gathered into that Spirit who is not enclosed in inaccessible mysteries of deity, but going forth like the flame of the torch, like the glance of the eye, everywhere where men are. This great Life giver is waiting for all feeble and half-dead Christian hearts to come surging into it if they will, and to fill them with its own vitality. Notice still further that the second of the predicates applied to our Lord here suggests for us one very frequent way in which He cleanses out Churches. He hath the seven Spirits and the seven stars. The stars are the symbols of the angels, and the angels are the representatives of the teachers of the Churches; taking that for granted, is it not beautiful that our Lord should be represented, if I may so say, as holding in one hand the seven Spirits of life and in the other hand the seven stars, or to put away the emblem, and to take another figure in Scripture, in the right hand He held the golden vase full of the anointing oil, in the other hand an empty chalice into which it was poured. Jesus Christ wakes up a dead Church by bringing the seven Spirits of God into the hearts of selected men: for the way in which great revivals of religion in little communities and in big ones is usually brought about is that some man or men are filled with the fulness of God and become weary of forbearing and feel the Word like a fire lit up in their bones, and are so fitted to be God’s instruments for communicating the magnetism of life to the dead Church. And now let me ask you to think of one or two very simple lessons from this vision.
1. First of all, should not this vision shame us all into penitent consciousness of our own deadness? So much life waiting to be bestowed, and so little actually appropriated and possessed by us. The whole flood of ChriSt’s grace running by our doors, and we, like improvident settlers in some new country, having no provision for storing or for distributing it, but letting it all run to waste.
2. And then, should not this vision set us upon questioning ourselves as to what it is that keeps the life of Jesus Christ out of our hearts? In the winter time in our towns, when the water stops in the houses, why doesn’t it come? Because there is a plug of ice in the service pipe; and there is a plug of ice in a great many Christian hearts in connection with their Master. Life is sustained by food, by air, and by exercise. Do you feed the life of Christ in you? Do you read your Bible? You will never be vigorous Christians unless you can say, “I have desired the words of Thy mouth more than my necessary food.” Life is sustained by air breathed. Do you take that Divine Spirit into yourselves, expanding that capacity by desire, and so oxygenating all your life and cleansing out the corruptions of sin? And life is sustained by exercise. Do you do anything for Jesus Christ? Absolute idleness is a sure way, and it is a very popular way amongst many Christian people to kill the life of Christ within us.
3. And so, let this vision draw us to our Master that we may get the life He can give from His own hands. Your Christianity can only be sustained by the repetition continually of that which kindled it at first. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I know thy works.--
God knows the works of men
I. The Lord knows every man’s ill courses. He knows what men are, and what they have been, and what they will be, as He knows all their thoughts, words, and works. He knows all their dispositions, their persons, their natures, their qualities, their affections, and ends and aims and motives, and estates; He knows how many are rotten though they profess never so much, how many are unsound though they be never so well esteemed in the Church; He knows in what estate every man stands (Job 11:11). The use of this is, first--Is it so that God knows all men’s sinful courses? If men be dead-hearted, He knows it; if they be heartless in good duties, He knows it; though they would be loth that men should know what they are, and do keep it from them, yet they cannot daub it before God; He knows it. Then this may serve to confute them that say, God does not know sin. True, sin is an evil, yea the greatest evil of all evils; yet the knowledge of it is good. God knows who do abuse Him, and how people carry themselves towards all His commandments and worship; it is a part of His perfection to know it. Secondly, another use is to condemn the most sorts of men that do net consider of this truth; they little think that God sees all their doings. I fear there is hardly any among us that will seem to deny but that God can see all his ways; and yet we see it is too apparent by men’s lives, that few men do believe this indeed. If we did charge this upon our souls, we could not live so loosely as we do. Thirdly, Is it so that God sees all men’s sins? Then this is a terror to all that go on with a self-condemning heart (1 John 3:20). If we have self-condemning heart, how much more shall we find a condemning God? Fourthly, this is comfort to good people; for if God see all men’s sins, then He sees all men’s goodness much rather. Again, what a comfort is this? If we desire to know our sins, God is able to show them unto us. Fifthly, Does God know all men’s sins? Then this should make us afraid to do evil at any time, or in any place, yea in the secretest.
II. The knowledge that God knows all our works is the powerful means to all God’s elect, to do them good, and to quicken them and to make them take heed of all manner of sin.
1. Because the Lord’s knowing of our works is not only a mere knowing of them, but also a marking and a pondering them too.
2. Because when God sees all our sins, it is with a most holy and pure eye, and such an eye as cannot abide such an object before Him.
3. Because when God sees all our sins, He records them, He notes them in a book that He may never forget them.
4. Because when God sees our sins, it is even all one as if all the world should see them too; for let our sins be never so secret, yet, it God know it, it is worse than if all the world knew it; for all the world shall know it one day.
5. Our disposition is such that we cannot abide that our wickednesses should be seen of anybody that we know cannot abide them.
III. Now we come to the particulars. The first is in these words, Thou hast a name that thou livest. By “name” is meant a mere name, as we see by the clause following, “and art dead”; for when a man is dead, the name to live must needs be a mere name. First, a name in regard of themselves, they took themselves to be alive; as Paul had a name to live before his conversion, while yet he was Pharisee, he had then a name to live (Romans 7:9). Secondly, a name in regard to other godly Churches; others in the judgment of charity conceived they were alive; as the Scribes, and the Pharisees, our Saviour Christ told them, they had name to live (Matthew 23:27), that is, ye seem to be alive, ye have a name to live, but indeed ye are dead. Thirdly, a name among poor, ignorant, and simple people that are led away with shows. Ye know that there be abundance of poor, simple people, that knew not what true religion is, nay, maybe hate it, but yet they are led away with the show of it. Fourthly, a name among the persecution of religion, and so they are persecuted too among them that live indeed; for mockers take them to be of the same number. Now the point of doctrine is this, that it is a horrible thing to rest in a mere name of being religious. The reasons are, first--this is to be farthest off from religion; because himself will not, and others cannot so effectually apply to him the means of recovery, he being in his own and others’ judgment a true convert. As a sick man who thinks himself well is of all others farthest from cure. Religion is a real thing, and therefore he that rests in having the name of it, is farthest off from it. Secondly, it is a very blasphemy to get the name for good people, when we are not good people indeed. The reason is this--religion hath an inward dependence upon God; it hath an internal relation unto God; it puts a man into a propriety with God that God is his God; it puts the very name of God upon a man. Now, if a man take the name without the thing, it must needs be a very blasphemy. Thirdly, it is a fiat lie, when a man hath the name of a good Christian, and hath not the thing signified by the name. Fourthly, it is an unreasonable thing. When a man hath not the thing, there is no reason that he should have the name. Fifthly, it is an impudent thing. When we have a name to live and to be wrought upon by the Word, what an impudent thing is it, if we do not look to it that we be so indeed. One would think we should blush to think what a name we have, and how little we make good our name between God and our own souls. Sixthly, it is an inexcusable thing. If we have a name to be alive, we are without excuse if we be not. First, because out of our own mouths God will judge us; we said we were His people, we took the name of His servants; why then He will say, Why had I not your service? Why would you do no more for Me? Secondly, ye can have no other excuse. Can you say you could not believe in My Name? Ye could not forego such and such lusts at My command? Why then would you go for My servants? Seventhly, it is an unprofitable thing: a naked name will do us no good. True faith alone does justify, not the name of it; true peace of conscience does comfort, not the name of it; true interest in God gives a man a cheerful access to God, not the name of it, Eighthly, it is not only unprofitable, but also it is hurtful. It is hurtful unto others. It is hurtful unto them that are without; for when they see how lazy such as go for professors be, how they have little else in them but talking and professing, and prating and hearing, this hardens the heart of them that are without, and makes them all think that religion is a matter of nothing. Again, they do a great deal of hurt unto comers on. Many a man that is smitten at the word, that begins amendment, and gives good hopes that he will come to something in the end, when he lights upon such Sardian saints, that are so in name, but there is no life at all in them, these put him back again. Again, they do a great deal of hurt unto the saints of God, sometimes by deceiving of their hearts and cooling of their zeal and fervour, or if they cannot do that, then they hate them, and prove very shy of them, and gird them behind their backs, and do them much mischief. Again, they do a great deal of hurt to themselves, for it had been better for them they had never had a name, than having a name not to be as the name does require. No; the Lord does not find fault with Sardis for having of a name that they lived, but that they had this name when as they were dead; if they had been alive, the name to be alive had been well. Then what use must we make of this point?
1. To show the misery of some of our Churches. They have only a name to live, though we might live well enough, for we have the doctrine of life, in many places, yet in regard of our conversations for the most part, we may say it is but only a name. For how does sin reign among us everywhere? Covetousness, profaneness, fulness of bread, lust, security, deadness of heart, formality--now where such sins do abound, there the power of godliness must needs be away. Generally our assemblies content themselves with an outward profession; if they go so far, they have but a name to live. Come we to the graces of God’s Holy Spirit, without the which a man is dead in trespasses and sins, etc., as faith, repentance, peace of conscience, and love, etc., where are any of these to be found?
2. Another use is of terror against us. Do we think that the Lord will endure this at our hands? He hath endured it too long, but He will not suffer it always. He hath a spiritual thunder-clap that He lets fly against this sin (Isaiah 32:5). That is, the Lord will unmask all such persons, He will pluck off all their names, and they shall have a name fit for their natures, and He will do this--First, in their own consciences. Secondly, in the judgment of others. If we rest in a name, the Lord will detect us at last before others; and then what a shame will this be? (W. Fenner, B. D.)
The state of all men known to Christ
I. Christ hath a perfect knowledge of every one’s works.
1. In what extent we are to understand “the works” which Christ is said to know. Works here are not to be taken as distinguished from words and thoughts, but in the largest sense, as including both.
2. In what manner Christ knows men’s works.
(1) The knowledge Christ has of the works of men is most clear. He does not take up with appearances, but sees through every disguise, and takes things as they really are.
(2) The knowledge Christ hath of the works of men is immediate, not by report from others, but from His own all-penetrating light and inspection.
(3) The knowledge Christ hath of the works of men is perfect and full. Perfect as to their number; none of them escape His notice or regard; perfect as to their nature and circumstances, and as to the springs and aims of those that do them. Works that we may have forgotten are known to Him and remembered by Him.
(4) The knowledge Christ has of the works of men is infallible and liable to no mistake. He cannot be deceived, and will not be mocked.
(5) The knowledge Christ has of the works of men is with approbation, or dislike, according as they are found to be good or bad.
II. Whoever he be that hath a name to live, and yet is dead, is known to Christ as what he really is.
1. What is implied in having a name to live? They that are really in a state of grace may be justly said to live, as such souls live to the best purpose; for to them to live is Christ. They are out of the reach of the sting of death, and so need not through fear of it pass their lives in bondage; they are near a blessed immortality, in which they are to live for ever. To be thus privileged is to be alive indeed. And such a name may be acquired--
(1) By a freedom from the grosser pollutions of the world.
(2) A name to live, as it implies an open and visible profession of subjection to Christ, a joining with His people in His worship and ordinances, and an holding on some time in such a course; so it may arise from these.
(3) A name to live may result from experiencing the common operations of the Spirit of God, which for a time may look hopeful and promising.
(4) These convictions and external reformations may be accompanied with excelling gifts, enlargedness in the duty of prayer, joy and delight in hearing and attending upon the supper of the Lord, frequency in acts of self-denial and mortification. There may be great head-knowledge and ability to discourse of hypocrisy itself with appearing abhorrence, and of sincerity with signs of love to it; and yet all these may be found in one unchanged at heart.
2. Such a name some professors of Christianity may have, who are all the while they bear it spiritually dead. If it be asked, With whom such may have a name to live? a negative answer is obvious: Not with Him who seeth not as man seeth.
1. They may have a name to live with themselves: they may reckon themselves in a state of grace, when they are all the while in the gall of bitterness, and bond of iniquity.
(1) In the security that reigns in their souls. They dread no danger, though the nearest to it, but cry, Peace, Peace, to themselves, when sudden destruction is coming upon them.
(2) Sinners show their good opinion of themselves in the hope they keep up of their safety with reference to their souls and eternity.
(3) They may have a superficial joy in spiritual things as the stony ground hearers had in receiving the word; and thus, with themselves they have a name to live.
2. They may have a name to live among others, and these the friends and followers of Christ.
3. The sadness of the case, to be dead, under a name to live, or of being alive.
1. Does Christ know every man’s works? How strange is it that it should be brought into dispute, whether He be truly and properly God!
2. Does Christ know the works of every man? What ignorance or unbelief does it argue in such as sin securely, if they can but do it secretly!
3. What seriousness becomes us whenever we engage in any holy duty or religious worship, as all our works are known to Christ!
4. What reason have we to be humble in a review of our own works, as they are all known to Christ, and, as many of them are such as we have cause to fear, He at once observed and disapproved!
5. How fit is Christ to be the Judge of all men at the last day, who knows every man’s work now!
6. How big with terror to hypocrites is this doctrine.
7. The hearts of those in whom there is no guile allowed, may take comfort in the thoughts that Christ knows their works and knows them to be the fruits of His Spirit and grace in them.
8. May one that has a name to live be spiritually dead? Hence learn that saving religion in an inward thing.
9. When Christ declares, I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead, with what solicitude should every one make the inquiry, Lord, is it I?
10. How inconsiderable a thing is it to be judged of man in this day! of man that looketh only on the outside. Our chief concern is with one infinitely greater: He that judges us is the Lord.
11. How terrible will the day of Christ’s coming be to the self-deceiving hypocrite, and how joyful to the humble saint. (D. Wilcox.)
I. The work of the body.
II. The work of the mind.
III. The work of the character.
IV. The work of the spirit.
V. The work of suffering. (H. H. Gowen.)
That thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.
On formality and hypocrisy in religion
I. What is necessary to give a man a name to live?
1. It is necessary that he abstain from vice, and the grosser pollutions of the world.
2. Besides this, there must be an external appearance of devotion. Mere negatives will not be sufficient.
II. When may a man be said have a name to live only? A statue may be so curiously painted and dressed as to be mistaken, at a distance, for a man; and a hypocrite may borrow so much of the appearance of Christian graces, as may enable him to pass for a genuine Christian.
1. He has nothing but a name who attends to the outward part of religion only.
2. He that has but a name to live, feels no satisfaction and joy in approaching to God.
3. He has a name to live only, who, notwithstanding all his religious exercises, is in no degree better.
4. He has a name to live only, whom difficulties or apprehended dangers cause to turn back, or who, as Solomon says, “faints in the day of adversity.”
III. The folly and danger of being satisfied with a name to live while you are dead.
1. Consider then, that while this is your character your services cannot be acceptable to God.
2. Consider again, that while you indulge this lifeless religion you will never attain to holiness.
3. Besides, it can never give true satisfaction. It may silence, but it cannot satisfy conscience.
4. With nothing but a name to live, we shall never obtain an admission into heaven. (S. Lavington.)
Some causes of spiritual death
1. One cause of spiritual death is self-satisfaction. A traveller lost on the prairie, with the snow falling fast and thick, with his blood coursing slowly, feels that sense of ease which the opium-eater knows. He lies down in the soft white drifts. They make an easy bed. His friends find him and try to arouse him. He would rather be left undisturbed. His self-satisfaction works his death. George III. was satisfied with his government of the American colonies; he therefore refused to remedy its abuses, and his satisfaction cost him these colonies. Upon all who are satisfied with their standing before God the chill of spiritual death has begun to rest. They can no more draw spiritual life from themselves, than one can feed his body by sucking blood from its veins. Therefore, satisfied with their relation to God, they do not strive to gain life from Him who is the source of the life spiritual, as He is of the life physical. Their self-satisfaction works the ruin of their souls.
2. But more frequently than by self-satisfaction is the spiritual life killed by the indulgence of some sin. Many a man has felt he could surrender his entire property to God; but when the temptation arose of making a hundred dollars by a trick of the trade, he has chosen to be dishonest. But the sin may not be one of commission. It may consist in the omission of some duty. It may consist in the refusal of some means of grace. It may consist in the preference of doing nothing to advance God’s cause. Such sins of omission deaden the spiritual life. But in general the sin consists in the choice of some other good than the good which the Christian life affords. (C. P. Thwing.)
The warning voice re-echoed from Sardis
The evidences of salvation are various, and may be viewed in various ways. On the present occasion--looking to the expression of the text, where the word rendered “dead” is literally “a dead body,” a corpse--I will endeavour to work out the marks of a living as opposed to a dead soul, from what we know to be marks of a living as opposed to a dead body.
I. One great characteristic of spiritual life, in the Bible, is the possession of spiritual sight. The first test, therefore, I would propose of spiritual life is a perception of spiritual truth. Place before the eye of the living body a scene of loveliness or of horror, and from the eye the heart is at once affected, at once feels the attraction or repulsion, and so feels as to act upon that feeling. Even so, place before the vision of the living soul a spiritual truth--the beauty of holiness, or the loathsomeness of sin--and at once does the heart so feel the truth as to act upon that feeling. Nay, verily, as spiritual facts are vastly beyond all corporeal facts in importance, so spiritual facts have vastly more effect upon the heart, when once the soul’s vision is tolerably clear: they speedily become its all in all.
II. The living soul has hearing as well as sight. There are many, who are listeners to religious sounds after a fashion, eager attendants on this or that preacher, ready hearkeners to certain kinds of religious conversation. But their hearing is an empty thing. It fills their head with notions and their tongue with words, and perchance their heart with a sort of excitement; but as to any solid effect on heart and practice, that is wanting. How different with the soul that really lives! This soul, conscious of God’s presence, trembles at His threatenings, bows in reverence to His commands, melts at the hearing of His love, and pants after His promises in the very fervency of desire. Its spiritual ear, as its spiritual eye, brings every impression home to the heart; there roots it a vital principle, sanctifying the inner man and prompting the outer practice.
III. The living soul possesses also the faculty of speech. Its very existence is prayer. Keenly alive to the greatness of its wants, and as alive to the willing fulness of the Lord, its desires are continually travelling upwards from these wants to that fulness, in the inward breathings of prayer, if not with its audible words.
IV. I will continue the analogy but one step further, and that is in growth. True, spiritual life, as it is a quickening, so is it an impulsive principle. As it gives action to the spiritual eye, ear, and tongue, so does it give growth to the whole inner man. Slow growth it may be; still grow the living soul must and will. It is a growth in knowledge; but that is not the sure test. It is a growth in holiness, and that is She test; the one clear, decisive test of the soul’s life (Matthew 7:20). True Christian holiness is not the honesty of the worldling; nor the honour of the gentleman; nor the temperance of the philosopher; nor the kindness of the good-natured; nor yet is it the mechanical observance of the formalist, nor the bustling vehemence of the religionist. True Christian holiness is a hearty conformity to God’s whole will, acting in a loving obedience to all God’s commandments. It works in two great lines of feeling and operation--in a deep-rooted horror of sin, as God’s utter hate, and a perfect hungering and thirsting after righteousness, as God’s supreme delight, both springing from entire love to God as their one grand source and motive. Conclusion: What is the result of this inquiry for you? As mark after mark of spiritual life has been brought forward, have you been able to say, “This mark I have; if not in the highest degree, still, God be thanked, most assuredly I have it”? But are there any who can find no such marks in their soul? Then, whatever else you may have, you are destitute indeed. You may be very amiable in men’s eyes. Death has sometimes its momentary beauty. A shadowy loveliness is seen to linger on the lifeless features. Yet the work of decay and destruction is just as busy beneath. You may be gifted with great talents and great energy; you may gain high distinction and honour in the world; but if your soul be not “alive in Christ,” what is all this but a fading garland on the head of a corpse? (John Gibson, B. D.)
A living Church
I. A church may be said to live while she is dead, when she has the name of Christian without the doctrines of the gospel.
1. The most important discovery in the Word of God is that of redemption by the Lord Jesus Christ from sin and death and misery. One of the most vital doctrines must therefore be what relates to the Person of the Redeemer.
2. The second doctrine upon which depends the life of the Church, is the Atonement or Sacrifice which Christ our Lord has offered for sin. The supreme deity of our Saviour demonstrates His power to save if He would.
3. The third doctrine upon which depends the life of the Church, is that which relates to the Holy Spirit and His influences.
4. In the sum of these doctrines we discover the fourth principle upon the influence of which the life of the Church depends, the doctrine of Free Grace. The practical reception of this doctrine in the Church lies at the foundation of a religion for sinners.
II. The Church may have a name to live, and be in reality dead, when orthodoxy in opinion is substituted for morality in practice. Iii. The church may have a name to live, while in reality dead, from haying an external morality without humility and piety. (H. Cooke, D. D.)
That a minister may be in fault that the people are dead
I say the minister may be in the fault; the point is very clear from this place. The Lord being to reprove the people here of Sardis, for their deadness in religion, He directs His reproof to their minister. The good or bad estate of a people dependeth much upon the minister. Commonly we see it fall out, as the Prophet Hosea said, “Like people, like priest” (Hosea 4:9). Such as the builder is, such is the building; as is the husbandman, so is the husbandry. (Wm. Fenner, B. D.)
By dead I mean five things.
1. Deadness of guilt; when a man is guilty of any offence, that is death by the law. Now when a man is not pardoned of God, he is dead, though he have never so many hopes and conceits of forgiveness.
2. Deadness of mind, when the mind is ignorant of God in regard of saving knowledge.
3. Deadness of heart, when the heart is not inclined towards God, then we say it is dead towards God and all goodness.
4. Deadness of conscience, when the conscience hath no force; it may be it finds fault with such and such ways, but it hath no power over the man to make him to leave them.
5. Deadness of affection; when the affections are clumsy, and will not stir towards God and all heavenly things. Should a man have all Christianity in him, and yet be dead and dull and without life, it is even all one as if he had just nothing. First, for conversion. Should a man seem to be converted, O what a changed man is this! He was a drunkard, and now he is sober. This is well. Ay, but if thou beest dead to the ways of God this is nothing towards heaven; except a new life be put into this man, to be alive in all these good ways; except he be quickened together with Christ. Secondly, faith. Should a man lean himself upon God, and upon Christ, should a man apply all the promises of the gospel to his soul; alas, what of this? If this man be dead still, without such a faith as produces life, it is little better than nothing. Thirdly, to be a member of the visible Church of God, to be a stone in God’s building, put in by baptism, kept in by profession of the Christian faith. This is a poor thing, if this man now be not lively stone. Fourthly, for hope. It may be thou hast hope that thou art a good Christian, thou hast a hope of the heavenly inheritance; now if thy hope be a dead hope, if it does not quicken thee up to trample on the world, to carry thee on through thick and thin, this is not a gracious hope. Fifthly, for repentance. Whatever thou hast to say for repentance, canst thou plead a thousand changes and reformations, yet if thou hast not gotten out of a dead temper, thou art yet under an impenitent heart. Again, to go over all duties of religion--they must be done with life; to do them with a dead heart, is as good as not to do them at all. Religion is a very irksome thing unto us, as long as we are dead.hearted. What is it that takes away the grievousness of it, but a lively heart? (Wm. Fenner, B. D.)
Death in the Church
I need scarcely remind you that all the seven epistles to the Churches are cast in one mould; each of them begins with setting forth some aspect of the ascended Christ’s power or glory or relation with His Churches, which aspect is generally drawn from the great vision in the first chapter. It is to this correspondence between the aspect in which our Lord is revealed here and the state of the Church of which the vision is given, that I venture to ask your attention. First of all, then, let us try to understand what sort of a Church it is that wants this vision. It was dead. One smiting word stands in the place of all characterisation; it had no persecutions like the faithful band at Smyrna. Why should it? It had not life enough to be obnoxious! What was there in such a Church as that to provide any antagonism? It exactly suited the world’s purpose, and was, in fact, only a bit of the world under another name. A dead Church is on the best possible terms with a dead world. When the frost binds the ground, weeds and flowers alike cease to be put forth. There is a worse condition than when many people are thinking earnestly about religion, and some of them are thinking wrongly. And so the Church at Sardis had no heretics because there was nobody in it that cared enough about the principles of Christianity to think earnestly about them. And it had no immoralities either--most respectable. And yet one Eye looked at it and said, “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and are dead.” About how many of our Churches and of the individual Christians who take up the profession of Christ and connect themselves with ecclesiastical arrangements with such light hearts, may the same be said! Life is the condition of union with Jesus Christ, and death is the grim alternative that waits upon separation from Him. That Church had lost the tenacity of its hold and the intimacy of its union with Jesus Christ. Now note further, as brought out in this letter, that such a condition is not final and irreversible. They were not so utterly dead as moribund, and so in another part of the letter we read about things which remain and are ready to die, and about works which were done but were not perfect or fulfilled. Ay! effects last after causes cease; institutions live when all the reality is out of them. Habit, use and wont, forms, ceremonies, keep up the appearance of vitality when the reality is almost gone. There are creatures of a low organisation where you can get muscular contractions after life is extinct; you will find gardens round many a deserted, roofless house in the country where the weeds have not killed all the roses, and a vagrant flower or two still remains to testify the culture that was. And so in thousands of our communities there is enough left of the living, lingering effect of the primitive impulse to keep up a ghastly mockery of life which would be far better if it knew itself to be what it is--dead! And that brings me to say again that such a condition may be absolutely concealed from every eye but the Eye that is as a flame of fire. A great many of our communities I am afraid are living on the past. John Wesley had a great name, but you cannot live because there was once John Wesley with you. Unconsciousness is the surest sign of spiritual decline. I suppose a man paralysed has no sense in his limbs, and might put his feet into a tub of scalding water and take the flesh off the bones and never know it. Frostbitten limbs are perfectly comfortable: it is the waking that is the pain. Like the hero of the Old Testament Book with his locks cropped, they go out as of old to exercise themselves, and they wist not that their strength has departed from them till they try a death-grapple with the Philistines, and then they find it out fast enough. What is it that has in the course of ages worn into indistinctness the sharp-cut granite features of the Sphynx that looks out over the Egyptian desert? The perpetual attrition of microscopic grains of sand blown against it by the vagrant winds! And so the multitudinous trivialities of life, coming in contact with the image of Jesus Christ in our hearts, will efface its fair features and leave but a dim outline.
II. Now, let me ask you to look at the vision which such a Church needs. “He that hath the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” It is a distinct reference to the personal spirit of God conceived of in the manifoldness of His operations rather than in the unity of His Personality. That spirit comes permeating, enlightening, illuminating, vivifying, discerning, and strengthening all of us if we yield ourselves to it. There is the antidote for a dead Church, a living spirit in the sevenfold perfectness of His operations. He is the spirit of consolation, of adoption, of supplication, of holiness and wisdom, of power and of love, and of sound mind, and into all our deadness there will come the life-breath which shall surely quicken it all. That which is unique in the history of Christianity as compared with all other religions, its power of self-recuperation, and when it is apparently nearest extinction, the marvellous way in which it flames up again because the Spirit of the Lord is poured forth. Other teachers--what can they do? They can impart a system, they can train a little group of dwindled imitators, who generally imitate their weaknesses, and think they are imitating their strength, but to give the spirit that animated the originator is exactly what none of them can do.
III. The words of my text suggest one of the ways in which this bestowment of the seven spirits is accomplished. One way by which that Spirit of God is shed abroad upon His moribund Church is by raising up men in it filled with the Spirit, and whose intense vitality communicates life to that which is almost dead. Let us all go back to Him for quickening. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Uselessness of mere profession
Many content themselves with the name of Christians; as if many a ship hath not been called “Safeguard” or “Good-speed” which yet hath fallen into the hands of pirates. (J. Trapp.)
A dead Church
A pastor of a Church in a western town went to his prayer-meeting on Thursday evening as usual, where the attendance was very small; but that evening no one came; even the sexton went away after lighting the church. After waiting half an hour for his members to put in their appearance, and finding that he was the sole worshipper, he went to the bell-cord and slowly tolled the bell, as the custom was when any one died in the town. The alarm was magnetic. All over the town the inquiry was made, “Who is dead?” A number of the members of the Church hastened there to ascertain who was the unfortunate one. Just then the minister, descending the steps, was interrogated by several of his flock, “Who is dead?” “This Church is dead,” was his response, and then and there he resigned the pastorate. (D. Tasker, D. D.)
Semblances of life
Nature presents us with many affecting illustrations of the semblance of life, where death is reigning; the flowers in your garden may for a time retain the form, when life is extinct; the ancient oak in the forest may stand for years erect, while life has long since passed away; the tiny shell on yonder beach may attract your notice, when its once little tenant can nowhere be found: so do we often think we find the form of godliness, when the power--the reality--the life are wanting. (C. Bowes.)
A name to live
I have seen a graft bound to the bleeding tree. It was inserted into its wounded side, that both might become one. Yet no incorporation followed. There was no living union. Spring came singing, and with her fingers opened all the buds; summer came, with her dewy nights and sunny days, and brought out all the flowers; brown autumn came to shake the trees and reap the fields, and with music and dances and mirth to hold harvest-home; but that unhappy branch bore no fruit, nor flower, nor even leaf. Held on by dead clay and rotting cords, it merely stuck to the living tree, a withered and unsightly thing. And so, alas! it is with many; having a name to live, they are dead. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
A show of life
God abhors and man despises the fair colours of a religious profession that stand out, as it were, above the surface of the nature, like the appliquee of the embroiderer, instead of being interwoven with the stuff so as to become a part of it. Mere outward decorum and religious decency are not what God requires, though they are too often, alas I what is presented to Him in lieu of the beauties of holiness. It is easy to assume the character of God’s people, to imitate their manners, to use their language, to conform to their habits. It is easier to paint a flower than to grow one. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
The semblance of life
How like to a Christian a man may be and yet possess no vital godliness! Walk through the British Museum, and you will see all the orders of animals standing in their various places, and exhibiting themselves with the utmost possible propriety. The rhinoceros demurely retains the position in which he was set at first, the eagle soars not through the window, the wolf howls not at night; every creature, whether bird, beast, or fish, remains in the particular glass case allotted to it; but we all know these are not the creatures, but only the outward semblances of them. So in the Churches of Christ, many professors are not living believers, but stuffed Christians. They possess all the externals of religion, and every outward morality that you could desire; they behave with great propriety, they keep their places, and there is no outward difference between them and the true believer, except upon the vital point, the life which no power on earth can possibly confer. There is this essential distinction, spiritual life is absent. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A life akin to death
I was reading in Humboldt’s “Cosmos,” the other day, a very remarkable thing. He tells us that he went with some Indians into a number of, huge caverns in South America, which were locked in perpetual darkness; but ill them certain fruit-eating bats were accustomed to go to dwell. They had brought there the seeds of different plants, and when Humboldt and his guides entered with their torches, there were trees and plants of every kind that had grown in the utter darkness. Just as you have seen a potato grow in your cellar, and send out its yellow sickly shoots, so the whole cavern was like a great forest or garden, full of these ghastly ghosts of plants. Oh, you may work in your Churches, and you may sow, and you may labour, but if the blessed light of God’s own truth does not come in, it will be a sickly vegetation akin to death. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Formalism and true Christianity
The other day I was at a railway station with a friend, and looking at a couple of engines. As we were talking the engine-driver came up, and I remarked, “We have just been admiring the engines; very splendid ones they are. I should think they are just alike.” The man looked at me significantly. “Yes; they are much alike outside, but that one there has no fire burning, and it cannot even move itself; but this one here has the fire burning and the steam up, and I am just going to jump upon it, and you will see it run away with the whole train behind it.” Well, I thought, there is just that difference between the for-realist and the true Christian. The formalist is, to all appearance, a splendid engine; but there is no fire and the steam is not up. The Christian may not be so powerful-looking or so showy, but then the fire is burning, and the steam is up; and while the one cannot help himself, the other will by his zeal affect a whole neighbourhood. (C. Garrett.)
Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die.
The evidences and causes of the decay of religion in the soul
I. When one’s religion is decayed to dying remains.
1. Some things from whence one’s religion may seem to be brought to dying remains, while really it is not so.
(1) The wearing away of violent affections and commotions of heart in religion, or the settling of flashes of affection.
(2) One’s not being able to go through with duties with that ease that sometimes they have done before.
(3) The marks of the decay of natural vigour left on religious duties.
(4) More felt stirring of corruption than before.
2. Some things that will evince one’s religion to be brought to dying remains, whether they think it or not.
(1) When the conscience boggles not but at gross outbreakings.
(2) When one’s conscience is strait in tile circumstantials of religion, but lax in the substantials of it.
(3) When there is any one thing lacking to the perfection of one’s religion in parts.
(4) When folks’ strength against sin and temptation is abated: that is a plain indication of a decay, for “the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day (Proverbs 4:18).
(5) When the work of mortification is at a stand; the man’s not watching his heart, and noticing the lusts rising there, and setting himself to mortifying them (Romans 8:13).
(6) When, though the duties of religion be kept up, yet spirituality in duties is gone.
(7) When one is become a stranger to the life of faith in Christ Jesus, what is left but dying remains.
II. What are the causes that bring one’s religion to dying remains.
1. Unwatchfulness (Revelation 3:2). Carelessness about one’s body is ofttimes fatal to it; about one’s substance, breeds a consumption in their estate; and unwatchfulness over the heart breeds a spiritual decay.
2. Spiritual sloth (Ecclesiastes 10:18). This is a bewitching sin, and if once Satan get men asleep on this enchanted ground, be sure they shall be robbed there.
3. Quenching of the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19).
4. Slacking in diligence about the duties of religion (Proverbs 19:15).
5. Doing anything with a doubting conscience, doubting whether the practice be lawful or not.
6. Worldliness and carnality. When one goes aside from God to the world, he lies down among the lions’ dens, and how can he come away without loss?
7. The entertaining of any one lust, or idol of jealousy (Psalms 66:18).
III. Wherein lies the strengthening of things which remain, that are ready to die?
1. In blowing up the remaining spark that is ready to die out (2 Timothy 1:6).
2. In adding to the remains (2 Peter 1:5-7). (T. Boston, D. D.)
The decline of religion--its causes and remedies
1. A culpable inattention to the things which are necessary to preserve the spirit and life of religion.
(1) Inattention to the characteristic spirit of the gospel is highly injurious to the life of religion.
(2) Inattention to the means which God has appointed to preserve the life of personal religion, is a cause of its declension.
(3) The next thing necessary to maintain personal religion, is serious attention to the motives which the gospel inspires, the neglect of which forms a powerful cause of its decline.
(4) It is necessary also, in order to maintain the life of religion in the soul of individuals, that they should keep the principal design of the gospel in view; the neglect of this is one cause of its declension.
2. The pernicious influence of erroneous sentiments.
(1) One of the pernicious effects of erroneous sentiments is, that they induce those who are under their influence to be more attentive to speculative opinions than to personal religion.
(2) Their tendency is to make the Church less solicitous about the conversion of sinners to God, than the establishment of some favourite notions.
(3) Erroneous sentiments produce evil passions, and prevent unity of exertion, and thus tend towards the decline of the Church. Peace and unity are of high importance to the prosperity of a religious community; whatever tends to engender evil tempers is therefore very injurious, and hastens its decline.
(4) The introduction and prevalence of pernicious sentiments tend to fix an unfavourable character on the Church, and thus to prevent its prosperity, and hasten its decline.
(5) The Spirit of God is grieved, and withholds His gracious presence from the people.
3. The destructive influence of a worldly spirit.
(1) A worldly spirit is manifested when individuals or families struggle for preeminence.
(2) When property is suffered to have all undue influence in the affairs of the Church.
(3) When the members of the Church are attempted to be directed or governed more by the power and authority of its officers than by reason and Scripture--by love and persuasion.
(4) When there is a want of suitable submission and subordination in the members of the Church.
(5) The spirit of the world is manifested in a way very injurious to the Church, when its most prominent members so comply with the maxims and customs of the world as to have their Christian characters involved in that of the worldling and people of fashion.
4. The neglect of those Scriptural principles which were given by Christ for the direction and government of His Church.
(1) The neglect of the nature and importance of the Scriptural principles given for the guidance of the Church, often involves in it consequences injurious to the peace and prosperity of the body.
(2) One of the most important eases which imperatively requires an attention to right principles, is the choice of a minister. The decline of some Churches may be traced to imprudent steps taken on such an occasion.
(3) Another thing which leads to the decline of religion and the Church, is the neglect of Scriptural principles in the admission of members.
(4) The neglect of Scriptural principles in the conduct of the Church toward its minister sometimes operates as a cause of the decline of religion in that congregation.
(5) The neglect of Scriptural principles by the Church with regard to their conduct towards each other, is often a cause of its decline.
5. The next general cause is the prevalence of a fastidious and a false taste in matters of religion. A false taste may effect
(1) the simplicity,
(2) the unity, and
(3) the energy of the gospel.
6. The last, and often the principal cause of the decline of religion in a Church, is an inefficient ministry.
1. That all the individuals in the congregation should use every means in their power to impress upon their own minds, and upon the minds of others, a sense of the necessity and importance of revival.
2. Endeavour to discover and remove the obstacles to its success.
3. Adapt the means of revival to the circumstances of the place.
4. Unite and combine the diversified talents of the people for the accomplishment of this end. (John Griffin.)
The true method of securing a revival
In an age when so much is said and thought about revivals, the passage before us is peculiarly appropriate. The great secret, after all, consists in rightly cherishing those things that are already possessed.
I. What are the things which remain in such a Church?
1. Some degree of Church organisation. There was, in the case of Sardis, a “name to live”; they had “received” the oracles of God. It was a Church, although a weak one.
2. Some of the Church ordinances. They had the Word of God. The preaching of the gospel, if not accompanied by the saving power of former days, was still a privilege in their possession.
3. Some of the undertakings to which a Christian Church may address itself. “I know thy works.”
4. The presence of a few godly men.
II. What is the Divine method of securing a revival?
1. Human ingenuity would probably resort to one or other of these two methods:
(1) Some would suggest entire reconstruction. They would remove the weak and sickly plants, and till the ground afresh.
(2) Others would seek to accomplish the end desired by introducing some powerful revival element, such as they have heard of as successful elsewhere--revival preaching, revival services, revival hymns.
2. God’s plan differs from both these. He neither destroys nor calls in the aid of foreign excitement. He simply says, “Strengthen the things that remain.” Literally, “Make fast the surviving things that are about to perish.” Here then we have--
(1) Church organisation consolidated.
(2) Church ordinances more diligently observed.
(3) Church work more actively performed.
(4) Godly men multiplied. (F. Wagstaff.)
The weak things of the soul, and the way in which they should be strengthened
I. The weak things of the soul that need to be strengthened.
1. The graces of the soul.
2. The activities of the soul. Work is the best medicine for a weak soul.
3. The best talents of the soul. Grace, energy, thought, generosity, love, and enterprise--these gifts need culture, or they will perish.
II. The method by which the weak things of the soul should be strengthened.
1. They are to be strengthened by quiet meditation.
2. They are to be strengthened by earnest prayer.
3. They are to be strengthened by the influences of the Holy Spirit.
III. The reason why the weak things of the soul should be immediately strengthened. The weak things of the soul, being ready to die, are in imminent danger, and require immediate attention. This death should be avoided, because it is the extinction, not of the body, but of the invaluable energies of the soul; of its faith and love. Men cannot afford to let these things die; they have nothing to substitute in their place. Lessons:
1. That the soul of man has vitalities which require to be nourished by appropriate food and care.
2. That ii this attention is withheld they will perish.
3. That heaven is anxious for the quickening of the energies of the soul. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Methods to be taken for the revival of religion
I. We should have a constant regard to the frame and temper of our own spirits.
II. We should take heed also to our doctrine, that our preaching may have the most direct tendency to do good.
III. Public catechising of young persons is a proper method to revive and support the interests of religion.
IV. We should frequently visit our people, manage our visits in such a manner this will most effectually promote their spiritual improvement.
V. I further propose that we take a particular notice of those who are under religious impressions.
VI. Admonition and reproof must not be neglected, if we desire religion should flourish under our care.
VII. We should be much in prayer for the blessing of God upon our endeavours.
VIII. We must take the greatest care to support these attempts by a regular and exemplary behaviour.
1. Consider what it is that is dying; it is vital and practical religion, the glory of our Churches.
2. The revival of religion among us may prevent the growth of infidelity and bigotry.
3. A regard to our reputation should engage us to attempt the revival of religion.
4. Our support in life depends upon the regard which our people have to true religion.
5. A consciousness of our having done our utmost for the revival of religion will be a noble support in our dying moments.
6. Our degree of glory in the future state will be proportionable to our present zeal for the revival of religion. (D. Some.)
I. We may begin by defining what we mean by “Indifference.” Now there are always two great periods of difficulty in the history of individual religious belief. The first is the difficulty of accepting a new faith. The greatness of St. Paul’s conversion lies here, that it was the turning not of a bad man into a good, but of a sincere bigot from the faith in which he had been nurtured to a faith which he had despised. But there is a second trial belonging to more quiet times. If they who have inherited a settled form of religion are spared much which probes those whose lot it is to have a new creed proposed to them, they have a different danger of their own to face--the danger of holding loosely what they have been familiar with from childhood. Persons belong to the Christian Church by birth, by compliance with certain external usages, but the subject-matter inspires them with little interest. Their religion is unto them a matter of propriety, an element of the social system, but it does not stir the depths of their nature. But now, why may not a man whose tastes so incline him preserve as it were this state of neutrality, without taking any part in the conflicts of thought around him, or the struggles of the kingdom to overcome the ignorance and the sin of the world? It might be answered that a perfect neutrality amid conflicting principles and practices is almost an impossibility. “Indifference” is generally the result of one of two causes--pride of intellect or mental sloth. But the noblest argument against “Indifference,” is that indicated in the text. “I have not found thy part fulfilled before God.” In those solemn words, as they thrill across the border-line between eternity and time, I seem to hear of a part assigned to every individual, not to accomplish which to the full is a disappointing the very end of our creation. How vast soever be the Divine plan, whatever circles of the universe it may embrace, your life and mine has been knit up therewith. Every child born into the world is designed to contribute to the evolution of the purposes of the everlasting will. And this holds good more especially of religion. There is nothing more remarkable than the manner in which, in all that concerns God’s revelation, man has been assumed as a fellow-worker with God. As in the great fundamental truth, the Incarnation, so in every after detail of the eternal plan, the everlasting decree changed not, that the work of religion in the world must be accomplished by and through man. And similarly with the Church of Christ; we may almost trace in its history the part allotted by God to each generation. It was the task of the early Church to lie hid, like leaven, in the midst of this polluted mass, breathing into the dry bones of this dead civilisation a new and healthier life. It has not perhaps been adequately noted how the existence of the Roman empire was protracted by the fresh vigour which Christianity was secretly throwing into the worn-out system. And now a new work was to be done in God’s world. There is no more wonderful chapter of man’s history than that which records how tribe after tribe poured down from the north, and upon every one as it drew near, while civil institutions crumbled before them, the Church of the living God laid its hand and moulded out of their fierceness a second and more vigorous civilisation. May we venture to indicate the work which seems allotted to ourselves? It is impossible not to observe two special features of our own age, the concentration of the population in a few centres of industry, and the general diffusion of knowledge. Both these bring with them their’ trials; both oppose, each its own hindrance to faith and good living. When these obstacles are mastered, and the truth of God has won yet another triumph over what is now, as every trial once was, an unknown difficulty, doubtless some other form of evil will present itself until the victory of the Son of Man is complete. But now, if every generation be thus indeed God’s appointed agency for winning some fresh triumph for Him, if we are a link in that chain which connects the beginning with the end, what an argument is here against that cold philosophic indifference in which so many stand aside from the work of God in their day. Shalt I hold in my hand an instrument imparted by my Creator, and not use it to the utmost?
II. But secondly, “indifference” is the consequence and proof of an imperfect cultivation of the individual mind and character. God has implanted in us two sets of faculties, those by which we deal with our present existence, and those by which we apprehend things unseen. Reason, prudence, foresight--these are the endowments which qualify us to act upon this world. But there are other endowments vouchsafed unto man. To him alone, of all that walks the earth, is given the power of looking beyond the earth. The one grand note of difference between man and the beasts lies in the simple power to utter the familiar words, “I believe in God.” And this high gift carries with it a variety of gifts. It is the Divine ordination which sets the whole race apart as the priests of creation. The direction and exercise of these spiritual instincts, neither on the one hand to allow them to degenerate into bigotry and superstition, nor on the other hand to let them, as we may let them, die out of the soul, is perhaps the loftiest task which God has set us. The man who cultivates only those faculties which are called into play by the affairs of this life cultivates only half of his being. And hence another characteristic of “indifference.” To stand aloof from the questions which have to do more immediately with the revelation of God, to have an acute interest in all except the truths, the worship, the progress, the influence of the Church of Christ, is to present the sure marks of an imperfect manhood, to evidence a one-sided development of the powers of the soul. We will not speak now of the selfishness of the attempt to isolate ourselves from the struggles of our contemporaries, to withdraw from the warfare of God, filling up the vacancy of the mind and the life with a thousand self-chosen imaginations and pursuits. It is to the secret world of the human soul that we would now carry down your gaze, and aa you gather in the mightiness of its organisation and walk through the chambers of its imagery, summing up all the powers with which its Maker hath equipped it, we bid you note how in the case of the man who lives on in indifference, one portion of the stately fabric lies hopelessly in ruins; how the part that is strongest, is in close contact with that which is weak; how around the well-wrought halls of thought, memory, reason, imagination, lie in disjointed fragments the kindred gifts of reverence, and love, and self-sacrifice, and faith, uncared for and unbuilt up, and so whatever admiration among men the exhibiting some rare mental faculty may procure, the man’s part, when set in the light of God’s countenance, is seen to be but half performed, the work imperfect before the Lord. (Bp. Woodford.)
I. Its symptoms. They are analagous to those of corporeal consumption.
1. Loss of strength to resist the wrong and to do the right.
2. Loss of appetite for holy service, wholesome doctrine.
3. Loss of enjoyment. All complaint; no pleasure in anything,
II. Its causes. Neglect of proper conditions of health.
1. Wholesome food.
2. Suitable exercise. Inaction must lead to disease. “Exercise thyself” rather unto godliness.
3. Pure atmosphere.
III. Its cures.
1. Appropriate remedial elements. “Balm in Gilead.” “The tree of life whose fruit is for the healing of the nations.”
2. Suitable applications of these elements. The medicine is of no service unless taken according to truly scientific prescription. (Homilist.)
Spiritual graces need invigoration
Would you have and keep up ardent desires? Do as they that would keep in the fire, cherish the sparks, and blow them up to a flame. There is no man lives under the means of grace, and under the discoveries of God and religion, but has his good moods and very lively motions. The waters are stirred many times, take hold of this advantage. Strengthen the things that remain and are ready to die, and blow up these sparks into a flame. God has left us enkindling means--prayer, meditation, and the Word. Observe where the bellows blow hardest, and ply that course. The more supernatural things are, there needs more diligence to preserve them. A strange plant needs more care than a native of the soil. Worldly desires, like a nettle, breed of their own accord, but spiritual desires need a great deal of cultivating. (Thomas Marten.)
I have not found thy works perfect before God.--
God will search whether we be perfect
First, man’s search may be without finding; but now when God searcheth men, He is sure to find men out (Psalms 139:1). Secondly, man’s searching hath ever ignorance foregoing, though after search maybe he comes to know, yet before searching he knows not (Job 29:16). God searcheth because He doth know, man because he doth not. Thirdly, man’s searching is properly so called; but when searching is spoken of God, it is after the manner of men; God doth rather act a kind of searching, then search indeed. Fourthly, it is man’s duty to search if he know not any particular passage of his life, whether it be warrantable or no. Fifthly, man’s searching is for himself, that things may appear to himself; but when God searcheth it is that it may be manifest abroad, that a man’s sell and others may see it. The reasons of this are, first, because it is God’s prerogative thus to do, because the perfection of men’s works; though men may give a guess at it, yet it is a secret. Secondly, as this is God’s prerogative royal, so of all things in the world He will bring that which is secret out, whether men be sincere or no. Thirdly, because it is for the glory of God to search men out. Fourthly, it is for the truth of God; He hath said He will search every one out, as you may see (Job 34:22). Fifthly, this is for the justice of God, that God should search out every one what he is, and what his works be; how should God judge the world else? The first use may serve to reprove most men generally; we do not consider that God will search us. What a company of pleas are there to do evil? What a company of put offs to do good duties? The second use is to bid us take heed how we hide our sins from others, or from ourselves. The last use is for exhortation. Will God search us out? then we should search ourselves what our works are, whether good or evil; as the apostle saith (2 Corinthians 13:5). First, consider we can never repent of what is amiss in ourselves, or in our works, except we search ourselves (Lam 1:43). Secondly, consider it is a mark of the child of God that he doth desire, and is one that doth search himself; nay, he doth not only use all the means he can to do it, but he doth cry to God to help him (Psalms 139:23). Thirdly, consider, if we do not search ourselves, it will be the worse for us. (Wm. Fenner, B. D.)
Perfect the work of grace in the soul
“We shall not,” says Thomas Manton, “keep what we have received if we do not labour to increase it, as a house begun to be built goeth to decay, and droppeth down more and more, if we do not go on to finish it.” Have we not all seen what are commonly called house-carcases standing in desolation, a blot upon the street, and a dead loss to the builder? To-day the slates are falling, to-morrow the windows are broken, and anon timber after timber falls. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Remember, therefore, how thou hast received and heard.--
I. The means prescribed for the restoration of those backsliders which were found in the Church at Sardis. Our Lord exhorted them to compare the past with the present state of their religious experience, in which they would perceive a distressing contrast. Such an exercise has a tendency to check arrogance.
1. Remember how you received the Lord Jesus Christ, when He was first revealed to your faith as a suitable and all-sufficient Saviour.
2. Remember how you heard the Gospel of Christ.
II. Our Lord exhorteth the Church at Sardis to “hold fast.”
1. The doctrines of the gospel.
2. The profession of their faith.
3. Their hope.
III. Our Lord called upon the Church at Sardis to “repent.” True repentance includes hope of being restored to the enjoyment of spiritual prosperity.
IV. The exhortation of our Lord to the Church at Sardis, is urged by an awakening threatening: “If therefore thou shalt not watch,” etc. Promise and threatening unite to rouse backsliders. (J. Hyatt.)
And hold fast.--
The duty of holding fast the truth
I. What you are called upon to hold fast. You are exhorted to hold fast the truths of the gospel; to lay to heart those precepts, and commands, and promises, which the great God hath condescended to utter on your account.
II. How you are to hold these things fast.
1. With the assent of your judgment, holding fast that which is good, not suffering the sophistries and false arguments of others to blind and to confound you.
2. With the consent of the heart.
3. With faith. Not a mere historical faith; not a mere speculative faith; but a faith apprehending the greatness of the Son of God.
4. In our lives and conversations; walking in the truth of Jesus.
5. With meekness, but with resolution.
6. With prayer and perseverance.
III. Why you are to hold fast that which is delivered unto you.
1. Because of its excellency; the incomparable value of Divine truth. Truth reflects the Divine image; truth attempers the glories of the great God, and exhibits His perfections.
2. Because of the violence and the wrong which were otherwise offered to God.
3. Because of its blessed tendency; for, by making us holier, even in this life, that which we hear makes us happier.
4. You must hold fast the words of sound doctrine, because they affect the great and the coming destinies of the imperishable soul. (J. T. Judkin, M. A.)
Thou hast a few names even in Sardis.
A solemn warning for all Churches
I. General defilement.
1. A vast deal of open profession, and but little of sincere religion. You can scarcely meet with a man who does not call himself a Christian, and yet it is equally hard to meet with one who is in the very marrow of his bones thoroughly sanctified to the good work of the kingdom of heaven. We meet with professors by hundreds; but we must expect still to meet with possessors by units.
2. A want of zeal. Ah! we have abundance of cold, calculating Christians, but where are the zealous ones? Where are those who have an impassioned love for souls?
3. The third charge against Sardis was that they did not “look to the things that remained and were ready to die.” This may relate to the poor feeble saints. And what does the Church do now? Do the shepherds go after those that are wounded and sick, and those that are weary? Yes, but how do they speak? They tell them to perform impossible duties--instead of “strengthening the things that remain and are ready to die.”
4. Another charge which God has brought against the Church is, that they were careless about the things which they heard. He says, “Remember, therefore, how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast; and repent.” If I am wrong upon other points, I am positive that the sin of this age is impurity of doctrine, and laxity of faith.
II. Special preservation. “Thou hast a few names.” Only a few; not so few as some think, but not as many as others imagine! There is not a church on earth that is so corrupt but has “a few.” Since there are but a few, there ought to be great searchings of heart. Let us look to our garments and see whether they be defiled. The fewer the workmen to do the work the greater reason is there that you should be active. Be instant in season and out of season, because there are so few.
III. A peculiar reward. “They shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.” That is to say, communion with Christ on earth shall be the special reward of those who have not defiled their garments. Go into what company you please, do you meet with many men who hold communion with Christ? Oh, Christian! if thou wouldst have communion with Christ, the special way to win it is by not defiling thy garments, as the Church has done. “They shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.”
1. This refers to justification. “They shall walk in white”; that is, they shall enjoy a constant sense of their own justification by faith; they shall understand that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to them, that they have been washed and made whiter than snow, and purified and made more cleanly than wool.
2. Again, it refers to joy and gladness: for white robes were holiday dresses among the Jews. Let thy garments be always white, for God hath accepted thy works.”
3. And lastly, it refers to walking in white before the throne of God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The believers at Sardis
I. Those persons who are here spoken of were truly holy. Those men were the glory of their Church; and we might have expected that the heavenly purity of their principles and their conduct would have shed around them a highly beneficial influence, and would have induced many others to have pursued along with them a course so splendid in itself, and so happy and brilliant in its termination.
II. The passage represents these truly holy persons as only few in number. The truly holy, in every age of the world have borne but a very small proportion to the great mass of mankind.
III. These holy persons were found in a place where great degeneracy prevailed. Religion is like the snowdrop that flowers amid the colds and frosts of winter, or like the violet that blooms in all the beauties of its varied and vivid tints, and breathes all the richness of its fragrance unhurt by the foul and noxious weeds that flourish in its immediate vicinity.
IV. The few holy persons in the church at Sardis had the promise of great honour being conferred upon them. White, in the inspired volume, is frequently used to denote the holiness of the Christian character, and, at the same time, to represent the success, the prosperity, and the honour which all enjoy who possess it. (John Johnstone.)
I. The commendation and the honour which our Lord bestowed upon the few exemplary characters in the Church at Sardis.
1. Garment is put for a holy life answerable to a profession of discipleship to Jesus Christ. There were a few disciples in the church at Sardis who were clothed with the garment of humility: “as the elect of God, holy and beloved,” they had “put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness,” and “long-suffering,” and had been enabled “to adorn the doctrine of God,” their “Saviour,” by a holy and uniform consistency of conduct.
2. When we consider the power, the subtlety, the enmity, and the vigilance of Satan; and the innumerable sources of seduction by which the people of God are constantly surrounded; and the many sinful propensities that lodge within their own hearts, we are surprised that any of them pass through life without defiling their garments. Nothing could be more unaccountable, did we not know the cause of their preservation. They “are kept by the power of God,” or it would be impossible they could stand secure from falling, even for a moment!
II. The distinguished honour which our Lord promised to confer upon those Christians in Sardis who had not defiled their garments.
3. Our Lord gives encouragement to His faithful disciples, by assuring them of His final testimony of approbation. “I will confess His name before my father, and before His angels.” (J. Hyatt.)
Christian life has power to resist adverse influences
There is nothing on earth that has such power to destroy Christian life as a society of men who bear the name of Christ without manifesting His spirit and life. A dead Church is a mightier obstacle to Christian vitality than the influences of the world or the sneers of the keenest infidelity; it freezes the influence of truth, it paralyses the power of prayer, it lays its cold hand on the pulses of the Christian’s faith, chilling them into a death-like sleep. But yet, with that fact before us, we shall try to show that every Christian may overcome those influences which hinder his life. We shall try to show that we have no right to be weak Christians, moulded by social circumstances, but are bound to be Christians whose deep life makes circumstances its servants.
I. True Christianity can conquer adverse social influences. Now here it must be granted as an obvious fact that some men are more liable to be swayed by social influences than others. Those whose character is weak, and whose feelings are strong and undisciplined, are doubtless more easily carried away by mere impulse than men of naturally strong character and power of self-control. But yet it is possible for us to gain an elevation above such influences, for in Christianity we can discern the elements of a power which will confer it. We shall perceive this by glancing briefly at the manner in which circumstances and social influences attain their greatest sway over men; and then by showing how, in a true Christian life, the sources of that power are overcome.
1. The absence of a ruling emotion is one great element in the power of circumstances. Now true Christianity is essentially the enthronement of one feeling in the heart--the love of God through Christ, and because that feeling ascends to the eternal and unchanging, it must pre-eminently give a firmness to the character that defies the force of circumstances.
2. The absence of purpose in life is the other element in the power of circumstances, for it is too obvious to need illustration, that a purposeless life must be the creature of circumstances, and at the mercy of every influence. Now a true Christian life-purpose is a life-surrender to God; it is to live constantly as in the eye of the Eternal King, to exist that we may be self-consecrated to Christ and attain a resemblance to Him; a purpose not visionary but sublime--a purpose not attained in the middle of life nor at life’s close, but going onward into the life of boundless ages. But it will be more obvious that such an aim in life must shut out the force of circumstances, from the fact that it can only be lived through an independent and individual conviction of Christian truth. We want men who are not echoes, but voices; men who draw their inspiration from prayer rather than from preaching, from individual self-consecration, and not from collected sympathy. Then should we feel less that external things can effect the grandeur and earnestness of our Christian life. And one other fact will bring all this to a personal and direct application. We must be thus conquerors over circumstances and opposing forces, for our Christianity will ever be weak. We must be men, not spiritual infants, or we shall lose our Christian mission in life.
II. This conquest contains in itself the elements of everlasting blessedness. Who does not feel it better to be alone with Christ in struggling with opposing influences than to be up-borne by the current of popularity and stimulated by the flattery or friendship of men? And when thus we gain, through our own battle, a deeper insight into the mystery of that life of Jesus, and have the consciousness of a growing fellowship with Him, we are already being clothed in the white garments of eternity, and walking with the Son of God. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)
The undefiled few
I. The undefiled few.
II. The present power of Christ’s undefiled few. It would appear to be one of the Divine arrangements that the many should be blessed in the power and influence of the few. No single phase of human life but has been lifted up into dignity for ever through the example of some noble moral hero. There are ever the few in political life who see clearly, grasp principles vigorously, and lead aright the unthinking many. There are many students in the walks of science and literature who never reach beyond the common level, and in each age there are a few men of genius like Bacon, and Butler, and Newton, and Herschell, who rise high up above their fellows, the giants of the intellectual world. The principle may even be seen working within the Church.
III. The future glory of Christ’s undefiled few.
1. They who struggle after goodness now shall find themselves then settled in goodness for ever. He who tries to reach Christlike purity daily finds his dangers growing less, his temptations becoming fewer, his struggles ever more surely ending in the victory of the good.
2. Above all, these undefiled few shall have a communion with Christ of an extraordinary intimacy and preciousness. “With Me.” (R. Tuck, B. A.)
The two garments
The words “garment,” “robe” and “raiment” are used in the Scriptures to typify character. When a man repents of sin and joins himself by faith to Jesus Christ, he is clothed with a new nature. He “puts on Christ,” so that there is not only an inward faith in Christ, but some good degree of outward resemblance in daily conduct. This may be called the garment of grace. It means Christian character. Now character is not determined by a single act, but by habitual conduct. It is a fabric made up of thousands of threads, and put together by uncounted stitches. However thorough may be the cleansing process wrought upon the heart at the time of conversion, yet no one becomes absolutely spotless. We live also in a defiling world. If we walk through certain streets in this city we must be on the lookout, or our clothes will become besmirched. A good man goes to his place of business and finds himself in the atmosphere of Mammon. It is every citizen’s duty to take a citizen’s part in politics; but when he becomes a zealous partisan there is plenty of “pitch” around in the caucus and the convention, and unless he is a conscientious man he is apt to be defiled. In social life he encounters the prevailing trend for show and self indulgence and expensive living. On a white surface the slightest spot shows painfully; and it is no easy thing to keep the spiritual raiment clean. Yet by the indwelling power of Christ’s grace there are those “even in Sardis” who keep their spiritual garments comparatively clean. If a true follower of Christ becomes soiled with impurity, he grieves over it, repents of it, and hastens to that Saviour who pardons and restores. By such processes can only the garment of grace be kept from utter disfigurement and defilement. By and by this garment of grace shall be laid aside for the garment of glory. The one is for time; the other is for eternity. The first garment is a Christian character formed by the regenerating Spirit of God in this world. The other is a Christian character completed, consummated, and glorified in that world wherein entereth nothing whatsoever that defileth. They “walk with Jesus in white, for they are worthy.” Determine that whatever others may do you will be a thorough and consecrated servant of your Master, “even in Sardis.” Determine that you will keep the garment of character undefiled. If all Sardis is infected with the lust of gold, let not the canker eat into your soul. However many in Sardis rush off into frivolities and into these scenes of folly that make deathbeds terrible, do you choose rather the joys of holy converse with the Master in the “upper chamber.” (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
The few in Sardis
I. The rarity of those who are the true saints on the earth. Sadly the truth presses on every mind that it is the many who are sluggish and fruitless, it is only the few who are faithful. A little band of executive Church labourers produce what each year gathers.
II. Their purity. They “have not defiled their garments.” Holiness of life is more than vividness of experience.
III. The prospect of the saints.
1. The word here rendered “walk” means to accompany around. Thence it is applied to sharing the continuous lot of one with whom we dwell.
2. “They shall walk with Me.” The companionship is that of Christ Himself, for it is He that is here speaking.
3. It is the symbol of glory hereinafter to be revealed to believers. Here are two thoughts distinctly suggested, each of which has great value. The one is that the glory of that future state is not so much in its triumphs and trophies as in its graces. The glory is its sinlessness, its perfect freedom from all pollution. So it is of much more importance what we shall be than what we shall have. Then the other thought is that holiness here is its own reward, here and yonder too.
IV. The prerogative of the saints. “They are worthy.” The significance of this statement takes its force from the connection in which it stands. One prerogative is asserted in their behalf; they are proper companions for God’s Son. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The duty of maintaining an unsullied character
I. Consider the great difficulty of preserving innocence amidst surrounding corruption.
1. The natural abhorrence which rises in the breast at the first appearance of its detestable form is insensibly weakened and effaced by repeated views of it. There is, besides, in the view of a multitude running to do evil, a temptation of peculiar force.
2. Amidst the universal infection of vice some men there are whose particular constitution, or want of experience in the ways of the world, expose them greatly to its deadly influence. The man of good nature, and of an easy, pliable temper, who suspects not the treachery of others, becomes an easy prey to the temptations of the wicked.
II. The dignity and excellence of that man who, notwithstanding every assault, maintains an unsullied character.
III. Enforce the imitation of christ’s example by the great motive mentioned here.
IV. The reason for conferring such honours on the good and virtuous. “They are worthy.” (J. Main, D. D.)
God’s little remnant keeping their garments clean in an evil day
I. Offer a few propositions concerning this remnant.
1. God’s remnant are a holy people. They are a set of men that study to keep clean garments.
2. God has a special eye of favour and kindness on this remnant in a sinful and declining time.
II. Show that Christ has a high value for this remnant.
1. Consider what an account He makes of them when compared with the rest of the world (Isaiah 43:4; Psalms 119:119; Lamentations 4:2).
2. That this little remnant are worthy on Christ’s account will appear if we consider the names and compellations that He gives them (Malachi 3:17).
3. Consider the endeared relations they stand under unto Him. There is a legal, a moral, and a mystical union between Him and them.
4. That they are worthy in His esteem appears from what He does for them (Revelation 1:5; Hebrews 8:12; Hebrews 4:16).
III. Inquire into what is imported in the remnant keeping their garments clean.
1. That even God’s remnant are not without danger of defiling themselves with the sins and defections of their day.
2. That foul garments are very unbecoming and unsuitable unto God’s remnant. A careful study of universal obedience unto all known and commanded duties. A holy caution and tenderness in guarding against all sin, especially the prevailing sins of the day.
IV. Inquire into the import of the consolatory promise made unto the remnant that keep their garments clean.
1. “What is imported in walking with Him?
(1) It necessarily supposes the soul’s subsistence in a separate state, or after its separation from the body, otherwise it could not be said to walk with Him.
(2) Its activity.
(3) Perfect peace and agreement between Christ and men.
(5) Full pleasure, satisfaction, and complacency.
2. What is imported in walking with Him in white?
(1) That then all their black and beggarly garments shall be laid aside.
(2) That perfect holiness shall then be their adornment.
(3) Victory over all their enemies, whether outward or inward.
(4) High honour.
(5) Priestly service.
(6) A blessed conformity between Christ and them.
(7) The beauty of the Lord their God will then be upon them.
V. Inquire into the connection between the duty and the privilege, between keeping the garments clean and walking with Christ in white.
1. Negatively there is no connection of merit, as if our keeping of clean garments did deserve that we should walk with Christ in white.
2. Positively there is--
(1) A connection of decree or purpose in this matter.
(2) A connection of promise.
(3) A connection of meetness or congruity.
(4) A connection of evidence.
1. Holiness is to be studied and pursued, however it may be ridiculed and mocked at by a profane world.
2. They labour under a mistake who think or say that it is a vain or “unprofitable thing to serve the Lord” and to keep His way.
3. Gospel purity and holiness is not such a common thing as the world apprehends.
4. See hence what it is that sweetens the pale countenance of the king of terrors to believers: it is this, they see that upon the back of death they will be admitted to walk with Christ in white. (John Erskine, D. D.)
In the case of the Church at Sardis, we observe--
I. The sad spectacle of spiritual declension. The Church is represented as having only a name to live. The world sometimes sees the worst side, and God the best, but in Sardis it was the opposite. The word “dead,” however, is not used absolutely, but comparatively, for there were certain rare plants in this desert of decaying vegetation that required to be watched and strengthened. Yet the faith and virtue of these were in danger.
1. There were some things ready to die. What things? Faith, love, zeal, hope.
2. Things requiring to be strengthened. Weak and incipient virtue, languishing graces, and faint desires. Things that are decaying need cherishing. Learn a lesson of the gardener, and nurse the exotics of the soul. Give thy soul room and stimulus and appropriate exercise.
3. Things that needed remembrance. Appeal to experience, to the memory of former days and old associations. We may forget our past history and so live a sort of fragmentary life.
4. Things that needed to be repented of. Dereliction of duty, loss of faith, decay of love.
II. The cheering spectacle of religious fidelity. “Thou hast a few names,” etc.
1. Redeeming features in the most sombre landscapes. There is always a green spot in the desert.
2. The saints in Sardis were in striking contrast to the society around them. They were pure amidst impurity, holy among the vile. They closed their eyes to the brilliant illusions, their ears to the flattering enticements, or corrupt pagan society.
III. The glorious spectacle of the coronation and triumph of faith. “They shall,” etc. Weigh the reward thus symbolically described.
1. Heaven’s purity for the pure on earth.
2. Enrolment in the register of heaven for those who have held fast the faith of the saints.
3. Recognition before God and the angels for those who, though scorned of men, are eternally honoured by God. (W. E. Daly, B. A.)
True, all our lives long we shall be bound to refrain our soul and keep it low; but what then? For the books we now forbear to read, we shall one day be endued with wisdom and knowledge. For the music we will not listen to, we shall join in the song of the redeemed. For the Figures from which we turn, we shall gaze unabashed on the beatific vision. For the companionship we shun, we shall be welcomed into angelic society and the communion of triumphant saints. For the pleasures we miss, we shall abide, and evermore abide, in the rapture of heaven. (Christina G. Rossetti.)
Pure amidst defilement
A writer tells of going with a party down into a coal mine. On the other side of the gangway grew a plant which was perfectly white. The visitors were astonished that there, where the coal-dust was continually flying, this little plant should be so pure and white. A miner who was with them took a handful of the black dust and threw it upon the plant; but not a particle adhered. Every atom of the dust rolled off. The visitors repeated the experiment, but the coal-dust would not cling. There was a wonderful enamel on the folds of the white plant to which no finest specks could adhere. Living there amid clouds of black dust, nothing could stain the snowy whiteness. (J. R. Miller, D. D.)
They shall walk with Me in white.--
Walking in white
I. The promise of continuous and progressive activity. “They shall walk.” “There remaineth a rest for the people of energies of a constant activity for God.” “They shall walk” in all the more intense than it was at its highest here, and yet never, by one hair’s breadth, trenching upon the serenity of that perpetual repose. And then there is the other thought too involved in that pregnant word, of continuous advancement, growing every moment nearer and nearer to the true centre of our souls, and up into the loftiness of perfection.
II. The promise of companionship with Christ. If there be this promised union, it can only be because of the completeness of sympathy and the likeness of character between Christ and His companions. The unity between Christ and His followers in the heavens is but the carrying into perfectness of the imperfect union that makes all the real blessedness of life here upon earth.
III. The promise of the perfection of purity. Perhaps we are to think of a glorified body as being the white garment. Perhaps it may be rather that the image expresses simply the conception of entire moral purity, but in either case it means the loftiest manifestation of the most perfect Christlike beauty as granted to all His followers.
IV. The condition of all these promises. There is a congruity and proportion between the earthly life and the future life. Heaven is but the life of earth prolonged and perfected by the dropping away of all the evil, the strengthening and lifting to completeness of all the good. And the only thing that fits a man for the white robe of glory is purity of character down here on earth. There is nothing said here directly about the means by which that purity can be attained or maintained. That is sufficiently taught us in other places, but what in this saying Christ insists upon is that, however it is got, it must be got, and that there is no life of blessedness, of holiness and glory, beyond the grave, except for those for whom there is the life of aspiration after, and in some real measure possession of, moral purity and righteousness and goodness here upon earth. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
He that overcometh … shall be clothed in white raiment.
The battle, the victory, and the reward
I. A conflict engaged in. The Christian has the peace of God, and is at peace with God; but just because he is so, he is at war with everything that wars with God.
1. The first of the Christian’s enemies is his own sinful nature. And I am not sure but that is the most dangerous of all his enemies. A foe in the citadel is a thousand times worse than an enemy without. The particular form which this warfare may assume in the individual depends very much upon the natural temperament and previous habits of the man. We have all some sin which most easily besets us. This is the key to the position, like the farmhouse on the field of Waterloo; and, therefore, each principle is anxious to secure it as its own. Nay, not only this; it is here that the new nature is weakest; for as, when one has had a severe inflammation, it leaves, on recovery, a local weakness, which makes itself felt on the least exposure to cold or damp; so, when a man has been addicted to some sin, then, even after his conversion, there, where he formerly was worst, is now his weakest point, and it is in connection with it that his sorest conflicts are. In the light of these things, we cannot wonder that our life is called a fight.
2. But there are other enemies without the fortress, cunningly seeking to tempt us to yield to their entreaties. I mention, therefore, secondly, among our adversaries, the evil men of the world, who approach us ever in a most insidious style. They come under colour of being our servants, and ministering to our pleasure; but alas! it is only that they may remain to be our lords.
3. I mention as another foe the great arch-enemy of God and man--Satan. His efforts, indeed, are inseparably connected with those other two of which I have spoken, He is the general by whom evil men are marshalled for the fight; and as a spiritual being, intimately acquainted with our spiritual nature, he knows how best to take advantage of our still remaining sin.
II. A victory won.
1. The agent by whom this victory is won. In one sense it is the believer who wins it; in another, it is won for him; and it is to the latter aspect of it that I would first look. This conquest is obtained for us by the Great Captain of our Salvation, Jesus Christ; and there are two ways in which He vanquishes our enemy. In the first place, He has already overcome him on the cross; so that we have not now to deal with a foe in his pristine strength, but rather with one crestfallen and defeated. Nor is this all; it was as our representative that Jesus vanquished him; and so he cannot really harm us, however much he may annoy and disturb. Then this death of Christ has also slain the enmity of our hearts; for, if we really believe in Him, “our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin should be destroyed.” Hence our union to Jesus Christ ensures our victory. But Jesus vanquishes our enemy for us, secondly, by the gift and gracious indwelling of His Holy Spirit. He so quickens our conscience, that we shrink from sins of which formerly we would have thought but little; and He works in us a kind of instinctive intuition, by which we know that we are in the presence of evil, and hasten away from its influence. Thus, in Christ for us, and Christ in us, the victory is won!
2. But a word or two as to the means on our part by which the agency of Christ and His Spirit is secured on our behalf. That means on our part is faith. This may be illustrated by the case of one travelling in a foreign land. He is a British subject, and as such he has the weight and influence of the whole British empire at his back, so that he is safe from injury or insult, and sure, if any such be offered to him, that it will be promptly and efficiently checked. But if he cannot plead that he is a citizen of this favoured land, and has to stand alone, he is sure, in a despotic country, to be very cavalierly and even cruelly dealt with, if he should have the misfortune to fall out with its authorities. Now it is just so here; by faith the believer is connected with Christ--one with Him--and a citizen of heaven. Hence, in his warfare, he has all the power of heaven behind him; and the man who has God on his side is sure to be victorious. But in yet another aspect, faith is seen as the means of victory; for it is the eye of the soul, by which the things of the spiritual world are beheld; and by bringing the soul under the influence of “the powers of the world to come,” it encourages it in the battle, and determines it not to yield. It shows him the recompense of the reward: the white raiment; the victor’s palm; the hero’s crown; and the throne of royal honour. And thus it raises him above the sphere of earth’s temptations, and makes him proof against the voice of the charmer, charming never so wisely.
3. But now let us look at the time when this victory is obtained. In one sense, the believer is daily winning victories. Israel, of old, crossed the Jordan to fight; but we cross it to reign; and from the moment of our dissolution we have no more to do with temptation.
III. The blessing here promised.
1. The victor shall be “clothed in white raiment.” This, then, imports that the conqueror’s condition will be one of pure joy, and joyful purity.
2. “I will not blot his name out of the book of life.” The allusion of this phrase is supposed to be to the genealogical tables of the Jews, out of which a man’s name was blotted when he died; and the meaning is, that Jesus will not blot such a victor’s name out of the register of His redeemed ones. Now this phrase speaks of many things comforting to the Christian. It tells of salvation assured to him; and it declares, moreover, that Jesus has a care for him as an individual, and has his name enrolled among the denizens of bliss.
3. “I will confess his name before my Father and His angels”; that is, He will own the conqueror as His, and claim salvation in His name. Nay, it is more than this; it is a public introduction of the believer to heaven, and a proclamation there of the victory which he has obtained. Compared with this, what are earthly decorations for valour? (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The blessedness of overcoming
I. What are we to overcome?
(1) In its hostility (Romans 8:7).
(2) In its indifference (Acts 24:25).
(3) In its insincerity (Jeremiah 17:9).
(1) In its frowns (James 4:4).
(2) In its flatteries (Proverbs 1:10).
(3) In its applauses (Acts 12:22).
(1) In the fears of his approach (Hebrews 2:15).
(2) In the pains of his attack (1 Corinthians 15:55).
(3) In the desolations of his triumph (John 11:25-26).
II. How are we to overcome?
1. By thought. “I thought on my ways.”
2. By purpose.
3. By faith.
4. By effort.
III. The results of overcoming.
1. A pure and spotless nature.
2. An enduring name.
3. A public honour. (C. L. Burdick.)
Earnestness in religion
Such a topic has great difficulty to lay any hold on the mind-almost even to engage the attention. We all know the effect of perfect familiarity and endless reiteration. But more than so;--this great familiar truth seems to suffer in its power of interesting men by the very fulness of its evidence, and of the conviction with which it is admitted. Whatever be the explanation, the fact is evident, that the actual power of this great principle of truth (namely, the absolute necessity of being in earnest about our highest interest) seems to be repressed, in consequence of the ready and complete acknowledgment it obtains in the mind. It seems to go to sleep there, because it holds its place certainly--is not contradicted-and cannot be expelled. If some serious doubts could be raised upon it, they might make the matter interesting--they might turn and fix thought upon it. Perhaps another thing that causes this general solemn admonition (to be in earnest about our highest interests) to come with less force, is the circumstance that it is applicable and pertinent to all. It concerns me, not more than all these millions. Again, there is far too little of the serious practice of bringing as near together in view as thought can do it, the two orders of things which both belong to us--so belong to us that they must both be taken into our practical adjustment. There is the world we are in, the object of our senses; and a world to which we are to go, the object of our faith. There is this short life--and an endless one. There are the pains and delights of mortality--and the joys or woes of eternity. Now unless a man really will set himself, in serious thought, to the comparative estimate of these, and that too as an estimate to be made on his own account, how powerless on him must be the call that tells him he must be “in earnest!” Another thing may be added to this account of causes tending to frustrate the injunction to be in earnest about our highest concerns; namely, that the mind willingly takes a perverse advantage of the obscurity of the objects of our faith, and for the incompetence of our faculties for apprehending them. There is a willingness even to make the veil still more thick, and reduce the glimmering to utter darkness, as strengthening the excuse. “We do not know how to carry our thoughts from this scene into that. It is like entering a mysterious and visionary wilderness. It is evidently implied to us, by the fact as it stands, that the opening of that scene upon us now would confound us in all our business here. Were it not best to be content to mind chiefly our duty here; and when it shall be God’s will and time, He will show us what there is yonder!” Partial truth thus perversely applied, tends to cherish and excuse an indisposition to look forward in contemplations of hereafter’; and this indisposition, excused or protected by this allegation, defeats the force of the call, the summons, to be in earnest about our highest interests. There is another pernicious practical deception, through which the force of this call to earnestness is defeated, and the strong necessity which it urges is evaded: that is, the not recognising in the parts of life, the grand duty and interest which yet is acknowledged to belong to it as a whole. “This day is not much,” a man thinks, “nor this week--a particle only in so ample a thing as all life.” We add only one more description of delusive feeling tending to frustrate the admonitions to an earnest intentness on the great object--namely, a soothing self-assurance, founded the man can hardly explain on what, that some way or other, a thing which is so essentially important, will be effected, surely must be effected, because it is so indispensable. A man says, “I am not mad. I surely--surely--shall not lose my soul.” As if there must be something in the very order of nature to prevent anything going so far wrong as that. Sometimes particular circumstances in a man’s history are suffered to excite in him a kind of superstitious hope. Perhaps, for instance, in his childhood or since, he was saved from peril or death in some very remarkable manner. His friends thought that this must surely be a propitious omen; and he, too, is willing to persuade himself so. Perhaps very pious persons have taken a particular interest about him; he knows he has been the subject of many prayers. So many deceptive notions may contribute to a vague sort of assurance that a man will not alway neglect religion, though he is doing so now, and is in no serious disposition to do otherwise. And, in addition to all, there is that unthinking and unscriptural manner of considering and carelessly throwing ourselves upon the infinite goodness of God. (J. Foster.)
I will not blot out his name out of the Book of Life.
The Book of Life
I. The book. There is a great deal in the Apocalypse about this book of the living, or “of life.” And, like the rest of its imagery, the symbol finally reposes upon the Old Testament cycle of metaphor (Exodus 32:32; Psalms 69:28; Psalms 87:6; Isaiah 4:3; Daniel 12:1). Coming to the New Testament, we find, outside of the Apocalypse, comparatively few references. But see Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Hebrews 12:23). So then, to be “written in the Book of Life” is to be included amongst those who truly live. St. John, in his Gospel and Epistle, dwells with even more emphasis than the other writers of the New Testament on the great central thought that the deepest conception of Christ’s work to men is that He is the Source of life. “He that hath the Son hath life; he that hath not the Son hath not life.” This symbol implies, too, that they who truly live, live by Jesus Christ, and by Him alone. It is “the Lamb’s Book of Life.” In His character of the Lamb--that is, of the Sacrifice for the sins of the world--slain for us all, He has made it possible that any names should be written on that page. Then, again, note how this symbol suggests to us that to be enrolled in the Book is to be a citizen of heaven. The name being “written in heaven” implies that the true native soil of the man is where his name is written. He is inscribed on the register of the community to which He belongs. He lives in a far-away colony, but he is a native of the metropolis. Again, let me remind you that to be written in that Book implies being the objects of Divine energy and Divine love. “I know thee by name” said the Divine voice, through the prophet, to the Great Conqueror before He was born. “I know thee by name,” saith the Lord, to each of us, if our hearts are humbly trusting in His Divine power.
II. The inscription of the names. Now there are two passages in this Book of the Revelation which seem to say that the names are written “before the foundation of the world.” I am not going to plunge into discussions far beyond our reach, but I may remind you that such a statement says nothing about the inscription of the names which is not true about all events in time. So, leaving that ideal and eternal inscription of the names in the obscurity which cannot be dispelled, we shall be more usefully employed in asking what, so far as concerns us, are the conditions on which we may become possessors of that Divine life from Jesus Christ, and citizens of the heavens? Faith in Christ brings us into the possession of eternal life from Him, makes us citizens of His kingdom, and objects of His care. Jesus calls us all to Himself. Do like the man in the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” who went up to the writer at the table, with the ink-horn before him, and said to him, “Set down my name,” and so subscribed with his hand to the mighty God of Jacob.
III. The purging of the roll. It seems to me that the fair implication of the words of my text is that the victor’s name remains, and the name of the vanquished is blotted out. Why should we be exhorted to “hold fast our crown, that no man may take it,” if it is impossible for the crown ever to drop from the brow upon which it was once laid? No man can take it unless we “let” him, but our letting him is a conceivable alternative. And therefore the exhortations and appeals and warnings of Scripture come to us with eminent force. And how is that apostasy to be prevented, and that retention of the name on the roll-call to be secured? The answer is a very plain one--“To him that overcometh.” The only way by which a man may keep his name on the effective muster-roll of Christ’s army is by continual contest and conquest.
IV. The confession of the names. There comes a time of blessed certainty, when Christ’s confession will transform all our hesitations into peaceful assurance, when He shall stoop from His throne, and Himself shall say, in the day when He makes up His jewels, “This, and that, and that man belong indeed to Me.” Men have thrown away their lives to get a word in a despatch, or from a commanding officer; and men have lived long years stimulated to efforts and sacrifices by the hope of having a line in the chronicles of their country. But what is all other fame to Christ’s recognising me for His? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The Book of Life
I. As its name implies, this is the roll of the living members of His Church. Very much as in some of our ancient cities there is a register kept of the freemen, from which their names are struck off at death, so the true citizens of the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, are registered on high. There is only this important difference between the two cases. Christ’s freed men never die. They shall not be hurt by the second death.
II. Perhaps we long to obtain one glance at its contents, and think it would afford us exceeding comfort if we might read our own name, and the names of those dear to us, inscribed on its pages. But this may not be. The discovery would probably lead to self-confidence and presumption as regards ourselves, and a fatal indifference to the eternal welfare of others. We might cease to watch and pray, and might neglect the appointed means of grace. Is, then, that Book so high above our present reach that we have practically nothing to do with it at all? If so, why should it be so often mentioned, and what is the value of this promise? Assuredly there is one way in which we may obtain some insight into its contents. The Lord, as it were, writes a duplicate of them on the hearts and lives of His people.
III. This now mysterious record will be referred to by the Judge of quick and dead, and read out before the assembled myriads of mankind. What astounding disclosures will then be model (W. Burnett, M. A.)
Written in heaven
I. There are names written in heaven which are unknown on earth. Who are the world’s greatest men? Those who are doing the noblest acts, living the purest lives, suffering the most for righteousness’ sake, making the greatest sacrifices for the common good; the greatest men are not necessarily notorious politicians, vocalists, tragedians, capitalists, orators, and soldiers. Now of these really greatest men we know little or nothing; they live in simplicity, obscurity, and poverty; the world is not aware of them, bestowing upon them neither titles nor rewards. But they are known by Him whose eye seeth every precious thing. A hue art critic entering a second-hand shop will detect a master piece when it is nearly buried in confusion and rubbish. It may be covered with dust, the colours blackened by neglect, boasting no gold frame, and the crowd pass it by with contempt, as not worth sixpence, but the true critic discerns it at a glance. So God recognises merit before it gets into a gold frame; He knows the glorious work of His own hand when found in obscurity, want, suffering, and deepest obloquy and humiliation. Thousands of names are written in heaven as heroes which are not found on Fame’s eternal bead-roll.
II. If our names are written in heaven, we need care little whether they are written elsewhere. We have a name. That is a grand thing, it means much. We are not numbered, we are all called by our names. We have a distinct and an immortal personality, we are not merely links in a series. We require that our name shall be written somewhere; we are not content to drop out of the universe, and be lost; we must be registered, recognised, remembered. To be written in heaven is supreme fame. It is high above all earthly peerages as the stars are above the mountain tops. To be written in heaven is immortal fame. By strange accidents a man’s name once written in great bead-rolls may get obliterated.
III. If our names are written is heaven, they ought to be written there as labourers.
IV. If our names are written in heaven, let us take care that they are not blotted out. Let us watch lest our name should be struck from the roll of honour.
V. If our names are not written in heaven, let us at once get them written there. How near many people come to the kingdom, and yet never get into it! Some of these are written in the reports of the Church, and yet do not get their names inscribed in the book of life. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Hear what the Spirit saith.
The message to the Churches
I. Every Church of Christ has an organic life of its own. This is not only distinct from the life of any other church, but even distinct from the life of its members. It is perhaps one of the most noticeable of the faults of modern Christians, that they are trying to lose their individuality in the mass, hoping thereby to evade responsibility and to shirk duty. To sink a Christian out of responsibility by absorbing him into a church, is like sinking a soldier in an army; he only passes under more rigid rules and only shows more conspicuously.
II. Every Church has an organic history of its own, which very likely makes up its annals. Get some aged people together on an anniversary, and a quiet stranger might soon ascertain that every church has a special history lust as striking as these had in Asia Minor, and as precious. In one year, doubtless, there was a man whose behaviour or misfortunes gave the people a world of trouble; in another year, there was a man who gave them a world of help. One man failed in business, and that shook the church badly; then a man grew suddenly wealthy, and that saved the church. Let us stop and think how vital, how positively alive and instinct with nervous and palpitating existence, every established organisation comes eventually to be. “This and that man was born in her.”
III. Every Church has an organic characteristic of its own, and this is derived from the social and personal life of those who compose and manage it. Just as when we split a rock in a quarry into layers, traces will be found in it of lines which the sea waves made there ages ago while the sand was washed into place by the tides and compacted into stone; so when we read the annals of any old congregation, we shall find how certain epochs were fashioned. Sometimes it was the half-dozen elders that gave form to all the church life. Sometimes the deacons drew a line of demarcation. Sometimes a few restless women, sometimes a few uncomfortable men, set the congregation on fire. Sometimes it was the sewing-society, and very often it was the choir.
IV. Every Church has an organic power of its own. This ability for usefulness is entirely distinct from, and superadded to, the influence exerted by individuals. In union there is strength.
V. Finally, there is given us here the lesson that every Church has an organic mortality of its own. It is possible for it to become actually extinct, whenever it is cast out by God. They say there is a star-fish in the Caledonian lakes, sometimes dredged up from the deep water. It looks firm and strong, most compactly put together. But the moment you pull off one of its many branching limbs, no matter how small it may be, the singular creature begins itself to dislocate the rest with wonderful celerity of contortions, throwing away its radiate arms and jerking from their sockets its members, until the entire body is in shapeless wreck and confusion of death, and nothing remains of what was one of the most exquisitely beautiful forms in nature, save a hundred wriggling fragments, each repulsive, and dying by suicide. Those seven fair churches went into sudden and remediless ruin. So any church may go. Once rejected of God, congregations generally hurry themselves into dissolution with reckless bickerings and quarrels; and the end comes swiftly. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Philadelphia--the patient Church
Philadelphia furnishes us with the exemplar of the patient church; the exercise and training of patience is its peculiar call, and the perfection of patience is its reward. This message is one of high commendation and encouragement; although in its own consciousness, and in the regard of others, the condition of the church might seem pitiful, even deserving of rebuke. Those who have a wide experience of Christian churches and a sympathetic spirit will know how Philadelphia felt. The consciousness of their feebleness was dominant. Their resources seemed insufficient for the demand made on them. Theirs was a great occasion, and a distressing inability to meet it; overtaxed energy, urgent necessity, and poor means; it was a burden which seemed more than life could bear. Even the Lord’s words of encouragement, “Behold, I have set before thee an open door,” appeared to bring with them a special aggravation. The prospects of service were unusually attractive; so much could be done if there were only the strength to do it. Former prayers were answered; the longed-for opportunity had come; men were eager for the gospel; the way to preach was lying open; Christ Himself was calling, and at this critical hour there was paralysing inability. This last feature of the description lends a peculiar pathos to the message. It must have been hard for the church to rid itself of the sense of sin in that it was doing, could do so little. The faculty of spiritual self-tormenting, so subtle, in many persons so deep-seated, thrives in sorrowful experiences like this. The Lord’s message supplies the comfort the church is in need of; corrects the error of its self-judgment. The whole meaning of the message is that to bear quietly may be as Divine a call as to hope largely, or to be enthusiastic in resolve. There is a discipline of disappointment, and that discipline must be borne. We are trained for future usefulness through pains and self-questionings, and the endurance of insufficiency. In all the clauses of this message we can read the endeavour to put heart into Philadelphia; the Lord gives Himself to awaken and sustain the self-respect of His troubled people. At first sight the images appear to lack tenderness; that is only because the tenderness is veiled in images of strength. A striking illustration of this feature of the message is in the title given to the Lord with which it opens, “These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth and none shall shut, and that shutteth and none openeth.” The peculiar affliction of Philadelphia was the occurrence of favourable opportunities for doing Christ’s work just when the church was at the far end of its possibilities. And the Lord says, “I know all about that.” It is one of the ironies of life that the occasion we have longed for, and in our enthusiasm ceaselessly but fruitlessly tried to make for ourselves, may come with no effort of ours at the very time we can do nothing. This, says the Lord of Truth, is no mockery of fate; it is of the Divine appointment. “I have set before thee a door opened, and it shall continue open until you are able to enter in. You will enter in sooner than you think, and when your moment of invigoration comes, your strength will not be wasted in efforts to make the conditions favourable; you shall enter at once where I have prepared the way.” Even in our times of waiting, we can often do a little; and all that little tells if the Lord has been beforehand with us. There is recognition, moreover, in the message, honourable recognition, of the actual achievement of the church. The faith had been kept; Christ’s name had not been denied. Philadelphia ranks with Pergamum, the martyr-church. And then there is promised to Philadelphia a public vindication of its fidelity, a vindication to which even its enemies shall bear hearty witness, “Behold, I give of the synagogue of Satan, of them which say they are Jews, and they 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.” They who had mocked the patience of the church in its affliction will not be able to withhold their admiration; they are drawn out of reluctant into willing acknowledgment that God had loved His suffering people. Thus does Christ encourage the patient church. As there is no trial harder than that of prolonged inactivity and wasting strength, so none has consolations loftier and more direct. The way of access to God is intended to lie all open to those so sorely tried. The Divine approval is set over against accusations of self, the taunts of the ungodly, and the ironies of life. And out of this should come a steadfastness holding fast to the end. A twofold reward is promised to Philadelphia; there is a promise for time, there is also a promise for eternity; and each is set before us as the direct result of the sore discipline through which the church has had to pass, according to those far-reaching words of James, the Lord’s brother, “Let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing.”
(1) There is the temporal promise. “Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee,” etc. This church shall emerge from the general tribulation, having lost nothing of her virtue, with her sense of the Divine protection confirmed and justified. When the shews of things are passing away, and the strong-seeming are as children, the tried shall prove the trusty.
(2) There is also an eternal reward; and, as in some other of these messages, the eternal reward is not simply a personal blessedness, it is the high honour of being of service in the kingdom of God. “He that overcometh, I will make him,” etc. There is in this image a note of personal consideration, of that tenderness, veiled in strength, which marks the whole message. Just as the Lord draws from the enmity of the Jews occasion to assure Philadelphia that the most gracious promises made to Israel are hers, so He introduces a touch of local colour which reveals sympathy. The city of Philadelphia was exposed to earthquakes; its geological formation was of lava, with trap-dykes intervening, and earthquakes were common occurrences in the people’s experience. “The walls were not to be trusted, but every day some mischance made them tremble and gape. The inhabitants were on the constant look-out for faults in the ground, and were always attending to their buildings.” The image of an unshaken pillar would have a special meaning for men with such an experience; and the Church was to be such a pillar. Not only was there prepared for them a city of sure foundations; they were to be among the foundations. This was the destiny for which their discipline had fitted them; this was their reward. But the promise goes further; it is an inscribed pillar which is presented to our view. “I will write upon him the name of my God,” etc. Patience is the substruction of the godly character; on it may be reared all the graces of the heavenly life. It is a manly virtue, and needs but the touch of Christ’s finger to be transformed into a Divine grace. It is a social virtue, conspicuously commemorated in the city of God. It is an onward-looking virtue; our “forward movements” are founded on it; it has promise of the future, “I will write on him My new name.” (A. Mackennal, D. D.)
The address to Philadelphia
I. The introduction. Philadelphia was a city not far from Sardis, founded by Attalus Philadelphus, king of Pergamos, a few centuries before the Christian era. Its situation was upon the side of a mountain, which had a commanding view of a fertile and extensive country. It was a place of considerable importance in the time of the apostles. It is still populous, but in a mean condition. The character which Christ assumes to this church is, “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.” It was needful that the church in Philadelphia should know that He was “the Holy One,” and consequently that a low degree of piety was not sufficient in His esteem. It was further needful to remember, that He was “the True One,” that is, “the Truth,” or the God of Truth, and consequently that sincerity of motive was required, as well as purity of conduct. Truth and holiness are inseparably allied. Every deviation from rectitude is a lie. The more specific aspect in which Christ appears before the church in Philadelphia is, “He that hath the key of David,” etc. This alludes to part of the representation of His person in the first chapter. The imagery, however, is more extended in its present application, and has a more extensive signification. He now represents Himself as having the key of the kingdom of heaven, upon the earth as well as in the invisible state.
II. The declaration. “I know thy works.” This is the usual commencement of these addresses. The declaration is, “Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it.” The Christians in Philadelphia are comforted with the assurance that the design of their enemies would not be permitted to succeed; that their cause would survive; and that many from that city would continue to enter into the Redeemer’s fold. That there are certain places and seasons in which the way is open for the spread of gospel truth, and others in which it is closed, the history of the church and daily observation and experience abundantly prove. Nor is it less evident that this depends not upon any peculiarity of circumstances in relation either to the church or to the world, but to causes uncontrollable by human agency and design. As a general rule, indeed, where means are most used, and the prayers of the churches are most directed, the door is eventually thrown open; but occasionally all such efforts become ineffectual, and a door unexpectedly and unsolicited is opened in another direction. Sometimes a wide door is suddenly closed, and at other times a narrow door is opened wide. The prosperity which attends the preaching of the word in some places, and the discouragement in others, are not to be attributed to the different gifts and graces of men, so much as to the sovereign pleasure of Him who has the key of David, who openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth. Usefulness often depends upon a wise and prayerful observation of times and seasons, as much as upon actual labour. Many have succeeded by a readiness to discern and avail themselves of an opened door; and many, with greater energy and zeal, have failed, from striving to keep open a door which He has closed.
III. The commendation, “For thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name.” The strength of this church was small, but it was strength of the right kind. The strength of a church does not consist in worldly wealth, or wisdom, or power, but in its fidelity to the word and profession of the name of Christ. This strength is termed “little,” not with an intention to censure, so much as to show what a little strength of this kind can effect against the united powers of earth and hell, and how greatly a little of such strength is prized by “Him that is holy and true.” Nevertheless, it may be designed by this epithet to teach us, that even such strength, under such circumstances, is small in comparison of that which from the full exercise of faith and prayer might and ought to be attained.
IV. The threatening. This is addressed, through the church, to a party which professed to be the true church, and the only objects of Divine favour. “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews and are not,” etc. The Jews, here referred to, opposed Judaism to Christianity. The name of Jew was far greater, in their esteem, than that of Christian.
V. The promise. This is to the whole church, “Because thou hast kept the word of My patience,” etc.
VI. The Admonition. “Behold I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.”
VII. The application. A pillar is a needful as well as an ornamental part of a spacious building. It was so in the Jewish temple. It is the symbol therefore of a secure and prominent place in the temple of the new Jerusalem. It is not improbable that names were given to the pillars of the temple, and inscribed upon them. In 1 Kings 7:1-51. we are told, that when Solomon set up the two main pillars of the porch, he called the name of one Jachin, and the other Boaz, both of which chiefly denoted stability. (G. Rogers.)
The words of Christ to the congregation at Philadelphia
I. A character to be adored.
3. Supreme. All the doors to human usefulness, dignity, and happiness, are at the disposal of Christ.
II. An energy to be coveted.
1. The energy of true usefulness.
2. The energy of loyal obedience.
3. The energy of true courage.
4. The energy of moral sovereignty.
5. The energy of Divine approval and protection.
III. A destiny to be sought.
1. A crown lies within their reach.
2. Divine security is assured.
3. Sublime distinction is promised. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The church small in its temporal resources, but great in its fidelity to the name of Christ
I. This church was small in size, and poor in its temporal resources.
1. Its numerical power was small.
2. Its social power was small.
3. Its financial power was small.
II. This church was faithful to the word and name of Christ.
III. This church had opened to it many opportunities of extended usefulness. These openings are:--
3. Progressive and useful.
4. Largely dependent upon the moral condition of the church.
IV. This church would be honoured by the subjugation of its enemies, and by a true recognition of the Divine love concerning it.
V. This church was to be favoured with the kindly guardianship of Christ in the hour of trial.
1. Times of trial will come upon the church.
(1) The extent of the trial.
(2) The time of the trial.
(3) The design of the trial.
2. In times of trial to the church, faithful souls shall be favoured with the Divine guardianship.
(1) This safety is Divinely promised.
(2) This safety is a recompense.
(3) This safety is welcome.
3. That a church may be poor in its temporal circumstances, and yet faithful to Christ.
4. That a church may be poor in its temporal circumstances, and yet vigorous in Christian enterprise.
5. That a church, poor in its temporal circumstances, but rich in faith, will experience the guardian care of Heaven. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
True moral strength
I. Its connection with christ.
1. Christ recognises it.
2. Christ honours it.
3. Christ imparts it. Power over--
II. Its influence over error (verse 9). The general idea is, that false religion shall pay homage to the moral power of Christians. How is this done? The moral power of Christianity comes in contact with corrupt human nature in three forms:--
1. As a morality. It is a regulated system, and its laws commend themselves both to man’s natural love of his own rights, and his natural love of his own interests.
2. As an institution. The mind must have worship, must have a dietary and a ritual of devotion. Christianity, as an institution, appeals to that.
3. As a theology. It is a system of belief, and thus appeals to man’s craving after truth.
III. Its future reward.
(3) Divinity. (Caleb Morris.)
He that hath the key of David.--
The key of David
The reference here is to Isaiah 22:22 : “The key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder.” This was said of Eliakim, who was thus set up as a type of a greater than himself--a greater than David. Eliakim was royal chamberlain, keeper of the house, like Joseph in Pharaoh’s palace. So Christ is represented as not only being the royal possessor of the house, but He also to whom the keeping of its gate was entrusted.
I. The key of David’s house. The palace is His, and He keeps the key of it, as the Father has given it to Him. He opens and shuts according as He will.
II. The key of David’s castle. Besides his palace David had a fort on Zion, which he took from the Jebusites--a stronghold against the enemy. So has our David a strong tower and fortress, into which we run and are safe.
III. The key of david’s city. Yes, the key of Jerusalem, both the earthly and the heavenly.
IV. The key of david’s treasure-house. That storehouse contains all we need. The unsearchable riches are here.
V. The key of David’s banqueting-house. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
I. Christ is the providence of our lives. What we call chances are not chances. The opportunities that come to us are God-given opportunities. The doors that open before us He flings wide open. The doors that are shut He bars and bolts.
II. It is ours to see the open door and enter in thereat. There is a certain significance in the very word “Philadelphia,” lover of man. This is a true designation of those that are pre-eminently workers among their fellow men, the type represented in this Epistle. He is one who sees the door that God opens, takes the key which God hands to him, enters in at the door, and takes charge of that which God has put before him. Such an one must have two qualities: power to perceive the opportunity, and the courage to avail himself of it; and these two qualities make what we call in secular forces genius. They are the foundation of the great successes of life.
III. Our epistle adds a comforting word, a word of promise. “He shall be a pillar,” etc. Observe that this promise is a promise, not to the great prophets, not to the men of transcendent spiritual genius, but to the faithful Christian workers, to men who love their fellow men.
1. They that thus gave themselves to God’s service shall become pillars in God’s Church. The reward which God gives for service is more service. What Christ says here to every man is this: If you will watch for your opportunity of service, and if you will be faithful in that service, though you have but little strength and are yourself of small account, you shall be a pillar in the temple of my God, you shall be the stay and strength of men less strong than you, you shall support the Church of Christ by your faith, here and hereafter.
2. They “shall go no more out.” I think, for the most part, that in this life, we in the Church flow as the drops of water flow that are on the very edge of the Gulf Stream. They are brought in perpetual contact with the greater waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and by the waves and currents flowing back and forth. Now they are without, and now they are within. A few sainted souls flow, as it were, in the very centre of the Gulf Stream, and know not the cold of the battling waves without. But, for the most part, we are half in the world and half out of it, and count ourselves almost saints if we are out of the world half the time. Now, Christ says this: not to the man of prayers and visions and special experience and the monastic life, but to him who will seize the opportunity for work, and with fidelity pursue it; he shall more and more find himself taken out from all contamination and evil life, he shall find himself more and more following in a current pure and healthful, until, when the end shall come, he shall go no more out for ever.
3. “And on him I will write a new name--the name of my God, the name of the New Jerusalem, my new name.” How is it that God writes names in human lives? A child is plucked out of the street and taken into a Christian family, and the father adopts him as his own, and gives him his own name; and in the nursery, in the school, in the business, in the household, in all the relations of life, father and mother are writing their own name in the life of their adopted child. And so the city of the New Jerusalem writes in the heart of every man who comes into allegiance to the kingdom of Christ a new name--the name of the kingdom of Christ. (Lyman Abbott, D. D.)
God opens doors
As one who sails along the Atlantic coast, exploring, comes to an indentation in the coast, and sets his sails toward it, and finds there is no opening there, and then, pushing out to sea again, sails along a little further, and comes to a second and a third, and at last reaches the Narrows, and pushes in between Staten Island and Bay Ridge, and enters the great bay, and sees the majestic waters of the Hudson River pouring down--as such an one has entered the door which God opened for all future commerce to go back and forth upon, so we sail in life, seeking our opportunity looking here, looking there, and coming at last to an open door. We call it a good chance; but God has made it for us, and it is of His purpose that we have found it. He sets before us our open doors. (Lyman Abbott, D. D.)
An open door for little strength
“Thou hast a little strength.” The words do not mean that the persecution had been so oppressive as well nigh to exhaust the church, so that it had only a little strength remaining. Rather they describe the condition of the church before the terrible trial came upon it. From the very beginning its ability had been but small. Yet small as its strength was, its members had stood firm in the face of cruel threatenings and alluring promises. And lo! as the reward of their steadfastness, the Lord declares that He has set before them “an open door” which no man could shut. That is to say, through the gateway of their fidelity, feeble as they were, they went under the leadership of Christ to a sphere of usefulness, which was peculiarly their own, and which no mortal could prevent them from filling. “Thou hast but little strength.” How many in all our congregations may be truly thus addressed? Now, I know few passages of Scripture more encouraging than this. For one thing it suggests to us that the having of but little strength is not a matter of which we need to be ashamed. If one has brought it upon himself by his own iniquity, then it may be a matter of disgrace; but if it come in the allotment of God’s providence, there is no moral reproach to be associated with it. Christ did not overlook the Church of Philadelphia, weak though it was. Is it not written, “A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench”? “He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increaseth strength.” The having of but a little strength may even come to be, in some respects, an advantage. For it is not a little remarkable that the two churches which received unqualified condemnation are those of Smyrna and Philadelphia, neither of which was strong; while on the other hand the severest reproof is addressed to the church of Laodicea, which any outsider would have spoken of as at once prosperous and influential. Thus we are reminded that where there is much strength there is also a disposition to trust in that; while, on the other hand, where there is conscious feebleness there is felt also the necessity of making application for the might of the Most High. But pursuing this line of thought a little farther we may see from my text that the having of only a little strength does not utterly disqualify us from serving the Lord. Feeble as they were, the Philadelphians had kept Christ’s word, and had not denied His name. They kept their loyalty to Him even in their weakness. And,it is possible for every one of us to do the same. If my strength is small, God does not require of me that which only a larger measure of power could enable me to perform. Wherever I am, it is enough if there I keep His word; and however limited be my resources, He asks no more than that I use all these resources in advancing the honour of His name. Still further, if we proceed upon this principle, nay text affirms that a wider sphere will be ultimately opened up to us. Fidelity always rises. It is, in fact, irrepressible; for when Christ says to it, “Come up higher,” no one can hold it down.
I. We may learn that usefulness is not the primary object of the Christian’s attention. Not what we can do for others, but rather what we are in ourselves, demands our first attention, for to do good to others we must first be good ourselves. Usefulness is to character what fragrance is to the flower. But the gardener does not make the fragrance his first or greatest aim. -Nay, rather his grand design is to produce a perfect flower, for he knows if he succeed in that, the fragrance will come of itself. In the same way the Christian’s first concern should be with his own character. To be holy is our primary duty, and through that we pass to usefulness.
II. But if these things are so, we have, as another inference suggested from this text, an easy explanation of the great usefulness of many who are in no wise noteworthy for strength. Few things are more commonly spoken of among men than the fact that the most successful soul-winners in the ministry are not always those who are most conspicuous for intellectual ability or argumentative power. In the same way you will sometimes find a church whose members are poor in this world’s goods, and not remarkable for that culture which modern circles have so largely deified, yet famous for its good works among the masses; and when you look into the matter you find the explanation in the consecrated characters and lives of those who are associated in its fellowship. They have sought their usefulness through their holiness, and not their holiness through their usefulness; and therefore it is they have had such signal triumphs.
III. Finally, if the principles which I have tried to deduce from this text are true, we see at once how such apparently opposite things as christian contentment and Christian ambition are to be perfectly harmonized. The full discharge of duty on the lower level opens the passage up into the higher. We see that illustrated in secular departments every day. If the schoolboy wishes to gain a high position as a man, he must be content, as long as he is at school, to go through its daily round, and perform in the best possible manner its common duties. The better he is as a scholar, the more surely will the door into eminence open for him as a man. But if he trifle away his time, if he despise what he calls the “drudgery” of education, and so leave school without having learned those things which he was sent thither to acquire, then there will be nothing for him in after life but humiliation and failure. Doors may open to him, but he will never be ready to enter one of them. Fretting over our weakness will not make things better, but it will prevent us from bringing anything out of the little strength we have. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The open and shut door
Doors are of many kinds. Everything has its door leading into its own reserves, by which easy entrance is furnished, but, apart from which, they are inaccessible. Some ways of entrance are very narrow and restricted, others are relatively wide and open. We have each our door by which we are accessible, and also doors through which we have access to others. Human reason finds a wide door, but human sympathy and love a wider and deeper. What a door, then, Wisdom has, who is the maker and mother of us all.
I. But, though her children, we make our beginning outside the door of all things. We are born without the gate, laid very humbly at the door. We make our beginning in unconscious weakness. “Behold,” says the Father, “I have set before thee an open door, which no man can shut.” This is the birthright of our childhood. God with His universe stands at the gate of His child in the joy of expectation, waiting for the awaking of his intelligence to declare to him his blessedness of Being, and the greatness of his inheritance. “Blessed is he that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my door.” But, to descend to particulars, we may ask, to what is there not, at the first, an open door set before us? Only by ignorance, folly, and abuse, the door of our physical inheritance is closed against us. God’s creatures are commissioned to befriend His children. To more than a sufficiency of worldly goods there is at first an open door. “The hand of the diligent maketh rich, but he that dealeth with slack hand becometh poor.” No less is there a fellowship of mind which seeks to awaken our observation and inquiry, and minister to our knowledge. And the door of communication with the fountain-sources of all light and power of mind is ever widening. Earth draws nearer to and more partakes of heaven, and heaven has more of earth as generation after generation is “taken up.” But to what social inheritance is there not an open door? We are born into families. If as youths we go forth from our first homes, it is only that we may be prepared as men to enter upon our own homes. But other worlds than earth, and higher life than is possible under nature is open to us, through the door that is set before us. The earth is neither prison-house, palace, nor true home for man. It is not an end, only a way, a marvellous thoroughfare to the Spiritual, the Infinite, and the Eternal. God has not opened up to us the kingdom of nature for our culture by means of our senses, and the kingdom of mind for the culture of thought, affection, and will, by the exercise of our souls, and kept His own door closed against us as His children. He has not doomed us to perish in the earth, much less appointed us to wrath, but to “inherit all things,” and “live together with Him.”
II. He who made us and laid us at the open door has anticipated our prayer, and made Himself the way of access and the door of entrance. We are too accustomed to think of Christ merely as the door of mercy for our souls, but not of health for our bodies; as the door to heaven when we are dismissed from earth, but not the door to all earthly treasures; as the door of access to God, but not the door of access to men. We forget that His kingdom is an universal kingdom, and His dominion everlasting; that He exercises no divided sovereignty; that He made all things and gave them the laws of their several existence. He is also the light of all our seeing. “If the eye be single, the whole body will be full of light.” And if we follow the light, we shall be led into all the ways of that hidden wisdom by which all things have been constituted and are kept in being. Having His spirit we stand in kindred relation to all things and all being; our minds possess a fellowship of nature with all thought in its impersonal diffusion and in its personal centres; our hearts are moved by a sympathy with the attractions, affinities, instincts, and personal affections which proclaim the drawing together of all things; whilst in our deepest nature is awakened a sense of our Divine childhood, which seeks and finds access to God.
III. But He who is the door to all things, and also the way to Himself, does not leave us to ourselves to find the door, but offers Himself as our guide, to lead us not only into His house, but also to conduct us to the feast His wisdom and love have prepared. He stands at the door and knocks for admission. He offers Himself for our acceptance.
IV. He who so graciously offers to be our guide that He may lead us into our inheritance, also warns us, lest slighting the opportunity of our day we should come to reject His aid, despise our birthright, and not “knowing the time of our visitation,” “the things which belong to our peace should be for ever hidden from our eyes,” and the door set open before us should be for ever closed against us. (W. Pulsford, D. D.)
Thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name.--
Commendation for the steadfast
The Philadelphian church was not great, but it was good; not powerful, but faithful. The Philadelphian saints, like the limpet, which has but little strength, stuck firmly to the rock, and they are commended for it. They had little strength, but they kept God’s word, and they did not deny His name.
I. A word of praise. I do not think that we should be Be slow in praising one another. There is a general theory abroad that it is quite right to point out to a brother all his imperfections, for it will be a salutary medicine to him, and prevent his being too happy in this vale of tears. Is it supposed that we shall cheer him on to do better by always finding fault with him? What had these Philadelphian believers done that they should be praised? “Thou hast kept My word, and thou hast not denied My name.” What does this mean?
1. Does it not mean, first, that they had received the word of God; for ii they had not heard it and held it they could not have kept it. It was theirs; they read it and searched it and made it their own. It is no small privilege so to be taught o! the Holy Ghost as to have a taste for the gospel, a deep attachment to the truths of the covenant.
2. Next, we may be sure that they loved the word of God. They had an intense delight in it. They appreciated it. They stored it up as bees store away honey, and they were as ready to defend it as bees are to guard their stores. They meditated upon it; they sought to understand it. More, however, is meant than simply loving the word, though that is no small thing.
3. It means that they believed it, believed it most thoroughly, and so kept it. I am afraid that there are great truths in God’s word which we do not intelligently believe, but take for granted.
4. Furthermore, in addition to the inner possession and the hearty belief of the truth, we must be ready to adhere to it at all times. That, perhaps, is the central thought here--“Thou hast kept My word.”
5. No doubt, also, it was intended in this sense--that they had obeyed the word of God.
II. A word of prospect. “You have been faithful, therefore I will use you. You have been steadfast, therefore I will employ you.” For a considerable period of human life, it may be, God does not give to all of us a field of usefulness. There are some to whom He early opens the gate of usefulness, because He sees in them A spirit that will bear the temptation of success; but in many other eases it is questionable whether they could bear promotion, and therefore the Lord permits them to be tried in different ways until He sees that they are found faithful, and then He puts them into His service, and gives them an opportunity of bearing witness for Him. You have been a receiver yourself until now, and that is well and good; but, now that you have become filled, overflow to others, and let them receive of your joy. “How do I know that they will accept it?” say you. I know it from this fact--that, as a general rule, the man that keeps God’s word has an open door before him. Gird up your loins and enter it. Rush to the front. Victory lies before you. God means to use you. The hour needs its man quite as much as the man needs the hour. The Lord help you to keep His word, and then to go in for public testimony.
III. A word of promise. Those who keep God’s word shall themselves be kept from temptation. The Lord returns into His servants’ bosoms that which they render to Him: He gives keeping for keeping. This is the Lord’s way of delivering those who keep His word: He shuts them away from the temptation that comes upon others. He seems to say, “Dear child, since you will not go beyond my written word, you shall not be tempted to go beyond it. I will cause the enemies of truth to leave you alone. You shall be offensive to them, or they to you, and you shall soon part company.” Or perhaps the text may mean that ii the temptation shall come you shall be preserved from it. The deliberately formed conviction that the word of God is the standard of our faith, and the unwavering habit of referring everything to it, may not deliver us from every error, but they will save us from that which is the nurse of every error--that is, the habit of trusting to our own understanding, or relying upon the understandings of our fellow-men. I value more a solid confidence in the word of God than even the knowledge that comes out o! it; for that faith is a saving habit, a sanctifying habit, in every way a strengthening and confirming and preserving habit. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s Word in safe custody
I. They kept his word. God’s word, and not the traditions or commandments of men, is the only strength of the Church, and the only source of all true religion. By us, too, this word must be kept.
1. Intellectually. It is not a cunningly-devised fable, but the living word of the everlasting God, who cannot lie.
2. Affectionately. In religion we want not only glass windows that let in the light, but human hearts that are filled with love.
3. Practically. It has been well said “that the life of a Christian is the best picture of the life of Christ.”
II. They had not denied his name.
1. Infidelity denies Christ’s name.
2. Worldly-mindedness is a denial of Christ’s name.
3. Religious formality is a denial of Christ’s name.
4. Neglect of religious ordinances is also a practical denial of Christ. (W. G. Barrett.)
Perseverance in weakness
I. There are many things which render us faint and weary, sadly conscious of our little strength.
1. The power and force of temptation, the thought that I, the creature of a day, with a nature prone to sin, and pitted, before God and His angels, against Satan and the legions of evil. Oh, Christian, if at any moment the spirit of evil tempts thee, and thou art about to give way, bethink thee of the church of Philadelphia, having a little strength, yet keeping the word of her Lord’s patience, and not denying His name. Faint, yet pursuing! Let this be thy watchword in the fight. Rest not until the enemy has fled.
2. The Philadelphian church had kept the word of Her Lord’s patience. Affliction is very apt to exhaust the Christian’s little strength, so that he should lose patience and begin to doubt.
3. Another cause of discouragement is the coldness and unbelief of other Christians.
4. And then comes that which is so trying to all, to those who have escaped the above-mentioned temptations, to those even who have made great progress in the spiritual life--the sameness of religion. Over and over again the same work has to be done. We wanted to be quit of some, at least, of these old and troublesome tenants; but there they are still. We hoped to go on unto perfection, higher yet; and here we are still in the valleys, doing most undignified work, quite unworthy of our long experience and knowledge. It is very humiliating. But it is also uninteresting, and the want of interest discourages.
II. What are the remedies for this discouragement?
1. First, we may search out the promises of God made to His people in Holy Scripture, and therefore made to us. With this we may combine attentive meditation upon the person and character of the Lord Jesus. Most especially remarkable is His tenderness for the weak.
2. Then we must speak of the means of grace, prayer, reading God’s holy word, etc.
3. There is one thing which we must especially guard against, that is, impatience. We must not expect an immediate and perfect cure of all our spiritual weakness. We cannot, by any process, make one step between earth and heaven. Is it nothing to hold fast that we have? By and by He will come and relieve us. (W. Mitchell, M. A.)
I will make them of the synagogue of Satan … come and worship before thy feet.--
Subjugation of the enemies of the gospel
I. The debasement of the enemies of Christ and of His people foretold. Haughty, presuming, and persecuting characters must be brought down. They shall one day be compelled to do honour to those whom they have ignorantly despised and cruelly tormented. They shall be irresistibly convinced that the objects of their cruel hatred were the objects of the infinite love of the Almighty Redeemer. Jesus can easily conquer His most potent adversaries and protect His weakest friends.
II. The distinguished privilege of real Christians shall be perceived by the agents of Satan. “They shall know that I have loved thee.” This is to know, that they are the’ most highly honoured, that they are inviolably secure, and that they shall be eternally blessed. To be loved by the adorable Immanuel is to be raised to the summit of honour, and to be interested in a source of never-failing felicity. The love of Jesus Christ to His people is the source of all their consolation in time, and the basis of all their hopes for immortality.
III. The redeemer’s approbation of the Philadelphian Church. “Thou hast kept the word of my patience.”
1. The doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ is fitly called the word of His patience, because it describes His persevering patience under the cruel persecutions of ungodly men--the fiery temptations of Satan. The patience of our blessed Lord in bearing, and in forbearing, is most amazing.
2. The commendation expressed in the text may refer to the patience which the Philadelphians had exercised in keeping the word of Christ whilst they had been enduring reproaches, and temptations, and afflictions. It requires more than an ordinary degree of patience to keep the word of the Redeemer when we are called to suffer for its sake. The stronger is our faith, the more lively is our hope, and the more lively is our hope, the more steady is our patience in waiting for promised blessings. Patience is the grace that preserves the tried and tempted Christian from yielding to despondency: it keeps his mind peaceful in the storms of adversity by counteracting the baneful influence of pride and unbelief in the heart, which tend to produce discontent and impatience under trying and distressing circumstances. Nothing more recommends the religion d Jesus Christ than the exercise of the grace of patience under severe trials and cruel reproaches.
IV. The promise by which our Lord encouraged the Philadelphians. “I also will keep thee,” etc. The Lord foresees all the seasons of persecution which His servants will experience upon earth. ( J. Hyatt.)
Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, therefore will I keep thee from the hour of temptation.
The happiness of being kept from the hour of temptation
As deliverance out of temptation is undoubtedly one of the greatest mercies that God vouchsafes His people in this world, so there is nothing that more enhances the greatness of the mercy than the critical time of God’s vouchsafing it. As in the “vicissitudes of night and day, the darkness of one recommends the returns of the other, adding a kind of lustre even to light itself, so it is the hour of danger which sets a price and value upon the hour of deliverance, and makes it more properly in season.
I. There is a certain proper season, or hour, which gives a peculiar force, strength, and efficacy to temptation. Every fit of a burning fever is not equally dangerous to the sick person; nor are all hours during the distemper equally fatal. There is a proper time, sometimes called in scripture “the day of temptation” (Psalms 95:8); sometimes “the evil day” (Ephesians 6:13); and sometimes “the hour of temptation.” A time in which temptation is infinitely more fierce and daring, more urgent and impetuous, than at other times.
II. By what means, helps, and advantages, a temptation attains its proper season or hour.
1. For that which is most remote, but yet the very source of all the mischief which the devil either does or can do to the souls of men; namely, that original, universal corruption of man’s nature, containing in it the seeds and first principles of all sins whatsoever, and more or less disposing a man to the commission of them. For it is this which administers the first materials for the tempter to work upon, and without which it is certain that he could do nothing.
2. The next advantage is from that particular corruption, or sort of sin, which a man is most peculiarly prone and inclined to.
3. A third advantage towards the prevailing hour of a temptation, is the continual offer of alluring objects and occasions extremely agreeable to a man’s particular corruption.
4. The fourth advantage, or furtherance towards the maturity or prevalent season of a temptation: which is the unspeakable malice and activity, together with the incredible skill and boldness of the tempter.
5. Over and above all this, God sometimes, in his wise providence and just judgment, commissions this implacable spirit to tempt at a rate more than ordinary. And this must needs be a further advantage towards the ripening of a temptation than any of the former.
6. A sixth advantage, by which a temptation approaches to its crisis or proper hour, is a previous, growing familiarity of the mind with the sin which a man is tempted to; whereby he comes to think of it with still lesser and lesser abhorrences, than formerly he was wont to do.
7. There is yet another way by which a temptation arrives to its highest pitch or proper hour; and that is by a long train of gradual, imperceivable encroaches of the flesh upon the spirit.
III. Some signs, marks, and diagnostics, whereby we may discern when a temptation has attained its proper season or hour.
1. When there is a strange, peculiar, and more than usual juncture and concurrence of all circumstances and opportunities for the commission of any sin, that especially which a man is most inclined to; then, no doubt, is the hour of temptation.
2. A second sign of a temptation’s drawing near its hour is a strange averseness to duty, and a backwardness to, if not a neglect of, the spiritual exercises of prayer, reading, and meditation. Now as every principle of life has some suitable aliment or provision, by which both its being is continued and its strength supported: so the forementioned duties are the real proper nutriment by which the spiritual life is kept up and maintained in the vigorous exercise of its vital powers.
3. The third sign that I shall mention of a temptation’s attaining its full hour or maturity, is a more than usual restlessness and importunity in its enticings or instigations. For it is the tempter’s last assault, and therefore will certainly be furious; the last pass which he makes at the soul, and therefore will be sure to be driven home.
1. That every time in which a man is tempted is not properly the hour of temptation.
2. That every man living, some time or other, sooner or later, shall assuredly meet with an hour of temptation; a certain critical hour, which shall more especially try what mettle his heart is made of, and in which the eternal concerns of his soul shall more particularly lie at stake.
3. That the surest way to carry us safe and successful through this great and searching hour of probation, is a strict, steady, conscientious living up to the rules of our religion, which the text here calls a “keeping the word of Christ’s patience;” a denomination given to the gospel, from that peculiar distinguishing grace which the great author of the gospel was pleased to signalise it for, above all other religions and institutions in the world, and that both by his precept and example. (R. South, D. D.)
Keeping and kept
We are not to suppose that these good souls in Philadelphia lived angelic lives of unbroken holiness because Jesus Christ has nothing but praise for them. Rather we are to learn the great thought that, in all our poor, stained service, He recognises the central motive and main drift, and, accepting these, is glad when He can commend.
I. The thing kept. This expression, “the word of My patience,” refers, not to individual commandments to patience, but to the entire gospel message to men. What does the New Testament mean by “patience”? Not merely endurance, although, of course, that is included, but endurance of such a sort as will secure persistence in work, in spite of all the opposition and sufferings which may come in the way. The man who will reach his hand through the smoke of hell to lay hold of plain duty is the patient man of the New Testament.
II. The keepers of this word. The metaphor represents to us the action of one who, possessing some valuable thing, puts it into some safe place, takes great care of it, and watches tenderly and jealously over it So “thou hast kept the word of My patience.” There are two ways by which Christians are to do that; the one is by inwardly cherishing the word, and the other by outwardly obeying it. Let me say a word about each of these two things. I am afraid that the plain practical duty of reading their Bibles is getting to be a much neglected duty amongst professing Christian people. I do not know how you are to keep the word of Christ’s patience in your hearts and minds if you do not read them. There never was, and there never will be, vigorous Christian life unless there be an honest and habitual study of God’s word. The trees whose roots are laved and branches freshened by that river have leaves that never wither, and all their blossoms set. But the word is kept by continual obedience in action as well as by inward treasuring. Obviously the inward must precede the outward. Unless we can say with the Psalmist, “Thy word have I hid in my heart,” we shall not be able to say with him, “I have not laid thy righteousness within my heart.”
III. Christ keeping the keepers of His word. There is a beautiful reciprocity. Christ will do for us as we have done with His word. Christ still does in heaven what lie did upon earth. Christ in heaven is as near each trembling heart and feeble foot, to defend and to uphold, as was Christ upon earth. He does not promise to keep us at a distance from temptation, so as that we shall not have to face it, but from means, as any that can look at the original will see, that He will “save us out of it,” we having previously been in it, so as that “the hour of temptation” shall not be the hour of failing. The lustre of earthly brightnesses will have no glory by reason of the glory that excelleth, and, when set by the side of heavenly gifts, will show black against their radiance, as would electric light between the eye and the sun. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Temptation consolidates character
When a hard winter sets in, and the earth is covered with a mantle of snow, and each little knot and spray in the hedgerow is encrusted with icicles, vegetation seems to be killed, and every green thing blighted. But it is not so. The genial forces of the earth are driven inward and work deep in her bosom. The snow mantle is doing for her what the fur mantle does for the human frame--concentrating and preserving the vital heat within. So it is in temptation: the time of temptation is a cheerless and dreary hour, when everything seems at a standstill, and the spiritual pulse can no longer be felt, it beats so faintly to the outward touch; but if the will is faithful and true, and the soul patient, the life is really concentrating itself, and rallying its forces within There have been moderate Christians, there have been shallow Christians, without very much temptation; but there never yet was a saintly Christian, never yet one who pressed so the higher summits of the spiritual life, never one whose banner bore the strange device “Excelsior,” who was not made the victim of manifold temptations. (Dean Goulburn.)
Times of trial
Times of general calamity and confusion have ever been productive of the greatest minds. The purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace, and the brightest thunderbolt is elicited from the darkest storm. (C. Colton.)
Behold, I come quickly.
The coming of Christ
It is not improbable that this bishop was no other than the Demetrius who is mentioned in St. John’s third Epistle as having a “good report of all men and of the truth itself,” and if this is the case we have before us a holy man who, probably, was not a very resolute one, and was placed in a position of much difficulty. “Behold, I come quickly.” If our Lord’s words are understood of His second coming, it is obvious to reflect that the good Bishop of Philadelphia died without witnessing their fulfilment. Nay, he has been in his grave something like eighteen centuries, and our Lord has not yet come to judgment. Man sees only a little distance, and he is impatient, because his outlook is so limited; to him it seems that an event will never arrive, if it has been delayed for some centuries, and so the judgment long apprehended, and also, perhaps, through a series of years long delayed, will not really take place at all, but may at once be classed among the phantoms of a morbid and disordered brain. With God it is altogether otherwise, long and short periods of time do not mean to Him what they mean to us. We see this truth more clearly if we reflect that to us men the passage of time seems slow or rapid, its periods seem long or short according to our varying moods and tempers. When we are suffering acute pain of body or very great anxiety of mind time hangs heavily. We seem to extend the duration of time by the suffering that we compress into its constituent moments. And on the other hand, when we are experiencing great pleasure, whether of mind or body, we become almost or entirely insensible to the flight of time, and from this we may understand how one being, who is the fountain of all goodness, because He is in Himself infinitely blessed, blessed in contemplating His own perfections, blessed in surveying the works which His hands have made, would be, as such, insensible to the impression of time. “Behold, I come quickly.” The Bishop of Philadelphia, Demetrius, probably felt that, as far as he was concerned, these words received their fulfilment when, his pastoral labours being completed, he laid himself down to die. In death our Lord comes to each of us, He comes in mercy or in judgment to bring the present state of existence to an end, to open out upon us another. There are two things about death which are full of meaning, and which do not admit of any sort of contradiction. The first is the certainty that it will come to each of us some day, and the second is the utter uncertainty of the day at which it will come. “Behold, I come quickly.” The expected coming of Christ throws a flood of light on the various aspects of existence. We are struck, perhaps, with the insignificance of life. Even when man is in possession of all his faculties of mind and body he is often obliged to pass his life in occupations which are at once exacting and mechanical--occupations which make scarcely any demand upon the mind beyond that of attention to the movement of the feet or of the fingers; occupations which might almost or altogether be discharged by machinery, and which, taken by themselves, appear unworthy of a being capable of comprehending truth, capable of growing in the comprehension of it, capable of enjoying a happiness proportionate to his vast desires. “Behold, I come quickly.” If Christ’s coming means anything, it will be no sorrow nor crying; it means the exercise of man’s higher powers to that fullest extent of their capacity--the beginning of an existence in which thought and heart and will will rest in perfectly ecstatic satisfaction on their one true object, and an existence which will last for ever. (Canon Liddon.)
Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.--
I. We are already in possession of a great property. “That which thou hast.” As Christians, we are not only striving to gain, but also striving to keep “that which we have.” That is the gospel, salvation, Christ, and heaven in Him.
II. The holding fast of that which we have.
1. “That which we have” is contemplated more in the light of a trust than of a privilege.
2. Of course, this whole injunction implies the presence of opposition, making this a matter of difficulty. A Christian holding fast against the world, its spirit, and way, is like a man pulling a boat up-stream, when the waters are deep and the current strong. Whether in the boat or on the bank, pulling by a rope, he needs to pull always--a strong, steady, constant pull--that is it! He meets a great many people coming down stream; and they do not need to pull much--a touch of the helm now and again, and a dip of the oar is all that they need. Sometimes a Christian is discouraged by observing that so many more seem to be going with the stream than seem to be going against it. He may be in a great measure mistaken in this. Christians sometimes have a feeling of loneliness. It seems as if all the world were against them. “Hold fast!” you are not so solitary as you imagine.
III. Thy crown. Every duty has a crown when it is well done, and every affliction patiently borne, and every day well spent, and every year well lived through, a crown which hangs trembling on its last hour. There is a sense, too, in which one man can take the crown of another in daily life. To put the matter plainly: if any of us shall be blind or heedless before the face of rich opportunity--if we shall hear, without hearing, the Master say, “Behold, I have set before thee an open door,” and if another, listening, catch the Master’s words and enter in, that man “takes our crown.” He is no richer, for the faithfulness that has proved itself here would have proved itself somewhere else, and in some other service; but we are the poorer--we have lost that little crown. And to lose many of these lesser crowns will diminish the lustre, if indeed it do not also affect the security of the great final crown.
IV. Behold He comes quickly. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Hold that fast which thou hast
Those who are overtaken by spiritual bankruptcy and ruin are probably often very much surprised by such a result befalling them. Every one who has ever had spiritual treasures is tempted to think that his spiritual treasure must be secure. Every one who has had a religious reputation is apt to think that such a reputation is abiding.
I. The capacity of religious feeling and effort, like all other powers of the soul, dies out for want of use. There is a tendency to believe that because we could once do a thing, or understand a thing the power or capacity must remain, although for years we have been out of practice. “Oh yes, of course, I can do that; I have done it often.” How frequently you have heard a man say that, and then, after a desperate, pitiful struggle, he has to give it up and admit his failure. A man has been an expert in rowing, or running, or climbing. Mature years are upon him now, but he laughs at the suggestion that his lungs are not still as strong and his arms as muscular as ever. He makes a severe drain some day on his bodily strength, and finds to his surprise and vexation that the nervous force is giving out long ere the day’s work is done. Or we once knew a foreign language. We fancy it must still flow to our tongue as easily as ever. We are suddenly called upon to use it, and are chagrined to find that the words will not come at our bidding. Now, what is true of our physical and of our intellectual nature is quite as profoundly and terribly true of our spiritual nature. There are organs by which we live to God, and these, if they get no exercise, decay. The practice of ten years ago does not secure their existence and activity now. Their present existence depends upon their present use; but once they have declined, all that province of our nature becomes incapable of impression and feeling, just as to the unintellectual man. Shakespeare has no more significance than a daily newspaper. The inner eye loses its faculty of discerning spiritual things; and yet the tongue may go on talking of them as fluently, perhaps even more fluently than ever. Others will very likely detect the change. For ii a man attempts to describe what he has never seen, or gives merely the loose recollection of ten or twenty years ago, an intelligent listener will soon find out something amiss. But the man himself thinks it is all as it should be. He knows the expressions about revealed truth as well as before. Perhaps he is even a trifle more orthodox than he was before; but for all that the spiritual faculty may be gone, perhaps for ever. Let us apply some tests to ascertain our spiritual vitality, the keenness of our spiritual vision. Your nature is perhaps active enough on some sides. You are not suffering from intellectual or emotional lethargy. Your wants and desires have multiplied in number; but are they as baptized with the Christian baptism as they were ten years ago? You have acquired means, you have greatly increased your resources; but is there as much of the gold of the kingdom, of the treasure of heaven there? There are wide harvests of the heart waving from carefully sown seed; but are you sure their roots would not be as rottenness, and their blossomings up as the dust, if the fiery winds of God began to blow across them? In the remote recesses of the soul, in its hidden depths, what response are you making now to spiritual appeals and promptings? Is there a deep undercurrent of your life setting towards Christ?
II. We are not at all so necessary to God, so essential for his purposes, as we sometimes think we are. We can be useful to God, helpful in carrying out His purposes. It is right that the ambition of being a fellow-worker with God should stir a man. One of the grandest features in the character of the Puritans was that they learned thus to regard themselves, unreservedly. We may not use precisely the same phrases, or give exactly the same colour and form to our thinking. It is in some respects better that we should not, but it is as possible now as then to be representatives of God’s cause, fighters for God, enthusiasts, zealots in His behalf; to have our joys and sorrows completely wrapt up with His joys and sorrows. It is as possible and as blessed. But close behind this spiritual attitude lies a subtle temptation. It lurks even in that extreme doctrine of predestination in which the Puritans found so much support and consolation. When fighting God’s battles amid discouragement and failure of hope, against great odds, they comforted themselves with the thought that they were safe in God’s hands; that their salvation and ultimate triumph were guaranteed by a Divine decree. This decree was irreversible, they felt and said, and in its absolute certainty they gloried. But you see how dangerous this position may become. So long as we are certain that our heart is beating with God’s, our souls yearning for His righteousness, our hands busy about His work, we are right to comfort ourselves with the thought of the Divine decree, and to take for granted that it is in our favour. But the attitude may change, and the old idea remain. We are far too inclined to take for granted that we must be on God’s side--that His decree must be in our favour. Do we suppose that God has special favourites--that He is a respecter of persons? What is there in us, apart from His grace, which makes us specially attractive or necessary? The history of Christ’s Church is one long tale of gifts forfeited and privileges transferred. The crown is not lost, but with a little alteration it is made to fit another’s brow. The talent is not melted down; it becomes another man’s. There is no empty space either in the arena of conflict below or in the place of victory and banqueting above.
III. Salvation and ultimate reward depend entirely on faithfulness to present light and steadfastness in present duty. Our crowns are being shaped by our present efforts and prayers and sacrifices. We are like men moulding in clay. God pours in gold and brings the crowns out in gold. The crowns will be out of proportion to our deserts, yet will bear the impress of our personality. Each of Christ’s disciples has something--some attainment, some experience, it does not matter how humble. Whatever be his ultimate salvation and reward, his crown depends on his holding it. You have learnt, perhaps, some rudiment of Christian faith--as, for example, that you cannot keep your own feet when the enemy assails; and you have learnt when you feel your own weakness to cry out to God. Well, that is not much, but it is something. “Hold that fast.” You have perhaps got further--acquired some deeper laws of the Christian life. You have found that the soul grows by giving. You have tasted the strange, Christlike sweetness of doing good; the new strength won by bold witness-bearing. “Hold that fast.” Or you have found out that, however it may be with others, there are certain assaults of evil which have for you a special danger; certain places and atmospheres peculiarly perilous; a certain set of truths on which your soul must feed. It is much to have found out what these are. “Hold that fast.” Don’t think it a small thing merely to hold what you have. Don’t think it always necessary to be opening your hands and grasping at more, sometimes, in your eagerness, dropping what you were holding. It is well to think and speak of progress, but let your edifying, your building up, be done carefully; see that the new stones lie evenly on the top of the old. Permanence in spiritual things is as important as progress, and a permanence that is essential is sometimes sacrificed to a progress that is not essential. Let us make sure that we are husbanding what we have won. To gather up, to retain, to make use of all the wisdom we have ever got from God; never to fall behind the best epochs of our former spiritual selves--if we do this we shall not fall. (John F. Ewing, M. A.)
I. The things of which the soul is to be tenacious. The soul of man is not to be tenacious of riches, of fame, or of the things of this life; these it cannot long retain in its grasp.
1. It must hold fast the truths of the Bible.
2. It must hold fast the reality of the Christian character.
3. It must hold fast the determination of the Christian life. The tenacity of the soul must be brave; it must be meek; it must be wise; it must be prayerful; and it must be hopeful of the end.
II. The reason why the soul should be tenacious of these things.
1. Because they are valuable.
2. Because they are threatened by vigilant enemies.
3. Because the advent of Christ is near. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
I. The possession implied. “That which thou hast.”
1. If unsaved, still we have--
(1) The offer of salvation.
(2) The means of grace.
(3) The Bible.
(4) The commanding voice of conscience.
(5) The convictions of the Holy Ghost.
(6) The precious, ennobling possibilities of a blood-bought probation.
2. If saved, we have all these, and--
(1) Saving faith.
(2) The witness of the Spirit.
(3) God’s approving smile and fellowship.
(4) Saintly communion and fellowship.
(5) Place among the people of God.
(6) Hope of glory.
II. The duty urged. “Hold fast.”
1. Do it publicly.
5. In faith, and humble reliance upon Jesus Christ.
6. Do it in self-defence. “That no man take thy crown.”
III. The motive presented. “Behold, I come quickly.”
1. The majesty and power of the person coming. “I.” Describe him:
(1) His pre-incarnate glory.
(2) His humiliation and sacrifice.
(3) His mediatorial glory and coming to judgment.
2. The solemnity of the event. “I come.”
3. The impressive manner of His approach. “Quickly.”
4. The attention the subject demands. “Behold.” This great crisis will be sprung upon no man unaware or unwarned. He exhorts, entreats, warns, so that all may be ready to meet Him with joy. (T. Kelly.)
Those who are sincere Christians ought to be very careful that they hold fast and preserve that which they have. You must by no means abandon the faith and truth which ye once espoused, you must continue in grace and persist in the ways of virtue, through all opposition. A Christian ought to strive and endeavour for final holiness. He must persevere not only in the profession of all Divine truths, but in the performance of all the duties which are enjoined by the Christian religion.
I. On what accounts we are obliged to be careful that we persevere in truth and godliness.
1. As to the benefit and advantage of persevering, it were enough to say that this is that which will give us an assurance of the sincerity of our hearts, and of the reality of our holiness. Many men’s beginnings are tolerably good, but they grow worse afterwards, and their end is worst of all. Therefore it is the conclusion that must be the trial of men. Next, I will show the advantage of this admirable gift from that portion of Scripture to which my text belongs: “Thou hast kept My Word, and hast not denied My Name.” Now, observe what are the advantages. “Behold, I will make them of the Synagogue of Satan, to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee,” i.e., I will make heretics, apostates, and false brethren ashamed: they shall at last be forced to condemn their own hypocrisy and apostasy, and to reverence that sincerity and uprightness which appear in the lives of those holy men whom no temptations could withdraw from their duty, but who in all seasons held fast their integrity. It follows, verse 10. “Because thou hast kept the Word of My patience, I also will keep,” etc. Here is another benefit of perseverance, namely, God keeps those who keep His Word, who continue in it, and forsake not the profession and practice of it. Such persons shall be kept in an hour of temptation, i.e., in a remarkable time of distress. And He adds, “That no man take thy crown”: where, according to the different sense of this clause, there is a double reason suggested, that we should not apostatise from the ways of God. If by crown be meant religion itself, then we have reason to hold it fast, because it is a thing of so excellent a nature. It is our crown, our dignity, our glory. Or, we may understand this of the crown of perseverance, and then the sense may be this, Hold that fast which thou hast, continue so steadfast in your religion and in your duty that no man may be able to take your crown from you, i.e., to rob you of your constancy and perseverance, for these are the crown of a Christian. And they are called so because they are the consummating of all, according to that known maxim, the end crowns the work, i.e., accomplisheth the whole enterprise. Again, perseverance is deservedly called a crown, because it is this which entitles you to a crown of glory. It is in vain that we set out well at first, and run swiftly, if we reach not the end of the race, and come up to the very goal. This may convince you of the benefit and advantage of this duty. So that I need not insist much on the evil of apostasy. Apostasy is near akin to the unpardonable sin (Matthew 5:13). This doctrine condemns the apostasy of these times we live in.
II. The most effectual helps to perseverance, and the most sovereign antidotes against apostasy.
1. The first effectual help is serious deliberation and choice. For it is certain that this is one cause of apostasy that men do not sit down and consider before they enter into religion. They take up the principles and practice of religion too hastily; and so it is no wonder that as they rashly took them up, they as suddenly lay them down. The old aphorism is true here, “Nothing that is violent lasts long.” Force a stone upwards with never so great strength, yet you shall soon see it fall down again. And to this purpose furnish yourselves with a sufficient stock of knowledge; for this will help to preserve you from falling away (Proverbs 2:11-12). They are the ignorant and novices that usually leave the paths of uprightness. Let religion be founded in serious consideration and choice, and then you will not bid farewell to it in evil times, when you come to be tried; then you will not shrink and fall back, and, like ill-built ships, sink in the launching.
2. That you may do so, carefully look to your heart, for thence is the rise of all your backsliding. What you can do in religion, though it be never so weak and mean, do it heartily.
3. That you may hold fast that which you have, and not revolt from God and His ways, see that you be very humble Unless you lay your foundation low, your fabric will not stand long.
4. To humility you must not forget to join fearfulness, according to that of the apostle, “Be not high-minded, but fear.” I do not speak of such a fear as is accompanied with cowardice; but such a religious awe upon our minds, whereby we are sensible of our own inability to stand, and therefore we are wary and cautious.
5. Are you desirous to persevere, and continue to the end in the ways of truth and holiness? Then see that your affections be not immoderately carried out towards this world.
6. That you may not be of this number, fix and establish yourselves by faith. “Thou standest by faith,” saith the apostle (Romans 11:12). This grace is an establishing, confirming, strengthening grace; and as long as we maintain this, we shall never fall away. But on the contrary, know this--that unbelief is one grand cause of apostasy--which was the occasion of that caution given in Hebrews 3:12. Such as your faith is, such is your fortitude; therefore endeavour to attain great measures of this, that you may with undaunted valour withstand the temptations of the evil spirit, and keep your station when he is most desirous to put you to flight. Cleave to the Rock of Ages, and you shall stand immovable; rely on Him, and you shall be upheld; depend on His promises, and you shall never fall.
7. That you may never turn apostates, entertain a love of God and goodness in your breasts. Love as well as faith is an establishing grace. Therefore St. Jude had reason to speak thus to the Christians of his days (verse 28), “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” If they would be steadfast in their religion, they must embrace it out of love.
8. In order to perseverance be careful to nourish a patient and resigning temper of mind.
9. Grow in grace, strive for the utmost attainments in Christianity; for this likewise is an approved remedy against apostasy. See then that you cast off all slothfulness, and remember that constant endeavours and the continual exercise of Christian graces are the conditions of perseverance. Be diligent, then, to improve your graces, and to make accessions to what you have.
10. That you may continue and persevere in all holiness, take care that those means, those institutions, those ordinances, which were appointed for this purpose, be not neglected by you. Lastly, Be ever watchful and circumspect, if you would hold fast what you have. (J Edwards.)
Hold fast thy crown
We must all feel that to “have,” and then to “lose,” is worse than never to have had. For a man is to be responsible--not according to what he is to be found having at the last, but according to what he once possessed and the capability that possession gave him of possessing much more. But then you must remember what is the Bible sense of that word to “have.” To “have” is to “hold” anything that so you can and do use and enjoy it. First, then, there are stores of memory. It is no trifling possession to have passages of Scripture, of sacred poetry, of holy authors, laid up in the mind. Increase the power of a sacred memory by always adding something more to the stock. And never forget that it is one of the offices and prerogatives of the Holy Ghost to assist and to empower the memory in Divine things. Secondly, the acquisition of a new truth, or a clearer perception of any truth, is a very real and very delightful possession. But, if you would “hold” a truth “fast” you must turn that truth to some practical account, for God is very jealous that His truth be not an idle thing; you must make that truth a centre, round which you are always gathering another and another truth. Then you must live that truth inwardly; and then you must live that truth outwardly. You must live it, not only for yourself; but you must live it for others. You must glorify God in it. And that truth will abide; and that truth will grow. Thirdly, you have enjoyed the things of God, the means of grace. You must be coming down from your mount to the plain--to the simple duty of daily life, to do that duty better because you have been upon the mount. Fourthly, a soft, tender heart--feelings much drawn out in strong love to God or man--is a thing greatly to be prized. But to maintain that blessed state of a mental affection, it is necessary that you live very close to God. The wax will only be soft if it is kept in the sunshine. Fifthly, an open door of usefulness is an exceeding boon when God gives it to a man. Have you it? Sixthly, to some of you it has been given to know, and not to doubt, that you can call Christ yours. And can all this pass away? Yes, it can. If that light go out, how great will that darkness be! It all depends upon the firmness and the continuance with which you hold it. Therefore, spend life in “making your calling and election sure.” Do not grieve, by small resistances, that Holy Ghost which is in you. The only way to “hold fast,” is to be “held fast.” Under our weak hand, God’s own omnipotence must lie; and we must be apprehended, that we may apprehend. (James Vaughan, M. A.)
I. The crown spoken of here is not the symbol of royalty, but the floral wreath which in ancient social life played many parts: was laid on the temples of the victors in the games, was wreathed around the locks of the conquering general, was placed upon the anointed heads of brides and of feasters, was the emblem of victory, of festivity, of joy. And it is this crown, not the symbol of dominion, but the symbol of a race accomplished and a conquest won, an outward and visible sign of a festal day, with all its abundance and ease and abandonment to delight, which the apocalyptic vision holds out before the Christian man. The crown is spoken about under three designations--as a crown of “life,” of “righteousness,” of “glory.” The crown is the reward of righteousness, and consists of life so full that our present experience contrasted with it may almost be called an experience of death; of glory so flashing and wonderful that, if our natures were not strengthened, it would be an “exceeding weight of glory” that would crush them down, and upon all the life and all the glory is stamped the solemn signature of eternity, and they are for ever. Christian men, it much concerns the vigour of your Christianity that you should take time and pains to cultivate the habit of looking forward through all the mists of this petty present, and of thinking of that future as a certainty more certain than the contingencies of earth, and as a present possession, more real by far than any of the fleeting shadows which we proudly and falsely call our own. “Thy crown” will fit no temples but thine. It is part of thy perfected self, and certain to be thine, if thou hold fast the beginning of thy confidence firm unto the end.
II. The grim possibility of losing the crown. “That no man take” it. Of course we are not to misunderstand the contingency shadowed here as if it meant that some other person could filch away and put on his own head the crown which once was destined for us, which is a sheer impossibility and absurdity. No man would think to win heaven by stealing another’s right of entrance there. No man could, if he were to try. The results of character cannot be transferred. Nor are we to suppose reference to the machinations of tempters, either human or diabolic, who deliberately try to rob Christians of their religion here, and thereby of their reward hereafter. But it is only too possible that men and things round about us may upset this certainty that we have been considering, and that though the crown be “thine,” it may never come to be thy actual possession in the future, nor ever be worn upon thine own happy head in the festival of the skies. That is the solemn side of the Christian life, that it is to be conceived of as lived amidst a multitude of men and things that are always trying to make us unfit to receive that crown of righteousness. If we would walk through life with this thought in our minds, how it would strip off the masks of all these temptations that buzz about us!
III. The way to secure the crows which is ours. “Hold fast that thou hast.” The slack hand will very soon be an empty hand. Anybody walking through the midst of a crowd of thieves with a bag of gold in charge would not hold it dangling from a finger-tip, but he would put all five round it, and wrap the strings about his wrist. The first shape which we may give to this exhortation is--hold fast by what God has given in His gospel; hold fast His Son, His truth, His grace. Use honestly and diligently your intellect to fathom and to keep firm hold of the great truths and principles of the gospel. Use your best efforts to keep your wandering hearts and mobile wills fixed and true to the revealed love of the great Lover of souls, which has been given to you in Christ, and to obey Him. But there is another aspect of the same commandment which applies not so much to that which is given us in the objective revelation and manifestation of God in Christ, as to our own subjective degrees of progress in the appropriation of Christ, and in likeness to Him. And possibly that is what my text more especially means, for just a little before the Lord has said to that Church, “Thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name.” “Thou hast a little strength … hold fast that which thou hast.” See to it that thy present attainment in the Christian life, though it may be but rudimentary, is at least kept. Cast not away your confidence, hold fast the beginning of your confidence firm, with a tightened hand unto the end. For if we keep what we have, it will grow. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Graces need keeping
Where we are most tempted, know that there is some special grace to be kept or lost. A thief will not hanker after an empty chest; but if he knows where jewels or treasure is, he haunt there. (Jeremy Taylor.)
No grace, not even the most sparkling and shining, can bring us to heaven without perseverance in following Christ; not faith, if it be faint and frail; nor love, if it decline and wax cold; nor humility, if it continue not to the end; not obedience, not repentance, not patience, no, nor any other grace, except they have their perfect work. It is not enough to begin well, unless we end well. (T. Brooks.)
Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of My God.
The Philadelphian conqueror
I. The conqueror is to be a temple-pillar. Not an outside, but an inside pillar. The interior colonnades or double rows of tall pillars in some churches and temples are splendid beyond description. They are part of the vast fabric; not like those who minister there, going out and in, but standing immovable in their surpassing beauty. Such is the reward of the Philadelphian conqueror. An everlasting inhabitant and ornament of that sanctuary of which we read, “I saw no temple therein,” etc. They shall go no more out! Their home is the innermost shrine in the heaven of heavens. Like Jachin and Boaz (1 Kings 7:15; 1 Kings 7:21), there they stand for ever. II The conqueror is to be inscribed with glorious names. It is said of Christ that He has on His vesture and on His thigh a name written, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” It is said of the redeemed in glory that they have their Father’s name written on their foreheads (Revelation 14:1); so here on these Philadelphian pillars are many names to be inscribed, each of them unutterably glorious. These inscriptions are written by Christ Himself: “I will write.” He engraves these names upon these temple-pillars, that they may be eternal witnesses to them in the glorious sanctuary. The inscriptions to be thus engraven are as follows:
1. The name of my God. This is the name which God proclaimed to Moses, the name which is the summary of His blessed character, as the God of all grace. What honour! To be the marble on which Jehovah’s name is carved, and from which it shall blaze forth in the eternal temple!
2. The name of the city of my God. Other pillars set up on earth by man have the names of deities, or kings, or warriors, or cities graven upon them. But this inscription excels all in glory.
3. My new name. This is the new name given by Christ, which no man knoweth save he who receiveth it. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The Christians final triumph
I. The qualification insisted upon in the text. “Him that over-cometh.”
1. The term evidently implies a struggle and conflict.
2. The term “overcometh” implies daily advancement and success.
3. A third feature of the man who “overcometh” is perseverance. His religion is not the mere meteor of the moment, extinguished almost as soon as kindled. He will set his face like a flint against corruption; will “resist, even unto blood, the contradiction of sinners” against the Master he loves.
II. The promises addressed in the text to the victorious servants of the Redeemer.
1. The successful Christian shall be “made a pillar in the temple of his God.” In this world the servant of the Redeemer may be a mere outcast in society. Nevertheless, “he that overcometh shall be made a pillar in the temple of God.” That poor outcast, if a true servant of Christ, shall be stripped of his rags and wretchedness, and be raised as a pillar of ornament in the temple of the Lord. Great will be the changes of the last day: “the first shall be last and the last first.”
2. He “shall go no more out.” The sun of his joys shall never go down. The wellspring of his comforts shall never fail.
3. “I will write on him the name of My God.” In this world, it is possible that the sincere Christian may be perplexed, either by his own doubts of acceptance with God or by the suspicions and insinuations of others; but in heaven his acceptance and adoption will be no longer a disputable point. He shall be recognised by Him who has stamped him with His own name.
4. “I will write on him the name of the city of My God, which is New Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God.” Even here it is “the city not made with hands” which the Christian seeks. And to that city he shall be exalted in heaven.
5. “I will write upon him My new Name.” (J. W. Cunningham.)
I. In heaven noble service. Believers are called in the epistles, even while they are on earth, “the temple of God.” But how often it is desecrated and defiled! Here the same image has a more glorious and fitting application to the perfect life of heaven. We seem to see the entire company of God’s servants fitly framed together into one vast, living temple; the polished stones brought from many distant parts. What worship there, where every stone has a tongue to praise, a heart to feel! But as, in examining a noble pile of building, the great whole distracts you, and you turn from it to look separately at single parts--a window, or an arch--so let us follow our heavenly guide, as, leading us through the “temple of His God,” He points our attention to one of its component parts, bids us observe the functions of a “pillar” in it. It is the office of a pillar to support, uphold, an edifice, and also to adorn it. A column, then, is a noble part of any building; noble because of its important function--to sustain within a small compass the weight of the spreading roof and arches; and noble also because there can be joined with this utility beauty of form and wealth of ornament. Then, too, a pillar is not something extraneous, introduced into a building for a temporary purpose, and then to be removed; but it is an essential part of it. So the servant whom Christ makes a pillar in God’s temple shall by that appointment become himself an actual part of heaven itself, bearing its glories up by the unwearied strength of his own hands, and adding to its beauty by his holiness and by the bright success attending all his toils. As a column has no wasted parts, but is so shaped that every atom bears its due proportion of the weight, or carries ornament in keeping with the beauties around it, so you are being moulded, by the Divine Workman who makes the pillars for that temple, in such wise that your energies will neither be left latent nor be overstrained, but developed to the full, and kept in joyous exercise, till you, in your place there, will become a very part of heaven, its beauty and blessedness augmented by the contribution of your pure delight. For the light of God will flash back reflected from the pillars there.
II. No last hours in heaven. This expressive image of a pillar is often applied, and justly, to the positions men occupy on earth. For men of high faculties do often find worthy scope for their powers--fill important posts with eminent success. The warrior who saves his country’s independence--what a noble pillar of its fortunes is he! Or the statesman, who develops its resources, and conducts it to greatness and renown--how fitly is he called a pillar of the state! When the great abilities needed for such high stations are employed in filling them, have we not all we covet, namely, noble faculties in noblest exercise? Well, forget if you will the failures and disappointments which attend such careers, yet will you say that such a lot is comparable to heaven? Look on a few years. A great funeral passes by--the pillar is broken. Out of his high place he goes, and does not return. Oh, what an abatement of pride to know that any day the stately column may fall prostrate in the dust! But he whom Christ makes a pillar in the temple of His God “shall go no more out.” His strength and beauty will never know decay.
III. Such service is the reward of victory here. For he whom Christ makes a pillar there, is “him that overcometh.” So that the temptations, the disappointments, the wretched weaknesses, all so harassing, and in such sad contrast to the bright light above, are not hostile to it, but co-operate towards it. The stability of heaven, so firm and glorious, is to be won only by patient endurance of earth’s changes and earnest conflict with its sins. So if you want to work for God there, with delightful ease, you must learn by hard effort here to use your hands skilfully for Him. The workman who does the hardest task with greatest ease has gained that dexterity only by years of strenuous toll. And so the servants who do God’s work with joyous ease in heaven, have all come out of great tribulation, and have by that hard discipline been schooled into their glorious proficiency, and only after a long, fierce conflict did they “overcome.”
IV. The double agency spoken of. “Him that overcometh”: the man must fight and conquer. “I will make him a pillar”: like a passive column, he is fashioned by another’s hand. Yes; both are true. We must act; not because God does not, but because He does. Christ, by the might and skill of His Divine hand, makes a pillar, not of the man who wishes and dreams, but of the man who overcomes. The blows of misfortune, which were so hard to bear and seemed so disastrous, were the strokes of His Divine chisel, educing beauty from deformity. The bitter deprivation of what they prized so much, and which excited such complaints, was the cutting away of what would have for ever disfigured God’s temple if it had remained. (T. M. Herbert, M. A.)
A pillar in the temple, the emblem of moral character
I. Here is the idea of sanctity.
II. Here is the idea of strength. God uses the good in the maintenance of His Church in the world, hence they must give their best sympathy, talent, and effort in its service. The good will be stronger in the temple above.
III. Here is the idea of permanence. In this life moral character in its higher mood is uncertain in continuance; it is beset by many enemies who would carry it out of the temple of God; but there it will be eternally amidst scenes of devotion and splendour.
IV. Here is the idea of inscription. In heaven moral character will be more God-like; it will be transformed by a vision of the Eternal. Every man’s life has some inscription on it, which is read by the world. Lessons:
1. That the good are consecrated to Divine uses in life.
2. That the good are to be morally useful in life. That the good should in their lives exhibit the name of God. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The promises to the victor
I. The steadfast pillar. Now, I take it that the two clauses which refer to this matter are closely connected. “I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out.” In the second clause the figure is dropped; and the point of the metaphor is brought out more clearly. Here it cannot mean the office of sustaining a building, or pre-eminence above others, as it naturally lends itself sometimes to mean. For instance, the Apostle Paul speaks of the three chief apostles in Jerusalem and says that they “seemed to be pillars.” We cannot conceive of even redeemed men sustaining that temple in the heavens; and also, inasmuch as the promise here is perfectly universal, and is given to all that overcome. Now, the second of the two clauses which are thus linked together seems to me to point to the direction in which we are to look. “He shall go no more out.” A pillar is a natural emblem of stability and permanence, as poets in many tongues, and in many lands, have felt it to be. But whilst the general notion is that of stability and permanence, do not let us forget that it is permanence and stability in a certain direction, for the pillar is “in the temple of my God.” And whilst there are ideas of dignity and grace attaching to the metaphor of the pillar, the underlying meaning of it is substantially that the individual souls of redeemed men shall be themselves parts, and collectively shall constitute the temple of God in the heavens. The special point in which that perfection and transcendence are expressed here is to be kept prominent. “He shall go no more out.” Permanence, and stability, and uninterruptedness in the communion and consciousness of an indwelling God, is a main element in the glory and blessedness of that future life. Stability in any fashion comes as a blessed hope to us, who know the cause of constant change, and are tossing on the unquiet waters of life. Sometimes the bay is filled with flashing waters that leap in the sunshine; sometimes, when the tide is out, there is only a long stretch of grey and cozy mud. It shall not be always so. Like lands on the equator, where the difference between midsummer and midwinter is scarcely perceptible, either in length of day or in degree of temperature, that future will be a calm continuance, a uniformity which is not monotony, and a stability which does not exclude progress. “He shall go no more out.” Eternal glory and unbroken communion is the blessed promise to the victor who is made by Christ “a pillar in the temple of my God.”
II. Now, secondly, notice the threefold inscription. The writing of a name implies ownership and visibility. So the first of the triple inscriptions declares that the victor shall be conspicuously God’s. “I will write upon him the name of my God.” There may possibly be an allusion to the golden plate which flamed in the front of the High Priest’s mitre, and on which was written the unspoken name of Jehovah. How do we possess one another? How do we belong to God? How does God belong to us? There is but one way by which a spirit can possess a spirit--by love; which leads to self-surrender and to practical obedience. And if--as a man writes his name in his books, as a farmer brands on his sheep and oxen the marks that express his ownership--on the redeemed there is written the name of God, that means, whatever else it may mean, perfect love, perfect self-surrender, perfect obedience. That is the perfecting of the Christian relationship which is begun here on earth. In the preceding letter to Sardis we were told that the victor’s name should not “be blotted out of the book of life.” Here the same thought is suggested by a converse metaphor. The name of the victor is written on the rolls of the city; and the name of the city is stamped on the forehead of the victor. That is to say, the affinity which even here and now has knit men who believe in Jesus Christ to an invisible order, where is their true mother-city and metropolis, will then be uncontradicted by any inconsistencies, unobscured by the necessary absorption in daily duties and transient aims and interests which often veils to others, and renders less conscious to ourselves, our true belonging to the city beyond the sea. The last of the triple inscriptions declares that the victor shall be conspicuously Christ’s. “I will write upon him My new name.” What is that new name? It is an expression for the sum of the new revelations of what He is, which will flood the souls of the redeemed when they pass from earth. That new name will not obliterate the old one--God forbid! It will do away with the ancient, earth-begun relation of dependence and faith and obedience. “Jesus Christ is the same … for ever”; and His name in the heavens, as upon earth, is Jesus the Saviour. That new name no man fully knows, even when he has entered on its possession, and carries it on his forehead; for the infinite Christ, who is the manifestation of the infinite God, can never be comprehended, much less exhausted, even by the united perceptions of a redeemed universe, but for ever and ever more and more will well out from Him. His name shall last as long as the sun, and blaze when the sun himself is dead. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Laodicea--the self-complacent Church
Laodicea is the type of a self-complacent Church. Underneath the condemnation of luke-warmness there is a yet more heart-searching lesson. Lukewarmness itself is the sure result of self-complacency; it is absolutely impossible for self-complacent men |o be other than lukewarm. If we grasp this truth we get below symptoms of a grave and conspicuous evil in Churches to its very source; we reach the heart and display its hidden weakness and woe. Perhaps, also, we shall find the way of deliverance; many a man is lukewarm, and he knows not why. It is his constant morrow and his wonder; he ought to be earnest, and he feels he is not. To show any who may be conscious of this strange indifference the real reason of their unimpassioned, powerless piety, to disclose the secret of the lukewarmness which is their never-forgotten perplexity and their self-reproach, may suggest to them how they are to be cured. There are two points in the description of the self-complacency of Laodicea, the simple statement of which bites like satire; it is the self-complacency, first, of the moneyed man, and, secondly, of the so-called self-made man. By a strange moral irony the self-complacent man fixes his attention on what he has of least value, and lets his higher possibilities go unthought of. The R.V., “I am rich and have gotten riches,” strikes harshly on the ear accustomed to the older reading, “I am rich and increased with goods”; but it has this merit--it shows us the self-complacent congratulating himself that he is the author of his own success. Laodicea “was a town of some consequence in the Roman province of Asia.” “Its trade was considerable; it lay on the line of a great road.” It is now a ruin, absolute and utter; the site of its stadium, its gymnasium, and its theatres alone discernible. “North of the town are many sarcophagi, with their covers lying near them, partly embedded in the ground, and all having been long since rifled.” “The remains of an aqueduct are there, with stone barrel-pipes, incrusted with calcareous matter, and some completely closed up.” It is an awful historic parable--broken buildings, rifled tombs, water-pipes choked with the earthy matter they conveyed. So may the soul be charged with the dregs of what we allow to filter through it; so will the soul be rifled which has allowed itself to become a tomb, the receptacle of dead forms of activity that might have been ennobled with the highest life. The curse of societies which measure the things of God by a worldly standard--and where this is not done, self-complacency is impossible--is the inevitable degradation and ruin which set in. There is no common measure between the surpassing purpose of the Saviour and the satisfaction men have in what they have attained, and in themselves for having attained it. “All things are possible to me,” says the believer in Christ; for his faith goes out to a life, an energy beyond him; it becomes surety for what his eye has not seen. “All things are possible to me,” says the worldly Christian; for he takes care never to admit into his purpose anything more than he has already achieved. Where the purpose is thus debased the thought is narrow, and mind, and heart, and soul are contracted to the limit of what they hold. So, when the appeal of the gospel is made, there is no response; there is nothing which seems worth a transcendent effort. The man is lukewarm, there is nothing to fire him in his purpose, no heart in him to be fired. He is poor for all his wealth. Thus the central thought of the message to Laodicea, when once we have caught it, dominates all our perception; it recurs to us again and again; its inevitableness strikes us; we never can forget that the self-complacent man or Church is and must be lukewarm. In Hogarth’s picture of Bedlam, the most distressing figures are those of the self-complacent--the Pope with his paper tiara and lathen cross; the astronomer with paper tube, devoid of lenses, sweeping not the heavens, but the walls of the madhouse; the naked king, with sceptre and crown of straw. Their misery is seen upon their faces; even their self-complacency cannot hide it. The heart is hopeless where the man is self-centred; gladness is as foreign as enthusiasm to him who is full of the sense of what he has acquired. But out of this same dominating thought comes the hope of recovery. When we are conscious of lukewarmness, the first thing which occurs to us is that we ought to be earnest; and we set ourselves to try to be so. We try to arouse the lukewarm to intensity; we lash them with scorn; we overwhelm them with demonstrations of their misery, and present them with images of the resolved; “Be earnest,” we cry to them again and again; “without earnestness there is no possibility of Christian life.” How vain it all is! The young may be awakened by appeals; but not those who have come to their lassitude through prosperity, “the rich, and increased with goods.” One way remains--give them to see the glory of Christ; there is in Him a sublimity, an augustness, a moral dignity and worth which may thrill the soul with a new passion, and set the tides of life flowing toward a central splendour. And this is what we find in the message to Laodicea. First there is presented a stately image of Him who walks about among the seven golden candlesticks. “These things saith the Amen,” etc. We feel at once the mystic sublimity of the phrases: an unrevealed grandeur is behind the form of the man Christ Jesus, arousing our expectation, moving the heart with a faintly imagining awe. Next, we have a picture of the tender Saviour, one which has entered into our common Christian speech as few presentations even of Christ have, luring on the painter to body forth, and the poet to describe what they can never express, but what we all can feel. “Behold, I stand at the door.” etc. Here, too, is a cure for self-complacency. The heart can be won by tenderness. And then there is the sublime promise, so reserved, yet sounding into such depths of suggestion--“He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down,” etc. The throne on which Christ is seated is a Divine throne; but it is also a throne on which are exalted disappointed human hopes. When Jesus died upon the cross He died in faith of what He had not realised. And then the triumph came. God “raised him up from the dead and gave Him glory.” Christ’s mission is accomplished when human souls awaken to a faith and a hope for ever in advance of all men can attain to on earth, a faith and a hope which are in God. There is a cure for self-complacency here; and with self-complacency the deathly lukewarmness is gone. There are some pathetic touches which we should notice before closing this solemn, heart-searching appeal to the self-complacent. The abrupt change of tone in Revelation 3:17; Revelation 18:1-24 is significant. “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked”--with such an introduction, what words may we not expect to follow, of warning, censure, doom? They are not spoken. The Lord begins in another strain--“I counsel thee to buy of Me,” etc. The pathos of all self-complacency, at once its condemnation and the more than hope of deliverance from it, is this--the delivering Lord is so nigh. The true riches, the robe of righteousness, the Divine vision, all are for us; to be bought, as God’s best gifts can only be bought, “without money and without price.” Some words follow with which we are very familiar, the thought they express entering so largely into Biblical teaching and human experience. “As many as I love,” etc. One of the suggestions of this utterance is, that with all its self-complacency Laodicea was profoundly unhappy. The denizens of Bedlam are more than half conscious of their derangement; the self-satisfied Christian knows how deep is his discontent. Another suggestion is that of coming tribulation; the knocking at the door of which the next verse speaks is an intimation that trouble is at hand. Let it come; it will be welcome; anything will be welcome which can stir this mortal lethargy. The treasures of the Divine chastisement are not exhausted; and they are treasures of the Divine love. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)
I. Three aspects of the character of Christ.
1. “The Amen.” This sets forth His immutability.
2. “The faithful and true Witness.”
(1) Christ is a Witness--
(a) In His personal life and death.
(b) By the Holy Spirit in the inspired Word, in the plan of redemption, and in the organisation of the Church.
(c) In the hearts of individual believers, where He dwells by faith.
(2) Christ, as Witness, in this threefold sense, is faithful and true.
(3) His promised rewards will be faithfully fulfilled, and His threatened penalties will be strictly carried out.
3. “The beginning of the creation of God.” The Head, Prince, or Potentate.
II. The twofold character of the Laodicean Church.
III. Christ’s appropriate counsel.
1. This counsel is characteristic of our Lord.
(1) Tender and considerate.
(2) Appropriate and definite.
(3) Timely and solemn.
2. This counsel is very suggestive.
(1) “Buy of Me.” In one sense grace cannot be bought. It has been bought--not with silver and gold, etc. In another sense, if we are not willing to give up the world and its sinful pleasures for Divine grace, we shall not obtain it.
(2) “Gold tried in the fire.” That which enriches the soul for ever, and will endure the test of His judgment.
(3) “White raiment” (Revelation 19:8).
(4) “Eye-salve.” The illumination of the Holy Spirit.
IV. Three proofs of Christ’s loving interest.
2. Patient, personal appeals to those who have practically rejected Him.
3. His gracious proffer of the highest honour to him who becomes conqueror in His name. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
The word of Christ to the congregation at Laodicea
I. Its real character was thoroughly known.
II. Its spiritual indifferentism is divinely abhorrent.
1. Spiritual indifferentism is a most incongruous condition.
2. Spiritual indifferentism is a most incorrigible condition.
III. Its self-deception is terribly alarming.
IV. Its miserable condition need not be hopeless.
1. Recovery is freely offered.
2. Recovery is Divinely urged.
3. Recovery is Divinely rewarded.
(1) The throne of all approving conscience.
(2) The throne of moral rule. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The Church abhorrent to Christ because of the lukewarm temperature of its spiritual life
I. This church was lukewarm in the temperature of its spiritual life.
1. The language of this verse aptly describes the religious state of many Churches now.
(1) A lukewarm Church is unique in the world. In every sphere of life, save the moral, men are red hot.
(2) A lukewarm Church is useless in the world. It cannot make any progress against a vigilant devil and a wicked world.
(3) A lukewarm Church is an anomaly in the world. The Church is destined to represent on earth the most energetic and spiritual ministries which exist in the unseen universe.
(4) A lukewarm Church has much tending to awaken it. It should be awakened by a study of the lives of the Old and New Testament saints, by the earnest life of Christ, by the great need of the world, by the transitoriness of life, and by the quickening influences of the Divine Spirit.
2. That this lukewarm Church was abhorrent to the Divine Being. It is better to be a sinner than a merely nominal Christian; because the latter brings a greater reproach upon the name of Christ; because the latter is in the greater peril; and because hypocrisy is a greater sin than profanity.
II. This lukewarm church, sadly deceived, was wisely counselled as to the real condition of its spiritual life.
1. Sad deception.
(1) The members of this Church imagined that they were rich and had need of nothing.
(2) The members of this Church imagined that they were prosperous.
(3) The members of this Church imagined that they had attained all possible excellence.
2. Wise counsel.
(1) This Church was advised to get true wealth.
(2) This Church was advised to get renewed purity.
(3) This Church was advised to get clear vision.
(4) This Church was advised to get Christly merchandise.
3. Disguised love. All the Divine rebukes are for the moral good of souls, and should lead to repentance and zeal.
III. This church was urgently encouraged to amend its moral condition and to enter upon a zealous life. The advice of Christ is always encouraging. He will help the most degraded Church into a new life. Lessons:
1. That a lukewarm Church is abhorrent to the Divine mind.
2. That Christ gives wise counsel to proud souls.
3. That the most valuable things of life are to be had from Christ without money and without price.
4. Are we possessed of this gold, raiment, eyesalve? (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
These things saith the Amen.--
The name which the Lord assumes in addressing this Church is threefold, yet one--“the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.” The name “Amen” as here employed has its root in the Old Testament, where God is called “the God of truth,” the God of the Verily, the God of Amen--not merely distinguishing Him from the “lying vanities” of the heathen and the phantom-gods of philosophy, but bringing into view the absolute truth of His nature and of all His attributes. We cannot but mark how supremely and absolutely, in assuming this name, Jesus claims to be what the Jehovah of the Old Testament was. Two successive steps may give us a glimpse of the meaning of this name as now assumed and worn by the Lord. In the first place, He Himself is true, and deserves our absolute trust. His compassions are true, His love is true, His word is true, His smile is true, yea, His very silence is true, even as He said to His disciples, “If it were not so, I would have told you.” He does not say and unsay; He does not come and go; He is without variableness or shadow of turning. In the second place, He is the Amen, the Verily, to all that God has spoken. The ancient promises that had come down through thousands of years unfulfilled are fulfilled in Him, and that not in the letter merely, but in the inner spirit. The promises that still look to the future are in Him certain and sure, as hopes. And so with every word that God has spoken, whether promise or threatening. There is no may be or may not be about them; in Him they are all Amen. He is their full and sure accomplishment, even as He is the accomplishment of the past, Besides being the Amen, Jesus is to the Laodiceans “the faithful and true Witness.” He is the Messenger and Revealer of the Father, who answers all the deep questions of the conscience and heart, as well as of the intellect, according to the ancient prophecy--“Behold, I have given Him for a Witness to the people.” “I have manifested Thy name,” He says to the Father, “unto the men whom Thou gavest me out of the world.” It is essential to a witness that he have personal knowledge of that which he reports; and this Witness was in the bosom of the Father, and knows what is in His heart. As Witness He is “faithful and true.” These two words are like the right hand and the left. As I conceive, they are not interchangeable; but each conveys its own distinct and special meaning. Taken together, they mark that He kept back nothing which the Father delivered unto Him, and that all He said might be relied upon to the last jot and tittle. Once more the Lord names Himself “the Beginning of the creation of God.” We trace “the things that are” back and up to Jesus Christ; He is the uncaused cause of their being, their vital origin, “willing” them into existence; and the “increasing purpose” is but the gradual unfolding of the thought of His heart. It is the same truth that fills such words as these: “All things were made by Him,” etc. “In Him (comprehended within the sphere of His being, power, and will) were all things created,” etc. The grand thought is, that this glorious universe, whose origin lies back of human imagination, was brought into being (according to the will of the eternal Father) by our blessed Redeemer’s creative power, and exists for His sake. (J. Culross, D. D.)
The word “Amen” is much more full of meaning than may be supposed, and as a title of our Lord Jesus Christ it is eminently suggestive. I might have divided my discourse very fairly under these three heads--asserting, consenting, petitioning. For in each of these our adorable Lord Jesus Christ is certainly “the Amen.” He asserts the will of God--He asserts God Himself. God the Son is constantly called the Word; He who asserts, declares, and testifies God. In the second place, we know that Jesus Christ consents to the will, design, and purpose of Jehovah. He gives an Amen to the will of God--is, in fact, the echo, in His life and in His death, of the eternal purposes of the Most High. And, thirdly, He is “the Amen” in the petitionary sense, for to all our prayers He gives whatever force and power they have. But we have preferred to divide the discourse another way.
I. Our Lord is superlatively God’s Amen.
1. Long ere you and I had a being, before this great world started out of nothingness, God had made every purpose of His eternal counsel to stand fast and firm by the gift of His dear Son to us. He was then God’s Amen to His eternal purpose.
2. When our Lord actually came upon the earth, He was then God’s Amen to the long line of prophecies. That babe among the horned oxen, that carpenter’s son, was God’s declaration that prophesy was the voice of heaven.
3. Christ was God’s Amen to all the Levitical types. Especially when up to the Cross as to the altar He went as a victim and was laid thereon, then it was that God solemnly put an Amen into what otherwise was but typical and shadowy.
4. Christ is God’s Amen to the majesty of His law. He has not sinned Himself, but He has the sins of all His people imputed to Him. He has never broken the law, but all our breaches thereof were laid on Him. The law says He is accursed, for He has sin upon Him: will the Father consent that His own Beloved shall be made a curse for us? Hearken and hear the Lord’s Amen. “Awake, O sword, against the man that is My fellow, saith the Lord.” What, does God the Father say Amen? Can it be? It is even so. He says, Amen. And what an awful Amen too, when the sweat of blood started from every pore of His immaculate body.
5. Jesus Christ is very blessedly God’s Amen to all His covenant promises, for is it not written that “all the promises of God in Him are yea and in Him Amen.”
6. Jesus Christ will be God’s Amen at the conclusion of this dispensation in the fulness of time.
II. He is our Amen in Himself.
1. He proved Himself to be Amen; the God of truth, sincerity, and faithfulness in His fulfilment of covenant engagements. “Lo I come! In the volume of the book it is written of Me: I delight to do Thy will, O God.” From all eternity He declared Himself to be ready to go through the work, and when the time came He was straightened till the work was done.
2. He was also “the Amen” in all His teachings. We have already remarked that He constantly commenced with “Verily, verily I say unto you.” Christ as teacher does not appeal to tradition, or even to reasoning, but gives Himself as His authority.
3. He is also “the Amen” in all His promises. Sinner, I would comfort thee with this reflection.
4. Jesus Christ is yea and Amen in all His offices. He was a priest to pardon and cleanse once; He is Amen as priest still. He was a King to rule and reign for His people, and to defend them with His mighty arm; He is an Amen King, the same still. He was a prophet of old to foretell good things to come; His lips are most sweet, and drop with honey still--He is an Amen Prophet.
5. He is Amen with regard to His person. He is still faithful and true, immutably the same. Not less than God! Omnipotent, immutable, eternal, omnipresent still! God over all, blessed for ever. O Jesus, we adore Thee, Thou great Amen. He is the same, too, as to His manhood. Bone of our bone still; in all our afflictions still afflicted.
III. He is experimentally God’s Amen to every believing soul.
1. He is God’s Amen in us. If you want to know God you must know Christ; if you want to be sure of the truth of the Bible you must believe Jesus.
2. Jesus Christ is “the Amen” not only in us, but “the Amen” for us. When you pray, you say Amen. Did you think of Christ? Did you offer your prayer through Him? Did you ask Him to present it before God? If not, there is no Amen to your prayer.
3. I want that Jesus Christ should be God’s Amen in all our hearts, as to all the good things of the covenant of grace; I am sure He will be if you receive Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
What, then, is the meaning of this sacred word? It means truth; it means reality. I want to bring before you the awfulness of truth--that is, of reality, of sincerity, of guileless simplicity, both as regards our conduct in the life that now is and as regards the eternal life of man’s spirit. First, as regards our earthly life. We may each of us spend our lives either in the world or in God. If we live in God--“if that life which we now live in the flesh is lived by faith in the Son of God”--then we are living in the world of reality. If we are living for the world--if we are setting our affections on the things of the earth--we are living in the midst of fatal delusions and fading shadows. Let a man but once catch a glimpse of the true light, and he learns utterly to despise the dim rushlights of this earth’s tinselled stage; let but one ray out of eternity shine down into his heart, and for him the world and the things of the world shrivel into insignificance. God is the Amen, and all His laws are eternal: they abide for ever; they are laws not only of reality, not only of righteousness, but of pleasantness and peace. Earnestly, then, would I invite you all to base yourselves on the “Amen,” on the solid and ultimate reality of life, by denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and living soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. And no less earnestly would I invite you to base your unshaken lives on the Amen of true religion, without which the house of your life will only be built upon sand. The Church depends solely on the presence of Christ. Religious partisans show their greatest zeal always not for God’s eternal verities, but for what is doubtful and questionable and valueless, and often they pass over the whole essential message and meaning of the gospel of Christ in order to insist on the grossest misinterpretation of some single text. But God is the God of Amen, that is, of truth. Let us then look to the basis of our faith and the basis of our conduct. “Will ye, by hypocrisy in conduct, will ye, by petty unreality in faith, offer to the God of Truth the unclean sacrifice of a lie?” Reality, sincerity, holiness--the elementary Christian graces, faith, hope, love--the primary Christian duties, soberness, temperance, chastity--these are the things and these are the tests of a true religion; apart from these all else is fringes and phylacteries. (Dean Farrar.)
The Beginning of the creation of God.
The creation of God
The third appellation cannot be limited to the thought of the mere material creation, as if equivalent to the statement that by the Word were all things made. It would thus fail to correspond with the two appellations preceding it, which undoubtedly apply to the work of redemption, while, at the same time, the addition of the words “of God” would be meaningless or perplexing. Let us add to this that in chap 1:5, immediately after Jesus has been called the “faithful Witness,” He is described as the “First begotten of the dead,” and we shay not be able to resist the conviction that the words before us refer primarily to the new creation, the Christian Church, that redeemed humanity which has its true life in Christ. (W. Milligan, D. D.)
I know thy works, that thou art neither hot nor cold.--
The condition of the Laodiceans
“I know thy works.” There is to be no dealing with them in the dark, as man is compelled to do; no drawing of a bow at a venture; the arrow is aimed straight at the mark. He is about to judge the Laodiceans, and His judgment proceeds on a perfect knowledge of their condition. “Thy works,” in all that they are and all that they mean and involve, lie open under Mine eye, in the broad, bright sunshine, as they do not lie open even to thyself. An awful thought! you exclaim. Yes, but also unspeakably precious. It is the word, not of the detective who has found us out, and who delivers us to the judge, but of the physician who comprehends our case. His knowledge, His diagnosis, if I may so say, is the stepping-stone of His grace and help. What the works were is not set forth in detail in the epistle. It is not mere quantity, so to speak, but quality that is taken into account. The special region into which the Lord looks is that of the affections. The stress of His charge is that they were indifferent: “I know thy works, that thou art neither hot nor cold.” From what follows it is evident that the Laodiceans themselves were quite satisfied with things as they were, and had no wish for a change. Christian discipleship (rooted in faith) implies love to Jesus Christ personally. Not merely a true creed, not merely a virtuous and beautiful life, but the heart’s love. There may be very few on earth who think our love worth the having; but not so with Jesus, the glorified Redeemer. Man all over, He desires and seeks our love. Year by year our fellowship with Him ought to become more close and delightful; year by year our hearts should become more fully His; and last love should be a greater thing than even first love. In the light of such considerations let us now look at Christ’s words to Laodicea. “Thou art not cold.” A Church of Christ should certainly not be that. Yet such Churches exist. They are quite orthodox; their creed is a model of clearness and Scripturalness; they are examples of moral propriety; there is not merely good order, but even fine taste and exquisite grace in their arrangements; yet the temperature is down at freezing-point. Now, the Laodiceans were not cold. The Lord testifies that concerning them. Neither were they “hot.” The condition indicated by this word is one of entire devotedness and joyful response to the love of Him who died for us, and rose again. It is not merely the supreme affection of a holy soul, rising above all others and commanding them; in some sense it carries in it and contains all other Divine affections, and is also the sum of all duty--the fulfilling of all law how the Laodicean Church was not in a condition like this. There was nothing among them that could be called fervour, or zeal, or self-consecration, or enthusiasm, or holy passion in the cause of Christ. “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot.” Their condition (for it is a condition, and not a stage in the process of warming) is described by the word “lukewarm.” Love, zeal, joy, delight in worship, desire for the salvation of men, and every other Christian affection and emotion, have been cooling down till they have reached the temperature of indifference. The lukewarmness is shown in all directions. It is shown in the angel of the Church dealing in pleasant nothings, instead of the mighty truths of God, or in intellectual and philosophic refinements, in place of the gospel of grace--accommodating his words to the taste of his hearers, lest he should lose his popularity and preach them away from the church--it is shown in the general community, who love to have it so. It is shown in the tone of conversation common among them, which, instead of being alway with grace, seasoned with salt, degenerates so readily into gossip, debate, frivolity, uncharitable censure of the absent, or merest religious gabble, in which the tongue does everything and the heart does nothing. It is shown in the weekly assembly, in the conscious “distance” from God that is maintained; in the dislike of spiritual thought, and indeed incapacity for it, and unfitness to deal with any great and deep questions of Divine truth. It is shown in the lightness with which they regard abounding iniquity, smiling where once their eyes would have filled with sudden tears, and they would have withdrawn to pray. It is shown in the neglect of personal effort for the extension of the gospel, and the transference of the work to a substitute--a missionary or Bible-woman--paid at the cheapest possible rate, with the boast of having found the missing link. It is shown in conformity to the world, in the love of worldly society and amusements, in doing what is religiously fashionable, in giving the cold shoulder to unapplauded truth, and in avoiding whatever leads to reproach and the cross. It is shown in the practical powerlessness of the creed which they profess to hold; the most awful and mysterious truths, as one has expressed it, “losing all the power of truths, and lying bedridden in the dormitory of the soul.” It is unnecessary to proceed further with an account of this evil estate. It is made up of negations, and chiefly the negation of all earnestness. Some things indeed there are that evoke feeling in a lukewarm Church, even to passionateness. Let one, for example, tell plain truth about wine-bibbing or ballrooms or theatres; or let one whose soul is thrilled with a sense of Divine mercy, and who longs to be Christ-like, stand up in the church-meeting and propose united prayer for the revival of religion; or let some Jeremiah with the fire in his bones stand up, not fearing the face of clay, and speak of eternal things with cries and anguish and weeping; and instantly you find the very passion of resentment aroused--though it dare not, for shame’s sake, express itself plainly--against this troubling of Israel, this breaking of the peace, this molesting of souls, this accusing of the brethren; while it moves them not to know that the honour of Christ’s name and the salvation of the perishing are at stake. What is the secret of all this? For beforehand we should pronounce lukewarmness on the part of saved men an impossibility; and it can never be regarded otherwise than as most unnatural and even dreadful in a Christian Church. How does it come to pass? One cause, operating more extensively and with greater force than is commonly thought, is the endeavour to retain the first joy of conversion without making progress. The whole and only joy sought after is the joy of forgiveness, to the neglect of the joy of holiness and new obedience. The consequence is that gradually they lose the very joy they have, and sink down into a state of heartless apathy. Again, there is failure in personal, living, realising communion with the Lord Jesus Himself as our Redeemer. It is the grand lack of to-day. Is it strange that spiritual fervour should decline? Would it not be a miracle if it continued? It is as if a betrothed should cease to correspond with her affianced husband; the natural result is the decay of affection. Another cause, operating very widely and very subtly, is unbelief in the fulness and power of grace to enable us to live a victorious Christian life. It is quietly taken for granted that a life of self-consecration and likeness to the Son of God is an impossibility, and that the very utmost we can expect is a never-ceasing debate (conflict it cannot be called) between the flesh and the Spirit, with “heaven” somehow at the end. The question of main interest--apparently never quite settled--is, How to get clear off in the day of judgment? As for reproducing the life of Christ among men, manifesting it afresh in this mortal body, and being in some real sense His “gospels” to our age, this is smiled at as a very simple imagination indeed. Then, next, those who forget how high the Christian calling is, and who neglect fellowship with God, become blind to the evil of intermingling the Church and the world in one visible community. For the sake of numbers, or out of friendship with the world, or to make ourselves seem great, or out of a cruel charitableness, the flesh is received into church-fellowship, is treated as a Christian, is taught to use Christian forms of speech, to sing Christian hymns, to pray Christian prayers, to do Christian acts, to aim at the production of Christian virtues, to sit down with saints at the Lord’s table and commemorate a love that is not believed in or felt. The necessary issue in the long run--indeed, the run is not very long--is the repression of spiritual fervour in the Church and the spread of apathy. Another thing working most disastrously is the poor, poor conception prevalent in Churches of the tremendous necessity of salvation. It is first emptied of its significance, and then it is put into the second rank instead of the first, and then the ardour of the Church inevitably cools, and they are content and take it as quite a matter of course that there should be no conversion of sinners to God. Again, there is the spirit of self-pleasing, the love of comfort and pleasurable sensations, the substitution of taste and culture for godliness, the cry of the preacher, Move us, move us I which by and by becomes, Tickle us, tickle us! Once more, there is the formation of worldly friendships and the entering into associations in which it is impossible to preserve the spirit of Christ. The injury done to piety by such associations and friendships is beyond calculation, both in extent and depth. Now, in whatever light men may regard this condition (and the world praises it, for the world loves its own), Christ is displeased and grieved with it. “I would,” He says, “that thou wert cold or hot.” Wilt thou not be so? That “would” is no unimpassioned word, as one might say, I should prefer it thus or thus: it is a sigh from the heart of distressed love; it carries Divine emotion in it, reminding us of that lamentation over Jerusalem, “I would--and ye would not.” Thus the Lord makes it evident that He has no pleasure in this half-and-half condition. This is the Lord’s judgment in the case: “I will spue thee out of My mouth.” No doubt every believing soul in Laodicea would be saved in the day of the Lord, even though involved in the prevalent lukewarmness. But the Church would be rejected from being a Church. Lukewarmness unrepented of issues in rejection. It is in the history of the Church of Laodicea as a spiritual community that the fulfilment of the Lord’s threatening is to be found; and the outward desolation is to be regarded only as the visible symbolism of a tremendous spiritual fact. (J. Culross, D. D.)
An earnest warning against lukewarmness
I. The state into which churches are very apt to fall.
1. A Church may fail into a condition far other than that for which it has a repute. It may be famous for zeal, and yet be lethargic. The address of our Lord begins, “I know thy works,” as much as to say, “Nobody else knows you. Men think better of you than you deserve. You do not know yourselves, you think your works to be excellent, but I know them to be very different.” The public can only read reports, but Jesus sees for Himself. He knows what is done, and how it is done, and why it is done.
2. The condition described in our text is one of mournful indifference and carelessness. They were not infidels, yet they were not earnest believers; they did not oppose the gospel, neither did they defend it; they were not working mischief, neither were they doing any great good.
3. This condition of indifference is attended with perfect self-complacency. The people who ought to be mourning are rejoicing, and where they should hang out signals of distress they are flaunting the banners of triumph. What can a Church require that we have not in abundance? Yet their spiritual needs are terrible. Spiritually poor and proud.
4. This Church of Laodicea had fallen into a condition which had chased away its Lord. “I stand at the door and knock.” That is not the position which our Lord occupies in reference to a truly flourishing Church. If we are walking aright with Him, He is in the midst of the Church, dwelling there, and revealing Himself to His people.
II. The danger of such a state.
1. The great danger is, to be rejected of Christ. “I will spue thee out of My mouth.” Churches are in Christ’s mouth in several ways, they are used by Him as His testimony to the world, He speaks to the world through their lives and ministries. When God is with a people they speak with Divine power to the world, but if we grow lukewarm Christ says, “Their teachers shall not profit, for I have not sent them, neither am I with them. Their word shall be as water spilt on the ground, or as the whistling of the wind.” Better far for me to die than to be spued out of Christ’s mouth. Then He also ceases to plead for such a Church. Mighty are His pleadings for those He really loves, and countless are the blessings which come in consequence. It will be an evil day when He casts a Church out of that interceding mouth. Do you not tremble at such a prospect?
2. Such a Church will be left to its fallen condition, to become wretched--that is to say, miserable, unhappy, divided, without the presence of God, and so without delight in the ways of God.
III. The remedies which the Lord employs.
1. Jesus gives a clear discovery as to the Church’s true state. He says to it, “Thou art lukewarm, thou art wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” I rejoice to see people willing to know the truth, but most men do not wish to know it, and this is an ill sign. We shall never get right as long as we are confident that we are so already. Self-complacency is the death of repentance.
2. Our Lord’s next remedy is gracious counsel. He says, “I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire.”
3. Now comes a third remedy, sharp and cutting, but sent in love, namely rebukes and chastenings. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.”
4. The best remedy for backsliding Churches is more communion with Christ. “Behold,” saith He, “I stand at the door and knock.” This text belongs to the Church of God, not to the unconverted. It is addressed to the Laodicean Church. There is Christ outside the Church, driven there by her unkindness, but He has not gone far away: He loves His Church too much to leave her altogether, He longs to come back, and therefore He waits at the doorpost. He knows that the Church will never be restored till He comes back, and He desires to bless her, and so He stands waiting and knocking. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The destiny of a lukewarm Church
I. The complaint.
1. This complaint is made against the Church. We learn from this fact that Churches do become corrupt; they do decay. Keep, therefore, the Christ of God, who never will fail, or decay, exalted above the Church in your minds and hearts.
2. This complaint is made by One who can say, “I know.”
3. This complaint is made by One who does know, and cannot misrepresent.
4. This complaint is made by One who does know, and cannot misrepresent, and who has a right to complain. Just let us see now what is meant by the lukewarmness complained of. The people had love for Christ, but it was not ardent. The people had charity among themselves, but it was not fervent. The people received spiritual blessings, but they did not thirst for them. The people wrought good works, but not zealously. The people prayed, but not fervently. They gave, but not liberally or cheerfully. The whole heart was not given to anything in connection with church life. Perhaps through the neglect of the means of preserving spiritual heat, or by using unwise means or false means, these people had become lukewarm, or perhaps by some besetting sin.
5. Now this complaint is based on works. “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot.” One would have thought that “the Amen, the true and faithful Witness,” would have said, “I know thy heart; I know thy spirit.” The complaint is based on works, and not so much on general conduct as on labours of love. These were less than since their first profession. Oh, what a striking fact this is in church life! How thoroughly it reappears before the eye of every pastor.
6. See, the complaint is based on works, and it is made with evident feeling. Christ could not speak without feeling, far less could He complain without feeling. It is the want of feeling in the complaints that people make about Churches that so often distresses one.
II. The threatening. Any food or drink which ought to be either hot or cold is most unpleasant if lukewarm; and the strong language used here means, “I will reject thee.”
1. This threatening is addressed, not to the individual, but to the Church. Christ presently turns to the individual, counselling him “to buy of Me gold.” You cannot be in communion with Christ without being rebuked. Why? Because your faults and defects are continually coming out, and His love for you is such that He will not let them pass--He cannot let them pass. If, however, you be merely a nominal disciple, they will often pass unnoticed, and you will not hear a sound of rebuke from the skies until the day of final reckoning.
2. “The Amen” rejects the lukewarm Church. He rejects it--how? First, by withdrawing His Spirit from it because such a Church is not His temple. And secondly, by not using it for the purposes of His kingdom.
3. Now, observe, in conclusion, that works are expected from a Christian Church, and the works of the Church show whether it be cold or hot. (S. Martin.)
I. The loving rebuke of the faithful witness. The persons thus described are Christian people (for their Christianity is presupposed), with very little, though a little, warmth of affection and glow of Christian love and consecration. Further this defectiveness of Christian feeling is accompanied with a large amount of self-complacency. Then again, this deficiency of warmth is worse than absolute zero. “I would thou weft cold or hot.” Because there is no man more hopeless than a man on whom the power of Christianity has been brought to bear, and has failed in warming and quickening him. Is that our condition? Look at the standard of Christian life round about us. Mark how wavering the line is between the Church and the world; how little upon our side of the line there is of conspicuous consecration and unworldliness: how entirely in regard of an enormous mass of professing Christians, the maxims that are common in the world are their maxims; and the sort of life that the world lives is the sort of life that they live. Look at your Churches and mark their feebleness, the slow progress of the gospel among them, the low lives that the bulk of professing Christians are living, and answer the question, is that the operation of a Divine Spirit that comes to transform and to quicken everything into His own vivid and flaming life? or is it the operation of our own selfishness and worldliness, crushing down and hemming in the power that ought to sway us?
II. The causes of this lukewarmness of spiritual life. Of course the tendency to it is in us all. Take a bar of iron out of the furnace on a winter day, and lay it down in the air, and there is nothing more wanted. Leave it there, and very soon the white heat will change into livid dulness, and then there will come a scale over it, and in a short time it will be as cold as the frosty atmosphere around it. And so there is always a refrigerating process acting upon us, which needs to be counteracted by continual contact with the fiery furnace of spiritual warmth, or else we are cooled down to the degree of cold around us. But besides this universally operating cause there are many others which affect us. I find fault with no man for the earnestness which he flings into his business, but I ask you to say whether the relative importance of the things seen and unseen is fairly represented by the relative amount of earnestness with which you and I pursue these respectively. Then, again, the existence among us, or around us, of a certain widely diffused doubt as to the truths of Christianity is, illogically enough, a cause for diminished fervour on the part of the men that do not doubt them. That is foolish, and it is strange, but it is true. And there is another case, which I name with some hesitation, but which yet seems to me to be worthy of notice; and that is, the increasing degree to which Christian men are occupied with what we call, for want of a better name, secular things. I grudge the political world nothing that it gets of your strength, but I do grudge, for your sakes, as well as for the Church’s sake, that so often the two forms of activity are supposed by professing Christians to be incompatible, and that therefore the more important is neglected, and the less important done.
III. The loving call to deepened earnestness. “Be zealous, therefore.” Lay hold of the truth that Christ possesses a full store of all that you can want. Meditate on that great truth and it will kindle a flame of desire and of fruition in your hearts. “Be zealous, therefore.” And again, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” “Be zealous, therefore.” That is to say, grasp the great thought of the loving Christ, all whose dealings, even when His voice assumes severity, and His hand comes armed with a rod, are the outcome and manifestation of His love; and sink into that love, and that will make your hearts glow. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” “Be zealous, therefore.” Think of the earnest, patient, long-suffering appeal which the Master makes, bearing with all our weaknesses, and not suffering His gentle hand to be turned away, though the door has been so long barred and bolted in His face.
IV. The merciful call to a new beginning. “Repent.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The danger of lukewarmness in religion
The soul of man is endowed with active powers that it cannot be idle: and, if we look round the world, we see it all alive. What vigorous action, what labour and toil about the necessaries of life, about riches and honours! But it is quite otherwise in religion. Only a few act as if they regarded religion as the most important concern of life. For look round you, the generality are very indifferent about it. They will not Indeed renounce all religion entirely; they will make some little profession of religion; but it is a matter of indifferency with them, and they are but little concerned about it; they are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot. Now such a luke-warmness is an eternal solecism in religion; it is the most inconsistent thing imaginable: more so than avowed impiety; therefore, says Christ, “I would thou wert cold or hot”--i.e. “You might be anything more consistently than what you are. If you looked upon religion as a cheat, and openly rejected the profession of it, it would not be strange that you should be careless about it and disregard it in practice. But to own it true, and make a profession of it, and yet be lukewarm and indifferent about it, this is the most absurd conduct that can be conceived; for, if it be true, it is certainly the most important and interesting truth in all the world, and requires the utmost exertion of all your powers.” There are some aggravations peculiar to the lukewarm professor that render him peculiarly odious; as--
1. He adds the sin of a hypocritical profession to his other sins.
2. He adds the guilt of presumption, pride, and self-flattery, imagining he is in a safe state and in favour with God; whereas he that makes no pretensions to religion has no such umbrage for this conceit and delusion.
3. He is in the most dangerous condition, as he is not liable to conviction, nor so likely to be brought to repentance.
4. The honour of God and religion is more injured by the negligent, unconscientious behaviour of these Laodiceans, than by the vices of those who make no pretensions to religion; with whom therefore its honour has no connection.
But to be more particular: let us take a view of a lukewarm temper in various attitudes, or with respect to several objects.
1. Consider who and what God is. He is the original uncreated beauty, the sum total of all natural and moral perfections, the origin of all the excellences that are scattered through this glorious universe; He is the supreme good, and the only proper portion for our immortal spirits. He also sustains the most majestic and endearing relations to us: our Father, our Preserver and Benefactor, our Lawgiver, and our Judge. Is such a Being to be put off with heartless, lukewarm services?
2. Is lukewarmness a proper temper towards Jesus Christ? Is this a suitable return for that love which brought Him down from His native paradise into our wretched world? Oh, was Christ indifferent about your salvation? Was His love lukewarm towards you?
3. Is lukewarmness and indifferency a suitable temper with respect to a future state of happiness or misery?
4. Let us see how this lukewarm temper agrees with the duties of religion. And as I cannot particularise them all, I shall only mention an instance or two. View a lukewarm professor in prayer. The words proceed no further than from your tongue: you do not pour them out from the bottom of your hearts; they have no life or spirit in them, and you hardly ever reflect upon their meaning. And when you have talked away to God in this manner, you will have it to pass for a prayer. But surely such prayers must bring down a curse upon you instead of a blessing: such sacrifices must be an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 15:8). The next instance I shall mention is with regard to the Word of God. You own it Divine, you profess it the standard of your religion, and the most excellent book in the world. Now, if this be the case, it is God that sends you an epistle when you are reading or hearing His Word. How impious and provoking then must it be to neglect it, to let it lie by you as an antiquated, useless book, or to read it in a careless, superficial manner, and hear it with an inattentive, wandering mind! Ye modern Laodiceans, are you not yet struck with horror at the thought of that insipid, formal, spiritless religion you have hitherto been contented with?
1. Consider the difficulties and dangers in your way. You must be made new men, quite other creatures than you now are. And oh! can this work be successfully performed while you make such faint and feeble efforts?
2. Consider how earnest and active men are in other pursuits. Is religion the only thing which demands the utmost exertion of all your powers, and alas! is that the only thing in which you will be dull and inactive? (S. Davies, M. A.)
I. What is lukewarmness in religion? It is not Christian moderation. There is the popular and not unfounded prejudice against extremes, a suspicion of too great zeal, too much enthusiasm. And so in the service and the worship of God people choose a middle course between those who are “very jealous for the Lord God of Hosts,” and those who turn their backs upon Him. They would not like to think anything extravagant; and they prefer to follow public opinion as safest; and then they think they are letting their moderation be known unto all men. Yet, after all, when we come to scrutinise this spirit, it is not quite like moderation and sober-mindedness, and the Lord’s carefulness not to offend the weak. It is much more like worldly-mindedness.
II. What are the causes of lukewarmness?
1. May we not put first, worldly prosperity, the intrusion of something else into the place which God once occupied, and which God alone ought to occupy in the affections?
2. Another cause is the frequency of little sins. Evil speaking, untruthfulness and exaggeration, outbreaks of temper, vanity, self-indulgence, these, freely indulged, show not only that religion has no real power in the heart, but relax the hold of conscience, lessen our confidence towards God, and so chill our love.
3. Then, again, we may mention dissipation of mind, occupation in so many pursuits that little or no time is allowed for undisturbed communion with God in prayer and meditation. We all find it difficult to keep our attention fixed upon God without distraction. But how much harder if we allow our hearts to be choked with the pleasures and cares of this world! And if we cannot find time to think about Him we certainly shall not have power to love Him first, perhaps not to love Him at all with anything that deserves the name of love. In other ways this dissipation of mind serves to produce lukewarmness. If we are too busy to fix our minds upon God we shall scarcely have time to pay much attention to ourselves. How should we manage that which requires so much resolution, so much abstraction from worldly things, strict self-examination? How should we accurately measure our gain and loss since the last solemn inquiry into our spiritual state? How ascertain where we stand before God?
III. These are some of the causes, and some of the symptoms too--for it is impossible to keep them distinct--of lukewarmness. Some other symptoms may be mentioned. If you suffer yourself on every little pretext to shorten, or to omit, your devotions; if you care more about the fact of going through them than about the manner or the spirit in which you go through them; if, when you feel not altogether happy in your conscience towards God and man, you either neglect self-examination, or set about it in a slovenly way; if, when you have detected a fault in yourself, you are slow at reformation; if you act, day after day, without once sanctifying your motives and your actions to God; if you never aim at forming habits of obedience to His commandments; if you never attack any one particular sin; if you despise little things and daily opportunities; if you delight rather in thinking of the good you have done than of the good you have left undone, resting on the past rather than looking forward into the future; if you never care to have God in all your thoughts, and, by meditation at least, to be a partaker of the sufferings of Christ, then I fear it must be said of you that you are lukewarm.
IV. Would to God that we could as easily tell the remedy as the disease. Try, then, if ever you feel your love growing cold, your faith less vivid, to quicken them by meditation on eternal truths, so as to saturate your minds with the conviction of their infinite importance. Fight against the cause of lukewarmness; against worldliness, self-indulgence, carelessness, habitual sins, however little they may seem, self-complacency in the past, the oppression of too many cares. That can be no duty which perils the soul. (W. Mitchell, M. A.)
I. An exposure of some of the disgustful things which are found in lukewarm religion.
1. A lukewarm religion is a direct insult to the Lord Jesus Christ. If I boldly say I do not believe what He teaches, I have given Him the lie. But if I say to Him, “I believe what Thou teachest, but I do not think it of sufficient importance for me to disturb myself about it,” I do in fact more wilfully resist His word; I as much as say to Him, “If it be true, yet is it a thing which I so despise that I will not give my heart to it.”
2. Bethink you, again, does the Lord Jesus deserve such treatment at your hands? and may He not well say of such hearts as ours, He would that we were “either cold or hot”?
3. The lukewarm Christian compromises God before the eyes of the world in all he does and says. The world sees a man who professes to be going to heaven, but he is travelling there at a snail’s pace. He professes to believe there is a hell, and yet he has tearless eyes and never seeks to snatch souls from going into the fire. Let the minister be as earnest as ever he will about the things of God, the lukewarm Christian neutralises any effect the minister can produce, because the world will judge the Church not by the standard of the pulpit so much as by the level of the pew. And thus they say, “There is no need for us to make so much stir about it; these peculiar people, these saints, take it remarkably easy; they think it will all be well; no doubt we do as much as they do, for they do very little.”
4. The Lord hateth lukewarmness, because wherever it is found it is out of place. There is no spot near to the throne of God where lukewarmness could stand in a seemly position.
II. Dissuasives against lukewarmness. As Christians, you have to do with solemn realities; you have to do with eternity, with death, with heaven, with hell, with Christ, with Satan, with souls, and can you deal with these things with a cold spirit? Suppose you can, there certainly never was a greater marvel in the world, if you should be able to deal with them successfully. These things demand the whole man. And the day is coming when you will think these things worthy of your whole heart. When you and I shall lie stretched upon our dying beds, I think we shall have to regret, above all other things, our coldness of heart. Ay, and there will be a time when the things of God will seem yet more real even than on the dying bed. I refer to the day when we shall stand at the bar of God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The first stages of spiritual decline
If the Christian’s progress may be likened to a steep and difficult ascent, we may compare his first beginnings of decline to the slow and doubtful motion of some heavy substance from which the force is removed which caused it to ascend, while the impetus is not yet gained which will shortly urge it down its headlong, unresisted course. Betwixt ceasing to mount upwards and beginning to fall back, there is an awful moment of suspense. Or, to use another illustration, when the tide has risen to its height there is still-water for a time, before the ebbing waves begin to retire. Just so with the business of the soul.
I. The signs of lukewarmness in religion.
1. We may first describe the state to which the Lord refers in the message to Laodicea as a state of great spiritual insensibility.
2. Another symptom of lukewarmness in religion may be discovered in the influence which the opinions and the example of the world exert upon us. Why not preserve just so much of religion as will satisfy the meagre demands of a sleepy conscience, and yet enjoy the pleasures, and pursue with breathless haste the riches, of the world? The attempt is vain!
3. But, further, that Laodicean spirit which the text describes, betrays itself at length in a decay of zeal for God. Does it cause you but little sorrow that the Saviour of the world should still be an outcast from so large and fair a portion of His inheritance? Have you no bowels of mercies for a perishing world?
II. Some of those circumstances which render this lukewarm state so dangerous to the soul.
1. The first that strikes us arises from the very nature of spiritual religion. For it is a contest against a corrupt nature. All the natural aids are on the side of sin: the world and the flesh are banded in one common cause. So that to lose ground in religion is not merely to risk our souls by wasting those advantages we have gained, but, further, it is to arm our enemies; it is to give to them the advantages which we have lost: for the attractive power of sin increases as we approach it.
2. The danger of this state is increased by the circumstance that there is in it nothing which at first excites alarm. For it is not a lapse into open sin. It does not amount to a rejection of the gospel. After all, the lukewarm Christian, compared with the multitude, is a religious man. And all this serves to soothe and to quiet his conscience. (J. B. Marsden, M. A.)
The danger of lukewarmness
1. There seems to be more likelihood of repentance, where men are manifestly wrong, than where there is ever so small ground on which they flatter themselves that they are right. Conscience in the one case may be awakened more readily by God’s ordinary dispensations of providence and grace, than in the other, where it is lulled by the fatal satisfaction of being no worse than the world in general, of being almost if not quite a Christian.
2. The absolutely cold are in one respect less hardened than the lukewarm. They have at least usually less familiarity with those means of grace, whose abuse is as sure to harden the heart as their right use is to melt and refine it.
3. A third reason why the faithful Witness might wish even that we were cold rather than lukewarm is, that in the latter case we do more signal disparagement to the grace He dispenses, to the gospel He has revealed. (Canon Girdlestone.)
The three stages of religious emotion
I. The hot condition. Some degree of warmth is necessary for the commencement of a religious experience. In the earliest days, wherever the Word was preached, wherever it penetrated men’s hearts, there was s rush of spiritual emotion, a glow of inspiration, an effervescence of feeling, a new, strange joy. This was the token of the Spirit’s presence. And what was true at first is true still, because religious history is a history of commencements and recommencements. Science has taught us that heat and motion are interchangeable, that heat is but a mode or form of motion, and motion but a mode or form of heat. The heat of the furnace and boiler is turned into the motion of the engine; the heat produced by the food we eat is turned into the motion of our bodies. The sun’s heat stored up in the coal measures becomes the motion of a thousand factories. So it is in the moral world. To start and to keep up motion, right action, zealous effort, painstaking and fruitful activity, you must have heat within the soul. You know the type of Christian men whose enthusiasm is always at a glow. It brightens, and sparkles, and runs over. They thaw you, they warm you, when you come near them. These are the men who seem to respond to every genuine influence of God’s Spirit. They have built the house of their faith not merely on the good foundation, but they have been wise, and built it with a warm, bright exposure as well. The forces of evil and temptation are strong. You must, therefore, have ardent religious feeling; you must have the action, the sympathy, the way of looking at and speaking of things that come with such strong feeling; otherwise the young and trustful, the men full of keen, vigorous life, will be swept into some of those vortices of evil and be lost.
II. The cold condition. There is, of course, in human nature a continual tendency to cool down. Like the earth’s surface during the night, our hearts are incessantly raying off heat. People don’t intend probably to be cold and insensible to the things of God, but their mental force is run off, and so they grow cold. But then, once coldness comes it propagates itself, it even justifies itself. Men permanently, steadily cold, men with the spiritual thermometer standing constantly at zero, take various lines. There is among those who still profess to be Christians what may be called an orthodox and a heterodox coldness. Orthodox coldness still preserves the form of its faith, though that faith, instead of being a living figure, is a mere marble effigy--a corpse. Heterodox coldness has readjusted its beliefs and considerably modified them. Cold tends to contract most things, and faith among the rest. When men become cold after this fashion they become incapable of high belief, the belief that transforms a man and brings him near to God. They narrow their horizon, and all the stars go out of their sky. Cold men are dangerous neighbours. They very soon draw off all the heat from us. Let a centre of ice once form in a pond, and if the water be undisturbed, in a few hours it is frozen over. If we wish to preserve our heat, we must take care what company we keep. Alas! for that icy chill that has settled over many a heart that once throbbed kindly and truly in the service of Christ and of humanity I Some of the cold men look like icebergs. The fact is, they are not icebergs; they are extinct volcanoes. They once glowed with deep subterranean fires, and a red-hot stream of energy poured down the mountain-side. Now, there is only a collection of sulphur and ashes and crusted lava cakes.
III. The lukewarm condition. Lukewarmness is a stage of cooling down. No soul stops short at this stage. The heart leaps at once into fire and life. But it chills gradually. A lukewarm man you cannot describe. He is a mere collection of negations. His soul is like a reservoir or bath, into which streams of hot water and cold are being run at the same time, and you cannot tell which current is stronger, for they are often about equally strong. A lukewarm man has force, but it never moves him to any definite action. He has sympathies, but they tend to evaporate. He thinks, on the whole, he is a good, a religious man, on the side of Christ and of right. Other people are, on the whole, not quite sure what side he is on. The lukewarm man does not make it a principle to confine his religion to the four walls of the church, and the two boards of the Bible. He holds that it should not be so confined. And so he carries a few scraps of it into his daily life. He knows that prayer should not be an empty form, so he occasionally tries to pray inwardly and sincerely--that is, when he is neither very tired nor very busy. He has never given way on a question of principle, except when he was very hard pushed, or it appeared that very few people were looking on: and he has really often regretted giving way at all. He does not intend to do it again. A lukewarm man generally does a little Christian work, not, of course, enough to involve any sacrifice or exhaustion, nor would he take any pains to provide a substitute for occasional or even frequent absence. It is only genuine workers who do that. The lukewarm person has made a great many vows in the matter of religion in the course of his or her life--too many, in fact. It would have been better to have made fewer and kept some.
IV. Christ’s verdict on these stages of religious emotion. He regards it best to be hot, next best to be cold, worst of all to be lukewarm. Two or three reasons may be suggested.
1. There is, first, its unreality. Lukewarmness is a sort of imposture or sham. It is neither one thing nor another; and in a world that is sternly real, things and persons ought to have a definite character. Lukewarmness is the absence of character. It perplexes an outsider, and often imposes on a man himself.
2. Then it is useless. It has really no place in the order of things.
3. Further, it is a very impracticable state. You don’t know how to deal with it.
4. Lastly, it is a dangerous state. It is more difficult to treat a man in a low fever than to treat a man who is sharply unwell. Lukewarmness tends not to get hotter, but to get colder. There is really more hope for s man who is cold outright. He is not blinding himself. He is not playing with truths. He knows he is cold. As a rule it is only when lukewarmness has died down into coldness that a change for the better comes. A man loses all, or almost all, religious life and interest, and then he starts to find himself thus dead, and turns in penitence and fear to Christ. (John F. Ewing, M. A.)
Lukewarmness in religion
I. The temper which our lord reproves in the Church of Laodicea.
1. They are lukewarm who are at no pains to guard against error, and to acquire just sentiments of religion.
2. They are lukewarm who, from worldly hopes or fears, detain in unrighteousness the truth they know, and who will not profess it openly.
3. They are lukewarm who give God the body, but withhold from Him the soul.
4. The inactivity of professed Christians is a strong proof that they are lukewarm.
5. Many discover their lukewarmness by the limitations within which they confine their obedience, or by the weakness of their religious affections, when compared with their affections to worldly objects.
6. They are lukewarm who are little affected with the advancement or the decay of religion, or with that which concerns the common welfare of mankind.
II. Why a lukewarm spirit so woefully prevails among many who profess to believe the religion of Jesus. Lukewarmness prevails through an evil heart of unbelief. Men imagine that they believe the threatenings of the law and the promises of the gospel, who have never considered either their interesting nature or their undoubted certainty. Strangers they must be to holy fervour of spirit who see not the beauty and glory, and who relish not the pleasures of religion; who talk of treasures in heaven, but view the treasures of this earth as more desirable; and who fondly cherish a secret hope that God will be less severe on transgressors than the language of His threatenings supposes. The want of religious principles, ill-founded and presumptuous hopes, and that lukewarmness which flows from both, are greatly promoted by bad education and by bad example. The ordinary commerce of the world completes the ruin which education had begun. The conversation and manners of those whom the young are taught to love, or whose superior age and wisdom they respect, completely pervert their ideas, their resolutions, and their conduct.
III. The folly, guilt, and danger of this lukewarm temper.
1. The lukewarm practically deny the excellence and the importance of religion.
2. A lukewarm religion answers no valuable purpose.
3. The temper and conduct of the lukewarm is peculiarly base and criminal.
(1) It argues the vilest ingratitude.
(2) It indicates hypocrisy.
(3) The man who is lukewarm disgraces the worthy name by which he is called.
4. The lukewarm are not reclaimed without great difficulty, and they are always waxing worse and worse, whether it is pride, or self-deceit, or gross hypocrisy which chiefly prevails in their characters.
5. Lukewarmness exposes men to the dreadful effects of God’s vengeance in temporal judgments, in spiritual plagues, and in eternal destruction. (John Erskine, D. D.)
No one can help admiring a straightforward, honourable course, and when the world says of a man that he is “sitting on the fence,” it is hardly considered as a compliment.
I. The first alarming symptom of the existence of lukewarmness is a growing inattention to the private duties of religion.
II. Another evidence of the encroachments of lukewarmness is carelessness in attending public worship.
III. A third symptom of lukewarmness, about which there can be no possible mistake is an indifference concerning the benevolent enterprises of the day, and scant offerings for their furtherance. The world has an eagle eye for anything inconsistent, and nothing disgusts it more than lukewarmness in those who claim to be followers of Christ. (J. N. Norton, D. D.)
The besetting sin of that ancient Church of Asia was lukewarmness, half-hearted indifference. It is the besetting sin among us to-day. “I don’t care,” are words more commonly spoken among us than, “I don’t believe.” A careless, or idle, or even vicious boy at school may be reclaimed, but one who takes no interest in his work is a hopeless case. Look at some of the results of being indifferent about religion.
1. It makes our religion unreal. It is not the love of God which constrains us, but fashion, or custom. Our religion is like a spurious coin, good enough to look on, but when tried it does not ring true.
2. Next, indifference makes people ignorant of the teachings of the Church, they are often unacquainted with the very A B C of Christianity.
3. Again, this lukewarm indifference makes people selfish and idle. The idea of making any sacrifice for Christ’s sake is not in their thoughts.
4. But above all, this lukewarm indifference leads to a shallow view of sin. (H. J. Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)
Lukewarmness injurious to others
One lukewarm Christian may do untold harm to a whole Church. Pour a quantity of tepid water into a vessel that contains boiling water, and immediately the temperature of the whole will sink. Just so the contact of men who are indifferent with those who are fervid, deadens their fervour, and tends to reduce them to the same lukewarmness. (G. Bowes.)
Knowest not that thou art wretched.
A great mistake, and the way to rectify it
These Laodicean people were unhappily in such a state that you could not get at them. They were not so poor that they knew they were poor, and therefore when the poverty-stricken were addressed, they said, “These things are not for us: we are increased in goods.” They were blind, but they thought they saw; they were naked, and yet they prided themselves on their princely apparel, and hence it was hard to reach them. Had they even been outwardly worse, had they defiled their garments with overt transgression, then the Spirit might have pointed out the blot and convicted them there and then; but what was to be done when the mischief was hidden and internal?
I. First, let us think of the Church in Laodicea and listen to their saying; it may prevent us from reaching such a height of pride as to speak as they did.
1. The spirit of self-congratulation expressed itself in a manner strikingly unanimous. It was the general, unanimous feeling, from the minister down to the latest convert, that they were a most wonderful Church. They were heartily at one in having a high estimate of themselves, and this helped to keep them together, and stirred them to attempt great things.
2. This saying of theirs was exceedingly boastful. The present was all right, the past was eminently satisfactory, and they had reached a point of all but absolute perfection, for they needed nothing.
3. They were sincere in this glorying. When they said it they were not consciously boasting, for the text says, “And thou knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” They did not know the truth. How readily do we believe a lie when it fosters in us a high opinion of ourselves.
4. But now see what was their actual state: they were altogether mistaken. These intelligent persons, these wealthy persons, these instructed persons did not know themselves, and that is the grossest kind of ignorance. You remember the Tay Bridge disaster. There is no doubt whatever that the bridge was not fitted for its position, its ordinary strain was all it could bear; but nobody thought so. Undoubtedly the engineers reckoned it would stand any test to which it might be put, and therefore there was no attention given to it to make it any stronger and to provide against sudden disaster; and consequently when a specially fierce hurricane was out one night it swept it all away. That is just the picture of many a Church and many a man, because he is thought to be so pious, and the Church is thought to be so correct and vigorous, therefore no attempt is made for improvement, no special prayer, no cries to heaven.
II. Our Lord’s blessed counsel.
1. Note how He begins: “I counsel thee to buy.” Is not that singular advice? Just now He said that they were “wretched” and “poor.” How can they buy? Surely it suggests to us at once those blessed free grace terms which are only to be met with in the market of Divine love: “Yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
2. But next, what does He say? “I counsel thee to buy of Me.” Ah, they had been dealing with one another: they had been bartering amongst themselves. One brother had brought this talent, another that, and they had grown rich, as they thought, by a mutual commerce. “Now,” says Christ, “compare yourselves with yourselves no longer: give up seeking of man, and buy of Me.” It is the very foundation of grace--to be willing to buy of Christ.
3. Now see the goods which He describes. “I counsel thee to buy of Me”--what? Everything. It is true that only three wants of these people are here mentioned, but they are inclusive of all needs.
4. The counsel of the Lord is not only that we buy of Him everything, but that we buy the best of everything of Him. Gold is the most precious metal, but He would have them buy the best of it, “gold tried in the fire”; gold that will endure all further tests, having survived that of fire. Remember the raiment too, for that is of the best; our Lord calls it “white raiment.” That is a pure colour, a holy colour, a royal colour. We put on the Lord Jesus as our joy, our glory, our righteousness. And as to the eyesalve, it is the best possible one, for Jesus says, “Anoint thine eyes with eyesalve that thou mayest see.”
5. All this is the counsel of Christ, and the counsel of Christ to a people that were proud and self-conceited. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The self ignorance of the Laodiceans
The secret of lukewarmness is disclosed in these words, “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.” Shall we find fault with the words in themselves? Might they not be taken as an expression of gratitude? Might they not mean, “The lines are fallen to me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage”? Now I would not deny that this may have been meant by the Laodiceans as the language of very exalted piety. Possibly, too, their neighbours might admit the claim, and regard them with admiration. But when we look closely into the words, two unpleasant things appear. First, here is no recognition of the Lord and His goodness; no lowly and grateful ascribing of all to His undeserved lovingkindness and bounty. If the Laodiceans had felt themselves debtors, they would at least have said, “By the grace of God I am what I am”--“Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name be the glory.” This second thing, too, becomes apparent, in examining the words, that they are a boast; a glorying in self, and not in the Lord; a quiet claim of superiority over other Churches; like the words of the Pharisee, “God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are.” Their wretched and pitiable condition is presented to themselves in three aspects: as poverty, blindness, and nakedness. What a combination of ills! If you find a fellow-man in this plight, how you commiserate him. Each evil more than doubles the other. And then add inevitable nakedness--with its shamefulness and discomforts--and how woeful the condition! Well, here is a Church of Christ in that pitiable condition. There is material wealth, growing numbers, name and repute in society, many showy and coveted virtues that attract attention and admiration. But look for the faith, the love, the joy, the peace, the hope, the meekness, the piety, the holy zeal, the beneficence, the martyr-spirit, the self-forgetfulness and self-denial, in which the true wealth of a Church consists, and she has nothing. Inquire how much of heaven there is within her borders--how much of the power and joy of the Holy Ghost-and you discover that in the real, true sense she is bankrupt. This Church is “blind” as well as poor--blind in the eye that sees God. They said, “We see,” and believed it. But enter the region of spiritual truths and realities--bring up the doctrines of the gospel and the hidden wisdom, comparing spiritual things with spiritual--they are foolishness to the Laodiceans, neither can they know them, because they are spiritually discerned. If spiritual poverty in a Christian Church is sinful, so also is blindness. It is not misfortune, but fault. It need not be. The Saviour was anointed with the Holy Spirit that He might give sight to the blind, and He has lost none of His skill. One thing more characterises this Laodicean Church: instead of the rich and glorious adorning of thy fancy, “thou art naked.” Grace clothes the happy soul with the garment of salvation, and covers it with the robe of righteousness, so that we appear with acceptance in the presence of the majesty of heaven and earth; but Laodicea in its pride is naked as a beggar. And saddest of all, “thou knowest it not”: it is hidden from thine eyes. Could aught be more deplorable? (J. Culross, D. D.)
The Church of the Laodiceans
I. The opinion which the Laodiceans held of themselves. “Thou sayest.” It is not likely that the words which follow were spoken. The saying was in a cherished thought--not in a thought that comes in, if I may so speak, at one door of the spirit and passes out at another, but a thought that a man makes at home in his mind. He who speaks to the Laodiceans, hears this speaking; though the speaking be only thinking, He hears it; though only in feeling, He hears it. Oh, what a different thing life would be, if lived out under the eye of God, from what it now is as lived out under the eye of men! But, mark, every Church presents itself in a particular form to Jesus Christ. Every Church by its worship and communion and fellowship and work is, according to this text, saying something perpetually into the very ear of God. Now these people said, “I am rich”--rich not in material wealth, though that most likely was true. And they said, “I am increased with goods”: that is, I am become wealthy. There is a force in the word that gives the idea of their having gained this spiritual treasure by their own exertions, so that it was to their credit to have been thus spiritually rich. “And have need of nothing”; that is, they were perfectly satisfied. You see there is a sort of climax here: rich--become rich--having need of nothing. First the fact of wealth is stated, then the means by which it was obtained is indicated, and then the result. But now, what does all this mean in plain language? Christ intends to say to these people, that they were self-conceited and self-sufficient. The men who are great in their own eyes are men who have very little to do with God, and very little to do with the works of God; and the Christians and the Churches that are great in their own eyes are Christians and Churches that cannot be much in communion with Christ.
II. Their real condition, as described by one who knew it well. “And knowest not that thou art wretched”--literally, “that thou art the wretched on”--the wretched one out of these Asiatic Churches--the wretched one in all the Churches of Christ. The Laodicean Church thought itself to be the great one; and, to correct them, Christ is represented as saying, “and knowest not that thou art the wretched one.” A slave to vanity and to delusion, this Church was verily the wretched and the pitiable one, a true object for compassion.
III. The counsel. It is just the same with a man who professes to cultivate his mind, to increase his knowledge, and to add to his information--so soon as he begins to rest in what he has gained, and to call it wealth, and to feel rich in it, so soon he arrests his progress in getting to himself the treasures of information and of knowledge. This counsel, I say again, is offered to those who assume and assert that they do not need it. But what is here meant by the word “buy”?--“I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire.” The word “buy” here does not mean to give an equivalent, but to part with this self-sufficiency, and to part with it for something valuable. We often see God bring a conceited man down to no faith at all in order to lift him up to the position of a true believer. What Christ suggests to these people is this, that they shall part with their self-conceit and with their self-sufficiency. By this “gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich,” we may understand sterling godliness as opposed to “the form of godliness without the power.” Of what use is a sham Christian? Of what benefit is an unreal Church? Things are precious only as they be true and thorough and entire. “And white raiment that thou mayest be clothed,” etc. Put into plain language, this simply means, get what is really valuable; put on what is really fair and true; and try to see things by a proper and spiritual discernment to be derived from above just aa they really are. (S. Martin.)
Shallowness in religion
Setting aside for a little the question what this lukewarmness or shallowness is, in the higher spiritual life of the soul, we are all of us perfectly well acquainted with those whose characters it marks in common life--shallow, surface, outside men. We see it in one man in the life of the affections. He is full of a ready, courteous, skin-deep kindliness of demeanour, which reaches down to no self-sacrifice, which implies no wearing anxiety for others, which reveals no deep, disturbing love, perhaps, for any one person upon the earth, nay, which perhaps is thoroughly compatible with absolute cruelty of heart. This character is one of utter shallowness; it is marked by an essential poverty in the life of the affections. They are called up by the lightest surface-touch, because to them the surface is all. They are mere land-springs of kindness, easy to break out after a summer shower, easy to dry up after a twelve hours’ drought. It is demonstration without depth, the brook of shallow love, babbling of its shallowness as it flows. Here is one of these shallow characters: now look at it from another point, and see it in the life of science. See the poor sciolist, with his ready smattering of all learning, veiling even from himself his universal ignorance. For what worth knowing does the man know? His readiness to acquire and his readiness to produce are of the very essence of his disease. Again, you may see the self-same character in the public man. He is the easy repeater of the watchwords of a party, the retailer of other men’s aphorisms, the uncomprehending inheritor of a traditional policy. There is not in this man, perhaps, one atom of real knowledge, one acting of any deep principle which could govern, could strengthen, or could ennoble a public life. Here, then, in the ordinary life of this world--having put for the time the higher spiritual world aside--here is this familiar phase of shallowness. And now, how is it to be cured? How are we ourselves to get free from it? We must trace the cause of the evil. The master root of this vice is the selfishness of our fallen nature, working under the peculiar circumstances which belong to ease, to abundance, and to a refined civilisation. Men shaken daily together in the vast sack of common respectabilities round off from one another the sharp corners of their individuality, and thus the curse of shallowness is imparted, like some contagious disorder, from one to another; and all combine to banish, as the source of continual trouble, from their life of painted complacency, deeper and more real qualities. Here is the working of the evil and its cause; and now where is the cure to come from? Wealth cannot buy it; civilisation cannot give it; intellectual power cannot command it. Where then is the cure against all this degradation of humanity? In the Church of Christ, and in it alone, is stored the sufficient remedy. The Lord imparts Himself to the soul that will receive Him. This is the new life of the regenerate. This is the mystery of the new birth in its perfection, in the soul that follows after Christ. And so the shallownesses of his nature are swept away by the mighty burst; the rock is struck and the streams flow, and those whom the Lord has healed, witness of that healing to others. The emptiness of fallen man is filled full by the awful in-dwelling of the Incarnate God. “I counsel thee to buy of Me.” And what is needed to buy of Him? First, you must believe in the reality of the renewed life. How many fail here! They live in the perpetual dream that for the present they must be shallow, instead of believing in the mighty enfranchisement which the Eternal Son has wrought out for them. Oh, claim it for thyself, and claim it here. Next, join in desire, join in prayer, join in perpetual aspiration, your present life to the life of Christ. This is the great sacramental mystery of our new being. By the power of the Holy Ghost, Christ will work daily within you, if you will seek His working. Only thirdly, seek all this not as a mere apprehension of the understanding, for that will do no good, but seek it as part of a renewed life. Seek it in a life of greater brightness and greater obedience in service. (Bp. S. Wilberforce.)
The great and dangerous mistake of some professors
All flattery is dangerous; self-flattery is more dangerous; but self-flattery in the business of salvation, is the most dangerous of all.
I. That there are multitudes of such self-deceivers among professors.
II. The grounds and causes of this self-deceit among professors.
1. The natural deceitfulness of the heart, than which nothing is more treacherous and false (Jeremiah 17:9).
2. Satan is a chief conspirator in this treacherous design.
3. The common works found in unregenerate souls deceive many, who cannot distinguish them from the special works of the Spirit in God’s elect (Hebrews 6:4).
4. To add no more, this strengthens self-deceit exceedingly in many, viz., their observations of and comparing themselves with others. Use 1 shall be for caution to professors. Before I tell you what use you should make of it, I must tell you what use you may not make of it.
(1) Do not make this use of it--to conclude from what hath been said, that all professors are but a pack of hypocrites.
(2) Do not make this use of it--that assurance must needs be impossible, because so many professors are found to be self-deceivers.
(3) Do not make this use of it--to conceal or hide the truths or graces of God, or refuse to profess or confess them before men, because many professors deceive themselves and others also by a vain profession. Use
2. Surely you cannot improve this point to a better purpose than from it to take warning, and look to yourselves, that you be not of that number who deceive themselves in their profession. (John Flavel.)
The unconverted sinner’s estimate of himself
I. The unconverted sinner’s estimate of his own condition.
1. “I am rich.” The word “rich” is here used in its most extended meaning, as descriptive of the possession of that which is of great value. “I am rich.” I possess much; and what I possess is well worth having. If the unconverted sinner has money, he is proud of it. He looks upon it as a great portion. But many of the unconverted have no money to be proud of. That circumstance, however, does not prevent them from finding out that they are rich. Perhaps they have respectable family connections, or they have a goodly personal appearance, or they possess superior talents. In any such case, the mind fastens with special complacency upon the circumstance, and feels all the satisfaction attendant upon the consciousness of being rich.
2. “And increased with goods.” These words embody an additional conceit of the unconverted man. He is rich, and his wealth is not in the course of decay; on the contrary, it is rising in its amount, it is accumulating fast. If he is a young man, he, peradventure, rejoices in the rapid growth and extensive range of his literary and scientific and professional acquirements, and his heart bounds within him as the strong hope arises of approaching distinction and fame. See, again, that man who has left behind him the gay period of youth, and has arrived at the years of maturity and wisdom. He is no longer what he once was. The fire of passion is moderated, and the greaser immoralities of early life are abandoned. From being a person of no character, he is become a person of good character. He is a prudent, a well-behaved, an honourable citizen.
3. “And have need of nothing.” In these words we are presented with the unconverted man’s climax. The prosperity of his state has arrived at the superlative degree.
`II. The unconverted sinner’s real state.
1. “He is wretched.” Consider the original state of mankind. Think of its enjoyments, its privileges, its honours, its prospects. What a happy condition! and how wretched the condition which has succeeded! They might be free, but instead of that they are slaves to Satan, to the world, to their own lusts. They might be noble princes; but, alas! they are disgraced outcasts from the Divine favour. They might be kings and priests unto God; but they are doomed criminals, the branded victims of coming vengeance. Surely they are in a wretched condition; they have the Almighty Potentate of heaven and earth for their foe.
2. “Miserable.” It is intimated here, that when the mind comes to the consideration of the state of the unconverted, the appropriate emotion is pity. The thraldom they are held in calls for pity; the forfeiture they have incurred, the doom they have provoked, the self-deception they are practising, the false security they are indulging, the infatuation they are exemplifying, demand our pity.
3. “Poor.” If the tattered garment around the body be recognised as the symbol of poverty surely we have the symbol of a deeper poverty when the soul is enveloped in the unclean rags of self-righteousness!
4. “Blind.” Sinai overhangs him, but he heeds not the frowning mountain. One fairer than the sons of men, and chief among ten thousand, appears to him; but he evinces no sense of His attractions. The deformities of sin do not hinder him from embracing it. Though it be the noon-day of the Gospel, he gropes as one in darkness. The road which he travels is marked for his warning, as the way to everlasting misery and ruin, but he slackens not his pace. Can it be, then, that he sees? Would beauty have no power to draw a man, deformity none to repel him, or dangers to dismay him, unless he were blind?
5. “Naked.” This completes the picture of an unconverted state. The unconverted are naked in a two-fold respect--in that they want the garment of justification, and likewise the garment of sanctification.
III. Some inferences descriptive of the unconverted man’s error.
1. It is a great error. It is just as great an error as possibly can be. It is not, for example, the error of the man who says it is an hour before noon, or an hour after noon, when it is actually just noon; but it is the error of him who declares it is midnight while he stands under the blaze of the meridian sun.
2. It is a surprising error. It is surprising from its very grossness. Man is so prone to err that the occurrence of small mistakes excites no astonishment; on the contrary, we look for it. But it is startling to find men calling bitter sweet, emptiness abundance, disgrace honour, and misery comfort and happiness. The error in question is the more extraordinary, when it is considered that there are such ample means of getting at the truth.
3. It is a pernicious error. Death is the consequence of adhering to this error--death in its most appalling form--the eternal ruin of body and soul.
4. It is an error which, by human means, is incorrigible. We say not that its correction is beyond the power of God. (A. Gray.)
Man is by nature the neediest of all beings. Nor is it, as some might maintain, his disgrace and the signal of his inferiority that he is thus needy, but rather the mark of his native glory and pre-eminence. For it points to the number and greatness of his faculties. The lower the creature, the less his need; for the more feeble his sensibilities, narrow his powers, and torpid his desires. But, from the most sagacious and strongest of the animal tribes, how vast the difference, in capacity of intellect and feeling, to man! And no less vast the difference of need. He draws from the earth, from the water, and from the air, to satisfy his appetites and to satiate his curiosity; he ransacks every kingdom of nature for his comfort and aggrandisement, and is not content. Is there, then, no satisfaction for a man? God has not made His noblest creature for a wretched failure and a miserable want. Let him bring into light all his abilities and desires--they are not too many or too strong; those of the higher nature as well as the lower; those that tend up to God Himself and heaven and immortality, as well as those that tend downwards and abroad to earthly things. Let him unfold them without fear. The vast supplies from the foreseeing Creator, in the treasury of His truth, are ready. Let him appropriate them to his need. Man is a being that does not need daily bread and clothing and shelter alone; but he needs truth, needs duty, needs love, needs God. The mistake is in trying to gratify fully his nature with such outward things, neglecting the spiritual. It is just this foolhardy and hazardous assurance of satisfaction in outward prosperity, that I apprehend, the author of our text means to expose. Man--whosoever thou art, content with sensual good and clinging to outward treasure--that is not the true gold with which thou fillest thy coffers. That is not the durable raiment with which thou art clad. There are riches of goodness for the heart. To sustain this exhortation, it is not necessary to speak in the exclusive ardour of one idea, but the sober proportion that takes in man’s whole estate. He needs, by various education, to get possession of all his members and faculties. He needs to fabricate, needs to manufacture, needs to discover and invent, needs to trade, needs to accumulate; so that every industrial faculty may be brought out, every hand employed, every talent put in motion--nay, so that the community itself may not fail, but be civilised. In setting before you a moral and spiritual need, I certainly do not forget these personal, social, and political necessities, nor would shove them by an inch from their place; but, admitting the latter, maintain the supreme importance, the predominating position of the former. The dull caterpillar may be content with lying upon the ground, hardly appearing animated, like a lump or brown leaf, when the wings are actually folded up within, to bear it into the sunshine and among all the blossoms of the landscape. So a man may be content with a low, earth-bound life, a state of half-manhood, because unconscious of the heaven-bestowed capacities by which he might live above the world. But the mere force of nature will not unfold the man as it does the insect. He may discourage and keep down these wings of the soul. He may, by sin and his rebellious will, wound and mutilate them as they instinctively strive to expand. Yet he cannot remain for ever unconscious of their existence. He cannot exercise them in the mean ways of the world in which he treads. Lacking their true element and use, they will pine and wither with dissatisfaction and remorse. We need the principle of devotion to God and others’ good. We need the practice of the two great commandments of love to God and man. We need to be humble, need to be patient, need to be meek, to the Father above and our brethren below. We need these dispositions, not only as paying our debt to them, though they are our debt, but as the indispensable requisites of our own well-being. (C. A. Bartol.)
I. Moral wealth is most foreign to the self-righteous. In morals, the richer a man thinks himself to be, the poorer he is. Pharisaic souls are in utter destitution.
II. Moral wealth is the great want of humanity. Men, whatever else they possess, are abject without it.
1. It is the only wealth that is intrinsically valuable.
2. The only wealth that enriches the man.
3. The only wealth that procures an honourable status in being.
4. The only wealth that secures a true and lasting interest in the universe.
III. Moral wealth is to be obtained only in connection with Christ. Jesus has “the gold,” “the white garment,” “the eyesalve,” the “unsearchable riches.”
IV. Moral wealth must be obtained by purchase. “Buy of Me.” You must give up something for it--ease, self-righteousness, prejudices, worldly gain and pleasures. You must sell that you have. (Homilist.)
The spiritually luxurious and proud
What is the condition of the individual Christian (so called) who is represented in the Laodicean Church? Is not this a description of one who is spiritually luxurious and proud? Do not confound the spiritually luxurious with the temporally luxurious. One spiritually luxurious Christian may be a man poor in this world’s goods. He may be the farthest removed from the world’s luxury. He may wear hair-cloth and walk with bare feet. His outward condition has nothing to do with his spiritual state. His supposed riches, his increase of goods, his need of nothing--all refer to his spiritual condition. He thinks he is full of the Divine life. He is one of the Lord’s favourites. He serenely looks down upon mankind from the high level of a spiritual nobility. He takes his delicious ease amid his good thoughts of himself, and has a lofty scorn for the common herd of Christians. He may be an observer of forms. He may go to church. He may bow his head reverently. He may even enter a brotherhood and take the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience; or, on the other hand, he may be a neglecter of all public worship--above all the means of grace. They are good enough for the crowd, but he has no need of them. In either ease he considers himself a model Christian, and never thinks of applying to himself any of the Divine rebukes for shortcomings and inconsistency. You have often seen such. They are very varied in their earthly conditions, and also in their mode of exhibiting their conceit, but they all have the same satisfaction with themselves.
1. They are spiritually poverty-stricken. The spiritual wealth consisting of appreciation of the Divine promises, close communion with God, and the glorious visions of hope and faith, is altogether lacking. The wealth of sympathy and helpfulness, the wealth of energy for Christ and His salvation, has no representation in them.
2. They are spiritually naked. The grateful sense of indebtedness to a gracious Saviour, melting the soul and humbling it before Him, has never been felt.
3. They are spiritually blind. That is why they do not detect their nakedness. That is why they do not know their coin is all spurious and their wealth but poverty. (H. Crosby.)
What does God think of me
A young lady of thoughtful turn of mind once said to the late Dr. Jowett, Master of Balliol, “Doctor, what do you think of God?” For a while the doctor was silent, and then, with great solemnity and pathos, he replied, “My dear, it is not what I think of God, but what does God think of me.”
What we are before God
The Laodiceans said, “We are rich and have need of nothing,” but God said, “Thou art poor and wretched and miserable.” In the old tombs of our cathedrals there were frequently two figures on the monuments, one of the deceased king, or knight, or bishop, resting above in his full robes of state as he wore them abroad in life, and another beneath of a thin, emaciated skeleton, which recalled to the eyes of the beholder the realities of the grave below. It is well to have in thought this double imago of ourselves, what we are before the world, and what we are before God. (Free Methodist.)
Poor and needy
Dr. T.L. Cuyler tells us that when the richest American of his day was in his last fatal sickness, a Christian friend proposed to sing to him; and the hymn he named was, “Come, ye sinners, poor and needy.” “Yes, yes,” replied the dying millionaire, “sing that to me; I feel poor and needy.” Yet at that moment the stock markets of the globe were watching and waiting for the demise of the man who could shake them with a nod of his head.
I counsel thee to buy of Me.--
Christ giving counsel
Looked at broadly, these words intimate that the Lord has not given them up, however desperate their condition. To the hearing ear they sound like this, “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in Me is thine help.” It will be found that the grace of Christ meets the Laodiceans at every point. Knowing their poverty, the Lord offers to provide them with true and durable riches--gold bright from the fire. The fire-purged gold represents those spiritual possessions in which the true wealth of a Church consists. What shall we count in under this head? Light is thrown on the question by what we are told (2 Corinthians 8:1-5) concerning the Churches of Macedonia. They were marked by “deep poverty,” but that poverty was conjoined with “abundance of joy”--the joy of the Holy Ghost, which had never failed them since they embraced the gospel; that joy of theirs was “gold.” Again, even in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality; that liberality of theirs was “gold.” Again, there was the outflow of love to their suffering brethren in Christ at a distance; they were willing to contribute to their help, even beyond their power: that love was “gold.” A Church that is rich in these things is rich indeed. Besides being poor, the Laodiceans were naked. So He invites them to make application to Him, and promises to give “white raiment,” etc. This represents and symbolises the saintliness of life in which saintliness of heart expresses itself. As the dress clothes the body, and answers to its form and size, so a saintly life is the garb, as it were, and expression of a holy heart. The “well-doing” in which we are not to be “weary” is not the mere doing of what is “good,” but of what is “beautiful”; and beauty of living is the outward of heartbeauty, as a smile is the outward of heart-cheer. Besides being poor and naked, they were blind; answering to the prophet’s description of “the blind people who have eyes,” or like those men who appealed to Jesus with the question, “Are we blind also?” Now we must settle it in our hearts that we can find what we need only in Christ, and nowhere else. “Buy,” He says, “of Me.” We must not merely look away from man, we must also look away from ourselves to Him. There is a peculiar and very delightful emotion produced in the mind by fine scenery; almost every one, I suppose, knows what it is. You sit in a room which commands one of the finest views in the country. Your face, however, as it happens, is turned away from the window. You shut your eyes and strive to call up the peculiar emotion to which I have referred. Of course you fail. All the striving in the world would be in vain. What, then? Rise from your chair, open your eyes, step to the window, gaze forth upon the scene outspread before you, and let it produce its own effect upon your mind. In like manner, in religion, we shall not succeed in getting the right feeling by our trying and striving, we must look out of ourselves to Christ. (J. Culross, D. D.)
Jesus, the heavenly counsellor
Uncertainty and doubt will make themselves felt in the history of all who have the journey of life to accomplish. We cannot wonder, then, that in the present day so many guides should present themselves, all professedly eager to help us in our great uncertainties.
I. The counsel Jesus gives.
1. Jesus counsels us what we are to believe. The faculty of belief is as certainly possessed by man as is the faculty of vision; the one is a physical and the other a mental power, but both are possessed by us, and both are to be exercised. Jesus says, “I counsel thee what to believe.” To believe in God, in His perfections, His power, wisdom, justice, grace, mercy, truth, love. In His providence and care over you, to believe in such a way as that we shall revere, obey, and love God. To believe in Jesus--“Ye believe in God, believe also in Me”--that I am what the prophets said I should be, the true Messiah. Believe in the fulness of My love, the sufficiency of My atoning work, My ability and willingness to pardon and cleanse, and in the absolute and unchanging truthfulness of all My words. Believe in the Holy Ghost; in His convincing, converting, renewing, sustaining, and sanctifying energy. Believe in the duties pertaining to personal life and godliness as I have revealed them.
2. I have met with not a few young folks who have been sadly perplexed with the question as to what they shall be. One has solved it by saying, “I shall be a great merchant; my ships shall sail on many seas, and my servants and warehouses shall be exceedingly numerous.” Another has said, “Science shall be my study.” A third has said, “I will be a physician, and I will try to relieve the poor of their maladies.” To all such the Heavenly Counsellor comes, and He does not say to such, “How mistaken you all are, you must all change your decisions.” Oh no, but He counsels the farmer as he sows to sow goodness, that when the reaping time comes he may reap the same. To the philosopher He counsels the study of the wisdom which is from on high, and which is full of good works; and to the merchant He says, “Let goodness be the article in which you shall always trade; let it store your warehouses, fill the holds of your ships, and govern all your transactions.” To all the Heavenly Counsellor says, “Be good; have a good heart, a good conscience, a good intention, a good life.”
3. This Heavenly Counsellor tells us also what we are to do. Activity, under His advice, is always to characterise us. The Lord Jesus knows as no one else the great evils of idleness, and how such evils must afflict and torment all who are slothful; and so against this sin He plainly counsels us. In the cultivation of inward holiness and in the development of righteous principles, in the hope of winning souls for heaven and God, work.
II. Christ’s counsels are all and always golden. So that not any mixture can be detected; they have all passed through, and been stamped in, the minting house of heaven. But how shall we know that these counsels are all golden?
1. In the first place, because of their genuineness. It matters not the test through which we put them, or the analysis they are subjected to; not all the testing in the world can either detect the least impurity or make them more genuine than they are. Who, I should like to know, seeks the good of every man, woman, boy, and girl, as Jesus does? And whose counsel when adopted has resulted in such untold good to millions of our fellow creatures as His? Yes, look at it how, when, and where you may, ring it as you please, weigh it, measure it, or bring any other test you please to bear upon the counsel offered by Jesus, and its genuineness will be made the more evident.
2. Because of the value of His counsels. All genuine things are not so valuable as gold; a violet is a genuine violet, but we don’t part with gold for violets. The paper on which I am writing is genuine paper, but it is not of the value of gold. The counsel Jesus gives is not only as valuable, but more so than gold. Do you ask what the advice Jesus gives will procure? It will procure for us the favour of God, the approval of angels, and the esteem of all good men. It will procure for us peace within and purity without, enable us to live soberly, righteously, and godly here, and then to sit down in the kingdom of God above and to go no more out.
3. Like gold, they must be searched for. The name of the mine is “the Bible,” the implements with which we are to work are prayer, patience, and faith. By knee work and ceaseless industry they will be amply recompensed.
4. Because, like gold, they are to be used. Some people who keep a shop hang up His counsels in their parlours and drawing-rooms; it would be better if they would use them in their business. Some look at them when they put on their Sunday clothes, and then say adieu to them when Sabbath attire is laid away. Better if they would walk and move and live in the same all the week through. Then, like gold, if we use Christ’s counsels aright, they will increase more and more.
III. No one is entitled to expect this golden counsel for nothing. Men do not part with gold on such terms, nor does Jesus part with His counsels thus, and so He says, “I counsel thee to buy.”
1. We are to obtain this counsel in the first place by giving up all our sins. What an exchange I It is dross of the worst for gold of the very best kind. If a man were to come and offer gold and crowns, titles and lands, for old rags and bones, I feel sure there would not be many left in all the houses put together; and yet, whilst Jesus offers the gold of heaven if we will only forsake our evil ways and come to Him, how few are really eager to make the exchange.
2. Then in a sense we purchase the gold of heaven by using aright the quantity already given. It is by use the two talents become five, and the five talents ten. If we walk in the light already given, however faint and feeble it may be, it will conduct us to greater clearness and to more perfect vision. (J. Goodacre.)
Christ’s counsel to a lukewarm Church
He does not willingly threaten, and He never scolds; but He rather speaks to men’s hearts, and their reason, and comes to them as a friend, than addresses Himself to their fears.
I. Now, I observe that the first need of the lukewarm Church Is to open its eyes to see facts. Observe that the text falls into two distinct parts, and that the counsel to buy does not extend--though it is ordinarily read as if it did--to the last item in our Lord’s advice. These Laodiceans are bid to “buy of” Him “gold” and “raiment,” but they are bid to use the “eyesalve” that they “may see.” No doubt, whatever is meant by that “eyesalve” comes from Him, as does everything else. But my point is that these people are supposed already to possess it, and that they are bid to employ it. No doubt the exhortation, “anoint thine eyes with eyesalve that thou mayest see,” may be so extended as to refer to the general condition of spiritual blindness which attaches to humanity, apart from the illuminating and sight-giving work of Jesus Christ. That true Light, which lighteneth every man that cometh into the world, has a three-fold office as the result of all the parts of which there comes to our darkened eyes the vision of the things that are. He reveals the objects to see; He gives the light by which we see them; and He gives us eyes to see with. “Behold Me as I am, and the things that I reveal to you as they are; and then you will see yourselves as you are.” So, then, there comes out of this exhortation this thought, that a symptom constantly accompanying the lukewarm condition is absolute unconsciousness of it. In all regions the worse a man is the less he knows it. It is the good people that know themselves to be bad; the bad ones, when they think about themselves, conceit themselves to be good. The higher a man climbs in any science, or in the practice of any virtue, the more clearly he sees the unscaled peaks above him. The frost-bitten limb is quite comfortable. Another thought suggested by this part of the counsel is that the blind man must himself rub in the eyesalve. Nobody else can do it for him. True! It comes like every other good thing, from the Christ in the heavens; and, as I have already said, if we will attach specific meanings to every part of a metaphor, that “eyesalve” may be the influence of the Divine Spirit who convicts men of sin. But whatever it is you have to apply it to your own eyes. Our forefathers made too much of self-examination as a Christian duty, and pursued it often for mistaken purposes. But this generation makes far too light of it. Apply the eyesalve; it will be keen, it will bite; welcome the smart, and be sure that anything is good for you which takes away the veil that self-complacency casts over your true condition, and lets the light of God into the cellars and dark places of your souls.
II. The second need of the lukewarm Church is the true wealth which Christ gives. “I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire.” Now, there may be many different ways of putting the thought that is conveyed here, but I think the deepest truth of human nature is that the only wealth for a man is the possession of God. That wealth alone makes us paupers truly rich. For there is nothing else that satisfies a man’s craving, and supplies a man’s needs. That wealth has immunity from all accidents. No possession is truly mine of which any outward contingency or circumstance can deprive me. But this wealth, the wealth of a heart enriched with the possession of God, whom it knows, loves, trusts, and obeys, this wealth is incorporated with a man’s very being, and enters into the substance of his nature; and so nothing can deprive him of it. The only possession which we can take with us when our nerveless hands drop all other good, and our hearts are untwined from all other loves, is this durable riches.
III. The third need of a lukewarm Church is the raiment--that Christ gives. The wealth which He bids us buy of Him belongs mostly to our inward life; the raiment which He proffers us to wear, as is natural to the figure, applies mainly to our outward lives, and signifies the dress of our spirits as these are presented to the world. I need not remind you of how frequently this metaphor is employed throughout the Scripture. There is nothing in the world valuer than effort after righteousness which is not based on faith. “Buy of Me raiment,” and then, listen to the voice which says, “Put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new man of God created in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
IV. Lastly, all supply of these needs is to be bought. “Buy of Me.” There is nothing in that counsel contradictory to the great truth, that “the gift of God is eternal life.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Gold tried in the fire.--
I. A precious commodity.
1. Gold represents the blessed Saviour, for He is the most excellent of beings.
2. Gold represents the gospel, for it is the most excellent of systems.
3. Gold represents the Christian graces, for they are the most permanent of treasures. Faith, hope, and love have a power to bless beyond this world’s wealth.
II. This precious commodity tried. Even philosophy itself has confessed that the gold of the gospel alone will sustain in the final conflict.
III. This tried and precious commodity is offered for acceptance It is strange but true that men reject salvation because it is freely offered. Pride resents the humbling conditions. Self-will tramples beneath its feet offered mercy.
IV. The glorious consequence of accepting. Soul riches are the true abiding wealth. (W. Burrows, B. A.)
Aggravated poverty of soul
If a man’s gold prove counterfeit, his jewels painted glass, his silver lead or dross, he will not only be found poor when he comes to be tried, and want the benefit of riches, but will also have a fearful aggravation of his poverty, by his disappointment and surprisal. If a man’s faith, which should be more precious than gold, be found rotten and corrupt, if his light be darkness; how vile is that faith, how great is that darkness! (J. Owen, D. D.)
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.
I. In reference to the sinner, what is the object of Divine chastisement? The merciful design is the conviction and conversion of the sinner, his restoration to the image of God. And what are the means employed by the Holy Spirit for this end? Sickness, poverty, bereavements, the ministry of the Word, the faithful admonition of a loving friend, or even a tract offered by the wayside.
II. In regard to the Lord’s own people, what is His design in afflicting them?
1. To prevent sin in them, He sees the beginning of mischief in the heart, and He nips the sin in the bud.
2. To wean them from this present world.
3. To lead them nearer to Himself.
III. The attitude of the Saviour towards sinners. (H. E. Windle, M. A.)
Christ disclosing His love
The Lord next declares His love to Laodicea. It has really been love all through; but now He speaks the word out--“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” What He has already said, severe and even terrible, has been said in love; and indeed love is the root of His whole dealing with them, love that would get quit of their sin. Now this is a thing that helps to cure lukewarmness. Love is the key that opens the barred door of the sinful heart. And the Saviour discloses His love to the Laodiceans that He may thereby touch them, melt them, restore them. I think there is a lesson here that we need to learn. We come into the presence of Laodicean lukewarmness. We are grieved by it. We are angered even more than we are grieved. We are tempted to denounce it. Ah, but here is a nobler way--to be ourselves loving! Out of Christ’s love there spring “rebuke” and “chastening.” Rebuke is not mere fault-finding, or “coming down upon” a man, or “giving it hot”; that is easy enough; commonly it is the outcome of the wrath of man, which worketh not the righteousness of God; and not seldom it is directed against those who do not deserve it. One of the sad things among us, indeed, is this cruel misdirection of censure. To rebuke means to bring sin home convincingly to the judgment and the conscience. To rebuke is a very different thing from fault-finding, and as high above it as heaven is above the earth. Nothing but love can do it--high-purposed, firm, holy love. It means the setting of sin so clearly and fully and convincingly before the mind and conscience, that you carry the person with you, and he is convinced. That is what love tries, and what only love can accomplish. And that is what Christ is doing with the Laodiceans now. He is setting the truth of their condition before their consciences, in holiest and tenderest mercy, that shrinks not from giving pain in order that it may heal. But this were not enough, unless something is done to help the sinner out of his evil estate. For the Lord to have reproved or convinced the Laodiceans would not have been enough. Without “conviction” there is and can be no “conversion”; but He could not have stopped short with it, any more than the physician may stop short with telling us our disease. Therefore He adds “chastening” to rebuke. We must dismiss the ides, of punishment. That does not lie in the word. Punishment is the deed of a judge; chastening is the work of a father. We must start from the realised fact of our sonship in the Divine family. The word “chastening” brings into view, under the new covenant, the whole process of earthly training for heavenly issues, which God in His wisdom ordains and conducts, and of which suffering forms so large an element. And this is the issue to which the rebuke and chastening of love should lead: “Be zealous, and repent.” Let the zeal show itself in this line. It is a man taking God’s side against his own sin, and looking to God to deliver him from it. It results, not from the will of the flesh or the will of man, but from God’s work in the conscience. It has its birth in a true apprehension by faith of the mercy of God in Christ. (J. Culross, D. D.)
God afflicts for our good; and what that good is
I. God’s rule.
1. That God chastises His children out of love, and for their good.
(1) Afflictions to them whom God loves are medicinal, and thereby they recover their health by repentance from some spiritual disease.
(2) Afflictions are preservatives to keep them whom God loveth from sin (2 Corinthians 12:7).
(3) Afflictions make the fruitless bring forth fruit, beget many virtues, and make God’s graces in us to bloom and bring forth works pleasing unto out Heavenly Father.
(4) Afflictions draw men nearer unto God. The main use of all is for comfort in all our sufferings and crosses whensoever God sends them: for they are signs of our sonship and tokens of His love.
2. That if God spares not those whom He loveth, much less shall His enemies escape punishment.
3. That God rebukes before He chastens.
(1) If this then be God’s manner of dealing, it should behove us not lightly to pass by His warnings.
(2) If God so powerfully warns His creature before He strikes him, how dare we strike our brother before we warn him?
II. Our duty. We must be zealous, and repent.
1. Concerning zeal.
(1) Zeal is the intention and vehemency of all our affections in matters of God and His service. It hath its name of Zew, which is, to burn and boil as water over the fire, and thence may be styled the fervency of our affections. Such a one was Apollos (Acts 18:25); and such St. Paul exhorts the Romans to be (Romans 12:11). For as burning is the excess or highest pitch of heat, so is zeal of our affections. But as in our bodies we find aguish burnings as well as the healthful vigour of natural heat; and as Nadab and Abihu offered fire unto God, but not the right and holy fire (Leviticus 10:1), so are there some counterfeits of zeal, as it were false fires, abominable unto God and odious unto men. The kinds, then, of false zeal may be reduced unto three heads.
(a) Hypocritical zeal, which wants sincerity.
(b) Blind zeal, which wants knowledge.
(c) Turbulent zeal, which wants love and moderation. Thus I have briefly described these false fires, that by the law of contraries we may know who is the true zealot.
(2) But why should this zeal be so needful? Let us therefore now see the reasons.
(a) First, therefore, I will seek no farther than my text, where the want of zeal is reckoned for a sin, a sin to be repented of, “Be zealous, and repent”: is not that needful, without which all our works are sinful?
(b) It is the ground rule of the whole law of God, and of all the precepts concerning His worship, that we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. What else is this but to love Him zealously, to worship Him with the highest pitch of our affections? For He is the sovereign and chiefest good; what love then can suit to Him but the very top and sovereignty of love?
(c) Zeal is that which carries our devotions up to heaven. As wings to a fowl, wheels to a chariot, sails to a ship; so is zeal to the soul of man. Without zeal our devotions can no more ascend than vapours from a still without fire put under it.
2. Repentance is the changing of our course from the old way of sin unto the new way of righteousness: or more briefly, a changing of the course of sin for the course of righteousness. It is called also conversion, turning and returning unto God. I will describe it briefly in five degrees, which are as five steps in a ladder, by which we ascend up to heaven.
(1) The first step is the sight of sin and the punishment due unto it. For how can the soul be possessed with fear and sorrow, except the understanding do first apprehend the danger?--for that which the eye sees not, the heart rues not. The serious penitent must be like the wary factor, he must retire himself, look into his books, and turn over the leaves of his life; he must consider the expense of his time, the employment of his talent, the debt of his sin, and the strictness of his account.
(2) And so he shall ascend unto the next step, which is sorrow for sin. For he that seriously considers how he hath grieved the Spirit of God and endangered his own soul by his sins, cannot but have his spirit grieved with remorse.
(3) The third step up this ladder is the loathing of sin. A surfeit of meats, how dainty and delicate soever, will afterwards make them loathsome.
(4) The fourth step is the leaving off sin. To what purpose doth the physician evacuate ill humours, if the patient still distempers himself with ill diet? What shall it avail a man to endure the lancing, searching, and tending of a wound, if he stay not for the cure?
(5) The fifth and last step is the cleaving unto God with full purpose of heart to walk before Him in newness of life. All the former degrees of repentance were for the putting off of the old man; this is for the putting on of the new.
III. The connection and dependence of these latter words (“Be zealous therefore, and repent”) upon the former (“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.”) Many things might be here observed, but I will name but one, which is this, that repentance is the means to avoid and prevent God’s judgments. For (as Tertullian observes) He that hath decreed to publish by justice, hath promised to grant pardon by repentance. And so Jeremiah 18:7. (J. Mede, B. D.)
The love and the discipline
How soon a Church goes down! How quickly its love and holiness and zeal fade away! One generation often sees its rise, decline, and fall. The soul withers; the eye that looked upward now looks downward; and the once “religious man,” who “did run well,” takes the downward path into lukewarmness or death. Yet Jesus leaves him not.
I. The love. The “I” here is emphatic, and by its prominence Christ presents Himself specially as the lover, the rebuker, the chastener. His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor our ways His ways. He loves where others would hate. He shows His love by chastening where others would show theirs by indulging.
II. The discipline of love. Mark the way in which this love deals with Laodicea. It deals in tenderness, and yet in solemn severity. Instead of letting Laodicea escape, it takes hold of her, as a wise father of his disobedient child, and makes her sensible how much it hates the sin.
1. He reproves by word and deed.
2. What the chastening was we know not: it would be something specially suited to the self-sufficiency and worldliness of the Laodiceans. Perhaps they were stripped of their riches; perhaps visited by sickness and death; laid desolate by grievous sorrow; some long-continued trial, stroke upon stroke, crushing and emptying them. Whatever it may cost, they must be made to feel the evil of their ways.
III. The exhortation of love. Be zealous, therefore, and repent. The word “zealous” contrasts with lukewarmness, and implies true warmth and fervour. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
It is evident that the zeal which is here recommended has religion for its object. Now there are some who are mightily afraid of zeal as connected with religion. A zealous friend--a zealous teacher--a zealous patriot--are characters referred to with expressions of applause. But the moment that zeal mingles with religion, then there is distrust and disapproval. It is curious to observe how differently zeal in matters of religion is spoken of by these persons, and by the Word of God. Christ is hero introduced as rebuking the Church of Laodicea for the want of it, and as commanding them to get that want supplied. But His will, as thus expressed, is not arbitrary. It is founded in the nature and reason of the case. Why, let me ask you, are you zealous for anything whatever? Is it not because that thing, in your opinion, is important to be attained, and because the attainment of it requires energy and effort? Now, can you explain how it is that the same mode of judging and acting should not be adopted in religion? In the first place, is religion destitute of importance, or is it less important than anything else which attracts your notice and interests your attention? Then, in the second place, do you consider religion to be of such easy acquirement that a man may be invested with all its character, and animated by all its spirit, and come to the enjoyment of all its blessings, though he gives himself no great concern about it, and treats it with coldness and indifference? And then, in the third place, if for the reasons now stated, we ought to be zealous in acquiring for ourselves an interest in the grace and blessings of the gospel, the same raisons should constrain us to be zealous also in communicating these to our fellow-men throughout the world. Religion is as important to them as it is to us. Moreover, if you are actuated by zeal in other cases, and feel it to be at once becoming and necessary, we may well require you to vindicate, if you can, a want of zeal or a condemnation of it, in that vocation wherewith you are called as the disciples of Christ. If it be right to cherish and display zeal in the study of literature and philosophy, in promoting the prosperity of your country, in advancing the welfare of your friends, upon what; principle can it be wrong to cherish and display zeal in procuring for religion that ascendancy which it is entitled to hold over the minds and destinies of those for whose everlasting happiness it is intended? If religion be, as it is described in the Bible, and as you yourselves profess to regard it, then not only ought you to be zealous for it, but your zeal for it cannot be too great. Now what is the degree of importance that belongs to religion? Why, it is infinitely important. What! can you be too zealous in seeking after deliverance from “the worm that never dies, and from the fire that shall not be quenched”? Can you be too zealous in aspiring to that “inheritance which is incorruptible, and that crown of glory which fadeth not away”? Can you be too zealous in the pursuit of what was purchased at such a costly price as the blood of the incarnate Son of God? (A. Thompson, D. D.)
A coal from the altar
The true zealot, whose fervency is in the spirit, not in show; in substance, not in circumstance; for God, not himself; guided by the Word, not with humours; tempered with charity, not with bitterness: such a man’s praise is of God though not of men, such a man’s worth cannot be set forth with the tongues of men and of angels.
1. It is good to be zealous in good things, and is it not best in the best? Or is there any better than God, or the kingdom of heaven? Is mean and mediocrity in all excellent arts excluded, and only to be admitted in religion?
2. Consider and reason thus with thyself, canst thou brook a sluggard in thy work, if thou be of any spirit thyself? Do men choose the forwardest deer in the herd, the liveliest colt in the drove? and is the backwardest man fittest for God? Is not all His delight in the quickest and cheerfulest givers and servitors?
3. This zeal is so gracious a favourite with God, that it graces with Him all the rest of His graces. Prayer, if it be frequent, prevaileth much; the zealous witnesses had power to shut and open heaven (chap. 12.).
4. Zeal is the richest evidence of faith, and the clearest demonstration of the Spirit. Yea, but by what means shall a Christian attain this fire, and maintain it when he hath gotten it? Say not in thine heart, What Prometheus shall ascend into heaven and fetch it thence? Thou mayest fetch it thence by thine own prayer. Sermons are bellows ordained for this purpose. But here methinks I hear the lukewarm worldling of our times fume and chafe, and ask what needs all this ado for zeal, as if all God’s people were not zealous enough. Such as think they are, or can be zealous enough, need no other conviction to be poor, blind, naked, wretched, and pitiful Laodiceans. Fire is ever climbing and aspiring higher; zeal is ever aiming at that which is before; carried toward perfection; thinking meanly of that which is past, and already attained. What would you have us to do? We profess, keep our church, hear sermons, as Christians ought to do. Affectionate friendship and service is not only for public show upon festival days, but for domestical, ordinary, and private use; to such holiday and church retainers, God may well say, Let us have some of this zeal at home and apart. (A. Wood.)
I. Our zeal for religion should be real and conscientious. There is a zeal of sympathy, which is awakened and kept alive by the zeal of others with whom we happen to come in contact. Be “renewed in the spirit of your minds,” that religion may appear to you in all its genuine excellence, and that it may hold that place in your regard to which it is justly entitled. Meditate seriously on the interest which you personally have in all that it requires you to believe, and in all that it commands you to do. Think of its necessity to the redemption and well-being of every one of the human race.
II. Our zeal for religion must be intelligent, or accompanied with knowledge.
III. There must be prudence in the exercise and manifestation of our religious zeal. Prudence does not damp nor discourage our zeal. It only prevents us from giving those expressions to it which, on the one hand, would be attended with no benefit, and, on the other, might involve us in difficulties and embarrassments.
IV. Our zeal for religion must always consist with moral integrity. It never can be allowable for us to do what is morally wrong, whatever be the advantageous consequences that are to follow it. And least of all, one should suppose, can such a proceeding be allowable, when we are striving to advance the interests of religion.
V. Our religious zeal must be under the government of charity. Our zeal being awakened to care for men, charity comes in to soften that aspect of sternness and severity, which it might otherwise assume, and to mould it into a form more consonant to the nature and circumstances of those for whom it is to labour, as well as to the spirit and precepts of that religion which it is desirous to propagate.
VI. Our zeal must be in proportion to the value and importance of the objects which excite it, and to the exigencies in which these may happen to be placed. Every system has certain leading principles and properties of which it cannot be divested, while there are other subordinate principles and properties, which appear, neither in themselves nor in their relations, to be necessary to its existence, and to its ultimate purpose. And so is it with Christianity. Being a plan of Divine contrivance, all that is to be found in it, must be considered as important and useful; but it is evident that there are some things more important and useful than others. And this being the case, it follows, of course, that whether we be cherishing Christianity in ourselves, or pressing it on the attention of others, our zeal must not operate with equal ardour upon every subject, but bear some sort of proportion to the real or the relative importance which they possess--the most important receiving its highest, and the less important its lower measure of warmth and energy (A. Thomson, D. D.)
The nature, importance, and right exercise of Christian zeal
I. Its nature.
II. Its importance. Zeal is an appropriate quality of the spiritual life--the genial heat of the new nature, immediately subservient to its continuance and support, and operating to maintain its powers in their proper capacity for action. In nature, heat is the most active of all the elements. It is the prime agent which the Author of nature employs for promoting the subsistence and well-being of the universe. Animal and vegetable life have an immediate dependence on it; nor could nature itself, according to its apparent constitution and laws, subsist without it. To the effects of heat in nature, those of zeal in religion are directly analagous. How incapable of exertion, how indisposed to motion, how listless and insensible are men found, when their spirits are benumbed with cold affection! But under the influence of that kindly warmth which the Spirit of God imparts, how quickly do they revive, and become pliant and active! While zeal is thus necessary to the effectual performance of the Christian’s work, it contributes also, as an effectual qualification, to render his service acceptable.
III. Rightly exercised.
1. On right objects--objects which are intrinsically good, and which are of suitable importance, Should the furnace be heated seven times more than usual for no worthier purpose than the burning of a straw?
2. Zeal must also be exercised with a right mind.
(1) Zeal must be exercised with knowledge. Perhaps there is nothing that is either more unseemly in itself or more mischievous in its consequences than zeal without knowledge. Such a zeal, considered in its exercise, may be compared to a ship, driving with full sail before the wind, without either compass or pilot--threatening the safety of everything that comes in her way, and in danger of driving at last upon some rock or shoal that shall cause her destruction.
(2) Zeal must be exercised with sincerity. The concern which is expressed for religion must be real--the genuine result of principle and feeling--not affected, merely to cover sinister designs, to second views of worldly interest, to minister to secret pride--to the selfish vain-glorious desire of applause and estimation.
(3) Genuine zeal must be exercised with impartiality--with an equal regard to the attainment of its object--whether it has respect to ourselves or to others. The zeal of too many is chiefly occupied abroad, in detecting and exposing the sins of others.
(4) Zeal must be exercised with kind affection. (T. Fleming, D. D.)
1. True Christian zeal includes knowledge. It is not a blind impulse of feeling, an ignorant and infuriated passion, but a holy intelligent principle.
2. True Christian zeal includes indignation. The simple effusions of the heart in the way of grief on account of sin do not come up to the idea of zeal. It is grief and indignation at sin roused to the very utmost.
3. True Christian zeal includes ardent desire. The immediate object of this zeal is the declarative glory of God. It is a holy indignation at sin, because this evil throws a dark shade over God’s glory. It is an ardent and passionate concern that God may be glorified.
4. Christian fortitude and magnanimity are also branches of this temper. The person that is truly zealous is not easily intimidated.
5. True Christian zeal is an active and useful principle. It grasps with the greatest eagerness every means which may be subservient to the attainment of its object. (R. Culbertson.)
I. The nature of Christian zeal.
II. The source of Christian zeal. Christian zeal is zeal for Christ; it has Him for its ultimate source, as well as its ultimate end. Christian “enthusiasm” is really “the state of inspiration by God.”
III. The sphere of Christian zeal. True zeal is of course “zeal for God” and for good.
IV. The qualities which should characterise Christian zeal.
1. True Christian zeal is intelligent. There is light in it as well as heat.
2. It is prudent. Plans warily, and works calmly.
3. It is loving and sympathetic.
4. It is patient and persevering. Not a fitful impulse, but a steady flame. Based on principle, it is the habit of the Christian’s life.
V. The motives which sustain Christian zeal.
1. Love to the Redeemer.
2. The salvation of the world.
3. The prosperity of our own souls.
What a protection zeal is against the coldness of the world--what a defence against temptation--what a preservative against moral deterioration--what a suitable preparation for the holy activities of heaven! (G. Jordan, M. A.)
When a man dies in England, his friends often say of him, in praise of his diligence, energy, and concentration: “Well, he lived simply to carry through that important line of railway”; or--“His only object was to extort from the Government a more scientific education for the people”; or--“He devoted himself to the cause of Free Trade”; or--“He was a martyr to his exertions in behalf of Protection.” It was his one idea; it grew with his growth; he could think of nothing else; he spared neither time nor expense to advance ever so little his favourite cause, and the interest he had wedded; it was his monomania. He did his work in his day, and he did it well, because he was heart and soul in it; and the world is in debt to him for it. Now, why should it not be said of us: “Well, he is gone. He was a man of one idea: he cared for nothing but that God’s kingdom should come, and His will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. He was eaten up with this; waking or sleeping it was always upon him; nothing daunted him; he spared neither time nor expense for his hobby, and when neither time nor money were at his disposal, he besieged heaven with prayers. He took no interest in anything else; it was meat and drink to him, and it quite mastered him; and now he is gone.” Yes! he is gone; but whereas the other man left behind him his railway and his cheap bread, our friend has taken all his love and pains and prayers away with him to the judgment-seat of Jesus; and what they have done for him there, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor man’s heart conceived.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock.
The Guest of the heart
I. The stranger-guest wanting to come in. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock.”
1. When a stranger comes to your door, it matters a good deal to your feeling as a host whether he be a mean man or a great one. An inhospitable act done to your Queen might never vex you at all if it was only done to an obscure wanderer. Who, then, is this? Is He mean? or is He great? He does not look very great in the starlight. But He is. At home He is worshipped, and wields all command; and beings before whom the mightiest of the earth are as infants, only venture to bow themselves at His feet when their faces are shielded from the lustre of His glory.
2. When a stranger comes to your door, it is a consideration for you whether he has come to a door only, or to your door; whether he has come to your door by chance, or to yourself on purpose. Has this Stranger, then, just happened upon this cottage-door as one that serves His turn as well as any other? or does He mean to seek this very home and this very board, if haply He may be welcomed as a friend? How deeply does He mean it, and how tenderly!
3. When a stranger comes to your door, it is of some moment to you whether he has come but a short distance to see you, or has come from far. This waiting Stranger--whence comes He? From another country? He has come from another world. Through peril, through tribulation, He has come hither.
4. When a stranger comes to your door, it is a thing of influence with you whether your visitor is in earnest to get in, or shows indifference, and soon gives up the endeavour. A caller who knocks and goes off again before you have had reasonable time to answer.
5. When a stranger comes to your door, it is of every consequence to you what may be the character of himself, and the complexion of his errand. Is he good, and likely come for good? or is he evil, and likely come for evil? What far-brought tidings, what peace, what hopes, what aids, what influence, he fetches with him!
II. The stranger-guest getting in. “If any man hear My voice, and open the door.”
1. The Stranger did not force an entrance. It is from the inside, after all, that a man’s heart opens to his Saviour-King.
2. At the same time it is of the utmost importance to note, that the transaction, with this indispensable element of free choice in it, is the veriest simplicity. “If any man hear,” “and open”--lo! it is accomplished, and the Son of God is within. Very natural it may be--after you have at last acknowledged the Voice by some beginnings of faith, and have arisen at its call to bustle long about the apartment in a process of rearranging, cleansing, tidying, adorning. Not less natural it may be to sit down, after a desponding glance around you, and endeavour to devise some plan by which you may entertain the Guest more worthily. All the while, and all the same, your Guest is standing without. The one luckless fact is the tardiness of your hospitality. The honour is done Him by nothing but by letting Him in. And more: your heart-home will only be made fit for His presence by His presence.
3. But there may be some one who is saying with a certain sincerity, “I have tried to open my heart to Christ, and I could not--cannot!” It will baffle your own strength. But what of your Guest Himself, and that power of His--so freely available now?
III. The stranger-guest in. “I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.” It is a scene with much light in it, and an atmosphere of security and deep peace. (J. A. Kerr Bain, M. A.)
Christ’s loving earnestness
I. The love of Christ. It is free love. It is large love. It is love irrespective of goodness in us.
II. The patience of Christ. He stands, and He has stood, as the words imply--not afar off, but nigh, at the door. He stands. It is the attitude of waiting, of perseverance in waiting. He does not come and go; He stands. He does not sit down, or occupy Himself with other concerns. He has one object in view.
III. The earnestness of Christ. If the standing marks His patience, the knocking marks His earnestness--His unwearied earnestness.
1. How does He knock?
2. When does He knock?
IV. The appeal of Christ to the Laodiceans. “If any man will hear My voice, and open the door.” It is--
1. A loving appeal.
2. A personal appeal.
3. An honest appeal.
4. An earnest appeal.
V. The promise of Christ.
1. I will come in to Him. His standing on the outside is of no use to us. A mere outside Christ will profit us nothing. An outside cross will not pacify, nor heal, nor save.
2. I will sup with him. He comes in as a guest, to take a place at our poor table and to partake of our homely meal.
3. He shall sup with Me. Christ has a banquet in preparation. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The Christ at the door
These wonderful words need no heightening of their impressiveness, and yet there are two considerations which add pathos and beauty to them. The one is that they are all but the last words which the seer in Patmos heard in his vision, from the lips of the exalted Christ. Parting words are ever impressive words; and this is the attitude in which Jesus desired to be thought of by all coming time. Another consideration intensifying the impressive-Hess of the utterance is that it is the speech of that Christ whose exalted glories are so marvellously portrayed in the first chapter of this book. The words are marvellous too, not only for that picture, but for the clear decisiveness with which they recognise the solemn power that men have of giving or refusing an entrance to Him; and still further, for the grandeur of their promises to the yielding heart which welcomes Him.
I. The exalted Christ asking to be let in to a man’s heart. The latter words of the verse suggest the image of a banqueting hall. The chamber to which Christ desires entrance is full of feasters. There is room for everybody else there but Him. Now the plain sad truth which that stands for about us, is this: That we are more willing to let anybody and anything come into our thoughts, and find lodgment in our affections, than we are to let Jesus Christ come in. The next thought here is of the reality of this knocking. Every conviction, every impression, every half inclination towards Him that has risen in your hearts, though you fought against it, has been His knocking there. And think of what a revelation of Him that is! We are mostly too proud to sue for love, especially if once the petition has been repulsed; but He asks to be let into your heart because His nature and His name is Love, and being such, He yearns to be loved by you, and tie yearns to bless you.
II. Notice that awful power which is recognised here as residing in us, to let Him in or to keep Him out. “It any man will open the door”--the door has no handle on the outside. It opens from within. Christ knocks: we open. What we call faith is the opening of the door. And is it not plain that that simple condition is a condition not imposed by any arbitrary action on His part, but a condition indispensable from the very nature of the case?
III. The entrance of the Christ, with His hands full of blessing. It is the central gift and promise of the gospel “that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” He Himself is the greatest of His gifts. He never comes empty-handed, but when He enters in He endows the soul with untold riches. We have here also Christ’s presence as a Guest. “I will come in and sup with Him.” What great and wonderful things are contained in that assurance! Can we present anything to Him that He can partake of? Yes! We may give Him our service and He will take that; we may give Him our love and He will take that, and regard it as dainty and delightsome food. We have here Christ’s presence not only as a Guest, but also as Host--“I will sup with him and he with Me.” As when some great prince offers to honour a poor subject with his presence, and let him provide some insignificant portion of the entertainment, whilst all the substantial and costly parts of it come in the retinue of the monarch, from the palace. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The heavenly Visitor
I. What is implied by the expression, “I stand at the door.”
1. That Christ is outside man’s heart.
2. That He is deliberately excluded.
3. That He is excluded in favour of other guests.
4. That notwithstanding He wishes to enter.
5. That He recognises our liberty to admit Him.
II. By what means He makes His presence known.
III. The blessings to be enjoyed by those who admit Him.
3. Refreshment. (Thos. Heath.)
Christ at the door
I. The person. The Greatest at the door of the meanest.
II. The attitude.
2. Waiting expectation.
III. The action.
IV. The object. (Homilist.)
The pleading Saviour
I. The Saviour’s humility and condescension.
1. Patience. Repeated application where rudely repulsed.
2. Desire to enter. Not for His own good or gratification, but for our salvation, because He delights in mercy.
II. The Saviour’s persistent efforts.
III. The Saviour’s proffered reward. The presence of Christ is the highest privilege man can desire. It involves--
4. Enjoyment. (Homilist.)
Christ at the door
I. The suppliant for admission. A strange reversal of the attitudes of the great and of the lowly, of the giver and of the receiver, of the Divine and of the human! Christ once said, “Knock and it shall be opened unto you.” But He has taken the suppliant’s place. So, then, there is here a revelation, not only of a universal truth, but a most tender and pathetic disclosure of Christ’s yearning love to each of us. What do you call that emotion which more than anything else desires that a heart should open and let it enter? We call it love when we find it in one another. Surely it bears the same name when it is sublimed into all but infinitude, and yet is as individualising and specific as it is great and universal, as it is found in Jesus Christ. And then, still further, in that thought of the suppliant waiting for admission there is the explanation for us all of a great many misunderstood facts in our experience. That sorrow that darkened your days and made your heart bleed, what was it but Christ’s hand on the door? Those blessings which pour into your life day by day “beseech you, by the mercies of God, that ye yield yourselves living sacrifices.” That unrest which dogs the steps of every man who has not found rest in Christ, what is it but the application of His hand to the obstinately-closed door? The stings of conscience, the movements of the Spirit, the definite proclamation of His Word, even by such lips as mine, what are they all except His appeals to us? And this is the deepest meaning of joys and sorrows, of gifts and losses, of fulfilled and disappointed hopes. If we understood better that all life was guided by Christ and that Christ’s guidance of life was guided by His desire that He should find a place in our hearts, we should less frequently wonder at sorrows, and should better understand our blessings.
II. The door opened. Jesus Christ knocks, but Jesus Christ cannot break the door open. The door is closed, and unless there be a definite act on your part it will not be opened, and He will not enter. So we come to this, that to do nothing is to keep your Saviour outside; and that is the way in which most men that miss Him do miss Him. The condition of His entrance is simple trust in Him, as the Saviour of my soul. That is opening the door, and if you will do that, then, just as when you open the shutters, in comes the sunshine; just as when you lift the sluice in flows the crystal stream into the slimy, empty lock; so He will enter in, wherever He is not shut out by unbelief and aversion of will.
III. The entrance and the feast. “I will come in to him and sup with him, and he with Me.” Well, that speaks to us in lovely, sympathetic language, of a close, familiar, happy communication between Christ and my poor self which shall make all life as a feast in company with Him. John, as he wrote down the words “I will sup with him, and he with Me,” perhaps remembered that upper room where, amidst all the bitter herbs, there was such strange joy and tranquility. But whether he did or no, may we not take the picture as suggesting to us the possibilities of loving fellowship, of quiet repose, of absolute satisfaction of all desires and needs, which will be ours if we open the door of our hearts by faith, and let Jesus Christ come in? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Relation to Christ of the human soul
I. His attitude towards the soul. He is constantly in contact with the soul. He does not come occasionally and then depart; He stands.
1. His deep concern. In the eye of Christ the soul is no trifling object: He knows its capabilities, relations, power, influence, interminable history.
2. His infinite condescension.
3. His wonderful patience.
II. His action upon the soul. He does not stand there as a statue doing nothing. He knocks: He knocks at the door of intellect with His philosophic truths; at the door of conscience, with His ethical principles; at the door of love, with His transcendent charms; at the door of hope, with His heavenly glories; at the door of fear, with the terrors of His law.
1. The moral power of the sinner. The soul has the power to shut out Christ. It can bolt itself against its Creator. This it does by directing its thoughts to other subjects, by deadening its convictions, by procrastinations.
2. The consummate folly of the sinner. Who is shut out? Not a foe or thief; but a friend, a physician, a deliverer.
3. The awful guiltiness of the sinner. It shuts out its proprietor, its rightful Lord.
III. His aim in reference to the soul. It is not to destroy it; but to come into it and identify Himself with all its feelings, aspirations, and interests.
1. Inhabitation. “I will come unto him.” We are perpetually letting people into our hearts. How pleased we are if some illustrious personage will enter our humble homes and sit down with us, etc.
2. Identification. “Sup with him and he with Me.” I will be at home with him, be one with him. A conventionally great man deems it a condescension to enter the house of an inferior--he never thinks of identifying himself with the humble inmate. Christ does this with the soul that lets Him in. He makes its cares His own. (Homilist.)
The illustrious Visitor
I. The great kindness of the Redeemer to man.
1. Compassion for man.
2. Condescension to man.
3. Communion with man. The Saviour does not come as a stranger, He comes as a friend and a guest.
4. The consummation of man. He takes possession of our spirits to make them perfect and glorious. This will be the perfecting of our humanity, the consummation of all our best and brightest hopes and capacities.
II. The great unkindness of man to the Redeemer.
1. Ignorance is the cause in some cases why the visit of the Saviour is not welcomed. If the ignorance be involuntary and unavoidable, then it is not culpable; but if it be the result of a voluntary refusal to know who the Saviour is, and what His knocking means, then it shows great unkindness to the Redeemer, and is regarded by Him as a great sin.
2. Another cause is indifference. Some know that it is the Saviour standing at the door of their hearts; but they are so absorbed with other engagements, they are so careless about the unseen and eternal, that they let Him stand outside, and make no effort to let Him in.
3. Another cause is unbelief.
4. Prejudice is another cause of the unkindness of man to the Redeemer. The Cross is an offence to many. Prejudice blinds the eyes and hardens the heart and prevents man seeing Jesus as He really is--“the chief among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely.”
5. The last cause of unkindness we will mention is ingratitude. (F. W. Brown.)
Christ at the door
I. Friendship with God is proposed as the grand privilege of the race.
1. The friendship which God offers is on entirely a human plane. Christian life is only a transfiguration of every-day life.
2. The friendship which God proposes is permanent in its continuance.
II. An undoubted proof of the Divine sincerity.
1. You see this in the fact that the entire proposal comes from Him. The grace of this transaction is absolutely marvellous.
2. You see this in the successive and persistent endeavours to bring this friendship within reach of the soul.
III. The assurance of the entire fulness of the atonement. There is no restriction in the offers of Divine grace.
1. There is no limit on the human side. If any man will open his heart, the Saviour will come in.
2. There is positively no limit on the Divine side either. The offer is made in terms utterly without restriction.
IV. An explicit recognition of human free agency under the plan of salvation by grace. It is well to inquire why it is He thus pauses on the threshold.
1. It is not because He is unable to force His way in. There is no opposition so violent that He could not crush it beneath His Omnipotent might.
2. The reason for the Divine forbearance is found in the inscrutable counsels of the Divine wisdom. In the beginning, He drew one line around His own action. He determined to create a class of beings who should have minds and hearts of their own. A free chance to choose between serving Him and resisting Him He now gives to every one of us. And when He had thus established men in being, He sovereignly decided never to interfere with the free-will He had bestowed.
V. If any man is finally lost, the responsibility rests upon his own soul. The Saviour has come so far, but it is perfectly clear He is coming no further.
1. Observe how unbeclouded is the final issue. There can be no mystery, there is no mistake about it. The Providence of God always clears the way up to the crisis, removing every side-consideration which can possibly confuse it. Education that fits for usefulness is a demand for usefulness; the love of our children is a hint for us to love God as children; social position, wealth, official station, accomplishments, popular favour; whoever has any of these ought to hear in them the accents of that quiet voice speaking to his heart: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.”
2. Observe the ease of the condition required of us. It is only to open the door. Great things under the gospel are always simple.
3. Observe then, finally, what it is that keeps the Saviour out. Nothing but will. This is the inspired declaration: “Ye will not come unto Me, that ye might have life.” That is, you set a definite purpose against the purpose of grace. Christ came and you resisted Him. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Christ knocking at the door of the soul
I. That there is in the human soul a door for the entrance of the truth.
1. The intellect. Is not the theology of the Bible in its broad outlines reasonable? Christ, in the evidence, enlightenment, and conviction of the truth, stands knocking at the mind of man, and the greater the knowledge of the truth, the louder is the appeal for entrance.
2. The heart. Man is endowed with the capability of love and sympathy. He has warm affections. He is so constituted as to be attracted by the pathetic and the beautiful. Hence, he looks out upon nature with admiring eye. And it is to this capability in man that the truth appeals. It presents to him an ideal beauty in the life of Christ, as recorded by the gospel narrative, which ought to win his spirit into an imitation of the same.
3. The conscience. Man has the ability to turn his natural judgment to moral and spiritual questions, and this is what we mean by conscience. To this faculty the truth presents its requirements; convinces of failure in the devotion of the inner life to Christ; and spreads out before it the threat of avenging justice.
4. But, strange to say, the door of the soul is closed to the entrance of the truth. The door of the mind is closed by error, by ignorance, and by prejudice. The door of the heart is shut by pride, by unbelief, and by wilful sin. The door of the conscience is barred by a continued habit of evil.
II. That at the door of the human soul truth makes continued appeals for entrance.
1. This appeal of truth is authoritative. Truth comes to men with authority, even with the claim of a sinless life, and with the emphasis of a Divine voice. Its distinguished character should gain for it an immediate and hearty welcome into the soul, as a king should be welcomed into a cottage. But truth comes to men not only with the authority of character, but also with the authority of right. The faculties of the human mind were made to receive it.
2. The appeal of Truth is patient. Other guests have entered--wealth in splendid apparel, ambition with loud clamour, and pride with haughty mien--but Christ with gentle spirit has remained without. His patience has been co-extensive with our neglect of Him. It is Divine.
3. The appeal of truth is benevolent. The truth does not seek to enter the soul of man merely to spy out its moral defilement, to pass woful sentence on its evil-doings, but to cleanse it by the Holy Spirit, to save it by grace, to enlighten it by knowledge, and to cheer it by love.
4. The appeal of truth is heard. “And knock.” Knocks at the door are generally heard. And certainly this is the case in reference to the advent of Christ to the soul. It is impossible to live in this land of religious light and agency without being conscious of Divine knockings at the portal of the soul.
III. That the human soul has the ability of choice as to whether it will open its door for the entrance of the truth or not.
1. The door of the soul will not be opened by any coercive methods. Does it not seem strange that Christ should have the key of the soul and yet stand without? This is only explained by the free agency of man. But though He enter not to dwell, the soul is visited by spiritual influences which are the universal heritage of man.
2. The door of the soul must be opened by moral methods. Calm reflection, earnest prayer, and a diligent study of the inspired Word, together with the gentle influences of the Divine Spirit, will open the soul to the entrance of Christ (Acts 16:14).
IV. That if the human soul will open its door to the reception of the truth, Christ will enter into close communion with it.
1. Then Christ will inhabit the soul. “I will come in to him.” Thus, if Christ come into the soul He will dwell in its thoughts, in its affections, in its aspirations, in its aims, and in all its activities. He will elevate and consecrate them all. True religion just means this, Christ in the soul, and its language is (Galatians 2:20).
2. Then Christ will be in sympathy with the soul. “And will sup with him.” It is impossible to have a feast in the soul unless Christ spreads the table; then the meal is festive. It removes sorrow; it inspires joy. While we are partaking of it we can relate to Christ all the perplexities of life. The good man carries a feast within him (John 4:32).
3. Then Christ will strengthen the soul. He will strengthen the moral nature by the food He will give, by the counsel He will impart, and by the hope He will inspire. The feast, the supply of holy energy will be resident within. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The self-invited Guest
I. That, in the dispensation of the Gospel, Christ is the uninvited guest, pleading for admission. Whatever acquaintance any of us may have with Jesus, the acquaintance began on His side: by Him are the first overtures invariably made.
1. The written gospel is a proof of it.
2. The Christian ministry is another proof.
3. The strivings of His Spirit are another instance of this. In the two former cases, His approach can more easily be avoided.
II. That consent alone is required, on our part, to give us a full participation in His friendship.
1. The consent which is required.
2. The friendship which is offered. (J. Jowett, M. A.)
Christ at the door of the heart
“Behold!” The sight is indeed a most astonishing one, which ought to fill our hearts with surprise and shame. God outside; He who ought to be recognised as Lord and Master of the human being, to whom we owe everything. I question whether there is any revelation made to us in the whole course of God’s Word that more strongly illustrates the persevering love of God. The love of God is not content with redeeming a guilty world, but He brings the redemption to the door of every human being. How, it is natural we should ask, is this extraordinary phenomenon to be explained? If we look at the context, we discover what the explanation is. “Thou sayest, I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.” Ah! it is in those words that the clue is found to the extraordinary spectacle. I cannot understand a man going on, year after year, realising his own inward want, and yet not accepting the supply which God has given. How is it that Satan prevents this? How is it that he brings us to the position which is indicated to us by this figure? By filling us with all sorts of things which are not God. What are they? Some make their religion a substitute for God. That is one of the very worst substitutes that we can possibly fix upon. Again, how many persons there are who find an excellent substitute for Christ in morality. A man may have kept all the Ten Commandments, and yet, all the while, be shutting the door of his heart against Christ, and if a man does that, he keeps the letter of the Commandments, but not the spirit. Again, how many there are who take worldly pleasures as a substitute for God. Another thing set up in the place of God is the love of wealth. What is there that money cannot do? Another man puts learning in the place of God. What is there that intelligence cannot do? All these attempts to create substitutes, what are they? They are simply so many sins against your own soul. It would not have been at all a thing to be marvelled at, if we had read this passage thus: “The Lord once stood outside the door and knocked.” Had the Lord Jesus Christ given us one offer of mercy, and given one loud, thundering “knock,” and, being refused, left us to take the consequence, left us to our own miserable doom, you know we should have deserved it. Oh, deafen not your ears, men and women, against His call: do not be so blind to your own interest as to keep Him standing there: listen to what He says, “If any man hear My voice.” Notice that. He does not say, “If any man makes himself moral; if any man will try and make himself better.” That is not it, thank God! “If any man will shed oceans of tears.” No, that is not it. “If any man has deep sorrow.” No, that is not it. “If any man has powerful faith.” No, that is not it, What is it He says? “If any man will hear My voice.” As the preacher is speaking now, say, “God is speaking to my soul; He is speaking in all the infinity of His mercy: I cannot, I won’t deafen my ear against Him.” Well, as soon as the man hears the voice, he is on the highway to salvation. What more is wanted? Just one thing more. “If any man hear My voice, and will open unto Me.” It does not sound very much, does it? “Ah, but,” you say, “faith is so difficult. One man says, faith is this, and another says it is another thing.” Do you think the Lord Jesus Christ will stand back if you say that? I tell you, you will find those bolts and bars will fly back the moment you tell Him you are willing. Now, what are you going to do? Nay, what will He do? He says, “If any man will open to Me, I will come in.” Well, what will He do? Young man! you are thinking to yourself, “I should like to have Jesus as my Saviour, but if He comes to my heart He will bring a funeral procession with Him; my countenance will fall, my life will be overshadowed, my joy will be gone; my youthful pleasures will disappear, and I shall become mournful and morose.” I tell you that is the devil’s lie, not God’s truth. Wherever Jesus is, He carries a feast along with Him, and so He says to-night, “If any man will open unto Me, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.” (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
Christ at the door of the heart
This door, at which the Saviour knocks, is the heart of man. In the gospel there is more than enough to give full exercise to the most powerful intellect: yet the final aim is at the heart. What the heart is, that the man is; he who wins the heart has the whole man. The door is the sinner’s heart. That door is closed against Christ. He stands, and knocks. First, observe that it is the Lord who comes to us men, not we to Him. He not only comes to that door; He stands there waiting; nor doth He only stand and wait, but meekly standing thus and waiting, He knocks. So deeply does He long for entrance, that it is hard to make Him go. Canst thou not recall an hour, in which thy Saviour came to thee, and asked for entrance into thy thoughts and thy life? Many are called while yet children. The mind and heart of children are readier for the Lord than those of hardened men and women. Christ knocks at the hearts of children; if they do not open unto Him at that time, they may not do so until after many years; they may never do so, not even in the hour of death. “If any man hear My voice!” Can this be imagined, that any should not hear? or worse, that any would not hear? “The voice of the Lord is mighty in operation,” saith the psalmist: “the voice of the Lord is a glorious voice.” That voice may call; something within the heart may deaden the sound or shut it out. How dreadful is the state of such a soul! Marvel not, with this history before you, that the door is shut. The longer the heart is closed against its God, the harder to open it. The processes of nature have their due effect; the elements do their work in silence and surely; a work which every day makes more effectual. The bars, long stationary, rust in the staples; some time since, a child might have slipped them out and laid them aside; now, the strength of a man would essay the task in vain. The rains and snows of many a season have beaten into the lock and choked it up. In former days, a path led to this door; a path by which the good angels could reach it, and all honest Christian friends; a pathway, pleasant to the eye, fresh with flowers, clean of rubbish, and easy to be found. Alas! how great the change I The pathway now is rough with stones, or seems to be, for so rankly is it overgrown with weeds, that its outline is all but lost. Breasthigh on either hand are come up the briar and the thorn; the wall crumbles; it is grey with mould; an aspect of desolation weighs down the spirit as we gaze. Who would walk on yonder pathway? Who would try to approach that door? Yet there is One, who cometh up this way. He looks toward that closed and rusted door; He turns His holy feet to that forsaken path. His face is grave and sad, earnest, and full of love. He hath on Him the vesture of the High Priest who maketh intercession for sin. He is coming up the path. He has reached the gate. Behold, He standeth at the door. Without, around, all is silence. He knocks. Oh soul thus called by Jesus Christ, what answer wilt thou make? Perhaps there shall be no reply. The knock resounds within: the voice is heard outside; but within there is silence: neither knock nor voice can reach the ear of the spiritually dead. The door may shake in its rusty hinges; the bars may creak in the staples; but none comes to open. No wonder. There is nothing inside, save that worse than nothing, a dead soul; dead in sin, and buried in forgetfulness. (Morgan Dix, D. D.)
The Saviour knocking at the door
I. Who knocks? The Son of God, Immanuel, the Mediator betwixt God and man, the Prince of Peace, the Lord of glory, the Redeemer of the lost, Almighty to save, and all-sufficient to satisfy your souls. What hinders that you should not let Him in?
II. Different hearts are bolted with different bars. Some are closed by carelessness, and some by ignorance, and some by indolence, and some by frivolity, and some by prejudice, and some by pride, and some by strong besetting sins.
III. Were you to yield to the striving spirit--were you to withdraw these bolts, and admit into your soul a mighty and merciful Redeemer, what would be the consequence? Pardon of sin would come. Peace of conscience would come. The smile of God would come into your soul. (James Hamilton, D. D.)
Christ standing at the door
I. Who is he?
1. It is clear that He is some one of importance. “Behold,” He says, “I stand at the door; I who could never have been expected to stand there.” He speaks, you observe, as though His coming to us would surprise us; just as we might suppose a monarch to speak at a beggar’s door. And there is a reason for this. It is the glorious Redeemer who is here, the Monarch of earth and heaven. See then how this text sets forth at the very outset of it the Divine mercy. We think it a great thing that God should sit on a throne waiting for sinners to come to Him, but here He describes Himself as coming to sinners.
II. What is the Lord Jesus doing at our door?
1. On our part, it implies this mournful fact, that our hearts are all naturally shut against Christ, yea, fastened, bolted, and barred, against Him.
2. On Christ’s part, this expression implies a willingness to enter our hearts; and more than a willingness, an earnest desire to enter them.
III. What does this gracious stranger at our door wish us to do?
IV. What will this exalted being at our door do for us, if we let him in?
1. “I will come in to him.” There His presence is promised, and with it the light and comfort and bliss and glory of it.
2. “I will sup with him, and he with Me.” This implies a manifestation of Christ in the heart He dwells in, and intercourse and communion with it. (James Hamilton, M. A.)
At the door
I. Who stands? An ancient patriarch, by keeping open heart and open house for strangers, was privileged to entertain angels unawares. This day we may obtain s visit of the Lord of angels, if only we will let Him in.
II. How near he comes. “Behold, I stand at the door.” We are not much moved by anything that is far distant. Whether the visitant be coming for judgment or mercy, we take the matter lightly, as long as he is far away. A distant enemy does not make us tremble--a distant friend fails to make us glad. When your protector is distant, you tremble at danger; when he is near, you breathe freely again. How near the Son of God has come to us! He is our Brother: He touches us, and we touch Him, at all points.
III. How far off he is kept. “At the door.” He in great kindness comes to the door; we in great folly keep Him at the door. The sunlight travels far from its source in the deep of heaven--so far, that though it can be expressed in figures, the imagination fails to take in the magnitude of the sum; but when the rays of light have travelled unimpeded so far, and come to the door of my eye, if I shut that door--a thin film of flesh--the light is kept out, and I remain in darkness. Alas l the light that travelled so far, and came so near--the Light that sought entrance into my heart, and that I kept out--was the Light of life! If I keep out that Light, I abide in the darkness of death: there is no salvation in any other.
IV. He knocks for entrance. It is more than the kindness of His coming and the patience of His waiting. Besides coming near, He calls aloud: He does not permit us to forget His presence.
V. Many things hinder the hearing. Other thoughts occupy the mind; other sounds occupy the car. Either joy or grief may become a hindrance. The song of mirth and the wail of sorrow may both, by turns, drown the voice of that blessed Visitant who stands without and pleads for admission.
VI. Hear, and open. Hearing alone is not enough. It is not the wrath of God, but His mercy in Christ, that melts the iron fastenings and lifts up these shut gates, that the King of Glory may come in. The guilty refuse to open for Christ, even when they hear Him knocking. They have hard thoughts of Him. They think He comes to demand a righteousness which they cannot give, and to bind them over to the judgment because they cannot pay. God is love, and Christ is the outcome of His forgiving love to lost men. He comes to redeem you, and save you. It is when you know Him thus that you will open at His call. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
The heavenly Stranger received
I. “If any man hear my voice.”
1. That the voice of Christ is either external or internal; or, that which is addressed to the senses only, and that which reaches the heart.
2. The internal voice of Christ is various, according to the different circumstances of the persons to whom it is directed. To some it is an awakening voice: it rouses them from their carnal security. To those who are bowed down with a sense of sin, and wounded with the fiery darts of Divine wrath, it is a healing and comforting voice.
3. In order to hear His voice aright, our hearts must be renewed. Dead sinners cannot hear the voice of Christ; but His is a life-giving voice, and what it commands it communicates.
II. And open the door.
III. “I will come in to him.”
He not only comes near to the soul to converse with it, but into it to dwell there, and becomes the vital principle of all holy obedience.
IV. “And I will sup with him, and he with Me.” (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The heart a house
Your heart is a house with many rooms; one apartment is decorated for the occupancy of pride; in another one covetousness may keep its iron safe; on the walls of another, perhaps, sensuality has hung some pictures that, if Christ enter, must be pulled down. Unbelief has chilled and darkened the whole house. Satan has a mortgage on the whole of it, and by and by will foreclose it. An enormous amount of sin has accumulated in every room and closet, for you have never had a “house-cleaning” since you were born. To that dwelling-place of sin, which may yet become a dwelling-place of endless anguish, my loving Saviour has come again. If you will stop the turmoil of business, or the noise of merriment long enough to listen, you will hear a marvellously sweet voice outside, “Behold, I stand here and knock; if thou wilt open this door I will come in.” Christ without means guilt; Christ within means pardon. Christ without means condemnation; Christ within means salvation. Christ shut out means hell; Christ admitted is the first instalment of heaven. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
Christ dwelling in the heart
A widow woman lives by herself in a little cottage by the seashore. Of all whom she loved, only one survives--a lad at sea; all the rest have passed “from sunshine to the sunless land.” She has not set her eyes upon him for years. But her heart is full of him. She thinks of him by day, and dreams of him by night. His name is never missed out from her prayers. The winds speak about him; the stars speak about him; the waves speak about him, both in storm and calm. No one has difficulty in understanding how her boy dwells in her heart. Let that stand as a parable of what may be for every believer in the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (J. Culross, D. D.)
He knocks at our heart
Jesus stands at our gate and knocks, and there are many who never open to Him at all, and many more who open the door but slightly. The latter, while they may receive blessing, yet miss the fulness of Divine revealing which would flood their souls with love; the former miss altogether the sweetest benediction of life. (J. R. Miller, D. D.)
Whilst a man is standing He is going. (J. Trapp.)
Many fastenings to the sinner’s heart
When we were in Dublin, I went out one morning to an early meeting, and I found the servants had not opened the front door. So I pulled back a bolt, but I could not get the door open. Then I turned s key, but the door would not open. Then I found there was another bolt at the top, then I found there was another bolt at the bottom. Still the door would not open. Then I found there was a bar, and then I found a night-lock. I found there were five or six different fastenings. I am afraid that door represents every sinner’s heart. The door of his heart is locked, double-bolted, and barred. (D. L. Moody.)
The King slighted
When your King and Lord comes to claim the homage of your hearts, and to pay you a royal visit, you receive His message with coldness and indifference. You treat Him as the people of Alsace and Lorraine treated the Emperor of Germany and the Crown Prince after the Franco-Prussian war, when they pulled down their blinds, and locked and bolted their doors, and sat in gloomy silence as the emperor passed. They had some excuse for refusing to see him, as they were a conquered people, and his presence reminded them of their humiliation and defeat. But there is no excuse for you. (Isaac Marsden.)
God respects man’s freedom
It was said by a celebrated orator in the House of Lords a century ago, that an Englishman’s house is his castle, that the winds of heaven might enter by every window, that the rains might penetrate through every cranny, but that not even the sovereign of the land dare enter into it, however humble, without its owner’s permission. God treats you in the same way. He says, “Willingly open your heart to Me, and I will give you every blessing; but I must be made welcome.” (G. Warner.)
At the door
In Holman Hunt’s great picture called “The Light of the World,” we see One with gentle, patient face, standing at a door, which is ivy-covered, as if long closed. He is girt with the priestly breastplate. He bears in His hand the lamp of truth. He stands and knocks. There is no answer, and He still stands and knocks. His eye tells of love; His face beams with yearning. You look closely and you perceive that there is no knob or latch on the outside of the door. It can be opened only from within. Do you not see the meaning? (J. R. Miller, D. D.)
To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me.
The Christian raised to the throne of Christ
I. “To him that overcometh”; this supposes a conflict.
1. You must contend against yourself. The main battle is fought on the field of your own heart. Your closest foes are the affections which struggle there.
2. Allied with your heart and habits stands the world. God has so mercifully made us that we hail as a light upon our path the beam of kindliness in the eye of a fellow man. Even this will be turned against you.
3. But self and the world are but visible weapons of an invisible hand. Behind them, setting their edge and thrusting them home, is your great adversary the devil. Watchful when you are drowsy, plotting when you are unsuspicious, laying snares when you are tripping heedlessly, bending the bow when you are exposing your breast, he is ever going about seeking to devour.
II. Here we have a promise to stimulate us to overcome.
1. Whatever this promise means, it must mean at least that the faithful Christian will be received into the immediate presence of his Lord. And this is a thought you must set well before you.
2. But as you linger on these words of promise your heart feels that they tell of more than merely of the abundant entrance. “I will grant to sit with Me in My throne.” Ah I this seems, you think, to say that you shall be wondrously close to Him.
3. This seems to declare also that, if faithful, you shall share at last in the very honours which Invest your adorable Head.
4. But, lingering still on this rich promise, your heart gathers from it another assurance, and one that to us in our struggles is wondrous sweet. “In His throne,” you repeat, “in His throne,” what foe can approach me there? In this wide world I can find no inviolable rest. But “on His throne,” surely eternal repose dwells there.
III. Here you have the example set before you for your encouragement.
1. Your Captain does not lead you to a warfare in which He is a stranger. You will meet no foe whom He has not met.
2. Consider, then, the example of Him who passed through every kind of temptation which can assail you, and in a degree of aggravation to which it is not possible that you should be liable. His victory is the pledge of yours, for His strength is your strength, and your only foes are His vanquished assailants. (W. Arthur, M. A.)
The condition of celestial kingship
This is the promise of the ascended, victorious, crowned, and almighty Saviour to men whom He would have imitate and reproduce the life which He lived while upon the earth. This promise implies that life is a struggle with foes which assail it for the mastery. This truth has its illustrations in all forms and spheres of life. Many fail where one succeeds. The higher you rise in any sphere in life the smaller do the classes become. There are more Canadian thistles than Yosemite pines. There are more ants than eagles. There are more men who can read and write than can weigh the planets in scales and call them by name, paint a Madonna, build a Parthenon, write an epic. So there are more men who succeed in temporal pursuits than attain grand Christian characters and live a Christlike life. The first great truth implied in our text is, if men would live that higher life which is governed by the principles of the gospel and in the eternal world sit down with their Lord and Master on His throne, they must resist the temptations which assail them, vanquish the foes which would destroy them. The dangers which beset each one in this life-battle are special. The rock on which your neighbour struck, the reef on which your friend lies stranded, may not imperil your safety because you are steering in another direction. There are men whose integrity money could not buy, in whose keeping the uncounted millions of the mints and treasury of the nations would be safe. But there are others who are ready at any moment to part with reputation, character, aye, sell their very souls for its possession. Take spirituous liquor. There are some to whom in any form it is as distasteful as vitriol, as poisonous as croton oil. There are others--God pity them!--in whom the appetite is so fierce, powerful, overmastering, that if they saw a glass of rum on one side of the mouth of hell, and they stood on the other side, they would leap across, at the risk of falling in, to get it. There are two things which differentiate and specialise each human being’s danger. The first is natural constitution. No one denies the law of heredity, that physical resemblances, mental aptitudes, and moral qualities are transmissible, and sometimes travel down family and national lines for centuries. But while a man may inherit tainted blood and receive a legacy of disabilities from his progenitors, it does not relieve him from personal responsibility. What are the weak points in your character? In the presence of what temptations do you most easily surrender? Along what lines does your constitutional predisposition to wrongdoing lie? As you confront these weaknesses the command of the great Saviour of souls is, “Overcome.” On this your salvation depends. The second thing which differentiates and specialises each man’s peril is providential circumstances. John Stuart Mill was carefully trained by his father in childhood and boyhood in the principles of atheism. Young Mill had no voice in determining the character of his childhood instruction. But did that fact relieve the future philosopher of responsibility in adhering to and teaching others the principles of atheism? Your greatest peril may lie wrapped up in some providential event which you had no voice in shaping and which you must meet. It may be money. It may be family alliances. It may be social relationships. It may be a business crisis--such a business crisis as sometimes reveals the whole moral mechanism of the man. I know not whether your inherited qualities of mind and moral aptitudes are helps or hindrances to you in life’s battle. I do not know the revealing tests to which a searching Providence may subject you. But I do know that special dangers lie along your pathway and menace your eternal well-being; dangers which you must conquer if you would enter yonder pearly gate and sit down with your Lord on His throne. The text affords glorious encouragement in the blessed assurance that it is possible for men in this life-battle to overcome. The success possible in the text rests on surer foundations than human resources or individual reserve power. It rests on the truthfulness and sincerity of Jesus. He does not mock men by laying down impossible conditions of salvation. That God is on the side of the man who is struggling to preserve his purity, maintain his integrity, and vanquish what is wrong both within him and without him, is a truth taught with increasing clearness from Eden to Calvary. Observe the greatness and grandeur of the reward of him who overcomes: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne.” Can you conceive of a greater incentive to be offered man than this promise of eternal participation in the regal splendours of heaven? Turning to the practical suggestions of this subject, notice that religion is a personal matter which has to do with individual character. Each one must overcome the obstacles which lie in his pathway. Yea can never understand how much Christ is to men until you realise your danger, feel your helplessness, and experience His saving power. You can never appreciate the towering sublimity of His peerless life until you attempt to walk in His footsteps and regulate your life by the same principles which controlled His life. The essence of the Christian religion is life, life shaped and controlled by supreme love to God and love for fellow-men equal to the love cherished for self. (T. McCullagh, D. D.)
The conqueror’s reward
I. The character of the Christian. It is that of a soldier--a successful soldier. His life is a warfare. It was such unquestionably in the days of the apostles. And what is the case now? The antipathy of the carnal mind may be restrained or softened by the influence of knowledge and the force of conviction, but the fact is still patent that we must take up our cross if we will win the crown. Our enemies within, whatever they may be without, am neither few nor weak. And to subvert our eternal salvation is the one thing in which they are all united. We have, therefore, the greatest need of caution and courage. One thing must be ever borne in mind, namely, our constant dependence upon God. As long as we abide beneath the wing of Omnipotence we are secure.
II. The reward which shall be adjudged to the successful warrior. He shall sit down with the Saviour on His throne.
1. The promise may be understood to shadow forth the future dignity of the conquering Christian. He shalt sit down with his Lord, and on the same throne. The faithful unto death shall thus be exalted above the angels of God.
2. The imagery in the promise is intended to indicate the future holiness of the saints. Wherever God is there is purity itself.
3. The promise before us is expressive of the future happiness of believers. There we shall behold a sky without a cloud, light without shadow, and flowers without a thorn. (American National Preacher.)
The victory and the crown
I. The battle. Common life in this world is a warfare.
1. It is inner warfare, private, solitary, with no eye upon the warrior.
2. It is outer warfare. The enemies are legion.
3. It is daily warfare; not one great battle, but a multitude of battles. The enemy wearies not, ceases not, nor must we.
4. It is warfare not fought with human arms.
5. It is warfare in which we are sharers with Christ.
II. The victory. Here it is spoken of as one great final victory, but in reality it is a multitude. As are the battles so are the victories.
III. The reward.
1. A throne. Not salvation merely, or life, but higher than these--glory, honour, dominion, and power. From being the lowest here they are made the highest hereafter.
2. Christ’s throne. He has a seat on the Father’s throne as the reward of His victory, we have a seat on His as the reward of ours. We are sharers or “partakers with Christ” in all things. We share His battles, His victories, His rewards, His cross, and His crown. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The great victory
I. A life of Christian holiness is possible.
II. It is not to be sustained without vigorous and persevering efforts.
1. The natural inaptitude and aversion of the unrenewed heart to the things of God and eternal life.
2. The world is against us.
3. The life of man is often the scene of distress.
III. The encouragements to a holy and Christian life held out to us in the religion of Jesus are manifold and great.
1. In this arduous undertaking we are not left without assistance.
2. Multitudes of our fellow-men have already accomplished salvation, and are for ever with the Lord.
3. Whatever of warfare and pain may attend the Christian life they who maintain it are already the happiest of men.
4. Viewed aright it is matter of encouragement that the strife will soon be over.
5. What a vast reward awaits the faithful. (James Bromley.)
The Christian conqueror
The word used here for “conqueror” does not imply one who has conquered. It is literally, “He that is conquering I will give to him to sit with Me.” While the battle is raging he shall have My peace, while he is but starting he shall be at the goal--as the boy has his prizes and his scholarships not because he is a finished scholar but because he is longing and learning to be one. And as this continues all through life to be the law of life, so in the kingdom that is coming effort is victory and victory is only encouragement. (Abp. Benson.)
“To him that overcometh.” There is a tendency very common which these words may be taken to warn us against--that of settling down to the daily round of our lives without appeal to anything high or holy in purpose. Do not listen for a moment to those who tell you that the struggle is not worth engaging in. “To him that overcometh.” Men have tried different ways to accomplish this. A favourite way in the history of the early Christian Church was to withdraw actually from the world, to seek the solitude of some cave or monastery. Others who would think it very wrong to do this, spend the greater part of their leisure in attending religious meetings and reading their Bibles, and tell you that the chief end of man in this world is by these methods to prepare for the next. Both of these attempts to overcome the world are based on a misconception. The text says to us that we are to overcome the world even as I (Jesus) overcame. Now in what way did our Saviour overcome the world? Not after the manner of the religious ascetic. His life was in the main lived among ordinary men and women in the ordinary vocations of life. If the life of Jesus had been that of a hermit or a monk, He would never have been called a friend of publicans and sinners. If, again, He had been a constant attendant at religious meetings, noonday, and evening, or had divided His life between keenness for this world’s success in money-making and eagerness for the salvation of His soul for the next, He would never have been put to death. No, it was because He was so zealous to overcome the world--the world of religious selfishness and of worldly selfishness alike--it was because He was devoting Himself amid the ordinary pursuits of life to bring about the kingdom of God. It is, of course, not to be forgotten that there are means, such as the reading of the Bible, attendance on public worship, prayer, and fellowship with those who are like-minded, which, if rightly used, will help us for the battle we have to fight. It is by forgetting that these are only means that men become hypocrites, and the form of religion becomes the all in all. When we realise what Christ meant by “the world” and what He meant by the kingdom of God, we will take a more enlightened view of what our duty is, and we will strive more eagerly to achieve the victory. Think of how many men and women are hindered from overcoming the world--that is, sin in all its forms--by the conditions under which they are made by a selfish society to live. How can men and women hope to realise the Christlike life if they are forced to toil from morning to night, and then to sleep in badly ventilated houses, only to rise again to the same round of unrelieved drudgery? Those who to-day are endeavouring to bring about a better state of affairs, who are trying to realise to some small degree that part of the kingdom of God which consists in better houses and more healthful surroundings for the toilers in our midst are doing quite as much to enable men to overcome the world--the world of vice, of drunkenness, of coarseness--as those who attend to what are considered more strictly the needs of the soul. There is another idea in the text: “To him that overcometh.” That is the battle. The reward follows: “I will give him to sit down with Me in My throne.” It was because Christ had so completely overcome--had so unreservedly rendered up His own will to the will of His Heavenly Father--that we find such a royal, kingly sense of self-conquest pervading His entire life. Jesus Christ could not have brought so much of the kingdom of God into this world, He could not have foreseen with so much confidence a time when it would be universally established, had He not had it reigning within Himself. Throughout His life there was an air of kingly majesty that makes Him as secure as if He sat and reigned upon a throne, while all around Him seemed to indicate defeat and disaster. Whence did this come but from His oneness with the Father? Whence can we hope to receive it but from the same high, never-failing source? (W. Martin.)
A commonwealth of kings
When Cyneas, the ambassador of Pyrrhus, after his return from Rome, was asked by his master, “What he thought of the city and state,” he answered, “that it seemed to him to be a state of none but great statesmen, and a commonwealth of kings.” Such is heaven--no other than a parliament of emperors, a commonwealth of kings: every humble faithful soul in that kingdom is co-heir with Christ, hath a robe of honour, and a sceptre of power, and a throne of majesty, and a crown of glory. (J. Spencer.)
The future dominion of victors
“So you intend to be a reformer of men’s morals, young man,” said an aged peer to Wilberforce. “That,” and he pointed to a picture of the crucifixion, “that is the end of reformers.” “Is it? I have read in an old Book this, ‘I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.’ That is the end, not death, but dominion. And if we be faithful, doing our duty, the end shall not be exhaustion, but ‘sit with Me on My throne.’“ (Sunday School Chronicle.)
The Christian promise of empire
“To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me on My throne.” These words bear the stamp of their environment. They were written at a time when the ideal of all men was the possession of a throne. Alike to the Roman and to the Jew the dream of life was the dream of dominion. The son of Israel contemplated his Messiah who should make him ruler over all nations. The son of Rome was eager to complete his almost finished work of universal empire. But from another point of view it was in striking contrast to both. Who were the men that claimed to be the recipients of this promise? A baud of obscure slaves. To the proud Roman leading his armies to victory, to the proud Jew counting his ancestors by hundreds, there must have been something almost grotesque in the claim. Must it not to the age in which they lived have appeared the presumption of insanity? Nor is it only to a Roman age that the claim of this passage seems to suggest the idea of presumption. Must it not appear so at all times to every man? The throne, as I have said, is a throne of judgment. How can any human soul aspire to such a seat? Is not the state of the Christian one of humility? Does not the amount of the humility increase in proportion as the Christianity grows? Have not the most purely spiritual souls been precisely those most conscious of their sin? It is in the incipient stages of the Christian life that we find ambition. But let us look deeper. I think we shall find that we have altogether mistaken the meaning of the passage, and that the John of the Apocalypse is nowhere more like the John of the Gospel than in his present claim to Christian empire. So far from being influenced by the old feeling of presumption, he is actuated by the direct desire to avoid that feeling. His position is that, instead of being presumption to claim a seat on God’s judgment throne, it is presumption that prevents the Church of Laodicea from having a right to claim it. If that Church would adopt more humility, it would be more entitled to a place on the throne. “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.” What is the state of mind here indicated? It is poverty unconscious of itself. It is the description of a Church which has no elements of strength within it, but which believes itself to be strong just because it has never been tried. Accordingly in verse 18 He says, “I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich.” Nothing could reveal the weakness but exposure to the fire And first, let us consider that, as a matter of fact, every man has seated himself on a throne of judgment. The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is not the occupation of a throne. It is that the occupation of the one is legal, and the occupation of the other usurped. Every man by nature has constituted himself the judge of other men. But to all such the seer of Patmos exclaims, “Come down from that throne; you have no right to be there; you have not overcome.” He tells them that until they have felt the temptations of their own nature they are in no condition to judge others. Now, the next question is, what would be the effect of what is here called overcoming--of vanquishing the temptation? It would clearly be to transform a throne of judgment into a throne of grace. For, be it observed, the value of overcoming is not the victory but the struggle. There are two ways in which a man may reach freedom from temptation--by innocence or by virtue, by never having known or by having known and vanquished. If mere freedom from temptation were the goal, we ought to be content with the first. What makes the overcoming better than the innocence is the fact that in struggle we learn our weakness, and that in learning our weakness the throne of judgment becomes a throne of mercy. And now the passage takes a remarkable turn. To the inspired ear of the seer of Patmos the Christ who offers the conditions of empire is heard declaring that He Himself has reached empire by conforming to these conditions, “even as I also overcame and am set down with My Father on His throne.” There is something startling here. There seems at first sight to be no analogy between the case of Christ and the case of ordinary men. Now, Jesus was tempted; that is one of the cardinal features of the gospel. He was tempted in such a way as to make Him feel the inherent weakness of humanity; that is one of the cardinal features of the Epistle to the Hebrews. But He was tempted also “without sin.” The idea clearly is that His right to judge others rests morally on the fact of His own struggle the struggle with the thought of death. In His dealings with man He acknowledges no power but the sympathetic. And what is the root of universal sympathy? Is it not universal experience? If I would have sympathy with all nations, I must know experimentally the weakness with which all nations contend. Jesus emerges from the conflict with death wider in His human capabilities, stronger in His hold on man. He is able to promise rest to the labouring and the heavy-laden because He has known a kindred labour and felt an analogous ladenness. He has made the law of the Christian life the law of His own spirit: “I also have overcome, and am set down with My Father on His throne.” (George Matheson, D. D.)
Hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches
The Spirit speaking the Church
That there are certain great moral elements by which alone we can determine the character of individuals or of communities.
II. That in proportion to the depth and vitality of holy character will be the struggle with error and with evil.
III. That the rewards and honours of the heavenly state will be determined by the struggles and the conquests of earth. (R. Ferguson, LL. D.)
Visible Churches warned
1. Let me warn all who are living only for the world to take heed what they are doing. You are enemies to Christ, though you may not know it.
2. Let me warn all formalists and self-righteous people to take heed that they are not deceived. Where is your faith? Where are your evidences of a new heart? Where is the work of the Spirit?
3. Let me warn all careless members of Churches to beware lest they trifle their souls into hell.
4. Let me warn every one who wants to be saved not to be content with the world’s standard of religion.
5. Let me warn every one who professes to be a believer in the Lord Jesus not to be content with a little religion. (Bp. Ryle.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Revelation 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26