corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.20.11.25
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture
Revelation 2

 

 


Other Authors
Verse 1

Revelation

THE SEVEN STARS AND THE SEVEN CANDLESTICKS

Revelation 2:1

It is one of the obligations which we owe to hostile criticism that we have been forced to recognize with great clearness the wide difference between the representation of Christ in John’s Gospel and that in the Apocalypse. That there is such a contrast is unquestionable. The Prince of all the kings of the earth, going forth conquering and to conquer, strikes one at once as being unlike the Christ whom the Evangelist painted weeping at the grave of Lazarus. We can afford to recognize the fact, though we demur to the inference that both representations cannot have proceeded from one pen. Surely that is not a necessary conclusion unless the two pictures are contradictory. Does the variety amount to discordance? Unless it does, the variety casts no shadow of suspicion on the common authorship. I, for my part, see no inconsistency in them, and thankfully accept both as completing each other.

This grand vision, which forms the introduction to the whole Book of the Apocalypse, gives us indeed the Lord Jesus clothed with majesty and wielding supreme power, but it also shows us the old love and tenderness. It was the old voice which fell on John’s ear, in words heard from Him before, ‘Fear not.’ It was the same hand as he had often clasped that was lovingly laid upon him to strengthen him. The assurance which He gives His Apostle declares at once the change in the circumstances of His Being, and in the functions which He discharges, and the substantial identity of His Being through all the changes: ‘I am the first, and the last. ... I am the Living One, who was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore.’ This vision and the whole book calls to us, ‘ Behold the Lion of the Tribe of Judah’; and when we look, ‘Lo, in the midst of the throne, stands a Lamb as it had been slain’ ‘the well-known meek and patient Jesus, the suffering Redeemer ‘ the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.’

Still further, this vision is the natural introduction to all that follows, and indeed defines the main purpose of the whole book, inasmuch as it shows us Christ sustaining, directing, dwelling, in His Churches. We are thus led to expect that the remainder of the prophecy shall have the Church of Christ for its chief subject, and that the politics of the world, and the mutations of nations, shall come into view mainly in their bearing upon that.

The words of our text, then, which resumes the principal emblem of the preceding vision, are meant to set forth permanent truths in regard to Christ’s Churches, His relation to them, and theirs to the world, which I desire to bring to your thoughts now. They speak to us of the Churches and their servants, of the Churches and their work, of the Churches and their Lord.

I. We have in the symbol important truths concerning the Churches and their servants.

The seven stars are the angels of the seven Churches. Now I need not spend time in enumerating all the strange and mystical interpretations which have been given to these angels of the Churches. I see no need for taking them to have been anything but men; the recognized heads and representatives of the respective communities. The word ‘angel’ means messenger. Those superhuman beings who are usually designated by it are so called, not to describe their nature, but their function. They are ‘God’s messengers,’ and their name moans only that. Then the word is certainly used, both in its Hebrew and Greek forms, in reference to men. It is applied to priests, and even in one passage, as it would appear, to an officer of the synagogue. If here we find that each Church had its angel, who had a letter addressed to him, who is spoken to in words of rebuke and exhortation, who could sin and repent, who could be persecuted and die, who could fall into heresies and be perfected by suffering, it seems to me a violent and unnecessary hypothesis that a superhuman being is in question. And the name by which he is called need not imply more than his function, that of being the messenger and representative of the Church.

Believing this as the more probable meaning of the phrase, I see in the relations between these men and the little communities to which they belonged an example of what should be found existing between all congregations of faithful men and the officers whom they have chosen, be the form of their polity what it may. There are certain broad principles which must underlie all Christian organizations, and are incomparably more important than the details of Church government.

Note then, first, that the messengers are rulers. They are described in a double manner by a name which expresses subordination, and by a figure which expresses authority. I need not do more than remind you that throughout Scripture, from the time when Balaam beheld from afar the star that should come out of Jacob and the sceptre that should rise out of Israel, that has been the symbol for rulers. It is so notably in this Book of Revelation. Whatever other ideas, then, are connected with its use here, this leading one of authority must not be lost sight of.

But this double representation of these persons as being in one aspect servants and in another rulers, perfectly embodies the very essential characteristic of all office and power in Christ’s Church. It is a repetition in pictorial form of the great principle, so sadly forgotten, which He gave when He said, ‘He that is greatest among you, let him be your servant.’ The higher are exalted that they may serve the lower. Dignity and authority mean liberty for more and more self -forgetting work. Power binds its possessor to toil. Wisdom is stored in one, that from him it may flow to the foolish; strength is given that by its holder feeble hands may be stayed. Noblesse oblige. The King Himself has obeyed the law. ‘Jesus, knowing the Father had given all things into His hands, took a towel, and girded Himself.’ We are redeemed because He came to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many. He is among us ‘as He that serveth.’ God Himself has obeyed the law. He is above all that He may bless all. He, the highest, stoops the most deeply. His dominion is built on love, and stands in giving. And that law which makes the throne of God the refuge of all the weak, and the treasury of all the poor, is given for our guidance in our humble measure. Wheresoever Christian men think more of themselves and of their dignity than of their brethren and their work; wheresoever gifts are hoarded selfishly or selfishly squandered; wheresoever the accidents of authority, its baubles and signature, its worldly consequences, and its pride of place, bulk larger in its possessors’ eyes than its solemn obligations; there the law is broken, and the heathen devilish notion of rule lays waste the Church of God.

The true idea is not certain to be held, nor its tempting counterfeit to be avoided, by any specific form of organization. Wherever there are offices, there will be danger of officialism. Where there are none that will not drive out selfishness. Quakerism and Episcopacy, with every form of Church government that lies between, are in danger from the same source our forgetfulness that in Christ’s kingdom to rule is to serve. All Churches have shown that their messengers could become ‘lords over God’s heritage.’ The true spirit of Christ’s servants is not secured by any theory about the appointment or the duties of the servants, but only by fellowship and sympathy with the Master who helps us all, and cares nothing for any glory which He cannot share with His disciples.

But to be servant of all does not mean to do the bidding of all. The service which imitates Christ is helpfulness, not subjection. Neither the Church is to lord it over the messenger, nor the messenger over the Church. The true bond is broken by official claims of dominion; it is broken just as much by popular claims to control. All alike are to stand free from all men in independence of will, thought, and action; shaping their lives and moulding their beliefs, according to Christ’s will and Christ’s word; and repelling all coercion, from whatsoever quarter it comes. All alike are by love to serve one another; counting every possession, material, intellectual, and spiritual, as given for the general good. The one guiding principle is, ‘He that is chiefest among you, let him be your servant,’ and the other, which guards this from misconstruction and abuse from either side, ‘One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.’

Another point to be observed in this symbol is that the messengers and the churches have at bottom the same work to do.

Stars shine, so do lamps. Light comes from both, in different fashion indeed, and of a different quality, but still both are lights. These are in the Savior’s hands, those are by His side; but each is meant to stream out rays of brightness over a dark night. So, essentially, all Christian men have the same work to do. The ways of doing it differ, but the thing done is one. Whatever be the difference between those who hold offices in God’s Church and the bulk of their brethren, there is no difference here. The loftiest gifts, the most conspicuous position, the closest approach to the central sun, have no other purpose than that which the lowliest powers, in the obscurest corner, are meant to subserve. The one distributing Spirit divides to each man severally as He will; and whether He endows him with star like gifts, which soar above and blaze over half the world with lustre that lives through the centuries, or whether He sets him in some cottage window to send out a tiny cone of light, that pierces a little way into the night for an hour or two, and then is quenched it is all one. The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man for the same purpose to do good with. And we have all one office and function to be discharged by each in his own fashion namely, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus.

Again, observe, the Churches and their messengers are alike in their religious condition and character. The successive letters treat his strength or weakness, his fervor or coldness, his sin or victory over evil, as being theirs. He represents them completely. And that representative character seems to me to be the only reason worth considering for supposing that these angels are superhuman beings, inasmuch as it seems that the identification is almost too entire to be applicable to the relation of any man to the community. But, perhaps, if we think of the facts which every day’s experience shows us, we may see even in this solemn paralleling of the spiritual state of the Churches and of their servants, a strong reason for holding to our interpretation, as well as a very serious piece of warning and exhortation for us all.

For is it not true that the religious condition of a Church, and that of its leaders, teachers, pastors, ever tend to the same, as that of the level of water in two connected vessels? There is such a constant interaction and reciprocal influence that uniformity results. Either a living teacher will, by God’s grace, quicken a languid Church, or a languid Church will, with the devil’s help, stifle the life of the teacher. Take two balls of iron, one red hot, and one cold, and put them down beside each other. How many degrees of difference between them, after half an hour, will your thermometer show? Thank God for the many instances in which one glowing soul, all aflame with love of God, has sufficed to kindle a whole heap of dead matter, and send it leaping skyward in ruddy brightness! Alas! for the many instances in which the wet, green wood has been too strong for the little spark, and has not only obstinately resisted, but has ignominiously quenched its ineffectual fire 1 Thank God, that when His Church lives on a high level of devotion, it has never wanted for single souls who have towered even above that height, and have been elevated by it, as the snowy Alps spring not from the flats of Holland, but from the high central plateau of Europe. Alas! for the leaders who have rayed out formalism, and have chilled down the Church to their own coldness, and stiffened to their own deadness!

Let us, then, not bandy reproaches from pulpit to pew, and from pew to pulpit; but remembering that the spiritual character of each helps to determine the condition of the whole, and the general condition of the body determines the vigor of each part, let us go together to God with acknowledgments of common faithlessness, and of our individual share in it, and let us ask Him to quicken His Church, that it may yield messengers who in their turn shall be the helpers of His people and the glory of God.

II. The text brings before us the Churches and their work.

Of course, you understand that what the Apostle saw was not seven candlesticks, which are a modern piece of furniture, but seven lamps. There is a distinct reference in this, as in all the symbols of the Apocalypse, to the Old Testament. We know that in the Jewish Temple there stood, as an emblem of Israel’s work in the world, the great seven-branched candlestick, burning for ever before the veil and beyond the altar. The difference between the two symbols is as obvious as their resemblance. The ancient lamp had all the seven bowls springing from a single stem.

It was a formal unity. The New Testament seer saw not one lamp with seven arms rising from one pillar, but seven distinct lamps the emblems of a unity which was not formal, but real. They were one in their perfect manifoldness, because of Him who walked in the midst. In which difference lies a representation of one great element in the superiority of the Church over Israel, that for the hard material oneness of the separated nation there has come the true spiritual oneness of the Churches of the saints; one not because of any external connection, but by reason that Christ is in them. The seven-branched lamp lies at the bottom of the Tiber. There let it lie. "We have a better thing, in these manifold lights, which stand before the Throne of the New Temple, and blend into one, because lighted from one Source, fed by one Spirit, tended and watched by one Lord.

But looking a little more closely at this symbol, it suggests to us some needful thoughts as to the position and work of the Church, which is set forth as being light, derived light, clustered light.

The Church is to be light . That familiar image, which applies, as we have seen, to stars and lamps alike, lends itself naturally to point many an important lesson as to what we have to do, and how we ought to do it. Think, for instance, how spontaneously light streams forth. ‘Light is light, which circulates.’ The substance which is lit cannot but shine; and if we have any real possession of the truth, we cannot but impart it; and if we have any real illumination from the Lord, who is the light, we cannot but give it forth. There is much good done in the world by direct, conscious effort. There is perhaps more done by spontaneous, unconscious shining, by the involuntary influence of character, than by the lip or the pen. We need not balance the one form of usefulness against the other. We need both. But, Christian men and women, do you remember that from you a holy impression revealing Jesus ought to flow as constantly, as spontaneously, as light from the sun! Our lives should be like the costly box of fragrant ointment which that penitent, loving woman lavished on her Lord, the sweet, penetrating, subtle odour of which stole through all the air till the house was filled. So His name, the revelation of His love, the resemblance to His character, should breathe forth from our whole being; and whether we think of it or no, we should be unto God a sweet savour of Christ.

Then think again how silent and gentle, though so mighty, is the action of the light. Morning by morning God’s great mercy of sunrise steals upon a darkened world in still, slow, self-impartation; and the light which has a force that has carried it across gulfs of space that the imagination staggers in trying to conceive, yet falls so gently that it does not move the petals of the sleeping flowers, nor hurt the lids of an infant’s eyes, nor displace a grain of dust. Its work is mighty, and done without ‘speech or language.’ Its force is gigantic, but, like its Author, its gentleness makes its dependents great. So should we live and work, clothing all our power in tenderness, doing our work in quietness, disturbing nothing but the darkness, and with silent increase of beneficent power filling and flooding the dark earth with healing beams.

Then think again that heaven’s light is itself invisible, and, revealing all things, reveals not itself. The source you can see, but not the beams. So we are to shine, not showing ourselves but our Master not coveting fame or conspicuousness glad if, like one to whom He bore testimony that he was a light, it be said of us to all that ask who we are, ‘He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light,’ and rejoicing without stint or reservation that for us, as for John the Baptist, the necessity is, that we must decrease and Christ must increase.

We may gather from this emblem in the text the further lesson that the Church’s light is derived light. Two things are needed for the burning of a lamp: that it should be lit, and that it should be fed. In both respects the light with which we shine is derived. We are not suns, we are moons; reflected, not self-originated is all our radiance. That is true in all senses of the figure: it is truest in the highest. It is true about all in every man which is of the nature of light. Christ is the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. Whatsoever beam of wisdom, whatsoever ray of purity, whatsoever sunshine of gladness has ever been in any human spirit, from Him it came, who is the Light and Life of men: from Him it came, who brings to us in form fitted for our eyes, that otherwise inaccessible light of God in which alone we see light. And as for the more special work of the Church {which chiefly concerns us now}, the testimony of Christ to John, which I have just quoted in another connection, gives us the principle which is true about all. ‘He was not that light,’ the Evangelist said of John, denying that in him was original and native radiance. ‘He was a lamp burning ‘where the idea is possibly rather ‘lighted’ or made to burn and therefore shining, and in whose light men could rejoice for a little while. A derived and transient light is all that any man can be. In ourselves we are darkness, and only as we hold fellowship with Him do we become capable of giving forth any rays of light. The condition of all our brightness is that Christ shall give us light. He is the source, we are but reservoirs. He the fountain, we only cisterns. He must walk amidst the candlesticks, or they will never shine. He must hold the stars in His hand, or they will drop from their places and dwindle into darkness. Therefore our power for service lies in reception; and if we are to live for Christ, we must live in Christ.

But there is still another requisite for the shining of the light. The prophet Zechariah once saw in vision the great Temple lamp and by its side two olive trees from which golden oil flowed through golden pipes to the central light. And when he expressed his ignorance of the meaning of the vision, this was the interpretation by the angel who talked with him: ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts.’ The lamp that burns must be kept fed with oil. Throughout the Old Testament the soft, gracious influences of God’s Spirit are symbolized by oil, with which therefore prophets, priests, and kings were designated to their office. Hence the Messiah in prophecy says, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me.’ Thus the lamp too must be fed, the soul which is to give forth the light of Christ must first of all have been kindled by Him, and then must constantly be supplied with the grace and gift of His Divine Spirit. Solemn lessons, my friends, gather round that thought. What became of those who had lamps without oil? Their lamps had gone out, and their end was darkness. Oh! let us beware lest by any sloth and sin we choke the golden pipes, through which there steals into our tiny lamps the soft flow of that Divine oil which alone can keep up the flame. The wick, untrimmed and unfed, may burn for a little while, but it soon chars, and smokes, and goes out at last in foul savour offensive to God and man. Take care lest you resist the Holy Spirit of God. Let your loins be girt and your lamps burning; and that they may be, give heed that the light caught from Jesus be fed by the pure oil which alone can save it from extinction.

Again, the text sets before us the Church’s light as blended or clustered light.

Each of these little communities is represented by one lamp. And that one light is composed of the united brightness of all the individuals who constitute the community. They are to have a character, an influence, a work as a society, not merely as individuals. There is to be co-operation in service, there is to be mingling of powers, there is to be subordination of individuals to the whole, and each separate man and his work is to be gladly merged in the radiance that issues from the community. A Church is not to be merely a multitude of separate points of brilliancy, but the separate points are to coalesce into one great orbed brightness. You know these lights which we have seen in public places, where you have a ring pierced with a hundred tiny holes, from each of which bursts a separate flame; but when all are lit, they run into one brilliant circle, and lose their separateness in the rounded completeness of the blended blaze. That is like what Christ’s Church ought to be. We each by our own personal contact with Him, by our individual communion with our Saviour, become light in the Lord, and yet we joyfully blend with our brethren, and, fused into one, give forth our mingled light. We unite our voices to theirs, knowing that all are needed to send out the Church’s choral witness and to hymn the Church’s full-toned praise. The lips of the multitude thunder out harmony, before which the melody of the richest and sweetest single voice is thin and poor.

Union of heart, union of effort is commended to us by this symbol of our text. The great law is, work together if you would work with strength. To separate ourselves from our brethren is to lose power. Why, half-dead brands heaped close will kindle one another, and flame will sparkle beneath the film of white ashes on their edges. Fling them apart and they go out. Rake them together and they glow. Let us try not to be little feeble tapers, stuck in separate sockets, and each twinkling struggling rays over some inch or so of space; but draw near to our brethren, and be workers together with them, that there may rise a glorious flame from our summed and collective brightness which shall be a guide and hospitable call to many a wandering and weary spirit.

III. Finally, the text shows us the Churches and their Lord.

He it is who holds the stars in His right hand, and walks among the candlesticks. That strong grasp of that mighty hand for the word in the original conveys more than ‘ holds,’ it implies a tight and powerful grip sustains and guards His servants, whose tasks need special grace, and whose position exposes them to special dangers. They may be of good cheer, for none shall pluck them out of His hand. That strengthening and watchful presence moves among His Churches, and is active on their behalf. The symbols are but the pictorial equivalent of His own parting promise, ‘Lo, I am with you always!’

That presence is a plain literal fact, however feebly we lay hold of it. It is not to be watered down into a strong expression for the abiding influence of Christ’s teaching or example, nor even to mean the constant benefits which flow to us from His work, nor the presence of His loving thoughts with us. All these things are true and blessed, but none of them, nor all of them taken together, reach to the height of this great promise. He is absent in body, He is present in person. Talk of a ‘real presence’! This is the real presence: ‘I will not leave you orphans, I will come unto you.’ Through all the ages, in every land wheresoever two or three are gathered in His name, there is He in the midst of them. The presence of Christ with His Church is analogous to the Divine presence in the material universe. As in it, the presence of God is the condition of all life; and if He were not here, there were no beings and no ‘here’: so in the Church, Christ’s presence constitutes and sustains it, and without Him it would cease. So St. Augustine says, ‘Where Christ, there the Church.’

I know what wild absurdities these statements appear to many men who have no faith in the true Divinity of our Lord. Of course the belief of His perpetual presence with His people implies the belief that He possesses Divine attributes. This mysterious Person, who lived among men the exemplar of all humility, departing, leaves a promise which is either the very acme of insane arrogance, or comes from the consciousness of indwelling Divinity. He declares that, from generation to generation. He will in very deed be with all who in every place call upon His name. Who does He thereby claim to be?

For what purpose is He there with His Churches?

The text assures us that it is to hold up and to bless. His unwearied hand sustains, His unceasing activity moves among them. But beyond these purposes, or rather included in them, the vision of which the text is the interpretation brings into great prominence the thought that He is with us to observe, to judge, and, if need be, to punish. Mark how almost all the attributes of that majestic figure suggest such thoughts. The eyes like a flame of fire, the feet glowing as if in a furnace, hot to burn, heavy to tread down all evil where He walks, from the lips a two-edged sword to smite, and, thank God, to heal, the countenance as the sun shineth in his strength this is the Lord of the Churches. Yes, and this is the same loving and forbearing Lord whom the Apostle had learned to trust on earth, and found again revealed from heaven.

Brethren! He dwells with us; He guards and protects His Churches to the end, else they perish. He rules all the commotions of earth, all the errors of His people, all the delusions of lies, and overrules them all for the strengthening and purifying of His Church. But He dwells with us likewise as the watchful observer, out of these eyes of flame, of all our faults; as the merciful destroyer, with the sword of His mouth, of every error and every sin. Thank God for the chastising presence of Christ. He loves us too well not to smite us when we need it. He will not be so cruelly kind, so foolishly fond, as in anywise to suffer Bin upon us. Better the eye of fire than the averted face. Better the sharp sword than His holding His peace as He did with Caiaphas and Herod. Better the Judge in our midst, though we should have to fall at His feet as dead, than that He should say, ‘I will go and return to My place.’ Pray Him not to depart, and submit to the merciful rebukes and effectual chastisement which prove that, for all our unworthiness, He loves us still, and has not cast us away from His presence.

Nor let us forget how much of hope and encouragement lies in the examples, which these seven Churches afford, of His long-suffering patience. That presence was granted to them all, the best and the worst the decaying love of Ephesus, the licentious heresies of Pergamos and Thyatira, the all but total deadness of Sardis, and the self-satisfied indifference of Laodicea, concerning which even He could say nothing that was good. All had Him with them as really as the faithful Smyrna and the steadfast Philadelphia. We have no right to say with how much of theoretical error and practical sin the lingering presence of that patient pitying Lord may consist. For others our duty is the widest charity for ourselves the most careful watchfulness.

For these seven Churches teach us another lesson the possibility of quenched lamps and ruined shrines. Ephesus and her sister communities, planted by Paul, taught by John, loved and upheld by the Lord, warned and scourged by Him where are they now ? Broken columns and roofless walls remain; and where Christ’s name was praised, now the minaret rises by the side of the mosque, and daily echoes the Christless proclamation, ‘There is no God but God, and Mahomet is His prophet.’ ‘The grace of God,’ says Luther somewhere, ‘is like a flying summer shower.’ It has fallen upon more than one land, and passed on. Judaea had it, and lies barren and dry. These Asiatic coasts had it and flung it away. Let us receive it, and hold it fast, lest our greater light should bring greater condemnation, and here, too, the candlestick should be removed out of its place.

Remember that solemn, strange legend which tells us that, on the night before Jerusalem fell, the guard of the Temple heard through the darkness a voice mighty and sad, saying, ‘Let us depart,’ and were aware as of the sound of many wings passing from out of the Holy Place; and on the morrow the iron heels of the Roman legionaries trod the marble pavement of the innermost shrine, and heathen eyes gazed upon the empty place where the glory of the God of Israel should have dwelt, and a torch, flung by an unknown hand, burned with fire the holy and beautiful house where He had promised to put His name for ever. And let us learn the lesson, and hold fast by that Lord whose blood has purchased, and whose presence preserves through all the unworthiness and the lapses of men, that Church against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.


Verse 7

Revelation

I. - THE VICTOR’S LIFE-FOOD

Revelation 2:7

The sevenfold promises which conclude the seven letters to the Asiatic Churches, of which this is the first, are in substance one. We may, indeed, say that the inmost moaning of them all is the gift of Christ Himself. But the diamond flashes variously coloured lights according to the angle at which it is held, and breaks into red and green and white. The one great thought may be looked at from different points of view, and sparkle into diversely splendid rays. The reality is single and simple, but so great that our best way of approximating to the apprehension of that which we shall never comprehend till we possess it is to blend various conceptions and metaphors drawn from different sources,

I have a strong conviction that the Christianity of this day suffers, intellectually and practically, from its comparative neglect of the teaching of the New Testament as to the future life. We hear and think a great deal less about it than was once the case and we are thereby deprived of a strong motive for action, and a sure comfort in sorrow. Some of us may, perhaps, be disposed to look with a little sense of lofty pity at the simple people who let the hope of heaven spur, or restrain, or console. But if there is a future life at all, and if the characteristic of it which most concerns us is that it is the reaping, in consequences, of the acts of the present, surely it cannot be such superior wisdom, as it sometimes pretends to be, to ignore it altogether; and perhaps the simplicity of the said people is more in accordance with the highest reason than is our attitude.

Be that as it may, believing, as I do, that the hope of immortality is meant to fill a very large place in the Christian life, and fearing, as I do, that it actually does fill but a very small one with many of us, I have thought that it might do us all good to turn to this wealth of linked promises and to consider them in succession, so as to bring our hearts for a little while into contact with the motive for brave fighting which does occupy so large a space in the New Testament, however it may fail to do so in our lives.

I. I ask you to look first at the Gift.

Now, of course, I need scarcely remind you that this first promise, in the last book of Scripture, goes back to the beginning, to the old story in Genesis about Paradise and the Tree of Life. We may distinguish between the substance of the promise and the highly metaphorical form into which it is here cast. The substance of the promise is the communication of life; the form is a poetic and imaginative and pregnant allusion to the story on the earliest pages of Revelation.

Let me deal first with the substance. Now it seems to me that if we are to pare down this word ‘ life ‘ to its merely physical sense of continuous existence, this is not a promise that a man’s heart leaps up at the hearing of. To anybody that will honestly think, and try to realize, in the imperfect fashion in which alone it is possible for us to realize it, that notion of an absolutely interminable continuance of being, its awfulness is far more than its blessedness, and it overwhelms a man. It seems to me that the ‘crown of life,’ if life only means conscious existence, would be a crown of thorns indeed.

No, brethren, what our hearts crave, and what Christ’s heart gives, is not the mere bare, bald, continuance of conscious being. It is something far deeper than that. That is the substratum, of course; but it is only the substratum, and not until we let in upon this word, which is one of the key-words of Scripture, the full flood of light that comes to it from John’s Gospel, and its use on the Master’s lips there, do we begin to understand the meaning of this great promise. Just as we say of men who are sunk in gross animalism, or whose lives are devoted to trivial and transient aims, that theirs is not worth calling life, so we say that the only thing that deserves, and that in Scripture gets, the august name of ‘life,’ is a condition of existence in conscious union with, and possession of, God, who is manifested and communicated to mortals through Jesus Christ His Son. ‘In Him was life, and the life was manifested.’ Was that bare existence? And the life was not only manifested but communicated, and the essence of it is fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. The possession of ‘ the Spirit of life which was in Christ,’ and which in heaven will be perfectly communicated, will make men ‘free,’ as they never can be upon earth whilst implicated in the bodily life of this material world, ‘from the law of sin and death.’ The gift that Christ bestows on him that ‘overcometh’ is not only conscious existence, but existence derived from, and, so to speak, embraided with the life of God Himself, and therefore blessed.

For such a life, in union with God in Christ, is the only condition in which all a man’s capacities find their fitting objects, and all his activity finds its appropriate sphere, and in which, therefore, to live is to be blessed, because the heart is united with the source and fountain of all blessedness. Here is the deepest depth of that promise of future blessedness. It is not mainly because of any changes, glorious as these must necessarily be, which follow upon the dropping away of flesh, and the transportation into the light that is above, that heaven is a place of blessedness, but it is because the saints that are there are joined to God, and into their recipient hearts there pours for ever the fullness of the Divine life. That makes the glory and the blessedness.

But let us remember that all which can come hereafter of that full and perfect life is but the continuance, the development, the increase, of that which already is possessed. Here it falls in drops; there in floods. Here it is filtered; there poured. Here, the plant, taken from its native climate and soil, puts forth some pale blossoms, and grows but to a stunted height; there, set in their deep native soil, and shone upon by a more fervent sun, and watered by more abundant warm rains and dews, ‘they that ‘on earth’ were planted in the house of the Lord shall, transplanted, ‘flourish in the courts of our God.’ The life of the Christian soul on earth and of the Christian soul in heaven is continuous, and though there is a break to our consciousness looking from this side the break of death the reality is that without interruption, and without a turn, the road runs on in the same direction. We begin to live the life of heaven here, and they who can say, ‘I was dead in trespasses and sins, but the life which I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God,’ have already the germs of the furthest development in the heavens in their hearts.

Notice, for a moment, the form that this great promise assumes here. That is a very pregnant and significant reference to the Tree of Life in the paradise of God, The old story tells how the cherub with the flaming sword was set to guard the way to it. And that paradise upon earth faded and disappeared. But it reappears. ‘ Then comes a statelier Eden back to man,’ for Jesus Christ is the restorer of all lost blessings; and the Divine purpose and ideal has not faded away amidst the clouds of the stormy day of earth’s history, like the flush of morning from off the plains. Christ brings back the Eden, and quenches the flame of the fiery sword; and instead of the repellent cherub, there stands Himself with the merciful invitation upon His lips: ‘Come! Eat; and live for ever.’

There never was one lost good; what was shall live as before.

On the earth the broken arcs; in heaven the perfect round.’

Eden shall come back; and the paradise into which the victors go is richer and fuller, by all their conflict and their wounds, than ever could have been the simpler paradise of which souls innocent, because untried, could have been capable. So much for the gift of life.

II. Notice, secondly, the Giver.

This is a majestic utterance; worthy of coming from the majestic Figure portrayed in the first chapter of this book. In it Jesus Christ claims to be the Arbiter of men’s deserts and Giver of their rewards. That involves His judicial function, and therefore His Divine as well as human nature. I accept these words as truly His words. Of course, if you do not, my present remarks have no force for you; but if you do not, you ought to be very sure of your reasons for not doing so; and if you do, then I see not how any man who believes that Jesus Christ has said that He will give to all the multitude of faithful fighters, who have brought their shields out of the battle, and their swords undinted, the gift of life eternal, can be vindicated from the charge of taking too much upon him, except on the belief of His Divine nature.

But I observe, still further, that this great utterance of the Lord’s, paralleled in all the other six promises, in all of which He is represented as the bestower of the reward, whatever it may be, involves another thing, viz., the eternal continuance of Christ’s relation to men as the Revealer and Mediator of God. ‘I will give’ and that not only when the victor crosses the threshold and enters the Capitol of the heavens, but all through its ceaseless ages Christ is the Medium by which the Divine life passes into men. True, there is a sense in which He shall deliver up the kingdom to His Father, when the partial end of the present dispensation has come. But He is the Priest of mankind for ever; and for ever is His kingdom enduring. And through all the endless ages, which we have a right to hope we shall see, there will never come a point in which it will not remain as true as it is at this moment: ‘No man hath seen God at any time, nor can see Him; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.’ Christ is for ever the Giver of life in the heavens as on earth.

Another thing is involved which I think also is often lost sight of. The Bible does not know anything about what people call ‘natural immortality. ‘Life here is not given to the infant once for all, and then expended through the years, but it is continually being bestowed. My belief is that no worm that creeps, nor angel that soars, nor any of the beings between, is alive for one instant except for the continual communication from the fountain of life, of the life that they live. And still more certainly is it true about the. future, that there all the blessedness and the existence, which is the substratum and condition of the blessedness, are only ours because, wavelet by wavelet, throbbing out as from a central fountain, there flows into the Redeemed a life communicated by Christ Himself. If I might so say were that continual bestowment to cease, then heaven, like the vision of a fairy tale, would fade away; and there would be nothing left where the glory had shone. ‘I will give’ through eternity.

III. Lastly, note the Recipients.

‘To him that overcometh.’ Now I need not say, in more than a sentence, that it seems to me that the fair interpretation of this promise, as of all the other references in Scripture to the future life, is that the reward is immediately consequent upon the cessation of the struggle. ‘To depart ‘ is ‘to be with Christ,’ and to be with Christ, in regard of a spirit which has passed from the bodily environment, is to be conscious of His presence, and lapt in His robe, feeling the warmth and the pressure of His heart. So I believe that Scripture teaches us that at one moment there may be the clash of battle, and the whiz of the arrows round one’s head, and next moment there may be the laurel-crowned quiet of the victor.

But that does not enter so much into our consideration now. We have, rather, here to think of just this one thing, that the gift is given to the victor because only the victor is capable of receiving it; that future life, interpreted as I have ventured to interpret it in this sermon, is no arbitrary bestowment that could be dealt all round miscellaneously to everybody, if the Giver chose so to give. Here on earth many gifts are bestowed upon men, and are neglected by them, and wasted like water spilled upon the ground; but this elixir of life is not poured out so. It is only poured into vessels that can take it in and hold it.

Our present struggle is meant to make us capable of the heavenly life. And that is I was going to say the only, but at all events incomparably the chiefest, of the thoughts which make life not only worth living, but great and solemn. Go into a mill, and in a quiet room, often detached from the main building, you will find the engine working, and seeming to do nothing but go up and down. But there is a shaft which goes through the wall and takes the power to the looms.

We are working here, and we are making the cloth that we shall have to own and say, ‘Yes, it is my manufacture!’ when we get yonder. According to our life to-day will be our destiny in the great tomorrow. Life is given to the victor, because the victor only is capable of possessing it.

But the victor can only conquer in one way. ‘This,’ said John, when he was not an apocalyptic seer, but a Christian teacher to the Churches of Asia, ‘this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.’ If we trust in Christ we shall get His power into our hearts, and if we get His power into our hearts, then ‘we shall be more than conquerors through Him that loved us.’ Christ gives life eternal, gives it here in germ and yonder in fullness. In its fullness only those who overcome are capable of receiving it. Those only who fight the good fight by His help overcome. Those only who trust in Him fight the good fight by His help. He gives to eat of the Tree of Life; He gives it to faith, but faith must be militant. He gives it to the conqueror, but the conqueror must win by faith in Him who overcame the world for us, who will help us to overcome the world by Him.

Help us, O our God, we beseech Thee; ‘teach our hands to war, and our fingers to fight.’ Give us grace to hold fast by the life which is in Jesus Christ; and living by Him the lives which we live in the flesh, may we be capable, by the discipline of earth’s sorrows, of that rest and fuller ‘life which remaineth for the people of God.’


Verse 11

Revelation

II. THE VICTOR’S LIFE-CROWN

Revelation 2:11

Two of the seven Churches, viz., Smyrna, to which our text is addressed, and Philadelphia offered nothing, to the pure eyes of Christ, that needed rebuke. The same two and these only, were warned to expect persecution. The higher the tone of Christian life in the Church, the more likely it is to attract dislike and, if circumstances permit, hostility. Hence the whole gist of this letter is to encourage to steadfastness, even if the penalty is death.

That purpose determined at once the aspect of Christ which is presented in the beginning, and the aspect of future blessedness which is held forth at the close. The aspect of Christ is ‘these things saith the First and the Last, which was dead and is alive’; a fitting thought to encourage the men who were to be called upon to die for Him. And, in like manner, the words of our text naturally knit themselves with the previous mention of death as the penalty of the Smyrneans’ faithfulness.

Now this promise is sharply distinguished from those to the other Churches by two peculiarities: one, that it is merely negative, whilst all the rest are radiantly positive; the other, that there is no mention of our Lord in it, whilst in all the others He stands forth with His emphatic and majestic ‘I will give’; ‘I will write upon him My new Name’; ‘I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God.’ The first peculiarity may partially account for the second, because the Giver is naturally more prominent in a promise of positive gifts, than in one of a merely negative exemption. But another reason is to be found for the omission of the mention of our Lord in this promise. If you will refer to the verse immediately preceding my text, you will find the missing positive promise with the missing reference to Jesus Christ: ‘ I will give thee a crown of life.’ So that we are naturally led to link together both these statements when taking account of the hopes that were held forth to animate the Christians of Smyrna in the prospect of persecution even to the death; and we have to consider them both in conjunction now. I think I shall best do so by simply asking you to look at these two things: the Christian motive contained in the victor’s immunity from a great evil, and the Christian motive contained in the victor’s possession of a great good. ‘He shall not be hurt of the second death.’ ‘I will give thee a crown of life.’

I. The Christian motive contained in the victor’s immunity from a great evil.

Now that solemn and thrilling expression ‘the second death’ is peculiar to this book of the Apocalypse. The name is peculiar; the thing is common to all the New Testament writers. Here it comes with especial appropriateness, in contrast with the physical death which was about to be inflicted upon some members of the Smyrnean Church. But beyond that there lies in the phrase a very solemn and universally applicable meaning. I do not feel, dear brethren that such a thing ought to be made matter of pulpit rhetoric. The bare vagueness of it seems to me to shake the heart a great deal more than any weakening expansion of it that we can give.

But yet, let me say one word. Then, behind that grim figure, the shadow feared of man that waits for all at some turn of their road, cloaked and shrouded, there rises a still grimmer and more awful form, ‘ if form it can be called which form hath none.’ There is something, at the back of physical death, which can lay its grip upon the soul that is already separated from the body; something running on the same lines somehow, and worthy to bear that name of terror and disintegration ‘the second death.’ What can it be? Not the cessation of conscious existence; that is never the meaning of death. But let us apply the key which opens so many of the locks of the New Testament sayings about the future that the true and deepest meaning of death is separation from Him who is the fountain of life, and in a very deep sense is the only life of the universe. Separation from God; that is death. What touches the surface of mere bodily life is but a faint shadow and parable, and the second death, like a second tier of mountains, rises behind and above it, sterner and colder than the lower hills of the foreground. What desolation, what unrest, what blank misgivings, what pealing off of capacities, faculties, opportunities, delights, may be involved in that solemn conception, we never can tell here God grant that we may never know! Like some sea-creature, cast high and dry on the beach, and gasping out its pained being, the men that are separated from God die whilst they live, and live a living death. The second is the comparative degree, of which the first is the positive.

Now note again that immunity from this solemn fate is no small part of the victor’s blessedness. At first sight we feel as if the mere negative promise of my text stands on a lower level than what I have called the radiantly positive ones in the other letters; but it is worthy to stand beside these. Gather them together, and think of how manifold and glorious the dim suggestions which they make of felicity and progress are, and then set by the side of them this one of our text as worthy to stand there. To eat of the Tree of Life; to have power over the nations; to rule them with a rod of iron; to blaze with the brightness of the morning star; to eat of the hidden manna; to bear the new name known only to those who receive it; to have that name confessed before the Father and His angels; to be a pillar in the Temple of the Lord; to go no more out; and to sit with Christ on His throne: these are the positive promises, along with which this barely negative one is linked, and is worthy to be linked: ‘He shall not be hurt of the second death.’

If this immunity from that fate is fit to stand in line with these glimpses of an inconceivable glory, how solemn must be the fate, and how real the danger of our falling into it I Brethren, in this day it has become unfashionable to speak of that future, especially of its sterner aspects. The dimness of the brightest revelations in the New Testament, the unwillingness to accept it as the source of certitude with regard to the future, the recoil from the stern severity of Divine retribution, the exaggerated and hideous guise in which that great truth was often presented in the past, the abounding worldliness of this day, many of its best tendencies and many of its worst ones concur in making some of us look with very little interest, and scarcely credence, at the solemn words of which the New Testament is full. But I, for my part, accept them; and I dare not but, in such proportion to the rest of revelation as seems to me to be right, bring them before you. I beseech you, recognize the solemn teaching that lies in this thought that this negative promise of immunity from the second death stands parallel with all these promises of felicity and blessedness.

Further, note that such immunity is regarded here as the direct outcome of the victor’s conduct and character. I have already pointed out the peculiarities marking our text. The omission of any reference to our Lord in it is accounted for, as suggested, by that reference occurring in the immediately preceding context, but it may also be regarded as suggesting when considered in contrast with the other promises, where He stands forward as the giver of heavenly blessedness that that future condition is to be regarded not only as retribution, which implies the notion of a judge, and a punitive or rewarding energy on his part, but also as being the necessary result of the earthly life that is lived; a harvest of which we sow the seeds here.

Transient deeds consolidate into permanent character. Beds of sandstone rock, thousands of feet thick, are the sediment dropped from vanished seas, or borne down by long dried-up rivers. The actions which we often so unthinkingly perform, whatever may be the width and the permanency of their effects external to us, react upon ourselves, and tend to make our permanent bent or twist or character. The chalk cliffs at Dover are the skeletons of millions upon millions of tiny organisms, and our little lives are built up by the recurrence of transient deeds, which leave their permanent marks upon us. They make character, and character determines position yonder. As said the Apostle, with tender sparingness, and yet with profound truth, ‘he went to his own place,’ wherever that was. The surroundings that he was fitted for came about him, and the company that he was fit for associated themselves with him. So in another part of this book where the same solemn expression, ‘the second death,’ is employed, we read, ‘These shall have their part in . . . the second death’: the lot that belongs to them. Character and conduct determine position. However small the lives here, they settle the far greater ones hereafter, just as a tiny wheel in a machine may, by cogs and other mechanical devices, transmit its motion to another wheel at a distance, many times its diameter. You move this end of a lever through an arc of an inch, and the other end will move through an arc of yards. The little life here determines the sweep of the great one that is lived yonder. The victor wears his past conduct and character, if I may so say, as a fireproof garment, and if he entered the very furnace, heated seven times hotter than before, there would be no smell of fire upon him. ‘He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.’

II. Now note, secondly, the Christian motive contained in the victor’s reception of a great good.

‘I will give him a crown of life.’ I need not remind you, I suppose, that this metaphor of ‘the crown’ is found in other instructively various places in the New Testament. Paul, for instance, speaks of his own personal hope of ‘the crown of righteousness.’ James speaks, as does the letter to the Smyrnean Church, of ‘the crown of life.’ Peter speaks ‘of the crown of glory.’ Paul, in another place, speaks of ‘the crown incorruptible.’ And all these express substantially the one idea. There may be a question as to whether the word employed here for the crown is to be taken in its strictly literal acceptation as meaning, not a kingly coronal, but a garland. But seeing that, although that is the strict meaning of the word, it is employed in a subsequent part of the letter to designate what must evidently be kingly crowns viz., in the fourth chapter there seems to be greater probability in the supposition that we are warranted in including under the symbolism here both the aspects of the crown as royal, and also as laid upon the brows of the victors in the games or the conflict. I venture to take it in that meaning. Substantially the promise is the same as that which we were considering in the previous letter, ‘I will give him to eat of the Tree of Life’; the promise of life in all the depth and fullness and sweep of that great encyclopaedical word. But it is life considered from a special point of view that is set forth here.

It is a kingly life. Of course that notion of regality and dominion, as the prerogative of the redeemed and glorified servants of Jesus Christ, is for ever cropping up in this book of the Revelation. And you remember how our Lord has set the example of its use when He said, ‘Have thou authority over ten cities.’ What may lie in that great symbol it is not for us to say. The rule over ourselves, over circumstances, the deliverance from the tyranny of the external, the deliverance from the slavery of the body and its lusts and passions, these are all included. The man that can will rightly, and can do completely as he rightly wills, that man is a king. But there is more than that. There is the participation in wondrous, and for us inconceivable, ways, in the majesty and regality of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Therefore did the crowned elders before the throne sing a new song to the Lamb, who made redeemed men out of every tribe and tongue, to be to God a kingdom, and priests who should reign upon the earth.

But, brethren, remember that this conception of a kingly life is to be interpreted according to Christ’s own teaching of that wherein royalty in His kingdom consists. For heaven, as for earth, the purpose of dominion is service, and the use of power is beneficence. ‘He that is chiefest of all, let him be servant of all,’ is the law for the regalities of heaven as well as for the lowliness of earth.

That life is a triumphant life. The crown was laid on the head of the victor in the games. Think of the victor as he went back, flushed and modest, to his village away up on the slopes of some of the mountain chains of Greece. With what a tumult of acclaim he would be hailed! If we do our work and fight our fight down here as we ought, we shall enter into the great city not unnoticed, not unwelcomed, but with the praise of the King and the paeans of His attendants. ‘I will confess his name before My Father and the holy angels.’

That life is a festal life. The garlands are twined on the heated brows of revelers, and the fumes of the wine and the closeness of the chamber soon make them wilt and droop. This amaranthine crown fadeth never. And the feast expresses for us the felicities, the abiding satisfactions without satiety, the blessed companionship, the repose which belong to the crowned. Royalty, triumph, festal goodness, all fused together, are incomplete, but they are not useless symbols. May we experience their fulfilment!

Brethren, the crown is promised not merely to the man that says, ‘I have faith in Jesus Christ,’ but to him who has worked out his faith into faithfulness, and by conduct and character has made himself capable of the felicities of the heavens. If that immortal crown were laid upon the head of another, it would be a crown of thorns; for the joys of that future require the fitness which comes from the apprenticeship to faith and faithfulness here on earth. We evangelical preachers are often taunted with preaching that future blessedness comes as the result of the simple act of belief. Yes; but only if, and when, the simple act of faith, which is more than belief, is wrought out in the loveliness of faithfulness. ‘We are made partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end.’

Now, dear friends, I dare say that some of you may be disposed to brush aside these fears and hopes as very low motives, unworthy to be appealed to; but I cannot so regard them. I know that the appeal to fear is directed to the lower order of sentiments, but it is a legitimate motive. It is meant to stir us up to gird ourselves against the dangers which we wisely dread. And I, for my part, believe that we preachers are going aside from our Pattern, and are flinging away a very powerful weapon, in the initial stages of religious experience, if we are afraid to bring before men’s hearts and answering consciences the solemn facts of the future which Jesus Christ Himself has revealed to us. We are no more to be blamed for it than the signalman for waving his red flag. And I fancy that there are some of my present hearers who would be nearer the love of God if they took more to heart the fear of the Lord and of His judgment.

Hope is surely a perfectly legitimate motive to appeal to. We are not to be good because we thereby escape hell and secure heaven. We are to be good, because Jesus Christ wills us to be, and has won us to love Him, or has sought to win us to love Him, by His great sacrifice for us. But that being the basis, men can be brought to build upon it by the compulsion of fear and by the attraction of hope. And that being the deepest motive, there is a perfectly legitimate and noble sphere for the operation of these two other lower motives, the consideration of the personal evils that attend the opposite course, and of the personal good that follows from cleaving to Him. Am I to be told that Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, who went to his martyrdom, and was ‘faithful unto death,’ with the words on his lips: ‘Eighty-and-six years have I served Him, and He has done me nothing but good; how shall I deny my King and my Saviour!’ was yielding to a low motive when to him the crown that the Master promised to the Church of which he was afterwards bishop floated above the head that was soon to be shorn off, and on whose blood-stained brows it was then to fall ? Would that we had more of such low motives! Would that we had more of such high lives as fear nothing because they ‘have respect to the recompense of the reward,’ and are ready for service or martyrdom, because they hear and believe the crowned Christ saying to them: ‘Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.’


Verse 17

Revelation

III. - THE VICTOR’S LIFE-SECRET

Revelation 2:17.

The Church at Pergamos, to which this promise is addressed, had a sharper struggle than fell to the lot of the two Churches whose epistles precede this. It was set ‘where Satan’s seat is.’ Pergamos was a special centre of heathen worship, and already the blood of a faithful martyr had been shed in it. The severer the struggle, the nobler the reward. Consequently the promise given to this militant Church surpasses, in some respects, those held out to the former two. They were substantially promised that life eternal, which indeed includes everything; but here some of the blessed contents of that life are expanded and emphasized.

There is a threefold promise given: ‘the hidden manna,’ ‘the white stone,’ a ‘new name’ written. The first and the last of these are evidently the most important. They need little explanation; of the central one ‘the white stone,’ a bewildering variety of interpretations - none of them, as it seems to me, satisfactory - have been suggested. Possibly there may be an allusion to the ancient custom of dropping the votes of the judges into an urn - a white pebble meaning innocence and acquittal; black meaning guilty - just as we, under somewhat similar circumstances, talk about ‘blackballing.’ But the objection to that interpretation lies in the fact that the ‘white stone’ of our text is given to the person concerned, and not deposited elsewhere. There may be an allusion to a practice, which antiquarians have hunted out, of conferring upon the victors in the games a little tile with a name inscribed upon it, which gave admission to the public festivals. But all the explanations are so doubtful that one hesitates to accept any of them. There remains one other alternative, which seems to me to be suggested by the very language of the text, viz., that the ‘white stone’ is here named - with possibly some subsidiary thought of innocence and purity - merely as the vehicle for the name. And so I dismiss it from further consideration, and concentrate our thoughts on the remaining two promises.

I. We have the victor’s food, the manna.

That seems, at first sight, a somewhat infelicitous symbol, because manna was wilderness food. But that characteristic is not to be taken into account. Manna, though it fell in the wilderness, came from heaven, and it is the heavenly food that is suggested by the symbol. When the warrior passes from the fight into the city, the food which came down from heaven will be given to him in fullness. It is a beautiful thought that as soon as the man, ‘spent with changing blows,’ and weary with conflict, enters the land of peace, there is a table spread for him; not, as before, in the presence of his enemies,’ but in the presence of the companions of his repose. One moment hears the din of the battlefield, the next moment feels the refreshment of the heavenly manna.

But now there can be little need for dealing, by way of exposition, with this symbol. Let us rather try to lay it upon our hearts.

Now the first thing that it plainly suggests to us is the absolute satisfaction of all the hunger of the heart. It is possible, and for those that overcome it will one day be actual experience, that a man shall have everything that he wishes the moment that he wishes it. Here we have to suppress desires, sometimes because they are illegitimate and wrong, sometimes because circumstances sternly forbid their indulgence. There, to desire will be to have, and partly by the rectifying of the appetite, partly by the fullness of the supply, there will be no painful sense of vacuity, and no clamoring of the unsubdued heart for good that is beyond its reach. They - and you and I may be amongst them, and so we may say ‘we’ - ‘shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more.’ Oh, brethren! to us who are driven into activity by desires, half of which go to water and are never fulfilled - to us who know what it is to try to tame down the hungering, yelping wishes and longings of our souls - to us who have so often spent our ‘money for that which is not bread, and our labour for that which satisfieth not,’ it ought to be a Gospel: ‘I will give him to eat of the hidden manna.’ Is it such to you? Do you believe it possible, and are you addressing yourselves to make the fulfilment of it actual in your case?

Then there is the other plain thing suggested here, that that satisfaction does not dull the edge of appetite or desire. Bodily hunger is fed, is replete, wants nothing more until the lapse of time and digestion have intervened. But it is not so with the loftiest satisfactions. There are some select, noble, blessed desires even here, concerning which we know that the more we have, the more we hunger with a hunger which has no pain in it, but is only the greatened capacity for greater enjoyment. You that know what happy love is know what that means - a satisfaction which never approaches satiety, a hunger which has in it no gnawing. And in the loftiest and most perfect of all realms, that co-existence of perfect fruition and perfect desire will be still more wondrously and blessedly manifest. At each moment the more we have, the wider will our hearts be expanded by possession, and the wider they are expanded the more will they be capable of receiving, and the more they are capable of receiving the more deep and full and blessed and all covering will be the inrush of the river of the water of life. Satisfaction without satiety, food which leaves him blessedly appetized for larger bestowments, belong to the victor.

Another thing to be noticed here is what we have already had occasion to point out in the previous promises: I will give him.’ Do you remember our Lord’s own wonderful words: ‘Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that He shall gird Himself, and shall come forth and serve them’? The victor is seated at the board, and the Prince, as in some earthly banquet to a victorious army. Himself moves up and down amongst the tables, and supplies the wants of the guests. There was an old Jewish tradition, which perhaps may have influenced the form of this promise, to the effect that the Messiah, when He came, would bring again to the people the gift of the manna, and men should once more eat angels’ food. Whether there is any allusion to that poetic fancy or no in the words of my text, the reality infinitely transcends it. Christ Himself bestows upon His servants the sustenance of their spirits in the realm above. But there is more than that. Christ is not only the Giver, but He is Himself the Food. I believe that the deepest meaning of this sevenfold cluster of jewels, the promises to these seven Churches, is in each case Christ. He is the Tree of Life; He is the Crown of Life, He is - as well as gives - ‘the hidden manna.’ You will remember how He Himself gives us this interpretation when, in answer to the Jewish taunt, ‘Our fathers did eat manna in the wilderness. What dost Thou work?’ He said, ‘I am that Bread of God that came down from heaven.’

So, then, once more, we come back to the all-important teaching that, whatever be the glories of the perfected flower and fruit in heaven, the germ and root of it is already here. The man who lives upon the Christ by faith, love, obedience, imitation, communion, aspiration, here on earth, has already the earnest of that feast. No doubt there will be aspects and sweetnesses and savours and sustenance in the heavenly form of our possession of, and living on, Him, which we here on earth know nothing about. But no doubt also the beginning and positive degree of all these sweetnesses and savours and sustenances yet to be revealed is found in the experience of the man who has listened to the cry of that loving voice, ‘Eat, and your souls shall live’; and has taken Jesus Christ Himself, the living Person, to be not only the source but the nourishment of his spiritual life.

So, brethren, it is of no use to pretend to ourselves that we should like - as they put it in bald, popular language - to ‘go to heaven,’ unless we are using and relishing that of heaven which is here to-day. If you do not like the earthly form of feeding upon Jesus Christ, which is trusting Him, giving your heart to Him, obeying Him, thinking about Him, treading in His footsteps, you would not like, you would like less, the heavenly form of that feeding upon Him. If you would rather have the strong-smelling garlic and the savory leeks - to say nothing about the swine’s trough and the husks - than ‘this light bread,’ the ‘angels’ food,’ which your palates cannot stand and your stomachs cannot digest, you could not swallow it if it were put into your lips when you get beyond the grave; and you would not like it if you could. Christ forces this manna into no man’s mouth; but Christ gives it to all who desire it and are fit for it. As is the man’s appetite, so is the man’s food; and so is the life that results there from.

II. Note the victor’s new name.

I have often had occasion to point out to you that Scripture attaches, in accordance with Eastern habit, large importance to names, which are intended to be significant of character, or circumstances, or parental hopes or desires. So that, both in reference to God and man, names come to be the condensed expression of the character and the personality. When we read, ‘I will give him a stone, on which there is a new name written,’ we infer that the main suggestion made in that promise is of a change in the self, something new in the personality and the character. I need not dwell upon this, for we have no material by which to expand into detail the greatness of the promise. I would only remind you of how we are taught to believe that the dropping away of the corporeal and removal from this present scene carries with it, in the case of those who have here on earth begun to walk with Christ, and to become citizens of the spiritual realm, changes great, ineffable, and all tending in the one direction of making the servants more fully like their Lord. What new capacities may be evolved by the mere fact of losing the limitations of the bodily frame; what new points of contact with a new universe; what new analogues of what we here call our senses and means of perception of the external world may be the accompaniments of the disembarrassment from ‘the earthly house of this tabernacle,’ we dare not dream. We could not, if we were told, rightly understand. But, surely, if the tenant is taken from a clay hut and set in a royal house, eternal, not made with hands, its windows must be wider and more transparent, and there must be an inrush of wondrously more brilliant light into the chambers.

But whatsoever be these changes, they are changes that repose upon that which has been in the past. And so the second thought that is suggested by this new name is that these changes are the direct results of the victor’s course. Both in old times and in the peerage of England you will find names of conquerors, by land or by water, who carry in their designations and transmit to their descendants the memorial of their victories in their very titles. In like manner as a Scipio was called Africanus, as a Jervis became Lord St. Vincent, so the victor’s ‘new name’ is the concentration and memorial of the victor’s conquest. And what we have wrought and fought here on earth we carry with us, as the basis of the changes from glory to glory which shall come in the heavens. ‘They rest from their labors; their works do follow them,’ and, gathering behind the laurelled victor, attend him as he ascends the hill of the Lord.

But once more we come to the thought that whatever there may be of change in the future, the main direction of the character remains, and the consolidated issues of the transient deeds of earth remain, and the victor’s name is the summing up of the victor’s life.

But, further, Christ gives the name. He changed the names of His disciples. Simon He called Cephas, James and John He called ‘Sons of Thunder.’ The act claimed authority, and designated a new relation to Him. Both these ideas are conveyed in the promise: ‘I will give him ... a new name written.’ Only, brethren, remember that the transformation keeps true to the line of direction begun here, and the process of change has to be commenced on earth. They who win the new name of heaven are they of whom it would be truly said, while they bore the old name of earth, ‘If any man be in Christ he is a new creature.’

‘Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.’

III. Lastly, note the mystery of both the food and the name.

‘I will give him the hidden manna ... a new name . . . which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.’ Now we all know that the manna was laid up in the Ark, beneath the Shekinah, within the curtain of the holiest place. And, besides that, there was a Jewish tradition that the Ark and its contents, which disappeared after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the first Temple, had been buried by the prophet Jeremiah, and lay hidden away somewhere on the sacred soil, until the Messiah should return. There may be an allusion to that here, but it is not necessary to suppose it. The pot of manna lay in the Ark of the Covenant, of which we hear in another part of the symbolism in this book, within the veil in the holiest of all. And Christ gives the victor to partake of that sacred and secret food. The name which is given ‘no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.’ Both symbols point to the one thought, the impossibility of knowing until we possess and experience.

That impossibility besets all the noblest, highest, purest, divinest emotions and possessions of earth. Poets have sung of love and sorrow from the beginning of time; but men must love to know what love means. Every woman has heard about the sweetness of maternity, but not till the happy mother holds her infant to her breast does she understand it. And so we may talk till Doomsday, and yet it would remain true that we must eat the manna, and look upon the white stone for ourselves, before we can adequately comprehend.

Since, then, experience alone admits to the knowledge, how vulgar, how futile, how absolutely destructive of the very purpose which they are intended to subserve are all the attempts of men to forecast that ineffable glory. It is too great to be understood. The mountains that ring us round keep the secret well of the fair lands beyond. There are questions that bleeding hearts sometimes ask, questions which prurient curiosity more often ask, and which foolish people today are taking illegitimate means of solving, about that future life, which are all left - though some of them might conceivably have been answered - in silence. Enough for us to listen to the voice that says,

‘In My Father’s house are many mansions ‘- room for you and me - ‘if it were not so I would have told you.’ For the silence is eloquent. The curtain is the picture. The impossibility of telling is the token of the greatness of the thing to be told. Hope needs but little yarn to weave her web with. I believe that the dimness is part of the power of that heavenly prospect. Let us be reticent before it. Let us remember that, though our knowledge is small and our eyes dim, Christ knows all, and we shall be with Him; and so say, with no sense of pained ignorance or unsatisfied curiosity,

‘It doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.’ Cannot our hearts add, ‘It is enough for the servant that he be as his master ‘?

An old commentator on this verse says, ‘Wouldst thou know what manner of new name thou shalt bear? Overcome. It is vain for thee to ask beforehand. Hereafter thou shalt soon see it written on the white stone.’

Help us, O Lord, to fight the good fight of faith, in the sure confidence that Thou wilt receive us, and refresh us, and renew us.


Verse 19

Revelation

THE FIRST AND LAST WORKS

Revelation 2:19

It is beautiful to notice that Jesus Christ, in this letter, says all He can of praise before He utters a word of blame. He is glad when His eye, which is as a flame of fire, sees in His children that which He can commend. Praise from Him is praise indeed; and it does not need that the act should be perfect in order to get His commendation. The main thing is, which way does it look? Direction, and not attainment, is what He commends. And if the deed of the present moment be better than the deed of the last, though there be still a great gap between it and absolute completeness, the commendation of my text applies, and is never grudgingly rendered. ‘I know thy last done works to be more than the first.’

There is blame in plenty, grave, and about grave matters, following in this letter, but that is not permitted in the slightest degree to diminish the warmth and heartiness of the commendation.

I. So these words tell us, first, what every Christian life is meant to be.

A life of continual progress, in which each ‘to-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant,’ in reference to all that is good and noble and true is the ideal after which every Christian man, by his profession, is bound to aim, because in the gospel that we say we believe there lie positively infinite powers to make us perfectly pure and noble and complete all round. And in it there lie, if we lay them upon our hearts, and let them work, positively omnipotent motives, to impel us with unwearied and ever-growing earnestness towards likeness to the Master whom we say we love and serve. A continuous progress towards and in all good of every sort is the very law of the Christian life.

The same law holds good in regard to all regions of life. Everybody knows, and a hundred commonplace proverbs tell us, that practice makes perfect, that the man who carries a little weight to-day will be able to carry a bigger one to-morrow; that powers exercised are rewarded by greater strength; that he that begins by a short march, though he is wearied after he has walked a mile or two, will be able to walk a great deal farther the next day. In all departments of effort it is true that the longer we continue in a course, the easier ought it be to do the things, and the larger ought to be the results. The fruit tree does not begin to bear for a year or two, and when it does come the crop is neither in size nor in abundance anything to compare with that which is borne afterwards.

In the same way, for the Christian course, continual progress and an ever-widening area of the life conquered for and filled with Christ, manifestly ought to be the law. ‘Forgetting the things that are behind, reaching forth toward the things that are before, we press toward the mark.’ Every metaphor about the life of the Christian soul carries the same lesson. Is it a building? Then course by course it rises. Is it a tree? Then year by year it spreads a broader shadow, and its leafy crown reaches nearer heaven. Is it a body? Then from childhood to youth, and youth to manhood, it grows. Christianity is growth, continual, all-embracing, and unending.

II. The next remark that I make is this, the commendation of Christ describes what a sadly large proportion of professedly Christian lives are not.

Do you think, brethren, that if He were to come amongst us now with these attributes which the context gives us, with His ‘eyes like unto a flame of fire’ to behold, and His ‘feet like unto fine brass’ to tread down all opposition and evil. He would find amongst us what would warrant His pure lips in saying this about us, either as a community or as individuals - ‘I know that thy last works are more than thy first ‘?

What is the ordinary history of the multitudes of professing Christians? Something which they call - rightly or wrongly is not the question for the moment - conversion,’ then a year or two, or perhaps a month or two, or perhaps a week or two, or perhaps a day or two, of profound earnestness, of joyful consecration, of willing obedience - and then back swarm the old ties, and habits, and associations. Many professing Christians are cases of arrested development, like some of those monstrosities that you see about our pavements - a full-grown man in the upper part with no under limbs at all to speak of, aged half a century, and only half the height of a ten-year-old child. Are there not multitudes of so-called Christian people, in all our churches and communities, like that? I wonder if there are any of them here to-night, that have not grown a bit for years, whose deeds yesterday were just the same as their deeds to-day, and so on through a long, dreary, past perspective of unprogressive life, the old sins cropping up with the old power and venom, the old weak bits in the dyke bursting out again every winter, and at each flood, after all tinkering and mending, the old faults as rampant as ever, the new life as feeble, fluttering, spasmodic, uncertain. They grow, if at all, by fits and starts, after the fashion, say, of a tree that every winter goes to sleep and only makes wood for a little while in the summer time. Or they do not grow even as regularly as that, but there will come sometimes an hour or two of growth, and then long dreary tracts in which there is no progress at all, either in understanding of Christian doctrine or in the application of Christian precept; no increase of conformity to Jesus Christ, no increase of realizing hold of His love, no clearer or more fixed and penetrating contemplation of the unseen realities, than there used to be long, long ago. How many of us are babes in Christ when we have grey hairs upon our heads, and when for the time we ought to be teachers have need that one should teach us again which be the first principles of the oracles of God?

Oh! dear friends, it seems to me sometimes that that notion of the continuous growth in Christian understanding and feeling and character, as attaching to the very essence of the Christian life, is clean gone out of the consciousness of half the professing Christians of this day. How far our notions about Church fellowship, and reception of people into the Church, and the like, have to do with it, is not for me to discuss here. Only this I cannot help feeling, that if Jesus Christ came into most of our congregations nowadays He would not, and could not, say what He said to these poor people at Thyatira, I know thy last works are more than thy first.’

Well, then, let us remember that if He cannot say that, He has to say the opposite. I take it that the words of my text are a distinct allusion to other words of His, when He spoke the converse, about the ‘last state of that man as worse than the first.’ The allusion is obvious, I think, and it is also made in the Second Epistle of Peter, where we find a similar description of the man who has fallen away from Jesus Christ. Let us learn the lesson that either to-day is better than yesterday or it is worse. If a man on a bicycle stands still, he tumbles. The condition of keeping upright is to go onwards. If a climber on an Alpine ice-slope does not put all his power into the effort to ascend, he cannot stick at the place, at an angle of forty-five degrees upon ice, but down he is bound to go. Unless, by effort, he overcomes gravitation, he will be at the bottom very soon. And so, if Christian people are not daily getting better, they are daily getting worse. And this will be the end of it, the demon that was cast out will go back to his house, which he finds ‘swept and garnished’ indeed, but ‘empty,’ because there is no all-filling principle of love to Jesus Christ living in it. He finds it empty. Nature abhors a vacuum; and in he goes with his seven friends; and ‘the last of that man is worse than the first.’

There are two alternatives before us. I would that I could feel for myself always, and that you felt for yourselves, that one or other of them must describe us as professing Christians. Either we are getting more Christlike or we are daily getting less so.

III. Lastly, my text, in its relation to this whole letter, suggests how this commendation may become ours.

Notice the context. Christ says, according to the improved reading which will be found in the Revised Version: ‘I know thy works, and love, and faith, and service’ {or ministry}, ‘and patience, and that thy last works are more than the first.’ That is to say, the great way by which we can secure this continual growth in the manifestations of Christian life is by making it a habit to cultivate what produces it, viz., these two things, charity {or love} and faith.

These are the roots; they need cultivating. A Christian man’s love to Jesus Christ will not grow of itself any more than his faith will. Unless we make a conscience by prayer, by reading of the Scriptures, by subjecting ourselves to the influences provided for the purpose in His word, of strengthening our faith and warming our love, both will dwindle and become fruitless, bearing nothing but leaves of barren though glittering profession. You need to cultivate faith and love just as much as to cultivate any other faculty or any other habit. Neglected, they are sure to die. If they are not cultivated, then their results of ‘service’ {or ‘ministry’} and patience ‘are sure to become less and less.

These two, faith and love, are the roots; their vitality determines the strength and abundance of the fruit that is borne. And unless you dig about them and take care of them, they are sure to die in the unkindly soil of our poor rocky hearts, and blown upon by the nipping winds that howl round the world. If we want our works to increase in number and to rise in quality, let us see to it that we make an honest habit of cultivating that which is their producing cause - love to Jesus Christ and faith in Him.

And then the text still further suggests another thought. At the end of the letter I read: ‘He that overcometh and keepeth My works to the end, to him will I give,’ etc.

Now mark what were called ‘thy works’ in the beginning of the letter are called My works’ in its close. And it is laid down here that the condition of victory, and the prerequisite to a throne and dominion, is the persevering and pertinacious keeping unto the end of these which are now called ‘Christ’s works’ - that is to say, if we want that the Master shall see in us a continuous growth towards Himself, then, in addition to cultivating the habit of faith and love, we must cultivate the other habit of looking to Him as the source of all the work that we do for Him. And when we have passed from the contemplation of our deeds as ours, and come to look upon all that we do of right and truth and beauty as Christ working in us, then there is a certainty of our work increasing in nobility and in extent. The more we lose ourselves and feel ourselves to be but instruments in Christ’s hands, the more shall we seek to fill our lives with all noble service; the more shall we be able to adorn them with all beauty of growing likeness to Him who is their source.

There is still another thing to be remembered, and that is, that if we are to have this progressive godliness we must put forth continuous effort right away to the very close.

We come to no point in our lives when we can slack off in the earnestness of our endeavour to make more and more of Christ’s fullness our own. But to the very last moment of life there is a possibility of still larger victories, and the corresponding possibility of defeat. And, therefore, till the very last, effort built upon faith and made joyous by love and strong by the grasp of His hand, must be the law for us. It is the man that ‘keeps His works’ and persistently strives to do them ‘to the’ very ‘end’ that overcomes.’ And if he slacks one moment before the end he loses the blessing that he otherwise would have attained.

‘Forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forth unto the things that are before,’ must be our motto till the last. We must ever have shining far before us the unattained heights which it may yet be possible for our feet to tread. We must never let habit stiffen us in any one attitude of obedience, nor past failures set a bound to our anticipations of what it is possible for us to become in the future. We must never compare ourselves with ourselves, or with one another. We must never allow low thoughts, and the poor average of Christian life, in our brethren, to come between us and that lofty vision of perfect likeness to Jesus Christ, which should burn before us all as no vain dream, but as the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us.

And if, smitten by its beauty, and drawn by its power, and daily honestly submitting ourselves to the accumulating influences of Christ’s long experienced love, and enlisting habit upon the side of godliness, and weakening opposition and antagonism by long discipline and careful pruning, ‘we press toward the mark for the prize of the higher calling of God in Jesus Christ,’ we shall be like the wise householder that keeps the best wine until the last,

‘And in old age, when others fade, We fruit still forth shall bring.’

And then death itself will but continue the process that has blessed and ennobled life, and will lead us up into another state, whereof ‘the latest works shall be more than the first.’


Verses 26-28

Revelation

IV.-THE VICTOR’S LIFE-POWER

Revelation 2:26-28.

This promise to the victors in Thyatira differs from the preceding ones in several remarkable respects. If you will observe, the summons to give ear to ‘what the Spirit saith to the churches’ precedes the promises in the previous letters; here it follows that promise, and that order is observed in the three subsequent epistles. Now the structure of all these letters is too careful and artistic to allow of the supposition that the change is arbitrary or accidental. There must be some significance in it, but I do not profess to be ready with the explanation, and I prefer acknowledging perplexity to pretending enlightenment.

Then there is another remarkable peculiarity of this letter, viz., the expansion which is given to the designation of the victor as ‘He that overcometh and keepeth My works unto the end.’ Probably not unconnected with that expansion is the other peculiarity of the promise here, as compared with its precursors, viz., that they all regard simply the individual victor and promise to him ‘partaking of the tree of life’; a ‘crown of life’; immunity from ‘the second death’; ‘the hidden manna’; the ‘white stone’; and the ‘new name written’; which, like all the rest of the promises there, belonged to Himself alone; but here the field is widened, and we have others brought in on whom the victor is to exercise an influence. So, then, we enter upon a new phase of conceptions of that future life in these words, which not only dwell upon the sustenance, the repose, the glory that belong to the man himself, but look upon him as still an instrument in Christ’s hands, and an organ for carrying out, by His activities, Christ’s purposes in the world. So, then, I want you to look with me very simply at the ideas suggested by these words.

I. We have the victor’s authority.

Now the promise in my text is moulded by a remembrance of the great words of the second psalm. That psalm stands at the beginning of the Psalter as a kind of prelude; and in conjunction with its companion psalm, the first, is a summing up of the two great factors in the religious life of the Hebrews, viz., the blessedness in the keeping of the law, and the brightness of the hope of the Messiah. The psalm in question deals with that Messianic hope under the symbols of an earthly conquering monarch, and sets forth His dominion as established throughout the whole earth. And our letter brings this marvellous thought, that the spirits of just men made perfect are, somehow or other, associated with Him in that campaign of conquest.

Now, there is much in these words which, of course, it is idle for us to attempt to expand or expound. We can only wait, as we gaze upon the dim brightness, for experience to unlock the mystery. But there is also much which, if we will reverently ponder it, may stimulate us to brave conflict and persistent diligence in keeping Christ’s commandments. I, for my part, believe that Scripture is the only source of such knowledge as we have of the future life; and I believe, too, that the knowledge, such as it is, which we derive from Scripture is knowledge, and can be absolutely trusted. And so, though I abjure all attempts at rhetorical setting forth of the details of this mysterious symbol, I would lay it upon our hearts. It is not the less powerful because it is largely inconceivable; and the mystery, the darkness, the dimness, may be, and are part of the revelation and of the light. ‘There was the hiding of His power.’

And so, notice that whatever may be the specific contents of such a promise as this, the general form of it is in full harmony with the words of our Lord whilst He was on earth. Twice over, according to the gospel narratives - once in connection with Peter’s foolish question, What shall we have therefore? ‘and once in a still more sacred connection, at the table on the eve of Calvary - our Lord gave His trembling disciples this great promise:’ In the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’ Make all allowance that you like for the vesture of symbolism, the reality that lies beneath is that Jesus Christ, the truth, has pledged Himself to this, that His servants shall be associated with Him in the activity of His royalty. And the same great thought, which we only spoil when we try to tear apart the petals which remain closed until the sun shall open them, underlies the twin parables of the pounds and the talents, in regard to each of which we have, ‘Thou hast been faithful over a few things; I will make thee ruler over many things’; and, linked along with the promise of authority, the assurance of union with the Master, ‘Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.’ So this book of the Revelation is only following in the footsteps and expanding the hints of Christ’s own teaching when it triumphs in the thought that we are made kings and priests to God; when it points onwards to a future wherein - we know not how, but we know, if we believe Him when He speaks, that it shall be so - they shall reign with Him for ever and ever.

My text adds further the image of a conquering campaign, of a sceptre of iron crushing down antagonism, of banded opposition broken into shivers, ‘as a potter’s vessel’ dashed upon a pavement of marble. And it says that in that final conflict and final conquest they that have passed into the rest of God, and have dwelt with Christ, shall be with Him, the armies of heaven following Him, clad in white raiment pure and glistening, and with Him subduing, ay! and converting into loyal love the antagonisms of earth. I abjure all attempts at millenarian prophecy, but I point to this, that all the New Testament teaching converges upon this one point, that the Christ who came to die shall come again to reign, and that He shall reign, and His servants with Him. That is enough; and that is all. For all the rest is conjecture and fancy and sometimes folly; and details minimize, and do not magnify, the great, undetailed, magnificent fact.

But all the other promises deal not with something in the remoter future, but with something that begins to take effect the moment the dust, and confusion, and garments rolled in blood, of the battlefield are swept away. At one instant the victors are fighting, at the next they are partaking of the Tree of Life, and on their locks lies the crown, and their happy lips are feeding upon ‘the hidden manna.’ And so, I think, that though, no doubt, the main stress of the promise of authority here points onwards, as our Lord Himself has taught us, to the time of ‘the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of His glory,’ the incidence of the promise is not to be exclusively confined thereto. There must be something in the present for the blessed dead, as well as for them in the future. And this is, that they are united with Jesus Christ in His present activities, and through Him, and in Him, and with Him, are even now serving Him. The servant, when he dies, and has been fitted for it, enters at once on his government of the ten cities.

Thus this promise of my text, in its deepest meaning, corresponds with the deepest needs of a man’s nature. For we can never be at rest unless we are at work; and a heaven of doing nothing is a heaven of ennui and weariness. Whatever sneers may have been cast at the Christian conception of the future, which find vindication, one is sorry to say, in many popular representations and sickly bits of hymns, the New Testament notion of what that future life is to be is noble with all energy, and fruitful with all activity, and strenuous with all service. This promise of my text comes in to supplement the three preceding. They were addressed to the legitimate, wearied longings for rest and fullness of satisfaction for oneself. This is addressed to the deeper and nobler longing for larger service. And the words of my text, whatever dim glory they may partially reveal, as accruing to the victor in the future, do declare that, when he passes beyond the grave, there will be waiting for him nobler work to do than any that he ever has done here.

But let us not forget that all this access of power and enlargement of opportunity are a consequence of Christ’s royalty and Christ’s conquering rule. That is to say, whatever we have in the future we have because we are knit to Him, and all our service there, as all our blessedness here, flows from our union with that Lord. So when He says, as in the words that I have already quoted, that His servants shall sit on thrones, He presents Himself as on the central throne. The authority of the steward over the ten cities is but a consequence of the servant’s entrance into the joy of the Lord. "Whatever there lies in the heavens, the germ of it all is this, that we are as Christ, so closely identified with Him that we are like Him, and share in all His possessions. He says to each of us, ‘All Mine is thine.’ He has taken part of our flesh and blood that we may share in His Spirit. The bride is endowed with the wealth of the bridegroom, and the crowns that are placed on the heads of the redeemed are the crown which Christ Himself has received as the reward of His Cross - ‘even as I have received of My Father.’

II. Note the victor’s starry splendor.

The second symbol of my text is difficult of interpretation, like the first: ‘I will give him the morning star.’ Now, no doubt, throughout Scripture a star is a symbol of royal dominion; and many would propose so to interpret it in the present case. But it seems to me that whilst that explanation - which makes the second part of our promise simply identical with the former, though under a different garb- does justice to one part of the symbol, it entirely omits the other. For the emphasis is here laid on ‘morning’ rather than on ‘star.’ It is ‘the morning star,’ not any star that blazes in the heavens, that is set forth here as a symbolical representation of the victor’s condition. Then another false scent, as it were, on which interpretations have gone, seems to me to be that, taking into account the fact that in the last chapter of the Revelation our Lord is Himself described as ‘the bright and morning star,’ they bring this promise down simply to mean, ‘I will give him Myself.’ Now though it is quite true that, in the deepest of all views, Jesus Christ Himself is the gift as well as the giver of all these sevenfold promises, yet the propriety of representation seems to me to forbid that He should here say, I will give them Myself!’ So I think we must fall back upon what any touch of poetic imagination would at once suggest to be the meaning of the promise, that it is the dawning splendor of that planet of hope and morning, the harbinger of day, which we are to lay hold of. Hebrew prophets, long before, had spoken of Lucifer, ‘light bringer’ ‘the son of the morning.’ Many a poet sang of it before Milton with his

‘Hesperus, that led the starry host, Rode brightest.’

So that I think we are just to lay hold of the thought that the starry splendor, the beauty and the lustre that will be poured upon the victor is that which is expressed by this symbol here. What that lustre will consist in it becomes us not to say. That future keeps its secret well, but that it shall be the perfecting of human nature up to the most exquisite and consummate height of which it is capable, and the enlargement of it beyond all that human experience here can conceive, we may peaceably anticipate and quietly trust.

Only, note the advance here on the previous promises is as conspicuous as in the former part of this great promise. There the Christian man’s influence and authority were set forth under the emblem of regal dominion. Here they are set forth under the emblem of lustrous splendor. It is the spectators that see the glory of the beam that comes from the star. And this promise, like the former, implies that in that future there will be a sphere in which perfected spirits may ray out their light, and where they may gladden and draw some eyes by their beams. I have no word to say as to the sky in which the rays of that star may shine, but I do feel that the very essence of this great representation is that Christian souls in the future, as in the present, will stand forth as the visible embodiments of the glory and lustre of the unseen God.

Further, remember that this image, like the former, traces up the lustre, as that traced the royalty, to communion with Christ, and to impartation from Him. ‘I will give him the morning star.’ We shall shine as the ‘brightness of the firmament, and as the stars for ever,’ as Daniel said - not by inherent but by reflected light. We are not suns, but planets, that move round the Sun of Righteousness, and flash with His beauty.

III. Lastly, mark the condition of the authority and of the lustre.

Here I would say a word about the remarkable expansion of the designation of the victor, to which I have already referred: ‘He that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end.’ We do not know why that expansion was put in, in reference to Thyatira only, but if you will glance over the letter you will see that there is more than usual about works - works to be repented of, or works which make the material of a final retribution and judgment.

Whatever may be the explanation of the expanded designation here, the lesson that it reads to us is a very significant and a very important one. Bring the metaphor of a victor down to the plain, hard, prose fact of doing Christ’s work right away to the end of life. Strip off the rhetoric of the fight, and it comes down to this - dogged, persistent obedience to Christ’s commandments. ‘He that keepeth My works’ does not appeal to the imagination as ‘He that overcometh’ does. But it is the explanation of the victory, and one that we all need to lay to heart.

‘My works ‘: that means the works that He enjoins. No doubt; but look at a verse before my text: ‘I will give unto every one of you according to your works.’ That is, the works that you do, and Christ’s works are not only those which He enjoys, but those of which He Himself set the pattern. He will ‘give according to works’; He will give authority; give the morning star. That is to say, the life which has been moulded according to Christ’s pattern and shaped in obedience to Christ’s commandments is the life which is capable of being granted participation in His dominion, and invested with reflected lustre. If here we do His work we shall be able to do it more fully yonder. ‘The works that I do shall he do also.’ That is the law for life - ay and it is the promise for heaven. ‘And greater works than these shall he do, because I go to My Father.’ When we have come to partial conformity with Him here we may hope - and only then have we the right to hope - for entire assimilation to Him hereafter. If here, from this dim spot which men call earth, and amid the confusion and dust and distances of this present life, we look to Him, and with unveiled faces behold Him, and here, in degree and part, are being changed from glory to glory, there He will turn His face upon us, and, beholding it, in righteousness, ‘we shall be satisfied when we awake with His likeness.’

Brethren, it is for us to choose whether we shall share in Christ’s dominion or be crushed by His iron sceptre. It is for us to choose whether, molding our lives after His will and pattern, we shall hereafter be made like Him in completeness. It is for us to choose whether, seeing Him here, we shall, when the brightness of His coming draws near, be flooded with gladness, or whether we shall call upon the rocks and the hills to cover us from the face of Him that sitteth on the Throne. Time is the mother of Eternity. To-day moulds to-morrow, and when all the to-days and to-morrows have become yesterdays, they will have determined our destiny, because they will have settled our characters. Let us keep Christ’s commandments, and we shall be invested with dignity and illuminated with glory, and entrusted to work, far beyond anything that we can conceive here, though, in their farthest reach and most dazzling brightness, these are but the continuation and the perfecting and the feeble beginnings of earthly conflict and service.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Revelation 2:4". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/revelation-2.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 25th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
ADVERTISEMENT
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology