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Bible Commentaries

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture
Revelation 3

 

 

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Verse 1

Revelation

THE LORD OF THE SPIRITS AND THE STARS

Revelation 3:1.

The titles by which our Lord speaks of Himself in the letters to the seven churches are chosen to correspond with the spiritual condition of the community addressed. The correspondence can usually be observed without difficulty, and in this case is very obvious. The church in Sardis, to which Christ is presented under this aspect as the possessor of ‘the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars,’ had no heresies needing correction. It had not life enough to produce even such morbid secretions. Neither weeds nor flowers grow in winter. There may be a lower depth than the condition of things when people are all thinking, and some of them thinking wrongly, about Christian truth. Better the heresies of Ephesus and Thyatira than the acquiescent deadness of Sardis.

It had no immoralities. The gross corruptions of some in Pergamum had no parallel there. Philadelphia had none, for it kept close to its Lord, and Sardis is rebuked for none, because its evil was deeper and sadder. It was not flagrantly corrupt, it was only - dead.

Of course it had no persecutions. Faithful Smyrna had tribulation unto death, hanging like a thundercloud overhead, and Philadelphia, beloved of the Lord, was drawing near its hour of trial. But Sardis had not life enough to be obnoxious. Why should the world trouble itself about a dead church? It exactly answers the world’s purpose, and is really only a bit of the world under another name.

To such a church comes flaming in upon its stolid indifference this solemn and yet glad vision of the Lord of the ‘seven Spirits of God,’ and of ‘the seven stars.’

I. Let us think of the condition of the church which especially needs this vision.

It is all summed up in that judgment, pronounced by Him who ‘knows its works’: ‘Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.’ No works either good or bad are enumerated, though there were some, which He gathers together in one condemnation, as ‘not perfect before God.’

We are not to take that word ‘dead’ in the fullest sense of which it is capable, as we shall see presently. But let us remember how, when on earth, the Lord, whose deep words on that matter we owe mainly to John, taught that all men were either living, because they had been made alive by Him, or dead - how He said, ‘Except ye eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man, ye have no life in you,’ and how one of the main ideas of John’s whole teaching is, ‘He that hath the Son hath life.’ This remembrance will help us to give the words their true meaning. Death is the condition of those who are separated from Him, and not receiving from Him the better life into their spirits by communion and faith.

Into this condition the church in Sardis had fallen. People and bishop had lost their hold on Him. Their hearts beat with no vigorous love to Him, but only feebly throbbed with a pulsation which even His hand laid on their bosoms could scarcely detect. Their thoughts had no clear apprehension of Him or of His love. Their communion with Him had ceased. Their lives had no radiant beauty of self-sacrifice for Christ’s sake. Their Christianity was dying out.

But this death was not entire, as is seen from the fact that in the next verse ‘ready to die’ is the expression applied to some among them, or perhaps to some lingering works which still survived. They were at the point of death, moribund, with much of their spiritual life extinct, but here and there a spark among the ashes, which His eye saw, and His breath could fan into a flame. Some works still survived, though not ‘perfect,’ shrunken and sickly like the blanched shoots of a plant feebly growing in a dark cellar.

In some animals of low organization you may see muscular movements after life is extinct. So churches and individual Christians may keep on performing Christian work for a time after the true impulse that should produce it has ceased. A train will run for some distance after the steam has been shut off. Institutions last after the life is out of them, for use and wont keeps up a routine of action, though the true motive is dead, and men may go on for long, nominal adherents of a cause to which they are bound by no living conviction. How much of your Christian activity is the manifestation of life, and how much of it is the ghastly twitchings of a corpse under galvanism?

This death was unseen but by the flame-eyed Christ. These people in Sardis had ‘a name to live.’ They had a high reputation among the Asiatic churches for vigorous Christian character. And they themselves, no doubt, would be very much astonished at the sledgehammer blow of this judgment of their state. One can fancy them saying - ‘We dead! Do not we stand high among our brethren, have we not this and the other Christian work among us? Have we not prophesied in Thy name? ‘Yes, and the surest sign of spiritual death is unconsciousness. Paralysis is not felt. Mortification is painless. Frost-bitten limbs are insensitive. They only tingle when life is coming back to them. When a man says I am asleep, he is more than half awake.

One characteristic of their death is that they have forgotten what they were in better and happier times, and therefore need the exhortation, ‘Remember how thou hast received and didst hear.’ They have fallen so far that the height on which they once stood is out of their sight, and they are content to lie on the muddy flat at its base. No stings from conscious decline disturb them. They are too far gone for that. The same round of formal Christian service which marked their decline from their brethren hid it from themselves.

That is a solemn fact worth making very clear to ourselves, that the profoundest spiritual decline may be going on in us, and we be all unconscious of it. Samson wist not that his strength was departed from him,’ and in utter ignorance he tried to perform his old feats, only to find his weakness. So the life of our spirits may have ebbed away, and we know not how much blood we have lost until we try to raise ourselves and sink back fainting. Like some rare essence in a partially closed vessel, put away in some drawer, we go to take it out and find nothing but a faint odour, a rotten cork, and an empty phial. The sure way to lose the precious elixir of a Christian life is to shut it up in our hearts. No life is maintained without food, air, and exercise. We must live on the bread of God which came down from heaven, and breathe the breath of His life-giving Spirit, and use all our power for Him, or else, for all our name to live, and our shrunken, feeble imitations of the motions of life, the eyes which are as a flame of fire will see the sad reality, and the lips into which grace is poured will have to speak over us the one grim word - dead.

II. Notice now the thought of Christ presented to such a church. ‘He that hath the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.’

The greater part of the attributes with which our Lord speaks of Himself in the beginnings of the seven letters to the churches are drawn from the features of the majestic vision of the Christ in the first chapter of this book. But nothing there corresponds to the first clause of this description, and so far this designation is singular. There are, however, three other places in the Apocalypse which throw much light on it, and to these we may turn for a moment. In the apostolic salutation at the beginning of the book {i. 4} John in yokes mercy and grace on the Asiatic churches from the Eternal Father, ‘and from the seven Spirits which are before the throne,’ and from Christ, the faithful witness. In the grand vision of heavenly realities {ch. iv.} the seer beholds burning before the throne seven lamps of fire, ‘which are the seven Spirits of God,’ and when, in the later portion of the same, he beholds the conquering Lamb, who looses the seals of the book of the world’s history, he sees Him having ‘seven eyes which are the seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth,’ an echo of old words of the same prophet who had been John’s precursor in the symbolic use of the ‘candlestick,’ as representing the Church, and who speaks of ‘the seven eyes of the Lord which run to and fro throughout the whole earth’ [Zechariah 4:10].

Clearly in all these passages we have the same idea presented of the Holy Spirit of God in the completeness and manifoldness of its sevenfold energies, conceived of as possessed and bestowed by the Lamb of God, the Lord of all the churches. The use of the plural and the number seven is remarkable, but quite explicable, on the ground of the sacred number expressing perfection, and not inconsistent with personal unity, underlying the variety of manifestations. The personality of the Spirit is sufficiently set forth by that refrain in each epistle, ‘Let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.’ The divinity of the Spirit is plainly involved in the triple benediction at the beginning of the letter, and by the sacred place in which there the Spirit is invoked, midmost between the Father and the Son. The seven lamps before the throne speak of the flaming perfection of that Spirit of burning conceived of as immanent in the Divine nature. The seven eyes sent forth into all the earth speak of the perfectness of the energies of that same Spirit, conceived of as flashing and gleaming through all the world. And the great words of our text agree with that vision of these seven as being the eyes of the Lamb slain, in telling us that that fiery Spirit is poured out on men by the Lord, who had to die before He could cast fire on earth.

This is the thought which a dead or decaying church needs most. There is a Spirit which gives life, and Christ is the Lord of that Spirit. The whole fullness of the Divine energies is gathered in the Holy Spirit, and this is His chiefest work - to breathe into our deadness the breath of life. Many other blessed offices are His, and many other names belong to Him. He is ‘the Spirit of adoption,’ He is ‘the Spirit of Supplication,’ He is ‘the Spirit of Holiness,’ He is ‘the Spirit of Wisdom,’ He is ‘the Spirit of Power and of Love and of a sound mind,’ He is ‘the Spirit of Counsel and Might’; but highest of all is the name which expresses His mightiest work, the Spirit of Life.’ The flaming lamps tell of His flashing brightness; the seven eyes of His watchful Omniscience and other symbols witness the various sides of His gracious activity on men’s hearts. The anointing oil was consecrated from gold to express His work of causing men’s whole powers to move sweetly and without friction in the service of God, and of feeding the flame of devotion in the heart. The ‘water’ spoke of cleansing efficacy, as ‘fire’ of melting, transforming, purifying power. But the ‘rushing mighty wind,’ blowing where it listeth, unsustained, and free, visible only in its effects, and yet heard by every ear that is not deaf, sometimes soft and low, as the respiration of a sleeping child, sometimes loud and strong as the storm, is His best emblem. The very name ‘the Spirit’ emphasizes that aspect of His work in which He is conceived of as the source of life. This is the thought of His working which comes with most glad yet solemn meaning to Christian people who feel how low their life has sunk. This is the true antidote to the deadness, so real and common among all communions now, however it is skimmed over and hidden by a kind of film of activity.

Christ has this sevenfold Spirit. That means first that the same peaceful dove which floated down from the open heavens on His meek head, just raised from the baptismal stream, fills now and for ever His whole humanity with its perfect energies. ‘God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.’ How marvellous that there is a manhood to which the whole fullness of the Spirit of God can be imparted, an ‘earthen vessel,’ capacious enough to hold this ‘treasure’! How marvellous that there is a Son of man, who is likewise Son of God, and has the Spirit, not only for His own human perfecting, but to shed it forth on all who love Him! It is the slain Lamb, who has the seven Spirits of God. That is to say, it was impossible that the fullness of spiritual influence could be poured out quickening on men until Christ had died, and by His death He has become the dispenser to the world of the principle of life. In His hands is the gift. He is the Lord of the Spirit, ascended up to give to men according to the measure of their capacity, of that Spirit which He has received, until we all come to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. How unlike the relation of other teachers to their disciples! Their spirit is the very thing they cannot give. They can impart teaching, they can give a method and principles, and a certain direction to the mind. They can train imitators. But they are like Elijah, knowing not if their spirit will rest on their successors, and sure that, if it do, it has not been their gift. The departing prophet had to say to the petition for an elder son’s legacy of his spirit, ‘Thou hast asked a hard thing,’ but Christ ascending let that gift fall from His uplifted hands of blessing, and the dove that abode on Him fluttered downwards from the hiding cloud, to rest on the Apostles’ heads, as they steadfastly gazed up into heaven. Therefore they went back to Jerusalem with joy, even before the fuller gift of Pentecost.

Pentecost was but a transitory sign of a perpetual gift. The rushing wind died into calm, and the flickering tongues of fire had faded before the spectators reached the place. Nor did the miracle of utterance last either. But whilst all that is past, the substance remains. The fire of Pentecost has not died down into chilly embers, nor have the ‘rivers of living water, promised by the lips of incarnate truth, been swallowed up in the sands or failed at their source. He is perpetually bestowing the Spirit of God upon His Church. We are only too apt to forget the present activity of our ascended Lord. We think of His mighty work as ‘finished’ on the Cross, and do not conceive clearly and strongly enough His continuous work which is being done, now and ever, on the throne. That work is not only His priestly intercession and representation of us in heaven, but is also His working on earth in the bestowal on all His followers of that Divine Spirit to be the life of their lives and the fountain of all their holiness, wisdom, strength, and joy. For ever is He near us, ready to quicken and to bless. He will breathe in silent ways grace and power into us, and when life if low, He will pour a fuller tide into our veins. He knows all our deadness and He can cure it all. He is Himself the life, and He is the Lord and giver of life, because the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth are the seven eyes of the slain Lamb.

One great channel through which spiritual life is imparted to a dying church is suggested by the other part of the description of our Lord here as having the seven stars.’ The ‘stars’ are the ‘angels of the churches,’ by whom we are probably to understand their bishops and pastors. If so, then we have a striking thought, symbolized by the juxtaposition. Christ, as it were, holds in the one hand the empty vessels, and in the other the brimming cup, from which He will pour out the supply for their emptiness.

The lesson taught us is, that in a dead church the teachers mostly partake of the deadness, and are responsible for it. But, further, we learn that Christ’s way of reviving a decaying and all but effete church is of tenest by filling single men full of His Spirit, and then sending them out to kindle a soul under the ribs of death. So Luther brought back life to the churches in his day. So the Wesleys brought about the great evangelical revival of last century. So let us pray that it may be again in our day when another century is drawing near its end, and the love of many has grown cold.

If we regard the ‘angels’ as being but ideal representatives of the churches themselves, then we may gather from the juxtaposition of the two clauses a lesson which is ever true. In Christ’s one hand is the perfect supply for all our need, wisdom for our blindness, might to clothe our weakness, righteousness for our sin, life to flood our drooping souls. In Christ’s other hand He holds us all, and surely He will not leave us empty while we are within His arm’s length of such fullness. Let us look to Him alone for all we need, and rejoice to know that we, held in His grasp, are near His heart, the homo of infinite love, and near His hand, the source of infinite supply of strength and grace.

III. Consider, now, the practical uses of these thoughts.

That vision should shame us into penitent consciousness of our own deadness. When we contrast the little life we possess with the abundance waiting to be given, like the poor scanty supply in some choked millstream compared with the full-flashing store in the brimming river, we may well be stricken with shame. So much offered and so little possessed; such fiery energy of love possible, and poor tepid feeling, actual! Such a mighty breath of God blowing all about us, and we lying as if enchanted and becalmed, with scarce wind enough to keep our idle sails from flapping. There in Jesus Christ is the measure of what we might possess and the pattern of what we should possess - does it not bow us in penitence, because of what we do possess?

But while ashamed and penitent, we should be kept by that vision from despondent thoughts, as if the future could never be different from the past. It is not good to think too much of our failure and emptiness, lest penitence darken into despair, and shame cut the sinews of our souls and unfit them for all brave endeavour. Let us think of Christ’s fullness and hope, as well as repent.

Let it stir us too to seek for the reason why we have not more of Christ’s life. What is the film which prevents the light from reaching our eyes? I remember once seeing by a roadside a stone trough for cattle to drink from empty, because the pipe from which it was fed was stopped by a great plug of ice. That is the reason why many of our hearts are so empty of Christ’s Spirit. We have plugged the channel with a mass of ice. Close communion with Jesus Christ is the only means of possessing His Spirit. With penitence let us go back to Him, and let us hold fast by His hand. If we listen to Him, trust Him, keep our minds and hearts attent on Him, He will breathe on us as of old, and as we hear Him say, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost,’ a diviner life will pass into our veins, and the law of the Spirit of life in Christ will make us free from the law of sin and death.


Verse 4

Revelation

WALKING IN WHITE

Revelation 3:4.

The fond fancy that the primitive Church was a better Church than todays is utterly blown to pieces by the facts that are obvious in Scripture. Here, in the Apostolic time, under the very eye of the fervent Apostle of Love, and so recently after the establishment of Christianity on the seaboard of Asia, was a church, a young church, with all the faults of a decrepit old one, and in which Jesus Christ Himself could find nothing to commend, and about which He could only say that it had a name to live and was dead. The church at Sardis suffered no persecution. It was much too like the world to be worth the trouble of persecuting. It had no heresy; it did not care enough about religion to breed heresies. It was simply utterly apathetic and dead. And yet there was a salt in it, or it would have been rotten as well as dead. There wore ‘a few names, even in Sardis,’ which, in the midst of all the filth, had kept their skirts white. They had ‘not defiled their garments,’ and so with beautiful congruity the promise is given to them - ‘they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.’ The promise, I said. It would have been wiser to have said the promises, for there are a great many wrapped up in germ in these quiet, simple words. Nearly all that we know, and all that we need to know, about that mysterious future is contained in them. So my purpose now is, with perfectly inartificial simplicity, just to take these words and weigh them as a jeweler might weigh in his scales stones which are very small but very precious.

I. We have here, then, the promise of continuous and progressive activity - ‘they shall walk.’

In Scripture we continually find that metaphor of the ‘walk’ as equivalent to an outward life of action. To make that idea prominent in our conceptions of the future is a great gain, for it teaches us at once how imperfect and one-sided are the thoughts about it which come with such fascination to most of us wearied men. It is a wonderful, unconscious confession of the troubled, toilsome, restless lives which most of us live, that the sweetest and most frequently recurring thought about the great future is, ‘There remaineth a rest for the people of God’; where the wearied muscles may be relaxed, and the tortured hearts may be quiet. But whilst we must not say one word to break or even to diminish the depth and sweetness of that aspect of the Christian hope, neither must we forget that it is only one phase of the complete whole, and that this promise of the text has to be taken with it. ‘They shall walk,’ in all the energies of a constant activity, far more intense than it was at its highest here, and yet never, by one hair’s breadth, trenching upon the serenity and indisturbance of that perpetual repose. We have to put together the two ideas, which to all our experience are antagonistic, but which yet are not really so, but only complementary, as the two halves of a sphere may be, in order to get the complete round. We have to say, with this very book of the Apocalypse, which goes so deep into the secrets of heaven, ‘His servants serve Him and see His face’ - uniting together in one harmonious whole the apparent and, as far as earth’s experience goes, the real opposites of continual contemplation and continual activity of service. It is so hard for us in this life to find out practically for ourselves how much to give to each of these, that it is blessed to know that there comes a time for all of us, if we will, when that difficulty will solve itself, and Mary and Martha shall be one person, continually serving and yet continually sitting, no more troubled about many things, in the quiet of the Master’s presence, ‘They shall walk,’ harmonizing work and rest, contemplation and service.

And then there is the other thought, too, involved in that pregnant word, of continuous advancement, growing every moment, through the dateless cycles, nearer and nearer to the true centre of our souls, and up into the loftiness of perfection. We do not know what ministries of love and service may wait for Christ’s servants yonder, but of this we can be quite sure, that all the faculties for service which we see crippled and limited by the hindrances of earth will find in the future a worthier sphere. Do you think it likely that God should so waste His wealth as to take men and redeem them and sanctify them, and prepare them by careful discipline and strengthen their powers by work, and then, just when they are out of their apprenticeship and ready for larger service, should condemn them to idleness? Is that like Him? Must it not rather be that there is a wider field for the faculties that were trained here; and that, whatsoever there may be in eternity, there will be no idleness there?

II. Still further, here is the further promise of companionship with Christ. ‘They shall walk with Me’

‘How can two walk together except they be agreed?’ If there be this promised union, it can only be because of the completeness of sympathy and the likeness of character between Christ and His companions. The unity between Christ and His followers in the heavens is but the carrying into perfectness of the imperfect union that makes all the real blessedness of life here upon earth.

‘With Me.’ Why! that union with Christ is all we know about heaven. All the rest is imagery, that is reality. All the rest is material symbol, that is what it all means.

In the sweet, calm words of Richard Baxter’s simple, but deep song -

‘My knowledge of that life is small, The eye of faith is dim; But ‘tis enough that Christ knows all, And I shall be with Him.’

We ask ourselves and one another, and God’s Word, a great many questions about that unseen life; and sometimes it seems to us as if it would have been so much easier for us to bear the burdens that are laid upon us if some of these questions could have been answered. But we do not really need to know more than that we shall be ‘ever with the Lord.’ Two, who are ever with Him, cannot be far from one another. So we may thankfully feel that the union of all is guaranteed by the union of each with Him. And for the rest we can wait.

Only remember that to walk with Him implies that those who were but little children here have grown up to maturity. We try to tread in His footsteps here, but at the best we follow Him with tottering feet and short steps, as children trying to keep up with an elder brother. But there we shall keep step and walk in His company, side by side. For earth the law is, ‘leaving us an example that we should follow His steps.’ For heaven the law is ‘they shall walk with Me’; or, as the other promise of this book has it, ‘they shall follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth,’ No heights are so high to which He rises but He will make our feet like hind’s feet to tread upon the high places; no glories so great but we shall share them. Nothing in His divine nature shall part Him from us, but we shall be ever with Him. Let us comfort one another with these words.

III. Further, my text speaks a promise of the perfection of purity. ‘They shall walk with Me in white.’

The white garment, of course, is a plain metaphor for unsullied purity of moral character. And it is worth notice that the word employed by the Apocalyptic seer here for white, as indeed is the case throughout the manifold references to that heavenly colour which abound in this book, implies no dead ghastly white, but a flashing glistering whiteness, as of sunshine upon snow, which, I suppose, is the whitest thing that human eyes can look upon undazzled. So of the same radiant tint as the great White Throne on which He sits shall be the vestures of those that follow Him. The white robe is the conqueror’s robe, the white robe is the priest’s robe, the white robe is the copy of His who stood in that solitary spot on Mount Hermon, just below its snowy summit, with garments ‘so as no fuller on earth could white them’; white as the driven and sunlit snow that sparkled above. Perhaps we are to think of a glorified body as being the white garment. Perhaps it may be rather that the image expresses simply the conception of entire moral purity, but in either case it means the loftiest manifestation of the most perfect Christlike beauty as granted to all His followers.

IV. And so, lastly, note the condition of all these promises.

‘Thou hast a few names, even in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white: for they are worthy.’ The only thing that makes it possible for any man to have that future life of active communion with Jesus Christ, in perfect beauty of inward character and of outward form, is that here he shall by faith keep himself ‘unspotted from the world.’ There is a congruity and proportion between the earthly life and the future life. Heaven is but the life of earth prolonged and perfected by the dropping away of all the evil, the strengthening and lifting to completeness of all the good. And the only thing that fits a man for the white robe of glory is purity of character down here on earth.

There is nothing said here directly about the means by which that purity can be attained or maintained. That is sufficiently taught us in other places, but what in this saying Christ insists upon is that, however it is got, it must be got, and that there is no life of blessedness, of holiness and glory, beyond the grave, except for those for whom there is the life of aspiration after, and in some real measure possession of, moral purity and righteousness and goodness here upon earth.

Do not be surprised at that word - ‘They are worthy.’ It is an evangelical word. It declares the perfect congruity between the life on earth and the issue and reward of the life in heaven. And it holds up to us the great principle that purity here is crowned with glory hereafter. If the white garments could be put upon a black soul they would be like the poisoned shirt on the demigod in the Greek legend, they would bite into the flesh, and burn and madden. But it is impossible, and for ever and ever it remains true that only those who have kept their garments undefiled here shall ‘walk in white.’ It does not need absolute cleanness from all spot, God be thanked! But it does need, first, that we shall have ‘washed our robes and made them white’ in the ‘blood of the Lamb.’ And then that we shall keep them white, by continual recourse to the blood that cleanses from all sin, and by continual effort after purity like His own and received from Him. They who come back as prodigals in rags, and have their filthy tatters exchanged for the clean garment of Christ’s righteousness, with which by faith they are invested, and who then take heed to follow Him, with loins girt and robes kept undefiled, and ever washed anew in His cleansing blood, shall be of the heavenly companions of the glorified Christ, joined to Him in all His dominion, and clothed in flashing whiteness like the body of His glory.


Verse 5

Revelation

V. - THE VICTOR’S LIFE-ROBE

Revelation 3:5.

The brightest examples of earnest Christianity are generally found amidst widespread indifference. If a man does not yield to the prevailing tone, it is likely to quicken him into strong opposition. So it was in this Church of Sardis. It was dead. That was the summing up of its condition. It had a name to live, and the name only made the real deadness more complete. But there were exceptions: souls ablaze with Divine love, who in the midst of corruption had kept their robes clean, and whom Christ’s own voice declared to be worthy to walk with Him in white.

That great eulogium, which immediately precedes our text, is referred to in the first of its triple promises; as is even more distinctly seen if we read our text as the Revised Version does: ‘He that overcometh, the same shall thus be clothed in white raiment’; the ‘thus ‘pointing back to the preceding words, and widening the promise to the faithful few in Sardis so as to extend to all victors in all Churches throughout all time.

Now the remaining two clauses of our text also seem to be coloured by the preceding parts of this letter. We read in it, ‘Thou hast a name that thou livest’; and again, ‘Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments.’ Our text catches up the word, and moulds its promises accordingly. One is more negative, the other more positive; both link on to a whole series of Scriptural representations.

Now all these declarations of the blessedness of the victors are, of course, intensely symbolical, and we can but partially translate them. I simply seek now to take them as they stand, and to try to grasp at least some part of the dim but certain hopes which they partly reveal and partly hide. There are, then, three things here.

I. The victor’s robes.

‘He that overcometh, the same shall {thus} be clothed in white raiment.’ White, of course, is the festal colour. But it is more than that: it is the heavenly colour. In this book we read of white thrones, white horses, hairs ‘white as snow,’ white stones. But we are to notice that the word here employed does not merely mean a dead whiteness, which is the absence of colour, but a lustrous and glistering white, like that of snow smitten by sunshine, or like that which dazzled the eyes of the three on the Mount of Transfiguration, when they saw the robes of the glorified Christ ‘whitened as no fuller on earth could white them.’ So that we are to associate with this metaphor, not only the thoughts of purity, festal joy, victory, but likewise the thought of lustrous glory.

Then the question arises, can we translate that metaphor of the robe into anything that will come closer to the fact? Now I may remind you that this figure runs through the whole of Scripture. We find, for instance, in one of the old prophets, a vision in which the taking away of Israel’s sin is represented by the high priest, the embodiment of the nation, standing in filthy garments, which were stripped off him and fair ones put on him. We find our Lord giving forth a parable of a man who came to the feast not having on a wedding garment. We find the Apostle Paul speaking frequently, in a similar metaphor, of putting off an ancient nature and putting on a new one. We find in this book, not only the references in my text and the context, but the great saying concerning those that have ‘washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,’ and the final benediction pronounced upon those who washed their robes, that they may ‘have a right to enter through the gate into the city.’

Putting all these things together - and the catalogue might be extended - we have to observe that the signification of this symbol is not that of something wholly external to or apart from the man, but that it is rather that part of his nature, so to speak, which is visible to beholders, and we may translate it very simply - the robe is character. So the promise of my text, brought down so far as we can bring it to its primary element, is of a purity and lustrous glory of personal character, which shall be visible to any eye that may look upon the wearer. What more there may be found in it when we are ‘clothed upon with our house which is from heaven,’ if so be that ‘being clothed we shall not be found naked,’ I do not presume to say. I do not speculate, I simply translate the plain words of Scripture into the truth which they represent.

But now I would have you notice that this, like all the promises of the New Testament in regard to a future life, lays main stress on what a man is. Not where we are, not what we have, not what we do or know, make heaven, but what we are. The promises are clothed for us, as they must needs be, in sensuous images, which sensuous men have interpreted in far too low a sense; or sometimes have not been even at the trouble of interpreting. But in reality there are but two facts that we know about that future, and they are smelted together, as cause and effect, in the great saying of the most spiritual of the Apostles: ‘We shall be like Him’ - that is what we shall be - ‘for we shall see Him as He is.’ So, then, purity of character, when all the stains on the garments, spotted by the flesh, shall have melted away; purity of character, when temptations shall have no more food in us and so conflict shall not be needful; purity like Christ’s own, and derived from the vision of Him, according to the great law that beholding is transformation, and the light we see is the light which we reflect - this is the heart of this great promise.

But notice that the main thing about it is that this lustrous purity of a perfected character is declared to be the direct outcome of the character, that was made by effort and struggle carried on in faith here upon earth. In this clause the familiar I will give ‘does not appear; and the thought of the condition upon earth working itself out into the glory of lustrous purity in the heavens is made even more emphatic by the adoption of the reading to which I have referred: ‘Shall thus be clothed,’ which points us backwards to what preceded, where our Lord’s own voice declares that the men who have not defiled their garments upon earth are they who ‘shall walk with Him in white.’ The great law of continuity and of increase, so that the dispositions cultivated here rise to sovereign power hereafter, and that what was tendency, and struggle, and imperfect realization upon earth becomes fact and complete possession in the heavens, is declared in the words before us.

What solemn importance that thought gives to the smallest of our victories or defeats here on earth! They are threads in the web out of which our garment is to be cut. After all, yonder as here, we are dressed in homespun, and we make our clothing and shape it for our wear. That truth is perfectly consistent with the other truth on which it reposes- that the Christian man owes to Christ the reception of the new garment of purity and holiness. The evangelical doctrine, ‘not by works of righteousness which we have done,’ and its complement in the words of my text, are perfectly harmonious. We cannot weave the web except Christ gives us yarn, nor can we work out our own salvation except Christ bestows upon us the salvation which we work out. The two things go together. Let us remember that, whilst in one aspect the souls that were all clad in filthy garments are arrayed as a bridegroom decketh his bride with a fair vesture, in another aspect we ourselves, by our own efforts, by our own struggles, by our own victories, have to weave and fashion and cut and sew the dress which we shall wear for ever.

II. Notice here the victor’s place in the Book of Life.

‘I will not blot out his name out of the Book of Life.’ I have pointed out that in the former clause the characteristic ‘I will give’ is omitted, in order that emphatic expression might be secured for the thought that in one aspect the reward of the future is automatic or self working. But that thought is by no means a complete statement of the truth with regard to this matter; and so, in both of the subsequent clauses, we have our Lord representing Himself {for it is never to be forgotten that these promises are Christ’s own words from heaven} as clothed with His judicial functions, and as determining the fates of men. ‘I will not blot out his name out of the Book of Life.’ ‘That is a solemn and tremendous claim, that Christ’s finger can write, and Christ’s finger can erase, a name from that register.

Now I have said that all these clauses link themselves on to a whole series of Scriptural representatives. I showed that briefly in regard to the former; I would do so in regard to the present one.

You will remember, perhaps, in the early history of Israel, that Moses, with lofty self-devotion, prayed God to blot his name out of His book, if only by that sacrifice Israel’s sin might be forgiven. You may recall too, possibly, how one of the prophets speaks of ‘those that are written amongst the living in Jerusalem,’ and how Daniel, in his eschatological vision, refers to those whose names were or were not written in the book. I need not remind you of how our Lord commanded His disciples to rejoice not in that the spirits were subject to them, but rather to rejoice because their names were written in heaven. Nor need I do more than simply refer to the Apostle’s tender and pathetic excuse for not remembering the names of some of his fellow workers that it mattered very little, because their names were written in the Book of Life. Throughout this Apocalypse, too, we find subsequent allusions of the same nature, just as in the Epistle to the Hebrews we read of the ‘Church of the first-born whose names are written in heaven.’ Now all these, thus put together, suggest two ideas: one which I do not deal with here - viz., that of a burgess-roll - and the other that of a register of those who truly live. And that is the thought that is suggested here. The promise of my text links on to the picture in the letter of the condition of the Church at Sardis, which was dead, and says that the victor will truly and securely and for ever possess life, with all the clustered blessedness’ which, like a nebula unresolved, gather themselves, dim yet radiant, round that great word.

But what I especially note here is, not so much this reiteration of the fundamental and all-embracing promise which has met us in preceding letters, the promise of a secure, eternal life, as that plain and solemn implication that a name may be struck out of that book. Theological exigencies compelled our fathers to deny that, but surely the words of our text are too plain to be neglected or misunderstood. It is possible that a name, like the name of a dishonest attorney, shall be struck off the rolls. Do not let any desire for theological symmetry blind you, brother, to that fact. Take it into account in your daily lives. It is possible for a man to ‘cast away his confidence.’ It is possible for him to make shipwreck of the faith. Some of you will remember that pathetic story of Cromwell’s deathbed, when he asked one of his ghostly counselors whether it was true that ‘once in the covenant, always in the covenant? ‘He got the answer, ‘Yes’; and then he said, ‘I know I once was,’ and so died. Brethren, it is the victors whose names are kept upon the roll. These people at Sardis had a name to live, and they thought that their names were in the Book of Life. And when it was opened, lo! a blot. Some of us have seen upon the granite of Egyptian temples the cartouches of a defeated dynasty chiseled out by their successors. The granite on which this list is written is not so hard but that a man, by his own sin, falling away from the Master, may chisel out his name. A student goes up for his examination. He thinks he has succeeded. The pass-lists come out, and his name is not there. Take care that you are not building upon past faith, but remember that it is the victor’s name that is not blotted out of the Book of Life.

III. Lastly, the victor’s recognition by the Commanding Officer.

‘I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels.’ There, too, we have a kind of mosaic, made up of previous Scripture declarations. Our Lord, twice in the Gospels - and on neither occasion in the Gospel according to St. John - has similar sayings; once about confessing the name of him who confesses His name ‘before the Father’; once about confessing it ‘before the holy angels.’ Here these are smelted together into the one great recognition by Jesus Christ of the victor as being His.

Now I need not remind you of how emphatically, to this clause also, the remark which I have made with regard to the former one applies, and how tremendous and inexplicable, except on one hypothesis, is this same assumption by Christ of judicial functions which determine the fate and the standing of men.

But I would rather point to the thought that this promise carries with it, not only Christ’s judicial recognition of the victor, but also the thought of loving relationship, of close friendship, of continual regard. He ‘confesses the name’ - that means that He takes to His heart, and loves and cares for the person.

Is it not the highest honour that can be given to any soldier, to have honorable mention in the general’s despatches? It matters very little what becomes of our names upon earth, though there they be dark, and swift oblivion devours them almost as soon as we are dead, except in so far as they may live for a little while in the memory of two or three that loved us. That is the fate of most of us. And surely ‘the hollow wraith of dying fame’ may ‘fade wholly,’ and we exult, ‘if Jesus Christ confess our name.’ It matters little who forgets us if He remembers us. It matters even less what the judgments pronounced in our obituaries may be, if He says, ‘That man is Mine, and I own him.’ Ah! brethren, what a reversal of the world’s judgments there will be one day; and how names that have been blown through a thousand trumpets, and had hosannas sung to them, and been welcomed with a tumult of acclaim through generations, will sink into oblivion and never be heard of any more, and the unseen and obscure men who lived by, and for, and with Jesus Christ, will come to the front I Praise from Him is praise indeed.

Now, brethren, the upshot of it all is that life here derives its meaning and its consecration from life hereafter. The question for us is, do we habitually realize that we are weaving the garment we must wear, be it a poisoned robe that shall eat into our flesh like fire, or be it a vesture clean and white? Do we brace ourselves for the obscure struggles of our little lives, feeling that they are not small because they carry eternal consequences? Are we content to be unknown because well known by Him, and to live so that He shall acknowledge us in the day when to be acknowledged by Him means glory and blessedness beyond all hopes and all symbols; and to be disowned by Him means ruin and despair? You know the conditions of victory. Lay them to heart, and its issues, and the tragical results of death; and then cleave, with mind and heart and will, to Him who can make you more than conquerors, who will change your frayed and dinted armour for the fine linen, clean and white, and will point to you, before His Father and the universe, and say, ‘This man was one of Thy faithful soldiers.’ That will be honour indeed. Do you see to it that you make it yours.


Verse 10

Revelation

KEEPING AND KEPT

Revelation 3:10.

There are only two of the seven churches which receive no censure or rebuke from Jesus Christ; and of these two - viz., the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia - the former receives but little praise though much sympathy. This church at Philadelphia stands alone in the abundance and unalloyed character of the eulogium which Christ passes upon it. He doles out His praise with a liberal hand, and nothing delights Him more than when He can commend even our imperfect work. He does not wait for our performances to reach the point of absolute sinlessness before He approves them. Do you think that a father or a mother, when its child was trying to please him or her, would be at all likely to say, ‘Your gift is worth very little. I could buy a far better one in a shop’? And do you think that Jesus Christ’s love and delight in the service of His children are less generous than ours? Surely not.

So here we are not to suppose that these good souls in Philadelphia lived angelic lives of unbroken holiness because Jesus Christ has nothing but praise for them. Rather we are to learn the great thought that, in all our poor, stained service, He recognizes the central motive and main drift, and, accepting these, is glad when He can commend. ‘Thou hast kept the word of My patience,’ and, with a beautiful reciprocity, ‘I will keep those that keep My word from’ and ‘in the hour of temptation.’

I. Now notice, in the first place, the thing kept.

That is a remarkable phrase ‘the word of My patience.’ A verse or two before, our Lord had said to the same church, evidently speaking about the same thing in them, ‘Thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word.’ This expression, ‘the word of My patience,’ seems to be best understood in the same general way as that other which precedes it, and upon which it is a commentary and an explanation. It refers, not to individual commandments to patience, but to the entire gospel message, the general whole of ‘the Word of Jesus Christ’ communicated therein to men. That is a profound and beautiful way of characterizing the sum of the revelation of God in Christ as ‘the word of His patience,’ and is one which yields ample reward to meditative thought.

The whole gospel, then, is so named, inasmuch as it all records the patience which Christ exercised.

What does the New Testament mean by ‘patience’? Not merely endurance, although, of course, that is included, but endurance of such a sort as will secure persistence in work, in spite of all the opposition and sufferings which may come in the way. The world’s patience simply means, ‘Pour on, I will endure.’ The New Testament patience has in it the idea of perseverance as well as of endurance, and means, not only that we bow to the pain or the sorrow, but that nothing in sorrow, nothing in trial, nothing in temptation, nothing in antagonism, has the smallest power to divert us from doing what we know to be right. The man who will reach his hand through the smoke of hell to lay hold of plain duty is the patient man of the New Testament. ‘Though there were as many devils in Worms as there are tiles on the housetops, I will go in.’ That speech of Luther’s, though uttered with a little too much energy, expressed the true idea of Christian patience. High above the stormy and somewhat rough determination of the servant towers, calm and gentle, and therefore stronger, the ‘patience’ of the Lord, and the whole story of His life on earth may well be regarded, from this point of view, as the record of His unfaltering and meek continuance in obedience to the Father’s will, in the face of opposition and suffering. His life, to use a secular word, was the most ‘heroic’ ever lived. Before Him was the thing to be done, and between Him and it were massed such battalions of antagonism and evil as never were mustered in opposition to any other saintly soul upon earth. And through all He went persistently, with ‘His face like a flint,’ of set purpose to do the work for which He came into the world.

But there was no fierce antagonism about Jesus Christ’s patience. His persistence, in spite of all obstacles and opposition, was the persistence of meekness, the heroism of gentleness. Patience in the lower sense of quiet endurance, as well as in the higher, of heroic scorn of all that opposition could do to hinder the realization of the Father’s will, is deeply stamped upon His life. We think of His gentleness, of His meekness, of His humility, of all the softer, and, as men insolently call them, the more feminine virtues in Christ’s character. But I do not know that we often enough think of what men, with equal insolence and shortsightedness, call the masculine virtues of which, too, He is the great Exemplar, that magnificent, unparalleled, and perfectly quiet and unostentatious invincibility of will and heroism of settled resolve with which He pressed towards the mark, though the mark was a cross.

This is the theme of the gospel story, and this Apocalypse of a gentle Christ, whose gentleness was the gentleness of inflexible strength, this story, or word ‘of My patience,’ is that which we are to lay upon our hearts. For that name is fitly applied to the gospel, inasmuch as it enjoins upon every one of us in our degree, and in regard of the far easier tasks and slighter antagonisms with which we have to do and which we have to meet, to make Christ’s persistence the model for our lives. So the whole morality of Christianity may almost be gathered up into this one expression, which sets forth at once the law and the supreme motive for fulfilling it. Unwelcome and hard tasks are made easy and delightsome when we hear Jesus say, ‘The record of My patience is thy pattern and thy power. Be like Me, and thou shalt be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.’

II. Notice, next, the keepers of this word.

The metaphor represents to us the action of one who, possessing some valuable thing, puts it into some safe place, takes great care of it, carries it very near to the heart, perhaps within the robe, and watches tenderly and jealously over it. So ‘thou hast kept the word of My patience.’

There are two ways by which Christians are to do that; the one is by inwardly cherishing the word and the other by outwardly obeying it. There should be both the inward counting it dear and precious, and treasuring it in mind and heart, as the Psalmist says,

‘Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I should not offend against Thee,’ and also the regulation of conduct which we more usually regard as keeping the commandment.

Let me say a word, and it shall only be a word, about each of these two things. I am afraid that the plain practical duty of reading their Bibles is getting to be a much neglected duty amongst professing Christian people. I do not know how you are to keep the words of Christ’s patience in your hearts and minds if you do not read them. I am afraid that most Christian congregations nowadays do their systematic and prayerful study of the New Testament by proxy, and expect their ministers to read the Bible for them and to tell them what is there. A mother will sometimes take a morsel of her child’s food into her mouth, and half masticate it first before she passes it to the little gums. I am afraid that newspapers, and circulating libraries, and magazines, and little religious books - very good in their way, but secondary and subordinate - have taken the place that our fathers used to have filled by honest reading of God’s Word. And that is one of the reasons, and I believe it is a very large part of the reason, why so many professing Christians do not come up to this standard; and instead of ‘running with patience the race that is set before them,’ walk in an extraordinarily leisurely fashion, by fits and starts, and sometimes with long intervals, in which they sit still on the road, and are not a mile farther at a year’s end than they were when it began. There never was, and there never will be, vigorous Christian life unless there be an honest and habitual study of God’s Word. There is no short-cut by which Christians can reach the end of the race. Foremost among the methods by which their eyes are enlightened and their hearts rejoiced are application to the eyes of their understanding of that eye-salve, and the hiding in their hearts of that sweet solace and fountain of gladness, the Word of Christ’s patience, the revelation of God’s will. The trees whose roots are laved and branches freshened by that river have leaves that never wither, and all their blossoms set.

But the word is kept by continual obedience in action as well as by inward treasuring. Obviously the inward must precede the outward. Unless we can say with the Psalmist, ‘Thy word have I hid in my heart,’ we shall not be able to say with him, ‘I have not hid Thy righteousness within my heart.’ If the Word of the Lord is to sound like a rousing trumpet-blast from our lives, it must first be heard in secret by us, and its music linger in our listening hearts.

We need this brave persistence in daily life if we are not to fail wholly. Very instructive in this aspect are many of the Scripture allusions to ‘patience’ as essential to the various virtues and blessednesses of Christian life.

For example, In your patience ye shall win your souls.’ Only he who presses right on, in spite of all that externals can do to hinder him from realizing his conviction of duty, is the lord of his own spirit. All others are slaves to something or some one. By persistence in the paths of Christian service, no matter what around or within us may rise up to hinder us, and by such persistence only, do we become masters of ourselves. Many a man has to walk, as in the old days of ordeal by fire, over a road strewn with hot ploughshares, to get to the place where God will have him to be. And if he does not flinch, though he may reach the goal with scorched feet, he will reach it with a quiet heart, and possess himself, whatever he may lose.

Again, the Lord Himself says to us, ‘These are those which bring forth fruit with patience.’ There is no growth of Christian character, no flowering of Christian conduct, no setting of incipient virtues into the mature fruit of settled habit, without this persistent adherence in the face of all antagonism, to the dictates of conscience and the commandment of Christ. It is the condition of bringing forth fruit, some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundredfold.

Again the Scripture says, demanding this same persistence, gentle abstinence, and sanctified stiffneckedness, ‘Run with perseverance the race that is set before you.’ There is no progress in the Christian course, no accomplishing the stadia through which we have to pass, except there be this dogged keeping at what we know to be duty, in spite of all the reluctance of trembling limbs, and the cowardice of our poor hearts.

III. We have here Christ keeping the keepers of His word.

‘Because thou hast kept the word of My patience I will keep thee from,’ and in, ‘the hour of temptation.’ There is a beautiful reciprocity, as I said. Christ will do for us as we have done with His word. Christ still does in heaven what He did upon earth. In the great high priest’s prayer recorded by the evangelist who was also the amanuensis of these letters from heaven, Jesus said, ‘I kept them in Thy name which Thou hast given Me, and I guarded them, and not one of them perished.’ And now, speaking from heaven, He continues His earthly guardianship, and bids us trust that, just as when with His followers here, He sheltered them as a parent bird does its young, fluttering round them, bearing them up on its wings, and drew them within the sacred circle of His sweet, warm, strong, impregnable protection, so, if we keep the word of His patience, cherishing the story of His life in our hearts, and humbly seeking to mould our lives after its sweet and strong beauty, He will keep us in the midst of, and also from, the hour of temptation. The Christ in heaven is as near each trembling heart and feeble foot, to defend and to uphold, as was the Christ upon earth.

He does not promise to keep us at a distance from temptation, so as that we shall not have to face it, but from means, as any that can look at the original will see, that He will save us out of it, we having previously been in it, so as that ‘the hour of temptation’ shall not be the hour of falling. Yes! the man whose heart is filled with the story of Christ’s patience, and who is seeking to keep that word, will walk in the midst of the fire-damp of this mine that we live in, as with a safety lamp in his hand, and there will be no explosion. If we keep our hearts in the love of God, and in that great word of Christ’s patience, the gunpowder in our nature will be wetted, and when a spark falls upon it there will be no flash. Outward circumstances will not be emptied of their power to tempt, but our susceptibility will be deadened in proportion as we keep the word of the patience of the patient Christ. The lustre of earthly brightnesses will have no glory by reason of the glory that excelleth, and when set by the side of heavenly gifts will show black against their radiance, as would electric light between the eye and the sun.

It is great to wrestle with temptation and fling it, but it is greater to be so strong that it never grasps us.

It is great to be victor over passions and lusts, and to put our heel upon them and suppress them, but it is better to be so near the Master that they have crouched before Him, and ‘the lion eats straw like the ox.’

To such blessed state we attain if, and only if, we draw near to Him and in daily communion with Him secure that the secret of His patient continuance in well-doing is repeated in us. So we shall be lifted above temptation. That great word of His patience, and the spirit which goes with the word, will be for us like the cotton wool that chemists put into the flask which they wish to seal hermetically from the approach of microscopic germs of corruption. It will let all the air through, but it will keep all the infinitesimal animated points of poison out. It will filter the most polluted atmosphere, and bring it to our lungs clean and clear. ‘If thou keep the word of My patience I will keep thee from the hour of temptation.’


Verse 11

Revelation

‘THY CROWN’

Revelation 3:11.

The Philadelphian Church, to which these stirring words are addressed, is the only church of the seven in which there was nothing that Christ rebuked. It had no faults, or at least no recorded faults, either of morals or of doctrine. It had had no great storm of persecution beating upon it, although one was threatened. But yet, although thus free from blame and occasion for censure, it was not beyond the need of stimulating exhortation, not beyond the need of wholesome warning, not beyond the reach of danger and possible loss. ‘That no man take thy crown’ - as long as Christian men are here, so long have they to watch against the tendency of received truth to escape their hold because of its very familiarity; of things that are taken for granted to become impotent and to slip, and so for the crown to fall from the head, which is all unconscious of its discrowned shame.

We have here, then, three things: ‘thy crown’; the possibility of losing it; the way to secure it.

I. Now, as to the first.

It contributes to the understanding of the meaning of the metaphor to remember that the crown spoken of here is not the symbol of royalty, not the golden or other circlet which kings and emperors wore, but the floral wreath or garland which in ancient social life played many parts: was laid on the temples of the victors in the games, was wreathed around the locks of the conquering general, was placed upon the anointed heads of brides and of f casters, was the emblem of victory, of festivity, of joy. And it is this crown, not the symbol of dominion, but the symbol of a race accomplished and a conquest won, an outward and visible sign of a festal day, with all its abundance and ease and abandonment to delight, which the apocalyptic vision holds out before the Christian man.

The crown is a common figure all through the New Testament, and it may help us to grasp the fullness of the meaning of the metaphor if we just recall in a sentence or two the various instances of its occurrence. It is spoken about under three designations, as a crown of ‘life,’ of righteousness,’ of ‘glory’; the first and last designating it in reference to that of which it may be supposed to consist, namely, life and glory; the centre one designating it rather in reference to that of which it is the reward. The righteousness of earth is crowned by the more abundant life and the more radiant glory of the future. The roses that were wreathed round the flushed temples of the revelers withered and faded, and their petals drooped in the hot atmosphere of the banqueting hall, laden with fumes of wine. The parsley wreath, that was twined round the locks of the young athlete who had been victorious in the games, was withered to-morrow and cast into the dust heap. ‘But,’ says one of the New Testament writers, ‘the crown of glory fadeth not away.’ And the other wreaths, intrinsically worthless, were only symbols of victory and honour, but this itself is full of preciousness and of substance and of power.

So the crown is the reward of righteousness, and consists of life so full that our present experience contrasted with it may almost be called an experience of death; of glory so flashing and wonderful that, if our natures were not strengthened, it would be an ‘exceeding weight of glory’ that would crush them down, and upon all the life and all the glory is stamped the solemn signature of eternity, and they are for ever. Now, says my text to each Christian, all this, the consequence and reward of gore toil, faithfully done, and of effort that strains every muscle in the race - the festal participation in life and glory for evermore - is ‘thy crown’; not because thou hast it now, but because, as sure as God is God and righteousness is righteousness, nothing can prevent the man who, holding by Jesus Christ, has become possessor of the righteousness, which is of God by faith, from receiving that great reward. It is his already in the Divine destination; his by the immutable laws of proprietorship in God’s kingdom; his upon the simple condition of his continuing to be what he is. Like Peter’s saying about the inheritance ‘reserved in heaven for you,’ this representation treats the perfect future blessedness of us who are toiling and struggling here as already in existence and waiting for us, beyond the dust of the wrestling-ground, and the fury of the battlefield. Of course that is not meant to be taken in prosaic literality. The place ‘may indeed be’ prepared ‘in which that blessedness is to be realized, but the blessedness itself can have no existence apart from those who possess it. The purpose of the representations is to put in the strongest possible way the absolute certainty of the heads that now are pressed by the helmet being then encircled with the crown, and of the strangers scattered abroad reaching and resting for ever in the Promised Land to which they journey. The reward is as sure as if each man’s crown, with his name engraved upon it, lay safely guarded in the treasure-house of God.

The light of that great certainty should ever draw our weary eyes, weary of false glitter and vulgar gauds. The assurance of that joy unspeakable makes the best joy here. Future blessedness, apprehended by the long arm of faith, brings present blessedness. The gladness and the power of the Christian life largely depend on the habitual beholding, with yearning and hope, of ‘the King in His beauty and of the land that is very far off,’ and yet so near, and of our own proper portion of the inheritance of the saints in light.’ Christian men, it much concerns the vigour of your Christianity that you should take time and pains to cultivate the habit of looking forward through all the mists and darkness of this petty and unsubstantial present, and of thinking of that future as a certainty more certain than the contingencies of earth and as a present possession, more real by far than any of the fleeting shadows which we proudly and falsely call our own. They pass from hand to hand. They are mine to-day, another’s tomorrow. I have no real possession of them while they were called mine. We truly possess but two possessions - God and ourselves. We possess both by the same way of giving ourselves to God in love and obedience; and of such surrender and possession the crown is the perfecting and the reward. ‘Thy crown’ will fit no temples but thine. It is part of thy perfected self, and certain to be thine, if thou hold fast the beginning of thy confidence firm unto the end.

II. Note next the grim possibility of losing the crown.

‘That no man take’ it. Of course we are not to misunderstand the contingency shadowed here, as if it meant that some other person could filch away and put on his own head the crown which once was destined for us, which is a sheer impossibility and absurdity. No man would think to win heaven by stealing another’s right of entrance there. No man could, if he were to try. The results of character cannot be transferred. Nor are we to suppose reference to the machinations of tempters, either human or diabolic, who deliberately and consciously try to rob Christians of their religion here and thereby of their reward hereafter. But it is only too possible that men and things round about us may upset this certainty that we have been considering, and that though the crown be ‘thine.’ it may never come to be thy actual possession in the future, nor ever be worn upon thine own happy head in the festival of the skies.

That is the solemn side of the Christian life, that it is to be conceived of as lived amidst a multitude of men and things that are always trying to make us unfit to receive that crown of righteousness. They cannot work directly upon it. It has no existence except as the efflorescence of our own character crowned by God’s approbation. It is an ideal thing; but they can work upon us, and if they stain our heads with foul dust, then they make them unfit for our crown. So here are we, Christian men and women! in a world all full of things that tend and may be regarded as desiring to rob us of our crowns. This is not the way in which we usually think of the temptations that assail us. For instance, there comes some sly and whispering one to us and suggests pleasant hours, bought at a very small sacrifice of principle; delights for sense or for ambition, or for one or other of the passions of our nature, and all looks very innocent, and the harm seems to be comparatively small. Ah! let us look a little bit deeper. That temptation that seems to threaten so little and to promise so much is really trying to rob us of the crown. If we would walk through life with this thought in our minds, how it would strip off the masks of all these temptations that buzz about us! If once we saw their purpose and understood the true aim of the flattering lies which they tell us, should we not see over the lies, and would not they lose their power to deceive us? Be sure - and oh! let us hold fast by the illuminating conviction when the temptations come - be sure that, with all their glozing words and false harlot kisses, their meaning is this, to rob us of the bright and precious thing that is most truly ours; and so let us put away the temptations, and say to them, ‘Ah I you come as a friend, but I know your meaning; and forewarned is forearmed.’

III. Lastly, note the way to secure the crown which is ours.

‘Hold fast that thou hast.’ For if you do not hold it fast, it will slip. The metaphor is a plain one - if a man has got something very precious, he grips it with a very tight hand. The slack hand will very soon be an empty hand. Anybody walking through the midst of a crowd of thieves with a bag of gold in charge would not hold it dangling from a finger-tip, but he would put all five round it, and wrap the strings about his wrist.

The first shape which we may give to this exhortation is - hold fast by what God has given in His gospel; hold fast His Son, His truth. His grace. Use honestly and diligently your intellect to fathom and to keep firm hold of the great truths and principles of the gospel. Use your best efforts to keep your wandering hearts and mobile wills fixed and true to the revealed love of the great Lover of souls, which has been given to you in Christ, and to obey Him. You have got a Christ that is worth keeping, see to it that you keep Him, and do not let Him slip away out of your fingers. When the storms come a wise captain lashes all the light articles, and then they are safe. You and I have to struggle through many a storm, and all the loose stuff on deck will be washed off or blown away long before we get into calm water. Lash it by meditation, by faithful obedience, and by constant communion, and hold fast the Christian gospel, and, in the Christ whom the gospel reveals, the spiritual life that you possess.

But there is another aspect of the same commandment which applies not so much to that which is given us in the objective revelation and manifestation of God in Christ, as to our own subjective degrees of progress in the appropriation of Christ, and in likeness to Him. And possibly that is what my text more especially means, for just a little before, the Lord has said to that Church, ‘Thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name.’ ‘Thou hast a little strength . . . hold fast that which thou hast.’ See to it that thy present attainment in the Christian life, though it may be but rudimentary and incomplete, is at least kept. Cast not away your confidence, hold fast the beginning of your confidence firm, with a tightened hand, unto the end. For if we keep what we have, it will grow. Progress is certain, if there be persistence. If we do not let it go, it will increase and multiply in our possession. In all branches of study and intellectual pursuit, and in all branches of daily life, to hold fast what we have, and truly to possess what we possess, is the certain means to make our wealth greater. And so it is in the Christian life. Be true to the present knowledge, and use it, as it is meant to be used, and it will daily increase. ‘Hold fast that thou hast.’ Thou hast the ‘strength’; thou hast not yet the crown. Keep what God has committed to you, and God will keep what He has reserved for you.

And so the sure way to get the crown is to keep the faith; and then the life and the glory, which are but the outcome and the fruit of the faithful, persistent life here, are as sure as the cycles of the heavens, or as the throne and the will of God. Men and things and devils may try to take your crown from you, but nobody can deprive you of it but yourself. Hold fast the present possession, and make it really your own, and the future crown which God has promised to all who love and thereby possess Him will, in due time, be twined around your head. He who has and holds fast Christ here cannot fail of the crown yonder.


Verse 12

Revelation

VI. - THE VICTOR’S LIFE-NAMES

Revelation 3:12.

The eyes which were as a flame of fire saw nothing to blame in the Philadelphian Church, and the lips out of which came the two-edged sword that cuts through all hypocrisy to the discerning of the thoughts and intents of the heart, spoke only eulogium- ‘Thou hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name.’ But however mature and advanced may be Christian experience, it is never lifted above the possibility of temptation; so, with praise, there came warning of an approaching hour which would try the mettle of this unblamed Church. Christ’s reward for faithfulness is not immunity from, but strength in, trial and conflict. As long as we are in the world there will be forces warring against us; and we shall have to fight our worst selves and the tendencies which tempt us to prefer the visible to the unseen, and the present to the future. So the Church which had no rebuke received the solemn injunction: ‘Hold fast that thou hast; let no man take thy crown.’ There is always need of struggle, even for the most mature, if we would keep what we have. The treasure will be filched from slack hands; the crown will be stricken from a slumbering head. So it is not inappropriate that the promise to this Church should be couched in the usual terms, ‘to him that overcometh,’ and the conclusion to be drawn is the solemn and simple one that the Christian life is always a conflict, even to the end.

The promise contained in my text presents practically but a twofold aspect of that future blessedness; the one expressed in the clause, ‘I will make him a pillar’; the other expressed in the clauses referring to the writing upon him of certain names. I need not do more than again call attention to the fact that here, as always, Jesus Christ represents Himself as not only allocating the position and determining the condition, but as shaping, and moulding, and enriching the characters of the redeemed, and ask you to ponder the question. What in Him does that assumption involve?

Passing on, then, to the consideration of these two promises more closely, let us deal with them singly. There is, first, the steadfast pillar; there is, second, the threefold inscription.

I. The steadfast pillar.

Now I take it that the two clauses which refer to this matter are closely connected. ‘I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go no more out.’ In the second clause the figure is dropped, and the point of the metaphor is brought out more clearly. The stately column in the temples, with which these Philadelphian Christians, dwelling in the midst of the glories of Greek architecture, were familiar, might be, and often has been, employed as a symbol of many things. Here it cannot mean the office of sustaining a building, or pre-eminence above others, as it naturally lends itself sometimes to mean. For instance, the Apostle Paul speaks of the three chief apostles in Jerusalem, and says that they ‘seemed to be pillars’; by which pre-eminence and the office of maintaining the Church are implied. But that obviously cannot be the special application of the figure here, inasmuch as we cannot conceive of even redeemed men sustaining that temple in the heavens, and also inasmuch as the promise here is perfectly universal, and is given to all that overcome - that is to say, to all the redeemed. We must, therefore, look in some other direction. Now, the second of the two clauses which are thus linked together seems to me to point in the direction in which we are to look. ‘He shall go no more out.’ A pillar is a natural emblem of stability and permanence, as poets in many tongues and in many lands have felt it to be. I remember one of our own quaint English writers who speaks of men who are bottomed on the basis of a firm faith, mounting up with the clear shaft of a shining life, and having their persevering tops garlanded about, according to God’s promise, ‘I will give thee a crown of life.’ That idea of stability, of permanence, of fixedness, is the one that is prominent in the metaphor here.

But whilst the general notion is that of stability and permanence, do not let us forget that it is permanence and stability in a certain direction, for the pillar is ‘in the temple of My God.’ Now I would recall to you the fact that in other parts of Scripture we find the present relation of Christian men to God set forth under a similar metaphor: ‘Ye are the temple of the living God’; or again, ‘In whom ye are builded for a habitation of God through the Spirit’; or again, in that great word which is the foundation of all such symbols, ‘We will come and make our abode with Him.’ So that the individual believer and the community of all such are, even here and now, the dwelling-place of God. And whilst there are ideas of dignity and grace attaching to the metaphor of the pillar, the underlying meaning of it is substantially that the individual souls of redeemed men shall be themselves parts of, and collectively shall constitute, the temple of God in the heavens.

This book of the Apocalypse has several points of view in regard to that great symbol. It speaks, for instance, of there being no temple therein,’ by which is meant the cessation of all material and external worships such as belong to earth. It speaks also of God and the Lamb as themselves being ‘the Temple thereof.’ And here we have the converse idea that not only may we think of the redeemed community as dwelling in God and Christ, but of God and Christ as dwelling in the redeemed community. The promise, then, is of a thrilling consciousness that God is in us, a deeper realization of His presence, a fuller communication of His grace, a closer touch of Him, far beyond anything that we can conceive of on earth, and yet being the continuation and the completion of the earthly experiences of those in whom God dwells by their faith, their love, and their obedience. We have nothing to say about the new capacities for consciousness of God which may come to redeemed souls when the veils of flesh and sense, and the absorption in the present drop away. "We have nothing to say, because we know nothing about the new manifestations and more intimate touches which may correspond to these new capacities. There are vibrations of sounds too rapid or too slow for our ears as at present organized to catch. But whether these be too shrill or too deep to be heard, if the ear were more sensitive there would be sound where there is silence, and music in the waste places. So with new organs, with new capacities, there will be a new and a deeper sense of the presence of God; and utterances of His lips too profound to be caught by us now, or too clear and high to be apprehended by our limited sense, will then thunder into melody and with clear notes sound His praises. There are rays of light in the spectrum, at both ends of it, as yet not perceptible to human eyes; but then ‘we shall, in Thy light, see light ‘flaming higher and deeper than we can do now. We dwell in God here if we dwell in Christ, and we dwell in Christ if He dwell in us, by faith and love. But in the heavens the indwelling shall be more perfect, and transcend all that we know now.

The special point in regard to which that perfection is expressed here is to be kept prominent. ‘He shall go no more out.’ Permanence, and stability, and uninterruptedness in the communion and consciousness of an indwelling God, is a main element in the glory and blessedness of that future life. Stability in any fashion comes as a blessed hope to us, who know the curse of constant change, and are tossing on the unquiet waters of life. It is blessed to think of a region where the seal of permanence will be set on all delights, and our blessedness will be like the bush in the desert, burning and yet not consumed. But the highest form of that blessedness is the thought of stable, uninterrupted, permanent communion with God and consciousness of His dwelling in us. The contrast forces itself upon us between that equable and unvarying communion and the ups and downs of the most uniform Christian life here - to-day thrilling in every nerve with the sense of God, to-morrow dead and careless. Sometimes the bay is filled with flashing waters that leap in the sunshine; sometimes, when the tide is out, there is only a long stretch of grey and oozy mud. It shall not be always so. Like lands on the equator, where the difference between midsummer and midwinter is scarcely perceptible, either in length of day or in degree of temperature, that future will be a calm continuance, a uniformity which is not monotony, and a stability which does not exclude progress.

I cannot but bring into contrast with that great promise he shall go no more out ‘an incident in the gospels. Christ and the Twelve were in the upper room, and He poured out His heart to them, and their hearts burned within them. But they went out to the Mount of Olives ‘- He to Gethsemane and to Calvary; Judas to betray and Peter to deny; all to toil and suffer, and sometimes to waver in their faith. ‘He shall go no more out.’ Eternal glory and unbroken communion is the blessed promise to the victor who is made by Christ ‘a pillar in the temple of My God.’

II. Now, secondly, notice the threefold inscription.

We have done with the metaphor of the pillar altogether. We are not to think of anything so incongruous as a pillar stamped with writing, a monstrosity in Grecian architecture. But it is the man himself on whom Christ is to write the threefold name. The writing of a name implies ownership and visibility.

So the first of the triple inscriptions declares that the victor shall be conspicuously God’s. ‘I will write upon him the name of My God.’ There may possibly be an allusion to the golden plate which flamed in the front of the high priest’s mitre, and on which was written the unspoken name of Jehovah. But whether that be so or no, the underlying ideas are these two which I have already referred to - complete ownership, and that manifested in the very front of the character.

How do we possess one another? How do we belong to God? How does God belong to us? There is but one way by which a spirit can possess a spirit - by love, which leads to self-surrender and to practical obedience. And if - as a man writes his name in his books, as a farmer brands on his sheep and oxen the marks that express his ownership - on the redeemed there is written the name of God, that means, whatever else it may mean, perfect love, perfect self -surrender, perfect obedience, that the whole nature shall be owned, and know itself owned, and be glad to be owned, by God. That is the perfecting of the Christian relationship which is begun here on earth. And if we here yield ourselves to God and depart from that foolish and always frustrated attempt to be our own masters and owners, so escaping the misery and burden of self -hood, and entering into the liberty of the children of God, we shall reach that blessed state in which there will be no murmuring and incipient rebellions, no disturbance of our inward submission, no breach in our active obedience, no holding back of anything that we have or are; but we shall be wholly God’s - that is, wholly possessors of ourselves, and blessed thereby. ‘He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life, the same shall find it.’ And that Name will be stamped on us that every eye that looks, whoever they may be, shall know ‘whose we are and whom we serve.’

The second inscription declares that the victor conspicuously belongs to the City. Our time will not allow of my entering at all upon the many questions that gather round that representation of ‘the New Jerusalem which cometh down out of heaven.’ I must content myself with simply pointing to the possible allusion here to the promise in the preceding letter to Sardis. There we were told that the victor’s name should not ‘be blotted out of the Book of Life’; and that Book of Life suggested the idea of the burgess-roll of the city, as well as the register of those that truly live. Here the same thought is suggested by a converse metaphor. The name of the victor is written on the rolls of the city, and the name of the city is stamped on the forehead of the victor. That is to say, the affinity which, even here and now, has knit men who believe in Jesus Christ to an invisible order, where is their true mother-city and metropolis, will then be uncontradicted by any inconsistencies, unobscured by the necessary absorption in daily duties and transient aims and interests, which often veils to others, and renders less conscious to ourselves, our true belonging to the city beyond the sea. The name of the city shall be stamped upon the victor. That, again, is the perfecting and the continuation of the central heart of the Christian life here, the consciousness that we are come to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and belong to another order of things than the visible and material around us.

The last of the triple inscriptions declares that the victor shall be conspicuously Christ’s. ‘I will write upon him My new name.’ All the three inscriptions link themselves, not with earlier, but with later parts of this most artistically constructed book of the Revelation; and in a subsequent portion of it we read of a new name of Christ’s, which no man knoweth save Himself. "What is that new name? It is an expression for the sum of the new revelations of what He is, which will flood the souls of the redeemed when they pass from earth. That new name will not obliterate the old one - God forbid! It will not do away with the ancient, earth-begun relation of dependence and faith and obedience. ‘Jesus Christ is the same . . . for ever’: and His name in the heavens, as upon earth, is Jesus the Saviour. But there are abysses in Him which no man moving amidst the incipiencies and imperfections of this infantile life of earth can understand. Not until we possess can we know the depths of wisdom and knowledge, and of all other blessed treasures which are stored in Him. Here we touch but the fringe of His great glory; yonder we shall penetrate to its central flame.

That new name no man fully knows, even when he has entered on its possession and carries it on his forehead; for the infinite Christ, who is the manifestation of the infinite God, can never be comprehended, much less exhausted, even by the united perceptions of a redeemed universe; but for ever and ever, more and more will well out from Him. His name shall last as long as the sun, and blaze when the sun himself is dead.

‘I will write upon him My new name’ was said to a church, and while the eulogium was, ‘Thou hast not denied My name.’ If we are to pierce the heart and the glory there, we must begin on its edges here. If the name is to be on our foreheads then, we must bear in our body the marks of the Lord Jesus - the brand of ownership impressed on the slave’s palm. In the strength of the name we can overcome; and if we overcome. His name will hereafter blaze on our foreheads - the token that we are completely His for ever, and the pledge that we shall be growingly made like unto Him.


Verse 15

Revelation

LAODICEA

Revelation 3:15; Revelation 3:19.

We learn from Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians that there was a very close connection between that Church and this at Laodicea. It is a probable conjecture that a certain Archippus, who is spoken of in the former Epistle, was the bishop or pastor of the Laodicean Church. And if, as seems not unlikely, the ‘angels’ of these Asiatic churches were the presiding officers of the same, then it is at least within the limits of possibility that the ‘angel of the Church at Laodicea,’ who received the letter, was Archippus.

The message that was sent to Archippus by Paul was this: ‘Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received of the Lord, that thou fulfill it.’ And if thirty years had passed, and then Archippus got this message: ‘Thou art neither cold nor hot,’ you have an example of how a little negligence in manifest duty on the part of a Christian man may gradually grow and spread, like a malignant cancer, until it has eaten all the life out of him, and left him a mere shell. The lesson is for us all.

But whether we see an individual application in these words or no, certainly the ‘angel of the church’ is spoken of in his character of a representative of the whole Church. So, then, this Laodicean community had no works. So far had declension gone that even Christ’s eye could see no sign of the operation of the religious principle in it; and all that He could say about it was, ‘thou art neither cold nor hot.’

It is very remarkable that the first and the last letters to the seven Churches deal with the same phase of religious declension, only that the one is in the germ and the other is fully developed. The Church of Ephesus had still works abundant, receiving and deserving the warm-hearted commendation of the Master, but they had ‘left their first love.’ The Church at Laodicea had no works, and in it the disease had sadly, and all but universally, spread.

Now then, dear friends, I intend, not in the way of rebuke, God knows, but in the way of earnest remonstrance and appeal to you professing Christians, to draw some lessons from these solemn words.

I. I pray you to look at that loving rebuke of the faithful Witness: ‘Thou art neither cold nor hot.’

"We are manifestly there in the region of emotion. The metaphor applies to feeling. We talk, for instance, about warmth of feeling, ardour of affection, fervour of love, and the like. And the opposite, cold, expresses obviously the absence of any glow of a true living emotion.

So, then, the persons thus described are Christian people {for their Christianity is presupposed}, with very little, though a little, warmth of affection and glow of Christian love and consecration.

Further, this defectiveness of Christian feeling is; accompanied with a large amount of self-complacency: - ‘Thou sayest I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.’ Of course it is so. A numbed limb feels no pain. As cold increases the sensation of cold, and of everything else, goes away. And a sure mark of defective religious emotion is absolute unconsciousness on the man’s part that there is anything the matter with him. All of you that have no sense that the indictment applies to you, by the very fact show that it applies most especially and most tragically to you. Self-complacency diagnoses spiritual cold, and is an inevitable and a constantly accompanying symptom of a deficiency of religious emotion.

Then again, this deficiency of warmth is worse than absolute zero. ‘I would thou wert cold or hot.’ That is no spurt of impatience on the part of the ‘true Witness.’ It is for their sake that He would they were cold or hot. And why? Because there is no man more hopeless than a man on whom the power of Christianity has been brought to bear, and has failed in warming and quickening him. If you were cold, at absolute zero, there would be at least a possibility that when you were brought in contact with the warmth you might kindle. But you have been brought in contact with the warmth, and this is the effect. Then what is to be done with you? There is nothing more that can be brought to bear on your consciousness to make you anything higher or better than you are, than what you have already had in operation in your spiritual life. And if it has failed, all God’s armoury is empty, and He has shot His last bolt, and there is nothing more left. ‘I would thou wert cold or hot.’

Now, dear friends, is that our condition? I am obliged sadly to say that I believe it is to a fearful extent the condition of professing Christendom to-day. ‘Neither cold nor hot!’ Look at the standard of Christian life round about us. Let us look into our own hearts. Let us mark how wavering the line is between the Church and the world; how little upon our side of the line there is of conspicuous consecration and unworldliness; how entirely in regard of an enormous mass of professing Christians, the maxims that are common in the world are their maxims; and the sort of life that the world lives is the sort of life that they live. ‘Oh! thou that art named the House of Israel,’ as one of the old prophets wailed out, ‘is the Spirit of the Lord straitened? Are these His doings?’ And so I would say, look at your churches and mark their feebleness, the slow progress of the gospel among them, the low lives that the bulk of us professing Christians are living, and answer the question: Is that the operation of a Divine Spirit that comes to transform and to quicken everything into His own vivid and flaming life? or is it the operation of our own selfishness and worldliness, crushing down and hemming in the power that ought to sway us? Brethren! it is not for me to cast condemnation, but it is for each of us to ask ourselves the question: Do we not hear the voice of the ‘faithful and true Witness’ saying to us, ‘I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot’?

II. And now will you let me say a word next as to some of the plain causes of this lukewarmness of spiritual life?

Of course the tendency to it is in us all. Take a bar of iron out of the furnace on a winter day, and lay it down in the air, and there is nothing more wanted. Leave it there, and very soon the white heat will change into livid dullness, and then there will come a scale over it, and in a short time it will be as cold as the frosty atmosphere around it. And so there is always a refrigerating process acting upon us, which needs to be counteracted by continual contact with the fiery furnace of spiritual warmth, or else we are cooled down to the degree of cold around us. But besides this universally operating cause there are many others which affect us.

Laodicea was a great commercial city, an emporium of trade, which gives especial point and appropriateness to the loving counsel of the context. ‘I advise thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire.’ And Manchester life, with its anxieties, with its perplexities for many of you, with its diminished profits, and apparently diminishing trade, is a fearful foe to the warmth and reality of your Christian life. The cares of this world and the riches of this world are both amongst the thorns which choke the Word and make it unfruitful. I find fault with no man for the earnestness which he flings into his business, but I ask you to contrast this entire absorption of spirit, and the willing devotion of hours and strength to it, with the grudging, and the partial, and the transient devotion of ourselves to the religious life; and say whether the relative importance of the things seen and unseen is fairly represented by the relative amount of earnestness with which you and I pursue these respectively.

Then, again, the existence among us, or around us, of a certain widely diffused doubt as to the truths of Christianity is, illogically enough, a cause for diminished fervor on the part of the men that do not doubt them. That is foolish, and it is strange, but it is true. It is very hard for us, when so many people round about us are denying, or at least are questioning, the verities which we have been taught to believe, to keep the freshness and the fervor of our devotion to these; just as it is very difficult for a man to keep up the warmth of his body in the midst of some creeping mist that enwraps everything. So with us, the presence, in the atmosphere of doubt, depresses the vitality and the vigor of the Christian Church where it does not intensify its faith, and make it cleave more desperately to the things that are questioned. Beware, then, of unreasonably yielding so far to the influence of prevailing unbelief as to make you grasp with a slacker hand the thing which still you do not say that you doubt.

And there is another case, which I name with some hesitation, but which yet seems to me to be worthy of notice; and that is, the increasing degree to which Christian men are occupied with what we call, for want of a better name, secular things. The leaders in the political world, on both sides, in our great commercial cities, are usually professing Christians. I am the last man to find fault with any Christian man for casting himself, so far as his opportunities allow, into the current of political life, if he will take his Christianity with him, and if he will take care that he does not become a great deal more interested in elections, and in pulling the strings of a party, and in working for ‘the cause,’ than he is in working for his Master. I grudge the political world nothing that it gets of your strength, but I do grudge, for your sakes as well as for the Church’s sake, that so often the two forms of activity are supposed by professing Christians to be incompatible, and that therefore the more important is neglected, and the less important done. Suffer the word of exhortation.

And, in like manner, literature and art, and the ordinary objects of interest on the part of men who have no religion, are coming to absorb a great deal of our earnestness and our energy. I would not withdraw one iota of the culture that now prevails largely in the Christian Church. All that I plead for, dear brethren, is this, ‘Ye are the salt of the earth.’ Go where you like, and fling yourselves into all manner of interests and occupations, only carry your Master with you. And remember that if you are not salting the world, the world is putrefying you.

There I think you have some, though it be imperfect, account of the causes which operate to lower the temperature of the Christian Church in general, and of this Christian Church, and of you as individual members of it.

III. Now, further, note the loving call here to deepened earnestness.

‘Be zealous, therefore.’ The word translated, and rightly translated, zealous means literally boiling with heat. It is an exhortation to fervor. Now there is no worse thing in all this world than for a man to try to work up emotion, nothing which is so sure, sooner or later, to come to mischief, sure to breed hypocrisy and all manner of evil. If there be anything that is worse than trying to work up emotion, it is attempting to pretend it. So when our Master here says to us, ‘Be zealous, therefore,’ we must remember that zeal in a man ought to be a consequence of knowledge; and that, seeing that we are reasonable creatures, intended to be guided by our understandings, it is an upsetting of the whole constitution of a man’s nature if his heart works independently of his head. And the only way in which we can safely and wholesomely increase our zeal is by increasing our grasp of the truths which feed it.

Thus the exhortation, ‘Be zealous,’ if we come to analyze it, and to look into its basis, is this - Lay hold upon, and meditate upon, the great truths that will make your heart glow. Notice that this exhortation is a consequence, ‘Be zealous, therefore,’ and repent. Therefore, and what precedes? A whole series of considerations - such as these: ‘I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire . . . and white raiment . . . and anoint thine eyes with eye salve.’ It is to say, lay hold of the truth that Christ possesses a full store of all that you can want. Meditate on that great truth and it will kindle a flame of desire and of fruition in your hearts. ‘Be zealous, therefore.’ And again, ‘As many as I love I rebuke and chasten.’ ‘Be zealous, therefore.’ That is to say, grasp the great thought of the loving Christ, all whose dealings, even when His voice assumes severity, and His hand comes armed with a rod, are the outcome and manifestation of His love; and sink into that love, and that will make your hearts glow. ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock.’ ‘Be zealous, therefore.’ Think of the earnest, patient, long-suffering appeal which the Master makes, bearing with all our weaknesses and our shortcomings, and not suffering His gentle hand to be turned away, though the door has been so long barred and bolted in His face. And let these sweet thoughts of a Christ that gives everything, of a Christ all whose dealings are love, of a Christ who pleads with us through the barred door, and tries to get at us through the obstacles which ourselves have fastened against Him, let them draw us to Him, and kindle and keep alight-a brighter flame of consecration and of devotion in our hearts to Him. ‘Be zealous.’ Feed upon the great truths of the Gospel which kindles zeal.

Brethren, the utmost warmth is reasonable in religion. If Christianity be true, there is no measure of ardor or of consecration which is beyond the reasonable requirements of the case. We are told that ‘a sober standard of feeling in matters of religion’ is the great thing to aim at. So I say. But I would differ, perhaps, with the people that are fond of saying so, in my definition of sobriety. A sober standard is a standard of feeling in which the feeling does not outrun the facts on which it is built. Enthusiasm is disproportionate or ignorant feeling; warmth without light. A sober, reasonable feeling is the emotion which is correspondent to the truths that evoke it. And will any man tell me that any amount of earnestness, of flaming consecration, of fiery zeal, is in advance of the great truths that Christ loves me, and has given Himself for me?

IV. And now, lastly, observe the merciful call to a new beginning: ‘Repent.’

There must be a lowly consciousness of sin, a clear vision of my past shortcomings, an abhorrence of these, and, joined with that, a resolute act of mind and heart beginning a new course, a change of purpose and of the current of my being.

Repentance is sorrow for the past, blended with a resolve to paste down the old leaf and begin a new writing on a new page. Christian men have need of these fresh beginnings, and of new repentance, even as the patriarch when he came up from Egypt went to the place where ‘he builded the altar at the first and then offered sacrifice. Do not you be ashamed, Christian men and women, if you have been living low and inconsistent Christian lives in the past, to make a new beginning and to break with that past. There was never any great outburst of life in a Christian Church which was not preceded by a lowly penitence. And there is never any penitence worth naming which is not preceded by a recognition, glad, rapturous, confident as self-consciousness, of Christ’s great and infinite love to me.

Oh! if there is one thing that we want more than another to-day, it is that the fiery Spirit shall come and baptize all the churches, and us as individual members of them. What was it that finished the infidelity of the last century? Was it Paley and Butler, with their demonstrations and their books? No! it was John Wesley and Whitefield. Here is a solution, full of microscopic germs that will putrefy. Expose it to heat, raise the temperature, and you will kill all the > germs, so that you may keep it for a hundred years, and there will be no putrefaction in it. Get the temperature of the Church up, and all the evils that are eating out its life will shrivel and drop to the bottom dead. They cannot live in the heat; cold is their region. So, dear brethren, let us get near to Christ’s love until the light of it shines in our own faces. Let us get near to Christ’s love until, like coal laid upon the fire, its fervors penetrate into our substance and change even our blackness into ruddy flame. Let us get nearer to the love, and then, though the world may laugh and say, ‘He hath a devil and is mad,’ they that see more clearly will say of us: ‘The zeal of Thine house hath eaten him up,’ and the Father will say even concerning us: ‘This is My beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.’


Verse 18

Revelation

CHRIST’S COUNSEL TO A LUKEWARM CHURCH

Revelation 3:18

After the scathing exposure of the religious condition of this Laodicean Church its members might have expected something sterner than ‘counsel.’ There is a world of love and pity, with a dash of irony, in the use of that softened expression. He does not willingly threaten, and He never scolds; but He rather speaks to men’s hearts and their reason, and comes to them as a friend, than addresses Himself to their fears.

Whether there be any truth or not in the old idea that these letters to the seven churches are so arranged as, when taken in sequence, to present a fore-glimpse of the successive conditions of the Church till the second coming of our Lord, it is at least a noteworthy fact that the last of them in order is the lowest in spiritual state. That church was ‘lukewarm’; neither cold ‘- untouched by the warmth of the Spirit of Christ at all - ‘nor hot’ - adequately inflamed thereby.

That is the worst sort of people to get at, and it is no want of charity to say that Laodicea is repeated in a thousand congregations, and that Laodiceans are prevalent in every congregation. All our Christian communities are hampered by a mass of loose adherents with no warmth of consecration, no glow of affection, no fervor of enthusiasm; and they bring down the temperature, as snow-covered mountains over which the wind blows make the thermometer drop on the plains. It is not for me to diagnose individual conditions, but it is for me to take note of widespread characteristics and strongly running currents; and it is for you to settle whether the characteristics are yours or not.

So I deal with Christ’s advice to a lukewarm church, and I hope to do it in the spirit of the Master who counseled, and neither scolded nor threatened.

I. Now I observe that the first need of the lukewarm church is to open its eyes to see facts.

I take it that the order in which the points of this counsel are given is not intended to be the order in which they are obeyed. I dare say there is no thought of sequence in the succession of the clauses. But if there is, I think that a little consideration will show us that that which comes last in mention is to be first in fulfilment.

Observe that the text falls into two distinct parts, and that the counsel to buy does not extend- need, and it is ordinarily read as if it did - to the last item in our Lord’s advice. These Laodiceans are bid to ‘buy of Him’ ‘gold’ and ‘raiment,’ but they are bid to use the ‘eye salve’ that they ‘may see.’ No doubt, whatever is meant by that ‘eye salve’ comes from Him, as does everything else. But my point is that these people are supposed already to possess it, and that they are bid to employ it. And, taking that point of view, I think we can come to the understanding of what is meant.

No doubt the exhortation, ‘anoint thine eyes with eye salve, that thou mayest see,’ may be so extended as to refer to the general condition of spiritual blindness which attaches to humanity, apart from the illuminating and sight-giving work of Jesus Christ. That true Light, which lighteneth every man that cometh into the world, has a threefold office as the result of all the parts of which there comes to our darkened eyes the vision of the things that are. He reveals the objects to see; He gives the light by which we see them; and He gives us eyes to see with. He shows us God, immortality, duty, men’s condition, men’s hopes, and He takes from us the cataract which obscures, the shortsightedness which prevents us from beholding things that are far off and the obliquity of vision which forbids us to look steadily and straight at the things .which it is worth our while to behold. ‘For judgment am I come into the world,’ said He, ‘that they which see not might see.’ And it is possible that the general illuminating influence of Christ’s mission and work, and especially the illuminating power of His Spirit dwelling in men’s spirits, may be included in the thoughts of the eye salve with which we are to anoint our eyes as, whence context seems to me rather to narrow the age of the meaning of this part of our Lord’s counsel. For these Laodiceans had the conceit of their own sufficing wealth, of their own prosperous religious condition, and were blind as bats to the real facts that they were miserable and poor and naked.’ Therefore our Lord says: Anoint thine eyes with eye salve, that thou mayest see - recognize your true state; do not live in this dream that you are satisfactorily united to Myself, when all the while the thread of connection is so slender that it is all but snapped. Behold Me as I am, and the things that I reveal to you as they are; and then you will see yourselves as you are.’

So, then, there comes out of this exhortation this thought, that a symptom constantly accompanying the lukewarm condition is absolute unconsciousness of it. In all regions the worse a man is the less he knows it. It is the good people that know themselves to be bad; the bad ones, when they think about themselves, conceit themselves to be good. It is the men in the van of the march that feel the prick of the impulse to press farther: the laggards are quite content to stop in the rear. The higher a man climbs, in any science, or in the practice of any virtue, the more clearly he sees the unsealed peaks above him. The frost-bitten limb is quite comfortable. It is when life begins to come back into it that it tingles and aches. And so these Laodiceans were like the Jewish hero of old, who prostituted his strength, and let them shear away his locks while his lazy head lay in the harlot’s lap: he went out ‘to shake himself’ as of old times, and knew not that the Spirit of God had departed from him. So, brethren, the man in this audience who most needs to be roused and startled into a sense of his tepid religionism is the man that least suspects the need, and would be most surprised if a more infallible and penetrating voice than mine were to come and say to him, ‘Thou - thou art the man.’ ‘Anoint thine eyes with eye salve, that thou mayest see’; and let the light, which Christ pours upon unseen things, pour itself revealing into your hearts, that you may no longer dream of yourselves as ‘rich, and increased with goods, and having need of nothing’; but may know that you are poor and blind and naked.

Another thought suggested by this part of the counsel is that the blind man must himself rub in the eye salve. Nobody else can do it for him. True! it comes, like every other good thing, from the Christ in the heavens; and, as I have already said, if we will attach specific meanings to every part of a metaphor, that ‘eye salve’ may be the influence of the Divine Spirit who convicts men of sin. But whatever it is, you have to apply it to your own eyes. Translate that into plain English, and it is just this, by the light of the knowledge of God and duty and human nature, which comes rushing in a flood of illumination from the central sun of Christ’s mission and character, test yourselves. Our forefathers made too much of self-examination as a Christian duty, and pursued it often for mistaken purposes. But this generation makes far too light of it. Whilst I would not say to anybody, ‘Poke into the dark places of your own hearts in order to find out whether you are Christian people or not,’ for that will only come to diffidence and despair, I would say, ‘Do not be a stranger to yourselves, but judge yourselves rigidly, by the standard of God’s Word, of Christ’s example, and in all your search, ask Him to give you that ‘candle of the Lord,’ which will shine into the dustiest corners and the darkest of our hearts, and reveal to us, if we truly wish it, all the cobwebs and unconsidered litter and rubbish, if not venomous creatures, that are gathered there. Apply the eye salve; it will be keen, it will bite; welcome the smart, and be sure that anything is good for you which takes away the veil that self-complacency casts over your true condition, and lets the light of God into the cellars and dark places of your souls.

II. The second need of the lukewarm church is the true wealth which Christ gives.

‘I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire.’ Now there may be many different ways of putting the thought that is conveyed here, but I think the deepest truth of human nature is that the only wealth for a man is the possession of God. And so instead of, as many commentators do, suggesting interpretations which seem to me to be inadequate, I think we go to the root of the matter when we find the meaning of the wealth which Christ counsels us to buy of Him in the possession of God Himself, who is our true treasure and durable riches.

That wealth alone makes us paupers truly rich. For there is nothing else that satisfies a man’s craving and supplies a man’s needs. ‘He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver, nor he that loveth abundance, with increase’; but if we have the gold of God, we are rich to all intents of bliss; and if we have Him not, if we are ‘for ever roaming with a hungry heart,’ and though we may have a large balance at our bankers, and much wealth in our coffers, and ‘houses full of silver and gold,’ we are poor indeed.

That wealth has immunity from all accidents. No possession is truly mine of which any outward contingency or circumstance can deprive me. But this wealth, the wealth of a heart enriched with the possession of God, whom it knows, loves, trusts, and obeys, this wealth is incorporated with a man’s very being, and enters into the substance of his nature; and so nothing can deprive him of it. That which moth or rust can corrupt; that which thieves can break through and steal; that which is at the mercy of the accidents of a commercial community or of the fluctuations of trade; that is no wealth for a man. Only something which passes into me, and becomes so interwoven with my being as is the dye with the wool, is truly wealth for me. And such wealth is God.

The only possession which we can take with us when our nerveless hands drop all other goods, and our hearts are untwined from all other loves, is this durable riches. ‘Shrouds have no pockets,’ as the grim proverb has it. But the man that has God for his portion carries all his riches with him into the darkness, whilst of the man that made creatures his treasure it is written: ‘His glory shall not descend after him.’ Therefore, dear brethren, let us all listen to that counsel, and buy of Jesus gold that is tried in the fire.

III. The third need of a lukewarm church is the raiment that Christ gives.

The wealth which He bids us buy of Him belongs mostly to our inward life; the raiment which He proffers us to wear, as is natural to the figure, applies mainly to our outward lives, and signifies the dress of our spirits as these are presented to the world.

I need not remind you of how frequently this metaphor is employed throughout the Scriptures, both in the Old and the New Testament - from the vision granted to one of the prophets, in which he saw the high priest standing before God, clothed in filthy garments, which were taken off him by angel hands, and he draped in pure and shining vestures - down to our Lord’s parable of the man that had not on the wedding garment; and Paul’s references to putting off and putting on the old and the new man with his deeds. Nor need I dwell upon the great frequency with which, in this book of the Revelation, the same figure occurs. But the sum and substance of the whole thing is just this, that we can get from Jesus Christ characters that are pure and radiant with the loveliness and the candour of His own perfect righteousness. Mark that here we are not bidden to put on the garment, but to take it from His hands. True, having taken it, we are to put it on, and that implies daily effort. So my text puts this counsel in its place in the whole perspective of a combined Christian truth, and suggests the combination of faith which receives, and of effort which puts on, the garment that Christ gives. No thread of it is woven in our own looms, nor have we the making of the vesture, but we have the wearing of it.

There is nothing in the world vainer than effort after righteousness which is not based on faith. There is nothing more abnormal and divergent from the true spirit of the New Testament than faith, so-called, which is not accompanied with daily effort. On the one hand we must be contented to receive; on the other hand we must be earnest to appropriate. ‘Buy of Me gold,’ and then we are rich. ‘Buy of Me raiment,’ and then - listen to the voice that says, Put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new man of God created in righteousness and holiness of truth.’

IV. Lastly, all supply of these needs is to be bought.

‘Buy of Me.’ There is nothing in that counsel contradictory to the great truth that ‘the gift of God is eternal life.’ That buying is explained by the great gospel invitation, long centuries before the gospel - ‘Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, . . . buy, and eat, . . . without money and without price.’ It is explained by our Lord’s twin parables of the treasure hid in a field, which, when a man had found, he went and sold all that he had and bought the field; and of the pearl of great price which, when the merchantman searching had discovered, he went and sold all that he had that he might possess the one.

For what is all that we have? Self! and we have to give away self that we may buy the riches and the robes. The only thing that is needed is to get rid, once and for all, of that conceit that we have anything that we can offer as the equivalent for what we desire. He that has opened his eyes, and sees himself as he is, poor and naked, and so comes to sue in forma pauperis, and abandons all trust in self, he is the man who buys of Christ the gold and the vesture. If we will thus rightly estimate ourselves, and estimating ourselves, have not only the negative side of faith, which is self-distrust, but the positive, which is absolute reliance on Him, we shall not ask in vain. He counsels us to buy, and if we take His advice and come, saying, ‘Nothing in my hand I bring,’ He will not stultify Himself by refusing to give us what He has bid us ask. ‘What things were given to me; those I counted loss for Christ. Yea! doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.’ If we, with opened eyes, go to Him thus, we shall come away from Him enriched and clothed, and say, ‘My soul shall be joyful in my God, for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation; He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness.’


Verse 20

Revelation

CHRIST AT THE DOOR

Revelation 3:20.

Many of us are familiar, I dare say, with the devoutly imaginative rendering of the first part of these wonderful words, which we owe to the genius of a living painter. In it we see the fast shut door, with rusted hinges, all overgrown with rank, poisonous weeds, which tell how long it has been closed. There stands, amid the night dews and the darkness, the patient Son of man, one hand laid on the door, the other bearing a light, which may perchance flash through some of its chinks. In His face are love repelled, and pity all but wasted; in the touch of His hand are gentleness and authority.

But the picture pauses, of course, at the beginning of my text, and its sequel is quite as wonderful as its first part. ‘I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with Me.’ What can surpass such words as these? I venture to take this great text, and ask you to look with me at the three things that lie in it; the suppliant for admission; the door opened; the entrance, and the feast.

I. Think, then, first of all, of that suppliant for admission.

I suppose that the briefest explanation of my text is sufficient. Who knocks? The exalted Christ. What is the door? This closed heart of man. What does He desire? Entrance. What are His knockings and His voice? All providences; all monitions of His Spirit in man’s spirit and conscience; the direct invitations of His written or spoken word; in brief, whatsoever sways our hearts to yield to Him and enthrone Him. This is the meaning, in the fewest possible words, of the great utterance of my text.

Here is a revelation of a universal truth, applying to every man and woman on the face of the earth; but more especially and manifestly to those of us who live within the sound of Christ’s gospel and of the written revelations of His grace. True, my text was originally spoken in reference to the unworthy members of a little church of early believers in Asia Minor, but it passes far beyond the limits of the lukewarm Laodiceans to whom it was addressed. And the ‘any man’ which follows is wide enough to warrant us in stretching out the representation as far as the bounds of humanity extend, and in believing that wherever there is a closed heart there is a knocking Christ, and that all men are lightened by that Light which came into the world.

Upon that I do not need to dwell, but I desire to enforce the individual bearing of the general truth upon our own consciences, and to come to each with this message: The saying is true about thee, and at the door of thy heart Jesus Christ stands, and there His gentle, mighty hand is laid, and on it the flashes of His light shine, and through the chinks of the unopened door of thy heart comes the beseeching voice, Open! Open unto Me.’ A strange reversal of the attitudes of the great and of the lowly, of the giver and of the receiver, of the Divine and of the human! Christ once said, Knock and it shall be opened unto you.’ But He has taken the suppliant’s place, and, standing by the side of each of us. He beseeches us that we let Him bless us, and enter in for our rest.

So, then, there is here a revelation, not only of a universal truth, but a most tender and pathetic disclosure of Christ’s yearning love to each of us. What do you call that emotion which more than anything else desires that a heart should open and let it enter? We call it love when we find it in one another. Surely it bears the same name when it is sublimed into all but infinitude, and yet it is as individualizing and specific as it is great and universal, as it is found in Jesus Christ. If it be true that He wants me, if it be true that in that great heart of His there are a thought and a wish about His relation to me, and mine to Him, then, then, each of us is grasped by a love that is like our human love, only perfected and purified from all its weaknesses.

Now we sometimes feel, I am afraid, as if all that talk about the love which Jesus Christ has to each of us was scarcely a prose fact. There is a woeful lack of belief among us in the things that we profess to believe most. You are all ready to admit, when I preach it, that it is true that Jesus Christ loves us. Have you ever tried to realize it, and lay it upon your hearts, that the sweetness and astoundingness of it may soak into you, and change your whole being? Oh! listen, not to my poor, rough notes, but to His infinitely sweet and tender melody of voice, when He says to you, as if your eyes needed to be opened to perceive it, ‘Behold! I stand at the door and knock.’

There is a revelation in the words, dear friends, of an infinite long-suffering and patience. The door has long been fastened; you and I have, like some lazy servant, thought that if we did not answer the knock, the Knocker would go away when He was weary. But we have miscalculated the elasticity and the unfailingness of that patient Christ’s lore. Rejected, He abides; spurned, He returns. There are men and women who all their lives long have known that Jesus Christ coveted their love, and yearned for a place in their hearts, and have steeled themselves against the knowledge, or frittered it away by worldliness, or darkened it by sensuality and sin. And they are once more brought into the presence of that rejected, patient, wooing Lord, who courts them for their souls, as if they were, which indeed they are, too precious to be lost, as long as there is a ghost of a chance that they may still listen to His voice. The patient Christ’s wonderfulness of long-suffering may well bow us all in thankfulness and in penitence. How often has He tapped or thundered at the door of your heart, dear friends, and how often have you neglected to open? Is it not of the Lord’s mercies that the rejected or neglected love is offered you once more? and the voice, so long deadened and deafened to your ears by the rush of passion, and the hurry of business, and the whispers of self, yet again appeals to you, as it does even through my poor translation of it.

And then, still further, in that thought of the suppliant waiting for admission there is the explanation for us all of a great many misunderstood facts in our experience. That sorrow that darkened your days and made your heart bleed, what was it but Christ’s hand on the door? Those blessings which pour into your life day by day ‘beseech you, by the mercies of God, that ye yield yourselves living sacrifices.’ That unrest which dogs the steps of every man who has not found rest in Christ, what is it but the application of His hand to the obstinately closed door? The stings of conscience, the movements of the Spirit, the definite proclamation of His Word, even by such lips as mine, what are they all except His appeals to us? And this is the deepest meaning of joys and sorrows, of gifts and losses, of fulfilled and disappointed hopes. This is the meaning of the yearning of Christless hearts, of the stings of conscience which come to us all. ‘Behold! I stand at the door and knock.’ If we understood better that all life was guided by Christ, and that Christ’s guidance of life was guided by His desire that He should find a place in our hearts, we should less frequently wonder at sorrows, and should better understand our blessings. /^ The boy Samuel, lying sleeping before the light in the inner sanctuary, heard the voice of God, and thought it was only the grey-bearded priest that spoke. We often make the same mistake, and confound the utterances of Christ Himself with the speech of men. Recognize who it is that pleads with you; and do not fancy that when Christ speaks it is Eli that is calling; but say, ‘Speak, Lord! for Thy servant heareth.’ ‘Lift up your heads, O ye gates, even lift them up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in.’

II. And that leads me, secondly, to ask you to look at the door opened.

I need not enlarge upon what I have already suggested, the universality of the wide promise here - ‘If any man open the door’; but what I want rather to notice is that, according to this representation, ‘the door’ has no handle outside, and is so hinged that it opens from within, outwards. Which, being taken out of metaphor and put into fact, means this, you are the only being that can open the door for Christ to come in. The whole responsibility, brother, of accepting or rejecting God’s gracious Word, which comes to you all in good faith, lies with yourself.

I am not going to plunge into theological puzzles, but I appeal to consciousness. You know as well as I do - better a great deal, for it is yourself that is in question - that at each time when your heart and conscience have been brought in contact with the offer of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, if you had liked you could have opened the door, and welcomed His entrance. And you know that nobody and nothing kept it fast except only yourselves. ‘Ye will not come to Me,’ said Christ, ‘that ye might have life.’ Men^ indeed, do pile up such mountains of rubbish against the door that it cannot be opened, but it was they that put them there; and they are responsible if the hinges are so rusty that they will not move, or the doorway is so clogged that there is no room for it to open. Jesus Christ knocks, but Jesus Christ cannot break the door open. It lies in your hands to decide whether you will take or whether you will reject that which He brings.

The door is closed, and unless there be a definite act on your parts it will not be opened, and He will not enter. So we come to this, that to do nothing is to keep your Saviour outside; and that is the way in which most men that miss Him do miss Him.

I suppose there are very few of us who have ever been conscious of a definite act by which, if I might adhere to the metaphor, we have laid hold of the door on the Inside, and held it tight lest it should be opened. But, I fear me, there are many who have sat in the inner chamber, and heard the gracious hand on the outer panel, and have kept their hands folded and their feet still, and done nothing. Ah! brethren, to do nothing is to do the most dreadful of things, for it is to keep the shut door shut in the face of Christ. No passionate antagonism is needed, no vehement rejection, no intellectual denial of His truth and His promises. If you want to ruin yourselves, you have simply to do nothing! All the dismal consequences will necessarily follow.

‘Well,’ you say, ‘but you are talking metaphors; let us come to plain facts. What do you want me to do? ‘I want you to listen to the message of an infinitely loving Christ who died on the Cross to bear the sins of the whole world, including you and me; and who now lives, pleading with each of us from heaven that we will take by simple faith, and keep by holy obedience, the gift of eternal life which He offers, and He alone can give. The condition of His entrance is simple trust in Him, as the Saviour of my soul. That is opening the door, and if you will do that, then, just as when you open the shutters, in comes the sunshine; just as when you lift the sluice in flows the crystal stream into the slimy, empty lock, so - I was going to say by gravitation, rather by the diffusive impulse that belongs to light, which is Christ - He will enter in, wherever He is not shut out by unbelief and aversion of will.

III. And so that brings me to my last point, viz., the entrance and the feast.

My text is a metaphor, but the declaration that ‘if any man open the door’ Jesus Christ ‘will come in to him,’ is not a metaphor, but is the very heart and centre of the Gospel, ‘I will come in to him,’ dwell in him, be really incorporated in his being, or inspirited, if I may so say, in his spirit. Now you may think that that is far too recondite and lofty a thought to be easily grasped by ordinary people, but its very loftiness should recommend it to us. I, for my part, believe that there is no more prose fact in the whole world than the actual dwelling of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who is in heaven, in the spirits of the people that love Him and trust Him. And this is one great part of the Gospel that I have to preach to you, that into our emptiness He will come with His fullness; that into our sinfulness He will come with His righteousness; that into our death He will come with His triumphant and immortal life; and He being in us and we in Him, we shall be full and pure and live for ever, and be blessed with the blessedness of Jesus. So remember that embedded in the midst of the wonderful metaphor of my text lies the fact, which is the very centre of the Gospel hope, the dwelling of Jesus Christ in the hearts even of poor sinful creatures like you and me.

But it comes into view here only as the basis of the subsequent promises, and on these I can only touch very briefly, ‘I will come in to him and sup with him, and he with Me.’ Well, that speaks to us in lovely, sympathetic language of a close, familiar, happy communication between Christ and my poor self, which shall make all life as a feast in company with Him. We remember who is the mouthpiece of Jesus Christ here. It is the disciple who knew most of what quietness of blessedness and serenity of adoring communion there were in leaning on Christ’s breast at supper, casting back his head on that loving bosom; looking into those deep sad eyes, and asking questions which were sure of answer. And John, as he wrote down the words ‘I will sup with him, and he with Me,’ perhaps remembered that upper room where, amidst all the bitter herbs, there was such strange joy and tranquility. But whether he did or no, may we not take the picture as suggesting to us the possibilities of loving fellowship, of quiet repose, of absolute satisfaction of all desires and needs, which will be ours if we open the door of our hearts by faith and let Jesus Christ come in?

But, note, when He does come He comes as guest. ‘I will sup with him.’ ‘He shall have the honour of providing that of which I partake.’ Just as upon earth He said to the Samaritan woman, ‘Give Me to drink,’ or sat at the table, at the modest village feast in Bethany, in honour of the miracle of a man raised from the dead, and smiled approval of Martha serving, as of Lazarus sitting at table, and of Mary anointing Him, so the humble viands, the poor man’s fare that our resources enable us to lay upon His table, are never so small or poor for Him to delight in. This King feasts in the neatherd’s cottage, and He will even condescend to turn the cakes. ‘I will sup with Him.’ We cannot bring anything so coarse, so poor, so unworthy, if a drop or two of love has been sprinkled over it, but that it will be well-pleasing in His sight, and He Himself will partake thereof. ‘He has gone to be a guest with a man that is a sinner.’

But more than that, where He is welcomed as guest. He assumes the place of host. ‘I will sup with him, and he with Me.’ You remember how, after the Resurrection, when the two disciples, moved to hospitality, implored the unknown Stranger to come in and partake of their humble fare, He yielded to their importunity, and when they were in the guest chamber, took His place at the head of the table, and blessed the bread and gave it to them. You remember how, in the beginning of His miracles, He manifested forth His glory in this, that, invited as a common guest to the rustic wedding, He provided the failing wine. And so, wherever a poor man opens his heart and says, ‘Come in,’ and I will give Thee my ‘best,’ Jesus Christ comes in, and gives the man His best, that the man may render it back to Him. He owes nothing to any man. He accepts the poorest from each, and He gives the richest to each. He is Guest and Host, and what He accepts from us is what He has first given to us.

The promise of my text is fulfilled immediately when the door of the heart is opened, but it shadows and prophesies a nobler fulfilment in the heavens. Here and now Christ and we may sit together, but the feast will be like the Passover, eaten with loins girt and staves in hand, and the Red Sea and wilderness waiting to be trodden. But there comes a more perfect form of the communion, which finds its parallel in that wonderful scene when the weary fishers, all of whose success had depended on their obedience to the Master’s direction, discerned at last, through the grey of the morning, who it was that stood upon the shore, and, struggling to His side, saw there a fire of coals, and fish laid thereon, and bread, to which they were bidden to add their modest contribution in the fish that they had caught; and the meal being thus prepared partly by His hand and partly by theirs, ennobled and filled by Him, His voice says, ‘Come and dine.’ So, brethren, Christ at the last will bring His servants to His table in His kingdom, and there their works shall follow them; and He and they shall sit together for ever, and for ever ‘rejoice in the fatness of Thy house, even of Thy holy temple.’

I beseech you, listen not to my poor voice, but to His that speaks through it, and when He knocks do you open, and Christ Himself shall come in. ‘If any man love Me he will keep My commandments, and My Father will love him, and We will come and make Our abode with him.’


Verse 21

Revelation

VII. - THE VICTOR’S SOVEREIGNTY

Revelation 3:21.

The Church at Laodicea touched the lowest point of Christian character. It had no heresies, but that was not because it clung to the truth, but because it had not life enough to breed even them. It had no conspicuous vices, like some of the other communities. But it had what was more fatal than many vices - a low temperature of religious life and feeling, and a high notion of itself. Put these two things together - they generally go together - and you get the most fatal condition for a Church. It is the condition of a large part of the so-called ‘Christian world’ to-day, as that very name unconsciously confesses; for ‘world’ is the substantive, and ‘Christian’ only the adjective, and there is a great deal more ‘world’ than ‘Christian’ in many so-called ‘Churches.’

Such a Church needed, and received, the sharpest rebuke. A severe disease requires drastic treatment. But the same necessity which drew forth the sharp rebuke drew forth also the loftiest of the promises. If the condition of Laodicea was so bad, the struggle to overcome became proportionately greater, and, consequently, the reward the larger. The least worthy may rise to the highest position. It was not to the victors over persecution at Smyrna, or over heresies at Thyatira, nor even to the blameless Church of Philadelphia, but it was to the faithful in Laodicea, who had kept the fire of their own devotion well alight amidst the tepid Christianity round them, that this climax of all the seven promises is given.

In all the others Jesus Christ stands as the bestower of the gift. Here He stands, not only as the bestower, but as Himself participating in that which He bestows. The words beggar all exposition, and I have shrunk from taking them as my text. We seem to see in them, as if looking into some sun with dazzled eyes, radiant forms moving amidst the brightness, and in the midst of them one like unto the Son of man. But if my words only dilute and weaken this great promise, they may still help to keep it before your own minds for a few moments. So I ask you to look with me at the two great things that are bracketed together in our text; only I venture to reverse the order of consideration, and think of -

I. The Commander-in-Chiefs conquest and royal repose.

‘I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne.’ It seems to me that, wonderful as are all the words of my text, perhaps the most wonderful of them all are those by which the two halves of the promise are held together - ‘Even as I also.’ The Captain of the host takes His place in the ranks, and, if I may so say, shoulders His musket like the poorest private. Christ sets Himself before us as pattern of the struggle, and as pledge of the victory and reward. Now let me say a word about each of the two halves of this great thought of our Lord’s identification of Himself with us in our fight, and identification of us with Him in His victory.

As to the former, I would desire to emphasize, with all the strength that I can, the point of view from which Jesus Christ Himself, in these final words from the heavens, directed to all the Churches, looks hack upon His earthly career, and bids us think of it as a true conflict. You remember how, in the sanctities of the upper room, and ere yet the supreme moment of the crucifixion had come, our Lord said, when within a day of the Cross and an hour of Gethsemane, ‘I have overcome the world.’ This is an echo of that never-to be-forgotten utterance that the aged Apostle had heard when leaning on his Master’s bosom in the seclusion and silence of that sacred upper chamber. Only here our Lord, looking back upon the victory, gathers it all up into one as a past thing, and says, ‘I overcame,’ in those old days long ago.

Brethren, the orthodox Christian is tempted to think of Jesus Christ in such a fashion as to reduce His conflict on earth to a mere sham fight. Let no supposed theological necessities induce you to weaken down in your thoughts of Him what He Himself has told us - that He, too, struggled, and that He, too, overcame. That temptation in the wilderness, where the necessities of the flesh and the desires of the spirit were utilized by the Tempter as weapons with which His unmoved obedience and submission were assailed, was repeated over and over again all through His earthly life. We believe - at least I believe - that Jesus Christ was in nature sinless, and that temptation found nothing in Him on which it could lay hold, no fuel or combustible material to which it could set light. But, notwithstanding, inasmuch as He became partaker of flesh and blood, and entered into the limitations of humanity, His sinlessness did not involve His incapacity for being tempted, nor did it involve that His righteousness was not assailed, nor His submission often tried. We believe - or at least I believe - that He ‘did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.’ But I also reverently listen to Him unveiling, so far as may need to be unveiled, the depths of His own nature and experience, and I rejoice to think that He fought the good fight, and Himself was a soldier in the army of which He is the General. He is the Captain, the Leader, of the long procession of heroes of the faith; and He is the ‘perfecter’ of it, inasmuch as His own faith was complete and unbroken.

But I may remind you, too, that from this great word of condescending self-revelation and identification, we may well learn what a victorious life really is. ‘I overcame’; but from the world’s point of view He was utterly beaten. He did not gather in many who would listen to Him or care for His words. He was misunderstood, rejected; lived a life of poverty; died when a young man, a violent death; was hunted by all the Church dignitaries of His generation as a blasphemer, spit upon by soldiers, and execrated after His death. And that is victory, is it? Well, then, we shall have to revise our estimates of what is a conquering career. If He, the pauper-martyr, if He, the misunderstood enthusiast, if He conquered, then some of our notions of a victorious life are very far astray.

Nor need I say a word, I suppose, about the completeness, as well as the reality, of that victory of His. From heaven He claims in this great word just what He claimed on earth, over and over again, when He fronted His enemies with, Which of you convinceth Me of sin? ‘and when He declared in the sanctities of His confidence with His friends, ‘I do always the things that please Him.’ The rest of us partially overcome, and partially are defeated. He alone bears His shield out of the conflict undinted and unstained. To do the will of God, to dwell in continual communion with the Father, never to be hindered by anything that the world can present or my sins can suggest, whether of delightsome or dreadful, from doing the will of the Father in heaven from the heart - that is victory, and all else is defeat. And that is what the Captain of our salvation, and only He, did.

Turn for a moment now to the other side of our Lord’s gracious identification of Himself with us. ‘Even as I also am set down with My Father in His throne.’ That points back, as the Greek original shows even more distinctly, to the historical fact of the Ascension. It recalls the great words by which, with full consciousness of what He was doing, Jesus Christ sealed His own death-warrant in the presence of the Sanhedrim when He said: ‘Henceforth ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power.’ It carries us still further back to the psalm which our Lord Himself quoted, and thereby stopped the mouths of Scribes and Pharisees: ‘The Lord said unto My Lord, sit Thou at My right hand till I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.’ He laid His hand upon that great promise, and claimed that it was to be fulfilled in His case. And here, stooping from amidst the blaze of the central royalty of the Universe, He confirms all that He had said before, and declares that He shares the Throne of God.

Now, of course, the words are intensely figurative and have to be translated as best we can, even though it may seem to weaken and dilute them, into less concrete and sensible forms than the figurative representation. But I think we shall not be mistaken if we assert that, whatever lies in this great statement far beyond our conception in the present, there lie in it three things - repose, royalty, communion of the most intimate kind with the Father.

There is repose. You remember how the first martyr saw the opened heavens and the ascended Christ, in that very hall, probably, in which Christ had said, ‘Henceforth ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power.’ But Stephen, as he declared, with rapt face smitten by the light into the likeness of an angel’s, saw Him standing at the right hand. We have to combine these two images, incongruous as they are in prose, literally, before we reach the conception of the essential characteristic of that royal rest of Christ’s. For it is a repose that is full of activity. ‘My Father worketh hitherto,’ said He on earth, ‘and I work.’ And that is true with regard to His unseen and heavenly life. The verses which are appended to the close of Mark’s gospel draw a picture for us - ‘They went everywhere preaching the Word ‘: He sat at ‘the right hand of God.’ The two halves do not fuse together. The Commander is in repose; the soldiers are bearing the brunt of the fight. Yes! but then there comes the word which links the two halves together. ‘They went everywhere preaching, the Lord also working with them.’

Christ’s repose indicates, not merely the cessation from, but much rather the completion of. His work on earth, which culminated on the Cross; which work on earth is the basis of the still mightier work which He is doing’ in the heavens. So the Apostle Paul sets up a great ladder, so to speak, which our faith climbs by successive stages, when he says, ‘He that died - yea, rather that is risen again - who is even at the right hand of God- who also maketh intercession for us.’ His repose is full of beneficent activity for all that love Him.

Again, there is set forth royalty, participation in Divine dominion. The highly metaphorical language of our text, and of parallel verses elsewhere, presents this truth in two forms. Sometimes we read of ‘sitting at the right hand of God’; sometimes, as here, we read of ‘sitting on the throne.’ The ‘right hand of God’ is everywhere. It is not a local designation. ‘The right hand of the Lord’ is the instrument of His omnipotence, and to speak of Christ as sitting on the right hand of God is simply to cast into symbolical words the great thought that He wields the forces of Divinity. When we read of Him as enthroned on the Throne of God, we have, in like manner, to translate the figure into this overwhelming and yet most certain truth, that the Man Christ Jesus is exalted to supreme, universal dominion, and that all the forces of omnipotent Divinity rest in the hands that still bear, for faith, the prints of the nails.

But again that session of Christ with the Father suggests the thought, about which it becomes us not to speak, of a communion with the Father - deep, intimate, unbroken, beyond all that we can conceive or speak. We listen to Him when He says, ‘Glorify Thou Me with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.’ We bow before the thought that what He asked in that prayer was the lifting of one of ourselves, the humanity of Jesus, into this inseparable unity with the very glory of God. And then we catch the wondrous words: ‘Even as I also.’

II. That brings me to the second of the thoughts here, which may be more briefly disposed of after the preceding exposition, and that is, the private soldier’s share in the Captain’s victory and rest. ‘I will grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also.’

Now with regard to the former of these, our share in Christ’s triumph and conquest, I only wish to say one thing, and it is this. I thankfully recognize that to many who do not share with me in what I believe to be the teaching of Scripture, viz., the belief that Christ was more than example, their partial belief, as I think it, in Him as the realized ideal, the living Pattern of how men ought to live, has given strength for far nobler and purer life than could otherwise have been reached. But, brethren, it seems to me that we want a great deal more than a pattern, a great deal closer and more intimate union with the Conqueror than the mere setting forth of the possibility of a perfect life as realized in Him, ere we can share in His victory. What does it matter to me, after all, except for stimulus and for rebuke, that Jesus Christ should have lived the life? Nothing. But when we can link the words in the upper room, ‘I have overcome,’ and the words from heaven, ‘Even as I also overcame,’ with the same Apostle’s words in his epistle, ‘This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith,’ then we share in the Captain’s victory in an altogether different manner from that which they do who can see in Him only a pattern that stimulates and inspires. For if we put our trust in that Saviour, then the very life which was in Christ Jesus, and which conquered the world in Him, will pass into us; and the law of the spirit of life in Christ will make us more than conquerors through Him that loved us.

And then the victory being secured, because Christ lives in us and makes us victorious, our participation in His throne is secure likewise.

There shall be repose, the cessation of effort, the end of toil. There shall be no more aching heads, strained muscles, exhausted brains, weary hearts, dragging feet. There will be no more need for resistance. The helmet will be antiquated, the laurel crown will take its place. The heavy armour, that rusted the garment over which it was braced, will be laid aside, and the trailing robes, that will contract no stain from the golden pavements, will be the attire of the redeemed. We have all had work enough, and weariness enough, and battles enough, and beatings enough, to make us thankful for the thought that we shall sit on the throne.

But if it is a rest like His, and if it is to be the rest of royalty, there will be plenty of work in it; work of the kind that fits us and is blessed. I know not what new elevation, or what sort of dominion will be granted to those who, instead of the faithfulness of the steward, are called upon to exercise the activity of the Lord over ten cities. I know not, and I care not; it is enough to know that we shall sit on His throne.

But do not let us forget the last of the thoughts: ‘They shall sit with Me.’ Ah! there you touch the centre - ‘To depart and to be with Christ, which is far better’; ‘Absent from the body; present with the Lord.’ We know not how. The lips are locked that might, perhaps, have spoken; only this we know, that, not as a drop of water is absorbed into the ocean and loses its individuality, shall we be united to Christ. There will always be the two, or there would be no blessedness in the two being one; but as close as is compatible with the sense of being myself, and of His being Himself, will be our fellowship with Him. ‘He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.’

Brethren, this generation would be a great deal the better for thinking more often of the promises and threatenings of Scripture with regard to the future. I believe that no small portion of the lukewarmness of the modern Laodicea is owing to the comparative neglect into which, in these days, the Christian teachings on that subject have fallen. I have tried in these sermons on these seven promises to bring them at least before your thoughts and hearts. And I beseech you that you would, more than you have done, ‘have respect unto the recompense of reward,’ and let that future blessedness enter as a subsidiary motive into your Christian life.

We may gather all these promises together, and even then we have to say, ‘the half hath not been told us.’ ‘It doth not yet appear what we shall be.’ Symbols and negations, and these alone, teach us the little that we know about that future; and when we try to expand and concatenate these, I suppose that our conceptions correspond to the reality about as closely as would the dreams of a chrysalis as to what it would be when it was a butterfly. But certainty and clearness are not necessarily united. ‘It doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him.’ Take ‘even as I also’ for the key that unlocks all the mysteries of that glorious future. ‘It is enough for the servant that he be as his Master.’

 


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Bibliography Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Revelation 3:4". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/revelation-3.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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