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CHAPTER II.

THE CHURCH ON THE FIELD OF HISTORY.

Rev. ii., iii.

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write; These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, He that walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks: I know thy works, and thy toil and patience, and that thou canst not bear evil men, and didst try them which call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false; and thou hast patience and didst bear for My name's sake, and hast not grown weary. But I have this against thee, that thou didst leave thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I come to thee, and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. To him that overcometh, to him will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God. And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which became dead, and lived again: I know thy tribulation, and thy poverty (but thou art rich), and the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and they are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Fear not the things which thou art about to suffer: behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death. And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write; These things saith He that hath the sharp two-edged sword: I know where thou dwellest, even where Satan's throne is: and thou holdest fast My name, and didst not deny My faith, even in the days of Antipas My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwelleth. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there some that hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols22 and to commit fornication. So hast thou also some that hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans in like manner. Repent therefore; or else I come to thee quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. To him that overcometh, to him will I give of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and upon the stone a new name written, which no one knoweth but he that receiveth it. And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath His eyes like a flame of fire, and his feet are like unto burnished brass: I know thy works, and thy love and faith and ministry and patience, and that thy last works are more than the first. But I have this against thee, that thou sufferest thy wife Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess; and she teacheth and seduceth My servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time that she should repent; and she willeth not to repent of her fornication. Behold, I do cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of her works. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto each one of you according to your works. But to you I say, to the rest that are in Thyatira, as many as have not this teaching, which know not the deep things of Satan, as they say; I cast upon you none other burden. Howbeit that which ye have, hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh, and he that keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give authority over the nations: and as a shepherd he shall tend them with a sceptre of iron, as the vessels of the potter are they broken to shivers; as I also have received of My Father: and I will give him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. And to the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith He that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars: I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead. Be thou watchful, and stablish the things that remain, which were ready to die: for I have found no works of thine fulfilled before My God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and didst hear; and keep it, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. But thou hast a few names in Sardis which did not defile their garments: and they shall walk with Me in white; for they are worthy. He that overcometh shall thus be arrayed in white garments; and I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels. He that hath an23 ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and none shall shut, and that shutteth, and none openeth: I know thy works (behold, I have set before thee a door opened, which none can shut), that thou hast a little power, and didst keep My word, and didst not deny My name. Behold, I give of the synagogue of Satan, of them which say they are Jews, and they are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou didst keep the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of trial, that hour which is to come upon the whole inhabited earth, to try them that dwell upon the earth. I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take thy crown. He that overcometh, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall come no more forth: and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God, and Mine own new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of My mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art the wretched one, and miserable and poor and blind and naked: I counsel thee to buy of Me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich; and white garments, that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest, and eyesalve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I reprove and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me. He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with Me in My throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with My Father in His throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches (ii., iii.).

The fortunes of the Church are to be traced in the Revelation of St. John; and the first thing necessary therefore is that we shall learn what the Church is. To accomplish this is the leading aim of24 the second and third chapters of the book. An object precisely similar appears to determine the arrangement of the fourth Gospel. The Introduction or Prologue of that Gospel is found in chap. i. 1-18; and there can be no doubt that we meet there, in brief and compendious form, the ideas afterwards illustrated and enforced by its selection of incidents from the life of Jesus. After the Prologue follows a section, extending from chap. i. 19 to chap. ii. 11, in which it is obvious that that struggle of Jesus with the world, together with His victory over it, which it is the chief purpose of the Evangelist to relate, has not yet begun. The question thus arises, What is the aim of that section? and the answer is, that it is to set forth the Redeemer with whom the Gospel is to be occupied as He enters upon the field of history. Thus also here. The first chapter of Revelation is the Introduction or Prologue of the book, containing the ideas to be afterwards illustrated in the history of the Church. The struggle of the Church with the world does not yet begin, nor will it begin until we come to chap. vi. In the meantime we are to see in chaps. ii. and iii. that Body of Christ the struggle and victory of which are to engage our thoughts.

These chapters consist of seven epistles addressed to the churches of the seven cities of Asia named in chap. i. 11, and now written to in the same order, beginning with Ephesus and ending with Laodicea. Each epistle contains much that is peculiar to it, but we shall fail to understand the picture presented by the two chapters as a whole if we look only at the individual parts. General considerations, therefore, regarding the seven epistles first demand our notice.

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Each epistle, it will be observed, is addressed to the "angel" of the church named. The object of this commentary, as explained in the prefatory note, renders an examination of the meaning of the word "angel" here used a point of subordinate importance. A few remarks, however, can hardly be avoided. The favourite interpretations of the term are two: that the "angels of the churches" are either the guardian angels to whom they were severally committed, or their bishops or chief pastors. Both interpretations may be unhesitatingly rejected. For as to the first, there is a total absence of proof that it was either a Jewish or an early Christian idea that each Christian community had its guardian angel; and as to the second, if there was, as there seems to have been, in the synagogues of the Jews, an official known as the "angel" or "messenger," he occupied an altogether inferior position, and possessed none of the authoritative control here ascribed to the several "angels" mentioned. Besides this, both interpretations are set aside by the single consideration that, keeping in view what has been said of the number seven in its relation to the number one, the seven angels, like the seven churches, must be capable of being regarded as a unity. But this cannot be the case with seven guardian angels, for such a universal guardianship can be predicated of the Lord Jesus Christ, the great Head of the Church, alone. Nor can seven bishops or chief pastors be reasonably resolved into one universal bishop or the moderator of one universal presbytery. The true idea seems to be that the "angels" of the churches are a symbolical representation in which the active, as distinguished from the passive, life of the Church finds expression. To St. John every person, every thing, has its angel. God26 proclaims and executes His will by angels.2424   Chaps. vii. 2; viii. 2; xiv. 6, 8, 9; xv. 1, 6. He addresses even the Son by an angel.2525   Chap. xiv. 15. The Son acts and reveals His truth by an angel.2626   Chaps. i. 1; xx. 1; xxii. 6. The waters have an angel.2727   Chap. xvi. 5. Fire has an angel.2828   Chap. xiv. 18. The winds have an angel.2929   Chap. vii. 1. The abyss has an angel.3030   Chap. ix. 11. On all these occasions the "angel" is interposed when the persons or things spoken of are represented as coming out of themselves and as taking their part in intercourse or in action. In like manner the "angels of the churches" are the churches themselves, with this mark of distinction only,—that, when they are thus spoken of, they are viewed not merely as in possession of inward vigour, but as exercising it towards things without.

The interpretation now given is confirmed by the fact that the "angels," as appears from the words of chap. i. 20, "The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches," are not different from the "stars," for it is the province of the star, instead of hiding itself in some secret chamber, to shine, and from its place in the firmament to shed light upon the earth. The uniformity of treatment, too, which must be claimed for the number seven when used both with the churches and the stars, is thus rendered possible; for if the former may represent the universal Church in what she is, the latter will represent the same Church in what she does. Thus, then, in the seven "golden candlesticks" and in the seven "stars" or "angels" we have a double picture of the Church; and each of the two figures employed points to a different aspect27 of her being. It is possible also that the double designation may have been chosen in conformity with a rule, often observed in the Apocalypse, which leads the writer to speak of the same thing, first under an emblem taken from Judaism, and then under one from the wider sphere of the great Gentile Church. The "golden candlestick" burning in the secret of God's Tabernacle gives the former, the "star" shining in the firmament the latter.

Such then being the case, the seven epistles being addressed to the seven churches, and not to any individual in each, the following particulars with regard to them ought to be kept in view:—

1. They are intended to set before us a picture of the universal Church. At first sight indeed it may seem as if they were only to be looked at individually and separately. The different churches are addressed by name. In what is said of each there is nothing out of keeping with what we may easily suppose to have been its condition at the time. There is as much reason to believe that each epistle contains an actual historical picture as there is to believe this in the case of the epistles of St. Paul to Rome, or Corinth, or Ephesus, or Philippi. Any other supposition would convey a false idea of the principles upon which the Apocalypse is framed, would destroy the reality of the Apostle's writing, and would compel us to think that his words must have been unintelligible to those for whom, whatever their further application, they were primarily designed. The question, however, is not thus exhausted; for it is perfectly possible that both certain churches and certain particulars in their state may have been selected rather than others, because they afforded the best typical representation of the28 universal Church. Several reasons may satisfy us that this was actually done.

(1) We have good ground for believing that, besides these seven churches of Asia, there were other churches in existence in the same district at the time when the Apostle wrote. One of the early fathers speaks of churches at Magnesia and Tralles. It is also possible that there were churches at Colossæ and Hierapolis, although these cities had suffered from an earthquake shortly after the days of St. Paul. Yet St. John addressed himself not to seven, but to "the seven churches which are in Asia," as if there were no more churches in the province.3131   Chap. i. 4. More, however, there certainly were; and he cannot therefore have intended to address them all. He makes a selection, without saying that he does so; and it is a natural supposition that his selection is designed to represent the universal Church.

(2) Importance must be attached to the number seven. Every reader of the book of Revelation is familiar with the singular part played by that number in its structure, and with the fact that (unless chap. xvii. 9 be an exception) it never means that numeral alone. It is the number of unity in diversity, of unity in that manifoldness of operation which alone entitles it to the name of unity. Such expressions, therefore, as the "seven Spirits of God" or the "seven eyes of the Lamb," are evidently symbolical. The same idea must be carried through all the notices of the number, unless there be something in the context clearly leading to a different conclusion. Nothing of that kind exists here. Were these two chapters indeed out of harmony with the rest of the book, or had they little or no relation to it,29 it might be urged that they were simply historical, and that no deeper meaning was to be sought in them than that lying on the surface. We have already seen, however, that their connexion with the other chapters is of the closest kind; and we cannot therefore avoid bringing them under the scope of the same principles of interpretation as are elsewhere applicable. Their number—seven—must thus be regarded as typical of unity, and the seven churches as representative of the one universal Church.

(3) The nature of the call to the hearers of each epistle to give heed to the words addressed to them leads to the same conclusion. Had each epistle been designed only for those to whom it was immediately sent, that call would probably have been addressed to them alone. Instead of this it is couched in the most general form: He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.

(4) The character in which the Saviour speaks to each of the seven churches is always taken from the vision of the Son of man beheld by St. John in the first chapter of his book. It is true that in the case of one or two of the particulars mentioned this is not at once apparent; but in that of by far the larger number it is so clear that we are entitled to infer the existence of some secret link of connexion in the mind of the sacred writer even when it may not be distinctly perceptible to us. The descriptions, too, of the epistles are no doubt fuller and more elaborate than those of the vision; but this circumstance is easily accounted for when we remember that the seven different delineations of our Lord contained in the second and third chapters are in the first chapter combined in one. Keeping these considerations in view, the main point is30 incontestable that the germ of the epistolary description is to be found in every case in the preliminary vision.

Thus to the first church—that of Ephesus—Jesus introduces Himself as He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, He that walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks3232   Chap. ii. 1.; and the description is evidently that of chap. i. 12, 13, 16, where the Seer beheld "seven golden candlesticks; and in the midst of the candlesticks one like unto a Son of man; and He had in His right hand seven stars." To the second—the church of Smyrna—Jesus introduces Himself with the words, These things saith the first and the last, which became dead, and lived again3333   Chap. ii. 8.; and the description is taken from chap. i. 17, 18: "I am the first and the last, and the Living One; and I became dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore." To the third—the church of Pergamum—the introduction is, These things saith He that hath a sharp two-edged sword3434   Chap. ii. 12.; and the original of the description is found in chap. i. 16: and out of His mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword. To the fourth—the church of Thyatira—the Saviour begins, These things saith the Son of God, who hath His eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like unto burnished brass3535   Chap. ii. 18.; and we see the source whence the words are drawn when we read in chap. i. 14, 15, "And His eyes were as a flame of fire; and His feet like unto burnished brass, as if it had been refined in a furnace." Of the latter part of the salutation to the fifth church—that of Sardis—which runs, These things saith He that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars,3636   Chap. iii. 1. it is unnecessary31 to speak; but the first part is more difficult to trace. Comparing chap. v. 6 and chap. iv. 5, we learn that the seven Spirits of God are the possession of the Redeemer, and that they are symbolized by seven lamps burning before the throne of God. Turning now to chap. i., we find the Seer speaking in ver. 4 of "the seven Spirits which are before the throne," those very spirits which in chap. v. 6 he tells us that the Redeemer "hath." This latter thought therefore he is accustomed to associate with them; and though in chap. i. 4 he does not expressly say that the seven Spirits there referred to are the possession of Jesus, this view of them is obviously a part of his general conception of the matter. In chap. i. 4, therefore, the source of the words addressed to Sardis is to be found. To the sixth church—that of Philadelphia—it is said, These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and none shall shut, and that shutteth, and none openeth3737   Chap. iii. 7.; and we can have no difficulty in recognising the germ of the extended description in chap. i. 14, 18, where we are told that Jesus Christ, in token of His holiness, hath "His head and His hair white as white wool, white as snow," and that He hath "the keys of death and of Hades." Lastly, we have the introductory address to the seventh church—that of Laodicea—These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the beginning of the creation of God3838   Chap. iii. 14.; and the origin of it is to be seen in chap. i. 5, where we are told of "Jesus Christ, who is the faithful Witness, and the first-born of the dead, and the Ruler of the kings of the earth." Each salutation of the seven epistles is thus part of the description32 of the Son of man in the first chapter of the book; and it is a legitimate inference that the contents of the epistles are, like the salutations, only portions of one whole.

(5) Many expressions are to be met with in the seven epistles which find their explanation only in those later chapters of the book where a reference to the Church universal cannot be denied. The tree of life of the first epistle meets us again, more fully spoken of, in the description of the new Jerusalem.3939   Chaps. ii. 7; xxii. 2, 14. The second death mentioned in the second epistle is not explained till judgment upon the Church's enemies is complete.4040   Chaps. ii. 11; xx. 14. The writing upon believers of the new name, promised in the third epistle, is almost unintelligible until we behold the hundred and forty-four thousand upon Mount Zion.4141   Chaps. ii. 17; xiv. 1. The authority over the nations, and more especially the gift of the morning star, referred to in the fourth epistle, cannot be comprehended until we are introduced to the vision of the thousand years and the last utterances of the glorified Redeemer.4242   Chaps. ii. 26, 28; xx. 4, 5; xxii. 16. The white garments of the fifth epistle can hardly be rightly understood until we see the white-robed company standing before the throne and before the Lamb.4343   Chaps. iii. 5; vii. 9, 14. The mention in the sixth epistle of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God, remains a mystery until we actually witness her descent.4444   Chaps. iii. 12; xxi. 2, 10. And, finally, the sitting in Christ's throne of the seventh epistle is only elucidated by the reign of the thousand years with Him.4545   Chaps. iii. 21; xx. 4. Comp. Trench, The Seven Epistles, p. 37.

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(6) It is worthy of notice that the descriptions of our Lord given in the first and last epistles have a wider application than to the churches of Ephesus and Laodicea, to which they are immediately addressed, thus making it evident that, while each of these epistles has its own place in the series, it is at the same time treated as the first or last member of a group which is to be regarded as a whole.

To the church of Ephesus the Saviour describes Himself as He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, He that walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks4646   Chap. ii. 1.; and the description has no more reference to Ephesus than to any other of the churches named. In like manner to the church of Laodicea He describes Himself as the Amen, the Witness faithful and true, the Beginning of the creation of God.4747   Chap. iii. 14. The first of these appellations is no doubt derived from Isa. lxv. 16, where we have twice repeated in the same verse the formula "God Amen;" and the meaning of the name as applied to Jesus is, not that all the Divine promises shall be accomplished by Him, but that He is Himself the fulfilment of every promise made by the Almighty to His people. The second appellation reminds us of John xviii. 37, where Jesus replies to Pilate's question in the words, "To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth." His whole mission is summed up by Him in the idea of "witnessing." He is the perfect, the true, the real Witness to eternal truth in its deepest sense, in its widest and most comprehensive range. The third appellation, again, cannot be limited to the thought of the mere material creation, as if34 equivalent to the statement that by the Word were all things made. It would thus fail to correspond with the two appellations preceding it, which undoubtedly apply to the work of redemption, while at the same time the addition of the words "of God" would be meaningless or perplexing. Let us add to this that in chap. i. 5, immediately after Jesus has been called the "faithful Witness," He is described as the "first-begotten of the dead," and we shall not be able to resist the conviction that the words before us refer primarily to the new creation, the Christian Church, that redeemed humanity which has its true life in Christ. It may not indeed be necessary to exclude the thought of the material universe; but, in so far as it is alluded to, it is only as redeemed, in its ideal condition of rest and glory, when the new Jerusalem has come down out of heaven, and when the Church's enemies have been cast into the lake of fire.4848   Comp. Rom. viii. 21, 22; James i. 18. The three appellations, it will be observed, have thus a general rather than a special aspect; and the salutation containing them is to be distinguished from the salutations of the other epistles, all of which, with the exception of the last, exhibit the closest possible connexion with the contents of the epistles to which they respectively belong. It is no mere fancy, therefore, when we say that we have in this a proof that the first and last epistles are not simply members of a continuous series, the last of which may leave the first far behind, but that they are binding terms which gather up all the members of the series and group them into one.

(7) It ought to be noticed that all the cities to which35 the seven epistles are addressed were situated beyond the boundaries of the Holy Land, and that the Christian Church in each was certainly composed, at least in large measure, of Gentile converts. These churches cannot therefore represent the Jewish Church alone, but must embody that wider idea of the Christian Church which was brought in when the middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles was broken down, and when both were reconciled in one body by the Cross, becoming one Church in the Son and in the Father. Were we dealing with the Jewish-Christian Church, we should unquestionably find it located in Jerusalem or in some of the cities of Palestine. When we are taken to heathen soil, and to churches known to have been at least for the most part Gentile, it is a proof that we have before us that great Gentile Church in the very conception of which lies the thought of universality.

(8) The view now taken is confirmed by the general nature of the Apocalypse. That book is symbolical. It begins with a symbolical representation in the first chapter. Symbolism, by the admission of all, is resumed in the fourth chapter, and is continued from that point to the end. Now it is certainly possible that between these two groups of symbols a passage only strictly historical might be introduced. But if there be reason on independent grounds to think that here also we have facts used at least to a certain extent to serve a higher than a simply historic thought, it cannot fail to be allowed that the general unity of the book is thus preserved, and that a completeness is lent to it which we are entitled to expect, but which would be otherwise wanting.

The seven churches then of chaps. ii. and iii. are36 thus intended to represent the one universal Church. The Seer selects such particular churches of Asia and such special features of their condition as afford the best illustration of that state of God's kingdom in the world which is to be the great subject of his prophetic words. He is to keep in view throughout all his revelation certain aspects of the Church in herself and in her relation to the world. But these aspects were not merely in the bosom of the future. Still less are they an ideal picture drawn from the resources of the writer's own imagination. To his enlightened eye, looking abroad over that part of the world in which his lot was cast, they were also present, one in one church, another in another. St. John therefore groups them together. They are "the things which are," and they are types of "the things which shall come to pass hereafter."4949   Chap. i. 19.

The universalism of the Apocalypse is from the first apparent.

2. A second characteristic of the epistles addressed to the seven churches demands our notice, for these epistles are clearly divisible into two portions, the first consisting of the first three, the second of the other four. Every inquirer admits the fact, the proof resting upon the difference of place assigned in the two portions to the call, He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. In the first three this call comes in as a central part of the epistle, immediately before the promise to him that overcometh5050   Chap. ii. 7, 11, 17.; in the last four it closes the epistle.5151   Chaps. ii. 29; iii. 6, 13, 22. There is a still more interesting difference, though the Authorised English Version conceals it from view. According to the best attested37 readings of the original, the second and third epistles—those to Smyrna and Pergamum—omit the words, found in all the others, I know thy works. The circumstance is at least remarkable, and it seems to admit of only one explanation. In the mind of the writer the first three epistles were so closely associated together—more closely perhaps than even the seven or the last four—that these words occurring in the first epistle were thought by him to extend their influence over the second and third, much in the same way as the description of the exalted Lord in the same epistle sent its voice forward, and that in the last epistle its voice backward, through the rest. At all events, it is impossible not to see that the first three epistles and likewise the last four, to whatever extent they form parts of one whole, constitute in each case a special unity. What, we have now to ask, is the ground of the distinction? In what light is the Church viewed in each of the two portions spoken of?

There are two aspects of the Church which may be said to pervade the whole Apocalypse: first, as she is in herself, in her own true nature; and secondly, as she is engaged in, and affected by, a struggle with the world. The distinction between the two may be traced in the grouping of which we speak. The first three epistles lead us to the thought of the Church in the former, the remaining four to the thought of her in the latter, aspect. In the first three she is the pure bride of Christ; in the last four she has yielded to the influences of the world, and the faithful remnant within her is separated from her professing but unfaithful members.

The numbers into which the two portions of the seven epistles are distributed illustrate this. Three38 is the number of the Divine; four, as appears from many passages of this book, is the number of the world. The simple fact that we have a group of three as distinguished from one of four epistles is sufficient to lead to the impression that, in one way or another the thought of the Divine is more closely associated with the former, and the thought of the world with the latter.

This impression is confirmed when we look at the contents of the epistles. Let us take the first three, and we shall find that in not one of them is a contrast drawn between the whole Church and any faithful remnant within her borders, that in not one of them is the Church represented as yielding to the influences of the world. No doubt she has evil in her midst; and evil always springs from the world, not from God. But she is not yet conscious of the sin by which she is surrounded. She has not yet begun to traffic with the world, to accommodate herself to it, or to lust after what it bestows. The great charge against the church in Ephesus is that she has left her first love.5252   Chap. ii. 4. She has passed out of the bright and joyous feelings which marked the time of her espousals to the heavenly Bridegroom. But from sin the Church as she actually exists in the world can never be wholly free; and, so far in particular as the Nicolaitans are concerned, she shares in Ephesus the feelings of her Lord, and views them with the hatred which they deserve. No reproach is directed against the church in Smyrna. She is rather the object of her Lord's perfect confidence; and He is only preparing trial for her in correspondence with the39 law by which He trains His people: "Every branch that beareth fruit, He cleanseth it, that it may bear more fruit."5353   John xv. 2. Remarks of a similar kind apply to the church in Pergamum. There is no charge against the church there that she is allowing the world to gain dominion over her. She has certainly persons in her midst who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans, but they are few in number; they are no more than "some,"5454   Chap. ii. 14, 15. and she lends them no countenance. On the contrary, though dwelling in the place where Satan has his throne, she has remained true to her Lord, and has been purified in the fires of persecution then raging even unto death. In none of the three cases is the church perfect, but in none is she really faithless to her trust. She is in danger; she needs to be perfected by suffering5555   Comp. Heb. ii. 10.; by suffering she is perfected: but she knows that he who will be the friend of the world is the enemy of God, and the enemies of God are her enemies.

When we turn to the second group of the seven epistles, we at once breathe a different atmosphere; and the contrast is rendered more striking by the fact that in the first of the four we have the very sins spoken of which have already twice crossed our path in the epistles to Ephesus and to Pergamum. According to the best critical reading of chap. ii. 20, the charge against Thyatira is, "Thou sufferest" (Thou lettest alone; thou toleratest) "thy wife Jezebel." Jezebel was a heathen princess, the first heathen queen who had been married by a king of the northern kingdom of Israel. She was therefore peculiarly fitted to represent the influences of the world; and the charge against Thyatira is thus40 that, in the persons not of a few only, but of her united membership, she tolerated the world, with its heathen thoughts and practices. She knew it to be the world that it was; but notwithstanding this she was content to be at peace, or even to ally herself, with it. The church in Sardis is not less blameable. There are a few names in her that have not defiled their garments; but the church as a whole has deeply sinned. She has reproduced the Pharisaic type with which the Gospels have made us acquainted, substituting the outward for the inward in religion, and then yielding to the sins of the flesh to which she has thus given the supremacy. The church in Philadelphia, like that in Smyrna, is not blamed, and it is well that there should be one church even in the midst of the world of which this can be said; yet even Philadelphia has only a little power,5656   Chap. iii. 8. while the exhortation, Hold fast that which thou hast,5757   Chap. iii. 11. appears to indicate that she has been losing much. Lastly, no one can mistake the willing identification of herself with the world on the part of the church in Laodicea. She says that she is rich, that she has gotten riches, that she has need of nothing.5858   Chap. iii. 17. Her members are well-to-do and in easy circumstances, and they have found so much comfort in their worldly goods that they have become blind to the fact that man needs something better and higher for his portion. In all these four churches, in short, we have an entirely different relation between the Church and the world from that set before us in the first three. There is not simply danger of decay within, and the need of trial with the benefit resulting from it. There is actual conflict with the world; sometimes, it may be, a victory41 over it, at other times a yielding to its influences and an adoption of its spirit. In the first three churches all, or all with few exceptions, are on the side of Christ; in the last four the "remnant" alone is true to Him.

Attention to the promises to him that overcometh in the different epistles seems to confirm what has been said. There is a marked contrast between the tone of these promises as they are given in the two groups of epistles; and even where a certain amount of similarity exists, the promises in the second group will be found to be fuller and richer than in the first. At Ephesus, at Smyrna, and at Pergamum "he that overcometh" is rewarded much, as one still in a simple and childlike state would be. The first promise made to him is that he shall eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God5959   Chap. ii. 7.; the second, that he shall not be hurt of the second death6060   Chap. ii. 11.; the third, that he shall eat of the hidden manna, and be like the high-priest in the innermost recesses of the sanctuary.6161   Chap. ii. 17. All is quiet. The appeal of Him who promises is to the gentler susceptibilities of the soul. The privileges and enjoyments spoken of are adapted to the condition of those who have not yet experienced the struggle of life.

When we turn to the second group of epistles there is a different tone. We enter upon rewards conceived in bolder and more manly figures. The first promise now is, He that overcometh, and he that keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give authority over the nations: and as a shepherd he shall tend them with a sceptre of iron; as the vessels of the potter are they broken to shivers.6262   Chap. ii. 26, 27. This is the reward of victory after well-fought fields. The42 warrior thus crowned must have braved the strife and won with difficulty. The second promise is not less marked in its character. He that overcometh shall not simply, as in the case of Smyrna, receive the reward of not being "hurt of the second death;" he shall be arrayed in white garments, and Jesus will confess his name before His Father, and before His angels.6363   Chap. iii. 5. The third promise is at least a large extension of that given to Pergamum, for of him that now overcometh it is said, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall come no more forth—that is, shall come no more forth to a struggle with the world similar to that in which he has been engaged—and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God, and Mine own new name.6464   Chap. iii. 12. Finally, the fourth promise is the noblest of all: He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with Me in My throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with My Father in His throne.6565   Chap. iii. 21. All the promises of the second group of epistles are clearly distinguished in tone and spirit from those of the first group. They presuppose a fiercer struggle, a hotter conflict; and they are therefore full of a more glorious reward.

Such seems to be the relation to one another of the two groups into which the seven epistles naturally divide themselves. In the first group the Church has stood firm against the world. She is full of toil and endurance; in her poverty she is rich; and the troubles of the future she does not fear. She holds fast the name of Christ, and openly confesses Him. Seeds of evil are indeed within her, which will too43 soon develop themselves; but she has the Divine life within her in as much perfection as can be expected amidst the infirmities of our present state. She walks with God and hears His voice in her earthly paradise. In the second group the evil seed sown by the enemy has sprung up. The Church tolerates the sins that are around her, makes her league with the world, and yields to its influence. She rallies indeed at times to her new and higher life, but she finally submits to the world and is satisfied with its goods. There are many faithful ones, it is true, in her midst. As in the Jewish Church there was a "remnant according to the election of grace," so in her there are those who listen to the Saviour's voice and follow Him. Yet they are the smaller portion of her members, and they shall eventually come forth out of her. It is the same sad story which has marked all the previous dispensations of the Almighty with His people, and which will continue to be repeated until the Second Coming of the Lord. That story culminates in this book of the Revelation of St. John, when the bride, allying herself with the world, becomes a harlot, and when the Seer hears "another voice out of heaven, saying, Come forth, My people, out of her, that ye have no fellowship with her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues."6666   Chap. xviii. 4.

We have considered the epistles contained in these chapters as a unity representative of the universal Church in the two main aspects of her condition in the world; but before leaving them it will be well to look at them individually, and to mark the peculiar condition of each Church addressed.

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1. The first epistle is that to Ephesus, the central or metropolitan city of the district to which all the seven churches belonged, and with which the almost unanimous voice of antiquity associates the later years of the pastorate of St. John himself. Hence, in part at least, as we have already seen, the general nature of the salutation with which the glorified Lord presents Himself to that church. He does not merely hold its star in His right hand, nor does He merely walk in the midst of it alone. He holdeth the seven stars in His right hand. He walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. He is present in every part of His Church on earth. To every part of it He says, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the consummation of the age."6767   Matt. xxviii. 20.

The church at Ephesus is faithful as a whole. I know, is the language of her Lord to her, thy works, and thy toil and patience, and that thou canst not bear evil men, and didst try them which call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false; and thou hast patience and didst bear for My name's sake, and hast not grown weary. The tribute is a noble one. The church is not only working, but toiling, in her Master's service; she is firm amidst trial, whether from within or from without; she views with abhorrence all workers of iniquity; she tries, only in order to reject, those pretended messengers of Christ who would have preached another gospel than that the power of which she knew. Amidst all the speciousness of their claims, she had "found" them false. Then she turned again to her steadfast endurance until it became a settled principle in her life, and it could be said to her, with45 the strong force of the word in the writings of St. John, that she "had" it. The spirit of all this, too, had been found in the "name" of Jesus, the revelation of the love and grace of God given her in Him. Finally, she had not grown weary. Seven marks of faithfulness appear to be mentioned; and, if so, the fourth—her judgment of false teachers—occupies the central position. Nor does it seem fanciful to say this when we notice that of all the seven points the fourth is the only one returned to, and that in a more specific form, at a later point in the epistle: But this thou hast, that thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. In other words, doctrinal faithfulness was the peculiar distinction of the Ephesian church. She knew that the revelation of God in Christ must be kept pure, or toil would lose its spring, patience its encouragement, shrinking from evil men its intensity, and perseverance its support. Therefore she valued the doctrinal truth which had been committed to her, and held fast the "form of sound words" which she had received, for the sake of the life to which it led.

Amidst all this the church at Ephesus was not wholly what she ought to have been. I have this against thee, had to be said to her, that thou didst leave thy first love; and she needed words of exhortation and warning: Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I come to thee, and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent. The church had declined from the bright and joyous feelings of her first condition. Might her very zeal for the purity of Christian doctrine have had anything to do with this? It is not impossible. Eager defence of truth against error, notwithstanding its importance, is apt to shift the centre of the soul's inner46 life. The strifes of theologians and the cry "First purity, then peace," translated into "Purity without peace," have been in every age the scandal and the weakness of the Church. Well might even David speak of it as one of the most signal instances of God's goodness to them that fear Him, "Thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues;"6868   Ps. xxxi. 20. and never, alas! have tongues been sharper or more contentious than in the maintenance of the faith. There is something without which even zeal for truth may be but a scorching and devouring flame; and that is the "first love," the love ever fresh and tender for Him who first loved us, the love which teaches us to win and not to alienate, to raise and not to crush, those who may only be mistaken in their views, and are not determined enemies of God.

Possessed of this spirit, we shall overcome; and the first love will meet its first reward. To him that overcometh, says the Lord, recalling the blessedness of Eden, will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.

2. The second epistle is that to Smyrna, a rich, prosperous, and dissolute city, and largely inhabited by Jews bitterly opposed to Christ and Christianity. Here therefore persecution of those leading the pure and holy life of the Gospel might be peculiarly expected, as indeed it also peculiarly appeared. The church at Smyrna thus becomes the type of a suffering church, the representative of that condition of things foretold in the words of Christ, and constantly fulfilled in the history of His people, "A servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you."6969   John xv. 20.

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It will be observed that at Smyrna the church is still faithful, and that against her no word of reproach is uttered. Hence the aspect under which the Redeemer presents Himself to that church is purely animating and consolatory, the same as that which, in the introductory vision in chap. i., followed the action of the Lord when He laid His right hand upon the Apostle, who had fallen to the ground as dead, and when He said to him, "Fear not."7070   Chap. i. 17. So now: These things saith the first and the last, which became dead, and lived again. Death and resurrection are the two great divisions of the work of Christ on our behalf, and the Gospel is summed up in them. Just as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians when he would remind them of the substance of his preaching in their midst, "For I declared unto you first of all that which also I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He hath been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,"7171   1 Cor. xv. 3, 4. in like manner here the same two facts include all the truth which Smyrna held fast, and with which come the life that conquers sin and the joy that triumphs over sorrow.

The state of the church is then described: I know thy tribulation, and thy poverty (but thou art rich), and the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and they are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Tribulation, persecution, the blasphemy of men calling themselves the only people of God and denying to Christians any portion in His covenant, are alone alluded to, though the church is at the same time cheered with the remark that if she had no share in worldly wealth48 and splendour, she was rich. "God had chosen them that were poor as to the world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to them that love Him."7272   James ii. 5.

The church then was in the midst of suffering. Was not that enough; and shall she not be told that her sufferings were drawing to an end, that the night of weeping was gone by, and that the morning of joy was about to dawn? So we might think; but God's thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor His ways as our ways, and we are like children bathing on the shore,

Buried a wave beneath;

The second wave succeeds before

We have had time to breathe.

How often does it happen in the Christian's experience that one burden is laid upon another, and that one wave succeeds another, till he seems left desolate and alone upon the earth. Yet even then he has no assurance that his sufferings are at a close. The consolation afforded to him is, not that there shall be a short campaign, but only that, whether long or short, he shall be more than conqueror through Him that loved him. Thus our Lord does not now say to His church at Smyrna, Fear none of those things that thou art suffering, but Fear not the things which thou art about to suffer: behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days. It is hardly necessary to say to any intelligent reader of the Apocalypse that the "ten days" here spoken of are neither ten literal days, nor ten years, nor ten successive persecutions of indefinite49 length. In conformity with the symbolical use of numbers in this book, "ten days" expresses no more than a time which, though troubled, shall be definite and short, a time which may be otherwise denoted by the language of St. Peter when he says of believers that "now for a little while they have been put to grief in manifold temptations."7373   1 Pet. i. 6. Encompassed by affliction, therefore, those who are thus tried have only to be faithful unto death, or to the last extremity of martyrdom. He who died and lived again will bestow upon them the crown of life, the crown of the kingdom, incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading. He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

3. The third epistle is that to Pergamum, a city at the time devoted to the worship of Æsculapius, the god of medicine, and in particular largely engaged with those parts of medical science which are occupied with inquiries into the springs of life. That the wickedness of the city was both greater and more widespread than was common even in the dark days of heathenism is borne witness to by the fact that the first words addressed to it by Him that hath the sharp two-edged sword were these: I know where thou dwellest, even where Satan's throne is. The word "throne" (not, as in the Authorised Version, "seat") is intentionally selected by the Seer; and its use affords an illustration of one of his principles of style, the remembrance of which is not unfrequently of value in interpreting his book. Everywhere it is his wont to see over against the good its mocking counterpart of evil, over against the light a corresponding darkness. Thus because God occupies a throne Satan does the same;50 and inasmuch as in Pergamum sin was marked by a refinement of greater than ordinary depth, Satan might be said to have his "throne" there. This circumstance, combined with the promise to the Church contained in the seventeenth verse, To him that overcometh, to him will I give of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and upon the stone a new name written, which no one knoweth but he that receiveth it, may help us to understand the main thought of this epistle as distinguished from the others. We have seen reason to believe that there was some secret mystery of evil in the city; and, contrasted with this, we have now the promise of a secret mystery of life to the faithful church. The Church then in the secret of her Divine preservation is here before us. She lives a life the springs of which no one sees, a life that is hid with Christ in God.

It will be observed, accordingly, that, whatever may be said against the condition of the city, nothing is said against the church within it. There is no hint that she has yielded to the influences of the world. She has certainly evil-doers in her midst; but these, though in her, are not of her: and the Christianity of the great majority of her members remains sound and sweet. Let us listen to the words of commendation: And thou holdest fast My name, and didst not deny My faith, even in the days of Antipas My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwelleth. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there some that hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also some that hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans in like manner. Repent therefore; or else I come to thee quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth. 51Those who are described in these words as "holding the teaching of Balaam" and those who are here called "the Nicolaitans" are the same, denoted in the first instance by a description taken from the history of Balaam in the Old Testament, and in the second by a word formed in Greek after the fashion of Balaam's name in Hebrew. That the church in her corporate capacity had not yielded to the sinfulness referred to is manifest from this, that they who had done so are described as "some," and that in the threatening of the sixteenth verse it is not said, I will war against "thee," but I will war against "them." The sin therefore found in the bosom of the church was not, as we shall find it to have been at Thyatira, with her consent. She failed, not because she encouraged it, but because she did not take more vigorous steps for its extinction. She did not sufficiently realize the fact that she was a part of the Body of Christ, and that, if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it. Believers in her community were too easily satisfied with working out their own salvation, and thought too little of presenting the whole church "as a pure virgin to Christ."7474   2 Cor. xi. 2. Therefore it was that, even amidst much faithfulness, they needed to repent, to feel more deeply than they did that "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump,"7575   1 Cor. v. 6. and that in the Church of the Lord Jesus we are to a large extent responsible, not only for our own, but for our neighbours', sins. By keeping up the Christian tone of the whole Church the tone of each member of the Church is heightened.

We thus reach the close of the first three epistles52 "to the churches;" and we see that, while each is accommodated to the particular circumstances of the Christian community to which it is sent, the three taken together present to us the three leading considerations upon which, when we think of Christ's Church in this world, we naturally dwell. First, she is in the main true to her Divine Master, even when compelled to confess that she has left her first love. Secondly, she is exposed for her further cleansing to many trials. Lastly, she is sustained by the unseen influences of Divine love and grace. She eats of the hidden manna. She has within her breastplate a white, glistering stone, upon which is inscribed the new name which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it. She dwells, like the high-priest of old at the moment of his greatest dignity and honour, in the secret place of the Most High. She abides under the shadow of the Almighty. As a child she has entered into the garden of the Lord; and yet, in all the simplicity of her childhood, she is both king and priest.

Such is the Church of Christ in Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum. Happy days of innocence and bliss! We may well linger over them for a little. Too soon will they pass away, and too soon will the Church's conflict with the world and her yielding to it begin.

4. With the fourth epistle we enter upon the second group of epistles, where the Church is brought before us less as she is in herself, than as she fails to maintain her true position in the world, and as that separation between a faithful remnant and the whole body which meets us at every step of her history, throughout both the Old Testament and the New,53 begins to show itself. Now therefore there is a change of tone.

The first of the four, the fourth in the series of seven, is that to Thyatira; and to the church there the Lord presents Himself in all the penetrating power of those eyes that as a flame of fire search the inmost recesses of the heart, and in all the resistless might of those feet that are as "pillars of fire:"7676   Chap. x. 1. These things saith the Son of God, who hath His eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like unto burnished brass.

The commendation of the church follows, what is good being noted before defects are spoken of: I know thy works, and thy love and faith and ministry and patience, and that thy last works are more than the first. The commendation is great. There was not only grace, but growth in grace, not only work, but work in Christ's cause abounding more and more. Yet there was also failure. To understand this it is necessary, as already noticed, to adopt the translation of the Revised Version, founded on the more correct reading of the later critical editions of the Greek. Even in that version, too, the translation, given in the margin, of one important expression has to be substituted for that of the text. Keeping this in view, the Saviour thus addresses Thyatira: But I have this against thee, that thou sufferest (that thou toleratest, that thou lettest alone) thy wife Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess; and she teacheth and seduceth My servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time that she should repent; and she willeth not to repent of her fornication. Behold, I do cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of her works. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto each one of you according to your works. 54In these words "Jezebel" is clearly a symbolical name. It is impossible to think that the "angel" of the church was the chief pastor, and that the woman named Jezebel, spoken of as she is, was his wife. We have before us the notorious Jezebel of Old Testament history. Her story is so familiar to every one that it is unnecessary to dwell on it; and we need only further call attention to the fact that the sentence in which her name is mentioned is complete in itself. The sin of the church at Thyatira was that she "suffered" her. In other words, the church tolerated in her midst the evil of which Ahab's wife was so striking a representative. She knew the world to be what it was; but, instead of making a determined effort to resist it, she yielded to its influences. She repeated the sin of the Corinthian Church: "It is actually reported that there is fornication among you.... And ye are puffed up, and did not rather mourn, that he that had done this deed might be taken away from among you."7777   1 Cor. v. 1, 2. The world, in short, was in the church, and was tolerated there. Of the threatened punishment, the "bed" of tribulation and sorrow instead of that of guilty pleasure, nothing need be said. It is of more consequence to observe the change in the manner of address which meets us after that punishment has been described: But to you I say, to the rest that are in Thyatira, as many as have not this teaching, which know not the deep things of Satan, as they say; I cast upon you none other burden. Howbeit that which ye have, hold fast till I come. 55For the first time in these epistles we meet with those who are spoken of as "the rest," the remnant, who are to be carefully distinguished from the great body of the Church's professing members. The world has penetrated into the Church; the Church has become conformed to the world: and the hour is rapidly approaching when the true disciples of Jesus will no longer find within her the shelter which she has hitherto afforded them, and when they will have to "come forth out of her" in her degenerate condition.7878   Comp. chap. xviii. 4. It is a striking feature of these apocalyptic visions, which has been too much missed by commentators. We shall meet it again and again as we proceed. In the meantime it is enough to say that the moment of withdrawal has not yet come. The faithful "rest," who had rejected the false teaching and shunned the sinful life, are to continue where they were; and the Lord will cast upon them none other burden. Well for them that they had such a promise! Their burden of suffering was heavy enough already. Hard to contend with under any circumstances, suffering rises nearer to the height of the sufferings of Christ when the Christian is "wounded," not by open foes, but "in the house of his friends." "It was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: but it was thou, a man mine equal, my companion, and my familiar friend. We took sweet counsel together; we walked in the house of God with the throng."7979   Ps. lv. 12-14.

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The trial was great; so also is the consolation: And he that overcometh, and he that keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give authority over the nations: and as a shepherd he shall tend them with a sceptre of iron, as the vessels of the potter are they broken to shivers; as I also have received of My Father: and I will give him the morning star. It was a heathen element that clouded the sky of the church at Thyatira. That element, nay the nations out of which it springs, shall be crushed beneath the iron sceptre of the King who shall "reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before His ancients gloriously."8080   Isa. xxiv. 23. The clouds shall disappear; and Jesus, "the bright, the morning star,"8181   Chap. xxii. 16. having given Himself to His people, He and they together shall shine with its clear but peaceful light when it appears in the heavens, the harbinger of day.

5. The fifth epistle is that to Sardis, and in the superscription He who sends it describes Himself as One that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars. Both expressions have already met us, the former in chap. i. 4, the latter in chap. ii. 1. A different word from that used in the address to Ephesus is indeed used here to indicate the relation of the Lord to these stars or angels of the churches. There the glorified Lord "holdeth the seven stars in His right hand;" here He "hath" them. Like every other change, even of the slightest kind, in this book, the difference is instructive. To "hold" them is to hold them fast for their protection; to "have" them is to have them for a possession, to have them not only outwardly and in name, but inwardly and in reality, as His own. Thus Christ "hath" the Holy Spirit, who in all His varied57 or sevenfold influences is, as He proceedeth from the Father and the Son, not only God's, but His. Thus also Christ "hath" the seven stars or churches, here spoken of in immediate connexion with the Spirit, and therefore viewed chiefly in that spirituality of feeling and of life which ought to be the great mark distinguishing them from the world. It was the mark in which Sardis failed. Let her take heed to Him with whom she has to do.

I know, are the words addressed to her, thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead. Be thou watchful, and stablish the things that remain, which were ready to die: for I have found no works of thine fulfilled before My God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and didst hear; and keep it, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. The world had been tolerated in Thyatira, the first of the last four churches; in Sardis, the second, it is more than tolerated. Sardis has substituted the outward for the inward. She has been proud of her external ordinances, and has thought more of them than of living in the Spirit and walking in the Spirit. True piety has declined; and, as a natural consequence, sins of the flesh, alluded to in the immediately following words of the epistle, have asserted their supremacy. More even than this, Sardis had a name that she lived while she was dead. She was renowned among men. The world looked, and beheld with admiration what was to it the splendour of her worship; it listened, and heard with enthusiasm the music of her praise. And the church was pleased that it should be so. Not in humility, lowliness, and deeds of self-sacrificing love did she seek her "name," but in what the world would58 have been equally delighted with though the inspiring soul of it all had been folly or sin. A stronghold had been established by the world in Sardis.

Yet there also the Good Shepherd had His little flock, and there again we meet them. But thou hast a few names in Sardis which did not defile their garments. These were to Sardis what "the rest" were to Thyatira. They were the "gleanings left in Israel, as the shaking of an olive tree, two or three berries in the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in the outmost branches of a fruitful tree."8282   Isa. xvii. 6. They were the "new wine found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it."8383   Isa. lxv. 8. To them therefore great promises are given: They shall walk with Me in white; for they are worthy. He that overcometh shall thus be arrayed in white garments; and I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels. It is the glorified Lord who, as the High-priest of His Church, "walketh" in the midst of the golden candlesticks; and, as priests, these shall walk with Him in a similar glory. Upon earth they were despised, but beyond the earth they shall be openly acknowledged and vindicated. They shall be arrayed in those garments of glistering purity which were with difficulty kept white in the world, but which in the world to come Divine favour shall keep free from every stain.

6. The sixth epistle is to Philadelphia; and the remarkable circumstance connected with this church is that, though spoken of as having but "a little power," it is not seriously blamed. In this respect it resembles the church at Smyrna in the first group of59 these seven epistles. What has mainly to be noticed, however, is that it is not simply, like that at Smyrna, a suffering church. It has been engaged in an earnest and hot struggle with the world, as the superscription, the commendation, and the promises of the epistle combine to testify.

The superscription is, These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and none shall shut, and that shutteth, and none openeth. The figure is taken from the Old Testament; and both there and here the context shows us that it is neither the key of knowledge, nor the key of discipline, nor the key of the treasures of the kingdom that is spoken of, but the key of power to open the Lord's house as a sure refuge from all evil, and to preserve safe for ever those who are admitted to it. "I will call My servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah," says the Almighty by His prophet, "and I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; and he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open."8484   Isa. xxii. 21, 22. Whoever be our adversaries, we know that in the hollow of the Lord's hand we are safe.

The commendation of the epistle tells the same tale: I know thy works (behold, I have set before thee a door opened, which none can shut), that thou hast a little power, and didst keep My word, and didst not deny My name. The Church had "a little power," and she had shown this in the struggle.

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So also with the promises: Behold, I give of the synagogue of Satan, of them which say they are Jews, and they are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou didst keep the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of trial, that hour which is to come upon the whole inhabited earth, to try them that dwell upon the earth. I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take thy crown. He that overcometh, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall no more come forth: and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God, and Mine own new name. How fierce the struggle of Philadelphia had been with the world we learn from these words, in which the enemies of the Church—"Jews" they call themselves, the people of God, but "they are not"—are brought before us like vanquished nations at her feet, as she sits in the heavenly places, paying homage to her against whom they had so long, but vainly, struggled. It is impossible not to see the difference between this church and that at Smyrna. No doubt there had been "blasphemy of them which say they are Jews" in the latter case, but worse trials were only spoken of as about to come. Here the trials have come, and the church has risen triumphantly above them. Therefore will the Lord admit her to His heavenly mansions, and will make her a pillar in His Father's house, whence she shall come forth no more. He Himself "went forth" from His Father that He might be the Captain of our salvation and might die on our behalf. He returned to His Father, and never again "comes forth" as He came in the days61 of His flesh. Having died once, He dieth no more; and they who have borne His cross shall wear, when victors in His cause, His crown of victory.

7. The seventh epistle is to Laodicea, and here there can be no doubt that we have the picture of a church in which the power of the world carries almost all before it. The church is addressed by Him who describes Himself as the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, upon which immediately follows a charge as to her condition in which there is no redeeming point. Only later do we see that there is hope. I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of My mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art the wretched one, and miserable and poor and blind and naked: I counsel thee to buy of Me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich; and white garments, that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest; and eyesalve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I reprove and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. To interpret the boasting of the church given in these words as if it referred to spiritual rather than material riches is entirely to mistake the meaning. Worldly wealth is in the writer's view. The members of the church generally have aimed at riches, and have gotten them. Possession of riches has also been followed by its usual effects. The seen and the temporal have usurped in their minds the place of the unseen and the eternal. Perhaps they have even regarded their worldly prosperity as a token of the Divine favour, and are62 soothing themselves with the reflection that they have made the best of both worlds, when they have really sacrificed everything to one world, and that the lower of the two. The last picture of the Church is the saddest of all.

Yet is Laodicea not altogether without hope. Behold, says He whose every word is truth, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me. Even in Laodicea there are some who, inasmuch as they have fought the hardest battle, shall be welcomed to the highest reward. He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with Me in My throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with My Father in His throne. Beyond that neither hope nor imagination can rise.

The epistles to the seven churches are over. They present the Church to us as she appears on the field of history. They set before us the leading characteristics of her condition partly as she was in "Asia" at the moment when the Apostle wrote, partly as she shall be throughout all time and on the widest, as well as the narrowest, scale. These characteristics may be shortly summed up as—in the first group of three, love to the Redeemer, yet love liable, and even beginning, to grow cold; persecution and trials of many kinds; preservation by the secret grace of God and in the hidden life: in the second group of four, yielding on the part of the majority to sins associated with unchristian doctrine; formalism in religion; weakness in the midst of trial, even though not accompanied by faithlessness; and lukewarmness, springing from a preference of the things of time to those of eternity. To these characteristics, however, have to63 be added, as more or less accompanying them, many of the active graces of the Christian life: labour, and patience, and faith, and charity, and works, whatever makes the Christian Church a light in the world and the object of her Lord's care and watchfulness. In reading the seven epistles, we behold a lively picture of the Church of Christ in her graces and in her failings, in her strength and in her weakness, in her joys and in her sorrows, in her falls under the influence of temptation and in her returns to the path of duty. The characteristics thus spoken of are not peculiar to any particular age, but may mark her at one time less, at another more, at one time individually, at another in combination. Taken as a whole, they present her to us in her Divine ideal marred by human blemishes; we are prepared to acknowledge the necessity, the wisdom, and the mercy of the trials that await her; and we learn to anticipate with gladness her final and glorious deliverance.

One brief concluding remark ought to be made. The epistles now considered ought to be sufficient in themselves to show that the Apocalypse is not a series of visions intended only to illustrate one or two ideas which had taken a strong hold of the Apostle's mind, or one or two great principles of the Divine government in general. St. John starts from the realities around him as much as any writer of the New Testament. It is true that he sees in them eternal principles at work, and that he rises to the thought of ideal good and of ideal evil; but he is not on that account less true to fact, less impressed by fact. On the contrary, his very depth of insight into the meaning of the facts makes him what he is. He who would write a philosophy of history is not less, but more, dependent64 upon the facts of history than he to whom a fact is valuable simply in its individual and isolated form. It is the present therefore that stirs the writer of this book, but stirs him the more because he beholds in it principles and issues connected with Him who was, and is, and is to come, the covenant-keeping God, the Judge of men, the unchangeable I am.

Hence also the mistake sometimes made of thinking that the purpose of unfolding the principles of the Divine government could not be a sufficient motive to St. John to write.8585   Dods, Introduction to New Testament, p. 244. Every cruelty to the saints of God which he witnessed, every cry of oppression which he heard, supplied a motive. We may not feel these things now, but the iron of them entered into the soul of the disciple whom Jesus loved. We need more prophets like him to make it ring in the ears of selfish wealth and of ease indifferent to the ills festering around it, "For the spoiling of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord."8686   Ps. xii. 5.


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