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EPISTLE TO THE CHURCH OF PERGAMUM.
Ver. 12. “And to the Angel of the Church in Pergamos write.”—A word or two may fitly find place here on the name of this city, as it appears in our Authorized Version. In the first place, why do our Translators, writing “Pergamos,” and not “Pergamus,” retain a Greek termination for it, and for it alone? ‘Assos’ (Acts xx. 13, 14) is not a parallel case, for the Romans wrote ‘Assos’ as frequently as ‘Assus;’ and always ‘Chios,’ which therefore is quite correct (Acts xx. 15). But if ‘Pergamos,’ then, by the same rule, ‘Ephesos,’ ‘Miletos,’ and many more. And even against ‘Pergamus,’ though more correct than ‘Pergamos,’ there would still be something to object. Instances of the feminine, ἡ Πέργαμος (Ptolemy, i. 2), are excessively rare (see Lobeck, Phrynichus, p. 422); while the neuter, τὸ Πὲργαμος in Greek. and ‘Pergamum’ in Latin, occurs 154innumerable times (Xenophon, Anab. vii. 8. 8; Polybius, iv. 48. 2; Strabo, xiii. 4; Pliny, H. N. v. 33). I shall speak throughout of the city under this its more usual designation. It was another illustrious city of Asia; ἐπιφανὴς πόλις Strabo calls it (xiii. 4); “longe clarissimum Asiæ Pergamum,” Pliny (H. N. v. 33). Although of high antiquity, its greatness, splendour, and importance did not date very far back. It only attained these under the successors of Alexander. One of these made Pergamum the capital of his kingdom—the same kingdom which a later of his dynasty, Attalus the Second, bequeathed to the Romans. It was famous for its vast library; for splendid temples of Zeus, of Athene, and of Apollo; but most of all for the worship of Æsculapius (Tacitus, Annal. iii. 63; Xenophon, Anab. vii. 8. 23), the remains of whose magnificent temple outside the city still remain.
“These things saith He which hath the sharp sword with two edges.”—Compare i. 16.
Ver. 13. “I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is.”—This may not sound, at the first hearing, a reassuring word; and yet indeed it is eminently such. None of the peculiar difficulties and dangers which beset the Church at Pergamum are concealed from Christ. We indeed ask now, and it is not easy to give a satisfactory answer to the question, Why should Pergamum 155more than any other corrupt heathen city have been “Satan’s seat,” or “Satan’s throne;” for as θρόνος is constantly in this Book translated “throne” when applied to the powers of heaven, it should be so also when applied to the hellish caricature of the heavenly kingdom; to the kingdom which the rulers of the darkness of this world seek to set up over against the kingdom of light. The question has been variously answered. Some have supposed that allusion is here to the fane of Æsculapius, Θεὸς Σωτήρ he was called, where lying miracles of healing were vaunted to be performed, Satan seeking by the aid of these to counterwork the work of the Gospel. The explanation is quite insufficient. All which we can securely conclude from this language is, that from one cause or another, these causes being now unknown, Pergamum enjoyed the bad preeminence of being the head-quarters in these parts of the opposition to Christ and his Gospel. Why it should have thus deserved the name of “Satan’s throne,” so emphatically repeated a second time at the end of this verse, “where Satan dwelleth,” must remain one of the unsolved riddles of these Epistles. Some circumstances, of which no historical notice has reached us, may have especially stirred up the fanaticism of the heathen there.
“And thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas 156was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.”—There is a multitude of small variations of reading here, though none seriously affecting the sense. There was probably an anacoluthon in the sentence originally, which transcribers would not let be; but tried by various devices to palliate or remove. It is evident from the testimony borne here to the Pergamene Church, that many there, probably the Angel himself, had shown an honourable steadfastness in the faith; had been confessors of it; though possibly only one, Antipas, had resisted, or had been called to resist, unto blood. Eusebius (H. E. iv. 15) records several martyrs who at a somewhat later day were at Pergamum faithful to death, and received a crown of life. Attalus also, it may be mentioned, who did so valiantly in the persecutions of Lyons and Vienne, and won a foremost place in that noble company of martyrs, was a Pergamene (Ib. v. 1, 14, 38, 47).
Of Antipas, except from the glorious record which the Lord bears to him here, we know absolutely nothing. It is difficult to understand the silence of all ecclesiastical history respecting so famous a martyr, one singled out by Christ to such honour as this; for silent in regard of him ecclesiastical history must be confessed to be; that which Tertullian (Scorp. 12) and other early writers tell us 157about him, being merely devised in fugam vacui, and manifestly drawn from the passage before us. They know nothing about him except what they find here. Later Latin martyrologies, of course, know a great deal; according to these he was bishop of Pergamum, and by command of Domitian was shut up, Perillus-like, in a brazen bull, afterwards made red-hot; this being his passage to life. lengstenberg has a curious explanation of this name, though it is not perfectly original; he has derived at least the hint of it from Aretius. Pressing the fact that almost all other names, he would say all, are symbolic in this Book, as Jezebel, Balaam, Egypt, Sodom, he urges that this must be symbolic too. But Ἀντίπας, what is it but a word formed on the same model as Ἀντίχριστος; and as this is made up of ἀντί and Χριστός, so Ἀντίπας of ἀντί and πᾶς, and Antipas is one who for Christ’s sake has dared to stand out against all, an ἀντίκοσμος; cf. Jer. xx. 10; xv. 10, “Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth,” which must be the character and condition of an eminently godly man set in the midst of a world which lieth in the wicked one (Jam. iv. 4; Acts iv. 19; v. 29). A later commentator contemptuously dismisses this with the observation that Ἀντίπας is only an abbreviation of Ἀντίπατρος, as Νικόμας of Νικομήδης, 158Μηνᾶς of Μηνόδωρος, and the like. I am certainly not disposed to rate this higher than an ingenious fancy, a lusus of the critic’s art, but see little or no force in this argument against it. Antipas, once formed, enters into all the rights which its new form confers upon it, irrespective of the process by which it may have attained this form. But it is not worth while to vindicate from a bad objection that which will not commend itself a whit the more, even after this objection is set aside.
Ver. 14. “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.”—Those “that hold the doctrine of Balaam” are, I am persuaded, identical with the Nicolaitans of ver. 6, 15; indeed the latter verse seems to leave no doubt on the matter. The mention of him as the tempter and seducer would of itself sufficiently explain what was the nature of the sins to which he tempted and seduced (Num. xxv. 1-9; xxxi. 15, 16); but the sins are here expressly named. First, however, something may be said on the words; ὃς ἐδίδασκεν τῷ Βαλὰκ, which we, and I believe rightly, have rendered, “who taught Balac.” Hengstenberg indeed, and Bengel before him, on the strength of this dative, a dativus commodi as they regard it, 159united with the fact that διδάσκειν habitually governs an accusative of the person who is the object of the teaching (thus ver. 20. in this very chapter), have urged that we ought to translate “who taught for Balac,” that is, in the interests of Balac, to please him; and, in confirmation of this, they press that there is no hint in Scripture of Balaam having suggested to Balac to put these temptations in the way of the children of Israel; the parting of the two is recorded Num. xxiv. 25, nor is there any reason, they say, to suppose that they ever met again; it was to the Moabitish women themselves, to Balac’s people, but not to Balac himself, that Balaam suggested the placing these stumbling-blocks in their way. I am persuaded that this is a mistake. The construction proposed is much too artificial for the Apocalypse; the dative after διδάσκειν is the penetrating of a Hebrew idiom through the forms of the Greek language; and there is nothing at Num. xxxi. 16 to compel us to understand that Balaam’s communication with the daughters of Moab was immediate, and not through the intermediation of the king. Thus see Josephus, Antt. iv. 6. 6, who assumes this last to have certainly been the case; and cf. Vitringa, Obss. Sac. 1. iv. c. ix. § 29.
There are two words which claim here special consideration, σκάνδαλον and εἰδωλόθυτον. Σκάνδαλον, a later form of σκανδάληθρον (Aristophanes, 160Acharnan. 686), and σκανδαλίζω (there is no σκανδαληθρίζω, see Rost und Palm), occur only, I believe, in the sacred Scriptures, the Septuagint and the New Testament, and in such writings as are immediately dependant upon these (see Suicer, s. v.); being almost always in them employed in a tropical sense; Judith v. 1; Lev. xxix. 14 are exceptions. Σκάνδαλον is properly a trap (joined often with παγίς, Josh. xxiii. 13; Ps. cxl. 9; Rom. xi. 9), or more precisely that part of the trap on which the bait was laid, and the touching of which caused the trap to close upon its prey; then generally any loop or noose set in the path, which should entangle the foot of the unwary walker and cause him to stumble and fall; σκάνδαλον = πρόσκομμα (Rom. xiv. 13) and σκανδαλίζειν = προσκόπτειν (Matt. iv. 6; Rom. ix. 32); and next any stone, or hindrance of any kind (Hesychius explains it by ἐμποδισμός), which should have the same effect (1 Pet. ii. 7). Satan, then, as the Tempter is the great placer of “scandals,” “stumbling-blocks,” or “offences,” in the path of men; his sworn servants, a Balaam or a Jeroboam (1 Kin. xiv. 16), are the same consciously. All of us unconsciously, by careless walking, by seeking what shall please ourselves rather than edify others (1 Cor. viii. 10), are in danger of being the same; all are deeply concerned with the warning of Matt. xviii. 7.161
Εἰδωλόθυτον is a New Testament word to express what the heathen sacrifices were, as they presented themselves to the eye of a Christian or a Jew, namely things offered to idols.3030 It is a notable example of the extreme inconsistency of our Version in rendering the same word in different places, that εἰδωλόθυτα is rendered in four different ways; it is “meats offered to idols” (Acts xv. 29), it is “things offered to idols” (Acts xxi. 15), it is “things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols” (1 Cor. viii. 4), it is “things sacrificed unto idols” (Rev. ii. 14). The Gentiles themselves expressed the same by ἱερόθυτον (which word occurs 1 Cor. x. 28, according to the better reading, St. Paul there assuming a Gentile to be speaking, and using, if not an honourable, yet at any rate a neutral word), or by θεόθυτον, which the Greek purists preferred (Lobeck, Phrynichus, p. 139). It will be worth while here to consider under what plea any who even named the name of Christ could consent to eat of these idol-meats, and yet claim to retain allegiance to that name. We may be quite sure that as many of the stock of Abraham as joined themselves to the Church of Christ were not so much as tempted to this sin; their whole previous education, all that they had learned to abhor or to hold dear, was for them a sufficient safeguard against it (Num. xxv. 2; Ps. cvi. 28; Dan. i. 8; Tob. i. 10, 11). It was otherwise with the converts from the heathen world; with the Gentile Christian, 162gathered in, it may be, to the Church of Christ out of some corrupt Greek city. Refusal to partake in the idol-meats was for him refusal to partake, not merely in the idolatry which he had renounced, but in very much else which he was not at all so well prepared to renounce; it involved abstinence from almost every public, every private festivity, a withdrawal in great part from the whole social life of his time; for sacrifice had bound itself up in almost every act of this social life. We have a singular evidence of this in the fact that “to kill” and “to sacrifice” had in Greek almost become identical; θόειν, which had originally meant the latter, meaning the former now. The poor, offering a slain beast, after the priest and the altar had received their shares, would sell the remainder in the market; the rich would give this which remained over away. From one cause or another, there was a certainty at many entertainments of meeting these sacrificial meats, there was a possibility of meeting them at all. The question therefore was one which, like that of caste at the present day in India, would continually obtrude itself, which could not be set aside.3131 See an excellent Essay on this subject in Stanley’s Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, with this title, The sacrificial feasts of the heathen, vol. i. pp. 149-152.
Already we find at the Council of Jerusalem 163the Apostles resolving that among the few “necessary things” (Acts xv. 28) which must be absolutely demanded of the Gentile converts, abstinence from “the pollutions of idols” (ver. 20), or, as in the more formal decree it is expressed, “meats offered to idols” (ver. 29), was one. Some two years later various cases of conscience have occurred exactly in that Church where beforehand we might have looked for them, namely at Corinth, and St. Paul has been called upon to settle them. Some it would seem there, who boasted of their γνῶσις, affirmed that they saw through the whole heathen idolatry that it was a fraud and a lie; to them an idol was nothing; what fear then that they should become partakers with the idol through partaking of the idol meats? and these, in the assertion of their liberty, sat openly at meat in the very idol temple itself (1 Cor. viii. 10). So too at a somewhat later date, in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, the Jew Trypho makes it a charge against the Christians that many of them partook of idol sacrifices, affirming that they were in no way injured by them (c. 35); to whom the Christian Father replies that these Marcionites, Valentinians, and the rest, usurped the name of Christ, but that the Catholic Church repudiated them utterly, in no way acknowledged them for children of hers. From Irenæus (i. 6. 3) we learn that they not 164merely thus ate of the idol meats, boasting that they were not defiled by them, but took a foremost share in the celebration of the heathen festivals. Others, in an opposite extreme and excess of scrupulosity, were exceedingly troubled lest the meat they innocently bought in the market, or partook of at the house of a heathen friend, might not have been offered in sacrifice, and so they unknowingly defiled (1 Cor. x. 25, 27). All will no doubt remember the wonderful wisdom and love with which St. Paul deals with these various cases, strengthening and guiding the weak, rebuking and restraining the proud. Some, however, of these latter continued to allow themselves in these dangerous liberties, degenerating easily into scandalous excesses; although, after such decisions, first of the Council at Jerusalem, and afterwards of St. Paul, not any longer within the bosom of the Church, but without it; and one may see in the Nicolaitans the legitimate spiritual descendants of those Gnostics (Gnostics at least in the bud) who were not brought back to humbler, more loving, more self-denying courses by the earnest remonstrances of St. Paul.
Ver. 15. “So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.—“As Balac had Balaam, a false prophet and seducer, “so hast thou also,” wanting that earnest hatred of 165evil which would make such a presence and such a teaching intolerable to thee, “them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans;” and then Christ adds, “which thing I hate,” reminding him how ill it became him not to hate that which was hated of his Lord. In this matter at least the Angel of Ephesus had more of the mind of Christ than he had (ver. 6). What Christ hated, that Angel hated too.
Ver. 16. “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”—Out of this feebleness of moral indignation against evil it had come to pass that the Angel had not testified with sufficient energy against the Nicolaitans and their doctrine; he could not say with Paul, “I am pure from the blood of all men” (Acts xx. 26). But now repenting and faithfully witnessing against their errors, he would either recover them for the truth, or else drive them wholly from the communion of the Church—in either case a gain. If he do not repent, the Lord will come quickly, and fight against him and them with the sword of his mouth. We have, I am persuaded, another allusion here to the history of Balaam, namely to Num. xxxi. 8 (cf. Josh. xiii. 22): “Balaam also, the son of Beor, they slew with the sword;” this sword of the children of Israel being indeed the sword of God; cf. Num. xxii. 31. Vitringa: “Verba hæc manifeste respiciunt historiam Bileami: in quâ habemus, primo quidem, Angelum Domini stricto ense se Bileamo, populo Dei maledicere meditanti, in viâ opposuisse, et, si in instituto perseveraret, exitium illi minatum esse; deinde Bileamum, et Israelitas qui consilium illius secuti fuerant, jussu Dei gladio periisse.”
In that, “I will fight against them,” it might seem at first sight as if there was only a threat for these ungodly workers; and not for the Angel who had been faithful in the main, nor for the better portion of the Church. But it is not so. When God has a controversy with a Church or with a people, the tribulation, reaches all, though the judgment is only for his foes.. The gold and the dross are cast alike into the fire, though it is only the dross that is consumed therein. The holy prophet is entangled outwardly in the same doom with the ungodly king (Jer. xxxix. 4; xliii. 6; Matt. xxiv. 20, 21). There may be, there assuredly will be, on the part of the faithful, a separation from the sin—there is seldom a separation from the suffering—of such a time. This suffering is for all. It is well that it should be so; that there should be nothing in the usual course of God’s judgments to flatter the selfish hope of avoiding a share in the woe. Enough for any to escape the woe within 167the woe, namely, the sense of this suffering ass the utterance of the extreme displeasure of God.
Ver. 17. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden rnanna.”—There can, I think, be no doubt that allusion is here to the manna which at God’s express command Moses caused to be laid up before the Lord in the Sanctuary (Exod. xvi. 32-34; cf. Heb. ix. 4). This manna, as being thus laid up in the Holy Place, obtained the name of “hidden,” “occultatum,” or “reconditum,” as Cocceius presses that it should be rendered, not “occultum;” for it is not κρυπτόν in the original, but κεκρυμμένον; not therefore “latens manna” as in Tertullian, but “absconditum” as in the Vulgate. It is true that many commentators, as Hengstenberg, omit any reference to this, and some expressly deny that there is any such; but Vitringa rightly: “Ducit autem phrasis nos manifeste ad cogitandum de mannâ illo, quod ex jussu Dei in urnâ reponendum erat in sacratissimo Tabernaculi conclavi, per divinam providentiam ab omni corruptione præservandum; . . . . quod manna vere symbolum fuit Christi virtute obedientiæ suæ in cœ lum translati, et ibi delitescentis, usque quo Ecclesia ipsius luctam suam in his terris absolverit.” The question, what we shall exactly understand by this “hidden 168manna,” and the eating of it, has not always been answered with precision. Origen very characteristically understands by it the inner mystical sense of Scripture as contrasted with the outward form and letter (Hom. 9 in Exod.): “Urna mannæ reposita, intellectus Verbi Dei subtilis et dulcis.” For the Mystics it is in general that graciousness of God which can only be known by those who have themselves actually tasted it; thus one of these: “Hujus spiritualis et occulti mannæ sapor latet in occulto, nisi gustando sentiatur.” I take it, however, that this “hidden manna” represents a more central benefit even than these; moreover, like all the other promises of these Epistles, it represents a benefit pertaining to the future kingdom of glory, and not to the present kingdom of grace. I would not indeed affirm that this promise has not prelibations which will be tasted in the present time; for the life eternal commences on this side of the grave, and not first on the other; and here in the wilderness Christ is the bread from heaven, the bread of God, the true manna, of which those that eat shall never die (John vi. 31-33, 48-51). Nay, more than this; since his Ascension He is in some sort a “hidden manna” for them now. Like that manna laid up in the Sanctuary before the Testimony, He too, withdrawn from sight, but in a human body, and bearing our flesh, is yet exempted 169from the law of corruption under which all other children of men have lain (Exod. xvi. 20, 33, 34; Acts ii. 27, 31). But this promise of feeding on “the hidden manna” is misunderstood, or at any rate is scanted of its full meaning, unless we look on to something more and higher than this. The words imply that, however hidden now, it shall not remain hidden evermore; and the best commentary on them is to be found at 1 Cor. ii. 9;3232 Alcuin: “Apte ergo illa satietas celestis gloriæ manna [absconditum?] vocatur, quia juxta Pauli vocem nec oculus vidit, nec in cor hominis ascendit, quæ præparavit Deus diligentibus se.”1 John iii. 2. The seeing Christ as He is, of the latter passage, and through this beatific vision being made like to Him, is identical with this eating of the hidden manna; which shall, as it were, be then brought forth from the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies of God’s immediate presence, where it was withdrawn from sight so long, that all may partake of it; the glory of Christ, now shrouded and concealed, being then revealed to his people.
There has been, and there will be again, occasion to observe, that in almost all these promises there is a peculiar adaptation of the promise to the self-denial by which it will have been won. Witsius notes this here, and draws out very beautifully the inner sweetness of this promise (Miscell. Sacra, vol. i. p. 692): “Eas [profanas epulas] si quis generosâ 170fidei constantiâ, una cum omnibus blandientis seculi deliciis atque illiciis fortiter spreverit, sciat se satiatum iri suavissimis divinæ tam gratiæ quam gloriæ epulis, quorum suavitatem nemo rite æstimare novit, nisi qui gustavit. Propterea autem mannæ absconditæ comparantur, id est, illi quæ in urnâ aureâ in abdito loco asservanda, coram facie Jehovæ seposita fuit, I. Quia quod præcipuum est in illâ dulcedinis Christi participatione reservatur cum Christo in cœlis (Col. iii. 3; 2 Tim. i. 12). II. Quia mundanorum hominum nemo dulcedinem hujus novit (Joh. xiv. 17); immo ne ipsi fideles quidem antequam experiantur (1 Joh. iii. 2). III. Quia communio ista non in diem est, uti manna quotidiana, sed perpetua, uti illa quæ seposita coram Domino a putrefactione et vermibus immunis erat (Joh. vi. 27), et propterea profanis Pergamensium epulis immensum anteferenda.”
“And will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.”—” White” is every where the colour and livery of heaven; and nowhere with a greater or so great an emphasis, or with so frequent iteration, as in this Book. Thus of the Son of God we were told, “His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow” (i. 14). Then besides this “white stone” we have “white raiment” (iii. 5), “white robes” (vii. 9), 171“a white cloud” (xiv. 14), “fine linen clean and white” (xix. 8, 14), “white horses” (xix. 11, 14), “a great white throne” (xx. 11). With these passages compare Dan. vii. 9; Matt. xvii. 2; xxviii. 3; Mark ix. 3; xvi. 5; John xx. 12; Acts i. 10. The sense of the fitness of white to serve as a symbol of absolute purity speaks out in many ways; it would do so singularly in the Latin; “castus,” if Döderlein’s suggestion that “castus” is a participle of “candeo” could be allowed. It may be well to observe that this “white” as the colour of heaven, is not the mere absence of other colour, not the dull “albus,” but the bright “candidus;” glistering white—as is evident from many passages; for instance, from a comparison of Matt. xxviii. 3 and Luke xxiv. 4 with John xx. 12; of Rev. xx. 11 (λευκὸς θρόνος) with its original in Daniel vii. 9 (θρόνος αὐτοῦ φλὸξ πυρός); and from those passages just now referred to, which relate to the Transfiguration. It is the character of intense white to be shining; thus “niteo” (= “niviteo”) is connected with “nix;” λευκός with “lux,” see Donaldson, New Cratylus, § 269. We may note too how λευκός and λαμπρός are used as convertible terms, Rev. xix. 8, 14; while at Acts x. 30, λευκῇ and λαμπρᾷ are different readings; and at Cant. v. 11, the Septuagint has λευκός, and Symmachus λαμπρός.172
And as “white,” so also “new” belongs eminently to this Book; being one of the key-words of it; He who is the giver of this revelation every where setting forth Himself as the only renewer of all which sin had made old; the author of a new creation even in the midst of a decaying and dying world; and thus we have besides the “new name” here (cf. iii. 12), the “new Jerusalem” (iii. 12), the “new song” (v. 9), the “new heaven and the new earth” (xxi. 1), and finally “all things new” (xxi. 5); with all which we may profitably compare Ps. xxxii. 3; cxliii. 10; Isai. xlii. 10; lxii. 2; lxv. 17; Jer. xxxi. 31; Ezek. xi. 19; xxxvi. 26.
But though it is not difficult to fix the symbolic significance of “white” and “new” in this Book, it must be freely admitted that we still wait an entirely satisfactory explanation of this “white stone” with the “new name” written in it. The greater number of expositors, especially the older ones, start from a point to which no objection can be made, namely, that there was in ancient times something festal, fortunate, of good omen, in white pebbles or beans. Thus the Greek phrase λευκὴ ἡμέρα, or λευκὸν ἵμαρ (Æschylus, Pers. 305), is commonly derived from a custom ascribed to the Scythians or Thracians, of indicating each happy day which they spent with a white stone placed in an urn, each unhappy with a black. After death, as those or these 173preponderated in number, their lives were counted happy or miserable (Pliny, H. N. vii. 41; the Younger Pliny, Ep. vi. 11; Martial ix. 53: “Dies nobis Signandi melioribus lapillis”). Or there is another explanation of the “white day,” connecting it still with the white stone or bean, I mean that given by Plutarch in his Life of Pericles, c. 61; I quote the translation of North. At the siege of Samos, fearing that his soldiers would be weary with its length, “he divided his army into eight companies, whom he made to draw lots, and that company which lighted upon the white bean, they should be quiet and make good cheer, while the other seven fought. And they say that from thence it came that when any have made good cheer, and taken pleasure abroad, they do yet call it a white day, because of the white bean.”
But how, it may be asked, is all this brought to bear on the promise of the “white stone” to the faithful here? The earliest attempt to find help in this quarter is that of the Greek commentator Andreas. He sees allusion in these words to the white pebble, by placing which in the ballot-box the Greek judges pronounced the sentence of acquittal (ψῆφοι σώζουσαι they were therefore called), as by the black of condemnation; a custom expressed in the well-known lines of Ovid (Metam. xv. 41, 42):174
Mos erat antiquns,
niveis atrisque lapillis,
His damnare reos, illis absolvere culpæ.”
But, not to speak of a grave fault, of which I shall presently speak, common to this and almost every other explanation of these words which is offered, this one is manifestly inadequate; the absolving pebble was not given to the acquitted, as this is to the victor, nor was there any name written upon it.
Others see allusion to the tessera (it too was called ψῆφος) which the conquerors at the Olympic or other solemn games (the ὀλυμπιονῖκαι, ἱερονῖκαι) received from the master of the games; which ψῆφος gave ever after to him who received it certain honorary distinctions and privileges, as for example, the right of free access to the public entertainments. So Arethas, Gerhard (Loci Theoll. vol. ii. p. 327), and others; while Vitringa is obliged to confess that he can only explain the symbol by combining together these two customs of the absolving pebble, and the tessera given to the victor in the games; which two in the higher interpretation must be blended into one: “Ut tamen verum fatear, probabile videri possit Dominum orationem suam hoc loco ita temperâsse, ut non ad simplicem aliquem ritum, apud Græcos receptum, hic loci alluserit, sed phrasin suam mutuatus sit a duobus illis ritibus supra commemoratis, inter se compositis, 175qui licet diversi fuerint generis, in tertio tamen, quod dicitur, inter se conveniebant.”
But all these explanations, and others which it would be tedious to enumerate, even if they were more satisfactory, and they appear to me most unsatisfactory, are affected with the same fatal weakness, namely, that they are borrowed from heathen antiquity, while this Book moves exclusively within the circle of sacred, that is, of Jewish, imagery and symbols; nor is the explanation of its symbols in any case to be sought beyond this circle. All which on this matter was said in respect of the “crown of life” (ii. 10) finds its application here. It is true that Hengstenberg, whose interpretation I have not yet mentioned, avoids this mistake, but at a cost which leaves his as valueless as the others. For him the “white stone” has no significance of its own, no independent value, being introduced merely for the sake of the “new name” which is written upon it, and that it may serve as a vehicle for this name, the substrate on which that is superinduced, and as such entirely subordinate to it. Few, I am persuaded, reading the words of the promise, with the emphasis which the Lord lays on the twice-repeated mention of the stone, and noting the independent place which it occupies as itself a gift, whatever other gifts might be associated with it, will be content to acquiesce in this, or to regard 176as a solution, what is in fact merely an evasion, of the difficulty which the words present.
But to return. The first necessary condition of any interpretation which should be accepted as satisfactory being this, that it should be sacred and not heathen, at the same time this is not the only one. There appear to me two other necessary conditions, the non-fulfilment of which is fatal to any exposition; the fulfilment of them, on the contrary, not being itself a proof that the right interpretation has been seized; but only a conditio sine quâ non, and up to a certain point implying a probability that this has been attained. Besides thus being Jewish or sacred, and not heathen or profane, which I believe is the universal law of all Apocalyptic symbolism, the solution must in this particular instance refer to the wilderness period of Jewish history, in the same way as the “hidden manna” does. I must ask the reader to suspend his demand for a proof of this assertion till we have reached the very last of the promises, when the course and order of them all will be considered. And, in the second place, it must be capable of being brought into some unity with that other promise of eating of the hidden manna; there must be some bond of connexion between the two. I conclude this not merely from the natural fitness of things, but from the analogy of all the other 177promises made to the other Churches. In every other case the promise is either absolutely single, as at ii. 7, 11; iii. 21; or single in its central idea, as at ii. 26-28; iii. 5, 12, which I shall have the opportunity of showing. Which thing being so, it is very improbable that the present should be an exception to the rule, and that here two entirely disparate promises should be arbitrarily linked together.
The only solution I know which fulfils all these conditions, is one proposed by Züllig.3333 Offenb. Johannis, vol. i. pp. 408-454. It has found no favour whatever, having been indeed wrought out by him in a manner of itself sufficient to insure its rejection. Fully acknowledging my obligation to him for the original suggestion of it, and for some of the arguments by which it is supported, I must yet claim to set it forth independently of him, nor is he in any respect responsible for my statement of it.
Starting then from a reconsideration of the word ψῆφος, this, it may be observed, is sometimes used in the later Greek for a precious stone; thus ψῆφος δακτυλική, the gem in a seal-ring. Neither is there in the epithet λευκός, not “albus” but “candidus,” anything which renders this unlikely here, but rather the contrary; a diamond, for instance, being of the purest glistering white. The 178ψῆφος λευκή, then may be, not what we commonly begin with taking for granted it must be, a white pebble, but a precious stone shining white, a diamond. But may not the mysterious Urim and Thummim have been exactly this? First, let me observe, by way of preoccupying a difficulty on the threshold, that whatever this may have been, it was not two things, but two names for one and the same thing (see Bähr, Symbolik d. Mos. Cult. vol. ii. pp. 109, 110); often therefore called only the Urim (Num. xxvii. 21; 1 Sam. xxviii. 6). Sparing my readers the learning which might easily be transcribed to any amount from the many elaborate treatises devoted to the question what this Urim and Thummim was, let me state the conclusions to which those who have studied the matter most profoundly have arrived. They are agreed that it was some precious thing which the High Priest bore within the Choschen or square breastplate of judgment, this being doubled back upon itself, to the end that like a purse it might contain the treasure committed to it (Exod. xxviii. 15-30; Lev. viii. 8), and with all its costly jewellery and elaborate workmanship existing for this object, quite as much as the ark for the tables of the law. But what precious thing this Urim was is shrouded in mystery; only as that in the purse, that for which the purse was made, is likely to 179have been more precious than the purse itself, if that was set with its twelve precious stones, each with the name of a tribe engraven on it, in this we are led to look for a stone rarer and more costly than them all; and it is certainly very noticeable that among the twelve stones of the breastplate the diamond does not appear; for the mention of it in our Version (Exod. xxviii. 18) is confessedly a mistake;—as though this stone had been reserved for a higher honour and dignity still.
Then further, no one knows, probably no one ever knew, what was written on the Urim; except indeed the High Priest; who, consulting it that he might in some way obtain through it lively oracles from God, in matters which greatly concerned the weal or woe of the people, could not have remained ignorant of this. It is generally conjectured, however, to have been the holy Tetragrammaton; the ineffable name of God. I need hardly ask the reader who has followed me thus far to note how well this agrees with the words before us, “and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” Many indeed are led away from the right interpretation of these last words, by referring this “receiveth it,” to the “name,” and not to the “stone;” “saving he that receiveth this name,”—when, as I feel sure, we ought to understand it, “saving he that receiveth this stone.”, They 180assume the overcomer’s own name to be that written on this stone; and draw from these words an intimation that, just as the mystery of regeneration is known only to the new-born, so the yet higher glory of heaven only to him that is partaker of it (1 Cor. xiii. 9); which all is most true, and a new name is often used to express a new blessedness (Isai. lxii. 2; lxv. 15); but yet it is not the truth, I am persuaded, of the present words. The “new name” here is something even better than this. It is the new name of God or of Christ, “my new name” (iii. 12), some revelation of the glory of God, only in that higher state capable of being communicated by Him to his people, and which they only can understand who have actually received; for it is a knowing which is identical with a being.
How excellently well the promise, so understood, matches with the other promise of the hidden manna, which goes hand in hand with it. I said at the outset of this inquiry, that there ought to be an inner bond between the two parts of the promise, and such, according to this interpretation, there is. “The hidden manna” and the “white stone” are not merely united in time, belonging both to the wilderness period of the history of God’s people; but they are united as both representing high-priestly privileges, which the Lord should at length impart to all his people, kings and priests to God, as He will 181then have made them all. If any should eat of “the hidden manna,” who but the High Priest, who alone had entrance into the Holy Place where it was laid up? If any should have knowledge of what was graven on the Urim, who but the same High Priest, in whose keeping it was, and who was bound by his very office to consult it? The mystery of what was written there, shut to every other, would be open to him. In lack of any more satisfying explanation of the “white stone;” with the “new name” written upon it, I venture to suggest that the key to it may possibly be here.
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