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EPISTLE TO THE CHURCH OF LAODICEA.
Ver. 14. “And unto the Angel of the Church of the Laodiceans write.”—Laodicea, called often Laodicea on the Lycus, to distinguish it from other cities (there were no less than six in all) bearing the same name, was a city in Southern Phrygia (Phrygia Pacatiana), midway between Philadelphia and-Colosse. Its nearness to the latter city is more than once referred to in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians (iv. 13, 15, 16). Its earliest name was Diospolis, then Rhoas (Plin. H. N. v. 29). Being rebuilt and adorned by Antiochus the Second, king of Syria, he called it Laodicea, after his wife Laodice, by whom he was afterwards poisoned. In Roman times it was a foremost city among those of the second rank in Asia Minor; “celeberrima urbs” Pliny calls it. Its commerce was considerable, being chiefly in the wools grown in the region 252round about, which were celebrated for their richness of colour and fineness of texture. The city suffered grievously in the Mithridatic war, but presently recovered again; once more in the widewasting earthquake in the time of Tiberius, but was repaired and restored by the efforts of its own citizens, without any help asked by them from the Roman senate (Tacitus, Annal. xiv. 27).
Some have supposed that the negligent Angel of the Laodicean Church was that Archippus, for whom St. Paul, writing to the Colossians, adds the message, “And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it” (Col. iv. 17). The urgency of this monition certainly seems to imply that St. Paul was not altogether satisfied with the manner in which Archippus was then fulfilling the “ministry,” whatever that might be, which he had undertaken; and affording a not inconsiderable support to this conjecture is the fact that in the Apostolical Constitutions (viii. 46), which with much of later times also contain much of the very earliest, Archippus is actually named as first bishop of Laodicea. Let him have been the son of Philemon (Philem. 2), a principal convert in the Colossian Church, whose son therefore might very probably have been chosen to this dignity and honour, and it would be nothing strange to find him some thirty years later holding his office 253still; while it would be only too consonant with the downward progress of things, that he who began slackly, should in the lapse of years have grown more and more negligent, till now he needed and received this sharpest reproof from his Lord. Whether the rebukes and threatenings contained in this Epistle did their work or not, it is only for Him who reads the hearts of men to know. But it is certain that the Church of Laodicea was in somewhat later times, so far as man’s eye could see, in a flourishing condition. In numbers it increased so much that its bishop obtained metropolitan dignity; and in 361 an important Church Council, that in which the Canon of Scripture was finally declared, was held at Laodicea, and derives its name front thence. All has perished now. He who removed the candlestick of Ephesus, has rejected Laodicea out of his mouth. The fragments of aqueducts and theatres spread over a vast extent of country tell of the former magnificence of this city; but of this once famous Church nothing survives. Recent travellers with difficulty discovered one or two Christians in the poor village of Iski-Hissar, which stands on the site which Laodicea occupied of old.
“These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true Witness.”—“The Amen” (it is only here that the word is used as a proper name) is He who can add a “Verily, verily,” an “Amen, amen,” to every 254word which He utters; as so frequently He does—the double “Amen” indeed only in the Gospel of St. John, i. 51; iii. 3, 5, 11, and often. He is “the Witness, the faithful and the true,” in that He speaks what He knows, and testifies what He has seen. The thought is a favourite and ever-recurring one in the Gospel of St. John (iii. 11, 32, 33); but does not appear in any other. It may be interesting here to call to mind how the confessors of Lyons and Vienne, referring to these very words, put back from themselves the name of “witnesses” (μάρτυρες), when others would have given it to. them, saying that Christ was the faithful and true Witness, that this name was his and not theirs (Eusebius, H. E. v. 2).
Of the two epithets, the first, πιστός, expresses his entire trustworthiness. The word is employed in two very different senses in the New Testament as elsewhere-now as trusting or believing (John xx. 27; Acts xiv. 1), now as trustworthy or to be believed (2 Tim. ii. 22; 1 Thess. v. 27; 1 John i. 9). Men may be πιστοί in both senses, the active and the passive, as exercising faith, and as being worthy to have faith exercised upon them; God can be only πιστός in the latter. The Arians found this epithet applied to Christ (Heb. iii. 2), and, as though the word was and could be only used in the former sense, in that of exercising faith upon some 255higher object, itself of course a creaturely act, they drew from the application of this epithet to the Son an argument against his divinity. I quote the clear and excellent answer of Athanasius, and, as it has been well translated, use the translation (Library of the Fathers, Treatises against Arianism, p. 289): “Further, if the expression, ‘Who was faithful,’ is a difficulty to them from the thought that ‘faithful’ is used of Him as of others, as if He exercises faith and so receives the reward of faith, they must proceed to find fault with Moses, for saying, ‘God faithful and true,’ and with St. Paul for writing, ‘God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able.’ But when the sacred writers spoke thus, they were not thinking of God in a human way, but they acknowledged two senses of the word ‘faithful’ in Scripture, first believing, then trustworthy, of which the former belongs to man, the latter to God. Thus Abraham was faithful because he believed God’s word; and God faithful, for, as David says in the Psalm, ‘The Lord is faithful in all his words,’ or is trustworthy, and cannot lie. Again, ‘If any faithful woman have widows,’ she is so called for her right faith; but, ‘It is a faithful saying,’ because what He hath spoken hath a claim on our faith, for it is true, and is not otherwise. Accordingly the words, ‘Who is faithful to Him that made Him,’ implies no parallel with 256others, nor means that by having faith He became well-pleasing, but that, being Son of God the True, He too is faithful, and ought to be believed in all He says and does.”
It will be seen that the truthfulness of Christ as a Witness is asserted in the πιστός, not, as might at first sight be assumed, in the ἀληθινός; that follows, or at least in it only as one quality among many. Christ is μάρτυς ἀληθινός (not ἀληθής), in that He realized and fulfilled in the highest sense all that belonged to a witness. Three things are necessary thereto. He must have been αὐτόπτης; having seen with his own eyes that which he professes to attest. He must be competent to relate and reproduce this for others. He must be willing faithfully and truthfully to do this. These three things meeting in Christ, and not the presence of the last only, constitute Him a “true witness,” or one in whom all the highest conditions of a witness met.
“The beginning of the creation of God.”—There are two ways in which grammatically it would be possible to understand these words. They might say that Christ was passively this “beginning of the creation of God,” as the first and most excellent creature of God’s hands; thus Jacob addresses Reuben as ἀρχὴ τὲκνων μου (Gen. xlix. 3; cf. Deut. xxi. 17). Or, on the other hand, they might declare of Christ that He was the active source, author, 257and, in this sense, “beginning” and beginner of all creation; as in the words of the Creed, “by whom all things were made.” But while both meanings are possible so long as the words are merely considered by themselves, and without reference to any other statements concerning Christ, the analogy of faith imperatively demands the adoption of the latter. The Catholic Church has ever rejected the other as an Arian gloss; impossible to accept, because it would place this passage in contradiction with every passage in Scripture which claims divine attributes, and not creaturely, for the Son. To go no further than these seven Epistles, all the titles which Christ claims for Himself in them are either necessarily divine, or, at any rate, not inconsistent with his divinity; and this must be so no less. He is not, therefore, the “principium principiatum,” but rather the “principium principians,”—not He whom God created the first, but He who was the fountain-source of all the creation of God, by whom God created all things (John i. 1-3; Col. i. 15, 18); even as elsewhere in this Book Christ appears as the Author of creation (v. 13). The Arians, as is well known, explained these words in the same way as they explained Col. i. 15, which is indeed the great parallel passage, as though ἀρχή, was “the begun,” and not “the beginning;” and they brought Job xl. 19 into comparison. But for 258the use of ἀρχή in the sense and with the force which we here demand for it, as “principium,” not “initium” (though these Latin words do not adequately reproduce the distinction), compare the Gospel of Nicodemus, c. 25, in which Hades addresses Satan as ἡ τοῦ θανάτου ἀρχὴ καὶ ῥίζα τῆς ἁμαρτίας; and further, Dionysius the Areopagite (c. 15): ὁ Θεὸς ἐστὶν πάντων αἰτία καὶ ἀρχή; and again, Clement of Alexandria (Strom. iv. 25): ὁ Θεὸς δὲ ἄναρχος, ἀρχὴ τῶν ὅλων παντελής. These and innumerable other passages abundantly vindicate for ἀρχὴ that active sense which we must needs claim for it here.
Ver. 15. “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.”—ζεστός, from ζέω, ferveo, cf. Acts xviii. 25; Rom. xii. 11; ζέοντες τῷ πνεύματι, love to God being a divine heat, a divine fire (Cant. viii. 6; Luke xxiv. 32). Ὄφελον, properly the second aorist of ὁφείλω, but now grown into an adverbial use (= “utinam”), has so far forgotten what at the first it was, as to be employed promiscuously in all numbers and all persons; cf. 1 Cor. v. 8; 2 Cor. xi. 1. It governs an indicative, not an optative, here (ἦς, not εἴης, is the right reading), inasmuch as the Lord is not desiring that something even now might be, but only that something might have been. In form a wish, it is in reality a regret.259
Shall we take this, “I would thou wert cold or hot,” merely as the expression of a holy impatience at the half-and-half position of this Laodicean Angel; without pushing the matter further, or attempting to explain to ourselves how the Lord should put coldness as one of two alternatives to be desired; as though He had said, “I would thou wouldst take one side or other, be avowedly with me, or avowedly against me, ranged under my banner, or under that of my enemies, that so I might understand how to deal with thee”? Hardly so. This impatience, looked at more closely, would not deserve to be called holy. It is the impatience of sinful man, not of the Son of God; to whom indecision between good and evil must be preferable to decision for evil. The state of lukewarmness must be in itself worse than even that of coldness, before the Lord could thus deliberately desire the latter as a preferable alternative. But how? for there is certainly a difficulty here. Lukewarmness is very inferior to heat, but seems preferable to absolute coldness in the things of God. To have only half a heart for these things is bad, but wherein is it better to have no heart at all? How shall we then understand this exclamation of the Saviour, “I would thou wert cold or hot”? Best, I think, in this way, namely, by regarding the “cold” as one hitherto untouched by the powers of grace. There is 260always hope of such a one, that, when he does come under those powers, he may become a zealous and earnest Christian. He is not one on whom the grand experiment of the Gospel has been tried and has failed. But the “lukewarm” is one who has tasted of the good gift and of the powers of the world to come, who has been a subject of Divine grace, but in whom that grace has failed to kindle more than the feeblest spark. The publicans and harlots were “cold,” the Apostles “hot.” The Scribes and Pharisees, such among them as that Simon in whose house the Lord sat and spake the parable of the fifty and the five hundred pence (Luke vii. 36-47), they were “lukewarm.” It was from among the “cold,” and not the “lukewarm,” that He drew recruits; from among them came forward the candidates for discipleship and apostleship and the crown of life, Matthew, and Zacchæus, and the Magdalene, and the other woman that had been a sinner (if indeed another), and all those others, publicans and harlots, that entered into the kingdom of heaven, while the Scribes and Pharisees continued without. That woman which was a sinner, for example, having been “cold,” passed from that coldness to the fervency of a divine heat, at which there is little or no likelihood that the “lukewarm” Simon ever arrived (Luke vii. 47).
It is thus that Gregory the Great explains these 261words (Reg. Past. iii. 34): “Qui enim adhuc in peccatis est, conversionis fiduciam non amittit. Qui vero post conversionem tepuit, et spem, quæ esse potuit de peccatore, subtraxit. Aut calidus ergo quisque esse, aut frigidus quæritur, ne tepidus evomatur, ut videlicet aut necdum conversus, adhuc de se spem conversionis præbeat, aut jam conversus in virtutibus inardescat.” Compare Origen (De Princip. iii. 4): “Forte utilius videatur obtineri animam a carne, quam residere in suis propriis voluntatibus. Namque quoniam nec calida dicitur esse, nec frigida, sed in medio quodam tepore perdurans, tardam et satis difficilem conversionem poterit invenire. Si vero carni adhæreat, ex his ipsis interdum malis quæ ex carnis vitiis patitur, satiata aliquando et repleta, velut gravissimis oneribus luxuriæ ac libidinis fatigata, facilius et velocius converti a materialibus sordibus ad cœ lestium desiderium et spiritualem gratiam potest.” Jeremy Taylor, too, in the second of his sermons, Of Lukewarmness and Zeal, discusses this point, why the Lord preferred “hot” or “cold” to “lukewarm,” at considerable length; and urges well that it is the “lukewarm,” not as a transitional, but as a final state, which is thus the object of the Lord’s abhorrence: “In feasts or sacrifices the ancients did use apponere frigidam or calidam; sometimes they drank hot drink, sometimes they poured cold upon their gravies or in their wines, 262but no services of tables or altars were ever with lukewarm. God hates it worse than stark cold; which expression is the more considerable, because in natural and superinduced progressions from extreme to extreme, we must necessarily pass through the midst; and therefore it is certain a lukewarm religion is better than none at all, as being the doing some parts of the work designed, and nearer to perfection than the utmost distance could be; and yet that God hates it more, must mean, that there is some appendant evil in this state which is not in the other, and that accidentally it is much worse: and so it is, if we rightly understand it; that is, if we consider it not as a being in, or passing through, the middle way, but as a state and a period of religion. If it be in motion, a lukewarm religion is pleasing to God; for God hates it not for its imperfection, and its natural measures of proceeding; but if it stands still and rests there, it is a state against the designs and against the perfection of God: and it hath in it these evils.”
I must not leave these words without observing that there is another way of explaining this, “I would thou wert cold or hot,” which has found favour with somne in modern times. Urging that food, when either cold or hot, is pleasant to the taste, and only when tepid unwelcome, they make both the “cold” and the “hot” to express spiritual 263conditions absolutely acceptable in themselves, the only tertium comparationis being the nausea created by the tepid, and affirm that nothing further has a right here to be pressed. But assuredly there is much more in these words than this.
Ver. 16. “So then because thou art lukewarm., and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”—The land of Canaan is said to have spued out its former inhabitants for their abominable doings; the children of Israel are warned that they commit not the same, lest in like manner it spue out them (Lev. xviii. 28; xx. 22); but this threatening is more terrible still: it is to be spued out of the mouth of Christ, to be rejected as with nausea, with moral loathing and disgust, by Him; to exchange the greatest possible nearness to Him for the remotest distance. At the same time, in the original the language is not quite so severe as in our Version; the threat does not present itself as one about to be put into immediate execution. The long-suffering of Christ has not been all exhausted; μέλλω σε ἐμέσαι, “I am about,” or “I have it in my mind, to spue thee out of my mouth,” as the Vulgate seeks to express it, “incipiam te evomere;” that is, “unless thou so takest to heart this threat that I shall never need to execute this threat” (Jon. iii. 10; 1 Kings xxi. 29). But if executed, it implies nothing less than 264absolute rejection, being equivalent to that “I will remove thy candlestick out of his place” (ii. 5), uttered against the Ephesian Angel. Not very different is the tropical use of πτύειν, καταπτύειν, and in Latin of “respuere,” “conspuere,” as = “repudiare,” “abhorrere ab aliquâ re.”
Ver. 17. “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”—There is a question whether this verse coheres the most closely with what goes before, or what follows after,—that is, whether Christ threatens to reject him from his mouth, because he says, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing;” or whether, because he says he is all this, therefore Christ counsels him to buy of Him what will make him rich indeed (ver. 18). Our Translators regard the latter connexion as the right one; and, by the punctuation which they have adopted, join this verse with that which follows after it, not with that which went before it—I doubt whether correctly. I should have preferred to place a colon at the end of ver. 16, and a full-stop at that of ver. 17, instead of the reverse, which they have done.—These riches and goods in which the Laodicean Church and Angel gloried we must understand as spiritual riches, in which they fondly imagined 265they abounded. Some interpreters take it in another sense, that they boasted of their worldly prosperity, their flourishing outward condition, and found in this a sign and token of God’s favour towards them. But assuredly this is a mistake; it is in the sphere of spiritual things that the Lord is moving; and this language in this application is justified by numerous passages in Scripture: as by Luke xii. 21; 1 Cor. i. 5; 2 Cor. viii. 9; above all, by two passages of holy irony, 1 Cor. iv. 8 and Hos. xii. 8; both standing in very closest connexion with this; I can indeed hardly doubt that there is intended a reference to the latter of these in the words of our Lord. The Laodicean Angel, and the Church which he was dragging into the same ruin with himself, were walking in a vain show and imagination of their own righteousness, their own advances in spiritual insight and knowledge. That this may go hand in hand with the most miserable lack of all real grace, all true and solid advances in goodness, we have a notable example in the Pharisee of our Lord’s parable (Luke xviii. 11, 12; cf. Luke xvi. 15; 1 Cor. xiii. 1); and so it was here. Rightly Richard of St. Victor: “Dicis quod sum dives et locupletatus, sive videlicet per scientiæ cognitionem, sive per Scripturæ prædicationem, sive per secularis eloquentiæ nitorem, sive per sacramentorum administrationem, sive per pontificialis 266apicis dignitatem, sive per vulgi laudem inanem.”
Such was their estimate of themselves; but now follows the terrible reality, namely, Christ’s estimate of them: “And knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Here, as so often, our Version, to its loss, has taken no note of the article which goes before the two first adjectives, and raises them to the dignity of substantives, while the three which follow are added as qualifying adjectives. Read rather, “And knowest not that thou art the wretched and the miserable one,3737 Compare, as an exact parallel, and, singularly enough, much knore than a mere verbal parallel, Isai. xlvii. 8 (LXX.): νῦν δὲ ἄκουε ταῦτα, ἡ τρυφερά ἡ καθημένη, ἡ πεποιθυῖα, ἡ λέγουσα ἐν καρδίᾳ αὐτῆς, Ἐγώ εἰμι; καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν ἑτέρα, κ. τ. λ. and poor, and blind, and naked.” Ταλαίπωρος, “wretched,” occurs only here and Rom. vii. 24; it is commonly derived by the grammarians from τλάω and πῶρος in the sense of grief, but thought now to be a poetical recasting of ταλαπείριος, in which case we should find πειρά, a sharp piercing point, in the latter syllables. Ἐλεεινός,”miserable,” only here and 1 Cor. xv. 19, the object of extremest pity (ἐλέους ἄξιος, Suidas), as in certain peril of eternal death, if he should remain what he was. The charge of blindness would seem to imply that the Laodicean Church 267boasted of spiritual insight. Like some before them, being blind, they yet said, “We see” (John ix. 21). This blindness, of course, was not absolute and complete; else the eyesalve which the Lord presently bids them to obtain of Him would have profited little. They were μυωπάζοντες, as St. Peter (2 Ep. i. 9) speaks of some, he too joining τυφλός and μυωπάζων.
Ver. 18. “I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear.”—There is a certain irony, but the irony of divine love, in these words. He who might have commanded, prefers rather to counsel; He who might have spoken as from heaven, conforms Himself, so far as the outward form of his words reaches, to the language of earth. To the merchants and factors of this wealthy mercantile city He addresses Himself in their own dialect. Laodicea was a city of extensive money transactions; Cicero, journeying to or from his province, proposes to take up money there (Epp. ad. Div. ii. 17; iii. 5); Christ here invites to dealings with Him: I-Ie has gold so fine that none will reject it. The wools of Laodicea, of a raven blackness, were famous throughout the world; but He has raiment of dazzling white for them who will put it on. There were ointments 268for which certainly many of the Asiatic cities were famous; but He, as He will presently announce, has eyesalve more precious than them all. Would it not be wise to transact their chief business with Him? Thus Perkins (Exposition upon Rev. i. ii. iii., Works, vol. iii. p. 363): “Christ saith, I counsel thee to buy of Me; where He alludeth to the outward state of this city, for it was rich, and also given to much traffic, as histories record, and therefore He speaks to them in their own kind, as if He should say, Ye are a people exercised in much traffic, and delighted with nothing more than buying and selling. Well, I have wares that will serve your turn, as gold, garments, and oil; therefore come and buy of Me.”
But first on those words, “buy,” and “of Me.” We must not fail to put an emphasis on that “of Me.” “In Me,” Christ would say, “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Christ’s Apostle had once before to remind the Colossians, neighbours of the Laodiceans, that this was so; and that there was no growth for the Church, or for any member of the Church, except through holding the Head (Col. ii. 3, 19); that all self-chosen ways of will-worship might have a show of wisdom, but puffed up, and did not build up (ii. 10-15); and out of the deep anxiety which he evidently felt for both these sister Churches 269alike (ii. 1), he had desired that the Epistle to the Colossians should be read also in the Church of the Laodiceans (iv. 16). But they had not learned their lesson. St. Paul’s “great conflict” for them had been well nigh in vain; and now the Lord, repeating his servant’s lesson, gathers up into a single point, concentrates in that single phrase, “buy of Me,” the whole lesson of the Epistle to the Colossians.
The “buying” of Christ, who in so many more passages is described as making a free gift of all which He imparts to men, is drawn from Isai. lv. 1, with which we may compare Matt. xiii. 44, 46. The price which they should pay was this, the renunciation of all vain reliance on their own righteousness and wisdom; the price which in another Epistle St. Paul declared he had so gladly paid, that so he might himself win Christ (Phil. iii. 7, 8); the ἀποτάσσεσθαι πᾶσι, which the Lord long before had declared to be the necessary condition of his discipleship (Luke xiv. 33). This is the price, as it is contemplated rather in its negative aspect; in its positive it is the earnest striving after, and longing for, the gift, the reaching out after it, the opening of the mouth wide that He may fill it. Vitringa: “Quæ beneficia Dominus vult ut emant, h. e. secundum conditiones fœderis gratiæ pro iis expendant pretium abnegationis sui ipsius et mundanarum 270cupiditatum; quod hic non habet rationem meriti, sed tamen pretii, quia in regeneratione homo allis quibusdam, rebus sibi hactenus caris renunciat, ut pretioso dono justitiæ Christi potiatur.”
And what does the Lord counsel him that he shall “buy;” which, when he has made them his own, he shall be no longer “poor and blind and naked”? Three things; and, first, as he is “poor”—“gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich.” A comparison with 1 Pet. i. 7 (cf. Zech. xiii. 9; Matt. iii. 3; Prov. xvii. 3; Jam. i. 3) teaches us that by this is intended faith; for faith being a gift of God, must therefore be bought of Christ (Luke xvii. 5; cf. Ps. lxxii. 15, according to the right translation); and such faith as would stand the test, would endure in the furnace of affliction, in the πύρωσις (1 Pet. iv. 12); Vitringa: “Vera et solida fides, quæ sustinere possit afflictiones.” Then shall he be rich indeed; this is the true πλουτίζειν (1 Cor. i. 5), better than that spoken of in the book of Job (xxii. 23, 24); though that, as God’s gift, might be good; then should he be indeed one εἰς Θεὸν πλουτῶν (Luke xii. 21), rich toward God, not walking, as now, in a vain show of wealth which he had not. Πεπυρωμένον ἐκ πυρός = δοκιμαζόμενον διὰ πυρός, 1 Pet. i. 7; for, in the words of the Latin poet,
“Omnia purgat ignis edax, vitiumque metalli
But, secondly, as he is “naked,” he shall “buy” of Christ “white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear.”—Instead of the αἰσχύνη here, we have in the parallel passage, xvi. 15, ἀσχημοσύνην, translated also “shame,” but better, “unseemliness,” or “uncomeliness;” cf. τὰ ἀσχήμονα, 1 Cor. xii. 23. “Do not appear” is too weak a rendering of μὴ φανερωθῇ. Translate rather, “be not made manifest;” φανεροῦσθαι being constantly used for the manifestations or revelations which God makes of the hidden things of men (John iii. 21; 1 Cor. iv. 5; 2 Cor. v. 11; Eph. v. 13); either now, or at that last day when every guest that has not on a wedding garment is at the same instant discovered and cast out (Matt. xxii. 11-13; compare Isai. xlvii. 3: ἀνακαλυφθήσεται ἡ αἰσχύνη σου). As stripping, and laying bare the nakedness, is a frequent method of putting to open shame (cf. 2 Sam. x. 4; Isai. xx. 4; xlvii. 2, 3; Ezek. xvi. 37; Hos. ii. 3, 9; iii. 5; Nah. iii. 5; Rev. xvi. 15), so the clothing with comely apparel those unclothed or ill-clothed before, of imparting honour; cf. Gen. xli. 42; Esth. vi. 7-11; Luke xv. 22; Zech. iii. 3-5; and above all, Gen. iii. 7, 21, where it is shown that God, and not himself, is the true coverer of the nakedness of man; for while he can discover his own shame, it is God only who can cover, it. This, the shame of 272the nakedness of him who, professing Christ, has not put on Christ (Col. iii. 10-14), may be, and often is, revealed in the present time; it must be revealed in the last day (Matt. xxii. 11-13; Dan. xii. 2; 2 Cor. v. 10). Therefore is it that the Psalmist exclaims, “Blessed is the man whose sin is covered” (Ps. xxxii. 1); and those interpreters seem to me to give too narrow a range of meaning to this “white raiment,” who limit it to the graces of the Christian life, and the putting on, in this sense, of the Lord Jesus Christ. We should understand by it not merely the righteousness of Christ imparted, but also that righteousness imputed; for both are needful, the one as needful as the other, if the shame of our nakedness is not to appear. So Vitringa: “Vestimenta alba, h. e. justitiam Christi, verâ fide acceptam, quæ nos obtegat quâ parte nudi, id est, expositi sumus ardenti iræ Dei; tum quoque habitus Christianarum virtutum, quæ faciunt ut quis cum fiduciâ absque pudore coram Deo et sanctis ausit comparere, inter quas eminent caritas, simplicitas, humilitas et zelus.”
“And anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.”—The eye for which this salve is needed is, of course, the spiritual eye, the eye of the conscience, by which spiritual things are discerned and appreciated; which eye may be sound or simple (ἁπλοῦς, Matt. v. 29), or which may be evil (πονηρός, 273Matt. vi. 23; cf. 1 John ii. 11); and according as it is this or that, the man will see himself as he truly is, or see nothing as he ought to see it. The beginning of all true amendment is to see ourselves as indeed we are, in our misery, our guilt, our shame; and to enable us to do this is the first consequence of the anointing with that eyesalve which the Lord here invites this Angel to purchase of Him. The Spirit convinceth of sin, and by this “eyesalve” we must understand the illuminating grace of the Holy Ghost, which at once shows to us ourselves and God. And if it be true of the medicinal eyesalves of antiquity that they commonly caused the eye to smart on their first application (Tob. xi. 8, 12), “mordacia collyria,” “acre collyrium,” as Augustine therefore calls them (In Joh. Tract. xviii. § 11; Conf. vii. 8), this may fitly set forth to us the wholesome pain and medicinal smart which belong to the spiritual eyesalve as well; making for us discoveries so painful as it does, causing us to see in ourselves a nakedness and poverty which had been wholly concealed from us before; while yet only through the seeing and through the confessing of this can that poverty be ever exchanged for riches, or that nakedness for “durable clothing.”
It has been already remarked (p. 211), and assuredly is very well worthy of notice, that the two 274Churches which are spiritually in the most sunken condition of all, that, namely, of Sardis and this of Laodicea, are also the two in which alone there is no mention made either of adversaries from without, or of hinderers to the truth from within. Of the absence of heathen adversaries there has been occasion to speak already; but more noticeable still is the fact that there neither appear here nor there Nicolaitans, or Balaamites, or Jezebelites, or those who say they are Jews and are not; seeking to seduce Christ’s servants, and making it needful for them earnestly to contend for the truth, if they would not be robbed of it altogether. In the coldness andl deadness of these Churches, which had no truth to secure or defend from gainsayers, we may see a pregnant hint of all which the Church owes to the heresies and heretics that, one after another, have assailed her. Owing them no thanks for what she has gained by them, her gains themselves have been immense, and there are remarkable acknowledgments to this effect made by more than one of the early Fathers. Contending against these she has learned not merely to define more accurately, but to grasp more firmly, and to prize more dearly, that truth of which they would fain have deprived her. What would the Church of the second century have been, if it had never learned its strength, and the treasures of wisdom and knowledge which 275it had in Christ Jesus, in the course of that tremendous conflict with the Gnostics which it then sustained? Would the Church itself have ever been the true Gnostic, except for these false ones? Again, what an education for it were the fast-succeeding conflicts of the two next centuries; and not in intellectual education only, but “as iron sharpeneth iron,” so the zeal of the adversaries of the truth served often to excite the zeal and love, which might else have abated, of its friends. Assuredly it was not good for the Sardian and Laodicean Churches to be without this necessity of earnestly contending for the truth. Perhaps they gloried in their. freedom from conflicts which were agitating and troubling the other Churches around them. But we may be bold to say that in a world of imperfections like ours, it argued no healthy spiritual life that there should have been none there to call the truth into question and debate. Misgrowths are at all events growths; and if there is a spiritual condition which is above errors, so also there is one which is beneath them, when there is not interest enough in theology, not care enough to know any thing certain about God, or about man’s relation to God, even to generate a heresy. As we read the history of the Church, we may perhaps find some consolation in thoughts like these. Assuredly in reading many a page in that history, we need the 276strongest consolations which we can any where find. But to return from this digression.
Ver. 19. “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten; be zealous therefore, and repent.”—He, the great Master-builder, polishes with many strokes of the chisel and the hammer the stones which shall find a place at last in the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Prov. iii. 12; Job v. 17; Heb. xii. 6; 2 Chron. xxxiii. 11-13; Ps. xciv. 12). And this is a rule which endures no exception. In that “as many” (ὅσους) here lies the same emphasis as in the “every son” of Heb. xii. 6. All whom He loves are included in the same discipline of correction, are made sooner or later to be able to say, “Thy loving correction shall make me great” (Ps. xviii. 35). Of all it is true that, if not scourged, they are not sons (Heb. xii. 8); if not rebuked and chastened, they are not loved. Not a few, if their prosperity lasts a little longer than that of others, fancy that they are to be exceptions to this rule; but it is never so. They can only be excepted from the discipline through being excepted from the sonship; as Augustine excellently well (Serm. xlvi. § 11): “Flagellat, inquit, omnem filium quem recipit. Et tu forte exceptus eris? Si exceptus a passione fiagellorum, exceptus a numero filiorum.” Many other beautiful passages to the same effect may be found in his writings; thus 277Enarr. in Ps. xxxi. 11; in Ps. xciii. 14; in Ps. cxiv.
and παιδεύειν are often found together, as here; thus Ecclus. xviii. 13; Ps. cxl. 5; so too παιδεία and ἔλεγχος, Prov. vi. 23, and compare Heb. xii. 5; but they are very capable of being distinguished. Ἐλέγχειν is more thanἐπιτιμᾶν, with which it is often joined; see my Synonyms of the New Testament, § 4. It is so to rebuke that the person rebuked is brought to the acknowledgment of his fault, is convinced, as David was when rebuked by Nathan (2 Sam. xii. 13); for, in the words of Aristotle (Rhet. ad Alex. 13), ἔλεγχος ἐστι μὲν ὃ μὴ δυνατὸν ἄλλως ἔχειν, ἀλλ᾽ οὕτως ὡς ἡμεῖς λέγομεν; and this rebuking, or convincing of sin, is eminently the work and office of the Holy Ghost (John xvi. 8; cf. iii. 20; Ephes. v. 13). See upon this subject an admirable note by Archdeacon Hare in his Mission of the Comforter, vol. ii. p. 528. Παιδεύειν, being in classical Greek to instruct, to educate, is in sacred Greek to instruct or educate by means of correction, through the severe discipline of love (παιδεύειν and μαστυγοῦν are joined together, Heb. xii. 6), “per molestias erudire,” as Augustine (Enarr. in Ps. cxviii. 66), tracing the difference between its sacred and profane uses, explains it. As David had found his ἔλεγχος when he exclaimed, “I have sinned against the Lord” 278(2 Sam. xii. 13), so his παιδεία was announced to him in the words which followed: “The child also that is born unto thee shall surely die” (ver. 14)which passage is alone sufficient to refute those who affirm that we have in the ἐλέγχω καὶ παιδεύω a ὕστερον πρότερον. Not so. It will indeed continually happen that the same dealing of God with men is at once ἔλεγχος and παιδεία, but only παιδεία through having been first ἔλεγχος. This therefore, namely the ἔλεγχος, rightly precedes. Brightman: “Observandum est illum arguere et castigare; id est, convincere et plectere. Simul enim sunt hæc duo conjungenda. Inutilis est animadversio, ubi verba silent, verbera sæviunt. Unde recte vocatur castigatio, disciplina quâ delinquens una dolet et discit.”—For ζήλωσον of the received text, read rather ζηλεῦε, from θηλεύω, another form of ζ͓λόω. This word, through ζῆλος connected with ζέω and thus with ζεστός (ver. 15), is chosen as the word of exhortation, with special reference to the lukewarmness which the Lord so indignantly saw in the Laodicean Church. It was warmth, heat, fervency, which He required of it. St. Paul uses ζηλοῦν in a good sense, Gal. iv. 18, and also, which are the best parallels to its employment here, 1 Cor. xii. 31; xiv. 1.
Ver. 20. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.”—The Hellenistic κρούω is here, as always 279in the New Testament, the word used to describe this knocking at the door (Luke xii. 36; xiii. 25; Acts xii. 13, 16). The Greek purists preferred κόπτω; yet see Lobeck, Phrynichus, p. 177. We have in these gracious words the long-suffering of Christ as He waits for the conversion of sinners (1 Pet. iii. 20); and not alone the long-suffering which waits, but the love which seeks to bring that conversion about, which knocks. He at whose door we ought to stand, for He is the Door (John x. 7), who, as such, has bidden us to knock (Matt. vii. 7; Luke xi. 9), is content that the whole relation between Him and us should be reversed, and instead of our standing at his door, condescends Himself to stand at ours,—θυραυλεῖν, as the Greeks termed this waiting and watching at the door of the beloved. Very beautiful on the matter of this infinite condescension on his part are the words of Kicolaus Cabasilas, a Greek divine of the fourteenth century: ὁ περὶ τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἔρως τὸν Θεὸν ἐκένωσεν. οὐ γὰρ κατὰ χώραν μένων καλεῖ πρὸς ἑαυτὸν, ὃν ἐφίλησε δοῦλον, ἀλλ᾽ αὐτὸς ζητεῖ κατελθών, καὶ πρὸς τὴν καταγωγὴν ἀφικνεῖται τοῦ πένητος ὁ πλουτῶν, καὶ προσελθὼν δι᾽ ἑαυτοῦ μηνύει τὸν πόθον, καὶ ζητεῖ τὸ ἴσον, καὶ ἀπαξιοῦντος οὐκ ἀφίσταται, καὶ πρὸς τὴν ὕβριν οὐ δυσχεραίνει, καὶ διωκόμενος προσεδρεύει ταῖς θύραις, καὶ ἵνα τὸν ἐρῶντα δείξῃ, πάντα ποιεῖ, καὶ ὀδυνώμενος φέρει καὶ ἀποθνήσκει.280
“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.”—Christ does not knock only; He also speaks; makes his “voice” to be heard—a more precious benefit still! It is true indeed that we cannot in our interpretation draw any strict line of distinction between Christ’s knocking and Christ’s speaking. They both represent his dealings of infinite love with souls, for the winning them to receive Him; yet at the same time, considering that in this natural world a knock may be any one’s and on any errand, while the voice accompanying it would at once designate who it was that was knocking, and with what intention (Acts xii. 13, 14), we have a right, so far as we may venture to distinguish between the two, to see in the voice the more inward appeal, the closer dealing of Christ with the soul, speaking directly by his Spirit to the spirit of the man; in the knocking those more outward gracious dealings, of sorrow and joy, of sickness and health, and the like, which He sends, and sending uses for the bringing of his elect, in one way or another, by smooth paths or by rough, to Himself. The “voice” very often will interpret and make intelligible the purpose of the “knock.”
But that “knock” and this “voice” may both remain unheard and unheeded. It is in the power of every man to close his ear to them; therefore the 281hypothetical form which this gracious promise takes: “if any man hear my voice, and open the door.” There is no gratia irresistibilis here. It is the man himself who must open the door. Christ indeed knocks, claims admittance as to his own; so lifts up his voice that it may be heard, in one sense must be heard, by him; but He does not break open the door, or force an entrance by violence. There is a sense in which man is lord of the house of his own heart; it is for him to open, and unless he does so, Christ cannot enter. And, as a necessary complement of this power to open, there belongs also to man the mournful prerogative and privilege of refusing to open: he may keep the door shut, even to the end. he may thus continue to the last blindly at strife with his own blessedness; a miserable conqueror, who conquers to his own everlasting loss and defeat.
At the same time these words of Christ, decisive testimony as they yield against that scheme of irresistible grace which would turn men into mere machines, and take away all moral value from the victories which Christ obtains over. the sullenness, the pride, the obstinacy, the rebellion of men, must not be pushed, as some have pushed them, in the other direction, into Pelagian error and excess; as though men could open the door of their heart when they would; as though repentance was not 282itself a gift of the exalted Saviour (Acts v. 31). They can only open when Christ knocks; and they would have no desire at all to open unless He knocked, and unless, together with the external knocking of the Word, or of sorrow, or of pain, or whatever other shape it might assume, there went also the inward voice of the Spirit. All which one would affirm is that this is a drawing, not a dragging—a knocking at the door, not a breaking open of the door. Hilary has here some words very much to the point (In Ps. cxviii. 89): “Vult ergo semper introire; sed a nobis ne introeat excluditur. Ipse quidem semper ut illuminet promptus est; sed lumen sibi domus ipsa obseratis aditibus excludit. Quæ si cœ perit patere, illico introibit, modo solis, qui clausis fenestræ valvis introire, prohibetur, patentibus vero totus immittitur. Est enim Verbum Dei Sol justitiæ, adsistens unicuique ut introeat, nec moratur lucem suam repertis aditibus infundere.”
Some, wishing to decry the Song of Solomon, to take it from its place in the Canon, and to set it down as a mere human love-poem, an idyl of an earthly love, have affirmed that there is no single allusion to it in the New Testament. This statement is altogether without warrant. In the words we have been just considering there is an undoubted allusion to Cant. v. 2-6; where indeed the very 283language which Christ uses here, the κρούει ἐπὶ τὴν θύραν, the summons ἀνούγειν recurs. Nor is the relation between the one passage and the other merely superficial and verbal. On the contrary, it lies veiy deep. The spiritual condition of the Bride there is in fact precisely similar to that of the Laodicean Angel here. Between sleeping and waking she has been so slow to open the door, that when at length she does so, the Bridegroom has withdrawn, and she has need to seek for and to follow Him (ver. 5, 6). This exactly corresponds to the lukewarmness of the Angel here. See the two passages brought into closest connexion in this sense by Jerome, Ep. xviii. ad Eustochium. Another proof of the connexion between them is this,—that although there has been no mention of any thing but a knocking here, Christ goes on to say, “If any man hear my voice.” What can this be but an allusion to the words in the Canticle which have just gone before, “It is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister”? In the face of this, and much more of the same kind which might be adduced, Ewald asserts, “Cantico nunquam utuntur Scriptores Novi Testamenti;” and rather than look there for this “I stand at the door and knock,” he prefers to find an allusion here to Peter’s standing and knocking at the door of Mary’s house after he was released from prison by the Angel (Acts xii. 13, 14)! We shall not go far before we find further evidence of the intimate relation between these words of Christ and those of the Bridegroom in that Book. We trace it in the words which immediately follow: “and will Sup with him, and he with Me.” There may possibly be in these a more immediate reference to Luke xii. 36; but that to the Song of Solomon, because it lies deeper, must not therefore be overlooked. There too the mutual feasting of Christ with the soul which opens to Him, and of the soul with Him, is all set forth. There too the bride prepares a feast for her Beloved: “Let my Beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits” (iv. 16); but He had first prepared one for her: “I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste” (ii. 3). Few, I suppose, would be disposed to deny a mystical significance to that meal after the Resurrection on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias, recorded with so much emphasis by the beloved disciple (John xxi. 9-13); which wonderfully fulfils the same conditions, being made up of what the disciples bring and what Christ brings. This mutual feasting of Christ with his people, and of his people with Him, finds in this present life its culminating fulfilment in the Holy Eucharist; which yet is but an initial fulfilment; it will only find its exhaustive accomplishment in the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. xix. 7-9; Mark xiv. 25).285
Ver. 21. “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in my throne.”—A magnificent variation of Christ’s words spoken in the days of his flesh: “The glory which Thou gavest Me, I have given them. . . . Father, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am” (John xvii. 22, 24); as also of the words of St. Paul, “If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim. ii. 12). Wonderful indeed is this promise, which, as the last and the crowning, is also the highest and most glorious of all. Step. by step they have advanced, till a height is reached than which no higher can be conceived. It seemed much to promise the Apostles themselves that they should sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. xix. 28); but here is promised to every believer something more than was there promised to the elect Twelve. And more wonderful still, if we consider to whom this promise is here addressed. He whom Christ threatened just now to reject with loathing out of his mouth, is offered a place with Him on his throne. But indeed so it is; the highest place is within reach of the lowest; the faintest spark of grace may be fanned into the mightiest flame of divine love. It will be observed that the image here is not that of sitting upon seats on the right hand or on the left of Christ’s throne (1 Kings ii. 19), but of sharing that throne itself. To understand 286this, we must keep in mind the fact, that the Eastern throne is much ampler and broader than ours; so that there would be room upon it for other persons, besides him who occupied as of right the central position there (Matt. xx. 21).
“Even as 1 also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”—The Son is σύνθρονος with the Father (Wisd. ix. 4), as the early Church writers loved to express it, with a word employed already in the heathen mythology, perhaps borrowed from it (see Suicer, s. v.); his faithful people shall be πάρεδροι with Him. These words, “I overcame,” remind us of other words spoken by the Lord while as yet He had not so visibly overcome as now: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John xvi. 33); and the manner in which the overcoming the world and the sitting down with his Father in his throne are brought together here, puts this passage in closest connexion with Phil. ii. 9: “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name;” cf. Heb. i. 3.—On this “my throne,” and “my Father’s throne,” Joseph Mede says well (Works, p. 905): “Here are two thrones mentioned. My throne, saith Christ; this is the condition of glorified saints who sit with Christ in his throne; but my Father’s (i.e. God’s) throne is the power of Divine majesty; herein none may sit but God, and 287the God-man Jesus Christ. To be installed in God’s throne, to sit at God’s right hand, is to have a godlike royalty, such as his Father hath, a royalty altogether incommunicable, whereof no creature is capable.”
A few words in conclusion upon the order in which the promises of the seven Epistles follow one another. It is impossible not to acknowledge such an order here,-an order parallel to that of the unfolding of the kingdom of God from its first beginnings on earth to its glorious consummation in heaven. Thus the promise of Christ to the faithful at Ephesus is, that He will give them to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God (ii. 7); thus taking us back to Genesis i. and ii. But sin presently entered into Paradise, and death, the seal and witness of sin (Gen. iii. 19); but for the faithful at Smyrna,—and the promise that is good for them is good for the faithful every where,—this curse of death is lightened. It shall be but the gate of immortality, for “he that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death” (ii. 11). The next promise, that to the faithful at Pergamum, brings us to the Mosaic period, to the Church in the wilderness: 288“To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna” (ii. 17); and if the interpretation of the “white stone” which has been ventured here is the right one, that promise will also fall in perfectly with the wilderness period and the institution of the high-priesthood, which at that period found place. In the fourth, that namely to Thyatira, we have reached the full and final consummation, in type and prophetic outline, of the kingdom, the period of David and Solomon,—the triumph over the nations, the Church sharing in the royalties of her king (ii. 26, 27). Every reader will recognize this as a characteristic feature of those reigns (2 Sam. x. 19; xii. 29, 30; 1 Chron. xvii. 1-13).
Here there is a pause; and with this consummation reached, than which in type and prophecy there can be nothing higher, a new series begins; the heptad falling, as is so constantly the case, into two groups; either of three and four, as in the Lord’s Prayer, or of four and three, as here. And now the scenery, if I may use the word, changes; it is not any longer of earth, but of heaven. The kingdom, not of David, but of David’s Son, has come; all his foes are under his feet; his Church is not any longer contemplated as militant, but triumphant; and in the succession of the three last promises we learn that even for the Church triumphant 289there are steps and advances from glory to glory. Thus, in the promise addressed to the Angel of Sardis, we have the blessings of the judgment-day, the name found written in the took of life, Christ’s confession of his own before his Father, the vesture of light and immortality, in other words, the glorified body which it shall be then given to the saints to wear (iii. 5). This, however, is a personal, a solitary benefit, belonging to each of them alone; not so the next. In the promise made to the faithful at Philadelphia, it is declared that as many as overcome shall have right to enter by the gates into the heavenly City, where City and Temple are one, shall be themselves avouched members of that heavenly πολιτεία, and shall have their place in it for evermore (iii. 12). And then, it having thus been declared what they have in themselves, namely, the glorified body, and what they have in and with the company of the redeemed, the citizenship of the heavenly Jerusalem, it is, last of all, in the concluding words to the Angel of Laodicea, declared what they possess with God and with Christ; that it shall be granted to them to sit down with Christ on his throne, as He has sat down with his Father in his Father’s throne (iii. 21). There can be nothing behind and beyond this; and with this therefore is the close. It is here, to compare divine things with human, as in the Paradiso of Dante. There, too, 290there are different circles of light around the throne, each, as it is nearer to the throne, of an intenser brightness than that beyond it and more remote, till at last, when all the others have been past, the throne itself is reached, and the very Presence of Him who sits upon the throne, and from whom ll this light and this glory flows.
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