•  10 min. read  •  grade level: 11
How consoling it is for the true heart to recount its resources in a day of ever-increasing weakness and ever-deepening gloom, to feel that an eye is watching over us, moment by moment, which can take in the scope of circumstances, and can estimate the bearing and influence of each upon our lives while, in a path capable of demonstrating the weakness of even the foremost at every step. Guided by that eye, and guarded by the love which has made us its special objects, we may confidently move forward in the course He marks out for those faithful to Him in communion with the Father, and complacently observe Him turning every circumstance to account for the glory of the adorable, thrice-blessed object of His eternal delights, though the occasion should be the failure of His most privileged ones.
Let us remember the portion of our Master, when in a scene where "all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, is not of the Father." In the place where Satan has furnished man with sources of pleasure, He was the "Man of sorrows; with means of self-aggrandizement, He walked in self-emptied poverty. (2 Cor. 8:99For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)) Though born King of the Jews, He dwelt in Nazareth! Come to His own, they received Him not; to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. For His love He had hatred; and for His faithfulness to God He was rejected and cast out, so ignominiously that even "they that were crucified with Him reviled Him;" yet then, as much as ever (and oh, may our hearts, in the energy of faith, retain in our momentary consciousness the wonderful mystery!), the mighty God, the everlasting Father! We slip from this; and how a sense of it, when recalled, humbles us afresh! Faith alone can scan, value, and use such a mystery. What strength and unspeakable grace the words carry with them: " Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world!" And what it cost the blessed One to enable Him to say this for our encouragement!
The same quality of moral tension was, likewise felt by those who had received grace to own Him; the kingdom of God was preached, and men pressed into it (Luke 16:1616The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. (Luke 16:16); Matt. 11:12,1312And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. 13For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. (Matthew 11:12‑13)); and the world on its part reciprocated the action. (John 9:3434They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out. (John 9:34)) Though, in His rejection, when He looked for comforters, and found none (He was then "alone "), contempt was the price of identification with Him, however feeble was the tread of the most determined in such a path. But the corn of wheat having fallen into the ground and died, fruit was the blessed consequence, in the power of the Holy Ghost descended. The reproach of Christ was henceforward the coveted portion of " His own " (Phil. 1:2929For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; (Philippians 1:29)); His cross the boast of one who by faith saw Him in His ascended glory, and realized oneness with Him above. Overcoming the world required little explanation in those days, and faith was equal to the emergency. (1 John 5:4,54For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. 5Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4‑5)) Still dangers in the contest were earnestly pressed, even on those who had overcome the wicked one (1 John 2:14-1614I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. 15Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 John 2:14‑16)); and contest itself generally, as the present heritage of believers on earth, was fully recognized. (Rom. 12:2121Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21); 1 Peter 2:19-2219For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. 20For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. 21For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: 22Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: (1 Peter 2:19‑22); James 4:44Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. (James 4:4), &c)
There are, then, antagonisms in the pathway of faith, and it is our truest wisdom to acknowledge the propriety-necessity, may we not say? (2 Tim. 3:1212Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12))-of their place in normal Christian experience. Where they have ceased-and where in this day are they seen?-there is evident room for suspicion, that faithfulness to the Lord is at a discount. Amongst us there is the truth; but much besides that the truth would expunge were it held in power. Outside there is a tacit admission of where the truth is (which flatters our vanity), and on their part is tantamount to the challenge, that the truth is useless to sustain, and unable to guide; to which our manifest, though unfelt, weakness renders us unable to reply. The word which assures us of that which we all look forward to with inexpressible gratitude (Rev. 21:77He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. (Revelation 21:7)), gives also the nature of the path which leads to such glory. (2 Tim. 2:11,1211It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: 12If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: (2 Timothy 2:11‑12)) But where, we may ask in vain, is now the comely treading of that path?
The early Christians accepted the ease which " the world " offered, on its own terms of course; and so dropped into the delusion of estimating the Church's prosperity according to its position on earth, to the abandonment of that identification with a rejected Lord, which would retain them in the condition of pilgrims and strangers here-God's gracious estimate of us in His word. (1 Peter 2:1111Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; (1 Peter 2:11)) The delusion once started gains strength at every step in the Church's history, following the Smyrnian persecution, up to the culminating point of Papal usurpation in Thyatira; even Sardis, though it had " revived " and " heard," is immersed in the delusion; and it reaches a climax in Laodicea. From the moment that the professing church purchased the world's smile, at the expense of faithful testimony to the rejected Lord, to the moment when it will be spued out of His mouth as a worse than worthless testimony, the delusion never ceases. Hence, those faithful to the Lord, at any time between these two events, must be so in presence of the delusion and its withering effects-simply a new and peculiar form of worldliness; and there is, therefore, an additional tax on the energies of faith, as well as a peculiar occasion for the exercise of spiritual discernment.
Co-extensive with the delusion, however, is the path of precious grace-warning, sustaining, encouraging, restoring, and condescending; unchecked by man's levity and failure, and unhindered by his abuse of that grace. To Ephesus the Lord offers an opportunity of retracing its steps, of finding its way back to those feelings which He could at all deem suitable response to His love, and warns it with a jealousy which bespeaks the depths of that love. In Smyrna He "sits as a refiner of silver," sustaining those who suffer in faithfulness to Him. Even though Pergamos has so completely compromised the true standing of the assembly of God on earth by accepting the world's patronage, He still remonstrates graciously. In Thyatira, where He cannot sanction the corruptions of Jezebel, He addresses Himself to the remnant (" the rest ") in the most condescending tenderness, as a company, before giving the usual admonition to individuals. In Sardis He had given and spoken, though the use made of these privileges has been so faulty that Sardian testimony is not up to His mind at all. There is no true church testimony in it; no occasion for the exercise of spiritual discernment; e.g., as to how long a true heart should remain associated with what professes His name unworthily-He still lingering over it in yearning grace; no manifest bridal recognition of Him as Head, though doubtless there are "names." Nothing more clearly implies the Judaized condition of things in Thyatira and Sardis than that; in the succeeding church phase, those forming the Philadelphian assembly required to pass through " an open door," out of Thyatira and Sardis, of course, the only two systems of things of the first five stages, which " go on to the end." It is a repetition of John 10:33To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. (John 10:3); just as in Matt. 25, the virgins needed to "go out" a second time. Lastly, in Laodicea, where the claims of the Lord are disowned; and all true ecclesiastical responsibility abandoned, in a lukewarmness which has no room for bridal affections-however much zeal may be displayed for " the benefit of man''-condescending grace is still seen in its divinely persevering activity, offering every necessary thing to render the last phase of church testimony suitable to His eye; grace as free and as perfect at the close as at the outset of our sad history! "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever."
But more. What depths are in the love which, in view of the dark history of the Church for the past eighteen hundred years-yea, whilst recording it, all this incessant failure on our part collectively-could stoop to notice individual state, and supply personal need, in a tenderness which is inexpressible, and an anxiety depicted in the reiteration of the admonition given in Rev. 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6, 13, 227He 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 tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7)
11He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death. (Revelation 2:11)
17He 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 manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it. (Revelation 2:17)
29He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 2:29)
6He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:6)
13He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:13)
22He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:22)
, which our heedless hearts too often read as a mere formula. He notices the snares, difficulties, and hindrances of the faithful soul -the overcomer- in each phase; administers the needed strength, and bears with its weakness; encouraging and comforting it, whether it be found standing firmly in the midst of general departure from His way, or in circumstances through (perhaps out of) which its spiritual instincts or intelligence lead it upward towards the source whence have flowed the blessings which bespeak to his heart the character of that source.
The last sentence introduces a twofold aspect of overcoming: one, acquiring; the other, maintaining. It is evident that the churches are viewed by the Lord, in these epistles, according to their states for walk on earth, i.e., in their responsibility, rather than as the body of Christ before God in acceptance. There is, therefore, room for an introduction of the distinctions as to overcoming just alluded to; though all true believers will doubtless in grace be regarded as overcomers by-and-by, as all will, being joint-heirs with Christ, "inherit all things." (Rev. 21:77He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. (Revelation 21:7)) The path of an overcomer in acquiring is clearly traceable up out of the indifferentism in Laodicea by way of "gold," "white raiment," and " eye-salve," into the blessed intimacy of personal communion with the Lord-the portion which never-failing grace has secured to a true heart in the midst of utter wreck. (3: 20) There is also evidently acquiring in reaching true church ground from Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea in a later day. But just as evident is it that maintaining is in view (e.g.) in Smyrna (2:10, 11) and in Philadelphia. (3:11)
There is difficulty (reluctance rather, is it not?) felt in realizing that circumstances should obtain in Philadelphia which would give occasion for overcoming in its second aspect; that is, a general defection amongst those professing the truth, from the state the company was in when the Lord reviewed it, and spoke of it as we find recorded in verse 8; a condition, in fact, of corporate weakness and failure, induced by inroads of worldliness and allowance of evil, wherein faithfulness is exceptional in maintaining its links with the Lord. That Laodicea should at the close be characteristic of the Church shows that those on Philadelphian ground have declined corporately from their original condition. * And looking around us, can we with any show of reason really appropriate the Lord's estimate of the Philadelphian character given in verses 8-11?
(* See paper in number for November, 1878)
To entertain the thought that we could is at least hazardous; for self-judgment is therein departed from, and room left for the self-complacency which not only constitutes us a body in our own esteem, instead of a mere remnant as we are before God, but displaces Christ also, in whom alone is our worth found. Were He everything to us, we should judge of things in their suitability to Him, or otherwise; and viewing things in this light, nothing but dissatisfaction could fill our hearts, a dissatisfaction appropriately expressed in ample confession (as in Ezra's case, chap. 9: 2-7) of how our God sees everything, from our individual selves outward to the utmost limits of the Church, and the causes which led to its (our) utter failure in testimony. It was this avenue which first led to the place we now through much grace occupy. If we have slidden from such a state, then circumstances are present which call for individual faithfulness-overcoming, even where the truth is professed, in a maintenance of that condition of soul which corresponds to the state Philadelphia was in when the Lord described it. The heart determined on this, is touchingly assured of the Lord's sympathies in verse 12, as has often been remarked. Who will be in the enjoyment of them when He comes?
J. K.