The Prophetical Addresses to the Seven Churches: Lecture 3

 •  40 min. read  •  grade level: 8
We saw in our last lecture that the character of judgment runs through the whole of the book of Revelation-first of all among the churches, and then in the world. So that we have the Lord walking in the midst of the candlesticks, exercising judgment, taking notice of all that is going on, and saying, " I will give unto every one of you according to your works." And we also saw the importance of remembering the distinction between the church as seen in Christ in heaven, and seen on the earth, as representing Christ. We are partakers of His life, and united to Him in heaven; but it is equally true that He has set the church as a vessel to bear His name before the world, " the epistle of Christ known and read of all men." We also remarked, that the responsibility of the church down here does not touch the question of salvation in any wise; and also that God's faithfulness to individuals does not touch the judgment of the corporate body bearing His name. God had promised in His faithfulness to carry them on to the fullness of His glory; but, at the same time, He must judge them for failure in the responsibility in which He has placed them down here. We must not confound His judgment of the vessel set in testimony on the earth, and His faithfulness to the church- the bride, united by the Holy Ghost to Christ in heaven. But, moreover, God judges His saints individually for their good by exercising their hearts and consciences in warnings; and bowing under His judgments, they are blessed, while " the simple pass on and are punished " (Prov. 22:33A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished. (Proverbs 22:3)), and at length, as a body, are spued out of His mouth, while all the trials, discipline, and chastenings turn to the profit of the church as to its heavenly calling. In the address to each church there is a peculiar revelation of Christ made, with which the peculiar judgment corresponds; and also special promises, suited to their special need, meeting the exercise of the heart in order to sustain it, and pledges given to the faithful.
We have seen that the very first thing that characterized the church, looked at in its responsibility as pictured by Ephesus, was, that it had departed from the power of its original standing, " left its first love." Nor is the subject now the supply of grace from the Head; it is no longer " that which every joint supplieth," but the giving of reproofs, warnings, and promises, to act on the hearts and consciences of individual saints in their responsibility down here.
Another thing which it is well to remember here is, that we shall never find the object of the address to be the power of the Holy Ghost actively at work to form and gather. If it is judgment which is spoken of, it clearly cannot be, for Christ can never be said to judge the work of the Holy Ghost. It is power working in grace, if the Holy Ghost works. Christ, in exercising His judgment, is showing forth His estimate of the practical use which has been made of the work of the Spirit after it has been given. The first great truth is, that the Lord looks at the church as responsible for all the love of which it is the object, and expects a return; and if He finds it not, but finds departure from the first love, which is only the sad commencement of greater failure, then He says, " Repent, or I will remove thy candlestick out of its place."
Then, again, mark another thing. It is not individuals who are judged here, but churches (although individuals may hear and profit by the warnings). Thus the Spirit speaks to the churches; but there being no response from the church, no repenting, no doing the first works, no returning to the first love, the candlestick is to be removed. And then the address comes individually to him " that hath an ear-let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."
But although as a church it has failed, and the candlestick must be removed, still there is such a thing as individual energy to overcome. And mark here that it is overcoming in the condition in which the church found itself. The responsibility of individuals is that of overcoming where they were. This was very different from the state of things when the fullness of blessing was poured in by the Holy Ghost. There was now that within the church which was to be overcome, not in the world merely. " This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." He will revive the heart of the faithful one by promises to sustain it against the snare of Satan in the world; but when decay has come in, then the conscience necessarily becomes exercised as to maintenance of their standing where they were. Snares, difficulties, and dangers had come in; for we must remember, that the church had fallen from its first love, when Smyrna was addressed; and the moment the church is addressed by the Spirit, as a fallen church, it ceases to be in itself the place of security for the saint; he cannot take for granted, that, in walking with it, he walks according to the power and will of God. A fallen church cannot secure me from error; being itself under judgment, it cannot be a guarantee for anything. In truth it never was, but apostolic power and energy, which sustained and watched over it, while the apostles lived. (See Acts 20:28, 2928Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. 29For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. (Acts 20:28‑29), and 2 Peter 1:1515Moreover I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance. (2 Peter 1:15).)
Then individuals are singled out, for the church can no longer warrant me in this or that. The church may be right in this or that, but I have to make good my security against, or at any rate independent of, the church by the word of God; for I must discern what I can follow, and what I cannot, by the word of God applied by the Spirit. But then this state of things by no means supposes that there was no blessing, that there was nothing excellent left in the church; for we find the Lord recognizing and commending many things. But surely I need scarcely say, how amazingly important is this principle, that a failing church ceases to be a guarantee; and, therefore, I have to judge in individual responsibility what I am to receive and what I am to reject. The church has been, as set up of God, a place of blessing as regards individuals, a guardian for Christ of the state they were in, as being the vessel and expression of the power of the Holy Ghost, the proper result of His working; but it is not so at all now that it has left its first estate; and, as we have remarked, the apostles alone ever maintained it in it practically, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, the church of Corinth, etc. Our responsibility, however, never changes; nor can Christ fail in needed grace for the state in which the church is.
I would here take the opportunity of making a remark on the word " development," which Satan has brought in as a very favorite word. Now there is perfect and entire infidelity involved in this thought of development in the church of the living God. There is nothing in God to be developed; He is the perfect unchangeable source of all. Now what God has called us to is a perfect revelation of Himself in Christ, as we saw int John 1 I, 2. There was the manifestation of that eternal life which was with the Father; and it is clear that there can be no development of that which has been manifested unless we can get something beyond the perfection of Christ, in whom all fullness dwells. God is light; Christ was the true light; and this shone out fully in the revelation of the glory of His Person, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And can we get anything better or fuller than this " Light "? Can we add to this revelation of " Truth "? There is much to be learned about Him; but it is a Person that is here presented, and not a doctrine. If it were a doctrine, merely, we might get something added-another doctrine; but it is not a question of doctrine merely, but a living Person that has been revealed. Well, then, if it is Christ Himself, what more can be revealed? We cannot add to what God has wrought. Alas! man may decline from it, as was the case at Ephesus. They had left their first love; they had left something: there is no development in that. Of course we may ever learn, and should ever be learning, more about that which was revealed at the first; but God ever brings out each thing perfect in the beginning. For God cannot set up anything but what is perfect, anything that is inferior, or contrary to His mind.
Thus man in innocence was set up perfect in that innocence, and Adam fell. The priesthood of Aaron was perfect in its kind, but there was failure in Nadab and Abihu. Whatever God has planted, He has planted wholly a right seed according to His mind. Whatever comes from God must be perfect, and cannot be made more perfect by any other operation whatever. This is a very simple truth; but it is one which cuts up by the roots and overturns a whole system of thoughts and feelings which would put something between our souls and Christ. It is not that God cannot reveal in the creature more than He has yet revealed, and accomplish what is better than what went before. He does so: the Second Adam is clearly infinitely more excellent than the first. But the thing that He sets up is absolutely perfect, as the expression of His mind in that thing. Man cannot improve or add to it. The thing set up for us is the perfect manifestation of God in Christ; hence the notion of development is rejection of the true object, or blasphemy. So John says, " that which was from the beginning," when he would keep the saints secure.
But even as to glory, as in man's responsibility, that passes away. God had " planted thee a noble vine; how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me? " From this cause-that, directly a thing is put into a man's hand, there is departure.
Then we get another principle. This departure having come in, God uses Satan's power, acting through the world's hostility, for two ends: first, to exercise the divine life in a saint; secondly, to hinder a further departure from the Lord. This is the " tribulation " they were to have; and, therefore, when we come to Smyrna, we hear of persecutions. If you take the history of the life of Christ, it was an exercise of trial and suffering until He reached the cross; it was not that He needed it to deliver Him from any existing evil; it only brought out His perfectness more fully, that He might be made perfect in the just result, in glory as man, of what He was morally. " Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things that he suffered." The manifestation of all that was in Him was brought out through opposition and slighting. His path became darker and darker down to the cross. He had to overcome Satan, and says for others, " to him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me on my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father on his throne."
The second end to which God uses Satan's power, in persecutions and trials to the saints, is to hinder a further departure from Himself. There is a constant tendency in the heart of the saints to take rest in prosperous circumstances, because the flesh naturally turns to that which is agreeable in the world for rest, the result of which is a decay of vitality within; but this will not do. Therefore God says, " Arise and depart, for this is not your rest, it is polluted." Persecution is the natural portion of the church of God, while down here, in a world of sin. And when the church began to take rest at the beginning, God was obliged very soon to bring in persecution amongst them.
In Matthew's gospel, the Lord beautifully unfolds the spirit and character of the kingdom in the sermon on the mount: " Blessed are the poor in spirit "; " Blessed are the meek "; " Blessed are the pure in heart," etc., etc. Blessing is the character in which He introduces the witness He was bearing. God was showing what was blessed in His sight. Then the grace of Christ was just beginning to be manifested, showing the natural consequences of the principles and moral character of His kingdom. The miracles which He had already performed had attracted the attention of crowds from all the surrounding country, and He thereupon explains to those who heard the true spirit and character of the kingdom, which they, indeed, thought of quite otherwise, and tells who are the blessed; but at the end of the gospel in chapter 23, it is " Woe! woe! woe! " instead of blessing. " Your house is left unto you desolate; for I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." It was because the opposition of man had been fully brought out by the perfect manifestation of what Christ was. The beginning of Matthew's gospel was the blessed outflow of what was in His heart, while the course of His life brings out what was in their hearts, and hence the word, " Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites," etc.
To return-God sends us tribulation, opposition from without, to bring out grace and to hinder the constant tendency to decay; with Christ it was always and only to bring out grace. Thus God uses Satan as an instrument to work out blessing even for the church. Take Job, for instance. How wondrously was Satan used of God for blessing in Job's case! It is God who begins the conversation with Satan, and He knew perfectly well all He was doing in attracting Satan's attention to Job, and says, " Hast thou considered my servant Job? " Satan's malice was quite ready to plague and persecute him; but this malice of Satan was used by God to bring Job to that which was necessary for his blessing—the knowledge of the evil that was in his heart, which he could not have so learned any other way. Then, again, take Paul. He was taken up into the third heaven, there to get such a sense of the power of God as would fit him for his peculiar service to the church and the world, and such a revelation of the glory of Jesus as was proper to sustain him under all the trials he must inevitably pass through. And what is the use the flesh would make of this? Why it would puff up, and say, " Now, Paul, you have been into the third heaven, and nobody has been there but you." So there was given to him a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet him; and for this he besought the Lord thrice that it might depart from him; but no, it cannot be removed, lest Paul should be exalted above measure. But he gets this assurance-" my grace is sufficient for thee." That which became strength to Paul, as far as himself was concerned, was that by which he learned his own weakness-the " thorn in the flesh, the messenger to buffet him "; for it then became a question of Christ's grace and strength, and not Paul's. And now Paul can say, " Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
It seems astonishing that God should use Satan as an instrument to try the saints with, and not interfere to deliver: but so He does, as we see here; for He says, not " I will cast you into prison," but " the devil will cast some of you into prison "; but could not the Lord have hindered it? Of course He could; but as the trial was needed, had He hindered the devil from so acting, He would have hindered them from the blessings which would result from such a trial. Take, again, the case of Peter. The Lord said, " Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee." What? that Peter should not be sifted? No, not a bit; for Peter needed sifting, because he had confidence in the flesh. But the Lord prayed that his " faith might not fail "; that is, that Peter might be sustained under his trial- his heart not lose its hold on Christ, but be assured of His love, and get the intended blessing. And to such trials of faith Peter alludes, when he says, " That the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honor, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ." And when Satan had sifted the chaff from the wheat, then the Lord would use him as He said: " When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren."
When the church had fallen-had left its first love, she has to be put in the furnace, to keep the world, its allurements, and its evil, from acting on her own evil tendencies, while remaining in a body of sin and death. While she was walking in the freshness of her " first love," the world had no power over her. Christ was too vividly the object before her for her to sink into other affections which leave the heart open to the reasoning of unbelief. But when the " first love " was departed from, then the church became the prey of her own evil flesh, acted on by the evils around, therefore she must be put into the furnace, the place where Satan persecuted, to prevent her getting into the far more dangerous place where Satan dwells, that is, the world.
Verse 9. " I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, but thou art rich." Christians were poor and despicable in appearance, when the church was first set up. Leaving their first love, they were in danger of falling in with the current of the world's reasonings; and the Lord lets loose the prince of it against them, makes them find their sorrow where they were in danger of finding a false ease and joy, but the true character of enmity of the world, instead of its false allurements, which draw them into it, and away from the Father's love; and they sink into the insignificance and poverty which the world's opposition sets the saints in. " But thou art rich," says the Lord. These poor despised few possessed divine and exhaustless riches. They had got multiplied in the world and enlarged, and then there was a tendency to rest in the effects produced and not on the Lord; and the Lord, loving them too much to suffer this, must put them into the furnace to make them lean on Himself. For He will cast the church on its own proper portion altogether, and therefore He uses the hostility of the world to drive it back into its own proper hopes and privileges. But for this it would seem strange that the Lord should leave them to be tried " ten days," were it not to teach them that heaven is their portion and not the earth; that they are not to remain on the earth, but to pass through it as pilgrims and strangers, to glorify Him who, when down here, was a stranger, and who now in glory is a stranger to the world, as the world. But then this shows also that the trial is measured. God may use Satan as a rod, but he cannot touch a hair of our head beyond what is allowed.
But the church must be brought to the deep consciousness of the state from whence she has so deeply fallen. Hence, Christ not only suffered the devil to cast some of them into prison, but says also, " Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." They may be martyred, and what then? Jesus gives them a crown of life. The church had slipped into the world; still, where living faith was in exercise, the effect was to give Christ His true place, and to strengthen all. When once it came to the question of giving up Christ, there were martyrs, perhaps even amongst the worldliest. This is often seen. Just so it is now, in the day in which we live. Christians are largely seeking just what the world seek, wealth, power, and influence: these three things are just what the Lord had not. And can I be said to be a stranger where I have power and influence? Certainly not; and if the Lord turns the current against them, then they must pass through the furnace. The church must give up a heavenly Christ and a crucified Christ, if it take the world up in any sense as its portion. The church of God cannot associate the world and religion without losing its true character.
The object of Judaism was to associate religion with this world, with the earth: and thus God proved whether man could be attracted to God Himself through earthly things being associated with Him. To this end God gave them a magnificent temple, gorgeous dresses, splendid ceremonies, music and singing, that He might mingle the tastes and feelings of nature with Himself. But all this, mark, needed a priesthood between them and God; for it was not the presence of God, as light, in heaven, and peaceful communion with Himself. These earthly things do but keep the soul at a distance from God. For, wherever the world is connected with religion, priesthood must come in, because, the moment you get man as he is, he cannot stand before God; he cannot stand in the light and therefore needs a priest.
But we now are brought nigh; we can stand in the light as God is in the light: we are priests; and as to our standing in God's presence, there is no need of a priesthood between God and us. Christ suffered without the gate; and the moment the blood of Christ, wherewith we are sanctified, is taken into the holy place into the presence of God, our association is with heavenly places, and no longer with an earthly city (for there is no holy city now); and we are taken outside the world altogether (and the world, as religionized in a fleshly way, for that, for us, is the camp. " Let us go out therefore unto him without the camp ") and inside the veil with Him. It was exactly what the apostle was teaching the Hebrews. They could not go on with religion with a worldly character, with Judaism, which was God's earthly religion. Hence, too, it is the apostle says, if he had known Christ after the flesh, he knew him no more. He was only a heavenly Christ to him.
Carnal ordinances connected man with God under Judaism; but, Christ being rejected, His followers have His place of acceptance in heaven, and rejection on the earth. The cross or heaven. Now there is no middle thing-Christ is wholly heavenly; and we are raised up to sit in heavenly places in Him. The moment the church loses the sense of its heavenly place in Christ, the Lord in His faithful love lets loose the power of Satan upon us, just that we may learn that the very world that we are seeking to religionize is the place of Satan's throne. Of course in such case we shall be sure to have the world and its thoughts about religion entirely opposed to us; but then we shall have Christ and His thoughts with us, who says, " Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer," for " I am the first and the last, which was dead and is alive."
The character of Christ in the address to this church is as " dead and alive." Christ is not merely divine-God-but He is also the One who was dead and is alive again for evermore. Looked at as man He has been rejected and cast out; so that, like Mary Magdalene, we must get either an empty tomb (for that is all the world is, if we seek Christ) or a risen Jesus. If your heart is fixed on Christ, all you will find in this world is the tomb of Jesus, and nothing in it. Then we have nothing to do with this world, for if we are in spirit with our Head in heaven, we have all our blessings there. But then it is a constant difficulty, in a world like this, to get and to keep the heart and soul up to this; but it must be done. For otherwise, if we do not cleave to the world, the world of itself will cleave to us; and if decay comes in, and the first love is left, then " tribulation " must come, that we " be not conformed to the world." This was the case with the church here. They had left their first love, therefore they had to be put through this course of trial, to keep them in remembrance that they were not of the world. Judaism crept in-development, etc., etc.-" intruding into those things which they have not seen, vainly puffed up by their fleshly mind," instead of being a despised few, a little flock. Their numbers increased amazingly, so that they made a fair show in the flesh. In fact, you find the whole thing rapidly conformed to the likeness of the Jewish hierarchy. Then persecution comes in and blows upon it all; and if there was persecution even unto death, where there was a living faith in a living Lord, though such a one may die here, he shall not be hurt of the second death. The history of these times proves that the living power and truth in the church was not in its doctors, but in its martyrs.
Pergamos. " I know thy works and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat [throne] is." Here we get another and more subtle character of evil. The Lord gives credit for all He can. The church had gone through persecution, and had been faithful. " Thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith," when Antipas, my faithful martyr, was slain. But now it was not merely worldly persecution without (that assailed but purified the church), but doctrinal corruption within. The church of God has its place of responsibility in the world where Satan's throne is. If this ceases to be a persecuting world, because the church has ceased to be a heavenly witnessing church, still the church is living there; that is the place where, as to its external forms, it still is, and has been ever since the epoch here referred to. It is not a question here of individual conduct, but of the corporate position of the church.
People have a notion that Satan ceased to be the prince of this world when Christ was crucified. Now, I would just say, that it was at the cross of Christ that Satan emphatically became the prince of this world. He was it always, really, as to man's heart. But till Christ was rejected, it might have been hoped that some means might find, or cause to spring up, some good in man; but the cross proved and determined the subjection of man's heart to Satan, so as that naught could deliver it as such. Of course the cross was virtually the destruction of his power, for there Christ destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil. Then, in a sense, as to the accomplishment of the work which was to effect this, as to righteousness before God, his power ceased, his head was bruised, though the fruit of this accomplished work is not yet brought in by power. Man had been tried in every way, and, lastly, in the Jewish system, had been put under responsibility by law, and tested on the ground of obedience. There he had failed, but he is ready to think that, if he could do all he liked, he would set all right. He was put to the test in this, by the committal of power into his hand, in the person of Nebuchadnezzar. In both ways he failed, that is, in the Jews, and in the representative of the imperial power. Christ came. Satan risked everything in getting rid of Christ, but it only ended in his own defeat; still he is for a time left to lead the world out of which Christ has been cast, which, in its universal and varied forms, is the instrument of Satan (as we see at the
Lord's crucifixion). Satan, the prince of this world, came and found nothing in Christ; but the chief priests, Pharisees, Pontius Pilate, Jews, and Gentile power were all led of him. And even His own disciples forsook Him, through their dread of Satan's power manifested in the world. In a word, the whole world was led by Satan to reject Christ, and from that moment Satan is the manifested prince of this world: for until Christ was rejected by the world, Satan could not be displayed as the world's prince. And the Lord owned him such, calling him " the prince of this world, saying, Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out." " The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me."
The church of God has been taken entirely out of the world to be associated with God's Prince in heaven; therefore Christians have no business to be dwelling, as their place of abode, their home, where Satan's throne is, living in the world and as the world. But, alas! the church has practically slipped off from " holding the Head," and has taken an earthly character. If " to me to live is Christ," it is not Christ to be standing in worldly religion; for man in the flesh must have something between him and the Head. The difference between the Christian and the religion of the world is of the most absolute character. " If ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living [that is, alive] in the world, are ye subject to ordinances? " A man in the world must have ordinances. How can he get on religiously without them? But ordinances are not Christ; they have been nailed to His cross. There is no possibility of escaping the religion of the world, ordinances, and the like, but by knowing and walking in the power of a dead and risen Christ. Man in the flesh must have a religion of ordinances between him and God; but if united to the Head in heaven, nothing can be wanting to bring him nearer, for he is one with Christ; and if he is not one with the Head, then he is separated from Christ. Put anything whatever between Christ and the soul, and all is gone. The position then becomes a totally different one.
This corrupt tendency to association with the world brought in persecution, but with it the suited promise, " Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." It is quite true that the Lord causes trial, but never do you find that there is with Him any moral acquiescence in evil. He cannot tempt by evil doctrine. The Lord had taught them the evil of this corrupting association with the world, by turning it into a persecuting world; but He could not send Balaam's evil teaching; for it would be impossible to talk of Christ's sending moral temptation as a rod for the correction of the saints. He may permit it in His holy wisdom. The effort of the enemy in Pergamos would not like the tribulation spoken of in Smyrna. Balaam would associate them religiously with the world-a sadder evil than Satan's openly persecuting power.
In Ephesus, we had the first point of departure, leaving their " first love." In Smyrna they were put into the furnace. Persecution had not attained Satan's ends-faithfulness even unto death had crowned the sufferers with a martyr's honor: but here a new danger arises. They were dwelling where Satan's throne is. The world is the place of Satan's throne; and now corruption, pleasing to the flesh, associating the church with the world, is taught. The enemy is working within. " Thou hast them that hold the doctrine of Balaam."
Thus there is an amazing and most instructive difference between the persecution of Smyrna and the seduction of Pergamos. In Smyrna the Lord says, " The devil shall cast some of you into prison that you may be tried. Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life." " I have died for you, and now do you be faithful unto death for me." In Smyrna the Lord would not step in to hinder the consequences of the position they were in, but turned them to the maintaining the declining church in its own true character, giving the assurance of the everlasting and heavenly promise, a crown to the faithful. But in Pergamos, the fact of their dwelling in the place where Satan's throne was shows itself in another way. And the Lord could not, without judging the world itself, remove the snare by acting on the world itself. You have got satanic subtlety acting in concert with the world, and by its spirit in the church-a false prophet leading it into association with the place of Satan's throne where it dwelt-the world that had ceased to be a persecutor. You have got Balaam there; not Jezebel yet.
A most terrible and frightful character is that of Balaam. The question had been already raised on the ground of Israel's failure, whether God would bring them into the land-whether Satan, through his instruments, Balak and Balaam, could hinder Israel's entrance into Canaan. The effort was to get Jehovah to curse Israel, but they could not. For, as between Him and the accuser, " God saw no perverseness in Israel," neither was there any possibility of using Satan's power against the people of God, as Balaam said, " There is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel." God held Balaam's lips and forced him to speak blessings instead of cursings, in spite of himself. " Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." When the devil comes as an adversary, he has no power; the secret of his power lies in coming in as a tempter and seducer. When Satan could not prevail in getting Jehovah to curse Israel, he seduced them into wickedness, leading them " to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication "; and then how could the holy God bring them in? (See Num. 25)
In Pergamos, Satan comes within the church as a seducing Satan; while in Smyrna, Satan keeps outside the church as the persecuting Satan. Therefore in Smyrna they are exhorted, " Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer." Weakness is in " fear "; the danger is in fear. When the saint is out of the persecution, he often trembles as he looks at it and becomes frightened; but when once he is thoroughly in it, if he has faith, he looks out of it up to God and finds he never was so happy. Thus he is separated from the world and made to feel what his own proper portion is. But as the church of God is dwelling on Satan's territory, if he has not this persecuting character, then he gives her as much of the world as he can (for, as Satan says, " all that is delivered unto me,' and to whomsoever I will I give it "); and if it can be said of the world, that " thou hast made the church rich," then the world will have the heart of the church, instead of her risen Head, "for where your treasure is, there also will your heart be." Balaam was a prophet, though a false one, and could use the name of Jehovah, and declare he must speak by His word only; and we find his spirit here coming within the church to make it at ease in the world. The wicked servant (who said in his heart, " My lord delayeth his coming, and began to eat and drink with the drunken ") was treated as a servant still, though a wicked one. If Satan can only make a Christian comfortable in the world, his end is gained. Then they might go and eat in the idol temple, etc.
In Nicolaitanism we have the flesh acting in the church of God; and in Balaam it is the spirit of the world, brought in by the false prophet, coining in, and in a seducing way, to bring the church into league with the world, to make the church quiet and comfortable in the world that killed Christ.
We get, a teacher here, a kind of religious instructor; as it says, " them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel." " So also hast thou them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate." In the former case, in Ephesus, it was " the deeds of the Nicolaitanes "; but here it is a doctrine allowing of evil deeds-antinomianism and worse-that which was not against the law only, but against Christ, internal corruption connected with, and helped on by, association with the world without. It is very sad (and our hearts ought to bear the burden of what passes within the church) to see how the church still declined, after tribulation had brightened it up for God after its commencing failure at Ephesus (for the root of evil was there), and returning ease made it content to dwell where Satan's throne was, and then, of course, the door was opened for evil doctrine, false teaching, connecting fleshliness with spirituality, which is antinomianism. Satan did not desire to persecute where he could corrupt; for Satan's persecutions only brighten the soul up for God, while the seducing corruptions of Satan imperceptibly separate the soul from God. There was not yet the full ripeness of wickedness as in Jezebel's time, but only the teaching the doctrine which allowed these evil deeds; but in the next church we see there are children born of this evil, the evil being their moral birth-place.
We see the Lord's eye and heart had followed them to where they dwelt, even to Satan's throne, as He said, " I know where thou dwellest "; and from thence (that is, from the spirit of association with it) He would call them with this word of warning, " Repent, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth." Here the word is spoken of judicially as a sword out of Christ's mouth. In such a state of things the word of God is the source to which the saint is drawn. The promises now become much more individual: " To him that overcometh, will I give to eat of the hidden manna." It was hidden faithfulness which was to be sustained by the promise of this hidden manna (seen indeed in one sense, because the fruits would be manifested to all around). The church as a body was dwelling in the world; then, as a necessary consequence, comes the secret life of the heart of the faithful soul with God in the power of the word. It is the inward link with that which never changes in its character, sustaining secret fidelity to God. And what a difference is this from the judicial use of the word-the being fought against by the sword of Christ's mouth (the living members being associated with the Christ who suffered on earth, but is now in heaven)!
The manna signifies the Son of God become incarnate to give life to our souls, His entering in humiliation into all our circumstances, and is the provision for the daily walk through the wilderness: for we find the manna spoken of in connection with Jesus as the living bread sent down from heaven. " This is the true bread which cometh down from heaven," John 6. But what then is the hidden manna? The manna for Israel was spread around the camp; and they were to gather it daily for their food. And so likewise is Christ to be the daily provision of the soul while in this wilderness world; but this is not the hidden manna. There was to be a golden pot of manna laid up before God, and when the Israelites had got into the land, they were to have the memorial of what they had enjoyed in the wilderness. This hidden manna is the remembrance of a suffering Christ down here-the memory of what Christ has been in the wilderness, as a man, an humbled, suffering man, and who is God's eternal delight in heaven; and in our eternal state, he that has overcome, he that has been faithful in separation with Christ from the world, will have the everlasting enjoyment of fellowship with God in His delight in a once humbled Christ-the same kind of delight, although in a different measure. If we are walking faithfully with a rejected Christ, instead of letting Balaam into our hearts, we shall enjoy Christ thus down here in spirit; but we cannot enjoy Christ in our souls, if we are mixed up with ungodliness in the world: if we pretend to it, then it becomes Nicolaitanism. But in proportion as we get and apprehend the secret of what Christ was in the world, in our souls, shall we feed upon Him; but this cannot be, if we are walking in the spirit of the world. Even the presentation of Christ in the gospels we cannot enjoy, unless it is as food for the soul. A man may say that truth is very beautiful; but if it only feeds the imagination, it does him no good. God did not give His Son to suffer down here, and then to be played with, but to feed upon.
The " white stone " gives the general idea of a vote in favor of any one; it is the secret mark of approbation from one to another. There are public joys in heaven common to all, thousands and thousands of voices in communion and praise, echoing the song of praise. And there are joys we share in Christ together here; but He must have our individual affections as well as our common affections. My own peculiar joy in Christ you can never know, neither can I ever taste yours; and this is true of the highest affections. " A new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it." That name would have no meaning for anybody else but him to whom it is given. Christ reveals Himself to the soul in such sort that a stranger intermeddleth not with its joy. Individual joy, personal communion, is distinct from, though it enhances, the universal joy; and that individual joy which we know down here will never be interrupted. This promise, as do all those to the churches, relates to the future time of heavenly blessing; but it is also the source of joy and strength now. The Spirit of God makes us anticipate the day. We may have now in spirit this " white stone " from Christ, this secret expression of His grace and love, which others cannot have for me, neither can I have it for them. How this makes this " white stone " worth everything else! What a secret source of strength it is, even though all the world think me wrong, if I have the white stone of Christ's approbation, acquired in following the word, but known in the heart! But, I say again, I must judge all by the word, that sword of His mouth that disarms and purges all the workings of Balaam. Then I do not mind-let the world talk about things as it pleases, Christ has talked to me, and in the coming day of glory will own all He has said to me.
It is sorrowful enough what a Balaam is teaching in the church; but then, mark, there cannot be any trouble among the saints that does not bring out the faithfulness of Him who waits to bless the " overcomer," and thus bring the soul into communion with Christ in a way that nothing else could. For nothing gives the blessed consciousness of Christ's approbation as between the soul and Himself, like faithfulness where evil begins to corrupt. If it is false teaching within, the word (as in persecution, and with all else) is " Overcome." He that has an ear to hear what the Spirit saith to the churches is to be overcoming that evil whatever it be that besets the church.
Thyatira. The hour forbids my doing more than just looking for a moment at Thyatira. You get this difference when Jezebel comes in; it is a prophetess still, but she herself becomes the mother of children; a whole class of persons are born of this corruption. Of persons who were dallying with this corruption and evil (as well as souls simply led astray) He says, " These will I punish except they repent." But those whose moral existence is derived from this corruption, I will kill them-as He says, " I will kill her children with death." But the moment you get this condition of the church, as the begetter of corruption, then comes in the judgment of the nations: " as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers "; and the heart of the believer is led to the coming of the Lord, " I will give him the morning star."
I am glad to close with this promise, it is full of blessing. Meanwhile the Lord Himself becomes to us the hidden manna. May He give to us and all His saints to avoid everything like Balaam's spirit and teaching. We are one with Jesus, members of His body; we are of His flesh, and of His bones, and nothing but this union with Christ will abide; as the knowledge of our union with Christ, and the realization of it in our souls, is the only safeguard against the seducing spirit of the day in which we live. The Lord give us to be faithful to this blessed truth of being one with Him who is at God's right hand. Then people may try to get between me and God by their ordinances or their priesthood; but I can say, " No; I am brought too near to God for you to come between us; and also too near to God for you to bring me nearer. There is where grace has set me; and all else is but pitiable nonsense."
We are called upon to judge evil in the church, for God cannot accept Balaam and Jezebel, if we can. Therefore, may the Lord give us to remember that failure within the church is to be judged. We are called specially to take heed to this in the day in which we live, that the church, being itself under judgment, cannot be a guarantee for faith or anything else whatever.