History of the Church
WHAT BRINGS THE TIME OF HIS PATIENCE TO AN END
(Rev. iii. 14-22).
WE now come, beloved friends, the solemn close of all; and
it is very striking that it comes immediately after the epistle to
Philadelphia, in which more than a little gleam of light and blessing shone
out. The two things are very closely connected: the blessing of the church in
Philadelphia really leads us, in a sense, to the judgment of the church in
The great feature in the address to Laodicea is that they are lukewarm - neither cold nor hot. Surely, we may say, we have had the cold state in Sardis: death is cold enough. We have had in Philadelphia the Lord reviving things - something which we may call heat. Now the mixture of these two things produces this lukewarmness of which He speaks. It is not heat, as in Philadelphia; it is not cold, as in Sardis; but, so to speak, the effect of the heat is only sufficient to change the cold into lukewarm - nothing more. There has been the effect of the truth, - the truth must always have effect, - Gods word never returns to Him void, without doing something, without making its mark on souls in some way. But then, it may make its mark in two ways. It may be in blessing, as God designs. Oh, surely, what He wants is blessing; but, on the other hand, if it is not received so as to become blessing, what then? It has effect still, but in increased responsibility and corresponding judgment. And if Christianity fails (for it is the history of professing Christianity that we have been looking at) - if Christianity fails, if, when God brings forth the treasures of divine truth, yet there is no due reception, no blessing for the mass, no real revival at large is produced by it, what then? He has nothing else to do - judgment must come. He must wind up the whole state of things.
You see, if there was law and that failed, as you know it did fail (that is, of course, when men failed, under it and were convicted by it, as transgressors) - if the law failed, God had something else to bring in - the precious grace of Christianity. And this He did, while neverthelessless judging the apostate state of things in Judaism. Still God came in, and gave the more "precious faith" of Christianity. If Christianity fails now, what has He to do? what has He to bring in more? If His truth, before tried, and now re-tried (His twofold witness), is not sufficient to revive things, what then? Well, the case is just what you find in the twenty-sixth of Isaiah: "Let favour be showed to the wicked" (that is, grace - it is the same word) - " Let grace be shown to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness." And what then? "When Thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." That is what we have here - judgment must come because grace has been refused: because it has accomplished nothing as to the world at large, He must take the rod of iron: because His Word and His Spirit have been rejected, He must come with the rod of iron to beat down opposition.
But notice what is here very striking: it is not merely that God has been giving His truth afresh and it has been refused; it has been taken, or there would be no heat in Laodicea; there would be nothing but the coldness of Sardis. There has been effect. The truth has been taken, but for what has it been taken? Alas! instead of to judge man, and to bring all his high thoughts down in the presence of God that he might be lifted up and blessed, it has been taken by man in order to exalt himself with it. He has thereby become "rich and increased with goods, and has need for nothing." In his own thought he is so; whereas he is really "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." That is the striking feature we have here. Christ Himself is not; connected with the truth. The truth has been taken, and people flatter themselves upon having it; they are rich, and increased with goods. They have got a much, but have not got Christ. He is outside, though He stands at the door and knocks, still offering to come in; if anybody will open the door, He will come in, and sup with him, and he with Him. On the other hand, if Christ be outside the door, man can do in His absence what in His presence he could not do: he can dress himself up with the truth God has given him for another purpose - glorifying himself instead of God.
The Lord therefore presents Himself as the One, so to speak, who had done all He could, and all had failed.
He is "the Amen," the faithful and true witness: He has not failed.
He is the "Amen." You find in the second epistle to the Corinthians, the first chapter, how the apostle speaks of the word he preached as having that character, of yea and amen: because in Christ is yea; in Christ is never yea and nay. No uncertainty or doubtfulness was there in Christ or His word; He was always simply positive "yea " - always speaking one thing, and absolutely to be depended upon. If we have only one word, it is a blessed reality given us in Gods infinite love, which we may hang our souls upon for eternity, and which will never fail us. The character of Christ should stamp itself upon the Christian; Christ as seen in His Word should be exhibited in His people; but if, as here so sadly in Laodicea, they have not been faithful, nevertheless He abides faithful: He is the Amen, the "faithful and true Witness." The Church has been anything but that. He is just about to remove the candlestick, because they are untrue and unfaithful; but the Lord has not failed, and He therefore presents Himself as one absolutely true and trustworthy. And that, we can say, is our joy and comfort in the midst of the failure of everything in the present day. His peoples shortcoming is not His own. Infidelity may seek to justify itself by the failure of Christians; and even Christians, alas, are capable, in the general wreck, of almost charging it upon Himself. But no, He abideth faithful; He cannot deny Himself. He is the "faithful and true witness."
Again, He is "the beginning of the creation of God:" that is a most important thing. You see in all these addresses the Lord brings out that in Himself which bears upon and meets the state before Him. So here He is not only the faithful and true witness, but He is the be ginning of the creation of God. The old creation, spoiled by sin, is passing away; its history is completed in Gods sight, and judgment has been pronounced in the cross of Christ. Christ risen from the dead is not the mending of the old creation, but the bringing in of the new creation. In Him, risen from the dead, is all that God owns as really His, first and always in His thought, and for which the ruin of the old only prepared the way.
When the psalmist lifted up his eyes to heaven, and, in view of Gods glorious handiwork there, exclaimed, "What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? - the son of man, that Thou visitest him?" the answer is, "Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels." But made whom? He is speaking, not of the first man, but the second - the One in whom alone his true ideal of man is realized - the One of whom Adam the first was but the fleeting image, and even the contrast too.
Now, if that be so, just notice the remarkable words used here of the state of things in Laodicea; for it is evident that, while keeping Christ outside, they are taking the truth He gave and dressing themselves up with it, counting themselves rich and increased with goods; that is, taking Gods truth in order to build up the old creation, not the new. It is an exceedingly solemn thing to see that the very truth which God has brought out in order to judge man by is the very truth he uses for the purpose of self-gratulation. If you take the law, how has man used the law? God gave it "that every mouth might be stopped," as the apostle says, "and that all the world might become guilty before God" (Rom. iii.). How has man used it? You know he has used it to establish his own righteousness by it: instead of taking it to condemn, he has used it for the very opposite. And so, exactly, with Christianity: God has brought in the truth of the new creation, the world before Him lying under death and judgment. And yet man would take the blessed truth of Christianity and dress up the old creation with it, and patch up the world, making it better if he can. That is, alas, what he is doing on every side; and men are vaunting the success of the effort.
You know what progress people think they are making - how much better the world is; and they hope the Millennium is not far off. The gospel is going to have its effect because the churches are filled, and they have a good deal of money to send abroad, a good many Bibles for the heathen - all mere external things, which show nothing. You can buy all kinds of Bibles for so much money, but you cannot buy the Spirit of God for so much money.
No doubt Gods Spirit is really and largely working, but His end and mans end are diverse thus far that, while He is converting souls to "deliver them out of this present evil world," mans thought is an improved world, a Christian world: the effect of which is only to amalgamate Christians and the world, and spoil the scriptural character of Christianity altogether.
But in these last days God has given many to recognize at least the truth in His Word as to this. Again He has revived the truth of the new creation, and revealed to us the practical and fruitful consequences which result from a place in Christ, where He is, in the heavens. Beloved friends, what are we doing with this truth we recognize? Are we talking of being in Christ, a new creation, old things passed away and all things become new, and yet clinging with all our might to what has in it all the moral elements that make up the world - "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life?" Rank, station, birth, riches, worldly position - what are all these to us? Whether we be high or low, or rich or poor, the question applies alike. Are these things "gain" to us? Do they count for something in our estimation? Or, the things that were "gain" to us, are they counted truthfully all "loss for Christ?" Are we "renewed in knowledge, after the image of Him that created us, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is ALL and in all?" Is this theory with us, or is it practical reality? Has the Lord any need to appeal to us as the One who is "the beginning of the creation of God?" If so, is not Laodiceanism with us in that proportion?
For, certain it is that, as Philadelphia sets before us that true "brotherly love" which springs from our apprehension of a relationship which we have towards one an other in Christ and with God, so this fatal closing word "Laodicea" speaks of that which is the entire opposite of such apprehension. Laodicea means "peoples right," not Christs glory. It represents a claim which belongs entirely to the old creation, and not the new - a claim which sets aside the meaning of the Cross as the judgment and setting aside of the first Adam and his issue, and, of course, equally ignores the blessed place which we have of grace, in Christ. But we shall have to look at this again before we close. Let us go on now with the Lords address.
* From laos (people) and dike (right).
He says: "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot."
So then He does not accept lukewarm Laodicea as an improvement upon the coldness of Sardis. And why?
Because the heat is not the heat of revival, but of declension. It is the final product of what He had given to bring about a totally different one. The failure is after repeated, exhaustive trial. It is the failure of all the highest, richest, and most wonderful truth - Gods heart poured out without reserve to man, that we might know Him, enjoy Him, be at home with Him. It is the turning back of heart in the very presence of an opened heaven, to take up with the paint and tinsel of the world. Therefore He says: "So then because thou art luke- warm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of My mouth."
This is the solemn end of professing Christendom. Of course He will not spew His own beloved people out of His mouth. He must take these first of all to Himself before He can reject the whole mass as nauseous to Him. And we have already seen in the address to Philadelphia that the Lord tells them He is coming quickly, and that He will keep them out of the hour of temptation coming upon all the world. Not merely out of the temptation, - He might hide them in the desert so, - but out of the hour. Thus He must take them to Himself out of the world altogether. That is what "I come quickly" also intimates.
Here, then, we have the brief solemn pause before the Lord takes His people to Himself. He must do this before the professing body is spewed out of His mouth. He cannot so reject even the poorest, weakest, and most wayward of His own. And it is important to insist upon this, because there is abroad a view according to which only a class of better than ordinary Christians will be taken up when the Lord comes, while the rest will be left on earth to go through the tribulation which follows this, when the earth is enduring the vials of His wrath. They point to the promise to Philadelphia as in this way the promise to a special class. And the ten virgins of our Lords parable they speak of as all Christians, (as they bring the fact of their being "virgins" forward to prove) only foolish Christians, unwatchful and unready, with the oil of the Spirit in their lamps, indeed, but no extra supply in their "vessels." Thus their lamps, which had been burning, cease to burn at last, and the fresh supply of oil they get is obtained too late for admission to the marriage. The Lord rejects them as His bride only: they lose their place in that, and are shut out to be purified by tribulation, and made ready for the Kingdom afterwards.
But how many precious realities must be denied by those who hold this view! Is it our faithfulness, then, that gives us a part among those who are dignified with the title of the Bride of Christ? Is the Lord, when He comes, indeed going to discriminate in this way between less and more faithfulness? - between ordinary and extraordinary Christians? What an engine for turning the blessed and purifying hope into a means of self- occupation and despair! If I am to be one of these more than ordinary Christians to be acknowledged by Him, where is the line to be drawn, and on which side of it am I? Is my joyful expectation of this blessed time to be based upon my belief in my own superiority to the many of my brethren? What comfortable Pharisaism, or what legal distress, must such a view involve!
If true, why should such a discrimination be made between the living saints alone? Why should it not equally affect the dead? And then, what is to purify these?
As to Scripture, the support it gives to any such view is only apparent, and results from an interpretation of single passages which is at issue with its plainest doctrinal teaching. The coming of the Lord to remove His saints is not, in Scripture, ever connected even with our responsibilities and their adjustment, but with the fulfilment of the hope wherewith grace has inspired us. Our responsibilities and the reward of our works are ever connected with that which is called the appearing, or manifestation, or revelation of Christ - His coming with His saints, not for them. At the door of the Fathers house to which He welcomes us when He comes, no sentry stands. We go into it as purged by the precious blood of Christ, and in Christ. Already are we not only entitled, but "meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."
When He comes to the world, and His people take their places with Him as associated with His government, then dignities, honors, rewards of work, will find their place. It will be "Have thou authority over ten" - " Be thou also over five cities." We cannot keep these things too distinct in our minds. Salvation, righteousness, the childs place with the Father, membership of the body of Christ, our relationship to Christ as His bride, - nay, also our being "kings and priests unto His God and Father," are things which are neither gained nor lost by work of ours at all. Christ has procured them for us, and grace bestows them - grace, and grace alone.
When the Lord Himself, therefore, descends from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, is there discrimination among those in Christ - of the dead, who shall be raised - of the living, who shall be changed? Nay, but "the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we be ever with the Lord." Blessed words, how they pierce through and scatter the chilling fogs of legalism, and make "the blessed hope," not a means of sorest perplexity and doubt, but "hope" indeed!
Nor are the passages upon which these writers build in contradiction at all. The promise to the overcomer at Philadelphia is one of a class which, as the eye runs over them throughout these apocalyptic addresses, show plainly that they apply more or less to every true believer. Take the promise to him at Ephesus, and ask, will any believer not "eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God?" Take that to Smyrna, and ask, will any one "be hurt of the second death?" And so on through the remainder. To the least believer something surely of tile spirit of the overcomer belongs: and while the promises suit themselves as encouragements to faith, adapted to the special condition of things pointed out, yet we know that the fruit of the tree of life, and deliverance from the second death, are not the result of any performances of ours, or any faithfulness on our part, but of His work, and of His grace alone.
Again, as to the ten virgins, it is a mistake to suppose that in that character Christians are represented as espoused to Christ at all. The virgins who go forth to meet the bridegroom are not the bride, and to put them in that place disjoints the parable. According to the whole tenor of the prophecy of these chapters, the Jewish people and the earth are the objects mainly in view, and the parable of the virgins parenthetically brings in the connection of Christians with it. The Lord is coming to take a Jewish bride, according to the common language of the Old Testament prophets. On His way to do this, His people of the present time are called up to meet Him, and to return with Him. So much is implied in the expression in the Greek. It is when He is come, then, to earth that the foolish virgins are rejected; not rejected as His bride, but are cast out of His Kingdom altogether. The parable is a parable of the Kingdom; and the Kingdom in the parables embraces the whole field of profession. "Virgins," "servants," and such-like titles in them, merely intimate the responsible profession, not necessarily the truth. He was a servant who had laid up his lords money in a napkin, and never really served at all. He was a servant, but a wicked one; and so with these foolish virgins.
As to oil, they are expressly stated to have taken no oil with them; and the Lords words of rejection, "I know you not," are decisive from One who "knoweth them that are His," and could never disown them.
No, He cannot spew His own out of His mouth; He must take them out of what He is going to judge, before the first hot drops of the storm of judgment fall. Even then it will be made publicly manifest, before He rejects the public professing body, how really they have, on their part, rejected Him. Christendom ends in open apostasy. The day of the Lord will not come except there be a falling away first, and the man of sin be revealed. Popery, evil as it is, and antichristian too, is not the last evil, nor the worst. It is the harlot woman, not the man. It has been revealed over three hundred years at least, and the day of the Lord is not yet come. The Antichrist will deny the Father and the Son alike.
How solemn to contemplate this last end of what began so differently! How, above all, solemn to consider that, both at the beginning, and again at the end, the sin and failure of His own people is that which initiates and completes the ruin! Who can doubt that Christians every where are taking up this self-complacent utterance - "rich, and increased with goods, and in need of nothing?" Who cannot see that truth is being taken up as a form of godliness apart from power, apart from all the practical results that should flow from it? And who but can see, that has eyes to see at all, that that is the most terrible and hopeless sign of all, when the salt wherewith the mass should be salted, is losing its savour and becoming powerless to act for God at all?
Ah, it is one thing to appreciate the comfort of the gospel, and the blessings which it procures for man, and it is another to accept honestly the level to which the gospel reduces all, and the place before God in Christ which brings poor and rich, and high and low, to a perfect equality, the rich rejoicing in that he is made low, as the brother of low degree in his exaltation.
Do we not want, all of us, to be reminded of what passed between the emulous disciples and their Lord on the solemn journey up to Jerusalem, when the cross was before the Masters face, but even its gaunt shadow could not still the contentious rivalry among His followers for the places on His right hand and His left, in His Kingdom? "You are making it a kingdom of the Gentiles!" is what He virtually says to them. "You are thinking of earthly place such as in these - of what would satisfy ambition and self-seeking greed! Do you think these are the places that are Mine to give? No; with Me the highest is the lowest; the greatness is in lowliest service; the blessedness is in giving, not receiving; the highest there - He (unchanged in spirit still) who as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many."
And then, as to our personal relationship to Christ, it is need that brings us to Him first, and makes us to know Him; and in His presence the sense of need, need met by Him, is ever maintained. It does not discourage us, for His grace is sufficiency; but it is only in weakness that His strength is made perfect still. "Rich, and increased with goods, and in need of nothing," is what no soul in the presence of Christ can say. Rich He is; and for us those riches are available; but the richer He is in our eyes, the poorer we are in our own. We can only keep the Laodicean condition by keeping the Lord outside our door.
And is there not a creed everywhere, largely professed among those who claim to be in some sort the very leaders of the Christianity of the day, which comes very near indeed to Laodicean profession? How could the claim to be rich and increased in goods, and in need of nothing, be more really made than by those who claim for themselves "perfection?"
Perfection! What do they mean by it? That they walk in very deed and truth just "as Christ walked?" That is the Christian standard; we cannot, with Scripture before us, make it lower than that. But will anybody say that even for a single day, aye, for a single hour, he has walked just as Christ walked?
I know there is Scripture for the word. The devil, in deceiving Christians, will always take Scripture, if he can, to accomplish his purpose. But the Scripture term does not mean what in the dialect of the so-called "higher life" it is made to mean. Take one of the strongest texts used, "Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect:" the context shows decisively what is meant. We speak of a thing as perfect that has all its parts, without at all regarding the finish of the parts. So the Lord tells us that as children we must resemble our Father, and for this exhibit the different features of our Fathers character. We must not only love those who love us, but, as He makes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust, we must exhibit this feature of His character also: not righteousness alone, but also love.
"Perfection" is also used for the mature Christian condition, as a glance at the margin of Heb. v. 14. will show. The term there "of full age" is in the margin rendered "perfect," just as in I Cor. xiv. 20, "be men" is in the margin "perfect," or "of a ripe age." It is used thus with two applications. In Hebrews Christianity itself is perfection, or maturity, in contrast with Judaism, which was a state of childhood. But again, among Christians there are those perfect, or mature, in contrast with being "babes;" and the apostle Paul, in the third of Philippians, (in which he disclaims the having already attained, or being already "perfect" - a consummation which in that sense he would not reach until with Christ in glory,) classes himself immediately after among those who had in another sense attained: "Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded."
There are many texts, which I cannot now go through, but this should be sufficient to prevent the catching at a word, as people are prone to do. Plenty about perfection there is in Scripture, no doubt; but, as I said before, if people set up any standard of practical perfection short of walking as Christ walked, they are really lowering it. If, on the other hand, they can measure themselves with Christ and feel no rebuke, they must be more than credibly self-complacent.
Mischief is wrought two ways by the idea. In the first place, it tends to palliate sin, excuse or cover it by misleading names. Lust is called temptation, and sometimes even daring dishonour done to Christ Himself by the insinuation that He too was thus in like manner "tempted." So people quote "He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin," as if it meant that He had such inward desires, only restrained them, so that there was no actual outbreak. This - the actual blasphemy of Irving and of Thomas - in milder and less positive forms infests masses in the present day. The text they quote, in the common version, favours these views too much. There is no word "yet" in the original, as any one may see by the italics. "He was tempted in all points like as we are, apart from sin," is the true rendering. You must not imply sin in any way in the Holy One of God! Sin it is that produces lust, and lust, again, brings forth the positive outward sin. He had neither, and herein was our total opposite, as Scripture testifies "in many things we all offend."
But, again, the character of holiness is sadly spoiled by this perfectionism. It becomes self-occupation, self assertion. How much of Christ really do you find in the experiences so largely dealt in by those who advocate this doctrine? Is it, with the apostle, "not I, but Christ liveth in me," or is it, alas, a glorified, transfigured, very self-conscious I that lives and reigns throughout them? They do not see that as the natural life, in a state of health, does not engross or claim the attention, - as the hearts pulsation or the lungs work is not furthered but disturbed by thinking of it, - so this aim at a self-conscious holiness produces but a poor, sickly Christianity at best. Is it far off from that which says, I am rich, and have need of nothing?
"I counsel thee," says the Lord to Laodicea, - "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; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see."
Three things they are exhorted to "buy." So wealthy are they, the Lord will not talk of giving to them. And, indeed, it would be a happy thing for them to exchange their riches for them - false glitter for true gold. This is the first thing, gold - a frequent symbol in Scripture, as you know; pure gold, as here, "gold tried in the fire," for what is divine. In the ark of the testimony, and in the furniture of the holy places generally, gold covered all. The apostle, I believe, gives us the exact meaning when he speaks of the golden cherubim as "the cherubim of glory, shadowing the mercy-seat." This "glory" is the display of what God is. God glorifies Himself when He shines out in the blessed reality of what He is, and Christ is the true ark in which the two materials are found together - gold and shittim-wood. The radiance of divine glory is the gold; the shittim- wood, the precious verity of manhood.
Can we not see why, to Laodicea, the "gold tried in the fire" is the first requisite? Their riches were but paper money, manufactured out of the rags of self-righteousness, and of merely conventional, not intrinsic value. Christ is what they lacked: divine glory, in the only face in which it shines undimmed. This is the power of Christianity, its essence and its power alike; and this is what the false, pretentious Christianity of Laodicea lacked so terribly - occupation with Christ, discernment of what and where all that is true and valuable is to be found. To know where this is, is to have it. Faith, it is that finds this treasure. To be without it is to be poor indeed. Next, "white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed," is, no doubt, practical righteousness of life and walk.
There is a connection between this and the former, which, when we have their meaning, becomes evident enough. Unless you have the divine glory shining in the face of Jesus for your soul, you will find no ability to live or walk aright. The "white" is the reflection of the full, undivided ray of light; and God is light. How is our life to be the reflection of this except as "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, shine in our hearts, to give out the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ"? Leviticus must precede Numbers ever. We must go in to see God in the sanctuary before we can possibly come out and walk with Him in the world.
Finally, "anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see." Thus there was utter blindness - the condition of the Pharisees over again, for they surely did not realize it, but said, "We see;" and thus their sin remained. Had they been consciously blind, Christ was there to heal. But they, alas, needed not the Physician.
Still He says: "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me." To the last, He holds out a gracious invitation. His heart lingers while there is yet possibility of response on their part. But the day of grace is just about to end. If the words we have been considering find the parallel I have been drawing, if it be not untruly drawn, then we are surely near that end! Who can tell how near?
Before I close, however, I must return to that significant word which describes so vividly the moral, spiritual, aye, and political character of the latter days - "the church of the Laodiceans" - the men who claim "peoples rights." Ominous name! Terrible claim when uttered in the ears of a God strong and holy if yet so patient, and provoked every day. It is a claim which denies the fall and its sentence, confirmed by countless individual sins - the claim of a world which has refused and crucified the Son of God come into it in loving mercy!
Let us look at it politically, for its political aspect is not without the deepest significance. Are not everywhere the nations quaking at the prospect of an uprise of the masses with this very watchword? When democracy meant only the curbing of the despotic power of rulers; when it meant still respect for wealth and rank, and law and order, they could rejoice over it, and cite it as the evidence of morally improved times. Arbitrary power only was to be restrained; there was to be equal justice, and quietness and assurance as the effect of righteousness. No doubt the abuse of power had been great enough to provoke reprisals, and to make the downfall of absolutism an apparent real advancement. But man was and is the same; and the mistake has been ever to suppose that alterations of this kind could really heal or touch a moral state which was the essence of the trouble. The leprosy, skinned over here, would break out elsewhere, for it was deeper than the surface - in the blood - in the vitals of humanity itself.
Who could say where the movement for mens rights should stop? Who could say to the restless surge of the sea, Come no further! Here shall thy waves be stayed? There were, and there are still, infinite and gigantic evils, - the power and abuse of wealth, for instance, - tyrannies which no form of government devised had touched or could take into account. What does every mans right to his own imply? What is his own? Is his right to use it to include a right to the enormous abuse of it which self-interest with power at its back will always make? Whose rights are to be respected when they come in conflict?
And from a lower level than before come murmurs, hoarse and threatening: socialism, communism, nihilism, anarchism - dread names, not merely for the monarch, but also for the man of property and the law-abiding citizen. "Peoples rights" threaten to be in terrible conflict with one another, and in their name how many wrongs to be inflicted! This is the Laodicea of politics, which is destined to be the rock on which governmental reform will surely split, and end in anarchy and chaos. "And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; mens hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken."
But the removal of the things that can be shaken will only make way for a Kingdom - not such as they anticipate, but absolute, which admits of no dispute, and righteous altogether. How comforting to turn from the thoughts that have engaged us, and think of the contrast to all rule the world has ever seen! "He shall judge Thy people with righteousness, and Thy poor with judgment. The mountains shall bring peace to the people; and the little hills by righteousness. He shall judge the poor of the people; He shall save the children of the needy, and break in pieces the oppressor. . . . In His days shall the righteous flourish, and abundance of peace as long as the moon endureth. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth. All kings shall fall down before Him; all nations shall serve Him."
Politically, the Laodician condition closes also the present state of things.
In another phase of it we shall find Laodicea characterizing, the ecclesiastical state. The political aspect, when Church and state have come so near together, naturally affects the ecclesiastical aspect too. Democracy is manifesting itself unmistakably in this sphere also. The people are rising up against the long rule of their spiritual leaders, and are claiming their rights at the hands of these. But they are not content with what is their just due here: they must be lords of their former masters. They pay their ministers; and who is the real master - be who pays, or he who is paid? Having control of the purse-strings, they see no reason why they should not choose their pastor as they choose their lawyer or their doctor. But this means that preachers must preach to please them: their doctrines, their style, must approve themselves to the criticism of their hearers. And thus, alas, Scripture is being more and more fulfilled which, prophesying of the last days, says: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables."
You know that I am advocating no spiritual aristocracy in saying this. People would accuse me, perhaps, of the opposite extreme. But in truth both are alike unscriptural. Neither aristocracy nor democracy is Gods principle, but a true theocracy. Christ is alone master - not clergy, not people. Ministers are but "servants," as the very name imports; but not "servants of men " - against which the apostle, as you will remember, so vehemently contends. "If I yet pleased men," says he, "I should not be the servant of Christ." Thus are these two things in essential opposition. Christ needs to be in His true place, which Laodiceanism, here as elsewhere, excludes Him from. Bring Christ in, and the ministers are His servants. Bring Christ in, and the people are His people. His service, on the part of all alike, is true and perfect freedom alike to all.
You will understand me when I say that I rejoice to see the pernicious distinction between clergy and laity being in some measure done away. I rejoice in the free evangelizing which is going on in almost all denominations: I rejoice to see Christs people taking their true place, as a distinctive priesthood in relation to Him, and vested rights of clerisy being done away. Only let Gods word settle all: let Christ have His sovereign rights: Laodiceanism will be then impossible.
But, finally, let us never forget there is a spiritual Laodicea. And this, too, in a double way. It may be purely spiritual: and here perfectionism, which we have glanced at, is plainly one form. Another, upon a lower plane, is to be found in that spirit which contents itself with outward church prosperity; and, neglecting divine measurement, seeing the Church and the world nearer together, assumes that the world is coming up to the Christian level, when it is Christians who are coming down to the level of the world. Christ must be outside the door for any to think so. The soul supping with Christ, and Christ with it, surely knows better what are His tastes, and how little the ostentatious ecclesiasticism or the showy charities so abundant can suit Him. Let me not speak disparagingly. I do not assign all (God forbid!) to one common rubbish heap. There are numbers of devoted, sincere labourers whose labours are with God, and whose fruit will be found with Him. And He, too, who seeth not as man seeth, neither seduced by fair appearances nor harsh in premature judgment, - He who teaches us that in taking forth the precious from among the vile we shall be as His mouth,- He much more will find which is valuable to Him, doubtless, in that which to us may seem the merest refuse. Still, the general result is but little affected. The heart that can look complacently upon the general condition of things religiously can scarcely be with Christ aright. It is not a question of prophetic knowledge merely, or what views we entertain about the Lords coming, (though our views and our disposition of heart cannot be altogether disconnected,) but it is a question of obedience to His Word, and of truth of heart to Him.
But spiritual Laodiceanism has yet another phase, and - shall I own it to you? To me it is the most hopeless and distressing. It is where grace is owned and the Christian standpoint is assumed, the Christian language used, the ecclesiastical position, so to speak, all right, but where this is all found essentially inoperative upon the soul! Because here the failure of the Word is most decided; and if the Word fails, what is there to renew us by? Beloved brethren, let me return then to this, and insist a little upon it: can we insist too much where this awful brand of Laodicea rests upon the one with whom Gods truth is only professed, to be more than ever denied, - Christs name assumed to be more than ever dis honoured!
The place in new creation, is it ours? Do we profess it ours, that wondrous place, where, for every one who is in Christ Jesus, "old things are passed away and all things become new"? If our standing is in Him, is our "walk according to this rule" of the new creation in Christ Jesus? Are we, as to all fleshly standing, title, claim, dead with Christ, buried, never to come up again? Who would think of the old Laodicean contention upon ground like this? Who would dream of "peoples rights" being here once more the watchword among the followers of a carpenters Son whom the world crucified, and whose chief spiritual leaders are the fishermen of Galilee?
Brethren, be cold or hot! be one thing or another plainly. When all are one in Christ, shall there be room for the hateful strife of democrat and aristocrat, as if the world was not crucified to us, as if we did not glory in that cross of Christ by which we are crucified to the world? "Members one of another," "all one in Christ Jesus" - is this not social equality of the very highest order? Brethren alike in the family of God, is this indeed, or is it not, nearer, dearer, more powerful than the ties of flesh? Not aristocracy, not democracy, but theocracy - let that be our watchword!
Is a worldly position something? Do our brethren feel that in our intercourse with them we do indeed (in language which Scripture is not responsible for, though our common version is) "condescend to men of low estate ?" * Do they feel that it is "condescension," not a recognition of true equality?
* Rom. xii. 16; translated better in a recent version "Have the same respect one for another, not minding high things, but going along with the lowly [or what is lowly]."
On the other hand, is a worldly position which we have not, something? and are we using our Christian place to lift ourselves higher in the world, or to assert in the face of another the "equal rights" which are ours?
To both sides, no study could be more wholesome than that of the brief epistle in which we find the apostle Paul sending back to his former condition a runaway slave, now Christian, to his former master, Christian also. "Receive him as myself," he says to the latter; "no longer as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved." Such was the relationship of Onesimus to his former master; and such words, in those old days of deeper reality, meant what they said.
Then, also, as to Onesimus, was he to claim the place which grace had put him in, and insist on "equal rights" with his master? Was he to use his Christianity to escape from his slavery, and that because his master was a Christian? No; on either side, no! Grace was that under the supremacy of which both master and slave were now alike - the slave to the master a "brother beloved," but himself subject to a grace which, if it had given him the new relationship, taught him to value it too highly to prostitute it to the claim of worldly advantage.
To claim grace is not grace. It is not grace in me to pull down another from an assumed level, nor yet to claim ones own from others. It is the prerogative of grace to stoop to serve; and yet it is graces prerogative to lift the lowest up upon a level so high that the highest of earths princes shall esteem it only immeasurable exaltation to be allowed to share it with him. Oh, to be ever Christians! - to sup with Him who, if He admits us to His company, must have the door kept open for all that are His! - His, and to be associated with Him in the fast-coming glory, before which all earthly glory even now pales and dies!
Philadelphia and Laodicea! Significant contrasts! With which are we? Surely, surely the closing days of Christendom are Laodicean. Sorrowfully I feel it, and affirm it. And what then? Why, then He is near; He will come. Let us brace ourselves to our duty; let us hold fast the faith; let us be only more fully subject to Him whose rule is service, whose yoke is easy, whose presence and whose fellowship begin heaven for us upon earth. Oh, to know it better! As we look around, as we look within, our exhortation changes into prayer.
Many thanks, again, to Michael Brown who did the scanning.
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