Pergamos: the Promise to the Overcomer
(Rev. ii. 17.)
THE promise to the overcomer in Pergamos claims our
deepest attention. As always in these epistles, it emphasizes the condition of
those to whom it is addressed; and we have seen that this is not merely a past
condition, but a stage in the development of what is all around us today; so
that the exhortations and warnings suited to it have for us no less force than
ever. In fact they should have more, as we stand face to face with that
development, - as the fruit, ripe and multiplied, is before our eyes. But the
promise to the overcomer, while reminding us of the departure and decay already
so far gone, is not shrouded with the gloom of this. On the contrary, it is
bright with hope, and full of the joy which for the Christian can spring out of
whatever sorrow. It breathes the spirit of what the apostle speaks of as our
portion ever, "not the spirit of fear, but of power and love and of a sound
mind." It is Christs word of encouragement for those who in the strife of
the battle-field look to the Captain of their salvation; and it carries us
beyond the scene of strife to the inheritance already sure to us, although
through trial and suffering is the path by which it is ordained to reach
The promise has two parts, which are in beautiful relation to one another. The manna, as is evident, speaks of Christ Himself, and of our apprehension of Him, the white stone is a sign, on the other hand, of His appreciation of us. How blessed is the interchange of affection thus expressed! How touching the appeal to it where the heart of His beloved is so manifestly wandering away from Him! The manna is wilderness food: it fell only there, in Egypt it was not yet known; arrived within the borders of the land, it ceased. It was divine provision for those to whom God was an absolute necessity, whom He had brought into a place where was no natural provision, where they were wholly cast upon Him. It was this necessity which was their claim upon the tender compassion of their great Deliverer. He had, indeed, made Himself responsible to answer to it, and all their varied need was thus to draw out new witness of divine resources, - riches of glory - power and love alike.
The wilderness does not speak of any natural condition. Egypt is the natural condition, and Egypt is a very fruitful land. There were many drawbacks there, no doubt, which would in general be freely acknowledged. Plagues smote there as elsewhere, and an oppressive tyranny brooded over it: but the one, they might hope individually to escape; the other, they bore in company with a multitude. But the productiveness of the soil no one could question: "We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic: and now our soul is dried away, there is nothing at all but this manna before our eyes."
The promise of the manna is, then, for the wilderness, but it is the overcomer in Pergamos who alone knows the need of the wilderness. Those who have settled down in the world proclaim by the fact how little they find the world such; and this character of the overcomer confirms our view of the state spiritually of Pergamos itself. Here it was no longer the state of individuals merely, but of the mass; and not even a secret state, but avowed openly in deed if not in word. Thus, then, the Lord speaks to him who, true to his calling, finds in Himself his one necessity and satisfaction. "Bread shall be given him, his water shall be sure." Yea, "meat which endureth unto everlasting life," and water which shall "be in him a spring of water, springing up to everlasting life."
And this may remind us that the manna, of which the Lord speaks in the promise here, although it be the manna of the wilderness, is not, nevertheless, what was partaken of in the wilderness. The "hidden manna" was that put by command of God into the ark, and carried into the land, that aftergenerations might see the bread wherewith He had fed them in the wilderness." In this case it was, of course, not eaten; but the Lord promises to the overcomer here that he shall eat it; clearly in the blessed place which for us has in the highest degree the character attributed to the land of Canaan, - a place "where the eyes of the Lord are continually:" the wilderness food is still to be enjoyed when the wilderness is passed forever. The hidden manna was the memorial sample of what had fallen long before: it is typically the abiding remembrance of what we once tasted, - the fresh taste in eternity of Christ as enjoyed by faith down here.
We may thus see (and it is good to see,) how closely connected the life to come is with the present. Do we not miss much by separating them as widely as we sometimes do? and by supposing that, apart from all experiences and attainments here, all elements of blessing will be found in equal degree in the cup of eternal joy, when our lips are once at its brim? by imagining that if "when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away," then all present effects of lack of communion, or of that knowledge which results in and implies communion, will be necessarily passed also; not allowed to abate in any wise the eternal portion? Is this what the words of the apostle indeed assure us of?
For each one of us, no doubt, the state will be perfect, the partial condition will be done away. That is surely so. When the bud is ripened into the flower, the perfect condition is reached; it is a bud no longer. Does it follow from this at all that the flower is in no wise dependent upon that bud which is passed away? We know it is dependent. So when it is no longer a condition of faith, but of sight, - no longer seeing through a glass, darkly, but face to face, the present knowing not the knowledge itself, but the manner of it - will have passed. We "shall know," not as afar off any longer, but in the presence of the things known. That is, "as we are known," as He to whom all things are present knows us. It does not speak of the measure of knowledge, but of the manner of it; for who could suppose the measure of it to be Gods omniscience? And it is of the manner of it, face..to..face knowledge - the apostle speaks.
Rather will the limits of our knowledge there be defined, and we shall be conscious of them, - spared - thus the strain of searching into the unsearchable, and delivered from the temptation of aspiring to what is beyond our sphere. There will be, of course, complete satisfaction with the limits whatever they may be. But this, then, removes the thought of any necessary equality of knowledge among the redeemed themselves. The "new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it" is a proof of this in the words before us. And the hidden manna is another proof. For the partaking of that which fell in the wilderness is only possible as a recalling of experience once known. It is not a fresh experience, but a past experience enjoyed afresh. Christ is no more there the humbled One of which the manna speaks; and the hidden manna was carried into Canaan, not belonged there. It was strictly a memorial of the past, and as this, has its significance. The experience which we gain here is gained forever; the joy is not for a moment, the meat endures unto eternal life: the fruit of the Sorrow we pass through is not reaped all amid the sorrow, but reaped above all, there where the harvest is an abiding one. Blessed be God, it is so.
Some imagine a common height of blessing to which grace lifts in result all partakers of it, which leaves no practical issue for eternity of whatever is difference in the life and ways on earth. Others would cut off, as contrary to the grace which remembers our sins and iniquities no more, the very memory of them within us, as if it would spoil the eternal blessedness. Others, again, - and this is a most common mistake, - would confound the fruits of grace, which we enjoy in common, with the rewards of grace, which have respect to responsibilities fulfilled. All these are alike errors, and lead to practical consequences which are of grave importance.
Sonship, heirship, membership in the body of Christ, are alike pure gifts of divine grace, and in no wise of work. They are ours once for all, and never withdrawn from us. How blessed to realize that these are, after all, our very chiefest blessings, which we have in common! How much less, comparatively, must the reward of our work be, and the reward of Christs work, which they all are! How precious to know that every child of the Fathers love shall be clasped to the Fathers heart alike, - that there shall be no more distance for one than for another! Yet it is not every one who is clear as to salvation who is clear as to this, But were it otherwise, who could, without presumption, anticipate any nearness at all? But the many mansions of the Fathers house have room for all, and the Fathers heart has surely no less room. "What manner of love hath He" indeed "bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!" But it is His love, and let us enjoy it to the full without a remnant of fear. Let not one shadow of legality darken the joy of it. And this love shall be justified in its fullest expression also, for "we shall be" - one as much as another, - " like Christ, for we shall see Him as He is."
It is not, perhaps, wonderful that as we contemplate such blessings as these we should be tempted to think that there surely cannot be left room for any difference whatever. To be like Christ ! - all altogether like Him! Think of it, ye His beloved, the fruit of His work, the purchase of His precious blood! Who could imagine, indeed, that the fruit of our work could make any difference here! For whom could it be but in the most absolute wonderful love, with power to accomplish its desires in us? Shall any thing hinder that accomplishment, then? No, nothing! What is stronger than what manifested itself in the cross? What can rob it of its glorious reward?
Yet unspeakably great as all this is, still he that has an ear to receive the Scripture testimony will surely find that, beside the common blessing which every one of Christs own shall get, there are distinctive and individual blessings, which are not, therefore, the same for all. "To reward every one according as his work shall be." - " Rule thou over ten . . . rule thou over five cities." - " Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown." These passages, and such as these, are unmistakably clear also. Nor can it be urged that it is only in temporary not in eternal awards that such distinctions can have place. The hidden manna and the white stone are not of this character, and they both speak of what is the result of the earthly walk.
And again, it is in no wise true that the very sins of which God says, "I will remember them no more" shall not come up before the judgment-seat of Christ. They surely shall. "God," says the Preacher, "shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil." "We must all be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, whether it be good or whether it be evil." Are these things contradictory? They are equally parts of Gods perfect and eternal Word. Nor is there the slightest difficulty even as to their reconciliation, if we may speak of reconciliation as needful. God will indeed remember our sins no more; but does any one imagine that His memory will fail in the least as to one of them? Against us He will not remember them. No displeasure on their account shall ever darken His glorious face. Never will He upbraid us with them. It is we who shall "give account of ourselves to Him." Shall it be only of whatever good, little or much as it may be? Shall we present ourselves as sinless ones, who have had no need of redeeming blood? Standing in the glory and perfection of Christs likeness as we then shall be, our memories shall be fully alive with all the past, so as to give a faithful record of it before the throne of truth. All mists, all uncertainties, all errors, will be gone forever. How blessed to be clear of them! Then how bright will Gods grace appear! how perfect His wisdom! Not, surely, with reference to an angels course, but to that of a fallen, erring, yet redeemed man. And the memories of our sins, would we be then without them, when without them the whole world would be an impenetrable darkness still, and the very song of redemption could not itself be sung!
And it is declared of some who build upon Gods foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, the day shall declare it, for it shall be revealed with fire, and the fire shall try every mans work of what sort it is. If any mans work abide which he has built thereon, he shall receive a reward; if any mans work be burned up, he shall suffer loss; yet he himself shall be saved, yet so as through the fire. No matter of what class of believers this speaks, the principle announced is - reward to some, to others loss, while yet both alike are saved ones. Thus the promise of the hidden manna appeals solemnly, while most encouragingly, to us. Our life is not cut off by so broad a division the eternal one as some would have it; while there is a division as plain as it is serious. The days of human responsibility end with the life here. It is for the things done in the body that they are judged or rewarded, and for these only. Thus these days exercise an irreversible influence over the life to come: the hidden manna and the white stone are eternal recompenses of the present time.
In another sense, as to the hidden manna, it is but that "the meat" that faith lives on now is but the "meat that endureth to everlasting life." So that the spiritual experiences of the present pass on as memories into the eternal joy beyond. But as memories with none of the dullness which attaches to such things now; for then is the day of manifestation and of recompense, and the memory then will far outdo the experience now.
We pass through trial and adversity, through a world in truth a wilderness, a place of utter dependence, in which faith feels, amid the darkness, for the strength of the everlasting arms. And here we learn, as no where else could we learn, the grace that is come down to us. We are like those that go down to the sea in ships, and that have their business in the deep waters, - men that see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. "A brother is born for adversity," and in adversity we learn the touch of a brothers hand; yea, "there is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother," and how blessed to realize in Him who sticks so close the very Lord of glory Himself! Not a kindly and gracious Protector merely, from His own sphere of unchanging blessedness, but One hand in hand, travelling the same road, ministering of His own cup of consolation, displaying sympathies which have been developed in the self-same path, but of sorrows voluntarily endured that He might so minister to us.
Precious humiliation, upon which the heavens once looked down in wonder! but of which none can know in truth the deepest meaning, save those who have drunk of the cup of the pilgrim, and in actual poverty been enriched by a greater poverty of Him for our sakes come into it. It is this which makes the hidden manna so impossible to be tasted except by one who has tasted the manna in that wilderness where alone it fell. After-generations in Israel might indeed see the food wherewith the Lord fed them in the wilderness, but that was all. He who had been in the wilderness alone could say of it, "I know its taste." When the people were despising it as light food, in touching appeal to us the Lord through the historian describes its taste. We can little indeed describe a taste; only at all by comparing it to some other familiar one, and so here: "its taste was as the taste of fresh oil," - the ministry of the Holy Ghost; but in another place, "it was like wafers made with honey:" that speaks of Him whom the Holy Ghost declares to us.
The land promised to Israel was described in its riches as a "land flowing with milk and honey." It is the figure of natural sweetness; very sweet, but not to be partaken of too freely, nor allowed to be put into that which was offered to God. But the manna was not honey, and though having the sweetness of it, could be fed upon continually. All the sweetness of human affection and intimacy is found in the "Son of Man," but with no element of corruptibility in it. Honey easily ferments and sours, but in this sweet intimacy there is absolute stability: it is a love which can be relied on at all times, where the human has become one with the divine, - the divine makes itself realized in what we can apprehend and enter into as most truly human.
This is the taste; but to know it, you must taste it. No description will convey it rightly to you; and to know the grace of Christ's humiliation, you must have been in the wilderness, and there learned to say, "All my fresh springs are in Thee." If "a brother is born for adversity," it is only adversity that can rightly make you know that "brother." In the land, amid all its glories, the manna was "the hidden manna." In the wilderness it was not hidden; and to those who had gone the journey through the wilderness, the manna, even in the land, was not really hidden. In the glory of heaven we shall know in the Man, Christ Jesus, some steps (and surely wonderful ones) of His surpassing condescension; nay, a "Lamb, as it had been slain," it will call forth the unceasing homage of all there; but the manna gives the personal application of this grace to a need which in heaven will no longer exist: it must be enjoyed there as knowledge gained in quite other circumstances. And here the wilderness will at last yield its harvests to us, the desert left behind will blossom as the rose.
For how will those spiritual experiences so full of joy to us here bloom in the sunlight of eternity into glorious recollections, when all that hinders shall be forever removed; when the divine ways. shall be seen in all their holiness, all their wisdom, all their grace! Our senses are here at the best so dull, the power of the Spirit so little known, Christ is after all so little in His transcendent beauty enjoyed! Then, face to face with His glory, seeing Him as He is, and able to measure somewhat truly the depths of His descent from the heights before us, how will the King in His beauty, our blest Lord and Saviour, be revealed!
But it is time to turn round upon ourselves, is it not? and to ask of ourselves, How much material for this joy hereafter are we gathering here? And this suggests another question: How much need have we of Christ day by day? how much hunger and thirst have we after Him? These are very strong terms, as they are evidently also the terms of Scripture. All the labour of man is for the mouth. Hunger and thirst are controlling things. Yet says the Lord, "Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life." Do we indeed by comparison not labour for the one as we labour for the other? and which one is it - in calm, sober, reality - that we labour for?
We have life, perhaps, - eternal life, - salvation. Blessed to have these. With the rest thus gained, have we started for the goal outside the world? or are we practically living much as others in it, - the days filled up with a routine of things imposed by the various masters (customs, mens thoughts of us, the claims of society, and what not) which rule there? It is one thing or other; outside the world, and in opposition to it, or in it, and floating with its stream.
In this last case, there will either be no felt need, or none that Christ can be counted on to meet. Much may be pleaded as to duties, which are merely artificial, and untruly covered with so fair a name. But whatever may be the plea, the daily need and ministry of Christ is a thing unknown. Great needs may demand Him, but life is not made up of these.
Briefly to consider now, however, the second part of the promise - the "white stone": - The two parts of the promise are inseparably connected with one another. The appreciation of Christ by the soul is the necessary basis of His answering approbation. The white stone speaks, as has been said, of this approbation. It was the token of approval, dropped by voters into the urn of old, with the name of the candidate approved upon it. But the name here is a new name, known only by Him who gives and by him who receives it. The name, in Scripture, is always significant and descriptive of the one who bears it. To know Gods name is just to know what He is, to know His character; and the new name here speaks of the character for Christ of him upon whom it is conferred, some character which He approves. It is a peculiar link between the Lord and the one approved, a peculiar something that we are for Him. It implies some trial, as the former part of the promise, and speaks of His estimate of how it has been endured, - of something especially noted as pleasing to Himself. It is not publicly noted or rewarded, however. Such rewards, of course, there are; but this is another and a deeper thing. Still more than the hidden manna is it an individual joy, not shared by the general company of the redeemed, - the one secret link, as it would seem, between the Lord and the individual saint. Is it worth seeking, this approbation of His? Is any thing else in comparison? Is it not marvellous that we can barter the priceless eternal joys for things which perish in the using, even if they did not also entail upon the soul a feebleness from which oftentimes there is here no recovery. We pity the inebriate, possessed by his passion for what rivets upon the ever-increasing load which will at last destroy him; but oh what sorrow should we have for the Nazarites of God, endowed with the limitless possession of the Spirit of God, to know the things that are freely given to us of God, yet drunk with the spirit of the world, His enemy, and squandering the precious gifts of God for the husks of the swineherd! We have no words that are worthy or of power to rebuke it; but let us hear the apostle : - "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Wherefore, whosoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God."
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. . . . For 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. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever." "Wherefore awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and CHRIST shall give thee light."
"For ye are all the children of the light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night, and they that are drunken are drunken in the night; but let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not appointed us unto wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him."
Yes, and that life is now begun with us; the eternal life has for us begun. May the words ring in our ears at least until they lay hold completely of our hearts and lives: "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he who receiveth it." "Overcometh"- not in the world merely, but now in the church; not in circumstances in which he is not, but in the precise circumstances in which he is; - "overcometh:" do you, do I, know well, and from quite familiar experience, what it is to overcome?
Chapter Nine - Thyatira: the Reign of the World-Church
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