And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things said the Amen, the faithful and true witness…
"I know thy works." There is to be no dealing with them in the dark, as man is compelled to do; no drawing of a bow at a venture; the arrow is aimed straight at the mark. He is about to judge the Laodiceans, and His judgment proceeds on a perfect knowledge of their condition. "Thy works," in all that they are and all that they mean and involve, lie open under Mine eye, in the broad, bright sunshine, as they do not lie open even to thyself. An awful thought! you exclaim. Yes, but also unspeakably precious. It is the word, not of the detective who has found us out, and who delivers us to the judge, but of the physician who comprehends our case. His knowledge, His diagnosis, if I may so say, is the stepping-stone of His grace and help. What the works were is not set forth in detail in the epistle. It is not mere quantity, so to speak, but quality that is taken into account. The special region into which the Lord looks is that of the affections. The stress of His charge is that they were indifferent: "I know thy works, that thou art neither hot nor cold." From what follows it is evident that the Laodiceans themselves were quite satisfied with things as they were, and had no wish for a change. Christian discipleship (rooted in faith) implies love to Jesus Christ personally. Not merely a true creed, not merely a virtuous and beautiful life, but the heart's love. There may be very few on earth who think our love worth the having; but not so with Jesus, the glorified Redeemer. Man all over, He desires and seeks our love. Year by year our fellowship with Him ought to become more close and delightful; year by year our hearts should become more fully His; and last love should be a greater thing than even first love. In the light of such considerations let us now look at Christ's words to Laodicea. "Thou art not cold." A Church of Christ should certainly not be that. Yet such Churches exist. They are quite orthodox; their creed is a model of clearness and Scripturalness; they are examples of moral propriety; there is not merely good order, but even fine taste and exquisite grace in their arrangements; yet the temperature is down at freezing-point. Now, the Laodiceans were not cold. The Lord testifies that concerning them. Neither were they "hot." The condition indicated by this word is one of entire devotedness and joyful response to the love of Him who died for us, and rose again. It is not merely the supreme affection of a holy soul, rising above all others and commanding them; in some sense it carries in it and contains all other Divine affections, and is also the sum of all duty — the fulfilling of all law. how the Laodicean Church was not in a condition like this. There was nothing among them that could be called fervour, or zeal, or self-consecration, or enthusiasm, or holy passion in the cause of Christ. "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot." Their condition (for it is a condition, and not a stage in the process of warming) is described by the word "lukewarm." Love, zeal, joy, delight in worship, desire for the salvation of men, and every other Christian affection and emotion, have been cooling down till they have reached the temperature of indifference. The lukewarmness is shown in all directions. It is shown in the angel of the Church dealing in pleasant nothings, instead of the mighty truths of God, or in intellectual and philosophic refinements, in place of the gospel of grace — accommodating his words to the taste of his hearers, lest he should lose his popularity and preach them away from the church — it is shown in the general community, who love to have it so. It is shown in the tone of conversation common among them, which, instead of being alway with grace, seasoned with salt, degenerates so readily into gossip, debate, frivolity, uncharitable censure of the absent, or merest religious gabble, in which the tongue does everything and the heart does nothing. It is shown in the weekly assembly, in the conscious "distance" from God that is maintained; in the dislike of spiritual thought, and indeed incapacity for it, and unfitness to deal with any great and deep questions of Divine truth. It is shown in the lightness with which they regard abounding iniquity, smiling where once their eyes would have filled with sudden tears, and they would have withdrawn to pray. It is shown in the neglect of personal effort for the extension of the gospel, and the transference of the work to a substitute — a missionary or Bible-woman — paid at the cheapest possible rate, with the boast of having found the missing link. It is shown in conformity to the world, in the love of worldly society and amusements, in doing what is religiously fashionable, in giving the cold shoulder to unapplauded truth, and in avoiding whatever leads to reproach and the cross. It is shown in the practical powerlessness of the creed which they profess to hold; the most awful and mysterious truths, as one has expressed it, "losing all the power of truths, and lying bedridden in the dormitory of the soul." It is unnecessary to proceed further with an account of this evil estate. It is made up of negations, and chiefly the negation of all earnestness. Some things indeed there are that evoke feeling in a lukewarm Church, even to passionateness. Let one, for example, tell plain truth about wine-bibbing or ballrooms or theatres; or let one whose soul is thrilled with a sense of Divine mercy, and who longs to be Christ-like, stand up in the church-meeting and propose united prayer for the revival of religion; or let some Jeremiah with the fire in his bones stand up, not fearing the face of clay, and speak of eternal things with cries and anguish and weeping; and instantly you find the very passion of resentment aroused — though it dare not, for shame's sake, express itself plainly — against this troubling of Israel, this breaking of the peace, this molesting of souls, this accusing of the brethren; while it moves them not to know that the honour of Christ's name and the salvation of the perishing are at stake. What is the secret of all this? For beforehand we should pronounce lukewarmness on the part of saved men an impossibility; and it can never be regarded otherwise than as most unnatural and even dreadful in a Christian Church. How does it come to pass? One cause, operating more extensively and with greater force than is commonly thought, is the endeavour to retain the first joy of conversion without making progress. The whole and only joy sought after is the joy of forgiveness, to the neglect of the joy of holiness and new obedience. The consequence is that gradually they lose the very joy they have, and sink down into a state of heartless apathy. Again, there is failure in personal, living, realising communion with the Lord Jesus Himself as our Redeemer. It is the grand lack of to-day. Is it strange that spiritual fervour should decline? Would it not be a miracle if it continued? It is as if a betrothed should cease to correspond with her affianced husband; the natural result is the decay of affection. Another cause, operating very widely and very subtly, is unbelief in the fulness and power of grace to enable us to live a victorious Christian life. It is quietly taken for granted that a life of self-consecration and likeness to the Son of God is an impossibility, and that the very utmost we can expect is a never-ceasing debate (conflict it cannot be called) between the flesh and the Spirit, with "heaven" somehow at the end. The question of main interest — apparently never quite settled — is, How to get clear off in the day of judgment? As for reproducing the life of Christ among men, manifesting it afresh in this mortal body, and being in some real sense His "gospels" to our age, this is smiled at as a very simple imagination indeed. Then, next, those who forget how high the Christian calling is, and who neglect fellowship with God, become blind to the evil of intermingling the Church and the world in one visible community. For the sake of numbers, or out of friendship with the world, or to make ourselves seem great, or out of a cruel charitableness, the flesh is received into church-fellowship, is treated as a Christian, is taught to use Christian forms of speech, to sing Christian hymns, to pray Christian prayers, to do Christian acts, to aim at the production of Christian virtues, to sit down with saints at the Lord's table and commemorate a love that is not believed in or felt. The necessary issue in the long run — indeed, the run is not very long — is the repression of spiritual fervour in the Church and the spread of apathy. Another thing working most disastrously is the poor, poor conception prevalent in Churches of the tremendous necessity of salvation. It is first emptied of its significance, and then it is put into the second rank instead of the first, and then the ardour of the Church inevitably cools, and they are content and take it as quite a matter of course that there should be no conversion of sinners to God. Again, there is the spirit of self-pleasing, the love of comfort and pleasurable sensations, the substitution of taste and culture for godliness, the cry of the preacher, Move us, move us I which by and by becomes, Tickle us, tickle us! Once more, there is the formation of worldly friendships and the entering into associations in which it is impossible to preserve the spirit of Christ. The injury done to piety by such associations and friendships is beyond calculation, both in extent and depth. Now, in whatever light men may regard this condition (and the world praises it, for the world loves its own), Christ is displeased and grieved with it. "I would," He says, "that thou wert cold or hot." Wilt thou not be so? That "would" is no unimpassioned word, as one might say, I should prefer it thus or thus: it is a sigh from the heart of distressed love; it carries Divine emotion in it, reminding us of that lamentation over Jerusalem, "I would — and ye would not." Thus the Lord makes it evident that He has no pleasure in this half-and-half condition. This is the Lord's judgment in the case: "I will spue thee out of My mouth." No doubt every believing soul in Laodicea would be saved in the day of the Lord, even though involved in the prevalent lukewarmness. But the Church would be rejected from being a Church. Lukewarmness unrepented of issues in rejection. It is in the history of the Church of Laodicea as a spiritual community that the fulfilment of the Lord's threatening is to be found; and the outward desolation is to be regarded only as the visible symbolism of a tremendous spiritual fact.
(J. Culross, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;