To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of the One who holds the sharp, double-edged sword.
The sharp two-edged sword." For this letter is largely illustrative of its work. In Revelation 1. we saw it in St. John's vision; here we see it in the experience of the Church. But whilst the main reference is to that vision, there is farther appropriateness from the allusions to the wilderness life of Israel, with which this letter abounds. Balaam's vile work against them - the sin into which they fell, the sword which Balaam saw in the hands of the angel of the Lord seeking to stay him in his evil way, and the sword with which at last he was slain, seem all to be suggested. Then the mention of the manna belongs also to that same wilderness life. It was well that the ungodly at Pergamos should be reminded of that sword, and the faithful of that manna. But it is from the vision told of in Revelation 1. that the name our Lord here assumes is mainly taken. Note -
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY THIS SWORD. With the Bible in our hands, we cannot long be in doubt on this question; for at once there occurs to the memory the familiar text in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which tells how the Word of God is "quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword." And there is that other which is like unto it in the Epistle to the Ephesians, "The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." And in Isaiah we have a similar expression, "He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword." And even human and evil words are thus symbolized, as in the Psalms: "Their words are swords and arrows, even bitter words;" and again, "Their tongue is a sharp sword." And the comparison is a frequent one. The Word of God, therefore, is evidently what is meant by this sword with two edges.
II. THE MANNER OF ITS OPERATION. In this letter this power of the sword is seen at work. In the vision, St. John had observed that the breath proceeding from the mouth of him who was "like unto the Son of man" took the form and shape of a sharp two-edged sword, such as was in common use in the armies of the day. Hence St. Paul, speaking of this sword, says, "The Lord shall destroy the wicked one with the breath of his mouth" (2 Thessalonians 2:8). And in the brightness of the glory with which the entire vision was surrounded, the sword like form seemed to flash and glitter as if it were a veritable sword proceeding out of the mouth of the Son of man. And in this letter we see that sword which the vision symbolized exercising its mighty power. We see:
1. Its point, piercing even to the dividing asunder of that which had been so blended together as scarce to be distinguished or separated. For the character of the Church at Pergamos was like that of well nigh all other Churches, a mixture of evil and good. There was that which could be urged in its favour, and that also which could be charged against it to its shame. And this sword is here seen dividing them.
(1) it separates the good, and there were such.
(a) They had been faithful to Christ's Name. They had loyally stood by it even when to do so had involved awful peril - peril in which one Antipas, who had been eminent for his fidelity, had been slain by the infuriated foe. Yet in those fearful days - days like those of the persecution which arose about Stephen in Jerusalem - the faithful at Pergamos had not flinched.
(b) And the Church had been fruitful. It was no small honour to have nurtured in her midst such a soul as that of Antipas. It is a sign of the marked grace of God when a Church becomes the home, chosen and beloved, of holy souls; when they find in it an atmosphere helpful and stimulating to all that is good within them.
(c) And all this under great disadvantages. "I know," the Lord says, "thy works, and where thou dwellest, where Satan's seat is; 'and this is told of again lower down in the same verse; thus implying the Lord's recognition of the fact that to serve him there was indeed difficult, and so all the more honourable and meritorious, Now, why Pergamos came to be regarded as the devil's headquarters, his seat and throne, it is not easy to say. The place was one of great beauty, adorned with magnificent temples, possessed of a superb library containing hundreds of thousands of volumes. Our word "parchment" is derived from the dressed skins which were so largely used at Pergamos, and on which the books were written. Hence these skins came to be called by the name of Pergamos, or parchment. The place was not, as Ephesus or Smyrna, famous for trade, but for its culture and refinement. It was a sort of union of a pagan cathedral city and university; and a royal residence, gorgeous in its magnificence, further adorned it. Jupiter was said to have been born there, and temples to him and to innumerable gods were on every hand. The whole tone of the place must, therefore, have been utterly opposed to the faith of Christ. It had no liking for the purity, the self denial, and the unworldliness of the Church, but revelled in the very reverse of all these things. All that could sap and undermine the faith and the faithful was there in full force. It was Satan's throne indeed. Now, for that even there they held fast Christ's name, they deserved, and here receive, high commendation from the Lord. But the sword
(2) separates the evil; for there were amongst them
(a) men who held the truth in unrighteousness. This was what Balaam did. No man ever knew, no man ever professed, a purer faith, a holier doctrine, than did he; and yet, blinded by his greed of gain, he held it so imprisoned in unrighteousness that it had no power over him, and left him unchecked to all the wickedness of his heart. Now, there were such men at Pergamos; and where have they not been and are they not still? And
(b) there were those who perverted the gospel to licentiousness. There were the Nicolaitans. And they, too, have had, and have still, their successors: God keep us from being of their number! But then the good and the evil were so blended together that to separate them was beyond mere human power. In the brightness of the good some might not perceive the evil; in the darkness of the evil others might not perceive the good. But the sword of the Spirit severs them. For Churches, for individuals, Christ by his Word does this still. Pray him to do so for ourselves.
2. Its double edge. For it had this as well as its piercing point. And this, probably, that as with the literal sword the soldier in the thick of the fight might strike on the right hand and the left, with the back as well as the front, so with this sword of the Spirit foes on either hand might be smitten down. Thus is it in this letter.
(1) It smites presumption and all high-handed sin. Read the awful threatenings here. How they hew down those who set themselves against the Lord!
(2) Despondency and despair. This is a peril on the other side, a foe to faith as formidable as the other; and by this sword the Lord smites this adversary also. Read the sweet, soothing, soul-assuring promises (ver. 17).
(a) "The hidden manna." It means that support and sustentation of the soul as it presses on through the!wilderness of life, heavenward, which the Lord will give, and does give, to his faithful ones, as the manna sustained Israel on their march Canaanwards. "I am the true Bread from heaven," said Christ (cf. John 6.). It is real, substantial, effectually supporting the soul, as ten thousand facts testify. But hidden, because unseen and unknown by the world. "Your life is hid with Christ in God." What, then, though weary leagues of barren, burning sand lie between God's Israel and their home? here is promise of all need supplied, every want met.
(b) The white stone with the new name; i.e. Christ's faithful shall have given them personal assurance of their membership in the family of God (cf. "The Spirit beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God"). Now, the white stone is that on which a communication is written (cf. Luke 1:63). Hence it tells of a communication, real, in writing as it were, to the soul of the believer. And this communication consists of "a name." When a child is born into a family, a name is given it. So in God's family. To the children of the world it will be said, "I never knew you;" but for his own children there is a name given. And a new name, indicating admission to higher privilege and favour, as did the names of Abraham, Sarah, Israel, Hephzibah, Beulah, Peter. They were all new names, and all told of new grace and favour from God. And a name unknown to all but the receiver. The proofs of the believer's sonship are known only to himself and God. The Spirit's witness: who can put that into words, and tell it out to others? Many a one cannot tell you why he knows he is God's child, but he does know it. The white stone has been given to him, and blessed is he. And is not this a stay against all despair, despondency, and everything of the kind? As the well-known verse sings -
"When I can read my title clear CONCLUSION. All this supposes that you are of the overcoming ones. This word is "to him that overcometh." Not to them that are overcome. But you may overcome. By fervent prayer, by unreserved consecration, by constant "looking unto Jesus" by use of all means of grace, so abide in Christ, and he shall make you "more than conqueror." - S.C.
CONCLUSION. All this supposes that you are of the overcoming ones. This word is "to him that overcometh." Not to them that are overcome. But you may overcome. By fervent prayer, by unreserved consecration, by constant "looking unto Jesus" by use of all means of grace, so abide in Christ, and he shall make you "more than conqueror." - S.C.
1. The first is, that a Church cannot live on its past. The memory of Antipas was not enough for Pergamum, nor even the share of the Church in Antipas's martyr spirit and martyr crown. A revived historical consciousness is one of the most marked features in the life of to-day: it has lent new interest to our studies, and given dignity to our social sense. But it has brought dangers with it; our appreciation of the past may weaken our feeling of personal responsibility and of present needs.
2. A second lesson is, that a Church cannot live on a single virtue. If days like those of Antipas had come back, doubtless Pergamum would have been faithful as before; but as the times were different, new graces were called for. Christian character is like the tree of life which John saw in the city of God, "bearing twelve manner of fruits, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."
3. A third lesson may be read from the story of Pergamum to the Churches of to-day: earnestness is not everything in ethical and spiritual life. The easy demeanour which marked English society in the middle of this century has given place to a quickened moral intensity which is full of promise. But some ominous symptoms have also appeared. One man feels earnest, and straightway he does something eccentric; another feels earnest, and he indulges in outrageous speech; a third is reckless in conduct, pleading as his excuse when evil results follow that he was so deeply moved. Earnestness is a good foundation for a virtuous life, but it is not in itself a virtue; it may be of the temperament rather than of the character; without earnestness there is no stability, but a man may be very earnest and very defective. The special fault of Pergamum was indifference to the error of the Nicolaitans. What the error was we see clearly enough in ver. 14 — Balaam "taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication." There was a determined effort on the part of some false teachers among the Churches in Asia at this time to break down the wise restrictions of the Council of Jerusalem, and to declare both these practices lawful, even commendable. We see the prevalence of this error in Ephesus and Thyatira as well as in Pergamum. But the development of it was not the same in the various Churches. In Thyatira it was associated with the ecstatic utterances of a woman, and a reign of false sentiment was setting in. In Pergamum, as we gather from the reference to Balaam, there was a deliberate trading on the lusts of the people. This connection of heresy with covetousness is distinctly asserted in the Second Epistle of Peter and in the Epistle of Jude. "Balaam, the son of Beor, loved the hire of wrong. doing"; the "ungodly men, who were turning the grace of God into lasciviousness," "ran riotously in the error of Balaam for hire." Browning has shown us, in "Mr. Sludge the Medium," how subtly covetousness and untruthfulness are intertwined; and how the self-deceiving impostor may become the cynical trader on human weaknesses. More than one revelation of the inner life of circles "spiritualistic," "aesthetic," "theosophic," and circles for improving the relations of the sexes — has been made in our own time, showing how pruriency and greed and contempt for the credulous may all unite under the pretence of larger intuitions and more advanced knowledge than belong to the simple believer. We can understand what may have conduced to the spread of Nicolaitan teaching among simple persons who were very far from failing under the condemnation of Balaam.(1) The teaching appealed to their curiosity, their longing after hidden knowledge, and flattered them with a promise of a freemasonry of thought. The desire to penetrate into the realities which lie behind received forms of truth, to draw clear distinctions between the abiding and the temporary in morals, is not wrong; it may come from a noble purpose and minister to human advancement. But it may also be very ignoble, If we be impelled by lust after what is forbidden, or an idle inquisitiveness concerning what is concealed, we are making ourselves ready to fall a prey to men who live upon the credulous.(2) The teaching appealed to their love of freedom; and here, too, we may make modern applications. The man of science investigates all things; nothing is regarded by him as a forbidden subject of inquiry; he knows that all knowledge may be turned to high uses; and his mind is clean. But those who are tickled by a desire to know what is secret are sure to be defiled. The democrat who wants all to be able to do their best is followed by the man who is thinking only that he has as many rights as others; the woman who knows she has powers which she can use, and demands the liberty to use them, by her who clamours for the latchkey. The one motive is as debasing as the other is noble.(3) A few words in the longer recension of Ignatius's letter to the Philadelphians furnish a third reason for the spread of Nicolaitan error. One of the characteristic doctrines of the is there said to be, that pleasure was set forth as the end of the blessed life — a doctrine which might too easily beguile simple souls who believed that joy was an essential element in the nature of God and one of the fruits of the Spirit. The subtlety of this error, the baseness of applying one of the loftiest truths of the sacrificial life to sanction revelry and fornication, may well have provoked the Lord's reference to the two-edged sword here, and His words to the Church at Ephesus, "which deeds I hate." There can be nothing in common between the preachers of self-indulgence and Him who "pleased not Himself." The mystic words of promise to him that overcometh — "to him will I give of the hidden manna." etc. — have reference to the pretense of esoteric teaching by which many innocent and gracious are ed astray. There is a wisdom which is revealed to the initiated, a higher doctrine which is ever appearing under every simple setting forth of truth. It is found by the obedient, by those who revere law, and control passion, and are content with a simple following of Christ. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant." All the ways of the Lord are ways of initiation into the Divine mysteries. The "hidden manna" falls day by day about the tents of those who are content to follow Christ without ambition, in prudent simplicity and pious order. The "new name" which Christ gives to each one who overcomes is not to be known except by him who receives it; that is to say, the deepest things of personal spiritual life are not for public preaching.
(A. Mackennal, D. D.)I. GOOD IN THE WORST PLACES; OR, THE RESTRAINT OF CIRCUMSTANCES. "I know where thou dwellest," says Christ, "even where Satan's seat is." I know, in the sense of making allowances for all thine hindrances, and of understanding thy peculiar needs.
1. We learn from this message how bad some places can be, and are. Satan's throne was at Pergamum, "an expression," says Andreas, "which denotes that there were more idols in Pergamum than in all Asia." There are even districts in so-called Christian England, aye, and some homes, which are simply Satan's thrones. We have, indeed, no right to thrust ourselves into any peril; but if by the call of Providence we are compelled to live where Satan's seat is, we may expect that Goal will do for us what He has done over and over again.
2. We learn also from this message how much some people can bear; that is, without apostasy and collapse. Possibly Antipas was some ordinary Christian who had, to the surprise of his fellow-believers, been selected for the honour of martyrdom. Whoever he was, Christ knew all about him, and dates time by his death. Do they say in heaven, In the days when So-and-so did this, or endured that? Are the martyrdoms of earth, then, so interesting to the saints who are in heaven that they constitute the calendar of the blessed? May we so live and die that we may become conspicuous and known in the great company of the blessed! And how sweetly the Saviour here says of Antipas, "My martyr"! thus appropriating and owning the witness. Antipas belonged to the Church, it is true, but he also belonged to Christ, and his Master is not ashamed to acknowledge him.
II. ALLOY OF FAITHFUL SERVICE; OR THE PERILS OF TIMIDITY. It was said of John Knox that he never feared the face of man; the fear of men had kept the Christians in Pergamum silent. Perhaps they feared the consequences of fidelity; certainly it required much courage on their part to rebuke the besetting Bin of their times. What good will it do? one might inquire. Whereas they should have remembered that Christ hated this iniquity, and that therefore His servants should hate and reprove it also. Love is the soul of the gospel, but right is also its conscience and ruler. For after all, in spite of our weakness, purity is affected by testimony. Christ presents Himself to the silent as the terrible witness for the truth. Out of His mouth proceeds a sharp two-edged sword, which represents the combative and sin-destroying influence of truth. The promises to the victor who shall overcome his timidity are very remarkable. There are, we are told, special delights for faithful witnesses, both now and hereafter. "What have I gained after fifty years of toil for the friendless?" asked Lord Shaftesbury. And he replied to his own question, thus — "Peace of mind, and nothing else!" But peace of mind is no slight boon; it is worth risking a little ridicule for, if we may but thereby obtain a good conscience and the favour of Christ.
(J. J. Ellis.)I. THE INTRODUCTION. We have no account of the origin of the Church in this city. The only instance in which it occurs in Scripture is in this address. Ecclesiastical history is almost entirely silent respecting it. It has been supposed that Paul, during his extensive labours in this part of the world, must have visited a place of such importance, but this is mere conjecture. Who "the angel of the Church in Pergamos" was we know not. Eusebius, who wrote at Caesarea about three hundred years afterwards, informs us that his name was Corpus, and that he suffered martyrdom. Such, at least, was the uncertain voice of tradition at that time. The sharp sword with two edges is "the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." This cuts two ways. It is capable both of a direct and a back stroke. The former is for conviction, the latter for destruction. With one edge Christ fights for us, with the other against us. The Church of Pergamos is threatened that unless it repents the sharp sword with two edges will be turned against it.
II. THE COMMENDATION.
1. He commends their zeal. "I know thy works." All their works for Christ were registered on high. This, however, did not render their deficiency in other duties less criminal. The most perfect performance of all Christian duties but one will not atone for the neglect of that one: it would only cause that one to stand out in a more aggravated light.
2. It is commended for its fidelity in seasons of persecution: "Thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith"; and during one period in particular, "even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you." When persecution raged with greatest violence, they had maintained the greatest constancy.
3. In commending this Church, the Saviour graciously concedes the unfavourable position in which it was placed. The character given of Pergamos is that it was "the throne of Satan," and "where Satan dwells." This city exceeded all others at that time in wickedness. Let us see how this accords with the testimony of history concerning it. Its foundation, as a place of importance, was laid in treachery, avarice, and usurpation. One of Alexander's generals, who after the death of their leader sought to obtain a part of his empire by the sword, having overrun this part of Asia, deposited the rich spoils he had acquired by war in Pergamos, and entrusted them with one of his private attendants, while he rushed forward to new conquests. The servant seized the treasures, made himself master of the place, raised it to the metropolis of an independent empire; and after reigning twenty years, transmitted it to his heirs, who retained it for a hundred and fifty years afterwards. The last of these kings having no descendants, bequeathed the kingdom to the senate of Rome. This was probably done to prevent the confusion and ruin that would have ensued from the number of pretenders at his death. An usurper arose, which compelled the Romans to enforce their claim by conquest. The Roman general prevailed, by the barbarous device of poisoning the fountains and channels that supplied the city with water. Pergamos was a rich booty to the Romans, but they paid dear for their conquest. The exuberance in dress, houses, furniture, and provisions was beyond all that they had seen before. Excess of luxury was accompanied with an equal excess of vice. It was here that the Romans were introduced to Asiatic grandeur and Asiatic voluptuousness at the same time. The simplicity of Roman manners from this period began to decline. The habits of the metropolis of the world were changed. The effeminacy of the East triumphed over the manliness of the West. The profuseness and profligacy of Asia spread through the imperial city, and over its vast empire, which all its historians agree were first imported from Pergamos. This was about a century before the Christian era. The continual intercourse with strangers at its port, from all parts of the Roman world, who came to do homage to its luxury and sensuality, inflamed still more the moral condition of Pergamos. It was just as Pergamos had arrived by these means to the height of his pride and corruption that a Christian Church arose in that city. The Saviour does not enjoin His disciples in this city to abandon it on account of its great wickedness, but commends them for remaining firm. There is no one, perhaps, who does not suppose that he could find a position less painful and discouraging than his own. There are reasons for his being called by grace, in the situation he occupies. It may be in mercy to others, as well as to himself. A testimony by this means is given before all of that gospel which is the power of God unto salvation. All the grace that is required to glorify the Redeemer in the sphere we occupy is ensured by the fact of His having called us in that sphere.
III. THE REPROOF. "But I have a few things against thee." They are only two, but they are both of a serious nature. The one is compliance with idolatrous practices, the other the encouragement they had given to heretical sentiments.
1. The former is thus stated, "Thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam." The professed deity of the place was AEsculapius, a celebrated physician, who had resided in this city. Where there is most luxury there is most disease, and most encouragement is given to the healing art. Those who were converted to Christianity in Pergamos abandoned, of course, the worship of AEsculapius, refused to join in its festivities, and rejected with abhorrence the flesh that had been offered on his shrine. There were some, however, at this time, in connection with the Church, who not only united in these feasts, and the consequences that ensued, but endeavoured to draw others into the same snare. By sympathising with idolatry, and exposing themselves to its demoralising influence, they threw the same kind of stumbling-block in the way of Christians as Balaam did before the children of Israel. Whoever endeavours to beguile a Christian into conformity with worldliness and sin, or by any means throws a stumbling-block before him to turn him aside, or causes him so to fall that he becomes an occasion of scandal to his profession — for that is the precise meaning of the term here employed — holds the doctrine of Balaam.
2. The other subject of reprobation in this Church is the encouragement it had given to heretical sentiments.
IV. THE ADMONITION. "Repent." This single word expresses the whole requirement of God, and consequently the whole duty of man, in reference to every deviation from the right path. It is that which is first and instantly demanded, and which, if genuine, leads to all the rest.
V. THE THREATENING. "Or else I will come unto thee quickly," etc.
VI. THE APPLICATION. "To him that overcometh." The present is regarded as a time of severe conflict. Faith must be tried, and that only which is triumphant will be rewarded. Those who overcome in a place like Pergamos, where Satan has his throne, shall have a double reward. The one is "to eat of the hidden manna," and the other "to have a white stone given him, and in the stone a new name written which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it." Part of this description appears, at first view, to apply to the present and part to the future state. Faith in this life is its own reward. The faith by which we overcome every temptation and difficulty derives its strength from feeding on the heavenly manna. The flesh of Christ is its meat, and His blood its drink indeed. He who has this faith has the white stone of innocence in his possession, which enables him to look forward to the great day of account with joy, and fortifies him against all the accusations of his foes and of the law. The consciousness of a vital union between Christ and our souls is the great secret in the Christian's breast. It were vain to attempt to explain it to others. What to him is the evidence of consciousness, to another is but the evidence of a single testimony from human lips. Nor can grace in the heart of one infallibly detect its existence in the heart of another. Each carries the secret of his sincerity in his own breast. The whole passage, however, is intended, without doubt, to express the peculiar character of their joy in heaven. The same life which the Christian now lives by faith in the Son of God he will then live by open and sensible communion. The manna on which he feeds is the same both in earth and in heaven. In the one case the manna descends to him, in the other he ascends to its hidden stores. This hidden manna for the supply of every desire, with an inward consciousness of the most unbounded liberty of access, constitutes the peculiar privilege to which the promise under consideration refers.
(G. Rogers.)I. A TONE OF AUTHORITY.
1. Christ's truth is authoritative.
2. Christ's truth is mighty.
II. A DISCRIMINATION OF CHARACTER.
1. Christ is fully acquainted with circumstances under which all moral character is formed.
2. Christ describes exactly the moral position in which the Church lived.
3. The eye of Christ recognises every part of a man's character, whether good or bad.
III. A REFORMATIVE DEMAND.
1. Repentance is moral reformation.
2. Repentance is an urgent necessity.
IV. A PROMISE OF BLESSEDNESS.
1. The choicest nourishment.
2. The highest distinction.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)I. THIS CHURCH WAS FAITHFUL IN ITS ADHERENCE TO THE TRUTH.
1. It held fast the name of Christ, and reposed a sincere confidence in Him.
2. It was faithful, notwithstanding the unfavourable circumstances in which it was placed.
3. It was faithful, notwithstanding the martyrdom of one of its prominent members.
II. THIS CHURCH WAS DEFECTIVE IN THE DISCIPLINE BY WHICH IT WAS GOVERNED.
1. Defective discipline consists in allowing men of depraved conduct and unhallowed creed to enter and remain in the Church.
2. This defective discipline, unless repented of, will invite the judgment of Christ, severe and irreparable.
3. This defective discipline often mars the beauty and usefulness of an otherwise excellent Church.Lessons:
1. At all times and under all circumstances to be faithful to the truth as it is in Jesus.
2. To be anxious to sustain the Church of Christ where it is most needed brave and pure.
3. That the office-bearers in the Church should be careful as to its government.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)I. THE WICKEDNESS OF THE CITY.
1. No slight importance is attached by the horticulturist as to the soil in which he seeks to rear his plants. Arctic zones and sandy deserts give little promise of success.
2. Is it not a matter of highest importance whether our homes are well ventilated and are free from malarial and sewer poisons?
3. In a spiritual point of view, healthful surroundings should be carefully sought.
II. THE EXCELLENT FEATURES IN THE CHARACTER OF THIS CHURCH.
1. Unflinching firmness in upholding Christ's name — "Thou holdest My name," etc.
2. Unflinching firmness to Christ's cause — "Hast not denied My faith," etc.
3. Unflinching firmness under severe trials.(1) There is nothing more valuable in human character than unswerving adherence to Christ, especially when persecuted for Christ's sake.(2) Nothing more detrimental to true growth than unstability.(3) The great lack of our day is moral backbone — power to stand for Christ amid the difficulties of life.
III. SERIOUS DEFECTS IN THE CHARACTER OF THIS CHURCH.
1. "Thou boldest the doctrine of Balaam!" How many a young Christian has been led away from Christ and His cause by being tempted to attend an evening party, where a taste for worldly pleasure was again awakened, which ultimately destroyed all relish for spiritual things! And are there not Churches in our land, nay, in our city, who are seducing their own members away from Christ by providing for them worldly amusements, on the plea that if they do not provide amusement they will go elsewhere to enjoy them? What is this but the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel?
2. "So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate" (ver. 15).(1) What the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes was cannot be fully determined.(2) The testimony of the Fathers is that it was something akin to the doctrine of Balaam.(3) It was, at all events, that which the Lord hated.(4) And it was very evident that our Lord Jesus Christ holds pastors and Churches to a strict account for what they allow to be taught and practised by their members.
IV. OUR LORD'S SOLEMN WARNING.
1. We must never lose sight of the real thing here advised.(1) To repent in Scripture language is "to change one's mind"; and this means a change which affects the life.(2) The real life is ever the expression of the mind's sentiment.(3) There can be no true conversion without repentance, as there can be no true regeneration without faith; and the only real evidence of both is a life of holiness.
2. We must never lose sight of the judicial element in Christ's dealings with His people.(1) "I will fight against them."(2) A Church of Christ cannot go counter to the expressly revealed will of its great Head without suffering for it.(3) This is no less true in respect to every individual Christian.
2. We must never lose sight of the fact that the words of Christ are the source of our weal and woe.(1) If He says, "Come ye blessed," etc., who can rob us of the joy?(2) But if He says, "Depart from Me," who can prevent our doom?(3) "My words," says Christ, "they are spirit, and they are life."
V. OUR LORD'S EARNEST COUNSEL.
1. The meaning evidently is this: "Let every one who hears this heed it!"(1) Let there be no listlessness.(2) Let there be no indifference.(3) Let there be no worldliness to neutralise the effect of the Word.
2. Oh, how much need there is to-day of this counsel!(1) While listening to the blessed Word of God how many there are who scarcely realise what is said.(2) How many who pay attention forget what they have heard!(3) And many who truly desire and pray for grace to be obedient to the Word find themselves so involved in the cares of the world that they constantly come short of their fervent desire.
3. How may it be done?(1) We must cultivate the habit of submission to God's Word.(2) We must become more familiar with God's Word.(3) We must be much in prayer while the Word is expounded.(4) And we must take the Word to ourselves.
VI. OUR LORD'S MOST GRACIOUS PROMISES.
(D. C. Hughes, M. A.)I. THE EXCELLENCE OF THE TRUTH. What was the truth that the Church at Pergamos held fast? Was it worth holding? Did it refer to politics, philosophy, literature, or science? There was considerable political zeal at Pergamos; learning, too, flourished there. It was the boast of the town that it encouraged literary and scientific men. Notwithstanding this, not a word is said in this letter commendatory of their holding fast to anything save the truth. Science, learning, art, are good, but not the good. There is a deep significance in Christ commending the educated and scientific Pergamians for holding fast His truth. What was His truth? "My name" and "My faith." It is a saving name. "There is none other name," etc. It is a pardoning name. "In His name remission of sins shall be preached," etc. It is a royal name. "At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow," etc. It is a soul-collecting name. "Wherever two or three are gathered together in My name," etc.
II. THE MEMORY OF THE MARTYRS. Martyrdom is a motive for holy truth. The martyrdoms of our land are the most radiant events in its historic page. They are the most creative things in the chronicles of our country.
1. The triumph of the spirit over the flesh, the majesty and force of mind.
2. The invincibility of the mind when it goes with truth.
3. God-sustaining grace.
III. THE PERILS THAT SURROUND US. There is something beautiful in what Christ says, "I know where thou dwellest." This may be regarded —
1. As the language of alarm. I know the perilous circumstances which surround thee — beware!
2. As the language of duty. "I know where thou dwellest, where Satan dwelleth," therefore be on thy guard and work earnestly for the truth.
3. As the language of encouragement. I know all thy temptations and thy difficulties; I know human life; I know what it is to live in a corrupt world. "I know where thou dwellest." If sin is around you My grace shall much more abound.
IV. THE DISAPPROBATION OF CHRIST.
1. Christ first employs mild measures to correct His Church. Truth, suasion, love, example, are me mild means He ordinarily employs.
2. When His mild measures fail severer ones are employed. The severest is abandonment. No sword more terrible than this — to be abandoned by Christ is of all evils the most tremendous.
V. THE BLESSEDNESS OF THE FAITHFUL. The hidden manna and the white stone may mean Divine sustentation and Divine distinction. Those who are faithful to truth shall be at once sustained and honoured by God. Conclusion: Let us hold fast the name of Christ. He is everything to us. Without Him what are we? Pilgrims in an intricate and perilous desert without a guide — voyagers on a tempestuous ocean, without a chart or pilot.
I know thy works, where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is.I. IT IS POSSIBLE TO BE A CHRISTIAN ANYWHERE. Christianity is not a thing of locality, but of character. There are plants which will bloom in some latitudes and die in others. Tropical shrubs will not flourish within Arctic circles, the Alpine flora are not found on low-lying plains. But Christianity can live wherever a man can live, for it is a thing of personal character, and as that is a matter of choice, and as a man is always what he chooses to be, he may be a Christian if he chooses in any circumstances or in any place. Obadiah kept his conscience clear even in the house of Ahab: Daniel preserved his integrity amid the corruption of the court of Babylon; and Nehemiah maintained his piety in the palace of the Persian emperor. And what is true of places is equally true of occupations. Unless a man's business be in and of itself sinful, pandering to the vices and demoralising to the characters of his fellows, he may serve Christ in Any profession or trade. The Roman army was a very poor school for morals, and yet, strangely enough, all the centurions mentioned in the New Testament seem to have been men with some good thing in their hearts towards the Lord God of Israel. Character may take some of its colouring from circumstances, but it is itself independent of them; for it is the choice of the personal will by which a man is enabled to breast circumstances, and make them subservient to his own great life-purposes. Now if it be true that a man may be a Christian anywhere, what follows?
1. This, in the first place — that we must not be prejudiced against a man because of the locality in which we find him. Test a man by what he is, rather than by where he comes from.
2. But still further, if it be true that it is possible to be a Christian anywhere, then it follows, in the second place, that we ought not to excuse ourselves for our lack of Christianity by pleading the force of circumstances, or the nature of our business, or the character of the place in which we live.
II. IT IS HARDER TO BE A CHRISTIAN IN SOME PLACES THAN IN OTHERS. Thus there are households in which it seems the most natural thing in the world for a child to grow up in the beauty of holiness, and there are others in which everything like loyalty to Christ is met with opposition, and can be maintained only by a strenuous exertion. The boy brought up in a rough and godless neighbourhood has far more to contend with if he is to be a Christian than he would have residing in a different kind of locality. It is also undeniable that the surroundings of some professions and trades are more trying to those who are seeking to follow Christ than those of others. What then? If it be true, then, in the first place, the Lord knows that it is so, and He will estimate our work by our opportunity. But as another lesson from this difference in our individual circumstances, we ought to learn to be charitable in our judgment of each other. The flower in the window of the poor man's cottage may be very far from a perfect specimen of its kind; but that it is there at all is a greater marvel than it is to find a superb specimen of the same in the conservatory of the wealthy nobleman. And there may be more honour to one man for all the Christianity he has maintained in the face of great obstacles, though it be marked by some blemishes, than there is to another who has no such blemishes, but who has had no such conflict.
III. THE HARDER THE PLACE IN WHICH WE ARE WE SHOULD BE THE MORE EARNEST BY PRAYER AND WATCHFULNESS TO MAINTAIN OUR CHRISTIANITY. Here, however, it is needful that we clearly comprehend what the hardest place is. It is not always that in which there is the greatest external resistance to Christianity. An avowed antagonist he meets as an antagonist; he prepared himself for the encounter, and he is rarely taken unawares; but when the ungodly meet him as friends, then he is in real peril. The world's attentions are more deadly to the Christian than its antagonisms, and it is against these that we must be especially on our guard. The Church is in the world as a boat is in the sea; it can float only by keeping above it; and if we let it become, as I may say, world-logged, it will be swamped thereby, just as surely as a boat will be that is filled with water. Another thing which makes a place hard for a Christian to maintain his loyalty in is what I may call its atmosphere. We talk loosely of the genius of a place. But every place has its own spirit, trend, tendency, or, if you will not be offended by the word, its own particular idolatry. In one the question regarding a new-comer may be, "What does he know? Has he written anything? "There we have the worship of intellect, or, as it is called by us over the way, culture. In another the inquiry is, "Who was his grandfather?" There the idolatry is that of family. In another the test is, "What is he worth?" There the idolatry is that of wealth.
IV. THE GREATER THE DIFFICULTY WHICH WE OVERCOME IN THE MAINTENANCE OF OUR CHRISTIANITY, THE NOBLER WILL BE OUR REWARD. "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone," etc. You see, here are three things — the stone, the name, and the secret. White stones were used for different purposes; sometimes for giving a vote of acquittal to one charged with crime; sometimes as tokens of admission to banquets; sometimes as mere expressions of love between two dear friends. The last seems to be the reference here: "I will give him a special manifestation of My love." Then there is the new name written in the stone. You know that throughout the Scriptures, whenever a new name was given by God to any one, it was always connected with some particular crisis in his personal history, and especially commemorative of that. Bearing this in mind, we shall discover in this new name something distinctly commemorative of the personal history and conflicts of the individual; and when it is added that "No man knoweth it saving he that receiveth it," we have the further peculiarity that, as referring to the most terrible struggles and experiences of the man, it is a matter of sacred confidence between him and the Lord, There are secrets between the Lord Jesus and each of His people, even now and here. The sun belongs to all the flowers alike, and yet he is to each something that he, is not to any of the rest, giving to each its own distinctive appearance, its crimson tips to the sweet mountain daisy, and its beautiful combination of colours to the fragrant violet. Just so, Christ has through my personal history and experience revealed Himself in some aspects to me that He has not shown to you, and to you in some that He has not shown to me. This new name at last will gather up into one external excellency all that personal revelation which Christ has made of Himself to each individual through His history, experience, and conflicts.
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faithI. CONSIDER THIS FACT.
1. The name of Christ is here made to be identical with the faith of Christ. "Thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith." The faith of Scripture has Christ for its centre, Christ for its circumference, and Christ for its substance. The name — that is, the person, the character, the work, the teaching of Christ — this is the faith of Christians. The great doctrines of the gospel are all intimately connected with the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; they are the rays, and He is the Sun.
2. But how may the faith be denied?(1) Some deny the faith, and let go the name of Jesus by never confessing, it.(2) Christ is also denied by false doctrine.(3) By unholy living. Christ is to be obeyed as a Master, as well as to be believed as a Teacher.(4) Alas! we can deny the faith by actually forsaking it, and quitting the people of God. Some do so deliberately, and others because the charms of the world overcome them.
3. In what way may we be said to hold fast the name of Christ and the faith of Christ?(1) By the full consent of our intellect, yielding up our mind to consider and accept the things which are assuredly believed among us.(2) If we hold fast the name of Jesus, we must hold the faith in the love of it. We must store up in our affections all that our Lord teaches.(3) We also hold it fast by holding it forth in the teeth of all opposition. We must confess the faith at all proper times and seasons, and we must never hide our colours. Let us never be either ashamed or afraid.
II. Having considered the fact, LET US FURTHER ENLARGE UPON IT. What do we mean by holding fast the name of Christ?
1. We mean holding fast the Deity of that name. We believe in our Lord's real Godhead. "His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God." One of the names by which He is revealed to us is Immanuel.
2. We also hold fast the name of Jesus, and the faith of Jesus, as to the royalty of His name. He was born King of the Jews, and He is also "King of kings, and Lord of lords."
3. Moreover, we believe in the grandeur of that name, as being the first and the last. Oh, what blessings have come to us through Jesus Christ!
4. We hold fast the name of Christ as we believe in its saving power.
5. We hold fast this name in its immutability.
III. LET ME SHOW THE PRACTICAL PLACE OF THE NAME AND OF THE FAITH WITH US. The practical place of it is this:
1. It is our personal comfort. For all time the Lord Jesus is our heart's content. Through this blessed name and this blessed faith believers are themselves made glad and strong. It is strength for our weakness, yea, life for our death.
2. And then this name, this faith, these are our message. Our only business here below is to cry, "Behold the Lamb!"
3. He also is our Divine authority for holy work. If the spiritually sick are healed, it is His name which makes them strong.
4. This also is our power in preaching. The devil will never be east out by any other name — let us hold it fast.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. That they dwelled where Satan had his throne it showeth first what miserable estate all men are in without Christ, even under the cruel tyrant Satan, who ruleth in their corrupt lusts and holdeth them captive to do his will.
2. This doth magnify and extol the mercy of God that would send His gospel into such a place, even almost as it were into hell, for could it be much better where Satan had his throne?
3. As we may see, it extolleth the might of our Lord Jesus Christ, not only in planting His Church there, but in preserving it. For will Satan make final resistance when that is set up which casteth him down, and even in the place where he dwelleth? Men can better endure that which they mislike if it be further from them than if it be just by them. Then that He saith thou hast kept My name and not denied My faith, it is a most excellent thing. The devil laboureth nothing more than through terror of persecution to drive men from confessing Christ.
(J. R. Miller, D. D.)
(Ellice Hopkins.)κρατεῖς, as with tooth and nail, or by main strength.
Antipas, my faithful martyr, who was slainCoeur de Lion, or William the Silent. If a man inherits a good name he should never stain it, if a commonplace name he should make it honourable. Antipas made his to be honoured both on earth and in heaven. When the principles of Christianity are embraced, they make a man a very Antipas with respect to the world. He will find, ofttimes, things that will clash with conscience, and circumstances such as will demand much casuistical reasoning in the effort to reconcile the claims of God and Mammon. Sometimes in business he must set himself against evil maxims. Sometimes in the Church itself there is need for a man to act as an Antipas. If he finds non-essentials made the pretext for useless divisions, and cumbersome creeds the means for lading men's shoulders with burdens grievous to be borne, he must speak out. If he finds out some truth long overlooked, and which it would be for the welfare of the whole Church to accept, he may not keep the truth to himself. In all his struggles, anxieties, and sufferings the true Antipas may always be sure of the support of Christ. When the trial comes he finds a strength given such as he little expected. Suffering for Christ, he is permitted to enter more into the "fellowship of the mystery." What but this supported an when alone he dared to raise a barrier against the Arian heresy on the one hand and imperial despotism on the other? What but this supported Savonarola under all his cares, and especially at that wonderful moment in the Piazza of Florence, before the great crowds, when, holding aloft the consecrated elements in his hands, his eyes uplifted, and quivering with excitement in his whole aspect, he said, "Lord, if I have not wrought in sincerity of soul, if my word cometh not from Thee, strike me at this moment, and let the fires of Thy wrath enclose me!" What but this led Bunyan to say to the judge, "I am at a point with you, and if I were out of prison to-day I would, by the help of God, preach the gospel to-morrow"? At this day, when there is so much unsettlement as to the principles necessary to be held, and the doctrines essential to salvation, it is of the highest importance to foster this spirit of fealty to Christ. Almost as much grace on the part of a Christian is needful to live consistently in the midst of the present subtile temptations of a smooth prosperity, as to go to prison or to the stake. When the storm is raging, the captain's watchful eye and sailor's ready help may keep the ship from wreckage, but what can they do against the calm and heat of the tropics? When a man is likely to suffer severely for his opinions he is sure to be careful as to what principles he embraces. Still, all should be as concerned to be right and to hold the truth whether they have to suffer or not for their opinions.
I. ANTIPAS HAD NOT, LIKE ST. PAUL, MADE CONVERTS IN A HUNDRED CITIES; he had not been in journeyings often, in perils by land and by sea, with the care of all the Churches upon him. He had lived in a heathen city, a simple believer in Christ, and, when the trial-hour came, holding fast to his principles; and his is the name which, before the judgment, the Judge has Himself pronounced blessed. We can scarcely overrate the importance of the truth here taught. How very few of us can really do much for Christ! To how very few is it given to produce any great results in the world! How few can be builders up of the faith, destroyers of heresy, converters of the heathen; aye, how exceedingly few are they who can recount that in their whole lives they have turned one sinner from the error of his ways! It may be so: but now our Lord tells us, that if only we have in our own lives and deaths witnessed for Him, if in our own souls we have held fast His Word, not allowing our faith to be shaken, doing quietly in our own sphere whatsoever our hand findeth to do, bearing what He sendeth on us — oh, we may be hidden and unknown amid the thousands of the people, and the busy world may have nothing to write on our gravestone, no triumph over sin or suffering to connect with us; but the name never heard among men shall be a familiar sound on high.
II. This passage implies OUR LORD'S INTIMATE KNOWLEDGE OF THE CHARACTER OF EVERY INDIVIDUAL MAN.
1. He knows at this minute the trial to which we are being subjected, and our conduct under it.
2. From the beginning He knew all that we should be, all that we should go through. We know no truth at once more solemn and more encouraging than this: solemn — for what an unutterable awfulness is imparted to our daily existence by the thought that we are unfolding the roll that was written before Adam was fashioned; encouraging — for how must God watch over this life of ours, care for it, regulate it, its joys and sorrows, its cloud and sunshine, if it is no chance string of events, but a portion of His own plan from the beginning I how will He call us, each one, Antipas-like, by his name, whose every member of body and disposition of soul He foreknew when as yet there was none of them!
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