Revelation 2:14
But I have a few things against you, because some of you hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to place a stumbling block before the Israelites so they would eat food sacrificed to idols and commit sexual immorality.
Sermons
A Church with a Serious DefectD. C. Hughes, M. A.Revelation 2:12-17
Adherence to the Truth of the GospelCaleb Morris.Revelation 2:12-17
Antipas; Or, Reliable PrinciplesF. Hastings.Revelation 2:12-17
Christ's Message to the TimidJ. J. Ellis.Revelation 2:12-17
Courageous PietyG. Gyfford.Revelation 2:12-17
God's Estimate of Christian WorksW. M. Taylor, D. D.Revelation 2:12-17
Holding FastJ. Trapp.Revelation 2:12-17
Holding Fast the FaithC. H. Spurgeon.Revelation 2:12-17
Loyalty to the LastEllice Hopkins.Revelation 2:12-17
Pergamum -- the Incomplete ChurchA. Mackennal, D. D.Revelation 2:12-17
Testimony for ChristJ. R. Miller, D. D.Revelation 2:12-17
The Address to PergamosG. Rogers.Revelation 2:12-17
The Church Faithful to the Truth But Defective in DisciplineJ. S. Exell, M. A.Revelation 2:12-17
The Epistle to the Church At PergamosS. Conway Revelation 2:12-17
The Epistle to the Church in PergamumR. Green Revelation 2:12-17
The Names of Individual Souls on the Breastplate of ChristBp. Woodford.Revelation 2:12-17
The Words of Christ to the Congregation At PergamosD. Thomas, D. D.Revelation 2:12-17
The Words of Christ to the Congregation At PergamosD. Thomas Revelation 2:12-17
Idolatry and Sensuality in the ChurchH. Crosby.Revelation 2:14-15
Minor Departure from TruthC. H. Spurgeon.Revelation 2:14-15
Sin Uncomely in the ChurchT. Guthrie.Revelation 2:14-15
The Church as a Whole Injured by Individual EvilW. Milligan, D. D.Revelation 2:14-15
The Convictions of BalaamBp. Moberly.Revelation 2:14-15
The Doctrine of BalaamJ. C. Coghlan, D. D.Revelation 2:14-15


It would be altogether fitting to take the title of this letter from that which our Lord takes as his own, and term it, "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
To mansions in the skies,
I bid farewell to every fear,
And wipe my weeping eyes."

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.







&&& Thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam.
The forty years' wandering of the children of Israel in the wilderness was now done. The king of Moab, Balak, alarmed at the destruction which had fallen upon the powerful northern neighbours, and no doubt unaware of the command which had left him unharmed, did not venture upon open violence against the "desert-wearied" tribes. He bethought him of a more skilful mode of attack. He sent the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian, laden with presents, the reward of divination, to the "diviner," or "soothsayer" — to Balaam. Balaam, the diviner, waits upon God for direction. Balaam obeys the word of God. He refuses to go, and the messengers return. Balak, however, is importunate. Why did Balaam hesitate? Why did he bid the princes tarry yet that night? He asked in madness, and he received the permission he coveted from God in anger. It was madness in the servant of God to wish to go against God's will. The incident of the miraculous voice of the ass brought him to a sense of his sin. However, he is bidden to proceed on his mission. Thus far we read in Balaam's history the struggle between the love of the world and the overwhelming consciousness of truth in the same mind. It is an instructive lesson. How often do we feel ourselves placed, more or less, in the same position; our liking, our ambition, our heart, all set one way, — our reason, our consciousness of truth, our intellectual faith distinctly calling us the other! To Balaam, indeed, the case was thus far different from ours, that he could not, in so broad and obvious an instance as the one of which we have been speaking, go directly against God. The voice of God in his ears compelled him; miracles dragged him; his inspiration overbore him. He was, as it were, forced into speaking the truth. To us, alas! the danger is, in such sort, greater, that our consciousness of truth, our intellectual faith, are in themselves less imperative, and are sure to sink and die away if they be smothered by want of love. Yet we also know only too well what it is to speak out faithfully, to stick to the truth in outward words, to be, it may be, its staunch defenders and admirers, while our hearts neither love it nor obey it; holding on, as it were, by our knowledge, or our logic, or our consistency, while our heart and love would fain rebel against it. A dangerous antagonism! yet one out of which there is a safe and holy escape, if those who are at all conscious of it in themselves will throw themselves, heart and soul, into confession, and win by prayer that great and precious gift, never denied to those who pray in earnest, the heart to love, — the simple, godly heart to do the thing that they know to be right, and nought beside. Let us see how it fared with Balaam. He had gone home "to his place" by the Euphrates in disgrace. The Lord had kept him back from honour. How he returned again to the court of Moab, whether summoned again by Balak or of his own irrepressible ambition, we are not told. But he came. He found the children of Israel still holding their encampment on the acacia plain of the Jordan. Wearied as they were with the desert life, surrounded by heathen rites that were full of luxury and temptation, might they not be easily led to bring upon themselves the curse, which in his unwilling lips had been turned into a blessing? Were it not a fine stroke of policy to make them curse, so to speak, themselves? No word, probably, would need to be spoken, no formal scheme proposed. A look, a gesture might suffice. Balak would be able to understand a slight hint. There were the women of Midian, they took part in the dances and plays of the sacrifices. Would it be Balaam's fault if those hardy desert warriors, so young, so impetuous, so dangerous in their fidelity to the true God, were led by skilful and unseen management to partake in the feasts of the idol-sacrifices, and by degrees, losing their allegiance to the true Jehovah, and breaking the first of His laws, to break the seventh also, and unite themselves to the wanton women who had used every artifice to lure them to rebellion and ruin? The scheme answered only too well. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, not to be slaked till the zeal of Phineas, the son of Eleazar the high priest, after twenty-four thousand had died, stayed the plague from the children of Israel. But what of the crafty politician? Is he to triumph in secret? to compass his ends, and keep his character too? to cheat God? How his advice and double-dealing became known to the Israelites we are not told. In some way, no doubt, God, whom his cunning had outraged, revealed it to them. "Balaam also, the son of Boor, the soothsayer, did the children of Israel slay with the sword, among them that were slain by them." And from that day forth, Balaam the son of Boor is known throughout the Holy Scriptures, in the writings of prophets and apostles, as the type of those who for the sake of the wages of unrighteousness, of health, reward, honour, in defiance of better knowledge, wilfully sin by casting a stumbling-block before the children of God. And what a strange course was his! strange, I mean, regarded theoretically, and without reference to the weakness and wilfulness of men. But alas for the deadly gift of cleverness! alas for the danger of that sharpness of wit which leads us to endeavour to compass our ends by indirect and circuitous means! The politician, who could not forego true words, tried his craft. He succeeded, and he failed. He succeeded against man; he failed against God. The evil that he planned, by means of other men's sins he brought about. The personal advancement that he sought was overthrown by a miserable death, and a name blasted to all generations in the inspired oracles of God. Oh, let us turn our eyes upon ourselves! How apt we are to totter thus and stagger upon the edge of truth and duty! Not indeed visibly, intentionally, distinctly giving it up and forsaking it; but trying to hold it together with as much of worldly indulgence and prosperity as we can; trying to serve God and mammon. But if a man does thus allow himself to palter with that which ought to be the foundation and basis of all else, if he divides his aim between two objects in his life, do you suppose that that conflict will continue long? No, by no means: that which the intellect holds will yield and give way; that which the heart loves will gain strength and have victory. One way or the other, the worldly heart will have its way. It smothers the intellectual faith. It necessarily kills it. The world cannot be taken in to share the empire of the heart without becoming, ere long, the sole ruler and tyrant in it. It is, I think, not to be denied that the particular sin of Balaam, the sin, I mean, which consists in yielding to worldly temptation in defiance of better knowledge, as it was the characteristic sin of the Church of Pergamos, so it is a very particular danger in the Church of England. There is among a very large proportion of our countrymen a general knowledge of religion, however much it may be overlaid in general and forgotten in the midst of the tumult and interests of our common life. In outer life — luxury, fashion, idleness, company, business, politics — think what multitudes of men and women, who know what truth is, and have a sort of wish to be good and true in the end, these things do keep from anything like a real conversion to God, a real yielding of themselves up, in body, soul, and conscience, to the direction of the Holy Spirit! Then blessed be sickness! blessed pain! blessed adversity! blessed sorrow! for what would become of this poor world if these things did not come upon us, now and then, to waken us up from this worldly incrustation, this growing of stone round about our hearts, and force us to lay our consciences bare and sore and naked before the merciful eye of our Heavenly Father! Oh, think of Balaam's sin! Look forth upon these young men, whose tents are pitched around you, by these "willow-shaded streams." The sacrifices to idols, the pleasant games and plays which are not of God, are soliciting them dally. The women of Midian are around them to lure them into sin. What if any of the old prophets, who know the truth, should be so fond of his ease, or so careful of his popularity, or so busy with his comfort, or his preferment, or I know not what else, as to shut his eyes, to wink at Israel's sin, and let God's children bring down upon themselves a curse, which he would not utter with his lips for all the world? What if his neglect to act upon his own convictions should give encouragement to them to forget the truth that is in them, and practically and finally to desert God? Let us obey the holy calling. Remember the exceeding danger of those who know the truth, and yet follow their own evil likings. Beware of the gradual and imperceptible on-coming of that fatal worldliness, — like the sleep of the weary traveller among the Alpine snows, — in which faith inevitably dies. Statedly, regularly, and really search your own consciences before God.

(Bp. Moberly.)

We can gather from the context that the introduction into the Church of the world's idolatrous and sensual habits is denoted as the great evil against which the Church was listless and supine. In the apostolic day the fashion of the world had what would be to us a grosser form in its idolatry and sensuality; but in its principles and essential practice it differed in no respect then from what it is to-day. Every walk in life is full of idol fanes, before which the youth entering upon his career is tempted to worship as part of the necessary progress to preferment. In business life, in Government employ, in social circles, he is required to connive at or co-operate in falsehood and fraud, and to adopt a standard of morals such as destroyed the empire of Rome. The only alternative is a bold, heroic refusal, which thrusts him back into isolation and want. No! not isolation, not want, for no young man can take that noble position in the fear of God without being fully supplied and sustained by the Lord God of Daniel. The idolatry and sensuality of the world go together. They are parts of one whole. Men depart from the holy God and seek unto idols on purpose that they may indulge their fleshly lusts. Now when this poison enters the Church, when idols are set up in the house of God, when the rites of Molech and Ashtoreth are combined with the worship of Jehovah, a deadly disease threatens the life of the Church. The world's fashions, introduced into the Church and allowed to go unrebuked, soon captivate weak saints, suggest further compromises to stronger ones, and lower the standard of Christian life and experience for all.

(H. Crosby.)

We are very much in the habit of supposing that when a character has been explained and denounced in Scripture, we may thenceforth regard it both as very rare and very easily detected. We are thus naturally led into a sort of security about our own resemblance to the very persons against whose sins we need to be most on our guard.

1. There is no character in Scripture concerning which it is more necessary to be careful against making these mistakes than that of Balaam, because he was not only very bad, but really very much better than many who consider themselves to be in no danger of resembling him. The fact is that Balaam had about him many good points. There was just one thing which he lacked. What that one thing was we shall see as we proceed. I should say, indeed, that Balaam, if he were among us, would be considered the pattern of a religious character; because he really proposed to himself a very high standard, and followed it rigidly, and to his own cost. How many persons are as scrupulous as Balaam was? How many persons similarly circumstanced would have hesitated about going with the messengers the first time? He was far beyond the mere sayer of religious words. He was in a certain way — and that no very common way — conscientious: he was conscientious to his cost: and, more than this, his view of God's requirements in man was perfectly unexceptionable, and such as to show no ordinary Divine illumination. For these reasons Balaam himself might be described, up to a certain point, as "holding fast by God's name," and not denying his faith. Therefore it is not so strange that he should be the sort of character against which strictly conscientious persons should be warned, and his the "doctrine" which they might be inclined to embrace.

2. Now what is that view of religion that may be considered the "doctrine of Balaam"? As illustrated by his character, it would seem to be this, that what we have to do is to serve God without loving Him; to seek our own will and our own ends, and yet to contrive to keep out of punishment at His hands; not to desire our will to be moulded to God's will, and to be subservient to it readily and in all things; but to desire our will to be done, as far as ever it can be, within the strict letter of God's commandments. This is the main feature in the "doctrine of Balaam." Strict duty, without any love; resolute observance of a disagreeable rule, not earnest obedience to a loved parent: determination to escape punishment — no desire to please God. Now this is very much the sort of "religion" into which many honourable, upright men have a tendency to sink. To those who have no sense of religious obligation — no dread of the future — no regard for God's law — Balaam furnishes no lesson at all. They and he have no points in common. You cannot warn them against being like him, because he is so much below what he ought to be. Now, the particular act of Balaam alluded to in the text is quite in harmony with such a character as I have described. He "taught Balak," says St. John, "to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication." Balaam would not curse, because he was told in so many words not to curse; but he brought about a like end, by worse means — all in order that his own selfish desires might be gratified: as it would seem they were,

(J. C. Coghlan, D. D.)

The carpenter's gimlet makes but a small hole, but it enables him to drive a great nail. May we not here see a representation of those minor departures from the truth which prepare the minds of men for grievous errors, and of those thoughts of sin which open a way for the worst crimes? Beware, then, of Satan's gimlet.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

As a wen looks worse on a face of beauty, and a skull on a bank of snow, so a sinner in a holy church, most uncomely and loathsome.

(T. Guthrie.)

The Church in Pergamos failed, not because she encouraged the sin blamed, but because she did not take more vigorous steps for its extinction. She did not sufficiently realise the fact that she was a part of the body of Christ, and that, if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it. Believers in her community were too easily satisfied with working out their own salvation, and thought too little of presenting the whole Church "as a pure virgin to Christ." Therefore it was that, even amidst much faithfulness, they need to repent to feel more deeply than they did that "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump," and that in the Church of the Lord Jesus we are to a large extent responsible not only for our own but for our neighbours' sins. By keeping up the Christian tone of the whole Church the tone of each member of the Church is heightened.

(W. Milligan, D. D.)

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