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.
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.
&&& Thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam.
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.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(W. Milligan, D. D.)
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