He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
ages to come Christ's ministers should gather in. On that day there were added to the Church some three thousand souls, who were all straightway baptized according to St. Peter's word, "Repent, and he baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." The Day of Pentecost, therefore, became a chosen day in the early Church for the reception by baptism of converts to the Christian faith. On that day they who had lived heretofore in Judaism or in heathenism were clothed in white robes, and gathered in numerous throngs at the baptisteries of the churches; there, with music and holy psalms, and with many elaborate symbolic ceremonies, they received the initiatory rite of the Christian Church. But the most striking feature of the day was the procession of white-robed candidates, and that so fastened itself on the mind of the Church, that the day which commemorated the Feast of Pentecost came to be called, as it is amongst us still, Whir or White Sunday, Alba Dominica, or the white Lord's day. Those who were on that day baptized had been counted worthy - for they had renounced heathenism or Judaism, and had confessed Christ - to he numbered amongst the Christian fellowship. And hence they were arrayed in white garments; for was it not written, "They shall walk... worthy "? And it is told how not seldom these baptized ones would ever afterwards carefully preserve their white robe as a perpetual reminder of their vow of consecration to Christ, and at the last, when they lay down to die, they would have it put on once more, and in it they would be buried. But whilst it is interesting to note how the mind of the ancient Church expressed by such symbolism its understanding of this word before us, it is more important to us to get beneath the metaphor, and to ascertain its meaning for ourselves today. And that meaning is surely this - that the consecrated Christian life is a blessed life. The white robe of the baptized told them, no doubt, of the character and responsibilities of that life; that its character was to be holy, and that their responsibility and obligation were to strive after holiness, and to he content with nothing less. But in our text it is not so much responsibility and obligation that are meant, but the blessedness of the Christian life. Let us speak, therefore -
I. OF THE WORTHINESS WHICH WINS THE WHITE ROBE. The few in Sardis who are to be counted worthy are they who, unlike the rest, "have not defiled their garments;" that is, the character, which is the vestment of the soul, and which they had received, they had kept undefiled. For a new character is given to him who truly comes to Christ; he is a new creature, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth him from all sin. This is no mere doctrine of theology, but a fact in Christian experience. For the mind in which we come to Christ is in nature, though not in degree, Christ's own mind - that mind of which his atoning death was the expression; the mind that condemns sin, that trusts in the forgiving love of God, and desires above all else the love of God. Such was the mind in which Christ died, and which was the real atonement. For the mangled flesh of the Lord and the bleeding body had no atoning power save as they declared the mind which was in him. And it was a mind that could not but be infinitely acceptable to the Father, could not but have been a full, true, sufficient atonement, ablation, and satisfaction to his heart, the Father-heart of God. And because, whenever we come really to God in Christ, the movements of our minds are in this same direction, and we come clothed in this mind, though it may be but imperfectly, yet because our mind is like in nature, though not in degree, to the perfect mind of Christ when he died for us, therefore are we accepted in him, and for his sake pardoned, and made possessors of a new character - his mind - which is the garment we are to keep undefiled, and which those who are counted worthy do keep undefiled.
II. OF THE WHITE ROSE ITSELF. It tells:
1. Of purity. "Blessed are the pure in heart." Oh, the joy of this! It is good, when temptation comes, to be able to grip and grapple with it, and to gain victory over it, though after a hard struggle. Oh, how far better this than to miserably yield, and to be "led captive by Satan at his will"! But even this falls far below the blessedness which the white robe signifies. For it tells of an inward purity, like to his who said, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me." There was nothing in him on which the tempter's power could fasten, and to rise up to this heart-purity is the glory and joy promised by the white robe.
2. Of victory. White was the symbol of this also, as well as of purity. He who went forth "conquering and to conquer" rode upon a white horse - so the vision declared. They who had come out of the great tribulation were clothed in "white robes," and elsewhere we are told they had "overcome by the blood of the Lamb." And this blessedness of victory the consecrated soul enjoys. "Sin shall not have dominion over" him. "In all things" he is "more than conqueror." One of the very chiefest blessings of the Christian faith is that it makes the weak strong, and to them that have no might the faith of Christ increaseth strength. Facts of everyday Christian experience prove that it is so.
3. Of joy. White garments are the symbol of this also. And the truly consecrated heart shall know "the joy of the Lord." The saints of God in all ages have found that "he giveth songs in the night." Who should have joy if not the true-hearted Christian man?
III. HOW WE MAY WIN AND WEAR THESE WHITE ROBES. Through entire surrender to Christ. There is no other way. If we retain our own will and keep urging its claims, these white robes are not for us. The consecrated life is clothed thus, and that life alone. - S.C.
Hear what the Spirit saith.I. EVERY CHURCH OF CHRIST HAS AN ORGANIC LIFE OF ITS OWN. This is not only distinct from the life of any other church, but even distinct from the life of its members. It is perhaps one of the most noticeable of the faults of modern Christians, that they are trying to lose their individuality in the mass, hoping thereby to evade responsibility and to shirk duty. To sink a Christian out of responsibility by absorbing him into a church, is like sinking a soldier in an army; he only passes under more rigid rules and only shows more conspicuously.
II. EVERY CHURCH HAS AN ORGANIC HISTORY OF ITS OWN, WHICH VERY LIKELY MAKES UP ITS ANNALS. Get some aged people together on an anniversary, and a quiet stranger might soon ascertain that every church has a special history lust as striking as these had in Asia Minor, and as precious. In one year, doubtless, there was a man whose behaviour or misfortunes gave the people a world of trouble; in another year, there was a man who gave them a world of help. One man failed in business, and that shook the church badly; then a man grew suddenly wealthy, and that saved the church. Let us stop and think how vital, how positively alive and instinct with nervous and palpitating existence, every established organisation comes eventually to be. "This and that man was born in her."
III. EVERY CHURCH HAS AN ORGANIC CHARACTERISTIC OF ITS OWN, and this is derived from the social and personal life of those who compose and manage it. Just as when we split a rock in a quarry into layers, traces will be found in it of lines which the sea waves made there ages ago while the sand was washed into place by the tides and compacted into stone; so when we read the annals of any old congregation, we shall find how certain epochs were fashioned. Sometimes it was the half-dozen elders that gave form to all the church life. Sometimes the deacons drew a line of demarcation. Sometimes a few restless women, sometimes a few uncomfortable men, set the congregation on fire. Sometimes it was the sewing-society, and very often it was the choir.
IV. EVERY CHURCH HAS AN ORGANIC POWER OF ITS OWN. This ability for usefulness is entirely distinct from, and superadded to, the influence exerted by individuals. In union there is strength.
V. Finally, there is given us here the lesson that EVERY CHURCH HAS AN ORGANIC MORTALITY OF ITS OWN. It is possible for it to become actually extinct, whenever it is cast out by God. They say there is a star-fish in the Caledonian lakes, sometimes dredged up from the deep water. It looks firm and strong, most compactly put together. But the moment you pull off one of its many branching limbs, no matter how small it may be, the singular creature begins itself to dislocate the rest with wonderful celerity of contortions, throwing away its radiate arms and jerking from their sockets its members, until the entire body is in shapeless wreck and confusion of death, and nothing remains of what was one of the most exquisitely beautiful forms in nature, save a hundred wriggling fragments, each repulsive, and dying by suicide. Those seven fair churches went into sudden and remediless ruin. So any church may go. Once rejected of God, congregations generally hurry themselves into dissolution with reckless bickerings and quarrels; and the end comes swiftly.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
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