BEFORE looking at this first letter in detail it might be well to examine the general pattern of the whole seven. There is a heading to each letter indicating its distinctive destination. The same formula is used in addressing all seven churches— ‘To the angel of the church in... write’ (R.V.). After this comes the letter itself. Each has a similar seven-fold structure.
The Lord’s Introduction. The Lord uses a different attribute to introduce Himself to the various churches—an attribute closely related to the particular message of the letter, and taken largely from the various designations given to John in the vision in Chap. 1. All the introductions have this in common, that they present the Lord Jesus Christ as the competent Judge.
The Lord’s Knowledge, expressed in each case by the words, ‘I know,’ either their works or their condition (2:9, 13). They point to the omniscience associated with the deity of Christ.
The Lord’s Commentary on the state of the churches, consisting of a commendation or a condemnation of their activities, or both.
The Lord’s Exhortation to conduct well-pleasing to Him.
The Lord’s Action following His findings—judgment for culpable failure, and reward for faithful service.
The Lord’s Command to each saint, to pay earnest heed to His messages. The formula here is identical in all the epistles, and intimates the close association of the Holy Spirit with the Lord in these communications.
The Lord’s Promise to the individual overcomer, the true believer in any church, no matter how much its failure. To these are different rewards promised. The relative position of these last two portions of the letters is different in the last four epistles from that in the first three.
The Church in Ephesus is the first addressed. It is the best known church in the New Testament. Three chapters in the Acts of the Apostles are devoted to it. Paul paid it two visits, one lasting two years, during which he instructed them fully in the things of God. Two epistles were directly addressed to the church in Ephesus (Ephesians and Rev. 2:1 -7), whilst a third has it as the main objective (1 Tim. 3:15, R.V.). Timothy, too, had been sent thither to instruct them more fully in divine things (1 Tim. 1:3). Profane history tells us that John himself also laboured there a long time.
The title by which the Lord introduces Himself to Ephesus is taken from Ch. 1:13, 16, with a slight variation. In 1:16 the Lord is described as He that had in His right hand seven stars, here as He that holdeth them. The latter verb implies mighty power put forth for the support and defence of the angels in the discharge of their duties—the passing on of unpleasant messages. Compare also the title in the letter to Sardis (3:1). The Lord is also here seen not merely in the midst (1:13) of the churches, but as He that walketh in the midst of them, implying His constant and impartial inspection.
The Lord’s title here suggests His right, and His alone, to control the angels of the churches. His is the sole prerogative to inspect them for judgment. Had Ephesus, as possibly the parent, the first and most important of these Asian churches (Acts 19:10), been usurping this function of the Lord, by taking to itself the right to interfere in the affairs of the other churches? If so, the Lord gently, but firmly, reproves them in this title. Let each assembly today remember this lesson, and not judge another church.
The Lord then displays His knowledge concerning the church. ‘Thy’ (v. 2) refers to the church, not to the angel. The letter had been sent to the angel, but the message was intended for the church. To the church the letter is directed, although it would seem that the state of the church was in some way the responsibility of the angel.
He told the angel that He had observed (v. 2a) two things about the church, each prefixed by the adjective ‘thy,’ (1) ‘thy works’—the active side of their Christian life, further detailed in v. 2b, (2) thy toil (R.V., lit., labour unto weariness) and patience’—the passive side of their Christian life, described further in v. 3.
Next follows the Lord’s commentary. He first commends them. Their works consisted in (a) not bearing with evil men —the church stood for righteousness, (b) trying those who falsely called themselves apostles—demonstrating unflinching discipline, (c) deciding that these false apostles were without a mandate from God, like the false prophets of 1 John 4:1.
Their toil and patience were seen in that (a) they had dealt patiently in these matters, (b) they had borne the reproach of such falsehood in the church for the sake of the name of Christ, (c) they did not grow tired of this work although the Lord knew their weariness. The word translated ‘labour’ (v. 2) comes from the same root as ‘fainted’ (v. 3). They had toiled hard enough to produce weariness, but they had not grown weary of the work of rooting out the evil.
But the Lord also had a message of condemnation for the Ephesian church. They had left their first love. He had just commended them for what their zeal had done—possibly done out of love, but not their first love. Following conversion the believer’s first love is for the person of Christ. That this should grow in Ephesus had been the burden of Paul’s prayer for them (Eph. 3:14-19). Yet now love for Christ had been displaced by love of correct ecclesiastical position, love of doctrine, love of righteousness, love of judgment. These were all right in their proper place, but much better if inspired by love for Christ. This the Lord saw to be lacking. Outwardly the church seemed healthy, but the Lord saw the heart—their first love gone.
Is there not in this a lesson for today, for those who minister to the saints? Would not ministry of the person and work of Christ, intended to increase the believer’s love and devotion to Him, yield better results than so-called corrective ministry? If we are brought back to our first love it would cause us to walk aright. Love for Him who loved us even unto death is superior in producing godliness than receiving advice from well-meaning brethren. The Christ who in love drew us to seek Him at conversion will daily produce in us love to keep us ever near to Himself. The contrast between the first love of the Ephesian church and the love of orthodox procedure that the Lord found in it is well illustrated in the love of the Shula-mite for the person of the Shepherd (Cant. 5:10-16) as contrasted with the love of one of the daughters of Jerusalem who rather appreciated Solomon by reason of his ancillary glories (Cant. 3:6-10).
Note the Lord’s exhortation. It is three-fold—a remembrance, a repentance, a reformation.
Remember—whence thou art fallen. The Lord directs the church in Ephesus to a consideration of the days of their first love as an incentive to its repetition. The remembrance of former days of enlightenment and joy, despite times of tribulation, would bring them back to their first love as a guiding principle.
Repent, lit., change your mind concerning the object of your affection. Let it be fixed on Christ rather than on judgments which pander to your own vanity, and exalt yourselves.
Reform. Do the first works. This will be the evidence of true repentance—the first love producing again the first works, what characterised you in the days subsequent to your conversion to God.
The Lord tells of the action He proposes to take if the church did not follow His exhortation. Failure to do so would result in the lampstand being removed. Its value as a trustworthy witness for Christ would disappear. This has happened. No longer does the church in Ephesus exist.
In v. 6, before concluding the epistle, the Lord again commends the Ephesian church—this time for their stand against Nicolaitism, possibly explaining the false apostles (v. 2b). The Nicolaitans were lit., the overcomers of the people, those in the church lording it over the ordinary saints—the beginnings of clerisy in the Church. They asserted themselves to be what they were not (v. 2b); they loved to have pre-eminence (3 John 9). This was an evil refuted by the Ephesian church, and equally detested by the Lord. He alone is Lord (v.1b).
Now follows the Lord’s command to the individual believer—his obligation to pay heed the message. An exactly similar demand is sent to each church. Three lessons are taught in these commands, (a) ‘He that hath an ear’ indicates the believer to whom God has given the ability to receive such messages (Matt. 13:9-17). (b) The Lord would indicate the close association of the Holy Spirit with Himself in the transmission of these messages to the churches, (c) He would emphasise that the letters were for the instruction of all churches alike. It is as when He addressed four disciples privately He applied the message to all the disciples, ‘What I say unto you I say unto all’ (Mark 13:37).
The letter closes with a personal promise to the individual overcomer. The overcomer in v. 7 is not merely one who succeeds in avoiding the failures of vv. 4-5. This expression indicates a genuine believer. John defined the term in 1 John 5:5 as any one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, and is in possession of eternal life. Compare also Rev. 2:11 and 20:14. Each of these seven letters includes a special message to the overcomer. Thus each professed believer should realise that if his life merits the censure the Lord gives in the letter he would do well to question whether or not he is truly born again.
To the overcomer in Ephesus a promise is given that he would ‘eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God.’ This turns our thoughts to Gen. 2:8-9, the first occurrence of the two expressions, ‘tree of life’ and ‘paradise.’ The tree of life is further explained by God as that which guarantees to man everlasting life (Gen. 3:22). To eat of this tree has been forbidden to man since the Fall, but now again the promise of eating of it is renewed to the true believer, that is, enjoying immortality. This is not to be experienced in an earthly garden of delight, but in the paradise where God Himself forever dwells. What a blessed hope for him who by a consistent Christian life down here manifests that in him abides the eternal Spirit of God!
Let us take to ourselves then the message of this letter. The Lord still walks in the midst of the churches today. Does He find in your assembly things to correspond with what He discovered in the Ephesian church? If so let us amend our ways, pay attention to His exhortations, and individually examine ourselves whether indeed we be in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).
Amongst a conquered people (vv. 1-2) God caused captured princes (vv. 3-6) to manifest their consecrated purpose (vv. 8-21). The four, with names signifying hope and trust in God, stand out conspicuously amongst the others “youths in whom was no blemish... skilful in all wisdom... understanding science... such as had ability to stand in the king’s palace” (v. 4). To assist their assimilation of the ways of the Chaldean court, the master is instructed to rename the youths with names suitable for a heathen court. Thus:
DANIEL—God is My judge, becomes BELTESHAZZAR —Bel’s prince;
HANANIAH—Beloved of the Lord, becomes SHAD-RACH—Illumined by the sun-god RAK;
MISHAEL—Who is as God, becomes MESHACH—Who is like Venus;
AZARIAH—The Lord is my help, becomes ABED-NEGO —Servant of Nego.
The name change was more than political; it was an attempt to erase memories of Jehovah and Jerusalem from their minds in order to align them to the ways of the false gods of Babylon and induce conformity to their practices. Similarly, our enemy the devil seeks to blot out from our memories the things of God and lead us to conform to the desires of the flesh and to the world.
When the time of testing came to the captive princes, “Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king’s meat” (chapter 1:8). Acquainted with the holy law, Daniel knew that it was dishonouring to the holy God to eat things offered to idols. The law repeatedly exhorted “Be ye holy for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2). It was not just a matter of eating, but a matter of principle. Expediency would suggest that as captives they should conform to the will and command of their captors, but Daniel discerned the defilement and stood firm. Our God is ever ready as the “very present help in trouble,” and as the four young men stood firm, God was watching and providing. “God made Daniel to find favour and compassion in the sight of the prince of the eunuchs” (v. 9) so that despite the fears of the steward, the four men and the God they honoured were put to the test. At the end of the ten days proving, not only were their countenances fairer, but their bodies were strengthened and their souls enriched by the fellowship of leaning upon a faithful God.
Daniel and his faithful companions stand as a type of the faithful remnant who, despite all the fierceness and terror of “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” will be steadfast in their witness (Daniel 2:1). Similarly they speak to us for we live in a world antagonistic to God and His word. The world, the flesh, and the devil are constantly pressing. How shall we stand? Let us purpose in our hearts even as Daniel did, “Go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing... be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord” (Isaiah 52:11). So should we stand today concerning the things of God, conforming to His pattern. If we would be holy, as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15) we must of necessity come out, be separate, touch no unclean thing as sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty (2 Corinthians 6:14; 7:1) presenting our whole bodies to God, holy, and not fashioned according to this world, but transformed (Romans 12:2). “Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us therefore go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:12, 13).
God honoured the faith of His servants who confessed His name, moving the heart of the supervisor to show favour. The four were confident that the God who desired their sanctification—as He still desires ours (1 Thessalonians 4:3)—would so feed them that they could safely challenge, “then as thou seest, deal with thy servants” (v. 13). Our spiritual food is Christ Himself and His word, we should not hanker after the delights of the world if we would be sanctified to God.
Having proved faithful in this initial testing, Daniel’s purpose of heart led to satisfying nourishment (v. 15) and God gave wisdom (v. 17) and added responsibility in God’s work (vv. 19, 20). No doubt Daniel often remembered his forefather Joseph who was taken from bondage to preserve life, to save by a great deliverance (Genesis 45:5, 7, 8). So should we also remember the Lord’s purposes in our redemption, and in these present days of lukewarmness, if we would sup with the King, we must learn His teaching, willing to do His will only (John 7:17). These are the days of easy conformity, and therefore we need to “cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart” (Acts 11:23) to “keep the commandment without spot” (1 Timothy 6:14) and “hold the pattern of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13). In these last times when “mockers walking after their own ungodly lusts” abound (Jude 17), so many have thrust conscience from them, and have “made shipwreck concerning the faith” (1 Timothy 1:19). Their downfall should remind us to take heed to Daniel’s example —“Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself... God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom... and Daniel continued” (Daniel 1:8, 17, 21).
The veil partitioned the tabernacle, hanging between the holy place and the holy of holies. Indeed this was its express purpose to divide the two compartments, v. 33. The word itself implies separation. It shut off the immediate presence-chamber of God from human eyes and human approach. The priests could minister within the holy place, but could not move beyond the veil into the holy of holies.
The significance of this division is interpreted for us plainly by the Spirit in Hebrews 9:8“the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest.” It taught the people that this was a temporary expedient pointing on to something better. God desired to dwell among them, and go with them on their journeyings, but they were a sinful people and He was a holy God. Sacrifices were instituted to take account of sin in various aspects, but they were repetititve, the final solution of the sin problem was not yet revealed. There could be no permanent, free access into God’s presence meantime, the veil barred the way. The people were necessarily kept at a distance, constantly reminded of their sin and God’s holiness.
The veil itself is also interpreted for us in Hebrews 10:20 “the veil that is to say His flesh,” It presents Christ’s manhood. His manhood on earth condemns all other men. His life like the veil would forever separate God from the sinner, but that life was yielded up, He was put to death in the flesh. Accordingly, consequent upon His death, the veil in the temple was rent from top to bottom (signifying a divine act) Matthew 27:51. The way to God was revealed at last. The death marks upon the risen Christ in glorified humanity announce the rent veil, bidding the believer draw near, no longer barring the way, God’s presence is open to us, do we value it? Furthermore the veil not only separated man from God, but hid the glory of God. Did not Christ in the flesh hide within Him so to speak the Glory of God. “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see” is certainly a scriptural sentiment. That flesh offered and rent on the Cross however manifests the divine glory to full view. The love, grace, mercy, holiness of God are all told out there.
The veil was of blue, purple, scarlet and fine twined linen of cunning work with Cherubim. The colours once more suggest the glories of our Saviour. Blue, the heavenly colour tells of him as the Lord out of heaven; purple tells of His Kingly character and dignity, scarlet (produced from the blood of worms) tells of His shame and sufferings, fine twined linen. His perfectly balanced righteousness. Cherubims are divine sentinels securing God’s claims cf. Gen. 3:24 where they are seen keeping the way. On the veil these figures were a continuous reminder that the way to God’s holy presence was as yet barred. However, once rent, the veil then exposed to view the cherubim with faces towards the sprinkled blood upon the mercy seat not now barring the sinner but bidding him near. They formed an integral part of the mercy seat, as they did of the veil, indicating their perfect acquiescence in all God’s ways.
And Nehemiah. which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, this day is holy unto the Lord your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said unto them, go your way, eat the fat and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord; neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8, vv. 9, 10).
How different it was at Corinth. Private dinner tables. The rich feasting to the full. The poor enjoying a very meagre fare. Yes, you celebrate a supper but not the Lord’s. This is not what He intended (1 Cor. 11, vv. 20-22). The spiritual meaning of the supper is repeated to the Corinthians by the apostle (vv. 23-26). The loaf is a symbol of the Lord’s body, given in sacrifice. The cup represents the new covenant entered into through His blood. “This do in remembrance of Me.” What is to be done? In relation to the cup, the drinking of it “this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.” In relation to the loaf, the breaking and eating of it “for as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till He come” (v. 26). But we ask, show to whom? Some suggest to the unbelievers (Vine, Clarke) “a specific proclamation to the world” (McShane). But none are normally present. The word recalls the answer of the Jewish father to his eldest son’s enquiry “what mean ye by this feast?” “And thou shalt show thy son in that day, saying, this is done because of that which the Lord did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt” (Exodus 13, v. 8).
Nehemiah notes, also, the observance of the feast of tabernacles. “And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness” (Neh. 8, v. 17). They remembered the ways of God with them.
“In remembrance of Me.” What a privilege is ours, fellow believer, to participate in the solemn yet gladsome gathering to call to mind the preciousness of our Lord, to remember Himself in His life and death. But some of the Corinthians had abused this honour with severe consequences (1 Cor. 11, vv. 27-32). What does it mean to eat and drink “unworthily?” Without self judgment (Findlay, Bruce, McShane). Yes, that would correct it without actually describing it. Satisfying one’s own lusts. (Heading). Yes, in relation to the congregational meal but not in relation to the loaf and the cup. As common bread (Darby, Grant). Yes, their not discerning the Lord’s body was a reason for it, but does it describe it? In an unworthy manner (Clarke, Kelly). In a drunken state (v. 21). The apostle concludes by not debarring the love feast (v. 33) while less important matters could wait his arrival (v. 34).
Nehemiah 8 opens “and all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel” (v. 1). Before detailing some of the happenings of this memorable seventh month, Nehemiah notes that it was both men and women who composed the congregation of Israel to whom the book of the law was brought and read in their hearing. And Ezra “read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law” (v. 3).
Similarly, at Corinth, the apostle reminds them of the distinction between the man and the woman in the assembly— as in creation—and how this distinction is to be publicly acknowledged (1 Cor. 11, vv. 2-16). The man is to appear before God with short hair and open brow. The woman with long hair and covered head. But how do we understand Paul’s words “every woman that prayeth or prophesieth?” Private meetings (Vine, Grant, Hoste) (vv. 1-16) “do not apply to the assembly” (Darby). But verses 10 and 16 imply church gatherings. Public, but women only. (Clarke, Heading). “But this type of meeting is not contemplated elsewhere” (McShane). Besides Paul refers to the appearance of men. “The church is viewed as a praying and prophesying company” (Miller). But Paul is particular “every man,” “every woman.” Silent prayer (Dennett). Is the prophesying silent? Liberty in the assembly to pray or prophesy (Findlay, Bruce). But audible part is forbidden in chapter 14, v. 34. Exceptional occurrences, prayer—a tongue (Godet). But would not Paul have said “in a tongue?” One thing at a time. A question of dress not of speech (Calvin, Kelly, McShane). But why lay down a condition for doing what he will shortly forbid? The veil implies silence (Weiss). To take part publicly was a priori excluded. The veil may be removed at home not in the assembly.
We now pass on to the third of the four sections, which together form the opening paragraph of 2nd Peter 1. As the second of these (vv. 3, 4) brought before us God’s great provision for our heavenward journey, so the third (vv. 5-9) sets forth the responsibility resting on ourselves to make full use of that provision.
The connection between the two sections is made clear in the R.V. rendering of the words which begin the third one at verse 5, “Yea, and for this very cause adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply...” Here the expression, “on your part,” suggests that Peter has already been dealing with God’s side of the matter; and another phrase, “for this very cause,” implies that the exhortation about to be given as to our side of it is based on what he has previously been saying as to His. Moreover, the fact that the exhortation starts with “In your faith supply...”, reminds us that this precious faith, which forms the starting-point of our growth, is what we have already “obtained” in verse 1; and the further fact that the fruition of our growth is described as “unto the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 8) turns our thoughts back to verses 2, 3, where this knowledge is spoken of as the element in which thrive all things that pertain unto life and godliness.
With regard to this last named link of connection, it is interesting to notice that while verses 2, 3 teach that the knowledge of the Lord produces godly living; verses 5-8 on the other hand teach that progress in godly living brings about further knowledge of the Lord. In other words the inner and outer aspects of the Christian’s life mutually produce each other. The better I know my Lord the better I shall live for Him, and the better I live for Him the more fully I shall get to know Him.
As may be seen, there are seven graces named in verses 5-7 which should follow upon faith, and as might be expected, the last and highest of the seven is “love.” Each of these should be developed out of, and should form the complement of the preceding one; for this, and not merely the “adding” of each as a separate item, is what is implied in the expression used. The rendering in the R.V. gives the idea fairly well, “In your faith supply virtue, and in your virtue knowledge,” etc.
The contrast between the positive side of the matter as given in verse 8 and the negative side as given in verse 9 is striking. In the former, not only are the various graces which have been named present, but they “abound” or “increase.” In the latter, where they are lacking, not only is there no increase in knowledge of the Lord, but there is forgetfulness even of the things which once were known and experienced.
Another connection which is of interest is formed by the occurrence in verse 9, and again in verse 12, of a word which may be literally rendered “to be present.” In the beginning of verse 9 it would be, “he with whom these things are not present”! and in verse 12, “the truth which is present with you.” Its repetition might suggest that when Peter speaks of them being “established in the present truth,” his thoughts are going back to the practical teaching he has already been giving them in the earlier verses of the chapter. It may be also remarked that in using the word “established” in verse 12, his mind is probably travelling still further back; since the term thus rendered is the same which his Lord had used to him, when in Luke 22:23, after warning Peter of his impending denial He added, “When thou art converted, strengthen (R.V., “stablish”) thy brethren.” That is the very thing which our apostle is here seeking to do.
Another word in verse 9 deserving of mention is that which in the A.V. is translated by the phrase, “cannot-see-afar-off,” and in the R.V. by “seeing-only-what-is-near.” It occurs nowhere else in the Scriptures, and the simplest English equivalent would perhaps be “short-sighted.” The persons here described are at the opposite pole from Abraham and the others referred to in Hebrews 11:13, who saw the promises afar off and embraced them. These are too short-sighted to see the value of the “exceeding great and precious promises” of ch. 1:4 and ch. 3:13, and they show that they have forgotten the cleansing from their old sins by turning back to them.
In the fourth and last section of the paragraph (vs. 10, 11) the apostle presses home his exhortation of the previous section, by pointing to three great results that will accrue from doing “these things” to which he has been urging them. In the first place they will be making their calling and election sure, or in other words, proving to themselves and others that they have truly been born again, and are therefore amongst the number of the “elect” and “called” ones to whom Peter’s letters are written (See 1 Peter 1:2, 1:15:2:9. R.V. 2 Peter 1:3, etc.).
Secondly, they will be preserved from falling by the way, and even from stumbling (as in R.V.), which is what the word here used literally means. In the spiritual realm it is not the one who keeps going on and making progress who stumbles, but the one who has ceased to do so. Nor is it the one whose eyes are lifted up to the things that are “afar off,” but the one who sees only what is near.
Finally, those who obey the exhortation of the preceding verses will have “ministered” unto them abundantly an entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The word “ministered” here is the same as is translated “add” in the A.V. of verse 5; and this the R.V. shows by rendering “supply” in the one case, and “supplied” in the other. Its repetition seems to bind the entire passage together, by the thought that when the “faith” obtained by us in verse 1 is made the means of supplying one after the other the various graces mentioned in verses 5-7, the Lord Himself will supply an abundant entrance at the end of the course. As is stated in Phil. 1:6 (R.V.), “He which began a good work in you will perfect it.”
THis sad scene we must pass over very briefly as it forms no part of the story of Abraham except in so far as Lot is concerned. The same two angels go to Sodom to fulfil their tragic ministry, that of destruction, and there is revealed the cesspool of iniquity which that place was, crying to high heaven for judgment. But let us remember the Lord Jesus draws a very serious comparison in His day between the men of Sodom and “this generation” (See Matthew, 10:15, and 11:23, 24). Greater light or privilege brings greater responsibility. But there are bright spots even here (see verses 15-22) “the Lord being merciful unto him” and then Lot’s intercession for Zoar, and again the words of the angel “I cannot do anything till thou be come thither” and v. 29 “the Lord remembered Abraham and sent Lot out...” Can we over estimate the grace and mercy of our God, even in judgment he remembers mercy, and cannot proceed until His believing ones are safe, even though they be out of touch with Him and His will. What condescending Grace!
“Remember Lot’s wife,” the Lord Jesus said, (Luke 17:32) and the two verses, preceding and succeeding give a new meaning to what his wife did. Was it that she did more than merely look back? Did she “look with regretful longings” or even “turn back”? and so was in the overthrow? See v. 17. Poor Lot, though a righteous man vexing his righteous soul from day to day with the filthy conversation of the wicked, as Peter tells us, and this chapter gives the background of this vile and filthy place. It seems to us from what follows that it would have been better had Lot lost his two daughters also, for they had the morals of Sodom. It does not seem very clear whether Lot had altogether four daughters, two of them married to Sodomites (see vv. 12, 14) who perished in the overthrow. The latter part of this chapter is sad and solemn indeed, and gave rise to two nations, Ammon and Moab, whose history is marked out for us in the remainder of the Old Testament and which hold solemn lessons for us. See for instance the Ammonites mentioned in I Kings 11:1-8 and II Chron. 12:13 etc. The reader should trace the history of these two nations and mark their enmity to the children of God. And let the worldly carnal believer take due warning. Their long history, full of wickedness and idolatry is traced for us throughout the Old Testament from Numbers to Zephaniah, and all stemming from the backsliding of a “righteous man,” Lot!
Note that the inhabitants of these cities have yet to come up for individual judgment (Matthew 10:15 and 11:24). The sites of these cities are not known though some think they are under the Dead (or Salt) Sea.
In Bible times, girdles were worn by men, women and children, and the material, of which a girdle was made, indicated the social position of the wearer. Linen and silk girdles, sometimes embroidered with gold, were worn by royalty and nobility (Jeremiah 13:1, and Daniel 10:5), whilst leather girdles were worn by peasants, as Elijah and John the Baptist wore (II Kings 1:8, and Matthew 3:4).
Four times in Scripture we read of the Lord Jesus wearing a girdle, and on each occasion a different facet of His Person is brought before us.
1. The pre-incarnate Christ
Like other prophets of old, when in exile, Daniel now in advanced years beheld in a vision “a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girdled with fine gold of Uphaz.” The prophet of deep spiritual insight saw that the man’s body was like a beryl, his face was of lightning-like brilliance, his penetrative eyes were lamps as of fire, his arms and feet were like brass in colour, whilst his voice was authoritative (Daniel 10:5-7). This man could not have been an angel, not even Gabriel, but he was undoubtedly the pre-incamate Christ, because later angels appeal to the same Man as having superior knowledge (12:5-7). Only Daniel saw the vision, whilst his companions sensed the divine presence in their midst.
The linen clothing of the Man is undoubtedly a symbol of righteousness, and the girdle of fine gold is suggestive of the dignity of this eternally righteous Person. This Man, beheld by Daniel, belonged not to time but eternity, and having neither beginning of days nor end of life, He is before all things. The eternal being of this Man distinguished Him from all other men known to Daniel.
Not even during His days of Manhood upon the earth did the Son of God set aside His golden girdle of eternal Sonship. In these days of compromise and indifference concerning not only Christian conduct but also doctrine, we need to cling tenaciously to this vital truth!
2. The humiliation of Christ
The only recorded occasion of the Lord Jesus in the days of His flesh wearing a girdle is in John 13. For the background, let us remember that every room of an Eastern house, except that belonging to the very poorest, had the central part of the floor covered with white mats and, as a person entered he took off his sandals at the door of the room, in order not to soil the white matting with dust and dirt of the road. Before reclining at the table, Jesus and the disciples had undoubtedly conformed to this custom of cleanliness, but another customary habit had apparently been neglected—the washing of their feet, which was the work of slaves. And so, during supper, Jesus arose, laying aside His two garments, as though He were the meanest slave, and “took a towel, and girded Himself.” After pouring water into the large copper bowl, with which an Oriental house was provided, He began to wash His disciples’ feet and to wipe them dry with the towel which served Him as a girdle (John 13:4f). Instead of one of the disciples taking the slave’s place and washing the Master’s feet, the Master took the slave’s place and washed the disciples feet. What an example of self-denial and service!
Not Mark, who sets forth Christ as the Servant, but John, who presents Christ as being from eternity “with God,” and “was God” relates the story. Hence, in this setting of the fourth Gospel, we behold how He, Who ever was “in the form of God,” “took the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6f). The Master is greater than the servant, the Sender greater than the apostle C the sent one’), and yet He, who is both Lord and Master, girded Himself with a towel and did the work of a slave. Awe and shame kept the disciples silent until Jesus came to Peter, who indignantly asked, “Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?”—“Dost Thou, whom I confessed to be Son of the living God, stoop to wash my feet?” Oh, the grace of Him that ministered! What meanness of him to whom the service would be done!
Every Christian will concede that the Apostle Paul was a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him (Christ) to life everlasting” (1 Tim. 1:16). He was a pattern in his conversion, in his walk and in his service for the Lord. He knew how, when and where the great transaction took place that changed his course, his life and his destiny. What a blessing it is to have a real conversion! How good to be able to tell how Christ was revealed to the soul! It is possible that some do not know the when or others the where, but no one will be in heaven who cannot tell the how. There must be a definite experience in every conversion.
Saul means “wished” or “asked.” It is in keeping with his name, therefore, that the first words we have recorded of the great Apostle are two questions. “Who art Thou, Lord?” and “Lord what wilt Thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:5, 6). From the very first he learned that Jesus was Lord, acknowledging Him as “Master” or “Supreme Ruler.” Now to know Jesus as Lord is a revelation of the Holy Spirit (1Cor. 12:3).
“Lord what wilt Thou have me to do?” ought to be the first question from every truly saved soul. We believe that the Spirit of God prompts such a question from the heart of the babe in Christ. But alas! alas! instead of looking to the Risen Head of the Church for the answer, as did Saul, the majority are gagged by tradition and swaddled by denominational bias. Notice that a sincere question ever gets a divine answer, “Arise and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:16).
Saul had learned that Christ was absolute Lord and that he was the Lord’s bond slave, so that implicit obedience was expected from him. “Must do” left no room for the present day conventional phrase of “essential and non-essential” discrimination, as to the carrying out of God’s Word. Consequently, it is natural to read that Saul’s first step after conversion was baptism. He “arose and was baptised.” He had already been baptised into one body by the Spirit of God, the moment that he was saved (Eph. 1, 13; 1 Cor. 12:13). But now he was buried with Christ by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so he also should walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). This was baptism in water which in this dispensation always succeeds and never precedes the baptism of the Spirit. No Christian can call Jesus, Lord, who has never obeyed His command in Matt. 28:19.
The next thing that we notice Saul did was to seek the fellowship of the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. It is good to begin in Jerusalem. Barnabas commended him to the Apostles, with the result that he was received into the Assembly in Jerusalem. Happily for him, he knew nothing of that strange anomaly called “occasional or partial fellowship.” He had been out and out before his conversion, so, now that he was the bond slave of his Lord, he wished no compromise or half measure, but a full fellowship in all the privileges and responsibilities of the Jerusalem Church. “He was with them coming in and going out” all the time he spent in that city.
There are two ordinances to be obeyed by every Christian who would call Jesus, Lord. They are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. When Saul was in Jerusalem he would partake of the symbolic bread and wine, with the Lord’s people. Years later he kept on doing it, for at Troas we read that “upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread” Paul was with them. When he was in Jerusalem, he was in the Assembly breaking bread on the first day of the week, and now some twenty-five years later in Troas, he was carrying out the same order with the Lord’s people in that place. In other words, Paul was not a man of mixed principles. He taught and carried out the same order in every church.
Unfortunately, in our day, it is policy and not piety, that is the guiding principle with some who ought to know better. Convenience is easier to carry out than conviction. Paul knew nothing of being double tongued. The ungodly termed him “a pestilent fellow,” the carnal Christians accused him of guile and double dealing, and the erstwhile friends in Asia turned away from him, probably because he would have no compromise with the legalists as to divine grace, and no entangling of himself with the affairs of this world in its religious, political and social aspects.
“Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” was Saul’s question, and thirty years later we get Paul’s answer: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Phil. 4:13). He had been baptised, gathered to His name and had preached the Gospel where Christ was not named. He had proved that God’s biddings are God’s enablings. He finished as he began. “Lord what wilt Thou have me to do?” was his first question, and “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me and strengthened me” was his last testimony (2 Tim. 4:17). it was the Lord’s will first and the Lord’s will last that mattered most with Christ’s most faithful servant.
Is this not an example that we should follow, in these closing days, when love for the Lord and His name is on the wane? The elder brethren who proved the Lord and bought His truth are passing Home. They pioneered, went into new places, paying their board and renting halls, saw souls saved and assemblies formed. But of late years a new generation of preachers has sprung up, some of whom seem only to be among the assemblies for convenience, as their sympathies are with the sects and their teaching and example tend to destroy a distinctive and separate church testimony. There is usually much music, more emotion and many appeals. Such preaching produces little conviction of sin, and many of the so-called converts are “strange children” with no appetite for God’s word or His ways.
Where modern methods are in vogue, do we wonder that the Lord’s people are spiritually starved? They seldom hear the whole counsel of God and consequently such are drifting back to sectarianism. Not a few of the Lord’s servants are perplexed as to fellowship with them while others are afraid to declare all the truth of the Word to them. Undoubtedly it is becoming a real difficulty for the servant who desires to please the Lord. Personally we have been much helped by that grand word in 2 Tim. 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” It keeps one’s eye on the Lord and not on men. Men may, and probably will oppose us. They will do their best to close doors once open to us. They will cut us off from their fellowship. But we have abundantly proved the truth of that promise, “Them that honour me I will honour.” It pays to fear God, and know no other fear. Let us be true to God and to His beloved people. Let us set our face as a flint against the inroads of the enemy, who would lead the Lord’s people back to the beggarly elements of this present age.
The end cannot be far off. What a joy it will be to be found faithful at that day, and to hear from His lips, the highest of all commendations: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Notice that He will not say “successful” servant. Men appreciate success, but God loves faithfulness. Men look at the outward numbers and show but the Lord searcheth the heart.
Saul of Tarsus asked, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” After thirty years of experience and now called “Paul the aged” he could write, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me.” May the Lord help us to be loyal to the truth in love, and in all our service for Him, first ask the question, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” He will answer and guide us as He did Saul of Tarsus, in a bygone day.
As I move about considerably it has not been my privilege to see and read the issues of the magazine regularly. But recently I have seen the Jan-Feb, also the March-April issues. And I am taking the liberty of writing regarding some things in the first article by Dr. John Boyd on “The Things that are.” I am glad to see that the word angel is considered as referring to men and not to a celestial being. When sharing a reading with Mr. W. E. Vine many years ago in Plas Menai he was very warm in his approval of that interpretation, referring them to those who are the channels of communication between the Lord and his people, those whom the Lord holds responsible for the spiritual condition of the assemblies, just as Aaron was held responsible for the failure of Israel in the worship of the golden calf. Moses charged him with having brought a great sin upon the people. Epaphras would be an illustration of the “angel.”
But I wish to draw attention to a few matters which I feel are of importance.
The word “Revelation” (v. 1). In a book of Hort’s “Notes on Rev., chs. 1-3,” which was published after he died, he argues very strongly that the words “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” are to be understood as the objective genitive. That Hort was a very competent Greek scholar is a known fact. As an illustration of the two kinds of genitive one might quote a few scriptures. When we read of the faith of Abraham or the faith of Moses we understand it that it refers to the faith they exercised, but when we read in Gal. 2:20 of the “faith of Jesus Christ,” it is evident that it must be understood as the objective genitive, and interpreted as the faith which placed in Him. He is the object of faith. So I take it in Rev. 1:1 it is the unveiling of Jesus Christ as that unveiling is unfolded in the visions that follow. It is history in relation to His unveiling.
His suggested interpretations of the seven churches or seven lampstands. Primarily they refer to the seven assemblies mentioned. Dr. Boyd suggests three deductions or interpretations. He does not give any scripture for adopting or refusing either of the three interpretations suggested, save the general statement “the things that are,” and that he seems to apply only to the present, the time in which we now live. He makes however seven charges against the prophetic view. Before considering a few of them I should draw attention to some solid reasons based on scripture for accepting the prophetic view. Those of your readers who have the book on Bible Problems by the late W. Hoste and W. Rodgers will doubtless have seen the answer given by W.R. to the question as to whether these are to be considered prophetic or not. Many years ago I discussed the subject with him when at the Lurgan Bible Readings. He said he would base his conclusion that the letters are prophetic on Rev. 1:3 “the words of THIS prophecy” as being applicable to the whole of the book, and not to just chs. 4 on. He considered that verse to be sufficient to establish the prophetic character of the letters. A brief reference must be made to the charges laid against the view.
Nowhere else in Scripture are we told of seven such church periods—such a clear statement would obviously do away with the imminence of the Lord’s return which is so clearly taught by the Apostle. But nevertheless does not the historical sequence of the O.T. events referred or alluded to in the letters suggest that the course of the church would be similar to that revealed in the history of Israel? And is there not a prophetic outline of the course of Christendom clearly delineated in the parables of Matthew 13?
Does our brother really believe -that the large number of able teachers, the large number of able godly men who in the past have taught the prophetic view are really guilty of the charge in Rev. 22:18? and therefore subject to the judgment mentioned in that verse?
I find it difficult to understand how the view leads to datefixing. Looking back over the history we cannot help but look at dates. But the novel idea that it leads (to date-fixing as to the future is entirely wrong. Hence the prophetic view in no way clashes with Rev. 22:20-21.
One wonders what are the questions of little profit which it is said the prophetic view leads to. It would he interesting to know. They should be pointed out, as such a general charge cannot be considered.
It causes us to miss the practical lessons and panders to vanity!!! For over twenty years now I have been seeking to give ministry on these letters, and I know of no portion which lends itself more to practical teaching than when viewing these letters in a prophetic way, and one might well ask is there any portion that is more humbling? The historical events in the O.T. which are mentioned or alluded to in the epistles are surely milestones in the highway of faith in the past, and indicate that the same milestones have been passed by the pilgrim church. Do not the allusions to Genesis in the first letter—the tree of life, the paradise of God, and “thou art fallen” clearly point to the commencement or the close of the apostolic days? Does not the fact that message to the overcomer in the last refer to the Lord’s ascension indicate the consummation of a period? The prophetic view does not need for its explanation information outside the scripture. The O.T. events and the periods connected with them are in themselves a commentary on the state of the various churches in connection with which these events are recorded. However that does not mean that we are to be blind to the history of the past 1900 years, nor should we fail to see in them parallels with what was seen by the seer of Patmos. Do not the seven departures in Israel’s history recorded in the book of the Judges ending with a blind Samson parallel the seven conditions in letters ending with blind Laodicea?