|THE VICTOR'S CROWNS.—III.
"To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it."—Rev. ii. 17.
THE Church at Pergamos, to which this promise is addressed, had a sharper struggle than fell to the lot of the two Churches whose epistles precede this. It was set "where Satan's seat is." Pergamos was a special centre of heathen worship, and already the blood of a faithful martyr had been shed in it. The severer the struggle, the nobler the reward. Consequently the promise given to this militant Church surpasses, in some respects, those held out to the former two. They were substantially promised that life eternal, which indeed includes everything; but here some of the blessed contents of that life are expanded and emphasised.
There is a threefold promise given: "the hidden manna," "the white stone," a "new name" written. The first and the last of these are evidently the most important. They need little explanation; of the central one, the "white stone," a bewildering variety of interpretations—none of them, as it seems to me, satisfactory —have been suggested. Possibly there may be an allusion to the ancient custom of dropping the votes of the judges into an urn—a white pebble meaning innocence and acquittal; black meaning guilty—just as we, under somewhat similar circumstances, talk about "blackballing." But the objection to that interpretation lies in the fact that the " white stone " of our text is given to the person concerned, and not deposited elsewhere. There may be an allusion to a practice which antiquarians have hunted out, of conferring upon the victors in the games a little tile with a name inscribed upon it, which gave admission to the public festivals. But all the explanations are so doubtful that one hesitates to accept any of them. There remains one other alternative, which seems to me to be suggested by the very language of the text—viz., that the " white stone " is here named —with possibly some subsidiary thought of innocence and purity—merely as the vehicle for the name. And so I dismiss it from further consideration, and concentrate our thoughts on the remaining two promises.
I. We have the victor's food, the manna.
That seems, at first sight, a somewhat infelicitous symbol, because manna was wilderness food. But that characteristic is not to be taken into account. Manna, though it fell in the wilderness, came from heaven, and it is the heavenly food that is suggested by the symbol. When the warrior passes from the fight into the city, the food which came down from heaven will be given to him in fulness. It is a beautiful thought that, as soon as the man " spent with changing blows," and weary with conflict, enters the land of peace, there is a table spread for him ; not, as before, in "the presence of his enemies," but in the presence of the companions of his repose. One moment hears the din of the battle-field, the next moment feels the refreshment of the heavenly manna.
But now there can be little need for dealing, by way of exposition, with this symbol. Let us rather try to lay it upon our hearts.
Now the first thing that it plainly suggests to us is the absolute satisfaction of all the hunger of the heart. It is possible, and for those that overcome it will one day be actual experience, that a man shall have everything that he wishes the moment that he wishes it. Here we have to suppress desires, sometimes because they are illegitimate and wrong, sometimes because circumstances sternly forbid their indulgence. There, to desire will be to have, and partly by the rectifying of the appetite, partly by the fulness of the supply, there will be no painful sense of vacuity, and no clamouring of the unsubdued heart for good that is beyond its reach. They—and you and I may be amongst them, and so we may say "we "—" shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more." Oh, brethren ! to us who are driven into activity by desires, half of which go to water and are never fulfilled—to us who know what it is to try to tame down the hungering, yelping wishings and longings of our souls—to us who have so often spent our " money for that which is not bread, and our labour for that which satisfieth not " it ought to be a Gospel: "I will give him to eat of the hidden manna." Is it such to you? Do you believe it possible, and are you addressing yourselves to make the fulfilment of it actual in your case?
Then there is the other plain thing suggested here, that that satisfaction does not dull the edge of appetite or desire. Bodily hunger is fed, is replete, wants nothing more until the lapse of time and digestion have intervened. But it is not so with the loftiest satisfactions. There are some select, noble, blessed desires even here, concerning which we know that the more we have, the more we hunger with a hunger which has no pain in it, but is only the greatened capacity for greater enjoyment. You that know what happy love is know what that means—a satisfaction which never approaches satiety, a hunger which has in it no gnawing. And in the loftiest and most perfect of all realms, that co-existence of perfect fruition and perfect desire will be still more wondrously and blessedly manifest. At each moment the more we have, the wider will our hearts be expanded by possession, and the wider they are expanded the more will they be capable of receiving, and the more they are capable of receiving, the more deep and full and blessed and all-covering will be the inrush of the river of the water of life. Satisfaction without satiety, food which leaves him blessedly appetised for larger bestowments, belong to the victor.
Another thing to be noticed here is what we have already had occasion to point out in the previous promises: "I will give him." Do you remember our Lord's own wonderful words: "Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that He shall gird Himself, and shall come forth and serve them "? The victor is seated at the board, and the Prince, as in some earthly banquet to a victorious army, Himself moves up and down amongst the tables, and supplies the wants of the guests. There was an old Jewish tradition, which perhaps may have influenced the form of this promise, to the effect that the Messiah, when He came, would bring again to the people the gift of the manna, and men should once more eat angels' food. Whether there is any allusion to that poetic fancy or no in the words of my text, the reality infinitely transcends it. Christ Himself bestows upon His servants the sustenance of their spirits in the realm above. But there is more than that. Christ is not only the Giver, but He is Himself the Food. I believe that the deepest meaning of this sevenfold cluster of jewels, the promises to these seven Churches, is in each case Christ. He is the Tree of Life; He is the Crown of Life, He is—as well as gives—" the hidden manna." You will remember how He Himself gives us this interpretation when, in answer to the Jewish taunt, " Our fathers did eat manna in the wilderness. "What dost Thou work?" He said, " I am that Bread of God that came down from heaven."
So, then, once more, we come back to the all-important teaching that, whatever be the glories of the perfected flower and fruit in heaven, the germ and root of it is already here. The man that lives upon the Christ by faith, love, obedience, imitation, communion, aspiration, here on earth, has already the earnest of that feast. No doubt there will be aspects and sweetnesses and savours and sustenance in the heavenly form of our possession of, and living on, Him, which we here on earth know nothing about. But, no doubt also, the beginning and positive degree of all these sweetnesses and savours and sustenances yet to be revealed is found in the experience of the man who has listened to the cry of that loving voice, "Eat, and your souls shall live"; and has taken Jesus Christ Himself, the living person, to be not only the source but the nourishment of his spiritual life.
So, brethren, it is of no use to pretend to ourselves that we should like—as they put it in bald popular language—to "go to heaven," unless we are using and relishing that of heaven which is here to-day. If you do not like the earthly form of feeding upon Jesus Christ, which is trusting Him, giving your heart to Him, obeying Him, thinking about Him, treading in His footsteps, you would not like, you would like less, the heavenly form of that feeding upon Him. If you would rather have the strong-smelling garlic and the savoury leeks— to say nothing about the swine's trough and the husks —than "this light bread," the "angels' food," which your palates cannot stand and your stomachs cannot digest, you could not swallow it if it were put into your lips when you get beyond the grave; and you would not like it if you could. Christ forces this manna into no man's mouth; but Christ gives it to all who desire it and are fit for it. As is the man's appetite, so is the man's food; and so is the life that results therefrom.
II. Note the victor's new name.
I have often had occasion to point out to you that Scripture attaches, in accordance with Eastern habit, large importance to names, which are intended to be significant of character, or circumstances, or parental hopes or desires. So that, both in reference to God and man, names come to be the condensed expression of the character and the personality. When we read, "I will give him a stone, on which there is a new name written," we infer that the main suggestion made in that promise is of a change in the self, something new in the personality and the character. I need not dwell npon this, for we have no material by which to expand into detail the greatness of the promise. I would only remind you of how we are taught to believe that the dropping away of the corporeal, and removal from this present scene, carries with it, in the case of those who have here on earth begun to walk with Christ, and to become citizens of the spiritual realm, changes great, ineffable, and all tending in the one direction of making the servants more fully like their Lord. What new capacities may be evolved by the mere fact of losing the limitations of the bodily frame ; what new points of contact with a new universe; what new analogues of what we here call our senses, and means of perception of the external world, may be the accompaniments of the disembarrassment from " the earthly house of this tabernacle," we dare not dream. We could not, if we were told, rightly understand. But, surely, if the tenant is taken from a clay hut and set in a Royal house, eternal, not made with hands, its windows must be wider and more transparent, and there must be an iurush of wondrously more brilliant light into the chambers.
But whatsoever be these changes, they are changes that repose upon that which has been in the past. And so the second thought that is suggested by this new name is that these changes are the direct results of the victor's course. Both in old times and in the peerage of England you will find names of conquerors, by land or by water, who carry in their designations and transmit to their descendants the memorial of their victories in their very titles. In like manner as a Scipio was called Africanus, as a Jervis became Lord St. Vincent, so the victor's "new name" is the concentration and memorial of the victor's conquest. And what we have wrought and fought here on earth we carry with us, as the basis of the changes from glory to glory which shall come in the heavens. "They rest from their labours; their works do follow them," and, gathering behind the laurelled victor, attend him as he ascends the hill of the Lord.
But once more we come to the thought that whatever there may be of change in the future, the main direction of the character remains, and the consolidated issues of the transient deeds of earth remain, and the victor's name is the summing up of the victor's life.
But, further, Christ gives the name. He changed the names of His disciples. Simon He called Cephas, James and John He called "Sons of Thunder." The act claimed authority, and designated a new relation to Him. Both these ideas are conveyed in the promise: "I will give him ... a new name written." Only, brethren, remember that the transformation keeps true to the line of direction begun here, and the process of change has to be commenced on earth. They who win the new name of heaven are they of whom it would be truly said, while they bore the old name of earth, "If any man be in Christ he is a new creature." "Old things are passed away ; behold, all things are become new."
III. Lastly, note the mystery of both the food and the name.
"I will give him the hidden manna ... a new name . . . which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it." Now, we all know that the manna was laid up in the Ark, beneath the Shekinah, within the certain of the holiest place. And, besides that, there was a Jewish tradition that the Ark and its contents, which disappeared after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the first Temple, had been buried by the prophet Jeremiah, and lay hidden away somewhere on the sacred soil, until Messiah should return. There may be an allusion to that here, but it is not necessary to suppose it. The pot of manna lay in the Ark of the Covenant, of which we hear in another part of the symbolism in this book, within the veil in the holiest of all. And Christ gives the victor to partake of that sacred and secret food. The name which is given, "no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it." Both symbols point to the one thought, the impossibility of knowing until we possess and experience.
That impossibility besets all the noblest, highest, purest, Divinest emotions and possessions of earth. Poets have sung of love and sorrow from the beginning of time ; but men must love to know what love means. Every woman has heard about the sweetness of maternity, but not till the happy mother holds her infant to her breast does she understand it. And so we may talk till Doomsday, and yet it would remain true that we must eat the manna, and look upon the white stone for ourselves, before we can adequately comprehend.
Since, then, experience alone admits to the knowledge, how vulgar, how futile, how absolutely destructive of the very purpose which they are intended to subserve, are all the attempts of men to forecast that ineffable glory. It is too great to be understood. The mountains that ring us round keep the secret well of the fair lands beyond. There are questions that bleeding hearts sometimes ask, questions which prurient curiosity more often ask, and which foolish people to-day are taking illegitimate means of solving, about that future life, which are all left—though some of them might conceivably have been answered—in silence. Enough for us to listen to the voice that says, "In My Father's house are many mansions "—room for you and me—" if it were not so I would have told you." For the silence is eloquent. The curtain is the picture. The impossibility of telling is the token of the greatness of the thing to be told. Hope needs but little yarn to weave her web with. I believe that the dimness is part of the power of that heavenly prospect. Let us be reticent before it. Let us remember that, though our knowledge is small and our eyes dim, Christ knows all, and we shall be with Him; and so say, with no sense of pained ignorance, or unsatisfied curiosity, "It doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is," Cannot our hearts add, "It is enough for the servant that he be as his master"?
An old commentator on this verse says, "Wouldst thou know what manner of new name thou shalt bear? Overcome. It is vain for thee to ask beforehand. Hereafter thou shalt soon see it written on the white stone."
Help us, 0 Lord, to fight the good fight of faith, in the sure confidence that Thou wilt receive us, and refresh us, and renew us.