"Him that overoometh will I make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, which is New Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God : and I will write upon him My new name."—Eev. iii. 12.
THE eyes which were as a flame of fire saw nothing to blame in the Philadelphian Church, and the lips out of which came the two-edged sword that cuts through all hypocrisy to the discerning of the thoughts and intents of the heart, spoke only eulogium—" Thou hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name." But however mature and advanced may be Christian experience, it is never lifted above the possibility of temptation; so, with praise, there came warning of an approaching hour which would try the mettle of this unblamed Church. Christ's reward for faithfulness is not immunity from, but strength in, trial and conflict. As long as we are in the world there will be forces warring against us; and we shall have to fight our worse selves and the tendencies which tempt us to prefer the visible to the unseen, and the present to the future. So the Church which had no rebuke received the solemn injunction s "Hold fast that thou hast; let no man take thy crown." There is always need of struggle, even for the most mature, if we would keep what we have. The treasure will be filched from slack hands ; the crown will be stricken from a slumbering head. So it is not inappropriate that the promise to this Church should be couched in the usual terms, " to him that overcometh" and the conclusion to be drawn is the solemn and simple one that the Christian life is always a conflict, even to the end.
The promise contained in my text presents practically but a twofold aspect of that future blessedness ; the one expressed in the clause, "I will make him a pillar"; the other expressed in the clauses referring to the writing upon him of certain names. I need not do more than again call attention to the fact that here, as always, Jesus Christ represents Himself as not only allocating the position and determining the condition, but as shaping, and moulding, and euriching the characters of the redeemed, and ask you to ponder the question, What in Him does that assumption involve?
Passing on, then, to the consideration of these two promises more closely, let us deal with them singly. There is, first, the steadfast pillar; there is, second, the three-fold inscription.
I. The steadfast pillar.
Now, I take it that the two clauses which refer to this matter are closely connected. "I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go no more out." In the second clause the figure is dropped, and the point of the metaphor is brought out more clearly. The stately column in the temples, with which these Philadelphian Christians, dwelling in the midst of the glories of Greek architecture, were familiar, might be, and often has been, employed as a symbol of many things. Here it cannot mean the office of sustaining a building, or pre-eminence above others, as it naturally lends itself sometimes to mean. For instance, the Apostle Paul speaks of the three chief Apostles in Jerusalem, and says that they "seemed to be pillars "; by which pre-eminence and the office of maintaining the Church are implied. But that obviously cannot be the special application of the figure here, inasmuch as we cannot conceive of even redeemed men sustaining that temple in the heavens ; and also, inasmuch as the promise here is perfectly universal, and is given to all that overcome —that is to say, to all the redeemed. We must, therefore, look in some other direction. Now, the second of the two clauses which are thus linked together seems to me to point in the direction in which we are to look. "He shall go no more out." A pillar is a natural emblem of stability and permanence, as poets in many tongues and in many lands have felt it to be. I remember one of our own quaint English writers who speaks of men who "are bottomed on the basis of a firm faith, mounting up with the clear shaft of a shining life, and having their persevering tops garlanded about, according to God's promise, "I will give thee a crown of life." That idea of stability, of permanence, of fixedness, is the one that is prominent in the metaphor here.
But whilst the general notion is that of stability and permanence, do not let us forget that it is permanence and stability in a certain direction, for the pillar is "in the temple of My God." Now, I would recall to you the fact that in other parts of Scripture we find the present relation of Christian men to God set forth under a similar metaphor: "Ye are the temple of the living God"; or again, "In whom ye are builded for a habitation of God through the Spirit" ; or again, in that great word which is the fonndation of all such symbols, ""We will come and make our abode with Him." So that the individual believer and the community of all such are, even here and now, the dwelling place of God. And whilst there are ideas of dignity and grace attaching to the metaphor of the pillar, the underlying meaning of it is substantially that the individual souls of redeemed men shall be themselves parts of, and collectively shall constitute, the temple of God in the heavens.
This book of the Apocalypse has several points of view in regard to that great symbol. It speaks, for instance, of there being "no temple therein," by which is meant the cessation of all material and external worships such as belong to earth. It speaks also of God and the Lamb as themselves being "the Temple thereof." And here we have the converse idea that not only may we think of the redeemed community as dwelling in God and Christ, but of God and Christ as dwelling in the redeemed community. The promise, then, is of a thrilling consciousness that God is in us, a deeper realisation of His presence, a fuller communication of His grace, a closer touch of Him, far beyond anything that we can conceive of on earth, and yet being the continuation and the completion of the earthly experiences of those in whom God dwells by their faith, their love, and their obedience. We have nothing to say about the new capacities for consciousness of God which may come to redeemed souls when the veils of flesh and sense, and the absorption in the present drop away. We have nothing to say, because we know nothing, abont the new manifestations and more intimate touches which may correspond to these new capacities. There are vibrations of sound too rapid or too slow for our ears as at present organised to catch. But whether these be too shrill or too deep to be heard, if the ear were more sensitive there would be sound where there is silence, and music in the waste places. So with new organs, with new capacities, there will be a new and a deeper sense of the presence of God; and utterances of His lips too profound to be caught by us now, or too clear and high to be apprehended by our limited sense, will then thunder into melody and with clear notes sound His praises. There are rays of light in the spectrum, at both ends of it, as yet not perceptible to human eyes; but then "we shall, in Thy light, see light" flaming higher and deeper than we can do now. We dwell in God here if we dwell in Christ, and we dwell in Christ if He dwell in us, by faith and love. But in the heavens the indwelling shall be more perfect, and transcend all that we know now.
The special point in regard to which that perfection is expressed here is to be kept prominent. "He shall go no more out." Permanence, and stability, and uninterruptedness in the communion and consciousness of an indwelling God, is a main element in the glory and blessedness of that future life. Stability in any fashion comes as a blessed hope to us, who know the curse of constant change, and are tossing on the unquiet waters of life. It is blessed to think of a region where the seal of permanence will be set on all delights, and onr blessednesses will be like the bush in the desert, burning and yet not consumed. But the highest form of that blessedness is the thought of stable, uninterrupted, permanent communion with God and consciousness of His dwelling in us. The contrast forces itself upon us between that equable and unvarying communion and the ups and downs of the most uniform Christian life here—to-day thrilling in every nerve with the sense of God, to-morrow dead and careless. Sometimes the bay is filled with flashing waters that leap in the sunshine; sometimes, when the tide is out, there is only a long stretch of grey and oozy mud. It shall not be 'always so. Like lands on the Equator, where the difference between midsummer and midwinter is scarcely perceptible, either in length of day or in degree of temperature, that future will be a calm continuance, a uniformity which is not monotony, and a stability which does not exclude progress.
I cannot but bring into contrast with that great promise "he shall go no more out" an incident in the Gospels. Christ and the Twelve were in the upper room, and He poured out His heart to them, and their hearts burned within them. But "they went oat to the Mount of Olives "—He to Gethsemane and to Calvary; Judas to betray and Peter to deny; all to toil and suffer, and sometimes to waver in their faith. "He shall go no more out." Eternal glory and unbroken communion is the blessed promise to the victor who is made by Christ "a pillar in the temple of My God."
II. Now, secondly, notice the threefold inscription.
We have done with the metaphor of the pillar
altogether.. We are not to think of anything so incongruous as a pillar stamped with writing, a monstrosity in Grecian architecture. But it is the man himself on whom Christ is to write the threefold name. The writing of a name implies ownership and visibility.
So the first of the triple inscriptions declares that the victor shall be conspicuously God's. "I will write upon him the name of My God." There may possibly be an allusion to the golden plate which flamed in the front of the High Priest's mitre, and on which was written the unspoken name of Jehovah. But whether that be so or no, the underlying ideas are these two which I have already referred to—complete ownership, and that manifested in the very front of the character.
How do we possess one another? How do we belong to God? How does God belong to us? There is but one way by which a spirit can possess a spirit—by love, which leads to self-surrender and to practical obedience. And if—as a man writes his name in his books, as a farmer brands on his sheep and oxen the marks that express his ownership—on the redeemed there is written the name of God, that means, whatever else it may mean, perfect love, perfect self-surrender, perfect obedience, that the whole nature shall be owned, and know itself owned, and be glad to be owned, by God. That is the perfecting of the Christian relationship which is begun here on earth. And if we here yield ourselves to God and depart from that foolish and always frustrated attempt to be our own masters and owners, so escaping the misery and burden of self-hood, and entering into the liberty of the children of God, we shall reach that blessed state in which there will be no murmuring and incipient rebellions, no disturbance of our inward submission, no breach in our active obedience, no holding back of anything that we have or are ; but we shall be wholly God's—that is, wholly possessors of ourselves, and blessed thereby. "He that loveth his life shall lose it ; and he that loseth his life, the same shall find it." And that Name will be stamped on us, that every eye that looks, whoever they may be, shall know "whose we are and whom we serve."
The second inscription declares that the victor conspicuously belongs to the City. Our time will not allow of my entering at all upon the many questions that gather round that representation of "the New Jerusalem which cometh down out of heaven." I must content myself with simply pointing to the possible allusion here to the promise in the preceding letter to Sardis. There we were told that the victor's name should not "be blotted out of the Book of Life"; and that Book of Life suggested the idea of the burgess-roll of the city, as well as the register of those that truly live. Here the same thought is suggested by a converse metaphor. The name of the victor is written on the rolls of the city, and the name of the city is stamped on the forehead of the victor. That is to say, the affinity which, even here and now, has knit men who believe in Jesus Christ to an invisible order, where is their true mother-city and metropolis, will then be uncontradicted by any inconsistencies, unobscured by the necessary absorption in daily duties and transient aims and interests, which often veils to others, and renders less conscious to ourselves, our true belonging to the city beyond the sea. The name of the city shall be stamped upon the victor. That, again, is the perfecting and the continuation of the eentral heart of the Christian life here, the consciousness that we are come to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and belong to another order of things than the visible and material around us.
The last of the triple inscriptions declares that the victor shall be conspicuously Christ's. "I will write upon him My new name." All the three inscriptions link themselves, not with earlier, but with later parts of this most artistically constructed book of the Revelation; and in a subsequent portion of it we read of a new name of Christ's, which no man knoweth save Himself. What is that new name? It is an expression for the sum of the new revelations of what He is, which will flood the souls of the redeemed when they pass from earth. That new name will not obliterate the old one—God forbid! It will not do away with the ancient, earth-begun relation of dependence and faith and obedience. "Jesus Christ is the same ... for ever "; and His name in the heavens, as upon earth, is Jesus the Saviour. But there are abysses in Him which no man moving amidst the incipiencies and imperfections of this infantile life of earth can understand. Not until we possess can we know the depths of wisdom and knowledge, and of all other blessed treasures which are stored in Him. Here we touch but the fringe of His great glory; yonder we shall penetrate to its central flame.
That new name no man fully knows, even when he has 1 entered on its possession and carries it on his forehead; for the infinite Christ, who is the manifestation of the infinite God, can never be comprehended, much less exhausted, even by the united perceptions of a redeemed universe ; but for ever and ever more and more will well out from Him. His name shall last as long as the sun, and blaze when the sun himself is dead.
"I will write upon him My new name" was said to a Church of which the eulogium was, " Thou hast not denied My name." If we are to pierce to the heart of the glory there, we must begin on its edges here. If the name is to be on our foreheads then, we must shrine it in our hearts now, by faith and love, and bear in our body the marks of the Lord Jesus—the brand of ownership impressed on the slave's palm. In the strength of that name we can overcome; and if we overcome His name will hereafter blaze on our foreheads—the token that we are completely His for ever, and the pledge that we shall be growingly made like unto Him.