"To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne."—Rev. iii. 21.
THE Church at Laodicea touched the lowest point of Christian character. It had no heresies, but that was not because it clung to the truth, but because it had not life enough to breed even them. It had no conspicuous vices, like some of the other communities. But it had what was more fatal than many vices—a low temperature of religious life and feeling, and a high notion of itself. Put these two things together —they generally go together—and you get the most fatal condition for a Church. It is the condition of a large part of the so-called "Christian world" to-day, as that very name unconsciously confesses ; for " world" is the substantive, and "Christian" only the adjective, and there is a great deal more " world " than " Christian" in many so-called " Churches."
Such a Church needed, and received, the sharpest rebuke. A severe disease requires drastic treatment. Bat the same necessity which drew forth the sharp rebuke drew forth also the loftiest of the promises. If the condition of Laodicea was so bad, the struggle to overcome became proportionately greater, and, consequently, the reward the larger. The least worthy may rise to the highest position. It was not to the victors over persecution at Smyrna, or over heresies at Thyatira, nor even to the blameless Church of Philadelphia, but it was to the faithful in Laodicea, who had kept the fire of their own devotion well alight amidst the tepid Christianity round them, that this climax of all the seven promises is given.
In all the others Jesus Christ stands as the bestower of the gift. Here He stands, not only as the bestower, but as Himself participating in that which He bestows. The words beggar all exposition, and I have shrunk from taking them as my text. We seem to see in them, as if looking into some sun with dazzled eyes, radiant forms moving amidst the brightness, and in the midst of them one like unto the Son of man. But if my words only dilute and weaken this great promise, they may still help to keep it before your own minds for a few moments. So I ask you to look with me at the two great things that are bracketed together in our text; only I venture to reverse the order of consideration, and think of—
I. The Commander-in-Chief's conquest and royal repose.
"I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne." It seems to me that, wonderful as are all the words of my text, perhaps the most wonderful of them all are those by which the two halves of the promise are held together—" Even as I also." The Captain of the host takes His place in the ranks, and, if I may so say, shoulders His musket like the poorest private. Christ sets Himself before us as pattern of the struggle, and as pledge of the victory and reward. Now let me say a word about each of the two halves of this great thought of our Lord's identification of Himself with us in our fight, and identification of us with Him in His victory.
As to the former, I would desire to emphasise, with all the strength that I can, the point of view from which Jesus Christ Himself, in these final words from the heavens, directed to all the Churches, looks back upon His earthly career, and bids us think of it as a true conflict. You remember how, in the sanctities of the upper room, and ere yet the supreme moment of the crucifixion had come, our Lord said, when within a day of the Cross and an hour of Gethsemane, "I have overcome the world." This is an echo of that neverto-be-forgotten utterance, that the aged Apostle had heard when leaning on his Master's bosom in the seclusion and silence of that sacred upper chamber. Only here our Lord, looking back upon the victory, gathers it all up into one as a past thing, and says, "I overcame," in those old days long ago.
Brethren, the orthodox Christian is tempted to think of Jesus Christ in such a fashion as to reduce His conflict on earth to a mere sham fight. Let no supposed theological necessities induce you to weaken down in your thoughts of Him what He Himself has told us— that He, too, struggled, and that He, too, overcame. That temptation in the wilderness, where the necessities of the flesh and the desires of the spirit were utilised by the Tempter as weapons with which His unmoved obedience and submission were assailed, was repeated over and over again all through His earthly life. We believe—at least I believe—that Jesus Christ was in nature sinless, and that temptation found nothing in Him on which it could lay hold, no fuel or combustible material to which it could set light. But notwithstanding, inasmuch as He became partaker of flesh and blood, and entered into the limitations of humanity, His sinlessness did not involve His incapacity for being tempted, nor did it involve that His righteousness was not assailed, nor His submission often tried. We believe—or, at least I believe—that He "did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth." But I also reverently listen to Him unveiling, so far as may need to be unveiled, the depths of His own nature and experience, and I rejoice to think that He fought the good fight, and Himself was a soldier in the army of which He is the General. He is the Captain, the Leader, of the long procession of heroes of the faith; and He is the "perfecter" of it, inasmuch as His own faith was complete and unbroken.
But I may remind you, too, that from this great word of condescending self-revelation and identification, we may well learn what a victorious life really is. "I overcame ;" but from the world's point of view, He was utterly beaten. He did not gather in many who would listen to Him or care for His words. He was misunderstood, rejected; lived a life of poverty; died, when a young man, a violent death; was hunted by all the Church dignitaries of His generation as a blasphemer; spit upon by soldiers, and execrated after His death. And that is victory, is it? Well, then, we shall have to revise our estimates of what is a conquering career. If He, the pauper-martyr, if He, the misunderstood enthusiast, if He conquered, then some of our notions of a victorious life are very far astray.
Nor need I say a word, I suppose, about the completeness, as well as the reality, of that victory of His. From heaven He claims in this great word just what He claimed on earth, over and over again, when He fronted His enemies with "Which of you convinceth Me of sin?" and when He declared in the sanctities of His confidence with His friends, "I do always the things that please Him." The rest of us partially overcome, and partially are defeated. He alone bears His shield out of the conflict undinted and unstained. To do the will of God, to dwell in continual communion with the Father, never to be hindered by anything that the world can present or my sins can suggest, whether of delightsome or dreadful, from doing the will of the Father in heaven from the heart—that is victory, and all else is defeat. And that is what the Captain of our salvation, and only He, did.
Turn for a moment now to the other side of our Lord's gracious identification of Himself with us. "Even as I also am set down with My Father in His throne." That points back, as the Greek original shows even more distinctly, to the historical fact of the Ascension. It recalls the great words by which, with full consciousness of what He was doing, Jesus Christ sealed His own death-warrant in the presence of the Sanhedrim when He said: "Henceforth ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power." It carries us still farther back to the psalm which our Lord Himself quoted, and thereby stopped the mouths of Scribes and Pharisees: "The Lord said unto My Lord, sit Thon at My right hand till I make Thine enemies Thy footstool." He laid His hand upon that great promise, and claimed that it was to be fulfilled in His case. And here, stooping from amidst the blaze of the central royalty of the Universe, He confirms all that He had said before, and declares that He shares the Throne of God.
Now, of course, the words are intensely figurative, and have to be translated as best we can, even though it may seem to weaken and dilute them, into less concrete and sensible forms than the figurative representation. But I think we shall not be mistaken if we assert that, whatever lies in this great statement far beyond our conception in the present, there lie in it three things—repose, royalty, communion of the most intimate kind with the Father.
There is repose. You remember how the first martyr saw the opened heavens and the ascended Christ, in that very hall, probably, in which Christ had said, "Henceforth ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power." But Stephen, as he declared, with rapt face smitten by the light into the likeness of an angel's, saw Him standing at the right hand. We have to combine these two images, incongruous as they are in prose, literally, before, we reach the conception of the essential characteristic of that royal rest of Christ's. For it is a repose that is full of activity. "My Father worketh hitherto," said He on earth, "and I work." And that is true with regard to His unseen and heavenly life. The verses which are appended to the close of Mark's gospel draw a picture for us—" They went everywhere preaching the Word": He sat at "the right hand of God." The two halves do not fuse together. The Commander is in repose; the soldiers are bearing the brunt of the fight. Yes! But then there comes the word which links the two halves together. "They went everywhere preaching, the Lord also working with them."
Christ's repose indicates, not merely the cessation from, but much rather the completion of, His work on earth, which culminated on the Cross; which work on earth is the basis of the still mightier work which He is doing in the heavens. So the Apostle Paul sets up a great ladder, so to speak, which our faith climbs by successive stages, when He says, "He that died— yea, rather that is risen again—who is even at the right hand of God—who also maketh intercession for us." His repose is full of beneficent activity for all that love Him.
Again, there is set forth royalty, participation in Divine dominion. The highly metaphorical language of our text, and of parallel verses elsewhere, presents this truth in two forms. Sometimes we read of "sitting at the right hand of God" ; sometimes, as here, we read of " sitting on the throne." The " right hand of God" is everywhere. It is not a local designation. "The right hand of the Lord" is the instrument of His omnipotence, and to speak of Christ as sitting on the right hand of God is simply to cast into symbolical words the great thought that He wields the forces of Divinity. When we read of Him as enthroned on the Throne of God, we have, in like manner, to translate the figure into this overwhelming and yet most certain truth, that the Man Christ Jesus is exalted to supreme, universal dominion, and that all the forces of omnipotent Divinity rest in the hands that still bear, for faith, the prints of the nails.
But again that session of Christ with the Father suggests the thought, about which it becomes us not to speak, of a communion with the Father—deep, intimate, unbroken, beyond all that we can conceive or speak. We listen to Him when He says, " Glorify Thou Me with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was." We bow before the thought that what He asked in that prayer was the lifting of one of ourselves, the humanity of Jesus, into this inseparable unity with the very glory of God. And then we catch the wondrous words: "Even as I also."
II. That brings me to the second of the thoughts here, which may be more briefly disposed of after the preceding exposition, and that is, the private soldier's share in the Captain's victory and rest. "I will grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also."
Now, with regard to the former of these, our share in Christ's triumph and conquest, I only wish to say one thing, and it is this—I thankfully recognise that to many who do not share with me in what I believe to be the teaching of Scripture—viz., the belief that Christ was more than example, their partial belief, as I think it, in Him as the realised ideal, the living Pattern of how men ought to live, has given strength for far nobler and purer life than could otherwise have been reached. But, brethren, it seems to me that we want a great deal more than a pattern, a great deal closer and more intimate union with the Conqueror, than the mere setting forth of the possibility of a perfect life as realised in Him, ere we can share in His victory. What does it matter to me, after all, except for stimulus and for rebuke, that Jesus Christ should have lived the life? Nothing; but when we can link the words in the upper room, "I have overcome," and the words from heaven, "Even as I also overcame," with the same Apostle's words in his epistle, "This is the victory that overcometh the world; even our faith," then we share in the Captain's victory in an altogether different manner from that which they do who can see in Him only a pattern that stimulates and inspires. For if we put our trust in that Saviour, then the very life which was in Christ Jesus, and which conquered the world in Him, will pass into us; and the law of the spirit of life in Christ will make us more than conquerors through Him that loved us.
And then the victory being secured, because Christ lives in us and makes us victorious, our participation in His throne is secure likewise.
There shall be repose, the cessation of effort, the end of toil. There shall be no more aching heads, strained muscles, exhausted brains, weary hearts, dragging feet. There will be no more need for resistance. The helmet will be antiquated, the laurel crown will take its place. The heavy armour, that rusted the garment over which it was braced, will be laid aside, and the trailing robes, that will contract no stain from the golden pavements, will be the attire of the redeemed. We have all had work enough, and weariness enough, and battles enough, and beatings enough, to make us thankful for the thought that we shall sit on the throne,
But if it is a rest like His, and if it is to be the rest of royalty, there will be plenty of work in it; work of the kind that fits as and is blessed. I know not what new elevation, or what sort of dominion will be granted to those who, instead of the faithfulness of the steward, are called upon to exercise the activity of the Lord over ten cities. I know not, and I care not; it is enough to know that we shall sit on His throne.
But do not let us forget the last of the thoughts: "They shall sit with Me" Ah! There you touch the centre—" To depart and to be with Christ, which is far better;" "Absent from the body; present with the Lord." We know not how. The lips are locked that might, perhaps, have spoken; only this we know, that, not as a drop of water is absorbed into the ocean and loses its individuality, shall we be united to Christ. There will always be the two, or there would be no blessedness in the two being one ; but as close as is compatible with the sense of being myself, and of His being Himself, will be our fellowship with Him. "He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit."
Brethren, this generation would be a great deal the better for thinking more often of the promises and threatenings of Scripture with regard to the future. I believe that no small portion of the lukewarmness of the modern Laodicean is owing to the comparative neglect into which, in these days, the Christian teachings on that subject have fallen. I have tried in these sermons on these seven promises to bring them at least before your thoughts and hearts. And I beseech you that you would, more than you have done, "have respect unto the recompense of reward," and let that future blessedness enter as a subsidiary motive into your Christian life.
We may gather all these promises together, and even then we have to say, " the half hath not been told us." "It doth not yet appear what we shall be." Symbols and negations, and these alone, teach us the little that we know about that future ; and when we try to expand and concatenate these, I suppose that our conceptions correspond to the reality about as closely as would the dreams of a chrysalis as to what it would be when it was a butterfly. But certainty and clearness are not necessarily united. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him." Take "even as I also" for the key that unlocks all the mysteries of that glorious future. "It is enough for the servant that he be as his Master."