Time or Eternity? ™

The Church at Pergamum

In The Church at Pergamum on March 8, 2011 at 8:00 am

The third epistle is that to Pergamum, a city at the time devoted to the worship of jesculapius, the god of medicine, and in particular largely engaged with those parts of medical science which are occupied with inquiries into the springs of life. That the wickedness of the city was both greater and more widespread than was common even in the dark days of heathenism is borne witness to by the fact that the first words addressed to it by Him that hath the sharp two-edged sword were these : I know where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s throne is. The word “throne” (not, as in the Authorized Version, “seat”) is intentionally selected by the Seer; and its use affords an illustration of one of his principles of style, the remembrance of which is not infrequently of value in interpreting his book. Everywhere it is his want to see over against the good its mocking counterpart of evil, over against the light a corresponding darkness. Thus because God occupies a throne Satan does the same; and inasmuch as in Pergamum sin was marked by a refinement of greater than ordinary depth, Satan might be said to have his “throne” there. This circumstance, combined with the promise to the Church contained in the seventeenth verse, To him that overcometh, to him will I give of the hidden manna, and I mil give him a white stone, and upon the stone a new name written, which no one knoweth but he that receiveth it, may help us to understand the main thought of this epistle as distinguished from the others. We have seen reason to believe that there was some secret mystery of evil in the city; and, contrasted with this, we have now the promise of a secret mystery of life to the faithful church. The Church then in the secret of her Divine preservation is here before us. She lives a life the springs of which no one sees, a life that is hid with Christ in God.nnIt will be observed, accordingly, that, whatever may be said against the condition of the city, nothing is said against the church within it. There is no hint that she has yielded to the influences of the world. She has certainly evil-doers in her midst; but these, though in her, are not of her: and the Christianity of the great majority of her members remains sound and sweet. Let us listen to the words of commendation: And thou holdest fast My name, and didst not deny My faith, even in the days of Antipas My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwelleth. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there some that hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also some that hold the leaching of the Nicolaitans in like manner. Repent therefore; or else I come to thee quickly, and I will make war against than with the sword of My month. Those who are described in these words as “holding the teaching of Balaam” and those who are here called “the Nicolaitans” are the same, denoted in the first instance by a description taken from the history of Balaam in the Old Testament, and in the second by a word formed in Greek after the fashion of Balaam’s name in Hebrew. That the church in her corporate capacity had not yielded to the sinfulness referred to is manifest from this, that they who had done so are described as “some,” and that in the threatening of the sixteenth verse it is not said, I will war against “thee,” but I will war against “them.” The sin therefore found in the bosom of the church was not, as we shall find it to have been at Thyatira, with her consent. She failed, not because she encouraged it, but because she did not take more vigorous steps for its extinction. She did not sufficiently realize the fact that she was a part of the Body of Christ, and that, if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it. Believers in her community were too easily satisfied with working out their own salvation, and thought too little of presenting the whole church “as a pure virgin to Christ.” Therefore it was that, even amidst much faithfulness, they needed to repent, to feel more deeply than they did that “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump,” and that in the Church of the Lord Jesus wc are to a large extent responsible, not only for our own, but for our neighbours’, sins. By keeping up the Christian tone of the whole Church the tone of each member of the Church is heightened.

We thus reach the close of the first three epistles to the churches ;” and we see that, while each is accommodated to the particular circumstances of the Christian community to which it is sent, the three taken together present to us the three leading considerations upon which, when we think of Christ’s Church in this world, we naturally dwell. First, she is in the main true to her Divine Master, even when compelled to confess that she has left her first love. Secondly, she is exposed for her further cleansing to many trials. Lastly, she is sustained by the unseen influences of Divine love and grace. She eats of the hidden manna. She has within her breastplate a white, glistering stone, upon which is inscribed the new name which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it. She dwells, like the highpriest of old at the moment of his greatest dignity and honour, in the secret place of the Most High. She abides under the shadow of the Almighty. As a child she has entered into the garden of the Lord; and yet, in all the simplicity of her childhood, she is both king and priest.

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