Revelation 3:7-13.

The Church has been left on earth to be a witness for Christ during the time of His absence. This is its great privilege, and this is its responsibility.

In the addresses to the Seven Churches, the Lord, with eyes as a flame of fire reviews the whole history of the Church on earth in its responsibility to Himself. From this solemn review we learn: — First, that from the outset the Church, as a whole, has failed in its witness for Christ, and that the failure becomes more pronounced throughout the ages.

Secondly, we learn that in the midst of all the failure there has been throughout the ages, and will be to the end, those of whom the Lord speaks as overcomers, and who answer to His mind, and have His approval.

We learn, moreover, that the root of all the failure in witnessing for Christ, was that the Church left its first love for Christ, and that this will end in putting Christ outside the door. Having put the One for Whom it was to witness outside the door, the Church becomes a witness to itself and says, "I am rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing." Christ thus becomes intolerable to the professing Church, and the professing Church becomes nauseous to Christ.

Having the mind of Christ revealed to us, it will be possible, in the midst of the confusion, for the one that has ears to hear and a heart that desires to be faithful to the Lord, to refuse that which the Lord rebukes and follow that which He approves. In the measure in which we thus act we shall be able to meet and overcome the difficulties of the day, have the approval of the Lord at the present time, and receive the promised reward in the day to come.

Among the Seven Addresses, that to Philadelphia has a remarkable place, in that the Lord's word to this Church is one of entire approval. It contains, indeed, a word of warning, but no word of rebuke. Surrounded by those who, on the one hand, were in the main marked by the corruptions of Thyatira and the lifeless profession of Sardis, and on the other hand, by the nauseous self-sufficiency of Laodicea, there was a company of saints who had the approval of the Lord. Does not the Lord thus indicate that in the last days of Christendom, marked on the one hand by the corruption of the Papacy and the lifeless profession that characterises Protestantism, and on the other hand by the boastful self-sufficiency of Modernism, there will be found until the end those that will have the approval of the Lord?

This being so, if we desire to be of the company of those who answer to the Lord's mind, we may well pay diligent heed to the Lord's words to the angel of the Church in Philadelphia, so that we may learn, and seek to be marked by, the characteristics that He approves, take heed to His warning, and enjoy the support of His encouragement.

1. The Lord's Presentation of Himself.

In the addresses to the Churches the Lord generally presents Himself in a judicial character, seeing that there is so much that calls for condemnation. In this Church, where He finds that which He can approve, He presents Himself in His personal and moral perfections as "the Holy" and "the True." The Lord thus indicates the qualities that He looks for in His people, and which alone can have His approval. If, in the midst of all the corruptions of Christendom, believers are to witness to Christ, they must above all else be morally like Christ.

He is, and ever was, "the Holy." He is "Holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners." It follows that all who call upon the Name of the Lord are responsible, not only to depart from iniquity, but to separate from vessels to dishonour, in order to be "sanctified, and meet for the Master's use."

As "the True," He is absolutely faithful to God in His witness to the truth. All that He does, and all that He says, is in absolute perfection. He is nothing partially, He is everything perfectly. If He is the Light, He is "the true light;" if He is the Bread come down from heaven, He is the "true bread;" if He is the Vine, He is the "true Vine;" if He is the Witness, He is the "true witness." Does He bear record of Himself? His "record is true;" does He pass judgment? His "judgment is true."

Likeness to Christ as "the Holy" and "the True," will demand separation from the corruptions of Christendom, which find their greatest expression in Thyatira: from the lifeless formalism of Sardis; and the self-sufficiency of Laodicea.

Moreover, to meet the little strength of the Philadelphian Assembly, the Lord presents Himself with all power as having the key of David. He is One "Who opens and no one shall shut, and shuts and no one shall open." In the passage, in the prophet Isaiah, that presents Christ in this blessed way, we learn that government is in "His hand;" the key is on "His shoulder;" and all the glory of Israel as a nation "shall hang upon Him" (Isa. 22:21-24). The mighty and irresistible power that He will soon exercise on behalf of His earthly people is now used on behalf of a feeble company at Philadelphia to remove every difficulty that would hinder their service for the Lord, and to meet every opposition by which Satan would seek to beguile them into a denial of pure Christianity by adopting a spurious Judaism

It has been pointed out by others that the character in which the Lord presents Himself, and the qualities which He approves in the Philadelphians, were perfectly set forth in Christ, Himself, when on earth. In every step of His path he was "the Holy" and "the True." He, too, was content to pass through this world in circumstances of weakness as the One Who became poor and had not where to lay His head. He was content to be treated as the offscouring of the earth, and to be trampled upon by men, for the sake of His own. Men may thrust Him out of their cities, and the Pharisees and Scribes, the Rulers and Priests, endeavour to shut the door against Him. But, we read, "to Him the porter openeth," and the sheep hear His voice. No power of the enemy can prevent the Lord finding His lost sheep, gathering them around Himself, and leading them home. And no power of the enemy can prevent the Philadelphian from answering to the Lord's mind and carrying out the Lord's word in a day of ruin.

2. The Lord's Word of Approval.

It is, at first sight, remarkable that, in an Assembly in which the Lord finds so much to approve, so little is said as to their works. In other addresses the Lord recounts the works; to this Assembly He simply says, "I know thy works." Of the Assembly at Ephesus the Lord has much to say of their works, but He rebukes them for having left their first love. In Philadelphia there was no great display of works that would bring them into prominence in the religious world, but there was a return to first love which was very precious in the eyes of the Lord. There is always a danger of setting a high value on works which make something of ourselves before others, and over-looking the moral condition which is of the first consideration in the eyes of the Lord. The Philadelphian saints sought not the approbation of men: they were content with the approval of the Lord. It is enough for them that the Lord had taken account of their works. They rest in the fact that He had said "I know thy works."

If, however, the Lord has nothing to say of their works, He delights to bring before us the moral characteristics that are of such value in His sight.

The Assembly at Philadelphia had four outstanding characteristics that drew forth the approval of the Lord:

First, the Lord says, "Thou hast a little strength;

Secondly, "Thou … hast kept my word;

Thirdly, "Thou … hast not denied my Name;

Fourthly, "Thou hast kept the word of my patience."

If, then, these are the characteristic marks that have the Lord's approval we shall do well to consider His words, seeking to grasp their true import.

(1) "Thou hast a little strength."

At the beginning of the history of the Church there was a mighty display of power in public testimony before the world. By the miraculous gift of tongues men heard of the wonderful works of God. "By the hands of the Apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people". (Acts 5:12). A multitude of people brought their sick to the Apostles and, we read, "they were healed every one" (Acts 5:16).

Let us, however, remember that in the day of this mighty display of divine power the sole authority of the Lord was recognised, the presence of the Holy Spirit was practically owned, and those "that believed were of one heart and one soul." All now is changed. Men have set aside the authority of the Lord; the presence of the Holy Spirit is ignored, and the people of God are divided and scattered. Thus the Church has entirely failed as a public and united witness for Christ in the world. As a result of this failure all outward display before the world has ceased. The sign gifts have been withdrawn, the power of healing is no more, speaking with tongues has ended, and the day of miracles has passed.

Let us then face the fact that we live in a day when the Church as a whole has entirely failed in its public witness before the world. In such circumstances to attempt to assume power before the world, the pretence of speaking with tongues, and exercising the gifts of healing, and the performance of miracles, is entirely contrary to the mind of the Lord. Moreover any such pretence entirely ignores the government of God that has withdrawn these sign gifts on account of the failure of the church. The Philadelphians made no such pretence. They did not seek for any place of prominence or distinction in the world. They did not, like those which "say they are Jews and are not," claim to be God's people nationally. They assumed no title to a religious position on earth; they recognised they had but little strength. Nevertheless, the very expression "a little strength" supposes they had some strength. This is more than could be said of Sardis, or Laodicea. The Lord has to say of Sardis "thou art dead." A dead man has no strength. Of Laodicea the Lord says, "thou are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." Such an one has no strength. Philadelphia has, indeed, only a little strength, but it is sufficient to rise above the deadness of Sardis and the self-sufficiency of Laodicea, and so doing, it had the approval of the Lord. Moreover, it is in connection with their little strength that the Lord presents Him-self as the One that has the key, and therefore can command all circumstances in favour of His people. This does not imply any outward display of power before men, but power used on behalf of His people, as He can say, "Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it."

(2) "Thou hast kept my word."

The second trait of the Church in Philadelphia, that met with the Lord's approval, was that, in the midst of the surrounding darkness, they kept the Lord's word. If then we desire to have this mark of the Lord's approval we shall do well to enquire into the significance of these words.

We live in a day when on every hand the word of God is being attacked in Christendom; and when professing Christians are denying the inspiration of the Scriptures. There are indeed those who rightly own the verbal inspiration of Scripture, and who stand for the absolute authority of the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible. Nevertheless, keeping Christ's word implies a great deal more than merely maintaining the authority of Scripture. A father might write a letter to two sons instructing them as to his purpose for them, and directing them as to their conduct. One son might raise questions as to the authenticity of the letter, while the other son indignantly repudiates such suggestions, and boldly maintains that from beginning to end the letter is authentic. And yet both sons might miss the Father's counsel contained in the letter, and be indifferent to his instructions. In like manner we may be zealous for the Bible, and nothing but the Bible, and yet be wholly ignorant of, or even indifferent to, the counsel of God contained in the Word. To confine keeping His word to the acknowledgement that the Bible is the inspired word of God would be to deprive the passage of its true meaning. Truly one could not keep His word without holding the inspiration of Scripture; but to keep His word is more than this.

The word of God is the mind of God revealed to us. Christ's word is the whole mind of God as to Christianity, whether given directly from the Lord, as He can say, "I have given them thy words," or through the mouth of the Apostle Paul, to whom it was given "to complete the word of God" by unfolding the truth of Christ and the Church (Col. 1:25-27).

When the true meaning of Christ's word is apprehended we shall be stirred up and exercised, not simply to maintain the canon of Scripture, but, that we may know the mind of God for Christ and the Church; and, knowing His mind, that we may seek at all cost to answer to it.

It has been truly said, that, "God has given His mind in every age and time, and His people have been preserved and delivered from every difficulty in proportion as they have walked according to the revelation; while they have suffered as they have in any way departed from it."

Three conclusions may be safely drawn as to those who keep Christ's word. First, it would prove that such were a company who loved the Lord, for the Lord said to His disciples, "If a man love me, he will keep my words" (John 14:23). Secondly, it would imply they were a company cleansed from the defiling influences of the world, for, again, the Lord can say of His disciples, "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you" (John 15:3). Thirdly, it would suggest that they were a company set apart from the world and devoted to Christ, for the Lord prayed, "Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth." We may thus conclude from the blessed fact that they kept Christ's word, that they were a company that loved the Lord, that they were separate from evil, and devoted to Christ.

(3) "Thou … hast not denied My Name."

The third mark in the Church at Philadelphia that had the Lord's approval was that they had not denied His Name.

In a day when the Person of the Lord is being attacked, and the truths of His deity and incarnation are being denied it is of the first importance to unflinchingly maintain every truth of His glorious Person. Yet, not to deny His Name involves more than firmly asserting the truth of His Person.

We read, "There is none other Name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). To admit the possibility of salvation through any other would therefore be a denial of His Name.

Again, it is written, "Through His Name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins (Acts 10:43). Then to proclaim the forgiveness of sins through the absolution of a priest, or by any other means, would be a denial of His Name.

Moreover, it is written, "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My Name He will give it you" (John 16:23-26). We are thus exhorted to pray in His Name; therefore any prayer offered up in the name of Mary, or any other saint, would be a denial of His Name.

Further, the Lord tells us that, "Where two or three are gathered together in My Name there am I in the midst" (Matt. 18:20). The Name of Christ then is the alone gathering centre for His people. To gather together in the Name of any man, ecclesiastical or political, who assumes an official hereditary position, or is appointed by men, as a leader among God's people, is to deny His Name.

Then we are instructed to exercise the discipline that maintains the holiness of God's house, "In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 5:4). To refuse to exercise such discipline would be indifference to holiness and a denial of His Name.

Finally, in view of the corruptions of Christendom, we read, "Let every one that nameth the Name of Christ depart from iniquity" (2 Tim. 2:19). His Name demands separation from iniquity. For a believer to be knowingly linked up with iniquity is the denial of His Name.

Thus not to deny His Name implies, not only that we maintain the truth of His Person, but, that we refuse to substitute any other name for salvation, for forgiveness, for prayer, for gathering together, for the exercise of discipline, and for separation from iniquity. If then we desire to have the mark of the Lord's approval we must walk apart from everything that, in these different ways, is a denial of His Name.

(4) "Thou hast kept the word of My patience."

As foretold by the Lord in the parable of the ten virgins, the blessed hope which characterised the Church at the beginning has been long lost by the professing church. But for the last century the hope has been revived, and the cry has gone forth, "Behold the Bridegroom cometh" To the Church at Philadelphia the Lord can say, "Behold, I come quickly."

This blessed truth is very generally held and taught by evangelical Christians, but to keep the word of Christ's patience involves more than holding the truth of the Second Advent, and looking for the return of the Lord.

As the Lord passed through this world His enemies charged Him with having a devil, with being mad, with being a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber. They heaped every insult upon Him, spat in His face, crowned Him with a crown of thorns, and nailed Him to a cross. All these insults only brought out the perfect patience of Christ in the presence of His enemies. He submitted without complaint, and to all men's insults He answered never a word.

The patience of Christ in the presence of His enemies, that was so perfectly expressed in His pathway through this world, is still the patience that marks Christ now that He is in the glory. He is not indifferent to the hard speeches which ungodly sinners speak against Him; He is not unmindful of the persecutions, afflictions, insults, and martyrdoms that His people may be called to endure, but, in patience, He bears with it all during this time when God is dealing in grace towards a guilty world.

The whole of this present period, in which Christ is seated at the right hand of God, is the time of His patience. God's word to Christ is "sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool" (Ps. 110:1). The time is coming when the Lord will deal in judgment with all His enemies, put down all evil and reign in righteousness. Today He is gathering His friends out of the world; in the day that is so soon coining He will deal with His foes in the world.

When on earth, Christ witnessed a bold confession to the truth; He exhibited the character and maintained the glory of the Father; but, in the presence of opposition and insults, "He opened not His mouth." When He was reviled, He reviled not again. He suffered in patient silence. If Christ acted in patience, and if Christ is still waiting in patience, it is our part to wait also in patience. We are called to follow His steps. So doing, we shall boldly witness for the truth, seek to honour the Name of Christ by exhibiting the character of Christ; but, in the presence of persecution and insults we shall be silent, not seeking to revenge ourselves, but waiting in patience until Christ, at His coming, will recompense tribulation to those that trouble His people (2 Thess. 1:6). So the Apostle James exhorts, "Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord" (James 5:7). Again, the Apostle Paul can say, in the presence of all the "reproaches and afflictions" that the saints may be called upon to face, "Ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry" (Heb. 10:36-37).

Keeping the word of His patience, we shall not only look for the coining of Christ but, in the presence of reproaches, afflictions and insults, come from what quarter they may, we shall exhibit the character of Christ by meeting all in the patience of Christ.

These, then, are the great characteristics that, in a day of ruin and confusion have the approval of Christ. All around there is the assumption of power, ecclesiastical and temporal, but no strength to rise above the corruptions of Christendom and enable the great profession to keep His word and not deny His Name. In Philadelphia there was no assumption of outward power, but there was a little strength that enabled them to escape the corruptions around, to keep Christ's word, not deny His Name. and to keep the word of His patience.

3. The Word of Warning and Encouragement.

Those who seek to keep the word of Christ and not deny His Name will find that the greatest opposition will come from those "which say they are Jews and are not." This surely represents those who, instead of having Christ before them as "the Holy" and "the True," set up a system of religion after the Jewish order. Such systems are marked by tradition, ordinances, and ceremonies, that can be carried out by the flesh, without any personal faith in Christ. They accredit the flesh but leave the heart far from God, and the conscience untouched.

Such systems loom largely before the world, while the Philadelphians, with their little strength, are hardly noticed, or if noticed only to be despised. Nevertheless, the day is coming when all will be reversed; when those who have been highly approved by the world will have to learn that the people whom they despised and opposed, are approved and loved by the Lord.

In the presence of this opposition, the Lord's word of approval is followed by the Lord's words of warning and encouragement. The need for the warning indicates, that in the presence of opposition there is the danger of letting go the things that the Lord approves. We may be sure that what the Lord approves, the devil will oppose. If the Lord says, "Hold fast," the devil will tempt to let go.

The Lord had said to this Assembly, "Thou hast a little strength;" "Thou … hast kept my word;" "Thou  hast not denied My Name;" and "Thou hast kept the word of my patience." Now He says, "Hold fast that which thou hast" "My word," "My Name," and "the word of My patience."

The characteristic traits that the Lord approves in the Church at Philadelphia are the very things that professing Christendom has failed to maintain. To hold fast that which the mass has let go will entail conflict and opposition. Under the strain of this continual conflict that keeping Christ's word, and not denying His Name, will entail, and to escape the reproach and obscurity of a little strength, there is the ever present temptation to turn aside to a wider and more popular sphere, and an easier path. There, indeed, we may escape conflict and reproach, but we may also lose our crown.

In the presence of this temptation we have not only the Lord's warning against giving up, but also His encouragement to hold fast. First, He encourages us by saying, "Behold I come quickly." If we are warned to "hold fast," and if holding fast entails conflict, let us remember it will not be for long. He is coming quickly.

Secondly, the Lord tells us there is a crown for the one that holds fast. We may have opposition to face, conflicts to endure, reproaches and insults to meet, but the crowning day is coming by and by.

Thirdly, the Lord unrolls before us the glorious future and thus gives us a glimpse of the coming day with its bright rewards. The one who has been content with a little strength in the time of Christ's rejection will be displayed as a pillar of strength in the day of His glory. The one who has kept His word as to the Church, in the day when the great profession utterly ignored the truth, will be displayed as belonging to the Church in the day when the Church descends from heaven resplendent in all the glory of the New Jerusalem. The Name of God and the name of the city of God will be written upon that one. Those who have not denied Christ's Name, when the professing mass dishonoured that Name, will come forth with His New Name upon their brow, for "they shall see His face; and His Name shall be in their foreheads."

It has been pointed out how frequently the little word "My" is used in this address. It very blessedly indicates the identification of these saints with Christ in time and eternity. Christ can say of those who in the day of His rejection are linked up with "My Name" and "My word," and the word of "My patience," that they will be identified with the temple of "My God," the Name of "My God" the city of "My God," and "My new Name."

Such then are the Lord's words of approval, warning and encouragement, and, as we heed His words we shall find definite direction and guidance in the midst of all the corruption of Christendom, and the confusion amongst His true people. By His word of approval we know what meets His heart in these difficult days; with His word of warning we know where our danger lies; and with His word of encouragement we know the glory that is before the one that overcomes by holding fast in the presence of all the opposition of men and all the power of the devil.
H. Smith.