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every Minister in the Connexion is officially interrogated in relation to his views, that any departure from the acknowledged creed may at once be detected and dealt with. The trust-deeds, too, upon which our chapels are settled, provide for the preaching of the Wesleyan doctrines from the pulpits according to certain standard works, and forbid the preaching of any other. Thus we are happily guarded against the introduction amongst as of Tractarianism, Rationalism, “ Negative theology," or any other form of error; and a pledge is furnished, that, as long as Methodism continues, the world shall hear of a free, full, and present salvation, to be realized by faith in the atonement of Christ Jesus, and by the enlightening, renewing, and sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost.
4. Deception and hypocrisy are reproved by the Spirit. - In the church of Sardis, though there were some who did not defile their garments, there were others who appeared to be what they were not : “ Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead,” reputation for vital godliness, whilst under the influence of spiritual death. “I have not found thy works perfect before God,”-literally, not filled, but all hollow : perfect to man, who looks on the outward appearance ; not so to God, who tries the reins, and requires truth in the inward parts. The holy law enjoins sincerity in all things, and denounces in the strongest language every species of guile. There was much insincerity in the Jewish church, and it is greatly to be feared that many nominal Christians are under the same evil influence. appear in assumed forms, and mimic characters and virtues not belonging to them. All their religion is mere acting, and their service nothing better than masquerading. They may frequently and loudly engage in public prayers, but they draw nigh to God with their lips only. They may in appropriate language and with becoming demeanour confess their sins before the mercy-seat, but they feel no contrition of heart. They may intercede for a perishing world, and profess much love for souls ; but they will not make any sacrifice to promote their salvation. They may enumerate the blessings of which they are partakers, and thank the Lord for His loving-kindness ; but their bosoms heave not with grateful emotion. They may profess faith in Christ, and say they are accepted in the Beloved ; but they live under the sway of some known secret vice, and make no determined struggle for deliverance. They may declare they love their brother, and would do anything to serve him ; but they injure his character by retailing misrepresentation and slander.
They may assert the deep interest they feel in religious charities, and even contribute to their support ; but it is to obtain a name, as they would not do the same thing were they assured that none but God would ever know it. They may avow an experimental acquaintance with the deep things of God, and profess to be entirely sanctified; but they still yield to impure motives, and are often governed by most un holy tempers. In this manner they may obtain a name to live, whilst they are dead. That such instances of deception are found in the church, will not be denied ; and they certainly form a formidable barrier in
the way of its advancement and prosperity, and an offence to its great Lord. No class of sinners was so severely rebuked by our Lord as that of bypocrites, whom He invariably represented as fearfully withstanding His glorious cause : “ for,” said He to them, “ye shut up the kingdom against men : for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” When hypocrisy was in the camp of Israel, the Lord refused to go with the host to battle. Hence they were defeated ; and the proud foe exultingly triumphed orer tbe fallen sons of Israel. Nor can there be any doubt that the people of God in the present day are often made to flee before the enemy, because of the false colours assumed by a number of professors. We cannot wonder, then, that Christ threatened to come to Sardis “as a thief” in the night, to punish its deceitfulness.
Brethren, let us carefully avoid this evil ourselves, and deal faithfully with it in others. Let us call upon men with earnestness of spirit to do the things which God commands, or not to say, “Lord, Lord;”—to secure oil in their vessels, or to cast away their lamps ; --to be “ Israelites indeed, in whom is no guile,” or to leave Jehovah's camp ;-to “fight the good fight of faith," or to put off the Christian uniform ;-to live, or not to mimic life. Hypocrisy in the church is a more powerful obstacle to the spread of Christianity, than infidelity in the world. The one is a treacherous foe within the citadel; the other, an open foe without. And, doubtless, bypocrisy has done more than infidelity in corrupting the church, and impeding the progress of Christianity in the world.
5. Lukewarmness in religion is reproved by the Spirit.—The rebuke to the church of Laodicea is expressed with emphatic brevity: “Thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot,”-neither Christian nor Pagan ; not under the influence of a fervent Christian spirit, nor yet quite controlled by a chilling unbelief. This was a most irrational and unhappy state ; and many, we fear, are still found in the same condition. Christianity calls for intelligent, fervent, and untiring zeal in its glorious service; and its professors, to be consistent with their principles, should be more zealous and persevering in promoting it than they are in promoting any other cause whatever. But all are not so. Some evince far more ardour in amassing wealth on earth than in laying up treasure in heaven ; others manifest more anxiety in procuring what they are pleased to call " a fortune" for their children, thap in leading those children to Jesus, whose blessing maketh rich, and whose favour is better than life. And others display far more zeal in their attempts to realize some worldly object, than in seeking to save perishing souls : for they will make sacrifices of time, ease, and wealth in the one case, which they never think of making in the other. Now, this want of fervent, patient, and untiring zeal, on the part of those who are directed to disciple the world, cannot but greatly militate against its conversion. Christians ought to sbake off their lethargy, and press into the service of their Divine Master all their capabilities, making His work the great business of life, and striving faithfully to carry out His manifest designs. Lukewarmness in
religion is most loathsome in the eyes of Christ, and we need not marvel that He said to the offending church, “I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth.” This state of mind is often attended with self-deception. It was so at Laodicea : "Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Dreadful illusion ! In Sardis the people deceived others ; in Laodicea the people deceived themselves.
Beloved brethren, let us daily guard against this sin in ourselves, and vigorously oppose it in our people. As a denomination, we have credit for zeal : let us be careful to sustain that credit by seeking an increase of heavenly fire, that we may be “ zealously affected always in a good thing,"—not occasionally, not spasmodically, but always, under the prompting and forceful influence of the pure flame of love, —and thus become, in the cause of our God, a whole burnt-offering.
III. The Spirit speaks to the churches words of PROMISE.
The promises of God always refer to character, either expressed or implied; never to individuals, or churches, irrespectively of character. Inattention to this rule of interpretation has occasioned many errors, and led to the utter perversion of some portions of the word of God. Cheering assurances which belong to character, and speak of reward, have been applied to persons who either never had that character, or, after possessing it for a season, have through unwatchfulness lost it. Now, the language of promise addressed to the seven churches belongs, in all its variety of expression, to specified character, and is restricted “ to him that overcometh.” The enduring reward is laid up, not for those who merely resolve, or strive, or fight, but only for those who finally conquer.
Religion is a struggle. All its principles encounter antagonism from various powers and influences. Its doctrines are assailed by numerous forms of scepticism, which seek to take away the comfort and hope of all who confide therein ; whilst its graces have to contend with the most direct opposition—its humility, with pride ; its benevolence, with selfishness ; its love, with hatred ; and its holiness, with a thousand phases and modifications of sin. The world, the flesh, and the devil meet religion at every point, withstand it in all its forms of development, and seek, by violence and stratagem, not only to subdue and despoil its living witnesses, but to check their every pulsation of spiritual life. Religion accordingly imposes warfare. The enemies' tactics vary according to the circumstances of the parties assailed.
This battle for principle, and for heaven, may sometimes be fierce. Some have even “resisted unto blood, striving against sin :" and, although we may not be called to such extremity, we are called to overcome, whatever sacrifice that may cost us, if we would inherit the glorious promise which the Spirit has given to the churches. That promise, being made in every case “to him that overcometh,” manifestly refers to future reward; and it is presented under different aspects.
1. To him that overcometh there is an assurance of acquittal in the day of judgment : “I will give unto him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.”-It was the practice of some ancient judges to give their suffrages by black and white pebbles. Those who gave the black, were for having the prisoner condemned; those who gave the white, for having him acquitted. To this custom there appears to be an allusion here, designed to represent to us the happy condition of the faithful when they shall appear at the bar of God, and in virtue of the blood of Christ be acquitted before the universe.
But in that stone there is to be “a new name written.” It was a custom of old, and in some countries it still continues, to give to persons, on a change of their position and circumstances, a new name indicative of that change. The new name, or change expressed thereby, which will be realized in the day of judgment, “no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” Like many other things in religion, it can be understood only by possession.
“ Dost thou desire to know and see
What only conquest can explain.” 2. To him that overcometh a glorious immortality is promised : “He shall not be hurt of the second death.”—Blessed prospect ! The second death is “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.” It is destruction without annihilation ;-a living death, comprising the loss of all comfort and all hope, the guawing “worm” that “dieth not,” and “the fire” that is not quenched.” But he that overcometh shall escape unhurt by the second death. Nor is this all: “I will give him to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” Thus will he realize a blissful immortality, and dwell amid scenes of beauty and enjoyment, surpassing those of the garden which the Lord God once planted eastward in Eden; a paradise from which the subtle and deadly serpent will be excluded for ever. O, what a prospect to the faithful Christian ! and what a motive to perseverance in the spiritual conflict !
3. To him that overcometh great dignity is promised : “The same shall be clothed in white raiment,” indicating not only purity, but joyful triumph : “And I will not blot his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels.”— When a man is born again, his name is written in the book of life, and he is numbered with the living in Jerusalem. When the judgment shall be set, and the books opened, “ another book” will be opened, “which is the book of life ;" and whosoever shall not be found written therein shall be “cast into the lake of fire.” For the
Christian to find his name in that book, when the world is on fire,and, as a consequence, to be confessed or acknowledged as a faithful servant by the Judge of quick and dead, before an assembled universe, -must be a dignity of which we can form no adequate conception. Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, “ Whosoever shall confess Me before men, bim will I confess also before My Father,” and “ before the angels of God.” Let us be careful to have our names in the book of life, and equally so to keep them there ; that it may not appear in the great day that our unfaithfulness has oaused their obliteration,—than which we can conceive nothing more calamitous. But this public recognition of fidelity is not all the dignity promised : “I will make him 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.” The reference is to the glory of conquest.
In commemorating distinguished military service crowned with victory, it was customary in ancient times to place a monumental pillar in some great temple, upon which were inscribed the name of the deity of that temple, the name of the city to which the conqueror belonged, and the name of the commander under whom the victory had been won. The only true God is the Deity of the celestial temple, in which this pillar is to be placed; the New Jerusalem, or church of Christ, is the city of the vietor ; and the Second Person in the Trinity, with His new name Jesus, is the Captain under whose command the conquest has been gained. But mopuinental pillars placed in eartbly temples were subject to decay and removal. Not so with those in the temple of God; for they shall go out no more. The glory acquired, and thus represented in bold eastern imagery, will be enduring as the ages of eternity.
4. To him that overcometh dominion is proinised : “ To bim 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."—What exaltation this, for a worm of the dust! To sit at His feet would be wonderful eleva, tion; but to sit in His throne is a thought so startling, that we can with difficulty receive it. Yet, that it shall be so, is bere enunciated as a part of that word of which a jot or tittle shall not pass away until all be fulfilled. Nor is this all that is said upon the subject in these epistles to the churches : “ To him will I give power over the nations : and he shall rule them with a rod of iron ; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers : even as I received of My Father.” This dark passage receives light from another portion of God's word : “Know ye not,” says St. Paul, “ that the saints shall judge the world ?” It would seem that all who overcome will be associated with Christ in the judgment. They will fully concur in all His decisions. When they hear the sentence pronounced upon all the workers of iniquity, who shall be broken in pieces like a potter's vessel, the glorious victors, sitting with Christ upon His throne, shall,