Before beginning the prophetic part of this book, the Lord addresses Himself to the seven churches of Asia by the mouth of John, in wishing “Grace be unto you, and peace from him which is, and which was, and which is to come, and from the seven spirits which are before his throne.” Thus, before beginning the prophecy, the Christians are put in their place; and it is on this I have to dwell now.
The eternal Spirit speaks here, not under the characters of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, because He speaks of that which God will do on the earth; it is rather according to the Jewish form—Jehovah upon His throne, and not a Father in the midst of His family; Eph. 1 and 4. The Holy Spirit is presented to us, not in His unity, but in the diversity of His perfection; that is, displayed in the manifestation of Himself, in what He is, and in what He does; Rev. 4:5; chap. 5:6. Finally, the Lord Jesus is spoken of as what He was on earth, and what He will be as Mediator, who has come, and who will come.
This address, then, differs a little from those which we find at the head of the epistles; nevertheless, he wishes “grace and peace.” When the apostle addresses individuals, as Titus, Timothy, etc., he adds “mercy.” The moment we contemplate a Christian individually, it is needful for him to wish mercy; but as to the church, it is viewed in Spirit, perfect and accepted before God, having received mercy. It is ever as God sees it, in its privileges—praying that it may enjoy them: “John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first-begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.”
There are three things in these last verses: (1) the wish of grace and peace, and the description of the Person in whose name this wish is made—Jesus Christ, “the Faithful Witness,” etc., (2) in the fifth and sixth verses, we have the answer of the church, the instant that Christ is named before Jehovah— the answer unto Him that loved us; (3) in verse 7, we have not the response of the church, of the heart of the church, but the revelation of the knowledge which the church possesses with reference to the world. The subject here is not the faith which fills the heart with joy through the knowledge it possesses of Jesus. For there are two kinds of knowledge; that which produces the answer of the heart of the church as to itself, and that which it possesses of what is in the world.
Jesus is presented here under three characters: the Faithful Witness, the First-Begotten of the dead, the Prince of the kings of the earth. He has not yet taken this last power. He has perfectly represented God; He is conqueror of death; He has all power, it is true, on earth, but it is verse 7 which answers as regards the full accomplishment of this character. “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him,” etc.
I will enlarge a little on the answer of the church, verses 5, 6: “Unto him that loved us,” etc. Observe the effect of the thought, and what Jesus is in the heart of the faithful and of all the church! There is nothing which stops; there is instantaneously the answer of praise and thanksgiving. The moment that the church is found in the presence of this grace of Jesus, there is nothing but praise. There is no considering, no hesitating, no doubt nor difficulty. The only thing that faith has to do is immediately to say, as soon as the grace of the Lord Jesus is come to the ears of the church, “Unto him that loved us… be glory and dominion for ever and ever.” It is the natural and necessary answer of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, and the revelation of what Christ is.
Too often, alas! there is a quantity of prefaces in our hearts, in order to put us upon the ground of praise. Here there is nothing of the sort. It is the effect that the Holy Spirit must produce in the heart which is in its normal state, whether in the heart of the believer, or in that of the church; because, as soon as we have believed that God regards the church in Christ, He puts aside individual circumstances. Christ is there. The presence of Christ blots out every other thing: we are entitled to forget all, even ourselves and our state.
I will not say that individual circumstances are nothing in their place—very far from it; but the essential thing is to be a Christian, and it is necessary, in this vocation itself, to make new progress every day. The Christian is perfectly washed, purified, and capable of enjoying Jesus; he is all that Jesus wished that he should be, and in Him a partaker of joy and peace—of that which He has purchased for us, and of all that we are in Him. And when it is a question of the church of God, of the adoration or the worship that we render Him, we are then, in our capacity as Christians, putting out of sight our circumstances and the flesh which is in us, for the purpose of enjoying, as Christians, by the Spirit, all that Christ is for us.
It is most important for the children of God to apprehend their position aright. When it is said that He is “the Faithful Witness,” the question is, not to say, I have not been the faithful witness, I ought to have been that; but rather to say, it is He that has washed us. I am entitled to think only of Jesus, only of what He has done for me; I am entitled to be set there.
If I am before God alone in my closet, it is needful that I judge myself. I may say to myself, You have not understood that you are a king and a priest; and the Holy Spirit makes me examine my state. But with other Christians, in my capacity as a Christian, I am there for the purpose of enjoying all that which Jesus has entitled me to enjoy—all things that He has done for those who believe in Him. It is true that my individual state may hinder me from enjoying as I ought all the fulness of the grace of Jesus. It is possible that I may be more or less incapable of enjoying my position, but that does not change the position itself; it is so much the worse for me if I enjoy not my title.
Important as it is to judge ourselves, it is very important also to think of all our privileges in Christ; it is this which imparts strength to sacrifice all; it is this which purifies, which sanctifies. The extent of the privileges of the Christian strengthens bim to get aloof from a multitude of things of this world. When we have understood heavenly things, we can immediately say, “Unto him that loved us,” etc. The Christian is no more to think of the particulars of his state, but “unto him that loved us.” When in the presence of the Lord, there is nothing prepared for God but praise and adoration: “to him be glory and dominion.” The Christian remembers what Christ is for him. The Christian may sometimes say, I am not in a state to praise; he may, it is true, be more or less capable of doing it well, but he is always in a state to do it. If a man who has sinned is there in the midst of his brethren, he may be cast down in humiliation, but he is, and ought always to be, in the position to praise doubly the grace shewn him, because Christ is always suitable to a sinful soul. His praises will be modified, but he will always praise.
So also, whenever a Christian is in circumstances of chastening from the love of the Father, there is some hindrance to his enjoying this gladsome liberty of the Spirit; nevertheless, because Christ has done all for him, he can always praise Him.
That which makes the thing more remarkable is, that this song is sung in heaven. Observe what is said (chap. 5:9) to “him that sat upon the throne.” Those who begin the strain sing “a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests.” Clearly there is but a trifling difference. They sing better, without doubt, in heaven than on earth; but it is very nearly the same song. There is no other subject of praise for heaven than for earth; the blood of Christ has the same efficacy on earth as in heaven: that for which they praise God there is equally true for us. Their harps are better tuned than ours, but their song is the same.
Well, the power and the glory of Jesus (who has accomplished all) being there, the Spirit who reveals Him to our souls produces in us praise and adoration:—those sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ are the answer to that which the Spirit reveals to our hearts. When the Holy Spirit reveals to our hearts what Christ has done, we know that we ought to praise. What else could we do? What the Holy Spirit can produce in us is thankfulness, adoration, and praise.
I speak of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer. Observe the three things, and the immediate effect of the revelation of Jesus. He speaks of a simple certainty of His love. One may reason about it oneself, and not be sure of His love; but if it were given us to see Him, could we have a doubt? Did ever one that met Him on earth find any other thing than love? He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Our view may be obscured, but we know that He is love. If I commit myself unreservedly to what He is, He is love.
He came not for the purpose of judging. If I think on what Christ is, He is love. If I take the history of Jesus, I can see what He has done, but it is impossible to find a single trait to indicate that He did not love; and the truth of the word, that He in no wise casts out him that comes to Him, has had its entire accomplishment. None could say, I have been to Him, but He wished me not. The Son has rejected none of those whom the Father sent Him; and here is the greatest proof of the humiliation of Jesus, that He gathered and received all those who His Father sent Him. Had there not been love in Him, never would He have been in this position; His perfect obedience, and His infinite incomprehensible love, placed Him there; but not one did He refuse, because He was doing, not His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him. He cannot refuse us. Knowing our unbelief, He came to do the will of His Father, and to glorify the Father during the whole course of His ministry; and He must receive those who come.
May God give us grace to think of Jesus! Certainly, the soul must see itself in its true light; but that is preparatory to the enjoyment of Him; for it is so hard for man to see himself vile and sinful, and God leaves a soul sometimes for a while in doubt; but nevertheless He has loved us, and the first thing the heart must possess is the persuasion that, notwithstanding our great misery, God makes known His love to us, and, when we are come thus far, we are to enjoy it, and we have no more than to say, To Him who loved us, and who hath washed us from our sins in His own blood: to Him be praise, worship, and glory!
He has washed us; a soul may have an imperfect knowledge of its salvation; it is not made free, but love may be there, though even it be ignorant that it is saved. That poor woman who was a sinner, coming before Jesus, weeping and not daring to speak, had been drawn to Jesus (Luke 7); she manifested to Him an affection that ruled her; her heart was thoroughly melted, and she dared not to express herself. Jesus had understood all that, and she had understood the heart of God better than Simon, who had not expended a drop of water to wash the feet of Jesus, nor a little oil to anoint His head. But the woman understood the heart of God, not the effects of His love, but the love of God in Jesus; also Jesus said, “Her sins which are many are forgiven, for she loved much.” But she knew it not yet. This woman had understood that there was love in Jesus; she was even appalled at her sins; but when Jesus spoke to her, she could have said, “He loved me.” And we also can say, “He loved us, and has washed us in his own blood.”
There is more still; for there is what He has made of us and for us, “kings and priests to God his Father.” Behold Him, the subject of our songs! It is Christ; but in looking upon Him, we see what He has made us before God His Father. There is something very touching in the thoughts and the counsels of love. Love wills that the beloved shall enjoy the same blessing of glory as he who loves. Christ is from God, King and Priest, the nearest to God as King and Priest in power and in approach to Him. Well, because He loves us, He will have us placed in the same position of blessing as Himself, and we are by faith already there. Something would have been wanting to His love if He had not done it; and it is because He has made us kings and priests that the subject of our praise is not equivocal, and what ought to proceed from the heart by the Spirit is praise and adoration. One may sing well or ill, high or low, according to the state of one’s soul, but it is a song that ought to be sung without one discordant note.
Let us see whereon this is founded. It is on Jesus Christ, who is the Faithful Witness. It is always Christ, on the part of God, who is something. It is the Faithful Witness; and we need Him, for in what way can a sincere soul have knowledge of itself? It is generally occupied with itself. It says, I am this, I am that; it finds some uncertainty as to what it really is, as if God did not know. If it had sufficient wisdom, it would have done with itself; it would know it could find no good in itself; it would refer to the judgment of Christ.
Christ knew well what Peter was, when he said to Him, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man,” Luke 5. Did not Jesus know it? Yes: He knew it perfectly. Well, it was Peter who knew it not; it was just simply a remnant of pride; and that soul is precisely in the same case which seeks for these things by searching within itself, and expects not to find itself in the mud. But if a soul recognises itself in this state of utter ruin, God has searched it out: His love is there.
But we need a “Faithful Witness.” We see God in nature; that is true, but all this knowledge does not lead man to God. Man has spoilt all. The traces of God, of the Architect, are there; but it is a ruin. All is defiled from His mind; all is in degradation. The ways of providence are incomprehensible. A soul under chastening understands nothing. There is “one event to the righteous and to the wicked “; it is always an enigma for them until God judges. The certainty of what God is cannot be found in this inexplicable providence. The sinner, man, needs something; then Jesus appears. Is Jesus sufficient for a witness? Does holiness lack in Him? Was He not jealous enough for the glory of God? Could a poor soul be more so than Jesus was, all holy as He was, all zealous for the glory of His Father. He who came, from God Himself, in the midst of sinners, was full of love. Impossible to find more love and grace than in Him; impossible to find anything but the Faithful Witness. One may trust in Him, for there is no uncertainty in His testimony. He is the Faithful Witness. God could say, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
I have found the Faithful Witness, and in receiving Him I glorify God and give thanks for Him. In coming to Jesus, we leave all: that is the practical effect. We abide in the truth, we have found God such as we are: that is to say, in whatsoever state of sin a soul may find itself, there is no more guile; Psalm 32. Such as this soul is, it is itself before God also, such as He is; not a God who has been deceived, but, in His Faithful Witness, the One who, when sin abounded, caused grace much more to abound.
Impossible that Jesus should not be the light of every sinful soul, whatever be its state. He is the true and faithful Witness; and this is precious, that He is the light which lightens every man that comes into the world, whatever be the state of the man. Christ is love; the greater sinner I am, the more need I have of Him.
Moreover, the heart which has understanding in the ways of God, says, Christ is the firstborn from the dead. He who had the power of death could not detain Him, neither could the anger of God, for this was glorified in the bursting forth of His justice, in His death; and that same justice was to raise Him up and bear testimony to Him. And herein is the subject of our joy, that Jesus has manifested, as man, the effects of sin, and His power over all the effects of sin. Not only did He die, but He is the Firstborn from among the dead, and the Head of the church which is His body; Col. I:18. He has manifested by His death and resurrection, that He has the power to raise us. He is the Head of the body. Such is He for us, the Firstborn, the Faithful Witness; and for the world, the Prince of the kings of the earth. He will then manifest and display all His power and His rights even toward those who will have denied Him.
He is the Faithful Witness as regards our sins, and it is our happiness that He has not hidden them from us. The imagination of men inclines to the belief that it is necessary to add, on our part, certain sentiments to this testimony; and many fine discourses cherish this thought, and torment the soul; but by no means. Men imagine that there is I know not what process to be used to apply it to themselves. By no means is it so. We must think through grace that Jesus is the truth, and all suitable sentiments come afterwards; impossible that there should be good ones before faith. If conviction of sin is not there, the man imagines there is some good in him. The conviction of sin comes by faith, not by intelligence; it is by the efficacy of the work of Christ. I will give an example of it. When Peter preached to the Jews (Acts 3), he said to them, “Ye denied the Holy One and the Just … and killed the Prince of life.” If they had not believed him, they would not have said, “Men and brethren, what shall we do? “If faith had not been in their heart, they would not have believed themselves lost; when they believed in Jesus, a thousand things followed. Their peace flowed from their believing in the efficacy of the work of Jesus, which the apostle explained to them in answer to this cry.
There may be pious sentiments, but without faith there will be no results. But the certainty of salvation is a consequence which God reveals to me of the work of Christ. If God says to me, Thou hast killed the Prince of life, by this very means I know that all my sins are washed out. When God says, This is what I have done, I have washed out all thy sins by the sin thou hast committed in killing the Prince of life, faith alone can make me comprehend this. The heart torments itself while the thing is simple. It is to believe the witness that God has given of His Son. And this love which is boundless, this Jesus who is the Faithful Witness, let us receive Him as such, and as the image of the living God, who is always love.