In Mr. McClure’s exposition of the Church at Philadelphia he deals largely with the recovery of some precious truths at the beginning of the last century, the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ for His Church having a prominent place. This address brings out clearly just where Mr. McClure stood ecclesiastically, for he had a very strong conviction on this subject. The reader can easily discern why he was not a denominational preacher, nor yet an inter-denominational preacher, also the reason why a preacher with such outstanding gift and ability should spend his long life of service ministering in tents and little halls, and using all his energies in building up assemblies. Some were large in numbers, others consisting of only two or three, but none was too small for brother McClure and his fruitful ministry.
This message on the Church of Philadelphia, which was taken down as he gave it, will bring before the reader, that his path of separation from the different religious systems was not because of prejudice, nor a feeling against any particular denomination, but because he saw from the Scriptures that all denominationalism is opposed to the plain order of the New Testament. He believed the idea of clergy and laity was unknown in Paul’s day, but that saints as a holy priesthood came together as such to worship by offering up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God, and in ministry and service to exercise the different gifts from the risen Lord for the edification, exhortation, and comfort of all.
The following, then, are Brother McClure’s own words on this subject, and “he being dead, yet speaketh.”
Church of Philadelphia
The name Philadelphia is very precious, and it is as thoroughly in harmony with what follows in this epistle as any of the previous names were consistent with what followed in those epistles. Just as in each case there is Divine wisdom seen in the selection of the name, so here. Philadelphia means “brotherly love.” Now we can easily understand that God is putting before us here a very precious truth as to the assembly which was largely lost sight of, and that is, that an assembly of God’s people is gathered together and held together by a common life, rather than by agreement in doctrine. We do not say this to lead you to undervalue doctrine, nor for a moment to give any suggestion that certain doctrines could be tolerated, or that fellowship could be held with those holding them. No true believer could have any fellowship with anything that touches the person of Christ or the foundation of Christianity. The child of God must keep clear of these things. But the Church of God is not a company banded together because of agreement in certain tenets; the Church of God is composed of those who have been linked to Christ by faith in Him, and any company of God’s people should illustrate this. They are together because they are members of one body. They have the same life. They are linked with the Lord Jesus Christ. Now we see how this very word suggests relationship with those who are gathered together according to the mind of God; are gathered together, because they are linked with Christ, and therefore with one another.
There is something in this epistle which I want you very particularly to notice and it is found in the tenth and eleventh verses of this chapter: “Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from (or, out of) the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.”
In this “dwell upon the earth,” there is a reference to what we have in Pergamos. In Pergamos we have the Lord saying, “I know thy works, and where thou dwellest” i.e., the Church, which had been a pilgrim and a stranger upon the earth, had settled down to be an earth dweller; and this well suits the great mass of unconverted people. They profess to be part of the Church, but they are just earth dwellers. They never knew what it was to be taken out of the world, and then sent back because Jesus sent them; but they are in it and of it. They never knew what it was to be able to say, “Heaven is my Fatherland, Heaven is my Home.” For these there is a dreadful time coming; for all unconverted professors. Far better for them that they had never made the Christian profession, seeing they never knew the Lord Jesus Christ.
So we read, “Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.”
Next verse: “Behold, I come quickly.” I want you to think of all these epistles. If you remember what we have sought to bring before you, you will remember that we have had but two mentions of the coming of the Lord previous to this. The first is Thyatira, and the second, Sardis. One very striking feature in which Philadelphia differs from either Thyatira or Sardis is this: that the coming of the Lord is seen with a clearness that is not seen in those other epistles.
Let me compare what we have in Thyatira, and what we have in Sardis, with what we have in this epistle. In chapter 2, verse 25, in the epistle to Thyatira, we read, “But that which ye have already hold fast till I come”; nothing but the mere mention of the coming. Now look at what we have in Sardis, chapter 3, and the last part of the third verse, “If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee.” In the first instance, we have the bare mention of His coming. In Sardis we have His coming mentioned, but in such a way that you could not distinguish whether it is His coming to the air for His people or His coming to the earth with His people. Now the Lord does not come for His people as a thief; but we read, after He has come for His people, and Christendom has settled down, and they say, “Peace and safety” then shall sudden destruction come upon them like a thief in the night, and poor Christendom will get one dreadful alarm, and that will be the coming in judgment of the Son of Man. In Thyatira (Romanism) and Sardis (Protestantism) the coming of the Lord is mentioned; but just in the way in which it was known in those places, if known at all.
I know there are those of you who have been studying the coming of the Lord, and you are beginning to see that the subject that occupies one in every twenty-five verses of the New Testament has not had justice done to it. What are numbers in Protestantism looking for? A coming at the end of this world’s history, when everything shall be burnt up, and there shall be an end of time; but not a coming like that in Philadelphia. Thank God for the ever-widening circle who are receiving the truth of His coming; but all the same, they are but a small minority of the professing Christians.
Now take Philadelphia, and see how blessedly the coming is distinguished. “I also will keep them from (out of) the hour of temptation.” It is here we get the clear teaching that the Church is not to be in the tribulation. Here we have the blessed hope shining out, that the Church is to be raptured out of this scene, leaving Christless professors to await that awful hour. This is the hope restored, which had been lost in the Ephesian time. “Behold, I come quickly.” I say it is just grand to ponder those two references to that blessed coming.
You get first the fact that there is to be, what many are now sneering at, a secret rapture. We believe that the Church of God is going to be taken up; that the really saved that are living will be silently and swiftly taken out of this scene and the dead in Christ will be raised, and we shall all be caught up in the air, and leave behind the mere professors. Yes, that is the teaching of the Word of God, notwithstanding man’s scoffing.
Secondly, the teaching on the coming of the Lord in the Philadelphia epistle is its imminence: “Behold, I come quickly.” I want to make this point clear, as it has very much to do with our locating the Philadelphian period.
Another thing, in the epistle to Philadelphia we get the person of Christ standing out. Look at the seventh verse: “These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth.”
If you will mark, as I have, those previous pronouns, you will find I, Me, and My occurring with wondrous frequency all through the Philadelphian epistle. The person of Christ stands out before the believer in His beauty and glory, as if He would step forward and fill the whole vision of the believer; and as He steps forward to fill the eye and heart of the Christian, He would say, “These things saith He that is holy.” I am afraid we lose some of the meaning of the word “holy.” Holy is the same word as sanctified or separated; it has the idea of being kept from pollution or defilement, and kept apart from what is contrary to the mind of God.
Now all the awful mixture of Thyatira and Sardis is, as it were, before the mind of Christ, and He would have all His people walk apart from the evils of that which is called by His name. And He says, “These things saith He that is holy, He that is true.” He will never be false to His Word; He will always be what His Word has proclaimed Him to be. There is no failure in Him. The presence of Christ is the great thing in the epistle to Philadelphia, and if we get weakness (a little strength) in Philadelphia, we see power and authority in the One who has gathered them around Himself.
Now, the next thing, the Name of Christ: “Thou hast not denied My name.” Could believers deny the name of Christ? Not as Saviour, not as Jesus. How many of the Lord’s people are glad of His name as Jesus; but that is only a part of His name. His name is the Lord Jesus. He has bought us with His blood and as Lord we should consider ourselves as bound to Him, to carry out His will, no matter where it may lead us. The moment you enter into the blessedness of this thought you will see that it is yours to stand for Him, though you stand alone. Many a child of God, who blesses God for the name Jesus, has very little use for the name Lord.
So the blessings in the epistle to Philadelphia are not to those who would not deny His name Jesus; but to those who do not deny His full title, Lord Jesus. If we say “Lord,” from the heart, we say it meaning, “I am Thy servant, and Thine alone; and I bow to Thy will, and Thine alone; and Thy will, my Lord, is my law. I cannot deny Thy Name.” Shall we own that name and do His will?
Again, “Thou hast kept My word.” What does it mean to keep the word? Philadelphia is distinguished not by extracting a faith out of the book, and holding it. Faiths that were taken, or presumably taken, from God’s Word in days gone by, are regarded by many as like the clothes of their fathers—they have outgrown them, and they must be changed. While we thank God for creeds and confessions of the past which were sound (we have more confidence in the old faiths than in the new faiths) it is not for the Philadelpians to form a creed out of the Book, but to hold the Book. You say, “What is your faith?” I say, “This Book from Genesis to Revelation.” God saw we needed the whole Bible; less would not do. He has given us that and the Holy Spirit to lead us into its teachings; may we thankfully use His gift.
Philadelphia is the Church that suggests the living linked with Christ, holding Him as the Head, and then the members—a church in which the coming of the Lord Jesus is held as the hope of the believer. There it is—the Church with the person of Christ as everything. Around Him they seek to gather. It is the Church that holds His name. It is the Church that is satisfied with His Word. The thing is to find that which corresponds with this, and when we have found it, may the Lord give us grace to be loyal to His Word.
Let us turn now to Nehemiah 8:13-17—
“And on the second day were gathered together the chief of the fathers of all the people, the priests, and the Levites, unto Ezra the scribe, even to understand the words of the law.
“And they found written in the law which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month:
“And that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.
“So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the House of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim.
“And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.”
This portion of the Word of God refers to the time just after the return from Babylon, when those captives came back to the city of their fathers. The first thing they did was to tell Ezra to bring the Book of the Law. Why? All their troubles grew out of the neglect of that book, for if that book had been allowed to speak, and its voice had been heard, they would have had nothing but peace and prosperity. That book was allowed to remain unread, and if read, unpracticed, and the result was desolation, judgment, scattering. Now they are a feeble remnant, and they say, “Bring the book.” So they brought the book, and it is very refreshing to turn back to that people reading that book. They were not sitting in a comfortable hall; but they were in the street. And as they stood there the reading continued, hour after hour (not interspersed with telling anecdotes); and as they read, they came to what we know as the 23rd of Leviticus, and they read of a feast called the Feast of Tabernacles, and that in that feast in the seventh month Israel was to go into the mountains and hills, and bring branches of trees and construct temporary shelters on the tops of their houses; and if they had not sufficient room on the tops of their houses, then after that in the streets, and under these booths they were to sit for seven days. They found they had neglected that feast—for how long? Just a matter of about one thousand years that feast had remained without being observed in that way. Suppose someone had said, “David did not do this”: they would have said, “But we will do it. If David did not do it, he was wrong; we will do it.” And they did, and God gave them great joy.
In the winter of 1826-27, a number of children of God belonging to different denominations used to meet together to read God’s Word. These dear men were all in good social positions, some belonged to the aristocracy—one of them the Hon. John Parnell, afterward Lord Congleton. These men of like mind, all children of God, used to gather around their Bibles. It was after a long, dreary waste of years, stretching away back to the apostles; not a line had been written on the coming of the Lord, as many believers are now, thank God, looking for it—His coming to the air for His people. That precious truth so early lost by the Church was recovered at the Bible readings, and has been to many thousands of God’s people since then source of comfort.
When the hope of the coming was revived, it began to stir their hearts, and right along with it they found that the Lord’s people in apostolic days assembled together for breaking of bread, and they gathered as members of one body, not as Presbyterians, Baptists, or any other sect, but as believers. And when they were gathered together, they found that they were gathered around the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus said, “I am in the midst,” and the Holy Spirit was present to guide. So they needed no program, no liturgy, but simple dependence on an unseen Lord and the power of the Holy Ghost. And so these dear men’s hearts were opened to the precious truth, the blessed truth of Jesus’ coming, and of being gathered in His blessed name to show forth His death in the breaking of bread. So they began to do it in Fitzwilliam Square, in the City of Dublin (the first time we know of it in the British Isles). In the sixteenth century we find something similar in William Farell’s life.
After a little while they thought they might meet in a more public place, so that others of God’s people might join them. It was suggested that the poorer ones might not like coming to Mr. Hutchinson’s house in Fitzwilliam Square, so they took a room, used by an auctioneer during the week, and on a Saturday evening some of those dear men would get that room in order and spread the table for the Lord’s day morning.
So the truth spread all over Great Britain, and to India and other places, until now in no part of the earth will you go but there you will find companies of simple Christians — misunderstood, it is true, often maligned, and much about them that one would have different; but with all their failure they are seeking to know something of what the epistle to Philadelphia teaches.
A friend of mine, who was a bandsman of the infantry, was led to Christ while a soldier. He had formerly been a Roman Catholic, and after his conversion he made a grand resolve. He said: “I shall join nothing until I know from the Word of God what I should join, until I find it in this Book; then I will identify myself with it.” In the regiment there were some men who were professors, and they said to him, “You take care of those people called the ‘Plymouth Brethren’; they are a dangerous people; you take care of them.” And my friend, just as really and as simply as a young believer could, began to pray, “Lord, deliver me from the ‘Plymouth Brethren’.” And he kept on praying until his regiment was drafted to ——, where I met him.
As he was walking around ——, he noticed a sign, “The Gospel of the Grace of God will be preached in this hall on Lord’s Day,” etc. He went and heard the Gospel preached. It was like the Gospel he had heard preached by the Major of his regiment when he was converted, and my friend turned up again and again. Then he heard that they had a morning meeting. They did not advertise it. Why? Because they did not want to just get in numbers; they were satisfied with whom the Lord was leading out. He came, and sat back. “There,” he said, “that is the thing; I have read of it in the Word of God.” They were the people, and on the table was the bread and wine, and they were gathered around the table, the rich and the poor, and you could not tell which was which. One gave out a hymn, another led in prayer, and the thing moved as though going according to a pre-arranged program— a beautiful harmony, but no program. He thought, “That is what I have read: that is what I have been waiting for.” He asked could he be received. “Yes, if you are a believer, walking godly, and holding no fundamentally evil doctrine.”
The day he was received, my friend, Mr. ——, asked him to dinner with him. He was still praying to be delivered from the “Plymouth Brethren.” At the dinner table he learned that he was now among the very people he had been praying to be delivered from But, thank God, God gave him what he required, not what he asked. The Lord knew what he wanted.
Get to God’s precious Book, and make a resolve, “I will do nothing that I have not got a plain ‘Thus saith the Lord’ for.” Then you will be able to say, “I have sought to carry out the Lord’s mind. I have not followed any man.”
I must stop now, but there are some more precious things we hope to speak about concerning this Church which we must leave until tomorrow night.
Read Matthew 25:1-13
The next thing in that epistle is that the coming is imminent: “Behold, I come quickly.” When an assembly was gathered out, it was “to wait for the Son from Heaven.” When those ten virgins went forth (and they figure the Church), they went forth to meet the bridegroom. The Thessalonian assembly was gathered out to wait for the Lord from Heaven, and that precious feast that believers observed weekly in those days, linked together two things — the cross and the coming of the Lord. “Ye do show the Lord’s death till He come.” We need not tell you that for over one thousand years, yes, for almost fifteen hundred years, that hope was utterly lost—lost so far as believers entering into it and understanding it. It might just as well have not been in the Book of the Lord. Any believer whose heart God has stirred up to study the truth of the coming of Christ, will own what we are saying,—that for a long stretch of centuries there was nothing said about Christ coming to the air to catch away His people.
When that hope was let go, the Church, that was an outcalling, became an institution of the earth. Rome was such an institution, and at the Reformation the true character of the Church was not understood, because the truth of the Lord’s coming had not been recovered; but when we come to 1826-27 we find God linking these two things most blessedly together. With the discovery of the hope of the Lord’s coming, they discovered that the Church is simply a stranger upon the earth, and waiting to be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. So linked up with the blessed feast is the thought that He is coming again—“Ye do show the Lord’s death till He come.”
Last night we also referred to the marvelous spread of this precious truth. Those dear men whom God honored to be the pioneers of this precious truth, to whom God gave grace to find in the Word of God what all believers should find there, scattered his blessed truth in their life-time. And now, all up and down the continents of America, Europe, Africa, go where you will, you will find believers seeking to carry out this simple scriptural order.
We hear some say that the day for collective testimony is passed, and that it is the day for individual testimony. Do they mean that the day is coming when there will be no companies of God’s people gathered in that simple scriptural way we have pointed out? We do not believe that. Why? Because the Lord Jesus says, “I have set before you an open door, and no man can shut it.” And we believe that the door that God opened in the early quarter of the nineteenth century will remain open till He comes. It cannot fail. Why? “These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David.” In that I read a very blessed suggestion that He has power, and if in our weakness we cling to Him, then how can there be failure? Someone said to a very dear friend of mine, one of the most holy men I ever knew, a very peculiar, very quiet man—“Mr. ——, I am afraid we shall break up.” “Well,” he said, “if we break up, what can we do but come together again?” How can you break up a thing like that?”
We have never known a little company of Christians failing through want of gift. We have known them to fail through want of godliness. But the little company that clings to the Lord Jesus has His power, and is simply invincible. It may not have appearances, it may not impress the unconverted.
What does the Philadelphian Church point out? It points out a small company; for, while we thank God for the marvellous spread of the precious truth, and that wherever we have gone we have seen companies gathered in His Name, let us not forget that this epistle gives us a feeble folk. But they are clinging to Christ.
“Thou hast not denied My Name” (verse 8). Where asked, “What are you?” “I am a Wesleyan,” “I am a Baptist,” “I, a Presbyterian,” that, dear friends, is practically denying the Name. “Oh,” you say, “what is in a name?” If there is anything I regret it is the time I fought against the truth, when I used to say, “What is in a name?” That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet. I am sorry that my heart should have ever been so out of touch with Christ that I could have defended a thing so unscriptural in such a way. Would you like to give the Man yonder at God’s right hand the name of Socrates? No, no, we love that precious name, “Jesus.” So there is something in a name. Be consistent.
Remember Who gave you the name “Christian.” It is a misinterpretation of Scripture to say that the World called God’s people “Christians.” The word rendered “called” is used about eight times in the New Testament, and there it means “Divinely called.” They were called Christians at Antioch, the new center. Jerusalem is set aside, and Antioch became the new center. From Antioch the apostles went forth, and at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers, and one of the prophets got the message from God, “Call My people Christians.” It was not the world.
Now, in the 18th chapter of Matthew here is another use of “in His Name”; in verse twenty we read, “Where two or three are gathered together in My Name.” While we are individual Christians, as gathered together we glory still in that Name. If you pass by the door of a company of believers gathered together in His Name, and ask who is there? They are a company of believers. What are they gathered as? Just gathered as believers. Therefore, you cannot say, The Baptist Church, The Church of England, etc. Every time these names go up over a door, it is a practical denial of the Name. In those buildings are saints as dear to God as you and I. We are not discussing those believers individually, but the principle. When we are gathered together, we must be gathered simply as God’s children, and gathered in His Name to Himself. Some will meet us with, “We know what you mean; but do they not fail?”
In San Francisco some years ago a gentleman gave me a pamphlet, entitled, “The Failure of Brethren,” by ——. I happened to know the author, and he was a most splendid failure, in almost everything. This gentleman, who was such a failure, undertook to write the “Failure of Brethren.” When I got the pamphlet I said, “Oh, he is too late; God wrote the failures of brethren when He wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians. I am sure Mr. ——’s book is not so scathing as that.” The failures unveiled in that epistle were to lead brethren to humble themselves, own their own sin, and seek to avoid those things. But this is no justification for a believer seeking to evade God’s Word. You might as well bring the Bible back to Jesus, and say, “Here is the Bible: others have made such a failure in carrying it out, I am not going to try, so here is the Bible.” The failures will not excuse us for not carrying out God’s orders.
Brethren have failed. “Brethrenism,” I have nothing to do with. I want to know the truth of God. If people say, “Oh, it has failed; it has been such a failure, we will not try to keep on meeting in Jesus’ name.” Well, be consistent. What do you mean? Let me put a question to you. Is Sardis a failure? Who would stand forth to be an apologist for the awful evils that are in Protestantism. Who would declare that Protestantism is a success. God delivered souls from Rome and they have multiplied sects and gone into all the errors that could possibly be enumerated that have ever afflicted the Church of God. Denying the Divinity of Christ, denying eternal punishment, denying the inspiration of this Book—these are some of the failures
As Protestantism is such a failure, shall we go back to Rome? Oh, no, we will not go back to Rome. We thank God for bringing us out of it, and, by His grace, we will not go back. Well, anyone who would discourage simple souls from carrying out the truth of God because of the failure of those who try, to be consistent in regard to Protestantism, should give it all up and get back to Rome.
Ere we close, just a word on verse 12—“Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go no more out, and I will write upon him My new name.” To some, carrying out God’s Word may mean losing a place in some denomination, a position of honor and supposed usefulness. Such will not be the losers by their faithfulness to Christ. He will give such a place of honor by-and-by and He will also see that obedience to His Word will not hinder their real usefulness now.
“Shall go no more out.” The days of going “outside the camp bearing His reproach” will then have passed forever. To “go out,” to some caused very real suffering; turning from associations where God’s Word could not be carried out, yet where there were many which were held dear as God’s children. All that separation will then be over.
“I will write upon him—mine own new name” (v. 12, R.V.). It was for His name’s sake they suffered misunderstanding and reproach. Now He will give them what they loved so well upon earth, His “Name,” answering to chapter 2:17, “a new name.”
What a fulness of manifestation of all He is awaits the saints. Like the Queen of Sheba, they will exclaim, “The half was not told me.” Thank God, that name is dear to our hearts now.
In the next chapter will be found an account of Mr. McClure’s travels in New Zealand and Australia continued until October 25, 1909. Those years had been filled with happy and very fruitful service. His ministry proved to be like the dew of Hermon to the children of God and many were able to thank God for this messenger of the Cross, who brought to them the Gospel message and through his ministry they were born of God.
The assemblies were edified and greatly enriched. His ministry was a mine of wealth, without fanciful or extreme interpretation, but the Word broken small and lucid in exposition. His ministry also had a steadying effect on some who were in danger of being taken up with theories that would lead them apart from the right ways of the Lord, and it was with much regret and yet, with deep thankfulness to God, the saints in the various places bade him farewell and in every place he received a hearty invitation to return.