The Times of the Gentiles
The Things Which Are
Rev. 2 and 3
(Introduction to Philadelphia)
We have now reached the place where the church of God in its true character demands our attention. In order to have this fairly before us let us turn to Colossians 1. vv. 21-27, “And you that were sometime alienated, and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight; if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; who now rejoice in my sufferings for you and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body’s sake, which is the church, whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you to fulfil the Word of God, even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints.” In this passage, let it be noted, the apostle Paul speaks of two phases of his ministry. In the one every creature is addressed, for it is the gospel that is the subject; in the other the saints are those for whom it is meant, and the church is the theme. Do not pass over this lightly, for it is very important to our understanding of this portion of our subject. Paul was minister of the gospel; he says here, and minister of the church, he adds. The gospel is for sinners, for all — the truth of the wonderful mystery, the church is for the saints.
Now when the church in its career of departure from the Lord reached
its limit, as exhibited in the letter to Thyatira, all saving truth was lost as well as everything else. One has only to think of the groping of the grown man, Martin Luther, after light for his dark soul, to realize how completely every vestige of the gospel was gone from public testimony. He sought at what was supposed to be the very fountain of divine truth in the world, for what his soul craved, but met with nothing but disappointment. He obeyed all the commands of the church with scrupulous exactness, he submitted himself to every form of privation and inflicted on himself all the rigours of the ascetic, but no peace came. At last he got hold of a Bible, and there he heard the voice, not of the church, but of the Lord Himself and in Him he found peace.
Listen to another of these men of that day, a Frenchman, William Farel by name. He too was struggling in the prevailing morass of superstition and fable and had reached a point where despair well-nigh overwhelmed him. He says, “Had it not been that I began to read the Bible, it would have been all over with me, for every thing on the face of the earth was so entirely perverted from the truth of God, that nothing was left whole and sound but the Bible. But when I began to read it I found myself utterly bewildered. I saw that everything around me, in doctrine and in practice, was just the contrary to the Holy Scriptures. Here then was the time when my eyes ought to have been opened, and I ought to have come to my senses, and out of the accursed delusion in which I had been living. But it was not so. I remained as deluded and senseless as before; in fact I went from bad to worse, for the moment that the thought struck me how astounding it was that the Scriptures should be so different from all I had believed, Satan took alarm lest he should lose his victim, and dealt with me according to his custom — for up to that time he had kept me obeying and serving him with my whole heart, and without fear or doubt.”
In speaking of a later day, the same writer says, met some people in Paris, and they made mention of the gospel. And God knows how, by the most contemptible, He made me know the power and value of the death of Jesus. And when I first heard of these things, for three years and more I prayed to God that He would give me grace to understand the right way. I compared what I heard with the Greek and Latin Testaments, reading them often upon my knees. And I talked over these things with great and small, seeking only to be taught, despising not any.” Again he writes, “Now everything appeared to me as in a new creation. Scripture became clear to me. the light shone in upon my soul. A voice till now unknown, the voice of Christ, my Shepherd, my Master, my Teacher now spoke to me with power. God pitying our error, taught us that He only, by Christ, the propitiation for our sins, by Christ, the Mediator and the Advocate, blots out our transgressions for His own sake, insomuch as they are all cleansed by His blood.”
Our object in making these quotations is to show, first, that every phase of the faith once committed to the saints was lost, and second, that the part recovered at the Reformation was that first part of Paul’s ministry, the gospel. It is quite true of course, that the whole Bible was restored to the people, but it is one thing to have the Bible in one’s possession and another thing to have made the truth of it one’s own. When the people of Israel were given the land of Canaan for a possession, only that part of it on which they set foot really became theirs. So with the Bible, only that part of it which we have learned in an experimental way do we dare to call our own, and it was the shame of Protestants, that having been led, so to speak, into the land by these mighty leaders, they did not go forward, but on the contrary lost much that was won in the first few years of the Reformation.
But this brings us to the next letter and the next parable, the sixth. For there came a time when some of the saints of God, stirred up by the Spirit of God, began to reach out into some of the unexplored regions of the Word of God, especially into the second phase of the ministry of the Apostle Paul, the truth of the church of God. It is a very little over a century ago that a number of God’s people began searching the Bible, especially along prophetic lines. In doing so, the first thing that seems to have attracted their attention was the place Israel had in the purposes of God. Up to that time there was nothing but confusion as to the word of Prophecy. The distinct place of the church of God and the return to God in mercy to Israel were utterly unknown. One has only to read the religious writings of those days to see all this, and indeed, one need only to look at the Bibles printed previous to that time. Not that the text of the Bibles was different of course, but in the human statements at the top of the pages in the prophetic books. In Isaiah for instance, you will find such headings as “Prosperity of the Church,” “Enlargement of the Church,” when if you read what is actually given by the Spirit of God under these headings, you will find in the most precise terms, a description of blessings that are to come to Israel in a future day. It was searching into some of these things that eventually led to the emerging out of the confusion into the clear light of Divine revelation, of that wonderful thing called the church of God. This brings us to the letter to Philadelphia.