The Times of the Gentiles
This woman Jezebel calls herself a prophetess, that is, she claims Divine authority for what she teaches. It is not that she bases this on what the Word of God says, which she simply passes on, but she bases it on whatever she may say that has no basis in the Word of God, and is given with no authority save her own. Let us quote from some of the deliverances of this system and see if we cannot recognize in them the voice of Jezebel. “All the Catholic bishops, thus united with the Pope of Rome, form through this holy union only one holy society, which is called the “Apostolic Ministry,” or the “Teaching Church,” of which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke when He said, “If any man will not hear the church, let him be to thee as a heathen and a publican,” “I am with you all the days, even to the consummation of the world,” ‘He that heareth you heareth Me, he that despiseth you despiseth Me.” It is this Teaching Church of which St. Paul wrote that “it is the pillar and ground of the truth,” and that “it is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone. This church is consequently the only one which men ought to hear; she is infallible in her decisions and cannot deceive us because the gates of hell can never prevail against her, and because Jesus Christ remains with her to the end of the world. Therefore, that man only can be called a true Christian who listens to the infallible truth, to the pure doctrine of Jesus Christ Himself speaking through Peter and the apostles, who listens to the Pope of Rome and the Catholic bishops united with him. He who thinks otherwise, or who teaches the contrary, is a heretic, because he despises the only true apostolic ministry established by Jesus Christ Himself.” As one reads this, one can only wonder how such stuff can ever be foisted on human beings, but alas, the greater part of the world drinks this in with avidity. This pretension reached its climax in 1870 when the doctrine of Papal Infallibility was publicly proclaimed, that is the doctrine that when the Pope spoke as Pope on a question of doctrine or morals his utterance must be regarded as infallible. It met with a good deal of opposition in the system itself and led to a secession of some from its pale, but it was and is generally accepted and defended by its leaders.
Upon all this the Lord looks with anger, for it is a perversion in every way of the Church of God and a corruption of His truth. “Until the whole was leavened” is the limit of the corruption, and we may well ask what single doctrine of Scripture is left untainted by this foul and festering system. Is it the Deity of our Lord Jesus? With fair words she may claim to be a confessor of Divine truth as to this, but she has so leavened it with Mariolatry, as to destroy all its value. Is it His atoning death? She will admit again in plausible words its value, but by the doctrine of purgatory and the sacrifice of the Mass she utterly denies its efficacy. We repeat in the language of the Word, “the whole is leavened.”
But now we find a new idea entering into this series of letters. In verse 24 of Revelation 2 we read, “But unto you I say, unto the rest in Thyatira” (R.V.). Here is the new note, a remnant marked off from the main body, refusing to receive the doctrine of Jezebel or follow the mass into the mazes of Satan. It is worthy of note that when we turn back to the time of the actual Jezebel we find a similar condition. Elijah in a moment of depression said, “I only am left, and they seek my life to destroy it,” but the answer of God to him is, “Yet I have left Me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.” Elijah might complain of their lack of courage in not openly consorting with him, but God apparently put on them none other burden than that they already bore. So here the Lord finds a measure of relief in thinking of those who had refused to go with the crowd, but who found their joy in Himself, spite of the awful darkness of their surroundings.
Sometimes one wonders when he reads the confessions of individuals in this system, how they could remain connected with it at all with the knowledge they had of the Lord. Hymns have come down to us, written by men who were even priests and leaders in the Papal system, breathing out in plain language the faith of God’s elect, and devotedness to Himself, of a very high order. Listen to one of these saints of old, one of the “rest in Thyatira.” His name was Henry Suso, and he is even quoted in the book of devotion from which we have taken the previous ex-tracts, as an authority for some of the superstitious doctrines and practices of Rome. He was a monk and lived and died as such, but it is difficult indeed to reconcile this with the song we quote. Here it is:
“To Thee, Lord, my heart unfoldeth,
As the rose to the golden sun
To Thee, Lord, mine arms are clinging,
The eternal joy begun.
Forever through endless ages,
Thy cross and Thy sorrow shall be,
The glory, the song and the sweetness
That makes Heaven, Heaven to me.
Let one in his innocence glory,
Another in works he has done—
Thy blood is my claim and my title.
Beside it, O Lord, I have none.
The Scorned, the Despised, the Rejected,
Thou hast won Thee this heart of mine,
In Thy robes of eternal glory,
Thou welcomest me to Thine.”
And who does not know the beautiful hymn written by a monk in the twelfth century, Bernard of Clairvaux? Let us quote one verse of it:
“Jesus, the very thought of Thee,
With sweetness fills my breast,
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest,”
Space forbids further quotations, but there are many such that might be given, and our only answer to the question. How could men with such knowledge of Christ lend their support to the veneration of the Virgin and other supersitious practices? is the word here, “I will put upon you none other burden, but that which ye have already, hold fast until I come.” The time had not yet come to enter into a contest with Rome and raise what these men held and taught into the place of public testimony, and so all He asked them to do was to hold fast the truth they knew until that time should come. There may be even yet, we trust there are, many in that powerful system, who in secret stand aloof from its apostasy, but who dare not openly break with Rome for fear of the consequences. We believe we have known such, God grant there may be many more.
At this point it is well to pause for a moment to point out another principle in the Word. We have already noticed that there are seven parables and seven letters. This number seven is of frequent occurrence in Scripture as expressive of completeness of a series and its usual division is into four and three. This is seen in the very beginning of the Bible. The world was formed in six days, but the whole period connected with it is seven, for the seventh was the day of rest or delight in the accomplished work. Now the first four days were taken up with inanimate things, and on the fifth day we find God bringing life upon the ordered scene. We only refer to this to show the general division of the number which prevails all through the Bible. In the seven parables of the kingdom of heaven and the seven letters to the churches, this principle is maintained and indeed this forms a further evidence of the close link between the two series. Let us look at the parables first and in this case the division into four and three is so obvious as to hardly need pointing out. The first four were spoken in the open air to the multitudes and the remaining three to the disciples in the house, after He had sent the multitudes away (Matt 13:36). Furthermore, this action of the Lord is most significant if we reflect a moment, for it naturally suggests that the first four points to the public manifestation of the kingdom of heaven, while the other three just as naturally make us think of those phases of the kingdom of heaven known only to the initiated, that is to real believers in Christ in-dwelt by His Spirit. To illustrate, it is apparent to all that for centuries since Pentecost there has been preaching everywhere answering to the sowing of seed, it is plain to all that there have been divers kinds of seeds, producing a great variety of harvest. And who does not know that Christianity as a religious system began in a most obscure corner of the world and in most unpromising circumstances and that from this it has become a mighty force reaching to every part of the world? Moreover, none will deny the existence of the woman who pretends to feed the people answering in the fullest way to the picture the Lord gives us of a woman mixing leaven with the meal. True of course it is that the multitude does not know that the woman is corrupting the food by the admixture of leaven and so the Lord presents it as seen by the public.
Now in the letters of Revelation 2 and 3 the character of the first four differs from the other three in much the same way, although perhaps it calls for a little more attention than in the case of the parables. However, this much may be pointed out as being on the very surface, that the first four show us the first four stages of the history of the Church ending in full-blown Popery. But when this is reached, a remnant comes to the light who is out of touch with this apostate condition, and the three letters that follow, to Sardis and Philadelphia and Laodicea are addressed to that remnant, when they have become the public testimony of the Lord. As long as this remnant was hidden in an apostate mass, it had no separate standing — the public testimony was Thyatira in which they were submerged. But the time came when God in His mercy moved for the deliverance of His own, and having delivered them from Rome, put them into a place of responsibility again, making them His witnesses and lightbearers in the world.
All this is in keeping with Old Testament history. There we find the story of the kingdom of Israel ending in the books of Kings and Chronicles, when the people became captives of Babylon, the sceptre of sovereignty gone and all their privileges stripped from them. Never again do they resume this place they lost. But a remnant returns and rebuilds the temple and the city of Jerusalem by permission of their overlord, the Persian monarch. The scion of their own sovereign line takes his place with this remnant, not as king, but as one of themselves, helping in the work, apparently without any more authority than the others. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of this remnant and it is a most interesting story. Then the prophetic books of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi are addressed exclusively to this remnant. All the other prophets appealed either to Israel or Judah as kingdoms while they still held their place as such, but the three last prophets in the Old Testament occupy themselves wholly with this despised and feeble few who returned from Babylonish captivity.
In keeping with this we find here that what we are now to enter on is the remnant history of the Church, that portion of the mass delivered from Rome, the spiritual Babylon, and which became for the time the object of the appeals of the Lord to be faithful with what had been committed to them. So the first letter which we now take up is the one directed to this remnant in the beginning of its history.