Bear Brother G.,
In regard to the article in the Forum of the March issue of Food for the Flock, I have been thinking that the attitude of certain assemblies in excommunicating other assemblies from their circle of fellowship is so unlike the attitude of Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah in the Remnant History of Judah. Those men linked themselves with the remnant in confession and self-judgment to God. It occured to me that you might want to use parts of the enclosed study on the church of Laodicea as compared with the Remnant Testimony of Israel in its final development as recorded in Malachi.
This is not all original with me; I have received help from several writers on the subject.
Sincerely in Christ,
Let us review briefly some of the things that are recorded in the series of letters to the seven churches of Asia as found in Revelation chapters two and three.
In the first place, the history of the Church in its original condition is portrayed in the first four letters: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos and Thyatira.
In this picture we see the gradual departure from God that ended in the subjection to a system described under the symbol of a notorious woman of the Old Testament; namely, Jezebel.
In the letter to Thyatira, a remnant is marked off, the history of which appears in the last three letters: Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
Will this remnant in the closing days of the history of the Church, profiting by all the lessons of the past, prove more faithful to the testimony committed to her than the Church in former generations? What should we look for?
It will be remembered that more than once have we turned back to the Old Testament for illustrations of New Testament truths.
There was a remnant brought back from Babylon to Jerusalem. The history of that remnant is given us in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. What an opportunity that remnant had through the kindness of the king of Persia to profit by all the lessons of the past! No doubt they did profit somewhat by them, and by the discipline in their exile. But to what extent did they learn the intended lessons? Only in one particular: they never returned to idolatry after their exile. They, outwardly at least, maintained their allegiance to Jehovah, the God of Israel. Among other things God delivered Israel His people into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar as a punishment for their persistent idolatry.
Let us recall the three prophetic books which belong to this particular period: Haggia, Zechariah and Malachi. These tell the condition of the people as time went on, and should be studied by any who would learn the ways of the Lord, especially in regard to His testimony as it is entrusted to man.
The first two of these books are full of encouragement for this remnant, but the last one, written quite a number of years later, is an expression of God’s displeasure with their condition.
In Revelation we have in the letter to Laodicea a picture of the last stage of the history of the remnant of those who were delivered from Rome. It might be well to compare the Book of Malachi with this brief letter to Laodicea.
One outstanding feature of the prophecy of Malachi is the repetition of the expression “ye say.” Indeed the entire book seems to be a reply to arguments and complaints made by the people of God when the Lord called their attention to their delinquencies. Notice how all this is repeated in the letter to the Laodiceans: “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: 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. Because thou sayest, I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” How strikingly like the Book of Malachi! The same want of heart for the Lord. The Laodiceans were self-satisfied, and the Lord was vainly knocking for admission among them. Apparently they did not miss Him and were quite content without Him.
It is idle to think because we maintain the form the truth in Philadelphia gave to the activities among the saints, that we are entitled to claim the Lord’s approval of our state.
Not for a moment would we speak slightingly of the Lord’s ordinances such as baptism and the breaking of the bread, but if these become merely forms without any exercise of heart that the Lord should have His place in our affections, then they are of little value to Him.
If the knowledge of the truth that has been recovered in the last century and a half leads only to self-satisfaction with a supercilious attitude towards those who do not know as much as we think we know, then Laodicea in principle has come upon us.
When the people of Israel were in Babylon, Daniel bowed before the Lord in prayer for restoration. In his prayer (Dan. 9) there was a complete confession of the sin that had led to their captivity. This prayer was answered when God moved on the heart of the king of Persia to let Israel go back to Palestine to build the House of God.
Years later when Ezra reached Jerusalem and found that things were going badly, he immediately cast himself down before the Lord in confession and self-judgment. Not only so, but his example was followed by many.
At a still later date, we are told about Nehemiah who became an outstanding figure after Ezra’s time. We are told that when he heard of the sad state of the remnant in Jerusalem, he fell down before God in the same self-judgment and confession, saying, “We have sinned against Thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned. We have dealt very corruptly against Thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which Thou commandest Thy servant Moses” (Neh. 1:6-7).
This was the spirit that God approved. He, therefore, sent Nehemiah to Jerusalem to help the feeble few who were there. As long as this spirit prevailed among the people, God could find delight in them. Alas, this spirit soon departed from them and in its place pride, independence, and even insolence toward God arose! This development is readily seen throughout Malachi. One has only to read the book to see the terrible lack of confession and self-judgment.
Take for instance one passage: “For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto Me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of Hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return?” (Mal. 3:6-7).
What a contrast to the time of Nehemiah when they wept as they listened to the Word of God.
Shall we carry the analogy between Israel and the Church to its end? Why not?
When the saints of God at the beginning of the last century began meeting in the Name of the Lord alone, there was with them the deepest consciousness of the failures of the Church in its testimony. One has only to read the writings of those days to see this.
There was no cutting themselves off from its past history as if it were no concern of theirs. There was no cutting themselves off from other such assemblies gathered in the Lord’s Name. They acknowledged their sin and departure before God. Confession accompanied their prayer to God for recovery. It was this condition to which the Lord responded with such an abundance of grace as to overwhelm them with the treasures of His Word.
Alas! Alas! When the spirit of confession and self-judgment was replaced with that of pride over the possession of so much truth, surely Laodicea had begun.
Intellectual knowledge of truth took the place of communion with the Lord and an experiential learning of the Word from Him. The truth of God really apprehended would ever lead to more humility, more real confession over the sad state of the Church, scattered, divided, and torn.
The threat by the Lord to spue this church out of His mouth is unconditional; it is the end of His patience. Throughout the entire series of the seven letters the Church is in public testimony, and in this she has been a failure. Her close is one more witness to the untrustworthiness of man.