Holy and True
The meanings of the names of the assemblies in Revelation 2 and 3 are of great interest: Smyrna, for example, speaks of myrrh—that which is used to embalm the dead and whose fragrance is released by crushing it. The parallels with what is said in the Lord’s address to that assembly are striking: “Be thou faithful unto death” (Rev. 2: 10). Now, as is well known, Philadelphia means brotherly love, and this was surely just as characteristic of them as suffering and martyrdom was of Smyrna. It is all the more striking on this account to see what the Lord actually commends in Philadelphia. While He speaks to a company of people who surely lived up to the name given them, His praise is not that ‘Thou hast loved the brethren’. Indeed, this does not even form part of it. The Lord’s thoughts are elsewhere: “thou … hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name”, and a little later, “thou hast kept the word of my patience” (Rev. 3: 8, 10). Not a word about brotherly love. Why then, this strange omission?
The answer is found in the title under which the Lord addresses the Philadelphian saints: “These things saith the holy, the true” (v7, my emphasis). Our minds are at once taken to 1 John 5: 2: “Hereby know we that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments” (my emphasis). There can be little love of the Lord’s people if we have little or no regard for the Lord’s commandments. The two things go hand in hand. If I abandon even a little truth for the sake of unity, then how can I think I am loving my brethren when I am abandoning the very thing we ought to have in common? Fellowship you may have, even a fellowship of Christians, but would it not (in character) be progressively less of a Christian fellowship? Surely if we really seek the blessing of souls, we shall guard with more carefulness, not less, who we lay hands on in fellowship!
Again, think of the Church that is scattered. Shall we spread the communion table free from all sectarian names, and invite all that truly love the Lord to come together? Is it not a fact that the one loaf upon that table does bear witness that we are “one loaf, one body” (1 Cor. 10: 17) and that there is no other body that faith can recognise, but the body of Christ (see Col. 1: 18, 24)? Why should we not then go ahead and welcome all? I answer: ‘Certainly tell them that the Lord has a welcome for all His own—that is blessedly right—but also tell them it is the One who is “the holy, the true” (Rev. 3: 7, my emphasis) who welcomes, and that He cannot give up His nature. How has the Church lost its way over the centuries, and been fractured into a myriad fragments? Has it been without sin on her part? Is it really simply her misfortune, and not her fault? Take the guidance of these seven epistles in the book of Revelation, and trace the descent from the loss of first love in Ephesus to the Laodicean character of the present time. Can we just ignore the past, and simply, as if nothing had happened, begin again? Would this be in accord with the nature of the One who is “the holy, the true”? Would it not, in fact, be a flagrant disregard of the One who holds the seven stars in his right hand and who walks in the midst of the seven golden lamps? (see Rev. 2: 1).
Suppose your invitation to all Christians was accepted, and that in the place where you made your announcement, you were able to assemble all the members of Christ at one table despite their jarring views, their various states of soul, and their entanglements with the world. How far, do you suppose, would that answer in character to the “Lord’s supper” (1 Cor. 11: 20)? Indeed, how much would the Lord be honoured in your thus coming together? With the causes of all the scattering not searched out and judged, what would your gathering be but a defiance of the holy discipline by which the Church has been scattered? Can you think that visible unity is so dear to the Lord, that He should desire it at the price of a real cleansing and fellowship in the truth? Again, how could anyone who really knows the meaning of gathering at the Lord’s Supper suppose that communion would not be hindered by the presence of unexercised consciences and lukewarm affection—any more than harmony can be increased by discord?
Thus Philadelphia—brotherly love—carries with it a danger, for it must guard against any such conception of practical unity as would set aside the value of unity itself. There is much to commend, and yet the solemn warning is given: “hold fast what thou hast, that no one take thy crown” (Rev. 3: 11). Why? Because all may be lost in pursuit of a false conception of brotherly love. Brotherly love is a precious thing but only when it really is what it claims to be. Notice, again, what the Lord commends in Philadelphia: “thou … hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name”, and “thou hast kept the word of my patience” (Rev. 3: 8, 10, my emphasis). How striking are these repeated ‘my’s’! They show that the true Philadelphian clings to Christ Himself, to His word, and to His person. The Philadelphian’s work is to obey Christ to hold fast the truth as to Christ, and to be waiting for Christ. The work of gathering may, so to speak, look after itself. We are to be united by the centre, and not by the circumference. Fellowship in times of declension is to be “with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2: 22), and the way to find these is not to advertise for them, but to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace” and thus travel on the same road as they are travelling. Why? Because “These things saith the holy, the true” (Rev. 3: 7, my emphasis)!