Our Standard and Our Hope
There are two very important characteristics of the overcomer presented in Revelation 3—clear, simple, and easily grasped. The first is the truth that has been communicated to us. Thus in verse three the Lord warns the assembly in Sardis to “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and keep [it] and repent”. The second is the hope that is set before us. Hence in verse eleven He tells the Philadelphians that “I come quickly”.
We find these two things illustrated in Israel’s history, and in the history of the Church of God—what God has given us, and what is held out before us. These two things are to form your character and mine. We are not to be swayed by the character of things around us, or the present condition of the people of God, but we are to be influenced by what God has given, and what He will give. We have a tendency to be discouraged and disheartened by the current state of things, and to be tempted to surrender everything because of the ruin. However, if you get hold of these two things, (or rather if they get hold of you), they will enable you to stem the tide, and to be an overcomer instead. You are to remember what you have received and heard, and to cherish the hope of glory to come.
The assembly in Sardis (see Rev. 3: 1–6) is an apt illustration of what happened in Protestantism following the Reformation (or indeed, what has happened after every revival since). That glorious season of visitation was a distinct work of the Spirit of God—but when the energy and freshness of the Spirit had departed, what followed? Why, people slipped into half–dead formality. The outward form was maintained, but it was merely a powerless shell. So what is our safeguard against this? Simply to hold fast what we have received, and to live in the blessed hope of Christ’s coming—to realize in our own souls the power of what God has given and what He will soon give.
All the great reformatory movements in Israel were characterized by recognising and acting on what had been revealed. In the days of Josiah, a child was on the throne, a woman was filling the prophetic office and Nebuchadnezzar was almost at the gates. What did Josiah do? The book of the covenant was read (see 2 Kings 23: 2). Instead of lowering the standard on account of the state of things, he acted on the Word of God—that was his standard of action. The result was “there was no passover like to that holden in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel hold such a passover as Josiah held” (2 Chron. 35: 18).
Again, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego gained a magnificent victory when they refused to eat the king’s delicate food (see Daniel 3: 8–16). They would not deviate one hair’s breadth from the Word of God. Were they not overcomers? They might have said, ‘God in His governmental dealings has sent us into captivity. We need to adapt to the circumstances in which God has placed us’. But no, they were enabled to hold up the standard of God in the midst of the ruin around.
If any of these had surrendered, they would have lost their victories, and God would have been dishonoured. All this bears upon us in a very distinct way in the midst of Christendom. It makes the Word of God of unspeakable value to us. It is not a question of setting up our own opinion or authority, but simply maintaining the truth of God and nothing else. If you do not get hold of that, you will not know where you are. It might have been said to Josiah when he broke down the high places built by Solomon (see 2 Kings 23: 13) ‘Who are you, to set yourself up against Solomon, and the institutions set up by a great man like him?’ But it was not a question of Josiah versus Solomon, but of God versus error.
Now, as to our second great principle, namely, that our character is also to be formed by what is before us—the coming of the Lord. The two go together: the Word of the Lord and the hope of His coming. Sadly the assembly in Sardis, instead of being cheered by the hope of the “bright [and] morning star” (Rev. 22: 16), is warned, “If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come [upon thee] as a thief, and thou shalt not know at what hour I shall come upon thee” (Rev. 3: 3). This is how He will come upon the world—as a thief. True believers belong to the region of light—our proper hope is the Morning Star, which is only seen by those who are watching during the night.
This is what Protestantism is threatened with—and what you and I are threatened with—if we let ourselves go down with the stream of the world like dead fish. The Lord is surely awakening the hearts of His people to a deeper sense of these things. He would have them see that nothing will do except reality. If we don’t have this, then we have nothing. It is one thing to have doctrines in the mind, and another thing altogether to have Christ in the heart and in the life. Herod “was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matt. 2: 3) at the news of the “hope of Israel” (Jer. 14: 8) being born—even though they were ostensibly waiting for Him. How great the contrast with Simeon and Anna (see Luke 2: 22–38)!
If He is coming for me, then I have to watch for the bright and Morning Star. So let my heart rise up, and overcome the condition of things around! If I find saints in a low condition, then I must seek to rouse them out of it. If you want to instruct saints, you must bring them back to the truth both you and they have received—what God gave at the beginning. Build on what God has given you, and on the hope that is set before you. The great question is: ‘Are you prepared to abandon everything that will not bear the test of the Word of God and to take your stand on that?’
Hold fast the standard of the truth of God, and do not accept anything less, even though you may be alone. Even if a regiment were cut to pieces, and only one man left, if he hold the colours, then the dignity of the regiment is maintained. We must live in the light of the Lord’s return for that will keep our walk pure and pleasing to Him, for “every one that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure” (see 1 John 3: 3). It is not a question of outward results, but of being true to Christ, and of being really alive in a religious scene which is characterized by having “a name that thou livest, and art dead” (Rev. 3: 1). We want something more than mere profession, and the Lord demands more. Even the breaking of bread may become an empty formality. We want more power and freshness, more living devotedness to the Person of Christ. We are called to overcome. The hearing ear in the addresses to the seven assemblies is found only with the overcomer. May our hearts be stirred up to ensure we are such!