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CONTEST WITH TEMPTATION,
ILLUSTRATED IN THE
HISTORY OF THE CHURCH AT PERGAMOS.
REVELATION ii. 12–17.
I HAVE read you the whole of this epistle to the Church of Pergamos, in order that in the progress of my discourse all its particulars may be fresh in your memories. I have not the opportunity now to recapitulate, because I am aware that all the time which can be bestowed on the subject should be devoted to the discussion of the promise with which the epistle closes. In my two preceding lectures, I have entered fully into all the particulars connected with the history and condition of the Church of Pergamos, and I now propose to confine your attention to the concluding promise—"To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he which receiveth it."
I have already intimated to you, my brethren, that the explanations which are generally given of this subject are, to my own mind, totally unsatisfactory. Of the commentators, Scott, and Henry, and Burder, and others of less moment, I can only say that they appear to me to have neglected the only ancient allusion which will serve to bring light on this subject. Dr. Adam Clarke enters more at large, and certainly with more correct ideas; but still does not carry out the subject, nor view it in all those lights in which it ought to be considered. Among the sermon writers which I have had the opportunity of consulting, there is not one who seems to have taken hold of the subject in its true bearing, as they almost universally attempt to explain the text by ancient customs which have no real connexion with the subject, and the only discourse which I have seen which seems even to hint at the true sense of this passage, is a discourse, strange as it may appear to the majority of my hearers, preached before the fraternity of free and accepted masons, as an attempt to elucidate some of the mysteries of masonry. The same writer has devoted a dissertation to this same subject, and for some valuable facts I have been indebted to his work. I make these remarks lest you should suppose me as setting up some claims to a new and unheard of explanation. I make no claims save of pursuing this subject till my mind was satisfied, and of presenting to you the result of laborious investigation. The promise, as you may most easily perceive, is composed of two parts. The first contains an allusion to a circumstance of Jewish history; the latter contains an allusion to an ancient heathen practice. The first admits of an easy solution; the last has concentrated in itself all the difficulty of which I have heretofore spoken. Let us take up these in their order.
1. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna."
In my last lecture on this epistle I was compelled to carry back your attention to a portion of the Jewish history, and in order to the proper elucidation of my present subject, it is necessary that the same course should be pursued. You cannot fail to recollect, (for if ever there was a history which left its deep impression on the mind of the reader, it is the history of the wanderings of the Israelites in the great and terrible wilderness,) you cannot fail, I say, to recollect, that when first the people murmured for want of food, the same God who with a mighty hand and a stretched-out arm had brought them from the land of Egypt, gave them a rich and a bountiful supply—a supply which, as it miraculously came, as miraculously continued, till arrived on the borders of the promised land they eat the new corn and drank the new wine of the rich and plenteous Canaan. How must the Israelites have been amazed, as when in the freshness of the morning they left the tents in which they had reposed, and saw spread about them as the dew went up to refresh the early sunbeams, something remaining on the ground like the delicate white hoar frost of the autumn. This was the manna, that heavenly food which the loving kindness of God had provided for them. Now of this manna the High Priest Aaron was ordered to take sufficient to fill a vessel, and to place the vessel and the manna in the tabernacle, as a memorial to succeeding generations of the power and goodness which had sustained their fathers while they wandered in the wilderness. The manna which was thus collected was deposited in the ark of the covenant and kept in the most holy place. It was hidden, or secret, because none but the High Priest was ever permitted to look upon it, and he only once in the year, on the great day of expiation, when, robed in all the splendid apparel of his office, he entered within the peculiarly hallowed enclosures of the holy of holies. Now this is a brief history of the manna, and this the reason why it might with propriety be denominated hidden; and it is scarcely possible but that you see at once that the text alludes to the pot of manna placed by Aaron in the holy of holies. Still what does the Spirit of God intend to convey to the members of the Church of Pergamos by this allusion? As far as the severest examination has enabled me to come to a conclusion on this subject, my mind is satisfied that this allusion bore to those to whom it was originally addressed these impressive and most interesting considerations. First, as it was the manna which supported the famishing Israelites in the journey, so is it intended to be emblematic of that spiritual food with which the ever bountiful Jesus feeds, sustains, strengthens and comforts his faithful disciples. To eat of this is to have the soul nourished and refreshed with the bread of life; to have all its wants supplied; to taste of those divine consolations which even in this world of trouble can make the sinner's heart to overflow with blessedness; to live upon the fulness of an infinite God, and to be abundantly satisfied therewith. But as a second consideration, this allusion, when it speaks of a hidden manna, that which was laid up in the very holy of holies, carries the thoughts at once to that holy place which is above, whither the great High Priest of our profession has gone before. If the manna merely had been spoken of, the earthly enjoyment of spiritual food had been the extent to which the allusion would have justified our going; but when the hidden manna is recalled, the High Priest, and the ark of the covenant, and the holy of holies, come with it in the natural association; and then the promise, that he who overcometh shall eat of this hidden manna, leads our thoughts to that celestial and eternal provision laid up for the saints in our Father's holiest mansion, nearest to himself. The allusion tells to the conquering Christian, that he shall one day eat the bread of heaven; that when he has passed through the wilderness of this life, he shall come into the immediate presence of his Saviour; he shall dwell in the holy place of the heavenly temple; he shall hunger no more, neither shall he thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on him, nor any heat; but the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed him and lead him to living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from his eyes.
You see, my friends, how beautiful is this allusion; how full, how rich, how emphatic! And yet this is not all. Why is this promise peculiarly appropriate to the state of things in Pergamos? Why would it not have been just as well adapted to the state of things in Ephesus or in Smyrna ? Ah, my friends, how wisely and how appropriately are those things done which are done by the Spirit of God. Carry back your thoughts to the history of the