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GOD'S FIDELITY TO HIS PEOPLE,
ILLUSTRATED IN THE
HISTORY OF THE CHURCH AT PHILADELPHIA.
REVELATION iii. 7-13.
In my last discourse on the epistle to the Church in Philadelphia, our attention was entirely confined to a consideration of the past and present condition of that Church, and to the strikingly important description which is given of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, together with such practical remarks as the nature of the subject discussed constrained me to offer to your serious consideration. In
regular course I come this evening to take up the consideration of what constituted the second and third general divisions of my subject, and I am gratified that we have been led thus far at this time, because I think we shall discover a striking coincidence between our condition as belonging to the general Church of the present Philadelphia, and the condi
tion of that Church of the ancient city to which the epistle was immediately addressed.
The IId. general division of my subject is, A declaration on the part of Christ of some peculiar and distinguished blessing which he had bestowed on the Church of Philadelphia. “I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name."
This figurative language is of the easiest possible interpretation, and may be thus paraphrased. I have placed in your way every means, and privilege, and opportunity of becoming fully acquainted with, and of profiting by my Gospel, which is able to make you wise unto salvation; and I am determined that there shall no effectual opposition and no hindrance stand to prevent its full effect. But it has a still further important meaning. I have placed before you every possible facility for propagating the Gospel; you have it in its purity yourselves, and there shall be no hindrance to your spreading it abroad. I have set the door open, go forward in your work. That this is the decided meaning of the language of the text, will be perfectly apparent by a comparison of this phraseology with the same as is used in other parts of the sacred volume. And I am solicitous, brethren, that this subject should be well fixed in your minds, because it is my purpose to adapt it to a practical use of vital interest to you in your character of Christians. Let us then see the meaning of these terms as elsewhere used. Thus when St. Paul is giving a reason for his remaining in Ephesus as late as the feast of Pentecost, instead of going immediately to Corinth, as the brethren and he had both desired, he says—"for a great door and effectual is opened unto me;" that is, as no one can doubt, that he found so many prepared to receive the Gospel, and God had been pleased to grant him such success among them, that he was determined to stay a little longer, at least hoping, that as he had been made instrumental in the conversion of many,
he might be made so in the conversion of more. The fact of the history shows that a great door had been opened, for he established a most flourishing Church at Ephesus, a Church to which the very first of these apocalyptic epistles was addressed. Again: In the second epistle to the Corinthians, giving some further reasons why he could not come to Corinth as speedily as they desired, he said—“When I came to Troas to preach Christ's Gospel, a door was opened unto me of the Lord.” And in his epistle to the Collossians he exhorts his beloved brethren to continue in prayer and thanksgiving, and makes it a particular request that in their supplications they would pray both for him and his fellow labourers, that “a door of utterance might be given them to speak the mystery of Christ;" that is, that they themselves might be enabled to open their mouths boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and find the way prepared into the hearts of their hearers for the access of the word of life. When our Lord Jesus Christ, then, represents himself as taking in his omnipotent hand the key which is to open the door of the Gospel, and when he declares that he openeth and no man shutteth, it is perfectly equivalent to the declaration, that he either has, or will remove every obstacle which may obstruct the progress and the triumph of evangelical truth. To reduce the whole of this, then, to the most simple terms in which it can be placed, it is this: that the Lord Jesus Christ had particularly blessed the members of the Church of Philadelphia with the opportunity to learn and to teach the Gospel of his grace, and that he would allow no external obstacle to impede its progress. Bear this in mind, my brethren, while I take
IIId. general division, which is the commendation of their faith and obedience.
It appears to be, that in consideration of their faith and purity of doctrine, he had seen fit graciously to bestow these blessings, for the eighth verse is a continuous sentence—“I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.”
I find it is the opinion of some commentators, that a slight censure is couched under these terms, as if from their opportunities they ought to have had a great deal of strength, instead of a little. This opinion is by no means satisfactory, and does not agree with the general tenor of the commendation; for it requires much more than a little spiritual strength to keep the word of Christ and not to deny his name, especially in circumstances of peril and of death. I am fully inclined to the belief that the term, little strength, here used, applies more particularly to the civil and political circumstances of the Church and city, and means, that they had very little wealth or political influence, and consequently no very great means of accomplishing the object he
had set before them. This idea is corroborated by the circumstances of their history, for it was only about fifteen or seventeen years before the date of this epistle, that Philadelphia had suffered so much by an earthquake that it was in a measure deserted. Any other view does not appear to me consistent with the history of the context. But this view gives a very great and important emphasis to the whole. Thus: You in Philadelphia have kept my word and have not denied my name; you must learn, and you must spread abroad my Gospel; but I know the condition of your Church; by providential circumstances, you have no great wealth, or influence, or political power. You are more distinguished for your faith and patience and holiness, than any external and adventitious advantages. You have but little strength, and therefore be not discouraged, for I will compensate, and more than compensate for all these disadvantages under which you labour. Go on zealously and perseveringly, for I have set before you an open door.
These, brethren, are the particulars, so far as they are immediately connected with the condition of the Church of Philadelphia. But as whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, I feel particularly anxious that a subject so important should be brought to a most decided practical bearing on our own circumstances and condition. As a preliminary step to those practical deductions I would draw, I would observe, that it is the prerogative of the Lord Jesus Christ to remove obstacles out of the way of the progress of the Gospel.
The progress of the Gospel in the world has al