The Letter to the Laodicean Church
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, "These things says the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God: 'I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I would you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot — I will spew you out of My mouth. You say, "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing" — and know not that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from Me gold tried in the fire — that you may be rich; and white clothing — that you may be clothed, and that the shame of your nakedness does not appear; and anoint your eyes with eye-salve — that you may see. As many as I love — I rebuke and chasten. Be zealous therefore, and repent.'"
The Laodicean Church represents the lukewarm professor in every age. He is "neither cold nor hot." He is not what would be called a careless or ungodly person. He knows the truth and approves of it. He makes a right profession and pays an outward respect to religion. Yet he is not hearty and zealous. He is not really in earnest. His soul is not the great concern with him. Christ is not first in his affections. Decent and respectable as he is in conduct — he has no love to God and has not given his heart to his Savior. He is but lukewarm — neither cold nor hot.
What does the Lord Jesus say of such? Something very awful, something that is even startling in its strength and plainness. "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I would you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth!" That is, I will cast you forth — I will utterly reject you — I will disown you altogether. Such was His mind toward the Laodiceans — such is His mind toward the lukewarm now, for He does not change. What was displeasing to Him then — is displeasing to Him now.
The root of lukewarmness seems to be the lack of a due sense of sin. "Because you say, 'I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing' — and know not that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." This may refer in part to worldly riches, for Laodicea is said to have been a rich place at that time. If so, their pride of wealth was a help to their lukewarmness — and a hindrance to their spirituality. Without great watchfulness, riches are always a hindrance! Our Lord Himself taught us so.
But worldly riches are certainly not all that is meant here. The Laodiceans thought they were spiritually rich too. They imagined they had some righteousness of their own, some strength and resources in themselves. They did not know themselves. They had not learned truly and deeply, that they were sinners. Hence their lukewarmness — their lack of life and warmth and zeal.
The very first lesson we must learn — is what we are. We may seem to make great progress in religion, we may learn much of doctrine, we may increase greatly in knowledge. But if we have never learned to know ourselves, and if we are not growing continually in that knowledge — then our progress is no real progress after all — and we are building a house without a foundation. We are like a man pretending to mount a ladder, without beginning at the lower rounds.
What are we, then? Just what the Laodiceans were, but did not know themselves to be, "Wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked!" What, all of us? Yes, all of us, in ourselves; all of us, until we have really done what this message to the Laodiceans bids us do.
We are "wretched," for we are in great misery and danger — and all the more wretched because we do not know it.
We are "miserable," worthy to be pitied, even while we flatter ourselves that all is well with us, for we are but deceiving ourselves.
We are "poor," for we have no spiritual wealth, no supply whatever for the needs of our souls.
We are "blind," ignorant of our own hearts, ignorant of God, ignorant of truth and of the way of life.
We are "naked," with no righteousness of our own in which we can appear — no covering, no defense, no refuge.
We are all this — and, worst of all, we do not know it! If we knew it and bewailed it — then our case would not be so bad; for then we would be more likely to seek elsewhere, what we have not got in ourselves. In other words, if we knew ourselves to be sinners — then it might be hoped that we should seek the Savior of sinners. But we shall never seek Him — until we feel our need of Him!
There is One who knows just what we are. The Lord Jesus Christ says, "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot." His eye is always upon us. He knows us exactly as we are, each one of us. Profession does not deceive Him. Knowledge does not pass with Him for repentance, faith, and holiness. He knows our hearts — and He knows our lives. The mockery of an empty profession, the mere pretense of a religion that is all in the head or on the lips, the unhumbled heart, the coldness, the hardness, the lack of faith and gratitude and love — He knows them all.
What then? Does He cast off the lukewarm? Does He put an end at once to this empty religion, so displeasing as it is to Him? So displeasing that He even says, "I would you were cold or hot." How gracious He is! How merciful and long-suffering! He will indeed reject the lukewarm — if they continue so; but He kindly and faithfully warns them not to remain as they are.
"I counsel you," He says. He is called, you remember, "the Counselor." "I counsel you" — I, who know all, all your state, and all your need — I, who cannot be deceived — I, the Counselor, counsel you — I give you this advice. Ah, let us listen to what He says! Let us hear with reverence what He would have us do.
"I counsel you to buy from Me gold tried in the fire — that you may be rich; and white clothing — that you may be clothed, and that the shame of your nakedness does not appear; and anoint your eyes with eye-salve — that you may see."
The lukewarm thought they had all this before: riches and clothing and sight — but they had none of it. Now the Lord Jesus bids them seek it in truth, and seek it of Him.
Sight — to see themselves in their wretched and helpless state; the enlightening and convincing of their hearts by the Holy Spirit; true riches, "the unsearchable riches of Christ".
"White clothing," the wedding garment which He gives to every true believer — robes washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb.
But may we indeed hope to obtain all this? Yes, for He who gives the advice — is also He in whom all fullness dwells. He sends us nowhere else for it. It is to be had of no one else. He bids us to seek it from Him. Will He not then bestow it?
But He says, "I counsel you to buy from Me." But we have nothing to pay. We thought we had before. But now we have learned, for He Himself has taught us that we are poor. He tells us to buy — and we have nothing to offer Him. How shall we obtain? We are to buy on gospel terms, and they are these: "Ho! everyone that thirsts, come to the waters! And he who has no money — come, buy, and eat! Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price!" This is gospel buying — these are gospel terms: "without money and without price," the very terms that are suited to the poor, the only terms on which we could ever buy. Thanks be to God, that He bids us buy thus!
Has what the gracious Savior has said, seemed sharp and stern? He would not have us think of Him so. "As many as I love," says He, "I rebuke and chasten — be zealous therefore, and repent." It was not in anger that He spoke — but in love. Even when He said, "So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth!" — even then, it was but that the lukewarm might have his eyes opened to his state and might be zealous and repent. He sends this message to us in love. His rebukes and chastenings are but the dealings of His love, to lead us to Himself and to happiness.
Do His words seem sharp? Yet there is love and faithfulness in them — they are much needed — He will not leave us in a cold and lifeless state. Do His chastenings and His dealings, seem painful? Is the sickness sore? Is the trial long? Yet all is in love still. "As many as I love — I rebuke and chasten."
Gracious Savior! Teach us . . .
to know Your love,
to hear Your voice,
to feel Your hand.
We thank You for every faithful warning and for every loving chastisement. We thank You for all that You do toward us — to humble us, to teach us, and to draw us in heart to You. We thank You for Your gracious counsel and for Your free offers. We come to You according to Your Word. May our eyes be anointed, that we may see! Give us of Your unsearchable riches! May our sins be washed away in Your precious blood — and may we stand before You in pure white robes! Lord, give us Your Holy Spirit — deepen our sense of sin — show us what we are — increase our faith. Take from us all lukewarmness — may we no longer be neither cold nor hot. Touch our conscience, impress our hearts, make us truly in earnest. Help us by Your grace to be zealous and to repent.
"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches!" Revelation 3:20-22
This is the conclusion of the epistle to the Laodicean Church. The Lord Jesus Christ in the former part sharply rebukes that church for lukewarmness, because they were "neither cold nor hot." Now He ends with these gracious words of invitation.
He speaks to us as well as to the Laodiceans, for He says, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." He who has an ear — to whomever these words may come, whoever has the power of hearing or reading them — let him hear what the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, says to the churches; and let him take the words as spoken not merely to them, but to him also. Let us receive them so. The Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit speaks to us.
"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock." What door? The door of our hearts — our unworthy and sinful hearts. The Lord Jesus (speaking figuratively) stands there and knocks. He, so high, so great, so holy — the Son of God stands at the door of our hearts. Stands there, and knocks.
Why does He knock? To be let in. That we may open the door of our hearts and admit Him. He desires to find entrance there.
But why should He desire to find entrance there? It is not a place worthy of Him. It is a lowly and unworthy place for Him to come to. The poor man knocks at the door of the rich and asks alms; the friend knocks at the door of his friend, that he may go in and converse with him — but why should Jesus knock at the door of our hearts? Yet does not a kind rich man sometimes knock at the door of the poor, and even of the wicked — that he may go in and carry them help and do them good? Somewhat in this way, only with far more condescension, kindness, and love — the Lord Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts. It is to bring us help, to do us good, to make us happy, to save us.
Do we not think it double kindness, if the rich and kind themselves come to help the poor? It would be kind to send them help — it is doubly kind to bring it. The Lord Jesus sends us messages; but He also comes Himself, by the Spirit. He comes Himself, that He may be let in. And indeed nothing else would meet our need. We need Him. Not merely His gifts — but He Himself. He comes therefore, and knocks for admittance — that He may enter and be our Savior.
What does He say that He will do for us, when we open the door and let Him in? "If any man hears My voice, and opens the door — I will come in to him, and will eat with him, and he with Me." Ah, gracious Lord! The centurion thought himself unworthy that You should come under his roof, even to heal his servant — and will You indeed come into our poor hearts? You ate with publicans and sinners — and now You will come in to such as us. You sought and saved those who were lost then — and You do the same now!
He says, "I will come in and eat with him — and he with Me." This shows that He will not merely come in, but will also be kind to us and hold fellowship with us and give us food for our souls and supply our needs and make us happy. For in the Bible, a feast is often used to show spiritual plenty and comfort and happiness. The blessedness to come is represented to us under the figure of "the marriage supper of the Lamb" — and when Jesus comes and makes His abode in the heart, there is a foretaste of that blessedness.
Yes, when He comes in, He will come to be our Savior — to save us, to bless us, to supply our need, to satisfy our souls, to give us peace, comfort, and happiness in union with Himself.
"And he with Me" — the poor sinner, all unworthy in himself, will not be afraid of One so gracious. He will venture to hold communion with Him, and it will be the strength and happiness of his soul.
What follows expresses even more, a higher glory and happiness still. "To him who overcomes, I will grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and sat down with My Father in His throne." What! Shall repentant sinners sit with Him in His throne? Will He raise us as high as that? We can hardly raise even our thoughts so high. Yet He says so. And though we may not be able fully to understand what He means — yet this is plain, that He will give a share in His glory to all who overcome.
But mark, this is for "him who overcomes." When Christ is admitted into the heart — the course of the Christian does but begin. Thenceforward he is a soldier of Christ. The battle is before him. It will last until his Captain calls him home. We must endure hardness. We "must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." We shall meet with dangers, difficulties and temptations. The promise is to "him who overcomes" — to "him who endures unto the end" — not to him who grows careless, yields, and goes back to sin and the world.
But He Himself will help us to overcome — and to bear what He sends: trial, sickness, loss. He Himself will help us . . .
to withstand the tempter;
to persevere in our course to the end;
to remain steadfast in the faith.
Our strength is in Him — in His presence with us by the Spirit — in His abiding within us. If He were to leave us — we could never persevere. But He will never leave us. "Abide in Me, and I in you," He says. That is a promise — as well as a precept. Let us but watch and pray and seek the Spirit's help continually, and maintain an unbroken fellowship with our Savior by faith — and we shall be "more than conquerors through Him who loved us." He is both the Author and the Finisher of our faith.
But have we heard His voice and opened the door? That is the great question.
Even if not — yet He is so gracious that He knocks still. The very words show this. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." I have taken My stand there — I am standing there now. Yes, He is standing there now — even at the door of those hearts into which He has never been admitted.
Would the kind man who came with gifts stand knocking still at the poor man's door — who refused to open to him? Yet the Lord Jesus stands and knocks — even after long neglect and many refusals. Ah, how often has He knocked . . .
by His Word,
by His warnings,
by His mercies,
by the voice of conscience,
by death of friends.
By sickness — perhaps He is knocking so now! Oh, let the sick and suffering hear the sound and open and let Him in! Why do you lie on that bed? Why do you suffer so much? Why are you laid aside from everything? You do not know. Does not this explain it: "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock"? Yes, it is He Himself who laid you there — and He did it in mercy and love. He calls you — He invites you — He seeks admittance into your heart. If you hear His voice and open to Him — then He will come in and be your Savior and make you happy now and forever. Will you refuse? Will you stop your ears? Will you keep the door closed? Will you run the risk of His going away?
Lord! Bring home Your Word with power to the hearts of those who hear it. "He who has an ear — let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches!"