The Epistle to the Church of LAODICEA

Revelation 3:14-20

Laodicea was an emporium of trade, distinguished especially for woollen manufactures of rare texture-fabrics woven from the hair of the sheep and goats which browsed in vast flocks on the surrounding pastures. It was also noted for those ointments and cosmetics so prized by Orientals, and which still afford no inconsiderable commerce to the surrounding cities. Being, moreover, on the high road of commerce between Ephesus and the East, it had gathered within its walls a goodly number of merchant-princes. Its gold was well known to the traders, who with their caravans passed through its streets. Although shorn of much of its outward magnificence in the year 62 A.D., owing to the devastations of an earthquake, yet, as a test of its opulence, the havoc thus made, was repaired by the citizens alone, unaided by any imperial grant. Now a miserable village, there are yet remains, in the shape of broken columns and ruined aqueducts, to attest its former luxurious splendor.

These characteristics may be mentioned, because some of them at least, as will presently be seen, throw light on the peculiar symbolism and figure employed in the Epistle. A Church had been planted there in Apostolic days. Paul, thirty years previously, refers in his Epistle to the adjoining Church of Colosse, to "the great conflict he had for them of Laodicea." However successful that hard fight may have been in the days of the Hero-Apostle, his death would seem to have turned the tide of battle: the simplicity of the 'truth as it is in Jesus' succumbed before the spirit of evil, which had its outward manifestation in worldliness, pride, and lukewarmness.

The figurative language of the latter portion of the letter (to which we shall in this chapter confine ourselves) seems appropriately borrowed from the merchant city. Its material gold and silver and gay clothing—its woollen mantles, silk trappings, and abundant traffic—are taken as the symbols of boastful self-sufficiency and complacent self-righteousness—masking and concealing its own utter beggary and nakedness in the sight of God. The Great Redeemer, the author of the Epistle, represents Himself as a traveling merchantman, the head of one of these Eastern caravans, coming laden with true riches and heavenly vestures, divine ointments and perfumes, to supply the place of the spurious and the counterfeit. He personates such a merchantman going from house to house and from door to door with His own priceless goods—those spiritual verities which no material wealth can purchase.

Standing in front of each dwelling, He proclaims in the ear of its residents, however unwilling to hear—"You say, I am rich, and increased with goods" (or 'I have enriched myself'), "and have need of nothing; and know not that you are wretched, and miserable" (or rather, 'the wretched one and the miserable one'), "and poor, and blind, and naked." And then, having uttered the solemn protest and warning, He calls on His listeners with their hoarded goods to draw near. He opens up these, His own costly wares, the gold without alloy, which no Ophir mine could produce—the glistering white vesture of His own righteousness, which no loom on earth could weave—salves and aromatic oils for true spiritual vision—ointments for the head, which no earthly laboratory could furnish.

These Laodiceans were living in guilty self-deception. They were clad in gaudy clothing. They were imagining themselves to be in king's houses while they were bankrupts—their whole life and being was a lie. "Open your doors," says the Great Vender of spiritual riches—"transact with ME." "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 may not appear; and anoint your eyes with eye-salve, that you may see."

The summons however seems to be in vain. The earnest importunate voice is, by these self-satisfied and self-contented Laodiceans, disowned and neglected. On, however, He pursues His way from street to street and from house to house, repeating the warning and the gracious offer, until the shadows of evening begin to fall. The hours of His sojourn are numbered. Tomorrow, this wayfaring Man, who has turned aside to tarry for a night, must depart. By early morn the camels must be re-loaded, the tents outside must be struck, and He must journey onwards to offer the rejected treasures to other cities. But He will not leave—He will not abandon His blessed purpose of love, without one other effort at the doors of those who had in their folly spurned Him away. Though needing rest Himself, He is busied from sunset until midnight-hour in re-traversing the now silent streets, and thus exclaiming, as He stands in front of every dwelling, "behold, I stand at the door and knock." Alas! for Laodicea. These pleadings were disregarded. Christ had knocked at her dwellings, but He had knocked in vain.

Separating these latter words of the Epistle from their special reference to the Laodicean Church, and giving them a universal, or rather a spiritual and personal application, let us dwell for a little on this amazing picture. The rejected yet loving Savior—the Divine Merchantman from the Heavenly City, a suppliant at the door of the sinner's heart. The two brief words in this brief clause are each of them suggestive, "Behold I STAND" and "Behold I KNOCK."

I. The attitude of standing suggests His CONDESCENSION. If condescension be a relative term, and increases in proportion to the distance and disparity between him who exercises it and those who are its objects, where can there be condescension similar to this? There are noble instances of condescension and kindness in earthly chronicles. We have read of those of lofty rank, who, at the promptings of philanthropy, have gone down into the dens of misery and vice, to relieve suffering and mitigate wretchedness. Tales still linger in the memories of nations, of disguised sovereigns entering the hovel of distress—hands that grasped the scepter of empires, drying the orphan's tears, soothing the infirmities of age, or the pangs of sorrow.

We can ascend a step higher still. We can leave the crowns and monarchs of earth, and imagine one of those bright Seraphs who hymn their songs in the upper Sanctuary coming down to our world on some mandate of mercy, hovering around the straw-pallet of some Lazarus-beggar, stooping to smooth his death-pillow, before bearing the spirit to Abraham's bosom. But what even is this?—these angels bathing their wings of light in the floods of infinite glory before the throne—what is this stoop of theirs, in comparison with that marvelous tale of Him who announces Himself in the opening of this Epistle as "the Amen—the faithful and true Witness—the beginning of the creation of God"—whose throne is of old from everlasting—the blaze of worlds, the jewels of His crown—who has reared every arch and pillar in Nature's temple—making its bells to ring an eternal chime to His glory? Yes! Behold Him who has kindled up the altar-fires of Heaven, who calls every star by name, and from whose boundless empire this tiny earth of ours would be no more missed, than the fall of the leaf in the forest, or the bursting of the bubble on the ocean—to whom the universe is but as the small dust of the balance, all time but as the beat of a pulse or the swing of a pendulum! Behold Him, the mighty uncreated Lord, the all-glorious Redeemer, "of whom are all things, and by whom are all things!" Behold Him "as one that serves"—His head bared to the pitiless storm, a petitioner at the door of a human heart!

2. This attitude of standing suggests further, the thought of FORBEARANCE and IMPORTUNITY. "Behold I stand!" 'I have been standing long,' He seems to say, 'and I am standing still; and though My head is wet with dew and My locks with the drops of the night, I am unrepulsed by a life of ingratitude—how can I give you up?' If He had been the very kindest of human benefactors, His patience would have been long ago exhausted, His pleadings silenced, His remonstrances closed. But "have you not known, have you not heard, that the everlasting God the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, faints not, neither is weary?"

His loving appeals are like the billows which, century after century, lashed into fury, have been beating on the rock-bound coast. They make no departure. They strike, but return, chafed and buffeted and baffled, to their ocean-bed, to gather up new strength for a fresh assault. Emblem of the rocky heart. The ocean of a Savior's love has been knocking and surging against it, for days and weeks and months and years. Yet, though beaten back by that adamant stone, it returns with new force to the charge. Wondrous thought, the importunity of Christ with sinners! What patience! Think of the myriads of hearts He has thus been pleading with for 6000 years! Think of the different ages and dispensations! Think of the different climates and tongues! Who would have imagined anything else but that these stern refusals would have driven Him forever away to other hearts and homes that would give a holier and kinder welcome? But, "Behold, I STAND!"

Let us pass now to inquire into the import of the second term here used—"Behold, I KNOCK." Christ knocks at the door of the heart in various ways.

1. He knocks by His Word. It is the rod of His power. "Is not my Word as a hammer," says He, "that breaks the rock in pieces?" His preached Word has ever been made by Him mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. It would be a poor matter indeed for a mortal man, in his own strength, with stammering tongue and feeble arm, to try and plead with sinners, and wrench the bolts from the doors of their hearts. But, "the wisdom of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." It matters not by whom the warriors' bugle-note is sounded which musters the host for the charge. It stirs the bosoms of the brave. It may be piped by coward and unworthy lips: but the old, familiar, heart-stirring strain sends the flush to the cheek and the flash to the eye, and puts nerve and sinew into the most prostrate arm. The great Gospel-trumpet, by whomsoever blown, is the trumpet of God. It sounds forth the words of God; and, as such, they shall not return to Him void. Many a poor, faint, coward-heart, in the hour of spiritual battle, hearing these, out of weakness has been made strong, waxed valiant in fight, and turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

But see that you refuse not Him that speaks. Remember, every resisted knocking will woefully diminish the chances of opening. If first convictions are allowed to die away, the world's oblivion-power does its work. The next Sabbath returns—its impressions are feebler. The heart, from very familiarity, becomes gradually more callous, uninfluenced, unimpressed—lapsing into awful unconsciousness to the perils and prospects of eternity. And then, how sad! when these knockings of Christ fall, like the gushing tears of the bereaved, as they sob their tale of unresponded-to anguish in "the dull, cold ear of Death!"

2. Christ knocks by sickness. A bed of languishing is spread. A man is called to renounce bodily strength and prosperity for an unexpected pillow of pain. Christ had often and again knocked at his heart while busied in the world; but the hum of an engrossing industry—the fever of gain and money-making—allowed not the voice to be heard. He had given him the talent of health; but he had been a traitor to his trust, for no atom of time had been consecrated to the soul and eternity. He takes him aside and lays him on a couch of disease. In the quiet of that lonely chamber, the world's carking cares and siren voice now hushed and overborne, Jesus speaks! Yes, and often He speaks there loudly too. The man is hurried, without a note of warning, to the borders of the grave. The dim lamp of life flickers in its socket. It was but last week he was in the Exchange or in the market. It was but last week he was following his plough, or digging his garden, or standing by his counter, or plying his vigorous hand in his workshop. And this week, he reads in the physician's countenance, and in the choking sobs and ill-suppressed tears around his bed, that eternity is near at hand. How loudly does Christ then knock! How loudly does He speak—"Prepare to meet your God!" While the answer is breathed out in trembling agony, 'Lord, I cannot meet you as I am!—a few more days—a few more weeks! Oh, spare me, that I may recover strength before I go hence and be no more!'

Has He thus been speaking to any of us? Are we the living monuments of His sparing mercy? Has He heard our prayer?—has He arrested the axe, and revoked the sentence, "cut it down?" Let not His voice die away like the retiring thunder. Be it ours to say—"I will pay You my vows which my mouth has spoken and my lips have uttered while I was in trouble!" "The living—the living, even he shall praise You, as I do this day!"

3. Once more, Christ knocks by bereavement and death. This is the loudest knock of all. The lion is said to make the forest echo loudest in a storm of thunder. With reverence be it said, He who is "the Lion of the tribe of Judah," and who is spoken of in this Book as uttering voices "as when a lion roars." Yes! Jesus speaks and knocks loudest in the season of affliction—in the lowering, thundery, storm-wreathed sky. Some beloved object of earthly affection is taken away. The world is a wilderness to the stripped and desolate heart; embittered are all its joys, poisoned its sweetest fountains. Who is there but can tell of such knockings as these? When, seated in the chamber of dissolution, you saw some cherished spirit taking its flight, leaving you to weep unavailing tears and to breathe unavailing prayers—hoping against hope that it might be some wild and feverish dream which the morrow would dispel? The morrow comes, but with it the waking thoughts of agony—Jesus knocks! In the silence of that death-chamber, when seated with emotions too deep for utterance, Jesus knocks! Or when standing at the grave's mouth and committing loved dust to its kindred dust—in the awful stillness and solemnity of that scene, Jesus knocks! And when, returning home to the rifled and deserted dwelling, the vacant seat is marked, the absent guest is missed, the joyous voice or innocent prattle, familiar at every turn, its music gone, and gone for the forever of time—and the deep, settled silence of desertion all that is left in exchange—Jesus knocks!—Jesus speaks!

And what does He say? Poor trifler! who did prefer your clay idols to Myself; admitting them within your heart, and keeping Me standing outside—I have seen fit to dash one after another to the ground, that you may be driven from the perishable to the eternal.

We cannot, however, enlarge. Time would fail to tell of the many ways by which Jesus knocks. He knocks by prosperity. He can knock through the blessings with which He loads us, as well as through those He takes away. He knocks in all the vicissitudes of life. He knocks by great events, and by trifling occurrences. It may be, the return of some mournful anniversary; or the notice of a death in the obituary; or the passage of a funeral in the street; or the reading of a simple tract; or the well-timed observation or admonition of a friend. Jesus knocks! But who can tell how long? At the present hour He may be making His last appeal—a final remonstrance. For oh! though persistent—slow to abandon—reluctant to give up—there is a point beyond which even His forbearance cannot go. And THEN?—What then? The dread mark is affixed on the doomed and fated doorway, and the awful word is uttered—"Ephraim is joined to his idols; let him alone!" "How often would I have gathered you, and you would not?"

But the tread of His footstep is still heard. His angels are still hovering around, waiting to carry tidings to Heaven of His Spirit's knocking and hearts yielding. Surely this picture of the Laodicean Church tells, as few other scriptures do, that no door, however long closed, can be hopelessly shut—that no heart, however obdurate, can be beyond the reach of grace and mercy. To those of whom He spoke—in the opening of the Epistle, as 'lukewarm,' and of whom He uttered the strong language that, as such, He would reject them with loathing, out of His mouth as a nauseous thing—not only is it at their doors He stands pleading, but to them, if they hearken, He gives the highest, the crowning and culminating promise of all. Accepting the 'gold'—the riches of His grace and salvation—the 'white clothing'—the glistering robe of His imputed and imparted righteousness, He will make them sharers and partakers, and that too in its most exalted aspects, of His heavenly bliss—"I will grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am seated with My Father in His throne."

Let us give to Him the throne of our hearts, that He may thus at last give to us the throne of His glory. Even now, as the Savior's voice is heard, in the majesty of omnipotence, let there be the willing response—"Come in, you blessed of the Lord; why do you stand outside?"