PHILADELPHIAPrint This Page.
THE CHURCH IN PHILADELPHIA
Scripture Reading: Rev. 3:7-13; Matt. 23:8-11; John 20:17; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:28
Here we have drawn a systematic chart. Perhaps it can help us to better understand. The first part represents the church in the apostles' age. Although Ephesus was a church which had already slackened, it is on the same straight line, since the Lord acknowledged that the church in Ephesus continued the apostolic church. Then came Smyrna, which also continued the line. Smyrna is really a suffering church. There is no praise nor rebuke for her. After Smyrna, however, something occurred when Pergamos appeared. She did not continue the orthodoxy of the apostles; she was united with the world and took a turn downward. She succeeded the church in Smyrna, but she did not continue in the orthodoxy of the apostles. Since Pergamos made such a turn, Thyatira followed in her steps. She took the same line as Pergamos, which was not the same as the apostles'. Sardis came out of Thyatira and she also made a turn, but her turn was one which headed back. Thyatira will continue until the Lord's coming, and Sardis will also continue until the Lord's coming.
Now it is our desire to introduce Philadelphia. Philadelphia is the church which returns to the orthodoxy of the apostles. Philadelphia also has a turn, a turn back to the position at the beginning of the Bible. The turn of recovery started with Sardis and was completed with Philadelphia. Now it is again on the same straight line as the age of the apostles. Philadelphia came out of Sardis. She is neither the Roman Catholic Church nor the Protestant churches, but continues the church at the age of the apostles. Later came Laodicea, which we will see when we come to her. Now we will spend some time to see what Philadelphia is, hoping that we may be clear regarding what she signifies.
Among the seven churches, five are rebuked and two are not. The two that are not rebuked are Smyrna and Philadelphia. The Lord approves only of these two. It is indeed remarkable that the words spoken by the Lord to Philadelphia are quite similar to those which were spoken to Smyrna. The problem of Smyrna was Judaism, while with Philadelphia there was also Judaism. To the church in Smyrna the Lord said, "That you may be tried'' (Rev. 2:10), while to the church in Philadelphia the Lord said, "I also will keep you out of the hour of trial, which is about to come on the whole inhabited earth, to try them who dwell on the earth'' (3:10). The Lord also spoke to the two churches regarding the crown. To Smyrna He said, "I will give you the crown of life'' (2:10), while to Philadelphia He said, "Hold fast what you have that no one take your crown'' (3:11). These two churches have these two points of similarity to show that they are on the same line, that is, on the line of the orthodoxy of the apostolic church. The church in Sardis was a recovery, but not a complete recovery; it was an incomplete recovery. But Philadelphia recovers to the point of meeting the Lord's desire. The church in Philadelphia not only receives no rebuke as Smyrna, but she is also praised. The straight line which we have drawn is the line of the chosen. We know that the Lord chose Philadelphia. Philadelphia continues the orthodoxy of the apostles. She recovers to Smyrna. Thus, the Lord's words to her are for us to keep and for us to obey. The turn of Pergamos and Thyatira was to such an extent that when Sardis came, she did not recover to completion even though she acted exceedingly great. Although she turned in the direction of recovery, she did not succeed in reaching the goal. Philadelphia is a complete recovery. Concerning this, I hope we may see clearly.
Philadelphia in Greek is composed of two words: The first means "love one another,'' and the second means "brother.'' Therefore, Philadelphia means "brotherly love.'' "Brotherly love'' is the Lord's prophecy. Sacrifice is the special feature of Thyatira and is fulfilled in the Roman Catholic Church. Recovery is the characteristic of Sardis and is fulfilled in the Protestant churches. Now the Lord tells us that there is a church which has been completely recovered and has been praised by Him. Those who read the Bible will raise the question, Who is this in actuality? Where can we find it in history? We cannot let this question pass easily.
I have already spoken of the behavior of the Nicolaitans and the teaching of the Nicolaitans in the church in Ephesus and the church in Pergamos. Moreover, I have indicated how they represent a class of priests. Among the Israelites the Levites could be the priests and the rest could not. But in the church all the children of God are priests. First Peter 2 and Revelation 5 tell us clearly that all who are bought with the blood are priests. Yet the Nicolaitans specifically created the office of the priest. The laity (common believers) must go to the world to take an occupation and perform secular affairs. The priests are above the laity and attend to the spiritual affairs. Now I will say something by way of repetition regarding the matter of the mediatorial class. The Jews have Judaism, and the Nicolaitans developed from a behavior to a teaching. We see the existence of a class of fathers. They attend to the spiritual affairs, while others take care of secular matters. The laying on of hands is their business; only they can bless. If we have to inquire concerning a certain matter, we cannot ask God ourselves; we must ask them to inquire of God for us. At the time of Sardis the condition improved. The system of the fathers was abolished, but the clergy system arose to take its place. In the Protestant churches there are the extremely strict state churches, and there are also the scattered private churches. However, whether it be a state or private church, the existence of the mediatorial class is always seen. The former has the clergy system while the latter has the pastoral system. Concerning the system of the priestly class, whether it is called fathers, clergy, or pastors, it is something which is rejected by the Lord. The Protestant churches are a change in form of the continuance of the Nicolaitan teaching found in Pergamos. Although in the Protestant churches no one is called a father, yet the clergy and pastors are exactly the same in principle. Even if we change their name and call them workers, as long as they are standing in the same position, they have the same flavor.
I have already brought forth much Scripture as a basis for showing that we are all priests. But now there is an argument between God and men. Since God says that everyone in the church is qualified to be a priest, why do men say that spiritual authority is only in the hands of the mediatorial class such as the fathers? I repeat, as many as are redeemed with the precious blood are priests. Why does the Lord not rebuke Philadelphia, but rather praise her? Remember that the beginning of the mediatorial class was at Pergamos and the practice of the mediatorial class was in Rome. They have the popes who exercise dominion over them, they have the high officials exercising authority over them, and they have the Vatican (the church-palace) high officials, etc. But the Lord says, "You all are brothers.'' Hold fast to Matthew 23:8 and 20:26. The Bible does not have the system of pastors. The Lord said, "Do not call anyone on earth your father, for One is your Father....Neither be called instructors, because One is your Instructor'' (23:9-10). But the Roman Catholic Church uses the term father, and the Protestant churches use the term pastor. In the nineteenth century there was a great revival which abolished the mediatorial class. A great recovery transpired after Sardis: The brothers loved one another, and the mediatorial class was abolished in the church. This is Philadelphia.
In 1825 in Dublin, the capital of Ireland, there were several believers whose hearts were moved by God to love all the children of the Lord, regardless of their denomination. This kind of love was not to be frustrated by the walls of denomination. They began to see that in the Scriptures God says there is but one Body of Christ, regardless of how many sects men may divide her into. They further read the Scriptures and saw that the system of one man administering the church and one man preaching was not scriptural. So they began to meet every Lord's Day to break bread and pray. In 1825—after more than a thousand years of the Roman Catholic Church and several hundred years of the Protestant churches—there was the first return to the simple, free, and spiritual worship in the Scriptures. At the beginning there were but two persons; later, there were four or five.
In the world's eyes these believers were lowly and unknown. But they had the Lord in their midst and the consolation of the Holy Spirit. They stood on the ground of two clear truths: First, the church is the Body of Christ and the Body is one, and second, there is no clergy system in the New Testament, that is, all the ministers of the Word set up by men are not scriptural. They believed that all true believers were the members of this one Body. They warmly welcomed all who came into their midst, regardless of their denomination. They did not have the consciousness of any sect. They believed that all true believers had the office of the priest and could freely enter into the Holy of Holies. They also believed the ascended Lord had given various gifts to the church for the perfecting of the saints, for the building up of the Body of Christ. Therefore, they were able to depart from the two sins of the clergy system—offering sacrifices and one man preaching the Word. These principles enabled them to welcome all who were in Christ as their brothers and to be open to all the ministers of the Word who were ordained by the Holy Spirit to serve.
During this time there was a clergyman in the Anglican Church by the name of John Nelson Darby who was very dissatisfied with the position of his own church, believing that it was not scriptural. He also met frequently with the brothers, although at that time he still wore the uniform of the Anglican clergy. He was a man of God, a man of great power, and a man willing to suffer. He was also a spiritual man who knew God and the Bible and judged the flesh. In 1827 he officially left the Anglican Church, put off the uniform of the clergy, and became a simple brother meeting together with the brothers. Originally what the brothers saw was rather limited, but when Darby joined, the light of heaven poured down like a torrent. In many aspects the work of Darby was similar to that of Wesley, but his attitude toward the Anglican Church was entirely different. In the previous century Wesley felt he could not leave the state church with peace; a century later Darby felt he could not continue in the Anglican Church with peace. But as to zealousness, wholeheartedness, and faithfulness, they were alike in many aspects.
It was in that same year that J. G. Bellett also attended the meetings. He also was an exceedingly deep and spiritual man. This kind of meeting, which was simple yet scriptural, moved him greatly. Concerning the condition at that time, he had this to say:
A brother has just been telling me that it appeared to him from Scripture that believers, meeting together as disciples of Christ, were free to break bread together as their Lord had admonished them; and that, in as far as the practice of the apostles could be a guide, every Lord's day should be set apart for thus remembering the Lord's death and obeying his parting command.
At another time J. G. Bellett said:
Walking one day with a brother as we were passing down Lower Pembroke Street, he said to me: "This I doubt not is the mind of God concerning us—we should come together in all simplicity as disciples, not waiting on any pulpit or ministry, but trusting that the Lord would edify us together by ministering as He pleased and saw good from the midst of ourselves." At the moment he spoke these words, I was assured my soul had got the right idea, and that moment I remember as if it were but yesterday, and could point you out the place. It was the birthday of my mind, may I so speak, as a brother.
This was how the brothers groped gradually onward, received revelation gradually, and saw the light gradually. After one year in 1828, Darby published a little book called The Nature and Unity of the Church of Christ. This little book was the first among thousands of books published by the brothers. In this book Darby clearly declared that the brothers had no intention of setting up a new denomination or union of churches. He said:
In the first place, it is not a formal union of the outward professing bodies that is desirable; indeed it is surprising that reflecting Protestants should desire it: far from doing good, I conceive it would be impossible that such a body could be at all recognized as the church of God. It would be a counterpart to Romish unity; we should have the life of the church and the power of the word lost, and the unity of spiritual life utterly excluded...True unity is the unity of the Spirit, and it must be wrought by the operation of the Spirit...No meeting, which is not framed to embrace all the children of God in the full basis of the kingdom of the Son, can find the fulness of blessing, because it does not contemplate it—because its faith does not embrace it...Where two or three are gathered together in His name, His name is recorded there for blessing...
Further, unity is the glory of the church; but unity to secure and promote our own interests is not the unity of the church, but confederacy and denial of the nature and hope of the church. Unity, that is of the church, is the unity of the Spirit, and can only be in the things of the Spirit, and therefore can only be perfected in spiritual persons...
But what are the people of the Lord to do? Let them wait upon the Lord, and wait according to the teaching of His Spirit, and in conformity to the image, by the life of the Spirit, of His Son. Let them go their way forth by the footsteps of the flock, if they would know where the good Shepherd feeds His flock at noon.
In another place Darby said:
Because our table is the Lord's table, not our table, we receive all whom God receives, all poor sinners fleeing to the Lord for refuge, not resting in themselves, but only in Christ.
At that same time God worked simultaneously in British Guiana and Italy to raise up the same kind of meetings. In 1829 there were also meetings in Arabia. In 1830 in Great Britain's London, Plymouth, and Bristol, there were also meetings. Later, many places in the United States had meetings, and in the continent of Europe there were also many meetings. Not long afterwards, in almost every place in the entire world, all those who loved the Lord were meeting in this way. Although there was no outward union, yet all were raised up by the Lord.
One feature that marked the rising up of these brothers was that those who were titled and lorded gave up their titles and lordship, those with position gave up their position, those with degrees forsook their degrees, and everyone abandoned any worldly class or rank in the church and became simply the disciples of Christ and brothers one to another. Just as the word father is widely used in the Roman Catholic Church and reverend in the Protestant churches, so the word brother is commonly used in their midst. They were attracted by the Lord and thus met together; because of their love toward the Lord, they spontaneously loved one another.
Within the scores of years, from among these brothers God has given many gifts to His church. Besides J. N. Darby and J. G. Bellett, God granted special ministries to many of the brothers so that His church could be supplied. George Müller, who established an orphanage, recovered the matter of praying in faith. In his lifetime he had over 1,500,000 answers to prayer. C. H. Mackintosh, who wrote Notes on the Pentateuch, recovered the knowledge of types. D. L. Moody said that if all the books in the entire world were to be burnt, he would be satisfied to have just one copy of the Bible and a set of C. H. Mackintosh's Notes on the Pentateuch. James G. Deck gave us many good hymns. George Cutting recovered the assurance of salvation. His booklet "Safety, Certainty, and Enjoyment'' sold thirty million copies by 1930. Other than the Bible it was the most widely sold writing. William Kelly wrote many expositions; he was described by C. H. Spurgeon as one whose mind was as big as the universe. F. W. Grant was the most learned of the Bible in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Robert Anderson was the man who best knew the book of Daniel in the recent age. Charles Stanley was the one who best brought people to salvation by preaching the righteousness of God. S. P. Tregelles was the famous New Testament philologist. The book on church history by Andrew Miller was the most scriptural among the many church histories. R. C. Chapman was a man greatly used by the Lord. These were the brothers at that time. If we were to recount in detail others among the brothers, the number of all who were greatly used by the Lord would exceed at least a thousand.
Now we will see what these brothers gave us: They showed us how the blood of the Lord satisfies the righteousness of God; the assurance of salvation; how the weakest believer may be accepted in Christ, just as Christ was accepted; and how to believe in the Word of God as the foundation of salvation. Since church history began, there never was a period when the gospel was clearer than in their time. Not only so, it was also they who showed us that the church cannot gain the entire world, that the church has a heavenly calling, and that the church has no worldly hope. It was they who also opened up the prophecies for the first time, causing us to see that the return of the Lord is the hope of the church. It was they who opened the book of Revelation and the book of Daniel and showed us the kingdom, the tribulation, the rapture, and the bride. Without them, we would know a very small percentage of future things. It was also they who showed us what the law of sin is, what it is to be set free, what it is to be crucified with Christ, what it is to be raised with Christ, how to be identified with the Lord through faith, and how to be transformed daily by looking unto Him. It was they who showed us the sin of the denominations, the unity of the Body of Christ, and the unity of the Holy Spirit. It was they who showed us the difference between Judaism and the church. In the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant churches, this difference could not be readily seen, but they made us see it anew. It was also they who showed us the sin of the mediatorial class, how all the children of God are priests, and how all can serve God. It was they who recovered for us the principle of meetings in 1 Corinthians 14, showing us that prophesying is not one man's business but the business of two or three, and that prophesying is not based upon ordination, but upon the gift of the Holy Spirit. If we were to enumerate one by one what they recovered, we may as well say that in today's pure Protestant churches there is not one truth that they did not recover or recover more.
It is no wonder that D. M. Panton said, "The movement of the brothers and its significance is far greater than the Reformation." W. H. Griffith Thomas said, "Among the children of God, it was they who were most able to rightly divide the word of truth.'' Henry Ironside said, "Whether among those who know the brothers or those who do not know the brothers, all those who know God have received help from the brothers directly or indirectly.''
This movement was greater than the movement of the Reformation. Here I would like to say that the work of Philadelphia is greater than the work of the Reformation. Philadelphia gives us the things which the Reformation did not give us. We thank the Lord that the problem of the church is solved by the movement of the brothers. The position of the children of God has almost been recovered. Therefore, both in quantity and in quality you can see that it is greater than the Reformation. Yet we must note that the movement of the brothers is not quite as famous as the Reformation. The Reformation was brought about with sword and spear, while the movement of the brothers was brought about by preaching. For the cause of the Reformation, many lost their lives in the wars in Europe. Another reason the Reformation is famous was its relationship to politics. Many nations, through the Reformation, threw off the power of Rome politically. Anything that is not related to politics is not easily known by men. Furthermore, the brothers saw two things: One is what we call the organized world, that is, the psychological world; the other is what the brothers called the world of Christianity. They left not only the psychological world, but also the world of Christianity, which is represented by the Protestant churches. That is why they were not even advertised in the Protestant churches. They have come out not only from the world of sin, but also from the world of Christianity.
From their time, men knew that the church is the Body of Christ, that the children of God are one church, and that they should not be divided. Their emphasis was on the brothers and the real love for one another. The Lord Jesus says that a church will appear whose name is Philadelphia.
Now let us look at Revelation: "And to the messenger of the church in Philadelphia write'' (3:7). Philadelphia is brotherly love. What does the Lord praise Philadelphia for? He says it is brotherly love; the mediatorial position has been completely abolished. I will take this opportunity to say a few more words. In Christ there is neither male nor female. In Christ there are no sisters. We are brothers, not sisters. Now our sisters will ask, "Who are we?'' We are all brothers. We are brothers because we all have the life of Christ. Today there are many men in the world, but they are not our brothers. A man is a brother not because he is man, but because he has the life of Christ in him. Since I also have the life of Christ in me, we are brothers. When the Lord resurrected and was about to ascend to heaven, He said, "I ascend to My Father and your Father'' (John 20:17). In John 1 He is the only begotten Son of God; in John 20 He is God's firstborn Son. In chapter one God had Him as the only Son; in chapter twenty His life is imparted to men; thus, He is the firstborn Son and we all are brothers. Through death and resurrection God's only begotten Son became the firstborn Son. We can be brothers because we have received His life. Because we have all received the life of Christ, we are all brothers. A man is a brother because he receives the life of Christ; a woman is a brother because she receives the life of Christ. Both men and women all receive the same life; therefore, all are brothers. All the Epistles were written to brothers, not sisters. Individually speaking, there are sisters, but in Christ there are only brothers. Because of that life, we have become the children (teknia) of God. All the "sons and daughters'' in the New Testament should be translated as "children.'' Besides 2 Corinthians 6:18, there is no mention of daughters. Do you see? In Christ everyone stands in the position of a brother. Once when I was in Shanghai, there was a brother who was a mason. I said to him, "Go and ask some brothers to come in.'' He replied, "Do you want me to ask the male brothers or the female brothers?'' This was a man taught of God. We address sisters when we address individuals, but in Christ there is no distinction between male and female.
In the church there is also neither bond nor free. It is not that one receives more life because he is a master, or that one receives less life because he is a slave. In the past a certain brother told me that the meeting places were usually in poor condition, and that it would be best for us to prepare a place especially for preaching to the government officials. I replied, "What would you put on the signboard?" It would not be the church of Christ, but the church of the officials and gentry. When we come to the church, there are no officials or gentry. In the church all are brothers. When our eyes are opened by the Lord, we will see that being above others is a glory in the world, but that there is no such distinction in the church.
Paul says that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Gal. 3:28). The church does not stand on distinction but on brotherly love.
In Revelation 3:7, as in the beginning of the other epistles, the Lord refers to Himself: "These things says the Holy One, the true One, the One who has the key of David, the One who opens and no one will shut, and shuts and no one opens.'' Holiness is His life; He Himself is holiness. He is the truth before God; He is God's reality, and God's reality is Christ. His hand holds the key. Here I would ask you to note one thing: When Sardis stood to witness for the Lord, there were the rulers of this world who helped her fight the battle. The fighting went on in the continent of Europe for scores of years and then in Great Britain for scores of years. But what about the movement of the brothers? There was no power at their back for support. What could they do? The Lord said that He holds the key of David, which means the authority. (The Bible calls David a king.) It is not a matter of force of arms, it is not a matter of advertising, but it is a matter of opening the door. There was a certain newspaper editor in Great Britain who said, "I never thought there were so many brothers, and I never knew these people could grow so fast.'' By traveling around the world, you will discover that in every place there are many brothers. Although some know the teachings in a deeper way and some shallowly, the position of the brothers is still the same. Seeing this, we should thank the Lord. The Lord says that He is the One who "opens and no one will shut, and shuts and no one opens.''
"I know your works...because you have a little power'' (v. 8). When we reach this point, our thoughts spontaneously return to the time of Zerubbabel's return, of which a certain prophet said, "For who has despised the day of small things?'' (Zech. 4:10). Do not despise the day of small things, that is, the day of building the temple. In the Scriptures there is a very great type of the church—the temple. When David reigned as king, the people of God were united. Later, they were divided into the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel. The children of God began to be divided, and at the same time idolatry and fornication commenced. As a result they were captured and taken to Babylon. Everyone acknowledges that the captivity in Babylon is a type of Thyatira—the Roman Catholic Church. Since the Bible makes Babylon a type of Rome, the church also has a Babylonian captivity. What did the people of God do when they returned from their captivity? They returned rather weakly, group by group, and built the temple. It seems that they were a type of the movement of the brothers. There were many elderly Jews who had seen the old temple. When they saw with their own eyes the laying of the foundation of the temple, they wept with a loud voice, for the temple was far inferior in glory compared to the temple in Solomon's time. Yet God spoke through the minor prophet, saying that they should not despise the day of small things, for it was the day of recovery. The Lord says similar words to Philadelphia: "You have a little power.'' When compared with the days of Pentecost, the testimony of the church in the world today is that this is the day of small things.
"You...have kept My word and have not denied My name'' (Rev. 3:8). The Lord acknowledges them for two things: not denying the name of the Lord and not denying the word of the Lord. There has never been an age in church history in which there were men who knew the Word of God as much as the brothers. The light was like the downpour of a great torrential flood. When I was in Shanghai one night, I met a certain brother who said he was a cook on a boat. I spoke with him at length. I am afraid that very few missionaries know the Word of God as well as He. Indeed, this is one of their outstanding characteristics—they know the Word of God. Even if you meet the simplest one among them, he will be clearer than many missionaries.
The Lord also said, "You...have not denied My name.'' Since 1825 the brothers said that they could only be called Christians. If you ask them who they are, they will say, "I am a Christian.'' But if you ask someone of the Methodist Church, he will say, "I am a Methodist.'' If you meet one from the Friends Church, he will say, "I belong to the Friends Church.'' Someone from the Lutheran Church will reply, "I am a Lutheran.'' Someone from the Baptist Church will say, "I am a Baptist.'' Besides Christ, men still call themselves by many other names. But the children of God have only one name with which to call themselves. The Lord Jesus said, "Ask in My name,'' and "Gathered into My name'' (John 16:26; Matt. 18:20). We can only have the Lord's name. Whitefield said, "Let all other names be abandoned; let only the name of Christ be exalted.'' These brothers rose up to do just that. The Lord's prophecy says the same thing, that is, that they honored the name of the Lord. The name of Christ is their center. They hear this word in their midst quite often: "Is the name of Christ not enough to separate us from the world? Is it not sufficient simply to bear the name of the Lord?''
I met a certain believer once on a train who asked me what kind of Christian I was. I replied that I was just a Christian. He said, "There is no such Christian in the world. Saying that you are a Christian means nothing; you have to say what kind of Christian you are in order for it to be meaningful.'' I replied, "I am simply a man who is a Christian. Do you say that for a man to be a Christian means nothing? What kind of Christian would you say is meaningful? As for me, I can only be a Christian—nothing more.'' That day we had a very good talk together.
I would like you to see one thing: The basic thought of many people is that the name of the Lord is not enough. Many think they need the name of a denomination; they think they must have another name in addition to the name of the Lord. Brothers, do not think that our attitude is too determined. The Lord said, "You...have not denied My name.'' If my feeling is right, all other names are a shame to Him. This word "denied'' is the same word used to describe Peter's denial of the Lord. What kind of a Christian am I? I am a Christian. I do not want to be called by another name. Many do not want to honor the name of Christ and are not willing just to be called a Christian. But thank God, the prophecy of Philadelphia was fulfilled in the brothers. They no longer have any other distinguishing name. They are brothers; they are not "The Brethren Church.''
"Behold, I have put before you an opened door which no one can shut'' (Rev. 3:8). The Lord speaks to the church in Philadelphia about the open door. Men often say that if you walk according to the Scriptures, the door will soon be shut; the most difficult hurdle to pass in submitting to the Lord is the shutting of the door. But here is indeed a promise: "Behold, I have put before you an opened door which no one can shut.'' As far as the brothers are concerned, this is a fact. In the whole world, whether in Bible exposition or gospel preaching, no group of people has had the opportunities they have had. Whether in Europe, America, or Africa, it has all been like this. There is no need of men's support, advertisement, propaganda, or contributions; they still have many opportunities to work, and the door for work is still open.
"Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, those who call themselves Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will cause them to come and fall prostrate before your feet and to know that I have loved you'' (v. 9). We have already seen at least four things which have caused Christianity to become Judaism: the mediatorial priests, the laws of letters, the material temple, and the earthly promises. What does the Lord say? "I will cause them to come and fall prostrate before your feet.'' Judaism is destroyed in the hands of the brothers. Everywhere in the whole world there is such a movement. Wherever they are, Judaism is defeated. Among those who really know God today, the principal strength of Judaism has become something of the past.
"Because you have kept the word of My endurance'' (v. 10). This is connected with Revelation 1:9, which speaks of John being a "fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and endurance in Jesus.'' "Endurance'' is used as a noun. Today is the time of Christ's endurance. Today the Lord meets many who scorn Him, but He endures. His word today is the word of endurance. Here He has no reputation; He is a lowly person, still a Nazarene, still the son of a carpenter. When we follow the Lord, He says that we should keep the word of His endurance.
"I also will keep you out of the hour of trial, which is about to come on the whole inhabited earth, to try them who dwell on the earth'' (3:10). We can use Chungking for an illustration: To say that I will keep you from the bombing means that you will still be in Chungking, but that you will be kept from the bombing. If I say I will keep you from the hour, that means that before that hour you will have just left for Ch'eng-tu. When the whole world is being tried (we all know that this refers to the great tribulation), we will not meet the tribulation. Before that hour arrives, we will have been raptured already. In the whole Bible there are only two passages which speak of the promise of rapture: Luke 21:36 and Revelation 3:10. Today we must follow the Lord, not live loosely, learn to walk in the way of Philadelphia, and ask the Lord to deliver us from all the trials to come.
"I come quickly; hold fast what you have that no one take your crown'' (3:11). The Lord says, "I come quickly''; therefore, this church is to continue until the Lord comes back. Thyatira is not gone, Sardis is not gone, and Philadelphia is not gone. "Hold fast what you have,'' which is "My word'' and "My name.'' We should not forget the word of the Lord, and we should not put the Lord's name to shame. "That no one take your crown.'' All of Philadelphia have the crown already. In the other churches it is a problem of gaining the crown; here it is a problem of losing it. The Lord says that they already have the crown. In the whole Bible only one person knew he had the crown—Paul (2 Tim. 4:8). So also among the churches, only Philadelphia knows that she has the crown. Do not let any man take your crown; do not come out from Philadelphia and leave your position. Here it says to hold fast what you have that no man take it.
This tells us clearly that Philadelphia also has her own particular danger; otherwise, the Lord would not have given her such a warning. Moreover, this danger is quite real, which is why the Lord commands her in such a serious manner. What is her danger? Her danger lies in losing what she already has. So the Lord asks her to hold fast what she has. Her danger is not in failing to progress; rather, it is in retrogression. Those in Philadelphia are pleasing to the Lord because they love one another and are faithful to the Lord's word and the Lord's name. Their danger lies in losing this love and faithfulness. How dreadful! But in fact this is what has actually happened. After twenty years the brothers were divided. They were divided into two divisions: "Exclusive'' and "Open,'' and within the two divisions there are many sects. Therefore, in Philadelphia there is also the call to the overcomers.
What is the reason for this problem? We must be very careful and humble or else we will become involved in the same failure. I think any kind of division is due to the lack of love for one another; when love does not exist or is lacking, people pay attention to laws, stress procedures, and split hairs to find faults. Once love is in distress, people will also be proud of themselves and envious of others, which produces controversy and strife. The Holy Spirit is the strength of oneness, while the flesh is the strength of division. Unless the flesh is dealt with, division will occur sooner or later.
Furthermore, I believe the lack at that time was that the brothers did not see the "local'' ground and boundary of the church. They clearly saw the sins of the church on the negative side, but on the positive side, they did not adequately see how the church should love one another and be of one accord on the ground and boundary of locality. The Roman Catholic Church pays attention to the oneness of a united church on this earth, while the Brethren paid attention to an idealistic oneness of a spiritual church in heaven. They did not see or did not see clearly enough that the love for one another in the epistles is the love for one another in the church in one locality; the oneness is the oneness of the church in one locality; the joining together is the joining together of the church in one locality; the edification is the edification of the church in a locality; and even the excommunication is the excommunication of the church in one locality. In any case, only these two kinds of people talk about the oneness of the church: The Roman Catholic Church speaks of the unity of all the churches on this earth, while the Brethren speak of the spiritual oneness in heaven. As a result, the former is but a oneness in outward appearance, while the latter is an idealistic oneness that is, in fact, divisive. Both have not noticed the oneness of each and every local church in each and every locality as recorded in the Bible.
Since the Brethren did not pay enough attention to the fact that the church has the locality as her boundary, the "Exclusive Brethren'' demanded unified action throughout in every place, resulting in breaking the boundary of locality and falling into the error of the united church; while the "Open Brethren'' demanded independent administration of every meeting, the result of which is that there are many places that have many churches in one locality, thus falling into the error of the Congregational Church, which makes each congregation an independent unit. The "Exclusive Brethren'' exceed the boundary of locality, while the "Open Brethren'' are smaller than the boundary of locality. They forget that in the Bible there is one and only one church in every locality. The words spoken in the Bible to the church are spoken to this kind of church. Strangely enough, today's inclination is to change the words spoken in the Bible to the local church to words spoken to the spiritual church. Moreover, when some brothers set up the church, they set up a church that is smaller than the locality—the "house'' church is a case in point. But in the Bible there is no "United Church'' of the churches everywhere; neither are there churches of the congregations and meetings in one locality as independent churches. One church for several localities or several churches in one locality—both are not ordained of God. God's Word clearly reveals that one locality can have only one church, and there can only be one church in one locality. To have one church in several localities demands a unity which the Bible does not demand; to have several churches in one locality divides the oneness which the Bible demands.
The difficulty of the Brethren in those days was that they were not clear enough regarding the teaching in the Bible on locality. The result is that since those who have the "United Church'' type of unity are united with brothers in other places, they are not afraid to be divided from brothers in the same locality. Similarly, those who take the meeting as a unit and who have no problem with the brothers in the same meeting are not afraid to be divided with the brothers who are in other meetings in the same locality. Because they have not realized the importance of the teachings in the Bible concerning the locality, divisions have resulted in both cases. The Lord does not demand the impractical unity of all places. The Lord also does not permit taking one meeting as the boundary of unity—that is too free; it is licentious, having no restriction or lesson. With just one word of disagreement, another meeting is formed immediately with three to five as a group, and this is counted as oneness. There can only be one kind of oneness in a locality. What a restriction to those with fleshly license!
The movement of the brothers is still in progress, and the light of "locality'' is clearer and clearer. To what extent the Lord will work we do not know. We can only wait for history; then we will be clear. If our consecration to the Lord is absolute and we ourselves are humble, it may be that we will receive mercy to be kept from error.
"He who overcomes, him I will make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall by no means go out anymore, and I will write upon him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which descends out of heaven from My God, and My new name'' (Rev. 3:12). During the time of Philadelphia there have been many cases of excommunicating the brothers. But here they can no longer be excommunicated; they will be a pillar in the temple of God. If the pillar is removed, the temple cannot stand. Philadelphia makes the temple of God stand. There are three names written on the overcomer—the name of God, the name of the New Jerusalem, and the Lord's new name. God's eternal plan is accomplished. The people in Philadelphia return to the Lord and satisfy Him.
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches'' (v. 13). Please remember, God has not kept His heart's desire in secret; God has put the way very clearly before us.