And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things said he that is holy, he that is true, he that has the key of David…
Philadelphia furnishes us with the exemplar of the patient church; the exercise and training of patience is its peculiar call, and the perfection of patience is its reward. This message is one of high commendation and encouragement; although in its own consciousness, and in the regard of others, the condition of the church might seem pitiful, even deserving of rebuke. Those who have a wide experience of Christian churches and a sympathetic spirit will know how Philadelphia felt. The con. sciousness of their feebleness was dominant. Their resources seemed insufficient for the demand made on them. Theirs was a great occasion, and a distressing inability to meet it; overtaxed energy, urgent necessity, and poor means; it was a burden which seemed more than life could bear. Even the Lord's words of encouragement, "Behold, I have set before thee an open door," appeared to bring with them a special aggravation. The prospects of service were unusually attractive; so much could be done if there were only the strength to do it. Former prayers were answered; the longed-for opportunity had come; men were eager for the gospel; the way to preach was lying open; Christ Himself was calling, and at this critical hour there was paralysing inability. This last feature of the description lends a peculiar pathos to the message. It must have been hard for the church to rid itself of the sense of sin in that it was doing, could do so little. The faculty of spiritual self-tormenting, so subtle, in many persons so deep-seated, thrives in sorrowful experiences like this. The Lord's message supplies the comfort the church is in need of; corrects the error of its self-judgment. The whole meaning of the message is that to bear quietly may be as Divine a call as to hope largely, or to be enthusiastic in resolve. There is a discipline of disappointment, and that discipline must be borne. We are trained for future usefulness through pains and self-questionings, and the endurance of insufficiency. In all the clauses of this message we can read the endeavour to put heart into Philadelphia; the Lord gives Himself to awaken and sustain the self-respect of His troubled people. At first sight the images appear to lack tenderness; that is only because the tenderness is veiled in images of strength. A striking illustration of this feature of the message is in the title given to the Lord with which it opens, "These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth and none shall shut, and that shutteth and none openeth." The peculiar affliction of Philadelphia was the occurrence of favourable opportunities for doing Christ's work just when the church was at the far end of its possibilities. And the Lord says, "I know all about that." It is one of the ironies of life that the occasion we have longed for, and in our enthusiasm ceaselessly but fruitlessly tried to make for ourselves, may come with no effort of ours at the very time we can do nothing. This, says the Lord of Truth, is no mockery of fate; it is of the Divine appointment. "I have set before thee a door opened, and it shall continue open until you are able to enter in. You will enter in sooner than you think, and when your moment of invigoration comes, your strength will not be wasted in efforts to make the conditions favourable; you shall enter at once where I have prepared the way." Even in our times of waiting, we can often do a little; and all that little tells if the Lord has been beforehand with us. There is recognition, moreover, in the message, honourable recognition, of the actual achievement of the church. The faith had been kept; Christ's name had not been denied. Philadelphia ranks with Pergamum, the martyr-church. And then there is promised to Philadelphia a public vindication of its fidelity, a vindication to which even its enemies shall bear hearty witness, "Behold, I give of the synagogue of Satan, of them which say they are Jews, and they are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee." They who had mocked the patience of the church in its affliction will not be able to withhold their admiration; they are drawn out of reluctant into willing acknowledgment that God had loved His suffering people. Thus does Christ encourage the patient church. As there is no trial harder than that of prolonged inactivity and wasting strength, so none has consolations loftier and more direct. The way of access to God is intended to lie all open to those so sorely tried. The Divine approval is set over against accusations of self, the taunts of the ungodly, and the ironies of life. And out of this should come a steadfastness holding fast to the end. A twofold reward is promised to Philadelphia; there is a promise for time, there is also a promise for eternity; and each is set before us as the direct result of the sore discipline through which the church has had to pass, according to those far-reaching words of James, the Lord's brother, "Let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing."(1) There is the temporal promise. "Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee," etc. This church shall emerge from the general tribulation, having lost nothing of her virtue, with her sense of the Divine protection confirmed and justified. When the shews of things are passing away, and the strong-seeming are as children, the tried shall prove the trusty.
(2) There is also an eternal reward; and, as in some other of these messages, the eternal reward is not simply a personal blessedness, it is the high honour of being of service in the kingdom of God. "He that overcometh, I will make him," etc. There is in this image a note of personal consideration, of that tenderness, veiled in strength, which marks the whole message. Just as the Lord draws from the enmity of the Jews occasion to assure Philadelphia that the most gracious promises made to Israel are hers, so He introduces a touch of local colour which reveals sympathy. The city of Philadelphia was exposed to earthquakes; its geological formation was of lava, with trap-dykes intervening, and earthquakes were common occurrences in the people's experience. "The walls were not to be trusted, but every day some mischance made them tremble and gape. The inhabitants were on the constant look-out for faults in the ground, and were always attending to their buildings." The image of an unshaken pillar would have a special meaning for men with such an experience; and the Church was to be such a pillar. Not only was there prepared for them a city of sure foundations; they were to be among the foundations. This was the destiny for which their discipline had fitted them; this was their reward. But the promise goes further; it is an inscribed pillar which is presented to our view. "I will write upon him the name of my God," etc. Patience is the substruction of the godly character; on it may be reared all the graces of the heavenly life. It is a manly virtue, and needs but the touch of Christ's finger to be transformed into a Divine grace. It is a social virtue, conspicuously commemorated in the city of God. It is an onward-looking virtue; our "forward movements" are founded on it; it has promise of the future, "I will write on him My new name."
(A. Mackennal, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;
WEB: "To the angel of the assembly in Philadelphia write: "He who is holy, he who is true, he who has the key of David, he who opens and no one can shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says these things: