"Who knoweth whether thou art not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14).
"So will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16).
"But I have this against thee, that thou didst leave thy first love. Remember therefore whence thou art fallen, and repent and do the first works" (Rev. 2:4-5).
"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of My mouth" (Rev. 3:15-16).
Love for the Lord
These two passages from the Revelation are the first and last messages to the seven churches, and they both show the loss of a positive element: "Thou hast left thy first love." "Thou art neither cold nor hot." But all that comes between them as the first and last can be put down to the same cause. We probe into these messages with the object of seeing exactly what it is that the Lord is after, the occasion of His dissatisfaction and of His appeal, and what it is that He means when He says, "He that overcometh..." - and He says it to every church. There is this one thing which may be the main and fundamental thing which will arise in every case. The result will be at the end we are left with just one focal point which explains the difficulty and which is the occasion of the Lord's admonition, entreaty, warning and encouragement. It is all focused in this matter of a positive element. In the case of Ephesus, He calls it "first love" with corresponding first works. He has something to say about their works and He knows them, but they are not the first works. Though they may be the first works in kind, they are not the first works in value. It is just possible to go on doing the same things without the same value.
Is that not just the history of a good many things in relation to the Lord? The same words are being used, the same terms are common, the same forms obtain; the same laws and regulations govern, but there is a difference. There is something lacking, something that was there that is no longer there. That is the history of very much in the church.
Ephesus had works, labour, and patience, and dislike for hypocrisy and falsehood, and all such - very admirable and commendable things, but there was something which had disappeared. It was a vital, positive something which the Lord no longer found among them. That was the cause of the trouble. As I have said, that same thing can be traced in every case.
In Smyrna Satan is about to cast some of them into prison. They are going to have tribulation for ten days; they are going through a time of intense suffering and they have to overcome. What is it that they have to overcome; the sufferings, the trial, the persecution, the imprisonment? Not exactly, but they have to overcome that which Satan will try to bring about by the suffering. That is, suffering, trial, and adversity become a great battlefield upon which the interpretations, constructions and representations or misrepresentations of Satan become the real power of the trial. You know that when you are passing through a time of adversity how the enemy is always near to put his construction upon your suffering and trial, to tell you that the Lord is against you, that this all means that the Lord is not with you and for you, that the love of the Lord has been withdrawn and all that kind of thing. "Satan is about to cast you into prison." What for? Just to tie you up? Not altogether, but that in the presence of trial, suffering and adversity, he might find a vantage point in your weakness to insinuate that which will be your undoing, that your overcoming is not just overcoming the difficulty, but overcoming that which Satan introduces in the difficulty. Your overcoming will depend entirely upon whether you have this positive factor of love for the Lord.
Then the overcomer will be an overcomer upon one thing only, will overcome or be overcome by the presence or absence of this one thing - a positive love for the Lord. Satan cannot do very much when that exists. If at the time of suffering and adversity we turn over to ourselves in self-pity and self-occupation, we provide the enemy with the ground that he wants for turning our hearts against the Lord. Then it will be clear whether there is an adequate love for the Lord, or whether it is love for ourselves. The overcomer will be such, purely and simply upon the basis of one thing, the positive factor of this love. It was so in Smyrna.
Then Pergamum and Thyatira are rather linked together. To Pergamum the Lord has to speak strongly about Balaam being there; and to Thyatira, Jezebel. Well, how did Balaam get into Israel of old? How did Jezebel get her place in Israel of old? Surely and only because of a declension of a love for the Lord in Israel. If you have a pure, single love, there is nothing mightier against a divided heart than just that singleness of love. All the siren voices have no charm if you have one object of love. All that Balaam can offer and all that Jezebel can do lose their power and influence if your heart has one object which engages it entirely. Pergamum and Thyatira have let Balaam and Jezebel in because of one thing, it could not be otherwise, it must be because that positive element of a first love is no longer there. You only take on others if you have lost your first love, and Balaam and Jezebel stand no chance at all if the heart is wholly fixed on the Lord.
It is said of Sardis, "I have not found thy works perfect" or "complete". It is the same thing - starting and not going through, receiving but not carrying out, not rounding off, no consummation, stopping on the way. Why? Something has happened to the heart, that is all. It must be. It would never happen if the heart was still as it was when you started. If our hearts are wholly in a thing, we do not stop after we have gone a little way, we do not leave it in a state of incompleteness, we go on with it.
And then we come even to Philadelphia. There is not much to be said against Philadelphia, but there is this, that even Philadelphia has got to overcome. With nothing said by way of condemnation to Philadelphia, the Lord still adds this word, "He that overcometh", so evidently Philadelphia is up against something. There is just a little suggestion: "the synagogue of Satan". What is that? Well, if Philadelphia is love of the brethren, Satan's strategy, Satan's tactic against that will be a counterfeit love of the brethren, a synagogue of Satan, a misrepresentation in fellowship. There is a peril even there; and Philadelphia, while there may be nothing positively wrong with you, you have got to beware. There is an enemy on your track too, and if you are going to be saved and overcome - and you will have to, you will not escape the trial - it will only be on this one basis, that that love is kept undivided, clear, pure and white-hot.
And so we come to Laodicea: neither hot nor cold; lukewarm. It is all summed up in that final state. I think you see what I mean. I am not dealing with the messages to the churches. I am just getting at one thing. What is the central, fundamental factor in the overcomer? If we are really to be overcomers - and God forbid that we should fail in this matter - one thing is the key and the secret of it all. There may be a lot of teaching about overcomers, overcomers may be said to be this, that, and something else. It may be that they have got to know a lot, understand a lot, or be mighty warriors. But you can bring it all back to just one thing out of which everything else will come, and that one thing is a superlative love for the Lord, a love for the Lord which is stronger than anything else. And what I need and what you need and what the Lord's people everywhere need is more of this passionate love for the Lord Himself.
It is a great defensive factor against the enemy. Perhaps there are few things which are of a greater defensive and protective value than a real love. Oh, how we are protected, safeguarded, defended, when love is in the ascendant. We are not open to very much when there is a single object of our hearts, when all the heart is centred upon One. That is a great protective factor, and I repeat that we all need, in a time like this, a reviving, strengthening, deepening of our personal love for the Lord Himself.
Self-effacement by Love for the Lord
We have got to have a new apprehension of His love in order that there might be an outgoing of a new love from our hearts to Him. So my word to you, though simple, is just this: that victory and the great vantage ground, is a mighty self-effacement by a mighty love for the Lord. A self-effacement - that is why I read again from Esther, "If I perish, I perish!" It seems to me that that really does touch this matter of the overcomer right at its root. "They loved not their life even unto death" (Rev. 12:11). They loved not their life. If I perish, I perish! Esther is an Old Testament type of the overcomer and the principle is there in correspondence between Esther and Revelation 12: "They loved not their life" - complete self-effacement.
Self-effacement is not something that we can achieve. We cannot achieve it any more than we can achieve any other phase or particular of dealing with self. We are what we are and there is a good deal of self about every one of us. Self in some form or other is there in strength, and in many of us in more than one form. If it is not self-pity, it is self-preservation. If it is not that, it is something else. Self is there, and it is no use our turning in upon ourselves now and saying that we are going to deal with ourselves and root this out. Not at all; it will never happen, we shall only become more conscious of that self-factor; it may worry us day and night and become a burden, this strength of self. We may concentrate all our attention upon this self-element and it goes from bad to worse. We are only driven to distraction and despair. I am not suggesting to you that we have to deal with this self-element and root it out. Not at all, and I would not bring you under any burden on that matter.
What I want to say is this - there is a positive way in which that is dealt with; the other would only be negative, after all. There is a positive way. The positive way of self-effacement is that Christ should supplant self, that there should be in our hearts shed abroad by the Holy Spirit the love of God. The quest must be a positive one, not a negative one. Not, "Lord crucify this self, deal with this self, break this self!" - not concentrating upon that in that way. But - "Lord, bring about a new, mighty love for You which will supplant this self, which will efface self altogether!" That is the positive way and that is the only way, but oh, what a tremendous thing that is when Christ really does fill our hearts! What a power that is, what a victory that is!
You can see it working in any one of the cases presented to us in the Word of God. Take John the Baptist. Perhaps you do not think of John the Baptist as one of the overcomers. He is a young man and it is not so easy for a young man, but he is being tremendously used of God. However, he is not putting up posters and placards giving the titles of the series of wonderful addresses he is going to give in Jerusalem, taking the largest hall and arranging things for a great attraction. Not at all. He can go right outside in the wilderness, leave the city, and they are coming out to him. Jerusalem and all the region round about are coming out to him, thousands of them, and he is speaking and the power of God is coming upon them and they are going down under conviction and saying, "What shall we do?" There are even Roman soldiers among them; all classes of people, coming out in their thousands, and that is going on perhaps for some considerable time. He is the centre of a tremendous spontaneous movement, without any effort at all; God is using him.
One day another young Man appears who comes into the circle of John's ministry and influence and that other young Man begins to draw away from John, to draw away his following, to draw away his crowd. His influence is becoming so strong that it has got right into the circle of John's nearest relationships, his own most intimate disciples. John the disciple leaves him and goes off after that other young Man. John the Baptist sees them going. He is left and in his heart of hearts he knows they are not coming back to him. They have gone and gone for good.
What does he do? Is there stirring within him jealousy, self-pity, hurt pride? Does he feel bad about that other young man? See if you can put yourself into his position. What does John feel, what does John do, what does John say? Oh, here is the overcomer if only you can register it: "He must increase, I must decrease" (John 3:30). That is sublime; that is triumph; that is not human nature; that is magnificent; that is an overcomer!
He recognises in that other young Man, in Jesus, all that which he himself knows he has not got. He knows he cannot meet the situation as that other can; he knows that in that other one is the answer to a need which he cannot meet. He has seen the greatness of Jesus, and that is all. His heart has gone out to Jesus and he survives the storm. There is no self-pity, no jealousy, no defeat. He is an overcomer and it is because his heart is bound up with the heart of the Lord Jesus and he has great love for Him. "He must increase, I must decrease."
You can see it in Paul. Oh, what a lot Paul had to encounter, what a lot of opposition, even among those who owed everything to him spiritually in the Lord, and how they worked against him; how they descended to the meanest tricks to try and undermine his influence. What did he do, what was his reaction? Was there bitterness, resentment, hurt pride, a giving up? No! His attitude was this - "Well, whether they preach Christ of truth or of contention, thinking to add affliction to my bonds, what does it matter if only Christ is preached? That is all that matters! What do I matter if Christ is preached?"
If you look into Paul's life, you find that is the key. "The more I love, the less I be loved" (2 Cor. 12:15); nevertheless he went on loving. Why? Because the love of Christ constrained him. He was entirely delivered from all that which was petty and personal and selfish by this great love which he had for the Lord.
I suppose there are few spheres of work more disappointing than work among Moslems, and you probably remember that Raymond Lull gave his life for the Moslems, and oh, how little in return and how much suffering! But do you know there was one thing characteristic of Raymond Lull? He was given to frequent exclamations, and it was always one phrase. It was this - "I have one passion: it is He, it is He!" It has been handed down as the characteristic phrase of Raymond Lull: "It is He!" It was that passion, surely, that kept him going in all the discouragement and unfruitfulness of his work in that barren field. "It is He!"
Alexander Whyte and Marcus Dodds used to go for long walks every Saturday afternoon, and Alexander Whyte put this on record concerning those walks. He said that whatever they started off with in their conversation, they soon made across country somehow to Jesus of Nazareth! They had much to talk about. There was a wide field of interests and occupation, but they soon made across country somehow to Jesus of Nazareth! That is the point and if only you and I could be so filled with that love for the Lord! "It is He!"
Spurgeon himself said, "l looked at Him, He looked at me, and we were one forever." If there was something like that more deeply about us, there would be salvation, deliverance. I mean, the suffering of Smyrna would not have the effect that the devil wants it to have! I read a little fragment of Scott's Antarctic Expedition, and a little fragment from Dr. Edward Wilson who died with Scott in the Antarctic Expedition, and I must say, as I read it came to me with a challenge. This is what he says: "This I know as God's own truth that pain, trials, sorrows and disappointments are either one thing or another. To all who love God, they are love tokens from Him; to all who do not love God and do not want to love Him, they are merely a nuisance. Every single pain that we feel is known to God because it is the most loving touch of His hand." Do you believe that? How many of us believe that? Can you sit down here and honestly say with conviction that the pain, the troubles, the trials, sorrows, disappointments, every one of them are the love tokens of God? Could you say that without any hesitation? I say, this challenged me, that a man could say that. And you know, these men knew something about disappointments and pains and troubles on that expedition. But to say - "These are the love-tokens of God!" There is a very deep knitting of the heart with God to be able to say that and really mean it, without any cant, without any hypocrisy. This pain, suffering, sorrow, disappointment; keen, acute, and bitter; this trial, these trials, these persistent trials, are nothing other than the love tokens of God! To really say it and believe it, well, what chance has Satan got when you are there?
If Smyrna is in that position, then Smyrna need not worry about the ten days, the set period of trial and persecution. Satan will achieve nothing if Smyrna will turn round to him and say, "This is all the love of God for me!" I do not suppose any of us have really got there. I hope there are some. I have not arrived there at any rate, but I am saying this to you because I feel that this is what we need as the power to overcome - a great love, a new love for the Lord. I believe that "to him that overcometh" in every case circles round the presence or absence of this positive factor where Christ utterly holds the centre of our love, our affection, our devotion. And this is no weak thing, this is a mighty thing; it is the key to everything.
I have only said one thing in many words and different ways, but this matter of overcoming can become very complicated. It can become a teaching, an interpretation of truth, a system of doctrine - "the overcomers", what they believe and what they teach and what they practise. Oh, let us get behind all that. Who are the overcomers, what are the overcomers? You can sum it all up in this one thing: they are the people who have one passion - a great and undivided love for the Lord. That is what it amounts to. Everything else will follow, will spring out of that, and so we pray for this renewing of love which will put us out of the picture, which will have this effect - "If I perish, I perish!" That is not the thing that matters at all. The issue is far bigger than whether I perish or not, whether my interests remain intact, whether I get anything out of it, whether my name survives. That is not the question; it is nothing to do with where I come in at all. This other One has come in so much and so mightily that I have just been put out! That is what we need.
And is not Satan's triumph so often because he finds some ground in us of self-interest, self-pity, self-occupation? Yes! Oh, let us ask the Lord for this one thing: that we will be altogether effaced, and that because He utterly supplants us, takes our place. It is a mighty thing if that happens. You see how John the Baptist was saved by it; what a triumph! You can see how Paul and many others were saved. It is the only way. The Lord save us from ourselves by becoming all.