Here then is the picture of the whole Church as seen by the eyes of searching flame. There is a mixture of bad and good, active bad, active good, and sleepy indifference. There is a Church within the Church. But the bad is bad enough and big enough to endanger seriously the usefulness of the whole as a light-bearer.
The glass of the lantern is so smoked and cobwebby that it is more useless than useful to the light inside, and the crowd outside in the dark. The uselessness threatens what usefulness is left. Smokiness is contagious. Cobwebs grow thicker and hold more dust.
Two Churches are true and pure in the midst of sore opposition. Two are corrupt in the very worst way. Three, including the leader, are orthodox in form, but indifferent to Jesus Himself, or asleep, or dead; three degrees of the same thing,—indifference, sleep, death.
In all of these five there are those who, like Ezekiel's companions, "sigh and cry over the abominations that are going on," but they are helpless to stay the sweep of the tide. They are the salt that is saving the lump so far. Even Sodom would have been saved by ten righteous.
It is plainly said to the leader Church that it is no longer of use as a candlestick, except a change come. It fails to give out the light. It is being carried along, patiently borne with for its own sake. It is failing at this point in the mission. The smoking flax sending out its irritating smoke in place of clear light is not yet quenched. The Holy Spirit life within is being sorely grieved, but is not yet put entirely out.
And this is only one. Four others are plainly in much worse fix. Five-sevenths are failing. That bit of preservative salt would seem to be working to its full capacity.
This is the picture given us here by our Lord Himself. John would never have dared make such a terrific arraignment of his own accord. It is a picture of the whole Church at the beginning of the First century.
How is it at the beginning of the Twentieth? A thousand million people, two-thirds of the race, pretty freely supplied with the light of western oil and of gunpowder, with the help of the western sewing machine, and with the guidance of western learning and skill, but to whom with minor exceptions no scant ray of this light has yet gotten, these make answer. That smokiness would seem to be rather dense.
The non-Christian crowds in so-called Christian lands, the overwhelming majority, to whom the name of Jesus has no more practical meaning than other foreign names, Shanghai, or Tokyo, or Calcutta,—these make answer. The light doesn't seem to have been able to get through and out much, even near the candlestick.
The Church itself, when it has sometimes forgotten its statistical tables long enough to look thoughtfully into this old Patmos looking-glass, has now and then made answer, in a few of its thoughtful leaders, while the rank and file push on absorbed in their Ephesian or Sardisian or Thyatiran way.
There's a striking companion bit to this in Ezekiel's vision. [Note: Eze_8:1-18; Eze_9:1-11.] That messenger to the exiled colony by the Chebar had first of all the vision of God that completely overwhelmed him. Then he is taken in spirit to Jerusalem, and shown things as they were, through God's eyes. The heathen idols were set up in the very temple of God, so actually stimulating among the people the horribly gross, unnamable impurities connected with their worship. This was done in the open, with no pretence at concealment.
Then in the vision he digs "into the wall" to see the hidden things that are being done. There he sees every sort of creeping, crawling, slimy, repulsive animal pictured on the walls of this secret chamber, and the leaders of the people burning incense and worshipping.
This he is told is a picture of the inner hearts of the men who are the leaders of the nation. For dramatic intensity it would be hard to equal this. The imaginations of their hearts are as the unclean snakes and beasts that are found only in the damp, unwholesome slime and ooze of swamp and stagnant pond.
And this is God's light-bearing nation to all the earth. And these are the leaders! But there's yet worse. The mothers and wives and daughters of the nation, the real moulders of the nation's life and character, are seen pouring out their very hearts over a heathen idol, with all the horrible evil practices included in its worship. And then a group of men are shown in the holy temple standing with their backs to God and His temple and worshipping the sun.
Under these four items are pointed out the impurity and violence, the injustice and oppression, that mark the people. It is the inner heart life of the nation that is being pictured so vividly. But in the midst of all this are those who are broken-hearted over these conditions. And as the time of judgment comes in the vision these are marked and spared, though they see the work of judgment on every hand.
Such is the tremendous scene depicted by Ezekiel. It will be seen at once what a striking parallel it presents to the scene in this Revelation book with the new light-bearer to the nations of the earth. One would never dare make such an arraignment of his own accord. It is humbling and heart-breaking to the last degree simply to repeat what is spoken here by our Lord Himself.
Clearly the Patmos picture is not only of the Church then, but ever since, and now. And the simple law of momentum in sliding down hill will make it an accurate picture of the Church at the end, the future Church.
The colouring changes at different times in different places, the black getting intenser, pot black, and the light shining out more brightly by contrast. But the picture remains essentially as painted on Patmos.
The warnings so faithfully given run a sliding scale outward and downward in five degrees. If the Church continue as it is, it is told here that it will be rejected as a light-holder. Its privilege and opportunity as God's messenger will be taken away. [Note: Rev_2:5.]
Then Christ will fight against it as an enemy, [Note: Rev_2:12-16.] it will be given over to a time of terrible tribulation, [Note: Rev_2:22-23.] it will be treated as prey to be robbed and plundered, [Note: Rev_3:3.] and it will be rejected, spewed out of the mouth, as personally disgusting. [Note: Rev_3:16.]
Yet in all this plain speech there is no bitterness, only grief, only tender pleading. The plain bluntness is the language of love that yearns to save even yet, and that waits with untold patience hoping for a change.