"There were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God" (Revelation 4:5b).
"Grace to you and peace, from him which is and which was and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before the throne" (Revelation 1:4).
We pointed out in our first meditation in this series that these 'seven lamps of fire before the throne' represent the sevenfold ministry of the Holy Spirit, in relation to the Lord Jesus as He is presented in chapter 1. It is, I think, quite clear that the presentation of the Lord given in chapter 1 is the ground upon which the Church, as expressed in these churches, is being judged, in the light of all that the Lord had given. We said that there comes a time, sooner or later, in the history of the Lord's people, when He comes to draw up the accounts, and to challenge and test in the light of what He has given. A crisis comes, maybe in the individual life, as in the life of the whole Church, or of any local representation of it; there comes a time when the Lord, having given and been very patient, and sought to make His grace known, must say: Now, look here, we cannot just go on giving and teaching; we must know where we are over it all; we must see how much there is that really represents what has been given.
It is a time of crisis; it is a time of upheaval; it is a time of deep searching; it may be a very painful time; very big issues are bound up with such a time, as for all the future. That is what is represented by these three chapters, so far as the Church is concerned. As you go on in the book you find that the same thing is carried into the world and the nations, and everything is being judged in the light of the fact of Jesus Christ. The title of the book ought to be its first words - not the title that men have given, 'The Revelation of John the Divine', but "The Revelation of Jesus Christ". That is its title, and that applies not only to the beginning, but right through the whole book. Everything is being brought to the judgment throne by the Holy Spirit.
Now this, as we have said, this presentation of the Lord Jesus is mainly a sevenfold characterization; that is, He is presented in seven particular features, and the lamps of fire correspond to those features. These lamps of fire are the burning testimony of the Holy Spirit to the Lord Jesus, heavenward - "before the throne". Later on in the book, you will find the phrase used earthward - "the seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth" (ch. 5:6b). So that, in Heaven and on the earth, everything is being judged and determined according to Christ. That is the basis of the final judgment.
We looked at the first of these lamps of fire: I would like to add a word to what we said in that connection. It relates to the feature of Christ presented "clothed with a garment down to the foot" (1:13). This is the Holy Spirit's burning testimony to the fact that it is only what Christ is, as a covering for all that we are, that can stand before God. That is one of the seven things that 'the Spirit saith to the churches' - to us. It is a burning testimony.
How greatly has the Lord taken pains to burn that into the Church, that it must be a Church that is covered as to its whole natural life. If it is not, as at Corinth, and some other places, there is a terrible exposure and a terrible judgment. The threatened judgment of the church in Corinth was, as you know, that all its works would go up in smoke in the testing of the fire, and they would be saved only, and just, 'so as by fire' (1 Cor. 3:13-15), with nothing else, but just getting through - everything else lost. Because they were 'naked'; that is, as we find from that letter, it is what they were in themselves. Paul says: 'When this and that obtains, are ye not men? Do you not speak as men? You are behaving as men!' (3:3,4). He is saying: This is not Christ! To behave like that, to go on like that, to do those things, to have those conditions - that is just not Christ! You are 'naked' before God; you need to be 'clothed' with Christ!
That is a burning thing in the New Testament. May we not be found 'naked before Him' in the judgment of the first lamp of fire! How intense is its heat! how searching is its light! how discriminating is its effect! Let us not take this just as words, as 'teaching'. You and I have to stand in the "everlasting burnings" (Is. 33:14b). The test now is, and the test at last is going to be: How much of Christ adorns us, to the hiding of what we are in ourselves? That is something to think about, to pray about. It is our battle-ground! That is the Testimony of Jesus.
The Second Lamp: Steadfast Divine Love
Now we pass to the second lamp. If these lamps - these energies of the Holy Spirit - for a lamp of fire is a thing of energy; there is nothing merely passive about that; it is energetic - if these lamps of fire correspond to those aspects of Christ in the presentation, what is the second lamp? to what does the Spirit direct attention in the second place? Again, look at the vision of the Son of Man, and then look at the churches. You come on it immediately: "...clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle" (1:13).
We know, in Biblical symbolism, what a 'girdle' suggests or represents: it is strength for action, 'girdedness', not looseness; the garment drawn together so that it does not, in any way, interfere with the work on hand. The girdle, then, is strength for action. 'Breasts' ever and always suggest service of love. And the 'gold', as we know well, is that which is of God. Putting these three things together, we have Christ in the feature of steadfast and purposeful Divine love, as against the fickleness and impersistence of human love, of man's love, as shown toward God.
The first address is to Ephesus, and the final word to Ephesus, with whatever commendation there could be, with all possible recognition of virtues - the final word is: "I have this against thee, that thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works..." (2:4,5). First love... first works...
There is your example. The Lord comes in terms of this steadfast, purposeful, consistent, persistent Divine love, to which they and we owe everything. Where would any of us be if He had not kept on loving, persisted in love? if He had been as fickle as we are, as impersistent as is our love? That was the trouble, and that, to the Lord, outweighed all the other values at Ephesus, it outweighed everything else. Indeed, He placed the continued serviceableness of that vessel to Himself upon this one issue - first love!
We turn to the Gospel by John; we have this: "Jesus knowing that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end" - 'to the uttermost!' (John 13:1). And the next is the 'girdle' of that love. "He... riseth from supper, and layeth aside his garments; and he, took a towel, and girded himself. Then he poureth water into the bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded" (v. 4,5). 'Having loved... He loved to the end' - persistent love!
We all know so well how one man declared that his love for his Master could stand up to anything, even to death; and we know what happened! But I notice this, that when it records Peter's declaration, 'Though all should forsake Him, he would not; he would go to death...', I notice that the writer adds: '...and so said all of them' (Matt. 26:31-35). So said all of them! We put it all on to Peter, but they all said the same thing; you can almost hear them. Peter said that, and so said the other 'And so will I', and another, 'So will I', '...and so will I' - so said all of them! Then Jesus said, 'All you shall be offended with Me this night, for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered...'; and in the sequel, when the soldiers came from the high priest, with their torches and their spears and staves, it says: 'they all forsook Him and fled...' (v. 56b).
Well, He knew all about them, how they were made - He told them so; but 'having loved, He loved to the end'. He was indeed girded with that kind of Divine love that presses through, that suffers long, that does not give up; persistent, faithful love - faithful love. We will all agree that that is a characteristic of the Lord Jesus, and we must be impressed with the fact that the very first thing He talks about to the Church is that very thing. When it comes to the seven churches, that is really where it begins.
The Meaning of 'First Love'
How needful it is that we should all be before the 'lamp of fire', and be searched, and that we see in its light what the Lord is after: that which is here called first love. What are its characteristics? Surely it is faithfulness to the first motive. Most of us can probably look back to a time in our Christian experience when the Lord so captured and captivated us that He gained a complete committal of our lives to Himself; He was Everything to us. If there is anyone reading these lines who cannot say that that was their experience, it is still not too late! You can be captivated by the Lord Jesus more than once in your life, and some of us have known mightier captivations at different times. But those of us who do know that first, wonderful experience when first we saw the Lord, and the Lord found us, how full of Him we were! While we were having to be engaged in other things during the day, how absorbed we were with the Lord, just longing for the other things to be disposed of, so as to be able to get busy for the Lord in a more direct and immediate way. How He filled everything for us!
Now the apostle Paul gives us a marvellous picture in his letter to the Philippians. First of all he says that that is exactly what happened to the Lord Jesus Himself. (It is not stated directly, but there is no doubt that this is what is meant, speaking after the manner of men.) There was a point where the love of the Son toward the Father, in terms of the Father's interests and glory, heart purpose and desire, was so great, when it so captivated Him, that He stripped Himself, 'emptied Himself' of everything in Heaven's glory - what He called in His prayer 'the glory that I had with Thee before the world was' (John 17:5). He let it all go out of His love for the Father, and the Father's love for this world. That is one side of the picture.
Turn over the page, and you find that that same love has been begotten in the heart of this man, Paul. He tells us, in strong, full terms, what effect it had upon him. He enumerates all the glories that men call glories in this world - glories of ancestry, of inheritance, of birth, of training, of position, of achievement - all the things that this world calls 'glories'. And then Jesus comes into the picture for Paul, and he says, 'Those things which were gain to me' - in those days, in that realm- 'these have I counted loss for Christ. Yea, I count them as refuse for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord' (Phil. 3:7,8). Here is a man, following - maybe only in the human terms - but following the way of his Lord, the way of love, and showing that with him, right at the beginning, first love meant the Lord having first place in all things; indeed, nothing else could be allowed to stand in the place or the way of the Lord Jesus. That is first love: what it does, and the effect that it has.
Now we know that Ephesus had had an experience like that. You know what happened when the Word was preached to them. When the Lord Jesus was brought to them, they were devotees of the sciences and of the pagan mysteries, and they had a library which ran into a very great sum of money for value. When Jesus came, through His servant, they piled up their books, their treasures, their costly things, in the market place, and sent them all up in flames. That is their value compared with Jesus! That is first love! 'Consider from whence thou art fallen'! (Rev. 2:5).
How First Love May Be Lost
This is what the Lord comes back for. He says: 'I have loved you like that; that is how I have loved you, and kept on loving you like that, at very great cost. But I have not counted the cost for love's sake, for love never does count the cost, in that way. I have loved you like that; I have given you so much; I really have given you so much, for so long. What is the measure of your return? Is it like that now? Was it more like that at one time? Is it less like that now? Is it?' Blessed be the man or the woman who can say, No, it is more today than ever! That is good. But it may be that some of us have got to meet this challenge. Oh, the blunted edge, blunted by familiarity with Divine things - how the edge can be blunted by familiarity! 'We have heard it all before! We know it all!' Perhaps that was Ephesus - the tragedy of familiarity, of an easy access to Divine things. When it is so easily obtainable, and there is so much of it to hand, how it just blunts the edge of the appetite! We settle down - well, because it does not matter very much; we will not take the trouble to put ourselves out; it is always there when we want it! There was a time, perhaps, when we would go miles, hundreds of miles, for a bit of spiritual food. Today, perhaps we might not be willing to walk a mile! It is so possible for first love to lose its edge because of this familiarity, and this facility, and this abundance.
Or it might be the lost freshness of a walk in the Spirit. A walk in the Spirit always has a freshness about it. It does not matter how long you have been on the way, how much you have received, how much you know: the marvel of a life in the Spirit is that you never seem to overtake what there is for you. It does not lie in the past, indeed, you know quite well that your life will not be long enough to catch up on what you have already sensed, discerned. I am not exaggerating. A life in the Spirit has about it a continual freshness, newness; a sense that there is always something more. Now that was the characteristic at the beginning, was it not? We thought: 'What a world we have come into! What a new world! How everything is new! What can we do with it? It is so big, so wonderful, so great! It is such a wonderful world we have come into, this world of Christ!' Is that true of us today in our spiritual life?
It may be the deadly effect of formality, of routine. Perhaps we have made Christian things a routine; we have brought it down to that; it is the form of things - 'This is the way it is done!' May God deliver us from the blighting, deadly effect of formality, and make everything live! Now, we cannot do that, mark you, by trying to be original, and change things in order to get out of that difficulty; you cannot do it that way. This needs the burning lamp of the Spirit. If the fire is not there, no methods, or changed methods, or uniqueness or singularity, or anything else, can take its place.
It may be putting 'things' in the place of the Person, even Christian things. Christian work, you know, can be a very, very harmful thing, if it becomes an end in itself. The enemy is very concerned to make Christian workers so occupied with the 'work', and all its demands, and all its many aspects, as to draw away from the Lord Himself. That is the confession, the tragedy, of many a servant of the Lord. The work - you have got to give addresses, very well, very well... But there is a subtle snare in always reading your Bible, or listening to messages, with your eye upon people to whom you are going to give addresses. You cannot believe how damaging that is. If you and I do not speak to others the thing that has already spoken to us, and dealt with us, and challenged us, and faced us up, the Lord deliver us from our speaking. Yes, the work, the business demands, can come into the place of the Lord Himself. And the fire is damped down like that!
First love is always characterized by vision and purpose. We know that in the natural; it is even more true in the spiritual. It means that there is a future; there is something on ahead; there is a tremendous prospect. That is a constituent of first love. Something to live for now; some purpose in life; some meaning in life; something ahead that draws you on. That is first love, quite pure and simple. Are we like that? Vision, purpose - if that goes, we are 'fallen' in the eyes of the Lord; we have 'come down'. First love is preparedness to suffer, to pay a price, to go on with the object of our love, whatever it costs, and whatever people say or do. That is first love.
Many other features belong to this, 'thy first love'. And because of it 'thy first works'. May the Lord find His appeal to us having some effect in drawing out our hearts again. If this does search us like the lamp; if this does burn us like the fire, may we listen, 'repent and do the first works'. 'Listen to what the Spirit saith unto the churches.' We know we shall never fully measure up to the Lord in this matter; we shall always fall short of the Pattern. But the question is: There is a lamp of fire - is it burning? There is no hope unless the 'lamp of fire' - in other words, the Holy Spirit - is having His effect in our lives. But that is why He is here; that is His work: to reproduce in us what is true of the Lord Jesus. And we all agree that this is true of Him: 'Having loved...' He persists in love; He does not give up; His love does not break down and disappear. The Holy Spirit has come that the love of Christ - that kind of love - should be shed abroad in our hearts.
The Lord comes before us in this vision; He speaks; and He says: 'This is what I am like; this is what I want you to be like.'