by J.C. Ryle
Visible Churches Warned!
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the Churches!" Revelation 3:22I suppose I may take it for granted that every reader of this message belongs to some visible church of Christ. I do not ask now whether you are an Episcopalian, or a Presbyterian, or an Independent. I only suppose that you would not like to be called an atheist or an infidel. You attend the public worship of some visible, particular or national body of professing Christians.Now, whatever the name of your church may be, I invite your special attention to the verse of Scripture before your eyes. I charge you to remember that the words of that verse concern yourself. They are written for your learning, and for all who call themselves Christians. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the Churches!"This verse is repeated seven times over in the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation. Seven different letters does the Lord Jesus there send by the hand of His servant John to the seven churches of Asia. Seven times over, He winds up His letter by the same solemn words: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the Churches!"Now the Lord God is perfect in all His works. He does nothing by chance. He caused no part of the Scriptures to be written by chance. In all Hisdealings you may trace design, purpose and plan. There was design in the size and orbit of each planet. There was design in the shape and structure of the least fly's wing. There was design in every verse of the Bible. There was design in every repetition of a verse, wherever it took place. There was design in the sevenfold repetition of the verse before our eyes. It had a meaning, and we were intended to observe it.This verse appears to me to call the special attention of all true Christians to the seven 'epistles to the churches'. I believe it was meant to make believers take particular notice of the things which these seven epistles contain.Let me try to point out certain leading truths which these seven epistles seem to me to teach. They are truths for the times we live in, truths for the latter days, truths which we cannot know too well, truths which it would be good for us all to know and feel far better than we do.
1. I ask my readers to observe that the Lord Jesus, in all the seven epistles, speaks of nothing but matters of doctrine, practice, warning and promise.I ask you to look over these seven epistles to the churches, quietly and at your leisure, and you will soon see what I mean.You will observe that the Lord Jesus sometimes finds fault with false doctrines and ungodly inconsistent practices — and rebukes them sharply.You will observe that He sometimes praises faith, patience, work, labor, perseverance — and bestows on these graces high commendation.You will sometimes find Him enjoining repentance, amendment, return to the first love, renewed application to Himself, and the like.But I want you to observe that you will not find the Lord, in any of the epistles, dwelling upon church government or ceremonies. He says nothing about sacraments or ordinances. He makes no mention of liturgies or forms. He does not instruct John to write one word about baptism, or the Lord's Supper, or the apostolical succession of ministers. In short, the leading principles of what may be called 'the sacramental system' are not brought forward in any one of the seven epistles from first to last!Now why do I dwell on this? I do it because many professing Christians in the present day would have us believe these things are of first, of cardinal, of paramount importance.There are not a few who seem to hold that there can be no church without a bishop, and no godliness without a liturgy. They appear to believe that to teach the value of the sacraments is the first work of a minister, and to keep to their parish church the first business of a people.Now let no man misunderstand me when I say this. Do not run away with the notion that I see no importance in sacraments. On the contrary, I regard them as great blessings to all who receive them 'rightly, worthily and with faith'. Do not imagine that I attach no value to episcopacy, a liturgy and the parochial system. On the contrary, I consider that a church well administered, which has these three things, and that an evangelical ministry is a far more complete and useful church, than one in which they are not to be found.But this I say, that sacraments, church government, the use of a liturgy, the observance of ceremonies and forms — are all as nothing compared to faith, repentance and holiness. And my authority for so saying, is the whole tenor of our Lord's words to the seven churches.
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