Sermons on the Apocalypse, the Holy Name, and the Proverbs
by John Mason Neale.
London: J.T. Hayes, 1871.
SERMON III. Written for the Third Sunday after Epiphany, 1862; the Priest unable to be present. THE WHITE STONE.
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it"--REV. ii. 17.
IT is almost strange that I should not have spoken to you oftener about these Seven Epistles of our dear LORD Himself: answering, as they do, to the Seven Petitions of His Prayer, and the Seven Beatitudes of His Sermon. To the two Churches of whom nothing but praise is said: Smyrna and Philadelphia; the two who meet with nothing but blame: Sardis and Laodicea; and the three in whom praise and blame are nearly equally mixed: Thyatira, Ephesus, Pergamus.
I suppose it is hardly possible to find too deep a mystery, not only in the number, seven, but in the order in which they are arranged, and in the different promises made to each, as connected with the varying trials of each.
See, for example, how to the first Church, Ephesus, the promise is: "The Tree of Life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of GOD." There we are carried back to the happy beginning of the world, and the Garden of Eden. To the second Church, Thyatira, the promise is: "Not to be hurt of the Second Death." And there we are carried back to the Fall, when the sentence of that Second Death was due to the sin of Adam. In the third Church, we read of certain that hold the doctrine of Balaam: and there we are taken to the children of Israel in the wilderness also we read of the manna,--the hidden manna: hidden, namely, as that was which was laid up in the ark; still referring to the same time. In the fourth Church, Thyatira, we read of the prophetess Jezebel: and so we have the children of Israel in the land of Canaan. What follows, leaves off speaking of the Church on earth, and has to do only and wholly with that Jerusalem which is free, in Heaven. Is it not marvellous to see how the order of the history in the Old Testament forms also the order of the promises and threatenings in these Epistles? Now something else. I have often enough spoken to you, my Sisters, of the trials and temptations you all must have; as things not to be frightened about, not to murmur at, not to think any proof that we are losing ground; but, whether we can realize them so or not, as blessings.
In these Seven Churches, there are two who have no exhortation to fight valiantly, and to suffer bravely. Are these the two that we should wish to be like? They are the two fallen ones: Sardis and Laodicea. To the one it is said: "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead;" to the other: "I will spue thee out of My Mouth." This is what comes, my Sisters, of having no trials: of settling, as the Prophet says, on our lees. Whereas those glorious Churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia, how are they spoken of? "Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." And again: "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth."
But now to come to the text: and a very difficult one it is to understand. First: let us read once more the clause I am about to speak of: "And will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it."
The first thing to be remarked in that clause, is: "Which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it." Receiveth it: that is, the stone; not the Name. It is not that he that has overcome has here the promise of himself receiving a new name on his white stone; but, as we shall see presently, a far higher Name than that of any Saint.
Now, many mediaeval writers have said, that the white stone refers to the Greek custom of marking happy days by throwing a white stone into a box: unhappy days by throwing in a black stone; and according as, at the end of the year, the black or the white were most numerous, so was the year considered happy or unhappy. So, they say, a white stone means the one long, endless glad day of eternity. But there is this fatal objection. S. John nowhere in the whole of his writings draws a metaphor from heathen games or customs. It was not so with S. Paul; he, as you all know, is constantly alluding to them. " If a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully." " Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?" "Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us." But S. John, brought up in Judasa, where such games were never exhibited, never refers to them or to their prizes. I know you will say immediately: He does once at least, in that vision of the " great multitude which no man could number, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands:" and the palm was the Greek symbol of victory. Ah! but those happy palmers do not hold the palm in that they have conquered, but in that they rest: in that they are now keeping the true and everlasting Feast of Tabernacles: as it is written: "The Tabernacle of GOD is with men, and He will dwell with them." They rest from their labours: therefore the palms; they rest, when the true jubilee, the year of perfect remission is fulfilled; just as it was fifty days after the passage of the Red Sea that the Church of Israel pitched before Mount Sinai. Well then: what other meaning for this white stone? Now I showed you that all the promises to the Seven Churches, have reference to some special period of the history of the Church of Israel. This then has, too; and as we read in the same verse about the hidden manna, so it must have something to do with the time when they were in the wilderness.
Next, the word here translated stone may just as well mean gem; and white is more than merely white; it is glistering or sparkling: but a white glistering gem is surely a diamond.
Now, for a moment, think of the Tabernacle service, and of the High Priest's vestments. The most famous of these, you know, was the breastplate. Attend now; for the whole point lies in what follows. The breastplate was a piece of linen, exactly twice as long as it was broad. Folded in the middle, then, it became square; the sides were sewn together; and it became a square bag. Now the Jews are agreed that, in this bag, the Urim and Thummim was kept. Was kept; for they were one and the same thing; and hence sometimes called Urim only. The two words by interpretation mean Light and Illumination. Whatever it was, it was something at which the High Priest, and he only, looked when consulting the oracle. And what was it?
There is a very old tradition that it was a stone on which the incommunicable Name of GOD--JEHOVAH--was engraved. But what kind of stone?
On the outside of the breastplate were fastened twelve precious stones, the names of which you may read in Exodus. It is to be supposed that whatever was kept in the purse was more valuable than anything that formed the outside of the purse. Now,--most remarkably,--among the twelve stones, the diamond is not mentioned: although the Jews were very well acquainted with it. Urim and Thummim, then, was probably a peerless diamond, engraved with JEHOVAH'S Name.
And now, my Sisters, do you see how beautifully the two work in together? It is the great promise to him that overcometh, that he shall be made, in the highest a\d most glorious sense, a Priest in that Heavenly Temple where is the Beatific Vision. If any, under the old law, should be privileged to eat of the hidden manna, the manna laid up in the golden pot within the ark, who but the High Priest, that alone knew where it was concealed? If any should be able to read what was written on the Urim, who but the same High Priest, that alone knew what it was, and by his very office was bound to consult it?
And thus, my Sisters, we unravel the mystery, and find how dear a promise for all of you! Only, whose name will now be written on that diamond of eternal blessedness, the reward of every conqueror, the special reward of those that have come out of harder fights? Our LORD tells you Himself in another place: "I will write upon him My New Name." See: where the Cross hangs on your breast now, the diamond will hang then. The Name written on the Cross is JESUS of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. But what will be written on the Diamond for Him that is King of kings, and LORD of lords? Earthly knowledge cannot reach so high: "No man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it." Whenever you are, as S. Paul says, wearied and faint in your minds, whatever be the cause,--in yourselves, or from others, temptation, or mere sorrow, matters little or great,--remember those two Churches which* alone were without the struggle, and to whom those lips that spake so lovingly to the rest, spoke so fearfully here. Remember also; that all the other Churches had heresy fighting against them in some form or other: Ephesus, the Nicolaitanes; Smyrna, the Jews; Pergamos, Balaamites and Nicolaitanes; Thyatira, "that woman Jezebel;" Philadelphia, the Jews again. But the two fallen Churches had no such enemy. Satan left them to themselves; why should he thus vex and annoy those who were falling into the sleep of death? Why should he tempt any one of you, my Sisters, unless he feared you?
Yes: I know not where you could, any of you, look for greater comfort (and greater warning, too,) than in those Seven Letters. I often think how each of their Angels must have trembled when he opened the epistle that contained his own and his people's character in the eyes of GOD,--a sentence which could not be mistaken; a judgment from which there could be no appeal,--the award of Him Who is the Faithful and True Witness. I often think also, how we should feel, if, as miraculously, such an epistle were now to reach each English Sisterhood. Think of the fear and trembling with which we should open that missive; with which we should know how the Bridegroom of the "Virgins at this moment regards us. Would it be: "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, AND ART DEAD?" Would it be: "I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it, for thou hast a little strength?" Would it be: "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot?" Or would it be: "I know thy faith, and patience, and works, and the last to be more than the first?" Who can tell us? And how little our own judgment can decide! But of one thing I am certain; let the message begin as lovingly and tenderly as it might, before the close there would certainly be, " notwithstanding I have somewhat against thee." What those somewhats are, my Sisters, may that dear LORD give us grace to see day by day more clearly in each of ourselves, and in all of us together! There they are among us now,--many things of which we know, many things probably that we know not,--there they are, set by Satan there to take away our Crown; permitted by GOD there, as the remnant of the Canaanites among the children of Israel, to prove us. To prove us here; and that hereafter we may inherit the sevenfold glorious promises: the Tree of Life, the Crown of Life, the White Stone, the Morning Star, to be clothed in glistering raiment, to be made a pillar in the Temple of GOD, and to sit down with the LORD in His Throne, the sevenfold glorious promises to "him that overcometh." And now, &c.