READ the first three chapters of Hosea and this Epistle to the angel of the Church in Thyatira together, and substitute the dura lectio, the hard reading, "thy wife," for the easy reading, "that woman" in the twentieth verse, and it will be seen at once that the angel of the Church in Thyatira is just the prophet Hosea over again. Very much the same scandal and portent that Hosea and his house were in Israel; nay, almost more of a scandal, has the house of the angel of the Church in Thyatira been in Christendom. Our classical scholars have a recognised canon of their own when they are engaged on their editorial work among old and disputed manuscripts; a canon of criticism to this effect that the more difficult to receive any offered reading is the more likely it is to be the true reading. Nay, the more impossible to receive the offered reading is the more certain it is to have stood in the original text. And this so paradoxical-sounding, but truly scientific, principle of our great scholars, has been taken up by some of our greatest expositors and preachers, and has been applied by them to the exegetical and homiletical treatment both of Hosea's household history in the Old Testament, and of this so similar household history in the New Testament. And, indeed, as if it were to forewarn us, and to prepare us for some impossible-to-be-believed disclosures in Thyatira, our Lord introduces Himself to the minister of Thyatira and to us under a name that He has not taken to Himself in the case of any of the other seven ministers of the Seven Churches. Only the very greatest and very grandest of the classical tragedies ever dared to introduce and endure the descent and the intervention of a god. Now Thyatira at this crisis in her history is a great and a grand tragedy like that. For our glorified Lord puts on His whole Godhead when He comes down to deal with this tragical minister in Thyatira and with his tragical wife and children. These things saith the Son of God, and He armed with all the power and clothed with all the grace of the Godhead. The Son of God who has His eyes like unto a flame of fire wherewith to search to the bottom all the depths of Satan that are in Thyatira. That is to say, to search to the bottom the reins and the heart of the minister of Thyatira, and the reins and the hearts of all his household, and of all his people. And then His feet are like fine brass wherewith to walk up and down in Thyatira, till He has given to the minister of Thyatira and to his house and to all the rest in Thyatira according to their works. Neither let a god interfere, unless a difficulty should happen worthy of a god descending to unravel; nor let a fourth person be forward to speak, is the advice of Horace to all his young dramatists.
It was not the schools of the prophets in Israel that made Hosea the great and original and evangelical prophet that he was. It was his life at home that did it. It was his married life that did it. It was his wife and her children that did it. We would never have heard so much as Hosea's name had it not been for his wife and her children. At any rate, his name would not have been worked down into our hearts as it is but for his awful heart-break at home. And so it was with the minister of Thyatira. We might have heard that there was a certain minister in that ancient city in the days of the Revelation, but this so terrible Epistle would never have been written to him or transmitted to us but for his household catastrophe-a catastrophe so awful that it cannot be so much as once named among us. His Divine Master would have known all the good works of His servant in Thyatira, but He would not have been able to say that the last of those good works of his were so much better than his first works, had it not been for that terrible overthrow in his house at home. The minister of Ephesus had left his first love to God and to God's work because he was so happy in the love of his wife and children. But his co-presbyter in Thyatira had never known what the love of God really was till all his household love had decayed, and had died, and had been buried, and had all turned to corruption and pollution. Both the prophet Hosea in the Old Testament and this apostolical minister in the New Testament had come to see that when any man is called of God to this work of God, all he is and all he has, all his talents, all his affections, all his possessions, all his enjoyments, his very wife and children, must all be held by him under this great covenant with God, that they are all to be possessed and enjoyed and used by him, in the most absolute subordination to his ministry. And all the true successors of those two typical men have at one time or other, and in one way or other, to make this same great discovery and have to submit themselves to this same sovereign necessity.
Marriage or celibacy, an helpmeet or an hindrance, children or childlessness, good children or bad, health or sickness, congregational prosperity or congregational adversity, and all else; absolutely and without any reserve everything must come under that great law for all men, but a thousand times more for all ministers; that great law which the greatest of ministers has thus enunciated:-"For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." Hosea learned at home, and all the week, that new sensibility to sin, that incomparable tenderness to sinners, and that holy passion as a preacher, with all of which he carried all Israel captive Sabbath after Sabbath, and so did his antitype in Thyatira. His antitype, the minister of Thyatira, was a fairly good preacher before he had a household, but he became an immeasurably better preacher as his household life went on and went down to such depths as it did. As many as had ears to hear in Thyatira they could measure quite well by the increasing depth of his preaching and his prayers the increasing depths of Satan through which their minister was wading all the week. We have never had deeper-wading preachers than Jonathan Edwards and Thomas Boston, and never since the garden of Eden has there been two ministers happier at home than they were. And it is very happy for those of us who are ministers to see also that the two happiest homes in all New England and in all old Scotland were also the homes of two such deep and holy and heavenly-minded and soul-winning preachers. But they were not without this same universal and indispensable training in sin and sorrow. Only they got their training in those things in other ways than in shipwrecked homes. With all their happiness in their wives and children, the author of the Religious Affections, and the author of the Crook in the Lot and the Autobiography, had not their sorrows to seek. Some of the sorrows that sanctified them and taught them to preach so masterfully all their readers see and know, while some of his most constant and most fruitful sorrows the closest students of Boston have been absolutely beat to find out. But it is enough for us to be sure that such noble sorrows were there though the deepest secrets of the manse of Ettrick then were, and still are, with the Lord. And thus it is that with two such enviable households as were the households of Edwards and Boston, those two ministers also in their own ways are another two outstanding illustrations of Luther's great pulpit principle-'Who are these so incomparable preachers, and from what divinity hall did they come up? These are they who climbed the Gospel pulpit out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.'
Though you are not ministers you must know quite well how the same thing works out in yourselves. You are not ministers, and therefore it is not necessary that you should be plunged into such depths of experience as your ministers are plunged into continually if they are to be of any real use to you. But you are hearers, and good hearing is almost as scarce, and almost as costly to the hearer, as good preaching is to the preacher. To hear a really good sermon, as it ought to be heard, needs almost as much head and heart, and almost as much blood and tears, as it needs to preach a really good sermon.
A jest's prosperity lies in the earOf him that hears it, never in the tongueOf him who makes it.Yes; but a sermon's prosperity lies in both the tongue of the preacher and the ear of the hearer. And a sermon's true prosperity is purchased by both preacher and hearer at more or less of the same price.
There is still left one more of those cruxes of interpretation that had almost turned me away from this Epistle to the minister of Thyatira altogether. And it is this: "He that overcometh, and keepeth my works to the end, to him will I give power over the nations. And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers; even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star." What a strange promise to make to a minister,-a rod of iron! Yes, this is just one more of those scripture-passages of which Paul once said that the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. For the letter here had almost killed out all my hope in this passage till a gleam of the Spirit came to light me into it and to light me through it. "He that overcometh" is just that minister who meets all the temptations and trials of life, at home and abroad, with more and more charity, and with more and more faith, and with more and more patience, as long as there is a hard heart in his house at home or in his congregation abroad. It is just to the minister who so overcomes his own passions in his own heart first, that his Master will give power to break in shivers the same passions in all other men's hearts, as with a rod of iron. By his charity and by his patience, by these two rods of iron, especially, any minister will overcome as the angel of the Church in Thyatira at last overcame. All the iron rods in the world would not have broken men's hard hearts as that reed broke them, that our Lord took so meekly into His hand when the soldiers were mocking and maltreating Him. And if you just strike with all your might, and with that same rod, all the hard hearts that come near you, you will soon see how they will all go to shivers under it. Till for your reward your Master will give to you also the morning star. That is to say, when many other ministers that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt, they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.