Regarding what we have seen concerning the things of the seven epistles, we must understand that we are arguing concerning the problem of the system. Please remember, all of the things in these seven epistles are related to the Lord. If we know the Lord, we will condemn God’s people who walk according to their own wishes; if we do not know the Lord sufficiently, we will tolerate their walk according to their own desire. Many times we can tolerate the condition of Christians because we are not faithful enough to Christ. Our lack of faithfulness to the Lord is due to the fact that we still do not have revelation to know the Lord who condemns this as sin. Oh, there are even times when we must choose between the Lord and His people as to whom we must serve.
We already know that the number seven is divided into three and four. After Ephesus, there is Smyrna, and after Smyrna there is Pergamos. These three are of one group, because they have all passed away. The latter four are also of one group. Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea are different from the first three. When Sardis is on this earth, Thyatira is on the earth; when Philadelphia is on this earth, Sardis is on the earth; and when Laodicea is on this earth, Philadelphia is also on the earth. In other words, the last four churches continue their days on the earth together. They do not begin at the same time, but they end at the same time.
The four churches before us today are very meaningful. When the Protestant churches appeared, the Roman Catholic Church had been present for more than a thousand years. When Philadelphia appeared, the Protestant churches had been present for more than three hundred years. When Laodicea appeared, Philadelphia had been present for several scores of years. We who are born in this age today are confronted with something very special: There are four different kinds of churches from which we may choose. If we were born before the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, we would have no other way but to be in the Roman Catholic Church. If we were born in the eighteenth century, we could choose to belong to either the Roman Catholic Church or the Protestant churches. In the following century, in 1825, Philadelphia appeared and the brothers rose up; so we would have had three to choose from. Then after 1840, Laodicea appeared. Today there are four different kinds of churches. In all four there are people who are saved—some are better, and some are worse. God put us in a time where there are four ways from which we can choose.
But the Lord also shows us His desire. His desire is not the Roman Catholic Church; this question is past. There is not the least necessity of praying whether or not I should be a disciple of the pope. Although this prophecy is placed in Revelation 2, the need to decide whether or not to choose it no longer exists. All those who study the Bible know that the problem of choosing the Roman Catholic Church is over. There is a difficulty in the fact that many brothers do not know that the problem of choosing the Protestant churches is also over. Does the Lord want us to be in Sardis? Strangely enough, many are rather satisfied to be in Sardis. But if we read the Word of God, the Lord will show us that He is not satisfied with Sardis. The Lord’s desire is Philadelphia. Of the seven epistles which we have seen, only Philadelphia is praised by the Lord. In the other epistles the Lord always gives some word of rebuke. Smyrna is better and has no rebuke, but neither does she have any praise. Philadelphia, however, is different. From beginning to end the Lord only praises her. Then you may ask whether we should join the movement of the brothers (as if this movement can be “joined”). Many people in the movement of the brothers have become Laodicea already. Then what should we do? Laodicea is also rejected by the Lord. If we are not careful, instead of catching up with Philadelphia, we will get into Laodicea.
There is a great problem today to which God’s children must pay attention. Since 1921 in China, the gospel has become clearer and clearer, those who were saved have increased more and more, and God has directed our attention increasingly to the truth of the church. We began to see that the church is entirely of God, only those who are saved can be in it, and only the words which God has ordained in the Bible are to be kept by the church. During that time none of us ever heard of the movement of the brothers. Not until 1927 did we begin to hear of this kind of work abroad. Through literature which we continually received, we knew there was a very great movement going on, filling all the countries in the world. The Reformation was just such a great movement. But on the other hand, we felt that many among them had fallen into the position of Laodicea. At that time we had a question: What does the Bible say? Should the children of God join a movement? The unity of Christians should be in Christ, not in a movement. So we spent more time to study the Bible. We became increasingly clear that that which is bigger than the locality is not the church, and that which is smaller than the locality is also not the church.