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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 2

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Verses 1-7

Revelation 2:1-7


The address to Ephesus

The form of address.

1. The place. Ephesus. Situated in a rich and extensive country, and upon the banks of a luxuriant river, it became, in all probability, celebrated for the pleasures of the chase, on which account its richest offerings were presented on the shrine of Diana. It was in its greatest glory in the apostolic age, its population at that time amounting to some hundreds of thousands. The ruins of its theatre still remain, which is computed to have accommodated twenty thousand spectators. Its commerce, its literature, its opulence, and its luxury were in similar proportion.

2. The Church of Ephesus.

(1) How great were the advantages which the Ephesian Church enjoyed! The foundation is laid during a few months’ visit from the great apostle of the Gentiles. It is sustained by the labours of Priscilla and Aquila. It is favoured with the discourses of the eloquent Apollos. It next enjoys the entire ministrations of Paul for two years and three months. He is succeeded by Timothy, of whom Paul says, he knew no man so like-minded with himself, who evidently gave the prime of his days to the Ephesians. A most instructive and encouraging letter is sent them by Paul, for their guidance both in doctrine and practice. Timothy receives full instructions from the apostle for the performance of his pastoral duties among them. And to crown all their privileges, during the apostolic age, John, the last of the apostles, gives them the benefit of the rich experience of his latter days, and the benedictions of his last breath.

(2) The chief difficulties with which the gospel had to contend in this city.

(a) The prejudices of the Jews.

(b) The pride of human learning.

(c) The influence of a popular idolatry and an interested priesthood.

(d) The effect of riches.

(e) Sensual indulgence.

(3) The gospel when faithfully preached, and accompanied by pastoral visits and fervent prayer, will surmount all opposition, and extensively prevail.

3. The angel of the Church at Ephesus.

4. The character in which Christ addresses this Church.

The subject of communication.

1. The Ephesians are commended here for their zealous and active performance of Christian duties; for their patience and submission under trial and persecution; and for their purity of discipline.

2. He has something against them, as well as in their favour. He does not dispute the sincerity of their love, but reproves them for its diminished fervour. It was not so pure, burning, and enkindling as at first. Diminution of love in His people is displeasing to Christ, on their account as well as His own. Love is the fruit of all other graces of the Christian combined. If this decays, the whole work of grace in the soul is on the decline.

3. The admonition: “Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen,” etc.

4. The threatening: “Or else I will come unto thee quickly,” etc. Unless the flame of love be kept bright and glowing, He will withdraw His support. He will not hold up an expiring lamp. The light of the gospel is not extinguished, but is removed from one place to another. If it has become dim, or ceased to shine in one part of the earth, it burns with brilliancy in another. While its first fervour was declining in Judaea, it burst forth in the cities of the Gentiles. The gospel seeks the hearts of men. If they are withheld in one place, it seeks them in another.

5. The closing commendation: “But this thou hast,” etc.

General application is appended to the address to the Church at Ephesus, and the same order is observed in the rest: “He that hath an ear, let him hear,” etc. (G. Rogers.)

Ephesus--the strenuous Church

Ephesus is the type of a strenuous Church. There is something singularly masculine in the first part of the description. “I know thy works”--that is, thine achievements; not thy desires and purposes and aspirations, not even thy doings, but thy deeds. This Church in its severe self-discipline affords a welcome contrast to the easily-excited populace amid whom they lived, rushing confusedly into the theatre and shouting for two hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” The patience of the Church is twice men tioned; the second time it is patience not as a feature of the workman, but the patience of him who can suffer, and suffer in silence. And this virtue has a threefold delineation--patience, endurance, fortitude. “Thou hast patience, and thou didst bear for My name’s sake, and thou hast not grown weary.” There is another mark of the masculine character in Ephesus, a noble intolerance of evil--“thou canst not bear bad men.” And with this intolerance is the power to discriminate character, the clear judgment which cannot be deceived--“thou didst try them which call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false.” There is no surer mark of a masculine nature than this keen insight into pretentiousness, and fidelity of rebuke. Then comes the exposure of the great defect of Ephesus. “I have against thee that thou hast left that love which thou hadst at the first.” It is love in its largest sense which the Church once had and now has lost; the love of God animating piety undoubtedly, but no less certainly the love of men making service sweet. Nor is it the feeling alone which has changed, it is not that love as a sentiment is lost; but love in its far reach has gone, kindliness and tender consideration and disregard of self, the grace that suffers long and is kind, that beareth all things, hopeth all things, believeth all things. The toilsomeness, the endurance, the stern self-judgment, the keen discrimination of character, are obvious; but the spirit that rises above toil or sweetens toil, the grace to woo and wed, has fled. We can understand the history only too well. Life has many sore trials, none sorer than this--that virtues which are unexercised die out, and that the circumstances which call for some virtues and give occasion for their development seem to doom others to extinction. The Christian character cannot live by severity alone. There were two demands which the Church at Ephesus had forgotten--the demand for completeness of Christian character, never more urgent than when the times are making us one-sided; the demand of God Himself for the heart. There must be impulse in His people if they are to continue His people; there must be love in all who, not contented with doing “their works,” desire to do the work of God.

There is an obscured, a limited perception of the grace of Christ. “These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars,” etc. A strenuous Lord for a strenuous Church; but also a Lord holding His manifold graces in reserve when He has to do with a reserved people. For the nurture of piety we need all that He will reveal to us of Himself, all that can endear Him, all that can startle us, all that can exalt His image. There is not a single channel by which Christ finds His way to the soul which should not be open to Him; a full Christ is needed for a full man and for a complete Church.

The warning of the fifth verse must have been very surprising to the angel of the Ephesian Church. The Church seemed to be so efficient. Its works had been so hard, and yet they had been done. Its achieve-merits were patent. Especially its service in the cause of truth was conspicuous; the Church had not lost its zeal, its candour, its piercing vision. Ephesus warns us against the perils of the Puritan temper; it warns us also against the stoical temper, with its tendency to a not ignoble cynicism, of which some of our gravest leaders in literature have been the exponents. Puritanism plus love ham accomplished great things, and will do yet more; for a masculine tenderness is God’s noblest gift to men. But Puritanism, when the first love is lost, drags on a sorrowful existence, uninfluential and unhappy; its only hope being the capacity for repentance, which, God be praised, has never failed it. Perhaps the most solemn part of the message is that in which the Lord Himself declares--“I am coming; I will shake thy candlestick out of its place.” The Lord can do without our achievements, but not without love. He can supply gifts unendingly, can make the feeble as David; but if love be wanting He will shake the noblest into destruction, and remove them out of the way. There is one striking word immediately following this warning, a word of commendation; it is the only one of the messages in which a word of commendation does come in after the warning has been uttered, and it is a commendation of feeling. “But this thou hast, that thou hatest,” etc. Hatred is hardly the feeling we should have expected to be commended: but it is feeling, and any feeling is better than apathy or stolidity. Where men can feel hatred, other feeling may come; love may come where men have not reduced themselves to machines.

An altogether unexpected thing in the message to the Church at Ephesus is the promise with which it ends--“To him that overcometh,” etc. In only two promises of the New Testament does this word “paradise” appear, with its suggestion of the primeval garden, where the father and mother of men wandered innocent and happy: in the promise made by the dying Jesus to the penitent thief, and here. The faithful men of Ephesus, stern-featured, with drawn brows, fighting on, knowing that their hearts are withering in the conflict, and yet not seeing how they can relax, are caught with a word. An image is presented to them which may break down even their self-control, and set them longing for the wondrous things God hath prepared for them that love Him. And this was exactly what Ephesus needed, although it was the one thing it had schooled itself to do without. Ephesus had too little of what so many have too much of--sensibility, passiveness, willingness to receive, to be made something of, to be quiet and let the Blessed One save them who had long been striving, and of late so ineffectually, to serve Him. Good as strenuousness is--and of human virtues it is among the chief--even better is the responsive spirit. When God is the giver, it is well for us to receive rather than to give. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)

Letter to Ephesus

The Head of the Church has a minute knowledge of all the services of His people.

1. There is distinguished labour. “I know thy works, and thy labour.” The Church at Ephesus had been a working Church. It had been operating on the sat rounding regions of depravity, darkness, and death. In its early life it was eminently an aggressive Church. I would have Christ’s Church as ambitious as Alexander. As he waved his battle-flag over a conquered world, so would I that the Church might unfurl the banner of a nobler conquest over every nation, and kindred, and people, and tongue.

2. There is distinguished patience. This patience may be understood as indicating long-suffering in relation to those by whom the saints in Ephesus were surrounded--long-suffering both in waiting for the germination of the seed which they had sown in many tears, and in the meek endurance of fiery trials. The point to be noted here is, that Christ is mindful, not only of the outward manifestations of the spiritual life--such as many labours and many offerings--but also of the hidden graces which cluster round the heart. He sees not only the moral warrior brandishing his sword in the thickest of the battle, hut also the wounded and suffering soldier; and sweetly says to such, “I know thy patience.” How few can tone themselves to the high strength of doing everything by doing nothing! Patience is undervalued by an excited world; but Jesus notes it in its long vigils, marks it trimming its dim lamp in the solemn midnight, and sweetly,whispers His word of commendation, which is always invigorating as the breath of immortality.

3. There is distinguished jealousy for the right. “Thou canst not bear them which are evil,” etc. It must ever be remembered that there is a spurious charity. It is morally impossible that Christians and anti-Christians can have any sympathetic fellowship. Woe unto the Church when moral distinctions are lightly regarded! To confound light with darkness, sweetness with bitterness, is to mock the first principles of holy government, and to destroy for ever the possibility of holy brotherhood. While, therefore, we would not presumptuously ascend the judgment-seat, we believe it is impossible to burn in too deeply the line which separates the sympathy of compassion from the sympathy of complacency.

3. There was distinguished persistence in the right course. “And hast borne, and hast patience, and for My name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.” The eulogium might be read thus: “I know thy labour, and yet thou dost not labour, i.e., thou dost not make a labour of thy duties”: in such case duty was not a hard taskmaster. There was such a sunny joyousness and musical cordiality about these saints, that they came to their work--work so hard--with the freshness of morning, and under their touch duty was transformed into privilege. There is a lesson here for Christian workers through all time. When work is done with the hand only, it is invariably attended with much constraint and difficulty; but when the heart is engaged, the circle of duty is run with a vigour that never wearies and a gladness which never saddens. Not only so, the Ephesian saints eminently succeeded in uniting patience with perseverance. They were not only patient in suffering, but patient in labour. They did not expect the morning to be spring and the evening to be autumn, but, having due regard to the plan of Divine procedure, combined in wise proportions the excitement of war with the patience of hope. The Ephesians were right: they blended persistence with patience, and were extolled by Him who knew the hardest toil, and exemplified the most unmurmuring endurance. The fundamental point is, that Christ knew all this. “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience.” There is not a toiler in the vineyard on whose bent form the Master looks not with approbation. He sees the sufferer also. All that He observes influences His mediation, so that in every age “He tempereth the wind to the shorn lamb.”

The Head of the Church marks every declension of piety. “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee.” This method of reproof is eminently suggestive. It gives a lesson to parents. Would you be successful in reproving your children? Let commendation precede rebuke; let your “nevertheless” be winged with love and hope, and it will fly to the farthest boundary of your child’s intellectual and moral nature, and showers of blessings will be shaken from those heavenly wings. It gives a lesson to pastors also. Our words of remonstrance or rebuke will be more successful as they are preceded by every acknowledgment which justice and generosity can suggest. When the Master is compelled, so to speak, to rebuke His Church, He proceeds as though He would gladly turn. The rebuke comes with a hesitation which did not mark the eulogy. He resorts to a negative form of statement--“Thou hast left thy first love.” Look at the declension spoken of.

1. This declension is described as having begun in the heart. Christ does not charge the saints at Ephesus with having changed their doctrinal views; but, placing His finger on the heart, says, “There is a change here.” You know the enthusiasm of “first love.” If any work is to be done in the Church--if any difficulties are to be surmounted--if any icebergs are to be dissolved--if any cape, where savage seas revel in ungovernable madness, is to be rounded, send out men and women in whose hearts this “ first love” burns and sings, and their brows will be girt with garlands of conquest. Our business, then, is to watch our heart-fires. When the temperature of our love lowers, there is cause for terror. It is instructive to mark the many and insidious influences by which the gush and swell of affection are modified. Take the case of one who has been distinguished for much service in the cause of God, and see how the fires pale. He becomes prosperous in business. His oblations on the altar of Mammon are costlier than ever. He toils in the service of self until his energies are nearly exhausted, and then his class in the school is neglected; the grass grows on his tract district; his nature has become so perverted that he almost longs for an occasion of offence, that he may retire from the duties of the religious life. Could you have heard him in the hour of his new-born joy, when he first placed his foot in God’s kingdom, you would not have thought that he ever could have been reduced to so low a moral temperature. What holy vows escaped him! How rich he was in promise! But look at him now; turn the leaves over, and with eager eyes search for fruit, and say, Is the promise of spring redeemed in autumn? Innumerable influences are continually in operation, which would cool the ardour of our first enthusiasm for Christ. Satan plies us with his treacherous arts; the world allures us with its transitory charms; our inborn depravity reveals itself in ever-varying manifestations; pride and selfishness, ambition and luxury, appeal to us in many voices, and beckon us with a thousand hands.

2. This declension may be accompanied by an inveterate hatred of theological heresy--“But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.” The head may be right while the heart is going in a wrong direction. I am indeed anxious that we should maintain a Scriptural theology, that we should “hold fast the form of sound words”; at the same time we must remember that a technical theology will never save a soul; and that a mere verbal creed will never protect and increase our love for the Lord Jesus Christ.

3. This declension evoked the most solemn warnings and exhortations.

(1) The Church in its collective capacity may incur the Divine displeasure. There may be good individuals in the fellowship, yet the community as a whole may be under the frown of Him who “walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.”

(2) The Church in its collective capacity must betake itself to repentance. This is evident when we remember that there is certain work properly denominated Church work. Take, for example, either home or foreign evangelisation. It is not my work solely as an individual to “go up and possess the land” of heathenism: but it is our work as a Church to carry the light of heaven into “the dark places of the earth.” It can only be done by individuals, in so far as they are atoms in a fabric--parts of a whole. If, therefore, we have neglected to enter the door of opportunity as a Church, the cry of the angry Saviour is, “Repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly.”

(3) Jesus will unchurch every organisation that is unfaithful to His name; lie threatens to “remove thy candlestick out of his place.” Such language may well make us pause. Organisation is not spiritual brotherhood. Tell me not of gorgeous temples, of skilful arrangements, of complete machinery; I tell you that you may have all these in an unparalleled degree, and yet “Ichabod” may be written on your temple doors! What is your spiritual life? Is your ecclesiastical mechanism the expression of your love?

The Head of the Church has the richest blessings in reserve for all who overcome their spiritual enemies. “Overcometh”--the word tells of battle and victory. There is intimation here of an enemy. There is a hell in this word, and in it there is a devil. That your spiritual life is a fight you need not be reminded: every day you are in the battle-field; you live by strife. “Eat”--the word tells of appetite. Desire is in this word, and desire satisfied. Our desire for more of God shall increase as the ages of our immortality expire, and yet increasing desire is but another way of saying increasing satisfaction. “The tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” It is but little we can say concerning such a tree: no worm is gnawing at its root, no serpent coils around its stem, no sere leaf trembles upon it as the prophet a coming winter; its every leaf is jewelled with purer dew than ever sparkled on the eyelids of the morning. A tree! ‘Tis but another word for beauty, for beauty walks forth in ever-varying manifestations. A tree! ‘Tis but another name for progress, for the circling sap bears through every fibre life and fruitfulness. A tree! Shall we assemble around that central tree? We cannot do so until we have assembled around the Cross. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The words of Christ to the congregation at Ephesus

Those which concern himself.

1. His relation to the Church.

2. His knowledge of the Church. He knows not merely overt acts, but inner motives.

Those which concern the congregation.

1. He credits them with the good they possess.

(1) Their repugnance to wrong.

(2) Their patience in toil.

(3) Their insight into character.

(4) Their hostility to error.

2. He reproves them for the declension they manifest.

3. He urges them to reform.

Those which concern the divine spirit.

1. The Divine Spirit makes communication to all the Churches.

2. Proper attention to these communications requires a certain ear.

Those which concern moral conquerors.

1. Life is a battle.

2. Life is a battle that may be won

3. The winning of the battle is glorious. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Peculiarities of this Ephesian letter

Opposition to error.

1. The origin of religious error is often involved in great obscurity.

2. The manifestation of religious error is in deeds as well as doctrines. There are those, alas l who are orthodox in doctrine, but corrupt in character. Why is this?

(1) Because the sound doctrine remains in the head, and never enters the heart, and the heart is the spring of action.

(2) Because sometimes the tempting spirit suddenly excites impulses which for a time bury the beliefs.

3. The defence of religious error is generally by an appeal to Divine authority. The men who set themselves up as “apostles” are more likely to be apostates.

4. The dissemination of religious error is often very rapid.

(1) Because human nature in its depraved state has a greater affinity for it than for truth.

(2) Because religious errorists are generally zealous propagandists.

5. The very existence of religious error should be hated by Christians. Nothing is more damning to the intellect, heart, soul.

Patient endurance. It needed patience--

1. Because it had to disseminate truth. The stupidity, prejudices, and indifferentism of men call for this.

2. Because it has to encounter opposition.

3. Because patience is necessary to wait. The results of Christian labour are not reached at once, and are seldom so manifest as to compensate the labour expended.

The decay of love.

1. “Remember.” Review the past, and call to mind the sweet, delicate, blooming affection of thy first love, with all the fresh joys and hopes it awakened.

2. “Repent.” This does not mean crying, weeping, confessing, and throwing yourself into ecstasies, but a change in the spirit and purpose of life.

3. “Reproduce”--“do thy first work.” Go over thy past life, reproduce the old feeling, and re-attempt old effort.

4. “Tremble.” Let declension go on, and ruin is inevitable. (Caleb Morris.)

Phases of Church life; the Church declining in moral enthusiasm

That the Church which is declining in moral enthusiasm may be characterised by many commendable excellences.

1. This Church was active in work. Ministerial and Church work ought to be labour--so earnest in its spirit and determined in its effort that it shall not be mere occupation, but a moral anxiety.

2. This Church was patient in suffering. The Church, in our own time, has great need of this virtue, to prayerfully await the culmination of all its purposes, when its victory shall be complete and its enthronement final. We have far too many impatient men in the Christian community who cannot bear reproach or impediment.

3. This Church was keen and true in moral sensibility. The world delights in calling the Church intolerant, how can it be otherwise of evil? It cannot smile upon moral wrong.

4. It was judicious in the selection of its officials. Who these false apostles were we cannot determine; suffice it to say that their credentials were examined and found defective. Such deceivers have existed in all ages of the Church, and have become the authors of innumerable heresies. Christians should always test the conduct and doctrine of those whose pretences are great, and who seek to obtain authority amongst them; as men will even lie in reference to the most sacred things of life, and as zeal is not the only qualification for moral service.

5. It was inspired by the name of Christ. His name is influential with the pious soul, because it is the source of all its good and hope.

That the Church which is declining in moral enthusiasm is in a most serious condition, and invites the Divine rebuke.

1. In what may the first love, or moral enthusiasm of the Church, be said to consist? It is, indeed, sad when the Church is beautiful in the face but cold at the heart.

2. What is it for a Church to decline in first love or moral enthusiasm?

3. What is it that occasions a decline in first love or moral enthusiasm?

4. What is it that Christ has against the Church which declines in first love or moral enthusiasm? He regards such a Church as neglectful of great privileges; as guilty of sad ingratitude; as inexcusable in its conduct; and earnestly calls upon it to repent and do its first works.

That the Church declining, in moral enthusiasm must earnestly seek the renewal of its fervour.

1. A Church in such a condition must have a vivid remembrance of its past glory.

2. A Church in such a condition must have deep contrition of soul.

3. A Church in such a condition must repeat the loving activities of its new and early life.

That the Church neglecting to regain the moral enthusiasm of its early life will meet with terrible retribution.

1. The retribution of such a Church will consist in the solemn visitation of Christ. It means affliction--it may be judgment.

2. The retribution of such a Church will consist in woful obliteration.

That the Church declining in moral enthusiasm should give timely heed to the threatened retributions of God. Lessons:

1. That the Church is surrounded by many hostile influences.

2. That the Church should, above all things, seek to retain its moral enthusiasm.

3. That the discipline of heaven toward the Church is for its moral welfare, but, if not attended to, will issue in great dejection. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

These things saith He who holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.

Christ’s care in glory for His Church’s good on earth

I. Why is the Church called a candlestick?

1. A. candlestick hath no light in it of itself, but light must be put into it: and therefore in the case of the candlestick under the law, to which this here is an allusion, the priests were to light the candles.

2. The use of a candlestick is for no other end than to hold up and hold out the light, and to this very end the Lord hath instituted Churches.

3. A candlestick is a thing movable, and with the removing of the candlestick you carry away the light; the Lord removes the candlestick from place to place; though the land remain, the Church is gone, that is a dangerous judgment: not only an immediate removing of the ordinances, but of the Church, for which all ordinances were appointed; the kingdom of God shall be taken from them.

4. It is an allusion unto the candlestick under the law in the tabernacle, in Exodus 25:31, which was a type of the Church of God.

Why is the Church called a golden candlestick?

1. Because gold is the purest metal, and the Lord will have His Church such; they shall differ as much from other men as gold doth from the common clay in the streets.

2. Because gold of all metals is the most precious, and of the highest esteem; there is as much difference between the Church of God and other men as there is between gold and dirt in the street; as between diamonds and pebbles in the Lord’s esteem.

How is Christ said to walk in the midst of the golden candlestick? It denotes a promise of especial presence and fellowship; this is the promise that the Lord made unto the Jews (Leviticus 26:12).

1. There is a gracious presence of Christ with His Church in all Church administrations.

2. There is the great glory of God to be seen in heaven; and you shall find that there is a great resemblance between His presence in His Church and in glory (Hebrews 12:22-23).

(1) Christ in heaven is present in majesty and glory; it is called the throne of His glory, and such is His presence in His Church too, and therefore observe it, He is said to sit upon a high throne in the midst of His Churches (Revelation 4:8).

(2) In heaven the Lord is present as revealing His mind and will unto His people; there we shall know as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12), and so He is present in the midst of His people (Deuteronomy 23:3).

(3) In heaven there shall be a glorious and full communication of all grace; as your communion shall then be perfect with Him, so shall the communication of all His grace be to you.

(4) In heaven the soul is wholly as it were resolved into God, that is, God wholly takes up the whole soul.

(5) In heaven there is the presence of His saints and angels. Application:

1. How should this command reverence in every soul of you when you come to have to do with any Church administrations!

2. Is there such a gracious presence of Christ in Gospel administrations, labour to see it there, labour to have your souls affected with the spiritual presence or absence of Christ there.

3. Remember Christ is present, but He is present in holiness.

4. Take notice He is present in jealousy.

(1) If you come at an adventure with God in Church administrations, the greatest temporal judgments shall be inflicted upon yon (Ezekiel 10:2).

(2) If the Lord spare you in temporal judgments, He will pour out spiritual judgments. (Wm. Strong.)

The seven stars and the seven candlesticks

The Churches and their servants. I see in the relations between these men and the little communities to which they belonged, an example of what should be found existing between all congregations of faithful men and the officers whom they have chosen, be the form of their polity what it may.

1. The messengers are rulers. They are described in a double manner--by a name which expresses subordination, and by a figure which expresses authority. The higher are exalted that they may serve the lower. Dignity and authority mean liberty for more and more self-forgetting work. Power binds its possessor to toil. Wisdom is stored in one, that from him it may flow to the foolish; strength is given that by its holder feeble hands may be stayed. Noblesse oblige. The King Himself has obeyed the law. We are redeemed because He came to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many. He is among us “as He that serveth.” God Himself has obeyed the law. He is above all that He may bless all. He, the highest, stoops the most deeply. His dominion is built on love, and stands in giving. And that law which makes the throne of God the refuge of all the weak, and the treasury of all the poor, is given for our guidance in our humble measure. But to be servant of all does not mean to do the bidding of all. The service which imitates Christ is helpfulness, not subjection. Neither the Church is to lord it over the messenger nor the messenger over the Church. All alike are by love to serve one another; counting every possession, material, intellectual, and spiritual, as given for the general good. The one guiding principle is, “He that is chiefest among you, let him be your servant,” and the other, which guards this from misconstruction and abuse from either side, “One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.”

2. The messengers and the Churches have at bottom the same work to do. Stars shine, so do lamps. Light comes from both, in different fashion indeed, and of a different quality, but still both are lights. The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man for the same purpose,--to do good with. And we have all one office and function to be discharged by each in his own fashion--namely, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus.

3. The Churches and their messengers are alike in their religious condition and character. The successive letters treat his strength or weakness, his fervour or coldness, his sin or victory over evil, as being theirs. He represents them completely. Is it not true that the religious condition of a Church, and that of its leaders, teachers, pastors, ever tend to be the same, as that of the level of water in two connected vessels? Thank God for the many instances in which one glowing soul, all aflame with love of God, has sufficed to kindle a whole heap of dead matter, and send it leaping skyward in ruddy brightness! Alas! for the many instances in which the wet green wood has been too strong for the little spark, and has not only obstinately resisted, but has ignominiously quenched its ineffectual fire!

The Churches and their work.

1. The Church is to be light.

(1) “Light is light, which circulates.” The substance which is lit cannot but shins; and if we have any real possession of the truth, we cannot but impart it; and if we have any real illumination from the Lord, who is the light, we cannot but give it forth.

(2) Then think again how silent and gentle, though so mighty, is the action of the light. So should we live and work, clothing all our power in tenderness, doing our work in quietness, disturbing nothing but the darkness, and with silent increase of beneficent power filling and flooding the dark earth with healing beams.

(3) Then think again that heaven’s light itself invisible, and revealing all things, reveals not itself. The source you can see, but not the beams. So we are to shine, not showing ourselves but our master.

2. The Church’s light is derived light. Two things are needed for the burning of a lamp: that it should be lit, and that it should be fed. In both respects the light with which we shine is derived. We are not suns, we are moons; reflected, not self-originated, is all our radiance. That is true in all senses of the figure: it is truest in the highest. In ourselves we are darkness, and only as we hold fellowship with Christ do we become capable of giving forth any rays of light. He is the source, we are but reservoirs. He the fountain, we only cisterns. He must walk amidst the candlesticks, or they will never shine. Their lamps had gone out, and their end was darkness. Oh! let us beware lest by any sloth and sin we choke the golden pipes through which there steals into our tiny lamps the soft flow of that Divine oil which alone can keep up the flame.

3. The Church’s light is blended or clustered light. Union of heart, union of effort is commended to us by this symbol of our text. The great law is, work together if you would work with strength. To separate ourselves from our brethren is to lose power. Why, half dead brands heaped close will kindle one another, and flame will sparkle beneath the film of white ashes on their edges. Fling them apart and they go out. Rake them together and they glow.

The Churches and their Lord. He it is who holds the stars in His right hand, and walks among the candlesticks. The symbols ere but the pictorial equivalent of His own parting promise, “Lo, I am with you always”! That presence is a plain literal fact, however feebly we lay hold of it. It is not to be watered down into a strong expression for the abiding influence of Christ’s teaching or example, nor even to mean the constant benefits which flow to us from His work, nor the presence of His loving thoughts with us. The presence of Christ with His Church is analogous to the Divine presence in the material universe. As in it, the presence of God is the condition of all life; and if He were not here, there were no beings and no “here”: so in the Church, Christ’s presence constitutes and sustains it, and without Him it would cease. So St. Augustine says, “Where Christ, there the Church.” For what purpose is He there with His Churches? The text assures us that it is to hold up and to bless. His unwearied hand sustains, His unceasing activity moves among them. But beyond these purposes, or rather included in them, the vision of which the text is the interpretation brings into great prominence the thought that He is with us to observe, to judge, and, if need be, to punish. Thank God for the chastising presence of Christ. He loves us too well not to smite us when we need it. He will not be so cruelly kind, so foolishly fond, as in any wise to suffer sin upon us. Better the eye of fire than the averted face. He loves us still, and has not cast us away from His presence. Nor let us forget how much of hope and encouragement lies in the examples, which these seven Churches afford, of His long-suffering patience. That presence was granted to them all, the best and the worst,--the decaying love of Ephesus, the licentious heresies of Pergamos and Thyatira, the all but total deadness of Sardis, and the self-satisfied indifference of Laodicea, concerning which even He could say nothing that was good. All had Him with them as really as the faithful Smyrna and the steadfast Philadelphia. We have no right to say with how much of theoretical error and practical sin the lingering presence of that patient pitying Lord may consist. For others our duty is the widest charity,--for ourselves the most careful watchfulness. For these seven Churches teach us another lesson--the possibility of quenched lamps and ruined shrines. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)


care over Churches and ministers:--

What is meant by our Lord’s holding the stars, His ministers, in His hand.

1. It implies that it is He who appoints them to their office.

2. It is He who imparts the qualifications which are necessary for the effectual discharge of their office.

3. They are, with all their concerns, at His absolute disposal.

The import of His walking in the midst of the golden candlesticks.

1. It imports an accurate impression of the state, both as a society and as individuals.

2. It implies that His business, so to speak, lies in the management of His Churches. It is His “building,” His “husbandry.”

3. It denotes the complacency He takes in them. (R. Hall, M. A.)

Watchman, what of the night?

The mention made of “stars” and “candlesticks” (or rather “lamp-stands”) shows that it is night. It is the world’s night; it is the Church’s night. Day needs no lamps nor stars; night does both, for the outside earth and the inside chamber.

Who is He that thus walketh? It is as Priest and King that He appears in the midst of His Churches: as such they are to acknowledge Him. In the Epistle to the Hebrews we see Him specially as Priest; in the Book of Revelation as King.

Where does He walk? Among the seven golden candlesticks.

What does this walking mean?

1. He is near. A present Christ is specially taught us here--Jesus in the midst of His saints and His Churches. He is near to all of them, even the backsliding; as near to Laodicea and Sardis as to Ephesus and Philadelphia.

2. He watches over them. “I know thy works.” His eye, the eye of the watchful Priest and King, the eye of the watchful Saviour and Shepherd, is upon them. He inspects them, oversees them, cares for them, values them, delights in them, takes all interest in their welfare.

3. He supplies their need. All His fulness is at hand for each of them.

4. He mourns over their sins. His holy eye detects the sin; His loving heart mourns over it. There is no anger, no fury here. All is gentleness and grace.

5. He cheers them with the promise of victory and recompense. As if He would say to each, “Fight on, for I am with you; faint not, for I, with all My fulness, am near. Shine on, for I delight in your brightness, and will enable you to shine. And My reward is with Me: to him that overcometh!” (H. Bonar, D. D.)

I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience.--

False apostles

1. Christ would have us always walking in the sense of His Omniscience.

2. Christ is an unprejudged witness, as Its taketh notice of their good as well as their evil.

3. Such as Christ never called, may take on them highest titles in the Church, as it seemeth these had who called themselves apostles.

4. That diligence in duty, and difficulty in the performance of it, often go together: to do and to bear are often joined.

5. Patience in suffering, and impatience against corruptions and corrupt men, can well stand together.

6. There is no name, privilege, or title that should scare people, especially the ministers of God, from searching or trying corrupt men, that bring corrupt doctrine, though they should have the pretext of apostles, and had never so great gifts.

7. If folks will put to proof many things and persons that have fair names, they will be found very unlike the names they take.

8. The censuring of corrupt unsent ministers is a most difficult task, what from their nature, and sometimes from their parts; what from the addictedness of many unto them, yet it is a special duty: yet that it is acceptable before Jesus Christ may appear from these considerations.

(1) That the Scripture holdeth forth no kind of persons as more abominable in themselves and more hateful to Him (Isaiah 56:10).

(2) There is no kind of persons that prove more dishonourable to our Lord Jesus and to His gospel than such: these make the law to be despised.

(3) The scandalous unfaithfulness of ministers brings a special blot upon all religion, as if it were but mere hypocrisy.

(4) There is no such contempt done to our Lord Jesus, as for one to pretend to have commission from Him; and yet to be running unsent by Him; or, having gotten commission, to miscarry by unfaithfulness in it.

(5) As there is a suitableness in the censuring of such Church-officers to Christ’s mind, so there doth appear in the same a tenderness of and zeal unto His glory. Hence it is, that His most zealous servants, as Elias, Paul, did set themselves most against that generation.

(6) There is no sort of men more hurtful to the Church.

(7) Not only is there an obstruction to godliness by such, but they have a main influence upon the advancing of profanity. (James Durham.)

What Christ likes to see in a Church

1. Jesus likes to see a Church at work. He does not like to see a Church standing still, doing nothing to lengthen its cords and strengthen its stakes. It is our duty to ask ourselves, Does our work as a Church come up to the standard of what a Christian Church ought to be?

2. He likes also to see His people patient. He likes to see them labouring and not fainting, not becoming weary in well-doing. He likes to see them continuing instant in prayer, depending on Him to send the answer in His own good time.

3. Then, also, He likes to see within His Church a zeal for truth. “Thou canst not bear them which are evil.” The dread of being thought narrow-minded, or of giving offence to the godless, makes the Church become far too tolerant of sin. No society of men is considered strict or narrow-minded if it has certain rules of membership, and if it expels those who violate its rules. Why should the Christian Church be afraid or ashamed to maintain a discipline which even the societies of the world will carry out? Let us try to imitate the Church of Ephesus in this--and let us not be afraid of the charge of intolerance in doing so--that we cannot bear them who are evil. (C. H. Irwin, M. A.)

Religion active

The new creature is not a marble statue or a transparent piece of crystal, which has purity but not life. It is a living spirit, and therefore active. (S. Charnock.)

Unwearied patience

Patience must not be an inch shorter than affliction. If the bridge reach but half way over the brook, we shall have but an ill-favoured passage. (T. Adams.)

And thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars.--

The false apostle tried and discovered

What a dangerous and mischievous people false teachers and false apostles are. They do deceive men in the matter of their souls; they are called deceivers and seducers (John 2:7; 2 Timothy 3:13), and deceitful workers (2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Corinthians 11:6). Now a man loves not to be deceived in anything, no, not in a small matter. If I had spent or given away much more, it would never have grieved me, you say; but I cannot endure to be cheated and deceived. And if a man cannot endure to be deceived in lesser things, what an evil thing is it then to be deceived in the matters of his soul? Such are the things that these false teachers do deceive men in; yea, they will and do subvert men’s faith, and spoil them of the very fundamentals of their religion. Though they be a dangerous and mischievous people, yet it is an hard thing to discover them, for they walk in the dark, and transform themselves into ministers of light; they creep, and they privily creep into houses, saith the apostle; and they will come to you, saith our Saviour, in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). That is, look whatever garb the true prophet was or is found in, that will they be found in also. Did the true apostles preach Christ? so did the false apostles also (Philippians 1:15-16). Did the true apostles and prophets declare the deep things of God? (1 Corinthians 2:10), so did the false prophets also (chap. 2:24). Look what that is which the true preachers do, that will false teachers in appearance do. The same crow of iron, the same scripture that is in the hand of a friend, is made use of by a heretic, one that is a thief, who comes to make a prey of your faith. All teachers are to be tried three ways. By their call; their doctrine; their fruits or lives. And thus you see how those that are false apostles, or false teachers, may be tried and discovered. And is it a commendable thing in the eyes of Christ to make discovery of them? That it is the special work of Church officers to try and discover false teachers; for this epistle is directed to the angel of the Church of Ephesus. But though it is their work especially, yet it is a work incumbent upon all the saints and Churches. Therefore, yet more practically, go to God for wisdom and the spirit of discerning; it is Christ alone that doth see men’s fruit under all their leaves: beg this discerning spirit, therefore, at the hands of Christ. Take heed that you do not lie in any sin or error, for all sin and error blinds. How shall you see the error of another, if you be blinded with your own sin and error? Be sure that you keep to the Scripture, and take heed that you do not judge of doctrines by impressions. Take heed that you have not too great a charity towards, and opinion of, those that are suspected to be false teachers. And if you would be sure to make up a right judgment in this great discovery, then stay your time, and wait long before you close with any of their opinions; for saith Christ, Ye shall know them by their fruit. Now the fruit of a tree is not presently seen; an ill tree in winter may seem to be as good as the best: stay therefore your time. (W. Bridge, M. A.)

Hatred of evil essential to love

This hate (of evil) in as essential to true love as shade to light, ever deepening with the intensity of it. (Isaac Williams.)

For My name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.--

Labouring and not fainting

The positive and negative good here combined.

1. “Thou hast laboured.” To labour means hard work, vigorous action. Men may work, but yet not labour, and I fear there are many who claim to be working men who do not often trouble themselves with anything approaching to “labour.” There are also working Christians who do not approach to labouring; yet a lifetime of such work as theirs would not exhaust a butterfly. Now, when a man works for Christ he should work with all his might. If any master is to be served badly, let it not be our Master who is in heaven: we owe Him too much to wish to be eyeservants towards Him. If anywhere a dilatory servant may be excused, certainly it cannot be in the service of Him who redeemed us with His most precious blood. If I may use the figure, we ought to employ every particle of our steam power: we should drive the engine at high pressure; we have no force that can be allowed to escape in waste. But labour implies not merely strong effort, but a continuance of it, for a man might take up a workman’s tool and for a few minutes make a mighty show of effort, and yet be no labourer, unless he kept on working until his task was done. He merely plays at labour, that is all. So have we known too many whose service for God has been occasional; fits and starts of effort they have, but they are soon over; their spasmodic zeal is to-day so hot as to be well nigh fanatical, and to-morrow it will be succeeded by an indifference far more astounding. If the Church is said to labour, it means that she puts forth all her strength as a regular thing. Like the sun and moon she continues in her orbit of duty. She keeps at her life-work; with all her might she continues in well-doing, and is not weary. There is the positive good.

2. The negative crowns the positive--“And hast not fainted.” Now, there are different degrees of fainting. Some may be said to faint comparatively when they flag in exertion. They drop from running to walking, from diligence to indolence. They did run well; what did hinder them? Many continue to do as much as ever they did outwardly, yet their heart is not in it, and so they faint. Some flag by growing weak in all they do. They do put forth such force as they have, but they are essentially feeble. The power of God has departed from them, and, though they may not know it, Ichabod is written upon their works. Too many go further than this; they renounce all or a large part of the Christian work they were accustomed to do. Content with the efforts of other days they surrender to the sluggard’s vice. And some go even further than that, for after retiring from labour themselves, they cease to have any care about the Lord’s work.

Excuses for fainting.

1. There are some who faint in the work of God because the work itself has proved very tedious to them. When they first undertook it and the novelty was upon it they did not tire, but now the freshness is gone, and they have come into the real wear and tear of it, they do not enjoy it quite so much as they thought they should. They hoped for an office in which the chief labour should be to gather lilies, or lie upon beds of roses. The service of the Crucified is far less romantic, and far more laborious. There is no royal road to eminence in anything, it is always uphill work and rough climbing; and certainly there is no such road in the service of God.

2. Other excuses, however, will be sure to come, and amongst them this, that we have been disappointed up till now in the success of what we have attempted. We have sown, but the most of the seed has fallen upon the wayside, or upon the rocks. We must not give up the war because we have not conquered yet, but fight on till we can seize the victory. Let us not be weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.

3. Another set of excuses I must mention. They are little, pettish, pitiful, proud excuses, but they are very common. Here is one. “I shall leave the work, for I am sure I am not appreciated as I ought to be.” Do you mean to give way to such pettiness and silliness? If so, I have done with you, for you will never do any good in this world. The slave of such a mean feeling is incapable of being free. “Ah,” cries another, “my complaint is more reasonable, for I am discouraged because no one aids me in my work.” Oh, my brother, does your life after all depend upon the breath of other men’s nostrils? Has it come to this, that you cannot live upon the approbation of your master unless you gain also the smile of your fellow-servants?

The real causes of fainting.

1. The first is an actual decline in spiritual strength. It is not merely that you do not do so much, it is that you are not so much; you have not the amount of life in you which you once had. And is not this a sad thing? Oh, to be dead to these spiritual realities in any degree is a dreadful death, and to be callous to holy things is a terrible hardness. May God keep us from spiritual insensibility, and may we be sensitive to the faintest motion of the Holy Spirit.

2. It is to be feared, also, that those who faint have lost their reliance upon Divine power, at least in a degree. Confidence in God makes us strong, but by turning away from our great unseen Helper, we straightway begin to faint.

3. Moreover, I am afraid that we forget that the Lord requires of us an unselfish dedication to His service, and that we do not serve Him at all unless His glory is our chief object. You must feel that you would have the Lord use you just as in His infinite wisdom He sees fit to do. You should be a piece of iron on the Almighty’s anvil: to be welded into a sceptre, if He chooses with you to break the potter’s vessels; to be beaten into a ploughshare and plunged into the earth, if by you He means to turn up the furrows of the fallow ground; or fashioned into a spear-point, if by you He intends to smite His enemies.

I have a little medical business to do in closing. Four sorts of persons are very common among us. To each of these four I desire to administer a little medicine.

1. There are some who neither labour nor faint.

2. The next sort of persons to be dealt with are those who faint but do not labour.

3. Our third patient is one who did labour once, but has fainted.

4. But there are some who labour and are ready to faint. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


To lift up some heavy weight from the ground argues some strength; but to carry it for an hour, or all day, is a more perfect thing. (Thomas Manton.)

Thou hast left thy first love.--

Inward deterioration

Does it not often happen in the Christian life that the soul retains earnestness, patience, truth, endurance, a hatred of evil, long after it has left its first love; that its religious service is continued, apparently unaltered, while the spirit that prompted that service is changed for the worse? But though love is altered, there may yet remain the sense of duty. None without can detect the difference. The soul itself is perhaps hardly conscious of it. Or if conscious of anything, it is that prayer is not so easy and pleasant as it used to be, that the thoughts are more wandering, that temptation is more attractive, and thanksgiving is irksome, unreal, and unblessed. The whole tendency of our being is to deteriorate. Most of us can remember a time at which we think we were more fit to die than we are now. Our self-examination has told us that we are not now what we were; and perhaps self-examination was hardly necessary for the acquirement of this knowledge. It is forced upon us continually throughout the day as we feel and act so coldly towards good, so readily and kindly towards evil. Now if it be really that we have fallen back only one step in faith and love, if we have left our first love, what must we do? We must struggle against the languor which threatens to benumb us. We must struggle with all our might, not giving up any one duty merely because it is irksome. This may not indeed be restoration, but it will at least maintain that communication with the Source of all strength by which restoration may be looked for. When we have realised what we once were, and reflect that by God’s grace we might have lived the rest of our lives according to that beginning, and neared the goal in the heavenward race, then we may be able to measure our decline, and, weeping over what we have lost, pray for grace to regain it. “And repent.” Yes I this must be, We will not trust in that which remains, in our hatred of the worst sins, in sympathy with Him, not in our works, or our labour, or our patience, our distrust of false teachers, our perseverance under trial. These are nothing without love. We will confess that other lords besides Him have had dominion over us. We will confess that we have left our first love, and implore Him to recover us, and turn our hearts. (W. Mitchell, M. A.)

The enthusiasm of the first love

What is it? Most of us can probably remember an early enthusiastic preference or affection for some one. It was like nothing else in our lives. It stirred in us as the spring stirs in the earth when the green shoots appear. New capacities of working, enjoying, suffering, began to reveal themselves. Now, the same thing happens when Christ and His love are first revealed to us, and we rise up and meet them. It is an absolutely new experience. We feel an intense interest and a strong drawing of the heart. Spiritual things which seemed far off have suddenly come near. Life has become of meaning and value, not so much for what it brings to us, as for what it is; because it has become so full of love and of God. And we feel within us the working of a new passion--a yearning to do good, to sacrifice ourselves in some way, to make some return to that wonderful Divine love which seems to surround us like an atmosphere and lift us like an inspiration. It is so easy to do right; it seems shameful, almost impossible, to do wrong; we could not be so disloyal as to think of any forbidden thing, and a keen remorse seizes us if we appear to swerve by a hairbreadth from the straight path. In this first love, where vividly experienced, there are these three elements--an awakening, an enthusiasm, and a jealous preference. We realise God; we realise life; we realise the claims of men, the beauty of goodness, the baseness of sin, the triumphant power of righteousness, and the wide, deep meaning of eternity. But this love is not mere contemplation. We are eager to act in the light of this revelation, because all these beliefs are full of conviction and impulse, and we must do something for the Christ who has made all things new--who has given us a possession in all things, and, above all, a possession in Himself. That is the enthusiasm of the first love. But love is not love unless it is jealous--jealous not in a mean, but in a high sense--jealous of any interference with its course. Nothing can be tolerated which takes the edge off the soul, that keen edge which ensures success in work and conflict and prayer.

Losing it, or rather leaving it. Sometimes a man looks back on the first love he felt to Christ with philosophic indifference: “Yes, I was rather interested in these things at one time--enthusiastic even after a fashion. Very curious, you know, how the mind works; I can scarcely credit it now. Oh, one of those passing phases of feeling, of course.” Sometimes a man looks back to it scoffingly or contemptuously: “I believe I did once rather make a fool of myself about religion. I have got more important things now to attend to.” Others assume a tone of self-congratulation. They narrate how they threw themselves into this piece of work or that; how there was nothing they would not do. A man plumes himself on the fact that, though, of course, he would never think of making sacrifices and exerting himself in Christ’s cause now, that at one time he was just as active and self-denying as any ardent young Christian. Others I have known look back despairingly: “Yes, I once had these experiences you speak of--hopes bright beyond expression, and feelings fresh as the dawn. But the light is gone; the tide has ebbed, and won’t flow again. I would that these feelings could come back, but we don’t look for miracles nowadays.” That is what some people say despairingly. Now the ways by which men generally forfeit their best spiritual possession are mainly these: Failure to feed it. All love is hungry, and the finer and purer a love is, the more it demands suitable nutriment. If your first love shows signs of failing, ask yourself, “Am I not starving it?” You are starving it if you are not seeking Christ as you sought Him at first, asking Him to reveal Himself to you; setting apart “still hours”; letting your heart go out to the only object to whom it is quite worth while for our hearts to cling. Or again, perhaps you are failing to develop your first love-to give it exercise. What sacrifices is your love making? what is it bringing to the Divine loved one’s feet? Once more, you may be forfeiting your first love through failure to guard it. There is a keen spiritual edge with which all the best part of spiritual work is done. We must whet the edge; but we must also sheathe it. In contact with certain things it gets blunt.

Keeping first love. There are two theories about love that are thoroughly false--the theory of disenchantment and the theory of emotional exhaustion. Sometimes we are told that all love in its very nature is illusion; that our enthusiasm for a person or cause is very largely a creation of our own fond imagination; and that the cold touch of reality slowly dispels all that sort of thing. This is the philosophy of the cynics, and cynics are a set of fools, blinded by the conceit of their own superior wisdom. Of course there is excuse for disenchantment when the object of our affection changes, or when we have been deceived in it. But that cannot happen here; Christ does not change. And then as to what may be called emotional exhaustion. Love necessarily exhausting itself! what ignorant nonsense! Why, love grows by what it feeds on. And to love Christ is to keep near the fresh fount of all love. It is not an emptying of our full hearts; it is a filling of our empty hearts. Of course the Divine love--the first love--is not stereotyped. It does not retain always the same complexion or the same expressions, but it retains, or ought to retain, the same intensity. All love passes through phases, and develops not by standing still, but by moving forward. It is not meant that our first love to Christ should retain its juvenile form. But it is meant that it should retain its ardour, its capacity of sacrifice, and its jealous watchfulness. (John F. Ewing, M. A.)

The Peculiarities of the Christian’s first love

The prominent characteristic of every soul truly converted to Christianity is love to the Saviour. The faith which is the gift of God, and which is wrought in Christians by the Holy Spirit, always works by love. Love is, therefore, set down as the first and principal fruit of the Spirit. Now, there is something peculiar in the exercise of this first love of the young convert.

1. Its exercise is fervent and tender, not founded, indeed, on such accurate views of the character of Christ as are afterwards acquired; and commonly less pure from mere animal excitement, than that of the mature Christian, but accompanied with more joy and exultation.

2. Another thing which stamps a peculiarity on the first love of the Christian is the novelty of the objects and scenes which are now presented to his enlightened mind. All his lifetime he has been in darkness respecting the true nature of spiritual things. But now the eyes of his understanding being opened, and the true light shining into them, everything appears new and attractive; and sometimes a Divine glory is exhibited to the contemplation of the enlightened mind.

3. Again, God deals with His children in the infancy of their spiritual life as mothers with their children while they are young. They furnish them with the sweetest nutriment, cherish them in their bosoms, carry them in their arms, and rock them in the cradle. But when they have been weaned, and have grown strong, they are turned out to shift for themselves. Thus, our heavenly Father, who exercises a warmer and tenderer affection for His children than the kindest mothers, is pleased to deal very tenderly with young converts; and often pours streams of Divine comfort into their susceptible hearts. They are for a season led in smooth and pleasant paths. In their prayers and other religious exercises they enjoy liberty of access to their heavenly Father. These are indeed halcyon days, and will be often afterwards remembered with a mournful pleasure, when the scene is greatly changed; and especially when inbred corruption grows strong. The early days of the true Christian may also be well illustrated by the feelings of the newly enlisted soldier. He rejoices in the “pomp and circumstance” of the military life; is animated by the sound of martial music, and by the sight of splendid banners, and the gorgeous costume of his officers. But how different are the condition and feelings of the same person when he receives marching orders; and especially when he is led into battle. (A. Alexander, D. D.)

Spiritual declension reproved, admonished, and threatened

A reproof. Who does not lament to see an exquisite piece of workmanship marred by some one defect; for in this case, the neighbourhood and prominency of the excellency renders the fault more obvious, and more offensive. Everything in the Divine life is prone to degenerate. Where is the denomination or church that has long remained in its glory? But the reproof is addressed to individuals. There were those who had fallen, and the charge is-dereliction of their first love. Now in Christianity provision is made not only for a believer’s perseverance in the ways of God, but for his growth and progress. “Add to your faith, virtue,” etc. And as the Saviour demands this, so you must acknowledge that He deserves it; and why, do you love Him the less and serve Him less. “What,” says he, “have you been mistaken in my character, have I injured you; have I not been increasing my claims upon you; and while I am doing more for you, are you doing less for me?”

An admonition.

1. “Remember.” All religion commences in serious thought. There is nothing more useful than self-recollection; there is no means better for reviving the soul than a review of former experiences.

2. “Repent.” This is enjoined in Scripture not only on sinners, but also on saints; and they will be the subjects of it as long as they remain in the world, as long as the performance of duty has deficiency in it.

3. Renewed obedience, “do the first works”; begin again, be as simple, as earnest, as patient, as circumspect, as at first. How mortifying would be such a requisition to an Israelite in the wilderness, to be turned back to walk over all his journey again;--how mortifying to an apprentice, after being for years engaged in business, expecting to get forward, to be put back to his first work, and to have the first rough implements put into his hands again;--how mortifying to a scholar when hoping to be dismissed from his studies, and to return home, to be led back from class to class, and have the first elementary book again put into his hands.

A threatening.

1. How are we to understand this threatening? how is it to be accomplished? It is accomplished when men tall into such languor and insensibility in Divine things as to be incapable of edification. If a man cannot use aliment, or it he cannot digest it, it is the same as if it was taken away, for he will surely die; and such is the condition of thousands who, from week to week, hear the gospel; it makes no impression, they hear it, but they are sermon proof, heaven proof, and hell proof. The gospel is to them of no avail whatever.

2. The dreadfulness of this state. If God were from tiffs hour to declare that the sun should never rise again on this country, or that no rain should ever again drop upon the land, it would be an infinitely less judgment, than if he were to withdraw the gospel and the means of grace; for this judgment does not so much regard the body as the soul; or time so much as eternity. Some judgments are corrective, but this is penal. Some judgments are meant to convert, but this to destroy.

3. The certainty of this threatening. We are slow to believe. How superficial our belief is in this respect appears from the unsteadiness of our Christian practice. Surely if we believed we should be established; but when you hear such language as this, you are prone to suppose it never can be realised. It; will be necessary for me, therefore, to inform you, that he who has denounced this threatening is faithful. “God is not a man that He should lie, or the Son of Man that He should repent.” (W. Jay, M. A.)

On leaving our first love

A charge preferred. “Thou hast left thy first love.”

1. What is meant by the first love? Ask the young convert, who, after having received the sentence of death in his conscience; after trembling under the curse of a broken law; after struggling in the bondage of darkness, doubt, and fear, has come forth under the leading of the Spirit, into the light, liberty, and joy of the gospel!

2. What then is it to leave this happy state? It is to let the heart grow cold and indifferent to Him whom we can never love enough! It is to lose the sweet enjoyment of privileges, and consider duty wearisome. It is to have services formal and ordinances barren. It is to have idols in the temple of the soul, so that the whole is not, as it ought to be, consecrated to the Lord.

We have an admonition given.

1. This admonition relates to the past. The Lord here calls the Ephesian Church to bring their past experience and character to mind. They had fallen. They had been once much higher in Christian standing than now. Their minds had been more elevated in holy and heavenly conceptions, and their practice more dignified and honourable. Then, leaving our first love to Christ is falling. Now, this is a state just the reverse of what a Christian’s state ought to be.

2. This admonition relates to the present. “Repent!” seeing by a review of the past, to what danger the soul has been exposed; what guilt has been contracted; what honour and enjoyments have been lost; what injury has been done to religion; what injustice to Christ, the work of reformation must immediately begin.

3. This admonition relates to the future. “And do thy first works.” All will be vain and unreal without this. There must be fruits meet for repentance, to prove it genuine.

A threatening denounced. Lessons:

1. It is possible for there to be many things commendable in Christians, and yet something to call for a solemn threatening, like that in our text.

2. It is evident that leaving our first love is very criminal in the sight of Christ.

3. The removal of the gospel from souls in any way is a most awful punishment. (Essex Remembrancer.)

Love’s complaining

Christ perceives.

1. He does not so perceive the faults as to be forgetful of that which He can admire and accept. He has a keen eye for all that is good. When He searches our hearts He never passes by the faintest longing, or desire, or faith, or love, of any of His people. He says, “I know thy works.”

2. But this is our point, that while Jesus can see all that is good, yet in very faithfulness He sees all that is evil. His love is not blind. It is more necessary for us that we should make a discovery of our faults than of our virtues.

3. This evil was a very serious one; it was love declining. It is the most serious ill of all; for the Church is the bride of Christ, and for a bride to fail in love is to fail in all things.

4. It was Jesus Himself who found it out. How good of Him to care one jot about our love! This is no complaint of an enemy, but of a wounded friend.

5. Jesus found it out with great pain.

6. The Saviour, having thus seen this with pain, now points it out.

7. The Saviour pointed out the failure of love; and when He pointed it out He called it by a lamentable name. “Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen.”

8. The Master evidently counts this decline of love to be a personal wrong done to Himself. “I have somewhat against thee.” It is an offence against the very heart of Christ.

What the Saviour prescribes.

1. The first word is Remember. “Thou hast left thy first love.” Remember, then, what thy first love was, and compare thy present condition with it. At first nothing diverted thee from thy Lord. He was thy life, thy love, thy joy. Remember from whence thou art fallen. Remember the vows, the tears, the communings, the happy raptures of those days; remember and compare with them thy present state. Remember and consider, that when thou wast in thy first love, that love was none too warm. Even then, when thou didst live to Him, and for Him, and with Him, thou wast none too holy, none too consecrated, none too zealous. Remember the past with sad forebodings of the future. He who has sunk so far may fall much farther.

2. The next word of the prescription is “Repent.” Repent as thou didst at first. Repent of the wrong thou hast done thy Lord.

3. But then he says in effect, Return. The third word is this--“Repent, and do the first works.” There must be in every declining Christian a practical repentance. Do not be satisfied with regrets and resolves.

He persuades.

1. With a warning. “I will come unto thee,” etc. Our Lord means, first., I will take away the comfort of the Word. But the candlestick also symbolises usefulness: it is that by which a Church shines. The use of a Church is to preserve the truth, wherewith to illuminate the neighbourhood, to illuminate the world. God can soon cut short our usefulness, and He will do so if we cut short our love.

2. With a promise. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” Observe, those who lose their first love fall, but those who abide in love are made to stand. In contrast to the fall which took place in the paradise of God, we have man eating of the tree of life and so living for ever. If we, through grace, overcome the common tendency to decline in love, then shall we be confirmed in the favour of the Lord. Note again, those who lose their first love wander far; they depart from God. “But,” saith the Lord, “if you keep your first love you shall not wander, but you shall come into closer fellowship. I will bring you nearer to the centre. I will bring you to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” The inner ring is for those who grow in love; the centre of all joy is only to be reached by much love. Then notice the mystical blessing which lies here, waiting your meditation. Do you know how we fell? The woman took of the fruit of the forbidden tree, and gave to Adam, and Adam ate and fell. The reverse is the case in the promise before us: the Second Adam takes of the Divine fruit from the tree of promise, and hands it to His spouse; she eats and lives for ever. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Forsaking the first love

The greatness of the sin of coldness in Christians, and how offensive it is to God.

1. You have no right to feel this indifference towards God or man.

2. This coldness is not a mere defect, it bespeaks some degree of the positive action of the most polluting passions.

3. It is a dreadful abuse of God. It is passing by His infinite glories after other objects.

4. It involves all the guilt of base ingratitude.

5. There is in this thing the violation of an oath, or a solemn breach of covenant.

What is to be alone, and how we are to escape from. This fearful condition. (E. Griffin, D. D.)


Its nature.

1. Some backslide in heart. This consists in the withdrawment of the affections from God.

2. Some backslide in life. When a person becomes careless of God in his heart, he will probably soon manifest the defect in his conduct.

3. There are others who backslide in doctrinal sentiment.

Its symptoms.

1. Love of the world.

2. A cold formal spirit in the exercises of devotion.

3. When the heart has lost all delight in spiritual things, we have another evidence of being in a backsliding state.

4. Association with men of the world is another evidence of a backsliding state. By this we mean, all that association which is uncalled for by the business or relationships of life.

5. A state of backsliding is testified by negligence in attending the means of grace.

Its evils.

1. It dishonours God.

2. It deprives us of happiness. The pleasures of religion are suspended where there is inconsistency of conduct, and where the spirit of the world reigns.

3. It gives our enemies advantage over us.

4. It prepares us for terrible darkness in a dying hour.

Its cure. We must take heed of that disposition which would lead us to suppose that the case is incurable. This is the greatest obstacle in the way of recovery. We must remember that against such reasoning the testimony of the word of God is directed. The facts of Scripture prove it. David, Peter, and others fell far from God; and they verified the word, “the’ a just man fall seven times, he shall rise again.”

1. Come back with fervent prayer.

2. If we would have this state rectified, we must begin where we began at first: we must repent and do our first works. And in doing this, let us be sure that we rest on the right foundation.

3. We must call to mind former days, and compare them with the present. (Essex Remembrancer.)

Declension from first love

What was our first love? Oh, let us go back--it is not many years with some of us. Then if you are Christians, those days were so happy that your memory will never forget them, and therefore you can easily return to that first bright spot in your history. Oh, what love was that which I had to my Saviour the first time He forgave my sins. I could realise then the language of Rutherford, when he said, being full of love to Christ, once upon a time, in the dungeon of Aberdeen--“O my Lord, if there were a broad hell betwixt me and Thee, if I could not get at Thee except by wading through it, I would not think twice, but I would plunge through it all, if I might embrace Thee and call Thee mine.” Now it is that first love that you and I must confess, I am afraid, we have in a measure lost. Let us just see whether we have it. When we first loved the Saviour how earnest we were; there was not a single thing in the Bible that we did not think most precious; there was not one command of His that we did not think to be like fine gold and choice silver. That first love does not last half so long as we could wish. Some of you stand convicted even here; you have not that burning love, that ridiculous love as the worldling would call it, which is, after all, the love to be most desired. No, you have lost your first love in that respect. Again, how obedient you used to be. If you saw a commandment, that was enough for you--you did it. But now you see a commandment, and you see profit on the other side; and how often do you dally with the temptation, instead of yielding an unsullied obedience to Christ! Again, how happy you used to be in the ways of God. There was a time when every bitter thing was sweet; whenever you heard the Word, it was all precious to you. Now you can grumble at the minister. Alas! the minister has many faults, but the question is, whether there has not been a greater change in you than there has been in him. Again, when we were in our first love, what would we do for Christ? Now, how little will we do.

Where did you and I lose our first love, if we have lost it? Have you not lost your first love in the world, some of you? Is it not marvellous, that when you grew richer and had more business, you began to have less grace? It is a very serious thing to grow rich. Dost thou not think, again, that thou hast lost thy first love by neglecting communion with Christ? Has there not been, sometimes, this temptation to do a great deal for Christ, but not to live a great deal with Christ? Perhaps, too, you attend the means so often, that you have no time in secret to improve what you gain in the means. Mrs. Bury once said, that if “all the twelve apostles were preaching in a certain town, and we could have the privilege of hearing them preach, yet if they kept us out of our closets, and led us to neglect prayer, better for us never to have heard their names, than to have gone to listen to them.” We shall never love Christ much except we live near to Him.

Seek to get your first love restored. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Loss of the first love

I have often been constrained to notice that when Christians, from time to time, throw themselves into actual labour for the Lord, there is a great danger of a reaction coming, a consciousness of weariness: they begin to grow “weary of well doing”; perhaps there are a few disappointments; the work is not going on so flourishingly. When the wind and tide are in our favour, there are some of us who can work very hard; we can pull a very lusty oar as long as the boat. It seems to make progress, but when we find the tide dead against us, and it seems as though we were making no headway, we begin to feel faint, and weary, and ask somebody to take the oar. That is a dangerous snare. Can we honestly and truthfully say that we are workers, that we are labourers, and that we are patient labourers, so plodding that we have “not fainted” in spite of all the difficulties with which we have been surrounded? Is there anything more that could be said in their favour? Yes, something still. These Ephesian converts had held to God’s truth in a day when there was a good deal of theological discussion, and also theological misconception and error. They were “orthodox to the backbone”; our Lord had no fault with them in this respect; they “hated the deeds of the Nicolaitanes,” they would have nothing to do with them. How happy were these men! the Word of God, how they loved to pore over it! what treasures they found in it! It was a joy to them to open the sacred page. “But,” you say, “I suppose Christian experience will not always be identical”: and, certainly, it is not. Well then, when we have first passed out of darkness into light, it is natural that there should be a good deal of emotion in our experience, and much of this may reasonably be expected to pass away as we become more established Christians. Now there may be a great deal of truth in all this, and yet such pleading may indicate but too surely “the loss of the first love.” Our experience is subject to change. But how is it to change? I wonder whether St. Paul loved his Master less, or more, when he said towards the end of his life, “I have finished my course, I have kept the faith, henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness,” than he did at the moment when he first committed his soul into His hands. Do you suppose it is a sign of ripening experience to substitute work, energy, and a thousand other things for “love.” Oh, let us not delude ourselves. There is one thing more important than “work,” yes, more important than “labour,” even more important than orthodoxy, and that one thing is Jesus Christ Himself. If we have got Him we shall have all the rest, and if we have got the rest and have not got Him, we have nothing. “I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” How do people “lose their first love”? We think, as we first experience it, that it is so delightful in itself, there is so much of heaven upon earth in such experience, that we must be worse than mad ever to forfeit it. Now do not suppose that anybody throws it away wilfully. “It is little by little that the first love” is lost.

1. Many people “lose” it by earthly business. They lead bustling lives; they have so many cares pressing upon them, so much to think about, so much to be undertaken. It is even so with some of our Christian workers. Or, perhaps, in our worldly employment, we are bent upon certain objects which are out of harmony with the will of Christ. There is some dark form of worldly care, or it may be of religious activity--something or other has crept in between us and God, and the whole heaven is darkened, the light is eclipsed, and the blessedness is gone.

2. Or, again, there are many Christians who “lose their first love” by forming another love. Thou art forfeiting that blessed inner life of love, which can only be realised by those who understand the full force of the first great commandment, “Thou shalt have none other gods but Me.”

3. Yet again, how many of us “ lose our first love” by little acts of thoughtlessness. Love is a very jealous thing. (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)

Spiritual declension

Its symptoms: The first test, to which we would bring the professing Christian who is anxious to determine whether love is growing cold in himself, is that furnished by secret prayer and the study of God’s “Word. Prayer has been not inaptly called the breathing of the soul; and you may be sure, that where this grows shorter and more difficult, there can be no healthful play in the organs of life. And as one great symptom of spiritual decline may be derived from the more private means of grace, so may another from the more public. The Christian in whom vital religion is in a healthy condition, attaches great worth to the public ordinances; neglect of these is, however, a sign of declining love. But now take another symptom--equally decisive, though perhaps more easily overlooked. There is no feeling stronger in the Christian than that of desire to promote God’s glory in the salvation of his fellow-men. But suppose him to become comparatively indifferent to the diffusion of the gospel--so that it is not with the heart, though it may be with the purse and the hand, that he helps forward the cause of the Redeemer; ah! who will say that the love is not losing its fervour? who will deny the spiritual decline? But again; there is a broad separating line between the men of the world and the men of religion. And the healthful Christian is quite aware of this. He guards accordingly with godly jealousy against any such conformity as would do violence to his profession. But there may be--and there often is--a great change in these respects. The man of religion comes to view the world with less fear, and less repugnance. Alas! this is one of the strongest of symptoms that the fervour is departing from the love. And not unlike the symptom of making light of the difference between religion and the world is that of making light of the difference between various creeds. The distinguishing doctrines of the gospel are prized by the ardent Christian as treasures without which he were unutterably poor. Hence he looks with abhorrence, for example, on Socinianism; it would strip Christ of His Divinity, and this he feels would be the stripping himself of immortality. But this repugnance to error may not continue. And wheresoever there is this lowered sense of the indispensableness of fundamental truths, and of an increasing disposition to think gently of wrong systems of religion, you may be sure that the love is fast losing its fervour. You may be certain, further, that where there is no increase in religion there must be some radical deficiency; nay, where there is no increase there must be a decrease. Judge then yourselves, ye who would know whether ye are the subjects of spiritual declension. Is it a greater privilege to you to pray, and a less labour to be obedient? Have you a firmer command over your passions? Is the will more in harmony with the Divine? Is the conscience more sensitive, and is the judgment prompter in deciding: for what is right against what is agreeable?

Its dangers. For some of you might be disposed to say--“Well, what if our love be less ardent than it was? it does not follow that we must be in great peril; the love may be warm enough for salvation, and yet not as warm as it was at first.” But if you remember how our Lord reasoned in regard of “the salt which had lost its saltness”--and this is but another figure to express the same thing as the love losing its fervour. The grand difficulty is not that of producing love at first, but of restoring its heat when it has been suffered to grow cold. Even amongst ourselves, in reference to human attachment, the difficulty of rousing a decayed affection is almost proverbial. The party who has loved and then ceased to love, is of all others the least likely to love again. The ashes of the decayed sentiment seem to smother the fresh sparks. And the difficulty which is experienced in the revival of human affection might be looked for, when it is the love of God and of Christ which has grown languid. You are to observe, that a great deal must have been done for the man in whom the love of God has once been kindled. The Spirit of God must have striven with this man--so as to arouse in him the dormant immortality, and brought him to experience the power of the gospel. But it is not the course of this celestial Agent, to persist in working where there is no earnestness in holding fast what He has already granted. If you expose yourselves to the damps of the world or unnecessarily permit the icy winds of temptation to beat upon you, He will work on you with less and less energy or communicate less and less of animating grace. And we cannot but suppose, that this Spirit is more displeased when neglected by one on whom He has effectually wrought, than when resisted by another with whom He has striven in vain. But the Spirit may be recalled; and then the smothered flame may be rekindled. We will not deny it; God forbid that we should. We are not required to make the case out hopeless, but only full of difficulty. Take away the life from religion, leave us nothing but formality, and there is not upon the face of the earth an individual, so useless to others and to himself, as the one in whom the love remains, but remains in its ashes and not in its fires. It is the insidiousness of the disease which makes it so difficult to cope with. The resemblance is continually fixed on us, between what our medical men call consumption, and what our theological call spiritual decline. You know very well, that the presence of consumption is often scarcely suspected till the patient is indeed past recovery. There is perhaps no disease which less tells its victim what its fatal errand is. You know how beautifully brilliant it often makes the eye and the cheek. Alas! this is but emblematic of what it does to the heart, flushing it with hope and suffusing it with life, when the winding sheet is woven and the shadow is falling. But this disease, so insidious, so flattering, so fatal, is the exact picture of spiritual decline. Ministers and kinsmen may perceive no difference in the man; equally regular in the public duties of religion, equally large in his charities, equally honourable in his dealings, equally pure in his morals. The fatal symptoms may be all internal; and because they are not such as to draw observation, there may be no warning given by others; and the sick man, not examining himself, and not finding that his religious friends suppose him to be on the decline, will be all the more likely to feel persuaded of his safety, and to learn his disease, alas! only from his death. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The true problem of Christian experience

The relation of the first love, or the beginning of the Christian discipleship, to the subsequent life.--What we call conversion is not a change distinctly traceable in the experience of all disciples, though it is and must be a realised fact in all. There are many that grew up out of their infancy, or childhood, in the grace of Christ, and remember no time when they began to love Him. Even such, however, will commonly remember a time when their love to God and Divine things became a fact so fresh, so newly conscious, as to raise a doubt whether it was not then for the first time kindled. In other cases there is no doubt of a beginning--a real, conscious, definitely-remembered beginning--a new turning to God, a fresh-born Christian love. It is now realised, as far as it can be--the very citizenship of the soul is changed; it has gone over into a new world, and is entered there into new relations. But it has not made acquaintance there; it scarcely knows how it came in, or how to stay, and the whole problem of the life-struggle is to become established in what has before been initiated. What was initiated as feeling must be matured by holy application, till it becomes one of the soul’s own habits. A mere glance at the new-born state of love discovers how incomplete and unreliable it is. Regarded in the mere form of feeling, it is all beauty and life. A halo of innocence rests upon it, and it seems a fresh made creature, reeking in the dews of its first morning. But how strange a creature is it to itself--waking to the discovery of its existence, bewildered by the mystery of existence. An angel, as it were, in feeling, it is yet a child in self-understanding. The sacred and pure feeling you may plainly see is environed by all manner of defects, weaknesses, and half-con-quered mischiefs, just ready to roll back upon it and stifle its life. It certainly would not be strange if the disciple, beset by so many defects, and so little ripe in his experience, should seem for a while to lose ground, even while strenuously careful to maintain his fidelity. And then Christ will have somewhat against him. He will not judge him harshly, and charge it against him as a crime that has no mitigations; it will only be a fatal impeachment of his discipleship, when he finally surrenders the struggle, and relapses into a prayerless and worldly life.

The subsequent life, as related to the beginning, or first love. The paradise of first love is a germ, we may conceive, in the soul’s feeling of the paradise to be fulfilled in its wisdom. And when the heavenly in feeling becomes the heavenly in choice, thought, judgment, and habit, so that the whole nature consents and rests in it as a known state, then it is fulfilled or completed. At first the disciple knows, we shall see, very little of himself, and still less how to carry himself so as to meet the new state of Divine consciousness into which he is born. At first nothing co-operates in settled harmony with his new life, but if he is faithful, he will learn how to make everything in him work with it, and assist the edifying of his soul in love. A very great point to be gained, by the struggle of experience, is to learn when, one has a right to the state of confidence and rest. At first the disciple measures himself wholly by his feeling. If feeling changes, as it will and must at times, then he condemns himself, and condemning himself perhaps without reason, he breaks his confidence towards God and stifles his peace. Then he is ready to die to get back his confidence, but not knowing how he lost it, he knows not where to find it. But finally, after battering down his own confidence and stifling his love in this manner by self-discouragement for many years, he is corrected by God’s Spirit and led into a discovery of himself and the world that is more just, ceases to condemn himself in that which he alloweth, so to allow himself in anything which he condemneth; and now behold what a morning it is for his love! His perturbed, anxious state is gone. God’s smile is always upon him: first love returns, henceforth to abide and never depart. Everywhere it goes with him, into all the callings of industry and business, into social pleasures and recreations, bathing his soul as a divine element. By a similar process he learns how to modulate and operate his will. On one side his soul was in the Divine love. On the other he had his will. But, how to work his will so as perfectly to suit his love, he at first did not know. He accordingly took his love into the care of his will; for assuredly he must do all that is possible to keep it alive. He thus deranged all right order and health within by his violent superintendence, battered down the joy he wished to keep, and could not understand what he should do more; for, as yet, all he had done seemed to be killing his love. He had not learned that love flows down only from God, who is its object, and cannot be manufactured within ourselves. But he discovers finally that it was first kindled by losing, for the time, his will. Understanding now that he is to lose his will in God’s will, and abandon himself wholly to God, to rest in Him and receive of His fulness; finding, too, that will is only a form of self-seeking, he makes a total loss of will, self, and all his sufficiency; whereupon the first love floods his nature again, and bathes him like a sea without a shore. And yet it will not be strange if he finds, within a year, that, as he once overacted his will in self-conduct, so now he is underacting it in quietism; that his love grows thin for want of energy, and, returning to his will again, he takes it up in God; dares to have plans and ends, and to be a person; wrestles with God and prevails with Him; and so becomes, at last, a prince, acknowledged and crowned before him. At first he had a very perplexing war with his motives. He feared that his motive was selfish, and then he feared that his fear was selfish. He dug at himself so intently, to detect his selfishness, as to create the selfishness he feared. The complications of his heart were infinite, and he became confused in his attempt to untwist them. He blamed His love to God because he loved Him for His goodness, and then tried to love Him more without any thought of His goodness. He was so curious, in fact, to know his motives that he knew nothing of them; and finally stifled his love in the effort to understand it, and act the critic over it. At length, after months or years, it may be, of desolation, he discovers, as he had never done before, that he was a child in his first love, and had a child’s simplicity. And now he has learned simplicity by his trial! Falling now into that first simplicity, there to abide, because he knows it, the first love blooms again--blooms as a flower, let us hope, that is never to wither. His motive is pure because it is simple; and his eye, being single toward God, his whole body is full of light. You perceive, in this review, how everything in the subsequent life of the disciple is designed of God to fulfil the first love. A great part of the struggle which we call experience, appears to operate exactly the other way; to confuse and stifle the first fire of the Spirit. Still the process of God is contrived to bring us round, at last, to the simple state which we embraced, in feeling, and help us to embrace it in wisdom. Then the first love fills the whole nature, and the divine beauty of the child is perfected in the divine beauty of a vigorous and victorious manhood. The beginning is the beginning of the end--the end the child and fruit of the beginning. Where the transition to this state of Divine consciousness, from a merely self-conscious life under sin, is inartificially made, and distorted by no mixtures of tumult from the subject’s own eagerness, it is in the birth, a kind of celestial state, like that of the glorified--clear, clean, peaceful and full, wanting nothing but what, for the time, it does not know it wants--the settled confidence, the practically-instructed wisdom, the established and tried character of the glori-fled. And yet all the better is it, imparadised in this glory, this first love, this regenerative life, this inward lifting of the soul’s order, that a prize so transcendent is still, in a sense, to be won or fought out and gained as a victory. For life has now a meaning, and its work is great--as great, in fact in the humblest walks and affairs as in the highest. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)

The decline of spiritual love

Its indications. How can we discern the subtle beginnings of this decline? At the outset, let us clear away an error which has been the source of perplexity and even needless despondency to some earnest men. The loss of the first freshness of spiritual emotion is not necessarily a decline of spiritual love. The early excitement is not strength--true strength comes when it passes into action. The early splendour of the morning is beautiful, but who would wish that it should never melt into the stronger glory of the noonday? The first emotions of childhood are beautiful, but who would not exchange them in all their freshness for the calm, sober power of manhood? So in Christian life: the young excitement must mature into more quiet but abiding power. We must, then, look deeper than the changefulness of emotion to detect the signs of declining love; we must enter into the very nature of love itself, and we shall find them there.

1. Love is profound self-sacrifice. In love the soul comes out of the sphere of merely personal life: the thought of the “I,” and the “mine,” are no longer supreme; they almost vanish in living for another. A man’s self becomes associated with another self, and the two souls become one in devotion. Therefore, when our life finds another centre, and the world, or its friendships, or its ambitions, create our ruling emotions; when to be alone with God is no longer blessedness; when prayer loses its inspiration; when we begin to trust in our own power--to rest in self, and be coldly contented there; when the feeling rises, “I am rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing,” knowing not all the time that “we are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind,” then the light of love is fading, and earthborn clouds are quenching its brightness.

2. Love proves its reality by the resemblance it creates to the beloved. No man can long conceal the fire that burns on his heart’s altar, so no true Christian can conceal his love to Christ. If we do not grow more true, more holy, more submissive, our resemblance to Christ is growing fainter and our love is declining.

3. Love proves its reality by its courage m confronting opposition. Therefore, when men can turn us aside, when expediency can mould us, when we stand like cowards looking back lingeringly on the path we have forsaken, afraid to return, afraid to go on; when, in the midst of a sinful generation, we are ashamed of Christ, and deny Him by selling our Christian principle for gain, truth for peace, devotion for safety, Christian profession for the friendship of the world--then is the fire of our love going down, the altar becoming cold, the temple growing dark, and “we have left our first love.”

Its dangers.

1. It renders the Christian a hindrance to the power of truth. A man professing to live for Christ, professing to be inspired by an infinite love, professing to believe in a glorious immortality, and yet cold and indifferent! The world reads that, and what wonder that it mocks at faith? Like an iceberg, such a man stands between the world and the sun of God’s gospel, chilling its warmth, and killing its power.

2. The inner coldness of heart is the beginning of denial in the life. The man whose love is declining is going on a path that will soon lead him into open denial, for when spiritual love lights not his altar, there are dark powers ever slumbering near that will kindle another fire there. The man’s besetting sin is never far away, and it will soon crowd his circumstances with temptation. And this danger is all the greater because it is so silent.

Its remedy.

1. “Remember.” It is sad work to look back over the past, and trace the path of failure and decline. The decay of all beautiful life is sad, but sad it is indeed when a man can trace it in his own soul. It is well to be thus sorrowful; it is a blessed thing if the tears do fall!

2. But rest not in mournful retrospect. “Repent, and do the first works.” Go back to the Cross of Christ, and gaze there till your coldness is melted and your love springs afresh. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)

Spiritual declensions

Inquire into the nature of this first love, and the manner in which it generally operates in the commencement of the Christian life.

1. The early love of true believers has in it something which distinguishes it from that which follows afterwards, not indeed in its nature, but in its adjuncts and mode of operation. An increasing knowledge of Christ will increase and confirm our attachment to Him, and we shall be rooted and grounded in love, in proportion as we cultivate communion with Him. Yet at first there is often a greater warmth of affection, a more operative energy, a greater disposition to make sacrifices and to encounter difficulties, than is displayed in the subsequent parts of life.

2. This “first love” is probably so-called because it is generally the first principle that discovers itself in Christian converts; and before the other parts of their character have had time to develop themselves, we often witness some of the effects of this holy principle.

(1) In producing an aversion of the mind from what is displeasing to the object beloved.

(2) The Christian’s first love produces ardent desires and a vigorous pursuit after spiritual and heavenly objects.

(3) It appears in a fixed and decided resolution to cleave to the Lord, and to follow Him.

(4) Early love discovers itself in an affectionate regard for those who have been the honoured instruments of bringing us to the knowledge of Christ.

(5) Another effect of this principle is, a readiness to submit it to the institutions of the gospel, and openly to profess the name of Jesus, notwithstanding the difficulties which may lie in the way.

Point out some of the symptoms of spiritual declension, or when it may be said that we have “left our first love.”

1. Losing that relish and savour of heavenly things which was formerly experienced, is an unhappy sign of religious declension.

2. A vain and trifling conversation is another of these symptoms of decay. When persons are disposed to talk about anything rather than the concerns of their souls, and the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, though there may be nothing directly sinful in the subject of discourse, yet it betrays a great want of spirituality, and a declension in the power of religion.

3. Religious declensions generally begin at the closet; and where the important duties of meditation, self-examination, and private prayer, are either totally neglected or performed in a superficial manner, we need no stronger proof of having indeed forsaken our first love.

4. The prevalency of a selfish spirit is another fearful sign. Instead of adding grace to grace, and building up themselves on their most holy faith, they are adding house to house, and land to land, while the edification of the Church and the general interests of religion are only regarded as secondary objects. What can more fearfully portend the ruin of a people who are in such a case!

5. A disposition to contend for doctrinal religion, rather than for that which is practical and experimental, is a sign of spiritual decay. Where persons are over-zealous about minor points, and are little concerned to promote the religion of the heart and a universal obedience to the will of God, they resemble the Pharisees, who were punctilious enough in tithing mint and anise and cummin, while they neglected the weightier matters of the law, judgment, faith, and the love of God.

6. When the care of our families is neglected, and the observance of the Sabbath is not strictly inculcated, this also is a sign of spiritual declension. (B. Beddome, M. A.)

First love left

These are words of complaint; some would call it fault-finding; and, as such, might have repelled us from the complainer. But such is the nature and tone of the complaint, that we feel attracted, not repelled; humbled, but not hurt. The reproof is keen, yet it casts no shadow on the grace of the reprover. But the preface to the complaint claims special notice; for that complaint does not stand alone. And what strikes us most in it, is the minute enumeration of services performed by this Church, ere He speak the words of censure. “I know thy works,” etc. He was no austere man, no hard master, no censorious fault-finder, but loving and generous, possessed to the uttermost of that “charity which suffereth long,” etc. But it is not the mere recital of His servant’s good deeds that strikes us; it is His manifest appreciation of these, His delight in them, His grateful sense of the service rendered. Faults there would be in these labours, but He sees none; imperfections in the endurances of trial, but He makes mention of none. He speaks as one full of gratitude for favours conferred. He names His servant’s name, and is not ashamed to confess him. What a dignity, what a value, is thus affixed to every act, even of the simplest, commonest service for Him! But our text goes beyond all this. It teaches us His desire for our love, and His disappointment at losing it, or any part of it. It is not so much our labour as our love that He asks. The star had grown dim, the flower faded, warm love had cooled, and the Ephesus of the second generation was not the Ephesus of the first. Over this lost first love He mourns, as the gem which of all others He prized the most. It is not of slothful service, or waning zeal, or failing liberality, or slackening warfare that He complains. This is the substance of the complaint, the burden of the disappointment--the loss of half a heart! What true hearted man but must be humbled and melted down beneath it! Why should He love so much and I so little? But let us follow out a little further this Divine rebuke, this touching remonstrance. “Thou hast left thy first love!” And for what reason? Did the coldness begin on My side or on thine? Have I become less lovable, less loving? “Thou hast left thy first love!” And what or whom hast thou substituted? Hast thy power of loving ceased, and thy heart contracted? Or is there some second love that has usurped the place of the first? Is it the world that has thus come in? Is it pleasure? Is it literature or science? Is it business? Is it politics? Is it the creature in some of its various forms, and with the seductive glitter of its many-sided beauty? “Thou hast left thy first love!” And what hast thou gained by the leaving? What has this strange turn of capricious affection done for you? Has it made you a happier, holier, truer, stronger, more noble, more earnest man? Ah! ask your hearts what has been your gain? A few indulgences which once you did not dare to venture on. A few gay smiles of worldly companionship. A few pleasures, for which, till your first love had gone, you had no relish. These are some of the things for which thou hast exchanged thy first love! For these thou hast sold thy Lord! Oh, heartless Ephesian, retrace thy steps at once! Thou didst run well: who hath hindered thee? Begin once more at the beginning. Go back to the fountain head of love--I mean thy Lord’s love to thee, the sinner--there refill thy empty vessel. Go back to the blessed Sun, whose light is still as free and brilliant as ever; there rekindle thy dying torch; there warm thy cold heart, and learn to love again as thou didst love at first. (H. Bonar, D. D.)

The fatal flaw in the Ephesian Churches

It is curious that a Church so marked for its patience and purity should be threatened with the loss of its very existence unless it repented. Had sensuality, or violence, or fraud entered the Church? Far from it, the Church is praised for its exclusion of the evil lives. A high morality marked its members, and in maintaining their high standard they had exercised their patient endurance of the world’s scorn and opposition. Such a character had seemed to us almost perfect. But God looks upon the heart. He saw beneath this admirable exterior a weakening in the springs of spiritual life. The pride of consistency had continued to keep the Church to its old forms of excellence, but the Divine love in the heart, which had been before its only source of conduct, had lost its strength. The outward life was beautiful, but the heart was decaying. Zeal, orthodoxy, carefulness, boldness, heroism, were all there, but the love of God, out of which all these virtues should spring, in order to be Godlike and permanent, was failing, and on this failing oar Lord rests His eyes as He warns this prosperous Church of its danger. It had begun to lose its spiritual stimulus: to substitute self for Christ, pride for humility; to change principle into routine, and to make the religious life a perfunctory life. It was only a beginning, but God saw the danger of a beginning, and warned the Church accordingly. The beginning was the great departure; all else would be but natural sequence. Hence the beginning was to be stoutly rebuked. The beginning was the sin, the root-sin, to be repented of. We do not know to what influences the Ephesian Church yielded when it began to lose its love principle as the source of its life. It may have been a strong satisfaction with its own attainments. It scarcely could have been a conformity to the world. That side of error it seems to have avoided, and to have exposed itself on the other to spiritual pride. But these extremes meet. They are equally hostile to a genuine godly life. The worldly conformity is the more odious because it is so open and conspicuous, but the spiritual pride is as really a departure from God and a surrender to Satan. It is often hard to detect, because it goes clothed with the garb of a strict outward life, and this fact makes it peculiarly dangerous as a guide to undeveloped Christians. Still, there are marks by which even this type of Christian can be discovered, and its harmfulness avoided. These spiritually proud Christians are apt to show great severity toward all who differ with them. They are right in all their views and practices, and all others are wrong. Dogmatic and dictatorial, they will brook no opposition, and in disposition and in action (as far as they can be) they are as relentless as the Dominican inquisitors. Their faith is presumption, their zeal fanaticism. And all this comes about because their love is giving place to pride. You will see these zealots oversetting the Divine order for their favourite hobby. They will dip the shafts of controversy into poison and spend their strength in aiming them at their brethren who cannot pronounce their shibboleth. In all this they are most sincere. Their lives are pure and honest. They have much that commands commendation, and their steadfastness is a glory to the Church. But they have allowed the principle of love to fade in their hearts, and Satan has found an entrance there to vitiate motive and impulse. (H. Crosby.)

Red-hot religion

has its place and value, but white-hot religion, the silent, intense force which acts without sparks or noise, is a diviner thing. Is it thus with our love to God? Has that passion simply changed from red to white? Has sentiment become principle, the ecstasy a habit, the passion a law? If so, the former days were not better than these. (W. L. Watkinson.)

Ashes on a rusty altar

The religious profession of some people is like the ashes on a rusty altar, which show that there once were warmth and light and flame, but which also show that it is long since they worshipped there. (J. Hamilton, D. D.)

Emotion wanted in religion

It is said we want principle in religion, not sentiment. We want both. As well say we do not want sails, only the hull of the vessel. With conscience for the rudder, and truth for the hull, we want emotion--for that is motion, surely. And Christ says: “I know thy works. Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou has left thy first love.”

Decay of love

“As when the root of a tree perisheth,” says Thomas Manton, “the leaves keep green for a while, but within a while they wither and fall off; so love is the root and heart of all other duties, and when that decayeth other things decay with it.”

Neglected love

The hottest heart of love, like heated iron, if left, will get cold of itself. (W. W. Andrew, M. A.)

Zeal for truth must be loving

There is something without which even zeal for truth may be but a scorching and devouring flame; and that is the “first love,” the love ever fresh and tender for Him who first loved us, the love which teaches us to win and not to alienate, to raise and not to crush, those who may only be mistaken in their views, and are not determined enemies of God. (W. Milligan, D. D.)

Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen.--

Now, and then

A celebrated orator once delivered a lecture, the title of which was “Now and Then;” and he proceeded to point out in eloquent language the vast improvements in civilisation and in useful arts which had been effected since his own early days. But a very different Now and Then is suggested by the text.

1. First, consider man as he appears to view when newly created. How great he seems! He was created in the image, after the likeness, of God Himself. This was true of him in respect of his personality. As distinguished from the things and creatures having life, which had been previously created, man was a “person” with powers of will, of origination, of causation, of thought. As a person, he was made capable of holding communion with a personal God. Man was created in the image of God, too, in respect of his dominion. He is the vicegerent of God on earth, ruling a mighty empire; the rest of creation lies at his feet. Everything animate and inanimate was subjected to his sway. And this supremacy of man was a shadow of the sovereignty of God. Again, man was created in the image of God in respect of purity. There was not a thought of his heart which he would have been ashamed for God to know. His will was in entire harmony with the will of God. He rejoiced in fellowship with Him.

2. “Remember from whence thou art fallen.” The fall of man. It is an event which we cannot ponder without being oppressed by a sense of awful mystery. Like all the facts connected with sin, its nature, its punishment, and the cure provided for it in the gospel, the narrative of the Fall leaves on the mind a deep conviction that God regards sin with a hatred which we cannot fully comprehend, and to which revelation itself does not supply the key. Mysterious as this doctrine of original sin is, the whole religion of the Bible assumes the truth of it and is based upon it. The evil extends not only to the actual deeds of men, but to the imaginations, the thoughts, desires, and affections of the heart. Those who have been brought up in a moral and religious atmosphere are happily guarded from the outbreak of sin by their habits and associations and the good opinion of those around them. But this outward appearance does not affect or govern the state of the heart. Even under favourable circumstances the corrupt state of the heart may be recognised. “Remember from whence thou art fallen.”

(1) Let the remembrance of it remind us of the absolute necessity of conversion. Man must be changed in nature and disposition, in mind and heart, in order that he may be restored to the image of God.

(2) Let the remembrance of it deepen our humility. There is nothing which effectually hides pride from man, save the consciousness wrought in him by the Holy Spirit that he is by nature sinful. “Where is boasting then? It is excluded.”

(3) Let the remembrance of it strengthen our hatred of sin. It is the man who comes up to the Temple, crying out of the depths of a contrite heart, “God, be merciful to me a sinner,” whom God sends “down to his house justified.”

(4) Lastly, let the remembrance of it exalt our conceptions of the surpassing love of Christ, and of the mighty work of redemption, which He died to accomplish. He came to restore in man the image and likeness of God. There is no salvation in any other. Think of what man is. There is no tribe, no race, not infected with this taint of sin. The holiest men ever known are those who have most keenly felt, most bitterly lamented, their own sinfulness. There must be a mediator, a sacrifice, an advocate, to make such beings acceptable to God. (F. F. Goe, M. A.)


What then, in the first place, are the great evils which are peculiar to the sin of backsliding from God?

1. In the first place, I say to you that it is awfully aggravated for the reason that it is committed against more light than others have. There are men that sin through ignorance. This cannot, however, be said of the man who has once “tasted that the Lord is gracious: “ he does not sin because he knows no better. But you are to observe that there is a light which he cannot extinguish: and what is that? There is the light which his memory casts upon him.

2. Secondly, backsliding is a sin not only against light, but against the love of God. Backsliding is a sin against pardoning mercy.

3. In the third place, remember that this conduct greatly injures the cause of God. First of all it has a saddening effect on the Church itself. And, secondly, it very often happens that when one backslides from God he takes others with him.

4. This conduct condemns itself, and is a witness against itself. Observe the two states. Once you sought the Lord earnestly, and called on Him in sincerity and in truth. Remember what you were, and look at what you are now. I ask you for a moment, which of these two states is the right one? Would you say, I am right now; or must you not be obliged to say, Oh, no, those were the days in which indeed I was right.

5. Remember that you are bringing, by your conduct, an evil report on good men. How is it that you left the Lord, and left His people? What is the language of this conduct to those that are round about you but this--“I tried religion, and I did not like it?” There are, as I have said, evils in your case. And will you just allow me to remind you that you are in danger. You are in danger of desertion from God. Secondly, I must remind you that you are in danger not only of desertion, but of the terrors which are consequent on the fulfilment of His awful threat. If this be the case, then take heed, brethren, some of you are standing on the brink of a precipice now, into which, if you fall, oh, the terrors of that eternity, the horrors of that state, into which you will plunge yourselves by the carelessness of walking and backsliding from the Lord your God! (P. C. Turner.)

Religious declension

What are the first works of the sincere convert? They were penitence, prayer, and faith.

A state of religious declension, of spiritual decay, will manifest itself either in a partial or total abandonment of these first works.

The only way is to retrace the steps you formerly took, or as it is emphatically described in the text, “to do the first works.” (T. Morell, M. A.)

His lost ideal

The degenerate plant has no consciousness of its own degradation, nor could it, when reduced to the character of a weed or a wild-flower, recognise in the fair and delicate garden-plant the type of its former self. The tamed and domesticated animal, stunted in size, and subjugated in spirit, could not feel any sense of humiliation when confronted with its wild brother of the desert, fierce, strong, and free, as if discerning in that spectacle the noble type from which itself had fallen. But it is different with a conscious moral being. Reduce such an one ever so low, yet you cannot obliterate in his inner nature the consciousness of falling beneath himself; you cannot blot out from his mind the latent reminiscence of a nobler and better self which he might have been, and which to have lost is guilt and wretchedness. (J. Caird.)

I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.--

The coming of Christ a warning against declension

The awfulness of this warning will the more appear, if we consider to what Church it was directed. It was not spoken to the Church of Galatia, which had been so soon shaken from the faith, and entangled in the heresies of Gnostics and judaising teachers: nor to the Church in Corinth, which had been rent by schisms, tempted by rivalry among its gifted members, and profaned by a contemptuous usage of the Holy Sacrament of His Body and Blood. It was spoken to the Church in Ephesus, famous from the beginning for its burning and indignant zeal against the illusions of Satan; in the midst of which they that had used curious arts brought forth their costly books and burnt them before all men; illustrious for the long abode of St. Paul; for his three years of tears and warnings; for his epistle of prayers and commendations; it was to this Church so cherished, illuminated, and blessed that these words were spoken; “I have somewhat against thee: because thou hast left thy first love.” The Ephesian Church in its outset so kindled and ardent, had, by slow and measured decrease, parted with its inward devotion. There are certain inferences which bear pointedly upon our own state and probation to be drawn from this warning, and to these we shall do well to turn.

1. For example, one great practical truth issuing from what has been said is this: that there may be much fair and really commendable religion, where all is not right at heart. Whole branches of the Church, with all their altars standing, and with all their visible appointments of Divine worship abundantly and publicly maintained, may yet be far gone before God. And a Christian, with all his usages of religion still continued, may yet have left his first love. For these outward and passive customs are the last to give way; the inward disease must be far advanced towards its full and fatal ripeness before the outward habits, which cost so little and imply so much, are visibly affected. Cankered trees still put forth their leaves, long after their source of fruitfulness is dry. A sense of duty outlives all fervour of heart. What was once a delight is still felt to be an obligation. There can be no doubt that such is the state of multitudes whom the Church refrains to censure, and the world believes devout.

2. Another truth we may learn is, that when there is anything wrong at heart, all beside, how good soever it may appear and be, is marred. The state of the heart is the very soul of a religious life; and it is on this that the direct eye of God is fixed. Where there is any permitted declension of the heart, there two evils are always present. It cancels and annuls the whole worship and service of outward religion. It opens the beginnings of incalculable departures from God. And that for this reason. All acts of a religious life are thenceforth done with a slack and unmeaning intention. But all the force of obedience is in the motive. It is this that gives emphasis and meaning to fasts, prayers, labours, alms, for the Name of Christ. To feed natural hunger from mere natural benevolence is not ministering to Christ, but obeying a mere animal impulse, good indeed, but stunted, and not necessarily Christian. The same is more manifestly true of the higher acts of religion; for instance, the Holy Communion. What does it become but a dutiful formality, a heartless reverence? And further, as the motives of the heart grow slack, they become divided. It is intensity that unites the will; when it moves slowly and with reluctance it is soon distracted by s multitude of forces. Self-sparing, neighbouring temptations, worldly regards, personal schemes, private attachments, the influence of example, indulgence of particular affections of the mind, soon come in to divide a heart which has ceased to be united in the love of Christ. “Where the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” And this slack and divided state of heart, as it cancels the force of all religion, so it is the beginning of unknown declension. Even though it begin in no more than a colder affection or a relaxed resolution, yet it may end in quenching the Spirit of God. Slight diseases bring on great decays: the least bias in a never-resting wheel tends to the extremest deviations: a selfish heart may end in crucifying Christ afresh unto itself; and a soul without love may sink into the darkness of atheism. There are certain classes of people to whom these truths are especially needful.

1. As first, to those that have been carefully broughti up from childhood in the knowledge and duties of religion. It often happens that those who in childhood have been deeply affected by religion, become in after years cold and relaxed. Little by little a new tone of feeling comes over them, and combines uneasily with old practices; and as the new power strengthens, they must needs give way first in one habit, then another, till the barriers of the whole character are broken through.

2. Another class of persons to whom these warnings are most pointed are those who, after a sinful or careless life, have once been brought to repentance. Afflictions, death of friends, great sicknesses, narrow escapes of life or ruin, worldly reverses, and the like, often bring about great changes of heart. They awaken sharp pangs of remorse, and a sudden sense of danger. This is followed by deep humiliation, and by emotions of sorrow and shame, by earnest resolutions. Perhaps few people have been afflicted without some such emotions as these; and true and heartfelt as they are, they often endure but a little time. They are the sudden burst of a forced shoot, not the steady growth of years. Their very fulness makes them unstable. After recovery or return to the usual ways of life, their first emotions gradually find a level in the ordinary commonplace of former habits. After awhile they countenance doubtful acts, and in the end themselves commit them: and then begins a reaction against the change. Little by little it is rescinded: first one resolution is annulled, and then! another. In the end they return into their former selves with this only difference, that they have once repented, and again turned from their repentance.

3. And once more, these thoughts are full of wholesome admonition to those that habitually communicate. It is the effect of the Holy Communion to confirm the habits of mind with which we approach the altar. If we come to it with a lively repentance, and an awakened conscience, with thankfulness, and love, howsoever faint, be it only true, the spiritual virtues which go forth from that Holy Sacrament will deepen and perfect all these devout affections. Ii we come with unimpressed hearts and a sluggish conscience, with shallow emotions, and thoughts that terminate on the bread, and on the wine, frequent communion will be an occasion of making these dangerous states of heart inveterate. Perhaps you can remember that day when, after long preparation, and fear, and anxious searching of yourselves, you came with a beating heart to the altar. How you were only half aware, as you knelt before the unseen Presence of your Lord, how near He was to you; and yet your hearts burned while your eyes were holden; and all that day, and all the day after, the consciousness was present still. Have you ever so communicated since? Do you now go to that Holy Sacrament with a cold self-possession, as to some familiar thing which you have measured, and weighed, and scrutinised; or with a mind less sensitive and fearful, and with a whole tone of character lowered and less devout? To all these, then, and to all who are conscious that they are not what they were, there is but one way of return. The first step is penitent recollection. “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen.” Call up again with all the vividness of memory the holier seasons of your past life. Remember your confirmation--your first communion--your earlier devotions--the aspirations you once breathed towards Him whose love has waxed cold in you; and the tokens of His tender care, to which you once clung so fast. The next step is by special confession of our particular and detailed offences, to repent; that is, in sorrow to forsake our present self with a perfect change of heart. Before we can be once more what we have forfeited, our new and debased character must be thoroughly put off. This is the penalty of sin. And, lastly, we must begin the greatest work of life all over again. “Do the first works”; that is, the earliest and the best--the first-fruits we offered in better days to God. This is the inevitable law of our recovery. “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven.” (H. E. Manning.)

Neglect of the gospel followed by its removal

What then is it which a man has to do who is desirous of becoming truly repentant? We reply that his great business is earnest prayer to Christ, that he would give him the Holy Spirit, to enable him to repent. Of course we do not mean that he is to confine himself to prayer, and make no effort at correcting what may be wrong in his conduct. But there is more in this exhortation than the summons to repentance: memory is appealed to as an assistant in the duty to which men are called. The great evil with the mass of men is, that, so far at least as eternity is concerned, they never think at all--once make them think, and you make them anxious; once make them anxious, and they will labour to be saved. We should feel that we were gaining a great moral hold on a man, if we prevailed on him to contrast what he is with what Adam was ere he ate the forbidden fruit. It is a contrast which must produce the sense of utter degradation. And if I have been like the Ephesian Church, what Scripture calls a backslider, may not memory tell me of comforts I experienced, when walking closely with God, of communion with eternity so real and distinct that I seemed already delivered from the trammels of flesh? It may well be, if indeed I have declined in godliness, that through musing on past times, there will be excited within me a poignant regret. There will come back upon me, as upon the criminal in his cell, the holy music of better days; and there will be a penetrating power in the once gladdening but now melancholy strain, which there would not be in the shrill note of vengeance. And thus in each case, memory may be a mighty agent in bringing me to repentance. But we turn from the exhortation to the threatening contained in our text, “I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” Where are those Christian societies to which St. Paul and St. John inscribed their Epistles? Where is the Corinthian Church, so affectionately addressed, though so boldly reproved, by she great apostle of the Gentiles? Where is the Philippian Church, where the Colossian, where the Thessalonian, the letters to which prove how cordially Christianity had been received, and how vigorously it flourished? Where are the Seven Churches of Asia, respecting which we are assured that they were once strenuous in piety, and gave promise of permanence in Christian profession and privilege? Alas, how true is it that the candlesticks have been removed. And never let it be thought that such sentence is of no very terrible and desolating character. Come any evil rather than the unchurching which is threatened in our text. It is not merely that Christianity is taken away--though who shall measure, who imagine, the loss, if this were indeed all?--but it is that God must frown on a land from which He hath been provoked to withdraw His gospel; and that, if the frown of the Almighty rest on a country, the sun of that country’s greatness goes rapidly down, and the dreariness of a moral midnight fast gathers above it and around it. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The gospel removed

That a nation has been unchurched, and the gospel has been removed.

1. The Jews are an eminent instance. They had the gospel in a type while they enjoyed the ceremonies, they had the gospel unveiled while they had the presence of Christ among them.

(1) They were a people that had the greatest titles. They were called by His name (Jeremiah 2:2-3). They were His peculiar treasure; yet He hath flung this treasure out of His coffers.

(2) The privileges they enjoyed.

(3) The multitude of strange providences they had. He delivered them to the amazement of all round about them; they were a happy people, in being a people saved by the Lord (Deuteronomy 33:29). They never were conquered, but God raised them up some patrons. Yet notwithstanding all these providences, whereby God so miraculously owned them, and all the dangers from whence He so powerfully delivered them, they are now pulled up by the root, persecuted by man, abandoned by God, the generation of His wrath (Jeremiah 7:29). No spiritual dew falls upon these mountains of Gilboa.

2. The Seven Churches of Asia, to whom these Epistles are written, are another instance. How do their places know them no more, as once they were? Not only their religion, but their civil politeness is exchanged for barbarism. They have lost their ancient beauty for a Turkish deformity. Mahomet’s horse hath succeeded in the place of the Gospel-Dove. The triumphant banners of an impostor advanced where the standard of the gospel had been erected.

That the removal of the gospel and unchurching a nation is the greatest judgment. Can there be a greater judgment than to have the Word of God removed, to want a prophet to instruct and warn? The shutting up the book of mercy is the opening the book of justice.

1. The gospel is the choicest mercy, and therefore the removal of it the sharpest misery. The gospel is so much the best of blessings, as God is the best of Beings. Without this we should sink into an heathen or devilish superstition.

2. It is made worse than those judgments that are accounted the severest. Plagues, wars, famine, are lighter marks of Divine anger than this. God may take notice of a people under the smartest afflictions, but when He takes away His Word He knows a people no longer. We may live in our souls by the influence of the Word, when we have not bread to convey strength to our bodies; but how must the soul languish when it is deprived of spiritual food to nourish her (Isaiah 30:20)? how doleful would it be to have the ground parched by the sun, the sky emptied of clouds, or the bottles of heaven stopped close without venting a drop of refreshing rain? But how much more deplorable is this judgment than the withholding the clouds from dropping upon our earth, or the sun from shining upon our fruits?

3. When the gospel departs all other blessings depart with it.

(1) The honour and ornament of a nation departs.

(2) The strength of a nation departs. The ordinances of God are the towers of Sion. The Temple was not only a place of worship, but a bulwark too. When the gospel of peace removes eternal peace goes with it, temporal peace flies after it; and whatsoever is safe, profitable, prosperous, takes wings and attends it.

4. God hath no other intention in the removing the gospel, and unchurching a nation, but the utter ruin and destruction of that nation. Other judgments may be medicinal, this is killing; other judgments are but scourges, this is a deadly wound.

5. This judgment is accompanied with spiritual judgments, which are the sorest. The pounding of the jewel is far worse, and of greater loss than the breaking the casket.

Use:--Doth God often remove the gospel upon provocations, as the severest judgment he can inflict upon an unworthy people? Then--

1. Be afraid of this judgment. How do we know but that God hath limited the preaching of the gospel, and the standing of the candlestick in this and that place only for a time; and when that is expired, it may be carried to another place? We see it hath been so with others.

(1) Is not our profaneness a just ground of our fear? Have not many that have been lifted up to heaven by the presence of the gospel walked as if they had the seal of hell in their foreheads? A fulness of iniquity makes the harvest ripe and fit for the sickle (Joel 3:13).

(2) Is not the slighting of the means of grace a just ground of this fear? What can be expected, when children throw a precious commodity in the dirt, but that the parents should take it away, and lay it in another place, and lash them too for their vanity? God will not obtrude the gospel long against men’s wills.

(3) And what shall I say of the barrenness of the Church? When the ground yields but a faint increase, and answers not the cost and labour of the husbandman, he lays it fallow. The abatement of the powerful workings of the spirit is a presage of a removal or dimming the light in the candlestick.

(4) And may not the errors in the nation step in as the occasion of our fears? Not little petty errors, but errors about the foundation.

(5) What should I speak of the divisions amongst us? These preceded the ruin of the Jews, and made way for the fall of the Seven Churches of Asia. We may justly fear God will take away that light which we quarrel by, instead of walking and working by.

2. If the removal of the gospel be so great a judgment we have reason to bless God for its continuance so long among us.

3. It should teach us to improve the gospel while we enjoy it. The time of the gospel revelation is the time of working. Good entertainment and good improvement invites the gospel to stay; ill-usage drives it out of doors.

4. Let us prevent by repentance and prayer the removal or eclipse of the gospel. The loss of your estates, the massacring of your children, the chains of captivity, are a thousand times more desirable than this deplorable calamity. Estates may be recovered, new children raised, fetters may be knocked off, new houses may be reared upon the ashes of the consumed ones, the possession of a country regained; but it is seldom the gospel returns when carried away upon the wings of the wind. Let us therefore seek to Him, chiefly to Him, only to Him; He only can remove the candlestick; He only can put His Hand as a bar upon the light. (S. Charnock.)

`To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life.--

The heavenly Christ’s first promise to the victors

The victor’s reward.

1. As for the substance, it is simply that all-comprehensive, and in one aspect greatest of all hopes, the promise of life. It is as impossible for us to conceive of what the manner of future existence is as it is to predict, from looking at the egg, what plumage shall deck the wings of the creature that shall, in due time, come forth from it and soar to the empyrean. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” Only this we know, that life in all its meanings shall be perfect. Limitations shall drop away; weariness, weakness, languor, disgust, which often creeps over us, shall have no place there. The eternal life of heaven is one in kind with the eternal life that Christians possess here. If we are to have the life beyond, we must have its beginnings to-day.

2. Turn to the form which this promise assumes. It carries us back to the beginning of Scripture, and reminds us of the story of Eden, and the tree of life there. So the end circles round to the beginning, and the purpose of God shall be fulfilled, and more than fulfilled, and all the weary centuries, with their sin and crime and failures, shall be, as it were, in a parenthesis.

The giver of the reward. Jesus Christ steps into the place here of the absolute disposer of all human affairs and settler of man’s destiny. In another place in Scripture we read that the gift of God is eternal life; here the Giver of it is Jesus Christ. So He said on earth, as well as from the heavens. He is the Judge. He knows the history and the affairs of all men. He gives eternal life. The Giver is more than His gift. No mere humanitarian ideas of Jesus Christ and His mission avail to explain such words as these of my text.

The condition of receiving. “To him that overcometh.” Well, then, all noble life in the world is a fight. And to say “I trust in Jesus Christ” is not enough, unless that trust manifests itself in strenuous antagonism to evil, and realises victory over it. “To him that believeth” the promise is made in other places, but we must carry with that promise this other, “to him that overcometh”; and remember that no man who cannot say “I have fought a good fight” will ever be able to say with truth, “henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.” What is an overcoming life? Many a man goes out of this world apparently a dead failure, beaten; none of his plans having prospered, none of his enterprises having been much else than semi-failures. And yet he may be one of the victors. And, on the other hand, a man that has achieved all that he desired, prospered in his business, been successful in his love, happy in his family, abundantly blessed with good, and crowned with universal applause, that man may be one of the beaten ones. For he conquers the world who uses it to bring him nearer to Jesus Christ; and the world conquers him whom it draws away from God. And how is that victorious life to be achieved? “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” I have said that mere trust without conflict and conquest cannot inherit the crown, but I also say that, wherever there is the true trust there will be conflict, and wherever there is the trusting conflict there will be victory. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The great condition

Success in this world is not a matter of course. Life in this world is surrounded by dangers, beset by enemies, liable to failure. This truth has its illustration in all spheres of life; even down to the lowest. The conflict of the ages is miniatured in the life of the ephemera. The few hours of their existence are full of little dangers, little enemies, possible ills; and so with these the battle of life goes on. Now come up a little higher, and into a clearer region. Every species of vegetable life is shut off from its highest and fullest end by the line at the enemy. Every grain of wheat is menaced; so is every stalk of corn, every springing grass-blade, every flowering shrub, and every fruiting tree. And not otherwise is it in the animal kingdom--in the region of organised physical life. Of birds and beasts only a few reach the end. The rest perish by the way; are beaten back; are overcome. How full is our earth’s crust with the dust of infant forms I And even if they continue, why continuance is often not health, not strength, not beauty, not the victory of physical life. But I widen the view. Within the body hides the true man, who, with the hand of his free choice, reaches out for the supreme object of life; and, by the voice of his will, summons all his powers to the contest. But is success sure to such s one? Why, the world is full of men who have failed here. Full of men who have murdered their manhood for gain, and then failed of the gain. But now come up higher. Introduce moral quality, and how still farther does this reduce the class who have overcome t Ever in the highest regions the classes are smaller. There are more toadstools than Yosemite pines. There are more ants than elephants. There are more in the schools who know how to read than there are who are able to call the stars by their names, or to paint a Madonna. So there are more who have made money than there are who have grown manhood; more who haze gotten office than there are who have gotten character.

The danger to each human life is special. That which is a temptation and a snare to me is none to you. The rock upon which you may split may be altogether out of your neighbour’s path. He may not be steering in that direction. As with the body, so with the soul. What is poison to one is harmless to another. Some men can be trusted with money. It is not a bait for them; not what they care to sell their souls for. While others never can feel the money of others passing through their hands without an involuntary itching to close upon it. Then there is alcohol; nausea to many a stomach. No more desired, no more palatable, than croton oil. There is no possible danger to such from this quarter. Then right by their side are others who, with diseased brain and trembling nerves and blood on fire, would jump into hell itself for a draught of the accursed poison.

1. Natural constitution rules here. I do not mean in such a sense as to rid any man of responsibility. No matter where his blood came from, when at last it runs in his own veins a man must feel that it is his own. “My father was a drunkard before me, and I must be one.” This is fatality, contradicted by our sense of freedom. It is materialism, contradicted by our own knowledge of ourselves, as more than mere matter. It is reasoning which no man’s conscience accepts, and with which no man can go to the bar of God. So with a man’s mind. It is his own at last. His own to correct, to guide, to inform. And if a man finds himself with a sceptical tendency, it is his duty to overcome here, as truly as in the region of physical appetite.

2. Providential circumstances rule here. Joseph was thrown into Egypt, and into the presence of great temptation, by no choice of his own. What now? Is Joseph thus relieved from responsibility? By no means. His providential circumstances govern as to the danger which he must overcome. The responsibility is still his own. So with us all. Your great spiritual danger may lie hidden in a circumstance which you had no voice in choosing. This may be wealth, or it may be poverty; your familiar associations, or an unavoidable crisis in your business affairs. But this does not free you from responsibility. Your obligation is still found in the word “overcome.” You must overcome the temptation which is brought to bear upon your integrity, or you fall guiltily, and shall never “eat of the Tree of Life.”

It is possible for a man, for any man, to overcome. His crown is his own, and he may defy any hand of earth or hell to rob him of it.

1. This truth rests upon the sincerity of the Saviour of men. “To him that overcometh,” says He. And, when He so declares, He surely does not mean to mock men by grounding their salvation upon an impossible condition.

2. This truth, that a man may overcome, rests upon the infinite love of God. It is not possible for the human mind to conceive of infinite love allowing man to be placed in a condition that he may not overcome.

3. This truth rests upon the great provision of salvation which God has made for man. This salvation, inaugurated by the Great Father’s love, must reach unto the end of making the salvation of every man to whom it comes possible.

I now turn to the applicatory fulness of the text.

1. It holds up religion before us in its true greatness and worthiness. Overcome. This is the voice with which Christ speaks to men. Overcome. This is the true view of religion; the religion which thoughtful men need, which endangered lives need; which this world, so full of shams, needs.

2. Again, this subject Palls to a careful ordering of the external circumstances of our lives, so far as these are in our power. If your fortune depended upon your lifting a certain weight, you would not first place your feet upon bog or quicksand. Yet, in the moral world, how many needlessly expose themselves to disadvantage!

3. This subject holds up the Church and all the means of grace in their true light. They are so many helps to man in his great struggle. Let us not think of the Church as an end in itself; as a beautiful and dignified institution to which we ought to contribute our quota of respectable living. But rather let us think of the Church as our servant; as something out of which we can get help. So of the prayer hour in the midst of the busy week. So of any Christian service, and of every Christian duty. (S. S. Mitchell, D. D.)

The conflict of the Christian life

The conflict of the Christian life. The Christian life is one of severe moral conflict. Its enemies are seen and unseen. They are malignant. They are subtle. They necessitate constant vigilance on the part of the good.

1. It is a conflict with evil principles. The soul of the good must be pure in its feeling, holy in its dispositions, loyal to Christ in its affections, and devout in its contemplations.

2. It is a conflict with evil men. It is sometimes hard to withstand the charming, but sinful, attractions of a friend, who would lead us into the very camp of the enemy.

3. It is a conflict with evil spirits. They watch the varying attitudes of the human mind, as manifested in external conduct, and seek each moment to effect the moral ruin of the good.

The victory of the Christian life.

1. The victory is present. This is a distinguishing feature of the battle of the soul. It feels now the inspiration, and can sing the hymn of triumph, though, no doubt, when the last enemy has been conquered, which is death, and the soul joins the army above, its triumph will then be more jubilant.

2. The victory is progressive. Every time the soul is victorious in its battle it gathers new energy, and is more prepared for the conflict of the future.

3. The victory is glorious. It is a token of heroic manhood. It is strengthening. It is ennobling. It makes the soul veteran in goodness.

The reward of the christian life.

1. The Christian victor shall be rewarded with eternal life.

2. This reward will be Divinely bestowed and richly enjoyed. Christ is Himself the life, which He will bestow upon the faithful victor. The life will be such that the soul will be able to appropriate.


1. That the Christian life is a stern conflict.

2. That the Christian has many aids in the conflict.

3. That victory over sin is possible to the good. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The tree of life

This first of the sevenfold promises to the victors carries us back to the earliest pages of Scripture. The end circles round to the beginning. The fruit is accessible again, not now, indeed, by man’s reaching out his own hand to it, but as a gift from the Captain under and by whom the victors fight. This recurrence of the early possibility as a finally-accomplished reality is significant. Whatever Adam threw away Christ brings back. “There shall never be one lost good.” But there is more than that. Paradise is better than Eden.

The gift. In the Gospel and Epistles of St. John, Life and its antithesis, Death, are two of his key-notes. In these letters to the Seven Churches the frequent recurrence of the same significant word Life, and its correlative, Death, is one of the main links of connection which, with all differences of form, bind together the Apocalypse and the Gospels. Now I cannot persuade myself that by this great word the writer means nothing mole than continuous existence. He means that, but he means something more than that; and the something more is what warrants him in calling continual existence life. He means, in fact, the whole aggregate of blessednesses which makes the State of men whose lives are passed in communion with, and likeness to, God. This is his conception of what life consists in. Wheresoever a heart is knit to God, there is the germ and the beginning of the only real Life. And the highest promise that can be given for the blessedness of that blessed and far-off future is, “I will give him to cat of the Tree of Life.” It is well and fitting that this most comprehensive and general promise should be the first in the sevenfold series. Those which follow unveil various portions of its contents, and show us various aspects of its glory. Then, mark, it is the life of Jesus Christ Himself which He gives. He is the Life of our lives, the Soul of our souls, the Heaven of our heaven; and in Him is all that we need. Then, note how, in the other reference in this Book to that Tree of Life, we have set forth, very beautifully, the infinite variety and unbroken succession of the blessednesses that result to those who partake of it. The last chapter of this Revelation tells us that “it bare twelve manner of fruits,” and that “every month.” The former of these symbols sets forth that all delights and nutriments which spirit, heart, will, intellect, and whatever else may make up the immortal man can require are to be found there. Whatsoever is pleasant to behold, or sweet to taste, is all in Jesus Christ. And the other symbol of “yielding fruit every month” suggests the unbroken succession of delights and blessednesses and sustenances. Sparkle will touch sparkle as in the moon’s path across the sea, making a broad and continuous band of silvery shimmer. So “in Thy presence are pleasures for evermore.” Then note, further, that this Life must begin here ii it is to be perfected hereafter. Here we must begin laying hold of that Lord in whom are the life and the light of men, if we are ever to stand by His side, and receive from His hand fruits from the Tree of Life. They are sent across the sea to us in our island home, though it be planted in a happier and sunnier clime, and we dwell here amidst frost and snow. But the perfecting will be when we shall go to it. Fruit tastes best if fresh plucked from the tree.

The giver. This ascended Christ speaks in royal fashion. He assumes to be the Bestower of the fruit from the Tree of Life. And that suggests large thoughts about Him. I believe that in all senses of the word Life, from the lowest physical up to the highest spiritual, immortal, and eternal, the revelation of the New Testament, is that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, and the Agent of all creation and of all preservation, is its Giver and its Source. By virtue of His Divine nature He gives physical life to all that live. In Him “was life, and the life was the light of men.” But it is not His Divine nature alone which has made it possible for Him to give to us the better life, of which my text speaks. He is the Source thereof, because He Himself has experienced the opposite. He died that He might be the Lord and Giver of Life; and rising from the grave, by the power of His death, and the merit and might of His sacrifice, He has become, for all who will trust Him, the Source of that life which standeth in the knowledge of God, and is perfected hereafter in immortal felicity and blessedness. Further, there is involved in this representation of Jesus Christ as the Giver of Life, the thought that, through eternity, all who live that blessed being in the heavens shall be as dependent upon Him for every moment (if we can speak of moments in the timeless state) of their continual existence as we are here below. He is the Fountain who hath life in Himself. We are the empty vessels that are filled from Him.

The recreants. In the original the language is made very emphatic: “To him that overcometh, to him will I give.” And that emphasis is very significant, ii we remember how strongly this same John, especially in his Gospel, sets forth the thought that the condition of receiving life here and hereafter is faith. Faith without fighting is nothing. Fighting without faith, indeed, is impossible; but it is not enough that a man shall exercise an idle and inoperative trust, unless he can show his faith by his works. It is not the same whether you, calling yourselves Christian people, live in the daily struggle with the evil that besets you, or indolently let yourselves be carried unresisting along by the stream. It is the victor, that is crowned. Then, again, observe that martial metaphor. “To him that overcometh.” Then the highest conception of a noble life on earth is conflict. God has set us here, not to enjoy ourselves, but to wrestle and to run and to fight. Shame on us ii we choose the indolent, self-indulgent, luxurious, and fatal course [ What is it to overcome? The sailor who trims his sails and sets his helm so that adverse winds and opposing currents help him to run his course has conquered, though they howl about his ears and beat upon his barque. And the man who does not let the world hinder him from godly obedience, who does not allow it to divert him from the path of duty, who does not let its dainties spoil his appetite for the bread of heaven, who does not permit its near and flaunting beauties to affect his heart so that he sees no beauty in God and Christ, who does not take its good for his best--that man has conquered it. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The tree of life

The tree of life as exhibited in the primitive paradise. The garden of Eden is not to be regarded merely as a place of delight and pleasure. It was a kind of natural temple; a sacred enclosure. In this consecrated spot was planted the tree of life; planted that its fruit might be eaten, and not prohibited like that of the tree of knowledge. Yet it was not to be partaken of in the same manner as the fruit of the other trees, which was appointed for food, since this tree was specially distinguished from them. Not without reason have many eminent divines considered this tree as a constant pledge to Adam of a higher life; and since there was a covenant of works, the tenor of which was, “This do, and thou shalt live”--and as we know that God has ever connected signs, seals, and sacraments with His covenants--analogy may lead us to conclude that this tree was the matter of a sacrament, the eating of it a religious act; and that it was called “the tree of life,” because it was not only a means of sustaining the immortality of the body, but the pledge of spiritual life here, and of a still higher and more glorious life in a future state, to which man might pass, not, indeed, by death, but by translation.

The substitution of Christ for “the tree of life,” to give hope to man as a sinner. We see man, the sinner, expelled from the garden of Eden; all hope of receiving the pledge of mercy and kindness, by being allowed to eat of the tree of life, gone; and the way to that tree fearfully guarded. But it is equally certain that he was not absolutely excluded from hope. The judge passes sentence, but the judge also gives a promise; and man is bidden to hope in another object, “the seed of the woman.” That seed was henceforward to be his “tree of life.”

1. This presence of God was always approached through sacrifice.

2. It is this atonement which always keeps the way to God open and safely accessible.

3. To eat and live is the term both of the covenant in paradise and the new covenant of grace; but the subject is changed. To live in paradise, the fruit of the tree of life was eaten; but it was not a sacrifice. It was a pledge of life, but not through the death of a victim. There was then life without death. The flesh of Christ which He gives for the life of the world, and which we eat spiritually, this also is the pledge of life, but of life through death. Nor is the act of eating under the two covenants the same. One is expressive of the confidence of an innocent creature in the goodness and faithfulness of God never offended, promising life; the other of faith, properly speaking,--the trust of a guilty creature, of one who feels and acknowledges his guilt, in the rich and sovereign grace of God offended, and exercised through Christ alone.

The tree of life, “in the midst of the paradise of God.”

1. The residence of the saints in another and a blissful state is called paradise. Could we remove from this world death, disease, age, infirmity, hatred, prejudice, ignorance, sin, the separation of friends, what a transformation should we witness! All this, and more, is done in the heavenly paradise; and upon its inhabitants and their blessedness is stamped the character of eternity.

2. The tree of life is there; and he that overcometh shall eat of it. This is a figurative representation of Christ. He is there to give this immortal blessedness, and to sustain it, and thus the benefits of His death run on for ever. The tree represents Christ to remind us that our life is from Him, and the whole of our salvation shall be eternally ascribed to His dying love. (R. Watson.)

Conquest and immortality

See what the promise is. Man’s life seems to die out in death; to him that overcometh the world there shall be given a vitality that goes beyond this world. It is in virtue of man’s power to overcome this world that he lays hold upon immortality. The reason why man, in spite of every discouragement, in spite of disease, and death, and the grave, has so inextinguishable a belief in immortality of life is the mastery which he has had over this life. If all men had been slaves of circumstances, mankind never could have believed in immortality. It is because man has proved his power to conquer circumstances that he has believed ultimately in his power to conquer that last great circumstance, and believed that death was nothing but an event, an experience in life. To him that overcometh it is given to eat of the tree of life, and to know himself immortal. (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)

How to conquer

When I was a child I read a book of Eastern Tales. It was the reading of the same book that stimulated Dr. Adam Clarke to study Eastern literature. One of the tales was to this effect: In a certain place, among bleak and gloomy mountains, was a steep and narrow pass, at the summit of which a spring sent forth streams of living waters. By the margin of the spring, nourished by its immortal rills, stood a tree which bore golden fruit, and as the breezes blew upon the trees it gave forth enchanting music. Whosoever might force his way up the difficult ascent should have these delights as his reward; but if he halted in his way, or attempted to turn back, he died upon the spot. Thousands made the trial, but none succeeded. At last an adventurous youth determined to win the prize, or perish in the effort. He asked one stationed at the foot what was the real difficulty, and how it could be overcome. He was assured there was no danger whatsoever, but that as he went along he would be assailed by hosts of voices assuming every kind of tone. All he had to do was boldly to go forward, and not regard them. Resolving not to heed the voices, he nerved himself for the endeavour. The moment he entered the valley the sounds began. It was as if the very rocks had tongues. Some groaned and entreated and warned, some mocked and jeered. As he stumbled on knee-deep among the reedy shanks and shapeless skulls of those who had perished in the attempt, a voice, seemingly at his very ear, implored him to take warning, and pause. Sometimes he was on the point of halting, but he pressed his fingers to his ears and hurried on. As he neared the top a chorus well-nigh stunned him; but he pressed his fingers the closer to his ears, and thus gained the summit. Then every voice that had assailed him broke forth in loudest plaudits. (F. J. Sharr.)

An exhortation and encouragement to individual Christians

It is as if He said, No matter what the Church of Ephesus may be, to him that overcometh will I give a special blessing. Jesus says that to every member of His Church still. No matter what the Church is, it does not take away your individual responsibility. If the Church be holy and active, that does not lessen your responsibility to work. If the Church be sinful and idle, that makes your responsibility all the greater. The Church may have lost its first love. It is your duty, in the first instance at least, not to leave it, but to try to make it better. It is your duty, so far as in you lies, to overcome. Overcome evil with good, overcome strife by promoting a spirit of peace, overcome slothfulness by giving an example of activity, overcome fault-finding by showing a spirit of charity. Overcome, in the strength of Christ, the sins of yourself, the sins of the Church, the sins of the world around you. (C. H. Irwin, M. A.)

But this thou hast, that thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.--

The Nicolaitane doctrine hateful to Christ and His Church

Here are two things.

1. An exception from the former reproof, “But this thou hast.”

2. A commendation, “that thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitunes. In the exception, note how careful the Spirit of God is, not to pass over any good in this Church, without due commendation.


1. He walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, and exactly discerneth their works and describeth them.

2. Iniquity is not in Him to call good evil or evil good (Isaiah 32:5). He justifies not the ungodly nor condemns the innocent.

3. His pure eyes sever between the precious and the vile. He hath a fining pot, which tries gold from the dross; and a fan in His hand, which in the same floor severeth wheat and chaff.


1. To teach us to imitate this goodness of God in acknowledging and encouraging good gifts and graces wherever they be.

2. Those sin against this example of Christ who (as flies follow festers) fasten upon the faults of men and are eloquent in disgracing their evils; some perhaps only pretended or conceived, but all that is praiseworthy they bury and traduce.

3. The ministers (the angels of the Churches) must imitate their Lord in writing to the angel of this Church, namely, so warily to touch upon the faults of professors, as not to throw down their profession or oppose all that is good in them. A wise husbandman will rather spare the weeds than hurt the corn.

4. Encourage good men in pursuing what is good; for, howsoever they may reap reproach among men, yet there is nothing commendable in them which shall want its due praise before God.

5. To keep us in humility. Sometimes we may be commended for many things, as was this Church, and yet be in great danger and near cutting off. Let us, therefore, take notice of these rules of wisdom. First, let no man content himself with some good things unless he separate from all evil, both in affection and actual endeavour. Secondly, content not thyself with the presence of some good things unless thou hast attained the best things and graces which only shall prevent this danger of casting off; such as are faith, love, repentance, humility, and the fear of God. Thirdly, content not thyself with many acts of goodness, but labour for sincerity, else many seemly and good things will prove unsound and unfruitful in the end.

6. Note the lively power of the Word of Christ. As His eyes are pure and sharp to discern between good and evil, so is His Word as piercing and descries in the soul and conscience that good or evil which other men, yea, the own heart itself, never takes notice of (Hebrews 4:12). Of the commendation that followeth, “Thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitanes.” This commendation is for a work of the soul, for an affection, and that not such an affection as whereby they were carried unto good, but such an affection as whereby they were averted from gross evil. The good commended was this affection. Where observe the abundant patience and pity of the Lord, who for a poor affection, and that not unto good, but against evil, and that very weak and cold spareth this Church and removeth not her candlestick as she had deserved. The true commendation of a people or person is from true inward disposition and affection (1 Corinthians 4:5).


1. The just judge of all the world judgeth by the surest rule of trial, and approveth or reproveth from that which is within, and that which is hid from men’s eyes.

2. The affections and desires are the feet which move the soul, and are most respected of God as being chiefly and principally commanded in the taw; all the duties of the first table, and all service and worship of our Creator being comprised under that one affection of love.

3. The chief matter of praise or dispraise, both in good and bad men, is the desire and affection, because, first, action without affection is but as a body without a soul, as a painted fire without heat, or the picture of a man without life. Secondly, God accepteth the affection more than the action, as in many kings of Israel, who did such and such good things, but the heart and soul and inward affections being wanting, they lost their commendation. Thirdly, for evil men: they are not so bad in action as in affection and desire; they have more evil in their hearts than in their hands. Fourthly, for good men: their goodness is not in perfection but in affection, and striving to perfection. And they have more goodness in their hearts than in their hands, as there is more water in the fountain than in the stream.

4. It is affections and desires that formally make a man good or bad, and lead him either to a final happy or unhappy estate. By all which arguments we have cleared the conclusion, that the true commendation of a people or person is from true inward disposition and affection.


1. To discover the vain practice of many professors that engross knowledge and please themselves in speculation, contemplation, and place all their religion in hearing, reading, and adding to their knowledge; but look not to their affections or desires, to add or gain anything unto them, as if God’s image consisted alone in knowledge and not in righteousness and holiness.

2. Hence we learn which is the most commendable ministry and most approved of God, namely, that which worketh most (not upon the understanding, but) upon the heart and affections, to warm the heart and make it burn within a man, as Christ’s speech did the two disciples going to Emmaus.

3. To show who are the best hearers in our assemblies, namely, those that bring best desires and affections unto these sacred ordinances and exercises of religion.

4. If the Lord especially commendeth good affections, how unlike are they to the Lord, that pinch and reproach good affections, and are of that malignant quality that no good desire or affection can peep or appear in any near them, but they nip and blast it.

5. All Christians must be ambitious to seek this true commendation from the Lord, that He may say of us, But this thou hast, a true affection and sound desire of grace. In the persons that hate the works of the Nicolaitanes, note that a man may live in a deep consumption of grace for a time and yet retain the hatred of some foul sins.


1. A man wanting grace may hate some sins; and much more a man in decay of grace. A Jew may abhor a Samaritan, and yet have no love to the light and truth offering itself unto him. And hardly can we conceive any so wicked, but may hate some sin.

2. Carnal policy and earthly respects may ground the hatred of some sin, when neither the love of God nor the hatred of sin as sin, doth ground it. And any Ephesian can hate a Nicolaitane if his works will not stand with the light of nature, or credit of men, or name of profession.

3. Where the love of goodness is decayed, no marvel if hatred or evil be for sinister respects; and men may hate what the Lord hateth, though not because the Lord hateth it, for so did this Church. And no hatred of evil is good, but that which floweth from the love of good. Use: Here is a rule of trial of our hatred of evil. As is our love of good so is our hatred of evil. Fervent love stirs up earnest hatred; little love of good, little hatred of evil; no love of good, no hatred of evil. We must not hate the persons of men, but their evil works. Not the Nicolaitanes but the works of the Nicolaitanes (Psalms 101:3; 2 Samuel 15:31).


1. The object of our hatred must be works, not the man, because we must hate nothing that comes from God by grace or nature. God made the man, but the man made himself sinful.

2. We must hate no man without a cause. For, as we must not love vices for persons, so neither may we hate persons for vices, nor the man for his evil manners.

3. All just hatred floweth from the love of God; therefore we may not hate the person of our brother (1 John 4:20).

4. There is an unwarrantable hatred which fasteneth on that that God hateth not. This is a hatred of malice, not of zeal which is kindled in heaven. But we know not the state of the persons of our brethren, whether they belong to God or no, but their works are hateful to God, and condemned in His law.


1. We must not hate where no hateful work appeareth; and where it doth appear we must hate nothing else.

2. Seeing much deceit lieth herein, and we often do mistake ourselves thinking we do well in hating sins, when, indeed, our hatred is against persons, we shall do well to examine our hatred. For the trial whereof take these rules.

(1) Hasty reproofs issue commonly more from the hatred of persons than of sins, when a man is reproved before his offence be proved (1 Corinthians 5:1).

(2) When our own causes be primarily interested with God’s cause, we may suspect ourselves carried rather against persons than sins. When a man is as a lamb, mild and moderate in the cause of God, but a lion in his own cause, here is apparent hatred of persons more than sins.

(3) The hatred of sin in another, but not of the same sins in ourselves, is the hatred of the person, not of the sin. For true hatred of sin hateth it in himself most of all. No man can hate that sin in another which he loveth in himself.

(4) The true hatred of sin doth restrain from sin in the hatred, and casts out raging, railing, scorning, swearing, reviling, or abusing of the person. For, where any of these discover themselves, the hatred is of the person, not of the sin. Satan is not cast out by Satan.

(5) True hatred of sin goes ever with love and pity of the person. Moses so hates the sin of Israel that he still prayeth for their persons.

(6) According to the measure of true hatred of thy brother’s evil is thy rejoicing in his good. Here is the reason of the commendation: because they hated what God hated. God is well pleased when our affections are comfortable to His; whence are those many precepts and exhortations (Matthew 11:29; Luke 6:36; 1 Peter 1:15).


1. His affections flow from His righteous will; He loveth good, because His nature is goodness itself, and His will the rule of all goodness. So He hateth evil, because His nature and will is absolutely contrary unto it. And, therefore, because His will must be our will, our affections must be framed to His also.

2. He is an unfailing pattern and an unerring example, and we shall be sure never to miss in the proper object of our love or hatred if we love what He loveth and hate what He hateth.

3. That perfection which we expect in heaven we must begin on earth. But this is the life of heaven, that our souls shall so perfectly cleave unto Him, as we shall be like Him, and be satisfied with His image. We shall never love nor hate but what He loveth and hateth. And to this life we must frame here in sincere affection and endeavour.

4. If one affection of ours resembling His prevail so much with Him, as we see in this text, how much more if all our affections were trained to His? If the hatred of gross evils bring us in request with Him, what would the love of all the goodness that He loveth. Use: This doctrine affords us many directions concerning our affections which are quick and hardly kept in order, and in which as many sins lie in the dark as in any other faculty.

Concerning the matter of our hatred. Whatsoever we love or hate we must ask ourselves whether God loveth or hateth it. If God love it, it is worthy of our love. If God express hatred against anything we must take heed we affect it not.

Concerning the rule of our hatred. That which we may lawfully hate we must inquire whether we hate it because God hateth it. For, first, heathen can hate some sins for the inconveniences they bring who hath no eye to God in them. Secondly, to avoid sin because men punish it, or human laws condemn it, or because shame attends it is not praiseworthy. Thirdly, even so it is in embracing good. To love religion and embrace the truth because the law favours it and the kingdom embraceth it, and is now the safest, is but policy, and an atheist can do it. But a truly religious heart therefore embraceth it, because it is the truth of God, and because God Himself loveth, honoureth, and promoteth it, and hath commended it to our love and trust.

Concerning the measure of our hatred. Our direction is, that wheresoever the Lord expresseth the greatest measure of hatred, we must also there most earnestly hate. For our affection must even in the measure of it be framed to God’s. The manner of our hatred.

1. We must try the intention and vehemency of our affections. The Lord doth not lightly hate sin or barely mislike it, but pursues it with an hostile hatred, and abhors it as the most hateful thing in the world, even so we must not only simply refuse sin or forbear it, but bear a fervent indignation against it, esteeming it the most hateful and hurtful thing in the world (Psalms 119:163).

2. The Lord hateth sin generally and universally; not one, or two, or more scandalous sins, but all sin everywhere, both all kinds and all acts of sin. So we must try our hatred by the generality, whether we hate all the ways of falsehood. It is not enough to hate this or that sin, but the heart must be set against all that is called sin.

3. The Lord hateth sin only and innocently; so hateth evil, that He hateth not the good near it or with it; no, nor will not hate the good for it. He will be sure His wrath shall fasten on the works of Nicolaitanes, but rejects no good for evil, no wheat for chaff, no gold for dross. So we may not hate good with evil or for evil.

4. The Lord hateth sin implacably; He can never be reconciled unto it, but goes on to the abolition and destruction of it. So must we try our affection against sin, whether it be a short fit of anger or an extreme just hatred. And the rule of trial of just hatred is, that of the Jews toward their wives, “If thou hatest her put her away”; divorce thy sin from thyself: allow it no room or harbour. One thing it is for a Jew to be angry at his wife, another to hate her to divorce. And so are many sometimes angry at some sins in extremity, and will curb and moderate and keep them in some compass; but they put them not away altogether because they hate them not.

5. The Lord hates all sin perpetually and constantly. His wrath is so kindled against it that it can never be quenched, but burneth to the bottom of hell. So if our hatred of sin be true it will be lasting and increasing. We see, therefore, what an advantage it is to hold our affections in conformity unto the Lord’s, and a piece of His own image who, being perfectly good, cannot but hate that which is perfectly evil. And the more we grow to His perfection in good the more perfectly must we hate all that is evil. (T. Taylor, D. D.)

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.--

God’s voice to the Church

That Divine revelations are given to the Christian Church.

1. They are revelations of the truth of God.

2. They are revelations of the condition and duty of the Church. They are practical in tendency. They are faithful. They are definite. They are plain. They are merciful.

3. These revelations are given by the Divine Spirit. He only can give men to see the beauty of truth and the beauty of holiness.

That Divine revelations should be attentively heeded by the Christian Church.

1. The Church should seek to understand the revelations of God. These revelations of God are clear to the devout soul.

2. The Church should believe the revelations of God. They are precious. They are Divine. They contemplate important issues. They ought, therefore, to awaken the warm assent of the Church.

3. The Church should submit to the revelations of God. If these Asiatic Churches had meekly yielded to the messages sent to them, they would have averted the retribution that came upon them so woefully.

That Divine revelations are frequently neglected by the Christian Church. Lessons:

1. That God speaks to the Church.

2. That the Church should cultivate its hearing faculty.

3. That the utility and destiny of the Church is dependent upon the heed it gives to the messages of God. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The paradise of God.--

Heaven, a garden

Heaven is not merely a state, but a place. Men try to be too sublimely immaterial when they deny the thought of locality to human conceptions of heaven. Dr. Chalmers says we “make it a lofty aerial region, floating in aether, suspended on nothing.” Are we not wrong then? For--

1. Is it not probable that God is the only pure Spirit?

2. Do not all human instincts and all Scriptural revelations point to a place?

Heaven is a place of surpassing beauty.

Heaven is a place of appropriate labour

Heaven is a place of God’s special habitation. It is a most sacred reminiscence of paradise that the Lord God was there amid the trees of the garden. The central glory of heaven is the felt presence of God. (D. Thomas, D. D.)


1. First of all, it is plain, is it not, from the persistent use of this word “paradise,” that departed saints already find the consequences of the fall reversed, and the old primaeval blessedness of man restored to them in Christ? To be done with unfriendly estrangements such as part the best friends here, and all fear of change, which haunteth even earthly love; to be done with unrequited labour, done with evil speaking and ingratitude, done with an unquiet mind and black care that sits behind the rider; to find for all the ills of this life only refreshment and sweet repose, to find peace in the place of strife, and for labour rest, and progress with contentment, and endless youth and gain of knowledge that adds no sorrow, and ever perfect love and charity--this reversal of all that ancient curse which sits upon mankind, this, were there no more but this, how good were it I how good to look forward to! how blessed to possess!

2. In the next place, it is made abundantly evident that the second paradise excels the first in this--that its blessedness is secure from loss or change. Not only is sin shut out, with all sin’s fruits, but it is shut out for ever. Under whatever aspect the state of the beatified dead is represented, its permanence is always made emphatic. Is it the home of a heavenly Father? Then its chambers are styled “mansions,” “abiding places,” as the word signifies, they never lose their tenants. Is it like Eden, a garden of God? Then my text tells you that the tree of life stands open there to all the happy dwellers, and the Lamb shall guide their feet to fountains of immortal life. Or is it a strong city as well as a garden enclosed? Then the conception of its imperishable foundations and lofty walls is that it stands secure at the centre of the Almighty empire--a capital free from the possibility of corruption, dreading no foe.

3. But, in the third place, a careful examination of all the intimations in Scripture leave it, I think, beyond doubt that our paradise is no middle ground of temporary exile, like the Sheol of the Hebrews, but includes admission to the immediate presence and vision of God. One thing only seems needful to complete the felicity of our Christian dead that is, the resurrection of the body. But though that be wanting, there is, nevertheless, a heavenly paradise, for they behold the face of God in light and glory, even while they are waiting still for the full redemption of their bodies. In all the higher moods of earthly experience after what do you find the pure heart of God’s children pant, when at their best, if not after full knowledge of Jesus, full fruition of His wondrous love, full likeness of His holiness, full devotion to His service, full communion with His person? These deep yearnings of saintly hearts on earth, think how they are to be gratified when, every veil withdrawn, these saints behold Him as He is, and are satisfied with His likeness. Close to that primal fountain of spiritual life, of light and joy and energy and bliss, low, at His feet, near to His heart, within the reach of His voice, within the beaming of His eyes, there must be the Christian heaven. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)

The paradise of God

Eden, with all its loveliness, is to be surpassed. It was but a faint type of that heavenly paradise which is opened by Christ to all believers. Futurity is to transcend antiquity. The best is to come at the last. How can we speak of that heavenly paradise? Experience cannot help us. And imagination grows dumb beneath that “weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17), or is blinded by that excess of light. It hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive it. Emblems we have, but they are nothing more. We can only know the Invisible as shadowed by the things that do appear. What various and enchanting hopes start at such words as these: life, a feast, a temple, a city, a kingdom, a Father’s house, glory, the paradise of God. Walking in permitted meditation amid that heavenly paradise, behold--

1. Beauty. How lovely the brief descriptive touches found in the Divine Word! Emblem mingles with emblem and glory blossoms into glory. Is it a garden? The privileged John thus describes it (Revelation 22:1-5; Revelation 6:16-17). Is it a city? It is “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). “Her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal” (Revelation 21:11). And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished,” etc. (Revelation 21:19-21). These are emblems of surpassing loveliness. Nothing more than emblems? Is there no city radiant in splendour? Is there no garden with its crystal river and trees of unfading beauty? Who can say? Any way, if only emblems, heaven is a place of transcendent beauty.

2. Knowledge will mark the inhabitants of the paradise of God. We shall not need to ask, “What is it?” We shall know it by intuition, and not by tedious search. There to see will be to understand. No mistake will be made by us. And the Great Teacher will instruct us by parable no more. Wide, and ever-widening, will be that sphere of knowledge. But how little all else will be to the knowledge we shall then possess of the Divine character and dealings.

3. In that heavenly paradise there will be supreme enjoyment. Not the sensual pleasures of a Mahometan paradise, but the highest satisfaction and delight of our quick and ever-quickening spiritual powers.

(1) The joy of fellowship. In heaven there will be no solitude in a crowd. Thought will be interchanged. Love will glow. No distrust will cool that warmth of friendship. And more, infinitely more than all, we shall be with Christ. It will be more than vanished paradise come again--more than a restitution of all things.

(2) The joy of holiness. No hindering defilement! No lingering spot!

(3) The joy of rest. The hurly-burly done, the last stroke struck, the last foe vanquished--oh, how blessed the everlasting rest!

(4) The joy of service. Who can tell in what various ways we shall find highest, purest exhilaration in doing God’s commandments? (Revelation 22:3). One part of the service will be worship (Psalms 16:11).

4. And yet another thought in the paradise of God--eternity. No tree of the knowledge of good and evil is there. The life of probation is over. In that paradise is no decay, no old age, no death (1 Peter 1:4). And this high estate of glory, this paradise of eternal bliss, is Christ’s purchase for men, Christ’s donation to man. (G. T. Coster.)

Verses 8-11

Revelation 2:8-11


Smyrna--the poor Church that was rich

The story of Smyrna, both spiritual and material, the delineation of its circumstances and of its experience, is simple. Nothing is said of the achievements of the Church; the significant clause, “I know thy works,” which meets us elsewhere, is wanting here. No complex ethical state is set before us. The history of Smyrna is compressed into a single word, tribulation; it had one solitary call, to fidelity. Of Smyrna this much is recorded--the Church was persecuted by the Jews. The life of the Church had been one of tribulation, and in its tribulation it was poor. Of the social influence which conciliates authorities and tempers persecutions, of the comforts which lighten trouble and solace the afflicted, it had none. And the conflict was to wax sorer. Reproach will be followed by imprisonment. Out of the very soreness of the trouble there come suggestions that carry consolation with them. The sufferings of this insignificant Church have a dignity all their own; and not only a dignity, they have an importance too. As it had been with Christ, so should it be with His followers in Smyrna. Unrelenting hostility was to be followed by eternal victory. “Fear not the things which thou art going to suffer.… Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.” There is something very suggestive in this picture of the Church at Smyrna, in the fact that it lay aside from the various movements--the false doctrines and the worldly confusions--which elsewhere had already begun to perplex the Christian life. To us, also, there have come manifold complexions of social and religious interest; the Christian life of to-day is very full. Yes, life is for us Christians to-day very full of meaning, and piety is very rich. The effort to win all for Christ will be very arduous, we know; but the hope is inspiring, the victory will be worth the winning.

The Church at Smyrna was rich because it had Christ. Observe the sublimity and the tenderness of the titles under which the Lord reveals Himself--“the first and the last,” “He who died and lived again.” The former of these titles is taken from the most majestic, the most exultant, of Old Testament prophecies, the prophecy of Israel’s restoration. One of the most touching, most searching things Henry Ward Beecher wrote was his description in “Norwood” of the poor woman, wife of a lazy, drunken husband, rearing seven children in hunger and weariness, who used to turn to these chapters, and make the mystic promises of her own. “O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, thy Maker is thy husband; the Lord of Hosts is His name.” She called her daughter “Agate,” because she read, “I will make thy windows of agates.” She did not know what an agate was, but she was sure it must be something beautiful, and God’s windows were to be of agates. “She seized the happy thought--‘I will call her Agate. Perhaps the Lord will make her like a window to my darkness.’ Thus she was named.” There is an equal wealth of suggestion in the second of the two titles. “The First and the Last” was persecuted as Smyrna was. It is He who had gone on to death, and was not holden of death, who says--“Be thou faithful … I will give thee the crown of life.” They who are in such a fellowship cannot be poor.

Their very poverty makes them rich, for it gave firmness to their grasp and reality to their possession of Christ. We have many various tokens of the sufficiency of the Divine grace; but there are some among us who never knew what the power of God was until, absolutely emptied of self-trust, they cast themselves on Him; who, having had their self-complacency shattered, ventured to believe that the true riches was not in anything they had attained or were, but in the living God. The riches of Smyrna may be seen from another aspect. In Christ and their own dependence on Him was enough for their needs. They were not overtaxed; they were called to be faithful, and they were faithful. Their very detachment from the interests in which other Churches were engrossed made them the more able to abide in that fidelity which was their peculiar vocation.

In their narrow sphere the christians of Smyrna had enough discipline for the eternal future. We think sometimes of the vast, immeasurable future and its stupendous possibilities. And we think that the burden is laid on us, in a few short years, to prepare ourselves for it all. No wonder that thus thinking we are appalled, and that we forbode new disasters in our probation, ending, perhaps, in a second death. But we are wrong. It is not what we take with us, in attainments or even experience, which will determine our fitness for that future, but the men we are. And the man may be as truly fitted to start upon “his adventure brave and new” by mastering one lesson, as by acquainting himself with many; by being faithful unto death, and so laying eternal hold on Christ, as by laying up in a wide and varied experience a good foundation for eternal life. Fidelity, in much or in little, has all the promise of fidelity; its reward is to be unmoved. There is one other note of tenderness to be referred to in this message--the Church is to have “ten days of tribulation.” Some of the commentators tell us this means a short time, and others that the time is to be long. All depends on our point of view. To Smyrna, in its death agony, any protraction of the trouble would seem long; in the light of eternity, when wearing “the crown of life,” the victors would think it short. It was a fixed time, definitely limited by “the First and Last”; and any fixed time will one day seem brief; they who have come out of their travail think of the anguish no more. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)

Letter to Smyrna

Christ reveals Himself to His people according to their moral condition. In support of this assertion it is only necessary to read the superscriptions of the letters “unto the seven Churches which are in Asia.” By the title or representation which the Son of Man assumes, we may anticipate the revelation in which He is about to appear. In this, I am persuaded, we have an explanation of the varying experience of the Christian, and of the diversified and changeful mission of the Church. To one man, or to one Church, Christ presents Himself bearing “the sharp sword with two edges”; to another, with eyes blazing with penetrating light; to another, as holding the key of opportunity; and to another, as grasping infinitude, and girt with the memorials of death and the pledges of ascension. It is possible to have all these, and many more, visions of the selfsame Saviour. Our apprehensions of His identity are regulated by our moral conditions.

1. As our Saviour is the First and the Last, all things must be under His dominion. “The First.” Who can reveal the mystery of these words, or number the ages we must re-traverse ere we can behold the first gleam of that horizon which encircles God as an aureole of unwaning light! “The Last.” Another mystery! This expression bears us onward until the surging sea of life is for ever hushed, until the Divine government has answered all the purpose of Infinite Wisdom. Over what cemeteries we must pass, I know not; we must advance until the Creator exclaim from His throne, as the Redeemer cried from the Cross, “It is finished!”

2. As our Saviour was dead and is alive again, so we, who are now enduring the fellowship of His sufferings, shall know the power of His resurrection. “I was dead.” The counsels of eternity are epitomised in this declaration. The problem over which the ages bent in perplexity is, in reality, solved by this fact. “Alive again.” Let me inquire around what centre the Church assembles. Do you hasten to reply, the Cross? I answer, not there only. The Cross first, but afterwards the grave! In the centre of the Church is an empty tomb, and to a doubting world the Church can ever answer, “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” And, “seeing” it, what then? Why, from the sacred rock a living stream breaks, and as the countless multitudes drink, they exclaim, “These are the waters of immortality.”

Christ assures His people that He is intimately acquainted with every feature of their history. “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty.” The “I know” of love is the smile of God. Jesus sees our sufferings, is present in the cloud of our sorrow, needs not to be told what the soul has undergone, but breaks in upon the gathering darkness with words which bring with them the brightness and hope of morning, “I know, I know.” The fact that Jesus knows all that we suffer for Him should serve three purposes.

(1) It should embolden us to seek His help. He is within whisper-reach of all His saints. All the desires of the heart may be expressed in one entreating sigh--one appealing glance.

(2) It should inspire us with invincible courage. As the presence of a valorous leader stimulates an army, so should the assured guardianship of the Son of God inspire every soldier of the Cross.

(3) It should clothe us with profoundest humility. That we can do anything for Jesus is a fact which should extinguish all fleshly pride. He might have deprived the Church of this luxury of suffering in His stead; but it hath pleased Him, in the infinite fulness of His love, to permit us to be wounded for the sake of His name. Are you a sufferer? To thee Jesus says, “I know.” Is not that enough? The tear, indeed, falls downwards, but the sound of its falling flieth upward to the ear of God.

Christ reveals to His suffering saints the fact of their imperishable wealth. Turn your attention to the ninth verse, and determine which is its brightest gem. Look at the parenthesis, and you have it! How like the effusion of the Infinite mind! A volume in a sentence--heaven in a parenthesis! It flashes upon one so unexpectedly. It is a garden in a wilderness, a song of hope mingling with the night-winds of despair. Slowly we pass over the dismal words, “Thy works, and tribulation, and poverty,” and with startling suddenness we overpass the separating parenthesis, and then--then! Outside of it we have cold, shivering, desolate “poverty”; and inside “an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away”! Think of it! The very typography is suggestive; only parenthesis between “poverty” and “rich”! And is it not so even in reality? What is there between thee, O suffering saint, and joys immortal? What between thee and thy soul’s Saviour? Only a parenthesis--the poor, frail, perishing parenthesis of the dying body. No more. There is but a step between poverty and wealth. The history of transition is condensed into one sentence, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” Let the parenthesis fall, and you will see Him as He is. When, therefore, we estimate the wealth of a good man, we must remember that there is a moral as well as a material, an invisible as well as a visible, property. The good man is an heir, and his heirship relates to possessions which no human power of calculation can compute. If you as a Church ask me how you may ascertain whether you are “rich,” I should answer--

(1) Is your faith strong?

(2) Are your labours abundant?

(3) Are your spiritual children numerous?

Christ comforts his suffering ones by disarming their fears. I cannot arbitrate between contending critics as to the precise signification of the expression “ten days.” It is enough for me to secure a firm foot on the general principle which underlies the prediction. That general principle is, that there is a limit to the suffering of the Church. Persecution is an affair of “ten days.” Diocletian is the tyrant of a vanishing hour. To-day he raves in madness, to-morrow his last yell has for ever expired. “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment.” The apostle triumphantly contrasts the brevity of suffering with the duration of glory. In prospect of suffering, Christ says to His people, “Fear not.” But why this counsel? Does it not stiffen the heart as a word of chilling mockery? O Son of God, why tell the people not “to fear”? It is because He knows the full interpretation of suffering. Suffering is education. Grief is discipline. Let me further remind you that those sufferings have been overcome. Suffering is a vanquished power. “I have overcome the world.” We have fellowship in our suffering, a fellowship that is mastery.

Christ soothes and nerves His suffering saints by the promise of infinite compensation. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” Jesus Christ will not only deliver His saints from the sphere of suffering; He will introduce them into the sphere of eternal rest and joy. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The letter to the Church at Smyrna

Its temporal condition. The letter indicates that it was a condition of great trial. It refers to “tribulation,” “poverty,” “prison.”

1. Its present trial. There was “tribulation.” This is a term which represents trials of all kinds. But the special trial mentioned is “poverty.” “I know thy poverty.” Christ notices the secular condition of Churches.

(1) Though their city was rich, they were poor.

(2) Though they were distinguished by great spiritual excellence--for Christ Himself said, “Thou art rich,” that is, spiritually rich--they were secularly poor. In this world man’s secular condition is not always determined by his moral character. Character, and not condition, is everything to man. As compared to this, poverty is nothing. It is the man that gives worth to the condition, not the condition to the man. The gospel is for man as man, and the less man is artificialised the more open is he to its influence.

2. Its prospective trial. The letter indicates that great persecution awaited them. Several things are referred to as to the coming persecution.

(1) Its instruments. Jews by birth but not by character, not circumcised in the heart. The old religion has ever hated the new. How can it be otherwise? for the new examines the character, history, and pretensions of the old, and refuses submission to its authority and influence.

(2) Its instigator. “The devil.” He worketh in the children of disobedience--inspires them, raises their antagonism to the cause of purity, freedom, and happiness.

(3) Its form. “Cast into prison.” Incarceration in some respects is worse than martyrdom. Better die than to live without light, freedom, fellowship.

(4) Its duration. “Ye shall have tribulation ten days.”

Its spiritual obligation. The letter inculcates two duties.

1. Courage. “Fear none of these things.” Why fear? “Thou art rich” in faith and hope; in Divine promise, succour, and fellowship; therefore, fear not!

2. Fidelity. “Be thou faithful unto death.” When Christ left the world, He put His disciples in possession not of money, or land, or titles, or honours. These He had not to bestow. But He gave them His ideas, His purposes, His character, incomparably the most precious things. He did not write these things in books, and leave them in libraries. He trusted them to living souls, and said, take care of them. What a rare thing it is, alas! to find a man worthy of truth--worthy of the quantity and quality of truth which has been put into his possession. Notice here two things--

(1) The extent of this faithfulness. “Unto death.” Fidelity must not give way at any future point of life. No event can justify its suspension for a moment. It must stand even the fiery test of martyrdom.

(2) The reward of faithfulness. “I will give thee a crown of life.” Let thy faithfulness be strong enough to die for Me. (Caleb Morris.)

The address to Smyrna

The preliminaries.

1. The party addressed, “The angel of the Church in Smyrna.” Of the time and manner in which a Church was planted in this city no authentic information remains. It is probable, from its contiguity and commercial relations with Ephesus, that the gospel first reached it through that channel. We do not find it visited by any of the apostles, or mentioned in their epistles. Some private Christians, who were merchants, or who had been led to settle in that city, after receiving the light of the gospel elsewhere, may have formed the nucleus of a Church, which, toward the close of the first century, had become eminent for its purity and extent.

2. The title which the Saviour assumes to this Church. “The First and the Last, which was dead and is alive.” Though equally belonging to the whole, one part of Christ’s character and office is revealed more to one Church than another. He is more to some Christians than others, though He is all things to all. The Church at Ephesus needed to be reminded that His watchful eye was upon them, to stimulate them to recall their first love, and to do their first works; but the Church at Smyrna, which was more pure, and yet had to pass through fiery trials, needed most of all to dwell upon the unchangeableness of His power and love.

The address to the Church in Smyrna.

1. The recognition of its present state: “I know thy works,” etc. There were genuine Christians amongst them, and there were Jewish pretenders. These were viewed differently by Him whose “eyes were as a flame of fire.” He knows who are right-hearted, and He knows who are insincere. He observes particularly those who rely by faith upon His merits alone for the hope of eternal life, and those who confide in their own observance of moral duties, and ceremonial institutions. Let us attend, now, to the allusion made to the party by which the Church at Smyrna was principally opposed. The address is not to them, but to the Church respecting them; to sanction its views, and to guide its proceedings in future. “And I know the blasphemy,” etc. They were Jews, who magnified the ceremonies of the law above the grace of the gospel; and looked upon Christianity as heretical, except as far as it could be amalgamated with their institutions, and made subservient to their interests. The synagogue was far above the conventicle in their esteem. They boasted of their privileges, as Jews, and cherished the old conceit of being the favourites of heaven, and heirs of the promises, on account of their natural descent from Abraham. How dangerous are all systems and forms of religion which cherish and confirm the self-righteousness of human nature! How much worse than none at all! The weapons of religion are transferred, by these means, into the hands of its adversaries. There might have been a few in the Church at Smyrna who, finding these Jews had some truth on their side, were inclined to think more favourably of them than they deserved. The boldness with which they averred the superiority of their station, and their long prescriptive rights, would naturally have its influence upon a certain class of minds; and those especially who had counted all they could have gained by Judaism as loss for Christ might still have looked with some hesitation upon the safety and propriety of the step they had taken. For some such reason the Redeemer sees fit to express His opinion concerning them. This He does in most decisive terms. He accuses them of blasphemy, a crime which the Jews were taught to hold in the greatest detestation, and to punish with the most summary and humiliating death. He denies that in any sense in which they could boast they are Jews. Then what are they? They are, he says, “the synagogue of Satan.” In the sense in which they are not Jews, that is, in a religious and spiritual point of view, they were the synagogue of Satan. Strong terms are employed to inspire His people with horror at hypocrisy and formality.

2. An intimation of approaching trials. “Behold the devil is about to cast some of you into prison.” Human agents were employed to seize upon some of the Christians in Smyrna, and to cast them into prison, but it was at the instigation of the devil. If this rendered their guilt less, in reference to that particular transaction, it rendered it greater in having sold themselves into the hands of such a master. It is one great proof that Christianity is the true religion, that against this alone the demon of persecution has been excited. It is the only religion that Satan cannot turn to his own interests, the only kingdom that is opposed to his own, and consequently against this his whole rage and energies are employed.

3. Exhortations to unwavering fidelity, in reference to this approaching season of persecution. One relates to its anticipation, and another to its endurance. First, “Fear not.” When such an exhortation is given by God to man, who has reason to fear everything from Him, it implies the entire work of reconciliation. It is a promise also of all the support and consolation which the approaching trial may demand. The other admonition is, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” This intimates, that for the profession of the truth they would be exposed to death. They are not to temporise or prevaricate through fear, but continue stedfast and inflexible unto death.

The general application of the address to this particular Church. “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.” The original word for “hurt” assists the interpretation of the whole sentence. It is a judicial term, signifying that he shall not be wrongfully adjudged to the second death, as he has been to temporal death. He has been unjustly treated and injured in the first death, but no injury or injustice shall be done him with respect to the second death. Natural death is overcome by submission, not by resistance. When by faith in Christ we overcome the fear of it, we overcome the reality. If our faith conquers the first death, it will conquer the second. (G. Rogers.)

The words of Christ to the congregation at Smyrna

Wealth in poverty.

1. Secular wealth is of contingent value; spiritual is of absolute worth.

2. Spiritual wealth is essentially virtuous; not so secular.

3. Spiritual wealth is essentially a blessing; secular often a bane.

4. Spiritual wealth is inalienable; secular is not.

5. Spiritual wealth commands moral respect; not so secular.

Friends in religion. Satan has ever had much to do with religion. Religion--not godliness--is at once his shrine and his instrument. It was religion that put to death the Son of God Himself.

Saints in persecution.

1. It was religious.

2. Severe.

3. Testing.

4. Short.

Duty in trial.

1. Courage.

2. Faithfulness.

3. Perseverance.

4. Reflectiveness.

Victory in death. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

The Church in great tribulation

The trial to which this Church was subjected.

1. The persecution of inveterate enemies.

2. Temporal poverty.

3. The bigotry and reproach of embittered co-religionists.

4. The anticipation of future afflictions and imprisonment.

(1) The nature of this future suffering. In the hands of enemies.

(2) The instigator. Satan is the primary agent of all persecution.

(3) The duration. Determined by God. Brief at the longest.

(4) The design. The moral elevation of the pure.

The wealth by which this Church was characterised.

1. The worth of a Church cannot always be estimated by its temporal circumstances.

2. The worth of a Church cannot always be estimated by the opinions of men regarding it.

3. Moral considerations alone determine the true value of the Church.

The fidelity to which this Church was exhorted.

1. This exhortation indicates danger.

2. This exhortation requires steadfastness.


1. That the Church of Christ is often exposed to many trials and fierce persecutions.

2. That the Church of Christ is often persecuted by men who ought to know better.

3. That sectarian strife is the occasion of much persecution.

4. That the consolations of heaven are richly given to a tried Church. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Christ’s message to the tempted and tried

“You have a passion for people who are pelted, Dan,” said Sir Hugo Mallinger. “I’m sorry for them too; but so far as company goes, it is a bad ground of selection.” Our Saviour has a specially tender word to say to the pelted, and He speaks it here.

Surrenders that enrich; or the gain of loss for Christ. We mean that which Augustine felt, when he said in speaking of his conversion, “How sweet did it at once become to me to want the sweetness of these toys! And what I feared to be parted from was now a joy to part with!” What constitutes the true wealth of Churches? The number of moneyed men who are in the congregation? Nay, not so; but they become wealthy by accounting all that they possess as a solemn trust, and by employing every talent which they possess for the purpose which the Saviour had in view when He gave it to them. These Christians had not only endured the loss of all things, but they had been called upon to undergo even further ignominy, for they had been compelled to endure reviling and slander. To comfort them, calumny is noted in its relation to God. Perhaps the very virtues of these patient inoffensive people had been misrepresented. What had Christ to say about this form of iniquity? He styles it blasphemy; for Christ always calls things by their right names. Calumny against the saints is really blasphemy against God, for He has taken the comfort and good name of His people under His especial care, quite as much as He has assumed the responsibility of their eternal salvation. “It is our maxim,” said Justin Martyr, “that we can suffer harm from none, unless we be convicted as doers of evil, or proved to be wicked; you may indeed slay us, but hurt us you cannot.” Sublime words truly, from a man who expressed his own reasonable conviction of the consequences of his faith when he said, “I also expect to be entrapped … and to be affixed to the stake.” We are invulnerable if we are true to our Saviour, for no weapon which is formed against us can really prosper. Our battle is chiefly won by resistance; let us but wait, and we shall wear out the energies of our enemy and of his helpers.

Stout hearts for stormy times: the courage that conquers circumstances. “Fear not,” saith Christ, and still continue to fear not. The “unto death” is first and mainly intensive. It marks the sublime quality, and not the continuance of our faith. Although you are robbed, suffer injustice, and are cruelly, slandered, yet fear not. Continue steadfastly in your duty, and be prepared to die rather than yield up what is committed unto you. Poverty, sickness, the loss of good name, bereavement, even death itself: Christ knows them all, for He has Himself endured them, and so He says from experience, “Fear them not!” Let us say about all the hard facts and enemies of our lives what Andrew Fuller said during a crisis in the history of the Baptist Missionary Society, “We do not fear them. We will play the man and fight for the cause of our God, and Jehovah do that which pleases Him.”

1. The omniscience of Christ is a ground of courage, for the author of the mischief is known. If God’s enemy be the prime mover in our sorrows, we may safely anticipate especial grace to interfere upon our behalf. It is also no small comfort for us to know that the author of our misery is known to God, who will one day tread Satan under our feet.

2. And another source of holy courage is the Divine control of evil, which is seen in the fact that the suffering is limited by Divine wisdom. It is true that ten days are a dreary time while the tribulation endures, but they form, after all, a very insignificant portion of our lives. Is it not a comfort to know that there are no contingencies in our lives that Christ has not provided for, that if, for reasons which will be made clear some day, He determines that ten days’ suffering is needful for us, or for others, not more than ten days will be allotted to us. We must endure all that period, but not an hour longer than He deems requisite, for Christ is the judge of our sorrows and the giver of our affliction.

3. Another motive to courage is the fact that God does always actually triumph, and that, however unwillingly, the worst does the best for those who love Him. These Christians were to be tried, and some of them would be killed. It is hard to part with life, even with all the alleviations of the gospel. But these men were likely to die amidst cruel mocking, and with none of the consolations which minister to our loved ones when they pass away from us. Christ may require even this sacrifice of our inclinations of us; at any rate, He expects that if He should demand it, that we should be ready to yield at once to, His requirement. Nor should it be hard for us to do so, for death will only accomplish Christ’s bidding. Let us then say to each other, as Annie Bronte said to her sister, “Take courage; take courage.” And the more so because courage is no virtue in those who are blessed by the love of Christ; it is only natural.

And He who exhorts us to be brave furnishes us with strong antidotes for sore evils; there are some things that we should never forget.

1. In the first place, we should ever keep in mind the fact that Christ has the last word in every conversation, and the completing touch in every work. “I am the First and the Last,” He says. “I was the first in raising you, and I will be the last in preserving you. I began the conflict, and I will terminate the fight.” A declaration also of our Lord’s dignity, and a proof that He judges persons and events.

2. Another antidote to fear will be found in Christ’s person and offices, which are a source of unfailing strength. Death has not made an end of Christ; even such agony as He endured has not changed Him. He knows therefore from His own experience what the pangs of death are. “Died He, or in Him did death die?” Augustine asks. “What a death that gave death its deathblow!” And to the victor who will seek to conquer his own timidity, and will persevere to the end, the Saviour promises a crown of life. Kingly life, the dignities and happiness of heaven, are here promised to those who will be faithful. As against the loss of a life which is burdened with care at the best, and is often embittered by failure and sin, our Saviour promises a better life, which is to come. Over the entrance of Thornbury Castle there is a scroll upon which is inscribed “Doresenevant.” This is an old French word which signifies “Hence-forward,” or “Hereafter.” The builder was a Duke of Buckingham, who thus expressed his sanguine hopes with regard to the English crown. We may truly say “Hereafter,” and the watchword should nerve us to endure the period of waiting for our kingdom, because one day we too shall be crowned. (J. J. Ellis.)

The First and the Last, which was dead, and is alive.--

Christ’s designation of Himself

What is meant by Christ being “the First and the Last”? The words are quoted from Isaiah 44:6-7, where God supports His claim as the declarer of truth on the fact that He was before all, and continues through all, standing alone as acquainted with all. When our Lord uses this phrase for Himself, He makes Himself the Eternal Jehovah. He uses a title which belongs only to the Most High God. And yet in close connection with the title which best marks His Deity is the title which best marks His humanity--“which was dead, and lived again.” The Cross is seen on the background of the Divine. The suffering Man is one with the saving God. The two titles together form a compendium of the great salvation, and lift the mind to the contemplation of the grand scheme of the Divine mercy and love, as against any earthly trial of whatever kind. (H. Crosby.)

But thou art rich.--

Spiritual Aches

It often happens that people do not know how rich they are. So it appears to have been with the Smyrnian Church. Let us consider some of the elements of these spiritual riches possessed by this Church with which Jesus has no fault to find.

It was rich in faith (James 2:5). Do you know why faith enriches its possessor? It is because he is justified by faith. There is not a more impoverishing thing than a consciousness of sin.

This Church was Rich toward God (Luke 12:21). This phrase is used by our Saviour in contrast with laying up treasure for one’s self. Wealth, when well gotten, is a trust from God, and ought to be administered for Him. But this Church was not rich, and had no opportunities to speak of laying the treasures of earth upon God’s altar; and yet it was rich toward God; for the principle of complete consecration was well honoured in the observance of the brethren.

This Church was “rich in good works” (1 Timothy 6:18). Good works are the current coin of the heavenly kingdom; happy he who has his spiritual coffers full of them. And as all the coin of the realm must have its origin in the royal mint, so all good works to be genuine must spring from faith in God, and bear the image and superscription of King Jesus.

The power of making others rich was another source of spiritual wealth to this Church. He is truly wealthy who can describe himself, like Paul, “as poor, yet making many rich.” (J. Cameron.)

The riches of the poor

The poor are rich; for they have the most valuable possessions and enjoyments of the rich, and want only those which are of less value. Gaiety and cheerfulness, in infancy and childhood, gladden the offspring of the peasant as well as the offspring of the prince. The sleep of the labouring man is as sweet as his who has acquired or inherited the largest fortune. The mind of the servant may be more contented and serene than that of the master.

Many of the poor, yea, all of them who have obtained precious faith, even in this life possess and enjoy the best riches.

1. They possess a title and claim to all things. To Jesus, the heir of all things, they are united by faith and love.

2. They possess an interest in Him who is the fountain of all blessedness and the possessor of heaven and earth. Be it so that they cannot say this house or these lands are ours, they have ground to say, this God is our God for ever and ever.

3. They have a charter which cannot be revoked; and which secures their possession of all that is good for them (2 Peter 1:4; 1 Timothy 4:8; Psalms 34:10; Psalms 84:11; Psalms 132:15; Isaiah 54:17; Zechariah 9:8; 1 Corinthians 10:14).

4. True Christians, through the operations of the Spirit of Christ and the influence of faith purifying the heart, are enriched with a temper of mind, and with dispositions which are the seeds of true happiness. Religion consecrates the understanding, the will, and the affections, to the best and noblest purposes; and opens the purest sources of transporting delight.

5. True Christians are rich in the well-grounded prospect of a state beyond the grave, where every source of sorrow shall be dried up and every spring of joy opened.

The poor are rich, for they have the means of acquiring and securing the most substantial and durable riches. They have large, free, and generous offers of all that is needful to make them happy. To the pool the gospel is preached; and thus a price is put into their hands to get wisdom (John Erskine, D. D.)

Poor but pure

Sweet-smelling Smyrna, the poorest but purest of the seven. (J. Trapp.)

Poor and rich

There are both poor rich men and rich poor-men in God’s sight. (Abp. Trench.)

Poor yet rich

There is no proportion between wealth and happiness nor between wealth and nobleness. The fairest life that ever lived on earth was that of a poor man, and with all its beauty it moved within the limit of narrow resources. The loveliest blossoms do not grow on plants that plunge their greedy roots into the fattest soil. A little light earth in the crack of a hard rock will do. We need enough for the physical being to root itself in; we need no more. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer.

Suffering Christians

Suffering is the lot of Christians in this world. No situation in life, however desirable--no circumstances, however auspicious--no degree of consistency and utility of moral character, can exempt any individual from trouble and sorrow. Perfect freedom from trouble and sorrow will never be experienced on this side the kingdom of glory.

Of the sufferings of Christians are produced by the agency of Satan. Persecutors of the Lord’s people are agents of the devil, and if left under his power, they will eternally share with him in punishment. That which the devil effects in malice, with a view to their ruin, the Saviour permits in mercy, with a view to their advantage. The faith and the patience of suffering saints confound Satan, encourage the Church, and glorify Christ. The time when Christians are to be tried, and also the nature, and the degree, and the duration of their trials, are wisely and mercifully determined by the Redeemer.

Christians have no cause to fear in the prospect of sufferings.

Christians are encouraged to fidelity by the promise of final victory and eternal felicity. (J. Hyatt.)

Sin and suffering

Take more pains to keep yourselves from sin than from suffering. (T. Brooks.)

Trial and strength proportionate

God sees fit to try us all. When you are going through some large works, you will see a crane or teagle on which are such words as these, “To lift five tons,” and so on. Now, nobody would expect to weigh ten tons on a teagle which is capable of sustaining only five. Neither will God permit you to be tried beyond your capacity. (W. Birch.)

Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.--

An appeal with promise

There is recognition in this message of man’s unique place and power in God’s creation. That the crowned Christ should speak to man at all from His throne above suggests human dignity. But the inference is enlarged and certified when we consider the character of the speech. Not to the grandest of His countless worlds does God say, “Be thou faithful.” He speaks, and it is done. Everything yields to His touch, takes fashion from His will, obeys with precision His impulse. But not as to His works does God relate Himself to men. With them He reasons and pleads, for them He sacrifices and waits. The difference is neither accidental nor arbitrary. We are God’s children, not His creatures, nor merely His subjects. Hence in His dealings with men the Creator becomes the Father, the Sovereign the Saviour, the Supreme Authority the most impassioned Reasoner. Higher than the angels, and centred in the thought of eternity, man is God’s child, God’s care, God’s desire. If this account of us adds value and dignity to human life, it confers a more solemn responsibility and calls for a worthier and more constant recognition. The redemption of life, whether among rich or poor, can find its impetus in no lower motive than a recognition of man’s sacredness as a son of God and a child of eternity. Only as we see each other in the light of God can we live together in relations of perfect justice and peace. When the divinity of every man has been realised through the humanity of the God-Man, life will reach its true grandeur and simplicity. Alike upon individual character and upon the social organism the effect will be as of a new creation. The vices which have flourished upon a degraded conception of human nature, the wrongs which have grown up on the basis of mere political and economic relations, will wither away in the atmosphere of diviner thought--old things shall pass away, behold, all things will become new! And it is religion--the religion of Jesus the Christ--which alone is adequate, alike by its revelation of God and its consequent doctrine of man, to elevate thought, to humanise motive, to deify life.

The form into which our text is east is not without significance. It is a simple exhortation coupled with an attractive promise. “Be thou faithful” is not a lecture, but an appeal, and it is addressed to the latent energies of our emotional nature. The Scriptures are full of similar exhortations, and the implication clearly is that knowledge is not a self-acting motor, that man is not a self-impelling power. He requires to be aroused from slumber, to be stirred into activity, to be moved as well as taught. Religion takes note of that necessity. It is more than truth: it is impulse. Bringing to man’s aid a new world of motives, it completes its teaching by persuasion and appeal. To our gospel man appears not as a poor ignoramus groping his way to more knowledge in order to nobler life, but as a wayward sinner needing to be aroused, forgiven, assisted. He is wrongheaded because wronghearted. It is in view of this condition that the gospel makes its appeal to each one of us. Bringing into our impoverished life a new and glorious world of knowledge, and offering for our acceptance resources of power not derivable from ourselves, it directs its penetrative appeals to the arousing of holy desire and purpose in our hearts. It is a reiterated and urgent invitation to men who know they are wrong, but who are slow to seek and strive after the right. Its characteristic words are “come,” “look,” “believe,” “take,” “follow,” “hold fast,” “be faithful.” And until we make personal response to these calls we stand in a false relation to the Christ and His Gospel.

In the spiritual order of life something comes before faithfulness. “Be thou faithful” suggests an antecedent vow or covenant to which allegiance is urged. Conversion goes before consecration, and both before faithfulness. The text has no message for a man until he has taken the first of these steps. Have you yet taken it? One point, touching the matter, requires to be re-emphasised. The new life does not grow, as plants grow, by mere unconscious absorption of vital elements. And the reason is because men are not plants, but free intelligences, who are here for the very purpose of exercising their freedom and determining their own destiny. An act of decision is therefore of the very essence of the problem involved in human liberty and Divine grace. But it must be there in every life. Free men, who are here for the purpose of using their liberty, must and do make choice. Life’s issues are not determined by hap or accident. Every man’s destiny awaits his own decision. All that God can do He has done. The issues depend now upon us. We are surrounded with helps to the fulfilment of life’s true issues. Have we made our decision? Are we intelligently and heartily on the Lord’s side? That is the supreme question. Until it is answered we have done our duty neither to Christ nor to ourselves. We cannot be Christ’s men without knowing it. May God give us grace to face that question--and that question only--till we have reached a definite decision and made a personal surrender!

But while the text recalls the antecedent necessity of decision, it throws an equal emphasis upon the duty of continuance. Here it speaks to men and women who have taken a stand in respect of Christian faith and service. It is a call to that loftiest and most difficult duty of daily constancy in effort and devotion. Constancy is a finer discipline than ecstasy. Faithfulness is more and better than originality. “Go on,” Christ seems to say; “do not fret as though you were forgotten, but endure as those who will be surely rewarded: look not down and around at the difficulties of your lot, but look on and up to the powers arid issues of your discipleship: be not dismayed at the variations of feeling, but stand loyal to the resolutions of obedience: Heaven is around you, God is above and within--be not deceived by the scepticism of the eye, but informed by the vision of faith, and your victory will be your reward.” The quiet and faithful worker, who undertakes a task and keeps at it with noble pertinacity, may not be so prominent, but is incomparably more fruitful in the Christian Church. Restless activity may only be busy idleness. Emotion is not obedience. “Be thou faithful,” and thou shalt be peaceful and strong.

The text, so full of wise counsel, closes with a promise: “I will give thee a crown of life.” The promise points far forward to that blessed day when we shall stand among the victors on the other side of death. Life, life full and strong and perfect, shall then be ours. We can only dimly anticipate the glory of such a crown. Now and again we seem to get glimpses of it, but the glory is swiftly hidden lest it should blind us to earth and time and duty. But behind the cloud of years and beyond the horizon of discipline this promise clearly points to a full and perfect life. Faithfulness is ever winning and ever wearing the crown. Life is every day putting on a new crown. The judgment seat of God is set every morning, and His rewards are bestowed upon the faithful soul. What life, what love, what joy, does God give day by day to men who live simple, sincere, unselfish, pious byes! The best is kept in store, but brief foretastes are granted while we suffer and strive. (Charles A. Berry.)

The law of fidelity and its Divine reward

The law of fidelity.

1. Fidelity is a virtue of universally acknowledged importance and worth.

2. Fidelity is a social virtue based upon the universal law of love.

3. Fidelity is a duty man, as man, owes to his Creator.

4. The degree of love is the measure of fidelity.

5. Fidelity to Christ involves fidelity to the great truths of the Cross.

6. Fidelity to the Gross involves fealty to every true friend of the Cross.

7. Faithfulness to Christ involves continued and life-long fidelity.

The Divine reward of this lifelong fidelity. Those who are faithful unto death will be crowned with life--that is to say, life in its sublime and subliming form. Our life here is more death than life. Here we have the minimum of bliss, there the maximum of happiness; here the minimum of power, there the maximum of might. (William McKay.)

Christian faithfulness

The nature of the appeal: “Be faithful.” Faithfulness is

(1) Due to Christ;

(2) Possible to all;

(3) All-pervasive.

The range of the appeal: Be thou faithful unto death. Faith should be--

(1) Superior to circumstances--Tribulation; Death.

(2) Independent of others:thou.”

(3) Of life-long duration: unto death.

The enforcement of the appeal: I will give thee,” etc. There is another sphere of life, with reality and splendour of reward, and the reward itself will be--

(1) Appropriate, in character; Faithfulness crowned; “death”--“life.”

(2) Personal, in enjoyment: “I will give thee.”

(3) Certain, in attainment; because

(a) gratuitous in its vouchsafement: “give;” and

(b) definite in its promise: “I will.” (Homilist.)

Fidelity to Christ enforced

A solemn exhortation

1. Christians are urged to fidelity in their professions of personal attachment to the Saviour.

2. The exhortation calls on Christians to be faithful in their adherence to all the doctrines of Revelation.

3. To be faithful in maintaining the royal authority of the Saviour, and His Headship over His Church.

4. To be faithful in paying your solemn vows.

The gracious assurance

1. The gift--“A crown of life.” A crown is the highest object of earthly ambition and the possession of it the loftiest pinnacle of worldly glory--to obtain it, no toils, struggles, or sacrifices are deemed too great. But between this crown of life and all the glory and honour of this earth there is no comparison. It is a crown of life, and this is indicative of the pure, lofty, and endless enjoyments to which it introduces.

2. The glorious giver. It is Christ who is to bestow the crown of life. Those who are to wear it have not won it by their own prowess, obtained it by their own merit, or inherited it by their natural birth. It is given freely by Him by whose blood it was secured, and by whose munificence it is bestowed.

3. The solemn period at which this crown shall be bestowed. The text directs forward our expectations to the solemn period of dissolution when this reward shall be obtained. This advantage is peculiar to Christianity. At death the conquering hero lays down his crown, and leaves all his worldly glory behind him. But at death the Christian triumphs. Then he puts off his armour and receives his crown. His conflicts terminate, his enemies are for ever defeated, and death is swallowed up in victory. (A. Harvey.)

Faithful unto death

The original means not simply, “Be thou,” but rather, “Become thou”; as showing that it is a thing which we are not; but which continually we must, from time to time, make ourselves, by a holy effort. “Become thou faithful unto death.” To be “faithful” is to be “full of faith,” i.e., full of the realisation of things unseen. For the only way to secure “faithfulness” in anything is to carry with us a constant presence and a deep sense of the invisible. And you must be careful that you have caught the exact sense of “unto death.” It relates not so much to the measure of the duration of the time as to the degree of the power of the endurance--“to the death-point.” You will set about your endeavour to be “faithful,” with the greater pleasantness and the more assurance of success if you carry with you the recollection that it was the characterising grace of our Master. St. Paul has drawn for us the striking comparison that Moses indeed was “faithful in all His house,” but that the glory of the faithfulness of Christ exceeded the glory of the faithfulness of Moses as much as the builder of a house is better than the building. Of the many voices with which your motto will speak to you, let me now anticipate only a very few. And, first, your “faithfulness” to God. For remember that no other relation can ever be quite right while that is wrong. The upward will rule all the rest. First, as an act of justice, take honouring views of the Father. Never question that you are His child-though the unworthiest; and believe God’s love, even when you have grieved Him to the very quick, and when He is chastening you the most sorely, Secondly, keep short accounts with God. Never leave more than a day’s debt to God unsettled. Thirdly, be “faithful” to God in telling Him everything. Be “faithful” in your confidences, have no secrets, open to God the whole heart. The mortification will be severe, but ye cannot be “faithful” in prayer unless the prayer be “unto death,” to the death of your dearest sin. These voices let your motto speak to you in your own room. Next, be faithful to yourself. First, to your pledges in baptism, in confirmation, in the Lord’s Supper, in many a sorrow. Deal honourably with your own pledges, acknowledging the responsibility and facing the duty. And, secondly, to your conscience. A man will never go very far wrong who really listens to and follows his conscience. Thirdly, be “faithful” to your Church. Faults, no doubt, our Church has. There has been too much admixture with the world since that day when she came pure out of her Master’s hand that she should not have contracted some earthly alloy. But she is the fairest Church upon earth and the freest from blemish, the purest thing out of heaven. And she is the Church of your fathers, of your baptism, of the holiest associations of your life, and of your best hours. Be “faithful” to her. Follow her teaching. Obey her laws. Love her services. Reverence her simplicity. Bow to her judgments. Strive for her increase. Pray for her unity. It would be far too large a field if I were to attempt to enter now, in any detail, upon the “faithfulness” of daily duties. Whatever you have to do, do not he so anxious to do it well, cleverly, effectually, as to do it “faithfully.” The rest may not be in your power--this is. Every man can be “faithful.” Your chief danger will be, not that you be unfaithful one day or two, but that you will become weary and grow slack. Therefore read the precept with emphasis, day after day, week after week, all the year round--“faithful unto death.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Christian faithfulness and its reward

Christian faithfulness implies--

1. Sincerity, in opposition to hypocrisy.

2. Fidelity, in opposition to fraud or peculation.

3. Diligence, in opposition to indolence.

4. Courage in the time of danger or suffering.

5. Perseverance.

The reward of Christian faithfulness.

1. The firstfruits of that glorious harvest, which is included in the future reward, are enjoyed upon earth.

(1) There is a present reward in the enjoyment of the testimony of a good conscience.

(2) The consciousness of the approbation of God is worth a thousand worlds to a man in the present life.

(3) And there is, then, the great luxury of doing good, relieving misery.

2. The Lord not only gives us grace and strength and support and comfort in our work, but He has reserved for us “a crown of life.” (T. Entwistle.)

Faithful unto death

A great trust.

A solemn injunction concerning this trust.

1. Be serious that you may be faithful. From the Christian standpoint what a thing is life! What solemn mystery broods over it! What passionate interests it holds! If we consider all this we cannot be frivolous.

2. Be firm that you may be faithful. A great part of practical faithfulness consists in resistance.

3. Be ready that you may be faithful. Say “Yes” before your fears have time to shape “No.” Say “No” before your inclinations have time to whisper “Yes.” Stand out declared, before friends or enemies have cause to think you are yielding to the point where the assault is made.

4. Be tender, gracious, and loving, that you may be faithful The Master whom we serve is the Saviour, whose pity never sleeps. Thus in the Christian faithfulness there is a combination of things which seem opposite--hardness like that of the adamant, and softness like that of the air.

5. Be patient, that you may be faithful.

A decisive day. It is the day of death. “Be thou faithful unto death.” Better is this end of life than the beginning.

A great reward. “I will give thee a crown of life.” (A. Raleigh, D. D.)

The duty and the reward of Christian fidelity

The command.

1. Christian faithfulness relates to the testimony God has given in His Word. Other knowledge may be useful, but this is the direct communication from God, acquainting us with His rich compassion towards us in not sparing His own Son. This system of revealed truth we are to make the subject of habitual study and the source of our chief consolation--it is to be the director of our conduct. Fidelity to the truth of God requires that we make an open, though an humble, confession of it. To this, its intrinsic excellence, its vital importance, its adaptation to all the wants and miseries of men, entitle it.

2. Christian fidelity relates to the claims of the Saviour to our obedience. His benignity and excellence render Him worthy of the love and homage of all created beings; but He has won to Himself a title to the gratitude and obedience of mankind, by assuming the character of Redeemer, by suffering as their Surety. When the enemy would persuade us to turn away from Him, when temptation would lure us away from the Captain of our salvation; when the indolence and remissness to spiritual exercises, natural to man, would often be a hindrance to our fidelity, let us hear His animating voice, saying, “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.”

3. We are to be faithful in the exercise and in the improvement of the talents entrusted to our charge.

4. We are to be faithful in exercising the courage which the Christian warfare requires. The allusion in the text is to military life, and to the obedience due from a soldier to his general, leader, and commander. He must never, through treachery or cowardice, desert the banner he has sworn to defend, nor refuse to follow the order of his general.

5. Christian fidelity is to be continued unto death.

The promise of gracious reward expressed in the text--“I will give thee a crown of life.” (D. Dewar, D. D.)

Christian faithfulness

A personal faithfulness. “Thou.”

1. Individual attention to, and steadfastness in, our own particular work. The mode and circumstances of the testimony different. Philip’s part different from Sephen’s, Paul’s from Peter’s, and so forth. But individual faithfulness the common characteristic of all true witnesses.

2. Personal also in respect of the one object of faith. He served not merely “a cause,” but the Lord, his own loved and adored Master in heaven.

A permanent faithfulness. The faith is persistent unto the end, through all sufferings, opposition, temptation, death itself. Not “fits and starts,” but a steady, onward course (2 Timothy 4:7; 1 Corinthians 15:58).

A perfected faithfulness. The faithfulness is perfected at last, and this perfection is “the crown of life.” (Bp. W. S. Smith.)

Christian fidelity and its reward

Christian fidelity.

1. The Christian must be faithful to the claim of the Supreme Being upon the devotion of his soul and the service of his life.

2. The Christian must be faithful to the requirements of truth and to the inner experiences and convictions of the soul.

3. The Christian must be faithful to the needs of men around him, and their relation to the redemptive mission of Christ.

4. The Christian must be faithful notwithstanding the dangers of the Christian life.

Its reward.

1. The reward of Christian fidelity will be ennobling in its character.

2. The reward of Christian fidelity will be given by Christ.


1. Are we faithful to the claims of God?

2. The solemn motive to fidelity.

3. The glorious reward of fidelity. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Cross and crown

Christian consecration.

1. It must be thorough--“Faithful.” This implies--

(1) Adverse circumstances.

(2) Strong conviction.

(3) Resolute will.

(4) Persevering effort.

(5) Dauntless courage.

2. It must be personal--“Thou.” Each one has his own power, sphere, and responsibility for service.

3. It must be life-long. Necessary for--

(1) Thorough discipline of character.

(2) Required usefulness to society.

(3) Complete devotedness to God.

Christian compensation.

1. Glorious “Crown.”

2. Enduring--“Life.” Eternal--real “life” to enjoy it.

3. Certain--“Will.”

4. Personal--“Thee.”

5. Unmeritorious--“Give.”

6. Divinely bestowed--“I.”


1. Effort, not enjoyment, is the object in life.

2. Be true to Christ above all others.

3. Jesus rewards effort, not prosperity.

4. Death the great transformation scene. Cross to crown.

5. Heaven a world of conquerors. All crowned.

6. Draw upon future glories to encourage in present trials. (B. D. Johns.)

A crown of life

The finest heroism is that of ordinary life. Steadfastness in hard times is a far nobler manifestation of moral strength than the most dashing valour which souls display under the joyous impulse of great success. For instance, the greatness of General Washington is shown by the magnificent hopefulness and steadiness with which he held his poor little army together through long months of retreat and suffering, far more than by his consummate ability in the guidance of actual battle. Many persons after they have done well in an enterprise think they have received no reward unless they have obtained fame or riches. Yet comparatively few do receive such rewards as these, and we hear a continual outcry that justice does not rule between God and man. Is it just that the world’s multitude of sufferers includes not merely the idle, inefficient, and vicious, but in large numbers those to whom poverty clings in spite of their devoted labours, and those who are kept down by constant illness or other unavoidable weakness? Why has God denied to all the multitudes of the unfortunate all adequate reward to their efforts? The sufficient answer to these doubting questions is the pointing out of the fact that those who ask them have set up a wrong standard of rewards, and so have overlooked the most important things God is doing in human souls. Who told you, my doubting friend, that the only just reward for writing a noble book is immediate fame, or that wealth ought always to be showered upon the most diligent workers? God is not a magnified committee of award, who examines the records of earth, and metes out to men as rewards for good conduct the things they most desire to possess. Abundant resources, delightful pleasures, gratifying honours, enrich some lives and fail to reach others by causes that are not intended, in my belief, to make of them arbitrary rewards. They fall to the share of evil men and good alike, and are missed by myriads of the most virtuous persons. Divine rewards must therefore be a different sort of thing; and, inasmuch as God can do no wrong, we ought to be able to discover His marks of approval in every life we know to be a noble one. This search inevitably becomes a religious one. Our trust in God is our chief guide; and by this we are led to see that the deepening of life itself is the Divine reward to all excellent deeds or hopes. Jesus gave the noblest utterance to His mission when He said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” They who are faithful, pure in heart, noble, do receive at once more abundant life; and life is but one thing before or after death. There is something which no evil heart can enjoy, but which no righteous soul ever for an instant fails to receive as the immediate reward of his good qualities. That gracious reward is life with its uncounted possibilities, to be your deepest joy at the present time and your eternal field for high surprise. The ancient Greeks gave a crown of wild olive to the victors in their athletic or poetic contests, and the modem world gives crowns of wealth and conspicuous leadership to those who win in its competitions. But there is a lovelier crown than these. The many souls that seem to lose in their competitions with others are in reality gaining much of permanent value while they strive with noble aims. To all who work thus, whether they seem to win or not, there is given life as a crown. Be faithful unto death; and you receive that crown--simply life. The hero makes his greatest sacrifice at the place of perilous duty, loses all his joys and treasures because honour bids him die, only to awake and find that life is still his, but brighter, dearer, than ever, because now ennobled by his faithful heroism. Once a mere existence full of mingled joy and sorrow, life has now been by his own act transformed into a crown, a reward sufficient for all goodness. It may well be that heaven is simply the discovery by an it, mortal soul of the Divine joy it is to be alive. If so, then, surely, life can be transformed into a crown, a measureless joy, at any moment by any sterling act of worthiness in the midst of the trials that make goodness difficult. To be faithful unto death is required but once of any man; but to be faithful up to the full requirement of every situation is demanded of us all at every moment, so that we can at any instant discover the real sublimity of this life of ours. Life may seem nothing rare to one who idly, selfishly, squanders its precious hours; but to every diligent man life is a treasure beyond estimation, and such natures find in the opportunities of each new day the ample reward for faithfulness in the day before. The true scholar’s reward does not lie in the fame he may or may not receive for his book, nor in the financial returns it secures. His joy is in the doing of the work itself, in the eager search for truth, in the knowledge he is acquiring, in the actual labour of his literary art. The artist Turner cared so little for public praise and for the selling of his famous works, that when he died there were in his possession hundreds of his paintings, which by a little worldly wisdom he might have turned into gold. His joy was in the art itself, in the painting of pictures; that is, in life rather than in common rewards. Life was his crown, as is that of every worker who honours his occupation. The Divineness of this crown of life is made evident by its universality. Every good deed, every pure thought, broadens into finer life. If any man of an earnest mind understands what earnestness is worth, he has already the one Divine reward of earnestness, and need not care to be popularly known as an example of zeal. See life in this light, and, so far as you are concerned, the sting is taken away from all your failures and difficulties. The deepening, broadening, enriching, of your nature is your reward for your faithfulness through your long years of toil, hardship, loss, and grief. We know that restricted resources call out a man’s own mental resources, and that a Robinson Crusoe with only a jack-knife to depend upon accomplishes more with it than another can with a whole kit of tools. We know that the gravest anxieties of business or private life give rise to our firmest courage, our grandest moral strength. We know how the trials and bitter, searching things of life take hold of careless youths and silly girls, and change their mood from vanity to beauty and strength, as the flames that burn out the iron’s impurities and give forth the royal steel. In all such moral developments we see the gift of larger life coming to those that have earned it by desert; and, what is of most immediate interest to us, we see it coming without weary delay while yet the fierce struggle goes on. The most significant thing in the matter is that the crown of life--that is, life in its aspect of moral success and self-reliance--does not come to any one class of men more than to others. It comes in the very midst of anxiety, poverty, and physical weakness; and it blossoms forth also in souls that have easier careers. The only places where it does not appear are the wastes of vice and selfishness. No wicked person can know the depths of life until he changes his course, and begins by moral struggle to develop his soul. (C. E. St. John.)

The crown of life

A crown without cares, co-rivals, envy, end. (J. Trapp.)

A crown for the faithful

Christ’s charge to all His followers.

1. “Be faithful” to your soul, in seeking its prosperity.

2. “Be faithful” to Christ, in Four profession of His name.

3. “Be faithful” to the gospel, in attachment to its doctrines. The gospel is the legacy of Christ to all His followers; dearer to us ought it to be than liberty or life.

4. “Be faithful” to the world, in your interest for its conversion. You are “the salt,” to preserve the world from putrefaction; you are the cities which, for unity, beauty, and security, are to be admired as patterns; you are lights, to “shine before men, that they may glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

5. “Be thou faithful unto death.” This faithfulness is to continue, then, during life; there is to be no cessation.

The glorious reward He gives to all who obey it.

1. Its nature. This “crown” is to set forth the unspeakable glories of the upper world by objects that are familiar to our senses. Is a crown, for instance, emblematic of royalty? This happiness, then, is to be a residence with the King of kings. He shall rule, and you shall reign. Is a crown symbolic of victory? There we shall be conquerors--“more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” Many, like Nelson, conquer, but die in the conflict--do not live to enjoy their conquest; but you are led in triumph to the obtaining of She conquest by your great Master.

2. Its superiority. It is “a crown of life.” Four things constitute life--that is, happiness--on earth: health, plenty, friendship, knowledge. These are reserved in perfection for paradise.

3. Its bestowal. It is a gift of grace. Man’s merit did not buy this glory. Grace first brings the mind into the way, grace strengthens the soul to persevere, and grace puts the crown of glory upon the head.

4. Its certainty. Every one that cleaves to Him, every one that serves Him, every one that loves Him, shall have this crown. There is no venture here, no speculation here; the virtue of the atonement, the oath of God, the experience of all His children, the dying testimony of those who have passed away to that far better world, all confirm the truth--“Where I am, there shall also My servant be.”


1. Since so much depends on faithfulness to Christ, diligently use those means which are sanctified to preserve it. One of the first means to obtain these blessings is, crave Divine keeping. He is well kept whom God keeps, and he only.

2. Preserve intimacy with Jesus Christ. Unfaithfulness commences in absence.

3. And shall I say, avoid the company of Christ’s enemies?

4. And choose decided friends of Christ as your companions: not half-hearted persons, that you cannot tell whether there is any religion in or no. (J. Sherman.)


A faithful person you can always trust; he is ever the same, behind your back as before your face. There are three things about faithfulness which show how important it is, and how earnestly we should learn and practise it.

It is so useful. Look at the mariner’s compass. It is a small, flat piece of steel, called a needle. This is placed on the fine point of a piece of iron, which is fastened in an upright position inside of a little box. It is free to turn in any direction; but God has given that little needle the power of always turning to the north. We do not know what this power in the needle is which makes it turn to the north. People call it magnetism. No one can tell what this magnetism is, but we believe in it. The wonderful power of this little needle makes it one of the most useful things in the world. When sailors go to sea, and lose sight of land, this needle is all they have to depend upon to guide them across the trackless ocean. There are hundreds of vessels out at sea now that could never find their way back to port if it were not for the strange power of this needle. And faithfulness is to us just what the magnetism of that needle is to the compass. It guides us to usefulness. Faithfulness will make us honest and true; it will lead us to do what we know to be right. And then we can always be trusted.

It is so beautiful. God has given us the power to delight in beautiful things; and in His great goodness God has filled the world about us with beautiful things in order that we may find pleasure in looking at them. How beautiful the sun is as it rises and sets in floods of golden glories! How beautiful is the moon as it moves through the heavens so calmly bright! How beautiful the stars are as they shine in the dark sky! And how beautiful the flowers are in all the loveliness of their varied forms and colours! We thank God for all these beautiful things because of the pleasure they give and the good they do us; and when painters make beautiful pictures, and sculptors chisel out beautiful figures in marble, we thank them too, because we love to look upon the beautiful things they make. It gives us pleasure, and does us good, to see things that are beautiful. It is a pleasing thing to see a boy or girl, a man or woman, who is trying to be faithful and do what is right.

It is so honourable. The highest honour we can gain is to do that which God and good people approve, and which will lead them to love us and think well of us. “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” And so, when we are doing the things that faithfulness requires of us, we may be sure that we are doing honourable things. (R. Newton, D. D.)

He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.--

The second death and how to escape it

This language implies that there is a death prior to the second here named. The first death is severe, is penal, but is often rendered glorious by the power of the grace of God.

That the second death is more dreadful than the first. The first death is but the taking away of the man from the scene of this world, from the activities of time; whereas the second death removes the soul eternally from the presence of God, from the joy of heaven, and casts it into the dark regions of the lost.

The second death may be escaped by continued and triumphant moral goodness. A pure soul will never be banished from the presence of God, His presence is immortality and spiritual delight. Lessons:

1. Let us endeavour so to live that we may escape the second death.

2. Let us remember that physical death is not the end of being; there is yet a death beyond--a death in life. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The victor’s immunity from the second death

Two of the seven Churches--viz., Smyrna, to which our text is addressed, and Philadelphia--offered nothing, to the pure eyes of Christ, that needed rebuke. The same two, and these only, were warned to expect persecution. The higher the tone of Christian life in the Church the more likely it is to attract dislike, and, if circumstances permit, hostility. Hence the whole gist of this letter is to encourage to steadfastness. That purpose determined at once the aspect of Christ which is presented in the beginning, and the aspect of future blessedness which is held forth at the close. The aspect of Christ is--“these things saith the first and last, which was dead and is alive.” A fitting thought to encourage the men who were to be called upon to die for Him.

The Christian motive contained in the victor’s immunity from a great evil. Now, that solemn and thrilling expression, “the second death,” is peculiar to this book of the Apocalypse. The name is peculiar; the thing is common to all the New Testament writers. Here it comes with especial appropriateness, in contrast with the physical death which threatened to be inflicted upon some members of the Smyrnean Church. There is something at the back of physical death which can lay its grip upon the soul that is already separated from the body; something running on the same lines somehow, and worthy to bear that name of terror and disintegration. “The second death.” What can it be? Not the cessation of conscious existence; that is never the meaning of death. The deepest meaning of death is separation from Him who is the fountain of life, and in a very deep sense is the only life of the universe. Separation from God; that is death, that touches the surface, is but a faint shadow and parable. And the second death, like a second tier of mountains, rises behind and above it, sterner and colder than the lower hills of the foreground. Like some sea-creatures, cast high and dry on the beach, and gasping out its pained being, the men that are separated from God die whilst they live, and live a living death. The second is the comparative degree of which the first is the positive. “To eat of the Tree of Life”; to have power over the nations; to rule them with a rod of iron; to blaze with the brightness of the morning star; to eat of the hidden manna: to bear the new name known only to those who receive it; to have that name confessed before the Father and His angels; to be a pillar in the Temple of the Lord; to go no more out; and to sit with Christ in His throne. These are the positive promises, along with which this barely negative one is linked, and is worthy to be linked: “He shall not be hurt of the second death.” If this immunity from that fate is fit to stand in line with these glimpses of an inconceivable glory, how solemn must be the fate, and how real the danger of our falling into it! Further, note that such immunity is regarded here as the direct outcome of the victor’s conduct and character. Transient deeds consolidate into permanent character. Beds of sandstone rock thousands of feet thick are the sediments dropped from vanished seas or borne down by long dried-up rivers. The actions which we often so unthinkingly perform, whatever may be the width and the permanency of their affects external to us, react upon ourselves, and tend to make our permanent bent or twist or character. The chalk cliffs of Dover are skeletons of millions upon millions of tiny organisms, and our little lives are built up by the recurrence of transient deeds which leave their permanent marks upon us. They make character, and character yonder determines position. The little life here determines the sweep of the great ones that lie yonder. The victor wears his past conduct and character, if I may so say, as a fireproof garment, and if he entered the very furnace heated seven times hotter than before there would be no smell of the fire upon him. “ He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.”

Now, note, the Christian motive contained in the victor’s reception of a great good. “I will give him a crown of life.” I need not remind you, I suppose, that this metaphor of “the crown” is found in other instructively various places in the New Testament. It is life considered from a special point of view that is set forth here. It is kingly life. Of course, that notion of regality and dominion as the prerogative of the redeemed and glorified servants of Jesus Christ is for ever cropping up in this book of the Revelation. And you remember how our Lord has set an example of setting it forth when He said, “I will give thee authority over ten cities.” The rule over ourselves, over circumstances, the deliverance from the tyranny of the external, the deliverance from the slavery of the body and its lusts and passions, these are all included. The man that can will rightly, and can do completely as he rightly wills, that man is a king. But there is more than that. There is the participation in wondrous, and for us inconceivable, ways, in the majesty and regality of the King of kings and Lord of lords. But remember that this conception of a kingly life is to be interpreted according to Christ’s own teaching of that wherein loyalty in His kingdom consists. For heaven, as for earth, the token of dominion is service, and the use of power is beneficial. That life is a triumphant life. The crown was laid on the head of the victor in the games. If we do our work, and fight our fight down here as we ought, we shall enter into the great city not unnoticed, not unwelcomed, but with the praise of the King and the paeans of His attendants. “I will confess his name before My Father and the holy angels.” That life is a festal life. Royalty, triumph, festal goodness, all fused together, are incomplete, but they are not useless symbols; may we experience their fulfilment! Hope is surely a perfectly legitimate motive to appeal to. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Verses 12-17

Revelation 2:12-17


Pergamum--the incomplete Church

Pergamum is the incomplete Church: valiant and earnest, it is oblivious of the new demand made upon it: it is indifferent to subtle inward influences, which are corrupting its teachers, and endangering the spiritual life of its members. Its earnest devotion is put in the forefront--“I know where thou dwellest, where Satan’s throne is; and thou art holding fast My name.” Out of that acknowledgment comes the rebuke of their fault: they who have done so much can do more; they can repent of their laxity, be faithful amid the requirements of to-day. The Church is in danger from erroneous thinking as well as from apostasy, and faithful leaders must not trifle with that danger. “Thou hast there some that hold to the teaching of Balaam”; thou hast them, and thou retainest them. Heretics inculcating immorality are tolerated. The pastor is not doing his duty; those are being cherished whose teaching the Lord hates. The heretics are in imminent danger; the Lord will correct by judgments the Church that allows itself to be careless. “Repent therefore; or else I come to thee quickly, and I make war against them with the sword of My mouth.” There are two or three general lessons coming out of this description:

1. The first is, that a Church cannot live on its past. The memory of Antipas was not enough for Pergamum, nor even the share of the Church in Antipas’s martyr spirit and martyr crown. A revived historical consciousness is one of the most marked features in the life of to-day: it has lent new interest to our studies, and given dignity to our social sense. But it has brought dangers with it; our appreciation of the past may weaken our feeling of personal responsibility and of present needs.

2. A second lesson is, that a Church cannot live on a single virtue. If days like those of Antipas had come back, doubtless Pergamum would have been faithful as before; but as the times were different, new graces were called for. Christian character is like the tree of life which John saw in the city of God, “bearing twelve manner of fruits, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”

3. A third lesson may be read from the story of Pergamum to the Churches of to-day: earnestness is not everything in ethical and spiritual life. The easy demeanour which marked English society in the middle of this century has given place to a quickened moral intensity which is full of promise. But some ominous symptoms have also appeared. One man feels earnest, and straightway he does something eccentric; another feels earnest, and he indulges in outrageous speech; a third is reckless in conduct, pleading as his excuse when evil results follow that he was so deeply moved. Earnestness is a good foundation for a virtuous life, but it is not in itself a virtue; it may be of the temperament rather than of the character; without earnestness there is no stability, but a man may be very earnest and very defective. The special fault of Pergamum was indifference to the error of the Nicolaitans. What the error was we see clearly enough in verse 14--Balaam “taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication.” There was a determined effort on the part of some false teachers among the Churches in Asia at this time to break down the wise restrictions of the Council of Jerusalem, and to declare both these practices lawful, even commendable. We see the prevalence of this error in Ephesus and Thyatira as well as in Pergamum. But the development of it was not the same in the various Churches. In Thyatira it was associated with the ecstatic utterances of a woman, and a reign of false sentiment was setting in. In Pergamum, as we gather from the reference to Balaam, there was a deliberate trading on the lusts of the people. This connection of heresy with covetousness is distinctly asserted in the Second Epistle of Peter and in the Epistle of Jude. “Balaam, the son of Beor, loved the hire of wrong-doing”; the “ungodly men, who were turning the grace of God into lasciviousness,” “ran riotously in the error of Balaam for hire.” Browning has shown us, in “Mr. Sludge the Medium,” how subtly covetousness and untruthfulness are intertwined; and how the self-deceiving impostor may become the cynical trader on human weaknesses. More than one revelation of the inner life of circles “spiritualistic,” “aesthetic,” “theosophic,” and circles for improving the relations of the sexes--has been made in our own time, showing how pruriency and greed and contempt for the credulous may all unite under the pretence of larger intuitions and more advanced knowledge than belong to the simple believer. We can understand what may have conduced to the spread of Nicolaitan teaching among simple persons who were very far from failing under the condemnation of Balaam.

(1) The teaching appealed to their curiosity, their longing after hidden knowledge, and flattered them with a promise of a freemasonry of thought. The desire to penetrate into the realities which lie behind received forms of truth, to draw clear distinctions between the abiding and the temporary in morals, is not wrong; it may come from a noble purpose and minister to human advancement. But it may also be very ignoble, If we be impelled by lust after what is forbidden, or an idle inquisitiveness concerning what is concealed, we are making ourselves ready to fall a prey to men who live upon the credulous.

(2) The teaching appealed to their love of freedom; and here, too, we may make modern applications. The man of science investigates all things; nothing is regarded by him as a forbidden subject of inquiry; he knows that all knowledge may be turned to high uses; and his mind is clean. But those who are tickled by a desire to know what is secret are sure to be defiled. The democrat who wants all to be able to do their best is followed by the man who is thinking only that he has as many rights as others; the woman who knows she has powers which she can use, and demands the liberty to use them, by her who clamours for the latchkey. The one motive is as debasing as the other is noble.

(3) A few words in the longer recension of Ignatius’s letter to the Philadelphians furnish a third reason for the spread of Nicolaitan error. One of the characteristic doctrines of the Nicolaitans is there said to be, that pleasure was set forth as the end of the blessed life--a doctrine which might too easily beguile simple souls who believed that joy was an essential element in the nature of God and one of the fruits of the Spirit. The subtlety of this error, the baseness of applying one of the loftiest truths of the sacrificial life to sanction revelry and fornication, may well have provoked the Lord’s reference to the two-edged sword here, and His words to the Church at Ephesus, “which deeds I hate.” There can be nothing in common between the preachers of self-indulgence and Him who “pleased not Himself.” The mystic words of promise to him that overcometh--“to him will I give of the hidden manna.” etc.

have reference to the pretense of esoteric teaching by which many innocent and gracious are ed astray. There is a wisdom which is revealed to the initiated, a higher doctrine which is ever appearing under every simple setting forth of truth. It is found by the obedient, by those who revere law, and control passion, and are content with a simple following of Christ. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant.” All the ways of the Lord are ways of initiation into the Divine mysteries. The “hidden manna” falls day by day about the tents of those who are content to follow Christ without ambition, in prudent simplicity and pious order. The “new name” which Christ gives to each one who overcomes is not to be known except by him who receives it; that is to say, the deepest things of personal spiritual life are not for public preaching. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)

Christ’s message to the timid

Good in the worst places; or, the restraint of circumstances. “I know where thou dwellest,” says Christ, “even where Satan’s seat is.” I know, in the sense of making allowances for all thine hindrances, and of understanding thy peculiar needs.

1. We learn from this message how bad some places can be, and are. Satan’s throne was at Pergamum, “an expression,” says Andreas, “which denotes that there were more idols in Pergamum than in all Asia.” There are even districts in so-called Christian England, aye, and some homes, which are simply Satan’s thrones. We have, indeed, no right to thrust ourselves into any peril; but if by the call of Providence we are compelled to live where Satan’s seat is, we may expect that Goal will do for us what He has done over and over again.

2. We learn also from this message how much some people can bear; that is, without apostasy and collapse. Possibly Antipas was some ordinary Christian who had, to the surprise of his fellow-believers, been selected for the honour of martyrdom. Whoever he was, Christ knew all about him, and dates time by his death. Do they say in heaven, In the days when So-and-so did this, or endured that? Are the martyrdoms of earth, then, so interesting to the saints who are in heaven that they constitute the calendar of the blessed? May we so live and die that we may become conspicuous and known in the great company of the blessed! And how sweetly the Saviour here says of Antipas, “My martyr”! thus appropriating and owning the witness. Antipas belonged to the Church, it is true, but he also belonged to Christ, and his Master is not ashamed to acknowledge him.

Alloy of faithful service; or the perils of timidity. It was said of John Knox that he never feared the face of man; the fear of men had kept the Christians in Pergamum silent. Perhaps they feared the consequences of fidelity; certainly it required much courage on their part to rebuke the besetting Bin of their times. What good will it do? one might inquire. Whereas they should have remembered that Christ hated this iniquity, and that therefore His servants should hate and reprove it also. Love is the soul of the gospel, but right is also its conscience and ruler. For after all, in spite of our weakness, purity is affected by testimony. Christ presents Himself to the silent as the terrible witness for the truth. Out of His mouth proceeds a sharp two-edged sword, which represents the combative and sin-destroying influence of truth. The promises to the victor who shall overcome his timidity are very remarkable. There are, we are told, special delights for faithful witnesses, both now and hereafter. “What have I gained after fifty years of toil for the friendless?” asked Lord Shaftesbury. And he replied to his own question, thus--“Peace of mind, and nothing else!” But peace of mind is no slight boon; it is worth risking a little ridicule for, if we may but thereby obtain a good conscience and the favour of Christ. (J. J. Ellis.)

The address to Pergamos

The introduction. We have no account of the origin of the Church in this city. The only instance in which it occurs in Scripture is in this address. Ecclesiastical history is almost entirely silent respecting it. It has been supposed that Paul, during his extensive labours in this part of the world, must have visited a place of such importance, but this is mere conjecture. Who “the angel of the Church in Pergamos” was we know not. Eusebius, who wrote at Caesarea about three hundred years afterwards, informs us that his name was Corpus, and that he suffered martyrdom. Such, at least, was the uncertain voice of tradition at that time. The sharp sword with two edges is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” This cuts two ways. It is capable both of a direct and a back stroke. The former is for conviction, the latter for destruction. With one edge Christ fights for us, with the other against us. The Church of Pergamos is threatened that unless it repents the sharp sword with two edges will be turned against it.

The commendation.

1. He commends their zeal. “I know thy works.” All their works for Christ were registered on high. This, however, did not render their deficiency in other duties less criminal. The most perfect performance of all Christian duties but one will not atone for the neglect of that one: it would only cause that one to stand out in a more aggravated light.

2. It is commended for its fidelity in seasons of persecution: “Thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith”; and during one period in particular, “even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you.” When persecution raged with greatest violence, they had maintained the greatest constancy.

3. In commending this Church, the Saviour graciously concedes the unfavourable position in which it was placed. The character given of Pergamos is that it was “the throne of Satan,” and “where Satan dwells.” This city exceeded all others at that time in wickedness. Let us see how this accords with the testimony of history concerning it. Its foundation, as a place of importance, was laid in treachery, avarice, and usurpation. One of Alexander’s generals, who after the death of their leader sought to obtain a part of his empire by the sword, having overrun this part of Asia, deposited the rich spoils he had acquired by war in Pergamos, and entrusted them with one of his private attendants, while he rushed forward to new conquests. The servant seized the treasures, made himself master of the place, raised it to the metropolis of an independent empire; and after reigning twenty years, transmitted it to his heirs, who retained it for a hundred and fifty years afterwards. The last of these kings having no descendants, bequeathed the kingdom to the senate of Rome. This was probably done to prevent the confusion and ruin that would have ensued from the number of pretenders at his death. An usurper arose, which compelled the Romans to enforce their claim by conquest. The Roman general prevailed, by the barbarous device of poisoning the fountains and channels that supplied the city with water. Pergamos was a rich booty to the Romans, but they paid dear for their conquest. The exuberance in dress, houses, furniture, and provisions was beyond all that they had seen before. Excess of luxury was accompanied with an equal excess of vice. It was here that the Romans were introduced to Asiatic grandeur and Asiatic voluptuousness at the same time. The simplicity of Roman manners from this period began to decline. The habits of the metropolis of the world were changed. The effeminacy of the East triumphed over the manliness of the West. The profuseness and profligacy of Asia spread through the imperial city, and over its vast empire, which all its historians agree were first imported from Pergamos. This was about a century before the Christian era. The continual intercourse with strangers at its port, from all parts of the Roman world, who came to do homage to its luxury and sensuality, inflamed still more the moral condition of Pergamos. It was just as Pergamos had arrived by these means to the height of his pride and corruption that a Christian Church arose in that city. The Saviour does not enjoin His disciples in this city to abandon it on account of its great wickedness, but commends them for remaining firm. There is no one, perhaps, who does not suppose that he could find a position less painful and discouraging than his own. There are reasons for his being called by grace, in the situation he occupies. It may be in mercy to others, as well as to himself. A testimony by this means is given before all of that gospel which is the power of God unto salvation. All the grace that is required to glorify the Redeemer in the sphere we occupy is ensured by the fact of His having called us in that sphere.

The reproof. “But I have a few things against thee.” They are only two, but they are both of a serious nature. The one is compliance with idolatrous practices, the other the encouragement they had given to heretical sentiments.

1. The former is thus stated, “Thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam.” The professed deity of the place was AEsculapius, a celebrated physician, who had resided in this city. Where there is most luxury there is most disease, and most encouragement is given to the healing art. Those who were converted to Christianity in Pergamos abandoned, of course, the worship of AEsculapius, refused to join in its festivities, and rejected with abhorrence the flesh that had been offered on his shrine. There were some, however, at this time, in connection with the Church, who not only united in these feasts, and the consequences that ensued, but endeavoured to draw others into the same snare. By sympathising with idolatry, and exposing themselves to its demoralising influence, they threw the same kind of stumbling-block in the way of Christians as Balaam did before the children of Israel. Whoever endeavours to beguile a Christian into conformity with worldliness and sin, or by any means throws a stumbling-block before him to turn him aside, or causes him so to fall that he becomes an occasion of scandal to his profession--for that is the precise meaning of the term here employed--holds the doctrine of Balaam.

2. The other subject of reprobation in this Church is the encouragement it had given to heretical sentiments.

The admonition. “Repent.” This single word expresses the whole requirement of God, and consequently the whole duty of man, in reference to every deviation from the right path. It is that which is first and instantly demanded, and which, if genuine, leads to all the rest.

The threatening. “Or else I will come unto thee quickly,” etc.

The application. “To him that overcometh.” The present is regarded as a time of severe conflict. Faith must be tried, and that only which is triumphant will be rewarded. Those who overcome in a place like Pergamos, where Satan has his throne, shall have a double reward. The one is “to eat of the hidden manna,” and the other “to have a white stone given him, and in the stone a new name written which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” Part of this description appears, at first view, to apply to the present and part to the future state. Faith in this life is its own reward. The faith by which we overcome every temptation and difficulty derives its strength from feeding on the heavenly manna. The flesh of Christ is its meat, and His blood its drink indeed. He who has this faith has the white stone of innocence in his possession, which enables him to look forward to the great day of account with joy, and fortifies him against all the accusations of his foes and of the law. The consciousness of a vital union between Christ and our souls is the great secret in the Christian’s breast. It were vain to attempt to explain it to others. What to him is the evidence of consciousness, to another is but the evidence of a single testimony from human lips. Nor can grace in the heart of one infallibly detect its existence in the heart of another. Each carries the secret of his sincerity in his own breast. The whole passage, however, is intended, without doubt, to express the peculiar character of their joy in heaven. The same life which the Christian now lives by faith in the Son of God he will then live by open and sensible communion. The manna on which he feeds is the same both in earth and in heaven. In the one case the manna descends to him, in the other he ascends to its hidden stores. This hidden manna for the supply of every desire, with an inward consciousness of the most unbounded liberty of access, constitutes the peculiar privilege to which the promise under consideration refers. (G. Rogers.)

The words of Christ to the congregation at Pergamos

A tone of authority.

1. Christ’s truth is authoritative.

2. Christ’s truth is mighty.

A discrimination of character.

1. Christ is fully acquainted with circumstances under which all moral character is formed.

2. Christ describes exactly the moral position in which the Church lived.

3. The eye of Christ recognises every part of a man’s character, whether good or bad.

A reformative demand.

1. Repentance is moral reformation.

2. Repentance is an urgent necessity.

A promise of blessedness.

1. The choicest nourishment.

2. The highest distinction. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

The Church faithful to the truth but defective in discipline

This Church was faithful in its adherence to the truth.

1. It held fast the name of Christ, and reposed a sincere confidence in Him.

2. It was faithful, notwithstanding the unfavourable circumstances in which it was placed.

3. It was faithful, notwithstanding the martyrdom of one of its prominent members.

This Church was defective in the discipline by which it was governed.

1. Defective discipline consists in allowing men of depraved conduct and unhallowed creed to enter and remain in the Church.

2. This defective discipline, unless repented of, will invite the judgment of Christ, severe and irreparable.

3. This defective discipline often mars the beauty and usefulness of an otherwise excellent Church.


1. At all times and under all circumstances to be faithful to the truth as it is in Jesus.

2. To be anxious to sustain the Church of Christ where it is most needed brave and pure.

3. That the office-bearers in the Church should be careful as to its government. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

A Church with a serious defect

The wickedness of the city.

1. No slight importance is attached by the horticulturist as to the soil in which he seeks to rear his plants. Arctic zones and sandy deserts give little promise of success.

2. Is it not a matter of highest importance whether our homes are well ventilated and are free from malarial and sewer poisons?

3. In a spiritual point of view, healthful surroundings should be carefully sought.

The excellent features in the character of this Church.

1. Unflinching firmness in upholding Christ’s name--“Thou holdest My name,” etc.

2. Unflinching firmness to Christ’s cause--“Hast not denied My faith,” etc.

3. Unflinching firmness under severe trials.

(1) There is nothing more valuable in human character than unswerving adherence to Christ, especially when persecuted for Christ’s sake.

(2) Nothing more detrimental to true growth than unstability.

(3) The great lack of our day is moral backbone--power to stand for Christ amid the difficulties of life.

Serious defects in the character of this church.

1. “Thou boldest the doctrine of Balaam!” How many a young Christian has been led away from Christ and His cause by being tempted to attend an evening party, where a taste for worldly pleasure was again awakened, which ultimately destroyed all relish for spiritual things! And are there not Churches in our land, nay, in our city, who are seducing their own members away from Christ by providing for them worldly amusements, on the plea that if they do not provide amusement they will go elsewhere to enjoy them? What is this but the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel?

2. “So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate” (verse 15).

(1) What the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes was cannot be fully determined.

(2) The testimony of the Fathers is that it was something akin to the doctrine of Balaam.

(3) It was, at all events, that which the Lord hated.

(4) And it was very evident that our Lord Jesus Christ holds pastors and Churches to a strict account for what they allow to be taught and practised by their members.

Our Lord’s Solemn Warning.

1. We must never lose sight of the real thing here advised.

(1) To repent in Scripture language is “to change one’s mind”; and this means a change which affects the life.

(2) The real life is ever the expression of the mind’s sentiment.

(3) There can be no true conversion without repentance, as there can be no true regeneration without faith; and the only real evidence of both is a life of holiness.

2. We must never lose sight of the judicial element in Christ’s dealings with His people.

(1) “I will fight against them.”

(2) A Church of Christ cannot go counter to the expressly revealed will of its great Head without suffering for it.

(3) This is no less true in respect to every individual Christian.

2. We must never lose sight of the fact that the words of Christ are the source of our weal and woe.

(1) If He says, “Come ye blessed,” etc., who can rob us of the joy?

(2) But if He says, “Depart from Me,” who can prevent our doom?

(3) “My words,” says Christ, “they are spirit, and they are life.”

. Our Lord’s earnest counsel.

1. The meaning evidently is this: “Let every one who hears this heed it!”

(1) Let there be no listlessness.

(2) Let there be no indifference.

(3) Let there be no worldliness to neutralise the effect of the Word.

2. Oh, how much need there is to-day of this counsel!

(1) While listening to the blessed Word of God how many there are who scarcely realise what is said.

(2) How many who pay attention forget what they have heard!

(3) And many who truly desire and pray for grace to be obedient to the Word find themselves so involved in the cares of the world that they constantly come short of their fervent desire.

3. How may it be done?

(1) We must cultivate the habit of submission to God’s Word.

(2) We must become more familiar with God’s Word.

(3) We must be much in prayer while the Word is expounded.

(4) And we must take the Word to ourselves.

Our Lord’s most gracious promises. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

Adherence to the truth of the gospel

The excellence of the truth. What was the truth that the Church at Pergamos held fast? Was it worth holding? Did it refer to politics, philosophy, literature, or science? There was considerable political zeal at Pergamos; learning, too, flourished there. It was the boast of the town that it encouraged literary and scientific men. Notwithstanding this, not a word is said in this letter commendatory of their holding fast to anything save the truth. Science, learning, art, are good, but not the good. There is a deep significance in Christ commending the educated and scientific Pergamians for holding fast His truth. What was His truth? “My name” and “My faith.” It is a saving name. “There is none other name,” etc. It is a pardoning name. “In His name remission of sins shall be preached,” etc. It is a royal name. “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,” etc. It is a soul-collecting name. “Wherever two or three are gathered together in My name,” etc.

The memory of the martyrs. Martyrdom is a motive for holy truth. The martyrdoms of our land are the most radiant events in its historic page. They are the most creative things in the chronicles of our country.

1. The triumph of the spirit over the flesh, the majesty and force of mind.

2. The invincibility of the mind when it goes with truth.

3. God-sustaining grace.

The perils that surround us. There is something beautiful in what Christ says, “I know where thou dwellest.” This may be regarded--

1. As the language of alarm. I know the perilous circumstances which surround thee--beware!

2. As the language of duty. “I know where thou dwellest, where Satan dwelleth,” therefore be on thy guard and work earnestly for the truth.

3. As the language of encouragement. I know all thy temptations and thy difficulties; I know human life; I know what it is to live in a corrupt world. “I know where thou dwellest.” If sin is around you My grace shall much more abound.

The disapprobation of Christ.

1. Christ first employs mild measures to correct His Church. Truth, suasion, love, example, are me mild means He ordinarily employs.

2. When His mild measures fail severer ones are employed. The severest is abandonment. No sword more terrible than this--to be abandoned by Christ is of all evils the most tremendous.

The blessedness of the faithful. The hidden manna and the white stone may mean Divine sustentation and Divine distinction. Those who are faithful to truth shall be at once sustained and honoured by God. Conclusion: Let us hold fast the name of Christ. He is everything to us. Without Him what are we? Pilgrims in an intricate and perilous desert without a guide--voyagers on a tempestuous ocean, without a chart or pilot. (Caleb Morris.)

I know thy works, where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is.--

God’s estimate of Christian works

It is possible to be a Christian anywhere. Christianity is not a thing of locality, but of character. There are plants which will bloom in some latitudes and die in others. Tropical shrubs will not flourish within Arctic circles, the Alpine flora are not found on low-lying plains. But Christianity can live wherever a man can live, for it is a thing of personal character, and as that is a matter of choice, and as a man is always what he chooses to be, he may be a Christian if he chooses in any circumstances or in any place. Obadiah kept his conscience clear even in the house of Ahab: Daniel preserved his integrity amid the corruption of the court of Babylon; and Nehemiah maintained his piety in the palace of the Persian emperor. And what is true of places is equally true of occupations. Unless a man’s business be in and of itself sinful, pandering to the vices and demoralising to the characters of his fellows, he may serve Christ in Any profession or trade. The Roman army was a very poor school for morals, and yet, strangely enough, all the centurions mentioned in the New Testament seem to have been men with some good thing in their hearts towards the Lord God of Israel. Character may take some of its colouring from circumstances, but it is itself independent of them; for it is the choice of the personal will by which a man is enabled to breast circumstances, and make them subservient to his own great life-purposes. Now if it be true that a man may be a Christian anywhere, what follows?

1. This, in the first place--that we must not be prejudiced against a man because of the locality in which we find him. Test a man by what he is, rather than by where he comes from.

2. But still further, if it be true that it is possible to be a Christian anywhere, then it follows, in the second place, that we ought not to excuse ourselves for our lack of Christianity by pleading the force of circumstances, or the nature of our business, or the character of the place in which we live.

It is harder to be a Christian in some places than in others. Thus there are households in which it seems the most natural thing in the world for a child to grow up in the beauty of holiness, and there are others in which everything like loyalty to Christ is met with opposition, and can be maintained only by a strenuous exertion. The boy brought up in a rough and godless neighbourhood has far more to contend with if he is to be a Christian than he would have residing in a different kind of locality. It is also undeniable that the surroundings of some professions and trades are more trying to those who are seeking to follow Christ than those of others. What then? If it be true, then, in the first place, the Lord knows that it is so, and He will estimate our work by our opportunity. But as another lesson from this difference in our individual circumstances, we ought to learn to be charitable in our judgment of each other. The flower in the window of the poor man’s cottage may be very far from a perfect specimen of its kind; but that it is there at all is a greater marvel than it is to find a superb specimen of the same in the conservatory of the wealthy nobleman. And there may be more honour to one man for all the Christianity he has maintained in the face of great obstacles, though it be marked by some blemishes, than there is to another who has no such blemishes, but who has had no such conflict.

The harder the place in which we are we should be the more earnest by prayer and watchfulness to maintain our Christianity. Here, however, it is needful that we clearly comprehend what the hardest place is. It is not always that in which there is the greatest external resistance to Christianity. An avowed antagonist he meets as an antagonist; he prepared himself for the encounter, and he is rarely taken unawares; but when the ungodly meet him as friends, then he is in real peril. The world’s attentions are more deadly to the Christian than its antagonisms, and it is against these that we must be especially on our guard. The Church is in the world as a boat is in the sea; it can float only by keeping above it; and if we let it become, as I may say, world-logged, it will be swamped thereby, just as surely as a boat will be that is filled with water. Another thing which makes a place hard for a Christian to maintain his loyalty in is what I may call its atmosphere. We talk loosely of the genius of a place. But every place has its own spirit, trend, tendency, or, if you will not be offended by the word, its own particular idolatry. In one the question regarding a new-comer may be, “What does he know? Has he written anything? “There we have the worship of intellect, or, as it is called by us over the way, culture. In another the inquiry is, “Who was his grandfather?” There the idolatry is that of family. In another the test is, “What is he worth?” There the idolatry is that of wealth.

The greater the difficulty which we overcome in the maintenance of our Christianity, the nobler will be our reward. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone,” etc. You see, here are three things--the stone, the name, and the secret. White stones were used for different purposes; sometimes for giving a vote of acquittal to one charged with crime; sometimes as tokens of admission to banquets; sometimes as mere expressions of love between two dear friends. The last seems to be the reference here: “I will give him a special manifestation of My love.” Then there is the new name written in the stone. You know that throughout the Scriptures, whenever a new name was given by God to any one, it was always connected with some particular crisis in his personal history, and especially commemorative of that. Bearing this in mind, we shall discover in this new name something distinctly commemorative of the personal history and conflicts of the individual; and when it is added that “No man knoweth it saving he that receiveth it,” we have the further peculiarity that, as referring to the most terrible struggles and experiences of the man, it is a matter of sacred confidence between him and the Lord, There are secrets between the Lord Jesus and each of His people, even now and here. The sun belongs to all the flowers alike, and yet he is to each something that he, is not to any of the rest, giving to each its own distinctive appearance, its crimson tips to the sweet mountain daisy, and its beautiful combination of colours to the fragrant violet. Just so, Christ has through my personal history and experience revealed Himself in some aspects to me that He has not shown to you, and to you in some that He has not shown to me. This new name at last will gather up into one external excellency all that personal revelation which Christ has made of Himself to each individual through His history, experience, and conflicts. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith.--

Holding fast the faith

Consider this fact.

1. The name of Christ is here made to be identical with the faith of Christ. “Thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith.” The faith of Scripture has Christ for its centre, Christ for its circumference, and Christ for its substance. The name--that is, the person, the character, the work, the teaching of Christ--this is the faith of Christians. The great doctrines of the gospel are all intimately connected with the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; they are the rays, and He is the Sun.

2. But how may the faith be denied?

(1) Some deny the faith, and let go the name of Jesus by never confessing, it.

(2) Christ is also denied by false doctrine.

(3) By unholy living. Christ is to be obeyed as a Master, as well as to be believed as a Teacher.

(4) Alas! we can deny the faith by actually forsaking it, and quitting the people of God. Some do so deliberately, and others because the charms of the world overcome them.

3. In what way may we be said to hold fast the name of Christ and the faith of Christ?

(1) By the full consent of our intellect, yielding up our mind to consider and accept the things which are assuredly believed among us.

(2) If we hold fast the name of Jesus, we must hold the faith in the love of it. We must store up in our affections all that our Lord teaches.

(3) We also hold it fast by holding it forth in the teeth of all opposition. We must confess the faith at all proper times and seasons, and we must never hide our colours. Let us never be either ashamed or afraid.

Having considered the fact, let us further enlarge upon it. What do we mean by holding fast the name of Christ?

1. We mean holding fast the Deity of that name. We believe in our Lord’s real Godhead. “His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God.” One of the names by which He is revealed to us is Immanuel.

2. We also hold fast the name of Jesus, and the faith of Jesus, as to the royalty of His name. He was born King of the Jews, and He is also “King of kings, and Lord of lords.”

3. Moreover, we believe in the grandeur of that name, as being the first and the last. Oh, what blessings have come to us through Jesus Christ!

4. We hold fast the name of Christ as we believe in its saving power.

5. We hold fast this name in its immutability.

Let me show the practical place of the name and of the faith with us. The practical place of it is this:

1. It is our personal comfort. For all time the Lord Jesus is our heart’s content. Through this blessed name and this blessed faith believers are themselves made glad and strong. It is strength for our weakness, yea, life for our death.

2. And then this name, this faith, these are our message. Our only business here below is to cry, “Behold the Lamb!”

3. He also is our Divine authority for holy work. If the spiritually sick are healed, it is His name which makes them strong.

4. This also is our power in preaching. The devil will never be east out by any other name--let us hold it fast. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Courageous piety

This praise is great by reason of these circumstances. The governor of a ship and the mariners in a calm sea are not tried; it is no mastery nor praise for them to keep upright. But if in boisterous tempests and through the raging surges they can keep upright, and go safe through, it is to their great commendation. The captain in wars and his soldiers are not said to be valiant upon no assault of enemies, or for some light skirmish; but if they be set upon on every side, and compassed round about with fierce and terrible enemies and are not then abashed, but stand valiantly in the fight and give the repulse to their enemies, who doth not magnify their courage?

1. That they dwelled where Satan had his throne it showeth first what miserable estate all men are in without Christ, even under the cruel tyrant Satan, who ruleth in their corrupt lusts and holdeth them captive to do his will.

2. This doth magnify and extol the mercy of God that would send His gospel into such a place, even almost as it were into hell, for could it be much better where Satan had his throne?

3. As we may see, it extolleth the might of our Lord Jesus Christ, not only in planting His Church there, but in preserving it. For will Satan make final resistance when that is set up which casteth him down, and even in the place where he dwelleth? Men can better endure that which they mislike if it be further from them than if it be just by them. Then that He saith thou hast kept My name and not denied My faith, it is a most excellent thing. The devil laboureth nothing more than through terror of persecution to drive men from confessing Christ. (G. Gyfford.)

Testimony for Christ

If you are the only Christian in the shop, the store, or the office where you work, a peculiar: responsibility rests upon you, a responsibility which no other one shares with you. You are Christ’s only witness in your place. If you do not testify there for Him, there is no other one who will do it. Miss Havergal tells of her experience in the girls’ school at Dusseldorf. She went there soon after she had become a Christian and had confessed Christ. Her heart was very warm with love for her Saviour, and she was eager to speak for Him. To her amazement, however, she soon learned that among the hundred girls in the school she was the only Christian. Her first thought was one of dismay--she could not confess Christ in that great company of worldly, unchristian companions. Her gentle, sensitive heart shrank from a duty so hard. Her second thought, however, was that she could not refrain from confessing Christ. She was the only one Christ had there, and she must be faithful. “This was very bracing,” she writes. “I felt I must try to walk worthy of my calling for Christ’s sake. It brought a new and strong desire to bear witness for my Master. It made me more watchful and earnest than ever before, for I knew that any slip in word or deed would bring discredit on my Master.” She realised that she had a mission in that school, that she was Christ’s witness there, His only witness, and that she dare not fail. (J. R. Miller, D. D.)

Loyalty to the last

In the battle of Sadowa, after the Prussians had gained the victory over the Austrians, a young Austrian officer was found mortally wounded in a wet ditch. When the Prussian ambulance officers tried to remove him he besought them with such terrible earnestness to let him lie where he was and die in peace, that at last, seeing he had but a few hours to live, they yielded to his entreaties; and there, in that wet ditch, he died. When they moved the body they discovered the reason of his earnestness to be left where he lay. Underneath the body were found hidden the colours of his regiment. Rather than they should fall into the hands of the enemy he had covered them with his dying body. The noble foe forebore to touch them. They wound them round the young hero’s body, and buried him in that shroud with military honours. (Ellice Hopkins.)

Holding fast

Κρατεῖς, as with tooth and nail, or by main strength. (J. Trapp.)

Antipas, my faithful martyr, who was slain.--

Antipas; or, reliable principles

Antipas is probably the well-known name of some elder or pastor in the Church at Pergamos, and means “against all,” or “one against many.” Most interesting is the study of names and their meanings. There is always some peculiarity or strength of character indicated by a name which has been given, not by parents, but by common consent, as Richard Coeur de Lion, or William the Silent. If a man inherits a good name he should never stain it, if a commonplace name he should make it honourable. Antipas made his to be honoured both on earth and in heaven. When the principles of Christianity are embraced, they make a man a very Antipas with respect to the world. He will find, ofttimes, things that will clash with conscience, and circumstances such as will demand much casuistical reasoning in the effort to reconcile the claims of God and Mammon. Sometimes in business he must set himself against evil maxims. Sometimes in the Church itself there is need for a man to act as an Antipas. If he finds non-essentials made the pretext for useless divisions, and cumbersome creeds the means for lading men’s shoulders with burdens grievous to be borne, he must speak out. If he finds out some truth long overlooked, and which it would be for the welfare of the whole Church to accept, he may not keep the truth to himself. In all his struggles, anxieties, and sufferings the true Antipas may always be sure of the support of Christ. When the trial comes he finds a strength given such as he little expected. Suffering for Christ, he is permitted to enter more into the “fellowship of the mystery.” What but this supported an Athanasius when alone he dared to raise a barrier against the Arian heresy on the one hand and imperial despotism on the other? What but this supported Savonarola under all his cares, and especially at that wonderful moment in the Piazza of Florence, before the great crowds, when, holding aloft the consecrated elements in his hands, his eyes uplifted, and quivering with excitement in his whole aspect, he said, “Lord, if I have not wrought in sincerity of soul, if my word cometh not from Thee, strike me at this moment, and let the fires of Thy wrath enclose me!” What but this led Bunyan to say to the judge, “I am at a point with you, and if I were out of prison to-day I would, by the help of God, preach the gospel to-morrow”? At this day, when there is so much unsettlement as to the principles necessary to be held, and the doctrines essential to salvation, it is of the highest importance to foster this spirit of fealty to Christ. Almost as much grace on the part of a Christian is needful to live consistently in the midst of the present subtile temptations of a smooth prosperity, as to go to prison or to the stake. When the storm is raging, the captain’s watchful eye and sailor’s ready help may keep the ship from wreckage, but what can they do against the calm and heat of the tropics? When a man is likely to suffer severely for his opinions he is sure to be careful as to what principles he embraces. Still, all should be as concerned to be right and to hold the truth whether they have to suffer or not for their opinions. (F. Hastings.)

The names of individual souls on the breastplate of Christ

Never did any man receive such a testimony as this. We are surer of his salvation than of that of any other; for of him alone has Jesus Himself testified that in the latest moment of this earthly life no shadow came between him and his Lord, that he was faithful unto death.

Antipas had not, like St. Paul, made converts in a hundred cities; he had not been in journeyings often, in perils by land and by sea, with the care of all the Churches upon him. He had lived in a heathen city, a simple believer in Christ, and, when the trial-hour came, holding fast to his principles; and his is the name which, before the judgment, the Judge has Himself pronounced blessed. We can scarcely overrate the importance of the truth here taught. How very few of us can really do much for Christ! To how very few is it given to produce any great results in the world! How few can be builders up of the faith, destroyers of heresy, converters of the heathen; aye, how exceedingly few are they who can recount that in their whole lives they have turned one sinner from the error of his ways! It may be so: but now our Lord tells us, that if only we have in our own lives and deaths witnessed for Him, if in our own souls we have held fast His Word, not allowing our faith to be shaken, doing quietly in our own sphere whatsoever our hand findeth to do, bearing what He sendeth on us--oh, we may be hidden and unknown amid the thousands of the people, and the busy world may have nothing to write on our gravestone, no triumph over sin or suffering to connect with us; but the name never heard among men shall be a familiar sound on high.

This passage implies our Lord’s intimate knowledge of the character of every individual man.

1. He knows at this minute the trial to which we are being subjected, and our conduct under it.

2. From the beginning He knew all that we should be, all that we should go through. We know no truth at once more solemn and more encouraging than this: solemn--for what an unutterable awfulness is imparted to our daily existence by the thought that we are unfolding the roll that was written before Adam was fashioned; encouraging--for how must God watch over this life of ours, care for it, regulate it, its joys and sorrows, its cloud and sunshine, if it is no chance string of events, but a portion of His own plan from the beginning I how will He call us, each one, Antipas-like, by his name, whose every member of body and disposition of soul He foreknew when as yet there was none of them! (Bp. Woodford.)

Verses 14-15

Revelation 2:14-15

Thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam.

The convictions of Balaam

The forty years’ wandering of the children of Israel in the wilderness was now done. The king of Moab, Balak, alarmed at the destruction which had fallen upon the powerful northern neighbours, and no doubt unaware of the command which had left him unharmed, did not venture upon open violence against the “desert-wearied” tribes. He bethought him of a more skilful mode of attack. He sent the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian, laden with presents, the reward of divination, to the “diviner,” or “soothsayer”--to Balaam. Balaam, the diviner, waits upon God for direction. Balaam obeys the word of God. He refuses to go, and the messengers return. Balak, however, is importunate. Why did Balaam hesitate? Why did he bid the princes tarry yet that night? He asked in madness, and he received the permission he coveted from God in anger. It was madness in the servant of God to wish to go against God’s will. The incident of the miraculous voice of the ass brought him to a sense of his sin. However, he is bidden to proceed on his mission. Thus far we read in Balaam’s history the struggle between the love of the world and the overwhelming consciousness of truth in the same mind. It is an instructive lesson. How often do we feel ourselves placed, more or less, in the same position; our liking, our ambition, our heart, all set one way,--our reason, our consciousness of truth, our intellectual faith distinctly calling us the other! To Balaam, indeed, the case was thus far different from ours, that he could not, in so broad and obvious an instance as the one of which we have been speaking, go directly against God. The voice of God in his ears compelled him; miracles dragged him; his inspiration overbore him. He was, as it were, forced into speaking the truth. To us, alas! the danger is, in such sort, greater, that our consciousness of truth, our intellectual faith, are in themselves less imperative, and are sure to sink and die away if they be smothered by want of love. Yet we also know only too well what it is to speak out faithfully, to stick to the truth in outward words, to be, it may be, its staunch defenders and admirers, while our hearts neither love it nor obey it; holding on, as it were, by our knowledge, or our logic, or our consistency, while our heart and love would fain rebel against it. A dangerous antagonism! yet one out of which there is a safe and holy escape, if those who are at all conscious of it in themselves will throw themselves, heart and soul, into confession, and win by prayer that great and precious gift, never denied to those who pray in earnest, the heart to love,--the simple, godly heart to do the thing that they know to be right, and nought beside. Let us see how it fared with Balaam. He had gone home “to his place” by the Euphrates in disgrace. The Lord had kept him back from honour. How he returned again to the court of Moab, whether summoned again by Balak or of his own irrepressible ambition, we are not told. But he came. He found the children of Israel still holding their encampment on the acacia plain of the Jordan. Wearied as they were with the desert life, surrounded by heathen rites that were full of luxury and temptation, might they not be easily led to bring upon themselves the curse, which in his unwilling lips had been turned into a blessing? Were it not a fine stroke of policy to make them curse, so to speak, themselves? No word, probably, would need to be spoken, no formal scheme proposed. A look, a gesture might suffice. Balak would be able to understand a slight hint. There were the women of Midian, they took part in the dances and plays of the sacrifices. Would it be Balaam’s fault if those hardy desert warriors, so young, so impetuous, so dangerous in their fidelity to the true God, were led by skilful and unseen management to partake in the feasts of the idol-sacrifices, and by degrees, losing their allegiance to the true Jehovah, and breaking the first of His laws, to break the seventh also, and unite themselves to the wanton women who had used every artifice to lure them to rebellion and ruin? The scheme answered only too well. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, not to be slaked till the zeal of Phineas, the son of Eleazar the high priest, after twenty-four thousand had died, stayed the plague from the children of Israel. But what of the crafty politician? Is he to triumph in secret? to compass his ends, and keep his character too? to cheat God? How his advice and double-dealing became known to the Israelites we are not told. In some way, no doubt, God, whom his cunning had outraged, revealed it to them. “Balaam also, the son of Boor, the soothsayer, did the children of Israel slay with the sword, among them that were slain by them.” And from that day forth, Balaam the son of Boor is known throughout the Holy Scriptures, in the writings of prophets and apostles, as the type of those who for the sake of the wages of unrighteousness, of health, reward, honour, in defiance of better knowledge, wilfully sin by casting a stumbling-block before the children of God. And what a strange course was his! strange, I mean, regarded theoretically, and without reference to the weakness and wilfulness of men. But alas for the deadly gift of cleverness! alas for the danger of that sharpness of wit which leads us to endeavour to compass our ends by indirect and circuitous means! The politician, who could not forego true words, tried his craft. He succeeded, and he failed. He succeeded against man; he failed against God. The evil that he planned, by means of other men’s sins he brought about. The personal advancement that he sought was overthrown by a miserable death, and a name blasted to all generations in the inspired oracles of God. Oh, let us turn our eyes upon ourselves! How apt we are to totter thus and stagger upon the edge of truth and duty! Not indeed visibly, intentionally, distinctly giving it up and forsaking it; but trying to hold it together with as much of worldly indulgence and prosperity as we can; trying to serve God and mammon. But if a man does thus allow himself to palter with that which ought to be the foundation and basis of all else, if he divides his aim between two objects in his life, do you suppose that that conflict will continue long? No, by no means: that which the intellect holds will yield and give way; that which the heart loves will gain strength and have victory. One way or the other, the worldly heart will have its way. It smothers the intellectual faith. It necessarily kills it. The world cannot be taken in to share the empire of the heart without becoming, ere long, the sole ruler and tyrant in it. It is, I think, not to be denied that the particular sin of Balaam, the sin, I mean, which consists in yielding to worldly temptation in defiance of better knowledge, as it was the characteristic sin of the Church of Pergamos, so it is a very particular danger in the Church of England. There is among a very large proportion of our countrymen a general knowledge of religion, however much it may be overlaid in general and forgotten in the midst of the tumult and interests of our common life. In outer life--luxury, fashion, idleness, company, business, politics--think what multitudes of men and women, who know what truth is, and have a sort of wish to be good and true in the end, these things do keep from anything like a real conversion to God, a real yielding of themselves up, in body, soul, and conscience, to the direction of the Holy Spirit! Then blessed be sickness! blessed pain! blessed adversity! blessed sorrow! for what would become of this poor world if these things did not come upon us, now and then, to waken us up from this worldly incrustation, this growing of stone round about our hearts, and force us to lay our consciences bare and sore and naked before the merciful eye of our Heavenly Father! Oh, think of Balaam’s sin! Look forth upon these young men, whose tents are pitched around you, by these “willow-shaded streams.” The sacrifices to idols, the pleasant games and plays which are not of God, are soliciting them dally. The women of Midian are around them to lure them into sin. What if any of the old prophets, who know the truth, should be so fond of his ease, or so careful of his popularity, or so busy with his comfort, or his preferment, or I know not what else, as to shut his eyes, to wink at Israel’s sin, and let God’s children bring down upon themselves a curse, which he would not utter with his lips for all the world? What if his neglect to act upon his own convictions should give encouragement to them to forget the truth that is in them, and practically and finally to desert God? Let us obey the holy calling. Remember the exceeding danger of those who know the truth, and yet follow their own evil likings. Beware of the gradual and imperceptible on-coming of that fatal worldliness,--like the sleep of the weary traveller among the Alpine snows,--in which faith inevitably dies. Statedly, regularly, and really search your own consciences before God. (Bp. Moberly.)

Idolatry and sensuality in the Church

We can gather from the context that the introduction into the Church of the world’s idolatrous and sensual habits is denoted as the great evil against which the Church was listless and supine. In the apostolic day the fashion of the world had what would be to us a grosser form in its idolatry and sensuality; but in its principles and essential practice it differed in no respect then from what it is to-day. Every walk in life is full of idol fanes, before which the youth entering upon his career is tempted to worship as part of the necessary progress to preferment. In business life, in Government employ, in social circles, he is required to connive at or co-operate in falsehood and fraud, and to adopt a standard of morals such as destroyed the empire of Rome. The only alternative is a bold, heroic refusal, which thrusts him back into isolation and want. No! not isolation, not want, for no young man can take that noble position in the fear of God without being fully supplied and sustained by the Lord God of Daniel. The idolatry and sensuality of the world go together. They are parts of one whole. Men depart from the holy God and seek unto idols on purpose that they may indulge their fleshly lusts. Now when this poison enters the Church, when idols are set up in the house of God, when the rites of Molech and Ashtoreth are combined with the worship of Jehovah, a deadly disease threatens the life of the Church. The world’s fashions, introduced into the Church and allowed to go unrebuked, soon captivate weak saints, suggest further compromises to stronger ones, and lower the standard of Christian life and experience for all. (H. Crosby.)

The doctrine of Balaam

We are very much in the habit of supposing that when a character has been explained and denounced in Scripture, we may thenceforth regard it both as very rare and very easily detected. We are thus naturally led into a sort of security about our own resemblance to the very persons against whose sins we need to be most on our guard.

1. There is no character in Scripture concerning which it is more necessary to be careful against making these mistakes than that of Balaam, because he was not only very bad, but really very much better than many who consider themselves to be in no danger of resembling him. The fact is that Balaam had about him many good points. There was just one thing which he lacked. What that one thing was we shall see as we proceed. I should say, indeed, that Balaam, if he were among us, would be considered the pattern of a religious character; because he really proposed to himself a very high standard, and followed it rigidly, and to his own cost. How many persons are as scrupulous as Balaam was? How many persons similarly circumstanced would have hesitated about going with the messengers the first time? He was far beyond the mere sayer of religious words. He was in a certain way--and that no very common way--conscientious: he was conscientious to his cost: and, more than this, his view of God’s requirements in man was perfectly unexceptionable, and such as to show no ordinary Divine illumination. For these reasons Balaam himself might be described, up to a certain point, as “holding fast by God’s name,” and not denying his faith. Therefore it is not so strange that he should be the sort of character against which strictly conscientious persons should be warned, and his the “doctrine” which they might be inclined to embrace.

2. Now what is that view of religion that may be considered the “doctrine of Balaam”? As illustrated by his character, it would seem to be this, that what we have to do is to serve God without loving Him; to seek our own will and our own ends, and yet to contrive to keep out of punishment at His hands; not to desire our will to be moulded to God’s will, and to be subservient to it readily and in all things; but to desire our will to be done, as far as ever it can be, within the strict letter of God’s commandments. This is the main feature in the “doctrine of Balaam.” Strict duty, without any love; resolute observance of a disagreeable rule, not earnest obedience to a loved parent: determination to escape punishment--no desire to please God. Now this is very much the sort of “religion” into which many honourable, upright men have a tendency to sink. To those who have no sense of religious obligation--no dread of the future--no regard for God’s law--Balaam furnishes no lesson at all. They and he have no points in common. You cannot warn them against being like him, because he is so much below what he ought to be. Now, the particular act of Balaam alluded to in the text is quite in harmony with such a character as I have described. He “taught Balak,” says St. John, “to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.” Balaam would not curse, because he was told in so many words not to curse; but he brought about a like end, by worse means--all in order that his own selfish desires might be gratified: as it would seem they were, (J. C. Coghlan, D. D.)

Minor departure from truth

The carpenter’s gimlet makes but a small hole, but it enables him to drive a great nail. May we not here see a representation of those minor departures from the truth which prepare the minds of men for grievous errors, and of those thoughts of sin which open a way for the worst crimes? Beware, then, of Satan’s gimlet. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Sin uncomely in the Church

As a wen looks worse on a face of beauty, and a skull on a bank of snow, so a sinner in a holy church, most uncomely and loathsome. (T. Guthrie.)

The Church as a whole injured by individual evil

The Church in Pergamos failed, not because she encouraged the sin blamed, but because she did not take more vigorous steps for its extinction. She did not sufficiently realise the fact that she was a part of the body of Christ, and that, if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it. Believers in her community were too easily satisfied with working out their own salvation, and thought too little of presenting the whole Church “as a pure virgin to Christ.” Therefore it was that, even amidst much faithfulness, they need to repent to feel more deeply than they did that “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump,” and that in the Church of the Lord Jesus we are to a large extent responsible not only for our own but for our neighbours’ sins. By keeping up the Christian tone of the whole Church the tone of each member of the Church is heightened. (W. Milligan, D. D.)

Verse 16

Revelation 2:16

Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly.

The necessity of immediate repentance

What that repentance is that is here enjoined. Repentance in Scripture has a threefold acceptation.

1. It is taken for the first act by which the soul turns from sin to God; the first dividing stroke that separates between sin and the heart; the first step and advance that a sinner makes to holiness; the first endeavours and throes of a new birth.

2. It is taken for the whole course of a pious life, comprising the whole actions a man performs from first to last inclusively; from his first turning from a wicked life to the last period of a godly.

3. Repentance is taken for a man’s turning to God after the guilt of some particular sin. It differs from the former thus: that the former is from a state of sin: this latter only from a sinful act. No repentance precedes the former, but this supposes a true repentance to have gone before. This repentance, therefore, builds upon the former; and it is that which is here intended.

Arguments to engage us in the speedy and immediate exercise of this duty.

No man can be secure of the future. Neither, indeed, will men act as if they were ha things that concern this life, for no man willingly defers his pleasures. And did men here well compute the many frailties of nature, and further add the contingencies of chance, how quickly a disease from within, or a blow from without, may tear down the strongest constitution, certainly they would ensure eternity upon something else than a life as uncertain as the air that feeds it.

2. Supposing the allowance of time, yet we cannot be sure of power to repent. It is very possible, that by the insensible encroaches of sin a man’s heart may be so hardened as to have neither power nor will to repent, though he has time and opportunity. The longer the heart and sin converse together, the more familiar they will grow; and then, the stronger the familiarity, the harder the separation. A man at first is strong and his sin is weak, and he may easily break the neck of it by a mature repentance; but his own deluding heart tells him that he had better repent hereafter; that is, when, on the contrary, he himself is deplorably weak and his sin invincibly strong.

3. Admitting a man has both time and grace to repent, yet by such delay the work will be incredibly more difficult. The longer a debt lies unpaid, the greater it grows; and not discharged, is quickly multiplied. The sin to be repented of will be the greater, and power and strength to repent by will be less. And though a man escapes death, the utmost effect of his distemper, yet certainly he will find it something to be cut and scarified and lanced and to endure all the tortures of a deferred cure. We find not such fierce expressions of vengeance against any sinner, as the Spirit of God, in Deuteronomy 29:20-21, discharges against him that obstinately delayed his repentance.

(1) Because it is the abuse of a remedy. Certainly it cannot but be the highest provocation to see guilt kick at mercy, and presumption take advantage merely from a redundancy of compassion. He that will fight it out, and not surrender, only because he has articles of peace offered to him, deserves to feel the sword of an unmerciful enemy.

(2) The reason why God is exasperated by our delaying this duty is, because it clearly shows that a man does not love it, as a duty, but only intends to use it for an expedient of escape. It is not because it is pleasing to God, grateful to an offended majesty, or because he apprehends a worth and excellency in the thing itself; for then he would set about it immediately: for love is quick and active, and desire hates all delay.

(3) A third reason that God’s displeasure so implacably burns against this sin is, because it is evidently a counterplotting of God, and being wise above the prescribed methods of salvation, to which God makes the immediate dereliction of sin necessary. But he that defers his repentance makes this his principle, to live a sinner and die a penitent. (R. South, D. D.)

To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna.--

Christian victory

The Christian life is often compared in Scripture to “a warfare.” It is not enough to put on the armour and to commence the battle. He that overcometh, and he alone, will receive the salutation, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But we are not left to fight without encouragement. As generals before a battle go in front of their troops to stimulate them to valour, so Christ, the Captain of our salvation, leads on the consecrated hosts of His elect.

The promise.

1. The promise of the hidden manna. God fed the Israelites in the wilderness with manna. A portion of this was laid by in the ark, and thus was hidden from public view. Christ, speaking of the manna as a type of Himself, said, “I am the Bread which came down from heaven.” Jesus is the food of our faith, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” He is the food of our love, “We love Him because He first loved us.” He is the food of our obedience, “The love of Christ constraineth us.” He is the food of our peace, for when “justified by faith, we have peace with God.” He is the food of our joy, for if “we joy in God” it is “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” He is the food of our hope, “that blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.” The manna which sustained the Israelites was evidently the gift of God. And so this “hidden manna” is from heaven. It is no contrivance of man, no philosophy of human invention. “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.” It is spoken of as the “hidden manna.” Such is the Christian’s life. “Our life is hid with Christ in God.” The outward effects of it may be seen, but the inner life is invisible. So is the nourishing of the life. You may see the Christian on his knees, you may hear the words which he utters, but you cannot see the streams of Divine influence which are poured into his spirit; nor hear the sweet whispers of Divine love which fill him with joy; nor comprehend the peace passing all understanding which he is permitted to experience. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” Were this promise merely the reward of final victory, that victory itself would never be gained. We need to eat this manna during our pilgrimage. We cannot live without it. Every act of overcoming will be followed by a verification of the promise, “I will give him to eat of the hidden manna.” Yet we must look beyond the present life for its full accomplishment. As the manna was hidden in the ark, and that ark was hidden behind the curtain of the holy of holies, so the Christian’s hope “as an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast, enters into that which is within the veil.” Those joys we cannot yet conjecture; their splendour is too intense.

2. The promise of the white stone. At a time when houses of public entertainment were less common, private hospitality was the more necessary. When one person was received kindly by another, or contract of friendship was entered into, the tessera was given. It was so named from its shape, being four-sided; it was sometimes of wood, sometimes of stone; it was divided into two by the contracting parties; each wrote his own name on half of the tessera; then they exchanged pieces, and therefore the name or device on the piece of the tessera which each received was the name the other person had written upon it, and which no one else knew but him who received it. It was carefully prized, and entitled the bearer to protection and hospitality. Plautus, in one of his plays, refers to this custom. Hanno inquires of a stranger where he may find Agorastoclcs, and discovers to his surprise that he is addressing the object of his search. “If so,” he says, “compare, if you please, this hospitable tessera; here it is; I have it with me.” Agorastocles replies, “It is the exact counterpart; I have the other part at home.” Hanno responds, “O my friend, I rejoice to meet thee; thy father was my friend, my guest; I divided with him this hospitable tessera.” “Therefore,” said Agorastocles, “thou shalt have a home with me, for I reverence hospitality.” Beautiful illustration of gospel truth! The Saviour visits the sinner’s heart, and being received as a guest, bestows the white stone, the token of His unchanging love. He who chooses the sinner’s heart as His banqueting chamber, spreads there His choicest gifts--His exceeding great and precious promises, His finished sacrifice, His human sympathy, His perfect example, His pure precepts, His all-prevailing intercession, the various developments of His infinite love. He enrols our name among His friends. “He makes an everlasting covenant with us, ordered in all things and sure.” He promises never to leave nor forsake us. He tells us we “shall never perish.” He gives us the tessera, the white stone! Is not this “the witness of the Spirit,” the “earnest of the promised possession”? Does not His voice in our heart echo to His voice in the written Word? On this white stone is inscribed a “new name.” The part of the tessera which each of the contracting parties received contained the name of the other. And therefore the “new name” on the “white stone” which he that overcometh receives is that of Him who gives it. By the unbeliever God is known Power, as Majesty, as Justice. The Christian alone knows Him as “Love.” He was once Ruler--now He is Friend; He was once Judge--now He is Father. Do you know God by His “new name”? Do you so know Him as to wish no longer to hide from Him, but to hide in Him, as the only home in which you can be Bale and happy? Then, everywhere, in every city and every village, on the desert and on the ocean, in the solitude of secrecy and in the solitude of a crowd, in the bustle of business and in the sick chamber, a Friend is at hand who will always recognise the white stone He gave us as a token of His love. We have only to present it to claim the fulfilment of His promise. What Divine entertainment we shall receive! What safety from peril! What succour in difficulty! What comfort in trouble! What white raiment! What heavenly food! What exalted fellowship! What secure repose! A day is coming when we must leave the homes of earth, however endeared, and embrace for the last time the friends united to us as our own souls. What kind roof will receive us? What loving friend will welcome us? We shall not have left our best treasure behind! No! we shall carry the white stone with us; and looking for no inferior abode, shall advance at once right up to the palace of the Great King. We present the tessera; the “new name” is legible upon it; the angelic guards recognise the symbol; the everlasting gates lift up their heads; and the voice of Jesus Himself invites us to enter!

The condition annexed. A great war is being waged. It is not merely between the Church as a whole and the powers of darkness as a whole; it is not merely an affair of strategy between two vast armies, wherein skilful manoeuvres determine the issue, many on either side never coming into actual combat; but it is also a duel, for every Christian has to fight hand to hand with the enemy. God, as our Creator and Redeemer, justly demands our obedience and love. Whatever interferes with these claims is an enemy summoning us to battle. The world, the flesh, and the devil, draw up their battalions in imposing array. If we would possess the promise, we must “overcome” them. A mere profession of religion is of no avail. We must devote ourselves entirely and unreservedly to this great daily battle of life. It is a warfare until death. While we are in the body it will be always true, “We wrestle.” The oldest Christian cannot lay aside his weapons. The whole of the way, up to the very gate of heaven, is beset with foes, and we must fight to the last if we would overcome and enter in. Ah, it is no soft flowery meadow along which we may languidly stroll, but a rough, craggy cliff that we must climb. “To him that overcometh!” It is no smooth, placid stream along which we may dreamily float, but a tempestuous ocean we must stem. “To him that overcometh!” It is no lazy lolling in a cushioned chariot that bears us on without fatigue and peril, but plodding painfully in heavy marching order up the long and weary and beleagured road of self-sacrifice. “To him that overcometh!” It is not a time of listless repose, of careless mirth, as if no danger threatened, no foe were near. We fight in good company. The truly wise of all ages are on our side. We have the assured hope of victory. (Newman Hall, LL. D.)

The manna and the stone

In Pergamos there were two houses, which represented the two forces that made life a battle to the Christian. One was the Church of Christ and the other was the temple of idolatry. When a man left that gorgeous temple in the great square he left everything that appealed to ease and pride and ambition. When he entered the poor little church in the back lane, he entered into conflict with his heart and with the world. That single renunciation of the sweets and successes of life was but the beginning of the strife. In the Church itself were some who taught that the Christian need not break with his former life in choosing Christ. The promise in the text corresponds to that temptation. Let these worshippers of the Christ keep from the meats of the idol shrine, and they shall feast on the best in the house of God. Let them refuse to be votaries of the foul altar, and they shall be very priests of the holy of holies. Let them forego the society of the heathen, and they shall be the close and particular friends of Him who is the visible Divinity of the heavenly sanctuary.

A provision peculiar to the sanctuary is promised to him that overcometh. Let us be loyal to Jesus now, as we see Him not, and at the end of the brief trial we shall come face to face with Him. He shall look on us with joy. He shall lead us forward, and name us to all heaven. He of whom we have had so many thoughts, and to whom we have winged so many words, shall be a real and close presence. And that hidden manna, laid bare thus to our adoring gaze, is no mere feast for our eyes, but true food for our soul. That near and constant companionship with Jesus shall cheer and strengthen and exalt our life. In new knowledge of Him, in new love, in new likeness, we shall receive Him ever anew and ever more fully. How poor, then, how altogether past and perished, are the joys for which we almost bartered the rich provision of the eternal sanctuary! Our gracious Lord does not, after all, make us wait for the prize until the fight is won. He brings to us, even in the stress of the struggle, a foretaste of the feast. He makes our poor, fainting heart a sanctuary, and turns our faith into a sacred ark for the manna. We have Him in us, and heaven with Him. So we have food of which the world knows nothing.

A dignity peculiar to the sanctuary is promised to him that overcometh. To have a right to enter the holiest, and to look on its secrets, meant, indeed, no less than to be High Priest. No other had the privilege of lifting the veil. This was an honour so great that it was solitary. He who was called of God to this dignity wore on his heart a symbol of it. This was the mystic Urim and Thummim--the light and the perfection. Like the glory over the ark, it was the symbol of Jehovah Himself--the Infinite in purity and in loveliness. This diamond was likely the one stone of its kind known to Israel, for the gem so named as on the breastplate was assuredly a commoner jewel. This unique stone was white with the very splendour of its shining, and it was given to Aaron as the badge of his dignity. With that upon his heart he had assurance of access to the very glory of God. Such was the dignity promised to those who kept their feet from the threshold of the heathen temple. Let them care nothing for the social standing which would be theirs as worshippers of the idol, and instead they shall have the loftiest rank in the home of God. Theirs to go to the inmost, holiest spot, and to have the foremost favour, and do the foremost service. And to us, tried by the like seductions, is the same cheer sent. If we, after all, do cling to the Lover of our soul, He shall at once put into our hand the mystic stone which means so much. Now, even as we war, is the priest’s badge hung on the soldier’s breastplate. The Urim of old was but a dead stone, and it lay but on the breast. It was but an outward symbol of God. This white stone is lustrous with the very Light, which is God, and it is hidden within the breast itself. The upshining of faith, the far-darting beams of hope, and the outspreading glow of love are glories born of God’s own glory. A Divine nature begins at the centre of the human nature, and as the Christian obeys it, it grows.

A communion peculiar to the sanctuary is promised to him that overcometh. The Urim of the High Priest was sacred because of the sacred purpose to which it was put as a symbol of God. But it was made yet holier by a more personal connection with Him. It is supposed, at least, that graven on the flashing stone were the four sacred letters which express the thrice holy name of Jehovah. So intimately did the Jews associate the word with the person that they forbore to utter it. It stood for all of God which He had made known to men. To see it was to see, through it, the Invisible One. When the priest, therefore, found the name written on the stone, he understood that God was to be his, and to be with him. As if from the midst of very glory the Glorious One was to draw near to him. Whenever in secret he laid bare the hidden name his spirit was hushed by the Holy Presence. He heard a gentle yet majestic voice whose words he felt as very love and very truth. He let his own heart answer, and knew that his thoughts were pulsing in an ear close and quick. Such a solemn and yet blessed fellowship was the peculiar privilege of the priest. It is promised also to those who shall let the friendships of earth go rather than belie their friendship with Jesus. To them, indeed, an intimacy even nearer and dearer still is here prefigured. In the white stone which they wear is set a new word for God. He is to let them know what none else has learned as to what He is. By the lips of Jesus He is to unveil His heart in a special way to them. This third hidden thing, like the other two, is a boon of which we may have the firstfruits now. Like those Christians of Pergamos we take on us the name of Christ. Let us but hold it fast, as they did, in spite of every temptation to deny our faith, and we shall in that very loyalty attain a special communion with our Lord, and receive a special name for God. Heaven will but make this name the dearer and the deeper a secret between the soul and its God. (D. Burns.)

The spiritual warfare, and the Divine promise

The spiritual warfare.

1. We must overcome the evil that is within ourselves. The best of men have spoken with sorrow of the state of their own hearts. “In many things we all offend.” “If we say we have no sin,” etc. “Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?” etc. The Christian Church has always recognised the same mournful truth. The Te Deum Laudamus is the greatest Christian hymn. It is a lofty song of faith, hope, and triumph; but a trembling undertone of sadness runs through its joyous praise. “Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin. O Lord, have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us.” The reason why good men see and feel the evil within them is that they are good men. The Spirit of God dwells in them and His light reveals the soul to itself. The holier we are, the more shall we feel our own imperfections. But it is not enough to feel and bewail the evil; we should also overcome it. The human heart resembles a garden. If rightly cared for, it will grow flowers of greatest beauty and trees abundant in fruit; hut if neglected, it will put forth noxious weeds and worthless thorns and briars.

2. We must overcome the opposition of the world. The Christians at Ephesus fought against error, and overcame it, and hence the praise given to them. There are two ways in which you may attempt to overcome error. First, you may make direct war against it; you may use arguments, and show that it is error and not truth, a phantom and not any real thing whatsoever. Your mind is the bow, your arguments are the arrows; the bow may be strong, and the arrows sharp and well aimed; but what matters it? They can do but little harm to the phantom. The second method of opposing error is the establishment of positive truth. When the fire of the glowworm begins to pale and the birds stir among the branches and the dawn opens in the east, the ghost in a great play is made to vanish from the sight. The spirit of the world is also to be overcome. There is nothing more difficult to overcome than this. A man may reason against false doctrines and confute their teachers; and he may have courage, and defy persecution in all its forms. But this spirit is subtle, silent, and penetrating. Living within the circle of its influence, we can hardly escape its effects. It is like an impure atmosphere; if you breathe it at all, you must inhale the poison.

3. We have to overcome the influence of the Wicked One. Deceit, fraud, guile, malice, and all the serpent qualities are ascribed to him; and of him it may be said, “Dust shall be the serpent’s meat.” This evil spirit is called “the Tempter.” He showed our Saviour all the kingdoms of the world, and said, “Worship me, and this power and glory shall be Thine.” He is ever revealing such things to men. True, they are only phantom kingdoms which he paints before the imagination; but then they appear most real at the time. The question we have to decide is, Shall we fall down before the Tempter like the first Adam, or overcome with “the Second Man, the Lord from heaven”?

The Divine promise.

1. Christ strengthens and supports the soul in its conflict with evil. Let the experience of the apostles illustrate this. In their outward circumstances they had all the elements of unhappiness and misery. But a greater Power was for them than that by which they were opposed. The promised and mysterious Presence followed them through all the trials, temptations, and sorrows of life. They fought, overcame, and received the crown of victory. “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” We should mark their experience at the time of their great conflict. The world frowned, but heaven smiled upon their spirit. They were not only able to withstand the enemy, but they had peace, joy, and consolation in the midst of the strife. “The peace of God”--a plentiful stream from the fountain of all blessedness--flowed into their hearts.

2. The strength which Christ gives is known only to the soul who receives it. It is “hidden manna.” Nature has her “open secrets.” They are exposed to the gaze of all, but all have not the power to behold them--open and yet secret. This applies to the spiritual life. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” The Divine energy that braces the mind and heart for noble deeds; the peace which results from perfect reconciliation to God; the consolation imparted to the soul by His Spirit these are the open secrets of religion. They are open and clear as daylight. But from the unbelieving, from the proud, from the worldly, and from the disobedient they are concealed. Being unfelt they must be unknown, for they are revealed to the heart rather than to the intellect. (T. Jones.)

The laurels of a victorious life

Divine sustentation.

1. His doctrines are bread to the intellect.

2. His fellowship is bread to the heart.

3. His Spirit is bread to the whole life.

Divine distinction.

1. “The sign of distinction.” “A white stone.” He will have full admission into all the honours of eternity.

2. The character of the distinction. (Homilist.)

Moral conquest and its destiny

The victory. The life of the good is a stern moral conflict, pervading every sphere of life--the home, the mart, the shop, etc. It is impossible to go where the strife is not. In this way character is tested and developed, and our attachment to Christ revealed.

1. Moral conquest is required, not an indolent evasion of the strife.

2. Moral conquest is required, not a cowardly retreat in the conflict of life.

3. Moral conquest is required, not an easy method of attaining the dignity of the future life.

The repast.

1. This repast is in sublime contrast to any other that can be provided.

2. It is concealed from the unsanctified gaze of men.

3. It will give eternal satisfaction to all who shall partake of it.

The revelation.

1. The Christian victor will enter upon the highest method of moral life.

2. The Christian victor will enjoy the most complete revelation of God


1. Learn to fight the good fight of faith.

2. Persevere unto victory.

3. Take courage from this glimpse of your reward. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The rewards of the conquering Christian

The text is addressed to “him that overcometh.”

1. The man to whom this description can be applied must certainly be one who knows that he has spiritual enemies assailing him. He must have discovered that he has interests at stake, which the world, the flesh, and the devil unite in opposing. The idea of a victory necessarily presupposes a contest.

2. The language before us must imply, therefore, that the man to whom these blessings are promised is contending with the enemies by whom he finds himself surrounded. It describes the Christian, not as the friend of the world, but the determined opposer of its corrupt maxims and customs; not as the obedient slave of the prince of darkness, but his decided foe. It is this habitual conflict with evil which constitutes the great difference between the servant of God and the man of the world. It is this which testifies that our understandings are enlightened, that our conscience is on the side of God, that our affections have been touched by His grace, and a principle of a new and spiritual life communicated to our souls. But we must not stop here.

3. The texts leads us to infer that the Christian is actually overcoming his enemies. The world is gradually losing its power over him; Satan is bruised underneath his feet; and as for his lusts, they are one by one weakened and subdued. Oh what a blessed victory is this! Who does not long to share in its honours and inherit its rewards? But these rewards are not easily attained, neither is this victory easily won. No mortal power can achieve it. The victory must be ascribed to God. It is He who gives us at first a disposition to struggle with our adversaries; it is He who crowns that struggle with success.

But though the victory is the Lord’s, He often condescends to speak of it as attained by the Christian himself; and He promises him in the text a gracious and rich reward.

1. One of the blessings comprehended in this promise is pardon. But a mere acquittal, precious as it is to us, is too poor a gift for the Captain of our salvation to bestow.

2. He adds to it the blessing of adoption. God Himself “is not ashamed to be called his God,” and prepares for His long lost but now recovered son a never ending feast of joy.

3. Hence spiritual provision is another blessing included in this promise. (C. Bradley, M. A.)

The hidden manna

There is a victory to be gained.

1. We must overcome Satan. He was not afraid to assail our blessed Lord. We have times of special darkness and assault.

2. There is a victory over ourselves; over the evil of our own hearts; over the corruption of our own natures.

3. You must overcome false doctrines. You must resist all unscriptural opinions.

4. If there is any easily-besetting sin, any marked peculiarity of your condition which has a tendency to evil, it must be overcome. Is there constitutional temperament which is unfavourable to virtue? Bring your body into subjection.

5. Lastly, there is victory over the world; and in two forms of it--first, as intimidating, and second, as persecuting. Men and women are victors on earth as they adhere to the truth, as they practise virtue, and do the will of God, and are conformed to the image and example of the Lord Jesus.

The privileges that accompany the conquest that is gained.

1. Here is the hidden manna; that is the first thing. It is the scorer hidden knowledge and experience of the efficacy, power, and satisfaction of the truth and doctrine of the Lord Jesus. Let the believer eat and be satisfied; satisfied in the love of God, in the grace of Christ, and in the communion of the Holy Spirit.

2. And I will give him a white stone. This indicates absolution from all sin and the forgiveness of all iniquity. There is forgiveness in the court of heaven, and in the court of our own consciences.

3. Lastly, it is said that in the stone there shall be a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it. We may take a person to be a hypocrite and a castaway, when God sees him to be His child. No one knows but God and ourselves. Judge not others; judge yourself. (James Stratten.)

A white stone.

A white stone

Victory. There is before my mind’s eye a vision of the ancient Olympic games. Vast amphitheatre, with seats rising tier on tier, crowded with eager and excited spectators. Sweet perfume drops through the canopy which shelters from the burning sun, and clouds of dust rise from the chariot-wheels, from the glowing hoofs of the horses, and from the swift feet of those who run. By and by I hear a mighty shout that almost rends the welkin, as the plaudits of the thousands echo round the scene; and presently a man steps forward who has won the race, or slain the lion, or killed the gladiator, to receive from the emperor’s own hand a crown of laurel leaves which fades by the very heat of the head that wears it. I notice also that the emperor gives him a pure white stone, with his name written on it. He is now entitled, on presentation of that white stone ticket, to be fed at the country’s expense, and to be feted and honoured well-nigh wheresoever he goes. Now, the Christian life is a race; the Christian experience is a conflict. Rise to the battle now. Go on to victory, and to thy reward.

Purity. I see now an ancient tribunal where the judges sit. There are lictors bearing the fasces--a bundle of sticks with an axe-head bound up amongst them, the symbol of justice and of punishment. I see the jurors in their places; I listen to the progress of the trial; and when all the witnesses have been heard, and the prisoner has made his own defence, I notice that into the ballot-box are cast some little stones. Some are white, others black; but, thank God, the white stones predominate, and the foreman of the jury having counted them, declares that the prisoner is not guilty and should be dismissed. So in this place of sin, with all the enticements of evil, there were some who retained their purity and spotlessness--some who, like Joseph, fled at the tempter’s voice; some who, like Daniel, could not forget the Lord their God; some who, like the holy children, would rather blaze in the furnace than bow before the image. To such the token of innocence was given. How is it with thee?

Novelty. I remember to have seen one of Dore’s celebrated pictures--“The entry of Christ into Jerusalem”--shortly after it was painted, when the colours were ell bright and beautiful; and though I much admired the drawing, I was particularly struck with the colouring. Everything seemed so fresh and new; of course it was in a new frame, and the very faces of the people |earned lighted up with a new joy as they beheld their King. It is possible that the colours have faded before this, but this I know--that Christ’s triumphal entry into the sinner’s heart brings glorious sunshine, new joys, new hopes, new songs, new desires, new everything.

1. The new name is the name of adoption.

2. Then there is the new name of espousal, for we are married unto Him, and He to us.

3. There Is the new name, too, of promotion for those who overcome. It were a grand thing to be a private in Christ’s army, to belong to the rank and file of the Lord’s elect; but when He says, “Come up higher, and I will exalt thee, for thou hast exalted Me,” it is better still; and this He does so often as we fight His battles well, and every victory leads to some fresh reward.

4. The new name that we shall get at last is the name of glorification. Worms now, we shall be angels then; sinful creatures at present, sons of the living God and brighter than the seraphs shall we then appear.

Secrecy. The name He gives is unknown, except to those who receive it. The world cannot understand us, or our joys, or our sorrows. These are spiritual things, and must be spiritually discerned.

Charity. Everything that we have is God’s good gift. If we cat of hidden manna, it is because He gives us to eat thereof, and if we have the earnest of the Spirit it is because He gives us the pure white stone. Some think there is a reference here to a stone called the tessera hospitalis. My heart is open to Christ; heaven is open to me. I am His property and He my possession; He holds me in His mighty hand, and I retain my hold on Him with such faith as He gives me. (J. A. Spurgeon.)

The white stone

With this white stone may the saints comfort themselves against all the black coals wherewith the world seeks to besmear them. (J. Trapp.)

A new name written.--

The new name

The large hopes which gather round this promise of a “new name.” Abraham and Jacob, in the Old Testament, received new names from God; Peter and the sons of Zebedee, in the New Testament, received new names from Christ. In the sad latter days of the Jewish monarchy its kings, being deposed by barbarian and pagan conquerors, were reinstated, with new names imposed upon them by the victors. In all these cases the imposition of the new name implies authority and ownership on the part of the giver; and generally a relationship to the giver, with new offices, functions, and powers on the part of the receiver. And so when Christ from the heavens declares that He will rename the conqueror, He asserts on the one hand His own absolute authority over him, and on the other hand His own perfect knowledge of the nature and inmost being of the creature He names. And, still further, He gives a promise of a nature renewed, of new functions committed to the conqueror, of new spheres, mew closeness of approach to Himself, new capacities, and new powers. Can we go any further? Let me just remind you that there are two things that shine out plain and clear in the midst of the darkness and vagueness that surround the future glories of the redeemed. The one is their closer relationship to Jesus Christ; the other is their possession, in the ultimate and perfect state, of a body of which the predicates are incorruption, glory, power, and which is a fit organ for the spirit, even as the present corporeal house in which we dwell is an adequate organ for the animal life, and for that alone.

The connection between Christ’s “new name” and ours. What is this “new name” of Christ’s? Obviously the new name of Jesus is a revelation of His character, nature, and heart; a new manifestation of Himself to the glad eyes of those that loved Him, when they saw Him amidst the darkness and the mists of earth, and so have been honoured to see Him more clearly amidst the radiances of the glories of heaven. Only remember that when we speak of a “new name” of Christ’s as being part of the blessedness of the future state to which we may humbly look forward, it is no antiquating of the old name. Nothing will ever make the Cross of Jesus Christ less the centre of the revelation of God than it is to-day. But the new name is the new name of the old Christ. Then what is the inscription of that name upon the conqueror? It is not merely the manifestation of the revealed character of Jesus in new beauty, but it is the manifestation of His ownership of His servants by their transformation into His likeness, which transformation is the consequence of their new vision of Him.

The blessed secret of the new name. “No man knoweth it save he that receiveth it.” Of course not. There is only one way to know the highest things in human experience, and that is by possessing them. Nobody can describe love, sorrow, gladness, So as to awaken a clear conception of them in hearts that have never experienced them. That is eminently true about religion, and it is most of all true about that perfect future state. A chrysalis, lying under ground, would know about as much of what it would be like when it had got its wings and lived upon sweetness and blazed in the sunshine, as a man when he lets his imagination attempt to construct a picture of another life. Death keeps his secret well, and we have to pass his threshold before we know what lies beyond. But more than that. That same blessed mystery lies round about the name of each individual possessor, to all but himself. Just as we shall know Christ perfectly, and bear His new name inscribed upon our foreheads, and yet He has “a name which no man knoweth but He Himself,” so the mystery of each redeemed soul will still remain impenetrable to others. But it will be a mystery of no painful darkness, nor making any barrier between ourselves and the saints whom we love. Rather it is the guarantee of an infinite variety in the manner of possessing the one name. All the surrounding diamonds that are set about the central blaze shall catch the light on their faces, and from one it will come golden, and from another violet, and another red, and another flashing and pure white. Each glorified spirit shall reveal Christ, and yet the one Christ shall be manifested in infinite variety of forms, and the total summing up of the many reflections will be the image of the whole Lord.

The giving of the new name to the victors. The language of my text involves two things, “To him that overcometh” lays down the conditions; “Will I give” lays down the cause of the possession of the “new name”--that is to say, this renovation of the being, and efflorescence into new knowledges, activities, perfections, and joys is only possible on condition of the earthly life of obedience and service and conquest. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The secret of the new name

The book which is the grand interpreter of man’s inward nature and relations makes repeated references to the sacred power of names. In the biblical view, to give anything a name is to perform an act of religion. What is it? It is to apply to some individual object, having God for its maker, that sign by which it shall be known, separated from other things, and called: and surely that ought to be done reverently, as in the presence of Him from whom all things came, and to whom all things are known. When we rise to the plane of human life, this same sanctity of names becomes more evident yet. Because then they come to stand not only for individual existences, but for conscious beings. They mark off soul from soul, among the infinite ranks and gradations of the immortal family, on earth and in heaven, that no man can number. If we ascend still higher, from the human to the Divine, the power of names is more signally manifested yet. Him whom no eye hath seen, nor ear heard, nor hand touched, we yet know by His wonderful and Almighty name--our God. It is striking that the Scriptures everywhere speak of the “name” of the Lord as of the Lord Himself. His name is His glory, His presence, His power, His wisdom, His person--and it is the only outward sign, or bond, of personal communication between Him and us who are allowed to make no image of Him. How impressive, too, that when His great manifestation is to be made in humanity, it is declared that the eternal Word is made flesh. That is the uttered Divinity--the God pronounced, communicated to man, through the Incarnation. After the Redeemer appeared, the universal command to Christendom was that its prayers should be lifted to the Father “in the name” of Christ. So we arrive at the point of the text: “To him that overcometh,” saith that Faithful and True Witness, the First and the Last, “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.” The spiritual truth which the veil of figure covers can hardly be mistaken. He that overcometh--every victorious soul prevailing by faith and by righteousness in the long and patient battle of life--shall have secret satisfactions springing up in his heart, known only between himself and his Lord. They will not consist in outward applauses, in visible successes, in any worldly compensations whatever. The chief of them all will be the silent assurances of His personal affection, who is the purest, highest, holiest. The token of His favour will be the inestimable good. So much light does advancing excellence always cast on old forms of truth, a deeper life ever illuminating even familiar oracles, that the very name of the Christ shall have a new meaning. It shall be a new name. It shall have a personal charm and preciousness to each several believer. None shall know it as he knoweth it that receiveth it.

The strict and private individuality of all real religious experience. Sooner or later some monitory Providence comes and searches us, and shows that the path to God’s right hand is in great part a lonely one.

A second characteristic of that true inward life which the text implies is that its rewards are not such as can be described beforehand. No man knoweth them saving he that receiveth them. They remain to come out and be felt unexpectedly in their place. The very result the religion of Christ undertakes to achieve in men’s hearts is disinterested devotion. Virtue under pay is no longer virtue. Faith is not hired. Why, even in all the loftier and purer human relationships, affection scorns the calculations of self-interest. There is not a tie of holy friendship on earth but feels itself insulted by the suggestion of a price.

Christian piety is to be prized for its secret intrinsic quality, rather than for its quotable results. No man knoweth it like him that hath it. Its hidden testimonies are worth more than its public demonstrations. Being religious for effect spoils the effect--like being honest for effect, or humble for effect, or affectionate or chaste for effect. It runs straight to a base hypocrisy, and not only abolishes its own influence, but begets a general scepticism of sincerity which blights every high interest, and unsettles virtue itself. Faith must dwell in her own sanctuary, see by her own light, feed on her own secret and immortal manna, be content with her own joy, cling to the white stone with the ineffable name, and wait for her spiritual justification and victory. To selfish, earth-bound hearts no secrets are revealed. No tokens of personal remembrance, no signs of secret favour come from the Master.

It has been applied all along as a chief doctrine lying at the very heart of this passage, as it lies at the heart of the gospel itself, that the special character and privilege of the Christian rest in a personal and conscious union between him and his living Redeemer. (Bp. F. D. Huntington.)

The new name

The “white stone” has been spoken of as being the symbol of acquittal, of election and choice, of admission to the heavenly banquet; all which may be true. But there is one objection to any such interpretations, namely, that they all are gathered from the circle of heathen associations, whereas the whole Apocalypse moves within the circle of Jewish symbols. So, then, if we doubt as to the force of these and other similar interpretations, have we anything in the Jewish history, especially somewhere about the same period as the manna, which may help us? I think that an explanation which has been sometimes given seems to be commended by very many considerations. There was a precious stone, lustrous and resplendent--for that is the force of the word “white” here, not a dead white but a brilliant coruscating white--on which there was something written, which no eye but one ever saw, that mysterious seat of revelation and direction known in the Old Testament by the name of Urim and Thummim (that is, lights and perfectnesses), enclosed within the folds of the High Priest’s breast-plate, which none but the High Priest ever beheld. We may, perhaps, bring that ancient fact into connection with the promise in my text, and then it opens out into a whole world of suggestions with regard to the priestly dignity of the victors, with regard to the gift that is bestowed upon them, a hidden gift worn upon their breasts and containing within it and inscribed upon it the Divine name, unseen by any eye but that of him that bears it.

That new name is Christ’s and ours. It is His first, it becomes ours by communication from Him.

1. “I will give him a new name”--a deeper, a more inward, a fresh knowledge and revelation of My own character--as eternal love, eternal wisdom, all-sufficient, absolute power, the home and treasure, the joy and righteousness of the whole heart and spirit. The Cross remains for ever the revelation of the love of God, but in heaven we shall learn what we know not here--the full wealth which shall succeed the earnest of the inheritance, and possessing the lustrous glories we shall understand something more of the infinite mercy that has bought them for us. The sun remains the same, but as different as its sphere looks, seen from the comet at its aphelion, away out far beyond the orbits of the planets in the dim regions of that infinite abyss, and seen from the same orb at its perihelion when it circles round close by the burning brightness, so different does that mighty Sun of righteousness look to us now in His eternal self-revelation, by sacrifice and death, from what He will seem in that same self-revelation when we shall stand by His side!

2. On this new revelation of the name of Christ there follows as a consequence assimilation to the name which we possess, transformation into the likeness of Him whom we behold. We cannot know His name without sharing it. If we behold His glory we shall possess it, as the light must enter the eye for vision. The light and the soul which receives will, as it were, act and react. The light beheld transforms. The soul transformed is capable of more light. That again flows in and purifies and beautifies. Thus, in continuous reciprocal energy, the endless process of learning to know an infinite Saviour, and becoming like a perfect Lord goes on with constant approximation, and yet with somewhat ever undisclosed. The gift is not once for all, but is continuous through eternity.

3. Then there is a third idea implied in this promise, if the new name be Christ’s, and that is possession or consecration. His name is given, that is, His character is revealed. His character is imparted, and further, by the gift He takes as well as gives, He takes us for His even in giving Himself to be ours. The High Priest’s mitre bore on its front “Holiness to the Lord,” and one of the last and highest promises of Scripture is cast in the form supplied by the symbol of Aaron’s office and honour, “His servants shall serve Him”--in priestly service that is--“and they shall see His face.” Action and contemplation, so hard to harmonise here, shall blend at last. “And His name shall be in their foreheads,” the token of His possession, manifest for all eyes to behold. And thus when we behold Him we become like Him, and in the measure which we become like Him we belong to Him, not one step further.

This new new is unknown except by its possessor. That, of course, is true in all regions of human experience. Did ever anybody describe a taste so that a man that had not tasted the thing could tell what it was like? Did ever anybody describe an odour so as to do more than awaken the memory of some one who had once had the scent lingering in his nostrils? If we have not known the love of a child, no talking will ever make a man understand what a father’s heart is. Religious experiences are not unlike ordinary human experiences in this matter. It is not possible to communicate them, partly by reason of the imperfection of human language, partly by reason that you need in all departments sympathy and prior knowledge in order to make the descriptions significant at all. And in our earthly life, though your faith and mine, and our joys and our consciousness of Christ’s love are all weak and tremulous, as we know, still we cannot speak them full out, and if we could there are no ears to hear except the ears of those who are possessors of like precious faith. The law applies to the heavens as well. Not till we get there shall we know. The text seems to imply what is more wonderful still, that though there shall be no isolation in heaven, which is the perfection of society, there may be incommunicable depths of blessed experience even there. Each man standing at his own angle will see his own side of the light; it will be enough and the same for all, and yet different in each. “No man knoweth saving he that receiveth.” We must possess to understand; we must stand before the throne to apprehend.

The condition and the true cause of possessing this new nature. It comes as the reward of victory; it comes as a bestowment from Christ; “To him that overcometh will I give.” And it seems to me that we have much need of trying to unite these two thoughts more closely together than we generally do. The victory is condition. It is not anything more than a condition. The real cause is Christ’s bestowment. I believe as thoroughly as any man can in the application of the idea of reward to Christian service, but I believe that this is a secondary idea, and that the primary one is “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” I believe that all outward discipline, and labour, and sorrows, and disappointments, and struggles, the efforts that we make after victory, that all these prepare Christians, and make us capable of receiving the gift. I believe that the gift comes only out of His infinite and undeserved, and God be thanked! inexhaustible forgiving goodness and mercy. The one is, if I may so say, the preparing of the cloth for the dye, and after that you have the application of the colour. No heaven except to the victor. The victor does not fight his way into heaven, but Christ gives it to him. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The new name

1. A new name preaches to us of a new relationship. A child parts with its own name, and takes the name of the family into which it is received as an adopted son or daughter. “The Lord God shall call His servants by another name.”

2. This new name is the declaration of sanctity. If we are children we should maintain the honour of the family name. “Ye that love the Lord, hate evil.”

3. Dignity is expressed by a new name Christianity bestows a name of rank and title that is emphatically new--above the human, above the angelic--Divine.

4. Secrecy belongs to this name. “A new name which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” Our holiest and grandest emotions are those that stifle utterance. They seal the lips, and make us feel how inadequate are all human vehicles to express heavenly and Divine emotions. The pleasures of the worldling lie on the surface. “You have seen, it may be,” says a writer, “an antique Italian painted window, with the bright Italian sunshine glowing through it. It is the special excellence of pictured glass that the light which falls merely on the outside of other pictures, is here interfused throughout the work, illuminating the design, and investing it with a living radiance … Christian faith is a grand cathedral with Divinely pictured windows. Standing without you see no glory, nor can possibly imagine any. Nothing is visible but the merest outline of dusky shapes. Standing within all is clear and defined, every ray of light reveals a harmony of unspeakable splendours.” (The London Pulpit.)

The new name

The giving of the white stone with the new name is the communication of what God thinks about the man to the man. It is the Divine judgment, the solemn holy doom of the righteous man, the “Come, thou blessed,” spoken to the individual. In order to see this, we must first understand what is the idea of a name--that is, what is the perfect notion of a name. The true name is one which expresses the character, the nature, the being, the meaning of the person who bears it. It is the man’s own symbol--his soul’s picture, in a word-the sign which belongs to him and to no one else. Who can give a man this, his own name? God alone. For no one but God sees what the man is, or even, seeing what he is, could express in a name-word the sum and harmony of what he sees. To whom is this name given? To him that overcometh. When is it given? When he has overcome. Does God then not know what a man is going to become? As surely as He sees the oak which He put there lying in the heart of the acorn. Why then does He wait till the man has become by overcoming ere He settles what his name shall be? He does not wait; He knows his name from the first. It is only when the man has become his name that God gives him the stone with the name upon it, for then first can he understand what his name signifies. The name is one “which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” blot only then has each man his individual relation to God, but each man has his peculiar relation to God. He is to God a peculiar being, made after his own fashion, and that of no one else; for when he is perfected he shall receive the new name which no one else can understand. Hence he can worship God as no man else can worship him--can understand God as no man else can understand Him. This or that man may understand God more, may understand God better than he, but no other man can understand God as he understands Him. As the fir-tree lifts up itself with a far different need from the need of the palm-tree, so does each man stand before God, and lift up a different humanity to the common Father. And for each God has a different response. With every man He has a secret--the secret of the new name. In every man there is a loneliness, an inner chamber of peculiar life into which God only can enter. See, now, what a significance the symbolism of our text assumes. Each of us is a distinct flower or tree in the spiritual garden of God--precious, each for his own sake, in the eyes of Him who is even now making us--each of us watered and shone upon and filled with life, for the sake of his flower, his completed being, which will blossom out of him at last to the glory and pleasure of the great Gardener. For each has within him a secret of the Divinity; each is growing towards the revelation of that secret to himself, and so to the full reception, according to his measure, of the Divine. Every moment that he is true to his true self, some new shine of the white stone breaks on his inward eye, some fresh channel is opened upward for the coming glory of the flower, the conscious offering of his whole being in beauty to the Maker. Each man, then, is in God’s sight of great worth. Life and action, thought and intent, are sacred. And what an end lies before us! To have a consciousness of our own ideal being flashed into us from the thought of God! (George MacDonald, LL. D.)

The third promise to the victors

The Church at Pergamos, to which this promise is addressed, had a sharper struggle than fell to the lot of the two Churches whose epistles precede this. It was set “where Satan’s seat is.” The severer the struggle, the nobler the reward.

We have the victor’s food, the manna. That seems, at first sight, a somewhat infelicitous symbol, because manna was wilderness food. But that characteristic is not to be taken into account. Manna, though it fell in the wilderness, came from heaven, and it is the heavenly food that is suggested by the symbol. One moment the din of the battlefield, the next moment the refreshment of the heavenly manna. And the first thing that it plainly suggests to us is the absolute satisfaction of all the hunger of the heart. Here we have to suppress desires, sometimes because they are illegitimate and wrong, sometimes because circumstances sternly forbid their indulgence. There, to desire will be to have, and partly by the rectifying of the appetite, partly by the fulness of the supply, there will be no painful sense of vacuity. Then there is the other plain thing suggested here, that that satisfaction does not dull the edge of appetite or desire. Bodily hunger is fed, is replete, wants nothing more until the lapse of time and digestion have intervened. But it is not so with the loftiest satisfactions. You that know what happy love is know what that means--a satisfaction which never approaches satiety, a hunger which has in it no gnawing. Satisfaction without satiety, food which leaves him blessedly appetised for larger bestowments, belong to the victor. Another thing to be noticed here is what we have already had occasion to point out in the previous promises: “I will give him.” The victor is seated at the board, and the Prince, as in some earthly banquet to a victorious army, himself moves up and down amongst the tables, and supplies the wants of the guests. Christ Himself bestows upon His servants the sustenance of their spirits in the realm above. But there is more than that. Christ is not only the Giver, but He is Himself the Food. He said, “I am the Bread of God that came down from heaven.” The man that lives upon the Christ by faith, love, obedience, imitation, communion, aspiration, here on earth, has already the earnest of that feast. If you do not like the earthly form of feeding upon Jesus Christ, which is trusting Him, obeying Him, thinking about Him, you would like less the heavenly form of that feeding upon Him.

Note, the victor’s new name. When we read, “I will give Him a stone, on which there is a new name written,” we infer that the main suggestion made in that promise is of a change in the self, something new in the personality and the character. What new capacities may be evolved by the mere fact of losing the limitations of the bodily frame; what new points of contact with the new universe; what new analogues of that which we here call our senses, and means of perception of the external world, may be the accompaniments of the disembarrassment from “the earthly house of this tabernacle,” we dare not dream. But whatsoever be these changes, they are changes that repose upon that which has been in the past. And so the second thought that is suggested by this new name is that these changes are the direct results of the victor’s course. Both in old times and in the peerage of England you will find names of conquerors, by land or by water, who carry in their designations and transmit to their descendants the memorial of their victories in their very titles. In like manner as a Scipio was called Africanus, as a Jervis became Lord St. Vincent, so the victor’s “new name” is the concentration and memorial of the victor’s conquest. So once more we come to the thought that whatever there may be of change in the future, the main direction of the character remains, and the consolidated issues of the transient deeds of earth remain, and the victor’s name is the summing up of the victor’s life.

Lastly, note the mystery of both the food and the name. Both symbols point to the one thought, the impossibility of knowing until we possess and experience. That impossibility besets all the noblest, highest, purest, Divinest emotions, and possessions of earth. Poets have sung of love and sorrow from the beginning of time; but men must love to know what it means. Since, then, experience alone admits to the knowledge, how vulgar, how futile, how absolutely destructive of the very purpose which they are intended to subserve, are all the attempts of men to forecast that ineffable glory. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Verses 18-29

Revelation 2:18-29


Thyatira--the sentimental Church

One thing which Ephesus had Thyatira wanted, and it was a blessed want; nothing is said of Thyatira’s “toil.” The temper which animated the Church made all its service joyous, Therefore the Lord’s commendation is so full and unreserved; He does not talk of removing the candlestick out of its place; instead He frankly recognises the growing efficiency of His servants: “I know that thy latest works are more than the first.” Nevertheless there is a great and grievous lack. As in Ephesus, the mention of this defect is unqualified; not, “I have a few things against thee,” nor, “I have this against thee,” but, “I have against thee that thou are tolerating that woman Jezebel,” etc. The name is a mystic one. Jezebel was the lady-wife of the half-barbarous king Ahab; the story of her reign is the story of the quick corruption and utter downfall of the kingdom of Israel. Idol-feasts were followed by “chambering and wantonness,” and corruption spread rapidly among the youth of Israel. So was this prophetess introducing the speculations of Asiatic freethinkers and the Asiatic habit of voluptuousness into the Church of Thyatira. A love of talk about forbidden things was setting in; regard for law was being weakened; audacity was taking the place of reserve; the teaching spread that self-indulgence was nobler than self-denial, and more in accordance with the freedom of the gospel. There was a double attraction in the teaching of the prophetess--the subtle charm of womanhood, and the seductiveness of the thoughts themselves she was disseminating. Thus she led her votaries on into what they loved to call the “deeper aspects” of life and morals. We must observe that the Church is not charged with complicity in this teaching. Nor is the minister accused of sharing in the doctrine; the implication is that he is pure. But it is charged against him that he tolerates it; and both he and the Church are warned of their neglect of duty. Why is he so tolerant of this modern Jezebel--a woman who is working in the Church mischiefs as subtle, and in their consequences as dire, as those which destroyed the manhood of Israel? First, doubtless, he bore with her because she was a woman. The gracious tolerance of a strong man often takes this form. It is very hard for such a one to assert himself at all; most hard where self-assertion seems most easy. Next, the woman called herself “a prophetess.” Here comes in regard for “the freedom of prophecy”; the very inspiration of the Church was a hindrance. “Who knows whether God is not speaking by her, notwithstanding all that is suspicious in her teaching?” The very spirit of service might help to mislead a gracious man. Underneath the easy temper of the pastor of Thyatira there was, however, a grave deficiency, one of the gravest in a Church ruler: he had an inadequate sense of the authority of law. Thyatira stands before us the type of a sentimental Church; the charm and the danger of the sentimental temperament are both set before us here. There is a sentimentalism of the strong as well as of the weak. In the weak sentiment takes the place which belongs to conviction; they try to make feeling do the work of moral qualities. And they miserably fail; their Christian character itself degenerates; like the Amy of “Locksley Hall,” they are doomed to “perish in their self-contempt.” The strong are not in danger of this: their personal character may seem to keep itself unstained. But if they have responsibilities for others laid upon them, their sentimentalism may mean unfaithfulness. If Ephesus may be looked upon as typifying the peril of the Puritan habit, Thyatira is a type of what we may call Neo-Puritanism. The Puritan was the guardian of the claims and rights of the individual. He trusted his own conscience to see the will of God, his own intelligence to interpret it. In strenuous years the man of such a temper, and with this lofty ambition, tends to be hard, self-confident, a dogmatist in his thinking, a precisian in his conduct. He is the man who can try the spirits; who can tear aside disguises; can see through them who call themselves apostles when they are not, and can find them false. Times have grown easier; there has swept over us a great impulse of tenderness, which has become the prevailing habit, and the characteristic individualism of the Puritan has changed its form. Out of regard for the sanctity of the individual conscience and judgment, varying interpretations of God’s law are to be received as binding on various persons; and where divers interpretations of law are admitted, the law itself ceases to be law. In the freedom which is to be allowed to self-development, the educative influence of positive enactments is gone; every man is to be his own schoolmaster as well as his own judge.

The appeal to reality. In contrast with their readiness to be deluded, He sets out His own clear vision, piercing through all plausibilities, and detecting the heart of the matter; His fervid indignation, too, that will not long be restrained. Nothing is more needed than occasional plain speech about the foulness which lurks in much that professes to be an enlarged spirituality. There is more than an etymological connection between sentimentalism and sensuality. They who encourage display of the peculiar charms of womanhood, and seek to advance public causes by constant speech of things which both nature and piety tell us should be held in strict reserve, degrade the woman they seek to emancipate and brutalise the man. More than once the world has been startled by the announcement of “esoteric” teachings and practices among some who have posed as heralds of a higher morality, which differ not at all from the words and deeds of others who are frankly vicious. And what is still more startling is the discovery that some who have not accepted all the doctrines of their circle have known of the prevalence of them, and suffered them to pass without rebuke. These are really the coarse.

The appeal to compassion. “Behold,” says the Lord, “I cast them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation”; “and I will kill her children with death.” There were simple souls in Thyatira saved from moral ruin by their ignorance. They “knew not the deep things of Satan” which the initiated talked of. There were other simple ones who fell by their curiosity. It was the place of the pastor to stand between these and the Lord of the flaming eyes and the glowing feet; to save them from, seeming judgment by instruction, warning, “if need were by discipline, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted with the flesh.” It is a cruel thing to be tolerant of those who are destroying the souls of the unwary.

The appeal to duty. “I lay upon you the charge to be faithful to the law you have received. I impose no other obligation on you. But this you have; hold it fast until I come.” It was the duty of all in Thyatira; it was the special duty of “the angel of the Church.” An unwelcome duty it might be, but not on that account less urgent. And it was enforced by the promise “to him that overcometh.” God’s rewards are of two classes. We are to have more of what we have; there is to be given us that which we have not. We think more habitually of the former class--“to him that hath shall be given”--but the Lord thinks also of the latter class, and this is well for us. For if we were only to go on enlarging and developing the graces most congenial to us, which we find it easiest to exercise, we might attain to excellence, but we should be ever one-sided men. God would make us perfect men. He will not let us keep the defects of our qualities. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)

Christ’s letter to the Church at Thyatira

The commendable in character. “I know thy works,” etc. Its progressive excellence is here commended. “And the last to be more than the first.” Several excellent things are here mentioned--“Charity,” which is love. The one genuine principle has various manifestations. “Service,” that is ministry. “Faith.” By this I understand not belief in propositions, but universal and living confidence in God, Christ, and eternal principles. “Patience”--that is calm endurance of those evils over which we have no control. “Works”--all the practical developments of holy principles.

The reprehensible in doctrine. Whatever was the particular doctrine that this prophetess taught, it was a great evil; it led to two things.

1. It led to great wickedness in conduct.

(1) Licentiousness--“commit fornication.”

(2) Idolatry--“eat things sacrificed to idols.” A corrupt doctrine will lead to a corrupt life. Creed and conduct have a vital connection with each other.

2. It incurred the displeasure of Christ. “Behold I will cast her into a bed,” etc., etc.

(1) A terrible retribution. The couch of indulgence would be changed into a bed of torture.

(2) An enlightened retribution. “I am He which searcheth the reins and the hearts.” There will be no ignorance in the dispensation of the punishment; the Judge knows all.

(3) A righteous retribution. “I will give unto every one of you according to your works.”

The indispensable in duty. What is to be done to correct these evils, and to avoid this threatened doom?

1. Repent of the wrong. Kind Heaven gives all sinners time for repentance, and unless repentance takes place punishment must come.

2. Hold fast to the right.

(1) You have something good. You have some right views, right feelings, right principles; hold them fast.

(2) This something you are in danger of losing. There are seductive influences around you in society. Error is a prophetess ever at work, seeking to rifle the soul of all good.

(3) This something will be safe after Christ’s advent. “Till I come.” He will perfect all, put all beyond the reach of the tempter. Meanwhile hold fast.

The blessed in destiny. There are several glorious things here promised to the faithful and true.

1. Freedom from all future inconvenience. No other burden will be put on them. Freedom from evil, what a blessing!

2. Exaltation to authority. “To him I will give power over the nations.” The Christian victor shall share in the dominion of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:2).

3. The possession of Christ. “I will give him the morning star,” that is, I will give Myself to him, the light of life, the light that breaks upon the world after a night of darkness and tempest. (Caleb Morris.)


The Majesty And Judicial Aspects Of Its Divine Author.

1. His majesty--“Son of God.”

(1) Our Lord’s resurrection; its grand and unanswerable demonstration (Romans 1:4).

(2) The title proof of His glory and Divinity (Hebrews 1:2-8).

2. His judicial aspects.

(1) Nothing can escape His piercing glance.

(2) No one can escape His resistless power.

His loving recognition of every commendable quality (Revelation 2:19).

His holy abhorrence of the evils permitted in the Church (Revelation 2:20).

His loving forbearance of this wicked party (Revelation 2:21).

The terrible doom that awaits this party unless they repent (Revelation 2:22-23).

Our Lord’s inspiring words to the faithful (Revelation 2:24).

1. The importance of not giving heed to false doctrine.

2. The connection between false doctrine and the knowing “the depths of Satan.”

The importance of firmly holding the truth and grace of Christ (Revelation 2:25).

The blessed reward of Christian heroism (verses 26-28).

Our Lord’s earnest exhortation to the churches (Revelation 2:29). (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

The Church contaminated by doctrinal error

This Church had previously been of high moral character.

1. Fervent in its love.

2. Faithful in its service.

3. Constant in its faith.

4. Genuine in its patience.

5. Progressive in its excellences.

This church, notwithstanding its previous high moral character, was contaminated by doctrinal error through the seductive influence of a corrupt woman (Revelation 2:20).

1. This Church was contaminated in doctrine by the teaching of a woman.

(1) Of wicked namesake.

(2) Of vain pretensions.

(3) Of corrupt morality.

(4) Of seductive influence.

2. This Church, through its doctrinal error, was led into sinful practices.

3. There is a contaminating influence in doctrinal error.

Those who are instrumental in leading a Church into doctrinal error, and its consequent evils, are threatened with severe retribution (Revelation 2:22-23). Lessons:

1. To cultivate in Church life an increase of all Christian graces.

2. To avoid vain and impious teachers who profess the prophetic gift.

3. That women should keep silence in the Church.

4. That doctrinal heresy will lead to an awful destiny. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

I know thy works and charity … and the last to be more than the first.--

The first and last works

What every Christian life is meant to be. A life of continual progress in which each “to-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant,” in reference to all that is good and noble. A continuous progress towards and in all good of every sort is the very law of the Christian life. Every metaphor about the life of the Christian soul carries the same lesson. Is it a building? Then course by course it rises. Is it a tree? Then year by year it spreads a broader shadow, and its leafy crown reaches nearer heaven. Is it a body? Then from childhood to youth, and youth to manhood, it grows. Christianity is growth, continual, all-embracing, and unending.

What a sadly large proportion of professedly Christian lives are not. Many professing Christians are cases of arrested development, like some of those monstrosities that you see about our pavements--a full grown man in the upper part with no under limbs at all to speak of, aged half a century, and only half the height of a ten years old child. They grow, if at all, by fits and starts, after the fashion, say, of a tree that every winter goes to sleep, and only makes wood for a little while in the summer time. Or they do not grow even as regularly as that, but there will come sometimes an hour or two of growth, and then long dreary tracks in which there is no progress at all, either in understanding of Christian doctrine or in the application of Christian precept; no increase of conformity to Jesus Christ, no increase of realising hold of His love, no clearer or more fixed and penetrating contemplation of the unseen realities, than there used to be long, long ago. Let us learn the lesson that either to-day is better than yesterday or it is worse. If a man on a bicycle stands still he tumbles. The condition of keeping upright is to go onwards. If a climber on an Alpine ice-slope does not put all his power into the effort to ascend, he cannot stick at the place, at an angle of forty-five degrees upon the ice, but down he is bound to go. Unless, by effort, he overcomes gravitation, he will be at the bottom very soon. And so if Christian people are not daily getting better, they are daily getting worse. There are two alternatives before us. Either we are getting more Christlike or we are daily getting less so.

How this commendation may become ours. Notice the context. Christ says, “I know thy works and love and faith and service” (for ministry), “and patience and that thy last works are more than the first.” That is to say, the great way by which we can secure this continual growth in the manifestations of Christian life is by making it a habit to cultivate what produces it, viz., these two things, charity (or love) and faith. These are the roots; they need cultivating. If they are not cultivated then their results of “service” (or “ministry”) and patience are sure to become less and less. These two, faith and rove, are the roots; their vitality determines the strength and abundance of the fruit that is borne. If we want our works to increase in number and to rise in quality, let us see to it that we make an honest habit of cultivating that which is their producing cause--love to Jesus Christ and faith in Him. And then the text still further suggests another thought. At the end of the letter I read: “He that overcometh and keepeth My works to the end, to him will I give,” etc. Now, mark what were called “thy works” in the beginning of the letter are called “My works” in its close. If we want that the Master shall see in us a continuous growth towards Himself, then, in addition to cultivating the habit of faith and love, we must cultivate the other habit of looking to Him as the source of all the work that we do for Him. And when we have passed from the contemplation of our deeds as ours, and come to look upon all that we do of right and truth and beauty as Christ working in us, then there is a certainty of our work increasing in nobility and in extent. There is still another thing to be remembered, and that is, that if we are to have this progressive godliness we must put forth continuous effort right away to the very close. We come to no point in our lives when we can slack off in the earnestness of our endeavour to make more and more of Christ’s fulness our own. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Notwithstanding, I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel.

An imperfect Church

A serious charge alleged against the church at thyatira. The most perfect Church upon earth is very imperfect. A seriously observant man will soon perceive “an end of all perfection” in the most excellent characters. All our Lord’s descriptions of character are faithful. He never drew a false likeness. By Him neither excellences or imperfection were ever exaggerated. The design of the Holy Ghost in exposing the sins and imperfections of the people of God is to warn Christians of their danger, and to excite them to constant watchfulness and fervent prayer. The faithful reproof marks the line of conduct we are bound conscientiously to pursue in dealing with professors of the religion of Christ.

Divine patience spares for a season the most abandoned and guilty characters. Justice might instantly inflict condign punishment upon licentious characters.

Tremendous judgments will succeed the exercise of patience upon those who continue impenitent.

Our Lord asserts His omniscience and His prerogative to punish and reward mankind.

The epistle concludes with exhortation and encouragement addressed to those who had not approved of the doctrine of Jezebel. (J. Hyatt.)


Alas for our many inconsistencies, our varied imperfections; alas for the mischief they do to our own souls and to the cause of Christ everywhere! Up to a certain point, by the grace of God and a steadfast will, we have done, let us suppose, pretty well. We have gained something. But the difficulty is to get on a little farther. Conscience has always a few things against us which we cannot quite conquer--very unimportant, perhaps, according to the world’s judgment, and yet, we know, very contrary to the Spirit of Christ. We ought to be humble, and we are proud. We ought to be grave, and we are frivolous. We ought to be exact in our times of prayer, and we suffer all manner of things to interrupt us. We ought to be overflowing with kindness; and we are reserved, impatient, and unsympathising. It is well for us if we can perceive our inconsistencies and try to amend them. The devil does his best to keep our attention fixed on what we have gained. Our inconsistencies, whatever they may appear to us, are spots and blemishes in the soul, disfiguring that image of Christ into which we desire to be transformed, holding us back from God only knows what higher degrees of perfection, spoiling the offering of our life, keeping back a part of the spoil. Moreover, it is by these inconsistencies that the devil gains power over us in other ways. These are his stations which he seizes and fortifies, establishing on them his engines of war, from which he hurls his fiery darts of temptation so as to overcome our defence in the matter of some kindred fault, and to throw in other forces of his own as soon as the breach is opened. And who shall tell the disheartening effect upon ourselves of these inconsistencies? So much for the effect of our inconsistency on ourselves. And what shall we say of its effect upon the world at large? There is nothing which does the devil’s work half so well as the unholy life combined with great profession. (W. Mitchell, M. A.)

The Jezebel of Thyatira

proceeded in the same way as all do who succeed in making havoc of the Church of Christ. She came under the semblance of religion; she pretended to be inspired of God; and she appears to have gained such credit with the bishop himself that he was beguiled by her enticing words, and suffered her to teach; this was his sin. Now it is evident when we read the character of this man that he had not lent himself knowingly to any wicked designs of the false prophetess. What does this show but our constant liability to error, even though we should be exalted to the highest station in the Church of Christ? We may be compromising our high and evangelical principles by unworthy and undignified concession to the errors of others, as effectually as did those deceived Christians of Thyatira; and there will never be wanting a Jezebel or a doctrine which that name will denote to assure us that it is right so to do, and that we thereby gain a universal esteem which will help us to extend our own particular views and influence. But, besides this practice, the false prophetess had a doctrine, and it is characterised by “the depths of Satan.” Our Lord pronounces the things whereof Jezebel and her followers made their boast to be deep, but they were not the deep things of God, but of Satan; there is a spirit which searcheth the mysteries of godliness; and there is a spirit which is busy in diving into the depths of evil under the pretension of seeking out causes, until it becomes what may be termed mysticism. The false prophetess, no doubt, led her votaries to believe that some other revelation than what was in God’s Word had been made to her, and professed to communicate some superior light on the deepest and most intricate points of faith. Generally speaking, when error is worked into a system, it must have an air of mystery thrown around it, and be supposed to conceal something which cannot meet the vulgar eye or be known to the uninitiated. Nothing but truth will bear an open investigation; truth is the only system that may be committed with safety to a whole community; not that it will be so safe as never to be perverted, but it will finally triumph, and requires neither secret machinery nor open violence to force it on men’s minds. Beware of an inordinate love of speculation on the nature and counsels of the Most High; deep things, though most alluring, are not the best elements for the health of the soul, and very few who have exercised themselves much therein have been able to maintain a spirit of sobriety unto the end. Let us beware of a tendency to begin our inquiries where all wise men make an end. Let us seek to be wise up to the word, not beyond it; and thus keeping our hearts in all simplicity we shall soon learn to whom the Father reveals His mysteries, and we shall retain an unclouded judgment to approve things that are excellent, and to discuss with patience and candour.

2. The other lesson to be learnt from this history regards the discipline and ordinances of the Church. The deluded followers of the false prophetess had set at nought the discipline of the overseers of the Church for the time being, apparently esteeming it a burden not to be tolerated by them who pretended to such great gifts. God, however, is not a God of confusion but of order, and was careful to confirm that burden and thereby to give His sanction to discipline. (R. Burgess, B. D.)

Jezebel to be cast out of the Church

Why they did not insist upon having this Jezebel turned out of the Church appears exceedingly strange. Perhaps she was a woman of wealth and riches, of some note and rank in Thyatira. There are few Churches so exactly apostolic as to pursue a strict impartiality. The gold ring and the gay clothing goes a great way. A woman, whether she was a prophetess or not, provided she had some thousands a year, and knew how to apply it among her friends, might be guilty of a great many peccadillos and have them winked at, when one of low degree could not escape censure for the first trip. There is something bewitching in riches and worldly dignity--they make mankind do very absurd and inconsistent things, and even New Testament Churches have been fascinated therewith. Perhaps this prophetess would have been accounted a good Christian in these soft, good-natured times when divorces are so common. She would probably have endowed a church, entertained the clergy, like a good Christian and orthodox believer; and this would cover a multitude of sins. But Christ does not judge as men do, for He looks into the heart and sees that many specious actions are only intended as a cover to conceal other designs than those that are pretended publicly. There is no imposing upon Him that searches the hearts. It is a great mercy that the Church has such an Head, who knows all things, and discerns all characters, and will not suffer sin to pass without rebuke. (J. Murray.)

Sins of omission

It is a fault, then, not only to be active in evil, but to be passive of evil. (J. Trapp.)

Jezebel a type of worldliness

Jezebel was a heathen princess, the first heathen queen who had been married by a king of the northern kingdom of Israel. She was, therefore, peculiarly fitted to represent the influences of the world; and the charge against the first Church of the second group is that she tolerated the world with its heathen thoughts and practices. She knew it to be the world that it was, but notwithstanding this she was content to be at peace, perhaps even to ally herself with it. (W. Milligan, D. D.)

And I gave her space to repent.--

A timely period

God is the great giver; He gives life and food and happiness to all His creatures.

A definition of time. Some call time the measure of duration; others the succession of ideas, pearls strung upon a golden thread. But is not this as good as either--“space to repent?”

A limitation of mercy. “Space,” a definite period of time. Man’s “days are determined” (Job 14:5).

1. How rash the calculations of the sinner.

2. How simple the reckoning of the saint (Genesis 47:9; Job 14:14; 1 Corinthians 7:29).

A declaration of duty. “Repent.”

A foreshadowing of destiny. Man is related to eternity. (Homilist.)

Time for repentance

Divinely allotted.

1. The wealth of Divine mercy.

2. Man will have no excuse if finally lost.

Certainly limited. Then use it well, prize it highly, see that the Divine purpose concerning your destiny is accomplished.

Wilfully neglected.

1. Because their minds are darkened.

2. Because their hearts are insensible.

3. Because their retributions are delayed.

Eternally ruinous. Lessons:

1. We are Divinely called to repentance.

2. We should repent now, because now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Space to repent

“In space comes grace” proves not always a true proverb. They that defer the work, and say that men may repent hereafter, say truly, but not safely. The branch that bears not timely fruit is cut off (John 15:2). The ground that yields not a seasonable and suitable return is nigh unto cursing (Hebrews 6:8). (John Trapp.)

I will give unto every one of you according to your works.--

Self-prepared penalties

My children, if you saw a man prepare a great pile of wood, heaping up fagots one upon another, and when you asked him what he was doing, he were to answer you, “I am preparing the fire that is to burn me,” what would you think? And if you saw this same man set fire to the pile, and when it was lighted, throw himself upon it, what would you say? This is what we do when we commit sin. (G. Vianney.)

The depths of Satan

This is not the name which these persons gave to the doctrines they held, but the real character they deserved. Mankind have always been fond of depths and mysteries, and more disposed to adhere to things which they do not understand, than to simple and plain truths that are more plain and obvious. It would appear to have been one of the particular stratagems of the wicked one to persuade mankind that Divine revelation is beyond the understanding of the inferior ranks of Church members, and that whey must depend for their direction how to understand them, upon some select commissioners that are initiated in the secrets thereof. The depths of Satan differ from all things that may be called depths in the Word of God, in the following particulars.

1. Satan appoints trustees to keep the key of his secrets, and does not show an index to the mysteries which are in his system. But there are no mysteries in the Word of God, but what have a key to open them, and an index to point them out.

2. The interpretation of Scripture mysteries is always shorter, and expressed in fewer words, than the mysteries themselves. The vision of Nebuchadnezzar’s great image pointed out himself in a mystery; the interpretation was short, and yet exceedingly plain. The depths and mysteries of Satan are quite different; the mystery is short, but the interpretation long, and the opening of the mystery very tedious.

3. The depths of God are always opened up by the Spirit of God, in the course of Divine revelation, and without the interpretation of the Holy Ghost, who is the original author, all the art of men and angels could not develop one single emblem in either the Old or New Testament, with any degree of certainty. The depths of Satan are like Milton’s Darkness Visible, incapable of any consistent interpretation, nor are they ever intended to be understood. They are believed because they are inscrutable, and on that account require a large measure of faith. But what God reveals, the nature and character thereof is plain, though the measure is unfathomable.

4. These doctrines, which John calls the depths of Satan, appear to have been the dogmas of men, and the conceits of sophisters in religion, which were intended to render godliness more fashionable and agreeable to the taste of corrupt professors; and they differed from the simplicity of the gospel in the ease they promised to those who embraced them. (J. Murray.)

But that which ye have already, hold fast till I come.--

A little religion is worth retaining

Hold fast that which you have, because it is worth retaining.

1. Because of the means which God has employed to put you in the possession of it.

2. Because it is connected with the salvation of your soul.

3. Because the minutest portion of it is valuable, and is capable of unlimited increase. When the whole substance is composed of gold and silver and precious stones, intrinsic value belongs to every particle and to every grain, so that its very dust is carefully preserved. And so it is with all the impressions and feelings which belong to true religion, for they are fruits of the Spirit, and portions of the ways of the unsearchable God. The mariner does not throw away the little light which shines upon him from the polar star, but retains it in his eye till it has guided his vessel into port. And though in some periods of your religious experience, Jesus Christ may not appear to you in His full tide of glory, as the Sun of Righteousness, yet if He appears to you in the feebler beams of the morning star, ever remember that what you see, though but a glimmering, still is light, real heavenly light. Hold it, therefore, in your view. If you possessed but one single grain of wheat, its intrinsic value would be trifling; but how is its value enhanced, and with what care will it be preserved, when you know that if it be sown and reaped, and sown and reaped again, its production will soon be seen waving in the valleys, and crowning the mountain tops, till it has furnished food sufficient for a city, a continent, a world. And who can set limits to the increase of grace? Who can tell what advances he may make in knowledge, in holiness, and in joy, who is now for the first time sitting at the feet of Jesus?

Hold fast that which you have, because various efforts are made to deprive you of it.

1. Such efforts are made by our own evil propensities. As the guards and the cultivators of that which we have, there must be vigilance and resistance and persevering prayer; there must be a war continually waged against evil thoughts, evil propensities, and evil actions; and there must be an unceasing and determined effort to bring the whole soul under the supreme dominion of gospel principles and of gospel influences.

2. Such efforts are made by the world. The mere presence of material and worldly objects has a tendency to divert our attention and our affections from those objects which are spiritual and unseen. The quantity of time and thought and labour which worldly business receives, from both the master and the servant, is often unfavourable, and sometimes fatal to fervency of spirit.

3. Such efforts are made by Satan.

Hold fast that which you have, because the gospel furnishes you with the means of retaining it.

1. The gospel furnishes you with the examples of righteous men, who have retained their spiritual possessions even in the midst of multiplied difficulties and dangers.

2. The gospel promises the Holy Spirit to help your infirmities, and to make your strength equal to your day.

Hold fast that which you have, because Jesus Christ is approaching.

1. This announcement, you perceive, prescribes the term of your endurance. It is to continue till the Lord comes. The oath which Christ requires from us, when we enter His service, is an oath of fidelity for life; and, in this respect, Christ’s requirements accord with the dispositions of all His faithful servants. They desire to persevere. They pray that they may persevere.

2. The announcement that Christ is coming affords great encouragement to sustain your endurance; for He is coming to receive His people to Himself, that where He is, there they may be also. And as the shipwrecked mariner is encouraged to hold fast the rope which he has grasped, when he hears that the lifeboat is coming to convey him to the shore, so be you strengthened and encouraged by the announced approaching of your Lord, who even now is walking on the waters to conduct you to the desired haven. (J. Alexander.)

Christian excellence

Christian excellence is an attainment.

1. Christian excellence is an attainment in contradistinction to a native growth. It does not spring up in the soul as an indigenous germ. It is a seed that has been taken in and cultivated.

2. Christian excellence is an attainment in contradistinction to an impartation. In a sense, it is the gift of God; not in the sense in which life and light and air and the seasons of the year are the gifts of God, blessings that come upon us irrespective of our own efforts, but rather in the sense in which the crops of the husbandman, the learning of the scholar, the triumphs of the artist, are the gifts of God--blessings that come as the result of appropriate labour. We shall grow neither good nor be made good; we must become good; we must struggle after it.

Christian excellence is an attainment that requires fast holding.

1. Because it is worth retaining. Its value will appear by considering three things.

(1) The priceless instrumentality employed to put man in possession of it: the mission of Christ.

(2) Its essential connection with man’s spiritual well-being; there is no true happiness apart from it.

(3) Its capability of unlimited progress; it may be as a grain of mustard, but it can grow.

2. Because there is a danger of losing it.

(1) Men who have had it have lost it before now.

(2) Agencies are in constant operation here that threaten its destruction.

Christian excellence is an attainment that will be placed beyond danger at the advent of Christ.

1. He comes to every Christian at death.

2. When He thus comes--

(1) He crushes for ever our enemies. He bruises the head of Satan under our feet.

(2) He removes from us everything inimical to the growth of goodness.

(3) He introduces us into those heavenly scenes where there will be nothing but what ministers to the advancement of goodness. Take heart, Christian, the struggle is not for long. (Homilist.)

Hold fast the good obtained

There is something “which we have already”; let us inquire what it is. First, have we obtained pardoning mercy? Secondly, have we obtained justifying grace? Thirdly, there is sanctifying power. Fourthly, suppose freedom and comfort in the ways of God. Fifthly, suppose a sweet sense of the love of God in the soul. Lastly, have you obtained an interest in the promises?

Supposing, then, that we have something, “hold fast.” And this is opposed to those who turn round and go back, or who turn aside and go astray. Let there be an advancement and progress in holiness, in zeal, in love, in conformity to Christ’s image. When it is said, “hold fast,” it implies that there are certain fixed and determinate principles of truth, which we are on no account to let go. There is a “form of sound words,” which is not to be relinquished. The dignity of Christ, the efficacy of His sacrifice, the triumph of His mediation, the fact of His advent and coming again in glory, we are to give up only with our liven “Hold it fast” implies that there are certain means and instrumentalities to be employed. “What I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch.” Consider what you will lose, if you hold not fast the things which you have already obtained. And, again, if you lose what is gained, the dishonour and shame are greater than before. (J. Stratten.)

Christian steadfastness

“Hold fast.” Here, as constantly, a material image is used to set forth a spiritual act, or rather a life-long series of spiritual acts, indicated by the continuous act “hold fast.” It implies, too, that there is something to lay hold of, and what that is is referred to beforehand, “that which ye have already.” By this we should probably understand all that is included in “the faith once delivered to the saints”; “the sum total,” as it has been expressed, “of Christian doctrine, and hopes, and privileges.” How much that is! The laws of Christ, they are to be held fast, not one forgotten or neglected; the promises of Christ, they are to be held fast, not one forgotten or neglected; the helps of Christ, they are all of them to be held fast, and used in the varied and continued necessities of this mortal life of temptation. To hold all these fast may be summed up as holding Him fast, as our Divine Lawgiver and Redeemer, our great Priest and Sacrifice, our in-dwelling Spirit and life. We do not need to ask for a Christ of higher endowments and larger resources; it is enough for us to hold fact the Christ we have already, “who of God is made unto us, wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” “Hold fast till I come.” The thoughts suggested by the words “hold fast” are very different from those suggested by “I come.” “Hold fast” tells of the struggles of earth; “I come” tells of the serene and abiding peace which reigns where Jesus is. “Hold fast till I come.” The earthly effort till the heavenly reward. The strenuous life-effort, weary, protracted, often seeming doubtful in result, is to continue till Christ comes, up to the hour of that supreme disclosure, but not beyond it. Then the weary hands may relax their painful effort, the weary eyes their outlook for danger, the weary heart its patience of hope, for the security and rest of victory will have come. (T. M. Herbert, M. A.)

Hold fast

Tug for it with those that would take it from you. (J. Trapp.)

And he that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end, to him I will give power over the nations.--

The service of God--to be constant

Look at yon miller on the village hill. How does he grind his grist? Does he bargain that he will only grind in the west wind, because its gales are so full of health? No, but the east wind, which searches joints and marrows, makes the mill-stones revolve, and together with the north and the south it is yoked to his service. Even so should it be with you who are true workers for God; all your ups and your downs, your successes and your defeats, should be turned to the glory of God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The promises to the victors

We have the victor’s authority. Now, the promise in my next text is moulded by a remembrance of the great words of the second psalm. The psalm in question deals with that Messianic hope under the symbols of an earthly conquering monarch, and sets forth His dominion as established throughout the whole earth. And our letter brings this marvellous thought, that the spirits of just men made perfect are, somehow or other, associated with Him in that campaign of conquest. And so, notice, that whatever may be the specific contents of such a promise as this, the general form of it is in full harmony with the words of the Master whilst He was on earth. Our Lord gave His trembling disciples this great promise: “In the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” “Thou hast been faithful over a few things; I will make thee ruler over many things”; and, linked along with the promise of authority, the assurance of union with the Master: “Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” My text adds to that the image of a conquering campaign, of a sceptre of iron crushing down antagonism, of banded opposition broken into shivers, “as a potter’s vessel” dashed upon a pavement of marble. The New Testament teaching converges upon this one point, that the Christ that came to die shall come again to reign, and that He shall reign and His servants with Him. That is enough; and that is all. But all the other promises deal not with something in the remoter future, but with something that begins to take effect the moment the dust, and confusion, and garments rolled in blood, of the battle-field, are swept away. At one instant the victors are fighting, at the next they are partaking of the Tree of Life. There must be something in the present for blessed dead, as well as for them in the future. And this is, that they are united with Jesus Christ in His present activities, and through Him, and in Him, and with Him, are even now serving Him. The servant, when he dies, and has been fitted for it, enters at once on his government of the ten cities. Thus this promise of my text, in its deepest meaning, corresponds with the deepest needs of a man’s nature. For we can never be at rest unless we are at work; and a heaven of doing nothing is a heaven of ennui and weariness. This promise of my text comes in to supplement the three preceding. They were addressed to the legitimate wearied longings for rest and fulness of satisfaction for oneself. This is addressed to the deeper and nobler longing for larger service. And the words of my text, whatever dim glory they may partially reveal, as accruing to the victor in the future, do declare that when he passes beyond the grave there will be waiting for him nobler work to do than any that he ever has done here. But let us not forget that all this access of power and enlargement of opportunity are a consequence of Christ’s royalty and Christ’s conquering rule. That is to say, whatever we have because we have knit to Him, and all our service there, as all our blessedness here, flows from our union with that Lord. Whatever there lies in the heavens, the germ of it all is this, that we are as Christ, so closely identified with Him that we are like Him, and share in all His possessions. He says to us, “All Mine is thine.”

Note the victor’s starry splendour. “I will give him the morning star.” Now, no doubt, throughout Scripture a star is a symbol of royal dominion; and many would propose so to interpret it in the present case. But it seems to me that whilst that explanation--which makes the second part of our promise simply identical with the former, though under a different garb-does justice to one part of the symbol, it entirely omits the other. But the emphasis is here laid on “morning” rather than on “star.” Then another false scent, as it were, on which interpretations have gone, seems to me to be that, taking into account the fact that in the last chapter of the Revelation our Lord is Himself described as “the bright and morning star,” they bring this promise down simply to mean “I will give him Myself.” Now, though it be quite true that, in the deepest of all views, Jesus Christ Himself is the gift as well as the giver of all these seven-fold promises, yet the propriety of representation seems to me to forbid that He should here say “I will give them Myself!” So that I think we are just to lay hold of the thought--the starry splendour, the beauty and the lustre that will be poured upon the victor is that which is expressed by this symbol here. What that lustre will consist in it becomes us not to say. That future keeps its secret well, but that it shall be the perfecting of human nature up to the most exquisite height of which it is capable, and the enlargement of it beyond all that human experience here can conceive, we may peaceably anticipate and quietly trust. Only note the advance here on the previous promises is as conspicuous as in the former part of this great promise. There the Christian man’s influence and authority were set forth under the emblem of regal dominion. Here they are set forth under the emblem of lustrous splendour. It is the spectators that see the glory of the beam that comes from the star. And this promise, like the former, implies that in that future there will be a field in which perfected spirits may ray out their light, and where they may gladden and draw some eyes by their beams. Christian souls, in the future, as in the present, will stand forth as the visible embodiments of the glory and lustre of the unseen God. Further, remember that this image, like the former, traces up the royalty to communion with Christ, and to impartation from Him. “I will give him the morning star.” We are not suns, but planets, that move round the Sun of Righteousness, and flash with His beauty.

Lastly, mark the condition of the authority, and the lustre. Here I would say a word about the remarkable expansion of the designation of the victor, to which I have already referred: “He that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end.” We do not know why that expansion was put in, in reference to Thyatira only, but if you will glance over the letter you will see that there is more than usual about works; works to be repented of, or works which make the material of a final retribution and judgment. Bring your metaphor of a victor down to the plain, hard, prose fact of doing Christ’s work right away to the end of life. It is the explanation of the victory, and one that we all need to lay to heart. “My works.” That means the works that He enjoins. No doubt; but look at the verse before my text: “I will give unto every one of you according to your works.” That is, the works that you do, and Christ’s works are not only those which He enjoins, but those of which He Himself set the pattern. He will “give according to works”; He will “give authority”; “give the morning star” That is to say, the life which has been moulded according to Christ’s pattern, and shaped in obedience to Christ’s commandments is the life which is capable of being granted participation in His dominion, and invested with the morning star. It is for us to choose whether we shall share in Christ’s dominion or be crushed by His iron sceptre. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Power over the nations

Power is in many cases the result of conquest. Even in this life victory brings new strength. Physical force is attained by a long series of efforts. The blacksmith’s brawny, sinewy arm is the natural consequence of years of vigorous strokes upon the anvil. Intellectual strength grows in the same way. It is in great measure acquired by mental application, and comes from painful, persevering endeavours to master some of the branches of art or science. This is a law of our being, the great principle, according to which the All-wise and Almighty Ruler of the world dispenses His gifts. It is, therefore, not surprising to find the same method applied to the highest and noblest kind of power, known as moral and spiritual. The ability to refuse the evil and choose the good, as well as to lead others to do the same, is indeed a special gift of God’s grace, and yet it is the result of constant, persevering effort. In short, this promise to Thyatira is being continually fulfilled in the present life.

At the same time, for its largest and truest accomplishment we must look on to the grand and glorious future. It is to him that shall have overcome, and kept Christ’s works to the end, that He here promises power over the nations. “The royalties of Christ,” remarks Archbishop Trench, “shall by reflection and communication be the royalties also of His Church. They shall reign, but only because Christ reigns, and because He is pleased to share His dignity with them. (W. Burnet, M. A.)

I will give him the morning star.--

Christ, the Morning Star

(compared with Revelation 22:16):--In seeking to interpret these words in the second chapter, some have supposed that the “morning star” is not directly connected with Christ; but that the promise is only a general one, setting forth the splendour of the reward of believers. Upon this principle there would be the same blessing promised to the Church of Thyatira under two forms: rule over the nations, and the splendour of such an inheritance here and hereafter. Had our Lord meant to display the splendour of the Christian’s reward, He would have spoken of making His people like the morning star, rather than of giving them the morning star; hence I agree with those who understand Christ to promise that lie will give Himself to His faithful ones as their portion and reward. But it is plain that Christ will not for the first time become the morning star to His people when He bestows Himself as their final reward, since He is so already in the present life; and hence we must understand Him as promising to give Himself in a higher measure as the reward of their fidelity.

I remark that Christ is to His people the morning star of time, and will be to them the morning star of eternity, because His light shines after darkness. It belongs to the day star to appear in the midst of gloom when the shades of night are still thick and heavy, and to announce their departure. It was in this sense that Christ came as the light of the world. There was a general sense in which the whole world sat in darkness, as it does still where Christ is not known. “Darkness covered the earth and gross darkness the people.” Take the altar at Athens, to which Paul appealed. If we understand its inscription as to “The Unknown God,” did not this proclaim God at large as still unknown? When Christ came the world was in the darkness of guilt, with only light enough to read the sentence of conscience, but none to see how it could be reversed. There was the darkness of depravity, for in the night the “beasts of the forest walked abroad,” and foul and hideous lusts degraded every land. These causes produced a darkness of untold misery. “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” Similar to this first coming of Christ into the world is His first appearing in His saving character to individual sinners. Every sinner to whom Christ has not thus appeared walks in darkness. Let him at length be aroused by the Spirit of God, and how awful is the sense of darkness that overwhelms him! The experience of Christians, indeed, is various. Some have more memory of this darkness than others. Some wander in it longer and plunge into it more deeply. Such is the first grand deliverance from darkness which Christ works for all His people, and which during their earthly history He constantly renews when the clouds of ignorance, the shades of guilt, and the storms of afflictions might gather around them. And now in the second of our texts He promises, as the reward of their faith and loyalty, that He will give Himself to each of them as the morning star of eternity. Here too the emblem shall be fulfilled, for His light will shine after darkness. To every Christian, the brightest, the happiest, the most devoted, there is a sense in which life ends in darkness. The passage from time into eternity is a dark passage. The Christian must enter it alone, and pursue it, it may be, with failing eye and fainting step. There is no night so deep as that of the valley of the shadow of death. But here the last victory over darkness is achieved. “Light is thus sown in the righteous” when the departing spirit is gathered home. And when the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the mighty shadow of the judgment throne falls even upon the redeemed in awe and solemn dread, shall not this bright and morning star rest upon the head of Him who is at once their Judge and Advocate, so that they shall “rise to meet Him, free of fear”? Now has come a world of which it is written, “And there shall be no night there,” “the Lord God giveth them light, and the Lamb is the light thereof.”

I remark, that Christ is to His people the morning star of time, and will be to them the morning star of eternity, because His light transcends all comparison. No one can mistake the morning star in the firmament or confound it with any other orb. It shines pre-eminent and alone. In the words of Milton, it “flames in the forehead of the morning sky.” Thus it is with Christ.

1. Christ is preeminent in His titles. Some of these are shared with others; but what a stamp of peculiarity is set upon them as applied to Christ! Is He the Son of God? Then He is His “only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father.” is He the Angel of God? Then He is “made so much better than the angels, as He hath obtained by inheritance a more excellent name than they.” Is He the Mediator? Then He is “the one Mediator between God and men.” Is He the Saviour? Then there is salvation in no other, “for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”

2. Christ is pre-eminent in His offices. As a Prophet, He brings revelation from the highest heaven. As a Priest, He offers the alone and perfect sacrifice. As a King, He is without example.

3. Christ is pre-eminent in His history. To Him all history converges, and in His own it is summed up and transcended. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah; He is the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley; He is the Pearl of Great Price; He is the Plant of Renown; He is the Bread of Life; He is the precious Corner-stone.

4. What Christ is to His people, He is alone. We have many friends, but only one Redeemer; many earthly helpers, but only One who delivers our souls from the lowest hell. The succour that we receive from others in the things of salvation, so far from disturbing Christ’s pre-eminence, only confirms it. The unity which the soul of man receives through Christ is as great a proof of adaptation and design as anything in the outer world. The heart of man needs something to engross it, an object on which it can concentrate all its affections without self-reproach, and which by its admitted sway brings unity into its existence, and concord into all its purposes and aspirations. Now as Christ has fulfilled this end in time, so shall He yet more by His gloriously asserted and devoutly recognised pre-eminence fulfil it to endless ages. His supremacy shall then be disclosed as on earth, in its brightest manifestation, it never yet has been. The morning star shall then shine forth unsullied by a cloud. What new displays of grace and glory Christ in these new circumstances shall make, it is not given to us to know. And while the morning star shall thus emit new and dazzling rays, oh, how different the impression of delight and rapture which His pre-eminence shall make then on His own people from what it made here! Then there shall be no darkness of ignorance or unbelief to hide His beams--no sin, or world, or self, to divide the heart with Him--no creature worship to impair His ascendency--no coldness and lukewarmness even in the Church to damp the rising flame of love and adoration! Love and adoration shall be spontaneous and irresistible.

I remark, that Christ is the morning star of time, and will be the morning star of eternity, because His light ushers in perpetual day. It is the property of the morning star to be the day’s harbinger. Other stars rise and shine and set, and leave the darkness still behind them. Hence Christ is not compared to the evening star, though it be in itself as bright as that of the morning, and indeed the same; because in that case the associations would be too gloomy, and the victory would seem to remain for a time on the side of darkness. True, the Christian may be in darkness even after Christ has risen upon him, but it is only “the cloudy and dark day”--it is no more “the black and dark night.” The dawn may be overcast, but the day still proceeds. Day still penetrates through the crevices of your unbelief into the dungeon of your despondency; and you are startled in your self-made gloom and solitude by rays that travel from beyond the icy atmosphere from a higher luminary, though you refuse to go forth to them. (J. Cairns, D. D.)

The morning star

He who speaks is Jesus Himself.

1. He speaks as a promiser. It is to something future that He points the eye of His Churches--the things “not seen,” the “things hoped for.”

2. He speaks as a giver. “I will give.” He has been a giver from the first.

3. He speaks to the overcomers. Though the gifts are not wages, yet they depend on our winning a battle. They are something beyond mere salvation.

4. He speaks of the morning star. This is His promised gift, and a very glorious one it is.

(1) What it is naturally. It is not any star that appears in the morning, but one--one “bright particular star”--a star which, above all others, is known for its splendour, and is connected with the departure of the night and the arrival of the day. It says, Night is done: day is coming; the sun is about to rise.

(2) What it is symbolically. Christ Jesus--He is the Star. He is the giver and the gift; as if He said, “I will give him Myself as the morning star.” Bright and fair to look upon; attractive and glorious; joy of the traveller, or the sailor, or the night-watch.

(3) What it is prophetically. We get Christ, in believing, just now, but we do not get Him as the morning star. That is yet to come. (H. Bonar, D. D.)

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.--

That the terms of salvation are offered to all men

These words are a strong and general appeal to the reason and understanding of all unprejudiced and impartial men.

1. The phrase, “Let him hear,” is an authoritative expression, becoming the majesty of God, and the weight and dignity of what is spoken by His command. And if they refuse or neglect to hear, and will be at no pains to examine into the true nature and end of religion, it is no hurt to Him, but to themselves only.

2. As these words express the authority of God, in requiring men to attend, so they do further denote His goodness likewise, in proposing to men, universally and plainly, the doctrine and the way of life.

3. The other phrase in the text, “He that hath an ear,” signifies he that hath understanding, that hath ability, that hath capacity to apprehend what is spoken (Matthew 19:12). To have an ear, in the Scripture-sense, means to have an understanding free and unprejudiced, open to attend unto, and apt to receive the truth. And the want of it is not like the want of natural parts and abilities, pitiable and compassionable, but faulty and deserving of severe reproof (Mark 8:17-18).

4. The capacity men have, and the indispensable obligation they are under, to hearken to and obey what God delivers to them.

God, the great Creator and righteous Governor and merciful Judge of the whole earth, offers to all men the gracious terms and possibilities of salvation. God speaks to men originally, by the light of nature, by the order and proportions of things, by the voice of reason, by the dictates of conscience.

This offer, though graciously made to all, yet in event becomes effectual to those only who are qualified and capable to receive it. Light introduced upon any object supposes always that there be eyes to view and to discern it by that light. The sound of a voice, or the use of speech, supposes always that men have ears to hear what the speaker uttereth. And, in matters of religion, God’s offering to men certain terms or conditions of salvation supposes in like manner a certain moral disposition in the mind, which causes it to have a regard to things of that nature, to have a sense and relish of things relating to morality; otherwise men would, in their nature, be no more capable of religion than beasts.

1. That disposition of mind which qualifies men to receive the terms of salvation is somewhat which the Scripture always speaks of as a matter of singular excellency, and worthy of great commendation. It is an eminent gift, or grace, of God.

2. Wherein consists this excellent temper and disposition of mind.

(1) Attentiveness or consideration.

(2) A delight in examining into truth and light, a taking pleasure at all times in beholding the light and in hearing the voice of reason.

(3) Moral probity, sincerity, and integrity of mind.

(4) A readiness to hearken to the voice of revelation as well as of reason.

3. What are the opposite qualities, or chief hindrances, which generally prevent the offers of salvation from being effectually embraced?

(1) Carelessness and want of attention.

(2) Prejudice or prepossession.

(3) Perverseness and obstinacy.

(4) The greatest impediment is a love of vice.

That they who want an ear, they who want the dispositions necessary to their receiving this gracious offer of salvation, or are prevented by any of the hindrances which render it ineffectual, are always very severely reproved in Scripture, plainly denoting it to be entirely their own fault that they have not ears to hear. The reason is because these necessary dispositions are not natural but moral qualifications, and the contrary impediments are not natural but moral defects. And though, in Scripture-phrase, it is to the delusions of Satan that this moral incapacity of men is frequently ascribed, yet this is never spoken by way of excuse, but always, on the contrary, of high aggravation.

That, since the scripture always expressly lays the blame upon men’s selves, hence consequently all those passages wherein God is at any time represented as blinding men’s eyes, or closing their ears, or hardening their hearts, or taking away their understanding from them, must of necessity be understood to be figurative expressions only, not denoting literally what God actually effects by His power, but what by His providence He justly and wisely permits.

1. Some of these sorts of expressions denote only the general analogy or fitness of the thing to be done.

2. Some other expressions of this kind are only figurative acknowledgments of the universal superintendency of Providence over all events, without whose permission nothing happens in the world.

3. Some other expressions of this kind are only applications of prophecies or declarations of certain prophecies being fulfilled (Jude 1:4 1 Peter 2:8). Not appointed of God to be wicked, but foretold by the ancient prophets that such persons would arise. Of the like sense are the following (Dan 12:10; 2 Timothy 3:13; Revelation 17:17).

4. To be denunciations or threatenings or God’s justly and in judicial manner leaving incorrigible men to themselves, after many repeated provocations (Ezekiel 24:13). (S. Clarke, D. D.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Revelation 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/revelation-2.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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