“Him who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.” —Revelation 2:1.
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. It is night all around. Day needs no lamps nor stars; night does both, for the outside earth and the inside chamber.
Accordingly, both are provided, and shall continue burning, with more or less of brightness, until the day dawns, and the day star arises. The ‘night’ was far spent in the apostle’s days; but it was not over, nor is it over yet. Just before the Son of man was betrayed, it is written, ‘It was night’ (John 13:30)—as if, in every sense of the word, night was reigning then; so, before the Son of man shall come again, when Antichrist, the representative of him who is ‘the ruler of the darkness of this world,’ shall be at his height, there shall be night—deep, dark night—night for the Church and for the world.
These seven epistles take this for granted. They are written for saints and for churches who are enveloped in this night. They are representatives of the Church universal, in all ages and lands. Their symbols speak to us in these last days. They tell us our need of stars and lamps; of light coming from above, or out from the holy place where the seven-branched candlestick was; of light kindled by God Himself, and by the Great High Priest, before whose throne are the seven lamps of fire ever burning (Revelation 4:5).
I. WHO is He who thus walks? He gets many names and designations in this book of the Revelation—’Son of man;’ ‘the First and the Last;’ the ‘First-begotten of the dead;’ the ‘Faithful Witness;’ the ‘Root and Offspring of David;’ the ‘bright and morning star;’ the ‘Prince of the kings of the earth;’ the ‘King of kings, and Lord of Lords.’ He appears before us in priestly clothing; yet He shows Himself also as King. 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—King of saints, King of nations; and all throughout this latter book it is kings and nations that are spoken of, warned, threatened, and judged. He stands forth as King of nations, as Prince of the kings of the earth—thus declaring His connection with nations and kings; declaring also the duty of kings and nations to acknowledge and serve and glorify Him—to lay their honours and their treasures at His feet; declaring also the sin of those who would not have Him reign over them, and also the fearful judgments on all such.
It is with the sins and the judgments of nations and kings that this book has specially to do; all because He is so specially announced in it as ‘King of kings.’ A nation’s laws ought to acknowledge Him as such; the king’s sceptre ought to have that name inscribed on it; the national resources ought to be consecrated to Him; and all government ought to recognize Him as the source of authority and power, the fountainhead of wisdom and counsel. Earth does indeed disown Him; men reject His yoke, His authority, His sovereignty. We see not yet all things put under Him; but not the less does the Father claim for Him the homage and the crowns of earth; and not the less is the sin of earth’s kingdoms for refusing His authority. He is, in all senses and in all His characters, the rejected One—rejected by His own Israel; by His professing Church, by the world to which he came—rejected as Prophet, as Priest, and as King.
II. WHERE does He walk? Among the seven golden candlesticks. These candlesticks are on earth, and He is in heaven; yet He walks among them, as He said, ‘Lo, I am with you always.’ It is with His churches that He ever is; not with these seven alone, but with His whole Church (complete, yet manifold; one, yet seven), through all ages, in all the earth. The seven epistles are the utterances of this Glorious One while walking. He looks, and He speaks. He comes up first to one candlestick, and then to another, and then to another. It is in the midst of His many churches, or His one Church (for both are true), that He is ever walking.
III. WHAT does this walking mean? It seems to say that He has come down from heaven, that He has left the throne where He was sitting, and is now moving about among His churches on earth.
(1) He is near—A present Christ is specially taught us here—Jesus in the midst of His saints and His churches, as in the upper chamber of Jerusalem. He is near to all of them, even the backsliding; and near to Laodicea and Sardis, as to Ephesus and Philadelphia.
(2) He watches over them—’I know your 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 a personal interest in their welfare.
(3) He supplies their need—This need is constant, but He is as constant—unwearied, long-suffering, faithful, loving. All his fullness is at hand for each of them. He sees if their light grows dim, and seeks to rekindle it, and make it burn the brighter. Nothing is lacking on His part to meet all need—to strengthen all weakness.
(4) He mourns over their sins—He is faithful to notice sin, and to warn against it—just as He is faithful to pardon it when confessed. His holy eye detects the sin. His loving, tender heart mourns over it. There is no anger, no fury here. All is gentleness and grace. He mourns over Ephesus for leaving her first love; over Pergamos for allowing sin; over Sardis for death; over Laodicea for lukewarmness. He feels these things profoundly. He is not indifferent to them, as if he did not care whether His lamps burned bright or not. He mourns over every sin; He longs to supply every need.
(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 fullness, am near! Shine on, for I delight in your brightness, and will enable you to shine. And my reward is with me, to him who overcomes!’
“I know your works, and your labour, and your patience, and how you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tried those who say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them liars. And have borne, and have patience, and for my name’s sake have laboured, and have not fainted.” —Revelation 2:2,3.
‘CHRIST did not please Himself’ (Romans 15:3). Yet if any one were entitled to please Himself, it was the Son of the Blessed, the Son of the Highest. He was no flesh-pleaser, no man-pleaser, no self-pleaser. He ‘pleased the Father’ (John 8:29). He was the highest type or specimen of that which was found so pre-eminently in Enoch, who was commended as one who pleased God. (Hebrews 11:5).
PAUL did not please himself. ‘I have made myself a servant to all’ (1 Corinthians 9:19). ‘I keep under my body’ (1 Corinthians 9:27; Greek, ‘I buffet or maltreat’). There exists no picture of a self-denied man like that of 2 Corinthians 6:3-10. Let us study the whole passage, especially these words—’In much endurance, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonment, in tumults, in labours, in watching, in fastings.’ What minister of Christ, what Christian man or woman, does not blush and hang the head as he reads these words?
What do we say to our self-indulgence, our sloth, our love of ease, our avoidance of hardship, our luxury our pampering of the body, our costly feasts, our silken couches, our brilliant furniture, our gay clothing, our braided hair, our jeweled fingers, our idle mirth, our voluptuous music, our jovial tables, loaded with every variety of wine and rich viands? Are we Christians? Or are we worldlings? Where is the self-denial of primitive days? Where is the separation from a self-pleasing luxurious world? Where is the cross, the true badge of discipleship, to be seen except in useless religious ornaments for the body, or worse than useless decorations for the sanctuary? “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion!” Is not this the description of multitudes who name the name of Christ? They may not always be “living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” But even where these are absent, there is ‘high living,’—luxury of the table or the wardrobe—in conformity to ‘this present evil world.’
‘At ease in Zion!’ Yes! there is the shrinking from hard service; from ‘spending and being spent;’ from toil and burden-bearing and conflict; from self-sacrifice and noble adventure, for the Master’s sake. There is conformity to the world instead of conformity to Christ. There is a following afar off, instead of a keeping pace with Him whom we profess to follow. There is a laying down, instead of a taking up of the cross. Or there is a velvet-lining of the cross, lest it should gall our shoulders as we carry it. Or there is an adorning of the cross, that it may suite the taste and the manners of our refined and intellectual age. Anything but the bare, rugged and simple cross!
We think that we can make the strait gate wider and the narrow way broader, so as to be able to walk more comfortably to the heavenly kingdom. We try to prove that modern enlightenment has so elevated the race, that there is no longer the battle or the burden or the discipline; or has so refined the world and its pleasures, that we may safely drink the poisoned cup, and give ourselves up to the inebriation of the Siren song.
‘At ease in Zion!’ Even when the walls of the city are besieged, and the citadel on the point of being stormed! Instead of grasping our weapons, we lie down upon our couches. Instead of the armour, we put on the silken robe. We are cowards when we should be brave; we are faint-hearted when we should be bold as Elijah or as Paul. We are lukewarm when we should be fervent; cold when we should be full of zeal. We compromise and shuffle and apologize, when we should lift up our voice like a trumpet. We pare down truth, or palliate error, or extenuate sin, in order to placate the world, or suit the spirit of the age, or ‘unify’ the Church.
At Ephesus we find them from the first—a self-denying Christianity; and now, some fifty years after its foundation, we still find, even amid the decay of first love, the same self-denial, and endurance of toil and suffering. It still bore noble testimony to a self-denying Lord and a self-sacrificing religion. It was still a noble and unworldly church, amid much declension and coldness. What must have been its original nobility and self-crucifixion, when even in its declension and coldness, it can be spoken of in the way here done by its gracious Lord!
‘The angel’ of the Ephesian church is sent to bear from Patmos the following message, partly of commendation and partly of rebuke—first the former, and then the latter—to show the tenderness and patience of the Lord, who will not reprove us until he has said all He can in our favour.
The SPEAKER or writer takes to himself two special titles.
(1) He who holds the seven stars in His right hand;
(2) He who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.
The skies with all its stars is His; the earth also is His; all above and below is His. He walks among His churches; constantly moving to and fro with watchful care and love. For eighteen centuries He has thus been walking and watching—trimming His lamps, and supplying them with oil—sometimes also removing them out of their places. Thus this glorious One spoke to Ephesus; He speaks also to us.
(1) I know your WORKS. He knows what they are exactly. He knows their value precisely. He will neither under-estimate nor over-estimate them. The cup of cold water shall be duly valued and rewarded.
(2) I know your labour. The word denotes hard toil. Ephesus had had her days and nights of toil—and all this is acknowledged. She had not pleased herself; she had not lived in ease and luxury. She had set herself to self-denying work. Of what kind we know not. It is registered above—and we shall one day know it all.
(3) I know your PATIENCE. The word means patient endurance of suffering or toil—the patience of Christ, the patience of men who knew that they were called to a self-denying life in following a self-denying Lord. Not impatience, nor fretfulness, nor anger, nor excitement; nor yet ease, and comfort, and luxury—but patience. ‘Fret not yourself’ (Psalm 37:1) is the Church’s watchword in evil days. It is to this that she is called—to calmness, forbearance, control of spirit—unruffled temper in the endurance of wrong—or the bearing of burdens an crosses.
(4) I know how you cannot bear those who are evil. It is not compromise or tame submission to sin, and evil, and error, and apostasy that is commended here. It is bold resistance to sin; bold rebuking of error and departure from truth and holiness and Christian consistency; for the Lord lays great stress upon the TRUTH, and upon testimony for the truth—as well as upon a HOLY LIFE. All true religion is founded upon truth—upon a true creed—a creed that rests upon God’s testimony to His own truth.
(5) I know you have tried those who say they are your apostles, and are not. This church had been zealous for the truth; zealous against error; zealous against all false pretensions to apostleship. Error came in very early. Scarcely had Paul left Galatia, when the whole Church went astray into deadly error; receiving ‘another gospel,’ and other teachers; and drawing upon itself the sharpest rebukes the apostle ever gave. It was against the teachers of this false gospel that he said, ‘Let him be accursed.’ Such stress did he lay upon truth, as the foundation of a church—in such abhorrence did he hold all departure from the truth. She must hold up that truth to the world. She must make known a true and full testimony, otherwise she becomes unfaithful to Him who is the true and faithful witness—to Him of whom it is said, ‘The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’—to Him who said, ‘You are my witnesses.’ A true church will ‘try’ all pretenders to apostleship; and try them by the unerring touchstone—the testimony which her Head has entrusted to her to maintain until He come.
(6) I know you have found them liars. They were discovered to be liars, in two senses.(1) As respects their teaching, which was false; (2) As respects their pretensions to apostleship, which were found untrue. ‘Liars’ is the fearful name which the Master gives to all such. In our day departures from the faith are not accounted evil things, but as “the excellent development of modern liberty and enlightenment.” Heresy is becoming identical with liberal thought, which refuses to be bound by any restraints. Truth is made light of. The Church’s testimony for God and for His truth is denied, and she is regarded as a mere literary institution for fostering speculation and free thought. Such she was not in the Father’s purpose. She was to be the witness for God on earth; and if she failed in her testimony, she became useless, and was to be branded as a liar—one of those of whom it written, that ‘all liars have their portion in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.’
(7) I know you have borne, and have patience, and for my name’s sake have laboured, and have not fainted. This is, so far, a repetition of the previous commendation. Endurance, patience, unfainting toil for Christ’s name—these are the features of the Ephesian church. She was not what she once was; yet she has still a high place and a noble name for self-denial and self-sacrifice. She still bears her cross—and follows her crucified Master. She is not slothful, nor easy-minded, nor luxurious, nor self-pleasing; she is still an earnest labourer in the vineyard, bearing the burden and heat of the day. She had, amid much declension, upheld the truth which was given to her. She had proved herself a faithful witness or testifier. She had not let go of sound doctrine. For this the Lord still honours and blesses her. He is jealous of His truth—hates all departure from it. For what is truth? It is the embodiment of Himself, whose name is the truth, and who is the witness for the truth sent by the Father.
1. Learn self-denying Christianity. Not the form or name, but the living thing. ‘Christ did not please Himself.’ Let us in this respect be His true followers; bearing burdens for Him; doing work for Him; submitting to the sorest toil for Him; not grudging effort, or cost, or sacrifice, or pain; spending and being spent for Him; relinquishing the lazy, luxurious, self-pleasing, fashionable religion of the present day. A self-indulgent religion has nothing in common with the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ; or with that cross of ours which He has commanded us to take up and carry after Him, renouncing ease and denying self. Our time, our gifts, our money, our strength, are all to be laid upon the altar. We are to be ‘living sacrifices’ (Romans 12:1)
2. Learn faithfulness to His truth. We hear it often said that what the age needs, and what the Church needs, is religion—not theology. But the whole Bible takes for granted that there can be no true religion without a true theology. The Bible is God’s testimony to Himself and to His Son—the Christ of God. There can be no acceptable religion or worship or service except that which is founded upon that testimony. The belief of that testimony is life everlasting—the belief of any other testimony is death eternal. Let us be true witnesses for the truth—let us shun and hate error—trying those that propagate it, and finding them ‘liars’, as the Ephesian church did. Let the Master’s word in reference to the errors of the early churches sound in our ears—’Which thing I hate.’
A church may, no doubt, have a true testimony, and yet be a very unfaithful church; she may have the FORM of sound words and the form of godliness—and yet be cold like Sardis, or lukewarm like Laodicea. Yet, on the other hand, it is not possible that, with a false testimony, or a testimony to what is untrue, she can represent her Master and Head. A false testimony must make a false church. The belief of a lie will not save a man; nor will the belief of a lie win for a church the favour of the Lord. A true creed is of unspeakable importance, even though at times it has been associated with inconsistency and death.
“Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love.”—Revelation 2:4.
There are some words which smite like a hammer, or cleave like a thunderbolt—words of mere power and terror—words like those which broke forth in fire from Sinai. But the words of our text are words which drop as the rain, and distil as the dew; words which pierce, yet soften; which rouse, yet soothe; which wound, yet bind up; which combine the biting north wind and the healing south wind. Such are these. They are not the earthquake nor the fire nor the whirlwind, but the still small voice; more resistless than all these together; mingling the rebuke and the consolation; the severity and the love; the father’s rod and the mother’s tears.
There are words which lead you away from the speaker, and absorb you in themselves. The words of our text are not such. There are others which carry you wholly past themselves to the speaker. Neither are the words of our text such. There are yet other words which divide you between themselves and the speaker, or rather which so engross your whole person with both, that you feel yourself passing continually from the one to the other, as if the eye could not be satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing. Such are the words of our text. You have both the picture and the artist, the poem and the poet, so interwoven, that each recalls the other; no, each is seen and heard in the other.
No sooner do we hear these words of the Son of God—so searching, so alarming—than we are carried up to Him who uttered them, and our souls are absorbed in the mingled majesty and grace of the only-begotten of the Father; and while they send us down into the depths, to learn one of the most humbling lessons that was ever taught concerning the weakness, the fickleness, the faithfulness—of a Christian’s heart, they carry us upward irresistibly, far above all heavens, to gaze upon the surpassing glory and meditate on the matchless love of Him who died for us, and who rose again!
The words are those 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 nor affronted; made to blush, and yet not chilled nor estranged—no, rather drawn more closely to a friend so affectionate and faithful. The reproof is keen, yet it casts no shadow on the grace of the reprover—rather does it magnify that grace into sevenfold brightness, by embodying in the admonition an utterance of the most generous, the most profound, yet, as we may call it, the most sorrowful affection that the world has ever seen!
Next in tenderness to the tears shed over Jerusalem by the Son of God in the days of His flesh, is this outflow of ‘disappointed love’ over the estrangement of Ephesus, given vent to upon His throne above. It is not weeping. No! that cannot be, now when from His face all tears have been forever wiped away! But it is akin to this—it is the nearest thing to it that we can imagine—it is that which would have been tears anywhere else than in the heaven of heavens.
But the preface to the complaint claims special notice; for that complaint does not stand alone—it is a gem set in fine gold, and the verse which introduce it are as marvelous as itself. And what strikes us most in it, is the minute enumeration of services performed by this church, as if the speaker were most unwilling to come to the matter of complaint, to touch the jarring string; being desirous of recounting all the good deeds and faithful services of the church before He speak the words of censure. ‘I know your works and your labour, and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear those who are evil—and you have tried those who say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them liars—and have borne, and have patience, and for my name’s sake have laboured, and have not fainted.’
What an introduction to the ‘Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love!’ How fitted to disarm all risings of anger; to anticipate and smooth down the offence-taking that might have been stirred; to make Ephesus feel that He who was complaining was complaining in love, not exaggerating the evil, but much more disposed to dwell upon the good; that He was no austere man, no hard master, no censorious fault-finder—but loving and generous, possessed to the uttermost of that love which is “patient and kind; which seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and never fails.”
But it is not the mere recital of His servant’s good deeds that so 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 weighs the works, and finds them not lacking. He names His servant’s name, and is not ashamed to confess him. He points not merely to the cup of cold water—but to the toil and the testimony and the faithful discipline—commending them, rejoicing in them, thanking His servant for them.
And not until He has done all this, and shown how well He remembers and appreciates each act of happy service, does He come in with the complaint, ‘Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love.’
What tenderness, what delicacy, what nobleness of love, what divine courtesy—is here! What an honour is put upon our poor doings and endurings for Him, when they are thus so gratefully recounted and so generously commended by the Son of God!
What an importance, 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; and with nothing less than love can He be satisfied. As God, He claims it; as man, He desires it; as the God-man, He presents to us this mingled claim and longing for love, as that without which He is robbed of His desire and His due. He has not left His real humanity behind Him here in the tomb. He has carried up into heaven His true human heart—with its yearning affections and cravings for love. Neither the Godhead to which that humanity is united, nor His high throne at the Father’s right hand, has in the least altered that humanity, or made it less susceptible to love and fellowship. And it is this unchanged and unchangeable manhood that is giving vent to itself in the tender admonition of our test—’You have left they first love.’
It is the language of wounded friendship, complaining of undeserved estrangement. It is the utterance of unrequited love, mourning over the loss of an affection which was better than life. He wants not merely to love—but to be loved. He seemed to have found this at Ephesus—that noble church for which the apostle prayed that it might be rooted and grounded in love, and might know the love that passes knowledge. But the kindness of their youth, the love of their espousals, had passed away. The star grew 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. And the voice which we hear, sounds like that of Rachel in Ramah weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted, because they are not.
It is not slothful service, or waning zeal, or failing liberality, or slackening warfare, that He complains. His remonstrance rather assumes the existence of much Christian fruitfulness; and even though there had been some failure in labour or endurance, that might have been more easily remedied; nor were these such a necessity to Him who fills all in all. But it is over lost love that He laments; lost love, for which there can be no compensation and no substitute, even to Him; lost love, which cuts so keenly even into the callous heart of man, and leaves such lifelong blanks even in common and inferior souls.
Yet it is not love altogether lost; nor love turned into hatred.
The failure has not got so far as this, nor descended to such a depth. It is of ebbing love He speaks, not love wholly dried up; it is love that has lost the freshness and the edge of other days; love that has sunk below the temperature at which it once stood. This is the substance of the complaint, the burden of His disappointment—the loss of half a heart! So that it would almost seem as if the total drying up would have been more endurable than this ebbing; as if the entire withholding would have been less painful than the stinted giving; as if complete and downright cessation would have been, as in the case of Laodicea, so in that of Ephesus, less hateful than this diminishing, this declining to a lower range of feeling, this grudging gift of a divided heart where once there was entire love.
Strange that the risen Christ, the ascended King, should feel so much the loss of creature-love; that He should be, as one may say, so dependent on our affection; that He should treat this failure not so much as an affront or a crime, but as a wound and a slight; that He should be touched with the alienation of ‘half a heart’, and speak of it as a bereavement and a sorrow! Oh, what must be His estimate of love; what must be the value of our love to Him; and what is the honour put on us by a condescension so amazing as this!
A complaint like this coming from any quarter is deeply touching. The wife has ceased to love the husband; the husband has ceased to love the wife; the brother has ceased to love the brother or the sister; the friend has ceased to love the friend—these are complaints which we recognize as real among ourselves, seeing we are so dependent for happiness upon each other’s love.
But that a complaint like this should come down from heaven—from Him who has the Father’s love and all the love of angels; from Him to whom they sing, in their everlasting songs, ‘Blessing and honour and glory and power;’ to whom they ascribe ‘riches and wisdom and strength,’—is far more profoundly affecting, and appeals to every noble and tender feeling of our nature with irresistible potency. What true hearted man but must be humbled and melted down beneath it?
Why should He love so much—and I so little? Why should He love so truly, so constantly, so warmly—and I return Him nothing but fickleness and insincerity and coldness? Why should He be so concerned about my love, and I so careless about His? Is my love so precious—and His so worthless? Where but in His own infinitely loving and loveable nature can I find a reason for a difference so strange? How marvellous, and how affecting, to hear Him mourn over the ‘changed affection’ of one of the least of His saints on earth, and to hear Him say, ‘I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love?’
What should move Him to desire my love—and to grieve when it is withheld—or when given for a time, and then withdrawn? Has He not love enough in heaven? That ‘one pulse in the universe’ should beat more feebly—what should that be to the infinite heart above? He who rules that empire on which the sun never sets, need not trouble himself though one worthless subject should renounce allegiance. The ocean does not miss the exhaled drop, nor the forest the faded leaf, nor the sun one wandering ray. Why, then, should He who is King of kings and Lord of lords care so much about the waning love of Ephesus—the loss of the one half of a human heart?
Yes! Why should He? Why but because He is love; and because His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways.
He who could utter a complaint like this, and utter it with such manifest sincerity and earnestness, yet with such gentleness and delicacy of tone and word—must be one of whom we cannot know too much. ‘I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love,’ are the words which embody as precious a revelation of the mind of the ascended Christ as the more explicit announcement—’Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood’—and do they not wonderfully teach us the deep meaning of the old words of the Song of Songs—”Place me like a seal over your heart, or like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, and its jealousy is as enduring as the grave. Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame. Many waters cannot quench love; neither can rivers drown it. If a man tried to buy love with everything he owned, his offer would be utterly despised.” (Song 8:6-7)
It was as one who knew both his own heart, and the heart of Him who was claiming it, that old John Berridge wrote these memorable words—
“Oh heart, heart, what are you? A mass of fooleries and absurdities! The vainest, foolishest, craftiest, wickedest thing in nature! And yet the Lord Jesus asks me for this heart, woos me for it, died to win it. O incredible love! Adorable condescension! O take it, Lord, and let it be forever closed to all but You!”
But let us follow out a little further this divine rebuke—this touching remonstrance— “You have left your first love!”—And for what reason? Did the coldness begin on my side or on yours? Have I been to you a wilderness or a land of darkness? What iniquity or unkindness have you found in me, to justify your change? Can you point to one word or deed of mine as an excuse for the withdrawal of your heart? Have I become less lovable, less loving?
“You have left your first love!”—And what or whom have you substituted? Has your power of loving ceased, and your heart become 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-faceted beauty? What, oh what, is the equivalent for a lost first love? And is there in this new, this second love—a satisfying substitute, a sufficient compensation to your soul for a loss so infinite? To one who has looked upon ‘Jerusalem’, what is there in Egypt or Babylon, in Rome or in Athens, to admire? To one who has got a glimpse of the heavenly Jerusalem, what is there in all the splendour of earth to attract or satisfy? He whose eyes have seen the King in His beauty (if ever he lowers his love to any baser object) must bear about with him an aching heart ,and an uneasy dissatisfied eye.
“You have left your first love!”—And what have you 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? Has it disarmed the world’s enmity? Has it conciliated the devil? Has it nerved you for the battle with the principalities and powers of hell? Has this scattering over a hundred objects—of affections that were formerly centered upon me—brought with it enlargement and liberty—an increase of joy and peace? Ah! Ask your hearts what your gain has been?
A few indulgences which once you did not dare to venture on. A few mirthful smiles of worldly companionship. A few pleasures, for which, until your first love had gone—you had no relish. A more unrestrained enjoyment of the things which perish with the using—a keener appetite for trifles and frivolities, for foolish talking and jesting—a contentment with religious forms, and names, and words, and creeds, and doctrines—a wider sympathy with fashion and vanity—less decision and more compromise—weaker recoil from the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life—growing desire for reunion with a present evil world, in its amusements and tastes, its revellings and banquetings, its self-pleasing, its flesh-pleasing, its love of show and costly attire.
These are some of the things for which you have exchanged your first love! For these you have sold your Lord! Judge for yourselves if the bargain has been a good one—if the ‘thirty pieces of the world’s silver’ by which your eye has been attracted and your heart won will prove an equivalent for a lost first love! One day or other it will cost you dear. Sooner or later you will repent of your ‘bargain’—and bewail your folly. Remember that ‘no man having drunk old wine immediately desires new—for he says, the old is better.’
You have not indeed renounced Christ—but you have come down from your noble elevation. You have not perhaps ceased to love Him, but you love Him less—and other objects have now a place side by side with Him who once filled up your heart so as to leave no room for a ‘rival affection’! You may possess many things (as your gracious Master most kindly allows you)—but you have failed in love. You have a name among the Churches; you have intelligence, wisdom, wealth, honour, position, influence, political and social standing—but you have left your first love! No, you have a zeal, hatred of error, patience, courage, perseverance in well-doing—but you have left your first love!
Insignificant as a descent like this may be in the eyes of men, it is great indeed in the estimation of Him who prizes love above all gifts and offerings, above all gold and frankincense, and myrrh; for is it not written, ‘Now abides faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love?’ What, then, though ‘you could speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love? You have become sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.’ ‘If a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned’ (Song 8:7).
And who are you that think it a right thing to give but ‘half a heart’ to Him who asks the whole—to Him who loved you and gave Himself for you? Who are you that claim the liberty of giving or withholding affection at your pleasure? Do you not call to mind the thrice-repeated question of your risen Lord ‘Do you love me?’ And what will you answer Him when He comes again in His glory? Oh, heartless Ephesian—is your Lord’s love nothing to you? Is His gracious jealousy, His longing for your love, His grateful remembrance of all your poor services, His entreaty that you should repent and to your first works, His promise, ‘To him who overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God’—are all these light things in your eyes?
And if all these are trifles, is a warning like this a trifle, ‘Remember whence you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works, or else I will come unto you quickly, and will remove your candlestick out of its place, except you repent?’ And is it a trifle to be told, from lips which cannot lie, ‘If any man does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maranatha’?
Oh, heartless Ephesian, retrace your steps at once! You did run well—who has hindered you? Begin once more at the beginning. Go back to the fountainhead of love—I mean your Lord’s love to you, the sinner—there refill your empty vessel! Go back to the blessed Sun, whose light is still as free and brilliant as ever; there rekindle your dying torch; there warm your cold heart, and learn to love again, as you did at first. So shall the love of Christ constrain you; you shall love Him who first loved you; you shall feel the quickening power of the living One; you will rise up again to your former warmth, by knowing His love which passes knowledge, and finding that, in spite of all your fickleness and faithlessness, that His love is still the same towards you!
We bring to you the glad tidings of that great love of Christ which was preached at first to Ephesus and by means of which her first love was kindled—the love, not of the Son only, but of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the free and infinite love of Godhead. It is this which is the true remedy for your lost first love. Go to that love again, and learn it in all its fullness and exceeding riches! Learn that God, who is rich in mercy, for the great love with which He has loved us, even when we were dead in sins, quickens us together with Christ. Learn anew the length and breadth, the depth and height, of this love! Know the love which passes knowledge—that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
“To him who overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.”—Revelation 2:7.
The promise here is to the Ephesian conqueror. It is the first of the seven promises, and, like the rest, very glorious—carrying us on to the return of the second Adam, and to paradise regained. It comes from Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand, and walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. Here, as in several other places, Christ is at once the promiser, the promise, and the thing promised.
Of the promise He is the centre and its circumference, its body and its soul, its first and its last, the yes and the amen, the eternal yes and the eternal amen. It is out of His varied fullness that the promise is composed, and in each we are presented with some portion of His exceeding riches, His boundless excellency. Christ Himself—in closest intimacy, in most endearing fellowship, in fullest love, and in brightest glory—is presented to us. The rewards connected with the kingdom and the throne are glorious, and in these there are vast and various differences and degrees; but the rewards which hold out Christ Himself to us as our possession are more glorious still, and in these there are equally varying degrees—to some being given more, to others less, of Him and His riches—some being brought nearer Him than others—brought into the very bosom of Him who is in the bosom of the Father!
Ephesus was once a noble Church, and the Epistle to the Ephesians shows us how high in spirituality she stood at first. But she had left her first love, and come down very low. She did run well, but had been hindered. Her lamp was low and dim. Her Lord was troubled about her declension, and gently upbraids her because of it. Yet He is far from throwing her off. He speaks lovingly, and holds up the reward before her eyes, to incite her to rouse herself and return to her early love. He woos her still—that He may win back her wavering love.
One balancing feature in her character is her ‘hatred of the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which, the Lord adds, ‘I also hate’ (verse 6). Hatred of evil—hatred of false doctrine (verse 15)—these are things which the Lord looks for in His Churches. Indifference to error, tolerance of evil, smoothing down the ridge between true and false teaching, whether by the press or the pulpit—these are things very common in our day, as proofs of liberality and large-mindedness. But the Lord says, ‘these things I hate.’ To be ‘broad’ and ‘wide’ is the universal boast; to be ‘narrow’ and ‘strait’ the worst of reproaches—as if ‘broad’ and ‘wide’ were not the words of the Master’s condemnation—as if He had not been said, ‘Enter in at the strait gate—for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to death; and strait is the gate, and narrow the way, leads to life.’
Awake, you who sleep! Oh, Ephesian backslider, arise and shine, for your light has come! You are not yet a castaway. See from whence you have fallen, what is your present low estate; see especially the bright recompense which may yet be yours, and let these things quicken you. Up, shake yourself from the dust; gird on your sword; put on the whole armour of God; fight the good fight—it is not too late, even yet you may overcome! The tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God, may still be yours! For such a blessedness and brightness, who would not fight and suffer—and deny self—and toil to the end?
1. Entrance into the paradise of God. The ‘heavenly’ is the pattern of the ‘earthly’ in all things. The model of earth, and all that is good on earth—is to be found in heaven. Adam’s paradise below was but the image and shadow of the paradise above, as the tabernacle in the wilderness was but the ‘example’ or image of the better tabernacle above, showed to Moses on the mount. From the lower paradise (or garden) man was cast out, and it is into the upper paradise that he is brought. He gets the earthly back again, or the new earth—but he gets far more; he gets the heavenly as well as the earthly. ‘Paradise regained’ is his; and in addition to it the paradise of God. From both was man shut out. Both were barred against the sinner. The flaming sword confronted each child of Adam, and forbade his entrance. Sin made him an outcast, an exile, a condemned man—with no home but the waste howling wilderness, the land of darkness.
‘So He drove out the man’ was the doom not of one—but of all. Expulsion from the presence and the paradise of God and from the tree of life was the sentence. We all went out of paradise with the first Adam, and became, like him, banished men. The second Adam entered in for us, and took possession of it in our name. He quenched the flaming sword; He sprinkled these heavenly places and heavenly things with His own blood (Hebrews 9:23), so that now the entrance lies open for the sinner. In believing, we get the title to all this just now; and as those who have believed and overcome, we shall enter in hereafter. Entrance into the paradise of God, through Him who is the gate, is the reward of the overcomer.
No slumber, then, no ease, no sheathed swords at present! Forward is our battle-word. Forward to the celestial city, to the paradise of God, ‘that so an entrance may be opened to us abundantly’ (2 Peter 1:2) into this everlasting glory. ‘Today shall you be with me in paradise’ may not be the promise; but it will not be long, for He who shall come will come, and will not delay.
2. Access to the tree of life. In that paradise is the tree of life; and the promise is of free access to it, the reverse of that refusal to man of access to the earthly tree (Genesis 3:22-23). Free entrance, free access, and free liberty to eat of the tree of life.
Everything connected with life is comprised in Jesus Christ—’In Him was life; and the life was the light of men’ (John 1:4). He is the bread of life; the water of life; He is life itself; He is ‘eternal life’ (1 John 5:20). The tree of life may or may not be an actual tree; but whether figurative or real, it represents Christ Himself, or something connected with Him, as the food of our immortal life, of our risen and glorified life.
Just as He says, ‘I will give him the morning star’ (that is, I will give him myself in the character of the morning star), so here He means, I will give him myself as the nourishment of his glorified being, and this in such a near and full way as he cannot have on earth. Christ, as the tree of life, the food of the new life, the glorified life, is to be given to the conqueror in a special way, such as even faith cannot conceive of here. There will be different degrees of glory, and knowledge, and love—different degrees of intimacy and fellowship with the Lord Jesus. He shall bring us into His banqueting house in a new way then—under His shadow we shall sit down with great delight, and His fruit shall be sweet to our taste.
Ezekiel’s tree of life, and gushing stream, represent the earthly blessedness restored (more than restored), as in Adam’s paradise. John’s tree of life and crystal river represent the heavenly splendour and gladness; for the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another—both of them together making up the heritage of the redeemed. ‘Blessed are those who keep His commandments’ (or ‘have washed their robe’) ‘that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city’ (Revelation 22:14).
The prospect of such things is greatly influential upon us here. It tells on our daily life. It quickens us, it nerves us, it purified us, it comforts us, it makes us brave and resolute.
Nor is that prospect separate from the cross of Christ in which we glory here. That tree of life represents the fullness of a dying, risen, and glorified Christ. It is what it is for life and nourishment, by reason of its connection with the great atonement; so that even in the kingdom we shall eat of that of which atonement has been made—priestly or sacrificial bread—bread which is connected with blood, and has passed through the fire—that flesh which is meat indeed, and that blood which is drink indeed (Exodus 29:33).
The garden of Gethsemane and eternal Paradise can never be far asunder. They are inseparably linked to each other. The tree of death and the tree of life are after all but one; the glory of the latter can never be disjoined from the shame of the former.
As we fell in the first Adam—we rose in the second. No more. Not only shall we have restoration of all that the first Adam lost, but partnership in all that the second Adam has won; in all that He has and is. As one with Him, as represented by Him, we enter into the second paradise, and eat of the tree of life; not only unbarred—but welcomed; as the very tree to which we are entitled as conquerors—Ephesian conquerors—in a Church of Ephesian backsliders. For beauty, for food, for shade, for health, is that tree renowned! And all these we shall share with Him in whom, and by whom we are introduced into the garden, and made welcome to the heavenly fruit.
And does not this tree send out its invitation to all the sons of the first Adam? Does it not bid welcome to all? ‘Whoever will’ is the invitation to the water of life; ‘whoever’ is the equally wide invitation to the tree of life.
“To him who overcomes will I give to eat of the hidden manna.” —Revelation 2:17.
The angel of the Church in Pergamos is both commended and reproved. Not a little of evil, of laxity, of unsound doctrine, was found in that Church; yet not a little of steadfastness and martyr-boldness for Christ. She is rebuked, she is warned, she is encouraged; and she gets a glorious promise—of the hidden manna, of the white stone, and of the new name. It is to the first of these that we would now look—the manna ‘hidden,’ or ‘treasured up’—as the reward of the conqueror; for these seven rewards are specially to ‘him who overcomes.’
As believers, we get eternal life; as warriors and conquerors, we get special rewards—the rewards of victory from our mighty Captain. For true religion is not a thing of ease, and luxury, and comfort; but of conflict, and effort, and wrestling. He who knows it only as the former, and not as the latter, ought to conclude that he does not know it at all. It is not for parade, or show, or a name, that Christ enlists His soldiers, but for stern battle, for hard toil, for wounds and pain, and continual facing of the enemy.
I. The MANNA. The manna was wilderness-food—in connection with tent-life, water from the rock, and the journeyings of pilgrimage. Israel had not known it previously—they asked what it was. It was connected with the desert, but it did not grow there. It came down from heaven; it was ‘angels’ food;’ the ‘bread of the mighty.’
It sustained Israel, but did not make them immortal; it was simply food for the body given them daily by God—until they reached Canaan. Let us keep these things in mind, for the manna of which our text speaks is in several aspects a contrast to all these.
II. The HIDDEN manna. The word ‘hidden’ does not so much refer to a thing secreted or concealed, as to a thing carefully treasured up and preserved, like a precious gem—as when it is said, ‘Your life is hidden with Christ in God.’
This hidden manna is evidently Christ Himself, or something directly coming from Him, and connected with Him. Christ, as the heavenly food of our glorified being, may be said to be the hidden manna—just as He is the tree of life, and the morning star. Christ, as risen and glorified—Christ in certain peculiar aspects and relations connected with the future glory—is the hidden manna. Not simply Christ—for even here we feed on Him as the bread of life; we eat His flesh, and drink His blood; our daily hunger is satisfied with Him—but Christ, as connected with the holy of holies—the immediate presence and bosom of the Father.
The word ‘hidden’ refers to the golden pot of manna which was preserved in the ark, under the mercy-seat, along with Aaron’s rod and the tables of the covenant. The manna was taken from off the sands of the desert, put into an urn, and placed, for all ages, in the holy of holies, in remembrance of the desert food, and as a type of something better yet to be revealed.
This ‘hidden manna’ was both like and unlike the manna of the wilderness—it was connected with it, yet also separate. It was of heaven originally (John 6:31); it came down to earth; it was taken into the holiest of all, the emblem of the heaven of heavens; and thus was both of earth and heaven. It was of the wilderness, yet not in it. It was originally corruptible, yet made incorruptible; once a daily gift, spread over all the sand of the desert, now gathered into one small vessel, and laid up there once for all. It was in the ark, covered with the blood, beneath the cherubim and the glory; food that could only be reached through blood, and could only be for those whom blood had redeemed. Man had eaten ‘angels food’—but now this had become the food of men—not only of men here, in weakness and wandering—but of the glorified in the New Jerusalem.
This hidden manna is (in conjunction with the tree of life) the special food of the redeemed; the nourishment of the new and glorified life, both of body and soul. It is set down on the great banquet table, in the high banquet hall. As in the upper-room in Jerusalem Jesus said, ‘Take, eat, this is my body, broken for you,’ so in like manner will He take the hidden manna, and present it to His own as their special food; and if the ‘Take, eat,’ from His lips below be so loving and precious, what will it be in the Jerusalem above—’Take, eat, this is my glorified self!’ And if that which symbolizes His death be so sweet and nourishing, what will that be which symbolizes His endless life! Then we shall fully know what the apostle meant when he said, ‘We are saved by His life’ (Romans 5:10). The bread of the Lord’s Supper speaks of death—the hidden manna of life only. The one speaks of shame and humiliation—the other of glory and immortality.
This hidden manna is food for the kingdom—the kingdom of the risen and the glorified. It is Christ’s resurrection-life, for those who are partakers of His resurrection. It is the food of the royal priesthood—the food of the conquerors—food that reminds them of their desert weariness, and hunger, and warfare, yet food which assures them that they shall hunger no more, but shall feed on that which is immortal, incorruptible, and divine.
It is food for eternity—everlasting nourishment. And all out of the one golden pot, the one Christ—the glorified Immanuel. That one golden pot is like the widow’s cruse and barrel—it fails not. It will suffice for that multitude which no man can number, and it will suffice forever! Like the one tree of life, so this one pot of manna will supply millions eternally. Out of it we shall feed—out of Christ’s glorified fullness we shall be nourished. Our life is hidden with Him in God; for it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell. ‘The Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them’—and feed them on Himself.
“And I will also give him the morning star.”—Revelation 2:28.
He who speaks in Jesus Himself. He spoke to His Asian Churches once—He speaks to us now. He speaks directly—He speaks from heaven. ‘I, Jesus, have sent;’ and again, ‘Behold, I come.’ He is the speaker of these sure words of prophecy—’He who hath an ear, let him hear!’
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,’ in their sevenfold fullness and glory. His discourses on earth referred to these futurities in a very general way—and often not at all. The two great futurities of which He then spoke were, (1) the Holy Spirit, as the promise of the Father; and (2) His own return. Here His promises all pertain to the glory. He takes these things for granted, and proceeds to speak of others.
He speaks as a giver. ‘I will give.’ He has been a giver from the first. He was Himself the Father’s gift, and He is the depositary of all gifts for us, present or future. All is gift—even the rewards are gifts, not wages. For wages are measured by bargain, or desert, or profit—but these gifts are beyond all measure and desert!
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. In believing we are saved; but there is something more than this held out to us—and that something is the reward to the fighters of the good fight. You say, ‘I believe.’ It is well; but is that all?
No! it is but the first step. The battle now begins—and to cheer you on, the prize is hung out to view. You are not to fight for nothing. Your Captain, who leads you to victory, will share His spoils with you. He will lavish the whole treasury of His gifts upon His faithful soldiers. What will He not give of glory and honour and blessedness in His kingdom forever?
He speaks of the MORNING STAR. This is His promised gift, and a very glorious one it is. Let us inquire about this ‘star of the morning’.
(1) What it is NATURALLY. It is not any star that appears in the morning, but one—one ‘bright particular star’—a star to which the special name belongs; 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 is the fairest and brightest of the bright and fair; especially as it is seen rising over the Mount of Olives. 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. ‘I am the bright and morning star’ (Revelation 22:16). He is the giver and the gift; as if He said, ‘I will give him myself as the morning star.’ In Him all that is comprised in the idea of morning star is found and displayed. He says—Night is just at an end; day is about to dawn; the sun is about to rise. Forerunner of day—yet also day itself. Sun of righteousness—yet also morning star. Bright and fair to look upon; attractive and glorious; joy of the traveller, or the sailor, or the night-watchman. He is the Star of Jacob; the glory, not of Israel only—but of the earth.
(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. His ‘unsearchable riches’ are yet to be unfolded. The day of the bringing forth of the gems and glory is yet future. It is the day of His second coming. Then it is that He rises on our world as the morning star. There are three periods to which Scripture points our eye—
(1) the present, which it calls night, during which we get Christ as our light personally, and in that light the earnest of the future glory. ‘I am the light of the world—he who believes on me shall not walk in darkness.’
(2) the millennial period, which ends the night, and which is not yet full day. ‘Joy comes in the morning.’ This is the period of the morning star; the second coming; the first resurrection; the deliverance of creation; the restoration of Israel, and the kingdom of the saints. It is to this that the promise here refers, ‘I will give him the morning-star;’ and it corresponds with the 20th of the Revelation, ‘Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection.’ It is something very bright and glorious, yet not perfect—intermediate between night and noon.
(3) The eternal state. There the full sun shines in its noonday glory. All is perfection; every trace of the curse is wiped away; every cloud and mist pass off; the new heavens and the new earth are manifested in their perfect glory.
1. Seek to be sons of the morning. In one aspect this is identical with being children of light and day. But it expresses more. Such have their special portion in the glory and freshness of the dawn. They catch the first ray of coming sunshine. The world’s night will soon be done—and all whose portion is in it shall perish with it. But the morning comes! Let us seek our portion there, and, seeking it, be conformed to the glory which is then to be revealed. Live, and act, and walk—as sons of morning. Let the world recognize you as such. Let there be rays of dawn seen upon you.
2. Live upon your future eternal prospects. The ‘things hoped for’ are the Christian man’s prospects—prospects in which there is no uncertainty, and over which there hangs no cloud. Look at them; study them; keep them constantly before your mind. Fix your eye upon the morning-star. Draw strength, joy, comfort, vigour, out of them. They are meant to yield all these.
3. Live up to your future eternal prospects. They are very bright, unspeakably glorious—live accordingly. Live worthy of your hope. Aim high. Set your affections on things above. Be not conformed to this world. Take up a high and true position. Forget the things behind; reach forward to that which is before. Press toward the mark. Be molded by these blessed hopes. Think of the morning, and the morning star—keep separate from the night, and the men of the night—and the things of the night.
4. Seek to make other partakers of your future eternal prospects. Say to all you meet with, Will you go with us? We are travelling eastward to the land of the morning; for we are children of the morning—will you not cast in your lot with us? Pity a dark world, and its dark children—who have no hope and no morning before them. Point out the morning-star to them; bid them look at it; tell them what its anticipated brightness has done for you. Win souls to Christ. Draw many into the kingdom by your words and by your walk. There is little time to lose; for the coming of the Lord draws near!