Revelation of John 2Note here, 1. That the church of Ephesus, with the other six churches of Asia, were, at the time of St. John's writing, very flourishing churches, favoured as much with the special presence influence of Christ as ever any churches were.
Note, 2. That these churches are written to as a sort of types of all the Gentile churches unto the end of the world, and patterns also which the Gentile churches were to take warning by, Christ hereby declaring what all other churches, offending and declining in the same manner, might expect.
Note, 3. That the first church St. John is commanded to write unto, is the church of Ephesus, and what is written is directed to the angel, the bishop, the president and chief minister in that church, to be communicated to all in the church, both ministers and people, as that which nearly concerned them all.
Note, 4. That Christ in the beginning of every epistle doth notify himself by some one of those characters which he gave of himself in the former chapter, either as the faithful and true witness, or as the first and the last, or as having the seven stars in his hand.
Thus here, These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand.
Mark, he holdeth the stars in his hand, to show his power, supporting and directing them, for the good of his people. It is added, that Christ walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. Which expression denotes Christ's gracious presence with them, his strict observation of them, his tender care over them, his protecting and defending of them in doing their duty to him, his encouraging or reproving, his rewarding or punishing, as there should be cause: These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, and walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.
Learn hence, 1. That the ministers of Christ are stars, yet but stars, they shine but with a borrowed light, with a light derived from the sun: they shine but for a time, the day hastens when these stars shall disappear for ever.
Learn, 2. These stars are in the right hand of Christ, in his power, and at his disposal; he appoints them their orbs where they shall shine, and appoints them also their time for shining.
Learn, 3. That the church is a candlestick, a golden candlestick. As a candlestick has no more light than what is put into it, and must by continually maintained by a new supply of oil, such is the state of the church; and as a candlestick is a moveable thing, remove the candlestick, and the light is removed with it: so when God removes the light of the gospel from a people, he unchurches them.
Farther, the church is called is called a golden candlestick, because as gold is the purest of metals, and excels other metals in preciousness, so God expects his church should differ as much from the world, as gold doth from common clay.
Learn, 4. That there is a special gracious presence of Christ with his church in all her adminstrations. He walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks; it denotes his presence with them, and this presence, and a joyous presence.
Observe here, 1. A general declaration which stands in the front of the several epistles, I know thy works, both thy inward and outward works, to observe and mark them, to punish or reward them, as the case requires. This proves the divinity of Christ, that he is truly and essentially God; he knows the hearts of men, which none but a God can know. Ver. 23. All the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and the hearts.
Observe, 2. The commendation which is here given of this church for her labour in propagating the gospel, for her patience in bearing affliction and persecution for in, for the strictness of her discipline, that she did not bear with, nor tolerate and endure, such persons as were either erroneous in judgment or scandalous in practice; for her faithfulness in trying the authority of those who pretended to an immediate call from God to be apostles, but were found liars and false prophets; such were those two succeeding heretics, Ebion and Cerinthus, and their followers.
Mark here, How our Lord Jesus Christ doth observe and approve, doth commend and praise, whatever is good in his church, and whatever is commendable and praiseworthy in the members of it; yet, at the same time, when commends them for what is good, he reproves them for what is evil and amiss; and accordingly,
Observe, 3. The reprehension given, ver 4. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
As if Christ had said, "I observe amongst you a great abatement of your former zeal and fervour; you have not that hearty love to me, and to one another, which you had at first, but verily you grow cooler when you should grow better."
Learn hence, 1. That where there is truth of grace, there may yet be a sad decay and declining in grace.
2. That Christ takes notice of, and is displeased with, such decays and declining in grace, and severely checks and reproves his people for them: I have somewhat against thee because thou hast left thy first love.
We had Christ's commendation and reprehension of the church of Ephesus before, we have this admonition and exhortation now. The words before us are partly monitory, and partly minatory; monitory in the former part of the verse, Remember from whence thou art fallen and repent.
Note here, That Christ did not surprisingly come upon this church at unawares; they were admonished before chastised, warned before laid waste; Christ doth premonish before he punishes. In the minatory part we have a great guilt and sin supposed, a great judgment for that guilt denounced, the unchurching of them that had committed it; and the means prescribed for the averting of that judgment, to wit, repentence.
Learn hence, 1. That a people professing religion and godliness may fall.
2. That fallen professors should and ought to remember from whence they are fallen.
3. That fallen professors should be repenting professors, and do their first works.
4. That without repentance and reformation, God will certainly remove a people's candlestick, take away the gospel from them, as the severest judgment which he can inflict upon them.
Remember, repent, and do the first works, else I will remove thy candlestick out of its place: that is, such a tempest of persecution shall arise, as will shake your tottering candlestick out of its place. The universal church only has a promise of stability; any particular church may be unchurched finally.
As if Christ had said, "Though thou art not what thou shouldest be, yet this thou hast commendable in thee, that thou shouldest be, yet this thou hast commendable in thee, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, (who held community of wives, and ate things offered to idols,) which impure sect I also hate for their licentious doctrine and lewd practices, which tend to the ruin and bane of human societies."
Note here, 1. That it is not unlawful to call heretics by the name of their leaders; the Nicolaitans are here so called from one Nicolas, supposed to be the deacon mentioned, who having a beautiful wife exposed her as common, to avoid the imputation of jealousy.
Note, 2. That Christ hated all licentious doctrines and loose practices, and so should we.
That is, "Let all that hear and read these words unto the churches, which the Holy Spirit has uttered, consider them, and set their hearts to regard them as matters of great importance, and which nearly concern them."
Observe, That this form of speech, He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear, Christ often used at the end of his parables, when he would stir up the people to more than ordinary attention; and he uses it here in this and the next chapter, at the end of every one of these epistles to the several churches.
As if Christ had said, "Let all such as fall away from their holy profession for fear of persecution consider what they lose, even eternal life, which I only will give to such as persevere; for to him that overcometh trials and temptations, will I give a share of my merits, and thereby a title to eternal happiness, signified by the tree of life in paradise."
Note here, 1. It is not said, to him that striveth or resisteth will I give the crown of Life, but to him that overcometh. Lazy wishes are so far from saving men, that endeavours, yea, striving against temptation, without conquering and overcoming, will not save. It is not enough that we resist, but we must conquer; not sufficient that we strive, but we must overcome: To him that overcometh.
Note, 2. From the promise that Christ makes of eternal life, I will give, a clear argument for Christ's being God, essentially God; how is it else that he assumes to himself a power of dispensing eternal life? I will give to eat of the tree of life.
Here we have the second epistle, which St. John wrote by the command of Christ to the Church of Smyrna, a famous city in one of the provinces of Asia, where Polycarp was bishop, and suffered martyrdom.
Now in this epistle we have these particulars considerable.
1. The description which Christ is pleased here to give of himself, namely, The first and the last, which was dead and is alive; and the suitableness of this description, for the consolation of this church, which was now under great tribulation. It is as if Christ had said, "I am an eternal Being, the first cause, and last end; I was myself put to death, but I am alive again; therefore, fear neither sufferings nor death, for I will assist and strengthen you, and if you lose your lives for my sake, I will raise your bodies again to everlasting life."
Observe, 2. The commendation given by Christ of this church at Smyrna, it is large and full; nay, Christ blameth nothing in this church: she kept her purity best, because always in affliction: not but there were failings undoubtedly in this church, but Almighty God mercifully overlooked them. As in the case of Job, no mention is made of his impatience, though he showed much, but we are called upon to behold him as a pattern of patience.
Observe next, The particulars of this church's commendation, I know thy works, and thy tribulation, and poverty; that is, thy labour and sufferings, and worldly poverty, which thy profession of the gospel hath brought upon thee: but though thou art outwardly poor, yet art thou inwardly rich; rich in grace, rich in faith and patience, rich in meekness and humility, rich in courage and Christian fortitude.
And farther, I know also the blasphemy of them that say they are Jews, and are not; that is, I know the malicious reproaches and evil speeches of your enemies; cast upon you, partly by native Jews, who glory in circumcision and the law; and partly by false Christians, professing faith in Christ, but not daring to own him, for fear of persecution. These belong to Satan's synagogue, not to Christ's church. None are so bad as they who only profess and seem to be good.
Observe farther, The encouragement which Christ gives this church to persevere in the faith, though they should suffer much sharper things than ever they yet suffered: fear none of the things you may be called forth to suffer: what though the devil by his instruments cast some of you into prison, and you suffer for a short time, be faithful to your profession until the day of your death, and I shall reward you with a crown of life.
Note here, 1. That Satan by his instruments has been the cause of all those bitter and bloody persecutions which Christianity in all ages hath undergone.
Note, 2. That though Satan's malice be infinite, yet his power is limited and bounded; he cannot do all the mischief he would, and he shall not do all he can: Satan shall cast you into prison, but not into hell; and not all of you into prison neither, but some only.
Note, 3. How mercifully Almighty God overrules the devil's rage and malice, making it subservient to his own glory, and his church's good, causing that which Satan intended for destruction, to serve only for probation and trial. The devil's design by all those floods of wrath, which he pours out against the church, is that she may be destroyed; but God's intent is only that she may be tried; even as the wise refiner, when he casts his gold into the furnace, designs the purifying of the metal, and only the consuming of the dross.
Note, 4. That the sufferings of good men for the cause of Christianity, though they may be sharp, yet shall they be but short: Ye shall have tribulation ten days, that is, for a short space of time.
Note, 5. That a persevering faithfulness in the service of Christ in this life, is indispensably necessary to our obtaining the crown of life and immortality in the world to come: Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
Observe lastly, The conclusion of this epistle to the church of Smyrna: this is partly hortatory: He that hath ears to hear, let him hear, what the spirit saith unto the churches. The warnings of the Holy Spirit to the churches are recorded as of great concernment for all to mind: and partly promissory, He that overcometh, that is, conquereth the love of this world, and the love of life, when God calls him forth to suffer, he shall not be hurt of the second death, that is, he shall escape eternal misery, that living death, and that dying life, which will be the assured lot and portion of the wicked and ungodly world.
In these verses is contained the third epistle, which St. John by direction had written and sent to the church of Pergamos, in which (as in the former) we have,
1. A description of Christ, as having a sharp two-edged sword in his mouth; denoting the word of God, and that piercing power which accompanies it to conquer the lusts and corruptions of men.
As also, 2. A commendation of what was good and excelling in that church, I know thy works; that is, with a knowledge of intelligence and observation, as also with a knowledge of approbation and acceptation. I know thee to be good in bad places, and in the worst of times, though thou dwellest where Satan's seat is, that is, where Satan bears sway by idolatry and persecution: yet dost thou hold fast my name, that is, the doctrine of the gospel preached in my name, and by which I am made known to the world as a man is by his name; and hast not denied my faith, but openly professed it in a time of persecution, even then when blood and slaughter attended the professors and profession of it, namely, when Antipas was slain, (who probably was a bishop, or some minister in Pergamos, of extraordinary piety; for upon such the storm of persecution generally falls;) who died a faithful witness to the truth of my gospel; even then and there, I say, hadst thou the courage to profess my name, and bear witness to the truth.
Mark here, What an honourable mention Christ makes of the services and sufferings of his people; nothing we either do or suffer for Christ, but it is recorded, and shall be remembered to our commendation and honour in this life, and to our consolation and happiness in the next.
Yet note farther, The holy impartiality of our blessed Lord; at the same time when he commends this church for what was commendable and praiseworthy, he reproves her for what was faulty and blameworthy, ver. 14. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, and the Nicolaitans; that is, the doctrine of the impure Gnostics, who teach men now to eat things offered to idols, and to commit fornication, even as Balaam of old directed Balak to ensnare the Israelites, by committing fornication with the Moabitish women, and to eat of what they sacrificed unto idols then.
Here observe, That it was not the being of those heretics and heresies among them that Christ blames them for, but the tolerating of these in their communion, who made light both of adultery and idolatry. They ought to have executed church discipline upon them, and denounced the church censures against them, as had been done by the church of Ephesus before them, that Christ might have said of them, as he did of those, v. 6. Thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Observe next, The counsel which Christ gives this church, Repent; that is, be humbled for this thy connivance at and tolerating of this wicked sect and damnable doctrine, and amend, or verily I will come quickly upon thee and them in a way of judgment; and fight against them with a two-edged sword, that is, with my holy word, convince, wound, and condemn them, &c. The want of zeal and severity against sin and incorrigible sinners, is very displeasing to Christ, and provokes him to anger greatly.
Observe lastly, The conclusion and close of this epistolary letter, which is partly exhortatory, He that hath ears, let him hear, and with his mind ponder and consider what the Spirit saith, by way of counsel and caution, unto the churches; and partly consolatory, To him that overcometh will I give, &c.
Mark, he doth not say, to every one that fighteth; no, not to every one that conquereth in one, two, or more particular acts of resistance; but to him that perseveringly conquers, and finally overcomes both tempter and temptations, both persecutors and persecutions, both false teachers and false doctrines, to them will I give the hidden manna, laid up, not in the earthly tabernacle, but the heavenly sanctuary; by which understand Christ himself, and the joys and consolations of the Holy Spirit, which are hidden from the world, and the peculiar portion of such as sincerely believe in him, and cheerfully suffer for him.
It is added, I will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name; that is, absolution and pardon of sin, together with the privilege of adoption; it being a custom anciently, to give a white stone in token of absolution, and a black stone as a sign of condemnation, on which stones were written the names of the innocent and guilty; accordingly this new name signifies God's pardoned and adopted ones; the sweetness and comfort of which privilege no man knows, but he that is possessed of it: the happiness of God's sons both here and hereafter cannot be expressed; only they that are so, know what it is to be so: and whereas Christ says, I will give the hidden manna, I will give the white stone and the new name, to them that overcome; surely it affords a good argument to convince and prove his divinity; who but a God can pardon sin, and sanctify and save sinners?
The next epistle is directed by Christ, and written by St. John, to the church of Thyatira; in which epistle
observe, 1. The name given to Christ, he is styled the Son of God; that is, by eternal generation, being the only-begotten of the Father, as well as begotten of the Father only; and partaker of the Father's essence, as well as of his likeness: he is here called the Son of God, as being a distinct person from the Father; yet is he the first and the last, which denotes his eternity; and who is, and who was, and is to come, the Almighty, which are essential attributes of the Godhead.
Observe, 2. The description here given of Christ, His eyes like flaming fire, and his feet like burning brass: denoting thereby his piercing and discerning sight to see and observe his enemies, his fiery indignation, and fierce wrath, ready to take hold of them, and his irresistible power and strength to vanquish and tread them under his feet.
Observe, 3. The great and special commendation which Christ gives to this church: greatly she is commended for her charity to Christians in distress; for her service in ministering to them, and in comforting of them; for her faith and constant adherence to the profession of Christianity; and for her patience under persecutions for the gospel's sake; but her special and peculiar commendation was this, that her last works were more than her first; that is, her last works were better, did exceed and excel the first. Ephesus was best at first, and worst at last; but Thyatira's last works were best. It is a blessed thing when Christians grow in goodness, increase in faith and holiness, when their last days are their best days; their last works, and their last fruit, their best, their fairest fruit.
Observe, 4. The reprehension follows the commendation; as good as Thyatira was, she needed to be better. She was remiss and negligent in her duty of reproving, censuring, excommunicating vile seducers, the Gnostics, and Nicolaitans, the disciples of Simon Magus, and his lewd Helena, as some think; compared to Jezebel, because she enticed Ahab to worship Baal, as this woman, (whosoever she was,) calling herself a prophetess, and teaching the lawfulness of fornication, and eating things offered to idols.
Some observe, That there was scarce any heresy broached, but it had some woman or other for the propagator and promoter of it, who took upon them the name of prophetesses. Simon Magus had his Helena; Montanus had his Priscilla and Maximilla; Carpocrates his Marcellina. Concerning this person it is affirmed, that God gave her space to repent, but she repented not.
Learn thence, That great is the sin, folly, and danger, of deferring and putting off the duty of repentance, when God gives time and space sufficient to perform it.
1. Great is the sin, because it is a mocking of God's patience, and undervaluing of his service, a contempt of his authority, a presuming on his goodness, a defiance of his displeasure.
2. Great is the folly, as well as the sin of it, because we put it off to the most improper and unfitting season, and because we hereby make the work more hard and difficult, in what season soever we set about it; and the longer we delay our repentance, the more work shall we make for repentance.
3. As great is the danger as either the sin or folly, because it puts a person upon a mighty hazard; he runs a desperate venture, not knowing whether he shall live an hour longer; and because we forfeit by our delays that special grace, without the assistance whereof we can never repent.
Observe, 5. How severely God threatens Jezebel here, and in her all sinners, to whom he gives space for repentance, but it is not improved for that end: I will cast her into a bed of tribulation and torment, instead of her bed of lust and uncleanness, unless she repent. Behold here how great and immeasurable the patience of God is towards the greatest, the vilest, and the worst sinner; they have space for repentance, they have invitations to repent, they have judgments threatened to prevent their final impenitence: but if they prove incorrigible and unreclaimable, nothing is to be expected but approaching ruin: I will kill her children with death; that is, such as are seduced by her suffer with her, if judgments threatened be not by repentance prevented.
Observe lastly, The end and design of Christ in bringing upon vile sinners these exemplary punishments, namely, to declare his omniciency, power, and justice: All the churches shall know that I am he that searcheth the reins and hearts: that is, all the churches in and about Thyatira, says Christ, shall know that I not only observe outward acts, but take notice of the secret counsels, motions, and designs, of men's hearts, and will judge every man according to his works: a full and clear text to prove the divinity of Christ: he that searcheth men's hearts, and renders to all men according to their works, is God; but Christ doth both, and therefore is essentially and truly God.
Here Christ returns to his counsel and charge given to the church at Thyatira, Unto you I say: that is, to you the angel, the governors and pastors, and to all the members of the church; I say unto you all, who have not owned nor entertained these doctrines of the Gnostics, who proudly call their filthy opinions profound mysteries and depths of knowledge, though they are indeed the depths of Satan, his policies and devices: as if Christ had said, "These vile seducers call their opinions depths, and so, such depths as Satan has brought out of hell; they are the whisperings and hissings of the old serpent, not the inspirations of the holy God; to you, I say, that I will not oppose or put upon you any new doctrine, but charge you to hold fast the old, that apostolic doctrine which you have received; persevere therein till I come to relieve you, and to release you from your persecutions, which will soon be at an end: Hold fast till I come."
Observe farther, How our Saviour concludes this epistle to the church of Thyatira, as he did the former, with a consolatory promise to such as overcome temptations, persecutions, all and all manner of opposition in their Christian conversation, and faithfully persevere in well-doing to the end; to him, says Christ, will I give power over the nations; that is, power with me, and in subordination to me, to judge the world, wicked angels, and wicked men, at the great day; then shall you rule them with a rod of iron, and dash them to shivers like a potter's vessel, even as I have received of my Father. As if Christ had said, "I have received power, as Mediator, from my Father, effectually to subdue and conquer all mine and your enemies, and I will make you partakers of it in some measure; you shall exercise an irresistible power over them by consenting to, by approving and applauding of, that righteous judgment which I shall denounce against them, and execute and inflict upon them."
Learn, That believers shall sit as assessors with Christ in judgment, and approve the equity of his proceedings, against the finally impenitent then, though never so near and dear unto them now.
Observe lastly, The full and final reward which Christ promises to him that finally persevereth, and manfully overcometh, I will give him the morning star; that is, myself and Spirit to comfort him, and the light of glory to shine upon him to all eternity.
Note, Christ is called a star, because he enlightens all with the light of natural knowledge, and his church with divine illumination; and the morningstar, peradventure with respect to his incarnation, because as that rises not at the beginning of the night, or at the middle of it, but towards morning; so Christ came not in the beginning or middle of the dark time under the law, but in the last age of the world, in which he has shined forth the joy and comfort of all nations.
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