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port to the island of Patmos; which accounts for its being mentioned first in the distribution of these epistles. St. Paul had formerly resided there upwards of two years; and afterwards Timothy under his immediate direction ; and finally, the Apostle John had fixed his abode there. One of the celebrated epistles of St. Paul was written to the Ephesians. It is evident, therefore, from all these circumstances, that the church of Ephesus had enjoyed very superior advantages.
In this epistle, our Lord addresses the Ephesian Christians, together with their angel or bishop, as the supreme head of the universal church, who “ holdeth the “ seven stars in his right hand, and walketh in the “ midst of the churches." The Lord Jesus here describes himself by two of those particular marks, which are contained in the general description of his person and character, as he appeared to St. John in the vision. By this language, he represents himself as directing and supporting the angels and ministers of the churches by his wisdom and power ; and as inspecting the churches themselves, so as to perceive all that is good or evil in them or their teachers. The gracious Saviour commends this church for their works of faith and love, the labour they had bestowed in his service, their patient continuance in well-doing under trials and afflictions, and their decided abhorrence of false teachers and evil workers, whom they would not suffer to remain in their communion. This is altogether a high character. Nevertheless he had something to allege against them. The fervency of their love to him, and their zeal for his glory, had sensibly declined since they first embraced Christianity. In these respects they had fallen from their primitive purity. The Lord therefore called on them to recollect their former state, to repent and do their first works; otherwise he would come in a short time, and in an unexpected manner, and remove their candlestick out of its place. He would deprive them of the light of his Gospel and the privileges of his ordinances.
This sentence against the church of Ephesus has been most awfully executed. The city itself, which was the most considerable in Asia Minor, after undergoing various calamities at different times, suffered its great desolation, by which it was laid prostrate, in the year 1312, by the devastating armies of the Turks. At the present time, this once renowned city consists only o a few huts. In the year 1815 the place contained only about fifteen small cottages, with no more than three professed Christians, two brothers who kept a small shop, and a gardener*.
Our blessed Lord, after the solemn reproof and warning he had given the Ephesians, notices another circumstance much in their favour; they hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which he also held in the utmost abhorrence. The Nicolaitans were an abominable sect of Antinomians in the primitive church, who turned the grace of God into lasciviousness, and taught others to do the same. The Lord Jesus then concludes the epistle by calling the attention of every individual to what the Spirit declares to the churches, and promises to every one who by faith should overcome the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, a participation of the “ fruit of “ the tree of life.” This is a figurative allusion to the tree of life in the garden of Eden, and denotes the substantial honours and pure delights of the heavenly state, in which the conqueror will be irreversibly confirmed. Every victory over sin and temptation will be graciously rewarded with some earnest and foretaste of the fruit of this tree, and the final conquest will put “ him that overcometh ' in the possession of the eternal felicity intended by it, the pure and holy enjoyment of heaven, the paradise of God.
* The present state of the apocalyptic churches will be given from the account of the Rev. H. Lindsay, Chaplain to the Embassy at Constantinople, who visited them personally in the year 1815.
From what is said in this epistle to the church of Ephesus, the ministers of Christ may rejoice that they are as stars in his right hand. May the great Head of the Church support them by his almighty power, and guide them by his infinite wisdom !-All the churches of Christ are reminded that he walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks. May their light shine with that unsullied lustre, that God may be glorified, and that the Saviour may be delighted in surveying them!-He whose eyes are as a flame of fire sees the labour, and the patience, and the fidelity, and the zeal of his people. He sees also their declensions, and whether or not they have lost their first love.—May every reader, therefore, of this epistle to the church of Ephesus examine the state of his own soul! May those who find any declensions in their love, or zeal, or other Christian graces, take the alarm in time! If their love be diminished, other graces will fail in proportion: and should this be the case, their past experiences will be so far from extenuating the lukewarmness of their present state, that it will rather aggravate and increase their guilt. If any have fallen then, may they repent and do the first works !-But while the Christian looks at the tremendous threatenings of the epistle, may he turn his eyes to the promises, and receive encouragement to maintain the conflict with all his enemies however powerful! The Lord Jesus stands ready to receive him that overcomes, to participate of the blessings of the victory, and to feast on the rich fruits of the “ tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of
The Epistle to the Church of Smyrna.
Chap. ii. 8–11. AND unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; 9. I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich;) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. 10. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer : behold, the devil shall cast some of you into
ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days : be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. 11. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
Smyrna was a large city about forty-five miles to the north of Ephesus, of which it was originally a colony. Pliny describes it as the second city in Asia, being inferior only to Ephesus. The epistle addressed to the angel of this church was the message of Him who asserts his own essential deity, by styling himself the “first and the last,” and who at the same time gives an intimation of his incarnation, death, resurrection, and everlasting intercession. The Lord Jesus, in the character of the omnipotent Friend and Saviour of his people, assured the Christians at Smyrna that he noticed and accepted their works, and that he was well acquainted with their tribulation and poverty. For, though Smyrna was a rich and populous city, either the poorest of the inhabitants alone had been converted, or the Christians had been impoverished by persecution. They were, indeed, poor in the world, as well as poor in spirit ; but Christ declared, that notwithstanding this they were rich—“ rich in faith, "and heirs of the kingdom which God had promised « to them that love him." Our Lord also knew the blasphemy of certain persons who said they were Jews, and who reviled both him and his people. These were probably Jews by nation, and virulent opposers and persecutors of Christianity; as the Asiatic Jews were at the time when St. Paul preached among them. They boasted indeed, that they were the peculiar people of God, and gloried in their relation to the synagogue of Moses; when in fact they were of the synagogue of Satan, whose spirit they breathed in their opposition to Christ and his people, and whose works they did, in the iniquities and blasphemies they committed. The Lord Jesus, who is always ready to support and comfort his people under their tribulations, exhorted the members of the church of Smyrna to fear none of those things they were about to suffer. Their enemies intended completely to destroy them; but this they would never be able to accomplish: they would indeed prevail so far as to shut some of them up in prison; but this would be permitted by their Lord and Saviour, merely that they might be tried, proved, and purified. Their tribulation was to continue ten days. This may either mean ten years, which is recorded to have been the duration of Domitian's persecution, or a very considerable time, the term ten being frequently used indefinitely in Scripture for many. During this period, numbers of them might be called to martyrdom itself. Our Lord, therefore, exhorted them to “ be faithful unto “ death ;" and then “ He who had been dead, and
was alive again,” would crown their fidelity by an immortal life of felicity and glory. Whoever among them attended to the Spirit's address to the churches, and conquered in the spiritual warfare in which they were about to engage, should not be hurt by the second death, though he might die in winning the battle: if he did not escape temporal death in the conflict, yet he should feel none of the