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Of the following letters to the angels of the seven churches it may be necessary to speak first in general, and then particularly. In general we may observe, when the Israelites were to receive the law at Mount Sinai, they were first to be purified; and when the kingdom of God was at hand, John the Baptist prepared men for it by repentance. In like manner we are prepared by these letters for the worthy reception of this glorious Revelation. By following the directions given herein, by expelling incorrigibly wicked men, and putting away all wickedness, those churches were prepared to receive this precious depositum. And whoever in any age would profitably read or hear it, must observe the same admonitions. These letters are a kind of sevenfold preface to the book. Christ now appears in the form of a man, (not yet under the emblem of a lamb,) and speaks mostly in proper, not in figurative, words. It is not till chap. iv, 1, that St. John enters upon that grand vision which takes up the residue of the book. There is in each of these letters,
1. A command to write to the angel of the church;
2. A glorious title of Christ;
3. An address to the angel of that church, containing A testimony of his mixed, or good, or bad state; An exhortation to repentance or steadfastness; A declaration of what will be; generally, of the Lord's coming;
4. A promise to him that overcometh, together with the exhortation, "He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear" The address in each letter is expressed in plain words, the promise, in figurative. In the address our Lord speaks to the angel of each church which then was, and to the members thereof directly; whereas in the promise he speaks of all that should overcome, in whatever church or age, and deals out to them one of the precious promises, (by way of anticipation,) from the last chapters of the book.
1. Write - So Christ dictated to him every word. These things saith he who holdeth the seven stars in his right hand - Such is his mighty power! Such his favour to them and care over them, that they may indeed shine as stars, both by purity of doctrine and holiness of life! Who walketh - According to his promise, "I am with you always, even to the end of the world." In the midst of the golden candlesticks - Beholding all their works and thoughts, and ready to "remove the candlestick out of its place," if any, being warned, will not repent. Perhaps here is likewise an allusion to the office of the priests in dressing the lamps, which was to keep them always burning before the Lord.
2. I know - Jesus knows all the good and all the evil, which his servants and his enemies suffer and do. Weighty word, "I know," how dreadful will it one day sound to the wicked, how sweet to the righteous! The churches and their angels must have been astonished, to find their several states so exactly described, even in the absence of the apostle, and could not but acknowledge the all-seeing eye of Christ and of his Spirit. With regard to us, to every one of us also he saith, "I know thy works." Happy is he that conceives less good of himself, than Christ knows concerning him. And thy labour - After the general, three particulars are named, and then more largely described in an inverted order,
1. Thy labour
6. Thou hast born for my name's sake and hast not fainted.
2. Thy patience:
5. Thou hast patience:
3. Thou canst not
4. Thou hast tried those who say they are bear evil men: apostles and are not, and hast found them liars. And thy patience - Notwithstanding which thou canst not bear that incorrigibly wicked men should remain in the flock of Christ. And thou hast tried those who say they are apostles, and are not - For the Lord hath not sent them.
4. But I have against thee, that thou hast left thy first love - That love for which all that church was so eminent when St. Paul wrote his epistle to them. He need not have left this. He might have retained it entire to the end. And he did retain it in part, or there could not have remained so much of what was commendable in him. But he had not kept, as he might have done, the first tender love in its vigour and warmth. Reader, hast thou?
5. It is not possible for any to recover the first love, but by taking these three steps,
3. Do the first works. Remember from whence thou art fallen - From what degree of faith, love, holiness, though perhaps insensibly. And repent - Which in the very lowest sense implies a deep and lively conviction of thy fall. Of the seven angels, two, at Ephesus and at Pergamos, were in a mixed state; two, at Sardis and at Laodicea, were greatly corrupted: all these are exhorted to repent; as are the followers of Jezebel at Thyatira: two, at Smyrna and Philadelphia, were in a flourishing state, and are therefore only exhorted to steadfastness. There can be no state, either of any pastor, church, or single person, which has not here suitable instructions. All, whether ministers or hearers, together with their secret or open enemies, in all places and all ages, may draw hence necessary self-knowledge, reproof, commendation, warning, or confirmation. Whether any be as dead as the angel at Sardis, or as much alive as the angel at Philadelphia, this book is sent to him, and the Lord Jesus hath something to say to him therein. For the seven churches with their angels represent the whole Christian church, dispersed throughout the whole world, as it subsists, not, as some have imagined, in one age after another, but in every age. This is a point of deep importance, and always necessary to be remembered: that these seven churches are, as it were, a sample of the whole church of Christ, as it was then, as it is now, and as it will be in all ages. Do the first works - Outwardly and inwardly, or thou canst never regain the first love. But if not - By this word is the warning sharpened to those five churches which are called to repent; for if Ephesus was threatened, how much more shall Sardis and Laodicea be afraid! And according as they obey the call or not, there is a promise or a threatening, ver. 5, 16, 22; chap. iii, 3, 20. But even in the threatening the promise is implied, in case of true repentance. I come to thee, and will remove thy candlestick out of its place - I will remove, unless thou repent, the flock now under thy care to another place, where they shall be better taken care of. But from the flourishing state of the church of Ephesus after this, there is reason to believe he did repent.
6. But thou hast this - Divine grace seeks whatever may help him that is fallen to recover his standing. That thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitans - Probably so called from Nicolas, one of the seven deacons, Acts vi, 5. Their doctrines and lives were equally corrupt. They allowed the most abominable lewdness and adulteries, as well as sacrificing to idols; all which they placed among things indifferent, and pleaded for as branches of Christian liberty.
7. He that hath an ear, let him hear - Every man, whoever can hear at all, ought carefully to hear this. What the Spirit saith - In these great and precious promises. To the churches - And in them to every one that overcometh; that goeth on from faith and by faith to full victory over the world, and the flesh, and the devil. In these seven letters twelve promises are contained, which are an extract of all the promises of God. Some of them are not expressly mentioned again in this book, as "the hidden manna," the inscription of "the name of the new Jerusalem," the "sitting upon the throne." Some resemble what is afterwards mentioned, as "the hidden name," chap. xix, 12; "the ruling the nations," chap. xix, 15; "the morning star," chap. xxii, 16. And some are expressly mentioned, as "the tree of life," chap. xxii, 2; freedom from "the second death," chap. xx, 6; the name in "the book of life," chap. xx, 12; xxi, 27; the remaining "in the temple of God," chap. vii, 15; the inscription of "the name of God and of the Lamb," chap. xiv, 1; xxii, 4. In these promises sometimes the enjoyment of the highest goods, sometimes deliverance from the greatest evils, is mentioned. And each implies the other, so that where either part is expressed, the whole is to be understood. That part is expressed which has most resemblance to the virtues or works of him that was spoken to in the letter preceding. To eat of the tree of life - The first thing promised in these letters is the last and highest in the accomplishment, chap. xxii, 2, 14, 19. The tree of life and the water of life go together, chap. xxii, 1, 2; both implying the living with God eternally. In the paradise of my God - The word paradise means a garden of pleasure. In the earthly paradise there was one tree of life: there are no other trees in the paradise of God.
8. These things saith the first and the last, who was dead and is alive - How directly does this description tend to confirm him against the fear of death! verses 10, 11. ver. 10, 11 Even with the comfort wherewith St. John himself was comforted, chap. i, 17, 18, shall the angel of this church be comforted.
9. I know thy affliction and poverty - A poor prerogative in the eyes of the world! The angel at Philadelphia likewise had in their sight but "a little strength." And yet these two were the most honourable of all in the eyes of the Lord. But thou art rich - In faith and love, of more value than all the kingdoms of the earth. Who say they are Jews - God's own people. And are not - They are not Jews inwardly, not circumcised in heart. But a synagogue of Satan - Who, like them, was a liar and a murderer from the beginning.
10. The first and last words of this verse are particularly directed to the minister; whence we may gather, that his suffering and the affliction of the church were at the same time, and of the same continuance. Fear none of those things which thou art about to suffer - Probably by means of the false Jews. Behold - This intimates the nearness of the affliction. Perhaps the ten days began on the very day that the Revelation was read at Smyrna, or at least very soon after. The devil - Who sets all persecutors to work; and these more particularly. Is about to cast some of you - Christians at Smyrna; where, in the first ages, the blood of many martyrs was shed. Into prison, that ye may be tried - To your unspeakable advantage, chap. iv, 12, 14. And ye shall have affliction - Either in your own persons, or by sympathizing with your brethren. Ten days - (Literally taken) in the end of Domitian's persecution, which was stopped by the edict of the emperor Nerva. Be thou faithful - Our Lord does not say, "till I come," as in the other letters, but unto death - Signifying that the angel of this church should quickly after seal his testimony with his blood; fifty years before the martyrdom of Polycarp, for whom some have mistaken him. And I will give thee the crown of life - The peculiar reward of them who are faithful unto death.
11. The second death - The lake of fire, the portion of the fearful, who do not overcome, chap. xxi, 8.
12. The sword - With which I will cut off the impenitent, verse 16.
13. Where the throne of Satan is - Pergamos was above measure given to idolatry: so Satan had his throne and full residence there. Thou holdest fast my name - Openly and resolutely confessing me before men. Even in the days wherein Antipas - Martyred under Domitian. Was my faithful witness - Happy is he to whom Jesus, the faithful and true witness, giveth such a testimony!
14. But thou hast there - Whom thou oughtest to have immediately cast out from the flock. Them that hold the doctrine of Balaam - Doctrine nearly resembling his. Who taught Balak - And the rest of the Moabites. To cast a stumblingblock before the sons of Israel - They are generally termed, the children, but here, the sons, of Israel, in opposition to the daughters of Moab, by whom Balaam enticed them to fornication and idolatry. To eat things sacrificed to idols - Which, in so idolatrous a city as Pergamos, was in the highest degree hurtful to Christianity. And to commit fornication - Which was constantly joined with the idol-worship of the heathens.
15. In like manner thou also - As well as the angel at Ephesus. Hast them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans - And thou sufferest them to remain in the flock.
16. If not, I come to thee - who wilt not wholly escape when I punish them. And will fight with them - Not with the Nicolaitans, who are mentioned only by the by, but the followers of Balaam. With the sword of my mouth - With my just and fierce displeasure. Balaam himself was first withstood by the angel of the Lord with "his sword drawn," Num. xxii, 23, and afterwards "slain with the sword," Num. xxxi, 8.
17. To him that overcometh - And eateth not of those sacrifices. Will I give of the hidden manna - Described, John vi. The new name answers to this: it is now "hid with Christ in God." The Jewish manna was kept in the ancient ark of the covenant. The heavenly ark of the covenant appears under the trumpet of the seventh angel, chap. xi, 19, where also the hidden manna is mentioned again. It seems properly to mean, the full, glorious, everlasting fruition of God. And I will give him a white stone - The ancients, on many occasions, gave their votes in judgment by small stones; by black, they condemned; by white ones they acquitted. Sometimes also they wrote on small smooth stones. Here may be an allusion to both. And a new name - So Jacob, after his victory, gained the new name of Israel. Wouldest thou know what thy new name will be? The way to this is plain, - overcome. Till then all thy inquiries are vain. Thou wilt then read it on the white stone.
18. And to the angel of the church at Thyatira - Where the faithful were but a little flock. These things saith the Son of God - See how great he is, who appeared "like a son of man!" chap. i, 13. Who hath eyes as a flame of fire - "Searching the reins and the heart," verse 23. And feet like fine brass - Denoting his immense strength. Job comprises both these, his wisdom to discern whatever is amiss, and his power to avenge it, in one sentence, Job xlii, 2, "No thought is hidden from him, and he can do all things."
19. I know thy love - How different a character is this from that of the angel of the church at Ephesus! The latter could not bear the wicked, and hated the works of the Nicolaitans; but had left his first love and first works. The former retained his first love, and had more and more works, but did bear the wicked, did not withstand them with becoming vehemence. Mixed characters both; yet the latter, not the former, is reproved for his fall, and commanded to repent. And faith, and thy service, and patience - Love is shown, exercised, and improved by serving God and our neighbour; so is faith by patience and good works.
20. But thou sufferest that woman Jezebel - who ought not to teach at all,
1 Tim. ii, 12. To teach and seduce my servants - At Pergamos were many followers of Balaam; at Thyatira, one grand deceiver. Many of the ancients have delivered, that this was the wife of the pastor himself. Jezebel of old led the people of God to open idolatry. This Jezebel, fitly called by her name, from the resemblance between their works, led them to partake in the idolatry of the heathens. This she seems to have done by first enticing them to fornication, just as Balaam did: whereas at Pergamos they were first enticed to idolatry, and afterwards to fornication.
21. And I gave her time to repent - So great is the power of Christ! But she will not repent - So, though repentance is the gift of God, man may refuse it; God will not compel.
22. I will cast her into a bed-into great affliction-and them that commit either carnal or spiritual adultery with her, unless they repent - She had her time before. Of her works - Those to which she had enticed their and which she had committed with them. It is observable, the angel of the church at Thyatira was only blamed for suffering her. This fault ceased when God took vengeance on her. Therefore he is not expressly exhorted to repent, though it is implied.
23. And I will kill her children - Those which she hath born in adultery, and them whom she hath seduced. With death - This expression denotes death by the plague, or by some manifest stroke of God's hand. Probably the remarkable vengeance taken on her children was the token of the certainty of all the rest. And all the churches - To which thou now writest. Shall know that I search the reins - The desires. And hearts - Thoughts.
24. But I say to you who do not hold this doctrine - Of Jezebel. Who have not known the depths of Satan - O happy ignorance! As they speak - That were continually boasting of the deep things which they taught. Our Lord owns they were deep, even deep as hell: for they were the very depths of Satan. Were these the same of which Martin Luther speaks? It is well if there are not some of his countrymen now in England who know them too well! I will lay upon you no other burden - Than that you have already suffered from Jezebel and her adherents.
25. What ye - Both the angel and the church have.
26. By works - Those which I have commanded. To him will I give power over the nations - That is, I will give him to share with me in that glorious victory which the Father hath promised me over all the nations who as yet resist me, Psalm ii, 8, 9.
27. And he shall rule them - That is, shall share with me when I do this. With a rod of iron - With irresistible power, employed on those only who will not otherwise submit; who will hereby be dashed in pieces - Totally conquered.
28. I will give him the morning star - Thou, O Jesus, art the morning star! O give thyself to me! Then will I desire no sun, only thee, who art the sun also. He whom this star enlightens has always morning and no evening. The duties and promises here answer each other; the valiant conqueror has power over the stubborn nations. And he that, after having conquered his enemies, keeps the works of Christ to the end, shall have the morning star, - an unspeakable brightness and peaceable dominion in him.
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