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ungodliness which surrounds them; to observe the vanity and wickedness which riots so largely; and above all, to see the name of God blasphemed and his cause dishonoured, by those who say that they are Christians, but who in conduct and conversation deny the Lord that bought them, is a source of tribulation which is more bitter than the persecution of the foe. This had the members of the Church of Smyrna to endure, and this has many a Church to endure, for that glorious time of Christianity has not yet come, when there shall be none who have the form, without the power of godliness; none who name the name of Christ, and yet depart not from iniquity.
To all the outward array of persecution, and to all the internal tribulation of the kind last mentioned, there is superadded by the Lord, “I know thy poverty.” No circumstance of external splendour seems to have marked the condition of this Church of Smyrna. The members of this Church do not appear to have possessed the miserable comfort of an outward prosperity. It is more than probable that this Church had been reft of all its riches by the hand of violence and oppression; and not only so, but that its members, individually, had been stripped of their possessions, and like the poor and persecuted of the Churches of the Waldenses, in the valleys of Piedmont, nothing left them but the inheritance of faith and hope, of which no tyrant could possibly divest them. But against this, outward poverty would weigh as the small dust of the balance; for what is persecution, what is tribulation, and what is poverty, where the Church or the individual can retain the faith which overcomes the world, and the hope which enters into the inmost heavens. That this was the actual condition of the Church of Smyrna, we learn :
III. From the attestation which Christ gives of the excellent spiritual condition of this Church—“But thou art rich." I know not of a commendation which could possibly have been bestowed which points out a spiritual condition more exalted than this; for the declaration, “thou art rich,” is put in immediate contrast to the declaration of their poverty, and proves that the riches spoken of are spiritual riches; they were rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. Here is the glorious distinction of a Church, that the members are rich in the exhibition of the precious fruits of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness. A Church as a building may rival all the external splendours of the temple of Solomon. It may possess all the massive grandeur and sublimity of the gothic; or all the rich and tasteful embellishments; and all the fine proportion of the Grecian architecture, and yet be like the whited sepulchre and the garnished tombs of the prophets; beautiful without, but within filled with dead men's bones and all uncleanness; poor and miserable. A Church as an establishment may possess all the riches of the Roman or the English hierarchy, and yet, in reference to all spiritual considerations, be in the very depths of poverty in the eye of that God who judgeth not according to appearance, but who judgeth righteous judgment. Nothing of mere external appearance can be the sure test of a rich spiritual condition, but a Church is rich where the members live for his
glory, who lived, and died, and rose again for us; who set their affections upon things above; who mortify the flesh with the affections and lust, and who, in fine, present themselves, their soul and body, to God, a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to him, which is their reasonable service. Then they are rich in the graces of the Spirit; rich in the promises of the Gospel; rich in the prospect, through the merits of a Saviour's blood and his sanctifying grace, of an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away.
With this part of my discourse I must of necessity stop the consideration of the subject; and while the most important part of this epistle remains yet as the subject of another discourse, I ought not to dismiss you without two important and most deeply practical inquiries. 1. What is it that constitutes a Church? and 2d. What is it that renders an individual rich in the sight of God?
1. What is it that constitutes a Church rich in the sight of God? I answer, that it is not the number of those who may be its stated worshippers. I I know not the number of those who might have worshipped in the Church or the Churches of Smyrna. But this is a matter immaterial at present. A Church may be crowded to overflowing, and yet, in spiritual things, may be sunk into a state of the most abject poverty; for of the multitude who crowd its aisles, there may be few who come with a deep and serious desire to learn the truth as it is in Jesus, and to pour out their souls in prayer and
supplication before a throne of grace. Some may have their footsteps led to the hallowed courts, because it may fall in with the fashion of the age; some from
the force of early education; some to see, and others to be seen; some to seek for a momentary gratification of taste; and some to while away the hours which otherwise might be marked by tedium, because the ordinary occupations of life are interrupted. Happy is it indeed, when individuals are brought to the house of God by any motive whatever, for they thus at least place themselves benéath the hearing of that word which is quick and powerful, and which sometimes, in the providence and the grace of God, is carried with power and demonstration of the Spirit to the heart even of the most indifferent and careless; and several of the most conspicuous cases of conversion which have occurred since this Church in which we are now assembled has been erected, have been from among those who have sought its services from far different motives than those which accompany salvation; and even some who have come hither to trifle, have and may still retire to pray. But with all this, the riches of a Church is not in the number of its worshippers; for mark, in general, how great the disproportion between those who are mere attendants at the ordinary hours of worship, and those who join themselves to the Lord in the bonds of an everlasting covenant. When we call to the sacred solemnities of the sacramental season, when we invite to partake of the memorials of a Saviour's love, oh! how fearfully small the number who embrace the precious opportunity. We might adopt a portion of the word of God, and say, when we contrast the two occasions—“How doth the Church sit solitary that was full of people, and the ways of Zion mourn because so few come to her solemn feasts." The number of ordinary attendants then, gratifying and important as it is, is not the criterion of a rich spiritual condition. This may be where the spiritual poverty is extreme and distressing.
Again: It is not the wealth or high standing of those who come to its courts which constitutes the riches of a Church. It is a melancholy fact, that comparatively few are those among the wealthy and the elevated in society, who become the humble disciples of a meek and lowly Saviour. These things, however, do sometimes occur, and when they do, it becomes a matter as well of gratulation as of notoriety and remark. But it was the melancholy experience even of Apostolic times, “ that not many rich, not many learned, not many mighty, not many noble," embraced the offers of salvation; for salvation places the king and the beggar, the rich man and the poor, the wise and the ignorant, on the humble equality of sinners, and each as equally indebted to the riches of Divine grace in the pardon of their sins, and the acceptance of their persons. If such a singularity could in the natural course of things occur, a Church might be composed alone of those who were rich in this world's goods, who were of the very highest rank in society, who were celebrated for all that was grand and noble in the achievements of learning and of science, and yet not bear one solitary feature of a rich spiritual condition. The spiritual poverty might be utterly beyond description or comparison. While on the other hand, there might be a Church where there was no individual raised in temporal circumstances above the necessity of labouring with his hands to procure his subsistence, and where learning and