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ILLUSTRATED IN THE
HISTORY OF THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS.
REVELATIOx ii. 1-7.
Unto the angel of the Church of Ephesus write : These things saith he that
holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil : and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars : and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake has laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works ; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and I will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches ; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
Of the apocalypse, or revelation of St. John the Divine, there are two grand divisions marked out by the Apostle himself, in terms so plain, that there need be no misconception. The first of these divisions contains what the Apostle calls “ a sloe” or the things that are; plainly implying their allusion to the then existing state of the Church. The second of these divisions is prophetical—“a Medlec yeveodai” the things which shall be hereafter; plainly implying their relation to the future state of the Church from the time of the Apostle to the final consummation of all things. The first of these divisions includes but the first three chapters; and to these, or rather to the second and the third chapters, will our attention be confined, as they contain the seven epistles to the Churches of Asia, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. These Churches are supposed to have been planted by the Apostle Paul and those immediately connected with him in the ministry of the Gospel. They lie nearly in an amphitheatre, and are addressed according to their geographical positions. I propose to take up the consideration of each of these epistles, in the order of their present arrangement, and I adopt the form of the lecture, in order more readily to present to your view all the particulars of interest which it will be in my power to gather. Their geographical situation,—their past and present history, will come before us, as well as their doctrinal and practical characteristics; for my object is (if by the grace of God I may,) to interest as well as instruct. The principle of interpretation which I shall adopt, will be that placed so conspicuously before us by the Apostle himself—viz: that these epistles are meant to apply to the then existing state of the Churches to which they were severally addressed. This is mentioned, because it has been the opinion of several eminent commentators, that the seven epistles to the apocalyptic Churches are prophetic of so many successive periods and states of the Church from the beginning of Christianity to the consummation of all things. Apart from the fanciful character of this opinion, it is contradicted by the plain declaration of St. John, and by the facts of the case; for “the things that are,” evidently allude to existing circumstances. Besides, the state of the Church, according to the whole tenor of prophecy, is to be most glorious in its latter days; whereas, if this opinion were true, the last condition of the Church would be worse than any previous, inasmuch as the spiritual condition of Laodicea last addressed, is the worst and most desperate of all. The existing state of the Asiatic Churches at the time of the Apostle, is the principle assumed in this interpretation; and the desire to collect and to place before you all that can be done, whether of interest or instruction, connected with the subject, and thus to seek to advance the glory of God, is the feeling which will govern me in the progress of these lectures. And I pray that God, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy, may see fit, in his infinite mercy, to own and bless the humble attempt to the glory of his own great name, and to the salvation of your souls, my brethren, beloved in the Lord.
With these preliminary considerations, I take up the epistle to the Church of Ephesus.
The epistle is addressed to the angel, or bishop of the Church, who is supposed to have been Timothy, the beloved disciple of St. Paul, his son in the Gospel; and who continued in that office until the year of our Lord 97. Timothy is said to have suffered martyrdom while preaching against idolatry, in the vicinity of the celebrated temple of Diana. It is evident from the construction of the epistles, that, though addressed in the first instance to the
angel or bishop of the Church, they are meant to apply as well to the people of his charge, for it is the invariable exhortation, “hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches."
The Church at Ephesus was probably first addressed, because it was the place in which St. John had principally resided, and perhaps also from the circumstance of its being so distinguished a city. It was the capital of Proconsular Asia, situated on the shore of the Egean sea, in that part anciently called Ionia, [but now in geography designated as Natolia.] Ephesus, once so distinguished, now bears no vestige of its original splendour. A few years ago the number of nominal Christians was reduced to three, and these three are probably now no more, having either sunk beneath the red scimitar of the Turk, the victims of oppression, or purchased a more honourable death in the cause of their country's liberty.“What would have been the astonishment and grief of the beloved Apostle, and Timothy, if they could have foreseen that a time would come, when there would be in Ephesus neither angel, nor Church, nor city! When the great city should become 'heaps, a desolation, a dry land and a wilderness, a land wherein no man dwelleth, neither doth any son of man pass thereby.' Once it had an idolatrous temple, celebrated for its magnificence as one of the wonders of the world, and the mountains of Corissus and Prion re-echoed the shouts of ten thousand tongues, 'great is Diana of the Ephesians.' Once it had Christian temples almost rivalling the Pagan in splendour, wherein the public image that fell from Jupiter lay prostrate before the cross, and as many tongues moved by the Holy Ghost made public avowal that
great is the Lord Jesus. Some centuries passed on, and the altars of Jesus were again thrown down to make room for the delusions of Mahomet; the cross was removed from the dome of the Church and the crescent glittered in its place, while within, the Keblé is substituted for the altar. A few years more and all is silent in the mosque and in the Church! A few unintelligible heaps of stones, with some mud cottages untenanted, are all the remains of the great city of the Ephesians. The busy hum of a mighty population is silent as death. “Her riches and her fairs, her merchandise, and her mariners, her pilots, her caulkers, and the occupiers of her merchandise, and all her men of war, are fallen. Even the sea has retired from the scene of desolation, and a pestilential morass covered with mud and rushes has succeeded to the waters which brought up the ships laden with merchandise from every country.”* Wonderful indeed are the ways of Providence, and well for our warning may the Spirit of God cry to us—" he that hath an ear let him hear.”
The topics to which your attention will be called in the present lecture, are
I. The introductory description of the speaker, and
II. The commendation passed on the Church of Ephesus.
I. “These things saith he who holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, and walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.”
The "seven stars” are meant to represent the
* Arundel's soven Churches of Asia.