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consideration of the rebuke which fell on this Church, otherwise so distinguished—“nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” Declension in religion was the crime charged against this Church, and that charge was followed by a most emphatic exhortation, accompanied by a threat of awful import—“Remember whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do thy first works, or else I will come to thee quickly and remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” This exhortation, we have seen, was unheeded, and this threat we have seen executed upon the Church at Ephesus; and as with this
portion of the subject I closed my remarks, I took occasion to make a few plain and practical observations immediately suggested by the occasion.
After this hasty recapitulation. I shall proceed to take up the subject where it was then left, and of course the concluding portion of the epistle will claim our present attention. “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, 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.”
To the conquering Christian how grand an issue.
In the portion of the epistle thus presented to your consideration, we have
I. AN ADDITIONAL COMMENDATION BESTOWED ON THE MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS.
II. A CALL TO UNDIVIDED ATTENTION. III. A CONCLUDING PROMISE. These practical remarks grow so immediately out
of these divisions, that they cannot be separated. The special practical consideration of the subject of decay in religion, will form a distinct and closing discourse.
I. We have an additional commendation,—“But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”
And here let it be remarked, that in the case of the Church at Ephesus, God saw fit to enforce the previous exhortation to repentance, not only by the awfulness of a threat, which was calculated to arouse every slumbering faculty, but by the milder means of another commendation; thus verifying the apostolic declaration, that “God is long suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." The terms of this commendation, as you have already seen, are peculiar—"This thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” As if it had been said, though thou hast declined in the love of that which is good, yet there are evils against which thou hast still indignation. What the amount of this commendation is, we at this late period are somewhat at a loss to ascertain. It is no where positively ascertained who these Nicolaitans were, what was the character of their peculiar opinions, or what the nature of their abominable practices. If they were a set of religionists, or if they made any pretensions to religion, they must have entertained opinions which were totally subversive of every thing like truth; and indulged in practices of the most debasing character, for the language which our Lord employs when he speaks of them, marks the
utter abhorrence in which they were held by him. He declares that he hates their deeds, and commends the Church of Ephesus for a similar hatred. These Nicolaitans are by some supposed to have been followers of Nicholas, a corrupt deacon of the Church of Antioch; but this is all mere suggestion. A distinguished Hebrew scholar has supposed, that they derived their name from the Hebrew word Nicolah, which signifies to eat, and that the term Nicolaitan is therefore a term of reproach bestowed upon these wretched sensualists who made their appetite their God, and consumed their time in making provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. No matter, however, what were the opinions or the practices of this sect, they were altogether hateful in the eyes of a pure and holy God, and the Church of Ephesus is commended for having held these principles and practices in utter detestation.
To hate that which is hateful in the sight of God, is a matter which rests upon the conscience of
every individual who calls himself a Christian; for the precept to “cleave to that which is good,” has no more imperativeness than the one which precedes it, to “abhor that which is evil." A real Christian can no more look without disgust on that which he knows is dishonourable to that God who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, than he can do that dishonour to God in his own personal act. Either the one or the other affects his claims to the character he has assumed. This is not generally considered in the light in which it ought most unquestionably to be placed. Many an one, who passes current in the world for a follower of Christ, will calmly hear God defamed, and see God dishonoured without a movement to
rescue his Master from the reproach which is cast upon him. This virtually is the denial of Peter without the strong provocation of the occasion, and without the bitter tears of repentance, which followed his most lamentable defection.
But, my friends, in the fact which we have before us of the hatred of the Ephesian Christians for the deeds of the Nicolaitans, we have the melancholy testimony of experience to the deceitfulness of the human heart. They could look with abhorrence upon the outward abominations of others, and yet they were blind to the evil which existed in their own hearts. They could hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, because those deeds were palpable departures from the ways and the laws of God; but they saw not the canker worm which was at work eating out the very vitals of their own spirituality. And here, my friends, I incidentally remark—intending to speak more largely on the subject by and by-I remark the possibility of having a zeal for truth, and an abhorrence of palpable evil, and yet decline in that piety, that love to God, which alone can meet his commendation. Many an individual whose soul may be filled with indignation against gross corruption in thought or in practice, may still be deficient in that real religion, which takes its sanction from the will and the word of God. He may be commended for the former as far as it goes, but the want of the latter will be his ruin, because it shows his rottenness within. Nothing but the love of God shed abroad in the heart as the motive, and nothing but a conduct growing out of the influence of principles thus by grace implanted, will stand the scrutiny of the Judge, and meet the blessing at the
last of “well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord.” You may hate that which is evil, and you may even pour out the vials of your wrath upon that which is offensive to morality and the regularity on which you pride yourselves, and yet at this very time, religion may not be in your bosom a permanent and an operative principle. Yes, my brethren, and we may frequently have seen individuals in whom this melancholy state was most powerfully exemplified. We have seen them as they declined in the religion of the inner man, becoming more and more attached to the religion of the outer man; and in proportion as they lost the spirituality of their religion, clinging with the greater pertinacity to its outward forms; and just in the same proportion showering out their reproaches on the men of vital and experimental piety. They hate the deeds of others, but look not to the deficiencies in themselves; just as the Ephesians hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans, while they were fast sinking into the arms of a spiritual death.
II. The topic which next demands our particular consideration, is the call which is given to take heed to the things which were spoken—“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches."
This is a proverbial form of expression to denote the necessity of universal attention. In the present case, it as much as denoted—let every member of the Church of Ephesus, pay a close and strict attention to the call which had been made to repentance and renewed obedience. Let there be no listlessness, no carelessness, no inattention. These are mat