THE APOCALYPSE 31
Some commentators, among whom may be mentioned the learned Dr. Gill, a leading Antipedobaptist minister of England, have imagined, that the seven epistles addressed to the Asiatic churches, contain a mystical prophecy of the church general, covering the whole period of her history from the apostolic age till the end of the world. According to this fancy,-for it is nothing more than a fancy, the church in Smyrna, will represent the church's condition in the second stags of her history, when Arianism prevailed! And the Laodicean must represent her last, and so her worst condition! How will this harmonize with the 20th chapter, where she appears in triumph over all her antichristian foes? This is given as a specimen of the unbridled fancy and licentious imagination with which even good men may be tempted to approach the reading and interpreting of this important and instructive part of God's word. But Peter informs us that some persons in his time, "wrested" those parts of Paul's writings which were "dark and hard to be understood" and this was not the worst of their conduct, for they treated "the other scriptures also" in the same reckless and irreverent manner, which were neither dark nor hard to be understood. (2 Pet iii 16) These epistles are no more mystical or prophetical than those of the apostle Paul. They are simply and properly descriptive, although like all other epistles, they are applicable to the church general in all ages, and equally suited to the case of individuals, as is clear in the close of each-" If any man have an ear let him hear"
32 NOTES ON1. 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,
2. 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:
3. And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
4. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
5. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
6. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.
7. 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.
representation-not a pope or any other prelatic personage. No doubt in our Saviour's estimation the saints take precedence here of the "bishops (overseers) and deacons," as they do in Phil i 1, Eph iv 8-12 All ecclesiastical officers are Christ's gift to the church, but the object or recipient of the gift is more valued than the gift. And just here is the point where prelates "do greatly err, not knowing the Scriptures." They have arrogated to themselves the honourary title of "clergy," and for the sake of distraction, and to give plausibility to then ambitious pretensions, call the membership of the church the "laity,"-contrary to the express decision of the unerring Spirit. Peter cautions the "elders" that they be not as "lords over God's heritage,"-lot, clergy, where it is obvious that the body of the people, as distinguished from their rulers, are denominated the clergy. Moreover, it is evident to any unbiased reader, that the membership, and not a bishop only, are addressed by our Lord in these epistles, as when he says,-"some of you" (v 10.) Hence it may be inferred that there is no proof in these epistles on which to erect the antichristian hierarchy of diocesan prelacy, and consequently that ecclesiastical government is by divine right, lodged in the hands of a plurality of presbyters.
Spirit.-There were such in the primitive church, who claimed to be apostles, and who, upon trial, were discovered to be impostors. Paul, in the exercise of the miraculous gift of "discerning of spirits," could, without presbyterial examination of witnesses, personally detect "false apostles, deceitful workers" in Corinth. (2 Cor. xi. 13.) But John was not at Ephesus, and therefore the ordinary rulers are approved by Christ for the faithful exercise of discipline. Persons who falsify the doctrines and corrupt the order and ordinances of divine appointment, are the worst of liars, and having been by competent authority "found" to be such; they may be so called without breach of charity. When discipline is neglected or relaxed, error and tyranny soon enter, with "confusion and every evil work." But when false teachers have gained followers and influence in the church, the friends of truth and order will be in danger of yielding to the pressure. They are liable to become weary and faint in their minds," (Heb. xii. 3;) but zeal for their Master's honor will animate them to contend for the faith so as to secure his approbation. It is remarkable that so much labor, patience, zeal etc., should be found in this church while chargeable with having "fallen from first love." Habits contracted in the fervor of early affection to Christ, may continue to influence an individual or a church, when the fervency of affection is sensibly abated. This state of feeling the exercised Christian will confess and lament. Nothing but repentance and reformation in such a case will procure the approbation and restore the favor of Christ. Continued impenitence is threatened with removing "the candlestick," the gospel, ministry and ordinances.
or nothing is certainly known. It is most generally supposed that they were a sort of Autinomians, who turned the grace of God into lasciviousness; and there is a tradition, not well sustained, that their heresy was derived from Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch, one of the seven deacons of whom we read, Acts vi. 5. The similarity of name seems to have suggested this fancy; for there is no historical evidence that one who was "of honest report, fall of the Holy Ghost and wisdom," was permitted thus to fall away. Their deeds, however, were hateful to Christ, and therefore hateful to his real disciples: for one of the infallible marks of a state of grace is to hate what,-yes and whom,-our Lord hates. (Ps. cxxxix. 21, 22.) All who read or hear these things are interested in them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear. What Christ saith in each of these epistles, the Spirit saith; and what is said to each church is said to all the seven; that is, to the whole visible church. "To him that overcometh" false apostles, the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, any doctrines or practices in opposition to the truth of Christ, or militating against the honor of Christ; to such he "will give to eat of the tree of life," from which Adam was excluded upon the breach of the first covenant. (Genesis iii. 22-24.) What the first Adam lost by the fall, the last Adam will restore with interest, (1 Cor. it. 9.) The felicity of the saints in glory can be represented only by sensible things; and even then but very imperfectly. (1 Cor. xiii. 12; 1 John iii. 2.)
8. 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 prison, that 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.
indefinite, but short time. Those who resist the truth contradict its advocates, and blaspheme the holy name of God, though professing to be either Jews or Christians, are a "synagogue of Satan." "A crown of life" is promised to such as proved "faithful unto death." They shall not be "hurt of the second death;" that is, eternal death. (Ch. xx. 14, 15.)
12. And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;
13. I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.
14. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.
15. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.
16. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
17. 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 hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.
"by faith have obtained a good report." (Heb. xi. 2.) The "doctrine of Balaam" and that of the Nicolaitanes led to gross immoralities in apostolic times as of old in the days of Moses. (Num. xxxi. 16.) And thus it appears, that old heresies, which have been condemned, are afterwards revived under new names, and patronized by new leaders. In such a case, we have the authority of Christ for calling them by the same names of those whose principles they adopt, and whose example they emulate. It was no breach of charity, therefore, by our forefathers to designate those who "delated" them to the cruel persecutors in Scotland by the name of "Ziphites," or to call the archtraitor Sharp,-"a Judas." The Lord Jesus "hates the doctrine" as well as "deeds Of Nicolaitanes," which are subversive of truth and godliness. Those who oppose the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitanes in any age when these are popular, must expect persecution. But when "troubles abound for Christ's sake, consolations much more abound by Christ." This is to "eat of the hidden manna." Also, the "white stone" or pebble,-the token of justification,-will be given to the conqueror in the Christian conflict. The allusion here is to the mode of procedure in courts of judgment among the ancient Greeks. White stones were east for acquittal; black for condemnation. The manna is hidden, and so is the white stone, both signifying the sustaining and consoling evidence of the Comforter,-the Holy "Spirit witnessing with the spirit" of the persecuted believer, that he is a "child of God." It is the same thing as the "hundred-fold in this life," promised by Christ. (Matt. xix. 29.)
Christ, against those who hold the doctrine of Balaam and the Nicholaitanes: the majority are called upon to "repent,"-evidently for conniving at the destructive errors and immoralities of those seducers. And unless the discipline of the church was employed to "purge out these rebels;" the Master would take the work into his own hand, and "fight against them with the sword of his mouth:" and then such as screened or spared these sinners might expect to partake of their just punishment. Rulers in the church "must give account for those over whom they watch."
18. And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass;
19. I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.
20. Notwithstanding, I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.
2l. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.
22. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.
23. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
24. But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, (as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak;) I will put upon you none other burden:
25. But that which ye have already, hold fast till I come.
26. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
27. And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the ves- sels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers; even as I received of my Father.
28. And I will give him the morning-star.
29. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
tion of the "man of sin." The distinction here between "committing fornication" and "eating things sacrificed unto idols," intimates that the "adultery" is to be taken in a literal sense. Time was allowed for repentance, "and she repented not." All this time the rulers were culpable: therefore the Lord himself, as before, will interpose to rectify such gross sin and scandal. This he would do by visiting these impenitent transgressors with some incurable disease which would issue in certain death. So he did in the church of Corinth. (1 Cor. xi. 30.) By this example he would teach "all the churches, that it is he who searcheth the reins and hearts,"-demonstrating his divine omniscience.-"But unto you I say." Where now is to be discovered, in this address of the Saviour, that "presiding minister," or diocesan bishop, whom the anti-christian prelates affirm our Lord addresses in all these epistles? "And unto the rest in Thyatira,"-still no prelate addressed; but those laborious and patient ones previously commended, who "had not known the depths of Satan." Those deceivers pretended to instruct their deluded followers in the "deep things of God;" but Christ calls them "depths of Satan." It is usual with the devil's factors to delude credulous persons with pretending to teach them deep mysteries,-"curious arts." (Acts xix. 18, 19.)
who is divine. None else has "power over the nations," but he to whom "all power is given in heaven and in earth." (Matt xxviii 18.) "The morning star" may signify Christ himself, (ch xxii 16,) or the "first fruits of the Spirit," (Rom viii 23,) or the full assurance of grace (2 Peter i 19 .)