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century is very incomplete. And doubts have arisen, whether in the accounts given of the Nicolaitans, by Irenæus, Tertullian, Clemens, and others, they did not confound the Nicolaitans, mentioned in this passage, with another sect afterwards founded by one Nicolaus *. It appears from the testimony of these ancient fathers, and of Eusebiust, that the Nicolaitans, whom they describe, adopted principles which were afterwards held by the Gnostics, denying the humanity of our Lord, and his real sufferings in the flesh. But these were no novel doctrines, the Nicolaitans of Saint John's time might have taught them ; for we find them mentioned or alluded to in Saint John's writings 6. The same doctrines are opposed by Ignatius in his Epistle to the Trallians, and Ignatius wrote at no great distance of time from the date of the Apocalypse. Polycarp, the next in succession, is seen to oppose in his Epistle the same errors. And the end of the age of Polycarp brings us down to the times of Irenæus, and of Tertullian, Clemens Alexandrinus, &c. And as these fathers agree in calling the heretics, who professed these tenets, by the name of Nicolaitans, there seems good feason for concluding that the Nicolaitans of Saint John's time were such. Their history, though but slightly touched, appears one and the same through the whole period of time, from the latter part of the first to the middle of the second century. But whatever we may judge by the evidence of their doctrines, the matter will appear clearer from considering what is delivered by the ancients, concerning the morals
* Mosheim, Eccl. Hist. cent. 1. ch. v.
and practices of the Nicolaitans whom they describe, and by comparing them with those mentioned in the Apocalypse. They describe the Nicolaitans as impure and profligate in their lives, and in commenting on those passages of Saint Jude, and of the second Epistle of Saint Peter, which represent heretical leaders, “ like the Sodomites, turning the grace of “God into lasciviousness *,” they assert that these were Nicolaitanst. The tradition of the Church called them by that name; and they were probably heretics of the same kind as these mentioned by our Saviour, at a time intermediate between the date of these Apostolical Epistles, and of the writings of these ancient Fathers. It is of their practices that our Lord speaks with detestation, “Thou hatest the works of “the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”
From this testimony it appears, that these Nicolaitans were impious in their doctrines, and impure in their lives. The Christian Gnostics afterwards adopted many of their doctrines and practices, and are therefore said by the ancients to be sprung from them. The progressive history seems to be this. When the Apostles Peter, and Jude, and John, wrote their respective Epistles, there were some heretical teachers of this character, creeping unawares,” that is, slyly and covertly, into the Church. When the Apocalypse came forth, they had increased, were embodied, and had acquired a name. Yet in that form, (and probably in consequence of our Lord's disavowal of them in this passage and in ver. 15.) they made little progress : but afterwards, uniting to their
. Jude 4, 7, 8. 2 Pet. ii. 2. + See these evidences in Whitby, in loc. Περι μεν δογμαίος ασεβεσλαλοι, περι δε βιον ασελγεσταίοι. Ecumenius.
principles of doctrine, and some of them to their practices (for all the Gnostics were not impure in their lives *) the pompous title of Gnosis, and its philosophical jargon, they swarıned over and corrupted a great part of the Christian world.
It appears however from the testimony of Ignatius given previously to his martyrdom, at a period of ten or twenty years after these injunctions of our Lord were delivered, that this Church of Ephesus had profited much by his warnings; for, when the other churches began to be corrupted by the Gnostics, Ephesus was seen to flourish with a pure faitht.
Ver. 7. He that hath an ear, &c.] It was usual with our Lord, when he was about to address himself to his auditors in figurative language, to bespeak their spiritual attention by a warning of this kind, “ He “that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” In the passage before us the language changes from plain to figurative; and the same notice is given. The address is now from the Spirit, or seven Spiritst, whose office it is to reveal mysteries, and “ to shew things to
come g;” and it applies not only to the Church of Ephesus, but to all the seven Churches; and through them to the universal Church, in all ages and places 1.
Ib. To him that overcometh.] Being summoned in the words immediately preceding, to apply our spiritual ear to the symbolical language, in which the Holy Spirit addresses the Church, let us in the first place inquire into, and settle, the figurative meaning of the words conquer, victory, &c. as used in Scripture. The Christian is represented to be engaged in a dan
* Clem. Alex. Strom. lib. jii. v. + Ignat. Epist. ad Ephes. sect. 9. Euseb. Eccl. Hist. lib. iii. 26. iv.7. See note, ch. i. 4. § John xvi. 13. # Note i. 4.
gerous warfare, against a very powerful enemy. Our Lord, in St. Matthew, ch. xiii. 39, and Saint Peter, in his first Epistle, chap. v. 8, inform us plainly, that this adversary is the Devil, that ancient foe of mankind, who attacks us sometimes by deceits and enticements, as he did successfully our first parents; sometimes by force and terror, as he did those of the first Christians, who were exposed to the fiery trial of martyrdom. The arms, which he employs against us, are the temptations, or terrors, of the world and of the flesh; but these would not be so formidable, if they were not aided by the influence which he, as a Spirit, possesses over our Spirit; “ for we wrestle not,” says Saint Paul*, against flesh and blood, but “ against principalities, against powers, against the “rulers of the darkness of this world, against spi" ritual wickedness in high places.” Wherefore he exhorts us to take in our defence " the whole armour " of God,” which he also describes figuratively, concluding that, “ above all, we should take the shield of “ faith, wherewith we shall be able to quench all “ the fiery darts of the wicked one (78 fovues).” This combat, and these means of victory, are also set forth in various parts of Scripture, of which the following may be produced as instances; 1 Tim. vi. 19. 1 Thess. v. 8. Rom. xii. 12. 2 Cor. vi. 7. X. 3, 4, 5. xii. 10. 1 Cor. xvi. 13. 1 John ii. 13, 14. iv. 4. 5. v. 4, 5. 1 Pet. v. 8, 9. ii. 11. James iv. 7. Our Lord is described as having successfully fought this battle, at the periods of his temptation and of his final suffering, and we his servants can only expect success by following him, " the Captain of our salvation,” who has promised spiritual assistance to those who strive Eph. vi. 12.
against the common enemy,--such assistance as shall enable them to overcome*. But with what arms did our Lord himself overcome? for with none other can his followers expect to conquer ;-not with the weapons of human warfare. When such were offered to him, previously to the grand conflict, “put up thy “sword,” said he to the zealous apostle, who drew it in his defence, “all they that take the sword,” that rely on such arms in such a cause, “ shall perish with “the sword,” shall lose that victory, which is to be gained by other means. The means then used by
Captain of our salvation,” was meek perseverance in the cause of truth and righteousness, founded upon faith in his God; he conquered, he
was made perfect, by sufferings t." Which words are explained in the 14th verse of the same chapter;
through death he destroyed him that had the “power of death, even the devil, openly triumphing "over him," in this very act I.
act I. It is for this reason, that our Lord, when preparing for this combat, in which he knew that by suffering he should overcome, calls his death his glorification §. In that last and decisive conflict in the flesh, with “ the prince of this “ world I,” as our Lord then calls him, he overcame him by suffering ; and passing through the grave to heaven, he opened a passage for his faithful followers, leading them triumphantly into that kingdom, which he had prepared for them, and where “he must “ reign,” till all his enemies shall be finally subdued; until “ Death shall be swallowed up in victory 1.” Thus, as I have seen it expressed, with brighter truth
* Luke x. 18. &c. + Heb. ii, 10.
Col. ii. 15. & John xii. 23, 28. xiii. 31. xvii. 1. also vii. 13. xii. 16. ll John xii. 13. xiv, 20.
i Cor, xy, 24. 54–57.