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This, according to the report of Strabo and Pliny, was one of the most splendid cities in Asia. Possessing the famous temple of Diana, it became a distinguished mart of heathen idolatry. Hence the preachers of Christian doctrine were opposed in this city from political and mercenary motives, (Acts xix.) However, by the diligence of St. Paul, directed by the holy Spirit, during his residence here of two years, the religion of Christ was successfully propagated, as from a central point,
so that all they, who dwelt in Asia, heard the word of the Lord Jesus,” (Acts xix. 10.) Thus Ephesus became the most proper place for St. John's residence, when, some years afterwards, he came to dwell in Asia. (Euseb. Eccl. Hist. lib. iii. c. 23.) Such extraordinary advantages lead us to expect, that the city possessing them would be free from heretical infection. And accordingly we find in this address to its Christian Church, by her ail-seeing Lord, that she is commended highly for her orthodoxy, and her resistance to heretical impostors; and at the same time severely reprimanded for her defect in charity, for to whom much is given, of the same much will be required.
These thing's saith he, or thus saith he.] The supreme Head of the Christian Church is now in the act of visitation and superintendence. To the Church of Ephesus, with which he begins, he declares himself in that character and office : as walking amidst his Churches, and supporting and directing their teachers and governors.
filling the type of Laodicea. But surely, ages upon ages are yet to be expected in the Christian Church, before its final period on earth.
There is another yet more fanciful exposition of the addresses, which has not wanted the support of some able and learned men. Under the Greek name of each Church, the successive character of the universal Church has been supposed to lie hidden. Venerable Bede is the first writer in whom I recollect to have seen this mode of interpretation. He finds Myrrh in the word Smyrna, and then applies the quality of myrrh to the city of that name. Others, following the example, (exemplum vitiis imitabile,) have extended the application to all the seven Churches.
Ver. 2. Canst not bear. The word Baotalw, to
Ver. 3. Hast borne, &c. Sbear or endure, is here twice applied to the Church at Ephesus. She is commended, first, for bearing the yoke of Christ, (Matt. xi. 29.) without fainting under the persecutions which at that time afflicted the Christians; secondly, for not bearing, but rejecting, the yoke of ordinances and false doctrines, which pretended apostles had attempted to impose upon her. These deceivers, according to the injunctions of St. John, she had tried, and found wanting, (1 John iv. 1.)
Ver. 4. Thy first love.] Tnu ayatny 08 TNU Tputnu, which we may perhaps more properly translate “ thy former love. Grotius has remarked on this passage,
Tournu, as in John i. 15, has the force of apotepny. Tertullian thus understood it: desertam dilectionem Ephesiis imputat. (De pænitentiâ, sect. 8.) By some commentators this former love is understood to be the love of God, by others the love of man.
Both of these may be comprehended in the expression. Neither of them can be complete without the other. The love of God is seen and proved by keeping the commandments, which are fulfilled only by charity. In the next verse the Ephesians are called to repentance, and the performance of the first or former works of charity.
Ver. 5. Will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.] That is, the Ephesian Church, so defective in love and good works, shall cease to be a Christian Church of eminence, giving light and example to the surrounding regions.
That the Church of Ephesus profited at this time by these severe threatnings, is to be collected from the testimony of Ignatius, which was given immediately before his martyrdom, and ten or twenty years after this divine rebuke. For from his epistles we learn, that when other Asiatic Churches were becoming corrupt, that of Ephesus was flourishing in a pure faith and practice. (Ignat. Epist. ad Eph. sect. 9; Euseb. Hist. Eccl. lib. iii. 26. iv. 7.) She continued for some ages in high account among the Churches of Christendom, but gradually sunk into that corruption of doctrine which has darkened all the Asiatic Churches; and since the desolation of the coast of Lesser Asia, by the Turkish tyranny in the fourteenth century, Ephesus is become little better than a heap of ruins; so completely is hier “ candlestick removed."
Ver. 6. Nicolaitanes.] It is observed by Mosheim, that our knowledge of the sects and heresies in the first century is very imperfect; and doubts have arisen, whether the early writers of the Church do not confound the Nicolaitanes here mentioned, with another sect founded afterwards by one Nicolaus. It appears however, from the general testimony of the ancients, that these Nicolaitanes were
impious in their doctrines, and impure in their lives;” that they held principles, afterwards adopted by the Gnostics, denying the humanity of Christ and his real sufferings in the flesh; and that Nicolaitanes are intended in those passages of St. Jude and St. Peter, which represent heretical leaders, “ like the Sodomites, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness.” It is of their practice that our Lord speaks with detestation in this passage : “ Thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.”
Ver. 7. He that hath an ear, let him hear.] This is the form of bespeaking spiritual attention to figu- rative language, so frequently used by our Lord in
the Gospels. It is used for the same purpose at the conclusion of all the seven addresses ; in that particular part of them where the language changes from plain to figurative; where attention is required to gain and apply the spiritual knowledge conveyed by symbols.
To him that overcometh.] In the religion of Christ, as represented in the New Testament, the Christian is described as having to contend against formidable enemies--the world, the flesh, and the devil. Of these, the last, by his spiritual nature, and conceded influence and power, is the chieftain who attempts to overthrow him. But the Christian is supplied with spiritual arms and aid, which, if used faithfully and diligently, will defeat the wiles of the enemy. His Saviour,“ the Captain of his salvation,” led the way, when, in a human form, he himself fought this battle, and conquered. And he expects his soldiers to follow him. But besides the conflict with his own share of evil, which every one has to wage individually in this life, there is a general warfare in which the Christian is arrayed under his great Leader, against the same enemy, who is perpetually opposing the progress of the Christian Church, by the arts of seduction and corrupt doctrine, and by the terrors of persecution. It is the object of the Apocalypse to predict this warfare, in mysterious signs, from the early times of Christianity to the end of the world. When these warnings were delivered, the conflict had begun. The holy faith was attacked by delusive teachers from within, and by Jewish and heathen persecutors from without. Under the latter of these St. John himself was suffering, in the desert isle of Patmos, when he was called to behold these visions.
To eat of the tree of Life.] The heavenly reward of Christian conquest is pronounced in these words, by which is signified clearly, and by consent of almost all the commentators, an happy and heavenly immortality. Such a tree there was, within the reach of our first parents, (Gen. ii.); but they forfeited their claim to it, by eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree. They listened to the seduction of their wily foe, and were overcome; and thus became subject to death, the penalty of their disobedience.
But the second' Adam, by voluntarily undergoing this penalty in behalf of fallen man, has restored to him his lost privilege. By following his Saviour's precepts and example, he becomes free from the bonds of death, and entitled to partake of a blessed immortality. And this immense possession is bestowed upon him by the gift of his Saviour, “who alone hath immortality,” “ which he hath brought to light through the Gospel,” (1 Tim. vi. 16; 2 Tim.