Near Lexington, Ky., Feb.1, 1859.
DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: - In the 23rd number of the last volume of the SIGNS, I find a request from sister Sarah H. Izor, of Indiana, for my views on Rev. 2:2-6, inclusive.
I might have answered the request sooner but for a combination of circumstances, embracing the following: 1st. My time is a good deal occupied in attending four churches, several of which are at some distance from me. 2nd. My health has not been as good during the winter as usual. 3rd. There seems to be no lack of interesting matter to fill your columns, and I feel more inclined to learn than to attempt to instruct others. 4th. It is only occasionally I feel inclined to write, especially when it requires time, labor and reflection to make myself intelligible on subjects submitted to my pen; and, withal, I am somewhat of a Quaker, at least in one particular: I am, perhaps, too prone to wait till the “Spirit moves me.”
Sister Izor will allow me to premise, first, that the circumstances attendant upon the communication made to John were somewhat peculiar. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet.” Second, the substance of the communications made pertained to the present and future state of the churches addressed. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” Third, that John, though an apostle of the Lamb, and “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day,” nevertheless required one to interpret the mysteries declared by his divine Master, “I, Jesus, have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches.” They were too profoundly mysterious for his comprehension; hence an explanation is declared by “mine angel.” “The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches; and the seven golden candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.” One more remark, introductory to the subject. Under the typical dispensation, God communicated his law to his typical people through the prophets. Under this gospel dispensation, he communicated his mind to his spiritual family, first through his Son, and subsequently through his servants, divinely commissioned to publish the “glad-tidings of salvation.” “God, who, at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” The Son of God commissioned the twelve apostles, and assigned their work, after telling them that “all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
Paul, to the Elders of the Church of Ephesus, said, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost made you overseers, to feed the church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Acts 20:28. The figure employed is entirely appropriate. The overseer receives his instructions from his Lord, and communicates them to the operatives. The subject to which my attention is immediately called is introduced thus: “Unto the angel of the Church of Ephesus write.” The term angel, as used in the scriptures, is frequently, if not most generally, applied to the ministry. “And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Mt. 24:31. Again, “Of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.” And again, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them, who shall be heirs of salvation.” Heb. 1:7,14.
“These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand.” The writer has given the interpretation of the “seven stars,” in the preceding chapter. “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.” The term “star,” as applied to the ministry, seems to me to be peculiarly appropriate. First, because the stars are only reflectors, they only reflect the light they receive from the sun. Secondly, they are obscured by the greater light of the sun. Thirdly, they reflect a greater or lesser amount of light, as in the heavens literally seen; all of which aptly apply to the ministry. By the term “right hand,” I understand the Sovereign Power which guards and defends the ministry. “Touch not mine anointed – do my prophets no harm.” “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” “And they that be wise, shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.” Dan.12:3. I presume it will not be controverted that all the spiritual light the ministry, whether prophets, apostles, or those who subsequently minister in holy things, have, they receive immediately from the “Sun of Righteousness.” “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” John 1:9. As the sun, literally, gives light to the natural world, so the Sun of Righteousness is the great luminary of the spiritual world. Hence it is said, “He [that is, John,] was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that light.” John 1:8. “Who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.” The interpretation of this term, not less appropriate than the term stars to the ministry, has also been given in the preceding chapter. “The seven golden candlesticks are the seven churches.” The figure is quite familiar; the candlestick is designed to bear up the candle. It would seem the apostle so understood the matter when he said, “That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” Gold is the most precious of metals, and very aptly represents the preciousness of the churches of the saints to their gracious Lord. “The precious sons of Zion comparable to fine gold.” Lam. 4:2. “If any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones.” I Cor. 3:12.
“I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil.” The good works of saints, as well as their evil works, are known to God; and in his reckoning with them will be made manifest, as we shall presently see – their “works of faith and labors of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Works, the legitimate effect of “the faith of the operation of God.” Works, by which faith is made perfect, or demonstrably proven – their close adherence to the doctrine taught by their divine Master, and steady maintenance of the principles of revealed truth – doctrinally, experimentally and practically – “holding fast the form of sound words,” and “contending earnestly for the faith once revealed to the saints” – their opposing and exposing the assaults made on the Citadel of Truth. “But I labored more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” He regarded their patience, under persecution, the steadfastness of their faith in afflictions and trials, the perils they had to encounter in defense of truth. This church seems to be realizing the prediction of the apostle, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock; also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” Acts 20:29.
“And how thou canst not bear them which are evil.” They turned with loathing and disgust from the perversions of sacred truth, which were manifestly aimed at the subversion of the way of salvation; would not recognize the propagators of these false notions as brethren, nor “receive them into their houses [of worship,] nor bid them God-speed.” “And how thou hast tried them which say they are apostles and are not, and hast found them liars.” The standard given by which to try the claims of those assuming to be apostles of Christ, is the infallible word of God. “To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Their system, if it deserves the name, brings Christ in conflict with himself in his precious word; its tendency is to divide the crown with the Savior, to exalt the works of sinners, and count the blood of the Covenant an unholy thing; in a word, to stultify the declaration, “Salvation is of the Lord.” “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to whom be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” Rev. 1:5,6. By bringing them to the test, you have learned unmistakably that they are “false apostles – deceitful workers” – that they have nothing in common with the apostles of Christ. Their’s is “another gospel, which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” “They prophecy lies in my name,” and “the prophets of the deceit of their own hearts.” The church of Ephesus acted consistently with her high calling in bringing their teachings to the standard of truth, in opposing and exposing their hypocritical cant.
“And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast labored, and hast not fainted.” He reiterates approvingly the steadfastness of their faith and patience in vindicating the “faith once delivered to the saints,” thereby illustrating their love for truth and its illustrious author. Their trials indeed were heavy and their conflicts almost insupportable, yet “have they not given place to those deceitful workers – no, not for an hour.”
“Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” However much there was to approve in what precedes, yet the smallest delinquency in the discharge of duty is not passed by unnoticed. Contrast, as though he had said, your present condition with that you enjoyed on your first being led to a knowledge of salvation by Christ – the peace and joy you then realized – yea, “a joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Then you could join the poet, and sing:
“Soon as the morn the light revealed,
His praises turned my tongue;
And when the evening shades prevailed,
His love was all my song.”
“My Beloved is mine, and I am his.” “His mouth is most sweet – yea, he is altogether lovely.” Then you delighted to “speak of the glory of his kingdom, and talk of his power” – to tell the saints what his love has done. “He brought me to the banqueting house, his banner over me was love.” Then, “you sat down under his shadow,” and his fruit was sweet to your taste.
“Then to his saints I often spoke,
Of what his love had done,
But now my heart is almost broke,
For all my joys are gone.”
How sad the contrast! Then the mind was filled with heavenly contemplations – Jesus and his love swelled my bosom.
“His grace its riches did display,
And made my griefs remove.”
Wherever his image appeared, the warmest affections of my heart were drawn out. I recognized the image as developing a son or daughter of Zion, a friend of the dear Savior, a trophy of his divine grace, an heir “to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.” Then could you join the inspired Psalmist, and say, “O come, let us sing unto the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.” “O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” Ps. 95:1-3,6&7.
“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.” This church seems to have forgotten that she was “purged from her former sins,” that she owed ceaseless obedience to her divine Lord. She seems unmoved by the joys of heaven, or torments of the damned. Paul describes her as asleep. “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly; not as fools, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Eph. 5:14-16. Not fallen from grace, but from a lively discharge of christian duty. “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” Is. 59:2. “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Isa. 55:6,7. When Israel observed the command to repent, God turned away his threatened judgments from her; but when she disregarded the command, he visited the penalty. When God’s spiritual Israel “confess their sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9. Awhile ago she could say with the Psalmist, “For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” But how is it with her now? Is she oppressed with her ingratitude, her darkness and slothfulness? Let her cry with the prophet, “O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me.” “Turn us again, O Lord, and cause thy face to shine upon us, and we shall be healed.” But she seems entirely unmindful of her best interests, to have fallen into a state of insensibility of the things that make for her peace, hence the appropriateness of the exhortation, or warning. “If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.” Ps. 89:30-33. “Or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” Every consideration of interest and duty, of spiritual peace, love and real enjoyment is presented to stimulate her to return to duty. Let her “weep between the porch and the altar, saying, Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach.” Let her lift her hands with her heart to God for help. I have heretofore said that the interpretation of the term candlesticks is churches. The conclusion is then, “except ye repent,” I will remove your visibility as a church. You shall not be known and numbered by the saints as a church of the living God.
My mind is irresistibly drawn to several localities in this country where there existed some forty of fifty years ago, sound and consistent gospel churches, where truth was maintained, and where it seemed to be received joyfully, and where any departure seemed to arrest the attention of the church immediately. The doctrine and practice gave, as it was thought, unmistakable evidence that the favor of heaven’s King rested upon them; but the scene is changed. A laxity of discipline, departure in doctrine, and the introduction of new measures, hitherto unknown among those churches, gave full proof of the saying of the Lord by the prophet, “For among my people are found wicked men; they lay wait as he that setteth snares; they set a trap, they catch men.” Jer. 5:26. They seem to have been but too successful in “drawing away disciples after them.” Now, the truth is scoffed at by the members at those localities, and its advocates denounced as Antinomians, “old fogies,” &c., &c. So that, were you to visit their meetings, hear the slang they belch out, and witness their efforts at proselyting, you would rather conclude you had entered a “synagogue of Satan,” than a church of God. But I have yet another verse to answer, in order to fulfill the request of sister Izor.
“But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” The church of Ephesus, fallen as she was, from the original steadfastness of the living God, and from her promptness in controverting for the rights of Zion; yet she had not fallen so low as to tolerate those grosser and more palpable breaches of the law of Christ. Some suppose the deeds of the Nicolaitans to have consisted in repudiating the institution of marriage, that they were “socialists,” had their wives in common. Whether this be true or not, one thing is certain, their deeds were offensive to God, opposed to his divine government, and were also hateful to his church.
In conclusion, should not the present cold and languid state of Zion, amid the lo’s here, and the lo’s there, admonish her sons and daughters to a close and prayerful examination of the subject, to ascertain whether there is or is not, some analogy between the case of the church of Ephesus and the churches of our day? That they may take the warning. “Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” Jer. 6:16.
I have hurriedly answered the request of sister Izor, though very imperfectly. The answer may or may not be satisfactory. The text, however, remains untarnished, and some other brother may be induced to give a more satisfactory solution.
As ever, your brother, in hope of eternal life,
Thomas P. Dudley.