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THE EPISTLE ΤΟ THE ANGEL ()F THE CHURCH
OF LAODICEA, FROM CHRIST THE UNIVERSAL BISHOP.
Rev. ii. 14--22. And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans,
write, These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nur hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue
thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked; I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich ; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear, and anoint thine eyes with eye salve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous there. fore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
It is with a great feeling of pain that I now enter upon the last of the Apocalyptic churches, both because my sweet labour is coming to a close, and also because it is to close with a heavy burden to Christendom; if, as we have argued, historical aspects, as well as exemplars, be presented to us in these churches. Little did I deem, when I undertook this task, that I was to be so long, and so delightfully engaged upon the churches. The Lord hath led me by a way that I knew not, for some good end, which in his times he will shew. It has been my endeavour to open my ear morning by morning, and to set down what the Lord did teach me. And now being come to the last of the churches, let me endeavour to look back and consider, and recapitulate in a regular progression, the dealings of the Lord by his church from the first to the last.
The church of Ephesus, according to its name (see former Lecture), shews the good Husband of the church entreating her with ardent and unbounded affection as the wife of his choice, “bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh;” because it is bis nature to love, and love is the best means for producing love in return. “God is love, and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him." Christ's husbandry, like every thing which hath its original in heaven, is pure love, from the beginning to the ending of it; love expressing itself in form of goodness, and directed to the production of blessedness. As yet he serveth not himself with any sort of discipline for the enforcement of that which he would rather cherish into life by the warmth of heavenly love. But when his much care and solicitude, his taking of the stars into his right hand, the place of safety and of strength, and his walking up and down with unwearied foot among the candlesticks, avail not to the preservation of her first love, and her affection is falling away towards the things and persons of this world, from her Lord and Husband in the heavens ; discipline becometh necessary, and proceeds in the first place in the way of warning and threatening. In this we behold the working of true love, longing after its object, and fearing to lose it : taking first the gentlest methods of speaking into her ear, and appealing to her own conscience, instructing her of her evil, entreating her to repent, and acquainting her with what will certainly follow upon the neglect of his lenient and mild admonitions. And if this be the beginning of discipline on the part of Him who is God, towards her whom he purchased with his own blood, and waiteth upon with heavenly ministry, how much more so ought it to be the beginning of all discipline in the church, from the rulers toward the people, or of the rulers and the people towards one another? And thus accordingly we find it instituted, commended, and with all solemn charges, and weighty promises bound by the Lord upon every member of his church (Matt. xviii. 15–21). The same lesson, nature itself doth teach ; and all law of Christian nations ought to enforce. It is humanity so to proceed, and wherever the conscience lives, it will approve this as the true form of mercy; which, in human affairs, should walk in advance both of equity and of justice ; though never without them in her train. This Ephesian state of longing and complaining desire, being passed through, we enter upon another, the state of correction for that offence which mild and merciful measures availed not to remove.
At first sight it might appear a severe and somewhat hasty step, to cast the church at once out of the arms of cherishing love, into the iron fetters of persecution, and the cold embrace of death. And so it would, were these arms of love to cease to compass her around; were she left to the will of her merciless foes.
But if these persecutors with whose fierce countenances and stern hearts she is brought acquainted, should be the very persons towards whom her affections were beginning to fall away, then is it the greatest mercy thus early, before the spell hath had time to work infatuation over her heart, to unmask them, and reveal the life which she may expect from such an unworthy yoke-fellow. As if a good husband, perceiving his wife's affections to be falling away towards a very wicked and worthless man, should, forgetful of his own injured love, and mindful only of her well-being, permit her to see his true character, though at the expense of some suffering, in order to save her from dishonour and divorce, thereby, if it might be, to preserve his chaste spouse unto himself. That were both sound wisdom and true love, though it might be attended with temporary suffering both to him and her. So Christ, perceiving that his church was tempted by the love of the power, rank, riches, and earthly aggrandisement which were in the hands of the Roman emperor, did permit her, once for all, to prove the hideous character, and unmeasured cruelty of that she madly doated on, and the eternal contradiction there is between the principalities of this world and the Prince
of heaven, by whom she is beloved, and betrothed unto himself. This I believe to be the true secret of the early persecutions of the church during the period of the dispensation of the Smyrnians, who were the temporary sufferers, well repaid with an eternal crown, set forth to shew the church from the beginning what she might expect from that paramour after whom her heart so early went astray, and in whose embrace she is now irretrievably and for ever lost. Methinks she might have learnt of what stuff the kings of the earth were made by these three centuries of contempt, and ignominy, and death, during which she lost at their hands all but her honour; being worse en: treated than ever Israel was in the land of Egypt. But all the while her Husband was with her, and never suffered her to be put to shame. He gave her fortitude and strength, and life, in the midst of the fiery furnace seven times heated. What a power and presence of Christ then filled the hearts of his people! They loved him in the prison, where he comforted them; at the judg. ment-seat, where he spake by them; and in the jaws of wild beasts, where he strengthened them, impervious to fear, and it is believed to the sense of suffering itself. She knew him and he knew her in afflictions; and by that early scene of adversity not only was she taught of what cruelty are the powers of this earth, but also of what constancy and consolation is ber Husband, the Lord of heaven. Oh, it was a rich lesson the church and the world then together proved, if they would but have taken it to
and it is as much for our use now as for theirs. We have as much need of it as they. For the powers of this our kingdom have strangely inveigled the wedded wife of Christ; and will strive hard to win her wholly to themselves, as erewhile did Rome in the days of Constantine and his successors, until the time of Charlemagne, when the pope began the conflict for the supremacy, which in the days of Henry and Barbarossa he brought to a triumphant issue.
This teacheth us the second point in the progress of discipline, that, when by loving kindness we cannot prevent the growth of any peccant humour in the breast of them we love, we should make use of all our wisdom to prevent its outbreaking; and though at the ex. pense of much temporal and bodily suffering, to be at all
pains to reveal, without the commission of the act, what will be the fearful consequence of committing it. Now it is that the Lord beginneth to serve himself with earthly medicine instead of heavenly food, because his spouse is beginning to contract diseases from looking after the things of the earth. If we would be obedient to goodness, by goodness alone would we be entreated, and all our sufferings would be sufferings for righteousness' sake, which have in them the very joy and health of God; but when from heavenly-mindedness we begin to set our affections on the things of the earth, we contract an earthly pollution which cannot be purged out save by earthly medicines, chastisements and bereavements, and hidings of the Lord's countenance, which, through the bitterness of godly sorrow, do work humility, repentance, and renewal of love.
When the church would neither by the possession of the fulness of love and goodness which is in Christ, the King of heaven, nor yet by the experience of the fulness of malice and cruelty which is in the kings of the earth, be prevented from forgetting her duty to Him, and yielding herself to them, her all-provident Head takes his measures in the next place so as to preserve her pure in that high and dangerous elevation to which she will at all risks be lifted up. His wisdom to prevent, is now changed into solicitude to protect, her from unfaithfulness. He hath given her full proof of the companions by the side of which she is about to sit on high; and now he would teach her how to sit in Satan's seat without yielding to Satan's lures. He hath no desire to limit or confine his church to the lower valleys of the earth, but would have her also to sanctify the heights and beautify them with salvation. But first he gives her a proof of the unhealthy atmospheres of the region, and the dizzy humours which it breedeth in the heads of men. He would shew her the antichristian character of the potentates of the earth before he would suffer her to venture amongst them. He would avert her heart from them by three cen. turies of cruelty on their parts, while, by the same period of compassion and help upon his, he would rivet her heart unto himself, before setting her forth upon the perilous un. dertaking of subduing them also to the obedience of Christ Jesus. Whole volumes of events rush into my mind while I write this sketch of Christ's dealings by the church; but