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be no disposition in the body to sin. It was one of the chief acts of Satan, therefore, to delude his votaries into the notion that the resurrection was past already; and this he succeeded in doing, as is evident from many parts of the apostolical writings. Nor is it so difficult as some imagine. How many of our evangelical people do confound the first resurrection with the regeneration of the soul which is promised and assured to the believer in baptism? Do they not all do it? This is the very thing which Satan succeeded in doing for these primitive teachers ; and this done, the Rubicon was passed. For then the first resurrection, which in the primitive times was the only resurrection that a believer cared about, being passed, as these heretics imagined, they were living in the thousand years of enjoyment during which they were to possess and enjoy and rule the world. Add to this the continual declarations made unto faith of our being already risen with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly places, where they neither marry nor are given in marriage: the declarations that to the pure all things are pure, and that in the church there is neither male nor female: translate the truth of faith into truth of sense, and what have you but the sanctification of all indulgences as the highest attainment of the Divine life: and being thus deluded, they contemned as in bondage all who did not go to the same excess of riot with themselves. They had all things in common, they rioted in all excess: they defiled the flesh, despised dominion, and spake evil of dignities, and followed after a thousand wicked courses, which we cannot enumerate, but refer to, as contained in, the Epistles of Peter and Jude.
It was in the church that all these things arose : in the churches of Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira, and I may say in every church, for these persons are noticed in almost every epistle. What was to be done ? Our Lord had given the canon, that the ultimate appeal was to the church herself, and if they refused to hear the church, then must they be to us as heathen men and publicans. But these perverters of the way of godliness arising, as was most commonly the case, amongst those who were of chief repute; as, for instance, the excommunicated person in the Corinthian church, and Diotrephes, and Alexander the coppersmith, and Hymeneus, and
Philetus, many angels or ministers would be afraid to take prompt measures against them, and many would by their love be disinclined to take severe ones. And now love is brought to Christ's own test of obeying his commandments. His commandments are to regard such men as heathen men and publicans; after the first and second admonition to reject them. But hope would linger over them, and charity would be ever construing things favourably : so that no case could occur of so trying and proving a kind as this which did occur in most of these churches. And therefore no wonder that our Lord in these charges should so oft make remarks approving or disapproving their behaviour in this respect.
For as it bore upon
pros. perity of his church it was a point of the utmost importance. If these persons are retained, the church loseth its cha. racter of making a distinction between the evil and the good. If Christ's name is to be taken as the sanction of evil as well as of good, how is he to be known as the Holy One of God: if his disciples are not to be distinguished by their purity and holiness, their faith of truth, and their rejection of falsehood, then how are they to teach and exemplify the word and worship of God to nations lying in wickedness? If darkness is to mingle with the light, then is the light swallowed up; and the church is no longer the candlestick of purest gold. On every account, therefore, it was necessary that the bishop of the churches into whose hands the government is committed, should detect these deep delusions and inventions and abominable practices of the devil. As a star, he must ever shine in' the true light of the Lord Jesus Christ, nor suffer these clouds to obscure him. Highly worthy in every point of view was it of Christ's observation, whether his angels hated or tolerated those abominations which Satan sought to introduce into the church.
The angel of the church in Ephesus did hate these practices, and he is praised for it. It was not want of discernment of doctrine, nor yet of exercise of discipline he was blamed, but simply for want of love, de. clension of love ; proving, as we have said, that all the outward forms of the church may be standing in their just and due proportions, and yet the only thing, for which these are valuable as containing the soul and essence of love, may be wasting, may gradually decay ; profession continue ;
; yea and many apparent followers of the church ; while she is dying away, and soon to be cut off from being a church, soon to be rooted out from her place, and the place which now knows her to know her
III. We now come to the third constituent part of which these epistles consist ; which is a word of exhortation to the churches. That to the Ephesian church is couched in these terms: “ 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.” In considering this annunciation of the Spirit affixed to our Bishop's charge to his angel of the church in Ephesus, we shall first treat of that part of it which is common to all the epistles ; and, secondly, of that which is peculiar to this one. The former subject will open to us the general scope and intention of this constituent part of the epistles; and the latter will point our attention to that which is peculiar to each ; according to this method we have to consider,
First, What is to be gathered from these words, with which all the Spirit's admonitions are prefaced ? “He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches,” &c. Upon this I observe, first, That the speaker is the Spirit, and not the Son of Man, nor yet any of the angels who minister to bim in the revealing of these visions. Besides the seven instances of this vision, I find only two other places in this book where any word is put into the mouth of the Spirit; the one of which is in chap. xiv. 13 : “ And I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.” And the other is in chap. xxii. 17, “ And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst, come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” In the former of these two instances we can see, without entering at large into the passage which is an extremely difficult one, that the matter of the Spirit's explanation is the supplement, or rather the counterpart, of what is contained in the seven texts under consideration. In these texts his word is of earnest and strong controversy, and promiseth some excellent reward to every one who overcometh therein ; but here his word is of rest," that they may rest from their labours, and their works do follow them;" their labours are concluded, and their rest is come. It would seem from these texts, that it is the office of the Spirit to encourage the churches in their conflict, and to give them rest when their works are ended : and this answers to the name of Comforter, and the office of abiding continually with us, as the representative of Christ, to teach, and to admonish, and to comfort the church, until He who is our life shall appear. In the other passage quoted above, the Spirit and the bride are represented as invoking the Lord to come. Now the bride, or the church which is the temple of the Spirit, is another name for what in this vision is called the seven churches, or the churches. And the Spirit is represented as a distinct witness from the church, “ The Spirit and the bride say, Come.” This agrees with the language used of the three witnesses (1 John v.), of whom the Spirit is one: and with the language used by Paul (Rom. viii.) of the Spirit, “ The Spirit witnesseth with our spirit;" and again, “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities, and maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered " Gathering, then, from these passages that it is the Holy Ghost who is here denominated the Spirit, and that it is his office to witness in the church, and also to witness to the church, we return to our subject with this information in general, that as it is Christ's personal office to inform and instruct his ministers, or to speak unto the angels of the churches, so is it the Spirit's personal office to speak unto the churches. This is a conclusion of which we have already made use, in speaking of the general structure of this vision ; and therefore at present we do but repeat it with these confirmations.
There is, however, one thing which we ought to add : That this witness of the Spirit in the churches, is that which, more than every thing else, doth constitute their unity, according to the word of the Apostle (Eph. iv. 3-6), “ endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit,
even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” And the sin of schism, therefore, cannot but be a great grief to the Holy Spirit, being indeed a direct offence against bis unity, and therefore greatly to be abhorred. I do not say that it is the sin against the Holy Ghost; but that it is a way leading unto that fearful abyss is manifest from Heb. xi. 25, where the sin of separating from the congregation draws the Apostle immediately onward to speak of the irrecoverable fall. I am not here called upon to say who at present are, and who are not, indulging the guilt of this sin. I believe the Reformers were guiltless of it in their great act; that the Church of Rome was guilty of it in the most violent form ; that the Church of England first, and the Church of Scotland afterwards, fell, somewhat, into the same offence, from which they have not yet recovered; and that the spirit which now sways Dissenters and Seceders, and indeed almost all men, commonly called enlightened and liberal, is essentially and almost thoroughly schismatical: and I only wonder, amidst such violations of love as we are guilty of one towards another, that God should continue with us that little of his Spirit which remains. It is in the power, however, of every private Christian, and minister also, in his soul to escape away from under the influence of this narrow spirit, and to seek, yea, and to have communion with every one who loves the Lord Jesus, and walketh after his commandments: and when we are hindered by our duty to the churches, we must submit to the privation, and count it a trial from our God, in the midst of infinite blessings which we enjoy at their hand. But as to separating from them, or setting up another head, see if the hint of such a thing can be found in all these epistles to churches fallen, some of them into the most grievous conditions. According as we are obedient to the church even in her frowardness, (so that we do not follow her into any denial of the truth as it is in Jesus), and mourn over her imperfections and violences to her children, so do we demonstrate that the Spirit is speaking in us, and so shall we receive new revelations of his blessed mind.
The next question is, To whom doth the Spirit address these exhortations? To the churches. Not now to the