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COMMENTARY ON THE SEVEN APOCALYPTIC EPISTLES.
(Continued from vol. iii. p. 291.)
“These things saith he that hath the seven spirits of God, and the seven stars” (Rev. iii. 1).--We have already seen that the seven spirits of God represent the Holy Ghost, not merely as the Third Person of Godhead, but also in that assumed relation to the Father and the Son which corresponds to the assumed relation of the Son to the Father; in short, as the Spirit, which, having by the Father's gift dwelt in and sustained the Christ in the days of his flesh, under his voluntary condition of continual dependence, was, at the resurrection of the Christ, received by him from the Father, and so shed down, for the work of bringing many sons unto glory-of shewing the things of Christ to all men-of pleading with all men that they yield themselves unto God, and confess to his King-of working the faith and love and hope, the holiness and power, the God-glorifying trust and God-revealing character of Christ, in all his members (2 Thess. i. 11)-of mortifying our members to all that is on the earth, as Christ's were when Šatan baited him with the whole earth-of keeping us, as body, dead to sin, and, spirit, alive to God, until the revelation of Christ, the way, the truth, and the life (Col. iii. 5; Matt. iv. 8; Rom. viii. 10). This evidently appears from Rev. i. 4, and iv. 5, where the Holy Ghost, although demonstrated to be God by sending a message which comes from God, is also demonstrated to be the communicated Spirit of Christ, the God-man, by having a place, not on the throne, but before it, as the supreme agent of mutual communication between God and man in the Mediator. Nor is it less manifest from Rev. v. 6, where these seven spirits of God are, at one and the same time, declared to be the
eyes of the Lamb, and to be commissioned into all the earth. For the eye is the light of the body--the body of Christ-filling the whole body with light, as the witness of the light: and the Lamb is Christ as man; and the commission is one included under the Father's gift of all power to the Son, who was made flesh at his incarnation, and perfected at his resurrection, by his completion as the immortal and unchangeable God-man, glorified with Godhead glory, declared the Son of God, begotten that day on which he was raised from the dead as the fountain of a Éoly-Ghost and indestructible life; and so made most blessed for ever in giving what he had received in the attainment of that joy of risen beneficence, for which he endured the cross; for which the Father did not spare him; for the desire of which the Father chiefly loved him.
As the connection between Christ and the seven stars is also included in his title when addressing the Ephesian church, it may be very serviceable to observe the points of difference between the titles of our Lord when addressing Ephesus and Sardis, for we shall thence be helped to know those differences between the situations of the two churches which called for the difference between the two titles. In the former, Christ associated the candlesticks with the stars ; in the latter, the spirits. In the former, therefore, he testifies the connection between the ministry and the churches among whom they minister; in the latter, the connection between that ministry and the distributed Spirit in whose power they minister. While in the former Christ expresses his powerful holding of the stars in his right hand, and his walking about among the candlesticks, he merely represents himself in the latter as he that hath (not o kpatwv, but • exwv) the spirits and the stars. In the former he exhibits his active direction, his sure support of his ministers—not their support by the churches (as our Nicolaitans, or people-power men, would have it in all things of church and state), but their support by him for the churches; their support, not as the sources, but as the channels of light. And he therein also exhibits, not the watchfulness and fellowship of men, but the watchfulness and fellowship of himself for and with the churches. But in the latter he does no more than state the fact, that both the Spirit and the ministry are his. In the former, then, we learn the strength, the superintendence, and the fellowship of Christ, in their exercise towards the church : in the latter, his resurrection prerogative and office, as the dispenser of the Holy Ghost and the head of priesthood, by, having been made Head over all things for the church, which is his body (Col. i. 24; Eph. i. 22). Now, it has been already shewn that the title assumed by our Lord in addressing each church has always a character similar to that of the address itself, and arising out of the situation in which he sees the church to be. Without anticipating, then, any details, a single glance at this epistle must make it evident that Sardis is the subject of severe rebuke, while Ephesus is the subject of commendation. And therefore we conclude, that as Ephesus acknowledges the truths expressed in our Lord's title to it, Sardis does not acknowledge the truths expressed in his title to it: in short, that the title here sets forth, not by similitude, but by contrast, the character of Sardis. In like manner, it is plain that Sardis is a church of great profession; for it has a name to live and is dead. And therefore, as a church truly alive would acknowledge the truths contained in her Lord's title, we are not to expect in Sardis any open denial of these truths, but just their professed avowal, coupled with their practical denial. Now the two truths in question are just Christ's possession of the Spirit, and his possession of the ministry. The great sin, then, of Sardis, lies in the ostensible admission, coupled with the real denial, of these two possessions. A grave matter this is, and it well demands a grave investigation ; the more especially as it concerns that condition in which the church at large has lately been, and out of which some have of late received grace to rise. I say it in great sorrow, and with love unfeigned, yet in sober and deliberate conviction, that at the present time the vast majority of the visible church, and the decided majority of those most esteemed and followed in the midst of her, do practically deny the existence, or if not the existence the offices, of the Holy Ghost, as God the Spirit actually pleading with every man, actually manifesting Christ in every saint; that they do practically deny the possession of that Spirit by the risen Christ, and the method by which he obtained the Spirit; that they do practically deny the existence of an ordained embassage or ministry direct from the living God, and do practically deny that it is possessed and exercised by Christ. These things are all, no doubt, in the mouths of many. Nay, there is such a form and similitude of good things, that a skilful reasoner may be often able to confound into silence a simple man of honest soul, who feels the destitution of life, and the blight of a universal cold, uncharitable, world-conciliating, truth-extinguishing leanness; and that one is often tempted to think it most unreasonable to remain dissatisfied, and to stand upon apparent niceties or novelties, in the face of most flattering appearances and most ready replies. But by their fruits ye shall know them. For there is hardly even now, and I fear there will soon not be at all, a point of orthodox doctrine, which, if you wipe off it the varnish of compromising elegance, and rescue it from its meaningless forms of speech, and put into it the life by beholding it in the light of the living God, will not be stumbled at and blasphemed. And I dare not so dishonour the faithfulness and living ordinances of our Saviour, or even the example of his primitive church, as to suppose that the spiritual understanding of his Lordship and Christhood, of his Spirit and ministry, could, if its amount bore the least comparison to its appearance, bring forth such wretched gleanings of godliness as are to be gathered from a church so full of all vanity, flattery, pride, insincerity, uncharitableness, unfaithfulness, division, insubordination, expediency, and conformity to the world, as is the church in these times, at once so awful and so little understood.
I believe that there is hardly such a thing in the church as the knowledge of the Spirit as the Spirit of the Christ of God, or as any thing but some impersonal, mysterious, and almost
VOL. IV.-NO, J.
fabulous influence from Deity in the abstract, not from God in Christ : an influence continually asked, yet seldom expected, because seldom desired, and therefore as seldom obtained : an influence which seems to be chiefly employed by the church, or rather by the devil, to furnish an excuse for the personal resistance of the Holy Ghost, under cover of a vain unhumbling compliment to the sovereignty of God's grace: an influence, in short, the presence of which will not crucify the flesh; the refusal of which does not at every instant condemn. The living God, the God of Abraham, is not now apprehended ; otherwise the life of God would be seen. But in his place, and in the place of his Three Persons, and of any true offices belonging to each, and experimentally known to the saints, we have substituted some divine supremacy of infidel moralists, or as infidel Evangelists: not the true Being from whom men learn what God is, but the ideal essence, who represents what men fancy God should be; and whom, so figured out, they bring to controul and explain those Scriptures from which they should have first learned him. They fashion to themselves a Father, who is no more than a good man converted into an unembodied idea; and whose marvellous love they regard as no more than pleasure in things which please him. Christ they cannot contemplate as man, without forgetting as God; or as God, without forgetting him as man. He is one whose person, though he be the only true revelation of God, the presence of God's being in a man's true body and reasonable soul, they think it impious to meditate : whose mediation they hold to consist in forms of speech, and not in act; and the comfort of whose redeeming brotherhood they will not be so bold as to take. The Holy Ghost is neither an object of their worship, nor recognised as the personal inhabitant of their persons : one who is degraded to be the nominal coadjutor of reason in the study of the Scriptures, which are now worshipped in his place, instead of wielded as his sword; and who is willingly set aside, because he demonstrates, not a set of propositions, but the personal Christ; while the church prefers the propositions, and openly acts on the awful principle that orthodox doctrine has a meaning and value apart from the knowledge of God and the confession of Jesus Christ. His gracious and personal work is denied in Christ, being ascribed either to the omnipotence of the Son, or the constitution of the creature: is denied in the minister, being ascribed to the favours of nature, and honoured, that is, insulted, as an ability or adaptation of the flesh : and is denied in the people, being supplanted by seriousness of views, pious habits, religious principles, gracious aids, self-command, interest, and animation, or due preparation for death. To tell the truth; while the distinction between things natural and things spiritual is a continual topic, neither
in conduct nor even in opinion is it any thing more than a distinction between different kinds of things natural. The idea seems to be, that whenever a man thinks at all of God, and God's deeds and words, he must be a Christian, entitled to all that reputation at the hands of men which stamps him as unlike his Lord, but to none of that confident and holy joy in God which does and must attend a likeness to him. Men have forgotten what are the fruits of the new man: and where these fruits are still borne in mind, they are substituted in the room of the stock which should bear them. There has been got up in the church a similitude of the new man, which quite well assorts with old things being allowed to stay. All things are dealt with as before, only a little less carnally. The matter has become a question of less or more, not of new or old; and the new man just a better old man, not a crucified and risen
Men have become too civilized to relish, too slavish to receive, too eager for safety and mammon to declare, the holy and true mind of the Spirit. And it is somehow contemplated as possible, by education, and reading, and meditation, and sundry devices, to ripen the natural into the spiritual; while a set of empty changes are rung upon the characters of that Spirit who alone knoweth the things of God.
As I believe that a knowledge of the persons and offices of the adorable Trinity-a knowledge now so rare, nay, now so much despised by men unspiritual in the true sense of the word-does nevertheless lie at the foundation, as likeness to Christ forms the sole end, of all sound doctrine; so I believe that the present ignorance, and, as I much fear, approaching denial, of the Holy Ghost, originates in an ignorance concerning the person of Christ as the Head of the church. For they who reject the truth of his entrance without sin into every condition attendant on our fall, must be ignorant of the truth concerning this unction of the Holy Ghost; and if they are ignorant of the offices and indwelling of the Spirit in the Head, they must be equally ignorant of his true offices and indwelling in the members. The Son of God, being equal with the Father, consented to be sent of the Father into the world, and continued that free consent throughout. He knew that in coming into the world to obey the law and fulfil the mind of God, to exhaust the curse, to shed his blood for the remission of sin, and to rise for the justification of men, he was emptying himself of his glory and power, taking on him the form of a servant, and coming, although without sin, yet really and actually into all the sorrowful, feeble, and tempted conditions into which we had been brought by the fall; so that he should be put to death by the flesh, and crucified through weakness. He knew that his becoming a curse for us, was not to be a thing imposed upon him in an arbitrary way, after he had come in the flesh; but that he was to become a