The Prophetical Addresses to the Seven Churches: Lecture 2

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Lecture 2
I was referring, the last time we were speaking, briefly, to the distinctive character of the church of God; and to the character of this book, as being one of judgment, whether as regards the church or the world.
It is important to distinguish between the view of the church of God as a responsible body on the earth, and therefore subject to judgment, and that view of it which looks at it as the body of Christ, and as enjoying her proper place before God, and her privileges as such. We must keep these two truths distinctly and definitely before our minds, or we shall get into confusion.
We saw the last time, that God has given Christ to be " Head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all." God's thought and purpose about the church is, that it should be the body of Christ when He takes dominion over all things. God has exalted Christ far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and has put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be Head over all things to the church, which is His body, and, therefore, called " the fullness of him that filleth all in all." All the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in Christ; but this is quite another thing. We are His fullness, that is, we complete the mystic man, Christ being the Head. For the church is that which completes and displays Christ's glory in the world to come; and then there will be not only Christ in heaven, known to the believer, but Christ ruler over the earth, over all things. It is a blessed thought, that it is not merely God as God who fills all things, but that Christ in redemption and mediatorial fullness in grace and righteousness fills all things. " He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things." Everything from the dust of the earth up to the throne of God has been the scene of the accomplishment of, and witness to, Christ's glory. But when He does actually thus " fill all things," and it is not merely known to faith, it will not be alone, but as the Head of the body which is now being formed, taking the church to share in His dominion and glory. All things will be subject to Him in that day; but the church will be associated with Him. Just as it was in the garden: Adam, the image of Him that was to come, was lord over all the creation; Eve was neither a part of the creation over which Adam reigned, nor yet had she any title of her own over it, but she was associated with him in the dominion. The passage in Eph. 5 takes up this formation of Eve, and applies it to the church" this is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church."
Christ has every title to this dominion over all things. (See Col. 1.) As God, all things were created by Him and for Him. And remark, that in the passage He has a double primacy -Head of creation when, as Son, He takes His place in it, for He is Creator; and also Head of the church, for "he is the head of the body the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he might have the pre-eminence."
A second title to headship is, that He is "the Son "-not merely as Creator (as we have seen in Col. 1, " hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son "), but by inheritance also. In Heb. 1 we find this counsel and intention of God as regards His Son: " whom he hath appointed heir of all things," etc. Here Messiah is in contemplation.
A third title to headship is, that He is man. Psa. 8, which celebrates millennial glory, is quoted and applied by the Holy Ghost to Christ in Heb. 2:6-96But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? 7Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honor, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: 8Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. 9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. (Hebrews 2:6‑9), " We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor," and all things put under his feet. (See also Ephesians 1: 22; 1 Cor. 15:2727For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. (1 Corinthians 15:27).) Thus we see His title to dominion: first, as Creator, " for by him were all things created "; secondly, as the Son, " whom he hath appointed heir of all things "; thirdly, as Man, under whose feet in the counsels of God all things are put. Then, we may add, He cannot take the inheritance as a defiled thing, and, therefore, He has a fourth claim in the way of redemption. His title is to a redeemed and purified inheritance, " the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these." With us, who were under sin, alienated in mind by wicked works, it is not merely purifying: guilt also is removed. Then He takes and makes us His body; as it is written, " We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones." The Holy Ghost comes down and consecrates us to be the body of Christ in living power; and in unity, because baptized with the Holy Ghost into one body. Not only is each soul quickened and sealed by the Spirit, but believers are " baptized into one body by one Spirit." This began at the day of Pentecost, and since then this baptism has been the portion of every believer. It is a great and blessed truth that, however we may have grieved the Spirit, still, individually, the Holy Ghost abides with the believer and reproves him. And it is also most blessed as regards the church, that the Holy Ghost is not, like the Lord Jesus, only here a little time with His people, and then going away. " He shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever." And mark this that the abiding presence of the Holy Ghost in the church is in virtue of the redemption which Christ has wrought, and not dependent on our use of the privileges given (though when present His action is according to the use or abuse of these privileges).
The church of God, united to the Lord Jesus Christ, has its place, first, by virtue of Christ's Person; secondly, in redemption by Christ; thirdly, by the presence of the Holy Ghost. This is not a question of prophecy, but it is the power of divine living grace, putting the church in divine glory. The moment the Holy Ghost thus formed the church, it is treated down here as the body of Christ, " from which all the body, by joints and bands, having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God." Just as, in the growth of a child, the body is there, and each member is in its place, and it grows up into its full stature.
There are two distinct aspects of the church, however, presented to us in Eph. 1 and 2-the body of Christ is in heaven, and the habitation of God by the Spirit on earth. This second character of the church is a deeply important one. The church of God, being formed by the Holy Ghost on the earth, necessarily involves the responsibility of the church to manifest upon the earth the glory of Him that set her thus. Responsibility never changes God's grace. But while the church remains upon the earth, she is responsible for the glory of her absent Head down here-not as under law, of course; but the church is responsible to represent the glory of Him who has redeemed it, and put it here. It is to be a light in the midst of darkness-" in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world "; " showing forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." And, as Paul says in 2 Cor. 3, " Ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ, known and read of all men." The word is " epistle," and not " epistles," of Christ. It is one body-one transcript of Christ. The church was set as Christ's epistle of commendation to all men, that in it men might read and see the power of redemption, and the character of Him who is out of sight, through the Holy Ghost dwelling in it, and forming it to be the visible witness of its invisible Head. Jesus says, in John 17, " that they all may be one." And to what end? " That the world may believe [not yet " know "-that is the fruit of the glory] that thou hast sent me." This should have been the effect of this oneness in reference to the present time. When the church is in manifested glory with Christ, and as Christ, the world must of necessity know that the Father sent the Son; and not only so, but will know that the Father has loved us as He loved Jesus, seeing us in the same glory as Jesus. It must, therefore, be previous to that time, that the world should see the church as one, in order to believe-should see the church in this place of responsibility as this epistle of Christ. Its responsibility is, that the life of the Head in heaven should be manifested on the earth in power. Thus we see what a responsible place it is to be under grace, for it is through our being under such free grace as we are, that our proper responsibility comes in. When we come on this ground of a responsible body on the earth, we find the Lord, of course, taking cognizance of the actings of the church under this responsibility.
Thus in these two chapters (Rev. 2 and 3) we have the Lord, not as the Head of the body, not as the One from whom grace is flowing down to the members of the body, but walking amidst the candlesticks in the character of a Judge, to see if they are acting according to the grace received. This principle of judgment runs through them all: I will give unto every one of you according to the use he has made of the privileges and grace in which the church was at first set.' This is a solemn word for us, just in proportion to our estimation of grace. It is not condemnation as by the law; but the more I understand the love, of which I have failed to testify, the more my heart will be grieved when I do not give a true answer to that grace, for it connects sin, as it were, with God's name, which I bear. The effect of Israel's wickedness did not only prove man to be a sinner, but, God having placed His name there, it connected the sin with the name of God. On this ground it was that the Lord rebuked Israel when He said, " The name of the Lord is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you." The testimony of His name was placed in their keeping, and it ought to have been guarded by them. God will know how fully to vindicate His holy name, in the end, on the earth. Still more is this the case in respect of the church of the living God. The world ought to see practically perfect holiness and perfect love in the church: for we are made partakers of God's holiness, and we are the objects of His infinite and perfect love. The church ought to have but one constant position and service on the earth, that of manifesting to the world what it draws from its living Head in heaven. The church never knew Christ after the flesh; the only Christ the church knows is the Christ that the world rejected, and is now in heaven; and therefore the church should be in such entire abstraction from the world, as to manifest what its Head is. And thus the church should be Christ's epistle of commendation. And note the force of the word " epistle " here. The world ought to see what Christ is in you, as the law was seen written on the tables of stone (2 Cor. 3), a living epistle, " known and read of all men." And the character of our walk will be greatly deepened, according to the extent we are realizing what His grace has done for us, and has called us to. Thus we see the Lord never gives up this in principle. He never departs from that into which the church is called in testimony and witness, though He bears with it in patience.
But now we will turn to another point: the use that is to be made of these addresses to the churches. There are two things on the face of the matter. First, it is an historical fact, that there were churches on the earth in the condition here spoken of; then, secondly, that the moral instruction is available to every individual saint-applicable to every person who has an ear to hear and an understanding heart to know the Lord's mind. This is very simple.
But if we go on farther, we shall find that there is significance in the number of the churches that are addressed. The number seven, being the symbol of perfection, is the number often used in this book-seven seals, seven trumpets, seven vials. Thus the choice of this number marks the complete circle of God's thoughts about the church, as responsible on the earth according to the grace in which it has been set there. It is not that there were only seven churches or assemblies on the earth at the time these addresses were given, as we know, for instance, of Colosse and Thessalonica, and so many others; but these and all the others were left out, because they did not furnish the moral elements which were needed by the Holy Ghost for this complete picture.
When thinking of the unity of the body with the Head, we get into privilege, and not responsibility-the life of Christ and the glory of Christ as the measure and the end. But these chapters present the actual and diversified state of the church. The next point is, that these seven churches are taken up distinctively in connection with responsibility; and then, further, they cannot all apply to the whole body at large at one time, because we find such different states among them, and therefore we cannot apply what is said in one of them indistinctively to another, as there are distinctive charges and distinctive promises. We shall find, however, on entering into details, that different parts of the professing church with distinctive characters are spoken of as partially subsisting at the same time. So that we get this: each description does apply, in one sense, to the church at large, yet all do not to the whole church at one and the same time. And therefore you get in these churches, either a successional picture of the condition of the church upon earth, as responsible to God from the beginning to the end of this dispensation, in a prophetical way, or a particular state of a part necessary to complete the whole picture-the different aspects that it has presented in the world until the Lord spues it out of His mouth.
Then, you will say, " How can the church be spued out of Christ's mouth, when the church is the body of Christ, and must be with Him in the glory? " That is true, if you speak of the body of Christ, but the church as an external body on earth never loses its responsibility, whatever its characteristics may be. Looked at as on earth, it is responsible for its conduct. If the unworthy servant did not do his master's will, he was to be treated, not as being not a servant at all, but as a hypocrite according to the position in which he was found, though not as being really such, for servant he was none really. It was not said to him, " You are no servant "; but, " Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness... and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites." Thus he was taken up and condemned on the ground of his profession.
So it was with Israel. They were formed by God to bear His name before the world; they failed; they were dealt with as responsible, and were set aside, as looked at under the old covenant. The word to the barren fig-tree was, " No man eat fruit of thee hereafter forever." The fig-tree might bear leaves, but when the Lord came seeking fruit, finding none, He said, " Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward and forever... and presently it withered away." Thus Israel, as a vessel to bear God's name unto the world, was set aside; but this did not touch the question of God's faithfulness. He will restore Israel in the last days, and till then grace still flows on, taking up the remnant from among them as the true seed of Abraham, only in better privileges; for if Israel as a whole be set aside, then God sets up the new thing, and out of the Jew and Gentile " the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." The question here is not as to the certainty of individual salvation, but about the vessel God is using to bear His name before the world. Individuals who believe will go to heaven, but the vessel of testimony, having failed, must be broken. God has long patience with it; but if, after all that has been done, it only brings forth wild grapes, it must be cut off. Doubtless there is a faithful remnant taken to heaven, but the vessel is cast off as a visible public testimony on the earth.
In Rom. 11 we see how God puts what He has formed at present on the earth to bear His name, in the position of a public visible system on the earth, as He did Israel. " Behold the goodness and severity of God; on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou shalt be cut off." God can cast off the professing church in perfect consistency with what He has revealed Himself to be, because it is not a question of His grace and goodness, or of individual salvation, but simply and only of responsibility. And this it is which makes His dealings with these churches a deep and positive warning to us, as the very same principle applies to Gentile as to Jewish testimony. God will accomplish to the very word every promise He has made to Israel. Yet we all know as a plain fact that God has cast off Israel as visible witnesses to bear His name to the world. And He will, in the same way, cast off the church, if it fails in its responsibility on the earth. Thus we see how God maintains His government in respect to the testimony which His people ought to bear under every dispensation, and that, while individual salvation is forever secured to individuals in Israel and the church, both will be set aside as to their public visible testimony. Thus we get not only responsibility, but the results of failure.
We will now take up the positive example and warning that God gives us in the word to Ephesus. It is of course a great means of strengthening the soul-its being instructed in the ways and actings of God in the Scriptures; but it is a source of joy to myself to get the immediate application of truth to my own soul. General principles of Scripture are very blessed, but the individual application of truth to the heart and conscience is still more happy.
In these addresses to the churches we have, first, the character of Christ which is always adapted to the state of the particular church. Thus, in the first, to the Ephesians, as a matter of general application we have, " He that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks "-that is, Christ revealed in the particular character in which He exercises judgment. Secondly, in each church we see the special character of the trials of the faithful. And, thirdly, a special promise is given to sustain the faith of those under the trial. Thus it is all suited grace and mercy to meet the special circumstances. And then, fourthly, looking forward to the time of fullest blessing, we see the portion given " to him that overcometh," when Christ has taken the saints to Himself.
The churches are divided into two portions; three churches in the first division, and four in the second. This is a point of great interest. The church generally seems to be addressed as such in the first three churches. That is, saints, though having to overcome, are looked at as in the body at large; the little remnant more distinctively apart in the latter four. Thus, through this division also, we get distinctive characteristic parts of the professing church. In the addresses to the first three churches, the exhortation: " He that hath an ear let him hear "-precedes the promises to the faithful overcomers. In the latter four it follows the promises. In the first three the hearing ear is spoken of in connection with the general testimony to the church before singling out the faithful remnant who overcome. In the last four, the exhortation follows the overcoming. In the first three, also, the coming of the Lord is not spoken of, but for the same reason as for the greater distinction of the remnant. With the fourth, attention is directed to the coming of Christ. This was now the remnant's hope, not the return to primitive order. The public professing body was utterly corrupt.
In the former three, the thoughts of the church are, as it were, called back to the original condition and standing-a condition which was held out as one to which it was possible it might be restored if repentant. We were remarking, in the last lecture, that God had two standards of judgment in dealing with a people placed in responsibility: either the grace which has placed them there, and, therefore, the thought of restoration because of this grace, and according to the standard it has given; or the glory to which they are called. In the first three churches we find the former of these. But in Thyatira another thing comes in. The church as a whole has proved to be in a hopeless condition (I speak of the church in testimony here as a visible body in the world), and then the individual hope is always given, and the address of the Spirit is specially to those that overcome, and, as may be seen, the coming glory at Christ's return held out as the encouragement. And therefore in Thyatira we get this distinctive hope held out to the remnant, " that which ye have, hold fast till I come."
With these general truths I would also remark that in the address to the first church, Ephesus, we see the general character of Christ as exercising judgment, " holding the seven stars in his right hand " (that is, holding all the authority and all the power), " walking in the midst of the seven candlesticks," the churches-going round to see whether the lights were burning brightly, giving out that true light which He had lit up.
We see, consequently, in every one of them the peculiar stamp of responsibility. Then, observe how He commences this Ephesian address, by touching upon every point that He can in any way approve of, before He brings out the opposite side of the picture. " I know thy works, thy labor, and thy patience." What a blessing that He does know all about us, even " the thoughts and intents of the heart! " " Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." Now mark another important principle. What must Christ necessarily be jealous about but His love to the church, which was stronger than death? It is utterly impossible that He can forget His love to the church, and therefore just as impossible that He can be satisfied without the return of her love to Him; for, remember, that it is only love that can satisfy love. The very reproach He makes brings out the strength of His love to the church, which cannot rest till it gets the same from her; for He cannot cool down to be satisfied with a feeble return of His love, however much the church may have cooled down in her thoughts about Christ's love to her. There may be still much outward fruit in " works, and labor, and patience "; but let the toil and labor be what it may, the spring of it all is gone-You have left your first love; there is the great mischief. It is no matter how much you toil and labor, if love to Christ be not the motive of all your service, it will only be, as the apostle says, " like sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal," which dies with the sound thereof.
Here, then, in Ephesus, we get the first great principle of failure, and therefore the great general judgment which came upon the whole church. " Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works [see how He brings them back to the point of their departure], or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent." He cannot allow that to remain in the world which fails to show forth the great love wherewith He loved the church; for if He did, He would not be " the faithful and true witness." This principle of tender, faithful reproach is the blessed proof that His love never grows cold, however much ours may fail.
In this respect the Lord's way of dealing with individual souls is exactly the same as with the church. He takes notice of all departure from Him, but the door is always open for " repentance," and when the sin is judged, and seen in the light in which God sees it, then there is nothing to hinder immediate restoration. The moment the conscience bows under the sin, and confesses it, then it gets into an upright position; an uprightness of soul, where evil has been, is shown in the consciousness of evil, and power to confess it; and therefore the church of God, or an individual soul, must get into this state of uprightness before God, in order for Him to restore it; Job 33:23-2623If there be a messenger with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to show unto man his uprightness: 24Then he is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom. 25His flesh shall be fresher than a child's: he shall return to the days of his youth: 26He shall pray unto God, and he will be favorable unto him: and he shall see his face with joy: for he will render unto man his righteousness. (Job 33:23‑26). Get sin judged in the conscience, and then there is the revelation of the unfailing love of God to meet the need. It is thus in the daily details of Christian life. Judgments may pass upon His people, but His chastening love is seen in it all.
And thus is learned the reason why the Lord reproaches the church for leaving her first love. There is in it the revelation of His perfect and unchanged love shining through the condemnation of their state. And do we not see this dawn in the natural relationships of life? Take husband and wife. A wife may take care of the house and fulfill all her duties so as to leave nothing undone for which her husband could find fault; but if her love for him has diminished, will all her service satisfy him if his love to her be the same as at the first? No. Well, then, if it will not do for him, it will not do for Christ: He must have the reflection of His love. He says, I am not blind to your good qualities, but I want yourself. Love, which was once the spring of every action, is gone; and therefore the service is valueless. If love is wanting, the rest is as nothing. It is true that our love cannot answer worthily, but still it may answer truly; for at least Christ looks for un-dividedness of object, though there be not adequateness of affection. There must be a dividedness of heart if there is instability of affection. This was the secret of all the failure at Ephesus. Un-dividedness of heart as regarded the object of affection had been lost, singleness of eye was gone, and the perfect reflection of that love which had laid hold of the church for Himself was gone. Still, while Christ says, " I have somewhat against thee," He marks everything that is good. "Thou hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast labored, and hast not fainted." Well, then, it might be said, What can the Lord want more? He says, I want herself. Remember this as regards the church. Then He says, " Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works." To me this is a very solemn but touching word to us, for we have gone much farther from our first love than they; still the heart of him that is faithful finds a certain refuge in Christ, for his soul finds in the very reproach an infallible proof of His unchanged love.
What does He take notice of as excellent here? " Works, and labor, and patience." Nothing positive is named that marks the decline, but the works that were done were not linked with the first love. And here let us observe, that the church has a positive service very distinct from what the Jews ever had. God was not looking for the Jews to go out in love, but the church, having received grace, is to go forth in grace to call poor sinners in. The Jew had the law as a wall to keep righteousness in, but no open door for love to flow out.
Take the Thessalonians, who, in this, are in direct contrast to these Ephesian saints, and who were in the freshness of their " first love," and what is noticed in them? " Their work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ "-just the very same things that are commended in Ephesus. What was the difference, then? Not that they had no works, but that the true spring of them was gone; while in the Thessalonians the spring of it all was in full play. The three great principles of Christianity, faith, hope, and love were all at Thessalonica (that is, the full link of the heart with the source of power). The faith which characterized their " work " kept them walking in communion with God. The love which characterized their " labor " linked them with the source of power. And in the " hope " which characterized their patience we get the coming of the Lord, as the object before their souls, for their patient waiting in service. Thus, in the Thessalonians you get spiritual power, Christ Himself as the object, and love characterizing it all. Suppose I go laboring, and the spirit of love is in my work, what a difference there will be when the whole service is stamped with the character of this love! If it is only in preaching the gospel, how fully shall I set forth God's love to a lost world, if the love of Christ is freshly springing up in my own soul! But alas! how often have we to reproach ourselves with going on in a round of Christian duty, faithful in general intention, but not flowing from the fresh realization of the love of Christ to our souls.
But righteousness and true holiness, and the aspect of the church in connection with these characters of God, have their place as well as the love which is His nature. " Thou canst not bear them that are evil." The natural, the normal state of the church, is the full power of good in the midst of evil, giving a bright testimony through divine power. The church ought not to be the place where good and evil are in conflict within, but in such a state as to be the manifestation of good in the midst of evil. But suppose a decline, then there is a question of evil within. " Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water " is the only right state of the church. This is its primary and only absolutely owned state. Next comes power to remove the evil and make it an occasion of blessing when it does arise. (See Acts.) But if it ceases to be thus, then a question of evil within it arises, as here: " Thou canst not bear them that are evil." Now evil had come in, or this would not have been said. There was no longer this overflowing stream of goodness, but, the stream having got low, it was a painful process to navigate it in safety and blessing. The banks were broken down, and evil had come in, or there could not have been this question as to evil. Take the case of Ananias and Sapphira. They wanted to get the character of devotedness, for such the church had, but without the cost of it. Thus hypocrisy had come into the church, but the power of good was there to expose the evil which sought the character of good for credit's sake. Love of money really governed them, modified by the love of church reputation. And the Holy Ghost's presence must be manifested in judgment. This was a sad beginning, when the good has to be characterized by the conflict with evil, instead of the good being manifested by keeping evil out. Then as to doctrine, it is the same thing: " This thou hast that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate." Patience had to be exercised. We see at once that it is not the first state (joy over that which is good) but a work of patience which was needed; and we have specially to look at this characteristic in our walk as Christians. That which characterizes power individually is patience when the time of conflict with evil begins.
But then we get another principle. There are cases in which Christ approves hatred. " Thou hatest " that " which I also hate." The doctrine of the Nicolaitanes brought in a license to evil with the character of grace, thus putting into association Christ and evil. And this is a terrible thing-the bringing in that which associates God with evil; for Satan would imitate or counterfeit grace, and thus associate God with evil, the very thing that God says-" my soul hateth." We have seen that the character in which Christ is presented is connected with judgment. He is walking amidst the candlesticks. And here, being the general and introductory church, the judgment also is the general resulting judgment. The warning therefore is, that the church will be removed. In sum, we get the three points, responsibility, failure, and consequent judgment. Then, with respect to the promise, " To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God," the paradise which He has made for Himself. It is not the paradise in which God visited man to see what he was doing, as He came to Adam, and if doing well, He was to allow him to remain, but if evil, to turn him out; but it is God taking man into His own paradise. What a difference between the paradise of man, into which God came and found sin there, and so cast man out, and the paradise of God, into which man is taken as the result of redemption, to go no more out. There are no two trees here; there is no tree of the knowledge of good and evil here-we have had plenty of it in our own responsibility. We shall possess it there according to the holiness of God; indeed, in nature we do so already, being renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him that created us in righteousness and true holiness. But there is but one tree, and this the tree of life, the one unfailing perfect source of life in God; and one partaking of it-the result, not of responsibility, but of redemption and life-giving power, and a redemption according to God's own counsels and thoughts-responsibility not being dispensed with, but fulfilled according to Christ's own love. " To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life." Grace had sustained the individual that overcame; and when the church had failed, instead of sailing on with the stream of failure (the heart of the individual saint having spiritual energy to form an estimate of the failure within, and judge it in the sight of God, instead of being discouraged and sinking when others were letting go their first love) they themselves overcame. But then it is well to see that grace did it all. " My grace is sufficient for thee." And the result was, that they had their place in God's paradise, feeding on all the ripe fruit the tree of life could produce.
In applying all this as a general principle we find the secret testimony of grace to the hearts of the faithful to be the source of strength. If " to me to live is Christ," it is the testimony of unfailing grace that carries me through all trials and difficulties; nay, the greater the trial and failure, the more it brings out what God is to my soul, so that I know God in a way that I never knew Him before (like Abraham, who, " when he was tried, offered up Isaac "; and then he learned God as a " God of resurrection," which he had never thus known before). What a comfort it is to find Christ so much the more enjoyed the more we are in the midst of hindrances, and, seeing the failure, look to Him who never fails! " The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant."
In Ephesus, then, we find, that we begin with the church's failure. Such is the witness of the Judge, and the effect of failure will be the removal of her candlestick, unless she repent; and, as to this, she is called back to the first works, or else she will cease to be a witness on the earth.
The failure was not in public acting, not in righteousness, refuting false teachers, but in intimacy of communion with Christ in her love. Her works had not diminished in quantity or zeal; their character was deteriorated: Christ knew when there was not the same love to Him in them.