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he foresaw, for the sacred history again says, the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. This, then, is the doctrine or counsel of Balaam, alluded to in the text, and briefly recapitulated, it was that Balak, as he could not conquer the Israelites by open war, should endeavour by criminal indulgence to draw them to a free intercourse with the Midianites, and thus by slow, though sure degrees, to idolatry; so that God might forsake his people and leave them to their foes. In one thing, however, Balaam's counsel failed. He was mistaken in the issue of the business, and his mistake and his abominable policy cost him his unworthy life; for God, though he punished the people of Israel, did not deliver them into the hand of Balak. Their punishment was awful. All the instigators and ringleaders in this iniquity were hung in one day. By a plague, twenty-four thousand of the people perished, and by express command of God, the war was carried on immediately; the Midianites, almost totally extirpated; and Balaam, the contriver of this unrighteous plan, was found among the slain when the battle was over.
Now, my brethren, I have detailed the circumstances of the history thus minutely, that I may put you in possession of what I apprehend to be the exact bearing of this subject on the condition of the Church of Pergamos, and I have been more particular, because my views derived from this history seem to carry me further than any of the commentators I have been able to consult. I hope I may make myself perfectly intelligible.
You noticed in my last discourse, that the members of the Church of Pergamos were distinguished for their fidelity to doctrinal truth, and that persecu
tion could not move them. But do
But do you not observe that stratagem may do what persecution never could accomplish? Thus there were some in the city of Pergamos, who, absolutely enemies to the cross of Christ, had nevertheless joined themselves to the Church for the purpose of drawing away by slow and imperceptible degrees those whom they thought could not be openly destroyed. They had taken the hint from Balaam, and they pursued their wily plans as he did. They first attempted to beguile the Christians into intercourse with them-perhaps it was as something merely social—then they proceeded a step further, and induced their unwary victims to attend with them their feasts; they called them innocent amusements perhaps; by and by, as the friendship of the world is enmity with God, these persons first alluded to some small and occasional departures, thus became prepared for more direct assaults, and at last made shipwreck of their faith. This is what is meant by having there those who held the doctrine of Balaam—that is, to reduce it to as plain a proposition as possible; the Church of Pergamos was generally censured, because they had those among them who were pursuing the same course, to draw them from the faith of Christ and the practice of godliness, as Balaam advised Balak to pursue,
in order to draw the Israelites from the service of the true God to the worship of idols—and precisely with the same object, for both were instigated by the suggestions of that great adversary who seeketh whom he may devour. And, my brethren, this is a stratagem which to this day is practised and practised successfully; for there is many an one whom persecution never could bring down, who
nevertheless is often drawn away by the seductions of mere sinful compliance. There are many ways in which the devil tries to entrap the individual who even thinks on the subject of religion, and what he cannot do by open opposition, he does by some more insidious measures. It was for tolerating such things in the Church of Pergamos that this Church was censured, and this is the amount of the first charge brought by Christ against it. I hope, my friends, that these remarks will be carried in your minds, because, in connexion with this part of my subject, I shall offer you before this discourse is concluded, I trust, some valuable practical remarks on the danger of sinful compliances and worldly conformity.
Having thus explained and disposed of the first charge against this Church of Pergamos, I propose briefly to call your attention to the second-viz: that they had those there who “held the doctrine of the Nicolaitans,” which thing was hateful in the eyes of God. On this part of my subject I need occupy your attention but a moment, as all that I could gather relating to these Nicolaitans, has been considered at large in my lecture on the epistle to the Church at Ephesus. They appear to have been a set of most abandoned sensualists, who sought, at least in some measure, to cloak their abominations under the sacred garb of religion.
Taking all these things into consideration, and from as close an observation as I have been able to bestow upon the subject, the members of the Church of Pergamos appear to have been of a very mixed and heterogeneous description. On the fundamental principles of what may be called doctrinal Chris
tianity, they appear to have been generally correct, all of them, so far as speculation goes; but that was all; for while some of them adorned the doctrine of God their Saviour, the generality were of those, either who entered the Church for the horrible purpose of seducing others from the faith, or as a cloak for their own licentiousness. And hence it is to be observed, as a most melancholy conclusion, growing out of the state of things at Pergamos, that it is possible to be willing to suffer persecution and even martyrdom for a barren and speculative faith; that it is possible to unite a pure speculative faith with a worldly spirit and a mind totally set on earthly things; that it is possible, still more deplorably possible, to unite a pure speculative faith with a most impure and unholy life. And would to God, my brethren, that Pergamos had been the only place in which these things had been exemplified.
These remarks lead me to the
IVth. general division of my subject—the exhortation and the threat with which the Spirit of God accompanies this censure—“Repent, or else I will come to thee quickly, and will fight against thee with the sword of my mouth.”
You will here observe, my brethren, that the whole Church of Pergamos is called upon to repent for the wickedness of those who held these abominable opinions, and followed these degrading practices; for it is to be remarked, that though all may not have been personally guilty, yet all knew the existing state of things, and all were responsible so long as they did not strain every nerve, and exercise every principle of discipline to root out from
the profession of Christianity, such pernicious and disgraceful practices. By their apparent indifference to the existing state of things, though they were zealous for the truth, they rendered themselves liable to the charge of being partakers of other men's sins; and God calls upon the whole of them to repent, not only of their sins, but of their worldly compliances; their indifference to practical ungodliness; and their unrighteous toleration of viciousness in life. The term repent, as applied to them, therefore meant, that they should root out every evil that was among them; cut off from the communion of their Church, those who dared to name the name of Christ, and yet refused to depart from iniquity; and henceforward show their faith, not by their mere willingness even to suffer martyrdom for its purity, but to show it as influential on their hearts, by a conduct and a conversation growing from the deep-laid principles of the Gospel, and exhibited in the fruits of holiness produced. In case they would not thus repent, God threatens them that he would come to them quickly, and fight against them by the sword of his mouth. That is, that they should have some speedy intimation of those righteous judgments which would be brought upon them, and not only so, but that he himself would make the pouring out of his vengeance so signal, that they would be at no loss to discover who it was that was armed against them. You perceive that, in this respect, this epistle differs as broadly from that to Smyrna, as did the members of the two Churches differ in their characters. In Smyrna, they were rich in the graces and virtues of the Christian life, and their persecutions are attributed