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the yoke of doctrines and ordinances of pretended Apostles, who under the name of Christianity had attempted to deceive them. This Church had proceeded, according to the injunction of our apostle *, “to try the Spirits,” to bring the doctrines of these pretended apostles to the test of Apostolic Religiont; and upon this trial had rejected them. If the Christian Church, mindful of this commendation, (which is again studiously repeated in verse 6,) had been careful in succeeding times to model its conduct by the example proposed, it would not have been betrayed into antichristian apostacies, or have submitted to antichristian domination, such as will be seen described in the sequel of this prophecy.
Ver. 4. Thy former love.] It seems justly remarked by Grotius on this passage, that aqwimv, as in John i. 15, has the force of apotegnu. Tertullian thus understood it, desertam dilectionem Ephesiis imputat I. The Church is accused of having forsaken that warm and extensive communication of charity which characterised Christianity in its infancy, and which in the days of Justin Martyr, and of Tertullian, is described to be its distinguishing ornament ş. To fail in this, is to fall from primitive purity; and the fall is great; Tobey EXTETIwas; and the punishment threatened, naturally follows: for the Church, which is defective in Christian Charity, cannot long remain "a shining light;" her lamp-bearer is removed ||
Ver. 6. Nicolaitans.] It is observed by Mosheim, that our knowledge of the sects and heresies of the first century is very incomplete. And doubts have arisen, whether in the accounts given of the Nicolaitans, by Irenæus, Tertullian, Clemens, and others, they did not confound the Nicolaitans, mentioned in this passage, with another sect afterwards founded by one Nicolaus *. It appears from the testimony of these ancient fathers, and of Eusebiust, that the Nicolaitans, whom they describe, adopted principles which were afterwards held by the Gnostics, denying the humanity of our Lord, and his real sufferings in the flesh. But these were no novel doctrines, the Nicolaitans of Saint John's time might have taught them ; for we find them mentioned or alluded to in Saint John's writings 1. The same doctrines are opposed by Ignatius in his Epistle to the Trallians, and Ignatius wrote at no great distance of time from the date of the Apocalypse. Polycarp, the next in succession, is seen to oppose in his Epistle the same
1 John iv, 1.
+ 2 John vi. Mat. vii. 16. De Pænitentiâ, sect. 8. § Just. Dial, cum Tryphon. p. 254. Tertullian. Apol. c. 31. p. 31. || 2 Esd. x. 22.
And the end of the age of Polycarp brings us down to the times of Irenæus, and of Tertullian, Clemens Alexandrinus, &c. And as these fatherg agree in calling the heretics, who professed these tenets, by the name of Nicolaitans, there seems good reason for concluding that the Nicolaitans of Saint Johu's time were such. Their history, though but slightly touched, appears one and the same through the whole period of time, from the latter part of the first to the middle of the second century. But whatever we may judge by the evidence of their doctrines, the matter will appear clearer from considering what is delivered by the ancients, concerning the morals
* Mosheim, Eccl. Hist. cent. 1. ch. v.
and practices of the Nicolaitans whom they describe, and by comparing them with those mentioned in the Apocalypse. They describe the Nicolaitans as impure and profligate in their lives, and in commenting on those passages of Saint Jude, and of the second Epistle of Saint Peter, which represent heretical leaders,“ like the Sodomites, turning the grace of “ God into lasciviousness *" they assert that these were Nicolaitanst. The tradition of the Church called them by that naine ; and they were probably heretics of the same kind as these mentioned by our Saviour, at a time intermediate between the date of these Apostolical Epistles, and of the writings of these ancient Fathers. It is of their practices that our Lord speaks with detestation, “Thou hatęst the works of “the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”
From this testimony it appears, that these Nicolaitans were impious in their doctrines, and impure in their lives. The Christian Gnostics afterwards adopted many of their doctrines and practices, and are therefore said by the ancients to be sprung from them. The progressive history seems to be this. When the Apostles Peter, and Jude, and John, wrote their respective Epistles, there were some heretical teachers of this character, “ creeping unawares,” that is, slyly and covertly, into the Church. When the Apocalypse came forth, they had increased, were embodied, and had acquired a name.
Yet in that form, (and probably in consequence of our Lord's disavowal of them in this passage and in ver. 15.) they made little progress : but afterwards, uniting to their
• Jude 4, 7, 8. 2 Pet. ii. 2. + See these evidences in Whitby, in loc. | Περι μεν δογμαίος ασεβεσλαλοι, περι δε ςιον ασελγεσίαλοι. Ecumenius.
principles principles of doctrine, and some of them to their, practices (for all the Gnostics were not impure in their lives *) the pompous title of Gnosis, and its philosophical jargon, they swarmed over and corrupted a great part of the Christian world.
It appears however from the testimony of Ignatius given previously to his martyrdom, at a period of ten or twenty years after these injunctions of our Lord were delivered, that this Church of Ephesus had profited much by his warnings; for, when the . other churches began to be corrupted by the Gnostics, Ephesus was seen to flourish with a pure faithf.
Ver. 7. He that hath an ear, &c.] It was usual with our Lord, when he was about to address himself to his auditors in figurative language, to bespeak their spiritual attention by a warning of this kind, " He “ that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” In the passage before us the language changes from plain to figurative; and the same notice is given. The address is now from the Spirit, or seven Spiritst, whose office it is to reveal mysteries, and “ to shew things to
come $;” and it applies not only to the Church of Ephesus, but to all the seven Churches; and through them to the universal Church, in all ages and places ||
Ib. To him that overcometh.] Being summoved in the words immediately preceding, to apply our spiritual ear to the symbolical language, in which the Holy Spirit addresses the Church, let us in the first place inquire into, and settle, the figurative meaning of the words conquer, victory, &c. as used in Scripture. The Christian is represented to be engaged in a dan
* Clem. Alex. Strom. lib. jii. v. + Ignat. Epist. ad Ephes. sect. 9. Euseb. Eccl. Hist. lib. iii. 26. iv. 7, I See note, ch. i. 4. John xvi. 13. || Note i. 4.
gerous warfare, against a very powerful enemy. Our Lord, in St. Matthew, ch. xiii. 39, and Saint Peter, in his first Epistle, chap. v. 8, inform us plainly, that this adversary is the Devil, that ancient foe of mankind, who attacks us sometimes by deceits and enticements, as he did successfully our first parents; sometimes by force and terror, as he did those of the first Christians, who were exposed to the fiery trial of martyrdom. The arms, which he employs against us, are the temptations, or terrors, of the world and of the flesh; but these would not be so formidable, if they were not aided by the influence which he, as a Spirit, possesses over our Spirit; “ for we wrestle not, says Saint Paul*, ' against flesh and blood, but “ against principalities, against powers, against the “ rulers of the darkness of this world, against spi" ritual wickedness in high places.” Wherefore he exhorts us to take in our defence " the whole armour “ of God,” which he also describes figuratively, concluding that, “ above all, we should take the shield of
faith, wherewith we shall be able to quench all " the fiery darts of the wicked one (18 tovues).” This combat, and these means of victory, are also set forth in various parts of Scripture, of which the following may be produced as instances; 1 Tim. vi. 19. 1 Thess. V. 8. Rom. xii. 12. 2 Cor. vi. 7. x. 3, 4, 5. xii. 10. i Cor. xvi. 13, 1 John ii. 13, 14. iv. 4. 5. v. 4, 5. 1 Pet. v. 8, 9. j. 11. James iv. 7. Our Lord is described as having successfully fought this battle, at the periods of his temptation and of his final suffering, and we his servants can only expect success by following him, " the Captain of our salvation,” who has promised spiritual assistance to those who strive Eph. vi. 12.