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The Duty of Declining Christians.
Rev. ii. 4, 5. Neverthelefs I have somewhat against thee, because thou
has left thy firft love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent and do thy first works, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy cardlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
THESE words are part of a letter written at the express instance of the Son of God by the Apostle John, to the minifter and church of Ephesus. The ministers of these seven churches are stiled angels; because as angels are the mefsengers of heaven, fo ministers are messengers of God to mankind, to preach and explain to them the divine mefsages contained in the gospel. It happened in this church as in most of human societies, that thos there was some good, yet there was a mixture of evil therein. In some refpects they deserved praise, yet in others they were worthy of blame. What was good and commendable in them, is taken kind and particular notice of, and they receive high approbation for the same. Attend to the endearing praises given them by their Lord. “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy " patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil; " and thou hast tried them which say, they are apostles and s are not, and hast found them liars; and hast borne, and “ haft patience, and for my name fake, hast laboured, and "halt not fainted." Could more be said in recommendation of any church or people? How many amiable qualities, vir. tues and graces, are here eminently and distinctly praised ? Such as works of righteousness, afliduity in duty, patience under amictions and sufferings, perseverance in religion, aiming at the glory of God as their chief end, labouring for the honor of Christ's name and the advancement of his kingdom, peculiar zeal for truth in dorine, purity in worship and morals, strictness in government and discipline, rejecting apostolic imposters, ignorant and wicked ministers, &c. Yet after all thefe grand encomiums upon their excellencies, our Lord, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, beholds something amiss in them, and in the wonders of his goodness and love, he does. not omit to reprove with faithfulness. And this he does in: the most beautiful, gentle, and subduing language in our text, - Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou “ haft forsaken thy first love." This is the evil laid to their charge, and the only thing amiss in them; they had forsaken their first love ; the warm and tender affections they felt and exercised in the season of their first espousals to Christ, had suffered abatement and langour. They had not lost their love or religious affections entirely, but those which they once lad, alas ! had become cold and subsided ; they posseffed not that life and ardor which were formerly experienced, but were like a flame in the socket, approaching to extinction. After this our Lord fubjoins a close and pungent exhortation. “Re“ member therefore from whence thou hast fallen, and repent, " and do thy first works.” To this exhortation is added a moit folemn and alarming threatening, “ Or else I will come “ unto thee quickly, and remove thy candlestick out of his
admonition, and such an awful warning, ought to do good like a medicine; faithful are the wounds of a friend, tho’they may be very painful and aflictive.
We shall consider these words at present with relation to spiritual decays in general, and as applicable to particular persons, as well as churches. Let us here enquire,
First, what these words which contain the reproof may be fupposed to import.
Secondly, what is the duty of those who may find themselves immediately concerned herein.-In regard to the
First, you may observe, the reproof does not contain any charge of grofs immorality, as in the case of the wicked, the profane and profligate part of mankind. With refpc& to these, our Lord has not only fore things but many things against them. His charge against them is infinitely more heavy and dreadful, fuch as wilful ignorance,"fecurity, obstinacy in fin, contempt of religion, rejectior. of his gospel, trampling under foot his blood, doing despite to the spirit of grace, impenitency, unbelief, and a thousand various and aggravated wickedness, for all which they will hereafter be called to an impartial and fearful account. But the persons referred to in the text, are real christians, truly pious and good, as appears evidently from the context.
This charge implies more than common frailties and im. perfections, to which the host of faints are always subject in this Very imperfect ftate of holiness. There is no man liveth and finneth not. This text is designed to teach us more, than that no man is free from infirmities. This reproof to the church of Ephesus, introduced with so much folemnity, mult surely imply more than the common frailties to which the most
eminent christians are incident. There are some weaker laints, whose spirits are tender and perhaps not well instructed, who are too apt to apply fcriptural and providential rebukes to themselves in all their gloominess and terror. They become · sensible of many evils by meditation on their own hearts and . clearer discoveries of God and his perfections, from hence they conceive awful apprehenfions of their demerits, and pronounce bitter things against themselves, especially, if they be of a melancholy habit and a pensive turn of mind. Such infirmities and weaknesses we find often attending the most pious and devout, and tho' these are arguments for constant humility and watchfulness, yet they cannot be confidered in the light of wilful fins, nor ought the tender and feeling christian with keen severity condemn himself as hereby breaking covenant with God. For tho' Christ is always in the midst of his churches, and his all penetrating eye beholds the inmost thoughts of evety soul, yet he is far from aggravating and resenting the un. willing and lamented failings of his upright servants. It is not agreeable to the infinite benignity and compaffion of his nature, to make the worst of their imperfections, especially where he observes also in his people a due sensibility of their failings and perceives penitential exercises of heart.
But these words are to be considered a charge against chrif. tians as decaying and declining in religion. As if our Lord bad said, “O thou professor, and member of the clirisian church, thou renewed and converted soul, I know thy works, faith, patience and zeal; I charge thee not with hypocrisy, nur infincerity in religion, that thou hast no love to me nor true grace in thy heart ; but I charge thee with being a de fective and declining christian, thy love is not fo fervent, thy faith fo firm, thy walk so steady, thy conversation fo favoury as it might and cught to be. Wert thou more attentive to, and better acquainted with thine own heart, thou wouldt dir.
cern many deficiencies and fad blots and blemishes thers. Once thou couldst allow me thy whole heart, and all thine affections flowed towards me ; but, alas ! how art thou backNliden, how is thy fine gold become dim, how hast thou forfaken thy first love?"
Whose heart now has not some misgivings, les the reproof may be directed to him ? Who among us cam lay his hand upon his breast, and plead, not guilty ? Who has no reason 'for jealousy over himself, and can venture to say, the flame of his affections are not abated ? Is there that high esteem of the incomparable worth and excellency of Chrilt, that humble and devout gratitude for his dying love, that meek submillion to his will, that active zeal in his service, that charity to the nee. dy, that warm benevolence to mankind, that prayerfulness and holy walking, which were wont to be in us, and which we once possessed and discovered ? O that we could all make the appeal to our precious Saviour, which the fipostle did, when he was asked this question, “ Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou . “ me?"-And reply with him, “Lord thou knowelt all
things, thou knowest that we love thee.” Happy church, and blessed individuals, who can make this answer? Or have not many of us reason to confess, that a dull and sluggish temper have taken hold of us, by reason of which we are less fervent in spirit, less warm in our affections, less devotional in the frames of our mind? Remember, O christians, time is falt hastening away, eternity is just ready to open upon us, and what progress have we made towards heaven ? While the bridegroom tarrjes, are there not too many of us slumbering and fleeping? May not Christ with propriety address us as he did his people of old in the prophecy of Jeremiah. “Thus faith “the Lord, I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the 'love of thine espousals, when Ifrael was holiness to the Lord, *64 the firit fruits of his encrease, but now thiey have forsaken * me the fountain of living waters, they are gone far from