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and perfection. Hence the Jews have styled it the complete number; and in their view an importance was attached to the word, not only from its ideal meaning, but also from many circumstances recorded in their history. God had revealed to them, that he had completed his great work of creation, and rested from his labour, in seven days; and therefore he commanded them to reckon time by sevens. Seven days made the week. The seventh day was the sabbath. The seventh month was the sabbatical month; and the seventh year the sabbatical year. Seven times seven years brought the great year of jubilee. When, upon the entrance of the Jews into the promised land of Canaan, Jehovah was pleased miraculously to deliver the city of Jericho into their hands, he commanded them to march round it seven days. Seven priests with seven trumpets were commanded to precede the army on this occasion. On the seventh day, on which the walls fell, they were instructed to encompass the city seven times. Many other circumstances might be mentioned to shew the importance of the number seven. Hence it was frequently used to designate an indefinite number. Thus Peter inquired of our Lord, whether he was to forgive his enemies seven times; to which the reply was given, “I say not unto “ thee until seven times, but until seventy times “ seven.”
II. These epistles to the seven churches contain encouragements, reproofs, warnings, and counsels to all other churches and Christians in every future age of the world. They will remain therefore as an instructive, useful, and hortatory part of the word of God to the end of time. The seven churches addressed in these epistles were in such different states, in respect to sound doctrine and vital god. liness, that the word of Jesus Christ to them will be suitable to other churches and professors of Christianity in all places and all ages. But though
there might be no other particular church exactly answering in character to any of the seven addressed by our Lord, yet the general state of these churches collectively viewed, may be considered as affording a just representation of the state of the universal church of Christ, in the same collective point of view, as it existed at that time.
III. The seven churches to which these epistles were written, were evidently episcopal ; that is, they were each under the government of a bishop. The Lord Jesus himself appearing in vision to St. John, directed him what to write to each of these seven churches, and to address each epistle to the angel of every particular church, namely, to his messenger or ambassador presiding over it. As these epistles are not prophetic or mysterious, like many other parts of this book, it seems obvious and necessary to consider the angel of the church as the chief minister, or bishop xot' etoxnu. One cannot but imagine that the churches in such large cities, where Christianity had for many years been introduced, consisted of several congregations; and that they had a variety of pastors, sometimes called presbyters, and sometimes overseers or bishops *, in the
• The term episcopus, overseer, or bishop, originally signified overseer in general. It was afterwards applied to ecclesiastical overseers, or pastors of the church; and finally it was appropriated to a principal ecclesiastical overseer, or bishop by excellency, who was the overseer, not only of the church, but also of its pastors or . presbyters. The pastors, or presbyters of the various congregations of the church of Ephesus, in the time of the Apostle Paul, were overseers or bishops in the second sense of the term. (Acts, XX. 28.) The same may be said of the pastors of the congregations of the church at Philippi ; but at this time the Apostles themselves were bishops in the more limited sense of the term. Afterwards the most eminent bishop was called the bishop xar' agogeny. He was the angel or presiding minister, not only of the church with its congregations, but of its pastors and overseers likewise. If any should object to the term bishop being used in different senses, it may be replied, that ecclesiastical words of the greatest importance, referring both to persons and things, are frequently used in Scripture in various acceptations; thus, for
inferior and more general use of the latter térm at that time. It is undeniable that one of these churches, namely, that of Ephesus, had several elders, called bishops or overseers. Acts, xx. 17, 29. But nothing can be more evident than that by the angel of these churches a presiding ruler or minister is intended, who was the chief overseer or bishop of all the pastors and people belonging to each particular church, whether it consisted of only one congregation, or, which is much more probable, of more. These epistles, therefore, afford evidence, amounting to very strong presumption, that a moderate kind of episcopacy prevailed in the primitive church.
IV. It may farther be observed, that although the address in these epistles was to the angel of each church, which doubtless implies commendation, reproof, encouragement, and instruction to him and the pastors in general, yet the church itself was especially intended to be admonished. It is expressly asserted that the Spirit particularly addresses the
instance, the word diaconus (deacon) has at least four different applications in the word of God. Sometimes it signifies a minister or servant who waits upon a master. (Matt. xx. 26. John, ii. 5.) Again, it is a minister or servant of God; and thus it is applied to the civil magistrate in Rom. xii. 4. At other times it signifies a minister or servant of CHRIST, in his church, by preaching the Gospel. 1 Cor. iii. 5. 2 Cor. vi. 4, &c. &c. Thus Christ himself is called a minister (or deacon) of the circumcision; Rom. xv. 8. And, finally, the word signifies a particular minister in Christ's church, called in a more limited sense a deacon, whose office it was to take care of and minister to the poor. In like manner terms referring to things are frequently used in the Scripture in various significations, as may immediately be seen, by a reference to a Concordance on the words, repentance, faith, grace, &c. &c. In reference to the word angel, Dr. Doddridge, who was not an episcopalian, paraphrases it by the terms presiding minister and presiding officer of the church. If this concession of the celebrated and pious Presbyterian theologian be admitted, episcopacy follows, as a necessary consequence, by whatever name it may be called ; for, if one preside over others, his rank and order, as a president, must necessarily differ from that of those over whom he presides.
churches: “He that hath an ear, let him hear what “ the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
V. In every one of the addresses to the seven churches, our Lord assumes a particular and different character, taken from some part of the general description which the Apostle gives of his appearance, as he saw him in the vision; and this particular character will be found to be especially suitable and appropriate to the state and circumstances of the church addressed.
VI. These epistles in general contained both commendation and censure. In most of these seven churches there was something that admitted praise, and something that required reprehension. This demonstrates that our blessed Lord was well acquainted with their state in regard both to good and evil. It is deserving of notice, that the epistles generally begin with commendation. This circumstance manifests the grace of the Redeemer, and shews that he takes pleasure in the spiritual prosperity of his people, and that he delights more in commending their virtues than in censuring their defects.
VII. One more general remark remains to be added. It is observable that every epistle is closed with a promise to him that overcometh, and an exhortation to hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. Every Christian is a soldier ; he has many enemies to encounter, and he must overcome. But Christ, the captain of his salvation, under whose banner he fights, and who has promised him the reward of victory, has likewise engaged to afford him strength to achieve the conquest, provided he listens to his exhortations and wars according to his command.
“ He that hath an ear, let him hear what the .“ Spirit saith unto the churches.” May every reader reverendly attend to what the blessed Jesus himself condescended to dictate to the seven churches in
Asia! The universal church of Christ, and every member of it in particular, is still interested in these epistles. Let every Christian, therefore, endeavour to make a spiritual and practical improvement of their important contents.
Chap. ii. 1—7. UNTO the angel of the church of Ephesus write ; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; 2. 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 are not, and hast found them liars: 3. And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. 4. Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. 5. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works ; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. 6. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. 7. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. af Ephesus was the metropolis of the proconsular Asia; and the church there was planted by the Apostle Paul. It is said to have been the city in which St. John generally resided, and from whence he visited the other six churches in the order in which they are here named. It was the nearest sea