« PreviousContinue »
are supposed forty thousan present to he populatio
miseries of that everlasting punishment which is destined for the wicked, and which is emphatically called the second death, in distinction from that of the body, as it comes after it in respect to time. The second death implies the total extinction of all our hopes of happiness. It is “ the worm that dieth “ not, and the fire that shall never be quenched."
Nothing of reproof and warning is contained in this epistle; and it is remarkable that there are more Christians at this day in Smyrna than in any other place in all that part of the world. The population of Smyrna is estimated at present to be about one hundred and forty thousand souls, of which there are supposed to be nearly thirty thousand professed Christians; from fifteen to twenty thousand Greeks, six thousand Armenians, five thousand Catholics, and between one and two hundred Protestants. The candlestick hath never been entirely removed from Smyrna, but glimmerings of light remain to the present day. .
We are again called, in contemplating this epistle, to direct our eyes to Him who is the first and the last, the eternal and almighty Saviour, who was once dead, and is alive again.—May we look to him for grace, that we may imitate what he commends in the church here addressed !-If we are exercised with tribulation, may we also be enriched with patience!-Let us not be terrified at the apprehension of what we may suffer from the malice of Satan. He is indeed a powerful enemy, and he will harass and distress the people of God as much and as long as he possibly can. But his power is limited; it is only for a time that he can occasion tribulation to the servants of Christ. Our conflicts, therefore, will be short, and our trials will be transient.-Let us then, in obedience to the exhortation and command of our gracious Lord, be faithful unto death, and we may be confidently assured that he will fulfil his promise, and at length give us the crown of life.
Though we fall by the first death, we shall for ever remain unhurt by the second. Every conqueror in the battle that must be fought with sin, the devil, and the world, will escape the miseries of the second death; and though he will be called to encounter the first, and may seem to sink in the conflict, yet the apparent defeat will be the completion of the Christian's victory.--The king of terrors is changed into the messenger of peace; and with the same hand by which he is commissioned to inflict the destined stroke that for a time separates the soul from the body, he instantly opens the gate of life, by which the believer is introduced into heaven, to be for ever with the Lord. Well, therefore may the Christian sing, when engaged in his last conflict, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, “ where is thy victory? Thanks be to God, which “ giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus « Christ."
will come to thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. 17. He that hath an ear, let him ear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.
The city of Pergamos was situated about sixty miles north of Smyrna. It was for a long time the capital of a great state, called the kingdom of Pergamos. It was enriched and adorned by a long succession of Attalian kings. The last of these, Attalus Philometor, bequeathed his dominions, about 132 years before the birth of Christ, to the Romans, and it then became the residence of a Roman proconsul. Pliny the elder, who wrote but a short time before the date of this Revelation, describes it as the most famous city in Asia. The epistle to the angel of this church contains both reproof and threatenings. It bore an awful aspect towards a depraved, worldly-minded, and Antinomian party, which had corrupted and degraded the church, and against whom the Lord Jesus, who had the “ sharp sword “ with two edges," threatened to make war. Commendation is, indeed, conferred upon the church in general by the gracious Saviour, who reminded his people that he knew the ensnaring and dangerous situation in which they were placed, where Satan had especially established his throne, and taken up his abode. The adversary of God and man seems to have fixed in this city the head quarters of idolatry, persecution, and heresy; his grand engines in opposing the Gospel of Christ. Yet, even in this place, the Christians in general had continued steadfast in their holy profession. They had not denied the faith by open apostacy; or by temporizing, to avoid the cross, not even in the hottest days of persecution, wherein Antipas, who was probably a pastor of the church, had sealed the testimony of Christ with his blood, at a time when Satan was exercising the most powerful proofs of his dominion over his subjects in this city of his habitation.
There were, however, a few things which the Lord had to allege against this church. They permitted to remain in their communion, or otherwise connived at, some of those licentious teachers who held the doctrine of Balaam. This wicked man, though favoured with the gift of prophecy, for filthy lucre's sake plotted mischief against Israel. He taught Balak to entice Israel from their duty, and to seduce them into idolatry and fornication, by successfully tempting them to join in the heathen sacrifices with the dissolute women who were employed to ensnare them. Hence a defection from the pure religion, when united with immoral and lascivious practices, is denominated by the Apostles Peter and Jude, “ following the way (or error) of “ Balaam.” Some of the members of the church of Pergamos were walking in this destructive way. There were among them those who held the doctrine of Balaam and of the Nicolaitans, which thing Christ hated. It is to be observed, that the word Nicolaus, the name from which the Antinomians received their denomination, signifies in Greek the same as Balaam does in Hebrew, namely, the “ conqueror of the “ people.” Hence it is supposed that the Nicolaitans were so called, not from any particular heretic of the name of Nicolaus, but from their character and conduct in obtaining influence over men's minds, and using it for the most pernicious purposes, as Balaam had done in his day. It seems evident, therefore, that the teachers in this sect “ sought the wages of “ unrighteousness" in their endeavours to corrupt and pervert professed Christians. They laid stumblingblocks in their way. They enticed them to join in the idolatrous feasts of their neighbours; and on those occasions, as well as at other times, to commit fornication. It has also been conjectured with probability, that they taught that it was lawful to dissemble the Christian faith, and to conform to established superstition, in order to avoid persecution. But whatever were the principles and practices of the Nicolaitans, the Lord commanded the church of Pergamos to repent of and forsake them; otherwise he would quickly visit them in judgment, and “ fight against them with the sword of his mouth.”
It appears that this threatening has accordingly been executed by Him, “ who is not a man that he “ should lie, nor the son of man that he should re“ pent.” The city at present, though of considerable extent, is in a very ruinous condition. Bishop Newton, who wrote on the Revelation about sixty years ago, asserts that the town contained only twelve or fifteen families of nominal Christians, who were in a very sad and deplorable state. Mr. Lindsay considers that the number of professed Christians may be now about three thousand, principally Greeks, with some Armenians. The numbers, therefore, must have greatly increased since Bishop Newton's time. But all admit that the professors of Christianity at Pergamos are in a most abject state; possessing, it is to be feared, little of Christianity except the mere name. The bishop of the district, who occasionally resides at Pergamos, was absent at the time of Mr. Lindsay's visit, who mentions with deep regret, that the resident clergy were totally incapable of estimating the gift he intended them, a copy of the New Testament in ancient and modern Greek, which he therefore presented to the lay vicar of the bishop, at his urgent request, with his assurance that the bishop would highly prize so valuable an acquisition to the church.
What the Holy Spirit spake by St. John to the church of Pergamos, was intended for the instruction of all who might hear or read it; for, while threatenings were denounced against the unholy and impenitent, blessings were prepared for every con