Sermon 1926. Love's Complaining
Delivered on Lord's-day Morning, October 24th, 1886, by
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou artfallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out ofhis place, except thou repent"-Rev 2:4,5.
IT WAS the work of the priest to go into the holy place and to trim the seven-branched lamp of gold: see how our Great HighPriest walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks: his work is not occasional, but constant. Wearing robes whichare at once royal and priestly, he is seen lighting the holy lamps, pouring in the sacred oil, and removing impurities whichwould dim the light.
Hence our Lord's fitness to deal with the churches, which are these golden lamp-stands, for no one knows so much about thelamps as the person whose constant work it is to watch them and trim them. No one knows the churches as Jesus does, for the care of all the churches daily comesupon him, he continually walks among them, and holds their ministers as stars in his right hand. His eyes are perpetuallyupon the churches, so that he knows their works, theirsufferings, and their sins; and those eyes are as a flame of fire, so that he sees with a penetration, discernment, andaccuracy to which no other can attain. We sometimes judge the condition of religion too leniently, or else we err on the other side, and judge too severely. Our eyesare dim with the word's smoke; but his eyes are as a flame of fire. He sees the churches through and through, and knows theirtrue condition much better than they know themselves. The Lord Jesus Christ is amost careful observer of churches and of individuals; nothing is hid from his observant eye.
As he is the most careful observer, so he is the most candid. He is ever "the faithful and true witness." He loves much, and therefore he never judgesharshly. He loves much, and therefore he always judges jealously. Jealousy is the sure attendant of such love as his. He willneither speak smooth words nor bitter words; but he will speak the truth-the truth in love, the truth as he himself perceivesit, and as he would have us perceive it. Well may he say, "Hethat hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches," since his sayings are so true, so just, so weighty.
Certainly no observer can be so tender as the Son of God. Those lamps are very precious to him: it cost him his life to light them. "Christ loved the church, andgave himself for it." Every church is to our Lord a more sublime thing than a constellation in the heavens; as he is preciousto his saints, so are they precious to him. He careth little for empires, kingdoms, or republics; but his heart is set onthe kingdom of righteousness, of which his cross is theroyal standard. He must reign until his foes are vanquished, and this is the great thought of his mind at this present,"From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool." He ceases not to watch over his church: his sacrificeis ended, but not his service in caring for the golden lamps. He has completed the redemption of his bride, but he continuesher preservation.
I therefore feel at this time that we may well join in a prayer to our Lord Jesus to come into our midst and put our lightin order. Oh for a visit from himself such as he paid in vision to the seven churches of Asia! With him is the oil to feedthe living flame, and he knows how to pour it in according to due measure; with him are those golden snuffers with which toremove every superfluity of naughtiness, that our lights may so shine before men, that they may see ourgood works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven. Oh for his presence now, to search us and to sanctify us; to causeus to shine forth to his Father's praise! We would be judged of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. Wewould pray this morning, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wickedway in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." All things are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do;and wedelight to have it so. We invite thee, O great High Priest, to come into this sanctuary, and look to this thy lamp thismorning.
In the text, as it is addressed to the church at Ephesus and to us, we note three things. First, we note that Christ perceives: "I know thy works . . . nevertheless I have somewhat against thee." Secondly, Christ prescribes: "Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent," and so forth. Thirdly, Christ persuades-persuades with a threatening: "I will remove thy candlestick out of his place;" persuades, also, with a promise: "To himthatovercometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God." If the Lord himselfbe here at this time, our plan of discourse will be a river of life; but if he be not among us by his Holy Spirit, it willbe as the dry bed of a torrent which bears the name of "river," but lacks the living stream. We expect our Lord's presence;he will come to the lamps which his office calls upon him to trim; it has been his wont to be with us; some of us have methim thismorning already, and we have constrained him to tarry with us.
I. First, then, we notice that HE PERCEIVES.
Our Lord sorrowfully perceives the faults of his church-"Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee;" but he does not so perceive those faults as to be forgetful of that which he can admire and accept; for he begins his letter with commendations, "I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst notbear them which are evil." Do not think, my brethren, that our Beloved is blind to the beauties of his church. On the contrary,he delights toobserve them. He can see beauties where she herself cannot see them. Where we observe much to deplore, his loving eyessee much to admire. The graces which he himself creates he can always perceive. When we in the earnestness of self-examinationoverlook them, and write bitter things against ourselves, the Lord Jesus sees even in those bitter self-condemnations a lifeand earnestness and sincerity which he loves. Our Lord has a keen eye for all that is good. When he searches our hearts heneverpasses by the faintest longing, or desire, or faith, or love, of any of his people. He says, "I know thy works."
But this is our point at this time, that while Jesus can see all that is good, yet in very faithfulness he sees all that is evil. His love is not blind. He does not say, "As many as I love I commend;" but, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten." Itis more necessary for us that we should make a discovery of our faults than of our virtues. So notice in this text that Christperceiveth the flaw in his church, even in the midst of her earnest service. The church atEphesus was full of work. "I know thy works and thy labour, and for my name's sake thou hast laboured, and hast not fainted."It was such a laborious church that it pushed on and on with diligent perseverance, and never seemed to flag in its divinemission. Oh that we could say as much of all our churches! I have lived to see many brilliant projects lighted and left todie out in smoke. I have heard of schemes which were to illuminate the world; but not a spark remains. Holy perseverance isagreat desideratum. In these three and thirty years we thank God he has enabled us to labour and not to faint. There hasbeen a continuance of everything attempted, and no drawing back from anything. "This is the work, this is the labour," tohold out even to the end. Oh how I have dreaded lest we should have to give up any holy enterprise or cut short any graciouseffort! Hitherto the Lord has helped us. With men and means, liberality and zeal, he has supplied us. In this case the angelof thechurch has been very little of an angel from heaven, but very much of a human angel; for in the weakness of my flesh andin the heaviness of my spirit have I pursued my calling; but I have pursued it. By the help of God I continue to this day,and this church with equal footsteps is at my side; for which the whole praise is due to the Lord, who fainteth not, neitheris weary. Having put my hand to the plough I have not looked back, but have steadily pressed forward, making straight furrows;butit has been by the grace of God alone.
Alas! under all the labouring the Lord Jesus perceived that the Ephesians had left their first love; and this was a grievousfault. So it may be in this church; every wheel may continue to revolve, and the whole machinery of ministry may be kept goingat its normal rate, and yet there may be a great secret evil which Jesus perceives, and this may be marring all.
But this church at Ephesus was not only laborious, it was patient in suffering great persecution. He says of it: "I know thyworks and thy patience, and how thou hast borne, and hast patience, and hast not fainted." Persecution upon persecution visitedthe faithful, but they bore it all with holy courage and constancy, and continued still confessing their Lord. This was good,and the Lord highly approved it; but yet underneath it he saw the tokens of decline; they had lefttheir first love. So there may seem to be all the patient endurance and dauntless courage that there should be, and yetas a fair apple may have a worm at its core, so may it be with the church when it looks best to the eye of friends.
The Ephesian church excelled in something else, namely, in its discipline, its soundness in the faith, and fidelity towardsheretics; for the Lord says of it, "how thou canst not bear them which are evil." They would not have it; they would not toleratefalse doctrine, they would not put up with unclean living. They fought against evil, not only in the common people, but inprominent individuals. "Thou has tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast foundthem liars." They had dealt with the great ones; they had not flinched from the unmasking of falsehood. Those who seemedto be apostles they had dragged to the light and discovered to be deceivers. This church was not honeycombed with doubt; itlaid no claim to breadth of thought and liberality of view; it was honest to its Lord. He says of it, "This thou hast, thatthou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate." This was grand of them: it showed a backbone of truth. I wishsomeof the churches of this age had a little of this holy decision about them; for nowadays, if a man be clever, he may preachthe vilest lie that was ever vomited from the mouth of hell, and it will go down with some. He may assail every doctrine ofthe gospel, he may blaspheme the Holy Trinity, he may trample on the blood of the Son of God, and yet nothing shall be saidabout it if he be held in repute as a man of advanced thought and liberal ideas. The church at Ephesus was not of this mind.Shewas strong in her convictions; she could not yield the faith, nor play the traitor to her Lord. For this her Lord commendedher: and yet he says, "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." When love dies orthodox doctrinebecomes a corpse, a powerless formalism. Adhesion to the truth sours into bigotry when the sweetness and light of love toJesus depart. Love Jesus, and then it is well to hate the deeds of the Nicolaitanes; but mere hate of evil will tend to eviliflove of Jesus be not there to sanctify it. I need not make a personal application; but that which is spoken to Ephesusmay be spoken at this hour to ourselves. As we hope that we may appropriate the commendation, so let us see whether the expostulationmay not also apply to us. "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." Thus I have shown you thatJesus sees the evil beneath all the good; he does not ignore the good, but he will not pass over the ill.
So, next, this evil was a very serious one; it was love declining: "Thou hast left thy first love." "Is that serious?" saith one. It is the most serious ill of all;for the church is the bride of Christ, and for a bride to fail in love is to fail in all things. It is idle for the wife tosay that she is obedient, and so forth: if love to her husband has evaporated, her wifely duty cannot be fulfilled, she haslost the very life and soul of the marriage state. So, mybrethren, this is a most important matter, our love to Christ, because it touches the very heart of that communion withhim which is the crown and essence of our spiritual life. As a church we must love Jesus, or else we have lost our reasonfor existence. A church has no reason for being a church when she has no love within her heart, or when that love grows cold.Have I not often reminded you that almost any disease may be hopefully endured except disease of the heart? But when our sicknessis a disease of the heart, it is full of danger; and it was so in this case; "Thou hast left thy first love." It is adisease of the heart, a central, fatal disease, unless the great Physician shall interpose to stay its progress, and to deliverus from it. Oh, in any man, in any woman, any child of God here, let alone in the church as a whole, if there be a leavingof the first love, it is a woeful thing! Lord have mercy upon us; Christ have mercy upon us: this should be our solemn litanyatonce. No peril can be greater than this. Lose love, lose all. Leave our first love, we have left strength, and peace,and joy, and holiness.
I call your attention, however, to this point, that it was he that found it out. "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." Jesus himself found it out! I do not know how it strikesyou; but as I thought it over, this fact brought the tears to my eyes. When I begin to leave off loving Christ, or love himless than I do, I would like to find it out myself; and if I did so, there would soon be a cure for it. But for him to findit out, oh,it seems so hard, so sad a thing! That we should keep on growing cold, and cold, and cold, and never care about it tillthe Beloved points it out to us. Why even the angel of the church did not find it out; the minister did not know it; but He saw it who loves us so well, that he delights in our love, and pines when it begins to fail. To him we are unutterably dear;he loved us up out of the pit into his bosom, loved us up from the dunghill among beggars to sit at his right hand upon histhrone; and it is sorrowful that he should have to complain of our cooling love while we are utterly indifferent to thematter. Does Jesus care more about our love than we do? He loves us better than we love ourselves. How good of him to careone jot about our love! This is no complaint of an enemy, but of a dear wounded friend.
I notice that Jesus found it out with great pain. I can hardly conceive a greater grief to him as the husband of his church than to look her in the face and say, "Thou hastleft thy first love." What can she give him but love? Will she deny him this? A poor thing is the church of herself: her Lordmarried her when she was in beggary; and if she does not give him love, what has she to give him? If she begins to be unfaithfulin heart to him, what is she worth? Why,any unloving wife is a foul fountain of discomfort and dishonour to her husband. O beloved, shall it be so with thee?Wilt thou grieve Emmanuel? Wilt thou would thy Well-beloved? Church of God, wilt thou grieve him whose heart was pierced forthy redemption? Brother, sister, can you and I let Jesus find out that our love is departing, that we are ceasing to be zealousfor his name? Can we wound him so? Is not this to crucify the Lord afresh? Might he not hold up his hands this morning withfresh blood upon them, and say, "These are the wounds which I received in the house of my friends. It was nothing thatI died for them, but ill it is that, after having died for them, they have failed to give me their hearts?" Jesus is not sosick of our sin as of our lukewarmness. It is a sad business to my heart; I hope it will be sad to all whom it concerns, thatour Lord should be the first to spy out our declines in love.
The Saviour, having thus seen this with pain, now points it out. As I read this passage over to myself, I noticed that the Saviour had nothing to say about the sins of the heathen amongwhom the Ephesians dwelt: they are alluded to because it must have been the heathen who persecuted the church, and causedit to endure, and exhibit patience. The Saviour, however, has nothing to say against the heathen; and he does not say muchmore than a word about those who wereevil. These had been cast out, and he merely says: "Thou canst not bear them which are evil." He denounced no judgmentupon the Nicolaitanes, except that he hated them; and even the apostles which were found to be liars the Master dismisseswith that word. He leaves the ungodly in their own condemnation. But what he has to say is against his own beloved: "I havesomewhat against thee." It seems as if the Master might pass over sin in a thousand others, but he cannot wink at failure oflove in his own espoused one. "The Lord thy God is a jealous God." The Saviour loves, so that his love is cruel as thegrave against cold-heartedness. He said of the church of Laodicea, "I will spue thee out of my mouth." This was one of hisown churches, too, and yet she made him sick with her lukewarmness. God grant that we may not be guilty of such a crime asthat!
The Saviour pointed out the failure of love; and when he pointed it out he called it by a lamentable name. "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen." He calls it a fall to leave our first love. Brothers, sisters, this church had not been licentious, it had not gone aside to false doctrine,it had not become idle, it had not been cowardly in the hour of persecution; but this one sin summed up the whole-she didnot love Christ as she once loved him,and he calls this a fall. A fall indeed it is. "Oh, I thought," saith one, "that if a member of the church got drunk thatwas a fall." That is a grievous fall, but it is a fall if we become intoxicated with the world, and lose the freshness ofour devotion to Jesus. It is a fall from a high estate of fellowship to the dust of worldliness. "Thou art fallen." The wordsounds very harshly in my ears-no, not harshly, for his love speaks it in so pathetic a manner; but it thunders in my souldeepdown. I cannot bear it. It is so sadly true. "Thou art fallen." "Remember from whence thou art fallen." Indeed, O Lord,we have fallen when we have left our first love for thee.
The Master evidently counts this decline of love to be a personal wrong done to himself. "I have somewhat against thee." It is not an offence against the king, nor against the judge, but against the Lord Jesusas the husband of the church: an offence against the very heart of Christ himself. "I have somewhat against thee." He doesnot say, "Thy neighbour has somewhat against thee, thy child has somewhat against thee, thy God has somewhat against thee,"but, "I, Ithy hope, thy joy, thy delight, thy Saviour, I have this against thee." The word somewhat is an intruder here. Our translators put it in italics, and well they might, for it is a bad word, since it seems to makea small thing of a very grave change. The Lord has this against us, and it is no mere "somewhat." Come, brothers and sisters, if we have not broken any law, nor offended in anyway so as to grieve anybody else, this is sorrow enough, if our love has grown in the leastdegree chill towards him; for we have done a terrible wrong to our best friend. This is the bitterness of our offence;Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight, that I have left my first love. The Saviour tellsus this most lovingly. I wish I knew how to speak as tenderly as he does; and yet I feel at this moment that I can and mustbe tender in this matter, for I am speaking about myself as much as about anybody else. I am grieving, grieving over someherepresent, grieving for all of us, but grieving most of all for myself, that our Well-beloved should have cause to say,"I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love."
So much for what our Lord perceives. Holy Spirit, bless it to us!
II. And now, secondly, let us note what THE SAVIOUR PRESCRIBES. The Saviour's prescription is couched in these three words:"Remember," "Repent," "Return."
The first word is Remember. "Thou hast left thy first love." Remember, then, what thy first love was, and compare thy present condition with it. At firstnothing diverted thee from thy Lord. He was thy life, thy love, thy joy. Now thou lookest for recreation somewhere else, andother charms and other beauties win thy heart. Art thou not ashamed of this? Once thou wast never wearied with hearing ofhim and serving him. Never wert thou overdone with Christ and hisgospel: many sermons, many prayer-meetings, many Bible readings, and yet none too many. Now sermons are long, and servicesare dull, and thou must have thy jaded appetite exited with novelties. How is this? Once thou wast never displeased with Jesuswhatever he did with thee. If thou hadst been sick, or poor, or dying, thou wouldst still have loved and blessed his namefor all things. He remembers this fondness, and regrets its departure. He says to thee to-day, "I remember thee, the kindnessof thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness." Thou wouldst have gone afterthy Lord anywhere in those days: across the sea, or through the fire, thou wouldst have pursued him; nothing would have beentoo hot or too heavy for thee then. Is it so now? Remember! Remember from whence thou art fallen. Remember the vows, the tears,the communings, the happy raptures of those days; remember and compare with them thy present state.
Remember and consider, that when thou wast in thy first love, that love was none too warm. Even then, when thou didst liveto him, and for him, and with him, thou wast none too holy, none too consecrated, none too zealous. If thou wast not too forward then, what art thou now-nowthat thou hast come down even from that poor attainment? Remember the past with sad forebodings of the future. If thou hastcome down from where thou wast, who is to tellthee where thou wilt cease thy declining? He who has sunk so far may fall much farther. Is it not so? Though thou sayestin thy heart like Hazael, "Is thy servant a dog?" thou mayest turn out worse than a dog yet, yea, prove a very wolf. Who knows?thou mayest even now be a devil! Thou mayest turn out a Judas, a son of perdition, and deny thy Master, selling him for thirtypieces of silver. When a stone begins to fall it falls with an ever-increasing rate; and when a soul begins to leave itsfirst love, it quits it more and more, and more and more, til at last it falleth terribly. Remember!
The next word of the prescription is "Repent." Repent as thou didst at first. The word so suitable to sinners is suitableto thee, for thou hast grievously sinned. Repent of the wrong thou hast done thy Lord by leaving thy first love of him. Couldstthou have lived a seraphic life, only breathing his love, only existing for him, thou hadst done little enough; but to quitthy first love, how grievously hast thou wronged him! That love was well deserved, was it not? Why,then, hast thou left it? Is Jesus less fair than he was? Does he love thee less than he did? Has he been less kind andtender to thee than he used to be? Say, hast thou outgrown him? Canst thou do without him? Hast thou a hope of salvation apartfrom him? I charge thee, repent of this thine ill-doing towards one who has a greater claim upon thy love than ever he had.He ought to be to-day loved more than thou didst love him at thy very best! O my heart, is not all this most surely true?How illart thou behaving! What an ingrate art thou! Repent! Repent!
Repent of much good that thou hast left undone through want of love. Oh, if thou hadst always loved thy Lord at thy best,what mightest thou not have known of him by this time! What good deeds thou mightest have done by force of his love! How manyhearts mightest thou have won for thy Lord if thine own heart had been fuller of love, if thine own soul had been more onfire! Thou hast lived a poor beggarly life because thou hast allowed such poverty of love.
Repent! Repent! To my mind, as I thought over this text, the call for repentance grew louder and louder, because of the occasionof its utterance. Here is the glorious Lord, coming to his church and speaking to her angel in tones of tender kindness. Hecondescends to visit his people in all his majesty and glory, intending nothing but to manifest himself in love to his ownelect as he doth not to the world. And yet he is compelled even then to take to chiding, and to say,"I have this against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." Here is a love- visit clouded with upbraiding-necessaryupbraiding. What mischief sin has done! It is a dreadful thing that when Jesus comes to his own dear bride he should haveto speak in grief, and not in joy. Must holy communion, which is the wine of heaven, be embittered with the tonic of expostulation?I see the upper springs of nearest fellowship, where the waters of life leap from their first source in the heart ofGod. Are not these streams most pure and precious? If a man drink thereof he liveth for ever. Shall it be that even atthe fountain-head they shall be dashed with bitterness? Even when Christ communes personally with us must he say, "I havesomewhat against thee?" Break, my heart, that it should be so! Well may we repent with a deep repentance when our choicestjoys are flavoured with the bitter herbs of regret, that our best Beloved should have somewhat against us.
But then he says in effect, Return. The third word is this-"Repent, and do the first works." Notice, that he does not say, "Repent, and get back thy first love."This seems rather singular; but then love is the chief of the first works, and, moreover, the first works can only come ofthe first love. There must be in every declining Christian a practical repentance. Do not be satisfied with regrets and resolves. Do the first works; do not strain after thefirst emotions, but do the first works. No renewal is so valuable as the practical cleansing of our way. If the life bemade right, it will prove that the love is so. In doing the first works you will prove that you have come back to your firstlove. The prescription is complete, because the doing of the first works is meant to include the feeling of the first feelings,the sighing of the first sighs, the enjoying of the first joys: these are all supposed to accompany returning obedience andactivity.
We are to get back to these first works at once. Most men come to Christ with a leap; and I have observed that many who comeback to him usually do so at a bound. The slow revival of one's love is almost an impossibility; as well expect the dead torise by degrees. Love to Christ is often love at first sight: we see him, and are conquered by him. If we grow cold, the bestthing we can do is to fasten our eyes on him till we cry, "My soul melted while my Beloved spake." Itis a happy circumstance if I can cry, "Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Amminadib." How sweetfor the Lord to put us back again at once into the old place, back again in a moment! My prayer is that it may be so thismorning with any declining one. May you so repent as not merely to feel the old feelings, but instantly to do the first works,and be once more as eager, as zealous, as generous, as prayerful, as you used to be! If we should again see you breaking thealabaster box, we should know that the old love had returned. May the good Master help us to do as well as ever, yea,much better than before!
Notice, however, that this will require much of effort and warfare; for the promise which is made is "to him that overcometh."Overcoming implies conflict. Depend upon it, if you conquer a wandering heart, you will have to fight for it. "To him thatovercometh," saith he, "will I give to eat of the tree of life." You must fight your way back to the garden of the Lord. Youwill have to fight against lethargy, against an evil heart of unbelief, against the benumbinginfluence of the world. In the name and power of him who bids you repent, you must wrestle and struggle till you get themastery over self, and yield your whole nature to your Lord.
So I have shown you how Christ prescribes, and I greatly need a few minutes for the last part, because I wish to dwell withsolemn earnestness upon it. I have no desire to say a word by which I may prove myself a true brother pleading with you indeep sympathy, because in all the ill which I rebuke I mourn my own personal share. Bless us, O Spirit of the Lord!
III. Now see, brethren, HE PERSUADES. This is the third point: the Lord Jesus persuades his erring one to repent.
First, he persuades with a warning: "I will come unto thee;" "quickly" is not in the original: the Revised Version has left it out. Our Lord is generally veryslow at the work of judgment: "I will come unto thee, and will remove thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent."This he must do: he cannot allow his light to be apart from love, and if the first love be left, the church shall be leftin darkness. The truth must always shine, but not always in thesame place. The place must be made fit by love, or the light shall be removed.
Our Lord means, first, I will take away the comfort of the Word. He raises up certain ministers, and makes them burning andshining lights in the midst of his church, and when the people gather together they are cheered and enlightened by their shining.A ministry blessed of the Lord is a singular comfort to the church of God. The Lord can easily take away that light whichhas brought comfort to so many: he can remove the good man to another sphere, or he can call him hometo his rest. The extinguisher of death can put out the candle which now gladdens the house. The church which has losta ministry by which the Lord's glory has shone forth has lost a good deal; and if this loss has been sent in chastisementfor decline of love it is all the harder to bear. I can point you to places where once was a man of God, and all went well;but the people grew cold, and the Lord took away their leader, and the place is now a desolation: those who now attend thosecourts andlisten to a modern ministry cry out because of the famine of the Word of the Lord. O friends, let us value the light whilewe have it, and prove that we do so by profiting by it; but how can we profit if we leave our first love? The Lord may takeaway our comfort as a church if our first zeal shall die down.
But the candlestick also symbolizes usefulness: it is that by which a church shines. The use of a church is to preserve thetruth, wherewith to illuminate the neighbourhood, to illuminate the world. God can soon cut short our usefulness, and he willdo so if we cut short our love. If the Lord be withdrawn, we can go on with our work as we used to do, but nothing will comeof it: we can go on with Sunday-schools, mission-stations, branch churches, and yet accomplishnothing. Brethren, we can go on with the Orphanage, the College, the Colportage, the Evangelistic Society, the Book Fund,and all else, and yet nothing will be effected if the arm of the Lord be not made bare.
He can, if he wills, even take away from the church her very existence as a church. Ephesus is gone: nothing but ruins canbe found. Rome once held a noble church of Christ, but has not her name become the symbol of antichrist? The Lord can soontake away candlesticks out of their places if the church uses her light for her own glory, and is not filled with his love.God forbid that we should fall under this condemnation! Of thy mercy, O Lord, forbid it! Let it not sohappen to any one of us. Yet this may occur to us as individuals. You, dear brother or sister, if you lose your firstlove, may soon lose your joy, your peace, your usefulness. You, who are now so bright, may grow dull. You, who are now souseful, may become useless. You were once an instructor of the foolish, and a teacher of babes; but if the Lord be withdrawnyou will instruct nobody, you will be in the dark yourself. Alas! you may come to lose the very name of Christians, as somehave donewho once seemed to be burning and shining lights. They were foolish virgins, and ere long they were heard to cry, "Ourlamps are gone out!" The Lord can and will take away the candlestick out of its place if we put him out of his place by a failure in our love to him.
How can I persuade you, then, better than with the warning words of my Master? My beloved, I persuade you from my very soulnot to encounter these dangers, not to run these terrible risks; for as you would not wish to see either the church or yourown self left without the light of God, to pine in darkness, it is needful that you abide in Christ, and go on to love himmore and more.
The Saviour holds out a promise as his other persuasive. Upon this I can only dwell for a minute. It seems a very wonderful promise to me: "To him that overcometh will I give toeat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God." Observe, those who lose their first love fall, but those who abide in love are made to stand. In contrast to the fall which took place in the paradise of God, we have maneating of the tree of life, and so livingfor ever. If we, through grace, overcome the common tendency to decline in love, then shall we be confirmed and settledin the favour of the Lord. By eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil we fell; by eating of the fruit of a bettertree we live and stand fast for ever. Life proved true by love shall be nourished on the best of food: it shall be sustainedby fruit from the garden of the Lord himself, gathered by the Saviour's own hand.
Note again, those who lose their first love wander far, they depart from God. "But," saith the Lord, "if you keep your firstlove you shall not wander, but you shall come into closer fellowship. I will bring you nearer to the centre. I will bringyou to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God." The inner ring is for those who grow in love;the centre of all joy is only to be reached by much love. We know God as we love God. We enter into hisparadise as we abide in his love. What joy is here! What a reward hath love!
Then notice the mystical blessing which lies here, waiting for meditation. Do you know how we fell? The woman took of thefruit of the forbidden tree, and gave to Adam, and Adam ate and fell. The reverse is the case in the promise before us: theSecond Adam takes of the divine fruit from the tree of promise, and hands it to his spouse; she eats and lives for ever. Hewho is the Father of the age of grace hands down to us immortal joys, which he has plucked from anunwithering tree. The reward of love is to eat the fruit of life. "We are getting into mysteries," says one. Yes, I amintentionally lifting a corner of the veil, and no more. I only mean to give you a glimpse at the promised boon. Into hisinnermost joys our Lord will bring us if we keep up our first love, and go from strength to strength therein. Marvelous thingsare locked up in the caskets whereof love holds the key. Sin set the angel with a flaming sword between us and the tree oflife inthe midst of the garden; but love has quenched that sword, and now the angel beckons us to come into the innermost secretsof paradise. We shall know as we are known when we love as we are loved. We shall live the life of God when we are whollytaken up with the love of God. The love of Jesus answered by our love to Jesus makes the sweetest music the heart can know.No joy on earth is equal to the bliss of being all taken up with love to Christ. If I had my choice of all the lives thatI couldlive, I certainly would not choose to be an emperor, nor to be a millionaire, nor to be a philosopher; for power, andwealth, and knowledge bring with them sorrow and travail; but I would choose to have nothing to do but to love my Lord Jesus-nothing,I mean, but to do all things for his sake, and out of love to him. Then I know that I should be in paradise, yea, in the midstof the paradise of God, and I should have meat to eat which is all unknown to men of the world.
Heaven on earth is abounding love to Jesus. This is the first and last of true delight-to love him who is the first and thelast. To love Jesus is another name for paradise. Lord, let me know this by continual experience. "You are soaring aloft,"cries one. Yes, I own it. Oh that I could allure you to a heavenward flight upon wings of love! There is bitterness in declininglove: it is a very consumption of the soul, and makes us weak, and faint, and low. But true love isthe antepast of glory. See the heights, the glittering heights, the glorious heights, the everlasting hills to which theLord of life will conduct all those who are faithful to him through the power of his Holy Spirit. See, O love, thine ultimateabode! I pray that what I have said may be blessed by the Holy Spirit to the bringing of us all nearer to the Bridegroom ofour souls. Amen.
PORTIONS OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON-Revelation 1; 2:1-7.
HYMNS FROM "OUR OWN HYMN BOOK"-425, 797, 804.