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rescue his Master from the reproach which is cast upon him. This virtually is the denial of Peter without the strong provocation of the occasion, and without the bitter tears of repentance, which followed his most lamentable defection.
But, my friends, in the fact which we have before us of the hatred of the Ephesian Christians for the deeds of the Nicolaitans, we have the melancholy testimony of experience to the deceitfulness of the human heart. They could look with abhorrence upon the outward abominations of others, and yet they were blind to the evil which existed in their own hearts. They could hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, because those deeds were palpable departures from the ways and the laws of God; but they saw not the canker worm which was at work eating out the very vitals of their own spirituality. And here, my friends, I incidentally remark―intending to speak more largely on the subject by and by-I remark the possibility of having a zeal for truth, and an abhorrence of palpable evil, and yet decline in that piety, that love to God, which alone can meet his commendation. Many an individual whose soul may be filled with indignation against gross corruption in thought or in practice, may still be deficient in that real religion, which takes its sanction from the will and the word of God. He may be commended for the former as far as it goes, but the want of the latter will be his ruin, because it shows his rottenness within. Nothing but the love of God shed abroad in the heart as the motive, and nothing but a conduct growing out of the influence of principles thus by grace implanted, will stand the scrutiny of the Judge, and meet the blessing at the
last of "well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord." You may hate that which is evil, and you may even pour out the vials of your wrath upon that which is offensive to morality and the regularity on which you pride yourselves, and yet at this very time, religion may not be in your bosom a permanent and an operative principle. Yes, my brethren, and we may frequently have seen individuals in whom this melancholy state was most powerfully exemplified. We have seen them as they declined in the religion of the inner man, becoming more and more attached to the religion of the outer man; and in proportion as they lost the spirituality of their religion, clinging with the greater pertinacity to its outward forms; and just in the same proportion showering out their reproaches on the men of vital and experimental piety. They hate the deeds of others, but look not to the deficiencies in themselves; just as the Ephesians hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans, while they were fast sinking into the arms of a spiritual death.
II. The topic which next demands our particular consideration, is the call which is given to take heed to the things which were spoken-" He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches."
This is a proverbial form of expression to denote the necessity of universal attention. In the present case, it as much as denoted-let every member of the Church of Ephesus, pay a close and strict attention to the call which had been made to repentance and renewed obedience. Let there be no listlessness, no carelessness, no inattention. These are mat
ters of truly vital importance. But as the call of the Spirit is general to the Churches, and not confined to the body of professed believers in the city of Ephesus, the message must, according to the measure of its adaptation, be addressed to every Church, and in every age. When God condescends to speak, it is the privilege and the bounden duty of men to listen; and never can the faculty of hearing be appropriated to purposes of deeper importance, than when adapted to an attentive hearing of those truths, those exhortations, warnings, threats, and promises, which from the Spirit of God, through whatever means may be employed, come to the fallen race of Adam, to advance their return to God, their growth in grace, and their everlasting welfare.
The call to universal attention, however, seems to have peculiar respect to the concluding promise, which constitutes the
IIId. topic of our present enlargement. "To him that overcometh, will I give to eat of the tree of life, which grows in the midst of the paradise of God."
As the concluding portion of every epistle takes this peculiar form, viz. "to him that overcometh," it is evident that in each case it requires a particular, rather than general consideration. In a general sense, the terms which are used, expressively point out the Christian life as a battle which must be fought; and they clearly intimate that the victory must be won through struggles the most severe and long continued, ere the expectation of award can possibly be realized. I know not of any consi
deration which is so calculated to keep us humbled in the very dust. I know of nothing which so powerfully preaches the necessity of keeping near to a throne of grace, as those representations of holy writ, which describe the Christian as engaged among the difficulties of a continual struggle with a host of enemies. Foes has he from within; passions, rebellious passions, which, like traitors in the very citadel itself, are watching their opportunity to betray him to the fierceness of the enemy. And from without, he wrestles not only against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers; against the rulers of the darkness of this world; against spiritual wickedness in high places. And while he knows that if he is true, he has an arm engaged in his behalf which can disperse the gathered hosts against him, as the clouds are broken by the tempest, or dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel, he still needs all the assistances of grace, and he needs all the encouragements of the future, to bear him up under the weight of the opposition which it is his daily lot to encounter.
But as the term, "he that overcometh," requires, as before said, not a general, but a particular application, the circumstances of the epistle will always lead us to its specific meaning. In the present case, where the great crime described was decay in religion, the promise which commences "to him that overcometh," applies to those who, in the midst of a general declension in religion, maintained their steadfastness in that love, that holy animated zeal, which had once generally prevailed. This would be overcoming the peculiar temptation to which they were exposed. And to afford every possible encour
agement for this, there is placed before the view of the members of the Church of Ephesus, the enrapturing prospect of an immortality of glory-"to him that overcometh, will I give." Mark you, brethren, for even here how careful is the spirit of truth, that sinful man should arrogate nothing as of merit; mark how careful is the Spirit, that when the top-stone is brought forth, and immortality revealed, men shall be constrained to shout, "grace, grace unto it"-"to him that overcometh, will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God."
There is here evident reference to that tree of life which grew in the midst of the garden of Eden; there planted by the hand of the beneficent Creator, when in the innocence and primeval purity of na ture, man, though he dwelt on the earth, held delightful companionship with heaven. This tree of life was to our first parents, as it were, a sacramental pledge of immortality and eternal life, on the condition that they should maintain their innocence during the whole term of their allotted probation. I need not here occupy your time, by a repetition of the melancholy tale of their apostacy from God. Suffice it to say, that when they sinned, they were excluded from the garden, and cherubims with swords of flame were set to prevent all access to the forfeited tree of life. From that fatal period sin entered into the world, and death by sin. But in that mercy of God, which is only to be measured on the scale of his own infinite compassions, all is not yet lost. A new way of access has been opened to the tree of life; and the flaming sword of the cherubim is sheathed, because it has been bathed