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and resplendent in this church, in ver. 13. 2dly, A charge for some sinful abuse that had crept in, and was connived at, in ver. 14. 3dly, An advice upon the whole matter, which was speedy and immediate repentance.
In our present discourse we shall only be concerned in the two latter of these : and first, for the sinful abuse or scandal here charged upon this church ; it was its toleration of that vile and impure sect of the Nicolaitans. These Nicolaitans, as their name imports, took their rise and denomination from one Nicholas, one of those seven deacons who were first ordained by the apostles, Acts vi. 5. Now their heresy consisted of these two branches : Ist, That they did assert the eating of sacrifices offered to idols, and that even in honour to those idols, to be lawful : 2dly, That they held and abetted the lawfulness of fornication. So that their heresy was a complete system of all impiety; the first part containing the greatest spiritual, the latter the greatest carnal pollution.
In the 14th verse of this chapter, the Spirit calls this heresy the way of Balaam; who, when he could not curse, fell to counsel; that is, to do a greater mischief; and advised Balak to cause the women of the Moabites to entice the children of Israel to the feasts of Priapus; in which the people sat down to eat and drink, and afterwards rose up to play; that is, they first feasted upon the idolsacrifices, and then finished the solemnity with the impurities of lust. It seems something of this nature was revived and practised by these impure heretics; a strange thing, one would think, that so filthy. an heresy should get ground in the very beginnings
and first dawnings of the church, and in the purest times of Christianity!
Yet thus it was. The brightest day may begin with a mist; and the best of churches is not privileged from corruptions : but it was not so much the churches having, as not animadverting upon these pests, that is here reprehended. They had their meetings by public toleration and connivance : and this is that for which the Spirit rounds them up with this short advice, armed and seconded with a severe commination.
Come we now to the next thing ; which is, the counsel of speedy repentance, given upon this scandal, and contained in the words of the text; in which are these two parts.
1st, The first stands directed to the church itself: Repent, or I will come unto thee quickly. By God's coming, is meant his approach in the way of judgment; for so the word coming frequently signifies, both in the Old and New Testament. Isaiah xxx. 27, The name of the Lord cometh from far, burning with his anger. And in Psalm 1. 8, Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence ; that is, he shall come to judge and punish; or, as the usual phrase is, he shall come with a vengeance : for so the following words explain these; A fire shall devour before him.
In the same sense also is the word coming frequently used in the New Testament; which is well worth our observation, as being of signal use to rescue sundry places of scripture, that have been hitherto held under false and perverse interpretations.
In this sense is it taken in Matth. xvi. 27, where
it is said, that the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his holy angels, to reward every man according to his works; which place though many understand of Christ's coming in his own person to judge all men at the end of the world, yet indeed it only signifies his coming in the ministers of his wrath, to take vengeance of the Jews in the destruction of Jerusalem.
That this is so, I evince by another parallel place, in Matthew xxvi. 64, where Christ, speaking of his coming, says, απ’ άρτι όψεσθε τον υιόν του ανθρώπου ερχόμενον επί των νεφελών του ουρανού, which word απ' άρτι, though we translate hereafter, yet it properly signifies from now; that is, within a very short time.
But yet more fully from that forementioned place in Matth. xvi. whereas in verse 27, he had said, You shall see the Son of man come with the glory of his father, and the holy angels, he subjoins in the very next verse, And verily there are some standing here, that shall not taste death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
What! did he mean that they should not die till the day of judgment? No; this was evidently false and impossible : but his meaning was, that some of the younger sort of his auditors should live to see the execution of his wrath upon the Jews, in the destruction of Jerusalem.
And this seems excellently to interpret a place that will hardly be understood without it, in John xxi. 22, where Christ says to Peter, concerning John, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Here now the apostles' minds running upon the last judgment, presently concluded that John should not die. But now take the word coming in
this sense, and it gives a clear and apposite interpretation to the place; John being the only disciple who both saw and survived the destruction of Jerusalem.
But the only doubt that may occur here is this : how Christ could be said to come in the destruction of Jerusalem, which was effected by the Roman armies. But the solution is easy. For when God, by his peculiar providence, raises up any instruments to execute his decrees or purposes upon any people or place, the actions of those persons are both usually and properly applied to God, as if he had done them immediately himself.
And for his coming with his holy angels, it is very probable, that when God brings a public ruin and destruction upon a nation, he uses the ministry of angels, as well as the weapons of men. This seems clear to me from that place in Dan. X. 20, where the angel says to him, Now will I return to fight with the prince of Persia : and when I am gone forth, lo, the prince of Grecia shall come. In like manner Christ might send his angels out to fight against Judea, before the coming of Vespasian's army.
And lastly, for his coming in the clouds; he that shall read Josephus and others concerning the Jewish history, will find what strange, prodigious appearances there were in the sky, of armies fighting, and a flaming sword hanging over Jerusalem, a little before the Romans sacked and ruined that city. So that, all things being laid together, I cannot but conclude it more than probable that this is the sense of the place.
A learned author, considering this sense of Christ's coming, judges that the whole book of the Reve
lations, in which that is so often spoke of, relates to things immediately to happen after the delivery of that prophecy; and consequently, that it had its completion within two hundred years. And certain it is, that the very beginning of the book says, that it was to deliver things shortly to come to pass; and the last concluding chapter emphatically repeats this three times, Behold, I come quickly.
Now if the judgment of this learned man stands, as it hath both the countenance of reason and of the express words of the text, then what must become of the bloody tenets of those desperate wretches, who for these many years have been hammering of blood, confusion, and rebellion out of this book, from a new fancy that they have of Christ's coming. Thus ruling their lives, not by precepts, but prophecies; and not being able to find any warrant for their actions in the clear and express word of law or gospel, they endeavour to shelter their villainies in the obscurities and shades of the Revelation ; a book intricate and involved, and for the most part never to be understood ; and upon which, when wit and industry has done its utmost, the best comment is but conjecture. And thus much for the first part of the words that stands directed by the church, Repent, or I will come unto thee quickly.
2dly, The other part of the words relates to those heretics; And I will fight against them with the sword of my mouth; that is, with the reprehending, discovering force of the word, and the censures of the church; where, for the credit and divine authority of the ministry, Christ owns that for the sword of his own mouth, which was only delivered by theirs.