J. A. Trench.
Article 43 of 55 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 2.
The full force of these words of the Lord will only be appreciated when it is seen that in addressing these seven then existing assemblies (in a little province of what is now known as Asia Minor), the Spirit presents to us prophetically the main features that mark the history of the professing Assembly as a whole, from the beginning of it, in this first assembly addressed, to its close in the last — Laodicea. How soon departure had begun. In Ephesus, too, which had been so privileged in the revelation of the Assembly's highest position and blessing through Paul's epistle and labours there; and where the saints had the watchful care of Timothy by the Apostle's appointment when he could no longer visit them. (1 Tim. 1:3) There it is, that He who walks in the midst of the seven candlesticks has to say, "But I have against thee that thou hast left thy first love." It is the old story: in everything entrusted to man failure sets in. For be it observed, we do not find the Assembly here as the Body of Christ, where the workmanship is divine and failure impossible. In these addresses it is the Assembly in responsibility as the vessel of Christ's testimony upon earth, to bear the light He has set in it. It is the House of God where, as we learn from 1 Peter 4:17, already the time was Come that judgment should begin.
Outwardly all looked right enough at Ephesus. The Lord could recognise works, labour, and patience: though it is significant that He cannot connect these with the proper springs of Christian life as in the babes at Thessalonica. There the work was of faith, the labour of love, and the patience of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. Here the faith, love, and hope in Himself were wanting. Still the Lord would note what He can approve as the fruit of His grace in them. "Thou canst not bear them that are evil," and there was faithfulness in testing the pretensions of false apostles, and in bearing for His Name. Yet with all this His eyes as a flame of fire could detect failures, and just where it was most serious. They had begun to decline from their first freshness of love for Christ — "the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in a land that was not sown," as Jehovah expresses it so touchingly to Israel in Jeremiah 2. And it is always there that failure has its roots, in the individual as in the Assembly. The outward fall or lapse is not first, but is only the manifest effect of heart departure from Christ that has preceded it. What this is to Him we may learn from His words that follow, "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen": from what a height and to how great a depth! He calls, indeed, to repentance and the "first works"; that is, such as flowed from the place that Christ had had in their hearts, works that spring from devotedness to Him, for the lack of which no outward activity could compensate.
"Or else I will come to thee" (He does not here say "quickly," though we have it in our text, as in later development of evil, verse 16) "and remove thy candlestick out of its place." He is slow to execute judgment. For this is the warning of the final removal of the Assembly from its place of candlestick responsibility, which is only put in force in Laodicea; when after the gracious revival in Philadelphia, the last phase of assumption of spiritual prosperity in nauseous indifference to Christ and the truth had set in, and He can bear with it no longer. But the sentence, only to be executed when space for repentance was given and after long centuries of forbearance, is pronounced on the Assembly's leaving its first love. No recovery was possible, though by His grace there have been every now and then, times of revival throughout the humbling history. As to the Nicolaitanes, whose works they hated in Ephesus, but later on, when declension became more marked in Pergamos, whom they tolerated even in their doctrines, I know of no light from Scripture but that which is to be gathered from the meaning of the name itself, treated as symbolic, and thus giving us the clue. It expresses rule over the people, the lording it over the many by the few, that began so early in clerisy. (See, 1 Peter 5:3)
The promise to the overcomer, forming one of the four parts of each of the addresses here, answers to the general character this first of the addresses has. The overcomers are those who are Christ's in each phase of the profession characterised in grace by that which ought to mark them. Access to Christ as the Tree of Life will be the eternal portion of all that are His. Only let it be carefully noted that the words in "the midst of" have no place in the true text here, and are rightly omitted in the R.V. It was doubtless a thought of Eden in the transcriber's mind that put them in. For there were two trees in the paradise God made for man in Eden, the tree of responsibility, of the knowledge of good and evil, as well as the tree of life. But in the Paradise of God there is but one that absorbs the whole sphere. It is Christ. All the history of our responsibility and failings met by Him who endured the judgment of it on the cross, and became our life, will be for ever over, blessed be God; unhinderedly and for eternity we shall feed upon Him who is the Tree of Life.