Sermons on the Apocalypse, the Holy Name, and the Proverbs by John Mason Neale. London: J.T. Hayes, 1871.
SERMON I Fragment of a Sermon preached on the Festival of the Holy Name, 1863, at the reception of a novice. I HAVE THIS AGAINST THEE.
"I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for My name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee because thou hast left thy first love."--REV. ii. 2, 4.
FIRST of all, let me show you how one little word will alter the force of a whole sentence. This verse, so infinitely precious as a warning, has been, by the insertion of that one word, turned almost into a palliation of deep, deep sin. Those who read the English Bible alone, without commentators, and without help, can hardly understand the text otherwise than thus: First, the glorious catalogue of graces; then:--still, it is not quite perfect: there is a defect, a little defect,--a somewhat: "Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." And thence men have gone on still further: that, if this Church, this glorious Church of Ephesus, lost its first love, all followers of the LORD also must do so.
But now see. That word somewhat is in italics. My Sisters, the first opportunity you have, cross it out of your Bibles. A most unhappy, a most dreadful filling up. This is the true sense. All the dear graces are first reckoned up to the honour of the Church of Ephesus: endurance, and patience, and for His Name's sake (the Name of this day) labouring, and not fainting. "Nevertheless," our dear LORD goes on, "I have THIS against thee, because thou hast left thy first love."
And now first see how much we learn by comparing Ephesus with Thyatira.
Ephesus clung to the faith; hating apostates and heretics; the LORD says, "How thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars." But then, this great, this overpowering accusation, "Thou hast left thy first love."
Thyatira had the opposite sin. She suffered that woman Jezebel which calleth herself a prophetess; but she loved, and she showed her love by her works: and the last, He, that knoweth all things, knew to be more than the first. On the one side, faith, with decreasing love; on the other, increasing love, with more cowardly faith.
My Sisters, you see why I have taken this text. I had to say something of the Name above every name. I had also to say something of the love of a new Sister. "For My Name's sake thou hast laboured, and hast not fainted." And then, and yet: "because thou hast left thy first love."
Believe me, my Sisters, in what I am about to say to you now, I merely am putting into English words, and realizing in our own great need, what those Saints, whom GOD gave in such love to the world, have taught me.
Now, what is the loss of first love?
There is the very frequent mistake. The love, the true, deep, quiet love, beginning indeed at the beginning, but to remain for ever, is confused with excitement. See. When a deep, deep sinner turns again to GOD, when the poor sheep tries to come back to the sheep-fold, and the LORD of the faltering and fallen takes pity on him: that is, (to use in its true sense the term which has been so perverted that it has been hated,) when a man is converted: then, there is a certain glow and excitement of feeling, ·almost necessary, certainly happy, which cannot last. So again: (and, my Sisters, this may contain something of importance as regards you,) you, one by one, have been received, as our dear future Sister hopes to be received tomorrow. What you felt, in the way of excitement, when you took those vows, cannot last. THAT is not first love. No; but this I do hope, this I do believe: that for your LORD'S sake you really, if the point came to the point, would do more for Him now than then, though you might, in one sense, have felt more then than now.
Oh, my Sisters! see what follows. "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works."
Now; do you think I speak to you, as if you were in the position of Ephesus? This I know: that we, Priest and Sisters, must every moment be on our guard lest it should be so. There is a terrible lesson in that Book of Revelation, taken in connection with the Epistles, which shows what the Priest has to do with the question.
Listen, my Sisters, to a warning to me first. The history is very remarkable.
There were two cities near to each other in Asia Minor: Colosse and Laodicea. When S. Paul was in those parts, he founded, his Master helping him, a Church in each. In Colosse, there was a leading Christian, by name Philemon, who had a runaway slave, called Onesimus. S. Paul interceded, oh how lovingly! "If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; I, Paul, have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides." In writing to this Philemon, we find S. Paul's love sent to Archippus, one of his family. Then, when the same Apostle writes to the Colossians, there is a reproof, so it would seem, to this Archippus. And say to Archippus, "Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the LORD, that thou fulfil it." And then, lastly, that Laodicea, with its idle Bishop: "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot."
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[The MS. breaks off; but the idea carried out was that of Archippus, the beloved of Paul, gradually falling from grace, till, as Bishop of Laodicea, our LORD'S most awful words were spoken of him.]