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Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Light & Truth: The Revelation

Chapter 13 - Revelation 11:4 - First Love Left Light & Truth: The Revelation by Bonar, Horatius


There are words which smite like a hammer, or rend like a thunderbolt; words of mere power and terror; words like those which broke forth in fire from Sinai. Such are not these. There are words which drop as the rain, and distil as the dew; words which pierce, yet soften; which rouse, yet soothe; which wound, yet bind up; which combine the biting north wind and the healing south. Such are these. They are not the earthquake nor the fire nor the whirlwind, but the still small voice; more resistless than all these together; mingling the rebuke and the consolation; the severity and the love; the father's rod and the mother's tears.


There are words which lead you away from the speaker, and absorb you in themselves. These are not such. There are others which carry you wholly past themselves to the speaker. Neither are these such. There are yet other words which divide you between themselves and the speaker, or rather which so engross your whole man with both, that you feel yourself passing continually from the one to the other, as if the eye could not be satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing. Such are these. You have both the picture and the artist, the poem and the poet, so interwoven, that each recalls the other; nay, each is seen and heard in the other. No sooner do we hear these words of the Son of God,—so searching, so alarming,—than we are carried up to Him who uttered them, and our souls are absorbed in the mingled majesty and grace of the only-begotten of the Father; and while they send us down into the depths, to learn one of the most humbling lessons that was ever taught concerning the weakness, the fickleness, the faithfulness, of a Christian man's heart, they carry us upward irresistibly, far above all heavens, to gaze upon the surpassing glory and mediate on the matchless love of Him who died for us, and who rose again.


The words are those of complaint; some would call it fault finding; and, as such, might have repelled us from the complainer. But such is the nature and tone of the complaint, that we feel attracted, not repelled; humbled, but not hurt nor affronted; made to blush, and yet not chilled nor estranged, nay, rather drawn more closely to a friend so affectionate and faithful. The reproof is keen, yet it casts no shadow on the grace of the reprover;—rather does it magnify that grace into sevenfold brightness, by embodying in the expostulation an utterance of the most generous, the most profound, yet, as we may call it, the most sorrowful affection that the world has ever seen. Next in tenderness to the tears shed over Jerusalem by the Son of God in the days of His flesh, is this outflow of disappointed love over the estrangement of Ephesus given vent to upon His throne above. It is not weeping. No; that cannot be, now when from His face all tears have been for ever wiped away. But it is akin to this; it is the nearest thing to it that we can imagine; it is that which would have been tears anywhere else than in the heaven of heavens.


But the preface to the complaint claims special notice; for that complaint does not stand alone: it is a gem set in fine gold, and the verse which introduce it are as marvelous as itself. And what strikes us most in it, is the minute enumeration of services performed by this church, as if the speaker were most unwilling to come to the matter of complaint, to touch the jarring string; being desirous of recounting all the good deeds and faithful services of the church ere He speak the words of censure. '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 names sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.' What an introduction to the 'Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love!' How fitted to disarm all risings of anger; to anticipate and smooth down the offence-taking that might have been stirred; to make Ephesus feel that He who was complaining was complaining in love, not exaggerating the evil, but much more disposed to dwell upon the good; that He was no austere man, no hard master, no censorious fault-finder, but loving and generous, possessed to the uttermost of that 'charity which suffereth long, and is kind; which seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things, and never faileth.'


But it is not the mere recital of His servant's good deeds that so strikes us; it is His manifest appreciation of these, His delight in them, His grateful sense of the service rendered. Faults there would be in these labours, but He sees none; imperfections in the endurances of trial, but He makes mention of none. He speaks as one full of gratitude for favors conferred. He weighs the works, and finds them not wanting. He names His servant's name, and is not ashamed to confess him. He points not merely to the cup of cold water, but to the toil and the testimony and the faithful discipline; commending them, rejoicing in them, thanking His servant for them. And not till He has done all this, and shown how well He remembers and appreciates each act of happy service, does He come in with the complaint, 'Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.' What tenderness, what delicacy, what nobleness of love, what divine courtesy, is here! What an honour is put upon our poor doings and endurings for Him, when they are thus so gratefully recounted and so generously commended by the Son of God! What an importance, what a dignity, what a value, is thus affixed to every act, even of the simplest, commonest service for Him!


But our text goes beyond all this. It teaches us His desire for our love, and His disappointment at losing it, or any part of it. It is not so much our labour as our love that He asks; and with nothing less than love can He be satisfied. As God, He claims it; as man, He desires it; as the God-man, He presents to us this mingled claim and longing for love, as that without which He is robbed of His desire and His due. He has not left His real humanity behind Him here in the tomb. He has carried up into heaven His true human heart, with its yearning affections and cravings for love. Neither the Godhead to which that humanity is united, nor His high throne at the Father's right hand, has in the least altered that humanity, or made it less susceptible of love and fellowship. And it is this unchanged and unchangeable manhood that is giving vent to itself in the tender expostulation of our test: 'Thou hast left they first love.'


It is the language of wounded friendship, complaining of undeserved estrangement. It is the utterance of unrequited love, mourning over the loss of an affection which was better than life. He wants not merely to love, but to be loved. He seemed to have found this at Ephesus,—that noble church for which the apostle prayed that it might be rooted and grounded in love, and might know the love that passeth knowledge. But the kindness of their youth, the love of their espousals, had passed away. The star grew dim, the flower faded, warm love had cooled, and the Ephesus of the second generation was not the Ephesus of the first. Over this lost first love He mourns, as the gem which of all others He prized the most; and the voice which we hear, sounds like that of Rachel in Ramah weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted, because they are not.


It is not slothful service, or waning zeal, or failing liberality, or slackening warfare, that He complains. His remonstrance rather assumes the existence of much Christian fruitfulness; and even though there had been some failure in labour or endurance, that might have been more easily remedied; nor were these such a necessity to Him who filleth all in all. But it is over lost love that He laments; lost love, for which there can be no compensation and no substitute, even to Him; lost love, which cuts so keenly even into the callous heart of man, and leaves such lifelong blanks even in common and inferior souls.


Yet it is not love altogether lost; nor love turned into hatred. The failure has not got so far as this, nor descended to such a depth. It is of ebbing love He speaks, not love dried up wholly; it is love that has lost the freshness and the edge of other days; love that has sunk below the temperature at which it once stood. This is the substance of the complaint, the burden of the disappointment—the loss of half a heart! So that it would almost seem as if the total drying up would have been more endurable than this ebbing; as if the entire withholding would have been less painful than the stinted giving; as if complete and downright cessation would have been, as in the case of Laodicea, so in that of Ephesus, less hateful than this diminution, this declining to a lower range of feeling, this grudging gift of a divided heart where once there was love entire.


Strange that the risen Christ, the ascended King, should feel so much the loss of creature-love; that He should be, as one may say, so dependent on our affection; that He should treat this failure not so much as an affront or a crime, but as a wound and a blank; that He should be touched with the alienation of half a heart, and speak of it as a bereavement and a sorrow! Oh, what must be His estimate of love; what must be the value of our love to Him; and what is the honour put on us by a condescension so amazing as this!


A complaint like this coming from any quarter is deeply touching. The wife has ceased to love the husband; the husband has ceased to love the wife; the brother has ceased to love the brother or the sister; the friend has ceased to love the friend: these are complaints which we recognize as real among ourselves, seeing we are so dependent for happiness upon each other's love. But that a complaint like this should come down from heaven, from Him who has the Father's love and all the love of angels; from Him to whom they sing, in their everlasting songs, 'Blessing and honour and glory and power;' to whom they ascribe 'riches and wisdom and strength,'—is far more profoundly affecting, and appeals to every noble and tender feeling of our nature with irresistible potency. What true hearted man but must be humbled and melted down beneath it? Why should He love so much, and I so little? Why should He love so truly, so constantly, so warmly, and I return Him nothing but fickleness and insincerity and coldness? Why should He be so concerned about my love, and I so careless about His? Is my love so precious, and His so worthless? Where but in His own infinitely loving and loveable nature can I find a reason for a difference so strange? How marvelous, and how affecting, to hear Him mourn over the changed affection of one of the least of His saints on earth, and to hear Him say, 'I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love?' What should move Him to desire my love, and to grieve when it is withheld, or when given for a time, and then withdrawn? Has He not love enough in heaven? That one pulse in the universe should beat more feebly, what should that be to the infinite heart above? She who rules that empire on which the sun never sets, need not trouble herself though one worthless subject should forswear allegiance. The ocean does not miss the exhaled drop, nor the forest the faded leaf, nor the sun one wandering ray. Why, then, should He who is King of kings and Lord of lords care so much about the waning love of Ephesus, the loss of the one half of a human heart? Yes; why should He? Why but because He is love; and because His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways. He who could utter a complaint like this, and utter it with such manifest sincerity and earnestness, yet with such gentleness and delicacy of tone and word, must be one of whom we cannot know too much. 'I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love,' are the words which embody as precious a revelation of the mind of the ascended Christ as the more explicit announcement: 'Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood;' and do they not wonderfully teach us the deep meaning of the old words of the Song of Songs: 'Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm; for love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave, the coals thereof are of fire which hath a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it; if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned' (Song 8:6)?


It was as one who knew both his own heart, and the heart of Him who was claiming it, that old John Berridge wrote these memorable words: 'Oh heart, heart, what art thou? A mass of fooleries and absurdities! The vainest, foolishest, craftiest, wickedest thing in nature! And yet the Lord Jesus asks me for this heart, woos me for it, died to win it. O wonderful love! Adorable condescension!


"O take it, Lord, and let it be

For ever closed to all but Thee!"


But let us follow out a little further this divine rebuke, this touching remonstrance.


'But let us follow thy first love!' And for what reason? Did the coldness being on my side or on thine? Have I been to thee a wilderness or a land of darkness? What iniquity or unkindness have you found in me, to justify your change? Canst thou point to one word or deed of mine as an excuse for the withdrawal of thy heart? Have I become less lovable, less loving?


'Thou hast left thy first love!' And what or whom hast thou substituted? Has thy power of loving ceased, and thy heart contracted? Or is there some second love that has usurped the place of the first? Is it the world that has thus come in? Is it pleasure? Is it literature or science? Is it business? Is it politics? Is it the creature in some of its various forms, and with the seductive glitter of its many sided beauty? What, oh what, is the equivalent for a lost first love? And is there in this new, this second love, a satisfying substitute, a sufficient compensation to thy soul for a loss so infinite? To one who has looked upon Jerusalem, what is there in Egypt or Babylon, in Rome or in Athens, to admire? To one who has got a glimpse of the heavenly Jerusalem, what is there in all the splendor of earth to attract or satisfy? He whose eyes have seen the King in His beauty (if ever he lower his love to any meaner object) must bear about with him an aching heart and an uneasy dissatisfied eye.


'Thou hast left thy first love!' And what hast thou gained by the leaving? What has this strange turn of capricious affection done for you? Has it made you a happier, holier, truer, stronger, more noble, more earnest man? Has it disarmed the world's enmity? Has it conciliated the devil? Has it nerved you for the battle with the principalities and powers of hell? Has this scattering over a hundred objects, of affections that were lately centered upon one, brought with it enlargement and liberty,—an increase of joy and peace? Ah! Ask your hearts what has been your gain? A few indulgences which once you did not dare to venture on. A few gay smiles of worldly companionship. A few pleasures, for which, till your first love had gone, you had no relish. A more unrestrained enjoyment of the things which perish with the using; a keener appetite for trifles and frivolities, for foolish talking and jesting; a contentment with forms, and names, and words, and creeds, and doctrines; a wider sympathy with fashion and vanity; less decision and more compromise; weaker recoil from the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life; growing desire for reunion with a present evil world, in its amusements and tastes, its revellings and banquetings, its self-pleasing, its flesh-pleasing, its love of show and costly attire. These are some of the things for which thou hast exchanged thy first love! For these thou hast sold thy Lord! Judge for yourselves if the bargain has been a good one,—if the thirty pieces of the world's silver by which thine eye has been attracted and thy heart won will prove an equivalent for a lost first love! One day or other it will cost you dear. Sooner or later you will repent of your bargain, and bewail your folly. Remember that 'no man having drunk old wine straightway desireth new; for he saith, the old is better.'


Thou hast not indeed renounced Christ, but thou hast come down from they noble elevation. Thou hast not perhaps ceased to love Him, but thou lovest Him less; and other objects have now a place side by side with Him who once filled up thy heart so as to leave no room for a rival affection. Thou mayest possess many things (as thy gracious Master most kindly allows), but thou hast failed in love. Thou hast a name among the Churches; thou hast intelligence, wisdom, wealth, honour, position, influence, political and social standing;—but thou hast left thy first love! Nay, thou hast a zeal, hatred of error, patience, courage, perseverance in well doing; but thou hast left thy first love! Insignificant as a descent like this may be in the eyes of men, it is great indeed in the estimation of Him who prizes loved above all gifts and offerings, above all gold and frankincense, and myrrh; for is it not written, 'Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love?' What, then, though 'thou couldst speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and hast not love? Thou art become sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.' 'If a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would be utterly contemned' (Song 8:7).


And who art thou that thinkest it a right thing to give but half a heart to Him who asks the whole,—to Him who loved thee and gave Himself for thee? Who art thou that claimest the liberty of giving or withholding affection at thy pleasure? Dost thou not call to mind the thrice-repeated question of thy risen Lord 'lovest thou me?' And what wilt thou answer Him when He comes again in His glory? Oh, heartless Ephesian, is thy Lord's love nothing to lee? Is His gracious jealousy, His longing for thy love, His grateful remembrance of all thy poor services, His entreaty that thou shouldst repent and to thy first works, His promise, 'To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God,'—are all these light things in thine eyes? And if all these are trifles, is a warning like this a trifle, 'Remember whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent?' and is it a trifle to be told, from lips that cannot lie, 'If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maranatha?'


Oh, heartless Ephesian, retrace thy steps at once! Thou didst run well, who hath hindered thee? Begin once more at the beginning. Go back to the fountainhead of love,—I mean thy Lord's love to thee, the sinner,—there refill thy empty vessel. Go back to the blessed Sun, whose light is still as free and brilliant as ever; there rekindle thy dying torch; there warm thy cold heart, and learn to love of again as thou didst love at first. So shall the love of Christ constrain thee; thou shalt love Him who first loved thee; thou shalt feel the quickening power of the living One; thou wilt rise up again to thy lost temperature by knowing the love which passeth knowledge, and finding that, in spite of all thy fickleness and faithlessness that love is still the same.


We bring to you the glad tidings of that great love of Christ which was preached at first to Ephesus and by means of which her first love was kindled,—the love, not of the Son only, but of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,—the free and infinite love of Godhead. It is this that is the true remedy for a lost first love. Go to that love again, and learn it in all its fullness and exceeding riches; learn that God; who is rich in mercy, for the great love wherewith He hath loved us, even when we were dead in sins, quickens us together with Christ; learn anew the length and breadth, the depth and height, of this love; know the love that passeth knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.