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A PASTORAL CHARGE
TO THE ANGEL AT SMYRNA.
8. And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna
write; these things saith the first and the last,
which was dead, and is alive; 9. I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty,
[but thou art rich] and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but
are the synagogue of Satan. ' 10. Fear none of these things which thou shalt suffer:
behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried: and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death,
and I will give thee a crown of life. 11. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the spirit
saith unto the churches; he that overcometh shall . not be hurt of the second death. The exhortation in the former charge seems to have had its desired effect on the gospel ministry of those days, since this pastoral letter contains all praise, comfort and promise, without the least censure or blame. They had returned again to their first love, and were now doing their first works with renewed zeal, for the glory of Christ and his church. Such a revival was also highly necessary. The Lord wanted a host of Martyrs, for some divine purposes unknown to us, and therefore permitted the Roman emperors to turn their whole empire into a fiery furnace of affliction, for all who adored the name of Christ; in which the hottest place was always appointed for the pastors of the church.
Verse 8. Was dead and is alive. He first died for us, and it is therefore no more than reasonable and just, we also should die for him and for his cause. He is now alive, by his own power, and having the keys of hell and of death, is able to raise us to glory. He is sole proprietor of our life as our creator, preserver, and since he has given himself a ransome for us, when we, by sin, had forfeited all right and title among the living; and may therefore demand it when, and in what manner he may judge ex.. pedient.
Verse 9. I know thy works. Inter šodw, opaw, Babaw, Jedoudt, Dewgew, hoc videtur interresse, quod židw, sit perspicio. See Pasor. oidá therefore may be rendered: I have well observed, understood, [Mark iv. 12.] or minutely inspected all your different offices, with what sort of persons they are filled, and how they are administered.
Tribulation. Here the Lord foretells those sanguinary
during the first centuries under the Roman emperors. The followers of Christ, and more especially the ministers, suffered all kinds of punishments and tortures, both capital and corrective, to the amount of some millions of souls. It is by no means improbable, that the Lord may here allude to ten such calamitous times, as the word
minéga, day, often signifies time, particularly in the New · Testament. Math. xxiii. 30. Luke iv. 25. Math. ii. 1. vii. 22. John ix. 4. Rom. xiii. 12. But the first two under Nero and Domitian cannot be taken into this account, as they were already past.
Poverty, but thou art rich. The Pagan magistracy at that time throughout the whole Roman empire, rapacious and insatiable, were perpetually gaping after the confiscation of property in order to enrich themselves. When the multitude craved the blood of the christians, they readily consented, and transferred the greatest part of the forfeitures to their own pockets. Where the father of a
family suffered martyrdom, or became a public confessor, the magistracy stripped the whole family of their estate; and hence the extreme poverty and indigence of the ministers. The Lord himself comforts them here in their distresses, by reminding and assuring them a-new, of their great reward on the day of retribution. Math. xix. 29. Mark. x. 29.
Blasphemy of the Jews. The Jews persecuted the christians with great hatred and malignity from the time of Christ's death to their total defeat under Adrian. Even after they had lost the power to execute their cruel purposes themselves, they turned inveterate and public accusers against them, so long as they could obtain a hearing, In Palestine and all the Roman provinces, they seized every occasion to load them with injuries and reproach. In order to stir up both the magistracy and people to their destruction, they accused them of being enemies to the Roman emperors, and state; the same as the Roman Catholics have lately done in France against the Protestants. The Church of Christ at no time had more perfidious and bitter enemies, than the Jews, wherefore the Lord here calls them a synagogue of Satan; which word signifies, an ac
cuser in judgment. They were false Jews, and instru• ments of Satan. Rom. ii. 28.
Verse 10. Fear none of those things. This comfort and assurance, no doubt, was very necessary. It is likely that many of the ministry were much discouraged by the vio'lent opposition of the Jews, and the bloody persecution of the Heathens, and some may have entertained serious thoughts of ceasing to preach. They were every moment in danger of their lives, since the Heathens and Jews sought them in particular, and tried every manner of torture to induce them to apostatize. Their flesh had no rest, but was troubled on every side; without were fightings and death, within were fears, 2. Cor. vii. 5. The Lord therefore answers beforehand to their awful state of mind: fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer, as though you might not be able to endure these pains, and forced to apostacy, hurt my cause, and lose your souls at last. Take courage, and go on to perform the duties of your offices in every department, I will never forsake you. Be christians, and bishops of souls in sincerity; all your sufferings will work together for your good. You will be sifted like grain, and tried like gold in a furnace, that you may be qualified for my purposes.
Crown of life. The Revelation takes notice of two sorts of crowns, a regal or imperial crown, and a crown of victory; this last is to be understood in this place. It was customary among the ancients, to crown a hero after a victorious campaign. This crown was not only a badge of high honour, it also conferred a dignity and certain privileges, which the conqueror enjoyed in preference to his fellow citizens. But these were only perishable crowns, and earthly privileges the Lord Jesus promises a crown of life, with the privilege of immortality in his everlasting kingdom. And this peculiar felicity is here offered the gospel ministry, as the reward of being faithful unto death. Their prerogatives then, are not merely citizenship in heaven; but titles to large possessions, peculiar favour and special employments in the most important concerns of Christ's kingdom.
Verse 11. Second death. The first death is the separation of body and soul, whereby we are deprived of our first life; the second death is the casting of body and soul into everlasting perdition, whereby we are deprived of the second and eternal life. This state of eternal punishment is therefore called the second death. See chapter xx. 14. xxi. 8.
This pastoral charge is given to the gospel ministry during the time of persecution by public authority, in which Jews and Gentiles were united, for the total destruction of the Church of Christ. They have withstood that terrible storm, with a few exceptions, and now enjoy the promise before the throne of the Lamb. Great has been their sacrifice, much greater is their reward now in heaven. Consider, 0 ye pastors of Christ's flock! that a similar time of such peril and temptation is now again near at hand, and perhaps nearer than we all imagine. How far will our constancy and faithfulness go? What sacrifices shall we be prepared to make? What return shall the Lord receive from us, for the travail of his soul ? May the Lord enable us to light our lamps, and provide oil in time, ere it be too late! For the most violent and trying crisis of that persecution, Rev. xiii. 11-18. xiv. 13, is not past, and the beast from the abyss is yet to rise, whose element is now maturing throughout the civilized world.