Returning to Our First Love
by Archibald Alexander1

Part 1 of 3

"Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candle-stick out of his place, except thou repent" (Rev 2:4-5).

Although our blessed Saviour never wrote any thing himself for the church; yet we have in the evangelists many of his discourses in substance, if not entire; and here we have seven epistles, dictated by him, and communicated to his beloved John, after his ascension to glory. The first of these was addressed to the church at Ephesus, the capital of proconsular Asia; and the other churches to which epistles were addressed, were situated in the vicinity. As the apostle John had taken up his abode at Ephesus, these churches would naturally fall under his inspection and care. The angels, through whom these epistles were addressed to the churches, are commonly supposed to have been the pastors; but a late writer of our own country, has an ingenious conjecture, that these angels were, in fact, the messengers of these seven churches who had been sent by them to attend on, and comfort their beloved apostle, in his exile, in the island of Patmos.

Many interpreters, because these epistles are placed as a preface to a book of prophecy, have been of opinion, that they were of a prophetical character, representing seven successive periods of the history of the Christian church. But there is nothing in these letters to the churches of Asia, which has the least appearance of prediction, except the threatenings and blessings which are appended to the epistles, respectively. And the attempts to apply the supposed prophecies to the several periods of the history of the Christian church, have utterly failed; or such force has been necessary to make out any correspondence between the matter of the epistles and the events of history, that every impartial reader must see, that there exists no solid foundation for the opinion, that these seven epistles to the churches of proconsular Asia were intended to be prophetical. It may be satisfactory to some, to mention, that the name Asia, as that of Europe, was at first confined to a comparatively small district, of which Ephesus was the capital. Most of the cities to which these epistles were addressed are now in a state of utter desolation, and none more so than Ephesus, which was in the days of the apostle, one of the most celebrated cities in the world. The threatening against the church in this place, mentioned in our text, has been most signally fulfilled. Not only has the candlestick been removed, but the city in which the church was situated is a total ruin. There is something fearful, and at the same time, admonitory, in viewing the utter desolation of many ancient cities, which seemed to have as fair a prospect of perpetuity as any which now flourish upon earth. And does the same doom await these also? Will the candlestick be removed from our great cities? Doubtless, these things were recorded for the admonition and warning of all succeeding churches, to the end of the world. There is a greater uniformity in God’s government of cities, churches and nations, than most are willing to acknowledge. Without claiming any thing of the spirit of prophecy, it may be predicted, that when the cup of iniquity, in our large cities, is full, (and the filling goes on very rapidly,) they also will become desolate; and the ground now so highly appreciated, will become worthless; and the churches, which have left, or shall leave their first love, and refuse to repent, will be removed; so that no vestige of them shall remain, as is literally the fact, in regard to Ephesus. Already Ichabod may be inscribed on some churches in our land, for the glory is departed. And as it relates to the different denominations of evangelical Christians, it may be predicted that those which decline most from the truth, and from the spirit of genuine piety, will, notwithstanding all their efforts to increase, and although they may for a while, flourish in numbers and wealth, be cast off, and doomed to become desolate. Let all Christians, therefore, fear the wrath of that august personage, described in the first chapter of this book, out of whose mouth proceeds a sharp two-edged sword.

Before speaking of the declension of these Ephesian Christians, it will be proper to say something of what is here called "first love." The prominent characteristic of every soul truly converted to Christianity, is LOVE to the Saviour. The faith which is the gift of God, and which is wrought in Christians by the Holy Spirit, always works by love. Love is, therefore, set down as the first and principal fruit of the Spirit. Now, there is something peculiar in the exercise of this first love of the young convert. Its exercise is fervent and tender, not founded, indeed, on such accurate views of the character of Christ as are afterwards acquired; and commonly less pure from mere animal excitement, than that of the mature Christian, but accompanied with more joy and exultation. These joyful frames, so common in new converts, may be ascribed to several causes. The first is the recent transition of the soul from a conviction of condemnation, and ruin, and helplessness, to a state of favour and reconciliation. When the views of the way of salvation are clear, and the faith strong, there is commonly a joyful persuasion of safety and pardon; and even the hope of pardon after a dark season of distress and conscious condemnation is like life from the dead. This case is well illustrated by that of a criminal reprieved from death when under the gallows. His first feelings will be ecstatic, and though his safety is as certain years afterwards, he never will experience the same liveliness of joy.

Another thing which stamps a peculiarity on the first love of the Christian is the novelty of the objects and scenes which are now presented to his enlightened mind. All his life time he has been in darkness respecting the true nature of spiritual things; for "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." But now the eyes of his understanding being opened, and the true light shining into them, every thing appears new and attractive; and sometimes, a divine glory is exhibited to the contemplation of the enlightened mind. This light is, therefore, called "marvellous," by an apostle, and the love which accompanies it, partakes of its marvellous nature. "Whom," says the apostle Peter, "not having seen we love; in whom though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory."

Again, God deals with his children in the infancy of their spiritual life, as mothers with their children, while they are young. They nurse them with tender affection, and do every thing in their power to render them comfortable. They furnish them with the sweetest nutriment, cherish them in their bosoms, carry them in their arms, and rock them in the cradle. But when they have been weaned, and have grown strong, they are turned out to shift for themselves. They must now learn to work and endure hardships, and are no longer cherished at the breast, or dandled on the mother’s knee.

Thus, our heavenly Father, who exercises a warmer and tenderer affection for his children, than the kindest mothers, is pleased to deal very tenderly with young converts; and often pours streams of divine comfort into their susceptible hearts. They are for a season led in smooth and pleasant paths; and, though dark clouds may occasionally come over them, and "weeping may endure for a night; yet joy cometh in the morning." In their prayers and other religious exercises, they enjoy liberty of access to their heavenly Father; and much of their time is spent in grateful songs of praise, for redeeming love and converting grace. The state of the soul at this period, is beautifully expressed by the poet, in the hymn, which begins,

"Sweet was the time when first I felt

The Saviour’s pardoning blood," &c.

Earthly things now have little or no attraction. The thoughts and feelings, the conversation and actions are chiefly occupied with religion. These are indeed halcyon [i.e. peaceful] days, and will be often afterwards remembered with a mournful pleasure, when the scene is greatly changed; and especially when inbred corruption grows strong, when temptations vex the soul, and when the heart seems to have lost all tenderness; and when, instead of joy, darkness and trouble almost overwhelm the soul. Then is often uttered the exclamation of Job, "O, that it were with me as in months past."

The union of the believer to Christ, is, in Scripture, often compared to marriage; and the joy of the young convert is like the joy experienced in the day of espousals (Jer 2:2).

The early days of the true Christian may also be well illustrated by the feelings of the newly enlisted soldier. He rejoices in the "pomp and circumstance" of the military life; is animated by the sound of martial music, and by the sight of splendid banners, and the gorgeous costume of his officers; and leads a life of idleness, while his bounty money supplies him with such luxuries as he desires. But how different are the condition and feelings of the same person, when he receives marching orders; and especially, when he is led into battle, when all his energies are put in requisition, and his life is placed in imminent danger!

But the change in the Ephesian church, of which the ascended Saviour complains, and on account of which he brings a charge against them, is not that which naturally occurs by a change of circumstances, which may take place without any real declension in the vigour of piety. When he says, "thou hast left thy first love," he charges them with actual backsliding. And the declension of a church supposes that of the members of which it is composed.

… to be continued in the next issue.