Revelation 2:19
I know your works, and charity, and service, and faith, and your patience, and your works; and the last to be more than the first.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(19) Thy works, and charity.—In the words of commendation we find two pairs. We have the Christian community commended for charity and service, the outward ministrations which manifest the inner principle of love; their labour of love, or their work and love (Hebrews 6:10) in general. In the second pair, faith and patience; the patience is the token of the faith (Romans 2:7; Hebrews 11:27).

And the last . . .—Read, and thy last works more than the first. Besides their faith and love, they are commended for their progress in good works—the last are more than the first.

Revelation



THE FIRST AND LAST WORKS


Revelation 2:19It is beautiful to notice that Jesus Christ, in this letter, says all He can of praise before He utters a word of blame. He is glad when His eye, which is as a flame of fire, sees in His children that which He can commend. Praise from Him is praise indeed; and it does not need that the act should be perfect in order to get His commendation. The main thing is, which way does it look? Direction, and not attainment, is what He commends. And if the deed of the present moment be better than the deed of the last, though there be still a great gap between it and absolute completeness, the commendation of my text applies, and is never grudgingly rendered. ‘I know thy last done works to be more than the first.’

There is blame in plenty, grave, and about grave matters, following in this letter, but that is not permitted in the slightest degree to diminish the warmth and heartiness of the commendation.

I. So these words tell us, first, what every Christian life is meant to be.

A life of continual progress, in which each ‘to-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant,’ in reference to all that is good and noble and true is the ideal after which every Christian man, by his profession, is bound to aim, because in the gospel that we say we believe there lie positively infinite powers to make us perfectly pure and noble and complete all round. And in it there lie, if we lay them upon our hearts, and let them work, positively omnipotent motives, to impel us with unwearied and ever-growing earnestness towards likeness to the Master whom we say we love and serve. A continuous progress towards and in all good of every sort is the very law of the Christian life.

The same law holds good in regard to all regions of life. Everybody knows, and a hundred commonplace proverbs tell us, that practice makes perfect, that the man who carries a little weight to-day will be able to carry a bigger one to-morrow; that powers exercised are rewarded by greater strength; that he that begins by a short march, though he is wearied after he has walked a mile or two, will be able to walk a great deal farther the next day. In all departments of effort it is true that the longer we continue in a course, the easier ought it be to do the things, and the larger ought to be the results. The fruit tree does not begin to bear for a year or two, and when it does come the crop is neither in size nor in abundance anything to compare with that which is borne afterwards.

In the same way, for the Christian course, continual progress and an ever-widening area of the life conquered for and filled with Christ, manifestly ought to be the law. ‘Forgetting the things that are behind, reaching forth toward the things that are before, we press toward the mark.’ Every metaphor about the life of the Christian soul carries the same lesson. Is it a building? Then course by course it rises. Is it a tree? Then year by year it spreads a broader shadow, and its leafy crown reaches nearer heaven. Is it a body? Then from childhood to youth, and youth to manhood, it grows. Christianity is growth, continual, all-embracing, and unending.

II. The next remark that I make is this, the commendation of Christ describes what a sadly large proportion of professedly Christian lives are not.

Do you think, brethren, that if He were to come amongst us now with these attributes which the context gives us, with His ‘eyes like unto a flame of fire’ to behold, and His ‘feet like unto fine brass’ to tread down all opposition and evil. He would find amongst us what would warrant His pure lips in saying this about us, either as a community or as individuals - ‘I know that thy last works are more than thy first ‘?

What is the ordinary history of the multitudes of professing Christians? Something which they call - rightly or wrongly is not the question for the moment - conversion,’ then a year or two, or perhaps a month or two, or perhaps a week or two, or perhaps a day or two, of profound earnestness, of joyful consecration, of willing obedience - and then back swarm the old ties, and habits, and associations. Many professing Christians are cases of arrested development, like some of those monstrosities that you see about our pavements - a full-grown man in the upper part with no under limbs at all to speak of, aged half a century, and only half the height of a ten-year-old child. Are there not multitudes of so-called Christian people, in all our churches and communities, like that? I wonder if there are any of them here to-night, that have not grown a bit for years, whose deeds yesterday were just the same as their deeds to-day, and so on through a long, dreary, past perspective of unprogressive life, the old sins cropping up with the old power and venom, the old weak bits in the dyke bursting out again every winter, and at each flood, after all tinkering and mending, the old faults as rampant as ever, the new life as feeble, fluttering, spasmodic, uncertain. They grow, if at all, by fits and starts, after the fashion, say, of a tree that every winter goes to sleep and only makes wood for a little while in the summer time. Or they do not grow even as regularly as that, but there will come sometimes an hour or two of growth, and then long dreary tracts in which there is no progress at all, either in understanding of Christian doctrine or in the application of Christian precept; no increase of conformity to Jesus Christ, no increase of realizing hold of His love, no clearer or more fixed and penetrating contemplation of the unseen realities, than there used to be long, long ago. How many of us are babes in Christ when we have grey hairs upon our heads, and when for the time we ought to be teachers have need that one should teach us again which be the first principles of the oracles of God?

Oh! dear friends, it seems to me sometimes that that notion of the continuous growth in Christian understanding and feeling and character, as attaching to the very essence of the Christian life, is clean gone out of the consciousness of half the professing Christians of this day. How far our notions about Church fellowship, and reception of people into the Church, and the like, have to do with it, is not for me to discuss here. Only this I cannot help feeling, that if Jesus Christ came into most of our congregations nowadays He would not, and could not, say what He said to these poor people at Thyatira, I know thy last works are more than thy first.’

Well, then, let us remember that if He cannot say that, He has to say the opposite. I take it that the words of my text are a distinct allusion to other words of His, when He spoke the converse, about the ‘last state of that man as worse than the first.’ The allusion is obvious, I think, and it is also made in the Second Epistle of Peter, where we find a similar description of the man who has fallen away from Jesus Christ. Let us learn the lesson that either to-day is better than yesterday or it is worse. If a man on a bicycle stands still, he tumbles. The condition of keeping upright is to go onwards. If a climber on an Alpine ice-slope does not put all his power into the effort to ascend, he cannot stick at the place, at an angle of forty-five degrees upon ice, but down he is bound to go. Unless, by effort, he overcomes gravitation, he will be at the bottom very soon. And so, if Christian people are not daily getting better, they are daily getting worse. And this will be the end of it, the demon that was cast out will go back to his house, which he finds ‘swept and garnished’ indeed, but ‘empty,’ because there is no all-filling principle of love to Jesus Christ living in it. He finds it empty. Nature abhors a vacuum; and in he goes with his seven friends; and ‘the last of that man is worse than the first.’

There are two alternatives before us. I would that I could feel for myself always, and that you felt for yourselves, that one or other of them must describe us as professing Christians. Either we are getting more Christlike or we are daily getting less so.

III. Lastly, my text, in its relation to this whole letter, suggests how this commendation may become ours.

Notice the context. Christ says, according to the improved reading which will be found in the Revised Version: ‘I know thy works, and love, and faith, and service’ {or ministry}, ‘and patience, and that thy last works are more than the first.’ That is to say, the great way by which we can secure this continual growth in the manifestations of Christian life is by making it a habit to cultivate what produces it, viz., these two things, charity {or love} and faith.

These are the roots; they need cultivating. A Christian man’s love to Jesus Christ will not grow of itself any more than his faith will. Unless we make a conscience by prayer, by reading of the Scriptures, by subjecting ourselves to the influences provided for the purpose in His word, of strengthening our faith and warming our love, both will dwindle and become fruitless, bearing nothing but leaves of barren though glittering profession. You need to cultivate faith and love just as much as to cultivate any other faculty or any other habit. Neglected, they are sure to die. If they are not cultivated, then their results of ‘service’ {or ‘ministry’} and patience ‘are sure to become less and less.

These two, faith and love, are the roots; their vitality determines the strength and abundance of the fruit that is borne. And unless you dig about them and take care of them, they are sure to die in the unkindly soil of our poor rocky hearts, and blown upon by the nipping winds that howl round the world. If we want our works to increase in number and to rise in quality, let us see to it that we make an honest habit of cultivating that which is their producing cause - love to Jesus Christ and faith in Him.

And then the text still further suggests another thought. At the end of the letter I read: ‘He that overcometh and keepeth My works to the end, to him will I give,’ etc.

Now mark what were called ‘thy works’ in the beginning of the letter are called My works’ in its close. And it is laid down here that the condition of victory, and the prerequisite to a throne and dominion, is the persevering and pertinacious keeping unto the end of these which are now called ‘Christ’s works’ - that is to say, if we want that the Master shall see in us a continuous growth towards Himself, then, in addition to cultivating the habit of faith and love, we must cultivate the other habit of looking to Him as the source of all the work that we do for Him. And when we have passed from the contemplation of our deeds as ours, and come to look upon all that we do of right and truth and beauty as Christ working in us, then there is a certainty of our work increasing in nobility and in extent. The more we lose ourselves and feel ourselves to be but instruments in Christ’s hands, the more shall we seek to fill our lives with all noble service; the more shall we be able to adorn them with all beauty of growing likeness to Him who is their source.

There is still another thing to be remembered, and that is, that if we are to have this progressive godliness we must put forth continuous effort right away to the very close.

We come to no point in our lives when we can slack off in the earnestness of our endeavour to make more and more of Christ’s fullness our own. But to the very last moment of life there is a possibility of still larger victories, and the corresponding possibility of defeat. And, therefore, till the very last, effort built upon faith and made joyous by love and strong by the grasp of His hand, must be the law for us. It is the man that ‘keeps His works’ and persistently strives to do them ‘to the’ very ‘end’ that overcomes.’ And if he slacks one moment before the end he loses the blessing that he otherwise would have attained.

‘Forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forth unto the things that are before,’ must be our motto till the last. We must ever have shining far before us the unattained heights which it may yet be possible for our feet to tread. We must never let habit stiffen us in any one attitude of obedience, nor past failures set a bound to our anticipations of what it is possible for us to become in the future. We must never compare ourselves with ourselves, or with one another. We must never allow low thoughts, and the poor average of Christian life, in our brethren, to come between us and that lofty vision of perfect likeness to Jesus Christ, which should burn before us all as no vain dream, but as the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us.

And if, smitten by its beauty, and drawn by its power, and daily honestly submitting ourselves to the accumulating influences of Christ’s long experienced love, and enlisting habit upon the side of godliness, and weakening opposition and antagonism by long discipline and careful pruning, ‘we press toward the mark for the prize of the higher calling of God in Jesus Christ,’ we shall be like the wise householder that keeps the best wine until the last,

‘And in old age, when others fade, We fruit still forth shall bring.’

And then death itself will but continue the process that has blessed and ennobled life, and will lead us up into another state, whereof ‘the latest works shall be more than the first.’ Revelation 2:19. I know thy works — Of piety and mercy; and charity — Or love, rather. How different a character is this from that of the angel of the church at Ephesus! The latter could not bear the wicked, and hated the works of the Nicolaitanes; but he had left his first love and first works. The former retained his first love, and had more and more works, but bore with the wicked; did not withstand them with becoming vehemence. Mixed characters both; yet the latter, not the former, is reproved for his fall, and commanded to repent. And service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works — Love is shown, exercised, and improved, by serving God and our neighbour: so is faith by patience and good works. And the last to be more than the first — Greater and better. Very far art thou from that declining state of religion of which I have had reason elsewhere to complain.2:18-29 Even when the Lord knows the works of his people to be wrought in love, faith, zeal, and patience; yet if his eyes, which are as a flame of fire, observe them committing or allowing what is evil, he will rebuke, correct, or punish them. Here is praise of the ministry and people of Thyatira, by One who knew the principles from which they acted. They grew wiser and better. All Christians should earnestly desire that their last works may be their best works. Yet this church connived at some wicked seducers. God is known by the judgments he executes; and by this upon seducers, he shows his certain knowledge of the hearts of men, of their principles, designs, frame, and temper. Encouragement is given to those who kept themselves pure and undefiled. It is dangerous to despise the mystery of God, and as dangerous to receive the mysteries of Satan. Let us beware of the depths of Satan, of which those who know the least are the most happy. How tender Christ is of his faithful servants! He lays nothing upon his servants but what is for their good. There is promise of an ample reward to the persevering, victorious believer; also knowledge and wisdom, suitable to their power and dominion. Christ brings day with him into the soul, the light of grace and of glory, in the presence and enjoyment of him their Lord and Saviour. After every victory let us follow up our advantage against the enemy, that we may overcome and keep the works of Christ to the end.I know thy works - See the notes on Revelation 2:2. He knew all they had done, good and bad.

And charity - Love; love to God, and love to man. There is no reason for restricting this word here to the comparatively narrow sense which it now bears. Compare the notes on 1 Corinthians 13:1.

And service - Greek, "ministry" - διακονίαν diakonian. The word would seem to include all the service which the church had rendered in the cause of religion; all which was the proper fruit of love, or which would be a carrying out of the principles of love to God and man.

And faith - Or, fidelity in the cause of the Redeemer. The word here would include not only trust in Christ for salvation, but what is the proper result of such trust - fidelity in his service.

And thy patience - Patient endurance of the sorrows of life - of all that God brought upon them in any way, to test the reality of their religion.

And thy works - Thy works as the fruit of the virtues just mentioned. The word is repeated here, from the first part of the verse, perhaps to specify more particularly that their works had been recently more numerous and praiseworthy even than they had formerly been. In the beginning of the verse, as in the commencement of each of the epistles, the word is used, in the most general sense, to denote all that they had done; meaning that he had so thorough an acquaintance with them in all respects that he could judge of their character. In the latter part of the verse the word seems to be used in a more specific sense, as referring to good works, and with a view to say that they had latterly abounded in these more than they had formerly.

And the last to be more than the first - Those which had been recently performed were more numerous, and more commendable, than those which had been rendered "formerly." That is, they were making progress; they had been acting more and more in accordance with the nature and claims of the Christian profession. This is a most honorable commendation, and one which every Christian, and every church, should seek. Religion in the soul, and in a community, is designed to be progressive; and while we should seek to live in such a manner always that we may have the commendation of the Saviour, we should regard it as a thing to be greatly desired that we may be approved as making advances in knowledge and holiness; that as we grow in years we may grow alike in the disposition to do good, and in the ability to do it; that as we gain in experience, we may also gain in a readiness to apply the results of our experience in promoting the cause of religion. He would deserve little commendation in religion who should be merely stationary; he alone properly develops the nature of true piety, and shows that it has set up its reign in the soul, who is constantly making advances.

19. The oldest manuscripts transpose the English Version order, and read, "faith and service." The four are subordinate to "thy works"; thus, "I know thy works, even the love and the faith (these two forming one pair, as 'faith works by love,' Ga 5:6), and the service (ministration to the suffering members of the Church, and to all in spiritual or temporal need), and the endurance of (that is, shown by) thee (this pronoun belongs to all four)." As love is inward, so service is its outward manifestation. Similarly, faith and persevering endurance, or "patient continuance (the same Greek as here, Ro 2:7) in well-doing," are connected.

and thy works; and the last—Omit the second "and," with the three oldest manuscripts and the ancient versions; translate, "And (I know) thy works which are last (to be) more in number than the first"; realizing 1Th 4:1; the converse of Mt 12:45; 2Pe 2:20. Instead of retrograding from "the first works" and "first love," as Ephesus, Thyatira's last works exceeded her first (Re 2:4, 5).

I know thy works; the works of the ministry of this church were such as Christ knew, not only with a knowledge of comprehension, but approbation also.

And charity; such were his charity to Christians that were in distress.

And service; his diligence in his ministration.

And faith; his faith, and adherence to Christ, and the doctrine of the gospel.

And thy patience; his meek bearing of his crosses and trials.

And thy works; his other works, the fruit of faith and love.

And the last to be more than the first; and his proficiency both in spiritual habits, and good works, the fruits of them. I know thy works,.... Good works, as appears from the particular enumeration of them afterwards, and the commendation of proficiency in them, the last being more than the first, and the distinction from the evil ones in Revelation 2:20; this is said to the faithful followers and professors of Christ in this interval:

and charity; by which is meant not a relieving the wants of the poor; much less such a charity as connives at the errors and heresies of men; but the divine grace of love to God nod Christ, and the saints, without which a profession of religion is a vain thing; and, generally speaking, this grace is most in exercise in a time of trouble and persecution:

and service; or "ministry", meaning either the ministry of the word, which was exercised by many with great zeal, diligence, and faithfulness, as by Wickliff, John Huss, Jerom of Prague, and others; or the ministering to the necessities of the poor saints, as an evidence of their charity or love; or else the service of God is here intended, which is but reasonable, and is his due, and ought to be performed to him only, and that with fear and fervency, in faith, and with a pure conscience, with humility, and without mercenary views, and in righteousness and true holiness; or the service of love which the saints perform to one another, as praying for one another, bearing one another's burdens, admonishing and reproving for sin, restoring such as are gone astray, comforting the distressed, building up one another in their most holy faith, and exhorting and stirring up each other to the duties of religion:

and faith; not the doctrine of faith, as preached by the ministers of the word, and held and maintained by the true professors of it; but either the grace of faith, or the profession of both; or rather the faithfulness, both of the ministers and private believers of those times, as the Waldenses and Albigenses, the Lollards and Wickliffites, who abode by, and were faithful to the light which they had received:

and thy patience; in suffering for the sake of Christ and the Gospel: and very much it was they did endure, and yet held out to the end:

and thy works, and the last to be more than the first; that is, that their works or acts of love to God and Christ and one another, and of service to God and to the saints, and of faith and faithfulness in the cause of God, and of patience in suffering for the Gospel of Christ, were more in quantity, and greater in quality, toward the close of this period, which brought on the Reformation, than at the beginning of it; and which were done by the persons before mentioned, and by others.

I know {19} thy works, and charity, and {i} service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.

(19) The note of praise is in this verse, and in Re 2:20 reprehension, for they tolerated with them the doctrine of unrighteousness and ungodliness. In Re 2:21, though they were called back to God, they did not repent. To this he adds even stronger threats and in Re 3:2-5 he gives a conditional promise and an exhortation to hold fast the truth

(i) So he calls those offices of charity which are done to the saints.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Revelation 2:19. The works of the church (οἰδά σου τὰ ἔργα), as the Lord knows them, are first introduced by name,—the subordination of the four items τ. ἀγάπην, τ. πίστιν, τ. διακονίαν, and τ. ὑπομονήν, is noted by the attaching of the σοῦ only to the last,[1218]—and then (κ. τὰ ἔργα σου, κ.τ.λ.) are commended as a whole, because a progress therein is shown. Two pairs are mentioned, and that, too, in such order that their individual members correspond to one another. The ἀγάπη, which already, because it precedes, is intended to refer in an altogether general way to love to God and the brethren, and not only to love to the poor,[1219] proves itself in the διακονία, i.e., in kindness towards all needing help, especially the poor;[1220] and the ΠΊΣΤΙς, i.e., faith,—not fidelity,[1221]—proves itself in the ὙΠΟΜΟΝΉ, i.e., faithful and patient perseverance founded upon the hope of faith, in the midst of attacks from the hostile world.[1222]

ΠΛΕῖΟΝΑ ΤῶΝ ΠΡΏΤΩΝ. Cf. Matthew 12:45; 2 Peter 2:20. The church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:5), on the contrary, but in a similar way, had been reproved for a relapse.

[1218] Ebrard. Cf. Revelation 2:2.

[1219] Ew. Cf. Revelation 2:4.

[1220] Acts 11:29; 1 Corinthians 16:15; 2 Corinthians 9:12 sqq. Aretius, Grot., Beng., Heinr., Ew., De Wette, Ebrard. Calov., incorrectly: “διακ., the performance of the duties of the holy ministry.”

[1221] Beng., Ew. ii.

[1222] Cf. Revelation 1:9.Revelation 2:19. Instead of being retrograde like Ephesus, Thyatira has steadily progressed in the works of Christianity. The sole flaw noted (see Ramsay’s discussions in D. B. iv. 758 f., Seven Letters, 338 f.) is an undue laxity shown to certain members (not, as at Pergamos, a mere minority) who, under the sway (cf. Zahn, § 73, n. 7) of an influential woman, refused to separate themselves from the (ἐργασίαι) local guilds where moral interests, though not ostensibly defied, were often seriously compromised. The prophet takes up a puritan attitude, corroborated by that of the leading church of the district (Revelation 2:6); he demands in the name of Christ that such inconsistent members should withdraw—a severe and costly step to take, amid the social ties and interests of an Asiatic city, where social clubs were a recognised feature of civic life and appealed forcibly to several natural instincts, especially when backed by the approval of an oracular and impressive leader in the local church.19. and thy works; and the last to be more] Read, and thy last works to be more—in contrast with Ephesus, Revelation 2:4.Revelation 2:19. Τὰ ἔσχατα πλείονα τῶν πρώτων) There is a similar expression, τὸ ἔσχατον ὑπὲρ τὸ πρῶτον, Ruth 3:10. On the other hand, τὰ ἔσχατα χείρονα τῶν πρώτων, Matthew 12:45.Verse 19. - I know thy works... and thy works. This glaring tautology is a mistranslation. The Revised Version is correct both in the order of the words and in the rendering. We have first the general statement, found in most of these epistles, asserting intimate personal knowledge: "I know thy works." Then we have, in two pairs, these works particularized, "thy love and faith," and "thy ministry and patience." Finally, we have the knowledge "that thy last works are more than the first." "Thy," in the central clause, belongs to all four substantives. Whatever may be thought of 1 Corinthians 13, ἀγάπη in St. John's writings must certainly be translated" love," and not "charity." Love and faith produce as their natural fruit ministry to the sick and needy and patience in enduring tribulation. Διακονία, excepting here and Hebrews 1:14, occurs only in the writings of St. Luke and of St. Paul; it is specially frequent in the Acts (Acts 1:17, 25; Acts 6:1, 4; Acts 11:29, etc.) and in 2 Corinthians (2 Corinthians 3:7, 8, 9; 2 Corinthians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 5:18, etc.). That thy last works are more than the first. With the momentous change of πλείονα for χείρονα, this looks like a reminiscence of Matthew 12:45 (comp. 2 Peter 2:20). Πλείονα probably means more in value rather than more in number; compare πλείονα σημεῖα τούτων, (John 7:31); πλείονα καρπόν (John 15:2); πλείονα θυσίαν (Hebrews 11:4). But both excellence and number may be included. In any case, the Church at Thya-tira exhibits growth in good works, which is the surest sign of life. Like Ephesus, Thyatira is both praised and blamed; but whereas Ephesus has gone back (ver. 5), Thyatira is going forwards. The two Churches are in some respects the exact opposite one of the other. In Ephesus there is much zeal for orthodoxy, but little love; in Thyatira there is much love, but a carelessness about false doctrine.
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