Remember therefore from where you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come to you quickly, and will remove your candlestick out of his place, except you repent.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, . . . and do the first works.—It is argued that we have here evidence that the later, or Domitian, date of the Apocalypse is the true one, since it describes a fall in spiritual life which might have occurred in thirty years, but would hardly have taken place in the few years—ten at the utmost—which elapsed between the visit of St. Paul (Acts 20:29-30) and the reign of Nero. But greater changes than a decay of this kind have passed over communities in equally short periods. We have seen nations pass from imperialism to republicanism, from the fever-heat of radicalism to the lethargy of conservatism, in shorter space. Has not the past decade shown marvellously rapid movements in the Church of our own land! The change, moreover, in the Ephesian Church was not so great as the advocates of the later apocalyptic date would describe. There is at present little outward sign of decay; they have resisted evil and false teachers; they have shown toil and endurance; but the great Searcher of hearts detects the almost imperceptible symptoms of an incipient decay. He alone can tell the moment when love of truth is passing into a noisy, Pharisaic zealotism; when men are “settling down into a lower state of spiritual life than that which they once aimed at and once knew.” Such a backsliding is “gentle, unmarked, unnoticed in its course.” Further, it must not be forgotten that the Apostle did express his presentiments of coming danger, and specially warned the elders (Acts 20:28) to take heed unto themselves; and in his Epistle (Ephesians 6:24) he gives in his closing words the covert caution that their love to Christ should be j an incorruptible, unchanging love: “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in incorruption” (“sincerity,” English version). The advice now given is, “Repent, and do the first works.” The advice is three-fold: remember, repent, reform. Remember the love of the past peaceful hours. “How sweet their memory still!” “There are ever goads,” says Archbishop Trench, “in the memory of a better and a nobler past, goading him who has taken up with meaner things and lower, and urging him to make what he has lost once more his own.” (Comp. Luke 15:17, and Hebrews 10:32.) So Ulysses urges his crew to further exertions.
“Call to mind from whence ye sprung:
Ye were not formed to live as brutes,
But virtue to pursue and knowledge high.”
Remember, but also repent, and repent in true practical fashion; for Love will recognise no repentance but that which is confirmed in the doing of the first works. It must be a repentance whereby we forsake sin. “Christ does not say, ‘Feel thy first feelings,’ but, ‘Do the first works.’” “An ounce of reality,” says a modern novelist, “is worth a pound of romance.”
Or else I will come . . .—Better, Or else I am coming unto (or, for thee, in a way which concerns) thee, and (omit “quickly,” which is wanting in the oldest MSS.) will remove thy candlestick out of its place, unless thou shalt have repented—i.e., unless the change shall have come before the day of visitation. The “now they are hid from thine eyes,” is not yet spoken for Ephesus.Revelation 2:5. Remember therefore, &c. — It is not possible for any church, or individual Christian, whether public teacher or private member, that has lost the first love, to recover it, but by taking the three steps here spoken of. 1st, Remember; 2d, Repent; 3d, Do the first works. Remember from whence thou art fallen — From what degree of faith, love, holiness, though perhaps insensibly; and repent — Have a deep and lively conviction of thy fall, be humbled and truly sorry for it before God, earnestly desiring to be pardoned and renewed, and bringing forth fruits worthy of repentance in all respects; do the first works — Outwardly and inwardly, otherwise thou canst never regain the first love; or else thou must expect that I will come unto thee quickly — In some awful dispensations of providence. By this word is the warning sharpened to those five churches which are called to repent, this admonition belonging equally to them; (for if Ephesus was threatened, how much more shall Sardis and Laodicea be afraid!) and according as they obey the call or not, there is a promise or a threatening, Revelation 2:5; Revelation 2:16; Revelation 2:22; Revelation 3:3; Revelation 3:20. But even in the threatening the promise is implied in the case of true repentance. And will remove thy candlestick out of its place — This threatening, considered as addressed to the angel or pastor of the church, meant, Unless thou repent, I will remove the flock now under thy care to another place, and put it under the care of another pastor, where it shall be better taken care of. Considered as addressed to the church, it implies that it should no longer continue to be a church, if the members of it did not endeavour to recover their lost ground, and to shine at least with their former lustre; but that the hedge of discipline should be broken down, and the light of the gospel removed from them. From the flourishing state of the church, however, at Ephesus, for a time after this, there is reason to believe that both the pastor and his flock did repent, although, not long after, they declined again, and fell lower than ever; and this church, with the other churches addressed in these letters, was ruined and overthrown by heresies and divisions from within, and by the arms of the Saracens from without. So that Mohammedanism prevails and prospers in all those countries which were once the glory of Christendom, their churches being turned into mosques, and their worship into superstitions; even Ephesus, which was once so magnificent and glorious a city, being become, as is observed on Revelation 2:1, a mean, sordid village, with scarcely a single family of Christians dwelling in it.
(a) It would show how much they might have enjoyed if they had continued as they began, how much more real happiness they would have had than they actually have enjoyed.
(b) How much good they might have done, if they had only persevered in the zeal with which they commenced the Christian life. How much more good might most Christians do than they actually accomplish, if they would barely, even without increasing it, continue with the degree of zeal with which they begin their course.
(c) How much greater attainments they might have made in the divine life, and in the knowledge of religion, than they have made; that is, how much more elevated and enlarged might have been their views of religion, and their knowledge of the Word of God. And,
(d) such a recollection of their past state as, contrasted with what they now are, would exert a powerful influence in producing true repentance; for there is nothing better adapted to do this than a just view of what we might have been, as compared with what we now are.
If a man has become cold toward his wife, nothing is better suited to reclaim him than to recall to his recollection the time when he led her to the altar, the solemn vow then made, and the rapture of his heart when he pressed her to his bosom and called her his own.
And repent - The word used here means "to change one's mind and purposes," and, along with that, "to change one's conduct or demeanor." The duty of repentance here urged would extend to all the points in which they had erred.
And do the first works - The works which were done when the church was first established. That is, manifest the zeal and love which were formerly evinced in opposing error, and in doing good. This is the true counsel to be given to those who have backslidden, and have "left their first love," now. Often such persons, sensible that they have erred, and that they have not the enjoyment in religion which they once had, profess to be willing and desirous to return, but they know not how to do it - how to revive their ardor, how to rekindle in their bosom the flame of extinguished love. They suppose it must be by silent meditation, or by some supernatural influence, and they wait for some visitation from above to call them back, and to restore to them their former joy. The counsel of the Saviour to all such, however, is to do their first works. It is to engage at once in doing what they did in the first and best days of their piety, the days of their "espousals" Jeremiah 2:2 to God. Let them read the Bible as they did then; let them pray as they did then; let them go forth in the duties of active benevolence as they did then; let them engage in teaching a Sunday school as they did then; let them relieve the distressed, instruct the ignorant, raise up the fallen, as they did then; let them open their heart, their purse, and their hand, to bless a dying world. As it was in this way that they manifested their love then, so this would be better suited than all other things to rekindle the flame of love when it is almost extinguished. The weapon that is used keeps bright; that which has become rusty will become bright again if it is used.
Or else I will come unto thee quickly - On the word rendered "quickly" (τάχει tachei), see the notes on Revelation 1:1. The meaning is, that he would come as a Judge, at no distant period, to inflict punishment in the manner specified - by removing the candle-stick out of its place. He does not say in what way it would be done; whether by some sudden judgment, by a direct act of power, or by a gradual process that would certainly lead to that result.
And will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent - On the meaning of the word "candlestick" see the notes on Revelation 1:12. The meaning is, that the church gave light in Ephesus; and that what he would do in regard to that place would be like removing a lamp, and leaving a place in darkness. The expression is equivalent to saying that the church there would cease to exist. The proper idea of the passage is, that the church would be wholly extinct; and it is observable that this is a judgment more distinctly disclosed in reference to this church than to any other of the seven churches. There is not the least evidence that the church at Ephesus did repent, and the threatening has been most signally fulfilled. Long since the church has become utterly extinct, and for ages there was not a single professing Christian there. Every memorial of there having been a church there has departed, and there are nowhere, not even in Nineveh, Babylon, or Tyre, more affecting demonstrations of the fulfillment of ancient prophecy than in the present state of the ruins of Ephesus. A remark of Mr. Gibbon (Decline and Fall, iv. 260) will show with what exactness the prediction in regard to this church has been accomplished.
He is speaking of the conquests of the Turks. "In the loss of Ephesus the Christians deplored the fall of the first angel, the extinction of the first candlestick of the Revelations; the desolation is complete; and the temple of Diana, or the Church of Mary will equally elude the search of the curious traveler." Thus, the city, with the splendid temple of Diana, and the church that existed there in the time of John, has disappeared, and nothing remains but unsightly ruins. These ruins lie about ten days' journey from Smyrna, and consist of shattered walls, and remains of columns and temples. The soil on which a large part of the city is supposed to have stood, naturally rich, is covered with a rank, burnt-up vegetation, and is everywhere deserted and solitary, though bordered by picturesque mountains. A few grainfields are scattered along the site of the ancient city. Toward the sea extends the ancient port, a pestilential marsh.
Along the slope of the mountain, and over the plain, are scattered fragments of masonry and detached ruins, but no thing can now be fixed on as the great temple of Diana. There are ruins of a theater; there is a circus, or stadium, nearly entire; there are fragments of temples and palaces scattered around; but there is nothing that marks the site of a church in the time of John; there is nothing to indicate even that such a church then existed there. About a mile and a half from the principal ruins of Ephesus there is indeed now a small village called Asalook, a Turkish word, which is associated with the same idea as Ephesus, meaning, The City of the Moon. A church, dedicated to John, is supposed to have stood near, if not on the site of the present mosque. Dr. Chandler (p. 150, 4to) gives us a striking description of Ephesus as he found it in 1764: "Its population consisted of a few Greek peasants, living in extreme wretchedness, dependence, and insensibility, the representatives of an illustrious people, and inhabiting the wreck of their greatness. Some reside in the substructure of the glorious edifices which they raised; some beneath the vaults of the stadium, and the crowded scenes of these diversions; and some in the abrupt precipice, in the sepulchres which received their ashes. Its streets are obscured and overgrown. A herd of goats was driven to it for shelter from the sun at noon, and a noisy flight of crows from the quarries seemed to insult its silence. We heard the partridge call in the area of the theater and of the stadium ... Its fate is that of the entire country; a garden has become a desert. Busy centers of civilization, spots where the refinements and delights of the age were collected, are now a prey to silence, destruction, and death.
Consecrated first of all to the purposes of idolatry, Ephesus next had Christian temples almost rivaling the pagan in splendor, wherein the image of the great Diana lay prostrate before the cross; after the lapse of some centuries Jesus gives way to Muhammed, and the crescent glittered on the dome of the recently Christian church. A few more scores of years, and Ephesus has neither temple, cross, crescent, nor city, but is desolation, a dry land, and a wilderness." See the article" Ephesus" in Kitto's Cyclopedia, and the authorities there referred to. What is affirmed here of Ephesus has often been illustrated in the history of the world, that when a church has declined in piety and love, and has been called by faithful ministers to repent, and has not done it, it has been abandoned more and more, until the last appearance of truth and piety has departed, and it has been given up to error and to ruin.
And the same principle is as applicable to individuals, for they have as much reason to dread the frowns of the Saviour as churches have. If they who have "left their first love" will not repent at the call of the Saviour, they have every reason to apprehend some fearful judgment, some awful visitation of his Providence that shall overwhelm them in sorrow, as a proof of his displeasure. Even though they should finally be saved, their days may be without comfort, and perhaps their last moments without a ray of conscious hope. The accompanying engraving, representing the present situation of Ephesus, will bring before the eye a striking illustration of the fulfillment of this prophecy, that the candlestick of Ephesus would be removed from its place. See also the engravings prefixed to the notes on the Epistle to the Ephesians.
do the first works—the works which flowed from thy first love. Not merely "feel thy first feelings," but do works flowing from the same principle as formerly, "faith which worketh by love."
I will come—Greek, "I am coming" in special judgment on thee.
quickly—omitted in two oldest manuscripts, Vulgate and Coptic versions: supported by one oldest manuscript.
remove thy candlestick out of his place—I will take away the Church from Ephesus and remove it elsewhere. "It is removal of the candlestick, not extinction of the candle, which is threatened here; judgment for some, but that very judgment the occasion of mercy for others. So it has been. The seat of the Church has been changed, but the Church itself survives. What the East has lost, the West has gained. One who lately visited Ephesus found only three Christians there, and these so ignorant as scarcely to have heard the names of St. Paul or St. John" [Trench].Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen; that is, in what degree thy love was formerly, and compare it with what it is now.
And repent; repentance in man, signifieth both the change of the heart and of the actions.
And do the first works; recover thy former warmth of love, and zeal for good works.
Or else I will come unto thee quickly; if thou do not, I that know thee, and walk in the midst of thee, will show myself an enemy to thee.
And will remove thy candlestick out of his place; and unchurch thee, and say unto thee, Lo-ammi, You are not my people. Which threatening is long since made good; for where is now the famous church of Ephesus?
and repent; of their coldness and lukewarmness, of the remissness of their love, and of those evils which brought it upon them:
and do the first works; of faith and love, with the like zeal and fervour, which will show the repentance to be sincere and genuine; so the Arabic version reads, "and exercise the former works, to wit, charity" or "love". The Jews have a saying (b),
"if a man repents, do not say to him, "remember" , "thy first works";
which they seem to understand of evil works; but former good works are to be remembered and done, to show the truth of repentance for evil ones,
Or else I will come unto thee quickly; not in a spiritual way, to pay a love visit, nor in a judicial way, to take vengeance or inflict punishment, but in a providential way, to rebuke and chastise:
and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent; or thee out of the candlestick, the pastor from the church, either by persecution or by death; or else the church, and church state itself, signified by a candlestick; See Gill on Revelation 1:12; and may design a shaking and an unsettling of it, which is sometimes done by violent persecutions, and by false teachers and their doctrines, and by the divisions and contentions of saints among themselves; and by the former particularly was there a change made in the state of this apostolic church, when it passed into the Smyrnean one, which was a period of great persecution and distress; for this cannot be understood of the total removing of the church state itself quickly, no, not of Ephesus itself; for though there is not now indeed, nor has there been for many hundred years, a church of Christ in that place, yet there was one till the times of Constantine, when there was none in any of the other seven cities, and a long time after; See Gill on Acts 20:17; which shows, that this was not a commination or threatening of divine vengence to that church literally, but to the state of the church, which that represented; nor does it intend the utter abolition of that church, for the apostolic church still continued, though it ceased to be in the circumstances it was before,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 candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Revelation 2:5. πόθεν, from what a height. Contrast Cic. ad Attic. iv. 17: “non recordor unde ceciderim, sed unde resurrexerim”. To realise that a decline has taken place, or to admit a lapse, is the first step and stimulus to amendment (see the fine passage in Bunyan’s preface to Grace Abounding, and the “Hymn of the Soul,” 44, 45, in Acts of Thomas). Once this is brought home to the mind (μνημόνευε, a prolonged effort), repentance quick and sharp (μετανόησον, aor.) will follow, issuing in a return to the first level of excellence (καὶ τὰ πρῶτα ἔργα ποίησον), i.e., to the initial charity (2 John 1:6; 2 John 1:8; love shown in deeds). The way to regain this warmth of affection is neither by working up spasmodic emotion nor by theorising about it (Arist. Eth. Nic. ii. 4), but by doing its duties. (“The two paracletes of man are repentance and good works,” Sanhed. 32). It is taken for granted that man possesses the power of turning and returning; the relation of Christ’s redeeming death to the forgiveness of sins throughout the Christian life, although implied, is never explicitly argued (as in Hebrews) by this writer. The present (ἔρχ.) emphasises the nearness of the approach, while the future (κιν.) denotes a result to follow from it. σοι either a dat. incommodi or (more probably) a local dat. (rare in classical literature, cf. Aesch. Pr. ver. 360) with “the sense of motion to a place,” (Simcox, Lang. N. T. 81), if not an incorrect reproduction of Heb. לָךְ (as Matthew 21:5, Blass). Cf. Journ. Theol. St. iii. 516. κινήσω κ.τ.λ., (“efficiam ut ecclesia esse desinas,” Areth.); not degradation but destruction is the threat, brotherly love being the articulus stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae. So, in a remarkable parallel from Paul (Php 2:14-16), quarrelsomeness forfeits the privileges of Christ’s care and service, since the function of being φωστῆρες ἐν κόσμῳ, λόγον ζωῆς ἐπέχοντες depends upon concord and charity in the church (πάντα ποιεῖτε χωρὶς γογγυσμῶν καὶ διαλογισμῶν). A slackened sense of the obligation to mutual love formed the cardinal sin at Ephesus; to repent of this was the condition of continued existence as a church; utility or extinction is the alternative held out to her. The nature of the visitation is left unexplained; the threat is vague, but probably eschatological. The Apocalypse, however, knows nothing of the Jewish idea that Israel’s repentance would bring the advent of messiah (cf. Schürer’s Hist. II. ii. 163, 164), as though the transgressions of the people hindered his appearance.5. repent] Neither this word, nor the cognate subst. repentance, is used in St John’s Gospel or Epistles.
do the first works] He does not say, “Love with the first love,” though the works were only valuable as proceeding from love: for to love, though depending on the state of the will, is not a directly voluntary act. But He says “do the first works,” for that is in thy power. Do again what love made thee do, that thou mayest learn to love again. The paradox is as true of spiritual graces as of natural virtues (Arist. Eth. Nic. II. Revelation 4:1-2) that the good habitual character is only gained by good acts, while really good acts are only possible as the product of the good character.
I will come] Literally, I am coming—the verb having, from its own nature, the sense of future time: cf. Revelation 1:4 and note.
remove thy candlestick out of his place] i.e. make thee cease to be a Church. It seems scarcely relevant to point to the destruction of the city by the Turks, and its present desolation, as a fulfilment of this threat. We may presume that the Church of Ephesus did repent, as it was famous and prosperous, and fertile in Saints, for centuries. It is likely enough that the Turkish conquest was God’s judgement on the sins of the Eastern Empire and its Churches: but we cannot conclude that the Church of Ephesus was in the 14th century more corrupt than e.g. that of Smyrna, because it was more entirely exterminated.Revelation 2:5.  Εἰ δὲ μὴ) This is spoken absolutely without a verb, Revelation 2:16; ἐὰν μὴ, with a verb, presently after in this verse, and Revelation 2:22, ch. Revelation 3:3; Revelation 3:20.—ἔρχομαί σοι καὶ κινήσω) The coming of the Lord was about to take place at one time; and the denunciation of His coming was made first at Ephesus, etc., lastly at Laodicea. [In these denunciations the idea of nearness of approach increases: Revelation 2:16; Revelation 2:25, ch. Revelation 3:3; Revelation 3:11; Revelation 3:20.—Not. Crit.] The verb ἔρχομαι is used so constantly in the present, that it remains so even when followed by a future: ἔρχομαι καὶ κινήσω· ἔρχομαι καὶ πολεμήσω, Revelation 2:16. See also John 14:3. The angel ought to effect much, on account of his close tie of connection with his own church.
 μνημόνευε, remember) A remembrance of this kind profits very much: ch. Revelation 3:3.—V. g.Verse 5. - The exhortation and threat are clear as trumpet notes: "Remember, repent, and return, or I will return and remove thee." A modern heathen philosophy teaches us that in this world to be happy is to forget. That is not the teaching of Christ. The past is both an encouragement and a warning to us; therefore "remember." Some have to remember heights from which they have fallen; others, depths from which they have been raised; others again, both. Cicero ('Ad. Att.,' 4:16) would remember the one and forget the other. Non recorder unde ceciderim, sed unde resurrexerim. The present imperative here shows that the remembering is to continue; on the other hand, the repentance (aor. imp.) is a thing to be done immediately, once for all. "The first works" means "the fruits of thy first love." Christ will have works, not feelings. I come to thee. There is no "quickly" in the true text; and the verb is present, not future (comp. John 14:18). The coming, of course, refers to a special visitation, not to the second advent. The removing of the candlestick is not the deposition of the bishop, but the dethroning of the Church, cancelling its claim to the kingdom, severing its union with Christ. Compare "The kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Matthew 22:43). The warning would seem to have been heeded at first, judging from the account of Ephesus in the Ignatian Epistles. But the Church has long since ceased to exist. Ephesus itself is a heap of ruins. Except thou repent. This repetition drives home the charge given above; repentance is the thing absolutely necessary, and at once. This shows that what Christ has against them cannot be a mere "somewhat" (Authorized Version in ver. 4). It is nothing less than this - that with all their discernment of evil, and zeal against it, they lacked reality. Their light still burned, but in a dull, lifeless way; their service had become mechanical.
Lit., hast fallen out.
I will come (ἔρχομαι)
Rev., correctly, Icome.
Will remove thy candlestick
"Its candlestick has been for centuries removed out of his place; the squalid Mohammedan village which is nearest to its site does not count one Christian in its insignificant population; its temple is a mass of shapeless ruins; its harbor is a reedy pool; the bittern booms amid its pestilent and stagnant marshes; and malaria and oblivion reign supreme over the place where the wealth of ancient civilization gathered around the scenes of its grossest superstitions and its most degraded sins" (Farrar, "Life and Work of Paul," ii., 43, 44).
John employs the verb κινέω remove (Rev., move) only in Revelation, and only once besides the present instance, in Revelation 6:14, where, as here, it signifies moving in judgment.
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