Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love.
Nevertheless I have... first love. There is no stage of our heavenward journey that is so hard as that which we go over for the third time. When in the ardour of our first love we first traversed that part of the road, we went along vigorously, with a strong elastic step. And when we went back, though we went slowly enough at first, like as when the boy's ball, which he has flung high into the air, when ceasing its upward ascent, begins to descend, that beginning is slow, but quickens every second. And so on the backward road we quicken speed in a mournful way. But when we have finished this retrogression, and with a startled shock discover what we have lost, but, by God's exceeding grace, resolve to recover it - hic labor hoc opus est - this is toil indeed. Our text brings before us the case of those who have thus gone back, and whom the Lord is lovingly rousing to the resolve that they will regain what they have lost. Note -
I. WHAT THEY LEFT AND LOST. It was that blessed early condition of peace and joy Godward which the beginning of the religious life so often witnesses. "All things were new - Christ was new, the Word a new light, worship a new gift, the world a new realm of beauty, shining in the brightness of its Author; even the man himself was new to himself. Sin was gone, and fear also was gone with it. To love was his all, and he loved everything. The day dawned in joy, and the thoughts of the night were songs in his heart. Then how tender, how teachable! in his conscience how true! in his works how dutiful! It was the Divine childhood, as it were, of his faith, and the beauty of childhood was in it. This was his first love; and if all do not remember any precise experience of the kind, they do at least remember what so far resembled this as to leave no important distinction." There was fervour of feeling: a great outgoing of the soul towards Christ; much prayer, and that very real; hearty service; delight in worship - the sabbath, the sanctuary, the sacred service; the avoiding, not sin only, but its occasions, the "hating of the garment spotted by the flesh;" in short, there was a close walk with God. Blessed, blessed time, the primeval Paradise of the soul, the golden age, the leaving of which one might mourn, even as our first parents mourned when they were driven forth from Eden to the thorns and briars of the wilderness!
II. How IT CAME TO BE LEFT. Many are the explanations that might be given. In some, absorption overmuch in business; in others, the influence of unspiritual and worldly companions; in others, intellectual doubts, insinuated into the mind by unbelieving or sceptical books; in others, the chill moral atmosphere of the Church itself; in others, some lingering, lurking lust reasserting itself; and so on in ever increasing variety; but each one knows for himself how the going back was brought about. But that we may not make sorry those whom God has not made sorry, we would add the caution not to regard every fluctuation of feeling as proof of this going back. Some are forever tormenting themselves in this way, and so kill the very love they are looking for, and in looking for it. "The complications of the heart are infinite, and we may become confused in our attempts to untwist them." Men dig at the roots of their motives to see that they are the right ones, and the roots of tender plants cannot stand such rough handling. But whilst there are some who distress themselves when they have no need, there are more who have great need, and yet are not distressed as they should be. Let such consider -
III. WHAT COMES OF LEAVING OUR FIRST LOVE.
1. The Spirit of God is grieved. Can a father see his child turn cold and sullen towards him, and not be grieved? And in view of such turnings back from him, must not our Lord be in a very real sense "the Man of sorrows" still?
2. Sinful men are hardened in their sin. Their boast is that there is no reality in religion; that it is all a spasmodic passing thing; that the fervour of it in the beginning will soon cool down, and here is another proof that there is nothing in it.
3. The Church of God is distressed. Its members had relied upon those who have gone back, had hoped for much good from them, had looked to see them carrying on and extending the work of God around them; and now they are disappointed and made ashamed. The enemies of God blaspheme, and those who have gone back are the cause.
4. And they themselves suffer most of all.
(1) They are miserable; they have enough of religion left to give them disrelish for the ways of the world, but not near enough to give them the joy which belongs only to those who are whole hearted in the service of God.
(2) And they are on the verge of great and awful judgment. If they still go back, it will be "unto perdition;" and if, in God's mercy, they be made to stop ere they have gone to that last length, it will most likely have to be by some sharp scourging process, with many tears, and amid terrible trouble both without and within. What a pitiful journey that must have been when the wretched prodigal resolved at length that he would "arise, and go to his Father"! In what humiliation, fear, shame, distress, he had to urge his weary way along the return road! Only one thing could have been worse - that be should not have come back. Oh, you who are forsaking Christ, if you be really his, you will have to come back; but no joyous journey will that be for you. No, indeed! It never has been, and never can be. Still blessed be the Lord, who forces you to make it, difficult and hard though it be. It is the hand which was nailed to the cross, and the heart which there was pierced for you, that now wields the scourge which compels you, in sorrow and in shame, to come back to him whom you left. But -
IV. WHAT FOLLY IT IS TO LEAVE HIM AT ALL. Ministers of Christ are so fond, as well they may be, of proclaiming God's pardoning love, that they too much pass over his preserving love. We take it too much for granted that men will go off into "the far country," as that foolish younger son did; and we forget that much-maligned elder son who stayed at home with his father, and who was therefore far more blessed than the other could ever be. He could not understand his father's gentleness to that ne'er-do-well brother of his - as many still, and ever since the gospel has been preached, have failed to understand God's gentleness to returning sinners; and so he complained. But how did his father answer him? It is too little noted. "Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine;" the meaning of all which was, "What, my son! you complain at my forgiving and welcoming your poor wretched brother! you who are so much better off, you complain!" Yes, he was better off; his lot, as is the lot of all those who never leave their first love, is far the preferable one, and there is no need that we should choose the other. Never let it be forgotten that he who brought you to himself will keep you near to and in himself, as willingly as, surely more willingly than, he will receive you after you have gone astray. To be pardoned, ah! well may we thank God for that; but to have been preserved, to have been "kept from the evil so that it should not hurt us," to have been "kept in the love of God," - for that more thanksgiving still is due; and may God grant that we may be able forever and ever in his blessed presence to render it unto him. - S.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
WEB: But I have this against you, that you left your first love.