To the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things said he that holds the seven stars in his right hand…
I. ITS SYMPTOMS: The first test, to which we would bring the professing Christian who is anxious to determine whether love is growing cold in himself, is that furnished by secret prayer and the study of God's "Word. Prayer has been not inaptly called the breathing of the soul; and you may be sure, that where this grows shorter and more difficult, there can be no healthful play in the organs of life. And as one great symptom of spiritual decline may be derived from the more private means of grace, so may another from the more public. The Christian in whom vital religion is in a healthy condition, attaches great worth to the public ordinances; neglect of these is, however, a sign of declining love. But now take another symptom — equally decisive, though perhaps more easily overlooked. There is no feeling stronger in the Christian than that of desire to promote God's glory in the salvation of his fellow-men. But suppose him to become comparatively indifferent to the diffusion of the gospel — so that it is not with the heart, though it may be with the purse and the hand, that he helps forward the cause of the Redeemer; ah! who will say that the love is not losing its fervour? who will deny the spiritual decline? But again; there is a broad separating line between the men of the world and the men of religion. And the healthful Christian is quite aware of this. He guards accordingly with godly jealousy against any such conformity as would do violence to his profession. But there may be — and there often is — a great change in these respects. The man of religion comes to view the world with less fear, and less repugnance. Alas! this is one of the strongest of symptoms that the fervour is departing from the love. And not unlike the symptom of making light of the difference between religion and the world is that of making light of the difference between various creeds. The distinguishing doctrines of the gospel are prized by the ardent Christian as treasures without which he were unutterably poor. Hence he looks with abhorrence, for example, on Socinianism; it would strip Christ of His Divinity, and this he feels would be the stripping himself of immortality. But this repugnance to error may not continue. And wheresoever there is this lowered sense of the indispensableness of fundamental truths, and of an increasing disposition to think gently of wrong systems of religion, you may be sure that the love is fast losing its fervour. You may be certain, further, that where there is no increase in religion there must be some radical deficiency; nay, where there is no increase there must be a decrease. Judge then yourselves, ye who would know whether ye are the subjects of spiritual declension. Is it a greater privilege to you to pray, and a less labour to be obedient? Have you a firmer command over your passions? Is the will more in harmony with the Divine? Is the conscience more sensitive, and is the judgment prompter in deciding: for what is right against what is agreeable?
II. ITS DANGERS. For some of you might be disposed to say — "Well, what if our love be less ardent than it was? it does not follow that we must be in great peril; the love may be warm enough for salvation, and yet not as warm as it was at first." But if you remember how our Lord reasoned in regard of "the salt which had lost its saltness" — and this is but another figure to express the same thing as the love losing its fervour. The grand difficulty is not that of producing love at first, but of restoring its heat when it has been suffered to grow cold. Even amongst ourselves, in reference to human attachment, the difficulty of rousing a decayed affection is almost proverbial. The party who has loved and then ceased to love, is of all others the least likely to love again. The ashes of the decayed sentiment seem to smother the fresh sparks. And the difficulty which is experienced in the revival of human affection might be looked for, when it is the love of God and of Christ which has grown languid. You are to observe, that a great deal must have been done for the man in whom the love of God has once been kindled. The Spirit of God must have striven with this man — so as to arouse in him the dormant immortality, and brought him to experience the power of the gospel. But it is not the course of this celestial Agent, to persist in working where there is no earnestness in holding fast what He has already granted. If you expose yourselves to the damps of the world or unnecessarily permit the icy winds of temptation to beat upon you, He will work on you with less and less energy or communicate less and less of animating grace. And we cannot but suppose, that this Spirit is more displeased when neglected by one on whom He has effectually wrought, than when resisted by another with whom He has striven in vain. But the Spirit may be recalled; and then the smothered flame may be rekindled. We will not deny it; God forbid that we should. We are not required to make the case out hopeless, but only full of difficulty. Take away the life from religion, leave us nothing but formality, and there is not upon the face of the earth an individual, so useless to others and to himself, as the one in whom the love remains, but remains in its ashes and not in its fires. It is the insidiousness of the disease which makes it so difficult to cope with. The resemblance is continually fixed on us, between what our medical men call consumption, and what our theological call spiritual decline. You know very well, that the presence of consumption is often scarcely suspected till the patient is indeed past recovery. There is perhaps no disease which less tells its victim what its fatal errand is. You know how beautifully brilliant it often makes the eye and the cheek. Alas! this is but emblematic of what it does to the heart, flushing it with hope and suffusing it with life, when the winding sheet is woven and the shadow is falling. But this disease, so insidious, so flattering, so fatal, is the exact picture of spiritual decline. Ministers and kinsmen may perceive no difference in the man; equally regular in the public duties of religion, equally large in his charities, equally honourable in his dealings, equally pure in his morals. The fatal symptoms may be all internal; and because they are not such as to draw observation, there may be no warning given by others; and the sick man, not examining himself, and not finding that his religious friends suppose him to be on the decline, will be all the more likely to feel persuaded of his safety, and to learn his disease, alas! only from his death.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;