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PATIENCE IN SUFFERING,
ILLUSTRATED IN THE
HISTORY OF THE CHURCH AT SMYRNA.
REVELATION ii. 8–11.
In my last discourse I considered a portion of this epistle to the Church of Smyrna, and having enlarged on the import of the introductory description which is given of our Saviour, and having considered the difficulties with which the members of this Church were called upon to contend, we then passed to the attestation of the excellent spiritual condition of this Church which was expressed in the terms-“Thou art rich.” The discourse was then concluded, by exhibiting at large what it was that constituted a Church rich, and what it was that rendered an individual rich in the sight of God. These considerations were necessary to pave the way for a profitable elucidation of the remaining part of this epistle; for whoever has paid even an ordinary attention to the subject, will not fail to be convinced that the Church at Smyrna had need of all its spiritual riches; had need of all the supports of grace which were vouchsafed ; had need of all the hopes and expectations of the future; and had need of all that faith, whose province and whose attribute it is to overcome the world, when we take into the account the
IVth particular which is presented to our view in this epistle.—“Behold the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried, and ye shall have tribulation ten days."
In this declaration there are four particulars, all worthy of especial and minute consideration.
1. The persecutions of the Church at Smyrna.
2. An express declaration, on the part of God, of the precise object of these persecutions.
3. A notice of the duration of these persecutions, ten days, and
4. A direct allusion to the author of these persecutions, "the devil."
1st. There is a general allusion to the persecutions of the Church at Smyrna. From the very first ages of the world, it has been emphatically true, that the real, spiritual people of God, have been a tried and a persecuted people. The page of profane as well as of Scripture history is eloquent and expressive on this subject; and among those things in which the ways of God are above our ways, and his thoughts above our thoughts, is the fact so abundantly apparent that God has not seen fit to exempt even his most faithful followers from the difficulties of this present life. It was a declaration of our Lord himself, that the ser
vant is not greater than his lord, nor the disciple above his master; and in the Gospel, he forewarns us that if men call the master of the house Belzebub, they will do even worse to those who compose his household, and he gives this full and satisfactory reason—“if ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but ye are not of the world, because I have chosen you out of the world; therefore the world hateth you.” This is as little complimentary to the spirit of the world, as it is greatly consolatory to those who ever suffer persecution for the cause of Christ. That the persecutions which fell upon the Church of Smyrna were solely for the cause of Christ is perfectly apparent, because this Church was altogether commended. There was no decay in religion, as complained of in the epistle to the Church at Ephesus, but they were spoken of as distinguished for their works and labours of love, and as rich in all the graces and virtues of the Christian life. And yet, highly as was this Church of Smyrna commended, its members were warned of the coming trial. And in the present day, as it was in days of old, in proportion to the purity of a Church are the efforts which are made to cast reproach upon it; in proportion to the zeal and activity and vitality by which it is distinguished, is there a disposition to dim the brightness which by its splendour makes the darkness of others still more palpable. As the dispensations of God's providence, however, which are of an afflictive character, are always tempered with mercy; and as especially in the case of his peculiar people they are the kind exhibitions of parental love, the Church of Smyrna is told, that the persecution which was coming, would
not extend to every individual of that Church. “Behold, some of you shall be cast into prison, and ye shall have tribulation.” Though not all, but only certain individuals were in the mysterious providence of God to feel the heavy burden of this coming calamity, yet it was a general concern, because in the then primitive simplicity of Christianity, “if one member suffered all the members suffered with it." It is one of the beautiful traits almost peculiar to those early days, that about the members of a Christian Church there were gathered the cords of most fraternal affection. As there was one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all, so there was one interest, and one pervading principle of love. If every individual then of the Church of Smyrna did not personally feel the burden of the persecution, every one did feel a Christian sympathy for the persecuted.
We are at a loss to conjecture what portion of the members of the Church at Smyrna are represented in the expression—"some of you shall be cast into prison.” From all the circumstances, however, I am inclined to the opinion, that the individuals who were thus to be afflicted, were those who stood most eminent for their piety and godliness; and the ground of this conjecture is not only in the experience of the ordinary current of God's providential dealing; not only in the fact hereafter to be considered, that Polycarp, the most eminent of the saints of Smyrna, was among the number on whom the heaviest wrath of the persecution fell, but from the second circumstance which comes under our notice, viz.—the object of this persecution, “ that
ye may be tried.”
It is declared in Scripture for the consolation of the people of God under their calamities, that though no chastening is for the present joyous but grievous, yet that it worketh the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby. Persecution and tribulation never come upon the real servants of God without their specified and appointed object; and it needs but little study of the word of God, and little observation of the world, to ascertain what that object is. It is to test the faith of God's people; it is to purge away the dross which may cling even to the gold, and as by a refining process, to bring forth the rich material in its most unadulterated condition, and in its most bright and resplendent aspect. God forewarns the members of the Church of Smyrna, that this persecution was intended, that they might be tried, not that they might be destroyed. They would then be enabled to see what would be the value of the faith which they had professed ; they would then ascertain whether their hope could live amidst the angry waves of the troubled ocean ; they would then see whether their patience was such as would enable them to bear without discontent the evils they were to encounter; then they would be sure whether their courage was of such a temper as would animate them in the cause of their Master, to disregard the frowns, the menaces, and the violence of their enemies. In fine, they were to be placed in situations in which all the Christian graces would be required in their most active and vigorous exercise—their faith, their hope, their courage, their love, their spirit of forgiveness. It will be found in the sequel, brethren, that they did stand