[* This article is an extract, by permission, from the Writer’s book on Revival entitled “In the Day of Thy Power.”]


“For the time is come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begin first at us, what shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel of God (1 Pet. 4: 17).




God has a grander and greater purpose for this age than simply saving souls from hell, He is bringing “sons unto glory” (Heb. 3: 10).  He is not now concerned with improving the world but with gathering out of it a people for His Name.  He is forging an instrument, glorious and holy, that shall rule and administer the world in the coming age under the sovereignty of His Son.  In this age it is the angels, “sons of God” by creation, who govern the universe.  In the age to come it will be the saints, “sons of God” by redemption, who shall judge the world and angels (1 Cor. 6: 2, 3; Heb. 2 5).  Thus God is now displaying through the church His manifold wisdom to those heavenly powers soon to be replaced by the church (Eph. 3: 10).  We can hardly contemplate these tremendous events without realizing that something radical must take place in the church as we see it today, if it is ever to be worthy of association with the Son of God in such a capacity, if in fact it is to be “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing but ... holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5: 27).


If an exiled monarch had hopes of returning in power to judge the usurper, claim his throne, and set up again his kingdom, he would surely choose his ministers and administrators from among those who had shown unswerving loyalty towards him, and where possible he would train them in advance to fulfil their future functions.  How could he promote to such executive positions those whose devotion to his cause had been lukewarm, who had been ashamed to side openly with him in his rejection, or who had been more concerned in his absence to serve their own selfish interests than his?  It is such a picture that Christ paints in the parable of the pounds (Luke 19: 11), in which He teaches us that His servants are on probation in this age, being trained and fitted for their function in the age to come.  With Christ “the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom” (Dan. 7: 18, 22).  But how are they to be made fit?  There must of necessity be a purifying, a making white, a refining, as Daniel also foretold (Dan. 12: 10). In the larger scheme of things, God has commonly effected this purifying by REVIVAL or JUDGMENT.


Strange though it may seem there are distinct similarities between the ways of God in revival and in judgment. Throughout the prophets the thought of a divine visitation is used to describe blessing and revival on the one hand (Jer. 27: 22) and a season of judgment on the other (Jer. 1: 31).  Likewise the overflowing rain could picture a time of spiritual revival (Ezek. 34: 26) or of divine judgment (Gen. 6: 17).  Another figure used of the mighty operation of the [Holy] Spirit in revival is fire from heaven (1 Kings 18 38: Acts 2: 3), but it is also typical of the judgment of God (2 Kings 1: 10).  All this may be partly explained by the fact that there is an element of judgment present in every revival.  But it is also true that judgment is the solemn alternative to revival.  The purifying and quickening of the people of God is a moral and spiritual necessity.  Because of His very nature God cannot and will not permit spiritual decline to continue unchecked.  He is ever halting and reversing the trend of the times by means of revival - or judgment.  Where His people are not prepared for the one, they shut themselves up to the other.


Some may wonder whether there can be any question of divine judgment upon a true child of God or a true church of God, since the Saviour declared that a believer “hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life” (John 5: 24).  There can certainly be no question of judgment as regards being dead in trespasses and sins, because those who believe have passed once for all out of the realm of death into that of life, and there is “no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8: 1).  Subsequent unbelief and disobedience is another matter, and if persisted in must sooner or later evoke the chastisement of the Father.


The Egyptians did not hear Moses’ word, nor did they believe on Him who sent him, therefore they came into judgment culminating in the death of the firstborn.  The Israelites who heard and believed did not come into judgment but passed out of death into life.  Once redeemed, however, God began to deal with them as a father with his children, and thereafter they suffered at His hands chastisements and judgments, some of them severe.  The apostles drew valuable lessons from this for the warning of the church (Jude 5.: 1Cor. 10). Paul showed that not only the sins of redeemed Israel (1 Cor. 10: 6) but the judgments that befell them were “by way of example; and they were written for our admonition” (verse 11).  There are also New Testament illustrations of the truth that “the Lord shall judge His people” (Heb. 10: 30).


We see from the history of Israel, in Canaan as well as in the wilderness, that God has always worked in His people through revival and through judgment.  A time came, however, when there was no remedy and God could revive them no longer as a nation, but shut them up to the overwhelming judgments of the captivities.  Even in the midst of these desolations of Zion we hear the cry of the faithful remnant, “Turn again our captivity, 0 Lord, as the streams in the south” (Psa. 126: 4), and we witness the mercy of God in granting to a few under Ezra and Nehemiah “a little reviving in [their] bondage” (Ezra 9: 8).


The close of the New Testament revelation brings again the message of revival or judgment.  Before Paul laid down his pen and sealed his faith with his blood, that great sweep of the Spirit that began at Pentecost had begun to wane, with accompanying signs of spiritual decline.  John, writing at the close of the first century, conveys to a small circle of seven churches a personal message from the risen Christ (Rev. 2 and 3).  Five of them are charged by the Head of the Church with sins of departure and commanded to repent.  The “germs” which Paul had diagnosed years before, and about which he had faithfully warned the churches (Acts 20: 29), were now an epidemic.  The Lord showed these five churches that there could be no reviving without repentance, and if they were unwilling for this the alternative was judgment.  Doubtless then, as now, the Lord longed to pour out His Spirit, but how could He do this greater thing until they were willing for personal reviving?  In these five letters the need of this reviving is laid bare, the way to it is marked out, and the solemn alternative is set forth; it is only these points in the letters we need now consider.  If ever there was a message to the churches it is here in Revelation 2 and 3.




I have this against thee “that thou didst leave thy first love” (Rev. 2: 4).  The Lord’s contention with His people at Ephesus centred in this terse [i.e., ‘brief, forcible in style] and pointed accusation.


The life of God that comes into the centre of a newborn soul does not always, or at once, influence, as it should, the whole circumference of the outer life; hence the exhortations to true believers not to lie, steal, commit fornication, or bite and devour one another, etc.  Conversely, spiritual decay may be at work in the heart of a believer or a church without the signs of decline being at once manifest.  The rosy apple with unblemished skin may be rotting at the core.  It was so with Ephesus.  The glowing commendation of verses 2 and 3 might lead one to suppose that here was a church that left nothing to be desired.  This may have been man’s verdict, but it was not God’s; “for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16: 7).  Those eyes which were as a flame of fire, piercing through every veneer and searching the hidden depths, had perceived in this church, despite its orthodoxy and its activity, the symptoms of spiritual decline.  Ephesus, to whom Paul had declared “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20: 27), to whom had been committed the sublimest truths in the New Testament regarding the church as the bride-to-be of Christ (Eph. 5: 22-23), had declined in that very relationship: she had left her first love.


How true is the saying, “Christianity is a religion of the heart.”  It is not a religion of the head, though it is essentially practical.  It is a religion of the heart: for what a man is in his heart that is he in the sight of God.  Christ taught that the thoughts, words, and actions that go to make up the life, proceed from the heart (Matt. 12: 34; 15: 19).  Since the heart is the very fountain of man’s personality, it is ever the object of Satan’s attack.  If he can but corrupt the heart he will soon defile the whole life.  Solomon was wise to warn us, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4: 23).  He would have been wiser still had he practised what he preached.* Implicit in this heart condition of Ephesus were solemn possibilities that only Christ could see.  He had diagnosed in the heart of this church that deadly germ which is responsible for all spiritual decline. Such a condition, threatening as it did the very life of the body, called for drastic action by the Surgeon. Hence the sternness and solemnity of Christ’s words to these believers.


[* Here is scriptural proof that knowledge, no matter how deep it may be, is no safeguard against apostasy.]


What is this “first love” that Ephesus had forsaken?  It is the love of her whose every fear and prejudice and reserve have been broken down; whose heart has been utterly captured, she knows not how; and who presents herself to her beloved as his, and his for ever.  It is the love of betrothal.  It was this love that drew Israel out of the bondage of Egypt into a covenant relationship with the Lord, anticipating a day when He should say to them, “thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is His name” (Isa. 54: 5).  Alas, they too left their first love, and sorrowfully God had to remind them of it: “I remember for thee the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals; how thou wentest after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown ... My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me the fountain of living waters, and hewn them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water ... My people have forgotten Me days without number” (Jer. 2: 2, 13, 32).  Thus this church of the New Testament, heedless of that which had been recorded for her admonition, was repeating the sin of “the church in the wilderness


Not only is a first love toward Christ one of the most precious and sacred and beautiful things under heaven, but it is vital to a deeper life and growth in the things of God.  When the love wanes the life will soon decline.  Is this the reason why the life of the church is so low today, and the need for its reviving so great?  As we consider some of the characteristics of “first love,” let us ask ourselves whether the church, whether we ourselves, are guilty of the sin of having left it, or the greater sin of never having had it.


It is pure love, without the taint of worldly attraction, and un-weakened by ulterior motive.  It is the love of the “pure virgin,” uncorrupted “from the simplicity and the purity that is toward Christ” (2 Cor. 11: 2, 3).  It is a tender love, sensitive to the smallest thing that might bring grief or displeasure to the Beloved, ever seeking to be well-pleasing unto Him who said, “If ye love Me, ye will keep My commandments” (John 14: 15).  It is a supreme love that has conquered all other loves and brought them into subjection, according to His own word, “He that loveth father or mother, etc. ... more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10: 37).  It is a sacrificial love, because it partakes of the very nature of the love of God and of Christ. “God so loved ... that He gave His only begotten Son” ... “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for it And this “first love” is but the offspring of the Divine love, which ever brings, forth after its own kind.  It is a love that gives itself up and pours itself out.  This had once been the love of the Ephesian church.  This was the love she had forsaken.


These are not so much the words of an offended Lord as of a wounded Lover, “I have this against thee, that thou didst leave thy first love The toil, the zeal, and the orthodoxy of this church could never compensate for the loss of that first love.  Her need, more desperate and urgent than she could know, was for a revived love.  Is it not the need of the church today?  Is it that many believers have lost, or is it that they have never known the freshness and fervency of “first love How easy it is to be deceived over this matter. One may perform the same exercises, pray with the same words, sing the same hymns, as one has always done, and yet the whole be no longer an exercise of the heart, but simply a matter of form or of duty. Said Christ, “This people honoureth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me” (Matt. 15: 8).


John in his first epistle brings the matter of love for the Lord down to a very practical issue by showing that the measure of a believer’s love for God is the measure of his love for his brother, that much and no more (1 John 4: 11-21).  The Saviour said that His disciples were to be known by their love for each other (John 13: 35); instead they have become marked before the world by their strifes and divisions.  What need is there for further evidence that the first love of the early church, who were of “one heart and one soul,” and of whom men had to exclaim, “Behold how they love one another,” has been largely lost by the church of today?  Compassion for the perishing is another expression of this first love.  Most are prepared to pay lip-service to the need of the lost, but with how many is there practical indifference?  How few, comparatively are the churches today with a heart like the church of the Thessalonians to whom Paul said, “From you bath sounded forth the word of the Lord ... in every place ... so that we need not to speak anything” (1 Thes. 1: 8).  Is it not evident that we need a revived love?  The One who still walks in the midst of the lampstands, and before whose eyes every heart is laid bare, not only reveals the condition, but also the cure. Here are the three steps to a revived love: “Remember ... repent ... do the first works” (verse 5). “Remember from whence thou art fallen Christ is not addressing the individual: He is addressing the church. There had been corporate failure, and the Lord calls for corporate action.  As a church they had lost their first love; as a church they had fallen; and therefore as a church they needed to remember, that is, to go back in thought to their beginning, and realize how great their fall was.  The church of today must do the same.  Only through an honest comparison of the love of the early church with the love of the church today, can we appreciate the greatness of our fall.  Then “Repent."  Long have we urged the sinner to do it: now the Lord commands us to do it ourselves.  This involves a change of attitude, a change of heart, a humbling before God, who has promised to revive the heart of the contrite ones.  Finally, “do the first works."


The church must go back to the beginning, and tread again the pathway of the first love.  Of the Macedonian churches we read, “First they gave their own selves to the Lord” (2 Cor. 8: 5).  This in a phrase is doing the first works.  There must be a renewed dedication, presenting ourselves afresh to our Beloved as “in the day of His espousals, and in the day of the gladness of His heart” (Song 3: 11).


If the church was not willing to pay the price of a revived love, there could be but little alternative - He would visit them in judgment: “or else I come to thee, and will move thy lampstand out of its place, except thou repent.” The lampstand is the proper place for the light.  “Neither do they light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the lampstand [same word]: and it shineth unto all that are in the house The threatened judgment upon Ephesus was that of having the lampstand removed, so that, the lamp of corporate testimony would cease to shine.  Its organization, its activities, and even its form of witness might continue, but there would be no light there.  Can any greater tragedy overtake a church than to lose its testimony?  Souls would stumble and perish in the darkness because the light was not shining where it ought to be.  Ships that might have found the haven of this church would make shipwreck because the harbour light was not in its place.  They shall perish in their iniquity, but their blood God will require at the church’s hands - the church that lost her light because she lost her love.


“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches” today.  If the church is not willing to return to her first love, can we expect God to pour out His Spirit?  Can we expect Him to withhold His judgment?  Let the people of God face the alternatives, and then let them pray as never before.