The First Love and the First Works
From the Christian Science Journal, March 1906, by W. D. Mccrackan
A mighty call has come to modern Christendom. An exhortation, swelling with ever-increasing volume and advancing with irresistible momentum, is urging Christians everywhere to return to their “first love” and do the “first works.” Insistently and persistently the import of these stirring words of St. John, used in his address to the angel of the church of Ephesus, is being urged in our day upon all mankind by the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science. The message is being heard, and obedience, thereto is proving its origin divine, is providing a respite for multitudes from the woes of sin, sickness, and death.
It is a curious commentary upon human conduct that even before primitive Christianity had fairly become established as a system of religion, Christians already had to be reminded not to leave their “first love,” but to repent and do the “first works.” This warning is to be found in the opening verses of the second chapter of Revelation. It is as though the Revelator had been obliged to chide certain of his fellow-Christians, thus early, for losing their first enthusiasm for righteousness, and for abandoning that practice of Christianity which constituted then, as it does now, the proof and demonstration of its essential and distinctive utility.
This same admonition has come ringing down the centuries to all those who have named the name of Christ. It serves as a clarion call to awaken the attention of those who may be distracted by the pains or pleasures of sense. It exhorts them not to allow themselves at any time to be turned from joyful alertness to duty, from spontaneous activity in well doing and natural delight in good deeds. It also acts as a summons to those who, yielding to formalism in religion, might be tempted to forget to do the first works of Christianity. St. John’s words register a protest against merely theoretical or doctrinal theology, and point clearly to the necessity for the constant demonstration of the Christ-teaching in daily life. Had this protest been properly heeded, it is certain that Christendom would have been spared its dark periods of oppression and depression. Christians would never have been satisfied with creeds which embrace the belief in a divided garment of Truth, and the art of healing by spiritual means would never have become a lost art, to be re-discovered in our own day.
The penalty provided for the abandonment of the “first love” and the “first works” is indicated by the Revelator in the following symbolical words: “or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” The light of spiritual understanding disappears to those who do not use it. To such there is no further radiation of light; hence the ability to perceive spiritually is lost and the power of doing the first works vanishes, until this power is regained through repentance. Has this not been the experience of the Christian churches, and of individual Christians in all ages who have been content to preach and have not practised?
In closing his parable of the false husbandmen who slew the heir of the vineyard, Jesus declared to the chief priests and elders of the people, “Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.”
The word Principle used in the Christian Science textbook as synonymous with God, is related etymologically to the Latin adjective princeps, meaning first; and since St. John elsewhere in his writings defines God as Love, it is admissable to speak of a return to the “first love” as a return to Principle or God, from whom we may seem to have strayed temporarily.
God described himself to Moses as “I AM,” the present tense in this case being used not to denote time, for there is no time in eternity, but to denote existence, actuality, reality. This same idea of God’s ever-presence also came to John when he wrote, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” Then the first is also the last, the All in all, and to this eternal and everlasting concept of God as immortal Love man is bidden to return continually, until there shall be no more temptation, fear, deception, false love or hate, mistaken joys or sorrows; in a word, no more inducements of any kind to go after other gods or worship strange human inventions.
Like the prodigal son in the parable it is always our privilege to return to our Father’s house, when the pleasures and pains of sense have been uncovered to us in all their futile and foolish nothingness. Paul was very sure that there could be no actual separation from the “first love.” “Who,” he asks, writing to the Romans, “shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Then he enumerates an extended list of supposed powers, formidable enough to all appearances in the reading, but not one of which, he declares, can “separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Moreover, it is certain that if we cannot be really separated from the “first love” we cannot permanently or actually lose the power of doing the “first works,” and any appearance of such separation or loss must be false and misleading, to be denied and disbelieved in order that the facts of existence may appear.
There is a natural tendency common to all men and women which makes them turn back in the hour of sin and sorrow to early recollections, to the sweet impulses of childhood and the simplicity and innocence of other days. This is perhaps an instinctive reaching out for the “first love.” seeking to find “the love of Christ” in the unsoiled and unspotted thought of the child. Mankind in every stage of development catches glimpses through the curtain of material sense of bright realities beyond. Momentary perceptions of Truth illumine every human consciousness, no matter how dense it may seem to other mortals. The great mass of longings and aspirations, the very regrets and disappointments characteristic of mankind, as well as that indefinable feeling which leads men to say, “it might have been,” all these habits of thought indicate the possibility of improvement. They point to the fact that the physical senses do not satisfy, and that there is a natural expectation of something better, based on spiritual sense. This intuition is ready under the ministration of Christian Science to blossom into “hope, faith, understanding, fruition, reality” (Science and Health, p. 298). Such a process inevitably leads to a return to the Christ-ideal, to the pattern by which regeneration must be wrought, the model upon which manhood must be based. The child, unaccustomed to evil and uninformed as to its supposed laws, finds good perfectly natural and normal, and this purity makes a strong appeal to all mankind.
It is recorded that Jesus used the child-thought both as illustration and as example in teaching his students. He seems to have greatly appreciated the spiritual receptivity of the child. When his students tried to keep the children away from him, presumably for fear that they might disturb him, he rebuked them and said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” He was even more explicit and emphatic in pointing out the absolute necessity for the childlike quality of thought in our search for God, for he immediately uttered the memorable words recorded in the next verse: “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.” Hence for men and women, struggling in the turmoil of mortal existence, the desire to be as a little child is a hopeful sign and constitutes a longing to turn from error to Truth.
Should Christians ever be tempted to halt momentarily in the valley of despondency by reason of the uncovering of evil in themselves or others, or should they be inclined to rest satisfied with the perfunctory performance of their round of duties, the cure is indicated in the Revelator’s words. Let them return to that Love which stands ready to heal them of sin and sickness, and which fits them to heal others of every discord to which flesh is heir. Surely will this return destroy despondency and perfunctoriness and make possible the doing of the “first works.” Then will no attempt of the carnal mind to satisfy men and women with barren intellectualism or destructive criticism succeed, but all will learn to possess the Christ-mind, and to feed upon the word of Truth.
In this connection it is well to recognize that the true significance of gratitude, its metaphysical necessity, is revealed by Christian Science alone. Mankind, except in its very lowest stages and most debased periods, has always made much of the giving of thanks. It has been quite universally held that it is right and proper to express gratitude for favors received. Children are carefully taught to say “thank you” as soon as they are old enough to talk, even before they may be expected to understand why they should do so. As a general human trait the habit of thanking is an indication of right and proper thinking, a reflection of divine Love, in whose atmosphere the real man lives, and moves, and has his being. It is, however, worth while to notice that gratitude is not merely one of the graces of Christian life, but is a prime necessity of existence as well. Nothing else can prove so clearly as gratitude that the praying Christian knows he has received an answer to his prayer. This knowing is an essential part of true healing. They who recognize and realize that their prayers have been answered, who are convinced that Christian Science has healed them of any disability, mental, moral, or physical, are also in condition to be truly thankful. Thus gratitude acts as a proof that the sinner and the sick have been metaphysically liberated from false beliefs. Gratitude is a spiritual sign and symbol of a change for the better, of a return to that “first love” which produces the “first works.”
St. John relates that he “was in the isle that is called Patmos” when he was bidden to write what he saw “and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia.” The names of these churches are given as those of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. The value of St. John’s messages lies in their spiritual and symbolical import, but it may be worth while to glance at the position of these cities on the map and to note briefly the part which Ephesus has played in history, if only to learn how transitory human glory proves. The seven cities all lie comparatively close together in the western portion of what is now called Asia Minor, forming a part of the Turkish Empire. The island of Patmos itself belongs to a group known as the Sporades, which lie like a string of beads off the Asiatic coast.
Ephesus, the first of the seven to be mentioned, was one of the principal cities of the olden times. It contained one of the so-called seven wonders of the ancient world; namely, the famous temple of the goddess Diana. It was of great commercial importance as well, possessing a harbor from which ships sailed to all portions of the then known world. In the nineteenth chapter of The Acts there is a most dramatic recital of the experience of Paul at Ephesus, when he presented Christianity to that city. He spent about three years there altogether, teaching, preaching, and practising Christianity. First he turned to his own race, the Jews. In The Acts we read: “And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.” But when the Jews believed not, Paul found it necessary to separate his disciples from them, and use the lecture room of one Tyrannus, — presumably a Gentile, judging by his name.
Then Paul encountered opposition of another kind. Ephesus, as the great temple indicated, was the center of the worship of Diana, and consequently it attracted great companies of the worshipers of the heathen goddess. A trade in little shrines or figures of Diana had sprung up there, and had become an established and flourishing local industry. Probably a great deal of capital was invested in it, and a great deal of labor employed.
Now Paul’s teachings were interfering with this business. Every convert he made lessened the demand for shrines, and tended to create an over-supply, and the idol makers found themselves with an unsalable article on their hands. It was a question of reducing the price or driving Paul out of Ephesus, and it was decided to try the latter expedient; so Demetrius, a silversmith, called his associates together. The mob ran into the theatre to hold a mass meeting, and there shouted for about the space of two hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” which, archeologists tell us, was the regular formula used as an invocation to the goddess. The result of the whole matter was that Paul found himself obliged to depart from Ephesus and go to Macedonia. But the fruit of his work remained, and resulted in course of time in the establishment of one of the seven churches in Asia at Ephesus.
The whole story seems to indicate that mankind in Paul’s day closely resembled mankind in every age. The world of the Roman Empire, in which Paul lived, was very much like the world of to-day. People did not mind another religion more or less, there were so many already, but the moment a new religion overthrew their material idols, then the resistance to its introduction began.
How effectually Ephesus has been destroyed, only those can realize who have seen the ruins of that once great city. There is not a habitable house on the site of the ancient metropolis, and the vultures are unmolested among its ruins. Near by is a tiny hamlet, built of sun-dried bricks, called Ayasaluk, which is a Turkish corruption of the Greek Hagios Theologos, the reference being probably to that same John, the saintly student, who actually lived in Ephesus at one time and whose words we have been considering. A lonely reach of marsh and rank vegetation stretches to the sea, where once lay the harbor from which sailed many thousand ships. A circle of barren hills tells of the wide extent of the city limits. The site of the famous temple of Diana is now nothing but a hole in the ground, and had to be re-discovered by an English archeologist. The vast theatre where the mob for the space of two hours shouted their cry of “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” has toppled over, and its monster masonry lies prostrate.
Investigation and research show the material history of the seven churches of Asia to have been one of ruin, desertion, and destruction, except in the case of Smyrna alone. It is moreover a singular fact that outside of this same Smyrna, Asia Minor, though closer to Europe than any other part of Asia and surrounded by countries which are frequented by multitudes, is even in this age of travel still largely unvisited and unknown.
In her Message of June, 1900, Mrs. Eddy refers to St. John’s statements to these churches as “allegories” and as “the highest criticism on all human action, type, and system.” The author of the Christian Science text-book here indicates a spiritual interpretation available for present needs.
It is certain that St. John’s inspired criticism of the human type represented by Ephesus needs constant reiteration. We are privileged to live in an age when the exhortation to return to the “first love” and do the “first works” is pulsating through the religious atmosphere of the world. For the last forty years the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science has been teaching mankind how this call is to be obeyed, here and now, and a growing multitude, having understood her message, are to-day, in proportion to their understanding, manifesting the “first love” and proving the Christ-truth by the “first works.”