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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Revelation 3

Verse 1


(1) Sardis.—The modern Sart—now a mere village of paltry huts—once the capital of the old Lydian monarchy, and associated with the names of Crœsus, Cyrus, and Alexander. It was the great entrepôt of dyed woollen fabrics, the sheep of “many-flocked” Phrygia supplying the raw material. The art of dyeing is said to have been invented here; and many-coloured carpets or mats found in the houses of the wealthy were manufactured here. The metal known as electrum, a kind of bronze, was the produce of Sardis; and in early times gold-dust was found in the sand of the Pactolus, the little stream which passed through the Agora of Sardis, and washed the walls of the Temple of Cybele. It is said that gold and silver coins were first, minted at Sardis, and that resident merchants first became a class there. An earthquake laid it waste in the reign of Tiberius; a pestilence followed, but the city seems to have recovered its prosperity before the date of this epistle. The worship of Cybele was the prevailing one; its rites, like those of Dionysos and Aphrodite, encouraged impurity.

The writer is described in words similar to those in Revelation 1:4, as the one who hath the seven spirits of God, and the seven stars; but there is a difference. There Christ was seen holding the stars in His right hand; here it is said He hath the seven Spirits and also the seven stars. In this language it is difficult to overlook the unhesitating way in which Christ is spoken of as owning or possessing that Holy Spirit who alone can make angels of His Church to shine as stars. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9; Romans 8:11). His promise is, “I will send the Comforter unto you” (John 15:26), as possessing all power in heaven and earth. “He is able,” to use the language of Professor Plumptre, “to bring together the gifts of life, and the ministry for which those gifts are needed. If those who minister are without gifts; it is because they have not asked for them.” This the angel of the Sardian Church had not done; his faith and the faith of the Church around him had sunk into a superficial, though perhaps ostentatious, state. Here, then, lies the appropriateness of the description given of Christ, as the source of life and light to His Church.

A name that thou livest.—It is only needful to mention, and to dismiss the fanciful conjecture, that the name of the angel was Zosimos, or some parallel name, signifying life-bearing or living. It is the reputation for piety possessed by the Church of Sardis which is referred to. Living with the credit of superior piety, it was easy to grow satisfied with the reputation, and to forget to keep open the channels through which grace and life could flow, and to fail to realise that the adoption of habits of life higher than those around them, or those who lived before them, was no guarantee of real spiritual life; for “the real virtues of one age become the spurious ones of the next . . . The belief of the Pharisees, the religious practice of the Pharisees, was an improvement upon the life of the sensual and idolatrous Jews whom the prophets denounced. But those who used both the doctrinal and moral improvements as the fulcrum of a selfish power and earthly rank, were the same men after all as their fathers, only accommodated to a new age” (Mozley). Self-satisfaction, which springs up when a certain reputation has been acquired, is the very road to self-deception. The remedy is progress—forgetting the things behind, lest looking with complacency upon the past, moral and spiritual stagnation should set in, and spiritual death should follow.

Verse 2

(2) Be watchful.—Rather, become wakeful. It will not do simply to rouse and sleepily grasp at their spiritual weapons, or even to stand for once at arms; you must become of wakeful habit. Strengthen the remaining things which were (when I roused you) about to die; for I have not found thy (or, any of thy) works perfect—completed or fulfilled, fully done in weight and tale and measure—before my God.

Verse 3

(3) Remember therefore how (or, after what sort) thou hast received and heard (or, didst hear—the tense changes).—Remembering that the words are addressed primarily to the angel himself, the change of tense may have been designed to point him back to some particular period of his life, such as the time when he was set apart to his ministerial work. The further expectation is to hold fast, or keep—i.e., as an abiding habit. It has been noticed that this counsel is identical with that given to Timothy to “keep the good thing which had been committed to his charge” (2 Timothy 1:14; comp. also 2 Timothy 2:2). “Repent” is the closing word; combined with the exhortation to hold fast, it reminds us that formal tenacity of truth and a fruitless inactive regret are alike useless. There must be the sorrow for the past, and a sorrow which shows itself in action—a repentance whereby sin is forsaken. (Comp. Revelation 2:5; Revelation 2:21.)

If therefore thou shalt not watch.—Better, If thou shalt not watch (or, have been awake), I will come (omit “on thee”) as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. The warning is an echo from the Gospels (; Luke 12:39-40). The coming of Christ to judge His Church would be in an hour unlooked for. What kind of hour He would so come was’ unknown; the sound of His approaching footsteps unheard. Shod with wool, according to the ancient proverb, stealthily as a thief, the Judge would be at the door. Yet they could not plead that they had been in darkness (1 Thessalonians 5:4).

Verse 4

(4) The best MSS. commence this verse with “But,” or “Nevertheless.” The case of the Sardian Church was bad, yet the loving eyes of the faithful witness would not ignore the good. There were a few who had not defiled their garments. These had not succumbed to the oppressive moral atmosphere around them. The words cannot, of course, be understood of absolute purity. Their praise is that, in the deathlike, self-complacent lethargy around, they had kept earnest in the pursuit of holiness, and had not forgotten Him who could cleanse and revive. (Comp. Revelation 7:14.)

They shall walk with me in white.—This “white” is not the white of the undefiled robe; it is the lustrous white of glory, as in the promise in the following verse. (Comp. also Revelation 2:17.)

Verse 5

(5) He that overcometh.—The promise is repeated to all who overcome; all, not who have never fallen, or failed, but who conquer, shall be clothed in glistening white raiment. On this glistering appearance comp. Dante’s words, “robed in hue of living flame,” and the description so frequent in the Pilgrim’s Progress—“the shining ones.” Trench, who reminds us that this glistening white is found in the symbolism of heathen antiquity, says: “The glorified body, defecated of all its dregs and impurities, whatever remained of those having been precipitated in death, and now transformed and transfigured into the likeness of Christ’s body (Philippians 3:21), this, with its robe, atmosphere, and effluence of lights, is itself, I believe, the white raiment which Christ here promises to His redeemed.” Professor Lightfoot thinks (see his Epistle to Col. p. 22) that there may be a reference to the purple dyes for which Sardis, as well as Thyatira, was celebrated.

I will not blot out . . .—The negative is emphatic, “I will in no wise blot out.” This figure of speech—a book and the blotting out—was ancient. (See Deuteronomy 32:32; Psalms 69:21; Daniel 12:1; comp. also Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3.) The name shall not be erased from the roll or register of the citizens of heaven. “A process of erasure is ever going on, besides the process of entering. When the soul has finally taken its choice for evil, when Christ is utterly denied on earth and trodden under foot, when the defilement of sin has become inveterate and indelible, then the pen is drawn through the guilty name, then the inverted style smears the wax over the unworthy characters; and when the owner of that name applies afterwards for admittance, the answer is, ‘I know thee not; depart hence, thou willing worker and lover of iniquity’” (Dr. Vaughan).

But I will confess his name.—Another echo of Christ’s words on earth (; Luke 12:8-9).

Verse 7

(7) Philadelphia.—The town of Philadelphia derived its name from Attalus Philadelphus, the king of Pergamos, who died B.C. 138. It was situated on the slopes of Mount Tmolus, in the midst of a district the soil of which was favourable to the cultivation of the vine. On the coins of the town are to be found the head of Bacchus. The town was built on high ground—upwards of 900 feet above the sea-level. The whole region, however, was volcanic, and few cities suffered more from earthquakes; the frequent recurrence of these considerably reduced the population. But its favourable situation and fertile soil preserved it from entire desertion. And of all the seven churches, it had the longest life as a Christian city. “Philadelphia alone has been saved . . .; among the Greek colonies and churches of Asia, Philadelphia is still erect, a column in a scene of ruins.” Such is the language of Gibbon, referring to its later history. As a light in the world at the present day, we must look to no Eastern Philadelphia; the hand of William Penn kindled a light in its great namesake of the West.

These things saith he that is holy. . . .—Better, These things saith the Holy, the True, He that hath the key of David, that openeth, and no man shall shut, and He shutteth, and no one shall open.

Holy.—The main idea of the word here used is that of consecration. It is used of what is set apart to God; it does not assert the possession of personal holiness, but it implies it as a duty. It becomes, therefore, pre-eminently appropriate to Him who was not only consecrate, but holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. Prof. Plumptre thinks there may be a reference here to the confession made by St. Peter (John 6:69), where the right reading is, “Thou art the Christ, the holy One of God.”

True.—A favourite word with St. John, and expressing more than the opposite of “false.” It implies that which is perfect in contrast with the imperfect; the reality in contrast with the shadow; the antitype in contrast with the type; the ideal which is the only real in contrast with the real which is only ideal;—

“The flower upon the spiritual side,

Substantial, archetypal, all aglow

With blossoming causes”

in contrast with the flower that fadeth here. Christ, then, in calling Himself the True, declares that “all titles and names given to Him are realised in Him; the idea and the fact in Him are, what they can never be in any other, absolutely commensurate” (Trench). In some MSS. the order of these words, “the Holy,” “the True,” is inverted.

The key of David.—Some early commentators saw in this key the key of knowledge which the scribes had taken away (Luke 11:52), and understood this expression here as implying that Christ alone could unloose the seals of Scripture, and reveal its hidden truth to men. In support of this they referred to Revelation 5:7-9. The fault of the interpretation is that it is too limited; it is only a corner of the full meaning. He who is “the True” alone can unlock the hidden treasures of truth. But the use of the word “David,” and the obvious derivation of the latter part of this verse from Isaiah 22:22, points to a wider meaning. Jesus Christ is the true Steward of the house of David. (Comp. Hebrews 3:2; Hebrews 3:5-6.) The faulty, self-seeking stewards, the Shebnas of Jerusalem and Philadelphia, vainly claimed a right of exclusion from synagogue or church, where Jesus, the God-fixed nail in the sure place, upon which the bundle of earth’s sorrows and sins might securely be suspended (Isaiah 22:23-25), the Eliakim of a greater Zion, had the key of the sacred and royal house. In this, the chamber of truth was one treasure, as the chamber of holiness, the chamber of rest, the chamber of spiritual privileges, were others. In other words, though in a sense the keys of spiritual advantages are in the hands of His servants, “He still retains the highest administration of them in His own hands.” The power of the keys entrusted to Apostles gave them no right to alter the “essentials of the gospel, or the fundamental principles of morality.” The absolution given by them can only be conditional, unless the giver of it possesses the infallible discerning of spirits. The reader of Dante will remember how the cases of Guido di Montefeltro (Inf. xxvii.) and of his son Buonconte (Purg. v.) illustrate the belief which sustained so many illustrious spirits (John Huss, Savanarola, Dante), and in times of unjust oppression, tyrannical ecclesiasticism, and which this passage sanctions, that

“Nought but repentance ever can absolve;

And that though sins be horrible; yet so wide arms

Hath goodness infinite, that it receives

All who turn to it.”

Verse 8

(8) I know thy works: behold, I have set (better, given) before thee an open door (better, a door opened).—A reference to the passages (Acts 14:27; 1 Corinthians 16:8-9; 2 Corinthians 2:12-13; Colossians 4:3) in which a similar expression is used reminds us that the open door was not simply a way of escape from difficulties, but an opening for preaching the gospel, an opportunity of doing good, as well as an abundant entrance into the kingdom.

For thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.—The tenses used point back to some epoch in the history of this Church when some heavy trial or persecution arose, which tested the sincerity, fidelity, or Christian love of the faithful. “The reward then of a little strength is a door opened” (Dr. Vaughan).

Verse 9

(9) Behold, I will make.—Better, Behold, I give some. There is no word to express this in the original, but as a word must be supplied to complete the sense, it is better to adopt “some” than the “them” of the Authorised version, as it is not a promise that all of the synagogue of Satan should come.

Of the synagogue of Satan.—We have here a re-appearance of the same troubles which afflicted the Church of Smyrna: the fixed and contemptuous exclusiveness of the Judaising party was their trial. But there was a time coming (perhaps the hour of temptation spoken of in the next verse) when these faithful ones, now abused and excommunicated by the fanatical synagogue, would be courted, acknowledged—nay, their aid invoked.

I will make them to come and worship before my feet, and to know that I have loved thee.—Some see in this a hint that the power of a large-hearted party to protect the Judaisers would be derived from the influence of the Gentiles, whose presence in the Church had been a stumbling-block to the Jewish party. This may have been, and doubtless was, often the case. But the promise seems to have a higher fulfilment. The course of events would show that the so-called latitudinarian was the nearest to Christ; time would transform the suspected into the respected. The Amorites would come, and the disinherited Jephthahs would be brought to be head of Gilead. In days of such trouble their strongest opponents would become their warmest supporters. An illustration of this will occur to the mind of the reader in the marvellous support which has been given to the growth of Christianity by Jews with the tongue, with the pen, with the harp and organ. Let the names of Neander, Rossini, and Mendelssohn stand for hundreds more.

Verse 10

(10) Because thou hast kept (better, didst keep) the word of my patience.—The one who keeps God’s word is kept. Such is “the benigna talio of the kingdom of God,” as Archbishop Trench calls it. The promise does not mean the being kept away from, but the being kept out from the tribulation. The head should be kept above the waters; they should not be ashamed, because they had kept the word of patience. It is through patience, as well as comfort of the Scripture that we have the hope which maketh not ashamed. (Comp. Romans 15:5, and Revelation 3:3-5.)

Verse 11

(11) Behold, I come.—Omit “Behold.” Better, I am coming quickly; hold fast; continue your race as those who are striving for a garland (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Verse 12

(12) Will I make a pillar.—A pillar, and an unshaken one. There may be reference to the frequent earthquakes which had shaken down buildings in their city. Those who overcome will prove real supports to the great Christian temple. (Comp. Galatians 2:9.)

Write upon him.—Or, grave upon it. On the sides of the four marble pillars which survive as ruins of Philadelphia inscriptions are to be found. The writing would be the name of God, the name of the heavenly Jerusalem and (omit the repetition, “I will write upon him”) the new, unknown name of Christ Himself. The allusion is to the golden frontlet inscribed with the name of Jehovah. (Comp. Revelation 22:4.) He will reflect the likeness of God; and not only so, he will bear the tokens—now seen in all clearness—of his heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 12:22-23). And a further promise implies that in the day of the last triumph, as there will be new revealings of Christ’s power, there will be unfolded to the faithful and victorious new and higher possibilities of purity. Thus does Scripture refuse to recognise any finality which is not a beginning as well as an end—a landing-stage in the great law of continuity. (See Revelation 2:17; Revelation 19:12.)

Verse 14

(14) Laodicea.—Situated half way between Philadelphia and Colossae, and not far from Hierapolis. It received its name from Laodice, wife of Antiochus the second king of Syria, by whom it was rebuilt and beautified. It had borne in earlier times the names of Diospolis and afterwards Rhoas. It shared with Thyatira and Sardis in the dye trade; the woods grown in the neighbourhood were famous for their quality and the rich blackness of their colour. Prosperity in trade had so enriched the population that when their city suffered in the great earthquake (A.D. 60) they were able to carry on the work of rebuilding without applying, as many of the neighbouring towns were compelled to do, to the Imperial Treasury for aid. The language of St. Paul () suggests that the churches of Colossae and the neighbourhood first received Christianity from the preaching of Epaphras, though it seems strange that so important a city, lying hard upon the great Roman road from Ephesus to the east, should have been passed over by St. Paul in his journeyings throughout Phrygia (see Acts 16:6; Acts 18:23); yet, on the other hand, Phrygia was a vague term, and the language of Colossians 2:1 is most generally understood to imply that the Apostle had never personally visited either Colossae or Laodicea. (See Note on Colossians 2:1.) But it was a Church in which St. Paul took the deepest possible interest; the believers there were constantly in his mind. He knew their special temptations to the worship of inferior mediators, and to spiritual paralysis springing from wordly prosperity and intellectual pride. He had great heart-conflict for those of Laodicea (Colossians 3:1), and in proof of his earnest solicitude he addressed a letter to them (Colossians 4:16), in all probability the epistle we call the Epistle to the Ephesians. Prom the Epistle to the Colossians we may gather that when St. Paul wrote the Christians at Laodicea assembled for worship in the house of Nymphas (Colossians 4:15) probably under the presidency of Archippus (Revelation 3:17).

Unto the angel of the church (or, congregation) of the Laodiceans.—Better, in Laodicea. By the angel we understand the presiding pastor. There is some ground for identifying him with Archippus. It is too much to dismiss this as a baseless supposition. (See Note in Trench.) It is a well-supported view which understands the passage (Colossians 4:17) to mean that Archippus was a minister or office-bearer in the Church at Laodicea.

These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness.—The “Amen,” used only here as a personal name. It is the Hebrew word for verily, and may have some reference to Isaiah 65:16; but more certainly it seems chosen to recall the frequent use of it by our Lord Himself. He who so often prefaced His solemn utterance by “Verily, verily,” now reveals Himself as the source of all certainty and truth. In Him is Yea, and in Him Amen (2 Corinthians 1:20). In Him there is no conjecture, or guess-work; for He is (and the Greek equivalents of the Hebrew Amen are used following) the faithful and true witness, who speaks what He knows, and testifies what He has seen (John 3:11). “Faithful” is to be taken here as meaning trustworthy. The word sometimes means trustful (John 20:27; Acts 14:1), at other times, trustworthy (2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Thessalonians 5:24). In the Arian controversy, the application of the word to Christ was used as an argument against His divinity; it was enough to show in reply that the same word was applied to God, and expressed His faithfulness to His word and promise (1 Thessalonians 5:21). “True”—He is not only trustworthy as a witness, but He combines in Himself all those qualifications which a witness ought to possess. The same word is used here as in Revelation 3:7, where see Note. Trench suggests the three things necessary to constitute a true witness. He must have been an eyewitness of what He relates, possess competence to relate what He has seen, and be willing to do so.

The beginning (better, the origination) of the creation of God.—This title of our Lord does not occur in the Epistles to the other churches, but very closely resembles the language used by St. Paul in writing to the Colossians (). The “beginning,” not meaning that Christ was the first among the created, but that He was the origination, or primary source of all creation. By Him were all things made (John 1:1-3 : comp. Colossians 1:15; Colossians 1:18), not with Him, but by Him creation began. In short, the word “beginning” (like the word “faithful”) must be understood in an active sense. He has originating power (Acts 3:14) as well as priority of existence. The appropriateness of its use will be seen when we remember that the Laodicean Church was exposed to the temptation of worshipping inferior principalities. (See Colossians 1:16; Colossians 2:15, where the plural of the word here rendered “beginning,” or origin, is used, and is translated “principalities.”)

Verses 15-16

(15, 16) Neither cold nor hot.—The “heat” here is the glowing, fervent zeal and devotion which is commended and commanded elsewhere (Romans 12:11). It is not, however, the self-conscious, galvanised earnestness which, in days of senile pietism, passes for zeal. It is an earnestness which does not know itself earnest, being all too absorbed in its work. It is self-forgetful, and so self-sacrificing, rather than ambitious of self-sacrifice. It is, in short, kindled of God, and sustained by
converse with the Divine One (Luke 24:32), and restored by intercourse with Him (see Revelation 3:20; comp. 1 John 4:15-20). The “cold” describes the state of those who are as yet untouched by the Gospel of Love. An intermediate state between these is the “lukewarm”; such are neither earnest for God nor utterly indifferent to religion. They are, perhaps, best described as those who take an interest in religion, but whose worship of their idol of good taste, or good form, leads them to regard enthusiasm as ill-bred, and disturbing; and who have never put themselves to any inconvenience, braved any reproach, or abandoned any comfort for Christ's sake, but hoped to keep well with the world, while they flattered themselves that they stood well with God; who were in danger of betraying their Master, Judas-like, with a kiss. With the denunciation of “lukewarmness” here we may compare the exhortation to greater ministerial earnestness addressed to Archippus (Colossians 4:17).

I would . . . .—The wish is not that they might grow cold rather than remain in this lukewarm state, it is more a regret that they are among those who are in a condition which is so liable to self-deception; such a state is “both to God displeasing and to His foes.” And this is expressed in startling language, “I am about (such is the force of the words) to spue thee . . . .”

Verse 17

(17) I am rich.—The verse means, more literally, Because thou sayest, I am rich, and have grown rich, and in nothing have need, and knowest not that thou art the wretched (such is the emphasis) one, and the pitiable one, and beggarly, and blind, and naked. Thou art “the type, the embodiment of wretchedness.” The words should, I think, be taken as an amplification of the reason for their rejection. Christ was about to reject them for being in that tepid state which, beginning with self-satisfaction, led on to self- deception. They were rich in worldly goods (unlike the Church in Smyrna), but their very wealth led them into a quiet unaggressively kind of religion; they were proud also of their intellectual wealth; self- complacent because in comfortable worldly circumstances, and became puffed up with a vain philosophy, they learned to be satisfied with their spiritual state, and to believe the best of themselves, and then to believe in themselves. Hypocrites they were, who did not know they were hypocrites. They thought themselves good; and this self-deception was their danger. “For,” to use Prof. Mozley’s words, “why should a man repent of his goodness? He may well repent, indeed, of his falsehood; but unhappily the falsehood of it is just the thing he does not see, and which he cannot see by the very law of his character. The Pharisee did not know he was a Pharisee. If he had known it, he would not have been a Pharisee. The victim of passion, then, may be converted—the gay, the thoughtless, or the ambitious; he whom human glory has intoxicated; he whom the show of life has ensnared; he whom the pleasures of sense have captivated—they may be converted any one of these; but who is to convert the hypocrite? He does not know he is a hypocrite; he cannot upon the very basis of his character; he must think himself sincere; and the more he is in the shackles of his own character, i.e., the greater hypocrite he is, the more sincere he must think himself” (University Sermons, p. 34).

Verse 18

(18) I counsel thee to buy.—There is, perhaps, a touch of irony here. How could the poor and naked buy? But the irony has no sting, for the counsel but recalled the invitation of the prophet to buy “without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1).

Gold—i.e., golden coin, “tried,” or, fired out of fire, and so free from alloy or dross. Trench suggests that “gold” here stands for faith. Does not, however, the self-deceiving state of this Church rather point to love as the missing grace? The Laodiceans were as those who had many graces in appearance; they were not unlike one who had gifts, tongues, understanding, liberality, but lacked that fervent love without which all was as nothing (); or, to use Trench’s own image, they were lacking in the only grace accepted as currency in the kingdom of God.

“O merchantman at heaven’s mart for heavenly ware,

Love is the only coin which passes there.”

But the possession of this love would bring their zeal out of the tepid into the fervent state. Such love, pure and fervent, could only spring from God, who would shed abroad His love in their hearts (Romans 5:5).

White raiment.—The putting on of apparel and the stripping of it off were tokens of honour and humiliation. (See 2 Samuel 10:1; Isa. 67:2,3; Hosea 2:3; Hosea 2:9; Zechariah 3:3-5; Revelation 16:15; Luke 15:22.) The wedding-feast was at hand. The unclad would then be put to shame (Matthew 22:11-13). Let them be prepared against this by putting on Christ (Colossians 3:10-14) and His righteousness (Philippians 3:9), that the shame of their nakedness do not appear—or, much better, be not made manifest.

Eyesalve.—They were blind; they were proud of their intellectual wealth; they boasted of their enlightenment. (Comp. Colossians 2:8.) Self-deceived, they thought, like the Pharisees, that they saw. (Comp. John 9:40-41.) Better would it be for them that they should receive the anointing of the Holy One (1 John 2:20), which would teach them all things, and especially reveal to them their self-ignorance. This anointing might be painful, but “the eyes of their understanding would be enlightened” (such is the remarkably parallel thought in the Epistle to the Ephesians), and they would be enabled to see and appreciate things spiritual. (Comp. John 9:7; John 9:25; 1 Corinthians 2:10-14; Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 5:19.)

Verse 19

(19) I rebuke and chasten.—The first word is that used in the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8), and signifies to bring conviction; it is not empty censure. The second word signifies to educate by means of correction. The pronoun is emphatic, “I,” and calls attention to the fidelity of Christ’s love in comparison with the weak partiality seen in human love. (Comp. Hebrews 12:6.)

Be zealous.—Or, be in a constant zealous state; and now, once for all, repent.

(2°) Behold, I stand at the door, and knock.—It is difficult not to see an allusion in this image to . Perhaps, also, the memory of the first night spent by St. John with his Master and Friend (John 1:39) may have been strong in his mind. Indeed, the life of Christ on earth teems with illustrations which may well have suggested the image (Luke 10:38; Luke 19:5-6; Luke 22:11-13; Luke 24:29-30).

Verse 20

The Waiting Guest

Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.—Revelation 3:20.

The Church of Laodicea, to which these words were originally addressed, had grievously declined, so that it scarce retained any sign of spiritual life. Words cannot be found to express more strongly a decayed and almost desperate moral condition than those which Christ addresses to this once flourishing community. Spiritual pride, strange to say, is the most common attendant and fatal sign of spiritual degeneracy, as though, the worse men grew, the better they fancied themselves. But when Christ solemnly rebuked the Church of Laodicea, depicting its condition in terms which lead us to expect nothing else than its final condemnation, then it is that, in place of assuming the office of Judge and thundering forth the vengeance of heaven, Christ still presents Himself as a pleader with the obdurate, and makes one more effort to prevail on them to be saved. This is one of those exquisite transitions which give the Bible such power of persuasiveness.

The text was originally spoken in reference to the unworthy members of a little Church of early believers in Asia Minor, but it passes far beyond the limits of the lukewarm Laodiceans to whom it was addressed. And the “any man” is wide enough to warrant us in stretching out the representation as far as the bounds of humanity extend, and in believing that wherever there is a closed heart there is a knocking Christ.

Of all the pictures which flashed before the mind of the prisoner-seer of Patmos, the most wonderful is that which shows Jesus standing as a suppliant at a door, and that the door of a church (Revelation 3:20). It was only the other day that I discovered for myself the reason why this is the most wonderful picture in the Apocalypse. Others may have found it out before, but it was only then that I saw that the words in Revelation 3:14 should be read as an inscription over the door—“The Church of the Laodiceans.” I had not thought of that before; the door had been any door to me. And while it was wonderful that Jesus should stand there and knock, His action has all the effect of a surprise when it is seen that He is standing and knocking at the door of the Church of the Laodiceans, of which He had said, “Because thou art neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” What was the matter with this Church? It was not a society of unbelievers or hypocrites. It was not accused of unfaithfulness or of heresy, or of any gross or open sin. It was not even a cold Church. Evidently it was not without some faith or love or obedience. Jesus said it was “lukewarm” obedience. What was the cause of this lukewarmness? Our answer is found in the position of Jesus. He is standing at the door—outside. The Church bore His name, and called Him Lord and worshipped Him, but He was not “in the midst” of it. That is enough to account for its spiritual condition. Intensity of devotion is impossible while He remains at the door.1 [Note: J. Reid, in The Churchman, Feb. 1910, p. 133.]

We have represented in the text—

I. The Waiting Christ.

II. The Closed Door.

III. The Door Opened.

IV. The Entrance and the Feast.


The Waiting Christ

Who knocks? The exalted Christ. What is the door? The closed heart of man. What does He desire? Entrance. What are His knockings and His voice? All providences, all monitions of His Spirit in man’s spirit and conscience, the direct invitations of His written or spoken word—in brief, whatsoever sways our hearts to yield to Him and enthrone Him. This is the meaning, in the fewest possible words, of this great text.

1. This wonderful picture of Christ standing at the door like a weary traveller asking to be let in just reverses the common view which one is apt to take of the religious life. We commonly think of truth as hiding itself within its closed door and of ourselves as trying to get into it. We speak of “finding Christ,” or “proving God,” or “getting religion,” as if all these things were mysteries to be explored, hidden behind doors which must be unlocked; as if, in the relation between man and God, man did all the searching, and God was a hidden God. But the fundamental fact of the religious life is this—that the power and love of God are seeking man; that before we love Him, He loves us; that before we know Him, He knows us; that antecedent to our recognition of Him must be our receptivity of Him. Coleridge said that he believed in the Bible because it found him. It is for the same reason that man believes in God. God finds him.

It is coming more and more to be seen that such religious progress as man has made is not so much his endeavour to find God, as God’s endeavour to find him; that it is more satisfactory to represent man’s religious history as a continuous knocking on the part of God at the door of man’s heart than as a continuous spontaneous search on man’s part after God. To Christians, indeed, no other view is at all possible; for of course to represent the relation between man and God as search on man’s part instead of revelation on God’s part would be to empty the idea of God of all meaning.

The sunlight travels far from its source in the deep of heaven—so far that, though it can be expressed in figures, the imagination fails to take in the magnitude of the sum; but when the rays of light have travelled unimpeded so far, and come to the door of my eye, if I shut that door—a thin film of flesh—the light is kept out, and I remain in darkness. Alas! the Light that travelled so far, and came so near—the Light that sought entrance into my heart, and that I kept out—was the Light of life!1 [Note: W. Arnot, The Anchor of the Soul, 278.]

Behold, I knock! Methinks if on My face

Thou wouldst but rest thine eyes,

Wouldst mark the crown of thorns, the sharp nails trace,

Thou couldst not Me despise!

Thee have I yearned for with a love so strong,

Thee have I sought so earnestly and long;

My road led from a cross unto this place;

Behold, I knock!

2. But we have in the text a hint of the Divine long-suffering, which does not merely knock, and then, if it be not opened to it at once, go away and leave us to ourselves, to our own impenitence and hardness of heart. Christ rather, as one who knows that He has a message which it supremely concerns men that they should receive, and who will therefore take no denial, knocks, and, not being admitted, knocks again, with all the importunity of love. “Behold! I stand at the door and knock.” There is in the words a revelation of an infinite long-suffering and patience. The door has long been fastened; we have, like some lazy servant, thought that if we did not answer the knock, the Knocker would go away when He was weary. But we have miscalculated the elasticity and the unfailingness of that patient Christ’s love. Rejected, He abides; spurned, He returns.

There is a familiar picture by Holman Hunt that paints the idea of our text. There is shown a cottage neglected, falling into ruin. In front of the window tall thistles spring up, and long grass waves on the pathway, leading to the door overgrown with moss and rank poisonous weeds. In front of the fast-closed door with rusted hinges a tall and stately figure stands amid the night dews and the darkness with a face that tells of toil and long, weary waiting, and one hand uplifted to knock and another bearing a light that may perhaps flash through some of the chinks of the door. It is Christ, the Son of God, seeking to get into our sinful hearts.1 [Note: W.G. Elmslie, Memoir and Sermons, 86.]

3. Christ does not only knock; He also speaks; He makes His “voice” to be heard—a more precious benefit still! It is true, indeed, that we cannot in our interpretation draw any strict line of distinction between Christ knocking and Christ speaking. Both represent His dealings of infinite love with souls for winning them to receive Him; yet at the same time, considering that in this natural world a knock may be anyone’s, and on any errand, while the voice accompanying that knock would at once designate who it was that stood without, and with what intention, we have a right, so far as we may venture to distinguish between the two, to see in the voice the more inward appeal, the closer dealing of Christ with the soul, speaking directly by His Spirit to the spirit of the man; in the knocking those more outward gracious dealings, of sorrow and joy, of sickness and health, and the like, which He sends and, sending, uses for the bringing of His elect, in one way or another, by smooth paths or by rough, to Himself. The “voice” very often will interpret and make intelligible the purpose of the “knock.”

Will anyone venture to say, “This mysterious voice has never uttered itself to spiritual ear of mine”? Is it indeed so? Have we then never had our times of gracious visitation? Assuredly we all have had them, and not seldom. We may indeed have missed them and their meaning altogether; but the times themselves not the less have been ours—times of a great joy, and times of a great sorrow; times when our God has given to us so much, and times when He has taken away so much; times of weary sickness, and times of unlooked-for recovery; times with no ominous hour for long years knocking at our door with its tidings of mishap; or times when we have had sorrow upon sorrow; times when we have been made to enter on the miserable possession of our past sins; times when we have walked in the glorious liberty of the children of God; times when the world was sweet unto us, and when the world was bitter; times when we walked compassed with troops of friends, and times when lonely paths were appointed for our treading. Has not our God been speaking to us in all this joy and in all this sorrow? He can gently speak as well as loudly knock; and happy is the man who has ears to hear. In every gracious thought that visits us, in every yearning after better things, in every solemn resolution for the days to come, in every tender memory of days gone by, Christ is standing before our door, saying, “It is I.”

The boy Samuel, lying sleeping before the light in the inner sanctuary, heard the voice of God, and thought it was only the grey-bearded priest that spoke. We often make the same mistake, and confound the utterances of Christ Himself with the speech of men. Recognize who it is that pleads with you; and do not fancy that when Christ speaks it is Eli that is calling; but say, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.”

It will be as well, I think, to explain these locutions of God, and to describe what the soul feels when it receives them, in order that you may understand the matter; for ever since that time of which I am speaking, when our Lord granted me that grace, it has been an ordinary occurrence until now, as will appear by what I have yet to say.

The words are very distinctly formed; but by the bodily ear they are not heard. They are, however, much more clearly understood than they would be if they were heard by the ear. It is impossible not to understand them, whatever resistance we may offer. When we wish not to hear anything in this world, we can stop our ears, or give attention to something else: so that, even if we do hear, at least we can refuse to understand. In this locution of God addressed to the soul there is no escape, for in spite of ourselves we must listen; and the understanding must apply itself so thoroughly to the comprehension of that which God wills we should hear that it is nothing to the purpose whether we will it or not; for it is His will, who can do all things. We should understand that His will must be done; and He reveals Himself as our true Lord, having dominion over us. I know this by much experience.1 [Note: The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus (ed. 1911), 213.]


The Closed Door

1. The “knock” and the “voice” may alike remain unheard and unheeded. It is in the power of every man to close his ear to them; therefore the hypothetical form which this gracious promise takes: “If any man hear my voice, and open the door.” There is no irresistible grace here. It is the man himself who must open the door. Christ indeed knocks, claims admittance as to His own; so lifts up His voice that it may be heard, in one sense must be heard, by him; but He does not break open the door, or force an entrance by violence. There is a sense in which every man is lord of the house of his own heart; it is his fortress; he must open the gates of it; unless he does so, Christ cannot enter. And, as a necessary complement of this power to open, there belongs also to man the mournful prerogative and privilege of refusing to open; he may keep the door shut, even to the end. He may thus continue to the last blindly at strife with his own blessedness, a miserable conqueror who conquers to his own ever-lasting loss and defeat. There are times in our lives when we are not at home to the serious thoughts that come to visit us, to the higher life embodied in Christ that would enter in, when we dare to exercise towards God that tremendous power which all of us have, the power not to open the door even to Him, to disregard even His knocking.

I remember hearing some years ago of an incident which occurred near Inverness. A beautiful yacht had been sailing in the Moray Firth. The owners of it—two young men—landed at Inverness, purposing to take a walking tour through the Highlands. But they lost their way, and darkness found them wandering aimlessly about in a very desolate spot. At last, about midnight, they fortunately came upon a little cottage, at the door of which they knocked long and loudly for admittance. But the inmates were all in bed, and curtly the young men were told to go elsewhere, and make no more disturbance there. Luckily, they found shelter in another house some distance away. But next morning the inhospitable people heard a rumour that filled them with chagrin, and gave them a lesson they would not be likely soon to forget. What do you think it was? Just this: that the two young men who knocked in vain at their door the previous night were Prince George (now our King) and his brother the late Duke of Clarence—the most illustrious visitors in the kingdom. You can fancy the shame the people must have felt thus unconsciously to have shown themselves so inhospitable to the noblest persons in all the land. But are we any better? Are we not, indeed, much worse, if we shut Jesus Christ, the greatest of all Kings, out of our hearts?1 [Note: W. Hay, God’s Looking-Glass, 91.]

The late Dr. William Arnot of Edinburgh relates a story that beautifully illustrates this text: “I was visiting,” said he, “among my people of Edinburgh. I looked up at the high houses to see whether Betty Gordon, an aged saint of God, was at home. I knew she was in, for when she went away she always carefully pulled down the blind, and this day the blind was not drawn. I knew that she was poor, but she trusted God, and I was glad that somebody had given me some money that morning to give to the poor. I put aside Betty’s rent for a month in my pocket and climbed up the winding stone stairs to her door. I knocked softly, but there was no answer. Then I knocked louder, but there was still no answer. At last I said, ‘Betty forgot to pull down the blind, and she has gone out. What a pity!’ Then I went down the stairs. The next morning I went back and knocked at the door. After a little waiting, Betty came and opened it. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘is it you, Mr. Arnot? I am so glad to see you! Come in!’ There were tears in her eyes and a look of care. I said, ‘Betty, what are you crying for?’ ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘Mr. Arnot, I am so afraid of the landlord. He came yesterday, and I hadna the rent, and I didna open the door, and now I am afraid of him coming; for he is a hard man.’ ‘Betty,’ I asked, ‘what time did he come yesterday?’ ‘He came between eleven and twelve o’clock,’ she said. ‘It was twenty-five minutes to twelve’. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘it was not the landlord; it was I, and I brought to you this money to pay your rent.’ She looked at me, and said, ‘Oh, was it you? Did you bring me that money to pay my rent, and I kept the door shut againt you, and I would-na let you in? And I heard you knocking, and I heard you ringing, and I said, That is the landlord; I wish he would go away. And it was my ain meenister. It was my ain Lord who had sent ye as His messenger, and I wouldna let ye in.’”1 [Note: J.L. Brandt, Soul Saving, 185.]

2. Although it must be for Christ a sad thing—a thing which cuts Him to the heart—that we should trust Him so little as not to care to admit Him, yet it is less for His own sake than for ours that He is vexed. Ours is the loss. He comes with blessings in both hands. This Prince of Love has help and healing for every part of us. It is our unwillingness to open up to Him, and nothing else, that checks the current of His benefactions, and reduces Him to stand, with hands still “laden” and half His kindly purpose unfulfilled, a suppliant Saviour. Yet He will do no more than knock and call. Though the urgency is on His side, He will not open. Though as crowned King He stands, with title to command and power to compel, yet He will not open. God will do no violence to man’s reluctance; nor does it beseem One who draws near in grace ungraciously to force a passage. Nor in truth can the door to our heart’s affections be broken through from without, only opened consentingly from within. Permission He must crave; He cannot, and He will not, enter undesired. A man is the only being that can open the door of his own heart for Christ to come in. The whole responsibility of accepting or rejecting God’s gracious Word, which comes to him all in good faith, lies with the man himself. He knows that at each time when his heart and conscience have been brought in contact with the offer of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, if he had liked he could have opened the door and welcomed the entrance of the Saviour. And he knows that nobody and nothing kept it fast except only himself. “Ye will not come to me,” said Christ, “that ye might have life.” Men, indeed, do pile up such mountains of rubbish against the door that it cannot be opened, but it was they that put the rubbish there; and they are responsible if the hinges are so rusty that they will not move, or the doorway is clogged that there is no room for it to open.

When Holman Hunt painted that wonderful picture of the thorn-crowned King outside the door knocking, he showed his picture to his dearest friend, in the studio before it was publicly exhibited. His friend looked at it, at the kingly figure of Christ, at the rough and rugged door, and at the clinging tendrils which had spread themselves over the door. Suddenly he said: “Hunt, you have made a terrible mistake here.” “What mistake have I made?” said the artist. “Why, you have painted a door without a handle.” “That is not a mistake,” replied Hunt. “That door has no handle on the outside. It is inside.”1 [Note: G. Campbell Morgan.]

But all night long that voice spake urgently,

“Open to Me.”

Still harping in mine ears:

“Rise, let Me in.”

Pleading with tears:

“Open to Me, that I may come to thee.”

While the dew dropped, while the dark hours were cold:

“My Feet bleed, see My Face,

See My Hands bleed that bring thee grace,

My Heart doth bleed for thee,—

Open to Me.”

So till the break of day:

Then died away

That voice, in silence as of sorrow;

Then footsteps echoing like a sigh

Passed me by,

Lingering footsteps slow to pass.

On the morrow

I saw upon the grass

Each footprint marked in blood, and on my door

The mark of blood for evermore.2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, Poetical Works, 241.]

3. It is one of the commonplaces of our experience that we do not like people to force themselves on our acquaintance, to force their friendship on us; and any attempt to do that generally results in creating dislike to those who try to come into our hearts without knocking, who do not respect the privacy of our choice of friends, but walk straight in without announcing themselves or waiting till they are asked to come in. Now it makes the great truth of God’s search for us, God’s wonderful insistence in meeting us at every point of life, all the more solemn that it is part of the Divine humility, part of God’s respect for our freedom, a proof that He wants love and trust that are freely given, that He does not force Himself on our acquaintance, as it were. So we come to this, that to do nothing is to keep our Saviour outside; and that is the way in which most men that miss Him do miss Him. There are many who have sat in the inner chamber, and heard the gracious hand on the outer panel, and have kept their hands folded and their feet still, and done nothing. To do nothing is to do the most dreadful of things, for it is to keep the door shut in the face of Christ. No passionate antagonism is needed, no vehement rejection, no intellectual denial of His truth and His promises. If we want to ruin ourselves, we have simply to do nothing!

Why does Christ not come in? Is not this Divine Spirit omnipotent? Has He not power to enter where He will, to breathe where He chooses, to blow where He listeth? Why, then, does He stand without, knocking at the door of a frail human heart? Could He not break down that door in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, and annihilate that opposing barrier which disputes His claim to universal empire? Yes, but in so doing He would annihilate also the man. What makes me a man is just my power to open the door. If I had no power to open or to forbear opening, I would not be responsible. He meant me to respond to Himself, to open on His knocking at the door. He could have no joy in breaking down the door, in taking the kingdom of my heart by violence; there would be no response in that, no answer of a heart, no acceptance of a will by His will. Therefore, He prefers to stand without till I open, to knock till I hear, to speak till I respond.1 [Note: G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, 144.]

My friend Mr. Collier, of Manchester, told me of an incident that occurred during one of his mission services at the Central Hall. Holman Hunt’s picture was on the screen. In front sat a working man and his little boy. A great hush was over the audience. Presently the little boy nudged the man and said, “Dad, why don’t they let Him in?” The man was a little nonplussed, then after a moment’s silence said, “I don’t know, Jimmy. I expect they don’t want Him to come in.” Again a moment’s silence, and Jimmy said, “It’s not that. Everybody wants Him.” After a pause he continued, “I know why they don’t let Him in. They live at the back of the house.” The man who refuses to admit Jesus has some motive, something kept behind and out of sight. He is living at the back.1 [Note: G. Campbell Morgan.]


The Door Opened

1. Notice the simple conditions of the text—“If any man will hear my voice and open the door.” Christ does not say: “If any man make himself moral; if any man will try and make himself better; if any man has deep sorrow; if any man has powerful faith.” No, that is not it. This is what He says: “If any man will hear my voice, and open the door.” The condition of His entrance is simple trust in Him as the Saviour of the soul. That is opening the door, and if we do that, then, just as when we open the shutters, in comes the sunshine; just as when we lift the sluice in flows the crystal stream into the slimy, empty lock, so Christ will enter in.

2. The text is a metaphor, but the declaration, that “if any man open the door” Jesus Christ “will come in to him,” is not a metaphor; it is the very heart and centre of the gospel: “I will come in to him,” dwell in him, be really incorporated in his being. There is no more certain fact in the whole world than the actual dwelling of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who is in heaven, in the spirits of the people that love Him and trust Him. Into our emptiness He will come with His fulness; into our sinfulness He will come with His righteousness; into our death He will come with His triumphant and immortal life; and He being in us, we shall be full and pure and live for ever, and be blessed with the blessedness of Jesus.

The manner and the way, whereby Christ’s righteousness and obedience, death and sufferings without, become profitable unto us, and are made ours, is by receiving Him, and becoming one with Him in our hearts, embracing and entertaining that Holy Seed which, as it is embraced and entertained, becometh a Holy Birth in us, which in Scripture is called: “Christ formed within”; “Christ within, the hope of glory” (Galatians 4:19; Colossians 1:27), by which the body of sin and death is done away, and we cleansed and washed and purged from our sins, not imaginarily but really; and we really and truly made righteous and holy and pure in the sight of God: and it is through the union betwixt Him and us (His righteous life and nature brought forth in us, and we made one with it, as the branches are with the vine), that we have a true title and right to what He hath done and suffered for us.

It is not the works of Christ wrought in us, nor the works which we work in His spirit and power, that we rest and rely upon as the ground and foundation of our justification; but it is Christ Himself, the Worker revealed in us, indwelling in us; His life and spirit covering us, that is the ground of our justification.1 [Note: Robert Barclay, Truth Cleared of Calumnies (Works, i. 164).]


The Entrance and the Feast

1. “I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” These words speak to us in lovely, sympathetic language of a close, familiar, happy communion between Christ and our poor selves, which shall make all life as a feast in company with Him. We remember who is the mouthpiece of Jesus Christ here. It is the disciple who knew most of what quietness of blessedness and serenity of adoring communion there were in leaning on Christ’s breast at supper, casting back his head on that loving bosom; looking into those deep, sad eyes, and asking questions which were sure of answer. And St. John, as he wrote down the words, “I will sup with him, and he with me,” perhaps remembered that Upper Room where, amidst all the bitter herbs, there was such strange joy and tranquillity. But whether he did or not, may we not take the picture as suggesting to us the possibilities of loving fellowship, of quiet repose, of absolute satisfaction of all desires and needs, which will be ours if we open the door of our hearts by faith and let Jesus Christ come in?

Let Thy Holy Spirit be pleased, not only to stand before the door and knock, but also to come in. If I do not open the door, it were too unreasonable to request such a miracle to come in when the doors were shut, as Thou didst to the apostles. Yet let me humbly beg of Thee, that Thou wouldst make the iron gate of my heart open of its own accord. Then let Thy Spirit be pleased to sup in my heart; I have given it an invitation, and I hope I shall give it room. But, O Thou that sendest the guest, send the meat also; and if I be so unmannerly as not to make the Holy Spirit welcome, O let Thy effectual grace make me to make it welcome.1 [Note: Thomas Fuller, Good Thoughts in Bad Times.]

Speechless Sorrow sat with me;

I was sighing wearily,

Lamp and fire were out: the rain

Wildly beat the window-pane.

In the dark we heard a knock,

And a hand was on the lock;

One in waiting spake to me,

Saying sweetly,

“I am come to sup with thee!”

All my room was dark and damp;

“Sorrow,” said I, “trim the lamp;

Light the fire, and cheer thy face;

Set the guest-chair in its place.”

And again I heard the knock;

In the dark I found the lock:—

“Enter! I have turned the key!

Enter, Stranger!

Who art come to sup with me.”

Opening wide the door He came,

But I could not speak His name;

In the guest-chair took His place;

But I could not see His face!

When my cheerful fire was beaming,

When my little lamp was gleaming,

And the feast was spread for three,

Lo! my Master

Was the Guest that supped with me!2 [Note: Harriet M. Kimball.]

2. “I will come in to him, and will sup with him” suggests that our Lord not only confers a blessing but receives one; that He not only gives us satisfaction in His presence, but gets satisfaction out of our presence. It is one of the most beautiful thoughts presented to us in the Bible, that “the Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.” We often think of what God can do for us. Do we ever think of what we can do for God? We often talk about our trusting God. Have we a holy ambition to be such that it shall be possible for God to trust us? We think of our loving God. Do we ever think of His loving us? We think of God’s giving us pleasure. Do we ever think of our giving Him pleasure? And yet our blessed Lord indicates that if the door is opened to Him, and He comes in to a soul that has hitherto excluded Him, He is going to bring a blessing and to get a blessing; He is going to confer good and to receive it; He is going to impart joy, and His own Divine heart is going to get a thrill of joy from the obedience, and the confidence, and the communion of the willing soul.

Oh that we could take that simple view of things, as to feel that the one thing which lies before us is to please God! What gain is it to please the world, to please the great, nay, even to please those whom we love, compared with this? What gain is it to be applauded, admired, courted, followed, compared with this one aim of not being disobedient to a heavenly vision? What can this world offer comparable with that insight into spiritual things, that keen faith, that heavenly peace, that high sanctity, that everlasting righteousness, that hope of glory, which they have who in sincerity love and follow our Lord Jesus Christ?1 [Note: J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, viii. 32.]

3. Where Christ is welcomed as guest, He assumes the place of host. “I will sup with him, and he with me.” After the Resurrection, when the two disciples, moved to hospitality, implored the unknown Stranger to come in and partake of their humble fare, He yielded to their importunity and, when they were in the guest-chamber, took His place at the head of the table, and blessed the bread and gave it to them. In the beginning of His miracles, He manifested forth His glory in this, that, invited as a common guest to the rustic wedding, He provided the failing wine. And so, wherever a poor man opens his heart and says, “Come in, and I will give Thee my best,” Jesus Christ comes in, and gives the man His best, that the man may render it back to Him. He accepts the poorest from each, and He gives the richest to each.

With One so condescending and communicative, the blessed soul in whom Jesus dwells ventures to be open too. With happy boldness we begin to tell Him everything. We consult Him even in trifles. We lay great and little cares on Him. We ask His aid in every affair. Thus He shares in all of ours as we in His, and communion attains completion. When such an exchange of sweet and secret actings on one another becomes the habit of the inner life, then these two grow together—the soul and its Saviour—inweaved into each other, till neither can be at any moment satisfied without the other’s presence, or is to be thought of as sundered or alone. This action and reaction, this varied play of friendship, this sense of common possession, this familiar commerce of giving and receiving—what else is this but the joy of supping with Him and He with us?

All life to the positive mystic is full of God here and now. Dante found that “In His will is our peace.” His dying to self was not a blind negation: it was a living unto God, in whom the personality is strengthened, purified, consecrated and made conjunct with a life larger than, yet kindred to, its own. The “I” and the “Thou” are only lost as they are in love: lost to be enriched, surrendered to be ennobled: the soul comes back, laden with precious fruits, with new activities, with intellect, conscience, will—nay, the whole being sanctified and enlarged.

The mystical books tell of the saint who knocked at the door of Paradise. “Who is there?” asked the Lord. “It is I,” answered the saint, but the gate did not open. Again the saint tremblingly drew near and knocked. “Who is there?” said the voice from within. “It is Thou,” replied the saint, grown wiser, and immediately the door opened. He had found the Paradise of the soul. And it is in the apprehension of the “Not I” that the “I” passes into a higher state of activity, where it is at once “in tune with the infinite,” and passes into a new power of life and service. “We know that we have passed from death into life.” Because He wills, and we will with Him in conscious choice, is the secret of positive mysticism.1 [Note: D. Butler, George Fox in Scotland, 108.]

4.The promise of the text is fulfilled immediately when the door of the heart is opened, but it shadows and prophesies a nobler fulfilment in the heavens. Here and now Christ and we may sit together, but the feast will be like the Passover, eaten with loins girt and staff in hand, the Red Sea and the wilderness waiting to be trodden. But there comes a more perfect form of the communion, when Christ at the last will bring His servants to His table in His Kingdom, and there their works shall follow them; and He and they shall sit together for ever, and for ever “rejoice in the fatness of thy house, even of thy holy temple.”

Come in, Thou Saviour-King, who art knocking at our very souls this day for leave to show us all Thy love, come in and traverse these unclean chambers of our being! Purge them by Thy blood. Enlighten their darkness. Fill their empty spaces with Thy riches. Make what is ours, Thine. See, we give it unto Thee—infirmity, error, sorrow: bear it with us! Make what is Thine, ours. See, we open ourselves wide for it—pardon, strength, gladness: share Thy blessings with us! So shall we sup with Thee and Thou with us; till in this communion our spirits echo after their poor measure that ever-sounding song which circles round Thy heavenly banquet-hall—“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing!”1 [Note: J. O. Dykes.]

I love Thee, Lord, for Thou didst first love me,

And didst a home in this poor mansion seek.

I heard Thy knock, and straight unbarred my heart,

And listened wondering to Thine accents meek.

I long had lived unknowing of Thy love,

And selfishness directed all my will;

The name of God was but a name to me,

And earthly thoughts and aims enthralled me still.

Briers and thorns obstructed all approach,

And tangled weeds lay rotting at the door;

But Thou didst come, with bleeding hands and feet,

And ask admittance to my sin-stained floor.

I saw Thy love, I heard Thy pleading voice;

Thy words of grace enkindled high desire;

And, led by Thee, my Father I adored,

And on me fell the Holy Spirit’s fire.

I love Thee, Lord, but oh! how cold my love:

Abide Thou still within my trembling heart;

Lay Thou on me the purifying cross,

And let Thy life within my life have part.1 [Note: J. Drummond, Johannine Thoughts, 30.]

The Waiting Guest


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Arnot (W.), The Anchor of the Soul, 275.

Bain (J. A. K.), For Heart and Life, 41.

Bonar (H.), Light and Truth: The Revelation, 152.

Champness (T.), Plain Preaching for Plain People, 159.

Clark (H. W.), Meanings and Methods of the Spiritual Life, 94.

Dix (M.), Christ at the Door of the Heart, 1.

Dykes (J. O.), Plain Words on Great Themes, 101.

Elmslie (W. G.), Memoir and Sermons, 81.

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Hutchison (G.), Sermons, 222.

Hyde (T. D.), Sermon Pictures for Busy Preachers, ii. 320.

Ingram (A. F. W.), The Gospel in Action, 37.

Kelly (W.), Sermons, 75.

McFadyen (J. E.), Thoughts for Silent Hours, 201.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Epistles of John to Revelation, 302.

Maclean (J. K.), Dr. Pierson and his Message, 193.

Matheson (G.), Moments on the Mount, 144.

Monod (H.), in Foreign Protestant Pulpit, ii. 446.

Moore (E. W.), The Christ-Controlled Life, 174.

Mursell (W. A.), Sermons on Special Occasions, 253.

Peabody (F. G.), Mornings in the College Chapel, i. 107.

Ryle (J. C.), The Christian Race, 281.

Speirs (E. B.), A Present Advent, 113.

Trench (R. C.), Brief Thoughts and Expositions, 91.

Trench (R. C.), Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia, 216.

Christian World Pulpit, x. 166 (J. S. Exell); xxxiv. 215 (G. MacDonald); lxiv. 420 (L. A. Johnson); lxvi. 371 (E. Rees); lxix. 387 (G. C. Morgan); lxx. 173 (S. M. Crothers); lxxvi. 365 (N. G. Phelps); lxxxi. 131 (A. H. McElwee); lxxxiv. 216 (C. Brown).

Churchman, New Ser., xxiv. 133 (J. Reid).

Free Church Year Book, 1908, p. 39 (P. T. Forsyth).

Preacher’s Magazine, xxi. 494 (J. Edwards); xxiv. 269 (G. W. Polkinghorne).

Twentieth Century Pastor, xxxiv. (1914) 19 (C. F. Aked).

Weekly Pulpit, ii. 3 (T. Phillips).

Verse 21

(21) To him that overcometh ... .—He will share Christ’s throne as Christ shared His Father’s throne. Here are two thrones mentioned. My throne, saith Christ: this is the condition of glorified saints who sit with Christ in His throne. “But My Father’s (i.e., God’s) throne is the power of divine majesty.” Herein none may sit but God, and the God-man Jesus Christ. The promise of sharing the throne is the climax of an ascending series of glorious promises, which carry the thought from the Garden of Eden (Revelation 2:7) through the wilderness (Revelation 2:17), the temple (Revelation 3:12), to the throne. The promise bears marked resemblance to the language of St. Paul to the Ephesians (Ephesians 2:6). This crowning promise is made to the most unpleasing of the churches. But it is well that thus the despondency which often succeeds the sudden collapse of self-satisfied imaginations should be met by so bright a prospect. Though their religion has been proved an empty thing, there is a hope which may well drive away despair. “The highest place is within the reach of the lowest; the faintest spark of grace may be fanned into the mightiest flame of divine love.”

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Revelation 3". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.