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This chapter began the fifth epistle which Christ wrote and directed to the church at Sardis.
In which observe, 1. The glorious description given of our Lord Jesus Christ, namely, that he has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; that is, according to some, he hath the Holy Spirit of God proceeding from him as from the Father: and because he had power to send the Holy Ghost, together with the Father, he is therefore said to have the seven spirits of God; so the Holy Ghost is called, because of the perfection and variety of his gifts and graces, influences and operations. Others by the seven Spirits understand created angels; and the seven Spirits being joined with seven Stars, intimate according to these, that Christ is the Lord of angels and ministers, he upholds his ministers, and has angels always at hand to defend his members.
Observe, 2. This church's partial opinion of herself; in her own and others' esteem, she was alive; thou hast a repute for an excellent church, thy profession causes many to think and speak well of thee: Thou hast a name that thou livest.
Observe, 3. Christ's impartial judgment concerning her, as one that knew her better than either others did, or herself could know her: thou sayest thou art dead or dying, thyself and others are deceived concerning thee.
Learn hence, 1. That it is possible for a professing people to be alive in their own and others' esteem, and yet to be dead or dying in God's account; at the same time that they make a splendid and glorious profession of religion, they may be under the reign and power of hypocrisy.
Learn hence, 2. That no religious pretences, no fair shows, can possibly hide a person's or a people's hypocrisy from God's eye: thou sayest that thou art thus, but I know thee better than others do, or thou canst know thyself; thou hast a name to live, but thou art dead.
Observe, 4. The counsel given by Christ to this languid and languishing church.
1. To be watchful; to shake off her drowsiness and formality; no reformation can be expected, if due consideration, watchfulness, and care, be not exercised.
2. To strengthen the things that are ready to die; that is, blow up every spark of grace which lodges under the ashes of much corruption, and keep it from going quite out. Spirituals are to be succoured and strengthened, if once they grow languishing and dying, lest they grow quite dead.
3. To remember what they had received and heard from Christ's apostles and ministers: to hold fast the truths received, and to repent of what is evil, and to reform what has been done amiss; intimating, that it is the duty of Christians to remember those truths which they have heard and received, and also to hold fast what they have heard and received: and that renewed repentance is the duty of Christians, as well as initial repentance.
Observe, 5. The complaint which Christ brings in against the church of Sardis, I have not found thy works perfect before God; not full, says the original, that is, not filled up with that sincerity and zeal which God requires: a man may be full of good works, and yet his prayer not full, but vain and empty; sincerity is the fulness or filling up of all duties: it is not common frailty, but the want of sincerity and soundness, zeal and seriousness, which Christ complains of.
Observe, 6. The danger threatened to security and slothfulness, If thou shalt not watch, I will come upon thee as a thief; that is, I will surprise thee with my judgments in the midst of thy security, as a thief does persons when they are asleep, and least expect him; the expression plainly intimates, both the suddenness of the judgment, and the severity of the judgment threatened.
Note here, That though the greater part in Sardis were dead or dying, that is, declining or decaying, yet there were some that kept their innocency, and preserved themselves from error and false worship, from erroneous principles and debauched practices.
Note farther, That these few which keep themselves pure above the rest, are not commanded to separate from the rest. Doctrines crying up purity to the prejudice of unity reject, for the gospel calls for unity as well as for purity.
Note also, The reward promised to such as kept themselves in Sardis pure both from error and vice: They shall walk with Christ in white, like persons of dignity and honour, like kings and conquerors, who of old wore white garments; they shall have the reward of their innocency and uprightness, for they are worthy of it, according to the law of grace, which promiseth it to them: they have walked worthily, with a worthiness of meetness, not with a worthiness of merit; they are therefore meet receivers, though not meritorious purchasers, of this reward.
Observe, Christ doth not say, he that conflicteth, but he that vanquisheth; not he that conquereth once or twice in the spiritual combat, but he that overcomes at last the temptations and persecutions from without, the lusts and corruptions from within: he shall be clothed with white raiment, that is, with robes of glory, as the reward of his eminency of his innocency and virtue, and as a mark of dignity and honour: and farther, I will not blot his name out of the book of life; that is, they shall be enrolled in it, and certainly saved, and I will present them to my Father, yea, I will publicly own them and confess them before God, angels, and men.
Lord, what an honour is this, to know thy people by name, and to call them by name before thy throne, and there publicly to acknowledge them, and proclaim the good done by them! O let it be our care to get first the white garment of grace on earth, and then we shall not miss of the white robes of glory in heaven.
These words are the same exhortatory conclusion which we find added by Christ to all the foregoing epistles; and plainly signify thus much, that all persons should look upon themselves as concerned in these several messages which the Spirit of Christ sends unto the churches; hence it is so oft repeated both in the former chapter and in this chapter, because it is of such universal use, and so nearly concerns us all.
Here we have the sixth epistle indited by Christ, written and sent by St. John to the church of Philadelphia, which name signifies brotherly love, and we may reasonably suppose that grace of love, unity, and concord, was eminently found with and amongst the members of this church, and had a mighty influence upon them in the practice of universal godliness, in as much as we find not this church blamed by Christ for any thing; not that she was wholly faultless, and altogether unblamable, but being free from those gross miscarriages which were in other Christians, and abounding with love to Christ, and one towards another. Christ graciously passes by and overlooks her failings and infirmities, and only proclaims her virtues and good works. Sincerity and love, though they do not blind Christ's eye, that he cannot see sin in his people, yet it causes him to look upon their failings with a pitiful and compassionate eye. This Philadelphia is said to be a mean city, not far from Sardis; yet here Christ had a very eminent church, not faulted for any thing: it is not the grandeur, but graciousness, of a people, that renders a place renowned.
In this epistle to the Philadelphians, we have these particulars observable, 1. A lofty description of Christ, by whose authority it was written: He is holy and true, holy in himself essentially, holy in respect to us communicatively, the author, approver, dispenser of all holiness; and true, that is, a lover and approver of truth. This title assures the church of the truth of all his predictions, promises,and threatenings; these two titles, holy and true, are generally ascribed to God in the Old Testament; these Christ, in the New Testament, often attributes to himself, which he had never done had he not been truly and really God.
The other part of the description of Christ follows, That hath the key of David, that is, of the church, of which David was a type: by the key power is denoted; Christ, as Mediator, has an absolute power over the church, being lord and head of it, and has committed a ministerial power of the keys to the governors and pastors of it; and having this key of the church in his own hand, by virtue of it he opens, and none can shut; and shutteth and none can open: that is, he can open, when he will, the door of success to his faithful ministers, by opening the hearts of his people through the power of converting grace, and no man can shut that door which Christ will thus open; and again, when he shuts the finally impenitent out of the church and out of heaven, no man can open and bring them in against his will: He openeth, and none can shut: he shutteth, and none can open.
Observe, 2. The special favour which Christ indulged to this church, namely, the favour of success in her gospel administrations: Behold, I have set before thee an open door. Under the metaphor of an open door, the success and progress of the gospel, in the preaching and dispensation of it, is shadowed forth; it is a special favour from God when he opens a door of advantage to us, to do good, the least good, either by convincing and converting sinners, or by edifying, strengthening, and comforting saints, and when God is pleased to open such door, none shall shut it.
Observe, 3. The commendation given by Christ of this church, Thou hast a little strength, a little spiritual inward strength, and but few external and outward helps and advantages; yet hast thou kept my word, my doctrine of faith, and my precepts for holy walking, these hast thou kept pure; and hast not denied my name, but adhered constantly to the profession of me and my gospel, notwithstanding all the temptations thou hast met with, by sufferings and reproaches.
Note here, How Christ took notice of that little measure of strength which this church had, and accepted it: weak grace, if sincere, shall always find acceptance with Christ; thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word.
Observe, 4. The gracious promise made by Christ unto this church, that her enemies should submit themselves unto her, and worship before her feet: Behold, says Christ, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which falsely call themselves Jews; I will make them, namely, by the power of my grace, to come and worship before thy feet; they shall reverence thee, and pay a civil respect to thee, and shall know that I have loved thee.
Learn hence, That the submission which the enemies of the church shall be forced to make unto her, by the power of Christ, is great and wonderful.
Still our blessed Saviour proceeds with promises and encouragements to this church, Because thou hast kept the word of my patience.
Here note, That the doctrine of the gospel is called the word of Christ's patience, partly because it teaches patience in persecuting times, and partly because it is a doctrine which cannot firmly be adhered to without patience, Thou hast kept the word of my patience.
To keep this word of Christ's patience, implies not only the keeping his doctrine pure and uncorrupted from error, but also the observing and practising all the duties of a good life.
And note, The reward promised to this church for the performing of this duty, Because thou hast kept--I will keep thee; Christ will not be behind-hand in rewarding our obedience, no, not in this life: I will (here) keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world.
Here note, 1. That a time of affliction, much more of persecution, is a time of temptation, because an afflicted and persecuted state hath many circumstances attending it, by which all are tried and some ensnared.
Note, 2. That a time of trial and temptation will come, most certainly come, sooner or later, upon all persons that dwell upon the earth, upon sinners as well as saints, upon hypocrites as well as sincere Christians; which trials will infallibly discover the faith and constancy of the one, the corruption and apostasy of the other: Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I will also keep thee from the hour of temptation.
Observe here, notwithstanding this church's constancy, yet Christ exhorts her to steadfastness, Hold fast; the steadiest and most steadfast Christians have need to be often cautioned and counselled against backsliding.
Observe also, The encouragements which Christ gives his church to hold fast his innocency, fidelity, and patience: the first is drawn from the shortness of her sufferings, by reason of Christ's sudden coming, Behold, I come quickly, that is, to deliver my faithful people, and to destroy their enemies; the second is drawn from the hazard which they run of losing the crown, for want of an unfainting perseverance, Hold fast, that no man take thy crown.
Where note, That only the persevering Christian shall be crowned, and that each persevering Christian shall have his own crown: there are probably differences of reward in heaven, as well as degrees of misery in hell; for quality the glory will be the same, they shall shine as the sun; for degree it will likely be differing, as much as one star differs from another in glory: Let no man take thy crown.
In this verse Christ promises a threefold reward to them that finally overcome all the temptations and trials of this life.
1. They shall be pillars in God's temple, that is, honourable and glorious members of the triumphant glorified church, and shall have a fixed happiness therein; possibly the Holy Ghost here alludes to the pillars in Solomon's temple, which were very beautiful.
2. They shall go no more out; the pillars in Solomon's porch were removed and carried away by the Chaldeans, but these pillars shall be perpetual, their glorious state shall be a fixed, unchangeable state; when all the pillars of the earth shall tremble, these pillars in the temple of heaven shall remain immoveable to eternal ages.
3. As in pillars erected by men their names were written and engraved; in like manner does Christ here promise the inscription of a threefold name upon these pillars, the name of God, the name of the city of God, and his new name.
The name of God signifies the person to be an adopted child of God: the name of the city of God, declares such a person to be a citizen of the New Jerusalem, which is said to come down out of heaven: that is, the knowledge of it comes down to us from God, else we had never known it, nor could ever have conceived of it: and Christ's new name, is that of the glorious Redeemer, and signifies him that overcometh shall be honoured as one of Christ's redeemed ones; the whole name put together, to wit, the name of God, the name of the city of God, and the new name, signifies an adopted son of God, and heir of the New Jerusalem, and a living member of Christ the glorified Redeemer; thus shall it be done to them whom Christ delighteth to honour: in the New Jerusalem above shall they spend an eternity in the rapturous and ravishing admiration of that love which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bestowed upon them, in making them first the adopted and now the glorified sons of God.
This is again the close and conclusion of this, as it was before of all the epistles, in which Christ calls upon all persons to hear and consider what he saith by his Spirit to this church, and to lay it deeply to heart for their instruction and admonition. The council which is given by Christ to one particular church, he requires and expects should be applied to all, and improved by all.
This epistle to the Laodiceans is the seventh and last epistle which Christ commanded St. John at this time to write; most of the churches were found faulty before, but none like this here. Formality and hypocrisy, coldness and indifferency, in religion, had so for prevailed in this church, that we find nothing commended in them, nothing good spoken of them, and none of them exempted from the general charge brought in against them for that lukewarmness and hypocrisy.
In this epistle now before us, Observe, 1. A description of Christ in his deservedly glorious titles: thus saith the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, that is, he that is verity and truth itself, both in his promises and his threatenings, who is holy, and cannot lie; righteous, and cannot deceive; wise, and can never be deceived; therefore Christ takes upon him this name here of the faithful and true Witness, to awaken these drowsy hypocrites, to see and consider that he knows their state and condition, and will testify and witness against them.
There is no such effectual remedy against hypocrisy, lukewarmness, and indifference in the matters of religion, as a firm belief of Christ's omnisciency and veracity. The other title given to Christ, is the beginning of the creation of God; that is, the beginner of the creation of God, the original and first cause, by which all the creatures of God had their beginning. Christ is not only principium principatun, but principium principians; not the passive beginning, or he that first created, but the active beginning, or he by whom the creation was begun, both the old and new creation.
Now Christ takes upon him this title, to encourage the Laodiceans to come unto him, (according to the invitation, given Revelation 3:18.) to recover them from their formality, seeing he is omnipotent, and can give a being and beginning to grace in the new creation as he did to nature in the old and first creation.
Observe, 2. The reproof here given to this church of Laodicea, I know thou art neither hot nor cold; thou art not for open heresy or infidelity, but likest well a profession of Christianity; you receive the gospel, and so are not quite cold, but you want zeal to suffer any thing for it, and so are not at all hot; I see nothing in thee but a lukewarm indifferency, for which I disown thee, nay, disdain thee.
Learn hence, 1. That Christ loathes lukewarm persons, who profess Christianity with reserves for worldly safety. These Laodiceans were neither enemies to Christ, nor true friends, but served God and gain, Christ and the world, by turns, as occasion served.
Learn, 2. That though God abominates lukewarmness and want of zeal, yet he will not disown those who have any spark of true zeal, though defective and culpably remiss; he will not quench smoking flax, but blow it up into a holy flame; but all that have not so much zeal as to prefer Christ before the world, shall be accounted his enemies, and disowned by him.
Observe here, 1. This church's partial opinion of herself, her vanity and vain-glorious ostentation, accompanied with self-esteem: she said she had need of nothing.
Observe, 2. That this boasting and vain-glorious ostentation did very probably spring from, and was occasioned by, this church's worldly prosperity: thou sayest, I am rich, and increased in goods. We are apt to mistake the warm sun for God's blessing, and to apprehend when we are great that we are gracious; and because rich in goods, conclude ourselves rich in grace: but, alas! God lifts up the light of his common providence upon thousands whom he does not lift up the light of his reconciled countenance upon.
Observe, 3. Christ's impartial judgment concerning this church of Laodicea, Thou sayest, thou art rich, and needest nothing: but I say, thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.
Behold here, How some have little or no grace, who yet conceit they have much grace; as some reckon their temporal, so there are others that value their spiritual, estate, at many thousands beyond what it really is, and when upon a just balance of account they are worth nothing. Ah, miserable souls! empty and guilty, poor and pennyless in spirituals, wanting every thing, but especially a sight and sense of their poverty and wants.
Observe, 4. The counsel given by Christ to this church, very suitable to her condition: What pinches more than poverty? here is gold to enrich us. What shames us more than nakedness? here is a promise of raiment to clothe and cover us. What afflicts and grieves us more than blindness? here is eye-salve to anoint us.
But observe the order of the words, 1. Christ says not, I commanded thee, but, I counsel thee. O infinite condescension! the Lord Jesus does not always command like a king, but sometimes counsels like a friend; he counsels us by his Spirit, he counsels us by his ministers, he counsels us by our own consciences.
2. Christ's counsel is to buy; that is, earnestly to desire, and sincerely to endeavour, the procuring such spiritual blessings as we want: we buy with our prayers, our tears, our endeavours.
3. The blessings offered, tried gold, that will bear the touchstone, that faith and holiness which will give thee boldness in judgment. White raiment, or the merits of the Mediator, which covers our shame and nakedness out of the sight of God. And eye-salve, or the grace of spiritual illumination, whereby we see the want and worth of these spiritual blessings.
Here Christ lets the Laodiceans understand, that although he had been sharp with them, in reproving them for their formality and lukewarmness, yet it was upon a merciful design towards them, it proceeded from a principle of love in him; for as many as I love, says Christ, I rebuke and chasten.
Christ does not, therefore, love his children because he corrects them: but he therefore corrects them because he loves them. Name the favourite whom God loved too well to strike; nay, commonly there goes the severest exercises, where there has been the greatest love. Let not then God's chastenings of us abate our love to him; necessity compels God to correct; nothing is done by rods but what could not be effected without them: Be zealous therefore, and repent.
As if Christ had said, O Laodecea! lay aside thy lukewarm indifferency, and be fervent in my service, repent, and amend your ways, if you would escape your chastening and rebukes, for I had much rather give you the kisses of my lips than the blows of my hand; if then you love not correction, prevent it by zeal and reformation.
These words are very expressive of the tender love and gracious condescension of Christ towards poor sinners; full of heavenly rhetoric, to win and gain their hearts unto himself.
Here observe, That man's heart is Christ's door, that this door of the heart is naturally shut, yea, locked and barred against Christ by ignorance and infidelity; that, notwithstanding this, Christ knocks graciously at the door of men's hearts by his word, by his rod, by his Spirit: knocking is a vehement motion, a reiterated motion, we knock again and again; a gradual motion, first more gently, then loudly; and it is a finite motion, men will not always continue knocking, but if none answer, they turn their backs and go their way. All the knocks 0f Christ will cease and end, his Spirit will not always strive.
Farther observe, Christ doth not only knock, but stands knocking; it denotes the assiduity of Christ in waiting upon sinners, and his patience in knocking; standing is a waiting posture, it denotes an earnest desire and patient expectation.
Observe, Though Christ knocks at the door of man's heart, he doth not break it open, he doth not offer violence to men's wills, and save them against their wills; but the Holy Spirit inclines them to hear Christ's voice, and enables them to open the door to him, causing them to approve of and consent to the offer and call of Christ.
Observe, That the door is no sooner open, but Christ comes in, and sups with the sinner: his coming in denotes our union to him; his supping, our communion with him, imperfect on earth, complete in heaven; there is a mutual, sweet, and intimate communion between Christ and believers here on earth; there will be a perfect, complete, and uninterrupted communion with him in heaven, when they shall ever be with the Lord.
Here our Saviour concludes this epistle, as he did the former, with a promise to the persevering Christian, To him that overcometh, namely, all the trials and temptations of this life, and keeps his faith, love, and obedience, entire to the end, I will grant, not in a way of merit, but of free gift and grace, to sit down with me in my throne, namely, to partake of the same power, and glory, and kingdom, that I as Mediator do now partake of.
Where observe, Christ here distinguishes between his own throne and his Father's; the former seems to be his mediatorial,the latter his essential, throne; and he plainly tells us, that as he obtained his glory by overcoming Satan and the world, so must we; To him that overcometh will I grant-- even as I also overcame: the way to heaven for Christ and all his members is the same; as he conquered and finally overcame on earth before he was crowned in heaven, so must they.
Thus Christ shuts up this, as he did all the preceding epistles before, with a repeated exhortation to all Christians to the end of the world, to hear, read, attend unto, and observe, all the cautions and warnings, all the reproofs and counsels, all the promises and threatenings, contained in this and the other epistles, as matters that do greatly concern all Christians to understand and know, Let him that hath an ear, hear.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Revelation 3". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26