Revelation of John 3

CHAPTER III.

The epistle to the Church of Sardis, 1-6.

The epistle to the Church of Philadelphia, 7-13.

The epistle to the Church of Laodicea, 14-22.

NOTES ON CHAP. III.

Epistle to the Church at Sardis.

Verse 1. The seven Spirits, of God] See the note on Re 1:4, 16,

&c.

Thou hast a name that thou livest] Ye have the reputation of

Christians, and consequently of being alive to God, through the

quickening influence of the Divine Spirit; but ye are dead-ye have

not the life of God in your souls, ye have not walked consistently

and steadily before God, and his Spirit has been grieved with you,

and he has withdrawn much of his light and power.

Verse 2. Be watchful] Ye have lost ground by carelessness and

inattention. Awake, and keep awake!

Strengthen the things which remain] The convictions and good

desires, with any measure of the fear of God and of a tender

conscience, which, although still subsisting, are about to perish,

because the Holy Spirit, who is the author of them, being

repeatedly grieved, is about finally to depart.

Thy works perfect] πεπληρωμενα Filled up. They performed

duties of all kinds, but no duty completely. They were constantly

beginning, but never brought any thing to a proper end. Their

resolutions were languid, their strength feeble, and their light

dim. They probably maintained their reputation before men, but

their works were not perfect before God.

Verse 3. Remember] Enter into a serious consideration of your

state.

How thou hast received] With what joy, zeal, and gladness ye

heard the Gospel of Christ when first preached to you.

Hold fast] Those good desires and heavenly influences which

still remain.

And repent.] Be humbled before God, because ye have not been

workers together with him, but have received much of his grace in

vain.

If therefore thou shalt not watch] If you do not consider your

ways, watching against sin, and for opportunities to receive and

do good.

I will come on thee as a thief] As the thief comes when he is

not expected, so will I come upon you if ye be not watchful, and

cut you off from life and hope.

Verse 4. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis] A few persons,

names being put for those who bore them. And as the members of the

Church were all enrolled, or their names entered in a book, when

admitted into the Church or when baptized, names are here put for

the people themselves. See Re 3:5.

Have not defiled their garments] Their souls. The Hebrews

considered holiness as the garb of the soul, and evil actions as

stains or spots on this garb. So in Shabbath, fol. 152, 2: "A

certain king gave royal garments to his servants: those who were

prudent folded them up, and laid them by in a chest; those who

were foolish put them on, and performed their daily labour in

them. After some time the king asked for those royal robes; the

wise brought theirs white and clean, the foolish brought theirs

spotted with dirt. With the former the king was well pleased; with

the latter he was angry. Concerning the former he said: Let those

garments be laid up in my wardrobe, and let the persons go home in

peace. Of the latter he said: Let the garments be put into the

hands of the fuller, and cast those who wore them into prison."

This parable is spoken on these words of Ecclesiastes, Ec 12:7:

The spirit shall return to God who gave it.

They shall walk with me in white] They shall be raised to a

state of eternal glory, and shall be for ever with their Lord.

Verse 5. I will not blot out his name] This may be an allusion

to the custom of registering the names of those who were admitted

into the Church in a book kept for that purpose, from which custom

our baptismal registers in Churches are derived. These are

properly books of life, as there those who were born unto God were

registered; as in the latter those who were born in that parish

were enrolled. Or there may be allusions to the white raiment

worn by the priests, and the erasing of the name of any priest out

of the sacerdotal list who had either sinned, or was found not to

be of the seed of Aaron. In Middoth, fol. 37, 2: "The great

council of Israel sat and judged the priests. If in a priest any

vice was found they stripped of his white garments and clothed him

in black, in which he wrapped himself, went out, and departed. Him

in whom no vice was found they clothed in white, and he went and

took his part in the ministry among his brother priests."

I will confess his name] I will acknowledge that this person is

my true disciple, and a member of my mystical body. In all this

there may also be an allusion to the custom of registering

citizens. Their names were entered into books, according to their

condition, tribes, family, &c.; and when they were dead, or had by

unconstitutional acts forfeited their right of citizenship, the

name was blotted out, or erased from the registers.

See Clarke on Ex 32:32.

Verse 6. He that hath an ear] The usual caution and counsel

carefully to attend to the things spoken to the members of that

Church, in which every reader is more or less interested.

Epistle to the Church at Philadelphia.

Verse 7. He that is holy] In whom holiness essentially dwells,

and from whom all holiness is derived.

He that is true] He who is the fountain of truth; who cannot lie

nor be imposed on; from whom all truth proceeds; and whose

veracity in his Revelation is unimpeachable.

He that hath the key of David] See this metaphor explained,

Mt 16:19.

Key is the emblem of authority and knowledge; the key of David

is the regal right or authority of David. David could shut or open

the kingdom of Israel to whom he pleased. He was not bound to

leave the kingdom even to his eldest son. He could choose whom he

pleased to succeed him. The kingdom of the Gospel, and the kingdom

of heaven, are at the disposal of Christ. He can shut against whom

he will; he can open to whom he pleases. If he shuts, no man can

open; if he opens, no man can shut. His determinations all stand

fast, and none can reverse them. This expression is an allusion to

Isa 22:22, where the prophet promises to Eliakim, under the

symbol of the key of the house of David, the government of the

whole nation; i.e., all the power of the king, to be executed by

him as his deputy; but the words, as here applied to Christ, show

that He is absolute.

Verse 8. I have set before thee an open door] I have opened to

thee a door to proclaim and diffuse my word; and, notwithstanding

there are many adversaries to the spread of my Gospel, yet none of

them shall be able to prevent it.

Thou hast a little strength] Very little political authority or

influence; yet thou hast kept my word-hast kept the true doctrine;

and hast not denied my name, by taking shelter in heathenism when

Christianity was persecuted. The little strength may refer either

to the smallness of the numbers, or to the littleness of their

grace.

Verse 9. I will make them] Show them to be, of the synagogue of

Satan, who say they are Jews, pretending thereby to be of the

synagogue of GOD, and consequently his true and peculiar children.

I will make them to come and worship] I will so dispose of

matters in the course of my providence, that the Jews shall be

obliged to seek unto the Christians for toleration, support, and

protection, which they shall be obliged to sue for in the most

humble and abject manner.

To know that I have loved thee.] That the love which was

formerly fixed on the Jews is now removed, and transferred to the

Gentiles.

Verse 10. The word of my patience] The doctrine which has

exposed you to so much trouble and persecution, and required so

much patience and magnanimity to bear up under its attendant

trials.

The hour of temptation] A time of sore and peculiar trial which

might have proved too much for their strength. He who is faithful

to the grace of God is often hidden from trials and difficulties

which fall without mitigation on those who have been unfaithful in

his covenant. Many understand by the hour of temptation the

persecution under Trajan, which was greater and more extensive

than the preceding ones under Nero and Domitian.

To try them] That is, such persecutions will be the means of

trying and proving those who profess Christianity, and showing who

were sound and thorough Christians and who were not.

Verse 11. Behold, I come quickly] These things will shortly take

place; and I am coming with consolations and rewards to my

faithful followers, and with judgments to my adversaries.

Take thy crown.] God has provided mansions for you; let none

through your fall occupy those seats of blessedness.

Verse 12. A pillar in the temple] There is probably all allusion

here to the two pillars in the temple of Jerusalem, called Jachin

and Boaz, stability and strength. The Church is the temple;

CHRIST is the foundation on which it is built; and his ministers

are the PILLARS by which, under him, it is adorned and supported.

St. Paul has the same allusions, Ga 2:9.

I will write upon him the name of my God] That is, I will make

him a priest unto myself. The priest had written on his forehead

kodesh laihovah, "Holiness to the Lord."

And the name of the city of my God] As the high priest had on

his breastplate the names of the twelve tribes engraved, and these

constituted the city or Church of God; Christ here promises that

in place of them the twelve apostles, representing the Christian

Church, shall be written, which is called the New Jerusalem, and

which God has adopted in place of the twelve Jewish tribes.

My new name.] The Saviour of ALL; the light that lightens

the GENTILES; the CHRIST; the Anointed One; the only GOVERNOR of

his Church; and the Redeemer of ALL mankind.

There is here an intimation that the Christian Church is to

endure for ever; and the Christian ministry to last as long as

time endures: He shall go no more out for ever.

Epistle to the Church of the Laodiceans.

Verse 14. These things saith the Amen] That is, He who is true

or faithful; from aman, he was tree; immediately interpreted,

The faithful and true witness. See Re 1:5.

The beginning of the creation of God] That is, the head and

governor of all creatures: the king of the creation. See on

Col 1:15. By his

titles, here, he prepares them for the humiliating and awful

truths which he was about to declare, and the authority on which

the declaration was founded.

Verse 15. Thou art neither cold nor hot] Ye are neither heathens

nor Christians-neither good nor evil-neither led away by false

doctrine, nor thoroughly addicted to that which is true. In a

word, they were listless and indifferent, and seemed to care

little whether heathenism or Christianity prevailed. Though they

felt little zeal either for the salvation of their own souls or

that of others, yet they had such a general conviction of the

truth and importance of Christianity, that they could not readily

give it up.

I would thou wert cold or hot] That is, ye should be decided;

adopt some part or other, and be in earnest in your attachment to

it. If ever the words of Mr. Erskine, in his Gospel Sonnets, were

true, they were true of this Church:-

"To good and evil equal bent,

I'm both a devil and a saint."

They were too good to go to hell, too bad to go to heaven.

Like Ephraim and Judah, Ho 6:4:

O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do

unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the

early dew it passeth away. They had good dispositions which were

captivated by evil ones, and they had evil dispositions which in

their turn yielded to those that were good; and the Divine justice

and mercy seem puzzled to know what to do to or with them. This

was the state of the Laodicean Church; and our Lord expresses here

in this apparent wish, the same that is expressed by Epictetus,

Ench., chap. 36. ενασεδειανθρωπονηαγαθονηκακον

ειναι. "Thou oughtest to be one kind of man, either a good man or

a bad man."

Verse 16. Because thou art lukewarm] Irresolute and undecided.

I will spue thee out of my mouth.] He alludes here to the known

effect of tepid water upon the stomach; it generally produces a

nausea. I wilt cast thee off. Thou shalt have no interest in me.

Though thou hast been near to my heart, yet now I must pluck thee

thence, because slothful, careless, and indolent; thou art not in

earnest for thy soul.

Verse 17. I am rich] Thou supposest thyself to be in a safe

state, perfectly sure of final salvation, because thou hast begun

well, and laid the right foundation. It was this most deceitful

conviction that cut the nerves of their spiritual diligence; they

rested in what they had already received, and seemed to think that

once in grace must be still in grace.

Thou art wretched] ταλαιπωρος Most wretched. "The word

signifies," according to Mintert, "being worn out and fatigued

with grievous labours, as they who labour in a stone quarry, or

are condemned to the mines." So, instead of being children of God,

as they supposed, and infallible heirs of the kingdom, they were,

in the sight of God, in the condition of the most abject slaves.

And miserable] οελεεινος Most deplorable, to be pitied by all

men.

And poor] Having no spiritual riches, no holiness of heart.

Rich and poor are sometimes used by the rabbins to express the

righteous and the wicked.

And blind] The eyes of thy understanding being darkened, so that

thou dost not see thy state.

And naked] Without the image of God, not clothed with holiness

and purity. A more deplorable state in spiritual things can

scarcely be imagined than that of this Church. And it is the true

picture of many Churches, and of innumerable individuals.

Verse 18. I counsel thee] O fallen and deceived soul, hear

Jesus! Thy case is not hopeless. Buy of me.

Gold tried in the fire] Come and receive from me, without money

and without price, faith that shall stand in every trial: so gold

tried in the fire is here understood. But it may mean pure and

undefiled religion, or that grace or Divine influence which

produces it, which is more valuable to the soul than the purest

gold to the body. They had before imaginary riches; this alone can

make them truly rich.

White raiment] Holiness of heart and life.

Anoint thine eyes] Pray for, that ye may receive, the

enlightening influences of my Spirit, that ye may be convinced of

your true state, and see where your help lies.

Verse 19. As many as I love] So it was the love he still had to

them that induced him thus to reprehend and thus to counsel them.

Be zealous] Be in earnest, to get your souls saved, They had no

zeal; this was their bane. He now stirs them up to diligence in

the use of the means of grace and repentance for their past sins

and remissness.

Verse 20. Behold, I stand at the door and knock] There are many

sayings of this kind among the ancient rabbins; thus in Shir

Hashirim Rabba, fol. 25, 1: "God said to the Israelites, My

children, open to me one door of repentance, even so wide as the

eye of a needle, and I will open to you doors through which calves

and horned cattle may pass."

In Sohar Levit, fol. 8, col. 32, it is said: "If a man conceal

his sin, and do not open it before the holy King, although he ask

mercy, yet the door of repentance shall not be opened to him. But

if he open it before the holy blessed God, God spares him, and

mercy prevails over wrath; and when he laments, although all the

doors were shut, yet they shall be opened to him, and his prayer

shall be heard."

Christ stands-waits long, at the door of the sinner's heart; he

knocks-uses judgments, mercies, reproofs, exhortations, &c., to

induce sinners to repent and turn to him; he lifts up his

voice-calls loudly by his word, ministers, and Spirit.

If any man hear] If the sinner will seriously consider his

state, and attend to the voice of his Lord.

And open the door] This must be his own act, receiving power for

this purpose from his offended Lord, who will not break open the

door; he will make no forcible entry.

I will come in to him] I will manifest myself to him, heal all

his backslidings, pardon all his iniquities, and love him freely.

Will sup with him] Hold communion with him, feed him with the

bread of life.

And he with me.] I will bring him at last to dwell with me in

everlasting glory.

Verse 21. To sit with me in my throne] In every case it is to

him that overcometh, to the conqueror, that the final promise is

made. He that conquers not is not crowned, therefore every promise

is here made to him that is faithful unto death. Here is a most

remarkable expression: Jesus has conquered, and is set down with

the FATHER upon the Father's throne; he who conquers through

Christ sits down with Christ upon his throne: but Christ's throne

and the throne of the Father is the same; and it is on this same

throne that those who are faithful unto death are finally to sit!

How astonishing is this state of exaltation! The dignity and

grandeur of it who can conceive?

This is the worst of the seven Churches, and yet the most

eminent of all the promises are made to it, showing that the worst

may repent, finally conquer, and attain even to the highest state

of glory.

Verse 22. He that hath an ear, let him hear] Mr. Wesley has a

very judicious note on the conclusion of this chapter, and

particularly on this last verse, He that hath an ear, &c. "This

(counsel) stands in three former letters before the promise, in

the four latter after it; clearly dividing the seven into two

parts, the first containing three, the last four letters. The

titles given our Lord in the three former letters peculiarly

respect his power after his resurrection and ascension,

particularly over his Church; those in the four latter, his Divine

glory and unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Again, this

word being placed before the promises in the three former letters

excludes the false apostles at Ephesus, the false Jews at Smyrna,

and the partakers with the heathens at Pergamos, from having any

share therein. In the four latter, being placed after them, it

leaves the promises immediately joined with Christ's address to

the angel of the Church, to show that the fulfilling of these was

near; whereas the others reach beyond the end of the world. It

should be observed that the overcoming or victory (to which alone

these peculiar promises are annexed) is not the ordinary victory

obtained by every believer, but a special victory obtained over

great and peculiar temptations, by those that are strong in

faith."

The latest account we have of the state of the seven Asiatic

Churches is in a letter from the Rev. Henry Lindsay, chaplain to

the British embassy at Constantinople, to a member of the British

and Foreign Bible Society, by which society Mr. Lindsay had been

solicited to distribute some copies of the New Testament in modern

Greek among the Christians in Asia Minor. The following is his

communication, dated:-

"Constantinople, January 10, 1816.

"When I last wrote to you, I was on the point of setting out on

a short excursion into Asia Minor. Travelling hastily, as I was

constrained to do from the circumstances of my situation, the

information I could procure was necessarily superficial and

unsatisfactory. As, however, I distributed the few books of the

society which I was able to carry with me, I think it necessary to

give some account of the course I took:

"1. The regular intercourse of England with SMYRNA will enable

you to procure as accurate intelligence of its present state as

any I can pretend to offer. From the conversations I had with the

Greek bishop and his clergy, as well as various well-informed

individuals, I am led to suppose that, if the population of Smyrna

be estimated at one hundred and forty thousand inhabitants, there

are from fifteen to twenty thousand Greeks, six thousand

Armenians, five thousand Catholics, one hundred and forty

Protestants, and eleven thousand Jews.

"2. After Smyrna, the first place I visited was EPHESUS, or

rather (as the site is not quite the same) Aiasalick, which

consists of about fifteen poor cottages. I found there but three

Christians, two brothers who keep a small shop, and a gardener.

They are all three Greeks, and their ignorance is lamentable

indeed. In that place, which was blessed so long with an apostle's

labours, and those of his zealous assistants are Christians who

have not so much as heard of that apostle, or seem only to

recognize the name of Paul as one in the calendar of their saints.

One of them I found able to read a little, and left with him the

New Testament, in ancient and modern Greek, which he expressed a

strong desire to read, and promised me he would not only study it

himself, but lend it to his friends in the neighbouring villages.

"3. My next object was to see LAODICEA; in the road to this is

Guzel-hisar, a large town, with one church, and about seven

hundred Christians. In conversing with the priests here, I found

them so little acquainted with the Bible, or even the New

Testament in an entire form, that they had no distinct knowledge

of the books it contained beyond the four gospels, but mentioned

them indiscriminately with various idle legends and lives of

saints. I have sent thither three copies of the modern Greek

Testament since my return. About three miles from Laodicea is

Denizli, which has been styled (but I am inclined to think

erroneously) the ancient Colosse; it is a considerable town, with

about four hundred Christians, Greeks, and Armenians, each of whom

has a church. I regret however to say that here also the most

extravagant tales of miracles, and fabulous accounts of angels,

saints, and relics, had so usurped the place of the Scriptures as

to render it very difficult to separate in their minds Divine

truths from human inventions. I felt that here that unhappy time

was come when men should 'turn away their ears from the truth, and

be turned unto fables.' I had with me some copies of the gospels

in ancient Greek which I distributed here, as in some other places

through which I had passed. Eski-hisar, close to which are the

remains of ancient Laodicea, contains about fifty poor

inhabitants, in which number are but two Christians, who live

together in a small mill; unhappily neither could read at all; the

copy therefore of the New Testament, which I intended for this

Church, I left with that of Denizli, the offspring and poor

remains of Laodicea and Colosse. The prayers of the mosque are the

only prayers which are heard near the ruins of Laodicea, on which

the threat seems to have been fully executed in its utter

rejection as a Church.

"4. I left it for PHILADELPHIA, now Alah-shehr. It was

gratifying to find at last some surviving fruits of early zeal;

and here, at least, whatever may be the loss of the spirit of

Christianity, there is still the form of a Christian Church; this

has been kept from the 'hour of temptation,' which came upon all

the Christian world. There are here about one thousand Christians,

chiefly Greeks, who for the most part speak only Turkish; there

are twenty-five places of public worship, five of which are large

regular churches; to these there is a resident bishop, with twenty

inferior clergy. A copy of the modern Greek Testament was received

by the bishop with great thankfulness.

"5. I quitted Alah-shehr, deeply disappointed at the statement I

received there of the Church of SARDIS. I trusted that in its

utmost trials it would not have been suffered to perish utterly,

and I heard with surprise that not a vestige of it remained. With

what satisfaction then did I find on the plains of Sardis a small

Church establishment; the few Christians who dwell around modern

Sart were anxious to settle there and erect a church, as they were

in the habit of meeting at each other's houses for the exercise of

religion. From this design they were prohibited by Kar Osman Oglu,

the Turkish governor of the district; and in consequence, about

five years ago they built a church upon the plain, within view of

ancient Sardis, and there they maintain a priest. The place has

gradually risen into a little village, now called Tatar-keny;

thither the few Christians of Sart, who amount to seven, and those

in its immediate vicinity, resort for public worship, and form

together a congregation of about forty. There appears then still a

remnant, 'a few names even in Sardis,' which have been preserved.

I cannot repeat the expressions of gratitude with which they

received a copy of the New Testament in a language with which they

were familiar. Several crowded about the priest to hear it on the

spot, and I left them thus engaged.

"6. Ak-hisar, the ancient THYATIRA, is said to contain about

thirty thousand inhabitants, of whom three thousand are

Christians, all Greeks except about two hundred Armenians. There

is, however, but one Greek church and one Armenian. The superior

of the Greek Church to whom I presented the Romaic Testament

esteemed it so great a treasure that he earnestly pressed me, if

possible, to spare another, that one might be secured to the

Church and free from accidents, while the other went round among

the people for their private reading. I have, therefore, since my

return hither, sent him four copies.

"7. The Church of PERGAMOS, in respect to numbers, may be said

to flourish still in Bergamo. The town is less than Ak-hisar, but

the number of Christians is about as great, the proportion of

Armenians to Greeks nearly the same, and each nation also has one

church. The bishop of the district, who occasionally resides

there, was at that time absent, and I experienced with deep regret

that the resident clergy were totally incapable of estimating the

gift I intended them; I therefore delivered the Testament to the

lay vicar of the bishop at his urgent request, he having assured

me that the bishop would highly prize so valuable an acquisition

to the Church. He seemed much pleased that the benighted state of

his nation had excited the attention of strangers.

"Thus, sir, I have left at least one copy of the unadulterated

word of God at each of the seven Asiatic Churches of the

Apocalypse, and I trust they are not utterly thrown away; but

whoever may plant, it is God only who can give the increase, and

from his goodness we may hope they will in due time bring forth

fruit, 'some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundred fold.'

"HENRY LINDSAY."

In my note on Ac 19:24, I have given an account of the

celebrated temple of Diana at Ephesus, to which building, called

one of the seven wonders of the world, St. Paul is supposed to

allude in his epistle to this Church, particularly at Eph 3:18,

where I have again given the measurement of this temple.

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