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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
The epistle to the Church of Sardis, Revelation 3:1-6. The epistle to the Church of Philadelphia, Revelation 3:7-13. The epistle to the Church of Laodicea, Revelation 3:14-22.
Epistle to the Church at Sardis
1And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.
The seven Spirits, of God - See the note on Revelation 1:4, Revelation 1:16 (note), etc.
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souls, ye have not walked consistently and steadily before God, and his Spirit has been grieved with you, and he has withdrawn much of his light and power.
2Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
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.
3Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.
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.
4Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.
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 Revelation 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 labor 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, Ecclesiastes 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.
5He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
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, etc.; 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 the note on Exodus 32:32.
6He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
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
7And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;
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, Matthew 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 Isaiah 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.
8I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.
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.
9Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.
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.
10Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.
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.
11Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.
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.
12Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.
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, Galatians 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 קודש ליהוה 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 Savior 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
13He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
14And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
These things saith the Amen - That is, He who is true or faithful; from אמן aman, he was tree; immediately interpreted, The faithful and true witness. See Revelation 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 Colossians 1:15 (note). 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.
15I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
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, Hosea 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. Ἑνα σε δει ανθρωπον, η αγαθον, η κακον, ειναι. "Thou oughtest to be one kind of man, either a good man or a bad man."
16So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
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.
17Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
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 labors, as they who labor 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 - Ὁ ελεεινος· 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.
18I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
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.
19As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
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.
20Behold, 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.
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, Colossians 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, etc., 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.
21To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
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.
22He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
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, etc. "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 labors, 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 neighboring 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 Acts 19:24 (note), 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 Ephesians 3:18 (note), where I have again given the measurement of this temple.