Revelation 3
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Were any one visiting the actual sites where the several Churches spoken of in these letters once stood, he would, ere he came to Sardis, have gone a long way round the circle on the circumference of which they all were. Beginning with Ephesus at the southern end, and proceeding northwards along the seashore, he next would come to Smyrna, then to Pergamos, then to Thyatira, and then, coming down the inland side of the rude circle we have imagined, he would reach Sardis, and proceeding on would come first to Philadelphia and then to Laodicea, the last of the seven. But now we have come to Sardis - a notable city in the ancient world, because associated with the great names of Cyrus, Croesus, and Alexander. With this historic fame, however, we have nought to do, but with the religious condition of the Church there as shown in this letter. And, as in all the previous letters, so here, the title assumed by the Lord Jesus has special reference to the condition and need of the Church addressed. Ephesus needed encouragement and warning alike. The Lord, therefore, speaks of himself as "he who holdeth the seven stars in his right hand." Smyrna needed strong support under her heavy trial. The Lord therefore speaks to them as "The First and the Last, who," etc. Pergamos needed that the Word of God should be sharply and severely brought to bear upon her. The Lord therefore tells of himself as "he who hath the sharp sword with the two edges," etc. Thyatira needed to be reminded of the holy and awful wrath of the Lord against such as she was harbouring in her midst. The Lord therefore declares himself to be "he whose eyes are as a flame of fire," etc. And now this Church of Sardis needed to be won back again to true godliness, for though she had a name that she lived, she was dead. The Lord therefore speaks of himself to her as "he who hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars." Now note how this name of the Lord bears -


1. It was not that of others. Nought is said of Nicolaitans and followers of Balaam, or of such as Jezebel was. Nothing of false doctrines or of vicious life. These things which are denounced so terribly in other letters are not charged against this Church, and we may therefore assume that they could, perhaps they did, thank God that they were not as those other Churches were.

2. Nor was it that they did nothing. On the contrary, their works are mentioned repeatedly. No doubt there were all wonted ministries, religious observances, charities, and missions. There must have been, for:

3. They were no scandal to others. On the contrary, they had a name, a reputation, an honourable character, as a living Church. Laodicea deceived herself, thinking she was rich; but it is not said she deceived others. This Church, Sardis, did deceive others; she was reckoned by them to be really living, though in fact she was dead; and very probably she had deceived herself also. But:

4. Their works were not perfect before God. Well enough before men, but before him quite otherwise. They were of such sort that he said of those who did them, that they were "dead." They were done, as were the prayers, alms, and lastings of the hypocrites, "to be seen of men." Assuredly not with single eye or with pure motive. They had their reward: people talked of them, and gave them credit as having life. But before God they were dead. Let us remember that it is as "before God everything is to be estimated. Let all who engage in any form of Christian service remember this. It is terribly apt to be forgotten. Remember how St. Paul said, It is a small thing to me to be judged of you or of any human judgment: he that judgeth me is the Lord; I labour to be accepted of him." The one question for us all is, how will our work appear before God? For:

5. Their condition was one most displeasing to him. The severe tone of the letter proves this. True, we have had such severity before, and shall have it again; for rebuke, and often stern rebuke, was what was needed then and still is by the majority of Churches, always and everywhere. Nevertheless, there is no one of these letters in which the tone is more severe, or the smiting of the Sword of the Spirit sharper, or the solemnity of the appeals addressed to them more arousing or impressive. The epistle to Laodicea is the only one which can be compared with it, and it is to be noticed that the wrong in that Church, whilst very great, is like this in Sardis, that it is free from the foul stains tither of vice or heresy. In the sight of the Lord of the Church there is, it is evident, something more hateful to him than even these. Love to the Lord may linger in hearts even where these are; but if love, the true life of every Church and every individual soul, be gone, then are they to be described as none others are, for they are "dead." Hence in this letter there is no softening, mitigating utterance at all, no mention of good works, but the keynote of the epistle is struck at once, and a startling one it is. But:

6. What was the cause of it all? Now the name our Lord takes to himself in this letter reveals this cause. He by that name declares that in him and from him is all-sufficient grace. Treasure store inexhaustible, riches unsearchable, both for pastor and people. For his were "the seven Spirits of God," and his "the seven stars." And yet, in spite of all this, they were as they were. Oh, was it not shameful, is it not shameful, utterly inexcusable, when the like exists now, that, though abundance of grace is in Christ for us all, we should yet be what he terms "dead"? It was plain, therefore, they had not sought that grace; the fulness of the Spirit's help neither pastor nor people had implored; and so, as we find, they had given in to the world's ways. It is evident from the honourable mention of the "few" who had "not defiled their garments," that the rest had. That is to say, they had given in to the world's ways. Hence St. James speaks of pure religion as being in part this, "Keeping your garments unspotted from the world." And in proof of this there seems to have been a good understanding between the Church and the world at Sardis. They seem to have got along together very well. In every other Church, save this and Laodicea, mention is made of some "burden" which the enmity of the surrounding world laid upon the Church. But not here. As it has been well said (Archbishop Trench), "The world could endure it because it, too, was a world." This Church had nothing of the spirit of the "two witnesses" (Revelation 11:10) who "tormented them that dwelt in the earth" by their faithful testimony; or of the Lord Jesus either, who "resisted unto blood, striving against sin," and because he would not yield was crucified (cf. also Wisd. 2:12, etc.). But there was nothing of all this at Sardis. It might have been said of them, as was cynically said the other day of a certain section of ministers of religion amongst us, that "you would find them very well bred, and you might be quite certain they would say nothing to you about your soul." It is an ill sign when the Church and the world are so happy together. There has been compromise somewhere, and it is rarely the world which makes it. It is bad to have no life at all in God's love; it is worse to have had it and to have lost it; but it is worst of all - and may God in his mercy deliver us therefrom - to have the name and reputation of possessing this life, and yet to be, in fact, as it was with Sardis, dead in regard thereto. For all around us conduces to deepen such fatal slumber of the soul, and there is an everlasting soothing of them by themselves, the Church and the world alike, saying continually, "Peace, peace," when there is no peace.

II. ON THE PUNISHMENT WITH WHICH THE CHURCH IS THREATENED. (Ver. 3.) This solemn warning of danger speaks of the Lord's advent to judgment. But:

1. What is that judgment? The name the Lord has assumed in this letter reveals it. Now, that name was meant partly to show that they were without excuse, but also to remind that, as the Spirit is his to give, so also is it his to withdraw and to withhold. As he can open the doors of grace, and then no man can shut; so also can he shut them, and then none can open. This, then, was what they were to fear, lest he should leave them alone, lest he should take his Holy Spirit from them. David dreaded this, and implored that the Lord would not deal so with him. Better any punishment, any suffering, any pain, any amount of distress, than that the soul should be thus left alone of the Lord.

2. And this judgment would come as a thief; they should not know when or how. There was an ancient proverb that the feet of the avenging gods are shod with wool. Dii laneos habent pedes. The meaning is simply what is here said, that the Divine judgment comes silently, stealthily, secretly, invisibly, unexpectedly, "as a thief." Who can mark the hour when God's Spirit leaves a man? Who sees the master of the house rise up and shut the door? It is not always true, as the much misleading verse tells-

"While the lamp holds out to burn,
The vilest sinner may return." Before that lamp is quenched, the Holy Spirit's blessed flame may have been quenched, and he, resisted, grieved, done despite to, may have for ever gone away. And it is equally untrue to affirm that the point of death bars all return. It is not death, but the determined character of the soul, that decides that matter. Death cannot shut the Spirit out nor life ensure that he remain, but the fixed bias and character into which we have settled down. And then:

3. There follows the blotting out of the name, etc. (Ver. 5.) Of him who overcomes Christ says, "I will by no means blot out his name." Hence it is implied that the rest he will blot out. Yes, the name may be in that book; through the blessed atonement and sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ our names are there; but the question is - Will they be allowed to stay there? The branch may be in the Vine; it is so; but "if it bear not fruit, then," etc. Christ has put us all in, but we can force him, all unwilling, to blot us out again. And to be as Sardis was will do this. Have mercy upon us, O Lord!

III. ON THEIR RESTORATION. Their sin had not altered the fact that he still had "the seven Spirits," etc. And should the Lord's earnest word have the effect designed, it would, and we may well believe it did, awake many that slept, and arouse them from the dead, that Christ might give them life. And how would they be encouraged by this revelation of the Lord's grace! "How sweet the name of Jesus" would sound in their ears! Did it not enable them to say to their adversary, "Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me." The effort they would have to make would be severe, but here in this name was abundance of grace for all their need. And to encourage them the Lord points them:

1. To the "few" who had overcome. There was, then, no irresistible might in the thraldom in which they were held. These had overcome, so might they. The grace that enabled these was waiting for them likewise. Not only would these "few" be greatly strengthened by the Lord's remembrance of and special promise to them, but the rest also would learn that victory was possible for them through him who had the "seven Spirits,': etc.

2. To means that, if faithfully used, would be effectual.

(1) Let them become wakeful - such is the meaning. This was a primary and imperative need. And when thus awake, let them

(2) remember how they had received and heard. With what earnestness and joy and devotedness of spirit they had begun their Christian career! Let them look back on that. And let them

(3) hold fast, i.e. keep, what remained, for all was not lost yet. The door of hope was not shut. And let them

(4) repent, i.e. have done with all habits, practices, and conduct, with all ways of thinking and speaking, which had lured them into and all but lost them in their deceitfulness. Let them confess it all before the Lord, and come away from it at once and for ever. And

(5) let them strengthen the things which remained. As the traveller crossing the Alps in snowstorm, all but benumbed, striking his foot against the body. of one who had just before passed that way and had sunk down in the snow, overcome by the deadly torpor of the cold - as he, roused by the blow and proceeding to use all efforts to awaken the fallen one, happily succeeds, he is made at the same time altogether wakeful and alive himself: so let any whose own spiritual condition is feeble try to make others strong, and they, too, in the endeavour will win strength. Let them thus act. And next he points them to:

3. The reward of these who overcome.

(1) The white robe, symbol of victory, purity, joy.

(2) The fellowship with Christ. "They shall walk with me in white." What enhancement of their blessedness this!

(3) The retention of their names in the book of life. "I will by no means blot out," etc. All the loving purposes which he cherished for them when he entered their names there, they shall realize and enjoy.

(4) The confession of their names before his Father and his angels. What a compensation for the contempt of the world! how insignificant and despicable is that contempt when placed over against this honour which Christ here promises! Ah! who would stay in the sad state of Sardis when a way like this is opened out of it for them? All grace is his, and his for us, if we will avail ourselves of it; for he "hath the seven," etc. - S.C.

The sad spectacle is presented here of a Church dying out. To the angel it is said, "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead." This is the judgment of him who hath "the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars." He holds the stars in his band, for safety in danger, for punishment in unfaithfulness. They cannot escape from him. The Lord of life is the Lord also of death and judgment. The watchword is significant of the slumbering, exposed state of the Church; it is the sharp word of the ever-wakeful Lord - Watch. "Be thou watchful, and stablish the things that remain, which are ready to die."


1. The deceitful semblance of life though death lurks within. How strikingly opposed is the appearance to the reality! If all were not actually overcome by death - as the word "repent" would imply - yet were they on the brink of death; nay, death reigned. A remnant may remain, but of the body as a whole it must be said, "Thou art dead." Or, in more accurate language, spiritual death, which is as a sleep, has palsied the strength and virtue of the Church. "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead."

2. The good that remains is on the verge of ruin. "The things that remain" were "ready to die." Sad, indeed, is the condition of any Church when its last remnant of good is tainted; when a deadly disease seizes upon the last living hope.

3. The imperfectness of all their works in the sight of God. Whatever may have been their appearance to the eye of man, "before God," every work is judged to be unfulfilled, imperfect, incomplete. The strength of the life, the vital force, is abating; all the activities of life, therefore, are faulty. As is the life, so is the work of life.


III. BY THE THREAT OF SPEEDY JUDGMENT IF THE SIGNS OF REPENTANCE ARE NOT FORTHCOMING. "If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee."



1. Purity.

2. Perpetuity of blessed life.

3. Honourable recognition: "before my Father and before his angels." - R.G.

Sardis, says Dr. Eadie, "was a city of ancient Lydia. Its modern name is Sert Kalesi, and it lies about thirty miles south-cast of Thyatira, and two miles south of the river Hermus. It is, however, but a miserable village, inhabited chiefly by shepherds, though it is one of the stopping places of the Persian caravans. The original city was plundered by Cyrus, and afterwards desolated by an earthquake, the ruins of it being still visible little distance to the south of the present town. Nothing is now to be seen but a few mud huts, inhabited by ignorant, stupid, filthy Turks, and the only men who bear the Christian name are at work all day in their mill. Everything seems as if God had cursed the place, and left it to the dominion of Satan." A modern traveller says, "I sat beneath the sky of Asia to gaze upon the ruins of Sardis from the banks of the golden-sanded Pactolus. Beside me were the cliffs of that Acropolis which centuries before the hardy Median scaled while leading on the conquering Persians whose tents had covered the very spot on which I was reclining. Before me were the vestiges of what had been the palace of the gorgeous Croesus; within its walls were once congregated the wisest of mankind, Thales, Cleotolus, and Solon. Far in the distance were the gigantic tumuli of the Lydian monarch, and around them spread those very plains once trodden by the countless hosts of Xerxes when hurrying on to find a sepulchre at Marathon. But all had passed away! There before me were the fanes of a dead religion, and the tombs of forgotten monarchs, and the palm tree that waved in the banquet halls of kings." Who founded the Christian community at Sardis, or the exact period when the gospel was first preached there, are questions that have not been, and perhaps cannot be, settled. The address of Christ to this community, as recorded in these verses, forcibly calls our attention to the consideration of three things - the general character of the many; the exceptional character of the few; and the absolute Judge of all. Notice -

I. THE GENERAL CHARACTER OF THE MANY. They were in a very lamentable condition.

1. They had a reputation for being what they were not. "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and [thou] art dead." It was bad enough for them to be "dead," that is, all but destitute of that supreme sympathy with spiritual goodness which is the essence of moral life. It was worse still for them to have the reputation of life, and for them to believe in that reputation. The sight of death is bad enough, but death garbed and decorated with the semblances of life makes it more ghastly to behold. How this community obtained this name for living, this high reputation in the neighbourhood, does not appear, albeit it is not difficult to guess. Perhaps it made loud professions, appeared very zealous and active, and paraded its affected virtues. Then, as now, perhaps, men were taken by their contemporaries to be rather what they appeared than what they were. In these days, and in our England, there are Churches that have the reputation of wonderful usefulness. All their doings, their prayers, their sprinklings and dippings, their pulpit deliverances and their psalmodies, their architectural expansions and numerical additions, are emblazoned in the so-called "Christian" journals, so that they have a great name to live, whereas spiritually they may be all but dead. Reputation is one thing, character is another. Everywhere in a corrupt world like this the basest characters have the brightest reputation, and the reverse. The barren fig tree was covered with luxuriant leafage. "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead."

2. They were in a state of spiritual consumption. "That are ready to die." It would seem that, whilst they were not all spiritually dead, there was a spiritual consumption amongst some. "Things ready to die." What things are these? The greatest things in the universe, eternal principles of virtue and truth. What things are comparable to these? To them literatures, markets, governments, are puerilities. There is a spiritual consumption, and the symptoms are manifest. Weakness, morbid appetites, false views of life, etc.

3. They were in a state requiring prompt and urgent attention. "Be ]-thou] watchful, and strengthen [stablish] the things which remain, that are [which were] ready to die." What is to be done?

(1) They were to be vigilant. "Watchful," wakeful, to shake off slothfulness, open their eyes to eternal realities, fan the dying sparks into a flame.

(2) They were to be curative. "Strengthen the things which remain." How strengthen? Appropriate the true remedial element, fruit from the tree of life; use wholesome food, the "sincere milk of the Word;" take proper exercise - inaction leads to disease; "exercise thyself unto godliness;" inbreathe the pure atmosphere of holiness.

(3) They were to be recollective. "Remember therefore how thou hast received." Call up all the good of the past.

(4) They were to be repentant. "Hold fast, and repent." They were to renounce all that was pernicious to spiritual health, and pursue a right course. "Hold fast." Grasp with all the tenacity of their being the good that comes up to memory, as the drowning man lays hold of the rope thrown out on the surging waves.

4. They were in a state of alarming danger. "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." Such words as these Christ uttered while a tenant of this earth (Matthew 24:32). Retribution generally moves stealthily as a thief. "The feet of the gods are shod with wool," says the old Greek proverb.

II. THE EXCEPTIONAL CHARACTER OF THE FEW. "Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled [did not defile] their garments." "These few names," says Dr. Tait," are here to the credit and honour of the Church, the few 'things' in connection with the Church in Pergamos were against it and to its condemnation. He who was the angel of the Church does not. seem to have known the few names, just as the prophet did not know the seven thousand in Israel who had not bowed their knees to Baal" Here, then, is goodness amidst social depravity. Three remarks are suggested.

1. That true goodness can exist under external circumstances the most corrupt. Sardis was one of the most dissolute cities of ancient times, but here were Christians. Man is not the creature of circumstances.

2. That true goodness, wherever it exists, engages the specific attention of Christ. Christ noticed the goodness in Sardis; and why?

(1) Because it is the highest manifestation of God upon earth.

(2) Because it is the result of his mediatorial mission.

(3) Because on it depends the progress of humanity.

3. That true goodness will ultimately be distinguished by a glorious reward. The words, "walk with me," etc., imply three ideas.

(1) Triumph.

(2) Fellowship.

(3) Progress.

III. THE ABSOLUTE JUDGE OF ALL. Who is the absolute Judge both of the many and the few? He is thus described: "These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars." The absolute Judge of character is here presented in three connections.

1. In connection with the highest influence. "He that hath the seven Spirits of God." Elsewhere we read, "He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him" (John 3:34). The Divine Spirit is everywhere. The amount of its possession by any moral being is conditioned by that being's receptive capacity. No man ever appeared on earth who had the receptive capacity in such measure as Christ had it. He was filled with it. He opened his ministry by saying, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me," etc. The more a man has of this Spirit, the more he can communicate of life and power and blessedness.

2. In connection with the highest ministry. "The seven stars." These were, as we have seen, the angels of the seven Churches. What is the highest human ministry? The ministry of the gospel. Those engaged in this work are here called "stars," and these stars are in the hands of Christ. He moulds them with his influence, he burnishes them with his holiness, he fixes them in their orbits, he guides and sustains them in their spheres. He is, in truth, their Centre and Sun. From him they derive their order, their vitality, and their power.

3. In connection with the highest Being. "I will confess his name before my Father." The Father is the greatest Being in the universe. The relationship of Son implies:

(1) Resemblance.

(2) Reciprocal love.

The Son identifies himself with all his true disciples. "I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels." - D.T.

They shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. This is Whit Sunday, and its very name carries us back in thought to the literal and impressive manner in which the Christian Church of the early centuries was wont to interpret our text when she celebrated the Feast of Pentecost. For it was at this feast - so the Book of the Acts tells us - that there were reaped for Christ and his Church those famous firstfruits of the harvest of converted men, which in the ages to come Christ's ministers should gather in. On that day there were added to the Church some three thousand souls, who were all straightway baptized according to St. Peter's word, "Repent, and he baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." The Day of Pentecost, therefore, became a chosen day in the early Church for the reception by baptism of converts to the Christian faith. On that day they who had lived heretofore in Judaism or in heathenism were clothed in white robes, and gathered in numerous throngs at the baptisteries of the churches; there, with music and holy psalms, and with many elaborate symbolic ceremonies, they received the initiatory rite of the Christian Church. But the most striking feature of the day was the procession of white-robed candidates, and that so fastened itself on the mind of the Church, that the day which commemorated the Feast of Pentecost came to be called, as it is amongst us still, Whir or White Sunday, Alba Dominica, or the white Lord's day. Those who were on that day baptized had been counted worthy - for they had renounced heathenism or Judaism, and had confessed Christ - to he numbered amongst the Christian fellowship. And hence they were arrayed in white garments; for was it not written, "They shall walk... worthy "? And it is told how not seldom these baptized ones would ever afterwards carefully preserve their white robe as a perpetual reminder of their vow of consecration to Christ, and at the last, when they lay down to die, they would have it put on once more, and in it they would be buried. But whilst it is interesting to note how the mind of the ancient Church expressed by such symbolism its understanding of this word before us, it is more important to us to get beneath the metaphor, and to ascertain its meaning for ourselves today. And that meaning is surely this - that the consecrated Christian life is a blessed life. The white robe of the baptized told them, no doubt, of the character and responsibilities of that life; that its character was to be holy, and that their responsibility and obligation were to strive after holiness, and to he content with nothing less. But in our text it is not so much responsibility and obligation that are meant, but the blessedness of the Christian life. Let us speak, therefore -

I. OF THE WORTHINESS WHICH WINS THE WHITE ROBE. The few in Sardis who are to be counted worthy are they who, unlike the rest, "have not defiled their garments;" that is, the character, which is the vestment of the soul, and which they had received, they had kept undefiled. For a new character is given to him who truly comes to Christ; he is a new creature, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth him from all sin. This is no mere doctrine of theology, but a fact in Christian experience. For the mind in which we come to Christ is in nature, though not in degree, Christ's own mind - that mind of which his atoning death was the expression; the mind that condemns sin, that trusts in the forgiving love of God, and desires above all else the love of God. Such was the mind in which Christ died, and which was the real atonement. For the mangled flesh of the Lord and the bleeding body had no atoning power save as they declared the mind which was in him. And it was a mind that could not but be infinitely acceptable to the Father, could not but have been a full, true, sufficient atonement, ablation, and satisfaction to his heart, the Father-heart of God. And because, whenever we come really to God in Christ, the movements of our minds are in this same direction, and we come clothed in this mind, though it may be but imperfectly, yet because our mind is like in nature, though not in degree, to the perfect mind of Christ when he died for us, therefore are we accepted in him, and for his sake pardoned, and made possessors of a new character - his mind - which is the garment we are to keep undefiled, and which those who are counted worthy do keep undefiled.


1. Of purity. "Blessed are the pure in heart." Oh, the joy of this! It is good, when temptation comes, to be able to grip and grapple with it, and to gain victory over it, though after a hard struggle. Oh, how far better this than to miserably yield, and to be "led captive by Satan at his will"! But even this falls far below the blessedness which the white robe signifies. For it tells of an inward purity, like to his who said, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me." There was nothing in him on which the tempter's power could fasten, and to rise up to this heart-purity is the glory and joy promised by the white robe.

2. Of victory. White was the symbol of this also, as well as of purity. He who went forth "conquering and to conquer" rode upon a white horse - so the vision declared. They who had come out of the great tribulation were clothed in "white robes," and elsewhere we are told they had "overcome by the blood of the Lamb." And this blessedness of victory the consecrated soul enjoys. "Sin shall not have dominion over" him. "In all things" he is "more than conqueror." One of the very chiefest blessings of the Christian faith is that it makes the weak strong, and to them that have no might the faith of Christ increaseth strength. Facts of everyday Christian experience prove that it is so.

3. Of joy. White garments are the symbol of this also. And the truly consecrated heart shall know "the joy of the Lord." The saints of God in all ages have found that "he giveth songs in the night." Who should have joy if not the true-hearted Christian man?

III. HOW WE MAY WIN AND WEAR THESE WHITE ROBES. Through entire surrender to Christ. There is no other way. If we retain our own will and keep urging its claims, these white robes are not for us. The consecrated life is clothed thus, and that life alone. - S.C.

If asked to sum up in a word the main lesson of this letter, I would quote the saying of our Lord recorded by St. Luke, "Fear not, little flock." Such is the effect of a right reading of this most precious epistle. It is a heart-cheering word to all such Churches, and to every one of like character. For Philadelphia was -

I. LITTLE. "Thou hast a little strength" (ver. 8), or rather, "Thou hast small power." It refers not to her spiritual strength, for that was not small, but perfected in her weakness. She was mighty through God who upheld and sustained her. Hence the expression is to be regarded as referring, probably, to her membership as but few in number, to her wealth as but very small, to her knowledge and gifts as being but slender, to great and distinguished men amongst her as being very rare, to her social position as being quite humble. Hence she was small in human esteem, one of those "weak things," which, however, God often chooses wherewith to accomplish his own purposes. And many a Church, beloved of the Lord, is like Philadelphia, having only "a little strength." But also she was -

II. MUCH TRIED. Looking at this letter, we can gather what some of these trials were. It seems that:

1. Their place amongst the people of God was denied. We gather this from what is said as to the assertion of the Jews, who, as at Galatia and everywhere else, affirmed that they only, the descendants of Abraham, were the Israel of God: none else had part or lot therein. In ver. 9 emphasis is to be laid on the word "they" in the sentence, "which say they are Jews." St. Paul was perpetually fighting against this exclusiveness, and was for ever teaching that in Christ Jesus there was "neither Jew nor Greek." But all the same, it caused considerable uneasiness amongst the early Gentile believers. There was much to be urged out of the Scriptures in favour of the real descendants of Abraham, especially if they were also "as touching the Law blameless." They seemed to many as a privileged order, a spiritual aristocracy, admission into whose circle was indeed to be desired. Hence so many Gentiles submitted to the rite of circumcision (cf. Epistle to the Galatians, passim). And the taunts of the Jews at Philadelphia against the Christians, as being not really God's people at all, was one form of the trials they were called upon to bear. And still there is many a believer, excommunicated by man, but not at all so by God; denied his place in earthly Churches, though it be abundantly his in the Church of the Firstborn. Catholics have denounced Protestants, and Protestants one another, and both have retorted, and all have been wrong, and sinful in being wrong, whenever those whom they have denounced have shown that they did unfeignedly trust and love and obey Christ the Lord. The cry, "The Church of the Lord, the Church of the Lord are we!" is often raised by those who have no right to it, and against those who have. Thus was it at Sardis.

2. They had to encounter active opposition. Endeavours seem to have been made to shut the door of usefulness which the Lord had opened for them. His emphatic declaration that none should shut that door implies that there had been those who had tried to do so. And how often since then have dominant and cruel Churches made the same attempt in regard to communities they did not like! Witness the persecutions of Vaudois and Waldenses in Switzerland, of Hussites and others in Bohemia, of Lollards, Protestants, and Puritans in England, of Covenanters in Scotland, and of Catholics in Ireland, - all has been, with more or less of difference, the repetition of what was done at Philadelphia in the days of St. John. And there appears to have been:

3. Attempts to make them apostatize. The meaning of the latter part of ver. 8 is, "Because though thou hast but little strength, nevertheless thou hast kept my word, and hast not denied my Name." Hence we gather - and the tenses of the verbs used imply it also - that there had been some definite attempt of the kind we have said. Like as Saul in his persecuting days forced the unhappy Christians who fell into his power "to blaspheme," so similar force had apparently been used, but, by virtue of Christ's sustaining grace, with no effect. For, notwithstanding all, they were -

III. FAITHFUL. They kept Christ's word, and did not deny his Name; and the first was the cause of the last. Their history illustrates the value of the word of Christ. They clung to it, they would not let it go, they had nothing but this, but this they had and clave to. Twice is it named: "Thou hast kept my word;" "Thou hast kept the word of my patience." And this latter and fuller form reveals a further aid to their faith which they found in Christ's word. "For the word of Christ, as the Philadelphians knew it, was not a word calling them to easy and luxurious and applauded entrance into the kingdom, but to much tribulation first, and the kingdom with the glory of it afterwards." And not only as a word which told them at the beginning that patience would be needed, did it help them; but yet more as the word which revealed Christ their Lord as the great Example and Source and Rewarder of patience; so that, however hard to bear their trials might be, they could turn in thought to their Lord, and behold him meekly bearing his cross - so much heavier than theirs; and they had seen him also sustaining his tried servants again and again, and they knew that he would do the same for them, and they believed that he would assuredly reward their patience. Yes, it was the word of his patience to which they clung, and in the strength of which, though tempted and tried sorely, they would not deny his Name. And their way must be our way, their strength ours, when we are tried. And they were -

IV. GREATLY BLEST. The Lord gave them large reward. To this day the suffering Smyrna and the much-tried Philadelphia alone remain of these seven Churches. Through all manner of vicissitudes the Christian faith has been upheld by them to this day. But see the recompenses spoken of here.

1. Christ confesses them, and denies their slanderers. He pronounces for them and against their foes. Such is the significance of the august and sublime title which the Lord here assumes. It tells of the names of the Lord God of Israel. He was the Holy, the True, the King of Israel, of whom David, with his great authority opening and shutting according to his will, was the Old Testament type and representative. "The key of David" means the power and authority of David, and Christ claims to be as he was, and far more, the Representative of God, and the Possessor of his authority and power. Now, it was by this great and glorious Jehovah that the Jews at Philadelphia affirmed that the Church there was disowned and denied. They said, "You have no part in this God, but we only." But in utter contradiction of this falsehood, he, the Holy One himself, comes forward, and declares that the persecuted Church had part in him, but that they, her slanderers, had not. "Ye Jews say ye are Jews, but in any real sense ye are not; ye do lie; but this my despised, yet faithful Church, I have loved her, and I, the Holy, the True, the King of Israel, do now confess her as she has confessed me." And often and often has the Lord done the like of this. "When wrong has been done to any of his servants here on earth, he will redress it in heaven, disallowing and reversing there the unrighteous decrees of earth. It was in faith of this that Huss, when the greatest council which Christendom had seen for one thousand years delivered his soul to Satan, did himself confidently commend it to the Lord Jesus Christ; and many a faithful confessor that at Rome or Madrid has walked to the stake, his yellow san benito all painted over with devils, in token of those with whom his portion should be, has never doubted that his lot should be with him who retains in his own hands the key of David, who thus could open for him, though all who visibly represented here the Church had shut him out, with extreme malediction, at once from the Church militant here and the Church triumphant in heaven." And the grim cells of Newgate, and the bare bleak hedgerows of our own land, have often been the scenes of similar revelations to God's persecuted ones. God has taken their side, and pronounced for them as he did for the Church at Philadelphia.

2. Their Lord makes them abundantly useful. "Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it." His Name declared his power to do this, and here he affirms that he has exercised that power on their behalf. By the "open door," usefulness, opportunity of service and of doing much good, is meant (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Acts 14:27; Colossians 4:3). Now, this Christ declared he had done for them. Perhaps it was by giving them favour in the sight of the people, or by breaking the hold of heathenism, arousing a spirit of inquiry, raising up able teachers, giving them entrance into fresh circles. Fidelity to Christ has given to it a key that will turn the most difficult lock, and open the most closely shut door.

3. Their enemies should submit themselves. As Saul the persecutor became Paul the apostle. And again and again out of the ranks of the Church's fiercest foes have come those who have first surrendered their hearts to her cause and then their lives to her service (cf. the conversion of Constantine and of Rome generally). In that this word was literally fulfilled.

4. They should be delivered from the hour of temptation - that dread hour which was drawing near so swiftly (cf. Psalm 91.). Perhaps they would be taken home first, delivered so "from the evil to come." And if not that, raised in heart, as the martyrs perpetually were, above all fear; or some wondrous deliverance should be found for them. They knew that hour was coming, and no doubt they had often shuddered at the prospect. But oh, what joy to be told by their Lord that he would deliver them!

5. The eternal recompense - the crown. Their Lord was quickly coming; let them hold on but a little longer, and then this crown should be theirs. In ver. 12 this crown of recompense is more fully described:

(1) As being made "a pillar in the temple of my God," i.e. they should perpetually abide there, dwelling in the house of the Lord for ever. Now we come and go, in fact and in spirit. Not so there. "He shall go no more out." It is a curious coincidence that amongst the ruins at Philadelphia there stands to this day a solitary tall pillar; it strikes the eye of the traveller, and suggests irresistibly this glorious promise made to the believers who lived there long ago. An ancient geographer says of the place, "It is full of earthquakes, and is daily shaken, now one part, and now another suffering, so that one wonders any should have been found to build or inhabit it." Now, to the Christians, who saw daily in their city the image of their own precarious position, Christ says, "I will make him who overcomes a pillar in the temple of my God," and he shall go no more out" - shall not totter and fall as these stone pillars do, but shall abide stable and sure for ever.

(2) As being identified with:

(a) God. "The Name of my God" Christ will write upon him. It shall be evident that he belongs to God. "Surely this was the Son of God" - so spake they who had crucified the Lord: they could not help seeing the Name of God written upon him.

(b) "The city of my God." Jews had cast them out, but the God of the true "holy city" had declared it theirs, and that their true home was his own city. There are many of whom we say, "We hope they are going to heaven;" there are some of whom we say, "We are sure they are," for their identification with heaven is so complete.

(c) Christ's own Name - that aspect of Christ's love by which the believer realizes that he is Christ's and Christ is his.

"So, gracious Saviour, on my breast,
May thy dear Name be worn,
A sacred ornament and guard
To endless ages borne." S.C.

The "holy" and "true" One - the Holy One who is Truth, who has supreme power, opening and shutting at his will, and whose work none can withstand, he speaks his word of commendation and blessing and promise to his steadfast Church. The symbolical word is fidelity. The reward comprises -

I. THE LORD'S DISTINCT RECOGNITION OF THE CHURCH'S FIDELITY. "I know thy works." To fight in view of the sovereign, and of the observing nation - a stimulus to bravery, patience, and endurance. The eye of the multitude the stimulus to many great and worthy enterprises. But the watchful eye of the Lord - "he that is holy, he that is true" - is the true encouragement and sustaining stimulus to the suffering and toilsome Church in all ages. This recognition descends to the details and particulars of service.

1. "Thou hast a little power." A true estimate of the Church's ability.

2. Faithfulness to the truth. Thou "didst keep my word."

3. Steadfastness in the hour of trial. Thou "didst not deny my Name." The reward further comprises -

II. THE OPENING OF ENLARGED SPHERES OF USEFULNESS. "I have set before thee an open door." Useful employment in the Lord's service is the highest honour. The token of approbation of past service found in the call to greater works.

III. THE SUBJUGATION OF THE ENEMIES OF THE CHURCH. "I will make them to come and worship at thy feet." The true reward to the Church is not found in her elevation, but in the conversion of the enemies of the truth.

IV. THE TESTIMONY BEFORE THE ENEMIES OF THE DIVINE LOVE FOR THE CHURCH. Weary may be the days of the Church's endurance, but all will be forgotten in the Lord's gracious recognition "in the last day," when he shall "confess" them before his Father and before the holy angels - confess them as his; own and acknowledge them.

V. DEFENCE IN THE HOUR OF SPECIAL TRIAL. They who according to their strength serve the Lord will, in the hour of their weakness, find him to be their strong Rock of defence. "I also will keep thee from the hour of trial."


1. The permanent abode in the eternal temple of the Lord - the everlasting fellowships of heaven.

2. Recognition as the Lord's; his Name written upon him. This distinction the highest.

3. Special personal recognition as holding the closest relation to the Redeemer. "Mine own new Name." - R.G.

And to the angel of the Church in Philadelphia, etc. On a slope of Mount Tmolus stood Philadelphia, a city of Lydia, lying between Sardis and Laodicea. Attalus Philadelphus, after whose name it was called Philadelphia, founded it B.C. 140. It was a commercial city of commanding position and considerable importance, and well fortified withal. Through its adjoining valley the celebrated Xerxes led his forces on his way to Greece. On account of the volcanic nature of its soil it became celebrated for the cultivation and the excellence of its vines. It had been visited by numerous earthquakes, and in the reign of Tiberius most of its population forsook it and fled to the fields, apprehending destruction. It survives to the present day, and is called by the Turks, Allah Shehr, "the city of God." The ruins of a church wall are still visible, and about five thousand members of the Greek Church, with a bishop and about fifteen clergymen, reside in its midst. Nowhere else is it mentioned in sacred Scripture. This wonderful letter brings under our notice a character to be adored, an energy to be coveted, and a destiny to be sought.

I. A CHARACTER TO BE ADORED. This character is here exhibited as:

1. Holy. "He that is holy." No man ever appeared on this earth so entirely and unquestionably pure as Christ was. He was "separate from sinners." None of his most malignant contemporaries could convince him of sin. Judas, after the betrayal, cried our, "I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood." He was, indeed, "the holy, the harmless, the undefiled" Son of God. His spotless and undoubted holiness is a most incontrovertible argument for the Divinity of his gospel.

2. True. "He that is true." He is true in the highest sense.

(1) True in sentiment. All his sympathies were in accord with eternal reality.

(2) True in speech. All his language was in exact agreement with his sentiments.

(3) True in character. No shifting from eternal right. "To this end was I born, to this end came I into the world, to bear witness to the truth." He stands in the world's history, amidst the world's shams, like the sun amidst.the ever-shifting clouds.

3. Supreme. "He that hath the key of David." What this means I know not. It cannot mean, however, that Christ in any moral sense resembled the moral character of David. One thing, however, is clear, that David obtained terrible authority over all the resources of Israel. He had a "key" to the resources of the kingdom, and Christ has a key to the moral empire of heaven. He has supremacy of the highest kind. "He that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth." "He dispenses and he withholds God's treasures; he gives or he denies this or that talent, this or that blessing. In a yet more solemn meaning of the words, it is his to admit into and his to exclude from the eternal kingdom of glory. In spiritual and eternal things, wherever there is a door, Christ has the key of it" (Dr. Vaughan). All the doors to human usefulness, dignity, and happiness are at his disposal.

II. AN ENERGY TO BE COVETED. "Thou hast a little strength [power]." This Church had a little power. What was it? Not physical force, not intellectual capacity, not regal rule, but moral. Force to resist the wrong and pursue the right, force to serve the Almighty and to bless mankind. In relation to this moral strength notice:

1. It is the energy of true usefulness. "Behold, I have set before thee an open door [a door opened], and no man can [which none can] shut it: for thou hast a little strength." It is implied that a little moral strength fits a man for usefulness to some extent. Hence the door of opportunity is thrown open to him. Every man has a mission in life, but he only is qualified to enter on it who has moral strength. Alas! the millions are morally impotent, and they live and die without entering on the prosecution of their great duty in life.

2. It is the energy of loyal obedience. "And hast kept [didst keep] my word." This moral strength enables a man to hold on to duty, to hold on to the right with all the tenacity of life, to feel with Job, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him;" like Paul to say, "I count not my life dear unto me," etc.

3. It is the energy of true courage. "And hast not denied [didst not deny] my Name." "The tenses used," says Bishop Carpenter," 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." Who can estimate the temptation which every good man has in a world of infidels, often malignant, to deny his Lord and Master? Peter yielded to it. What invincible courage is required! Courage like that which Paul had when he said, "God forbid that I should glory," etc.; and again, "Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation?" etc.

4. It is the energy of moral sovereignty. "Behold, I will make them of [I give of] the synagogue of Satan, [of them] 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." Who are those spoken of as "of the synagogue of Satan"? Were they the Judaizing Christians, or persecuting Jews? Why spend time with Trench, or other critics, to start such an inquiry? No one can determine, nor does it matter; they were moral antagonists to the congregation at Philadelphia. Concerning them we are here told that the men of moral strength will bring them to their feet; they will not only subdue them, but inspire them with love. High moral power is the highest sovereignty that one man can wield over another; it subdues the heart, Political rule is but a mere worthless shadow and pretence compared with moral.

5. It is the energy of Divine approval and protection. "Because thou hast kept [didst keep] the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation."

III. A DESTINY TO BE SOUGHT. What a distinction awaits those who possess and rightly employ this true moral strength!

1. A crown lies within their reach. "Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man [one] take thy crown." Christ is coming to every man, and coming with speed, coming in the events of man's history and in his exit by death. When he comes there is a "crown" for him, if he holds faithfully on to the true and the right. The allusion here is to the public games of Greece, in which the winner obtained a garland of laurels. But what is that garland to the crown here referred to? The eternal weight of glory, a "crown" which shall outshine yon permanent sun. "Be faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."

2. Divine security is assured. "Him [he] that overcometh will I make [I will make him] a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go [out thence] no more out." "The promise," says an eminent critic, "is that of a secure and permanent position in God's heavenly temple. Philadelphia is said to have been singularly liable to earthquakes; not a building, common or sacred, but it might suddenly fall in ruins. The promise here made is that no such risks shall await the heavenly temple or those who have been built into it."

3. Sublime distinction is promised. "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 [mine own] new name." "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, the new, unknown name of Christ himself. The allusion is to the golden frontlet inscribed with the name of Jehovah. 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. 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 recognize any finality which is not a beginning as well as an end - a landing stage in the great law of continuity."

CONCLUSION. "I cannot," says Trench, "leave this epistle, so full of precious promises to a Church which, having little strength, had yet held fast the word of Christ's patience, without citing a remarkable passage about it from Gibbon, in which he writes like one who almost believed that the threatening promises of God did fulfil themselves in history. ' In the loss of Ephesus the Christians deplored the fall of the first angel, the extinction of the first candlestick, of the Revelation; the desolation is complete; and the Temple of Diana or the Church of Mary will equally elude the search of the curious traveller. The circus and three stately theatres of Laodicea are now peopled with wolves and foxes; Sardis is reduced to a miserable village; the God of Mahomet, without a rival or a Son, is invoked in the mosques of Thyatira and Pergamos; and the populousness of Smyrna is supported by the foreign trade of the Franks and Armenians. Philadelphia alone has been saved by prophecy or courage. At a distance from the sea, forgotten by the emperors, encompassed on all sides by the Turk, her valiant citizens defended their religion and freedom above four score years, and at length capitulated with the proudest of the Ottomans. Among the Greek colonies and Churches of Asia, Philadelphia is still erect - a column in a scene of ruins - a pleasing example that the paths of honour and safety may sometimes be the same.'" - D.T.

It was a wealthy city in which this Church had her home, and it was large and beautiful also. It stood on one of the great Roman roads which led away to Damascus and Arabia. Hence there was a large stream of traffic continually flowing through it, and its inhabitants became very rich. At the time when this letter was sent them they were building for themselves one of those huge amphitheatres which the Greeks and Romans of the day were wont to build in all their chief cities, and where those too often barbarous and degrading sports, in which they so much delighted, might be carried on. As a further evidence of their wealth, it is recorded how, when their city was almost destroyed by one of those earthquakes by which the whole region was so often disturbed, they rebuilt it entirely at their own cost. A Church was early formed there, and was one of considerable importance. It was probably founded by one or other of those earnest-minded brethren, who, like Epaphras, whom Paul names in his letter to the neighbouring Church at Colossae, and who were commissioned by St. Paul for such work, probably during his sojourn at Ephesus. We know that Epaphras was a near neighbour, Colossae being only some six or eight miles distant from Laodicea; and hence it is likely that he - "faithful minister of Christ, and beloved fellow servant," as St. Paul calls him (Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:12) - had something to do with the planting of the Church there. And we can have no doubt but that the Church was once in a very flourishing condition. The Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians was intended, it is all but certain, as much for the Laodiceans as the Ephesians, if not more so. The high praise which we find in that letter is therefore to be regarded as given to Laodicea, which now, when St. John writes to it, is so sadly fallen. And in Colossians 2:1, 5, St. Paul speaks of them and of the "steadfastness" of their "faith in Christ" (cf. also Colossians 4:13-16). But a sad change had come over them, and the result is this letter before us now. Note -

I. THEIR CHARACTER AND CONDITION. They are charged with being "neither cold nor hot," but lukewarm. That is to say, that whilst there was not absolute denial of the faith and disregard of all Christ's claims, there yet was neither the fervent zeal, the devout spirit, nor the all-sacrificing love, springing from a vigorous faith, which would make a Church glow with holy fervour and sacred heat. And this half and half, neither one thing nor the other, condition is all too common amongst not a few who profess and call themselves Christians. How many Churches, and how many churchgoing people, may, and probably have, seen their portraitures in this sad letter to the Church at Laodicea! They cannot be said to be cold and so utterly disregardful of religion, or of Christian faith and custom; but as certainly they are not "hot," not filled with love and zeal and desire towards Christ, willing to do all, bear all, be all or anything or nothing, so only as the honour of his Name may be increased, and the boundaries of his kingdom enlarged. Christians are to be known by their ardour, and so tongues of fire came and rested upon their heads on the great Pentecostal day. But Laodicea and the like of her show nothing of this kind, nor will nor can they whilst they remain as they are. And the common run of men like to have it thus. Cold makes them shiver; heat scorches them, - they like neither; but to be moderately warm, tepid, or but little more; that is pleasant, is safe, is best every way, so men think. The cynic statesman's parting charge to one of his agents, "Surtout, point de zele," is, in fact, what the ordinary Christian vastly prefers for himself and for others. They confound zeal with eccentricity, fervour with wild and ill-considered schemes, earnestness with rant, enthusiasm with mere delirium and extravagance; and, under pretence of discountenancing these undesirable things, they desire neither for themselves nor for others that glow of Divine love in their souls which is desirable above all things else. They congratulate themselves upon being moderate, sober-minded people, and they pity the poor deluded enthusiasts, to whom it is a dreadful thing that sin and sorrow should prevail as they do, and who, therefore, are in the very forefront of the battle against them, Laodiceans think well and speak well of themselves, and other people credit them with what they say, and hence they are self-complacent and well satisfied, and wonder why anybody should doubt or differ from them. They do not hear the world's sneer or see its mocking look when their names are mentioned; still less do they hear the sighing of the sorrowful heart which yearns to see the Church of Christ rise up to her Lord's ideal and intent. But they go on saying and thinking that they are well to do, and have need of nothing. But their condition is abhorrent to the Lord; he cannot abide it, nauseates it, would rather far that they were either cold or hot; either extreme would be better than the sickening lukewarmness which now characterizes them. To such it was that the Lord said, "The publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you." Whilst of the irreligious multitudes he only said, as he looked on them with compassion, "They are as sheep having no shepherd." Elijah said, "If Baal be God, serve him;" "better be hearty in his service than serving neither God nor Baal, as you now are." And experience confirms this seemingly strange preference which the Lord declares. We could understand that he would men were "hot" rather than "lukewarm;" but that he would rather that they were "cold" without religion altogether - than as they are, that seems a strange preference. But, as St. Paul says, "If a man think himself to be wise, let him become a fool that he may be wise;" by which he meant that a man who thinks himself wise when he is not, there is more hope of a fool becoming wise than he, for his self-conceit stands in his way. And so in the matter of a man's real conversion to God, he who knows he has no religion is more likely to be won than he who thinks he is religious and has need of "more" nothing. There is hope, therefore, for the cold than for the "lukewarm," and hence our Lord's preference. And this condition is one which drives the Lord away, chases him forth from his Church. Christ is represented, not as in the Church, but as outside, standing at the door, and knocking for admission. He has been driven out. He cannot stay either in that Church or in that heart which loves him with but half or less than half a love. We do not care to stay where we are not really welcome: we get away as soon as we can. And our Lord will not stay where the love which should welcome and cherish his presence is no longer there.


1. He reveals to them their true condition. And to make them more readily receive his revelation, he declares himself by a name which ensured that his testimony was and must be infallibly true. He tells of himself as "the Amen, the faithful and true Witness." Therefore they may be sure that he could not err and would not misstate what he, as the Son of God, "the Beginning of the creation of God," saw and knew, and now declared to them to be true. And so he tells them how it is with them, though they knew it not and kept saying the very reverse. Hence he tells the Church, "Thou art the wretched one and the pitiable one, and beggarly and blind and naked." Ah! what a revelation this! how it would startle and shock them! no doubt the Lord intended that it should. Their condition justified these words. They thought that they were certain of their Lord's approval. He tells them that no shivering criminal waiting in terror the judge's sentence was ever more really wretched than they. And that they thought as they did proved them "blind." And as those whom it was designed to degrade were stripped "naked" so as "shameful" were they in the sight of the Lord and of his angels.

2. And by thus revealing their true state, he rebukes and chastens them. What humiliation and distress and alarm must this revelation have caused! But next:

3. He counsels them what to do. He will not leave them thus, but points out the way of amendment. He bids them "buy of me." But if they were so poor, how could they buy? "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." This is the money wherewith they must buy. And when they have laid out this money, and have become possessors of what it will surely purchase, they will tell you, if you ask them, that even this money he gave them from whom they went to buy. And what is it they will get in exchange?

(1) "Gold tried in," etc. This is faith (cf. 1 Peter 1:7). "The trial of your faith, being much more precious than gold and silver." Oh, to be "rich in faith"! They are rich who have it.

(2) "White raiment that," etc. True righteousness of character, the holiness which becometh saints.

(3) "Eyesalve that," etc. The illuminating grace of the Holy Spirit. Such is the way of amendment: coming thus poor to the Lord, gaining faith, holiness, wisdom - so shall we rise up from the condition which the Lord cannot abide to that which he loves and will ever bless. Shall we not follow this counsel? He does not compel, but counsels. Let us also thus buy of him.

4. He waits for their repentance. "Behold, I stand at the door," etc. How true it is he desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he turn from his wickedness and live! What a picture this well-known and ever-to-be-loved verse presents! Our Lord, who died for us, standing there outside, seeking to enter in.

5. He encourages them to repent. See his promises.

(1) "I will sup with him, and he with me." Communion with himself. A piece of clay gave forth a sweet fragrance. It was asked whence it had such fragrance. It replied that it had long lain by the side of a sweet-smelling rose, and so it had become filled with its sweetness. So our claylike souls, if we be in communion with Christ, shall come to be as he. Ah, then, "open the door," and let your Lord in.

(2) He holds out to those who "overcome" the same reward as he had when he overcame - "to sit with me in my throne, even as I," etc. (ver. 21). It tells of the highest, holiest joys, of the everlasting kingdom of God. So would he lure them to himself. Shall he not succeed? "Behold, he stands at the door and knocks." - S.C.

The "Amen, the faithful and true Witness," speaks to the untrue and unfaithful Church, whose outward appearance contrasts so with her internal state. Deceptive pretentiousness receives its rebuke. The lukewarm - neither hot and fervent in devotion nor lowlily acknowledging itself to be cold; neither fervid in holy affection nor consciously lacking holy fervour and confessing it - lacking the true warm fervour of love, and either not knowing the lack, or, knowing it, yet acknowledging it not, but pretending to have it,-this deceitful state receives the severest rebuke from the Lord, the ever" true" One, who despises all untruth and all deceptiveness.

I. THE CHURCH'S STATE DESCRIBED. "Thou sayest, I am rich;... thou knowest not thou art poor and blind and naked, thou miserable one."

1. Actually spiritually poor; beggared.

2. Ignorant.

3. Presumptuous self-deception.


1. Seek ye the true riches; buy of me gold; buy without money and without price the true spiritual things.

2. Buy of me "white garments " - the true spiritual virtues; the things thou lackest. Thy debased and faulty form, thy shame, is uncovered. Only of me canst thou buy the robes of righteousness.

3. Buy also "eyesalve," the true spiritual illumination, "that thou mayest see" - the Holy Spirit, Teacher, Illuminator, Light, who is eyes to the blind, life to the dead.


1. The Lord's threatenings are gracious promises in disguise. "I reprove and chasten as many as I love." The Lord's love lingers long after human goodness has waned. The blind, the naked, the poor, the miserable, are still loved, and therefore reproved by word of mouth and by judgment and chastening correction and discipline.

2. Because I love, because I reprove, therefore "repent" - acknowledge, deplore, depart from thy sins. "Be zealous;" seek to rekindle the dying fire of holy love.

3. The Lord's entreaty thrown into a pictorial representation of

(1) patient, long-suffering love: "I stand at the door;

(2) of repeated appeal: "and knock;"

(3) of ready response to the first yieldings of the hearkening and opening heart: "If any man," etc.;

(4) even happy and unbroken fellowship is promised: "I will come in and sup," etc.

IV. The whole is supplemented by A FINAL ENCOURAGING PROMISE. "He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne." So the Lord who condescendingly sits at the board of the house, the door of which is opened to him, calls the humble dweller therein to sit with him in high glory on his throne. Happy they who, having ears, hear; and who hearing, obey. - R.G.

And unto the angel of the Church of the Laodiceans, etc. "Laodicea is in the south-west of Phrygia, on the river Lycus, not far from Colossae, lying between it and Philadelphia, destroyed by an earthquake A.D. , rebuilt by its wealthy citizens without the help of the state. This wealth (arising from the excellence of its wools) led to a self-satisfied, lukewarm state in spiritual things. In Colossians 4:16 it is mentioned. The Church in later times was flourishing, for one of the councils at which the canon of Scripture was determined was held in Laodicea in A.D. . Hardly a Christian is now to be found near its site" (Fausset). We have here certain solemn and significant facts concerning a corrupt Church, such a Church as that which was existing at this time in Laodicea.

I. ITS REAL CHARACTER WAS THOROUGHLY KNOWN. There was an eye that peered into its deepest depths, knew well its moral elements and temperature. He who thus looked into and through it is thus described.

1. He is "the Amen." This is the Hebrew word for "verily," or "truly " - a word of energetic assertion and familiar use. In Christ, we are told, "is Yea and Amen." He is positive and declarative Truth. What he predicates is true to reality; what he predicts will be realized, whether lamentable or otherwise.

2. He is "the faithful and true Witness." What is a true witness?

(1) One who has an absolute knowledge of the subject of which he affirms. And

(2) one who is absolutely above all temptation to misrepresent. Christ has no motive to deceive, no evil to dread, no good to gain.

3. He is "the Beginning of the creation of God." He seems not only to have been the First of the creation, but in some sense the Originator. He is the Beginning, the Continuance, and Purpose of all. This is a mystery unfathomed, perhaps fathomless. This is the transcendent Being who knew thoroughly this Laodicean Church, and who knows all Churches. "I know thy works" - know them in their hidden germs and ever-multiplying branches.

"Oh may these thoughts possess my breast,
Where'er I roam, where'er I rest;
Nor let my weaker passions dare
Consent to sin, for God is near."

II. ITS SPIRITUAL INDIFFERENTISM IS DIVINELY ABHORRENT. "I would thou wert cold or hot." Cold water is refreshing, hot water is sometimes pleasant, the tepid is always more or less sickening. Well does an old writer say, "Lukewarmness or indifference in religion is the worst temper in the world. If religion is a real thing, it is the most excellent thing, and therefore we should be in good earnest in it; if it is not a real thing, it is the vilest imposture, and we should be earnest against it. If religion is worth anything, it is worth everything; an indifference here is inexcusable."

1. Spiritual indifferentism is a most incongruous condition. All nature seems in earnest: seas and stars are on the gallop; plants and animals rush onward on the lines of decay or growth; the minds of all moral beings are flowing with more or less speed in one direction or another.

2. Spiritual indifferentism is a most incorrigible condition. Theoretical infidelity we may break down by argument, but moral indifferentism cannot be touched by logic. The spiritually indifferent man shouts out his Creed every Sunday, damns the atheist, and yet himself is "without God in the world." Truly such a state of mind must be abhorrent to him who demands that all should love him with their whole heart, soul, and strength. What an awful supposition that man can sicken and disgust the Infinite! "I will spue thee out of my mouth." Moral depravity nauseates the holy universe.

III. ITS SELF-DECEPTION IS TERRIBLY ALARMING. "Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods [have gotten riches], and have need of nothing; and knowest not, that thou art wretched [the wretched one], and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked."

1. Look at the condition in which they fancied themselves. "I am rich, and increased with goods." They fancied themselves rich and independent. "Have need of nothing." They wished to be all this, and the wish is evermore the father to the thought. Ah me! it is by no means uncommon for men to fancy themselves to be what they are not. If you go into lunatic spheres there you may see dwarfs fancying themselves giants and illustrious heroes, paupers thinking they are millionaires, and poor beggars kings of the first order. But elsewhere I find in all the departments of human life that are considered to be sane, scenes scarcely less absurd.

2. Look at the condition in which they really are. "And knowest not that thou art wretched [the wretched one], and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." "Wretched," though they may dance and sing; pitiable, though lauded by princes, premiers, and peers; "blind," though the physical optics are sound; and "naked," though robed in splendour. Wretched, pitiable, blind, naked in soul: what a condition is this! what terrible self-deception! "The first and worst of all frauds," says Festus, "is to cheat one's sell All sin is easy after that."


1. Recovery is freely offered. "I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried [refined] in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment [garments]," etc. Is there irony here? How can the poor buy gold, become rich, procure white garments, and salve for the diseased eyes? No; there is no irony here. The blessings here offered require no outlay of material wealth. All is to be won by true faith, and all can believe. "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come," etc.

2. Recovery is divinely urged. "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock." Here observe:

(1) Christ's attitude towards the soul. He does not come occasionally and depart. He "stands," implying his deep concern, his infinite condescension, and his wonderful patience. He waits to be gracious.

(2) Christ's action upon the soul. He stands not as a statue, but knocks - knocks at the door of intellect with truths, at the door of conscience with principles, at the door of love with transcendent charms.

(3) Christ's purpose with the soul. His mission is not to destroy, but to save it. "I will come in to him." The language implies:

(a) Inhabitation. "I will come in to him."

(b) Identification. "Sup with him, and he with me." Thus sinners are urged to deliver themselves from their miserable condition.

3. Recovery is divinely rewarded. "To him [he] that overcometh will I grant [I will give to him] to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set [sat] down with my Father in his throne." What are the thrones here? Are they some material seats in some radiant and remote part of the universe - the one provided for the Father and the other for the Son? The question is childish, sensuous, and unspiritual. What is the true throne of a human soul?

(1) It is the throne of an approving conscience. That mind alone can rest whose conscience applauds him, and that soul alone can feel exalted and dignified whose conscience chimes to him, "Well done."

(2) It is the throne of moral rule. He who subordinates the material to the spiritual, the animal to the intellectual, the intellectual to the moral, and the moral to God, occupies the true throne. He is king, and none other. - D.T.

Behold, I stand at the door, etc. These words, so welt known and much loved, however their primary intention may have had regard to a sinful community like the Church at Laodicea, nevertheless lend themselves so aptly to the setting forth of Christ's dealing with individual sinful souls, and have been so often used in this way, that once more we employ them for the like purpose. They supply three vivid pictures.

I. OF OUR SAVIOR "Behold, I stand," etc.; and they reveal him to us in all his grace, he is represented:

1. As in constant nearness to the soul. He stands at the door. He does not come for once and then depart, but there he continues.

2. And he knocks at the door: not merely stands there. The soul is like a great palace that has many doors. And Christ knocks sometimes at the one door and sometimes at another. There is:

(1) The door of the intellect. To this he comes with the evidence of the reasonableness of his faith and claims.

(2) Of the conscience. To this he shows the goodness and righteousness of that which he asks; how he ought to be obeyed.

(3) Of love. He wakes up, or seeks to wake up, the spirit of gratitude in response to all he is and has done for the soul.

(4) Of fear. The alarm of the awakened conscience, the fearful looking for of judgment, are the means he uses.

(5) Of hope. The blessed prospect of eternal peace and purity and joy.

3. And he knocks in many ways.

(1) Sometimes by his Word. As it is quietly read in the sacred Scriptures, some text will arrest and arouse the soul. Or, as it is faithfully, lovingly, and earnestly preached: how often he knocks in this way! And

(2) sometimes by his providence. Sickness; bereavement; loss of wealth, or friends, or other earthly good; disaster; the approach of pestilence; nearness of death; trouble of mind, body, or estate; - all are the Lord's knockings. And

(3) sometimes by his Spirit. These more often than any. "The Spirit... says, Come."

4. And we know that he does this. Have we not been conscious of his appeals again and again?

5. See what all this reveals of him.

(1) His infinite patience. How long he has waited for some of us, year after year, and is not wearied yet!

(2) His gracious condescension. That he, our Lord and Saviour, should thus deal with us.

(3) And, above all, what infinite love! Behold, then, this portrait of our all-gracious Saviour and Lord, and let it draw your hearts to him as it should.

II. OF THE SOUL - the soul of each one of us. Our text shows the soul:

1. As the object of Christ's anxious concern, He would not else be thus standing and knocking at the door of our hearts. And the reason is that he knows:

(1) The soul's infinite value and preciousness. He knows its high capacities - that it can love and worship, resemble, and rejoice in God.

(2) Its terrible peril. Were it not so, there would not be need for such anxious concern. It is in peril of losing eternal life and of incurring eternal death. It is nigh unto perishing - a lost sheep, a lost piece of silver, a lost child.

2. As exercising its fearful Tower. Refusing Christ, keeping him outside the soul. Many other guests are admitted freely, but not Christ.

(1) The soul has this power of refusal. None other has. Not the stars of heaven, not the mighty sea, not the raging winds, not the devouring fire. All these obey. But the soul can refuse.

(2) And here it is exercising this power. That Christ is kept outside the soul is the testimony of:

(a) Scripture. Texts innumerable tell of the estrangement of the human heart from God.

(b) Conscience. Does not the ungodly man know that Christ does not dwell within him, that he has no room for him - however it may be with other guests - in his soul? And the strange, sad reluctancy to speak for Christ to others shows how partial is his possession of even Christian souls.

(c) Facts. See what men are and say and do; mark their conduct, their conversation, their character; examine the maxims, principles, and motives which regulate them, and see if Christ be in all or any of them. And this, not only in men brought up in ungodliness, but often in those trained in pious homes, and from whom you would have expected better things.

(3) And this is the soul's own doing. It voluntarily excludes Christ. When his appeal is heard, and very often it is, men divert their thoughts, distract them with other themes; or deaden their convictions, by plunging into pleasure, business, sin; or delay obedience, procrastinating and putting off that which they ought promptly to perform. Ah, what guilt! Ah, what folly!

(4) And this is the sin "against the Holy Ghost, which hath never forgiveness." Not any one definite act, but this persistent exclusion of Christ. The. knocking of the Lord is heard more and more faintly, until at length, although it goes on, it is not heard at all. The sin has been committed, and the punishment has begun. But the text contemplates also the happier alternative.

3. The soul claiming its greatest privilege - opening the door to Christ. He says, "If any man will open," thereby plainly teaching us that men may and should, and - blessed be his Name - some will, open that door.

(1) The soul can do this. It is part of its great prerogative. It could not say, "Yes," if it could not say, "No;" but because it can say, "No," it can also say, "Yes."

(2) And the opening the door depends upon its saying, "Yes." This is no contradiction to the truth that the Holy Spirit must open the heart. Both are essential; neither can be done without. It is a cooperative work, as consciousness and Scripture alike teach. But the Spirit ever does his part of the work; it is we only who fail in ours. May we be kept here from!

III. SALVATION. The result of such opening the door is this, and the picture that is given of it is full of interest.

1. Christ becomes our Guest. "I will sup with him." Now, if we invite any one to our table, we have to provide the feast. But what have we to set before Christ that he will care for? Ah, what? "All our righteousnesses" - will they do? Not at all. In this spiritual banquet that which he will most joyfully accept is ourselves, coming in contrition and trust to rest upon his love. "The sacrifices of God," etc. (Psalm 51.). Let us bring them; they, but naught else, will be well pleasing to him. But the scene changes.

2. Christ becomes our ]lost. "He with me." Ah! now what a difference!

"Blest Jesus, what delicious fare!
How sweet thine entertainments are!" This we shall soon realize.

(1) There is full, free pardon for every sin.

(2) Next, the assurance of his love, that he has accepted us.

(3) Power to become like him - renewing, regenerating grace.

(4) His peace, so that in all trial and sorrow we may "rest in the Lord."

(5) Power to bless others, so that they shall be the better for having to do with us.

(6) Bright hope, blessed outlook to the eternal inheritance.

(7) And at last, in due time, that inheritance itself.

Such are some of the chief elements of that banquet at which Christ is the Host; and all the while there is sweet, blessed intercourse, hallowed communion, with himself. He is "known to us in the breaking of bread."

CONCLUSION. How, then, shall it be? Shall we still keep the door of our hearts barred against him? May he forbid! We can do this; alas! some will. But we can open the door. Do that.

"In the silent midnight watches,
List! thy bosom door!
How it knocketh - knocketh knocketh -
Knocketh evermore!

Say not 'tis thy pulse is beating:
Tis thy heart of sin;
Tis thy Saviour knocks and crieth,
'Rise, and let me in.'

"Death comes on with reckless footsteps,
To the hall and hut;
Think you, Death will tarry knocking
Where the door is shut?

Jesus waiteth - waiteth - waiteth
But the door is fast;
Grieved, away thy Saviour goeth:
Death breaks in at last.

"Then 'tis time to stand entreating
Christ to let thee in;
At the gate of heaven beating,
Waiting for thy sin.

Nay - alas! thou guilty creature;
Hast thou then forgot?
Jesus waited long to know thee,
Now he knows thee not." S.C.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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