“I know thy works, that thou hast a name, that thou livest and art dead” By a “name” to live, is meant, the great and honorable esteem which other churches of saints and ministers of Christ had of this church, her ministers and members. For, first, the appearance of the graces and gifts of the Spirit of God, which did shine forth and were perspicuous in some of the ministers of this church, made her renowned among other churches. (as Eze 16:14) Secondly, the soundness of doctrine, purity of gospel-administrations in the worship of God, and the strictness of discipline in this church, did give her a name and a praise among other churches. (as Zep 3:20)
“Be watchful” which doth more especially concern the Ministers of the church who are her watchman
“And strengthen the things which remain” ministers did not endeavor to nourish, cherish, and establish, as they should have done; and so partly through the security of those weak members, and partly through the negligence and carelessness of their ministers not visiting them, and not inquiring into their backsliding condition, they were ready to die
“For I have not found thy works perfect before God” First, It must be a work of faith, to wit, such a work as God hath commanded in his word; and the work of God must be the ground of our faith. (Heb 11:6) For whatsoever is not of faith is sin. (Ro 14:23) Secondly, It must be a labor of love, that is, the love of Christ must constrain believers to be fruitful and laborious in every good work, else it will not be acceptable to God, duties done from a principle of love to Christ, and service done from the same spiritual love to the saints, are well-pleasing to God. (Heb 6:10) Thirdly, It must be done in singleness and sincerity of heart. (2Co 1:12)
“I will come on thee as a thief”, etc. This visitation threatened here, is general, and may include any one, yea, every one of the former corrections wherewith Christ visited the other churches. (Re 2:5,16,22) To come as a thief, is to come with sudden destruction. (1Th 2:5 3:6) Therefore let us not sleep as do others, but watch, be sober. (Re 16:15)
“And thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee”. This notes the secrecy of Christ’s visitation; At an hour when they think not of it, or in an hour that they know not of, will Christ come upon them, and visit them with his corrections and judgments.
“Thou hast a few Names even in Sardis”. And for a minister to have but a few members in the church, who are eminent for grace and holiness is more commendable, and more comfortable, than to have many that have a name to live, and are yet dead, and a few that are indeed alive, but their works, duties and gifts, withering, decaying, and ready to die.
But by “garments” here is meant their white robes, even that inward purity of heart, and that spiritual power of Godliness in their life, which is called the brides array of fine linen, clean and white, which is the righteousness of saints, (Re 19:8) to wit, of Christ’s righteousness, of justification, sanctification and holiness; the saint’s garments of salvation, (Isa 16:10) which these “few” kept undefiled, unspotted, uncorrupted, unpolluted, that is, pure and clean by faith, (Ac 15:9) not only in the sight of men, but also in the sight of God. Not that these few eminent saints in Sardis lived without sin in the sight of god, or that they kept their garments of fine linen so white and clean, that they were never defiled in any respect; but they were not polluted, corrupted, nor defiled with such enormities as others were, which were not the spots of God’s children. (De 32:5) And, if at any time they contracted any filth of sin upon their fine Linen, then they washed their Robes, and made them white in the blood of Christ. (Re 7:13,14)
What marvelous love is this- that we shall be like him! (1Jo 3:1)
By “the book of life,” is meant, First, the decree of Gods election. (Php 4:3) Whole names are in the book of life, that is, in the record or decree of election. Secondly, Christ’s record or memorial of those that the Father hath given to him before the foundation of the world, which is called the Lamb’s Book of Life. (Re 21:17) Thirdly, the gospel and new covenant of grace, according to which, every one that liveth under that dispensation, shall be judged at the last day (Compare Ro 2:16 with Re 20:12). Now Christ promising him that overcomes, that he “will not blot out his name out of the book of life,” doth mean, that he will not put his name out of his memorial, but bear his name upon his breast-plate among the names of all the Israel of God, as a perpetual memorial before the Father, as one of the election of grace, whom the Father gave unto him before the foundation of the world; and he shall be judged at the last day according to the gospel, and new covenant of the grace of God, whose name is written in the book of life.
“He that hath the key of David”, is meant the Dominion and kingdom of his Father David. (Isa 22:21,22,23) And the key of the House of David will I lay upon his shoulder: And he shall be for a glorious Throne to his Father’s house. And, Isa 9:6,7, And the Government shall be upon his shoulder: -Upon the Throne of David, and upon his Kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with Judgment and with Justice. Lu 1:31,32,33, And the Lord shall give unto him the Throne of his Father David, -And of his Kingdom they shall be no end.
By an open door is meant an effectual and successful opportunity and season for the Preaching of the Gospel, and Administration of the Ordinances of God, both for the Edification of the whole Body there implanted, The Ministers of this Church had a door of utterance opened unto them to speak the mystery of Christ, (Col 4:3) and the Members and other Hearers had a door of entrance opened to them to receive the Gospel, not as the Word of Men, but as it is indeed the Word of God, (1Th 2:13) so that the Word of God had a free course, and was glorified (2Th 3:1) in which respect; it is said, that a great door and effectual was opened unto the Apostle. (1Co 16:9)
I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation.
That is, from the evil of that hour, and of those temptations. By temptation here we may understand any kind of trial; viz. of affliction, of persecution, of tribulation, and of temptation, which the Churches, the ministers and saints should suffer in those days, (especially that hour, Mt 24:21-29,30) that were to come shortly after John’s writing of this book, Jas 1:2. And by the hour of temptation is meant an indefinite time; and also a certain time, though secret and unknown to men, yet limited and appointed by the Lord, when it shall come, and how long it shall last, called an hour, to signify, that it should be but a short time, our times are in thy hand, O Lord, Ps 31:15. The time when the Churches, their ministers and members tribulation shall begin; the time how long their trials and troubles shall last; an the time when their sorrows and sufferings shall end, is all in God’s hand; that is, at the Lords appointment.
“Which shall come upon all the world.” By the world, we are to understand here Caesar’s world, Lu 2:1 throughout all the kingdoms, nations, and countries under the Roman Pagan emperors in every city and village, where any of the Churches of Christ were planted; God would suffer a general persecution to fall upon the Churches of saints in all parts of the world, wheresoever they were, but especially in Asia; and that whilst this Church in Philadelphia was in being: Which hour of temptation came upon the Churches and saints in the following bloody persecutions raised against them by the pagan emperors, from the evil of which temptations, this Church, ministers and members were preserved and kept.
that no man take thy crown, which contains both a promised and a possessed reward of grace and glory; a crown of grace given and enjoyed; and a crown of glory promised, and hereafter to be received, Isa 28:5 1Pe 5:4 and Jas 1:12. That crown of grace received, was, that which they are here charged to keep; and not to lose that royal dignity and crown of Glory, which they had obtained who had kept the Word of Christ, and not denied His name.
“And the name of the city of my God.” This city is the new Jerusalem, mentioned Re 21:1,2. and is the Church of the first-born, written in heaven, Heb 12:22-24.
“I will spue thee out of my mouth.” Which expression implies, First, That the formality and luke-warmness of this Church, her elders and members, was very burdensome unto Jesus Christ, Isa 1:11,15. Secondly, That Christ was heart-sick of those formalists, and their formality in the worship of God, and he was willing to ease himself of them. Ah, I will ease me of my adversaries, and make them as loathsome as that which is vomited up, Hab 2:16. The cup of the Lord’s right hand shall be turned unto thee, and shameful spewing shall be on thy glory. Thirdly, That Christ would utterly reject this Church, her ministers and members, for their luke-warmness, formality, hypocrisy, &c. Zec 11:7,14
Rich in grace, rich in faith, and rich in good works; so the Church elders and members ought to be, and they boasted that they were so; and they said they increased in goods, in spiritual gifts, grace, and good works, &c. They boasted of their growth, and increase in spirituals; though it was otherwise with them, as Christ testified in this verse. They thus gloried in appearance, as 2Co 5:12 and 1Co 4:8 as if they needed no spiritual gifts, or grace; no admonitions nor reproofs from Christ, no power from on high, no reformation or amendment, no counsel or advice. Wretched that is, in a wretched condition; First, As being without God, and without Christ, and without grace, Eph 2:11,12. Secondly, As being miserably captivated by their corruptions, Ro 3:11,12-16,18 and Ro 7:23,24. That is, some of them had not a grain of grace, others dark in their understanding, and others naked; that is, in a shameful, filthy, and polluted condition, Re 3:18, that the shame of thy nakedness doth not appear.
Christ rebukes and chasteneth them whom he loveth, Pr 3:11,12 and Heb 12:5-8,13 that is, He doth reprove them by His Word, and correct them with His rod; but it is in love to their souls. Repent, that is, sorrow after a godly manner for your sins, 2Co 7:9,10 of formality, hypocrisy, luke-warmness, &c. Secondly, Be zealous, that is, be fervent in Spirit, Ro 12:11 having a fervent zeal for the glory of God, the honor of Christ and the credit of the gospel, and the example of others.
Christ continued his presence still with this Church, notwithstanding their luke-warmness, (as he did of old, Ho 6:4-9. and Ho 11:1-4,7-12. How shall I give thee up Ephraim?–How shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together;) because, First, Christ knew some of those luke-warm ones were elect ones, whom the Father had given unto him, Joh 6:37-40 and 2Ti 2:19. and Joh 10:16 or else Christ doth this to leave them without excuse, Ro 1:20 and Heb 2:1-3.
“If any man hear my voice, and open the door” That is in the ministry of the Word, and open the door of his heart, by a willing content to accept his offers of grace upon gospel-terms.
This is a great encouragement unto them to answer his earnest desire, and gracious invitation to open their hearts, and to admit him entrance, by promising them, First, Union with him; Secondly, Communion with him; By supping together, we may understand the mutual fellowship between Christ and their souls, in the sacred ordinances of God, 1Jo 1:3.
Before I proceed unto the Exposition of the fourth chapter, I think it meet for me, and not unprofitable for the conscientious and diligent reader, to say a few words touching the Churches of God in these latter days.
First, the fit matter of a true visible Church of God under the gospel, is a company of sanctified, baptized believers; such was the Church at Jerusalem, the Churches in Judea, the Church at Rome, in Corinth, and all the Churches of Christ at their first constitution, in the days of the apostles, Ac 4:23-32 Ac 8:12 Ac 18:8 1Co 1:2 1Co 14:23-33, Churches of saints.
Secondly, The essential form of a true visible Church of God, is the right joining and orderly compacting of those sanctified believers together into one mystical body, by the ministers of Christ, according to the constitution of the gospel, Eph 2:19-22 Eph 4:15,16 1Co 3:5-9.
Thirdly, The end why the Church is so planted, builded, and formed, is that they may meet together in ONE to worship God publicly in Spirit and in truth in all His sacred gospel ordinances, to the glory of God, and for the mutual edification of that mystical body of Christ, whose head He is, 1Co 14:23 Heb 10:25 Joh 4:22-24 1Co 11:1-11 2Th 1:12 1Pe 4:10,11 1Co 14:12-26, let all things be done to edifying.
Fourthly, It is not lawful for any member of a true Church to separate himself from it, nor forsake the assembling of himself with it, Heb 10:25 1Jo 2:19. Our blessed Lord Jesus did not blame, nor reprove any of the ministers or members of any of those Churches in Asia, (although Christ reproved the Churches and their elders for suffering errors in doctrine, in worship, and in manners, among them;) but commended them that held their communion with the Church, and kept themselves free from those errors, Re 2:24 Re 3:4. Separation from a true Church is schism, and schism is a sin, 1Co 12:25 which causeth division, 1Co 1:10:11:18 although the apostles did command the saints in Corinth to separate themselves from idolatrous Gentiles, 2Co 6:14-17 and he himself did separate the disciples from the unbelieving Jews, Ac 19:9 yet, neither Paul, nor any of the apostles, nor our Savior, commanded any of the saints to separate themselves from any true Church of Christ.
Fifthly, The ministers and members of a Church may keep themselves from being partakers of other men’s sins, and from being defiled with them, by bearing their testimony and witness orderly in the Church, against them that hold any unsound doctrine, or any corrupt manners, or any false worship, 2Ti 4:2,3 Eph 5:11 Mt 18:15-17. We ought to be followers of Christ, who bare His witness against the unsound doctrine, and corrupt manners, and neglect of discipline in some of the seven Churches in Asia, and waited patiently for their repentance; yet He did not forsake them, nor reject them, but owned them to be His Churches, Re 1:11 2:12-15,16,18,20,22,23 3:14,19,22, until they added final impenitency unto their iniquity and transgressions.
Sixthly, The Churches of Christ, and the ministers and members thereof shall be broken, dispersed, scattered, and mystically slain and killed, Re 11:7 Re 13:15-17.
Seventhly, God will gather His Churches or saints again; and will glorify the house of His glory and give them pastors after His own heart, pure worship and ordinances, and they shall serve him with one consent, Zep 3:9-13,17-20 Ps 50:5 Isa 49:18 Isa 60:4 Joh 11:52 Eph 1:11.
Eighthly, When the Churches of saints are scattered by persecution, as Ac 8:1-3 Ac 9:12, then the ministers and members may assemble themselves together in several companies, as Ac 4:1-3 Ac 18-23 Joh 20:19-23,26 Ac 1:2-4,13-15 1Co 15:6 and they may also break bread from house to house, Ac 2:42-46 not only on the first day of the week, for Christ did break bread on the fifth day, Mt 26:26-31 1Co 11:23-25. The apostle also did break bread on the second day morning early, Ac 20:7,8-11, after midnight, before break of day. And the brethren that have received a spiritual gift may minister the same one to another, 1Pe 4:10-11 building up themselves in their most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, Jude 20,21. Read 1Co 14:3-12,31, let all things be done to edifying, 1Co 14:26.
I feel moved to place warnings on some of Knollys’ work. If I’m not mistaken he agrees much with Mead but would disagree with the timing of the End with the rest of Protestant Historicism. If I include my remarks they will be in bold italics.
Yours in the Lord,