|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
3:1-6. The Lord Jesus is He that hath the Holy Spirit with all his powers, graces, and operations. Hypocrisy, and lamentable decay in religion, are sins charged upon Sardis, by One who knew that church well, and all her works. Outward things appeared well to men, but there was only the form of godliness, not the power; a name to live, not a principle of life. There was great deadness in their souls, and in their services; numbers were wholly hypocrites, others were in a disordered and lifeless state. Our Lord called upon them to be watchful against their enemies, and to be active and earnest in their duties; and to endeavour, in dependence on the grace of the Holy Spirit, to revive and strengthen the faith and spiritual affections of those yet alive to God, though in a declining state. Whenever we are off our watch, we lose ground. Thy works are hollow and empty; prayers are not filled up with holy desires, alms-deeds not filled up with true charity, sabbaths not filled up with suitable devotion of soul to God. There are not inward affections suitable to outward acts and expressions; when the spirit is wanting, the form cannot long remain. In seeking a revival in our own souls, or the souls of others, it is needful to compare what we profess with the manner in which we go on, that we may be humbled and quickened to hold fast that which remains. Christ enforces his counsel with a dreadful threatening if it should be despised. Yet our blessed Lord does not leave this sinful people without some encouragement. He makes honourable mention of the faithful remnant in Sardis, he makes a gracious promise to them. He that overcometh shall be clothed in white raiment; the purity of grace shall be rewarded with the perfect purity of glory. Christ has his book of life, a register of all who shall inherit eternal life; the book of remembrance of all who live to God, and keep up the life and power of godliness in evil times. Christ will bring forward this book of life, and show the names of the faithful, before God, and all the angels, at the great day.
Verse 4. - But thou hast a few names in Sardis. The "but" (Revised Version) must be added, and the "even" (Authorized Version) omitted, on conclusive evidence. "Names" is here used in the sense of persons (Acts 1:15 and Revelation 11:13, where the Revised Version has "persons"); there is no reference to the totally different use of "to have a name" in ver. 1. Bode remarks, "He knoweth his own sheep by name, as he knew Moses by name, and writeth the names of his own in heaven." These few are like the few righteous in Sodom. Though they consent to abide in the Church, they do not leaven it, nor does their presence save it: "They shall deliver but their own souls by their righteousness" (Ezekiel 14:14, 16, 18, 20). The word for "defile" (μολύνειν) occurs only here, Revelation 14:4, and 1 Corinthians 8:7. Its radical meaning is "to besmear," and so "to befoul." That of μιαίνειν (John 18:28; Titus 1:15; Hebrews 12:15; Jude 1:8) is rather "to stain," which is not necessarily "to befoul." That of κοινοῦν (Matthew 15:11-20; Mark 7:15-23; Acts 10:15; Acts 11:9; Acts 21:28; Hebrews 9:13) is "to make common or profane." In most cases all these three are rendered "defile" in our version. These few in Sardis have kept themselves "unspotted from the world" in which they live. Neither the corruption of heathendom nor the torpor of a moribund Church has infected them. Their contact with a dead body has imparted no life to the body and no defilement to them. There is no need to press the metaphor and give a special meaning to "garments" - whether their souls, or their bodies, or their consciences, or their baptismal robes. The metaphor is implied in "putting on the new man" (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10), "putting on Christ" (Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27), where the word for "put on" is ἐνδύεσθαι, "to be clothed with." They shall walk with me. In accordance with Christ's high-priestly prayer (John 17:24; comp. Roy. 21:24). In white. This elliptical expression (ἐν λευκοῖς) for "in white robes" occurs in the New Testament only here and John 20:12, and is another small link between the two books. The word "white" (λευκός), excepting in Matthew 5:36 and John 4:35, is in the New Testament always used of heavenly purity and brightness. Thus also Plato, Ξρώματα δὲ λευκὰ πρέποντ ἄν θεοῖς εἴν ('Laws,' 956); and Virgil of the souls in the other world, "Omnibus his hives cinguntur tempora vitta" ('AEneid,' 6:665). (See notes on Revelation 1:14.) As we might expect, the word is specially frequent in Revelation. Of course, the white garments referred to here, vers. 5, 18, and Revelation 4:4, are quite different from the undefiled garments just mentioned. The one is the imperfect purity of struggling saints on earth, the other the perfect purity of glorified saints in heaven. The promise, therefore, is threefold.
(1) They shall walk, i.e. they shall have life and liberty.
(2) They shall have Christ as their constant Companion.
(3) They shall be in unsullied glory.
And why? Because they are worthy. The merit is not theirs, but Christ's, in whose blood they have washed their robes (Revelation 7:14; 1 John 2:2), and by whose grace they are preserved in holiness (1 John 1:7). It is because they have by God's help fulfilled the conditions which he has proraised to accept, that they are worthy. The nearest approach to this declaration of worthiness on the part of God's saints seems to be Luke 20:35 (not 21:36) and 2 Thessalonians 1:5, 11. But in all these passages they are "accounted worthy" (καταξιωθέντες) rather than "worthy" (ἄξιοι). In Revelation 16:6 we have the opposite worthiness of those who have earned the "wages of sin" instead of the "gift of God" (Romans 6:23). Such persons are literally worthy, and not merely accounted worthy.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Thou hast a few names even in Sardis,.... The Alexandrian copy and others, the Complutensian edition, the Vulgate Latin, and all the Oriental versions, read, "but thou hast a few names", &c. or "a few men", as the Ethiopic version renders it; who were called by name, and were men of renown, excellent men, men famous for holding the truth of doctrine, and for powerful and practical godliness; men of great light and grace, and who were known by name to God and Christ: these are said to be but "few", not in comparison of the world, in which sense all the elect of God are but few, though a large number, considered in themselves; but in comparison of formal lifeless professors of religion, with which this church state abounds; and which, if we were not as dead as we are, might easily be observed; there may not only be hypocrites in churches, but a majority of them: yea, these few may be understood in comparison of the greater number of true believers; for in this period of the church there are but few, even of them, that are lively, zealous, and careful, and are heartily concerned for the purity of doctrine, discipline, worship, and conversation; and a few there are, blessed be God, even in this our Sardian church state. God will have a few in whom he will be glorified in the most declining times; and the Lord knows and takes notice of these few; and for their sake the church state is kept up, the Gospel and its ordinances are continued; nor is a church to be judged of by the number of its members, nor is a multitude to be followed to do evil,
Which have not defiled their garments; the Ethiopic version adds, "with a woman", the woman Jezebel. They were not guilty either of corporeal or spiritual fornication, which is idolatry; they kept their outward conversation garments pure, and maintained a profession of Christ and his truths incorrupt; they did not defile it by an unbecoming walk, or by a denial of Christ and a departure from him, and by embracing false doctrines; they were neither erroneous in their principles, nor immoral in their practices; few there, are indeed of this sort. Defiled garments, in either sense, very ill become members of the reformed churches. Among the Jews (i), if a priest's garments were spotted or defiled, he might not minister; if he did, his service was rejected,
And they shall walk with me in white; there is a walking in Christ by faith; and a walking before him as in his sight; and a walking worthy of him, in all well pleasing in his ways and ordinances; and here a walking with him, in a way of special and comfortable communion, both here and hereafter: and this is in white; in white raiment, meaning either in the robe of his own righteousness, compared to fine linen and white; or in the shining robes of immortality and glory; and may be expressive of that spiritual joy which such shall be partakers of, as well as of their spotless purity and innocence in the other world. White raiment was used among the Romans as a token of joy at festivals, and on birthdays, and at weddings, and such like times,
For they are worthy; not of themselves, or through any works of righteousness done by them, which are neither meritorious of grace here, nor of glory hereafter; but through the grace of God, and worthiness of Christ. The Jews have a saying somewhat like this (k),
"they that walk with God in their lifetime, "are worthy" to walk with him after their death;
In the Apocrypha we read:
"Take thy number, O Sion, and shut up those of thine that are clothed in white, which have fulfilled the law of the Lord.'' (2 Esdras 2:40).
This clause is left out in the Ethiopic version,
(i) T. Bab. Zebachim, fol. 35. 1.((k) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 10. 3.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
4. The three oldest manuscripts prefix "but," or "nevertheless" (notwithstanding thy spiritual deadness), and omit "even."
names—persons named in the book of life (Re 3:5) known by name by the Lord as His own. These had the reality corresponding to their name; not a mere name among men as living, while really dead (Re 3:1). The gracious Lord does not overlook any exceptional cases of real saints in the midst of unreal professors.
not defiled their garments—namely, the garments of their Christian profession, of which baptism is the initiatory seal, whence the candidates for baptism used in the ancient Church to be arrayed in white. Compare also Eph 5:27, as to the spotlessness of the Church when she shall be presented to Christ; and Re 19:8, as to the "fine linen, clean and white, the righteousness of the saints," in which it shall be granted to her to be arrayed; and "the wedding garment." Meanwhile she is not to sully her Christian profession with any defilement of flesh or spirit, but to "keep her garments." For no defilement shall enter the heavenly city. Not that any keep themselves here wholly free from defilement; but, as compared with hollow professors, the godly keep themselves unspotted from the world; and when they do contract it, they wash it away, so as to have their "robes white in the blood of the Lamb" (Re 7:14). The Greek is not "to stain" (Greek, "miainein"), but to "defile," or besmear (Greek, "molunein"), So 5:3.
they shall walk with me in white—The promised reward accords with the character of those to be rewarded: keeping their garments undefiled and white through the blood of the Lamb now, they shall walk with Him in while hereafter. On "with me," compare the very same words, Lu 23:43; Joh 17:24. "Walk" implies spiritual life, for only the living walk; also liberty, for it is only the free who walk at large. The grace and dignity of flowing long garments is seen to best advantage when the person "walks": so the graces of the saint's manifested character shall appear fully when he shall serve the Lord perfectly hereafter (Re 22:3).
they are worthy—with the worthiness (not their own, but that) which Christ has put on them (Re 7:14). Eze 16:14, "perfect through MY comeliness which I had put upon thee." Grace is glory in the bud. "The worthiness here denotes a congruity between the saint's state of grace on earth, and that of glory, which the Lord has appointed for them, about to be estimated by the law itself of grace" [Vitringa]. Contrast Ac 13:46.
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