We have now come to the sixth letter, sent to one of the Asian churches, where observe,
I. The inscription, showing,
1. For whom it was more immediately designed: The angel of the church of Philadelphia; this also was a city in Asia Minor, seated upon the borders of Mysia and Lydia, and had its name from that brotherly love for which it was eminent. We can hardly suppose that this name was given to it after it received the Christian religion, and that it was so called from that Christian affection that all believers have, and should have, one for another, as the children of one Father and the brethren of Christ; but rather that it was its ancient name, on account of the love and kindness which the citizens had and showed to each other as a civil fraternity. This was an excellent spirit, and, when sanctified by the grace of the gospel, would render them an excellent church, as indeed they were, for here is no one fault found with this church, and yet, doubtless, there were faults in it of common infirmity; but love covers such faults.
2. By whom this letter was signed; even by the same Jesus who is alone the universal head of all the churches; and here observe by what title he chooses to represent himself to this church: He that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, etc. You have his personal character: He that is holy and he that is true, holy in his nature, and therefore he cannot but be true to his word, for he hath spoken in his holiness; and you have also his political character: He hath the key of David, he openeth, and no man shutteth; he hath the key of the house of David, the key of government and authority in and over the church. Observe, (1.) The acts of his government. [1.] He opens. He opens a door of opportunity to his churches; he opens a door of utterance to his ministers; he opens a door of entrance, opens the heart; he opens a door of admission into the visible church, laying down the terms of communion; and he opens the door of admission into the church triumphant, according to the terms of salvation fixed by him. [2.] He shuts the door. When he pleases, he shuts the door of opportunity and the door of utterance, and leaves obstinate sinners shut up in the hardness of their hearts; he shuts the door of church-fellowship against unbelievers and profane persons; and he shuts the door of heaven against the foolish virgins who have slept away their day of grace, and against the workers of iniquity, how vain and confident soever they may be. (2.) The way and manner in which he performs these acts, and that is absolute sovereignty, independent upon the will of men, and irresistible by the power of men: He openeth, and no man shutteth; he shutteth, and no man openeth; he works to will and to do, and, when he works, none can hinder. These were proper characters for him, when speaking to a church that had endeavoured to be conformed to Christ in holiness and truth, and that had enjoyed a wide door of liberty and opportunity under his care and government.
II. The subject-matter of this epistle, where,
1. Christ puts them in mind of what he had done for them: I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it, Rev. 3:8. I have set it open, and kept it open, though there be many adversaries. Learn here, (1.) Christ is to be acknowledged as the author of all the liberty and opportunity his churches enjoy. (2.) He takes notice and keeps account, how long he has preserved their spiritual liberties and privileges for them. (3.) Wicked men envy the people of God their door of liberty, and would be glad to shut it against them. (4.) If we do not provoke Christ to shut this door against us, men cannot do it.
2. This church is commended: Thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name, Rev. 3:8. In this there seems to be couched a gentle reproof: “Thou hast a little strength, a little grace, which, though it be not proportionate to the wide door of opportunity which I have opened to thee, yet is true grace, and has kept thee faithful.” True grace, though weak, has the divine approbation; but, though Christ accepts a little strength, yet believers should not rest satisfied in a little, but should strive to grow in grace, to be strong in faith, giving glory to God. True grace, though weak, will do more than the greatest gifts or highest degrees of common grace, for it will enable the Christian to keep the word of Christ, and not to deny his name. Obedience, fidelity, and a free confession of the name of Christ, are the fruits of true grace, and are pleasing to Christ as such.
3. Here is a promise of the great favour God would bestow on this church, Rev. 3:9, 10. This favour consists in two things:—
(1.) Christ would make this church’s enemies subject to her. [1.] Those enemies are described to be such as said they were Jews, but lied in saying so—pretended to be the only and peculiar people of God, but were really the synagogue of Satan. Assemblies that worship God in spirit and in truth are the Israel of God; assemblies that either worship false gods, or the true God in a false manner, are the synagogues of Satan: though they may profess to be the only people of God, their profession is a lie. [2.] Their subjection to the church is described: They shall worship at thy feet; not pay a religious and divine honour to the church itself, nor to the ministry of it, but shall be convinced that they have been in the wrong, that this church is in the right and is beloved of Christ, and they shall desire to be taken into communion with her and that they may worship the same God after the same manner. How shall this great change be wrought? By the power of God upon the hearts of his enemies, and by signal discoveries of his peculiar favour to his church: They shall know that I have loved thee. Observe, First, The greatest honour and happiness any church can enjoy consist in the peculiar love and favour of Christ. Secondly, Christ can discover this his favour to his people in such a manner that their very enemies shall see it, and be forced to acknowledge it. Thirdly, This will, by the grace of Christ, soften the hearts of their enemies, and make them desirous to be admitted into communion with them.
(2.) Another instance of favour that Christ promises to this church is persevering grace in the most trying times (Rev. 3:10), and this as the reward of their past fidelity. To him that hath shall be given. Here observe, [1.] The gospel of Christ is the word of his patience. It is the fruit of the patience of God to a sinful world; it sets before men the exemplary patience of Christ in all his sufferings for men; it calls those that receive it to the exercise of patience in conformity to Christ. [2.] This gospel should be carefully kept by all that enjoy it; they must keep up to the faith, and practice, and worship prescribed in the gospel. [3.] After a day of patience we must expect an hour of temptation; a day of gospel peace and liberty is a day of God’s patience, and it is seldom so well improved as it should be and therefore it is often followed by an hour of trial and temptation. [4.] Sometimes the trial is more general and universal; it comes upon all the world, and, when it is so general, it is usually the shorter. [5.] Those who keep the gospel in a time of peace shall be kept by Christ in an hour of temptation. By keeping the gospel they are prepared for the trial; and the same divine grace that has made them fruitful in times of peace will make them faithful in times of persecution.
4. Christ calls the church to that duty which he before promised he would enable her to do, and that is, to persevere, to hold fast that which she had. (1.) The duty itself: “Hold fast that which thou hast, that faith, that truth, that strength of grace, that zeal, that love to the brethren; thou hast been possessed of this excellent treasure, hold it fast.” (2.) The motives, taken from the speedy appearance of Christ: “Behold, I come quickly. See, I am just a coming to relieve them under the trial, to reward their fidelity, and to punish those who fall away; they shall lose that crown which they once seemed to have a right to, which they hoped for, and pleased themselves with the thoughts of. The persevering Christian shall win the prize from backsliding professors, who once stood fair for it.”
III. The conclusion of this epistle, Rev. 3:12, 13. Here,
1. After his usual manner, our Saviour promises a glorious reward to the victorious believer, in two things:—(1.) He shall be a monumental pillar in the temple of God; not a pillar to support the temple (heaven needs no such props), but a monument of the free and powerful grace of God, a monument that shall never be defaced nor removed, as many stately pillars erected in honour to the Roman emperors and generals have been. (2.) On this monumental pillar there shall be an honourable inscription, as in those cases is usual. [1.] The name of God, in whose cause he engaged, whom he served, and for whom he suffered in this warfare; and the name of the city of God, the church of God, the new Jerusalem, which came down from heaven. On this pillar shall be recorded all the services the believer did to the church of God, how he asserted her rights, enlarged her borders, maintained her purity and honour; this will be a greater name than Asiaticus, or Africanus; a soldier under God in the wars of the church. And then another part of the inscription is, [2.] The new name of Christ, the Mediator, the Redeemer, the captain of our salvation; by this it will appear under whose banner this conquering believer had enlisted, under whose conduct he acted, by whose example he was encouraged, and under whose influence he fought the good fight, and came off victorious.
2. The epistle is closed up with the demand of attention: He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches, how Christ loves and values his faithful people, how he commends, and how he will crown their fidelity.