Ver. 1-6. To the Angel of the church of Sardis. He begins with a severe reprehension, thou hast the name of being alive, and thou art dead, which we may understand of the greatest part of them, and of being dead by the worst of deaths, which is that of sin. Wi.
--- In the style of the sacred writers, to live, is to be in the state of grace, and to bring forth good works; as, to be dead, is to live in sin, and in the neglect of Christian duties. Calmet.
--- Here we see that the opinion of men is no advantage to us, when our internal dispositions are not correspondent to our external appearance. For what we are in thy sight, O Lord, so much we are, and no more, says S. Austin.
--- The bishop is charged with this fault, that he did not watch and take care of his flock. He is admonished to repent, and to strengthen those that were not dead, but ready to die.† Wi.
--- God does not seek to surprise us and lay snares for us. But when he tells us that he will come like a thief, it is only to admonish us not to slumber. Had he wished to take us unawares, he never would have admonished us beforehand. Calmet.
--- But thou hast a few names, &c. That is, a few persons not yet defiled, neither as to their consciences, souls, nor bodies.
--- They shall walk with me in white apparel, &c. It is a new way of expressing the happiness of heaven. Wi.
--- White is the color of joy, festivity, and triumph. The Angels always appeared clothed in white. Calmet.
[†] V. 2. Et ceteræ quæ moritura erant, ta loipa a mellei apoqanein, meaning persons, not things.
Ver. 7-13. To the Angel of the church of Philadelphia. There were several towns of this name; here is understood that which was near Sardis, in Lydia. Here is no more than an admonition to persevere, to hold that which thou hast. Christ takes the title of the Holy One, and True One, who hath the key of David; i.e. being the son of David, and the promised Messias, hath supreme power in the Church: who opens the gate of salvation, and no one shuts it against his elect. Wi.
--- By the key in this place may be understood either the key of the Church, or of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus Christ has both, he opens and shuts the heavens by his infinite power. But in the Church on earth he has entrusted this key (his power) to his apostles and ministers; whatever is bound or loosened by them is ratified by him in the kingdom of his glory. Calmet.
--- I have set before thee a door open, by giving thee graces to save thee, which no one shall be able to hinder, because thou hast of thyself little power or strength,† and hast kept my word, and not denied the faith. Wi.
--- I have sent you to preach, and have given my blessing to your labours. You shall, notwithstanding all your adversaries, eventually succeed. S. Paul makes use of the same manner of expression. 1 Cor. xvi. I see a great door is open to me, and at the same time many adversaries; and again, 2 Cor. ii. and Coloss. iv. On account of your little strength, your want of talents, eloquence, supernatural gifts, &c. I have not exposed you to great trials. Thus does the Almighty always proportion the trials he sends, and the temptations he permits in his servants, to the graces and strength he has given them.
--- Those who were neither Jews nor Christians, shall come and abjure at your feet their former errors, and shall evidently perceive that you are strengthened by me. Calmet.
--- Christ also promises that he will make the false abandoned Jews subject to the bishop and his Church, and to own them to be the beloved and chosen people. God promises to preserve them in the hour or time of temptation and persecutions, which should happen to all the inhabitants of the earth. Wi.
--- He here advertises him of the persecution which was about to take place, and by which he would try the fidelity of his servants. In v. 12. he relates the triumph and everlasting beatitude of the martyrs.
--- He that overcomes, I will make him a pillar, &c. so as to stand firm against his enemies, and to be secure of his endless happiness.
--- I will write upon him the name of my God, a subscribed citizen of the celestial Jerusalem, with the new name of Jesus, the Saviour and Redeemer of mankind. He alludes to the custom of writing names upon pillars, palaces, &c.
--- From the words my God, the Socinians pretend that Christ is not the true God, as we may find in the disputes which Servetus had with Calvin. Calvin answered the Socinians, as all Catholics do, that Christ was both God and man: this and divers things were spoken of Christ as he was man, but that many things in the Scriptures could not apply to him, unless he was also truly God. And by such places is clearly confuted the blasphemy and error of the Arians and Socinians. The argument concludes in the principles of the Catholics, who allow the authority of the Church in expounding the sense of the Scriptures; but the Calvinists, and all other pretended reformers, having shaken off that authority, and having allowed that the holy Scriptures are to be interpreted according to every man's private judgment or spirit, this set Calvin and Servetus, every Calvinist and Socinians, upon the same level. Wi.
[†] V. 8. Virtutem, dunamin, strength.
Ver. 14-22. The seventh and last letter is to the Angel of the Church of Laodicia. Christ here takes the title of the Amen,† as if he said, I am the Truth.
--- The beginning of the creation, or of the creatures of God, to which is added in the first chapter, the beginning and the end.
--- Thou art neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm. A dreadful reprehension, whatever exposition we follow. According to the common interpretation, by the cold are meant those who are guilty of great sins; by the hot, such as are zealous and fervent in piety and the service of God; by the lukewarm or tepid, they who are slothful, negligent, indolent, as to what regards Christian perfection, the practice of virtue, and an exact observance of what regards the service of God. On this account they are many times guilty in the sight of God of great sins, they forfeit the favour and grace of God, fancying themselves good enough and safe, because they live as others commonly do, and are not guilty of many scandalous and shameful crimes, to which they see others addicted.
--- I would thou wert either cold or hot. This is not an absolute wish, because the condition of the cold is certainly worse in itself; but it is to be taken with regard to the different consequences, which oftentimes attend these two states, and to signify to us that the lukewarm may be farther from a true conversion, inasmuch as they are less sensible of the dangers to which they remain exposed, than such as commit greater sins. Their careless indevotion becomes habitual to them, they live and die with a heart divided betwixt God and the world; whereas greater and more shameful sinners are not without an abhorrence of such vices which they commit; a fear of punishment, of hell and damnation, strikes them by the mercies of God offered even to sinners, and makes them enter into themselves like the prodigal son; they detest their past lives, and by the assistance of God's graces become both fervent and constant in the duties of a Christian life. Wi.
--- Tepidity in a Christian life, and in the service of God, is oftentimes more dangerous than absolute wickedness. The open sinner is easily made sensible of his danger; he experiences the stings and reproaches of conscience, whilst the tepid Christian lives without remorse, fear, or apprehension, and listens not to those who wish to shew him the danger of his situation. I dare venture to affirm, says S. Aug. that to fall into some public and manifest sin would be of advantage to the proud, that so those who by their self-complacency had so often fallen before, may now become displeased with themselves and humble. Calmet.
--- To the lukewarm it is said, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth; i.e. if thou continue in that state, I will permit thee to run on and be lost in thy sins. Thou blindly sayest within thyself, I am rich, &c. A false conscience generally attends a lukewarm soul and those who serve God by halves; they flatter themselves that all goes well enough with them, when they see they are not so vicious, as many others: but here the spirit of God, who penetrates the secret folds and windings of slothful souls, admonisheth them of their dangerous mistakes, that they are wretched, poor, blind, and naked, when God, by his grace, does not inhabit their souls, though they may have millions of gold and silver in this world. I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, the love of God purified by trials and troubles in this life, to recover thy lost innocence, to be clothed with the habit of grace, to anoint thy eyes with eye-salve, by a serious reflection on what regards thy eternal salvation.
--- I chastise those whom I love. He concludes all the former admonitions by telling them: first, that to be under trials and troubles, is a mark of God's favour and his paternal care; secondly, to hearken to the voice of God, when he knocks at the door of their heart; and thirdly, he promises them the reward of eternal happiness—he that overcomes, shall sit with me on my throne: though this does not imply an equality of happiness, not even to all the saints, much less with God himself, but only that the elect shall be in the throne as it were of heaven, and partakers of heavenly happiness according to their past good works.
--- I should not here mention the wild and ridiculous fancies of one Mr. Brightman, when he pretends to expound to all men these letters to the seven bishops of Asia, were it not to shew how the obscure predictions of S. John's revelation have been turned and abused by the loose interpretations of some of the late reformers, as may be seen more at large, when we mention their arbitrary fancies about the whore of Babylon and the popish antichrist. I shall here with Dr. Hammond, give the reader a taste of such licentious expositions of the divine oracles. The Calvinist, Mr. Brightman, pretended he had his expositions by divine inspirations, and so gave his commentary the title of Revelation of the Revelation. I shall quote his words out of Dr. Hammond. "Mr. Brightman assures his readers, that by the churches of Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicia, were meant Germany, France, and Britain. He says a most heavy trial was now suddenly to invade the Christian world . . . that the three said churches were most favourably admonished of this tempest by the epistles written to them by name, nomination . . . that he found and understood this to be so by divine inspiration, from the inscriptions of these letters, and so should be guilty of a sin against the Divine Majesty, if he concealed them." Not to tire the reader with his fancies about Ephesus and Pergamus, which may be seen in Dr. Hammond. Rev. ii. 13. "on those words, in those days was Antipas, &c. Mr. Brightman has this wanton fancy on the name Antipas, that it doth denote that the martyrs of his time (which was after Luther) should be antipapæ, or antipopes;" i.e. adversaries to the popes and popery. Dr. Hammond (p. 928) gives us Mr. Brightman's conceit on the name Thyatira, which must be taken for the same as Thygatheira, signifying a young daughter, and so denotes the growth of piety in the Church from the year 1300, from Wycliffe's time to 1520, that is, till it came to perfection in Luther's days. Page 932. note a, "Sardis, according to Mr. Brightman," says Dr. Hammond, "is the first reformed church in the antitype, to wit, that of Germany, which began at Wittenburg, by Luther, an. 1517. And the proof is, that Sardis is more to the south than Thyatira, and so must have more of truth in it; or, because there is no mention made of Balaam and Jezabel, which he resolved must signify the doctrines of Christian Rome, the absence of which must signify a breaking off from the Romish communion; or, that she (the German Church) had a name to be living, but was dead, by the doctrine of consubstantiation among the Lutherans, even after the reformation. This," says Dr. Hammond, "were a strange way of interpreting dreams, which no oneirocritic would allow, but a much stranger of explaining prophecies." Page 933, "Philadelphia, says Mr. Brightman, must needs be the Helvetian, Swedish, Genevan, French, Dutch, and Scotch reformed Churches. No reason again for it, but that the city of Philadelphia was yet farther south than Sardis, and so must needs signify more increase of reformation; 2. that the name of Jezabel was not in it; 3. that the word Philadelphia, signifying brotherly love, cannot be applied to any but this pattern of all piety (to which Mr. Brightman had so much kindness) the Church of Helvetia and Geneva. And the reformed Church of England must be that of Laodicia, . . . . because episcopacy was here retained, and so a mixture of cold with that of heat, and consequently is the lukewarm Church that is found fault with." O the profound interpretations and bright inventions of Mr. Brightman! Wi.
[†] V. 14. Hæc dicit Amen; tade legei o Amhn. Ille qui est Amen.