Part 1

Section 59—Revelation 2 and Revelation 3.

Several passages are produced from the epistles to the seven churches of Asia, in favor of the delectability and total apostasy of real saints. It should be observed, that the churches in all ages, have more or less consisted of true believers and hypocrites, wise and foolish virgins, sheep and goats, wheat and tares, and sometimes are denominated from the better, and sometimes from the weaker part; some things in the epistles to them particularly regard true believers and others formal professors among them. This Observation will help us to understand the reason and meaning of many commands, cautions, exhortations, and threatenings, not only used in these epistles, but in the rest of the epistles sent to the several churches, Besides, it may be observed, that the whole in churches may be unchurched, their church state be dissolved, and yet not one true believer among them be lost or perish, as has been the case of these seven churches, and many others; which is brought about by removing true believers by death, withholding a blessing from the means of grace to the conversion of others; and at length, taking the Gospel wholly from them, and so at last the candlestick is removed out of its place, It is,therefore, to no purpose to urge passages and instances of this kind against the saints final perseverance; however, we shall consider the several scriptures urged and referred unto. And,

1. The first of this kind to be examined, is in the epistle to the church at Ephesus. Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.[1] But neither the complaint lodged against this church, that she had left her first love, proves that site had totally and finally fallen away from grace; since she might leave, that is, abate in the fervency of her love to Christ, though not lose it; which sometimes waxes cold through the prevalence of corruption and the snares of the world, when it is not lost, as it was not in this church; nor can it be lost in any true believer, notwithstanding their desertions, temptations, falls, and backslidings: nor does the exhortation, to remember from whence she was fallen,prove it, seeing she might be fallen partially, though not totally; and the design of this exhortation be to put her upon comparing her former and present condition together; that her desires, after a restoration to her former lively and comfortable frame, might be quickened, and she be humbled under a sense of her backslidings, and brought to an acknowledgment of the same, which would appear by her doing her first works:nor does the threatening to come unto her, and remove her candlestick out of his place,in ease of non-repentance, prove it, seeing this may be understood of his coming to her in a providential way, and either shaking her church state, by suffering persecution or heresy to come in upon her, or by wholly removing it, through withholding a blessing from the means of grace, and entirely taking them away; which might be done without the loss of one true believer, as has been observed. Besides, this church is greatly commended in verses 2,3, for her labor, and patience, and zeal against false apostles; a plain case, that she was not finally and totally fallen from grace.

2. The next passage to be considered is he promise made to the church at Smyrna, be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life (Rev. 3:4, 5:4). It is represented as incongruous with an absolute promise of God, that believers should persevere to the end, or suspend their happiness on condition of their perseverance, which is said to be done in these words. But it should be observed, that the crown of life,or eternal happiness, is not a blessing suspended,since it never was promised nor ever expected to be enjoyed before death, much less suspended on any condition whatever to be performed by us; since it is a gift, a gift wholly of free grace. In faithfulness unto death is not here made the condition of enjoying the crown of life; but the gift of the crown of life is made the encouragement to faithfulness unto death. In the same light are we to consider James 1:19, and the words of our Lord in Matthew 24:12, 13. Because iniquity shall abound (not because tribulations abound, as Dr. Whitby cites the words,) the love of many shall wax cold: but he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved;[2] where enduring to the end, is not the condition of salvation, but the promise of salvation is the encouragement to endure to the end.

3. A third passage referred to is the exhortation to the church at Pergamos, not Ephesus, as Dr. Whitby, through mistake,[3] calls it: Repent, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth (Rev. 2:16). This church is so far from being an instance of the apostasy of real saints, that she is commended for holding fast the name of Christ, and not denying his faith in the worst of places, and in the worst of times, even where Satan's seat was, and wherein Antipas, a faithful martyr, was slain:and though there were some among them who held the doctrines and followed the practices of Balsam and the Nicolaitans, which should have been matter of humiliation, and on the account of which Christ exhorts to repentance; and though he says that he will come to her quickly,that is in a providential way, yet not to fight against her, but them; for he says I not, I will fight against thee,the church, as Doctor Whitby inadvertently reads the words, but against them,the Balaamites and Nicolaitans; and that not with the temporal sword, but with the sword of his mouth,the word of God. The passage out of the epistle to the church at Thyatira, being much the same with what is alleged from the epistle to the church at Philadelphia, will be considered with it. I proceed,

4. To examining the instance of the Church at Sardis. There were but few true believers in this church; she had a name to live,but was dead;she had but a few names which had not defiled their garments,and therefore the defection of her is no proof of the apostasy of real saints. The things which remain,she is lied upon to strengthen, are not to be understood of the graces of the Spirit in her embers; since these are never really wanting and declining, they are always, all they were, and never less, but continually on the growing, thriving, and increasing hand; for us good work of grace is daily carrying on, whether the saints are sensible of it or no, and will be performed until the day of Christ nor can the graces of the Spirit die, being immortal and incorruptible seeds; nor are they ever ready to die,unless in the apprehensions of saints under fits of unbelief. Besides,it is God's work, and not man's, to strengthen these; and should these be intended in this passage, it would be no proof of the real loss of true grace, since these are said not to be dead, but ready to die,and recoverable The ta< loipa< were the remaining members of this church, which sense is confirmed by the versions of the Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Vulgate Latin, and others. The majority of the members were already dead,and many others of them were sickly, and ready to die;the angel or pastor of this church is called upon to do his duty, to confirm such as were wavering, and do all that in him lay, by a diligent preaching of the word, and constant administration of ordinances, to preserve them from a more general defection. The threatening, in verse 3, regards the formal and lifeless part of this church;[4] and as for the rest, the few undefiled names in Sardis,a promise of perseverance and happiness is made unto them:—They shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels (Rev. 2:25).

5. When Christ says to the church at Thyatira, That which ye have already, not what thou hast attained to,[5] as Dr. Whitby cites the words, hold fast till I come;(Rev. 3:11) and to that at Philadelphia, Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown;[6] by what they had, and should hold fast, he does not mean the grace, but the doctrine of faith, the faithful word, the form of sound words, which both ministers and members should hold fast, in opposition to wavering about it, cowardice in it, and a departure from it; and such exhortations, though they may imply that saints may have their temptations to and there is a possibility that they may, fall from some degree or steadfastness in the doctrines of the Gospel, and therefore should be on their guard, yet not that they may or shall finally and totally let them go. And whereas the saints are stirred up to regard the more such exhortations from this consideration that no man take their crown:by which may be meant, either the Gospel, which was their own and glory, or the honor they had attained by their faithfulness, and integrity in biding by it; or if eternal life is intended by it follows not that this is liable to be taken way from or be lost to true believers, though some professors who expect it will be disparated of it; but the design of the expression, in allusion to the Olympic games, in which many ran, but one received the prize,to excite the saints to industry, diligence, and watchfulness.

6. When Christ says to the church of the Laodiceans, Because thou art lukewarm, and either cold nor lot, I will spue thee out of my mouth,[7] let it be observed that the state of this church, and the members of it, was such that she was not cold,without a principle of spiritual life and love, and a profession of religion; nor hot,lively, warm, and zealous in the exercise of grace, and discharge of duty; but lukewarm,indifferent, unconcerned about her own condition, and the honor and interest of Jesus Christ, a frame of soul very disagreeable to Christ, and therefore, to show his resentment of it, he threatens to spue her out of his month, as men do that which is ungrateful to them: which designs some chastisement or affliction, and that in order to bring her to a sense of her present condition, and out of it; for certain it is he had a love, an unchangeable and everlasting one, to many in this church; wherefore he says, As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous therefore, and repent (v. 19).


[1] Revelation 2:4, 5. Vid. Limborch, 1. 5. c. 83, sect. 19, p. 721; Whitby, p. 432, 458; ed. 2. 420, 438.

[2] Revelation 2:10. Vid. Whitby, p. 4,30, 431; ed. 2. 419,420.

[3] Ibid. p. 431; ed. 2. 420.

[4] Ibid p. 432; ed. 2. 420.

[5] Vide Whitby, p. 432,433; ed. 2. 420,421.

[6] Whitby, p. 422; ed. 2. 411.

[7] Revelation 3:16. Vide Remonstr. in Coil. Hag. art. t. p. 14.

Gill Index