Christian Warfare Followed by Exalted Honor
William Nicholson, 1862
"He who overcomes shall he clothed in white clothing; 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!" Revelation 3:5
The text is a part of a message to the Church at Sardis, and, like all the other messages sent to the Churches in Asia Minor, it consists of particulars which ought to instruct and impress the Church at the present day.
The Redeemer knows the state of his Church now; he marks what is amiss — and reproves it. He acknowledges what is good and holy — and commends it. He excites to amendment by promises of pardon. He animates to warfare and victory, by the hope of eternal glory.
With regard to the Asian Churches, these motives were sadly disregarded, and they became awful monuments of disobedience. Doubtless for awhile the evil was arrested, and many people were corrected and saved. Happy they who receive instruction from those examples! "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches!" Revelation 3:6
The Christian's life is one of warfare — but it will be followed by endless honor. How different their position from that of the wicked, who have their good things here — but their evil things hereafter! But a blessed exchange awaits the righteous. They shall receive . . .
a paradise, instead of a desert;
the peace of Heaven, instead of raging tempests;
the brightness of celestial light, instead of black and gloomy clouds;
pure and loving friends, instead of polluted and malignant enemies;
the tree of life, instead of the deadly thorns and briers of a wilderness;
white clothing, a crown of life, and distinguished honor before assembled myriads at the day of judgment — instead of awaking to shame and everlasting contempt.
I. The Christian Warfare."He who overcomes."
The language refers to spiritual conflict which the Christian must maintain, or he will be overcome and disgraced at last. Hence he is called a soldier; he is to "fight the good fight of faith," to "war a good warfare," and to "lay hold on eternal life."
1. The conflict implies enemies. These are numerous, but the following are the principal:
(1.) The Christian has to overcome the depraved propensities of his fleshly nature. Although he has been regenerated by the Spirit, made to hate sin, and to love purity — yet those fleshly propensities are not eradicated. They often rise, struggle to gain the mastery and to destroy his peace. Hence it is said, "For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want!" Galatians 5:17.
The Spirit of God stirs up motions and desires in the saints contrary to those of the flesh, or unrenewed part in man, and inclines them to desire and attempt the subjugation of it. The passions, appetites, and affections of men — are opposed to what is good. These must be overcome. Hence we are directed to fight against "the lusts which war in our members" to "abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul." He who knows the state of his heart — knows and feels the struggle, the conflict within him.
(2.) He has to overcome the world. It is full of temptations and snares, arising from its pleasures, its cares, its pursuits, its possessions. There is "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life," the very tendency of which is to rob us of our spirituality, and to cheat us of Heaven. The men of the world are the children of Satan, and are therefore opposed to Christians. "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you!" John 15:18-19
This world must be overcome; the Christian must "keep himself unspotted from the world." To overcome it is a sure sign of spiritual birth, and living faith, 1 John 5:4, 5.
"You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God!" James 4:4
"Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world." 1 John 2:15-16
"Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you." 2 Corinthians 6:17
(3.) The Christian has to overcome Satan, called "the Prince of the power of the air," Ephesians 2:2, and "the Prince of this world."
To what danger then is the Christian exposed! As it is in other cases, so it is here; our greatest danger lies in not feeling our danger, and so not being prepared to meet it. Satan bears an inveterate hatred against the saints, and seeks nothing less than their eternal perdition. He hates them because they have been rescued from his power, and taken up arms against him; nothing will satisfy him but their eternal ruin.
He is a mighty enemy, mightier than they are, and unless they have Omnipotent aid, they are no match for him! The power of wicked spirits, abstractedly considered, is but little known, but viewed as the god of this world, Satan has all its temptations in alliance with himself, and with these he has cast down many mighty, yes, many strong men have been slain by him.
He is an deceptive enemy. We are told of the "wiles of the Devil." He hides his artful designs, and falls upon us when we least expect it. He has a strong party within us, even our fleshly propensities, which he studies and suits his temptations to them. He was victorious with our first parents when he had no party within them; how much greater therefore is the danger now!
Hence the conflict is arduous.
The Christian also has to contend with persecution, slander, afflictions, sorrows, death.
2. The conflict implies that armor is provided. The armor is described, Ephesians 6:13. The Apostle calls it "the armor of God;" it is of Divine workmanship, and is actually bestowed on the Christian soldier. It is suited to defend his mind against all the attacks of his enemies. It is well adapted to give strength and heroism to him in the day of battle, 1 Thessalonians 5:8.
In general, this armor is the grace of the Gospel, believed in, and trusted in; this is opposed to human might or strength, Ephesians 6:10. In common warfare, soldiers are encouraged to think highly of their strength; but in this it is quite the reverse, 2 Timothy 2:1.
It is whole or perfect armor, sufficient to defend the believer in every part. "Truth" is a belt to strengthen; "righteousness" a breastplate; the "Gospel" of peace is shoes by which we shall be able to trample upon the lion and the adder, the young lion and the dragon; "faith" is a shield; salvation is the hope of eternal life, a helmet. All this armor is to be drawn from the truths of the Gospel.
3. The conflict implies contest. Without a contest there can be no victory. The enemies of the Christian, though engaged in a bad cause, are not cowards; they will not flee as fugitives from the field; they will surrender no point unless compelled by the valor and force of the spiritual conqueror. Therefore when the assault is made upon the Christian, he is to have on the armor of God, and to resist steadfast in the faith. Armor is of no avail unless it is used.
4. The conflict implies victory. None can obtain victory without fighting. Victory is promised to the faithful soldier, and victory is sure. God is on his side. If we were left to himself, there could be only disgrace and ruin. How could a child of earth, one made of the dust, hope to go forth with success against such powerful foes?
But his Captain is the Son of God, and his connection with him gives the hope of victory. As surely as he overcame, so shall his soldiers. He looks down from his high abode, and by his Spirit strengthens and nerves the feeble warrior for the fight, in the fight, and through the fight. That Spirit awakens and increases faith under every assault; it induces prayer; it produces hope; it fires the soul with the prospect of the conquerors harp, and palm, and crown.
II. This Warfare Will Be Followed by Distinguished and Everlasting Honors.
"He who overcomes shall he clothed in white clothing; 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!" This is the reward of the spiritual conqueror.
Earthly conquerors have received the highest honors. The Christian soldier shall receive honors, compared with which those of worldly heroes are but vanity and vexation of spirit. Refer to the glorious promises made, Revelation 2:7, 10, 17; ch. 3:12, 21. The promise in the text implies:
1. Purity. "They shall be clothed in white clothing." They shall appear there as those who have not "defiled their garments," but have been kept "unspotted from the world." White clothing was the emblem of purity; see verse 4. In ch. 2:17, it is said, "I will give him a white stone" — the token of full and everlasting justification and purity. ["In heathen courts of judicature, a person's condemnation was announced to him by giving him a black stone; and his acquittal, by giving him a white stone. In athletic games, the judges awarded the prizes by the use of these stones; a while one, with the name of the person and the value of the prize, being given to such as were victorious." Bible Companion.]
Formerly his sins were as scarlet, and red like crimson — but redeeming blood gives the soul here, and perfectly there, a snowy whiteness. "He shall be clothed in white clothing;" "I will present him faultless before," etc.
Having lived by faith in Christ, and conquered every sinful temptation; having defeated Satan, and vanquished the world, through Christ's grace, he shall appear there, "not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing."
2. Dignity. Anciently white clothing was the attire of priests and kings. It is said that Christians shall be "kings and priests unto God forever;" that they shall "sit upon thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel;" and that they shall "reign forever and ever."
In this world they are regarded as the offscouring of all things, and the filth of the world, etc., but at the judgment day they shall be "clothed in white clothing;" they shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, etc. What will their despisers, their persecutors, and their murderers, think, and feel, then?
3. Joy. White garments were worn on festive occasions of joy. And will not the Christian have joy then? The battle will be over and the victory won; the conflict, the agony, the cruel strife, will be past, and the crown will be given. While he shall see his enemies clothed with shame, he shall hear a voice saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord!"
4. The language is expressive of eternal security. "I will not blot his name out of the book of life." "He who is holy — let him be holy still." He did run well, and nothing hindered. He fought, not as uncertainly, not as one beating the air, but as a faithful soldier, enduring hardness, and fighting on to the last.
"I loved him, died for him, called him, saved him. He has loved me and my cause; he has fought under my banner, and resisted unto death. I cannot, therefore, erase his name from the book of life. It shall remain legible there forever!"
The names of cowards will then appear to have been blotted out. At first, doubtless, great were their pretenses, flaming their zeal, and loud their boasts, but they passed away as the morning cloud, etc.
5. The victorious soldier shall then be acknowledged. "I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels!" What an honor! Christ will then deliver up his kingdom to the Father, and also all the subjects of it. "Behold I, and the children whom you have given me!" As if he called each by his name, and took each by his hand, and presented him to his Father, as the person whom he wished to be honored: "This is the man who responded to the call of my Gospel, and enlisted under my banner. He was not ashamed of me and of my words, but was valiant for the truth, despising all things for the excellency of my cross, and was faithful unto death. I, therefore, confess him as such before you, and, as the reward of the travail of my soul, I solicit for him your eternal favor. Give him a place in your kingdom, and reveal to him the glories of eternity. You angels, honor him; let him be your associate forever."
1. Believers have great cause to be patient in tribulations. These lead to victory — and victory leads to pure enjoyment and unspeakable honor.
2. Many never conquer, who profess to fight. They have the appearance, the dress of soldiers but no more. They have the soldier's name, but not his heart.