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1. This differs from a somewhat similar phrase in the preceding verse, in which it is said in relation to those who had not defiled their garments, “they shall walk with me in white." In the present instance, it is promised to the conquering Christian that he shall be clothed in white raiment, and it entirely relates to what shall occur in the future state of happiness. In this phrase, there may be an allusion to a practice which prevailed among the Jews in relation to the priesthood, and which may be found in some of the Jewish writers. The great council of the Jews, otherwise called the Sanhedrim, sat in judgment on all matters relating to the temple and its worship. If a priest was found guilty of any crime, they stripped off his white garment and put on a black one, in which he wrapped himself up and departed. But in case the accused was acquitted of the crime laid to his charge, it was their custom to clothe him in white, under which circumstances, and that his innocence might be clearly established and known, he was accustomed to walk up and down the temple in a kind of triumphant procession, and then, as heretofore, take his part in the ministry among the others of the house of Levi. Thus, the triumphant Christian was to be clothed in white raiment, the spotless robe of the Redeemer's righteousness, in testimony of his full acquittal through the merits of the great atonement, of all that had been laid to his charge; and it is in consequence of this that the Apostle asks in his anticipated triumph of the believer—“Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth ; who is he that condemneth ? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword ? (As it is written, for thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.) Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” But not only shall the believer be clad in the unspotted robe of his Redeemer's righteousness, he shall be adorned with the mantle of personal sanctification and purity. His remaining guilt and infirmity shall fall from him, as did the earthly garments of Elijah, when, in his chariot of fire, and with his horses of fire, he went up into heaven. Then shall the conqueror be complete in righteousness, meet to partake of the inheritance of the saints in light; be holy as God is holy, and perfect as God is perfect. Then shall his happiness be commensurate with all that has been promised him. For thus, in his visions, saw and heard the raptured Apostle—“ After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round
about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen : Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. And one of the elders answered,
saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes ? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.'
The second particular promised to the conquering Christian is this—“And I will not blot out his name out of the book of life.”
In this passage there may be an allusion to the custom of registering the names of those who were admitted into the Church in a book kept for that purpose, from which circumstance Dr. Clarke supposes that the custom of baptismal registers in our Churches is derived. As those who are born of water or baptized have their names enrolled in these baptismal registers, so, in allusion to the same, those who are born of the Spirit, or spiritually regenerated, may be said to have their names registered on the book of heaven. The allusion more probably is to the practice in the ancient times
of the Jewish commonwealth, when the names of all the tribes of Israel were written in a book. This custom serves incidentally to explain two passages, one in the Old and one in the New Testament, which have caused much difficulty. Moses, in interceding for the people after a most grievous transgression, in the height of his affectionate solicitude, identifies himself with them—“Yet now, if thou wilt, forgive their sin: and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.” That is, he declares that he himself would be willing to lose all his rights and privileges and blessings, as belonging to the tribes of the chosen people, rather than they should not be pardoned. The passage in the New Testament is similar—“I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ, for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” That is, I protest that I would be willing to be excommunicated from the society of the faithful, and separated from the Church, and excluded from the communion of the saints, and be as a heathen-man and a publican, if that would do them any good; that he could wish himself no more remembered among the people, and his name totally blotted from the records of the Church, and have his name buried in oblivion and reproach, if it would serve the purposes of their salvation. This, however, by the way, as long as the Jewish state continued, there was a regular book of record kept, and this is alluded to in the 4th chapter of Isaiah, 3d verse.
This language of course you understand as figu
rative, but it conveys so striking an idea, and in terms of such easy, comprehension, that it is frequently employed in the Scriptures to mark the certainty of the remembrance in which all will be held. Similar to the book of record kept of his chosen people Israel, God is represented to us as having formed a register of those who are to be the future inhabitants of that city which hath foundations, whose builder and whose maker is himself, a register of those who will constitute the future members of that triumphant Church of which Jesus Christ is the corner-stone, "elect and precious.” This imagery runs through the New Testament. When the seventy disciples returned to Jesus, to give in their report of what they had been enabled to perform by the mighty power of his name, it is recorded “And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name. And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give power unto you to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding, in this, rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven." In the 13th chapter of Revelation, where those are spoken of who should blaspheme the God of heaven, the phrase is used—“Whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” And in that most sublime and awful description of the great and terrible day of God, which is given in the 20th chapter of this book, the imagery is carried out, with all the majesty of its terrors—" And I saw a great VOL. II.