HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
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.–Revelation 3:5
The colour white, which is so often mentioned in the Bible and always with an element of symbolism, is emblematical of purity. It is the symbol of purity in every language; the outward sign of it in every ritual. I these days in the country, the grip of winter is still upon the land. There are many buildings, rising from the road, that is covered with innumerable snowdrops. And one could not look at them, so quietly beautiful, braving the bitterness of icy mornings, without recalling this text in Revelation: “He that overcometh shall be clothed in white.” It was that thought which made the Psalmist cry, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than the snow.” It was that which clothed the priest in his white robes when he stood to minister in holy things. It was that which filled the heart of the apostle when he looked heavenward and saw a throne, and the throne was white because of Him who sat on it, for He is infinitely and forever holy.
Now I dare say there are some who feel a sense of shame when they hear that. If white is the sign and sacrament of purity–God pity them, they shall never wear it. Is there no young man here who has been living foolishly since he awoke to the liberty of manhood? Is there no young woman who is very different from what she was a dozen years ago? “Character,” said Bishop Monroe (A Pentecostal minister who ordained me as a minister) once, “character is what a man is in the dark,” and if we knew what you were in the dark, would there be any hope of white apparel? I answer most emphatically, yes. That is the Gospel I am here to preach. It is not to the heart of childlike innocence that the white raiment of our text is promised. It is to every one who overcomes; who rises from his past and is ashamed; who cries, from the very margin of despair, “Create within me a clean heart, O God.”
The Colour of the Conquerer
Then once again, I want you to observe that white was the color which indicated victory. It was so not only in the Bible, but also in the literature of Greece and Rome. Today, we do not so regard it. It is not significant of triumph now. The white flag is the symbol of submission, and the white feather is the badge of cowardice. But in the ancient world of Jew and pagan there was no such sinister suggestion in it: it was not the colour of the coward then; white was the colour of the conqueror. There is a legend in the myths of Greece which illustrates this in a pathetic manner. It relates to Theseus, son of Aegeus, who was so mighty in succouring the weak. And it tells how Theseus, before he sailed to Crete to do battle with a horrid monster there, made an agreement with his aged father. If he was slain, his vessel would come home under the dark sails she always carried. But if he slew the beast and was victorious, his sails were to be white on his return. And Theseus slew the beast and was victorious, but quite forgot his promise to his father, who, seeing no sail of white upon the ship, flung himself over the steep cliff and perished. That is a legend from the myths of Hellas; may I take one now from the traditions of Rome? Well, there is one in Vergil which occurs to me and which, I take it, every schoolboy knows. For when Aeneas, in his flight from Troy, came with his comrades to the coast of Italy, the first objects seen upon the shore were four white horses in the pasture. They were horses and so they spoke of war, but they were white and so they spoke of victory. And that was a happy omen for the voyagers and was accepted as a sign from heaven. So in Greece and Rome as in Judaea, there was nothing in white suggestive of submission; but there was something which suggested victory and whispered the exultancy of triumph. Now I come closer home and I recalled in my young days as a Spiritual Baptist when on a journey and you hit boundary the white flag was hoisted and waved as a sign that the spiritual walk is completed. We don’t see that anymore today. Oh, how times have changed but we are still on the pilgrim journey.
Do you see then another facet of our text–he that overcometh shall be clothed in white? It means that the battles which are won in secret shall some day be the vesture which we wear. Our hardest conflicts are not fought in public; our hardest conflicts are on a hidden field. There is no one to rejoice when we are conquerors; no one to hear the tidings of defeat. And yet these hidden conflicts of the heart, which we imagine to be so unobserved, get themselves written out upon the character and clothe us at the last as in a garment. There is really no such thing as secret sin. Sin is always making for the surface. Thy speech betrayeth thee–thy look is tell-tale–if not today it will be by and by. And at the last no victory is secret, though it be won in solitude and silence. There is not a point in the whole range of character but some day shall reveal its influence. That is one swift suggestion of our text–he that overcometh shall be clothed in white. It tells that the hidden issue of today shall be the visible garment of tomorrow. And that is a thought which it is well to cherish when we are alone with our besetting sins. Out of our hidden triumphs God is weaving the robe that is to clothe us by and by.
The Expression of Joy
Observe, also, that white is the colour which expresses joy. It does so because it is the colour of light, and there is something cheerful in the light. We do not speak about the day of sorrow; we speak and sing about the night of sorrow. “The night is dark, and I am far from home,” is the utterance of one in heaviness. But light is cheerful and it heartens us and it summons forth the music of the birds, and so there has always been the thought of joy in the radiance which is the badge of day. White is not the colour of the mourner. White is the colour of the happy bride. It is the sacrament of what is glad; the symbol and interpreter of joy.
And so our text hints at this other truth–a truth which we can never take to heart too much. It tells us, in the symbol of apocalypse, that overcoming is the road to joy. It is not by doing just what we want to do–it is not by yielding to every gust of passion–it is not thus that life becomes a glad thing with a sound of music in its desert-mile. It is by taking up the cross in patience; it is by holding fast to lowly duty; it is by trampling on the wild beast within until he learns who is the master there. If to be happy is your one ambition, you may be certain you will not be happy. The young fellow who is bent on a good time finds out at forty what a fool he was. It is not thus that happiness is won; it is by travelling on a harder road where there are marks of blood upon the soil and the shadow of a cross upon the hill. Why was the joy of Christ so rich and full? Was it not partly because He overcame? He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet He never swerved from His appointed way. And so with us, however, we may be tempted, there is always joy in mastering temptation. To yield to it is always to be miserable. To conquer it is always to be glad. He that overcometh will be clothed in white. He will grow happier every year he lives. And life will be richer and the world more wonderful because he is fighting bravely in the silence. For the last result of sin is always sadness and the disappointment of an empty heart and a pilgrimage across a loveless country where all the water-wells are dried up.
The Clothing of Heavenly Service
Once again I want you to remember that white is the clothing of heavenly service. It is the garb which all the angels wear, and the angels are the ministers of God. Has not our Master taught us thus to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven”? The type and pattern of perfect service is the unceasing ministry of angels. And always, when they are busied in that ministry and speeding on the errands of their King, we read of the angels that they are clothed in white. Do you remember what the women saw within the tomb on resurrection morning? They looked for Jesus and He was not there, but the tomb was not empty though their Lord had risen. For, sitting on the stone there was a man, and the women hurried back to the eleven to tell them that they had seen a vision of the angels. And he was clothed, not in the garb of woe, but in radiant clothing of white, for in the sepulchre, as before the throne, he was busied in the service of his King. That thought was very familiar to the Jew. He always associated white with angels. Flying abroad upon the wings of help, the angels were always garbed in white. And so the color came to speak of service, of instant and unquestioning obedience, of readiness to do the will of God though the path of ministry was to a grave.
Do you not see, then, another fine suggestion in “he that overcometh shall be clothed in white”? It means that if we do not overcome, we cannot hope to have the robe of service. It is not only on our own account that God is calling us to self-subdual. If we are to serve with any power and blessing, one of the first essentials is self-conquest. For all our influence upon other lives is rooted in the silent depths of what we are and takes its character of weal or woe from the victory or from the failure there. Think, for example, of the home. Have we not all known angels in the home? We think of the mother of our childhood, perhaps,–so patient, so gentle, and so loving. But what we never saw when we were children was the self-denial which lay behind the service, the quiet mastery of mood and temper which came with benediction to the home. He that overcometh shall be clothed in white. Self must be mastered or we shall never serve. We must learn to do things when we feel least like it. We must crush down that rising irritation. And that is what made Christ the perfect servant–that He had been so perfectly victorious and had a heart which was the joyous home of wisdom and serenity and prayer.
White: A Symbolism of Christ
Then, in closing, we must not forget that white is symbolical of Christ Himself. Think for example of the Transfiguration. Moses was there and Elijah was there, yet we do not call it an hour of the heavenly conference. We call it what it is called in Scripture, the hour of the Transfiguration. And that just means that the wonder of the hour was the transfiguring of Jesus Christ when His garments shone with such a whiteness as no fuller on earth could whiten them. What was the colour of Christ’s dress we don’t know. When He was mocked, they decked Him in purple. But the garb of the glorified Christ is not purple. It is a dazzling and lustrous white. And he that overcometh shall be clothed in white. He shall be like Him, for he shall see Him as He is. He shall have washed away forevermore all that would separate him from his Lord.