The Seven Churches of Asia
"And unto the angel of the Church in Sardis write; These things saith He that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and 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. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches." — Rev. 3:1-6.
We now come to Sardis. Of all the Churches, I think this applies best to us. It is wonderful how there is something in every one of them that suits ourselves, as if Christ had written our name instead of theirs; but the message to Sardis seems to apply to us more than any of them, for we have a name to live, and we are dead.
Notice, first, the character Christ takes to Himself here. "These things saith He that hath the seven Spirits of God." How does He get the name of the seven Spirits of God? If you will look to the first chapter of the Revelation, you will find it explained, "John to the seven Churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before His throne; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful Witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth." There is a blessing here from the whole of the Godhead. Christ has got the seven Spirits of God. Seven is often used in the Bible; and in the Hebrew it means full. So Christ has the full Spirit of God — He had the Spirit for Himself, God gave it to Him without measure; Jesus had it not as His brethren, or His fellows; for "Thou hast anointed Him with the oil of gladness above His fellows." And some of you will remember where it is said, "I the Lord hath called Thee in righteousness, and I will hold Thine hand, and will keep Thee, and give Thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles." Though it was Christ that was to lay down His life, yet He needed God to hold Him up; and, as if He would shrink back from it, God encourages Him, just like a child who, having to go through a deep water, would say, "Father, I dare not go through," and his father would answer, "Do not be afraid, my child, I will hold your hand." So God said to His Son, I will hold Thine hand, and will keep Thee. And Christ says in Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me: because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound," etc. The Father ministered unto Him, the Spirit ministered unto Him, and Angels ministered unto Him. Christ had not only the Spirit for Himself, but for us, too; so that we may come and take of His fullness even grace for grace. "I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of Truth." "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit." There is an infinite fullness in Christ; so that we may come and drink continually at that fountain; and remember what is written, "If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children; how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him!
Then, He holdeth "the seven stars." Christ took the same character in His address to Ephesus, and we saw that the stars are His ministers. First, Christ has the stars in His right hand, in order that He may give them. There are wanting ministers to this place, and I believe in my heart that it is God that has stirred us up to it. Now if you would look to Christ to give the stars, there would be less planning, less scheming among men, and I may say, among yourselves.
Look more to the hand of Christ; look less to man: let us pray that Christ will give us stars, out of His own right hand. And, second, Christ lets them shine. When you have got your minister, you perhaps, after coming out of church, say, "I was quite disappointed with that man, I really heard nothing today," and that is perhaps all true; but then ministers only shine, insofar as Christ opens His hand to let them shine. Our sky is very dark just now; and if we are to look for stars to shine brighter, we must look to the hand of Christ. And, third, He will take them away. It is Christ who puts the stars in any place, and it is Christ who takes them away, and puts them in another place, or takes them out of the sky altogether. Christ took away the candlestick from Ephesus; and if you do not become a godly people, I believe in my heart that Christ will take the stars away. Use the light while you have it: "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." You have the light just now, you may not have it another month; follow ministers, inasfar as they follow Christ — follow them insofar as they lead you to Christ — follow them insofar as they are the star of Bethlehem, to lead you to the place where the young child lies.
Second, let us see what Christ has to blame in Sardis. He says, "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead." All the people in Sardis may have gone to Church, and although there are thousands in this place who have not even the name to live, who never enter the house of God, still there are many of you who come to church, who attend the prayer meeting, and you have a name to live, and yet you are dead. Where is the Christian who has living faith! Where is the Christian who has living love burning in his bosom to God? where is the Christian who has living service, kind and affectionate, to the brethren? Oh how different from Brainerd’s Indians! You should be ready to distribute, willing to communicate. Where will we find a Dorcas, full of good works and almsdeeds? Where shall we find those who, when bereaved of their children, are still and know that it is God? Where are those who, when afflicted, say, "It is well"?
Third, the sweet counsel of Christ. "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God." There were some that remained in Sardis; and so there are some here who are ready to die; there are some of you who seemed a little pricked on the Sabbath, or at the prayer meetings, and perhaps you awoke in the same state in the morning; but it just went off during the day. You are like a broken flower, or a sickly child, ready to die. Now "strengthen the things which remain." "O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away." You are like those who receive the Word gladly, and have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time; for afterwards, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the Word’s sake, immediately they are offended.
Then He says, "Be watchful." The devil is watchful, the world is watchful, and why should not you be watchful? Take the heavenly kingdom by violence; "Strive to enter in at the strait gate." If you were walking with a candle on a stormy night, would you not hold your hands all round it, that no wind might get in to blow it out? And so you should do with the candle that is almost out in your breast; you should watch, you should not go into the world, lest any gust of wind come and blow it out. You are like a bruised reed, or the smoking flax; and God will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax; see that you do not do it. Remember Lot’s wife; she went a little way, but she looked back. Remember how you once felt, how you once received and heard the word, and forget not Christ’s word, "Hold fast and, repent."
Fourth, the Punishment. — "If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." In Smyrna, in Pergamos, and in Thyatira, there are yet Christians; but in Ephesus and in Sardis there are none. In the year of our Lord 400, Sardis was taken by the Goths; and it is now called by the name of Sarte. Mr. Pliny Fisk, the last missionary that was there, 1820, says that it is a miserable place, the people are mostly all herdsmen, and the houses are made of mud. It was on a Sabbath when they were there, and he says, "We read to them the address to the Church in Sardis, and then the account of the Day of Judgment (Matt. xxv.). We could not refrain from weeping while we sang the seventy-fourth Psalm, and prayed among the ruins of Sardis." Once there were there those who praised the Lord, and now there is not one Christian in the miserable village of Sarte. So you see Christ did come, and take away the star from Sardis; and if you repent not, He may do the same with you; and there may come a day when travellers shall pass by here, and weep, when they think that in this place Christians once met to praise the Lord. "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever."
Let us now turn to the few who were in Sardis. "Thou has a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments." We are only a few; but yet we shall make a company which no man can number. Christians are always as a lily among many thorns. Observe Jesus never omits one Christian — the Lord knoweth Antipas! And there are some here, who walk through the streets, but who do not defile their garments. We are helpers of your joy, and you are our joy and crown of rejoicing.
Let us now see the promise to them that overcome. First, "They shall walk with me in whites for they are worthy." Second, "The same shall be clothed in white raiment." Third, "And I will not blot out his name out of the book of life." Fourth, "But I will confess his name before my Father, and before His angels." It is the same raiment that we have here, the same white raiment that we shall be clothed in yonder. All other blood washes red, this blood washes white as snow. And we shall walk with Christ; we shall walk with Him as companions; "Henceforth I call you not servants, but friends." We shall walk with Him as children; He shall say, "Behold, I, and the children that Thou hast given me." We shall walk with Him as brethren; He is our Elder Brother. We shall walk with Him as our husband. "Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved?" His left hand is under my head; we shall follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. There was a little Christian child, who was asked, when she was dying, why she was so happy? "Because," she said, "I am going to be with Christ." " But," they said to her, "perhaps Christ will leave heaven." "Ah! then," she said, "I will leave it, too, and go with Him." It is our very heaven to be with Christ; we shall see eye to eye. "I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better." "To her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints." "Rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven." There are some who sat with us here, who are now [will be] walking with Christ in white. Does Christ ever blot any name out of the book of life? Yes. But those of us who overcome shall not be blotted out of the book of life; but He will confess our name before His Father, and before His angels. There are some of you who are contented if you be looked upon as religious, and, as Christ says unto you, you have your reward. And there are others of you who have to bear reproaches; and when you fall into sin, some of those who look upon you will never allow that you are Christians; but Christ knows you, and all those that overcome He will confess before His Father, and before His angels. May this be the lot of many!