The epistle to the Church at Sardis. This Church is one of the two which receives unmixed reproof. Smyrna and Philadelphia receive no blame; Sardis and Laodicea receive no praise. Sardis lies almost due south of Thyatira, on the road to Philadelphia, between the river Hermus and Mount Tmolus. It had been in turn Lydian, Persian, Greek, and Roman, and, like its last Lydian king, Croesus, had been celebrated for its wealth. The auriferous stream Pactolus, in summer almost dry, flowed through its marketplace; but its chief source of wealth was its trade. In A.D. 17 "twelve famous cities of Asia fell by an earthquake in the night … The calamity fell most heavily on the people of Sardis, and it attracted to them the largest share of sympathy. The emperor [Tiberius] promised ten million sesterces (£85,000), and remitted for five years all they paid to the exchequer" (Tac., 'Ann.,' 2.47). A little later Sardis was one of the cities of Asia which claimed the honour of erecting a temple in honour of Tiberius, but the preference was given to Smyrna ('Ann.,' 4.55, 56). Of the inscriptions which have been, discovered at Sardis, nearly all are of the Roman period. Cybele, or Cybebe, was the chief divinity of Sardis; but no reference to this nor to any of the special features of the city can be traced in the epistle. In the second century, Melito, Bishop of Sardis, held a very prominent place among Asiatic Christians, both in personal influence and in literary work. Among his numerous writings was one on the Apocalypse of St. John. The prosporous and luxurious capital of Lydia is now represented by a few huts and a collection of ruins buried deep in rubbish. It still retains its ancient name in the form Sart.
The Church in Sardis has no Nicolaitans, no Balaam, no Jezebel. But there is worse evil than the presence of what is morally and doctrinally corrupt. The numbness of spiritual torpor and death is more hopeless than unwise toleration. The Church in Sardis, scarcely out of its infancy, has already the signs of an effete and moribund faith; and it is possible that this deadness was a result of the absence of internal enemies.
He that hath the seven Spirits of God (see notes on Revelation 1:4 , Revelation 1:16 , Revelation 1:20 ; but observe that this designation of Christ does not occur in the opening vision). In Revelation 5:6 the Lamb is seen "having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God." The seven Spirits being the Holy Spirit in his sevenfold activity, it is manifest (as Trench observes) that this passage is of importance in reference to the doctrine of the double procession. The Son hath the Spirit, not as One who receives it from the Father, but as One who can impart it to men. As man he received it; as God he gives it. And a Church sunk in spiritual deadness specially needs such a gift. Hence the repetition about having the seven stars, which appears also in the address to the Church in Ephesus ( Revelation 2:1 ). Note, however, that here we have ἔχων for κράτῶν , which would not have been appropriate to express the Son's possession of the Spirit. It is he who holds in his hand the angels of the Church that also has the Spirit wherewith to quicken them. Those that are alive owe their life and growth to him. Those that are dying or dead may be restored to life by him. Thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead . This, again, is thoroughly in the style of the Fourth Gospel. St. John frequently states some gracious fact, and in immediate sequence gives the very opposite of what might have been expected to result from it. "Thou hast a reputation for life, and (instead of being full of vigour and growth) thou art a corpse." This has been called "the tragic tone" in St. John (comp. John 1:5 , John 1:10 , John 1:11 ; John 3:11 , John 3:19 , John 3:32 ; John 5:39 , John 5:40 ; John 6:36 , John 6:43 , etc.). In all these cases the contrast is introduced by a simple καί , which may be rendered "and yet;" but the simple "and" is more forcible. Beware of the unworthy literalism which suggests that the Bishop of Sardis bore a name which implied life, e.g. Zosimus, or Vitalis. As already stated (notes on Revelation 1:20 ), it is improbable that "the angel" means the bishop. And in any case "name" is here used in the common sense of character or reputation. Comp. Herod., 7.138, where the historian says that Xerxes' expedition had the name ( οὔνομα εἷχε ) of being directed against Athens, but was really a menace to the whole of Greece. We have very similar uses of ὄνομα in Mark 9:41 and 1 Peter 4:16 . The Church in Sardis had a name for Christianity, but there was no Christianity in it.
Sardis; or, the dead Church.
This epistle presents no exception to the general rule which we have pointed out regarding all the seven, viz. that our Lord Jesus Christ presents himself to each Church in that special aspect in which it was most appropriate for that Church to regard him. Here he is spoken of as "he that hath the seven Spirits of God"—a phrase used only in the Apocalypse, and yet, in its meaning, harmonious with all the rest of God's Word. This leads us at once to observe—
I. HERE IS A VERY REMARKABLE EXPRESSION TO DENOTE THE DIVINE ENERGY . It is one which shows the infinitude thereof in the Third Person in the Trinity. The number seven is repeatedly used here. It is the symbol of perfection and completeness. We have seven Churches, seven seals, seven thunders, seven vials, seven plagues, seven trumpets. The expression, "the seven Spirits of God," is found in Revelation 1:4 and Revelation 5:6 , as well as in this passage. There is an invariable sequence in the coming of life or power from the Persons in the Trinity, and a corresponding one in the upgoing of devotion from us to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Blessings are from the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. Our access is by the Spirit, through the Son, to the Father. The Energizer in each ease is the Holy Ghost. His energy is infinite, both in variety and measure. It is absolutely full, complete, and boundless. If, however, this energy is infinite, it can reveal itself. It has done so. For observe—
II. HERE IS AN EQUALLY REMARKABLE EXPRESSION CONCERNING OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST . We are here bidden to think of him as having the seven Spirits of God. Having risen to heaven, "he received gifts for men, that the Lord God might dwell among them." As Mediator, he has received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost. He is, in his own glorious Person, the channel of all grace from God to the spirit of man. He has, i.e. holds, the seven Spirits of God. He is not only the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world, but he also baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. The two are of equal importance. Without the one the other would be impossible. The atoning work was completed on earth; the baptizing work is ever being carried on in heaven. The Gospels record the one; the Acts and the Epistles recount and expound the other. His work of humiliation on earth laid the basis of pardon. His baptizing work as our exalted Redeemer is the secret of power. He has "the seven Spirits of God' ("for the Father giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him"), that he may ever give life and power to those who with open hearts long for "all the fulness of God." Note: The coming together of the Spirit of God and the spirit of man is the secret of inspiration, revelation, religion, regeneration, consecration. £ When the Spirit of God unveils a truth, there is revelation; when he inbreathes into a man, there is inspiration; when he renews, quickens, and inspires, there is religion, even regeneration and consecration. The Holy Ghost may either illume the mind with truth, or set it on fire with love. And when his power is exerted in all its sevenfold might, any one so charged with Divine energy may receive it in any form whatever, for the purpose of fulfilling any kind of life work which God may have for him to do. There is no limit to our possible equipment for service.
III. THIS IS THE SPECIAL ASPECT OF OUR LORD 'S WORK AT WHICH A DEAD CHURCH NEEDS TO LOOK . The Church at Sardis was "dead." It had not always been so. At one time it had so much vitality that it had acquired a "name" for being full of quick and quickening force. And, among men, its name still stood. But he whose eyes are as a flame of fire, and who walks among the golden candlesticks, observed a decline in piety. There was as yet the same outside appearance, and yet it was already injured even unto death. We do not read of any opposition or tribulation of any kind that the Church at Sardis had to meet;—it was dead. And neither Satan nor any of his hosts will care to disturb either a dead Church or a dead pastor. Nothing would better please the powers of evil than to see such a Church falling to pieces because there was no spirit to keep the bodily framework together! It is no wonder to find such a Church's works defective. "I have not found thy works filled up before God." Either there were spheres of duty which were altogether neglected, or else those duties were discharged in a spirit grievously lacking in fervour. It is sad indeed when the Lord Jesus sees any Church to be dead! For observe:
1 . It is incongruous. For what is the Church? It is, in theory at least, a company of men "alive unto God," bound together for his worship and work. In the world, indeed, death is what we expect to see; but in the Church Death here is fearfully out of place. Nor let us think of Sardis as the only city where a dead Church was to be found. There is very much even now that makes many a pastor sigh and cry, "Oh the death!" Such lethargy, inertness, and slumber steal over this Church and that, so that it is far easier even to move the world than such a Church as this. Surely this is fearfully incongruous for a Church to be so untrue to its name.
2 . This death is needless. For he who hath the seven Spirits of God is Lord of his Church. He loves to enrich her with the fulness of life. He is ever ready to hear the prayers of his own. The gift of the Spirit is the one promise of his Word, and its bestowment the one purpose of his life. It has but to be received from him by faith. Then why should any Church be lagging and flagging? There is no occasion for it whatever.
3 . This death is unnatural. For it shows that, in spite of the profession of the Church, many in it are holding on to the world. They put on a Christian uniform, and then fight on the world's side. One of the terrible punishments of olden time was for living men to be chained to a corpse. Not less terribly unnatural is it for the name and honor of a living Saviour to be in any way tied to a dead Church!
4 . This death is dishonouring to the Lord Jesus. By dead professors Christ is wounded in the house of his friends. For many a young convert, coming to the Church as the home of a spiritual brotherhood, gets there his first chill of disappointment. And if we were asked—Who are most responsible for the scepticism of the age? we should reply—Dead professors!
5 . This death is offensive to the eye. Spiritual death anywhere is offensive. But, in the Church, which professes to be the very enclosure of life, it is unutterably so. How odious must it be to the Lord and Giver of life to see his own Name and ordinances yoked with spiritual death, especially when he lives and reigns on purpose to give life!
6 . A dead Church is in a state in which Christ calls aloud for a review of its condition. There is a fourfold call.
(a) The life in Christ is not so at the command of the Church as to warrant its dispensing with all possible care for the maintenance of a continual inflow thereof.
(b) The death of a Church is not such a death is that of a corpse. Its responsibilities are not lessened by the fact of its death.
7 . This death is most perilous. "If therefore," etc. (verse 3). Thus again we meet with the thought that, if a Church is not doing its Lord's work. it certainly will not be spared for the sake of its own. It will matter nothing in the great gathering day of eternity whether any particular Church survives or no. Some Churches make much of their freedom. Some make much of their scriptural order. But life is of more importance than either one or the other. And if any Churches cease to be alive, others with really hearty, earnest life will survive them, though they may be less exact in their form and order. Dead Churches will shrink and sink out of sight; and the Lord Jesus will write a branding epitaph on their tomb: "A dead Church, that once had a name to live."
IV. IN A DEAD CHURCH THERE MAY YET BE SOME LIVING SOULS . A Church, as such, may expire in its own shame, yet there may be in it a few living ones. We can see the reason why the living ones are spoken of here as those "who have not defiled their garments;" for in the old Hebrew Law death was defilement. A man who touched a dead body was defiled. In Sardis, though the Church was dead, yet not every member was so. So that it seems there may be, thank God, even in a dead Church, some who, though surrounded with death, never touch it, but live always and everywhere in contact with the Living One, and so "keep themselves unspotted from the world." Note: A man must be in connection with a living Saviour if he would maintain his life. He must not depend on the Church for it!
V. TO LIVING SOULS IN A DEAD CHURCH THE SAVIOUR HAS WORDS OF CHEER . Here is a promise which is, in itself, a cluster of promises; but the promises are not to the Church as a Church, only to individuals—to those who avoid the touch of the dead now, who are daily overcoming, and will finally overcome.
1 . Living on Christ now, hereafter they shall walk with him.
2 . They shall be clothed in white raiment (see Revelation 19:8 ).
4 . They shall be avowed as Christ's at last. "I will confess his name" (cf. Luke 12:8 ; Matthew 25:34-40 ). How strictly the Lord Jesus individualizes in the treatment of souls! If there are living souls in a dead Church, or dead souls in a living Church, they will be dealt with by him, not according to the state of the Church, but according to their own. "Every one of us must give account of himself to God." As the inner life here was one between Christ and him, so the public acknowledgment of him will be by Christ of him. He will not be confessed "as a member of the Church at Sardis" or anywhere else. In the great decisive day we shall be saved, not as adherents of any name or cause on earth, but only as those who lived on Christ, and drew their life from him, keeping themselves unspotted from the world. Note how solemn the alternative—Alive? or, dead?
The epistle to the Church at Sardis.
Were any one visiting the actual sites where the several Churches spoken of in these letters once stood, he would, ere he came to Sardis, have gone a long way round the circle on the circumference of which they all were. Beginning with Ephesus at the southern end, and proceeding northwards along the seashore, he next would come to Smyrna, then to Pergamos, then to Thyatira, and then, coming down the inland side of the rude circle we have imagined, he would reach Sardis, and proceeding on would come first to Philadelphia and then to Laodicea, the last of the seven. But now we have come to Sardis—a notable city in the ancient world, because associated with the great names of Cyrus, Croesus, and Alexander. With this historic fame, however, we have nought to do, but with the religious condition of the Church there as shown in this letter. And, as in all the previous letters, so here, the title assumed by the Lord Jesus has special reference to the condition and need of the Church addressed. Ephesus needed encouragement and warning alike. The Lord, therefore, speaks of himself as "he who holdeth the seven stars in his right hand." Smyrna needed strong support under her heavy trial. The Lord therefore speaks to them as "The First and the Last, who," etc. Pergamos needed that the Word of God should be sharply and severely brought to bear upon her. The Lord therefore tells of himself as "he who hath the sharp sword with the two edges," etc. Thyatira needed to be reminded of the holy and awful wrath of the Lord against such as she was harbouring in her midst. The Lord therefore declares himself to be "he whose eyes are as a flame of fire," etc. And now this Church of Sardis needed to be won back again to true godliness, for though she had a name that she lived, she was dead. The Lord therefore speaks of himself to her as "he who hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars." Now note how this name of the Lord bears—
I. ON THE SIN WITH WHICH THE CHURCH WAS CHARGEABLE . Observe concerning this sin:
1 . It was not that of others. Nought is said of Nicolaitans and followers of Balaam, or of such as Jezebel was. Nothing of false doctrines or of vicious life. These things which are denounced so terribly in other letters are not charged against this Church, and we may therefore assume that they could, perhaps they did, thank God that they were not as those other Churches were.
2 . Nor was it that they did nothing. On the contrary, their works are mentioned repeatedly. No doubt there were all wonted ministries, religious observances, charities, and missions. There must have been, for:
3 . They were no scandal to others. On the contrary, they had a name, a reputation, an honourable character, as a living Church. Laodicea deceived herself, thinking she was rich; but it is not said she deceived others. This Church, Sardis, did deceive others; she was reckoned by them to be really living, though in fact she was dead; and very probably she had deceived herself also. But:
4 . Their works were not perfect before God. Well enough before men, but before him quite otherwise. They were of such sort that he said of those who did them, that they were "dead." They were done, as were the prayers, alms, and lastings of the hypocrites, "to be seen of men." Assuredly not with single eye or with pure motive. They had their reward: people talked of them, and gave them credit as having life. But before God they were dead. Let us remember that it is as " before God " everything is to be estimated. Let all who engage in any form of Christian service remember this. It is terribly apt to be forgotten. Remember how St. Paul said, "It is a small thing to me to be judged of you or of any human judgment: he that judgeth me is the Lord; I labour to be accepted of him." The one question for us all is, how will our work appear before God? For:
5 . Their condition was one most displeasing to him. The severe tone of the letter proves this. True, we have had such severity before, and shall have it again; for rebuke, and often stern rebuke, was what was needed then and still is by the majority of Churches, always and everywhere. Nevertheless, there is no one of these letters in which the tone is more severe, or the smiting of the Sword of the Spirit sharper, or the solemnity of the appeals addressed to them more arousing or impressive. The epistle to Laodicea is the only one which can be compared with it, and it is to be noticed that the wrong in that Church, whilst very great, is like this in Sardis, that it is free from the foul stains tither of vice or heresy. In the sight of the Lord of the Church there is, it is evident, something more hateful to him than even these. Love to the Lord may linger in hearts even where these are; but if love, the true life of every Church and every individual soul, be gone, then are they to be described as none others are, for they are "dead." Hence in this letter there is no softening, mitigating utterance at all, no mention of good works, but the keynote of the epistle is struck at once, and a startling one it is. But:
6 . What was the cause of it all? Now the name our Lord takes to himself in this letter reveals this cause. He by that name declares that in him and from him is all-sufficient grace. Treasure store inexhaustible, riches unsearchable, both for pastor and people. For his were "the seven Spirits of God," and his "the seven stars." And yet, in spite of all this, they were as they were. Oh, was it not shameful, is it not shameful, utterly inexcusable, when the like exists now, that, though abundance of grace is in Christ for us all, we should yet be what he terms "dead"? It was plain, therefore, they had not sought that grace; the fulness of the Spirit's help neither pastor nor people had implored; and so, as we find, they had given in to the world's ways. It is evident from the honourable mention of the "few" who had "not defiled their garments," that the rest had. That is to say, they had given in to the world's ways. Hence St. James speaks of pure religion as being in part this, "Keeping your garments unspotted from the world." And in proof of this there seems to have been a good understanding between the Church and the world at Sardis. They seem to have got along together very well. In every other Church, save this and Laodicea, mention is made of some "burden" which the enmity of the surrounding world laid upon the Church. But not here. As it has been well said (Archbishop Trench), "The world could endure it because it, too, was a world." This Church had nothing of the spirit of the "two witnesses" ( Revelation 11:10 ) who "tormented them that dwelt in the earth" by their faithful testimony; or of the Lord Jesus either, who "resisted unto blood, striving against sin," and because he would not yield was crucified (cf. also Wis. 2:12, etc.). But there was nothing of all this at Sardis. It might have been said of them, as was cynically said the other day of a certain section of ministers of religion amongst us, that "you would find them very well bred, and you might be quite certain they would say nothing to you about your soul." It is an ill sign when the Church and the world are so happy together. There has been compromise somewhere, and it is rarely the world which makes it. It is bad to have no life at all in God's love; it is worse to have had it and to have lost it; but it is worst of all—and may God in his mercy deliver us therefrom—to have the name and reputation of possessing this life, and yet to be, in fact, as it was with Sardis, dead in regard thereto. For all around us conduces to deepen such fatal slumber of the soul, and there is an everlasting soothing of them by themselves, the Church and the world alike, saying continually, "Peace, peace," when there is no peace.
II. ON THE PUNISHMENT WITH WHICH THE CHURCH IS THREATENED . (Verse 3.) This solemn warning of danger speaks of the Lord's advent to judgment. But:
1 . What is that judgment? The name the Lord has assumed in this letter reveals it. Now, that name was meant partly to show that they were without excuse, but also to remind that, as the Spirit is his to give, so also is it his to withdraw and to withhold. As he can open the doors of grace, and then no man can shut; so also can he shut them, and then none can open. This, then, was what they were to fear, lest he should leave them alone, lest he should take his Holy Spirit from them. David dreaded this, and implored that the Lord would not deal so with him. Better any punishment, any suffering, any pain, any amount of distress, than that the soul should be thus left alone of the Lord.
2 . And this judgment would come as a thief; they should not know when or how. There was an ancient proverb that the feet of the avenging gods are shod with wool. Dii laneos habent pedes. The meaning is simply what is here said, that the Divine judgment comes silently, stealthily, secretly, invisibly, unexpectedly, "as a thief." Who can mark the hour when God's Spirit leaves a man? Who sees the master of the house rise up and shut the door? It is not always true, as the much misleading verse tells-
"While the lamp holds out to burn,
The vilest sinner may return."
Before that lamp is quenched, the Holy Spirit's blessed flame may have been quenched, and he, resisted, grieved, done despite to, may have for ever gone away. And it is equally untrue to affirm that the point of death bars all return. It is not death, but the determined character of the soul, that decides that matter. Death cannot shut the Spirit out nor life ensure that he remain, but the fixed bias and character into which we have settled down. And then:
3 . There follows the blotting out of the name, etc. (Verse 5.) Of him who overcomes Christ says, "I will by no means blot out his name." Hence it is implied that the rest he will blot out. Yes, the name may be in that book; through the blessed atonement and sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ our names are there; but the question is—Will they be allowed to stay there? The branch may be in the Vine; it is so; but "if it bear not fruit, then," etc. Christ has put us all in, but we can force him, all unwilling, to blot us out again. And to be as Sardis was will do this. Have mercy upon us, O Lord!
III. ON THEIR RESTORATION . Their sin had not altered the fact that he still had "the seven Spirits," etc. And should the Lord's earnest word have the effect designed, it would, and we may well believe it did, awake many that slept, and arouse them from the dead, that Christ might give them life. And how would they be encouraged by this revelation of the Lord's grace! "How sweet the name of Jesus" would sound in their ears! Did it not enable them to say to their adversary, "Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me." The effort they would have to make would be severe, but here in this name was abundance of grace for all their need. And to encourage them the Lord points them:
1 . To the "few" who had overcome. There was, then, no irresistible might in the thraldom in which they were held. These had overcome, so might they. The grace that enabled these was waiting for them likewise. Not only would these "few" be greatly strengthened by the Lord's remembrance of and special promise to them, but the rest also would learn that victory was possible for them through him who had the "seven Spirits,': etc.
2 . To means that, if faithfully used, would be effectual.
3 . The reward of these who overcome.
(5) The epistle to the Church in Sardis: the decaying Church on the brink of ruin.
The sad spectacle is presented here of a Church dying out. To the angel it is said, "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead." This is the judgment of him who hath "the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars." He holds the stars in his band, for safety in danger, for punishment in unfaithfulness. They cannot escape from him. The Lord of life is the Lord also of death and judgment. The watchword is significant of the slumbering, exposed state of the Church; it is the sharp word of the ever-wakeful Lord— Watch. "Be thou watchful, and stablish the things that remain, which are ready to die."
I. THIS CALL IS RENDERED NECESSARY BY THE CONDITION OF THE CHURCH .
1 . The deceitful semblance of life though death lurks within. How strikingly opposed is the appearance to the reality! If all were not actually overcome by death—as the word "repent" would imply—yet were they on the brink of death; nay, death reigned. A remnant may remain, but of the body as a whole it must be said, "Thou art dead." Or, in more accurate language, spiritual death, which is as a sleep, has palsied the strength and virtue of the Church. "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead."
2 . The good that remains is on the verge of ruin. "The things that remain" were "ready to die." Sad, indeed, is the condition of any Church when its last remnant of good is tainted; when a deadly disease seizes upon the last living hope.
3 . The imperfectness of all their works in the sight of God. Whatever may have been their appearance to the eye of man, "before God," every work is judged to be unfulfilled, imperfect, incomplete. The strength of the life, the vital force, is abating; all the activities of life, therefore, are faulty. As is the life, so is the work of life.
II. THE CALL IS RENDERED NECESSARY BY THE CRITICAL CONDITION TO WHICH THE CHURCH IS REDUCED .
III. BY THE THREAT OF SPEEDY JUDGMENT IF THE SIGNS OF REPENTANCE ARE NOT FORTHCOMING . "If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee."
IV. THE CALL IS FURTHER URGED BY THE GRACIOUS PROMISE TO THE FEW REMAINING FAITHFUL ONES .
V. AND IT IS RENDERED THE MORE IMPRESSIVE BY THE WORDS WHICH POEM THE BACKGROUND OF HOPE TO EVERY ONE THAT OVERCOMETH . These include:
1 . Purity.
2 . Perpetuity of blessed life.
3 . Honourable recognition: "before my Father and before his angels."—R.G.
The words of Christ to the congregation at Sardis.
"Sardis," says Dr. Eadie, "was a city of ancient Lydia. Its modern name is Sert Kalesi, and it lies about thirty miles south-cast of Thyatira, and two miles south of the river Hermus.
It is, however, but a miserable village, inhabited chiefly by shepherds, though it is one of the stopping places of the Persian caravans. The original city was plundered by Cyrus, and afterwards desolated by an earthquake, the ruins of it being still visible little distance to the south of the present town. Nothing is now to be seen but a few mud huts, inhabited by ignorant, stupid, filthy Turks, and the only men who bear the Christian name are at work all day in their mill. Everything seems as if God had cursed the place, and left it to the dominion of Satan." A modern traveller says, "I sat beneath the sky of Asia to gaze upon the ruins of Sardis from the banks of the golden-sanded Pactolus. Beside me were the cliffs of that Acropolis which centuries before the hardy Median scaled while leading on the conquering Persians whose tents had covered the very spot on which I was reclining. Before me were the vestiges of what had been the palace of the gorgeous Croesus; within its walls were once congregated the wisest of mankind, Thales, Cleotolus, and Solon. Far in the distance were the gigantic tumuli of the Lydian monarch, and around them spread those very plains once trodden by the countless hosts of Xerxes when hurrying on to find a sepulchre at Marathon. But all had passed away! There before me were the fanes of a dead religion, and the tombs of forgotten monarchs, and the palm tree that waved in the banquet halls of kings." Who founded the Christian community at Sardis, or the exact period when the gospel was first preached there, are questions that have not been, and perhaps cannot be, settled. The address of Christ to this community, as recorded in these verses, forcibly calls our attention to the consideration of three things—the general character of the many; the exceptional character of the few; and the absolute Judge of all. Notice—
I. THE GENERAL CHARACTER OF THE MANY . They were in a very lamentable condition.
1 . They had a reputation for being what they were not. "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and [thou] art dead." It was bad enough for them to be "dead," that is, all but destitute of that supreme sympathy with spiritual goodness which is the essence of moral life. It was worse still for them to have the reputation of life, and for them to believe in that reputation. The sight of death is bad enough, but death garbed and decorated with the semblances of life makes it more ghastly to behold. How this community obtained this name for living, this high reputation in the neighbourhood, does not appear, albeit it is not difficult to guess. Perhaps it made loud professions, appeared very zealous and active, and paraded its affected virtues. Then, as now, perhaps, men were taken by their contemporaries to be rather what they appeared than what they were. In these days, and in our England, there are Churches that have the reputation of wonderful usefulness. All their doings, their prayers, their sprinklings and dippings, their pulpit deliverances and their psalmodies, their architectural expansions and numerical additions, are emblazoned in the so-called "Christian" journals, so that they have a great name to live, whereas spiritually they may be all but dead. Reputation is one thing, character is another. Everywhere in a corrupt world like this the basest characters have the brightest reputation, and the reverse. The barren fig tree was covered with luxuriant leafage. "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead."
2 . They were in a state of spiritual consumption. "That are ready to die." It would seem that, whilst they were not all spiritually dead, there was a spiritual consumption amongst some. "Things ready to die." What things are these? The greatest things in the universe, eternal principles of virtue and truth. What things are comparable to these? To them literatures, markets, governments, are puerilities. There is a spiritual consumption, and the symptoms are manifest. Weakness, morbid appetites, false views of life, etc.
3 . They were in a state requiring prompt and urgent attention. "Be ]-thou] watchful, and strengthen [stablish] the things which remain, that are [which were] ready to die." What is to be done?
4 . They were in a state of alarming danger. "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." Such words as these Christ uttered while a tenant of this earth ( Matthew 24:32 ). Retribution generally moves stealthily as a thief. "The feet of the gods are shod with wool," says the old Greek proverb.
II. THE EXCEPTIONAL CHARACTER OF THE FEW . "Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled [did not defile] their garments." "These few names," says Dr. Tait," are here to the credit and honour of the Church, the few 'things' in connection with the Church in Pergamos were against it and to its condemnation. He who was the angel of the Church does not. seem to have known the few names, just as the prophet did not know the seven thousand in Israel who had not bowed their knees to Baal" Here, then, is goodness amidst social depravity. Three remarks are suggested.
1 . That true goodness can exist under external circumstances the most corrupt. Sardis was one of the most dissolute cities of ancient times, but here were Christians. Man is not the creature of circumstances.
2 . That true goodness, wherever it exists, engages the specific attention of Christ. Christ noticed the goodness in Sardis; and why?
3 . That true goodness will ultimately be distinguished by a glorious reward. The words, "walk with me," etc., imply three ideas.
III. THE ABSOLUTE JUDGE OF ALL . Who is the absolute Judge both of the many and the few? He is thus described: "These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars." The absolute Judge of character is here presented in three connections.
1 . In connection with the highest influence. "He that hath the seven Spirits of God." Elsewhere we read, "He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him" ( John 3:34 ). The Divine Spirit is everywhere. The amount of its possession by any moral being is conditioned by that being's receptive capacity. No man ever appeared on earth who had the receptive capacity in such measure as Christ had it. He was filled with it. He opened his ministry by saying, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me," etc. The more a man has of this Spirit, the more he can communicate of life and power and blessedness.
2 . In connection with the highest ministry. "The seven stars." These were, as we have seen, the angels of the seven Churches. What is the highest human ministry? The ministry of the gospel. Those engaged in this work are here called "stars," and these stars are in the hands of Christ. He moulds them with his influence, he burnishes them with his holiness, he fixes them in their orbits, he guides and sustains them in their spheres. He is, in truth, their Centre and Sun. From him they derive their order, their vitality, and their power.
3 . In connection with the highest Being. "I will confess his name before my Father." The Father is the greatest Being in the universe. The relationship of Son implies:
The Son identifies himself with all his true disciples. "I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels."—D.T.