Revelation 3:1
Great Texts of the Bible
A Dead and Alive Church

And to 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 thou art dead.—Revelation 3:1.

1. Sardis, the capital of the Lydian Empire, was one of the great cities of primitive history. It had been noted for its commercial prosperity; it had been an important centre of trade; its situation on a high plateau in a district of great natural fertility marked it out as a ruling city. Wool-dyeing was invented there, and its manufactures of rugs and carpets, the raw material for which was furnished by the vast flocks of Phrygia, were as noted in their day as Persian or Morocco carpets are in modern times. The gold-laden sands of the river Pactolus which flowed through the city, and deposits of the mysterious metal called electrum, together with the minting of gold and silver coin, which was there first carried out, added to the fame, wealth, and reputation of the city in which Crœsus, richest of kings, had ruled, the city which Solon, wisest of men, had visited, and where he had rightly augured ruin, because he had mistrusted material wealth as necessarily hollow and treacherous.

2. The natural position of Sardis on a high rocky bluff over-looking the plain of Hermus, and separated by a considerable depression from the mountain range behind, was such as to give it the reputation of being impregnable. On three sides of the city the cliff was understood to be unscaleable; it was only necessary to guard the “causeway” by which it was connected with other high ground behind, and that could be held by a score of men against thousands. An impregnable city, but one which had often been taken—that was Sardis. The first time it was captured was in the sixth century b.c. The army of Crœsus had suffered defeat beyond the Halys, at the hand of Cyrus, and though the victorious enemy appeared before the walls of Sardis before a new army could be collected, neither Crœsus nor any of the inhabitants believed there was any danger of his penetrating their impregnable rock-fortress. The only way of approach, along the connecting isthmus, was strongly fortified and carefully guarded. The city slept securely. But accident or treachery revealed to the invaders the possibility of ascending the rock-face by some crack or ledge, the existence of which had been overlooked by the defenders. By this the soldiers of Cyrus clambered up, and Crœsus awoke to find his capital in the hands of the Persians. Cyrus had come upon Sardis “like a thief in the night.”

The Church is never in a more perilous state than when she has quiet and peace.1 [Note: Luther, Table-Talk.]

3. Long afterwards in Greece the fate of Crœsus and of his city served to point the moral of overweening self-confidence and thoughtless security. But even the fact that it had thus become a proverb for foolish confidence did not save Sardis from suffering the same fate again, when, some three centuries later, it was captured by Antiochus through the exploit of the Cretan Lagoras, who climbed the steep hill and stole unobserved into the acropolis. For some time previous to the date of this letter to the Church at Sardis, the city had been slowly sinking in importance. Its manufactures and commercial position had been lost. Outdistanced by its younger rivals, Ephesus and Smyrna, on the sea-coast, it became a melancholy spectacle, a place of third-rate importance, unable to forget that it had once been chief. Even as a city, Sardis was pretentious and self-satisfied, yet moribund, having a “name to live” and yet dead. It was a city of failure; a city whose history blazoned forth the uncertainty of human fortunes, the weakness of human strength, and the shortness of the step that separates over-confident might from sudden and irreparable disaster; a city whose name was almost synonymous with pretensions unjustified, promise unfulfilled, appearance without reality, confidence that heralded ruin.

I remember on my first landing at a place [in West Africa] where there are three small factories only, but which I had seen marked large on the map, asking a resident white if this was all the settlement. “Oh no!” said he, “this is only the porter’s lodge; I’ll show you the settlement,” and he took me to the cemetery; that cemetery justified the large lettering on the map.1 [Note: Mary Kingsley, in British Africa, 379.]

4. The social history of Sardis finds a singularly close reflection in the history of the Church of Christ within its walls, so that the Apostle could point the moral of the one by using language which was suggested by, and suggested, the other. The city, though still a place of importance, was a city of the past, retaining the name of greatness, but decayed from its former estate. The words of the text are singularly appropriate to its history: “I know thy works, that thou hast a name, that thou livest, and thou art dead.” The words are, of course, addressed to the Church of Sardis, and must be understood as describing its condition about 90–100 a.d., already decaying from its original high promise; but it seems clear that the writer must have been conscious of the historical parallel, and chose his words so as to express it. When he goes on to say, “Be thou watchful … for I have found no works of thine fulfilled.… If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee,” one’s thoughts are carried back to the two occasions when, through careless watching, the impregnable citadel failed to keep up its reputation and name and to fulfil its works.

Living on one’s reputation is a melancholy business. It is sad to see a threadbare merchant starving on the dwindling relics of his former fortune; to see the failing orator reproducing stale scraps of knowledge and rhetoric which once commanded applause; sad to listen to an old vocalist whose fame survives his voice; and saddest of all are those professors of religion who acquire no fresh strength and treasure, but who contrive to keep themselves in countenance by making the most of an ever attenuating reputation. We must not live in the opinion of others, but in our own rich and supporting consciousness; we must not live a fancied life in others’ breath, but a real, true life in the purity and power of our own soul. It is not what we were, but what we are. How are things with us to-day? The true spiritual life is never merely retrospective. What am I now, and what my hope? Am I gaining victories, overtaking new work, attaining fresh graces, bringing forth fruit unto God?2 [Note: W. L. Watkinson.]

Obtain and preserve a reputation. It is the usufruct of fame. It is expensive to obtain a reputation, for it only attaches to distinguished abilities, which are as rare as mediocrities are common. Once obtained, it is easily preserved. It confers many an obligation, but it does more. When it is owing to elevated powers or lofty spheres of action, it rises to a kind of veneration and yields a sort of majesty. But it is only a well-founded reputation that lasts permanently.1 [Note: Balthasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom (ed. 1892), 56.]


A Church with a Name to Live

1. Of the Angel of the Church at Sardis, and, by implication of the Society which he represented, it was said, “Thou hast a name that thou livest,”—and yet thou “art dead.” Surely there never was a more terrible word than that. A name to live, and yet all the while dead! The nominal condition, we should all say, aggravates the actual. Better be dead, and know it, and wear no disguise, and practise no hypocrisy, than clothe the ghastly skeleton with the semblance of vitality, and be dead indeed while in name thou livest. Sardis, once a living Church, was now existing on the recollection of what it had been and done. It had kept the name and cherished traditions of the past; but its present character was poor and its experience low. How easy to keep the old, beautified, stirring names and cries when all the reality, force, and glow of their origin have perished! “Nominal” Christianity is a poor thing to live with. It is a poor thing in days of fierce temptation and of searching sorrow. In no days does it bring satisfaction to the heart. Nominal religion is a poor thing to die with. The mission of Christ is to bring in reality, to sweep away all mere semblances, artificialities, and names of religion; His one great purpose is to establish real relations between our soul and God. Alas for us if we have only the name of Christ! “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

When the church of Sardis was really dead, the principal means of keeping it in that condition was the name it had to be alive.2 [Note: John Owen.]

In Staffordshire it is interesting and amusing to mark the contrast between the names of the places and their actual character; Roseville, Swan Village, Daisy Bank, Bloomfield, Tividale, and so forth. Roseville is utterly innocent of the garden queen; Daisy Bank is a cinder heap; the last creature you would expect to see on the inky canal of Swan Village is the bird of snow; Tividale is a realm of furnaces and dirt; and many a summer has come and gone since Bloomfield smiled a field of flowers. Once it was a region of beauty, gardens, orchards, and dells; now slag, soot, and desolation mock its old poetic names. So it is sometimes with a Church. There is a startling, mournful contrast between its grand history, heroic workers, marked achievements, and its present poverty and deadness! Yet it lives on its splendid past, and flatters itself in the life and work of vanished generations.1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson.]

2. Sardis was renowned among men. The world looked, and beheld with admiration what was to it the splendour of her worship; it listened, and heard with enthusiasm the music of her praise. And the Church was pleased that it should be so. Not in humility, lowliness, and deeds of self-sacrificing love did she seek her “name,” but in what the world would have been equally delighted with, though the inspiring soul of it all had been folly or sin. The fact that this Church should have had the name and fame of life is very startling, and may well summon each and all to an earnest heart-searching. There would be nothing nearly so startling, if Sardis had been counted by the Churches round about as a Church fallen into lethargy and hastening to death. But there is no appearance of the kind. Laodicea, we know, deceived herself, but nothing implies that she deceived others. She counted herself rich, when she was most poor; but there is no hint to make us think that others counted her so as well. Sardis, on the other hand, had a name that she lived, was well spoken of, regarded, we may well believe, as a model Church, and can therefore have been by no means wanting in the outer manifestations of spiritual life; while yet all these shows of life did but conceal the realities of death.

The order of Discretion’s questions [to Christian at the House Beautiful] is significant. First come those about his experience, and last that about his name. There are many people whose first question is that of names. This is what they judge by and are interested in. A famous name telling of old family, or influence, or wealth is all that is needed for entrance to many a house of good society on earth. Here it is good to find in regard to all such matters the grand equality of the Church. Of lord and labourer alike it asks first—or ought to ask—not “What is thy name?” but “What has been thine experience?” and “What is the direction in which thy life is moving?”1 [Note: J. Kelman, The Road, i. 100.]

It is quite possible that a Church may enjoy a high reputation for purity, spirituality, and efficiency—a reputation gained through years of faithfulness—and yet have entirely lost the attributes which once gained it credit. Some firms in the city are known throughout the world. They have been in existence for a century or more. They once brought out a valuable article, and forthwith did a large business; only their goods would do; they were known everywhere and realized immense fortunes. But to-day the old partners are dead, and the firm is a shadow of its old self. They no longer produce the superlative article; they simply trade on the old name. It is much the same sometimes with a religious community. Churches rise into being in conviction, faith, devotion, enthusiasm, and sacrifice; they attain a worthy fame; and their degenerate successors too often trade on the reputation enjoyed by a worldly and languishing denomination. So an individual may acquire in early years a high reputation for character and service, and then continue to live on such reputation, no longer doing the first works.2 [Note: W. L. Watkinson.]

How men may become dead to the spirit of Christ’s teaching while engaged in the holiest offices, and betray His cause while outwardly reverencing His name, is illustrated in a picture by the Hon. John Collier, which was exhibited in the Academy of 1896. The picture illustrates an incident in the life of Pope Urban VI., related in Lea’s History of the Inquisition. Hearing of a conspiracy among his cardinals, the Pope invited the ringleaders to his country residence, the Castle of Nocera, when he put them to excruciating tortures to extract from them the details of the conspiracy. Urban VI. walked to and from in the garden beneath the window of the torture-chamber reciting his breviary aloud to encourage the torturers in their work. The artist has depicted him walking beneath, clad in the garments of his holy office, reading earnestly from his manual of devotion, and using it for such diabolic ends as to encourage the fiendish cruelty going on above. With keen irony the painter has filled the little side-walk alongside of which the Pope treads with white lilies—emblem of purity. A peacock, the symbol of eternity, is seen sculptured on the walls, while over the window of the torture-chamber there is engraven a cross.1 [Note: J. Burns, Illustrations from Art, 316.]

3. The symptom which is singled out in the letter to the Church as characterizing its condition is what we should call slackness, ineffectiveness. “I have found no works of thine fulfilled before my God.” Works were not wanting; but all alike were branded with incompleteness, perfunctoriness, unreality. There had been a serious slackening of moral fibre, an inclination to slur over the distinctions between the standard of Christ and the standard of the world, and to fling away some of the distinctive practices and forms of self-denial which were provided as safeguards of the specifically Christian character. Sardis had been too much for them; its atmosphere of self-pleasing, of self-indulgence, had poisoned the well-springs of their faith, making it sickly, feeble, and ineffective. Instead of their overcoming the world, the world had overcome them.

The Church in Sardis had no heresies needing correction. It had not life enough to produce even such morbid secretions. Neither weeds nor flowers grow in winter. There may be a lower depth than the condition of things when people are all thinking, and some of them thinking wrongly, about Christian truth. Better the heresies of Ephesus and Thyatira than the acquiescent deadness of Sardis. It had no immoralities. The gross corruptions of some in Pergamum had no parallel there. Sardis is rebuked for none, because its evil was deeper and sadder. It was not flagrantly corrupt, it was only—dead. Of course it had no persecutions. Faithful Smyrna had tribulation unto death, hanging like a thunder-cloud overhead. But Sardis had not life enough to be obnoxious. Why should the world trouble itself about a dead Church? It exactly answers the world’s purpose, and is really only a bit of the world under another name.

Preaching at St. George’s in the East, London, June 22, 1879, he said: “However it may be with the East-End of London, I am not sure whether the West-End has any reason to plume itself on its superior godliness, whether the dukes and duchesses, the earls and countesses, the squires and knights and their ladies, are much more like what men and women ought to be than the costermongers and women of the East of London. No doubt at the West-End churches are filled; but, if we ask what fills the West-End churches, it is not certain that we can give a satisfactory answer to the question. I am not sure that they are always filled with people hungering and thirsting after righteousness, or with people who wish to know what the Christian temper and the Christian life are, in order that they may exhibit the one and live the other. It is all very well to attract people by a spectacular service and an eloquent harangue; but I was told the other day of a noted preacher who drew an enormous crowd to hear him under the dome of St. Paul’s, and yet, immediately the service was over, the people rushed out asking who had won the Grand Prix de Paris.”1 [Note: J. W. Diggle, Bishop Fraser’s Lancashire Life, 341.]

4. When a Church is dead, or only half alive, the defect shows itself specifically and certainly in this manner: The Church’s work is only half done, and can be but half fulfilled, when only a portion of its members fulfil their allotted task to their Master. If, in a Church which numbers five hundred, only fifty are doing the utmost they can do, the Church’s measure of work will not be fulfilled before the judgment-seat of God. Fifty individuals cannot do what it takes five hundred to do. A half-done work, how it is spoiled! The work of a Church that is wearily done, in its life and extent, by a few living men and women in it, is poorly done; they do it with such a struggle; they are so weary and worn out; they have no pleasure, they have no enthusiasm, in doing it. How can they have? One man cannot do another man’s work. One link of a chain cannot do duty for another link, and if the one goes, sometimes the chain is worth nothing at all. The work of a dead or half-dead Church stands before God’s judgment-seat unfulfilled. Work is indispensable to the enjoyment of a Church’s good. No Church can heartily enjoy what we call religious privileges unless it is working hard; and no individual member of that Church will get the good of it unless he is taking a part in the Church’s work. He does not need to be an office-bearer or anything of that sort; his work may be just friendliness to others in the house of God, showing a kind spirit to them or taking an interest in them, showing neighbourliness by his Church character.

Christ’s Church exists in order to make possible, to make known, to make active, the work which Christ, by His Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection, achieved once for all. It was done, it was finished, the task given Him to do. But only through man could it be laid open to man. He needs men to be His instruments, His organ, by which His own activity, supreme and unique, may find channels of entry—may be solicited, evoked, distributed. In securing men who know His true Name, He is securing a seat, a home, into which He can throw His own spiritual forces. They become, through so believing, the means by which His special and personal powers can liberate and discharge themselves. As He is the Light of the world, so they become, in Him, the eye through which the light illuminates the body: “Ye are the light of the world.” As He is the sole purifying Sacrifice, so they become, organized into His Name, the seed of all purification—the salt through which the bulk of men are saved from corrupting: “Ye are the salt of the world.” In becoming clean in Him, they become the instruments of further cleansing: “If I have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash the feet of others.” In confessing His Name, in becoming stones built into His Temple, they become necessarily the seat and sanctuary whence issue the motives, powers, operations, activities of His authoritative Name.1 [Note: H. Scott Holland.]


Life for a Dying Church

We are justified in concluding that such a condition as that of the Church at Sardis is not final and irreversible. The very fact that this letter came to that community indicates that it was possible to restore and revive. They were not so utterly dead as moribund, as is seen from the fact that in the next verse “ready to die” is the expression applied to some among them, or perhaps to some lingering works which still survived. They were at the point of death, with much of their spiritual life extinct, but here and there was a spark among the ashes, which His eye saw, and His breath could fan into a flame. To the people of a Church sunken in spiritual deadness and torpor, the lamp of faith waning and almost extinguished in their hearts, the Lord presents Himself as having the fulness of all spiritual gifts; able therefore to revive, able to recover, able to bring back from the very gates of spiritual death, those who would employ the little last remaining strength which they still retained, in calling, even when thus “in extremis” upon Him.

1. We may assume that the name by which the Lord reveals Himself at the opening of this message, “He that hath the seven Spirits of God,” had a special bearing upon the state of the Angel and the Church to whom the message was to be transmitted. The Spirit was thought of, to use the later terminology of the Church, as the “Giver of Life” and of all its sevenfold gifts; the seven Spirits of God were but forms of that Divine life which He—one, yet manifold—imparted. These He, the Lord of the Churches, possessed and could call His own; for thus it is that He can “quicken whom he will”: thus He can impart the Divine life, in all its marvellous variety, to those who stand in need of it.

Bengel suggests, and earlier commentators had anticipated the suggestion, that the name of the Angel of the Church in Sardis may have contained some assertion of life; which stood in miserable contradiction with the realities of death which the Lord beheld in him; a name therefore which in his case was not the utterance of a truth, but a lie; the name affirming and implying that he was alive, while in truth he was dead; “Zosimos” would be such a name in Greek, “Vitalis” in Latin. Hengstenberg considers the suggestion not improbable, but it appears exceedingly improbable and far-fetched. The use of “name” as equivalent to fame, reputation, character, is as common in Greek as in English.1 [Note: R. C. Trench.]

2. Christ as the Giver of life is the thought which a dead or decaying Church like that of Sardis needs most. There is a Spirit which gives life, and Christ is the Lord of that Spirit. The whole fulness of the Divine energies is gathered in the Holy Spirit, and this is His chiefest work—to breathe into our deadness the breath of life. Many other blessed offices are His, and many other names belong to Him; but highest of all is the name which expresses His mightiest work, “the Spirit of Life.” … The “rushing mighty wind” is its best emblem—blowing where it listeth, unsustained, and free, visible only in its effects, and yet heard by every ear that is not deaf, sometimes soft and low, as the respiration of a sleeping child, sometimes loud and strong as the storm. The very name “the Spirit” emphasizes that aspect of His work in which He is conceived of as the source of life.

There is the antidote for a dead Church, a living Spirit in the sevenfold perfectness of His operations. He is the Spirit of consolation, of adoption, of supplication, of holiness and wisdom, of power, and of love, and of a sound mind; and into all our deadness there will come the life-breath which shall surely quicken it all. Here, and here only, is the hope of a dead Church, and here is the explanation of that which is unique in the history of Christianity as compared with all other religions—its power of self-recuperation, and, when it is apparently nearest extinction, the marvellous, the miraculous, way in which it flames up again because the Spirit of the Lord is poured forth. It brings into prominence not so much the existence and the operations of that Divine Spirit who vitalizes the Church as the continual energy and activity of the ascended Christ in bestowing that Spirit. He has the seven Spirits as He has all other attributes; Himself in His earthly life being filled with its fulness, and it abiding with Him for ever, He has it to impart.

“The Church is not a thing like the Athenæum Club,” he cried. “If the Athenæum Club lost all its members, the Athenæum Club would dissolve and cease to exist. But when we belong to the Church we belong to something which is outside all of us: which is outside everything you talk about, outside the Cardinals and the Pope. They belong to it, but it does not belong to them. If we all fell dead suddenly, the Church would still somehow exist in God.”1 [Note: G. K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross.]

3. One great channel through which spiritual life is imparted to a dying Church is suggested by the picture of our Lord as having “the seven stars.” The “stars” are the “angels of the churches,” by whom we are probably to understand their bishops and pastors. If so, then we have a striking thought symbolized by the juxtaposition. Christ, as it were, holds in the one hand the empty vessels, and in the other the brimming cup, from which He will pour out the supply for their emptiness. The lesson taught us is, that in a dead Church the teachers mostly partake of the deadness, and are responsible for it. But, further, we learn that Christ’s way of reviving a decaying and all but effete Church is oftenest by filling single men full of His Spirit, and then sending them out to kindle a soul under the ribs of death. The Lord of the Churches is able to bring together the gifts of life and the ministry for which those gifts are needed. If those who minister are without the gifts, it is because they have not asked for them. The union of the two attributes is, therefore, one both of encouragement and of warning. If each star shines with its peculiar radiance, it is because it is under the power and influence of the sevenfold Spirit; if it has no life or light, and ceases to shine, there is the danger of its falling away from its place in that glorious band, and becoming as one of the “wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.”

That minister who receives a body of people more or less cast down, and wearied in the great battle of the soul, and sends them forth full of good cheer and enthusiasm, has done his work and deserved well of his people. He has shown himself a true shepherd, and he had not done this service without knowing both the Will of God and the life of man, without draining a wide watershed of experience—from high hills where the soul has been alone with God, and from deep valleys where the soul has tasted the agonies of life—into the stream that shall be the motive power of many lives on the plains beneath.1 [Note: J. Watson, The Cure of Souls.]

It will be seen that this beloved minister, who mingled daily with all classes of the community, “radiating happiness” wherever he went; who toiled unceasingly in the dark places where “the poor of the earth hide themselves together”; whose visits were like rays of sunshine to the weary sufferers in city hospitals and elsewhere; who was rejoicing and sorrowing with his people all day long; and whose pulpit ministrations from week to week were an undiminished source of spiritual inspiration, moral uplift and good cheer, was himself not infrequently carrying a secret load of care. Yet we do not remember that he ever once used the expression “it is hard,” although his deeply affectionate nature was charged with that quick and ready sympathy for the sufferings of others which must always mean pain to its possessor. The sight of any one enduring physical or mental pain which he could not alleviate unmanned him; but his habitual and unfailing eagerness to point to the bright side of even the darkest experiences was in itself a true consolation. It was as if he stood, a radiant figure, in the midst of us all, calling always, “Be of good cheer, I see land!”2 [Note: Hector Mackinnon: A Memoir, by his Wife (1914), 97.]

4. What is the life of a Church? The life of a Church is loving loyalty to Jesus Christ, present more or less in the actual human heart of all the members; an inner, hidden thing, that we cannot weigh in a balance, that we cannot set down in figures in an annual report, that we cannot exhibit to a non-believer or a worldling, but the greatest, the most powerful force in all our world. The life of a Church is the living, real presence of Jesus Christ as a daily influence on the conduct, the thoughts, the words, the deeds of all the members of that Church. The life of a Church is the living presence of Jesus Christ in every committee of management, in every meeting of Sunday-school teachers, in every social gathering of the congregation; a living loyalty and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, born out of a grateful certainty that He died to save us, born out of a grand sympathy with Him, and under the belief that He is willing to save all the men and women and all the little children who are round about us. That is the living life of a Church, and nothing else is. We may have a perfect orthodoxy and death; we may have great activity, and yet we may have death. Nothing is the life of a Church but actual, living loyalty and love to the real, living Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ. A living Church will show its life in such things as hearty singing, earnest prayers, faithful service, generous liberality to every good cause. A living Church will show its life by bravery and courage in taking up new responsibilities that may offer themselves, and working them most heartily. A living Church is living, not because it does one or all of these things, but because it loves loyalty to the Lord Jesus who died for it, and feels that goodness and holiness are the grandest things in the world.

If it turns out that the world is the Church, and the Church is the world, why, the Sinners must just forgive the Saints and the Saints must learn to stand being forgiven.1 [Note: Mary E. Coleridge.]

5. There is a note of wistful urgency in the epistle to the Church of Sardis to remember the past, to keep hold on what remains, and to repent. And there is also an implicit promise; for Christ would never call on men to do either what is impossible or what has not a promise attached to its performance. It is not on the note of promise, however, but on that of warning, that part of the letter closes. Evidently the thread of hope is slender, and the Church of Sardis is warned that if it does not hearken to this counsel, if it does not exchange its attitude of listless security for one of wakeful watchfulness, its fate will be like that of the city of Sardis. The enemy crept in upon the careless city “like a thief in the night”; and as a thief in the night will Christ return against the careless Church, unlooked for, undesired, not for mercy, but for judgment.

It should not be difficult to realize the effect of the reading of this letter in the hearing of the congregation in Sardis, on some Sunday evening in the second half of the first century. It would strike all as a picture, terrible in its accuracy, of the condition of that Church as seen by God. Surely it would stir the corporate conscience of that Church to a sense of its imminent danger, due to its want of spiritual life, of true brotherly love, of devotion to Christ its Head. It would call out in many, if not in all, the resolve to watch, to watch so as to repel the insidious approaches and attacks of the worldly spirit; to be more faithful in the discharge of the humblest duties imposed upon them by their Master’s will. To some it would give a new sense of responsibility, involved in the very fact that the atmosphere around them was cold, hostile. They would feel uplifted by the thought that the honour of their Lord, as well as the safety of their Church, was specially entrusted to their care. It would send them forth into the night, determined to be even more loyal, more faithful, more set on overcoming the world, because they felt that the eye of their Master was upon them, that He was not indifferent to any work they might do, or patience they might show, and that each day’s victory over the world and self was the pledge of a final victory, of which only eternity would reveal the joy.1 [Note: C. A. Scott, The Book of the Revelation, 124.]

The Rev. Robert Macdonald, then of Blairgowrie, afterwards of North Leith, says in his recollections of McCheyne, “I remember, on one of the earliest visits I paid to London, I was going up to Mr. Nisbet’s shop, as he and another gentleman were coming out. Mr. Nisbet said to the other, ‘This is a friend of Mr. McCheyne’s.’ The gentleman at once took hold of me, and said, ‘Did you know that remarkable man?’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘he was an intimate friend of mine.’ ‘What do you think,’ he went on, ‘was the secret of that man’s holiness?’ and, without waiting, he answered his own question: ‘Don’t you think it was watchfulness?’ I think he was right, the more I consider it. Often he was with me at the manse at Blairgowrie, and he always left a benediction behind him. He was always on his guard. My old Adam would have been almost glad to see a slip, I forgot so many things myself. This was his characteristic, If a man purge himself … he shall be a vessel unto honour.”1 [Note: A. Smellie, Robert Murray McCheyne, 224.]

A Dead and Alive Church


Bindley (T. H.), The Messages to the Seven Churches, 60.

Carpenter (W. B.), The Revelation (Ellicott’s New Testament Commentary), 52.

Cook (H.), in The Home Preacher, 464.

Crosby (H.), The Seven Churches of Asia, 102.

Davies (T.), Sermons and Expositions, i. 481.

Elmslie (W. G.), Memoir and Sermons, 119.

Jerdan (C.), Pastures of Tender Grass, 155.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Epistles of John to Revelation, 232.

Parker (T.), Collected Works, ix. 1.

Peabody (F. G.), Mornings in the College Chapel, i. 102.

Pounder (R. W.), Historical Notes on the Book of Revelation, 135.

Ramsay (W. M.), The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia, 354, 369.

Scott (C. A.), The Book of the Revelation, 113.

Scott (J. J.), The Apocalypse, 67.

Trench (R. C.), Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia, 157.

Watkinson (W. L.), Studies in Christian Character, ii. 106.

Whyte (A.), Bible Characters: Our Lord’s Characters, 284.

Christian World Pulpit, xlix. 305 (A. Maclaren); lix. 33 (H. S. Holland).

Church of England Magazine, liii. 128 (W. Stevenson).

Dictionary of the Bible, iv. 405 (W. M. Ramsay).

Expositor, 1st Ser., iii. 204 (E. H. Plumptre).

Literary Churchman, xxxiii. (1887) 197 (J. B. C. Murphy).

The Great Texts of the Bible - James Hastings

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