And to the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things said he that has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars…
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?
(1) They were to be vigilant. "Watchful," wakeful, to shake off slothfulness, open their eyes to eternal realities, fan the dying sparks into a flame.
(2) They were to be curative. "Strengthen the things which remain." How strengthen? Appropriate the true remedial element, fruit from the tree of life; use wholesome food, the "sincere milk of the Word;" take proper exercise - inaction leads to disease; "exercise thyself unto godliness;" inbreathe the pure atmosphere of holiness.
(3) They were to be recollective. "Remember therefore how thou hast received." Call up all the good of the past.
(4) They were to be repentant. "Hold fast, and repent." They were to renounce all that was pernicious to spiritual health, and pursue a right course. "Hold fast." Grasp with all the tenacity of their being the good that comes up to memory, as the drowning man lays hold of the rope thrown out on the surging waves.
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?
(1) Because it is the highest manifestation of God upon earth.
(2) Because it is the result of his mediatorial mission.
(3) Because on it depends the progress of humanity.
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:
(2) Reciprocal love.
The Son identifies himself with all his true disciples. "I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels." - D.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.
WEB: "And to the angel of the assembly in Sardis write: "He who has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars says these things: "I know your works, that you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.