Christ's Message to the Formalist
Revelation 3:1-6
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…

I. DELUSIVE APPEARANCES; OR, THE DEATH THAT SIMULATES LIFE. There is nothing so unmistakable as natural death; in tree, animal, or man, it makes itself fearfully plain. Life may exist in a sluggish or imperfect form, but between the feeblest life and death there is an immeasurable distance. But with spiritual death it is often otherwise. The advances are so stealthy, and so swift, that sometimes every grace and gift has perished before the symptoms of the plague are discerned. Wendell Holmes tells us that in the introduction to "Gil Blas" it is said, "Here lies buried the soul of the licentiate." Where do not souls lie buried? One beneath the self-consciousness of pride, and another beneath ceremonies which are good in themselves, but which may produce evil, if unduly relied upon. Under what sin is thy soul buried. And let us look at the gracious aspect which is presented here of our Lord. When the king of Ethiopia of old heard that the Persian monarch was dead, he remarked, "It is no wonder that he died, when he lived on dirt." The allusion, of course, is to corn, which at that period was unknown in Ethiopia. Of Darracott, on the contrary, it was finely said, "that he looked as if he lived upon live things," for he possessed such abundant vitality. So is it that a man is like that which he mentally feeds upon; so that if he communes regularly and constantly with Christ, he wilt become Christ-like, and will live by the life of Christ.

II. DECAYING GRACES; OR, BAD WHICH MAY BECOME WORSE. "The decay was not as yet thorough in the Church at Sardis; there was still a chance of regaining the lost time, and living by Christ. But unless the Church became vigilant, and took the needful measures, the decay would eventually become complete." The graces of the Spirit are granted only to certain conditions, and they are removed when these essentials depart from us. Incompleteness is decay. "I have found no works of thine fulfilled before my God." Their acts of charity and faith had been marred; they were introductions without any succeeding chapters, indeed, but a series of failures. And may not the words imply that one grace cannot live without the other, that they are mutually dependent, that if one be absent, or be wilfully left out, the others will languish and perhaps die? In grace as in nature the balance of life must be preserved. So in grace, every virtue sustains some other, and they rise and fall together.

III. THE SURPRISES OF JUDGMENT: THE GRACIOUS OR THE JUST ONE. "I will come as a thief," Christ threatens, by which I understand that in reference to His judgment He thus describes its stealthiness. And with the unexpected nature of this visitation, is there not also combined the idea of its being unwelcome?

IV. THE TRUE CITIZEN OF THE WORLD IS A NATIVE OF HEAVEN. The true question which we should ask ourselves and each other is not, Are you prepared to die? but, Are you fit to live? Hence, Baine concentrates the meaning of the passage into the phrase, "Singular piety in degenerate times is dear to God."

(J. J. Ellis.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

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