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. THE LORD KNOWS EVERY MAN'S ILL COURSES. He knows what men are, and what they have been, and what they will be, as He knows all their thoughts, words, and works. He knows all their dispositions, their persons, their natures, their qualities, their affections, and ends and aims and motives, and estates; He knows how many are rotten though they profess never so much, how many are unsound though they be never so well esteemed in the Church; He knows in what estate every man stands (Job 11:11). The use of this is, first — Is it so that God knows all men's sinful courses? If men be dead-hearted, He knows it; if they be heartless in good duties, He knows it; though they would be loth that men should know what they are, and do keep it from them, yet they cannot daub it before God; He knows it. Then this may serve to confute them that say, God does not know sin. True, sin is an evil, yea the greatest evil of all evils; yet the knowledge of it is good. God knows who do abuse Him, and how people carry themselves towards all His commandments and worship; it is a part of His perfection to know it. Secondly, another use is to condemn the most sorts of men that do net consider of this truth; they little think that God sees all their doings. I fear there is hardly any among us that will seem to deny but that God can see all his ways; and yet we see it is too apparent by men's lives, that few men do believe this indeed. If we did charge this upon our souls, we could not live so loosely as we do. Thirdly, Is it so that God sees all men's sins? Then this is a terror to all that go on with a self-condemning heart (1 John 3:20). If we have self-condemning heart, how much more shall we find a condemning God? Fourthly, this is comfort to good people; for if God see all men's sins, then He sees all men's goodness much rather. Again, what a comfort is this? If we desire to know our sins, God is able to show them unto us. Fifthly, Does God know all men's sins? Then this should make us afraid to do evil at any time, or in any place, yea in the secretest.
II. THE KNOWLEDGE THAT GOD KNOWS ALL OUR WORKS IS THE POWERFUL MEANS TO ALL GOD'S ELECT, TO DO THEM GOOD, AND TO QUICKEN THEM AND TO MAKE THEM TAKE HEED OF ALL MANNER OF SIN.
1. Because the Lord's knowing of our works is not only a mere knowing of them, but also a marking and a pondering them too.
2. Because when God sees all our sins, it is with a most holy and pure eye, and such an eye as cannot abide such an object before Him.
3. Because when God sees all our sins, He records them, He notes them in a book that He may never forget them.
4. Because when God sees our sins, it is even all one as if all the world should see them too; for let our sins be never so secret, yet, it God know it, it is worse than if all the world knew it; for all the world shall know it one day.
5. Our disposition is such that we cannot abide that our wickednesses should be seen of anybody that we know cannot abide them.
III. NOW WE COME TO THE PARTICULARS. The first is in these words, Thou hast a name that thou livest. By "name" is meant a mere name, as we see by the clause following, "and art dead"; for when a man is dead, the name to live must needs be a mere name. First, a name in regard of themselves, they took themselves to be alive; as Paul had a name to live before his conversion, while yet he was Pharisee, he had then a name to live (Romans 7:9). Secondly, a name in regard to other godly Churches; others in the judgment of charity conceived they were alive; as the Scribes, and the Pharisees, our Saviour Christ told them, they had name to live (Matthew 23:27), that is, ye seem to be alive, ye have a name to live, but indeed ye are dead. Thirdly, a name among poor, ignorant, and simple people that are led away with shows. Ye know that there be abundance of poor, simple people, that knew not what true religion is, nay, maybe hate it, but yet they are led away with the show of it. Fourthly, a name among the persecution of religion, and so they are persecuted too among them that live indeed; for mockers take them to be of the same number. Now the point of doctrine is this, that it is a horrible thing to rest in a mere name of being religious. The reasons are, first — this is to be farthest off from religion; because himself will not, and others cannot so effectually apply to him the means of recovery, he being in his own and others' judgment a true convert. As a sick man who thinks himself well is of all others farthest from cure. Religion is a real thing, and therefore he that rests in having the name of it, is farthest off from it. Secondly, it is a very blasphemy to get the name for good people, when we are not good people indeed. The reason is this — religion hath an inward dependence upon God; it hath an internal relation unto God; it puts a man into a propriety with God that God is his God; it puts the very name of God upon a man. Now, if a man take the name without the thing, it must needs be a very blasphemy. Thirdly, it is a fiat lie, when a man hath the name of a good Christian, and hath not the thing signified by the name. Fourthly, it is an unreasonable thing. When a man hath not the thing, there is no reason that he should have the name. Fifthly, it is an impudent thing. When we have a name to live and to be wrought upon by the Word, what an impudent thing is it, if we do not look to it that we be so indeed. One would think we should blush to think what a name we have, and how little we make good our name between God and our own souls. Sixthly, it is an inexcusable thing. If we have a name to be alive, we are without excuse if we be not. First, because out of our own mouths God will judge us; we said we were His people, we took the name of His servants; why then He will say, Why had I not your service? Why would you do no more for Me? Secondly, ye can have no other excuse. Can you say you could not believe in My Name? Ye could not forego such and such lusts at My command? Why then would you go for My servants? Seventhly, it is an unprofitable thing: a naked name will do us no good. True faith alone does justify, not the name of it; true peace of conscience does comfort, not the name of it; true interest in God gives a man a cheerful access to God, not the name of it, Eighthly, it is not only unprofitable, but also it is hurtful. It is hurtful unto others. It is hurtful unto them that are without; for when they see how lazy such as go for professors be, how they have little else in them but talking and professing, and prating and hearing, this hardens the heart of them that are without, and makes them all think that religion is a matter of nothing. Again, they do a great deal of hurt unto comers on. Many a man that is smitten at the word, that begins amendment, and gives good hopes that he will come to something in the end, when he lights upon such Sardian saints, that are so in name, but there is no life at all in them, these put him back again. Again, they do a great deal of hurt unto the saints of God, sometimes by deceiving of their hearts and cooling of their zeal and fervour, or if they cannot do that, then they hate them, and prove very shy of them, and gird them behind their backs, and do them much mischief. Again, they do a great deal of hurt to themselves, for it had been better for them they had never had a name, than having a name not to be as the name does require. No; the Lord does not find fault with Sardis for having of a name that they lived, but that they had this name when as they were dead; if they had been alive, the name to be alive had been well. Then what use must we make of this point?
1. To show the misery of some of our Churches. They have only a name to live, though we might live well enough, for we have the doctrine of life, in many places, yet in regard of our conversations for the most part, we may say it is but only a name. For how does sin reign among us everywhere? Covetousness, profaneness, fulness of bread, lust, security, deadness of heart, formality — now where such sins do abound, there the power of godliness must needs be away. Generally our assemblies content themselves with an outward profession; if they go so far, they have but a name to live. Come we to the graces of God's Holy Spirit, without the which a man is dead in trespasses and sins, etc., as faith, repentance, peace of conscience, and love, etc., where are any of these to be found?
2. Another use is of terror against us. Do we think that the Lord will endure this at our hands? He hath endured it too long, but He will not suffer it always. He hath a spiritual thunder-clap that He lets fly against this sin (Isaiah 32:5). That is, the Lord will unmask all such persons, He will pluck off all their names, and they shall have a name fit for their natures, and He will do this — First, in their own consciences. Secondly, in the judgment of others. If we rest in a name, the Lord will detect us at last before others; and then what a shame will this be?
(W. Fenner, B. D.)
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.