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…
Among all the messages to the Churches there is no other which is appalling like this to the Church of Sardis. The condemnation and the denunciation are emphatic; the details, however, are obscure, and as we meditate on what is said, it strikes us that this obscurity is due to intentional reserve. This appears, first, in the title given to Christ: "These things saith He that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars." Here we are bidden think, not of the historic Christ, but of the inhabiter of eternity. It is as if, instead of coming forth to reveal Himself, Christ were withdrawing into the recesses of Deity; He seems to be receding from our approaches, not advancing to kindle His people's adoration and reward their love. The same reserve appears in the description of the Church's sinfulness: "I know thy works, that thou hast a name," etc. That is all, but it is such an all as produces an impression of utter condemnation. The call to repentance, too, lacks something which we are accustomed to find in God's appeals to His people: "Become watchful, and stablish the things," etc. There is no hint that what has perished may be restored. More than once I have seen a tree laden with fruit, its broad green leaves betokening vigorous life, while a formless lump in the stock revealed that once the tree was so cankered that it was not expected to recover; and I have read a parable of the revival of dead graces in man's life. No such alleviating hint is dropped concerning Sardis. The time has not come for it; the need of the hour is for warning, only warning. There is a shortness in the threat: "If therefore thou shalt not watch," etc. The Lord does not condescend to say more than is needed. The Church of Sardis knows, after what has been declared, that this coming can only be for judgment, and is left to meditate on the nearness and suddenness of the doom. Even in the acknowledgment that there are faithful persons in Sardis, "a few names which did not defile their garments," and the promise made to "him that overcometh," the reserve is maintained. So deep is the sin of the Church that it is blessedness only to have been free from it. So dire is the doom that, for them who have escaped it, to have their names not blotted out of the book of life is enough. The Lord will confess their names in heaven, because it is a wonder to find souls from Sardis there. How may we apprehend the condition of Sardis? Perhaps we say, Sardis was a worldly Church; and this is undoubtedly true. "She that giveth herself to pleasure is dead while she liveth." Addictedness to things that "perish with the using" is both the sign of a languid inner life, and certain destruction of the little life which remains. Or we may say that Sardis was an impure Church. Discipline was unknown in it; even the pretence of discipline must have been wanting, when of only a few could it be said that "they did not defile their garments." But there is one touch in the description which is full of significance. "I have not found any of thy works perfect [that is, finished] before My God." The image suggested is that of a fickle Church, rushing from one thing to another, beginning works and growing weary, taking up and dropping down, impossible to be relied on by God or man. Fickleness is a very common fault; therefore the Lord's words to Sardis need to be dwelt on. There is no graver symptom of our time than its prevailing restlessness. So many men and women follow the ever-changing fashion — in dress, or books, or household decoration, or art, in science, in philosophy, in philanthrophy, in scepticism, or in faith. Theirs is not the versatility of a catholic temper, but of a shallow soul; such persons proclaim that they have no taste, that is, no original perceptions, no standard of excellence. There is the same instability among the Churches; the popular religious catch-words are for ever changing. Yesterday the parrot-cry was "Orthodoxy"; to-day it is "Liberality, freedom of thought." There is to them no "word of the Lord"; they have no profound sense of duty, no consecrating purpose, nothing about which they can say, "This one thing I do; this is what I believe with all my heart; of this I am sure; to this I cleave, I can no other, God help me." And if fickleness be thus the sign and symptom that underneath all shews of religious activity there is death, so fickleness works death. The notion such people have that their great need is some new thing, a new impulse, a new call, is part of their soul-sickness. Their real want is the heart to stick to what they are about. Nearly the whole discipline of piety is in the fact that persistency brings lessons which we can learn in no other way. If we try to perfect what we are doing, we learn our defects and how to supply them; we learn what we can do and how to do it; we strengthen the sense of duty, and catch the meaning of hardness; sources of comfort will open to us when" sore weary with our work well done"; God Himself comes to teach us, and lead us, and be our God. In Sardis, as in Laodicea, there is a special word of comfort to the faithful, because they have found fidelity so hard. "Thou hast a few names in Sardis," etc. The promise is itself an implied charge against the many; they are defiled as well as heartless. So it must ever be; the pollutions of the world, the flesh, and the devil are sure to overtake those who are not steadfast in their piety. All the more impressive is Christ's assurance that He has not overlooked the few. He who has the seven Spirits is quick to discern fidelity in unlikely places; He watches to discern and to acknowledge them. Fidelity is acknowledged by Christ as of eternal virtue, however it may reveal itself; and the company of those who overcome is one company, whether the victory have been won on a conspicuous or an ignoble field. It seems so reserved an utterance: "I will not blot out his name"; but the book in which the name is written is "the book of life." It is no small honour which is conferred on the clean souls in Sardis when they are declared "worthy" to walk with Christ in white. There is a touch of exquisite consideration, of appreciation of what their life had been, in the promise with which the message ends: "He that overcometh shall thus be arrayed in white garments." Heaven shall be to them the consummation of what they had worked for and striven after on earth.
(A. Mackennal, D. 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.