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 need scarcely remind you that all the seven epistles to the Churches are cast in one mould; each of them begins with setting forth some aspect of the ascended Christ's power or glory or relation with His Churches, which aspect is generally drawn from the great vision in the first chapter. It is to this correspondence between the aspect in which our Lord is revealed here and the state of the Church of which the vision is given, that I venture to ask your attention. First of all, then, let us try to understand what sort of a Church it is that wants this vision. It was dead. One smiting word stands in the place of all characterisation; it had no persecutions like the faithful band at Smyrna. Why should it? It had not life enough to be obnoxious! What was there in such a Church as that to provide any antagonism? It exactly suited the world's purpose, and was, in fact, only a bit of the world under another name. A dead Church is on the best possible terms with a dead world. When the frost binds the ground, weeds and flowers alike cease to be put forth. There is a worse condition than when many people are thinking earnestly about religion, and some of them are thinking wrongly. And so the Church at Sardis had no heretics because there was nobody in it that cared enough about the principles of Christianity to think earnestly about them. And it had no immoralities either — most respectable. And yet one Eye looked at it and said, "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and are dead." About how many of our Churches and of the individual Christians who take up the profession of Christ and connect themselves with ecclesiastical arrangements with such light hearts, may the same be said! Life is the condition of union with Jesus Christ, and death is the grim alternative that waits upon separation from Him. That Church had lost the tenacity of its hold and the intimacy of its union with Jesus Christ. Now note further, as brought out in this letter, that such a condition is not final and irreversible. They were not so utterly dead as moribund, and so in another part of the letter we read about things which remain and are ready to die, and about works which were done but were not perfect or fulfilled. Ay! effects last after causes cease; institutions live when all the reality is out of them. Habit, use and wont, forms, ceremonies, keep up the appearance of vitality when the reality is almost gone. There are creatures of a low organisation where you can get muscular contractions after life is extinct; you will find gardens round many a deserted, roofless house in the country where the weeds have not killed all the roses, and a vagrant flower or two still remains to testify the culture that was. And so in thousands of our communities there is enough left of the living, lingering effect of the primitive impulse to keep up a ghastly mockery of life which would be far better if it knew itself to be what it is — dead! And that brings me to say again that such a condition may be absolutely concealed from every eye but the Eye that is as a flame of fire. A great many of our communities I am afraid are living on the past. John Wesley had a great name, but you cannot live because there was once John Wesley with you. Unconsciousness is the surest sign of spiritual decline. I suppose a man paralysed has no sense in his limbs, and might put his feet into a tub of scalding water and take the flesh off the bones and never know it. Frostbitten limbs are perfectly comfortable: it is the waking that is the pain. Like the hero of the Old Testament Book with his locks cropped, they go out as of old to exercise themselves, and they wist not that their strength has departed from them till they try a death-grapple with the Philistines, and then they find it out fast enough. What is it that has in the course of ages worn into indistinctness the sharp-cut granite features of the Sphynx that looks out over the Egyptian desert? The perpetual attrition of microscopic grains of sand blown against it by the vagrant winds! And so the multitudinous trivialities of life, coming in contact with the image of Jesus Christ in our hearts, will efface its fair features and leave but a dim outline.
II. Now, let me ask you to LOOK AT THE VISION WHICH SUCH A CHURCH NEEDS. "He that hath the seven spirits of God and the seven stars." It is a distinct reference to the personal spirit of God conceived of in the manifoldness of His operations rather than in the unity of His Personality. That spirit comes permeating, enlightening, illuminating, vivifying, discerning, and strengthening all of us if we yield ourselves to it. 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 sound mind, and into all our deadness there will come the life-breath which shall surely quicken it all. 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 way in which it flames up again because the Spirit of the Lord is poured forth. Other teachers — what can they do? They can impart a system, they can train a little group of dwindled imitators, who generally imitate their weaknesses, and think they are imitating their strength, but to give the spirit that animated the originator is exactly what none of them can do.
III. THE WORDS OF MY TEXT SUGGEST ONE OF THE WAYS IN WHICH THIS BESTOWMENT OF THE SEVEN SPIRITS IS ACCOMPLISHED. One way by which that Spirit of God is shed abroad upon His moribund Church is by raising up men in it filled with the Spirit, and whose intense vitality communicates life to that which is almost dead. Let us all go back to Him for quickening.
(A. Maclaren, 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.