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IIId. General division, the counsel and the threat, contained in the second and third verses of this epistle—“Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die : for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast and repent.
The first particular of advice here given to the members of the Church of Sardis is, that they be watchful. The cause of the most lamentable departure of this Church from the spirituality of religion, is no where distinctly stated. This exhortation, however, may give us the clue by which that cause may more readily be discovered. They had not been sufficiently vigilant against the inroads of the great enemy of their salvation. And, my friends, I would incidentally remark, that wherever there is a defection from the spirituality of the Gospel; wherever there is a disposition to sink the genuine influence of religion into mere formality, the cause is to be traced to a want of spiritual vigilance. But no matter what was the cause of the declension so seriously charged on the members of the Church of Sardis, the counsel of the Lord Jesus Christ was, that they should be watchful; that they should rouse themselves from the guilty slumber into which they had fallen; that they should shake off the drowsiness and stupor which had enchained their spiritual senses; that they should be awake to the wiles of the great adversary; that they should be renewedly active in the examination of the state of their own souls and of their Church, and animated by a fresh zeal, in the discharge of their several duties; that they should afresh give themselves up to the love and the
service of God, “with all their heart, and soul, and mind, and strength.” Christian vigilance, my friends, is one among the many grand preservatives of the Christian life. Watch, was a lesson oft and strenuously repeated by the Saviour in the days of his flesh, and is a lesson which cannot be too often and too zealously reiterated. The enemies with whom you have to contend are as vigilant as they are malignant, and there is no circumstance of life of which they do not take the advantage, and seek among some of the ramifications of your duty to find you off your guard. Do the cares of this world, the distracting nature of its occupations, the deceitfulness of riches, the hallucinations of ambition, enervate and distract your minds? Watchwatch against their influence. Does sloth render you remiss in the duties of public, family, private devotion? Watch, lest it further prevail to draw you totally from God. In fine, if you would maintain any thing like the required spirituality of the Gospel; if
you would have something better than a mere name to live, watch against the first risings of every thought which may lead you astray; watch the birth of every unruly feeling, and crush it ere it come forth into act and exercise; watch over every thought, and word, and action. It is the powerful exhortation of an Apostle, —"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may
devour: whom resist, steadfast in the faith.” Had not the members of the Church of Sardis relaxed in spiritual vigilance, they would not have fallen into that awful spiritual state which drew from the lips of the Omniscient—“I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.”
To the exhortation be watchful, the Lord Jesus Christ adds—“And strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.” It appears from this
passage, as it is more clearly intimated in one that succeeds, that notwithstanding the deplorable condition of spiritual religion in the Church of Sardis, there was some little remains of truth, and purity, and holiness, and love, though even that was in a condition not of vigorous and healthy exercise, but most lamentably weak and decaying, like the fitful flickerings of the lamp from which the oil had nearly been exhausted, causing it but to throw out a pale and sickly gleam. A living writer who has touched this subject with but a brief remark, observes, that “the little religion still remaining among the members of the Church at Sardis, is represented to us under the image of a patient, languishing on the bed of sickness and infirmity.” This is a very powerful conception, and it places the subject before you in an aspect calculated to waken the attention. You have all seen the sick and the dying, and I doubt not, have noticed the heaving breast and the laboured breathing. Like an individual on the bed of languishing, labouring for breath and struggling for existence, was the religion which remained in the Church of Sardis. But while breath remains, hope is not extinguished; and the exhortation is to strengthen the things which remain and are ready to die; bring back the necessary supports to decaying faith, and failing love, and illcherished obedience; catch the spark of life ere it is for ever extinguished; replenish the nearly exhausted lamp with fresh oil ere it dies. Let
not absolute spiritual death be the consequence. There are means of revival which may in all cases be resorted to with every hope and promise of success. The fountain of divine mercy is not yet exhausted, and the great Physician is still ready. Call upon God to give you his grace, that you may examine most faithfully the disease and its cause; that he may impart vigour to the pulse of religion, which beats so languidly, and fill the soul which otherwise must perish, with health, with life, and with immortality. There was a deep necessity for this, for their heart-searching God declares, that he had not found their works perfect before him ; they had not been full; they were radically defective; most of them were formal and hypocritical, and the rest were languid and faint, and partial, and corrupted by improper admixtures, both of motive and of purpose. New strength must be gathered for faltering purposes; new energy be given to a fading faith ; new animation to a withering hope; new impulse to a weakening obedience.
To add to the force of this exhortation, the Lord Jesus Christ calls upon them to remember how they had received and heard ; that is, what favours, temporal and spiritual, they had received ; what lessons of instruction they had heard. What special favours of a temporal kind the Church of Sardis had received at the hand of God, stands no where recorded on the pages either of profane or of sacred history. We are not at a loss to ascertain the favours of a spiritual kind which they had enjoyed. These may all be summed up in the one term, the Gospel; with its advantages, its privileges, and its opportunities. The Gospel, by which they had been rescued
from the debasement of idolatry and superstition and brought from the slavery of a most corrupt and corrupting ignorance. These benefits they had received; but it was not only the things which they had received which were used by Christ as the argument, it was also what they had heard. The line upon line and precept upon precept, the calls, the exhortations, the truths, the promises, the threats of the written and the preached word. He asks the members of the Church at Sardis to permit their memories to rest for a moment on these blessings, privileges, and opportunities; and as their minds wandered over the long forgotten past, to call up these as the shadowy forms of the dead, and let them argue the disobedient into watchfulness and a determination to renewed effort. To this he adds the exhortation, “hold fast;" it is an exhortation to perseverance and tenacity in religion. The situation of those in Sardis is here compared to that of an individual, who, by some carelessness or rashness, 'or unparalleled presumption, had been forced beyond the edge of a precipice, with just a hold of his hands upon its dangerous brink; and he wishes them to understand, that if they let go their hold they perish in the yawning gulf which is underneath. They were in the condition of those who were feebly contending for the possession of something of all possible value, with another whose stronger hand was also upon the object of contention. He wishes them to understand that if they did not determinately hold fast, they would lose the prize. It was with them a desperate case, and required a desperate struggle. The little religion which remained, was languishing, dying ; the great