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We have hitherto, my friends, contemplated the condition of the Church at Sardis with feelings of little better than unmingled melancholy; for most awful is that spiritual condition of which it is said " they had a name to live, but were dead ;” and little better is that, where religion is in a dull and languishing, and dying condition. Amidst the moral and spiritual desolation over which we have been engaged in looking, there is one green spot, one oasis in this dark and melancholy desert; and' this is the particular forming the
IV th general division under which this epistle is to be considered, “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white : for they are worthy.” VOL. II.
These figurative terms are of such a description as to preclude the possibility of much enlargement, for
you will readily perceive that it would not at least suit the fashion or the refinement of the age, to enter into a minute examination of what is so strongly implied under the expression—"Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.” This is one of those peculiarly emphatic descriptions which is intended to convey a forcible idea of the condition of those who in Sardis were qualified to receive a distinguished commendation. It expresses this forcible idea, that even in Sardis, where the religion of the generality was no better than hypocritical, formal, nominal; that even in Sardis, where true religion was in a languid and low and lifeless condition; that even here there were a few who might be considered as exempt from either of these charges. There were a few who were distinguished by the holy singularity of their character, “ faithful among the faithless," warm among the cold, pure among the unholy, unspotted from the world amidst a general defection. Those few in Sardis, brethren, are particularly worthy of remark, because they were realizing their condition as lights set on a hill, and they were “adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.” When we consider the detail of the circumstances of Sardis, we are not surprised that the Lord Jesus Christ singles out those few, as it were, and places them beside the rest as objects of especial notice. And when we take the whole matter into our view, three very important ideas impress themselves on our minds. 1st, the power of that
grace which had kept these from the general defection; 2d, the fact that no matter how awful the spiritual condition of a Church may be, God never leaves himself without a witness; and 3d, that hitherto, the real followers of God have always been few, compared with the mass of professors.
1. I observe the power of that grace, which had kept these from the general defection. You remember, brethren, that the general censure placed upon the members of the Church of Sardis was, that “they had a name to live, but were dead.” The few in Sardis who in the text are distinguished, were in the dangerous predicament of this association; and the wonder is, that they caught not the infection of this cold plague which raged among them. It is a fact, brethren, and I leave it among you as a caution, both to those who are formal, and those who, without being merely formal, have but little real piety; it is a fact, I say, that when many have the form of godliness without the power,
there is the utmost danger that others catch their spirit, and thus it is that Churches which once may have been considered in a lively and flourishing condition, have gradually become altogether corrupt. If there are some few individuals, who have either lost, or never had the power of religion in their hearts, and yet continued their professions of the truth; others, seeing their unwatchful and careless spirit in connexion with a profession of religion, become corrupted by their example. By degrees, they contract the same spirit and become corrupters in their turn. Thus, “ a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” Who has not been tempted to relax his own vigilance, by seeing a trifling or worldly spirit in those who profess the religion of the Lord ?
Under such circumstancs it is nothing but the energy of divine grace, almost amounting to miraculous, which can preserve the religion of any in its purity: for so infectious is evil, and so much more powerful is ill than good example, that if any one is enabled to keep faith and a good conscience, it becomes him to be more than commonly humbled, and to be more than commonly grateful to that omnipotent grace which has placed in his heart the antidote to the terrific poison of these cold formalists, and these dull and decaying and dying professors by whom he is surrounded.
2. From the case of these few in Sardis who had not defiled their garments, I observe, that no matter how awful the spiritual condition of a Church may be, God never leaves himself without a witness. This one fact, brethren, runs through the history of the world ; it is a line of light visible in the most terrific darkness which the Church of the living God ever saw; and it is a splendid illustration of the truth, that the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Sardis is not singular in having the few, pure and holy amidst the multitudes of ungodly. Take the first general defection which stands on the record of the world, and we find there were a few faithful. Enoch walked with God, and was translated, in token of his faith and that he pleased God. Noah, when the wickedness of man brought the deluge upon the earth, built him an ark, and was preserved; and then there were Abraham, 'Isaac and Jacob, whose faith is described as an example to all. Pass we on to another general defection, and we find with the prophet Elijah, though he thought himself alone, surrounded by four hundred prophets
of Baal, there were seven thousand that had not bowed the knee to Baal. Even in the captivity of Israel, there were those who could say, “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears," in sorrow for the sins of the people. Pass we to the period when in the fulness of time Christ came, and there was Simeon and others waiting for the consolation of Israel. And then when Christianity was established and persecution began, there were those who perished in the flames in testimony. And even in the darkest ages which the Church of Christ has ever seen-I mean under the hierarchy of Rome, in the centuries previous to the reformation—there was Claudius of Turin; and there were the Waldenses and Albigenses; and there was Luther and Melancthon and Zuingle, who kept themselves pure in the midst of corruption; and then there were the burning lights of the English reformation, Cranmer and Latimer and Ridley, and a host of others, of whom the Apostolic assertion may be made, "of whom the world was not worthy.” These are general remarks. What is true in general, is necessarily true in particulars. Let the Church be ever so corrupt in doctrine, or so debased in practice, the marks of Omnipotence are visible in some few who have not defiled their garments. In the corrupt and idolatrous religion of the pope of Rome, and in the anti-Christian religion of miscalled Unitarianism, and in every form of heresy, I have no doubt that God asserts the majesty of his power, and in all of them has some few whom his grace enables to rise above the evil of the systems, and by a happy inconsistency, to disbelieve the very dogmas for which they would contend. So in every Church which in essentials main