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THE FIFTH CHURCH -- SARDIS
“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. 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. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. 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. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment, and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” Revelation 3:1-6.
Review and Herald, vol 8, October 16, 1856, #24, p 189
Sardis signifies, "song of joy, or that which remains." The last signification is mentioned in verse 2. "Be watchful and strengthen the things that remain." If we are correct in the application of the first four churches, then Sardis represents the nominal churches for the last half century, or more. This church has a name that it lives but is dead. Look at the exalted position, and name which the nominal churches have had among the nations of the earth. Look at her high-sounding titles, and the applause she receives from what is called the world. The nominal churches have the name of the churches of Jesus Christ, and have the credit of doing much for the world. But they are dead - dead to the pure principles of the gospel, and to good works, as laid down by Christ and the apostles.
But there are "a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments," &c. To this church the message of the coming of the Lord is given, and the cry, Come out of her my people. A few hear, believe and obey. These came out of all the several denominations, and united upon the glorious theme of Jesus' coming, leaving their denominational tenets behind...
J.N. Loughborough, Great Second Advent Movement, p 217.
The people who had separated themselves from the nominal churches under the proclamation of the advent message, as well as those from whom they had thus separated, are addressed in the testimony to the fifth and sixth of the seven churches of the Revelation. The admonition to the fifth, the Sardis, church reads, "Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." From this language it is evident that the persons thus addressed had heard the proclamation of the Lord's coming. They had professedly received it, but were now about to renounce the same.
Uriah Smith, Biblical Institute, p 248-249
Church of Sardis. This word signifies prince or song of joy, or that which remains. For the period covered by this church, we come down this side of the Reformation, and of papal supremacy. By the Sardis church is undoubtedly meant, the churches brought out by the great Reformation; and the definition of the name answers well to the condition of the church during this period. What high position has it held? What favor has it had with the world? But how has pride and popularity grown apace until spirituality is almost entirely destroyed. This church is to hear the proclamation of the second coming of Christ in all its power; for the true witness says, "If thou shalt not watch I will come upon thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." The coming here brought to view is unconditional. By watching they would be prepared for it; and by not watching they would be overtaken as by a thief by this event. This proclamation they have heard in the great Advent movement of the present generation.
In the 5th verse we have some solemn facts stated in regard to the book of life. He that overcometh will not have his name blotted out; and this implies that all those who do not overcome will have their names blotted out from the book of life. This work of blotting out, as we have seen in our investigation of the sanctuary, takes place at the close of Christ's priestly work in Heaven. There will be at the conclusion of that work but two classes: one class having their names retained in the Lamb's book of life, and their sins blotted out of the book of God's remembrance; the other having their names blotted from the book of life and their sins retained to appear against them in the Judgement.
Uriah Smith, Daniel and Revelation, p 392-395
If the dates of the preceding churches have been correctly fixed, the period covered by the church of Sardis must commence about the year 1798. Sardis signifies "prince or song of joy," or "that which remains." We then have before us, as constituting this church, the reformed churches, from the date above named to the great movement which marked another era in the history of the people of God.
The great fault found with this church is that it has a name to live, but is dead. And what a high position, in a worldly point of view, has the nominal church occupied during this period! Look at her high-sounding titles, and her favor with the world. But how have pride and popularity grown apace, until spirituality is destroyed, the line of distinction between the church and the world is obliterated, and these different popular bodies are churches of Christ only in name!
This church was to hear the proclamation of the doctrine of the second advent, as we learn from verse 3: "If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief." This implies that the doctrine of the advent would be proclaimed, and the duty of watching be enjoined upon the church. The coming spoken of is unconditional; the manner only in which it would come upon them is conditional. Their not watching would not prevent the coming of the Lord; but by watching they could avoid being overtaken as by a thief. It is only to those who are in this condition that the day of the Lord comes unawares. "Ye, brethren," says Paul, "are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief." 1Thess.5:4.
A Few Names even in Sardis. - This language would seem to imply a period of unparalleled worldliness in the church. But even in this state of things, there are some whose garments are not defiled, - some who have kept themselves free from this contaminating influence. James says, "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." James1:27.
Shall Walk with Me in White. - The Lord does not overlook his people in any place, however few their numbers. Lonely Christian, with none of like precious faith with whom to commune, do you ever feel as if the hosts of the unbelievers would swallow you up? You are not unnoticed or forgotten by your Lord. The multitude of the wicked around you cannot be so great as to hide you from his view: and if you keep yourself unspotted from surrounding evil, the promise is sure to you. You shall be clothed in white, - the white raiment of the overcomer, - and walk with your Lord in glory. See chapter 7:17: "For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
White Raiment. - Being clothed with white raiment is explained in other scriptures to be a symbol of exchanging iniquity for righteousness. (See Zech.3:4,5.) "Take away the filthy garments from him," is explained by the language that follows, "Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee." "The fine linen," or the white raiment, "is the righteousness of saints." Rev.19:8.
The Book of Life. - Object of thrilling interest! Vast and ponderous volume, in which are enrolled the names of all the candidates for everlasting life! And is there danger, after our names have once been entered in that heavenly journal, that they may be blotted out? - Yes; or this warning would never have been penned. Paul, even, feared that he himself might become a castaway. 1Cor.9:27. It is only by being overcomers at last that our names can be retained in that book. But all will not overcome. Their names, of course, will be blotted out. And reference is made to some definite point of time in the future for this work. "I will not," says Christ (in the future), blot out the names of the overcomers, which is also saying, by implication, that at the same time he will blot out the names of those who do not overcome. Is not this the same time mentioned by Peter in Acts3:19? "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord." To say to the overcomer that his name shall not be blotted out of the book of life, is to say also that his sins shall be blotted out of the book wherein they are recorded, to be remembered against him no more forever. Heb.8:12. And this is to be when the times of refreshing come from the presence of the Lord; may we not also add, in that other language of Peter, When the day star shall arise in our hearts, or the morning star be given to the church, just previous to the advent of the Lord to usher in the glorious day? 2Pet.1:19; Rev.2:28. And when that hour of decision shall come, which can not now be a great way in the future, how, reader, will it be with you? Will your sins be blotted out, and your name be retained in the book of life? or will your name be blotted out of the book of life, and your sins be left to bear their fearful record against you?
The Presentation in Glory. - "I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels." Christ taught here upon earth, that as men confessed or denied, despised or honored him here, they would be confessed or denied by him before his Father in heaven and the holy angels. Matt.10:32,33; Mark8:38; Luke12:8,9. And who can fathom the honor of being approved before the heavenly hosts! Who can conceive the bliss of that moment when we shall be owned by the Lord of life before his Father as those who have done his will, fought the good fight, run the race, honored him before men, overcome, and whose names are worthy, through his merits, of standing upon the imperishable record of the book of life forever and ever!