“The first charge of general defilement he brings against the church in Sardis was that they had a vast deal of open profession, and but little of sincere religion. I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. That is the crying sin of the present age. … In going up and down this land, I am obliged to come to this conclusion, that throughout the churches there are multitudes who have a name to live and are dead. Religion has become fashionable. … It is reckoned to be reputable and honorable to attend a place of worship, and hence men are made religious in shoals. … You can scarcely meet with a man who does not call himself a Christian, and yet it is equally hard to meet with one who is in the very marrow of his bones thoroughly sanctified to the good work of the kingdom of heaven. We meet with professors by hundreds; but we must expect still to meet with possessors by units. The whole nation appears to have been Christianized in an hour. But is this real? Is this sincere? Ah! we fear not. How is it that professors can live like other men? How is it that there is so little distinction between the church and the world? Or, that if there is any difference, you are frequently safer in dealing with an ungodly man than with one who is professedly righteous? How is it that men who make high professions can live in worldly conformity, indulge in the same pleasures, live in the same style, act from the same motives, deal in the same manner as other people do? Are not these days when the sons of God have made affinity with the sons of men? And may we not fear that something terrible may yet occur unless God shall send a voice, which shall say, Come out of them, my people, lest ye be partakers of their plagues? Take our churches at large — there is no lack of names, but there is a lack of life. Else, how is it that our prayer-meetings are so badly attended? Where is the zeal or the energy shown by the apostles? Where is the Spirit of the living God? Is he not departed? Might not Ichabod be written on the walls of many a sanctuary? They have a name to live, but are dead. They have their societies, their organisms; but where is the life of godliness? Where is inward piety? Where is sincere religion? Where is practical godliness? Where is firm, decisive, puritanical piety? Thank God, there are a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments, but charity itself will not allow us to say that the church generally possesses the Spirit of God. … Then the next charge was, that there was a want of zeal throughout the church of Sardis. He says, Be watchful. He looked on the church and saw the bishops slumbering, the elders slumbering, and the people slumbering; they were not, as once they were, watchful for the faith, striving together and earnestly contending for it, not wrestling against the enemy of souls, laboring to spread their Master’s kingdom, but the apostle saw sleepiness, coldness, lethargy; therefore he said, Be watchful. Oh! John, if from thy grave thou couldst start up, and see the church as thou didst at Sardis, having thine eyes anointed by the Spirit, thou wouldst say it is even so now. Ah! we have abundance of cold, calculating Christians, multitudes of professors, but where are the zealous ones? where are the leaders of the children of God? where are your heroes who stand in the day of battle? where are your men who count not their lives dear unto them, that they might win Christ, and be found in him? where are those who have an impassioned love for souls? How many of our pulpits are filled by earnest, enthusiastic preachers? Alas! look, at the church. She has builded herself fine palaces, imitating popery, she hath girded herself with vestments; she has gone astray from her simplicity; but she has lost the fire and the life which she once had. We go into our chapels now, and we see everything in good taste: we hear the organ play; the psalmody is in keeping with the most correct ear, the gown and the noble vestments are there, and everything is grand and goodly, and we think that God is honored. … What is the use of garnishing the shell when you have lust the kernel. Go and whitewash the outside of your father’s tomb, but know it is a tomb of whitewash, for the life is gone. Garnish the outside of your cups and platters; but ye have lost the pure word of God. Ye have it not now preached to you in simple, earnest, pleading tones; but men enter the ministry for a piece of bread; they flinch to speak the whole truth, or if they seem to speak it, it is with cold meaningless passionless words, as if it were nothing whether souls were damned or saved, whether heaven were filled or heaven depopulated, or whether Christ should see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied. Do I speak fierce things? I can say as Irving once did, I might deserve to be broken on the wheel if I did not believe what I say to be the truth, for the utterance of such things I might deserve the stake; but God is my witness, I have endeavored to judge and to speak impartially, With all that universal cant of charity now so prevalent I am at arm’s length, I care not for it. Let us speak of things as we find them. We do believe that the church has lost her zeal and her energy. But what do men say of us? “Oh! you are too excited.” Good God! excited! when men are being damned; Excited! When we have the mission of heaven to preach to dying souls. Excited! preaching too much! when souls are lost. Why should it come to pass that one man should be perpetually laboring all the week, while others are lolling upon their couches, and preach only upon the Sabbath-day? Can I bear to see the laziness, the slothfulness, the indifference of ministers, and of churches without speaking. No! there must be a protest entered, and we enter it now. Oh, Church of God, thou hast a name to live, and art dead; thou art not watchful. Awake! awake! arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” (Spurgeon, A Solemn Warning for All Churches, February 24, 1856).
A Name that You Live but You are Dead
Pastor, Exhorter, Cyclist
Frank Jones is presently pastor at Faith Memorial Baptist Church in Chesterfield, Virginia.