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Church of Sardis
Revelation 3: 1
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. 
  3:2   Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. 
  3:3   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. 
  3:4   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. 
  3:5   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. 
  3:6   He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. 

Sardis was founded in the twelfth century before Christ, and was one of the oldest and most important cities of Asia. It was located about thirty-five miles southeast of Thyatira. Until captured by Cyrus in 549 BC, Sardis was the capital of the kingdom of Lydia, and became so again after the fall of the Roman power in Asia in AD 395. Lydia was one of the richest kingdoms of the ancient world. The Lydians are reputed to have been the inventors of coined money. Speaking of their wealth, the historian Ridpath says: "A great cause of the prosperity and wealth of the Lydian kingdom was the natural fertility of the country. No other of all Asia Minor had so rich a soil."-History of the World, Volume 1, Page 231. Croesus, the reigning king when Cyrus captured Sardis, was famed for his wealth. Solon, the great Athenian legislator, spent some years in Sardis during the reign of Croesus. He was one of the seven wise men of Greece.

The ancient city of Sardis was built oil a plateau of crumbling rock rising 1,500 feet above the plain. The plateau was a part of Mount Tomolus, whose height was 6,700 feet. The walls of the elevation on which the city was built were almost perpendicular, and the city was inaccessible except by one narrow passage which was steep and easily fortified and guarded. At the base of the cliff flows the little Pactolus River, once famous for its golden sands. Sardis was considered an impregnable fortress. From Sardis, Cyrus marched against Artaxerxes, and at that place Xerxes gathered his mighty army before the expedition into Greece which ended in ignominious defeat at Marathon. In AD 1402, Tamerlane destroyed the city, and it was never rebuilt. A miserable little village near by still goes by the name of Sart.

The natural defenses of Sardis-made the guards and citizen proud and overconfident. The walls were carelessly guarded, with sometimes fatal results. Because of the failure of the guards to watch, Cyrus captured the city by stratagem in 549 BC Solon had warned Croesus not to be too confident of safety from attack, but even after the army of Cyrus appeared on the plain below, he saw no reason for concern. But the unexpected happened. One dark night a Persian soldier resolved "to approach the citadel" and attempt to climb the precipice "at a place where no guards were ever set." There the rock was so "precipitous and impracticable" that it would seem impossible to scale it. Herodotus says that the soldier "climbed the rock himself and other Persians followed in his track, until a large number had mounted to the top. Thus Sardis was taken, and given up entirely to pillage." But the lesson was soon forgotten, for 330 years later the city was again captured through stratagem by Antiochus the Great. Solon had warned the overconfident Croesus that "no human being is self-sufficient in every respect-something is always lacking. In every matter it becomes us to mark well the end, for oftentimes the divinity gives men a gleam of happiness, and then submerges them in ruin."

                                                    The Message to Sardis
In the light of the historic background of the city of Sardis, the epistle of Christ to the Sardian church was very appropriate and its language very impressive. He told them to "be watchful," and "if therefore thou shall not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shall not know what hour I will come upon thee." The city had fallen and was finally destroyed because the ruler and citizens had been over confident. its sentinels had failed to maintain a diligent watch. The enemy took them off guard. Jesus warned the church that if they too failed to watch because of overconfidence He would overtake them "as a thief" in the most unexpected moment. In the early days of World War II, Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave the following solemn warning to the citizens of the British Empire: "But I must drop one word of caution, for next to cowardice and treachery, overconfidence leading to neglect and slothfulness, is the worst of martial crimes." This has also been one of the greatest dangers of the church militant in all ages, but never more so than in its remnant phase.

Sardis means "those escaping" or "that which remains." The name, the message, and the subsequent history of the city and church, indicate a good start but a bad finish, a change for the worse. Sir William Ramsay calls Sardis "the city of death." Its history is just the opposite of that of Smyrna, which "was dead and is alive"; or is "the city of life." Sardis had "a name that thou lives, and art dead." Like Ephesus, the city and church of Sardis began with a glorious history and ended in a heap of ruins.

Sardis is now heaps of ruins, with no signs of life. It is indeed "the city of death." Describing his visit to the site of the ancient city, Emerson wrote: "There were more varied and vivid remembrances associated with the sight of Sardis, than could possibly be attached to any other spot on earth. But all were mingled with a feeling of disgust at the smallness of human glory. All-all had passed away! There were before me the remains of a dead religion, the tombs of forgotten monarchs, and the palm-tree that waved in the banquet hall of kings. While the feeling of desolation was doubly heightened by the calm, sweet sky above me, which, in its unfading brightness, shone as purely now as when it beamed upon the golden dreams of Croesus." What happened to the city was also the fate of the local church. It began as a flourishing community and ended in nothing except the memory of a glory that was past.

"The feet of the avenging gods are shod with wool," is an old Greek proverb that was known to the citizens of Sardis. But they failed to heed its warning. "Though the failure to watch, however, the acropolis had been successfully scaled in 549 BC by the Median soldier, and in 218 by the Cretan." -International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume 4, Page 269. "Sardis." The mountains around Sardis have always been a favorite haunt for thieves, who swoop down unexpectedly upon unsuspecting travelers and villagers. No government has been able to fully subdue them, even to the present day. The country is also subject to frequent earthquakes. Sardis was destroyed by the severe quake of AD 17, which laid twelve cities of Asia in ruins. Tiberius gave a large sum of money to help the city rebuild and remitted the taxes for five years. "Thou shall not know what hour I will come upon thee" was an appropriate warning. Divine judgments, like the thief, approach silently and stealthily, and accomplish their tragic mission suddenly and without warning.

Sardis never fully recovered from the earthquake of AD 17, and was only partially rebuilt. When this epistle was written, the city was rapidly waning in prestige and glory, but its inhabitants were still boastful of the reputation and history of the past. Decay and death were inevitable, but the Sardians refused to recognize the fate of the city and continued to live on its ancient glory. The city had a name only, whereas in reality it was dead, or rapidly dying. There is nothing more desolate than a dead or dying city which once teemed with life and bustled with activity, and there are few things more pitiable than for the few remaining citizens of such a city to talk with boasting of the past and vainly hope that the future will restore what has departed forever. This is strikingly illustrated by some of the ghost towns of the West.

                                                      The Sardis Period
Sardis symbolizes the church of the Reformation. The Sardian period covers the sixteenth, seventeenth, and most of the eighteenth centuries in a special sense, but doubtless embraces the entire history of Protestantism to the end of the gospel dispensation. "Then came the Sardian period-the age of separation and return to the rule of Christ. The age of comparative freedom from Balaam and his doctrines, from the Nicolaitanes and their tenants, from Jezebel and her fornication. An age of many worthy names, but marked with deadness withal, and having much of which to repent; an age covering the spiritual lethargy of the Protestant countries before the great evangelical movements of the last hundred years, which brought us to the Philadelphian era." (Seiss, Page 143) The letter to Sardis pictures "the inauguration, development, corruption, and judgment of Protestantism." (MeCarrell, Page 45.) It represents the glory of a past splendor in contrast with a present unabated spiritual decline, another "falling away," or apostasy.

To Sardis, Christ introduces Himself as the possessor of "the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars." The seven Spirits represent the Holy Spirit in the fullness and completeness of His power and operation. To the church that was spiritually dead and whose lamp of faith was flickering and almost extinguished, Christ represents Himself as having the fullness of spiritual power and the completeness of spiritual gifts. The Spirit is sometimes called the "Giver of Life." With this gift there is hope even for a dead church.

"The seven stars" represent the human guides and teachers of the church, including "the angel of the church in Sardis." Here is shown the relation between Christ as the giver of the Holy Spirit and as the head of a ministry of human agents. The success of Christ’s ministers depends upon the gift of the Holy Spirit. Here is positive proof that the seven Spirits and the seven angels are not the same, as some contend. It is the seven Spirits who make the seven stars shine. When ministers lose the gift of the Spirit they cease to shine in God’s firmament, and become "wandering stars." (Jude 13.)

 The Sardians had a name and reputation of life, but in reality they were dead. "Men say you are living, though you are dead," and "You are supposed to be alive but in reality you are dead," are other translations. Every professed Christian says by his very profession that he is alive and in possession of eternal life. By calling himself a Christian, he is living on the name of Christ. If he is dead spiritually, he is making a false claim and is under a terrible deception, likened to a corpse making a pretense of life. Like Samson of old the modern church is spiritually dead and "know not that the Lord was departed."
 The church may have much organization and the most up-to-date machinery, so that it hums with activity, making every pretense of life and vitality. Swete speaks of Sardis as "the paradox of death under the name of life." (Page 48.) There is "a form of godliness" with a denial of "the power thereof." There is nothing wrong with a form of doctrine and service provided it is vitalized by the presence and power of Christ. Otherwise it is lifeless and therefore worthless. To God life is more important than all else. "With Him a name to live amounts to nothing when it happens to be fastened to a corpse." (McKnight, Page 227.)
 One writer says: "The Reformers began well, but many of their successors were not so consecrated as they and so their works were not found perfect before God. They had a name to live and yet were dead, and the life of vital godliness which sprang from the great doctrines of the Reformers, gradually degenerated into lifeless formalism, until at the time of John Wesley the conditions were such that many of the ministers of the Established Churches of Europe were drunkards and libertines and were among the lowest of the people. Men like the Wesleys, Whitfield, the Puritans and the Pietists began to protest against these things with such earnestness and unction of the Spirit of God that they succeeded in bringing about the modern revival and missionary period typified by the conditions at Philadelphia." - SAMUEL H. TURNER, Outline Studies in the Book of Revelation, Page 13.
 Speaking of this period of lifeless formalism, Matthew Arnold wrote:
"Its form still stood without a breach,
When life and warmth were fled,
And still it spoke its wonted speech;
But every word was dead."

Protestantism was founded on a protest against the doctrines and corrupt practices of Romanism. The name continues large with life and reputation, but it has largely lost its significance. The average Protestant is ignorant of the great truth of justification by faith and other doctrines on which Protestantism was founded. Lack of a knowledge of the Scriptures has produced spiritual weakness and worldly conformity in many churches, and thus robbed most Protestants of their protest.

 The modern church has built up an enviable reputation for activity. Its services are orthodox in form and are fairly well attended. It has many rallies, campaigns, and anniversaries. Many prominent people are numbered among its membership, and yet with all this machinery and pretense to life the modern church is declared to be dead. This is evident first of all by the almost total absence of spiritual life. Very few souls are being saved, and even the saints are slipping in their religious experience. In the second place the lives of many church members are tarnished by sin so that only a few "have not defiled their garments,"
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