Lecture 6 - Sleeping Among the Dead

(Rev. iii. i-6).

In the address to the church of Thyatira, we find the Lord
announcing His coming, and bidding His saints wait to share then with Him the
authority which the false Church was assuming to have already. Thus Thyatira
presents us with a phase of things which goes on at least until the Lord comes
for His saints; not indeed until the rising of the Sun of Righteousness upon
the world, of which Malachi speaks, but until He comes as the Morning Star -
the herald of the day before the day appears.

In Sardis we have,
therefore, not only a development of the Thyatira condition, but in many
respects, as it is easy to see, what is in entire opposition to it; not the
claim of infallibility, not corruption of doctrine (as what is prominent), not
persecution of the saints, not the exercise of authority in the same sense.
There is now a very simple and explicit statement as to the character of
things, which is a lack of spiritual power, nay, of life itself. While Christ
had as much as ever "the seven spirits of God," - the plenitude of the Spirit
as of old, and for His people, - in fact, they whom He addressed had a name to
live only, and were dead. I would only there were more difficulty in applying
this; but it is surely what fatally characterizes, and did from the beginning
characterize, not individuals necessarily, but the churches of the Reformation.

Understand me well. I do not speak of the Reformation itself when I
say this; for the Reformation was the blessed work of God; and the Lord does
not judge, or ever can have need to judge, His own work. He refers to what His
grace had done for them, to what they had heard and received. Their
responsibility was to take heed to it, and hold it fast; and already they had
failed in this. This is the ground of judgment.

Christ has the seven
spirits of God, and the seven stars. So He is represented here. There is no
failure in the supply of spiritual power; no failure in His care for His
people. Yet in them there is a strange and terrible lack. With more pretension
than had before been manifested in one way, for they have now a name to live, a
name assumed to be in the book of life, while the actual condition of the mass
is that of death - not feebleness, but death.

There are exceptions:
not merely those alive, but, still more, those that have not defiled their
garments; and of these the Lord speaks in the warmest terms of praise: "They
shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy." Alas, it is only "a few
names." Others may be alive; but in a scene of death - you know what defilement
with the dead is among the symbols of the Old Testament - the many of those
even alive are defiled. But the mass are dead altogether - dead with a name to

The Lord further refers to this in His promise to the overcomer
in Sardis: "Him that overcometh . . . I will not blot his name out of the book
of life." The book of life is understood by the majority of people to be only
in the Lord’s hands, and all the names written in it by Himself. Those
ignorant of the gospel consequently stumble over this blotting out of the book
of life, supposing that it is the blotting out of those who had once been
saved. But there is no such thought here. There is not the slightest sign that
those mentioned ever had life at all: they had a name to live - only the name.

Contrariwise you find in Rev. xiii. 8 the very opposite as to those
"written," as we ought to read it, "from the foundation of the world in the
book of the Lamb slain." It is their security from being deceived by and
worshipping the beast. Sovereign grace is their only and their sufficient
security. Here, on the other hand, the book has got into man’s hand, and
he writes names as he pleases. But the Lord in His own time corrects the book,
and then He blots out the names of those who had but the name.

Now the
"name to live" has special meaning in connection with Reformation times. It
was, and is, in no-wise characteristic of Popery, the putting of people’s
names (while here on earth) into the book of life. " Saints" for them are the
dead, and not the living. The living she warns that "no man knows whether he is
worthy of favour or hatred," and that it is best not to be too sure. Her
pardons, her indulgences, her sacraments, only show by their very multiplicity
how difficult a thing salvation is. Darkness is the essence of her system, and
she thrives upon it.

On the other hand, the Reformation recovered the
blessed gospel, and the word of reconciliation was preached with no uncertain
sound. The doctrine of assurance was preached with the utmost energy, and was
stigmatized by the Council of Trent as the "vain confidence of the heretics."
They even pushed it to an extreme, maintaining (at least, some of the most
prominent Reformers did) that assurance was of the very essence of saving faith
itself, and that unless a man knew himself forgiven, he might be sure that he
was not forgiven. Plainly, then, Protestantism put a man’s name in the
book of life in a way that Popery did not.

Two immense things the
Reformation gave to us, which have never since been wholly lost: an open Bible,
in a language to be understood; and, on the other hand, the gospel, at least in
some of its most essential features. These are inestimable blessings, which,
would we had but hearts to value more.

Of the men, too, who were the
dear and honoured instruments in handing them down to us, we cannot speak with
enough affection and esteem. God honoured them (how many!), taking them to
Himself in fiery chariots, from which their voices come, thrilling us with the
accent of the heaven opening to receive them. Those who disparage them will
have to hear, one day, their names confessed and honoured by Him they, served,
as those of whom the world was not worthy.

But, on the other hand, we
must not make, as many are doing, the Reformation the measure of divine truth.
They are not loyal to the Reformation really who accept less than Scripture as
their measure, or test, of this. The broken and conflicting voices which are
heard the moment the question is no longer of the gospel, but of the Church and
its government, assure us that if Scripture has spoken as to this, the churches
of the Reformation do not in this convey to us its utterance, as it did in the
gospel. Lutheranism is not Calvinism, the Church of England is not the Church
of Geneva here. We must needs, whether we will or not, take Scripture to
decide, amid claims so conflicting; and when we do so, we find, with no great
difficulty, that no one of these takes us back to the Church as it was at the
beginning - the body of Christ, or the House of living stones - at all.

Instead of this, as is well known, the churches of the Reformation
were essentially national churches - not in every country able to attain the
full ideal, as in France, where Rome retained its ascendency by such cruel
means, but still always of that pattern. Rome had, of course, prepared the way
for this. The nations of Europe were already professedly Christian nations, and
it was not to be expected that those who escaped from Jezebel’s tyranny
would give up their long hereditary claim to Christianity. The adoption of an
evangelical creed could not change the reality of what they were. True, they
learned the formula, put their names upon the Church-books as Protestants,
learned to battle fiercely for the gospel of peace, - and how could you deny
their title to be Christians? Yet as to the many, it was but "a name to live."

We must learn to distinguish two elements in the ecclesiastical
revolution of those times. There was, first of all, a most mighty and manifest
work of God. The Scriptures, released from their imprisonment in a foreign
tongue, began to speak to responsive human hearts, with the decision and
persuasiveness that the word of God alone can have. Christ began once more to
teach as One having authority, and not as the scribes. The blessed doctrine of
justification by faith, everywhere brought souls, held fast in bondage, into
liberty and the knowledge of a Saviour-God. The ecclesiastical yoke could not
longer hold those whom the truth had freed; and where Christ had become thus
the soul’s rightful Lord, Rome’s authority was but the tyranny of

This was the first and most powerful element in
Protestantism; not a political movement, but a movement of faith. Luther,
solitary, at Worms, in the presence of the mightiest political power in Europe,
was God’s testimony that the work was of Him: His strength was manifest in
human weakness. Had that place of weakness been retained all through, had but
God been allowed to show that power was His alone, how different would have
been the result! And it is due to the foremost name of Protestantism to
acknowledge that, as far as carnal weapons were concerned, Luther would have
rightly refused them a place in a warfare which was God’s. To call
Protestantism essentially a political movement, is to do it glaring injustice,
and contradict the plainest facts.

Yet we cannot ignore the political
element which soon entered into it. Rome had made the nations everywhere feel
the iron hand of her despotism, and the national reaction against her was the
natural result of her intolerable and insolent oppression. The notorious
wickedness of her chiefs had destroyed, long ago, all real respect. Her power
stood now in an excessive and degrading superstition. She lived upon men’s
vices and their fears; and where the light fell and removed the darkness, the
fears were removed also, if the vices were not. Men learned to look upon the
power they had cringed to with contrary feelings, deep in proportion to their
depth before. Their interests, politically and otherwise, coincided with the
spiritual movement which divine power had produced. Soldiers, politicians,
governments, made common cause with the men of faith. It was hard not to
welcome such apparently God-sent allies, when on every side persecution raged.
The movement increased in external power and importance; but its character was
in just that proportion lowered and perverted.

There was need of
defined principles to give cohesion to elements which the Spirit of God no
longer sufficed to bind together. Outside there was the pressure of Rome, a
compact and immensely powerful body, armed, drilled, and intensely hostile.
Organization was soon a necessity: but of what, or whom? To have proclaimed the
true Church would have been to cast off their allies, to insure the continuance
of persecution and reproach, to leave Rome unchecked, triumphant. I do not say
that the true thought of the Church ever dawned upon them; but I do say that
their alliance with the world was a sure means of hindering their seeing it.
Instead of keeping the true Church’s place, national churches were formed,
with evangelical creeds as pieces of statecraft, and political power to back
them - not divine.

Of these creeds we have already spoken a good deal,
but yet there remains much more to say. It is easy to see that if a creed had
been of necessity for His Church, the wisdom of God could have easily given us
an infallible one, and His love could not have failed to do so. On the
contrary, He has given us that which He proclaims able to furnish the man of
God thoroughly to all good works, but which people feel at once to be as
different from a creed as can be.

Why do people want a creed? They
want something which can be more plainly and easily read than Scripture.
Scripture is indefinite; a creed must be definite. Of Scripture everybody makes
what he likes; what they want is something different, something that shall not
be susceptible of two meanings, plain to all - spiritual and unspiritual,
Church and world alike.

I have before been contending that Scripture is
clearer, plainer, than any word of man; besides being in infinite wisdom
written so as to meet, as nothing else can, the thoughts of man at every point,
so as to be the only guard and protection against heresy to the end of time.
This is simple truth; yet I am going to own, what may seem a contradiction to
my former words, that from their own point of view there is some truth in what
they contend for as between Scripture and a creed.

From their point of
view, - for the apostle’s words limit us somewhat when we speak of the
intelligibility of Scripture. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,
and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in
righteousness, that" - what? -"THE MAN OF GOD may be perfect, thoroughly
furnished unto all good works." Scripture, profitable for doctrine as it is,
does need a state of soul for its proper apprehension. It needs not, indeed,
great attainments, human learning, deep research, but (what may be found in the
lowest and poorest just as well) devotedness - that we be God’s men: what
all Christians are, indeed, by position and profession, but, alas, not what all
practically are. This is the single eye which we must have for the body to be
full of light.

But this being so, we can easily see that the Bible is
not just the book for a court of law, and it is not the book for a national
creed. The truth in it is not meant to be accessible merely to the natural
mind. It is not crystalized into so many doctrines; and if it is not, if it is
so essentially unlike a creed, on that very account we may surely believe that
nothing like a creed was in God’s design. He did not mean to give
something that should serve as a motto for political partizanship, or a banner
which should serve for any other purpose than spiritual warfare. Nationalism,
the union of the living and the dead, was never in His mind. He meant
spirituality to be a first necessity for the discernment of His thoughts; and
men, when they reject the blessed word of God for their plainer creed, show
really that herein they are at cross purposes with Him.

"Thou hast a
name that thou livest, and art dead" is the exact moral description, as it is
the condemnation, of nationalism: of more than this, no doubt, but still of
this. It is not the Church of God at all, but a Christianized world with
Christians scattered through it - a place so defiling that but a few really
keep their garments Undefiled. Connected with the truth, as Popery is not, such
a system betrays the truth which it professedly upholds. The character of the
last days is developed by it: "Men shall be lovers of their own selves,
covetous, proud, blasphemers," retaining all that was natural to them under the
garb of Christianity, "having a form of godliness, but denying the power

This is the effect of popularized truth - popularized as God
never meant His truth to be. Of course you will distinguish between this and
the preaching of His truth, than which nothing is more assuredly according to
His mind. His gospel is to go forth to every creature, and the blessings of an
open Bible we shall not be apt to exaggerate. But by popularized truth I mean
what we have already been speaking of, truth made into a party badge so as to
be accepted by those with whom Christ is not; for He never was popular, and He
is not.

Popularized truth means truth that has lost its power. It may
be truth for which martyrs died, truth that when first given of God, or given
afresh, was full of quickening power. Popularized, it is so far lifeless - no
exercise of soul in receiving it, no cross in professing it. They have got from
their fathers what their fathers got from God; their fathers confessed it in
shame; to them it is honour. There is nothing to test conscience, nothing to
make them ask, Dare I take this without human sanction to commend, nay, in the
face of all human discountenance? Yet only thus have we got it truly from God.
The martyrs they talk of, took it thus, and suffered for it; they take it from
their fathers, - a principle which would have condemned the martyrs, - and they
take it without the least thought of being martyrs. Truth is proclaimed as
powerless by the unholy lives of its professors, while unholiness is
recommended by the practice of those who are orthodox as to the truth. And thus
truth tends to die out of itself, as valueless, remaining all the while in the
national creed, embalmed as a memorial of the past. "Be watchful, and
strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found
thy works perfect before God."

Too manifestly do we see this, with
regard to all the national systems, to need more than a bare allusion. It is a
system adapted to worldly minds, and to be worked by political machinery. The
word of God is no necessity to it, except it may be to furnish a table of
lessons, for the authoritative standard is the creed. The Spirit of God is not
necessary to it, for colleges can manufacture preachers, and ecclesiastics
ordain and send them forth apart from this. Christians are not necessary to it:
they are too uncertain a constituent part of a nation or its government to be
capable of being reckoned on; and there is no means of determining with
certainty who they are. A sacrament - baptism or the Lord’s Supper - takes
here the place of less manageable tests.

And the grieved and insulted
Spirit may be besought to breathe upon the lifeless mass, and fill the sails of
the ship of the state. But He must keep within the bounds prescribed by ritual,
hierarchy, and parliament, or He will be treated as schismatical. And, it may
be remarked, how often, in fact, a schism springs out of a large and manifest
revival. Souls brought near to God, and made to feel the value of His Word, and
the necessity of obedience to it, are not made thereby the mere docile servants
of the state.religion. The new wine will not be held in the old bottles.
Statesmen are thus not favorable to such fresh enthusiasm, and no wonder: it
divides the house which it is their interest to keep as one.

But is
not this the history of the churches of the Reformation, of Protestantism in
fact, during the three centuries of its existence? Is not this the true account
of its divisions, for which it is reproached? The Spirit of God is not, indeed,
the author of confusion, but of peace; of unity, and not disunion. But when
people talk of schism, they should remember to what that term applies. As found
in Scripture, it is "schism in the body" that is reprobated, and the body of
Christ is not a national church. When men have joined together the living and
the dead, when they have subjugated consciences to formularies instead of
Scripture, to hierarchies instead of God, or to hierarchies in the name of God,
what have they forced the blessed Spirit to do but to draw afresh the line they
have obliterated between the living and the dead, between man’s word and
God’s, between human authority and divine?

And His mode of doing
this has been constantly to bring out of the inexhaustible treasure of His Word
some fresh or forgotten truth, which would do that which the popularized truth
in the creed had almost ceased to do, and which would test the souls of His
people as to whether they were indeed the descendants of those who confessed
Him of old, whose tombs they built, and whose memories they had in honour. The
fresh truth calls for fresh confession; it costs, and is meant to cost
something; it brings its confessors into opposition to the course around them,
and separates them at once from those whose only desire is to go with the
stream, and with whom the profession of Christ and the Cross are widely

Doubtless the division may separate between true Christians
themselves; and this is in itself an evil, that true Christians should be
separated; but the responsibility rests with those who are not quick-eared
enough to hear God’s call when it comes; not single-eyed enough to discern
the path in which the Lord is leading His own. We are bound by the honour we
owe to Him to maintain that He cannot possibly be leading His own in
contradictory paths, cannot possibly refuse the needed light to walk aright,
however simple or ignorant the soul may be. No one strays, and no one stumbles,
because God denies him light. But "the light of the body," practically, "is the
eye" - the inlet of it; and there the hindrance is. Thus a severance,
sorrowfully enough, is made between real Christians; but the sin of it is not
with those who separate from that which God has shown them to be evil, but with
those who remain associated with the evil which is forcing out the true in
heart. Separation from evil, so far from being a principle of division, would,
if honestly followed, make for unity and peace, as leading upon a path where
God’s Spirit ungrieved could really unite and strengthen His people. With
evil He cannot unite; evil, therefore, wherever admitted, is a principle of
division. I am not, therefore, upholding or making light of schism. The
divisions of Protestantism are its shame; and to glory in them is to glory in
one’s shame. Error is manifold, contradictory, schismatic. Truth, however
many-sided, is but one. Sects, in their multiplicity, may accommodate, no
doubt, the religious tastes of man; but that only would show how purely human
they are, how little divine.

The unity of the Spirit may be maintained,
and allow indeed for growth in knowledge, and in unity of judgment as to many
things. The Church of God has room for all that are God’s, of whatever
stature - fathers, young men, and babes. Nay, it insists upon the largest
charity for those who differ from us in aught that would not link the name of
Christ with His dishonour. But that is a very different thing from what is
implied in a creed; indeed, I may say, is its fundamental opposite. For the
creed defines in a way that, if rigidly adhered to, shuts out toleration as to
points of confessedly minor importance, where the Spirit of God would teach,
not indifference, indeed, but the largest charity; the creed forces its
definitions upon all in a way most felt by the most conscientious. It is as
necessary, as far as the creed goes, to believe in a child’s being
regenerate when baptized as it is to believe in the Son of God Himself. I grant
there may be practical laxity, but for a soul before God that does not do. For
such an one, with his eyes open, the subjection to human institutions in the
things of God is just what he cannot and dare not yield.

schism in the body "is always wrong. Separation from evil at all costs is a
necessity, and always right: and from this have been gathered the freshness and
power which have plainly characterized so many movements of this kind at the
beginning. They began in self-judgment and devotedness. The evil at least they
saw, and were exercised about, and the measure of truth they had was held in
power. It soon became systematized, and in that proportion its power began to
fail. The founders, if you look at their lives, were men of faith and power,
suffering and enduring. The manners of the adherents were chastened, simple,
primitive. When organized, popularized, with a large following, its freshness
waned; and in the third or fourth generation it had taken its place as simply
another sect among the many, boasting of a history which it did not discern to
be a satire upon its present condition.

The organization, the creed,
are to preserve the truth. But did these give them the truth they are anxious
to preserve? Surely not, as they must own. God in His love, God in His power,
has given what man had proved his incompetency to retain; they cannot trust Him
to retain it for them after He has given it. He has used His word to minister
it; they turn around and use for that blessed Word of His a creed of their own
manufacture to preserve it. The generations after follow their fathers’
creed and not the Word. The truth popularized is gone as "spirit and life." God
has to work afresh and outside of what a little while ago was a fresh revival
produced by His Spirit.

And the spiritual life of the time has come
more and more to manifest itself in "revivals," which, so far as they are
really such, are the protests of the Spirit of God against prevailing death
continually creeping over everything, and oftentimes connected with fresh
statements of truth when the old have lost their power. The Lord’s warning
to Sardis points out this constant tendency to death: "Be watchful, and
strengthen the things that remain, which are ready to die." "Remember,
therefore, how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast and repent."

It is scarcely too much to say that every true revival, whatever the
blessing for individuals, - nay, I might even say, in proportion to the
blessing for individuals, - weakens the national system, and this for reasons
we have been considering. The Spirit of God must needs work in opposition to
the death produced by the system, and therefore against the system which
produces the death. Souls quickened by the Spirit of God cannot go on
contentedly under deadly and unchristian teaching, comforting themselves with
the assurance of the article that "the evil" who sometimes "have chief
authority in the ministration of the Word and sacraments," do yet "minister by
Christ’s commission and authority;" nor will they always be able to accept
the ecclesiastical "yoke with unbelievers," because the system requires "every
parishioner" to communicate, irrespective of any other security as to his
conversion than his baptism and confirmation may imply.

It will be no
marvel, then, to find (what any one with spiritual understanding must own) that
a large proportion of those who "have not defiled their garments," in the
history of Protestantism, have been in some way or other dissenters from the
national system. The first generation of English reformers were dissenters from
Rome, and Rome did her best to keep them pure by the fires she kindled for
them. Afterwards a people began to be separated, who, from their honest
endeavor to be right with God, were nicknamed "Puritans." I need not tell you
what great names are found among this class, which after- generations have
learnt to love and honour - a class with whom fine and pillory and imprisonment
were familiar things. Everybody knows that Bedford jail was the "den" in which
John Bunyan dreamed his memorable dream. In Scotland, the attempted enforcement
of prelacy gave a succession of martyrs and confessors to the Presbyterian
name, with whom, as elsewhere, their time of persecution was their time of real
blessing, while Episcopalianism, which was riding roughshod over them, had gone
already more than half way back to Rome. With the movement under Wesley and
Whitefield, nearer to our own times, we are naturally still more familiar; and
that which issued in the Free Church of Scotland is still within the memory of
a generation not yet passed away.

All these, and many others, will
exemplify the truth of what I have been saying, until in our own days the
national systems are showing evident signs of decrepitude, and breaking up, and
Romanists and infidels are beginning their pæans on the downfall of
Protestantism. We who are able to see it all in the light of Scripture can
easily understand why all this is, and see only the truth of God’s word
more and more manifested in it. Christianity flung as a cloak over a corpse can
surely not warm it into life. Corruption will go on underneath, eating away the
form of life - the only thing it ever had - until at last the cloak will more
or less fall off, and what was all along true become apparent.

the Protestant churches shall be gone altogether, or gone as such, their
protest will not be gone, but only transferred to another Court. Heaven will
take up what they have dropped. Babylon the great will fall under divine
judgment, and apostles and prophets, and God’s people everywhere, will
rejoice at her fall.

But let us contemplate a little while now the
other side of things. We have had before us to-night what is intensely
sorrowful, more provocative of tears than Jezebel’s corruption. There, the
very malignity of the evil roused the whole soul against it. Here, there is the
fruit of what was in the beginning a movement of God. He can speak of what they
had seen and heard, and exhort to hold it fast. There are still "things that
remain," although "ready to die." And how can we but sorrow intensely over what
was so fair in its earliest promise, and received its baptism in the blood of

Yet the word to the overcomer here comforts us with its
recurrence. It links us, if we have ears to hear, with the same little remnant
that has ever been finding its way, through storm and flood, to Him from whose
love neither tribulation, nor distress, nor persecution, nor famine, nor
nakedness, nor peril, nor sword can separate, and in which they have approved
themselves, through Him, more than conquerors. The overcoming may be now in a
new sphere, and separation may have to be from brethren, heirs of great names
in faith’s record. Yet, only overcorners are their true successors. Not
those who built the sepulchres of the prophets represented them or were linked
with them, in our Lord’s account, but those whom He sent forth - to be
persecuted by these same admirers of antiquity.

And God must teach us
independence even of one another, - that rightful independence which springs
from real and lowly dependence upon Him. In His presence, what were even the
greatest of His followers? How can I say to another, "Rabbi, Rabbi," when I
must take the honor from Him that I deck another with? If I had not Him, it
were lowliness; if I have Him, it is dishonour to Him.

It is not
schism, this separate path, when not my own will, but His Word and Spirit leads
me. It is not separation in heart from brethren, if Christ be dearer to me
still than they. Nay, love to them only approves itself, as the apostle teaches
us, "when we love God and keep His commandments" (i John V. 2). Faith’s
victories are not in applause wrung from a multitude, but in the path of One,
the true Joseph, separated from His brethren; and God has overruled the
presence of evil (which, I need not say, He has not caused) to the giving us a
path, at least in its circumstances, the more Christlike. We are not left to
the subjection to evil; He calls us to rise above it. The difficulties of the
path are only to prove afresh the power of God to carry us through them all.
Every encouragement throughout these epistles is held out simply to the

The Lord give us only the needed energy! The time is short.
The end is at hand. The grace that is now sufficient for all daily need will
soon be manifested in the crowning of the conquerors. Then, those that are poor
shall have the kingdom; the mourners shall be comforted; the meek shall have
the inheritance; those that hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be
filled; above all, the pure in heart shall see God - the God whom sin, for the
time, has banished from the earth He made.