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THE SARDIS CHURCH STATE - REV. 3:1-5.

PART I

BROTHER BEEBE: - Sister Izor, in her valuable communication in the SIGNS, Aug.15th, has made two requests of me; one in common with others to write our experiences; the other to give my views on Rev. 3:1-5. I have been so much from home since August, that I have not had time to attend to private correspondence as I ought. But I will now give such views as I have on the passage in Revelations, and hope next if spared to attempt to the other request.

I understand the seven churches addressed in this, and the preceding chapter to represent the church in its several changes, and periods on from the days of the Apostles, to the coming of Christ to take his church home to himself. I however differ perhaps from most others; in that, I do not consider the mere nominal church or professing world thus represented, but the true visible church, as professing the doctrine and order established in the New Testament. The several states of the church, as thus pointed out, may probably be understood to be as follows: The 1st as representing the apostolic age; the 2nd the period from that age to the establishing of religion by Constantine; the 3rd from that period, including the separating of the church from the nominal or anti-christian interest, until its location in the wilderness, or the commencement of the prophesying of the two witnesses; the 4th, the state of the church in the wilderness until it had again become corrupted; the 5th or SARDIS state of the church, as commencing with the scattering of the church in consequence of its corruptness, in its being driven from the valley’s of Piedmont, or to a future period. I have formerly thought that this church state terminated about the time of the church’s having again become corrupted through the influence of the two horned or second Beast, and the separation of the church as Old School Baptists from the mass of corrupted baptists, and therefore that we were in the Philadelphian church state; but I do not now believe that the church has as yet, that open door which is to characterize the Philadelphian state. {Besides the promise to the Philadelphia church to be kept from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, and try them that dwell upon the earth, cannot belong to the church at the present time any more than in the past ages. For whilst anti-christ still sits as a queen, and sees no sorrow, the church is still reviled and persecuted and will continue to be, until the Witnesses are killed. But when they are raised up again, the tables will be turned; then will come the hour of temptation upon anti-christ and the world, from which the church will be exempt, and she will have an open door set before her. Hence I now conclude that the Sardis church state will continue until the raising up of the Witnesses, and then will commence the Philadelphian church state.} We are therefore now in Sardis, and the message of that church belongs to us; our work is not perfect. In thus considering the text, I will first notice the particular descriptive character which our Lord assumes in addressing this church; namely, “He that hath the seven spirits of God, and the seven stars.”

1st. The seven spirits of God. One important point of difference between me and some of the brethren in the recent controversy, is that I do not believe that the Holy Ghost in his distinctive being, or God as he exists as the Holy Ghost, is intended by the term spirit as generally used in the Scriptures, nor even by the term spirit of God in every instance; so in this case I cannot think that the essential Holy Ghost is meant by the seven spirits of God, for I understand him to be one. Neither do I understand them to intend the Godhead of our Lord Jesus Christ. But I understand by them that universal power given to him as the exalted Head of the church by which he exercises a providential government over all things in heaven and in earth, and which is subordinate to none, but to him who “put all things under him.” I Cor.15:27. Hence these seven spirits of God are represented by seven eyes, Rev.5:6; see also Zech.3:9, compared with 4:10. Hence also the four chariots which Zechariah saw coming out from between two mountains of brass are said to be, “Four spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth.” Zech.6:1-8. By the two mountains of brass, I would understand predestination and election, or God’s purpose and grace, and by the chariots coming out from between them, I suppose the particular providences thereby indicated were subordinate to God’s purpose and grace, or God’s decrees concerning the world and concerning the elect. As these chariots were bounded by the two mountains of brass, so the all power given to Christ as Head of the church is exercised specifically for giving eternal life to as many as the Father hath given him. John 17:2. Hence the Apostle’s assertion as above quoted, that “He is excepted which did put all things under him.” These seven spirits of God being represented by seven eyes shows the perfect foresight and knowledge by which Christ governs all things and events. Hence the propriety of our Lord’s declaring himself as having this important characteristic in reference to this church state, for the encouragement of his church to trust in him amid all the great and important events that have transpired and are still transpiring in the political and religious world, during this period of the church; such as the church’s being driven from her retreat in the valleys of Piedmont and another asylum being provided for her by the discovery, settlement, &c., of America; and the rapid strides of the second Beast to power and in putting the mark of the Beast on all whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, &c.

2nd. Having the seven stars. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, chapter 1:20. Those angels have been generally understood to be the pastors of the churches. But angels signify messengers. Hence, I conclude that if those stars have reference to the gospel ministers, as probably they have, they relate to them rather as messengers of Christ, and of the churches sent forth to preach the gospel, than as exercising the pastoral office. Hence the propriety of the expression in each case, “Unto the angel of the church … write, &c.,” that is, transmit to him to be delivered to the church; one angel representing all the ministers of that period, as the churches are represented by one church. Thus we find the several messages apply directly to the churches and not to the ministers only, as is evident in this to the church at Sardis and in most of the others, it being addressed to a collection of persons and not an individual. Also at the conclusion of each message it is said, “He that hath an ear let him hear what the spirit saith unto the churches.” So in fact, in all ages gospel ministers are Christ’s messengers to the churches, and whatever treasure he puts into their earthen vessels, it is that they should empty it out to the churches, and I do not think that any of us have a right to keep back any of the treasures committed to us, for fear of being butted by our brethren for bringing forward some ideas which may be to them new things. Christ’s having the seven stars, and having them in his right hand - chapter 1:16 – denotes his having both the gifts for the ministry and the ministers at his own disposal, and under his protection and direction; and that all concerning them is ordered with divine skill. He sends his messages by whom he will, and when and where he pleases; and that is, wherever in his infinite wisdom he, in his walks “in the midst of the golden candlesticks,” sees occasion for it. So that the churches may with confidence look to him to supply all their needs, and the ministers, commit themselves to his disposal, provision and direction. And either churches or ministers by looking to any other sources, dishonor him; the one, as their husband; the other, as their master. But let the churches beware of false prophets or messengers, those who come in his name, with messages from others, or run without being sent of him.

3rd. We now come to our Lord’s address to this church state, or to the churches of this period.

1st. His complaint against them. “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest and art dead;” again verse 2, “For I have not found thy works perfect before God.” We have been accustomed to speak so highly of the Waldenses as comprising the true church in its external form, during the dark ages, that it may surprise some that I should consider these charges as having any bearing upon them. But as in individual christians, they generally render themselves needful of chastisement by in some way leaving their first love, before God sends it, so I think of the church, it needed being driven from the valleys of Piedmont and scattered, for its purification from corruptions. The occasion for the churches becoming corrupted in these valleys was very natural. They were in a great measure insulated from other people, knew no other religion than that which they professed, except the Catholic, and that, they held in abhorrence. Parents and children thus living together as a distinct community from generation to generation, alike prejudiced by education against the Catholics, and in favor of their own religion, it is no wonder that they should have sunken into a formal state, and the unregenerated portion, if they did not, many of them, actually got by profession into the churches, yet should exercise a strong influence in their religious affairs. Hence whilst they had a name that they lived they had become dead and formal as a body, and their work therefore of separating themselves from unregenerated professors and formal worship, to the spiritual religion and worship of Christ’s gospel, was not fully carried out, and therefore “not perfect before God.” Hence being in this state, no wonder that when Calvin and the Geneva church sent their messengers among them, with professions of friendship and sympathy for them, they by their superior advantages of education, and persuasion, should disciple many of this simple people to Calvin’s creed and infant sprinkling. Hence the claim set up by the Paedobaptists that the Waldenses were paedobaptists. Hence they had a name that they lived, were members of the true living church, but were as to the great body of them, a dead mass; and their works were not perfect before God, they did not maintain the perfect order of the gospel; did not go on unto perfection, but rather into corruption. These complaints against the church in Sardis, are evidently given as the general characteristic of that church state. Hence we shall find these complaints remaining equally good against the church since its being driven from the valleys of Piedmont as before. It is true that those few of whom it was said “they shall walk with me in light, &c.,” who had known the truth experimentally or spiritually, and were preserved from the general destruction of that people, being driven from their valleys, wandered over the various Protestant countries of Europe, hoping to be protected, as Protestants, particularly Calvinists had appeared to take so much interest in their behalf, but as wherever they went, they were constrained to bear their testimony to the truth, and that to the simple gospel truth as they had received it from the Scriptures, and to believers’ baptism; they soon drew down upon them persecution from the Protestants. In England in particular, although persecuted, the members discipled to the truth and order of the gospel increased, and among these were some learned men, and others who were impatient of persecution and who persuaded the body of these Waldenses, or Lollards, or Baptists, as they were called, to associate together in associations, and to put forth as their united belief a Confession of their faith, as a protection against persecutions; and further took steps to have schools established in order to educate men for the ministry, &c. But in these Articles of Faith, they still professed believers’ baptism as the only gospel baptism, how then could this course screen them from persecution? 1st. They had before, in common with the Baptists in Germany, been charged with Arianism and many other monstrous ideas, but now with Calvin adopting the substance of the Nicene Creed, and Calvin’s views generally of doctrine, they showed that they were with the Presbyterians in doctrine, and hence were known as Calvinistic Baptists. 2nd. By forming associations they were enabled more fully to show their numbers and increase, and the men of influence they had among them, and thus to show they were not so despicable a class as they had been held to be. 3rd. By establishing schools of learning and taking care to have learned ministers among them; they obviated the charge of ignorance made against them. Hence whilst Mosheim in his Ecclesiastical History speaks with the utmost contempt of what he terms the Ana-Baptists on the continent, he exempts the Particular Baptists of England from this censure, and speaks of their doctrine and order with commendation and that “their community is ruled by men eminent for piety and learning.” Cent. 15th, Sect.3, Part 2D. These Articles of Faith became through their associations a test of fellowship, and were adopted by most of the Baptists in this country as such. I have no doubt that our churches and brethren mostly have held on to these Articles, &c., as necessity safeguards against the introduction of error and carnal professors among them; but experience has undeniably proved that instead of being safeguards they were no other, than sheeps clothing, ready made, for wolves to put on. This may appear harsh; but where is there the O.S. Baptist who was such thirty or even twenty years ago, who does not remember the annoyance he used to experience at seeing churches, and ministers, coming forward and claiming fellowship and seats in associations, upon the ground of their holding to the Baptist Confession of Faith, when it was known that they were bitterly opposed to those ministers who preached experimentally the doctrine set forth in that same Confession, and were preaching and countenancing a system of doctrine opposite to it. And did the grievance wax worse, until a majority of the churches and associations of the Baptist denomination had become completely leavened with this deception of carrying one Confession of Faith in their letters to the associations, and another into the pulpits, and on their tongues generally; until the Old School Baptists had to come out from this deceptive and dead mass by the skin of their teeth?

Can there then be any doubt as to the Baptist denomination, that their work was not perfect before God, and that whilst they had a name as the living or visible church of Christ, they were collectively a dead mass?

S.TROTT.
Centreville, Fairfax County, Va., Dec.5, 1850.