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

PART II

BROTHER BEEBE: - In the former Number, I briefly stated the history of the Sardis church state, from the scattering of the Waldenses to the separation of the Old School from the New School Baptists. The enquiry will arise, whether the work of the Old School in separating from the corruptions among the Baptists, was a perfect work before God; and whether they came out altogether a living body? I think not, for we are yet in Sardis, and the complaint still stands against us. The fact is that as Rachel in leaving her father to go with Jacob to Isaac, in the land of promise, took with her the images or gods of her father, so the Old School Baptists have brought out with them customs established by their fathers, such as Confessions of Faith and Associations; and they can make no better plea for them, than Rachel made to hide those she had stolen and which involved in it an acknowledgement of present barrenness. Excuse me for the reference, “For whatever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we through faith and comfort of the Scriptures – {not of men’s productions} – might have hope.” Rom.15:4. Whether these things will have any less evil effect among the Old School in the end, than they had among the Baptists formerly, is difficult to say. But generally it may be assumed that like causes under similar circumstances, will produce like effects. It is true we have no schools among us for educating young men for the ministry, and have as yet made no move toward it. Our associations appear pretty well guarded against any encroachment of power over the churches, but not more so than were the constitutions of the early associations among the Baptists. The fact is, let there be in an association one or two leading brethren, who have obtained the confidence of the churches, and let there be in them, a secret, but governing hankering either for popularity, or for power over the churches and with the advantages of the associational compact, they will lead the churches into bondage before they are aware that their safeguards have been encroached upon; as past experience abundantly shows. As to written Confessions of Faith, they are what they ever have been from the day that Constantine’s Council first established one at Nice, until the present moment; a ground for persecuting in one way or other, all who dared honestly to enquire for themselves on the several points embraced, and were thereby led to differ from them, even in expression. But the images or gods were all given up to Jacob before he went up to Bethel, the house of God, and hid under an oak in Shechem. So before the visible church will again be truly distinguished as the house of God, all these devices of men will be given up, by Rachel, or the sheep, as Rachel signifies. Rachel also died whilst in travail with her last son. So I think before the raising up again, the two Witnesses, even the Old School Baptist Church in its form and present organization will die. And the Witnesses that are raised will be indeed a man child; a Benoni, a son of the church’s sorrow in her last persecution, in the killing of the Witnesses; a Benjamin, the son of Jacob’s right hand, but left handed men that can sling stones at an hair’s breath and not miss. They will rule all nations with a rod of iron, beating down everything that is in opposition to the truth and order of the gospel. See Gen.35:4 & 18, Judges 20:16 & Rev.12:5.

I have showed how that the works of the Waldenses, and of the Baptists were not perfect, and how they were dead, &c., and have glanced at the same complaints as standing against the Old School Baptists; but I wish to offer a few more remarks on these points with particular reference to the Old School Baptists.

First: I cannot think our work is perfect before God until we come explicitly to his standard. And this certainly is not, and will not be the case, so long as we adhere to the productions of men, {as are the Articles of Faith,} as a more correct delineation of God’s truth, and a more perfect test of truth and error, or discrimination between them, than are the Scriptures, which are God’s own revelation on the subject. As to being dead whilst we have a name to live as the church of Christ; I have a hope that the great body of the Old School Baptists are not at this time a dead mass, but as before remarked I see not why the same causes may not produce the same effects among us, as they produced formerly in the Baptist denomination. We have the same elements of death among us as were among them, for whilst we profess to receive the Scriptures as a perfect standard of truth and order, a great majority perhaps, of us hold to the Confessions of Faith, as a more convenient, if not a more perfect criteria of truth, and to associations, as an order that cannot be dispensed with. Associations are the creatures of men, and are therefore liable to be used of men for any purpose, and molded into any shape. The Confessions of Faith are but a dead letter standard, for it is impossible for men to infuse into their productions, that spirit and life which are in the words of Christ. Hence, natural persons can receive sentimentally all that is contained in them; and children can be educated in the belief of all they contain as easily as they can in the Episcopal Creed or the Westminster Standards; and we, some of us, know what strenuous advocates many persons formerly were for the doctrine of the catechism, who gave no evidence of being anything but natural persons. But it may be asked, Would the Scriptures be any more of a definite standard by which to discriminate between truth and error, and between true and false believers, than are Confessions of Faith? I answer no, not in the mere letter of them; for where is there the religionist that professes not to believe the Scriptures? Dead letter preaching and believing, amounts to nothing, whether the Scriptures or Creeds be the standard. There are a good many of those whom I hope are subjects of grace, that seem to lose sight of the fact that the words which Christ speaks, are spirit and are life, and therefore that the flesh profiteth nothing in understanding or receiving the doctrine of Christ. But the flesh does profit a good deal in knowing and understanding the letter of the Scriptures, for it is by our natural powers that we learn to read them, &c. The spirit alone quickeneth to an understanding of the truth as it is in Jesus. And the spirit searcheth all things; yea, the deep things of God, and therefore he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God, they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned.” God never designed that natural persons should know the doctrine of Christ, he has hid these things from the wise and prudent. Hence, I believe that it is the spirit of the word, it is “Christ in you the hope of glory,” that is alone the criterion between truth and falsehood in religion, and he alone who is spiritual, is capable of judging of these things. Set up any dead letter standard you please, and you make the church accessible to any one who has experienced a conversion; and by conversion I do not mean regeneration, natural persons can be converted. Hence I cannot think that the works of the church will be perfect before God, till laying aside all other standards she comes to the spiritual standard. But it does appear to me that the tendency of things among us at this time, is the other way. A quotation of texts of Scripture to support a position, both in preaching and in writing, with a mere reference to the sound of the words, without considering the idea intended by the Holy Ghost to be conveyed thereby is too common. The Scriptures may be more readily, and more deceptively perverted by quoting them in false connection; than in any other way.

Second: I come to Christ’s words of commendation and promise concerning a few in Sardis.

1st. “Thou hast a few names, even in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments.” This expression, even in Sardis, shows the church is here described, to be in her lowest state, unless perhaps the Laodicean may be worse. There were those among the Waldenses, who were experimentally established in the truth and order of the gospel, and who therefore could not be persuaded by Calvin’s missionaries, nor driven by the severe persecutions of the Papists, to depart therefrom. These therefore did not corrupt their profession by a departure therefrom, nor defile their garments by an intercourse with the Mother of Harlots, or with any of the Protestant daughters. So in reference to the Baptist denomination, there were as has been manifested, even in the church as existing among them, those who did not defile their garments, by the corruptions brought in with the second Beast, but separated themselves therefrom. So also however corrupted the church may become as now existing among the Old School Baptists, there will undoubtedly a few be found at the last who have not defiled their garments; but will endure faithfully the persecutions connected with the killing of the Witnesses.

2nd. “And they shall walk with me in white for they are worthy.” Walking does not seem to indicate that resting from their labors in glory which awaits all saints; but rather their travels here in the wilderness. Christ walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, and they walk with him as followers of him. They walk with him in white. It is said of the bride, that; “She should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints;” {Rev.19:8;} and Christ is their righteousness. Hence as the saints walk by faith, they view themselves as clean and white before God, how much soever they may see their own pollutions, and the world may esteem them vile. But again it is said of that innumerable multitude which John saw around the throne, “These are they which came out of great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Rev.7:14. The washing of the saints from their sins is ascribed to Christ, “Who hath washed us from our sins in his own blood.” Rev.1:5. But in the other text, they are said to have washed their garments, &c., and this in connection with their having come out of great tribulation, and therefore to their having endured persecution. This is what I think is intended in the expression, “They shall walk with me in white,” that they shall be honored with suffering persecution for Christ’s sake. There is nothing short of the drawings of God’s love, that has so great a tendency, as persecutions for the truth’s sake, to lead the saints not only to seek to keep themselves unspotted from the world, but also to adhere more closely to, and more earnestly to contend for the doctrine of the cross, or Christ’s special atonement, in distinction from all compositions, and mixtures of men’s devising; and therefore to keep their garments or profession free from pollution. Besides, their being persecuted for the truth’s sake, shows clearly that they are virgins, {Rev.14:4,} and therefore emblematically clad in white. Thus, those Waldenses, who escaped from the valley of Piedmont, and those who succeeded them as Baptists, were severely persecuted by the Protestant States of Europe. So those Old School Baptists that shall be found standing fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made them free, will have in the end, to suffer persecution.

3rd. “For they are worthy.” Yes, even of so great a privilege. But wherein? Not, in themselves more than others; but in the worthiness which Christ has been pleased to put upon them, in enabling them faithfully to follow him.

4th. “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment.” John saith, “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world, and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” I John 5:4. Faith then is that by which believers overcome the world. As Watts sings,

“Faith hath an overcoming power,
It triumphs in the dying hour.”

It enables the saint to resist the allurements and flatteries of the world, to face its scorn and frowns, and even its persecutions unto death, with triumph. This faith, which is not the result of testimony, nor in any way the exercise of the rational faculties of man, but is spiritual, and is the gift of God, will be tried in those saints who live at the time of the slaying of the Witnesses; and in a measure, in those who live from this time on, as it has been in times past; but it will overcome, and bear the saints triumphantly through.

“The same shall be clothed in white raiment.” This may have reference to the saint’s ultimate triumph in glory. Though I think it probable that it has special reference to those who shall continue steadfast in the faith and out live the killing of the Witnesses, and their being raised again; for then all the reproaches will be cleared away from the faithful in Christ Jesus; they will be generally acknowledged as the church of Christ, whilst Babylon with all its confederacies will sink under the scorn and hatred of the nations of the earth, to rise no more.

5th. “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.” And I will not blot out his name out of the book of life. Were not similar expressions found in other texts, there would be no difficulty in understanding this declaration as designed to give confidence to Christ’s doubting, tempted, persecuted ones, that they will not be disowned of their Lord, notwithstanding all their fears to the contrary, arising from a sense of their own unworthiness, and from seeing so many turn from the truth and order of the gospel, for the sake of shunning persecution. But as in Rev.22:19, we read, “If any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, &c.,” and in Psal.69:28, concerning some, “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous;” there seems to be a call for some further explanation of this expression, of blotting out of the book of life. I have no idea that the Lamb has literally a book which are recorded the names of his people; but as typical Israel were so regularly numbered, and their names and genealogies so particularly recorded and transmitted down in the books of the Old Testament, we are thereby taught the particular knowledge the Lord has of his people, of what kindred soever they may be. Hence the declaration of the Apostle, “The foundation of God standeth sure having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his.” II Tim.2:19. Again on the return of the Jews from their captivity, there were among them those who were accounted and named as priests, who could not find their register when they came to be reckoned by genealogy, that is their register as being of the sons of Aaron, and were therefore “as polluted put from the priesthood.” Ezra 2:61 & 62. And this is the idea intended to be conveyed by the expressions under consideration as I understand them; namely, that among those who have a name to live, as being members of the church of Christ in its visible form, but are dead will not when their faith is tried find their register, or show that faith which proves their genealogy to be from Christ the great High Priest, and will therefore as polluted, in some way, be severed from the priesthood, or church of Christ. Whereas those who have that overcoming faith which shows their genealogy to be from Christ, will be owned of him, as members of his church, in its triumph over antichrist, and in its triumph over death; or in its being brought out from the captivity of each.

Third: I now will notice Christ’s exhortations to this church or to his church in this state, as found in the 2nd and 3rd verses.

1st. “Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die.” This intimates that what we still have among us of a spiritual and living nature are ready to sink into a cold and lifeless formality. May we then be led to watch, that nothing further of dead letter forms be admitted among us in doctrine and worship, and that our churches be not further filled with formal professors. And may our attachment and regard be strengthened toward those things which we have received by faith, and not of men; for those only have life. What we are taught of God is spirit and is life; what we learn from men, however correct it may be in theory, is mere dead letter knowledge. Let us then pay more respect to experience, and less to the opinions of men.

2nd. “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard.” Paul says to the Galatians, “This only would I learn of you, Received ye the spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” And again, “Are ye so foolish; having begun in the spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” Gal.3:2 & 3. These enquiries are highly important to be considered by us, in remembering how we have received and heard, that we may know for ourselves, whether we received the gospel, on which we hope for salvation, of man or were taught it by the revelation of Jesus Christ. That which we have received of the Lord, let us hold fast; that which is after man, is of no value.

“And repent.” Certainly not of that which we are to hold fast, for that would be contradictory. But whilst we hold fast that which the Lord has taught us, and was received by faith, and which therefore is life, may we repent of every system and notion of man’s devising, these are dead; and dead notions work death in our minds to that which is spiritual and even a persecuting spirit towards those who contend for that which is spirit and is life.

We as the professed living church are with propriety called upon to repent. But still we shall not truly repent unless the Lord is pleased to give us repentance. Repentance he will give to some, but whether he will grant it to us generally as a church and people, or whether he will leave us to go on self-confident in our own opinions and ways, until the troubles connected with the killing of the Witnesses come suddenly upon us like a thief in the night, is not for me to say. But indications certainly more and more appear to be that the latter will be the case.

But, brethren, May the Lord, if consistent with his will grant repentance both to you and me, and count us worthy to walk with him in white.

Brother Beebe, I have been led in this communication to dwell somewhat on some points which have been heretofore controverted through the SIGNS. I have not done it with any desire to provoke a revival of those controversies, or to give offense, but simply to give what I honestly believe to be a correct exposition of this prophecy. If any brother not satisfied with this, will give a more Scriptural exposition, I shall be glad to see it, and will not reply in controversy.

Yours with kind regards,
S.TROTT.
Fairfax County, Va., Dec.17, 1850.