Immortal Names In Sardis
October 1st, 1961 @ 10:50 AM
IMMORTAL NAMES IN SARDIS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-1-61 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled Immortal Names in Sardis. In our preaching through the Bible and through the Revelation, we have come to chapter 3, which is the fifth church of the seven, to whom our Lord sends this message:
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.
Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: For I have not found thy works perfect before God.
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.
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.
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.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
In the great circle of the seven churches in Asia, the messenger carried the message to Ephesus, then north to Smyrna, then further north to Pergamos. There he turned south and somewhat east to Thyatira and so down to Sardis. Sardis – about thirty miles from Thyatira, about sixty miles from Pergamos and east of Smyrna about fifty – Sardis is the name of one of the noblest and bravest and most storied of all of the cities of the East. For over two thousand years, it was a famous city under successive empires. It first was introduced to us in glory, in splendor, as the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia whose king was Croesus, whose name is a synonym for riches.
But Sardis was not only famous for its rich men; it was also famous for its wise men. Thales, the first great Greek philosopher, was a citizen of Sardis. And Solon, whose name is another name for a wise legislator, was also for a time a resident of Sardis. When Xerxes prepared his mammoth conflict with the kingdom of Hellas, he massed his great forces on the vast plain before Sardis.
One of the most brilliant and interesting of all of the stories of ancient history is told by Herodotus – the first Greek historian – regarding the topography of this city: a thing which happened when Cyrus, king of the Medo-Persians, was besieging Croesus, shut up in the citadel of it’s capital city.
You see Sardis was considered an impregnable fortress. It was built on the slope of Mount Tmolus, at the base of which ran the gold-bearing Pactolus River. And like a pier jutting out from Mount Tmolus was a ridge of rock with great cliffs on either side. And on that pier of solid rock, precipitous and high, Sardis had built its impregnable citadel. When Cyrus besieged the city, he could not advance further until first that fortress was taken. So the great Persian general said, "If any man will find a way to storm that fortress and overwhelm it, I will give him large reward." He had in his army a Mardian soldier by the name of Hyeroeades. And Hyeroeades was standing one day, watching that cliff with the great battlement on top and a Lydian soldier on top of the battlement. And as he watched, the Lydian soldier accidentally dropped his helmet over the battlement, and it fell down to the base of the cliff. The Lydian soldier climbed down the battlement and picked his way slowly to the base of the cliff to recover his helmet, and so climbed back to his place of sentinel duty. And the Mardian soldier, in his memory carefully watched as the Lydian came down and back up. And that night with a picked band of Persian soldiers, he made his way up the cliff to the battlement. It was absolutely unguarded, and Sardis fell into the hands of the Persians. Back of that story and back of that topography can be seen the emphasis of our Lord when He says, "Watch, be watchful. If thou will not watch, I will come on thee as a thief" [Revelation 3:3].
Now, this church in the city of Sardis is a church that "has a name to live, and is dead" [Revelation 3:1]. What an unusual thing! "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and are dead," contaminated with the world, inward decay, spiritual disintegration and dry rot: "I know thou hast the name that thou livest, but thou art dead."
When you go into these museums of natural history, there are the great animals of America, lifelike, many times in their natural habitat, mounted exactly as they lived; but they are dead. Any schoolchild brought up in these modern grades is compelled to read somewhere along in his English literature, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." That is the strangest imagination that was ever put together. In the story, corpses of dead men rise to man the ship. Dead men pull the oars. Dead men hoist the sails. Dead men steer the vessel. You’d think it a preposterous thing. Did you not look at Christ’s churches? Dead men in the pulpit; dead men filling the pew; dead men running the great machinery, spiritually dead: "I know thy works, that thou hast the name that thou livest, and are dead."
Even when the drift of things is into decadence and disintegration, yet there is always the possibility of individual devotion and individual spiritual commitment. So it is that the Lord says here, "Yet thou hast a few names, even in Sardis who are worthy" [Revelation 3:4]. These seven churches in this book of prophetic history are a aforeview of seven great developing periods in the church: the Ephesian period in the days of the apostles, the apostolic church; the Smyrnian period, the church of martyrdom, under the heavy hand of the Roman Empire; the Pergamean church, the church of the establishment; the Thyatiran church, the church when Jezebel, who leads God’s people into illimitable apostasy, the church that clothes herself with scarlet and purple, with chains of gold, and looks upon herself as the prophetess, the infallible oracle of God; and then finally, the fifth period, the church of the Dark Ages, with a name to live, and dead. And yet, even in that dark time, there were stars that shined in the hand of God. There were immortal names even in Sardis who walked before God worthy, who overcome in the name of the living Christ.
There is never a time so dark but that God has His stars, His men. In the dark days of the antedeluvian period, there was righteous Enoch and righteous Noah. In the days of the emirs of Arabia, there was Job, God’s best man in all the East. In the tragic days of universal idolatry, there was Abraham called out of Ur of Chaldea. There was a Lot even in Sodom. And the Lord God says, in the midst of the dearth and the drought and the darkness of the dead church, He says: "Yet even in Sardis, there are a few immortal names."
And the Lord says, as He introduces us to them, "I am He that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars in My hand" [Revelation 3:1]. The Holy Spirit of God in any hour of darkness is able to illuminate, and to quicken, and to teach, and to guide, and to direct, and to comfort. "I am He that hath the seven Spirits of God," the plenitude, the overflowing abundance of the ableness of Almighty God. "And I am He that hath the seven stars in My hand." Even in the Dark Age and the dead church of Sardis, there are bright and brilliant stars that shine in the [luminaries] and in the chalice of God’s firmament.
We are never to think that the sky is so overcast as that these stars never shine. Even in the snow fields and in the ice rivers of the Alps and the Himalayas, you will find a solitary flower that blooms. There is no wilderness in this earth so sterile and so barren without its oasis and its springs and its vegetation. I flew one time over the entire breadth of the Sahara Desert. And to my surprise, as I watched enraptured hour after hour after hour, over those burning sands, I saw great cloud formations and on my left a vernal shower. So in the midst of the darkness and the deadness of the church of God, there are His stars that shine like luminaries in the sky.
My seven stars – immortal names even in Sardis – I have picked out seven. Peter Waldo, in 1170, heard a Christian hymn. He was a wealthy merchant of Lyons, of Lyons, France. He hired two eminent scholars to translate for him the Word of God. And as he read the Gospels, he was converted. Immediately, he began to take his stand on the streets and to preach the good hope in Jesus Christ. Being a wealthy man, he had the Gospels translated into the vernacular of the people. And his followers called Waldenses, the Waldensian church, his followers, began to sow the seed of the [Word] among the darkened illiterate and superstitious members of the church. God blessed them, and there was fire and fervor and evangelism. Then in 1208, the great papal, holy crusade was inaugurated, and in no time at all more than one million of the Waldensians and the Albigenses were wiped from off the face of the earth, cruelly persecuted, decimated, destroyed, but one of God’s seven stars.
In 1320, John Wycliffe, reading the Holy Book, translated it into the language of our English forefathers. And John Wycliffe, with a Bible in his hand, taught his Lollard brethren to memorize the Scriptures, and up and down the highways of our England, to preach the unsearchable riches of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Before the church could seize him, John Wycliffe died. But after he died and was buried, they dug up his body, they burned it publicly, and they scattered his ashes over the bosom of the River Swift. But the River Swift pours into the Severn, and the Severn pours into the Avon, and the Avon pours into the sea, and the sea laves the shores of the continents of the world. And John Wycliffe’s Bible and his preaching and his writings were covered over, not by the harsh hand of cruel oppression, for you don’t destroy an idea or a gospel, not by blood and fire, and spilled over into Bohemia. And there in 1367, a man, a star, John Huss, read the translation of John Wycliffe, read the writings of our English preacher. And having the fire and the furor of God’s evangelist in his soul, John Huss began to preach the gospel of the Son of God in Bohemia. Thousands turned and listened. Other thousands were converted. He was called before the church council of Constance. He was given a pledge and a signed covenant by the king of safe conduct as he left his great city of Prague. But the church said, "No promise should be kept with a heretic." They condemned him to be burned at the stake. They put a crown, a miter on his head, and on it they wrote the words, "The Arch Heretic." And John Huss, as he made his way to the martyr’s stake said, "With joy I wear this crown of shame for the love of Him who wore the crown of thorns." As the flames began to roar, he sang a hymn, he prayed a prayer. And though his lips continued to move, they could not hear what he said as the fierce fire began to flame upward and to take the soul of the great preacher to the throne of grace in heaven – one of God’s stars.
And in 1452, Savonarola of Florence, one of the flamingest preachers who ever lived; one of the most eloquent, one of the mightiest of all of the expositors of the Word of God who ever opened the sacred Book and expounded to the people, "Thus saith the Lord"; the papal legate came, they denounced him before the council, he was condemned to be hanged and to be burned, and in the city square of the beautiful Florence, he was first hanged from the gallows and then burned with fire.
The tenth day of March in 1928, a little band of Baptist people gathered in the square of Vienna. After holding a service there in memory of our great Baptist preacher Balthasar Hubmaier, who four hundred years before was burned at the stake by the church in Vienna, they went to the blue waters of the Danube River and there laid a wreath on the bosom of the river in memory of his faithful wife whom they drowned for her love and devotion to Jesus. Balthasar Hubmaier was a man who preached the gospel out of the original Hebrew and out of the original Greek language. And God blessed him. And in Moravia, year after year he would baptize six thousand, eight thousand, ten thousand, twelve thousand a year, this great Baptist preacher of the unsearchable riches of the grace of the Son of God. And because of his preaching, they burned him at the stake and drowned his wife in the river.
A contemporary of Balthasar Hubmaier was Felix Manz in the city of Zurich, brought up under a learned father, who himself was a minister of the great cathedral in Zurich. He began to read the Scriptures in their original languages, and he became a Baptist. In the fields, on the streets, in the home of his mother, he lifted his voice, proclaiming and expounding the Word of God, and people by the thousands began to listen and to turn. They brought him before the council, and the church condemned him to death. They marched him through the streets of Zurich, his faithful mother walking by his side, exhorting her son to be faithful to Christ, even unto death. And where the Lamont River in the city of Zurich pours out of the Zurich Lake, there they said to Felix Manz, "So he likes water. Let’s give him lots of water." And they drowned him where the beautiful Lamont River pours out of the Zurich sea.
In 1628, John Bunyan – one of the most pathetic passages in all English literature is the famous writing of John Bunyan as he describes the making of the laces in the twelve years he was imprisoned because he was a Baptist preacher, making laces, and through the prison doors placing them in the hands of his little blind girl, Mary. One of the most famous and pathetic passages in all English literature is John Bunyan as he describes looking through the bars of his prison at his little blind girl Mary as she sold laces to help support the Baptist preacher’s family while he, for twelve years, languished in prison for preaching the gospel of the Son of God.
Even in Sardis, in the days when the church was dead, "thou hast a few immortal names." This saith "He that has the seven Spirits of God," the plenitude of the grace and ableness of heaven, and "I hold My seven stars in My hand." Then look at their reward. "And they shall walk with Me in white: for they are worthy. . . . I will not blot their name out of the Book of Life, but I will confess them before My Father, and before the holy angels" [Revelation 3:4-5]. Three things in the reward: first, "And I, I will not blot their names out of the Book of Life." You see, the church, in terrible anathemas of excommunication, separated them from the family of God and consigned their souls to hell. When the Papal legate stood in the presence of the great Florentine Savonarola, he lifted his hand and said, "And I separate thee from the church militant and from the church triumphant!"
Savonarola, before his martyrdom, replied, "From the church militant, yes; but from the church triumphant, never, for it is not in thy power so to do." From the church roll, in this life – yes! But from the church of the firstborn whose names are written in glory – never! "For it is not in thy power so to do." "And I, I will not blot out his name, out of the book which I have written."
On the thirty-first of October, 1517, Martin Luther was excommunicated from the church, the church and his soul consigned to everlasting hell and damnation. But God says, "I will not blot his name out of the Book of Life which I have written." "My stars – even in Sardis! And they shall walk with Me in white."
You see, the ministry is referred to as men of the cloth, of the vestment; men who are dressed like the minister. So when the minister is excommunicated, he is defrocked! For example, the first thing they did to John Huss when they brought him to the stake and the flames began to rise, they tore off his ministerial garb, the sign of his being a preacher of Christ. They tore off his ministerial clothing and threw it on the fire and burned it first. "Fine," says the Lord, "burn it up. Burn it up. I shall clothe them in white raiment. And they shall walk with Me."
White raiment: to the Jew, a sign of purity and holiness and devotion to God; and to the Roman, three classes of Romans: a patrician, a knight, and a plebe. And the patrician, the senator wore long garments of pure white, expressive of the dignity, the sublimity of his calling and his office. And God says, "I shall clothe them in white." Defrocked, burn up their garments of ministerial attire; "I shall clothe them in the purity and the sublimity and the dignity of the raiment of Almighty God. And they are worthy, and I will confess their name before My Father and His angels in heaven" [Revelation 3:4-5]; these stars of God, even in Sardis.
The Covenanters in Scotland were hunted and shot down like animals, poor and humble people, gathered together in their humble cottages to pore over the Scriptures, and to pray, and to exhort one another in the faith; called Covenanters because they covenanted together to read the Book and to pray and to exhort one another in the faith. Isabel Weir was married to John Brown, the Covenanter. And the minister, when he performed the ceremony, said to Isabel, "Hold him close to your heart and keep close by a winding sheet. You will need it." John Brown had twenty sheep. That was his living. But he loved God. And in the humble homes of the people did he go and read the Word and kneel in prayer and teach them the riches of our Lord. And they hunted him and they hunted him and they tracked him down. And an emissary of the church by the name of Claverhouse took six soldiers to shoot him, before the execution squad, there in his own humble cottage. So they brought out his wife with the baby in her arms that she could witness the execution of her husband. He asked if he might pray. He knelt down and prayed. Then he stood up, fearlessly, courageously, boldly, like a man of God ought to stand. And the six soldiers lined up before him to execute him. They looked at the man of God, they looked at his noble and courageous wife and the little baby in her arms. All six of the men put down their muskets, "We can’t do it," they said.
Claverhouse cursed them in the name of the church, took his pistol, walked up to John Brown and blew out his brains. When he fell in his own blood, he turned to Isabel Brown and said with a sneer, "And what do you think of your fine husband now?"
Isabel Brown replied, "Sir, I thought much good of him in life, and now, much more in death."
"For they are worthy. And I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels." Even in Sardis, in the Dark Ages, in the days of a dead and a decadent church, God’s stars announce the coming of a reformation, the infusion of new life and the glorious days of the Philadelphian church, to whom Christ sends His next message, the church of missions and evangelization and brotherly love. So it lives in fire and in blood and in flood, it lives. And it lives today. Oh, blessed be His name! And we are a part of and belong to that blessed company of God’s immortal saints!
While we sing our hymn of appeal, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus, come. Somebody you, put your life in the fellowship of our church, come. As the Spirit of Jesus shall lead in the way and make the appeal, come. In the throng in this balcony round, on this lower floor, there is time and to spare, come, giving your heart in trust to Jesus, putting your life in the fellowship of His church, as God shall make the appeal, do it today, while we stand and while we sing.
IMMORTAL NAMES IN SARDIS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The city
A. Thirty miles southeast of Thyatira
1. One of the noblest, bravest, most storied of all the cities of the East
2. For over two thousand years it was a famous city under successive empires
B. Famous for its rich men and its wise men
C. Sardis considered an impregnable fortress
1. Herodotus tells of how it was overtaken by Cyrus – a Mardian soldier named Hyeroeades watched the citadel and the sentinel guarding it until one day the soldier climbed down to retrieve his helmet and climbed back up, revealing how to go upthe cliff to the battlement
a. This history and topography gave emphasis to the Lord’s word to "Watchâ€¦"(Revelation 3:3)
II. The church dead(Revelation 3:1)
A. Inward stagnation, worldly contamination, spiritual decay
1. Mounted animals at the museums of natural history
2. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
B. The one commendation – a few names even in Sardis who are worthy (Revelation 3:4)
1. Whatever the general drift of things, there is always the possibility of individual loyalty
C. Seven churches are a fore view of seven developing periods in the church
1. Yet even in this fifth period, the church of the dark ages, there were stars that shined in the hand of God
2. There is never a time so dark but that God has His stars, His men
a. The stars are not gone because the sky is overcast
III. Lights, stars in the darkness amid the gloom of the Middle Ages
A. Peter Waldo, wealthy merchant of Lyons, France
1. In 1170 heard Christian hymn; sought out scholars to translate for him the Word of God – he was converted
2. Took to the streets to preach good hope in Jesus Christ; had the Gospels translated into vernacular of the people
3. His followers were called Waldensians
4. Papal holy crusade began in 1208 and more than one million of them were wiped out, persecuted
B. John Wycliffe, in 1320 translated the Bible into the language of our English forefathers; taught brethren to memorize Scriptures and preach
C. John Huss was converted reading the Scriptures and writings of Wycliffe, began to preach with burning fervor in Bohemia
1. Condemned by the church, martyred a heretic
D. Savonarola of Florence – one of the most flaming preachers who ever lived, and most eloquent
E. Balthazar Hubmaier, great Baptist preacher, preached the gospel out of original Hebrew and Greek
F. Felix Mantz in Zurichbegfan to read Scriptures in original languages, and became a Baptist
G. John Bunyan imprisoned because he was a Baptist preacher, making laces for his little blind girl to sell to help support his family
IV. Their reward
A. God will not blot out their name(Revelation 3:4-5)
1. Savonarola before his martyrdom
2. Martin Luther’s excommunication
B. They will walk with the Lord in white raiment (Revelation 3:4-5)
1. Defrocking of excommunicated ministers
2. To the Jew white raiment was a sign of purity, holiness, devotion
3. To the Roman it expressed dignity, sublimity of calling
C. They are called worthy(Revelation 3:4-5)