Sermon 1185. An Earnest Warning about Lukewarmness
Delivered on Lord's-Day Morning, July 26th, 1874, by
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
'Unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginningof the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then becausethou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increasedwith goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, andpoor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment,that thou mayest be clothed, and [that] the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, thatthou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, andknock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him thatovercometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.''Rev. 3:14-21
No Scripture ever wears out. The epistle to the church of Laodicea is not an old letter which may be put into the waste basketand be forgotten; upon its page still glow the words, 'He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.'This Scripture was not meant to instruct the Laodiceans only, it has a wider aim. The actual church of Laodicea has passedaway, but other Laodiceas still exist'indeed, they are sadly multiplied in our day, and it hasever been the tendency of human nature, however inflamed with the love of God, gradually to chill into lukewarmness. Theletter to the Laodiceans is above all others the epistle for the present times.
I should judge that the church at Laodicea was once in a very fervent and healthy condition. Paul wrote a letter to it whichdid not claim inspiration, and therefore its loss does not render the Scriptures incomplete, for Paul may have written scoresof other letters besides. Paul also mentions the church at Laodicea in his letter to the church at Colosse; he was, therefore,well acquainted with it, and as he does not utter a word of censure with regard to it, we may inferthat the church was at that time in a sound state. In process of time it degenerated, and cooling down from its formerardour it became careless, lax, and indifferent. Perhaps its best men were dead, perhaps its wealth seduced it into worldliness,possibly its freedom from persecution engendered carnal ease, or neglect of prayer made it gradually backslide; but in anycase it declined till it was neither cold nor hot. Lest we should ever get into such a state, and lest we should be in thatstate now, I pray that my discourse may come with power to the hearts of all present, but especially to the consciencesof the members of my own church. May God grant that it may tend to the arousing of us all.
I. My first point will be THE STATE INTO WHICH CHURCHES ARE VERY APT TO FALL. A church may fall into a condition far other than that for which it has a repute. It may be famous for zeal and yet be lethargic. The address of our Lord begins, 'I know thy works,' as much as to say, 'Nobodyelse knows you. Men think better of you than you deserve. You do not know yourselves, you think your works to be excellent;but I know them to be very different.' Jesus views withsearching eyes all the works of his church. The public can only read reports, but Jesus sees for himself. He knows whatis done, and how it is done, and why it is done. He judges a church not merely by her external activities, but by her internalpieties; he searches the heart, and tries the reins of the children of men. He is not deceived by glitter; he tests all things,and values only that gold which will endure the fire. Our opinion of ourselves and Christ's opinion of us may be verydifferent, and it is a very sad thing when it is so. It will be melancholy indeed if we stand out as a church notablefor earnestness and distinguished for success, and yet are not really fervent in spirit, or eager in soul-winning. A lackof vital energy where there seems to be most strength put forth, a lack of real love to Jesus where apparently there is thegreatest devotedness to him, are sad signs of fearful degeneracy. Churches are very apt to put the best goods into the window,very aptto make a fair show in the flesh, and like men of the world, they try to make a fine figure upon a very slender estate.Great reputations have often but slender foundations, and lovers of the truth lament that it should be so. Not only is ittrue of churches, but of every one of us as individuals, that often our reputation is in advance of our deserts. Men oftenlive on their former credit, and trade upon their past characters, having still a name to live, though they are indeed dead.To beslandered is a dire affliction, but it is, upon the whole, a less evil than to be thought better than we are; in the onecase we have a promise to comfort us, in the second we are in danger of self-conceit. I speak as unto wise men, judge ye howfar this may apply to us.
The condition described in our text is, secondly, one of mournful indifference and carelessness. They were not cold, but they were not hot; they were not infidels, yet they were not earnest believers; they did not opposethe gospel, neither did they defend it; they were not working mischief, neither were they doing any great good; they werenot disreputable in moral character, but they were not distinguished for holiness; they were not irreligious, but they werenotenthusiastic in piety nor eminent for zeal: they were what the world calls 'Moderates,' they were of the Broad-churchschool, they were neither bigots nor Puritans, they were prudent and avoided fanaticism, respectable and averse to excitement.Good things were maintained among them, but they did not make too much of them; they had prayer-meetings, but there were fewpresent, for they liked quiet evenings at home: when more attended the meetings they were still very dull, for they did theirpraying very deliberately and were afraid of being too excited. They were content to have all things done decently andin order, but vigour and zeal they considered to be vulgar. Such churches have schools, Bible-classes, preaching rooms, andall sorts of agencies; but they might as well be without them, for no energy is displayed and no good comes of them. Theyhave deacons and elders who are excellent pillars of the church, if the chief quality of pillars be to stand still, and exhibitnomotion or emotion. They have ministers who may be the angels of the churches, but if so, they have their wings closelyclipped, for they do not fly very far in preaching the everlasting gospel, and they certainly are not flames of fire: theymay be shining lights of eloquence, but they certainly are not burning lights of grace, setting men's hearts on fire. In suchcommunities everything is done in a half-hearted, listless, dead-and-alive way, as if it did not matter much whether it wasdone ornot. It makes one's flesh creep to see how sluggishly they move: I long for a knife to cut their red tape to pieces, andfor a whip to lay about their shoulders to make them bestir themselves. Things are respectably done, the rich families arenot offended, the sceptical party is conciliated, and the good people are not quite alienated: things are made pleasant allround. The right things are done, but as to doing them with all your might, and soul, and strength, a Laodicean church hasnonotion of what that means. They are not so cold as to abandon their work, or to give up their meetings for prayer, orto reject the gospel; if they did so, then they could be convinced of their error and brought to repentance; but on the otherhand they are neither hot for the truth, nor hot for conversions, nor hot for holiness, they are not fiery enough to burnthe stubble of sin, nor zealous enough to make Satan angry, nor fervent enough to make a living sacrifice of themselves uponthealtar of their God. They are 'neither cold not hot.'
This is a horrible state, because it is one which in a church wearing a good repute renders that reputation a lie. When otherchurches are saying, 'See how they prosper! see what they do for God!' Jesus sees that the church is doing his work in a slovenly,make-believe manner, and he considers justly that it is deceiving its friends. If the world recognizes such a people as beingvery distinctly an old-fashioned puritanic church, and yet there is unholy living among them,and careless walking, and a deficiency of real piety, prayer, liberality, and zeal, then the world itself is being deceived,and that too in the worst way, because it is led to judge falsely concerning Christianity, for it lays all these faults uponthe back of religion, and cries out, 'It is all a farce! The thing is a mere pretence! Christians are all hypocrites!' I fearthere are churches of this sort. God grant we may not be numbered with them!
In this state of the church there is much self-glorification, for Laodicea said, 'I am rich and increased with goods, andhave need of nothing.' The members say, 'Everything goes on well, what more do we want? All is right with us.' This makessuch a condition very hopeless, because reproofs and rebukes fall without power, where the party rebuked can reply, 'We donot deserve your censures, such warnings are not meant for us.' If you stand up in the pulpit and talk tosleepy churches, as I pretty frequently do, and speak very plainly, they often have the honesty to say, 'There is a gooddeal of truth in what the man has said': but if I speak to another church, which really is half asleep, but which thinks itselfto be quite a model of diligence, then the rebuke glides off like oil down a slab of marble, and no result comes of it. Menare less likely to repent when they are in the middle passage between hot and cold, than if they were in the worst extremesofsin. If they were like Saul of Tarsus, enemies of God, they might be converted; but if, like Gamaliel, they are neitheropposed nor favouring, they will probably remain as they are till they die. The gospel converts a sincerely superstitiousLuther, but Erasmus, with his pliant spirit, flippant, and full of levity, remains unmoved. There is more hope of warningthe cold than the lukewarm.
When churches get into the condition of half-hearted faith, tolerating the gospel, but having a sweet tooth for error, theydo far more mischief to their age than downright heretics.
It is harder a great deal to work for Jesus with a church which is lukewarm than it would be to begin without a church. Giveme a dozen earnest spirits and put me down anywhere in London, and by God's good help we will soon cause the wilderness andthe solitary place to rejoice; but give me the whole lot of you, half-hearted, undecided, and unconcerned, what can I do?You will only be a drag upon a man's zeal and earnestness. Five thousand members of a church all lukewarmwill be five thousand impediments, but a dozen earnest, passionate spirits, determined that Christ shall be glorifiedand souls won, must be more than conquerors; in their very weakness and fewness will reside capacities for being the morelargely blessed of God. Better nothing than lukewarmness.
Alas, this state of lukewarmness is so congenial with human nature that it is hard to fetch men from it. Cold makes us shiver,and great heat causes us pain, but a tepid bath is comfort itself. Such a temperature suits human nature. The world is alwaysat peace with a lukewarm church, and such a church is always pleased with itself. Not too worldly,'no! We have our limits!There are certain amusements which of course a Christian must give up, but we will go quite up tothe line, for why are we to be miserable? We are not to be so greedy as to be called miserly, but we will give as littleas we can to the cause. We will not be altogether absent from the house of God, but we will go as seldom as we can. We willnot altogether forsake the poor people to whom we belong, but we will also go to the world's church, so as to get admissioninto better society, and find fashionable friends for our children. How much of this there is abroad! Compromise is the orderofthe day. Thousands try to hold with the hare and run with the hounds, they are for God and Mammon, Christ and Belial,truth and error, and so are 'neither hot nor cold.' Do I speak somewhat strongly? Not so strongly as my Master, for he says,'I will spue thee out of my mouth.' He is nauseated with such conduct, it sickens him, and he will not endure it. In an earnest,honest, fervent heart nausea is created when we fall in with men who dare not give up their profession, and yet will not liveup to it; who cannot altogether forsake the work of God, but yet do it in a sluggard's manner, trifling with that whichought to be done in the best style for so good a Lord and so gracious a Saviour. Many a church has fallen into a conditionof indifference, and when it does so it generally becomes the haunt of worldly professors, a refuge for people who want aneasy religion, which enables them to enjoy the pleasures of sin and the honours of piety at the same time; where things arefree andeasy, where you are not expected to do much, or give much, or pray much, or to be very religious; where the minister isnot so precise as the old school divines, a more liberal people, of broad views, free-thinking and free-acting, where thereis full tolerance for sin, and no demand for vital godliness. Such churches applaud cleverness in a preacher; as for his doctrine,that is of small consequence, and his love to Christ and zeal for souls are very secondary. He is a clever fellow, and canspeak well, and that suffices. This style of things is all too common, yet we are expected to hold our tongue, for thepeople are very respectable. The Lord grant that we may be kept clear of such respectability!
We have already said that this condition of indifference is attended with perfect self-complacency. The people who ought to be mourning are rejoicing, and where they should hang out signals of distress they are flauntingthe banners of triumph. 'We are rich, we are adding to our numbers, enlarging our schools, and growing on all sides; we haveneed of nothing. What can a church require that we have not in abundance?' Yet their spiritual needs are terrible. This isasad state for a church to be in. Spiritually poor and proud. A church crying out to God because it feels itself in a backslidingstate; a church mourning its deficiency, a church pining and panting to do more for Christ, a church burning with zeal forGod, and therefore quite discontented with what it has been able to do; this is the church which God will bless: but thatwhich writes itself down as a model for others, is very probably grossly mistaken and is in a sad plight. This church, whichwas so rich in its own esteem, was utterly bankrupt in the sight of the Lord. It had no real joy in the Lord; it had mistakenits joy in itself for that. It had no real beauty of holiness upon it; it had mistaken its formal worship and fine buildingand harmonious singing for that. It had no deep understanding of the truth and no wealth of vital godliness, it had mistakencarnal wisdom and outward profession for those precious things. It was poor in secret prayer, which is the strength of anychurch; it was destitute of communion with Christ, which is the very life blood of religion; but it had the outward semblanceof these blessings, and walked in a vain show. There are churches which are poor as Lazarus as to true religion, and yet areclothed in scarlet and fare sumptuously every day upon the mere form of godliness. Spiritual leanness exists side by sidewith vain-glory. Contentment as to worldly goods makes men rich, but contentment with our spiritual condition is the indexofpoverty.
Once more, this church of Laodicea had fallen into a condition which had chased away its Lord. The text tells us that Jesus said, 'I stand at the door and knock.' That is not the position which our Lord occupies in referenceto a truly flourishing church. If we are walking aright with him, he is in the midst of the church, dwelling there, and revealinghimself to his people. His presence makes our worship to be full of spirituality and life; he meets his servants atthe table, and there spreads them a feast upon his body and his blood; it is he who puts power and energy into all ourchurch-action, and causes the word to sound out from our midst. True saints abide in Jesus and he in them. Oh, brethren, whenthe Lord is in a church, it is a happy church, a holy church, a mighty church, and a triumphant church; but we may grievehim till he will say, 'I will go and return to my place, until they acknowledge their offence and seek my face.' Oh, you thatknowmy Lord, and have power with him, entreat him not to go away from us. He can see much about us as a people which grieveshis Holy Spirit, much about any one of us to provoke him to anger. Hold him, I pray you, and do not let him go, or if he begone, bring him again to his mother's house, into the chamber of her that bare him, where, with holy violence, we will detainhim and say, 'Abide with us, for thou art life and joy, and all in all to us as a church. Ichabod is written across our houseifthou be gone, for thy presence is our glory and thy absence will be our shame.' Churches may become like the temple whenthe glory of the Lord had left the holy place, because the image of jealousy was set up and the house was defiled. What asolemn warning is that which is contained in Jeremiah 7:12-15, 'But go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickednessof my people Israel. And now, because ye have done all theseworks, saith the Lord, and I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but yeanswered not; therefore I will do unto this house, which is called by my name, wherein ye trust, and unto the place whichI gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all yourbrethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim.'
II. Now let us consider, secondly, THE DANGER OF SUCH A STATE. The great danger is, first, to be rejected of Christ. He puts it, 'I will spue thee out of my mouth,''as disgusting him, and causing him nausea. Then the church must first bein his mouth, or else it could not be spued from it. What does this mean? Churches are in Christ's mouth in several ways,they are used by him as his testimony to the world; he speaks to the world through their lives andministries. He does as good as say, 'O sinners, if ye would see what my religion can do, see here a godly people bandedtogether in my fear and love, walking in peace and holiness.' He speaks powerfully by them, and makes the world see and knowthat there is a true power in the gospel of the grace of God. But when the church becomes neither cold nor hot he does notspeak by her, she is no witness for him. When God is with a church the minister's words come out of Christ's mouth. 'Out ofhismouth went a two-edged sword,' says John in the Revelation, and that 'two-edged sword' is the gospel which we preach.When God is with a people they speak with divine power to the world, but if we grow lukewarm Christ says, 'Their teachersshall not profit, for I have not sent them, neither am I with them. Their word shall be as water spilt on the ground, or asthe whistling of the wind.' This is a dreadful thing. Better far for me to die than to be spued out of Christ's mouth.
Then he also ceases to plead for such a church. Christ's special intercession is not for all men, for he says of his people,'I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me.' I do not think Christ ever prays for thechurch of Rome'what would he pray for, but her total overthrow? Other churches are nearing the same fate; they are not clearin his truth or honest in obedience to his word: they follow their own devices, they are lukewarm.But there are churches for which he is pleading, for he has said, 'For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem'ssake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.'Mighty are his pleadings for those he really loves, and countless are the blessings which comes in consequence. It will bean evil day when he casts a church out of that interceding mouth, and leaves her unrepresented before the thronebecause he is none of his. Do you not tremble at such a prospect? Will you not ask for grace to return to your first love?I know that the Lord Jesus will never leave off praying for his own elect, but for churches as corporate bodies he may ceaseto pray, because they become anti-Christian, or are mere human gatherings, but not elect assemblies, such as the church ofGod ought to be. Now this is the danger of any church if it declines from its first ardour and becomes lukewarm. 'Remembertherefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do thy first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, andwill remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.'
What is the other danger? This first comprehends all, but another evil is hinted at,'such a church will be left to its fallen condition, to become wretched,'that is to say, miserable, unhappy, divided, without the presence of God, and so without delight in theways of God, lifeless, spiritless, dreary, desolate, full of schisms, devoid of grace, and I know not what beside, that maycome under the term 'wretched.' Then the next word is 'miserable,' which mightbetter be rendered 'pitiable.' Churches which once were a glory shall become a shame. Whereas men said, 'The Lord hasdone great things for them,' they shall now say, 'see how low they have fallen! What a change has come over the place! Whatemptiness and wretchedness! What a blessing rested there for so many years, but what a contrast now!' Pity will take the placeof congratulation, and scorn will follow upon admiration. Then it will be 'poor' in membership, poor in effort, poor in prayer,poor in gifts and graces, poor in everything. Perhaps some rich people will be left to keep up the semblance of prosperity,but all will be empty, vain, void, Christless, lifeless. Philosophy will fill the pulpit with chaff, the church will be amass of worldliness, the congregation an assembly of vanity. Next, they will become blind, they will not see themselves asthey are, they will have no eye upon the neighborhood to do it good, no eye to the coming of Christ, no eye for his glory.Theywill say, 'We see,' and yet be blind as bats. Ultimately they will become 'naked,' their shame will be seen by all, theywill be a proverb in everybody's mouth. 'Call that a church!' says one. 'Is that a church of Jesus Christ?' cries a second.Those dogs that dared not open their mouths against Israel when the Lord was there will begin to howl when he is gone, andeverywhere will the sound be heard, 'How are the mighty fallen, how are the weapons of war broken.'
In such a case as that the church will fail of overcoming, for it is 'to him that overcometh' that a seat upon Christ's throne is promised; but that church will come short of victory.It shall be written concerning it even as of the children of Ephraim, that being armed and carrying bows they turned theirbacks in the day of battle. 'Ye did run well,' says Paul to the Galatians, 'what did hinder you that ye should not obey thetruth?' Such a church had a grandopportunity, but it was not equal to the occasion, its members were born for a great work, but inasmuch as they were unfaithful,God put them aside and used other means. He raised up in their midst a flaming testimony for the gospel, and the light thereofwas cast athwart the ocean, and gladdened the nations, but the people were not worthy of it, or true to it, and thereforehe took the candlestick out of its place, and left them in darkness. May God prevent such an evil from coming uponus: but such is the danger to all churches if they degenerate into listless indifference.
III. Thirdly, I have to speak of THE REMEDIES WHICH THE LORD EMPLOYS. I do earnestly pray that what I say may come home toall here, especially to every one of the members of this church, for it has come very much home to me, and caused great searchingof heart in my own soul, and yet I do not think I am the least zealous among you. I beseech you to judge yourselves, thatyou be not judged. Do not ask me if I mean anything personal. I am personal in the most emphaticsense. I speak of you and to you in the plainest way. Some of you show plain symptoms of being lukewarm, and God forbid that I should flatter you, or be unfaithfulto you. I am aiming at personality, and I earnestly want each beloved brother and sister here to take home each affectionaterebuke. And you who come from other churches, whether in America or elsewhere, you want arousing quite as much as we do, yourchurches are not better than ours, some of them are not so good, and Ispeak to you also, for you need to be stirred up to nobler things.
Note, then, the first remedy. Jesus gives a clear discovery as to the church's true state. He says to it''Thou are lukewarm, thou art wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, andnaked.' I rejoice to see people willing to know the truth, but most men do not wish to know it, and this is an ill sign. Whena man tells you that he has not looked at his ledger, or day-book, or held a stock-taking for this twelvemonths, you knowwhereabouts he is, and you say toyour manager, 'Have you an account with him? Then keep it as close as you can.' When a man dares not know the worst abouthis case, it is certainly a bad one, but he that is right before God is thankful to be told what he is and where he is. Now,some of you know the faults of other people, and in watching this church you have observed weak points in many places,'haveyou wept over them? Have you prayed over them? If not, you have not watched as you should do for the good of your brethrenandsisters, and, perhaps, have allowed evils to grow which ought to have been rooted up: you have been silent when you shouldhave kindly and earnestly spoken to the offenders, or made your own example a warning to them. Do not judge your brother,but judge yourself: if you have any severity, use it on your own conduct and heart. We must pray the Lord to use this remedy,and make us know just where we are. We shall never get right as long as we are confident that we are so already.Self-complacency is the death of repentance.
Our Lord's next remedy is gracious counsel. He says, 'I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire.' Does not that strike you as being very like the passage inIsaiah, 'Come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price?' It is so, and it teaches usthat one remedy for lukewarmness is to begin again just as we began at first. We were at a high temperature at our first conversion.What joy, what peace, what delight, whatcomfort, what enthusiasm we had when first we knew the Lord! We bought gold of him then for nothing, let us go and buyagain at the same price.
If religion has not been genuine with us till now, or if we have been adding to it great lumps of shining stuff which we thoughtwas gold and was not, let us now go to the heavenly mint and buy gold tried in the fire, that we may be really rich. Come,let us begin again, each one of us. Inasmuch as we may have thought we were clothed and yet we were naked, let us hasten tohim again, and at his own price, which is no price, procure the robe which he has wrought of his ownrighteousness, and that goodly raiment of his Spirit, which will clothe us with the beauty of the Lord. If, moreover,we have come to be rather dim in the eye, and no longer look up to God and see his face, and have no bright vision of theglory to be revealed, and cannot look on sinners with weeping eyes, as we once did, let us go to Jesus for the eye-salve,just as we went when we were stone blind at first, and the Lord will open our eyes again, and we shall behold him in clearvision as indays gone by. The word from Jesus is, 'Come near to me, I pray you, my brethren. If you have wandered from me, return;if you have been cold to me I am not cold to you, my heart is the same to you as ever, come back to me, my brethren. Confessyour evil deeds, receive my forgiveness, and henceforth let your hearts burn towards me, for I love you still and will supplyall your needs.' That is good counsel, let us take it.
Now comes a third remedy, sharp and cutting, but sent in love, namely, rebukes and chastenings. Christ will have his favoured church walk with great care, and if she will not follow him fully by being shown wherein shehas erred, and will not repent when kindly counselled, he then betakes himself to some sharper means. 'As many as I love Irebuke and chasten.' The word here used for 'love' is a very choice one; it is one which signifies an intense personalaffection. Now, there are some churches which Christ loves very specially, favouring them above others, doing more forthem than for others, and giving them more prosperity; they are the darlings of his heart, his Benjamins. Now, it is a verysolemn thing to be dearly loved by God. It is a privilege to be coveted, but mark you, the man who is so honoured occupiesa position of great delicacy. The Lord thy God is a jealous God, and he is most jealous where he shows most love. The Lordlets somemen escape scot free for awhile after doing many evil things, but if they had been his own elect he would have visitedthem with stripes long before. He is very jealous of those whom he has chosen to lean upon his bosom and to be his familiarfriends. Your servant may do many things which could not be thought of by your child or your wife; and so is it with manywho profess to be servants of God'they live a very lax life, and they do not seem to be chastened for it, but if they weretheLord's own peculiarly beloved ones he would not endure such conduct from them. Now mark this, if the Lord exalts a church,and gives it a special blessing, he expects more of it, more care of his honour, and more zeal for his glory than he doesof any other church; and when he does not find it, what will happen? Why, because of his very love he will rebuke it withhard sermons, sharp words, and sore smitings of conscience. If these do not arouse it he will take down the rod and deal outchastenings. Do you know how the Lord chastens churches? Paul says, 'For this cause some are sickly among you, and manysleep.' Bodily sickness is often sent in discipline upon churches, and losses, and crosses, and troubles are sent among themembers, and sometimes leanness in the pulpit, breakings out of heresy and divisions in the pew, and lack of success in allchurch work. All these are smitings with the rod. It is very sad, but sometimes that rod does not fall on that part of thechurchwhich does the wrong. Sometimes God may take the best in the church, and chasten them for the wrong of others. You say,'How can that be right?' Why, because they are the kind of people who will be most benefited by it. If a vine wants the knife,it is not the branch that bears very little fruit which is trimmed, but the branch which bears much fruit is purged becauseit is worth purging. In their case the chastening is a blessing and a token of love. Sorrow is often brought upon Christiansbythe sins of their fellow-members, and many an aching heart there is in this world that I know of, of brethren and sisterswho love the Lord and want to see souls converted, but they can only sigh and cry because nothing is done. Perhaps they havea minister who does not believe the gospel, and they have fellow-members who do not care whether the minister believes itor not, they are all asleep together except those few zealous souls who besiege the throne of grace day and night, and theyarethe ones who bear the burden of the lukewarm church. Oh, if the chastening comes here, whoever bears it, may the wholebody be the better for it, and may we never rest till the church begins to glow with the sacred fire of God, and boil withenthusiastic desire for his glory.
The last remedy, however, is the best of all to my mind. I love it best and desire to make it my food when it is not my medicine.The best remedy for backsliding churches is more communion with Christ. 'Behold,' saith he, 'I stand at the door and knock.' I have known this text preached upon to sinners numbers of times asthough Christ knocked at their door and they had to open it, and so on. The preacher has never managed to keep to free gracefor this reason, thatthe text was not meant to be so used, and if men will ride a text the wrong way, it will not go. This text belongs tothe church of God, not to the unconverted. It is addressed to the Laodicean church. There is Christ outside the church, driventhere by her unkindness, but he has not gone far away, he loves his church too much to leave her altogether, he longs to comeback, and therefore he waits at the doorpost. He knows that the church will never be restored till he comes back, and he desiresto bless her, and so he stands waiting, knocking and knocking, again and again; he does not merely knock once, but hestands knocking by earnest sermons, by providences, by impressions upon the conscience, by the quickenings of his Holy Spirit; andwhile he knocks he speaks, he uses all means to awaken his church. Most condescendingly and graciously does he do this, forhaving threatened to spue her out of his mouth, he might have said, 'I will get me gone; and I will never come backagain to thee,' that would have been natural and just; but how gracious he is when, having expressed his disgust he says,'Disgusted as I am with your condition, I do not wish to leave you; I have taken my presence from you, but I love you, andtherefore I knock at your door, and wish to be received into your heart. I will not force myself upon you, I want you voluntarilyto open the door to me.' Christ's presence in a church is always a very tender thing. He never is there against the will ofthe church, it cannot be, for he lives in his people's wills and hearts, and 'worketh in them to will and to do of hisown good pleasure.' He does not break bolt and bar and come in as he often does into a sinner's heart, carrying the soul bystorm, because the man is dead in sin, and Christ must do it all, or the sinner will perish; but he is here speaking to livingmen and women, who ought also to be loving men and women, and he says, 'I wish to be among you, open the door to me.' We oughttoopen the door at once, and say, 'Come in, good Lord, we grieve to think we should ever have put thee outside that doorat all.'
And then see what promises he gives. He says he will come and sup with us. Now, in the East, the supper was the best mealof the day, it was the same as our dinner; so that we may say that Christ will come and dine with us. He will give us a richfeast, for he himself is the daintiest and most plenteous of all feasts for perishing souls. He will come and sup with us,that is, we shall be the host and entertain him: but then he adds, 'and he with me,' that is, he will bethe host and guest by turns. We will give him of our best, but poor fare is that, too poor for him, and yet he will partakeof it. Then he shall be host, and we will be guest, and oh, how we will feast on what he gives! Christ comes, and brings thesupper with him, and all we do is to find the room. The Master says to us, 'Where is the guest chamber?' and then he makesready and spreads his royal table. Now, if these be the terms on which we are to have a feast together, we will most willinglyfling open the doors of our hearts and say, 'Come in, good Lord.' He says to you, 'Children, have you any meat?' and ifyou are obliged to say, 'No, Lord,' he will come in unto you none the less readily, for there are the fish, the net is readyto break, it is so full, and here are more upon the coals ready. I warrant you, if we sup with him, we shall be lukewarm nolonger. The men who live where Jesus is soon feel their hearts burning. It is said of a piece of scented clay by the old Persianmoralist that the clay was taken up and questioned. 'How camest thou to smell so sweetly, being nothing but common clay?'and it replied, 'I laid for many a year in the sweet society of a rose, until at last I drank in its perfume'; and we maysay to every warm-hearted Christian, 'How camest thou so warm?' and his answer will be, 'My heart bubbleth up with a goodmatter, for I speak of the things which I have made touching the King. I have been with Jesus, and I have learned of him.'
Now, brethren and sisters, what can I say to move you to take this last medicine? I can only say, take it, not only becauseof the good it will do you, but because of the sweetness of it. I have heard say of some persons that they were pledged notto take wine except as a medicine, but then they were very pleased when they were ill: and so if this be the medicine, 'Iwill come and sup with him, and he with me,' we may willingly confess our need of so delicious a remedy.Need I press it on you? May I not rather urge each brother as soon as he gets home today to see whether he cannot enterinto fellowship with Jesus? and may the Spirit of God help him!
This is my closing word, there is something for us to do in this matter. We must examine ourselves, and we must confess thefault if we have declined in grace. An then we must not talk about setting the church right, we must pray for grace each onefor himself, for the text does not say, 'If the church will open the door,' but 'If any man hear my voice and open the door.' It must be done by individuals: the church will only get right by each man getting right.Oh,that we might get back into an earnest zeal for our Lord's love and service, and we shall only do so by listening to hisrebukes, and then falling into his arms, clasping him once again, and saying, 'My Lord and my God.' That healed Thomas, didit not? Putting his fingers into the print of the nails, putting his hand into the side, that cured him. Poor, unbelieving,staggering Thomas only had to do that and he became one of the strongest of believers, and said, 'My Lord and my God.' Youwilllove your Lord till your soul is as coals of juniper if you will daily commune with him. Come close to him, and once gettingclose to him, never go away from him any more. The Lord bless you, dear brethren, the Lord bless you in this thing.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON'Revelation 3.
HYMNS FROM 'OUR OWN HYMN BOOK''184, 787, 992.