"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." (Revelation 3:4)
THE Scriptures declare that, "although many are called, few are chosen;" and that "narrow is the way that leadeth to life, and few there be that find it:" hence the Son of God told the disciples that "He spoke to the multitude in parables, that seeing they might see, and not perceive, and hearing they might hear, and not understand." "Unto you," said He, "it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to them it is not given." (Matt. 13:11) Your heart may rise up in prejudice and rebellion against God, and you may be ready to say, "Why doth he yet find fault? Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?" (Rom. 9:19,20) "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18:25) If it is too deep for thy reason to fathom, and too dark for thy unbelief to unfold, the great Jehovah will clear Himself in the day of judgment, and you will find what the Son of God says to be true: "Even so, Father"--as regards those that are chosen--"Even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in they sight." (Matt. 11:26) So we find by the Scriptures that "we are not to follow the multitude to do evil;" for--
"Numbers are no mark that we shall right be found;
A few were saved in Noah's Ark, and many millions drowned."
If we turn into the Word, we find from beginning to end the smallness of the number: the prophet said in the chapter that I read (Isaiah 1) "Except the Lord of hosts had left us a very small remnant, we had been as Sodom, and been made like unto Gomorrah." They are spoken of as "a few berries on the uppermost boughs, when the vintage is done." So when Paul is writing to the Romans, he says, "So then even at this present time"--notwithstanding the apostasies and false religions in the world, and how much Satan sways his scepter over thousands--there is "at this present time a remnant according to the election of grace." (Rom. 11:5) God hath never left Himself without a witness; He always has a few, and although they are a very few, still He has His few in the world: they are like black swans, there are very few to be found; but, like the stars in the heavens, they will ever be as lights in a dark nation; so whenever these lights are removed, wherever these stars are taken away, down will fall the pillars of the world, and the archangel will proclaim, with a voice louder than thunder, "Time is no more!"
This celebrated capital was one that flourished in its day, as long as there were a few names in it; but they were removed, and now what do we find? only a few huts inhabited by Turkish herdsmen and hermits; and travelers tell us that it is a desolate place, and so great is the solitude of it that it reminds one of the darkness of Egypt, that might be felt. Therefore we see what a peculiar affection God has for His people; He has a few names even in Sardis. What a mercy it is to be one among the few people of God! they are never lost to the eye and heart of the God of heaven; He goes where they go; dwells where they dwell; looks after them, and watches over them, and at last sends His angels to bring them to Himself, to bask in His smiles, and to be with Him for ever; and however, at times, they may turn their backs upon Him, they are always in His eye, and ever in His heart, for they are pavilioned in His love, encastled in His grace: hence the prophet complained at one time, because he could see none of His children: "Lord," said he, "they have thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left:" but what did God say? (1 Kings 19:18) "Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him." Yes, He knew them by name and number, a number that had not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. So what a mercy, that although you may be unnoticed by your fellow men, there is no place into which you may come but God is there to hear your cries, to guide you by His counsel, and at last to bring you to glory!--and He will fulfill this in your experience, whether you believe it or no. "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee;" "I will set mine eyes upon you for good;" "I will do you good with my whole heart, and with my whole soul:" then "Blessed is that man that is in such a case, yea, blessed is he whose God is the Lord." O to be one amongst these few names! If we look into the Word of God, we find that in days of old "God looked down to see if there were any that sought after Him," and that Noah found favor in His sight; and God said to him, "I will destroy the whole earth;" and so, as with a bosom of destruction, He swept them away by a deluge of water into the flames of hell. O it is a solemn thing to have to do with God, it is indeed! We see how God's eye is upon His people: what a few were found in Sodom, when God said to Abraham, (Gen. 18) "Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is grievous, I will destroy them." We hear Abraham saying, "Wilt thou destroy the righteous with the wicked?"--Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"--Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?" "And the Lord said, If I find fifty, I will spare all the place for their sakes. And Abraham answered, I have taken upon me to speak to the Lord, who am but dust and ashes: Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty?" "And he said, If I find there forty-and-five I will not destroy it. And he spake unto him yet again, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for forty's sake." (O what God's people can do! how dear they are in His sight! what, though they be but as the off-scouring of the earth in the eyes of man--vile, contemptible, mopish sort of folks--how dear they are to God! how His eye and heart are ever upon them! O what they can do with Him!) And Abraham said, "Oh let not the Lord be angry: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it if I find thirty there. And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty's sake." And again Abraham said, "Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten's sake. And the Lord went his way," etc. Then two angels appear to Lot, and hasten him and his wife and his two daughters out of the city, "lest they be consumed in the iniquity of the city"--
"Haste, the city's full in view;
Till thou art safe within her walls,
Thy God can nothing do."
How Abraham holds back even the sword of the Almighty! how he restrains the vengeance of God!
"Thou hast a few names even in Sardis." So, as regards the Jews, God said, "I will choose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their seed after them," and they were but a few people in comparison with the rest of mankind; there were the Hivites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Hitties--whole multitudes, and God's chosen the fewest of all. So in the days of the Son of God, said He, "Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?" and after His death, when the names of the disciples were called over, there were but a hundred and twenty; and what were they in the midst of the country round about? So here, in the words of my text, there were but a few, "Thou hast a few names even in Sardis."
Now, wherein do these people differ from the rest, that God hath such a regard to them, that "they shall walk with him in white?" Let us inquire, so that you and I may see whether we are included among "the few names." In the first place, these people are brought to see and feel that they are poor, wretched, guilty, ruined, undone sinners; and are made to sigh and mourn for the abominations they see and feel in their hearts, and to cry, "'God be merciful to us sinners!" "Save, Lord, or we perish!" "God have mercy upon us!" Their mouths are stopped, seeing and feeling how guilty they are before God, and they sue for mercy at the feet of the great Jehovah. And what does God say about them? "Set a mark upon them that sigh and cry for the abominations that are done in the land." (Ezek. 9:4) These are a distinct people; what is said of others? "Slay them every one; but come not near these with the mark." The Holy Ghost has made them see and feel their sad condition. It is the Holy Ghost that opens a man's eyes to see; that breaks his hard heart; and, breathing eternal life into his soul, makes him cry from a felt sense of need, "Save, or I perish!" "God be merciful to me!" Now, art thou one of these? There are a few, you see, that mourn, sigh, weep, and cry, and supplicate and entreat for mercy, who are brought to confess that--
"Though my soul were sent to hell,
God's righteous law approves it well;"
but who cry--
"Have pity, Lord, O Lord forgive,
Let a repenting sinner live."
Now, if you are one of these, you will walk with God; you will be found in heaven at last--yes, that you will; for--
How few, my friends, are brought to cry out like the poor thief upon the cross!--and if ever there was a name, his was one. What does the Son of God say to him? "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise." See that poor man--one of the few names--going to the temple! What cries! as he smites upon his breast, "God be merciful to me, a sinner," and he returned to his house justified, while the other was passed by. What a mercy it is, then, to be brought to see and feel that we are ruined and undone by reason of sin, and to plead for mercy at the feet of a three-one God! The Son of God says, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted;" "Blessed are they that weep now, for they shall laugh." These are jewels in His eyes, although they are but vile and contemptible in their own--everything they ought not to be; and God promises that, as they hate, and forsake their sins, they shall obtain mercy. Now, there are but a few names. If we were to go through England we should find but very few in comparison with its vast population; if we look around the various towns and villages where we live, we shall find but few. Take our town of Croydon, for instance, with all its profession--there are but very few; but the "few names" will be made manifest at last, wherever they may be found, to the honor and praise of God's free grace; while desolation and destruction shall overtake all others; and, although in Croyden, as well as elsewhere, they may now be pointed at with the finger of scorn and contempt, yet how differently God estimates them! poor soul, wherever you are God is there, too! Are you one of those "whose names are in the book of life"--one of the few? You will find plenty of doctrinal, superstitious, free-will, formal, false worship all over the country, as well as in Croydon; but there are very few of those I have been speaking about; yet, blessed be God, there are a few to be found here as well as elsewhere, who cannot be satisfied with anything short of answers to prayer. The generality of folks are satisfied with "saying prayers;" just coming before God in a familiar way; complimenting Him with high-sounding titles; and asking for things without any real desire or any looking our for answers; but God has a few names, here and there, throughout the kingdom, that cannot be satisfied without answers: "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth;" "Show me a token for good;" "Let me know that thou answerest me;" "Make haste, my God, make haste!" They look out day after day, week after week, saying, "When wilt thou come unto me?" They want Him to answer by fire, as one of the prophets did. They cannot be satisfied or put off with anything less than proofs that He is "a God hearing and answering prayer." They come like Gideon, who said, "If thou hast sent me, let me prove it; let the fleece be wet, or let the fleece be dry, as the case may be;" they want something spoken home to their soul: "assure my conscience of its part in the Redeemer's blood." They are not satisfied by kneeling down two or three times a day, or walking about uttering a few prayers; but they want something to come in. They want to say, like poor Hannah, "For this I prayed, and God hath granted me my request." Now, are you such folks as these? Honestly, are you such? There are a few scattered throughout the earth; there are a few in this and other towns--are you among them? If not--oh, how solemn!--if not, you are just such as those others of whom God speaks in Sardis, "Thou hast a name to live, and art dead." What a solemn thing I feel it, at times, for the Word to bend against a man. My friends, how it makes my heart leap at times when I see the Word running toward me, to speak in simplicity, when it seems to smile upon me! How it brings me to thank God and take courage! I would not have the Word to bend against me for anything on earth. It does at times reprove me; but that is quite another thing. If it reprove me, that is as an excellent oil. That man or woman against whom the Word bends in threatenings and denunciations is in a bad case, indeed; but let a man have the Word of God upon his side, he may break stones upon the road, or live in ever so mean a cottage--having God, he has all; thousands have proved that to their joy and comfort. Now, are you amongst those that cannot be satisfied without answers, tokens, and renewings? who want the Word brought into their heart with dew, unction, and savor? something whereby they are made glad? whose desire is, "Lord, lift thou upon me the light of thy countenance, and it will put more joy and gladness into my heart than the wicked ever knew when their corn, and wine, and oil increased?" What a mercy, if this is it, to be among the few that God thus speaks of and regards, for, mind, these will not be put off--they cannot be shaken from their purpose; they will follow after God, cling to God, hang upon God, until He does answer them. He may keep them waiting for months or years; but they will give Him no rest until He does appear for their help. Are you among these?
If you notice how He put Jacob off, until the day began to break: "Let me go." "I will not let thee go unless thou bless me;" "and he blessed him there." God's people are, like the Israelites, a wrestling, praying people, a prevailing people: are you one of these? O say you, "I have prayed, wrestled, supplicated, and entreated, but have not got the blessing I want?" Have you given it up, then? turned your back upon it? O, no; why your conscience tells that you have been with God in secret this very morning; "Pray give me something, to assure my heart and conscience; let me have Thy witness within." Why, man or woman, thou are a true Jacob! You have not given up, nor become weary of seeking; no, no, thou art one of the "few names," and I tell you that you will prevail. These cries and broken petitions from your lips; these breathings of your heart; these tears that fall from your eyes! O, says God, "I have heard his prayers; I have seen his tears;" and you will be able to say, "I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears;" and what a mercy! Thou hast a few names that are a praying people, a supplicating people, that cannot be put off with anything short of answers, tokens, and incomings; to be amongst these who have God's heart, and upon whom His eye rests continually day and night: O, they must have Him, they must, indeed, as long as they dwell upon the earth; and God, to encourage His poor people, has said that "His tabernacle is with men, and he will dwell with them, and walk with them;" and, as He has thus spoken, they will not be satisfied until they can enjoy His presence; until they are enabled to say, "Lo, this is my God; I have waited for him; and now he has become my salvation." Here is a people! You will not find many like these; you need not travel far; look through our town, for instance; ask the generality of its professors--are they wrestlers with God? not satisfied with anything short of having God in their heart? do they know what it is to "dwell in God," and for "God to dwell in them?" You will find but very few that can answer these things satisfactorily; but those who can do without Him now will surely not have God for their God in the end; every one of them "will walk in the name of his God, but we will walk in the name of our God for ever and ever." (Micah 4:5) Therefore, it is said "Our heart is an habitation of God, through the Spirit." So there are a few people, even in Croydon, that must have God, that cannot do without Him, whose cry is, "When wilt thou come unto Me?" O "rend the heavens and come down;" and, although they are ready to say, at times, in their heart, Will God look to, dwell with, and regard such a vile wretch as me? what! come into my heart?--as they feel at times so base at heart; "a cage of unclean birds;" "a hold of every foul spirit."
I don't know how it is with you, but the things that work in my heart often make me sick of it; sick of sin, and sick of self, and I think often that no one can be more so than I myself. O to get to heaven! How I have entreated, "Lord, cleanse this wretched heart!" "Come and sweep out all its filth and guilt." I am at a point about one thing, my friends--that nothing less than God living in my heart will satisfy me. I must have Him to walk with me, to talk with me; and, so to speak, to be all night with me, that I may hold communion with Him; and all God's people have the same experience--it is but one religion. Now, are you in such a place as this? One of the few names that must have the God who dwells in heaven to dwell also in their heart, who cannot be satisfied without a felt Christ, a realized Christ, so as to say, "This is my beloved, and this is my friend;" "I am my beloved's, and his desire is towards me;" "Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee;" "Thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee,"--so as to feel in your heart, "Give me Christ, or else I die." How many do you think are like this? And yet nothing less than this will do at the judgment day. All who die without such feelings and desires and such experience will be cursed at last; they will, indeed. It is Christ in us, the hope of glory; and if Christ is not found in them, then the devil is, and he will carry them to hell sooner or later. So we see that there are "a few names" upon whom God's heart is set; upon whom Jesus smiles; and who, under the blessed Spirit's teaching, are either saying, "We would see Jesus," or, "We have found him of whom Moses and the prophets did write;" "The life I live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20) How many of you can say as much? "Well," say some, "I know that is my religion;" or others, "I can appeal to the Searcher of all hearts that it is Jesus Christ I want--give me Christ or else I die." Well, hearken to what God says about you: "I will satisfy the longing soul, and will replenish every sorrowful soul; and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the Lord. Hearken to what the Son of God said to Philip when certain Greeks came and said, "Sir, we would see Jesus," and he and Andrew tell Jesus what they desire: "The hour is come that the Son of Man should be glorified." These folks, who are after Jesus, are like poor Mary when she went to the sepulcher, weeping; she would have Him, although it might be (as she imagined) only His dead and perishing body. Ah! these are the folks; see how the Son of God appears on behalf of such--"Whom seekest thou? why weepest thou?" "O I am after the Christ of God." "Mary!" O "My Lord, and my God!" Ah, that is it; will anything, I ask, short of Him, satisfy thee? "Thou hast a few names even in Sardis," and if you are one of these that I have traced out, then there is a reality in your religion, a divine power in it; it comes from heaven; it brings you away from the earth and the things of it, after heavenly realities, the Christ of heaven: nothing will suit thy immortal and divine spirit but eternal things; thou art among the "few names." And these are not satisfied with anything short of the remission of their sins.
Now, where do you find people troubled and cast down about their sins not being pardoned; that cry and pray, "Pardon my iniquities, for they are great," "Blot out my transgressions," longing to come into this sweet feeling, "Thou art all fair, my love, there is no spot in thee?" (Songs 4:7) The generality of folks take the Scriptures in a general way, "O Christ died for sinners, and we believe in Him; O yes, we believe;" but they do not realize the cleansing efficacy of His blood; their conscience was never sprinkled therewith, so as to enable them to say, "Good God, I am clean." But the "few names" find peace with God by the peace-speaking blood of His dear Son, and can say, "Our Father, which art in heaven." Cannot you be satisfied until your guilt is removed, your sin pardoned, your conscience cleansed? Then God has a few--and there are some, no doubt, in the parish of Croydon; and what a mercy if you are among that few who want Christ, His blood, atoning blood, felt in their soul! as it is written, "The blood of Jesus Christ, God's son, cleanseth from all sin." "Ah," say you, "'when to me that blood's applied, 'tis then it does me good.'" O to hear God saying to me, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as wool; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as white as snow." (Isa. 1:18) "Well," say some, "I am among those folks:" blessed be God if you are! "Yes," say you, "that is just what I want, and I do trust I have had a little sense of pardoning love in my soul." You know that dear Mr. Tiptaft used to say, "If you have a grain of grace only, you must die to know how rich you are." "Well," say some, "I have had a little revealed to me, a little softening of spirit, a little encouragement, a little running out of love, a little moving of soul to believe; I have had a little of these things;" then, I tell you, they will all lead to greater things; they all come from "The Father of mercies," "the God of all comfort," to assure you that He has a favor towards you; and if God did not drop some of these little things, if He had never wrought any of these little things in your heart, you never would have desired greater. Is it "little things" we speak about? Why, if a man gave all his house for them, it would be contemned; if he were to work all the days of his life, he would never get them; nor could all the parsons in the world ever work them in your heart. This will show you what great things they are; and as God works them, expanding and enlarging the heart, He brings the soul to sigh for greater still; and as He has given you the little, He will give you the greater, and, like David, you will be satisfied when you awake in God's likeness at last. "Open your mouth wide, then, that God may fill it."
O! that your soul may be enabled to look out for God, to hang upon God. You remember how Moses clung to God, when the people sinned in making the golden calf, and God said, "Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book: therefore go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee. Behold mine angel shall go before thee," etc. (Exo. 32) "And Moses said unto him, if thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence. And the Lord said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken of; for thou hast found grace in my sight." "My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest." And how this emboldened poor Moses to ask God first one thing and then another, until the Lord was graciously pleased to put him in the cleft of the rock while He proclaimed His name before him, as you may read in the thirty-third chapter, at your leisure. Thou hast a few names that cannot do without God, that must have Him. Then hear what is said of these; "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man to conceive, the things that God hath prepared for them that love him." (1 Cor. 2:9) These may have no name among men: it is not what men may say of them, but what God says: it was said of the Son of God that He was a friend of publicans and sinners, but God said, "This is my beloved Son." It was said of the Apostle Paul that he was an impostor, a troubler of the people; but God said he was a chosen vessel unto Him, to bear His name unto the Gentiles: they said he was a preacher of heresy, but he said, "After the way that they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers," and God took him to heaven and gave him his crown. They said of John the Baptist that he had a devil, but the Son of God said, "There had not risen a greater than John the Baptist." And so here, all sorts of people will look upon you as fanatics, and will call you all sorts of names; but if you possess the things I have been speaking about, God says you are among those that "shall walk with Him in white." May God seal it home with comfort and power to your heart.