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An Earnest Warning about Lukewarmness
Rev 3: 14-21 - see also Matthew 7:7
No Scripture ever wears out.
The epistle to the church of Laodicea is not an old letter which may be put into the waste basket and 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 passed away, but other Laodiceas still exist-indeed, they are sadly multiplied in our day, and it has ever been the tendency of human nature, however inflamed with the love of God,
gradually to chill into lukewarmness. The letter 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 which did not claim inspiration, and therefore its loss does not render the Scriptures incomplete, for Paul may have written scores of 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 infer that the church was at that time in a sound state.
In process of time it degenerated, and cooling down from its former ardour 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 any case it declined till it was neither cold nor hot.
Lest we should ever get into such a state, and lest we should be in that state now, I pray that my discourse may come with power to the hearts of all present, but especially to the consciences of 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,
Jesus views with searching eyes all the works of his church. The public can only read reports, but Jesus sees for himself.
Our opinion of ourselves and Christ's opinion of us may be very different, and it is a very sad thing when it is so.
It will be melancholy indeed if we stand out as a church notable for earnestness and distinguished for success, and yet are not really fervent in spirit, or eager in soul-winning.
A lack of vital energy where there seems to be most strength put forth, a lack of real love to Jesus where apparently there is the greatest devotedness to him, are sad signs of fearful degeneracy.
Churches are very apt to put the best goods into the window, very apt to 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 it true of churches, but of every one of us as individuals, that often our reputation is in advance of our deserts.
Men often live on their former credit, and trade upon their past characters, having still a name to live, though they are indeed dead.
To be slandered is a dire affliction, but it is, upon the whole, a less evil than to be thought better than we are; in the one case 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 how far this may apply to us.
The condition described in our text(LAODICEA) is, secondly, one of mournful indifference and carelessness.
This is a horrible state, because it is one which in a church wearing a good repute renders that reputation a lie. When other churches 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 being very 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 upon the back of religion, and cries out, "It is all a farce! The thing is a mere pretence!
Christians are all hypocrites!" I fear there 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, and have need of nothing."
The members say, "Everything goes on well, what more do we want?
All is right with us." This makes such a condition very hopeless, because reproofs and rebukes fall without power, where the party rebuked can reply, "We do not deserve your censures, such warnings are not meant for us."
If you stand up in the pulpit and talk to sleepy churches, as I pretty frequently do, and speak very plainly, they often have the honesty to say,
"There is a good deal of truth in what the man has said": but if I speak to another church, which really is half asleep, but which thinks itself to be quite a model of diligence, then the rebuke glides off like oil down a slab of marble, and no result comes of it.
Men are less likely to repent when they are in the middle passage between hot and cold, than if they were in the worst extremes of sin.
If they were like Saul of Tarsus, enemies of God, they might be converted; but if, like Gamaliel, they are neither opposed nor favouring, they will probably remain as they are till they die.
The gospel converts a sincerely superstitious Luther, but Erasmus, with his pliant spirit, flippant, and full of levity, remains unmoved. There is more hope of warning the cold than the lukewarm.
When churches get into the condition of half-hearted faith, tolerating the gospel, but having a sweet tooth for error, they do 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.
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.
in their very weakness and fewness will reside capacities for being the more largely 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 always at 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 to the 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 little as 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 will not altogether forsake the poor people to whom we belong, but we will also go to the world's church, so as to get admission into better society, and find fashionable friends for our children.
How much of this there is abroad!
Compromise is the order of the 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 live up to it; who cannot altogether forsake the work of God, but yet do it in a sluggard's manner, . . .
. . . trifling with that which ought to be done in the best style for so good a Lord and so gracious a Saviour.
Many a church has fallen into a condition of indifference,
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 can speak well, and that suffices.
This style of things is all too common, yet we are expected to hold our tongue, for the people 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 flaunting the banners of triumph.
"We are rich, we are adding to our numbers, enlarging our schools, and growing on all sides; we have need of nothing.
What can a church require that we have not in abundance?" Yet their spiritual needs are terrible. This is a sad state for a church to be in. Spiritually poor and proud.
A church crying out to God because it feels itself in a backsliding state; a church mourning its deficiency, a church pining and panting to do more for Christ, a church burning with zeal for God, . . .
. . . and therefore quite discontented with what it has been able to do; this is the church which God will bless: but that which writes itself down as a model for others, is very probably grossly mistaken and is in a sad plight.
This church, which was so rich in its own esteem, was utterly bankrupt in the sight of the Lord.
There are churches which are poor as Lazarus as to true religion, and yet are clothed in scarlet and fare sumptuously every day upon the mere form of godliness.
Spiritual leanness exists side by side with vain-glory. Contentment as to worldly goods makes men rich, but contentment with our spiritual condition is the index of poverty.
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 reference to a truly flourishing church.
If we are walking aright with him, he is in the midst of the church, dwelling there, and revealing himself to his people. His presence makes our worship to be full of spirituality and life;
he meets his servants at the table, and there spreads them a feast upon his body and his blood; it is he who puts power and energy into all our church-action, and causes the word to sound out from our midst.
True saints abide in Jesus and he in them. Oh, brethren, when the Lord is in a church, it is a happy church, a holy church, a mighty church, and a triumphant church; but we may grieve him till he will say,
Oh, you that know my Lord, and have power with him, entreat him not to go away from us. He can see much about us as a people which grieves his 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 be gone, bring him again to his mother's house, into the chamber of her that bare him, where, with holy violence, we will detain him 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 house if thou be gone, for thy presence is our glory and thy absence will be our shame."
Churches may become like the temple when the glory of the Lord had left the holy place, because the image of jealousy was set up and the house was defiled. What a solemn warning is that which is contained in
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 be in 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 and ministries.
He does as good as say, "O sinners, if ye would see what my religion can do, see here a godly people banded together in my fear and love, walking in peace and holiness."
He speaks powerfully by them, and makes the world see and know that there is a true power in the gospel of the grace of God.
But when the church becomes neither cold nor hot he does not speak 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 of his mouth 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 teachers shall not profit, for I have not sent them, neither am I with them. Their word shall be as water spilt on the ground, or as the 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 the church of Rome-what would he pray for, but her total overthrow?
Other churches are nearing the same fate; they are not clear in 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,
Mighty are his pleadings for those he really loves, and countless are the blessings which comes in consequence.
It will be an evil day when he casts a church out of that interceding mouth, and leaves her unrepresented before the throne because 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 cease to pray, because they become anti-Christian,
. . . or are mere human gatherings, but not elect assemblies, such as the church of God ought to be. Now this is the danger of any church if it declines from its first ardour and becomes lukewarm.
"Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do thy first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will 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,
Then the next word is "miserable," which might better be rendered "pitiable."
Churches which once were a glory shall become a shame.
Whereas men said, "The Lord has done great things for them," they shall now say, "see how low they have fallen!
What a change has come over the place! What emptiness and wretchedness!
What a blessing rested there for so many years, but what a contrast now!"
Pity will take the place of 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 a mass of worldliness, the congregation an assembly of vanity.
Next, they will become blind, they will not see themselves as they 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.
They will say, "We see," and yet be blind as bats.
Ultimately they will become "naked," their shame will be seen by all, they will 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, and everywhere 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 their backs in the day of battle.
"Ye did run well," says Paul to the Galatians, "what did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?"
Such a church had a grand opportunity, 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 thereof was cast athwart the ocean, and gladdened the nations, but the people were not worthy of it, or true to it, and therefore he took the candlestick out of its place, and left them in darkness. May God prevent such an evil from coming upon us: 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 to all here, especially to every one of the members of this church, for it has come very much home to me, and caused great searching of heart in my own soul, and yet I do not think I am the least zealous among you.
I beseech you to judge yourselves, that you be not judged. Do not ask me if I mean anything personal.
I am personal in the most emphatic sense. 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 unfaithful to you. I am aiming at personality, and I earnestly want each beloved brother and sister here to take home each affectionate rebuke.
And you who come from other churches, whether in America or elsewhere, you want arousing quite as much as we do, your churches are not better than ours, some of them are not so good, . . .
. . . and I speak 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, and naked."
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.
When a man tells you that he has not looked at his ledger, or day-book, or held a stock-taking for this twelvemonths, you know whereabouts he is, and you say to your manager, "Have you an account with him? Then keep it as close as you can."
When a man dares not know the worst about his 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,-have you wept over them? Have you prayed over them?
If not, you have not watched as you should do for the good of your brethren and sisters, and, perhaps, have allowed evils to grow which ought to have been rooted up:
you have been silent when you should have 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 in Isaiah,
What joy, what peace, what delight, what comfort, what enthusiasm we had when first we knew the Lord! We bought gold of him then for nothing, let us go and buy again 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 thought was 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 to him again, and at his own price, which is no price, procure the robe which he has wrought of his own righteousness, 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 the glory 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 clear vision as in days 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.
Confess your evil deeds, receive my forgiveness, and henceforth let your hearts burn towards me, for I love you still and will supply all 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 she has erred, and will not repent when kindly counselled, he then betakes himself to some sharper means.
Now, there are some churches which Christ loves very specially, favouring them above others, doing more for them than for others, and giving them more prosperity; they are the darlings of his heart, his Benjamins.
Now, it is a very solemn thing to be dearly loved by God. It is a privilege to be coveted, but mark you, the man who is so honoured occupies a position of great delicacy.
The Lord thy God is a jealous God, and he is most jealous where he shows most love.
The Lord lets some men escape scot free for awhile after doing many evil things, but if they had been his own elect he would have visited them with stripes long before. He is very jealous of those whom he has chosen to lean upon his bosom and to be his familiar friends.
Your servant may do many things which could not be thought of by your child or your wife; and so is it with many who 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 were the Lord'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 does of any other church; and when he does not find it, what will happen?
Why, because of his very love he will rebuke it with hard sermons, sharp words, and sore smitings of conscience. If these do not arouse it he will take down the rod and deal out chastenings. Do you know how the Lord chastens churches?
Paul says, "For this cause some are sickly among you, and many sleep."
Bodily sickness is often sent in discipline upon churches, and losses, and crosses, and troubles are sent among the members, and sometimes leanness in the pulpit, breakings out of heresy and divisions in the pew, and lack of success in all church work.
All these are smitings with the rod. It is very sad, but sometimes that rod does not fall on that part of the church which 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 because it is worth purging. In their case the chastening is a blessing and a token of love.
Sorrow is often brought upon Christians by the sins of their fellow-members, and many an aching heart there is in this world that I know of, of brethren and sisters who love the Lord and want to see souls converted, but they can only sigh and cry because nothing is done.
Perhaps they have a minister who does not believe the gospel, and they have fellow-members who do not care whether the minister believes it or not, they are all asleep together . . .
. . . except those few zealous souls who besiege the throne of grace day and night, and they are the ones who bear the burden of the lukewarm church.
Oh, if the chastening comes here, whoever bears it, may the whole body be the better for it, and may we never rest till the church begins to glow with the sacred fire of God, and boil with enthusiastic 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 as though Christ knocked at their door and they had to open it, and so on.
The preacher has never managed to keep to free grace for this reason, that the 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 to the church of God, not to the unconverted. It is addressed to the Laodicean church.
There is Christ outside the church, driven there by her unkindness, but he has not gone far away, he loves his church too much to leave her altogether, he longs to come back, and therefore he waits at the doorpost.
He knows that the church will never be restored till he comes back, and he desires to bless her, and so he stands waiting, knocking and knocking, again and again; he does not merely knock once, . . .
. . . but he stands knocking by earnest sermons, by providences, by impressions upon the conscience, by the quickenings of his Holy Spirit;
and while he knocks he speaks, he uses all means to awaken his church. Most condescendingly and graciously does he do this, for having threatened to spue her out of his mouth,. . .
. . . he might have said, "I will get me gone; and I will never come back again 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, and therefore I knock at your door, and wish to be received into your heart.
I will not force myself upon you, I want you voluntarily to open the door to me."
Christ's presence in a church is always a very tender thing. He never is there against the will of the church, it cannot be, for he lives in his people's wills and hearts, and "worketh in them to will and to do of his own good pleasure."
He does not break bolt and bar and come in as he often does into a sinner's heart, carrying the soul by storm, because the man is dead in sin, and Christ must do it all, or the sinner will perish;
but he is here speaking to living men and women, who ought also to be loving men and women, and he says,
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 meal of 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 rich feast, 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 be the 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 partake of 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 the supper with him, and all we do is to find the room. The Master says to us, "Where is the guest chamber?" and then he makes ready and spreads his royal table.
Now, if these be the terms on which we are to have a feast together, we will most willingly fling open the doors of our hearts and say,
I warrant you, if we sup with him, we shall be lukewarm no longer.
The men who live where Jesus is soon feel their hearts burning.
It is said of a piece of scented clay by the old Persian moralist 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 may say to every warm-hearted Christian,
"How camest thou so warm?" and his answer will be, "My heart bubbleth up with a good matter, 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 because of the good it will do you, but because of the sweetness of it.
I have heard say of some persons that they were pledged not to take wine except as a medicine, but then they were very pleased when they were ill: and so if this be the medicine, "I will 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 enter into 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 the fault if we have declined in grace.
An then we must not talk about setting the church right, we must pray for grace each one for 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 his rebukes, and then falling into his arms, clasping him once again, and saying, "My Lord and my God."
That healed Thomas, did it 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."
You will love your Lord till your soul is as coals of juniper if you will daily commune with him.
Come close to him, and once getting close to him, never go away from him any more.
The Lord bless you, dear brethren, the Lord bless you in this thing.