An Earnest Warning About Lukewarmness
By Charles H. Spurgeon
“...Unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, 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, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: 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 that overcometh 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).
A church may fall into a condition far other than that for which it has a repute. The address of our Lord begins, “I know thy works,” as much as to say, “Nobody else 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 with searching eye all the works of His church. He knows what is done, and how it is done, and why it is done. He judges a church not merely by her external activities, but by her internal pieties; 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 very different, and it is a very sad thing when it is 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.
The condition described in our text is 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 oppose the Gospel, neither did they defend it; they were not working mischief, neither were they doing any great good; they were not disreputable in moral character, but they were not distinguished for holiness; they were not irreligious, but they were not enthusiastic in piety nor eminent for zeal.
Good things were maintained among them, but they did not make too much of them; they had prayer meetings, but there were few present.
Some churches have schools, Bible classes, and all sorts of agencies; but they might as well be without them, for no energy is displayed and no good comes of them. In such communities everything is done in a half-hearted, listless, dead-and-alive way, as if it did not matter much whether it was done or not.
The right things are done, but as to doing them with all your might, and soul, and strength, a Laodicean church has no notion of what that means. They are not so cold as to abandon their work, or to give up their meetings for prayer, or to reject the Gospel; if they did so, then they could be convinced of their error and brought to repentance. But on the other hand they are neither hot for the truth, nor hot for conversions, nor hot for holiness, they are not fiery enough to burn the stubble of sin, nor zealous enough to make Satan angry, nor fervent enough to make a living sacrifice of themselves upon the altar of their God. They are “neither cold nor hot.”
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.
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? Many a church has fallen into condition of indifference, and when it does so it generally becomes the haunt of worldly professors, a refuge for people who want an easy religion, which enables them to enjoy the pleasures of sin and the honors of piety at the same time; where things are free and easy, where you are not expected to do much, or give much, or pray much, or to be very religious; where there is full tolerance for sin, and no demand for vital godliness.
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….” 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. It had no deep understanding of the truth and no wealth of vital godliness, it had mistaken carnal wisdom and outward profession for those precious things. It was poor in secret prayer, which is the strength of any church; it was destitute of communion with Christ, which is the very lifeblood of religion; but it had the outward semblance of these blessings, and walked in a vain show.
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, “I will go and return to My place, until they acknowledge their offence and seek My face.” Oh, 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.”
Now let us consider 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.
What is the other danger? 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 the ways of God, lifeless, spiritless, dreary, desolate, full of schisms, devoid of grace, and I know not what beside, that may come under the term “wretched.”
Then the next word is “miserable,” which might better be rendered “pitiable.” Churches which once were a glory shall become a shame. 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.
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.
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. “Ye did run well,” says Paul to the Galatians, “who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” (Gal. 5:7). 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.
I have to speak of the remedies which the Lord employs. 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 symptoms of being lukewarm, and God forbid that I should flatter you, or be unfaithful to you.
Note, then, the first remedy. Jesus gives a clear discovery as to the church’s true state. He says to it, “Thou art 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. He that is right before God is thankful to be told what he is and where he is. If you have any severity, use it on your own conduct and heart. We must pray the Lord to 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, “...Come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isa. 55:1)? It is so, and it teaches us that 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, 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.
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 eyesalve, 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.
The best remedy for backsliding churches [or individual believers] is more communion with Christ. “Behold,” saith He, “I stand at the door, and knock.” 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.”
And then see what promises He gives. He says He will come and sup with us. He will give us a rich feast, for He Himself is the most plenteous of all feasts for perishing souls. 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. We may say to every warm-hearted Christian, “How did you become so warm?” and his answer will be, “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? Need I press it on you? May I not rather urge each brother today to see whether he cannot enter into fellowship with Jesus? And may the Spirit of God help him!
Each One Draw Close
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. And 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” (John 20:28). 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 anymore. The Lord bless you, dear brethren, the Lord bless you in this thing.
– Condensed from a sermon.