The Prevalence and Awfulness of False Religion

Written by, John Flavel, Puritan, 1679.
Taken from, TOUCHSTONE OF SINCERITY, or True and False Religion.
Edited for thought and sense.


“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…”  

–Rev. 3: 17, 18.



The members of the Laodicean church had a name to live, but were dead.

In regard to their spiritual state, they were emphatically described as lukewarm. They had drawn around them the form of religion, but never heartily engaged in the practice of its duties; they were strangers to its transforming efficacy, its living influence, and heavenly consolations.

To this lifeless indifference the Lord Jesus expressed his aversion: “I would that thou wert cold or hot, etc. The word cold, here, denotes the moral state of those who are wholly alienated from religion; the term hot, relates to the pious temper of those who fervently love Christ and his institutions; the lukewarm are such as are in reality also destitute of religion to be called spiritual and, yet, externally have, too much the appearance of it to be esteemed carnal. The form of religion they affect as an honor, or a safeguard; the power of it they Imagine would be burdensome: they choose not to appear openly on the side of error and impiety, but are more unwilling to live conformably to their profession: their policy is such that they venture little, and such is their folly, that they lose all.

In the text the Laodiceans are accused of being in this deplorable state, and a remedy for their spiritual maladies is pointed out.

  1. Their moral disease is exposed in its symptoms, its character and its aggravations.

    1. Its symptoms are formality, indecision, listless stupidity. Lukewarmness; with all the various traits of those professors of religion who love supremely their temporal interests and private happiness.
    2. Its character is thus noted: “Thou art wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” All these epithets relate to the unsoundness of their foundation. The two first, ”wretched and miserable,” are general, describing their condition to be lamentable, if not hopeless; the three last, “poor, blind, naked,” are more particular, referring to  those great defects in the foundation upon which they were building, which rendered their state so pitiable and dangerous. Thou art “poor” –or devoid of righteousness and true holiness before God. These are the true riches, the riches of Christians: and he that does not possess them, is poor and miserable, howsoever large be his mental gifts or earthly treasures.  Thou art “blind” –without divine illumination, void of spiritual light; and so neither knowing the disease nor the remedy: the evil of sin, or the necessity of Christ. Thou art “naked” ” in a shameful defenseless, and exposed condition: without the garments of salvation, the robe of righteousness and shield of faith.
    3. The aggravations of this deadly Laodicean disease are thus stated: “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not…etc.”  Alas, to what absurdity and impiety does spiritual delusion lead! To be destitute of holiness, and without Christ, were sufficiently awful: but, while in this state, to boast of spiritual riches, is most miserable. To have the very symptoms of death, and yet confidently profess that we are healthy and safe, is lamentable indeed!
  2. A REMEDY is prescribed: ” 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 anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.”

    1. Let us consider what is here recommended. These metaphors represent the most superb and valuable things. Gold tried in the fire–true holiness, Christian graces that have been tried and proved. White raiment–the righteousness of the saints. Eye-salve–the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
    2. Whence may these blessings be obtained? Buy of me, saith Christ. Ordinances, ministers, angels, cannot communicate them to you. Christ, the repository of all graces, alone can confer them.
    3. How are they to be acquired? Not by purchase, as those pretend who build the notion of merit on the words “buy of me.” The exigency of the case destroys this conceit; for what can they who are poor, and wretched, and miserable, and in want of all things, offer in return for these divine riches? Doubtless to “buy”, as the phrase is used here, is cordially to receive, in the way of his own appointment, which Christ offers to bestow. Thus it is elsewhere written: “He that hath no money, let him come and buy wine and milk, without money, and without price.”

In view of what has been said, three observations offer themselves to our consideration.

  1. That many professors of religion are under very great and dangerous mistakes in regard to their character.
  2. That true holiness is exceedingly valuable, and greatly enriches the soul.
  3. That we may safely account that only to be true holiness which will endure all the tests appointed for its examination.

The first observation naturally arises from the scope of the text, which is to awaken and convince unsound professors.

The second is suggested by the use which the Holy Ghost makes of the richest things in nature, to represent the unspeakable worth of Christian graces.

The third is derived from the very significant metaphor of gold tried in the fire; by which I understand a real work of grace, manifesting and proving itself to be such during the closest inspection, or under the severest trial. For whatever puts the reality of one’s holiness to the proof, whatever scrutinizes and tries it, is to him what fire is to gold. Hence we read in Scripture: “Thou hast tried us as silver is tried.” Again: “I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and try them as gold is tried.”