1Th_1:9-10. They themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
ST. PAUL delighted in bestowing commendation wherever it was due. When writing to the Church at Rome, he told them that “their faith was spoken of throughout the whole world [Note: Rom_1:8.]; and here he tells his Thessalonian converts, that their faith was so celebrated, that he heard of it wherever he went; insomuch that in every place he was anticipated in his commendations of them, the extraordinary effects of his ministry among them being in all the Churches a general topic of conversation. The particular effects which had been produced he here specifies: and, in considering them, we shall be led to shew,
What is the great end and object of our ministrations—
Ministers are ambassadors from God to man: they are sent with tidings of mercy to a rebellious world: but they are sent also to effect a moral change in the hearts and lives of all who receive their message. They are sent to bring men,
To serve and obey their God—
[Even Christians, till converted by the Spirit of God, are universally addicted to idolatry. They do not indeed, like the heathen world, bow down to stocks and stones; but they “love and serve the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for evermore.” “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life,” possess the supreme place in their affections, and are sought after in preference to God — — — To turn men from these vanities, and to bring them to their God, is the end for which every minister is sent, and at which he should continually aim. And this, we trust, is the object which, in all our addresses, we have in view. Yes, we would bring you to serve the living God, who alone is worthy of your regard; for he alone has life in himself; and he alone can confer life on his devoted servants. But it is not a mere formal service to which we would bring you, but a total surrender of all your faculties and powers to him. This is your “reasonable service.” There is none but God that has any claim upon you. What has the world done for you? or what can it ever do? To whom, or to what, are ye debtors, that ye should consult their wishes, or obey their will? But God has created you, yea, and has redeemed you by the blood of his only dear Son. Ye are therefore in no sense, and in no degree, your own: your bodies, and your spirits, are altogether his; and with them ye must glorify your God alone [Note: 1Co_6:19-20.].]
To wait for the second coming of their Lord from heaven—
[He who once came down from heaven to suffer for us, and by his own obedience unto death hath “delivered us from the wrath to come,” has been raised up from the dead, and is now exalted to the right hand of God, that he may carry on and perfect the work he has begun. And he will once more come down from heaven to gather together his elect, and to raise them to the fruition of that glory which he has purchased for them. To wait in joyful expectation of that period is the privilege of all his people: and to bring you to such a state of mind is to be the incessant labour of his ministers. We are not to be satisfied with seeing you born to God; but, as loving parents, we are to nourish you in our bosom; that under our fostering care ye may “grow to the full measure of the stature of Christ.” This waiting posture, this constant readiness for the coming of your Lord, is one of the highest gifts to which any man can attain [Note: 1Co_1:7.]. We speak not now of persons waiting, like criminals, for the arrival of their Judge; (that is a state from which it is the Christian’s privilege to be delivered;) but of their waiting as servants for the coming of their Lord. The diligence of servants is prompted, not by fear, but love; and they feel assured of the approbation of their master, when he shall find every thing done, though not with absolute perfection, yet in all material points agreeably to his will. Thus we would have you with your loins continually girt, and your lamps burning with undiminished splendour [Note: Luk_12:35-38.]. But perhaps we may give a yet juster view of the state to which we would wish to bring you, if we compare you to “a bride preparing herself” for the arrival of her bridegroom. Such should be the holy, longing desire which you should feel after the coming of your Lord [Note: 2Pe_3:12. with Tit_2:13.]: and to assist you in this preparation, that eventually we may present you to him in a state of complete readiness, is the blessed service which we have to perform [Note: Rev_19:7. 2Co_11:2.].]
Such is the office of those to whom the cure of souls is assigned: and corresponding with it is,
The duty of those to whom we minister—
As we must not seek to please men, but to edify them, so they must not be satisfied with reaping mere instruction, but must determine,
To yield themselves up to the full influence of our labours—
[In coming to the house of God, all persons should resemble Cornelius and his friends, when Peter came to minister unto them: “Now are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God [Note: Act_10:33.].” There should be no disposition to cavil at what they hear, or to sit in judgment on the preacher, but a real desire to learn the will of God, and a full determination through grace to do it. If the minister endeavour to probe the conscience, they should welcome the salutary wound, and cry unto the Lord, “Search me, O God, and try the ground of my heart!” If he be endeavouring rather to bind up the broken spirit, they should thankfully embrace the gracious promises of the Gospel, as those who most need the blessings which it offers. If, on the other hand, he be denouncing the terrors of the Lord, they should humble themselves before God in dust and ashes, if peradventure they may be lifted up in due time. And lastly, if he be expatiating on any duty, they should set themselves, like racers in a course, to run with ardour and with patience the race that is set before them. Whoever it be that speaks, and whatever it be that is spoken, provided only it be agreeable to the standard of truth, they should receive it, as the Thessalonians did, “not as the word of man, but as the word of God [Note: 1Th_2:13.].” The whole assembly of you should come to the ordinances as to a banquet prepared of the Lord; or as the sick and diseased came to our Lord in the days of his flesh, each feeling his own malady, and determined, if possible, to obtain a cure: however difficult it may be to gain access to him, you should press through the crowd, as it were, to touch but the hem of his garment; or seek to be let through the tiling of the house, so that you may by any means find admittance into his presence, and obtain the blessings which you stand in need of. In a word, Christians should be satisfied with nothing short of a perfect conformity to the Divine will; and should come to the house of God with hearts so melted, as easily to be poured into the mould of the Gospel, and permanently to retain the very image of their God.]
To display the efficacy of them in the sight of all men—
[The Thessalonians were “ensamples,” not to the world only, but to believers also, and that throughout all the regions of Macedonia and Achaia. This is what we also should endeavour to be: we should “shine as lights in the world,” and in every situation and relation of life we should so make our light to shine before men, that all who see us may glorify our Father which is in heaven. We should bear in mind, that the honour of God is greatly affected by our conduct; and that our fellow-creatures also may either be “won by our good conversation,” or be eternally ruined by our misconduct. We should, from these considerations, take especial care never to lay a stumbling-block in the way of others; but so to walk, that we may be able to say unto all around us, “Whatsoever ye have seen and heard in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you.” Thus we should “shew to all what manner of entrance the Gospel has had amongst us,” and what are its genuine effects: and thus putting to silence the ignorance of foolish men, we should constrain them to acknowledge, that the doctrines we profess are holy, and “that God is with us of a truth.”]
We conclude with one or two inquiries:
What entrance has the Gospel had amongst us?
[Has it so wrought, as to attract the attention, yea, and excite the admiration also, of all around us? Alas! in how many has it produced no change at all! and in how many a change in profession only, or in external conduct, whilst the heart is as worldly, and the temper as unsubdued, as ever! — — — Look to it, brethren, that ye do not thus receive the grace of God in vain: for if the Gospel be not unto you a savour of life unto life, it will be a savour of death, to your more aggravated condemnation.]
How may it be rendered more effectual for our good?
[Search what it is that has hitherto obstructed the operation of the word upon your souls. Some are careless and inattentive, so that the word never enters into their hearts; in others, the word takes not any deep root; whilst in others its growth is hindered by the lusts and cares which grow up together with it. All these therefore must be rooted out, that the good seed may prosper and increase. But there is yet another evil, which renders the most faithful ministry unavailing for the good of many: I refer to that pride and conceit which so inflate the hearts of many, and render the Gospel itself odious in the world. This must be mortified; and a childlike spirit be cultivated in the midst of us. “The meek will God guide in judgment; the meek he will teach his way.”]