1Th_3:8. Now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.
THERE is nothing that more strongly characterizes a faithful ministry, than the mutual affection that is found to exist between the minister and his stated hearers. The people, while they retain any just regard for their Lord and Saviour, will love those who have been his instruments for good to their souls [Note: Gal_4:15.]: and those who are instrumental in bringing others to the knowledge of salvation, will consider their converts as their children, “whom they have begotten to God,” and “with whom they have travailed in birth [Note: 1Co_4:15. Gal_4:19.].” We see this exemplified in all St. Paul’s epistles, especially in that before us. After a short stay at Thessalonica, he was driven from thence by “certain lewd fellows of the baser sort,” who sought to kill him; and who, on hearing that he was fled to Ber
a, followed him thither with the same intent, and drove him thence also. He was now at a great distance from them, and very apprehensive on their account; lest the sufferings which he had endured for them, and the trials which they themselves also experienced, should have deterred them from maintaining their steadfastness in the faith. “When therefore he could no longer forbear [Note: Twice mentioned, ver. 1, 5.],” he thought it better to be left at Athens alone, than to remain any longer in uncertainty about them; and accordingly he sent his only friend and companion, Timothy, to see them, and to report to him their state. Having heard a good account of them, he declares, that all sense of his own personal afflictions vanished, as soon as he heard of their spiritual advancement; and that his spirits, which had been exhausted by a long and painful suspense, were revived, so that he began, as it were, to “live” anew, since he was informed that they “stood fast in the Lord.”
From the words before us we shall take occasion to shew,
What is that stability which all Christians must attain—
When any persons first receive the Gospel, so as to yield themselves up to its influence, they are said to “be in Christ:” when they make advances in grace, they are said to “walk in Christ:” and when they are established in a firm adherence to the truth, they are said, as in the text, “to stand fast in the Lord.” This is that stability which is required of us; namely, a stability in the faith, the profession, and the practice of the Gospel.
In the faith of the Gospel—
[There are many things which may occasion us to make shipwreck of the faith [Note: A conceit of our own wisdom, Rom_1:22. Isa_47:10; a fondness for philosophy and vain deceit, Col_2:8; a listening to the disputes of heretics, 2Ti_2:16-18; an undue regard to ceremonial institutions, Col_2:16-19; or an erroneous idea of the merit of good works, Rom_10:3.] — — — and many more, which may rob us of the vital experience of it in our souls [Note: Love of the world; sloth, &c. &c.] — — — But all these must be withstood: we must “hold fast the form of sound words that hath been delivered to us;” and, not contented with a barren orthodoxy, we must live altogether by faith in the Son of God, enjoying his presence, and “receiving out of his fulness grace for grace” — — —]
In the profession of it—
[When persecution arises because of the word, a separation is made between the professors of religion, as the corn and chaff are separated when tossed to and fro in the sieve. But woe be to us, if we be like the chaff, that is driven away with the wind. We must “not put our light under a bushel,” but be bold, and “quit ourselves like men:” we must “endure hardships as good soldiers of Jesus Christ:” we must “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering:” we must be “willing to be bound, or even to die, for the name of the Lord Jesus:” we must not count our lives dear to us, so that we may but finish our course with joy. It is true, we are not to court persecution by an indiscreet declaration of truths, which people are not yet prepared to receive: but we must not conceal our religion, as if we were ashamed of it: we must in no respect deny Christ: “if we draw back, it will be unto perdition:” “if we only look back,” after having put our hands to the plough, we are not fit for the kingdom of God:” “he that loveth his life, shall lose it; and he only that is willing to lose his life for Christ’s sake, shall save it unto life eternal.”]
In the practice of it—
[In times like ours, it is easy to retain orthodox opinions, and to keep up a profession of religion: but many are found enlisted under the banners of Christ, who are not really “fighting the good fight of faith.” Even in matters of plain truth and honesty, it is not every professor that can bear a scrutiny into his conduct: yea, there really is often found a higher sense of honour and integrity amongst the men of this world, than amongst some, of whom better things might have been hoped. In respect of tempers, too, there are many who will talk of Christ, and shew a love to his Gospel, who are yet proud, haughty, imperious, passionate, contentious; many who are so fretful and impatient on every trifling occasion, as to make all around them uncomfortable; many too, who, when they ought rather to be judging themselves, are constantly judging others with uncharitable severity. But let not those who possess so little of the meekness and gentleness of Christ, imagine that they are standing fast in the Lord: for, whatever experience they may have had in times past, they are certainly in a state of awful departure from him. We must possess the image of Christ, and we must advance in the attainment of it, or else our faith and our profession will be vain [Note: Jam_1:26.].
But if there be no particular deviation from the path of duty in these things, yet may we have greatly declined from true religion. We must preserve a spirituality of mind, a zeal for God, a love to his ways, a delight in secret communion with God, and a tender regard for the temporal and eternal welfare of our fellow-creatures. This is the stability which chiefly characterizes the growing Christian, and which is the surest evidence of an interest in Christ.]
That all may be stirred up to seek this stability, we shall shew,
Why the attainment of it lies so near to the heart of every faithful minister—
A minister stands related to his people as a pastor to his flock, over which he is to watch, and of which he must give a strict account: and his solicitude about them, instead of terminating when they are brought into the fold, may be said then more properly to commence. He will be anxious about their attainment of stability in the divine life,
Because the honour of God is deeply interested in it—
[Let any professor of religion either renounce his profession, or dishonour it by any misconduct, and the world will immediately cry out against religion, and represent all the professors of it as hypocrites. Thus it was that “the name of God was blasphemed” on account of David’s fall: and thus “the way of truth is evil spoken of” at this time; as though religion were only a cloak for wickedness. On the other hand, the name of God is glorified, when his people adorn their holy profession: the light which they reflect around them, compels many to acknowledge the beneficial influence of his Gospel, and the powerful efficacy of his grace [Note: Mat_5:16.].
And can ministers be indifferent about the honour of their Divine Master? If they are so dear to him, that “whoso toucheth them, toucheth the apple of his eye,” ought not He, and His interests, to be dear in their sight? Ought not rivers of tears to run down their eyes, when men keep not his law, and especially when his sacred name is blasphemed through those who bear his name and profess his religion? Yes; much as they must feel when an injury is done to themselves, their grief is incomparably more poignant, when they see their blessed “Lord crucified afresh, and despite done to the Spirit of his Grace.”]
Because their salvation altogether depends upon it—
[It is not sufficient that men “run well for a season;” they must “endure to the end, if ever they would be saved.” To what purpose are we in Christ, if we do not stand fast in him? Our departure from him only makes “our last end worse than our beginning.” And is not this a fearful consideration to all of us? When St. Paul saw reason to stand in doubt respecting his Galatian converts, “he travailed in birth with them, as it were, a second time, till he should have clear evidence that Christ was truly formed in them.” And whoever reflects upon the value of a soul (in comparison of which the whole world is lighter than the mere dust upon a balance), must have continual sorrow and heaviness in his spirit, when he sees any moved away from the hope of the Gospel, and “forsaking the fountain of living waters for broken cisterns that can hold no water.”]
Because the great ends of the ministry are answered by it—
[When any persons turn, either in faith or practice, from the holy commandment delivered to them, “all the labour we have bestowed upon them is in vain:” it is even worse than in vain, because it will bring upon them a more aggravated condemnation. What a reflection is this for those who have spent their strength, and perhaps jeoparded their very lives for the salvation of their fellow-creatures! Can we wonder that the declension of those who have professed our holy religion, should be as a dagger in the hearts of those who have watched and laboured for their souls; and that the lives of faithful ministers should be bound up, as it were, in the stability of their people? The beloved Disciple could say, “he had no greater joy than that his children walked in truth:” and, no doubt, his greatest grief was, as that of every faithful minister must be, to see any of them departing from it.]
We shall conclude our subject with a few words,
Of grateful acknowledgment—
[It would not always be proper to commend people to their face: yet on some occasions the Apostle judged it expedient to do so [Note: 1Th_1:2-3 and 2Th_1:3-4.]. We rejoice therefore in bearing testimony to the steadfastness which you have maintained during our afflictive separation from you; and we can truly say with the Apostle, that “in all our affliction we have been greatly comforted by your faith [Note: Verse before the text. This was after almost a whole year’s intermission of the author’s labours as a minister. But any other occasion, such as heresies or contentions resisted by them, may be referred to.].” “We thank God for all the joy wherewith we joy before him on your account;” and we pray, that “what he has thus begun in you, he may carry on and perfect until the day of Christ.”]
Of affectionate warning—
[Never let it be forgotten, that we must first be in Christ, before we can stand fast in him. If apostates are in an awful condition, so also are they who have never embraced the Gospel of Christ. We must flee to Christ, as our only refuge from the wrath of God; and must seek to be found in him, not having our own righteousness, but that which is of God through faith in him.
Let the saints too remember (what the text strongly intimates), that they are in continual danger of falling. They have a subtle enemy, whose devices have ruined thousands, even of those who once appeared eminently holy. “Let him therefore that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.”]
Of joyful encouragement—
[It is not in yourselves, but in the Lord, that you are to stand fast: and while you are placing all your dependence on him, he is engaged to “keep you by his own almighty power unto everlasting salvation.” “Be strong then in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” “His grace is sufficient for you,” and shall “make you more than conquerors” over all your enemies. Weak as you are in yourselves, “He is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.” “As then ye have received the Lord Jesus Christ, so walk ye in him, &c. [Note: Col_2:6-7.].”]