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THE MINISTERIAL CHARACTER PORTRAYED
1 Thessalonians 2:7-8. We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth, her children: so, being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the Gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.
BOASTING, when it proceeds from vanity, is hateful in the extreme. But there are occasions whereon it may be necessary to declare what the Lord has done for us, or what we have been enabled to do for him. When, for instance, we are suffering under false accusations, it may be necessary to state many things, which none but God has seen. And we have reason to rejoice that St. Paul’s enemies constrained him to have recourse to this method of clearing and vindicating his own character; because by this means we have all his exalted principles clearly developed, and the brightest pattern of human excellence exhibited to our view. But, independent of any such occasions, it is allowable to express the feelings of our hearts, and to bring to the remembrance of those whom we love the opportunities we have had of testifying our regard. It is by such communications that we revive both in ourselves and others those sublime affections, which constitute the basis of Christian friendship. The Apostle, when writing to the Corinthians, was constrained to sound forth, as it were, his own praises, in order to answer the calumnies that had been circulated respecting him: but in this epistle he speaks only out of the fulness of his heart to those whom he regarded with the most endeared affection: and the whole of what might be called boasting was nothing but the effusion of a mind glowing with love, and animated with the noblest sentiments.
From what he says of himself in the words before us, we shall take occasion to shew,
What are the dispositions and habits of a faithful minister—
Ministers are represented in the Scriptures under a great variety of characters. Sometimes they are called shepherds, whose office is to search out the straying sheep, and bring them to the fold of Christ: and, when once brought thither, to watch over them with all imaginable care, “strengthening the diseased, healing the sick, binding up the broken, bringing back again any that have been driven away:” and as to the lambs, they are to “carry them in their bosom, and gently to lead those that are with young [Note: Ezekiel 34:2; Eze 34:4 and Isaiah 40:11.].”
But they are designated by a far more exalted character, even that of a father; which comprehends in it every thing that is tender and endearing [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:14-15.]. How much of care and responsibility is involved in this relation, may be judged from the complaint which Moses poured out before God, when he was called upon to stand, as it were, in this relation to all the people of Israel [Note: Numbers 11:11-14.].
There is however a still more tender image by which God is pleased to represent his own stupendous love to his people, and by which also the duty of ministers is portrayed; I mean that of a mother, nursing her infant offspring [Note: Isaiah 66:10-13.]. St. Paul, declaring his anxiety for the welfare of his converts, compares his feelings with the pangs of a woman in child-birth [Note: Galatians 4:19.]; and his delight in them, with that of a mother cherishing in her bosom her new-born infant. The language in our text is exquisitely beautiful and touching. The nurse spoken of, is not an alien, but a nursing-mother: it is not in her arms only, but in her bosom, that she cherishes the child. In all her treatment of it, she is not harsh, as one that is soon wearied in performing offices of love; but gentle. If absent from her infant for a few hours only, she is most affectionately desirous of it, and delights to draw forth to it the breast, even though it be with great pain and inconvenience to herself; and she would impart to it, as it were, her vital strength, yea, her very soul: and all this she does to it because of the tender affection which she bears towards it. The whole creation does not afford a sublimer image than this; yet this fitly represents the conduct of St. Paul towards the Church of Christ, and consequently, the conduct of every faithful minister, in proportion as he resembles St. Paul.
Mark then, under this image, the habits of the faithful minister;
His tender affection—
[St. Paul’s concern for his converts was never surpassed by that of any mother for her children. If there was the least reason to fear that any temptation had operated to the injury of their souls, he had no rest in his spirit, till he had ascertained their real state; and, if he received a favourable account of them, then every trial was easy, and every affliction light [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:5-8.]. Thus it is also with every servant of the Lord Jesus. “If any man care not for his sheep, he is an hireling,” and unworthy of the name of a minister of Christ. The true shepherd will, I had almost said, “lay down his life for the sheep.” Well he knows that nothing but the Gospel, faithfully administered, can benefit their souls: and this he is willing to impart to them to the utmost of his power, as the remedy for all their diseases, and as a supply for all their wants: and, according to its efficacy upon their souls, will be his hopes and fears, his joys and sorrows. “He has no greater joy than to see his children walk in truth [Note: 3 John, ver. 4.].”]
His self-denying exertions—
[St. Paul wrought with his hands by night, to supply his own temporal necessities, whilst he laboured, with incredible exertion, throughout the day, to communicate spiritual benefits to the souls of men. Though he might justly have claimed a maintenance for his body, yet he forebore to do it, that he might have the satisfaction of dispensing freely the blessings which he himself had so freely received [Note: ver. 9 and 2 Thessalonians 3:8-9. with 1Co 9:12-18 and 2 Corinthians 11:7-12.]. Every minister indeed is not called to forego in like manner his claims of temporal support; but every minister should be able to declare to his people, as in the presence of God, “I seek not yours, but you.” The only object of a faithful servant of Christ is, to advance the welfare of his people: for this end he will “not count even life itself dear to him,” but will “endure all things for the elect’s sake, that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory [Note: Act 20:24 and 2 Timothy 2:10.].” And if he be really called to sacrifice his life in the sacred cause, he will account it rather a ground for congratulation than any cause of sorrow or condolence [Note: Philippians 2:17-18.].]
But, as in every relation of life there are duties belonging to the one side as well as the other, it will be proper for us to consider also,
The reciprocal obligations of a faithful people—
A husband and wife, a parent and child, a magistrate and subject, have each their appropriate duties; and so have also a minister and his people: and as the minister’s duties are fitly represented by those of a mother, so those of the people may justly be considered as analogous to those of an affectionate and obedient child. They owe then,
Love to his person—
[In this very epistle, wherein St. Paul testifies such unbounded love to his converts, he tells them what they also ought to feel towards those who ministered unto them: “We beseech you, brethren, to know them who labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13.].” We speak not here of that partiality, which renders men unwilling; to receive the Gospel from any one besides their own favourite minister;—that is a reprehensible attachment, leading to an idolatrous regard to some, and a contemptuous disregard of others: but a grateful sense of the obligations conferred by those who labour in the word and doctrine, ought to be cultivated and expressed by all [Note: 1 Timothy 5:17.]. Indeed it can scarcely be carried to too great an extent: it should not stop short of any sacrifice, not even of the surrender of life itself, if by such means their labours may be preserved for the Church of Christ [Note: Romans 16:3-4.].]
Attention to his instructions—
[No one can doubt whether this be the duty of a child towards his parent [Note: See Deuteronomy 27:16.]: and it is equally the duty of a people towards their spiritual parent. A minister is sent especially from God himself to impart unto them the knowledge of the Gospel. Though he is only an earthen vessel, he has the treasures of salvation committed to him for the benefit of others; and, as a faithful steward, he is to dispense them to all according to their several necessities. He is to them in the place of God himself. He is to them in God’s stead, when he is proclaiming to them, in his name, the word of reconciliation. His word, as far as it agrees with the inspired volume, is the word, not of man, but of God: and they who despise it, despise not man, but God [Note: ver. 13 and 1 Thessalonians 4:8.].]
Submission to his authority—
[This in the Church of Rome is carried to an absurd and impious extent: but in the reformed Churches, and especially in our own, it is almost entirely set aside; and a minister who claims the measure of authority which God has given him for the edification of his Church, is considered as an usurper. But what would be the consequence, if the parent had no authority in his own family? What but confusion must ensue, if all his children thought themselves at liberty to follow their own inclinations, without any direction or restraint from him? True, a minister is “not a lord over God’s heritage:” his authority relates only to things pertaining to the welfare of his Church; but in these his judgment should be a rule of conduct to those committed to him. This is the command of God himself respecting it: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account; that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you [Note: Hebrews 13:17.].”]
Co-operation with him in every good work—
[A minister cannot do every thing. Moses had seventy elders given to him, as assistants in his great work: and such should our people be in the Church of God. They can aid in instructing the rising generation: they may do incalculable good, in searching out the wants and necessities of the poor, and in administering, not to the temporal benefit only of their neighbours, but also to the benefit of their souls. Women, as well as men, have much in their power: and, without the aid of their people, it is little, comparatively, that any ministers can effect. The Apostles themselves were greatly indebted in this respect to their people; and to this even St. Paul ascribed, in some degree at least, the efficiency of his labours [Note: Romans 16:1-2; Romans 16:6; Romans 16:9; Romans 16:12.]. What if, in a large family, the children cannot supply the place of their father? can they do nothing to second his endeavours, and to promote the welfare of the whole? Thus then should even the weakest amongst our people labour, according to their ability, to promote to the uttermost the advancement of the Redeemer’s kingdom, and the glory of his great name. The richer part should contribute of their abundance to help forward every pious and benevolent plan; and the poorer afford their aid also in any way that may best comport with their sphere, and be best suited to their several capacities.]
How is such a blessed state of things to be produced?
[Let all consider the relation into which they are brought: and above all, let them consider, how the honour of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the success of his Gospel, are involved in their conduct. Ministers can never hope to be extensively useful, unless they put away all worldly and selfish interests, and labour to attain all those holy feelings which their station imperiously demands. Nor can any people really adorn their holy profession, unless they also on their part seek to become as little children, and cultivate a humble, loving, and heavenly deportment. Let us then, each in his station, aim at this; and pray earnestly to God for his grace, which alone can qualify us for the discharge of our respective duties.]
How is such a blessed state of things to be revived?
[It must be expected that where the Gospel has been long preached, Satan will sow tares with the wheat, and that evils of some kind or other will arise. It was so in the apostolic age, and it will be so in every age. It were unreasonable to expect that it should be otherwise, considering how corrupt the hearts of men are, and how easy it is for any one of a perverse spirit to create dissension. But if what we may call the family union and harmony have been interrupted, every one should exert himself to the uttermost to restore the bonds which have been dissolved. Let all in the first place set themselves to find out what has been the occasion of dissension; and endeavour, if possible, to remove the cause, and especially to subdue and mortify those evil dispositions which have unhappily been exercised. If there be any of a perverse spirit, withdraw from them, that they may be put to shame [Note: Rom 16:17-18 and especially 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15.]. If any be conscious that they have done amiss, let them repent and humble themselves before God and man [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:8-9.]. Thus will evil be done away: thus will Satan also, our great adversary, be disappointed: and thus shall we all “grow together an holy temple in the Lord.”]
THE DUTY OF THOSE WHO ARE CALLED
1 Thessalonians 2:11-12. Ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, that ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.
NEXT to the example of our blessed Lord, there is none so worthy of imitation as that of St. Paul. He appears to have been so entirely cast into the mould of the Gospel, that he was a living image of all that it requires. In the ministerial office especially he was almost a perfect pattern. His intrepidity, his singleness of heart, his self-denial, his fervent zeal for God, and tender love to man, never were surpassed, nor ever equalled by any human being. Respecting the purity of his intentions, and the probity of his conduct, he could appeal to all among whom he had laboured, yea to God also: no less than eight times in eleven verses does he repeat this appeal; so conscious was he that he had exerted himself to the utmost of his power to promote the welfare of his fellow-creatures, and the glory of his God.
In the appeal before us we may notice,
The duty of Christians—
The first great duty of those to whom the Gospel comes, is to believe in Christ [Note: 1Jn 3:23 and John 6:28-29.]. But yet even this is subservient to a higher end, even to the attainment of holiness, and the glorifying of God by a heavenly conversation. The Christian is not to be satisfied with low attainments, but to walk worthy of his God; to walk worthy of him,
As his Governor—
[God has given us a law which is a perfect transcript of his mind and will. This law is to be the rule of our conduct. In obeying it therefore we must not select the easier parts, and overlook the precepts which are more difficult: we must not attempt to reduce the standard to our practice; but rather endeavour to raise our practice to the standard. We should not inquire, How little can I do, and yet escape punishment? but rather, What can I do to please and honour my Divine Master? How shall I commend to others his government? How shall I convince them that his service is perfect freedom? How shall I illustrate his perfections by my own conduct? How shall I make my light so to shine before them, that all who behold it shall be constrained to glorify my God, and to take upon them his light and easy yoke?]
As his Benefactor—
[God has “called” his people, not by the word only, but also by “the effectual working of his power:” he has called them to be subjects of “his kingdom” on earth, and heirs of “his glory” in heaven [Note: Ephesians 2:19. 2 Thessalonians 2:13.]. This distinguishing grace calls for every possible expression of love and gratitude. Our one inquiry therefore should be, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all the benefits that he hath done unto me? How shall I walk worthy of such a Benefactor? Shall not my soul overflow with love to him? Shall I not “delight myself in him;” and “present myself a living sacrifice to him;” and strive incessantly to “glorify his name?” Shall I think any thing too much to do or suffer for his sake? Shall I not seek to be “pure as he is pure,” and “perfect as he is perfect?” Surely, “as He who has called me is holy, so should I be holy in all manner of conversation [Note: 1 Peter 1:15.].”
This is the Christian’s duty; thus to argue, and thus to live.]
In order to enforce this subject yet further, we will consider,
The duty of ministers—
It is through the exertions of ministers that God carries on his work in the hearts of his people. Ministers are set apart on purpose to teach men their duty, and to urge them to the performance of it. They stand related to their people as a parent to his children: and in the exercise of their high office, they are to address them with parental tenderness, and parental authority.
“Suffer ye then the word of exhortation,” while we endeavour to impress upon your minds a due regard for holiness: and permit me, however unworthy of the sacred office, to address you,
In a way of affectionate entreaty—
[“God has called you unto holiness:” and “this also we wish, even your perfection.” Consider then, I beseech you, how much is to be attained by your advancement in holiness.
Consider, how it will contribute to your present happiness.—Experience must long since have shewn you, that there is no comfort in religion, when we are living at a distance from God, or in the indulgence of any besetting sin. We hope too you have found how “pleasant and peaceful are the ways” of godliness, when we are steadfastly walking in them. Go on, and you will have continually increasing evidence, that “in keeping God’s commandments there is great reward.”
Consider also how your piety will promote the good of others. We speak not of the benefit that will arise to society from the good offices you do them: but of the effects which your good example will produce. If your life be not “such as becometh the Gospel of Christ,” the world will despise religion as a worthless unproductive thing: and those who profess godliness will be apt to catch the infection, and to sink into lukewarmness. But if you “walk worthy of your vocation,” you will “by your well-doing put to silence the ignorance of foolish men;” you will constrain them to confess, that the principles which operate so powerfully on your souls, must needs be good; and you will perhaps win many, who would never have been won by the word alone [Note: 1 Peter 3:1.].
Consider further how it will advance your eternal happiness. What though there be no merit in your works, shall they not be rewarded? Shall not every one reap according to what he sows [Note: Galatians 6:7-8.]; and that too, not according to the quality only, but the quantity also, of his seed? Yes; “every man shall be rewarded according to his own labour [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:8.]:” he shall “reap sparingly or bountifully, according as he has sown [Note: 2 Corinthians 9:6.];” and every talent that is improved shall have a correspondent recompence in the day of judgment [Note: Matthew 25:28-29.].
What further inducement can you wish for? Only reflect on these things, and surely I shall not have “exhorted” you in vain.]
In a way of authoritative injunction—
[St. Paul, when least disposed to grieve his people, said to them, “As my beloved sons, I warn you [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:14.].” And in the text he tells us, that he “charged” them in a most solemn manner, and testified [Note: μαρτυρούμενοι.] unto them. Behold then, we testify unto you that the holiness which we inculcate is of prime importance, and indispensable necessity.
Consider that nothing less than this will prove you to be real Christians. If you are “Israelites indeed, you must be without guile.” If fire descend from heaven into the bosom to consume your lusts, it will burn till all the fuel be consumed. The contending principles of flesh and spirit will never cease from their warfare, till the flesh be brought into subjection [Note: Galatians 5:17. 1 Corinthians 9:27.]. “If you are Christ’s, you have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts [Note: Galatians 5:24.].” Deceive not yourselves; for, “whomsoever you obey, his servants you are [Note: Romans 6:16.].” If you are born of God, you will not harbour any sin [Note: 1 John 3:9.], or be satisfied with any attainment [Note: Philippians 3:12-14.]; but will seek to be “righteous, even as God is righteous [Note: 1 John 3:7.].”
Consider that nothing less will suffice to comfort you in a dying hour. When you come to that solemn season, things will appear to you in a different light from what they now do. The truths, which have now gained your assent indeed, but float in your mind as though they were devoid of interest or importance, will then present themselves to your mind as the most awful realities. What will you then think of cold and lifeless services? What bitter regret will seize you, and terrible forebodings too, perhaps, when you look back upon a partial obedience, and an hypocritical profession? O that you may not fill your dying pillow with thorns! O that you may serve the Lord in such a manner now, that in that day you may “enjoy the testimony of a good conscience,” and “have an abundant entrance into the kingdom of your Lord and Saviour [Note: 2 Peter 1:10-11. with Psalms 37:37.]!”
Consider, lastly, that nothing less will avail you at the bar of judgment. We repeat it, that you will not be saved for your works: but we repeat also, that you will be dealt with according to your works. It will be to little purpose to have cried “Lord, Lord,” if you are not found to have done the things which he commanded [Note: Matthew 7:21-23. with Luke 6:46.]. God has said, “Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully [Note: Jeremiah 48:10.];” nor will either our self-commendations, or the applause of others, avail us, if the heart-searching God do not bear witness to our integrity [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:18.].
Behold then, as in the sight of God, we testify these things; and charge you all, that if you would ever behold the face of God in peace, you make it the great object of your life to walk as becometh saints, and to “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.”]
[The Apostle contented not himself with general exhortations; but addressed himself to individuals; even, as far as he could, to “every one” of his people. Let me then apply my subject more particularly to you, dispensing to each his portion in due season.
Are there among you those who make no profession of religion?—Think not that you are excused from that strictness which is required of the saints. As the creatures of God, you are bound to obey him; and as “bought with the inestimable price of his Son’s blood, you are bound to glorify him with your bodies and your spirits, which are his [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:20.].” Nor should it be any consolation to you that you make no profession of religion; for, if you have not been called to be subjects of God’s kingdom, and heirs of his glory, you are vassals of Satan, and partakers of his condemnation.
Arc there any who, by reason of their unsteady walk, are ready to doubt whether they have ever been effectually called? Let me both “exhort and charge” them not to leave this matter in suspense; but to obtain of God that “grace that shall be sufficient for them.” Let me at the same time suggest some considerations proper to “comfort” and support their minds. They would ask perhaps, How shall I gain the object of my wishes? How shall I walk worthy of my God? I answer, “Walk in Christ [Note: Colossians 2:6.],” in a continual dependence on the merit of his blood, and the assistance of his good Spirit. By his blood ye shall be cleansed from guilt: “by his Spirit ye shall be strengthened in your inner man,” and enabled to do whatever He commands [Note: Philippians 4:13.].
Finally, let all, whatever they may have attained, press forward for the prize of their high calling, and endeavour to abound more and more.]
A DUE RECEPTION OF THE GOSPEL
1 Thessalonians 2:13. For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
A PARENT of a numerous family must expect trials of various kinds: yet will He have many consolations to counterbalance them. And so it is also with the faithful minister. Both from without his Church and from within, he will experience much that is painful and afflictive: but, if his afflictions abound, so will his consolations also: if his doubts respecting the state of some of his people renew in him pangs, like those of a woman in travail, the progress and advancement of others will afford him much heartfelt satisfaction. Thus St. Paul found it. The anguish that was occasioned in his bosom by some of his converts, was so keen, that he could scarcely speak of them without weeping: but over others he rejoiced with a very lively and exalted joy. The Church at Thessalonica in particular was contemplated by him with pre-eminent delight; insomuch that, whenever the thought of them occurred to his mind, he could not but pour out his soul before God in praises and thanksgivings in their behalf.
It is our intention at present to shew,
What there was in his ministry among them which occasioned such incessant thankfulness to God—
His success among them was great, not only as to the number of his converts, but especially in the spirit which they manifested. In ministering to them the Gospel, there were two things in particular which filled him with joy and gratitude; namely,
The manner of its reception—
[They did not consider his word as a system, like that of different philosophers, invented by man, and standing only on human authority; but they regarded it as the word of God himself, even whilst it was delivered to them by a weak instrument, “a man of like passions with themselves.” They looked, through the messenger, to Him whose ambassador he was; and every word that was uttered by him was received as if it had been spoken from heaven by the Deity himself: they received it as proceeding from his love, as sanctioned by his authority, and as assured to them by his truth and faithfulness. The great wonders of redemption through the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus were not looked upon “as a cunningly devised fable,” but as a most stupendous effort of divine wisdom, planned from all eternity in the councils of the Father, and executed in due season by his only-begotten Son, and applied to their hearts by the agency of the ever-blessed Spirit — — — They felt not themselves at liberty to reject these overtures of merey, or to cavil at them as exceeding the comprehension of our feeble reason; they considered that they had no alternative, but to believe, and live: or to disbelieve, and perish — — — But their acceptance of these overtures was not a matter of constraint: they saw that the veracity of God was pledged to fulfil every promise which the Apostle made to them in Jehovah’s name; and that it was as impossible for a penitent believer to perish, as it was for God to lie — — — How could he be otherwise than thankful, when his word among them was thus received?]
The manner of its operation—
[Truly his word among them was “quick and powerful;” and most effectually did it work upon them in their first conversion, in their subsequent support, and in their progressive sanctification. He speaks before of “the entrance he had had among them,” in that “they had turned from idols to serve the living and true God:” and, immediately after our text, he mentions the heavy trials they had had to endure; which yet they had sustained with unshaken fortitude: and the tidings he had heard from Timothy, of their advancement in faith and love and every grace, completed his joy, so that he forgot all his own afflictions through his joy on their account [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:6-7.]. What could he desire more than this? St. John, who had been admitted to nearer intercourse with his Saviour than any other of the Apostles, knew no greater joy than this [Note: 3 John, ver. 4.]. Well therefore might St. Paul pour forth his soul to God in praises and thanksgiving for such a mercy as this.]
In St. Paul’s acknowledgments we may see,
What grounds of thankfulness all ministers have, whose labours are so blest—
Wherever the Gospel is so received, and so operates, there is abundant cause for praise and thanksgiving unto God;
For the people’s sake—
[Happy, thrice “happy are the people that are in such a case, yea happy are the people who have the Lord for their God.” “Who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord [Note: Deuteronomy 33:29.]!” Can we reflect on the change that has taken place on you, and not rejoice? “Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are dug.” Do ye congratulate Lot on his escape from Sodom? What was that fire in comparison of those burnings from which ye are escaped? He was saved to die at last: you are saved to live for ever. You are not merely delivered from the power of darkness, but are translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, yea, and are made heirs together with him of an everlasting inheritance. Little can we know of the value of an immortal soul, if we are not filled with joy and gratitude at the thought of such blessings being imparted to it.]
For the Church’s sake—
[No language could adequately express the transports of the saints of old, when they contemplated the effects that are here described: “Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel [Note: Isaiah 44:23. See also Psalms 96:11-13; Psalms 98:1-9.].” Where such children are multiplied, Zion, the mother of them all, may well rejoice: her honour will be great; her happiness exalted: with what joy will she draw forth her breasts of consolation to her numerous offspring! with what delight will she dandle them on her knees, and bear them in her arms [Note: Isaiah 66:10-13.]! In the sight of all the world shall she be glorified; and she shall be a blessing to all around her [Note: Isaiah 60:13-14.].]
For the world’s sake—
[The dishonourable conduct of professors is a stumbling-block to the world; as our Lord has said, “Woe unto the world because of offences.” But wherever the sanctifying operations of the Spirit appear, there “the ignorance of foolish men is put to silence;” and they are constrained to acknowledge the excellency of the principles which they hate. Independently of any spiritual benefit, the world are greatly advantaged by the progress and advancement of true religion: for if they will only inquire, Who are the great promoters of every charitable institution, they will find that the most active agents are uniformly found amongst those who love and profess the Gospel. But besides this, their spiritual welfare is greatly advanced by the blameless and heavenly deportment of professing people: their prejudices are weakened, and they are often led to inquire candidly into those principles, which they see to be productive of such blessed effects.]
For the Lord’s sake—
[It is from the Church alone that God has any glory upon earth. But when his people do indeed adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour, their light constrains many to glorify their heavenly Father. Then too does the Saviour himself rejoice: he “sees of the travail of his soul, and is satisfied.” Yea, God the Father too is comforted, if we may so speak, in the successful issue of his eternal counsels: “He beholds his obedient people with infinite satisfaction;” “he rejoices over them with joy; he rests in his love; he joys over them with singing [Note: Zephaniah 3:17.].” Can we then behold events in which God the Father and God the Son take so deep an interest, and not be thankful for them? If we ourselves love God in any measure as we ought, we shall rejoice in his joy, and glory in his glory.]
See from hence,
Whence it is that the word preached is so generally ineffectual to any saving purpose—
[As in the wilderness, so now, “the word preached does not profit men, because it is not mixed with faith in them that hear it,” Men do not hear it as the word of God. They see nothing, and hear nothing, but a man like themselves; and therefore they hear without interest and forget without remorse. But be it known to all, that their disregard of God’s messages, by whomsoever delivered, involves them in the deepest guilt [Note: 2 Chronicles 26:12. 1 Thessalonians 4:8.], and will subject them to the heaviest punishment [Note: Hebrews 2:1-3; Hebrews 10:28-29.].]
How it may be made effectual to the good of our souls—
[Whenever you come up to the house of God, come with prepared hearts, as Israel did to Mount Sinai at the giving of the law. Look through the minister to God himself. Sit at his feet, as Mary at the feet of Jesus. Seek not to be pleased, but edified. Do not indulge a critical and captious spirit; but “receive with meekness the engrafted word;” and then you shall find it both able and effectual to save your souls [Note: James 1:21.]. If it be a precept or an exhortation, a promise or a threatening, receive it as if it were addressed to you by an audible voice from heaven: so shall it descend on your souls as dew or rain, that fail not to accomplish the ends for which they are sent [Note: Isaiah 55:10-11.].]
CHRISTIANS THE JOY OF THEIR MINISTERS
1 Thessalonians 2:19-20. What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy.
THE relation between a minister and his people is a subject rarely touched upon, except in addresses exclusively intended for those who sustain the pastoral office. But it is a subject of general importance; and ought to be felt by the people, as well as by the minister; between whom there should be at all times a feeling of reciprocal affection. A pious pastor does not undertake his office in order to feed himself with the fat, and clothe himself with the wool, of his flock. No; he has higher objects in view: he seeks their best interests, and makes their welfare his chief concern. The epistles of St. Paul, not those addressed to Timothy and Titus merely, but those addressed to whole Churches, are full of this subject. This to the Thessalonians is almost one continued breathing of parental tenderness, on the Apostle’s part, and a call on his converts for correspondent emotions on their part. The extreme ardour of his affection for them is indeed the immediate subject of all the preceding context. He had been driven from them suddenly by a violent persecution; and it was owing to the unabated malice of his enemies that he had not visited them again. Greatly had he longed to do so; and repeated efforts had he made; for they were exceeding dear to him, as he tells them: “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? Yes, ye are our glory and joy.”
From these words we will take occasion to shew,
In what light a faithful minister views his people—
If a man be a faithful servant of Christ, the prosperity of his people will be the one aim of all his labours, and the one source of all his joys: both at the present hour, and in the prospect of the eternal world, their welfare will be “his hope, his joy, his crown of rejoicing.” Is it asked, Wherefore they are so dear to him? we answer, He glories in them;
As witnesses for God—
[God is excluded as it were from this lower world. The great mass of mankind acknowledge him not, or acknowledge him in word only, and not in deed and in truth. But true believers confess him openly before men: they are his witnesses, that he is great, and worthy to be feared; that he is good, and worthy to be loved; that he is faithful, and worthy of entire trust and confidence. But yet more particularly they are witnesses of all his perfections, as united and glorified in the cross of Christ; and they proclaim to all around them, that, in Christ Jesus, God is “a just God and a Saviour,” yea “just, and yet the justifier of all that believe in Jesus.” These are the truths which ministers have it in commission to make known to the sons of men: and by the free publication of these truths they hope to turn men from the guilt and dominion of sin, to peace with God, and universal holiness. Obstinate unbelievers will deride this attempt as visionary: but the minister of God can point to his converts as living witnesses for God, and as monuments of the saving efficacy of his Gospel; and in this view they give him a ground of joy and exultation far beyond all that the whole world besides could afford. Hence “he glories in them in the Churches,” as God himself also does, seeing that “they are to him for a name and for a praise and for a glory” throughout the whole earth.]
As trophies of the Redeemer’s grace—
[There is not one of them who was not once a bond-slave of Satan, “the god of this world, who ruleth in all the children of disobedience.” But secure as they once seemed to be in the hands of “the strong man armed, the stronger Potentate, even Jesus, has rescued them” from his dominion, and “brought them into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Jesus, when he yet hanged upon the cross, triumphed over the principalities and powers of hell, and “by death overcame him that had the power of death;” but in his resurrection and ascension he triumphed yet more, “leading captivity itself captive.” But it is in the preaching of his word that all this is made to appear. By that men are “turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God.” Not that he drags them like captives at his chariot-wheels, but rather takes them up with him into “his chariot, wherein ho goes forth conquering and to conquer.” How Jesus exults in them in this view may be judged from that expression of the prophet; “Ye are a crown of glory and a royal diadem in the hands of your God [Note: Isaiah 62:3.].” No wonder therefore that the soldiers of Christ, through whose instrumentality the victory has been won, exult also.]
As the fruits of his own labour—
[It is rarely, if ever, now, that faithful servants of Christ are suffered to labour, like Isaiah, fifty years, and, like Hosea, seventy, with scarcely any visible fruits of their ministry. Though God does not make equal use of all, yet, if they be faithful, he will not leave them without witness [Note: Jeremiah 23:22.]: he will “accompany their word with signs following.” Were they left to “labour in vain and run in vain,” their hands would soon hang down, and their hearts faint: but when they see “the dry bones quickened, and the dead come forth out of their graves,” through the influence of their word, they greatly rejoice [Note: Ezekiel 37:9-10.]. They point to such persons as “seals of their ministry [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:2.],” and as attestations from God, that the word delivered by them is His word. It is said of women, that, when once they behold the fruit of their travail, they “forget, as it were, all their pangs, for joy that a man-child is born into the world.” And thus it certainly is with those who minister in holy things. Much they have to endure in the prosecution of their great object: but when they see sons and daughters born to God, they account their labours richly recompensed; and, for the attainment of such a blessing “they count not even their lives dear unto them.”]
As pledges of his own eternal felicity—
[There is, it is true, no merit in converting sinners unto God, seeing that the whole work is God’s alone. “Whoever plant or water, it is God alone who gives the increase.” But it is nevertheless true, that “they who turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars for ever and ever [Note: Daniel 12:3.].” It is not indeed in proportion to every man’s success, that a recompence will be bestowed: but according to every man’s labour it will [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:8.]. And O! what a blessed period will that be, when the faithful minister shall present his converts before the throne of God, saying, “Here am I, and the children thou hast given me!” Not even in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ himself will he forget those with whom, as St. Paul expresses it, he once travailed in birth: “there will they be his joy and crown of rejoicing:” there will they be, as it were, jewels in his crown. Every fresh accession to the Church thus enhances the minister’s joy: and in the prospect of this, “he joys according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil [Note: Isaiah 9:3.].”]
But since it is not over all that a minister can rejoice, we proceed to shew,
Who they are whom he can truly recognize under this character—
In the first ages, when every one was exposed to so much peril on account of his Christian profession, there was reason to hope that all were sincere: and therefore the Apostle could say to the whole Philippian Church, “It is meet for me to think thus of you all.” But Christianity is professed now under far other circumstances: and the great mass of those who are called by the name of Christ are far from being “a joy and crown of rejoicing” to their minister. Even of religious professors, there are great multitudes “of whom we must stand in doubt,” and of whom we cannot speak, but with grief [Note: Philippians 3:18.]. Those who alone will ultimately prove the joy and crown of their ministers, are,
Those who embrace the faith—
[There must be a real conversion of the soul to God. It is not necessary that this conversion be sudden, or that it should be attended with such circumstances as shall enable a person to declare the precise time and manner in which it was accomplished: but it is necessary that every man should have an evidence within himself that he is “translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.” He must receive Christ into his heart, and build on him as the only foundation of his hope. “Christ must become truly precious to his soul.” Christ must be his life, his peace, his strength, his joy, his all. Till this be done, a minister can have no comfort in any man, because he has no ground to believe him truly and savingly converted to God: but when this change is manifest (for no natural man in the universe ever thus gloried in Christ alone,) then does the person in whom it is wrought become the joy and crown of his minister: he then, in the judgment of charity, is brought to the fold of Christ: and his minister, like a faithful shepherd, rejoices over him, as a sheep that was lost, and is found.]
Those who walk in love—
[If there be a mere adoption of Christian principles, without the attainment of Christian practice, this change will produce no satisfaction, in the heart either of God or man. But if there be a corresponding change in the heart and life of a professor, and a suitable exercise of Christian graces and tempers, then the minister will feel a proportionable confidence respecting a work of grace within him: seeing the fruit to be good, he will conclude that the tree is good also. The grace of love in particular must be predominant. “This is the grace whereby all men are to know whether we be Christ’s disciples.” If pride, envy, malice, or any other temper contrary to love, reign in the heart, we only deceive ourselves in fancying ourselves Christians: we are yet in darkness, and children of the wicked one [Note: 1 John 2:9-11; 1 John 3:10; 1 John 3:14-15; 1 John 4:7-8.]. A minister can only weep over such persons: they are a grief to him here [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:20-21.]: they will be yet more so in that day when the Lord Jesus Christ shall come to judge the world [Note: Hebrews 13:17.]: they themselves too, if they be not undeceived in time, will have to bewail their delusions to all eternity. Love is absolutely and indispensably necessary to prove the sincerity of our faith. If that reign not in the heart, our faith is but the faith of devils: but if that be the governing principle of our lives, then have we “that which accompanies salvation;” and a minister may confidently rejoice over us as the elect of God [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:4.Hebrews 6:9; Hebrews 6:9.].]
Those who advance in holiness—
[It is essential to grace, that it grows and advances in the soul. The children of God’s family are all expected to grow from “babes” to “young men,” and from young men to “fathers.” Now, as a mother, however she might rejoice at the birth of her infant, would soon cease to rejoice, if it did not grow in stature and in strength; so is a minister’s joy turned into grief, if he see his people making no proficiency in the divine life, but continuing under the habitual influence of those defects which characterized them in their unconverted state, or in the earlier stages of their professed conversion. O ye who profess godliness, consider this; and inquire whether you do indeed make your profiting to appear? It is only when we have clear evidence that you are growing up into Christ as your living Head, and progressively transformed into his image, that we can glory in you, or look forward with comfort to that awful meeting which we shall have with you in the great day of the Lord Jesus [Note: 1 John 2:28.].]
We will improve this subject,
In a way of appeal—
[The text is an appeal to the whole Church at Thessalonica, that he had sought nothing, and gloried in nothing, in comparison of their spiritual welfare. And the same appeal, we hope through grace, we can make also [Note: Of course, no minister will proceed to make such an appeal, if he has not a testimony in the consciences of his people, that what he says is true.]. Yes, blessed be God, we can, and do, appeal both to you and to God himself, that that we have lived but for the benefit of those committed to our charge, and “have known no greater joy than to see our people walk in truth.” Permit us then to ask, whether ye can make the same appeal to the heart-searching God? Have ye sought, as the one great object of your Hie, so to improve our ministrations, that “ye might be our joy and crown of rejoicing in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” Has there also been a reciprocity of affection, so that “we have been your rejoicing, even as ye also have been ours, in the prospect of the great day of the Lord Jesus [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:14.]?” Let this be well fixed in all your minds, that unless the regard between a minister and his people be mutual, and their endeavours to reap benefits from his ministry keep pace with his efforts to impart them, little ultimate good can result from the connexion: on the contrary, the word which he labours to make unto you “a savour of life unto life, will prove in the issue a savour of death unto death.”]
In a way of exhortation—
[A meeting must soon take place between us before the judgment-seat of Christ: and in reference to that awful period St. Paul exhorted the Thessalonian Church, saying, “We beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:1.].” In reference to that solemn meeting we also would exhort you. In a little time we shall be called to give an account of our ministrations, as you also will of your improvement of them. Let not him who wishes you to be his joy and crown be disappointed of his hope. If he have not to “present you in a perfect state to Christ in that day,” all his warnings and instructions will have been lost upon you [Note: Colossians 1:28.], yea, worse than lost, seeing that he will be “a swift witness against you.”
O ye, who have never yet been converted by the labours of your minister, let him now prevail on you to turn unto the Lord with your whole hearts — — —
And let those of you who look up to him as your spiritual Father, hold fast the truth ye have received, and endeavour to shine more and more as lights in the world, that his joy in you may be complete in the last day [Note: Philippians 2:15-16.]. Yes, we would address you in the words of Paul to his Philippian converts; “My brethren, dearly beloved, and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand ye fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved [Note: Philippians 4:1.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter