Click here to learn more!
THE PEOPLE’S STABILITY IS THE MINISTER’S COMFORT
1 Thessalonians 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: Galatians 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: 1 Corinthians 4:15.Galatians 4:19; Galatians 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 Berζa, 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, Romans 1:22.Isaiah 47:10; Isaiah 47:10; a fondness for philosophy and vain deceit, Colossians 2:8; a listening to the disputes of heretics, 2 Timothy 2:16-18; an undue regard to ceremonial institutions, Colossians 2:16-19; or an erroneous idea of the merit of good works, Romans 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: James 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: Matthew 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 2 Thessalonians 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: Colossians 2:6-7.].”]
A MINISTER’S JOY IN HIS PEOPLE
1 Thessalonians 3:9-10. What thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God; night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?
THE connexion between a minister and his people is little considered, and little felt. A general concern on his part, and a respectful esteem on theirs, are deemed adequate expressions of their mutual regard. But the relation of a father is not nearer than that which a minister sustains towards those whom he has begotten by the Gospel: nor should their mutual feelings be a whit less tender than those of a parent and a child. “They should be his joy; and he theirs [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:14.].” It was in this light that St. Paul regarded his Thessalonian converts. They were the fruit of his ministry. It was the word delivered by him that had been made effectual to their conversion to God [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6.]; and they had greatly adorned their holy profession [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:7-8.]. He had meditated a longer stay among them; but had been driven away from them suddenly, by the violence of persecution [Note: Acts 17:1-10.]. He had also made repeated attempts to return to them; but had been prevented by the determined hostility of his enemies [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:18.]. Not knowing how far they might be able to maintain their steadfastness, he felt extreme anxiety in their behalf: and “when he could no longer forbear, he thought it good to be left at Athens alone,” rather than continue any longer in such painful suspense respecting them. He dismissed Timothy therefore, though he could but ill spare the labours of so dear a friend, to inquire into their state, and to bring him a faithful account of their progress [Note: ver. 1, 2, 5.]. The tidings he received were highly favourable; and they filled him with unutterable joy; his very life being bound up, as it were, in their welfare [Note: ver. 6–8.]. Indeed, he had never ceased to pray, and with extreme earnestness, to God, to open a way for his return to them, and to make him still more useful to their souls. Of this he assures them, in the words which we have just read; which will lead me to shew you,
The delight which a pious minister has in the fruits of his ministry—
A pious minister has troubles which are unknown to others; so also has he joys, which are peculiar to himself. God makes use of him, to gather out of the ungodly world a Church and people; and over them he rejoices with a very sublime joy. He rejoices in,
Their past deliverance—
[Lately, how different was their state from what it is now become! “They were afar off from God; (alas! how far!) but now they are made nigh by the blood of Christ:” they were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise; but now are made fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” Now, how can a minister contemplate his people as “recovered out of the snare of the devil, by whom they had been led captive at his will,” yea, and as “brands plucked out of the burning,” even out of the fire, as it were, of hell itself, and not rejoice? Was it a matter of exceeding joy to the lame man to be restored, so that “he went into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God?” and was it a matter of grateful admiration to an assembled populace, when they saw all manner of bodily diseases healed? and must it not fill a minister’s heart with joy to see the souls of men dispossessed and healed? to see them “turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God?” Verily, he must be very unworthy indeed to have such an honour conferred upon him, who does not exult and leap for joy at the benefits imparted through the instrumentality of his word.]
Their present walk—
[They are brought to a state of peace, with God, and in their own souls. This is a blessing, of which no others can have any just idea: for there is “a peace that passeth all understanding;” and “there is no such peace to the wicked.” Moreover, they are enabled to “walk in newness of life,” and to approve themselves faithful servants to their God. In truth, they are the only people from whom God has any tribute of praise and honour. From the world at large he has nothing but an unmeaning observance of forms and ceremonies; but from these, the service of the heart. They are “lights in a dark world:” they are “witnesses for God:” they are “epistles of Christ, known and read of all men.” Peradventure, too, they may be chosen vessels, to convey the same rich treasure to others, and to dispense to a benighted world the benefits which they themselves have received. How can a minister look on these, and not sing for joy? Does a parent rejoice in the progressive advancement of his children, in their opening prospects of further attainments, and in the hope that they shall one day prove blessings to the world? Much more must a pious minister rejoice in the growth of his people in faith and charity, in the honour which by their holy walk they bring to God, and in the benefits which they confer on men. We wonder not, that, in hearing such tidings of his Thessalonian converts, the Apostle could say, “We were comforted over you, in all our affliction and distress, by your faith [Note: ver. 6–8.].”]
Their future destinies—
[For them is prepared a throne of glory, on which they shall reign for ever and ever in the presence of their God: and the very angels in heaven are waiting, as it were, with eager expectation, to instal them there: nor do they ever execute a commission with sublimer joy than when sent down from heaven to receive a departing spirit, and to bear him on their wings into the realms of bliss. Let a minister view his people in this light, and contemplate what they shall shortly be—the very angels not so exalted, or so near their God, as they [Note: Revelation 5:11. The angels are round about the elders.]; and must he not rejoice? The very stones would cry out against him, if his heart did not leap for joy at. such a thought as this. To expatiate upon the glory of that state is needless: suffice it to say, that every glorified saint will be filled with bliss according to the utmost extent of his capacity, and that without alloy, or intermission, or end: and for this it is, that the minister is preparing them with tender assiduity and incessant care: and well may he water these plants with joy, when he recollects whose planting they are, and where they shall grow to all eternity.]
His joy, however, is mixed with affectionate solicitude; as will be seen, whilst we consider,
The great object which he aims at in all his inter—course with them—
In his absence from them will he pray to God in their behalf; yea, “very exceedingly [Note: This seems to be the force of the word ὑπερεκπερισσοῦ. See also Philippians 4:12.]” will he pray for them: (for this is the best test and evidence of love:) and, when he shall have again the happiness of ministering unto them, he will labour to advance their every grace, but chiefly “their faith.” This (their faith), I say, he will particularly endeavour to increase [Note: See Php 1:25 and 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12.], and to extend to the uttermost,
Its realizing views—
[Men imagine, that an assent to the truth of the Gospel is faith: but such a faith as that may be no better than the faith of devils; of whom it is said, that they “believe and tremble.” But true “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen:” it gives a reality to things invisible and future, as if they were actually before our eyes. It does not merely acknowledge our fall, and our recovery by Christ; but it brings them home with power to the mind, so as to produce a suitable feeling of those truths in our souls. Let us suppose a sepulchre opened before us, and all its nauseous and offensive contents exhibited to our view: we may easily conceive what disgust we should feel: yet is it no other feeling than what a believing apprehension of our own inward corruptions will create in our souls; insomuch, that we shall “lothe ourselves,” yea, and “abhor ourselves, even as holy Job did, in dust and ashes.” We may form some idea, too, what our feelings would be, if we were shipwrecked, and saw the boat, to which we were about to commit ourselves, stored with such necessary articles as the impending danger would admit of, and by the help of which we hoped to reach a place of safety. Such is the light in which faith will present the Lord Jesus Christ to our view. Our lost state by nature and practice we shall feel, together with the absolute impossibility of preserving ourselves by any thing that we can do. We shall see the Saviour offering himself to us as the means afforded us by God for our deliverance; and we shall with eager solicitude commit ourselves to him, if peradventure we may escape the perils of the sea, and reach in safety our destined port. The whole work of salvation will become a reality, in which all the emotions of hope and fear will be roused, and the utmost efforts of our souls be called into activity. Nay, it is not merely the alternative of life or death that will press upon us, but the infinitely more fearful alternative of heaven or hell; of heaven, with all it glory; or hell, with all its terrors. I need not say how the sight of such things operates in relation to the body: and surely a realizing view of them by faith will not operate less powerfully in relation to the soul. To this state, then, a minister will labour to bring his people, that they may have the most vivid apprehensions of divine truths, and live under an impression of them as strong as if they were actually made visible before their eyes.]
Its influential energies—
[Nothing but faith will produce an abiding influence upon the soul. How that will operate, we see at large in the 11th chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews: and to have it operate in that way upon his people’s minds, will be the continued aim of every pious minister. He will not be content to see them “run, as uncertainly; or fight, as one that beateth the air:” he would have them like people engaged in the race, who have no time to look about them; and as people in actual combat, who must either slay their adversary, or be slain. We need not ask why those persons so exert themselves: the reason is plain: with them, the duty to which they are called is a reality. Others may trifle; but they cannot: they have too much at stake. Others may think it an easy thing to get to heaven: they find it calls for the utmost exertion of all their powers. Others may imagine that they have within themselves a sufficiency of all needful strength: they know that a new-born infant is not weaker than they; and that, if not aided by continual supplies of grace and strength from above, they must inevitably and eternally perish. Hence they “live altogether by faith in the Son of God;” applying to him for every thing, and “receiving every thing out of his fulness.” This is living Christianity: this is practical religion: and to this every pious minister labours to bring his people; that so, at whatever moment they be summoned to the presence of their God, they may be found ready, and meet for the inheritance provided for them.]
This subject will clearly shew us,
What is the source of all our other deficiencies—
[Faith is at the root of all that is good; and unbelief, of all that is evil. According to our faith will every grace be found within us. Look at a person in a state of departure from his God: to what is his condition owing? There is “in him an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” Look at persons anxious to attain the highest grace, so as to be able to forgive their brother, not seven times, but seventy times seven: for what do they pray? an increase of love? no; but of faith: “Lord, increase our faith [Note: Luke 17:5.].” But turn to the world around you; and you shall see, that unbelief is the one great source of all their rebellion against God: they believe not that he will call them to so strict an account as he has declared he will; and, consequently, they see no need of such humiliation, and such earnestness in the divine life as he calls for. Let them once be brought to believe these things, and they from thenceforth regard the care of their souls as “the one thing needful” — — —]
What we should chiefly seek for in the ministry of the word—
[What the enlightened minister chiefly labours to impart, we should chiefly labour to obtain. Doubtless we should not be unmindful of any grace: but we should remember, that faith is the parent of all the rest. It is faith that “overcomes the world,” and “works by love,” and “purifies the heart.” Let me then recommend to you to seek increasing views of Christ, so as to realize his presence with you. Put him before your eyes, as dying for you on the cross; as interceding for you at the right hand of God; as possessing all fulness for your use. Realize his great and precious promises, as made to you, and as in due season to be fulfilled to you: and from day to day take Pisgah views of the Promised Land, till you obtain a blessed foretaste of your inheritance. This is the way to “walk by faith;” and in this way you shall proceed with joy, till your faith be turned into sight, and Your hope into fruition.]
THE EFFECT OF LOVE ON UNIVERSAL HOLINESS
1 Thessalonians 3:12-13. The Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: to the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
THE grace which is most generally spoken of in the Holy Scriptures as establishing the souls of men, is faith: “If ye believe not,” says the prophet, “ye shall not be established [Note: Isaiah 7:9.]:” and again, “Believe in the Lord your God, and so shall ye be established [Note: 2 Chronicles 20:20.].” It is by faith that we lay hold on the word of God; and by faith that we commit our every concern to God; and by faith that we expect the accomplishment of all that God has promised: and therefore the composing and establishing of our minds in relation to all future events is properly represented as the fruit of faith. But there is a sense in which love also establishes the heart, as the Apostle intimates in the passage before us; where he prays, that God would make the Thessalonian Christians to abound in love, in order to the establishment of their hearts in universal holiness. In this view love is sometimes united with faith, as concurring with it to strengthen and fortify the soul; as when Christians are said to “have on the breastplate of faith and love.”
But this effect of love not being generally understood, we will enter the more carefully into the subject, and point out,
The influence of love on universal holiness—
Love is an extremely powerful principle in the heart of every one that is truly born of God: it is the great wheel which sets the whole machine in motion, and gives a vital energy to every part. In that chiefly does the new man consist; and from it does every Christian grace derive its strength.
It rectifies all the powers of the soul—
[Self has usurped an entire dominion over the whole race of mankind. It has pervaded and debased all their faculties. The understanding is so blinded by it, as to be incapable of seeing any thing in its true light: and the judgment is so perverted, that men universally “call evil good, and good evil; they put darkness for light, and light for darkness; bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter [Note: Isaiah 5:20.].” The will is altogether indisposed for exertion, except in that line where self may be gratified, and our own ease, or pleasure, or interest, or honour may be advanced. Even conscience itself is an unfaithful guide, having no sensibility at all, except in concurrence with the corrupt dictates of a perverted judgment and a carnal will.
But let love come into the heart, and assume that ascendency over it which God has ordained, and all these faculties will receive a new direction,—I had almost said, a new power. Now as soon as truth is proposed to the mind, its beauty and excellence shall be discerned, and its superiority to every adverse principle shall be acknowledged. Now also, notwithstanding the yet remaining bias of the corrupt nature towards what is evil, the prevailing and dominant inclination will be towards what is good; the Divine nature within us counteracting the motions of the old man, and not suffering it any longer to retain the mastery over us; and the conscience continually impelling us to greater measures of conformity to God’s revealed will.
This process will be best seen by some examples placed before our eyes. The Apostle Paul, previous to his conversion, had all the advantages which a man could have for the improvement and direction of all his faculties: but yet every faculty of his soul was entirely engaged on the side of sin. Not having love in his heart, notwithstanding his fancied rectitude, he was no better than a savage beast in his conduct towards the Christian Church: “he breathed out nothing but threatenings and slaughter against them,” and thought all the while he was acting in the path of duty, and rendering to God an acceptable service [Note: Acts 26:9-10.]. But when once he was converted to God, and brought under the influence of a principle of love, he condemned all which he had before approved [Note: 1 Timothy 1:13.]; and was willing to die for those, whom he had just before laboured to destroy. We may behold the same effect in those who were converted on the day of Pentecost. Compare the state of their minds when they came together that morning, and when they separated, and our subject will have all the elucidation that can possibly be desired [Note: Compare Act 2:13 with Acts 5:44.].]
It enters into every action of the life—
[It is as the soul, which pervades, and operates in, every part of the body. We are apt to view it only in some particular act; but it enters into, and forms, the very habit of the soul. St. Paul’s description of it will serve us as a rule whereby to judge of its office, and as a clew whereby to discover its most hidden operations. “Love (or ‘charity,’ as it is called,) suffereth long, and is kind; it envieth not, vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.].” Here we see, that not only our actions towards others, but the dispositions of our own minds in secret, are most materially affected by it; and consequently, that its influence extends to every branch of universal holiness [Note: 1 John 2:10.].]
It prepares the soul for heavenly communications—
[Dispositions that are contrary to love, bar the soul against God: they shut out good, from whatsoever quarter it might come. If a man under their influence read the Bible, what is it but “a sealed book?” If he attempt to pray, the heavens to him are as brass: his prayers have no power to ascend: they have no warmth in them: they freeze upon his very lips [Note: 1 Peter 3:7.]. If he enter into conversation, there is no savour in any thing he says, nor any capacity to receive good from any thing he hears. In the public ordinances, and in his private chamber, he is alike dull and formal. Go where he will, or do what he will, he neither communicates good, nor receives good.
But when love comes into his soul, his heart is expanded and enlarged towards both God and man. To God he goes with holy confidence, and finds access even to his very bosom [Note: 1 John 3:18-19.]: and “God, who is love” itself, delights in his own image as reflected from the suppliant’s face, and rejoices to communicate to him all the blessings of grace and peace. A soul filled with love is just such an habitation as God delights in; and he will not fail to descend and dwell in it [Note: John 4:16.]. Nor is it in relation to this life only that a person under the influence of love enjoys this confidence; he looks forward, even to the day of judgment, with a sweet assurance, that that God, whose image he so earnestly desires to bear, will not cast him into outer darkness [Note: 1 John 4:17. These words in our translation are scarcely intelligible. The sense of them, in the Author’s apprehension, is, “Herein is our love perfected: so that we have boldness in [reference to] the day of judgment; because as be is, so are we in this world, [we bearing his image, who is love itself.]” This makes a clear and important sense of the passage. For such a construction of ἵνα ἔχωμεν see 1 John 1:9. ἵνα ἀφῇ. See also Mark 4:12. ἵνα βλέπωσι compared with Matthew 13:13. where the word used is ὅτι. See also how ὅπως ἄν (a yet stronger expression) is used, Romans 3:4; and see a precisely similar construction. Revelation 13:13. ἵνα καὶ πῦρ ποιῇ.]. Let the same person now go into company, or attend the public ordinances, or take up the blessed word of God, he has new eyes, new ears, new feelings altogether. There is an unction of the Spirit upon his soul, that enables him to derive edification from every thing [Note: 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27.], and to diffuse, wherever he goes, “a sweet savour of the knowledge of Christ.” His love is like “the ointment of the right-hand which bewrayeth itself,” refreshing both himself and all around him with its sweet odours. In a word, there is no limit to the communications which such an one may expect from “God, who doth already dwell in him, and whose love is, and shall be, perfected within him [Note: 1 John 4:12.].”]
Seeing then that love is of such fundamental importance, let us notice,
The attention due to it under this particular consideration—
Love, for its own sake, should be cultivated to the uttermost: but when we consider its vast influence both on our present and eternal welfare, we should seek it with all our might. This appears from the solicitude which the Apostle expressed for the growth of the Thessalonians in this heavenly virtue. In reference then to his expressions, we say,
Let us seek to abound in it—
[Whatever advancement any persons may have made in this virtue, they should still press forward for higher attainments in it, desiring to “increase and abound in it more and inure.” The Thessalonians were eminently distinguished in this respect, so as not to need from the Apostle any instructions on the subject: yet even them did he exhort to “increase more and more [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10.],” imitating and emulating his love to them [Note: The text.]. Consider for a moment the Apostle’s love to them, the ardour, the tenderness, the efficiency of it: he compares his feelings with those of a father, yea, and of a nursing mother towards her infant offspring. And such was his anxiety about them, that he could scarcely endure his existence, till he was assured of their spiritual welfare; and he was us willing to lay down his life for them, as a mother was to draw forth the breast to her sucking child [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8; 1 Thessalonians 2:11; 1Th 3:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:5-7.]. Now such is the love that we should all aspire after: for nothing short of this is required of us by Almighty God [Note: 1 John 3:16.].]
Let us entreat God to work it in us—
[“Love is of God [Note: 1 John 4:7.]:” nor can any but. God create it in the heart. We may attempt to stir up in others this heavenly flame, but we shall never succeed, till God himself shall send down fire from above, and create the vital spark in the soul. Solomon justly observes, that “if a man would give all the substance of his house for love it would be utterly contemned [Note: Song of Solomon 8:7.].” We may labour and toil to the uttermost; but our efforts will only be like those of the Disciples, when they strove in vain to row their ship to shore, till Jesus entered into their vessel; and then they were immediately at the land whither they wished to go [Note: John 6:18-21.]. In many cases, the “more abundantly we endeavour to testify our love, the less we shall be loved [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:15.];” yea, we shall only be “casting our pearls before swine, that will turn again and rend us [Note: Matthew 7:6.].” But God can in one moment kindle the sacred flame, even in the soul that has indulged the most inveterate malignity. Behold the jailor: one hour he executed his commission against Paul and Silas with savage and needless cruelty; the next, he washed their stripes with all imaginable tenderness and love [Note: Acts 16:24; Acts 16:33.]. Let us cry then to him for the gracious influences of his Spirit, to create us anew, and to form and fashion us after his blessed image.]
Let us be stirred up to this especially from the consideration before us—
[Shortly is the Lord Jesus Christ coming with all his glorified saints to judge the world: and then will an inquiry be instituted, not after this or that particular grace, but after universal holiness. This consideration surely ought to weigh with us, and to make us thoroughly in earnest in the pursuit of love. Many grounds of confidence we may appear to have; but they will all fail us in that awful day: “Our knowledge may be so extensive, as to embrace all the mysteries of religion; our faith so strong, as to remove mountains; our liberality so great, as to give all our goods to feed the poor; and our zeal so ardent, as to give our bodies to be burned;—and yet, for want of a radical principle of love in our souls, it may profit us nothing; and we may be, in God’s estimation, no better than sounding brass or tinkling cymbals [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.].” O, how carefully should we examine ourselves as to the existence of this principle within us, and how ardently should we seek its increase! “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he:” if he be altogether under the influence of love, “he fulfilleth the law,” and is approved of his God: but, if this be not the reigning principle in his soul, whatever he may be, or whatever he may do, “he is in darkness even until now [Note: 1 John 2:9; 1 John 2:11.],” and will be consigned to everlasting darkness at the last day [Note: 1 John 3:14-15.].]
With those who feel the importance of this subject, two questions will naturally arise;
How shall I know whether my love increases?
[This question deserves an attentive consideration: for, if we form our judgment on inadequate and erroneous grounds, we shall only deceive ourselves to our everlasting destruction. Let not any then imagine that their love increases, because they feel an increased attachment to any particular individual or party, or have a general desire to do good. If we would form a correct estimate of our love, we must examine what difficulties it surmounts, what sacrifices it makes, and what victories it gains over every selfish inclination or corrupt affection? “If we love those only who love us, what do we more than others? do not even the Pharisees the same?” We must “love them that hate us, and bless them that curse us, and do good to them that despitefully use us and persecute us:” and it is in this way only that we can approve ourselves “children of our heavenly Father.” Enter then deeply into the workings of your own hearts: see how far pride, and anger, and malice, and envy are mortified within you; and how far humility, and meekness, and forbearance, and forgiveness, and a disposition to prefer others in honour above yourselves, are risen up in their stead, and are brought, though under the most trying circumstances, into easy and habitual exercise. Real love has, if I may so say, an intuitive and instinctive operation. See it in the mother of the child which Solomon ordered to be divided between the claimants: she did not need to reason upon the matter; but love, instantly operating in her soul, inclined her to sacrifice her own interests for the good of her child. So it is that love will evidence itself, wherever it exists: it will rise to the occasion, whatever the occasion be; it will “heap coals of fire on the bead” of those whom it cannot otherwise soften; and, “instead of being overcome of evil, it will overcome evil with good.” Try yourselves by this standard, and you will soon see what the state of your souls is before God.]
What shall I do to get an increase of it?
[Many directions here might be given: but we will content ourselves with only one. Nothing but love will beget love: nor will any thing but a sense of God’s love to us prevail to create in us any real love towards our fellow-creatures: we must know what he has done in laying down his life for us, before we can feel any disposition to lay down our lives for the brethren. But if by grace we are enabled to “comprehend in some good measure the height and depth and length and breadth of Christ’s love,” then shall we be transformed by it into his image, yea, and “be filled with all the fulness of God [Note: Ephesians 3:18-19.].” Contemplate then this stupendous mystery: dwell upon it, as it were, incessantly in your minds: muse upon it, till the fire of divine love kindle in your souls: and from thus “beholding his glory, you shall be changed into his image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].”]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 3". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30