“We live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.”—1 Thess. 3:8.
If I wished to be impressed with a pattern of a Christian minister, I would study the second chapter of this Epistle; and if I wished to see a pattern of a Christian people, I know not where I could look, better than to the church of the Thessalonians, chap. 1:5–10. They were a very amiable people, but greatly persecuted; and this excited the sentiments and conduct expressed in the third chapter.
The amount of the text is, that stedfastness in a Christian people is the life of a Christian minister. We shall notice, therefore, the nature of Christian stedfastness, and its influence on the happiness of a minister.
I. Let us inquire what is that spirit and conduct in a people expressed by “standing fast in the Lord.”
We may remark in general, (1.) The language supposes they are “in the Lord.” It may be thought, perhaps, my hearers, that I should take this for granted of you. And I hope I may of some, and of many; but can I of all? It will not be wise for you to take it for granted. It will be well if there be no profane person among you, as Esau. There is great force in that exhortation—(Heb. 12:15)—“Looking diligently, lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” Beware therefore what members you receive. If the world be allowed to mingle with the church, it will soon become corrupt.… Rome.… National churches.… And even the best formed churches are liable to impositions, and in danger of imbibing a worldly spirit. (2.) The language itself is military. Its import is similar to the advice of the apostle to the Corinthians: “Watch you, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” It supposes the army of the Lamb subject to many onsets from opposing forces, which tend to break their ranks and to put them to flight. This is the object of Satan, who knows that if an army be thrown into disorder, it is defeated. The great onset of that day was persecution. We have of late years been exempted from this in public; but still we may expect family and individual persecution. They that will live godly, and thus oppose the current of public opinion and public practice, must still expect to suffer persecution. But the chief things against which we are called to make a stand are the temptations of the world. Then let me be a little particular here, and apprise you of your danger in three quarters—in doctrine, discipline, and spirit.
1. Beware of being moved from the simplicity of Christian doctrine.—Christian doctrine is the foundation on which the church is built. Christians feel it to be so, and therefore will follow it wherever it is preached. The church has been attacked by infidelity, by gross corruptions, by false candour, and spurious zeal. If we be rooted and grounded in Christian doctrine, we shall not be materially wrong in any thing. The doctrine of the cross involves and will draw after it all evangelical truth, and holy discipline, and holy practice. But if that be given up, all will go to ruin. For example, If you give up the Divinity and atonement of Christ, the life-blood of Christianity is gone, and you become a dead, putrid mass. Or if, without openly rejecting these truths, you yet, under the specious pretences of candour, liberality, and charity, give up their importance, their effect will be the same. They that hold the truth with a loose hand will soon let it go; and they that receive not the love of the truth will soon be given up to believe a lie.—Or if, under the pretence of being favourable to practical religion, you make light of its leading principles, the effect will be the same. This would be razing the foundation to rear the structure, or tearing up the root to produce the fruit.—Or if you introduce such notions of the gospel as are at variance with the holy government of God, you in fact introduce another gospel. Such are a kind of religious gluttons, with a large appetite, out no spiritual taste. They may call themselves orthodox, and count all those who differ from them enemies to the gospel, and stun you with their effrontery; but what saith Paul?—“Many walk, of whom I tell you, even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ.”—Or if you reduce the doctrine of the gospel to mere speculation, you will become conceited and litigious, thinking you know something while you are deplorably ignorant; and the effect will be the same. O my brethren, we beseech you by the love of Christ, and by the miseries and mischiefs occasioned by corrupt doctrine in the churches, “stand fast in the Lord!” Next to doctrine,
2. Beware of sinking into a relaxed discipline.—As an army without good order and discipline cannot stand their ground, so neither can a Christian church. Great forbearance should doubtless be exercised in small matters. There would be endless divisions if a uniformity of opinion were required in minor things. In such things we must bear and forbear. But we must be firm and resolute in opposition to much of the liberality and candour of the present age. The church at Ephesus is commended because she “could not bear them which were evil.” There are not only wicked characters, but evils even in good men, from which the church is to be purged. There is plenty of work to be done by those who are spiritual. Many churches have sunk into ruin by slothfulness, and by worldly policy-retaining opulent sinners from a dread of losing their patronage, or from perverted notions of our Saviour’s meaning when he told the Jews that they who were without sin should cast the first stone, or from false tenderness, and sometimes from a wish to be excused in their own turn; thus agreeing together to tempt the Lord. My brethren, stand fast here. Whatever pleas may be urged, have no merely nominal members; but all effective men, whose hearts are with you, and whose prayers are with you. If any habitually absent themselves, try and restore them; but if they will not return, dissolve the union. If any man set himself against discipline, such a man had better be out of the church than in it. If any man forsake the gospel, restore him if you can; but if you cannot, where the bond of union is broken the form is not worth preserving, nor ought it to be preserved. The candour of modern times has in it a large portion of indifference to truth and uprightness, and is in direct contradiction to the counsel given to the seven Asiatic churches.
3. Beware of sinking into a worldly spirit.—This is a great temptation. In times of outward ease and affluence, many individuals have been carried away, and many churches melted down and lost in worldly conformity. The most dangerous feature of this evil is, that it may prevail in a person, and yet he shall maintain a respectability of character. Let a man fall into gross immoralities, and the world will soon let you know. But “men will praise thee when thou doest well for thyself.” And therefore many are entrenohed in this evil, and yet fancy themselves good Christians all the while. This is one of the grand onsets of your mighty foe. My brethren, stand fast!.… We
Excerpt from: “Christian Stedfastness,” Sermon LXXX in Sermons and Sketches.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 527–528). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.