"Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle." (2 Thessalonians 2:14,15)
What blessed news is the Gospel of the grace of God! It just suits the lost, ruined, and cursed state of mankind, however low sin has brought them (and it has brought them to hell's door;) unless the Gospel runs in to their help, it will sink them into the very depths of hell itself; but such is the richness, freeness, and fullness of the Gospel that it saves hell-deserving sinners; delivers them from it, and brings them to that heaven of eternal joy where that never-ending song of praise is brought out of their hearts, "Salvation to God and the Lamb," (Rev. 7:10) yea, it brings them cheerfully, lovingly, and willingly to sing, "Not unto us, O Lord; not unto us, but to thy name be the honor and glory." (Ps. 115:1) O, with what immortal tongues do they sing, "Unto him, to him, that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his blood, to him be glory, might, majesty and dominion for ever and ever!" (Rev. 1:5,6) And all this springs from the Gospel: the law calls none; the law can save none; it sends forth its peals of thunder, and flashes out its lightning against every sinner that follows not out all its dictates: "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them;" (Gal. 3:10) and there it leaves us: but now in comes the Gospel; O yes, this blessed Gospel, to pick up, save, and bring to heaven these poor sin-bound, law-cursed creatures; and herein is the blessedness of the Gospel, that whatever it requires of the sinner it bestows; whatever it commands, or demands, it supplies the man with; so that I do not wonder at one singing--
"As to man's merit, it's hateful to me,
The Gospel, I love it, 'tis perfectly free."
Man's merit, indeed! Why, there is no such thing; it's a delusion, a fancy, a whim; merit, my friends, is this; exceeding, going beyond all we are commanded to do; that is merit; but the Son of God stops the mouths of all merit-mongers, where He says, "After ye have done all, say, ye are unprofitable servants." (Luke 17:10) Then there is no such thing as merit; and what a mercy, sinner, that, however painful to thy feelings not to be able to move one step before God, yet, to be brought in guilty, willing to be saved by and in God's own way. I will tell you, whatever your condition, however base and vile in yourself; however bad your life may have been; however desperately wicked and damnably base your heart; although you may see and feel yourself, "from the crown of the head to the soles of the feet, full of wounds, bruises, and putrifying sores," (Isa. 1:6) the Gospel can nevertheless reach your case, and make such a black, vile, deformed creature as thou art as white as snow; yea, the Son of God can say to thee, "Thou art all fair, my love, there is no spot in thee." (Songs 4:7) O what a blessed Gospel! If there had been no Gospel published, as flowing from the heart of a Covenant God, we were all damned to a man; no hope, sinner, for any of us; but as God Himself has published it (all honor and glory to His holy and blessed name,) the Son of God hath fulfilled and completed what the Father said about Him, and will bring every one of His elect to receive, admire, and bless God for it, namely, "That the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head." (Gen. 3:15) Out flows the Gospel and raises up our poor sin-bitten and law-cursed parents, saves them from hell, and brings them to glory: yea, and to this very time it is engaged in "bringing many sons to glory." (Heb. 2:10) Yea, it can and does save the very vilest and worst of men.
Mind this: the Gospel does not propose anything, as regards your condition and mine; no, no, it would not be the Gospel if it were not as free as the air; if there were any condition attached to it, then it would cease to be Gospel; it becomes law: now the Gospel knows nothing of that; it is this; hearken to it from the lips of the blessed Son of God: "I came to seek and to save them that are lost;" (Luke 19:10) that is it, sinner; and it is useless for you to look into your heart to find anything there, for you never will. It may be rather hard for me to say, but I will tell you what you are for all that; you are nothing but a lump of sin, a mass of corruption; the Holy Ghost puts this solemn question, "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" (Job 14:4) I will defy you to do it; but what is impossible with man is possible with God, and as the Gospel brings everything with it, and maintains what it brings in the heart, so it carries that heart to heaven. Therefore, poor soul, it is in vain for you to expect or try to find anything in yourself, for that you never will; I have been learning this for these forty years; I know well in my judgment that "every good and perfect gift cometh from above, from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness nor shadow of turning;" (James 1:17) yet I am continually trying to see if I cannot get something good out of my filthy, wicked heart; my sinful, abominable flesh. My judgment tells me I never shall; yet I try to do it; and this is why there is not that ready falling in with the Gospel: I run in with it in spirit, but, being burdened under the law, there is such a cleaving to the dust, to that under which we were born; we do so stick to the first husband; there is such a trying to see if we cannot, in some way or other, bring that out of our flesh which God declares is impossible; and every now and then I give it up, and my spirit gladly runs in with what my judgment knows to be true, and I fall at the feet of the mercy of God, with "O Lord, help me, and be merciful unto me!" Let the Lord but just pick us up and smile us into fruit, and out runs the spirit, and we throw ourselves at the feet of the Son of God. That is the Gospel, my friends; and you never found it put you on one side, or tell you that you must come with something better. This is it: "O every one that thirsteth" (I have no doubt there are some here that want salvation, and blessed be God if you are made to thirst; it is for you who feel you must famish without it,) "come ye to the waters;" and, poor soul, they are deep and broad enough for a poor wretched, ruined sinner, like you, to swim in; you will never get to the bottom; therefore, "Come ye to the waters;" and "you that have no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money, and without price;" you cannot, by all your searching, find one iota of goodness in your wretched heart; so "come, without money, and without price." Does this suit you? Ah, say you, if it were not true, I should have no more hope than Satan himself; but it is true; "wherefore then do ye spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live." (Isa. 55:1-3) Now, that is Gospel, and that is the Gospel our text speaks of.
"Whereunto he called you by our gospel." If there had been no Gospel, then there had been no salvation. These Thessalonians had never been called had it not been for the Gospel; for Paul, writing to the Romans, said, "Whom he did predestinate, them he also called:" (Rom. 8:30) those to whom His thoughts of mercy ran; "whose names were written in the Lamb's book of life." (Rev. 21:27) Then the ground of these Thessalonians being called rested upon their being predestinated to be saved in the Lord Jesus Christ with an everlasting salvation. God, we see, had eternal thoughts of love and mercy toward them, so He called them to the obtaining of the Gospel of His dear Son by the preaching of His servant Paul; for, if you notice, you will see how they came by their religion--that is, instrumentally. It is said (Acts 17,) "Paul, having passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, came to Thessalonica, and, as his manner was, reasoned with them out of the Scriptures; opening and alleging that this Jesus whom he preached unto them is Christ." O what a large heart Paul had for poor sinners, when he knew the worth of his own soul! And no preacher will ever have a real desire for the salvation of sinners unless he knows the value of his own; and when he has tasted that the Lord is gracious, and has proved how precious is his own soul's salvation, there will be begotten in his heart a desire for the salvation of others. If God has blessed you, as a private individual, with the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins, there has been a desire, a longing feeling in your heart, that the same salvation may reach the people you come in contact with; and if you could say a word, or by any means get them to the house of God, where they would hear the truth, it would do your heart good; and nothing under the canopy of heaven would give you more pleasure than to be the means of saving a poor sinner from the burning pit. If your religion is not something like this, I would not pick it up. "O," say you, "I do not think many people care about others' souls;" then they have never tasted that the Lord is gracious; they have never known the sad consequence of men and women being damned, and the blessedness of being saved by Jesus Christ; they have never felt a desire that He should be "crowned Lord of all."
You look into the Word of God; there you will see a poor woman destitute of the mercy of God; but, as soon as the Son of God speaks to her, and that mercy runs into the heart of that poor sin-bitten, Samaritan creature, she leaves her water-pot and away she goes, and calls the people of her city; "Come! Come!" Says she, "and see a man that told me all things that ever I did. Is not this the Christ?" (John 4:29) You find Moses saying to his father-in-law, "Come with us, and we will do you good, for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel." (Num. 10:29) This is everything, and if you are devoid of it, whoever you may be, depend upon it you are yet devoid of the real influence and power of God's grace; but if a professed preacher and teacher of others, and your aim, end, and object be not the salvation of sinners, real love to their souls, and that God may be glorified, Christ known, and the truth flourish, you are not worthy to stand in a pulpit, and had much better be earning your daily bread by the sweat of your brow. As soon as the grace of God took possession of Paul's heart, as soon as he had tasted the sweetness of this Gospel, its freeness, fullness, and blessedness, how his heart and soul yearned for poor sinners! He counted not his life dear that he might win souls for Christ; "The love of Christ constraineth me," (2 Cor. 5:14) said he; so he "reasoned with them at Thessalonica out of the Scriptures. (Acts 17:2) And some of them" (as many as were ordained to eternal life) "believed, (Acts 13:48) and consorted with Paul and Silas; (Acts 17:4) and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few. But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, set the city on an uproar, assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people; but the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas, by night, unto Berea." (Acts 17:10)
So we find that this Gospel is the power of Salvation to them that believe, a savor of life to such, but a savor of death unto death to others. This it is said, the Bereans were more noble than they of Thessalonica, receiving the Word with a readiness of mind; searching the Scriptures daily, whether the thing spoken to them were really so. (Acts 17:11) Thus, we see, it was the Gospel by which the believing Thessalonians were called, and that according to the prior determination, saving love, will and power of God; while the others lived on in their sins, and died at last in unbelief. This, therefore, is what I want to bring you to a point about, if God will give you faith to see it. Has God called you by His grace? Paul, in speaking of the good opinion he had of these Thessalonians in regard to their faith, and love, and patience, commends them for having turned from the idols they had before gone after. Now, I ask you, in faithfulness and sincerity, do you know what it is to be turned from your evil ways, from your worldly companions, from your fleshly lusts, and, in simplicity and truth, to seek after God? Is this, now, the feeling of your heart, "Thy face, Lord, will I seek?" "Yes," say you, "I do;" then God be praised! It is the Gospel that has done this for you; it is indeed. Do you really know what it is to throw your filthy, abominable sins under foot? And are you brought from darkness to light, now seeking earnestly after Jesus Christ and His great salvation? "Yes," say you, "I know what that is in some little measure." I will not ask you how much you know; but do you know any of these things? Is this the uppermost feeling of your heart? More or less, the great abiding feeling of your soul? Is there a turning from sin, and the evil you formerly loved and lived in? Does your spirit now turn against it? And is there this cleaving to Jesus Christ, and a constant desire springing up in your heart to "know Him," and the saving power there is in Him, so that you may be saved by and in Him? "Yes," say you, "that is really the case. I am sure I have been brought there." Then I am as sure as the Word of God is true, that the Gospel has come into your heart; that this Gospel has produced the change in your soul. And I tell you another thing, although you may not as yet be able to lay hold of it, and that is, that if you had never been predestinated by God the Father to eternal life, He never would have called you thus out of darkness into light. Why, man, woman, by your own confession, He has called you from the world, and the things of it; whereas once they delighted you, now you see nothing in them but vanity and vexation of spirit; and all you desire is to know Jesus Christ, and to know Him more and more. Oh, God has indeed called you by this Gospel! And I will tell you for your comfort, though you may not be able to take all the comfort from it that I desire, yet, God abideth faithful; He stands fast; yes, "I am fully persuaded of this very thing, that he that hath begun this good work in you will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil. 1:6) And you will prove it to be a holy call, a heavenly call, an effectual call, while these emotions and desires appear again and again in your heart and soul; although at times you may get into the mud and mire of the world, you will find the Gospel calling and bringing you up and out. You cannot always live there: there are many who know what it is to be buried at times in the world; the business, the family, and many things that engage their time; and too often their fleshly minds appear almost to swallow them up; they get, as it were, so smothered and buried in the world, as though they were all world; but if you know the things I have been speaking about, there are and will be times, even in this condition, when your spirit will sigh out, "I will arise and go unto my father:" you know as well as possible that those things will never satisfy, and you are restless and uneasy under them, and in your feelings how you strive to arise! "Yes," say you, "I do, but O what a struggle it is! Ah, poor soul, you have another spirit: God has called you by His Gospel; you cannot be contented to be as you once were, feeding upon husks; you prove this to be a holy, heavenly calling, bringing you again and again up from the mire and muck of the world; calling you to "shake yourself from the dust" of these things. "O Lord," say you, "I would not live always; O this world! This world! O what a wretched world it is to me! O that I had more of heaven in my heart!" Ah! You are the one for heaven: yes, you are bound thither; and to heaven you will surely go--yea, as surely as God's Gospel is true. Hearken! "Whom he did foreknow, them he also called; whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified." (Rom. 8:30) There's a blessed linking together! So, poor helpless, ruined, undone sinner, who art beset with thousands of fears, it may be, about it; ready to conclude again and again that if sent to hell at last you have only your deserts, but who yet art sighing and saying, "And will God indeed pick up, save, and bring to heaven such a worm as I?" Ah, you will find that Gospel, which took its rise in the heart of the great Jehovah before the morning stars sang together, being brought into your heart by the power of His blessed Spirit, will sanctify and save and eventually glorify you in heaven above. It would not be the Gospel if it did not do this; yea, anything short of this is not Gospel. There have been special seasons, when before God in secret, and He and I have been in close intercourse about it, when He has showed me this Gospel, and how it can take a poor guilty, filthy sinner like me to heaven; and I have believed, moreover, that it would; and what I have seen and felt I declared unto you. What does the great Apostle say? "If any other man preach any other gospel, let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:8) Why, Paul? Because it will not suit poor lost sinners so as to bring them off clear before God. O, then it is a mercy if you can trace out in the least that God has called you from darkness to light; from following sin and Satan to be a follower of His dear Son: whatever He may have wrought savingly in your heart comes from His love towards you; that is why this Gospel runs in to meet you in your ruined, helpless, undone condition; and that love will perfect all that concerns you, until at last it brings you into the arms of that loving Three-one God. This Gospel provides the poor sinner with everything he needs; here is blood to cleanse him; righteousness to justify him; full redemption from the law; yea, Christ Jesus made over to him as his all in all, and thus saving him with an everlasting salvation. "Whereunto he called you by our gospel to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." Now, I must confess that this seems rather perplexing, and has exercised my mind again and again as to what the great Apostle means by this, "the obtaining of the glory;" for he says that these Thessalonians were called to this by the Gospel, namely, "the obtaining of the glory;" and when I look at the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, I think, how are we to obtain any of that glory? And, as I desire ever to feed you with knowledge and understanding, this brings me to the feet of the Almighty very often during the day crying, "O Lord, do teach me; O Lord, do lead me into the knowledge of Thy truth, so that I may lead the people in a plain path!" For I have no desire to speak a vision of my own, or to feed you with any fancy or whim of my own brain. Now, it appeared to me, as the Scripture seemed to open itself up, that there was an obtaining of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ in two ways: first, as Peter tells us (2 Peter 1:3), "According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust; and besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge," etc., etc.; "for if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." Now, Paul comes in (2 Cor. 3:18) and says that "we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the spirit of the Lord." (The Old Testament divines meant nothing else but this.) "Now," says Paul (1 Cor. 13:12, "we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face." I lay this ground, my friends, first of all as a foundation that you may see what the obtaining of this glory signifies; as it is said, "They go from strength to strength, every one of them appeareth in Zion before God;" (Ps. 84:7) and again, "The Lord will give grace and glory, and no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly." (Ps. 84:11) Now, the glory there, I believe, means to be possessed in this way: if your read Psalm 84., you will find David speaking of the things of this life: "The Lord God (he says) is a sun and shield (that is, to warm and protect us here.) He will give grace and glory" (which New Testament saints show us "we receive out of his fulness, and grace for grace;" (John 1:16) and again, "He giveth more grace.") Thus we may see that it appertains to the things to be obtained in this life; as Paul says, "To the obtaining of the glory;" "that you may receive out of his fulness, and grace for grace." Then how may we know that we obtain that glory of the Lord Jesus Christ? Why, says the Son of God, "learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls;" (Matt. 11:29) that by being brought under the sweet influence of the Spirit, to drink into the mind and spirit of the Son of God, you shall obtain meekness of heart, tenderness of conscience, love toward God, holiness of desire and feeling in your soul, heavenly mindedness, and spirituality. This is obtaining the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ; as I said, being changed by the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord. Paul, you remember, says, "When I was a child I spake as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things." (1 Cor. 13:11) So you and I, ten, twenty, thirty, forty years ago, if we had any grace, had but a grain, so to speak; but we are to grow in grace and in knowledge, and as we grow in these we see more and more our own shortcomings, and thus more highly prize that which is to be found in Christ; so Paul said, "Not as though I had already obtained, either were already perfect, but this one thing I do: forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching forth toward those that are before, I press toward the mark of the prize of my high calling in Christ Jesus; looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of my faith." (Phil. 3:13,14) Ah! That is it, my friends; and I am persuaded of this, that if the glory of God's Gospel has been in any measure revealed to you, there is a desire in your spirit to obtain this glory that is in Jesus Christ; you want to drink more into His matchless love; you want (even though you may not be able to reach it)--you want to "add to your faith virtue, and to virtue meekness," and so forth; and if you have no desire to add to these things, to grow in them, then I would not say much for your religion; it is not worth picking up; if it is not the religion the Apostle here is speaking of I do not covet it. I am willing to confess myself the least, yes, and behind the least, of both Old and New Testament saints; and I confess it with sorrow; but God, who searches all things, who knows the beatings and throbbings of my heart, knows how I would excel them all. I see and feel that I am not worthy to be numbered amongst them; but, if I could, I would outstep them all; and if you are of the same mind, the same spirit, and have the same feelings, you and they can walk together; and I am persuaded that if you are made "partaker of the Gospel," although you may feel, like me, to be very far behind them, yet your desire is to get beyond them. This is what Peter calls being made partakers of the divine nature--a partaker of the Spirit of the Son of God; as it is said, "The spirit that is upon thee shall never depart out of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed for ever;" (Isa. 59:21) and this is what Peter means when he says, "that through the knowledge of Christ we obtain glory and virtue." This, then, is one of the ways in which we may understand my text; and there is another also, which, I think you will see, springs out of the same. The Son of God, in that memorable prayer to the Father, said "that they all may be one in us, even as thou, father, art in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me; and the glory which thou gavest me I have given them, that they all may be one, even as we are one." (John 17:21,22) So you see what it is: "The glory thou hast given me I have given them;" thus Paul, writing to these Thessalonians, that they may obtain this glory, desires that they may realize that same oneness between Christ and themselves which exists between Himself and the Father, "that they may be one as we are one;" "that they may believe that thou hast sent me," so that "they may all be one in us." Paul wanted them to enjoy the same love that the Father had to Christ; "to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ;" that as the Father loveth the Son, and as the Father and He are one, so you, by adoption and grace, may realize that you are one with the Father and the Son; and that the Father loveth you with the same love wherewith He loves His dear Son. This is obtaining the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ; and I can honestly say, my friends, that this is the glory I wish for you to obtain, if it be God's blessed will. How much I wish it, God, who knows all hearts, only knows; yea, He knows the thousands of prayers I have put up; the cries from my heart, and the tears from my eyes, both day and night, that you might obtain that glory; that you may realize this for yourselves, "For me to live is Christ, and to die will be gain;" (Phil. 1:21) "I know in whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day;" (2 Tim. 1:12) "He hath loved me, and given himself for me;" "I am bound up in the bundle of life with the Lord Jesus Christ;" "This God is my God for ever and ever, and shall be my guide even unto death." What greater glory can you possess than this? O, my friends, what greater glory can there be than, in simplicity, faith, and love, to kneel before the Lord and say, feelingly, "My Father, which art in heaven?" The Son of God, after that He was risen from the tomb, said to Mary, "Go and tell my disciples, I ascend unto my father, and your father, unto my God and your God." (John 20:17) This is what He told her in order to cheer her heart; and, "Go," said He, "and tell them, that it may cheer their hearts: go and tell them that, Mary;" and what greater glory can you obtain than this? What greater glory can you get than to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? To drink into His spirit, to increase in all godliness, righteousness, and truth, to receive out of His fulness grace for grace, growing up into His blessed image in all things? This, therefore, was the great desire of my heart for you; and, O that it were the chief, the earnest, the constant desire of your heart, that you might obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ! That grace might so operate in your heart and soul as to bring out such cries and tears as these, "Lord, show me Thy glory and bless me with it." If you notice, it is said, that Moses, being in the mount with God, when he came down his face shone; he was to take somewhat of the glory and put it upon the people; that is, they were to possess more grace and more of the Spirit of God resting upon them than ever it did before. Now, when God would put honor upon Moses--what emphasis is laid upon it by the inspired writer!--It is said, "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth." (Num. 12:3) There you see what glory he obtained from God. "If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known to him in a vision, and will speak to him in a dream: (but) my servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house; with him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold." (Num. 12:6,7) Thus Moses had so much to do with God, and drank so into the glory of heaven, that he becomes, as the Lord Himself said, "The meekest man of all the men which were upon the face of the earth." Therefore, says the Apostle, in the words of our text, "Whereunto he called you by our gospel to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or epistle." (2 Thess. 2:15) Amen.
In the morning we noticed some of the blessings that flowed from the Gospel of God; we showed that in it God opened His heart; for out of the Gospel ran the free mercy and boundless love of God to poor sin-bitten, law-cursed men and women. We noticed that the law brought nothing but condemnation and death; but the Gospel came to meet them in all its suitability, freeness, and fullness; lifted them up, and eventually carried them to heaven: it was by reason of this Gospel they were called, for had it not been so they would have remained for ever dead in sins; therefore, every one's calling springs from the Gospel, according to that the Holy Ghost saith by His servant Paul, "Whom he did predestinate, them he also called." We tried to show what the "calling of God" is, and by that means to prove to you your election of God. "Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." We noticed that this glory was obtained in two ways: first, "By growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ;" as it is said, "We all, with open face beholding the glory of the Lord, are changed by the same image from glory to glory, as by the spirit of our God," "receiving out of his fulness grace for grace." And, secondly, as Paul desired for these Thessalonians, "that they might obtain the grace that was in Christ Jesus," in being especially blessed with the same meekness and love that was in Him; and that they might realize and feel their union to the Father and the Son according to what the Son of God Himself said, (John 17:21) "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us." (Ver. 22) "And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one." (Ver.23) "That the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me." This was what Paul desired for them--that they might be "bound up in the bundle of life with the Lord their God," (1 Sam. 25:29) in the experience and power, and the comfortable persuasion of the same in their souls. And now we will pass on.
"Therefore, brethren, stand fast," etc. Here, you see, Paul claims acquaintance with these Thessalonians, and that on no less ground than that of relationship: "Therefore, brethren." And you and I, my friends, are either found in the same relationship to him and them in spirit, or we are, as yet, "strangers from the covenants of promise; without God, and without hope in the world;" (Eph. 2:12) but Paul tells me, in the 13th verse of this chapter, why he claims this relationship; and God grant that you and I may prove hereby that we are of these "brethren." "We are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth." Some came to the Son of God and said. (Mark 3) "Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee;" and He said, "Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother." Now, man or woman, do you know anything about this "sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth?" Have you been brought to "receive the truth in the love of it," and to bless God for the truth? And have you been brought, under the influence of the blessed Spirit, to say at times, "Other lords have had dominion over me, but by Thee only will I now make mention of Thy name?" Has God set you apart from the rest of the world, so that there are times and seasons in your soul when this Spirit has ruled, and you have said,
"'Let worldly minds the world pursue,
It hath no charms for me:
Once I admired its trifles too,
But grace has set me free;'
and although I am so earthly, so carnal, so far off in spirit, what I want and desire, what I aim at, and long to obtain, is more likeness to Jesus Christ; and there are seasons, although they are but rare, in which I feel 'that I would not live alway,' in which I can say, 'Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon me, and it will put more joy in my heart than the wicked ever knew when their corn, and their wine and oil increase;' (Ps. 4:6,7) and however my carnal, fleshly heart, my proud, covetous nature, may run after the things of time and sense, God, who searches all hearts, knows that I cannot, nor would not, be put off with these things?" "Through sanctification of the Spirit?" Now, the apostles know that they were brethren; can you claim relationship on that ground? What an unspeakable mercy if you can! If you notice, the disciples of the Son of God had a deal of flesh about them, so that He had to put it down continually, showing them wherein they strayed, and how little of His grace they evinced; but, with all this, there was a reality in their hearts; they possessed this "sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth;" hence you find, after He rose from the grave, and ere He made His solemn ascent to heaven, He said to Mary, "Go and tell my disciples that I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; to my God and your God;" (John 20:17) there, you see, was the relationship, and Jesus owned it. Although, as I said, there was so much He had to reprove and rebuke them for, yet there was still that sanctification, that cleaving to and following after the Christ of God, so that, as we hear Him saying at another time to the twelve, when numbers returned and went no more with Him, "Will ye also go away?" "Lord," said they, "to whom shall we go?" (John 6:67,68) He put them to the test, you see, and tried their religion of what sort it was! Ah, my friends, there is not much of the religion of the present day that would bear this test; so you can see the evidence of the true glory, how it showed in the dark and stood this fiery test. "Therefore, brethren, stand fast," etc. Now, what a mercy to be able to claim relationship with such as these! Because if you and I are of one spirit with them here, we shall be one with them in heaven: the Son of God said to them, "Where I am, there shall ye be also," and you have no doubt about that; and you will be amongst them too, because, you know, it is "One Lord one faith; one baptism;" although, as Paul says, you will have to fight hard; the contention, on account of these truths, will be strong; and this made him write to the Corinthians, (1 Cor. 16:13) "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong." You may depend upon it, the devil will question and oppose every truth you receive; your heart will be exercised, and all your reasoning powers will fight against the faith: the truth you receive will bring the world against you; and as you receive the truth in the love and power of it, more professors will fight against you. There is not a truth in God's Word but has always been opposed by men and devils, but the truth has stood the fire; and notwithstanding all the lies and errors that have abounded in the world, the truth has come out of and has risen above them all. What fires and persecutions the truth has passed through! Thousands of lies, errors, and false doctrines have perished, but here stands the truth of God in all its fullness and purity: notwithstanding the flames it has gone through. O the Popish fire it has gone through! It has indeed had to fight against devils and men, but it proclaims aloud, in a voice like thunder, that "its Author is divine," peeling forth this great fact, "I am from heaven!" But, says the great apostle, in my text, "Stand fast;" for you will indeed have it all questioned; the grace you receive from the Lord Jesus Christ; the truth the blessed Spirit brings into your heart; your carnal mind as well as your reasoning powers; and men and devils will ever oppose; but God who hath called you will ever stand by you; He will prove His faithfulness toward you, and, through Him, you shall overcome at the last. If you notice, the Scriptures compare these "brethren" to soldiers very frequently, thus it is said, (2 Cor. 10:4) "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God, to the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." Therefore you need not wonder about having every truth and grace that is received into your heart questioned, turned over, and disputed by carnal sense and reason, the devil and men, all in turn; and perhaps sometimes altogether: faith and the things of God are heavenly; sense and reason are contrary; but Mr. Hart sums it up thus,
"Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle." Now, these traditions are neither more nor less than the doctrines that He preached; that is, the Word of God, whether by the grace of God or Paul's epistle. In writing to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:16) he says, "Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me." And in the 11th chapter he tells us in what respect we should follow him: "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I deliver them to you." Now, it reads in the margin, "I pray you in all things that you keep the traditions I delivered to you;" that is, the truths, the letters, the epistles I wrote to you; I pray you remember me in all those things, and keep the traditions as I delivered them unto you: that you walk in them; abide by them; cleave to, and follow after them; I commend and praise you for it. For what does he say when writing to the Colossians, "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of man, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." (Col. 2:8) Beware of such a false religion as this, that is only of man: the Scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, "Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they wash not their hands when they eat bread." (Matt. 15:2) But see how He rebuked them; "Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, it is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; and honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Matt. 15:9) These commandments of men, said Jesus, are the doctrines ye receive and believe, for God commanded saying, "Honour thy father and mother," etc., but ye say, "If a man do so and so, although he may not honour his father and mother, yet he shall be free." (Matt. 15:6) Now, my friends, my aim is to lay down plainly and simply what we are to understand by the traditions and doctrines as set forth in God's Word, by holy men of God who spake as being moved by the Holy Ghost. So Paul in my text tells the Thessalonians to "stand fast and hold the traditions which they had been taught, whether by word or his epistle: what you have heard preached, and what you have received by letter or epistle, my brethren, stand fast therein. Now, what was one of these things, one of these traditions that he would have them "hold fast?" Why this--"By grace ye are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God;" (Eph. 2:8) that "They were not sufficient of themselves to think anything as of themselves; their sufficiency was of God;" (2 Cor. 3:5) as though he would say, I know that there is this feeling in your heart as well as in mine, that you are surely able to think or do something; but you stand fast by what I have written to you, for you are not sufficient of yourselves to think or act rightly. This will bring down your topsails; this will lay thee, poor creature, in the dust; but you will have to stand fast by the word. Pharisees and mere carnal professors will not have it; I will venture to say they will contend against the truth from morning to night, bringing all their poor, puny, reasoning powers against it; but you, my brethren, you hold it fast; it is "the truth" as I have preached it, and according to the written Word of God, as spoken by those holy men of God, who "spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." (2 Pet. 1:21) And says the apostle Peter, "Ye have a more sure word of prophecy whereunto ye do well that ye take heed;" (2 Pet. 1:19) and what was that "more sure word?" that Old Testament saints stood out for as well as New, and what they of old wrote was believed in, written of, and confirmed by the apostles. You have this more sure word, therefore "stand fast." Now, I find a principle in my heart, a looking for, desiring, waiting, and sometimes really expecting, that some day I shall not be such a poor helpless creature as I now am, utterly unable to do anything; but "by grace ye are saved;" then, if it is of grace it is free. There cannot be anything of the creature; O no, it is "through faith and that not of ourselves, but by the gift of God; not of works lest any man should boast." And you will find that you, too, will be trying, every now and then to do something, but as divine light shines into your soul down goes your unbelief, away goes all your supposed sufficiency and creature power, and you find that you can do nothing. And I tell you, my friends, the more you are enabled to stand fast to this truth, the more will your eyes be "up unto the hills from whence cometh your help. God must work all Himself, in respect of your soul's salvation, and the carrying on of His work of grace in your heart; and you will have to confess that no creature can or may put a finger to it. What a proof of this we have in Uzza--"he put forth his hand to hold the ark, for the oxen stumbled; and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzza, and he smote him, because he put his hand to the ark; and then he died before God;" (1 Chron. 13:9,10) to teach you and me, to the end of our days, that God will carry His own ark, so that no man shall ever put his hand to help the Almighty in that which appertains to His glory; "but David was displeased because the Lord had made a breach upon Uzza." (1 Chron. 13:11) He did not like to see God thus vindicate His own honor and glory, so he carried the ark aside into the house of Obed-edom instead of taking it home into his own city; but God did not humor David any the more for that; but, "the Lord blessed the house of Obed-edom and all that he had." (1 Chron. 13:14) This taught David a lesson, hence we find him saying afterwards, "None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites: for them hath the Lord chosen to carry the ark of God, and to minister unto him for ever. And he said to the Levites sanctify yourselves that ye may bring up the ark of the Lord; for because ye did it not at the first, the Lord our God made a breach upon us, for that we sought him not after the due order. So the children of the Levites bare the ark of God upon their shoulders with the staves thereon, as Moses commanded according to the word of the Lord: then David and the people could rejoice because they were walking according to the word of the Lord. Then all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord, with shouting, making a noise with psalteries, harps, and other instruments of music." (1 Chron. 15) All this is to teach you and me that we are saved by grace. God wants no hand or help from us; "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord." (Zech. 4:6) And you will have to fight for that truth, for you will find this feeling in your heart, "Surely I shall not always be such a cripple as this;" but you will till the day of your death; you will have to stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught," and although thou mayest have lived and walked in the ways of God for fifty years thou wilt have to say when dying, "God be merciful to me a sinner." "But," say you, "I have been racked with trouble, affliction, and mourning, and can get none the forwarder." No, nor you never will; therefore, stand fast in the tradition which you have been taught, that it is "by grace ye are saved."
Another truth they had been taught by the Word of God and by Paul's epistles was, that there is "a law in the members warring against the law of the mind, so that when we would do good evil is present with us." (Rom. 7:23) If you look through all the epistles of the great apostle you will find this truth run through them all, "the flesh lusting against the spirit" bringing him into captivity to the law of sin; "the good I would, I do not; and the evil that I would not, that I do." (Rom. 7:19) Now, he would have these Thessalonians hold fast this tradition; that their flesh would never be one whit better; that whenever they would do good evil would be present. And I will tell you, my friends, that you will find the flesh weak, even though the spirit may be willing, especially when upon your knees in prayer, and when you come up to the house of God to worship before God, and to hear what God the Lord shall say to you as regards the things that make for your peace and comfort. You would say to the world, "be-gone vain world from me be-gone; let my religious hours alone." You would, if you could, shut the world outside the door, and there let it remain until you have to meet its duties, its cares, its business again on the morrow morning; but you no sooner sit down than in come some of the worst things--perhaps some of the vilest, unclean, wretched, abominable, damnable things; aye, such filthy things as make even your very flesh creep again; and you cry out, in your spirit, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of sin and death?" (Rom. 7:24) And when you fall on your knees before God, desiring to seek His face in prayer, and to meditate upon those things that concern your soul's profit and good, then how carnal things, sensual and devilish things, will run up and down, and in and out of your heart. And if I may judge, and am able to speak the language of your heart by my own feelings, how true it is that in these places, "when you would do good evil is present with you;" yea, it is sure to be present. "Ah," say you, "I find it so, alas, to my sorrow; I have prayed, and longed, and tried, and hoped, and have thought surely it will not always be so;" but it will, as I said just now, to the day of your death. "O," say you, "you are a miserable comforter;" but I tell you the truth, nevertheless; therefore, I would have you hold fast this truth, that you will never find the flesh one whit better. Paul himself tells us it is a vile body, a corruptible, perishable body, and that there dwelleth in it no good thing; and, this being the case, you will never get anything out of it but what is bad. Why, the Son of God tells us that "out of the heart proceedeth all manner of evil. "But," say you, "we have another heart--a new heart; Christ is formed in us the hope of glory; we are made partakers of his nature." The child of God has two minds; the saints in heaven have but one; all spirit, no flesh there. Carnal men are all flesh; nothing but flesh; but the child of God has two natures; the old man of sin, and the new man of grace--that is, in him there is both flesh and spirit; therefore, says the apostle, hold fast that ye have received. He ever preached this; yes, that he did. How it runs through God's blessed word; and poor thing, you have been hoping (and so have I, but it has been hoping against hope) that "surely it is not to be always so;" "what, must I carry this about with me to the grave?" Yes, that you must. "But," say you, "I thought as I got older sin would grow weaker and grace stronger;" but it is not so, my friends; and you will have to prove that sin is as active and young in you as it was in your youth; that it is the spawn of hell, and that the devil is always watching to keep it alive in the heart. When you would do good evil is present, and I have no doubt it has crossed you, chased you, dodged you, and sore-vexed you, so as to bring sorrow to your heart, tears from your eyes, and made you cry often and often, "O wretched one that I am;" when shall I get out, and away from this? When shall I worship God aright? O that I could throw these things behind my back when I go to seek the face of God--to hear the word of God: but you never will do it; they will always come with you; it will be just as it was with Abraham, when he made sacrifice, the birds came down to consumed it: he saw nothing of the birds before, but no sooner was the sacrifice ready, then down they came; and Abraham drove them away when he went to worship, but down they came again; and so they kept on; he kept driving them away, and they kept on coming; and so you will find it. No sooner does your soul ascend to God, with any feeling of softness of heart in prayer, then in will shoot something; no sooner cry out, "O Lord do take my heart and affections," and your spirit rises to God, then down come the birds again: thus you will get off your knees so dissatisfied with your prayers; and this will put you out of conceit with all your pretty ways and doings; it will, indeed: and it will make you cry, just as it did the apostle, "Who shall deliver me? I thank God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord." You now are the one to prize Jesus Christ, and how gladly you join the great apostle, in "crowning him Lord of all," and all in all; your wisdom, righteousness; your sanctification and redemption. (1 Cor. 1:30) O, says the poor soul, "but for Jesus Christ, I'm gone, to all intents and purposes;" but, says Paul, "you hold fast"--and I would say so too; do you mind, and hold fast. I just drop these few thoughts that, if it be God's will, they may be for your comfort.
Another tradition the apostle would have them hold fast, was this, that, "In the world they should have much tribulation." We can only name a few things; it would take me a generation to preach about all the things named in God's word, that He would have them hold fast. Paul went throughout the churches, confirming them that, "through much tribulation, they must enter the kingdom of heaven." (Acts 14:22) Now, don't you think, you that love and fear God; whom God loves with an everlasting love! You, that are bought with the precious blood of the Son of God; ye, in whose heart the Holy Ghost dwells; don't you think that you are going to escape tribulations; dream not of two heavens, my friends: if yours is a mossy path, and you escape the thorns and briars of this world, depend upon it, there is something wrong; ye must have tribulation: you may say--"O, we shall escape a great many things other people suffer;" but the Scriptures do not say so; that is a fancy of your brain; a work of your own conceit in the flesh; it will be no such thing; therefore, "hold fast" this certainty, that, "you shall have tribulation." And is this all? No, no! There is something beyond; while he tells us of these things, remember, that God comforts those that are cast down; God will stand by the poor and needy; so, do not you go trying to work it out yourself: you will find God to be a very present help in trouble. Oh, who could preach it more fully and truly than the great apostle; how he contends for this: look at him for a moment in the jail at Phillippi; see the dear man, with scourged back; with bleeding sores; his feet fast in the stocks; yet, in this miserable condition, you hear him singing praises to God. Who would have thought it? Oh, my friends, well indeed may he say, "Who comforteth us in all our tribulations;" as though he would say, "I have known as much trouble as any man, but I have had also such smiles, kisses, love tokens; God does, indeed, comfort them that are cast down." Now, it is a truth, as Job says, that, "When there is a casting down, there shall be a lifting up again;" so that, although you find it true that tribulation will come, in some way or other, from within or from without--family afflictions, disappointments in business, troubles and crosses from many and various quarters--still "hold fast" to this, that, God comforts those that are cast down. You may be ready to say, "If God is for me why am I thus? If I am really made a partaker of His spirit; if He loves me with an everlasting love, why am I thus? If He loved me, surely He would not cause me to suffer so; surely He would not let me be so cast down." O, says the apostle, "stand fast" under these things: it is all in love that these trials are permitted to perplex and torment you, in order to deaden you to the world; to make you see the vanity and emptiness of it; to draw you nearer to God in heart and affection. "In me," Jesus says, "ye shall have peace:" "therefore, you stand fast, and hold the tradition which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle;" thus you will get some tokens for good at times; some renewings, some sweet promises brought home to your heart; and these will be worth more to you than all the gold you might have in the world. You may have to say, "Well, I have had sharp trials, but I have learnt something by them; I have got something in what I have passed through; had it not been for those troubles and afflictions, I should not have enjoyed a heaven, as I have at times, in my heart." Thus the man sees the Lord has a favor towards him, and this makes amends for all. "Therefore," says the apostle, "hold fast," "be strong, quit you like men;" and God enable you to do it, then you will not be easily moved by every little thing that comes in your way. "O," say you, "I know all this that you have been setting before us, is true--but it is so opposite to my reason." Yes, no doubt it is, but you must bear in mind that God's word is contrary to blind sense and reason: so God enable you to believe that what He has spoken is true; and, depend upon it, when you come to die, you will have to say, "Not one thing has failed me of all the Lord God has promised; all has come to pass." Therefore, say the words of my text--"Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle." Amen.