Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times."
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
Furthermore then we beseech you, brothers, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus…
If any one wishes to see what it is to begin well in Christian faith and practice and at the same time what care should be taken not to depend too much on mere beginnings however praiseworthy, he cannot do better than examine carefully these two Epistles to the Thessalonians. The apostle seems hardly to know how to say enough of their faith and charity, or of the noble and self-denying way in which they had received the gospel (see 1 Thessalonians 1:5-8; 1 Thessalonians 3:7-10). There could not well be more promising converts; and yet the very next words show how anxious he was that they might not trust in their first promising conversion, "Praying exceedingly that we might see your face": to what purpose? not for his own pleasure, but "to perfect that which was lacking in their faith." The same feeling runs through the whole of the letter; his joy in what they had done is everywhere tempered by a real and serious anxiety lest they should stop short and begin to think that they had done enough.
I. Now, with regard to the absolute necessity of continual improvement, it appears in the first place from this circumstance THAT IF WE RIGHTLY VALUE THE FIRST GOOD BEGINNING, WE MUST FROM THE VERY NATURE OF THE CASE GO ON FROM ONE DEGREE OF HOLINESS TO ANOTHER. Men may very well do something which looks like repentance upon poor imperfect worldly reasons, and may deceive themselves and others into a notion that they are true Christian penitents; as, for example, intemperance may be left off for health or character's sake, or a quarrel may be made up with a view to our worldly interest, or the fear of approaching death may drive men against their will to long-neglected ordinances of religion; and it is no wonder if such a repentance as this very soon begins to stand still: if, having reached such and such a point, the man imagines himself good enough, and takes no more pains to be better: but this is quite contrary to the nature of true repentance upon Christian principles.
II. This is yet more absolutely necessary, because, IF MEN DO NOT IMPROVE THEY ARE IN PRACTICE SURE TO GO BACK. They cannot stay where they are; they must either grow worse or better. For it is the nature of all strong impressions to act vehemently on the mind at first, and after a little time to fade away as it were and gradually become weaker and weaker. Thus the fear of God and the dread of sin and punishment, in which repentance usually begins, if we do not resolutely and on purpose endeavour to keep them up, are sure to lose their force on our minds.
III. IT MAY HELP US IN JUDGING MORE TRULY OF OUR DUTY IN THIS RESPECT IF WE PUT OURSELVES AS NEARLY AS WE CAN IN THE PLACE OF THESE THESSALONIANS, WHO HAD LEARNED CHRISTIANITY FROM THE LIPS OF ST. PAUL HIMSELF. For, indeed, we are very nearly in their place; we, like them, have received of the apostles how we ought to walk and to please God. The only difference is, that they received this knowledge by word of mouth, we by reading the apostolic letters and listening to the apostolic Church. Now what sort of a spirit and temper should we have judged these Thessalonians to be of, if we found that as soon as their teacher was gone away to Athens, they had become careless about his instructions, thought much of what they had done already, and took no pains whatever to improve? Whatever censure we pass on them we must acknowledge surely to be due to ourselves, in such measure as we neglect the duty of amending daily because our Teacher is out of sight. Yet this is what we are sure to do, if we be not constantly exhorted and reminded of it; nay, there is great reason to fear that all exhortation may prove in vain.
1. For, first of all, having been bred up from our cradle in the knowledge and understanding of our Christian duty, we are apt to fancy ourselves familiar with the practice of it too. We are convinced in our minds that we know it well enough; and this of itself inclines us to be too soon satisfied with our accustomed way of doing it.
2. Again, a sincere Christian will be on his guard that he make no dangerous comparisons between himself and his neighbours. It will never do to take it for granted that we keep our place in respect of piety and goodness — that we are no worse than we were, in fact — because we are no worse in comparison with them. It may be that all around you are gone astray from God, and in the way to everlasting ruin: if such turn out to be the case, you may excuse and flatter yourself now that you are no worse than they; but it will be little comfort to you in the day of account, when you find that your condemnation is as bad as theirs.
(Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times.")
Parallel VersesKJV: Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.