Spurgeon took as his text, “Now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.” — 1 Thessalonians 3:8. This text presents a potential problem, because it refers to Paul’s joy in seeing other Christians steadfast. The trouble comes in that the most direct application would be the joy of a pastor seeing a congregation steadfast. Why should the congregation care? The hearer could easily think, That is all well and good, but none of this is about me. How is this useful?
Sermon introductions tend to fall into two categories: Most common are introductions which are short illustrations of the main point. Less common are introductions that set out a problem which the sermon resolves.
In this sermon, “A Pleading Reminder for the New Year”, vol. 30, no. 1758, Spurgeon sets out the problem that the sermon will resolve. Notice that this problem is not a problem for the pastor alone but it is a also a problem for the hearers. Their lives and concerns are bound up in one another:
Dearly beloved, I have often rejoiced in God as I have seen the work of the Spirit among you. It is no small joy that for many years we have never been without an increase to the church. With few exceptions we have never gathered at our monthly communions without receiving a considerable number into our membership. During these years some have turned back, to our great sorrow, and some have flagged, to our solemn grief; but others have persistently carried on the work of God, and have developed gifts and graces which have made them qualified for larger spheres; so that at this day those at home come behind in no gift, and those abroad do not forget the hallowed training of Zion. In every part of the earth some are engaged in holy service who have gone out from this church. For all this our heart must be grateful. But these are evil times; these are times the like of which I have not before seen, in which the foundations are removed, and “what shall the righteous do?” The winds are out. The tacklings are loosed. The mariners reel to and fro. Everything seems drifting. Men know not where they are. Half the professing Christians of the present day do not know their heads from their heels, and the half that do know seem inclined to take to their heels and run, rather than stand steadfast in the faith and wait till evil days are over. It is time that we spoke to you concerning steadfastness, that you be not like idle boys, that leap hedges and ditches after every nest that silly birds may choose to make; but that you keep to the King’s highway of holiness and truth, and hold fast to the doctrines and the practices which are taught us in the word of God. I say to you by this discourse, “Now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.” It is a matter of life and death to us that you should be rooted, grounded, and settled.
The answer will come in three parts:
Notice first, that some are not in the Lord; secondly, some appear to be in the Lord, but they are not standing fast; and thirdly, that some in the Lord stand fast in the Lord, and these are our life: “Now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.”
For the first section he lays out two propositions: There are those who will reject the Gospel. This proposition contains a temptation for the hearer to think I am better than my neighbor. Spurgeon turns the temptation on its head and raises a second point: Therefore we must seek the salvation of our fellows. He does this by describing his own desire to see salvation and the sorrow when Christ is rejected:
If there be a deadening influence about the thought that some few among us are not converted, think of what the effect must be upon a minister’s mind if he shall have labored long and seen no fruit. There may be instances in which a man has been faithful, but not successful, places where, for a time, the dew falls not, and the softening influences of the Spirit are not given. Then the soil breaks the ploughshare, and the weary ox is ready to faint. I began to preach while yet a youth, scarce sixteen years of age, but before I had preached half a dozen times I saw persons affected by those sermons. I pined to find some heart that had looked to Jesus while I had preached him; and I have photographed upon my eye-balls at this very moment a very humble clay-walled cottage which seemed to me to be a sacred spot, for I was told by a venerable deacon that it was the house of a poor woman who had sought and found the Savior through my ministry. I did not let the week conclude till I had seen her, for I hungered for the joy of meeting with one whom I had brought to Christ. If I found one soul converted I took heart and looked for more. Brother, are you working for Jesus? Then you know what it is to feel the shadow of death when you do not win a soul. Does it not seem hard to be knocking for Christ against a door that never opens, but has fresh bolts put to it to keep it closed? Be not ashamed of yourself because you feel distressed; it proves your capacity for being used. By-and-by God will bless you, and then you will understand the text “Now we live.” You will find that your pulse is quickened, your heart’s blood warmed, your filled with a diviner life as you rise nearer to the dignity of a saviour of men, and taste the joys unspeakable for which Christ laid down his life.
Next he goes onto those who are not steadfast. This section works through types of failure. There are those who completely apostatize. Yet, others “do not behave in such a way that we could remove their names from the church-roll; but they decline in grace.” They may be diverted from their work or begin to believe contrary doctrine.
He makes an interesting observation about one sort:
We know some who are not steadfast in their service of Christ. When a man claims to be perfect he is wholly useless to us: he is sure to leave his work. He wants all his time to admire his own perfections.
The only right and steady motivation will be a desire to serve God for God’s glory.
In the final section Spurgeon writes of the encouragement he finds in those are steadfast:
They are our life, because their holy conduct fills us with living confidence. I tell you, brethren, when I have seen the holy generosity of members of this church, making sacrifices to serve the Lord; when I have seen the holy courage of brethren standing up for Jesus, and bearing reproach for the sake of principle, and speaking out the truth in defiance of ridicule; when, in fact, I have seen many things that I will not mention now — I have said to myself these are fruits that could not have been produced except by the truth and by the Spirit of God. Then have I felt very confident in the gospel which has been so adorned by your actions. Certain of our beloved elders and deacons passed away, to our deep sorrow, not very long ago, and when I came down from their death-chambers I did not require any further argument to prove the religion of the Lord Jesus: the Holy Spirit set his seal upon the truth by their joyful departures.