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the astounding declaration, “ Depart from me, I never knew you,” he will find, that there is a way, even from thence, to that place where is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.
We are, therefore, manifestly excluded from exhorting the profligate, the lovers of pleasure, the hypocritical, or, in short, any unconverted persons, to “ rejoice evermore.”
The Apostle describes those to whom his exhortation was primarily addressed, as the elect of God; who are in God the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ; and whose calling and election are known, both to themselves and others, from their work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope: who are, in short, true members of Christ's mystical body. In this description of a real Christian, there may seem some circumlocution : yet it is a most significant description; and no part of it is unnecessary.
It is, my brethren, ever useful to trace saving benefits up to the fountain head: that Christians may not become high-minded; neither forget who and what hath made them to differ from others. The Apostle, therefore, when he spake to these Thessalonians of their election of God, reminded them, that they were indebted, not to their own merit, but to the electing love of God, for the grace in which they stood. And, indeed, if believers would look at the rock whence they were hewn, and at the hole of the pit whence they were digged,—if they would consider that they ere once as others, the servants of corruption, and aliens from the commonwealth of Israel,—if they would bear in remembrance, that they were so fast tied and bound with the chain of their sin, that they neither would nor could come unto Christ, they would be constrained to admit this, and to acknowledge, that unless God had first loved them, and singled them out as objects of his grace and mercy, they would not have chosen Him, or set their love upon Him.
But the Apostle describes the persons whom he addresses, as not only elected of God, but effectually called. The love wherewith God had loved them from everlasting, had led Him in due season to draw them unto himself by his Spirit working in them; so that without offering any violence to their wills, but rather with their full and entire concurrence, He had drawn them unto Christ, and made them members of his mystical body. And if one with Christ, then also one with the Father; for Christ and the Father are one.
Nor was the union of these Thessalonians with Christ a mere presumptive union. Many may and do fancy themselves elected of God, and temples of the Lord, when they have small right to the title. But those who are really elected of God and called, may easily be known; for they are Christ's epistles known and read of all men : they exhibit in active exercise the three cardinal graces, faith, hope, and charity. Such was the case with these Thessalonians. Their faith was not, like that which St. James condemns, a dead faith : it was a faith which was productive of good works, and which made them diligent in the cultivation of whatsoever things are lovely, and of good report. Their love also was laborious : it was a love which evinced itself, not in words only, but in deeds, rendering them ready to give to those that needed, and careful to improve every opportunity of edifying the souls of those with whom they came in contact. Their hope, in like manner, unlike the sunbeam which plays for a while on the swelling wave, and then vanishes, was as an anchor to their souls, encouraging them to endure persecution for Christ's sake with patience, and enabling them to take joyfully the spoiling of their goods, as men whose real treasure was in heaven.
Such were the persons whom the Apostle exhorted to rejoice evermore. And since the features noticed in them belong not to individuals merely, but are common to all true Christians, the ministers of Christ are empowered to say to all who are in Christ Jesus,—to all in whom old things have passed away, and all things are become
“ Rejoice evermore. But why are they exhorted to rejoice when the Saviour himself has said, “ Blessed are they that mourn ? Beloved brethren, in the two exhortations, paradoxical as my assertion may seem, there is no inconsistency; for of the Christian, it may be said, “though sorrowful, yet is he always rejoicing.” He mourns for his past sins ; for whilst he is able to say, “ Though Thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortest me,” he also says, “My sin is ever before me:" yea, he desires not to forget it, lest he should also forget how great a debtor he is to the grace of God, and fail to walk humbly with God. He mourns also for the sin which he still finds in himself. He can indeed say, 66 Sin has not dominion over me;" and he has the testimony of his own conscience, that he is labouring to “cleanse himself from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." He feels, however, that the serpent, though scotched, is not destroyed; so that often when he would do good, evil is present with him, either restraining him from his purpose, or mingling some malignant alloy with his good. He mourns, likewise, for the sins of others; for though the prevalence of evil in our days has a tendency to diminish that extreme sensitiveness which belongs to the Christian character, and which ought to fill the soul of the servant of God with grief and holy indignation, when he witnesses the dishonour done to God in this earth, designed to be his terrestrial temple, yet his feelings are not so blunted as to render him indifferent on this point; and as the royal Psalmist could say, “Rivers of tears run from mine eyes, because men keep not thy law," so he can say,
that the oaths and profaneness which he is sometimes compelled to hear, and the iniquity and disregard of vital godliness, which every where meet his eye, vex his soul, as they vexed the soul of righteous Lot, and are calculated to make him mourn, both for the miseries that must come upon the offenders, and for the indignity heaped upon his God.
The Christian, however, though sometimes sorrowful, is very properly exhorted to rejoice. He ought to rejoice in the salvation of God. If he considers attentively the condition of the sinner who is living without God and without Christ, and consequently without hope in the world, whose sole employment is to heap up wrath against the day of wrath, who is so much the bondservant of Satan and the world that their will is his will, of whom it may with reason be said that the Ethiopian may as soon change his skin, or the leopard his spots, as he cease to do evil, or learn to do well,- if he also attentively considers the sinner's prospects in the world to come, and hears him by anticipation exclaiming with Cain, “ My punishment is greater than I can bear," or with the rich man in the parable, “ Have mercy upon me; for I am tormented in this flame,"—if he bears in mind at the same time, that there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty from the bondage of Satan, the dominion of sin, and every other yoke, and that this salvation is promised, without money and without price, to all that hunger and thirst after it, he will then be ready to say, “ My heart, O Lord, rejoiceth in thy salvation.”
He ought also to rejoice in his ability to appropriate this salvation. The salvation set forth in the Bible may be complete ; it may be every thing which a poor, condemned, and perishing sinner may require; and the very declaration of such a salvation may be calculated to make the mountains and hills break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field to clap their hands : but unless persons can appropriate this salvation,-unless each can say for himself, “ Mine eyes have seen thy salvation,” the completeness and the sufficiency of the salvation proposed, will signify little to them. Like the favorite of the king of Israel, who saw with his eyes the food for which he longed, but perished without partaking of it, they may hear of plenteous redemption, and yet perish without benefiting by it. Appropriation may be considered the very life blood of the Gospel ; and there can be no stable peace or joy without it. But the diligent, spiritually-minded believer can appropriate this salvation. The Spirit bears witness with his spirit, that he is the child of God; and he can say with the inspired prophet, “ I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”
He ought further to rejoice in the enduring nature of this salvation. If the believer had no security on this point,—if, like natural men, he were perpetually racked with gloomy anticipations of the loss of his goods, the ministers of religion would bid him “rejoice evermore" with small effect. But happily this is not the case. The love wherewith his covenant Lord has loved him is an everlasting love; the arm which has undertaken to bring salvation unto him is almighty; the promise made to him is, that he shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, and shall hold on in the way, and even wax stronger and stronger. The believer, therefore, has cause to be satisfied as to the enduring nature of the salvation of which he has partaken. The Saviour himself bids him rejoice on this account: “Rejoice not” said He, “that the spirits are subject unto
you; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” And this is a just ground of rejoicing.
Once more, the believer ought to rejoice in the glori