1 COR. i.8.
"Who also shall confirm you unto the end."
Steadfastness is one of the most important characteristics of a Christian. Perhaps you will tell me that love, and self-denial, and patience, and faith are the chief marks of Christ's followers. And I answer that these things are useless without steadfastness. It will not avail us to be very loving, and self-sacrificing, and patient, and trustful for a little while, and then to fall away, and be selfish, and impatient, and faithless. It is not the best regiment of soldiers which makes the most headlong charge, but which can stand firm against the enemy. The Spartans of old were forbidden by their laws ever to flee from a foe. In the Pass of Thermopylae stands a monument to Leonidas and his followers, bearing this inscription -- "Go, stranger, and tell at Lacedaemon that we died here in obedience to our laws." My brethren, what we want, as soldiers of Jesus Christ, is not so much zeal, or enthusiasm, or outward profession, as firmness to the end, steadfastness to die, if need be, for the laws of our God.
We find plenty of people ready to make professions, to be very zealous in the service of God, but after a time the fire of their zeal dies out into dead ashes; they have no staying power; like the seed on the rocky ground they wither away, because they have no root. Such unstable religion as this is useless. We must be firmly rooted and established in the faith. We must endure to the end, if we would be saved. We must, for our part, hold fast to the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, and He, for His part, will confirm or strengthen us unto the end. Every period of the Church's history has had its special dangers and temptations. The Corinthians had theirs long ago. We have ours to-day. Let us see what some of the special dangers of the Church are now, and how Jesus provides means to confirm us to the end.
First among these dangers we may place the restless spirit of the age. This is the result of various causes. The spread of education is one cause. Men are taught to cultivate their heads at the price of their hearts. Children are sent to schools where God is almost shut out. Many people get that "little learning" which "is a dangerous thing," and which makes them doubtful and uncertain in the faith. The growth of cheap literature is another cause. The printing press which gives us a cheap Bible and Prayer Book, and a vast amount of pure, useful reading, also sends out much that is dangerous, and positively wicked. The most holy mysteries of the Christian faith are held up to mockery and ridicule, and treated as old wives' tales; and the restless spirit of the age leads people to read these things, and to have their faith shaken and their ideas confused. Thus we find nowadays people arguing and doubting about doctrines which at one time were taken for granted. One says, perhaps we shall rise again after death; another wonders if there be such a place as Hell. One thinks that God answers prayer, another is doubtful about it. Now we do not find S. Paul and the other Apostles talking in this way. We do not find the early Church talking in this way. They could say, "I know in whom I have believed. I believe, therefore will I speak." The fact is, some of us in these days are getting too clever. We have got a few drops of learning, and we fancy that we can pour the whole great ocean of knowledge into our poor little bottle. Education is a great and glorious blessing, but, like every other blessing, it may be put to a wrong use. And when we find shallow young men and women, who have just mastered enough subjects to be able to pass an examination, sneering at the Bible, and calling religion superstition and folly, we can only wish that they had drunk deeper, or not tasted, of the water of knowledge. True education makes us humble, because it shows us our ignorance. My brothers, what are the doubters and the unbelievers going to give you in exchange for what they rob you of? They can perhaps rob you of your faith in Jesus Christ as a Saviour. But what then, they cannot make you forget that you are a sinner. You know better, your own heart tells you the truth. They can take away the Saviour, and only leave you your sins. The doubter may scoff you out of believing in the resurrection. But can he laugh you out of believing in death? When your little child dies, and you look at the loving eyes closing for the last time, what comfort has your doubting friend to give you? Not a word. He leaves you alone with your dead, and he has robbed you of the only hope which makes death bearable -- the resurrection unto eternal life. You come to your own dying bed; is there one of these doubting, scoffing faith-destroying friends who can bring peace or calm to your last hours? Will it be any comfort to you to hear them say that "there is nothing new, nothing true, and that it does not signify?" They tell you one fact, which you know already, that you are dying. But beyond that they know nothing, hope nothing, believe nothing.
My brothers, do not let these people, with their shallow talk and shallow books, rob you of your peace, cheat you out of your birthright. Look at the lives of these doubters, and then look at the lives of Jesus and His saints. See which example is the purer, the more noble. Which is better, to imitate the life of self-sacrifice which Jesus led, to copy the dauntless faith of S. Paul, the loving gentleness of S. John, the humble penitence of Augustine, the fearless courage of Savonarola, or to sit at the feet of those who spend a selfish life in trying to describe a world in which there is no God?
Another of the dangers of the day is a constant desire for something new, and, if possible, sensational. There are some who would have their religion as full of novelties as their newspaper, or their amusement. The old paths which God has given us to walk in have become too commonplace for such as these; and they run eagerly into any new way, however fantastic. And, above all, these people want a religion which is made easy for them. They have no objection to being saved provided that the process is quick, easy, and costs them nothing. They turn away from the thought of self-denial, of keeping under the body, of fasting and prayer, of watchfulness and self-examination. They must be made good all at once, and be admitted into the front rank of saints, without having fought and suffered in a lower place. My brethren, beware of this mushroom religion, which grows up suddenly, and as suddenly vanishes away. The best fruit is not that which ripens most quickly, and the best Christian certainly does not come to maturity all in a moment.
There is a fable of the Persians which tells us how a gourd wound itself round a lofty palm-tree, and in a few weeks climbed to its very top. The quick-growing gourd asked the palm-tree its age, and the tree answered, "an hundred years." Then the gourd answered boastingly that it had grown as tall as the palm in fewer days than the tree could count years. "True," answered the palm-tree, "every summer has a gourd climbed round me, as proud as thou art, and as short-lived as thou wilt be."
These, then, are some of the special dangers of the time -- an unfixed, unsettled faith, leading men to question, and argue, and doubt, when they should believe; and next, a restless desire for something new and exciting in religion. And, besides these, there are special dangers peculiar to ourselves, arising from our position, or temperament. This is a specially busy age, when men must work if they would eat bread. Every walk of life is crowded, and the competition in every calling and business is most keen. Now there is great danger in all this to a man's spiritual life, if he has not God with him in his work. He will become selfish, unscrupulous, and determined to gain a place, and make money at any cost. He will think only of himself, and God is not in all his thoughts. There are some who would have us believe that religion is one thing and business another, and that the two must be kept distinctly apart. Never believe that false doctrine, my brothers. A Christian man may not take part in any work on which the name of God may not be written. Whatever business he may engage in, a Christian must always remember that he must be about his Heavenly Father's business. The great merchants of old times used to begin their ledger and business books at the new year by writing "Praise be to God" on the top of the first page. I would that all men of business could honestly do the same now. Consecrate your work to God, so that you need not be ashamed to pray about it, to study the Bible about it, to write Praise be to God on all your business transactions. And last of all, a word as to the means by which Christ will confirm or strengthen you unto the end. I can tell you nothing new about this, I would not if I could. The old wine of the Gospel is better than all the new inventions with which some men would poison the cup of religion. God confirms you by the gift of the Holy Ghost, given by His Word, and Sacraments, and means of grace. Let no one laugh you out of believing in the Bible; let no one argue you out of trusting in that Book which has been the guide, the teacher, the comforter of tens of thousands. The followers of new creeds would like you to exchange your Bible for their books. They will offer you the gospel of selfishness, the gospel of pride, the gospel of hopelessness, the gospel of money-making; turn away from them, and hold fast to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Hold fast to the Sacraments of the Church. Let the scoffer sneer, let the proud man refuse to bend before the Altar of his Lord; but let nothing drive you from the Blessed Sacrament of Christ's love. Hold fast to prayer. Let no crowd of difficulties, or worries, or troubles keep you back from Jesus. Press through the crowd like that woman of old, and touch the hem of Christ's garment, in prayer. Only hold fast to your Bible, to your Altar, to your prayers, and "the Lord Jesus shall confirm you unto the end, that you may be blameless in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ."