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Galatians 5:22  (ID: 3185)

When Paul wrote of faithfulness as part of the fruit of the Spirit, he meant fidelity and trustworthiness toward God and toward others. Faithfulness is revealed in the character of God, exemplified in the Son of God, and cultivated in the lives of God’s children. Though the surrounding culture is rapt with unfaithfulness, Christians are to live differently. Alistair Begg exhorts listeners to pursue faithfulness by first acknowledging that we lack it and then humbly asking God to grow it in our lives.

Series Containing This Sermon

The Fruit of the Spirit

Galatians 5:22–23 Series ID: 27601

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me to 2 Timothy and to chapter 2, where we’ll read the first thirteen verses. Two Timothy chapter 2, reading from verse 1:

“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No solider gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself.”

Thanks be to God for his Word.

Our gracious God, we bow before you. You are the one who wakened us to this new day. You are the one who has brought us to this hour. We believe that when your Word is preached, that your voice is heard. So grant, then, that beyond the voice of a mere man we may hear your voice and that in hearing it we may trust it and obey it. For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

Well, I invite you to turn to Galatians chapter 5. And as you turn there, we’re getting close to the end of these studies in the fruit of the Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

All right. Faithfulness.

I had a note from somebody in the last couple of days, simply telling me that they were looking forward to the worship of God’s people on the Lord’s Day morning. That’s this morning. I texted back to say, “Well, this is wonderful. It’s good. I’m encouraged. It’s a sign that God is at work in your heart.” Any indication of progress in the gospel is tied entirely to the initiative-taking love of God. And as we come routinely now in these mornings to the fruit of the Spirit, we have belabored the point, and purposefully so, that the fruit of the Spirit as it is produced in our lives is there as a result of the work of God, who gives us a new heart and who moves us to obey him. By nature, we have a heart of stone. By grace, he gives us a soft and a fleshy heart. By nature, we have no interest in his Word or in his work. By grace, the seeds of his goodness are planted in our lives.

And the fruit of the Spirit as it is produced in the life of a child of God is a reminder of a principle that Paul espouses in 1 Corinthians 3 in relationship to the proclaiming of the gospel, and we’re familiar with it: one plants, and another waters, but only God can make things grow.[1] And what is actually true of evangelism is equally true in terms of Christian devotion and growth in grace. It is God who makes these things grow. It is God who, by his amazing kindness, plants the seeds within our heart. He makes them grow but grants to us both the privilege and the responsibility of planting and watering, so that the fruit of the Spirit, as we’ve been considering it, does not take place in a vacuum.

We remember how Paul told Timothy that he had to train himself to be godly.[2] That sounds like something you’re supposed to do—and, of course, it is exactly what we’re supposed to do. Peter, similarly, when he writes to his readers, encourages them to make sure that they add to their faith godliness and so on.[3] Now, these things remind us that to grow in godliness is to grow both in our devotion to God and at the same time in likeness to his character. So, devotion to God and likeness to his character.

No one in the twentieth century has been of more help to me, as a young man, in this—and I was a young man at one point; I’m referring to earlier in my life—but Jerry Bridges, in his book on holiness and the practice and discipline of Christian godliness. And those of you who are familiar with Jerry’s books—and if you’re not, go into the bookstore, and enjoy them, and purchase them, and benefit from them—if you know his work, then you’ll be familiar with his triangle and the three points in his triangle in relationship to these things. He says one point represents the fear of God, and then another the love of God, and then another the desire for God. And he points out how the triangle is equal on all sides, so that if we are to grow in our devotion to God, it will be directly related to the balanced growth in terms of our love for God and our fear of God.[4]

It makes perfect sense that the development of Christian character is the overflow of God’s love. That’s why the fruit of the Spirit begins, I’m sure, with love: “The fruit of the Spirit is love.” So that’s why it’s very, very important that we keep in mind this little picture that we’ve had from the beginning of an artificial Christmas tree with ornaments that are hung on from the outside as opposed to a real, live, living plant where the fruitfulness is evidence of life.

Now, let me just give to you one quote from Jerry Bridges. I think you’ll find it helpful. He says a “focus on the outward structure of character and conduct without taking the time to build the inward foundation of devotion to God” will fail us. “This [eventually] results in … cold morality or legalism, or even worse, self-righteousness and spiritual pride.”[5] We must develop the inner and outer aspects of godliness simultaneously.

Now, we’ve seen this, and it is worth just reminding ourselves again that when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the people of God at Pentecost… You remember: Peter preaches. The folks are “cut to the heart.” They ask, “What [should] we do?”[6] Three thousand are added to the church. He tells them, “Repent and be baptized … for the forgiveness of your sins … you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”[7] And then what does Luke tell us? Luke says that immediately—immediately—“they devoted themselves.” “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ [doctrine]”[8]—that is, to the teaching of the Bible, to an understanding of God’s truth—they devoted themselves to the fellowship of God’s people, they devoted themselves to the worship of God as expressed in the sacraments, and they devoted themselves to the practice of prayer, not only personally but also corporately.[9]

Now, that is there not simply so that we might know how the church began but as a reminder to us of how the church will continue. It is absolutely impossible to neglect these things without depriving ourselves of the very means of grace provided by God in order to cultivate and stimulate and develop the growth of his fruit within our lives—the fruit that we consider now, the fruit of faithfulness.

The development of Christian character is the overflow of God’s love.

Let us consider it along the pattern that we’ve done before. Let us consider first of all that this faithfulness is grounded in the character of God, that it is exemplified in the person of the Son of God, and that it is then to be cultivated in the people of God.

Grounded in God’s Character

First of all, then, faithfulness. We could do an entire series on the faithfulness of God. But we are not going to, at least not for now. And it is important that we understand that the word here for “faithfulness” is essentially an expression of trustworthiness—trustworthiness—so that the fruit that is produced in our lives is the fruit of reliability and trustworthiness, in the same way that, as we read in 2 Timothy chapter 2, God is absolutely faithful, because “he cannot deny himself.” It is an impossibility. So, as we think about it, then we’re thinking in terms of fidelity, if you like, to the standard of truth, and we’re thinking about reliability in our dealings with others. So we look at the character of God, and we say, “Is God true to his word?” Yes, he is. “Is God faithful in his dealings with his people?” Yes, he is. In fact, the character of our heavenly Father is that which is produced in us, even as it is our likeness to our Elder Brother.

Again, let us be clear: this is not natural virtue; this is the work of God. And it’s no exaggeration so say that the whole Bible pulsates with the drumbeat of God’s faithfulness. If you want something to do on a rainy afternoon, or even on a sunny afternoon, take a concordance and simply look at faithfulness, and you will spend many an hour focused on, and helpfully so, God’s amazing faithfulness.

We began this morning with the psalmist’s words: “Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, your faithfulness in the assembly of [your] holy ones!”[10] The psalmist says, “Let’s just get started in this way: let us marvel at the fact that you are a faithful God.” “Who is mighty as you are, O Lord, with your faithfulness all around you?”[11]—a wonderful picture, as it were, of the faithfulness of God just emanating from his person, as it were.

And when you read through the Bible, you discover that this emphasis is again and again. You think about the earlier stories of the Bible: Abraham and Sarah, the promise of a son. “Oh, a son! How could we have a son? We’re so old!”[12] Sarah laughed. It wasn’t a good response. But Sarah bore a son.[13] The writer to the Hebrews tells us that “Sarah … received power to conceive, even when she was past the age.” How? Hebrews 11:11: “Since she considered him faithful who had promised.” She suddenly realized that what she thought and what she imagined had to be brought underneath the rubric of the faithfulness of the God who promised.

James—and I just went to James because I was referencing Hebrews—but James, you will remember, tells his readers that God doesn’t change the way that night turns to day. God doesn’t change like that. He doesn’t change “like shifting shadows” caused by the passage of the moon or of the sun[14]—shadows all over the place! James says, “We’re familiar with that—the moving of planets and stars and so on. That’s not like God.”

That’s why the hymn writer gave us “There is no shadow of turning with thee.”[15] Any good hymns are ultimately tied into the Bible. God is absolutely faithful. His faithfulness is revealed in his character. The Lord is faithful. He remains faithful. “He who promised is faithful.”[16] His faithfulness is unassailable. It is everlasting. It is immeasurable. It is incomparable. Eventually, language just has to bow down before the immensity of it all. Because God keeps his promises, he preserves his people, and he sustains his creation.

Why have we not all burned up? Why are we in the axis we’re on? If we were any closer to the sun, our planet would be frizzled. If we were any further away, we would live in a permanent ice age. The scientists say, “Well…” The Bible says God did this! He created and he sustains. Why is it that we have been made members of his family? Because he’s a faithful God. Why is it we’re still in the game? Because he’s a faithful God.

William Grimshaw, in an earlier era, put it to his congregation like this: “Before the Lord will [allow] His promise[s] to fail, He will lay aside His divinity, He will un-God himself.”[17] What a strange and striking and archaic statement. But you see what he’s saying: Can God un-God himself? Can God lay aside his God-ness? Can he lay aside his divinity? Can he be anything other than he is? No! “Therefore,” says Grimshaw, “he’ll have to do that before he stops being faithful.”

Maybe you’re here this morning, and you doubt the faithfulness of God. Maybe you’ve come out of a circumstance in your life that has been particularly pressing and difficult. Maybe there’s something in your past, and you just have decided that there was an excerpt there, there was a period of time that somehow or another, it just skipped the faithful part. No, God is faithful in all of his dealings—no mistakes, no shadows due to turning, sweeping even all of the bad stuff into the unfolding drama of his purpose to make us fruitful and make us like Jesus, so that the character of God is then revealed in the Son of God. All of the fullness of the godhead that dwells in bodily form is found in Jesus.

Exemplified in Jesus

When the prophet is anticipating the coming of the Messiah, one of the pictures that you have at the beginning of Isaiah chapter 11 is of the dress of this one. How will he be clothed? How will he step forward? And Isaiah writes, “Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.”[18] So we would expect, then, that when the Messiah steps forward, he will do so in proclaiming righteousness. And what do you find right from the very baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, when John the Baptist says to Jesus, “You know, this is kind of upside down; you should be baptizing me rather than me baptizing you”?[19] You remember that. And what does Jesus say? In the King James Version: “[Thus let] it … be so now: for thus it [is fitting] to fulfil all righteousness.”[20] “I am the one who has come with the belt of righteousness around my loins. I am here to do the right thing, and we must go ahead and do it.” And his faithfulness then is expressed in all that follows. He “loved his own,” and he loved them all the way through “to the end.”[21]

God keeps his promises, he preserves his people, and he sustains his creation.

Now, if we’re not going to stay here until right into the third service, I have to let you move on on this on your own. And I plan to. In fact, I wrote that in my notes. So, when you’re preaching, you’ve got to decide what your planned exemptions, as it were. And here is one. So, you consider this for yourselves, and read through your Bible, and you will discover that what I’m telling you is true and that you can read all the way to Revelation 19 and to the picture of the triumphant Christ, where John looks and he beholds “a white horse,” and “the one sitting on it is called Faithful and True.”[22]

Steven Curtis Chapman, in his day, wrote a little song that went,

My Redeemer is faithful and true,
Everything he has said he will do,
And every morning his mercies are new;
My Redeemer is faithful and true.[23]

Why is it that you believe that you will continue to the end? You’ve professed faith in Jesus Christ. You come through wanderings. You realize yourself to be a sinful soul. You go into By-Path Meadow. You may have been with Bunyan in Doubter’s Castle for a while. You fight against Apollyon. And what is it that gives you confidence that you will finally breast the tape, that you will finish the race, that you will complete the fight? What is it? It’s the faithfulness of Christ! His faithfulness! Because he has promised to bring to completion the good work that he has begun within us.[24] In fact, when you read of the majesty of it in Romans chapter 8, when Paul writes, he actually uses “glorified” in the past tense. “But glorification is still ahead of us.” No, he says: “Those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”[25] “But wait a minute, I’m not glorified!” No, but it’s in the past tense. Why? Because it’s absolutely certain. On account of what? On account of his faithfulness.

What are you going to do in the face of temptation? Trust in his faithfulness. “He is faithful, so that he will not cause you to be tempted beyond that which you are able but will, with the temptation, provide a way of escape.”[26] Think about your life. Think about moments in your life where if you’d gone this way instead of that way, there’s no saying where you would have ended up. What was God doing? Manifesting his faithfulness.

Produced in Us

Now, that brings us finally, thirdly, to the application of this in terms of each of our lives. So, if it is grounded in the character of God, if it is exemplified in the person and work of the Son of God, then this fruit, as we’ve been seeing, is produced in the lives of his children. And in particular, we’re thinking faithfulness. Faithfulness.

How wonderfully striking is this! We live in a culture that is comfortable—comfortable—with unkept promises. Our society is quite happy with broken vows, tolerates—we might even say at points promotes—unfaithfulness. We live in a culture in which if it doesn’t suit to stay faithful, then just don’t stay faithful. If it doesn’t suit to be faithful to your promises, then break your promises. If it doesn’t work to tell the truth, then tell lies. That’s the environment in which we live.

And it is against that kind of dark background that we are, as Paul says to the Philippians, to “shine as lights” in the darkness by holding forth “the word of life.”[27] That doesn’t mean walking around with a huge, big Bible and waving it all the time. You may choose to do that if you choose. That’s fine. That’s entirely up to you. But it means that we hold forth “the word of life” as life is seen in our lives: faithfulness in an unfaithful world, joy in a gloomy world, patience in an impatient world, and so on. And the work that God produces within us is in order that we might then commend the gospel, make it attractive to a world that doesn’t get this, to a world that has gone in an entirely different direction.

That’s why in baptism (and we’ll be baptizing folks tonight; we look forward to it), the affirmation in baptism is that having “died with him” in coming to Christ, so “we will also live with him.” We don’t sing this as a baptismal hymn, but it is a good one: “O Jesus, I have promised to serve [you] to the end.”[28] “I promised! You promised to save me if I come to you. I took you at your word. You have promised to keep me to the very end of the race. I have promised to serve you to the end. In other words, your faithfulness to me, in me, is then through me. And it all ultimately redounds to your praise, to your glory, and to your honor. Because the people who know me, including myself, know that by nature, I’m not that faithful. I’m not that joyful. I’m certainly not that patient!” And I can’t wait to get to “gentle” tonight.

The fact of the matter is, it is all grace, from start to finish. That’s why when we saw last time in Barnabas, the “good man”[29]—the goodness of Barnabas. He’s dispatched from Jerusalem to Antioch to see what’s going on in the church. Luke says that when he got there and he “saw the grace of God” at work, “he was glad, and he exhorted them” to do what? “To remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.”[30] He says, “I can see that God is at work within your community. I’m delighted by this, and so my exhortation to you is remain faithful. Don’t quit! Keep going! Steadfast purpose.”

Standing by a purpose true,
Heeding God’s command,
[Onward, then], the faithful few!
All hail to Daniel’s band!

Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm!
[And] dare to make it known.[31]

Dare to establish faithfulness in your singleness—faithfulness to God and to his Word and to his people. Faithful to the people of God, so that we do not neglect the gathering of ourselves together,[32] because we realize that part of the reason for our gathering together is in order that the means of grace might be granted to us, that we might become increasingly faithful.

Practical Examples of Faithfulness

There’s actually no limit to the places that we can apply this. But let me just go through one or two.

Essentially, faithfulness, the fruit of faithfulness, will be revealed in the entire fabric of our Christian lives—either its presence or its absence—so that what we are by grace, by means of regeneration, we are now to become by the work of sanctification in every part, so that spiritually healthy believers grow in faithfulness. Grow in faithfulness. We say to our children, “Wow, look, you’re really growing! Look how long your legs are! Look how long your hair is! Look at how this has happened!” Well, we can quantify these things in relationship to our own Christian lives. Are we growing? And growing how? Growing in godliness? Growing in faithfulness?

Now, let me just apply it, because we only have a few minutes. Let me just say one or two things.

I mentioned singleness, so let’s stick with singleness for a moment. Because we often start immediately into marriage, and not everybody’s married, or not everybody will be married, and so on. But what about in living a single life?

Well, one of the challenges, it seems to me, in singleness these days is the constant emphasis on whether you are “in a relationship.” Right? I hear people saying, “And are you in a relationship at the moment?” And if you’re not, then somehow or another, it’s as if you have developed a third leg or something. It’s just like, “Well, no, I’m not. No.” What’s a Christian’s perspective on this?

Well, see, the inference is that your identity as a single is directly tied to the presence or absence of “a relationship.” But the Christian understands that our identity is not tied to that, or that it is tied to the unique relationship which is ours with the Lord Jesus Christ—so that the benefits of singleness in terms of a measure of freedom, the opportunities of friendship, the privileges of being generous both with our time and with our resources then become an expression of God’s faithfulness both to us and through us.

General Gordon of Khartoum—whom I’m sure you all remember from school—died in about 1885, I think it was, trying to fix Khartoum. He didn’t manage it. But he was single till the end of his life. And he received a note from one of his friends announcing his engagement. General Gordon wrote to his friend,

A man who is not married cannot know his faults. …

A man’s wife is his faithful looking-glass; she will tell him his faults. … Therefore I say to you … ‘Marry!’ Till a man is married he is a selfish fellow however he may not wish to be …. To me, aged, and having gone through much trouble, it seems that to marry in this way is the best thing a man should do, and it is one which I recommend all my friends to do.[33]

Gentlemen, start your engines! Do you know how many ladies there are in this congregation who are beautiful both on the inside and the outside? And some of you fellows, I don’t have a clue what has happened to you. I have no idea! I cannot relate to it in any shape or fashion. And neither could General Gordon of Khartoum. So if you won’t listen to me, listen to him. You say, “But he never married.” That’s right! He said, “No one would have me.” And, of course, he may have been right.

Faithfulness in singleness. Faithfulness in the context of marriage. Again, a whole series is possible here, isn’t it? What does faithfulness look like in marriage? Well, it’s promises, isn’t it? And the promises of the marriage vows are vows. They’re not expressions of how you’re feeling on any given day. For better, for worse. Richer, poorer. Some of us are here this morning, and frankly, it’s worse. We signed up for worse! Some of us are here this morning, we decided that our husband is no longer the strikingly handsome fellow that he used to be: “He makes horrible noises in the night, and it’s just sort of begun to annoy me intensely, you know?” Well, if you listen to our culture, you’ll go to the exercise club; you’ll find somebody there. Hang around the office; there’ll probably be somebody else. Course!

No, faithfulness in marriage is fidelity—physical, mental, emotional, unequivocal. Sex to be enjoyed with and only with your spouse. Anything before that, outside of that, or beyond that, in any shape or fashion, is entirely opposed to the faithfulness that God demands and provides in the authority of his Word.

Faithfulness in the responsibilities of parenting and in the responsibilities of being a child. Our children’s futures are directly tied to our faithfulness in this regard. Read the book of Proverbs; it comes again and again. That is not to say that there is an automatic guarantee that if we do this, then that will be. Some parents have done a wonderful job, and yet they’ll tell me from time to time, “This individual has no interest, apparently, at all”—for the time being. Remember, God has some of his children on a very long leash.

And if you find yourself in that kind of context, let me tell you what you need to be: faithful to your kids. Let them know that the door is always open. Let them know that the mat that is outside the front door has one word on it, and the one word is Welcome. And when we start to consider the possibility, from the flipside, of saying about our aging parents, “You know, she’s losing it, really, you know”—cut it out! That’s your mom. “Well, he’s a bit of a dodderer now.” He may be, but that’s your dad. Faithfulness from the parent to the child, from the child to the parent.

Faithfulness in singleness and marriage, in parenting and in being a child. Faithfulness in our everyday vocation—known for our reliability, known for our honesty, for our consistency. Faithful as an employer to pay decent wages. Faithful as an employee to work the full forty hours or whatever it might be. Faithfulness, so that people would say, “You know what? She’s fantastic! There’s only one word to describe her: she’s faithful. You know, she’s always faithful. He’s always faithful. If he says he’s returning the call, he returns the call. If he says he’ll meet you, he’ll meet you. He doesn’t fudge it. He doesn’t equivocate. He doesn’t say, ‘Well, let me see. I’ll text you.’ He doesn’t say, ‘Well, maybe I could get back to you,’ or ‘Let me see,’ when in point of fact, there’s nothing he needs to see; it’s just his way of saying, ‘Uh-uh.’” Faithful.

It’s tough, isn’t it? These studies—and I’ll say more about this tonight—these studies have been horrible in one sense, haven’t they? You know, because we started out saying, “Well, this would make the gospel attractive.” Yes! But have you discovered, like me, that it has shown you for what you are? That the fruit here seems to be… We’re having to look really, really hard! “I think it’s in there. Yeah, give me a trowel, would you? Yeah, I think… Yeah, there’s… Yeah, wait a minute! Yes! Oh yes! It’s there.”

Faithfulness this week. Do you know what it’s like spending a whole week studying faithfulness? You’ve got to sit, reading your Bible. You find yourself saying, “Lord, how do we get to this?” Then I realized: I know how you do it! You start by acknowledging the fact that you’re unfaithful. You start by acknowledging the fact that by nature, you’re untrue to these things. It’s what we say when we say before we preach, “Make the Book live to me, O Lord. … Show me myself and show me my Savior.”[34] So he shows me myself, and then I said, “You know, I need a Savior. I need this fruit to be produced in my life.” Therefore, in acknowledging my faithlessness, I then come to God, and I ask him to produce this fruit in my life in increasing measure.

You say, “But wait a minute! You told us earlier on that we can’t become faithful simply by trying, that it is God who produces the fruit.” It is! But let me tell you something else: you’re not going to become faithful without trying. You can’t become faithful by trying; it is God who produces the fruit. But you won’t become faithful without trying. Does that seem paradoxical? It’s one of many.

What is the word of Jesus to the church at Smyrna at the end of it all, in Revelation? “Be faithful, even to the point of death.”[35] “Be faithful!” That’s hortatory (or “hor-ta-tor-y,” I think, as you say). That is an exhortation. That is a directive. “Be it!” Answer: How do I be it? By the work of the Spirit of God within us. But what does it mean to be faithful to the people? Well, when they gather, I’ll gather with them. What does it mean to be faithful in worship? That when they sing, I will sing the song. What does it mean to be faithful in my home? That if I say I’ll do this, I’ll do it, and so on. Enabled by the grace of God.

Here’s the thing that I found—and with this I will stop—here’s the thing that I found most encouraging at the end of it all: the reminder that at the end of the day, God will reward faithfulness. Okay? Equal gifts will not receive equal rewards. The inequality will be not in terms of the gift, which is a gift, but in the use that was made of the gifts. Unequal gifts will receive the rewards that God intends. You can read that. Jesus makes it perfectly clear. And that’s why when you read the Bible, you discover that it is again and again holding up people before us who are faithful people: Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, Antipas, Onesimus, Tychicus, and Epaphras. Epaphras: to the Colossians Paul says, “[And] he is a faithful minister of Christ.”[36] Do you want an epitaph? There’s an epitaph! “She was faithful. She was absolutely faithful—faithful to the end. Ran all the way through the tape.”

Earlier in the year, I had the privilege of preaching in Stornoway, as you may recall, in the Outer Hebrides. And on that occasion, I went to look for the grave of A. W. Pink, and also the grave of Kenneth MacRae. Kenneth MacRae exercised a strong and effective ministry for many years there in Stornoway. And although Pink had no marker on his grave, MacRae’s grave appears as it is before you.

In addressing a conference in Leicester in 1962, Kenneth MacRae shared with the ministers who were present something that had happened to him in his young life, and I want to read it to you as we end. He says (he’s speaking to the people in England),

I remember when I was a young divinity student being unexpectedly called upon to take the services in the congregation in which I used to worship as a small boy. It was also the church in which the great Dr Kennedy had exercised his ministry. I felt overwhelmed at the thought throughout the day and after the evening service felt greatly troubled, depressed and downcast.

I love that.

The church officer, a worthy man named Alexander MacLean, locally known as Sandy Clunas…

Okay, fine. “We’re looking for Alexander MacLean.” “Oh, you mean Sandy Clunas?” “Yeah, I guess. Yeah.”

Anyway: “The church officer, a worthy man…” (Don’t editorialize, Alistair.)

The church officer, a worthy man named Alexander MacLean, locally known at Sandy Clunas, was waiting for me in the vestry. He was built on a large size and was especially fond of young men. When I came into the vestry he just put his big arms [a]round me and said “Never you mind, my boy. As Mr Finlayson of Helmsdale used to say, it is not, ‘well done, good and successful servant’ but ‘well done, good and faithful servant.’”

What is going to count at the end of the day is not success but faithfulness.[37]

Now, when I read that this week, I said, “I’ve got to go find that photograph of his stone to see what’s on there.” And there you have it, just above his name: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”[38]

Father, thank you that your character is faithful, that your Son embodies all that that can mean and does mean in humanity, and that the work of the Spirit within the lives of those whom you have redeemed will be increasingly marked by this fruit. Lord, we acknowledge what we are, and we thank you that in embryonic form, we see the shoots. But Lord, pour out your grace and Spirit upon us, we pray, that we might be increasingly marked by your abiding faithfulness—a faithfulness that has stood the test of time over many generations. And we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] See 1 Corinthians 3:6–7.

[2] See 1 Timothy 4:7.

[3] See 2 Peter 1:5–7.

[4] Jerry Bridges, The Practice of Godliness (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1996), 17–31.

[5] Bridges, 55.

[6] Acts 2:37 (ESV).

[7] Acts 2:38 (ESV).

[8] Acts 2:42 (ESV).

[9] See Acts 2:42.

[10] Psalm 89:5 (ESV).

[11] Psalm 89:8 (ESV).

[12] Genesis 18:12 (paraphrased).

[13] See Genesis 21:2.

[14] James 1:17 (NIV).

[15] Thomas O. Chisholm, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (1923).

[16] Hebrews 10:23 (ESV).

[17] R. Spence Hardy, William Grimshaw, Incumbent of Haworth: 1742–63 (London: Wesleyan Conference Office, 1877), 133.

[18] Isaiah 11:5 (ESV).

[19] Matthew 3:14 (paraphrased).

[20] Matthew 3:15 (KJV).

[21] John 13:1 (ESV).

[22] Revelation 19:11 (ESV).

[23] Steven Curtis Chapman, “My Redeemer Is Faithful and True” (1987).

[24] See Philippians 1:6.

[25] Romans 8:30 (ESV).

[26] 1 Corinthians 10:13 (paraphrased).

[27] Philippians 2:15–16 (ESV).

[28] John E. Bode, “O Jesus, I Have Promised” (1868).

[29] Acts 11:24 (ESV).

[30] Acts 11:23 (ESV).

[31] Philip P. Bliss, “Dare to Be a Daniel” (1873).

[32] See Hebrews 10:25.

[33] Quoted in Godfrey Elton, General Gordon (London: Collins, 1954), 152.

[34] R. Hudson Pope, “Make the Book Live to Me” (1943).

[35] Revelation 2:10 (paraphrased).

[36] Colossians 1:7 (ESV).

[37] Iain H. Murray, ed., Diary of Kenneth A. MacRae: A Record of Fifty Years in the Christian Ministry (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1980), 460.

[38] Matthew 25:21 (KJV).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.