Steadfast and Unmoveable

Abstract of a Sermon Preached on Oct 5, 1997

by Glenn Conjurske

I have been thinking of preaching on this subject for a long time. This afternoon I was out walking on a quiet country road, meditating, and fully intending to preach on this subject tonight, when I realized that for all my meditations on this theme, I had never yet thought the right thoughts on it. So I thought them then and there, and will present them to you tonight. I very seldom do such a thing. Normally I will meditate on a subject for years before I gain any certainty about it, or adopt any decided views on it, for it is not my aim merely to stand for something or anything, but to know the truth, and that is not so easily learned as most folks seem to think. But once in a while a new thought proves to be just what was wanted to make it all plain.

In I Corinthians 15:58 Paul admonishes us, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” This is one of a great number of things which the Scriptures command us to do, without giving us the slightest hint as to how to do it. We are left to wrestle with that ourselves—-either to find a hint of it somewhere else in the Bible, or to learn it by experience or observation. How does a man who is unsteady and unstable, wobbling and wavering—-how does he become steadfast and unmoveable? Some people seem to be unsteady by nature. They are always moving, always changing—-changing doctrines, changing churches, changing standards. How are they to become steadfast and unmoveable? As I was meditating on this this afternoon, the realization came to me that this is a moral matter. It is a moral defect that makes a man unstable, and we gain stability by moral virtues. “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8). It is a moral defect to be double-minded. We do not become steadfast by an intellectual process—-not by studying doctrine or Scripture—-but by the pursuit of moral virtues.

But what does it mean to be steadfast? “Steadfast” is a compound of the words “stead” and “fast,” a noun and an adjective, both of them somewhat archaic. A stead is a place. John Wycliffe usually speaks of a stead where we would speak of a place. In a figurative sense, “Christ died in the room and stead of sinners” is old theological language, meaning he died in their place. We still use the word in this way. If I go in the stead of someone, I go in his place. “Fast” is an adjective. To make something fast is to secure it, to tie it down. The jailer took Paul and Silas, “thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.” This meaning still survives in our word “fasten.” To fasten something is to make it fast. To be steadfast, then, is to be fastened to one place, and (Paul adds), so securely fastened as to be unmoveable. This is the picture of a man who knows the truth, and stands for it, and will not be moved from it by any consideration whatever.

But it is not knowledge that will make a man so, but virtue. I have known people who were seemingly so solidly established in the truth that I believed nothing could move them. I gloried in their stability. I told others it did not concern me what measures or machinations they used to try to draw these people away, for they would never be moved. And yet I have seen them give it all up, and oppose what they once stood for. How did this come about? Certainly not by their gaining greater knowledge—-certainly not by the reception of greater light—-for very frankly, their souls at that time were in no condition to receive greater light. I believe I was altogether correct in supposing that no amount of doctrinal reason or persuasion could have moved them, but I overlooked the moral side of the question. I do not believe any outside influence of reason or sophistry or persuasion could have moved them an iota from the truth which they held, but when they failed in moral virtue, they gave it up of their own accord, without any outside influence. No doctrinal considerations could have moved them, but envy and resentment and pride carried them away.

And this, by the way, may be at least in part a reflection of my own failure as a pastor. I believe preachers in general put too much stock in knowledge, and not enough in virtue. As it is easy to gain knowledge, and hard to gain virtue, so also it is easy to impart knowledge, and much more difficult to exercise the soul unto godliness by dealing with the heart and the conscience. It is very common, therefore, for pastors to take the easy path, and merely impart knowledge where they ought to be reproving, rebuking, and exhorting. I know that I have been guilty of this in some degree, and in fact it requires a great deal of courage and determination not to be. But we do not make men either godly or spiritual, much less steadfast and unmoveable, by imparting knowledge. This is not an intellectual matter, but a moral one. It does not consist merely of holding fast to certain doctrines, important as that is, but of steadfastness of purpose, and commitment, and manner of life.

Now then, what are those moral virtues which will make a man steadfast and unmoveable?

I believe the first and most important is a single eye. If to do right is my only purpose, this gives me a stability which nothing else will or can. It is the double-minded man who is unstable in all his ways. Balaam was a double-minded man, with obvious desires to do right, and speak only that which the Lord said to him, but also desiring the rewards which Balak offered him. Such a man never can be steadfast. One day his desire to do right is uppermost, and then he appears solid and decided. “Get you into your land, for the Lord refuseth to give me leave to go with you.” “If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more.” Still, his very language betrays his desire to do so, if the Lord would but give him leave. And where such desires are allowed free play, we soon find out a way to gratify them, professing all the while to be adhering to the word of the Lord.

Pilate was another double-minded man. His reason and his conscience admonished him to do nothing against that just man, in whom he could find no fault. Ah, but he wished to please the people. And as usual, the wrong desire prevailed over the right one, and while he washed his hands of the guilt, he delivered up the Lord to the will of the people. It was not lack of knowledge which caused him to waver. He knew that Christ was innocent. It was moral delinquency which made him unstable. It was the lack of a single eye.

There is nothing like a single eye to establish us steadfast and unmoveable in the truth, and in our place, and in our duty. The single eye looks at one thing only, and is unmoved by any ulterior considerations. It aims at one thing, to do right. It would rather be ostracized than compromised. It would rather suffer than slip. It does not concern itself with pleasing its friends, nor its enemies, nor its relatives, nor its wife, nor itself. It does not consult public opinion, nor common custom, nor passing fads, nor smiles, nor frowns, nor threats, nor promises, nor the lust of the flesh, nor the lust of the eyes, nor the pride of life. It goes right on through all, saying “This one thing I do.” It consults only the will of God, be what it will, and cost what it may. This is a single eye, and there is nothing which will make us steadfast and unmoveable like this. While a hundred turn aside, drawn away by one temptation or another, the man with the single eye stands fast. One man wants more friends, another wants more money, another wants more freedom, another wants more influence, and one by one they turn aside from the path of duty, one for comfort, one for ease, one for respectability, one for prosperity, one for success, while the single eye stands fast.

But though the single eye is the greatest factor, it may not be sufficient to make a man steadfast and unmoveable. It must be understood that the path of faith is difficult. Peter doubtless had a single eye when he said, “Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death.” (Luke 22:33). He was determined that no ulterior consideration would turn him aside. The spirit was indeed willing—-but the flesh was weak.

It is difficult to remain in the path of duty, when we see others, by a little compromise, by a little letting down of the standards, gain the success which we crave ourselves. It is hard to remain in the hard path, when we see others enjoying ease or prosperity elsewhere. It is faith which enables us to remain in the hard place, for faith looks always at the “end of the Lord.” It looks to the recompense of the reward. Its eye is fixed on the “better thing,” which it fully expects to receive further along. Unbelief has no such expectation, or at any rate no assurance of it, and it must therefore look out for itself. This will often involve the abandonment of the difficult path. This you see plainly enough in Lot. He went from one thing to another, while Abraham remained just where he was, steadfast and unmoveable. Lot went from the pilgrim tent to the house in the city, to the cave on the mountain, while Abraham remained just where he was, and just where he belonged, in his pilgrim tent. Lot had none of the stability which Abraham had. Abraham’s stability was the fruit of faith. The “faith chapter” tells us, “And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned, but now they desire a better country.” (Heb. 11:15-16).

Abraham’s faith was fixed on the “better thing,” in the full expectation that God would give it to him, and therefore he had strength to endure the worse thing for the time being. This is the way of faith. With the full expectation of the blessing to come, it is content to “wait patiently” in the mean time, and suffer hardship and reproach also.

But though Abraham’s faith was strong in general, the incident with Hagar indicates some weakness in one particular matter. Yet I believe this episode was properly the fruit of Sarah’s unbelief. She is the one who turned aside to this expedient, though Abraham’s faith was not strong enough to stand true against the unbelief of his wife, and he therefore acquiesced in her expedient. But the thing which I want you to observe is how changeable this unbelief made Sarah. She will one day give Hagar into her husband’s bosom, and another day cast her out of her house. Faith would have stopped her at the threshold of such a course. Faith would have enabled her to go on in the hard path, denied and deprived, and bearing the reproach of it, in the full expectation of the future fulfilment of her desires, and of God’s promises. Lacking that faith, she must take the matter into her own hands, and depart from the difficult path in which God had placed her.

We may observe also that the expedients of unbelief often prove ineffectual, and therefore unbelief must proceed from one such expedient to another, while faith remains just where it was, steadfast and unmoveable.

But there is another virtue which will contribute to making us steadfast and unmoveable. This is humility. Pride makes men unstable. The desire to shine in the eyes of men will move a man from one expedient to another, while the humble man remains just where he was. The hankering to be something, or to be somebody, will move a man to give up unpopular doctrines—-professing, of course, to have found greater light. It will move him also to concoct novelties, that he might have the glory of being the first to discover this new light. It will move him to set out on difficult missions, that he might be seen and known. As pride moves the worldling to climb great mountains, so it may move the Christian to go to the jungles with a Bible under his arm—-only to come back in humiliation a year later. But humiliation is not humility, and it is very likely he will set out on another difficult mission ere long—-each time professing that God has called him to it. Humility has no such compulsion to prove itself. To my mind the greatest feat of Moses was not turning the waters of Egypt to blood, nor dividing the Red Sea, nor calling forth water from the rock, but remaining forty years in the back side of the desert. Neither pride nor unbelief could have done so. This was the feat of faith and humility. These two are sisters, and love to walk hand in hand. Faith and humility can abide in the lowly place, the hard place, while pride and unbelief must be always on the move. If one church does not make enough of the proud man, he will be off to another.

I was once naive enough to think that these changeable people were merely climbing the ladder of truth—-forced by conscience to change churches, or to change doctrines, as they gained greater light. This may be the case, but usually isn’t. I have known people enough who change churches as the old Mormons used to change wives, professing to each new wife that they had never known true love before, but had found it at last. But the new wife would soon enough find herself in the scrap heap with the old ones.

I was out knocking on doors a number of years ago, and came to a house where the woman immediately invited us in, as soon as we told her what we were there for. This was encouraging, as it almost never happens. But I soon learned that she had been a Methodist, been a Mormon, been a Jehovah’s Witness—-and I made my exit, lest I should have the misfortune to catch her also, though I would gladly have stayed if I had seen any spiritual hunger in her.

But this changing of locations, or churches, or ministries, may not be so harmful as doctrinal change. Why do men change doctrinally? Why do they give up old standards, and embrace novelties? I think pride is one of the main reasons. Spurgeon says of John Bunyan, Prick him anywhere, and you will find his blood Bibline. This is too high an estimate of Bunyan, but I wish to apply Spurgeon’s figure in another sphere. You take most of the doctrinal innovators, the progressives and the liberals, and prick them anywhere, and you will find pride to come out at every pore. They are too enamored with their own abilities to walk in the beaten path. They must strike out on their own, and if they can find a doctrine that no one else has ever thought of, this alone will almost constitute proof of its truth, to their minds. But the doctrine doesn’t have to be altogether new in order to suit them, so long as it is different—-so long as it is a departure from what is commonly held.

Of course it is a plain necessity for every man in the world to change, if he is ever to come to the truth, and it may be necessary to change many times, for we grow up into the truth. We do not attain it by one leap, but by gradual steps. Yet these steps ought to be small ones, and they ought to move us always in the same direction, and certainly ought to carry us to the point where we cease to change. Those who are given to change do not usually proceed after this fashion. They tend rather to swing like a pendulum, which is always in motion except when it is at one extreme or the other. I have known some to condemn me because my standards were too strict, and after the passing of a few years to condemn me again because they were too loose. Then back to the other side, condemning me again because I am too strict. And all this while I have not changed an iota. Their change has not been the fruit of legitimate growth, by small steps in the same direction, but back and forth from one side to the other. We never know where we will find them next. Such folks are of little use to any church or ministry, for we never know how long they will abide with us, and we cannot trust them while they do.

And it is really impossible to trust a man who is always changing. We never know where we might find him tomorrow. I would rather see a man belligerent in error, than always changing. There is some virtue in steadfastness, even if we are not fastened altogether to the right stead. I would rather have a man who holds fast from one decade to the next to all the unscriptural refinements of Lewis Sperry Chafer’s dispensationalism, than a so-called “progressive dispensationalist.” The former man may not be just where I want him, but I know where he is. The other fellow is here today, there tomorrow, and who knows where the next day.

And mark, according to the order of our text, this being steadfast and unmoveable is to come first, and to be followed by “always abounding in the work of the Lord.” We are really not fit for the work of the Lord while we are given to change. The sheep are confused and discouraged and scattered by an unstable shepherd. He cannot establish others when he is not established himself. He is not fit to shepherd the flock of God. This would be true even if his instability were due to nothing more serious than a weak understanding, but I hardly suppose this to be the case. The way to become steadfast and unmoveable is by the cultivation of moral virtue, and it is the lack of moral virtue which makes men unstable.

God commands us to be steadfast and unmoveable, and this assumes that we can be. There is no need to be a pendulum or a weather vane. We may be as fixed as the North Star, but we will not attain to this by studying concordances and commentaries, or Greek and Hebrew, nor even by studying the Bible itself. Not that we can ever attain this without studying the Bible. Diligence is as much required as other virtues. Nevertheless, we will never become steadfast and unmoveable by mere study, but by a single eye, by a good conscience, by sincerity, by faith, by humility, and doubtless by a combination of all moral virtues.

Glenn Conjurske