My Dear Friends,
In the life of faith, what ultimately matters is not how well you begin, but how well you end. The history of the church from the days of Adam is littered with the sad wreckage of men and women who, for a time, appeared to be true Christians. They spoke like Christians, worshipped like Christians, witnessed like Christians and even prayed and preached like Christians. They could “walk the walk and talk the talk.” Tragically, however, though they appeared to begin well, they did not end well. For whatever reasons, they fell away. This is not a modern church phenomenon. The apostle John wrote of those who “went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”
It is a solemn fact that “only those who endure to the end will be saved.” This is why the death of a still faithful Christian should be a cause of the greatest rejoicing for other Christians. We know that the Lord will not lose one of those given to him by his Father. But no less do we know that without perseverance there has been no election. Paul’s all but final words to Timothy are therefore full of deep poignancy. They are also words full of unbounded assurance: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” The end was near, the executioner’s sword was about to fall, the day of his “departure” was at hand - and Paul was still to be found confessing the Lord Jesus Christ. Saving faith is not in any sense a temporary grace (as some even within the Reformed faith are presently arguing). It is a grace that unites us indissolubly and indefectibly to our Lord Jesus. It may be eclipsed for a season and lie buried beneath an avalanche of doubts and fears and sins. But if it is truly faith, it can never be erased from our lives.
So it was with our brother in Christ, John Marshall. When John breathed his last on the 29th August, he was yet trusting in the Lord who had saved him from sin and death and hell. Many fulsome tributes could, and no doubt will, be written about John. He was a ‘Valiant-for-Truth,’ a man who unyieldingly, and yet with great grace, proclaimed the un-searchable riches of God’s grace in his Son. He was an undaunted Christian believer. He was an encourager to many, not least his fellow gospel ministers. The one thing, however, that I want to say about John is this - he died, as he had lived, in the faith of his Saviour. He fought the good fight, finished the race and kept, by God’s grace, the faith. A failing body did not dim his confidence in the promises of God. The prospect of death did not jaundice him spiritually. He quietly committed his soul into the hands of a faithful Creator. And so “there came a summons for Mr Standfast... that he must prepare for a change of his life, for his Master was not willing that he should be so far from him any longer”, and so, in the twinkling of an eye, the perishable was clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality.
Allow me then to ask you, what I first ask myself. Are you going on? Are you, depending on the promised grace of God, pressing on to win the prize? Will the day of your death find you yet trusting in the Lord Jesus, the only Saviour of lost sinners? You may have begun well. You may even now be continuing well. But are you resolved, by God’s promised grace, to end well? Will it be said of you and of me, ‘they fought the good fight, they finished the race, they kept the faith?’ May the Lord keep us all, guard all our ways, preserve us from the world, the flesh and the devil, and bring us at the last to see his face and be forever with our great, glorious and gracious God.
Yours as ever in the hope of the gospel,