“The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.” ~2 Timothy 2:6
I am a great admirer of those men and women known to Church history as the Puritans. In the 16th, 17th, and 18th century, God raised up some of the purest people in Christendom. Those men and women were deeply concerned about their soul, their relationship with God, and the world to come. In many respects reading about the Puritans is not easy for several reasons.
First, the style of writing was much different than today. The Puritan authors were prone to writing double compound complex sentences. In great detail they described what they had to say so that their subject was exhausted. Today writing style is simplistic to the extreme. Major news stories around the world are covered in thirty-second clips. Television commercials emphasize the message with one or two words and much visual aids. The dialogue of most programs is more suited for a “bubble gum mentality.” Even the popular novels of today use the Ernest Hemmingway style of short, concise sentences and paragraphs. To read the Puritans is to challenge the mind to concentrate and to think
The second great characteristic of the Puritans was their ability to think carefully and logically. The holy authors spent much time to explore the details of the text. As a result, the Puritans offered deep, serious, and real solutions to the problems of life.
A third characteristic of the Puritans was they spoke about real personal experiences. Their Christianity was genuine, and it was not separated from the rest of their life. The Puritans would not be found with a weak faith in God. Rather, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit were real.
The Puritans did not excuse themselves from exercising religious duties. Rather they were zealous to perform good works every minute of every day. Listen to young Jonathan Edwards at age 19 resolving to serve his Savior.
The Puritans would never even consider the buying or selling of crude language, let alone blatant pornography. They knew too many passages of Scripture forbidding such things to try and foolishly reconcile the flesh with the Spirit. The words of Jesus burned in their souls as the Lord said, “Either make the tree good and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.” (Matthew 12:33) “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, and blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man…”
Realizing all this, the Puritans guarded their hearts, instead of filling it afresh with countless hours of evil entertainment.
Again, the Puritans did not belittle the pulpit ministry. Rather, the Word of God was sweet to them, so that they longed to hear the Word preached. And they wanted others to hear it preached as well. Souls were precious. Christ died for souls, therefore the Puritans longed to see many sons and daughters brought into glory. To that end they built orphanages, established schools to train men for the ministry, such as Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, and Dartmouth.
Finally, the Puritans remembered the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Sunday was the Sabbath, their day of rest, and God honored them for honoring Him.
By life and by lip the Puritans have given to Christianity a rich heritage. It is to our peril that we ignore their doctrine, and their personal experience because all in all the Puritans embraced the pure gospel. They obeyed the exhortation; rather the command of Paul who observed that, “The husbandmen (or farmer) that labors must be first partaker of the fruits.”
The words of Paul in verse 6, set forth the third of three metaphors in the passage, exhorting Timothy to become strong in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is Timothy’s objective. He must not depart from the Christian faith. He must not dilute his faith with the things of this world.
Like a soldier, he must endure hardships. Like a citizen he must strive according to certain well-known rules. And like a farmer, he must be a partaker of the harvest he has planted.
I would suggest that in these three metaphors, and the third in particular, the apostle sets forth the spiritual principles of how to have power with God and with man.
I am most concerned with the third metaphor, because it seems to be the fundamental of all true religious experiences, and the one most lacking. To put the matter another way, there is within the organized church men who preach, Sunday school teachers who teach, and other leaders, such as Elders and Deacons, who have not been partakers of their own labors.
This problem has always plagued the professing visible church. It was a problem the Puritans faced in their day, and which they spoke out against in a strong manner.
Iain Murray notes that, “Standards of church membership had fallen, but, in the words of one writer; The unregenerate were in nothing improved by becoming communicants, while the condition of the churches was, in many respects, much worse by it.” Jesus warned that wheat and tares would be found together. Paul wept in Ephesus, knowing that with his departure wolves would creep in to devour the sheep. It is because this condition has existed, and does exist, those words of warning must be sounded and that is what we are trying to do.
I plead with each person identified with any local assembly to consider seriously whether or not they have first partaken of the fruit of their labor. It is possible to be like the Pharisees of old, zealous in religious works, while never having tasted of salvation and the glory of God?
To question the labor of one’s efforts is not foolish, it is wise. A painter will carefully inspect his work to see if all the colors and highlights are just right. A doctor will carefully watch the progress of a patient after surgery. A mechanic does not hesitate to touch his nuts and bolts to see that they are tight and secure. So must a professing Christian be very careful to make sure he is a partaker of the fruits of his labor.
In the matter of salvation, the professing Christian must be a partaker. There is much danger in an unconverted ministry. No person can live unto God, said the Puritan Cotton Mather, until they are converted. There must be, he writes, “the experience of a principle infused from above into you, that shall be indeed Christ formed in you and Christ living in you…”
There are three main ways that people are able to get into the church as members, and as workers, without believing in Christ and being converted. The first way is by preaching a gospel that does not call for repentance. Souls are no longer called upon to serve the pollution of self, and the righteousness of Christ. Only part of man is appealed to, mainly his intellect. “Believe certain theological dogma and be saved” is the popular gospel cry without regard to the emotions, or the will. Puritans were always suspicious of those converts that did not weep over sin, or have a deep remorse about having offended God.
Second, the process of confirmation has encouraged the second generation of religious people to bypass a personal self-examination. Confirmation is the child being brought up to confirm that all religious upbringing, and certain religious teachings are true. One person reacting against his upbringing wrote that he was, “In the same round condemned each day to study, read, recite, and pray.” It should not surprise parents to find their children departing from the faith, for each soul must either accept or reject God. In fact, there is a real danger that the religious training, if not balanced with gospel appeals, can confirm a soul in righteous or better religious unrighteousness.
A third way that people enter the church without being converted, is by a system of theology that teaches Jesus Christ has reconciled everyone to Himself. It is up to the individual to recognize that he has already been saved and live up to his fullest potential as a created son of God. This is the theology of universalism in the new wineskins of popular theology terminology. The true Christian will come to recognize that apart from faith in Christ, a person will go to hell. Therefore, every person must be born again.
Because there are several ways for the laborer not to be a partaker of the fruits of his labor in the area of salvation, it is necessary that each soul be re-examined, each person be pressed to give an accurate testimony of saving faith.
Then again, in the area of personal holiness, the Christian must be first a partaker of the fruits of his labor. Here our subject grows difficult and our lips are more silent. We would blush if we were asked, “Are you holy? Why not?”
While it is true that the more holy a person becomes, the more unholy they feel themselves to be. It is also true that holiness has been the passion of devout Christians so that the saint can say, “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man.”
In Romans 2 the whole argument in verses 17-29 is that the teachers of righteousness should be righteous. Study the text well, because it condemns much of what is being done in churches today.
Now for the application. If the saints of any church are to have power with men and power with God, then they must first partake of the labors which they do. Do they preach salvation? Let individuals be converted. Do they preach holiness, and teach holiness in Sunday schools? Then let them first be holy. Do they dare to take upon themselves the name of Christ? Then let them be like Jesus in word, attitude, and action.
But individuals must move from the text, to doctrine, to exhortation, to application. Application of this message comes when a day by day, moment by moment effort is made to live out salvation. Self-discipline is needed. A determination of the renewed will is to be exercised. Prayers are to be offered. Much labor is needed. Our Lord has called upon us to be strong in Himself. Strength comes by partaking first of our labors. Let us be saved. Let us be holy.