It will not be denied by any considerate Christian of intelligence that there is room and need for fresh help in studying these earliest Epistles of the great apostle. The Homilies of Chrysostom, even if available generally, consist chiefly of exhortation. The comments among Jerome's works, were they certain, are of the slightest account, and avowedly supposititious.
Passing over the regular commentators, such as Calvin and others, Bishop Jewell has in his works an exposition upon these two Epistles, which reflects his characteristic ability, eloquence. and learning, his solid piety and earnestness, with the deepest abhorrence of Popery, of all Christian or quasi-Christian systems the most offensive to God and the most perilous to man. As the Bishop of Salisbury died in September, 1571, this work was posthumous, the original edition in 8vo. having the date 1583, the second 1594, and not appearing in the folio collections, but of course in the more modern edd. of his works, the Parker Society series, etc. The version of the N. T. followed is that of Geneva; there is no evidence of critical research into the disputed questions of text or translation; but that familiarity with the fathers and ecclesiastical history shines, for which the author was as renowned as Abp. Ussher at a later date.
As these Epistles bring out into special prominence the coming and the day of the Lord, the right handling of this subject becomes a crucial test, wherein foreign divines like Zwingle and Musculus, etc., fail no less than Rollock, Ferguson, etc. Even Bengel's spiritual tact here breaks down signally; for he ventures to say (Gnomon on 2Th_2:8) that the appearing of the Lord's coming is before His coming itself, or at least its first shining out: a statement which directly clashes with such scriptures as Col_3:4, Rev_17:14, Rev_19:14. To my mind Mr. Jowett's edition is a painful one, from the rationalistic incredulity which perverts even his scholarship. In treating Plato or Thucydides he is at home and reliable. Bishop Ellicott's contribution is critical, erudite, and reverent; but he is so under the influence of the reputed standards of Anglican divinity that he cannot rise to the height of the inspired text, particularly in profiting by that revelation of the future which is put forward in such varied and striking forms throughout both letters to the Thessalonians.
To speak with the least slight of others who have laboured on this portion of Scripture is, however, so invidious a thing for one who sends out a new little work that I forbear to say more. Those who examine candidly the pages that follow are responsible to judge as in His sight Who has communicated a treasure so great as His own truth. May we be subject to His written word, and so understand, enjoy, and walk in the power of His Spirit.
London, 13th May, 1893.
1 Thessalonians 1
The coming of the Lord characterises both these Epistles, which are the capital seat of that great truth. Of early date in the writings of the apostle, they bespeak simplicity, freshness and vigour in the saints addressed. They warmly, overflowingly, answer to their hearts, in kindred tones, but so as to lead on and deepen them. Hence the informal manner, not didactic but practically interweaving that blessed hope with every topic, with every duty, with all sources or motives of joy and sorrow so as to imbue the inner man and outer ways of all the saints day by day.
Those of Thessalonica, it appears from Act_17:6-7, had from the first received strong impressions of the kingdom. But they needed instruction on that large and fruitful theme, which, like every other revealed truth, affords ample room not only for unintelligent mistake but also for baneful error. Both in time wrought among these saints; and as the first epistle supplied that which sprang from mere ignorance, the latter corrected what was unequivocally false and mischievous. In the two epistles the presence or coming of the Lord is carefully distinguished from the day of the Lord, their true characters set out distinctly, and their due relation to one another explained. The need for this is as urgent now as then; for though the error was then both recent and active, it is shown to be grounded in a certain preparedness of the heart for it, inasmuch as to this day there is the same propensity to stray similarly, and the same difficulty in appropriating the revelation of God. The commentators ancient and modern are dull in seizing the different sides of the truth as the Spirit has given them, and though it is only in our own day that the chief mistranslation (2Th_2:2) has been set right, on all sides the truth which should have been cleared by the correction seems as little understood as ever. The course of things in Christendom, as in the old world before it assumed that new shape, indisposes the minds of those bound up with its interests to receive what is here taught. The coming of the Lord as a living and constant hope detaches the heart from every thing as an object on earth: for He is coming, we know not how soon, but we do know, to receive us to Himself on high. As is the Heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly and as this is the character in which Christ and the Christian stand correlatively, the hope exactly corresponds. It is independent of earthly events and is not a question of times or seasons. At a moment purposely unrevealed, that those who are His own might be truly and intelligently and always looking for Him, He will come for them that they may be with Him in His Father's house.
The day of the Lord, on the other hand, connects itself with earthly associations of a solemn kind, of which prophecy in the Old and the New Testaments alike speak; and this also has its suited place in these epistles. It is indeed eminently adapted, as it is meant, to deal with the conscience; for that day will deal with the pride of man and the power of the world, with earthly religion and with lawlessness in every form. Further, it is a test in one sense for the affections, whether we do really love His appearing who will put down evil and establish all in order according to God.
But we turn to the apostle's words in their order and detail.
"Paul and Silvanus and Timotheus to the assembly of Thessalonians in God [the] Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ: grace to you and peace." (ver. 1.)
Such is the inscription, with its own marked and beautifully suited peculiarities. On the one hand there is the marked absence of relative or indeed of any official place in the address of the apostle or the association of his companions, who are graciously introduced like himself without form. On the other hand the Thessalonian assembly is said, here and in the opening of the second epistle, to be "in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ," which is predicated of none other. What can harmonise so well with new-born saints, just delivered from the gods many and the lords many of heathenism, and brought into the conscious relationship of babes that know the Father? To us, Christians, there is but one God the Father, of Whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom are all things and we by Him. But what an expression of tenderness and near relationship thus to speak of the assembly of Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! How sweet for them to be thus addressed as even corporately set in the fellowship of such love and light! But such is the principle in the manifestation of the divine ways of grace. So even in the comforting ways of the Jewish prophet it is written, "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd, he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young." Those who are most needy receive special care and consolation.
For the infant assembly so characterised it was enough to say the brief but pregnant words, "Grace to you and peace." To others a fuller form was becoming, here needless because of what went before.
"We thank God always for you all, making mention at our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labour of love and patience of hope of our Lord Jesus Christ before our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, your election; because our gospel came not unto you in word only but also in power and in [the] Holy Spirit and in much assurance; even as ye know what we were among you for your sake. And ye became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with joy of [the] Holy Spirit; so that ye became a pattern to all that believe in Macedonia and in Achaia. For from you hath sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith that is toward God hath gone out, so that we have no need to say anything. For they themselves report concerning us what sort of entrance we had unto you, and how ye turned unto God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to await his Son from the heavens, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus that delivered us from the coming wrath." (vers. 2-10.)
The joy of the labourer's heart bursts forth in constant thanksgiving to God for them all, and this not vaguely but with special mention on the occasion of prayer. It answered to their joy who had so lately been brought out of darkness into the marvellous light of God; but it had the deep character of rising to the Blesser from the blessing, as the blessing itself savoured of communion with that source of blessing. So had Paul wrought with God in Thessalonica, not merely with some of the Jews who were persuaded and who consorted with him and Silas (or Silvanus), but especially with a great multitude of the devout Greeks: a mighty and permanent work in no long time. Do we know such thanksgiving to God? Do we make like personal mention on like occasion? Do we unceasingly remember the fruit of the Spirit's blessing in the saints? We know what it is to pray for saints in sorrow, shame, danger, need: are we drawn out in joy before God at the working of His grace in those He has saved and gathered to the name of Jesus? Have not our hearts been straitened by the low and shattered and isolated circumstances of the once united saints? We are quick in putting out, cutting off, withdrawing, avoiding, and every form of repulsion; slow and powerless in the grace that sees and enjoys grace in others, that wins, helps, welcomes, and restores. Not so the apostle and his companions. Doubtless great grace is needed to appreciate little grace. It is Christ-like.
Granted, that here among the Thessalonians, especially when the first epistle was written, there was as much power of life as there was simplicity with lack of knowledge. The three great spiritual elements, of which we often hear in the New Testament and notably in the apostle's writings, were manifest and in the fervent vigour of the Holy Spirit: not only faith, but the "work of faith," not love only but "labour of love," and hope of our Lord Jesus Christ in its patience or enduring constancy. And as Christ is the object of faith which exercises the heart and fixes it on things unseen, so does His grace call forth love, and the hope cheers along the way, and so much the more when all is in the light of God, "before our God and Father." He is our Father, and if babes we know Him as such (1Jn_2:13); but He is God, and in our life, in our ways, we are before Him, and would serve him acceptably with reverence and godly fear. He, before whom the new life in Christ is thus exercised by motives which have their spring and power in Christ, is the God who chose the Thessalonians in His grace to be His children beloved by Him, as thus attested to the consciences and affection of those that serve Him, "Knowing, brethren beloved by God, your election." What practical proof of our election can there be to others but in the manifested power of the life we have in Christ, maintained as it can only be by seeking to have in everything a conscience without offence toward God and men? To gather evidence for ourselves out of it is mere self-righteousness, as well as the unbelief that slights God's testimony to Christ and His work, the effete theology of Christendom hastening on to divine judgment.
But God has ever wrought blessing by the revelation of Himself. Hence it is of faith that it may be according to grace, as the law works wrath; for where no law is, neither is there transgression. But the glad tidings as preached by Paul and those with him, "our gospel," is the full testimony of what is in Christ for the lost. This had been brought home to the Thessalonians in the energy of the Holy Ghost. "Because our gospel came not unto you in word only but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance; even as ye know what we were among you for your sake." (ver. 5.) This young but devoted, persecuted yet happy, assembly was the living testimony to God and His Christ. The gospel had come not in word only but in power, and as it was in the Holy Spirit not fleshly display, so was it in much assurance. The word was spoken with all boldness and certainty by men whose ways were its bright and genuine reflection in love. This produced corresponding effects in those who received it. For Paul and his companions were not like such as seem incapable of appreciating the glory of Christ in the gospel as in the church; who are never weary of crying up one part of the truth to the disparagement of another, as if all did not centre in our Lord: short-sighted and mischievous souls, who overlook the simplest elements of truth in self-admiration, and a broker-like pressure on others of the value of their own wares. If all were teachers where were the evangelists? If there were none to awaken souls, where the sheep to be fed and tended.
The Thessalonians too bore the impress of the power which wrought on their hearts and consciences. "And ye became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with joy of the Holy Spirit; so that ye became a pattern to all that believe in Macedonia and in Achaia." (vers. 6, 7.) They suffered bitterly for the truth which filled their hearts with joy; so Paul dying daily while he lived; so the Lord Who died as no other, yet lived the perfect ensample and fulness of joy in God His Father with utter rejection here below.
How different those in Thessalonica from their brethren in Corinth who soon followed, who slighted the weightier matters of practical grace as they gloried in the showier displays of sign-gifts and external power. And what a difference in the moral testimony! Never do we hear of the Corinthians as a pattern to any that believed in Macedonia or in Achaia. Yet did the apostle's heart yearn in love over his later children in the faith, untoward and unruly as they were, that God's unspeakable gift of grace might produce suited if late fruit in them also.
Nor was this all: the world was full of strange tidings and this beyond all Greece where the believers were impressed with the zeal and moral power of the Thessalonian assembly. "For from you hath sounded out the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith that is toward God hath gone out, so that we have no need to say anything." (ver. 8). Men were talking everywhere of the singular change and fact in that important entrepôt of trade which lay in the direct line between the West and the East. That a body of people should have abandoned their false gods, and be filled with the knowledge of the one true God in a joy which no sufferings could chill (as distinct from the Jews as from the heathen, and yet more distinguished in an all absorbing life of faith, love, hope, never so seen there before) could not but strike minds so acute, speculative, and communicative as the Greek. The sound of it rang out like a trumpet's in all directions, not about miracles or tongues, but their faith Godward: surely a fine, admirable, and gracious testimony had gone out in the midst of idolaters. For it was wholly in contrast with the hard proud legalism of the Jews, as decidedly as with the dark and indecent follies of the Gentile world. Indeed the effect was such that the apostle declares "we have no need to say anything." Why preach that which the very world in a certain way preached? Preaching has for its aim to make known the unknown God and His Son, to rouse the slumberers, to gain the ear of the careless for God's good news. Here men's lips were full of this truly new thing in Thessalonica; and from this active centre of commerce the report went out everywhere of a Macedonian assembly that renounced Zeus, Hera, Artemis, Apollo, and all the rest, without adopting circumcision or the institutions of Moses.
Nor was there anything vague or pretentious, but the sobriety of grace and truth. "For they themselves report concerning us what sort of entrance we had unto you; and how ye turned unto God from idols to serve a living and true God and to await his Son from the heavens whom he raised from the dead Jesus that delivered us from the coming wrath." (vers. 9, 10.) It is a grand object of Satan to combine the world with God, to allow the flesh while pretending to the Spirit, and thus really to fall under his own delusions while professing Christ. The reverse of all this Babylonish confusion is seen in the sort of entrance the apostle had among the Thessalonians, and the complete break made for their souls from all that is opposed to God known in light and love. They turned unto God from their idols instead of christening them and mocking Him; they served not forms or doctrines or institutions, but a living and true God; and they awaited His Son from the heavens, not as an awful and dreaded Judge, but as their Deliverer from the coming wrath, whom He raised from the dead, the pledge of their justification and the pattern of the new life of which they lived to God in the faith of Him.
1 Thessalonians 2
Such was the vivid and powerful effect of the Apostle's visit to Thessalonica. There was an unmistakeable and deep impression produced by the conversion and walk of the saints there on those outside, around and everywhere. Their faith went forth as a living proclamation of the truth; "so that we need not to speak anything." How happy, when the work is in such power and freshness as to leave the workman free for other fields white already unto harvest! What glory to the Lord, when the very heathen aroused and amazed by the result in power before them cannot but talk of the true God and His Son!
Now, the apostle draws a good sketch of his "entering in," as to its character and bearing on the saints themselves, an internal picture, as before we were told of its external effect.
"For yourselves know, brethren, our entrance unto you that it hath not been vain. But having suffered before, and been outraged, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God in much conflict. For our exhortation [is, or was] not of error, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile; but even as we have been approved of God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God that proveth our hearts.
For neither at any time were we with speech of flattery, as ye know, nor with a cloke of covetousness, God [is] witness; nor seeking glory of men, neither from you nor from others, when we might have been burdensome as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle in the midst of you, as when a nurse cherisheth her own children; so yearning over you, we were well pleased to impart unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls because ye became beloved by us. For ye remember, brethren, our labour and our toil; working night and day that we might not burden any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God. Ye [are] witnesses, and God, how holily and righteously and blamelessly we behaved ourselves to you that believe, just as ye know how each one of you as a father his own children we [were] exhorting you, and comforting, and testifying that ye should walk worthily of God that calleth you unto His own kingdom and glory" (vers. 1-12.)
The apostle could confidently appeal to the inner consciousness of the brethren. The entering in of Paul and Silas, which they had to the Thessalonian saints had not been empty. A divine purpose of grace, reality in pressing the truth on consciences, and energy of the Holy Spirit, had characterised their service and produced corresponding results. And no wonder; for it was the love of Christ constraining to the love of perishing souls, which knew not God nor the power of His resurrection who had tasted death even for them. Assuredly too, it was neither an ostentatious show nor a holiday visit, but an errand so serious in the eyes of their visitors, that no object by the way or on the spot detained; "but having suffered before and been outraged, even as ye know, in Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God in much conflict" (ver. 2).
Their injurious treatment at the hands of the Gentiles in Philippi no more daunted their unconquerable faith and love than the subsequent persecution by Jewish spite and jealousy at Thessalonica. No experience of suffering can turn aside those whose mind is to endure all things both for Christ and for the elect's sake, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. Hence their confidence: "we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God in much conflict." If there was the assurance that the glad tidings were God's, they were emboldened in God to speak out whatever the opposition or violence that environed them. So, if the apostle had now to exhort the saints in Thessalonica that no one might be moved by their affliction, it was not as a dilettante divine, laying on the shoulders of others a burden which he would not move with his own finger. From the first he was called to suffer for Christ's name, as distinctly as to bear that name before Gentiles and kings and sons of Israel, to open their eyes that they might turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they might receive remission of sins and an inheritance among those that are sanctified by faith in Christ. And in this he wrought with burning earnestness, to which "much conflict" refers, rather than to mere external trouble on the one hand, or that wrestling for the saints against the wiles of the devil, of which we hear in Col_2:1, on the other hand. He walked and served in the truth he taught.
"For our exhortation [is, or was] not of error, nor of uncleanness, nor of guile; but even as we have been approved of God to be entrusted with the gospel so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God that proveth our hearts" (vers. 3-4). There was as good a conscience as boldness and endurance. There was integrity of heart, the very reverse of playing a part, instead of becoming the victim of delusion and so misleading others. Error was as far from the exhortation as impurity, nor was there the least intent to deceive, which "guile" expresses; but the truth was pressed holily and sincerely; and so spoke these blessed labourers, as became those who knew they had been approved of God to have the gospel entrusted to them. Grace forms responsibility, as grace enjoyed in the soul maintains its force livingly. They had God before them, God that proveth the hearts, not men to please whose breath is in their nostrils: wherein is man to be accounted of?
This is a grave and abiding principle, as true and important now as when Paul thus spoke of himself and his companion in the service of Christ. One cannot serve two masters. Patrons and congregations are not the only snares. Desire of influence, dread of disfavour, party, ecclesiasticism, may interfere with allegiance to the Lord, and righteousness in that case will surely suffer, perhaps truth itself. So Satan works in Christendom to the dishonour of Christ. The attempt to serve more than one is fatal; for a man will either hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. If a labourer in faith regards himself as approved of God to be entrusted with the gospel, he will only the more take heed to himself that the ministration be not blamed, but in every thing commend himself as God's minister. Only he will seek to hold fast liberty as much as responsibility in the Spirit, with the written word as his sole rule. An apostle had the same direct responsibility to the Lord as the least labourer in the gospel, and, as we see here, owned it for himself as he urged it on others. It is no question of right but on Christ's part; it is solely of responsibility on ours. This maintains His glory and our obedience. To us there is, and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, to whom are all things, and we through Him; as there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto Him. May we be imitators of the apostle, as he was of Christ.
But there is the snare of mammon as well as of a master rival to Christ; and we cannot serve God and mammon. Here, too, the apostle could appeal to the experience of the Thessalonian saints. "For neither at any time were we with speech of flattery, as ye know, nor with a cloak of covetousness, God [is] witness; nor seeking glory of men, neither from you nor from others, when we might have been burdensome [or, stood on dignity] as apostles of Christ" (vers. 5, 6). Those with whom Paul and the others were conversant could bear witness whether his speech was that of flattery or words of truth and soberness. God was his witness whether covetousness was concealed under any pretext. But there are other ways in which the corruption of our nature is apt to indulge and betray itself. Hence many a man who would not stoop to flattery and may not be covetous is vain or ambitious. How in these respects had Paul and his companions carried themselves? "Not seeking glory of men, neither from you nor from others, when we might have been burdensome as apostles of Christ." He sought their blessing in the testimony of Christ, not theirs but them for God's glory; and instead of claiming just consideration in carnal things as sent of the Lord on spiritual service, there was thorough self-denial in devotedness to Christ.
Now he turns to the positive side of their walk and work. "But we were gentle in the midst of you, as when a nurse cherisheth her own children" (ver. 7). The figure of a parent, even a mother, fails to convey the tender care of a love which has its spring in God Himself. Babes need a nurse, which all mothers are not; but a nurse cherishing her own children is the just figure here employed, not a hireling for another's offspring. "So yearning over you, we were well pleased to impart unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye became beloved by us" (ver. 8). Where else is there anything to compare with this in unselfish love unless it be in the persevering faithfulness of grace which watches over the same objects in their growth end difficulties end dangers afterwards? "For ye remember, brethren, our labour and our toil: working night and day that we might not burden any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God" (ver. 9).
Paul wrought with his own hands in Thessalonica as in Corinth, whence he wrote to them, that he might be chargeable to none. Yet if anyone was entitled to say, like Nehemiah, "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down," it was the apostle, who truly did in another sense come down, and so much the better did his great work though never was there a greater mind than his who thus laboured manually night and day during his brief stay among the Thessalonians. "Ye [are] witnesses, and God, how holily and righteously and blamelessly we behaved ourselves to you that believe." He sums up his appeal to the believers and to God Himself, as only one could do who exercised himself to have a conscience void of offence toward God and men alway. "Just as ye know how each one of you as a father his own children, we [were] exhorting you and comforting, and testifying that ye should walk worthily of God that calleth you unto His own kingdom and glory" (vers. 11, 12).
Love adapts itself to the wants of those loved. So did the apostle when the saints needed more than the food of babes. And what earthly father ever made good his relation to his own children as Paul to his beloved Thessalonians? Each one and all were objects of unremitting and considerate vigilance. Exhortation, comfort, testimony never failed to stimulate, cheer, and direct in the ways that befit the God that calls unto his own kingdom and glory. There He will have His own with Christ soon and for ever; in that hope, and worthily of it, He would have them now to walk. Such is the aim of a true workman of Christ; and no lovelier picture can anywhere be found than appears in the simple sketch here drawn by the Apostle.
Thus far for the ministry of Paul and his companions. Now he turns to the means God had used for the blessing of the saints by that ministry.
"And* for this cause we also thank God unceasingly that, when ye received [the] word of [the] report from us of God, ye accepted not men's word but as it is truly God's word, which also worketh in you that believe. For ye, brethren, became imitators of the assemblies of God that are in Judea in Christ Jesus; for ye also suffered the same things of your own countrymen, even as they also of the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and please not God, and [are] contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, to fill up their sins alway; but the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost" (vers. 13-16).
* "And," omitted in Text. Rec., has the highest but not large authority.
Man as he is naturally lives without God, acted on by the things he sees around him, a prey to the desires of the flesh and of the mind. In order to a spiritual link with God he needs a revelation from Him; and God is now sending this in the glad tidings concerning His Son, that men may believe and be saved. Thus does the soul know God, and Jesus Christ whom He did send, and this is life eternal. By faith he begins to feel and think according to God; and faith is the reception of a divine testimony. Thereby he sets to his seal that God is true. The word of God mixed with faith puts into immediate association with God.
In apostolic days Paul, as here, was an instrument to convey God's word in his preaching; and this, by divine power, without admixture of error. So it is in the Scriptures, which as being inspired of God exclude mistake. Hence, while they are of the richest value as a medium of communicating the truth, they have their special and indeed unique function as being the divinely given standard to try every word and work.
Not only, then, had the Apostle laboured in the power of the Holy Ghost and in a way suitable to the beginning and growth of those who were the objects of his ministry, but it was not in vain. There were sweet and manifest fruits in God's grace. "And for this cause we also thank God unceasingly, that, when ye received the word of the report from us of God ye accepted not men's word, but as it is truly God's word, which also worketh in you that believe." It is always a true effect of God's gracious power when souls in a hostile world receive His testimony, however perfectly His word meets the cravings of the heart and presents the blood of Christ to purify the conscience from the dead works to serve the living God. There is a constant network for men to hold them fast in Satan's hand; and the truth, as being God's word, judges the thoughts and intents of the heart. It was yet more trying when the truth was as novel as it must ever be opposed to human will and reasoning. When many profess it, the reproach to a great extent disappears, though God does not fail to counteract Satan's wiles, who would thus destroy the power by making the form cheap and common. To the Thessalonians, as indeed to every Gentile then, the word reported was a new thing. But it was "of God," and so they proved it. "Ye accepted not men's word, but as it is truly God's word." The heart bowed to God, and the word also wrought by the Spirit of God its own divine effects in those subject to it by faith.
The Jewish matron was true to the instincts of humanity and the traditions of her race, when she saw the Messiah casting out demons and heard Him warning of a worse power of the enemy those who still sought a sign from heaven; out of the crowd she cried, "Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the breasts that Thou didst suck." The gospel renders it plain and certain that it is no question of a relationship after the flesh, but of the authority and blessing of the divine word, and thus as open to the Gentile as to the Jew. To believe it is the obedience of faith. It is to be in living association with God, which cannot be otherwise.
The word wielded by the Spirit and received as of God thus separates to Him, and is indeed exactly what is called "sanctification of the Spirit" in 1Pe_1:2: not in the practical sense (which follows in ver. 15, 16 as well as elsewhere), but, in principle and absolutely, that setting apart to God from the beginning which constitutes a saint (see. 1Co_6:11). Hence it precedes the knowledge of forgiveness or the possession of peace with God; as Peter says, in (or by) sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. Here nothing but prejudice would have hindered believers seeing that obedience is not merely faith-obedience, but practical. Now sanctification in the ordinary sense cannot be said to be for or "unto obedience," seeing that it very largely consists of obedience, and cannot exist without it; but sanctification of the Spirit as here spoken of is for (εἰς) obedience, and such as Christ's in contrast with a mere Israelite's. It is also for "sprinkling with His blood," for the new life or divine nature in the saint wishes to obey God even before it knows the efficacy of His blood in a purged conscience; and hence the perfect order of the words in the phrase.
The want of seeing this has greatly embarrassed the commentators, and has even led, to positive falsification, as in Beza's Latin Version and the Geneva English Version, which render the clause unto (ἐν) sanctification of the Spirit through (εἰς) obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ! This is to sacrifice, not grammar merely, but God's word to a defective system of theology, which only acknowledges the sanctification that is consequent on justification, and ignores the primary setting of the person apart to God by the Spirit, which is true of every saint from his conversion, when he may not yet rest by faith in Christ's blood. Erasmus, though perplexed, is nearer the truth than the Vulgate, followed by the Rhemish, which yields no just sense whatever. Archbishop Leighton is one of the few who saw that sanctification here does not mean inherent, gradual, or practical holiness, but that work of the Spirit which from first to last separates from nature and the world to God (compare 2Th_2:13).
The same spiritual cause produced kindred effects. All are not Israelites, neither are they Cretans, and the flesh in all, if unjudged, affords a ready occasion to the enemy who presents snares suited to beguile each. But the Holy Spirit forms by the image of Christ, presented in God's word, which is effectual not only to beget souls to God. but to clear, correct, instruct, reprove, and in every way to discipline, as well as cheer on, the believer. Of this the apostle reminds the Thessalonians. "For ye, brethren, became imitators of the assemblies of God that are in Judea in Christ Jesus." Difference of race, contrast as to previous habits of religion, cannot hinder the power of grace and truth. The Thessalonians followed in the same path of suffering and endurance as the Jewish assemblies in Christ Jesus. There the flame of persecution burnt fiercely against the companies that bore the name of Him whom they had crucified. It was not otherwise for the Thessalonian saints from their own countrymen.
There is no such hatred as that embittered by difference in religion, and especially where the claim is exclusive and divine. The gospel gave occasion to this in its most concentrated form; for it first had to make its way where God had really given peculiar privileges, which it was quite right to maintain in all their value as long as He owned the people to whom He had given them. But the Jewish people slighted and abandoned them, killing the prophets who pressed their infidelity and apostasy on their consciences, as they crowned their guilt when outward forms seemed orderly, but real unbelief and enmity to God were laid bare, by the ignominious rejection and death of their own Messiah. But evil is insatiable, and even the cross only whetted their rancour against the witnesses of divine grace. They "drove us out."
For the possessors of law are provoked to madness by the preaching of grace, which makes little of any earthly privileges whatever, and insists on the ruin of the Jew as much as of the Gentile. Hence the Jew's undying hatred of the gospel. It were bad enough to hear a testimony as much above and deeper than the law, as Christ is greater than Moses; and the difference is really immeasurable. But to proclaim its incomparable blessings in Christ so as to obliterate all distinction, and to bring the believer, Jew or Gentile alike, into a new place of heavenly relationship and of everlasting favour, is intolerable. This, then, was necessarily the final dealing of God as far as Israel's responsibility was concerned. All hope for the nation on the earth was buried in the grave of Christ. They had a last appeal from the Holy Ghost in the gospel witnessing of Christ exalted to heaven; but they refused the message as much or more than the Person, above all when they saw others, yea, Gentiles, entering into the good which they had spurned for themselves.
Thus they "please not God, and [are] contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, to fill up their sins always; but the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost." It might not yet be executed, but it impended, and no small part became their portion after the apostle passed away. Still it rests on the ,Jew, but it is not yet expended; and were the Jew to return to his land, to rebuild the city and the sanctuary, and to take possession as far as possible of his ancient heritage, it would be but a deadly delusion and a satanic snare, bringing on them first Antichrist, then the trouble from the Assyrian, and finally the Lord Himself in unsparing vengeance, however mercy may in the end rejoice against judgment. As, however, the apostle does not lift the veil of the future, (as in Rom. 11). from their prospects, but returns to the new relations of grace, the common joy of himself and the Thessalonian saints, we too follow the line of the Holy Spirit here.
"But we, brethren, being bereaved of you for a little season [lit., of an hour], in person, not in heart, made more exceeding diligence to see your face with much desire. Wherefore* we desired to come unto You, I, Paul, both once and twice, and Satan hindered us. For what [is] our hope, or joy, or crown of glorying? [Are] not even ye before our Lord Jesus† at His coming? For ye are our glory and joy" (vers. 17-19).
* The right reading is διότι, not διό of the Text. Rec., though the sense differs little.
† "Christ" is added in the Text. Rec., but does not appear in the best MSS. and Versions.
Doubtless, if Christianity gives the deepest importance to the individual with God, the assembly affords the largest scope to the affections of the members of Christ as His one body. And Satan hinders in all possible ways the happy interchange of what is so sweet and holy, the mind and love of heaven enjoyed among saints on earth. The presence of each other, above all of such an one as Paul, what a difference it makes! Still the apostle had been introducing that which ought to correct any undue moment given to bodily presence. Had he not been showing the all-importance of God's word, and how effective it is in the hand of grace? Absence, therefore, is in no way fatal to the saints' joy and blessing. Waiting but exercises faith, and should increase the longing desire, which after all was stronger in Paul than in his Thessalonian children; how much in Him Whose patient waiting is as perfect as His love to us! Thus does he bind their hearts with his own (and may it be true of us also!) in the joy of Christ's presence at His coming. Then will be the true rest from labour, then the enjoyment of the fruits without alloy or danger. May we find ourselves habitually thus looking onward from present hindrances to that blessed and everlasting scene!
1 Thessalonians 3
Grace works by joints and bands in the body, which is so constituted by our Lord Jesus to this end. If Paul could not visit the Thessalonians, he sent Timothy. Love seeks not its own things, and can find resources according to Christ, whatever the hindrances which Satan puts in the way.
"Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought good to be left behind at Athens alone, and sent Timothy our brother and workfellow* under God in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage concerning your faith, that no one might be moved by [lit., in] these afflictions. For yourselves know that for this we are set. For even when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we are to suffer affliction, even as it came to pass, and ye know. On this account I also, when I could no longer forbear, sent that I might know your faith, lest perhaps the tempter had tempted you and our labour should be in vain. But when Timothy came just now unto us from you and brought us glad tidings of your faith and love, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, longing to see us even as we also [to see] you: on this account we were comforted by you, brethren, in all our distress and tribulation through your faith, because now we live if ye stand fast in [the] Lord. For what thanksgiving can we render again to God for you for all the joy wherewith we rejoice on your account before our God, night and day beseeching exceedingly that we may see your face, and perfect what is lacking in your faith? Now our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus direct our way unto you; and the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another and toward all, even as we also toward you; in order to establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints" (vers. 1-13).
* Probably the various forms of the MSS. here are due to correctors who wishers to soften what they did not relish or understand. omits τὸν συνεργὸν ἡμῶν, B omits τοῦ Θεοῦ. The Clermont copy seems to have preserved the true text as given above, though some erroneously here as elsewhere, render it "fellow-worker with God." Compare 1Co_3:9; 2Co_6:1. "Under God" may be a paraphrase, but seems in our tongue needed to guard from a mistake against which true knowledge of God and His word ought to have preserved souls. The Greek genitive admits of relations far wider than the English. It is a question of contextual requirement.
To the apostle visiting Athens it was no small trial to forego the companionship of his true and beloved child in faith. But his affectionate concern for the Thessalonians could not otherwise be satisfied. He knew that they were but babes spiritually, and that they were exposed to enemies, Jewish and Gentile, as subtle as determined and unscrupulous. He was himself about to brave Satan in a stronghold of his religious influence and of philosophic speculation, where the name of Jesus had never yet been proclaimed, still less had he himself the fellowship of brethren in Christ with whom to pray and take counsel. A storm of popular fury, stirred up by Jewish instigation among the Gentile rabble, had burst out against Jason (Paul's host) and other brethren in Thessalonica, which led to the hurried leave of Paul and Silas that night after a sojourn of but few weeks. The same Jewish influence had stirred up the crowds at Berea, whither they had repaired, and where they found a yet readier reception of the word, and withal remarkable care in bringing what was preached to the test of the scriptures. There Silas and Timothy staid, while Paul was once more hurried off to Athens. But the heart of the apostle could not rest as to the Thessalonians, young as they were, and exposed to danger, suffering, and snares. "And we sent Timothy our brother and work-fellow under God in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage concerning your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For yourselves know that for this we are set. For even when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we are to suffer afflictions even as it came to pass, and ye know." The Holy Spirit by the apostle, as the Lord Jesus previously, had given full warning of the special and constant troubles that await the saint in passing through the world - peace within beyond thought of man, peace in Christ, but tribulation in the world. Faith alone can enjoy the one and endure the other. Such is meant to be the experience, none other the expectation, of Christians while waiting for Christ. Even the youngest must thus learn, for the real enmity of the world and of its prince spares none, and so the apostle prepared the converts in Thessalonica to look for distress. Nor was this at all too soon. They had already the gravest reason to know the truth and wisdom of his warnings, but they had the witness of love in the visit of Timothy for their establishment and encouragement concerning their faith. Grace only could call into such a path; grace alone can sustain in it; but grace does not fail. Still the Lord works by means, as by Paul's sending, by Timothy's going and comforting the saints, and by their joy in the consolation, whatever might be the pressure of affliction. Flesh would weary, murmur, doubt, and turn aside from the truth which entailed such sorrow. Faith sees Christ, gives God thanks, perseveres at all cost, and grows by the exercise. while the links of love are strengthened on all sides.
"On this account I also, when I could no longer forbear, sent that I might know your faith, lest perhaps the tempter had tempted you, and our labour should be in vain. But when Timothy came just now unto us from you, and brought us glad tidings of your faith and love, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, longing to see us even as we [to see] you; on this account we were comforted in you, brethren, in all our distress and tribulation through your faith; because now we live if ye stand fast in [the] Lord." The Second Epistle will afford ample evidence that the apostle might well dread that the tempter would avail himself of the circumstances to dishonour the Lord in those who bore His name at Thessalonica. For the present, however, the work stood in the vigour and freshness in which it began, and Timothy had such good news to bring back as cheered the fervent and affectionate heart of him that sent him, and changed his anxieties into thanksgiving that rose above all his own distress and affliction. Their faith shone, their love burned, they had always good remembrance of the stranger to whom they were indebted for hearing of the living and true God, and of His Son the Deliverer risen from the dead Who is coming from the heavens. They longed to see again the messenger whom they recognised as bringing them unequivocally God's word, whatever the varied storms of trial it had brought on them from man, the very trials proving their sincerity and truth, for had they not been told before that so it was to be? It was strength as well as joy to the labourer, as he most energetically expresses it, "now we live if ye stand fast in [the] Lord."
The joy of the apostle, as it was of divine love, so was it holy: no vain proselyting zeal, but delight in the presence of God over that which was the fruit of His grace to the praise of Jesus; delight over that faith and love kept bright and firm, in young confessors of Christ left alone, notwithstanding the fierce hostility of Jews and Greeks. "For what thanksgiving can we render again to God for you for all the joy wherewith we rejoice on your account before our God, night and day beseeching exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith?" If theirs was the love of Jonathan, his was certainly more than the love of David. It is the love of the divine nature in the power of that Spirit, which finds its ever-growing joy in the blessing of others, and especially of those already blessed, that what is wanting may be perfected in personal ministry. "Now our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way unto you; and the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another and toward all, even as we also toward you; in order to establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints."
Such was the prayer dictated by the apostle's affection as the Holy Spirit brought their need before him in God's presence. And the way of the apostle was directed to the Thessalonians, but not before another epistle to them followed, and years of labour elsewhere intervened. What he meanwhile seeks for them is no less important for ourselves and all saints - the increase and abounding of love in us, one toward another, and toward all, in order to the establishing our hearts unblameable in holiness. This is God's way as surely as it is not man's; for he insists on holiness in order to love, whereas in truth love must work in order to holiness. It is a true principle from the gospel all the way through; for God's love it was that met and blessed us in sovereign grace when we were enemies, powerless and ungodly, in Christ's death for us, and this was the most powerful motive which wrought in us to holiness. So is it here among the saints, who are exhorted to love mutually as well as toward all, in order that their hearts should be confirmed in holiness without blame; even as Christ, in love to the church, first gave Himself, and then washes with the word, that He may present it to Himself glorious, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.
But there is another consideration of great weight and interest in this brief prayer. Not only does he join in a most striking unity our God and Father Himself with our Lord Jesus in his earnest prayer for the blessing of the saints by a renewed visit, but he desires that the Lord may confirm their hearts blameless in holiness "before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints" - not merely now before God, so that it should be real, but at the coming of the Lord with all that are His, without a break in thought till that day when the failure or faithfulness of each shall appear beyond controversy. For as it is a question of responsibility, it is not simply His coming that is here spoken of, but His coming with all His saints, that is, His day when they shall appear with Him in glory, and He shall come to be glorified in His saints and to be admired in all them that believed. How this brings the light of that day on the present hour! Even if one may not for the Lord's sake walk with all the saints now, it is not that the heart is alienated, but it anticipates that glorious scene in which they shall come forth with Him, the objects of our love because they all are of His.
1 Thessalonians 4
The knowledge of Christ is inseparable from faith; yet is it pre-eminently a life of holiness and love, and not a mere creed, as the human mind tends to make it. We have seen how it wrought in the practical ways of those who first preached the gospel to the Thessalonians, in unselfish goodness and exposure to suffering (1 Thess. 1, 2), as well as in deep feeling afterwards for the young converts, so soon called to bear the brunt of affliction. For their abounding in love in order to holiness the apostle prayed the Lord (1 Thess. 3). Now he proceeds to appeal to themselves: -
"Further, then, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that, as ye received from us how ye ought to walk and please God, even as also ye do walk,* ye abound still more. For ye know what charges we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is [the] will of God†, your sanctification, that ye abstain from fornication; that each of you know how to possess himself of his own vessel in sanctification and honour, not in passion of lust, even as also the Gentiles that know not God; that he should not over-reach and wrong his brother in the matter; because the Lord is an avenger in respect of all these things, even as we told you before and fully testified. For God called us not for uncleanness but in sanctification. Wherefore then he that disregardeth disregardeth not man but God that [also] gave‡ His Holy Spirit unto you" (1Th_4:1-8).
*Text. Rec. omits this grave clause, so encouraging to those addressed. The authority for it is overwhelming.
† Some copies insert τό, others omit τοῦ, contrary to the best authorities.
‡ Even Dean Alford thinks δόντα was changed into διδόντα, or early ignorance may have done it undesignedly.
It is an immense thing for those who were once mere men on earth, severed from God and in spirit from each other by sin, only united when united for objects of human will or glory, now as His children with one purpose of heart to walk so as to please God. Yet such is Christianity practically viewed; and it is worthless if not practical. It is true that there is in the light and truth which Christ has revealed by the Holy Ghost the richest material and the fullest scope for the renewed mind and heart. But there is in "the mystery" no breadth nor length, no height nor depth, which does not bear on the state of the affections or the character of the walk and work; and no error more dishonours God or damages man than the divorce of theory from practice. Scripture binds them together indissolubly, warning us solemnly against those who would part them, as evil, the sure enemies of God and man. No! truth is not merely to inform but to sanctify and what we received from those divinely given to communicate it is "how we ought to walk and please God." In that path the youngest believer walks from the first, slave or free, Greek or Scythian, learned or unlearned; from that path none can slip save into sin and shame. It is not, however, a mere defined direction, as in a law or ordinance. As a life is in question, the life of Christ, there is exercise and growth by the knowledge of God. On the state of the soul depends the discernment of God's will in His word, which is overlooked where levity marks the inner condition, or the will is active and unjudged. "If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." Then only is there surefootedness spiritually; and a deepening sense of the word in the intelligence issues in a fuller obedience. One knows God's mind better, and the heart is earnest in pleasing Him. We abound more and more.
This was no new solicitude of the apostle. They knew what charges he gave them through the Lord Jesus. Is not His will, His honour, concerned in a walk pleasing to God? He on earth could say, "I do always those things that please Him;" in heaven He is now occupied with those who are following in the same path here below. We may fail; but is that our aim'? He does not fail to help us by His word, as He would also by His grace if we looked to Him and leaned on Him. Do we hear His voice?
On one thing especially was the apostle urgent, the personal purity of those who bore the name of Jesus; and the more so as the Greeks utterly failed in it. Their habits and their literature, their statesmen and their philosophers, all helped on the evil; their very religion conduced to aggravate the defilement by consecrating that to which depraved nature is itself prone. Few can have any adequate notion of the moral horrors of the heathen world, or of the insensibility of men generally to pollutions so shameless Christ changed all for those who believe in Him, leaving an example that they should follow His steps. "For this is God's will, your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication; that each of you know how to possess himself of his own vessel in sanctification and honour, not in passion of lust even as also the Gentiles that know not God, that no man over-reach and wrong his brother in the matter; because the Lord is an avenger of all these things, even as we told you before and fully testified." Holiness, of course, goes far beyond freedom from sensuality. Still to stand clear of that which was everywhere sanctioned in ordinary life was no small thing. Nor is the apostle satisfied with the negative duty of abstinence, but calls on "each of them to know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honour," instead of letting it drift loosely into sin and shame, "not in passion of lust, even as the Gentiles also that know not God." Acts 15 is proof positive on scripture testimony of that day, painfully confirmed by the disclosures of Pompeii and Herculaneum, to the moral degradation that pervaded even the most civilized portion of the heathen world. When God is dishonoured, man is reprobate; and God, in forgiving and rescuing from the wrath to come through Christ's death and resurrection, gives also a new life in Christ on which the Holy Spirit acts by the word so as to produce fruits of righteousness by Him to God's glory.
Hence the exhortation further, "that he should not over-reach and wrong his brother in the matter, because the Lord is an avenger in respect of all these things, even as we told you before and fully testified." There is no real ground to introduce a new topic here, confounding with Calvin and others τῳ πρ with τοῖς πρ., still less to suppose with Koppe τῳ enclitic = τινι, "any," like our own Authorised Version (compare 2Co_7:11). It is the apostle's delicate way of referring to the same uncleanness, especially in married circumstances where the rights of a brother were infringed. This demanded and receives special notice. For as the brotherhood of Christians casts them into free and happy and intimate intercourse, there would be peculiar danger in these very circumstances, lest Satan should tempt where flesh was not kept by faith in the place of death, that love only should act in holy ways with Christ before their eyes. There is perhaps no danger more gravely pressed. They are the ways which bring wrath on the sons of disobedience, and all words which make light of the evil are vain: the Lord avenges all these things, and God will judge the guilty. It is not the true grace of God which spares the strongest and repeated warnings; for God called us not for uncleanness, but in sanctification. It is plain that there is no branching off to commercial dealings, or to dishonesty in the affairs of every-day life. Impurity in the social relations of the saints is the evil still in view: and the conclusion is, "Wherefore then he that disregardeth disregardeth not man but God, that also gave his Holy Spirit unto you." Thus does grace, in calling to a moral duty, rise entirely above the mere weighing of such motives as act on men. It is not that delicate consideration of man is omitted: the apostle begins with the slighting of man in the matter, but he forthwith brings in also the immense yet solemn privilege of the Christian, God's gift of the Holy Spirit. How would impurity affect Him Who dwells in the saints, and makes the body God's temple?
Next follows a call to abound in brotherly love, in which the apostle does glide into the connected proprieties of daily labour animated by care for others. "Now concerning brotherly love ye have no need that we write to you; for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another; for, indeed, ye do it toward all the brethren that are in the whole of Macedonia. But we exhort you, brethren, that ye abound still more, and that ye make it your aim to be quiet and mind your own affairs and work with your own hands, even as we charged you, that ye may walk honourably toward those without, and may have need of nothing" (vers. 9-12). The possession of Christ does wonderfully bind hearts together; and as affection one toward another is a spiritual instinct, so all that is learnt of Christ deepens it intelligently. Intercourse may test its reality sometimes, but as a whole develops it actively, and the more as sharing the same hostility from the world. Here, too, the apostle looks that it should abound mo