Charles Simeon Commentary - 1 Thessalonians 1:5 - 1:5

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Charles Simeon Commentary - 1 Thessalonians 1:5 - 1:5

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1Th_1:5. Our Gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.

IT is not uncommon for persons to be troubled in their minds respecting their interest in the Divine favour: they want to know whether they belong to the elect. But this is a point which can never be ascertained, except in one way. No man can go up to heaven, and search the book of God’s decrees: no man can turn over the pages of the book of life, to see whether his name be written there. The discovery must be made by an examination of our own heart and life. If we find the fruits of the Spirit within us, we know infallibly who the agent is that has produced them; and from such an undeniable evidence of God’s love we may safely conclude, that we are elected of him. It was thus that St. Paul discerned the interest which the Thessalonians had in God’s electing love. Their “fruits of faith, and labours of love, and patience of hope in the Lord Jesus,” flowing as they did from a powerful operation of the Gospel upon their souls, left no doubt upon his mind respecting their state, but enabled him confidently to assert, that “he knew their election of God.” He saw the fruit; nor was he at any loss to determine from what root it sprang.

It is for this fruit that we now purpose to inquire: and, in order that we may attain a just knowledge of our state, we shall shew,

I.       When the word may be said to come in word only—

By “our Gospel” the Apostle means, that which he and his fellow-labourers, Timothy and Sylvanus, had preached to them, and which had “come to them” as sent and authorized by God himself. But notwithstanding its divine origin, it comes to many “in word only.” Now it comes thus—

1.       When it makes no impression on the minds of those who hear it—

[Many hear the Gospel for years, and yet never come to the knowledge of it. Not that they want a capacity to understand it; but they want an inclination to attend to it with that seriousness that it requires. They listen to the voice that utters it; but they do not reflect upon the subject itself; so that it passes through their minds, like a vessel in the ocean, leaving no trace behind. Our Lord compares them to the way-side, on which good seed is sown, but is instantly taken away again by the birds, so that none of it springs up [Note: Mat_13:4; Mat_13:19.]. It is truly said of them, that “hearing, they hear not, neither do they understand.”]

2.       When it makes no other impression than what mere moral suasion will produce—

[Oratory on some occasions will produce very powerful effects. Even the recital of some calamitous event will greatly affect the passions, and either rouse us to indignation, or melt us to tears. But these emotions are only transient: the memory of the things that caused them vanishes away; and no abiding effect is produced. Thus it is with many who hear the Gospel. They are affected by it for a time: sometimes they are depressed with fear and terror, and sometimes elated with hope and joy: but they experience no radical change of heart and life. Such were many of Ezekiel’s hearers: they were delighted with his eloquence, as people are with a performance of vocal or instrumental music; but their hearts were as much addicted to covetousuess, and as averse to real piety as ever [Note: Eze_33:31-32.]. Such persons are represented by our Lord as the stony-ground hearers, who receive the word instantly and with joy; but, having no root in themselves, they quickly wither, and come to naught [Note: Mat_13:5-6; Mat_13:20-21.]. St. James also compares them to men who see their face in a glass, but go away and forget what manner of persons they are [Note: Jam_1:23-24.]. Whatever impressions therefore the Gospel may make upon them at the time, it certainly comes to them in word only.]

Such an application of the Gospel being of no value, we proceed to shew,

II.      In what way it must come, in order to be effectual—

To whomsoever it be declared, whether to men of greater or less capacity, it must come,

1.       With a divine energy to the soul—

[The Gospel is “the rod of God’s strength,” even that wonder-working rod whereby the most astonishing miracles are wrought [Note: Psa_110:2.]. By it “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life again [Note: Mat_11:5. with Isa_35:5-6.].” Weak as it is in itself, even as the rod of Moses was, it is “mighty through God to the pulling down of the strong-holds of sin and Satan; bringing, not the actions only, but even the thoughts, of men into captivity to the obedience of Christ [Note: 2Co_10:4-5. See also Jer_23:29.].” This is “the sword which Christ girds upon his thigh [Note: Psa_45:3-5.],” and with which he subdues his enemies. It is “the sword of the Spirit” also [Note: Eph_6:17.]. It is, in short, that instrument whereby the Sacred Three accomplish all their mysterious purposes in converting and saving a ruined world. But then it must be wielded by an almighty arm: it must “come in demonstration of the Spirit and of power [Note: 1Co_2:4.].” or else it will fail of producing any permanent effect. None but He who moved upon the chaos, and formed it into order and beauty, can new create the soul. Such a change may be wrought as we road of in Ezekiel’s vision, where the dry bones came together, and the sinews and flesh came up upon them; but they were only a corpse still, till the Spirit breathed upon them: and then they rose up, even a great army [Note: Eze_37:7-10.]. Thus persons who are dead in sin, may be brought to a profession of religion by other means: but nothing short of a divine power can ever “turn men truly from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God [Note: Act_26:18.].” Paul may plant, and Apollos may water; but it is God alone who can give the increase [Note: 1Co_3:5-7.].]

2.       With an assured sense of its truth and excellence—

[One reason why the Gospel has so little effect, is, that “men do not mix faith with what they hear [Note: Heb_4:2.].” They regard it “rather as the word of men, than as the word of God [Note: 1Th_2:13.].” In going to hear it, they consider themselves as going to hear a man; when they should rather go in the spirit of the Centurion and his friends, saying, “Behold, now we are all here present before thee, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God [Note: Act_10:33.].” Moreover the Gospel should be viewed as a remedy, a remedy of God’s providing, and exactly suited to our wants. We should go to hear it, as a hungry person goes to a feast: he will not be satisfied with barely looking upon the things that are set before him; he feels an appetite for them; he believes them to be good for him; and he partakes of them for his own personal benefit and satisfaction. When the Gospel comes in this manner, even as it did on the day of Pentecost, it lays open the whole heart [Note: Act_2:37. 1Co_14:25.]; it pierces deeper than a two-edged sword [Note: Heb_4:12.]; and heals the wounds that it inflicts [Note: Act_16:29-34.]. Then it is truly precious to the soul; sweeter than honey or the honeycomb; and more desirable than one’s necessary food [Note: Psa_19:10. Job_23:12.].]

Coming in this manner, the Gospel is of inestimable value; as will appear, while we consider,

III.     What effects it will then produce—

It will work in us precisely as it did in those at Thessalonica: it will make us,

1.       Imitators of Christ—

[The Thessalonian Christians instantly became “followers of Christ and of his Apostles [Note: ver. 6.]:” they made an open profession of Christianity, and consorted with those who were like-minded with themselves. In the same manner, all who “receive the truth in the love thereof” will “join themselves to the Church,” without any fear of that reproach which their new profession will bring upon them. They have counted the cost, and are willing to pay it. They take up their cross cheerfully, “choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy all the pleasures and honours of the world [Note: Heb_11:25-26.].”

While they call themselves followers of Christ and his Apostles, they also become imitators of them [Note: ì é ì ç ô á ß .]. They will no longer follow the course of this world, but will regulate their conduct by a higher standard: they will look to the example which Christ has set them, and endeavour to “walk as he walked.” His meekness and gentleness, his humility and kindness, his patience and self-denial, his devotedness to God, and love to man, will be progressively transcribed into their hearts and lives; nor will they be satisfied “till they arrive at the measure of the full stature of Christ [Note: Eph_4:13; Eph_4:15.].”]

2.       Patterns to their brethren—

[This also is mentioned to the honour of the Thessalonians, as resulting from the manner in which the Gospel came to them [Note: ver. 7.]. And in this all true Christians will resemble them. One in whom the word has wrought effectually will not be contented with setting a good example to the world around him; (this would be a matter of no great difficulty:) he will make his light so to shine before men, that all, whether believers or unbelievers, may be edified by it. He would gladly say with the Apostle to all who behold him, “Whatsoever ye have seen and heard in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you [Note: Php_4:9.].” This distinguished piety is not to be sought by ministers only, (though doubtless they, with their peculiar advantages, ought not to be behind others in any thing that is good [Note: 1Ti_4:11.],) but by persons of every age, and of every class. All should endeavour to grow in grace, that from children they may become young men, and from thence advance till they are fathers in Christ [Note: 1Jn_2:12-14.]. And it is certain, that all who are perfect, or have attained to maturity in the Christian life, will be thus minded [Note: Php_3:12-15.].]

We may learn from hence,

1.       What reason for thankfulness they have, in whom the Gospel has wrought effectually—

[If we have experienced any spiritual change, we must trace it up to God, as the sole author of it. The power that effected it was not in the word; for then the same change would have been wrought in all who heard it: nor was the distinction occasioned by our own superior wisdom or goodness; for then the wisest and most moral of men would uniformly be the most forward to receive the Gospel; whereas they are rather the most averse to it [Note: 1Co_1:26-28.]. No; it was God alone who made us to differ [Note: 1Co_4:7.]; and to Him alone must all the glory be ascribed [Note: Joh_1:13.].]

2.       How we are to obtain benefit from the word delivered to us—

[If the mighty working of God’s power be requisite, even of the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead [Note: Eph_1:19-20.], we should implore his presence before we go up to his house; we should be lifting up our hearts in ejaculatory prayer while we are hearing his word; and, after the seed has been sown, we should water it with our prayers and tears. This is the way which God himself has prescribed [Note: Jam_1:5. Pro_2:2-6.]; and it would insure a blessing, because Christ himself is in the midst of his people, on purpose to bless those who call upon him in spirit and in truth [Note: Mat_18:20.]. It is owing to the want of this, both in ministers and people, that the ordinances are so unprofitable [Note: Jam_4:2.]. Let us then abound more in the great duty of prayer [Note: Eph_1:16-18.]; and God will pour out his Spirit upon us [Note: Joh_16:13-14.]: He will give us that unction of the Holy One that shall teach us all things [Note: 1Jn_2:20; 1Jn_2:27.]; and make his word to be “the power of God to the salvation of our souls [Note: Rom_1:16.].]