Charles Simeon Commentary - 1 Thessalonians 2:19 - 2:20

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Charles Simeon Commentary - 1 Thessalonians 2:19 - 2:20

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1Th_2:19-20. What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy.

THE relation between a minister and his people is a subject rarely touched upon, except in addresses exclusively intended for those who sustain the pastoral office. But it is a subject of general importance; and ought to be felt by the people, as well as by the minister; between whom there should be at all times a feeling of reciprocal affection. A pious pastor does not undertake his office in order to feed himself with the fat, and clothe himself with the wool, of his flock. No; he has higher objects in view: he seeks their best interests, and makes their welfare his chief concern. The epistles of St. Paul, not those addressed to Timothy and Titus merely, but those addressed to whole Churches, are full of this subject. This to the Thessalonians is almost one continued breathing of parental tenderness, on the Apostle’s part, and a call on his converts for correspondent emotions on their part. The extreme ardour of his affection for them is indeed the immediate subject of all the preceding context. He had been driven from them suddenly by a violent persecution; and it was owing to the unabated malice of his enemies that he had not visited them again. Greatly had he longed to do so; and repeated efforts had he made; for they were exceeding dear to him, as he tells them: “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? Yes, ye are our glory and joy.”

From these words we will take occasion to shew,

I.       In what light a faithful minister views his people—

If a man be a faithful servant of Christ, the prosperity of his people will be the one aim of all his labours, and the one source of all his joys: both at the present hour, and in the prospect of the eternal world, their welfare will be “his hope, his joy, his crown of rejoicing.” Is it asked, Wherefore they are so dear to him? we answer, He glories in them;

1.       As witnesses for God—

[God is excluded as it were from this lower world. The great mass of mankind acknowledge him not, or acknowledge him in word only, and not in deed and in truth. But true believers confess him openly before men: they are his witnesses, that he is great, and worthy to be feared; that he is good, and worthy to be loved; that he is faithful, and worthy of entire trust and confidence. But yet more particularly they are witnesses of all his perfections, as united and glorified in the cross of Christ; and they proclaim to all around them, that, in Christ Jesus, God is “a just God and a Saviour,” yea “just, and yet the justifier of all that believe in Jesus.” These are the truths which ministers have it in commission to make known to the sons of men: and by the free publication of these truths they hope to turn men from the guilt and dominion of sin, to peace with God, and universal holiness. Obstinate unbelievers will deride this attempt as visionary: but the minister of God can point to his converts as living witnesses for God, and as monuments of the saving efficacy of his Gospel; and in this view they give him a ground of joy and exultation far beyond all that the whole world besides could afford. Hence “he glories in them in the Churches,” as God himself also does, seeing that “they are to him for a name and for a praise and for a glory” throughout the whole earth.]

2.       As trophies of the Redeemer’s grace—

[There is not one of them who was not once a bond-slave of Satan, “the god of this world, who ruleth in all the children of disobedience.” But secure as they once seemed to be in the hands of “the strong man armed, the stronger Potentate, even Jesus, has rescued them” from his dominion, and “brought them into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Jesus, when he yet hanged upon the cross, triumphed over the principalities and powers of hell, and “by death overcame him that had the power of death;” but in his resurrection and ascension he triumphed yet more, “leading captivity itself captive.” But it is in the preaching of his word that all this is made to appear. By that men are “turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God.” Not that he drags them like captives at his chariot-wheels, but rather takes them up with him into “his chariot, wherein ho goes forth conquering and to conquer.” How Jesus exults in them in this view may be judged from that expression of the prophet; “Ye are a crown of glory and a royal diadem in the hands of your God [Note: Isa_62:3.].” No wonder therefore that the soldiers of Christ, through whose instrumentality the victory has been won, exult also.]

3.       As the fruits of his own labour—

[It is rarely, if ever, now, that faithful servants of Christ are suffered to labour, like Isaiah, fifty years, and, like Hosea, seventy, with scarcely any visible fruits of their ministry. Though God does not make equal use of all, yet, if they be faithful, he will not leave them without witness [Note: Jer_23:22.]: he will “accompany their word with signs following.” Were they left to “labour in vain and run in vain,” their hands would soon hang down, and their hearts faint: but when they see “the dry bones quickened, and the dead come forth out of their graves,” through the influence of their word, they greatly rejoice [Note: Eze_37:9-10.]. They point to such persons as “seals of their ministry [Note: 1Co_9:2.],” and as attestations from God, that the word delivered by them is His word. It is said of women, that, when once they behold the fruit of their travail, they “forget, as it were, all their pangs, for joy that a man-child is born into the world.” And thus it certainly is with those who minister in holy things. Much they have to endure in the prosecution of their great object: but when they see sons and daughters born to God, they account their labours richly recompensed; and, for the attainment of such a blessing “they count not even their lives dear unto them.”]

4.       As pledges of his own eternal felicity—

[There is, it is true, no merit in converting sinners unto God, seeing that the whole work is God’s alone. “Whoever plant or water, it is God alone who gives the increase.” But it is nevertheless true, that “they who turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars for ever and ever [Note: Dan_12:3.].” It is not indeed in proportion to every man’s success, that a recompence will be bestowed: but according to every man’s labour it will [Note: 1Co_4:8.]. And O! what a blessed period will that be, when the faithful minister shall present his converts before the throne of God, saying, “Here am I, and the children thou hast given me!” Not even in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ himself will he forget those with whom, as St. Paul expresses it, he once travailed in birth: “there will they be his joy and crown of rejoicing:” there will they be, as it were, jewels in his crown. Every fresh accession to the Church thus enhances the minister’s joy: and in the prospect of this, “he joys according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil [Note: Isa_9:3.].”]

But since it is not over all that a minister can rejoice, we proceed to shew,

II.      Who they are whom he can truly recognize under this character—

In the first ages, when every one was exposed to so much peril on account of his Christian profession, there was reason to hope that all were sincere: and therefore the Apostle could say to the whole Philippian Church, “It is meet for me to think thus of you all.” But Christianity is professed now under far other circumstances: and the great mass of those who are called by the name of Christ are far from being “a joy and crown of rejoicing” to their minister. Even of religious professors, there are great multitudes “of whom we must stand in doubt,” and of whom we cannot speak, but with grief [Note: Php_3:18.]. Those who alone will ultimately prove the joy and crown of their ministers, are,

1.       Those who embrace the faith—

[There must be a real conversion of the soul to God. It is not necessary that this conversion be sudden, or that it should be attended with such circumstances as shall enable a person to declare the precise time and manner in which it was accomplished: but it is necessary that every man should have an evidence within himself that he is “translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.” He must receive Christ into his heart, and build on him as the only foundation of his hope. “Christ must become truly precious to his soul.” Christ must be his life, his peace, his strength, his joy, his all. Till this be done, a minister can have no comfort in any man, because he has no ground to believe him truly and savingly converted to God: but when this change is manifest (for no natural man in the universe ever thus gloried in Christ alone,) then does the person in whom it is wrought become the joy and crown of his minister: he then, in the judgment of charity, is brought to the fold of Christ: and his minister, like a faithful shepherd, rejoices over him, as a sheep that was lost, and is found.]

2.       Those who walk in love—

[If there be a mere adoption of Christian principles, without the attainment of Christian practice, this change will produce no satisfaction, in the heart either of God or man. But if there be a corresponding change in the heart and life of a professor, and a suitable exercise of Christian graces and tempers, then the minister will feel a proportionable confidence respecting a work of grace within him: seeing the fruit to be good, he will conclude that the tree is good also. The grace of love in particular must be predominant. “This is the grace whereby all men are to know whether we be Christ’s disciples.” If pride, envy, malice, or any other temper contrary to love, reign in the heart, we only deceive ourselves in fancying ourselves Christians: we are yet in darkness, and children of the wicked one [Note: 1Jn_2:9-11; 1Jn_3:10; 1Jn_3:14-15; 1Jn_4:7-8.]. A minister can only weep over such persons: they are a grief to him here [Note: 2Co_12:20-21.]: they will be yet more so in that day when the Lord Jesus Christ shall come to judge the world [Note: Heb_13:17.]: they themselves too, if they be not undeceived in time, will have to bewail their delusions to all eternity. Love is absolutely and indispensably necessary to prove the sincerity of our faith. If that reign not in the heart, our faith is but the faith of devils: but if that be the governing principle of our lives, then have we “that which accompanies salvation;” and a minister may confidently rejoice over us as the elect of God [Note: 1Th_1:4. Heb_6:9.].]

3.       Those who advance in holiness—

[It is essential to grace, that it grows and advances in the soul. The children of God’s family are all expected to grow from “babes” to “young men,” and from young men to “fathers.” Now, as a mother, however she might rejoice at the birth of her infant, would soon cease to rejoice, if it did not grow in stature and in strength; so is a minister’s joy turned into grief, if he see his people making no proficiency in the divine life, but continuing under the habitual influence of those defects which characterized them in their unconverted state, or in the earlier stages of their professed conversion. O ye who profess godliness, consider this; and inquire whether you do indeed make your profiting to appear? It is only when we have clear evidence that you are growing up into Christ as your living Head, and progressively transformed into his image, that we can glory in you, or look forward with comfort to that awful meeting which we shall have with you in the great day of the Lord Jesus [Note: 1Jn_2:28.].]

We will improve this subject,

1.       In a way of appeal—

[The text is an appeal to the whole Church at Thessalonica, that he had sought nothing, and gloried in nothing, in comparison of their spiritual welfare. And the same appeal, we hope through grace, we can make also [Note: Of course, no minister will proceed to make such an appeal, if he has not a testimony in the consciences of his people, that what he says is true.]. Yes, blessed be God, we can, and do, appeal both to you and to God himself, that that we have lived but for the benefit of those committed to our charge, and “have known no greater joy than to see our people walk in truth.” Permit us then to ask, whether ye can make the same appeal to the heart-searching God? Have ye sought, as the one great object of your Hie, so to improve our ministrations, that “ye might be our joy and crown of rejoicing in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” Has there also been a reciprocity of affection, so that “we have been your rejoicing, even as ye also have been ours, in the prospect of the great day of the Lord Jesus [Note: 2Co_1:14.]?” Let this be well fixed in all your minds, that unless the regard between a minister and his people be mutual, and their endeavours to reap benefits from his ministry keep pace with his efforts to impart them, little ultimate good can result from the connexion: on the contrary, the word which he labours to make unto you “a savour of life unto life, will prove in the issue a savour of death unto death.”]

2.       In a way of exhortation—

[A meeting must soon take place between us before the judgment-seat of Christ: and in reference to that awful period St. Paul exhorted the Thessalonian Church, saying, “We beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him [Note: 2Th_2:1.].” In reference to that solemn meeting we also would exhort you. In a little time we shall be called to give an account of our ministrations, as you also will of your improvement of them. Let not him who wishes you to be his joy and crown be disappointed of his hope. If he have not to “present you in a perfect state to Christ in that day,” all his warnings and instructions will have been lost upon you [Note: Col_1:28.], yea, worse than lost, seeing that he will be “a swift witness against you.”

O ye, who have never yet been converted by the labours of your minister, let him now prevail on you to turn unto the Lord with your whole hearts — — —

And let those of you who look up to him as your spiritual Father, hold fast the truth ye have received, and endeavour to shine more and more as lights in the world, that his joy in you may be complete in the last day [Note: Php_2:15-16.]. Yes, we would address you in the words of Paul to his Philippian converts; “My brethren, dearly beloved, and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand ye fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved [Note: Php_4:1.].”]