Charles Simeon Commentary - 1 Thessalonians 3:9 - 3:10

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Charles Simeon Commentary - 1 Thessalonians 3:9 - 3:10

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1Th_3:9-10. What thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God; night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?

THE connexion between a minister and his people is little considered, and little felt. A general concern on his part, and a respectful esteem on theirs, are deemed adequate expressions of their mutual regard. But the relation of a father is not nearer than that which a minister sustains towards those whom he has begotten by the Gospel: nor should their mutual feelings be a whit less tender than those of a parent and a child. “They should be his joy; and he theirs [Note: 2Co_1:14.].” It was in this light that St. Paul regarded his Thessalonian converts. They were the fruit of his ministry. It was the word delivered by him that had been made effectual to their conversion to God [Note: 1Th_1:5-6.]; and they had greatly adorned their holy profession [Note: 1Th_1:7-8.]. He had meditated a longer stay among them; but had been driven away from them suddenly, by the violence of persecution [Note: Act_17:1-10.]. He had also made repeated attempts to return to them; but had been prevented by the determined hostility of his enemies [Note: 1Th_2:18.]. Not knowing how far they might be able to maintain their steadfastness, he felt extreme anxiety in their behalf: and “when he could no longer forbear, he thought it good to be left at Athens alone,” rather than continue any longer in such painful suspense respecting them. He dismissed Timothy therefore, though he could but ill spare the labours of so dear a friend, to inquire into their state, and to bring him a faithful account of their progress [Note: ver. 1, 2, 5.]. The tidings he received were highly favourable; and they filled him with unutterable joy; his very life being bound up, as it were, in their welfare [Note: ver. 6–8.]. Indeed, he had never ceased to pray, and with extreme earnestness, to God, to open a way for his return to them, and to make him still more useful to their souls. Of this he assures them, in the words which we have just read; which will lead me to shew you,

I.       The delight which a pious minister has in the fruits of his ministry—

A pious minister has troubles which are unknown to others; so also has he joys, which are peculiar to himself. God makes use of him, to gather out of the ungodly world a Church and people; and over them he rejoices with a very sublime joy. He rejoices in,

1.       Their past deliverance—

[Lately, how different was their state from what it is now become! “They were afar off from God; (alas! how far!) but now they are made nigh by the blood of Christ:” they were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise; but now are made fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” Now, how can a minister contemplate his people as “recovered out of the snare of the devil, by whom they had been led captive at his will,” yea, and as “brands plucked out of the burning,” even out of the fire, as it were, of hell itself, and not rejoice? Was it a matter of exceeding joy to the lame man to be restored, so that “he went into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God?” and was it a matter of grateful admiration to an assembled populace, when they saw all manner of bodily diseases healed? and must it not fill a minister’s heart with joy to see the souls of men dispossessed and healed? to see them “turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God?” Verily, he must be very unworthy indeed to have such an honour conferred upon him, who does not exult and leap for joy at the benefits imparted through the instrumentality of his word.]

2.       Their present walk—

[They are brought to a state of peace, with God, and in their own souls. This is a blessing, of which no others can have any just idea: for there is “a peace that passeth all understanding;” and “there is no such peace to the wicked.” Moreover, they are enabled to “walk in newness of life,” and to approve themselves faithful servants to their God. In truth, they are the only people from whom God has any tribute of praise and honour. From the world at large he has nothing but an unmeaning observance of forms and ceremonies; but from these, the service of the heart. They are “lights in a dark world:” they are “witnesses for God:” they are “epistles of Christ, known and read of all men.” Peradventure, too, they may be chosen vessels, to convey the same rich treasure to others, and to dispense to a benighted world the benefits which they themselves have received. How can a minister look on these, and not sing for joy? Does a parent rejoice in the progressive advancement of his children, in their opening prospects of further attainments, and in the hope that they shall one day prove blessings to the world? Much more must a pious minister rejoice in the growth of his people in faith and charity, in the honour which by their holy walk they bring to God, and in the benefits which they confer on men. We wonder not, that, in hearing such tidings of his Thessalonian converts, the Apostle could say, “We were comforted over you, in all our affliction and distress, by your faith [Note: ver. 6–8.].”]

3.       Their future destinies—

[For them is prepared a throne of glory, on which they shall reign for ever and ever in the presence of their God: and the very angels in heaven are waiting, as it were, with eager expectation, to instal them there: nor do they ever execute a commission with sublimer joy than when sent down from heaven to receive a departing spirit, and to bear him on their wings into the realms of bliss. Let a minister view his people in this light, and contemplate what they shall shortly be—the very angels not so exalted, or so near their God, as they [Note: Rev_5:11. The angels are round about the elders.]; and must he not rejoice? The very stones would cry out against him, if his heart did not leap for joy at. such a thought as this. To expatiate upon the glory of that state is needless: suffice it to say, that every glorified saint will be filled with bliss according to the utmost extent of his capacity, and that without alloy, or intermission, or end: and for this it is, that the minister is preparing them with tender assiduity and incessant care: and well may he water these plants with joy, when he recollects whose planting they are, and where they shall grow to all eternity.]

His joy, however, is mixed with affectionate solicitude; as will be seen, whilst we consider,

II.      The great object which he aims at in all his inter—course with them—

In his absence from them will he pray to God in their behalf; yea, “very exceedingly [Note: This seems to be the force of the word ð å ñ å ê ð å ñ é ó ó ï . See also Php_4:12.]” will he pray for them: (for this is the best test and evidence of love:) and, when he shall have again the happiness of ministering unto them, he will labour to advance their every grace, but chiefly “their faith.” This (their faith), I say, he will particularly endeavour to increase [Note: See Php_1:25 and 2Th_1:11-12.], and to extend to the uttermost,

1.       Its realizing views—

[Men imagine, that an assent to the truth of the Gospel is faith: but such a faith as that may be no better than the faith of devils; of whom it is said, that they “believe and tremble.” But true “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen:” it gives a reality to things invisible and future, as if they were actually before our eyes. It does not merely acknowledge our fall, and our recovery by Christ; but it brings them home with power to the mind, so as to produce a suitable feeling of those truths in our souls. Let us suppose a sepulchre opened before us, and all its nauseous and offensive contents exhibited to our view: we may easily conceive what disgust we should feel: yet is it no other feeling than what a believing apprehension of our own inward corruptions will create in our souls; insomuch, that we shall “lothe ourselves,” yea, and “abhor ourselves, even as holy Job did, in dust and ashes.” We may form some idea, too, what our feelings would be, if we were shipwrecked, and saw the boat, to which we were about to commit ourselves, stored with such necessary articles as the impending danger would admit of, and by the help of which we hoped to reach a place of safety. Such is the light in which faith will present the Lord Jesus Christ to our view. Our lost state by nature and practice we shall feel, together with the absolute impossibility of preserving ourselves by any thing that we can do. We shall see the Saviour offering himself to us as the means afforded us by God for our deliverance; and we shall with eager solicitude commit ourselves to him, if peradventure we may escape the perils of the sea, and reach in safety our destined port. The whole work of salvation will become a reality, in which all the emotions of hope and fear will be roused, and the utmost efforts of our souls be called into activity. Nay, it is not merely the alternative of life or death that will press upon us, but the infinitely more fearful alternative of heaven or hell; of heaven, with all it glory; or hell, with all its terrors. I need not say how the sight of such things operates in relation to the body: and surely a realizing view of them by faith will not operate less powerfully in relation to the soul. To this state, then, a minister will labour to bring his people, that they may have the most vivid apprehensions of divine truths, and live under an impression of them as strong as if they were actually made visible before their eyes.]

2.       Its influential energies—

[Nothing but faith will produce an abiding influence upon the soul. How that will operate, we see at large in the 11th chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews: and to have it operate in that way upon his people’s minds, will be the continued aim of every pious minister. He will not be content to see them “run, as uncertainly; or fight, as one that beateth the air:” he would have them like people engaged in the race, who have no time to look about them; and as people in actual combat, who must either slay their adversary, or be slain. We need not ask why those persons so exert themselves: the reason is plain: with them, the duty to which they are called is a reality. Others may trifle; but they cannot: they have too much at stake. Others may think it an easy thing to get to heaven: they find it calls for the utmost exertion of all their powers. Others may imagine that they have within themselves a sufficiency of all needful strength: they know that a new-born infant is not weaker than they; and that, if not aided by continual supplies of grace and strength from above, they must inevitably and eternally perish. Hence they “live altogether by faith in the Son of God;” applying to him for every thing, and “receiving every thing out of his fulness.” This is living Christianity: this is practical religion: and to this every pious minister labours to bring his people; that so, at whatever moment they be summoned to the presence of their God, they may be found ready, and meet for the inheritance provided for them.]

This subject will clearly shew us,

1.       What is the source of all our other deficiencies—

[Faith is at the root of all that is good; and unbelief, of all that is evil. According to our faith will every grace be found within us. Look at a person in a state of departure from his God: to what is his condition owing? There is “in him an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” Look at persons anxious to attain the highest grace, so as to be able to forgive their brother, not seven times, but seventy times seven: for what do they pray? an increase of love? no; but of faith: “Lord, increase our faith [Note: Luk_17:5.].” But turn to the world around you; and you shall see, that unbelief is the one great source of all their rebellion against God: they believe not that he will call them to so strict an account as he has declared he will; and, consequently, they see no need of such humiliation, and such earnestness in the divine life as he calls for. Let them once be brought to believe these things, and they from thenceforth regard the care of their souls as “the one thing needful” — — —]

2.       What we should chiefly seek for in the ministry of the word—

[What the enlightened minister chiefly labours to impart, we should chiefly labour to obtain. Doubtless we should not be unmindful of any grace: but we should remember, that faith is the parent of all the rest. It is faith that “overcomes the world,” and “works by love,” and “purifies the heart.” Let me then recommend to you to seek increasing views of Christ, so as to realize his presence with you. Put him before your eyes, as dying for you on the cross; as interceding for you at the right hand of God; as possessing all fulness for your use. Realize his great and precious promises, as made to you, and as in due season to be fulfilled to you: and from day to day take Pisgah views of the Promised Land, till you obtain a blessed foretaste of your inheritance. This is the way to “walk by faith;” and in this way you shall proceed with joy, till your faith be turned into sight, and Your hope into fruition.]