1Th_5:23-24. The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.
PARENTS naturally desire the prosperity of their children; but they can by no means secure it: even though their children should be disposed to concur with them in every prudent plan, yet cannot their combined efforts insure success; since, in numberless instances, “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.” The spiritual parent, who by the ministration of the Gospel hath begotten sons and daughters to the Lord, is more favourably circumstanced: he is sure that no untoward circumstances shall disappoint his hopes, provided only his children exert themselves as becomes them, in the appointed way. True indeed it is, that success in spiritual things is infinitely more difficult to be obtained, on account of the obstacles which are to be surmounted, and the enemies which are to be subdued. But Omnipotence is engaged in behalf of all who sincerely labour for themselves: nor is there any attainment, to which they who go forward in the strength of God may not confidently aspire. The object which St. Paul desired in behalf of his Thessalonian converts was doubtless exceeding great: it was, that they might be “sanctified throughout, and be preserved blameless unto the day of Christ:” but “his hope concerning them was steadfast,” being founded, not on their weak powers, but on the power and fidelity of God, who had undertaken to “perfect that which concerned them [Note: Psa_138:8.].” In illustrating the words before us, we shall notice,
The blessing desired—
This was the greatest that mortal man can enjoy on earth: it was,
The sanctification of their whole man—
[Man is usually spoken of as consisting of two parts, a body and a soul: but he may, perhaps with more propriety, be considered as having three parts;—a corporeal substance; an animal soul, like that which exists in the lower orders of creation; and a rational immortal spirit, which connects him with the world above. This distinction between the soul and spirit is to be found also in the Epistle to the Hebrews; where it is said, that “the word of God is sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder the soul and spirit [Note: Heb_4:12.].” In all of these parts, man is corrupt: “his body, in all its members, is only, and invariably, an instrument of unrighteousness unto sin [Note: Rom_6:12-13.]:” his animal soul, with all its affections and lusts, leads him to those gratifications only, of which the brutes partake in common with him [Note: Jude, ver. 10.]: and his immortal soul is filled with all those evil dispositions which characterize the fallen angels, such as, pride, envy, malice, discontent, and rebellion against God. These different kinds of wickedness are frequently distinguished by the Apostle, according to the sources from whence they spring: he speaks of the unconverted man as “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind [Note: Eph_2:3.];” and tells us, that we must “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, if we would perfect holiness in the fear of God [Note: 2Co_7:1.].” Agreeably to these distinctions, the character of fallen man is, that he is “earthly, sensual, and devilish [Note: Jam_3:15.].” In all of these parts, then, we need to be renewed and sanctified: we need to have our bodies made instruments of “righteousness unto holiness [Note: Rom_6:19.];” our souls, with “their affections and lusts, crucified [Note: Gal_5:24.];” and our spirits “renewed after the Divine image, in righteousness and true holiness [Note: Eph_4:23-24.].” Hence St. Paul prays for the Thessalonian converts, that they may be sanctified “wholly” that is, throughout their whole man, even “in their whole spirit, and soul, and body.” This, and this only, will constitute us “new creatures:” “the old things” pertaining to every part of us must “have passed away, and all things must have become new [Note: 2Co_5:17.]:” then alone can we be said to be “partakers of the divine nature [Note: 2Pe_1:4.];” and then alone have we any satisfactory evidence that we are Christians indeed [Note: 2Co_5:17.].
This entire change was the first part of the blessing which St. Paul solicited in their behalf. But he could not be satisfied with this, he therefore further entreated.]
The continuance of it unto the day of Christ—
[To be made thus “blameless” is doubtless an unspeakable blessing; but it would be of little service to us, if we were to lose it again, and to return to our former state of sin and uncleanness. This is an idea which many lovers of human systems do not like: but it is inculcated in every part of the Holy Scriptures: nor can any man get rid of this idea, without doing violence to many of the plainest passages of Holy Writ, and, I had almost said, “wresting them to his own destruction.”
By the Prophet Ezekiel, God tells us, that, “if the righteous man depart from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, his righteousness shall no more be remembered; but for the iniquity that he committeth, he shall die [Note: Eze_18:24.].” St. Paul warns us, “that, if after tasting of the heavenly gift, and being made partakers of the Holy Ghost, we fall away, it is impossible, (or so difficult as to be all but impossible,) for us ever to be renewed unto repentance [Note: Heb_6:4-6.].” St. Peter speaks yet more plainly, assuring us, that. “if after having escaped the pollutions of the world through knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we be again entangled therein, and overcome, our latter end will be worse than the beginning: for that it would be better for us never to have known the way of righteousness, than, after we have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto us [Note: 2Pe_2:20-21.].”
Hence St. Paul prayed for the Thessalonians, that they might “be preserved blameless unto the day of Christ.” To run well for a season would avail them nothing, if they were hindered at last. To little purpose would they have “begun in the Spirit, if they ended in the flesh.” We must “endure to the end, if ever we would be saved [Note: Mat_14:13.].” And so important is this truth, and so necessary to be inculcated on the minds of even the most exalted Christians, that our blessed Lord himself, in his Letters to the Seven Churches, closes every letter with this solemn admonition, that “to him that over-cometh,” and to him only shall the full blessings of his salvation ever be extended [Note: Rev_2:7; Rev_2:10; Rev_2:17; Rev_2:26; Rev_3:5; Rev_3:12; Rev_3:21.] — — — Hence are those frequent cautions against declension in the life and power of godliness [Note: 2 John. ver. 8. Rev_3:11. 2Pe_3:14; 2Pe_3:17-18.]. The Lord grant we may ever bear them in mind! for God himself expressly says, “If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him [Note: Heb_10:38.].”
On these accounts the Apostle prayed for them, that “the work begun ill them might be carried on and perfected unto the day of Christ [Note: Php_1:6.].”]
Vast as this blessing was, he did not doubt of obtaining it in their behalf. This appears from,
The assurance given—
To the attainment of this blessed state God “calleth us” in his Gospel—
[“God hath not called us to uncleanness, but unto holiness,” even to the highest measure of it that can possibly be attained. He says not only, “Be ye holy, for I am holy [Note: 1Pe_1:15-16.];” but, “Be ye holy, as I am holy,” and “perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect [Note: Mat_5:48.],”]
And, as “the God of peace,” he promises to raise us to it—
[“God, having given us his Son to bear our sins in his own body on the tree, and to “make reconciliation for us through the blood of the cross,” is pleased to reveal himself to us under the endearing character of “the God of peace:” and being now “our God and Father in Christ Jesus,” he undertakes to do for us all that shall be necessary for our final acceptance with him in the day of judgment. He promises to “sprinkle clean water upon us, and to cleanse us from all our filthiness, and from all our idols [Note: Eze_36:25-27.].” He teaches us also to look, not to his mercy only, or his power, to effect this, but to his truth and faithfulness, yea, and to his very justice too: “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness [Note: 1Jn_1:9.].” This I say, he promises to us, being first of all become, through the atoning blood of Christ, a “God of peace.” We are not to get sanctification first, and then, in consequence of that sanctification, to find him a “God of peace;” but first to look to him as reconciled to us in Christ Jesus, and then to experience the sanctifying operations of his Spirit. This order must be particularly noticed in our text, as also in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where it is particularly marked [Note: Heb_13:20-21.]: if we overlook this, we shall be in danger of misapprehending and perverting the whole Gospel of Christ: but if we bear this in mind, then may we expect from God a full and complete salvation. In many places does he pledge ins faithfulness to do for us all that we can stand in need of, and never to discontinue his mercies towards us [Note: 1Co_1:8-9 and 2Th_3:3.] — — — He may punish us, and hide his face from us; but he will not utterly abandon us, or cast us off [Note: Psa_89:30-36. Jer_32:40].].
We must, however, be found in the diligent use of the appointed means—
[The dependence of his blessing on the use of the appointed means is not always expressed; but it is always implied. “He will be inquired of by us,” before he will do for us the things which he has most freely promised [Note: Eze_36:37.]. He has appointed the means as well as the end, or rather I should say, the end by the means: he has “chosen us to salvation; but it is through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth [Note: 2Th_2:13. 1Pe_1:2.].” He alone has the power whereby our salvation must be affected, as the words of our text very strongly imply
.]; but he expects that we exert ourselves, as much as if all the power resided in our own arm: and the very consideration which many persons urge as a reason for their inactivity, is suggested by him as a reason and encouragement for our most strenuous exertions [Note: Php_2:12-13]. If we will not ask, and seek, and strive, we must expert nothing at his hands: but if we will put forth our own feeble energies in the way of duty, he will “strengthen us by his Spirit in our inward man,” and “make us more than conquerors through Him that loved us.”]
From this subject we may learn,
How mistaken they are who think that the Gospel leads to licentiousness—
[What symptom of licentiousness is here? Rather, may we not challenge every religious system in the universe to produce morality like unto this? Other systems provide for “the cleansing of the outside of the cup and platter;” but no other so effectually reaches the heart. The Gospel provides for the sanctification of all our faculties and powers, and for the transformation of our whole man into the very image of our find. Its language is, “Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace [Note: Rom_6:14.].” And its effect is, to produce in every mind the desire which is so affectionately expressed in the text, and not for others only, but for ourselves also. Let all jealousy then on this head be put aside: and let us seek to be justified freely by faith in Christ; that, having peace with God through his” precious blood, we may receive the communications of his grace more abundantly, and be “changed into his image from glory to glory by the Spirit of our God.”]
How deluded they are who rest in Christian principles, without aspiring after Christian attainments—
[Such there have been in every age of the Church. Not that the Gospel has in itself any tendency to create such characters; but the corruption of men’s hearts will take occasion from the Gospel to foster sentiments, which are, in reality, subversive of its most fundamental truths. Many regard all exhortations to holiness as legal: yea, there are not wanting some who will maintain, that Christ, having fulfilled the law for us, has absolved us from all obligation to obey it in any of its commands. They affirm that it is cancelled, not only as a covenant of works, but as a rule of life. They profess, that the sanctification of Christ is imputed to us, precisely as his righteousness is; and that we need no personal holiness, because we have a sufficient holiness in him. Horrible beyond expression are such sentiments as these: and how repugnant they are to those contained in our text, it is needless to observe. That some who advance these sentiments are externally moral, and often benevolent, must be confessed: (if any be truly pious, it is not by means of these principles, but in spite of them:) but the great body of them, with, it is to be feared, but few exceptions, bear the stamp of their unchristian principles in their whole spirit and conduct. The whole family of them may be distinguished by the following marks. They are full of pride and conceit, imagining that none can understand the Gospel but themselves. Such is their confidence in their own opinions, that they seem to think it impossible that they should err. They are dogmatical in the extreme, laying down the law for every one, and expecting all to bow to their judgment: and so contemptuous are they, that they speak of all as blind and ignorant who presume to differ from them. Their irreverent manner of treating the great mysteries of our religion is also most offensive; they speak of them with a most unhallowed familiarity, as though they wore common things: and so profane are they, that they hesitate not. to sneer at the very word of God itself, whenever it militates against their favourite opinions. “By these fruits ye shall know them;” and by these fruits ye may judge of their principles. True indeed, with their errors they bring forth much that is sound and good: but this only renders their errors the more palatable and the more delusive. They altogether vitiate the taste of the religious world, and indispose them for all practical instruction. They so exclusively set forth what may be called “the strong meat” of the Gospel, as to withhold all “milk” from the household of our God [Note: Heb_5:13-14. 1Co_3:2.]. In a word, they promote nothing but spiritual intoxication, and banish from the Church all spiritual sobriety.
In what we have said, we design not to mark the characters of any particular men, but the character and effect of their principles: and we do not hesitate to say again, that this is the true character and effect of Antinomianism, wherever it exists.
In opposition to all who would thus make “Christ a minister of sin,” we must declare, that he came to save his people, not in their sins, but from them [Note: Mat_1:21.]; and that “the grace of God which bringeth salvation, teaches, and must ever teach, men to live righteously, and soberly, and godly in this present world [Note: Tit_2:11-12.],” yea, and to “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God [Note: Col_4:12.].”]
How blessed they are who have obtained peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ—
[You are not called to “make bricks without straw.” That God, who is now reconciled to you through the Son of his love, undertakes to supply you with “grace sufficient for you [Note: 2Co_12:9.],” and to “fulfil in you all the good pleasure of his goodness, even the work of faith with power [Note: 2Th_1:11.].” And is he not able to do this? or will he forget his promises, or “suffer one jot or tittle of his word to fail?” No: “He is faithful who hath promised, who also will do it.” Be of good courage then, whatever difficulties ye may have to encounter. Know, that “greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world [Note: 1Jn_4:4.].” Gird on the armour which is provided for you, and “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus [Note: Eph_6:10-11. 2Ti_2:1.].” Our prayer for you is the same as that of St. Paul for the Thessalonian Christians: yes, beloved, “this is our wish, even your perfection [Note: 2Co_13:9.].” And we rejoice in the thought that “God is able to make all grace abound towards you, that ye, having always all-sufficiency in all things, may abound unto every good work [Note: 2Co_9:8.].” Only look to him as “a God of love and peace,” and you shall find that “what he hath promised he is able also to perform [Note: Rom_4:21.].”]