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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
1 Thessalonians 4

 

 

Verse 1

‘TO PLEASE GOD’

‘To please God.’

1 Thessalonians 4:1

A truly human and familiar expression is this! In such language Scripture appeals to the common sentiments of our human nature. It is sometimes thought derogatory to the Divine Being that the thoughts and emotions of our human nature should be attributed to Him. But God made man in His own image, and we may to some extent reason from the human to the divine.

I. God’s condescension and grace.—It must be borne in mind that God has a right to our service and obedience. If He deigns to represent Himself as pleased when that which is His due is offered to Him, this is an attractive representation of His love and kindness for which we cannot be sufficiently grateful.

II. The standard of Christian excellence and virtue.—A scholar often feels how hard it is truly to please his master. The standard of the preceptor is so lofty compared with that of the disciple, that there is felt to be room for study, for aspiration, for endeavour, for progress. The godly man feels that to please God is something far beyond and above him. To serve God, to obey God, is to please God. It is an inferior and unworthy aim to endeavour to please man, an aim which may often lead astray, for man is but man. But the spirit and conduct that shall please God are in the highest degree admirable, and, indeed, morally perfect.

III. The motive of Christian conduct.—It is sometimes hard for every one of us to do what is right from a sense of duty. We are not called upon to act simply from that motive. We are not servants merely; we are sons. Remembering how much we owe to our Lord and Saviour, can we do other than desire to please Him?

Illustration

‘If we wished to sum up religion in one sentence, we might say that it consists in a settled and deliberate purpose to please God. The advocates of every religion will accept this account of what they are really aiming at in their religious efforts. In the Old Testament there is a passage which represents Balak coming to the Prophet Balaam with this question: “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Now that seems to our eyes a very strange and repulsive conception of religion which these questions infer. In truth there is set out the current idea of pagan worshippers, and they accept the idea of God that paganism offered to its votaries. The Prophet makes answer to the questions by taking for granted this view of religion as essentially consisting in pleasing God; but he points out a very different source of information as to how man can please God. Not in the temper and cruelty of monarchs was the kind of worship found which would be acceptable to Him—there was a worthier and a nearer article of guidance which every man could consult, and which no man need misunderstand. “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” Not the things which impress you most in the public life of the world, but rather those which must command the veneration of your own higher nature. These words of the Prophet are to be your guidance, when you seek to form some opinion of the Soul and Character of God, and to determine the kind of worship acceptable to Him. Not without you, but within you is the Divine witness.’


Verse 3

GOD’S WILL FOR THE CHRISTIAN

‘This is the will of God, even your sanctification.’

1 Thessalonians 4:3

These nine words have an interest all their own; but taken in their immediate connection, they are truly momentous and soul stirring. In order that we may please God, He will have us like Him. ‘This is the will of God,’ says the Apostle, ‘even your sanctification.’

I. The true nature of sanctification.—It is sinful man changed and raised into the image of Eternal Purity! And the transformation is thorough. It takes place in the soul, and can be seen by God only; it is then exhibited in the life, that it may be seen of angels and men. It includes several things—

(a) The abandonment of the world—not the natural world, but the carnal;

(b) The crucifixion of the flesh—its vain thoughts, unholy desires, unlovely actions;

(c) The consecration of the entire being—body, soul, and spirit, to the service of the Divine Master;

(d) The adoption of the law of heaven for the government of the life on earth.

II. The efficient means of obtaining it.

(a) The soul must first be cleansed from all natural impurity; and how and where can this be done? (Isaiah 1:18; 1 John 1:7).

(b) The Word of God as well as the Blood of Christ must perform its office in this wondrous change (John 17:17).

(c) The Spirit of holiness must operate in unison with the blood of Christ and the Word of God, and apply both to the soul of the believer (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).

(d) Prayer must ever ascend heavenward from the altar of the heart that this best and highest work may be divinely carried on, until the journey of life is over and the celestial Paradise is gained.

If this is God’s will concerning us, should it not be our will concerning ourselves?

Illustration

‘There can be nothing so great and blessed for any creature as to have God’s will perfected in it. “Thy will be done” is a prayer that pictures to us all struggle and misery at an end, and the sun shining down on a calm and green and fragrant world. Only in holiness are eternal life and blessedness possible. To have the thoughts pure, the life at every point and in all its interests set like music to the words of God’s law, the soul moulded into the image of Christ, that is to have eternal life begun. “In the keeping of Thy commandments there is great reward.”’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

HOLINESS

It is God’s will, the great purpose that He has at heart concerning men, that they should be holy. ‘Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth.’ Pardon and all other blessings are a means to this great end. The Great Sculptor would think and plan and labour only for a torso, in room of a statue, without this; the Great Builder would never see the topstone on His chosen temple without this; the Great Husbandman would never taste of the fruit of His vineyard without this. Now, if our sanctification—our growing holiness here and our perfected holiness hereafter—is God’s will, then—

I. Holiness is a great and blessed consummation.

II. God will spare no pains to create and perfect holiness in a man’s soul.—He has spared no sacrifice, in that He sent His Son; for it was the very essence and heart of Christ’s mission to ‘purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.’ And still towards and in us He will direct His working to this great end. He will prune His vine, that it may bring forth more fruit. He will hammer the rude block, if need be, by the heavy strokes of that law of His which is both without and within a man, by the loving sternness of His Providence, etc., till the form of limb and feature stand out. He will cut and chisel and polish it till it becomes the fair image of Christ. And as we smart and weep, and wonder at our Heavenly Father’s severity, let us think of the great purpose on which He is bent, and hear in all our Saviour saying, ‘This is the will of God, even your sanctification.’

III. We are bound to co-operate with God in this great end.—‘God wills it,’ exclaimed the Crusaders, and buckled on their armour for the conquest of the Holy Land. ‘God wills it’ that we should fight and strive and pray for a purer and higher conquest, the attainment of holiness itself. And what a start God gives us in His full forgiveness through Christ! He thereby gives us freedom, gratitude, momentum; and in our whole warfare with sin He gives His Holy Spirit to inspire and direct and sustain. ‘Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness,’ etc.

IV. We are assured of success.—If it is God’s will, then God’s will must be done. ‘If God be for us, who can be against us?’

Illustration

‘Sanctification means to make holy. In the Old Testament, vessels of silver and gold are said to be sanctified; and it will be quite plain to every one here that vessels cannot be made holy, as dumb unintelligent things, in the same sense as persons. Vessels and other things for the use of the worship of God in Tabernacle and Temple were to be sanctified to God in the first sense of that word, as they were set apart from profane and ordinary to sacred uses. A golden cup may be used for common purposes of drinking, or it may be set apart to be used only in the celebration of the Supper of the Lord. In this case it is separated to holy uses. When, therefore, St. Paul tells us, “This is the will of God, even your sanctification,” he means that both in our bodies and in our minds we should be separated, not only from the particular evil spoken of by the Epistle, but, in the full meaning of the word, from all evil. As Christians, we are to be set apart from all that is profane, wicked, and ungodly, and to wear the “white flower of a blameless life.”’


Verse 4

SANCTIFICATION AND HONOUR

‘That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour.’

1 Thessalonians 4:4

Here we have a call unto holiness.

I. The contrast.

(i.) Holiness is eternal and Divine—the everlasting God is the holy God.

(ii.) Man was created in the image of the holy God.

(iii.) By the first transgression holiness was lost; the flesh became prone to all uncleanness.

(iv.) Uncleanness was in the world before the flood, in the Gentiles, and in Israel.

(v.) Uncleanness, public and private, is in this professedly Christian land.

(vi.) The world winks at uncleanness, and tries to justify it. Not so God (Ephesians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:7).

II. The call.

(i.) To Israel and the Church (Leviticus 20:7; 1 Peter 1:14-16).

(ii.) Holiness was taught by outward purifications under the law (Exodus 28:36).

(iii.) The reason for the call: God’s purpose is to make His children like Himself, to renew their lost holiness (Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 4:22-24).

III. The grace.

(i.) The God of holiness is the God of grace.

(ii.) Grace to cleanse from uncleanness, by the atoning blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5).

(iii.) Grace to sanctify, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

(iv.) Grace to strengthen, by the Holy Spirit enabling us to keep under the body.

IV. Warnings and exhortations.

(i.) The Word written uses great plainness of speech on this subject; so should the Word preached.

(ii.) The judgment recorded in Holy Scripture on the unclean. In one day God gave twenty-three thousand proofs of His hatred of uncleanness (1 Corinthians 10:8).

(iii.) To despise the call is to despise God, and to bring down His wrath here and hereafter.

(iv.) Secret sinner, your sin will find you out. He who exposed David’s sin will expose yours.

(v.) The effects of despising the call and doing what the Holy One hates are defiling, debasing, deadening, destroying.

(vi.) Your body is the temple of God. Guard it for Him against all profanation.

(vii.) Strive by prayer to be like Jesus—like Him in holiness now, that you may be like Him in glory hereafter.

Rev. Dr. Flavel Cook.

Illustration

‘The human body is elsewhere in Holy Scripture compared to a tabernacle or tent, here it is spoken of as a vessel. The two figures convey some common ideas, both represent that which contains the true life, and both refer to its temporary and not to its permanent occupation. Both also have their proper uses, but whilst a tent’s use is chiefly confined to its occupier, that of a vessel relates more to its owner. Regarding our bodies as tents provided for the time of our pilgrimage, we are bidden to use them aright in our own interest. But regarding them as vessels in the household of God, we have a higher view of them brought before us, and are reminded that those vessels are not only to be used by Him, but to be kept by His servants for Him, “purified and meet for the Master’s use” (2 Timothy 2:21).’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

KEEPING THE BODY

Everything has been done on God’s part to cleanse this vessel of our body, to fit it for a place in the many-mansioned home. We are shocked at the impiety of the heathen king who used the vessels which he had taken from the house of God in wanton revelry and sacrilegious blasphemy; but we are guilty of even greater impiety when we dishonour our bodies and make them instruments of sin.

I. By sanctification we understand a readiness to feel and cherish the motions of the indwelling Spirit, resulting in a continual restraint upon the corrupt desires of the flesh, and a more complete dedication of the whole being to its proper Lord. By honour we understand what we may call the proper self-respect due to the body, as a vessel of grace and glory; as the redeemed property of the Lord of Hosts, designed to contain heavenly treasure, destined to occupy a position of honour in heavenly places. There lies thus before us the service and the destiny of the vessel of the body, the charge of which is committed to us by Him to Whom we belong. Oh, that we may fulfil the trust by possessing them in sanctification and honour!

II. Not only Scripture, but nature itself cries out against their abuse.—We are told that in some countries a kind of glass was used for drinking-vessels, which cracked when certain common poison was put into them. In a similar way is it with our bodies; the poison of sin produces flaws in them, and abuse of their organs finds its natural result in pain, in disease, in death. Yet these results of sin may have a purifying effect if the true antidote be applied in time; and in the furnace of affliction our bodies may be so purged as to become again vessels unto honour sanctified and meet for the Master’s use.

III. We believe in the resurrection of the body; and we know that Jesus Himself has taken His human flesh, as the firstfruits of that resurrection, into heaven itself. This glorious prospect should surely stir our minds and move our hearts. It should remind us that our bodies are a precious gift, to be put to holy uses, destined for a glorious future. Let us then learn to set a right value upon them, and endeavour to possess them in sanctification and honour, remembering that we are pledged to keep them in temperance, soberness, and chastity, and that unless we do our best by God’s help to fulfil that pledge, we cannot hope to inherit His everlasting kingdom.

—Rev. G. Cecil White.

Illustration

‘If the Apostle selects only one example, and that chastity, of the duties we owe to ourselves, is not the reason clear that unchastity was just one of those vices to which a community like that of Thessalonica would be most prone? Think of the state of our great maritime and commercial centres in this land! Is not licentiousness a prevailing and damning sin? But the heathen knew nothing of that command, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” Their very worship was the seat and home of unchastity, their very gods being pleased with the most horribly impure rites. If the Old Testament warned the Jews against these sins, must not an apostle of the pure and holy gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ warn Christian men against these sins? And so the Apostle teaches us our body is a temple of the Holy Ghost, or, as the words here used will at least bear interpreting, a vessel, our own vessel, of the Holy Spirit, which is to be kept in sanctification and honour. It is only under the Cross that we can learn that we, who belong to Christ, must “crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts thereof.”’


Verse 9

BROTHERLY LOVE

‘But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.’

1 Thessalonians 4:9

‘Taught of God to love one another!’ It was a new lesson. The Old World had nothing to show that was like it. A little society of men and women in a Greek city, under the Roman rule, sending a contribution to those who were poorer than themselves in other Greek cities, some thirty or forty miles away.

I. Brotherly love the note of Christian society.—This brotherly love was the first note of the primitive Christian society. This was so because that society was formed with the special purpose of continuing in the world the life of Christ. Christ’s life was preeminently a life of helpfulness. And this life of His was not lost to the world when He ascended into heaven. On the contrary, it was expanded into the life of a society created expressly to represent Him on earth, and to reproduce His service to others on a larger scale and in an abiding form. It was to grow and grow till it covered the world, and had absorbed into the life of service the whole of our humanity, making it one man in Christ. In this way, as St. Paul said, the Church was the fulfilment of Christ.

II. It is true fellowship.—It was not a mere sentiment; it was actual helpfulness, literal sharing, true fellowship. They had been taught of God to love one another, and they did it. The world saw what it had never seen before. ‘See how these Christians love one another!’ they exclaimed. The world saw, and shuddered at it. For a society like this, with ramifications all over the empire, bound by these ties of mutual support, its members ready to do or suffer anything for each other, what might it not accomplish? Its power was omnipotent; nothing could stand against it, unless it could be crushed in its youth.

III. The evil of internal division.—If the purposes of God to the world through the Church had not been hampered, and thwarted, and thrown back by human frailty and by the wiles of the Devil, the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, in which we still say that we believe, must have proved irresistible. Two thousand years would have been more than enough to win the world for Christ. But you know the sad story. The mantle of Christ is rent, and faith can scarce bear the strain of this lifelong punishment. And the worst of it all is that we do not see the sin of it, but as it is written, ‘My people love to have it so.’

IV. Get back to the ideal.—Is it wonderful, in face of this spirit of division and of antagonism, that serious men should come to the conclusion that Church life is no longer a way of blessing and of peace? We have brought it upon ourselves by our forgetfulness of Christ’s primary lesson of self-sacrifice, service, love. We must get back to the ideal of the earliest days. We must pray that this ideal may rise once more before our minds, that we may no longer be content with our divided state; that the Holy Spirit of fellowship may brood over the chaos and confusion of our English religious life, and uplift out of it, as He only can, order, and harmony, and love. With the Holy Spirit of unity as our teacher, we may once more be taught of God to love one another.

—Dean Armitage Robinson.

Illustration

‘The world tried to crush the early Church by fire and sword, but the blood of “the martyrs was the seed of the Church.” The more they trod on it the stronger it grew, till it claimed at last, under Constantine, to be recognised as the only true religion of the empire itself. A little later Julian—who had been trained as a Greek, but afterwards endeavoured to resuscitate the old Roman religion, and therefore was called the Apostate—Julian, knowing the secret of the strength of Christianity, endeavoured to defeat it by copying it. But the spirit of fellowship could not be created by imperial edicts any more than it can be to-day by Acts of Parliament. The world could only be one man in Christ, and Julian miserably failed. “Oh, Galilæan, Thou hast conquered!” he was reported to have said with his last breath. The fact was true, whether the story be historical or not. The life of Christ reproduced in the Church His Body, and His fulfilment was divinely strong. They had been taught of God to love one another.’


Verse 10-11

QUIET WORK

‘We exhort you … that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, even as we charged you.’

1 Thessalonians 4:10-11

While no good man can look on with indifference at the conditions of life in England, while a selfish acquiescence in mere personal comfort is profoundly immoral, it is quite possible, on the other hand, to dwell on these things in a morbid and unprofitable manner. Let us, as one help against morbid anxiety, leading as it so often does to spurious excitement—let us remember always that the world is in God’s hands, not in the Devil’s, and not at all in ours; and further, that things may not be as bad as they seem to us. Nor is it true to assert that the masses are being utterly neglected, or that a very vast permanent work has not been, and is not going on among them. Much is being done, but much more is required.

I. The whole aim of our lives should be to work for God, to spread His kingdom.

II. The life of Christ and the life of His holiest saints will save you from needless self-reproach, if while doing your best you are neither called to, nor fitted for, any loud or prominent ministries. What was the life of our Blessed Lord on earth? Except one anecdote of His boyhood, the far greater part of His life—thirty years of His life from infancy to manhood—are summed up in the one word: ‘the Carpenter.’ During all those years of silent preparations and holy quietness, growing as a lily by the water-courses, He was teaching us the eternal lesson that the Kingdom of God is within us; that the life of the true Christian is ‘hid with Christ in God,’ and that the main work in the world of the vast majority of mankind is—each in our own sphere, each by the use of our special gifts—to set the example of faithful duty. Let nothing rob us of the meaning of that life of utter calm and holy self-repression, of lowly service and humble silence.

III. If now and then in the centuries, the Church has needed the apocalyptic fulmination of the Baptist, the battling words of St. Paul, the fretting restlessness of a Bernard, the high thunderings of a Savonarola, the fierce utterances of a Luther, the passionate oratory of a Whitefield, there is yet more constant need for virtues which are within the reach of every one of us; for the quietude of Mary sitting humbly at her Saviour’s feet; for the soft, silent pictures of Fra Angelico; for the inward collectedness of St. Thomas à Kempis; for the genial playfulness of Addison; for the magnificent studies of Newton; for the secluded life of Wordsworth; for the pastoral calm of Oberlin; for the sweet songs and parish charities of Keble; for the cloistered retirement of Newman—yes, and for millions of men who have possessed their souls in patience, and for millions of women, happily innocent of all oratory, and not learned save in gracious household ways.

—Dean Farrar.

Illustrations

(1) ‘When Livingstone was charged with neglecting missionary work he boldly answered, “My views of missionary duty are not so contracted as those whose only ideal is a man with a Bible under his arm. I have laboured in bricks and mortar, and at the forge, and at the carpenter’s bench, and in medical practice, as well as in preaching. I am serving Christ when I shoot a buffalo for my men, or take an astronomical observation, or write to one of His children who forgot, during the little moment of penning a note, that charity which is eulogised as ‘thinking no evil.’”’

(2) ‘Have we not many examples of that “ornament of a meek and quiet spirit which is in the sight of God of great price”? There was that good Lord Hatherley, whose glory and happiness it was, although he had I been Lord Chancellor of England, to work for forty years as a humble I Sunday-school teacher. Sunday after Sunday he had taught the children of the poor.’


Verse 13

THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS*

‘But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.’

1 Thessalonians 4:13

The way in which Saints’ days appeal to different individuals must depend upon individual disposition. But however we regard the ordinary Saints’ day, there is surely one festival that must appeal to any one who thinks at all, and that is the festival of All Saints.

I. The communion of Saints.—All Saints’ Day is a day on which we show whether those words ‘I believe in the communion of Saints’ have any meaning at all. There is probably not one of us who has not somebody beyond the veil, some one in Paradise, some one we strive, though but with a feeble longing, to get into closer communion with, some we have ‘loved long since and lost a while.’

II. Life after death.—Where is the soul? Where shall I go when I die? I know I shall not merely sleep. I have heard the text ‘where the tree falls there shall it lie,’ but God has spoken louder than that: He has said He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And my Lord and Master, when He came down to earth to reveal my Father’s mind to me, knew I should want to know something of the life after death. He did not tell me much, but He told that little very clearly. You remember the parable of Dives and Lazarus, you remember the conversation which Jesus represented as taking place between two men. There is not only a conversation, which of course means life, but there is an appeal to memory of the things in this world. And then we know that our Lord did not go to heaven on His death, but to ‘preach to the spirits in prison’—in a place of safe keeping. You do not preach to people who are incapable of hearing—who are asleep. So our Lord would have us clearly understand that those loved ones whom we think of individually and collectively on All Saints’ Day are alive in the full sense of the word.

III. In God’s safe keeping.—How, then, shall we think of those who are dead? A family never gets smaller. It has some of its members behind the veil, but all are to be joined together again. Scripture does not reveal very much, but we have very sound ground to go on. Surely we may understand this: the very word life means progress, development in one direction or another. Those in Paradise gain a clearer knowledge, a closer communion with God. We do not know what the saints are doing, we know nothing about Paradise, but we know that God has them in safe keeping. And one day we hope to join them. What are you and I doing to prepare for the fuller life beyond the veil?

Rev. R. M. Carrick.


Verse 14

REUNION IN ETERNITY

‘If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.’

1 Thessalonians 4:14

The text discloses to us two blessed and consolatory truths, each containing in regard of those that die in Christ the holiest and deepest consolation.

I. Those who have loved the Lord, and have departed hence in His faith and fear, pass into a union with Him that becomes ever closer and closer, and in special cases may even be crowned with that first Resurrection of which, in one well-known passage in the last book of Holy Scripture, there is such precise and definite mention. To those who have loved the Lord on earth and have loved Him to the last, this text plainly tells us we may confidently believe there will be this closer union—the degree of closeness depending on the depth and reality of the love.… And this, let it be remembered, is no isolated text; this is by no means the only passage in which we have the same great consolatory truth, that by the Lord’s Resurrection death has verily been swallowed up in victory, and is to the believer no longer the curse, but the blessed mode of entry into a truer union with the Lord.

II. But the deeper heart-question still remains: Can there be, will there be, reunion hereafter with those we have loved here on earth? Yea, verily, who can doubt it, for those that die in Christ. If the text tells us that to the faithful death bears with it a closer union with Christ, and that to die is gain, it assuredly also tells us that there will be a true, real, and blessed reunion hereafter with all that we have loved on earth, and who have died in the faith of the Lord. When Christ returns, God Himself—such are the plain words of the text—will bring with the Redeemer, all in one blessed and united company, the redeemed; and, as another passage still more precisely declares, will Himself—Himself, the God of the spirits of all flesh—wipe away every tear in the limitless joy of that last and indissoluble reunion. In Him everything that ministers to the fulness of holy joy will be vouchsafed to us, every pure sympathy will be responded to, every longing of holy love will be tenderly satisfied. If we are truly His, that communion of saints which, in the Apostles’ Creed, we profess as one of the fundamental articles of our faith, will attain its fullest perfection and development.

III. Could communion be perfect if souls that had been united by the closest bond here on earth were to lose all consciousness of that bond in the world beyond, and all that constituted personality were to be forgotten or obliterated? No, though it be right for us to say, with the Apostle, ‘that it is not yet made manifest what we shall be,’ and that many things connected with personal identity here may, by the very assumption of the glorified body, become modified hereafter, still of this we may feel the most abiding assurance that whatever has constituted the truest communion of souls on this side the grave will continue when at last all are united—and continue not only unimpaired but enhanced. Yea, verily, if personal recognition and knowledge be an inseparable element of the truest communion here on earth, so must it be for ever. If God, who is love, brings again all who have been laid to sleep in Jesus, will He withhold from them that knowledge and recognition without which personal love could never be complete and perfected?

—Bishop Ellicott.

Illustration

‘The inability to be comforted, the unresigned state of soul that cannot wipe away its tears of bitterness, will ever be found a certain index that true faith in the fact of the Lord’s Resurrection has not yet been vouchsafed to the soul. Of this there are often very sad illustrations. In many of the public comments that are made on the death of public men, there is a distinct pagan element in thought, epithet, and expression that reveal the utterly imperfect recognition of the truth and reality of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ which, I fear, is now very unmistakably to be traced in current literature of the day. The Lord’s Resurrection is not exactly denied except by the professed opponents of Christianity; but it is left as something which lies outside the sphere of historical investigation, and can never be soberly regarded as ministering any real consolation on the bitterness of human sorrows and bereavement. In a word, the power of the Resurrection in its holiest application to the individual soul is deemed to be nothing more than an innocent illusion; and a distinct statement is put aside as belonging only to the poetry of religion.’


Verse 16

HIMSELF!

‘The Lord Himself.’

1 Thessalonians 4:16

Nothing is of any value that does not spring from personal love to, and communion with, Christ Himself. He came to earth and returned to heaven, and what has He left us to cheer our hearts, to occupy our souls, and to feed our hopes? Himself!

I. Would it rejoice our heart if we were sure to live to see the coming of the Lord, and to see His glorious appearing and retinue?

II. Death, as death, is an enemy.

III. But the thoughts of the coming of the Lord are most sweet and joyful.—It is the character of His saints to love His appearing, and to look for that blessed hope. ‘The Spirit and the Bride say, Come; even so, come, Lord Jesus.’ Come quickly, is the voice of faith, and hope, and love. If death be the last enemy to be destroyed at the resurrection, we may learn how earnestly believers should long and pray for the Second Coming of Christ, when this full final conquest shall be made.

Illustration

‘I have not the shadow of a doubt that we shall be in the closest intercourse again with all we have ever loved upon earth. But mark the jealousy of the Holy Ghost for the solitary glory of Christ. As the passage goes on, the “them”—“the dead in Christ”—is dropped, and “Jesus” stands alone; “we shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be”—not “with them,” but, so prominent and solitary is Jesus, “with the Lord.” As when He said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am”—not where the families in the “mansion” are, though they are there—but “where I am, there ye may be also.”’


Verse 17

WORDS OF COMFORT

‘So shall we ever be with the Lord.’

1 Thessalonians 4:17

These words come to us as words of comfort, words of hope, in our hours of bereavement. They emphasise one of the great lessons taught us by the Resurrection, that because Christ rose from the dead the future of the believer is assured.

I. Our blessed dead.—We are often puzzled about the state of our blessed dead, but God’s Holy Word tells us all we need to know about them. No doubt it leaves much to be revealed at that great day when all secrets shall be disclosed; but the Apostle tells us clearly (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14) that the soul which has passed away in the faith of Christ is with Jesus. ‘Them also which sleep in Jesus’ is the phrase used, and there could not be a more beautiful description of the faithful departed. Truly St. Paul had ground for rebuking unseemly grief. We are not to sorrow as those who have no hope; we have a sure and certain hope, and it is fixed upon the Risen Saviour.

II. It was this great doctrine of Jesus and the Resurrection that St. Paul first preached to the Thessalonians (Acts 17:3); and now, when he is writing to them, calling them to sanctification, he reminds them again that it is Jesus and the Resurrection which is their one hope for this world, the world to come, and through all eternity.

III. But the Apostle looks forward.—He knows something of the depth of human sorrow: he knows how the heart bleeds when a loved one is taken from our side; he knows how eagerly we anticipate the great reunion. And in great and solemn words he tells us that when the Lord shall come the second time ‘the dead in Christ shall rise first,’ and ‘then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.’ That is our hope for our loved ones who have gone before; that is our hope for ourselves who will follow after—an eternity spent together with the Lord.

IV. Let us learn some practical lessons for our own comfort from these words of the Apostle.

(a) The chief joy of heaven. To us the chief joy of heaven will be that we shall be in the presence of Jesus. To be with Christ, that is the deepest aspiration of the Christian heart.

(b) The union of Christ and the believer. Do not these words of St. Paul to the Thessalonians emphasise the closeness of the union which exists between Christ and the believer? ‘In Jesus’ (1 Thessalonians 4:14), ‘In Christ’ (1 Thessalonians 4:16)—could anything be closer? This beautiful idea sends us back to the words of the Master Himself. ‘I go to prepare a place for you.… I will come again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am there ye may be also.’ No separation; absolute identity; and, ‘for ever with the Lord.’ And as the believer is, and will be, one with Christ, so in that great Resurrection Day shall we be one with each other. That will be the great reunion—

Father, sister, child, and mother

Meet once more.

We are looking forward to that day. At every Eucharist, when we thank God for His servants departed this life in His faith and fear, we pray that ‘with them we may be partakers of the Heavenly Kingdom.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/1-thessalonians-4.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 15th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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