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Bible Commentaries

William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament

1 Thessalonians

- 1 Thessalonians

by William Baxter Godbey


While faithfully preaching in Asia, the land of his nativity, the cradle of the human race, where Eden bloomed, Adam and Eve were created, and Satan invaded, eclipsing the fair hope of the world with his black wing, Paul has spent his life preaching the gospel, and now, transported with enthusiasm, enjoying the wide open door of all Asia, an inexhaustible evangelistic field, in a nightly vision looks far away over the great Aegean Sea, rolling between Asia and Europe. He sees a son of Japheth, the progenitor of the white races, standing on a lofty promontory, overlooking the Grecian Archipelago, and hears him shout, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us.” The call is decisive, and the “Holy Ghost forbids him to preach in Asia.” Therefore, accompanied by Luke, Timothy, and Silas, the heroic Asiatic quarto embark for Europe, landing on the Macedonian shore. Philippi, the Roman capital, is their first field of labor, finding an open door in the mission conducted by the daughters of Jerusalem on the bank of the Stryman. The roaring mob, the condemnation of the magistrates, the merciless thrashing, and the cruel old jail, would have upset the faith of many a modern evangelist, and precipitated the conclusion, “I was mistaken in the call to this place.” But not so with Paul and Silas, who hold a hallelujah prayer-meeting, stretched out flat on their bleeding backs, on the cold stone floor of the stenchy old dungeon, till the midnight earthquake answers their prayer, and the converted jailer charges and jumps like a racehorse over the house, upsetting chairs and smashing furniture. From Philippi they travel south to Thessalonica, where God wonderfully blesses their labors, giving them a sweeping revival, till they are compelled to retreat from their persecutors, who have come on their track from Philippi. Now they continue their journey toward the tropical sun, arriving at Berea, where they find a synagogue of unusually pious Jews and proselytes, assiduous, faithful, and honest students of God’s Word, who gladly received the apostles, and diligently searched the Scriptures to see “if these things are so.” Their persecutors follow them

from Thessalonica, and super-induce a premature departure from Berea. Sending hack Timothy and Silas to preach in Macedonia, Paul, accompanied by Luke, continues to travel southwardly, arriving at Athens, the world’s literary emporium, the home of sages, philosophers, poets, orators, and artisans. When I was there in 1895, I climbed Mars’ Hill, and stood on the Areopagus, where Paul preached to the most learned audience the world had ever seen, opening his discourse, “I perceive that in all things you are very religious [not as in E.V., ‘too superstitious.’] Passing through and observing your temples and shrines, I observed one erected to the ‘Unknown God;’ whom you ignorantly worship, I now declare unto you.” Athens was full of the most magnificent and costly marble temples erected to their gods. The Temple of Jupiter Olympus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, still stands, the admiration of every traveler. The marble Temple of Minerva on the Acropolis, that of Theseus and others, stand this day. Paul very adroitly availed himself of the temple they had erected to the “Unknown God,” to preach him to them as revealed in the Bible and experienced in his heart. At Athens, however, his work was a failure, receiving no converts, but Dionysius and Damaris. Why? Too much learning at Athens. Learning is a citadel of power. When in the bands of Satan, it is difficult to overcome. It is easier to convert a hundred illiterate, ignorant men than a single infidel philosopher. The Churches are making a mistake in educating the heathen before they get them converted. The holiness people in all heathen lands go for conversion first, sanctification quickly following, and education afterward. Terrible maladministration prevails along this line in the Christian colleges of America and Europe. They all ought to do as at Asbury College, at Wilmore, Kentucky; press them right into a sky-blue conversion, and then gallop them into a red-hot sanctification, thus getting so much fire on them that they burn them either out or in. It is a bad business to educate people for the devil, as we only augment their torments in hell. If people are going to make their bed in hell, infinitely better give them no education. In the great tribulation now hastening, the proud, smart, educated infidels now ruling State and Church, and too cultured and egotistical to humble themselves at the feet of Jesus and get saved, will all evanesce, leaving the illiterate millions appreciative subjects of the millennial gospel. Paul and Luke continue their journey toward the south, eighty miles to the great city of Corinth, the Paris of the ancient world, arriving in the spring of A.D. 52, and staying till the fall of 54, favoring that wicked, idolatrous city with an eighteen months’ protracted-meeting, signally crowned with the blessing of God, and resulting in the largest Church of the Pauline ministry, and most wonderfully endued with the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost. At Corinth Paul writes both of the Thessalonian letters within six months after his arrival.


This epistle is one of the most lucid, clear, and beautiful of the Pauline series, thrilling, explicit, and forceful on Paul’s two favorite themes; i. e., entire sanctification by a second work of grace after conversion, and the Lord’s return to the earth in judgment and glory.