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TRUE PIETY DESCRIBED
1 Thessalonians 1:2-4. We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.
THIS epistle, though not placed first in the sacred canon, is generally supposed to have been the first in point of time: and in point of tenderness and affection, it is certainly inferior to none. The Church at Thessalonica was subjected to heavy trials. In their first reception of the word, they sustained grievous opposition [Note: ver. 6.]; and, in their subsequent profession of it, they endured a great fight of afflictions, being no less cruelly persecuted by their own countrymen than the Apostles were by the Jews [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:14.]. From them St. Paul had been driven by the fury of his bloodthirsty enemies [Note: Acts 17:5-10.], who had followed him even to Berζa with the most relentless animosity [Note: Acts 17:13-14.]. No wonder therefore that he felt extremely anxious for his new converts, under a situation of such peril. Gladly would he have returned to them again and again: but his watchful and malicious adversaries would not suffer it [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:18.]. Hence his anxiety for them became exteme; so that he could no longer endure the suspense he was in concerning them. The presence of Timothy with him at Athens was of great importance: yet on the whole he thought it better to be left at Athens alone, that, by sending Timothy to them, he might gain certain information of their state, and promote their establishment in the faith [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 3:5.]. After Timothy’s return to him, he wrote them this epistle. It is an epistle admirably calculated to impress the minds of all who read it, whether ministers or people, and to shew them what ardent affection should subsist between all who stand in that relation towards each other. In the commencement of it we see how ready he was to acknowledge and commend what was good in them: and herein he particularly instructs us how to minister with effect. Though doubtless it is the duty of every minister to reprove and correct what he sees amiss in his people, his chief delight should be to comfort the feeble-minded, to support the weak, and to build up all in their most holy faith. The object he should continually aim at should be, to be “a helper of their joy.”
In discoursing on the words which we have just read, we shall consider,
The graces which he had seen in them—
The great leading graces of Christianity are, “faith, hope, and charity.” On these all other graces essentially depend; so that where these are, there will all others most assuredly be found. But of all these graces there are counterfeits: there is “a faith that is dead:” there is “a love, which is” little else than “dissimulation:” and there is “a hope of the hypocrite that perisheth.” Such however were not the graces which had been exercised among them: in them he had seen,
An active faith—
[True faith is active: it brings to the Christian’s view the Lord Jesus Christ, as having in him a fulness of all imaginable blessings treasured up for the use of the Church; just as the vine has in its root and trunk that sap, of which all the branches partake, and by which they are nourished [Note: Colossians 1:19. Ephesians 1:22-23. Joh 15:5.] — — — Faith, moreover, brings him to Christ for daily supplies of those blessings which his various necessities require [Note: John 1:16.] — — — And having received communications of grace according to his necessities, he is stirred up by it to improve them to the glory of his Redeemer’s name — — — In a word, whatever the Christian has to do for God, he does it through the operation of this principle; by which, and by which alone, he overcomes the world [Note: 1 John 5:4.], and purifies his heart [Note: Acts 15:9.]. This faith he had seen in his Thessalonian converts: yea, so eminently had it shone forth in them, that they were celebrated for it in almost every Church throughout all the Roman empire, and were held forth as patterns and ensamples of it to all the Christian world [Note: ver. 7, 8.]!]
A laborious love—
[Love is that fruit by which, above all, the truth and reality of faith will be discerned [Note: Galatians 5:6.]. It is by this, above all, that we can assure ourselves [Note: 1 John 3:14.], or be known to others [Note: John 13:35.], as faithful followers of Christ. If we have it not, all else that we can have is of no value [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.]. But love is a laborious grace: it is always seeking for something which it may do, either for God or man. It cannot endure to be idle. Whether it can do little or much, it delights to be doing what it can [Note: Mark 14:8.]. Nor is it diverted from its pursuit by slight obstacles: no; like the water obstructed by the dam, it will overcome them; and will evince its strength and ardour, in proportion to the difficulties that impede its exercise. Love is a self-denying grace: and where it exists in due measure, it will prompt a man not only to sacrifice ease and interest, but even to lay down his life itself for the brethren [Note: 1 John 3:16.]. This grace was so conspicuous in the Thessalonian converts, that St. Paul judged it quite unnecessary to write to them on the subject: they were so taught by God himself respecting all its duties and offices, that he could add nothing to them, but only exhort them to abound more and more in the conduct which they had already pursued [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10.].]
A patient hope—
[Hope is the offspring of faith and love, or at least of that faith which worketh by love. It is here called “hope in our Lord Jesus Christ;” because “in him all the promises of God are yea, and amen.” It is a patient grace, leading us to expect all that God has promised, however long we may have to wait for it [Note: Romans 8:25.]; and to fulfil all that God has required, to the utmost possible extent [Note: 1 John 3:3.]; and to suffer all that God has ordained us to suffer, in hope of a final recompence [Note: Hebrews 10:34.]; and, finally, to continue in a constant course of well-doing, even to the end [Note: Romans 2:7.]. Such was the hope which the Thessalonians had maintained; and in which they had greatly rejoiced, even in the midst of all their afflictions [Note: ver. 6.].]
From considering the graces of these eminent Christians, we proceed to notice,
The effects produced by them in his own mind—
They excited in the Apostle’s breast,
A lively interest in their welfare—
[A person less connected with them than he, could not but have admired such excellencies: but he was their father: he had begotten them in the Gospel [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:13.]: and therefore he might well boast of them, as “his glory, and joy [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:20.].” Accordingly we find that, “whenever he came into the presence of his God and Father [Note: We connect the close of ver. 3. with the word “remembering.”],” he both gave thanks for them, and prayed for their still greater advancement in every thing that was good. Most exalted was the joy which he felt on their account [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:9.]. When he saw the transcendent eminence of their attainments, he quite forgot all his own afflictions [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:6-7.]: the sight inspired new life and vigour into him [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:8.]: and he felt in himself a recompence, which richly repaid all that he had done and suffered for their sake.
This shews what are the views and feelings of every faithful minister, when he sees his people adorning by their conduct the Gospel of Christ. Verily, as St. John says, “they have no greater joy than to see their children walk in truth [Note: 3 John, ver. 4.].” This comforts them in all their approaches to the throne of grace: this fills them with praises and thanksgivings to God. That so great an honour should be conferred on themselves—that such advantages should be imparted to their perishing fellow-creatures—and that such glory should be brought to God by their means—is to them a subject of almost stupifying amazement, and of overwhelming gratitude. And whilst they render thanks to God for these things, they pour out their hearts before him in prayers and supplications in their behalf. In a word, these things form a bond of union between a minister and his people, such as exists not in the whole world besides.]
An assured confidence in their state—
[When he beheld these fruits produced by his converts, he “had no doubt of their election of God:” the graces they exercised were manifestly wrought in them by the power of God, who had wrought thus upon them in consequence of his own purpose which from all eternity he had purposed in himself [Note: Ephesians 3:11. 2 Timothy 1:9.].
The same blessed assurance we also may entertain, wherever the same ground for it exists. Assurance, so founded, can never be productive of any bad effect. It is only when persons pretend to be assured of their election on other grounds, that any evil can arise from it. If, for instance, a person founded such a conceit on a dream, or vision, or strong impression on his own mind, then we would be among the first to bear testimony against him, as a wild enthusiast, and a self-deluding impostor. Against such a delusion we readily acknowledge that no terms of reprobation are too severe. But when such fruits as those which the Thessalonian converts produced are visible in any, then may we indulge the pleasing thought respecting them, as they also may respecting themselves, that “God loved them with an everlasting love, and therefore with loving-kindness hath he drawn them [Note: Jeremiah 31:3.].” Only we may observe, that this assurance is no farther justifiable than it is warranted by the graces which exist in the soul: with the increase of those graces it may justly rise; and with the diminution of them it must proportionably fall. Any other assurance than this is unscriptural and vain: but this not only may be entertained, but is the privilege and comfort of all who believe in Christ.]
Happy should we be to improve this subject in such a way only as corresponds with the general tenour of the Apostle’s address: but,
Must we not rather take up a lamentation over you?
[Of how small a part of our audience can we speak in the terms here used towards the Thessalonian converts! For, where are the works of faith, the labours of love, the patience of hope, of the generality amongst you? Where are those fruits which would warrant your minister to say, that he “knew from them your election of God?” What is the faith of the generality, but a dead faith? what their love, but an empty name? what their hope, but presumption? We would not willingly speak thus, God knoweth! We would be glad to be found false accusers in this matter. Greatly should we rejoice to be convinced of our error, and to revoke every intimation we have here given. But, whilst the fruit produced by you is no other than what the world at large produce, we can address you in no other terms than those of grief and sorrow. If the fruit be bad, the tree must be bad also. O brethren! examine well the daily operation and effect of your faith and love and hope; and then ask, whether St. Paul would have exulted over you, as he did over the Thessalonian converts? and, if your own consciences testify that he would have found no such cause for joy in you, then learn to relax your confidence of your state before God, and seek to be made “Israelites indeed, in whom is no guile.”]
Suffer ye then yet farther a word of exhortation—
[To those who really possess and manifest the graces before described, we would say, Be thankful to God for his electing love; and give him all the glory of whatever good there is in you. “Press onward too, forgetting what is behind, and reaching forward to what is before:” and never think that you have already attained, whilst and thing remains to be attained.
But to those in whom there is little or no evidence of such a work of grace we would say, For Christ’s sake deceive not your own souls. This which you have seen in the Thessalonians is Christianity: and this is the state to which the Gospel is designed to bring you also: this too is the object of all our ministrations: and, if these graces be not wrought in your hearts, we consider ourselves as “labouring in vain, and running in vain.” Whilst we see not this effect of our ministrations, how can we “give thanks for you?” or how, with any comfort, can we “make mention of you in our prayers?” Instead of rejoicing over you, we can only mourn and weep on your account [Note: Jeremiah 9:1; Jeremiah 13:17.]: and, instead of having the delightful thought of presenting you to God “as the children which God has given us [Note: ver. 19. with Isaiah 8:18.],” we have the terrible apprehension that we shall prove swift witnesses against you to your eternal condemnation [Note: Malachi 3:5.]. We pray you, brethren, lay to heart these affecting considerations; and begin without delay to seek that entire change both of heart and life, which invariably characterizes the elect of God, and which alone can warrant any hope of happiness in the eternal world.]
THE MANNER IN WHICH THE GOSPEL BECOMES EFFECTUAL
1 Thessalonians 1:5. Our Gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.
IT is not uncommon for persons to be troubled in their minds respecting their interest in the Divine favour: they want to know whether they belong to the elect. But this is a point which can never be ascertained, except in one way. No man can go up to heaven, and search the book of God’s decrees: no man can turn over the pages of the book of life, to see whether his name be written there. The discovery must be made by an examination of our own heart and life. If we find the fruits of the Spirit within us, we know infallibly who the agent is that has produced them; and from such an undeniable evidence of God’s love we may safely conclude, that we are elected of him. It was thus that St. Paul discerned the interest which the Thessalonians had in God’s electing love. Their “fruits of faith, and labours of love, and patience of hope in the Lord Jesus,” flowing as they did from a powerful operation of the Gospel upon their souls, left no doubt upon his mind respecting their state, but enabled him confidently to assert, that “he knew their election of God.” He saw the fruit; nor was he at any loss to determine from what root it sprang.
It is for this fruit that we now purpose to inquire: and, in order that we may attain a just knowledge of our state, we shall shew,
When the word may be said to come in word only—
By “our Gospel” the Apostle means, that which he and his fellow-labourers, Timothy and Sylvanus, had preached to them, and which had “come to them” as sent and authorized by God himself. But notwithstanding its divine origin, it comes to many “in word only.” Now it comes thus—
When it makes no impression on the minds of those who hear it—
[Many hear the Gospel for years, and yet never come to the knowledge of it. Not that they want a capacity to understand it; but they want an inclination to attend to it with that seriousness that it requires. They listen to the voice that utters it; but they do not reflect upon the subject itself; so that it passes through their minds, like a vessel in the ocean, leaving no trace behind. Our Lord compares them to the way-side, on which good seed is sown, but is instantly taken away again by the birds, so that none of it springs up [Note: Matthew 13:4; Matthew 13:19.]. It is truly said of them, that “hearing, they hear not, neither do they understand.”]
When it makes no other impression than what mere moral suasion will produce—
[Oratory on some occasions will produce very powerful effects. Even the recital of some calamitous event will greatly affect the passions, and either rouse us to indignation, or melt us to tears. But these emotions are only transient: the memory of the things that caused them vanishes away; and no abiding effect is produced. Thus it is with many who hear the Gospel. They are affected by it for a time: sometimes they are depressed with fear and terror, and sometimes elated with hope and joy: but they experience no radical change of heart and life. Such were many of Ezekiel’s hearers: they were delighted with his eloquence, as people are with a performance of vocal or instrumental music; but their hearts were as much addicted to covetousuess, and as averse to real piety as ever [Note: Ezekiel 33:31-32.]. Such persons are represented by our Lord as the stony-ground hearers, who receive the word instantly and with joy; but, having no root in themselves, they quickly wither, and come to naught [Note: Matthew 13:5-6; Matthew 13:20-21.]. St. James also compares them to men who see their face in a glass, but go away and forget what manner of persons they are [Note: James 1:23-24.]. Whatever impressions therefore the Gospel may make upon them at the time, it certainly comes to them in word only.]
Such an application of the Gospel being of no value, we proceed to shew,
In what way it must come, in order to be effectual—
To whomsoever it be declared, whether to men of greater or less capacity, it must come,
With a divine energy to the soul—
[The Gospel is “the rod of God’s strength,” even that wonder-working rod whereby the most astonishing miracles are wrought [Note: Psalms 110:2.]. By it “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life again [Note: Matthew 11:5. with Isaiah 35:5-6.].” Weak as it is in itself, even as the rod of Moses was, it is “mighty through God to the pulling down of the strong-holds of sin and Satan; bringing, not the actions only, but even the thoughts, of men into captivity to the obedience of Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. See also Jeremiah 23:29.].” This is “the sword which Christ girds upon his thigh [Note: Psalms 45:3-5.],” and with which he subdues his enemies. It is “the sword of the Spirit” also [Note: Ephesians 6:17.]. It is, in short, that instrument whereby the Sacred Three accomplish all their mysterious purposes in converting and saving a ruined world. But then it must be wielded by an almighty arm: it must “come in demonstration of the Spirit and of power [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:4.].” or else it will fail of producing any permanent effect. None but He who moved upon the chaos, and formed it into order and beauty, can new create the soul. Such a change may be wrought as we road of in Ezekiel’s vision, where the dry bones came together, and the sinews and flesh came up upon them; but they were only a corpse still, till the Spirit breathed upon them: and then they rose up, even a great army [Note: Ezekiel 37:7-10.]. Thus persons who are dead in sin, may be brought to a profession of religion by other means: but nothing short of a divine power can ever “turn men truly from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God [Note: Acts 26:18.].” Paul may plant, and Apollos may water; but it is God alone who can give the increase [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:5-7.].]
With an assured sense of its truth and excellence—
[One reason why the Gospel has so little effect, is, that “men do not mix faith with what they hear [Note: Hebrews 4:2.].” They regard it “rather as the word of men, than as the word of God [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:13.].” In going to hear it, they consider themselves as going to hear a man; when they should rather go in the spirit of the Centurion and his friends, saying, “Behold, now we are all here present before thee, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God [Note: Acts 10:33.].” Moreover the Gospel should be viewed as a remedy, a remedy of God’s providing, and exactly suited to our wants. We should go to hear it, as a hungry person goes to a feast: he will not be satisfied with barely looking upon the things that are set before him; he feels an appetite for them; he believes them to be good for him; and he partakes of them for his own personal benefit and satisfaction. When the Gospel comes in this manner, even as it did on the day of Pentecost, it lays open the whole heart [Note: Acts 2:37. 1 Corinthians 14:25.]; it pierces deeper than a two-edged sword [Note: Hebrews 4:12.]; and heals the wounds that it inflicts [Note: Acts 16:29-34.]. Then it is truly precious to the soul; sweeter than honey or the honeycomb; and more desirable than one’s necessary food [Note: Psalms 19:10. Job 23:12.].]
Coming in this manner, the Gospel is of inestimable value; as will appear, while we consider,
What effects it will then produce—
It will work in us precisely as it did in those at Thessalonica: it will make us,
Imitators of Christ—
[The Thessalonian Christians instantly became “followers of Christ and of his Apostles [Note: ver. 6.]:” they made an open profession of Christianity, and consorted with those who were like-minded with themselves. In the same manner, all who “receive the truth in the love thereof” will “join themselves to the Church,” without any fear of that reproach which their new profession will bring upon them. They have counted the cost, and are willing to pay it. They take up their cross cheerfully, “choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy all the pleasures and honours of the world [Note: Hebrews 11:25-26.].”
While they call themselves followers of Christ and his Apostles, they also become imitators of them [Note: μιμηταί.]. They will no longer follow the course of this world, but will regulate their conduct by a higher standard: they will look to the example which Christ has set them, and endeavour to “walk as he walked.” His meekness and gentleness, his humility and kindness, his patience and self-denial, his devotedness to God, and love to man, will be progressively transcribed into their hearts and lives; nor will they be satisfied “till they arrive at the measure of the full stature of Christ [Note: Ephesians 4:13; Ephesians 4:15.].”]
Patterns to their brethren—
[This also is mentioned to the honour of the Thessalonians, as resulting from the manner in which the Gospel came to them [Note: ver. 7.]. And in this all true Christians will resemble them. One in whom the word has wrought effectually will not be contented with setting a good example to the world around him; (this would be a matter of no great difficulty:) he will make his light so to shine before men, that all, whether believers or unbelievers, may be edified by it. He would gladly say with the Apostle to all who behold him, “Whatsoever ye have seen and heard in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you [Note: Philippians 4:9.].” This distinguished piety is not to be sought by ministers only, (though doubtless they, with their peculiar advantages, ought not to be behind others in any thing that is good [Note: 1 Timothy 4:11.],) but by persons of every age, and of every class. All should endeavour to grow in grace, that from children they may become young men, and from thence advance till they are fathers in Christ [Note: 1 John 2:12-14.]. And it is certain, that all who are perfect, or have attained to maturity in the Christian life, will be thus minded [Note: Philippians 3:12-15.].]
We may learn from hence,
What reason for thankfulness they have, in whom the Gospel has wrought effectually—
[If we have experienced any spiritual change, we must trace it up to God, as the sole author of it. The power that effected it was not in the word; for then the same change would have been wrought in all who heard it: nor was the distinction occasioned by our own superior wisdom or goodness; for then the wisest and most moral of men would uniformly be the most forward to receive the Gospel; whereas they are rather the most averse to it [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:26-28.]. No; it was God alone who made us to differ [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:7.]; and to Him alone must all the glory be ascribed [Note: John 1:13.].]
How we are to obtain benefit from the word delivered to us—
[If the mighty working of God’s power be requisite, even of the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead [Note: Ephesians 1:19-20.], we should implore his presence before we go up to his house; we should be lifting up our hearts in ejaculatory prayer while we are hearing his word; and, after the seed has been sown, we should water it with our prayers and tears. This is the way which God himself has prescribed [Note: James 1:5.Proverbs 2:2-6; Proverbs 2:2-6.]; and it would insure a blessing, because Christ himself is in the midst of his people, on purpose to bless those who call upon him in spirit and in truth [Note: Matthew 18:20.]. It is owing to the want of this, both in ministers and people, that the ordinances are so unprofitable [Note: James 4:2.]. Let us then abound more in the great duty of prayer [Note: Ephesians 1:16-18.]; and God will pour out his Spirit upon us [Note: John 16:13-14.]: He will give us that unction of the Holy One that shall teach us all things [Note: 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27.]; and make his word to be “the power of God to the salvation of our souls [Note: Romans 1:16.].]
SCOPE AND END OF THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10. They themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
ST. PAUL delighted in bestowing commendation wherever it was due. When writing to the Church at Rome, he told them that “their faith was spoken of throughout the whole world [Note: Romans 1:8.]; and here he tells his Thessalonian converts, that their faith was so celebrated, that he heard of it wherever he went; insomuch that in every place he was anticipated in his commendations of them, the extraordinary effects of his ministry among them being in all the Churches a general topic of conversation. The particular effects which had been produced he here specifies: and, in considering them, we shall be led to shew,
What is the great end and object of our ministrations—
Ministers are ambassadors from God to man: they are sent with tidings of mercy to a rebellious world: but they are sent also to effect a moral change in the hearts and lives of all who receive their message. They are sent to bring men,
To serve and obey their God—
[Even Christians, till converted by the Spirit of God, are universally addicted to idolatry. They do not indeed, like the heathen world, bow down to stocks and stones; but they “love and serve the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for evermore.” “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life,” possess the supreme place in their affections, and are sought after in preference to God — — — To turn men from these vanities, and to bring them to their God, is the end for which every minister is sent, and at which he should continually aim. And this, we trust, is the object which, in all our addresses, we have in view. Yes, we would bring you to serve the living God, who alone is worthy of your regard; for he alone has life in himself; and he alone can confer life on his devoted servants. But it is not a mere formal service to which we would bring you, but a total surrender of all your faculties and powers to him. This is your “reasonable service.” There is none but God that has any claim upon you. What has the world done for you? or what can it ever do? To whom, or to what, are ye debtors, that ye should consult their wishes, or obey their will? But God has created you, yea, and has redeemed you by the blood of his only dear Son. Ye are therefore in no sense, and in no degree, your own: your bodies, and your spirits, are altogether his; and with them ye must glorify your God alone [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.].]
To wait for the second coming of their Lord from heaven—
[He who once came down from heaven to suffer for us, and by his own obedience unto death hath “delivered us from the wrath to come,” has been raised up from the dead, and is now exalted to the right hand of God, that he may carry on and perfect the work he has begun. And he will once more come down from heaven to gather together his elect, and to raise them to the fruition of that glory which he has purchased for them. To wait in joyful expectation of that period is the privilege of all his people: and to bring you to such a state of mind is to be the incessant labour of his ministers. We are not to be satisfied with seeing you born to God; but, as loving parents, we are to nourish you in our bosom; that under our fostering care ye may “grow to the full measure of the stature of Christ.” This waiting posture, this constant readiness for the coming of your Lord, is one of the highest gifts to which any man can attain [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:7.]. We speak not now of persons waiting, like criminals, for the arrival of their Judge; (that is a state from which it is the Christian’s privilege to be delivered;) but of their waiting as servants for the coming of their Lord. The diligence of servants is prompted, not by fear, but love; and they feel assured of the approbation of their master, when he shall find every thing done, though not with absolute perfection, yet in all material points agreeably to his will. Thus we would have you with your loins continually girt, and your lamps burning with undiminished splendour [Note: Luke 12:35-38.]. But perhaps we may give a yet juster view of the state to which we would wish to bring you, if we compare you to “a bride preparing herself” for the arrival of her bridegroom. Such should be the holy, longing desire which you should feel after the coming of your Lord [Note: 2 Peter 3:12. with Titus 2:13.]: and to assist you in this preparation, that eventually we may present you to him in a state of complete readiness, is the blessed service which we have to perform [Note: Revelation 19:7. 2 Corinthians 11:2.].]
Such is the office of those to whom the cure of souls is assigned: and corresponding with it is,
The duty of those to whom we minister—
As we must not seek to please men, but to edify them, so they must not be satisfied with reaping mere instruction, but must determine,
To yield themselves up to the full influence of our labours—
[In coming to the house of God, all persons should resemble Cornelius and his friends, when Peter came to minister unto them: “Now are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God [Note: Acts 10:33.].” There should be no disposition to cavil at what they hear, or to sit in judgment on the preacher, but a real desire to learn the will of God, and a full determination through grace to do it. If the minister endeavour to probe the conscience, they should welcome the salutary wound, and cry unto the Lord, “Search me, O God, and try the ground of my heart!” If he be endeavouring rather to bind up the broken spirit, they should thankfully embrace the gracious promises of the Gospel, as those who most need the blessings which it offers. If, on the other hand, he be denouncing the terrors of the Lord, they should humble themselves before God in dust and ashes, if peradventure they may be lifted up in due time. And lastly, if he be expatiating on any duty, they should set themselves, like racers in a course, to run with ardour and with patience the race that is set before them. Whoever it be that speaks, and whatever it be that is spoken, provided only it be agreeable to the standard of truth, they should receive it, as the Thessalonians did, “not as the word of man, but as the word of God [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:13.].” The whole assembly of you should come to the ordinances as to a banquet prepared of the Lord; or as the sick and diseased came to our Lord in the days of his flesh, each feeling his own malady, and determined, if possible, to obtain a cure: however difficult it may be to gain access to him, you should press through the crowd, as it were, to touch but the hem of his garment; or seek to be let through the tiling of the house, so that you may by any means find admittance into his presence, and obtain the blessings which you stand in need of. In a word, Christians should be satisfied with nothing short of a perfect conformity to the Divine will; and should come to the house of God with hearts so melted, as easily to be poured into the mould of the Gospel, and permanently to retain the very image of their God.]
To display the efficacy of them in the sight of all men—
[The Thessalonians were “ensamples,” not to the world only, but to believers also, and that throughout all the regions of Macedonia and Achaia. This is what we also should endeavour to be: we should “shine as lights in the world,” and in every situation and relation of life we should so make our light to shine before men, that all who see us may glorify our Father which is in heaven. We should bear in mind, that the honour of God is greatly affected by our conduct; and that our fellow-creatures also may either be “won by our good conversation,” or be eternally ruined by our misconduct. We should, from these considerations, take especial care never to lay a stumbling-block in the way of others; but so to walk, that we may be able to say unto all around us, “Whatsoever ye have seen and heard in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you.” Thus we should “shew to all what manner of entrance the Gospel has had amongst us,” and what are its genuine effects: and thus putting to silence the ignorance of foolish men, we should constrain them to acknowledge, that the doctrines we profess are holy, and “that God is with us of a truth.”]
We conclude with one or two inquiries:
What entrance has the Gospel had amongst us?
[Has it so wrought, as to attract the attention, yea, and excite the admiration also, of all around us? Alas! in how many has it produced no change at all! and in how many a change in profession only, or in external conduct, whilst the heart is as worldly, and the temper as unsubdued, as ever! — — — Look to it, brethren, that ye do not thus receive the grace of God in vain: for if the Gospel be not unto you a savour of life unto life, it will be a savour of death, to your more aggravated condemnation.]
How may it be rendered more effectual for our good?
[Search what it is that has hitherto obstructed the operation of the word upon your souls. Some are careless and inattentive, so that the word never enters into their hearts; in others, the word takes not any deep root; whilst in others its growth is hindered by the lusts and cares which grow up together with it. All these therefore must be rooted out, that the good seed may prosper and increase. But there is yet another evil, which renders the most faithful ministry unavailing for the good of many: I refer to that pride and conceit which so inflate the hearts of many, and render the Gospel itself odious in the world. This must be mortified; and a childlike spirit be cultivated in the midst of us. “The meek will God guide in judgment; the meek he will teach his way.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany