Click here to join the effort!
ADVANCEMENT IN HOLINESS ENFORCED
1 Thessalonians 4:1. We beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.
OUR blessed Lord, when about to leave the world, commanded his Apostles to go and “proselyte all nations” to his religion, “teaching them at the same time to observe and do all things that he had commanded them.” Thus, in their ministrations, principle and practice were to go hand in hand. But many are disposed to separate what he has thus united; some making the Gospel little else than a system of moral duties; whilst others omit duty altogether, and occupy themselves entirely in establishing their own peculiar views of its doctrines. Both of these parties we conceive to be wrong. A superstructure is nothing without a foundation; neither is a foundation any thing without a superstructure. Each indeed has its appropriate place; but both are alike important: for if, on the one hand, the superstructure will fall, without a foundation; so on the other hand, it is for the sake of the superstructure alone that the foundation is laid. St. Paul, “as a wise master-builder,” was careful at all times to lay his foundation deep and strong: but, having done this, he was careful also to raise upon it a beauteous edifice, such as God himself would delight to inhabit [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:10-46.3.11.Ephesians 2:22; Ephesians 2:22.]. This appears in all his epistles, not excepting those which are most devoted to the establishment of sound doctrine. In the epistle before us he seems to have had little else in view, than to assure the Thessalonians of his tender regard for them, and to excite them to the highest possible attainments in universal holiness. He was ready enough to acknowledge, that his instructions had produced the most salutary effects upon them; but he was anxious that they should still press forward for higher attainments, as long as any thing should remain to be attained.
The words which we have just read consist of an appeal, and an exhortation. Let us consider,
St. Paul had not sought to amuse them by curious speculations; nor had he given them maxims whereby they might please and gratify their fellow-creatures. His object had been to bring them to such a holy and consistent “walk,” as would be pleasing and acceptable to their God. What kind of a walk that is, it will be profitable for us to inquire.
If we would so walk as to please God, we must,
Walk in Christ, by a living faith—
[This is particularly required by St. Paul in the Epistle to the Colossians: “As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him [Note: Colossians 2:6.].” By this is meant, that we should walk in a continual dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ for all those blessings which we stand in need of. He is the fountain of them all: they are treasured up in him, on purpose that we may have them secured for us against every enemy [Note: Colossians 3:3.]. Do we need a justifying righteousness? To him we must look for it, and from him we must receive it: “We must call him, The Lord our Righteousness [Note: Jeremiah 23:6.].” Do we need grace to sanctify and renew our souls? From him we must receive it, according to our necessities [Note: John 1:16.]. Our wisdom, our strength, our peace, our all, is in him, and must be derived from him in the exercise of faith and prayer [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30.]. Thus it was that St. Paul himself walked: “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me [Note: Galatians 2:20.].” And thus it is that we also must live, depending on him for every thing, and glorying in him alone [Note: Isaiah 45:24-23.45.25.].]
Walk after Christ, by a holy conversation—
[This also is particularly specified by another Apostle as essential to an acceptable walk with God: “He that abideth in him ought himself also so to walk even as he walked [Note: 1 John 2:6.].” Our blessed Lord “has left us an example, that we should follow his steps.” Like him, we must live altogether for God, making it “our meat and our drink to do his will.” Like him, we must rise superior to all worldly cares, or pleasures, or honours, “not being of the world, even as he was not of the world.” Like him, we must exercise meekness and patience, and forbearance, and love even to our bitterest enemies, never swerving in the least from the path of duty for fear of them, nor yielding to any thing of a vindictive spirit on account of them, but rendering to them, under all circumstances, good for evil, and committing ourselves entirely to the disposal of an all-wise God [Note: 1 Peter 2:21-60.2.23.]. In a word, “the same mind must be in us as was in him,” under every possible situation and circumstance of life [Note: Philippians 2:5.]: and then, as “he pleased the Father always,” so shall we infallibly be approved by him in the whole of our conversation [Note: Romans 12:2.].]
The Apostle, appealing to them that he had so taught them, exhorts them to press forward in the course he had pointed out. Let us proceed then to consider,
In this he acknowledges, that they had already done well: but he wishes them to redouble their exertions in their heavenly way. Let us notice here,
The fact conceded—
[When he says, “Ye have received of us,” he does not mean merely that they had heard his instructions, but that they had so heard them as to be influenced by them. It was at all times a delight to the Apostle to acknowledge the good that was in his converts, and to bestow commendation on them as far as it was due. And it is with unfeigned joy, that we can make the same acknowledgment respecting those to whom we have ministered, We bless God that many have been brought to live by faith upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and “so to walk as they have him for an ensample [Note: Of course, a congregation should be well known before such concessions are made. They come best from a stated pastor, who is well acquainted with their spiritual condition.]:” and it is our earnest desire and prayer to God, that our ministrations may produce the same blessed effect on all. But whatever advances you may have made in the divine life, we must call your attention to,]
The duty urged—
[Paul would not that any one of his converts should faint or be weary in well-doing. “The path of the just is like that of the sun,” which advances without intermission to its meridian height and splendour [Note: Proverbs 4:18.]. Having begun to run well, we must continue; yea, like racers in a course, we must forget that which is behind, and press forward with ever-increasing ardour to that which is before, exerting ourselves the more, the nearer we approach the goal [Note: Philippians 3:13-50.3.14.]. Behold then our duty: Have we begun to “walk in Christ Jesus?” let us live more entirely upon him every day we live. Let us resemble the branch of a vine, which incessantly derives its sap and nourishment from the stock, and derives it only in order to its more abundant production of the choicest fruit [Note: John 15:4-43.15.5.]. Have we begun to “walk after Christ?” let us seek a more entire conformity to his image, yea, a perfect transformation into it “from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].” We must know no bounds, no limits to our exertions: we must seek to “grow up into him in all things,” to attain “the full measure of his stature [Note: Ephesians 4:13; Ephesians 4:15.],” be “holy as he is holy,” and “perfect as he is perfect.”]
The affectionate and earnest manner in which the Apostle urges this duty upon them, will furnish us with an important and appropriate conclusion—
He might well have enjoined these things in an authoritative manner; but “for love’s sake he rather besought them [Note: Philem. ver. 8, 9.].” But what an argument did he use! “I exhort you by the Lord Jesus!” By this sacred name I would also beseech you, beloved brethren: I would entreat you,
By the consideration of all that he has done and suffered for you—
[Can you reflect on the humiliation, the labours, the sufferings to which he submitted for you, and not long to requite him to the utmost of your power? He never assigned any bounds to his love, and will you fix any bounds to yours? He never ceased from his work, till he could say, “It is finished:” and will you stop short in yours? O brethren, “this is our wish, even your perfection [Note: 2 Corinthians 13:9.].” Let the same be your wish, your labour, your continual pursuit.]
By the consideration of all the interest that he yet takes in your welfare—
[Night and day is he occupied in promoting the salvation of your souls. Though seated on his Father’s throne, and partaking of all his Father’s glory, he is not forgetful of you. On the contrary, he is making continual intercession for you, and administering the affairs of the whole creation for your good. Does he see you deviating in any respect from the path which he trod? “Father,” he cries, “forgive them, and lay not this sin to their charge.” Does he see the powers of darkness striving to ensnare you? He sends a host of angels to your aid, that they may “minister unto you,” and “hold you up in their hands, that you dash not your foot against a stone.” Does he see you ready to faint in your spiritual course? “Go,” says he, “go, my Spirit, strengthen the hands, and encourage the heart, of that drooping saint:” “Take of the things that are mine, and shew them unto him:” “glorify me before him:” and “fulfil in him all my good pleasure.”
Now then, when the Saviour thus cares for you, will you intermit your care for him? When he is thus managing your concerns, will you not with increasing confidence commit them to his care? When he is doing every thing that can possibly be done for you, will you leave any thing undone that can be done for him?]
By the consideration of the honour he will derive from you—
[He himself tells us, that “his Father is glorified in our fruitfulness [Note: John 15:8.].” And St. Paul speaks of Christ also as magnified in his body, whether by life or death [Note: Philippians 1:20.]. What a thought is this! Can you, my brethren, glorify the Father, and magnify the Lord Jesus, and will you not strive to do it? Know assuredly, that “your professed subjection to the Gospel of Christ” does cause him to be exceedingly magnified: and the more “the exceeding grace of God” appears in you, the more of praises and adoration and thanksgiving will abound to him [Note: 2 Corinthians 9:13-47.9.14.]. Let this blessed prospect animate your souls: and whereinsoever you have hitherto glorified him, seek to “abound more and more.”]
By the consideration of the glory that will accrue to him in the day of judgment—
[In that great day the Lord Jesus “Christ will be glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that believe [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:10.].” The brighter his image shone upon them here, the more radiance will appear around them there; and all will be as jewels to compose his crown [Note: Malachi 3:17.]. When the demoniac had confessed his inability to withstand the Lord Jesus, and yet had prevailed over seven men who attempted to cast out the evil spirit, we are told that “the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified [Note: Acts 19:17.].” How then will it be magnified, when the extent of his power in you shall be seen, and your once dark polluted souls shall shine forth as the sun in the firmament for ever and ever! Now then is the time for you to exalt his name, and to augment his glory to all eternity. It is but a little time that you will be able to do any thing for him: when death comes, all your opportunities to advance his glory will cease for ever. Up then, and be doing. We have shewn you how to walk and to please God, and you have begun the blessed work: but O, we entreat you to abound more and more! And may “the God of peace, who brought again from the dead the Lord Jesus, that Great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ: to whom be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen [Note: Hebrews 13:20-58.13.21.].”]
1 Thessalonians 4:13-52.4.18. 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. For, if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you. by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 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. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
IT is justly said by the Apostle, that “godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come.” Certainly true religion doubles our joys, at the same time that it greatly diminishes our sorrows. Whatever temporal happiness a man of God enjoys, he has, by anticipation, the joys of eternity also added to it; whilst his griefs, whatever they may be, are also proportionably mitigated by the consideration of their transitory nature, their sanctifying efficacy, and their glorious issue. This St. Paul intimates in the passage before us. There were some of the Thessalonian Church who had given way to sorrow in an unbecoming manner; so that, in that respect, they could scarcely be discerned as differing from the unconverted heathen around them. To correct this, he tells them of the glorious prospects which they have in the eternal world, and begs them to look forward to their future destinies, as the means of tranquillizing their minds under all the painful circumstances which might at any time occur.
In the words which we have just read, he declares,
The certainty of the resurrection—
The heathen quite derided the idea of the resurrection [Note: Acts 17:18; Acts 17:32.], deeming it altogether incredible [Note: Acts 26:8.]: and some who professed Christianity explained away the doctrine relating to it, and represented the resurrection as a merely spiritual change, which had passed already [Note: 2 Timothy 2:18.]. Even some of the Thessalonian Church did not appear to be well grounded in it: and therefore St. Paul assured them, that it was a doctrine on which they might fully depend.
They did believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—
[On these two facts all Christianity was founded, namely, that “Jesus had died for our sins, and had risen again for our justification [Note: Romans 4:25.].” If Jesus had not risen, all their faith in him, and all their hope from him, was altogether vain [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:13-46.15.18.] — — —]
These facts admitted, the resurrection of man would follow of course—
[The resurrection of our blessed Lord was both an evidence that God can raise the dead, and a pledge that he will. The same power that could raise him, can raise us: nothing less than Omnipotence was necessary for the one; and to Omnipotence the other also must yield. Had Jesus risen merely as an individual, we might have supposed it possible that the power exerted in his behalf would not be exercised for us. But he rose as the federal Head of his people: and what has been done for him, the Head, shall also be done for all his members. He is “the first-fruits of them that sleep.” Now the first-fruits sanctified and assured the whole harvest. We may be sure therefore, that, as “our Forerunner” is gone before, we shall all follow him in due season [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Corinthians 15:23. with Joh 14:2-3 and Hebrews 6:20.]. The one gives us a full assurance of the other [Note: Acts 17:31.].]
For their fuller instruction, he proceeds to state to them,
The order in which it shall be effected—
This perhaps is a matter of curiosity, rather than of any great practical importance: but Paul would not that the Thessalonian Christians should be ignorant of it; and therefore it is not undeserving of our attention. The resurrection then will take place in this order:—
First, the dead will be raised from their graves—
[All that have ever departed out of the world will be restored to life, each clothed in his own proper body. The sea and the grave will yield up those who have long since been entombed within them, and they shall all live again upon the earth [Note: Revelation 20:13.]. The text indeed speaks of the righteous only, who had fallen asleep in Christ: but in other passages we are informed that the ungodly also will hear the voice of the Son of God, and, in obedience to it, come forth from their graves [Note: John 5:28-43.5.29. Daniel 12:2.]. Irresistible will be the summons, when “the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God,” shall sound. When Jesus came in his state of humiliation, thousands withstood his voice: but none will, “when he shall come in his own glory, and the glory of his Father, with his holy angels.” The great and mighty, as well as the mean and insignificant, shall come forth alike, each re-united to his kindred body, and each appearing in his own proper character.]
Next, those who remain alive upon the earth will be changed—
[Certainly those who are on the earth will not be changed first; and it appears, that they will remain unchanged, whilst all who have ever died are restored to life. What a surprising sight will it be, to behold such countless multitudes of the children of Adam bursting forth from their graves, and standing up, an innumerable host, in their incorruptible and glorified bodies! — — — But, this once effected, the people who are then living upon earth will be changed in an instant, their mortal and corruptible bodies becoming at once, and without any dissolution preparatory to it, incorruptible and immortal. This is the order which St. Paul has specified also in another epistle: first the trumpet, then the rising of the dead, and then the change of the living [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:51-46.15.53.]. Well may the Apostle call it a “mystery [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:51.].” But as all will then be in that form which they will bear to all eternity, what an amazing difference will then appear in those who once perfectly resembled each other! the godly how beautiful! the ungodly, how deformed! both having either heaven or hell depicted in their very countenances! Amazing sight! how infinitely surpassing all human conception!]
Then will they all together be “caught up to meet the Lord in the air”—
[Yes, into the presence of their Judge must they go: and as the earth would not be a theatre sufficient for the occasion, they must meet the Lord in the air. Blessed, blessed summons to the godly! With what joy will they go forth to meet Him, whom unseen they loved, and out of. whose fulness they received all the grace that ever they possessed, “their spirits being now made perfect,” and “their vile body fashioned like unto Christ’s glorious body!” On the other hand, with what reluctance are the ungodly dragged into his presence! How gladly would they hide themselves from him, if it were possible. Thousands, who were once the great and noble of the earth, and who thought there was none above them to whom they owed allegiance, will now curse the day that they were born, and “cry to the rocks and mountains to cover them” from the face of their offended Lord [Note: Revelation 6:14-66.6.17.].]
Having stated this, he declares,
The blessed issue of it to the saints—
They “shall be ever with the Lord”—
[From him they will receive a sentence of acquittal, or rather of unqualified approbation, “Well done, good and faithful servants.” To his right hand will they be called, as a prelude to the honour he is about to confer upon them. The judgment finished, he ascends with all his bright attendants to the heaven of heavens, the immediate residence of the Deity; and these his redeemed people now ascend together with him, to behold his glory in all its unclouded splendour [Note: John 17:21.], and to participate his throne, even as he participates his Father’s throne [Note: Revelation 3:21.]. O what fulness of joy do they now possess [Note: Psalms 16:11.]! How bright their vision of his glory! how unbounded their fruition of his love! Nothing now could add to their felicity; nor can any thing now detract from if [Note: Revelation 7:14-66.7.17; Revelation 22:3-66.22.5.]. That too which constitutes its chief ingredient is, that it will be “for ever.” Were this happiness to be only for a fixed period, however long, it would not be complete: the idea of its ultimate termination would cob it of half its value. But it will be pure and endless as the Deity himself.]
But how different the condition of the ungodly!
[They will be bidden to “depart from him; to depart accursed; to depart into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Alas! alas! what weeping, what wailing, what gnashing of teeth will they experience; and that also for ever and ever! Unhappy creatures! “Good were it for them, that they had never been born.”]
He further suggests,
The improvement that should be made of this subject—
The word translated “comfort,” is in the margin rendered “exhort.” Either sense of the word is just; and therefore we will include both. This subject then should be improved by us,
In a way of mutual consolation—
[Have any of us been bereaved of dear and pious friends? “Let us not sorrow, as those who have no hope.” What though they shall not come again to us? it is but a little time, and we shall go to them: and most blessed shall be our meeting at the right hand of God — — — Are we terrified at the thoughts of our own approaching dissolution? It is but “a sleep,” if we belong to Jesus; it is a falling asleep in the Saviour’s arms. What is there terrific in this? O put away your unbelieving fears; and learn to number death amongst your richest treasures [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:22-46.3.23.] — — —]
In a way of mutual exhortation—
[Certainly the thoughts of a resurrection and a future judgment ought to fill us with holy awe: for the consequences of that judgment are such as no words can adequately express, nor any finite intelligence fully comprehend. We then would exhort every one of you, and do ye also exhort one another, in the words of the prophet, “Prepare to meet thy God.” Remember the blessedness “that is here spoken of, is to those only who die in the Lord:” and, if you would die in the Lord, you must live in the Lord: you must be in him, as the branch in the vine, by a living faith; and you must abide in him to your dying hour. Seek then “to be found in him, not having your own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God by faith in him.” Then may you look forward to death as to a transient sleep, from which you shall awake in the morning of the resurrection, to everlasting blessedness and glory.]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent