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THE SPREAD OF THE GOSPEL
2 Thessalonians 3:1. Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may hare free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you.
THE light of the material sun is hailed and welcomed by every nation under heaven: but how much more is the light of the Sun of Righteousness to be desired! If the one be necessary for our comfort in this life, the other is necessary to guide us in the way to life eternal. Hence the Apostle not only laboured to spread the Gospel himself, but endeavoured to interest all the Lord’s people in its behalf; that by their united supplications they might obtain from God whatever should conduce to its establishment in the world.
In this request of his we see,
What we should desire for the word of God—
That it should “have free course”—
[It is surprising that any should be averse to the circulation of the Scriptures; or should be jealous of the Scriptures, unless accompanied with human compositions to forestall and determine the judgment of the reader. What is this but to supersede the use of that judgment which God requires us to exercise? yea, what is this, but to return to popery? The Papists locked up the Scriptures in an unknown tongue, and forbad the laity to read them; and sent forth among the people small portions of them only, and counteracted those portions by the most erroneous comments and grossest superstitions. Far be such conduct from Protestants: freely have we received, and freely we should give: nor should we relax our efforts to disseminate the Scriptures, till every human being shall have them in his possession, and be enabled to read in his own native language the wonderful works of God [Note: See Psa 19:4 and Romans 10:18.].]
That it should “be glorified”—
[What is implied in this expression, we are at no loss to determine. We have only to see how it was glorified “with them,” i.e. the Thessalonian converts, and we have the perfect model of its being glorified amongst ourselves.
In two ways is the word of God glorified; first, in the conversion of sinners; and, next, in the edification and salvation of saints.
How the Gospel wrought to the conversion of the Thessalonians, we are distinctly informed: they received it, “not as the word of man, but as the word of God:” it “came to them, not in word only, but in power:” and by it “they were turned from idols to serve the living God [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1Th 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:13.]” — — — Similar effects were produced by it in other churches [Note: Acts 6:7; Acts 19:20.] — — — And who must not confess that the word is glorified when such wonders are wrought by it? — — — But that it is so, is expressly affirmed by the voice of inspiration itself [Note: Acts 13:48-49.].
Nor was the Gospel less powerful for their continued edification. This was greatly advanced among them, as the Apostle himself testified [Note: 2Th 1:3-4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14.] — — — Yet nothing but the pure word of God was, or could be, effectual for this end [Note: 1 Peter 2:2.]. As the rod of Moses wrought all those miracles in Egypt and the wilderness, so was the Gospel “the rod of God’s strength:” and in the production of such miraculous events, both the word itself, and God in it, were greatly glorified [Note: Acts 21:19-20.]: nor is it possible to see such effects yet produced in the hearts and lives of men, without acknowledging, that “he who hath wrought them to the self-same thing is God [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:5.]” — — —]
Let us next inquire,
How that desire is to be obtained—
The Apostle speaks of himself and all his fellow-labourers, as instruments whereby the Gospel was propagated throughout the world. And the same is true of ministers in all succeeding ages, even to the present day: they are God’s ambassadors to a rebellious world. But the prayers of God’s people are no less necessary than the efforts of his ministers: for it is God alone that can give effect to any exertions; and it is prayer alone that can interest him in our behalf—
[It is God alone that can raise up ministers, or fit them for the work [Note: Rom 10:15 and 2 Corinthians 2:15-16; 2 Corinthians 3:5.] — — — Hence we are directed to “pray that God would send forth labourers into his harvest [Note: Matthew 9:38. Ephesians 4:12-13.].”
It is God alone that can open places for them to labour in. Men universally of themselves reject the Gospel: but when God opens a door for his servants, no attempts of his enemies can shut it [Note: Act 18:10-11. 1Co 16:9 and Revelation 3:8.] It is God alone that can give success to their endeavours. That same divine power, which first opened the understandings of the Apostles, must open the hearts of others to attend to them [Note: Luke 24:45. with Acts 16:14.] — — — And then only does the word effect any radical change in men, when it comes “in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:4-5; 1 Corinthians 3:5-7.].”
Hence St. Paul so earnestly entreated the prayers of the Thessalonian Church, and yet more earnestly the intercessions of the saints at Home [Note: Romans 15:30-32.]. God has in mercy made his servants and his people mutually dependent on each other: the people being quickened by the exertions of their ministers; and ministers being strengthened by the prayers of their people: and thus the builders and the building are advanced together, and all are edified in love.]
We conclude this subject with,
A word of admonition—
[Many profess a reference for the Bible, and even display a zeal for conveying the Holy Scriptures to heathen lands, who yet make but little use of it for themselves. But this zeal for the good of others will never be admitted as a substitute for personal religion — — — Many of the religious world also, who study the Bible and profess to love the Gospel of Christ, are far from adorning that Gospel by holy tempers, and by heavenly lives — — — Let such persons look well to themselves; for “not he that saith Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of our Father which is in heaven” — — —]
A word of encouragement—
[Let any one see what was effected in the days of old by a few poor fishermen: and take courage to exert himself for God — — — The same power that wrought effectually in that day will concur with us — — — Let us not then despond, as though our weakness were any obstacle to success; for God will display his own power by means of it [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.], and “ordain strength in the mouths of babes and sucklings.” Whether therefore we address ourselves to the translation of the Scriptures into foreign languages, or labour for the circulation of them at home, let us only implore help from God, and we shall not be permitted to “labour in vain, or run in vain.”]
ALL MEN HAVE NOT FAITH
2 Thessalonians 3:2. All men have not faith.
IF we considered the condition of fallen man, and the merciful provision which God has made for him in the Gospel of his Son, we should think it impossible for any one, who heard the glad tidings of salvation proclaimed to him, not to embrace the offers of mercy, and to bless God for such a marvellous dispensation of his grace. But the fact is, that there is no other thing in the whole world so hated and despised as this very Gospel. Persons of every description combine against it. To the Jews it is a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness: and multitudes, even of those who profess to receive the sacred records as inspired, are found amongst the enemies of the Gospel: for, as the Apostle justly says, “all men have not faith.”
Shew to whom this charge applies—
It doubtless comprehended, in the first instance, the Jews, who professed to believe in the One true God. And it also referred to those who, whilst they ostensibly embraced the faith of Christ, were, in reality, no better than hypocrites; deceiving others, and deceiving also their own souls.
Amongst those who have not faith, we may fitly number,
[The very term Infidel does, in fact, imply this. Not but that persons of this description would be grievously offended, if you should represent them as no Christians. Yet it is, in fact, their character: for, in holding up to derision the great truths of revelation, they shew, beyond all doubt, that they possess not the faith of Christ.]
[These take credit to themselves as having attained a high degree of righteousness. But, whilst they “go about to establish a righteousness of their own, instead of submitting to the righteousness of God which is by faith in Christ [Note: Rom 10:2-3],” they shew, that they have no just views of the Saviour’s office, or of the salvation which he has wrought out for us by his own obedience unto death. The Gospel which they maintain is “another Gospel [Note: Galatians 1:6-9.];” and not that which Christ has revealed, and which his Apostles preached.]
[How many of these do we read of in the sacred records; men who, having “a form of godliness, denied the power thereof [Note: 2 Timothy 3:5-8.]!” Of such St. Jude speaks; saying, “Clouds are they without water, carried about of winds; trees, whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever [Note: Jude, ver. 12, 13.].”]
If it be thought hard to say, of all these persons, that they have not faith, I will,
Adduce evidence in confirmation of it—
Amongst the persons that have been specified, not a few are “unreasonable and wicked men”—
[All of them will, more or less, unite in reviling and persecuting the Gospel of Christ. Though there is no other point in which they are agreed, they will stand together readily and harmoniously upon this ground. Who were greater enemies to the Gospel than “the false brethren” whom St. Paul enumerates among the catalogue of those who sought his life [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:26.]? That a profligate and abandoned rabble should seek to destroy him, we do not wonder [Note: Acts 17:5.]: but that “devout and honourable women” should lend themselves as instruments to persecute him, we should scarcely conceive, did we not know it as a fact recorded by the inspiration of God [Note: Acts 13:50.]. But the truth is, that no persons under heaven are more adverse to the pure doctrines of the Gospel, and to those who preach it, than the self-righteous Pharisees. The conduct of Paul, previous to his conversion, fully evinces this [Note: Galatians 1:13-14.]; and the experience of the Church, in all ages, bears witness to it.]
But the true believer is the very reverse of these—
[Compare him with the Infidel.—A man who believes in Christ cannot make the truths of revelation a subject of profane mockery: no; he reverences the word of God, and “trembles at it;” and is as much assured, as he is of his own existence, that every jot and tittle of it shall be fulfilled in its season.
Compare him with the Formalist.—The believer in Christ, so far from seeing any thing of merit in himself, is humbled in the dust, under a sense of his own demerit; and, renouncing utterly all dependence on himself, he looks for salvation simply and entirely through Christ alone.
Compare him with the Hypocrite.—The believer endeavours as much to fulfil the law, as if he thought he was to be saved by his obedience to it. Could he attain his heart’s desire, he would “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”
Compare him with the “unreasonable and wicked” Persecutor.—The true Christian has received “a spirit of love, and of power, and of a sound mind:” and, so far from wishing to obstruct the Gospel by an envious opposition to those who are more distinguished than himself, he esteems himself “less than the least of all saints,” and rejoices in all the good that is done by God’s most-favoured servants. Whether, therefore, we view the unbeliever as he is in himself, or as contrasted with a believing soul, the truth of the Apostle’s assertion will be placed beyond a doubt.]
“Examine carefully, whether ye be in the faith” — — —
Be careful, also, to shew “forth your faith by your works” — — —
ST. PAUL’S BENEVOLENCE
2 Thessalonians 3:5. The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.
IT might well be expected that the fundamental doctrines of our religion should be found, not only in passages whore the truths were expressly insisted on, but in others where they were casually introduced. Accordingly we find this to be the case respecting every important doctrine of the Gospel; but in none more than that which relates to a Trinity of persons in the Godhead. If we wished to convince an unbeliever, we should doubtless select such passages as most plainly contain the doctrine in question [Note: e. g. Matthew 28:19. 2 Corinthians 13:14.]: but to confirm the mind of a believer, we should rather refer to places where it was only incidentally mentioned: because, if once we see that the idea was familiar to the minds of the inspired writers, and to the minds of those to whom they wrote, we have the strongest proof of which any doctrine is capable. Thus, in the passage before us, the Apostle meant only to express a benevolent wish on behalf of the Church at Thessalonica: but he expressed it in such terms as a person habituated to the doctrine of the Trinity would naturally use: he prayed that “the Lord (the Spirit) would direct their hearts into the love of God (the Father), and into the patient waiting for Christ.”
The point however to which we would direct your attention, is not so much the terms in which the Apostle’s wish is conveyed, as the objects and reasons of that wish.
The objects of that wish—
A very little observation of the world is sufficient to convince us, that “the love of God” is not the predominant passion of mankind; nor a preparation for Christ’s second coming their chief employment.
[Men in general are not so impressed with a view of God’s excellency, as to feel any love to him: much less have they obtained such an acquaintance with him, as to enjoy in their souls any sense of his love to them. Nor is there much of “the patience of Christ [Note: ὑπομονὴν τοῦ Χριστοῦ.]” to be found amongst them. To “deny themselves, and take up their cross, and follow him,” is a lesson which they have never learned. As for looking forward with comfort to the second coming of their Lord, and waiting patiently for it as the completion of their hopes and the consummation of their joys, they know it not. “Their affections are set on things below, rather than on things above;” and the acquisition of some earthly good is that which alone engages their attention — — —]
But to possess the state of mind described in the text, is essential to the Christian character—
[How can a man be a Christian, and not love his God? or how can he belong to Christ, and not resemble him, “who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God?” — — —]
Yet of ourselves we never shall, or can, attain to it—
[The heart is altogether averse to spiritual exercises; and turns away in disgust from the contemplation of those things which make for our everlasting peace. If we try to fix our minds on the love of God to man, or on the nature and extent of that obedience which we owe to him, or on the solemn account which we roust give of ourselves before him, we cannot long keep our attention to such subjects, nor can we get them suitably impressed upon our hearts — — —]
Hence St. Paul prayed, that the Lord, even the Holy Spirit, would direct the hearts of his people into that state—
[It is the province of that Divine Agent to give a right direction [Note: κατενθύναι.] to the heart [Note: James 1:17, 2 Corinthians 5:5.] — — — But his influence must be sought by prayer. Nevertheless God will hear also the intercessions of others in our behalf, and give us a supply of his Spirit in answer to them [Note: Philippians 1:19.] — — — In the full persuasion of this, St. Paul poured out tile benevolent aspiration which we have been considering.]
Such then were the objects of the Apostle’s wish; namely, that the Thessalonian Christians might experience more deeply the truths they professed. Nor are we at any loss to state,
The reasons of it—
Among the most important of these were doubtless the two following: he knew that the attainment of such a state was,
Highly conducive to their present happiness—
There is a most absurd prejudice against religion, that it tends to make persons melancholy. That some religious persons are inclined to melancholy, is true enough: but it is not true, that religion makes them so. In all human probability they would have manifested the same disposition (as thousands of others do) if they had never known any thing of religion. As far as religion is concerned, it is from erroneous and distorted views of religion, and not from any just apprehensions of it, that they are rendered melancholy. Where, in all the word of God, do we find this effect ascribed to religion, or arising from it? Peter wept bitterly, and Judas hanged himself: but was it religion, or sin, that was the occasion of their sorrows? not religion surely, but sin. Religion was a balm to Peter, and kept him from despair; and it was Judas’s want of religion that drove him to suicide.
But the truth is, that men make this a mere pretext to reject religion; they do not really, in their hours of sober reflection, think that religion has any such tendency. Where will he found a man in the whole universe who really thinks that love to God, or a sense of God’s love to him, would make him less happy? — — — Where is there one who really believes that an habitual preparation for death and judgment would make him less happy? — — — Nay, where is there one who does not in his heart envy a truly pious character, and entertain the secret wish, O that I might be found in that man’s place at the day of judgment! — — —
The Apostle knew that the graces which he desired for the Thessalonian Christians would make them truly happy both in life and death. He knew it from the universal tenour of the Holy Scriptures [Note: Psalms 63:5.Matthew 5:3-12; Matthew 5:3-12.] — — — and he knew it from his own experience [Note: 2 Timothy 4:7-8.] — — — and therefore he prayed the Lord to direct their hearts to the attainment of them.]
Indispensably necessary to their eternal welfare—
[What is a Christian without the love of God? What pretensions has he to the name of Christian? — — — or how can he call himself a disciple of Christ, who has no delight in following his steps, or in looking forward to his future advent? What an appearance will such an one make at the tribunal of his Judge! Will he not be ashamed before him at his coming? Has he any reason to think that the God whom he never loved, will love him? or that the Saviour whom he never served, will say to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant?” Whatever they may say to the contrary, the careless world have their misgivings even now; they have a secret fear that God will put a difference between those who served him and those who served him not — — — On this subject St. Paul had no doubt — — — and therefore, “knowing the terrors of the Lord, he both persuaded men” to seek these necessary attainments, and implored of God to communicate to them all needful supplies of his Spirit and grace.]
Permit me now to express the same benevolent wish respecting you—
[We have no wish to proselyte men to a party, or to lead them into any enthusiastic notions or pursuits. All we desire is, that they should love that God who has so loved them, and be found patiently waiting for the Bridegroom when he shall call them to the marriage. And, I ask, is this unreasonable? Is it any thing more than what I ought to wish; or than you yourselves either do, or will soon, wish for yourselves? — — — Be not offended, then, if we express this wish: be not offended, if we urge upon you what we know will tend so much to your present happiness, and what we are assured is necessary to your happiness in the future world — — —]
Let me also request that you will adopt this wish for yourselves—
[Surely I shall have spoken to good effect, if only one amongst you all shall be stirred up to pray for himself, “Lord, direct my heart into the love of God, and into a patient waiting for Christ.” Happy will it be, if any of you begin to wish that you had loved God, and that you might from this time become objects of his favour. Happy will it be, if any of you begin to say, ‘I will take up ray cross and follow Christ: I will follow him without the camp, bearing his reproach. He died for me; O that I might have grace to live and die for him! He is coming to judge me; O that I might be ready for his appearing, and give up my account to him with joy and not with grief!’ — — — Cultivate these desires: beg of God to stir them up in your hearts by his Holy Spirit: and when you have attained a measure of this grace yourselves, cultivate it to the utmost in the hearts of others.]
THE DESIRABLENESS OF PEACE
2 Thessalonians 3:16. Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means.
CONTENTIONS too naturally spring from our corrupt nature, the fruitful parent of every thing that is evil. There are indeed occasions when it is necessary to act in a manner that seems not pacific; and that too even towards those who call themselves the Lord’s people: if, for instance, any member of a Christian society were notoriously defective in any one brunch of moral duty, and persisted in his misconduct notwithstanding the remonstrances of those who were both authorized and qualified to advise him, it would be necessary to cut off such a corrupt member from the Church, and to cease from all needless or familiar intercourse with him, till he had repented of his wickedness [Note: ver. 14.]. But these are only extreme cases, where milder means will not avail. As a general rule, we should strive to the utmost to walk in peace both towards those who are without, and them that are within, the Church: the disposition of our hearts should exactly accord with the desire contained in the words before us.
The expressions in the text being general, it is not necessary to limit them to one particular point: we shall therefore take them in the most comprehensive sense as relating,
[No language can fully express the miseries of war: it turns mankind into ferocious beasts, that seek only to overpower and destroy each other. It spreads desolation over whole countries. It cuts off thousands, and ten thousands in a day; and turns that into an occasion of joy and triumph, which ought rather to overwhelm us with distress and anguish. Even those who are not actively engaged with the enemy, are yet no light sufferers through the burthens which are imposed to support the war, and through the loss of near and dear relatives. Peace is, under God, the remedy of all these evils: not that it can ever repair the losses that have been sustained; but it prevents the progress of these evils, and restores to the world those friendly and commercial relations which war had interrupted [Note: Micah 4:3-4.]. O that the governors of all nations did but know how to appreciate this invaluable blessing!
But whence can this blessing be obtained? It should seem that the termination of war depends wholly on the will of the contending parties. This indeed is true in some sense: but who shall make them willing? who shall put an end to their ambitious or vindictive projects? None but he, “in whose hands are the hearts of kings, and who turneth them whithersoever he will [Note: Proverbs 21:1.]:” he alone can “break the bow, and cut the spear asunder [Note: Psalms 46:9; Psalms 76:3.].” He who in righteous displeasure has “vexed us with adversity by means of war,” he it is, even “the Lord of peace himself,” who has now caused the din of war to cease, and “given us peace in our borders [Note: 2 Chronicles 15:6. with Psalms 147:14.].” O that he might give it us “always,” and dispose us to seek it “by all means!” Whatever be the terms on which the contending parties have agreed to compose their differences, there will be some found, probably on both sides, to complain of them as below their just expectations. But it were better far to make sacrifices for peace than to persist in a destructive war: and better to exercise forbearance towards an offending enemy, than to precipitate a nation, without the most imperious necessity, into a renewal of such bloody conflicts. Peace retained almost by any means, is preferable to the calamities of war.]
[Scarcely is there any society of men on earth, where feuds and animosities do not awfully prevail. Nor is this true with respect to the unregenerate only, even in the Church of God itself disputes and divisions are too often found [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:10-11; 1 Corinthians 3:3.]. But, O! how lamentable is it when the seamless coat of Christ is rent asunder: and the subjects of the Prince of Peace are engaged in mutual hostilities! Surely the most desirable of all blessings to any society whatever, and above all to the Church of Christ, is peace.
But here again recurs the question, Who shall so govern the sinful passions of men as to bring them into habitual subjection? Who shall impose such restraints on all, as to make them “prefer, not every man his own, but every man another’s good [Note: Philippians 2:4. 1 Corinthians 10:24.]?” No human wisdom or power can accomplish so great a work. He alone who has united Jews and Gentiles in one body, and slain their enmity, can enable us to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace [Note: Ephesians 2:14-17; Ephesians 4:3.].” He engaged to make the wolf and the lamb to dwell together in love and amity [Note: Isaiah 11:6-9.]; and, when he shall see fit to exert his power, he will realize again what he once accomplished in Noah’s ark, and will unite the most contrary dispositions in the bonds of social affection [Note: The oil poured upon the head of our great High-priest, shall descend to the skirts of his clothing, Psalms 133:1-2.].
Happy are the societies, the families, the Churches, that are governed by such a spirit. Happy indeed if they could “always” enjoy uninterrupted harmony! It is the interest of all the members of a body to forget, as it were, their own individual concerns, and to conspire together for the general good; all using for that end whatever means appear most suitable to the attainment of it. Is forbearance requisite? or friendly rebuke? or even the amputation of an offending member? Every one should be ready to do his part, whatever it may be, and, by his individual exertion, to promote to the utmost the peace and welfare of the whole body. As no means would be left untried for the extinction of flames that threatened the destruction of a city; so should none be omitted, that may secure from injury the union and happiness of mankind [Note: By mutual forbearance. Colossians 3:12-15; by fervent intercession, Psalms 122:6-8.].
Let all of us then look to “the Lord of peace himself,” that by the influence of his grace these holy dispositions may be wrought within us; and that through the mighty working of his Spirit we may every one of us supply our part toward the compacting together of all the members, in order that the whole body may be edified in love [Note: Romans 14:19. Ephesians 4:16.].]
[Whatever be the state of the nation in which we live, or of the society in which our lot is cast, we are concerned at least to obtain peace in our own souls, and to preserve it “always by all possible means.” What can ever make us happy if our conscience be disquieted with a sense of guilt, and with apprehensions of God’s wrath? Or, “if God have given us quietness, who, or what, can make trouble [Note: Job 34:29.]?”
As far as respects inward tranquillity of mind, all are agreed in esteeming it the richest blessing, and in desiring to possess it. But the generality of men are lamentably mistaken with respect to the means by which it is to be obtained. Some hope to find it by dissipating all thoughts of the eternal world: some by silencing all the convictions of their conscience: some by abounding in the external duties of religion: and some by “healing their wounds slightly, and saying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace [Note: Jeremiah 6:14.],” But true peace can never be obtained but from Jesus, “the Prince of Peace [Note: Isaiah 9:6.].” He it is that has purchased it for his believing people [Note: Colossians 1:21-22.]; and that has left it them as his best legacy, saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace give I unto you [Note: John 14:27.].”
But though this peace is the gift of Christ, we must seek it in the use of means. We must humble ourselves before him for the multitude of our offences; and turn from our transgressions with an unfeigned abhorrence of them. Above all we must view Jesus as making atonement for us, and as reconciling us to God by the blood of his cross. We must renounce all self-righteous methods of appeasing God’s anger, or of pacifying the clamours of a guilty conscience. We must trust in Jesus alone; and in him with our whole hearts [Note: Isaiah 26:3-4.]: and when he has “spoken peace to our souls, we must no more return to folly [Note: Psalms 85:8.].” Then shall we have that “peace which passeth all understanding,” and enjoy it “always,” in life, in death, and for ever.
Let nothing then be esteemed painful that may be necessary for the acquiring or preserving of so rich a blessing; but let us seek it at the Lord’s hands, “always and by all means [Note: By mortification of sin, Isaiah 57:19-21; by fervent prayer, Philippians 4:6-7; by glorifying God with our substance, Isaiah 58:7-11.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent