Friday, June 9th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
The Biblical Illustrator The Biblical Illustrator
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Thessalonians 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ 1-thessalonians-1.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Thessalonians 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
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1 Thessalonians 1:1
Paul, and Silvanus and Timotheus to the Church of the Thessalonians.
After the usual superscription in which St. Paul associates with himself his two missionary companions, we have
I. The apostolic greeting.
1. “Grace and peace” blends the Greek and Hebrew modes of salutation, “that union of Asiatic repose and European alacrity.” But these formulae had become like some precious antique vases, prized for their beauty more than their use, and empty of significance or at least of blessing. But now they are lifted into a higher sphere and attain a holier meaning, grace representing gospel blessing as coming from the heart of God; peace, gospel blessing as abiding in the heart of man; embracing together the fulness of salvation. The right reception of them brings the peace of inward conscience, of brotherly love, of eternal glory.
2. This grace and peace--
(1) come from God the Father as the source of all good. No designation brings God nearer the heart than that favourite one of Paul’s, “the God of peace.” It can never come through ourselves or others.
(2) It comes through Him who is “our Peace,” who reconciles things on earth and things in heaven (Romans 5:1).
(3) When we receive the adoption we have “the peace which passed all understanding.”
II. The apostolic prayerfulness.
1. Paul’s life was one of unexampled activity. The care of all the churches rested on him. But he was not too busy to pray. The busier a servant of God is, the more prayerful he needs to be. Devotion and labour are two sides of the one renewed life. With the Word the preacher influences the world; with prayer he influences heaven. But the intimation here is that Paul had his stated seasons for prayer. It was said of him at his conversion, “Behold he prayeth,” and ever after the words held good.
2. But in Paul’s prayers the element of thanksgiving was always present.
(1) No prayer can be complete without it. It is peculiarly characteristic of Christian prayer. There are prayers in Homer’s poems, but how few thanksgivings. The Gentile world “glorified Him not, neither were thankful.”
(2) This thanksgiving, was for others. It sprang from his loving contemplation of the Thessalonians’ excellences. While prayer for others is common, gratitude for others is rare. It is a duty, notwithstanding, arising from a community of interest in each other’s welfare.
III. The apostolic congratulation. He has much to say in reproof, so he will begin with praise. This was Christ’s method towards the Seven Churches. Let the same mind be in us.
1. The ground of his commendation, the three graces of the renewed life--not in themselves however, but as they manifest themselves in the life.
(1) “Your work of faith,” i.e. the work which faith produces. Wherever faith is it works onwards to this. This is the Christian’s duty towards self.
(2) “Labour of love” is his duty towards his neighbour. Love is infused by God and effused in good works.
(3) “Patience of hope” is duty in reference to the future and towards God. Manly endurance under trial and stedfast expectation of a happy issue when the just and gentle monarch shall come to terminate the evil and diadem the right.
2. These graces exist and prove their existence--
(1) “In our Lord Jesus Christ.” All three proceed from Him as their origin and terminate in Him as their end.
(2) “In the sight of God the Father.” This is true of evil works as well as good, but the thought brings no peace to the evil worker, whereas it is the joy and life of the Christian. (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
In God the Father
A man cannot be as a house with doors and windows closed against the light, yet standing in the midst of light. A ship may take refuge in a harbour without receiving anyone on board or sending anyone ashore; but a man cannot so deal with God; he cannot take refuge in God without letting God in. The diver goes down into the water to find treasure, but carefully excludes the water; a man cannot so deal with God and the treasures hid in God. In the very act of finding safety and rest in God he must open his soul to God. (J. Leckie, D. D.)
The introduction to the Epistle
I. A specification of the persons from; whom the letter went.
1. The name of Paul stands first because--
(1) He only possessed full apostolic authority.
(2) He alone wrote or dictated the Epistle (1 Thessalonians 2:8; 1 Thessalonians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:27).
2. The connection of Silvanus and Timotheus with Paul and with the Thessalonians is illustrated in the Acts. When Paul set out from Antioch on his second tour, he chose Silas to attend him (Acts 15:34; Acts 15:40). In the course of their journey they met with Timothy (Acts 15:1-3). The three proceeded to Troas (Acts 16:8-9), where they crossed the sea and conveyed the gospel to several Macedonian towns. On leaving Philippi, Paul and Silas, if not Timothy, proceeded to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9). Silas and Timothy remain behind at Berea (Acts 17:13-14). Paul proceeded to Athens and Corinth. (Acts 17:15; Acts 18:1). Here Silas and Timothy, the latter of whom had been sent from Athens to encourage and confirm the Thessalonians, at length rejoined him, and here Paul wrote the Epistle.
3. These details account for three things in this specification.
(1) How natural it was for Paul to address a letter so paternal to a Church he was instrumental in founding.
(2) How appropriate that he should associate with himself men who had been active in ministering to the Thessalonians.
(3) How fitting that Silas the elder should take precedence of Timothy (2 Corinthians 1:19).
II. The persons to whom the epistle was sent.
1. Thessalonica was a town of Macedonia. Anciently it bore the names, successively, of Eurathia and Therma. It was restored and enlarged by Cassander, and was called Thessalonica after his spouse, the daughter of King Philip, or, according to another opinion, from a victory which Philip himself achieved. It was a rich commercial city, distinguished for profligacy. It is now called Salonichi, and retains considerable traces of its ancient splendour.
2. There Paul preached on successive occasions in the Jewish synagogue. His doctrine is specified in Acts 17:2-3, and his success in Acts 17:4. But idolaters were also converted (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
3. The combined converts formed a Church.
(1) The word means “called out,” and is used to denote an assembly of persons. The Thessalonian Christians had been set apart by a Divine call in respect of faith, character and profession, and were associated as a religious brotherhood, a commonwealth of saints.
(2) This Church was “in God the Father,” signifying intimacy of relation. They were protected by His power, guided by His counsel, and cherished by His grace.
(3) “In the Lord Jesus Christ” denotes the union between Christ and believers, elsewhere likened to that subsisting between the vine and the branches, the members and the head, etc.
III. The blessings invoked.
1. Grace: the favour of God.
(1) Quiet and tranquillity.
(2) Prosperity (Psalms 122:6-7; 3 John 1:2). (A. S. Patterson, D. D.)
Phases of apostolic greeting
I. It is harmonious in its outflow.
1. Paul, though the only apostle of the three, did not assume the title or display any superiority. The others had been owned of God equally with himself in Thessalonica and were held in high esteem by the converts. Timothy was only a young man, and it is a significant testimony to his character that he should be associated with men so distinguished. Each had his distinctive individuality, talent, and mode of working; but there was an emphatic unity of purpose in bringing about results.
2. The association also indicated perfect accord in the Divine character of Paul’s doctrines. Not that it gave additional value to them. Truth is vaster than the individual, whatever gifts he possesses or lacks.
3. What s suggestive lesson of confidence and unity was taught the Thessalonians by the harmonious example of their teachers.
II. Recognizes the Church’s sublime origin.
1. The Church is divinely founded. “In” denotes intimate union with God, and is equivalent to John 17:21.
2. The Church is divinely sustained. Founded in God, it is upheld by Him. Thus the Church survives opposition, and the fret and wear of change. But this is withdrawn from apostate churches.
III. Supplicates the highest blessings.
1. Grace includes all temporal good and all spiritual benefits. The generosity of God knows no stint. A monarch once threw open his gardens to the public during the summer months. The gardener, finding it troublesome, complained that the visitors plucked the flowers. “What,” said the king, “are my people fond of flowers? Then plant some more!” So our Heavenly King scatters on our daily path the flowers of blessing, and as fast as we can gather them, in spite of the grudging world.
2. Peace includes all the happiness resulting from a participation in the Divine favour.
(1) Peace with God, with whom sin has placed us in antagonism.
(2) Peace of conscience.
(3) Peace one with another.
3. The source and medium of all the blessings desired. “From God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Jew could only say, “God be gracious unto you, and remember His covenant;” but the Christian “honours the Son, even as he honours the Father.” The Father’s love and the Son’s work are the sole source and cause of every Christian blessing.
1. The freeness and fulness of the gospel.
2. The spirit we should cultivate towards others: that of genuine Christian benevolence and sympathy. We can supplicate for others no higher good than grace and peace. (G. Barlow.)
The pastor’s prayer
I. The blessings desired.
1. Their nature.
2. Their connection.
(1) Grace may exist without peace, but not peace without grace.
(2) Yet peace flows from grace.
II. Their source.
1. God the Father is the Fountain of all grace.
2. Christ is the Medium of communication.
III. Their supply.
2. Sufficient for all.
4. Inexhaustible. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
was a Lyconian born in Derbe or Lystra, where he was religiously trained. He was probably converted by St. Paul during his first visit to Lycaonia (A.D. 45, Acts 14:6-7). He was taken on a second visit to be Paul’s companion, and circumcised (A.D. 51, Acts 16:1, etc.). He was sent from Bares to Thessalonica (Acts 17:14; 1 Thessalonians 3:2); with Silas he rejoins Paul at Corinth (A.D. 52, Acts 18:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:6) and remains with Paul (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:1). He was with Paul at Ephesus (A.D. 57, Acts 19:22; and was sent thence to Corinth (Act 19:22; 1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 16:10). He is again with Paul (A.D. 58, 2 Corinthians 1:1; Romans 16:21). He journeys with Paul from Corinth to Asia (Acts 20:4); and is with Paul in Rome (A.D. 62 or 63, Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; Philemon 1:1). Henceforth his movements are uncertain (A.D. 68-66). He is probably left by Paul in charge of the Church at Ephesus (A.D. 66 or 67; 1 Timothy); received the second Epistle, and sets out to join Paul at Rome (A.D. 67 or 68). Ecclesiastical tradition makes him first bishop of Ephesus and to suffer martyrdom under Domitian or Nerva. (Bleek.)
or Silas was an eminent member of the early Christian Church. The first, which in his full name, is given him in the Epistles, the latter contraction by the Acts. He appears as one of the leaders of the Church at Jerusalem (Acts 15:22), holding the office of inspired teacher. His name, derived from the Latin silva “wood,” betokens him a Hellenistic Jew, and he appears to have been a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37). He appointed a delegate to accompany Paul and Barnabas on their return from Antioch with the decree of the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:22; Acts 15:32). Having accomplished this mission, he returned to Jerusalem (Acts 15:33). He must however have immediately revisited Antioch, for we find him selected by St. Paul as the companion of his second missionary journey (Acts 15:40; Acts 17:4). At Beroea he was left behind with Timothy while Paul proceeded to Athens (Acts 17:14), and we hear nothing more of his movements until he rejoined the apostle at Corinth (Acts 18:5). Whether he had followed Paul to Athens in obedience to the injunction to do so (Acts 17:15), and had been sent thence with Timothy to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:2), or whether his movements were wholly independent of Timothy’s, is uncertain. His presence at Corinth is several times noticed (2Co 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:1). He probably returned to Jerusalem with Paul, and from that time the connection between them seems to have terminated. Whether he was the Silvanus who conveyed 1 Peter to Asia Minor (1 Peter 5:2) is doubtful. The probabilities are in favour of the identity. A tradition of slight authority represents Silas as Bishop of Corinth. (W. L. Bevan, M. A.)
To the Church
in Galatians, Corinthians and Thessalonians, but to the Saints in Romans, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. It is remarkable that this change of form should take place in all the later Epistles; perhaps because the apostle, more or less in his later years, invested the Church on earth with the attributes of the Church in heaven. The word ecclesia is used in the LXX for the congregation, indifferently with synagogue. It is found also in Matthew, in the Epistles of John and James as well as in Hebrews and Revelation. It could not, therefore, have belonged to any one party or division of the Church. In the time of St. Paul, it was the general term, and was gradually appropriated to the Christian Church. All the sacred associations with which that was invested as the body of Christ were transferred to it, and the words synagogue and ecclesia soon became as distinct as the things to which they were applied. The very rapidity with which “ecclesia” acquired its new meaning, is a proof of the life and force which from the first the thought of communion with one another must have exerted on the minds of the earliest believers. Some indication of the transition is traceable in Hebrews 2:12, where the words of Psalms 22:23 are adopted in a Christian sense; also in Hebrews 12:23, where the Old and New Testament meanings of ecclesia are similarly blended. (Prof. Jowett.)
The note of a true Church
There were heathen assemblies in Thessalonica, numerous and powerful; but these were for the worship of false gods. The only true Church was this recent, despised, persecuted one, which rejoiced in the knowledge of the Creator of heaven and earth as their heavenly Father through Christ. There was also a congregation of Jews. A synagogue stood there for the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the only living and true God. But its people, by rejection of the Messiah and persecution of His saints, had transformed it into “a synagogue of Satan.” But the Church, which Paul had planted, was “in the Lord Jesus Christ.” It was a Christian community. It was “in God the Father,” having been originated by Him, being His possession, receiving the tokens of His favour, and being governed by His laws. It was “in the Lord Jesus Christ,” its members having been gathered in His name, being knit together in His love, existing for His service, and preserved for His glory. (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
Grace be unto you and peace--Let us look at the blessings.
1. Grace--favour shown to one who has no claim upon it; and so either the kindness existing in God’s heart towards us, or as some operation of that kindness. In the one case, we cannot see it--it is a boundless ocean hidden in God’s infinite mind; in the other case, if we cannot see it we can enjoy it--it is a stream flowing out of that unseen ocean into our hearts. This grace--
(3) Upholds and strengthens.
We are lost till grace finds us, undone till it saves us, naked till it clothes us, miserable till it comforts us. Grace finds us poor and makes us rich; sunk, and never leaves us till it has raised us to heaven.
2. Peace, i.e., of mind through reconciliation with God. Naturally we are all strangers to this. We accordingly find men everywhere flying from thought and feeling to pleasure, business, science, and even cares. But quiet is not thus obtained. The soul slumbers but is not at peace. The peace of the text is not absence of thought and feeling, it is tranquillity and comfort while thinking and feeling. It spreads itself over the whole mind.
(1) The understanding no longer harassed in its search for truth feels that in the gospel it has found truth to repose upon.
(2) The conscience is quieted. Its tormenting fears go when the blood of Jesus cleanseth it from sin.
(3) The affections which no natural man can indulge without disquiet, have such objects as satisfy while they exercise them, as regulate while they excite them.
(4) The will before quarrelling with God’s dealings now acquiesces in them and enters into perfect peace.
1. The connection is very close. Paul mentions them together in all his Epistles except Hebrews, and so does St. Peter. Nearly twenty times are they coupled together and prayed for in the New Testament. So the connection cannot be accidental.
2. They are always mentioned in the same order--nowhere “peace and grace.”
3. They are united as cause and effect. Grace is the root of peace, peace the flower of grace. They are not found together like two trees that grow side by side, their roots and branches intertwined. Where grace is, peace is or will be.
4. We may apply this to rectify the errors of
(1) The worldling. He cuts them in two. He wants peace without grace, happiness without holiness. But he might as well go round the world and search for a day without a sun.
(2) The penitent who looks for grace but despairs of peace.
III. Their twofold source.
1. From the Father, because His free everlasting love is the fountain of them. The work of Christ did not make God love, it was the way God’s love was manifested.
2. From the Lord Jesus Christ, as the great Medium through which our prayers for grace and peace ascend, and through whom these blessings flow from God. Man in union with Christ--man’s poor, empty, disquieted heart is the cistern into which the streams of grace and peace run.
3. In every instance in which Paul uses this benediction the two names are conjoined--an emphatic witness to the co-equality of Christ with God.
IV. The light in which this prayer places them. It represents them as--
1. Exceedingly valuable. If we have but these we need nothing more.
2. Needed by all.
(1) By sinners.
(2) By the comfortless.
(3) By saints of all kinds, as here.
They are not given once for all, but moment by moment.
3. Copious--sufficient for all times, etc. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
Peace of Christ
A friend once asked Professor Francke, who built the Orphan house at Halle, how it came to pass that he maintained so constant a peace of mind. The benevolent and godly man replied, “By stirring up my mind a hundred times a day. Wherever I am, whatever I do, I say, Blessed Jesus, have I truly a share in thy redemption? Are my sins forgiven? Am I guided by thy Spirit? Thine I am. Wash me again and again. By this constant converse with Jesus, I have enjoyed serenity of mind, and a settled peace in my soul.” (Scottish Christian Herald.)
The ordinary salutation of the East was one of peace, and is so still. Seated on his fiery steed and armed to the teeth, the Bedouin careers along the desert. Catching, away to the haze of the burning sands, a form similarly mounted and armed approaching him, he is instantly on the alert; for life is a precarious possession among these wild sons of freedom. His long spear drops to the level; and grasping it in his sinewy hand he presses forward, till the black eyes that glance out from the folds of his shawl recognize in the stranger one of a friendly tribe, between whom and him there is no quarrel, no question of blood to settle. So, for the sun is hot, and it is far to their tents, like two ships in mid-ocean, they pass; they pull no rein, but sweep on, with a “Salem Aleikum”--“Peace be unto you.” Like their flowing attire, the black tents of Kedar, the torch procession at their marriages, this salutation is one of the many stereotyped habits of the East. The modern traveller hears it fresh and unchanged, as if it were but yesterday that David sent it to Nabal. Beautiful as the custom is, like the fragrant wallflower that springs from the mouldering ruin it adorns, it sprung from an unhappy condition of society. Why peace? Because frequent wars made the people of these lands sigh for peace. War does not take us unawares. We see the black storm cloud gathering before it bursts; and by prudent policy may avert it, or, if it be inevitable, prepare bravely to meet it. But this curse of humanity fell on those countries with the suddenness of a sea squall that strikes a ship, and, ere time is found to reef a sail or lower a boat, throws her on her beam ends, and sends her, crew and cargo, foundering into the deep. Look at the case of Job, at Abraham’s rescue of Lot at the spoiling of Ziklag (1 Samuel 30:1-31), and it is easy to understand how the most kind and common greeting in such countries was “Peace be unto you.” With these words our Lord on returning from the grave accosted His disciples. How well did they suit the occasion! The battle of salvation has been fought out, and a great victory won; and in that salutation Jesus, His own herald, announces the news to the anxious Church. He has fulfilled the anthem with which angels sang His advent to this distracted, guilty world. Though He had to recall her from heaven, where she had fled in alarm at the Fall, or rather, had to seek her in the gloomy retreats of death, He brings back sweet, holy peace to the earth. Suppose that instead of descending in those silent and unseen influences of the Spirit, our Lord were to come in person, how would He address us? It would be in these very words. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
1 Thessalonians 1:2-4
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers
Is expansive in its character. It is our duty to be grateful for personal benefits, but it displays a nobler generosity to be thankful for the good of others. Paul thanked God--
1. Because of their work of faith.
(1) Faith itself is a work; it is the laying hold of Christ for salvation. In its exercise man meets with opposition, and it becomes a fight.
(2) It is the cause of work--the propelling and sustaining motive in all Christian toil. “Faith without works is dead.”
2. Because of their labour of love. Labour tests the strength of love. We show our love to Christ by what we do for Him. Love makes even drudgery an enjoyment. It leads us to attempt what we would once have shrunk from in dismay.
3. Because of their patient hope. It was severely tried, but not quenched. It is hard to hope in the midst of discouragement. It was so with Joseph in prison, with David in the mountains of Judah, with the Jews in Babylon. But the grace of patience gives constancy to hope.
4. Because of their election, not as individuals, this could not he, but as a people. St. Paul here means that from what he saw of the operations of Christian grace in them he knew they were God’s elect. As Bengel says, “Election is the judgment of Divine grace, exempting in Christ, from the common destruction of men, those who accept their calling by faith. Every one who is called, is elected from the first moment of his faith; and so long as he continues in his calling and faith, he continues to be elected; if at any time he loses calling and faith, he ceases to be elected.” Observe the constancy of this thanksgiving spirit--“We give thanks always for you all.” As they remembered without ceasing the genuine evidences of conversion so did they assiduously thank God.
II. Evokes a spirit of practical devotion. “Making mention of you in our prayers.” The interest of the successful worker in his converts is keenly aroused; he is especially anxious the work should be permanent, and resorts to prayer as the effectual means. Prayer for others benefits the suppliant. When the Church prayed, not only was Peter liberated from prison, but the faith of the members was emboldened.
III. Is rendered to the great Giver of all good. “We give thanks to God.” God is the author of true success. In vain we labour where His blessing is withheld. (G. Barlow.)
A praying engineer used to run from Boston on the morning express train. A very faithful man he was in his business; and he was a man of ardour and enthusiasm for souls. He used to make me ride with him, and he would give me an account of his hunting and fishing for souls. I suppose he was the means of rescuing fifty men from the devil’s grasp, clothing them and getting them into business. Even while he was running his engine he was thinking of his work--for his real work was among souls. The moment he got to the terminus off went his engineer’s clothes and on went his ordinary dress, and he started around town to look after some of his cases to inquire about them, and to speak with them. He drew out his praying list one day! I found that he had a strip of paper on which were written ten or fifteen names; and he said that each day he prayed for every single one of them. Sometimes he was more particularly moved in behalf of this one, and sometimes in behalf of that one. Said he, “As soon as one of these is converted I put another on the list. There are ever so many waiting to get on the list; but I cannot put more than fifteen on.” He was always praying somebody on or somebody off from that list of his. He gave me some of the most affecting accounts that I ever heard in my life. (H. W. Beecher.)
Prayer for individuals
There is nothing better than to always have before your mind some one at whose conversion you are aiming. There may be a withering plant in your garden, but it will respond to the touch of the water with which you sprinkle it, and there will be an awakening to new strength and beauty. And who will say that less effective will be the power of the Holy Ghost; that the Christian may not pray down an influence like the waters of life to any soul wasted away by sin? It is so hopeful, this personal work in behalf of souls. It is most effective when its aim is single, and one by one you separate men and make them special, individual objects of your attention. Such work, if persisted in, will tell wonderfully by and by. The results will grow into mountains. They may not aggregate as rapidly as did Dr. Hopkins, the old Newport parson, and the famous author of Hopkinsonism. He made a list of the members of his congregation, and for each one made separate supplication. There were thirty-one conversions after those separate prayers. You may not have such a success, but enough stars will shine in your crown to make a constellated glory there forever!
1 Thessalonians 1:3-4
Remembering without ceasing your work of faith
The three graces at work
I. The work of faith. Faith is an active principle, and St. James has dealt with it as such, and told Antinomians of every age that “faith without works is dead.” Some assert that he was antagonistic to St. Paul on this subject. But this is refuted by St. Paul’s example, and by the text, which accords with all that James has written.
1. Faith is the awakening of the soul to the realities of life. To apprehend the truth is to feel its power, without the consciousness of that power life is a dream. To grasp the truths of the gospel with the hand of faith is to stir up the powers of human nature and load them with responsibilities.
2. Faith is the inspiration to discharge the duties of life. The mere sense of obligation is not enough. It is a man’s duty to pay his debts whether he has the means or not. Honesty of purpose and hope of success will encourage the debtor to labour until he is able to discharge his liabilities. The work of faith, although not without its reward, is a present effort to secure future fruits. The good seed is cast into the ground in expectation of a harvest. Work follows belief.
II. Labour of love distinguishes between the ordinary work of the Church, and the supreme efforts necessary to maintain the Christian name. The cross was often very heavy. Fiery trials came to overcome faith, but love stood in the breach, and drove back the enemy. Where trust may fail, love never will.
1. It is a labour of love when everything seems to go against us. Peter and his fellow disciples, although they had toiled in vain all night, yet cast the net once more out of love for the Saviour. It does not appear that they believed success would attend the second effort, but they did it in loving obedience to Christ. Apostolic labours were often carried on in the same spirit. Ministers, Sunday school teachers, and Christian workers, when faith falters, should do as the second officer does when immediate danger is apprehended--send for the captain. In heavy seas let love take the command of the vessel. “Charity never faileth.”
2. It is a labour of love when we are persecuted by those whom we seek to save. It is a trying ordeal to benefit others while they are injuring us. We have a severe lesson to learn when we must love those who hate us. In this the believer approaches nearer the Saviour.
3. It is a labour of love when we leave all the fruit for others to gather and enjoy. Disinterested love labours not for itself, but for those who follow. This is a grand movement in the Church.
III. Patience of hope. This is the climax. Work must bear fruit. The glory of God in what we do may be beyond the ken of faith. The storm may rage furiously, threatening to outdo the wisdom and the courage of love. Hope sees beyond all this to the desired haven.
1. Abide God’s time. With the Lord a thousand years are as but one day. Faith may become dispirited because there is a seeming slackness on the part of God to fulfil His promise. Love may be beaten by the storm for a longer time than was expected. Hope brings forward the visions of the future to cheer the one and to strengthen the other.
2. Lay hold on God’s arm. Hope feels for the strength of the Lord, and leans upon it. (Weekly Pulpit.)
A favourite triology
These were St. Paul’s “favourite triology of Christian principles.” And they were fundamental also. An eminent theologian puts it thus:--“As the three principal colours of the rainbow--red, yellow, and blue, representing heat, light, and purifying power--supply in their combination all the other colours, so, by a sort of moral analysis, faith, hope, and love lie at the foundation, or enter into the composition, of all other Christian excellences.” They are, in a word, inseparable graces. Faith always works by love, and these two virtues can wait patiently and hopefully for ultimate results. They are the crown of Christian believers, and the forces of the whole Church. And they must succeed. Faith says--“I labour in the full confidence that I shall finally accomplish all I would;” Love says--“I delight in my work, and therefore will not slacken in my efforts until I have secured all I desire;” and Hope says--“I can wait patiently for all I joyfully anticipate.” These three divine graces are a created trinity, and have some glimmering resemblance of the Trinity uncreate; for as there the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Holy Ghost proceeds from them both; so here a true faith begets a constant hope, and from them proceeds charity. In the godly these three are united, and cannot be sundered. We believe in God’s mercy, we hope for His mercy, and we love Him for His mercy. (T. Adams.)
The vital graces
The 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 dissimulation;” and there is “a hope of the hypocrite that perisheth.” Such, however, were not the graces which had been exercised among the Thessalonians: in them the apostle had seen--
I. 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. Faith, moreover, brings the Christian to Christ for daily supplies of those blessings which his various necessities require. 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, and purifies his heart. This faith St. Paul 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 the Roman empire, and were held forth as patterns and ensamples of it to all the Christian world.
II. A laborious love. Love is that fruit by which, above all, the truth and reality of faith will be discerned. It is by this, above all, that we can assure ourselves, or be known to others, as faithful followers of Christ. If we have it not, all else that we can have is of no value. 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. 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. 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 to exhort them to abound more and more in the conduct which they had already pursued.
III. A patient hope. Hope is the offspring of faith and love, or at least of that faith which worketh by love. St. Paul calls it “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; and to fulfil all that God has required, to the utmost possible extent; and to suffer all that God has ordained us to suffer, in hope of a final recompense; and, finally, to continue in a constant course of well-doing, even to the end. Such was the hope which the Thessalonians had manifested, and in which they had greatly rejoiced even in the midst of all their afflictions. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
The character of Thessalonian Christianity
I. Active faith shown in--
1. A full persuasion of the truth of the gospel.
2. Steadfast adherence to it in the midst of trial.
3. The great change which it had already wrought in their life and character.
4. The efforts in which they had engaged to extend the gospel.
II. Laborious love implying--
1. Great anxiety for the temporal and spiritual well-being of others.
2. Self-denying exertions to promote that well-being.
III. Patient hope.
1. A conviction that Christ will come.
2. A preparedness for His coming.
3. An expectation of it.
4. An earnest desire for it. (T. Hughes.)
Faith, home, and love
Faith hangs on the word of promise, love on that God who gives, hope on the promised inheritance. Faith receives and has, love gives, hope waits. Faith makes the heart firm, love makes it soft, hope expands it. Faith holds fast to what it has received, love gives up what it has received, hope triumphs over what is wanting. Faith capacitates us for dominion over this world, love for ministering to this world, hope for renunciation of this world. Faith is the confidence in what one hopes for; love, the proof of this, that one has faith; hope, the taking possession, before we have reached the goal, of that which we have learned by faith and love to yearn after. Faith is what it ceases to be in sight; hope is what it ceases to be in full possession; love is that which it never ceases to be, for God is love. (Prof. Harless.)
Faith is childlike, hope is saintlike, but love is Godlike. (Prof. Eadie.)
The work of faith
I. As it regards God.
1. To depend on His guidance--
(1) In His word.
(2) In the opening up of providential opportunities.
2. To trust in His help. Without Him we can do nothing.
(1) The mind is dark as to duty--He must enlighten it.
(2) The will is irresolute or rebellious--He must subdue and strengthen it.
(3) The energies are enfeebled--He must invigorate them.
3. To use His power.
(1) It is offered freely.
(2) It must be employed faithfully and energetically.
4. To bide His time. As in nature, so in grace, there is seed time and harvest: how often the Christian husbandman confounds the two.
5. To aim at His glory.
(1) This is His due inasmuch as He is the great Agent, we the implements.
(2) This will lift our efforts on to a higher platform and endue them with an irresistible motive power.
II. As it regards self.
1. To believe that God has qualified us for a certain work in a certain way.
(1) God has qualified some mentally. It is for such to believe that God has fitted them for literature, teaching, organization, etc.
(2) God has qualified some physically. It is for such to believe that although not gifted intellectually, they can still work for God in visiting the sick, etc.
(3) God has qualified some financially: they should believe that their work is beneficence.
(4) God has qualified some with only a quiet influence: such should not believe that they can do nothing. God sometimes qualifies by disqualifications. How can the sick work? In many ways. By prayer, the example of Christian resignation, etc. “They also work who only stand and wait.”
2. To believe that God intends and will help us each to work in his own way. Do not, then, ape anyone else. That is unbelief in our God-given individuality. Yet it largely obtains. The born preacher thinks he should organize: the visitor that he should teach: but it is misplaced faith and therefore unbelief. Be yourself, and rely on yourself as called and qualified by God.
3. To believe that through God’s strength we are sufficient for anything that He calls us to. Unbelief here is the paralysis of Christian effort and the nurse of much sinful indolence.
4. To believe that God will accept and consecrate us as we grapple with our tasks. Faith is the spring of devotion to God.
III. As regards our work.
1. To believe in the Divine sanction. Unbelief here is ruinous. Any doubt about our Divine call will not be compensated by the most transparent sincerity and the most prodigious effort. All work must fall to pieces without faith in its Divinity.
2. To believe that it is worthy of the best energies that we can devote to it, the best time that we can spend in its preparation and execution, the best appliances we can use in it. We must regard it as the noblest work in which a human spirit can engage: which it really is.
3. To believe in its ultimate success. Who would stand long hours behind a counter unless he believed that his work was going to pay? And who can preach and teach with any power unless he believes that God’s word shall not return to Him void.
IV. As regards others, viz., those for whose benefit we work.
1. To believe that they want our service: that the sinful need cleansing, that the degraded need elevating, etc.
2. To believe that our service will meet this need. If we have any lingering doubt that the gospel is not quite effective, and must be abandoned for, e.g., some methods of social reform--farewell to all power and prospect of success. Learn--
1. That Christ is the Author and Finisher of our faith. “It is the gift of God.”
2. That faith having secured personal salvation, it henceforth becomes practical.
3. That faith grows and strengthens by exercise, and nowhere so effectually as in Christian work. (J. W. Burn.)
And labour of love:--
The labour of love
I. The labour which love inspires. Love is the mightiest motive: the one which never fails. This is needed in all work that is worth doing: much more Christian work. Love regards either the work itself, as in the case of an artist, or the object for which the work is done, i.e., to please a friend or to feed a family. Christian work is animated by the threefold motive: the work is worth doing, God is worth serving, souls are worth saving.
II. The labour which love does.
1. It undergoes any sacrifices. Mark the self-denial of the student, e.g., in his pursuit of learning. Shall the Christian then avoid any discipline that will perfect his character, or is necessary for his equipment for war or service?
2. It succumbs to no fatigue. Of mere task service we soon tire.
3. It spares no energies. When a man begins to pick and choose, it is easy to see that he has no heart in it. Christian love asks not how little can I do and escape condemnation, but how much can I do of this glorious work for this dear Master.
III. The labour which love perfects. Its work must be worthy of itself. So--
1. It is ingenious in contriving to do the best thing in the best way. What pains are taken about mother’s birthday present; and shall we be less solicitous for Christ.
2. It adds beauty to ability so that the gratification may be complete. There is a holy extravagance about love which excites the query, “To what purpose is this waste?”
IV. The labour which love rewards.
1. The labour of love is its own reward: to have produced a book which has edified thousands is a reward to which the most handsome remuneration is out of all proportion. To have brought a soul to Christ is worth more than the wealth of a Rothschild.
2. The smile of the beloved one recompenses the labour of love. Your work is worth so much--which will you have--twice its value or the warm word of appreciation? The Master’s glad “well done” is heaven.
1. Learn to love what you do either for its own sake or for the sake of some one. This will make “drudgery divine.”
2. Let your love grow with your work and your work under your love. (J. W. Burn.)
Products of love
Fear produceth unwilling, servile performances, as those fruits that grow in winter or in cold countries are sour, unsavoury, and unconcocted; but those which grow in summer or in hotter countries, by the warmth and influence of the sun, are sweet and wholesome. Such is the difference between those fruits of obedience which fear and love produceth. (Bishop Reynolds.)
Love wrought this
A century ago, in the north of Europe, stood an old cathedral, upon one of the arches of which was a sculptured face of wondrous beauty. It was long hidden, until one day the sun’s light striking through a slanted window, revealed its matchless features. And ever after, year by year, upon the days when for a brief hour it was thus illuminated, crowds came and waited eager to catch a glimpse of that face. It had a strange history. When the cathedral was being built, an old man, broken with the weight of years and care, came and besought the architect to let him work upon it. Out of pity for his age, but fearful lest his failing sight and trembling touch might mar some fair design, the master set him to work in the shadows of the vaulted roof. One day they found the old man asleep in death, the tools of his craft laid in order beside him, the cunning of his right hand gone, the face upturned to this marvellous face which he had wrought--the face of one whom he had loved and lost in early manhood. And when the artists and sculptors and workmen from all parts of the cathedral came and looked upon that face they said, “This is the grandest work of all; love wrought this.” (Christian Advocate.)
Patience of hope--
Patience of hope
Is the point of this verse that we shall insist upon. But what is hope? It is an emotion; but it is more nearly allied to an intellectual state, perhaps, than a good many others. It is cheerfulness; it is happiness in expectancy; or, it is a bright view of the future. Memory takes care of the past; realization considers the present; anticipation works in the future, but it is a purely intellectual state of fore-looking: it may run along the line of cause and effect; it is a kind of prophecy from the known side of the relation of causes to effects. Hope acts in the future; it distils joy in the present by reason of that which it sees in the future. Anticipation does not: anticipated joys do not make one necessarily joyful now; anticipated success does not bring the remuneration of success in the present; it may bring courage, but not joy. Hope does bring joy, it irradiates the present; trials, struggles, temptations, defeats, are all made radiant by hopefulness. Not only is it an active state, but under certain circumstances it is a state that beds itself in, or is upheld by, the condition of patience, as if patience were a candlestick, and hope were the candle. It is looking at things in the future in a bright and cheerful light--the light of happiness. In this regard there are those that have no hope, or, rather, that have a hope that is torpid. I recollect having to deal with a saintly and notable woman, who, at the breaking out of a revival of religion, was in the very depths of despair, and felt that her hopes were blasted, and that she was foredoomed to eternal destruction. She had been so excessively active in all the preliminary stages of the religious excitement that she had simply exhausted herself; and, being of a bilious temperament, she had gone into a condition of absolute paralysis, if I might so say, of hopefulness. I did not address one single consideration of hopefulness to her. When her confidence was secured, so that she could follow implicitly my directions, I forbade her to go to church, to read one word in the Bible, or to utter a syllable of prayer until I gave her permission. She was filled with amazement; but resting absolutely, and freeing herself from that which had already been an over-anxiety in her case, at last nature rebounded, and she sent me word that if I did not free her from her promise she would have to break it, for her heart was overflowing with joy, and she could not help it though she tried ever so hard. If I had gone on describing the sin of her forgetting Christ and so forth, it would have been adding to her overstraining, and there would have been no chance for nature to rebound and come to her help. So, while there is this state of a probably diseased condition of mind, there must be other than mere moral treatment. There be many persons that have been injured by a too intense application, to their cases, of religious stimuli. We should have care not to plunge men into despondency; but, on the other hand, we ought all of us to be taught, in the very beginning, that of ourselves we are scarcely to attain anything that is very high--that the light which is in us, tending toward good, is the atmosphere of God Himself. Have hope--not despair; and above all things, do not get caught in the devil’s puzzle as between that which is in you by reason of God’s stimulus, and that which is dependent on your own exertion and your own will. (H. W. Beeches.)
The patience of hope
I. The relation of hope to patience.
1. It begets patience. Where there is no hope there is no patience, but either apathy or recklessness. The man who feels there is no hope of retrieving his ruined fortunes simply folds his hands or drowns his despair in self-indulgence.
2. It fosters patience. While there is a hope of anything, we feel that it is worth while waiting for it. But just in proportion as hope fades does patience relax its hold.
3. It justifies patience. If there is nothing to wait for, why wait? A friend’s promise, e.g., is sure to be redeemed. The hope of that warrants the patience of years. Apply these principles--
(1) To God’s salvation. To despair of this as some have done is to grow careless and indifferent--but what weary days and months have been spent in the hope of the smile of God’s countenance. This hope encourages us to wait for salvation in God’s time and way, and the object is so great as to justify any amount of patience.
(2) To Christian work. The prospect of winning souls calls forth the patient use of means. When we despond, the means are abandoned or only feebly employed. But hope lures the labourer to plod on. The seed is sown in tears; but it is sown; and the harvest will repay patient continuance in well-doing.
(3) To family duties. The mother’s lot is brightened by hope. Alas! what would it be without it? That troublesome boy may grow up to be a great man. In the hope of this plod on, mother!
II. The relation of patience to hope.
1. It keeps hope alive. The impatient are most subject to fits of despondency. The patient are often disappointed, but what do they do? Turn their energies into another channel. Bruce and the spider, “Try, try, try again.” The man who quietly plods on in spite of discouragement augments his hope.
2. It brings hope nearer its fruition. Every step brings the traveller nearer home. Apply these principles--
(1) To the Christian conflict. The more strenuous your efforts to subdue the flesh and to resist temptation, the easier becomes the warfare and the brighter the hope of victory.
(2) To the prospects of the Church. Our Lord delayeth His coming! What shall we do? Abandon Missions? No. “Hold the fort, for He is coming,” and every day’s service brings Him nearer. (J. W. Burn.)
The patience of hope
In the year 1683, Vienna, the capital of Austria, was besieged; a great army of Turks, who were then making war with the nations of Europe, lay before it. When it was known that they were near Vienna, the Emperor of Austria fled from the city, and the poor people in it were left in sad fear and distress. The only person they thought likely to save them was the King of Poland, John Sobieski, and they sent entreating him to come to their help. They knew that he could only come to them over the northern mountains, and day after day they rose early, and watched for the first morning light, in the hope of seeing the Polish army on the mountains. It was anxious waiting, but hope sustained them. The siege began in July; on the 11th of September some weary watchers were looking out from the ramparts to the mountain of the Kalimburg, when--oh, delightful sight!--they saw something bright on the mountain side, and discerned the lances and armour of the brave Poles marching to the rescue. That very day Sobieski fought a bloody battle, defeated the Turks, and set Vienna free. (Family Treasury.)
The effects produced by the vital graces in St. Paul’s mind
I. A lively interest in their welfare. A person less connected with them than he could not but have admired such excellences; but he was their father; he had begotten them in the gospel, and therefore might well boast of them as his “glory and joy.” Accordingly we find that whenever he came into the presence of his God and Father, he both gave thanks for them, and prayed for their still greater advancement in everything that was good. Most exalted was the joy which he felt on their account. When he saw the transcendent eminence of their attainments, he quite forgot all his own afflictions; the sight inspired new life and vigour into him; and he felt in himself a recompense which richly repaid all that he had done and suffered for their sake. This shows what are the feelings and views of every faithful minister when he sees his people thus adorning the gospel of Christ. 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 stupefying amazement and overwhelming gratitude. And, while they render thanks to God for these things, they pour out their heart before Him in prayers and supplications on their behalf. In a word, these things form a bond of union between a minister and his people, such as does not exist in the whole world beside.
II. An assured confidence in their state. When the apostle beheld these fruits produced by his Thessalonian 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. The same blessed assurance may now be entertained wherever the same ground for it exists. Assurance, so founded, can never be productive of any bad effect. 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. 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 their diminution 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. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
In the sight of God and our Father--
The habitual recognition of God
I. What it is to act as ever in the sight of God. To maintain a supreme and habitual regard for God in the relations He sustains towards us.
1. Some act with a perpetual self-consciousness. They care for no one’s esteem or condemnation. Their one object is to please self--a poor master when best pleased.
2. To act with a perpetual consciousness of others: ever fearful to offend, and offending from very fearfulness; ever over-anxious to please, and failing through very over-anxiousness.
3. The Christian is ever conscious of, “Thou God seest me.”
(1) As a Being of infinite perfection.
(2) As Lawgiver and Sovereign.
(3) As Creator, Preserver, Benefactor.
(4) As Redeemer and Sanctifier.
(5) As Judge and Rewarder.
(6) As Father.
II. The advantage of acting as ever in the sight of God.
1. It would make the whole of life a continued act of religion. Apply this to business, politics, domestic duties.
2. It would give us the comfort of knowing that some one whose appreciation is worth having is cognizant of little acts upon which men set no value. Who regards the widow’s mite or the cup of cold water? God is also observant of those little trials in the warehouse or home, the aggregate of which constitute a great trial. He is looking down with sympathy--be brave; He is looking down with justice--beware.
3. It would strengthen against temptation. There is enough in that omniscient Being to gratify every longing. Why, then, try to fill your belly with the husks that the swine do eat?
4. It would make us stedfast in all holy obedience. We should be prepared for all the duties of devotion. The sense of God with us amid all the cares and bustle of the world would help to maintain all the graces in lively exercise.
5. It would prepare for death and eternity. (N. W. Taylor, D. D.)
Realization of God’s presence
The realization of the Divine presence is the central thought of the Christian’s whole life. All the graces of his character spring from that one root. Just as all life, animal or vegetable, forms round a nucleus, a centre, a mere point or speck at first, but containing the germ of the animal or plant that is developed from it; so the spiritual life of the believer all forms itself from this one centre, the realization of the presence of God. (Dean Goulburn.)
An eye fixed on man
What would you say if, wherever you turned, whatever you were doing, whatever thinking in public or private, with a confidential friend, telling your secrets, or alone planning them, if, I say, you saw an eye constantly fixed upon you, from whose watching though you strove ever so much you could never escape; and even if you closed your own eye to avoid, you still fancied that to get rid of it was impossible--that it could perceive your every thought? The supposition is awful enough. There is such an Eye, though the business and struggles of the world would often enough prevent us from considering this awful truth. In crowds we are too interrupted, in the pursuit of self-interest we are too much perverted, in camps we are struggling for life and death, in courts we see none but the eye of a human sovereign; nevertheless, the Divine eye is always upon us, and, when we least think of it, is noting all, and, whatever we may think of it, will remember all. (De Vere.)
Man in the sight of God
Let us ask ourselves seriously and honestly, “What sort of a show would I make after all, if the people around me knew my heart and all my secret thoughts?” What sort of a show then do I already make in the sight of Almighty God, who sees every man exactly as he is? But take comfort also, and recollect however little you and I may know, God knows; He knows Himself and you and me and all things; and His mercy is over all His works. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)
1 Thessalonians 1:4-6
Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God
The election “of God” is not connected with “knowing” nor “election.” The meaning is that the Church was “beloved” of God, not merely of the missionaries. And the proof of their being the subject of the Divine love is their election. This election was their historical selection out of the Western World to be the earliest European recipients of the gospel. The narrative in Acts 16:6-10 is expository of it. The missionaries’ course was narrowed off from this and that place until the vision of the man of Macedonia. Thessalonica being the chief city of Macedonia, the vision was a declaration of the election of its inhabitants. The term “election” is a rare one in Scripture, and is absent, except in this case, from all Paul’s earlier Epistles. It had been used of Paul to Ananias in reference to his own similar selection: “He is a vessel of election unto Me.” In both cases it means selection for privilege, and therefore for service. The same election is ceaselessly seen--one nation, city, family, individual, called before another. Many perplexities gather round the subject, and its ultimate solution is to be found in the Divine sovereignty alone. Often, however, the thing is clear. Here, e.g., there was a fitness in the choice of Thessalonica as a centre for Christian influence (1 Thessalonians 1:8). Thessalonica was a great emporium of commerce by sea. It lay also on the line of one of the great Roman roads. Cicero describes it as “placed in the bosom of the Roman Empire.”
II. The grounds of the apostle’s knowledge of this election were--
1. Subjective--on his part.
(1) “Our gospel,” a phrase implying--
(2) Heart possession of it. “I believed, therefore have I spoken.” This is the first prerequisite of a faithful ministry. As Melanchthon used to say to his students, “It is the all thy house shall be saved.” These words were proclaimed by the apostle’s lips. Human instrumentality is employed in what is in the strictest sense God’s work. But often it is in “word only.” Even from the lips of Christ the message fell ineffectual, and Paul has his share in this. But it was far different here.
(3) This gospel came “in power”--not miraculously, but persuasively. It was no cold, formal performance of duty, but in a very exceptional degree heart work.
(4) It was therefore “in the Holy Ghost.” The presence and energy of the Divine Spirit were recognized by Him. His utterances were more than the struggles of an earnest human spirit; they were the winged words of the Spirit of Truth.
(5) Hence it came “in much assurance,” i.e., in the firm conviction that his message was from heaven, and that it was not in vain (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). So he knew from within himself that they were “appointed unto salvation.” From this we may gather--
(a) Every minister feels sometimes powerless, unaided by the Spirit, and oppressed with doubt. In such a case he is bound to search for causes in his own heart. But he is also entitled to look without; to trace the cause of his own feebleness in the apathy of the people. He may even, after the example of Paul, conclude in some cases from this ineffective preaching that they are not the chosen people of God. Pulpit and pew react on each other. “Like people, like priest.”
(b) The apostle appeals to their knowledge of his bearing and conduct as well as his words. Personal influence is far more direct and effective than official. Truth must be taught by example as well as precept. An infidel once said to Fenelon, with whom he had been residing: “If I stay here any longer I shall become a Christian in spite of myself.”
(c) This bearing was not self-interested, but for their sakes, as every minister’s should be.
2. Objective--the eager joyfulness with which the Thessalonians received Paul’s preaching. The two grounds cannot be separated. The first could be no safe evidence without the second. Their having been chosen of God is shown by their having chosen God’s gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:13). It became theirs as well as Paul’s. They became followers, i.e., imitators, of Paul and Christ. How? Not in their reception of the truth. In this they might be imitators of Paul, but not of Christ, who was the Truth. The point of imitation is the joyful endurance of suffering. Paul preached the gospel “in much affliction with joy of the Holy Ghost,” as Christ had wrought it out: “Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross.” In this sphere of trial, and of spiritual joy in the midst of it, Christ and His apostles and people are at one. Embracing Christ entailed suffering; but sorrow from without could not destroy inward joy. Afflictions come from men, but joy from the Holy Ghost. The gospel cannot be received without joy. Paul, then, would encourage them to greater endurance still, by his grateful recognition of this evidence of their election. (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
Evidences of election
I. The Word of God coming home with power. The power of the gospel--
1. Does not lie--
(1) In the preacher, otherwise men would be the converters of souls.
(2) Nor in the preacher s learning, or it would consist in the wisdom of men.
(3) Nor in the preacher’s adaptation to his work; that is a secondary agency, not the cause.
(4) Nor in the pathos the preacher may employ. People may weep at a theatre. No, there is something more wanted. A half-drunken man said to Rowland Hill, “I am one of your converts.” “Yes,” said he, “I dare say you are one of mine; but if you were one of God’s, you would not be in that state.”
2. It does lie in the power of the Holy Ghost.
(1) Did you ever--never mind where--in listening to the Word, feel a Divine power coming with it? Not an impression--that may be wiped out--but a power convincing of sin, making you tremble under it, and then wooing you to Christ, in whom you believed and then became a changed man?
(2) And since that has the Word rebuked you, filled you with God’s love and light and joy, and desire after holiness? If not, you lack a proof of your election. Not that it will be so every time, for the preacher is not always in a fit frame.
II. Receiving the Word with much assurance--not full assurance; that comes afterwards. There are some people who play fast and loose with principles; put a hymn book in their pockets when they are going to meeting and a song book when they are going somewhere else. They can hold with the hare and run with the hounds. Such people have never much confidence in their religion: and it is very proper that they should not, for their religion is not worth the time they spend in making a profession of it. But the true Christian, when he gets hold of principles, keeps them. His religion is part of himself. He believes the truth, not because he has been taught it, but because it is true to him; like the servant girl who, when she could not answer her infidel master, said, “Sir, I cannot answer you, but I have a something in here that would, if it could speak.” Now, if you have received the gospel with much assurance, you can say, “Christ is mine. I know that Christ is precious, not by ‘Paley’s Evidences’ or ‘Butler’s Analogy,’ but by my heart’s inward evidence, the analogy of my soul’s experience.” If you can say that, whether you believe the doctrine of election or not, you are one of the elect.
III. Becoming followers of us and of the Lord; by which the apostle does not mean that they said, “I am of Paul, I of Silas, I of Timothy.” No, they imitated them so far as they imitated Christ. Are you Christ-like, or do you want to be? Can you forgive your enemy, love him, and do him good? Are you prayerful as Jesus was? If a man follow not Christ, whatever he may say about election he is not the Lord’s.
IV. Endurance of affliction with joy. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A man of colour who had received the gospel became a preacher among his black brethren. He was addressed on one occasion by his master in these words: “And so I hear that you have become a preacher, Sam, and that you believe in the doctrine of election.” “Well, yas, sah, I believe dat truth is clearly revealed in the Word of God.” “And I suppose, Sam, that you think that you are one of the elect.” “Well, sah, I’se prepared to say dat I gib all diligence to make my calling and election sure, dat is true.” “But I suppose you don’t think that I am one of the elect,” said Sam’s master. The sable preacher gave an answer that is worth quoting. Sam knew his master was given to the pursuit of pleasures, money, and the service of sin. Very quietly he replied, “Well, massa, I am not sure about that; dis I know--I nebber knew of an election whet’ dar was no candidate.” (H. Varley.)
Knowledge of election
An Arminian being about to pay a Calvinist a sum of money, asked, “Is it decreed that I shall pay thee this money?” “Put it in my hand, and I will tell thee,” was the reply. Is it not to be wished that many professors of religion would infer their “election of grace” by their actual possession of grace? (New Testament Anecdotes.)
God’s electing providence
Henry IV, King of France, was in every point of view a great man. It is said that on an anniversary of his birthday he made the following reflection: “I was born on this day, and, no doubt, taking the world through, thousands were born on the same day with me; yet, out of all those thousands, I am probably the only one whom God hath made a king. How peculiarly am I favoured by the bounty of His providence!” But a Christian, reflecting on his second birth, may, with greater reason, adore the free and sovereign grace of God.
Proofs of election
The way by which the apostle knew the election of the Thessalonians must be the method by which we are to know ours. We have known some men who pretended to know their election by their impudence. They had got into their head the presumption that they were elected, and though they lived on in sin, and still did as they liked, they imagined they were God’s chosen. This is what I call presuming upon election by sheer impudence. We know others who have imagined themselves to be elect, because of the visions that they have seen when they have been asleep or when they have been awake--for men have waking dreams--and they have brought these as evidences of their election. They are of as much value as cobwebs would be for a garment, and they will be of as much service to you at the day of judgment as a thief’s convictions would be to him if he were in need of a character to commend him to mercy. You may dream long enough before you dream yourself into heaven, and you may have as many stupid notions in your head as there are romances in your circulating libraries, but because they are in your head they are not therefore in God’s book. We want a more sure word of testimony than this, and if we have it not, God forbid that we should indulge our vain conceits with the dainty thought that we are chosen of God. I have heard of one who said in an ale house that he could say more than the rest, namely, that he was one of God’s children; meanwhile he drank deeper into intoxication than the rest. Surely he might have said he was one of the devil’s children with an emphasis, and he would have been correct. When immoral men, and men who live constantly in sin, prate about being God’s children, we discern them at once. Just as we know a crab tree when we see the fruit hanging upon it, so we understand what spirit they are of when we see their walk and conversation. “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” If we are God’s elect, we shall have some substantial evidence to attest it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1 Thessalonians 1:5-10
For our gospel came not unto you in word only -
The coming of the gospel and its effects
The manner in which the gospel should come to a people.
1. In word.
(1) In the word written. It is of no use without this. The preacher’s voice cannot reach where it can go.
(2) In the word preached--stated in naked and clear propositions. Religion is no dark, unintelligible impulse of the mind. A trumpet must give a certain sound, or who will prepare himself for the battle. A herald’s business is to make himself understood.
(3) In the word apprehended. For the want of effort in this direction many are living in the grossest presumption, supposing themselves to be saints whereas they are in the utmost danger; on the other, there are many embarrassed with doubts and fears who ought to be enjoying the gospel.
2. In power.
(1) Doubtless in miraculous power, but this is subordinate. The importance of a document lies in its contents, not in the seal.
(2) Certainly in moral power--the intrinsic energy and efficacy of the truth. “Is not my word a hammer,” etc. “The word of God is quick and powerful.” This was seen in the case of Felix and Agrippa. When the truth is emphatically announced, there is a majesty, authority and force in it which are not found in moral, philosophical, or scientific disquisitions and harangues. Let me testify that you are a sinful man, a dying creature, that eternity is about to open, etc., and there is a power in those truths to strike upon the conscience and cause alarm, and if rejected it is in defiance of the dictates of the understanding and heart.
3. In the Holy Ghost, who--
(1) Convinces of sin, righteousness and judgment, creating a sense of the need of the Saviour and preparing for the reception of the message of mercy.
(2) Applies the gospel salvation to the heart and sheds abroad the love of God in it, and renovates the whole nature.
4. In much assurance. The image is that of a vessel richly freighted with all its sails spread, and wind and tide directly in its favour, going gallantly into port hailed by the acclamations of the people on the beach.
(1) The gospel came on our part with full knowledge, invariable conviction, and certainty.
(2) It was received by you like a vessel richly freighted, commissioned by Providence, sent of God, and the treasure, by appropriation, at once fully became your own. This implies, of course, that they saw the evidence, and felt the power of the word, so that no room was left for doubt. The primitive believers were not entangled as we are by metaphysical subtleties and difficulties respecting faith. They knew at once, with the simplicity of children, that a cordial reception of Christ was salvation.
(3) It is the privilege of every believer to rejoice in the fulness and felicity of his justification. This full assurance is nothing else than a simple and perfect belief.
(4) With joy of the Holy Ghost amidst much affliction. The design of the gospel is to produce joy where nothing else can produce it. Animal spirits, the delights of science or of sense, where are they in affliction? But Christian joy flourishes and sings in trials, “Though the fig tree shall not blossom,” etc.
II. The effects which the Gospel is to produce when it has so come.
1. They turned from idols. Is there no idolatry amongst us which the gospel ought to dethrone? What about the worship of mammon, of the world, of self?
2. They turned to serve the living and true God.
(1) Who has the right to our service which no one else has.
(2) Who will reward us for our service as no one else will.
3. To wait for Jesus.
(1) He delivered us from the wrath to come--hence there is nothing in the future to fear.
(2) Jesus comes at the Judgment; at death.
4. They became imitators of Christ. He is our supreme example. His followers are to be imitated only as they truly follow Him. “Take My yoke upon you,” etc.
5. They became examples to others. There was light upon the candlesticks at Philippi, Berea, etc., but none so brilliant as here. A Christian is not required to set an example of learning, wealth, etc., but of goodness.
III. The report which may go abroad. It was just the same as when a modern people renounces idols and wickedness. The rumour gets abroad and is substantiate by changed lives. It is the same when a revival of true religion breaks out anywhere. (J. Stratten.)
Power through the Spirit
“The best way I can explain how the Christian worker, in complete contact with Christ, is a power to save souls, is by the following example. Take a common bar of iron, and first bending it into the shape of a horseshoe, apply it to a battery. The stream of magnetism flows through it, and by this power it is enabled to hold, even though there be suspended from it extremely heavy weights. As long as the iron is in contact with the battery, so long does the power endure; but the moment the connection is broken the power ceases, the weights fall, and the magnet becomes only a piece of iron. Similarly the Christian worker, in immediate contact with Christ, has His Spirit flowing through him, and this Spirit is the power, and by it we are enabled to do great works for Christ: but the moment we lose touch of Christ, that moment is our power gone, and we become, for God’s purpose, a mere worthless piece of clay. (C. White.)
The gospel the only power unto salvation
Bishop Lavington, when addressing his clergy in a pastoral charge in the last century, said, “We have long been attempting to reform the nation by moral preaching. With what effect? None. On the contrary, we have dexterously preached the people into downright infidelity. We must change our voice; we must preach Christ and Him crucified; nothing but the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.”
How the gospel came to the Thessalonians
I. A fact asserted. “Our gospel came unto you.”
1. Our gospel, not by way of revelation, but dispensation. They had it in trust for the advantage of others. And so sure were they that it came from God that they said, “If we or an angel from heaven preach any other,” etc.
2. What is this gospel Good tidings; but the goodness of the news must regard the state of the receiver. The proclamation of deliverance will be acceptable only to captives. To offer pardon to the innocent or alms to the wealthy would be an insult. The gospel finds every man a sinner, and the relief it gives is adapted to his condition. Is he lost? Here is a Saviour. Is he unholy? Here is renewing grace.
3. This gospel came to them; they did not go to it or send for it. Nor did our heathen forefathers; nor did we. “I am found of them that sought me not.”
II. The manner of it explained. It came--
1. In word--by the translated scriptures and the preached word to you. Thus it must come to be received at all. But a mere theoretic knowledge--
(1) Cannot answer the design of the gospel. God has not inspired men to write His word and then magnified it to amuse your minds or furnish you with materials for controversy. “All scripture … is profitable,” etc.
(2) Will aggravate your sin and increase your condemnation. It is a medicine which will either kill or cure: it will prove either the savour of life or death. “See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh.”
2. In power. When this is the case--
(1) It produces conviction of sin. The word at Pentecost was quick and powerful. It pricked men to the heart, etc. It is the same now. But it works conviction only for saving purposes. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and the word will come with power.
(2) It gives comfort--and the comfort increases with the tribulation. “Ah,” said Bolingbroke, “I find my philosophy fail me now in this affliction.” Does the gospel fail? “Although the fig tree shall not blossom,” etc.
(3) It sanctifies. It calls us to be and makes us saints. Plato often complained that he could not bring the inhabitants of a single village to live according to his rules. But did the fishermen of Galilee complain in a similar way? We have seen the profligate become moral, the covetous liberal, the implacable ready to forgive.
3. In the Holy Ghost. This marks the nature and source of the power. The apostle does not refer to miraculous power--for that ceased with the early age, and miracles failed over and over again when they were worked to secure belief. This power is common to every age, and when exerted never fails. “Not by might nor by power.” Melanchthon, in his zeal for God, hoped that all he addressed on the love of Christ would embrace Him as a Saviour; but he soon found that old Adam was too strong for young Melanchthon.
4. In much assurance--
(1) of understanding,
(2) of faith,
(3) of hope. (W. Jay.)
The power, spirit, and assurance of the gospel
I. The word of thy Gospel.
1. Not man’s gospel (Galatians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 11:4).
2. But God’s gospel (Acts 20:24).
3. To some a hidden gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
4. But to others a revealed one (Matthew 11:25).
II. The power of the Gospel.
1. It reveals the Saviour (1 Corinthians 1:24).
2. It quickens the dead (1 Corinthians 4:15).
3. It enlightens the mind (1 Peter 2:9).
4. It reveals wrath (Mark 16:16).
III. The spirit of the Gospel.
1. It expounds the nature of truth (1 Corinthians 2:10).
2. It gives the knowledge of freedom (Romans 8:2).
3. Helps the soul against its infirmities (Romans 8:26).
4. And gives us the seal of glory (Ephesians 1:13).
IV. The assurance of the Gospel.
1. The assurance of pardon (Psalms 103:12-13).
2. Assurance of righteousness (Isaiah 32:17).
3. Assurance of hope (Hebrews 6:18-20).
4. Assurance of love (Colossians 2:2). (T. B. Baker.)
A gospel of power
I. The gospel is not simply a system of morals; it is a Divine power working in human life, the power of the Holy Ghost. It comes not in mere word or theory or philosophy, but as a supernatural power direct from God. In this respect we distinguish religion from simple morality. Morality does not profess to go any higher than good motives. But the religious man looks to God for Divine strength and help to supplement his own feebleness.
II. The gospel is not the mere word of a creed or ritual, but the power of a life. What Christ most of all desires for us is that every true affection should be strengthened within us; that every noble aspiration should rise up to attainment; that every generous impulse should lead you to help and bless your fellows; that you should abhor the evil and love the good.
III. Christian assurance will come to him who lives by the power of the Holy Ghost. Prove Christ’s words by personal experiment, venture all on His sayings, surrender yourself to Him wholly, follow His counsel; and there will grow up within you such invincible conviction of His truth that neither death nor life shall shake His power over you. (Prof. James Legge.)
The gospel in word
I heard two persons on the Wengern Alp talking by the hour together of the names of ferns; not a word about their characteristics, uses, or habits, but a medley of crack-jaw titles, and nothing more. They evidently felt that they were ventilating their botany, and kept each other in countenance by alternate volleys of nonsense. Well, they were about as sensible as those doctrinalists who forever talk over the technicalities of religion, but know nothing by experience of its spirit and power. Are we not all too apt to amuse ourselves after the same fashion? He who knows mere Linnaean names, but has never seen a flower, is as reliable in botany, as he is in theology who can descant upon supralapsarianism, but has never known the love of Christ in his heart. “True religion’s more than doctrine, Something must be known and felt.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Word and power
The gospel in two aspects.
I. Human. “Our.” It is human--
1. In its instrumentality. It was revealed to man, its blessings are enjoyed by man; it is preached and propagated by man (Romans 10:14-15).
2. When not crowned with success. “In word only.” Apart from the unction from above, the gospel is a dead letter, a savour of death unto death--the good seed falls by the wayside, among thorns, on stony places. The impressions are superficial and defective.
II. Divine. “In the Holy Ghost.” It is Divine--
1. In its origin. It is God’s plan of salvation. It could not have been originated by man, because the idea is beyond the limit of his thoughts. Man can never give existence to what is Divine. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” The gospel bears the image of the heavenly. It is God’s scheme.
2. In its revelation. None could disclose God’s secrets but Himself. Salvation is one of God’s deep things. That which was not originated with man could not be revealed by Him. The gospel salvation was revealed early, unexpectedly, gradually, completely.
3. In its efficacy. The three clauses show the blessed and saving influence of the gospel.
(1) In the emancipation of sinners from the slavery of sin and Satan. The gospel is truth, and the truth makes free and destroys the stronghold of Satan.
(2) In establishing the kingdom of God in the heart. The gospel produces faith, hope, love; it enlightens the understanding, spiritualizes the affections, and purifies the heart. (J. Jenkins.)
The gospel in word
You have passed through a bleak, barren moorland, where the soil seemed sown with stones, and disfigured with stumps of trees, and the only signs of vegetative life were scattered patches of heather and flowerless lichen. After a while you have again traversed the same region, and observed fields of grain ripening for the harvest, and budding saplings giving promise of the future forest. Whence this transformation? The cultivator has been at work. Not less apparent was the change effected in Thessalonica by the diligent toil and faithful preaching of the apostles. We have here two prominent features in the successful declaration of the gospel.
I. The Gospel in word. “Our gospel came unto you in word.” In the history (Acts 17:1-34) we learn the leading themes of apostolic preaching. It is worthy of note that the inspired apostle grounded his discourse on the Scriptures. Even he did not feel himself free from their sacred bonds. He taught--
1. That the promised Messiah was to be a suffering Messiah. The Jewish mind was so dazzled with the prophecies of the regal magnificence and dominion of Jesus, that they overlooked the painful steps by which He was to climb to this imperial greatness. Out of their own scriptures he proved that the only Messiah announced was to be “a man of sorrows.”
2. That the Messiah who was thus to suffer and die, was to rise again. This declared the Divine dignity of His person and was the pledge of the success and stability of His work.
3. That the Jesus who thus suffered and died and rose was the very Messiah promised in their scriptures. The grand topic of apostolic preaching must be the staple theme of the pulpit today.
II. The Gospel in power.
1. In the exercise of miraculous power. The apostles were invested with this, and used it in substantiating the facts of the gospel.
2. In the Holy Ghost--not only in His miraculous manifestations, which were necessary in that age; but in the ordinary exercise of His power, as continued down to the present day--enlightening, convincing, renewing.
3. With much assurance. Literally, “with full assurance, and much of it.” “Plerophorla” is from a word that means to fill up, and is used to denote the hurrying a ship on her career, with all her sails spread and filled with the wind. So the soul, filled with the full conviction of truth, is urged to a course of conduct in harmony with that conviction.
4. An assurance enforced by high integrity of character. “As ye know what manner,” etc. Their earnest labours and upright lives showed they were men moved by profound conviction--a blending of evidence that is not less potent in these days. (G. Barlow.)
The powerful gospel
I. The world needs a powerful Gospel. The great want of men in all ages is an impulse to carry them out of spiritual lethargy. The first requisite is not light. Those who sit in darkness may see a great light, but not have the disposition or energy to seek it. The blight of society is not virulent hatred to good, but indifference, spiritual paralysis. The knowledge of truth is far ahead, not only of the practice but of the ability to pursue it. Theories of the universe have been formulated by the cartload, and the world is little the better for them. There is no hope of salvation in one more theory. No gospel that is not inspired with energy, however fertile in thought or beautiful in sentiment, will meet the world’s need. But beware of mistaking sensation for energy. Sensational preaching may excite interest and stir emotion: yet it may be impotent as the thunder which only comes when the lightning has gone. We want a real energy though it be as silent as sunlight.
II. The Gospel of Christ is full of power. Christianity is not merely a specific religious system ranking with the Egyptian, Indian, Grecian, etc. Nor is it only a better system in dignity, purity, etc. It is more than the noblest solution of the riddle of the universe. Its striking peculiarity is that it is alive, while other systems are dead. There is much truth in the Vedastic ideas of God, in the Zoroastrian teaching about sin, in the Egyptian eschatology, in the Greek dramatists’ views of moral government, in the Greek philosophers’ thoughts concerning the chief good. But all these lack power to change the heart. Christianity does this. Christ struck the keynote when He wrought miracles--“mighty signs” of His spiritual work. The “might” of them was an indication of His power. He was “moved with compassion”; but His sympathy showed itself in energetic deeds of charity. He promised that His exaltation on the cross should draw all men unto Him. Thus Paul writes of the Cross as “the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). When the apostles were “endued with power from on high” their preaching was effectual. The power of the gospel is seen by its effects in the great apostolic missions, in the regeneration of the Roman world and the creation of Christendom, in Christian law, literature, society, home life, and individual character, in missionary victories of modern times.
III. Christ is the source of the power of the Gospel.
1. He is the Truth (John 14:6). Errors are never lastingly powerful. When a false religion wins its way it is because of the truth mixed up with its errors. Mohammedanism, e.g., was a grand protest of Monotheism against idolatry. If Christianity were false it must ultimately have failed. The truth of Christ is the first secret of His power; and the power of the gospel is a proof of its truth. Mere external success may not go for much, but success in spiritual regeneration cannot be begotten of a lie. Christianity is not merely powerful: it is powerful for good, and therefore cannot have been cradled in a delusion.
2. Christ is seen in self-sacrificing love. He wins by the attractions of His Person and character. The great secret of His power is His Cross. A Christless gospel must ever be a futile one, and Christ without His Cross will be shorn of His strength. Without this, Christian ethics and theology are weak.
3. Christ sends His Spirit with His gospel. Conclusion:
The power of the gospel may be frustrated--
1. If the gospel is untruly, unfaithfully, unspiritually preached.
2. If the help of the Divine Spirit is rejected or neglected.
3. If the hearer wilfully rejects its influence. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
Power of the gospel
I wish I could take you to a scene in the kingdom of Hyderabad. The people had risen in a mob to drive us out, because we tried to speak of another God than theirs. The throng was filling the streets. They told me if I tried to say another word I should be killed! I must leave at once, or never leave that city alive! I succeeded in getting their permission to tell a story before they stoned me. They were standing around ready to throw the stones, when I told them the story of all stories--the love of the Divine Father that had made us of one blood. I told them that story of the birth in the manger at Bethlehem; of that marvellous life; of the gracious words that He spake. I told them the story of the Cross, and pictured, in the graphic words the Master gave me that day, the story of our Saviour nailed to the cross for them. When I told them that, I saw the men go and throw their stones into the gutter, and down the cheeks of the very men that had been clamouring the loudest for my blood I saw the tears running. And when I told them how He had been laid in the grave, and how after three days He came forth triumphant and then ascended into heaven, where He ever lives to make intercession for them, and that through Him every one of them might obtain remission of sins and eternal life, I told them I had finished my story, and they might stone me now. But no! they did not want to stone me now. They came forward and bought Scriptures, Gospels, and tracts, for they wanted to know more of the wonderful Saviour. (D. Chamberlain.)
The quiet power of the gospel
A celebrated divine, who was remarkable in the first period of his ministry for a boisterous mode of preaching, suddenly changed his whole manner in the pulpit, and adopted a mild and dispassionate mode of delivery. One of his brethren then inquired of him what had induced him to make the change. He replied: “When I was young I thought it was the thunder that killed the people; but when I grew older and wiser I discovered that it was the lightning. So I determined to thunder less and lighten more.” (W. Antliff, D. D.)
The penetrating power of the gospel
Down by Mitcham, when the lavender is growing, if you take a house there you will discern a smell of lavender; you may shut the windows and close the doors, but when any persons enter, a whiff of lavender enters with them--you cannot help it; and if you live where the gospel is preached at all, you will be sure to hear it and made to know of it. It is God’s intention that you should. It is a voice that comes unasked and undesired, but come it does. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The subduing power of the gospel
Amongst the very first comers at an open-air service was a well-dressed, respectable young man. He took a position close to where we were standing. He evidently did not come prepossessed in our favour. He looked severely on us, and there were hard lines about his mouth, as though he were contending with internal passion. I saw this and said to him, “Do you know why we have come here today?” His reply was a prolonged stare at me. I took no notice of this, but said, “We have come to tell you and these gathered here about a Father in heaven who loves you.” The effect upon the man was instantaneous. A whole battery of arguments could not have produced a more sudden effect than these few unpremeditated words. His face at once softened down; the stern, severe lines about his mouth melted away, and though he made no reply, I could see he was touched. He remained rooted to the spot, an earnest listener all the time we remained there. (J. Macgowan of Amoy.)
Degrees of power attending the gospel
Paul claimed two things as necessary to success in the ministry.
1. He could call the gospel “our gospel.” We must be saved before we can preach salvation. Ezekiel had to eat the roll of his prophecy. As well think of steering the Great Eastern across the ocean without knowing the first principles of navigation; as well think of setting up as ambassador without your country’s authority, as of preaching before the gospel is your own. No amount of education will suffice if you lack a personal interest in salvation by Christ.
2. He was able to point to “his manner of life.” And so must we. We must show in our lives what we preach with our lips. Woe to the minister when he is compelled to say, “Do as I say, not as I do.” We shall use the text--
I. For discrimination. The gospel comes to all who hear it; to the unregenerate as to the regenerate. But some preachers give one gospel to one class and another to another. Unlike the old sowers who sowed indiscriminately, they want to find the good ground before they sow. Instead of going out into the highways and hedges they want to know who are appointed to come, and then they will give the unnecessary invitation. But the apostles delivered the same gospel to non-elect and elect. The point of distinction is not in the gospel, but in its being applied by the Spirit or left to be rejected of men.
1. To some the gospel comes only in word. Even here there are gradations.
(1) Some scarcely know what it is all about. They go to a place of worship and sit out an hour and a half of penance, and when done think they have done the proper thing, but are stolid, unthinking worshippers of an unknown God.
(2) Others understand it in theory, and are pleased with it if preached in a manner to suit their tastes; but the gospel remains in them as drugs in an apothecary’s drawer: they are there, but produce no effect. It is an unloaded canon or barrel of gunpowder; it has no force because the fire of God’s Spirit is absent.
(3) Others are really affected by it. They weep, resolve to amend, are alarmed, but the morning cloud is not more fleeting than their emotions. But these are produced by words, not by the Spirit. But men weep at a theatre. I am afraid that much of the holy water which is spilt from eyes in our places of worship is of no more value than the holy water at Catholic chapels. It is not heart sorrow. At this point let me ask, “Do you know the gospel only in word?” There is a class who are professional sermon hearers. They go one Sunday to hear Mr. A., another to hear Mr. B., and appraise, criticise, etc. They are no better than spiritual vagabonds, neither getting nor doing good.
2. There are those to whom the gospel comes with three accompaniments.
(1) There is sometimes an effect produced by the gospel which may be called “power,” but it is not the power that saves.
(a) It comes with power on the understanding. You have heard, weighed, judged, and received it as being Divine--you assent to its propositions.
(b) To the conscience. It has convinced you of sin. Like Felix, you tremble.
(c) On the feelings. Your desires have been awakened. You have said, “Oh, that I were saved!” and even advanced as far as Balaam, “Let me die the death of the righteous.”
(d) On the life. The gospel has done you much good, although it has not saved you; though, alas! there are others to whom it has only for a time been as bit and bridle.
(2) We come now to a nobler elevation, and speak to those to whom the Word has come “in the Holy Ghost.” This is a great secret and cannot be expounded, but many of you know it experimentally. The Spirit has come--
(a) A quickening power. You have now different feelings, joys, sorrows, to what you had before, because while you listened to the letter which killeth, the Sprat came with it and made you live.
(b) As an illuminating power. He showed you your sins and your Saviour.
(c) As a comforting power. Your burdens were removed as He opened up to you the promises.
(d) An inflaming power. He has rested on you when you have heard the Word as a Spirit of burning.
(e) A rejoicing power.
(3) The highest point in the text is “much assurance.”
(a) They were fully persuaded of the truth of the gospel, and had no staggering or blinding doubts.
(b) They had the fullest conviction of their interest in that truth. They were saved, and they knew it.
II. For instruction. It is not enough to preach the gospel; something more is wanted for conversion than even that. We must have the energy of the Holy Ghost. Then--
1. It becomes more and more imperatively necessary that we should be much in prayer to God for that blessing. Luther said, “I have so much business today that I cannot get through it with less than three hours’ prayer.” Most people say, “I have so much business that I must only have three minutes’ prayer.”
2. Let us learn our own indebtedness to distinguishing grace, and bless God that the Word has come to us with power.
3. Inasmuch as there are degrees of attainment, let us seek for the highest degree. The “rest-and-be-thankful” policy is not much approved in politics, and in religion it will never answer.
4. A privilege may become a curse. If you have received the gospel in word only, it will aggravate the condemnation of those who might have received it with the Holy Ghost but would not. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The gospel in power
On hearing these words of the apostle, who is not immediately disposed to say, “Happy man, who could thus address the objects of his ministry and the fruits of his evangelical labours”? But who is not also disposed to say, “Happy minister, with whomsoever associated in religious life, in what ever age or country he may exercise his ministry, who, when addressing those among whom he has been preaching, can employ similar language--‘For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.’”? Now, how came this gospel to the Thessalonians?
I. Not in word only. Words are symbols of thought, and idea, and sentiment; and it has pleased God the Holy Spirit to honour words, and He has been pleased to sanctify and dignify words through the medium of which to make known His thoughts and sentiments, His designs and dealings in reference to us men and our salvation. He, therefore, inspired holy prophets, and they announced the great things which belong to the salvation of the soul; and then they were directed to record this; and we read the words which God the Holy Ghost taught--the word of this salvation--how “that Christ died for our sins, and rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures; and they state the doctrines found on these facts, the privileges connected with them, the practical tendency of the whole, and the ordinances and institutions of the gospel: and thus in language they announced the good news, the glad tidings to the people. And still whenever the gospel comes, it must come “in word”; words must be employed, and the minister of the sanctuary must still employ “the words of this life.” But then the great danger is lest it come in word only: then the great design of the gospel is defeated; all the high and important particulars relating to our salvation are not realized wherever the gospel comes only in word. We can suppose the case of a minister of Christ, possessing talents--talents of no common order, with a highly cultivated intellect, a very fertile imagination, and a genius which leads him to employ figures of poetry, and to suggest thoughts that captivate the attention and strike the minds of those who listen to his discourses from time to time; there are multitudes who throng to hear him wherever he goes; and, to use the words of the prophet, he is to them “as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument.” And oh, how well attended are his ministrations! But where, amidst all this, is the instance of the poor sinner pierced to the heart by the two-edged sword of the Spirit and feeling the pungent smart of conviction? Where is the instance of the man smiting on his breast, and crying, “God be merciful to me a sinner”? But thus came not the gospel to the Thessalonians.
II. Also in power. What power?
1. Not the civil power; because in the days to which the apostle refers Christianity was not even protected by the civil government, but opposed by it. It was not with them as it is happily with us, where Christianity forms part and parcel of the very constitution and laws of the country, and where the broad shield of legal protection is thrown over us, and where we “sit under our own vine and fig tree, none daring to make us afraid.”
2. Neither could the apostle refer to the power of eloquence or human talent. St. Paul himself tells us that his “speech and his preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” This was “the power”; it was a Divine power; and it was Divine in two points of view: first, there was miraculous power to mark the propagation of the gospel; secondly, there was a secret energy accompanying the administration of the Word, bringing it home to the conscience and heart of those who heard. There is an awakening power, a convicting power; and there is a regenerating power, and a sanctifying power, and a consoling and satisfying power. Oh, what an energy there is in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ!
III. And in the Holy Ghost. As surely as there was miraculous power in the first age of Christianity, so surely was the Holy Ghost there; for the miracles then wrought were the miracles of the Holy Ghost--“God also bearing them witness, both by signs and wonders, and with divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to His own will.” And as surely as there must always be an efficacious power to give efficacy to the gospel wherever it is administered, the Holy Ghost must be there. The gospel is the dispensation of the Spirit; and where the gospel is preached, the Spirit of God is present to bear testimony to the truth. Who and what is the genuine Christian? Why, he was once in the dark, but now he is “light in the Lord.” How came he to be so?. “Ah,” says one, “the preacher told us the gospel is light.” True; and the gospel is the great light of the system, and the gospel is shining in the zenith of its splendour and glory. But what avails to me the noon-day sun, with all the blaze of day, if I have not the organs of vision. It is not only necessary that the light be there, but we must have the organs to discern it. And how comes this change to pass on us? By the mighty energy of the Spirit. He removes the scales from our mental eyes; it is He that gives the organ of spiritual vision and of perception; it is the Spirit that giveth light,
IV. And in much assurance--a plenitude of assurance. This phrase is significant of the manner in which the gospel was received by the people.
1. The assurance of the truth of the message. I do not know that the first believers in Christianity waited on the outside of the great temple of truth, to examine the two external pillars on which the temple reposes and by which it is supported. You know what those two pillars are: unmoved they stand where they ever stood, and all the shafts of infidelity have been unable to make any impression on them.
(1) Prophecy; and the argument is this: Where there is genuine prophecy there is God, because God alone sees the end from the beginning: now in this Book is genuine prophecy; then here is God.
(2) Miracles: where there are genuine miracles there must be God, for He alone can control nature, and act in opposition to its laws. But here are such interpositions recorded; therefore here is God. Now I do not know, I say, that these primitive believers waited outside the temple to examine then its two grand pillars in the first place; I rather believe they went in at once. The temple of truth, and wisdom, and grace--“Like the cerulean arch we see, Majestic in its own simplicity.”
2. They saw the sanctity of those who officiated there. “You know,” says the apostle, “what manner of men we were amongst you.” Their simplicity, their self-denial, their purity, their benevolence, their zeal; are these characters that belong to infidelity? Then there was the Architect--the Architect of the temple of truth spoke in the temple of truth; and the people heard, and the truth came home to their hearts and consciences, and examined the inmost recesses of their hearts: they were judged of all, and condemned of all, and approved of all; and they were assured that it was the great Architect of truth Himself who thus spoke. (Robert Newton, D. D.)
The practical application of the gospel
The important question is--has the gospel really come to you; and has it come to you “in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance”? If so, you must have experienced--
I. A conviction of sin. The man who is a real Christian must have been taught the plague of his old nature, and what an evil thing it is to sin against God.
II. An acquaintance with the character of God’s holy law. This is a very necessary piece of knowledge. A mere professor, who has never known what real conviction of sin is, may be capable of amendment of life to a certain extent, but can have no just conception of the enormity of transgression against a holy and just God. When a man is made experimentally acquainted with the operations of the Holy Ghost, he feels that he has transgressed against God, and against the reasonable law of a mighty and righteous God, in every particular. “He who hath broken the law in one point, hath broken it in all.”
III. A belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. When a man is in this condition there is no difficulty at all in persuading him that all his hopes upon his own efforts and his own righteousness must be dispensed with, and that he must rest on the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, the perfect work of the Son of God, the salvation of the Divine Saviour. Every man who is saved is saved by himself. God comes to a man personally; the Holy Ghost comes to a man personally; the merits of Jesus come to a man personally. This is real religion. (H. Allen, D. D.)
The power of a felt gospel
Once on a time an obscure man rose up to address the French Convention. At the close of his oration Mirabeau, the genius of the French Revolution, turned round to his neighbour and eagerly asked, “Who is that?” The other, who had been in no way interested in the address, wondered at Mirabeau’s curiosity; whereupon the latter said, “That man will yet act a great part;” and added, on being asked for an explanation, “He speaks as one who believes every word he says.” Much of the pulpit power under God depends on that--admits of that explanation, or of one allied to it. They make others feel who feel themselves. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
The might of the gospel
There is power of the highest created order where there is mind. We need not quote an adage but two centuries old--“Knowledge is power”--when we can find the sentiment far more nobly and anciently expressed in our Bible--“A wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength.” How mind acts upon mind! What vibrations bound from a single thought! But the gospel awakens a man dead in trespasses and sins. Through its precepts he gets understanding. It reminds him of the image in which he was created, and which he has lost. It fills him with shame and confusion that he has sunk so low. It informs him of the infinite gentleness which can once more make him great. It brings out the stamina of his mental and moral sensibilities by the same objects, alone touches him at all joints, stirs every inmost depth, and unbinds each latent energy of the spirit. The power of Christ rests indeed upon him. There is thus a mightiness in the gospel.
I. It is the power of truth. The gospel founds itself upon facts--upon what was done and upon what was taught. This is substantial truth; and it justifies unfeigned faith.
II. It is the power of authority. It is Divine obligation; the binding power and sanction is precisely this--“He that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be condemned.”
III. It is the power of realization. Sooner or later, it is more or less surrounded by something like itself. It provokes inquiry, and compels to take a part. It tells of the death of Christ: it realizes futurity. In us is found every doctrine and blessing of the gospel in actual form and rudiment. Ours is a present salvation. The work of grace bears its fruits. Faith groweth exceedingly; love aboundeth more and more; peace passeth all understanding; and patience hath its perfect work. This is surely power--the kindling of a living light over the written Word, and the inward interpretation--the witness of the soul closing with it. (R. W. Hamilton, LL. D.)
The power and assurance of the gospel
It came and comes--
I. With power. Who shall declare this mystery of power? All ages and sciences have worked at the problem.
1. Power in its lowest conceptions belongs to the material. It is in the storm, the wave, the flashing lightning. Latent or active it belongs to every atom in the universe.
2. Higher up is the power of thought which gives man empire over the world; temples, machines, pictures, etc., are embodied thoughts. Fling your mind back on the infinite past, and you find a period when every force existed as a thought in the Eternal Mind.
3. Highest of all is the power of the gospel. What is this? The power that slumbers in the great, Divine, essential seed thoughts of Christianity. The gospel is a gospel of--
(1) Incarnation. The historic conceptions of God are all true and grand, but how cold and distant! But turn to the gospel, and you see the mighty God in the cradle of Bethlehem, in the streets of Nazareth, on the cross of Calvary, that He might take my nature up into Himself.
(2) Unbounded benevolence. No truth of history is better authenticated than this, that outside the influence of Christianity there is but little sympathy. Into this world God flashed a new thought, that of atonement and self-sacrifice for the good of others. This is the power of the Cross. “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.” From that hour the world entered on a new era. There was a fountain opened for guilt and also for sorrow by the Cross. From the moment of Pentecost there was a disposition to save others. Clothes were made fen the poor, and asylums began to be founded.
(3) Resurrection and immortality. Who shall tell the shadows which fall upon the land and home where Christianity has not come?
II. In the Holy Ghost.
1. In all the faiths there is the doctrine of the Divine influence coming to the spirit of man. The Pantheism of the old Brahmin involved this. The Theosophites of Egypt clung to this. The inner fight of Platonism meant this. From Montanism downwards this was the prime doctrine of mysticism. This finds its culmination in the gospel. It is seen in creation educing beauty out of chaos; in civilization; in the achievements of the gospel. The world is rich in literature, but imagine the greatest Genius saying, “Weary one, believe My word and be saved!” But let the Spirit take the word of the gospel, and it is spirit and life to every one that accepts it.
2. A Holy Ghost must have a Holy Ghost ministry. Take a man, however gifted, but not anointed with the Spirit, and his word will be like the summer lightning which hits nothing. But give the Holy Ghost to but a rough fisherman, and he will smite the consciences of three thousand.
III. In much assurance.
1. There is the assurance which comes from demonstration to others. There are tens of thousands who are better men today by this power; and its effects are seen in the walks of commerce and the sanctities of home.
2. That of an inner experience. He that believeth hath the witness in himself.
3. That of ultimate triumph. “Oh!” said a great savant, as he trembled upon the verge of the sepulchre, “my philosophy fails me here.” Yonder, in a darksome dungeon and manacles about his limbs, is an old man. What sayest thou, Paul? “I am now ready to be offered,” etc. (G. Douglass, D. D.)
I. Much certainity.
II. Much fulness of spiritual gifts.
III. Much effect or fulfilment. (Prof. Jowett.)
Look at him when he stood up for the glory of his God, was there ever such a dogmatist? “I believe it,” he said, “and therefore I speak it.” From that day when on Pilate’s staircase he was trying to creep up and down the stairs to win heaven, when the sentence out of the musty folio came before him, “Justified by faith we have peace with God,” that man was as sure that works could not save him as he was of his own existence. Now, if he had come out and said, “Gentleman, I have a theory to propound that may be correct; excuse my doing so,” and so on, the Papacy had been dominant to this day. The man knew God had said it, and he felt float that was God’s own way to his own soul, and he could not help dogmatizing with that glorious force of persuasion which soon laid his foes prostrate at his feet. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1 Thessalonians 1:6-8
And ye became followers of us and of the Lord
Followers of the Apostles and of the Lord
This is a very interesting and beautiful account of the triumph of the truth and the progress of religion in Thessalonica.
The eye rests with gladness and gratitude upon the bright spots and periods, in the history of our world, in which the religion of Jesus has subdued and overcome the vice, and infatuation, and ignorance, and stupidity of our race; and we are prepared to say devoutly--“Awake, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient time, in the generations of old! Let Thy work be repeated, and the lovely scenery be viewed again!”
I. The Thessalonians were careful to follow the example of the apostles. And the apostles took every care to demean themselves well, not only for their own credit’s sake, but for the benefit of others, by a conversation suitable to their doctrine, that they might not pull down with one hand what they built up with the other; so the Thessalonians, who observed what manner of men they were among them, how their preaching and living were all of a piece, showed a conscientious care to be followers of them; that is--to imitate their good example. And herein they became followers of the Lord also, who is the perfect example; and we should be followers of others no farther than they are followers of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). The Thessalonians acted thus notwithstanding the afflictions to which the apostles and themselves also were exposed. They were willing to share in the sufferings that attended the embracing and professing Christianity. Perhaps this made the Word more precious, being dearly bought; and the examples of the apostles shone very bright under these trying circumstances; so that the Thessalonians embraced the gospel cheerfully, and followed the example of the suffering apostles joyfully. Such spiritual, and solid, and lasting joy as the Holy Ghost is the Author of, when our afflictions do abound, maketh our consolation much more abound.
II. Their zeal so prevailed that they were themselves examples to all others. They were “stamps,” or instruments to make impression. They made good impressions, and their conversation had a correspondent influence upon others. There is nothing which maketh the gospel sound louder, the sound of it to be heard better, and the offer embraced more readily, than when a sincere profession is beautified, and adorned, and seconded by a sober and conscientious practice; for it was such a profession, strengthened with such a practice, in the Thessalonians, which made the gospel sound from them in Macedonia and Achaia. The word signifies to sound shrill and far, as with the noise of a trumpet, or voice of lion herald. So that the effects of the gospel in turning the Thessalonians from idols “to serve the living and true God,” was so spread abroad that the apostles themselves “need not to speak anything.” (D. Mayo.)
The power of example
“Ye became followers”--imitators, or copiers--“of us.” This is the first view Paul here takes of his Thessalonian converts.
1. They resembled himself and his fellow labourers. But how? In their faith, their hope, their love, and their good works. Let us enter into this thought. Man is an imitative creature. The first voluntary efforts that are made by children, are always endeavours to mimic something which they have seen. But as man is a depraved creature, and as he is exposed to bad examples in this world, as well as good, and more to bad examples than to good, he naturally follows the multitude to do evil; and the question with him, therefore, concerning anything, is not--Is it true? or is this reasonable? or is it righteous? but--“What will people think or say of me? Shall I not be seen?” Why, all the Lord’s people are “a peculiar people”; and it argues much more dignity of principle and purity of motive to advance alone than under the applause of thousands. This disposition was in the case of the Thessalonians sanctified, for it was turned another way; for the men they now followed were few, compared with the rest, and they had nothing of a worldly kind to recommend them. No; they were esteemed the very “filth and offscouring” of all. Yet, with Moses, these Thessalonians chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” They “esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.” Yes; with David they could say--“I am a companion of all them that fear Thee, of them that keep Thy statutes.” So it always is when persons are made wise unto salvation; then they immediately see, that the righteous are more excellent than their neighbours, and that of them the world is “not worthy.” Then they pray--“Look Thou upon me, and be merciful unto me, as Thou usedst to do unto them that love Thy name.” Then they let go the sons and daughters of folly and vice, and run and take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying--“We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”
2. They resembled the Lord also; to show the apostles confidence that they were themselves conformed to Him, and those that followed them thus far would be followers of Him. Therefore, says the apostle to the Corinthians--“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” Did he mean to place himself upon a level, then, with Christ? By no means; but to assert that he knew he was walking the same way, that he was influenced by the same principles, that he felt the same sentiments. And we must be conscious of this too. Yes; we must remember that “if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” But it is added, to teach us that no men are to be our examples any further than they resemble Him; that we are not to give up ourselves absolutely to any leader, however distinguished by gifts or graces. We are not to pin our faith upon their sleeve, or to determine our action by their practice invariably. No; they are all fallible. The wisest of men have their follies; the best of men have their faults; the wisest and the best of men, therefore, may lead us astray. Abraham denied his wife at Gerah; Moses spake unadvisedly with his lips; Job cursed the day of his birth; Peter said with an oath, “I know not the Man.” But here we have in the Lord Jesus an infallible pattern; and therefore we may give up ourselves entirely to His direction and influence, and, as it is said, “follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.”
3. They who imitated others became ensamples to others:--“Ye became ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.” It is very observable in nature that things in succession are alternately cause and effect, effect and cause. Thus, parents produce children, and children produce in time children; thus, those now obey, who by and by command; thus, learners now become teachers; and those who were followers become leaders themselves. This was the case here; from following the apostles and the Lord Jesus, they “became ensamples to all that believed in Macedonia and Achaia.” Indeed, what individual is there, who is not, more or less, an “ensample” to some? Which of you is entirely isolated? Who is not seen and heard of some? Who is not followed by some? But how honourable was it for these converts! They were “ensamples,” to whom? “To them that believe.” Oh! it is easy for you to be “ensamples” to some. It is easy, to have goodness enough to censure and condemn the grossly wicked; it is easy, to have goodness enough to be considered righteous, when compared with drunkards, and swearers, and thieves, and robbers. But these Thessalonians were ensamples to the good, to the godly, “to them that believed”; yea, and what is more, “ to all them that believed in Macedonia and Achaia”; though it is very probable that many of these had been in the Lord before them, and had believed before them. There are many cases in which “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” (W. Jay.)
The practical result of a true reception of the gospel
I. The true reception of the Gospel
1. They received the Word in sorrow--“in much affliction” (Acts 17:5-9). Principally, sorrow on account of sin--their prolonged rejection of Christ, and obstinate disobedience.
2. In joy. “With joy of the Holy Ghost.” They realized--
(1) The joy of conscious forgiveness and acceptance with God. The sinless angels, placed beyond the necessity of pardon, are incapable of realizing this joy. It belongs exclusively to the believing penitent.
(2) The joy of suffering for the truth. Cyprian, who suffered for Jesus, used to say, “It is not the pain but the cause that makes the martyr.” That cause is the cause of truth. Suffering is limited to life, but truth is eternal. To suffer for the truth is a privilege and a joy.
(3) The joy of triumph--over error, sin, Satan, persecution. This joy is the fruit of the Spirit. These twin feelings--sorrow and joy--are typical of the alternating experience of the believer throughout his earthly career.
II. The practical result.
1. They became imitators of the highest patterns of excellence--“us and the Lord.” The example of Christ is the all-perfect standard. But this does not supersede the use of inferior models. The planets have their mission, as well as the sun, and we can better bear the moderated light of their borrowed splendour. The bravery of a common soldier, as well as the capacity and heroism of the most gifted officer, may stimulate a regiment to deeds of valour. So the apostles, in their patience, zeal, and integrity, became examples, while they pointed to the great Pattern.
2. They became examples to others. “So that ye were ensamples to all that believe.”
(1) In the reality and power of their faith.
(2) In their zealous propagation of the truth. “For from you sounded out the word of the Lord.”
(3) The influence of their example was extensive in its range. Macedonia and Achaia were two Roman provinces that comprised the territory known as ancient Greece. Thessalonica, the metropolis of Macedonia, was the chief station on the great Roman road--the Via Egnatia--which connected Rome with the whole region north of the AEgean sea, and was an important centre, both for commerce and the spread of intelligence. Wherever the trade of the merchant city extended, there the fame of the newly founded Church penetrated. Great was the renown of their own Alexander, the Macedonian monarch, and brilliant his victories: but the reputation of the Thessalonian Christians was of a higher order, and their achievements more enduring. Learn--
1. The gospel that brings sorrow to the heart also brings the joy.
2. A genuine reception of the truth changes the man, and creates unquenchable aspirations after the highest good.
3. A living example is more potent than the most elaborate code of precepts, however eloquently explained or cogently enforced. (G. Barlow.)
The divinity of a true man
I. He is a recipient of the Divine. The “word” here is the gospel. Their suffering in receiving it was more than counterbalanced by “the joy of the Holy Ghost.” What matters bodily affliction if you have this joy. “We glory in tribulation,” etc. A genuine Christian is a man who has received into him the Divine Word. God’s great thoughts have come into his intellect, touched his heart, and given a new moral impulse to his being. He who has not received this Divine Word intelligently and with practical effect is no Christian. The Christian is a living Bible, the “word made flesh.”
II. He is an imitator of the Divine. The apostles were Christians because they were “followers of the Lord”; and all who would be Christians must become the same.
1. Christ is the most perfect moral model. In Him we have all that commands the attention and admiration of the soul.
2. Christ is the most imitable moral model. Sublimely great as He is, no character has appeared in history so imitable as His.
(1) Because none is so powerful to awaken our admiration. What we admire most, we imitate most.
(2) Because none is so easily understood. He is perfectly transparent. One principle--love--explains all His moral features and activities.
(3) Because none but His is permanently consistent.
III. He is an example of the Divine. “So that ye were ensamples,” etc. Macedonia and Achaia stand for all Greece, so that they became ensamples to the entire Greek race. Genuine Christian not only receives and imitates, but reflects and radiates the Divine. He is the brightest and fullest revelation of God on earth; there is more of the Divine seen in the Christly soul than there is in starry heavens and blooming landscapes. “Ye are My witnesses.”
IV. He is a proclaimer of the Divine. “From you sounded out the word.” This is an image from a trumpet filling with its clear sounding echo all the surrounding places. They sounded out the gospel, not only in enthusiastic utterances but in noble and generous deeds. Thessalonica was a large maritime and commercial city; and its Christian mer chants would in all their transactions with foreign traders ring out the gospel. Conclusion: A genuine Christian, then, is a Divine man. There is in a moral as well as in a constitutional sense, a “divinity within him.” He is the recipient, imitator, example, and herald of the Divine. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The leisure of Caesar was spent in reading the history of Alexander the Great. Upon one occasion his friends found him bathing the book with tears. In deep concern they asked him the reason why he wept. The reply was, “Do you think I have not sufficient cause for concern, when Alexander at my age reigned over so many conquered countries, and I have not one glorious achievement to boast?” So the lives of the apostles and early saints may well be studied by us who are Christians, that we may be fired by their exploits to do greater deeds for God; and we should mourn bitterly when we compare our small achievements with His whom we call Master and Lord, and who, before He had attained the years of middle manhood, had performed deeds at which the stoutest frames might quake and the most faithful soul might blush. Comparisons such as these would first stir our gratitude that such an example has been left us, and then fire our valour, that at the end our lives might not be mere empty names, but such as men might gaze upon with admiration, and seek to copy.
Christ the only sufficient Exemplar
It is said, that, thinking to amuse him, his wife read to Dr. Judson some newspaper notices, in which he was compared to one or other of the apostles. He was exceedingly distressed: and then added, “Nor do I want to be like them; I do not want to be like Paul, nor Apollos, nor Cephas, nor any mere man. I want to be like Christ. We have only one perfectly safe Exemplar--only One, who, tempted like as we are in every point, is still without sin. I want to follow Him only, copy His teachings, drink in His Spirit, place my feet in His footprints, and measure their shortcomings by these, and these only. Oh, to be more like” Christ!”
The noble army of martyrs
“Man can do without happiness, and instead thereof find blessedness, wrote Carlyle, and Paul preached it with his life. But that life was only a faint echo of a greater life. “The Man of sorrows” was “God over all, blessed forever.” If a man cannot understand how “many afflictions” may be consonant with “the joy of the Holy Ghost,” he may be a Christian by courtesy, but he knows little of Christian experience. The calling of a son of God does not exempt from sorrow, but it opens beneath it a spring of joy. This was proved by Paul, and his life work was the noblest, and has left the deepest mark on the progress of the race. Where are the Caesars? Much of their work abides, but their names are little more than shades. It is the man who brings regenerating work to bear upon his age who is shrined most lovingly in the reverence of mankind. And so Paul lives because Christ lived in him. Those who followed Christ live amongst us because Christ is amongst us. Three hundred years ago Paul shook Christendom as he shook heathenism and Judaism in his day.
I. Followers of us and of the Lord.
1. There is something startling in these words. A man of like passions with ourselves dares to propose himself for imitation to those who were seeking to follow the incarnate God. And the world is never without its Christlike ones. And there is nothing more wonderful than that men and women like ourselves may be and live like the Son of God. He does not shine in unapproachable isolation. As the elder among many brethren, a bright particular star amid a cluster of constellations, He leads the human host with which He has cast His lot and mixed up His life forever.
2. Where are the points of likeness? (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 12:10). In the power of self-sacrifice. It may seem strange to this self-loving age, but it is well worth noting, that these men whose lives have been so fruitful had no thought of any interest but Christ; no self-will, but were absolutely open to the will of God. Are we then to have no will of our own? God forbid! Paul had a mighty will of his own, and expressed it in defiance of the whole secular and religious world. But it was his own and yet not his own; it was moulded and refined into harmony with a higher will; and just as the blood gets purified from its carbonic dross as the vital air breathes through it in the lungs, so the will of Paul was purged of the acrid leaven of self by prayer that God would use him, strengthen him to follow Christ, and teach him to spend himself for the service of mankind.
3. A man need not adopt the calling of an apostle to enter such a life as this. There have been soldiers, statesmen, merchants, whose deepest thought has been “I am not mine own.” Hard as it may be, it is the beginning of peace to say it and try to live it. You may have your own way, and you will weary of it as soon as you have got it; while you may give up our own way, and make it your effort to care for others, and a glow of heavenly joy will enter and abide in your spirit. Likeness to Christ lies expressly in the power of self-sacrifice, and this is to grasp the difference between blessedness and happiness which the text expounds.
II. They entered into this fellowship by receiving the Word with much affliction and joy of the Holy Ghost.
1. Confession or profession is in these days cheapwork. Then it was dear work, and at any moment might cost dear life. It is not good to be out of fellow ship with the heroisms of the past. How many a stout citizen has stained his hearthstone with his life’s blood that you may sit with your loved ones without fears around yours? An age out of fellowship with the martyrs is neither noble nor blessed, however prosperous.
2. We learn from Acts 17:1-34 and the Epistle some thing of these afflictions. Strain your imagination to realize them--
(1) Feel the cords tightening, see the glaring eye of the lion, hear the hiss of the red-hot iron or the swing of the axe; and bethink you in the last dread moment of a gentle wife, or a dear boy, etc., whom you are leaving obnoxious to the same doom. Does it seem to you that you could utter the name of Christ with your last breath with passionate devotion? Then you can understand how none but as martyrs can taste the joy of the Holy Ghost.
(2) Then there was the utter rupture of all the bonds of kindred and social relation, and the loss of means. It is evident, from the Second Epistle, that there was deep poverty in the Church. They received the Word as England did at the Reformation--as Hindoos, Chinese, and South Sea Islanders receive it today.
(3) And this is independent of the sorrow which springs out of the stern struggle against the world and flesh and devil.
3. To understand this better, notice--
(1) That the purest joys are independent of surroundings. What a man has is nothing in comparison with what he is. If two persons love each other, to be near, even in penury, is bliss; to be separate, even in wealth, is misery.
(2) So the joy of the Holy Ghost is the joy of a man who has found the true Lover and Lord of His being, whom he can obey with supreme delight. It is the joy of the lonely soul that has found its kindred, of a sick man who feels within himself that the spring of his life is healed. Men can glory in tribulations if they but bring them fully into the sphere of Christ’s fellowship and love. Suffering ceases to be pain if love consecrates it.
4. And let the careless understand that the choice in life is mainly between suffering with joy in the Holy Ghost, and suffering without it. Life is no holiday pastime for any of us; but the true agony of life must be with those who are without God and hope in the world. (Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
Followers of us and of the Lord--
Not disciples merely, but imitators
I. In meek reception (Psalms 40:6; Isaiah 50:5).
II. Cost what it might.
III. Rejoicing all the while (Psalms 22:22; Psalms 45:7). (Canon Mason.)
Christ’s example the universal rule
God never gave a man a thing to do concerning which it were irreverent to ponder how the Son of God would have done it. (G. Macdonald, LL. D.)
The possibility of following Christ
Christ’s Divinity does not destroy the reality of His manhood by overshadowing or absorbing it. Certainly the Divine attributes of Jesus are beyond our imitation. We can but adore a boundless intelligence or resistless will. But the province of the imitable in the life of Jesus is not indistinctly traced; as the Friend of publicans and sinners, as the Consoler of these who suffer, and as the Helper of those who want, Jesus Christ is at hence among us. We can copy Him, not merely in the outward activities of charity, but in its inward temper. We can copy the tenderness, the meekness, the patience, the courage, which shine forth from His perfect manhood. His human perfections constitute, indeed, a faultless ideal of beauty, which, as moral artists, we are bound to keep in view. What the true and highest model of a human life is, has been decided for us Christians by the appearance of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Others may endeavour to reopen the question; for us it is settled irrevocably. (Canon Liddon.)
The indispensableness of following Christ
Believing on Christ, learning of Christ, following Christ; this is what it is to be a Christian. You must believe on Him that you may learn of Him. You must learn of Him that you may follow Him. But believing is nothing, and learning is less than nothing, if they do not result in faithful following. (W. Gladden, D. D.)
The motive for following Christ
Francis I of France had not reached his twentieth year when he was present at the celebrated battle of Marignan, which lasted two days. He performed prodigies of valour, and fought less as a king than as a soldier. Having perceived his standard bearer surrounded by the enemy, he precipitated himself to his assistance in the midst of lances and halberts. He was presently surrounded, his horse pierced with several wounds, and his casque despoiled of its plumes. He must have been inevitably overwhelmed if a body of troops, detached from the allies, had not hastened to his succour. Francis hazarded this battle against the advice of his generals, and cut short all remonstrances by the expression, which afterwards became proverbial, “Let him that loves me, follow me!” (Percy.)
Much affliction, with Joy of the Holy Ghost--
Affliction and joy
Plato makes Socrates say to his friends, after drinking the poison, “How singular is the thing called pleasure, and how curiously related to pain, which might be thought the opposite of it! For they never come to a man together; and yet he who possesses either is generally compelled to take the other! They are two, and yet they grow together out of one head or stem; and I cannot help thinking that, if AEsop had noticed them, he would have made a fable about God trying to reconcile their strife, and, when He could not, fastening their heads together; and this is the reason why, when one comes, the other follows.” That is a heathen speculation on one of the great mysteries of human life. The mystery appears intensified in Christian life (2 Corinthians 6:10). Yet so far it is explained by that life’s being an imitation of Christ. The believer, like his Master, being in world of sin, is encompassed with tribulation; but, being a citizen of heaven, he is also “girded with gladness.” He hears the voice of loving authority, and he yields to it loving obedience. “If any man will come after him,” etc. He knows that the via dolorosa which he thus has to tread is a path of true joy, for he recognizes his Saviour’s steps in it. Hence he can “sing in the ways of the Lord,” for fulness of consolation will be his at last. The stream of the renewed life is of two currents. As near Geneva, at the junction of the Rhone to the Arve, the two rivers, though joined, yet appear distinct--the blue stream of the one and the white stream of the other forming one volume of water, flowing within the same banks, at least for a time, towards the sea beyond--so it is with the Christian life. Its stream has two currents--distinct, yet united--of tribulation and joy, ever wending its course, troubled and calm, to the ocean of eternity beyond. (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
1 Thessalonians 1:7-10
So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia
Christian example and character
1. Christians are first followers, then leaders; first imitators and then imitated (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:6)
. They first look to Him who is the Light of the world; they then shine with reflected lustre, becoming lights of the world themselves. This is implied in the original, which means the impress of a seal. Believers are stamped with Christ’s likeness, and thus become a die for others.
(1) This is the law of the communication of the truth. Each Christian becomes a living Epistle, a new Bible. Example brings home more powerfully than precept the lessons of faith (Acts 12:24).
(2) In this the Thessalonians were most conspicuous. Other churches looked up to them as their model--
(a) A noble dignity.
(b) A sacred duty.
(c) A constant danger.
2. This example is explained and defined by 1 Thessalonians 1:8. By this we are to understand--
(1) Not the report of their conversion, or the influence of their example merely; but
(2) Their missionary zeal. The figure of the trumpet, spreading as echo-like it repeated itself, is found nowhere else in Scripture, except in the silver trumpets of the Jews. It may suggest to us the watchman’s voice or horn, which from some high watchtower amid surrounding midnight darkness swells forth over town and village and plain, or the pealing forth, from some humble church crowning the brow of an Alpine hill, of the melody of bells, floating on the undulating air over valley and mountain and lake, summoning to prayer.
3. But it is possible to see here an allusion to a special missionary service. They had received a call to this (1 Thessalonians 1:4); and because theirs was a centre of commanding influence. We must remember that these were Paul’s first Epistles. Converts from heathenism needed such teaching. They needed also some historical record of our Lord’s life and death and resurrection. It is not unlikely therefore that Luke wrote his Gospel for their use. That evangelist was Paul’s companion in Macedonia, and Thessalonica was, from its position and commercial connections, peculiarly suitable for the work of circulating that Gospel. In this “labour of love” the Thessalonian Church became widely known and honoured. The praise which Paul gave to Luke (2 Corinthians 8:18) was theirs. As the Waldensian peasants wandered over the plains of Lombardy and Italy, carrying secretly many copies of the Word, and offering them along with their merchandise wherever “an open door presented itself,” so possibly these early Christian traders carried copies of St. Luke’s Gospel with them from Thessalonica, and thus from thence sounded out the Word of the Lord.
II. Christian character.
1. Faith. This was conspicuous and widespread. It had extended over a broader area than even their direct exertions. Paul was now in Corinth, where varied streams of travellers met, and so had ample opportunity for knowing it. Aquila and Priscilla had just come from Rome (Acts 18:2), and to be known there was to be known everywhere, and they having heard it would naturally tell the apostle of it; so that any special mention of it was unnecessary. This is true fame, found when unsought, the natural reward of self-denying labour and abiding faith. These Christians in simply doing their duty “left their name, a light--a landmark on the cliffs of fame.”
2. Conversion from idols. The heart of every man serves idols. Everything away from God in which he seeks his satisfaction is a phantom, an image, not reality. “Keep yourselves from idols” is what all need.
3. Serving God and waiting for Christ. One clause distinguishes the Thessalonians from the heathen, the other from the Jews; but more, they represent the universal Christian life in its two most prominent aspects, ceaseless action and patient waiting. The hope of Christ’s coming gives strength for and perseverance in service, and faithful service justifies and consecrates hope. Service without its hope would merge into dry and formal routine; hope without its service would pass into indolent, sentimental, or restless excitement. (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
Example: its nature and value
Mathematicians demonstrate their theorems by schemes and diagrams, which, in effect, are but sensible instances; orators back their enthymemes (or rational argumentations) with inductions (or singular examples); philosophers allege the example of Socrates, Zeno, etc., to authorize their doctrine; politics and civil prudence is more easily and sweetly drawn out of history than out of books. Artificers describe models, and set patterns before their disciples, with greater success than if they should deliver accurate rules and precepts; for who would not more readily learn to build by viewing carefully the parts and framework of a well-contrived structure, than by a studious inquiry into the rules of architecture? or to draw, by setting a good picture before him, than by merely speculating upon the laws of perspective? or to write fairly and expeditely by imitating one good copy, than by hearkening to a thousand oral prescriptions, the understanding of which, or faculty of applying them to practice, may prove more difficult and tedious than the whole practice itself as directed by a copy? (I. Barrow, D. D.)
Example: its superiority to mere precept
A system of precepts, though exquisitely compacted, is, in comparision, but a skeleton--a dry, meagre, lifeless bulk; exhibiting nothing of person, place, time, manner, degree, wherein chiefly the flesh and blood, the colour and graces, the life and soul of things consist, whereby they please, affect, and move us; but example imparts thereto a goodly corpulency, a life, a motion; renders it conspicuous and active, transforming its notional universality into the reality of singular subsistence. (I. Barrow, D. D.)
Example: its influence instructive
There is no doubt but a good example doth far more effectually instruct than good precepts; because it not only expresses the same virtues that precepts enjoin, but with far more grace and emphasis. For whereas precepts and discourses of virtue are only the dead pictures and artificial landscapes and descriptions of it, a virtuous example is virtue itself, informed and animated, alive and in motion, exerting and exhibiting itself in all its charms and graces. And therefore as we know a man much better when we see him alive and in action than when we see him only in a picture; so we understand virtue better when we see it living and acting in a good example, than when we only behold it described and pictured in precepts and discourses. (J. Scott.)
The best teachers of humanity are the examples of great men. (C. H. Fowler.)
No man or woman of the humblest sort can be strong, gentle, pure, and good, without the world being the better for it, without somebody being helped and comforted by the very existence of that goodness. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
We can do more good by being good than in any other way. (Rowland Hill.)
A young infidel was one night in bed, contemplating the character of his mother. “I see,” he said, within himself, “two unquestionable facts. First, my mother is greatly afflicted in circumstances, body and mind; and I see that she cheerfully bears up under all by the support she derives from constantly retiring to her closet and her Bible. Secondly, that she has a secret spring of comfort of which I know nothing; while I who give an unbounded loose to my appetites, and seek pleasure by every means, seldom or never find it. If, however, there is any such secret in religion, why may not I attain to it as well as my mother? I will immediately seek it of God.” Thus the influence of Christianity, exhibited in its beauty by a living example before him, led Richard Cecil to know Christ Himself, and to glorify Him by a most successful and devoted life. (F. Morse, M. A.)
When native converts on the island of Madagascar used to present them selves for baptism, it was often asked of them, “What first led you to think of becoming Christians. Was it a particular sermon or address, or the reading of God’s word?” The answer usually was, that the changed conduct of others who had become Christians was what first arrested their attention. “I knew this man to be a thief; that one was a drunkard; another was very cruel and unkind to his family. Now they are all changed. The thief is an honest man, the drunkard is sober and respectable, and the other is gentle and kind in his home. There must be something in a religion that can work such changes.” (S. S. Times.)
Example is like the press: a thing done is the thought printed, it may be repeated if it cannot be recalled; it has gone forth with a self-propagating power, and may run to the ends of the earth, and descend from generation to generation. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
is the first part of Europe which received the gospel directly from St. Paul, and an important scene of his subsequent labours. So closely is this region associated with apostolic journeys, sufferings, and epistles, that it has been truly called by Clarke, the traveller, a kind of Holy Land. Roughly speaking, it is the region bounded inland by the range of the Haemus or the Balkan northwards, and the chain of the Pindus westwards, beyond which the streams flow respectively to the Danube and the Adriatic. It is separated from Thessaly on the south by the Cambunian Hills, and on the east from Thrace by a less definite mountain boundary. Of the space thus enclosed, two of the most remarkable physical features are two great plains; one watered by the Axius, which comes to the sea at the Thermaic Gulf, not far from Thessalonica; the other, by the Strymon, which, after passing near Philippi, flows out below Amphipolis. Between the mouths of these rivers is a peninsula on which Mount Athos rises nearly into the region of perpetual snow, and across the neck of which Paul travelled more than once. This was the territory over which Philip and Alexander ruled, and which the Romans conquered from Perseus. At first the conquered country was divided by AEmilius Paulus into four districts. Macedonia Prima was on the east of the Strymon, and had Amphipolis for its capital. Macedonia Secunda stretched between the Strymon and the Axius, with Thessalonia for its metropolis. The third and fourth districts lay to the south and west. This division was only temporary. The whole of Macedonia along with Thessaly and a large tract along the Adriatic was made one province and centralized under the jurisdiction of a proconsul at Thessalonica. We have now reached the definition which corresponds to the usage of the term in the New Testament (Acts 16:9-10; Acts 16:12 and elsewhere, and in the Epistles). Nothing can exceed the interest and impressiveness of the occasion (Acts 16:9) when a new and religious meaning was given to the well-known man of Macedonia of Demosthenes, and when this part of Europe was designated as the first to be trodden by an apostle (Acts 16:1-40; Acts 17:1-34). The character of the churches then planted is set before us in a very favourable light. The candour of the Bereans is highly commended; the Thessalonians were objects of Paul’s peculiar affection; and the Philippians, besides their general freedom from blame, were remarkable for their liberality and self-denial. It is worth noting, as a fact almost typical of the change produced by Christianity in the social life of Europe, that the female element is conspicuous in the records of its introduction into Macedonia (Acts 16:13-14; Philippians 4:2-3). It should be observed that in St. Paul’s time, Macedonia was well intersected by Roman roads, especially by the great Via Egnatia, which connected Philippi and Thessalonica, and also led toward Illyricum. (Dean Howson.)
signifies a Roman province, which included the whole of the Peloponnesus and the greater part of Hellas proper, with the adjacent islands. This, with Macedonia, comprehended the whole of Greece. Hence both are frequently mentioned together. A narrow slip on the north coast was originally called Achaia, the cities of which were confederated in an ancient league, which was renewed, B.C. 280, for the purpose of resisting the Macedonians. This league subsequently included several of the other states, and became the most powerful political body in Greece; and hence it was natural for the Romans to apply the name of Achaia to the Peloponnesus, and the south where they took Corinth and destroyed the league, B.C. 146. In the division of the provinces by Augustus, between the Emperor and the Senate in B.C. 27, Achaia was one of the provinces assigned to the latter, and was governed by a proconsul. Tiberius, in A.D. 16, took it away from the Senate and made it an imperial province, governed by a procurator. Claudius restored it to the Senate. This was its condition when Paul was brought before Gallio, the proconsul (Acts 18:12). (Sir G. Grove, LL. D.)
For from you sounded out the Word of the Lord--
The apostle employs a word never used anywhere else in the New Testament to describe the conspicuous and widespread nature of this testimony of theirs. He says, “The Word of the Lord sounded out” from them. That phrase is one most naturally employed to describe the blast of a trumpet. So clear and ringing, so loud, penetrating, melodious, rousing, and full was their proclamation, by the silent eloquence of their lives, of the gospel which impelled and enabled them to lead such lives. A grand ideal of a community of believers!
I. This metaphor suggests the great purpose of the Church. It is God’s trumpet. His means of making His voice heard through all the uproar of the world. As the captain upon the deck in the gale will use his speaking trumpet, so God’s voice needs your voice. The gospel needs to be passed through human lips in order that it may reach deaf ears. The Church is worse than “sounding brass,” it is as silent brass and an untinkling cymbal, unless the individuals that belong to it recognize God’s meaning in malting them His children, and do their best to fulfil it. “Ye are My witnesses,” saith the Lord. You are put into the witness box, see that you speak out when you are there.
II. Another point that this figure may suggest is the sort of sound that should come from the trumpet.
1. A trumpet note is, first of all, clear. There should be no hesitation in our witness; nothing uncertain in the sound that we give.
2. The note should be penetrating. There is no instrument, I suppose, that carries further than the ringing clarion that is often heard on the field of battle, above all the strife. And so this little church at Thessalonica, a mere handful of people, just converted, in the very centre of a strong, compact, organized, self-confident, supercilious heathenism, insisted upon being heard, and got itself made audible, simply by the purity and the consistency of the lives of its members. A clear voice will fling words to a distance that a thick, mumbling one never can attain. One note will travel much farther than another. Do you see to it that your notes are of the penetrating sort.
3. And then, again, the note should be a musical one. There is nothing to be done for God by harshness; nothing to be done by discords and jangling; nothing to be done by scolding and rebuke. The ordered sequence of melodious sound will travel a great deal further than unmusical, plain speech. You can hear a song at a distance at which a saying would be inaudible. Which thing is an allegory, and this is its lesson. Music goes further than discord; and the witness that a Christian man bears will travel in direct proportion as it is harmonious and gracious and gentle and beautiful.
4. And then, again, the note should be rousing. You do not play on a trumpet when you want to send people to sleep; dulcimers and the like are the things for that purpose. The trumpet means strung up intensity, means a call to arms, or to rejoicing; means, at any rate, vigour, and is intended to rouse. Let your witness have for its inmost signification, “Awake! thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”
III. Then, still further, take another thought that may be suggested from this metaphor, the silence of the loudest note. If you look at the context, you will see that all the ways in which the Word of the Lord is represented as sounding out from the Thessalonian Church were deeds, not words. The context supplies a number of them. Such as the following are specified in it: their work; their toil, which is more than work; their patience; their assurance; their reception of the Word, in much affliction with joy in the Holy Ghost; their faith to Godward; their turning to God from idols, to serve and to wait. That is all. So far as the context goes there might not have been a man amongst them that ever opened His mouth for Jesus Christ. We know not, of course, how far they were a congregation of silent witnesses, but this we know, that what Paul meant when he said, “The whole world is ringing with the voice of the Word of God sounding from you,” was not their going up and down the world shouting about their Christianity, but their quiet living like Jesus Christ. That is a louder voice than any other. I do not mean to say that Christian men and women are at liberty to lock their lips from verbal proclamation of the Saviour they have found, but I do mean to say that if there was less talk and more living the witness of God’s Church would be louder and not lower; “and men would take knowledge of us, that we had been with Jesus”; and of Jesus, that He had made us like Himself.
IV. And so, lastly, let me draw one other thought from this metaphor, which I hope you will not think fanciful playing with a figure; and that is the breath that makes the music. If the Church is the trumpet, who blows it? God! It is by His Divine Spirit dwelling within us and breathing through us that the harsh discords of our natural lives become changed into melody of praise and the music of witness for Him. Keep near Christ, live in communion with God, let Him breathe through you, and when His Spirit passes through your spirits their silence will become harmonious speech; and from you “will sound out the Word of the Lord.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The Word of the Lord sounding forth
I. It was the Word of the Lord that was spread (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
1. Paul did not despise the power of words; he was a master of them; but he contrasted words with power. Words--the air is stirred by them, as it is by raindrops, but they pass away, perhaps not forgotten, the memory lives forever, stinging like a serpent or ministering like an angel, blasting as the lightning or refreshing as the dew. “The words of the wise are as nails fastened.” Paul did not despise the marvellous Greek language as a vehicle of thought and feeling, but he said there was something more. The word is the organism which contains the life, the body that holds the soul, the frame that surrounds the picture. Knowledge is power, and truth, and love.
2. We have the Word of God in power. Have we an infallible interpretation of it? Rome says she has, but we say that she has tampered with it, and reject her forgery. In order to the right understanding of the Word, we need--
(1) A correct version.
(2) The exercise of our own powers in its study. Christ demands not a blind credulity, but says, “Come and see.”
(3) The help of those who are able to throw light on it.
(4) Prayer for the help of the Holy Spirit.
II. They who receive the Word are to spread it abroad.
1. Power always carries responsibility. The learned are to teach the ignorant, the strong to help the weak, the brave the timid. This may not be according to the law of “natural selection,” by which the weak go to the wall, but it is according to the law of love, of Sinai, of Christ, which says, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour,” etc. God’s disapproval of selfishness is seen in this, that it is only by using His gifts that we can retain and improve them. Hoarded wealth is useless; stored grain is mildewed; the buried talent is forfeited. We get by giving and learn by teaching. God speaks to us that we may speak to others.
2. The gospel had been in this case conveyed through the land and other lands. The same joyful sound has been heard in this country. All that is happy in the condition and noble in the character of our people is owing to this. Let England be true to her vocation, and pass the blessing on.
III. How are we to spread it abroad?
(1) Not by force. When the knights of Germany offered their swords to Luther, he replied, “No, the Word shall do it.” You cannot destroy error or propagate spiritual truth by swords or Acts of Parliament. You may make rules of music, but you cannot impose them on the songsters of the wood. You may guide the little brook that comes chattering through the fields, but who can cut channels for the dew? Men’s thoughts are as free; they cannot be prevented by violence.
(2) Not by ceremonies. An attempt is being made to undo the Reformation, and send back the dial on English civilization and freedom. All forms are mischievous which come between us and Christ. As some foolish people covered grand pictures and frescoes on church walls with plaster, superstition has covered over the faith which is “placarded before our eyes” with Roman cement. It was the work of Luther and others to chip off the crust and reveal the work of the Divine Artist; and it is our work to protest against all that would bind the Word or hide the Saviour.
(3) Not by sensational worship or teaching. A truly earnest man will be ready to welcome almost anything that will arouse the indifferent and win attention to the truth. Paul was ready to be all things to all men; but I do not think he included absurdities in the means he would employ. There are two dangers attending religious excitement: one, that while the surface of the nature is affected men will be satisfied with that; the other, that when the excitement is over there will be a hurtful reaction. The crowds that cried “Hosanna” also cried “Crucify.”
(1) With a spontaneity that will be of itself a presage of success. “From you sounded forth,” etc., as a natural effect of reception.
(a) It is difficult to hide truth, for it naturally tends to show itself. When a scientific discovery has been made it is unnatural for the discoverer to keep it to himself, the strong conviction being that truth is not the property of an individual, society, nation, but of the race. It is as difficult to hide truth as to hide light; if there is a crevice anywhere it will dart forth. It may be buried like seed, and the storms of a long winter may pass over it until it is almost forgotten; but the elements go in search of the seed; the dew asks, “Where is it?” The rain says, “I will find it”; and the sun stretches forth his long fingers of light to feel it, and the seed is vitalized, and comes forth; so truth rises again, perhaps in a new form, but with multiplied power.
(b) This is especially illustrated in the history of spiritual truth. When the truth has free course in a man’s nature it will sound forth spontaneously as fragrance from a June rose, as heat from the fire, as lustre from a diamond, as music from an AEolian harp.
(c) There are some who receive and never give. They are like a blank object that absorbs the light and never reflects it. They are not like that little spring upon the hill slope, that receives from the cloud, and then gives refreshment and beauty to moss and nodding fern, gives itself for the use of the world, singing as it gives. But they are like the stagnant pool, that receives the showers, and remains in the same place, to poison the atmosphere, until at length the hot summer sun dries it up. There are others who give, but never cheerfully, with a bad grace that spoils the gift. There are others again who give so readily that it is like breathing the balmy air of May to ask them for a contribution.
(2) By a holy life. “Ye were ensamples.” A holy life is the best transcript of the Word. Gibbon attributes the early success of Christianity to “the pure and austere morals of the Christians.” And Christian life is the most powerful argument the Church can use today. It may be that of a friendless young man in London who, in the midst of temptations, dares to live a pure life; or that of a domestic servant who “sweeps under the mats” because she acknowledges a Master in heaven. To pray in the sanctuary and cheat on the Exchange is what the world regards with disgust.
(3) By active effort. From the seaport of Thessalonica merchants and sailors would carry with them the good tidings. The news of their faith was so widespread that the apostle had no need to speak of it. What a commendation! There are some whose faith is so small that you are obliged to advertise it if you want it known. Our names too frequently, not our faith, are spread abroad. The message of the Church has often failed because there has been so little of living faith in it. The earnestness of our piety is the best answer to the worldliness and scepticism of the day. (James Owen.)
The sounding forth of the Word
The Greek commentators in this picturesque word observe a metaphor derived from the trumpet’s brilliant tone and power of distant resonance. Thus Chrysostom: “The resonance of the trumpet fills the whole vicinity; but the fame of your excellence fills the world, and reaches all and everywhere with equal sound. Great deeds are celebrated with the distinctest commemoration where they were performed. They are indeed often celebrated far away, but not so much. It is not so with you. The glorious sound has gone through the earth.” It can scarcely be doubted that St. Paul was thinking of the geographical position of Thessalonica, which had been particularly noted by Cicero (“It is placed in the bosom of our Empire”). It was indeed by land a chief station on the great Roman Military Road (Via Egnatia)
, as Cicero also observes; while by sea it had a principal share in the commerce of the Levant, and was in constant communication with almost every shore of the known world. When we take into account St. Paul’s subtle tact in dealing with men, there seems to be much reason for finding an allusion also to a history of which every Thessalonian must have been proud--an historical blended with a geographical reference. The apostle may have lightly touched upon a new fame in the gospel, succeeding to and surpassing the ancient Macedonian glory. In the verse generally, and more particularly in the vivid words, “Your faith is spoken as if of a living thing,” Chrysostom seems to trace a reminiscence of the elastic and bounding symbol of Alexander’s Macedonian Empire in Daniel 8:5-8. Rarely, indeed, could such words have afterwards been applied to the Church of Thessalonica. Cyril and Methodius, however, belonging to the Sclavo-Bulgarian nationality, which extends from the Danube to Thessaly--Hellenized Sclaves--evangelized Moravia, Bohemia, and Pannonia. They were born in the ninth century at Thessalonica. (Bp. Alexander.)
Christian influence diffusive
If a man carry in his hand a lighted burning candle, it giveth not light to him only that carrieth it, but to all those which be in the house; and they also see it which are without. Even so, if any be the child of knowledge, and carry about him the light of God, he doth not only taste of the comfort thereof himself, and work comfort to those that appertain to the Church of God, but lighteneth also the hearts of pagans and infidels which are abroad. Such as are bathed or perfumed with precious ointments or powders have not only the pleasure to themselves, but the savour thereof casteth itself out, and is pleasant to all those which stand by. The gospel is the light of God; it shineth in the darkness of this world; it is the sweet incense and savour of God; wheresoever the breath thereof is received, it bringeth life. (Bp. Jewell.)
The fame of Christian character better than worldly renown
As the lightning is seen from one part of the air to the other, and as the sound of great noise spreadeth itself far and wide, so doth the light of good conversation in the godly shew itself forth. And therefore he telleth them they have filled all the country of Macedonia with knowledge and with wonder at their faith and stedfastness in the truth. As if he had said, Great is the renown of your king, Alexander, and your country is famous. He hath overrun the whole world, and subdued it. He hath conquered Greece, Asia, Arabia, Phrygia, Armenia, Scythia, and India. Kings and princes fell down before him: the whole world stood in awe of his name. Yet Alexander had but the power and force of men. He had great treasures of gold and silver; he had numbers of horses and camels and elephants; he had swords, bills, spears, and darts, and suchlike artillery and armour. These where the things wherewith he overcame his enemies; hereby both he and his people were renowned. What, then, may he said of the battle which you have fought? or of the victory which you have gotten? You have won that Alexander could never win. You have overcome yourselves; you have overcome the world. He conquered the bodies of many, and had them at commandment; but their souls stood out, and would not be conquered. You have subdued your souls, and brought them to the obedience of the gospel. You have overrun all the country, and triumphed among the people. And all this is brought to pass without force, without policy, without armour, without artillery, only by your patience and suffering for the gospel’s sake. (Bp. Jewell.)
It was a very suggestive saying of Dr. Lyman Beecher, that the reason why he was so blessed to the conversion of men was that he had so many pulpit reflectors, who lived out and diffused everywhere the gospel.
Witnessing for Christ to the whole world
Never was there a land blessed with such peculiar facilities as Britain for acting as a witness for Christ to the world. Why is it that the gospel is at this time in trust with a people whose ships cover the sea, who are the merchants of the world? Has He who drew the boundaries of Judea with His own finger, who selected the precise spot for the temple, who did everything for the Jewish Church from design, abandoned the Christian Church to accident? And, if not, if He has placed the gospel here with design, what can the nature of that design be, but that it should he borne to the world on the wings of every wind that blows? Say, why is it that Britain, and her religious ally America, should divide the seas, should hold the keys of the world? Oh, were we but awake to the designs of God, and to our own responsibility, we should hear Him say, “I have put you in possession of the seas; put the world in possession of My gospel.” And every ship we sent out would be a Missionary Church, like the ark of the deluge, a floating testimony for God, and bearing in its bosom the seeds of a new creation. Christians, ours is, indeed, a post of responsibility and of honour! On us have accumulated all the advantages of the past; and on us lies the great stress of the present. The world is waiting breathless on our movements; the voice of all heaven is urging us on. Oh, for celestial wisdom, to act in harmony with the high appointments of Providence--to seize the crisis which has come for blessing the world. (John Harris.)
In every place your faith to Godward Is spread abroad--
No true and permanent fame can be founded except in labours which promote the happiness of mankind. The highest greatness surviving time and stone is that which proceeds from the soul of man. Monarchs and cabinets, generals and admirals, with the pomp of courts and the circumstances of war, in the lapse of time disappear from sight; but the pioneers of truth, though poor and lowly, especially those whose example elevates human nature, and teaches the rights of man, so that “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, may not perish from the earth”; such a harbinger can never be forgotten, and their renown spreads coextensive with the cause they served so well. (Charles Sumner.)
The means of securing fame
Live for some thing! Do good and leave behind you a monument of virtue that the storm of time can never destroy. Write your name in kindness, love, and mercy on the hearts of the thousands you come in contact with year by year, and you will never be forgotten. Your name, your deeds, will be as legible on the hearts you leave behind as the stars on the brow of evening. Good deeds will shine as the stars of heaven. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
For they themselves show what manner of entering in we had unto you--
A summary of experience
I. The entering in of the Word. When we preach you listen, and so far the Word is received. But the preacher often feels that he is outside the door, because Christ has not entered the heart. In responding to a knock a man will sometimes open the door a little way to see and hear before admittance. The King’s messenger has thus been treated, and has even got his foot in the doorway, but has received painful hurt when the door has been forced back with angry violence. But he has also heard the joyful cry, “Come in.” The truth has many ways of entrance.
1. It affects the understanding. Men discover that the gospel is the very thing for which they have been waiting.
2. Then it works upon the conscience, that being the under standing exercised on moral truth. The man sees himself a sinner, and is thus made ready to receive Christ’s pardoning grace.
3. Then the emotions are aroused--fear is awakened and hope excited. Repentance calls forth one after another of her sentinels. The proud man is broken down, the hard heart softened.
4. By and by the entrance is complete, for the truth carries the central castle of Mansoul, and captures the heart. He who once hated the gospel now loves it--at first he loves it hoping that it may be his, though fearing the reverse; then he ventures to grasp it, encouraged by the Word which bids him lay hold of eternal life.
II. Conversion. “Ye turned.” Conversion is the turning completely round of a man to hate what he loved and love what he hated. It is to turn to God distinctly by an act and deed of the mind and will. In some senses we are “turned,” in others we “turn”: not promise or resolve, Reformation is not enough, there must be a revolution: old thrones must fall, and a new king must reign.
1. They turned from idols. The streets of London are crammed with fetish worship.
(1) Multitudes are worshipping, not calves of gold, but gold in a more portable shape. Small circular idols are much sought after. The epithet “almighty” is applied to an American form of these idols.
(2) Many worship rank, name, pleasure, honour.
(3) Most worship self, and there is no more degrading form of worship. No wooden image is more ugly.
(4) Men worship Bacchus still. There is a temple to him at every street corner. Other trades are content with shops, this fiend must have a palace.
(5) The gods of unchastity and vice are yet among us. If you love anything better than God you are idolaters.
2. Some turn from one idol to another. If a man turns from Bacchus and becomes a teetotaler, he may become covetous. When men quit covetousness they sometimes turn to profligacy. Nothing will serve but turning to the living and true God.
1. The object of this service is--
(1) The living God. Many have a dead God still. They do not feel that He hears their prayers, nor take Him into their calculations. A living God demands a living service.
(2) The true God, and therefore cannot be served with falsehood. Many evidently serve a false God, for they pray without their hearts. When men’s lives are false and artificial, they are not fit service for the God of truth. A life is false when it is not the true outcome of the soul, when it is fashioned by custom, ruled by observation, restrained by selfish motives, and governed by a love of human esteem.
2. Notice the order. The entering in of the Word produces conversion, and conversion service. If you are converts without the Word you are unconverted; if professing to receive it you are not turned by it, you have not received it; if you claim to have been converted and are not serving God, you are not converted; and if you boast of serving God without being converted you are not serving Him.
1. Salvation is not a thing which only requires a few moments of faith and then all is over; it is the business of our lives. We receive salvation in an instant, but we work it out with fear and trembling all our days.
2. This waiting is also living in the future. The Christian looks for the second advent with calm hope; he does not know when it will be, but he keeps himself on the watch as a servant who waits for his Lord’s return. He does not expect to be rewarded by men, or even by God in temporal things, but by Christ with heaven. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The character of ministers involved in the conduct of professors
In this general talk (1 Thessalonians 1:8) the converts and the preachers were greatly mixed up--“For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you.” I do not know that it is possible for the preacher to keep himself distinct from those who profess to be converted by him. He is gladly one with them in love to their souls, but he would have it remembered that he cannot be responsible for all their actions. Those who profess to have been converted under any ministry have it in their power to damage that ministry far more than any adversaries can do. “There!” says the world, when it detects a false professor, “this is what comes of such preaching.” They judge unfairly, I know; but most men are in a great hurry, and will not examine the logic of their opponents; while many others are so eager to judge unfavourably, that a very little truth, or only a bare report, suffices to condemn both the minister and his doctrine. Every man that lives unto God with purity of life brings honour to the gospel which converted him, to the community to which he belongs, and to the preaching by which he was brought to a knowledge of the truth; but the reverse is equally true in the ease of unworthy adherents. Members of Churches, will you kindly think of this? Your ministers share the blaine of your ill conduct if ever you disgrace yourselves. I feel sure that none of you wish to bring shame and trouble upon your pastors, however careless you may be about your own reputations. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A large Chinese heathen temple has lately been turned into a Christian place of worship in the north of China. At a place called Shih-Chia-Tang the missionaries, Stanley and Smith, looked at the gulley where, at the dead of night, the gods were hustled in. The summer rains had caused a bit of a large god to crumble off. The men call it “divine mud!” so the missionaries took up a handful of the moistened clay, and threw it down, saying, “Dust to dust, mud to mud!” The temple looks very pleasant in its changed character. The two large bells now call the people to worship the living God, instead of calling the idol, as they supposed, from his feast and slumbers. In the front temple quaint pictures of flying spirits and genii, painted on the walls, still remain. The larger temple makes a very neat mission chapel, with its whitened walls and scarlet-painted posts and beams. The wooden incense table has been cut down into a preaching table, and the benches are made from the platform which supported the larger idols. On the temple front hangs a large tablet, with “Jesus’ Chapel” in beautiful Chinese characters, replacing the old Taouist sign. This temple now stands a distinct witness to the truth that God is a Spirit, and His glorious gospel is proclaimed in it.
Absurdity of idol worship
A Cingalese boy living at Baddegamma, in Ceylon, went one day into a Buddhist temple to offer his evening flower. When he had done so, he looked into the idol’s face, expecting to see a smile of approval; but as the great eyes stared on without any expression of pleasure in them, he thought that so great a god would not condescend to accept a child’s offering. Soon after, a man came in, laid down his flower, turned his back, and walked carelessly away. The boy again looked into the idol’s face, and thought he should see an angry frown at this disrespect; but the eyes stared as before. He then began to realize the fact that the image had no life in it, and was alike powerless to punish or reward. As soon as a mission school was opened in the neighbourhood he became one of the pupils and was converted to God, together with several of his family. He afterwards became a zealous and devoted minister. His name was Abraham Gunasekara. He died, and his son is now the minister of a congregation of Cingalese Christians in Kandy.
Idolatry swept away
Not long ago a young man came from Raratonga to this metropolis, and he was taken to see the British Museum. Among the rest of the wonders he there saw was a row of idols, and amongst others there was a Raratonga god. He looked with wondrous curiosity, and asked permission to take it in his hands. He looked at it all round for a while with great interest, and passed it back to the guide, and said, “Thank you; that is the first idol I ever saw in my life.” In the time of the honoured John Williams there were more than 100,000 individual gods in Raratonga; and so clean a sweep has the gospel of Christ made of the whole abomination, that a young lad of nineteen had never seen one of them from the day of his birth. (Jackson Wray.)
The notion entertained of the Christian religion, and the principal doctrines of it, in the earliest days
The early account of the Christian religion, so universally received, and so well approved by the apostles, consists of two chief parts:
I. The service owing to the living God.
1. Religion, considered in this light, can be no other than natural religion. This was the original religion of man, but had been so corrupted and abused that there was hardly any sign of it when our Saviour appeared in the world. The preaching of the gospel revived the true ancient religion of nature, and prepared men for the reception of it; and has, by the additional supports of revelation, maintained it for many ages, and probably will maintain it to the end and consummation of all things.
2. These additional supports make the next great branch of Christian doctrine. These are revived upon the authority of revelation, and stand upon the evidence of external proofs: that we ought to turn from idols, and serve the living God; that we ought to serve Him in holiness and purity, in conforming ourselves to the example of His justice, equity, and goodness, are truths which every man may feel to be such who has any reason or natural feeling about him; but that we have been delivered from the wrath to come by Jesus the Son of God; that God raised Him from the dead, and hath appointed Him to be judge both of the dead and of the living, are articles which no man’s reason can suggest; which, when suggested, reason cannot receive upon any internal evidence, but must take them upon an authority sufficiently confirmed upon external evidence.
II. Our faith in Christ, and our hope and expectation grounded on that faith.
1. The patience of faith. St. Paul teaches us to wait for God’s Son from heaven. But this waiting implies not only the patience of faith, but well-doing, in expectation of the coming of our Saviour and Judge; which sense is completely expressed in the Epistle to the Philippians--“Be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an example; for our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.”
2. The expectation of Christ coming to judge the world is peculiar to Christians; and it is supported by the belief of the resurrection of Christ--that great and main point of faith, which the Apostles were commissioned to teach and establish in the Church of God. This designation of Christ to be judge of the world is no impeachment of the authority of God. The Son acts by the Father’s commission, who hath given all judgment to Him; but this makes no change in the nature of the judgment itself. Did the article of the resurrection make any alterations in our notions of God or religion; did it bring any new burden upon us of any sort, it would be no wonder to see men very careful how they admitted it; but now that it requires nothing at our hands but what reason and nature require, what pretence for being scrupulous concerning it. Admit the article, and our hopes are much improved, while our duty is the same; reject the article, and our duty is the same, while our hopes are much less. (T. Sherlock, D. D.)
The Bible’s exposure of idolatry
I was told by that distinguished missionary, John Williams, that he found the simple reading of Isaiah 44:1-28 more effectual in convincing the natives of the folly and sin of idolatry than any of his own teaching. Verse 17, “And the residue thereof he maketh a god,” were the words which at once laid hold of their understanding and their conscience. (Earl of Chichester.)
Folly of idolatry
According to Jewish tradition, Terah was a maker and seller of idols, and being one day obliged to leave home, he charged his son Abram to attend to business in his absence. Presently an elderly man came in, and taking a fancy to an idol asked the price. In reply, Abram said, “Old man, what is thy age?” “Threescore years,” replied the visitor. Whereupon Abram exclaimed, “Threescore years! And thou wouldest worship a thing that has been fashioned by the hands of my father’s slaves within the last four and twenty hours! Strange that a man of sixty should be willing to bow down his grey head to a creature of a day!” At these words the man, overwhelmed with shame, went away.
Vanity of idols
A missionary and his wife, some thirty years ago, went from Manchester to Samoa. Children were born to them there, and to one of these was sent, by an old servant of the family, a splendid doll, which opened and closed its eyes, and was richly clothed. Meantime, Roman Catholic priests had attempted to establish a mission in Samoa, and had gained a foothold. Among their wares was an image of the Virgin Mary, doubtless richly dressed; but unfortunately its eyes were fixed. While the priests and this object of worship were still under discussion, it became known that the English people had received a box of gifts from their own country. The natives crowded to the sight, of which by far the most attractive part was the old servant’s doll. After watching for a time the wonder of its opening and closing eyes, they began to say to one another, without any suggestion from the missionaries, “We have seen the God of the Roman Catholics; we have also seen the plaything of the English children; the plaything opens its eyes, but the eyes of the Catholic god are fixed: greater is the plaything of the Protestants than the idol of the Romanists. What must the God of the Protestants be?” The priests were absolutely driven from the island by the doll, while the word preached by the missionaries had free course, and was well listened to. (Family Treasury.)
The living and true God--What a strange yet pregnant phrase! Surely the Author of life must live; yet here is an expression which hints that there are deities who are not alive. It was thus that the Hebrews distinguished between the true God and the false gods of the nations around them (Psalms 96:5). The heathen deities were so much carving, sculpture, and colouring; or they were so much human imagination or speculation; they had no being independent of the toil, whether of the hands or the brains of men. It was true that evil spirits, by lurking beneath the idol forms, or draping themselves in debasing heathen fancies, might contrive to appropriate the homage which the human heart lavished on its own creations (Psalms 106:37). But the broad contrast, latent in the expression “the living God,” is the contrast between an imagination and a fact; between an existing Being and fancy personages; between a solemn truth and a stupid and debasing unreality. Some truth, however, there certainly was in the most degrading forms of heathen worship; since a religion which is undiluted falsehood could not continue to exist as a religion, and the false religions which do exist, only exist by virtue of the elements of truth which in varying proportions they severally contain. And this intermixture of truth yields the best starting point for convincing heathens of the errors which they admit, and of the truths which they deny beyond. In this sense undoubtedly the science of comparative theology may be made really serviceable to Christian truth. It is a widely different thing to start with an assumption that all the positive religions in the world, Jewish and Christian included, are alike conglomerate formations in very varying degrees, partly true, partly false; and that the religion of the future--an etherealized abstraction, to be distilled by science from all the creeds and worships of mankind--will be something beyond and distinct from all of them. Certainly heathenism is not treated, either in the Old Testament or the New, with the tenderness which would befit such an anticipation as this. Practically speaking, and as contrasted with revealed truth, heathenism is represented as a lie. To live within its range is to live in the kingdom of darkness (Isaiah 60:2; 1 Peter 2:9); to practice its rites is to be an enemy of God by wicked works (Colossians 1:21); to go after false gods is to have the earnest of great trouble, and to provoke the anger of the real Lord of the universe (Psalms 78:59-60; Psalms 106:36-40). (Canon Liddon.)
And to wait for His Son from heaven--
A body of Divinity
I. The Deity of Christ. “His Son.”
II. His humanity. “Whom He raised.” Christ could not have been raised had He not died, and could not have died had He not been man.
III. The unity of his person. “Even Jesus.”
IV. His redemption.
1. Men are guilty, lost, or they could not have needed a deliverance by Jesus, the Saviour.
2. Christ died for men that He might deliver them.
3. His death was accepted by the Father, “Whom He raised.”
V. His resurrection. We must not think of Christ as dead, or centre our faith wholly on the Cross. “He is not here; He is risen.”
VI. His ascension. “From heaven.” Hence He must have gone thither.
1. He has gone first as our forerunner, and secured for us the Spirit.
2. He remains in heaven.
(1) To prepare a place for us.
(2) To intercede.
(3) To watch His Church’s conflicts, and to deliver it.
3. He is there with saving power--“Delivereth.” He is at this moment delivering.
VII. His second coming.
1. Certain and uncertain. He will come, but when we know not.
2. Sudden, as a thief in the night.
3. To deliver His people from the coming wrath. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The second advent of Christ
I. The certainty of the advent. Of this, according to the unbroken statements of the New Testament, there is not the shadow of a doubt; but I would observe--
1. The time of the coming is an uncertainty. If you examine a few of the statements with reference to that uncertainty, you will find a statement in the New Testament as to that coming being a thing near. In the first Epistle to the Thessalonians, the fourth chapter, and the fifteenth verse, you read--“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.” Whereas, in the second Epistle, the second chapter, and the third verse, you find the statement which implies that that coming was not immediate: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first.” You will find in the Epistle to the Hebrews the same apparently contradictory statements. Then you find in the seventh verse of the fourth chapter of the first Epistle of Peter--“The end of all things is at hand.” Again, in the third chapter, the ninth verse, of the second Epistle of Peter, you find the apostle speaking of the Lord being “long suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish.” You have the same apparent conflict of statement in our blessed Lord’s own words. Thus in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, and the thirty-fourth verse, He says--“This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled;” which seems to intimate a near approach of the second coming. Then you find in the nineteenth verse of the twenty-fifth chapter, in the parable of the talents--“After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.” Again there is another class of statements which expressly and distinctly aver that the time of the second coming is left in uncertainty. Thus, you find in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, and the forty-second verse--“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.” And you find a still more remarkable statement in the Gospel of St. Mark--“But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, Hot the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father;” that is--the Lord Jesus in His human nature was not at that time acquainted with the day of His Second Advent. What, then, is the result which the Word of God seems intended to produce by this apparent conflict of statement? I believe the result which it intends to produce is this--that we should be always on the watch for the second coming of our blessed Lord. There is a tendency in some minds to anticipate that coming, to affirm and believe that that coming is immediately at hand. The Christians at Thesalonica were in danger of thus putting away temporal duties, and neglecting the present calls of life, in order that they might be ready for that which they immediately expected. There is a tendency in other minds to defer and put off that day, to think that it is sure not to take place soon; and thus to live an indolent, a listless and a comparatively indifferent life, as regards that grand object of our hope. Now, if we read the New Testament aright, and if we receive the impression which these various passages are intended to leave upon our minds, with reference to the certainty of the fact and the uncertainty of the coming, I believe that the effect produced will be to make us feel that the Lord’s coming, though uncertain at any moment, is possible at any moment. It will produce that state of expectancy, and that state of preparedness and desire with reference to it, in which our Lord sees to be the fittest condition for the spirits of His people to live and be.
2. The grand object presented. I can hardly read without emotion of the anticipation of the first Advent, on the part of the pious Jews, who preceded that advent. But how much grander and more sublime is that which is the object of our hope--the Second Advent; the Lord Jesus coming, not in humiliation, but in glory; not in weakness, but in power; not to suffer, but to reign I And when we think of all the attendant circumstances which are predicted--the rapture of the saints, the descent of the Lord from heaven, the Judgment, the binding of Satan, the renewal of this earth, and all those grand scenes to be produced by His glory--who can look at this great object of our hope without feeling his spirit awed and solemnized, without feeling that we have presented to us in the Bible one of the sublimest and most glorious objects which it is possible for the mind of man to conceive, as that upon which our hope is to rest, as that to which our expectations are to tend?
II. The influence which this hope is designed to exercise.
1. Holiness. “Every man that hath this hope purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” Now, it is impossible for a person who is living in daily anticipation of the second coming of Jesus, impossible for a believer in Christ whose mind is constantly turning towards that glorious appearing, to do otherwise than endeavour to have his moral image conformed, as highly as it can be, to the moral image of Him whom he is expecting; and that it lies in the very essential nature of man, that if in love and hearty faith he is expecting the coming of the Lord, he must seek to purify himself even as his Lord is pure.
2. Gratitude and love. There is a very emphatic word at the close of our text, where the Apostle says that we are expecting Jesus “which delivered us from the wrath to come.” Consider what that wrath is! Who it is that has delivered us! Consider how He has delivered us--not by handing over some mercenary ransom, but by giving Himself to suffer and to die; and that it is through this purchase Christ has paid that He has accomplished this mighty deliverance; and then say whether the anticipation of meeting Him must not produce, in the mind of him who has this hope, an earnest feeling of gratitude and devoted love to Him, to whom he owes his salvation and his glory.
3. Unworldliness. If a man is living in anticipation of the advent of Christ, it is impossible for him to be so wholly immersed in the cares and pleasures and businesses of this world, as is the case with too many professing Christians. If we were certain that the coming of the Lord were nigh at hand, would any Christian be unduly en grossed with the things of the world? No. “Use the world, and not abuse it.” (E. Bayley, M. A.)
Waiting for the second coming of Christ
A minister once entered an ancient almshouse, of which an aged couple were the inmates. Beside a little round table, opposite the fire, sat the husband, too paralyzed to move at his entrance, and with his hat on his head to keep off the gusts of wind which sifted through his chinky dwelling. His wooden shoe pattered on the floor unceasingly, keeping time to the tremour of his shaking frame; and, as he was very deaf, his visitor shouted in his ear--“Well, what are you doing? Waiting, sir.” “For what? For the appearing of my Lord.” “And what makes you wish for His appearing?” “Because I expect great things then. He has promised a crown of righteousness to all them that love His appearing.” Some further questions were asked as to the foundation of his hope, when he slowly put on his spectacles, and, turning over the leaves of the large Bible already open before him, he pointed to the text--“Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” (E. P. Hood.)
The great Deliverer
I. Our danger, “Wrath.”
5. “To come.”
II. Our Deliverer, “Jesus.” He stepped into the awful breach, took our place, was “bruised for our iniquities.” His deliverance was therefore--
3. Vicariously effected.
(1) It saves from unutterable gloom.
(2) It conducts to unutterable glory.
5. Complete in its nature.
6. Free in its bestowments.
7. Eternal in its duration.
8. Race-wide in its purposes. (T. Kelly.)
The coming of the Redeemer
I. The wrath to which we were exposed before our deliverance.
II. Our deliverance. Out of love to us Christ assumed our nature, placed Himself under our curse. By this He rescues us.
III. The proof that our full purchase from wrath is paid. His resurrection.
IV. Christ’s future coming. It is certain even if delayed--therefore we must not be impatient but wait for it. Conclusion:
1. Be thankful for your redemption.
2. Do not fret because you are not released from present evils.
3. Patiently discharge every present duty, and so wait for the coming of the Lord from heaven. (Dr. Belfrage.)
Different types of believers
It appears remarkable that St. Paul should make the essence of the gospel here consist, not in the belief in Christ or the taking up of His Cross, but in the hope of His coming again. Such, however, was the faith of the Thessalonian Church, such is the tone and spirit of this epistle. Neither, in the Apostolic times nor in our own, can we reduce all to the same type. One aspect of the gospel is more outward, another more inward; one seems to connect with the life of Christ, another with His death; one with His birth, another with His coming again. If we will not insist on determining the times and the seasons, or on knowing the manner how, all these different ways may lead us within the veil. The faith of modern times embraces many parts or truths; yet we allow men, according to their individual character, to dwell on this truth, or that as more peculiarly appropriate to their nature. The faith of the early Church was simpler and more progressive, pausing in the same way on a particular truth which the circumstances of the world or the Church brought before them. (Prof. Jowett.)
The figure is of a sentinel, who at night walks backwards and forwards, and is tired and faint, and longs for rest, and watches anxiously for the morning, when the guard will be relieved. Or it is of the watcher of the sick, who wearily passes the night in the sick room, where the tick of the clock and the groaning of the patient alternate and measure the long hours, and watches, as star after star rises above the horizon, for the morning star to appear. (H. W. Beecher.)
Believers kept waiting till death that men may witness their piety
Sometimes the sun seems to hang for a half hour in the horizon, only just to show how glorious it can be. The day is done; the fervour of the shining is over, and the sun hangs golden--nay, redder than gold--in the west, making everything look unspeakably beautiful, with the rich effulgence which it sheds on every side. So God seems to let some people, when their duty in this world is done, hang in the west, that men may look on them, and see how beautiful they are. There are some hanging in the west now! (H. W. Beecher.)
Joyfully awaiting Christ
It was an old woman who said--“Is He not a precious Saviour? so great and good, and willing to save all us poor sinners!” She was lying on a hard bed in the dreary infirmary ward of a workhouse; and the power of faith and love to create a happiness independent of circumstances came out with almost startling force in her answer to the inquiry, “You know Him then, and love Him?” “Yes; I do know Him, and love Him: His presence makes a heaven of this room. If you heaped up my bed with gold and silver,” she added; “and if you could give me the queen’s carriage and horses, and her palace and her garden, and all her beautiful flowers, and health and strength to enjoy it all, I would not take them, if they would hinder me from going home to my Saviour. They talk of the pains of dying: what will they be to me? They will but hurry me to heaven and to Jesus.” Delivered from the wrath to come:--
I. The awful destruction referred to.
1. The actual infliction of the Divine displeasure (Psalms 11:6). Shut out--
(1) From heaven.
(2) From God.
(3) Into miseries.
(4) And torments.
2. This wrath will respect body and soul (Matthew 10:28).
3. This intense fierceness of wrath is to come (Romans 2:5).
4. This punishment will be eternal (Mark 9:44).
II. A blessed liberation declared.
1. From the sentence of wrath (Romans 8:1).
2. From meetness to this wrath (Romans 6:14).
3. From the gloomy forebodings of wrath (1 John 4:18).
4. From the possibility of wrath (Colossians 3:3).
III. The glorious deliverer announced, even jesus.
1. Meritoriously by Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:14);
2. Instrumentally by His Word (John 8:32);
3. Efficiently by His Spirit (Romans 8:14);
4. God will deliver us personally and eternally (2 Timothy 4:8). (T. B. Baker.)
The wrath to come
Men in these times seem unwilling to hear of future punishment. Hell is no longer a word for ears polite. They talk as if “a certain class of preachers” invented hell and kept it burning to enforce their precepts. I was in Naples in 1884, the year that cholera was epidemic. The Neapolitans accused the physicians of bringing the cholera. The physicians predicted it; they told the people that unless they cleaned up their city the scourge would come. They laid down rules and gave warning. So when the cholera came, the people thought the physicians brought it to intimidate them into washing themselves and keeping their backyards clean, so they threw stones at the physicians and drove them out of the city. These physicians had come to risk their lives for the ungrateful people who rejected them. Thus, when preachers begin to talk of the scourge which will follow sin, the people--that is, some of them--begin to think the preachers are in some way responsible for this scourge. The preachers are assailed as cruel, fanatical, behind the times, and all that. Our Lord is a Physician. He came and found the disease of sin and its fatal consequences here already. He did not bring them. He left His home to improve the sanitary condition of this world, to cleanse its filth. And in order to induce men to submit to His treatment, He warns them to flee from the wrath to come. (R. S. Barrett.)
The wrath to come
The most delightful and encouraging subject on which a sinner can fix his thoughts is the overflowing mercy of an offended God; but he will also often be thinking of the awful justice of the Being from whom he has received it, and the fearfulness of that wrath from which it has rescued him. Thus a longing after the coming of the Saviour, and an expectation of heaven, will ever be connected with the recollection of danger escaped and wrath incurred.
I. The wrath of which the apostle speaks.
1. It is Divine wrath. Not the anger of a creature whose power is limited and whose duration is finite, but the displeasure of One who fills heaven and earth with His power, and eternity with His existence.
2. It is unmingled wrath; that is--judgment without mercy, justice without the least mixture of goodness. “They shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation.”
3. It is provoked wrath. It was not the original inheritance of man. He who made us, loves us; He visits us every hour with goodness, and sends us in His Gospel the freest and most gracious offers of reconciliation. But if we reject a salvation which cost Him the blood of His Son, we provoke Him to anger, and stir up His wrath.
4. It is accumulated wrath. Every repeated act of sin increases it, and will aggravate our misery in eternity. “After thy hardness and impenitent heart,” says St. Paul, “thou treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”
5. It is future wrath. “Wrath to come,” and when we have borne it millions of ages, it will still be “wrath to come,” no nearer an end than it was at first, nor easier to be endured. It is eternal wrath, lasting as the holiness of Him who inflicts it, and the guilt of the sinner who bears it.
II. The way of escape from this wrath. The Apostle speaks of some who have actually escaped from it.
1. The deliverance from it is undeserved. It is true that they who have received it are a people who “have turned from idols to serve the living and true God;” but what led them to choose His service? No natural love. It was the power of the Word, accompanied by the Holy Ghost, which turned them. The deliverance, therefore, was not deserved by them, but was owing to the free and distinguishing grace of the very God whom they had long braved and hated.
2. Though undeserved, it is complete deliverance. “The wrath to come” can never touch those “whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.” They are as perfectly delivered from wrath as though it had ceased to burn, or they had ceased to deserve it.
3. Hence the deliverance is an eternal deliverance. The salvation of all believers in Jesus is an eternal salvation, making a final separation between them and all possibility of condemnation.
4. The author of this deliverance. “Even Jesus.” It is certain that man cannot be his own deliverer. “No man can redeem his brother, or give to God a ransom for him.” Neither can the angels, though they” excel in strength,” help him. The eternal Son, the sharer of the Father’s own omnipotence, proposed Himself as the Mediator between heaven and earth, and arrested the sword of justice. “He bare our sins in His own body on the tree.” And now, in consequence of His obedience unto death, “all that believe in Him are justified from all things;” their liability to punishment is done away, and done away forever; they have “passed from death unto life.” So that when “the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven,” they will lift up their heads with joy, and shout--“Lo! this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation!” (C. Bradley, M. A.)
Dr. Watts has left on record the fact that of all who have been led to a saving faith under his ministry, he could recall but one who had been first awakened by the amiable attributes of the Divine character. All the rest were first aroused by fear of the Divine anger. “The love of God,” he said, “had been the suasive power, but the wrath of God had been the awakening power.” The same succession of convictions in the order of time is confirmed by the history of conversions in the great revivals of the past. Before men discover in its saving power that “God is love,” they discover in its condemning power that “God is a consuming fire.” Dr. Bushnell has put this fact incisively. He says: “One of the things most needed in the recovery of men to God is this very thing--a more decisive manifestation of the wrath principle. Intimidation is the first means of grace. No bad mind is arrested by love and beauty till such time as it is balked in evil and put on ways of thoughtfulness. And nothing can be so effectual for this as a distinct apprehension of ‘the wrath to come.’” There are of course exceptions to this rule. Wilberforce records that he never experienced a sense of the Divine anger till after he was persuaded to repentance by the love of Christ. But such cases are not relatively numerous in the histories of conversion.