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1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
Furthermore then, we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you
Earnest exhortations to a high sanctity
Purity is the perfection of the Christian character.
It is the brightest jewel in the cluster of saintly excellencies, and that which gives a lustre to the whole. It is not so much the addition of a separate and distinct grace as the harmonious development of all. As Flavel has said, “What the heart is to the body that the soul is to the man; and what health is to the heart holiness is to the soul.” In the prayer just offered the apostle indicates that God will fill them with love to this end. He now urges the attainment. Human agency is not destroyed but stimulated by the Divine.
I. That a higher sanctity consists in living under a sense of the Divine approval.
1. Religion is a life. A “walk” implies continual approach to a goal. Religion is not an ornament, a luxury, a ceremony, but a life, all penetrating, ever progressing, but sometimes concealed.
2. Religion is a life modelled after the worthiest examples. “As ye have received of us.” The Thessalonians not only received the wisest counsels from their teachers but they witnessed their holy and consistent lives; and their attention was constantly directed to the all-perfect example--Christ Jesus. It is the tendency of all life to shape itself after the character of its strongest inward force. The love of God is the mightiest power in the life of the believer; and the outer manifestation of that life is moulded according to the pattern of the inner Divine ideal.
3. Religion is a life which finds its chief joy in the Divine approval. “And to please God.” It is possible, then, so to live as to please God. What a powerful incentive to a holy life. Donne, on his death bed, said, “I count all that part of my life lost which I spent not in communion with God, or in doing good.”
4. Religion is a life capable of vast expansion. “So, ye would abound,” etc. God has made every provision for our increase in holiness. There is no limit in our elevation but our faith.
II. That the necessity of a higher sanctity is enforced by Divine authority. “For this is the will of God even your sanctification.”
1. A higher sanctity involves a conformity to the Divine nature. God is holy, and the aim of the believer is to be like Him. There is to be not only an abstinence from impurity but a positive experience of purity. By faith we participate in the Divine nature, and possess qualities analogous to the Divine perfections--mercy, truth, justice, holiness.
2. A higher sanctity is in harmony with the Divine will what God proscribes must be carefully avoided; what He prescribes must be done. His will is here emphatically expressed; it is supported by abundant promises of help; and it is declared that without holiness no man shall see the Lord. The will of God is at once the highest reason, the strongest motive, and the final authority.
3. The Divine will regarding a higher sanctity is enforced by duly authorized messengers, and well understood precepts (1 Thessalonians 4:2). The apostle did not assume authority in any dictatorial spirit. He delivered unto others what he had received. These precepts were well known. Obedience should ever be in proportion to knowledge. Knowledge and practice are mutually helpful to each other. To know and not to do is to incur the heaviest condemnation. “Not My will, but Thine be done.”
III. That the possession of a higher sanctity is repeatedly urged by earnest exhortations. “We beseech you, brethren, and exhort you.” Doctrine without exhortation makes men all brain, no heart; exhortation without doctrine makes the heart full, leaves the brain empty. Both together make a man. The apostle laboured in both. Here we have a fine example of the combination of a tender, brotherly entreaty, with the solemn authority of a divinely commissioned ambassador. Some people, says a certain writer, are as thorns; handle them roughly and they pierce you; others as nettles; rough handling is best for your safety. A minister’s task is an endless one. Has he planted knowledge?--practice must be urged. Is the practice satisfactory?--perseverance must be pressed. Do they continue in well-doing?--they must be stimulated to further progress. The end of one task is the beginning of another. Lessons: The believer is called to the attainment of a higher sanctity--
1. By the voice of God.
2. By the voice of His faithful ministers.
3. And by the aspirations of the life divinely planted within him. (G. Barlow.)
A fuller consecration
A superstructure is nothing without a foundation; neither is a foundation anything without a superstructure. Each, indeed, has its appropriate place, but both are alike important; for if, on the one hand, the superstructure will fall without a foundation, so, on the other hand, it is for the sake of the superstructure alone that the foundation is laid. St. Paul, “as a wise master builder,” was careful at all times to lay his foundation deep and strong; but, having done this, he was careful also to raise upon it a beauteous edifice, such as God Himself would delight to inhabit. This is evident in all his letters; and hence in this to the Thessalonians, having been the instrument of their conversion, he would excite them to the highest possible attainments in universal holiness.
I. His appeal He had not sought to amuse them by curious speculations; nor had he given them maxims whereby they might please and gratify their fellow creatures. His object had been to bring them to such a holy and consistent “walk” as would be pleasing and acceptable to their God. What kind of a walk that is it will be profitable for us to inquire.
1. Walk in Christ by a living faith.
2. Walk after Christ by a holy conversation.
II. His entreaty. In this the apostle acknowledges that the Thessalonians had already done well; but he wishes them to redouble their exertions in their heavenly path. Let us notice here--
1. The fact conceded.
2. The duty urged. He might well have enjoined these things in an authoritative manner, but “for love’s sake he rather besought them.” He calls them “brethren,” and as brethren he entreats them--
(1) By the consideration of all that Christ has done and suffered for them.
(2) By the consideration of all the interest He yet took in their welfare.
(3) By the consideration of the honour He would derive from them.
(4) By the consideration of the glory that will accrue to Him in the day of judgment. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
A deepening consecration
I. The idea of a deeper consecration is a familiar one. Moses was set apart for special work. Aaron and his brother priests were consecrated. Paul as an apostle, and others, were separated by the Holy Spirit. That is the Old Testament idea of consecration--“setting apart a person or thing for sacred uses.” The person might not at first be holy in himself; but because of his daily association with sacred things, holiness was required of him. In New Testament times holiness of person and holiness of service move along together. Conversion is the dedication of oneself for the first time to God. A revival of religion is a rededication to more faithful service. The discipline of sorrow, meditation, the work of faith and labour of love, etc., still further deepen its spiritual life, and strengthen its activities.
II. There are occasions when the call for deeper consecration is clear and loud. Such was the preaching of the Baptist, and of Peter and Paul, summoning to repentance. A great popular excitement that moves deeply a people is providential preparation. An exigency in life when one is hurled from his self-dependence down upon his dependence upon God; a responsibility that compels one to put up new bulwarks to faith and a new criticism upon life; a calamity that opens all the doors and windows of life--those things teach you of your exposure and of your need that some pavilion drop its curtains around you. These indeed are felt to be Divine exhortations to higher, closer walk with God.
III. This deeper consecration is not necessarily the doing of new things, but doing the old things better. The advice of Paul to the Thessalonians was to abound more and more in the very things in which they had been active. We can fritter away strength in variety. We can make the moral nature nervous by seeking continually a new excitement. Perfection and finish are not gained in trying new things, but by repetition. We become perfect penmen by making the same letters over and over again. Skill in the mechanic arts, in sculpture and in painting, is gained by repetition of the fundamentals of each. Wear the channels of the old religious routine deeper then. Lean with more entire self-abandonment upon the tried methods of Church activity. The Christian teacher will find the occasion of deeper consecration in the deeper work along the old lines of fidelity, study, and prayer. The officers of the Church will find their open door into more satisfactory life along the tried ways of tender consideration, faithful regard to vows, bearing still better responsibilities. The Christian father and mother will find their life growing less troubled and worldly if they make the family altar a place of greater regard, and the religious oversight of the family a matter of more constant attention. “Which things also ye do, but I beseech you, abound more and more.” Depth comes in running constantly in the old curriculum.
IV. You are to be led to this deeper consecration by an old motive. “I beseech and exhort you by Jesus Christ.” It was the love of God in Jesus Christ that first broke your heart from the ways of sin, and it is this same love that must lift the life to higher and finer activity.
V. The danger to which this consecration is exposed. The danger of routine, of system, of familiar acquaintance with Biblical truths, the very thing the worth of which we have been advocating.
1. Simply because consecration must run in the old channels and be drawn on by the same motive, there is danger that we miss the vital contact with the Lord Jesus, that the spirit dies out while the system goes on. Church and prayer meeting attendance may degenerate into a profitless habit. Your soul may be satisfied with the form and die for want of sustenance. Class teaching may become as spiritless as school teaching--the mere teaching of the lesson. Great alarm about our own spiritual condition should smite us when we find ourselves doing Christian duties for the sake of getting rid of them and of appeasing the conscience.
2. Then, again, the performance of Christian duties leads us into expressions of faith and desire that they may become stereotyped. Biblical language is the fittest medium by which to express our prayer and our faith. And the quickened soul can find comfort and relief for itself in repeating the same form. But let the fire die out, and living contact with Jesus shrink, and the form of words will remain, and we will have the startling inconsistency of devout expression enveloping a shrivelled and dead heart.
3. There may be movement in Christian life but no progress. Like the water wheel that turns round in the same place that it did ten years ago, may be the Christian life that runs the weekly round of Church services. Like the door that swings on the same hinge, but never moves from the door post, may be the Christian life excessively busy, continually in and out, but never advancing into the interior truths of God’s Word. Christian life is not a treadmill round; Christianity is not meant to teach us how to talk, but to teach us how to walk, and walking is orderly, constant progress towards a terminus, a glory. The path of the just shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
VI. The practical methods by which the deeper consecration can be maintained without falling into spiritless form.
1. Let there be an act of consecration; a holy hour when we surrender ourselves anew to God. We know that specious argument of the evil one about “resolving and re-resolving, and doing the same.” We know that timidity of the honest mind that shrinks from a new self-dedication where it has so often failed; and yet how is life to be lifted up to finer issues unless there is the strong desire and resolve of the spirit? We do not drift into consecration and holy life?
2. Assist the memory. We fail in our consecration because we forget. Business engrosses the mind. A multitude of cares drives out the one special thought of the heart. Time slips along, weaving into the web of life new things with bright or dark colours. The very success of the first efforts of consecrated days has a subtle danger. Against this flood of insidious attack we must rear a defence that shall remain with us. I have known a book, for instance, selected because its contents and aim were along the line of the consecrated purpose, to be to the memory a continual reminder. I have known a text of Scripture chosen for its appropriateness to some individual weakness or to fill up the gaps of failure, or to string the soul to its best music hung as a motto on the wall, that every time you looked you were reminded of the weakness, the failure, the hope of your life. I have known men who have sat down and drawn up for themselves rules of life, meeting their deficiencies and aspirations by specific regulations, making their daily activity run along these prescribed channels, and their biographies have proved how good, how conscientious, how holy they were. I need only mention the names of Jeremy Taylor and Jonathan Edwards. I have known a voluntary service given to some spiritual meeting whose regular recurrence was continual reminder, or to some charity whose blessed work was constant call for service, or to some personal visitation of the poor and the sick.
3. Assist the spiritual nature by renewed study of the character of Jesus. The sculptor who is to make a model of your face and head, the painter who is to paint your portrait, asks of you many sittings, and the more sittings you can give him the more perfect will be bust or portrait. The daily study of Jesus will fashion the life after the glorious model. (S. B. Bossiter.)
The Christian’s walk and its object
I. The Christian’s walk.
1. You young Christians have just got a walking power. There was a time when you thought you could stand, and you tried, but fell helplessly by the wayside. But Jesus of Nazareth passed by and said, “Wilt thou be made whole.” You responded in faith, and like the man at the Gate Beautiful you found a new energy and walked and leaped and praised God.
2. This new power was given you to enable you to realize that “they that wait upon the Lord shall … walk and not faint.” The sun may be very hot, and you ready to give way, but remember this promise; and remember it when the goal of the journey seems a great way off. Don’t be discouraged.
3. Paul had given these Christians directions how to walk. He did not leave them to wander about in the darkness. We, too, have directions. Look up the word “walk” in your concordance. We are to--
(1) “Walk by faith.” We do not behold the form of Jesus leading us on to victory, nor is our reward visible, but we apprehend both by Faith.
(2) “Walk in the Spirit,” opposed to which is “walking after the flesh,” by worldly considerations, and a desire for gratification.
(3) “Walk in wisdom.” Do not give unnecessary offence, or obtrude your religion in a disagreeable way. The perfect Christian is a perfect gentleman.
(4) “Walk honestly,” or rather honourably. There is a certain un affected dignity that belongs to the friend of God, and commands the respect of men. The child of the heavenly royal household cannot stoop to social meannesses, or commercial sharp practices.
(5) “Walk circumspectly,” i.e., accurately. Be particular about little things, little vanities, self-indulgences, worldlinesses, sins of tongue and temper. There are some who have only a vague, not an accurate notion of what a Christian’s walk ought to be; others walk timorously always expecting to make mistakes. Some strike out wildly never thinking of where they are going; others go painfully as though they were walking on egg shells or glass bottles. Let us avoid these two mistakes--not to allow ourselves to be so bound and hampered as to lose our spiritual liberty; but not to disregard trifles which put together make such a great thing in the end.
II. The motive. “To please God.” We shall not walk rightly without a right motive. God looks at that as well as at the effect.
1. What are you going to live for? To be happy? To get to heaven? You may get both, but these are not what you were sent into the world for.
2. If you want to find out what should be the object of your life, look at Jesus. From first to last He lived simply to please the Father. He came to do the Father’s will, and He did it.
(1) You may do a man’s will because you are his ,servant paid to do it, and therefore your duty to do it, or because he is your friend and you delight to do it. Between these two classes of motives lies the difference between the law and the gospel.
(2) There are two ways of seeking to please God, We often notice in earthly relationships that there is less of conscious anxiety to please where love and confidence are strongest, while on the other hand strenuous efforts to please are frequently the results of misgivings as to the disposition of the person they are designed to please. The same may be said of our relationship towards God. There are some who really wish to please Him, and yet say, “I wonder whether this or that has pleased Him.” But the blessedness of the Christian position is this, that we are accepted in the Beloved so that He can regard us with complacency in order that we may go on to please Him.
3. Let the thought of pleasing God ever take precedence of the thought of pleasing ourselves and others.
4. You are pleasing God much if you are trusting Him much. To doubt Him is to cast a reflection on His changeless love. (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
How to walk so as to please God
I. With faith. Without this “it is im possible to please” Him.
II. With humility. He abases the proud, show ing His abhorrence of them, but exalts the humble because He delights in them.
III. With obedience.
1. Active. “To obey is better than sacrifice.” “Children, obey … for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.”
2. Passive. When in sickness, trial, etc. Nothing is more acceptable than the spirit which says, “Thy will be done.” “The servant that doeth not his Lord’s will shall be beaten with many stripes.”
IV. In communion with his people. “They that feared the Lord spake often one to another; and the Lord hearkened and heard.” Would He have done so had He been indifferent or displeased? “Where two or three are met together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”
V. Benevolently. “With such sacrifices God is well pleased.” (G. Burder.)
Walking so as to please God
I. What is it to please God?
1. Negatively. Not as if we could do anything in its own nature pleasing to God (2 Corinthians 3:5).
2. Positively. So that He may accept us in Christ (Matthew 3:17).
(1) Our persons (Ephesians 1:6).
(2) Our actions (1 Peter 2:5; Luke 2:14).
(a) So as not to be angry with us for them.
(b) So as to be favourable to us (Proverbs 8:35; Zephaniah 3:17).
(c) So as to give us a reward (Matthew 6:4; Matthew 10:42).
II. Why should we please God? Because--
1. He is so great and mighty (Jeremiah 5:22).
2. So just.
3. So gracious (Psalms 130:4).
4. His pleasure is the highest happiness (Psalms 30:5; Psalms 63:3).
5. This is the end of Christ’s incarnation and our profession (Acts 3:26; 2 Timothy 2:19).
III. How may we please Him?
1. In general (Hebrews 11:5).
(1) We must be renewed (Romans 8:8).
(2) Do what He has commanded.
(3) Therefore do it that we may please Him.
(4) Do it with understanding and discretion (1 Corinthians 14:15).
(5) With cheerfulness (2 Corinthians 9:7; Psalms 40:8).
(6) In faith (Hebrews 11:6).
(7) To His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).
2. Particularly, these things please Him--
(1) Repentance (Ezekiel 33:11; Psalms 51:17).
(2) Humility (Isaiah 57:15; Isaiah 66:2; 1 Peter 5:8).
(3) Trust in His promises (Psalms 147:11).
(4) Submission to His providences (1 Samuel 3:18; Psalms 39:9).
(5) Prayer (1 Kings 3:10; 1 Timothy 2:1-4).
(6) Frequent meditations upon Him (Psalms 19:14).
(7) Justice (Micah 6:7-8; Psalms 51:19).
(8) Mercy and forgiveness (Psalms 103:9-11; Matthew 6:14).
(9) Charity to the poor (Philippians 4:18).
(10) Thankfulness (Psalms 69:30-31).
IV. Use: Endeavour to please God. Consider--
1. Otherwise you cross His end in making you (Proverbs 16:4).
2. So long as He is displeased you are in danger of hell.
3. If you please Him you need please none else (Proverbs 16:7).
4. Nor take care of anything (Matthew 6:33; 1 John 3:22).
5. He will bless all His providences to you (Romans 8:28).
6. Pleasing God is the work of heaven (Psalms 103:20-21).
7. Please Him here, and enjoy Him hereafter. (Bp. Beveridge.)
There are in the world self-pleasers, men-pleasers, God-pleasers. The last only deserve our imitation.
I. God can be pleased. That being the case--
1. He notices our conduct.
2. Observes the character of our actions.
3. Has a disposition with regard to men.
II. He can be well pleased (Colossians 3:20). Those please Him best who are most like in character and action to Him in whom He was “well pleased.”
III. He can be easily pleased. He requires no impossible services. His approbation is not wrung from Him with difficulty.
IV. He can always be pleased. “He waiteth to be gracious.” When the Christian walks in the way of His commandments, he walks with God.
V. He ought to be pleased. This is required by--
1. Himself. His commands all amount to this. His glory is promoted by this.
2. Man. Pleasing God is the directest way of securing the welfare of the world.
3. Our own well being. To please God is to have a tranquil conscience, the approbation of the God, an endless reward. (B. Pugh.)
Pleasing God is
I. Possible. He has been pleased with men--Enoch, Noah, Daniel, etc. This is wonderful--wonderful that the Infinite should condescend to notice any one individual so insignificant as man. Still more wonderful that He should be pleased with anything that man can do. God is a pleasable Being, and man can contribute something to His pleasure.
II. Incumbent. “Ye ought.” Why?
1. Because He is the absolute Proprietor of your existence. He has a right to everything you have.
2. He is the most righteous of sovereigns. He does not require you to do anything that is not right and just.
3. He is the most tender of fathers. The only way to please yourselves is to please Him. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
So ye would abound more and more--
I. What is it to abound?
1. Negatively. Not as if we could do more than is required. For--
(1) We cannot do all that is required (Psalms 119:96).
(2) We can do nothing as it is required (2 Corinthians 3:5).
(3) Yet if we could it is no more than our duty (Luke 17:10).
(1) Endeavour to go beyond others (1 Corinthians 12:31).
(2) Be more serious in pleasing God than in anything else (Ecclesiastes 9:10; Romans 12:11; Matthew 6:33).
(3) Every day excel ourselves and grow better (2 Peter 3:18).
II. What should we abound more and more in?
1. In works of piety towards God; in--
(1) Godly sorrow for sin (2 Corinthians 7:9-11)).
(2) Turning from our present lusts (Romans 6:12).
(3) Faith in Christ for pardon (Ephesians 1:7); for grace (Acts 3:26; John 15:4-5; Philippians 4:13).
(4) Dependence on God’s mercy (Proverbs 3:5).
(5) Making Him our only joy and love (Matthew 22:37).
(6) Prayer (Romans 12:12).
(7) Hearing His Word (Luke 4:16), and receiving His sacrament.
2. In works of equity to our neighbour--
(1) Wronging none (Matthew 5:44).
(2) Endeavouring the good of all (Galatians 6:10).
(3) Being charitable to the poor (1 Timothy 6:18; 2 Corinthians 9:6-8).
III. Why should we abound more and more?
1. We are commanded (Heb 6:1; 2 Peter 1:5-6; Ephesians 6:10; 1 Corinthians 15:58).
2. Unless we grow better we shall surely grow worse.
3. We can never abound too much; nor indeed enough (Philippians 3:11).
4. The more we abound the more glory we shall have (Luke 19:16-19; 1 Corinthians 15:41-42).
IV. How shall we abound more and more?
1. Often think of spiritual things--
(1) Of God (Psalms 63:6; Psalms 139:18).
(2) Of Christ.
(3) Of the world to come (Amos 6:3).
(1) We have abounded in sin too long (1 Peter 4:3).
(2) Our life is continued for that end.
(3) The more we abound the more comfort we shall have.
(4) Abounding is the best sign of the truth of grace (James 2:26).
(5) Heaven will make amends for all.
(1) Of reproof.
(a) To those who never please God, but abound in sin.
(b) To those who take more pains to abound in riches than in graces.
(2) Of examination. Compare your present with your past.
(3) Of exhortation. “Abound more and more.” (Bp. Beveridge.)
Of abounding more and more
If any one wishes to see what it is to begin well in Christian faith and practice and at the same time what care should be taken not to depend too much on mere beginnings however praiseworthy, he cannot do better than examine carefully these two Epistles to the Thessalonians. The apostle seems hardly to know how to say enough of their faith and charity, or of the noble and self-denying way in which they had received the gospel (see 1 Thessalonians 1:5-8; 1 Thessalonians 3:7-10). There could not well be more promising converts; and yet the very next words show how anxious he was that they might not trust in their first promising conversion, “Praying exceedingly that we might see your face”: to what purpose? not for his own pleasure, but “to perfect that which was lacking in their faith.” The same feeling runs through the whole of the letter; his joy in what they had done is everywhere tempered by a real and serious anxiety lest they should stop short and begin to think that they had done enough.
I. Now, with regard to the absolute necessity of continual improvement, it appears in the first place from this circumstance that if we rightly value the first good beginning, we must from the very nature of the case go on from one degree of holiness to another. Men may very well do something which looks like repentance upon poor imperfect worldly reasons, and may deceive themselves and others into a notion that they are true Christian penitents; as, for example, intemperance may be left off for health or character’s sake, or a quarrel may be made up with a view to our worldly interest, or the fear of approaching death may drive men against their will to long-neglected ordinances of religion; and it is no wonder if such a repentance as this very soon begins to stand still: if, having reached such and such a point, the man imagines himself good enough, and takes no more pains to be better: but this is quite contrary to the nature of true repentance upon Christian principles.
II. This is yet more absolutely necessary, because, if men do not improve they are in practice sure to go back. They cannot stay where they are; they must either grow worse or better. For it is the nature of all strong impressions to act vehemently on the mind at first, and after a little time to fade away as it were and gradually become weaker and weaker. Thus the fear of God and the dread of sin and punishment, in which repentance usually begins, if we do not resolutely and on purpose endeavour to keep them up, are sure to lose their force on our minds.
III. It may help us in judging more truly of our duty in this respect if we put ourselves as nearly as we can in the place of these Thessalonians, who had learned Christianity from the lips of St. Paul himself. For, indeed, we are very nearly in their place; we, like them, have received of the apostles how we ought to walk and to please God. The only difference is, that they received this knowledge by word of mouth, we by reading the apostolic letters and listening to the apostolic Church. Now what sort of a spirit and temper should we have judged these Thessalonians to be of, if we found that as soon as their teacher was gone away to Athens, they had become careless about his instructions, thought much of what they had done already, and took no pains whatever to improve? Whatever censure we pass on them we must acknowledge surely to be due to ourselves, in such measure as we neglect the duty of amending daily because our Teacher is out of sight. Yet this is what we are sure to do, if we be not constantly exhorted and reminded of it; nay, there is great reason to fear that all exhortation may prove in vain.
1. For, first of all, having been bred up from our cradle in the knowledge and understanding of our Christian duty, we are apt to fancy ourselves familiar with the practice of it too. We are convinced in our minds that we know it well enough; and this of itself inclines us to be too soon satisfied with our accustomed way of doing it.
2. Again, a sincere Christian will be on his guard that he make no dangerous comparisons between himself and his neighbours. It will never do to take it for granted that we keep our place in respect of piety and goodness--that we are no worse than we were, in fact--because we are no worse in comparison with them. It may be that all around you are gone astray from God, and in the way to everlasting ruin: if such turn out to be the case, you may excuse and flatter yourself now that you are no worse than they; but it will be little comfort to you in the day of account, when you find that your condemnation is as bad as theirs. (Plain Sermons by Contributors to “Tracts for the Times.”)
The necessity of progress
It is a sure law that, as Luther said, “He who is a Christian is no Christian.” He who thinks that he has gained the fulness of the faith has lost it. Progress is a requirement of spiritual vitality; and the recompense of past progress is the assurance of progress to come. In the words of a famous Hebrew saying, “The reward of a precept is a precept.” He, that is, who has fulfilled one commandment is allowed to receive another. He who has reached one height of truth catches a glimpse of a loftier height beyond. Each attainment in the Divine life becomes the occasion for the revelation of fresh duty. The crown of labour for a being such as man is not rest but longer and nobler toil. It is true, we know, that to him that hath more shall be given. And it is no less true that of him that hath done much shall more be required. Each achievement of the successful worker was indeed God’s gift. And what we receive, what we realize, what we gain--however we call the process--is not for contemplation, or for hoarding, but for further service. What is reaped supplies the seed corn for a richer harvest. The gifts of God answer to His requirements, and the requirements of God answer to His gifts. “Grace for grace”--grace to be used in return for grace already used--is the law which regulates God’s blessing; “from strength to strength” is the description of the Christian’s course. “We must abound more and more.” We must seek untiringly for signs of growing nearness to God, and show what we have found. The trained eye learns to see beauties which were once undistinguished. The trained ear learns to interpret voices which were once inarticulate. And is it so--do we confidently trust that it always will be so--spiritually with ourselves? Are we able as the years go on to fix our eyes more steadily on God, shrinking with livelier sensibility from sin more than from suffering, realizing our fellowship one with another in Him with a more intense vividness, looking, and showing that we look, beyond the wild confusion of the hour to the one will of peace and righteousness which cannot at last want accomplishment? Are we able to listen to the Divine wisdom conversing with us as with sons in the words of apostles and prophets, speaking to us in our own tongues, interpreting our own thoughts, answering the questions with which our hearts are full? Are we able to rest with increasing peace in the contemplation of Him who is perfect light, and to bring before Him who is perfect compassion the unceasing prayer of sympathetic remembrance for all with whom we are united as fellow workers in the present and as fellow heirs of the future? Are we able to pause in the solemn stillness of thought till we are alone with God, and to offer ourselves to the fire of His love; that so little by little all may be consumed in us--all passion and pride, all self-seeking and self-trust--which does not minister to His glory, which does not, that is, make clearer to men His infinite perfection? Are we able to regard the world in its unspeakable vastness, life with its inevitable sorrows, nature with its contrasts (to our eyes) of beauty and terror, or grace and mocking grotesque ness, as even now gathered up in Christ, and seek for ourselves the development of every faculty by which we may be taught to spell out better the One Name written in all that is finite? We tremble perhaps as we put such questions to ourselves. But they stir us at least with a sense of what our faith is. They make plain to us to what we are called. They show an obligation to progress, a capacity for influences of which, it may be, we are habitually unmindful. They condemn us perhaps. But the sentence of condemnation is the message of hope. It is a revelation of God’s love as well as of man’s failure. The strength for service and the opportunities for service are still given to us through the gospel. (Bp. Westcott.)
Abounding more and more
An aged Christian man who had been much benefited through life by God’s blessing, after thankfully referring to his more than fifty years of health, prosperity, and abounding mercies, remarked, “I am convinced that if I have to be any happier than I have been or am, I must get more religion.” The Hindus have a legend that a very little man once got a promise from a great king that he should have as much territory as he could overstep in three strides. Then the little man began to grow till his head reached the sky, and at last, when he took his three strides, with the first he overstepped all the land, with the second he overstepped all the seas, and with the third he compassed all the heavens. If we grow in knowledge, in wisdom, in grace, and in everything that is good, as we ought, we may at length be able to compass much that will be most advantageous to ourselves and to others. (H. K. Burton.)
1 Thessalonians 4:2
For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus
The Lord Jesus and His commandments
Jesus is Lord.
1. By Divine appointment “He shall reign.”
2. By creative acts He has a right to rule over things and beings whom He has made.
3. By redemptive work: “Ye are not your own.”
4. By the glad acknowledgment of His saints: “Unto Him that loved us.”
5. By the ultimate recognition of the universe: “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,” etc.
II. As Lord Jesus has a right to command.
1. This right is uniformly asserted. Christ never prefers a request, makes a suggestion, or expresses a wish; it is always “ Come,” “Go,” “Do this,” “If I, your Lord and Master ye aught.”
2. This right has been blasphemously usurped. They are impious usurpers who determine other means of salvation, or rules of moral conduct other than those He has laid down. “One is your Master.”
III. His commands have been plainly revealed. “Ye know.”
1. Directly by Himself. “Love one another,’” etc.
2. Instrumentally by His accredited ambassadors. “We gave you from the Lord Jesus.” Their deliverances, however, are only applications of Christ’s principles to particular persons and places.
3. Permanently in the Bible.
(1) How clearly.
(2) How accessibly. Ignorance is without excuse.
IV. Obedience to His commandments is the criterion of discipleship. Commands are given--
1. Not to be thought about.
2. Not to be the subjects of promise in regard to the doing of them.
3. But to be obeyed. “Ye are My disciples if ye do.” This doing must be--
(1) Universal. “Whatsoever I command you.”
(2) Prompt. There is no time to lose.
(3) Cheerful. We are subjects of so good a King.
1. Christ as Lord is approachable. He is “the mighty God,” but, He is the “Man Christ Jesus.” Sovereigns are difficult of access, are surrounded by the pomp of circumstance, excite embarrassment and nervousness when they do not terrify. But we may “come boldly to the throne of grace.”
2. His commandments are not grievous. They are reducible to a few plain principles which a child may learn by heart. If we grasp them we practically grasp all. And then they are simply the conditions upon which alone our well-being can be secured.
3. What He has bidden us do He has done Himself. It makes all the difference on a field of battle whether the commanding officer says “Go” or “Come.” Christ says, “I must go … if any man will come after Me.” “I have left you” not only commands but “an example,” an embodied command.
4. In loving loyalty to Christ there is great reward. “Lo, I am with you,” now; “Well done,” by and by. (J. W. Burn.)
The authority of Christ
Christ does not appeal to men as the heathen philosophers did. They ask opinions, court criticism, and even the wily and garrulous Socrates gives men an opportunity of differing from him; but Christ, with “the authoritative tone and earnestness” of the Son of God, says, “This is absolute; believe it and be saved, or reject it and be damned.” He says that He came from the Father, that He speaks the Word of the Father, and that He is returning to the Father. So there is nothing between Him and God; immediately behind Him, though invisible, lies infinitude, and He sets Himself up as the medium on which the voice of the infinite is broken into human sounds. (J. Parker, D. D.)
God’s commandments a protection and a delight
Reconciliation to God is like entering the gate of a beautiful avenue which conducts to a splendid mansion. But that avenue is long, and in some places it skirts the edge of dangerous cliffs; and therefore to save the traveller from falling over where he would be dashed to pieces, it is fenced all the way by a quick set edge. That hedge is the Commandments. They are planted there that we may do no harm; but like a fence of the fragrant briar, they regale the pilgrim who keeps the path, and they only hurt him when he tries to break through. Temperance, justice, truthfulness, purity of speech and behaviour, obedience to parents, mutual affection, Sabbath keeping, Divine worship--all these are righteous requirements; and “in keeping of them there is great reward.” Happy is he who only knows the precept in the perfume which it sheds, and who, never having “kicked against the pricks,” has never proved the sharpness of the thorns. (J. Hamilton, D. D.)
God’s commandments reasonable
There is mention made of one who willingly fetched water near two miles every day for a whole year to pour on a dead stick at the command of a superior, when no reason could be given for so doing. How ready then should every one be to do Christ service, whose commands are backed with reason, and whose precepts are attended with encouragements. (J. Spencer.)
For this is the will of God, even your sanctification--
Holiness, like sin, is many-sided, and each separate side presents us with a different view of its requirements and perfections.
In this chapter holiness stands for purity and chastity, and also for liberality in our dealings one with another. A man may be both pure and liberal, and yet, as being proud, wilful, and revengeful, may be very far from being holy. Purity and liberality, or just dealing, are two conditions of holiness--are essential to its presence--yet they by no means exhaust its qualifications. The highest form of holiness is love, a love which at once purifies the affections, exalts the heart, and conforms us to the likeness of Him in whom all holiness finds its example and perfection.
I. The sanctified is one who is loved by God, and who asks for his love in return. All unholiness keeps us away from God.
II. The sanctified is also the wished-for one. “This is the wishing of God,” etc. The creation by God implied a dedication to God (Isaiah 43:7; Colossians 1:16). The wishing of God was made null and void by the fall; yet in His infinite love for man He went on wishing for man still. The purpose of the Incarnation was to reconsecrate lost and fallen man.
III. The sanctified is also the dear and honoured one; he is precious in the sight of the Lord (Psalms 91:15; John 12:26).
IV. He who is sanctified is also dutiful and reverend towards God; not as being moved by threatenings or encouraged by promises, but as being brought within the sphere of the operations of God the Holy Ghost. I cannot be holy unless my holiness produce some kind of fruit and leads to some practical result.
V. The sanctified one is also rooted and grounded in the faith, since holiness is gained by faith passing into action. Every successive conquest over sin deepens his spiritual life, and becomes part of such office by which the soul is consecrated to God.
VI. The sanctified or consecrated one is also pure. Sanctification involves regeneration, or a new birth. (or. M. Ashley, M. A.)
The notion of the word sanctification signifies to consecrate and set apart to an holy use. Sanctification hath a privative and a positive part.
1. A privative part, mortification, which lies in the purging out of sin. Though it takes not away the life, yet it takes away the love of sin.
2. A positive part, vivification, which is the spiritual refining of the soul, which in Scripture is called a “renewing of your mind” and a “partaking of the Divine nature.” The priests in the law not only were washed in the great laver, but adorned with glorious apparel; so sanctification not only washes from sin, but adorns with purity.
I. What is sanctification?
1. Sanctification is a supernatural thing: it is Divinely infused. Weeds grow of themselves. Flowers are planted. Sanctification is a flower of the Spirit’s planting; therefore it is called “the sanctification of the Spirit.”
2. Sanctification is an intrinsical thing: “it lies chiefly in the heart.” It is called the adorning “the hidden man of the heart.” The dew wets the leaf, the sap is hid in the root.
3. Sanctification is an extensive thing: it spreads into the whole man. “The very God of peace sanctify you wholly.” He is not a sanctified person who is good only in some part, but who is all over sanctified; therefore in Scripture grace is called a “new man”; not a new eye or a new tongue, but a “new man.” A good Christian, though he be sanctified but in part, yet in every part.
4. Sanctification is an intense ardent thing: “fervent in spirit.” Sanctification is not a dead form, but it is inflamed into zeal.
5. Sanctification is a beautiful thing; it makes God and angels fall in love with us, “the beauties of holiness.”
6. Sanctification is an abiding thing: “His seed remaineth in him.”
7. Sanctification is a progressive thing.
II. What are the counterfeits of sanctification? There is something looks like sanctification which is not.
1. The first counterfeit of sanctification is moral virtue.
2. The second counterfeit of sanctification is superstitious devotion.
3. The third counterfeit of sanctification is hypocrisy; when men make a pretence of that holiness which they have not. A pretence of sanctification is not to be rested in. Many ships that have had the name of the Hope, the Safeguard, the Triumph, yet have been cast away upon the rocks; so many who have had the name of saintship have been cast into hell.
4. The fourth counterfeit of sanctification is restraining grace. When men forbear vice, though they do not hate it, this may be the sinner’s motto, “Fain I would, but I dare not.” Here is no change of heart. Sin is curbed, but not cured; a lion may be in chains, but is a lion still.
5. The fifth counterfeit of sanctification is common grace, which is a slight, transient work of the Spirit, but doth not amount to conversion.
III. Wherein appears the necessity of sanctification?
1. God hath called us to it: “God hath not called us to uncleanness, but unto holiness.”
2. The necessity appears in this: without sanctification there is no evidencing our justification; justification and sanctification go together: “but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified.”
3. Without sanctification we have no title to the new covenant. If a man make a wilt, and settle his estate upon such persons as he names in the will, none else but they can lay claim to the will; so God makes a will and testament, but it is restrained and limited to such as are sanctified; and it is high presumption for any else to lay claim to the will.
4. There is no going to heaven without sanctification: “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”
5. Without sanctification all our holy things are defiled: “Unto them that are defiled is nothing pure.”
IV. What are the signs of sanctification?
1. Such as are sanctified can remember a time when they were unsanctified.
2. The second sign of sanctification is the indwelling of the Spirit: “The Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us.”
3. The third sign of sanctification is an antipathy against sin.
4. The fourth sign of sanctification is the spiritual performance of duties, viz., with the heart, and from a principle of love. The sanctified soul prays out of a love to prayer; he “calls the Sabbath a delight.”
5. The fifth sign, a well-ordered life. “Be ye holy in all manner of conversation.” Where the heart is sanctified, the life will be so too: the Temple had gold without as well as within.
6. The sixth sign, steadfast resolution.
V. What are the chief inducements to sanctification?
1. It is the will of God that we should be holy. In the text, “This is the will of God, your sanctification.” As God’s Word must be the rule, so His will the reason of our actions: this is the will of God, our sanctification. Perhaps it is not the will of God we should be rich, but it is His will that we should be holy. God’s will is our warrant.
2. Jesus Christ hath died for our sanctification. Christ shed His blood to wash off our impurity.
3. Sanctification makes us resemble God.
4. Sanctification is that which God bears a great love to. A king delights to see his image upon a piece of coin: where God sees His likeness, there He gives His love.
5. Sanctification is the only thing doth difference us from the wicked.
6. It is as great a shame to have the name of a Christian, yet want sanctity, as to have the name of steward, and yet want fidelity; the name of a virgin, yet want chastity.
7. Sanctification fits for heaven: “Who hath called us to glory and virtue.” Glory is the throne, and sanctification is the step by which we ascend to it.
VI. How may sanctification be attained to?
1. Be conversant in the Word of God: “Sanctify them through Thy truth.” The Word is both a glass to show us the spots of our soul, and a laver to wash them away.
2. Get faith in Christ’s blood; “purifying their hearts by faith.”
3. Breathe after the Spirit; it is called “the sanctification of the Spirit.”
4. Associate with sanctified persons. Association begets assimilation.
5. Pray for sanctification. (T. Watson.)
Distinctive features of a true sanctification
It is comparatively easy for some minds to grasp the outlines of a grand undertaking, but they fail in working out the details. They are more theoretical than practical. So it is possible to form a hold conception of some leading Christian virtue--beauty, dignity, and necessity; but all the while to ignore the little details which, in everyday life, constitute the essence of the virtue. Sanctification is the perfection of the Christian life, and is attained, not by some magical feat, but by patient plodding and stern conflicts. It is the sublime but little understood science of living aright, in the sight of God and man. Secretary Walsingham, in writing to Lord Burleigh, said: “We have lived long enough to our country, to our fortunes, and to our sovereign; it is high time that we began to live for ourselves and for our God.” Observe:
I. That a true sanctification consists in the maintenance of a personal chastity.
1. This involves an abstinence from gross and sensual indulgence. “Fornication” (1 Thessalonians 4:3) designates not only the actual transgression, but all the sinful lusts of the flesh. This vice is the source of many others. It is like the fabled Hydra, of which it is said that when one head was cut off another grew in its place. It is the root of extravagance, drunkenness, disease, poverty, murder. It is bewitching, prevalent, most fatal in its tendencies; and against it terrible vengeance has been declared and executed.
2. Involves a rigid maintenance of bodily purity (1 Thessalonians 4:4). The vessel of the body is The temple of the Holy Ghost, and whatever would defile that must be shunned. The apostle implies that there is a kind of art in chastity which all should practice. “Know,” i.e., have skill, the power of self-control. Christianity is the science of sciences, the art of living well; and no small skill is necessary in regulating the exercise of the Christian virtues. To possess, to rule the body in purity, keep a diligent guard on the senses (Job 31:1; Proverbs 23:33; Genesis 39:6-7); avoid the company and conversation of the sensual; be temperate, industrious, prayerful.
3. Involves a masterly restraint on the passionate outgoings of evil desire (1 Thessalonians 4:6). Ignorance is the origin of unchastity; and the apostle shows to what an extent of wickedness a man may go who knows not God. An old writer says: “Ignorance is a master, a mother sin: pull it, thou pullest all sin.” Evil must be restrained in its earliest manifestation; banished from the region of thought. The longer it is harboured, the more powerful it becomes.
II. That a true sanctification consists in the universal exercise of strict justice (1 Thessalonians 4:6). Note--
1. That no violation of justice is allowable. The prohibition extends not only to acts of unchastity, but to all the transactions of life. The value of a commodity is governed by its relation to the immediate wants of man. In nature that which has life and sense is more excellent than an inanimate creature: in this view an insect is superior to a diamond. But with regard to use, a loaf of bread is of more value than a thousand insects. Justice requires there should be a fair proportion between a thing and its price. To exact a price which is beyond the worth of the commodity sold, or to give a sum which is below its due value, is to overreach on the part either of the seller or the buyer. The commercial world of the present day might ponder with advantage the wholesome lessons to be learnt from the practice of an ancient Christian simplicity. The man who begins a course of dishonesty by defrauding a stranger will soon reach the point of cheating his dearest brother and chuckle at his unjust success.
2. That every violation of justice will be certainly punished. The rogue will not always triumph; and his ill-gotten gains may be the instruments of his curse. An all-seeing Eye watches and an Unseen Hand rests on all his accumulations. The successful robber is apt to lull himself into a false security. But “the Lord is the avenger of all such” (Proverbs 22:22-23; Proverbs 23:10). Not that we are to act honestly from the fear of punishment; but while striving to act rightly from love to God and a sense of duty, it is also salutary to remember that vengeance belongeth unto the Lord, and He will recompense. Where human justice fails, the Divine vengeance will supply the deficiency.
III. That a true sanctification recognizes the supreme authority of the Divine call (1 Thessalonians 4:7). A holy life gives no license to sin. Everything is in favour of holiness; the caller is holy (1 Peter 1:15), the instrument holy (John 17:17), and the Spirit, the immediate worker, is the fountain of all holiness. Religion is a holy calling, because it leads to holiness; and though it finds us not holy, yet it makes us so. They answer not their calling who commit any manner of sin. Unmercifulness, cruelty, fornication, fraud and uncleanness are not of God. In every temptation to evil remember the Divine calling. Lessons: A true sanctification--
1. Provides for the chastity of the whole man.
2. Governs all the transactions of daily life.
3. Responds to the highest call of God. (G. Barlow.)
Sanctification of the Spirit
I. Why the Spirit was sent. The first purpose which was to be answered by Christ’s coming in the flesh was, as St. Paul tells us, that He might “redeem us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” Christ’s death has answered that purpose fully; for, as the same apostle declares, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law.” But there are other things in Christianity beside the death of Christ; and they must have their purpose also. Why was the Holy Ghost sent to us? and why does He vouchsafe to come? He comes to sanctify us men. You remember that, in the account of the creation, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. So God created man in His own image; in the image of God created He him.” This image of God in the soul of man--for that, of course, is the thing meant--did net descend from Adam to his children. He lost it at the fall, and so could not leave it to his posterity. Adam’s first son was born in the likeness of sinful man. What was the consequence? “All flesh corrupted his way upon the earth.” At last it became quite clear that, so long as this evil root--this hereditary taint--remained within us uncorrected, so long men would go on sinning; nay, would grow worse and worse; just as a bowl with a bias, if you try to send it straight, the longer it rolls, the further it will swerve. Now, if this state of things could be allowed to go on, Christ would have died in vain; therefore, that He might finish the work He had begun for us, He sent His Holy Spirit to correct the bias of our evil nature, and gradually renew the image of God in our souls. This includes the renewal “in the spirit of our minds,” and the putting on “the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Here, then, is another great purpose which the plan of our redemption is meant to answer. The death of Christ was to redeem us; the coming of the Holy Ghost is to sanctify us. “For this is the will of God,” etc.
II. The spirit’s difficulty in sanctifying. That must needs be a great and difficult task which the Holy Ghost has taken upon Himself. Could a lesser arm have upheld us in our battle against sin, God would have sent us that lesser and weaker arm. But He sends us His own Spirit. The work, then, from its importance and difficulty, must be worthy of that eternal Spirit. It is a war against sin and Satan. Satan has lodged himself in the heart, and knowing the value of the heart, he will fight for it inch by inch. But the work of sanctification is something more than merely driving out Satan: it is binding the old man which has hitherto held a tyrannous sway within us, and replacing him by the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. To sanctify or hallow a thing is to set it apart for God’s service. Thus Christians are called in Scripture “holy” and “saints,” because they are God’s people and serve Him. So when we say that it is God’s will we should be sanctified or hallowed, this is the same as saying that our hearts ought to be like a church. A church is a house of prayer; and our hearts should be full of prayer also. Again, a church is the place for reading and explaining the Word of God; and the Word of God must be the food of our minds and the delight and meditation of our hearts. Moreover, a church is the last place for doing any wicked thing; so should it be with the heart of a Christian. Above all, a church is devoted to God; and this is the chief mark of a Christian: he should be devoted--heart and mind, soul and body, wholly given up to God’s service. Not always praying, not always reading the Bible; but he is to be always serving God. Strength, as well as liveliness, is necessary to a principle; and it is the principle of sanctification to give ourselves up to God, and to give up everything that offends Him. In fine, it is in a measure living the life of heaven upon earth. This is God’s will, and this is our beatitude. (A. W. Hare, A. M.)
Our consecration the will of God
I. Our sanctification.
1. This word has been misunderstood and abused.
(1) There are some who expect to become different beings, with different ideas and qualities from those they now have. Thus when they find old sins reappearing under new names, needing the revival of grace, they become disheartened, and doubt their Christianity.
(2) Others take refuge in small improvements, and think the work of sanctification is going on because this lust has died out or that temper curbed.
2. Let us grasp its meaning. It is applied in Scripture--
(1) To things: the Sabbath, Mount Horeb, the Tabernacle, Altar, Temple; and in each case means consecration, for no moral change can pass over these things.
(2) To persons: priests, prophets, the Jewish nation; and still the idea is appropriation, the stamping with God’s image and superscription.
(3) We pass on to gospel times.
(a) Sometimes it is the grand universal consecration which Christ made in redemption: “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus once for all.”
(b) Sometimes it is the first great individual consecration at conversion: “The blood of the covenant wherewith he warn sanctified”; “But ye were washed, ye were sanctified.”
(c) Sometimes, as in the text, it is the progressive realization in spirit and conduct of the one all embracing consecration; not a change of nature, but an increasing, brightening presence of the Holy Spirit in the soul, into transformation of character and life.
(d) Sometimes the complete identification of the will of man and the will of God, which is consecration consummated.
3. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this view. This is the redeemed man living his redemption, the forgiven man living his absolution, the consecrated man living his consecration.
(1) Here is the antidote to self-righteousness: “Nor I, but Christ liveth in me.”
(2). Here is the antidote to despondency: “In me” truly “there dwelleth no good thing”; but I am encouraged to look to God for help.
(3) Here is the antidote to all that petty, piecemeal, retail righteousness which dwarfs the aspirations of many. There are many who are building their little separate towers for the chance of reaching heaven--one trying to build a treasure house of charity, another to beautify taste into piety, another to construct a substitute for grace out of natural negative virtues, but all missing the very point of Christian perfection, the becoming in deed that which God has made us all in idea--His entirely. Consecration is the being absolutely, and of a glad heart, God’s.
4. There are special foes of this consecration.
(1) It is a ruinous error to dream of the ideal and to neglect the practical This is antinomianism.
(2) There are sins which make havoc of this consecration, of which St. Paul speaks in the context--sins which divide allegiance, sully loyalty, and fill God’s temple with foul and filthy idols.
II. Our sanctification is the Will of God.
1. God’s will is the true law of our lives. This is expressed without reservation, and all amounts to this--our consecration.
2. What God wills He will help us to realize. If there is failure, it is attributable to want of prayer, faith, and cooperation with God.
3. There is no way of acceptance with God but in conformity to His will. God being what He is, must will our sanctification. “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” (Dean Vaughan.)
Human holiness the great object of the Divine will
1. God has a will. Will implies reason; God is infinite reason. Will implies force; it is determination: God is infinite force. Will, free, uncontrolled, is the expression of the willer’s nature. God’s nature is holy, benevolent, unchangeable.
2. God has a will concerning man. Insignificant though man be as compared with the universe, and less than nothing as compared with his Maker, he, nevertheless, engages the mind and heart of God. Glorious truth this!
3. God’s will concerning man is his holiness. “Sanctification” man’s holiness, and holiness is moral excellence, assimilation to Himself. If this be the will of God concerning man, two conclusions deserve special notice.
I. That man’s grand duty chimes in with his moral intuitions and highest interest. What is the grand duty of man? Obedience to the Divine will. Philosophy can return no other answer.
1. Our moral intuitions urge us to holiness. There is one ideal character which they are constantly intruding on our notice, urging us to cultivate. Moral souls everywhere on earth feel that they should be true, honest, generous, pure, and devout; in other words, that they should be holy.
2. Our highest interest urges us to holiness. The history of the world shows that men have been prosperous and happy in proportion to their virtues; and human consciousness attests that men are only inwardly happy as they feel that they have lived and done the thing that is right and true. So, then, the great demand of the Bible, instead of being in the slightest degree incongruous with human nature or its interests, blends in with the strictest accordance.
II. That man has an infallible guide to determine the successful in prayer and effort. He who goes with God’s will goes with omnipotence, and if he goes rightly, must succeed.
1. Successful prayers are prayers for holiness. He who prays for health, long life, secular property, has no reason to expect an answer only so far as these are sought with the grand motive of promoting holiness. God has not promised to answer any prayer that has not the desire for holiness as its inspiration.
2. Successful efforts are efforts for holiness. Efforts after wealth, influence, power, fame, may, and frequently do, succeed; but what then? If the inspiring motive has not been holiness, the end, which is happiness, is not obtained. Since God’s will is our holiness, no human effort for happiness not aiming at the grand end has ever been, or can ever be, successful. Whatever may be the appearance of things, all prayers and effort not aiming at holiness are failures. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Sanctification the will of God
I. The sanctification of man is the avowed object of God in all the dispensations of His grace.
1. The patriarchal (Genesis 30:1).
2. The Mosaic (Exodus 19:1-25.; Leviticus 11:1-47.).
3. The Christian (Ephesians 5:25-27).
II. God has shown this to be His will in the construction of Revelation, which offers a system of truths admirably calculated as an instrument to effect it.
1. Man’s responsibility.
2. God’s perfections.
3. The doctrine, exhibition, and temporal and eternal punishment of sin.
4. The provision and offer of redemption.
5. Holy precepts, to which are attached abundant rewards.
III. The Scriptures reveal and instruct us how to receive the agency of a Divine Person, whose operations are particularly directed to this object.
1. He is the Author of our regeneration, which is holiness began.
2. He is the Author of the truth, which is the means of holiness, and applies that truth to the heart.
3. He is the Fountain of continual supplies of that grace, growth in which is progressive sanctification. (J. F. Denham.)
Sanctification the will of God
It is God’s will, the great purpose that He has at heart, that men should be holy. “Sanctify them through Thy truth,” etc. Pardon and all other blessings are means to this end. The Great Sculptor plans and labours only for a torso in room of a statue without this; the Great Builder would never see the top stone in His chosen temple without this; the Great Husbandman would never taste of the fruit of His labour without this. Now, if our sanctification--our growing holiness here and our perfected holiness hereafter--is God’s will, then--
I. Holiness is a great and blessed consummation. “Good is the will of the Lord.” There can be nothing so great and blessed for any creature as to have God’s will perfected in it. Only in holiness are eternal life and blessedness possible. To have the thoughts pure, the life at every point and in all its interests set like music to the words of God’s law, the soul moulded into the image of Christ, that is to have heaven begun.
II. God will spare no pains to create and perfect holiness in a man’s soul. He has spared no sacrifice, in that He sent His Son; for it was the essence and heart of Christ’s mission to “purify unto Himself a peculiar people,” etc. And still towards and in us He will direct His working to this great end. He will prune this vine, that it may bear more fruit. He will cut, and chisel, and polish, till the fair image of Christ is seen. And as we smart, and weep, and wonder at our heavenly Father’s severity, let us think of His great purpose.
III. We are bound to cooperate with God in this great end. “God wills it,” said the Crusaders, and buckled on their armour for the conquest of the Holy Land. “God wills it” that we should pray, and strive, and fight for a purer and higher conquest. And what a start God gives us in His forgiveness through Christ! He thereby gives us freedom, gratitude, momentum; and in our whole warfare with sin He gives His Holy Spirit to inspire, direct, and sustain.
IV. We are assured of success. If it is His will, “who can be against us?” (Family Churchman.)
I. Distinguish it from related terms. From--
1. Regeneration is once for all done, and is the beginning of holiness, whereas sanctification is its progressive advancement. One is the implantment of holy principles and affections; the other their issue in a holy character.
2. Justification, while it does now exclude the present, has special reference to the past, while sanctification is chiefly directed to the present and the future. The one is something done for us, the other something done in us. The one is a change of relation, the other a change of character. The one implies pardon, the other purity.
3. Morality. This may exist without sanctification, as is seen in the lives of many worldly men. But sanctification cannot exist without morality. Morality is not to be disparaged; but there is no perfection without Christ.
II. What do we mean by sanctification? Religion implanted in the heart and conspicuous in the life.
1. “The kingdom of God is within you.” Christianity begins in the heart, and forms the life by forming the dispositions. It works from centre to circumference. It does not consist in having, but in being.
2. Its fruits will always be apparent. Grace in the germ is hidden, but it is always manifest in the life. It is a light that shines, a fire that burns. How grace grows is a mystery; but when grown it is read and known of all men. Your life as to its source and supply is “hid with Christ in God”; but as to its practical effect, it is “a city set on a hill.”
III. Its cause.
1. The ultimate cause is God the Holy Ghost. Men may fashion a block of stone into the figure of a man, so admirably that the sculpture seems to look, and breathe, and speak; but it is not a man. It is merely an image; it wants life, which no created power can give. So it is here. Spiritual life in all its stages is a direct inspiration from God, and impossible without such inspiration. And He who gives life alone can sustain it.
2. The instrumental cause is truth. “Of His own will begat He us,” etc. “Sanctify them through Thy truth.” Sanctification is the effect not of the separate, but conjoint influence of the Holy Spirit in the heart, and the Word on the understanding, the one removing prejudice, the other dispersing ignorance.
IV. Sanctification is a progressive and harmonious work.
1. Where there is life there will be progress--in vegetation, physically, mentally, and spiritually, and in each case gradually.
2. This is a progress that affects the whole manhood, a harmonious development of an entire Christian character. Just as in the healthful growth of a tree there is growth, not only of the roots but the shoots, branches, foliage, and fruit; so in the Christian the development is not of one grace, but of all. There is much diversity. Grace does not produce uniformity in the human character; but still the finest specimen of a Christian is the man in whom all graces are in their proportion.
3. Its beginning is here, but its progress forever. Heaven begins on earth, and earth merges into heaven.
V. Sanctification is the will of God. Not simply the command, but the good pleasure of God.
1. It is necessarily so. He who is Light cannot love darkness; He who is Life cannot love death.
2. It is wrought in harmony with the nature of the human will. God works in what we have to work out.
3. What an encouragement is this! In all our struggles after goodness we may be sure of Divine sympathy and help.
4. With what solemnity does this invest the subject, for it follows that without holiness no man shall see the Lord. (J. Davies.)
I. Its nature.
1. It is the invariable result of union with Christ (John 15:5). He whom the Blood cleanses walks in the light. He who has a lively hope in Christ purifies himself, as He is pure (1 John 1:7; 1 John 3:3).
2. It is the outcome and invariable consequence of regeneration. The new creature lives a new life (1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:9-14; 1 John 5:4-18).
3. It is the only certain evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is essential to salvation (Romans 8:9). The Spirit never lies idle in the soul, but makes His presence known by His fruits (Galatians 5:22). It, is nonsense to suppose that we have the Spirit if we do not walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:25; Romans 8:14).
4. It is the only sure mark of God’s election. There is much that is mysterious about this subject; but nothing is plainer than that the elect are known by their holy lives (1 Thessalonians 1:3).
5. It is a thing that will always be seen. It cannot be hid.
6. It is a thing for which every believer is responsible. Every man has power to lose his own soul; but believers are under special obligation to live holy lives.
7. It is a thing which admits of growth and progress.
8. It depends largely on a diligent use of Scriptural means--Bible reading, private prayer, attendance on public worship, regular communion. There are no spiritual gains without pains.
9. It does not prevent a man having a great deal of inward spiritual conflict (Galatians 5:17; Romans 7:1-25).
10. It cannot justify a man, but it pleases God (Romans 3:20-28; Hebrews 13:16; Colossians 3:20; 1 John 3:22). Just as a parent is pleased with the efforts of his little child to please him, though it be only by picking a daisy, so our heavenly Father is pleased with the poor performances of His believing children. But they must first be believing--i.e., justified children; for “without faith it is impossible to please God.”
11. It will be found absolutely necessary as a witness to our character in the day of judgment, it will then be utterly useless to plead our faith if it has not been evidenced by our works.
12. It is necessary to train us for heaven. Then hope to get there; but the only way is “the way of holiness.” We must be saints before we die if we are to be saints in glory. When an eagle is happy in an iron cage, a fish happy on dry land, then will an unsanctified man be happy in heaven.
II. Its visible evidence.
1. It does not consist in--
(1) Talk about religion (1 John 3:18).
(2) Temporary religious feelings (Matthew 13:20).
(3) Outward formalism and external devoutness.
(4) Retirement from our place in life (John 17:15).
(5) The occasional performance of right actions (Mark 6:20).
2. It will show itself in--
(1) Habitual respect to God’s law, and the habitual effort to live in obedience to it as the rule of life (1 Timothy 1:8; Romans 7:22).
(2) An habitual endeavour to do Christ’s will (John 15:14).
(3) An habitual desire to live up to the standard which Paul sets before the Churches in the closing chapters of nearly all his Epistles.
(4) Habitual attention to the active graces which our Lord exemplified, and especially the grace of charity (John 13:34-35; Colossians 3:10).
(5) Habitual attention to the passive graces of Christianity, which are especially shown in submission to God and forbearance towards man (1 Peter 2:21-23; Galatians 5:22-23).
III. The relation of sanctification to justification.
1. In what are they alike?
(1) Both proceed originally from the free grace of God.
(2) Both are part of the great work of salvation which Christ has undertaken on behalf of His people.
(3) Both are found in the same persons.
(4) Both begin at the same time.
(5) Both are alike necessary to salvation.
2. In what they differ.
(1) Justification is the reckoning a man to be righteous for the sake of Christ; sanctification is making a man righteous.
(2) The righteousness we have by our justification is not our own, but Christ’s; that which we have by sanctification is our own, imparted by the Holy Ghost.
(3) In justification our works have no place at all, simple faith in Christ being the one thing needful; in sanctification our works are of vast importance, and are commanded by God.
(4) Justification admits of no growth; sanctification is essentially progressive.
(5) Justification has special reference to our persons; sanctification to our natures.
(6) Justification gives us our title; sanctification our meetness for heaven.
(7) Justification is the act of God about us; sanctification the work of God within us.
1. Let us awake to a sense of the perilous state of many professing Christians (Hebrews 12:14).
2. Let us make sure work of our own condition.
3. We must begin with Christ. We must first live and then work.
4. We must continually go on as we began (Ephesians 4:16).
5. Let us not expect too much from our hearts here below. The more light we have the more we shall see our own imperfection. Absolute perfection is yet to come.
6. Let us never be ashamed of making much of sanctification. (Bp. Ryle.)
I. The intrinsic evidence of the fact that God desires our sanctification.
1. Sanctification is the restoration of that which was ruined by the apostasy. If it were only to bring things back to the primitive order which He pronounced to be very good, it is in God’s view most desirable that man should be made holy. We do not wish to see a ship dismasted, a man lame, or a machine out of order. It delights us to see them restored to their natural state. So God delights in a restoration to the primitive moral order.
2. Sanctification is the complete reconciliation of man to God. As a lover of order, He must be pleased to see man reconciled to the perfect order He has established. Sin is a quarrel with God’s arrangements. Sanctification is a return to perfect harmony with God and His government.
3. It is the restoration of perfect loveliness to man. God abhors sin partly because of its moral repulsiveness, and loves holiness because of its moral beauty.
II. The actions of God in reference to man’s sanctification.
1. We see more than desire; we see great earnestness in these. This earnestness comes to us in the form of authority. We are made for law, and are susceptible to the requirements of authority. See, then, the eternal God coming down to Sinai to make a law requiring men to be holy, and throwing around that law all the sanctions of Divine approbation and displeasure. To this mighty influence He adds the potent discipline of His Providence pruning us that we may be fruitful. Then, further, there is the mission of Christ, and the ministry of the Spirit.
2. With our minds full of these facts, let us see their practical consequences.
(1) We should rejoice in afflictions. God, in chastening us, is aiming at our perfection. Christ was made perfect through suffering.
(2) We should be earnest in the use of religious ordinances. These are the appointed means. “Sanctify them through Thy truth.” And we should be confident of success in the right employment of them.
(3) We should labour for each other’s sanctification. As we are bound to pray, “Thy will be done,” etc., so we are bound to desire that every human being may carry out that will by being holy.
Conclusion: If God wills the sanctification of all men, then--
1. The condition of the irreligious is fearful.
2. Every one who knows what the will of God is, is bound at once to seek after holiness. (E. N. Kirk, D. D.)
1 Thessalonians 4:4-7
That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour
The vessel of the body
At best a vessel is only a frail thing; let it be of gold or silver, time and use make flaws in it, and its day is soon past.
2. It is a vile thing, being the creature and mere instrument of the hands.
3. To be of any use it must have an owner, and it must be always just what its maker chooses, and must ever do what its employer sets it to do. It may be employed for other purposes, but it does nothing suitably but that for which it was first intended. The putting of it to other work is generally the surest way of destroying it, as when a glass vessel is put on the fire.
I. Our bodies are vessels. They are frail enough--made of dust and returning to dust. They can do nothing of themselves; if there be not soul and spirit to put them to use, they are as lifeless and unserviceable as any other, and are put out of the way as useless.
II. But they are honourable and precious vessels. Made by the hand of God to contain the immortal soul, and with it the treasure of the knowledge of God. They were made to promote His honour and glory, and when put to any other service they are put out of shape, broken, and destroyed.
III. They have been degraded and injured by vile uses. Does not the commonest experience tell us this? Does not the employment of them in the service of the world, the flesh, and the devil deteriorate them? Do not anxiety, intemperance, impurity, passion, vanity, ambition, derange them with all manner of diseases?
IV. In Christ Jesus, who took our body on Him, these vessels have been restored to their former heavenly service. Christ is the Saviour of the body as well as of the soul. The Holy Spirit has been given to sanctify the body and keep it holy.
V. These vessels are characterized by endless variety, according to our different posts and gifts.
VI. Being redeemed and consecrated vessels, the bodies of believers must be used for God alone. This involves--
4. Holy employment. (R. W. Evans, B. D.)
A call unto holiness
I. The contrast.
1. Holiness is eternal and Divine--the ever lasting God is the holy God.
2. Man was created in the image of the holy God.
3. By the first transgression holiness was lost; the flesh became prone to all uncleanness, inward and outward.
4. Abounding uncleanness was in the world before the flood, in Gentile nations, and in Israel.
5. Uncleanness, public and private, shameless and hypocritical, is in this professedly Christian land.
6. The world winks at uncleanness, and even tries to justify it. Not so God (Ephesians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:7).
II. The call.
1. To Israel and the Church (Leviticus 20:7; 1 Peter 1:14-16).
2. Holiness was taught by outward purifications under the law (Exodus 28:36).
3. The reason for the call: God’s purpose is to make His children like Himself, to renew their lost holiness (Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 4:22-24).
III. The grace.
1. The God of holiness is the God of grace.
2. Grace to cleanse from uncleanness, by the atoning blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5).
3. Grace to sanctify, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which inspires holy desires and affections.
4. Grace to strengthen, by the Holy Spirit enabling us to keep under the body and to crucify the flesh.
IV. Warnings and exhortations.
1. The Word written uses great plainness of speech on this subject; so should the Word preached.
2. The judgment recorded in Holy Scripture on the unclean. In one day God gave twenty-three thousand proofs of His hatred of uncleanness and resolve to punish it (1 Corinthians 10:8).
3. To despise the call is to despise God, and to bring down His wrath here and hereafter.
4. Secret sinner, your sin will find you out. He who exposed David’s sin will expose yours.
5. The effects of despising the call and doing what the Holy One hates are defiling, debasing, deadening, destroying.
6. Your body is the temple of God. Guard it for Him against all profanation.
7. Strive by prayer to be like Jesus--like Him in holiness now, that you may be like Him in glory hereafter. (F. Cook, D. D.)
Purity of life
Having dealt with purity of heart in the first clause of 1 Thessalonians 4:3, the apostle now proceeds to deal with its correlative and manifestation.
I. Chastity. He writes to converts who but a short time before had been heathens. It was necessary to speak plainly and solemnly, for they had been accustomed to regard impurity almost as a thing indifferent. But the will of God, our sanctification, involves purity. Without it we cannot see God. God is light; in Him is no darkness at all. There is something awful in the stainless purity of the starry heavens. As we gaze into them we seem almost overwhelmed with a sense of our own uncleanness. It is a parable of the infinite purity of God. In His sight the heavens are not clean. He is of purer eyes than to behold evil; therefore only the pure in heart can see Him. That inner purity covers the whole spiritual life. It implies freedom from all the lower motives--all that is selfish, earthly, false, hypocritical; it is that transparency of character which flows from the consciousness of the perpetual presence of God. But that inner purity involves outward. Religion is not mortality, but it cannot exist without it. The religion which the Thessalonians abandoned admitted immorality. Their very gods were immoral. They were served by rites often leading to impurity. Hence the urgency of Paul’s appeal. Amid the evil surroundings and depraved public opinion of a heathen town the converts were exposed to constant danger.
II. Honour. The unclean life of the heathen cities was full of degradation. The Christian life is truly honourable. The Christian’s body is a holy thing. It has been dedicated to God (1 Corinthians 6:13). The Christian must acquire a mastery over it in honour by yielding its “members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” The Christian husband must give honour to his wife. Marriage must be honourable, for it is a parable of the mystical union between Christ and His Church. Those who honour holiness honour God, the fountain of holiness.
III. The knowledge of God (1 Thessalonians 4:5). The heathen knew not God. They might have known Him. He had manifested in creation His eternal power and Godhead. But they did not like to retain God in their knowledge (Romans 1:19-25). Men framed a conception of God from their own corrupt nature, and that conception reacted powerfully on their character. The Thessalonian Christians had learned a holier knowledge, and therefore their knowledge must act upon their life. They must be pure.
IV. Impurity is a sin against man. “Satan is transformed into an angel of light.” Impure desires assume the form of love; uncleanness usurps and degrades that sacred name. The sensualist ruins in body and soul those whom he professes to love. He cares not for the holiest ties. He sins against the sanctity of matrimony. He brings misery on families. The Lord who calls us in sanctification will punish with that awful vengeance which belongeth to Him all who, for their wicked pleasure, sin against their brethren.
V. It is a sin against God (1 Thessalonians 4:8). The indwelling of the Holy Ghost makes the sin of uncleanness one of exceeding awfulness. Of what punishment shall that man be thought worthy who does such despite against the Spirit of Grace. He cannot abide in an impure heart, but must depart, as He departed from Saul. Lessons:
1. Long after holiness, pray for it, struggle for it with the deepest yearnings and most earnest efforts.
2. Flee from the slightest touch of impurity--the thought, look, word. It is deadly poison, a loathsome serpent.
3. Remember the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. “Keep thyself pure.” (B. C. Cairn, M. A.)
How personal purity is to be maintained
The “vessel” is not a wife, but a man’s own body. If it meant a wife, it might be said that every one would be bound to marry. The wife is, no doubt, called the “weaker vessel,” the evident meaning of the comparison being that the husband is also “a vessel.”
I. How the body is to be used.
(1) It is not to be regarded as outside the pale of moral obligation, as antinomian perverters say, basing their error on “It is not I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me”; “in me … dwelleth no good thing.”
(2) It is not to be injured or mutilated by asceticism after Romish example. The apostle condemns “the neglecting of the body” (Colossians 2:23).
(3) It is not to be made an instrument of unrighteousness through sensuality--“not in passion of lust.” Sensuality is quite inconsistent with the very idea of sanctification.
(1) The body is to be kept under control; the Christian “must know how to possess himself of his own vessel.” He must “keep under the body”; he must make it a servant, not a master, and not allow its natural liberty to run into licentiousness.
(2) He must treat it with all due “honour.”
(a) Because it is God’s workmanship, “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
(b) Because it is “the temple of the Holy Ghost” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
(c) Because it is an heir of the resurrection.
(d) Because it is, and ought to be, like the believer himself, “a vessel unto honour,” sanctified and meet for the Master’s use, for the body has much to do in the economy of grace.
II. Dissuasives against personal impurity.
1. The knowledge of God received by the Christian ought to guard us against it. Paul here attributes Gentile impurity to ignorance of God (1 Thessalonians 4:5). The world by wisdom knew not God, was alienated from the life of God, and thus sunk into moral disorder (Romans 1:1-32).
2. The regard we ought to have for a brother’s family honour (1 Thessalonians 4:6). A breach upon family honour is a far worse offence than any breach upon property. The stain is indelibly deeper.
3. The Divine vengeance (1 Thessalonians 4:6). If vengeance does not reach men in this world it will in the next, when they will have: their portion in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone. They shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9).
4. The nature of the Divine call (1 Thessalonians 4:7). They had received a “holy calling,” a “high calling,” and although “called unto liberty,” they were “created unto good works.” They were “called to be saints,” for God says, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.”
5. The sin involves a despisal of God, who hath given us His Spirit that we may attain sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:8). God has ordered all our family relations, and any dishonour done to them involves a contempt of His authority. Conclusion: We have in this passage God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--interested in man’s salvation and holiness. (Prof. Croskery.)
A caution against impurity
Fornication is a sin directly contrary to sanctification, or that holy walking the apostle so earnestly exhorts the Thessalonians to observe.
I. The caution is definitely expressed. “That ye should abstain from fornication;” by which words we are to understand all uncleanness soever, either in a married or unmarried state: to be sure adultery is here included, though fornication is specially mentioned. Other sorts of uncleanness are also forbidden, of which it is “a shame even to speak,” though such Evils are perpetrated by too many in secret. Alas for those who do such things! They are an abomination to their species! All that is contrary to chastity in heart, in speech, and in behaviour, is alike contrary to the command of Jehovah in the decalogue, and the holiness the gospel requireth.
II. The arguments to strengthen the caution.
1. This branch of sanctification in particular “is the will of God.” Not only is it the will of God in general that we should be holy, because “He float called us is holy,” and because we are chosen unto salvation through the sanctification of the Spirit; and not only doth God require holiness in the heart, but also purity in our bodies, and that we should “cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit.” Wherever the body is, as it ought to be, devoted to God, and set apart for Him, it should be kept pure for His service; and as chastity is one branch of sanctification, so this is one thing Jehovah commands in His law, and what His grace effects in all true believers.
2. This will be greatly for our honour; for this is “knowing how to possess our vessel in sanctification and honour;” whereas the contrary will be a great dishonour--“And his reproach shall not be wiped away.” The body is the vessel of the soul that dwells therein, so 1 Samuel 21:5; and that must be kept pure from defiling lusts. What can be more dishonourable than for a rational soul to be enslaved by bodily affections and brutal appetites?
3. To indulge the lusts of concupiscence is to live and act like heathens; “Even as the Gentiles which knew not God.” The Gentiles, especially the Grecians, were commonly guilty of some sins of uncleanness which were not so evidently forbidden by the Light of Nature. But they did not know God, nor His mind and will, so well as Christians do. It is not so much to be wondered at, therefore, if the Gentiles indulge their fleshly desires; but Christians should not walk as unconverted heathens, “in lasciviousness, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and other like evil ways,” because they that are in Christ “have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts.” (R. Fergusson.)
was the besetting sin of the Roman world. Except by miracle it was impossible that the new converts could be at once and wholly freed from it. It lingered in the flesh when the spirit had cast it off. It had interwoven itself in the pagan religions, and was ever reappearing on the confines of the Church in the earliest heresies. Even within the Church it might assume the form of a mystic Christianity. The very ecstasy of conversion would often lead to a reaction. Nothing is more natural than that in a licentious city, like Corinth or Ephesus, those who were impressed by St. Paul’s teaching should have gone their way and returned to their former life. In this case it would seldom happen that they apostatized into the ranks of the heathen; the same impulse which led them to the gospel would lead them also to bridge the gulf which separated them from its purer morality. Many may have sinned and repented again and again, unable to stand themselves in the general corruption, yet unable to cast aside utterly the image of innocence and goodness which the apostle had set before them. There were those, again, who consciously sought to lead the double life, and imagined themselves to have found in licentiousness the true freedom of the gospel. The tone which the apostle adopts respecting sins of the flesh differs in many ways from the manner of speaking of them among modern moralists. He says nothing of the poison which they infuse into society, or the consequences to the individual himself. Neither does he appeal to public opinion as condemning, or dwell on the ruin they inflict on one half of the race. True and forcible as these aspects of such sins are, they are the result of modern reflection, not the first instincts of reason and conscience. They strengthen the moral principles of mankind, but are not of a kind to touch the individual soul. They are a good defence for the existing order of society, but they will not purify the nature of man or extinguish the flames of lust. Moral evils in the New Testament are always spoken of as spiritual. They corrupt the soul, defile the temple of the Holy Ghost, and cut men off from the body of Christ. Of morality, as distinct from religion, there is hardly a trace in the Epistles of St. Paul. What he seeks to penetrate is the inward nature of sin, not its outward effects. Even in its consequences in another state of being are but slightly touched upon, in comparison with that living death which itself is. It is not merely a vice or crime, or even an offence against the law of God, to be punished here and hereafter. It is more than this. It is what men feel within, not what they observe without them; not what shall be, but what is; a terrible consciousness, a mystery of iniquity, a communion with unseen powers of evil. All sin is spoken of in St. Paul’s Epistles as rooted in human nature, and quickened by the consciousness of law; but especially is this the case with the sin which is more than any other the type of sin in general--fornication. It is, in a peculiar sense, the sin of the flesh, with which the very idea of the corruption of the flesh is closely connected, just as in 1 Thessalonians 4:3, the idea of holiness is regarded as almost equivalent to abstinence from it. It is a sin against a man’s own body, distinguished from all other sins by its personal and individual nature. No other is at the same time so gross and insidious; no other partakes so much of the slavery of sin. As marriage is the type of the communion of Christ and His Church, as the body is the member of Christ, so the sin of fornication is a strange and mysterious communion with evil. But although such is the tone of the apostle, there is no violence to human nature in his commands respecting it. He knew how easily extremes meet, how hard it is for asceticism to make clean that which is within, how quickly it might itself pass into its opposite. Nothing can be more different from the spirit of early ecclesiastical history on this subject than the moderation of St. Paul. The remedy for sin is not celibacy, but marriage. Even second marriages are, for the prevention of sin, to be encouraged. Even the incestuous person at Corinth was to be forgiven on repentance. Above all other things, the apostle insisted on purity as the first note of the Christian character; and yet the very earnestness and frequency of his warnings show that he is speaking, not of a sin hardly named among saints, but one the victory over which was the greatest and most difficult triumph of the Cross of Christ. (Prof. Jowett.)
Let no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter--
I. Be righteous in buying. Take heed lest thou layest out thy money to purchase endless misery. Some have bought places to bury their bodies in, but more have bought those commodities which have swallowed up their souls. Injustice in buying is a canker which will eat up the most durable wares. An unjust chapman, like Phocion, payeth for that poison which kills him, buyeth his own bane. A true Christian in buying will use a conscience. Augustine relates a story of a mountebank, who, to gain spectators, promised, if they would come the next day, he would tell them what every one’s heart desired. When they all flocked about him at the time appointed he said “This is the desire of every one of your hearts, to sell dear and buy cheap.” But the good man desires to buy as dear as he sells. His buying and selling are like scales that hang in equal poise.
1. In buying do not take advantage of the seller’s ignorance. This would be as bad as to lead the blind out of the way, and, as the text saith, those who overreach men are within the reach of a sin-revenging God. Some will boast of their going beyond others in bargains, but they have more cause to bewail it, unless they could go beyond the line of God’s power and anger. Augustine tells us a certain man was offered a book by an unskilful stationer at a price not half the worth of it. He took the book, but gave him the just price, according to its full value. Wares that are half bought through out witting a silly tradesman are half stolen (Proverbs 20:14; cf. 1 Chronicles 21:22-24). Ahab never bought a dearer purchase than Naboth’s vineyard, for which he paid not a penny.
2. Do not work upon the seller’s poverty. This is to grind the faces of the poor, and great oppression. It is no mean sin in many rich citizens who take advantage of the necessity of poor tradesmen. The poor man must sell or his family starve: the rich man knoweth it, and will not buy but at such a rate as that the other shall not earn his bread. God made the rich to relieve, not to rob the poor. Some tell us there is no wrong herein; for if poor men will not take their money they may let it alone: they do not force them. But is this to love thy neighbour as thyself? Put thyself in his place, and read Nehemiah 5:2-4; Nehemiah 5:12-13.
II. Be righteous in thy payments.
1. Pay what thou contractest for. If thou buyest with an intention not to pay thou stealiest, and such ill-gotten goods will melt like wax before the sun. Mark how honest Jacob was in this particular (Genesis 43:12). How many would have concealed the money, stopped the mouths of their consciences with the first payment, and kept it now as lawful prize.
2. Let thy payments be in good money. It is treason against the king to make bad money and it is treason against the King of kings to pass it. He that makes light payments may expect heavy judgments.
III. Be righteous in selling. Be careful whilst thou sellest thy wares to men thou sellest not thy soul to Satan.
1. Be righteous in regard of quality. Put not bad ware for good into any man’s hand, God can see the rottenness of thy stuffs, and heart too, under thy false glosses. Thou sayest “Let the buyer beware”; but God saith “Let the seller be careful that he keep a good conscience.” To sell men what is full of flaws will make a greater flaw in thy conscience than thou art aware of. If thou partest with thy goods and thy honesty, though for a great sum, thou wilt be but a poor gainer. But is a man bound to reveal the faults of what he sells? Yes, or else to take no more for it but what it is worth. Put thyself in the buyer’s place.
2. Be righteous in regard of quantity. Weight and measure are heaven’s treasure (Proverbs 11:1; Leviticus 19:35-36; Deuteronomy 25:13-15).
3. Be righteous in thy manner of selling. The seller may not exact on a buyer’s necessity but sell by the rule of equity. It is wicked by keeping in commodities to raise the market (Proverbs 11:26). Conclusion: In all thy contracts, purchases and sales cast an eye on the golden rule (Mat 7:12; 1 Corinthians 10:24; Galatians 5:24). (G. Swinnock, M. A.)
The late Mr. Labouchere had made an agreement previous to his decease, with the Eastern Counties Railway for a passage through his estate near Chelmsford, for which the company were to pay £35,000. When the money had been paid and the passage made, the son of Mr. Labouchere, finding that the property was much less deteriorated than had been expected, voluntarily returned £15,000 to the company. (Quarterly Review.)
The curse of fraud
Perhaps you may once or twice in your life have passed a person whose countenance struck you with a painful amazement. It was the face of a man with features as of flesh and blood, but all hue of flesh and blood was gone, and the whole visage was overspread with a dull silver grey, and a mysterious metallic gloss. You felt wonder, you felt curiosity; but a deep impression of the unnatural made pain the strongest feeling of all which the spectacle excited. You found it was a poor man who, in disease, had taken mercury till it transferred itself through his skin, and glistened in his face. Now, go where he will, he exhibits the proof of his disorder and of the large quantity of metal he has consumed. If you had an eye to see the souls that are about you, many would see--alas! too many--who are just like that; they have swallowed doses of metal--ill-gotten, cankered, rusted metal--till all purity and beauty are destroyed. The metal is in them, throughout them, turning their complexion, attesting their disorder, rendering them shocking to look upon for all eyes that can see souls. If you have unjust gains they do not disfigure the countenance on which we short-sighted creatures look; but they do make your soul a pitiful sight to the great open Eye that does see. Of all poisons and plagues, the deadliest you can admit to your heart is gain which fraud has won. The curse of the Judge is in it; the curse of the Judge will never leave it. It is woe, and withering, and death to you; it will eat you up as fire; it will witness against you--ay, were that poor soul of yours, at this precise moment, to pass into the presence of its Judge, the proof of its money worship would be as clear on its visage as the proof that the man we have described had taken mercury is plain upon his. (W. Arthur, M. A.)
Refusing to defraud
A young man stood behind the counter in New York selling silks to a lady, and he said before the sale was consummated: “I see there is a flaw in that silk.” She recognized it and the sale was not consummated. The head of the firm saw the interview and he wrote home to the father of the young man, living in the country, saying: “Dear sir, Come and take your boy; he will never make a merchant.” The father came down from his country home in great consternation, as any father would, wondering what his boy had done. He came into the store and the merchant said to him: “Why your son pointed out a flaw in some silk the other day and spoiled the sale, and we will never have that lady, probably, again for a customer, and your son never will make a merchant.” “Is that all?” said the father. “I am proud of him. I wouldn’t for the world have him another day under your influence. John, get your hat and come--let us start.” There are hundreds of young men under the pressure, under the fascinations thrown around about commercial iniquity. Thousands of young men have gone down under the pressure, other thousands have maintained their integrity. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness--
The Divine call
I. To what does God call?
1. Negatively: “Not unto uncleanness.”
(1) Of mind. Let this warn us against impure imaginations, conceptions, reflections which will make the memory one day a sink of infamy.
(2) Of heart. Let us beware of impure loves, desires.
(3) Of tongue. Away the obscene anecdote or illusion.
(4) Of life. Eschew the licentious associate, the unchaste deed.
2. Positively: “Unto holiness.”
(1) Let your thoughts be holy and be set on good subjects, such as are worth treasuring and will cause no pain in recollection.
(2) Let your feelings be pure. Cherish worthy objects, and aspire after noble ends.
(3) Let your words be clean, such as dignify the instrument and edify the hearer.
(4) Let your life be spent in the society of the good and in compassing righteous ends by righteous deeds.
II. Whom does God call? “Us.” Everybody in general--you in particular. God calls--
1. The young. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the early cultivation of habits of purity. The Holy Being says: “My son, give me thy heart.” All will follow if this be done. If the spring be pure so will the stream be.
2. Women. Christian women are the salt of the earth without whose influence the world had perished in its corruption. And a false delicacy should not seal the lips of those whose duty it is to remind them of their responsibility in this particular. And she whose very presence is sufficient to abash the profligate should be very tenacious and careful of her social power.
(1) Public men are called by God to give effect to the commandment which is “holy and just and good” in the national and provincial parliaments, to make virtue easy and vice difficult.
(2) Private men are called by God to purify society by precept and example.
III. How does God call?
1. By His Word which reflects His holy nature and reveals His holy laws. All its legislation, narrative, biography, poetry, prophecy, doctrine, are summed up in this: “Be ye holy.”
2. By His works. They were made very good. In an elaborate argument (Romans 1:20-32) the apostle shows that the natural order of things is holiness, and that men guilty of impurity sin against nature as well as God.
3. By the course of His government. History affirms the existence and administration of “a Power above us, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness.” Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome, perished by their own corruptions--a judgment in each case no less real than that which overtook the cities of the plain. It would be difficult to find a nation that was overthrown until all that was worth preserving was dead. “Righteousness exalteth a nation,” etc.
4. By His economy of redemption. The Cross of Christ and the mission of the Spirit are loud protests against uncleanness and calls to holiness. “Ye are bought with a price.” “Your bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost.”
5. By the witness of conscience which is an echo of the voice of God.
IV. Where is the call to be obeyed?
1. At home. Let that be guarded against desecration as sacredly as a church. Watch with scrupulous care the course of conversation, and the literature upon the table.
2. In the state.
3. In society.
4. In trade. (J. W. Burn.)
Have you ever reflected upon all that is meant by these words? St. Paul was speaking to those who had but lately been heathens, who were young in the faith, natives of a heathen city, encompassed about with all the sights and sounds, the customs and habits, the fulness of the Pagan life. And what that life was, what those sights and sounds were, I suppose scarcely one of us, certainly none who have not made a special study of those times and of those customs, can even conceive. And we must remember, that it was not only an open external thing, a plague spot in society which people could shun with horror and be left uncontaminated. For the deadliness of this sin is its depths of corruption, the way in which it lays hold of everything, and the external act a sight a sound becomes an inward principle, leaving nothing free. In the midst of this world of impurity, Christianity raised the standard of absolute undoubting purity; and that standard the Church has never lowered. Other sins it may, with some colour of truth, perhaps, be said she has not always repressed; religion may have tended to produce hatred and malice; the Church may have wavered at times from the strict duty of veracity; she may have become corrupted by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches; but one sin she has never touched, one sin has obtained no foothold in the Christian character, one sin has only lifted its head to be detected and denounced and defied, and that is the sin of lust and impurity. We forget what Christianity has done for us because it has done so much; we forget how natural impurity seemed to the heathen world, how they honoured it, and even deified it; and we forget too, or we have not yet become fully aware, how, with all our Christian experience and civilization, irreligion, and even perverted religion, tend to drag men back into that corruption, from which we are preserved by the protection of the Church’s faith and discipline. And this protection is given us above all by the ideal which Christianity holds up to us, the ideal of purity in the Person of Christ. Nor was the purity of Christ the purity of an anchorite; but of One whose work lay among men, and with men, and for men. He who was Purity itself, by His Divine humility condescended to men, not only of low estate, but of sinfulness, impurity, corruption. In this we may see in Him the model for us, whose lives are in the world, who also have to deal with sin, and who also can only be saved by the protecting power of an instinctive purity. But there is a yet further meaning in this active purity. “Unto the pure all things are pure,” not only because he cannot be touched and corrupted by what is impure, but because he himself makes them pure. The true Christian saint has been able to go forth into the world of sin and shame, and by the mere unconscious force of his instinctive purity, turn the corrupted and the impure from powers of evil into living manifestations of Christ’s grace. Nor is it only our fellow men that we have power to cleanse by means of our own purity and innocence: even the impure things of which the world is full are often, when brought into contact with a stainless mind, turned into means, if not of edification, at least of harmless and innocent pleasure. Remember the noble words of one of the purest of poets (Milton) who reading, as he says, the “lofty fables and romances” of knighthood, saw there “in the oath of every knight, that he should defend to the expense of his best blood, or of his life if it so befell him, the honour and chastity of virgin or matron; from whence even then I learnt what a noble virtue chastity must be to the defence of which so many worthies, by such a dear adventure of themselves, had sworn only this my mind gave me, that every free and gentle spirit, without that oath, ought to be born a knight, nor needed to expect the gilt spur or the laying of a sword upon his shoulder, to stir him up both by his counsel and his arm to secure and protect the weakness of any attempted chastity. So that even those books, which to many others have been the fuel of wantonness and loose living, I cannot think how, unless by Divine indulgence, proved to me so many incitements to the love and steadfast observation of virtue.” Such is the reflection of the ideal purity which Christ has shown us, the ideal which we have to aim at. Not a selfish isolated habit of mind, a bare freedom from corrupt thoughts and foul deeds, which is only preserved by careful separation from the things of the world, but an energising spiritual motive, an impetuous, undoubting living principle of action, which can go with us into the sin-stained world, and by the strength of its own innocence, by the glad assumption of the purity of others can make even the sinner a holy penitent. Every life should be a priestly life. Whatever may be your profession, you will be brought into contact with the sins of impurity, and unless you will share in them or at least condone, you must by your personal example fight against them. (A. T. Lyttelton, M. A.)
Called to holiness
Remark the force of the apostle’s expression, we are “called to holiness”: in modern language we should express the same idea by saying, that holiness was our profession. It is thus we say that divinity is the profession of a clergyman, that medicine is the profession of a physician, and that arms are the profession of a soldier; and it is readily understood and allowed, that whatever is a man’s profession, to that he is bound to devote his time and attention, and in that it is expected he has made a proficiency. And precisely in this sense does the Scripture represent holiness to be the profession of a Christian; not merely that his profession is a holy profession, but that the very object and essence of the profession is holiness. To this Christians are called, this is their business, this they are to cultivate continually, this is the mark to which all their endeavours should be directed. (Jones’ Bampton Lectures.)
Desire for holiness
A group of little children were talking together. Presently this question was started: “What is the thing you wish for most?” Some said one thing and some said another. At last it came to the turn of a little boy, ten years old, to speak. This was his answer: “I wish to live without sinning.” What an excellent answer that was! King Solomon, in all his glory and with all his wisdom, could not have given a better.
A holy atmosphere
The spider is said to weave about him a web which is invisible, yet strong, through which the water or air cannot pass. This is filled with air, and surrounded and sustained by this tiny bubble, he descends beneath the surface of the water and lives where another creature would speedily perish. So it is in the power of the Christian to surround himself with a holy atmosphere, and thus nourished, to live unharmed amid a world that is full of sin. (Dr. Williams.)
The importance of purity
By the ancients courage was regarded as practically the main part of virtue: by us, though I hope we are none the less brave, purity is so regarded now. The former is evidently an animal excellence, a thing not to be left out when we are balancing the one against the other. Still the following considerations weigh more with me. Courage, when not an instinct, is the creation of society, depending for occasions of action on outward circumstances, and deriving much both of its character and motives from popular opinion and esteem. But purity is inward, secret, self-suffering, harmless, and, to crown all, thoroughly and intimately personal. It is, indeed, a nature rather than a virtue; and, like other natures, when most perfect is least conscious of itself and its perfection. In a word, courage, however kindled, is fanned by the breath of man; purity lives and derives its life from the Spirit of God. (Guesses at Truth.)
is not abstinence from outward deeds of profligacy alone; it is not a mere recoil from impurity in thought. It is that quick and sensitive delicacy to which even the very conception of evil is offensive; it is a virtue which has its residence within, which takes guardianship of the heart, as of a citadel or inviolated sanctuary, in which no wrong or worthless imagination is permitted to dwell. It is not purity of action that we contend for: it is the exalted purity of the heart, the ethereal purity of the third heaven; and if it is at once settled in the heart, it brings the peace, the triumph, and the untroubled serenity of heaven along with it; I had almost said, the pride of a great moral victory over the infirmities of an earthly and accursed nature. There is health and harmony in the soul; a beauty, which, though it effloresees in the countenance and outward path, is itself so thoroughly internal as to make purity of heart the most distinctive evidence of a character that is ripening and expanding for the glories of eternity. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
1 Thessalonians 4:8
He therefore that desptseth, despiseth not man but God
The sin of despising God
The things set at nought are not specified, because the apostle wanted to draw our particular attention to Him whom in them we despise.
It is, however, easy to see that they are all religious duties, moral laws and precepts, the observance of which makes up the sum total of a religious life.
1. Instinctively our thoughts turn first to that low value which many persons entertain of life. They live to waste, or, as they say, using an almost criminal expression, to “kill” time: they occupy themselves with worthless books or newspapers, and regard reading solely as the diversion of the hour; they take up some work which is good in itself, but having no perseverance, fling it aside unfinished the moment they are weary of it; they spend their days in one long course of pleasure, harmless or harmful they care not which, and at the end ask themselves the question, “Is life worth living?” They are earnest, if earnest at all, only about the things of time and sense, and treat all matters merely as pastimes, means by which serious thoughts of death and eternity may be diverted.
2. There is another more open, yet possibly not more perilous way of despising than the above. There are those who from their youth, if not from their childhood, have been steeped in the sins of the flesh, who not only commit such things, “but have pleasure in those that do them;” forgetful, it may be, of the apostle’s words, that “the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.”
3. Then there are those who are living in unbelief--open scoffers of things Divine--men who do not want to believe in a Lawgiver, because, if they did, they would feel obliged to keep His laws; men who ridicule religion in order to deny its claim on their lives; who think, or pretend to think, that religion is not true, because in their case the wish is father to the thought. To them this question should be brought home. Be honest with yourselves and say, what if, after all, the God whom you affect to deny be the Lord of the universe, the Sovereign to whom you owe allegiance? what if you find at the last that you have had light enough, and you are forced to admit then that you have had no excuse for your obstinate unbelief? How will it be with you then, when you shall see eye to eye, and the truth, no longer hidden beneath the veil of your own weaving, shall stare you in the face in all its tremendous reality? To refuse to see and hear Him is to despise Him to whom nature pays her willing homage; for when the voice of man is dumb, “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handywork.” (C. W. H. Kenrick, M. A.)
A word to She despiser
I. That the Christian minister is spiritually commissioned to exhort men to holiness. “Who hath also given unto us His Holy Spirit.” The apostles were endowed for their special ministry by the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost. Though miraculous gifts are no longer bestowed, Christian ministers are nevertheless called and qualified by the Divine Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:20).
II. That the most faithful exhortations of the Christian minister may be despised. This is done when men reject the word spoken, refuse to listen to it, neglect to meditate upon it, and decline to enter upon the course of holy living with its counsels. This conduct shows--
1. The voluntary power of man. He can resist the truth, or accept it. He is responsible for the exercise of all his moral powers; and, therefore, incurs guilt by any abuse of those powers.
2. The blinding folly of sin. It darkens the understanding, perverts the will, petrifies the affections, and banishes the good that elevates and saves. To wilfully reject the overtures of righteousness is to relinquish eternal life, and to doom the soul to spiritual death.
III. That to despise the faithful exhortations of the Christian minister is to despise God. “He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man but God.” The contempt of the true minister does not terminate in his person but reaches the majesty of that Being by whom he is commissioned. To disregard the message of an ambassador is to despise the monarch he represents (Luke 10:16). As the edicts proclaimed by the public herald are not his own, but the Prince who gives them authority and force; so the commands published by the divinely commissioned minister are not his own, but belong to Him whose will is the law of the universe. It belongs to God to reveal the law, it belongs to man to declare it. The exhortation, whether uttered by a Moses, or by a Simeon Niger, is equally the word of God, to which the most reverential obedience is due. To despise the meanest of God’s ministers, is an insult to the majesty of heaven, and will incur His terrible displeasure. Lessons:
1. The Divine commands concern man’s highest good.
2. Take heed how ye hear.
3. To despise the Divine message is to be self-consigned to endless woe. (G. Barlow.)
The causes which induce a despising of Divine revelation
I. The rejection of Christianity cannot arise from a superior intellect on the part of infidels. Infidelity is not an intellectual state. But if great names are cited as giving sanction to unbelief, we can quote greater names as allies of faith.
II. Nor can it be traced to their superior knowledge. The same sources of learning are open to believer and sceptic, and it has yet to be shown that the former have been less assiduous in drawing from them than the latter. On the contrary, the infidel must be charged with ignorance oral.
1. The language of Holy Writ.
3. Historical facts and monuments.
III. Nor to their superior morality.
1. Can the despisers point to superior moral examples? It is well known that many fall off to infidelity through immorality.
2. Can they produce a superior system? The world does not contain the equal of Christianity.
3. Can they present superior motives? Anti-Christian morality, whatever may be its achievements, and these are small indeed, is ever based upon the motive that is either weak or low. (T. Archer, D. D.)
The cause of despising
As they who are displeased with all things that profit them not; or as a blind man, who, groping by the walls of a fair house, doth find fault with the windows because they are not so smooth as the walls; even so, such are they that find fault with the Scriptures because they show the spots as well as the beauty, the vice as well as the virtue. (W. Cawdray.)
The impotence and folly of despising the truth
Rest thee well assured, O scorner! that thy laughs cannot alter the truth, thy jests cannot avert thine inevitable doom. Though in thy hardihood thou shouldst make a league with death, and sign covenant with hell, yet swift justice shall overtake thee, and strong vengeance strike thee low. In vain dost thou jeer and mock, for eternal verities are mightier than thy sophistries; nor can thy smart sayings alter the Divine truth of a single word of the volume of Revelation. Oh, why dost thou quarrel with thy best friends and ill-treat thy only refuge? There yet remains hope even for the scorner--hope in a Saviour’s blood, in the Father’s mercy, in the Holy Spirit’s omnipotent agency. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The sinfulness of the despiser
Here is a man who says to his poor wife who is a Christian, who, because she sometimes has a slip in temper or does now and then what he does not approve, “Ah, that is your Christianity, is it? Well, if that be your church and chapel going, I will have none of it.” Beast, fiend! There are such creatures to be found. They are to be found amongst men and amongst women. Oh, the unkindness, the cruelty, the heart slaughter! It were nothing to kill a man--stab him right through the heart and let him die. But when he is struggling towards light, towards God, and has to fight with all these demoniacal passions and influences round about, over which he seems to have little or no control, when he just stumbles on the road and they point at him and say, “Ha, ha, that is your Christianity, is it?” that is thrice dying, that is intolerable pain! We know we are inconsistent, we know we are selfish, we cannot boast of ourselves. (J. Parker, D. D.)
1 Thessalonians 4:9-11
As touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you
Brotherly love Divinely taught
The love of the brethren is the test of our Christianity, and the badge of our Christian profession.
It is even the essential of “the new man,” and is Divinely taught by the fount of love. Without it, all religious profession is mere glitter, an empty show, a noisy cymbal. But what is this love? Let us examine and see.
I. Its nature. It is admiration, estimation, and perfect, complacency in the Lord’s people. It recognizes them all as brethren in Christ, and fellow heirs of the grace of life. It includes attachment, fellowship, communion, spiritual adhesion, and unselfish conduct and conversation.
II. Its extensiveness. It is not sectarian, denominational, local. It is not to be limited to persons of our order, creed, or mode of worship; but it embraces every true saint of the Most High God, every disciple and follower of the Lord Jesus, every real Christian adorning the doctrine of God in all things and walking in the ways of holiness and eternal life.
III. Its special traits.
1. It is the love of the heart; therefore not tinsel and make believe.
2. It is the love of a pure heart. Not the love of the person with fleshly attachment, but love transparent as the light, and purifying as the flame.
3. It is the love that is both fervent and lasting. It knows nothing of coldness, formality, pretentiousness. Its utterances are immediate and emphatic; and its altar fire is ever clear and intense. Many waters cannot quench it. It will not be extinguished, nor will it expire, but burn and shine in loving words and loving deeds, always to the honour of religion, and the glory of God. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The great duties of the Christian life
I. The manifestation of brotherly love. This the apostle exhorts the Thessalonians to increase in yet more and more. The exhortion is introduced not with a compliment, but with a commendation, because they were remarkable in their exercise of brotherly love, which made it less needful he should write to them about it (1 Thessalonians 4:9). Thus by his good opinion of them he insinuated himself into their affections, and so made way for his exhortation to them. We should follow his wise example; for it is well to take notice of that in others’ conduct and spirit which redounds to their praise, that by so doing we may lay engagements upon them to abound therein while life itself shall last.
I. Observe what the apostle commendeth in the Thessalonians. It was not so much their own virtue as God’s grace, yet he taketh notice of the evidence they showed of this grace in them. God Himself had taught them this good lesson; and whosoever do that which is excellent are instructed of God to do it, and hence God must have the glory of it. All that are savingly taught of God are taught to love one another. This is the livery of Christ’s disciples and followers. Note also, that the teaching of the Spirit of God exceeds the teachings of men; and as no man should teach contrary to what God teacheth, so none can teach so effectually as He teacheth, and men’s teaching is vain and useless unless God teach also. Nor is this all: those are easily taught whom God doth teach; and therefore, though eminent abilities are much to be wished for in ministers, yet we ought not to be so anxious about the feebleness or eminency of gifts in them, as fervently desirous to have God’s teaching to come along with theirs; for Paul shows that God, by His teaching these Thessalonians, had made them stand less in need of being taught by him. So well indeed, had they been taught by their Divine Master that they not only loved the brethren of their own city and society, or such as were near them and just of their own sentiments, but “the brethren of all Macedonia.” Such is genuine brotherly love: it embraces “all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and truth.”
2. But, like all other excellences, brotherly love is capable of increasement. Accordingly, their apostolic teacher exhorted the Thessalonians to pray for more and labour for more. There are none on this side heaven who love in perfection. All, therefore, who are distinguished in this or any other grace have every need of increase therein, and perseverance unto the end.
II. The meet accompaniments of brotherly love.
1. Tranquillity of spirit. This passive virtue is to be studied (1 Thessalonians 4:11). It is indeed a most desirable thing to have a temper calm and quiet as a lake unruffled by a zephyr, and to be of a peaceable behaviour to all men, especially to those of the household of faith. All this tends to our own as well as to others’ happiness. We should be ambitious to possess our own souls in patience, to be meek and gentle, not given to strife or division. Satan is very busy to disquiet our minds, and we have that in our own hearts that disposeth us to be unquiet; therefore we, too, must “study to be quiet.”
2. Diligence in business. And if this duty is rightly attended to, there will be little disquietude of spirit. Those who are busy bodies, meddling in other men’s matters, cannot have placid minds. They are restless like the sea, and do all they can to make their neighbours like themselves. If they were diligent in their own calling, they would neither have time nor inclination for intermeddling.
3. Creditable deportment. Those “that are without” are the unregenerate and unsaved, and when those who are professors of Chris tianity “walk honestly toward them,” they adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour and commend the religion to others which they have embraced themselves.
4. Comfortable living. Such Christians “have lack of nothing.” Others by their slothfulness or intermeddling frequently bring themselves into narrow circumstances, and reduce themselves to great straits. Not so the saints: they are burdensome to no friends. They labour with their own hands, and have bread enough and to spare. (R. Fergusson.)
Brotherly love the proof of a true sanctification
In the second century Lucian declared: “It is incredible to see the ardour with which the people of that religion help each other in their wants. They spare nothing. Their first legislator has put it into their heads that they are all brethren.” The mutual exercise of love towards the brethren is an indisputable evidence of spiritual regeneration (1 John 3:14); and in this chapter the apostle evidently alludes to it as the proof of a true sanctification. Observe--
I. That brotherly love is divinely taught (1 Thessalonians 4:9).
1. It is commanded by Christ (John 15:17). This is a lesson the world never taught, and cannot teach. The natural heart is selfish and cruel, and delights in aggression and retaliation. Brotherly love is a fruit of Christianity, and is a powerful influence in harmonising the warring interests of humanity. If love prevail, other graces will not be absent.
2. It has the example of Christ. He reminds His disciples of what should be its scope and character. “As I have loved you.” The same glorious example was also the constant burden of the apostle’s teaching (John 13:34; John 15:12; Ephesians 5:2). Brotherly love should be pure, humble, self-denying, fervent, unchangeable.
3. It is its own commendation. “Ye need not that I write unto you.” Love is modest, ingenuous, and unobtrusive. We should not hesitate to commend whatever good we see in others. The Great Searcher of hearts does not pass over any good thing in a Church, though otherwise clouded with infirmities (Revelation 2:2-3). A word of prudent commendation will often stimulate the soul in its endeavours after holiness.
4. It is a grace Divinely wrought. “Ye yourselves are taught of God.” The heart is inclined to this grace by the Holy Spirit, in conjunction with the outward ministry of the Word (Jeremiah 31:33; Acts 16:14). Those are easily taught whom God teaches.
II. That brotherly love must be practically manifested (1 Thessalonians 4:10). Love is not limited by locality or distance; it is displayed, not only towards those with whom we have communion, but towards others. Missions are a monument of modem Christian charity. Love should be practically manifested in supplying each other’s need, in bearing one another’s burdens, in forgiving one another, and, if necessary, in kindly reproving one another.
III. That brotherly love is susceptible of continuous enlargement. “Increase more and more.” Notwithstanding the commendation of the apostle, he exhorts the Thessalonians to seek greater perfection. What is the sun without light? What is fire without heat? So what is life without love? The rich seek to increase their store, the wicked add to their iniquities; the saint should not be less diligent in increasing unto every good word and work. The growth of charity is extensive, and it adds to the number of the objects loved, and intensive as to its inward fervour and tenacity. The more we apprehend the love of God the more our hearts will enlarge in love. True brotherly love crushes all self-love, and is more anxious to hide than pry into the infirmities of others. Seldom is a charitable man curious, or a curious man charitable. Lessons:
1. That brotherly love is the practical manifestation of the love of God in man.
2. That brotherly love should be constantly cultivated.
3. That brotherly love is a crowning feature of the higher Christian life. (G. Barlow.)
I. The lesson “brotherly love.” This operates in a way of--
1. Esteem and affection. God esteems the saints highly, as “fine gold,” His “portion,” “inheritance,” “jewels,” “very precious and honourable.” And so those who are born from above, as they love Him who begat, so they love the begotten.
2. Intercourse. If they are to be our associates in heaven we ought to know them on earth. Man was made for society, and grace sanctifies social dispositions. Thus as soon as Peter and John were let go, they went to their own company. “They that feared the Lord spake often one to another.” When several Christians meet, they are like so many drops of water on the table: where they touch they run into one. This adjusts to some extent the inequalities of life, for the poor may be rich in faith, and qualified to teach the rich in goods. The intercourse of Christians encourages as Paul found at Appii forum.
3. Sympathy. “Rejoice with them that do rejoice,” etc. Be like minded with Him who is touched with a feeling of our infirmities.
4. Instruction. “That it may minister grace to the hearers.” So much depends on a wrong course or a wrong step in a right one.
5. Reproof. Here is the trial of brotherly love. The way in which it is generally received makes it heroic to administer it. “Thou shalt not hate thy brother,” says Moses, “but rebuke him.” “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” “Let the righteous … reprove me, it shall be excellent oil.”
6. Succour and relief. “Whoso hath this world’s goods,” etc. “Let us love not in word or in tongue, but in deed, and in truth.”
II. The teacher--“God.” He taught the Thessalonians, and He teaches us--
1. By our constitution. The senses are inlets to the mind, and so we are affected by things without--the eye, e.g., by the sight of distress. How many endeavour to elude occasions of this excitement as the priest and Levite.
2. By injunction. “The end of the commandment is charity,” etc. “This is His commandment that we believe on the name of His Son, and love one another,” etc.
3. By example.
(1) Of those who live in our own neighbourhood. Kind, good men are to be found everywhere.
(2) Of those who have gone before us. Apostles, martyrs, etc.
(3) Of angels who are ministering spirits, etc.
(4) Above all, of Christ. “If God so loved us, we ought to love one another.”
4. By His Spirit. He can give not only the lesson, but the capacity.
III. The tractableness of the pupils. “Ye need not that I write.”
1. What a satisfaction it is to a minister to be able to appeal to his people for illustrations and proofs of his teaching, and what an advantage to the people not only to hear, but to see. And so our Saviour said, “Let your light so shine,” etc. Such advantage and satisfaction had St. Paul.
2. Paul did not flatter them. All he admired in them was ascribed to the grace of God. Their love was as extensive as it was real.
3. We must learn to love all real Christians notwithstanding their failings. “If a man be overtaken in a fault,” etc. Nor should our love be determined by a man’s religious opinions, “Whosoever doeth the will of My Father, the same is My brother,” etc.
IV. The proficiency the apostle would have them attain to. “More and more.”
1. Too much cannot be said in commendation or enforcement of it.
2. The Divine life is progressive, and admits of degrees.
3. Christians should never rest in present attainments. (W. Jay.)
The nature of brotherly love
When as a Christian Church, we cultivate a spirit of mutual trustfulness; when each esteems the other better than himself; when the strong delight to recover and support the weak; when the wise are patient and gentle towards those of fewer attainments; when we are careful of each other’s reputation, and gentle to one another’s infirmities; when we are pitiful, long suffering, condescending, unsuspicious, and self-sacrificing, then will men remember that it is written, “A new commandment I give unto you,” etc. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Brotherly love, the sham and the real
When I was but a youth, the smallest boy almost that ever joined a Church, I thought that everybody believed what he said, and when I heard the minister say “brother,” I thought I must really be his brother, for I was admitted into the Church. I once sat near a gentleman at the Lord’s supper, and we received the bread and wine together; he thus practically called me “brother,” and as I thought he meant it, I afterwards acted upon it. I had no friend in the town of Cambridge, where I was; and one day when walking out, I saw this same gentleman, and I said to myself, “Well now, he called me brother; I know he is a great deal better off than I am, but I don’t care for that; I will go and speak to him.” So I went and said, “How do you do, brother?” “I have not the pleasure of knowing you,” was his reply. I said, “I saw you at the Lord’s table last Sabbath day, sir, and we are therefore brethren.” “There now,” said he, “it is worthwhile seeing some one who acts with sincerity in these times; come in with me.” And we have been the nearest and dearest bosom friends ever since, just because he saw I took him at his word, and behoved that he meant what he said. But now-a-days profession has become a pretence and a sham; people sit down in the church together, as though they were brethren, the minister calls you brother, but he will not speak to you, or own you as such; his people are his brethren, no doubt, but then it is in such a mysterious sense, that you will have to read some German theologian in order to comprehend it. That person is “your very dear brother,” or “your very dear sister,” but if you are in distress, go to them and see if they will assist you. I do not believe in such a religion as this. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Brotherly love the test of religion
The apostle says, “We know that we have passed from death unto life.” Pause a moment, then, and let us try to find out the reason. Because we feel very comfortable in our hearts, because we like to sit very closely to the fire and read a favourite author, because we have occasional gushings of very tender feeling, is that how we know we have passed from death unto life? The apostle says, No. His argument is this:--We know--the same word that I have in the text, Jesus knowing--that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren. Alas, sirs! there is this danger about our religious life today: we think, when we get hold of a favourite book, and repeat certain familiar hymns, and look upon ourselves in relation to the social blessings with which God has gifted us, that we are doing everything that is needful to show our relationship, to prove our redemption by Christ. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The means of creating and promoting brotherly love
As the spokes of a carriage wheel approach their centre they approach each other, so also when men are brought to Christ, the centre of life and hope, they are drawn towards each other in brotherly relationship, and stand side by side journeying to their heavenly home. (J. T. Serjeant.)
The unifying power of brotherly love
We have here suggested to us the strong bond of union existing in the early Church between Christian communities which were yet geographically apart from one another. As having the same dangers to encounter, the same battle to fight, the same Captain to lead, and the same victory to win, they are seen taking an earnest and active interest in each other’s welfare. As the ancient Greek colonists practised the rite of cherishing on the altars of their public halls the perpetual fire that had first been kindled at the parent hearth of home--the mother city of Athens; so we may say was it with these scattered sections of the early Church. Separate though they were, they yet felt that they were one in sympathy and interest. The triple flame of faith, hope, and love burned more or less brightly in them all. Thus they claimed the same origin, held the same truth, and sought the same ends. No religion but that of Christ could have produced such a common wealth. (J. Hutchinson, D. D.)
Instances of brotherly love
During the retreat of Alfred the Great, at Athelney, in Somersetshire, after the defeat of his forces by the Danes, a beggar came to his little castle there, and requested alms. When his queen informed him they had only one small loaf remaining, which was insufficient for themselves and the friends who had gone abroad in request of food with little hope of success, the king replied, “Give the poor Christian one half of the loaf. He who could feed five thousand men with five loaves and two small fishes, can certainly make that half of the loaf suffice for more than our necessities.” Accordingly, the poor man was relieved, and this noble act of charity was soon recompensed by a providential store of fresh provisions with which the foraging party returned. (G. Barlow.)
Continuance in brotherly love
A gentleman of Marseilles, named Removsat, shortly before his death, desired that his numerous family might be assembled about his bed. He acknowledged the delight which his children had afforded him by their affection and attachment, and especially for the tender love which they bore to one another. “But,” continued he, “I have a secret to disclose, which will remove one of you from this circle. So long as I had any hopes of living I kept it from you, but I dare not violate your rights in the division of the property which I leave you. One of you is only an adopted child--the child of the nurse at whose breast my own child died. Shall I name that child?” “No, no,” said they with one accord; “let us all continue to be brothers and sisters.” (W. Baxendale.)
Practical brotherly love
Thomas Samson was a working miner, and working hard for his bread. The captain of the mine said to him, “Thomas, I’ve an easier berth for you where there is less to do and more to earn: will you accept it?” “Captain,” said Thomas, “there’s our poor brother Tregony. He has a sick body, and is not able to work so hard as I am. I fear his hard work will shorten his useful life. Will you let him have the berth?” The captain, pleased with the generosity, sent for Tregony, and gave him the berth, which he is now enjoying. Thomas was gratified, and added, “I can work a little longer yet.” (Sunday Magazine.)
Love one another
A little girl of three or four years old learned the Bible text, “Love one another.” What does “love one another mean?” asked her next older sister, in honest doubt as to the meaning. “Why, I must love you, and you must love me; and I’m one, and you’re another,” was the answer. Who can improve on that exegesis? (S. S. Times.)
Love in practice
The longer I live, the more I feel the importance of adhering to the rules I have laid down for myself in relation to the following subjects:--
1. To hear as little as possible of what is to the prejudice of others.
2. To believe nothing of the kind till I am absolutely forced to it.
3. Always to moderate, as far as I can, the unkindness which is expressed towards others.
4. Never to drink in the spirit of one who circulates an ill report.
5. Always to believe that, if the other side were heard, a very different account would be given of the matter. I consider love as wealth; and as I should resist a man who came to rob my house, so would I resist a man who would weaken my regard for any human being. I consider, too, that persons are cast in different moulds, and that to ask myself what I should do in that person’s situation, is not a just mode of judging. I must not expect a man who is naturally cold and reserved to act as one who is naturally warm and affectionate; and I think it a great evil that people do not make more allowance for each other in this particular. (C. Simeon.)
That ye increase more and more--
I. What is this increase? The law of growth stamped upon nature, and the human soul by the Creator. Nothing is stationary. Increase may be, and in most cases is imperceptible in its processes, but it is real.
II. In what are we to increase? In all the graces of the Spirit; in faith, knowledge, love, prayer, etc., and in all active duties. These particulars will vary in different men: some want growth in one grace, some in another.
III. How are we to increase?
1. By beginning to do what we have never done before. Pray. Keep holy the Sabbath, etc.
2. By doing more than we have done before: more frequently repeating acts of service, increasing the measure and number of them.
3. By doing what we have been wont to do in a better spirit, improving in the tone and temper with which we serve God. Increasing in fervour, life and love.
IV. The advantages of increase.
1. It will bring us nearer to God.
2. It will secure more of God’s blessing.
3. It will make heaven more secure. (J. Armstrong, D. D.)
The Christian’s growth
1. This world has been compared to a pyramid. Beginning with the mineral, passing upward into the vegetable, and rising into the animal kingdom, we find a man standing on its apex--the crowning work of God. In defining these kingdoms, Linnaeus makes growth common to all; but, properly speaking, growth is a property that belongs only to life, and all living things, “increase more and more.”
2. This is as true of spiritual as of natural life. According to the fable, Minerva sprung full grown and armed from the head of Jupiter. No man thus comes suddenly in perfect saintship from the hand of the Holy Spirit.
I. In what are we to increase.
1. There is a little or no advantage in the increase of some things. It but increases our danger and burdens and cares.
(1) More riches will not make us happier, and with the augmented expenditure they entail, do not always make us richer.
(2) Nor is the increase, even of wisdom, without its drawbacks. It is harder to work with the brain than with the hands, and knowledge is increased at the expense often of health, and with increase of “sorrow.”
2. It is not the increase of these things that the text calls us to aim, but of such riches as makes it less difficult to get to heaven, of the wisdom that humbles rather than puffs up its possessor, of “love, joy, peace,” etc., a tender conscience, a holier walk.
II. How are we to increase?
(1) All our graces are to be cultivated to the neglect of none. If one side of a tree grows and the other does not, it is a misshapen thing. Nor are monsters among mankind made only by want of parts, but also by some one part growing in excess. Analogous to this is the unequal growth of Christian graces. Let godly fear, e.g., grow out of due proportion to faith, and the result is despondency; let zeal grow more than wisdom, and like a machine without director or balance wheel, generating steam faster than it can use it, zeal bursts into extravagance and fanaticism.
(2) There are differences of character, which, springing from constitutional peculiarities or early education, grace will modify but never eradicate. There are also differences which imply no defect, just as there are countenances which are unlike yet all beautiful. The Church, like the meadows below and the heavens above, owes its beauty in part to that variety in unity which marks all the works of God and mars none.
(3) Some saints are remarkable for having one grace in peculiar prominence, e.g., faith, resignation, courage, zeal, or benevolence. Yet though this peculiarity may draw most eyes upon them and win them most praise, these are not perfect specimens of Christianity. As with trees so with men, the least symmetrical may be the most noticeable.
(4) The finest specimen of a Christian is he in whom all the graces, like the strings of an angel’s harp, are in most perfect harmony. Therefore we are to beware of cultivating one grace or duty at the expense of others. In seeking to do good to others we may neglect the cultivation of our own hearts and the duties we owe to our families. On the other hand, like a lark that goes soaring up to heaven while the hawk below is rifling her nest, we may spend our hours in prayer when we should be down there fighting the devil, alleviating human misery, etc. The head, heart, hand: doctrine, devotion, work: should each have their share of our time and attention.
(1) This idea is embodied in all those figures under which our spiritual life is set forth in the Word of God--the growth of the seed, the progress of the day, the development of human life.
(2) This constant growth is silent, unseen, unfelt in its processes; yet if not every day, every year at least our life should present a palpable difference, as a tree by the ring that every season adds to its circumference.
(3) The nearer we reach the summit of a hill, the climb is harder; and the higher the eagle soars, ever mounting into thinner air, its flight grows more arduous. In both there is a point where progress ceases. But the higher a believer climbs, his ascent becomes more easy, and he never reaches the final stage. Like the mathematical paradox of two bodies that are ever approaching, and yet though moving through infinite space and for eternal ages, never meet, and never can meet; so though they shall never reach the infinite height and perfection of Divinity, the saints in glory shall be constantly approaching it.
III. We are to make efforts to grow.
1. Some men believe that the peculiar adaptation of the bodies of certain animals to their habits, in which we see the wisdom of their Maker, has resulted from the efforts which they have made to adopt themselves to their circumstances. The theory is absurd; but nevertheless in the spiritual kingdom the very wish and effort to do good has with God’s blessing a tendency to improve us. In attempting to be better we grow better, even as the flapping of a nestling’s wing, impotent though it be to raise the bird in the air, fits its pinions for future flight. It is to efforts, not idleness, that God promises His blessing. God works; and we are fellow workers with Him that we may “increase more and more.”
2. Cast a sponge into water, and, the fluid filling its empty cells, it swells out before our eyes. There is no effort here; but it is not so that God’s people are replenished with grace. More is needed than just to bring ourselves in contact with ordinances. To such active, energetic, and self-denying labours Christ calls us, as “Search the Scriptures,” “Pray without ceasing,” “Fight the good fight,” etc. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
A child that stayeth at one stature and never groweth bigger is a monster. The ground that prospereth not and is not fruitful is cursed. The tree that is barren and improveth not is cut down. So must all increase in the way of godliness and go forward therein. Unless we go forward we slip back. (Bp. Jewell.)
Our life, in fact, is like a ship working its way down a river, where the water grows deeper, and the banks grow wider, and the view expands as we move on, till at death, as there, where the waves roar upon the bar, we shall pass out on a great, broad, shoreless ocean, on which, with no limits bounding our progress, we shall advance evermore; growing in the knowledge and love and likeness of Christ with the ages of eternity, increasing yet “more and more.” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business--
The pacific spirit another proof of a true sanctification
To pass from brotherly love to quiet industry is a natural transition. Love, peace, work are related virtues. Observe--
I. That a pacific spirit is to be studiously cultivated. “And that ye study to be quiet.” The word “study” signifies to seek after an object with ambition, as though it were the highest honour to possess it. There is nothing some people dread so much as being quiet. They delight in a row, and if one does not happen as frequently as they wish, they make one for themselves. The political agitator, the money getter, the advocate of war, all seek to attain their ends in the midst of tumult. Nor is the sacred circle of the Church free from the violence of the irrepressible disturber. There are some people who never will be still: you cannot hold them still. They are full of suggestions for other people to carry out. Their tongue is a perpetual clatter. They fly from one department of work to another, and create distraction in each. They try one’s temper; they harry one’s nerves; they break one’s peace. To such people it would be the severest task to obey the apostolic injunction--“That ye study to be quiet”--and yet no one in the wide world has more need to do so than they. A pacific spirit cannot be secured without much self-denying effort; but it is a jewel worth all the trouble and all the sacrifice (Proverbs 20:3; Colossians 3:12-15).
II. That a pacific spirit is attained by a persevering industry in personal duties.
1. That personal duties have the first claim upon our efforts. “Do your own business.” Attend first to whatever comes within your general or particular calling. The man who is inattentive to his own duties cannot with any reason dictate the duties of others. To do one’s own business is the best safeguard against idleness and meddling curiosity. All strifes--domestic, social, ecclesiastical, and political, may be traced to meddlesomeness. The meddling man is “a fool,” because he gratifies his own idle curiosity at the expense of his own well-being and the happiness of others. See that the business you do is your own business, and that you let that of your neighbours alone.
2. That personal duties demand genuine hard work. “And to work with your own hands.” The claims of religion do not release us from secular toil, but rather demand that all the work of life should be done with consistency and diligence. Manual labour is not the only form of industry. The mind has often the harder task. The industry of some of our public men is amazing. There is no greater foe to piety than idleness. Many take more pains to go to hell than almost the holiest to go to heaven. Jerome used to say that a man who labours disheartens even the devil himself.
3. That industry in personal duties is enforced by apostolic precept. “As we commanded you.” The apostle frequently did so, and set an example (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8). Honest labour is not beneath the dignity of any, and he who works the hardest has the greater influence in enforcing industry upon others.
III. That a pacific spirit, combined with diligence, recommends Christianity to those outside the Church. “That ye may walk honestly towards them that are without” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). Industry is no small part of honesty. A lazy man can never be an honest one. A restless, trifling busybody does unspeakable damage to religion. The unbelieving world, on the other hand, is impressed and attracted by the peaceful and diligent behaviour of the faithful.
IV. That a pacific spirit, combined with diligence, ensures an honourable independence. “And that ye may have lack of nothing.” It is more honourable to work than to beg. It is more blessed to be able to give than to receive. What a mercy it is not to know those temptations which arise from pinching poverty, nor yet to be necessitated to depend upon the cold-hearted charity of others. The patient, quiet plodder in the way of duty may not always be rewarded with affluence; but he is encouraged to expect enough. And the very spirit he has striven to cultivate has enriched him with an inheritance which few possibly attain--contentment with his lot. He, whose is the silver and the gold, will care for His loved and faithful servants (Psalms 37:25). Lessons:
1. Quarrelsomeness and indolence cannot co-exist with a high degree of sanctity.
2. To secure the blessings of peace is worthy of the most industrious study.
3. The mightiest aggressions of the gospel upon the world are made quietly. (W. Barlow.)
The quiet spirit
This is the exhortation of St. Paul in his first Epistle. His own life was anything but quiet; but this made him rather value quietness. Paul the aged was as far from tranquility as ever, for the care of disorderly Churches pressed upon him. Yet in his last Epistles he gave direction for prayer that “we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.”
I. The description of the quiet to be aimed at.
1. What it is not.
(1) There are men of good character and abilities who are naturally quiet in an extraordinary degree. They are interested in and could add to the conversation, but they prefer to keep silence. In this way they inflict a real loss on society and leave room for those to say much who ought to say little.
(2) Some are quiet from melancholy, from the loss of a dear friend, distorted views of religious dogmas, business or family cares. The quiet of the text is neither of these,
(3) Nor is it the cynical silence of those who wish to show how much they despise the ordinary topics of conversation.
(4) Nor is it the calm of mental or moral laziness and stagnation.
2. The quiet that is Divine--
(1) Grows from faith in God. It is trust in Him who guides us by His counsel and protects us by His providence.
(2) This quietness of trust must be connected with an honest faithfulness in the discharge of the duties of life. It is a false peace if it does not mean conscientious labour for God and man. When we have done all we can, we may leave results to God, and rest in Him.
II. The difficulties in the way of leading a quiet life.
1. A defectively illuminated conscience. There are men whose conviction is that no one is right but themselves. Such are always getting themselves into trouble.
2. Youthful impulsiveness and rashness that is putting everybody right, and showing without adequate preparation and experience how the right thing is to be done. Such are of course discouraged and disturbed by snubbing and failure.
3. But are there not many evils that will involve us in their guilt if we are quiet about them? Yes; but reform is better done quietly, slowly, thinkingly, than by any fierce blaze of zeal that creates real cause of offence while striving to rectify the evil. God has patience; let His imitators strive to be quiet.
III. The unobtrusive life of Christ. The vision we have of Him in the midst of the storm calmly sleeping or calmly hushing winds and hearts is a symbol of the quiet side of a holy life.
1. During the early portion of His life Israel was full of tumult, but He was quietly working in a carpenter’s shop. During His active life while all was excitement about Him nothing of the trouble disturbed Him. When vexed questions were laid before Him He settled them by a story.
2. Was not this part of the secret of His power. Words of rebuke could not but have a terrible significance from the lips of One who was so calm. See how the money changers fled from Him. One of the mightiest sermons ever preached is that of His silence under the indignities of the night before His death. (A. Craig.)
The text tells us that we must study to be quiet in doing the business of this life. And that means that our work should be--
I. Steady work. The race is not always to the swift or the battle to the strong. The feet that are to climb the lofty mountain must first tread the lowly valley. We cannot enter heaven at a bound.
II. Patient work. If in the race of life you show me the brilliant, quick, hasty runner, one who has no staying power, and if you show me the steady, earnest plodder, I will tell you who will come in first at the end.
III. Contented work. Without this it can be neither quiet nor successful. Those who murmur simply neglect a great portion of their work.
IV. Modest work. A Spanish fable tells us how, when a number of great men were boasting of their deeds, how one had gained a great victory, and another had painted a great picture, and another had made a great speech, a spider descended by his web into their midst and claimed equal honour with them. Since all man’s deeds are like a spider’s web, and when we hear of a man who has done something remarkable, we may think of him as a spider who has spun his web a little better than other spiders.
V. Our “own” work. Let the gossip and the busybody take this to heart. The meddler in other folks’ affairs, the tale bearer, and the scandalmonger never do their own business, and hinder honest people from doing theirs. Conclusion:
1. In religious work preeminently we are called upon to be quiet. There are some Christians who make a great noise. Their religion seems to be formed on the model of the earthquake, and the whirlwind, and the fire, and knows nothing of the “still small voice.” They have to learn that in “quietness and confidence” lies their strength. In these hurrying excitable days this is more important than ever.
2. This quietness is not indifference or cowardice. You are Christ’s builders and you work for Him like the builders of the Temple, without the sound of a hammer; you are Christ’s soldiers, and can fight His battles without a flourish of trumpets.
3. Every Christian worker has a model in Christ Jesus, who worked the salvation of men quietly. (H. J. W. Buxton.)
The study of quietness and the practice of our own business
The sum of Christianity is to do the will of God (1 Thessalonians 4:3; Ecclesiastes 12:13). This holiness stands as queen in the midst of all the graces, has patience to wait on her, compassion to reach out her hand, longanimity to sustain, and this placability of mind to keep her in an equal poise and temper. So that to holiness more is required than to believe, hope, and pray. What is my faith if my malice make me worse than an infidel? What are my prayers, if the spirit of unquietness scatter them? So St. Paul here commands us not only to “abstain from fornication,” from those vices that the worst of men are ready to fling a stone at, but those popular vices, animosity and turbulent behaviour, and to be ambitious to be quiet.
I. The object in which our study must be seen. To be quiet is to be peaceable (1 Corinthians 12:25; 1 Timothy 2:2; Colossians 3:15).
1. This is not--
(1) Tyranny, although some think there is no peace unless every man subscribe to their unwarrantable demands.
(2) Others call even disobedience peace, and are never quiet but when they are let loose to do as they please.
(3) Others esteem themselves quiet who are rather asleep than settled, bound up with a frost until the next thaw.
(4) There are those who are still by reason of a dull and heavy disposition, and who do no harm because they do nothing and are nothing.
(5) Some there are who are so tender that they will not even bear witness to the truth for fear of disturbance, having so much of the woman and the coward that they count it a punishment to be just and honest.
(6) There is a constrained quietness; that of Esau, which would last but till his father’s funeral, of an Ammonite under the harrow (2 Samuel 12:31), of Goliath when his head was off, that of a dead man who is at rest because he cannot move. All turbulent spirits are quiet before opportunity or hope sets their spirits aworking.
2. To be quiet consists in a sweet composure of mind, a calm and contented conversation, a heart ever equal and like unto itself. To this our religion binds us. It is a plant that God only plants, which grows and raises itself above the love of the world, covetousness, malice, fraud, which disturb ourselves and others.
(1) To this the vanity of philosophy and the weakness of the law could not reach. The philosophers cried down anger and gave way to revenge; and under the law it was but a promise.
(2) This it was the business of the Prince of Peace to effect (Matthew 5:38-45; Matthew 22:39).
(3) By this the genuineness of our Chris tianity is to be determined.
II. The act. We must make it our study or ambition. There is nothing that deserves commendation but must be wrought out with study and difficulty; and the love of peace and quiet is no obvious and easy virtue, that will grow up of itself.
1. We must make it our constant meditation and fill our minds with it. By our continual survey of its beauty, by fixing our thoughts upon it, and by an assiduous reviving and strengthening of these thoughts we make it more clear and applicable.
2. We must put our meditation into practice, which will fix it in the habit. This is no easy thing. We must unlearn many things before we can learn this.
(1) We must east out self-love which is the source of many troubles.
(2) We must root out that “root of all evil,” covetousness, which will never suffer us to be quiet (Isaiah 5:8).
(3) We must pull back our ambition, which is a busy and vexatious evil, carrying over our brother’s necks to that pitch whence we fall and break our own, never quiet till then.
(4) Then we shall the more easily bind our malice which is ever lurking for the prey.
(5) We must empty ourselves of all suspicion and discontent; which never wants fuel to foment, but feeds on shadows, whispers, lies, empty reports. All this is our spiritual exercise. We must practice it over and over again, and be ambitious to excel in it.
III. The method we must use. Our progress in studies and endeavours is answerable to the rules we observe. Every man would be quiet in his own place, and pretendeth he is so when he is busy abroad. The covetous man is in his own place when he “joineth house to house”; the ambitious is in his place when he flieth out of it; never at rest till he reach that height where he cannot rest. The parasite, tale bearer, etc., all desire peace when they move as a tempest, and are at last lost in the ruin which they make.
1. There cannot be a truer method in our study than, to abide in our calling (1 Corinthians 7:20), as in our own proper sphere, castle, sanctuary, safe from those incursions and affronts which disturb us when we are out of it (2 Corinthians 12:20; 2 Corinthians 10:14; 1 Peter 4:15).
(1) Christianity is the greatest peacemaker, and keeps every man to his own office (Romans 12:7-8; Ephesians 6:7), which if every man would keep and make good there would be peace. When every part answers in its place, and raises itself no higher than that will bear; when the magistrate speaks by nothing but the laws, and the subject answers by nothing but his obedience; when the greater shadow the less, and the less help to fortify the greater; when every part does its part, and every member its office; then there is equality and harmony.
(2) This is enjoined by nature, and is its method. Everything in its own place is at rest and nowhere else (Psalms 104:19).
(3) This duty is to be urged and pressed--
(a) From the grace and beseemingness of it. What garment can fit us better than our own? What motion more graceful than our own? Apelles with an awl, or the cobbler with his pencil; Midas with an asses’ ears, or an ass in purple; Nero with his fiddle, or a fiddler with a crown, are monstrosities.
(b) From the advantage it brings. That which becomes us, commonly furthers and promotes us. When we venture out of our place, we venture as at a lottery, where we draw many blanks before we have one prize; and when that is drawn it does not amount to a fortieth part of our venture. When we do our own business we find no difficulty but in the business itself, and no enemy but negligence; but when we break our limits and leap into other men’s affairs, we meet with greater opposition. We meet with those who will be as violent to defend their station as we are to trouble it.
2. Let us shake off sloth and “work with our hands,” for idleness is the mother and nurse of pragmatical curiosity. He that will be idle will be evil; and he that will do nothing will do that which he should not. This is the primordial law, as old as Adam, that we must work with our hands (Genesis 3:19). The food of our souls and bodies is God’s gift, and He gives when He prescribes the means of procuring them (Psalms 24:1; Psalms 115:16). Labour is the price of God’s gifts, and when we pay it down He puts them in our hands. What more unworthy an active creature than to bury himself alive in sloth? What more unbeseeming than to have feet and not to go, hands and not to use them?
(1) The sluggard is a thief (Pro 5:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:11; Ephesians 4:28; Proverbs 12:27). Besides robbing others, he robs his own soul of the service the body was made to render.
(2) There are devout sluggards other than monks and as idle, but not cloistered up, who do not hesitate to leave their duty to gratify the itch and wantonness of the ear. The husbandman may pray and praise the Lord at the plough tail. He that hears but one sermon and acts it over in his life, labouring honestly in his calling, is more acceptable to God than he that neglects his calling and hears one hundred a week. These are worse than infidels (1 Timothy 5:8).
(3) We must not pass by the idle gallant. We see too many who have no calling, who neither sow nor reap, the cankers of their country, pinned to the commonwealth as their feathers are to their caps, for show, not for use, or rather as warts upon a man’s hand, which grow up with it and deface it, or as idols, which, though dressed up and painted and gilt, are “nothing in the world.” They may reply that they were born rich, and what they possess is theirs by inheritance. This may be true, but they were not born fools, nor were luxury and idleness entailed upon them at the same time. They were born men, and not as beasts of the field to eat, drink, and straggle up and down, and then fall to the ground. (A. Farindon, B. D.)
Of quietness and doing our own business
I. Some cases in which it is allowable to meddle with the affairs of others.
1. Superiors may meddle with the business of those who are subject to their charge: magistrates, fathers, pastors.
2. When the honour of God is concerned we may and must interpose in vindication, as Phineas, Elijah, John the Baptist, our Lord.
3. When the public weal and safety are manifestly concerned we may interfere to support or secure them.
4. We may meddle for the succour of right against palpable wrong and outrage.
5. We may interpose when our own just defence requires it.
6. When the life or welfare, spiritual or temporal, of our neighbour is concerned, we may yield our aid: for we are “our brother’s keeper.”
7. If any opportunity of doing our neighbour good, especially his soul, offers itself, we should in charity embrace it. In these cases we may intermeddle, and in doing so be quiet, and doing our own business.
II. Some general rules according to which such meddlesomeness is commonly blamable.
1. We should never out of ambition, covetous desire, or self-conceit, so meddle as to invade any man’s office, or to assume the exercise of it.
2. We should notwith out call or allowance, meddle with our superiors, so as to advise or blame them.
3. We should not meddle, indeed, with the affairs of our equals so as to control or cross them.
4. We should not without desire or leave intermeddle in the smaller temporal interests of others on pretence to further them, or with design to cross them.
5. We should not, indeed, in matters of an indifferent and innocent nature so far meddle, as, without considerable reason to infringe any man’s liberty, cross Isis humour, obstruct his pleasure, however discordant with our judgment and taste.
6. We should never offer to put a force on any man’s inclination, or strive to bend it in compliance with ours.
7. We should not in conversation meddle so as to impose our opinions and conceits on others.
8. We should not ordinarily in converse affect or undertake to teach, for this implies pretence to a kind of superiority.
9. We should be cautious of interrupting any man’s discourse or taking the words out of his mouth; for this is a rude way of dispossessing men of that which, by the common law of society, they suppose themselves to enjoy.
10. We should be careful of entrenching on any man’s modesty in any way, either of commendation or dispraise, so as to put him to the blush, or to expose him to scorn.
11. It is good to be cautious of talking about other men and their concernments in way of passing characters upon them (1 Timothy 5:13).
12. We should not be inquisitive into the designs of men, press into their retirements, or pry into their secrets.
13. We should not lie in wait to catch any man at an advantage.
14. We should not meddle with things we do not understand.
III. Some directions concerning particular kinds of meddling.
1. As to meddling by advice we may do well to observe these directions.
(1) Advise not (except on call) a superior or one more eminent than thyself in authority, dignity, or age.
(2) Thrust not with violence or importunity advice on an equal, or any man not subject to thy charge who is unwilling to receive it.
(3) Be not obstinate in pressing advice.
(4) Affect not the office of a counsellor except through friendship or humanity.
(5) Advise not otherwise than with reservation and diffidence.
2. As to meddling for reproof.
(1) Reprove not a superior, which is to soar above our pitch, to confound ranks, and pervert the order of society.
(2) Reprove not rashly, and without certain cognisance of the facts.
(3) Neither rashly as to the point of right, or without being able to show that the affair is really culpable.
(4) Reprove not for slight matters, or such faults as proceed from natural frailty or inadvertency.
(5) Reprove not unseasonably, when a person is indisposed to bear rebuke.
(6) But mildly and sweetly, in the calmest manner and gentlest terms.
(7) Neither affect to be reprehensive, or willingly to undertake the office of censor.
3. As to interposing in the contentions of others.
(1) We should never meddle so as to raise dissensions, or to do such things as breed them.
(2) We should not foment dissensions already commenced, blowing up the coals that are kindled by abetting or aggravating strife.
(3) Especially we should not make ourselves parties in any faction where both sides are eager and passionate.
(4) Nor interpose ourselves, without invitation, to be arbitrators in points of difference; though we may perhaps cautiously meditate or devise agreement.
(5) If we would at all meddle in these cases it should be only by endeavouring to renew peace by the most fair and prudent means.
IV. Some considerations proposed, inducive to quietness and dissuasive from pragmatical temper.
(1) Consider that quietness is just and equal, pragmaticalness is injurious to the rights and liberties of others;
(2) Quietness signifies humility, modesty, and sobriety of mind.
(3) It is beneficial to the world, preserving the general order of things, and disposing men to keep within their proper station, etc.
(4) It preserves concord and amity.
(5) Quietness to the person endued with it, or practising it, begets tranquillity and peace; since men are not apt to trouble him who comes in no one’s way.
(6) It is a decent and loving thing, indicating a good disposition, and producing good effects.
(7) It adorns any profession, bringing credit, respect, and love to the same.
(8) Quiet also is a safe practice, keeping men not only from the incumbrances of business but from the hazards of it, and the charge of bad success; but pragmaticalness is dangerous from the opposite effects, etc.
(9) It is consequently a great point of discretion to be quiet, and a manifest folly to be pragmatical.
(10) We may also consider that every man has sufficient business of his own to employ him, to exercise his mind, and to exhaust his labour; but those who attend pragmatically to the affairs of others are apt to neglect their own: advice on this head from Scripture and philosophy.
(11) But suppose that we have much spare time and want business, yet it is not advisable to meddle with that of other men; for there are many ways more innocent, pleasant, and advantageous to divert ourselves and satisfy curiosity. For instance, investigation of the works of nature; application to the study of the most noble sciences, to the history of past ages, and to the cultivation of literature in general. (Isaac Barrow, D. D.)
Considerations conducive to the quiet minding of our own business
Nature offereth herself and her inexhaustible store of appearances to our contemplation; we may, without any harm and with much delight, survey her rich varieties, examine her proceedings, pierce into her secrets. Every kind of animals, of plants, of minerals, of meteors, presenteth matter wherewith innocently, pleasantly, and profitably to entertain our minds. There are many noble sciences, by applying our minds to the study whereof we may not only divert them but improve and cultivate them. The histories of ages past, or relations concerning foreign countries, wherein the manners of men are described, and their actions reported, may afford us useful pleasure and pastime. Thereby we may learn as much, and understand the world as well, as by the most curious inquiry into the present actions of men. There we may observe, we may scan, we may tax the proceedings of whom we please, without any danger or offence. There are extant numberless books, wherein the wisest and most ingenious of men have laid open their hearts, and exposed their most secret cogitations unto us. In pursuing them we may sufficiently busy ourselves and let our idle hours pass gratefully. We may meddle with ourselves, studying our own dispositions, examining our principles and purposes, reflecting on our thoughts, words, and actions, striving thoroughly to understand ourselves. To do this we have an unquestionable right, and by it we shall obtain vast benefit, much greater than we can hope to get by puddering in the designs or doings of others. Pragmaticalness then, as it is very dangerous and troublesome, so it is perfectly needless. It is a kind of idleness, but of all idleness the most unreasonable. It is at least worse than idleness in St. Gregory Nazianzen’s opinion. For “I had rather,” said he, “be idle more than I should, than over busy.” Other considerations might be added; but these, I hope, may be sufficient to restrain this practice so unprofitable and uneasy to ourselves, and for the most part, so injurious and troublesome to others. (I. Barrow.)
The business of life
Life is a business. Every man has a mission, a purpose to work out, for which he has been sent into the world. Man is organized for activity, and the circumstances in which he is placed necessitate work. The business of life is to be--
I. Personal: “Your own.” By this is not meant that we are to be regardless of others in our labour, and aim only at self-gratification and aggrandisement; but that we have a sphere of labour entirely our own, which we are bound to fill.
1. That this is the case is clear from--
(1) The peculiarity of each man’s external circumstances. No man has exactly the same surroundings as another. He has relations all his own.
(2) The peculiarity of each man’s personal needs. Every man has some exigencies special to himself.
(3) The peculiarity of each man’s individual aptitudes. Every man has not only an opportunity but a power for doing something which no other man can do so well.
(4) The peculiarity of each man’s obligations. Man has duties to perform in relation to himself, his race, his God, which no one in the universe can discharge for him. His obligations are intransferable.
Attending to his own business a man--
(1) Wilt not be an officious meddler in the affairs of others. His hands will be so full of work in his own sphere that he will have neither the inclination nor the opportunity to interfere in the concerns of others;
(2) He will most effectively serve the interests of others. By doing rightly the work of his own sphere, he will exert the most salutary influence around him. “No man liveth unto himself.”
II. Quiet. “Quiet and business” are often separated. There is a business in which there is no quiet--noisy, fussy, all rattle and din. There is a quiet to which there is no business--lazy inactivity. The two must go together in the true work of life. Quiet work is the true work.
1. It is the strongest work. In quiet labour there is the plan and purpose of soul. There is concentrated force. It is not mere limb force, but life force.
2. It is the happiest work. In the work of bustle, excitement, and hurry there is no happiness. But in quiet labour there is the harmonious play of all the faculties.
3. It is the divinest work. With what sublime quiet God works! His energy operates in the universe as noiseless as the sunbeam. He is the God of peace. How quietly Christ worked: “He shall not cry,” etc. It is not the bustling tradesmen, merchant, politician, preacher, that does the strongest, happiest, divinest work. It is the man of quiet, resolute, unostentatious energy. Quiet work is not slow work. Stars are silent, yet how swiftly they speed!
III. Intelligent. “That ye study.” Quiet work requires study. Noisy work is the result of caprice. Quiet work is the result of study. The more mind thrown into any work the less noise. The most noisy preacher has the least mind. Study gives the worker--
(1) A clear and definite object. This prevents the excitement contingent on doubt and uncertainty.
(2) Adapts the means. It constructs a machinery of means adapted to reach the end. A machinery whose joints and wheels are so lubricated by thought that it moves on without creak or noise. Conclusion: Who amongst us is doing this quiet work? (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Work should be worship
I. Work is a part of our duty. It is needful not only for the comfort or advantage of men, but for the continual existence of the race. And God has so framed us that we are dependent, not merely each man on his own work, but each man on the working of others. As a race and as a Church, we are not a vast collection of separate and independent individuals, but are united together as members of a family, nay, as members of one body. And “the increase of the body” depends on the effectual working of every part. It grows “by that which every joint supplieth.”
II. If this be true, then our work, the ordinary business of life, should be regarded by us as a religious duty. So done to God that it shall be a part of our worship, an act of homage to God, like our prayers or alms. When we do our ordinary and earthly work in such a spirit as this, it lightens our burden, ennobles our work, and elevates ourselves. It secures that the work shall be honestly done to the best of our power, and turns the most earthly employment into a holy act of religious worship. What can be more secular than painting, sculpture, or architecture? Yet many painters, sculptors, and architects have sanctified their brush, chisel, mallet, by employing them in the service of God. Some have sanctified their voices by singing the gospel as much as others in preaching it. And what is more secular or earthly than money? Yet many have sanctified it by employing it in the service of God, and for the good of souls. Ah! it is not merely the thing we do, but the end for which, and the spirit in which we do it, that makes it religious, or an act of worship. (William Grant.)
There is a word which has come to mean much in our daily speech; whose meaning as we use it cannot be expressed by any single word in any other language, and that word is “business.” Like “home” and “neighbour” it enshrines a tradition and stands for a history. The old sneer that the English are a nation of shopkeepers has lost its point, though not its truth. More than all other secular agencies the business enterprise of the English-speaking race has blessed the human race. It has led the van in the triumphal progress of Christian civilization. It has opened up continents, peopled deserts, and whitened solitary seas with the sails of commerce. Therefore, the old English word “business” has come to have a definite and noble meaning. It stands for a mighty commonwealth, wherein men and nations are intimately related to each other. It has its own laws enacted by the Supreme Lawgiver, which senates and parliaments do not need to enact and cannot set aside. Business means the appropriation and subjection of the world by man to himself. Beginning with agriculture, which is its simplest form, and rising through all grades of industrial and commercial activity, whatsoever subdues the external world to man’s will, and appropriates its power, its beauty, its usefulness, is business; and whoso worthily engages in it is helping to carry out God’s design, and is so far engaged in His service. To conquer the earth and force the wild fen or stony field to bring forth bread to gladden the heart of man; to level useless hills, and say to obstructive mountains, “Be ye removed from the path of progress;” to summon the lightnings to be his messengers, and cause the viewless winds to be his servants; to bring all the earth into subjection to human will and human intelligence. This is man’s earthly calling, and history is but the progressive accomplishment of it. Therefore it is that, rightly regarded, business is a department of Christian activity. The business of everyday life ought to be pursued with high aims and lofty motives, not only for what it enables man to do, but chiefly for what it enables man to be in the exercise of his kingly function, and in the development of his kingly character. (Bp. S. S. Harris.)
The business of life
To be. Not merely exist, to breathe as a blacksmith’s bellows, to vegetate, or lead an animal life. This is not to be a man. What is meant is that we have been put here to live the higher life of man--to be a Christian. This is the most useful kind of work. Let no one complain that they have few opportunities of working for God; for we may all strive to do what He desires; and the best way of doing good to man is to be good. The noblest workers bequeath to us nothing so great as the image of themselves.
II. To do. It has been cynically remarked that no one is necessary, and that when we cease to exist we shall not be missed. But though God needs the help of none, He is good enough to allow us to be workers with Him in making the world better. The weakest and humblest in his daffy course can, if he will, make a heaven round about him. Kind words, sympathizing attentions, watchfulness against wounding people’s feelings, cost very little; but they are priceless in their value. We shall none of us pass this way again; and soon it will be too late to do anything. Religion is not thoughts about or addresses to God. They are the means to urge us to work for God in the natural outgoings of our life, which, blotting out the distinction between things sacred and things secular, should make both one, all work religion and all life worship. The business of the week is quite as religious as the devotions of Sunday, if done to God.
III. To do without. A true Christian schools himself to sit loose to the things of this world. If he have them, well and good; if not, he can do without them. He does not attempt to make this world his home. He is a stranger and pilgrim passing on to the house not made with hands. In these times of depression many persons are forced to learn the lesson of doing without. If these would learn of Christ He would teach them that the loss of these superfluities was a gain, and they, like Paul, would “know how to be abased and how to abound.” A man is a slave until he has learned how to do without. It is fine discipline to give up for a week, a month, or year some harmless luxury which is becoming too much of a necessity. The better we have learned this lesson the easier will it be for us.
IV. To die. “We brought nothing into this world,” etc. Well for those who can say with Paul, “I die daily;” i.e., I am ready to die every day I live. “For more than forty years,” said Havelock, “I have so ruled my life that when death came I might face it without fear.” The way to prepare to die is to prepare to live. Nothing but a good life here can fit us to have a better one hereafter. “Turn to God one day before you die,” said a Jewish teacher. “How can I know the day before my death?” “You cannot, therefore, turn to Him now.” John Wesley was once asked, “Suppose you knew that you were to die at twelve o’clock tomorrow night, how would you spend the intervening time?” “Just as I intend to spend it now. I should preach this night at Gloucester, and again at five tomorrow morning. After that I should ride to Tewkesbury, preach in the afternoon, and meet the society in the evening. I should then repair to friend Martin’s house, who expects to entertain me, converse and pray with the family as usual, retire to bed at ten o’clock, commend myself to my heavenly Father and wake up in glory.” (E. J. Hardy, M. A.)
Peaceful, humble activity
I. The importance of the conduct enjoined. Very powerful and energetic is the language of the Holy Spirit in warning all who name the name of Christ to depart from iniquity, especially such kinds of iniquity as pride and self-confidence, and also from indolence and all self indulgent tempers. As, for instance, how strong and vehement is this language of the zealous Peter to Christians--“Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility;” that is, be girded, tightly fastened, as it were, with your humility, so as never to put it off, or part with it; adding the great sanctions, “For God resisteth the proud”--sets Himself against them--“but giveth grace to the humble.” And so with regard to the other evil tendency, namely, that to indolence and want of energy the Divine warnings are very express, and in various forms repeated: “The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh.” “He that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a waster.” “A slothful man hideth his hand in his bosom, and will not so much as bring it to his mouth again.” “The slothful man saith, there is a lion without; I shall be slain in the streets.” How different the saying of Him who came from heaven to earth to leave us an example! “I must work,” said He, “the works of Him that sent Me while it is day; for the night cometh when no man can work.” His illustrious apostle imitated Him. “Yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you, neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought. And when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” “We beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more” in all Christian excellences, “and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without,” that is--that ye may do nothing to bring disgrace on your holy profession, “and that ye may have lack of nothing,” or of “no man,” “that ye may not be obliged to depend on wicked heathen people for support.” These, then, pride and indolence, are the two great evil principles or dispositions which hinder and entangle us in our daily path, while a humble, diligent course is that which is most sure of the Divine blessing. Only we must be careful not to separate these two heavenly graces. A diligent person may be vain and proud; and a professedly humble person may be slothful and negligent. As a general rule, the graces of the gospel are so united that the want of any one may give us great reason to fear that we are deficient in all.
II. The way to show such consistent conduct. “Study to be quiet.” The word “study” is, in the original, very expressive--that we take great pains to lead a quiet, peaceable life--that we make it the object of our ambition. But lest this quietness should be debased into idleness or cowardliness, the apostle immediately adds, “And to do your own business, and work with your own hands;” implying, that as Christians must always be quiet and peaceful, so they must never be careless and idle, but ever be full of energy and spirit in the quiet accomplishment of their everyday duties. And all this must be done under a deep sense of Christian responsibility, as having great privileges in possession, and great promises in prospect, and as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
A precept on business
All have a work to do, and all are, more or less, indisposed to do their own work. If the gospel had entirely repealed the sentence--“In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread,” many men would have liked it all the better. But this is not what the gospel does: it does not abolish labour; it gives it a new and nobler aspect: it sweetens the believer’s work, and gives him fresh motives for performing it; it transforms it from the drudgery of the workhouse or the penitentiary to the loving offices and joyful services of the fireside and the family circle. The gospel, then, has not superseded diligent activity; but it commands one and all--“Do your own business, and work with your own hands.”
I. This precept is violated by those who have no business at all. Some are placed by the bounty of God’s providence in such a situation that they do not need to toil for a subsistence; but such a life, though it certainly is the easiest, will neither be the happiest nor the most lawful. We must have some business in hand, some end in view. Those who are familiar with the seashore may have seen attached to the inundated reef a creature, whether plant or animal you could scarcely tell, rooted to the rock, and twirling its long tantacula as an animal would do. It’s life is somewhat monotonous, for it has nothing to do but grow and twirl its feelers, float in the tide, or fold itself up on its foot stalk when the tide has receded. Now, would it not be very dismal to be transformed into a zoophyte? Would it not be an awful punishment, with your human soul still in you, to be anchored to a rock, able to do nothing but spin about your arms or fold them up again, and knowing no variety except when the retiring ocean left you in the daylight, or the returning waters covered you in their green depths again? But what better is the life of one who has no business to do? One day floats over him after another, and leaves him vegetating still. He was of no real service yesterday, and can give no tangible account of occupation during the one hundred and sixty-eight hours of which last week consisted. He goes through certain mechanical routines; but the sea-anemone goes through nearly the same round of pursuits and enjoyments. Is this a life for an intelligent, immortal and responsible being to lead?
II. This precept is also violated by those whose activity is a busy idleness. You may be very earnest in a pursuit which is utterly beneath your prerogative as a rational creature and your high destination as a, deathless being. The swallow is abundantly busy, up in the early morning, forever on the wing, as graceful and sprightly in his flight as tasteful in the haunts which he selects. Behold him zig-zagging over the clover field, skimming the limpid lake, whisking round the steeple, or dancing gaily in the sky, or alighting elegantly on some housetop and twittering politely by turns to the swallow on either side of him, and after five minutes conversation off and away. And when winter comes, he goes to Rome, or Naples, or some other sunny clime; and after a while he returns. Now this is a very proper life for a swallow; but it is no life for a man. To flit about from house to house; to pay futile visits; to bestow all thought on graceful attitudes and polished attire; to roam from land to land, and then return home--oh, this is not simply ridiculous, but really appalling! The life of a bird is a nobler one; more worthy of its powers, and more equal to the end for which it was created.
III. This precept is violated, too, by those who are not active in their lawful calling. They are “slothful in business.” They are of a dull and languid turn: they trail sluggishly through life, as if some adhesive slime were clogging every movement, and making their snail path a waste of their very substance. Others there are who, if you find them at their post, are dozing at it. They are perpetual somnambulists, walking in their sleep; looking for their faculties, and forgetting what they are looking for. They are too late for everything--taking their passage when the ship has sailed, insuring their property when the house is burned, locking the door when the goods are stolen; and thus their work is a dream, and their life is worthless and in vain (Proverbs 9:10). Practical lessons:
1. Have a calling in which it is worth while to be busy.
2. Having made a wise choice, mind your own business, and go through with it. (J. Hamilton, D. D.)
I. The chief dangers of a business life. What are they? It is a misfortune in the path of a commercial trader to be kept in perpetual contact with the purely material value of all possible substances. The public sentiment of great business centres is apt to reckon a man’s worth by his business profits. It is always tempted to erect an ignoble or defective ideal of success in life. And then there are the vulgar dangers to honesty and truthfulness which indeed beset men in all professions and classes.
II. The safeguards of a business life.
1. Cherish to the utmost a thirst for truth and a sympathy with what is ideal, unselfish, grand in conduct.
2. Cultivate a sympathizing contact with men in other than mere business relationships. These are the safeguards of the secondary order.
3. The only primary and sufficient safeguard for any of us is the religion of Jesus Christ. Religion opens the widest, freest outlook for the mind into eternal truth, enlarging a man’s range of spiritual sight, and enabling him to judge of all things in both worlds in their true proportion. Religion, moreover, supplies us for that reason with the only true and perfect standard by which to test the value of things, and so corrects the one-sided materialistic standard of business. Lastly, religion transforms business itself from an ignoble to a noble calling, inasmuch as it substitutes for the principle of mere profit the ideal of service. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
Energy of quiet forces
Without storm or noise the winds in their usual course accomplish surprising feats. All expanses of shifting sand, whether maritime or inland, like the deserts of Africa and Asia, are yearly modified by the agency of wind drift, the wind carrying the dry sand left by the tides forward and landward beyond the reach of the waters; and where the aerial current blows steadily for some time in one direction, as the trade winds and monsoons of the tropics, it will carry forward the drifting material in that direction. Hence the gradual entombment of fields, forests, and villages that lie in the course of such progressive sand waves as on the Biscay seaboard of France and on the western verge of Egypt. Results like these arise from merely the ordinary operations of wind; its extraordinary operations are manifested in the destructive effects of the hurricane, the whirlwind, and tornado. Gentle as it may seem, the continuous drifting of sand over the surface of hard rocks has been known to wear and polish down their asperities, and even to grind out grooves and furrows like those produced by the motion of glacier ice or the flow of running water. Here, then, we may observe great effects produced without fuss, and we may easily observe, in the phenomena of social life, that there are plenty of illustrations there of the same principle. The whirlwind of revolutions and hurricane of insurrections have no doubt produced startling consequences. But the influence of noble ideas, spoken by undemonstrative men, or embalmed in unpretending volumes, and of pious lives lived in seclusion, has produced a far greater effect upon the civilization of the world than all the blustering storms of war raised by kings and factions and reverberating through history. (Advanced Textbook of Geology.)
All things work
Dr. Franklin used pleasantly to repeat the words of his negro servant: “Everything, massa, work in this country; water work, wind work, fire work, smoke work, dog work, man work, bullock work, horse work, ass work; everything work here but the hog: he eat, he drink, he sleep, he do nothing all day--he walk about like a gentleman.” We hope our young friends will try to be useful and active. They surely do not wish that the saying of the negro should be true of them.
The importance of attending to our own business
The Church of God is as the body of man. In a man’s body every part hath its several office; the arm, the leg, the hand, and foot, do that whereto they are appointed: and doing the same, they live together in peace. But if the arm would take in hand to do that is the duty of the leg, or the foot that is the part of the hand, it would breed great disorder in the whole body. So if every man in the Church of God seek to do that to them belongeth, the Church shall flourish and be in quiet. But when every man will be busy and take upon him to look into other; when every private man will govern, and the subject take in hand to rule the prince; all must needs come to wreck and decay. Busybodies ever find fault with their brethren and neighbours, with the state, the clergy, the commonwealth, the Church, the government, and with the prince. They are an unquiet kind of men, ever looking for that they may mislike, and never contented. From these men come privy whisperings, slander, backbiting, mutinies, conspiracies, treasons, deposing of princes, and utter decay of commonwealths. These are the fruits of curiosity. (Bp. Jewell.)
A lesson for busybodies
A man who had become rich by his own exertions was asked by a friend the secret of his success. “I have accumulated,” replied he, “about one half of my property by minding my own business, and the other half by letting other people’s alone.” (Clerical Library.)
Reproof of a busybody
A certain woman once called upon her minister to tell him how much her mind had been hurt. Her pastor received her with all tenderness, and inquired into the cause of her distress. She went on to say, “She could assure him that her mind was very much hurt indeed, but she did not know how to tell him.” The minister judging it must be something serious, urged her to be explicit upon the subject of her distress. At last she said, “It is the length of your bands in the pulpit.” “Oh,” said the minister, “I will take care that that distresses you no more.” So fetching his bands he said, “Here is a pair of scissors, cut them to your wish.” After she had done this, she thanked him and professed to feel her mind relieved. “Well, my friend,” said the minister, “I may tell you that my mind has also been very much hurt, perhaps even more than yours.” “Oh, sir, I am sorry for that; what, sir, has hurt your mind so?” He replied, “It is the length of your tongue. And now, as one good turn deserves another, you will allow as much to be cut off as will reduce it to about its proper length.” It need not be remarked that she was speechless, and it is hoped, learned an important lesson with respect to that unruly member. (W. Denton.)
A lady once made a complaint to Frederick the Great
“Your majesty,” said she, “my husband treats me badly.” “That is not my business,” replied the king. “But he speaks ill of you.” “That,” rejoined he, “is none of your business.” (Clerical Library.)
To work with your own hands.
The dignity of labour
Two men I honour and no third. First, the toilworn craftsman that with earth made implement laboriously conquers the earth and makes her man’s. Venerable to me is the hard hand; crooked courses; wherein notwithstanding lies a cunning virtue, indefeasably royal, as of the sceptre of this planet. Venerable, too, is the rugged face, all weather tanned, besoiled with its rude intelligence; for it is the face of a man living manlike. Oh, but the more venerable for thy rudeness, and even because we must pity as well as love thee! Hardly entreated brother! For us was thy back so bent, for us were thy straight limbs and fingers so deformed; thou wert our conscript, on whom the lot fell, and fighting our battles wert so marred. For in thee, too, lay a God-created form, but it was not to be unfolded; encrusted must it stand with the thick adhesions and defacements of labour; and thy body like thy soul, was not to know freedom. Yet toil on, toil on; thou art in thy duty; be out of it who may; thou toilest for the altogether indispensable, for daily bread. A second man I honour and still more highly; him who is seen toiling for the spiritually indispensable: not daily bread but the Bread of Life. Is not he, too, in his duty; endeavouring towards inward harmony; revealing this, by act, or by word, through all his outward endeavours, be they high or low? Highest of all, when his outward and inward endeavours are one: when we can name him Artist; not earthly craftsman only, but inspired thinker, who with heaven-made implement conquers heaven for us! If the poor and humble toil that we may have food, must not the high and glorious toil for him in return, that he may have light, guidance, freedom, immortality? These two, in all their degrees, I honour: all else is chaff and dust, which let the wind blow wherever it listeth. Unspeakably touching is it, however, when I find both dignities united; and he that must toil outwardly for the lowest of man’s wants, is also toiling inwardly for the highest. Sublimer in this world I know nothing than the peasant saint, could such now anywhere be met with. Such a one will take thee back to Nazareth itself; thou wilt see the splendour of heaven spring forth from the humblest depths of earth, like a light shining in great darkness. (T. Carlyle.)
1 Thessalonians 4:12
That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.
The disciplinary and educational function of business, and some of the dangers that assail those engaged in it
I. Whatever their motives may be, businessmen are actually practising daily and hourly the christian virtues of faith or foresight, prudence, self-control, self-denial, temperance, uprightness. The characteristic virtues of the business world are Christian virtues every one, and in adopting them men have acknowledged the excellence of Christianity. Self-indulgence is recognized as folly, as the foe to all happiness and manliness. Self-denial, self-control, is known in the practical affairs of life to be the condition of all success. Thus far, then, men have learned the great lesson of the Cross, and have taken its principles to be the rules of business life. Therefore it is that, if rightly and wisely conducted, there is no better discipline for the formation of character than business. It teaches in its own way the peculiar value of regard for other’s interests, of spotless integrity, of unimpeachable righteousness; and the busy activities of life, in themselves considered, are good and not evil. They are a part of God’s great work, and are as much His appointment as the services of praise and prayer.
II. Though beyond all question the business energies of the age have been reinforced and guided by the gospel, until discipline, temperance, and self-control have become their permanent characteristics, and though beyond all question the business pursuits of the age are recognized by Christian thinkers and economists as departments of human culture and as part of God’s administration of the world, yet businessmen, with all their earnestness and sagacity, are peculiarly liable to be blind to these high considerations and ignorant of this great economy. There are two dangers by which they are continually liable to be betrayed: one is selfishness, and the other is worldliness.
1. Profit, of course, is the very essence of success in business. Yet the making of profit is apt to become an absorbing passion with the eager businessman for its own sake. His ordinary relations with men are apt to be more or less controlled by it. He pretty soon begins to wish to make his association pay, and his friendships, and his politics, and everything that he is and has and does. And if he is successful, a certain selfish pride establishes itself in his heart. Then comes avarice, that amazing and monstrous passion of the soul which loves money for its own sake, which grows on what it feeds on, which never can be appeased, never has enough. Woe to the man who sinks into this slavery.
2. Men are simply absorbed and engrossed and satisfied with their business pursuits and interests, and so neglect and forget their religious and eternal interests. Man is more than a denizen of this world. There is a hunger of the heart which nothing but God can appease; a thirst of the soul which nothing but God can satisfy. “That ye may walk honourably toward them that are without.” What can give this, spite of poverty or wealth, but the Christian conscience which is void of offence toward man and God? “That ye may have lack of nothing.” What can assure this, but the Spirit of adoption, which bears witness with our spirit that we are children and heirs of God? (Bp. S. S. Harris.)
Motives to industry
I. It is right. “That ye may walk honestly.”
1. Idleness exposes men to three forms of dishonesty--
(1) Unlawful dependence on others. We have no right to ask or receive the produce of another’s labour when we are perfectly able to have produce of our own. This belongs to him and we filch it when we take it without value returned. It is taking the bread out of his mouth. All beggars, loungers, and loafers of all classes come under this category--labourers, genteel placemen, ministerial sinecurists.
(2) Thievery. The thief is not usually one who can’t, but one who won’t work. To rob requires abilities which if honestly employed would secure adequate remuneration. But the thief likes his calling because of the idle leisure it promises, and the love of display which its wicked gains may gratify.
(3) Gambling--the vice of which consists in getting that for which nothing, is given, involving the rightful owner in loss. That he might have been the garner is no justification, but a condemnation of both parties. This, too, springs from love of ease, from love of excitement, and from the feverish desire to be rich without the legitimate pains.
2. Honest industry avoids these temptations and secures--
(1) Independence, which is worth all that is requisite to secure it. The worker could not stoop to the base cringing necessary to reap the paltry gains of the parasite, and mercifully escapes the contempt to which the idle dependent is exposed.
(2) Nobility of soul which would scorn to take an undue advantage of another.
II. It is profitable. “That ye may have lack of nothing.” This is perfectly legitimate as a subordinate motive, and is one of the mainstays of civilization and philanthropy. The idea involves--
1. The economy of the results of labour. To gain a competence thrift, temperance, and forethought are necessary. How many men honest and industrious enough, and with every means of acquiring a competency from time to time “lack” everything from their thriftless ways. But while honest to others they are dishonest to themselves. Frugality must enter into any large meaning of honesty.
2. The use of the results of labour--
(1) In domestic requirements.
(2) For charitable purposes.
(3) For the promotion of religion. (J. W. Burn.)
When James II, sent his Jacobite emissary to seduce the commanders of the British navy, he reported that Sir Cloudesley Shovel was in corruptible; “He is a man not to be spoken to,” was the emissary’s tribute. (C. E. Little.)
A farmer called on Earl Fitzwilliam to represent that his crop of wheat had been seriously injured in a field adjoining a certain wood where his lordship’s hounds had, during the winter, frequently met. He stated that the young wheat had been so cut up and destroyed that in some parts he could not hope for any produce. “Well, my friend,” said his lordship, “if you can procure an estimate of the loss you have sustained I will repay you.” The farmer replied that he had requested a friend to assist him in estimating the damage, and they thought that, as the crop seemed entirely destroyed, £50 would not more than repay him. The Earl immediately gave him the money. As the harvest approached, however, the wheat grew, and in those parts of the field which were the most trampled the corn was strongest and most luxuriant. The farmer went again to his lordship, and said, “I am come, my lord, respecting the field of wheat adjoining such a wood. I find that I have sustained no loss at all; for where the horses had most cut up the land the crop is most promising, and therefore I brought the £50 back again.” “Ah,” exclaimed the venerable Earl, “this is what I like! this is as it should be between man and man!” His lordship then went into another room, and on returning, presented the farmer with a cheque for £100, saying, “Take care of this, and when your eldest son shall become of age present it to him, and tell him the occasion which produced it.”
Honesty towards those without
Only a few weeks ago, a missionary in China took his gun to go up one of the rivers of the interior to shoot wild ducks; and, as he went along in the boat, he shot at some ducks, and down they fell; unfortunately they did not happen to be wild fowl, but tame ducks belonging to some neighbours. The owner was miles away, but the boat was drawn up to the side of the river, and the missionary went about carefully endeavouring to find out the owner of the ducks, for he could not rest until he had paid for the damage he had ignorantly done. The owner was much surprised, he had been so accustomed to have people shoot his ducks and never say a word about it, that he could not understand the honesty of the man of God, and he told others, until crowds of Chinese gathered round and stared at the missionary as if he had dropped from the moon; a man so extremely honest as not to be willing to take away ducks when he had killed them! They listened to the gospel with attention, and observed that the teaching must be good which made people so conscientious as the missionary had been. I should not wonder but what that little accident did more for the gospel than the preaching of twenty sermons might have done without it. So let it be with us; let us so act in every position that we shall adorn the gospel which is committed to our trust. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
When this church was built, the President of the Board of Trustees called together every contractor and every mechanic that had worked upon it to ask if any of them had lost money by a too close contract in its construction; and the welcome reply came to us, on the part of every single man, “We are content: we have made a reasonable profit on the work.” And I think the blessing of God has rested on this Church from that day to this, in that it was honest. Nor do I know that this Church has ever committed an act, even through carelessness or forgetfulness, of dishonesty in the matter of the management of its fiscal affairs. (H. W. Beecher.)
1 Thessalonians 4:13
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren
Sorrow for the dead
That sorrow is a merciful relief to a soul bereaved. Sorrow is nowhere forbidden. It may be an infirmity; but it is at the same time a solace. The religion of the Bible does not destroy human passions. We do not part with our nature when we receive the grace of God. The mind that is capable of real sorrow is capable of good. A griefless nature can never be a joyous one.
II. That sorrow for the dead is aggravated by ignorance of their future destiny. The radius of hope is contracted or expanded in proportion to the character and extent of intelligence possessed. The heathen who have no satisfactory knowledge of the future life, give way to an excessive and hopeless grief. It was the dictum of an old Greek poet--a man once dead there is no revival; and these words indicated the dismal condition of unenlightened nature in all lands and ages. What an urgent argument for missions.
III. That sorrow for the dead in Christ is soothed and moderated by certain great truths concerning their blessedness.
1. That death is a sleep: i.e., to the body; as to the soul, it is the birth into a progressive life; a departure to be with Christ.
(1) Sleep is expressive of rest. When the toil of life’s long day is ended, the great and good Father draws the dark curtain of night and hushes his weary children to rest. “They enter into rest.”
(2) Sleep is expressive of refreshment. The body is laid in the grave, feeble, emaciated, worn out. Then a wonderful process goes on, perceptible only to the eye of God, by which the body acquires new strength and beauty, and becomes a fit instrument and suitable residence for the glorified soul.
(3) Sleep implies the expectation of awaking. We commit the bodies of the departed to the earth in sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection.
2. That the dead in Christ will be roused from their holy slumber and share in the glory of His second advent. “Will God bring with Him.” The resurrection of the dead is a Divine work. “I will redeem them from the power of the grave.” Christ will own His people in their persons, their services, and their sufferings. They shall receive His approval, be welcomed and crowned by Him.
3. That the resurrection of Christ from the dead is a pledge of the restoration and future blessedness of all who sleep in Him. “For if we believe,” etc. Christ Himself is the Resurrection, not only as revealing and exemplifying it, but as effecting it (John 5:25; John 6:39). The Word of God sheds a light across the darkness of the grave, and opens a vista radiant with hope and immortal blessedness. A vital knowledge of Christ silences every murmur, and prepares for every emergency.
1. An ignorant sorrow is a hopeless one.
2. To rise with Jesus we must live and die to Him.
3. Divine revelations regarding the future life greatly moderate the grief of the present. (G. Barlow.)
Ignorance concerning the dead
Having given his converts golden counsel respecting the treatment of the living, both Christian and heathen, St. Paul turns abruptly in thought to the holy dead, and informs the Thessalonians how they ought to think “concerning them which are asleep.” His design was to comfort the bereaved. He does not say to them, as Jesus said to the widow of Nain, “Weep not”; but he will limit their grief, and have their tears to fall in the sunshine, like the raindrops which fall when the thunderstorm is over. Moderate grief is lawful; immoderate grief is sinful. But there are reasons for it, which we now examine.
I. It is as if the mourners had no hope concerning the holy dead. It is to act too much like the Gentiles, who have no hope of a better life after this; whereas we Christians, who have a most sure hope--the hope of eternal life after this, which God, who cannot lie, hath promised us--should moderate all our joys on account of any worldly thing. This hope is more than enough to balance all our griefs over any of the crosses of the present time.
II. It is the effect of ignorance concerning the holy dead. There are some things which we cannot but be ignorant of concerning them that are asleep; for the land they are removed to is a land of darkness, which we know but little of, and have no correspondence with. To go among the dead is to go among we know not whom, and to live we know not how. Death is an unknown thing, and of the state of the dead, or the state after death, we are much in the dark; yet there are some things anent them especially that die in the Lord that we need not, and ought not, to be ignorant of; and if these things are rightly understood and duly considered, they will be sufficient to allay our sorrow concerning them; namely--
1. The dead sleep in Jesus. They are “fallen asleep in Christ.” Death, therefore, doth not annihilate them. It is their rest, undisturbed rest. They have retired from this troublesome world, and thereby put an end to their labours and sorrows. Being still in union with Jesus, they sleep in His arms, and are under His special care and protection. Their souls are in His presence, and their dust is guarded by His omnipotence; so that they cannot be lost; nor are they losers, but infinite gainers by death; and their removal out of this world is into a better, even a heavenly one.
2. They shall be awaked out of their sleep, and raised up from their grave, for God will bring them with Jesus. They, then, are now with God, and are ineffably better where they are than they could possibly be down here. Through virtue of that union betwixt believers and Christ, it cometh to pass that whatever hath befallen Christ, as He is the Head of all believers, shall in God’s own time be verified in believers themselves, due proportion and distance being alway kept which is between Head and members; for He inferreth that we shall be raised because He arose, and this because of our union with Him. Hence the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are fundamental articles of the Christian religion, and give us golden hope of a joyful resurrection; for “Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of them that sleep,” and therefore, “they who are fallen asleep in Him are not perished” (1 Corinthians 15:18-20). His resurrection is a fall confirmation of all that is said in the gospel by Him who hath brought life and immortality to light. (D. Mayo.)
The state of departed saints
I. Collect the information which the passage offers of the state of the departed.
1. As to the body. “Sin entered into the world and death by sin.” But what was originally intended for a punishment is transformed into a blessing. Death is now, through the mercy of God, only the unrobing of a Christian before he retires to rest, and the short repose he takes while the Redeemer is making ready the eternal mansions to receive him. The figure of our text involves the idea of--
(1) Repose. The body in its present state of deterioration is incapable of enduring many years of active existence. It grows weary of its necessary exertions, and requires its exhaustion to be repaired by rest. To die is to terminate the conflict, finish the race, reach the goal, and then, as a successful competitor, having gained the prize, to retire from the scene of competition.
(2) Security. It is to sleep in Jesus. His eye watches their bed, and His arm protects it. The bodies of the saints belong to Christ not less than their souls by redemption (John 6:39). Death consequently is not annihilation,
(3) Hope. Christ is rosen and become the first fruits of them that sleep. The sleep of death implies waking on the morning of the resurrection.
2. As to the soul. Reason asks many questions which revelation does not answer; but all that it is necessary or beneficial to know the Bible declares. “Sleep” does not apply to the soul, for the soul never sleeps, and there is not a text which lends a sanction to the doctrine that the soul shares the death of the body. When “the body returns into the dust, the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Death is rather the arousing of the soul from her drowsiness into heavenly vitality. Dives and Lazarus were both conscious immediately after death; and Paul desired death because it was to be with Christ. In what part of the universe the departed dwell we know not; but it is sufficient to know that they are with Christ.
3. As to the ultimate glory awaiting both. “If we believe,” etc. The period of Christ’s coming is that to which all Scripture points, all Providence tends, and all time conducts. The saints will be brought to judgment, but, unlike the wicked--
(1) For acceptance and reward.
(2) To be the crown of the minister’s rejoicing.
(3) To swell and share the triumph of the Redeemer.
II. Enforce the topics of instruction and comfort the text suggests.
1. It ascertains what is the character in which we must die to be made partakers of this glory. Those only who fall asleep in Jesus, which implies being in Him before they fall asleep. Scripture carefully distinguishes between those who “die in the Lord” and the common dead.
2. It exhibits the death and resurrection of Christ as of infinite importance. All the hopes we entertain of a joyful resurrection are built upon them.
3. It suggests the only adequate source of consolation under bereavements (1 Thessalonians 4:18). (E. Steane, D. D.)
Reasons for comfort concerning them that die in the Lord
Of whom does the apostle here speak? Of them that “sleep in Jesus.”
1. To term “death sleep” was usual with the inspired writers (Psalms 76:5; Daniel 12:2; 1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 5:10). The figure is appropriate, for in sleep the senses are locked up, the members are motionless, we rest on our beds (Isaiah 57:2) from toil and pain, and awake (Daniel 12:2); so in death.
2. It is not, however, of all who die that the apostle speaks (Revelation 14:13). Those who die in the Lord are first “in Him,” not by being baptized and professing Christianity, not by merely attending ordinances, not by moral blamelessness, not by orthodox opinions, but by faith in Christ. This faith secures freedom from condemnation (Romans 8:1); a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15); obedience (John 14:21), in which obedience we must persevere if we would sleep in Jesus.
II. What are the things concerning such of which we ought not to be ignorant?
1. That being in Him, they belong to Him, and are precious in His sight. He is their God; their Shepherd who knows, acknowledges, and takes care of them (John 10:14-15; John 10:27-29): they are His disciples, His family, His spouse, His members. Hence not only in life but in death they are precious to Him (Psalms 116:15). For this, like all other things, is under the direction of His providence, and shall promote their good.
2. That as He is not the God, the Shepherd, etc., of the dead, but of the living, they shall not die, but only sleep, and shall certainly awake (Daniel 12:2; Isaiah 26:19; John 5:25-29; Romans 8:10), and be most gloriously changed (Philippians 3:21). Of all this Christ’s resurrection is an assurance. This sleep is not insensibility: for the soul does not sleep even here, much less when disunited from the body.
3. That death is gain, having many advantages over life--freedom from labour, care, temptation, sin, sickness, death, and presence with Christ and saints and angels.
4. That we shall meet our departed friends again, and know them, and be with them and the Lord forever (1 Thessalonians 4:14-18).
III. The end for which we ought not to be ignorant of these things.
1. That we sorrow not as those who have no hope. Sorrow we may and must. Grace was not meant to destroy but to regulate our affections. Nay, not to mourn would be sinful and lamentable (Isaiah 57:1; Jeremiah 22:18-19). But we must not sorrow as heathen or unbelievers.
2. Moreover, sorrow is needless--
(1) On their account, for theirs is not loss, except of things which it is desirable to lose, but gain.
(2) On our own account, for the loss is but momentary (Hebrews 11:10). (J. Benson.)
Consolation for the bereaved
I. It has pleased God to subject the righteous as well as the wicked to the dominion of death. In their death we see--
1. The offensive character of sin in the sight of God.
2. The power and sufficiency of Divine grace.
3. Instruction for the righteous in the certainty of their death. They are admonished--
(1) To be diligent in doing good.
(2) To be patient in suffering.
(3) To improve their sacred privileges.
II. Sorrow for the death of the righteous is not inconsistent with piety. It is allowable--
1. As an expression of nature and friendship.
2. As a tribute due to excellency of heart.
3. As an acknowledgment of the loss sustained by their removal--
(1) To society;
(2) to the Church;
(3) to the world. (W. Naylor.)
The coming of the Lord
I. In relation to the dead in christ (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
1. Intelligence concerning this relation important.
(1) Because of its bearing upon the resurrection of believers.
(2) Because ignorance on this subject cast the Thessalonians into deep sorrow in respect to their departed friends.
2. Intelligence concerning this relation an all-sufficient consolation (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
(1) Because Christ’s resurrection ensures the resurrection of His saints.
(2) Because of the inseparable relation between Christ and all His followers in His glory (1 Thessalonians 4:14; Colossians 3:4).
II. In relation to the living saints (1 Thessalonians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 4:17).
1. The living saints will be glorified, together with the resurrected ones (1 Thessalonians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
2. The change of the living saints into their glorified state shall not precede the resurrection of the dead in Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:15).
III. In its accompaniments (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Acts 1:11).
1. Christ will come in person.
2. Christ will come in person and in great glory (Matthew 24:30; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-12).
IV. In the encouragement it should afford believers (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
1. In the case of the Thessalonians this was peculiarly necessary.
2. Is not this exhortation now timely?
V. Practical lessons.
1. The importance and glory of the coming of the Lord demand more earnest study than is now generally given (Colossians 3:4).
2. Christians should so live that they may be ready at any time to enter, into the presence of the Lord. (Preachers’ Monthly.)
The second coming
I. The coming of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). What was that coming; when it would take place; the attending circumstances; why it was so earnestly looked for; and the comfort they found in it.
II. How we should live in view of this coming (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8). Watch; be sober; be wakeful; be armed; be ready; be hopeful. (Christian Age.)
Concerning them which are asleep--
The Christian view of death
I. The transformation of death.
1. From all the ancient heathen, and even, in part, from the Jewish world, there was a loud wailing of the bodies of the departed as over an utter ruin of life. Christianity teaches us that the dead are only asleep, and therefore in Christian grief there is no excess or despair. There is in this a whole revolution of the faith and hope of the world. The ideas of destruction, loss, unconsciousness, King of Terrors, cruel mower, prison keeper are gone. There is an evening of life as well as a morning. “Man goeth forth unto his labour until the evening,” “and so He giveth His beloved sleep.”
2. There has been much perplexity through forgetfulness of what sleep is. Men do not cease to live in sleep. It is only the suspension of direct relations with the sensible; a temporary change from which much advantage is derived. Death is sleep--
(1) as it is a cessation of conditions and escape from circumstances which waste power and wear and tire faculty. “The wicked cease from troubling,” etc. “They rest from their labours.”
(2) As there is in it the gain of fresh power for future use. So far from suspending spiritual power, the change in our dependence upon the sensible and material increases and intensifies it. This is proved from dreams; and so is it in the thing signified.
(3) As its separations are to be followed by the resumption of holy fellowship--as its evening withdrawal is to be followed by a morning return.
II. Consequent on this transformation there is a change in the feeling of the believer regarding death. “We sorrow not,” etc. The wail of the heathen was a wail of despair; and the wail of the Hebrew saints, under the light of their imperfect economy, was often heart breaking. And there is much bitter grief in Christian homes arising partly from yielding to the susceptibilities, and partly from ignorance. But it is benumbing to faith, and dishonouring to the Lord of Life. But there is a natural human emotion tempered and directed by the light and grace of the Gospel. Sorrow is nature’s tribute to her own weakness and dependence. When Jesus wept He sanctified our griefs. Christianity puts no undue strain on our nature. We may weep for our selves, but it is not to be absorbing, and is not to be wasted upon those who are present with the Lord.
III. The glad anticipations which Christians are encouraged to cherish. Mark--
1. Its glorious and stable foundation of fact. What Jesus did and suffered is the ground of a new future for humanity. Despair died when He died, and hope was born when He rose. “Because I live ye shall live also.”
2. Complete resurrection glory and escape from helps power. It is impossible to fully explore the abundance of this revelation given by “the Word of the Lord.” It was given to meet the actual need of those who mourned that through death their friends would be excluded from the triumph of Christ’s second coming. The living will not take precedence, for the dead in Christ shall rise first.
3. The reunion of the dead and living with each other and the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
1. What an attraction the glad and certain future should have for Christian hearts.
2. How glad and calm should our hearts be in anticipation of that future. (W. H. Davison.)
The sleep of the faithful departed
One great miracle in the new creation of God is that death is changed to sleep; and therefore in the New Testament we do not read of the “death” of the saints (see John 11:11; Matthew 27:52; 1 Corinthians 15:51; Acts 7:60; Acts 13:36). Christians were wont to call their burial grounds cemeteries, or sleeping places, where they laid up their beloved ones to sleep on and take their rest.
1. We know that they shall wake up again. What sleep is to waking, death is to the resurrection--a prelude, a transitory state, ushering in a mightier power of life.
2. They whom men call dead do really live unto God. They were dead while they lived this dying life on earth, and dead when they were in the last avenues of death. But after they had once died death had no more dominion: they escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowler; the snare was broken and they were delivered. Once dead, once dissolved, the unclothed spirit is beyond the power of decay. There is no weakness, nor weariness, nor wasting away, nor wandering of the burdened spirit; it is disenthralled, and lives its own life, unmingled and buoyant.
3. Those whom the world calls dead are sleeping, because they are taking their rest (Revelation 14:13). Not as the heretics of old vainly and coldly dreamed, as if they slept without thought or stir of consciousness from the hour of death to the morning of the resurrection. Their rest is not the rest of a stone, cold and lifeless; but of wearied humanity. They rest from their labours; they have no more persecution, nor stoning, nor scourging, nor crucifying; no more martyrdoms by fire, or the wheel, or barbed shafts; they have no more false witness nor cutting tongues; no more bitterness of heart, nor iron entering into the soul; no more burdens of wrong, nor amazement, nor perplexity. They rest, too, from the weight of “the body of our humiliation”--from its sufferings and pains. They rest also from their warfare against sin and Satan. Above all, they rest from the buffetings of evil in themselves. The sin that dwelt in them died when through death they began to live. The unimpeded soul puts forth its newborn life as a tree in a kindly soil invited by a gentle sky: all that checked it is passed away, all that draws it into ripeness bathes it with fostering power. The Refiner shall perfect His work upon them, cleansing them sevenfold, even as gold seven times tried; and all the taint and bias of their spiritual being shall be detached and corrected. Theirs is a bliss only less perfect than the glory of His kingdom when the new creation shall be accomplished.
1. We ought to mourn rather for the living than for the dead, for they have to die, and death is terrible.
2. It is life, rather than death, that we ought to fear. For life and all that it contains--thought, and speech, and deed, and will--is a deeper and more awful mystery. In life is the warfare of good and ill, the hour and power of darkness, the lures and assaults of the wicked one. Here is no rest, shelter, safety. Wherefore let us fear life, and we shall not be afraid to die. For in the new creation of God death walks harmless. (Archdeacon Manning.)
The sleep of the faithful departed
It seems a strange opinion, entertained by some, that the souls of the faithful during the interval between death and the resurrection are in a profound sleep and devoid of all power of perception. This opinion appears to be grounded upon such expressions as “to fall asleep in Jesus,” a phrase which probably represents nothing more than the well-known resemblance between the appearances of death and of its cousin sleep--the eyelids closed in darkness, the face in calm repose, the voice hushed in silence. How could St. Paul (Philippians 1:23) think it better for him--yea, far better--to depart from the body than to remain in it, if on his departure from the body he should sink into the lethargy of an unconscious sleep? Is it not better to have the use of our reasoning faculty than to he deprived of it? Is it not better to praise God in the land of the living than to be in a state in which we can have no knowledge of God at all, nor any capacity of praising Him? Besides, the apostle does not express a desire to die, merely that he may be at rest and freed from persecutions and the anxieties of his apostolic office, but chiefly or solely with this object--that he may be with Christ. Now, surely we are more with Christ while we abide in the flesh than when we depart from it, if, when we have departed this life, we have no perception of Christ at all. In 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 St. Paul speaks of visions and revelations of the Lord, which he had seen and heard in the third heaven and in Paradise; whether he was then in the body or out of the body, he professes ignorance: he could not tell: God knew. But the inference is obvious, that of the two alternatives he thought one quite as likely as the other; that neither of them was impossible or unreasonable, and therefore that the soul when it is out of the body is as capable of seeing and of hearing as when it is in the body. From what the same apostle says in 2 Corinthians 5:8, we may argue that as absence implies separation, so presence implies conjunction. But surely there is no need of this argument; the very phrase “to be present with the Lord” intimates a consciousness of that presence. In addition, is there not much weight in the consideration that in the state of separation from the body our souls have the same condition that the soul of Christ then had, because He took upon Him all our nature; and it is certain that His soul, during its separation, neither slumbered nor slept, but visited the souls of the fathers and preached the gospel to the prisoners of hope (1 Peter 3:18-20). These several considerations all tend to one conclusion--that the death of the body is by no means the sleep of the soul. How, indeed, the spirits of departed saints are employed is not recorded. We are told that they “rest from their labours”; but the rest here specified means a refreshment, a delightful repose from earthly trials and troubles; it does not exclude a blissful activity in a new and heavenly sphere. St. Paul speaks of visions and revelations and angelic utterances transcending all human utterance. That departed saints in their new home are in the saving Presence seems certain; that they are therefore blessed is equally certain. But in what their blessedness consists is known to God and it is known to themselves. (Canon T. S. Evans, D. D.)
Christ died that saints might sleep in death
In Scripture, the book of life, the death of the saints is called a “sleep.” It is observable how the apostle varies the expression--Jesus died, and the saints sleep in Him; He sustained death with all its terrors, that it might be a calm sleep to His people. They enjoy so perfect a rest in the beds of dust as even in the softest down. (W. Bates, D. D.)
Death a sleep
I. For whom death is so mitigated and softened as to be represented as a state of sleep? Those who believe in and are thus spiritually united to Christ. To these death is softened because Christ has died, and thus deprived death of its sting by being pierced with it, and because Christ has risen, robbing death of its terrors by spoiling its principalities and powers. There is, therefore, nothing in it now to fear.
II. What illustration does this representation afford as to the condition of the departed? It is not designed to represent it as a state of unconsciousness, as some affirm. Apart from philosophical reflections this is refuted by the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, by the promise of Christ to the dying thief, and by Paul’s confidence in and desire for the “gain” of dying and being with Christ. The figure illustrates--
1. The repose of the saints. We know that “Tired nature’s sweet restorer, balmy sleep,” is a season of quiet repose, when faculties which have been wearied and worn by exertion are at ease and at rest. Death to the believer is as the beginning of repose after the labour of the day (John 11:9-11).
(1) Life is a day of toil. We walk, run, plant, sow, reap, watch, wrestle, fight, etc. Ours is a hard, toilsome course. The task of resisting indwelling sin, of enduring affliction, bearing the obloquy of the ungodly, contending against the powers of darkness, of acquiring the attainment of Christian character, and of extending Christ’s kingdom--these constitute a work which we are to do with all our might.
(2) When we have finished, as hirelings, our day, the body rests in the grave, the soul in the paradise of God. Are we labourers? Then we leave the field and lay down our tools. Are we travellers? Then we terminate our long and wearisome journey and cross the threshold of our Father’s mansion. Are we soldiers? Then we take off our armour. Are we mariners? Then we heave over the last ocean billow and enter into the desired haven. The sleep of the labouring man is sweet, and how sweet is the slumber of those who rest in Jesus!
2. Their security. The season of slumber is assumed to be the season of security; and no man in ordinary cases would commit himself to the one unless he could calculate on the other. The Christian would not be at rest if he were not secure.
(1) When the time has come for his spirit to enter into immortality it is safe forever. They are with Christ, and you might as well talk about His insecurity as theirs.
(2) The body also is safe, for it also has been redeemed. The dust of every Christian is sacred; it may be scattered, but Christ watches it and protects it.
3. Their prospect of restoration. When men lie down to sleep it is with the prospect of waking again in recruited vigour. So the resurrection of the saints will--
(1) Invest their bodies with ineffable dignity and splendour.
(2) Communicate higher and more ecstatic pleasures to the soul.
III. What influence should these representations produce on the living?
1. We ought not to indulge excessive grief on account of those Christian friends whom it has been, or whom it may yet be, our lot to lose.
2. It becomes us as Christians not to dread the arrival of death for ourselves. Do you tremble when, at the hour of midnight, you go to the couch of repose?
3. It should impress upon us the propriety of desiring the same consolations for ourselves. (J. Parsons.)
Death a sleep
The death of the Christian may be so called because of--
I. Its peaceful nature.
1. He lies down to die calmly as the tired labourer to take his nightly rest: not like the man who dreads the hour of rest because of the recollection of sleepless nights.
2. The approach of death is often silent and soft as the approach of sleep. As the weary man sinks imperceptibly into a state of slumber, so the Christian sometimes without a struggle passes into God’s presence. It is like the sinking of day into night, or more properly the rising of the night into day.
II. Its attactiveness. How the labourer, toiling beneath a burning sun, will sometimes long for the shades of evening when he may stretch his tired limbs! So does the Christian, only with an intenser longing, look for his sleep. Not that earth is without its attractions; but it is the place of his exile, strife, pilgrimage. Ponder is his home radiant with immortal glory, and thronged with bright multitudes, and death is attractive because it is the vestibule to that.
III. It is to be followed by an awakening. The heathen might have no hope of a resurrection. Their poets might bewail the fleetingness of life and the unknown condition of the dead. Even the Jew might see but dimly the shadow of the resurrection. But to the Christian it is the object of sure and certain hope. We are apt to speak of the dead as “lost”; but that they cannot be, as they are under Christ’s care. They sleep only till He bids them wake.
IV. Its repose. It is that state of “rest which remaineth for the people of God.” Life’s fitful fever is over: they sleep well. Death is not a state of unconsciousness; the very figure of sleep forbids that. They rest from--
1. Their labours: all that makes work laborious will then be unknown. Work they will, but in congenial employment and with unweariable faculties.
2. From persecution, false witness, wrong, disappointment, etc.
3. From pain, mental and physical.
4. From warfare against sin. Satan and the world can tempt no more.
5. From the buffetings of evil in themselves.
V. Its refreshment. The difference between the labourer who rises in the morning refreshed by the night’s repose but faintly shadows forth the difference between the wearied wasted body which sinks into the grave and the renovated body, blooming with immortal youth, exempt from infirmities, endowed with unknown strength which shall come forth on the morning of the resurrection. Conclusion: The subject should lead us--
1. To moderate our grief over the loss of those friends who sleep in Jesus. When they so sleep we have no mourning as regards them.
2. To contemplate death with much less fear and aversion.
3. To devote ourselves with increased earnestness to our present labour.
4. But there are some to whom death is a very different kind of sleep. The poet says, “To die, to sleep. To sleep! perchance to dream! Ay, there’s the rub.” The sleep of the ungodly is disturbed by fearful dreams--nay, realities, from which there is no escape but by being “in Christ” now. (W. Landells, D. D.)
Sleeping in Jesus
Unbelief in immortality existed generally before the Christian era. About that time implicit belief in the after life became a conviction with multitudes. We ask any unbeliever to account for that. What produced this result? There is no effect without a cause. Was there not some grand event that gave the truth that we are immortal such vital power that even the lowly, the poor, the humblest--not the learned, not the philosophers only--became thoroughly convinced of it? Walk through the Roman catacombs; mark the difference there is between the epitaphs of the Epicureans on the one side, and the Christians on the other. One of the Roman tombs has this inscription, “While I lived, I lived well--my play is now ended, soon yours will be;--farewell, and applaud me.” Another says, “Baths, wine, and love ruin the constitution, but they make life what it is--farewell.” Then comes the tender stroke of a mother’s grief--“O relentless fortune, that delights in cruel death, why is Maximus so early snatched from me?” Then turn and see the epitaphs of the early Christians--“Zoticus laid here to sleep.” “The sleeping place in Christ of Elipis.” “Yaleria sleeps in peace.” Is not that an echo of those wonderful words that were uttered at the tomb of Lazarus: “He is not dead, but sleepeth,” or, when He said of the ruler’s daughter, “The maid is not dead, but sleepeth?” Is not that an echo of that wonderful teaching of Christ that death is sleep--that the cemetery is what the word literally means, “a sleeping place”? What can have brought about such a change in the world? Intuition failed utterly to do more than faintly discern that such a thing as immortality might be. Philosophical reasoning produced nothing but Epicurean carelessness and Stoical contempt for death. But here we see a poor mother lay down her daughter, slain it may be by the arrows of persecution, but she says, “She sleeps in Jesus.” It is sleep that knows an awaking, a short night that breaks into a glorious morning. Immortality is not now a dubious opinion, it is positive conviction. Whence comes it? Only from Christ. His life, His death, and especially His resurrection unfold it with marvellous clearness.
Sleeping in Jesus
I. Those who sleep in Jesus die confining in his protection. We all know how pleasantly one goes to sleep when he enjoys the friendship, and can confide in the protection of those about him. In such circumstances the mind is unbent, the spirit soothed and tranquillized, and we give ourselves up to rest with peculiar confidence and satisfaction. We know that however profoundly we may slumber, however completely we may be wrapped in insensibility, our safety will be secured. As a familiar illustration, place a child in the arms of a stranger, and however inclined to sleep it may have been before, it becomes instantly aroused; discomposed and terrified, it cannot trust itself to sleep in such a situation. But transfer it to the arms of its mother; let it lay its head on the familiar bosom, and feel itself under the reassuring smile of maternal tenderness, and ere long its fears subside, and its eyes calmly close in the consciousness of safety. We are all children thus when we come to die. Every child of God has a long sleep to take. When the short wintry day of life is over, the night of death closes in and darkens around us. But the Christian knows with whom he is to take his rest: he falls “asleep in Jesus.” He is not in the hands of strangers, whose dubious character and unknown intentions might fill him with alarm, but in the sweet custody of a fast and faithful friend. He has long trusted his soul to Jesus, and now, in the hour of death, he is not afraid to trust his body to Him. He may not depart singing a song of victory; but as he has lived by faith, and not by sense, so now he dies in faith.
II. Those who sleep in Jesus enter into a state of perfect repose. There is something revolting to nature in the associations of “the house appointed for all living”; but the grave wears no aspect of gloom or horror to the believer in Christ Jesus. To him it is simply the tabernacle for a night of that “flesh” in which, “at the latter day,” he shall “see God”; a tabernacle, moreover, endeared and hallowed by the fact that his Redeemer occupied it before him:. “There laid they Jesus”; and though the sepulchre did not permanently retain Him, He was yet long enough its tenant to strip it of every gloomy association--to season it, if we may so speak, and render it a sweet and grateful resting place for the dust of his sleeping saints. When the Christian is laid in the grave he is consigned to consecrated ground; he occupies “the place where the Lord lay”; and the marshalled hosts of heaven are the guardians of his rest. But where is his soul while his body thus rests in sacred and dignified repose? “Absent from the body,” it is “present with the Lord.”
III. Those who sleep in Jesus rest in hope of a joyful resurrection. When a man of sound body and mind retires to rest with a good conscience, and with his heart full of a great event which on the morrow is to crown him with honour and happiness, how light and airy his slumbers are! how vivid and lifelike the pictures which his buoyant fancy paints for him of the joys which await his waking! Thus it is, so far as the illustration is apt and adequate, with the man who “sleeps in Jesus.” He commits himself to the grave full of glorious anticipations; and exulting in the assurance, that as certainly as morning succeeds night in the natural world, so the morning of resurrection shall succeed the night of the grave; and then “this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal immortality.” It is this glorious prospect, set before the saint in the act of dying, and contemplated by his living spirit after death, that lights up the darkness of the narrow house, and reconciles immortal man to his present mortal destiny. He fixes his eye upon this, till his soul realizes it in all its interest and grandeur, and with his heart swelling with triumph and overflowing with joy, he exclaims--“I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God!” (J. Young, D. D.)
The sleep of death
“Slept” in the New Testament is a word sacred to the dying of the righteous; hence that sweet inscription found upon hundreds of slabs in the Christian catacombs of Rome, “Dormit,” he sleeps; while on Pagan monuments of the same age, spared as if on purpose to furnish a contrast, we read again and again the rebellious and plaintive inscription, “Abreptas,” snatched away. In the one case a violent disruption of the tenderest ties, in the other a slumber falling as softly as the evening dew. (R. D. Hitchcock, D. D.)
The soul does not steep in death
When a person is asleep what is it that rests? It is simply the muscles and the nerves and the wearied limbs; the heart goes on beating, the lungs respiring and expiring; and what is remarkable in sleep, the soul never sleeps at all. It seems that when one is asleep, the soul often travels to far distant lands, or sails upon the bosom of the deep, amid the blue hills and green glens of other parts of the land; exploring, thinking, searching, studying. The soul is never literally dead (though it may sometimes forget) to every thought and object, to all that enters by the avenues of the senses. If sleep be the metaphor of death, it does not prove that the soul is insensible, but only that the body, the outward garment only, having been worn and wasted in the wear and toil of this present life, is folded up and laid aside in that wardrobe--the grave--a grave as truly in the keeping of the Son of God as are the angels of the skies and the cherubim in glory. (J. Cumming, D. D.)
Pilgrims at rest
Our first thoughts have to do with the difference between the living and the dead.
1. In being. “There is a natural body and a spiritual body.” We shall never be without a vehicle, a covering. Paul speaks about being “clothed upon.”
2. In place. The place of the departed may not be far from us, if, as some have held, they are our guardian angels. The angel told John that he was his “fellow servant.” As to the size of the place, what circumscribed, narrow, cramped notions we have! Don’t speak of it as if it were not larger than Rutland, and of our meeting with each other there as if we were neighbours in the same street. The region is measureless, and the inhabitants “no man can number.”
3. Those who have gone thither were once among the living here.
I. How described. “Them which are asleep.” This means more than is usually supposed. It means much about this life.
1. Not conscious of sin and sorrow, but wholly freed from them--“asleep.” There can be no sleep where there is great pain: “if he sleep he shall do well.” What consolation this for the bereaved! The last sigh breathed, groan uttered, pang felt.
2. Watched and protected by the heavenly Father as children “asleep.” How easily and comfortably children go to sleep knowing that they will be cared for! So with them that “sleep in Jesus.”
3. Without recurrence of pain and anxiety. Continuous sleep, undisturbed by roar of battle or tremor of earthquake.
4. But we cannot say of the lost that they are asleep. “There is no peace to the wicked.”
II. What our knowledge is about them. “Concerning.”
1. In engagements. Not continual feasting and hymn singing. Variety of work. Tastes and capabilities find suitable spheres here: and surely in the other world we shall be ourselves, and every want will be met.
2. In powers. Present powers improved, memory more accurate, judgment more sound, perception more vivid. And from altered conditions of being, new powers will be developed.
3. In intercourse. “Sit down with Abraham”; “know as we are known.” Similarity of view, thought answering to thought, feeling to feeling. Many here never seem to meet with their likes. “Then face to face.” The mentally great drawn together, and others grouping according to their kind. (J. S. Withington.)
Different ideas of immortality
Each hopes to find that which for him is the best thing, eternized in the future. The Indian looks for a boundless war path, with victories ever new over animals and men. The Mohammedan desires, as a good beyond all which earth can offer, the utmost reach of sensual pleasure; where wines shall be quaffed from diamond cups, and the beauty of houris be enjoyed without stint; where the soul shall be dissolved, yet forever rejuvenated, in the utmost attainable physical luxury. The philosopher craves a vision of truth. And the artist looks for terraces of beauty and majestical structures; where the pillars shall be worlds, and the pediments milky ways; where colours more brilliant, lines more light, and proportions more perfect than here have been imagined, shall forever surround and instruct the fine spirit. Each people, and each person, according to the different attainments of each, and their several characteristics, delights to anticipate the possession in the future of that special good which to each is supreme. And in nothing is the progress of refinement and virtue more evidently shown than in the higher ideas which are entertained, in successive epochs and by different nations, of what may be thus aspired to and expected. Men differ in their estimate of the goods of the present life. But when they transfer that estimate to the future, as it becomes colossal and transcendent, so the differences between them, which are indicated and gauged by it, become most conspicuous. (Dr. Storrs.)
That ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
Having no hope
We need hope to cheer us all along in life, and to sustain us at the end of it. A sustaining hope, in view of the inevitable, must look forward to a life, beyond the present, of permanent good and joy. It must be founded on sufficient reasons: such as
(a) the promise of God, and
(b) the earnest of the fulfilment of that promise in our experience.
They can have no such hope who have--
I. No God, whether they are atheists in belief, or are living atheistic lives in mere carelessness.
II. No Bible; who do not practically receive and rest on a revelation.
III. No Saviour; do not rest on Christ.
IV. No preparation for the future. Nothing but the gospel offers such a hope. Have you laid hold on this hope? Are you giving diligence to the full assurance of it? (C. W. Camp.)
Sorrow without hope
The mother of poor Tonda led me to the house where the body was laid. The narrow space of the room was crowded; about two hundred women were sitting and standing around, singing mourning songs to doleful and monotonous airs. As I stood looking, filled with solemn thoughts, the mother of Tonda approached. She threw herself at the foot of her dead son, and begged him to speak to her once more. And then, when the corpse did not answer, she uttered a shriek, so long, so piercing, such a wail of love and grief, that tears came into my eyes. Poor African mother! she was literally as one sorrowing without hope, for these poor people count on nothing beyond the present life. (Du Chaillu.)
The dreary and cheerless aspect which the state of the dead presented to Homer’s mind, even in the case of Achilles, his prime hero, and Agamemnon, king of men, and Ajax, whose peculiarly unhappy fate and brilliant services on earth would have entitled him to consolation, if there had been any to be found, hardly needs a comment. The first of these bitterly contrasts his shadowy primacy with the lot of the meanest hireling on earth. The dead have no prospect; they only look back to the past, or seek to snatch a glimpse of the present. They dwell on the triumphs, or on the wrongs and sufferings, of this mortal life, and sympathize, after a forlorn and bereaved fashion, with those whom they have left behind. The picture is one of such blank desolation as came spontaneously to the poet’s mind, on whom neither faith nor philosophy had yet dawned, but who yet could not so far renounce man’s birthright of immortality as to conceive of the utter extinction of personality in what had once been a human soul. The dead of Homer have pride, they cherish grudges and curiosity, affection and resentment, but they have, in a later poet’s phrase, “left hope behind.” The casual exceptions of the few favoured heroes who were by birth or marriage connected with Zeus himself, only prove more pointedly the dismal universality of the rule by which the rest are bound. (H. Hayman, D. D.)
Mr. Robert Owen, the sceptic, once visited a gentleman who was an earnest Christian. In walking out they came to the gentleman’s family grave. Mr. Owen, addressing him, said: “There is one advantage I have over Christians--I am not afraid to die. Most Christians are afraid to die; but if some of my business were settled, I should be perfectly willing to die at any moment.” “Well,” said his companion, “you say you have no fear in death; have you any hope in death?” After a solemn pause, he replied, “No!” “Then,” replied the gentleman, pointing to an ox standing near, “you are on a level with that brute; he has fed till he is satisfied, and stands in the shade whisking off the flies, and has neither hope nor fear.”
A suggestive contrast
Mirabeau, the infidel, who was the hero of the French nation, died as a Frenchman might be expected to die, with a great deal of show and talk about the grandeur of his own genius and the loss to his country, and his last words were, “Crown me with flowers; I am about to sink into the last sleep!” In the same month there died in London one upon whose lips thousands had hung, whose name was a household word in the towns and villages in this country; he had lived till his white hairs were the joy and reverence of all classes of society, and as John Wesley fell asleep in Jesus, among his last words were:--
“I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath,
And when my voice is lost in death,
Praise shall employ my nobler powers.”
Let any one trace the effects of those two lives; mark the progress of revolutionary principles in France, and notice the influence of that great revival of religion, of which John Wesley was the means, in the subsequent history of the English nation, and you will be constrained to say that it was the influence of that revival that maintained the principles of freedom and constitutional government among us, besides extending true religion among the masses of the community. (Handbook to Scripture Doctrines.)
Hope in death
The old custom of using rosemary at funerals is thus explained by Wheatley, on the Common Prayer: “To express their hopes that their friend is not lost forever, each person in the company usually bears in his hand a sprig of rosemary; a custom which seems to have taken its rise from a practice among the heathens, of a quite different import. For they have no thought of a future resurrection, but believing that the bodies of those that were dead would forever lie in the grave, made use of cypress at their funerals, which is a tree that being once cut never revives, but dies away. But Christians, on the other hand, having better hopes, and knowing that this very body of their friend, which they are now going solemnly to commit to the grave, shall one day rise again, and be reunited to his soul, instead of cypress, distribute rosemary to the company, which being always green, and flourishing the more for being crops (and of which a sprig only being set in the ground, will sprout up immediately and branch into a tree), is more proper to express their confidence and trust.”
Hope in death
Helen Founleson, one of six Scottish martyrs executed at Perth in 1543, being denied the privilege of dying with her husband, kissed him at the foot of the gallows on which he was to suffer, and took leave of him with these words, “Husband, rejoice, for we have lived together many joyful days, but this day, in which we must die, ought to be the most joyful to us both, because we must have joy forever. Therefore I will not bid you good night, for we shall suddenly meet with joy in the kingdom of heaven.” (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)
The Rev. J. Newton once said to a gentleman who had lately lost his daughter, “Sir, if you were going to the East Indies I suppose you would like to send a remittance before you. This little girl is just like a remittance sent to heaven before you yourself. I suppose a merchant in charge is never heard expressing himself thus: ‘Oh, my dear ship, I am sorry she has got into port so soon! I am sorry she has escaped the storms that are coming!’ Neither should we sorrow for children dying.” (Whitecross.)
The victory of hope in sorrow
One of the lessons which our Master enforced was that there should be a marked contrast between His disciples and worldly men. If a Christian differs in no important respect from a man without Christian faith, wherein is he better? Christians were not to be saved from the casualties of men, but there was expected to be in them, under the influence of God’s Spirit, something that should enable them to endure the various experiences of life in a way that common men could not. They were to regard life and death with a marked difference from the world. It was in this spirit that Paul wrote these words. There is to be a difference between death in the Christian and death in the unchristian household. If you bow your head or are overborne as others, how are you any better? If in anything one might be left to his own way we should suppose it would be in the sorrows of bereavement. But no: even here we are to be Christians.
I. It is no part of Christian teaching that men should not sorrow; but it is a part of Christian teaching that men should not sorrow as others who have no hope. Christ suffered and shed tears; but both stood in the reflected light of the other world. The apostles suffered, but they gloried in the fact that if they suffered they would reign. Suffering is good if it arouses in men their divine rather than their lower human nature; it is to be such as does not exclude joy and is in the light of joy.
II. Neither is it the teaching of Christ that he affections and relationships of men are trivial and unworthy of regard. Indeed, we have no guides to go by except these. Who would know the love of God if we did not know the love of man? To say that human affections are nothing, and that to love one another is to love dust, is to destroy the potency and value and use of those very ordinances of the household and friendship by which God means to develop our spiritual nature. Some teach that we are to let all the relationships of life seem so little in comparison with Christ that it will make no difference to us whether they go or stay. I could not respect a religion which made love a mere currency for good in this world alone. The spirit of Christianity sanctifies the love of husband and wife, parent and child, etc.; so that we may be sure if we love right here we shall love forever.
III. Least of all does Christ teach that pain is unworthy of manhood and is to be strangled. Any such violence is to destroy what He elaborately created. The teachings of the Bible, and the example of Christ and of His apostles and saints has inculcated anything but the stoical doctrine. The Christian idea is the great power of victory over suffering, the bush burning but unconsumed.
IV. But Christ did require that we should look upon our sorrow as surrounded by considerations derivable from his life and truth.
1. A wanton and ungovernable sorrow is a violation of Christian duty. It acts as if there were no God or Christ. There is a great difference, of course, between the first burst of sorrows and a continuous state. When one has been worn out physically, the gracious God finds no fault with the uncontrollable sweep of anguish. Let the cloud burst, but do not let the waters become a deep flowing river. When the first rush of feeling is over there should be that in the believer which will bring him back to Christ.
2. It is not right sorrow that seeks every aggravation, employing memory as a dragnet to bring back refuse experiences, to create unhappiness, and recount miseries as if proud of them. Blessed are they who can shut the door on the past and not open it again unless to bring some fairer joy and better hope.
3. A true Christian bereavement ought not to narrow the disposition and take men away from active affairs. The same Christian instinct which seeks consecration to the Master’s service should find in it an antidote to sorrow. If you suffer you will often find comfort in ministering to some one’s affliction. Dr. Spurzheim used to say that no woman was fit to be wife and mother till she had been educated in suffering. I say that no man or woman is fit for the highest offices of friendship and life without it.
4. Every man that suffers bereavement ought to make it manifest that it is grace not nature that heals. It is true that grace employs nature, and that time is a good nurse; but a Christian ought to be ashamed if nothing can cure him but time. How many there are who wait until their griefs are worn out before they get over them. But the man who knows how to apply the promise and realize the presence at the right time, has not only comfort in himself, but is a living and powerful witness to the power of Christ such as refutes infidelity as nothing else can, and wins to the Gospel as no preaching can do. (H. W. Beecher.)
I. The sorrow which Christians may lawfully indulge for departed friends. Feel your griefs, bereaved and desolate believers; you are permitted to sorrow. Away with the sentiments of those who teach that we should evidence an utter insensibility, a stupid unconcern, under affliction! Such is not the command of that God, “who knoweth our frame, and remembereth that we are dust:” nor of that Redeemer who, “in all the afflictions of His people was afflicted.” Look at the Scriptures, ye who cruelly chide those tears that relieve the wounded heart, and say if Abraham violated his duty when he came to Kirjarth-arba to mourn for Sarah, and weep there. The lustre of Joseph’s character was not obscured when he grieved for his father at the threshing floor of Atad “with great and sore lamentation.” Jeremiah was not forgetful of his elevated office when his prophetical harp sounded such mournful tones over the corpse of the good Josiah. We do not feel less attached to the Christians of Asia because they wept sore on parting from Paul, “most of all, because they should see his face no more.” We sympathize with the pious widows who stood by the body of Dorcas weeping, and “showing the coats and garments which she had made for the poor while she was yet with them.” Those “devout men” were not less devout when “they carried Stephen to the grave, and made great lamentation.” There is nothing inconsistent with the high character of that Mary who sat delightedly at the feet of Jesus, and yet poured out big bitter tears at the door of her brother’s sepulchre. But why mention inferior cases? Behold Jesus--our law giver and model, authorizing a submissive grief by His emotion and tears at the tomb of Lazarus. An unlamented death is divinely represented as a judgment and a curse (Jeremiah 16:5-6; Jeremiah 12:17). But we may mourn as Christians over our departed; and where can the soul that is bowed and overwhelmed better flee than to its Father? Where find more comfort than in the bosom of its God? Christianity does not destroy our nature; it only regulates it. In giving us a heart, God has permitted us to exercise its emotions, and sensibility, instead of being a weakness in the Christian, is one of his noblest prerogatives, since it is one great source of his virtues. No; it is not the soul of a Christian which can be callous and insensible while standing by the corpse or the grave of a departed friend.
II. The sorrow which Christians are forbidden to exercise.
1. When in their hearts, or by their lips, they murmur against the disposals of God, and blame Him for unkindness and cruelty to them. Jacob was faulty in this respect when, on the reported death of his favourite son, he exclaimed, “All these things are against me!” In our severest griefs we must be persuaded that God acts not only with infinite wisdom, but also with infinite goodness; and that not only are His general dispensations merciful, but the particular dispensation which has afflicted us is the fruit of covenant love.
2. When the grief of Christians unfits them for holy duties, and prevents the exercise of religious devotion. What, because one we loved is dead, shall our heart also become dead and lifeless in all spiritual employments, and as cold as is his inanimate body? What, shall our tears be ever flowing over a mouldering form, and our affections never be raised to a living God?
3. When sorrow does not lead Christians to inquire what was the design of God in afflicting them. As Christians, instead of being “swallowed up in over much sorrow,” we should study by each bereavement to feel more deeply the vanity of earth, the importance of eternity, and the preciousness of Christ.
4. When Christians follow not their departed friends beyond the grave. They are not in the grave, their bodies only are there; they, as emancipated spirits, are with “the spirits of just men made perfect.” Sorrow is criminal, therefore, if it relates only to the outer covering laid aside for a little while.
5. Sorrow is also criminal when Christians have no well-grounded hope of reunion and fellowship with their departed in heaven. Heaven is the glorious rendezvous of all saintly men (John 14:1-3). (H. Kollock, D. D.)
Consolations accompanying the death of saints
I. There are some who have no hope in their sorrow.
1. As far as we can, we should see that no relative passed away out of our home and left us in unmixed grief.
2. Are there any who would so treat a relative as to leave him in doubt as to their salvation?
II. There are those who have good hope mixed with their grief.
1. Even when there is the strongest hope of salvation, there will be sorrow.
2. Sorrow mixed with hope is full of comfort.
3. This comfort depends upon acquiescence in the will of God disposing us as His own.
4. This hope draws its consolations amidst sorrow mainly because it is “full of immortality.”
III. The grounds of this consolation as here laid down. Death is compared to a sleep as indicating--
1. The calm repose of a dying believer.
2. The security of the saints in Christ’s hand.
3. The certainty of the resurrection.
4. The beauty and glory of the redeemed Church.
5. Recognition of the saints in heaven. (J. Walker.)
1 Thessalonians 4:14
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him
Christ’s resurrection and ours
The event predicted. “Will God bring with Him.”
1. This is affirmed to meet the fear that God could not do so. The ground of their sorrow was that their departed friends would be deprived of the glories of Christ’s advent, which was thought to be near. Paul now assures them that the dead will share it as powerfully as the living.
2. The Thessalonians thus believed in Christ’s second coming. This was a subject often on our Lord’s lips, and is a prominent feature in this Epistle. It is kept in the background by many Christians to their disadvantage. Frequent thought about it is requisite to spirituality of mind. Paul says, “Our conversation is in heaven,” and his reason is “from whence also we look for the Saviour.” Heavenly mindedness is the drawing of self to Christ.
3. If God brings departed saints with Him, they are with Him now, otherwise He could not bring them. They are “the general assembly of the first born;” “Spirits of just men made perfect;” “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” The New Testament again and again asserts that the saints after death go direct into God’s presence.
4. When departed spirits are brought by God they will know one another. It is amazing to suppose that we should know each other on earth and not in heaven; that we should have a less amount of perception as to each other’s character and identity there than here. If this be admitted the passage which was intended to comfort is a mockery. How could the Thessalonians be comforted by the coming of their deceased friends if they were not to know them? Read 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20. How could Paul’s converts be his crown of rejoicing if he was not to know them? The same doctrine is proved from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus and from the appearance of Moses and Elias at the Transfiguration.
II. Its certainty.
1. If we believe that Christ died and rose again it follows as a necessary consequence that those who sleep in Him He will bring with Him. Observe how everything is based on the death and resurrection of Christ; and in view of that it is no wonder that the first preachers were selected because they were witnesses of the resurrection.
(1) The object of Christ’s death was “to redeem unto Himself a peculiar people.” When God speaks of the results of that death as to its primary purpose, He says, “He shall see His seed;” “He shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.”
(2) The object of the resurrection was to be the guarantee that the work of redemption was accomplished, and to be the first fruits of its accomplishment; to be followed by its proper results, a harvest. So that if we believe these two facts, i.e., that Christ finished the whole work that the Father gave Him to do, we must believe that the Father will fulfil His covenant part of the transaction and give to Christ the seed, and that the seed shall be perfected and glorified. To this it is necessary that He should bring the spirits of the saints to meet their bodies, which is the assertion of Paul here.
2. It follows, also, that the Church being thus perfected in herself must also be perfected in her circumstances. “Father I will also that those whom Thou gavest Me be with Me,” etc. (1 Thessalonians 2:17).
III. Its object and purpose. The reunion of the saints--
1. With their bodies.
2. With their friends.
3. With Christ, body and soul.
Conclusion: The passage is full of comfort, but there is a tremendous limitation in it. It refers exclusively to those who sleep in Christ and those who are living in Him when He comes. Are you “in Christ”? (C. Molyneux, M. A.)
Christ’s resurrection the pledge of ours
At our birth our bodies became a battleground between life and death. During the first ten years death makes many conquests. At ten years death begins to fall back. At twenty, life is triumphant. At thirty, life foresees the future. At forty, the battle is hot. At fifty, death inflicts some wounds, and life begins an orderly retreat. At sixty, life feels her strength failing. At seventy, the retreat becomes a rout. At eighty, death waves the black flag and cries, “No quarter!” This is no fancy picture; it is no preacher’s dream; it is a fact undeniable, inevitable, universal! Indifference cannot affect its certainty, and scepticism cannot refute its truth. There is only one other fact with which we can confront this fact of death, and that is the resurrection of Jesus. Here fact meets fact. That is what we demand. We want a fact, a case, an instance, one single instance of resurrection. Once a sea captain found his crew on shore apparently dead. The surgeon took one of the men and applied remedies, and the poisoned man stood on his feet. The captain shouted with joy, for in that one risen man he saw the possibility to save them all. So Christ brings life and immortality to light. His resurrection is not metaphysics, but history. Not speculation for the future, but a fact of the past. Not a problem to be solved, but the solution of all problems. (R. S. Barrett.)
The certainty and blessedness of the resurrection of true Christians
I. What is meant by those that sleep in Jesus.
1. Sleep is a metaphor used by sacred and profane writers. The ancient Christians called their place of burial Koimetrion “sleeping place.” The figure is applied to the death of the wicked, but more frequently to that of the righteous (Isaiah 57:2). Fitly is death so called as signifying rest (Revelation 14:13), and as preparatory to waking.
2. Death is called a sleeping “in Jesus” in conformity with 1 Corinthians 15:18; 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Hebrews 11:13. To sleep in Christ, to be Christ’s, to die in Christ, to die in the faith, all mean the same; to die in the state of true Christians as to be “in Christ” (John 15:4; Romans 13:1), means to be a Christian. And it is observable that we share all Christ’s acts--die, rise, ascend, etc. with Him.
3. Some think that this is the sleep of the soul, but, on the contrary, Scripture applies the figure invariably to the body (Daniel 12:2; Matthew 27:52; Acts 13:36); and it is inconsistent with those passages which clearly affirm the soul to be awake (Luke 16:22-23; Luke 23:43; Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:6).
II. What is meant by God’s bringing with Him them that sleep in Jesus.
1. The death and resurrection of Christ are an argument and proof of ours. Christ’s death is mentioned as part of the argument because the truth of the miracle of the resurrection depends upon it. If Christ did not die He could not have risen. The resurrection is shown in 1 Corinthians 15:20 to be the pledge and first fruits of ours. And that Christ intended to lay great stress upon this argument, appears in that He foretold it so often as the great sign He would give to the Jews to confute their infidelity (John 2:18-19; Matthew 12:39-40). Christ’s resurrection gives us satisfaction in general of immortality, and then of His power to raise us because He raised Himself. And then it assures us of His truth and fidelity that He will perform what He promised. He could not have promised anything more improbable than His own resurrection; and, therefore, since He kept His word in this, there is no reason to distrust Him in anything else that He has promised (Revelation 1:18; Revelation 3:14).
2. Wherein the blessedness of the just shall consist.
(1) In the mighty change which shall be made in our bodies and the glorious qualities with which they shall be invested.
(a) “Equal to the angels” in immortal duration, and “children of God” in the perfect possession of His happiness (Luke 20:35-36).
(b) Fashioned like unto the glorious body of Christ (Philippians 4:20).
(c) 1 Corinthians 15:35, etc.).
(2) In the consequent happiness of the whole man, the body purified from frailty and corruption, and the soul from sin, and both admitted to the sight and enjoyment of the ever-blessed God (Revelation 21:2-4; Revelation 21:27; Revelation 22:3-4). (Abp. Tillotson.)
The dead Christ and sleeping Christians
I. Jesus died that we might sleep. The thought is that He, though sinless, died like a sinner. He took the place of a sinner; was treated as a sinner as far as possible without sinning. He became what we sinners are, that we, the sinners, as far as possible, might become what He, the Righteous, is. Jesus died, then; His disciples sleep. Jesus spake of Lazarus sleeping, but never referred to His own death as sleep: that was not sleep, but death in its utter awfulness. The sting of death, He felt it; the victory of death, He yielded to it; the curse of death, He bore it; the desolation of death, He endured it; the darkness of death, He dreaded it. “O death! where is thy sting? O grave! where is thy victory?” were not words of our blessed Saviour, though they may be of the blessed dead.
II. If we believe that Jesus rose from the dead, we may also believe that those who sleep in Jesus, God will bring with Him. So far as we loved them, we may love them as ever, as we shall yet behold them perfect in Jesus, without a semblance of sin, pure as He is pure. When He died, His sorrows were over, His work was done. And observe a remarkable fact--the body of the Redeemer was preserved from every indignity after the spirit had departed. Up to the moment of His death, He was subjected to every outrage. He was like the sinner; He was acting for the sinner; He was suffering for the sinner; and, while He was a consenting party, every indignity was heaped upon Him. But from the moment His spirit left His body, every honour was done to Him. His body, after His resurrection, was very unlike His body previously--it was “a spiritual body,” invisible, and passing when and where it would and doing what it would. That body will be the model of our bodies; and the prime thought of St. Paul is--He will bring our friends to us again, and we shall know them, and be with them forever with the Lord. (A. Lind, D. D.)
Resting on God’s Word
A pastor in visiting a member of his church found her very sick, apparently dying. He said to her: “Mrs. M., you seem to be very sick.” “Yes,” said she, “I am dying.” “And are you ready to die?” She lifted her eyes upon him with a solemn and fixed gaze, and, speaking with great difficulty, she replied: “Sir, God knows--I have taken Him--at His word--and--I am not afraid to die.” It was a new definition of faith. “I have taken Him at His word,” What a triumph of faith! What else could she have said that would have expressed so much in so few words?
1 Thessalonians 4:15
This we say unto you by the Word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain
The waiting congregation of the redeemed
It is important here to observe that the apostle’s language is not to be pedantically restricted as if “we” were necessarily to be taken literally.
It is the broad, emotional, imaginative, not the restricted and historical “we”--the we not of him who associates himself with some accidental and arbitrary class, but of him who believes in the “Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints”--the we of a true member of the supernatural community. He writes as a living man to living men, from the point of view of intimate communion with them; with that prophetic sympathy with the Church of the future which makes his pulses throb in unison with the waiting congregation of the redeemed. He puts himself in the same attitude with those who shall be alive at the Great Advent, “All who are alive on earth as we now are.” Speaking as the mouthpiece of a generation which, like each of its successors, represents those who shall be alive at the Lord’s coming, he says, “We”--we, the living, the “left over”--a word which is not without a tinge of sadness, in subtle harmony with the purpose Paul had in view. The fear which the Thessalonians had for their beloved ones was lest they might have suffered loss. They pitied them because they were taken. By this twice-repeated word, the pathetic refrain of this wonderful dirge (1 Thessalonians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 4:17), the apostle seems to say--not that they are to be pitied; rather we who are left over, left without them in the world. If there is any leaving out in the case, it is we who are left out, not they. (Bp. Alexander.)
The Second Advent of Christ
Among the words of consolation in the valedictory discourse of Christ is the promise that He would come again and receive His people unto Himself. Time has sped noiselessly along. For nearly nineteen hundred years the Church’s eyes have been strained with intense expectancy; but it has not lost confidence in the promise. Faith in the Second Advent of Christ is more widely spread and firmly held than ever. Long waiting has sharpened the longing, brightened the hope, and clarified the vision. Observe--
I. That the second advent of Christ is the subject of Divine revelation. “By the Word of the Lord.” In a subject of such vast moment Paul was anxious to show that he spoke on the most incontrovertible authority. He had a special revelation, and spoke under the immediate inspiration of the Divine Spirit. The Second Advent is emphatically taught in the Scriptures.
II. That the second advent of Christ will be distinguished by signal tokens of terrible majesty.
1. There will be the triumphant shout of the Divine Redeemer (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Just before Jesus expired on the cross He cried with a loud voice, and, though there was the ring of victory in that cry, it sounded more like a conscious relief from unutterable suffering. But the shout of Jesus on His second coming will be like the battle shout of a Great Conqueror. It will break the silence of the ages, startle the universe into attention, raise the dead, and summon all people to the presence of the victorious Messiah. Formerly He did not cry (Isaiah 42:2). But now is the revelation of His power (Psalms 50:3-4).
2. There will be the voice of the archangel (1 Thessalonians 4:16), the chief of the heavenly multitude. In response to the majestic shout of the descending Lord, he lifts up his voice, like the loud cry of a herald, announcing the glorious advent, and the sound is caught up and prolonged by the vast hosts of celestial attendants.
3. There will be the trumpet blast. “With the trump of God” (Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:52). Among the Hebrews, Greeks, and Latins it was the custom to summon the people with the trumpet. In this way God is said to gather His people together (Isaiah 27:13; Jeremiah 4:5; Jeremiah 6:1). The whole passage is designed to show that the Second Advent of King Messiah will be attended by the most imposing evidences of pomp and regal splendour.
III. That the second advent of Christ will be followed by important consequences to the people of God--living and dead.
1. The pious dead shall be raised (1 Thessalonians 4:15-16). The living at that day shall have no advantage over the dead. Before any change takes place in the living, to fit them for the new condition of things, “the dead in Christ shall rise first,” and be clothed with immortality and incorruptible splendour. Whatever disadvantages may be the lot of some of God’s people over others, they are ever recompensed by some special privilege. The best state for us is that in which God places us. And yet every man thinks another’s condition happier than his own. Rare, indeed, is the man who thinks his own state and condition in every respect best for him.
2. The living and the raised shall unite in a simultaneous greeting of their descending Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17). The living, after passing through the wondrous change, shall not anticipate the newly-raised bodies of the pious dead, but together with them--in one reunited, loving, inseparable company--shall be caught away in the chariot of clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and greet Him in the descent. He comes to fulfil His promise (John 14:3).
3. All believers in Christ shall be assured of eternal felicity with Him. “And so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17)--in familiar companionship, in rapturous communion, in impending “glory, “in ever-enchanting revelations. With Him, not occasionally, or for an age, or a millennium, but uninterruptedly, forever. How great the contrast with the brightest experiences of this changeful life! There are three things which eminently distinguish the heavenly life of the soul--perfection, perpetuity, immutability. The exact locality is not mentioned. It is enough to be assured that we are to abide with Jesus in some place where parting is unknown.
IV. That the contemplation of the second advent of Christ is calculated to minister consolation to the sorrowing (1 Thessalonians 4:18). The best consolation is that which is drawn from God’s Word. The bereaved were sorrowing for their loved ones, and were full of uncertainty about the future. The teaching of inspiration assures them that their departed relatives shall be rescued from the power of death, that they shall meet again in glory to be forever with each other and with the Lord. The wants and distresses of certain individuals may be the occasion for the revelation of given truths, and the truths once revealed remain in the Church forever. Lessons:
1. The Church is justified in looking for the Second Advent.
2. That Advent will bring an everlasting recompense for the sorrow of the present life.
3. The record which reveals that Advent should be prized and pondered. (G. Barlow.)
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
For the Lord shall descend from heaven with a shout
The second coming of Christ
The Lord’s descent. “He” and no other, in His august personal presence, in that same human body, too, with which He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:11). And yet, while Himself unchanged, how changed the surroundings! He will descend, not in humiliation to tabernacle with men, but to take His people to Himself, in heaven; not emptied of His glory, but with the symbols of majesty and Divine power.
1. With a shout, one which indicates command. The word is used of a charioteer’s call to his steed, a huntsman’s call to his dogs, the call, by voice or sign, of the boatswain giving time to the rowers, the music played to set an army or fleet in motion. The angelic host and company of the spirits of the just are compared to a vast army, and Christ, the Captain of salvation, by His word of command, sets it in motion, and it, in the alacrity of joyful obedience, accompanies Him to judgment (Jude 1:14). The shout will possibly be, “Behold the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet Him.”
2. The voice of the archangel. “The Lord Himself” and “the archangel” cannot be identified. Here and in Jude 1:9, the word designates the leader of the angelic hosts. Angels have been, and will yet be, Christ’s ministering spirits. They served Him when on earth; they ascend and descend upon Him in the advancement of His cause; they will be His ministers of judgment hereafter. The shout may be that of command caught up by the archangel from the lips of the Lord, and repeated to the gathering hosts.
3. The trump of God, belonging to God, used in His service; that probably of Revelation 11:15. Under the old dispensation there is special prominence assigned to the trumpet. By it assemblies were summoned, journeys started, feasts proclaimed. It is employed by our Lord, as in the text. Paul calls this “the last” (1 Corinthians 15:52); and as such it will gather up all previous meanings. It will call together the rejoicing saints to the heavenly Zion; like Joshua’s trumpet, it will be to some the signal of dismay; it will mean weal or woe according to the character of those who hear.
II. The resurrection and change of Christ’s people at His coming.
1. “The dead in Christ shall rise first.” The emphasis rests on “first,” and is designed to bring comfort to the Thessalonian mourners. Their departed friends, so far from being placed at a disadvantage, were to occupy a position of privilege. Those who are living will be “caught up.” “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,” not unclothed of their bodies, but clothed upon with immortality, a kind of death and resurrection in one. Thus changed, these shall be caught up “together” with the others in one united and rejoicing company; “caught up” with a quick and resistless rapture, as the word implies, rising from the troubled and imperfect earth--changed and sublimated, as the blossom of the fabled Indian tree, transformed into a bird, flies upward into heaven. “In the clouds”; not into, nor in multitudes (Hebrews 12:1), but as if in a triumphal chariot. Nor do clouds represent a veiling of the awful transaction, but simply supply an imagery which lends grandeur and awe to that event which is awful beyond all human language and thought.
2. The meeting place: “In the air.” We naturally place alongside this the ascension of Elijah, or that of our Lord. In this, as in all else, He has gone before His people and pointed out for them the way. “The air” is not the atmosphere, but infinite space as opposed to earth. The ancients fancied that the milky way is the path trod by the immortals to the palace of the King. The fable is but a distorted reflection of the truth. What it fancied the apostle declared--a pathway in the skies on which the saints are yet to pass to meet their Lord, that He may conduct them home.
3. “And so shall we ever be with the Lord.” Less than this can never satisfy Christ’s saints; more than this they cannot desire or conceive--perfect security, sinlessness, happiness, glory. (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
Of all the solemn associations connected with this verse few can surpass the following: “At the earthquake of Manila (1863), the cathedral fell on the clergy and congregation. The mass of ruin overhead and around the doomed assemblage was kept for a time from crushing down upon them by some peculiarity of construction. Those outside were able to hear what was going on in the church, without the slightest possibility of clearing away the ruins, or of aiding those within upon whom the building must evidently fall before long. A low, deep, bass voice, doubtless that of the priest officiating, was heard uttering the words, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.” As this sentence came forth, the multitude burst in a passion of tears, which was soon choked. For some deep groans issued from within, apparently wrung from the speaker by intense pain, and then the same voice spoke in a calm and even tone, as if addressing a congregation, and all heard the words: “The Lord Himself shall descend,” etc. (Bp. Alexander.)
One coming--once, for one act--the simultaneous gathering of all before the judgment seat. All this is a far-off view--the regarding the Second Advent in a kind of prophetical foreshortening. Seen near, this one event is manifold, having chronological order, and falling into many acts.
I. The actual coming of Jesus Christ and its glory.
1. In the glory of His Father (Matthew 16:27).
2. In His own glory (Luke 9:26).
3. With His angels (Matthew 16:27; Mark 8:33; 2 Thessalonians 1:7).
4. Coming in the clouds of heaven (Matthew 26:64; Acts 1:11).
5. Bringing His saints with Him (1 Thessalonians 3:13; Colossians 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:14).
II. The events which will follow the coming of Christ in the air.
1. The resurrection of the bodies of the sleeping saints. “The dead in Christ Shall rise first.”
2. The change into a glorified condition of all the living saints (1 Corinthians 15:51). All shall meet the Lord in the air. All this august series of events precedes judgment. This is the very dawn of the day of the Lord. Later on will be the judgment on the nations, judgment on Israel, judgment on apostate Christendom, judgment on Satan; but from all that the saints are safe; they are already and forever with the Lord.
III. This coming of the Lord is for saints--raised saints, living saints, both quick or dead, quickened or changed saints, and saints only.
1. Will His coming be for me? Shall I certainly have part in that glorious first resurrection? If I remain till He come, shall I certainly be changed in that moment of wondrous rapture?
2. Consider who are saints (1Co 1:2; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 1:1; 2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Peter 2:9). Such only are looking for that blessed hope; and such only will see Christ with joy. (J. Gritton, D. D.)
The doctrine of the resurrection
I. The certainty of the resurrection. The heathen quite derided the idea of the resurrection (Acts 17:18; Acts 17:32), deeming it incredible (Acts 26:8); and some who professed Christianity explained away the doctrine relating to it, and represented the resurrection as a merely spiritual change which had passed already (2 Timothy 2:18). Even some of the Thessalonian Church did not appear to be well grounded in it; and hence St. Paul affirmed that it was a doctrine on which they might fully rely.
1. They did believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. On these two facts all Christianity was founded. If Jesus had not risen, all their faith in Him, and all their hope from Him, was altogether in vain (1 Corinthians 15:13-18). These two facts admitted, the resurrection of man would follow, of course. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was both an evidence that God can raise the dead, and a pledge that He will. The same omnipotence that raised Him can raise us. He is “the first fruits of them that sleep.”
II. The order in which the resurrection will be effected. This, perhaps, is a matter of curiosity, rather than of any great practical importance; but Paul would not that the Thessalonian Christians should be ignorant of it, and therefore it is worthy of our attention.
1. The dead will be raised from their graves. All that have ever departed out of the world will be restored to life, each clothed in his own proper body.
2. Those who remain alive upon the earth will be charged. They will remain unchanged until all the dead are raised. Their change will be instantaneous. Without dissolution as preparatory to it, the mortal will put on immortality, the material will assume the spiritual. All will then be in that form which they will bear through the ever lasting ages. What an amazing difference will then appear in them! The godly--how beautiful! the ungodly--how deformed! and both having either heaven or hell depicted in their very countenance!
3. Then will they be caught up to meet the Lord. Yes, into the presence of their Judge they must go; and as the earth would not be a theatre sufficient for such an occasion, they must meet the Lord in the air. Blessed summons to the godly! awful indeed to the ungodly!
III. The issue of the resurrection to the saints.
1. They will receive a sentence of acquittal, or, rather, of unqualified approbation--“Well done, good and faithful servants.”
2. They will ascend with Christ and His bright attendants to the heaven of heavens.
3. They will then behold His glory which He had with His Father before the world was. Oh, how bright their vision of His glory! how unbounded their fruition of His love! Nothing now could add to their felicity; nor could anything detract from it. That, too, which constitutes its chief ingredient is--that it will be “forever.” Were this supreme happiness to be only of limited duration, it would be incomplete; the idea of its ultimate termination would rob it of half its value. But it will be pure and endless as the Deity Himself. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
The dead in Christ
I. Those who are in Christ die. They are not exempted from the common fate.
1. To walk by faith, not sight, is their rule of life; hence there is this barrier between themselves and the unseen universe.
2. Subjection to death is an essential part of moral discipline to the righteous. Christ Himself became obedient unto death, and was made perfect through suffering.
3. The dying scene affords occasion for the greatest triumphs of grace and displays of God’s mercy and love. How many, by such a spectacle, are moved to repentance and faith in Christ!
4. The death of Christians is needful to render the resurrection of them at all possible. A true and complete conquest over death demands that his victims should be recovered from his dominion.
5. Saints die to express God’s irreconcilable hatred to sin. They just taste one drop of the bitter cup which Christ has drunk for them, and feel one lash of the chastisement which He has endured. This gives them a keener sense of the value of salvation.
II. Believers after death are still in Christ. They retain their innocence before God, their purity, their enjoyment of the Divine favour, their hope of final and perfect happiness. Nay, in all these respects their position is incomparably superior to what it was on earth. They are with Christ in paradise. Hence death is no real evil to them. It is an immense boon to them. It cuts them off from some enjoyments, but it enriches them with enjoyments of a far surpassing order, while also it snatches them away from all care, pain and fear, for evermore. Applications:
1. To believers in anticipating death. Look forward to it calmly, acquiesce in its infliction resignedly, and triumph over its terrors in the full assurance of faith.
2. Here is comfort for the bereaved. If your deceased friends are among the dead in Christ, you may be assured of their perfect happiness, and may hope soon to be reunited with them.
3. Address the unconverted. You are not in Christ--yet you will die! And think of the dead out of Christ--how horrible their eternal doom! Oh! then, now seek an interest in Him, that for you to live may be Christ, and to die, gain. (T. G. Horton.)
The resurrection of the dead
Just as the ripe ears of corn which grew on the plains and the mountain sides of Palestine wore immediately brought into the Temple, and waved before the Lord, as a pledge that every ear of corn standing on and growing in Palestine should be safely reaped and gathered in, so the resurrection of Christ is a demonstration that we, His people, shall be raised again. If we sleep in Jesus, God will raise us with Him; because He lives, we shall live also. Dry up your tears, then. Sometimes you go to the churchyard; sometimes you attend the remains of your relatives to their long homes, you go to “The house appointed for all living”; and sometimes you see the bones lying round the grave, and you are tempted to take them up, and ask, “Can these bones live? Can these dishonoured, dishevelled, and denuded bones live? Can the dead live again?” “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” As surely as the sepulchre of Christ became an empty sepulchre, so surely the sepulchres of His people shall become empty sepulchres; as surely as He got up, and sang a jubilee of life and immortality, so surely shall His people come out of the grave. How beautifully has the Prophet Isaiah expressed it: “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.” (Dr. Beaumont.)
And so shall we ever be with the Lord--
Ever with the Lord
The phrase implies--
I. New, living, direct social relationships with the Redeemer. There is more intended than being associated together in one glorious scene. It is not only to see Him and live in His house, one of His family, always in His presence; it is the getting rid forever of what is unChristlike in character, the gaining of the real perfect sympathy with the Christ life. We are with our Friend, not only when we are in His society, but when we blend our thought, our love, our life with His; when we become His other self. There is here the intimacy and closeness of spiritual fellowship and spiritual resemblance: “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” We shall be like Him in faith, in spiritual emotions, in purpose, in tendency, in character. We shall then reach our lost ideals of manhood. The spotless radiance of the perfect Christ shall then be associated with a perfect Church, which He has loved and redeemed, every member of which shall be “without spot, and blameless.” “Perfect in Jesus Christ.” We shall be with the Lord in perfect holiness, “unblamed and unblamable,” and “unreprovable”; in untemptable purity, in power not to sin. The spirit shall with Him be possessed of indestructible good.
II. We shall be with the Lord also in the unfolding light of His new revelations. We shall see light in His light. Truth shall no longer be seen in broken parts and through media which distort and mislead. Now the glass is flawed, and much we see is out of harmony and proportion. There are faults in ourselves which hinder the perception of Truth’s harmony and beauty. There are also Divine withholdings of Truth which now we cannot bear or receive. But when we live our life with the Lord, all will be changed. We shall know Him, who is the Infinite Truth, and “that which is in part shall be done away.”
III. We shall be with Him in the blessedness of His own perfect life, and reign and joy, Fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore are with Him. Holy desires shall only be cherished, to be satisfied out of the Infinite fulness. The life will surpass all we have known or can imagine. We call it, therefore, from its plentitude, and perfection, and blessedness, Eternal. It is the adjective of quality, not of duration. It exceeds exceedingly; is “a joy unspeakable and full of glory,” “an eternal weight of glory.” The joy is the joy of marriage. We sit down “at the marriage supper of the Lamb.” The life is ever new, the joy is ever fresh, the fulness exhaustless. “Thou shalt make them drink of the river of Thy pleasure.”
IV. And the crown of all is security, changelessness, continuance. “Ever with the Lord.” They go no more out forever. No possibility of fall is here. There is no change here. “Change and decay in all around we see.” The familiar faces are missed. Every Sabbath is an anniversary of our losses. Every act of our life has in it the memory of a past joy, which was and is not. The social life of heaven will complete its blessedness. The thought throws a halo of tenderness and affection over that world. The relational emotions are not cut off and sundered by death. The new life will be ordered by them. What the most hallowed sacramental experience foreshadows and typifies will be then enjoyed in full sweetness and elevating power. The sacred signs will not be needed, because we shall have the reality in its unspeakable grace. (W. H. Davison.)
Forever with the Lord
I. The loftiest idea of the glorified life. To be with the Lord. Our conceptions of the future are coloured by our human tastes and prejudices.
1. To some it is a state. It is all within. Perfect freedom from sin, and the joy of spiritual fellowship with Christ.
2. To others it is a place. There must be trees, rivers, golden pavements, etc.
3. Probably a combination of both will give us the true idea. State and place combine to make complete happiness.
4. But more is required--social enjoyments. The idea of those who have been bereaved is reunion. But the saint exclaims, “Whom have I in heaven but thee!” “The altogether lovely.” The Saviour reciprocates this desire. “I go to prepare a place for you.” “Father, I will that they whom Thou hast given Me be with Me,” etc.
5. The duration augments the joy of this fellowship. Here it is intermittent; there it will be “forever.”
II. What this idea of a glorified life ensures.
1. Continual contemplation of Christ. Here that meditation, which is the sweetest of our spiritual enjoyments, is broken; yonder it shall be uninterrupted.
2. Continual assimilation to Christ. Here it is a slow progress, and incomplete at best; but in heaven there will be no obstacles, but every help, in growing into the likeness of our Lord.
3. Unceasing reflection of Christ. As long as the sun shines upon it, the water pours forth its gladness; but often a cloud intervenes, and night shuts out the glory. But when we stand before the throne, we shall eternally catch the light of Christ’s countenance on the polished surface of our holiness, and He shall be admired of all them that believe.
III. From this idea of heaven let us learn--
1. That heaven is the one meeting place of the redeemed. Here they are, and must be, separated.
2. That our sorrow for the departed should be restrained. (G. D. Evans.)
Forever with the Lord
We have here--
I. A continuance. Nothing shall prevent our continuing to be forever with Him. Death shall not separate us, nor the terrors of judgment. As we have received Him, so shall we walk in Him, whether in life or death.
1. We are with Christ in this life. “Your life is hid with Christ in God.” If we are not with Him, we are not Christians. Separated from Him, we are dead. We are constantly with Him--
(1) In the sense of abiding union; for we are joined unto the Lord, and are one Spirit. In consequence we feel an intense joy, even Christ’s own joy fulfilled in us. For the same reason we are bowed in sorrow, having fellowship in Christ’s sufferings. This companionship should be manifest to others by its fruits. Men should take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus.
(2) In the sense that His unchanging love is always set upon us, and our love never dies out, “Who shall separate us,” etc.
(3) By the continual indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
(4) Whenever we are engaged in His work. “Lo! I am with you alway.”
2. We shall be with Christ in death. “Yea, though I walk,” etc.
3. After death, in the disembodied state, we shall be “absent from the body,” but “present with the Lord,” as was the dying thief. And the body shall sleep in Jesus, and awake and say, “When I awake, I am still with Thee.”
4. In due time the last trump shall sound, and Christ shall come; but the saints shall be with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:14). Whatever the glory of the Second Advent, we shall be with Jesus in it.
5. There is to be a reign of Christ, and whatever that reign is to be, we shall reign also.
6. And when cometh the end and the mediatorial kingdom shall cease, we shall ever be with the Lord.
II. An advancement.
1. It is an advancement on this present state for--
(1) However spiritually minded, and there fore near Christ, we may be, being present in the belly we are absent from the Lord. To “be with Christ,” we must “depart.”
(2) Though our souls are with the Lord, yet our bodies are subject to corruption, and after death the separation will continue; but the time will come when this corruptible will put on incorruption, and the whole manhood be perfectly with the Lord.
2. What this glorious state is to which we shall be advanced. We shall be with the Lord in the strongest sense of the term; so with Him, that there will be no business to take us away from Him, no sin to becloud our view of Him; we shall see Him as a familiar Friend, know His love and return it, and this “forever.”
3. We shall be with the Redeemer, not as Jesus only, but as the Lord. Here we have seen Him on the Cross, and lived thereby; but we shall there see Him on the throne, and obey Him as our King.
III. A coherence. “With” signifies not merely being in the same place, but a union and identity. Even here our lives run parallel in a sense. We live to Him, die with Him, so shall we rise and ascend, and then we are to be forever with the Lord.
1. By sharing His beauty.
2. By being made partakers of all the blessedness and glory He now enjoys.
1. This “forever” must begin now.
2. What must it be to be without the Lord? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Ever with the Lord
This will be the fruition of the brightest hopes, the fulfilment of the precious promises, the accomplishment of the purpose of Christ’s Advent, departure, and coming again.
I. In what sense with the Lord?
1. Referring to the present state of things, Jesus said, “Where two or three are met together.” And we may not overlook that presence now. He is now with us--
(1) By God’s testimony in the Scripture.
(2) By personal ministrations of His Spirit.
(3) By His work within us.
(4) By His providence over us.
(5) By His government of us.
And we with Him.
(a) By our faith in His testimony and use of it.
(b) By frequent thoughts of Him, and much love for Him, and close intercourse with Him.
(c) By our work for Him.
2. But the text points to being with Him personally, so as to see His glorified, but now hidden, humanity, hear His voice, and speak to Him as a man speaketh to His friend.
II. Where? In the place prepared by Himself, designed by the genius of His love; built up by the energy of His power, enriched by the resources of His wealth, adapted to us by the depth of His knowledge and wisdom. You have looked into the home prepared for the bride; you have looked into the cot prepared for the first born. Why so beautiful? To receive an object of love.
III. How long? Only a little time were His first disciples with Him; not long enough to know Him. None of us are long enough with each other to know each other perfectly. It is only when some loved one is taken away, and you put the different passages of His life together, and read them as one continuous story, that you can know what that life has been. While living in the bustle of life we cannot know each other. But hereafter we shall be with Christ uninterruptedly forever.
IV. With what result? Occasional absence is desirable between man and man. The wife prefers that the husband should be away for a few hours a day at least following his occupation, while she follows hers. Children are all the better for leaving home. But this has no application here. To be always with the Lord is to be always blessed by the Lord. We shall see Him as He is, be like Him, have the advantage of His ceaseless ministrations. Then all that is involved in being with Him will be forever.
1. Life forever.
2. Light forever.
3. Love forever.
4. Rest forever.
5. Joy forever. (S. Martin.)
Being ever with the Lord
These words imply--
I. Personal nearness to Christ. At present the saints may be said to be at a distance from Him. “While we are at home in the body,” etc. Spiritually, of course, Christ is with “two or three who meet together in His name.” But after the resurrection we shall be brought near Him, body and soul, and in His presence find fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore.
II. Immediate vision of Christ. He prayed for His disciples to be with Him, that they might behold His glory. This was seen once at the Transfiguration; but Christians are not now fitted to enjoy such glory; it would over power our sight as it did Saul’s, and prostrate us as it did John. We can only see it by the eye of faith, and this partial sight is sufficient to make Christ the object of our supreme affection and esteem. But the time will come when we shall see Him with the eye of our glorified body, and be able to bear the stupendous sight. There we shall see that face, which on earth was marred more than any man’s, smiling with more than the brightness of a thousand suns; that head, which was pierced with thorns, crowned with glory and honour; that body, which was arrayed in mock majesty, shining with a beauty of which we can form no conception.
III. Perfect resemblance to Christ. We are predestinated to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. This resemblance commences at regeneration; but the features are faint at first; but by constant contemplation of the glory of Christ, they become more marked. This now is the case with the spirit; at the resurrection our bodies will be fashioned like unto Christ’s glorious body. And then the progress of both in likeness to Christ shall be eternal.
IV. A constant sense of the presence, love and friendship of Christ, We have these here, but not constantly. Clouds of doubt and sinfulness on our side, and of displeasure on His, intervene. But in the heavenly world there shall be nothing to bar intercourse and manifestation for a single moment.
V. Social enjoyment. Where Christ is all His people are, and none but His people. Here society is mixed, the bad blended with the good. The good are removed, and leave us to mourn their departure. But in heaven no one departs, and all are good. It is an inspiring thought that we shall forever be with all the good.
VI. Felicity satisfactory in its nature and eternal in its duration. Our best earthly enjoyments are unsatisfactory--they do not fill the soul; transient--they do not last. Even our highest enjoyments of Christ are not all that we should like them to be. But “we shall be satisfied when we awake in His likeness.” (J. McKinlay, D. D.)
“Forever with the Lord! forever! forever!” were the last words of Robert Haldane.
Oh, how sweet is that word--“ever”! Ever to be happy, and ever happy; to enjoy Christ fully, immediately, and everlastingly! Certainly, as the word “ever” is the hell of hell, so it is the heaven of heaven. Frailty is a flaw in the best diamond of nature, and abateth its price; but eternity is one of the most precious jewels in the crown of glory, which increaseth its value exceedingly. (G. Swinnock, M. A.)
Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
There is comfort
I. For the bereaved. Our friends are only asleep. They are with Christ, and we shall one day join them.
II. In the suggestion that perhaps we shall not have to die after all. Who knows when Christ shall come?
III. In knowing that when Christ comes it will not be as the crucified Nazarene, but as the Son of God. Our daily prayer will then be answered, and His will done.
IV. In holding communion even here with a Redeemer out of sight; for our highest joys are only a foretaste of the fulness of joy to be revealed when we shall see Him as He is.
V. In the recollection that time hurries on to the great consummation. Every hour brings the time of the Church’s marriage and glorification nearer.
VI. In the thought that every grace we attain will give our Lord pleasure when He comes. Wealth and social pleasure will then go for nothing. In relation to the future these can give us no comfort.
VII. In knowing that fidelity is all that Christ requires till He comes. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
I. Christians are often in circumstances to need comfort.
1. In time of persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).
2. In the season of affliction (Job 5:7).
3. In the prospect of death.
II. The words of Scripture are peculiarly calculated to give comfort (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). Here is promised--
1. A resurrection.
2. A triumph with Christ.
3. Rest in eternity.
III. This comfort should be mutually administered. (T. Massey, B. A.)
Words of comfort
Comfort means help as well as consolation. When the Saviour was anointed to comfort all that mourn, it was not to speak words of kindness only, but to reach forth the hand of beneficence so that sorrow might not only be soothed but turned into joy. This also is the office of the Paraclete; and Christianity calls us to be fulfillers of the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens. Whilst we mourn the departure of Christian friends, let us remember--
I. That death is no strange thing. “It is appointed unto men once to die.” Were death of rare occurrence, if some only were singled out by the arrows of the last enemy, then our sorrow might admit of no mitigation, but it is not so; Flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of God.
II. That death is the Lord’s messenger summoning the saints to His presence. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” It may be difficult to see the hand of God in the departure of those we love. Our selfish hearts would have prolonged their stay, forgetting that death is gain to them.
III. That death terminates the toil and warfare of this life. Whilst they were in this tabernacle they groaned, being burdened; now the burden is lifted and they have entered into rest. Here they fought the good fight of faith; there they are crowned as conquerors. Here they suffered; there they enter into the joy of their Lord.
IV. That death is the beginning of perfection. The best and happiest of saints were here imperfect; now they are “the spirits of just men made perfect” in holiness and happiness; for they are like Christ, because they see Him as He is.
V. That death is a revival of sacred friendships, and an introduction to the general assembly and Church of the first born. Most of us as we look into the heavenly world can recognize a sacred kindred there. When you pass away it will be to meet with old associates, and the whole company of the redeemed. Compared with such fellowship as this, what can earth offer?
VI. That death will be a season of reunion for us. They have only gone before, a little in advance. The great gulf will be crossed at the Master’s call, and our communion recommence, never to be disturbed again.
VII. That every death is part of that process which will issue in the dispensation of the fulness of times. Heaven is enriched by the departure of every saint. (R. W. Betts.)
The duty of comforting one another
I. The persons--“One another.”
1. One man is the image of another, because the image of God is upon all. One man interprets another. We are as glasses, and one sees in another what he is and what he himself may also be. He may see himself in another’s fear, grief, complaints. In another’s sickness, he may see the disease which may sieze on himself; in another’s poverty, his own riches with wings; in another’s death, his own mortality. They are also a silent but powerful appeals to his compassion to do as he would be done by in like ease.
2. “One another” takes in the whole world. One is diverse from another, yet we can hardly distinguish them, they are so like.
(1) From the same rock are hewn out the feeble and the strong. Of the same extraction are the poor and rich. He that made the idiot made the scribe. Who then shall separate?
(2) Besides this, the God of nature has also imprinted our natural inclination which carries us to love and comfort one another. One man is as another, by himself weak and indigent, needing the help and supply of others (1 Corinthians 12:4-5), and so provided. One man excels in wisdom, another in wealth, another in strength, that they may serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13).
3. A nearer relation binds men together--their relation in Christ. In Him they are called to the same faith, filled with the same grace, ransomed with the same price, and shall be crowned with the same glory. And being one in these, they must join hand in hand to uphold one another, and so advance one another to the common glory (Matthew 22:38-39; 1 Corinthians 12:12). As each man, so each Christian is as a glass to another. I see my sorrow in my brother’s eyes; I cast a beam of comfort upon him, and he reflects a blessing upon me. And in our daily prayer,” Our Father” takes in “one another,” even the whole Church.
II. The act.
1. Comfort is of large signification. It may be to be eyes to the blind and feet to the lame, to clothe the naked and feed the hungry. Speak and do something that may heal a wounded heart, and rouse a drooping spirit.
2. To comfort is a work of charity which is inward and outward. What a poor thing is a thought or word without a hand; and what an uncharitable thing is comfort without compassion. Then I truly comfort my brother when my actions correspond with my heart. And if they be true they will never be severed; for if the bowels yearn, the hand will stretch itself forth.
3. We must look to the motive. Our comfort may proceed from a hollow heart; then it is Pharisaical; it may be ministered through a trumpet, and then it is lost in the noise; it may be the product of fear. All these are false principles, and charity issues through them as water through mud--defiled. Christ is our motive and pattern (Mark 9:41).
4. Let us be ambitious to comfort, for we have great occasions. Every day presents some object. Here is an empty mouth; why do we not fill it? Here is a naked body; why do we not part with our superfluities to cover it? Here God speaks, man speaks, misery speaks; and are our hearts so hard that they will not open, and so open mouth and hands.
III. The manner or methods--“with these words.”
1. In every action we must have a right method. He that begins amiss is yet to begin, as the further he goes the further he is from the end. As James speaks of prayer (James 4:3), so we seek comfort and find not because we seek amiss. Our fancy is our physician. We ask ourselves counsel, and are fools that give it; we ask of others and they are miserable comforters. In poverty we seek for wealth; and that makes us poorer than we were. Wealth is no cure for poverty, nor enlargement for restraint, nor honour for discontent. Thus it is also in spiritual evils. When conscience holds up the whip we fly from it; when it is angry we flatter it. We are as willing to forget sin as to commit it. We comfort ourselves by ourselves and by others, by our own weakness and others’ weakness, and by sin itself. But the antidote is poison, or, at best, a broken cistern.
2. The apostle’s method is--
(1) In general, the Word of God. For the Scripture is a common shop of comfort, where you may buy it without money and without price. The comforts of Scripture are--
(a) Abiding (1 Peter 1:23)--its hope (1 Peter 1:3); its joy (John 16:22); its peace (Psalms 72:7); so all its comforts (2 Corinthians 1:20). All else is perishing.
(b) Universal. Nothing, no one is hid from the light of them. But we must be careful how we apply them and prepare ourselves to receive them. God’s mercy is over all His works, but it will not cover the impenitent. Nevertheless, the covetous comforts himself by the ant in Proverbs (Proverbs 6:6); the ambitious by that good ointment in Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 7:1); the contentious man by the quarrel of Paul and Barnabas; the lethargic in God’s forbearance; and thus turn wholesome medicine into poison by misapplication.
(2) In particular, the doctrine of the resurrection and the coming of Christ. These are the sum of all comforts, the destruction of all ills. (A. Farindon, B. D.)
A child’s faith
A gentleman walking in one of the metropolitan cemeteries observed kneeling beside a tombstone a little girl about ten years of age. In her hand she held a wreath, which she placed upon the grave. Going up to her, he asked if any one very dear to her lay there. “Yes,” she replied, “my mother is buried here.” “Have you a father, or sisters, or brothers, little one?” inquired the stranger. “No, they are all dead, and I am the only one left. Every Saturday afternoon I come here, and bring flowers to lay on mother’s grave. Then I talk to her, and she talks to me.” “But, dear child, if she be in heaven, how can she talk to you?” “I don’t know,” was the artless reply, “but she does, and tells me to be truthful, and do what is right, so that one day Jesus will take me to live with her in heaven.”
The gospel telescope
What the telescope does for science, the gospel does for those who believe it. It converts hazy conjecture into immovable certainty, and interprets the feeble hopes and dreams which glimmer in the eye of reason into demonstrated and well-defined truths. “Oh, that all my brethren,” said Rutherford, when dying, “may know what a Master I have served, and what peace I have this day. This night shall close the door and put my anchor within the veil.”
An exulting prospect
Rowland Hill, when very aged, preached for the Rev. George Clayton, of Walworth. The services exhausted him, and while going feebly down the aisle, after all the congregation had gone, Mr. Clayton heard him repeating softly to himself the hymn he most delighted in during his last years:--
“And when I’m to die, receive me I’ll cry,
For Jesus has loved me, I cannot tell why;
But this I can find, we two are so joined,
That He’ll not be in glory and leave me behind.”
“To my heart,” said Mr. Clayton, “this was a scene of unequalled solemnity; nor can I ever recur to it without a revival of that tender and hallowed sympathy which it originally awakened.”
Preparing for heaven
Some years ago a traveller, who had recently returned from Jerusalem, discovered, in conversation with Humboldt, that he was as thoroughly conversant with the streets and houses of Jerusalem as he himself was; whereupon, he asked the aged philosopher how long it was since he visited Jerusalem. He replied, “I have never been there, but I expected to go sixty years since, and I prepared myself.” Should not the heavenly home be as familiar to those who expect to dwell there eternally?
It is rarely we read anything more touchingly beautiful than the way in which Catherine Tait, wife of the late Archbishop of Canterbury, tried to comfort her own heart and the heart of her husband after they were suddenly deprived by death of “five blessed little daughters.” Other parents, who mourn because of empty cradles and desolate places by the fireside, may be strengthened by their example. Mrs. Tait writes:--“Now, constantly, with our daily prayers, we say the thanksgiving and commemoration for them: ‘Lord, Thou hast let Thy little ones depart in peace. Lord Jesus, Thou hast received their spirits, and hast opened unto them the gate of everlasting glory. Thy loving Spirit leads them forth in the land of righteousness, into Thy holy hill, into Thy heavenly kingdom. Thou didst send Thy angels to meet them and to carry them into Abraham’s bosom. Thou hast placed them in the habitation of light and peace--of joy and gladness. Thou hast received them into the arms of Thy mercy, and given them an inheritance with the saints in light. There they reign with Thy elect angels and Thy blessed saints departed, Thy holy prophets and glorious apostles, in all joy, glory, felicity, and blessedness, forever and ever. Amen.’”.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Thessalonians 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter