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1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
But of the times and seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you--Perhaps because the apostle had told them, or because the sudden coming of Christ was a universal belief.
So in modern times a preacher might say, “There is no need for me to speak to you of the uncertainty of life.” (Prof. Jowett.)
The attitude of the Church towards the Second Advent of Christ
As when we ascend a winding river some well-known landmark appears to alter its position seeming now distant, now near, so at different points on the circuitous stream of life the coming of Christ reveals itself as a near or remote event. “It is plain,” says Archer Butler, “that that period which is distant in one scheme of things may be near in another, where events are on a vaster scale, and move in a mightier orbit. That which is a whole life to the ephemera, is but a day to a man; that which in the brief succession of human history is counted as remote, is but a single page in the volume of the heavenly records. The coming of Christ may be distant as measured on the scale of human life, but may be near when the interval of the two advents is compared, not merely with the four thousand years which were but its preparation, but with the line of infinite ages which it is itself preparing.” The uncertainty of the time of the Second Advent and its stupendous issues define the attitude of the Church.
I. It is an attitude of expectancy.
1. The time of the Second Coming is uncertain (1 Thessalonians 5:1)--a gentle hint that all questions on that subject were unnecessary, as there was nothing more to be revealed. The curiosity and daring of man tempt him to pry into secrets with which he has nothing to do, and to dogmatize on subjects of which he knows the least. Many have been fanatical enough to fix the day of the Lord’s coming (Mark 13:32). This uncertainty is a perpetual stimulant to the people of God to exercise the ennobling virtues of hope, watchfulness, fidelity, humility, inquiry, and reverence.
2. The Second Coming will be sudden (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3). The thief not only gives no notice of his approach, but takes every possible care to conceal his designs: the discovery of the mischief takes place when it is too late. The prudent will take every precaution to avoid surprise, and to baffle the marauder.
3. The Second Coming will be terrible to the wicked. “They shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3). Wicked men are never more secure than when destruction is nearest. The swearer may be seized with the oath on his tongue: the drunkard while the cup is trembling on his lips. The destruction of the wicked and all they prized most in life will be sudden, painful, inevitable. Now there is place for mercy, but not then (Romans 2:8-9).
II. It is an attitude of vigilance.
1. This vigilance is enforced on the ground of a moral transformation (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5). Believers are translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. They are “children of the day,” when the sun shines the brightest when privileges are more abundant, when opportunities multiply and responsibility is therefore increased.
2. This vigilance must be constant (1 Thessalonians 5:6-7). Let us not, like the drunkard steeped in sottish slumber, be immersed in the sleep of sin and unconcern, neglecting duty, and never thinking of judgment; but let us watch, and, to do so effectually, be sober. We are day people, not night people; therefore our work ought to be day work; our conduct such as will bear the eye of day, the veil of night. A strict sobriety is essential to a sleepless vigilance.
III. It is attitude of militant courage (1 Thessalonians 5:8). The Christian has to fight the enemy, as well as to watch against him. He is a soldier on sentry. The Christian life is not one of luxurious ease. The graces of faith, love, and hope constitute the most complete armour of the soul. The breastplate and helmet protect the two most vital parts--the head and the heart. Let us keep the head from error, and the heart from sin, and we are safe. The best guards against both are--faith, hope, and charity; these are the virtues that inspire the most enterprising bravery.
IV. It is an attitude of confidence as to the future blessedness of the Church.
1. This blessedness is divinely provided.
2. This blessedness consists in a constant fellowship with Christ. “That whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him” (1 Thessalonians 5:10). The happiest moments on earth are those spent in the company of the good; so will it be in heaven.
3. The confidence of inheriting this blessedness encourages edification (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
1. The great event of the future will be the Second Coming of Christ.
2. That event should be looked for in a spirit of sobriety and vigilance.
3. That event will bring unspeakable felicity to the good, and dismay and misery to the wicked. (G. Barlow.)
Times and seasons
are often found together, but always in the plural in the New Testament (Acts 1:7), and not unfrequently in the LXX, and the Apocrypha (Wis 7:18; Wis 8:8), both instructive passages, and Daniel 2:21): and in the singular (Ecclesiastes 3:1; Daniel 7:12). Grotius conceives the difference between them to consist merely in the greater length of the former. But this is insufficient, and fails to reach the heart of the matter. Chronos is time simply as such; the succession of moments (Matthew 25:19; Revelation 10:6; Hebrews 4:7). Keiros is time as it brings forth its several births; thus “time of harvest” (Matthew 13:30); “time of figs” (Mark 11:13); “due time” (Romans 5:6); and, above all, compare, as constituting a miniature essay on the word (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Time, it will thus appear, embraces all possible seasons, and being the larger, more inclusive word, may be often used where season would have been equally suitable, though not the converse; thus “full time” (Luke 1:57), “fulness of time” (Galatians 4:4), where we should rather have expected “season,” which phrase does actually occur in Ephesians 1:10. So we may confidently say that the “times of restitution” (Acts 3:21) are identical with the “seasons of refreshing” (Acts 3:19). Here, then, and in Acts 1:6-7, “times” are spaces of time, and these contemplated under the aspect of their duration, over which the Church’s history should extend; but the “seasons” are the joints and articulations in this time, the critical epoch-making periods foreordained of God (Acts 17:26); when all that has been slowly and without observation ripening through long ages is mature and comes to birth in grand decisive events, which constitute at once the close of one period and the commencement of another. Such, e.g., was the passing away with a great noise of the old Jewish dispensation; such again the recognition of Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire; such the conversion of the Germanic tribes settled within the limits of the Empire; such the great revival which went along with the first institution of the mendicant orders; such, by better right, the Reformation; such, above all others, the Second Coming of the Lord in glory (Daniel 7:22). (Abp. Trench.)
The uncertainty of the time of the Second Advent
Of this true advent season of eternity, though much is known, much too is hidden. There are secrets the Divine Bridegroom whispers not; that the “Spirit and the Bride” may still “say, Come.” Between the Church and the Church’s Head there still subsists, even in this intimate union, a mysterious separation; and on the period of that separation a holy reserve. It has already lasted for ages, and we cannot dare to predict at what epoch it is to close. The veil that hangs before the celestial sanctuary is still undrawn; and it is vain for us to “marvel” as of old the expectants of Zacharias, that the High Priest of our profession “tarrieth so long in the temple.” He has willed it that, certain of His eventual arrival, we should remain in uncertainty as to its destined moment. This mingling of ignorance and knowledge on the part of Christ’s people is best suited to keep alive in their breasts the hope whose breathed utterance is “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” The Thessalonians knew that the time could not be known, hence there was no need for Paul to write about it. (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
The Second Advent and its issues
I. The apostle tells the Thessalonians it was useless to inquire about the particular time of Christ’s coming (1 Thessalonians 5:1). The event is certain--Christ will come, and there is a certain time divinely appointed for Christ’s coming; but there was no need that St. Paul should write about that specially, and he had no revelation from heaven concerning it. Nor should we inquire into this secret “which the Father hath reserved in His own power.” Christ Himself did not reveal “that day and hour” while on earth; for it was not included in His commission as the great Prophet of the Church; nor is it in that of His apostles. A vain curiosity desireth to know many things which there is no need soever of our knowing, and which if we knew them thoroughly would do us no good, but perhaps harm.
II. The apostle tells them the coming of Christ would be a great surprise to most men (1 Thessalonians 5:2). And this is what they knew perfectly, or might know, because the Lord Himself had so said (Matthew 24:44). As the thief usually cometh in the dead time of the night, when he is least expected, such a surprise will the day of the Lord be--so sudden and surprising His appearance. And the knowledge of this fact will prove more useful than to know the exact time, because this will lead us to watch, that we may be ready whenever He cometh.
III. The apostle tells them how terrible will be the coming of Christ to the ungodly (1 Thessalonians 5:3). It will be to their destruction. It will overtake and fall upon them in the midst of their carnal security and jollity; when they dream of felicity, and please themselves with vain amusements of their fancies or their senses, and think not of it. And it will be unavoidable destruction, too. “They shall not escape:” there will be no means possible for them to avoid the terror or the punishment of that day; no shelter from the storm, nor shadow from the burning heat that shall consume the wicked.
IV. The apostle tells them how comfortable the coming of Christ will be to the godly (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5). And here he sketches their character and privilege. They are “children of light.” They were “sometime darkness, but were made light in the Lord.” They were “the children of the day,” for “the Sun of Righteousness had risen upon them with healing in His beams.” They were not under the dark shadows of the law, but under the bright sunshine of the gospel, which brings life and immortality to light. But this, great as it is, is not all: the day of Christ will not overtake them as a thief, but will be “a time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.” They “look for Him, and His appearance to them will be their full salvation.” (R. Fergusson.)
The profanity of attempting to determine the time
Mark what Paul saith, “Ye have no need that I write unto you of times and seasons”; and that our Saviour saith, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons.” What may we think then of them that write books and almanacks, and say, “Such a year, and at such a time, Christ shall come”; and with these speeches frighten and mock the world? Paul was the apostle of Christ, an elect vessel of the Holy Ghost: he said, I have no need to write of it; you cannot know it. What need is there now that such books and pamphlets should be written? Why should the world be troubled with such vanities? Spare me your patience, and give me leave a little to deal with these wizards. Tell me, thou that dost measure and behold the compass of heaven, and markest the conjunctions, and oppositions, and aspects of the stars; and by that wisdom canst foretell the things that shall be done hereafter: where learnest thou this skill? how comest thou by this deep knowledge? Paul was taken up into the third heaven, and heard words which cannot be spoken, which are not lawful for man to utter: yet he knew not this secret, nor might not know it. What art thou then? art thou greater than the apostle of Christ? hast thou been taken up into some place higher than the third heaven? has thou heard such words, as are not lawful to utter? If this be so, why dost thou utter them? Wilt thou take that upon thee, which the holy apostle dareth not? Art thou of God’s privy council? The angels and archangels know not hereof: and shall we think that thou knowest it? art thou wiser than an angel? Consider thyself: thou art a miserable man; thy breath fadeth as the smoke; thou art nothing but dust and ashes: thou canst not attain to the knowledge hereof. (Bp. Jewell.)
Under sealed orders
A Government vessel was about to leave the dock, to sail away for some port. No one knew her destination, whether it was to be near by or far away. Those who had loved ones on board felt sad and anxious; were they to be within reach of cheering words, of letters full of love and encouragement, or were they to be sent afar to some foreign port from which no word could come in weary weeks and months? They could ask the question many and many a time, but there was no echo to the words, no answer to be had. The ship was to sail under sealed orders; orders from the Navy Department that were sealed by Government zeal, which could not be opened until the ship was far out at sea, and away from all possible communication with land. The Captain of our salvation sends us away on sealed instructions. Whither? You do not need to know. You might not like your destination; you might object to the buffeting waves, the billows of trouble might threaten to wreck your soul; the harbour might be hard to reach and the rocks of danger might lie between you and it. Do you caret Does it matter to you if the passage is a stormy one when you know that safety is at the end? that there is a harbour that leads to the Eternal City? and (most comforting thought) when the Father is at the helm, and that He neither slumbers nor sleeps? Let go your moorings, spread the canvas, and in storm or sunshine, by day or by night, go forth with “sealed orders.”
1 Thessalonians 5:2
For ye yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night
Christ coming as a thief in the night
Here we have a striking comparison--one which, to all appearance, had passed into a recognized formula, yet one which no Christian would have dared to use had it not been hallowed by our Lord’s own lips.
And so we find it first of all in His own parable (Matthew 24:43; Luke 12:39-40). Next we find it caught up by His disciple Peter (2 Peter 3:10). Then we find it adopted by Paul; and last of all we hear it again from our Lord (Revelation 3:3; Revelation 16:15). The formula means--
I. That as the thief comes unexpectedly, So His coming will be stealthy, under cover, as it were, of darkness; when the children of night and darkness, the dreamers (Jude 1:8), do not in the slumber of carnal security, even momentarily think of His approach. But if this were all, the idea would lack much of aptness and dignity. Therefore--
II. As the thief comes to steal, So the day of the Lord comes to take away by force the so-called goods--the possessions of the worldling. The children of the night have their most valued substance snatched from them. They are robbed of their soul (see Revelation 16:15). Vigilance is needed that the garment may be kept--not torn from him--that he may not be found robbed of the robe of the Redeemer’s righteousness, but clothed therewith, and accepted at last. (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
The suddenness of the Second Advent
This present state of things is ever close upon the next world, and resolves itself into it. As when a man is given over, he may die any moment, yet lingers; as an instrument of war may any moment explode, and must at some time; as we listen for a clock to strike, and at length it surprises us; as a crumbling arch hangs, we know not how, and is not safe to pass under, so creeps on this feeble, weary world, and one day, before we know where we are, it will end. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
A reminder of mortality
One of Gotthold’s friends had a little scent box, made in the shape of a death’s head, with a screw at the skull for opening and taking it asunder. It then showed various cells filled with fragrant balm. Being asked why he had made the box in this particular shape, he replied, “In order to have something continually reminding me of my mortality.” On this, Gotthold rejoined, “You have done well if such was indeed your object, and not, rather, to possess a curiosity for people to gaze and wonder at. The thought of the mortality to which, like all your race, you are subjected, may be infinitely more profitable to you than all kinds of balm. If seized with the delirium of pride, reflect that death will one day reduce you to dust and ashes, and wither your pomp like a flower. If overcome by angry passion, take to heart that death stands behind you with his axe, and only waits the signal from God to reduce you in an instant to the impotency of a dead gnat. If your heart ache, and your head be distracted with cares, recollect that all your trouble and anxiety will one day come to a blessed end.”
When war was declared between France and Prussia, Von Molkte was fully prepared. The news was brought to him late one night: he had already gone to bed. “Very well,” he said to the messenger, “the third portfolio on the left,” and went to sleep again until morning. (H. D. Mackay.)
The day of the Lord
The day of the Lord, yet future, is the day on which, most assuredly, all thoughts will turn to Him, whether willingly or by constraint, whether in terror or in joy; the day in which His truth will silence into nothingness all human errors and guesses at truth, in which His justice will take the place of all that is named justice, rightly or wrongly, among the sons of men; the day in which everything else but He will be lost sight of, and will be as though it were not, in which the eternal reality of His relation to the world and to man will also be the acknowledged reality. As surely as we have seen this morning’s sunlight, we shall hereafter behold the eternal Judge upon His throne, the countless multitudes before Him, the division between His creatures deep and irreversible, the disciplined activities of His angels, the issues on this side and on that, as all gradually settles down into the last unchangeable award. (Canon Liddon.)
1 Thessalonians 5:3
When they shall say, Peace and Safety
The day of days
If Scripture did not warrant the figure in which the future coming of the Lord is compared to the act of a felon breaking into a house at night to plunder, we should not have ventured on it.
The comparison is suggested by the Lord Himself: “Watch, therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. If the good man of the house had known in what hour the thief would come, he would have watched.”
I. The day stated. By the expression, “the day of the Lord,” must be meant a day in some unique sense His day; for all days are really days of the Lord of time.
1. By the day of the Lord is signified that day on which He will take the first place in the thoughts of His responsible creatures.
2. It is the day on which He will bring the vast moral account between Himself and His responsible creatures to an end.
II. The figure employed. What are the ideas suggested by the words, “As a thief in the night”?
1. They are suggestive of fear. The old prophets spoke of the coming day of universal doom as “the great and terrible day of the Lord”; and we cannot but echo their language. But if we will, the Judge may be our Friend and Saviour. It is during the years of time that men decide how they will meet Him.
2. They are suggestive of suddenness. There is the contrast which it will present to many of God’s judgments in the present life. They approach with measured steps. Neither war, nor famine, nor pestilence, come generally like a thief in the night. But not so will be the Second Advent of Christ. A Christian’s first practical anxiety should be expressed in his Master’s words, “Lest coming suddenly He find me sleeping.”
3. They are suggestive of that which cannot be prevented by our own efforts. We cannot prevent the coming of Christ in the clouds of heaven: all that we can do is to prepare to meet Him by judging ourselves in self-examination. We may erect in our own heart a tribunal, and bid all our life pass before it; and then we may hear, if we will, the echoes of the voice of Christ, in mercy or condemnation, as that voice will sound to us hereafter from the judgment throne. Thus we may make a business like preparation for death; for death, like judgment, comes as a thief. Death is the ante-chamber of the judgment hall of Christ. To prepare, therefore, for death, is a man’s true and most serious business during his life. “Ye are not in darkness that that day should overtake you as a thief.” (Canon Liddon.)
The sinner’s doom
I. In thy midst of imagined security. When enjoying riches, and contemplating, as the rich fool, their further augmentation; and when, perhaps, trusting in the infinitude of the Divine mercy, and thinking “the day” afar off.
II. Sudden. Without notice: nothing in the course of nature, or the affairs of men, to indicate the catastrophe.
III. Unavoidable: reputation, good works, etc., will be as cobwebs.
IV. Terrible. “Destruction.” (Sir E. Bayley, D. D.)
Manton says well, “As the madman at Athens challenged all the ships that came into the harbour for his own, so carnal men claim an interest in heavenly things which are none of theirs. Deceived hearts believe they are running to heaven when they are posting to hell; like rowers in a boat, they look one way, and go contrary.” Religious delusions may be very comfortable while they last, but what will be the misery of their breaking up! To have all your fancied godliness vanish like the mists before the sun will be grievous indeed. In proportion to the confidence inspired will be the despair involved. The poor madman in Bedlam in the olden time placed a straw crown upon his head, and issued orders like a Caesar; it was his madness which made such a farce a comfort to him. In the next world the sinner’s madness will be over, he will be sobered by his despair: what then will he think of his former fancies and fond self-flatteries? What an awaking, from the dreams of bliss to the realities of hell! O my soul, see thou to it that all thy hopes are well grounded! Call not Christ thine, and heaven thine, if they are not so. Do not play the fool with eternal things, but get a sure title to everlasting blessedness. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
You may have a strong faith in everything else but Christ, and yet perish. There was an architect who had a plan for building a lighthouse on the Eddystone Rock. It quite satisfied his mind, and as he sat by the fire looking at the plan, he was quite sure that no storm that ever came could shake the building. He applied for the contract to build the lighthouse, and he did build it, and a very singular looking place it was. There were a great many flags about it and ornaments, and it looked very promising. Some shook their heads a little, but he was very, very firm, and said he should like to be in it himself in the worst wind that ever blew. He was in it at the time he wanted to be, and he was never heard of again, nor was anything more ever seen of his lighthouse. The whole thing was swept away. He was a man of great faith, only it happened to be founded on mistaken principles. (J. L. Nye.)
Your peace, sinner, is that terribly prophetic calm which the traveller occasionally perceives upon the higher Alps. Everything is still. The birds suspend their notes, fly low, and cower down with fear. The hum of bees among the flowers is hushed. A horrible stillness rules the hour, as if death had silenced all things by stretching over them his awful sceptre. Perceive ye not what is surely at hand? The tempest is preparing; the lightning will soon cast abroad its flames of fire. Earth will rock with thunder blasts; granite peaks will be dissolved; all nature will tremble beneath the fury of the storm. Yours is that solemn calm today, sinner. Rejoice not in it, for the hurricane of wrath is coming, the whirlwind and the tribulation which shall sweep you away and utterly destroy you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Secure in sin
“A Swiss traveller,” says the Edinburgh Review, “describes a village situated on the slope of a great mountain, of which the strata shelve in the direction of the place. Huge crags directly overhanging the village, and massy enough to sweep the whole of it into the torrent below, have become separated from the main body of the mountain in the course of ages by great fissures, and now scarce adhere to it. When they give way, the village must perish; it is only a question of time, and the catastrophe may happen any day. For years past engineers have been sent to measure the fissures, and report them constantly increasing. The villagers, for more than one generation, have been aware of their danger; subscriptions have been once or twice opened to enable them to remove; yet they live on in their doomed dwellings, from year to year, fortified against the ultimate certainty and daily probability of destruction by the common sentiment ‘Things may last their time and longer.’” Like the dwellers in this doomed village, the world’s inhabitants have grown careless and secure in sin. The scoffers of the last days are around us, saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers have fallen asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” But in saying this, they are too confident. Nothing is permanent that has sin about it, nothing secure that has wrath above it, and flames of fire beneath it. Sin has once deluged the world with water, it shall deluge it again with waves of fire. Sodom and Gomorrah are the types that foreshadow the doom of those that live ungodly in these latter times, and he who can walk this reeling world unmoved by all the tokens of its fiery doom, must either have a rock of refuge where his soul may rest secure, or else must have fallen into a strange carelessness, and a sad forgetfulness of God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Procrastination leads to sudden destruction
Do any of you remember the loss of the vessel called the Central America? She was in a bad state, had sprung a leak and was going down, and she therefore hoisted a signal of distress. A ship came close to her, the captain of which asked, through the trumpet, “What is amiss?” “We are in bad repair, and are going down: lie by till morning,” was the answer. But the captain on board the rescue ship said, “Let me take your passengers on board now.” “Lie by till morning,” was the message which came back. Once again the captian cried, “You had better let me take your passengers on board now.” “Lie by till morning,” was the reply which sounded through the trumpet. About an hour and a half after, the lights were missing, and though no sound was heard, she and all on board had gone down to the fathomless abyss. Oh, unconverted friends, for God’s sake, do not say, “Lie by till morning.” Today, even today, hear ye the voice of God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A deadly peace
The old fable described the vampire bat, in tropical countries, as hovering above its victims, and drinking their life blood, while it soothes them to sleep on by fanning them with its wings all the while. So the devil soothes souls into deadly sleep. (J. W. Hardman.)
Danger near and man unconscious of it
Many years ago there was a terrible murder in one of our rural counties. A desperate man determined to kill the squire of the village. No danger was thought of, no such peril was dreaded. With unclosed shutters the doomed man sat in his house, his family moving in and out, his books, his papers around him in perfect security, as he thought. But meanwhile, creeping behind the shrubs of the lawn, in the gathering twilight, with his loaded gun, crept the armed assailant, till the bringing in of the evening lamp cast its glow through the comfortable chamber within, and enabled a sure and deadly aim to be taken by the murderer outside. Even so does the devil plot our ruin. (J. W. Hardman.)
Unconsciousness of the approach of death
Even when death is not absolutely sudden, how often have I seen persons, who were ill, wholly refuse to believe or realize that their sickness was unto death. Almost till the day of their departure they have talked quite confidently of what they intended to do when they rose from the bed of sickness; have perhaps even seemed to themselves to be much better just before they sank into the long swoon which can only end in the last fluttering sigh. “O God, they have deceived me then; and this is death!” was the startling exclamation of a sinful English king, and with those words he sank back and died. And very commonly for hours, and even days, before death, men and women lie quite unconscious; the pulse still beats, the breath still labours, possibly the tongue still murmurs, as the imagination floats amid the confused reminiscences of the past, and babbles of green fields far away. But no voice of exhortation can reach them then; they can gather no thought into consecutive meaning; they can breathe no prayer unto Him into whose awful presence they are about to enter. (Canon Farrar.)
Men lured to destruction
The other day I was going down the street and I saw a drove of pigs following a man. This excited my curiosity, so that I determined to follow. I did so, and to my great surprise I saw them follow him to the slaughterhouse. I was very anxious to know how this was, and I said to the man, “My friend, how did you manage to induce those pigs to follow you here?” “Oh, did you not see?” said the man; “I had a basket of beans under my arms, and I dropped a few as I came along, and so they followed me.” Yes, and I thought, so it is; the devil has a basket of beans under his arm, and he drops them as he goes along, and what multitudes he induces to follow him to an everlasting slaughter house! Yes, friends, and all your broad and crowded thoroughfares are strewn with the beans of the devil. (Rowland Hill.)
1 Thessalonians 5:4
But ye, brethren, are not in darkness
Responsibility for religious privileges
It is universally admitted that the extent of our responsibility is to be measured by the amount of our privilege.
Hence our Lord said, “To whom men have committed much, of him will they ask more.” It is in harmony with this that the apostle makes the appeal in our text.
I. Our privileges as a Christian Church. “Not in darkness,” but in light as regards--
1. A knowledge of the true God. This lies at the foundation of religion. It is only by knowing God that we come to know ourselves. Had we no perfect standard of what is pure and lovely, were we allowed to frame some model of perfection, each would select that character for imitation, which reflected least discredit on his own. But tell us what God is, and you tell us what God loves; and what He loves man should love also. But the Thessalonians not only enjoyed through the gospel light a correct doctrine of God: they, as are all true Christians, were brought into an experimental knowledge through peace with Him.
2. The Word and ordinances of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:12).
(1) By the use of these we foil the craftiness, which would “carry us about with every wind of doctrine”; we set at nought the schoolmen who would “teach for doctrine the commandments of men”; whilst we bind and fetter the discursive genius of infidelity, by allowing no objection to be valid unless founded on the Word.
(2) Nor is it of use to vindicate our faith to others only; it serves much to confirm and strengthen it in ourselves. The humblest Christian who loves his Bible because he has felt its power, finds in it many things hard to be understood; but he can repose with child-like confidence in the thought--“Hard as these things may seem, the Lord hath spoken them;” and He would never have left a mystery where plainness would have made me happy. He has told me all that concerns my comfort here, and will reveal hereafter what I know not now.
3. We can understand now the propriety of this appeal. “Once ye had no knowledge of God and Divine flyings. This darkness has passed. Yours must be the fault, therefore, if the day should overtake you as a thief.”
II. The motives which should urge us to the right improvement of Christian privileges.
1. Their tendency to promote personal religion.
(1) We are so much the slaves of habit, the mind so easily slides into the ordinary occupations of life, that without some periodical admonition that it has higher objects to seek, its power would be expended in considering “What shall we eat.” We might know that “We have no continuing city” and that it is our duty to “Seek one to come,” but if we were not occasionally reminded, every week would find us less punctual, and at last we should neglect it altogether. But how the hour of prayer, the Sabbath, etc., rouse us to the call of duty.
(2) A disposition to slight these outward means is a concealed aversion to the religion which enjoins them. It is an index of that self-sufficiency which will only accept a blessing if obtained in a way of our own choosing.
(3) Men ask “Why cannot I be religious without going to church? I can go forth into the fields and look through nature up to nature’s God.” Possibly you can, but will you?
2. The danger that we may suddenly lose them. The “day” here is the day of judgment, but practically for us that is the day of death. When that will come we know not; but lest it should find as slumbering, let us be on our guard always, and not flatter ourselves with a false peace. (D. Moore, M. A.)
Two views of death
“I am taking a fearful leap in the dark,” said the dying infidel, Hobbes. “This is heaven begun, I have done with darkness forever, nothing remains but light and joy,” said the dying believer, Thomas Scott. (Sunday at Home.)
Ready to die
When Gordon Pasha was taken prisoner by the Abyssinians he completely checkmated King John. The King received his prisoner sitting on his throne, or whatever piece of furniture did duty for that exalted seat, a chair being placed for the prisoner considerably lower than the seat on which the King sat. The first thing the Pasha did was to seize this chair, place it alongside of his Majesty, and sit down on it: the next to inform him that he met him as an equal and would only treat him as such. This somewhat disconcerted his sable majesty, but on recovering himself he said, “Do you know, Gordon Pasha, that I could kill you on the spot if I liked?” “I am perfectly well aware of it, your Majesty,” said the Pasha. “Do so at once if it is your Royal pleasure. I am ready.” This disconcerted the King still mores and he exclaimed, “What I ready to be killed?” “Certainly,” replied the Pasha, “I am always ready to die, and so far from fearing your putting me to death, you would confer a favour on me by so doing, for you would be doing for me that which I am precluded by my religious scruples from doing for myself--you would relieve me from all the troubles and misfortunes which the future may have in store for me.” This completely staggered King John, who gasped out in despair, “Then my power has no terrors for you?” “None whatever,” was the Pasha’s laconic reply. His Majesty, it is needless to add, instantly collapsed.
1 Thessalonians 5:5
Ye are all children of the light
What it is to be of the night and darkness. This is a fitting symbol of a soul away from God, blind in understanding and heart and will. There is implied in it--
1. Ignorance of God.
2. Wickedness. “Men love darkness rather than light,” etc.
3. Misery. Days of sorrow are days of darkness.
II. What it is to be children of light and of the day. Theirs is a state of--
1. Knowledge. They are “enlightened,” having turned the eye of their heart to Him who is the Light of the world.
2. Holiness. As God is clothed with light as with a garment, so are His people clothed even now with the white robe.
3. Happiness. “Joy cometh in the morning.”
4. Future glory. In God’s light they shall see light. Conclusion: This being the state of Christ’s people, it cannot be that the day should overtake them as a thief; that day loved and longed for can never come upon them as something unwelcome. (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
Children of the night and darkness
A colonial governor who was about to return to England offered to use his influence with the home government and procure any favour the colonists might desire. The unanimous reply was as startling as the demand for the head of John the Baptist. “Tell them to tear down the lighthouses, they are ruining the colony.” The people were wreckers. (W. C. Church.)
The children of the day
I. It is evident that all those on whom the true night shines are, in a very important sense, the “children of the day.” Christendom is the domain of light as contrasted with the early world or the regions beyond. Its very dimmest parts are luminous in comparison with any portion of the world to which the rays of the gospel have not penetrated. None can dwell where the gospel is known without deriving from it great accessions of knowledge on most important and essential questions. What elsewhere is conjecture, surmise, hope, there is certainty. What heathen sages, by the reflection and research of a life, laboured to make probable, the Christian child learns at its mother’s knee, and grows up to know and believe with an implicit and unwavering confidence, yea, and many things besides, which the efforts of natural reason were never able so much as to excogitate even into the rudest sketch or outline.
II. But there is a higher sense in which we are the children of the day, as we are baptized into the body of Christ, and made to partake of the privileges of the church. And this also is happily true of most of us; sad to think, that in a land that calls itself Christian, it should be untrue of any. The ancient fathers often called baptism “illumination”; because it introduced and pledged to its recipients the enlightening influences of the Holy Spirit.
III. There is still another form and grade of illumination, by virtue of which the partakers of it are made in a still higher and more glorious sense the children of the light and of the day. This is that illumination which reaches the heart and the life, and brings them under the practical control of the truth which it communicates. This is the end and design of all inferior illumination. A spiritual illumination, one that takes hold upon the moral and active powers of our nature, quickens the conscience, controls the will, hallows the affections, gives truth supremacy and dominion, and stamps the visible impress of every revelation it makes upon the character and practice, is the illumination that makes us children of the day in the only sufficient sense, and thereupon heirs of salvation. (R. A. Hallam, D. D.)
Children of life and light
I looked from my window this morning across the fields. I noticed a dwelling house whose roof was exposed to the early and cheerful sun. There had been a storm in the night, and snow covered the roof. In an hour the warmth of the sun had melted it, save where the shadow of the chimney fell. That long, dark shade kept firm grasp of the iciness. It gave me a morning lesson, like a text from Scripture. The ice of our lives lingers only where the shadow is. If we have no Christly warmth, it is because we live in the dark. If our love is chilled and our nature sluggish, there is something between us and the light. What then? We must go forth from shadows. The sun shines and its beams are full of life. If we walk in this life the ice will melt, and instead of deathly conditions, we shall become rivers of living water. An army officer was called to the French and Indian war a century and a half ago. He left a wife and five children at home. A fearful throat ailment carried every child in a few weeks to the grave. The wife sat alone and desolate at home. What did she say? “I must not stay indoors and weep; I will go into the sunshine.” And her neighbours daily said, “Madame Binge is in the sunlight again.” And this legend of her is told till this day. Christ is the Sun. Shadows do not belong to us. They savour of death. The one aim of God is to make us children of life and light; then follows holy fellowship and hallowed communion. (A. Caldwell.)
Judged by the light we give
In Connecticut recently, the parents of a young lady in a school at Bridgeport sent to her a collection of beetles from Cuba. Among them were two or three specimens known as Elater Noctilucus, or fire beetle of the West Indies. They measure about an inch in length. On each side of the thorax is a large, oval, velvety black spot, like an eye, and some of them have in place of the oval spot two translucent, opal-like spots on the sides of the thorax, and from these at night the insect throws at will a strong light, resembling two tiny electric lamps in full glow. The light from one insect is sufficiently strong to enable one to read fine print with ease. When agitated the insect also gives out a similar light from the tissue between the segments on the under side of the body. The beetles were taken to a photographic artist in the city, who found that the light emitted from them, though of a greenish hue, contained abundant actinic rays by which, with a sensitive plate, he could obtain negatives. After a few experiments he succeeded in taking a picture of one of the beetles by no light but that emitted by the beetle itself. It is too often forgotten that pictures of human character are taken in the same way; every man is judged by the light he gives.
Children of light
We may learn a lesson on this subject from an article in common use--our coals. Long, long ages ago our earth was filled with immense forests of fern trees. It was sunlight that made them grow. Sunlight was bottled up in those ferns. After a while those ferns became our coal beds, and coals are really bottled up sunlight. We put the coals inside the grate, we apply a match, we release the bottled up sunlight, and the light and heat previously latent in the coals warm and cheer us during the dark, cold days of winter. These coals may be described as “children of light.” The light so played upon them thousand of ages ago that it got into their very nature, so that they only require a little stimulus to pour forth floods of radiance and warmth. And if we believe and walk in God’s light when it visits us, we shall become “children of light;” the light will get into our inmost natures, so “that we shall become fountains of light.” (Free Methodist Magazine.)
Light and liberty
Going to Helena I saw piles of boxes and goods on the landing, and I said to the superintendent, “Do the slaves buy as much as their masters used to do for them?” “A great deal more.” “And what things do they buy?” “Looking glasses and candles.” “Looking glasses, of course; candles, however!” said
I. “What do they want with candles?” “In the old slave times, a slave was never allowed a light in his cabin unless it were a fire, and the candles became in their sight the signal of liberty, and the moment they were free they said, ‘Give us light.’” (H. W. Beecher.)
Light within diffuses radiance without
1. In reducing chaos to the order of a well-constituted world the first work of God was the creation of light. “And God saw the light that it was good,” etc.
(1) Light is indeed an admirable production of the Creator. It imparts beauty to all that delights the eye of man; since, in the absence of light, beauty could have no existence. It brings to the eye all the knowledge and pleasure we derive from a survey of the Divine workmanship, the works of art and the face of man. Its properties are astonishing. It requires only a few minutes to come from the sun, whence, falling in parallel rays, it illumines the face of the earth in the twinkling of an eye. And how admirable its influence in conveying warmth and activity to all things.
(2) It is no wonder that it should be used as an emblem of all that is excellent in the spiritual world.
(a) As revealing the figure, position, and qualities of things light is an emblem of truth, which assigns to everything its real attributes.
(b) Of knowledge, which apprehends and forms a just estimate of things.
(c) Of moral purity, as preserving its own essence without being contaminated with the objects it approaches.
(d) Of true piety, as conveying life and health.
(e) Of the happiness attendant on true goodness, as imparting gladness.
(f) Of God Him self, who is “the Father of lights,” in whom is “no darkness at all.”
2. Darkness is the absence of light, and in an ordinary sense its opposite. Here it had precedence of light, and still retains a periodical influence, contributing to the well-being of the universe. But though useful in the physical world, morally darkness is emblematical of all that is evil.
(1) As concealing objects around us, and precluding the right apprehension of them, it is the emblem of ignorance and error.
(2) As favouring the machinations of the wicked and shrouding them from detection it is a metaphor for sin which hates the light.
(3) As associated with danger and terror it intimates the peril and punishment of guilt.
(4) The grand enemy of all goodness, as the deceiver, defiler and destroyer of men is the prince of darkness and his kingdom the kingdom of darkness. The children of light are distinguished--
I. By the knowledge of the truth.
1. As in the material world darkness preceded light and was only banished by Divine command, so ignorance precedes the light of saving knowledge. This was exemplified in the case of the Thessalonians and other Gentiles “Having their understanding darkened” as to God, duty, destiny. The Jews were better off; but their’s was only “a light shining in a dark place.” But when the Sun of Righteousness arose it scattered the gross darkness of heathenism and the shadowy emblems of Judaism.
2. But in order to enjoy the light we must have an eye to see, since if that organ be covered with a scale or be injured light will fail of its purpose. Pride and prejudice are a film to quench the intellectual eye in reference to Divine things. For the things of this world man retains the light of intelligence, but “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.”
3. The eyes of the children of light have been opened. That which was formerly rejected as fantastical or unimportant has become the “one thing needful.” Instructed by the Word and Spirit of God light shines within and around; they see the glory of God in the person and work of Christ. The path of life lies open, and perceiving both its difficulties and encouragements they walk on in safety. The love of the truth characterizes them as children of the light. “He that doeth the truth cometh to the light,” etc.
II. By holiness, in opposition to what is offensive to God.
1. Sins of the life are called works of darkness, and sins of the affection are similarly characterized (1 John 2:9-11). The darkness of ignorance is naturally associated with vice, and the blindness of the understanding with that of the heart. “If the eye be single,” etc. If the guide be blind the other faculties placed under his direction will stumble continually; and the guide himself partaker in pravity is led astray by the perverseness of those whom it is his duty to govern. If the mind through prejudice, passion, the allurements of the world, embraces error for truth, good for evil, what can be expected but that, betrayed by its counsellors, it should advance on the road to ruin. And men manifestly walk in darkness. How else can they barter immortality for the shadows of time.
2. The children of the light, however, have the eyes of their understanding enlightened. God’s Word is a “light to their feet,” etc. The planets, irradiated by the sun, maybe called “children of light”; so should the believer, irradiated by Christ, let his light shine.
III. By usefulness in opposition to the influence of the workers of iniquity.
1. Error serves only to deceive--sin only to beguile and destroy; and every one who promotes the one or the other injures his fellows. Their influence is as the lengthened night of the Polar regions spreading sterility over the earth, and destroying life.
2. But the children of light diffuse a salutary influence. Not only are they “blameless and harmless,” they “shine as lights in the world, holding forth the Word of life.” Such come to be esteemed sure guides. They are as a pilot skilled in the perilous passes of his own rocky course, whose vessel breaks the way, leaving a luminous track, by which the fleet may steer its course in safety.
IV. By a blessedness peculiar to themselves. We all appreciate the advantages of light, and pity those who are deprived of them. But if to one born blind it were an inexpressible happiness to obtain sight should not a purer joy pervade him who is made to behold the imperishable beauties of the spiritual world. (H. Grey, D. D.)
Vigilance and sobriety
The text is for the Lord’s people; and as they have great privileges to enjoy, so they have great duties to perform, and that, too, distinct from others.
I. Two classes are spoken of in contrast.
1. The children of the night and of darkness. Of ignorance, unbelief, and wrath. They are in the regions of moral rebellion and imminent danger.
2. The children of day and of light. Illumed by the Word and the Spirit of God. Transformed; brought out of spiritual Egypt, and translated into the Divine kingdom. They are now of God’s family--sons and heirs. Hence they have heavenly light within them--knowledge, love, and holiness. Their path is light itself, and it leads to “the inheritance of the saints in light.” So that while they are on earth, they are “the lights of the world.”
II. The course of the children of the day. “Therefore, let us not sleep as do others.”
1. That which they are to avoid. Moral sleep, soul lethargy, conscience slumbering, spiritual drowsiness. This is a state of helplessness, vague and illusory dreams, wasted opportunities, real perils.
2. That which they are to attend to. Watchfulness against the snares of the world, the stratagems of Satan, and the deceitfulness of the heart. As the sentinel at his post; as the mariner on stormy ocean looking for day; as the wise virgins waiting with their lamps burning, so all Christians are exhorted to do.
3. That which they are to be, “sober.” Physical sobriety--avoiding revelling, banquetting, intemperance, and all tendencies to them, avoiding the very appearance of evil. Mental sobriety--walking in humility and self-abasement, not intoxicated with vanity, nor the praises of men. Social sobriety--avoiding foolish excitements and a vapid and silly conversation. Moral sobriety--seeking even lawful things with moderation, such as the increase of riches and innocent pleasures. Such sobriety includes a well-balanced mind, a serious spirit, and a becoming walk before God and men, and is real, entire, and constant.
III. The motives by which this course is urged.
1. The enemies and perils which surround us. An evil world; a malignant devil; a weak nature, liable to err, and leaning to sin.
2. The sad results which may ensue. Spiritual declension; open apostacy; personal degradation; unutterable misery. Application: The text to be prayerfully considered and solemnly pondered--
(1) In the light of our Christian profession;
(2) In connection with our peace and happiness;
(3) With our usefulness and honour;
(4) With our final acceptance and salvation. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The relation of Christianity to intellectual culture
The text is a declaration of the relation of Christianity to all enlightening agencies. Christians are born of light and day. They walk in the light and are in kinship with all illuminating agencies.
I. The nature and methods of religion necessitate mental culture. It does not and cannot rely upon force or fashion or gain or favour for its propagation in the world. The instances where a Church, secularized by an alliance with temporal power, has endeavoured to use these agencies, illustrate the apostacy of that Church rather than the character of Christianity.
1. Christianity is a spiritual light and force. It is a revelation. Like a newly discovered truth in science or a new invention, it must be tested. And so it appeals to the thought of the world. It is the light of the world. It ignores blind force. Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world,” etc.
2. It does battle in the domain of thought, conscience and the affections. In no other way can it secure the conquest of the human will. It recognizes the integrity and dignity of each individual.
3. It believes in one God, the author both of nature and revelation. To its faith every truth of science, every fact of nature is a revelation. If they seem to disagree with the Bible it is stimulated to further research. It is, therefore, the friend of all science and all scientific investigation. Most great scientists have been Christians.
II. The presence of the Gospel a stimulus to mental activity. It is no accident, but in the nature of things that progress, discovery, civilization, wealth and power go hand in hand with a pure Christianity.
1. The great ideas of religion stimulate mental activity. The law of mental development is this: thrust a fact or great idea before a mind, and as the mind contemplates it, in many lights, new ideas are born and the mind expands, enlarges, strengthens. So you teach children in the schools. You give them a fact of physics or history, and as their minds contemplate it they grow. Given the thought, “steam possesses an expansive force,” and engines are constructed. Show Columbus a carved stick that drifted in from the Western ocean, and a new continent is discovered. A falling apple observed, leads to the discovery of gravitation. Now, by the same law, project upon the mind thought of God, immortality, sin, redemption, judgment, etc., and that mind will wake up to an activity of thought that will make it wiser. It will study conscience, law, evidences, life, responsibility, till it becomes educated.
2. Christianity lifts man into a position that justifies him in trying to become a thinker. If a man lives on the borders of a desert thought to be worthless, he will never explore it. But let him know its mineral wealth and he will soon know it. So with the future. Let the soul have no knowledge of God and righteousness, and it will not awake; but let it contemplate itself as an heir of glory, and how it will wake up. Ask a slave to study kingcraft, and he tells you he has no use for it; but you ask an heir apparent with different result. So the Christian studies God’s ways and Word.
III. Facts confirm these propositions. Christianity has ever been the friend of liberal thought and learning. It originated our educational institutions, and maintains a good many of them. What phenomena are presented in Sunday schools, the Christian press and pulpit! (C. N. Sims, D. D.)
1 Thessalonians 5:6
Therefore let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch and be sober
The sleep of sin--Scripture teaches us, with the utmost explicitness, that a state of sin is a state of slumber. Sleep is a figure which is commonly employed to illustrate man’s natural and unrenewed state. Sin is the sleep of the soul--the spirit.
1. Both natural and spiritual sleep are characterized by forgetfulness. We speak, and not without reason, of the oblivion of sleep. A man falls into a sound sleep, and immediately he forgets the past, “forgets himself,” to use a very common and not inappropriate expression. Look at men in a state of sin, in an unrenewed, unawakened state--are they not the subjects, the victims of forgetfulness, to an almost incredible extent? Do they not forget what manner of men they are? Do they not forget all the great lessons of God’s Word and God’s providence, which have been so repeatedly addressed to them? Do they not forget what they owe unto their Lord? Are they not oblivious to those immense accumulations of guilt which are invoking the long delayed vengeance of Heaven?
2. Both spiritual and natural sleep are characterized by insensibility to the present. In bodily slumber a man is insensible to all that transpires around him: he is shut off from all surrounding influences; a mysterious, and, for the time, impenetrable veil separates him from the external and material world. Is not this, again, illustrative of the moral, the spiritual condition of the unrenewed, the unawakened sinner? He is in the midst of a spiritual world, full of realities the most stupendous, the most amazing. He has no spiritual discernment. There are the truths of Scripture, there is this wide-spreading spiritual universe, with all that it contains of beauty and terror, with its sweet whispers of invitation and its thunder tones of warning, all of which things are not the less real because he is asleep: but to him they are as though they were not, while he is asleep; for him they have practically no existence; on him they exert no appreciable influence.
3. In both spiritual and natural sleep we see not only forgetfulness as to the past and insensibility as to the present, we see, also, the entire absence of apprehension as to the future. In the case of natural slumber, though some great peril be actually threatening the sleeper, there is no uneasiness, no dread, no desire or effort either to avert the danger or to escape from it. That I am not overstating the case will appear, if you will take the trouble to compare your feelings in reference to some object of earthly interest, with your feelings in reference to some object of spiritual interest. But with spiritual danger it is otherwise. You see it not--it is intangible--it is mysterious--it is future.
4. Both natural and spiritual sleep are often disturbed by dreams. But there is the widest difference between the dreams which disturb the natural and spiritual sleeper. In natural sleep the objects of our dreams are unrealities, fantastic and improbable assemblages of familiar things, grouped upon we know not what principle of association. The man wrapped in spiritual slumber dreams, but of what is actual and real.
5. In the case both of natural and spiritual slumber we see that persons who are soundly asleep are very unwilling to be awakened. And in all deep sleep, if the awakening be not a very thorough and complete one, there is an almost irresistible tendency to fall asleep again. God often, in His providence, disturbs the sleep of men. But, whatever may be the cause, there is in such cases only a partial awakening, and we see plainly enough that the sleeper does not like to be thus disturbed.
II. Let us now notice this sleep of death which is so often referred to in God’s Word. The same natural state is, as you know, employed to symbolize two things, sin and death; and if we are but truly emancipated from the Slumber of sin, we shall be able to look forward without foreboding to the sleep of death. As we compare sleep and death, we distinguish several points of correspondence, which are not only very obvious, but which are also very interesting.
1. We see sleep exercising its dominion over the entire world. In all ages, and in all countries, we see men yielding to its influence. And just so the power of death is universally exercised and submitted to. “Death has passed upon all men, inasmuch as all have sinned.”
2. Though men have been sleeping and dying for six thousand years, there is an infinite mystery still attaching both to sleep and death. There is no one wise enough to say precisely what the one or the other is.
3. Sleep and death agree in this also, that their dominion extends no further than the body. While the body lies fettered in sleep, the soul enjoys an unbounded and unwonted liberty, which it scarcely knows how to use.
4. In sleep and in death there is the apparent enjoyment of rest and quiet. In reference to the grave we say, “There the wicked cease from troubling; there the weary are at rest.”
5. In sleep and in death men lie down with the hope and the expectation of rising again.
6. You know, in the case of natural slumber, that they who would sleep well at night must not sleep much in the day. And I would remind you, that if you spend the day of your life sleeping the sleep of sin, the sleep of death will be a troubled sleep, and your awakening, on the resurrection day, one full of terror. If you will sleep when yon ought to be awake, you will not be able to sleep when the time for sleep cometh. (T. M. Morris.)
Let us not sleep
Many thoughtless and irreligious men think that they live in a manner that is the furthest off from sleep. And, indeed, they may be in a perpetual fever; and yet spiritually they are like men who sleep.
I. When a man is asleep he is in a state of inactivity. You no more expect activity from the sleeping than you do from the dead. Whatever may be the fervid life of a godless man, yet with respect to God, prayer, preparation for eternity, religious duties, he does nothing; and Scripture says that he is not only asleep, but dead--and this, notwithstanding his pursuit of knowledge and pleasure.
II. A man asleep is unconscious of all around him. He may be asleep in the sunshine, on a bank of beauty and fragrance, surrounded by the most gorgeous scenery on earth, but he is insensible to it all. Such is the condition, spiritually, of the sinner. A man that has religious faith in him sees that God has surrounded him by another creation; but this is forever shut from the sight of the godless. What is the scenery of earth to that of the universe of truth, to which the worldly have their whole soul closed?
III. They that sleep dream, and are therefore liable to be affected by the unsubstantial and the untrue. A sluggard perhaps dreams that he is rich and prosperous; a hungry beggar, that he is a king. The most absurd and grotesque visions may flit over the dreamer and be to him as affecting as the realities of life, or he may be disturbed by dreams of terror equally unsubstantial. And worldly men will often be agitated by superstitious fears; their very ignorance of religion will be a positive and operating evil. But principally they dream that they are “rich and increased in goods,” etc.; while they are in reality “poor and miserable,” etc. The worldly man goes on fearing nothing because unconscious of the actual condition of his nature, and there is nothing so absurd as the dreams of irreligious dreamers; aye, and of religious dreamers too, thinking that they have enough of religion, and resting satisfied with repeating their creeds.
IV. Sleep is sometimes produced by indulgences that make sleep heavy (1 Thessalonians 5:7). When men sleep through grossness and sensuality it is very difficult to awake them. Loud voices and violent shaking will scarcely do it; and if you should succeed, they are irritated and want to sleep again. So when men’s souls are drugged. Startling providences, such as a death next door, or an arousing sermon, which makes the deepest impression on others, have none on them. If some kind friend takes them by the arm, and will make them hear, they are vexed and feel insulted. Their conscience may be probed for the moment, but it is soon over, and they go to sleep again. So men go on crying “Peace and safety,” and by the constant neglect of their spiritual nature closing the heart against the gospel, they get into a state of complete hardihood, and then “sudden destruction cometh.” “Let us not sleep like” these, “but watch and be sober.” (T. Binney.)
I. Sleep is a time when the reason has no control over a man. This is the state of the sinner. Boast as he may, his reason cannot exercise its full powers till God gives light to the understanding. How manifest it is that men are in a state in which they are not acting with a proper view to their well-being. Though hastening to eternity, they are making no provision for it.
II. Sleep is the time when the powers of body and mind are withdrawn from active and useful labour. True a sinner’s mind is active, but not about the chief good, the glory and honour of God. The body is active, but what are its powers wasted upon? Are they not frequently “instruments of righteousness unto sin.” And though men may not have sunk into licentiousness, yet, unless consecrated to God, their highest powers are thrown away.
III. Sleep is a time when danger may be very near without being perceived. The sinner is like a man whose house is in flames, or into which robbers have gained entrance. He may have upbraidings of conscience, and make resolutions, and see that a course of sin is a course of misery. But all pass away unless there be the quickening power of heaven upon them. Take heed then, sinner, and awake. (J. Morison, D. D.)
The soul asleep
I. The evil. There are three kinds of sleep in Scripture. The sleep of the body; of the grave; of the soul. It is of the last that Paul speaks. There is--
1. The sleep of indolence, indifference, thoughtlessness. We use a like term in the affairs of life. Of a man who lets all his opportunities pass, and makes no provision against evil, obvious to all but himself, we say, “He must be asleep.” Such a sleep, spiritually, is described in Isaiah 29:1-24. The Bible is a sealed book, and eternal things a matter of little consequence. The Bible is not opposed; but all we can extort is a vacant assent, and then sleep.
2. The sleep of security and false peace. Attention has been awakened; “things belonging to peace” have been apprehended; but after having been thus enlightened there has ensued a delusive tranquillity of soul, trading in past conversion, little thinking of the use their sleepless adversary is making of their guilty slumber.
3. The sleep of sloth and inactivity. All the emblems of the Christian life support the necessity of earnestness and diligence--the racer, etc. Hence the idea of an unadvancing Christian is a practical contradiction. Imagine the case of a babe remaining always a babe, a warrior without victory. All stationary conditions in religion are slumbering conditions.
II. The dancer. Spiritual sleep, like natural, is a thing of degrees. There is a deep sleep from which a man can with difficulty be aroused, and yet there is a lighter sleep in which though every noise be sufficient to disturb, yet it may not be sufficient to arouse. These two states are types of the unawakened sinner, and the unwatchful Christian.
1. With regard to a man in the confirmed slumber.
(1) There is the awful danger that none of the warnings and providential rebukes by which other souls are stirred up should reach him; he cannot hear them. Sickness stretches him on his bed; death bereaves him of friends; decaying faculties predict his latter end; but he sleeps only to waken in the prison of the invisible world.
(2) But deep as his slumbers are, they allow of his being amused with dreams. He can hear the whispers of Satan, when he cannot hear the thunders of vengeance. The word is represented as paradise; religion is an affair of observances; repentance is a dying man’s employment; and death, perhaps, an eternal sleep. In that sleep of the soul “What dreams do come:” What contradictions to truth, what impiety against God! What frauds upon a rational intelligence!
2. In the sleep of a lighter character, unwatchfulness and supineness of soul, the danger is lest it should deepen into the heaviest. Men thus asleep are like those under the influence of an opiate; their only safety lies in keeping their eyes open; once close them, they die. But at best such can expect to have no evidence of their acceptance in a dying hour: they have none now. (D. Moore, M. A.)
We do not usually sleep towards the things of this world. In this age of competition most men are wide awake enough for their temporal interests; but we are all very apt to sleep concerning the interests of our souls. The text applies--
I. To the people of god.
1. Let us not sleep as did the disciples who went with their Lord to the garden, and fell a slumbering while he was agonizing. Think of what Christ has done, is doing, and wants you to do. Where is our zeal for God, and compassion for men in view of all this?
2. Let us not sleep as Samson, who, while he slept, lost his locks, strength, liberty, eyes, and at last his life. Carnal security is a Delilah always. It gives us many a dainty kiss, and lulls us into tranquil slumber, which we imagine to be God’s own peace, whereas the peace of Satanic enchantment is upon us. Here there are perils of the deadliest sort. The Philistines do not sleep. Our Samsonian lock, the secret of our strength, is faith. Take away that and we are weak as other men.
3. Sleep not as those did when the enemy came and sowed tares. When false doctrines and unholy practices creep into a Church, it is when the watchers are asleep. An unwatchful Church will soon become an unholy Church.
4. Sleep not as the ten virgins whom the coming of the Bridegroom surprised. Suppose the Lord were to come to night; are you ready, with your loins girt and your lamps trimmed?
II. To the unconverted.
1. Do not sleep as did Jonah. When all the rest were praying in the tempest he was insensible to it all. Every man called upon his God, except the man who had caused the storm. He was most in danger, but he was the most careless. Do not some of you live in houses where they all pray but you? Yours is the only soul unblest, and yet yours is the only one unanxious.
2. Do not sleep like Solomon’s sluggard. He slept; hour after hour. He only meant to slumber a few minutes; but minutes fly rapidly to men who dream. Had he known he would have been shocked at his own laziness. Now there are men who say that they will attend to religion soon, but must first enjoy a little pleasure. They will not risk their soul another twelve months, they will but stay till next Sunday. But so it has been year after year.
3. Do not sleep like Eutychus. It is true that he was restored to life; but many a Eutychus has fallen dead under the Word and has never revived. If preaching does not wake you it rocks your cradle and makes you more and more insensible.
4. Do not sleep like Saul and his guards. Abishai said “Let me strike him: it shall be but this once.” That is what Satan says and what he will some day do.
5. Do not sleep as Sisera. Those who profess to be your friends will prove your assassins. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Why Christians should not sleep
I. God has done more for them than for others.
II. They have made promises to Him which others have not made.
III. God has made to them exceeding great and precious promises which He has not made to others.
IV. So much is expected of them, and such a great work is laid upon them, if “they sleep as do others,” it will not be done.
V. While Christians sleep the enemy is busy--sinners perish--the world rushes madly to ruin! (Preacher’s Monthly.)
“Let us watch.”
I. The importance of watchfulness. It is the mainstay of the soul, which, if once called off, we lie open to the shot of every enemy. This, like one of the Nethinims, must stand constantly porter at the door of our hearts--God’s temple, to keep out whatever is unclean. Watchfulness is a diligent observation of ourselves in all things, and at all times, that we may please God always. He that watcheth hath his eyes in his head, according to the wise man’s phrase, and seeth, as the Chinese say of themselves, with both eyes. David expresseth it fitly: “I said, I will take heed to my ways;” that is, I will ponder my paths, and consider where I set my feet, lest I should tread awry. Without this wariness there is no safe walking. Like Laish was, the secure soul is made a prey to its enemies. Soul lethargies are most dangerous, most deadly. He who watcheth not is led about like one in his natural sleep, by any temptation, he knoweth not how nor whither When the wolves in the fable once prevailed with the sheep to part with the dogs they soon devoured them. If Satan can but get Christians to forego this means of their safety, he will soon make them his prey. It is reported of the dragon that, while he sleepeth, a jewel is taken out of his head. Noah lost the jewel of temperance, David the jewel of chastity, during their sleep. If the eye of watchfulness be once shut, the soul is open to all wickedness.
II. The objects of watchfulness.
1. Watch against sin, against all sin. The gardener doth not only watch over his flowers to water and cherish them, but over all weeds to pluck and root them up.
2. Watch against thine own sin. A wise governor will have a special eye upon that particular person in his garrison whom he knoweth to be a traitor.
3. Watch for the doing of good. The countryman watcheth for the bell ringing on the market day, when he will open his sacks, that he may sell corn to the needy.
4. Watch in duties. The child must be watched at school, or he will play and toy, instead of learning his lesson thoroughly.
5. Watch after duties. When the garden is dressed and the seed sown in it, it must be watched, lest hogs get into it, and root all up. It was a wise speech of Marcus Aurelius after he had won a great battle, “I tell thee of a truth that I stand in greater fear of fortune at this moment than I did before the battle, for she careth not so much to overtake the conquered as to overcome the conqueror.” Satan is like Fortune.
6. Watch thy senses. These are the Cinque Ports, as one calls them, of the Isle of Man, which, if not well garrisoned, will let in strangers and disturbers of the peace. Shut up the five windows--guard the five senses, that the whole house may be full of light, according to the Arabian proverb. “Blessed is that servant whom his Lord when He cometh shall find watching.” Surely blessedness is worth our waking; bliss is worth keeping our eyes open. Apollonius, coming early in the morning to Vespasian’s gate, and finding him, then a prisoner, up and at study, said to his companion, “This man is worthy to reign and command an empire;” which afterward came to pass. He that watcheth for the Advent of Christ the short hour of his life, shall be counted worthy to reign with Christ in His kingdom forever. (G. Swinnock, M. A.)
I. As a whipped foe, and begins to say, “Oh, I am worsted; there is no danger in me.” Watch it! Firemen watch the smouldering coals that the wind may again inflame. Men watch closely that place in an embankment which has once given way.
II. With a new face, and says, “I am not your weakness.” Take heed! Faithful Abraham lost his faith, meek Moses was impatient, David became sensual, and lion-hearted Peter trembled.
III. As a child, and says, “Oh, I am so little, I cannot do anything.” Watch it! Little temptations are seeds of the upas tree, eggs of the serpent, sleeping dynamite. The devil puts the little Oliver Twist through the window to open the door for him, the big robber. Hell is first lit with shavings.
IV. As a smiling friend, and says, “You know me and love me; fear not.” Watch it! The beloved Delilah betrayed the strong Samson to death. Watch and pray. The sentinel’s power lies in his communication with the power that supports him, and then watchfulness. If he watch only, he can do nothing when the enemy comes He is one, the enemy is an army. But if he too can summon an army, then is his watching effective. So is prayer the Christian watchman’s communication with the powers above him. If he watch only, he can do nothing, for he contends with principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places. But if he watch and pray, he, too, can summon powers omnipotent to his rescue. And prayer is communication with the power. (R. S. Barrett.)
The danger of spiritual slumber
There was, a paragraph in a local newspaper tells us, a foreign sailor at Cork, who, having been late for his train, lay down to sleep during the short summer night on the first broad fiat wall he came to. After a time, in his sleep, he rolled over the edge, for it was--though he had not noticed the fact--the boundary wall which separated the road from a precipice fifty feet in depth. He would have been instantly killed, had he not, as he fell, instinctively grasped at the ivy which clothed the wall. Here for three-quarters of an hour he hung, clinging with all his strength, and shouting as loud as he could for aid. At last he was rescued, but so soon as he was in safety the strong man fainted, so terrible had been his position. Thus is it with many a soul. Men sleep thoughtlessly on the brink of eternity. They dream of earthly joys; but suddenly, by some unexpected crisis, by some dangerous illness, they are awakened, and made to feel their danger. They perceive that they must expect to meet that God whom they have forgotten. The great fault of modern preaching is its soothing and sugary character. There is a tendency always to be putting forward the mercy and pardoning character of God, whilst His justice and His needful severity as a moral Ruler is kept out of sight. The difficulties of repentance, the awful doom of sin when persisted in, are matters unnoticed. Away with this twaddle and prattle about the simplicity of faith; the easiness of “being saved”; the empiric remedies of the “only believe” school; the supply of comfortable pillows to induce spiritual slumber. Away with the sweet but fatal syrup which suggests that men may at any time with the greatest facility become eminent Christians! How much more vigorous and robust was the piety of olden days. For instance, St. Hugh of Lincoln, refusing to hurry over a poor man’s funeral, though he received a message that the king was waiting dinner for his arrival. “In God’s Name,” said the enthusiastic prelate, “let the king go to dinner. Better that he dine without my company, than that I leave my Master’s work undone.” (J. W. Hardman, LL. D.)
Awake thou that sleepest
I. The nature of this sleep.
1. If a Christian man is said to sleep it must be in reference to inactivity. In sleep the whole body is at rest, but the mind is not. Never have we more graphic pictures of scenes and persons, nor more curious uprisings of buried pleasures and pains. But while the worker sleeps the loom is still. Now, while Christians sleep all aggressive energy is suspended; the minister sleeps in the pulpit, and the hearer in the pew, neither do nor get good.
2. While men ‘arc asleep they have no interest in their work-a-day life. So to a sleepy Christian, souls may perish at his threshold, but he cares as little for them as they for him. Besides, he is immovable to all appeals. What is the use of spending argument or wasting speech on a sleeping man? This slumbering spirit spreads itself over everything else. If he comes to a prayer meeting he goes away without wrestling with the angel of mercy.
3. There is such an experience as walking in the sleep, aye, and in dangerous places where men awake would hardly go. By some strange influence somnambulists can go safely past the dangers. So, professors have a carnal security, and go terribly near the fire of sin.
4. When a man is asleep he is unprotected. Were we not unconscious of danger we could not sleep: but it is very real. Samson slept till Delilah cut his hair, and Sisera till Jael drove the nail into his temples. When a Christian is asleep he lays himself open to the devil, “who as a roaring lion,” etc. He lies down in the enchanted ground till Giant Despair hauls him away to Doubting Castle.
5. In sleep there is no waste and decay. It is by sleep we are refreshed, but we do not eat or drink when we are asleep. So, when professors are asleep they raise no cry for the living Bread, and have no sense of hunger; feel no need of a Bible or a Saviour; conscious of no want they offer no prayer, and if they sleep long enough, they will sleep on to death.
6. Mark the insidious character of this sleep.
(1) A Christian may be asleep and not know it. He may imagine himself rich while in reality he is poor and miserable.
(2) He may have taken precautions against being disturbed. There is a way of bolting and barring your heart against anybody, Beware of antinomianism: a draught of that may send you into a sleep that will know no awaking.
(3) You may be doing much to make people imagine you were anything but asleep. People can talk and walk in their sleep, and so may you; and you may have fine dreams and grand projects.
II. The causes of this sleep.
1. It is the evil of our nature. While we are asleep about Divine things we are wide awake about worldly things.
2. It is easy to send a man to sleep with the chloroform of bad doctrine. If he believes that God is too merciful to punish he goes to sleep and cares nothing for his soul. Or if holding true doctrine he perverts them that will send him asleep.
3. Another cause is absorption in the things of the world, even when lawful. Every one knows that there is something he likes exceedingly, and that if he were to give full swing to it it would become an everlasting passion.
4. The sultry sun of prosperity. Those are generally the most spiritually minded who have drunk deep of the cup of suffering.
5. Spiritual pride.
III. The apostle’s admonition.
1. The first thing to do is to open the eyes and let in the light. Open them to God in His Word, works and conscience. Just as the sun in the heavens shining in the eyes of a sleeper drives away sleep, so let the beams of the Sun of Righteousness shine into your hearts and wake you from your slumber.
2. Sleep not, for it is love that would have you awake. A mother’s love will lull a child to sleep; but if there is a house on fire that love will take another turn. The wisdom of Christ would have you awake. The thief pilfers, and tares are sown while you are asleep, and therefore it is the highest wisdom to respond. You are commanded to awake, and by One who redeems you with His blood.
IV. Inducements to this awakening.
1. Christ will give thee light--the light of truth and joy and glory.
2. It is high time to awake for the old, the middle aged, the young. (Prof. Croskerry.)
I. An evil to be avoided. “Others” may be translated “refuse,” the common herd who have no mind above earth. The refuse of mankind are in a state of--
1. Deplorable ignorance. The sleeper knows nothing. So, talk to the sinner of Divine doctrines and they are a riddle; of sublime experiences, and they seem to be enthusiastic fancies. They know nothing of joys and are oblivious of evils to come.
2. Insensibility. Rob or destroy his property, and yet he sleeps as though guarded by the angel of the Lord. How few there are that feel spiritually; although they feel acutely any injury to their person or estate.
3. Defencelessness. How helpless was sleeping Sisera. So the refuse of mankind have no power to resist temptation.
4. Inactivity. The sleeping farmer cannot plough, the sailor direct his ship, the tradesman attend to his shop. And how many there are who rise up early to toil for themselves do nothing for the glory of God or the good of men. Some say they have no time, others frankly that they have no will.
II. Reasons for avoiding this sleep.
1. We are the children of the light and of the day, therefore let us not sleep. It is no marvel that men sleep at night; but were a whole city to be wrapped in slumber at noon-day, what room there would be for astonishment or alarm. Sleep in the daytime is incongruous. So, for a Christian to slumber in ease now that the Sun of Righteousness has arisen is untimely and unseemly.
2. It is war time (1 Thessalonians 5:8). What have warriors to do with sleep when the citadel is attacked or when the foe is in the field? So spiritual sleep is madness.
3. It is service time. Shall men sleep at the plough, and God’s servant sleep over his work. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A slumbering church
You have all read the fairy tale: A great Eastern city, beleaguered by fierce foemen, was arming in resistless strength to issue from her gates and sweep away the invader. But from the camp of the foe came forth a mighty magician, and with a breath of his sorcery changed the whole city into stone. Everything where life had been became a cold, dead statue. There stood the pawing war horse, with nostril distended, caparisoned for the battle. There stood the mailed champion, ready to spring to his seat and lay lance in rest for the onset. But, alas! the strong arm was cold stone on the neck of the petrified charger. There stood the serried infantry, with armour and plumes, and upfloating banners, but each man cold, breathless, lifeless. The eye had a stony glare. Hand, brow, lips, were frozen to marble. All still, silent, deathstruck! Alas! picture sadly truthful of Christ’s slumbering Church today. (C. Wadsworth, D. D.)
The deadening effects of the gospel when it does not arouse
You know the great boiler factories over here in Southwark. I am told that when a man goes inside the boiler to hold the hammer, when they are fixing rivets, the sound of the copper deafens him so that he cannot bear it, it is so horrible; but, after he has been a certain number of months in that employment, he hardly notices the hammering: he does not care about it. It is just so under the Word. People go to sleep under that which once was like a thunderbolt to them. As the blacksmith’s dog will lie under the anvil, where the sparks fly into his face, and yet go to sleep, so will many sinners sleep while the sparks of damnation fly into their faces. If I must be lost, let it be as a Zulu Kaffir, or as a Red Indian, who has never listened to the truth; but it is dreadful to go down to the pit with this as an aggravation: “You knew your duty, but you did it not!” may this never be said of any of us! May we never sleep under the Word as others lest we die in our sins. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The insensibility of the sinner
When a man is asleep he is insensible. The world goes on, and he knows nought about it. The watchman calls beneath his window, and he sleeps on still. A fire is in a neighbouring street, his neighbour’s house is burned to ashes, but he is asleep and knows it not. Persons are sick in the house, but he is not awakened; they may die, and he weeps not for them. A revolution may be raging in the streets of his city; a king may be losing his crown; but he that is asleep shares not in the turmoil of politics. A volcano may burst somewhere near him, and he may be in imminent peril; but he escapeth not; he is sound asleep, he is insensible. The winds are howling, the thunders are rolling across the sky, and the lightnings flash at his window; but he that can sleep on careth not for these, and is insensible to them all. The sweetest music is passing through the street; but he sleeps, and only in dreams doth he hear the sweetness. The most terrific wailings may assail his ears; but sleep has sealed them with the wax of slumber, and he hears not. Let the world break in sunder, and the elements go to ruin, keep him asleep, and he will not perceive it. Christian, behold your condition. Have you not sometimes been brought into a condition of insensibility? You wished you could feel; but all you felt was pain because you could not feel. You wished you could pray. It was not that you felt prayerless, but it was because you did not feel at all. You sighed once; you would give a world if you could sigh now. You used to groan once; a groan now would be worth a golden star if you could buy it. As for songs, you can sing them, but then your heart does not go with them. You go to the house of God; but when “the multitude that keep holy day” in the full tide of song send their music up to heaven, you hear it, but your heart does not leap at the sound. Prayer goeth solemnly like the evening sacrifice up to God’s throne; once you could pray too; but now, while your body is in the house of God, your heart is not there. You feel you have brought the chrysalis of your being; but the fly is gone away from it: it is a dead, lifeless case. You have become like a formalist. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The enchanted ground
There is a portion of the road which leads from the city of Destruction to the Celestial City which is more dangerous than any other. It does not abound in lions, dark woods, deep pitfalls, yet more pilgrims have been destroyed here than anywhere. The great geographer, John Bunyan, well pictured it when he said “I then saw in my dream, that they went on till they came into a certain country, whose air naturally tended to make one drowsy, if he came a stranger into it. And here Hopeful began to be very dull and heavy of sleep wherefore he said unto Christian, ‘I do now begin to grow so drowsy, that I can scarcely hold up mine eyes; let us lie down here and take one nap.’ Christian: ‘By no means, lest sleeping we never wake more.’ Hopeful: ‘Why my brother? sleep is sweet to the lab(raring man; we may be refreshed if we take a nap.’ Christian: ‘Do you not remember that one of the shepherds bid us beware of the Enchanted Ground? He meant by that, that we should beware of sleeping; wherefore let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch and be sober.’” There are no doubt many of us who are passing over this plain.
I. What is that state of sleep with which Christians sometimes fall? It is not death but--
1. A state of insensibility.
2. A state in which they are subject to divers delusions.
3. A state of inaction.
4. A state of insecurity.
II. Some considerations to wake up sleepy Christians.
1. The Lord is coming (1 Thessalonians 5:2). Would you wish to be sleeping when the Lord comes? Would you like Him to find you at a ball?
2. Souls are perishing. Sailor, wilt thou sleep when the wreck is out at sea, and the lifeboat is waiting for hands to man it?
III. When is the Christian most liable to sleep?
1. When his temporal circumstances are all right. See the parable of the rich fool.
2. When all goes well in spiritual matters. The disciples went to sleep after they had seen Christ transfigured.
3. When we get near our journey’s end. The enchanted ground is nigh to Beulah, and Bunyan gives the reason why.
IV. Good advice to sleeping Christians.
1. One of the best plans is to keep good company and talk about the ways of the Lord.
2. If you look at interesting things you will not sleep. A Christian never slept at the foot of the Cross.
3. Let the wind blow on thee. Seek to live daily under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
4. Impress thyself with a deep sense of the value of the place to which thou art going. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The pilgrims on the enchanted ground
Pursuing their journey, they come to the enchanted ground.
I. Hopeful kept awake by goodly counsel and discourse.
1. He gives an account of his life before conversion.
2. He gives four reasons why he resisted the light.
3. Eight circumstances that revived his conviction.
4. He vainly tried to ease himself by a moral reformation.
5. The way of salvation.
6. He persisted in prayer until the answer came, and Christ was revealed to him.
7. Believing and coming to Christ explained.
II. Ignorance comes up again.
1. Ignorance explains the ground of his hope.
2. Christian explains what good thoughts are.
3. Christian gives answer to Ignorance’s confession of faith.
4. Ignorance speaks reproachfully about things he knows not.
5. He again falls behind.
III. Christian and hopeful renew their conversation.
1. Reflections over the conduct of Ignorance.
2. The proper use of fear.
3. Why ignorant persons stifle conviction.
4. Talk about one called Temporary.
5. Four reasons why some backslide.
6. How they backslide.
IV. Some lessons on this stage.
1. In times of danger it is wise to recall former experiences.
2. Human philosophy may seem very wise, but the Bible is an unfailing touchstone. (L. O. Thompson.)
Life the time for work
The apostle sounds a note of warning. Men should attend.
I. There is a Divine purpose in every man’s life. We do not come into this world by accident, necessity, nor our own choice. We are sent, and, therefore, we have some distinct mission to fulfil. It is the duty of every man to love God, to watch the interests and good of His universe. This is what He sent us for.
II. There is a Divine limit to every man’s life. It is but “a day.” Sleep is the time for dreams. It is the season of darkness. He who sleeps knows nothing as it really is, and is, for the most part, insensible to pleasure or pain. Our time is unsuitable for sleep. It is too short. It is too full of duties. It is the only time wherein they can be discharged. Spiritual sleep is sin, death--and God calls us to awake. There is a business to be done in our mortal life which cannot be done hereafter. (Preacher’s Monthly.)
I. What are we to watch against?
2. The temptations of the enemy.
4. The lust of the flesh and of the eye and the pride of life.
II. What are we to watch for?
(1) To instruct the ignorant.
(2) To confirm the weak.
(3) To comfort the afflicted.
(4) To glorify Christ.
2. The promises.
3. Answers to prayer.
4. The Second Coming of Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
They who in a crazy vessel navigate a sea wherein are shoals and currents innumerable, if they would keep their course, or reach their port in safety, must carefully repair the smallest injuries, and often throw out their line, and take their observations. In the voyage of life, also, he who would not make shipwreck of his faith, while he is habitually watchful and provident, must make it his express business to look into his state and ascertain his progress. (W. Wilberforce.)
A king had an unwise and reckless son, so reckless that when all entreaty and rebuke proved in vain, he condemned him to death. Still he was allowed three months’ respite, in which he was to prepare himself for death. After this had flown, the father called him again into his presence. But what a change in the appearance of the son! His figure was abject, and his countenance bore the traces of an entire inward transformation. “How comes it now,” says the king to him, “that thou, my son, appearest before me in so different a character?” “Ah, my father and king,” replied he, “how should I not be changed, having death for three months constantly before my eyes?” “Well,” responded the father, “since thou hast so earnestly considered the matter and become of a different mind, thy punishment is remitted; yet see that thou keep within thee forever this new feeling!” “That is too hard for me; how could I, amid the manifold enticements of my newly granted life, possibly be able to stand?” Then the king ordered a shell to be handed to his son, which was filled up to the brim with oil, and said to him, “Take this and carry it through all the streets of the city. But two men with drawn swords are to follow immediately behind thee on foot. If thou spillest only one drop of the oil, in the same moment thy head is to roll off into the street.” The son obeyed. With slow, but sure, steps he traversed the streets of the great capital, ever holding the full shell in his hands, followed by the two armed servants, who were ready at any moment to decapitate him. But, happily, without having spilled even a drop of the oil, the young man returned to his father’s palace. “Tell me, my son,” said he, “what hast thou seen in thy wandering through the city?” “Nothing, my father, nothing at all have I seen.” “And why not, since, too, this is our yearly market day? Tell me what kind of shops, wares, people, animals, etc., fell under thy notice?” “Indeed, sire, I have seen nothing whatever on the entire route, for my eyes were ceaselessly directed toward the oil in the shell that it might remain in the right position and not run over. And how should I not have been thus watchful, when the executioners were close behind, and my life hung upon the point of their swords.” Then said the king, “Now keep well in mind what thou hast been forced to learn in this hour. As the shell of oil, so bear thy soul always in thy hands; direct thy thoughts away from the distractions of sense and the things of earth in which they are so easily lost, towards the eternal which alone has worth, and ever reflect that death’s executioners follow at thy heels, and so thou wilt not so easily forget what is needful to thy soul, and so needful to keep thee from the old disorderly life that must necessarily lead to perdition.” And the son hearkened, and lived happily. (A Tamil Parable.)
Duty of watchfulness
A believer’s watchfulness is like that of the soldier. A sentinel posted on the walls, when he discovers a hostile party advancing, does not attempt to make head against them himself, but informs his commanding officer of the enemies’ approach, and leaves him to take the proper measures against the foe. So the Christian does not attempt to fight temptation in his own strength; his duty is to observe its approach and tell God of it by prayer. (W. Mason.)
Watchfulness must be constant
When the station of Moriah was planted among the Basutos, the missionaries (Mr. Casalie and two companions) were greatly disturbed by hyenas. Each missionary had to mount guard in his turn for one-third of the night. The hyenas’ plan was evidently to wear out the dogs, which they seemed to fear more than the man with the gun, by incessant prowling and howling round the enclosure. For hours together the dogs maintained a corresponding watchfulness and activity, hurrying from one point of apparent attack to another, until even canine nature was on the point of exhaustion. Relief seemed to come shortly before dawn, for the howling became rarer and more distant, until it ceased altogether. Of course the dogs were soon asleep, but their slumber was almost immediately broken by a tremendous uproar. The hyenas had broken in silently, had seized their prey, and were off with it before the missionary had time to fire a shot. Like a greater enemy of man, the hyenas, failing to intimidate, had trusted to a surprise, and by a pre tended peace had worn out the watchfulness of the defenders of the flock. (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)
Argus is fabled to have had a hundred eyes in his head, only two of which ever slept at once. Jupiter sent Mercury to slay him. Mercury put on his winged slippers, took his sleep-producing wand, and hastened to the side of Argus. He presented himself in the guise of a shepherd with his flock. Argus listened, delighted with the new kind of music, and invited the young shepherd to sit beside him. Mercury sat down, told stories, and played the most soothing strains upon his pipes, till it grew late, hoping to lock in sleep the watchful eyes of Argus. At length, as Mercury played and told a long story of the discovery of his wonderful instrument, he saw the hundred eyes all closed. The head of Argus leaned upon his breast, and Mercury cut it off with a stroke, and tumbled it down the rocks. The hundred eyes availed not while the watcher slept. Juno took them, and set them in the feathers of the tail of her peacock, where they remain to this day. (J. L. Nye.)
I. Physically. Abstain altogether from intoxicating liquors, or, at least, from their excessive use.
II. Mentally. By avoiding vanity, ambition, and other extravagant and unreasonable passions.
III. Spiritually. By keeping free from wild and unregulated enthusiasm in religion.
IV. Circumstantially. Don’t make haste to be rich; and “when riches increase set not thy heart upon them.”
V. Socially. Don’t make too many friends, and don’t impose on the kindness of those whose friendship you make. (A. S. Patterson, D. D.)
1 Thessalonians 5:7
They that sleep sleep in the night, and they that be drunken are drunken in the night
A manifold drunkenness
The drunkenness here spoken of is not that from wine only, but that also which comes of all vices.
For riches and the desire of wealth is a drunkenness of the soul, and so carnal lust; and every sin you can name is a drunkenness of the soul. On what account, then, has he called vice sleep? Because, in the first place, the vicious man is inactive with respect to virtue; again, because he sees every thing as a vision; he views nothing in its true light, but is full of dreams and oftentimes of unreasonable actions; and if he sees anything good he has no firmness. Such is the present life. It is full of dreams and fantasy. Riches are a dream, and glory, and everything of that sort. He who sleeps sees not things that are and have a real subsistence, but things that are not he fancies as things that are. Such is vice and the life that is passed in vice. It sees not things that are, but things that are fleeting and fly away, and that soon. (Chrysostom.)
The Christian view of drunkenness
In Thessalonica Paul had his first experience of an European rabble. The Jews employed the tactics by which every sinking cause has fought for life. “Lewd fellows of the baser sort” who were not unaccustomed to the sight of “the world turned upside down,” loungers confused oftener than not with drink, and could be bought for any shameful purpose, children of the darkness and the night, “set the city in an uproar.” There is no need to further describe these birds of evil omen; the scum and the froth are the same everywhere and all time through. But these miserable creatures were not always so. The wildest of that mob was once a happy, innocent child. Some of them eventually came to be children of the light. And such may every drunkard become through Christ.
I. The assertion which Paul makes. “Drunken in the night.”
1. The words were probably meant to be taken literally. “Man goeth forth to his work and to his labour until the evening.” There is little drunkenness till then. Between this and midnight the work is done (Romans 13:13).
2. But they were also meant to bear a figurative application. “The night” was the whole life of the world, of the nation, of the man, until Christ rose like a glorious sun (1 Peter 4:3).
(1) Explain the mystery that a habit so degrading should from the earliest time have obtained so firm a hold. What originates drunkenness? Night, says Paul, in the intellectual and moral nature. Paul’s method, and that of the gospel, differs from that of many temperance advocates in going deeper. Get rid of drunkenness, urges the reformer, and you will get rid of most of your crimes. Get rid of the night, says Paul, and you will get rid of drunkenness.
(2) What night? The night of ignorance, says one--let the man be taught; the night of discomfort--give the man a happy home; of solitude--find the man companions; of dullness--furnish wholesome excitement; of idleness--keep the man employed. Well, these are shadows of the night, but not night itself. Paul’s “night” is that of Christlessness. “Without God and hope in the world.” Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world,” etc. (John 8:12).
(3) There is one thing which the prince of darkness cannot do when attacked in his citadel of drunkenness. If you say that education will cure this evil, he will take the intellectual powers and stimulate them into fascinating play by the wine cup. He can furnish the public house with comfort, provide companionships, give excitement, and keep the hands busy. Try every weapon, but remember that the public house will catch the cue and point them at your own heart. But there is one power to which the devil will not appeal, and that is Christ (1 John 3:8).
II. The appeal which Paul urges. “Let us who are of the day be sober.”
1. Paul was addressing Christians. A line was then drawn, clear cut, between the believer and the unbeliever. Now things have got somewhat mixed. The sad truth that we have to face is that it is an easier thing for thousands around us to grow up in drunken than in sober habits. Your free library may not be open on Sunday, but by command of government your public houses must. Whatever weight your legislation has ever the first day of the week is in favour of drunkenness rather than intelligence. Moreover, you cannot choose your neighbours or keep your children from contamination. Count and contrast the public houses and sanctuaries; which has the need of bell, ritual, sensational element to attract to its services “lewd fellows of the baser sort”? In one large town in England 10 percent go to a place of worship once a week, and 25 percent go every day to the public house.
2. Under the deep conviction that this vice must be grappled with, barriers are built behind which the young and tempted may find shelter. The pledge, guild, league, and society are all to be honoured. But they are nothing to the Christian for his own sake. He has higher ground to occupy. He dreads not so much breaking his bond as sinning against God. Christ outweighs every other consideration.
3. High ground this. Yes, and we dare not lower it. Prove that drunkenness is profitable to the National Exchequer, that it is a characteristic of the best workman, that it is the fashion, which are all dead against the evidence; but I am not careful to answer in this matter. The end of life is not an overflowing exchequer, a ready hand, an entrance into society. “What shall it profit a man?” etc. The drunkard is degraded, unsafe; therefore bind him with pledges and securities. But I look beyond the present, beyond the beggared home, the loathsome death, to something worse--damnation. In that city where there is no night there is no drunkard. Conclusion: Here is a message for all mankind (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10). (T. H. Pattison.)
Prayer against drunkenness
Dr. M’Cosh tells the story of a negro who prayed earnestly that he and his coloured brethren might be preserved from what he called their “upsettin’ sins.” “Brudder,” said one of his friends at the close of the meeting, “you ain’t got de hang of dat ar word. It’s ‘besetting,’ not ‘upsetting.’” “Brudder,” replied the other, “if dat’s so, it’s so. But I was prayin’ de Lord to save us from the sin of intoxification, and if dat ain’t a upsettin’ sin, I dunno what am.”
1 Thessalonians 5:8
But let us, who are of the day, be sober
The condition to be shunned. Christians must keep their natural desires and appetites after the things of this world within due bounds. “Let your moderation be known to all men” is a Divine injunction. St. Paul enjoins sobriety. Now, sobriety is usually opposed to excess in meats and drinks, and here he particularly opposes it to drunkenness. But it also extends to other temporal things. Hence the Great Teacher warned His disciples to “take heed lest their hearts were overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon them unawares.” It was a most reproachful state for men to sleep away the daytime, which is specially for work, but, after all, it was not so strange that those who had the benefit of Divine revelation suffered themselves to be lulled by Satan into carnal security, and laid the reins on the neck of their appetites, and indulged themselves in all manner of riot and excess. It was night with them. They were not sensible of their danger, therefore they slept; they were not sensible of their duty, therefore they were drank. But it ill becomes Christians to do thus. What! shall Christians, who have the light of the glorious gospel shining in their faces, be careless about their deathless souls, and mindless of the world to come? They that have so many eyes upon them should carry themselves not only decently, but holily.
II. The equipment to be worn. The whole armour of God. And this is indispensable to be put on and worn, in order to such sobriety as becomes us, and will be a preparation for the day of the Lord, because our spiritual enemies are many, and mighty, and malicious. They draw hosts to their interest, and keeping them in it, by making them careless, and secure, and presumptuous; by making them intoxicated with pride, intoxicated with passion, intoxicated with self-conceit, intoxicated with sinful gratifications; so that we have every need to arm ourselves against their attempts, by putting on the spiritual breastplate to keep the heart, and the spiritual helmet to protect the head. We must live by faith, and that will keep us watchful and sober, and be our best defence against all the assaults of our enemies. We must get a heart inflamed with love; and this also will be our defence. We must make salvation our hope; and this will hinder our being intoxicated with “the pleasures of sin, which are but for a season.” Having “the hope of salvation,” we must do nothing to shake our hope or render ourselves unfit for the great salvation we hope for. (D. Mayo.)
Aspects of Christian life
I. The Christian idea of the present life and of the best preparation for getting through it.
1. Life is a battle. There is peril of some sort. Men do not want a breastplate and helmet sitting under their own vine and fig tree in unbroken repose.
2. Life is a great and noble thing, but a wise man, observing the spiritual faculty in man, gets the idea that it is not an ultimate state. It is full of beginnings. Things do not seem completed. Wonderful as the universe is, it does not fill the soul, but leaves a continual yearning for something more. Man is capable of forming an idea of what mind might become, and then he looks abroad and sees himself a little man among little men, being pulled down by the worser part of his nature, and tempted to rest satisfied with the present condition of things.
3. See, says the apostle, that you are not engrossed by the lesser to the neglect of the greater. Guard those sublimer parts of your nature, that head and heart, those thoughts and affections that wander through eternity.
(1) Put on the breastplate of faith and love. Have within you the principle of faith which shall penetrate the material and visible and realize the spiritual, substantial, and eternal, and in the midst of all that greatness and splendour remember that faith will bring before you God, infinitely holy; and along with faith there will be a love which shall bring your moral being into contact with all good; the love of infinite excellence will raise you above the present and bring you into harmony with itself.
(2) But more: You must have a personal interest in the infinite future “for a helmet,” etc. You must not be satisfied with looking about this universe and thinking that it has been from and will be through eternity, and that you are just come to appear for a little moment, and then pass away, as some philosophers allege; you are yourself to be eternal. A hope of this sort will preserve you from those temptations to grosser forms of folly and sin. You will not be satisfied to associate with them that are drunken, and who enjoy the pleasures of sin, which are but for a season. Combine these, and you have an element of strength which will preserve you amidst all spiritual danger.
II. Whence man is to get this equipment for the battle of life. By the actual revelation and interposition of God. In this dislocated world I want a Divine hand to put it right. If I am to have faith to realize the infinite, love to bring me in harmony with the good, and hope to secure a personal interest in eternity, then I want God to speak, to help. Christianity comes and delivers such a message as we want: “God hath not appointed us unto wrath,” etc. (1 Thessalonians 5:9).
1. I could take that the world over, and call to guilty men, “Forsake your sins, for God hath not,” etc. God hath spoken to you and acted for you. While you belong to the natural system it goes on, and you with it. The law takes its course, and there is nothing but destruction for you, for you have broken it. But God has interfered and enforced a remedy by which you may be saved. If you accept that, then you may escape the result which must otherwise ensue; for God’s design is your salvation.
2. But this is true in a more emphatic sense of those who have received the gospel. In a higher and profounder sense “God hath not appointed you,” etc.
the very object for which it was offered and by you believed. You have come in contact with this Divine element, and by it you are preparing, while here, for the everlasting blessedness which is the future adornment of saved humanity. Christianity, then, is not merely a system; Christ is more than a perfect Teacher and Example: He has died for us and wrought out for us a redemption. Men may take their stand on the abstract improbability of the thing; but let them reject the Bible also, for if there is one thing clearer in that than another it is that Christ has made an atonement for sin. Christ’s death is the point upon which the salvation of humanity turns; we may not be able to say how, but the thing is uncontestable.
III. The sort of world to which we are passing and the kind of thing our life is to be (1 Thessalonians 5:10).
1. “Awake or sleep” means alive or dead. The great object of the gospel is that as long as you live you should live with Christ, have a Divine life from Him, and walk in harmony with Him, and that when you are dead you shall be with Him also.
2. But Paul meant more than this. He had in his mind 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, and his object was to show how the great end of the gospel was to be answered, and that the death of the disciples would not frustrate its accomplishment. When Christ is manifested, whether they are alive or dead the result will be the same: they will all be alive together with Christ.
3. Here, then, is--
(1) Immortal life for man. Though I may die and see corruption, I shall rise up like Christ into a glorious and eternal life. That is something like a consummation. There is something ultimate about that, with which I can be satisfied; so different from this world of beginnings, temptations, warfare and dislocations, where the spiritual is dragged down to the flesh.
(2) Life of the noblest and Divinest sort; life with Christ. You cannot make a man more miserable than to take him out of his own sphere in society and put him in one opposite; but to place a Christian in the immediate presence of Christ is to bestow upon him the highest happiness. His sanctified and glorified nature will find itself at home by the side of Christ.
(3) Life of the highest character in respect to general society. We shall not only live with Him, but “together.” It will not be a solitary blessedness. A multitude which no man can number made like each other, by Christ having made them like Himself, will live together in harmony, love, and mutual confidence, and their happiness will be complete.
IV. Christian men having this faith, love, and prospect, should--
1. Edify one another, which implies that there is a foundation laid, upon which the edifice is to be built. Christians should help each other to become temples for the Holy Ghost. Now, a glorious thing like that could never have sprung up in a world like this: it must have come from God.
2. Comfort one another with the testimony we have received--under trial, under loss of friends, in the family, and in Christian intercourse. Conclusion:
1. The perfect beauty and harmony of the Christian system as a theory. If one could not believe it true, it would be relinquished with regret. What a glorious thing, then, to feel no such pity, but to be certain of its truth.
2. The strong feelings of gratitude, hope, and determination which ought to inspire us with respect to life. (T. Binney.)
Christian sobriety, or seriousness
The two great elements indispensable for the existence of a really grand character are elasticity and steadfastness--elasticity, without which a man gets crushed by every slight failure; and steadfastness, without which he will be turned aside from his purposes by unworthy motives, and be tempted to forget the end of his efforts in the contemplation of the means whereby they are to be attained. For keeping alive this elasticity, a man must know how to be wisely gay; for keeping up this steadfastness, he must know how to be sober. And so Christian sobriety must be based upon a reasonable estimate of the importance of life and the seriousness of all things here below. The trifler who has no higher ambition than to amuse himself, mistakes the meaning of all things on earth. He sees no further than the outside of things, and treats them as a savage does a toy, which, when it does not frighten him, affords him endless mirth. The man or the boy who has got to feel that God’s eye is on him morning, noon, and night, and who is learning to realize that the smallest incident of every hour has and must have an influence upon all his future prospects for good or evil--the man or the boy who is impressed with the momentous truth that every day as it passes carries with it an imperishable record of his deeds and words and thoughts, and that the time must come when he will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account of the deeds done in the body--he cannot fail to be serious, and will become more and more so in proportion as he realizes these things, and in proportion as he lives in remembrance of them every hour. But as he lays hold of the fact that God loves him and all men, and that, with all his weakness and inconstancy, he is yet not left unsupported by the Spirit’s grace--though he may be serious, he will not be sad. (A. Jessop, D. D.)
The sober minded children of the day
I. The persons.
1. Their character.
(1) They are in God and Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:1).
(2) They know their election of God--not in theory, but in fact, in the heart, by virtue of their union to Christ.
2. Their privilege. “Of the day.”
(1) The day itself is the gospel day (Zechariah 13:1-9), the day of the fountain opened for sin: the Lord’s day, well called Sunday because of its brightness; but that brightness shines inward through the indwelling Spirit. “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day.”
(2) Its manifestation (Ephesians 5:8) revealing sin, salvation (Malachi 4:2), progress, Divine supplies, future glory.
II. The duty: “Be sober.”
1. towards God.
(1) Humble, and not intoxicated with pride.
(2) Believing, and not intoxicated with false doctrine.
(3) Truthful, and not intoxicated with anxiety and fear.
2. In respect of our enemies.
(1) Patient, and not hasty.
(2) Courageous, and not fearful.
(3) Forbearing, and not wrathful
3. As regards ourselves. (A. Triggs.)
The work and armour of the children of the day
I. The central injunction, into which all the moral teaching drawn from the Second Coming is gathered: “Be sober.”
1. The context shows that we are not to omit a literal reference (1 Thessalonians 4:7). Temperance is moderation in regard to the swinish sins of drunkenness and gluttony. None need the precept more than we. Any doctor will tell you that the average Englishman eats and drinks a great deal more than is good for him. It is melancholy to think how many professors have the intellectual and spiritual life blunted by senseless table indulgence.
2. The higher meaning.
(1) It is not an unemotional absence of fervour in Christian character. Some are always preaching down enthusiasm, and preaching up “a sober standard of feeling,” which is nothing more than Laodicean lukewarmness. But the last thing the Church of this century needs is a refrigerator; a poker and pair of bellows are far more needful. The truths we profess are so tremendous that nothing but a continuous glow of enthusiasm will correspond to their majesty and importance. Paul was the very type of an enthusiast. Festus called him mad; so did some at Corinth (2 Corinthians 5:13). Oh for more of that insanity which rouses the Pentecostal charge, “These men are full of new wine”!
(2) It means the prime Christian duty of self-restraint in the use and love of all earthly treasures and pleasures.
(a) It is clear from the make of a man’s soul that without self-control he will go all to pieces. Human nature was made not for democracy, but for monarchy. Here are within us many passions, tastes, desires, which ask nothing but “Give me my appropriate gratification, though all the laws of God and man be broken to get it.” So there has to be an eye given to these blind beasts and a hand laid on these instinctive impulses. The true temple of the spirit has the broad base laid on these instincts; above them and controlling them the will; above it understanding which enlightens it and them; and supreme over all conscience, with nothing between it and heaven. Where that is not the order you will get wild work. The man who lets passion and inclination guide is like a steamboat with all the furnaces banked up, the engines going at full speed, and nobody at the wheel.
(b) That self-control is to be exercised mainly in regard of our use and estimate of the pleasures of life. It is not only man’s make that makes it necessary. All about us are hands reaching out drugged cups; and whoever takes Circe’s cup turns into a swine, and sits there imprisoned at the feet of the sorceress forever. Only one thing can deliver us: “Be sober” in regard to the world and all it offers. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
II. A motive which buttresses this exhortation. “Let us, since we are of the day, be sober.”
1. What day? Not exactly the Day of Judgment, although there may be some allusion to that; but the apostle has passed from that to day in general. Christians are the children of that which expresses knowledge, joy, and activity; they should, therefore, be brave, not afraid of light, cheerful, buoyant, hopeful, transparent, and walk in this darkened world, bearing their radiance with them, and making things, else unseen, visible.
2. But while these emblems are gathered into that name there is one direction in which the consideration ought to tell--that of self-restraint. “Noblesse oblige”; the aristocracy are bound to do nothing dishonourable. Children of the light are not to stain themselves with anything foul. Indulgence may be fitting for the night, but incongruous with the day.
III. The method by which this great precept may be fulfilled.
1. Faith, love, hope, form the defensive armour of the soul, and make self-control possible. Like a diver in his dress, who is let down into the ocean, a man whose heart is girt with faith and charity, and whose head is covered with hope, may be dropped down into the wildest sea of temptation and worldliness, and yet will walk dry and unharmed.
2. The cultivation of these three is the best means for securing self-control. It is an easy thing to say, “Govern yourself.” The powers that should control are largely gone over to the enemy. Who shall keep the keepers? You can no more “erect yourself above yourself” than you can lift yourself by your coat collar. But you can cultivate faith, hope, and charity, and these will do the governing. Faith will bring you into communication with all the power of God. Love will lead you into a region where temptations will show their own foulness. Hope will turn away your eyes from looking at the tempting splendour around, and fix them on the glories above. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The breastplate of faith and love.
I. Faith guards against intellectual temptations.
1. We are surrounded by an all pervasive, subtle, penetrating atmosphere of scepticism. We meet with it in our educational agencies, and drink it in with our learning; in society, and imbibe it with our interchange of thought and conversation; in our ephemeral literature, and take it in in our recreation; in our pulpits, alas I and receive it along with our religious instruction. In these and other ways doubts are insinuated into the heart on the all-important subjects of God, Christ, salvation, duty, destiny. Escape it we cannot. To fight it seems only like combatting the air, so agile is the adversary. Our only safety lies in wearing an insulator. A mariner wrapped in oilskin can defy the elements though he cannot allay them. Such an insulator is faith; not firmly held theological opinions, but practical and realizing trust in God and truth. Faith knows whom and what it has believed, and passes unscathed through the trial.
2. We are surrounded by circumstances which tend to agitate the mind and excite our fears. Our duties, responsibilities, dangers, in business, home, travel, Churches, are calculated to engender anxiety, and when once anxiety gets into the heart it is difficult to dislodge, and, if allowed sway, the citadel is gone and despair enthroned. The only course is to keep anxiety out by the breastplate of faith. Trust in God and in His promise is the sure antidote. “No weapon that is formed against them shall prosper,” etc. “All things work together for good,” etc.
II. Love guards against moral temptations. These, too, abound, and to escape them we must needs go out of the world. Some, of course, we must fight, but against each and all we need protection.
1. Love to God is the supreme motive for resistance. No other is sufficiently strong and durable. Prudence, self-respect, consideration for friends, etc., are well as subordinate motives, engravings on the breastplate, but are unavailing by themselves. The true, abiding, invincible motive is “How can I do this wickedness and sin against God?” What God has done for and to me, and what He is to me and I to Him, are sufficient inspirations when strongly held to resist the most powerful advance.
2. Love to God creates moral habits and tastes which render temptations innocuous. “What fellowship has light with darkness?” While this Sun rules the children of the day, the night of sin can have no place. (J. W. Burn.)
For an helmet, the hope of salvation.
1. Subjectively considered hope is the expectation and desire of future good. Christian hope con templates--
(1) The highest exaltation and perfection of our nature. We shall be like God, conformed to the image of His Son in soul and body.
(2) This exaltation arises from the enlargement of all our powers to do and all our capacity to receive.
(3) Dominion or exaltation in dignity as well as in excellence and power.
(4) The presence and vision of God in Christ.
2. Its foundation is--
(1) The promise of God.
(2) The infinite merit of Christ.
(3) The love of God. From what we know of that love we infer that there is no benefit which it is not ready to confer.
(4) The witness of the Spirit that we are the children of God.
II. Hope as a helmet.
1. Protects the believer’s most vital part. In the old hand to hand conflicts the head was the worst exposed, and its protection of the first importance. Hence the helmet was as necessary as the shield. With the Christians the hope of salvation gives security, and, therefore, confidence, courage, and endurance.
(1) From the assaults of Satan against our faith and confidence in God; and from our proneness to neglect eternal tidings.
(2) From the attractions and allurements of the world.
(3) From the corruptions of our own hearts.
2. Adorns the believer. The helmet is the most attractive part of the warrior’s equipment. So is hope to the Christian. It enables him to hold his head erect. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
I. Its mention serves to remind the Christian that he is a soldier.
1. If you were not soldiers you would not need armour. This idea should govern the whole of life. Too many Christians try to be friends with God and with His enemies. Never take off your armour, or in some unguarded moment you may meet with serious wounds.
2. You are soldiers in the enemies’ country. The sick are in the trenches, and the active are engaging the enemy. More or less all are exposed and always.
3. You are in the country of an enemy who never gives quarter. If you fall it is death. The world never forgives. What might be done without observation by any one else is noted and misrepresented in you.
4. You fight with an enemy who never made a truce. You may come to terms and parley; forces of evil never do. “Dread the Greeks, even when they bring you gifts”; and let the Christian dread the world most when it puts on its softest speeches.
5. You have to do with an enemy who cannot make peace with you nor you with him. If you become at peace with sin, it has conquered you.
II. Being a soldier look to your head.
1. A wound in the head is a serious matter. Being a vital part it needs to be well protected. A good many Christians never think of defending the head at all. If they get their hearts warmed by religion, they think that quite enough. But it is not: a hot head and a hot heart may do a good deal of mischief, but a hot heart and cool head will do a world of service for Christ. Have right doctrine in the head, and then set the soul on fire.
2. A helmet is of no use to any part but the head.
(1) The head is peculiarly liable to temptation. It is not easy to stand on a high pinnacle without the brain beginning to reel: and if God puts a man on a high elevation of usefulness he had need to have his head well taken care of. So with wealth, popularity, etc.
(2) The head is liable to attacks from scepticism. He who has a hope of salvation is not afraid of its quibbles. He may hear them all, and be for a moment staggered, as a soldier under a sudden shock, but he recovers himself. A man is not often a very thorough democrat after he gets a little money in the savings bank, and when a man gets a stake in Christianity he gets to be very conservative of old fashioned truth.
(3) The head is in danger from the attacks of personal unbelief. Who of us has not doubted his interest in Christ at times? but the man who has a good hope may be of good cheer. These doubts and fears will pass away.
(4) Some are attacked by threatenings from the world. The world brings down his double-handed sword with a tremendous blow, but it only blunts itself on the helmet.
III. Consider the helmet with which God would have your head protected.
1. Its Giver. The soldier gets his regimentals from Her Majesty, and from the Monarch Himself we must get our helmets. Those of your own construction are of no use in the battle, and the hope of salvation is not purchasable.
2. Its Maker. Weapons are valued according to the maker; the name of the Holy Ghost is on our helmets. The hope of salvation is His work in the soul. Rest satisfied with none that are made in the workshop of nature.
3. The metal of which it is made. Beware of getting a base hope, a helmet of paltry metal, through which the sword will cleave to your skull.
4. Its strength. It renders its wearer invulnerable in all assaults. Recollect David, when pressed with troubles on every side. “Why art thou cast down?…Hope thou in God.”
5. It will not come off. It is of main importance to have a headgear that cannot be knocked off in the first scrimmage. So ours must not be a commonplace hope that will fail us in extremity.
6. The old helmets were oiled to make them shine. When God anoints His peoples’ hope, and gives them the oil of joy, it shines bright in the light of the Saviour’s countenance.
7. The helmet was the place of honour. The plume was placed in it. The Christian’s hope is his honour and glory: he must not be ashamed of it.
IV. There are some who have not this helmet. Christ only provides for His own soldiers, but Satan also provides for his. His helmets are also potent ones. Nothing but the sword of the Spirit can cleave them. He has given some a thick headpiece of indifference. “What do I care!”--that is your helmet. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Hope of salvation
Salvation is hoped for because it is already begun. This hope of salvation is a defence--
1. Because that which we hope for is to be free from sin.
2. Because by this hope the heart is set on higher and nobler things.
3. Because, from the experience of salvation which provides our hope, we know the blessed rewards of salvation from sin.
4. Because heavenly life begun gives power to resist and overcome sin.
5. Because the blessings hoped for out dazzle the allurements of sin, and the delights it promises.
6. Because we know that all we hope for is lost if we yield to sin. (Christian Age.)
1 Thessalonians 5:9-10
For God hath not appointed us unto wrath
God’s everlasting purpose
God’s purpose is--
1. That we should not be lost. We all deserve wrath. All have sinned, and every sin the Divine indignation will avenge. The longer we live in sin, therefore, the greater the amount of wrath our iniquities are treasuring up. And yet, although we are daily provoking the Divine anger, God has not appointed us to wrath. He willeth not the death of a sinner.
2. That we should be saved. The kingdom He has prepared from the foundation of the world.
(1) This should comfort us in trial. God’s purpose none can frustrate. “Fear not, little flock,” etc.
(2) Don’t distress yourselves about election. God has told you that His will is that all men should be saved , and, therefore, if any one perishes, it is not because of God’s secret purpose, but His own want of inclination. “Ye will not come.”
II. Its accomplishment.
1. There is only one way in which God’s purpose can be effected: “By our Lord Jesus Christ.” “Neither is there salvation in any other.” The grand subject of Christianity is Christ; and those who do not make Christ all in all are like those Jewish builders who refused “the headstone of the corner,” or like the foolish man who built on the sand.
2. In what respect salvation is through Jesus Christ is plainly told us: “Who died for us.” Christ’s death rescues us from wrath. That which our sins provoked was borne by Christ.
3. How sad the mistake of those who think little or nothing of Christ’s atonement, on which hinges our salvation. “He that believeth,” and he only, “shall be saved.”
III. Its effects.
1. Life with Christ on earth. “Whether we wake.” “To me to live is Christ.” To this end Christ was called Emmanuel. This life is in union with Christ. Wherever you go, Christ goes. He never leaves or forsakes you.
2. Life with Christ in heaven. Our bodies sleep, but not our souls. “Absent from the body,” etc. “This day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” This association will be--
(1) More intimate than that on earth.
(2) More blessed.
(3) More enduring.
Conclusion: We hence perceive--
1. The nature of our present existence. If we are Christians, this life is only the porch to a better; if not, a porch to a worse.
2. The readiness of God to save. “He willeth not the death of a sinner.” (C. Clayton, M. A.)
Called to salvation
God is pleased to day to put up before your eyes the white flag of mercy, calling you to come to Jesus and live. But recollect, if you do not yield to it, He will put up the red flag of threatening, and then the black flag of execution will not be far off. Perhaps some of you have been suffering under bodily disease--take that as a warning. When our vessels of war would stop a suspicious vessel, they fire a shot athwart her bows as a warning. If she does not haul to, perhaps they give another; and if no notice is taken of this, the gunners go to their business in real earnest, and woe to the offender. Your affliction is the gospel’s warning gun. Pause awhile, I beseech you; ask the Lord in mercy to look upon you, that you may be saved! As I think upon some of you here who are not saved, I feel some thing like the boy I read of yesterday in the newspapers: Last week there were two lads on the great rocks of Lundy Island, in the Bristol Channel, looking for seagulls’ eggs; one of them went far down the cliff, and lost his footing, and when his brother, hearing a faint voice, looked down, he saw him clinging to a jutting crag, and striving in vain to find a place for his feet. There stood the anxious brother, alarmed and paralyzed with dread, quite unable to help the younger one in so much peril below, who soon relaxed his hold and was dashed to pieces far beneath. I feel somewhat like that alarmed brother, only there is this happy difference: I can hope for you, and bid you hope for yourselves. You are clinging now, perhaps, to some false hope, and striving to find a rest where rest is not to be found; but the strong-winged Angel of the everlasting gospel is just underneath you this morning, crying, “Drop now; simply, drop into My arms; I will take you and bear you aloft in safety.” That Angel as the Angel of the Covenant, the Lord Jesus Christ. You must be dashed to pieces forever unless you rest in Him; but cast yourself upon Him, I pray you, and then, as you are carried in safety far off from every fear, you will magnify the grace of God and extol the glorious gospel. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Who died for us that whether we wake or sleep. More exactly watch. So popular a motto of early Christian life--caught as it was from the lips of Christ (Mark 13:34-37)--that it took the form of a name--Gregory. It has been said that there are three sleeps for man--those of nature, sin, and death; and three corresponding awakenings--those of nature, righteousness, and life eternal. It is of the second that Paul speaks here. Salvation is through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us for this purpose, in order that, whether we keep life’s long toilful watch, or fall asleep in what is called death, we should have our true life together with Him. (Bp. Alexander.)
I. It is life We shall live. This is the common Scripture designation of all we include in Spiritual and eternal life. All that is opposed to death; the holy, happy, and immortal existence of the whole man, soul and body.
II. Life with Christ. Association or communion. Companionship with Christ.
2. Participation of His life, its power, holiness, blessedness, glory.
III. The life of all. We shall all--all the redeemed, all those dear to us who belong to Christ, all in every age and nation who love Him, are to be made the subjects of this life. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
Assured salvation through Christ
The Thessalonians had groundless fears for their departed friends (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
I. God’s purpose.
1. We are not appointed to wrath.
2. We are appointed to salvation.
3. We are appointed to salvation obtainable by our Lord Jesus Christ.
II. Nothing can frustrate this purpose.
1. Because Christ has died for us. A continent of truth is spread out in this one fact.
III. Our salvation is assured to us.
1. In this present existence--“whether we wake.”
2. In death--“or sleep.” Salvation has two parts--that which is present, or the state of grace; and that which is future, or the state of glory.
IV. We are united to Christ, and our life is joined to His life; and thus, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. It should be noticed, however, that the glory and chief hope of the Church are not to be realized at death (of the individual), but at the Lord’s coming: one is not to anticipate the other, but all are to be glorified together at Christ’s coming (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17; Colossians 3:4; Hebrews 11:40). Death affects the mere individual, but the coming of Christ, the whole Church. At death our souls are invisibly and individually with the Lord; at Christ’s coming, the whole church, with all its members, in body and soul, shall be visibly and collectively with Him.”
V. Here is an enduring basis for hope and comfort.
1. Salvation is sure--as sure as Omnipotence can make it in view of Christ’s death.
2. Salvation will be complete. The body shall be raised in im mortal strength and beauty, and the soul shall be sinless and happy in the service of God.
3. Grief over the dead is natural (John 11:31-35; Philippians 2:27); but, with the hope of resurrection and recognition hereafter, it should be moderated.
4. In all this we perceive the immense benefits revelation and grace have conferred upon us.
(1) In contrast with heathenism. The Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul, but knew nothing about the resurrection of the body. Their dead were called “shades.” Even the Egyptians did not believe in the resurrection of the body, unless the return of the spirit, as it was believed, to inhabit the mummified body, can be called a resurrection.
(2) As culminating in the Gospel. The Old Testament presented the two doctrines as counterparts to each other--the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body. But these two doctrines were not so clearly understood in the Old Testament times as in the New. That they were revealed is evident from such passages as relate to Enoch and Elijah, the raising of the dead, and from Psalms 16:9; Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15; Psalms 73:24; Proverbs 14:32; Isaiah 38:18-19, etc. These doctrines were made illustrious by the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by explicit statements in the New Testament. Hence, in its clearer light, there is more of hope, joy, and comfort than was possible before the coming of Christ. He is the first fruits of them that slept. (L. O. Thompson.)
Christ’s desire for His people’s company
How all-inclusive the passage is! The whole of that grand purpose for which the Bible was written is contained in these few lines. What have you not in this verse? You have Christ, His death, His substitutionary work, His resurrection, the fact of His present life, the assurance of His return, the saints’ salvation, the saints’ eternal glory. This text is also a window through which we look into the heart of Christ, and behold the Saviour’s great desire that all His people should live together with Him.
I. Love’s desire. That we should live together with Him.
1. Viewed from one stand point, this is only natural. Grant love, and you are necessarily compelled to grant something else--desire for the presence of the object beloved. I cannot imagine it possible for the two ever to be separated. Love is always restless until the object of affection is close by. In proportion as the love is pure and intense, so will the delight in the nearness of the object become intensified; and Christ finds His greatest happiness in having His people near Him. Have you joy in communion? He joys more. As you look up to Him, do you feel constrained to sing? He, too, when He looks down on you, feels that He must sing; for “the Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty: He will joy over thee with singing.”
2. And yet it is very marvellous.
(1) Where did the love spring from? Why did He love me at all? Has any friend on earth treated any of us half so ill as we have treated Christ? And yet His choicest desire is that we shall live together with Him. Is it not strange that, though there are some people who would not care to have you in their house, yet Christ wants to have you in His home?
(2) Mysterious? More so still when I call to mind the fact that I do not like to live with myself. Self is my plague. And yet how strange that, though I want to get away from self, Christ wants me to go and live with Him.
3. How all-inclusive the desire is. It is that we should not only live with Him, but together with Him. What is that?
(1) Take it as including all His people, and then it teaches us that Christ is not content for one to be absent. He wants to see all the members of His family brought round the table. Is it not always so when there is love to all? What is the bliss of heaven? All His people together. Fathers united once more to the children who went before, husbands reunited with wives, friends with friends--all together; and then all together with Him. To Christ’s eye that is the most beautiful picture that heaven itself can present--Christ and all His numerous family, without an absentee.
(2) Or does “together” apply to Christ? And, if so, there is a beautiful thought in it. You may live in the same house with a person, and yet not live together. “Together” implies a certain amount of intimacy. When Christ brings His people together He brings them to a home. He does not merely collect a multitude of people. No; in heaven there will be holy familiarity.
II. Love’s method to obtain its desire. Christ’s was most costly. “Greater love hath no man than this,” etc. If you would measure Christ’s love, you can only do so by the Cross. Here is the explanation of Calvary. If you say that Christ died in order to satisfy Divine justice, to make an atonement for sin, to deliver from hell--all that is true. But now put it in a more beautiful way: that I might live together with Him “who died” not on a soft bed, but hanging on hard timber; not with loving friends around, but a hooting crowd; not with death lit up by His Father’s smile, but crying, “Eloi,” etc., out on a felon’s hill. And He died in my place. If He had not, I must. Now there is no room for doubt. If, when you were a sinner, Jesus loved you enough to die for you, do you not think that now you are one of His friends, He will love you enough to bring you home?
III. The only conditions that can satisfy Christ’s desire. Christ is not going to be disappointed. Any way, whether we wake or sleep, He means that we shall be with Him. What is intended by these words?
1. Take them literally. Sleeping or waking, conscious or unconscious, the saint and the Saviour are never far apart.
2. “Awake or asleep” means living or dying. Christ will have our company living. Christ would not be satisfied merely to have our company in the glory. He wants it down here. His delight is to commune here with His ransomed ones. And suppose we fall asleep in death. Death is but the Lord’s black chariot that He sends to bring His darlings home. The billow of death never washed a soul from the Saviour’s arms. It washes the soul from a thousand other hands that try to retain it, but it only sweeps the spirit away to its eternal home.
3. The chief meaning is that, whether by resurrection or translation, we shall be with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Then there are some who will fall asleep in death, and there are others who will be alive and awake at Christ’s coming. Will He be satisfied only to have one of the companies with Him.? No; He died for us that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. We shall pass either through the portals of death, or over them as did Elijah; but, either way, the goal reached will be the same. (A. G. Brown.)
Oneness with Christ
A well built stone gets to be one with the foundation. In the old Roman walls the mortar seems to be as hard as the stones, and the whole is like one piece; you must blow it to atoms before you can get the wall away. So is it with the true believer; he rests upon his Lord till he grows up into Him, till he is one with Jesus by a living union, so that you scarce know where the foundation ends and where the upbuilding begins; for the believer becometh all in Christ, even as Christ is all in all to him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1 Thessalonians 5:11
Wherefore comfort and edify one another
Comfort and edification
1. The presence of discomfort, and the duty of mutual support under trial. Men are troubled--
(1) By sin. We must comfort by restoring such in the spirit of meekness, by pointing them to the Saviour.
(2) By infirmities. Here we must comfort by bearing one another’s burdens with sympathy and help.
(3) Affliction. When we can do no more, we can console with a few simple words. “A word spoken in season,” etc.
2. Owning our relationship with others. There is very deep comfort afforded to the solitary when we make them feel that they are not alone--e.g., in Christian testimony before an ungodly world; in work for the Master.
3. Reminding people of what they must expect from the world on the one hand, and of Christ’s helpfulness on the other (John 15:17).
4. Bringing before others the real grounds of comfort.
(1) Present acceptance with God.
(2) Future approval and reward.
1. Presupposes a foundation--Christ Jesus.
2. Consists in--
(1) Christian conversation. “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together” (Ephesians 4:29).
(2) Mutual prayer. “If two of you shall agree,” etc.
(3) Unity of design.
Conclusion: To fit yourselves for this work.
1. Search the Scriptures, which are full of words of comfort and edification.
2. Read Christian biographies.
3. Beware of Pharisaism. (Bp. Villiers.)
The power of comfort
So have I seen the sun kiss the frozen earth, which was bound up with the images of death and the colder breath of the north; and then the waters break forth from their enclosures, and melt with joy, and run in useful channels; and the flies do rise again from their little graves in walls, and dance awhile in the air, to tell that there is joy within, and that the great mother of creatures will open the stock of her new refreshment, become useful to mankind, and sing praises to her Redeemer. So is the heart of a sorrowful man under the discourses of a wise comforter. He breaks from the despairs of the grave, and the fetters of chains and sorrow; he blesses God, and he blesses thee, and he feels his life returning; for to be miserable is death, but nothing is life but to be comforted. And God is pleased with no music from below so much as in the thanksgiving song of relieved widows, of supported orphans, of rejoicing and comforted persons. (Jeremy Taylor.)
The power to comfort a test of religion
Shortly before his death, being visited by a clergyman whose features, as well as language, were more lugubrious than consoling, Hood looked up at him compassionately, and said, “‘My dear sir, I’m afraid that your religion doesn’t agree with you.” (W. Davenport Adams.)
is one of the metaphorical words which have passed into the language of Christianity from the lips of our Lord. The foundation and progress of the Christian life is likened by Him to the building of a house (Matthew 7:24; cf. Luke 6:1; Luke 6:8; Colossians 1:23; 1 Peter 5:10), and the parable of the improvident builder (Luke 14:28). Christ said, “I will edify My Church” (Matthew 14:18). Thus the Christian Church and the Christian soul are alike compared to a building or temple. The building will not be finished out until Christ comes. Those who by sympathy, word, or deed, assist the growth of Christian wisdom, feeling, or life, are conceived of as builders, helping others or themselves to supply some part for the construction of the spiritual edifice, and are said to edify (1Co 7:1; 1 Corinthians 14:3-4; Colossians 2:7). (Bp. Alexander.)
Edification the aim of Christian speech
When Handel’s oratorio of the Messiah had won the admiration of many of the great, Lord Kinnoul took occasion to pay him some compliments on the noble entertainment he had given the town. “My lord,” said the composer, “I should be sorry if I only entertained them: I wish to make them better.” It is to be feared that many speechmakers at public meetings could not say as much; and yet how dare any of us waste the time of our fellow immortals in mere amusing talk! If we have nothing to speak to edification, how much better to hold our tongue. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Communion of saints
This forms an article of the Christian faith; but the profession of a truth and the experience or practice of it are widely different things.
I. What this communion is.
1. Saints are those who have been convinced of sin and saved by Christ, and are now living under the sanctifying influence of the Holy Ghost.
2. Their communion is a union of heart with Christ and one another. This is confined to no Church, age, people, or place. If grace sanctify some poor heathen five thousand miles away, and any poor sinner amongst ourselves, let them meet, and there will be a communion of feeling and interests between them. This communion has its type in the walk to Emmaus. The topics are--
(1) Themselves--their joys, griefs, failures, triumphs, fears, hopes.
(2) Their Lord--His condescension, goodness, love, truth.
(3) Christ’s kingdom and doctrine--how most effectually they may further the one and adorn the other.
(4) Their heritage--in its future and all glorious perfection.
II. Its advantages.
1. Comfort. The followers of Christ, so far from being exempt from trial, are often most troubled; but by communion they comfort themselves together. When one member suffers, all suffer.
2. Edification. Sometimes it is humbling, sometimes encouraging or consoling; but it is always edifying to commune with believers. Such an interchange of thought, feeling, and affection, produces often a friendship as intimate and endearing as that which subsisted between Jonathan and David. In conclusion, I would recommend--
1. Religious intercourse.
(1) There is an intercourse which seems to be religious, but is far from being so. Many talk about religion without talking religion itself.
(2) Many professors are wanting in Christian openness and candour. How freely worldlings communicate their ideas to each other. Should Christians be less communicative?
2. Devout retirement. Without this the life and power of religion cannot be maintained, much less communion. (W. Mudge, B. A.)
Luther, at Wittenberg, discerning a very melancholy man, whom formerly he well knew, said unto him, “Ah! human creature, what doest thou? Hast thou nothing else in hand but to think on thy sins, on death, and on damnation? Turn thine eyes quickly away, and look hither to this man Christ, of whom it is written, ‘He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered, died, buried, the third day arose from the dead, and ascended up into heaven.’ Wherefore dost thou think all this was done? Verily, it was that thou shouldst comfort thyself against death and sin; therefore, forbear, be not afraid, neither do thou faint, for truly thou hast no cause; for Christ suffered death for thee, and prevailed for thy comfort and defence, and for that cause He sitteth at the right hand of His Father to deliver thee. Therefore, whosoever thou art that art possessed with such heavy thoughts, know for certain that the same is a work and devising of the devil; for God hath sent His Son into the world, not to affright, but to comfort sinners. From hence these and the like sentences are often expressed in the Scriptures: ‘Rejoice; be joyful in the Lord.’ ‘Be not afraid.’ ‘Be not discouraged.’ ‘Be of good comfort: I have overcome the world.’” (Luther’s Table Talk.)
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
We beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you
Faithful ministers worthy of respect
The particulars upon which this claim for the ministers of Christ is founded.
1. The influence of the ministerial office. They are “over you in the Lord” by a Divine appointment, by your own choice; not as task masters, nor by mere human patronage. Their influence is full of care, exertion, watchfulness, responsibility.
2. The employment of the ministerial office. They “admonish you.” Ministers are builders, watchmen, teachers, soldiers. Their labours are--preparatory in studies, executive in duties, solitary in trials.
II. State the nature and press the duty of that respect which Christian Churches owe to their ministers.
1. The due proportion of that respect: esteem them in love.
2. The motive which should influence: “for their work’s sake.” A high valuation of the ministerial office.
3. The evidences which prove it is genuine. Attention to the comfortable support of a minister. A regular, devout, conscientious attendance on his ministry. A tender regard for his character.
4. The mode by which the text enforces the duty.” I beseech you, brethren.” (E. Payson.)
Ministers and people
I. Christian ministers as here described. Not by titles indicative of earthly honour or human power, not by any natural excellencies of temper or mind, nor by any acquired advantages of knowledge and skill, nor by any peculiar measure of spiritual gifts; but by their work and office.
1. “Them which labour among you.” The original signifies to “labour with unremitting diligence, even to much weariness.” This involves--
(1) Due preparation for public services--the preparation of the man as well as of the sermon, etc.
(2) The work--preaching, administering, visitation, etc.
2. They that “are over you.”
(1) Not by usurpation of the office or human commission (Mark 10:42-44).
(2) But by Christ, the Head of the Church--
(a) As examples.
(c) Governors and administrators of Christ’s law.
3. Those who “admonish you.” This is needed by the ignorant, the negligent, the inconsistent.
II. The duties of Christian Churches towards their ministers.
1. To know them.
(1) As Christian friends.
(2) Their character.
(3) Their religious principles.
(4) What belongs to their office and work, and their fitness for it.
2. To “esteem them very highly in love.” The world may treat them with aversion; hence the Church should treat them with affection and regard. And the text warrants the very highest.
III. The reason for these duties.
1. The plain command of God.
2. The work’s sake. (A. Wickens.)
Your pastor claims from you--
I. Proper respect for the office he sustains. It is a most sacred office, and because some men have disgraced it, and others made it the engine of priestcraft, or for other reasons, the minister is not to be stripped of official superiority and reduced to the rank of a mere speaking brother. Regard your pastor, then, not with feelings of superstitious dread, or slavish veneration, or frivolous familiarity. Hold such in reputation as your friend, but also as an ambassador of God.
II. Due regard for his authority. Office without authority is a solecism. “Let the elders rule.” “Obey them that have the rule over you.” This is not independent, but derived from and resting on Christ. It is not legislatorial, but judicial and executive. “Thus saith the Lord.” Should the minister advance anything unscriptural, they must try the minister by the Bible, not the Bible by the minister. Not that this confers the indiscriminate right of criticism, as if the end of hearing were to find fault. In performance of his duty it belongs to your pastor--
1. To preside at the meetings of the Church. His opinion is to be treated with deference, even when it should not secure assent.
2. To be responsible to Christ for the peace and good order of the Church, which should secure for him freedom from obnoxious meddling.
III. Regular, punctual, and serious attendance upon his ministry.
1. Regular. There are persons upon whose attendance it is as impossible to depend as upon the blowing of the wind. How disheartening this is! What are the causes?
(1) Distance, which reconciles them to one service on the Sabbath and none all the week besides.
(2) The weather.
(3) Home duties.
(4) Sabbath visiting.
(5) A roving spirit of unhallowed curiosity.
2. Punctual. Late attendance is a great annoyance to orderly worshippers, disrespectful to the minister, and an insult to God.
3. Serious. Come from the closet to the sanctuary. The fire of devotion should be kindled at home. Remember where you are, whose Presence is with you, and what is your business in the house of God.
IV. Sincere and fervent affection. This love should be--
1. Apparent; for however strong, if confined to the heart, it will be of little value. A minister should no more be in doubt of the attachment of his people than of his wife and children.
2. Candid: for charity covers a multitude of faults. Not that you are to be indifferent to character. This candour is not asked for the manifestly inconsistent. The minister, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion. The charity asked for is not for an unholy, but for an imperfect man, for those infirmities which attach to the best, the candour which thinks no evil, etc. It is surprising what insignificant circumstances will sometimes, quite unintentionally, give offence to some hearers.
3. Practical. It should lead you to avoid anything that would give him even uneasiness. His work is difficult at its easiest. Therefore you should be--
(1) Holy and consistent.
(2) Peaceful among yourselves. He cannot be happy with an inharmonious people.
(3) Generous contributors to his support.
4. Minute and delicate in its attentions.
V. Respectful attention to his counsels, either public or private.
VI. Cooperation in his schemes of usefulness for--
1. The Church, whose interests should be his and your first concern. Sunday schools, sick visiting, etc.
2. The town. The Church should not be behindhand in great public movements.
3. The world at large--missions, etc.
VII. Your prayers. The apostles needed this much more than uninspired men. Pray for your pastor at home, etc. (J. A. James.)
Pastors and people
I. The pastor’s work. The Thessalonian elders--
1. “Laboured among” the people committed to their charge. And the labour of a faithful Christian minister may be regarded as comprehending--
(1) The physical labour of preaching the gospel in public, and of visiting the people in private.
(2) The intellectual labour of study.
(3) The moral labour of keeping his own soul in order for the right discharge of his vocation.
2. They were “over” the people “in the Lord.” The original denotes superintendence, and from the view given throughout the New Testament of the functions of Christian office bearers, that it comprehends both pastoral vigilance and ecclesiastical rule.
3. They “admonished,” i.e., did not confine their instructions to general and abstract statements of Divine troth, but brought that truth closely to bear on particular circumstances and character.
II. The duties of people to minister.
1. They were to “know” them, i.e., own or acknowledge them “in the Lord,” i.e., in deference to the authority and according to the wise and salutary regulations of their Master. This acknowledgment, of course, was to be practical as well as verbal. The Thessalonians were to render it, not only by speaking of these office bearers of their Church as their spiritual guides and overseers, but by attending to their ministry, asking their advice, submitting to their discipline, and providing for their maintenance.
2. They were to “esteem” them “Very highly in love for their work’s sake”; that is, regard them with mingled emotions of respect and affection, because of the nature of their office and because of their fidelity in fulfilling it. This twofold mode of treating ministers was calculated to promote the religious improvement of the people and to encourage, pastors.
3. “And be at peace among yourselves.” Social peace among true Christmas is highly important, both for their own mutual improvement and personal comfort, and for the recommendation of religion to the world; and it is to be maintained by the cultivation both of unanimity of sentiment and of kindliness of feeling (Col 3:12-16; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 1 Corinthians 3:3-7). (A. S. Patterson, D. D.)
Appreciation of a clergyman’s work
The incumbent of Osborne had occasion to visit an aged parishioner. Upon his arrival at the house, as he entered the door where the invalid was, he found sitting by the bedside, a lady in deep mourning reading the Word of God. He was about to retire, when the lady remarked, “Pray remain. I should not wish the invalid to lose the comfort which a clergyman might afford.” The lady retired, and the clergyman found lying on the bed a book with texts of Scripture adapted to the sick; and he found that out of that book portions of Scripture had been read by the lady in black. That lady was the Queen of England. (W. Baxendale.)
1 Thessalonians 5:14
Now we exhort you, brethren, war them that are unruly--The verse contains four distinct, but coordinate and mutually connected exhortations.
I. “Warn them that are unruly.” In pursuing peace, fidelity was not to be sacrificed; and one of the methods in which Christian peace might be promoted was the faithful and tender rebuke of those whose quarrelsome temper or wayward conduct disturbed fraternal harmony. The “unruly” were such as, either from lax principles with respect to ecclesiastical government, or from pride, ambition, or recklessness, refused submission to legitimate authority; and such their fellow Christians were to “warn.” In warning this class of persons, much, of course, depends on the manner in which the work is done. But when it is performed by one true Christian to another with intelligence and tenderness, there is good reason to believe that it will prove successful; nor can it be supposed that the spirit of the Psalmist’s words (Psalms 141:5) is altogether alien from the followers of Christ.
II. “Comfort the feeble minded,” such as, from a natural want of energy and firmness, or from deficiency in Christian faith and confidence, were disquieted amidst the calamities of life. The worldling might despise them for their cowardice; the religious censor might blame them for their culpable distrust. But Christianity took them under her protection, and here commands their firmer hearted brethren to soothe and cheer them amidst the struggles of the faith and the adversities of time.
III. “support the weak.” Here, as in Romans 14:1-2 and 1 Corinthians 8:7-12, the word “weak” denotes a special deficiency in knowledge or faith, and liability to fall. Such weakness might arise from the prejudices produced by a Jewish or Pagan education, from the recency of conversion, or from causes more obviously culpable. But to whatever source the weakness might be traceable, one “whom Christ had received” was not to be despised by his older or stronger brethren. The word rendered “support” denotes the act of taking another by the hand or arm.
IV. “Be patient toward all men.” By this command the apostle calls on the Thessalonian Christians to guard against being led, whether by the intellectual obtuseness and moral imperfection of members of the Church, or by the calumnious reproaches and persecuting rage of the enemies of the truth, to resort to bitter and upbraiding words, or to cease from efforts to do the individual good. “Love suffereth long and is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4). (A. S. Patterson, D. D.)
I. Warn the unruly: those who, like disorderly soldiers, break the ranks, and become idle, dissolute and worthless. This was a besetting sin in the primitive Churches. Many entertaining false views about the nearness of Christ’s Advent became indifferent to work, and sank into apathy or even worse. The proverb says, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop”; and when a man is not occupied he is apt to become an instrument of evil and a disturber of the Church. It is difficult to pin some people down to do a bit of fair honest work. They are full of schemes for other people, and are forever finding fault that other people do not carry them out. These are the restless gipsies, the pests of every Christian community, the mischief makers and busybodies in other people’s matters. Warn such. Admonish gently at first, putting them in mind of their duty. It is the fault of many to limit admonitions to gross and grievous sins, but in these cases warning often comes too late. If admonition is not effectual, then proceed to sharper reproof. If that is unavailing, separate yourselves from their society.
II. Comfort the feeble minded. More correctly--encourage the faint hearted. The reference is not to the intellectually weak, but to such as faint in the day of adversity or the prospect of it (1 Thessalonians 2:14), or who are disheartened in consequence of the loss of friends (1 Thessalonians 4:13). It may also include those who are perplexed with doubt as to their spiritual condition, and who through fear are subject to bondage. There are some people so weighed down with a sense of modesty as to incapacitate them from using their abilities. Others, again, are so oppressed with the inveteracy of sin that they despair of gaining the victory and give up all endeavours. These need encouraging with the promises of God, and with the lessons and examples furnished by experience. Heart courage is what the faint hearted require.
III. Support the weak. A man may be weak in judgment or in practice. There may be lack of information or lack of capacity to understand. Such was the condition of many who, not apprehending the abrogation of the Mosaic law, and thinking they were still bound to observe ordinances, were weak in faith. Some linger for years in the misty borderland between doubt and certainty, ever learning, but never coming to a knowledge of the truth. Defective faith implies defective practice. Support such with the moral influence of sympathy, prayer, counsel, example.
IV. Be patient towards all men, even the most wayward and persecuting. Consider the patience of God and imitate it. Lack of present success is no excuse. The triumphs of genius in art, science, and literature are triumphs of patience. (G. Barlow.)
The feeble minded
Littleness is implied. The word occurs here only in the New Testament (see Isaiah 35:4 LXX), and is almost unknown in classical Greek. The student of Aristotle will look upon it as implying the contradictory of the “great souled,” with his high estimate of himself, “just contempt” for others, and freedom from excessive elation or depression. The whole passage here might well lead us to suppose that, as the Thessalonian Christians had a tender and almost feminine susceptibility about those they had loved and lost, so they would be likely also to have some of the rest of the characteristics which accompany that beautiful weakness. We may perhaps refer to “the chief women not a few” (Acts 17:4). The morbid conscientious ness, the form of self-torment known to spiritual writers as scrupulousness, would be well expressed by the word “little-minded.” (Bp. Alexander.)
Precept and practice
St. Paul gives an admirable precept to the Thessalonians, but precept must blossom into practice, and practice will prove the best commentary on precept.
I. The precept illustrated by practice. All the persons in God’s great family are not of the same height and strength; though some are old men and fathers, and others are young and strong, yet many are little children, nay, babes in Christ: some can go alone, or with a little help, if you hold them but by their leading strings; but others must be carried in arms, and will require much love and patience to overcome their childish forwardness. Christ winks at their weaknesses, who hath most reason to be moved with them. Though His disciples were raw, and dull, and slow to understand and believe, yet He bears with them; nay, though when He was watching for them, and in His bloody sweat, and they lay sleeping and snoring, and could not watch with Him one hour, He doth not fall fiercely upon them, and afterward excuseth them for their lack of service. Their spirit was willing, but their flesh was weak. It is no wonder that their pace was slow, when, like the snail, they have such a house--such a hindrance--on their backs. Who can think of this infinite grace of the blessed Redeemer in making such an apology for them when He had such cause to be full of fury against them, and not be incited to imitate so admirable a pattern? God’s treatment of Jonah was very similar to Christ’s treatment of His disciples. Jonah runs from His business: God sends him to Nineveh; he will go to Tarshish. Here was plain rebellion against his Sovereign, which was repeated. But lo! He cannot permit Jonah to perish; He will rather whip him to his work than let him wander to his ruin. But how gentle is the rod! God cannot forget the love of a father though Jonah forget the duty of a child, and will rather work a miracle and make a devourer his saviour than Jonah shall miscarry. Oh, the tenderness of God toward His weak and erring children! Now Christians are to be “imitators of God.” If He, so glorious, holy, and infinite, beareth with His creatures thus, what cause have they to bear patiently with their fellows! “We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak.”
II. This practice is grounded upon principle. It was love on the part of Christ and on the part of God that led these Divine Persons to act so graciously as They did; and the same love must ever prompt Christians to imitate Them--love to Jesus Himself and love to them for whom He died, but who need practical sympathy and help. There must be no bitterness, no envyings, no heart burnings among the brethren, but they must love each other as each loves himself, and suffer together in all suffering. Oh, how sweet is the music when saints join saints in concert! but how harsh is the sound of jarring strings! A mutual yielding and forbearance is no small help to our own peace and safety. There is a story of two goats which may excellently illustrate this matter. They both met on a narrow bridge, under which a very deep and fierce stream did glide; there was no going blindly back, neither could they press forward for the narrowness of the bridge. Now, had they fought for their passage, they had both been certain to perish; this, therefore, they did--they agreed that one should lie down and the other go over him, and thus both their lives were preserved. While Christians are doing the reverse of this, they are like some small chickens, a prey to kites and other ravenous creatures. “In quietness shall be their strength.” (G. Swinnock, M. A.)
Warnings are given in love (1 Corinthians 4:14). Warnings are given in mercy. Warnings are given in duty (Ezekiel 3:20).
I. The warning of example. Fallen angels (Jude 1:6). Ungodly men (Jude 1:7). Untrue professors (Jude 1:17-19).
II. The warnings of instruction. God has given us warning in His Holy Word that life is uncertain (James 4:13-14); that it is an evil thing to offend God (Romans 2:8-9); that it is a foolish thing to forsake Christ (Hebrews 2:8); that it must be foolish to run such risk (Acts 4:12); that it must therefore be foolish to turn away from this only hope.
III. The warnings of experience. The experiences of sin are bitter (Romans 7:24). The enjoyments of salvation are sweet (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17). If warnings are to do us good they must be heard (2 Timothy 4:3-4), believed (Genesis 19:14), obeyed (Matthew 21:28-31). This is our lesson-- Proverbs 29:1. (J. Richardson, M. A.)
Support the weak, be patient towards all men--Manton says: “Though we cannot love their weaknesses, yet we must love the weak, and bear with their infirmities, not breaking the bruised reed. Infants must not be turned out of the family because they cry, and are unquiet and troublesome; though they be peevish and froward, yet we must bear it with gentleness and patience, as we do the frowardness of the sick; if they revile we must not revile again, but must seek gently to restore them, notwithstanding all their censures.” This patience is far too rare. We do not make allowances enough for our fellows, but sweepingly condemn those whom we ought to cheer with our sympathy. If we are out of temper ourselves, we plead the weather, or a headache, or our natural temperament, or aggravating circumstances; we are never at a loss for an excuse for ourselves, why should not the same ingenuity be used by our charity in inventing apologies and extenuations for others? It is a pity to carry on the trade of apology making entirely for home consumption; let us supply others. True, they are very provoking, but if we suffered half as much as some of our irritable friends have to endure we should be even more aggravating. Think in many cases of their ignorance, their unfortunate bringing up, their poverty, their depression of spirit, and their home surroundings, and pity will come to the help of patience. We are tender to a man who has a gouty toe, cannot we extend the feeling to those who have an irritable soul? Our Lord will be angry with us if we are harsh to His little ones whom He loves; nor will He be pleased if we are unkind to His poor afflicted children with whom He would have us be doubly tender. We ourselves need from Him ten times more consideration than we show to our brethren. For His sake we ought to be vastly more forbearing than we are. Think how patient He has been to us, and let our hard heartedness be confessed as no light sin. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The contrast between heathenism and Christianity in the treatment of the weak
Heathen philosophy, even Plato’s, was systematically hard on the weakly. It anticipated modern theories and practice in such matters as the struggle for existence, survival of the fittest, and happy dispatch. In the exercise of the art of medicine Plato held that it might serve to cure the occasional distempers of men whose constitutions are good; but as to those who have bad constitutions, let them die; and the sooner the better: such men are unfit for war, for magistracy, for domestic affairs, for severe study; and the best thing for such is to have done with life at once. In contrast with this Bacon vindicated the art of healing by appealing to the exampleor Christ, and reminded men that the great Physician of the soul did not disdain to be the Physician of the body. Hawthorne asserts that most men have a natural indifference, if not hostility, towards those whom disease, or weakness, or calamity of any kind causes to falter and faint amid the rude jostle of our selfish existence. The education of Christianity, he owned, the sympathy of a like experience, and the example of women, may soften and possibly subvert this ugly characteristic; but it is originally there, and has its analogy in the practice of our brute brethren, who hunt the sick or disabled member of the herd from among them as an enemy. Faithful to which code of action, says Balzac, the world at large is lavish of hard words and harsh conduct to the wretched who dare spoil the gaiety of its fetes and to cast a gloom over its pleasures: whoever is a sufferer in mind or body, or is destitute of money or power is a pariah. The weakly or deformed child of a Spartan was thrown, by order, into the cavern called apothetae, in the belief that its life could be no advantage either to itself or to the state. The worst of charity is, complains Emerson, that the lives you are asked to preserve are not worth preserving. (F. Jacox, B. A.)
The difficulty of the strong to sympathize with the weak
A disposition to despise weakness, observed Mr. Fonblanque, seems to be a law of nature which humanity prevails against with effort, by urging the sympathies and stimulating them by the imagination. Poor Boswell again and again makes piteous record of Johnson’s unimaginative contempt for the sufferings of frailer constitutions; and he philosophizes on the fact that in full health men can scarcely believe that their ailing neighbours suffer much, “so faint is the image of pain upon our imagination.” “At your age, sir, I had no headache,” snapped the doctor at Sir William Scott once when the future Lord Stowell ventured to complain of one. When Fanny Burney fell ill at court, she wrote, “Illness here, till of late, has been so unknown that it is commonly supposed that it must be wilful, and therefore meets little notice till accompanied by danger. This is by no means from hardness, but from prejudice and want of personal experience.” John Stuart Mill reckoned it as one of the disadvantages of Bentham that from his childhood he had never had a day’s illness; his unbroken health helped to incapacitate him for sympathy with his fellows, and weakened his power of insight into other minds. (F. Jacox, B. A.)
Helping the weak
A poor bee had fallen into the pond, and was struggling as well as her failing strength would allow. We seized a pole, and placed the end of it just under her. She took firm hold, and we lifted the pole and the bee. A little while was spent in drying herself and pluming her wings, and then our worker made a straight line for the hive, and doubtless was soon at her daily task rewarding us with honey. May not many a human worker be found in a sinking condition? A little sensible help might save him. Who will give it? He who does so shall receive the blessing of him that is ready to perish. Poor hearts are often in deep despondency, sinking for lack of a sympathetic word. Do not withhold it. Rescue the perishing. Be on the watch for despairing minds; if no other good comes of it, you will, at least, be more grateful for your own cheerful ness. But good will come of it in unexpected instances, and it will be heaven’s music in your ears to hear sighs turned into songs. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Support the weak
In the town of Leeds I was waiting one wet wintry night outside the railway station, when a ragged, dirty boy, selling papers, came up to me and said: “Buy an evening paper, sir. Please do. Only seven left, and they’s all my profit.” The boy’s eagerness to sell arrested my attention, and on looking down I saw a bright, intelligent face with a look of honesty in it. So I questioned him, and found his parents were, he supposed, “drinking at a public house in Briggate.” “Had he no cap to wear that rainy night?” “Yes,” but he had lent it to his sister, who was waiting for him in an old doorway across the road till he “sold out.” The cap wasn’t on her head because she had “no boots and stockings, so I told her to put her feet inside my cap to keep ‘em warm and prevent her ketchin’ cold.” Surely this was “a self-sacrificing chivalry worthy of the knights of old, for a boy who thus cared for his sister exhibited the true spirit of bravery.” (Told in Dr. Bernardo’s “Night and Day. ”)
is a Divine attribute, and is repeatedly mentioned as a fruit of God’s Spirit in the soul. In the text this grace as made a universal duty. It is not to be a tribute paid to the virtuous, but to all. And the man who enjoined it exercised it.
I. The nature and sources of Christian patience.
1. In respect to personal trial patience is exercised in its lower form. Patience in labour, fatigue, pain, etc., is not easy, but it is the easiest kind of patience. When, however, we are called to have patience with others, we enter a higher and more difficult sphere of duty. Men may endure their own trials from pride, hope, native firmness, duty, etc.; but when we are required to be patient towards bad dispositions, evil conduct, etc., this is a nobler achievement and proceeds from nobler motives.
1. Patience does not imply approval of men’s conduct or character, nor indifference to them. On the contrary, we must see things as they are before God; and if we refrain from attacking it must not be, construed into approbation.
2. This patience implies such benevolence and pity as shall make us tolerant, and which can only spring from that regenerated love that God works in the soul.
II. The conditions of its exercise and its objects. It must be exercised towards all men. To be patient with those we love is natural; but we must not stop there; nor with our own set: nor with the good even when they stumble; nor with those who hold our opinions; but also with--
1. The dull and foolish, who are very trying, especially if you are nervous and they are not; if you are mercurial and they are phlegmatic. They are in your way, and make your tasks troublesome. Nevertheless, you must be patient with them.
2. The conceited; a very hard work indeed, to submit to haughty looks and arrogant conduct.
3. The selfish and cunning, patience with whom places you at a disadvantage.
4. The rude.
5. The passionate, etc. Wherever you find a man that has the brand of God’s creation upon him, and immortality for his destiny, there you find the object of this command. Do you find this hard, impossible? Then consider--
III. Its motives.
1. It is only by having patience with men that you can retain any hold upon them. The man who is outside your pity is outside your diocese. You cannot do anything for a man you dislike, and one of the worst things that can befall a benevolent nature is to be incapacitated to do good.
2. Only in this way can we imitate Christ. “I say unto you, love your enemies,” etc.
3. It is by this very patience on God’s part that we ourselves are saved. (H. W. Beecher.)
Patience and charity needed
“Lord, I can’t make these sticks perfectly straight; I have lost all my strength. Send me to another field.” But what is the answer of the Holy Spirit? “You were not sent to that field to take every crook out of those sticks; you can’t perfect human nature; that is My work.” Now there is something in every man--ministers included--that is a little gnarly. It is peculiar to the individual--a streak of the old Adam inwrought in his individuality. In one it is stubbornness, in another it is suspiciousness, in another reserve, in another a disposition to be critical, or fault finding, or censorious. By whatever name it may be known, it is, in fact, a little twist of depravity, and no human influence, no preacher, can untwist it and straighten it out. It is a peculiar twist of self, inborn, inbred, inwrought. So when I discover what a man’s peculiar twist is, I say, “The Lord only can take that out of him, and I won’t touch it if I can help it.” I tried my hand at this once on a good Scotch brother, and I will never try it again. He was a most uncompromising subject, and I am quite convinced that if I had had a little more charity for his peculiarities he would have been a very useful man. (Dr. Spinning.)
1 Thessalonians 5:15
See that none render evil for evil
Negative and positive precepts
See that none render evil for evil unto any man. Retaliation betrays a weak and cruel disposition. Pagan morality went so far as to forbid the unprovoked injuring of others; and it is not without noble examples of the exercise of a spirit of forgiveness. The Jews prostituted to purposes of private revenge the laws which were intended to administer equitable retributions. It is Christianity alone that teaches man to bear personal injuries without retaliation. “Hath any wronged thee,” says Quarles,” be bravely revenged; slight it, and the work is begun; forgive it, and it is finished. He is below himself that is not above an injury.” Public wrongs the public law will avenge; and the final recompense for all wrong must be left to the Infallible Judge (Romans 12:19-20).
II. But ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves and to all men. The noblest retaliation is that of good for evil. In the worst character there is some element of goodness. Our beneficence should be as large as an enemy’s malice (Matthew 5:44-45). That which is good is not always that which is pleasing. Goodness should be sought for its own sake. It is the great aim and business of life. Goodness is essentially diffusive; it delights in multiplying itself in others. It is undeterred by provocation; it conquers the opposition. Lessons:
1. The perceptive morality of Christianity is a signal evidence of its transcendent glory.
2. Practice is more potent than precept.
3. The Christian spirit is the root of genuine goodness. (G. Barlow.)
It is not strictly true to say that Christianity alone at first forbade to return evil for evil. Plato knew that it was not the true definition of justice to do harm to one’s enemies. The Stoics, who taught the extirpation of the passions, were far enough from admitting of revenge to be the only one that should be allowed to remain. It is a higher as well as a truer claim to make for the gospel, that it kindled that spirit of kindness and goodwill in the breast of man (which could not be wholly extinguished even towards an enemy), until it became a practical principle; and that it preached as a rule of life for all, what had previously been the supreme virtue, or the mere theory of philosophers. (Prof. Jowett.)
Following the good
Ever follow that which is good among yourselves and to all--
1. In political effort men can unite, and so they ought in religious; for religion means the link which binds men for good work. Is it more important to put one’s political friends in Parliament than to win one’s neighbours for heaven?
2. Remember the unwearied diligence of political partizans. All, one cannot help regretting that Christians are less earnest.
3. In politics men will give up their dearly loved crotchets to promote the welfare of the general party. Why not, then, sink our individualism in following that which is good? We are to ever do so--
I. In building up our own character.
1. It is easier to do good than to be good. We are so apt to be discouraged by many failures. We have wished to grow in goodness like a tree, but we have more to contend with than a tree. We promise well in bud and leaf, and then the fruit does not ripen, and we get discouraged. Some of us have done worse. We have put forth the bud of innocence, but the blossom of virtue has been nipped by the frost of misfortune, or the blast of temptation, and we have given up. To all such let this exhortation come with power. Still set your face towards the good. Try again. Will you throw away your coat because it is soiled? Would you have your child despair of writing because he has upset the ink?
2. In following the good let us aim high. To copy from another may help us a little; but we shall make the surest progress if we follow only Christ. We teach children writing by setting the best copy before them. If we fall today, let us arise today and follow Him.
II. In the Church. Every Church should be a missionary society, and when a new member is received something should be found for him to do. It is true you cannot find a perfect Church; but this should not dishearten you. Go into an organ factory--what a horrible din! Yes; but what is the result? The Church is an organ factory. All our pipes have to be made and tuned. But if we are in earnest we shall not care for the discord; the instrument will one day play harmonious music. In battle, if a general see a brigade hardly pressed he orders out another to support it. So, if the Church’s battalion in the slums is weak, the battalion in the suburbs should hasten to its help. Let us by our example make the Church vigorous and good. If the prayer meeting is good, the Lord’s supper, etc., follow them. Be as regular and earnest in Church duty as though you were paid for it.
III. In the world. Lift up your voices against war. Working men uphold arbitration against strikes. Do not blame statesmen for making war, when master and man fight and ruin one another.
IV. In your own neighbourhood. There is much that you can do there. Conclusion:
1. Persevere in following the good.
2. Let your motive be the love of Christ.
3. If you keep following the good, your works will follow you. (W. Birch.)
Perseverance in following the good
When Columbus was sailing over the Atlantic, believing there was another continent in the west, his men were dispirited and almost in mutiny, he said, “Unless we have some sign of land within the next three days, we will turn back.” Fortunately, they had some signs of land, and the ships steered on until they came to the American coast. Now, what you are doing is good, and you should tolerate no “if” about it. You have been preaching, and teaching, and doing good for a long time, and perhaps you are ready to say, “Unless I have some signs of good fruit from my labour, I will give up.” Do not. If that which you are following be really for the benefit of mankind, be not weary in well-doing. The test of success is not in numbers. Remember that Jesus had no disciples with Him in His trial; at His crucifixion He had only one, and He ended His beautiful ministry by the cross. Therefore, do not despair. Keep on with your work and keep at it. Persevere. Follow that which is good continuously unto the end. (W. Birch.)
Good for evil
Bacon said, “He that studieth revenge keepeth his own wounds green.” Philip the Good, of Burgundy, had it in his power to punish one who had behaved ill to him; but he said, “It is a fine thing to have revenge in one’s power, but it is a finer thing not to use it.” Another king of France said of his foes, “I will weigh down the lead of their wickedness with the gold of my kindness.” A minister remarked, “Some persons would have had no particular interest in my prayers, but for the injuries they did me.” (H. R. Burton.)
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
A trinity of privileges
Study these advices separately.
1. “Rejoice evermore.” Rejoice because of--
(1) Your conversion.
(2) Your privileges as children of God.
(3) Your apprehension of Christ and His love.
(4) Your hope of glory. These are always available, and if we sometimes rejoice in them, why not evermore?
2. “Pray without ceasing.”
(1) This implies a praying habit, and relates to our thoughts, affections, and feelings. Oral praying is occasional, and is merely the outburst.
(2) The reasons we should pray at all always exist, and therefore we should “pray without ceasing.” Prayer betokens--
(a) danger, and our dangers surround us every moment.
(b) A sense of personal weakness and destitution, which are permanent.
(c) Is essential to dependence on God, which ought to be without intermission. All the reasons why we should pray at all urge us to pray unceasingly.
3. “In everything give thanks.”
(1) In everything; for however great the trial, it is invariably accompanied by many mercies. No case is so bad but that it might be much worse.
(2) The “in” also means “for.” “All things work together for good,” etc. God’s children cannot receive from God anything but mercies. Both for and in everything we should give thanks. Not afterwards merely, but in the midst. This is the real triumph of faith, and this is the will of God concerning us in Christ Jesus.
II. View these advices in their connection with each other.
1. How does a state of constant joy in the Holy Ghost lead to prayer? One would think it might lead to praise rather than prayer. Now, prayer is something more than a selfish craving, it is communion with God. But such is impossible without joy. When we rejoice in God, we are at once impelled to tell Him all our wants, lovingly and confidently; and thus the highest exercise of prayer results more from a sense of God’s goodness than of our necessities. Supplies of blessing, then, provoke thanksgiving.
2. Why is not this our experience? We rejoice, etc., but not always. Our defectiveness is owing either--
(1) To our shallowness or lack of thorough earnestness.
(2) To our insincerity, or the mingling of selfish and worldly motives with our piety.
(3) To our unbelief or want of hearty confidence in God’s love and faithfulness. Or
(4) To our sloth, which refuses to make the requisite effort for our growth in grace. Let these hindrances be removed. (T. G. Horton.)
A triple commandment
The apostle commendeth unto us three virtues, of greater price than the three presents the Magi brought unto Christ: the first is, “Rejoice evermore”; the second is, “Pray without ceasing”; the third, “In everything give thanks.” All three are of one last, and are the things which one saith all men do, yet scarce one doeth them as he should; therefore the apostle, to show us how we should do them, doth put “continually” unto them, as though continuance were the perfection of all virtues.
I. The command to rejoice. It is not an indifferent thing to rejoice, but we are commanded to rejoice, to show that we break a commandment if we rejoice not. Oh, what a comfort is this--when the Comforter Himself commands us to rejoice! God was wont to say, “Repent,” and not “rejoice,” because some men rejoice too much; but here God commandeth to rejoice, as though some men did not rejoice enough; therefore you must understand to whom He speaketh. In the Psalms it is said, “Let the saints be glad”; not, Let the wicked be glad: and in Isaiah God saith, “Comfort ye My people”; not, Comfort Mine enemies. He who would have us holy as He is holy, would have us joyful as He is joyful; He who would have us do His will on earth as angels do it in heaven, would have us rejoice on earth as angels rejoice in heaven; He who hath ordained us to the kingdom of saints, would have us rejoice that we have such a kingdom to receive; therefore Christ saith to His disciples, “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
II. The command to pray. As Elisha would not prophesy until the musician came, and while the musician played he prophesied, so when the heart rejoiceth in God, then it is fittest to call upon God.
1. It is such a pleasant thing that Paul joineth, “pray without ceasing” with “rejoice evermore,” to show that no man hath such joy as he who is often talking with God by prayer; as if he should say, If thou have the skill to pray continually, it will make thee rejoice continually; for in God’s company is nothing but joy and gladness of heart.
2. It is such a sweet thing, above other things that we do for God, that in Revelation the prayers of the saints are called “incense,” because, when they ascend to heaven, God smelleth a sweet savour in them. Moreover, what a profitable thing unceasing prayer is! It doeth more good than alms; for with mine alms I help but three or four needy individuals, but with my prayers I aid thousands.
3. It is a powerful and victorious thing. As all Samson’s strength lay in his hair, so all our strength lieth in ceaseless prayer. Many have learned more by praying than they could by reading, and done that by prayer they could not do by Counsel; therefore one saith that he who can pray continually can do all things and always, because, like Jacob, he can overcome God, who helpeth him; and he who can overcome God can overcome Satan too, who trieth his uttermost to hinder all things.
III. The command to praise. What will we give to God if we will not afford Him thanks? What will we do for God if we will not praise Him? It is the least we can give and do, and it is all we can give and do. Shall the birds sing unto God, which is all they can do, and not they for whom God created birds? What a fool is he which will fight, and travel, and watch for himself, and will not speak for himself in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, making melody in his heart unto God! God requires the sacrifice of praise from us as He did from the Jews. Therefore let us not say, God will not hear us. God Himself says, “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me; and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I show the salvation of God.” (H. Smith.)
Some men are joyful by disposition. We like the jovial, merry men, the Mark Tapleys of the world, who are jolly even under adverse circumstances. Yet such joy in an irreligious man has something sad about it. It is like building a warm and comfortable house upon the winter’s ice. There are also men who have learned cheerfulness because they know the wisdom and health of it. We admire this, too--the bravery of being joyful in this world. There is something almost tragic in the joyous shout of the crew that goes sailing to the polar sea. Of course they need all their hope and cheer. Soon the sunny air will chill, the cheerless ice will fleck the blue sea, the snow will hiss in the brine, and the black curtain of the Arctic night will fall over the scene. Wave your caps, boys, as your gallant ship slips out of the pier. Be merry if you can. But I do not understand how it is possible to be joyous if you look not beyond the grave into which all things that give you joy must so soon be swept. The joy, the merry laughter of sinful men--is it not reckless? It is like a lot of boys exhilarated by the motion of a maelstrom and shouting with delight as they are sucked into the fatal vortex. How different the Christian’s joy. With God on his side, with his books balanced, with his peace sealed, with confidence in the eternal future, with the mighty conviction that all things work together for good to them that love God--why, such a man may indulge all of the exuberance of his soul. (R. S. Barrett.)
I. The position of the text.
1. It is set in the midst of many precepts. Note them. All these things are to be done as occasion requires, but rejoicing is to be done evermore; and rejoice in each duty because you rejoice evermore.
2. It comes just after a flavouring of trouble and bitterness (1 Thessalonians 5:15). The children of God are apt to have evil rendered to them; but still they are bidden to rejoice. “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you.” Despondency is excluded, and yet among the curiosities of the Churches, I have known many deeply spiritual people who have been afraid to rejoice, regarding it as a sacred duty to be gloomy. But where is the command to be miserable? Then, is it not a sin not to rejoice, since it is so plainly commanded?
II. The quality of this rejoicing.
1. It is not a carnal rejoicing. If it were it would be impossible to keep it up evermore. There is a joy of harvest, but where shall we find it in winter? There is a joy of wealth, but where is it when riches are flown? So with health, friends, etc. If your joys spring from earthly fountains, those fountains may be dried up. You are forbidden to rejoice too much in these things, for they are as honey, of which a man may eat till he is sickened. But the joy which God commands is one in which it is impossible to go too far.
2. It is not presumptuous. Some ought not to rejoice: “Rejoice not, O Israel … for thou hast departed from thy God.” It would be well for the joy of many to be turned to sorrow. They have never fled to Christ for refuge. Many have a joy that has accumulated through many years of false profession. If your joy will not bear looking at have done with it.
3. It is not fanatical. Some people of a restless turn never feel good until they are half out of their minds. I do not condemn their delirium, but want to know what goes with it. If our rejoicing does not come out of a clear understanding of the things of God, and has no truth at the bottom of it, what can it profit us? Those who rejoice without knowing why are driven to despair without knowing why, and are likely to be found in a lunatic asylum ere long. Christ’s religion is sanctified common sense.
4. It is not even that Divine exhilaration which Christians feel on special occasions. There are moments when Peter is no fool for saying, “Let us build three tabernacles.” But you are not commanded always to be in that rapturous state, because you cannot be; the strain would be too great. When we cannot mount as on wings, we may run without weariness, and walk without faintness. The ordinary joy of Christians is not the joy of jubilee, but of every year; not of harvest but of all the months.
5. But it is the joy which is part of ourselves which God works in us by His Spirit, the cheerfulness of the new born disposition, a delight in God and Christ, a sweet agreement with Providence, a peace passing understanding.
III. Its object.
1. We can always rejoice in God. “God my exceeding joy.”
(1) God the Father, His electing love, unchanging grace, illimitable power, and transcending glory in being His child.
(2) God the Son, Immanuel, His sympathizing humanity, His divinity and atonement.
(3) God the Holy Ghost, dwelling in you, quickening, comforting, illuminating.
2. Every doctrine, promise, precept of the gospel will make us glad.
3. The graces of the Spirit: faith, hope, love, patience.
4. Holy exercises: prayer, singing, communion, Christian labour.
5. Bible study.
IV. Reasons for rejoicing.
1. It wards off temptation. The armour of light is our effectual preservative. What can worldly mirth give to the man who is happy in God.
2. It encourages one’s fellow Christians. It is a half holiday to look at the face of a rejoicing Christian. His words are ever cheering and strengthening.
3. It attracts sinners. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. In your present state.
1. You are pardoned sinners.
2. Have the testimony of a good conscience.
3. Have one who is able to bear your burdens.
4. Are related to God as children; to Christ as brethren.
5. Have free access to God and constant communion with Him.
6. Have a plentiful supply of grace.
II. In your future prospects.
1. We are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
2. Every day brings us nearer our inheritance.
1. A sad Christian cheats himself all his journey.
2. We displease God if we are not joyful in His service.
3. By sadness we act like the spies who took an evil report of the good land. (W. M. Hawkins.)
1. This is a rule to which one would think all men should be forward to conform. Who would not embrace a duty the observance whereof is pleasure itself? May it not be a plausible objection against it that it is superfluous since all men aim at nothing else but joy. Alas! When we consult experience we find the precept very ill obeyed. Who is not, at times, full of doleful complaints? It is quite true that men are very eager in the pursuit of joy, and beat every bush of nature for ii; but they find only transitory flashes of pleasure, which depend on contingent and mutable causes, residing in a frail temper, and consist in slight touches on the organs of sense, their short enjoyment being tempered with regret; so that men’s usual delights are such that we should not if we could, and could not if we would, constantly entertain them: such “rejoicing evermore” being unreasonable and impossible.
2. It is a calumny on religion to say that it bars delight; on the contrary, it alone is the never failing source of true, steady joy, and not only doth allow us, but obliges as to be joyful. Such is the goodness of God that He makes our delight to be our duty, our sorrow to be our sin, adapting His holy will to our principle instinct; that He would have us resemble Him, as in all perfections, so in a constant state of happiness; that as He hath provided heaven hereafter, He would have us enjoy paradise here. For what is the gospel but “good tidings,” etc.! and in what doth the kingdom consist but “righteousness, peace, and joy”? What is there belonging to a Christian whence grief can naturally spring? From God, “our exceeding joy”; from heaven, the region of bliss; from Divine truth, which rejoiceth the heart?” To exercise piety, and to rejoice are the same thing. We should evermore rejoice--
I. In the exercise of faith.
1. In God’s truth, there being no article of faith which doth not involve some great advantage, so that we cannot but “receive the word with joy.”
(1) The rich bounty of God in creation.
(2) God’s vigilant care in providence.
(3) The great redemptive events and transactions of our Lord’s earthly and heavenly life.
2. In the application of those verities wherein God opens His arms to embrace us. His invitations and soul remedies. Is it not, indeed, comfortable to believe that we have a physician at hand to cure our distempers, powerful succour to relieve, our infirmities, an abundant supply of grace?
3. In the real accomplishment of the “exceeding great and precious promises.” How can the firm persuasion of heaven’s glory be void of pleasure? or confidence in God’s fatherly care, on which we can cast our burdens, and from which we receive full supplies?
II. In the practice of Christian hope. “The hope of the righteous shall be gladness,” “rejoice in hope.” All hope, in proportion to the worth of its object and the solidity of its ground, is comfortable--much more when reposed in and on God. If it please men much to be heirs to a great inheritance, or to expect promotion or wealth, although death, and other accidents may interfere, how much more shall that “lively hope of our inheritance, incorruptible,” etc., which can never be defeated, breed a most cheerful disposition.
III. In performing the duty of charity. Love is the sweetest of all passions, and when conducted in a rational way towards a worthy object, it cannot bat fill the heart with delight.
1. Such an object is God. He infinitely, beyond all else, deserves our affections, and may most easily be attained; for whereas men are crossed in their affections, and their love is embittered, concerning God it is quite otherwise.
(1) He is most ready to impart Himself, and loved us before we could love Him.
(2) He encourages our love by sweetest influences and kindest expressions. Wherefore “they that love Thy name shall be joyful in Thee.”
2. Who can enumerate or express the pleasures which wait on every kind and each act of charity towards men.
(1) In giving.
(2) In forgiving.
(3) In sympathy and help.
In these we gratify our best inclinations, oblige and endear ourselves to our brethren, most resemble the Divine goodness, and attract the Divine favour. (I. Barrow, D. D.)
I. What is it to rejoice? There is--
1. A joy in outward things.
(2) Sinful (Ecclesiastes 11:9).
(3) Lawful (Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12-13; Ecclesiastes 3:22).
2. A spiritual joy in God (Philippians 3:1; Philippians 4:4).
II. What is it to rejoice always in the Lord? To make Him the object of all our joy.
1. For what He is in Himself (Matthew 19:17).
2. For what He is to us.
(1) Our preserver (Psalms 46:1-2).
(2) Our Saviour (Habakkuk 3:18; Psalms 27:1).
(3) Our God (Hebrews 8:10).
III. Why ought we to rejoice evermore?
1. God commands it (Psalms 32:11; Philippians 4:4).
2. Christ prays for it (John 17:13).
3. The Holy Ghost works it (John 14:26; John 17:7). 4 It is necessary and useful.
(1) To lessen our esteem of the world and of sinful pleasures (Psalms 4:7; Psalms 84:10).
(2) To enlarge our hearts and make them more capacious of heavenly things.
(3) To facilitate our duties, and make us active in God’s service (Deuteronomy 28:47; Nehemiah 8:10).
(4) To support us under our troubles (1 Peter 1:7-8).
IV. How we may always rejoice?
1. Live above the world (2 Corinthians 4:18).
2. Live above the natural temper of your bodies.
3. Avoid such things as are wont to grieve and trouble you.
(1) Sin (Psalms 51:8; Matthew 26:75; 2 Corinthians 1:12).
(2) Needless questions--
(a) about God’s decrees.
(b) The exact time of your conversion.
(c) Judging yourselves according to your outward condition (Ecclesiastes 9:1).
4. Whatsoever happens still put your trust in God (Isaiah 49:13-14; Isaiah 50:10; Isaiah 55:7; Hebrews 13:6).
5. Act your faith constantly in Christ (John 14:1; Romans 8:33-34).
6. Often meditate on the happiness of those who truly fear God.
(1) In this world (Romans 8:28).
(2) In the world to come (1 Corinthians 2:9).
7. Check thyself whensoever thou findest thy spirits begin to sink (Psalms 42:5; Psalms 42:11). (Bp. Beveridge.)
Real Christians are rare; joyful ones more so.
I. The duty and privilege.
1. It must be carefully distinguished from levity or sinful mirth. “I said of laughter, it is mad,” etc. Gravity, mixed with cheerfulness, becomes the man and the Christian.
2. We are not to drown our sorrow in gratification of the senses (Proverbs 14:13), and thus obtain a temporary satisfaction.
3. This joy is not intended to render us insensible to affliction. There is a happy medium between impenitent indifference and overmuch sorrow.
II. The disposition to be cultivated in order to a high state of religious enjoyment.
1. We must guard against whatever might incapacitate us for holy satisfaction: sin especially. The wine of heavenly consolation is poured into none but clean vessels.
2. Divine interpositions in our favour should be carefully noticed. If God keeps a book of remembrance of us, so should we of Him. As He treasures up our tears, we should treasure up His mercies.
3. We must watch and pray against a spirit of murmuring and unbelief.
4. We must guard against unreasonable doubts and fears as to our spiritual state, or our tears will drown our triumphs, and our lamentations silence our songs (Psalms 46:1-2).
5. The assistance of the Holy Spirit must be implored, who is the efficient cause of joy.
III. The reasons which should render our joy permanent. Some duties are to be performed at particular times--this always. Godly sorrow, instead of being an impediment, is a preparative to joy. There are times which more especially call for joy--our conversion, the day of our espousals--the time of spiritual revival, etc. Yet there is no time in which it would be unsuitable.
1. Because its sources are unchangeable. The love, purpose, and promises of God are without variableness; the blood of Christ never loses its virtue; the efficacy of the Spirit is evermore the same.
2. Its benefits afford a powerful inducement for its continual preservation. “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” It invigorates every grace, gives a fresh impulse to every duty, lightens our troubles, sweetens our mercies, and gives glory to God.
3. It will be the work of heaven, and should, therefore, be our employment on the way to it. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
I. A Christian privilege. The Christian may rejoice evermore because--
1. Nothing that befalls him can hurt him.
2. Everything must benefit him in proportion as it aims to injure him.
II. A Christian precept. The act of rejoicing has a power--
III. A Christian promise.
1. As to the Christian’s future.
2. That the cause for joy should be inexhaustible.
3. That the duration of joy should be endless. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
I. What is this rejoicing. There is a carnal rejoicing (Luke 12:19), and a spiritual rejoicing in God (Philippians 4:4).
1. God Himself, as God, is a lovely nature, and the object of our delight (Psalms 119:68; Psalms 145:2; Psalms 145:10; Psalms 130:3).
2. We are to rejoice in God as revealed in Christ (Luke 1:46-47).
3. We rejoice in God in the fruits of our redemption (Romans 5:11; Psalms 32:11).
4. We rejoice in God when we delight to do His will and are fitted for His use and service (Psalms 119:14; 2 Corinthians 1:12).
5. We rejoice in God when we rejoice in the blessings of His providence, as they come from Him and lead to Him (Joel 2:23; Psalms 5:11; Deuteronomy 28:47-48).
II. How this must be perpetual.
1. In all estates and conditions.
(1) Affliction is not inconsistent with it (2 Corinthians 6:10; 1Pe 1:6; 2 Corinthians 7:4; Acts 16:25). Whatever falleth out there are always these grounds for joy.
(a) God’s all sufficiency (Habakkuk 3:18).
(b) The unshaken hope of heaven (Matthew 5:12).
(2) Affliction much promotes it (2 Corinthians 12:10; Romans 5:3-5; Hebrews 12:11).
2. From first to last, because it is of use to us at all times.
(1) Christianity is begun with joy in the world, so in the soul (Luke 2:10-11; Acts 8:8; Acts 16:34; Luke 19:2; Acts 2:41).
(2) Our progress in the duties and hopes of the gospel is carried on with joy (Philippians 3:3). Rejoice evermore--
(a) So as to pray without ceasing (Job 27:10).
(b) So as to give thanks in everything (Job 1:21).
(3) The end comes with joy.
(a) The joy of God is the comfort of our declining years.
(b) At death we enter into the joy of our Lord.
III. The reasons which enforce this duty.
1. God hath done so much to raise it.
(1) The Father gives Himself to us, and His favour as our felicity and portion (Psalms 4:6-7).
(2) The Son is our Saviour. Consider what He has done to make our peace (Colossians 1:20); to vanquish our enemies (Colossians 2:14-15); to be the ransom of our souls (1 Timothy 2:6) and the treasury of all comfort (John 1:16; Hebrews 6:18). Abraham rejoiced to see His day at a distance, shall not we now it has come (Romans 14:17).
(3) The Holy Ghost as sanctifier lays the foundation for comfort, pouring in the oil of grace, then the oil of gladness--whence “joy in the Holy Ghost.”
2. All the graces tend to this.
(1) Faith (1 Peter 1:8; Romans 15:13).
(2) Hope (Romans 12:12; Romans 5:21.
(3) Love (Psalms 16:5-6).
3. All the ordinances and duties of religion are for the increase of joy.
(1) Reading (1 John 1:4).
(2) Hearing (2 Corinthians 1:24).
(3) Prayer (John 16:24).
(4) Meditation (Psalms 143:5).
IV. Arguments in favour of this duty.
1. Its necessity.
(1) That you may own God as your God; delighting in God is a duty of the first commandment (Psalms 37:4).
(2) That you may be thankful for the blessings God bestows in Christ.
(3) That yon may follow the conduct of the Comforter (John 16:22).
2. Its utility.
(1) With respect to the temper and frame of our own hearts (Nehemiah 8:10). It quickeneth us to a life of holiness (Psalms 40:8).
(2) With respect to God’s acceptance. Rejoicing is--
(a) More honourable to God (Micah 6:8).
(b) Most pleasing to Him, since He so often calls for it.
V. How to perform this duty.
1. Be prepared for it.
(1) Our state must be altered, for we are the children of wrath, and under the curse.
(2) Our hearts must be altered.
(3) Our life.
2. Act it continually.
3. Take heed you do not forfeit or damp it by sin (Psalms 51:8; Ephesians 4:30).
4. When lost renew your repentance and faith (1 John 2:1). (T. Manton, D. D.)
How can man, constituted as He is, rejoice evermore? And if it be the duty of the believer sometimes to think with sorrow of his sins, how can it be his duty to be always glad? Let two considerations serve for a reply.
1. The penitence required of the believer is not the unmitigated anguish of remorse, but a feeling, painful, as from its very nature it must be, but soothed and sweetened by the exercise of Christian faith and hope--a dark cloud, but gilded by the glorious sunshine.
2. “Evermore” does not necessarily mean, without the slightest intermission, which is physically impossible, but without abandoning the practice--habitually and onwards to the end. Even the calamities of life, and the sense of his own unworthiness, must not make the believer permanently cease to be happy. In order to the habitual experience of joy on the part of the child of God, his mind must come into contact with what is fitted to make it glad; and it is obvious from the nature of the case, and from a multitude of texts (Isaiah 50:10; Luke 2:10-11; Acts 8:39; Romans 5:2; Romans 5:11; Romans 15:13; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:9, etc.), that spiritual happiness may be derived from the following sources:--
(1) The believing and realizing apprehension of the gospel--the “glad tidings of great joy”;
(2) The recognition, by faith and its fruits, of a personal interest in Christ;
(3) Filial confidence in God;
(4) The anticipation of the heavenly glory;
(5) The promotion of religion in the world. (A. S. Patterson, D. D.)
Rejoicing according to individual capacity
Bless the Lord, I can sing, my heavenly Father likes to hear me sing. I can’t sing as sweetly as some; but my Father likes to hear the crow as well as the nightingale, for He made them both. (Billy Bray.)
Rejoice with a rejoicing universe. Rejoice with the morning stars, and let your adoring spirit march to the music of the hymning spheres. Rejoice with the jocund spring, in its gush of hope and its dancing glory, with its swinging insect clouds and its suffusion of multitudinous song; and rejoice with golden autumn, as he rustles his grateful sheaves, and clasps his purple hands, as he breathes his story of fruition, his anthem of promises fulfilled; as he breathes it softly in the morning stillness of ripened fields, or flings it in AEolian sweeps from lavish orchards and from branches tossing bounty into mellow winds. Rejoice with infancy, as it guesses its wondering way into more and more existence, and laughs and carols as the field of pleasant life enlarges on it, and new secrets of delight flow in through fresh and open senses. Rejoice with the second birth of your heaven-born soul, as the revelation of a second birth pour in upon it, and the glories of a new world amaze it. Rejoice with the joyful believer when he sings, “O Lord, I will praise Thee,” etc. Rejoice with Him whose incredulous ecstasy has alighted on the great gospel secret; whose eye is beaming as none can beam save that which for the first time beholds the Lamb; whose awestruck coun tenance and uplifted hands are exclaiming, “This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend.” Rejoice with saints and angels as they rejoice in a sight like this. Rejoice with Immanuel whose soul now sees of its travail. Rejoice with the ever blessed Three, and with a heaven whose work is joy. (J. Hamilton, D. D.)
The duty and the means of cheerfulness
If it be a part of Christian charity to alleviate the miseries of mankind, then the cultivation of a cheerful spirit is a Christian duty. Why should you lighten the sorrows of the poor by your alms, and make your own house miserable by your habitual gloom? And if you have learnt any thing of human nature, you will know that among the pleasantest things that can find their way into a house where there is anxiety and want, are the music of a happy voice and the sunshine of a happy face. The best person to visit the aged and the poor--other things, of course, being equal--is the one whose step is the lightest, whose heart is the merriest, and who comes into a dull and solitary home like a fresh mountain breeze, or like a burst of sunlight on a cloudy day. No one can make a greater mistake than to suppose that he is too cheerful to be a good visitor of the sick and wretched. Cheerfulness is one of the most precious gifts for those who desire to lessen the sorrows of the world. It can do what wealth cannot do. Money may diminish external miseries; a merry heart will drive the interior grief away. It is possible to cherish and encourage this spirit of joyousness, even when it is not the result of natural temperament. Consider what it is that depresses you. If it is the consciousness of sin, often confessed, never heartily forsaken, appeal to Him who can pacify as well as pardon; master for a single week the temptation to which you habitually yield, and you will find yourself in a new world, breathing clearer air, and with a cloudless heaven above you. If it is incessant thought about your own personal affairs, escape from the contracted limits of your personal life by care for the wants of others. Determine, too, to think more of what is fair and generous and noble in human nature than of what is contemptible and selfish. Those who distrust the world and think meanly of it can never be happy. There is sin enough, no doubt; but there is more of goodness than some of us suppose. It makes my heart “merry” to think of the patience and courage with which many whom I know are bearing heavy troubles; the generosity with which some of the poor relieve the distresses of those more wretched than themselves; the firmness which some are showing in the presence of great temptations; the energetic devotion of others to the highest welfare of all whom their influence can reach. Christ has not come into the world for nothing. If sometimes it is necessary to dwell upon the moral evil which clings even to good men, and upon the terrible depravity of the outcasts from Christian society, I find in Him a refuge from the sore trouble which the vision of sin brings with it. He is ready to pardon the guiltiest, and to bring home to Himself those who have gone furthest astray. Why should those who have seen God’s face be sad? “In His presence” both on earth and in heaven “there is fulness of joy.” (R. W. Dale, D. D.)
Cheerfulness in God’s service
This want of laughing, this fear of being joyful is a melancholy method of praise. It is ungrateful to God. I would rather dance like David than sit still like some Christians. I remember being in a church once in America. They certainly had a warm church, and that was pleasant; but in one sense it was a fine ice house, for no one seemed to feel any joy. When we came out I was asked what I thought of the service. I said that if some negro had come in and howled out a “hallelujah,” it would have been a joy; but nobody had shown anything but conceit--it was all intellectualism. (G. Dawson, M. A.)
Happiness in all circumstances
When Richard Williams, of the Patagonian Mission, with his few companions were stranded on the beach by a high tide, and at the beginning of those terrible privations which terminated his life, he wrote in his diary: “I bless and praise God that this day has been, I think, the happiest of my life. The fire of Divine love has been burning on the mean altar of my breast, and the torchlight of faith has been in full trim, so that I have only had to wave it to the right or left in order to discern spiritual things in heavenly places.” Later, when severe illness was added to circumstantial distress, he could say: “Not a moment sits wearily upon me. Sweet is the presence of Jesus; and oh, I am happy in His love.” Again, though held fast by fatal disease, he wrote: “Ah, I am happy day and night, hour by hour. Asleep or awake, I am happy beyond the poor compass of language to tell. My joys are with Him whose delights have always been with the sons of men; and my heart and spirit are in heaven with the blessed.” (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)
If you have one joy now, and will become a Christian, you will have ten thousand joys then. The grace of God will not deplete you; it will not rob you of a single satisfaction. There is not one thing in all the round of enjoyments that will be denied you. God gives especial lease to the Christian for all sunlight, for all friendship, for all innocent beverages, for all exhilarations. I will tell you the difference. You go into a factory, and you see only three or four wheels turning, and you say to the manufacturer: “How is this? you have such a large factory, and yet three-fourths of the wheels are quiet.” He says the water is low. A few weeks afterwards, you go in and find all the spindles flying, and all the bands working--fifty, or a hundred, or five hundred. “Why,” you say: “there is a great change here.” “Oh, yes,” says the manufacturer, “the water has risen. We have more power now than before.” I come into this man’s soul, who has not surrendered himself to God, and I find there are faculties employed; but only a part of his nature is working. The water is low. After a while I come into that man’s nature, and I find that all his capacities, all his energies are in full play. I say there is a great difference. The floods of Divine grace have poured their strength upon that soul, and whereas only a few faculties were employed then, now all the energies and capacities of the soul are in full work. In other words, he who becomes Christian is a thousand times more of a man than he was before he became a Christian. (H. W. Beecher.)
The pleasantness of religion
Religion is often regarded as a morose and melancholy duty, a duty abridging delight rather than a delight irradiating duty. And much of the character both of the precept and conduct of the Christian Church has been well calculated to betray the world into this erroneous supposition. Extremes meet. And the extreme Puritan view of religion combines with the extreme Papal view in identifying religion with austerity. These opposite yet kindred asceticisms has done much to misinterpret to the world the true nature of religion. For surely it is obvious that God has not created His world to be a gloomy conventicle or intended the chambers of human life to be cheerless as a monastery. He has made the earth surpassingly beautiful and pleasant, rich in fragrance, song, and joy. And is it to be supposed that birds and trees and fields may laugh and sing, but that man, the top and crown of creation, is doomed to pass through life a sad and mirthless pilgrim? Does not the page of inspiration proclaim that (Proverbs 3:17). Angel voices all around us echo again the first Easter question, Christian, why weepest thou? Rejoice, they say, “in the Lord always!” And again their message is, “Rejoice.” No doubt the happiest religion has its yokes and crosses, its travails and its tears. Repentance and contrition are not things pleasant in themselves. The ascent up the hill of self-sacrifice is thorny, laborious, steep. But, like the brave mountaineer, the Christian enjoys the exhilaration of climbing, no less than he enjoys the serenity and largeness of the prospect from the summit. True pleasure is never the child of indolence. The intellectual giant, e.g., who now sports with gladsomeness among the deep questions of the mind, found the first steps of his training wearisome and painful. It is only after years of mental effort that he has attained the elevation of pure and full intellectual delight. Similarly the pleasures of religion are not sweetest at the commencement. Ideals of pleasure also differ. The clearer and nobler the soul becomes, the deeper will be its delights in the pleasantness of religion. And what nourishment for the mind is comparable to the studies of religion? What contemplation so matchless as the contemplation of God? What ideals so beautiful as those of Christ? What aspiration so glorious as to copy Him? What manliness so robust, yet so refined, as the manliness of the Son of God?…The joys of meditation upon God, the delights of adoring the Author of the mysteries and the majesty of existence, the happiness of touching the hem of Christ’s garment, and leaning on His breast, and shedding the tears of devotion at His feet, make the latest years of the religious life a continuous jubilee. (J. W. Diggle, M. A.)
1 Thessalonians 5:17
Pray without ceasing
What is it to pray?
1. It is a desire. That is the nature of it. We may desire a thing--
(1) With our mouths only (Isaiah 29:13).
(2) With our hearts only (1 Samuel 1:13).
(3) Both with heart and mouth. This is prayer; and so prayer is both cordial and oral (John 17:1).
2. The subject: good things (1 Timothy 4:8).
(1) For our natural life.
(a) For our being (James 5:14-15).
(b) For our well-being (Proverbs 30:8).
(2) For our spiritual life.
(a) To understand the Scriptures (Psalms 119:18; James 1:5).
(b) To repent of sin (Psalms 51:7; Psalms 51:10).
(c) To believe in Christ (Luke 17:5).
(d) To love God.
(e) For pardon (Acts 8:1-40; Matthew 6:13).
(3) For our eternal life.
(a) To hold out to the end (Psalms 51:12).
(b) And then crown us with glory (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
3. The object: God, not saints. As appears--
(1) From Scripture (Romans 10:14; Luke 11:2).
(2) From reason.
(a) Saints cannot hear us.
(b) If they do they cannot help us (Isaiah 45:20).
(c) Prayer is a part of Divine worship.
II. How doth it appear we ought to pray.
1. God commands it (1 Timothy 2:8).
2. It is part of His worship (Psalms 95:6-7).
3. By this we give Him glory.
(1) Of His sovereignty over us.
(2) Of His immensity and omnipresence (Matthew 6:6).
(3) His all sufficiency.
(4) His mercy.
(5) His faithfulness to His promises.
4. This is the means appointed by God for our receipt of good things (Ezekiel 36:37; Luke 11:13).
5. He has promised good things to it (Matthew 7:7).
III. How should we pray?
1. With outward reverence (Hebrews 12:28; Psalms 95:6; Isaiah 45:23). The saints always did so: Daniel (Daniel 4:10); Solomon (2 Chronicles 6:13); Peter (Acts 9:40); Paul (Acts 20:36; Acts 21:5; Ephesians 3:14); Stephen (Acts 7:60). Our Lord (Luke 22:41).
(1) With the understanding (1 Corinthians 14:15).
(2) The heart (Isaiah 29:13; Ezekiel 33:31; 1 Corinthians 14:15).
(3) In charity (1 Timothy 2:8).
(4) With respect to the promises (Genesis 32:9-12).
(5) In the name of Christ (John 14:13).
(6) In faith (Hebrews 11:6).
(7) To a right end (Matthew 6:6; James 4:3).
(8) So as to expect the answer (Psa 45:23).
IV. When should we pray? Without ceasing. Not as if all our time was to be spent in prayer; but--
1. So as always to have our hearts in a praying posture (Psalms 55:17).
2. So as to take all occasions of prayer (2 Samuel 9:13; Luke 2:37; Luke 24:53; Acts 1:14).
3. So as to pray in all conditions (Ephesians 6:18; James 5:13).
4. So as not to leave off praying for any mercy because God doth not at first hear us (Luke 18:1; 2 Corinthians 12:8-9).
5. So as to pray every day (Luke 1:75; Matthew 6:11). There is not a day we sin, nor a day but we want mercies.
6. So as to take all occasions to lift up our hearts to God in ejaculations (Luke 17:1-37; Nehemiah 2:4; Nehemiah 5:19; Nehemiah 13:22; Mark 9:24; 1 Samuel 1:13). (Bp. Beveridge.)
The nature, seasons, and obligations of prayer
I. The nature of prayer. It is an act of worship, consisting of four great parts.
II. The principal seasons of prayer.
1. The Sabbath.
2. Such occasional days as are warranted by the Word of God and appointed by the Church.
3. The morning and evening of every day.
4. The times at which we receive our food.
5. Besides these regular seasons of prayer, there are many others continually occurring which can be designated by no general name.
The times at which all peculiar blessings are bestowed on us are times of prayer. In the same manner is prayer our especial duty at those seasons in which we are peculiarly distressed in body or in mind, are in peculiar danger, are exposed peculiarly to temptations, are sick, are bereaved of beloved friends, are threatened with alarming evils, or whenever we find ourselves the subjects of peculiar sloth, reluctance to our duty, or ready to repine at the dispensations of God’s providence, or to distrust His faithfulness or His mercy. Nor are we less obviously called to the duties of prayer and thanksgiving by the peculiar prosperity or distresses, the dangers or deliverances, of our country. In the same manner the great concerns of the Church of God ought continually to be subjects of fervent supplications.
III. Our obligations to perform this duty. To pray--
1. Is a dictate of conscience and common sense.
2. Is an injunction of Scripture.
3. Is after the example of Christ.
4. Promotes our own well-being.
God has taught us that He will be “inquired of” by mankind for the good which He is pleased to bestow upon them. The only promise that He will give or that we shall receive blessings is made to such as ask. (Timothy Dwight, D. D.)
Habitual communion with God in prayer
There are two modes of praying mentioned in Scripture: the one is prayer at set times and places and in set forms; the other is what the text speaks of--continual or habitual prayer. The former of these is what is commonly called prayer, whether it be public or private. The other kind of praying may also be called holding communion with God, or living in God’s sight, and this may be done all through the day, wherever we are, and is commanded us as the duty, or rather the characteristic, of those who are really servants and friends of Jesus Christ. These two kinds of praying are also natural duties. I mean we should in a way be bound to attend to them, even if we were born in a heathen country and had never heard of the Bible. For our conscience and reason would lead us to practice them, if we did but attend to these Divinely given informants. Most men indeed, I fear, neither pray at fixed times, nor do they cultivate an habitual communion with Almighty God. Indeed, it is too plain how most men pray. They pray now and then, when they feel particular need of God’s assistance; when they are in trouble or in apprehension of danger; or when their feelings are unusually excited. They do not know what it is either to be habitually religious or to devote a certain number of minutes at fixed times to the thought of God. Nay, the very best Christian, how lamentably deficient is he in the spirit of prayer! Let any man compare in his mind how many times he has prayed when in trouble with how seldom he has returned thanks when his prayers have been granted; or the earnestness with which he prays against expected sufferings with the languor and unconcern of his thanksgivings afterwards, and he will soon see how little he has of the real habit of prayer, and how much his religion depends on accidental excitement, which is no test of a religious heart. Or supposing he has to repeat the same prayer for a month or two, the cause of using it continuing, let him compare the earnestness with which he first said it, and tried to enter into it, with the coldness with which he at length uses it. Why is this, except that his perception of the unseen world is not the true view which faith gives (else it would last as that world itself lasts) but a mere dream, which endureth for a night, and is succeeded by a hard worldly joy in the morning? Is God habitually in our thoughts? Do we think of Him and of His Son our Saviour through the day? When we eat and drink, do we thank Him, not as a mere matter of form, but in spirit? When we do things in themselves right, do we lift up our minds to Him and desire to promote His glory? (Plain Sermons by Contributors to “Tracts for the Times.”)
The spirit of prayer
I. Explain the injunction in our text. It is the practice of the Scripture writers to use broad and forcible terms to express the extent or the intensity of their ideas. Such a phrase demands--
1. The frequent act of prayer. Thus, when St. Paul declares to the Romans (Romans 1:9) that “without ceasing he made mention of them always in his prayers,” he seems to refer to his intercessions for them at his stated approaches to the throne of grace; for when he tells the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:16), in a similar phrase, that he “ceased not to give thanks for them,” we find this to be his meaning, from the sentence that he immediately adds, “making mention of you in my prayers.” Just as he writes to the Philippians (Philippians 1:3-4). In all cases, habits are formed only by the repetition of acts; and therefore devotion is essential to devoutness.
2. The persevering habit of prayer--the patient waiting upon God in the face of difficulties and discouragement. For when the apostle says, “pray without ceasing,” his object is, as may be gathered from the context, to animate them to persevere in supplication, notwithstanding their disappointment with respect to the immediate coming of the Lord, their sorrow for the loss of Christian friends, and their experience of unruly and unstable brethren.
3. The pervading spirit of prayer. For without this all stated acts and persevering diligence of outward supplication will be vain. Prayer consists not in those acts, but in the spirit and temper of devoutness, generated, exercised, kept up under difficulty by those acts.
II. Enforce it. It might, indeed, appear at first sight strange that such a duty should need enforcement; that no very pressing argument would be necessary to persuade to such a privilege. Let me, then, press it upon you--
1. As a remedy for perplexity. Man is ignorant and foolish; and he has daily proofs that it is not in himself to direct his steps.
2. As a consolation under trouble.
3. As your strength against temptation. No sin can be successfully resisted without fervent prayer. (T. Griffith, M. A.)
Pray without ceasing
The position of the text is suggestive.
1. It comes after “Rejoice evermore,” and as if that had staggered the reader, Paul now tells him how to do it: “Always pray.” The more praying the more rejoicing.
2. In everything give thanks. When joy and prayer are married their firstborn is gratitude.
I. What do these words imply?
1. That the voice is not an essential element in prayer. It would be unseemly and impossible to pray aloud unceasingly. There would be no opportunity for any other duty. We may speak a thousand words and never pray, and yet cry most effectually, like Moses, and never utter a word. The voice is helpful, but not necessary, to the reality or prevalence of prayer.
2. The posture is not of great importance. Kneeling is a beautiful token, but who could be always kneeling? and, besides, good men have stood, sat, etc.
3. The place is not essential; if it were, our churches should be large enough for us all to live in them; and if for the highest acceptance we need aisle, chancel, etc., then farewell green lanes, fields, etc., for we must without ceasing dwell where your fragrance can never reach us. But this is ridiculous. “God dwelleth not in temples made with hands.”
4. The text overthrows the idea of particular times, for every second must be suitable for prayer. It is good to have seasons, but superstition to suppose that one hour or season is holier than another. Every day is a red letter day.
5. A Christian has no right to go into any place where he could not continue to pray. Hence many amusements stand condemned at once. Imagine a collect for the shooting match, the race course, the theatre. Anything that is right for you to do you may consecrate with prayer.
II. What does this actually mean?
1. A privilege. Kings hold their levees at certain times, and then their courtiers are admitted; but the King of kings holds a constant levee.
2. A precept. It means--
(1) Never abandon prayer for any cause. You must not pray until you are saved and then leave off; nor after you are experienced in grace; nor because of Satan’s temptation that it is all vain; nor because the heavens are brass, or your heart cold; nor because you cannot answer sceptical objections. No difficult problem about digestion prevents you eating. As we breathe without ceasing, so we must pray.
(2) Never suspend the regular offering of prayer. Never give up the morning and evening prayer. The clock is to go all day, but there is a time for winding it up.
3. Between these hours of devotion be much in ejaculatory prayer. While your hands are busy with the world, let your hearts still talk with God. He who prays without ceasing uses little darts or hand grenades of godly desire, which he casts forth at every available interval.
4. We must always be in the spirit of prayer. Our heart must be like the magnetic needle, which always has an inclination towards the pole. In an iron ship it exhibits serious deflections; if you force it to the east, you have only to take the pressure away and immediately it returns to its beloved pole again. So let your hearts be magnetized with prayer, so that if the finger of duty turns it away from the immediate act, there may still be the longing desire, to be acted upon the first possible moment. As perfume lies in flowers even when they do not shed their fragrance, so let prayer lie in your hearts.
5. Let your actions be consistent with and a continuation of your prayers. The text cannot mean that I am always to be in direct devotion, for the mind needs variety of occupation, and could not without madness continue always in the exercise of one function. We must therefore change the manner of operation if we are to pray without ceasing. He who prays for his fellow creatures and thus seeks their good is praying still.
III. How can we obey these words?
1. Let us labour to prevent all sinful interruptions.
2. Let us avoid all unnecessary interruptions. If we know of anything that we can escape which is likely to disturb the spirit of prayer let us shun it.
3. Sometimes we are too busy to pray. This is a great mistake. Luther said, “I have so much to do today that I shall never get through it without three hours prayer.” Sir H. Havelock rose two hours before the time to march that he might have time for Bible reading and communion with God. Payson, pressed by examinations, etc., abridged the time for private prayer, but when he corrected his mistake, he confessed that he did more in a single week than in twelve months before. God can multiply our ability to make use of them.
4. We must strive against indolence, lethargy, and indifference. We need waking up. Routine grows upon us.
5. Fight against despair of being heard. If we have not been heard after six times we must, like Elijah, go again seven times. Be importunate: heaven’s gate does not open to every runaway knock.
6. Never cease through presumption.
IV. Why should we obey this precept? Because--
1. It is of Divine authority.
2. The Lord always deserves to be worshipped.
3. You want a blessing in all the work you are doing.
4. You are always in danger of being tempted. Carry your sword in your hand; never sheathe it.
5. You always want something.
6. Others always want your prayers. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. Prayer must be incessant.
1. From the nature of the act.
(1) Prayer is intercourse with God, the Being in whom the creature lives and moves. To stop praying, therefore, is to break the connection. A man must breathe without ceasing because thereby his whole physical system is kept in right relation with the atmosphere. It is as strictly true that religious being depend upon communication with God.
(2) It may be objected that prayerless men suffer no distress. If a human body is removed from the air and shut up in the Black Hole of Calcutta, the report comes at once from the physical organization that the established relation of the fleshly nature and the world has been interfered with.
(a) To this we reply that as man is composed of two natures, so he lives two lives, and for this reason he is able to gratify the desires of one nature and lead only one life here; it is possible for the flesh to live and the soul to be dead in sin. Like an amphibious animal, if man can absorb his lower nature in the objects of sense, he is able to dispense with intercourse between God and his higher nature without distress. If the amphibian can breathe on land, he need not gasp like a fish when taken from his native element.
(b) But while this is so, the soul, the principal part of man, cannot permanently escape distress if out of communication with God. The halfway life is not possible in eternity. The amphibian cannot live year after year in one element. Each nature asserts its rights ultimately, and if its wants are not met suffocation is the consequence. And so man cannot live in only one of his natures forever.
(c) We appeal to the Christian and ask him whether complete cessation of prayer would not work as disastrously to his soul as the stoppage of breath would in his body. Suppose that that calming, sustaining intercourse were shut off, would not your soul gasp and struggle? What a sinking sensation would fill the heart of the afflicted or bereaved if it were found impossible to pray! Man has become so accustomed to this privilege that he does not know its full richness. Like other gifts, nothing but deprivation would enable him to apprehend its full value.
2. From the fact that God is continually the hearer of prayer. An incessant appeal supposes one incessant reply. God does not hear His people today and turn a deaf ear tomorrow. He promised to hear in His temple continually (2 Chronicles 8:12-16); nor does its destruction disprove the Divine faithfulness. If the worshipper ceases to go into the temple, God, of course, goes out of it. God, as Creator, has established such a relation between the body of man and the air that there must be a continual supply of air; and therefore He has surrounded him with the whole atmosphere. The instant he inhales with his lungs, he finds the element ready. And God, as Saviour, has established such a relation between the renewed soul and Himself that there must be unceasing communion, and therefore in the gospel proffers Himself, so that whenever the heart punts out its desire it finds one ever present supply.
II. The feasibility of unceasing prayer. The fact that prayer is the only mode by which the creature can hold intercourse with his Maker, goes to prove that such intercourse is practicable. It cannot be that God has called a dependent being into existence and cut off all access. If the intercourse is broken, it cannot be by God. To pray without ceasing:--
1. Man must have an inclination to pray.
(1) Volition is impotent without inclination. A man does not continuously follow an earthly calling unless his heart is in it. The two differ as stream from fountain. A man’s resolutions spring out of his disposition, and in the long run do not go counter to it. Suppose an entire destitution of the inclination to draw near to God, and then by an effort of will lashing yourself up to the disagreeable work; even supposing such prayer acceptable, you could not make it unceasing by this method. You would soon grow weary.
(2) But if the inclination do exist, prayer will be constant and uniform. A good tree cannot but bear good fruit, and year after year without ceasing; because there is a foundation laid for this at the root. So if the soul is inclined towards God, nothing can prevent it from approaching Him--not sorrows, imprisonment, death.
2. This inclination must be strengthened by cultivation. Because it is the product of the Holy Spirit, it does not follow that we may neglect the means of development. You cannot originate a flower; but you must supply it with means of nurture, or it will die. And so with the inclination to pray. The means are--
(1) Regularity in the practice of prayer. Man is a creature of habit, and whatever he leaves to chance is likely to be neglected. He who has no particular time for winding his watch will often let it run down. There is a time for everything, and that Christian will be the most likely to pray without ceasing who at particular times enters his closet and shuts the door.
(2) The practice of ejaculatory prayer. Prayer does not depend so much upon its length as its intensity. We are not compelled to go to some central point, as Jerusalem or Mecca. In any section of space or point of time, the ejaculation of the soul may reach the Eternal mind, and be rewarded by the Hearer of prayer. (Prof. Shedd.)
The spirit of prayer
The life of religion consists in dependence upon God; and prayer is the breathing forth of this life, the exercise and energizing of this life.
I. The explanation of the injunction of the text.
1. The frequent act of prayer.
2. The persevering habit of prayer.
3. The pervading spirit of prayer.
II. The enforcement of the text.
1. As a remedy for perplexity.
2. As a consolation under trouble.
3. As strength against temptation. (T. Griffith, A. M.)
I. The duty. Two extreme errors are to be avoided--that of the ancient Euchites, who took these words literally, and that of these who fail in constant prayer.
1. For those who would never intermit this exercise. Let us explain the word. A thing is said to be done without ceasing which is done at constant times and seasons, as often as they occur (2Sa 19:13; 2 Samuel 9:12; Romans 9:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 1:3). The matter may bear a good sense if you interpret the apostle’s direction either of--
(1) The habit of prayer or praying temper (Psalms 104:9).
(2) Vital prayer. All duties may be resolved into prayer or praise (Psalms 25:5; Proverbs 23:27).
(3) Continuance in prayer till we receive the answer (Luke 18:1; Matthew 15:22-28; 2 Corinthians 12:8).
(4) Frequency of return in the occasions of prayer. Praying--
(a) At all times, never omitting the seasons of prayer, stated or occasional (Matthew 6:11).
(b) In all conditions, afflicted or prosperous (James 5:13; Jeremiah 2:27; 1 Timothy 4:5).
(c) In every business, civil or sacred (Proverbs 3:6; Genesis 24:12; 2 Thessalonians 3:5).
2. To those who excuse infrequent prayer on the pretence that they are not bound to pray always, and that the time of duty is not exactly stated in the New Testament.
(1) Though there is no express rule, yet the duty is required in the strictest and most comprehensive terms (Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2 : Psalms 62:8; Luke 21:36).
(2) The examples of the saints should move us. David (Psalms 55:17); Daniel (Daniel 6:10).
(3) The ceasing of the daily sacrifice was accounted a great misery (Daniel 9:27).
(4) God trusts love, and would not particularly define the times of the duty; surely, then, we should be more open-hearted and liberal with Him. He expects much from a willing people (Psalms 110:3).
(5) God complains of His people’s neglect (Jeremiah 2:32).
II. The reasons.
1. With respect to God--
(1) We acknowledge His Being in prayer (Hebrews 11:6; Psalms 65:2).
(2) We acknowledge His supreme providence (Matthew 6:11).
2. With respect to the nature of prayer. It is the nearest familiarity which a soul can have with God. Now acts of friendship must not be rare, but constant (Job 22:21). Men that often visit one another are acquainted. Prayer is visiting God (Isaiah 26:16). This is necessary--
(1) For present comfort; it gives boldness to come to God in your necessities if you daily wait upon Him (Ephesians 3:12). A child is not afraid to go to his father, nor a friend to a friend in trouble.
(2) For future acceptance (Luke 21:36).
3. With respect to the new nature (Zechariah 12:10; Acts 9:11).
4. With respect to the necessities of the saints (James 1:5; Ephesians 3:10; Hebrews 4:16).
5. With respect to its utility and profit.
(1) The three radical graces--faith, hope, and love--are acted on and increased in prayer (Jude 1:20-21; Psalms 116:1-2).
(2) The three related duties--joy, prayer, thanksgiving--are promoted by frequent prayer (Philippians 4:6-7; Psalms 116:2; 1 Samuel 1:27-28). (T. Manton, D. D.)
Prayer all pervading
A man cannot really be religious one hour and not religious the next. We might as well say that he could be in a state of good health one hour and in bad health the next. A man who is religious is religious morning, noon, and night; his religion is a certain character, a mould in which his thoughts, words, and actions are cast, all forming parts of one and the same whole. He sees God in all things; every course of action he directs towards those spiritual objects which God has revealed to Him; every occurrence of the day, every event, every person met with, all news which he hears, he measures by the standard of God’s will. And a person who does this may be said almost literally to pray without ceasing; for, knowing himself to be in God’s presence, he is continually led to address Him reverently, whom he always sets before him, in the inward language of prayer and praise, of humble confession and joyful trust. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
The all pervasiveness of prayer
Prayer is to be regarded not only as a distinct exercise of religion, for which its own time must be set apart, but as a process woven into the texture of the Christian’s mind, and extending through the length and breadth of his life. Like the golden thread in a tissue, it frequently disappears beneath the common threads; yet, nevertheless, it is substantially there, like a stream running underground for a certain period of its course. Suddenly the thread emerges into sight again on the upper surface of the tissue, and suddenly again disappears; and thus it penetrates the whole texture, although occasionally hidden. (Dean Goulburn.)
Watching and prayer
Venice may well call upon us to note with reverence, that of all the towers which are still seen rising like a branchless forest from her islands, there is but one whose office was other than that of summoning to prayer, and that one was a watch tower only. (J. Ruskin.)
Regularity in prayer
Sir Thomas Abney had for many years practised family prayer regularly; he was elected Lord Mayor of London, and on the night of his election he must be present at a banquet; but when the time came for him to call his family together in prayer, having no wish either to be a Pharisee or to give up his practice, he excused himself to the guests in this way: he said he had an important engagement with a very dear friend, and they must excuse him for a few minutes. It was most true; his dearest friend was the Lord Jesus, and family prayer was an important engagement; and so he withdrew for awhile to the family altar, and in that respect prayed without ceasing. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Example of constant prayer
Fletcher’s whole life was a life of prayer; and so intensely was his mind fixed upon God, that he sometimes said, “I would not move from my seat without lifting up my heart to God.” “Whenever we met,” says Mr. Vaughan, “if we were alone, his first salute was, ‘Do I meet you praying?’ And if we were talking on any point of Divinity, when we were in the depth of our discourse, he would often break off abruptly and ask, ‘Where are our hearts now?’ If ever the misconduct of an absent person was mentioned, his usual reply was, ‘Let us pray for him.’” (Life of Fletcher of Madeley.)
Necessity of constant prayer
“Some graces, like the lungs, are always in use.” “Pray without ceasing”; “be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long”; and such like exhortations appertain to continuous duties. Thus David says, “I have set the Lord always before me”--he was always living in the presence of God. Other parts of the human frame are exercised occasionally, but the lungs are always at work; and, even so, certain of the graces are in active motion in their appointed seasons; but faith never ceases to believe in the Lord Jesus, for it is essential to spiritual vitality. Hence we ought never to go where we shall be out of the atmosphere of heaven. Lungs must have air, and cannot endure a dense smoke or a poisonous gas; nor can faith bear error, false doctrine, and evil conversation. Since we always need the pure air of heaven, let us not go where it cannot be found. Who in his senses would desire to have been in the Black Hole of Calcutta? Who wishes to dwell where drunkenness and loose living abound? How can faith breathe in such a suffocating atmosphere? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Constant prayer in practice
At a monthly meeting of ministers in London, a question was proposed to be discussed at the next meeting, viz., “How can we pray always?” A woman at the bottom of the room, attending to the fire, turned round and said, “Why, gentlemen, I could answer that question now.” Ah,” said a minister, “Susan, do you know how to pray always?” “I hope so;” said Susan. “But,” said the minister, “you have so much to attend to; how can you find time to pray always?” “Oh,” said Susan, “the greater the variety I have to attend to, the more I am assisted to pray. In the morning, when I open my eyes, I pray, ‘Lord, open the eyes of my understanding, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law.’ Whilst I am dressing I pray, ‘Lord, may I be clothed in the robe of righteousness, and adorned with the garment of salvation!’ As I am washing myself I pray, ‘O Lord, may I be washed in the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness!’ When kindling the fire I pray, ‘O Lord, kindle a fire of sacred love in this cold heart of mine!’ And whilst sweeping the room I pray, ‘Lord, may my heart be swept clean of all its abominations!’ And so, gentlemen, I am praying all the day!” O happy woman! (Clerical Library.)
Value of constant prayer
Can you stand on the beach a moment? You can scarcely see, but yet you may discern, by the lights of lanterns, sundry brave men launching the lifeboat. It is out; they have taken their seats--helmsmen and rowers, all strong hearts, determined to save their fellows or to perish, They have gotten far away now into the midst of the billows, and we have lost sight of them; but in spirit we will take our stand in the midst of the boat. What a sea rolled in just then! If she were not built for such weather, she would surely have been overset. See that tremendous wave, and how the boat leaps like a sea bird over its crest. See now again, it has plunged into a dreary furrow, and the wind, like some great plough, turns up the water on either side as though it were clods of mould. Surely the boat will find her grave, and be buried in the sheet of foam;--but no, she comes out of it, and the dripping men draw a long breath. But the mariners are discouraged; they have strained themselves bending to yonder oars, and they would turn back, for there is small hope of living in such a sea, and it is hardly possible that they will ever reach the wreck. But the brave captain cries out, “Now, my bold lads, for God’s sake, send her on! A few more pulls of the oar, and we shall be alongside; the poor fellows will be able to hold on a minute or two longer--now pull as for dear life!” See how the boat leaps; see how she springs as though she were a living thing--a messenger of mercy intent to save. Again he says, “Once more, once again, and we will do it!” No, she has been dashed aside from the ship for a moment; that sea all but stove her in; but the helmsman turns her round, and the captain cries, “Now, my boys, once more!” And every man pulls with lusty sinews, and the poor shipwrecked ones are saved. Ay, it is just so with us now. Long have Christ’s ministers, long have Christ’s Church, pulled with the gospel lifeboat. Let us pull again. Every prayer is a fresh stroke of the oar, and all of you are oarsmen. Yes, ye feeble women, ye confined to your beds, shut up in your chambers, who can do nothing else but pray, ye are all oarsmen in this great boat. Pull yet once more, and this week let us drive the boat ahead, and it may be it will be the last tremendous struggle that shall be required; for sinners shall be saved, and the multitude of the redeemed shall be accomplished. Not we, but grace shall do the work; yet is it ours to be workers for God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Continuous and stated prayer
Prayer is the act of spiritual respiration; that true prayer can no more be limited to certain hours than respiration can. Yet even the image itself does not warrant us in thinking lightly of the virtue of stated prayer. It is true, indeed, that life can be supported even in the populous market, in the crowded street, nay, in the worst ventilated alleys, so long as respiration continues; but what a source of health and strength would the poor overwrought artizan find, if he could resort now and then to the transparent air of the open country, undefiled by smoke; to the purple-heathered down, where sweet gales fan the cheek; or to the margin of the ocean, over whose surface careers the invigorating wind! In spots like these we not only breathe, but breathe easily, freely, and spontaneously; the mere process of animal life is a delight to us, and with every breath we drink in health. Such is the effect of an hour of stated prayer after a day busily, yet devoutly spent. That hour wonderfully recruits the energies of the soul which human infirmity has caused to flag; and if we cannot say with truth that such an hour is absolutely necessary to spiritual existence, yet we can say that it is absolutely necessary to spiritual health and well-being. (Dean Goulburn.)
Prayer independent of moods
The late Mrs. Prentiss, daughter of the saintly Edward Payson, was pre eminently a woman of prayer. From her early years prayer was her delight. In describing the comforts of her chamber in the Richmond School, she valued as its crowning charm the daily presence of the Eternal King, who condescended to make it His dwelling place. She was accustomed to speak of learning the mysterious art of prayer by an apprenticeship at the throne of grace. She saw that prayer is not to be made dependent on the various states of emotion in which one comes to God. “The question,” she said, “is not one of mere delight.” She illustrated in her own quaint way the truth that moods have nothing to do with the duty of prayer. “When one of your little brothers asks you to lend him your knife, do you inquire first what is the state of his mind? If you do, what reply can he make but this: ‘The state of my mind is, I want your knife.’” (J. L. Nye.)
Prayer a training for prayer
Manton says, “By running and breathing yourselves every day, you are the fitter to run in a race; so the oftener you come into God’s presence, the greater confidence, and freedom, and enlargement it will bring.” No doubt by praying we learn to pray; and the more we pray the oftener we can pray, and the better we can pray. He who prays by fits and starts is never likely to attain to that effectual, fervent prayer, which availeth much. Prayer is good, the habit of prayer is better, but the spirit of prayer is the best of all. It is in the spirit of prayer that we pray without ceasing, and this can never be acquired by the man who ceases to pray. It is wonderful what distances men can run who have long practised the art, and it is equally marvellous for what a length of time they can maintain a high speed after they have once acquired stamina and skill in using their muscles. Great power in prayer is within our reach, but we must go to work to obtain it. Let us never imagine that Abraham could have interceded so successfully for Sodom if he had not been all his lifetime in the practice of communion with God. Jacob’s all-night at Peniel was not the first occasion upon which he had met his God. We may even look upon our Lord’s most choice and wonderful prayer with His disciples before His Passion as the flower and fruit of His many nights of devotion, and of His often rising up a great while before day to pray. A man who becomes a great runner has to put himself in training, and to keep himself in it; and that training consists very much of the exercise of running. Those who have distinguished themselves for speed have not suddenly leaped into eminence, but have long been runners. If a man dreams that he can become mighty in prayer just when he pleases, he labours under a great mistake. The prayer of Elias, which shut up heaven and afterwards opened its floodgates, was one of a long series of mighty prevailings with God. Oh, that Christian men would remember this! Perseverance in prayer is necessary to prevalence in prayer. These great intercessors, who are not so often mentioned as they ought to be in connection with confessors and martyrs, were nevertheless the grandest benefactors of the Church; but it was only by abiding at the mercy seat that they attained to be such channels of mercy to men. We must pray to pray, and continue in prayer that our prayers may continue. O Thou, by whom we come to God, seeing Thou hast Thyself trodden the way of prayer, and didst never turn from it, teach me to remain a suppliant as long as I remain a sinner, and to wrestle in prayer so long as I have to wrestle with the powers of evil. Whatever else I may outgrow, may I never dream that I may relax my supplications. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Ejaculations take not up any room in the soul. They give liberty of callings, so that at the same instant one may follow his proper vocation. The husbandman may dart forth an ejaculation, and not make a balk the more; the seaman, nevertheless, steer his ship right in the darkest night. Yea, the soldier at the same time may shoot out his prayer to God, and aim his pistol at his enemy, the one better hitting the mark for the other. The field wherein bees feed is no whit the barer for their biting; when they have taken their full repast on flowers or grass, the ox may feed, the sheep fat on their reversions. The reason is, because those little chemists distil only the refined part of the flower, leaving only the grosser substance thereof. So ejaculations bind not men to any bodily observance, only busy the spiritual half, which maketh them consistent with the prosecution of any other employment. (T. Fuller, D. D.)
Prayer without petition
Prayer is not always petition, thanksgiving, confession, adoration, etc.; it is often an unuttered and unutterable communion. A nervous clergyman, who could only compose to advantage when absolutely alone and undisturbed, thoughtlessly left his study door unlocked, and his little three-year-old child softly opened the door and came in. He was disturbed, and, a little impatiently asked, “My child, what do you want?” “Nothing, papa.” “Then what did you come in here for?” “Just because I wanted to be with you,” was the reply. To come into God’s presence and wait before Him, wanting nothing but to be with Him--how such aa hour now and again would rest us! We have a friend who leaves his business place, especially when particularly burdened with care, and rides up to the great cathedral, where he sits down for an hour, and then goes back again to business. He says, “It is so quiet there, it rests and quiets me.” How much more might we find a quiet resting place for our weary souls and bodies, by just resting in the Lord, sitting without petition at His feet, or as John, leaning our heads upon His bosom. (Independent.)
Prayer always seasonable
There is nothing which is right for us to do, but it is also right to ask that God would bless it; and, indeed, there is nothing so little but the frown of God can convert it into the most sad calamity, or His smile exalt it into a most memorable mercy; and there is nothing we can do but its complexion for weal or woe depends entirely on what the Lord will make it. It is said of Matthew Henry, that no journey was undertaken, or any subject or course of sermons entered upon, no book committed to the press, nor any trouble apprehended or felt, without a particular application to the mercy seat for direction, assistance, and success. It is recorded of Cornelius Winter that he seldom opened a book, even on general subjects, without a moment’s prayer. The late Bishop Heber, on each new incident of his history, or on the eve of any under taking, used to compose a brief prayer, imploring special help and guidance. A physician, of great celebrity, used to ascribe much of his success to three maxims of his father’s, the last and best of which was, “Always pray for your patients.”
Dr. Raleigh used to say that he could not preach without communion with nature, and this meant, for him, communion with God. Those who knew him best knew that he lived in an inner world of prayer. He seldom spoke of such experiences; but he has said, “I cannot always pray when I would, but some days I seem to pray all day long.” He used to think out his sermons during his solitary walks, and his freshest thoughts came to him under the open sky. (Life of Dr. Raleigh.)
Prayer a security
There is a curious fish found in some of the Indian rivers, which may be called the river Remora. Nature has provided it with a sucker beneath the jaws, which enables it to attach itself to a rock, and so resist the terrific current to which it is exposed in the rainy seasons. What that provision is to the fish, prayer is to you. By it you may cling to the rock, though all else threatens to sweep you away.
Given to prayer
“During his seclusion at Enderley,” writes one of the biographers of Robert Hall, “almost entirely without society, he spent much of his time in private devotion, and not infrequently set apart whole days for prayer and fasting--a practice which he continued to the end of life, deeming it essential to the revival and preservation of personal religion. When able to walk, he wandered in the fields and sought the shady grove, which often echoed with the voice of prayer and witnessed the agony of his supplications. He was frequently so absorbed in these sacred exercises as to be unaware of the approach of persons passing by, many of whom recollected with deep emotion the fervour and importunity of his addresses at the mercy seat, and the groanings which could not be uttered. His whole soul appears, indeed, to have been in a state of constant communion with God; his lonely walks amid the woodland scenery were rendered subservient to that end, and all his paths were bedewed with the tears of penitential prayer. Few men have spent more time in private devotion, or resorted to it with more relish, or had a deeper practical conviction of its benefits and its pleasures, as well as of its obligation as a duty binding upon all.” (Joseph Cook.)
1 Thessalonians 5:18
In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you
The duty and privilege of praise are not appreciated.
Worship--ascribing worth to God and describing His worth--is in His Word the leading feature, as in modern days it is the least feature of the assemblies of saints. Worship implies a thankful frame. Nothing left outside of the range of this injunction, because to a true believer all things work together for good. Compare Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:17.
I. It is the fruit of faith. Natural gratitude is the natural pleasure felt in prosperity; gracious gratitude blesses God, like Job in adversity, because of faith in His wisdom and goodness.
II. It is one of the foremost of blessings, and parent of all other graces. So says Cicero. It disposes to contentment in all conditions, and puts a bridle on desire.
III. It finds blessings as a magnet finds steel.
IV. It fits for greater blessings. God gives more abundantly where previous gifts are properly valued (Psalms 50:23). Chrysostom said “There is but one calamity--sin”; and after many sorrows died, exclaiming, “God be praised for everything!” (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
I. To whom must we give thanks? Only to God: because (Psalms 100:4)--
1. It is only by Him we are preserved from evil (Psalms 121:7).
2. It is only from Him that we have anything that is good (James 1:17).
3. He only is good in Himself (Psalms 107:1; Psalms 136:1; Luke 18:19).
II. How should we give thanks to Him?
1. By a humble confession of our own unworthiness (Genesis 32:10; Ephesians 3:8), through sin (Psalms 51:5; 1 Corinthians 15:9), and our abuse of God’s mercies (Jude 1:4).
2. By a humble acknowledgment of Him in all we have (Proverbs 3:6). His power (Psalms 135:1; Psalms 135:6); goodness (Psalms 145:1-2; Psalms 145:9); mercy (Psalms 136:1-3).
3. By admiring Him in all we have, and praising (1 Chronicles 29:12-13).
4. By improving all for His glory (Proverbs 3:9).
5. By walking before Him in all well pleasing (2 Timothy 1:3).
III. What must we thank Him for? For all things (Ephesians 5:20).
1. Our mercies.
(a) His sending Christ to die for us. (Luke 2:14).
(b) His quickening Spirit (2 Corinthians 9:15).
(c) His gospel (Matthew 11:25)
(d) His restraining grace (1 Corinthians 15:57; Romans 7:25).
(e) His renewing and sanctifying grace.
(f) His comforts (Psalms 147:1-3).
(g) His ordinances.
(a) Creation (Psalms 95:6; Psalms 100:1-3).
(b) Preservation (Acts 17:28)
(c) Provision (Psalms 147:7-9 1 Timothy 6:17).
(d) Health and strength (Psalms 18:32).
(e) Gifts and parts (1 Corinthians 14:18).
(f) Life and liberty.
2. Our afflictions (Job 1:21).
(1) Because they are not so great as we have deserved (Ezra 4:13).
(a) Not spiritual (Psalms 147:20).
(b) Not eternal (Lamentations 3:39).
(2) Because they are still mixed with mercies.
(3) Because they are really spiritual mercies (Romans 8:28; Hebrews 12:10).
(a) For the deadening of our sins (Job 36:8-10).
(b) For the quickening of our graces (Psalms 119:67).
(1) To such as never think of that God who gives them all things to enjoy (Psalms 10:4).
(2) Who think upon Him, but are not thankful to Him.
(3) Who thank Him with their mouths, but not their hearts (Colossians 3:16).
(4) Who thank Him for some things but not for all (Ephesians 5:20).
2. Exhortation. Be thankful. Consider--
(1) This is all the requital God expects, or you can give (Psalms 50:10; Psalms 50:14; Psalms 69:30-31).
(2) You cannot expect a blessing on your mercies except you are thankful.
(3) The more thankful you are for mercies received, the more ground you have to expect more. (Bp. Beveridge.)
The duty of thankfulness
I. Some Christians are not eminent for thankfulness.
1. Some are very selfish. Unless the blessing alight on their actual self it matters not where it comes down. They cannot joy in the graces of their brethren. There are some so grievously selfish that they take as matters of right and of course every good and perfect gift, and regard the withholding of them as a personal injury.
2. Others are remarkable for peevishness. There is an ingenious fretfulness, dexterous in detecting flaws, industrious in embittering its own comfort, and wearisome by its pertinacious fault finding. If the house be commodious, the situation is bad: if a friend be kind, he doesn’t see you often enough; if a book be otherwise good, there is a word or two you don’t like.
3. Many are unthankful from inadvertency. They are surrounded with blessings, but from pure heedlessness they do not perceive from whom they have issued. Gratitude does not depend on the amount of mercies received, but on the amount known and prized.
II. Materials for thankfulness.
1. Personal salvation. We have all felt the glow of returning health; but what is this compared to the joy of salvation.
2. The Bible. How thankful the Psalmists were for the scanty portion of the Word of God possessed by them: how much more grateful should we be for a completed revelation.
3. Devout and congenial society. Who can estimate the blessings of friendship; and if your friend has gone to God, few mercies call for more thankfulness than a friend in heaven.
4. Mercies in the disguise of affliction. These are topics which give scope for the holy ingenuity of loyal saints. “In everything,” because “all things are working together for good.”
III. Appropriate expressions of Christian gratitude.
1. It should occupy a prominent place in devotion whether secret or social.
2. Recount God’s mercies to others. In this way you will quicken your own soul to increasing fervour, and kindle the gratitude of others.
3. Sing praises. Few things are better fitted to dispel the evil spirit of censoriousness, selfishness, and sullenness than heart-sung hymns of thanksgiving.
4. Embody your gratitude in offerings of thankfulness. These are the only oblations for which room is left in our new economy. (J. Hamilton, D. D.)
The habit of thankfulness
We hear a great deal of the power of habit. I know there is power in good habits. Is there any in evil habits? Are good habits the greatest blessing in our life? One half of the best work performed by us is done largely through sheer force of habit. When a person is learning to play the piano, he or she goes over the keys awkwardly, and with difficulty, but soon becomes a good player through the force of habit. A man doing something that he is accustomed to will stand well the cares and anxieties which daily burden his mind. But put him at something which he knows nothing about, and they would kill him. Good habits enable one to resist temptation. The only way to conquer evil habits is to put good ones in their place. How often men discard their evil habits, but put nothing in place of them! The bad habits soon return like the unclean spirits of the parable. I wish to speak of the habit of thankfulness.
I. The value of such habit. It helps us to quell the repining over the ills of life. There is an old story of a young man who was walking along a road, full of life, but very poor, when, observing a carriage driven by containing an old man, he began to repine, saying; “Oh, what a life I lead! Just look at the genuine, quiet comfort enjoyed by that old man; Oh, that I were in his place!” The old man looked out of the window at the same time and sighed: “Oh, that I had the youth and strength of that man with all his splendid possibilities, I would give everything that I possess.” Now the habit of thankfulness secures us against all this. A child will give thanks to anyone who may make her a present of any kind, and shall we not return thanks to God for what He has given us? Some of us may have sore troubles; but when you remember the Lord’s goodness and His consolations, you are able to bear them. Paul and Silas sang praises in prison. That’s the way to do. Sing praises under all the ills of life. The Christian idea is to charge upon these ills.
II. The habit of thankfulness leads to deeper penitence. Repentance is the soundest, truest, and most acceptable thing in the eyes of God. All true penitence takes account of God’s goodness, and incites cheerfulness and thankfulness to God.
III. We ought to be thankful for everything painful as well as pleasant. “In all things.” We can always be thankful that a thing is not worse. If it were worse it would be no more so than our sins make us deserve. When trouble comes over us, we learn to appreciate that as a blessing which is gone. A man does not know the blessing of good health until he loses it. (J. A. Broadus, D. D.)
Thanksgiving to God
I. The duty enjoined. Give thanks--
1. With the soul (Psalms 103:1-2).
(1) With the understanding, which weights the value of the benefit conferred.
(2) With the memory, which stores up the remembrance of benefits received.
(3) With the affections, by which benefits are warmly embraced.
2. With the voice: otherwise thanks will be buried. How many aids and witnesses did David summon to assist him in this duty; the mountains to leap, the floods to make a noise, etc. Nature and art have found out many helps and signs--bells, musical instruments, feasting, etc. Yet these are but poor and senseless sacrifices performed by unreasoning deputies, if thanks have no more significant expression; and cheer of the countenance, bodily gestures, dancing, are dumb shows. But by speech one man’s heart conveys to another the cheery conceptions and passions of the soul, and so multiplies praise and sets on others to bless God with him.
3. With obedience, which God prefers to all our sacrifices. He that in the way of thankfulness bows and performs the mortification of one sin, the addition of one duty, pleases God better than Solomon with all his beeves and sheep. The life of thankfulness consists in the lives of the thankful; otherwise it is but as one who should sing a good song with his voice and play a bad one with his instrument.
II. The extent of the matter.
1. God will be praised in all His creatures whereof we have the sight or the use; for every one of us have no less benefit by the sun and air, than if we saw or breathed alone.
2. In all the works of His provident administration--public blessings--our country’s good.
3. In all personal favours. Every man that sees another stricken and himself spared is to keep passover for himself.
4. In all crosses, counting it an honour to suffer for Christ’s sake.
5. In all gifts: temporal or spiritual, and, above all, for Him who is all in all.
6. In all times and places.
III. The supreme motive. “This is the will of God.” A sufficient answer to the foolish question “What addition shall I make to His honour who is self-sufficient?” God’s will has binding authority enough, but the winning word is added, “In Christ.” “I have so loved you as to give My Son; the return I expect and will is your thanks.” An ingenuous child desires to know only what his father loves, and a grateful courtier only the pleasure of his sovereign. (S. Ward.)
The perpetual thanksgiving of a Christian life
These words form the last of a series of apparently impossible precepts--perpetual joy, perpetual prayer, united in a life of perpetual thanksgiving. Of course these do not refer to acts, but to a state of heart. Yet even then the difficulty is not removed, for toll and rest, success and failure, events that cheer or overshadow, are all to be received not only submissively but thankfully, and so are the tremendous sorrows which shatter the human heart. How can this precept be obeyed?
I. Its difficulty. Why do we not trust God sufficiently to thank Him in every lot in life?
1. One source of the difficulty lies in the constant changes in the soul’s life produced by temperament and circumstances. There are periods when it is comparatively easy to be thankful--days of sunshine when bare existence is a joy--times of sorrow, too, when we can trace the hand of love--hours of meditation when we get some deeper vision into the Divine meaning of life. But there are other periods when thanksgiving is the hardest task--days of dreariness, coldness of spirit, doubt.
2. But apart from this there are two sources of difficulty which are permanent.
(1) Our fancied knowledge of life. We think we can tell what are great mercies, Whereas that which we pass by as a trifle or shudder as at a calamity maybe heaven’s greatest blessing in disguise. Constantly we are taught our ignorance, yet constantly we assume to know. Experience has revealed to us that what the child would have chosen the man passes by; and as we pass on in life we learn that the brightest rainbows of hope spring from the darkest clouds of trouble; and that in the deepest valleys of humiliation grow the fairest flowers of faith and love. Yet we forget the lesson, and fancy that we understand all.
(2) Unbelieving distrust of God.
(a) We are afraid to recognize His presence everywhere, acting through every little force in nature and through every trifling change in our careers.
(b) When we do discern the hand of God we are afraid to trust Him perfectly. In our submission we are tempted to bow to a kind of awful will that must have its way, rather than to believe that what God has chosen for us is most wise, just, and kind.
II. The motive. God’s will is so revealed in Christ that, believing in it, we can give thanks in all things. Christ showed--
1. That life was the perpetual providence of the Father. “Not a sparrow falleth.” “Behold the lilies.” His life was a ceaseless illustration of this. He went through the world whether men took up stones to stone him or shouted their hallelujahs, equally fearless as though He was sublimely safe, till His work was done. Realize that as true of your life, and if every moment and trifle of our history are under the Father’s providence, for what shall we refuse to be thankful!
2. That that providence is a discipline of human character. Christ’s teaching and life show us that not getting more, but being greater; not pleasure, but holiness; not success, but heaven is God’s purpose in disciplining the life of men. The learning “obedience by the things which He suffered” was the end for which the Father’s providence led the Divine man. And so with us.
3. That the discipline of life is explained by eternity alone. The life of Jesus, apart from the eternal glory which crowned it, seems only a failure and a mystery; and the Father, who ordained for Christ His strange dark way, is leading us by a way that must be dark till death lift the veil. We know not what we need for heaven’s splendour, but know this that “the great multitude” have come out of great tribulation.
III. The method of its attainment.
1. It is not to be reached by a single resolution, or in a day by an outburst of excited feeling. We may say sincerely, henceforth I resolve to trust God in everything. But little vexations soon shake our trust; greater troubles break down our resolution; the emotion has declined, and we say, “No man can be always thankful.”
2. It is the gradual result of a life of earnest fellowship with God--a life that in daily meditation realizes the presence of the Father; that by prayer feels the reality of God’s love--that comes at length to walk through all toils and temptations under a deep sense of the all-surrounding God. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)
The faculty of thankfulness
If one should give me a dish of sand, and tell me there were particles of iron in it, I might look for them with my eyes, and search for them with my clumsy fingers, and be unable to detect them; but let me take a magnet and sweep through it, and how it would draw to itself the almost invisible particles by the mere power of attraction! The unthankful heart, like my fingers in the sand, discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day, and as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find in every hour some heavenly blessings; only the iron in God’s sand is gold. (H. W. Beecher.)
Thanksgiving with prayer
A child knelt at the accustomed time to thank God for the mercies of the day, and pray for His care during the coming night. Then, as usual, came the “God bless mother and--” But the prayer was stilled, the little hands unclasped, and a look of sadness and wonder met the mother’s eye, as the words of helpless sorrow came from the lips of the kneeling child, “I cannot pray for father any more.” Since her lips had been able to form the dear name, she had prayed for a blessing upon it. It had followed close after her mother’s name. But now he was dead. I waited for some moments, and then urged her to go on. Her pleading eyes met mine, and with a voice that faltered, she said, “Oh, mother, I cannot leave him out all at once; let me say, ‘Thank God that I had a dear father once,’ so I can still go on and keep him in my prayers.” And so she still continues to do, and my heart learned a lesson from the loving ingenuity of my child. Remember to thank God for mercies past as well as to ask blessings for the future. (The Christian.)
Thankfulness and unthankfulness
At the dinner table in the cabin of a steamboat there sat a conceited young man, who thought he displayed his own importance by abusing everything placed before him. A clergyman present, remonstrated with him, but in vain. Even on deck he continued his complaints of the ill-cooked, unsavoury fare, until the clergyman thoroughly disgusted, turned away, and, walking toward the steerage, noticed an old man, in his home-spun and well-worn shepherd’s plaid, crouching behind the paddle box, where he thought himself unobserved. He took from his pocket a piece of dry bread and cheese, and laying them down before him, reverently took off his blue bonnet, his thin white hairs streaming in the wind, clasped his hands together and blessed God for his mercy. In the great Giver’s hands lie gifts of many kinds, and to the scantiest dole of this world’s fare we oftentimes see added that richer boon--a grateful heart. (Christian Age.)
Objects seem large or little according to the medium through which they are viewed. In the microscope, what a remarkable change they undergo! The humble moss rises into a graceful tree; the beetle, armed for battle, flashes in golden or silver mail; a grain of sand swells into a mass of rock; and, on the other hand, a mountain looked at through the wrong end of a telescope sinks into a molehill, and the broad lake contracts into a tiny pool. Even so, according as we look at them, with the eyes of self-condemning humility, or of self-righteous pride, God’s mercies seem great or little. For example, a minister of the gospel, passing one day near a cottage, was attracted to its door by the sound of a loud and earnest voice. It was a bare and lonely dwelling; the home of a woman who was childless, old, and poor. Drawing near this mean and humble cabin, the stranger at length made out these words: “All this, and Jesus too! All this, and Jesus too!” as they were repeated over and over in tones of deep emotion, of wonder, gratitude, and praise. His curiosity was roused to see what that could be which called forth such fervent, overflowing thanks. Stealing near, he looked in at the patched and broken window; and there in the form of a gray, bent, worn-out daughter of toil, at a rude table, with hands raised to God, and her eyes fixed on some crusts of bread and water, sat piety, peace, humility, contentment, exclaiming, “All this, and Jesus too!”
Grounds for thankfulness
I cannot enumerate all the sweet mercies for which you should be thankful--the personal mercies, a sound mind and a healthy body; restorations from sickness; preservations in imminent peril; a good education, abundance of books, and, perhaps, some leisure to read them; a competent share of the good things of this life, a home, food, raiment, occasional rest and recreation, the enlivening of a journey, and the enlightenment of travel. Family mercies: parents that were kind when you were helpless, and wise when you were foolish; the endearing associations of early days; the gentleness of kindred, who, if a little more remote, were scarce less tender than father or mother were; the amenities and joys of your present home; the household lamp and the household hearth, with all the fond familiar faces on which they shine; the voices which make blythe music in your dwelling; the lives which you have got back from the gates of the grave, and those glorified ones whom you would not wish to bring back; with all those numberless indoor delights, those visits of kindness, and advents of gladness, and solacements of sympathy which He, whose home was heaven, loved to witness or create in the homes of earth. Spiritual mercies: the Bible, the Sabbath, the house of prayer, the closet, the family altar, the great congregation, prayer meetings, communion seasons, psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, Christian friends; perhaps a conscience void of offence towards man, and at peace with God through Jesus Christ; perhaps a victory over some temptation; perhaps progress in some grace; perhaps answers to prayer; along with what may either already be your own, or may as assuredly be made your own, as the Bible is already yours--the Comforter, peace in believing, hope in dying, a joyful resurrection, a home in heaven, a blood-bought harp, the inheritance of all things. These are a few of His mercies; but oh! how great is the sum of them! (J. Hamilton, D. D.)
Reasons for thankfulness
King George, at the close of the Revolutionary War, in which he had lost thirty colonies, proclaimed a day of thanksgiving because of the return of peace. His chaplain said to him, “For what would your majesty have us give thanks? for the fact that you have lost thirteen of the brightest jewels of your crown?” “No, not for that,” said the king. “Because we have added millions to our national debt?” “No, not for that,” said the king. “Because tens of thousands of people of the same race and religion have been destroyed?” “No, not for that,” said the king. “Why, then,” insisted the chaplain, “and for what shall we give thanks?” “Thank God,” said the king, with great vehemence--“Thank God, because matters are no worse.” (J. L. Nye.)
Like the Caspian Sea, which has some unseen way of disposing of its waters, so that whatever rains come down, and whatever rivers flow in, its great gulf never fills, and never a rill runs out from it again; so there is a greedy, all-devouring selfishness, which, whatever rivers of pleasure flow into it, and whatever mighty bursts of heaven-descended bounty exhaust their fulness over it, always contrives to dispose of the whole in the caverns and subterraneous passages of its capacious egotism--the vast mare iternum of self, without one drop of overflowing in kindness to man or gratitude to God. (J. Hamilton, D. D.)
1 Thessalonians 5:19
Quench not the Spirit
The first advice--“Quench not the Spirit.” The Spirit is quenched as a man doth quench his reason with over-much wine; and therefore we say, “When the wine is in, the wit is out,” because before he seems to have reason, and now he seems to have none; so our zeal, and our faith, and our love, are quenched with sin. Every vain thought, and every idle word, and every wicked deed, is like so many drops to quench the Spirit of God. Some quench it with the business of this world; some quench it with the lusts of the flesh; some quench it with the cares of the mind; some quench it with long delays, that is, not plying the motion when it cometh, but crossing the good thoughts with bad thoughts, and doing a thing when the Spirit adviseth not, as Ahab went to battle after he was forbidden. The Spirit is often grieved before it be quenched; and a man when he begins to grieve, and check, and persecute the Spirit, though never so lightly, never ceaseth until he have quenched it, that is, until he seem himself to have no spirit at all, but walketh like a lump of flesh.
II. The second advice. After “Quench not the Spirit” followeth “Despise not prophesyings.” The second admonition teacheth how the first should be kept. “Despise not prophesying,” and the Spirit will not quench, because prophesying doth kindle it. This you may see in the disciples that went to Emmaus. When Christ preached unto them from the law and the prophets, their hearts waxed hot within them. This is no marvel that the spirit of a man should be so kindled and revived with the Word; for the Word is the food of the soul. The apostle might have said, Love prophesying, or honour prophesying, but he saith, “Despise not prophesying,” showing that some were ashamed of it. The greatest honour we give to prophets is not to despise them, and the greatest love we carry to the Word is not to loathe it. Prophesying here doth signify preaching, as it doth in Romans 12:6. Will you know why preaching is called prophesying? To add more honour and renown to the preachers of the Word, and to make you receive them as prophets (Matthew 10:41). Hath not the despising of the preachers almost made the preachers despise preaching?
III. The third advice. After “Despise not prophesyings” followeth “Prove all things,” etc., that is, try all things. This made John say, “Try the spirits.” We read that the Bereans would not receive Paul’s doctrine before they had tried it; and how did they try it? They searched the Scriptures. This is the way Paul would teach you to try others as he was tried himself; whereby we may see that if we read the Scriptures we shall be able to try all doctrines; for the Word of God is the touchstone of everything, like the light which God made to behold all His creatures (Genesis 1:2). A man trieth his horse which must bear him, and shall he not try his faith which must save him? And when we have tried by the Word which is truth and which is error, we should keep that which is best, that is, stay at the truth, as the Magi stayed when they came to Christ. We must keep and hold the truth as a man grippeth a thing with both his hands; that is, defend it with our tongue, maintain it with our purse, further it with our labour, and, if required, seal it with our blood. Well doth Paul put “prove” before “hold;” for he which proveth may hold the best, but he which holdeth before he proveth sometimes takes the worse sooner than the best.
IV. The forth advice. After “Prove all things, and hold that which is good,” followeth “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” As if the adviser should say, That is like to be best which is so far from evil that it hath not the appearance of evil; and that is like to be the truth which is so far from error that it hath not the show of error. Paul biddeth us abstain from all appearance of evil, because sin, and heresy, and superstition are hypocrites; that is, sin hath the appearance of virtue, error the appearance of truth, and superstition the appearance of religion. If the visor be taken away from them, they will appear exactly what they are, though at the first sight the visor doth make them seem no evil, because it covereth them, like a painted sepulchre the dead men’s bones beneath. (H. Smith.)
Words of warning
I. The work of the Holy Spirit.
1. The Holy Spirit is God, and so has all the strength of God. What He pleases to do He can do. None can stand against Him. This is of the greatest possible comfort to us, because we have enemies that are too strong for us; but no enemy is strong enough to hurt us if the Spirit of God is on our side. And again, as the Holy Spirit is God, so He has that wonderful power of working on the heart which belongs to God, and in purifying it, and making it holy like Himself.
2. The Holy Spirit dwells in the Church. His work is done upon those who belong to the Church. “He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” What the soul of each one is to our body, so the Holy Spirit lives in the Church, and gives spiritual life to each member of the Church. He works through the ordinances of the Church, and what He gives, He is pleased to give through those ordinances.
3. The Holy Spirit is like a fire in the heart of man. Fire gives warmth and light. Is not this exactly the character of the work of the Holy One. What is colder than the fallen heart of man toward God? Who warms it into real love to God but the Spirit by whom the love of God is shed abroad in the heart? Again, what is darker than the heart of man? Who pours light into it, and makes us to see that God is the true portion of the soul? It is the Holy Ghost. “We have an unction from the Holy One, and we know all things.”
II. The quenching of the Holy Spirit.
1. The power we have to do this. We have already said that the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church is like a fair shining light. Its rays fall on all hearts. It touches, it gilds, it beautifies all souls. It gives them a new fairness, like the golden rays which bathe the whole landscape, making each separate leaf to glisten as it dances on its branch, and hill and valley, wood and meadow, to wear a holiday aspect. Do not choose darkness rather than light by quenching the Spirit. We have power to do this. If we choose, we may say--I will not be changed, I will not give up my icy coldness of soul, I will go on in the hard-bound frost of my own selfishness, I will care for myself, live for myself; the fire may burn around me, but I will quench it. So we may put out the light which would lead us to God and heaven.
2. The way in which we may exercise this power. The Spirit of God may give us light in the Holy Scriptures, and we may refuse to read them at all, or read them without learning to know God and ourselves. The Spirit of God may give us light in the Church, which is the pillar and ground of the truth, and we may determine not to see what the Church would have us to believe and to do. The loving Spirit of God is longing to work among you, His heart is set upon you, He is opening out the treasures of His goodness before you. Oh! take care you do not check Him by your indifference. He will act to you as you act to Him. Just as fire cannot burn in a damp, unwholesome atmosphere--as there are places underground where the air is so foul that the brightest candle will go out at once, so if you choke the heavenly fire it will go out. The Holy Spirit will not work in the midst of cold, worldly, unbelieving hearts. By all that is dear and precious, “Quench not the Spirit!” (R. W. Randall, M. A.)
The working of the Divine Spirit
There are three active elements in nature--air, water, fire; and one passive--earth. The Holy Spirit is spoken of under the figure of each of the former, never of the latter. The Holy Spirit is always in action. St. Paul is writing with evident reference to the promise, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” Perhaps he may have had regard to some special manifestations of the Spirit (see 1 Thessalonians 5:20). A man might feel within him a fire burning, which was meant for expression, and which he was tempted to suppress, through feelings of modesty, false shame, indolence, or indifference, and he was anxious to caution against this. And there is now a bad economy of Divine gifts; men possessing talents of property, position, influence, persuasion, knowledge, grace, lock up that which was intended for the whole house of Christ. This is quenching the Spirit. Personally, as the Divine Spirit, no efforts or negligences of man could lessen His power or glory; but as the Divine Inhabitant of the soul it is otherwise. Note the manner of His working. He acts on--
I. The understanding. He spake to the understanding of prophets, psalmists, apostles, etc., and so we have in the Bible the truth brought home to our understandings. But the office of the Spirit is not bounded by that. The Word of God is in the hand of every one, till it has become an ill-used book by its very plentifulness; and to him who has not the Spirit to shine with the light of His holy fire within the printed page all is darkness. The letter killeth, the Spirit alone quickeneth. So, then, a man quenches the Spirit who either neglects the Bible or is not taught by the Spirit out of it (Ephesians 1:18).
II. The conscience. The office of the Spirit is to bring sin to remembrance--a thankless office in one sense. Tell your best friend his faults, he must be one of a thousand if you have not lost him. Few can say, Let the righteous smite me (Psalms 141:5). But the Spirit knows how to reprove without irritating, and at the right time and in the right way. The still small voice takes conscience for its mouthpiece. When that voice is heard bringing to remembrance some half-excused sin, of the neglect of some half-denied duty, “Quench not the Spirit.”
III. Thy will. The understanding may see the truth--the conscience may be alive to duty--is the work done? Answer all ye who know what it is to see the good, and yet to pursue the evil; to hate yourselves for your weakness, and yet do again the thing ye would not! The Holy Spirit, therefore, touches the will, the spring of being. He who says, “Stretch forth thy hand,” will give the will and the power, and with the peace and reward.
IV. The heart. “Thou shalt love,” etc. Who gives so much as a corner of his heart to God? The question is a self-contradiction, for the heart always gives itself whole or not at all. The Spirit enables us to cry Abba, Father. It is a dreadful thing to quench the Spirit in an intellectual scepticism; in a stubborn doggedness of conscience; in a settled obstinacy of will; but it is more dreadful to quench Him in a cold obduracy of heart; to say to Him when He says “Son, give Me thy heart”--“I will not--go Thy way--torment me not before the time” (Hebrews 10:29). (Dean Vaughan.)
Quench not the Spirit
The word does not mean to resist, damp, or partially to smother, but to put out completely, as a spark when it falls into water.
I. The spirit can be quenched. Else why the injunction?
1. The antediluvians quenched the Spirit. He strove with them to do them good, they strove against Him to their destruction, and the flood swept them away.
2. In Nehemiah 9:1-38 you will see how God strove with the Jews, and how they quenched the Spirit and were left to perish.
3. The same law is in operation still. God gives His Spirit to instruct men. They refuse to hear and God leaves them to their worst enemies--their sins. It is foolish to frame theories with which these facts will not harmonize. The striving does not, of course, refer to God’s power; there could be no striving with that. But it is man’s sins striving with God’s love; and God tells us that He will not always strive with man’s sins, but will relinquish the contest, leave the field, and allow him an eternity in which to learn the fearful misery of what it is to have quenched the Spirit. As unbelief tied the Saviour’s hands so that He could not do any mighty work, so it can cripple the agency of the Spirit.
II. How can He be quenched. Fire may be extinguished--
1. By pouring water upon it. The most direct way of quenching the Spirit is sin and resistance to His influence. He may act as a friend who, having been wantonly slighted, withdraws in grief and displeasure.
2. By smothering it. So the Spirit may be quenched by worldliness. The process may be a slow and partially unconscious one, but it is real and sure.
3. By neglect. Timothy was exhorted to “stir up” His gift. And as a fire will die out unless it receives attention, so will the Spirit if we indolently do nothing to improve the gift.
4. For want of fuel. And the Spirit will be quenched unless the Spiritual life is fed by the Word of God, “Sanctify them through Thy truth.”
5. Through want of air. There may be abundance of fuel, but it will not burn. Not less essential to the flame kindled by the Spirit is the breath of prayer. (E. Mellor, D. D.)
Quench not the Spirit
1. The Holy Spirit is represented as fire, the source of light and heat, because of His searching, illuminating, quickening, reviving, refining, assimilating influences.
2. It is implied that He may be quenched; not in Himself, but by the withdrawal of His influences, and so His graces, which are indicative of His presence, may be extinguished.
3. He may be quenched in others as well as in ourselves.
(1) In ministers, by contempt of their ministrations.
(2) Among Christians, by neglect of social prayer and religious conversation. Christians are like coals of fire which kindle into a blaze only when kept together. How disastrous to zeal are dissentions (Ephesians 4:30-32).
I. The instances in which we may quench the Spirit.
1. By slighting, neglecting and resisting His operations. When the Spirit stirs us up, and we neither stir up ourselves nor our gifts, we quench the Spirit.
2. By diverting the mind from spiritual concerns, and engaging in vain and unnecessary recreations. The love of pleasure will extinguish the love of God. Fulfilment of the lusts of the flesh renders walking in the Spirit impossible.
3. By inordinate affections towards any earthly object. The life and power of godliness are seldom found among those who are eager in the pursuit of worldly gain (Matthew 19:16-22).
4. By robbing Him of His glory, by denying His Divinity, or the necessity and efficacy of His operations.
5. By sins of omission and commission. These are opposite to His nature. One will damp His sacred fire, a course of iniquity will extinguish it.
II. The reasons which should warn us against this danger. If we quench the Spirit--
1. He will be silent to us, and will cease to admonish and guide either directly or through His ministers (1 Samuel 28:15).
2. He will suspend His influences and leave us in darkness.
3. We shall sin both against God and our own souls. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
Quench not the Spirit
This is a little text, but it is full of large matters.
I. We have a Spirit to quench.
1. The possession of the Spirit is the distinguishing prerogative of the gospel covenant; this it is which imparts a life, an energy, a fulness, a reality, to its every part and detail.
2. We are all the depositaries of this great treasure; the holders of a wonderful gift, for the abuse or improvement of which we shall one day have to answer.
II. The nature and properties of this Spirit.
1. A consuming fire.
(1) It destroys in us at once that curse which adheres to us as children of a fallen parent.
(2) In those who yield themselves, gradually does one unholy habit of thought, one unsanctified desire, one impure affection after another, succumb beneath its power and influence.
2. A purifying fire; it does not wholly destroy the will, so as to make man a passive instrument; it only strips the will of that evil which makes it at enmity with God. Nor does the Spirit deaden and annihilate the affections, powers, faculties of our moral nature; it only withdraws them from low, base, unworthy objects, and fixes them on others whose fruits will be love, joy, peace.
3. A kindling fire. It raises in the mind of man the fervour of devotion and the heat of Divine love.
4. A defending fire. Like the sword of the cherubim, it turns every way to guard “the tree of life.”
5. An enlightening fire.
(1) The Christian, by the Spirit which is given him, is enabled to see what he is in himself. It shows him how degraded is his nature, how forlorn and hopeless are his prospects.
(2) This reveals to him what he is in Christ--Child of God. Heir of glory;
(3) This reveals to him the path of life.
(4) This lays open to him the mysterious, hidden wisdom of the Word of God.
III. What is meant by “quenching the Spirit.”
1. This is done by those who altogether fall away from Christ--by apostates.
2. It is not only, nor generally, by a sudden and violent wrenching and snapping asunder of the ties which bind him to Christ, that the obdurate sinner quenches the Spirit. The integrity and unity of his inner life is damaged and sapped little by little; he quenches the Spirit, more or less, in all the stages of his spiritual decay.
IV. What are the means, and what the agency, which operate in bringing this about?
1. Floods of ungodliness swamp the soul.
2. Blasts of fierce and headstrong passions.
3. Want of fuel to nourish and preserve it. In many a soul the Spirit’s fire is quenched because it is never replenished by prayer, meditation, self-examination, works of charity and mercy, attendance on Holy Communion, etc.
V. The awful consequences. Let us quench the Spirit, and how shall the motions of sins which are in our members be rooted out? how shall we be able to purify ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord? (Arthur G. Baxter.)
On quenching the Spirit
“Quench not the Spirit.” Put not out that heavenly fire which you did not kindle, but which you can extinguish. Put not out that holy fire which is the real heart of your life, and without which spiritual death is sure to follow. Put not out that fire by sensual pleasures and indulgence of fleshly appetites, as did Sodom and Gomorrah; by love of the world, as did Demas; by careless neglect, as did the lukewarm Church of Laodicea.
I. The fire can be put out.
1. You may put it out by indulgence of the body. The brutalizing power of fleshly sins, of whatever sort, always blunts the conscience, and makes the spiritual eye unable to discern the true nature of God’s requirements. A man who has given himself up to these becomes coarse. If the sins be such as men can see, he becomes visibly coarse and earthly. If the sires be of the far wickeder and yet more secret sort, he often retains much outward refinement and even softness of manner, but coarseness and earthliness of soul; with little sense of disgust at impurity, with a low and animal idea of the highest of all affections.
2. The fire can be put out by worldliness and a life devoted to self and selfish hopes. What can be more miserable than the condition of that man whose powers of mind have shown him the truth of God, whose understanding has been too highly cultivated to allow him to shut his eyes to the eternal laws of heaven, who can appreciate, perhaps, till his very heart thrills with admiration, the high examples of love, of self-sacrifice, of a pure and brave service, which history has recorded, and yet who cannot be, and who feels that he never can be, what he himself admires; who feels that while he admires the noble and the true, yet he is not attracted by it? The end of such a character generally is to lose even this much appreciation of what is good, and to retain admiration for nothing but refinement without a resolute will within; to despise all self-sacrifice, all generosity, all nobleness as romantic and weak; and, of course, either to give up religion altogether, or to make a superstition to suit the worldly temper.
3. Lastly, and most often of all, the fire of the Spirit can be put out by mere neglect. The Spirit holds before the sight, time after time, soul-stirring visions of what our lives and characters might be. As we read, as we live with our fellows, as we worship, as we listen, we are touched, enlightened, half roused to real resolution. But we hear not, or if we hear we make no effort; or if we make an effort, we soon give it up. The greatest thoughts, the noblest thoughts flit before the minds of men in whom their fellows suspect nothing of the kind; but they flit across the sky, and those who share in them, yet feel them to be as unreal as those clouds. There is no waste in nature equal to the waste of noble aspirations. What is the end of such coldness? The end is an incapacity to heart what they have so often heard in vain. In such men there comes at last an utter inability to understand that the message of God is a message to them at all. They hear and they understand, but they find no relation between their lives and what they learn. They will be selfish, and not know they are selfish; worldly, and not be able to see they are worldly; mean, and yet quite unconscious of their meanness.
II. The last, the final issue of “quenching the Spirit,” I cannot describe. A fearful condition is once or twice alluded to in the Bible, which a man reaches by long disobedience to the voice within him, and in which he can never be forgiven, because he can never repent, and he cannot repent because he has lost all, even the faintest tinge, of the beauty of holiness. What brings a man into such a state as this we cannot tell; but it is plain enough that the directest road to it is by “quenching the Spirit.” (Bp. Temple.)
On the Holy Spirit
Some have thought that the words of our text are to be referred to the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, which were enjoyed by the Church in the days of the apostle; such as the gift of healing, the gift of tongues, the gift of prophesying. All this may be very just, and very suitable to the Church of the Thessalonians; yet, if this were all, the words would have no application to us, since those miraculous gifts have ceased. Still, this admonition stands in the midst of precepts which are of lasting and universal obligation: “Rejoice evermore: Pray without ceasing: In everything give thanks;” and, a little onward, “Prove all things: hold fast that which is good.” Who does not see that, both before and after the text, every precept belongs to all ages?
I. Let us attentively consider the subjects presented to our notice in this brief but comprehensive sentence. Here is a Divine person exhibited, the Spirit; a comparison implied, fire; a state of privilege supposed, viz., that this fire is already kindled; finally, a sin prohibited, “Quench not the Spirit.”
1. The gifts and illuminations, which we must not quench, cannot be viewed apart; they are inseparable from an actual indwelling of the Holy Ghost. The Spirit, therefore, is a Divine person. Sins are committed against Him. He must be a Divine person. The work which He performs in our hearts requires infinite knowledge, infinite condescension, infinite wisdom, and infinite power. The admonition of our text acquires a peculiar force from this consideration. We live under the ministration of the Spirit.
2. Here is a comparison implied. But, without attempting to follow out this comparison in all its particulars, it shall suffice to observe, that these words, addressed to the Thessalonians, must refer either to the light kindled in them by His teaching, or to the affections inflamed by His influence. True religion is both; it is inward illumination, and a hidden and celestial fire, which purifies and warms the heart, originated and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Love to God, fervency in prayer, ardent zeal for His glory, joy, desire hope, all mounting heavenward; to what else could they be compared, with equal propriety? They conquer, they possess, they fill, they purify the soul. This fire is communicated from above, like that which burned upon the altar of old. Like that, it must be kept burning continually.
3. My dear brethren, you are addressed in the text, as those in whom this Divine fire is already kindled. It supposes that you are true Christians, and that you have a concern to keep the grace you have received. But is it really so? Alas! you cannot quench what has no existence in the soul.
4. This leads us to inquire into the sin. What is it to quench the Spirit? How far is it possible for a true believer to be guilty of it? And, by what means? Now, there are two ways, as we all know, in which fire may be quenched. It may be quenched by not adding fuel, or by adding water, and, in general, anything of a nature adverse to it. Hence there are two ways in which the Spirit may be quenched, illustrated by this emblem, negligence and sin.
II. We shall endeavour to enforce this admonition; for it is by far too important to be discussed only, without the addition of special motives, calculated to show the guilt and danger which would be involved in its neglect.
1. Therefore, consider that, if you quench the Spirit, you will provoke in an eminent degree the displeasure of God. No sins are reckoned so heinous as those which are committed against this Divine Agent.
2. Consider that this would be, in general, to destroy all your spiritual comfort; and, in particular, to silence the witness and obliterate the seal of your redemption, leaving you without any evidence of your interest in the great Salvation.
3. Consider, once more, that to be guilty of such an offence would open wide the floodgates of all sin, which it is the office of the Holy Ghost to subdue and destroy. It would leave you without strength and without defence against Satan and your own corruptions. Let me close by adding to this admonition a few words of exhortation.
1. Let me entreat you to conceive very affectionately of the Holy Spirit.
2. Let me exhort you to give honour to the Holy Spirit, by a distinct and continual recognition of your dependence upon Him.
3. Finally, if all this be true, then how miserably mistaken must be that ministry which casts the name and office of the Holy Spirit into the shade! (D. Katterns.)
Quenching the Spirit
The Holy Spirit is more than “Emmanuel, God with us.” He is God in us. Until He so comes we are ruined; when He comes the ruin becomes a living temple. No man can explain this; and yet every striving, expanding soul exults in the sacred belief. How awful, then, the power given to a man to quench the Spirit. How? By any unfair dealing with the laws and principles of our nature, by which lie works. He uses memory for conviction, conscience for condemnation or justification, understanding for enlightenment, will for invigoration, affections for happiness; and if we refuse to allow these faculties to be so used, we are quenching the Spirit. The Spirit’s work is--
I. Conviction of sin. He takes a sinner, and makes memory a scourge to him: shows him the holiness of God and the sinfulness of sin. It is a most gracious opportunity; but, alas! he misses it, stifles memory and silences conscience, and thus quenches the Spirit. Christians, too, when convinced of sin may quench the Spirit if they do not take heed.
II. Revelation. “He shall receive of mine,” etc. In conducting this great work He uses every kind of suitable instrumentality--the inspired writings, the spoken word, thoughtful books, Christian conversation, etc. It follows, then, that if we do not search the Scriptures and take kindly the ministries of truth we are shutting out of our hearts the waiting Spirit of God.
III. Sealing or setting apart. When men are born by His regenerating power from above they are marked for their celestial destination, and set apart for God. He renews His sealing process again and again, retouching His work and bringing out the Divine inscriptions. Any one who resists this process, who does not often think of the Father and the Father’s house, and who minds earthly things is quenching the Spirit. Christian people, too, have thoughts given to them purely as sealing thoughts; they are not needed for duty or life here, but for higher service and the life to come. One is earlier down some morning than usual, and in the short moment of quietness looks far away into the land of sunless light. One is struck suddenly--at the high noon of city life--with the utter vanity of all the fever and toil and strife. Or at night there falls upon the house a little visitation of silence. Quench not the Spirit in any of these His gracious comings. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Quenching the Spirit
I. Some distinctions of this sin.
1. Total and partial.
(1) Total, when the Spirit’s impressions are quite erased so that no spark is left among the ashes. “My Spirit shall not always strive with man,” and this Spirit departed from King Saul.
(2) Partial, when the Spirit is weakened and brought to a very spark, as was the case with David (Psalms 51:1-19).
2. Wilful and weak.
(1) Wilful, when men resolutely set themselves to put out the holy fire, being resolved not to part with their lusts, they go on in opposition to their light, strangle their uneasy consciences, murder their convictions that they may sin without control (Acts 7:51).
(2) Weak, which is the result of carelessness rather than design (Eph 6:30; Song of Solomon 5:2-5).
II. How the Spirit is quenched. This holy fire is quenched--
1. By doing violence to it, as when one puts his foot on the fire or casts water on it, or blows it out. Thus the Spirit is quenched by sins of commission. As when one raises an oftensive smoke in the room where his guest sits, he is grieved and departs; so the Spirit is grieved by the offensive smell of our corruptions.
2. By neglecting it, as the lamp will be extinguished if you feed it not with more oil, so the Spirit is quenched by neglecting his motions, and not walking in the light while we have it.
III. Why we should not quench the Spirit.
1. Because it is the holy fire; and, therefore, it ought to be kept carefully, and it is dangerous to meddle with it (Leviticus 9:24).
2. Because we can do nothing without it. So far as the Spirit goes away, all true light and heat go with Him, and then the soul is in death and darkness.
3. Because when once quenched we cannot rekindle it, We “cannot tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth.” Were it the fire of our own hearths we might kindle it again; but it is from heaven, and we have no command there.
4. Because the quenching of this fire is the raising of another tending to the consuming of the soul. This is a fire of corruption within us. When the Spirit departed from Saul he went to the devil. And some people never come to a height of wickedness till the Spirit has been at work in them, and they have quenched Him. Conclusion:
1. We may quench the Spirit in others--
(1) By mocking them.
(2) By speaking evil of the way of God (Acts 19:9).
(3) By diverting them from duty.
(4) By tempting them to sin.
2. Quench it not in yourselves but cherish it.
(1) By diligence in duties--Bible reading, Christian conversation, private prayer.
(2) By keeping up a tender frame of spirit.
(3) By strict obedience.
(4) By making religion the one thing. (T. Boston, D. D.)
Quenching the Spirit
Light is the first necessity of life in this body; without it we could not go about our business, and should lose health and die. Such also is knowledge to the soul, and the Holy Spirit is the means of it. This light we are to beware of quenching. A light may be quenched--
I. By neglecting to feed and trim it. Coal, wood, oil, etc., serve as fuel for fire; Christian practice serves to maintain Christian knowledge. Practice is necessary for the preservation of even earthly knowledge. The knowledge communicated by the Spirit is that of salvation. This may be extinguished by not caring for it. How few things we read in the newspaper we remember a week after, simply because we are not interested. Shut up a light in a close place where no ray can pass forth, and after a little flickering it will go out. So if the light of the knowledge of Christ does not shine in deeds of faithful service it becomes extinguished.
II. By carelessness. This engenders wilfulness, and then wickedness, and like the lamps of the virgins this light once quenched cannot be lighted again (Hebrews 6:4; Matthew 6:23).
Quenching the Spirit
I. The object to which this exhortation relates. Not the essence of the Spirit, or His inherent attributes, but His agency.
1. This agency is symbolized by fire. “He shall baptize you,” etc. (Acts 2:1-3).
(1) Fire imparts light, so it is the office of the Spirit to impart knowledge. “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened.”
(2) Fire is employed to purge metals from dross; the Holy Spirit purifies men from sin and makes them holy. In the Old Testament He was “the Spirit of burning;” in the New “the Spirit of holiness.”
(3) Fire imparts heat: it is the office of the Spirit to kindle in the soul emotions which animate and enliven--love, zeal, joy.
2. The value of that agency. Its preciousness is beyond all conception, transforming as it does the state and character and securing the blessings of eternity.
3. The responsibilities attached to it. It is not only a gift, it is a stewardship; it is not only a privilege, it is a talent, to be cherished and improved.
II. The evils which the exhortation deprecates. The Spirit may he quenched--
1. By the want of a due recognition of His agency.
(1) A Christian may be tempted in his own case to ascribe that to himself which is really the result of Divine grace.
(2) He may be tempted in the case of others to disbelieve in the existence of the Divine work in spite of evidence, either in individual characters, or masses affected by revivals of religion. Wherever there is this guilty incredulity there is a refusal to the Spirit of the attributes due to Him.
2. By a want of holy separation from the world. The great design of the Christian vocation is holiness, and this is the one purpose of the operations of the Divine Spirit (John 17:14-20; Ephesians 5:7-15). If, then, a Christian permits himself to be so trammelled by earthly things as to conceal his character; if he allows his affections to be earthly; if he practices secular vocations which are forbidden, or pursues lawful ones inordinately; if he mingles in scenes of worldly frivolity or worse, what becomes of the fire kindled in his heart? Of course its light becomes faint, and its heat cools.
3. By a want of mutual forbearance and love.” The fruit of the Spirit is love,” etc. The indulgence, therefore, of angry passions is incompatible with the influence of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30-32). Here is the condemnation of the strife of sects, of unbrotherly conduct in a given Church, of family quarrels, of all unneighbourliness.
4. By neglect of the Word of God and prayer. The Word of God comprises the record and its proclamation, both of which are under the influence of the Spirit. To neglect to read the one or to hear the other is a sure method of quenching the Spirit, who convinces, converts, sanctifies, etc., by each. So with prayer, private, domestic, congregational.
III. The blessings which compliance with this exhortation will secure. If Christians do not quench the Spirit, if they rightly apprehend the nature of the Spirit’s agency--illuminating, etc.; if they do homage to it by nonconformity to the world; if they cultivate love; if they render a right regard to the Word of God and prayer they will secure--
1. The eminent prosperity and happiness of their own souls. We shall become firm in faith, pure in life, glowing in love, burning in zeal. We shall not be dwarfish, stunted plants, but as trees planted by rivers of water; others will take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus, and “the very God of Peace will sanctify us wholly.” And this prosperity will be our happiness. We shall thus walk in the light of God’s countenance, enjoy His comforting, gladdening friendship here; be animated by a sure hope, and finally enter into the joy of the Lord.
2. The true glory of the Church. This glory does not consist in high sounding ecclesiastical pretensions, in pompous ritual, but in humility, holiness, stedfastness to truth, etc. Let Christians cherish and honour the Spirit and they will secure the beauty, spirituality, and splendour of the Church.
3. The rapid diffusion of religion. As the Church becomes more holy and prayerful obstacles will disappear, revived energy will be given and exerted and nations will be born in a day. (J. Parsons.)
Quenching the Spirit
I. How does the Spirit influence the mind? Not by physical agency but by means of the truth. He persuades men to act in view of truth as we influence our fellows by truth presented to their minds. Sometimes this truth is suggested by providence, sometimes by preaching; but whatever the mode the object always is to produce voluntary action in conformity to His law.
II. What is implied in this fact and what must be inferred from it.
1. God is physically omnipotent, and yet His moral influences exerted by His Spirit may be resisted; but if the Spirit moved men by physical omnipotence there could be no resistance. The nature of moral agency implies the voluntary action of one who can yield to motive and follow light or not as he pleases. When this power does not exist moral agency cannot exist. Hence if our action is that of moral agents, our freedom to do or not do must remain.
2. If the Lord carries forward the work by means of revealed truth there must be most imminent danger lest some will neglect to study and understand it, or lest, knowing, they should refuse to obey it.
III. What is it to quench the Spirit?
1. The Spirit enlightens the mind into the meaning and self-application of the Bible. Now there is such a thing as refusing to receive this light. You can shut your eyes against it; you can refuse to follow it when seen; and in this case God ceases to hold up the truth before your mind.
2. There is a heat and vitality attending the truth when enforced by the Spirit. If one has the Spirit his soul is warm; if not his heart is cold. Let a man resist the Spirit and he will certainly quench this vital energy.
IV. The ways in which the Spirit may be quenched.
1. By directly resisting the truth He presents to the mind. After a short struggle the conflict is over, and that particular truth ceases to affect the mind. The man felt greatly annoyed by that truth until he quenched the Spirit; now he is annoyed by it no longer.
2. By endeavouring to support error. Men are foolish enough to attempt by argument to support a position which they know to be false. They argue it till they get committed, and thus quench the Spirit, and are left to believe in the very lie they unwisely attempted to advocate.
3. By uncharitable judgments, which are so averse to that love which is the fruit of the Spirit.
4. By bad temper, harsh, and vituperative language, and intemperate excitement on any subject whether religious or otherwise.
5. By indulging prejudice. Whenever the mind is made up on any subject before it is thoroughly canvassed, that mind is shut against the truth and the Spirit is quenched.
6. By violating conscience. Persons have had a very tender conscience on some subject, but all at once they come to have no conscience at all on that point. Change of conscience, of course, often results from conscientious change of views. But sometimes the mind is awakened just on the eve of committing a sin. A strange presentiment warns the man to desist. If he goes on the whole mind receives a dreadful shock, and its very eyes seem to be almost put out.
7. By indulging appetites and passions. These not only injure the body but the soul: and God sometimes gives men up to them.
8. By dishonesty and sharp practices in business.
9. By casting off fear and restraining prayer.
10. By idle conversation, levity, and trifling.
11. By indolence and procrastination.
12. By resisting the doctrine and duty of sanctification.
V. The consequence of quenching the Spirit.
1. Great darkness of mind. Abandoned by God, the mind sees truth so dimly that it makes no useful impression.
2. Great coldness and stupidity in regard to religion generally. It leaves to the mind no such interest in spiritual things as men take in worldly things. Get up a political meeting or a theatrical exhibition, and their souls are all on fire; but they are not at the prayer meeting.
3. Error. The heart wanders from God, loses its hold on truth, and perhaps the man insists that he takes now a much more liberal and enlightened view of the subject, and it may be gradually slides into infidelity.
4. Great hardness of heart. The mind becomes callous to all that class of truths which make it yielding and tender.
5. Deep delusion with regard to one’s spiritual state. How often people justify themselves in manifest wrong because they put darkness for light and vice versa. (C. G. Finney, D. D.)
Quenching the Spirit
Fire may be quenched--
I. By casting water on it. This is comparable to actual, wilful sin (Psalms 51:1-19).
II. By spreading earth upon it. This is applied to the minding of earthly things.
1. The cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches; excess of business which not only employs but entangles a man in the affairs of this life, by toil, scheming, speculation. The consequence is, the powers of the soul being limited, and when full, no matter of what, they can hold no more. As the water partakes of the quality of the soil over which it rolls, so our minds soon acquire a sameness with the object of our affection and pursuit.
2. Certain vanities and amusements erase the boundary line which should separate the Church from the world, and if they are not unlawful they have a tendency to destroy spirituality and a taste for devotion.
3. Worldly and political conversation which frets the mind, genders strife, and cools religious ardour. If we talk of that which we love best, where habitually are the thoughts and affections of many professed Christians? Surely it becomes us to live so as to “declare plainly that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
III. By the separation of the parts. Apply this to our divisions.
1. With what earnestness does the apostle enforce unity and cooperation among Christians! The enemy knows the importance of this; he therefore loves to separate, and unhappily finds too much to favour his wishes in our ignorance, prejudice, and infirmities.
2. There are some families who are quarrelling all day, and then go to prayer in the evening. If prayer does not induce people to avoid passion, then evil tempers will make them leave off prayer or perform it in a manner that is worse than the neglect of it.
3. One truth aids another truth, and one duty another duty. Detach private devotion from public, or public from private, and both sustain injury. Separate practice from principle, works from faith, or promises from commands, and you destroy the effect of the whole.
IV. By withholding fuel. A real Christian will soon feel the disadvantage of disregarding the means of grace. You may keep in a painted fire without fuel, but not a real one. Conclusion: We cannot quench what we have not. The exhortation, therefore, supposes the possession of the Spirit. Yet there is a common work of the Spirit which accompanies the preaching of the Word, the effect of which may be entirely lost. Herod heard John gladly, but he cherished a criminal passion which destroyed all his fair beginnings. Felix heard Paul, but the trembler dismisses the preacher for a more convenient season which never came. He afterwards conversed with the apostle, but he never again experienced the feelings he had subdued. (W. Jay.)
Protecting the Spirit’s light
A man has lost his way in a dark and dreary mine. By the light of one candle; which he carries in his hand, he is groping for the road to sunshine and to home. That light is essential to his safety. The mine has many winding passages in which he may be hopelessly bewildered. Here and there marks have been made on the rocks to point out the true path, but he cannot see them without that light. There are many deep pits into which, if unwary, he may suddenly fall, but he cannot avoid the danger without that. Should it go out he must soon stumble, fall, perish. Should it go out that mine will be his tomb. How carefully he carries it! How anxiously he shields it from sudden gusts of air, from water dropping on it, from everything that might quench it! The case described is our own. We are like that lonely wanderer in the mine. Does he diligently keep alight the candle on, which his life depends? Much more earnestly should we give heed to the warning, “Quench not the Spirit.” Sin makes our road both dark and dangerous. If God gave us no light, we should never find the way to the soul’s sunny home of holiness and heaven. We must despair of ever reaching our Father’s house. We must perish in the darkness into which we have wandered. But He gives us His Spirit to enlighten, guide, and cheer us. (Newman Hall, LL. B.)
Instance of quenching the Spirit
Several years ago I was called to visit a young man who was said to be sick, and wished to see me. Approaching him as he was lying upon his bed, I remarked that he certainly did not look as though he was ill. He replied, “I am not sick in my body, but in my soul. I am in deep distress.” Asking him the cause of his distress, he said, “During the revival in our Church, I have not only resisted its influence, but I have made sport of the young converts, I have ridiculed those who were seeking the salvation of their souls, and I feel that I have committed an unpardonable sin, and there is no hope for me.” I said to him, “Your sins are indeed fearfully great; but if you sincerely repent, and will now believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, He will pardon you.” I referred to the Saviour’s compassion to the thief on the cross, and to other cases that might awaken some hope in his mind. But everything that was said failed to reach his case. His reply to every argument, or appeal, or passage of Scripture that was quoted, was the same, “There is no hope for me.” After an earnest prayer for his salvation, and commending him to the mercy of God, I left him. Calling the next day, I found he had passed a sleepless night, and the state of his mind was unchanged. Again, after pointing him to the promises of the Scriptures, and praying with him, he expressed the same feeling of utter despair. Not a ray of light crossed the dark cloud that hung over his soul. The third day on entering his room I found him in a raging fever. His mental agony had taken effect upon his body. Without any indications at first of physical disease he was now lying in a most critical condition. I pointed him once more to the bleeding Saviour on the cross, and pleaded with him at the throne of grace. But with him the harvest was passed, the summer of hope was ended. He had quenched the Spirit, not only by his personal resistance, but by hindering and laughing at others who were seeking to escape eternal death. The next day I found that his reason was dethroned. His fond mother was bathing his temples with ice water. On my addressing him, he replied in an incoherent manner. He was beyond the reach of any gospel tidings. That night his soul passed into eternity. (Rufus W. Clark, D. D.)
The Spirit quenched
An old man came to a clergyman and said, “Sir, can a sinner of eighty years old be forgiven?” The old man wept much while he spoke, and on the minister inquiring into his history, gave this account of himself:--“When I was twenty one, I was awakened to know that I was a sinner, but I got with some young men who tried to persuade me to give it up. After a while I resolved I would put it off for ten years. I did. At the end of that time my promise came to my mind, but I felt no great concern, and I resolved to put it off ten years more. I did, and since then the resolution has become weaker and weaker, and now I am lost!” After talking to him kindly, the minister prayed with him, but he said, “It will do no good. I have sinned away my day of grace;” and in this state he soon after died.
Danger of deferring reformation
How dangerous to defer those momentous reformations which conscience is solemnly preaching to the heart! If they are neglected, the difficulty and indisposition increase every day. The mind is receding, degree after degree, from the warm and hopeful zone, till at last it will enter the arctic circle and become fixed in relentless and eternal ice. (J. Foster.)
The Spirit quenched
A few months ago in New York a physician called upon a young man who was ill. He sat for a little by the bedside examining his patient, and then he honestly told him the sad intelligence that he had but a short time to live. The young man was astonished; he did not expect it would come to that so soon. He forgot that death comes “in such an hour as ye think not.” At length he looked up in the face of the doctor and, with a most despairing countenance, repeated the expression: “I have missed it--at last.” “What have you missed?” inquired the tender-hearted, sympathizing physician. “I have missed it--at last,” again the young man replied. The doctor, not in the least comprehending what the poor young man meant, said: “My dear young man, will you be so good as to tell me what you--?” He instantly interrupted, saying: “Oh! doctor, it is a sad story--a sad--sad story that I have to tell. But I have missed it.” “Missed what?” “Doctor, I have missed the salvation of my soul.” “Oh! say not so. It is not so. Do you remember the thief on the cross?” “Yes, I remember the thief on the cross. And I remember that he never said to the Holy Spirit--Go Thy way. But I did. And now He is saying to me: Go your way.” He lay gasping awhile, and looking up with a vacant, staring eye, he said: “I was awakened and was anxious about my soul a little time ago. But I did not want religion then. Something seemed to say to me, Don’t postpone it. I knew I ought not to do it. I knew I was a great sinner, and needed a Saviour. I resolved, however, to dismiss the subject for the present; yet I could not get my own consent to do it until I had promised that I would take it up again at a time not remote, and more favourable. I bargained away, insulted and grieved the Holy Spirit. I never thought of coming to this. I meant to have religion, and make my salvation sure; and now I have missed it--at last.” “You remember,” said the doctor, “that there were some who came at the eleventh hour.” “My eleventh hour,” he rejoined, “was when I had that call of the Spirit; I have had none since--shall not have. I am given over to be lost.” “Not lost,” said the doctor; “you may yet be saved.” “No, not saved--never! He tells me I may go my way now; I know it--I feel it here,” laying his hand upon his heart. Then he burst out in despairing agony: “Oh, I have missed it! I have sold my soul for nothing--a feather--a straw; undone forever!” This was said with such unutterable, indescribable despondency, that no words were said in reply. After lying a few moments, he raised his head, and, looking all around the rooms as if for some desired object, turning his eyes in every direction, then burying his face in the pillow, he again exclaimed, in agony and horror: “Oh, I have missed it at last!” and he died. (D. L. Moody.)
The coated heart
I heard a few nights ago that if you take a bit of phosphorus, and put it upon a slip of wood, and ignite the phosphorus, bright as the blaze is, there drops from it a white ash that coats the wood and makes it almost impossible to kindle the wood. And so when the flaming conviction laid upon your hearts has burnt itself out, it has coated the heart and it will be very difficult to kindle the light there again. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
When some poor distracted one in Paris determines to lift his hand against his own life, he begins by stopping up every nook and cranny in the room which lets in the sweet air of heaven. He closes the door, he closes the windows, he fills in every hole, one by one, before he kindles that fatal fire which by its fumes is to bring destruction. So it is when men deny the Spirit and quench the Spirit. They may not know it, for the madness of sin is upon them, but none the less is it true that one after another they close those avenues by which He might enter to save them, until God can do no more than stated apart in judgment, as over Ephraim of old, saying, “O Ephraim, thou hast destroyed thyself.” (W. Baxendale.)
1 Thessalonians 5:20
Despise not prophesyings
1. The Scriptures written (2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:16).
(1) The truths asserted (Acts 26:27).
(2) Commands enjoined (Mark 7:8-9).
(3) Promises made (Romans 4:20).
(4) Threatenings denounced (Proverbs 1:30; Amos 3:8).
2. The Scriptures preached (1 Corinthians 14:1-3), which they despise--
(1) Who do not come to hear them (Luke 4:16).
(2) Who do not regard what they have heard (Luke 4:20).
(3) Who do not practice what they hear commanded (Leviticus 26:15; John 13:17).
II. Why not despise them?
1. They are the Word of God (chap. 2:13).
2. They that despise them despise Him (Luke 10:16).
3. If we despise the Word we may be justly deprived of it.
4. If we despise His Word God will despise us (1 Samuel 2:30; Proverbs 1:25; Proverbs 1:28).
5. By so doing we render it ineffectual to ourselves (Hebrews 4:2). (Bp. Beveridge.)
Despise not prophesyings
Prophesying in the ordinary sense means the foretelling of future events. Here the term denotes exposition of the Scriptures.
1. Because some who do not despise the office itself may be disposed to cast contempt on particular ministers, Paul forbids a Contempt of prophesyings in general, lest by particular instances of neglect the office itself should be brought into disrepute. Ministers have peculiar gifts. One is learned, another eloquent, another argumentative, etc., but there is no faithful minister, whatever his gifts, from whom we may not reap some advantage. Those who hear with prejudice will never hear with profit, let the preacher be who he may.
2. But the apostle forbids us to despise prophesyings, intimating that an undervaluing of the one will lead to a contempt of the other. For our own sakes we are to receive the message, for His sake who sent him the messenger. Lydia’s heart was open to the one, and her house to the other.
I. The caution. Ministers are required to magnify their office, and to so discharge their duties as to preserve it from contempt (1 Corinthians 14:39). The exhortation, however, applies more particularly to hearers. Whatever be our attainments there is always room for improvement. Those despise prophesyings who--
1. Refuse attendance upon a preached gospel. Some are so openly profane as to make the Sabbath a day of worldly business or indulgence. Others pretend that they can profit more by prayer and meditation at home. Those who in former times forsook the assembling of themselves together, as the manner of some now is, did so from fear. But whatever the cause, such souls famish and are accessory to their own destruction. “Woe is me,” says Paul, “if I preach not the gospel”; and woe is the man who refuses to hear it (Proverbs 28:9; 1 Corinthians 9:16).
2. Attend the gospel but with improper disposition. Part of their time is spent in drowsiness or trifling inattention, observing their neighbours instead of the preacher. Hence when they come home they can tell more of what passed in the seats than in the pulpit. Others are not contented with plain truths; wholesome truths must be garnished to their taste. Paul represents such as having “itching ears”; and though they “heap to themselves teachers” running from one church to another, they get but little good.
3. Are apparently serious in their attendance on the Word, but who neither receive it in love, mix it with faith, nor reduce it to practice (Ezekiel 33:31-32). The gospel is also despised when it is attended to for unworthy purposes: to hide some iniquity, to silence conscience, to raise our reputation, or promote our worldly interest (2 Peter 2:1-2).
II. The reasons.
1. The weakness or wickedness of those who dispense the Word of God.
2. Familiarity on the part of the hearer. Scarcity creates a longing, but plenty breeds contempt. The Word of God is “precious” when it is scarce.
3. Insensibility and unbelief. Sinners are at ease in their sins and love to be so.
4. Profaneness and desperate wickedness. The Word reproves such, and they cannot bear it. Knowledge aggravates sin and raises a tempest in the soul.
III. The sin and danger. None but fools despise wisdom, and to despise the wisdom that cometh from above is still more dangerous presumption (Proverbs 1:7; Jeremiah 11:10-11). Those who despise prophesyings--
1. Despise what God has honoured and will continue to honour (Isaiah 55:10-11).
2. Are guilty of despising the Divine authority (1 Thessalonians 4:8).
3. Injure their own souls (Proverbs 8:34-36).
4. Will bring down contempt at length upon their own heads (Psalms 50:22; Hebrews 12:25). (B. Beddome, M. A.)
Father is ill and cannot go to church. Daughter, who has spent three years at a boarding school and is a communicant and a teacher in the Sabbath school, enters. “Well, Mary, did you have a good sermon this morning?” “Yes, splendid; I never heard Dr. X. preach better.” “What was the text?” “Oh, I don’t remember! I never could keep texts in mind, you know.” “What was the subject? Don’t you remember it or some of the ideas?” “No, papa, but I remember a beautiful figure about a bird soaring up into the air. Why, I could almost see it and hear its song!” “Well, what did he illustrate by the flight of the bird?” “Let me see. It was something about faith, or about going to heaven. I can’t just recall now what it was, but the figure was splendid.” And the father is satisfied. Why shouldn’t he be? That was the kind of listening to sermons that he taught her by his own example. If he had heard it he could not have made a better report unless there had been something in it about politics or the news of the day. We are losing the habit of attention and the use of the memory in the house of God. The story of the Scotch woman and the wool has comforted a great many careless and forgetful hearers of the Word. When criticized for claiming to have enjoyed a sermon, and to have been edified by it, though she could not remember a single idea in it, or even the text, she held up the fleece she had just washed, wrung it dry, and said: “Don’t you see the water is all gone, and yet the wool is clean. So the sermon is all gone, but in passing through my mind, as I listened, it did me good.” We think that hers was an exceptional case. We don’t believe in cleansing hearts as she cleansed wool. The Saviour said, “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you.” And Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “By which also (the gospel he preached) ye are saved if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you.” He evidently had no faith in the saving power of truth that merely rippled on the ear like water over a rock.
1 Thessalonians 5:21
Prove all things: hold fast that which is good--The design of these precepts is to caution us against two pernicious extremes; one is taking opinions on trust without examination, the other is after a wise choice not being able to abide by it.
Credulity and unsteadiness are alike dangerous, and the only way to prevent them is to examine every doctrine propounded to us in order to regulate our choice, and then, having made a wise choice, to hold it unalterably so as to reap the full benefit. We must be as cautious in the selection of our principles as of our friends, but once well chosen we must not lightly part with them.
I. Care and discretion in choosing.
1. The persons. Not pastors only, but the Church was thus addressed (see also 1 John 4:1; 2 Corinthians 13:5; 1 Peter 3:15; Acts 17:11). Vain, therefore, is the Romish contention that the laity are excluded from judging for themselves. It is also one of man’s natural rights, resulting from his being a rational creature, to judge for himself, and to trust other men’s eyes only when he cannot use his own; and even then only after he has tested their trustworthiness.
2. The rule of procedure--that of right reason. Whatever on the best inquiry appears most reasonable is to be received. It is assumed in all debates that reason is umpire.
(1) Two classes seem to form an exception--those who advise the surrender of reason to the dictates of an infallible chair, and those who obtrude their dreams for Divine oracles. But they have to give reasons, and so suppose what they deny. They plead that reason is weak and fallible; but they can only know this by weak and fallible reason; and even taking that for granted we must either trust it or something blinder, such as fancy, passion or prejudice
(2) To discard reason is to discard faith which is built upon it. We ought to have a reason for what we believe. We believe a doctrine because we find it in the Scriptures; we believe the Scriptures because they speak the mind and will of God; we believe that they do so because they have the marks of Divine authority.
(3) Reason and faith are not opposite but assistant to each other. The glory of religion is that the best reasons go with it, and that it loves to be examined by the nicest reasons.
3. The use and application of this rule to the doctrines of Christianity.
(1) In some points Scripture is plain and clear and the reason of the thing as well, as in its moral teaching.
(2) Sometimes it is clear and express, but the reason of the thing dark, as in the mysteries of our faith. Here reason proceeds upon extrinsic evidence, the authority of the Revealer; and brings proofs to show that it has been revealed without pretending to say how or why it is.
(3) In other points Scripture may be obscure and silent, but the reason of the thing clear as in infant baptism, and reason shows what by analogy or consequence though not directly Scripture allows or condemns.
(4) Another case is where neither Scripture nor the reason of the thing are clear; both together affording only dark hints of what is or is not. Here, then, is ground only for a probable assent; it is, however, the business of reason to lay the things together, make the best of its materials, and lean to the most charitable side without being too positive in either.
II. Firmness and steadiness in retaining. To be always seeking without finding, ever learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth neither becomes a Christian or a man. Of course it is not implied that when we have once settled our opinions on good grounds, that we are never to alter them on better. The best judgment will sometimes err, and men’s judgments often ripen with their years. Yet as in civil matters wise men generally have some fixed leading principles, so the wise Christians will have some fundamental articles of faith which once intelligently accepted he will not have canvassed a second time. The proofs, e.g., of the superiority of Christianity over Paganism and Mohammedanism, of the being of a God over the atheistical contentions are so full and clear that they need never be reargued. So with revelation and morality. And with regard to minor matters that we permit to be reopened, we must hold fast to this that reason and not caprice, vanity, ambition, fear is to be umpire; and then if its decisions are clear against us it is the truest constancy to change what is proved to be an error, for we are commanded to hold fast only what is good. (D. Waterland, D. D.)
Prove all things
I. Religion addresses us as sensible beings.
1. Not every religion, nor even every section of Christianity. Some say, “Do not inquire; submit implicitly to the teachings of your Church.” Truth does not do this; it courts examination because it can afford it.
(1) There are difficulties in our faith, but they yield before a clear mind, patient study and prayer, and a correct life. There are many things above reason, but reason proves that it is reasonable to believe them.
(2) Surely this is what religion ought to be. Has God given us our mental faculties for nothing? You are responsible for your beliefs, and while before God we shut our mouths; yet before men we are bound to ask does God say it? I must have faith, but it must be an intelligent and manly faith, else my religion will be unworthy a creature so highly endowed.
2. “Prove” refers to the process of testing coin whether genuine or counterfeit. “Lest by any means I should become a castaway,” i.e., as a piece of money that could not bear the test, “Reprobate silver.” So are you to prove whatever is presented to you, as carrying the mark of the King of kings, therefore asserting a Divine claim upon you, whether it be true or a forgery.
II. What is the touchstone by which we are to gauge the real and the false? What is that spiritual alchemy which shall always make the base to precipitate to the bottom, and the right and holy to come up to the surface, separate and clear?
1. The first criterion of religious truth is personal experience, “Come and see;” have you come?
(1) God will give everything He has promised to simple, earnest, persevering prayer. Have you proved this?
(2) When a man turns to God in penitence and faith he is forgiven. Have you done this?
(3) God speaks of “a peace which passeth understanding.” Have you put yourself in the way to get an experimental proof whether there is such a peace or not.
(4) So with happiness, wisdom, doctrine. Is it not shere madness to refuse such gold and say “I will not test it.” If it do not turn out what it professes to be, then is the time to reject it.
2. The grace of common sense and moral perception which God has given us. These, of course, are vitiated by wilful sin, and they will lead us wrong. But if a man will only be careful to have a good conscience, lay open his heart to the influences of the Spirit, and honour and obey them when they come, he will not make any great mistake.
3. God’s Word is the measuring line of all moral truth. If we give up that ultimate appeal there is no resting place for the mind. This does not mean taking solitary verses which in the Bible as elsewhere may be made to prove anything you like. You must gather the general intention of the mind of God by study and prayer, dealing with the proportions of truth.
4. Above the Bible is Christ, the living Word. Everything is to be tested by Him.
(1) Doctrine--where does it place Him?
(2) Promise--does He seal it?
(3) Duty--does He command it?
(4) Pleasure--does He sanction it? (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Prove all things
We see Paul’s character here. He had been speaking with his wonted fervour; but he sees nothing inconsistent in this with the soundest, calmest reasoning.
I. The first duty he urges--“Prove all things.” Be enthusiastic; but test, try, examine well. Courses of sin need no testing. The apostle speaks of what seems good, wise, honourable.
1. At times indolence tempts to indifference. This is the greatest danger of our age; but it is palsy too the mind, and death to the soul.
2. Some are afraid to think. But remember the greatest have stood firm; and the doubts of our age are old and dry albeit they may seem new and fresh.
III. The second duty the apostle urges--“Hold fast that which is good.”
1. Hold fast what we have proved for ourselves to be true and good. Immature convictions are generally abandoned, and wisely so.
2. But before we have had time and power to test, there is something good to grip. Even heathen know the great foundations of the fitting, the beautiful, and the true. We are not heathen born; therefore we must not cast off all that we have learned at our mother’s knee for the sneers of half-read women and the cavils of daring men, but the rather “be valiant for the truth.” (Bp. E. H. Bickersteth.)
Prove all things
I. What things?
1. Ourselves. The work of examination should begin at home--our state before God, our graces, our practice.
2. Others--friends (Proverbs 25:19), candidates for Christian communion, ministers.
3. Doctrines--are they simply sanctioned by councils or by God? Do they minister to pride of intellect, or humbleness of heart.
4. Actions. Do we walk after the Spirit or after the flesh? Do we keep the ordinances of God or of men (Proverbs 14:12)?
II. By what rules. Not by outward appearance: this was what Eve did, and what Samuel was in danger of doing. But--
1. By fruits. This applies to both persons and doctrines, and is a test ordained by Christ.
2. The examples of good and wise men in so far as they follow Christ the supreme example.
3. The Divine Word: Search the Scriptures.
4. Our own experience corroborated by the word of truth. “He that believeth hath the witness in himself.” (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The last clause of this verse is very commonly taken to mean, “Abstain from everything which looks like evil, from everything which a bystander would suspect to be evil.” That St. Paul can never have meant his exhortation to bear the sense which we have forced upon it, a moment’s thought will convince you. “Judge not,” says our Lord, “according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” That passage cannot affect the construing of our text, for the word in St. John is ὁψις, not εἷδος. But it directly affects the question, whether we are to judge of evil by the mere look or semblance; for remember the occasion which called forth the precept of Christ. He had healed a sick man on the Sabbath day. This act had the appearance of evil. It appeared evil, not only to the accidental bystanders, but to the religious guides of the Jewish people. How carefully these parts of His conduct are recorded by the Evangelists! How evidently they think that, if they were blotted out of His life, He would not have perfectly revealed His Father, or been a complete pattern to His disciples! Do you suppose he would have taught his Thessalonian disciples that these conspicuous lines in the character of Christ were not to be copied, but to be treated as dangerous? But did not St. Paul follow most strictly the steps of his Master, did he not depart altogether from the maxim which has been ascribed to himself, when he appeared in the eyes of the Jews, converted and unconverted, perhaps of apostles, to be violating sacred customs, and trampling upon the covenant of his fathers? To which doctrine did he conform, when he ate openly with the Gentiles in the presence of Peter and Barnabas, who were striving to keep up what every Jew must have considered a graceful, if not necessary, recognition of the difference between the chosen people and all others? How did he avoid the mere look of evil, when he left the impression upon the minds of his countrymen that he was overthrowing the righteousness of the Law, by preaching the righteousness of Faith? The three clauses, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good; abstain from all appearance of evil,” are not associated by accident. Every person who has paid the least attention to St Paul’s style will perceive how clearly the relation between them is indicated by the antithetical words κατέχετε ἀπέχεσθε. “Hold on to the good, hold off from every form of evil.” And it is clear that the thought which determines the force of both these clauses--the thought which is uppermost in the writer’s mind--is that which is expressed by the word “prove,”--δοκιμάζετε. Now that word and its cognate substantive, whether it refers to things or to persons, to the soundness of money, or to the qualifications for citizenship, always denotes a process of testing. So, then, according to the popular interpretation of the text, St. Paul would say, in the first clause; “Be not content with the mere semblance of anything you have to do with. Look into it; find out the good of it, hold to that.” And he would say in a second and corresponding clause, “Be always afraid of semblances. The moment anything looks like evil, fly from it. Throw away your tests and proofs; simply hold off from that which seems evil to you or to the people about you.” This is not an antithesis, but a contradiction.
I. He tells us first, to prove or test all things. I do not know a more honourable watchword to inscribe upon our banners than this of prove all things, if only we know what it signifies, and how St. Paul used it. Assuredly he did not understand it, as some of us do, “Bring all things to the standard of your private judgment; see whether they accord with that; only hold fast that which does.” If there is not that which is true absolutely--true for all men--search and inquiry are very fruitless; we had better lay them aside. If my judgment is to be the measure of all things that I see and converse with, if I am at liberty to use it as such a measure, if there is no higher measure to which I can bring it, that it may be deepened and expanded, it is certain to become narrower and feebler every day. Whereas, if I continually acknowledge the presence of a Light which is greater than any organ of mine can take in, but yet with which I am intented to hold communion, I shall desire that that Light may enter more and more into me, to purify my vision and enlarge its capacities. I shall desire to see all things in this Light. And it will so distinguish between what is fantastic and what is real, between the shows of things and their substance, that it will not be possible for me to accept one for the other, either in obedience to my own natural taste and inclination, or at the bidding of any earthly guides and authorities whatsoever.
II. Next, St. Paul tells us to prove all things. He does not say, “Prove or test certain doctrines which are submitted to you;” though those are of course not excluded. He assumes that everything whatsoever with which we come into contact--the ordinary notions and maxims of society, the habits and traditions of the literary, or philosophical, or professional, or religious circle in which we are moving, the words we speak, the common everyday experiences of life--all need sifting and testing, that we may know what there is of good in them. Yes, believe that the good is in all things, in those that you have made little account of, in those that you have been taught by others to hate, in those which you have learnt to hate yourself. Do not shrink from confessing that there is and must be a goodness, a beauty at the bottom of them all, else they would not have continued to exist. Do not be afraid of inquiring for it lest you should fall in love with the evil and ugliness which are also in them.
III. St. Paul goes on, “hold fast the good.” When you have perceived it, detected it, anywhere, then cleave to it, hug it, swear that you will not let it go. Be sure that what you want is the substantial good; the beauty in which is no flaw. Having that, you are sure you have what God in His infinite love desires that you should have; you have what the Son of God took your nature and died upon the cross that you might have; you have what the Spirit of God is stirring you and all creatures to sigh and groan that you may have. Not that it is yours, in any sense which can enable you to say to a neighbour, “It is not thine.” It is yours by faith; it is yours because it is God’s, and He invites you to believe Him and trust Him, and so to inherit His own righteousness and truth and blessedness. It is yours because it is not in your own keeping, because you are lifted out of yourself that you may enjoy it.
IV. And so we come at last to the word with which I began, “abstain,” or “keep yourselves from every form or appearance that is evil.” You have seen the good; you have grasped it; now have nothing to do with whatever is not that, with whatever counterfeits it. There will be every variety of evil shapes, forms, appearances; but if you have learnt to look below, to try and test the heart of things, you will not be misled by this variety. You will detect the evil, the lie, under each new disguise, and you will be able to stand aloof from it; to shun the contact of it. Just so far as the truth has become precious and familiar to yon, this likeness, this double, this mockery, will be loathed and kept at a distance. But I conceive, brethren, that the peril of our being vanquished by some of its manifold forms will be infinitely increased, if we adopt that opinion which has gained such strength from the supposed authority of St. Paul. To believe that we must fly from that which people think evil, from everything which seems evil to ourselves at the first glance, is to become a prey of evil in its worst sense. All reformation, in every age, has been retarded by this doctrine, all corruptions have been sanctified by it. And yet it has not restrained a single rash reformer; it has not preserved a single truth from outrage. The conscience of men cannot he bound by a rule, which must be transgressed before a single brave act can be done, a single right principle asserted. These are instances--your own experience may supply a hundred similar--where this maxim proves utterly ineffectual to accomplish its own ends. For every vulgar worldly argument which puts on a religious dress, and affects an authority that does not belong to it, must prove feeble and worthless. The only consequence of resorting to it is, that you benumb the moral sense, that you degrade the hearts of those whom you bring under its influence. They will plead it for deserting a friend, for refusing to maintain an unpopular cause; they will forget it the moment it interferes with any passion or propensity of their own. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
Prove--then hold fast
I. Two things to be done.
1. Prove, i.e., inquire into and decide upon after examination. Prove as gold and silver are tried, and as the strength of building materials are tested. Haste in reception or rejection are forbidden. The standards of proof are--
(1) The Holy Scriptures. The Bereans were “more noble,” etc.
there is something contemptible in a man refusing to look at statements put before him as though it were impossible for him to make a mistake; teachableness is noble.
(2) Experience: “What fruit had ye,” etc. “Unto you that believe He is precious.”
(3) Observation: “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”
(4) The spiritual and religious faculty sanctified by the Holy Ghost: “He that is spiritual judgeth all things.” “Ye have an unction,” etc.
2. Hold fast against indolence, prejudice, pride, perplexity, evil inclinations, influence of irreligious men, winds of doctrine, false teaching and the fallible teaching of Christ’s best friends.
II. The sphere for this particular action.
1. Prove all things--opinions, doctrines, requirements, customs, professions, characters, modes of working.
(1) All ancient things. Things are not better for being old. Sin is old.
(2) New things. A thing is not wise or adapted to the times because new. It may be a new folly.
(3) Common things. Things are not right because generally acceptable.
(4) Singular things.
(5) Attractive things which have too often misled our fallen nature--specious doctrines which have pandered to our pride.
(6) Repulsive things--Christ, e.g., may put in our path a cross, which it is better for me to bear than to wear a crown.
2. Hold fast the good. Not, of course, what is evil. If what is doubtful comes into your hand let it lie there, but do not close your fingers over it until you have proved it; then hold it fast, whether it be opinion and doctrine, custom and practise, communion and friendship, that which your mind, faith, love, hope embraces--anything that is good.
3. The giving heed to this requirement is of great importance. Here it is in the statute Book, and in vain do we call Christ Master unless we do what He bids us.
(1) If we receive error we cumber our minds with what is profitless, deceive ourselves, impair bur spiritual life, and reject the truth.
(2) If we admit an evil custom, or have fellowship with evil-doers, we expose ourselves to corruption; and by rejecting Christian ordinances and fellowships, we deprive ourselves of means of grace.
4. These are times when the text is likely to be overlooked. In days of church slumber, nothing is proved; in days of morbid wakefulness, nothing is held fast. And what is true of the Church is true of the individual.
5. In cherishing obedience to the text, we must--
(1) In proving all things avoid--
(a) seeking for a kind of evidence God does not give.
(b) Encouraging a restless and captious spirit.
(c) Entertaining foolish questions which gender strifes.
(d) Misplacing the tests with which God has favoured us. The Bible is the supreme standard.
(2) In holding fast the good, we must avoid prejudice, obstinacy, and pertinacity upon doubtful matters. Conclusion: Take this yoke of Christ on you. No one can bear it for you, neither Church nor individual, and for this you will be held responsible at the Judgment seat of Christ. (S. Martin.)
Hold fast that which is good
I. The exhortation.
1. What are those good things which we have to hold fast.
(1) The Gospel and the way of salvation by Christ.
(2) That truth, in particular, which relates to the person and work of Christ (Revelation 3:8).
(3) The good treasure lodged in our hearts or placed in our hands.
(4) Our spiritual comforts and whatever contributes to the peace and purity of our minds.
(5) A line of conduct consistent with the Word of God.
(6) An open profession of religion.
2. How are we to hold them fast. It supposes--
(1) That our judgment concerning them is fixed.
(2) That we retain them in our memory (1 Corinthians 15:2; 2 Peter 1:15).
(3) A high esteem and warm affection.
(4) Resistance to all opposition.
II. The motives.
1. The honour of God requires that we should hold fast what He has revealed.
2. The things we are required to hold fast are good in themselves.
3. If we part with the good we shall retain the evil, and cannot easily recover what we have lost.
4. If we disobey, what account shall we give another day? Hence we learn--
(1) That nothing but true religion will stand its ground.
(2) That perseverance in the way of truth and holiness is necessary to eternal happiness (Hebrews 10:38). (B. Beddome, M. A.)
There are many occasions when the soul feels that it has come to a crisis. It may be compared to the feeling of William Tell when he was taking aim at the apple. Everything depends on the action of the next moment. It is to decide for God or the devil, for heaven or hell. We all need a holdfast at such critical times. I will mention two.
I. There is a god. Unless we can hold on to that, life becomes hard and vexatious, and we are like people floundering on ice, but when our heavenly Father is a fact to us, life loses its bitterness and death cannot sting. God cannot be proved to any one. Every man must prove Him for himself. You cannot prove colour to a blind man, to know it he must see. If you seek God with the proper faculties, you will find and know Him.
1. One of the links in this holdfast is that God is perfect. You cannot trust men fully because of their imperfections, but you can fully trust God because He is all-wise, all-powerful. He does not learn by experience; what He does cannot be improved.
2. Another link is that God is loving. The sweetest and most self-sacrificing love this side of heaven is not in the least degree comparable to it. It was not exhausted on Calvary. It is treasured up for you.
3. It is possible for every man to find God. You are nearer to Him than you fancy. Open the door of your faith and He will enter in.
II. The true motive of right action is love to God and man. When men act on this they cannot go wrong. Do true children need rules and regulations to tell them how to behave towards parents and brothers? If this law ruled all other laws would he needless. Hold then fast to this in--
1. Business perplexities.
2. Conflicting duties.
3. Fierce temptations.
4. Death. (W. Birch.)
Steadfastness is a prime virtue. “Be sure you are right, and then hold on though the heavens fall.” “Prove all things,” and adhere to the “good,” and surrender it only with life. Hold fast--
I. To your faith. It is a lie of the devil that “it matters not what a man believes.” As he believes so is he. Throw away or tamper with your faith in the inspiration and Divine authority of the Scriptures, and you are sure to go astray and perish in your unbelief.
II. To your integrity. To let go one particle of it--to compromise in the least with wrong--endangers your soul, and is sure to forfeit your peace of mind and your Christian standing and influence.
III. To your profession. Cleave to the Church which Christ purchased with His blood. Honour and magnify its mission. Sustain and advance its interests by all the means and influence which God has given you.
IV. To Christian effort in behalf of souls. “Be not weary in well-doing.” Guard against “an evil heart of unbelief.” Do not doubt “the promises”--they are all “yea and amen in Christ Jesus.” The night of fear and struggle and waiting may be long and dark, but the morning will come to gladden you, if, like Jacob, you hold on.
V. To prayer. Be sure you get hold of the everlasting arm, and then not let go. Persevere in the face of a thousand obstacles. Let not God go till He bless. Be not denied. Turn rebuke and seeming denial into fresh pleas, as did the Syro-Phoenicia woman. The answer, the blessing, is sure, when God gives the grace of perseverance. To “hold fast” is to overcome.
VI. “Hold fast” to heaven. Make it the pole star of life. Never lose sight of it, no, not for an hour. Live daily “as seeing the invisible.” (L. O. Thompson.)
Holding fast the good
I would apply the text to the religion of Jesus Christ and assert that it is good, and because good that you are to hold it fast. By this is not meant theology, which is very good as science and art, but is not life. Nor do we mean imposing rites, splendid churches which are very beautiful and helpful to the weak, but are not the religion of Jesus Christ. This is--
I. Faith as opposed to infidelity--faith in God our Father, in the Lord Jesus who died for us, in the spiritual nature of man, in the spirit world.
1. This faith harmonizes with our natural instincts which lead us to feel that all that exists is not present to the bodily senses, that somewhere inside the temple of the universe is a holy of holies filled with a glory that the eye of flesh cannot behold, and our desire is to enter that inner temple, and behold what it is. A little bird in a London cellar knows instinctively that there is an outer world, although he has never been there, and he is brave enough in his gloomy place to make some attempts at singing and flying.
2. Infidelity says there is nothing to know--no God, etc. Matter is all. Well, a mole might say there is no sun, no bright worlds; yet these do exist, and if the mole would only come out of his hole he could catch some rays of glory. Let men cease then from burrowing in the earth. They will never find heaven there. Let them follow their deepest instincts and highest aspirations and they will reach the throne of God, and their first act will be to worship Him.
3. In this faith we can rest and find comfort, but the bed of infidelity is too short for my soul to stretch itself upon.
II. Holiness as opposed to sin--all possible virtues and graces, all things true, good, beautiful.
1. The religion of Christ demands holiness, “Be ye holy.” “Be ye perfect.” In this demand we see the wonderful possibilities of the soul. It is said that we have descended from very humble ancestors. Then there must be in our nature some marvellous energy, for the development has been truly wonderful. I can turn my face upward, build steamers that can cross the ocean against the storm, etc., more, I can pass within the veil and lay my hand on that of the Father, and say, “Thy will be done.” The artist takes the rough block of marble and transforms it into a majestic statue, and everybody speaks of his genius. Yes, but something must be said for the marble that has the power of being transformed. Very wonderful is the work of the Divine Artist upon the soul, but something must be said for the soul that is capable of being changed into His image, and it is nothing less than this that our religion demands of it.
2. But it not only demands, it gives the sure promise of attaining holiness--the Church is to be without spot, etc. The process may be sketched. God loved us--sent His Son to die for our sins--gave His Holy Spirit to transform our nature--by and by He will take us to Himself. Is not this religion good? Ask not where it came from. Judge it on its own merits for once.
III. Goodness as opposed to selfishness.
1. Selfishness, as seen in the priest and Levite in the parable of the good Samaritan, passes by suffering, and avoids the inconvenience of sympathy: as seen in Lot’s choice, it takes the best, indifferent to the claims of others.
2. Christianity says, “Bear ye one another’s burdens,” etc.--the burdens of ignorance, disappointment, anxiety, fear. Now selfishness is hateful, and self-denial admirable by common consent. We have examples in the three hundred at Thermopylae and in the man who to save another’s life imperils his own. But try and rise from these to the self-denial of Christ, “who loved us and gave Himself for us.” Imitate that, and you are a Christian.
IV. Hope and joy as opposed to despair.
1. The natural language of despair is, “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die,” and that cry arises from materialism. There is no Father to care for us; the world formed itself; man is only organized matter; there is no heaven; we are dissolved when we die as prophets, apostles, reformers, martyrs, great statesmen, teachers, poets, and our own dear ones have been. But philosophers, poets, teachers of all the religions, believed that the dead lived. It is all a dream, says the materialist. Take what pleasure you can, don’t sorrow for anything, laugh at distress.
2. The gospel brings joy to the distressed and sorrowful in the present. We look through our tears at the closed grave, but see standing there One saying, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Is not our religion good? Then trust it, and don’t be afraid that it is going to be overthrown. It may be captured like the ark, but it will give the Philistines more trouble than they bargain for. (T. Jones, D. D.)
The Bible and free inquiry
“Despise not prophesyings,” i.e., preaching, the apostle has just said. Now comes the text. “Don’t deify the preacher.” Put what they say to the test (1 John 4:1; Acts 17:11). Congregations should listen with a desire to profit, and then carry all the preacher says to the test of holy Scripture.
I. The end our inquiry should aim at--some real good.
1. There is such a thing as good. Philosophers have told us of a summum bonum, and common experience points in the same direction: “There be many that say, Who will show us any good?” We have not only intellects that want to be satisfied, but hearts and wills that want to be cheered and guided. We want to be peaceful while we live and when we come to die, and nothing is really good that does not help us to this end (Isaiah 55:1-3).
2. This is the end our inquiry should aim at. Mere assault on error or ridicule of folly is poor and heartless work. Sometimes it is necessary, but if this is all you attempt you may break every idol and not increase man’s happiness by one atom. Paul did something more than this at Athens.
3. Here is a model for the free inquirer. Let your object be to do all the good you can. All your skill as an iconoclast will do nothing to meet the cry, “Who will show us,” etc.
II. The character the inquiry should assume. Put everything to the proof. The inquiry should be--
1. Careful. This is required in chemistry and astronomy, and the man who does not carefully examine the truths of religion will make the grossest blunders.
2. Comprehensive. You ought to examine the inquirer as well as the object, the instruments he uses, and the faculties he employs. A man once gazed through a telescope at the sun, and immediately turned away in alarm, exclaiming, “There is a monster in the sun.” It proved, however, only to be an insect in the telescope. So with many who glance now and then at religion. Their instruments of inquiry are not clear, and they ascribe to the shining orb what really belongs to the foul tube. What would you think of a man who had no ear for music criticizing Handel’s “Messiah”? Or a man colour blind describing a garden in May? Or a prodigal judging the rules of his father’s house? Do these illustrations apply? I am not saying that every free inquirer into religion is worse than other men, but that he is no better by nature. Ought he not, then, to take this into account? If I have unworthy passions I have a bias against a holy religion.
3. Free from pride, passion, sin, ambition. etc.
III. The welcome which the Bible gives to such inquiry. It welcomes inquiry.
1. Of such a nature. Here is this Book of Truth, not hiding in darkness, but exposing itself. I tell you of--
(1) A God, a great, intelligent Creator. Put it to the test. Is it not more reasonable than that there is no intelligent cause?
(2) A law ordaining perfect love to God and man. Put it to the test. What would the world have been had it kept it? What is it because it has broken it?
(3) A Saviour. Prove Him. Does He not commend Himself to reason and conscience?
(4) Mysteries. Prove this too. Is it not reasonable that the finite can never grasp the infinite?
2. To such an end. It is “good” we want. This the Bible brings. Its revelations were not given for our amusement, but for our advantage. It gives peace with God through Christ in obedience to the law, peace in our own souls and towards men, and leads to the world of perfect peace. And now it says, “Hold it fast!” There is something rich and substantial about it. Hold it fast against the power and subtlety of the tempter. (F. Tucker, B. A.)
The right of private judgment in matters of religion
I. Objections that are taken against the exercise of this right. It is said that if this be granted then every individual will have his own religion.
1. Our answer to this is, such would be a consequence not of the exercise of private judgment, but of human depravity. If imperfect men had all the privileges of angels consequences would follow very different from those characterizing the history of angels, but no one would say that they were the necessary effects of the enjoyment of angelic privileges. If, then, instead of assailing the depravity of man for abusing the right of private judgment we assail that right and forbid its exercise, we are mistaking the source of the evil and not taking the proper method to prevent it.
2. Then we may ask how interdicting the right can prevent the evil consequences? Shall we issue a decree and enforce it by penalties? But that will only stop the expression, and will not interfere with the right of private judgment. The slave clad in iron fetters has still his private judgment, and with his mind, which is free, you cannot meddle.
3. But it may be affirmed that to suppress this expression is a good thing, and prevents evil. How so? This supposes an infallible instructor. How do we know that the public judgment of any body of men may not be as pernicious as the private judgment of an individual? Look at the past. Almost every heresy has at one time been protected and taught by public authority, and almost every orthodox sentiment has been put down by the same.
II. Considerations in support of this right.
1. We find from Scripture that the right of private judgment in religious matters is the duty, not merely the privilege, of every individual to whom the Word of God should come.
(1) This Epistle was addressed to the Church, not to any public functionary. Paul, Timothy, and Silas, inspired teachers of the mind of God, say, “Prove all things.” If any say that the laity must defer to authority, the authority here says exercise your private judgment! Then what is the meaning of the general addresses to the Churches, as such, at the commencement of each Epistle, but that the minds of laymen as well as ministers should be exercised upon them?
(2) When we come to Epistles addressed to individuals such as Timothy and Titus we find nothing investing them with the authority of interpreting against the private judgment of those they taught. Nay, they are commanded “in meekness to instruct those that oppose themselves,” not to dictate to them on the ground of authority.
(3) Then we have the doctrine that every one of us must give an account of himself to God, which implies the exercise of private judgment. How can we reconcile this with being compelled to follow the dictates of another? Shall we give an account of ourselves to God at the last whilst we are permitted to take no account of ourselves? Shall we carry mental slavery with us all the time we are in our state of probation, and in eternity only stand on our own foundation? Nay; if God tells us that every one of us must give an account then He means that we must prove all things against the day of that account.
2. The arguments derived from the powers and faculties that God has given us is no less conclusive. Why did God give us the power of judging at all? Is it possible that God would give men the exercise of public judgment for the things of time and forbid it in the affairs of eternity?
III. Duties consequent upon this right.
1. Searching the Scriptures. We criminate ourselves deeply if we contend for the right of private judgment and neglect to search those oracles about which alone the faculty can be engaged. What should we think of a judge who insisted on his right to pronounce judgment while ignorant of the matter on which the judgment was to be pronounced.
2. Stimulating others by teaching them the great things of God. If it be our duty to search the Scriptures it is the duty of all. It is incumbent on us, then, not only to practice, but to encourage this exercise.
3. Duly appreciating the falsehood that revelation trammels the mind. On the contrary the text breaks every mental bond. (J. Burnet.)
Innovation and conservatism in matters of religion
This advice is always pertinent; yet there are periods in which it is specially relevant. While humanity on the whole is ever advancing, the stream at one time seems to stand still, and at another rushes on with noisy activity. When Paul wrote all was full of mental activity, religious conflict, political tumult, and the first century repeats itself in the nineteenth. Our age has three characteristics which bear on the interests of religion.
1. Intellect is all alive, more so perhaps than at any other period. This is the result--
(1) Of those general laws by which the social progress of our race is governed.
(2) Of our refined civilization, which by ever becoming more complicated is continually taxing the human mind.
(3) Of the stimulus of advancing education, which begets emulation, and raises continually higher the standard of necessary acquirement. Hence--
2. The age is one of mental freedom. The mind is goaded by internal cravings and external excitements. It goes forth to explore all regions, and will not be stopped by authority or opposition. The right of private judgment is conceded, and is exercised without scruple. Hence--
3. A clamorous war of opinion. The number of sects grows portentously. New opinions are started on almost every subject. All extremes of views on religion are zealously and ably advocated. If we be men and not children we cannot be unconcerned about these controversies, but don’t be alarmed, “Prove all things,” etc. These words involve the doctrines of--
(1) Individual responsibility for religious faith and practice.
(2) Individual duty and right of private judgment.
I. The liberal element in the text.
1. Candid inquiry. The disposition to know what others think is, when moderately possessed, an admirable trait of character. Some ensconce themselves within the limits of their hereditary creed, and listen with anger to opposing opinions deaf to all argument. These intellectual pigmies have in all ages proved a stumbling block to educated men, and assumed a position unwarranted by Christianity as the text shows. The gospel as an innovation, courts the investigation that it has never scrupled to exercise, and aims at inspiring in its disciples the love of truth as truth.
2. Patient examination. Be not like the Athenians, who spent their whole time in hearkening to some new thing; but spend much of it in sifting the new things you hear. Neither novelty nor authority can supply the place of argument.
3. Wise and decisive selection. The text supposes that when all things are proved, some will be accepted, which are to be held fast. Some are ever learning, but never come to the knowledge of the truth, attempting an easy neutrality which speedily turns into treason against Christ. This discrimination between the good and the bad supposes the possession of a touchstone. Primarily man’s reason is the touchstone. There are propositions which no man can accept. We can no more believe in the incredible than see the invisible. The Word of God is, of course, the final appeal, but not by superseding reason--only by assisting it. Reason has first to decide on the credentials of Revelation, and then to be consulted as to its contents. Reason, then, following the Word of God is to be the criterion by which we are to “prove all things.”
II. The conservative element: “Hold fast,” etc. Which assumes--
1. That truth is attainable. Some deny this. Let Christian men beware of this perilous frame of mind which leads inevitably to selfish misanthropy or unprincipled sensualism. A free thinker is frequently a man who does not think at all, but considers all things as not worth thinking about. Believe what all wise and good men have believed and proved, that there is such a thing as fixed truth, and having found it--
2. Hold it fast, without fickleness or fear. Having made up your mind, after due deliberation, adhere to your decision, and make use of it for further acquisition; not refuse to hear anything more about it, but be not unsettled without fresh and weighty argument. Don’t keep going over the old ground. This is the only means of attaining and retaining personal peace, and manliness of Spirit. (T. G. Horton.)
Man in relation to the vast and the specific
I. A vast realm for inquiry: “Prove all things.” This implies--
1. Freedom of thought. Go into all churches and systems, there is good everywhere: find it out. Confine not your mind to your own narrow creed or church.
2. A test of truth. This test is threefold--
(1) Results: “By their fruits shall ye know them.”
(2) The Spirit of Christ. Whatever agrees not with His free, righteous and loving Spirit must be rejected.
(3) Conscience: “Why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?”
II. A specific object to attain: “Hold fast.” It is the good you want. What is the good? The “truth as it is in Jesus,” a living, beautiful, soul transporting reality. Get this and then hold it fast. There is a danger of losing it; it is worth holding; it is more precious than worlds, it is the pearl of great price--the heaven of souls. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Testing the Bible
Let me caution you against putting off making up your mind about this Book. Ever since 1772 there has been great discussion as to who was the author of Junius’s Letters, those letters so full of sarcasm, and vituperation, and power. The whole English nation was stirred up with them. More than a hundred volumes have been written to discuss that question, who was Junius? who wrote Junius’s Letters? Well, it is an interesting question to discuss; but still, after all, it makes but little practical difference to you and to me who Junius was, whether Sir Philip Francis, or Lord Chatham, or Home Tooke, or Horace Walpole, or Henry Grattan, or any one of the forty-four men who were seriously charged with the authorship. But it is an absorbing question, it is a practical question, it is an overwhelming question to you and to me, the authorship of this Holy Bible, whether the Lord God of heaven and earth, or a pack of dupes, scoundrels, and impostors. We cannot afford to adjourn that question a week, or a day, or an hour, any more than a sea captain can afford to say, “Well, this is a very dark night; I have really lost my bearings; there’s a light out there, I don’t know whether it’s a lighthouse or a false light on the shore. I don’t know what it is; but I’ll just go to sleep, and in the morning I’ll find out.” In the morning the vessel might be on the rocks and the beach strewn with the white faces of the dead crew. The time for that sea captain to find out about the lighthouse is before he goes to sleep. Oh, my friends! I want you to understand that in our deliberations about this Bible we are not at calm anchorage, but we are rapidly coming towards the coast, coming with all the furnaces ablaze, coming at the rate of seventy heart throbs a minute, and I must know whether it is going to be harbour or shipwreck. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
A life given to proving all things
I have really no history but a mental history I have seen no one, known none of the celebrities of my own time intimately or at all, and have only an inaccurate memory of what I hear. All my energy was directed upon one end--to improve myself to form my own mind, to sound things thoroughly, to free myself from the bondage of unreason and the traditional prejudices which when I began first to think constituted the whole of my intellectual fabric. (Mark Pattison, B. D.)
Proving the power of God’s grace
It is related that Bishop Kavanagh was one day walking when he met a prominent physician, who offered him a seat in his carriage. The physician was an infidel, and the conversation turned upon religion. “I am surprised,” said the doctor, “that such an intelligent man as you should believe such an old fable as that.” The bishop said, “Doctor, suppose years ago some one had recommended to you a prescription for pulmonary consumption, and you had procured the prescription and taken it according to order, and had been cured of that terrible disease, what would you say of the man who would not try your prescription?” “I should say he was a fool.” “Twenty-five years ago,” said Kavanagh, “I tried the power of God’s grace. It made a different man of me. All these years I have preached salvation, and wherever accepted have never known it to fail.”
Faith and reason
Faith and reason are, as it were, two keys which God has given us with which to unlock all spiritual mysteries. It is as if I had a drawer in which were stored away my valuable papers. The cabinet maker gives me two keys to my drawer, telling me that both keys will generally unlock the drawer, but always, if one will not, the other will--that therefore I must keep them securely, and keep them always tied together. But I untie and separate them, and, for safe keeping, place one key carefully away in the drawer itself and lock it up with the other key. With this other key I lock and unlock the drawer at pleasure. But the time comes at length when the key I have will not unlock the drawer, and now I need the other; but I have locked it up and cannot get it. Just so faith and reason are two keys that God, our Maker, has given us with which to unlock all spiritual mysteries. Generally, either will unlock and explain all difficulties in Revelation and Christian experience; but always, if the one fails, the other will unlock the mystery. But here is a man that goes and locks his faith up in his reason; and presently he encounters a spiritual truth which his reason will not explain or unlock--it transcends human reason. You tell him, for example, that he must believe in the Trinity, in regeneration, in the resurrection of the body. “But,” says he, “I cannot--they are unreasonable.” And why can he not believe these spiritual truths? Simply because he has gone and locked his faith up in his reason, and will not accept any truth which he cannot comprehend and which his reason will not fully explain of itself without the aid of faith. The rationalist is he who locks his faith up in his reason. Now it may be, and is, just as bad to lock your reason up in your faith. There, for instance, is the poor deluded Romanist, who believes implicitly anything that his Church teaches, whether reasonable or unreasonable. You remonstrate with him for believing in transubstantiation, in the virtue of relics, in the absurd traditions of his Church. You tell him these things are unreasonable. “So they may be,” he replies, “but I believe them nevertheless, for the Church teaches them, and I believe whatever the Church teaches.” And why does he believe such absurdities? Simply because he has locked his reason up in his faith and given the Pope the key--and whatever the Pope or the Church or his bishop teaches he believes implicitly, whether it be reasonable or unreasonable. It is impossible for one to be a true Roman Catholic without locking his reason up in his faith. But God demands that we shall use both our faith and our reason, and keep them both joined together. Doing this we shall be preserved from rationalism on the one hand, and from credulity and superstition on the other. Now God does not demand that we shall believe in anything that contradicts our reason; but He does demand that we shall believe in truths that transcend human reason. If the Bible should teach that black is white, that right is wrong, that a thing can be and not be at the same time, I would not and could not believe it, because it would plainly contradict my reason. But when it teaches that there is a God, a Trinity, a soul in this body, a heaven prepared for it, I may not and do not fully comprehend these spiritual truths; but I do not decline to believe them on that ground; for while they do transcend my reason, they do not contradict it. The Roman Catholic believes many truths that contradict human reason; the rationalist will believe no truth which transcends human reason; the true intelligent Christian believes nothing that will contradict, but many things that transcend, human reason. The first locks his reason up in his faith; the second locks his faith up in his reason; the third uses both his faith and his reason and keeps them ever joined together. (Prof. Tillett.)
1 Thessalonians 5:22
Abstain from all appearance of evil
A man will never begin to be good till he begins to decline those occasions that have made him bad; therefore saith St.
Paul to the Thessalonians, and through them to all others, “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”
I. The way to fulfil this counsel. You must shun and be shy of the very shows and shadows of sin. The word which is ordinarily rendered “appearance,” signifies kind or sort; and so the meaning of the apostle seems to be this, Abstain from all sort, or the whole kind, of evil; from all that is truly evil, be it never so small. The least sin is dangerous. Caesar was stabbed with bodkins, and many have been eaten up by mice. The least spark may consume the greatest house, the tinest leak may sink the noblest vessel, the smallest sin is enough to undo the soul, and, therefore, shun all the occasions that lead to it. Job made a covenant with his eyes (Job 31:1), Joseph would not be in the room where his mistress was (Genesis 39:10), and David, when himself, would not sit with vain persons (Psalms 26:3-7). As long as there is fuel in our hearts for a temptation we cannot be secure: he that hath gunpowder about him had need keep far enough off from sparkles; he that would neither wound conscience nor credit, God nor Gospel, had need hate “the garment spotted with the flesh.” In the law, God commanded His people not only that they should worship no idol, but that they should demolish all the monuments of them, and that they should make no covenant nor affinity with those who worshipped them, and all lest they should be drawn by those occasions to commit idolatry with them. He that would not taste of the forbidden fruit must not so much as gaze on it; he that would not be bitten by the serpent, must not so much as parley with him. He that will not fly from the occasions and allurements of sin, though they may seem never so pleasant to the eye or sweet to the taste, shall find them in the end more sharp than vinegar, more bitter than wormwood, more deadly than poison.
II. Noted examples to incite us. Scipio Africanus, warring in Spain, took New Carthage by storm, at which time a beautiful and noble virgin resolved to flee to him for succour to preserve her chastity. Hearing of this, he would not suffer her to come into his presence for fear of temptation, but caused her to be restored in safety to her father. Livia counselled her husband Augustus not only to do no wrong, but not to seem to do it. Caesar would not search Pompey’s cabinet, lest he should find new matters for revenge. Plato mounted upon his horse, and judging himself a little moved with pride, at once alighted, lest he should be overtaken with loftiness in riding. Theseus is said to have cut off his golden locks, lest his enemies should take advantage by laying hold of them. Oh, Christian people! shall the very heathen, who sit in darkness, shun and fly from the occasion of sin, and will not you, who sit under the sunshine of the gospel? To prevent carnal carefulness, Christ sends His disciples to take lessons from the irrational creatures (Matthew 6:26-32). And to prevent your closing with the temptation to sin, let me send you to school to the like creatures, that you may learn by them to shun and avoid the occasions of sin. A certain kind of fish, perceiving themselves in danger of taking, by an instinct which they have, do darken the water, and so many times escape the net which is laid for them. And a certain kind of fowl, when they fly over Taurus, keep stones in their mouths, lest by shrieking and gabbling they discover themselves to the eagles, which are among the mountains, waiting for them. Now, if all these considerations put together will not incite you to decline the occasions of sin, I know not what will. (T. Brooks.)
Avoiding the appearance of evil
I. The nature of those appearances of evil we are required to avoid.
1. Whatever may be interpreted as evil by others, so as to become a stumbling block or matter of reproach. Their consciences may be too scrupulous and their tempers censorious, yet we are not to offend or grieve the weak unnecessarily. The omission of things indifferent, can neither be sinful nor injurious, their commission may be both (1 Corinthians 8:13). This must, of course, be understood with some limitation, else there would be no end of conforming to men’s humours and fancies; therefore good men must be left to act according to their own scruples and may disregard scruples which have no shadow of reason or Scripture to support them.
2. What may be an occasion of evil to ourselves. Some things not evil may lead to evil. Peter’s going into the palace of the high priest led to his denial of Christ. Achan’s looking stirred up his covetousness; hence David prays to be turned away from beholding vanity, and our Lord taught us to say, “Lead us not into temptation, but,” etc. The fly that buzzes about the candle will at length singe its wings.
3. Whatever borders on evil or approaches towards it. Instead of inquiring how far we may go in gratifying this or that appetite without offending God, let us keep as far away as we can. If you would not swear do not use expletives: if you would be temperate do not load your table with superfluities.
4. The first risings of evil in the heart such as anger, covetousness, uncleanness. “When lust hath conceived it bringing forth sin,” etc. “Keep thy heart with all diligence,” therefore.
II. When may we be said to abstain from every appearance of evil? When our whole conduct will bear the light; when we are sincere in our intentions and circumspect in our actions; when the Divine glory is our aim and the good of man our work. To this end incessant watchfulness is required.
1. In the common concerns of life. Everything like artifice or dishonesty is unworthy of the Christian character (1 Thessalonians 4:6),
2. In our amusements and recreations. They must be innocent and lawful, few and inexpensive, healthful and select.
3. In our daily intercourse. We must speak the words of truth and soberness (Ephesians 4:29; James 5:12).
4. In religious exercises, “Let not your good be evil spoken of.”
III. The motives. By abstaining from the appearance of evil.
1. Many of our falls will be prevented.
2. It will give credit to our profession, and tend to convince the world of the reality of our religion.
3. It will contribute much to the peace and satisfaction of our minds. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
Abstinence from the appearance of evil
The tendency is to place too high an estimate on appearances. Hence outward religion comes to be magnified at the expense of inward holiness. To guard against this great stress is laid in the Bible on piety in the heart: but this has lead people to say, “Appearances are nothing--it is with the heart God has to do.” The object of the text is to give appearances their real importance It is therefore connected with several injunctions which relate to inward and practical Godliness and which issue in a prayer which shows that abstinence from the appearance of evil is an essential attribute of entire sanctification.
I. The import of the precept. There may be the appearance of evil where evil is not intended and where there is no evil in fact.
1. In our actions.
(1) In our social intercourse we may aim to show a proper regard to men of the world for our improvement or for their own, but this association may appear to be the result of elective affinity.
(2) In our pursuits we may seem to ourselves to be merely diligent in business, while we may appear to be contravening the prohibition of laying up treasures upon earth.
(3) In our dress and furniture we may merely seek our own convenience, while to others we may appear conforming to the world.
(4) In our contributions and other expenditure we may seem to be merely liberal, but to others prodigal.
(5) In our intercourse with the other sex we may think ourselves only courteous, but appear to others amorous.
(1) We may shun society for the purpose of avoiding its contamination, but appear to others to forget our social relations and duties.
(2) We may design to live above the world, but the world may think us negligent of business.
(3) We may intend to be plain in dress, but appear to others to make religion consist in plainness.
(4) We may be merely economical, but appear penurious.
(5) We may think ourselves correct in our bearing to the other sex, but they may think us morose. It is difficult to determine on which side of the happy medium the greatest evil lies, but as the least appearance of evil is injurious we should always be on our guard.
2. In our words.
(1) We may design to be free and pleasant and yet appear trifling.
(2) We may be in earnest only, and yet appear to be in a passion.
(3) We may be faithful in reproof and appear censorious.
(4) We may only intend to use plain language but it appears course and indelicate.
(5) We may be imparting instruction and be voted conceited.
3. In our spirit.
(1) Zeal may have the appearance of fanaticism;
(2) Elevation of mind, of haughtiness;
(3) Promptness of obstinacy;
(4) Calmness of stoicism;
(5) Humility of mean spiritedness;
(6) Deliberation of infirmity of purpose.
II. The reasons for the precept.
1. Those which affect ourselves. Falling into evil appearances--
(1) Results from the want of a correct taste, a well disciplined conscience, knowledge, watch fulness, evils which will ripen into bad habits if not checked.
(2) Will mar our own enjoyment of religion when we find that it has done harm.
(3) Will ruin our usefulness which depends on our influence, which acts through appearances, and is estimated by them.
2. Those which affect God’s glory. We honour God in proportion as we exhibit a practical illustration of the purity of the Christian character before the world. The ungodly associate our blemishes with our religion.
3. Those which regard the well-being of others. All example consists in appearances, and “no one liveth to himself”; we are contributing by our appearances to the formation of the characters of those around us, and any one of those appearances may make all the difference between heaven and hell.
1. That appearances are of high importance.
2. That appearances, and not what a man means, determine his influence as a member of the Church.
3. That the qualities which will enable us to avoid the appearance of evil should be sedulously cultivated--an accurate judgment, a tender conscience, perfect self-knowledge.
4. That the Scriptures which pourtray so minutely the appearances of evil should be diligently studied. (G. Peck, D. D.)
Avoiding sins of every appearance
1. The “appearance” of material things does not depend entirely upon their form, but largely upon the medium through which, the light in which, and the eye by which they are seen. Some men are colour blind. Some men have the jaundice. Thoughts and feelings are still more liable to be misapprehended, because they must be addressed by one soul to another through the senses--the eye, the ear, the touch, by the pressure of the hand, by speech, by gesture, by writing. A thought or emotion, therefore, suffers a double refraction in passing from one mind to another. And thus it comes to pass that even in communities composed of most serene and wise intellects and loving hearts, the appearance does not always match and represent the ideal.
2. The difficulty of the rule as it stands in our version is this, that there is nothing so good but it may appear evil. To the evil all things seem evil, and you cannot help that. Was there ever a virtue that did not seem a vice to a man’s enemy? Does not his liberality appear prodigality, his economy parsimony, his cheerfulness levity, his conscientiousness puritanism, his temperance asceticism, his courage foolhardiness, his devotion hypocrisy? How is it possible to avoid such judgments as these unless a man could have the whole world for his friends? Can the heavenly Father demand more of you than that you really be true and faithful and pure? Must you also fritter your strength away in striving to make your good life seem good in the eyes of perverse men?
3. The attempt to gain the favourable verdict of all men is not only impracticable, but it is demoralizing. It occupies a man with appearances, and not realities; with his reputation, and not with his character. There can be devised no shorter cut to hypocrisy than a constant effort to “abstain from all appearance of evil.”
4. What, then, did the apostle mean? The difficulties of the text are removed by the translation “abstain from evil of every form.” The lesson is total abstinence from what is really evil. The complementary thought is that evil can never be good by a mere change of appearance. Let us look at some of the ways in which we may follow what is really evil because its appearance is good, and show how Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
I. Unity and uniformity. The most important thing about any man is his faith. A thorough belief in a real truth is life: it will reproduce itself in the outward action. How easy it is here to find real evil that is apparently good. To strive to compel men to uniformity seems a goud, whereas it is really an evil. One may even quote Scripture in justification. “One faith.” A man may forget that the essential principle may be one, while the phenomenal presentation may be manifold. All compulsory uniformity is mischievous. The inquisition produced cruelties among good men, and hypocrisies among bad. In its essence truth has always unity, in its development seldom uniformity. Some think it would be delightful for all men to see truth at the same angle; but if there were but two men who should profess to do it, it would be either a mistake, or a falsehood. Give over the effort to secure ecclesiastical uniformity. Let grace be natural, and nature gracious. Give room for God in man, and in the Church as you do in nature.
II. Liberty and licentiousness. There is something very captivating in “liberty.” The very word sounds open and breezy. Liberty has been made a queen and a goddess. More money has been spent for her, and more blood shed for her, than for any other. When one recollects the history of the race, one is not surprised that when Madame Roland was going to her doom, she should have saluted the statue of Liberty with the bitter exclamation, “O Liberty, what outrages are perpetrated in thy name!” It is exceedingly difficult to draw the line between licentiousness and liberty, and hence the danger is greater. True freedom of intellect and heart and life consists in voluntary and exact obedience to the law of God. A compulsory obedience is mere hypocrisy. An inexact obedience is a perpetual weakness. Every step taken in the statutes of the Lord with a free will is a step of freedom. David perceived this when he said, “I will walk at liberty, for I seek Thy precepts.” But, the moment a man lifts his foot from the law of the Lord, and sets it down outside, he places it in the nets of evil, and is ensnared. But the modern and atheistic idea of liberty is the absence of all moral law, or the refusal to be controlled by law. In other words, it is licentiousness. Avoid it, no matter what its appearance. How vast are the hull and rigging of the largest vessel on the ocean, and how small is the helm; and yet that little helm turns that great bulk whithersoever the helmsman listeth. Suppose the great vessel should say, “I will not endure this impertinent interference, this incessant control,” and should throw the helmsman overboard, and unship both helm and rudder. She would be free then, would she not? Yes, but a free prey to all winds and waves. Is that the freedom to be desired? And yet that is the idea of this age. The State, the Church, the family are to be overthrown, for men must be free! It is pitiful and painful to see human beings struggling to be free, to be hated, to starve, to die, to be damned. Avoid this evil. Remember that no splendour of dress can make a leper clean, and no brilliancy of appearance can make an evil good.
III. Justice and intolerance. The dogma of infallibility is not a mere ecclesiastical development. Its seed is in every heart. If we are unconscious of it, who does not act upon it? We pronounce judgment as if there could be no appeal, and act upon such sentences as final. Nay, more. There is a disposition on the part of many to go beyond, and keep surveillance of society, making themselves general detectives. They are often heresy hunters, self-constituted health boards, enforcing social sanitary regulations of their own. The plain fact is, they are censorious. The reason they did not “abstain from” this “evil” is, because it has the “appearance” of good. It seems to evince a high moral sense. It looks like loyalty to truth, and unselfish. The man is not seeking to be popular! He is a martyr to his sense of right? It is good and grand! He applauds himself. He feels that others ought to applaud him. He undertakes to execute his own sentences. The condemned is treated like a leper, like a lost man. All that is done that the purity of the judge shall be evinced. Men and women seem to think that kindness to a sinner is endorsement of, and participation in his sin. Hence the evil of social ostracism. A man that has fallen has so few helps to rise, and a woman who has fallen has no aids but what God gives. “Abstain from this evil” of censoriousness, whatever appearance it may have. It is very easy to get up the requisite amount of virtuous indignation, but it is difficult to keep indignation virtuous. While burning the sins I ought to hate, it will soon begin to burn the sinner whom I ought to love.
IV. Generosity and prodigality. The latter is an evil under any name and in every guise. It leads men to be careless and lazy about their expenditures. Because there are so many easy givers, there are so many easy beggars. It is injurious to give to the undeserving as it is injurious to withhold from those who deserve. The man who walks through the streets talking or thinking, and pulls something out of his pocket for every beggar without looking the applicant in the face, or recollecting him ten minutes after, is not charitable. He is a thriftless prodigal. True charity, and true liberality, and true generosity know how much, and to whom, and why, they gave; not in remembrance of self-complaisance, but that they may see how much more they can do. Abstain from the evil of prodigality which has the appearance of liberality.
V. Economy and stinginess. The grip of selfishness on money is the vice that makes a man feel that it is better ninety-nine worthy cases suffer than that one unworthy case be helped. It is a stone-blind vice. Men know when they are liars, thieves, murderers, but they do not know when they are covetous. Every sin committed by man against man has been admitted by some one who was guilty, except two; and one of them is covetousness. It puts on so good an “appearance!” It is called among men prudence, economy, thrift, any word which glosses over the inner viciousness. It was so in the time of David, who said, “Men will praise thee when thou doest well to thyself.” But “abstain” from this “evil” of doing so well for yourself that you can do nothing for others, and remember that the Lord will praise thee when they doest well to another.
VI. Independence and contempt for appearances. We are not to do a thing that is wrong because it has the appearance of right in the eyes of many, and we are bound to do good, however it may seem to others; but we are also to see to it that our “good be not evil spoken of.” There is in some men a swaggering boastfulness of independence of the opinion of others, of determination to do just what they think right, and of regardlessness of the feelings of others. They think it looks well. There is an appearance of stern virtue in all this; of character; of independence. Any voluntary hazarding of the appearance of evil is most foolish, if not criminal. No man has a right on any pretence to “give a just offence to the moral sentiments” of the community. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)
Avoiding the appearance of evil
Venn was given to understand that a lady to whom his ministry had been singularly blessed, had been pleased to requite her obligations by making him heir to her property, which was very considerable. And we may not doubt that he gladly accepted the intended favour, and persuaded himself that it was a seasonable gift from God, for the relief of his mind, and for the comfort of his family. Perhaps he might have so reasoned and felt, in regard to it, but the following letter which he addressed to the lady, on hearing of her kind intention, will show in what a pure, lofty sphere his spirit moved: “My very dear friend, I understand, by my wife, your most kind and generous intention toward us in your will. The legacy would be exceedingly acceptable, and I can assure you the person from whom it would come would greatly enhance the benefit. I love my sweet children as much as is lawful, and as I know it would give you pleasure to minister to the comfort of me and mine, I should, with greater joy, accept of your liberality. But an insurmountable bar stands in the way--the love of Him to whom we are both indebted, not for a transient benefit, for silver or gold, but for an inheritance, incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us. His honour, His cause, is, and must be, dearer to His people than wife, children, or life itself. It is the firm resolve of His saints, yea, doubtless, I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. To be, therefore, a stumbling block in the way of any that are seeking Him--to give the least countenance to any that would be glad to bring His followers into contempt, and call in question their sincere and disinterested attachment to Him would grieve me while in health, darken my mind in sickness, and load me with self-condemnation on a bed of death. How would it also render all my exhortations feeble, and make them be accounted only as pulpit declamation, if, when I was pressing that solemn truth upon my people, ‘Love not the world, neither the things in the world,’ they could say, our minister, however, was careful to secure the favour of this rich proselyte, and, at length, to gain sufficiently by her! After the most mature deliberation, therefore, it is our request, which we cannot permit you to refuse us, that you will not leave us any other token of your regard than something of little value, but what it derives from the giver. If it should please God that our connection should be prolonged some years, we shall, in our hearts, still more abundantly enjoy your friendship when we are sure that we are not in danger of being influenced by a regard to our own interest. And if we must soon have the cutting affliction of losing you, you may depend on it, we shall not less affectionately make mention of your name, and your unfeigned love for us both in Christ Jesus, than if we had what the world esteems the only substantial proof of your regard. As for our children, whom many will think that we have not the love for that we owe them, by refusing your great favour, I would say only this, we both know of no inheritance equal to the blessing of God; and the certain way of securing it, as far as means can avail, is to be found ready to love or suffer any thing sooner than to incur the appearance of evil.” (Memoir of Venn.)
The appearance of evil
A missionary magazine, in giving an account of the conversion to Christianity of a high-caste Brahmin in India, stated, as a good test of the new convert’s sincerity, the following fact: A Christian friend, knowing that the Hindoo custom of wearing the hair long, and fastened with sacred flowers in a knot at the back of the head, was intimately connected with certain acts of idolatrous worship, advised the Brahmin to cut off this hair at once, and thus demonstrate to all men that he had really ceased to be an idolater. To this suggestion the convert promptly replied, “Yes, certainly, for it is the devil’s flag.” Accordingly, the hair was immediately cut off.
The appearance of evil
An old Chinese proverb says, “Do not stop in a cucumber field to tie the shoe.” The meaning is very plain. Some one will be likely to fancy that you are stealing fruit. Always remember the injunction: “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” Do not stop under the saloon porch to rest yourself, however shady the trees may be, or however inviting the chairs. Some one may fancy you are a common lounger there, and so your name be tarnished. Don’t go to a liquor saloon to get a glass of lemonade, however refreshing it may seem to you. Rather buy your lemons and prepare the cooling beverage at home, where others may share it with you, probably at no greater expense than your single glass would cost you. Somebody seeing you drinking at the bar will be sure to tell the story, and will not be particular to state that you were drinking only lemonade. Then, too, if you are careless about the appearance of evil, you will soon grow equally careless about the evil itself. (Great Thoughts.)
Fear of sin
The old naturalist, Ulysses Androvaldus, tell us that a dove is so afraid of a hawk, that she will be frightened at the sight of one of its feathers. Whether it be so or not, I cannot tell; but this I know, that when a man has had a thorough shaking over the jaws of hell, he will be so afraid of sin, that even one of its feathers--any one sin--will alarm and send a thrill of fear through his soul This is a part of the way by which the Lord turns us when we are turned indeed. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The need of guarding against all evil
Manton says: “A man that would keep out the cold in winter shutteth all his doors and windows, yet the wind will creep in, though he doth not leave any open hole for it.” We must leave no inlet for sin, but stop up every hole and cranny by which it can enter. There is need of great care in doing this, for when our very best is done sin will find an entrance. During the bitter cold weather we list the doors, put sandbags on the windows, draw curtains, and arrange screens, and yet we are made to feel that we live in a northern climate: in the same way must we be diligent to shut out sin, and we shall find abundant need to guard every point, for after we have done all, we shall, in one way or another, be made to feel that we live in a sinful world. Well, what must we do? We must follow the measures which common prudence teaches us in earthly matters. We must drive out the cold by keeping up a good fire within. The presence of the Lord Jesus in the soul can so warm the heart that worldliness and sin will be expelled, and we shall be both holy and happy. The Lord grant, it for Jesus’ sake. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1 Thessalonians 5:23
The very God of peace sanctify you wholly
A short but comprehensive prayer
The apostle had told the Thessalonians in the beginning of his Epistle, that he always made mention of them in his prayers; and, now he is Writing to them, and closing his Epistle, he lifteth up his whole heart for them.
I. The God to whom the apostle prays, namely, “the very God of Peace.” He is sometimes denominated “the God of all grace,” “the God of love,” but here--“the very God of peace,” not only because He is “the Author of peace,” but also “the Lover of concord.” There was a special reason for this: Paul felt that by the peaceableness and unity of the Thessalonians themselves they would best obtain those things for which he prays. God does not bestow His choice blessings on the members of a Church who are given to strife and disorder, but on those who are bound together in one by the golden cord of love. Such peace and fellowship are pleasant to behold both to men and angels; how much more to God Himself! (Psalms 133:1-3).
II. The burden of the apostle’s prayer.
1. Sanctification. Not partial but entire--the whole man. Or, he prays that they may be more perfectly sanctified, for the best are sanctified but in part while in this world; and therefore we should pray for and press toward complete sanctification.
2. Preservation. Where the good work of grace is begun, it will be carried on, be protected and preserved; and all those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus shall be preserved to the coming of Christ Jesus. If God did not carry on His good work in the soul, it would miscarry; and therefore we should pray God to perfect it, and preserve us blameless, that is, free from sin and impurity, till at length we are presented faultless before the throne of His glory with exceeding great joy.
III. The apostle’s assurance anent his, prayer. “Faithful is He that calleth you,” he writes to his converts, “who also will do it.” The sovereign kindness and infinite love of God had already graciously appeared to them in calling them to the saving knowledge of His truth, and the sure faithfulness of God was their security that they would be Divinely helped to persevere to the end. Accordingly, the apostle assures them that God would do what he desired: He would effect what He had Himself promised: He would accomplish all the good pleasure of His goodness toward them. Verily, our fidelity to God depends upon God’s faithfulness to us. (R. Fergusson.)
I. The agent in our sanctification is the Spirit of God (2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1Pe 1:2; 1 Corinthians 6:14; see also Romans 8:1-39). By the Father we are sanctified, as we are chosen by Him unto sanctification; as by His good pleasure and free grace the atonement of Christ and the sanctifying agency of the Spirit exist. By the Son we are sanctified, as His death is the only means by which we ever become holy, and by which the Spirit came into the world for the benevolent purpose of making us holy. By the Spirit we are sanctified as the immediate Agent in applying to us the blessings of Christ’s redemption, particularly in renewing and purifying our hearts and lives. Thus, although this work is immediately performed by the Spirit as the proper Agent, yet we are truly, though more remotely, said to be sanctified by the Father, by the Son, and by the Godhead universally considered.
II. The instruments of our sanctification are generally the Word and Providence of God.
1. The Word of God is the means of our sanctification in all cases in which it contributes to render us better, whether it be read, heard, or remembered; whether it be pondered with love, reverence, wonder, or delight; or whether, with similar affections, it be faithfully obeyed; whether its instructions and impressions be communicated to us directly, or through the medium of Divine ordinances, or the conversation, or the communion, or the example of our fellow Christians.
2. The Providence of God becomes the means of our sanctification in all the ways in which it makes solemn and religious impressions on the mind.
III. The process of sanctification may be summarily exhibited in the following manner.
1. It is progressive through life. The first sanctifying act of the Spirit of God is employed in regenerating the soul. Succeeding acts of the same nature are employed in purifying it through all the successive periods of life.
2. This process is not uniform. By this I intend that it is not the same in manner or degree every day, month, or year. From whatever cause it arises, our views are at times brighter, our vigilance more active, our resolution stronger, our temper more serene, and our energy more vigorous than at other times. This is visible in all that we speak, or think, or do, whatever may be the objects of our attention. That a state of things in us, which so materially affects ourselves in our very nature, should have an important influence on our religious interests is to be expected of course. The changes are here wrought in ourselves; and we, the persons thus changed, are those whose religion is concerned. As we are changed, therefore the state of our religion must in a greater or less degree be changed also.
3. The process of sanctification is universal. By this I intend that it affects the whole man: his views, affections, purposes, and conduct, and those of every kind. It extends alike to his duties of every kind; toward himself, his fellow creatures, and his Maker. It affects and improves indiscriminately all the virtues of the Christian character: love to God and to mankind, faith, repentance, justice, truth, kindness, humility, forgiveness, charity, generosity, public spirit, meekness, patience, fortitude, temperance, moderation, candour, and charitableness of judgment. It influences ruling passions and appetites, habits of thought and affection, of language and practice. It prompts to all the acts of piety: to prayer, praise, attendance upon the sanctuary and its ordinances, oar sanctification of the Sabbath, Christian communion, and Christian discipline.
4. The progress of sanctification is conspicuous in the life. From the commencement of Christianity in the soul the Christian course is that of a general reformation.
1. The considerations suggested concerning this important religious subject furnish every professing Christian with an interesting rule for the examination of his own character.
2. The same considerations furnish abundant encouragement to the Christian. Think how much God has done to accomplish this work, and you can find no room for despondency. (Timothy Dwight, D. D.)
Short of being wholly surrendered to God, we are maimed and incomplete. Holiness is the science of making men whole and keeping them whole. Christ is not come to save bits of humanity, like spars of a floating wreck, men’s souls only, but to restore the finished man which God fashioned at the first, entire and without blemish. And because this is our completed life, it is our only true life. Our true life can only be that in which all our faculties find room for their harmonious development. This differs greatly from some of the notions that have gathered about the doctrine which regard the body as an enemy and persecute it accordingly; or a weak effeminacy whose conscience is troubled as to the colour of a ribbon, the size of a feather, the metal of one’s watch chain; a life in which everything is suspected a ghostly mystery, a thing alike loveless and useless. Let us gladly welcome the word--entire sanctification; not the privilege of a few adventurous and favoured souls, but the everyday life of ordinary men and women in the everyday work. The word “sanctification” means everywhere that which is claimed by God, given to God, used for God. Take its first use, “God rested on the seventh day … and sanctified it.” What the Sabbath was amongst days, that man is to be amongst creatures.
I. That this is our true life is manifest in the very nature of man which is here referred to, body, soul, and spirit.
1. Man is a mystery, rent by two, we might say three, worlds.
(1) In common with the animals he has a body taken from the same earth, dependent on the same conditions, returning to the earth in the same way. And yet the beasts in following their instincts fulfil the purpose of their being, whilst man is a true man only as these instincts are checked. The reason must come in to control the appetites, but what if the passion be stronger than reason? Reason may bid the man to do right, but it does not bring the power. And, worse still, what if the reason itself drag down the man, lower the animal, and he who was sensual becomes devilish, the subject of envy, malice, pride, covetousness, revenge? What then?
(2) We turn to the other faculty--the spirit. That which looks out where reason cannot see, and listens where reason hears nothing, that which has the dread consciousness of a Presence at which reason may laugh, looking out into the dark to declare that there is nothing. But this faculty may contribute to the degradation of the man. To his other miseries this may add a thousand superstitions. Of all creatures man alone wants more than he needs, and in that one fact lies the source of man’s misery. Of all animals man alone is the victim of excess. It is the infinite capacity of the spirit degraded and seeking its satisfaction through indulgence.
2. Such is this creature. In a world where all else fulfil their purpose and lie down in peace, he alone is distracted. He is too big for the world, with a mind that cannot fulfil its own ideal. Where can he find his true life, in which all that is within him can be made harmonious and balanced? Some have said, “Mutilate the body to save his nobler being.” Others have said, “Blind the mind and mock the spirit, that the animal may be happy. Eat, drink, for tomorrow we die.” But surely there is a power somewhere that can keep the creature whole. Think of a steamship, steam at full pressure, engines going, sails set, yet with no hand on the helm, no lookout, no eye on the compass, hurrying on in the darkness, none knows whither. Or think of such a ship manned, yet where the forces of steam are set to one end and the sails to another, where one part of the crew will make for the Southern Cross and another steer for the North Pole. What is the remedy?
3. Let the commander come on board with due authority, then shall all these antagonistic forces be brought into harmonious working. We, seeking for deliverance, turn instinctively to our Creator. He who made us at the first must understand these faculties and can restore them to their true ends and uses. In all gradations of life we find the need of the creature met with its supply. The higher capacities of man for friendship, service, brotherhood find room and satisfaction. And is it only in the highest that we are to be left deceived? Made conscious of the infinite, yet are we to be met with the finite? If that be so, then has all nature mocked us. Every instinct within us, everything about us, cries aloud that somewhere there is that which can set the man at rest. Instinctively we lift our hands upward, assured that help must come from God. The God of Peace, who made us for Himself, can adjust the wishes and aims to His will, and the man takes his true place in the world as one having dominion over it. Here is our only true life, a life of entire consecration.
II. Our knowledge of God makes this entire sanctification our only true life. In common with other creatures, we live and move and have our being in God.
1. But this wards us from all other creatures in the world, we can give to God. This it is which makes us capable of religion. According to our gift do we find our place in one of the three great classes which divide humanity. Only to give something that we have is the mark of the heathen. Only to give something that we do is the distinction of the Jew. To give that which we are is the privilege and glory of the Christian. “Take my goods and be no more angry with me,” is the cry of the heathen. “Behold my righteousness and remember Thy promise,” speaks the Jew. “I am not mine own, but Thine, live in me or I die,” is the distinctive glory of the Christian.
2. But what we give to God is altogether the result of our knowledge of Him. If we know God only as Creator and Controller, who touches us only from without, we give that which is only from without. But if we know God as our Father, as Love--then is there but one offering which can satisfy Him or satisfy us, body, soul, and spirit wholly given up to Him. Before this demand of our complete surrender, there comes the revelation of God. The Epistle begins with, “Grace and peace from God our Father,” etc. It is in this revelation of God’s love to us that this claim finds its force. If He have given Himself to us there can be no other return than our whole being to Him. Amongst us the claims of love are such that true love is hurt and injured with less than love. If love be lacking, gifts, obedience, service do but affront and insult love. If the measure of God’s love to us be nothing less than the shame and agony and death of the Son of God, then to give Him less than our body, soul, and spirit is to make religion itself only another bewilderment.
III. Consider this life as the subject of our prayer. “May the God of Peace Himself sanctify you wholly.” This great work is to be done for us by God. What years of weary and wasted endeavour it would save us if we were willing to accept so obvious a truth! We linger about theories of sanctification. In seeking to make this life our own it will help us to dwell upon the three stages of sanctification as set forth in the Old Testament, the picture book of the New.
1. Sanctification is the surrender of that which is claimed. “Sanctify unto me,” or as it is in the original, “Cause to pass over unto us.” That is where sanctification begins. The demand and command of God. We have thought so much about God’s provision for our forgiveness that we have almost lost sight of the fact that forgiveness has this purpose, our perfect obedience to His will. Jesus Christ is come not to be Saviour only, but Lord. Holiness is obedience, and the beauty of Holiness is the beauty of a completed obedience. Religion may borrow the loftiest titles, and swell with the sublimest aspiration, and yet be a thing of flabby sentimentalism, without the strong pillars and girders of God’s authority. Let this surrender to God be a definite act. Our fathers often made this surrender in writing, and it is a distinct gain to make the act visible and tangible. And the process of writing gives one leisure to see into the greatness of God’s claim, and into the sincerity of our response. This is the first step we must bring into our life, the great, strong authority of God. There was an age in which the authority of God was so set forth that it concealed His love, and it produced men stern, perhaps, but grandly true, men all backbones and ribs. Let us beware lest by concealing the authority of God in His love we grow creatures without any backbones or ribs at all.
2. The second step in our sanctification is the cleansing blood. Nothing else could give such solemnity to the offering, nothing else so completely set it apart for God. This was the crimson seal upon the deed of gift. The Church of today has gone away from the Church of the first ages. The death of Christ is the ground of our salvation, that and nothing more. With them it was the resistless claim. Our answer is, “Go on your happy way to heaven”; theirs was, “Glorify God in your body and your spirit, which are His.” The blood meant ransom, redemption, but the deliverance found its purpose only in the service of God. That is the measure of the Cross of Christ--not safety only from the destroying angel, but deliverance from the bondage of sin, our victory over the world and the flesh. And that not simply as the natural effect upon us of Christ’s love. It is more than a passionate hatred of sin kindled by the sight of our crucified Lord; more than an enthusiastic devotion fired and sustained by the memory of Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. As surely as the Cross of Christ has put me into a new relationship to God, and made it possible for Him to be just and the Justifier of him that believeth, so has that Cross put me into a new relation to the world. This is the great salvation which is provided for us. Now, in the name of Jesus Christ are we to rise to find the chains fall off, the bondage ended, the doors of the prison open, the jealous foes powerless to hold us. Redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, now are we free indeed, that in everything we may be His faithful soldiers and servants until our lives’ end.
3. The last stage in sanctification is the Divine indwelling. Everything led up to that. Everything that was claimed was cleansed. When Moses had done all that God commanded him, then God came down and filled the place with His glorious Presence. Earth had no more to ask, and heaven no more to bestow. Up to that point God is ever seeking to lead us. Just as earth led up to man, and found its use and completeness in his coming, so was it that man led up to God. And when man came God rested from His labours, here was his resting place and home. His work was at an end, and with that indwelling all things found their finish and completion. And up to this all the great provisions of grace lead. We stand and look down through the ages and see God coming nearer to earth, until at last there cometh One who standeth and knocketh, saying, “Open unto Me.” Then, when He cometh in to dwell with us, paradise is restored. Once more God hath found His rest, and we have found ours, and there comes again the Sabbath calm, for that all is very good. (M. G. Pearse.)
By regeneration the heart is renewed, by justification sins are pardoned, in sanctification the life is made holy. Romanists confound justification and sanctification; but while connected they must be distinguished. The former is what is done for us, changes our state, is perfect at once, and is through the merits of Christ; the latter is what is done in us, changes our nature, is gradual, and is by the Spirit. The one gives the title, the other the fitness for glory.
I. The nature of sanctification. Separation from that which is common to that which is holy. So the furniture of the tabernacle (Exodus 30:29), and priests and people were sanctified (Exodus 28:41). It consists--
1. In mortifying the evils of our nature. (Romans 8:12-13). If sin is not mortified, it will prevent--
(1) Our communion with God (Ezekiel 14:7).
(2) Growth in grace.
(3) Peace here and happiness hereafter.
That which makes clean the outside merely will never satisfy a holy God, make a holy character and fit for a holy place.
2. The consecration of the Christian to that which is holy.
(1) To the glory of God of all that he is, has, and does.
(2) To the cause of Christ which is the good of man.
II. The way of sanctification.
1. It is attributed to the redeeming, cleansing blood of Christ.
2. To the Holy Spirit (2 Thessalonians 2:13 : Romans 15:16). His design is not simply to better our nature, but to cure it entirely.
3. To the Word of God as the Spirit’s instrument (John 17:17), explaining the nature, applying the promises, and imparting the hope of holiness.
4. To faith and prayer (2 Thessalonians 2:13; Acts 15:9; Matthew 7:11). Truth sanctifies only as it is received by faith, and by prayer obtains the influence of the Spirit.
III. The characteristics of sanctification.
1. Progressiveness. We should aim at sinless perfection, and unless we increase in holiness we are increasing in sin.
2. Visibility, not of course in its essence but in its effects. We see that the tree grows, that its branches extend, that it bears fruit, although we do not see it grow.
3. Entireness. It must influence the whole man.
IV. The importance of sanctification.
1. Without it the design of God’s love to us is in vain, “This is the will of God even your sanctification.”
2. Without it we are strangers to the Saviour’s grace “who died for us that He might purify unto Himself,” etc.
3. Without it we are a forsaken and desecrated temple of the Holy Ghost.
4. Without it we are unfit for heaven. None but “the pure in heart shall see God.”
1. Use the means of sanctification, prayer, Bible study.
2. Keep before you the perfect model of sanctification in the example of Christ.
3. Never be satisfied with your attainment in sanctification. (Dr. Jarbo.)
1. Note the position of this prayer. It forms a conclusion, and this gives it a specific character.
(1) It is the natural close of the Epistle--an impressive course of precept and exhortation. Sanctification from all sins and also in its positive sense had been inculcated and prayed for, and now all previous petitions are gathered up into one.
(2) It is the close of the strain immediately preceding. As far back as 1 Thessalonians 5:15, we perceive the signs of strong emotion. Paul’s exhortations become very bold, and each bears the burden of perfection. The grandeur of this introduction prepares us for the grandeur of the prayer. Precisely at the point when man’s ambition to be perfect has been stimulated to the utmost, the transition is made from what we can do for ourselves to what God can do foe us.
2. The peculiarities of the prayer. It is marked off from the rest of Paul’s prayers in that it has more of the temple spirit and phraseology. This suggests at once a comparison with our Lord’s High Priestly consecration prayer (John 17:1-26). The Divine consecration separating believers from the world while keeping them blameless in it; having its end, on the one hand, in the unity of the mystical body in holiness, and on the other, the vision of Christ’s glory at His coming; and brought to its perfection by the righteous or faithful God of the Christian vocation; these form a series of ideas common to Christ and Paul.
3. The expressions by which God is invoked in Paul’s prayers are always great expository helps.
(1) “The God of peace” is the author of reconciliation accomplished through the atoning mediation of Christ, Those only can be sanctified who have entered into the enjoyment of the Divine favour. Peace begins the state of grace, pervades it, and is its perfection (Romans 5:1).
(2) “He that calleth” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). Sometimes the calling refers to the past--at conversion: sometimes to the final issue; here, however, it is the continuous call between the two extremes--always to holiness. This name is a remembrancer, every time we hear it, of an abiding obligation on our part, and a constant will on the part of God.
(3) The third name is not mentioned but implied. God is the only sanctifier--the Father (John 17:17), the Son (Hebrews 2:11), the Holy Ghost (2 Thessalonians 2:13). Only a lax religious phraseology speaks of a man’s consecrating himself. We have words for duty and virtue in every form, but this must be sanctified or set apart from our common use. Only One could say “I sanctify myself.”
4. Entering the prayer itself we mark its great central idea, the entireness of personal sanctification: but to clear the way we must consider what is not meant, that in which all accepted believers are entirely sanctified.
(1) They are absolutely washed from the guilt of sin (Hebrews 10:22). In this sense sanctification and justification are one. The soul that is justified in the forum or court mediatorial is in the temple and before the altar sanctified, and completely (Hebrews 10:14).
(2) They are presented to God upon an altar which makes everything holy, and they are thus set apart to the Divine service. Now that must be absolute or nothing. The offering must be either on the altar or not on it. But the oblation has yet to go up to heaven in the consuming fire as a whole burnt offering.
(3) They are complete in Christ according to the foreknowledge of God (Romans 8:30; Hebrews 10:14; 1 Corinthians 1:30).
(4) These several views unite in the element of imputation. But the apostle’s prayer uses a word which takes us into an altogether different region, “Faithful,” etc. (1 Thessalonians 5:24). He does not ask that God may count, but that God may make them holy. The entireness of sanctification is here expressed in two ways. It is--
I. A complete consecration of the whole person or being of the Christian.
1. Consider some objections arising out of the form and construction of the sentence. It has been said that the words are too rare and uncertain to admit of a doctrine so important being based upon them. But granted that they are unusual, they are chosen with extreme precision, and bear their sense in their very form. Passing by this, two other objections, based upon it, must be noticed.
(1) One takes the form of an honourable but unsound explanation which assumes that “wholly” refers to the Thessalonian Church, and “blameless” to individual members. But there is no instance of any particular community being regarded as capable of entire sanctification. That blessedness is the prerogative of the Christian or the whole mystical body of Christ.
(2) The other less-worthy subterfuge asserts that the plain meaning of the terms must not be unduly pressed; that Paul’s theology ought not to be made responsible for his exuberant phrases. This loose theory of inspiration as here applied is condemned by the fact that the text begins and ends with the power of God. And with regard to “Faithful is He,” it is remarkable that it is always used when the strength of the apostle’s language might seem to demand the confirmation of a special Divine guarantee.
2. Entire sanctification as an end attained consists of--
(1) A consecrating act of God put forth to the utmost necessary point. The work is one of Divine power which God begins, continues, and brings to perfection. “He will do it.” This separates our sanctification from everything which man by his own effort may attain. It is not the result of a new direction or impetus given to our faculties; through no energy of the self-consecrated will; through no mighty outgoings of the regenerate feeling; through no contemplation of the regenerate reason. There is a power above and behind using them, but not leaving the recovery of holiness to them. It is not the moral agent retrieving himself by Divine aid, but a new and more abundant life infused, sustained and carried to perfection by God Himself.
(2) This sanctifying power extends to all the elements of man’s nature.
(a) His spirit is that element of his nature which is his distinction. In it he is only a little lower than the angels for a season, and has no fellowship whatever with the lower creation. Here is the seat of the Divine image, marred but never lost, and whose perfect restoration must wait until sanctification is lost in glory. Meanwhile the reason is entirely dedicated to its original function of being the depository of the supreme first principles of goodness, rectitude, and truth; the conscience is sanctified unto perfect fidelity as an internal legislator true to the truth, as an incorruptible witness pacified, and as a fearless interpreter of the Divine judgment; the will is sanctified as the servant of its own supreme choice and intention, and as the master of its own acts, by release from every impediment of unholy motives and by the constant influence of the truth applied by the spirit; the impulse behind and the end before, and all its means between consecrated in the unity of one supreme principle--the glory of God. But we are apt to lose the noblest meaning of the term “spirit,” by the use of these synonyms. It is the element in man’s nature that is capable of God. Dead or asleep in the unregenerate, it is quickened into life by the Holy Spirit; and when it is entirely possessed by Him who quickens it--the spiritual man being “filled with the Spirit,” and wholly spiritual--it is wholly sanctified to the vision of God.
(b) The soul is consecrated as distinct from the spirit. This faculty, when mentioned apart from the spirit, comes between the higher and lower elements of our being. It is the sphere of the desires and passions, which are innocent in themselves, but transformed by the sinful will into worldly affections and lusts, which are restored, however, by being brought under the control of the Holy Spirit through the will, refusing them their unholy stimulants and nourishment in the world.
(c) The body is also sanctified as the instrument of spirit and soul. As such it has abundant honour put upon it as the temple of the Holy Ghost. But like spirit and soul, its sanctification is limited till sanctification and glorification shall be one.
(3) The entireness of the consecration. “Wholly” has reference to the person made up of these constituents. The three parts are not introduced to show that holiness becomes perfect by proceeding through these inwardly towards the centre. The sanctification is of the man in whom these unite. It begins with the self of the “new man,” and the Holy Ghost dwelling therein, becomes a will within the will that rules the whole; and when He has confirmed that will in supreme devotion to God, sanctification is entire.
II. The preservation of the same integral person in a state of blamelessness till the coming of Christ.
1. The same power that sanctifies as an act preserves that sanctification as a state. Entire sanctification as distinguished from sanctification is the confirmed, habitual, no longer interrupted devotion of the whole being to God. As the power which created the world sustains it by an indwelling energy, so the power which can fix upon God the strength of the whole soul can keep it fixed upon Him. A strong influence of grace descending in answer to prayer may carry the whole soul to God for a season. When the prayer of faith which brings this blessing becomes unceasing this act becomes the tranquil state of the soul. “By faith we stand,” and He who is faithful is “able to keep us from falling.”
2. This consecration is the preservation of all that belongs to Spirit, etc., in the fellowship and service of God. The whole man becomes entirely the Lord’s property and worshipper, His instrument and servant. Hence entire sanctification is the habitual communion with God as the supreme good of the soul; and the habitual reference of every act to the will and glory of God as the Lord of life. Love makes the whole being a whole burnt offering.
3. This state of entire consecration is preserved in blamelessness.
(1) No blame is imputed to it; by virtue of the atoning blood it is in a constant state of acceptance.
(2) It is a faultless sacrifice. The High Priest so entirely consecrates the offering to God that sin is no longer found in it.
4. The fidelity of God is pledged to the accomplishment of this. (W. B. Pope, D. D.)
The sanctification of the complete man
I. Its meaning.
1. What does Paul mean by being sanctified wholly?
(1) In man there is a trinity of powers linking him with three different worlds.
(a) By the body, with its sensations, etc., we are connected with the earth.
(b) By the soul, powers merely natural, faculties, passions, and affections, we are connected with the sorrowing, rejoicing, toiling world.
(c) But there are deeper things linking us with a sublimer region, an emotion that pants for the eternal, prayers that cry out for the infinite--these are voices of the spirit.
(2) These, Paul says, are to be sanctified, i.e., consecrated.
(a) The body, not by crushing and despising it, but using it as a gift of God for His glory.
(b) The soul, not by despising its gifts as carnal, or shutting our ears to the appeals of affection, but by dedicating it to God; thus making hopes, ambitions, loves, holy.
(c) The spirit must be sanctified, for when men have used the powers of their spirit as their own they have fallen into spiritual sins, intolerance, bigotry, pride.
2. Why does Paul lay such emphasis on the consecration of all our powers? Because they are gateways of temptation from three different worlds, and unless they are consecrated we are never safe.
(1) Men have tried to purify their outward life alone, leaving soul and spirit unguarded, and then secret sins of pride and imagination break out.
(2) Men have left the spirit unconsecrated. Guarding body and soul, subduing bodily fear, and ready to meet scorn and shame, Peter, relying on his own strength, fell at the first temptation.
(3) Men have tried to hallow the spirit only, to keep their higher life apart, hence the dishonesties which have so often blemished men professing peculiar saintliness. We must be consecrated through the whole range of our powers or we shall not be consecrated at all.
II. Its attainment.
1. We cannot consecrate ourselves. We try it.
(1) We subdue the body, but the soul, with its temptations, is too strong for us.
(2) We strain all our energies to subdue sins of the intellect and affections; and then we are tempted with spiritual pride. Weary of the struggle, we say, “It is all vain.” It is not. Admit your weakness, and cry to God the sanctifier.
2. God preserves the entire sanctification by imparting peace. The calmness He gives when we cease our own efforts is our truest might to maintain this complete consecration.
III. Its motive. “Until the coming,” etc. This coming is--
1. A day of manifestation. Because that day is coming sanctify--
(1) The body, that it may shine out a glorified body in that day;
(2) The soul, that it may be able to receive the truth and light of that day;
(3) The spirit, that it may be able to commune with the Eternal Love.
2. A day of everlasting gatherings. Sanctify, therefore, body, etc., “that you may be meetened for the Church of the firstborn.” (E. L. Hull, B. A.)
The prayer for entire consecration
The momentous warning of 1 Thessalonians 5:19 perhaps led to this prayer that the temple in which that holy flame was burning might be preserved in its integrity and blamelessness. “Whole” does not mean the three associated together, but that each may be preserved in its completeness. The prayer is threefold.
I. That they may be sanctified by the God of peace.
1. Sanctification is the condition of outward and inward peace.
2. This sanctification is to be complete “wholly” in their collective powers and constituents.
II. That each constituent may be preserved to our Lord’s coming. Each part of the man and the whole man is immortal.
III. That each so preserved may be entire and complete, not mutilated or disintegrated by sin.
1. That the body may retain its yet uneffaced image of God, and its unimpaired aptitude to be a living sacrifice to its Maker.
2. The appetitive soul, its purer hopes and nobler aspirations.
3. The spirit, its everblessed associate the Holy Spirit of God. (Bp. Ellicott.)
I pray God that your whole spirit, and soul, and body--The word rendered “whole,” signifies literally, “whole inheritance or portion.” It is applied metaphorically to a city, all whose buildings are standing, undamaged by fire or sword; to an empire, the provinces of which are entire; to an army, whose troops are yet undiminished by any casualty. St. Paul, therefore, may be considered to pray that the believer’s whole inheritance may be kept inviolate. And what is this inheritance? It is threefold, a Body--a Soul--a Spirit. Man, that is, is delineated not as a simple, but as a compound being. He has three constituent parts, and the apostolic prayer is to the effect that every one of these parts may be kept without loss until the day of Christ’s appearing. (Bp. Woodford.)
The tripartite nature of man
III. Spirit--God-consciousness. (J. B. Heard, M. A.)
There are three things of which man in his entirety consists--flesh, soul, and spirit: the one, the spirit, giving form; the other, the flesh, receiving form. The soul is intermediate between these two: sometimes it follows the spirit and is elevated by it, and sometimes it consents to the flesh and falls into earthly concupiscences. (Irenaeus.)
Body, soul, and spirit
An ancient philosopher once called the human frame “a harmony of bones,” and a beautiful cathedral may be well called a harmony of stones. Following the same train of thought in a wider application, I might point out to you how man in his entire composite structure of body and soul and spirit was designed by his Creator to be, as it were, a living instrument of diverse chords attuned to one perfect harmony. How should I describe the relations to each other of these factors of our human fabric? Should I call the body the sheath of the soul, and the soul the sheath of the spirit? Or the body the organ of the soul, and the soul the organ of the spirit? Or the first the utterance of the second, and the second the expression of the third? What is the body for? Not for intemperance, incontinence, greed; “the body is for the Lord.” He is its Builder and Redeemer: doubly Owner of it and twice Proprietor, first by creation and then by redemption. If, then, we would live to the Lord, let us keep our bodies in temperance, soberness, and chastity. But what did I say--let us keep the body in order? Why, the body is the organ of the soul; the soul rules it with a will, uses it with a will, bids it walk with feet, touch with hand, taste with tongue, speak with mouth, see with eyes. To keep the body in order, then, we must keep the soul in order--filling it with good desires, pure motives, wise counsels, noble aims and aspirations. Yes, but what is to keep the soul in order? Why, the soul itself is controlled by that of which it is the organ and the expression, even by the spirit. So, then, let each of us fill our highest nature, even the spirit, with good desires, pure motives, noble aspirations, lofty thoughts of God and heaven. But can we? Is a man’s ego or self outside a man that he should pour into his own spirit good desires, as he would pour water into a cistern? A man’s ego is inside the man, whether it be seated in the soul, or in the spirit, or in both. For behind the body is its ruler and director, the soul, behind the soul is its ruler the spirit: but behind the spirit of man is what? Is there no superior? Why, yes; some unseen power there is, that plays the part of King David to the harp, and makes the music of the instrument; that suggests, inspires, persuades, drawing to virtue or tempting to vice--an evil power drawing to evil, a good power to good. If God’s Spirit penetrate, intensify, illuminate man’s spirit and through that reach the soul, and bend the will submissive to good, until the man subdue his own flesh to his own spirit, that man, by faith in Christ, shall save his soul alive. But if, alas! the reverse of this--if the love of the world, the lust of the eye, the pride of life should smother, stifle, quench the nobler aspiration after holiness and happiness--such a man, if he resist to the end the strivings of the Holy Ghost in the domain of his own spirit, shall, in the words of our Lord, “lose his own soul--his own self.” We are fearfully and wonderfully made: our triple organism is a mystery, but our double destiny is a certainty. There is to life eternal a dread alternative. There is the one way to heaven before us, and Jesus Christ is this one Way; and there is another way leading to hell. Powers of evil and powers of good surround us: the angels of God attend upon us for our well-being, the angels of Satan hover about us, tempting us to our ruin. Environed by this conflict in the air between good and evil, we must be loyal to our Master, true to our only Saviour, stedfast in prayer and watching, doing our duty in our several stations, keeping our garments unspotted of the flesh: ever using the sacramental means of grace in the Holy Supper; and so, and only so, the Spirit of Christ, which flows through the mystical veins of His Divine humanity, shall fill with its goodness and gentleness, its purity and charity, our own spirits, through them controlling our souls and bodies. For in God’s propriety of order, the body is the tabernacle of the soul, the soul is the temple of the human spirit, and the human spirit is the sanctuary of the Holy Ghost. (Canon T. S. Evans, D. D.)
Body, soul, and spirit
I. Every department of the universe of matter finds itself represented in the body of man.
1. Whenever he receives, digests, and is nourished by food, and experiences bodily pain, man lives the life of the: animal.
2. The hair, which grows and is nourished, and yet which is endowed with no sensation, belongs to, and connects us with, the vegetable kingdom.
3. Mineral matter enters largely into the composition of the circulating lifeblood, whose current throbs in every extremity of our frame--and thus a link of sympathy, and community of nature, is established between man and a third great department of matter.
II. The Soul is that, which when held in combination with the body, connects us with the beasts of the field. For by the soul is probably to be understood the passions or affections--such as have no element of reason or the higher nature in them--perhaps natural instincts would be a more generally intelligible term. It will not be denied that brutes manifest fear, when they are threatened or punished; that there is a strong spirit of emulation and competition among horses; that anger and jealousy will lead stags to encounter one another; that all animals care for their young, and that in some the maternal instinct is developed with a power which almost surpasses that feeling as it exists in man. Now fear and emulation and anger and parental affection, and other such instincts--in their crude state, unmodified by reason, and the sense of right and wrong--constitute, I suppose, the ψυχὴ, or soul, of which the apostle is here speaking.
III. The spirit comprises all that higher part of human nature, by which man holds of God and blessed angels. The spirit gives him a sympathy with the world above, even as the soul gives him a sympathy with the animals, and as the body gives him a sympathy with the material universe. Angels are said to be “ministering spirits.” And it is remarkable that when man is spoken of in the Scriptures as holding communion with God, the spirit and not the body is mentioned as the organ through which that communion is held (Romans 1:9; John 4:24). The beasts that perish cannot apprehend God, cannot understand the Divine Word and Will, or hold communion in any form with the Eternal. Why not? They have no natural capacity for doing so. Some link in their nature is wanting, which, if it were present, might make them competent to an exercise so sweet and yet so awful. That link is πνεῦμα--spirit. (Dean Goulburn.)
Body, soul and spirit sanctified
I. The three-fold nature of man. In ordinary language, which the Scripture itself does not hesitate commonly to adopt, a two-fold division of our nature is recognized--man is said to be made up of body and soul. By the word “soul” are understood both his moral and intellectual faculties--those points in his being which distinguish him from other animals, and to cultivate which is the proper business of his life. It is thus used to signify the highest part of his nature; and therefore in the language of those who know the true objects of his highest faculties, and the exalted state to which they might be raised hereafter, it expresses his immortal part in contradistinction to that which is to perish with this present life (Matthew 10:28). But as the notions generally entertained respecting the highest part of our nature were in many respects highly erroneous--as our relation to God as our Maker and Father was lost sight of, and further, as ceasing to regard Him as the great object and centre of our being, men naturally lost all clear and lively hopes of immortality, the word “soul” in its common acceptation among the Greeks was inadequate to express the loftier and more enlightened conceptions of a Christian, with respect to his best faculties and their most perfect state. We find, therefore, in several passages of the New Testament that a third term is employed in addition to those of body and soul, and intended to express something superior to the soul in its common sense, as the soul is superior to the body. The third term is “spirit,” which, in the signification now alluded to, seems applicable to Christians only, and to denote that perfection of human nature which it was the object of the gospel to accomplish--an understanding that should know God, and affections that should love Him; or, in other words, a spiritual creature capable of enjoying communion with the Father of Spirits, and from that relation being naturally immortal. Thus, then, when this three-fold division of our nature is mentioned, the term “body” expresses those appetites we have in common with the brutes; the term “soul” denotes our moral and intellectual faculties, directed only toward objects of this world, and not exalted by the hope of immortality; and the term “spirit” takes these same faculties when directed toward God and heavenly things, and from the purity, the greatness, and the perfect goodness of Him who is their object, “transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
II. The perfection or blamelessness of this triple nature. With the government of the body all are engaged at some periods of their lives, and some through the whole of their lives. All more or less can understand the temptations to indolence and comfort, and to the indulgence of intemperance and sensuality, How many thousands there are who live like Esau! Their appetites are keen, and their enjoyments lively; the body is alive, while the soul and spirit are almost dead; and therefore the man lives what may be called an animal life; but as a man with a soul, and much more as a Christian with a spirit, he is in the lowest state of degradation, neither fit for the life that is to come, nor yet for the life of a reasonable being even in this present world. To keep down the body, therefore, and bring it into subjection, was the object of fasting and mortification; but what is specially wanted is to raise and strengthen the soul and spirit, that the body may be able and ready to aid them in their work, which it cannot do unless it be itself sound and vigorous. The soul is commonly strengthened by the growth and cultivation of the powers of the understanding, and by the various objects which attract the mind as we come forth into actual life. But the perfection of the soul must not be preferred to that of the spirit, any more than that of the body to that of the soul. The excellence of our spirit is to feel and hope as spiritual and deathless creatures. When this takes place, how beautiful is the sight to behold the spirit, and soul, and body, each healthy and strong, and each working in its proper order to perfect its own happiness, and thereby to advance the glory of the Triune-One! (T. Arnold, D. D.)
The spiritual nature
What Paul prayed for his friends we may well pray for both ourselves and our friends--a blameless spirit, a blameless soul, a blameless body. This is the whole man.
1. What we mean by the body we very well understand. Mystery even in the body there is, it is true; but still, on the whole, what is meant by a blameless body requires no great exposition. The man with a perfect physique, the man who is a picture of perfect health, verifies himself to our senses, with his broad shoulders, his brawny, muscular limbs, the glow of health upon the cheek, his unwearied vigour by day, his sweet, undisturbed sleep at night.
2. We look in the Greek, to find the same word indiscriminately rendered “life” and “soul.” We look in the Latin, and find the word that stands for soul to be “anima,” that which animates the body. The soul, then, is that which gives life to this physical organization, The brain is but ashes, without intellect behind it. The heart is a mere muscular valve, if there be no affection and love which make it beat quicker in the presence of the loved one. That which gives physical organism its use, that which makes it an instrument, that which links man to his fellow man, that which deals with the transient and the visible, with that which is round about us, what philosopher’s classify as “the intellect, the sensibilities, and the will”--we call this the soul.
3. But what is the spirit? It is by the spirit that we discern the truth. It is the spirit which is ever against the flesh, antagonizing, striving for full mastery of it. It is the spirit which links us to God. It is the spirit which is the Divine and immortal principle in man, undying. So that if there be no spirit, or if it be left to die, there is no immortal life. Let us look for a few moments, and see what are some of the characteristics of this spiritual nature, what some of the indications of the possession of this spiritual in man. But how shall you know what is the value, worth, character, of your spiritual nature? He that has a spiritual nature--
I. Will have at least a hungering after the spiritual.
1. This may be, indeed, the only evidence of spiritual nature in him. It certainly is the first. Before as yet the artist knows how to paint or draw, he has in him the desire for painting; and the little boy takes up his pencil and scrawls away, trying to make forms, so bearing witness to a seed-art within him that needs development. The bird has a wish for the air before its wings are fledged and it can soar out from the nest. Our hungers indicate what we are.
2. And as the Bible expresses and interprets the desire of spirituality, so it gives its promise to those desires. You may wish for wealth, and stay poor. But the soul that longs for a stronger conscience, a clearer faith, a more eager and joyous hope, a diviner reverence, shall not go unsatisfied.
II. Has in him something that perceives the spiritual.
III. Will find expression for the spiritual. We are not all teachers, but we all live; and, after all, the true measure and final test of spiritual life is not what we think, nor what we say, but the way in which we live. I pray God that you present yourselves, spirit, soul, body, blameless before the throne of His grace.
1. Blameless in body: with no wart upon it of intemperance or sensual self-indulgence.
2. Blameless in soul, with no ignorant superstition degrading it, with no social coldness, no disfellowship of humanity, no idleness shackling the hands that should have been busy in service.
3. Blameless in spirit--what do I mean by that? I pray God that you may have--
(1) A reverence that shall always show something higher and grander and nobler and diviner than the eye has ever shown you, and shall always make you bow before it and follow after it.
(2) A hope that shall summon you to a nobler and diviner life than can be interpreted by anything the eye has ever seen or the ear has ever heard.
(3) A conscience that shall hold you rigorously and undeviatingly in the path of rectitude, not turning to the right hand nor the left under beckoning enticement or under threatening pressure and menace.
(4) A love so large, so catholic, and so inspired by Him that no wrong shall weary its patience, no iniquity shall blur or hinder its sympathy, no sorrow shall fall to touch its pity: for this makes manhood and womanhood. Not what we know: ignorance does not defile us. Not what we have done: doing does not make us. But what in the higher developments of our soul, what in our reverence, in our hope, in our faith, in our love, we are--that really makes us. (Lyman Abbott.)
The king’s lodging
Manton says: “If an earthly king lie but a night in a house, what care is there taken that nothing be offensive to him, but that all things be neat, clean, and sweet? How much more ought you to be careful to get and keep your hearts clean, to perform service acceptably to Him; to be in the exercise of faith, love and other graces, that you may entertain, as you ought, your heavenly King, who comes to take up His continual abode and residence in your hearts!” We know a house in which an empress rested for a very short time, and the owner henceforth refused to admit other inmates. Such is his devotion to his royal guest that no one may now sit in her chair or dine at the table which she honoured. Our verdict is that he makes loyalty into absurdity by this conduct; but if we imitate him in this procedure in reference to the Lord Jesus we shall be wise. Let our whole being be set apart for Jesus, and for Jesus only. We shall not have to shut up the house; for our beloved Lord will inhabit every chamber of it, and make it a permanent palace. Let us see to it that all be holy, all pure, all devout. Help us, O Purifier of the temple, to drive out all intruders, and reserve our soul in all the beauty of holiness for the Blessed and Only Potentate. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1 Thessalonians 5:24
Faithful is He that calleth you
The faith of man and the faithfulness of God
The highest object of man’s existence is to hold communion with God. For this his nature was framed, and in this alone will it find repose.
2. But the vital tie that connected us with heaven is broken. We are as a limb of the body separated by paralysis, or any other internal cause, from the benefits of the general circulation. God is the heart: we have insulated ourselves from God, and deadened the nerve that conducted his influences. We have a name to live but are dead.
3. This is a state of things deeply to be lamented; but no one ever lamented that the brute creation was shut out from the converse of angels--because there are no faculties in brutes that point to a higher destiny; no traces of a fall, nothing about them which makes it a practical contradiction that they should be as they are and yet what they are. But even in the natural man there are faint gleams of a something over and beyond his present state, a perpetual unhappiness, proving his designation for a different state of things originally.
4. Now without some notion of the extent of the loss, you can never estimate the value or nature of the restoration. It is by the length of the dark shadow that you compute the height of the elevation beyond it. It is by summing up the long catalogue of woe that you will be able to conceive the importance of that manifestation of mercy, whose object is, by the descent of God, to bind once more the broken links of communion.
5. The nature of this restoration. Man is separated from God as a criminal, and as unholy; the communion is restored by free pardon on God’s part for Christ’s sake, and the acceptance of that pardon upon man’s, and by the process of sanctification which makes a lost and ruined soul at length “meet for the inheritance of the saints.”
6. Of this union with God the first great characteristic must be one which concerns both intellect and heart. It must behold God’s holiness, justice, and mercy, and must love the holiness, dread the justice, desire the mercy. This complex act of knowledge and affection is faith.
7. But in every perfect union there must be mutual confidence, and a strict fulfilment of enjoyments on both sides. If man be trustful, God must be “faithful.” This is the affirmation of the apostle. Thus faith in man and faithfulness in God are the two members of our spiritual harmony.
I. The Divine faithfulness is gloriously characteristic of the spiritual system to which we belong. No words can go beyond the confidence of David in the faithfulness of God, and no doubt high and spiritual meanings belong to his expressions of such confidence. Holiness was to be the foundation of all, but yet a holiness triumphant in visible majesty and regal pomp. But the faithfulness of our text has exclusive reference to sanctification. It was no relief from temporal evils that Paul promised; the mercy of God might send them to the lions; it was still His mercy, if it but kept them unspotted from the world. How many are content with such faithfulness as this? Is this the tenor of your prayers? Is your heart busy in pleading with God His own eternal faithfulness in behalf of your sanctification and spiritual safety?
II. The Divine faithfulness extends to the whole man. The entire, if feeble humanity, is sheltered under this canopy of Divine protection. The body is subdued into its place as minister to the soul; the soul is guarded from its own special corruptions; and the spirit is preserved undecayed amid an hostile world. Of a surety the sacred Trinity that occupies the throne of heaven will not forget this humble image of Their ineffable mystery. Surely the soul will be pre served by that creative Deity who first infused it into the frame; the body by that Eternal Son who was pleased to assume it; and the spirit, by that ever blessed Spirit who bestows it and may well guard His own inestimable gift.
III. This faithfulness is of Him “that calleth you.” It is a fidelity to His own gracious engagement. He without destroying human freedom or responsibility, of His free grace commences, continues and ends the whole Christian work. Yet so faithful is His compassion that He represents Himself as bound and tied to the impulses of His own unconstrained mercy. There is no bond but His own love, yet that bond is stronger than iron; and He, whom the universe cannot compel, commands Him self.
IV. With such a God, such promises and faithfulness, why is there a delay in appropriating so great salvation? If we believe that these things are true where is the earnest active faith, and where the life that answers to it? (W. Archer Butler, M. A.)
God’s faithfulness--Grandly did the old Scottish believer, of whom Dr. Brown tells us in his “Horae Subsecivae,” respond to the challenge of her pastor regarding the ground of her confidence. “Janet,” said the minister, “what would you say, if after all He has done for you, God should let you drop into hell?” E’en’s (even as) He likes,” answered Janet. “If He does, He’ll lose mair than I’ll do.” At first sight Janet’s reply looks irreverent, if not something worse. As we contemplate it, however, its sublimity grows upon us. Like the Psalmist she could say, “I on Thy Word rely” (Psalms 119:114, metrical version). If His Word were broken, if His faithfulness should fail, if that foundation could be destroyed, truly He would lose more than His trusting child. But that could never be. “Forever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven. Thy faithfulness is unto all generations.” Well then might Janet encourage herself in the Lord her God, and say, “God hath spoken in His holiness; I will rejoice.” Assurance of victory--I can never conceive that it dispirits the soldier, when he is fighting, to tell him that he must win the victory. This is what Cromwell’s ironsides said when they saw the great general riding along the ranks, “‘Tis he!” they said, “‘tis he!” they felt the victory was sure where Cromwell was, and like thunderbolts they dashed upon their enemies, until as thin clouds before the tempest the foemen flew apace. The certainty of victory gives strength to the arm that wields the sword. To say to the Christian you shall persevere till you get to the journey’s end--will that make him sit down on the next milestone? No; he will climb the mountain, wiping the sweat from his brow; and as he looks upon the plain, he will descend with surer and more cautious footsteps, because he knows he shall reach the journey’s end. God Will speed the ship over the waves into the desired haven; will the conviction of that on the part of the captain make him neglect the vessel? Yes, if he be a fool; but if he be a man in his wits, the very certainty that he shall cross the deep will only strengthen him in time of storm to do what he would not have dreamt of doing if he had been afraid the vessel would be cast away. Brethren, let this doctrine impel us to a holy ardency of watchfulness, and may the Lord bless us and enable us to persevere to the end. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1 Thessalonians 5:25
Brethren, pray for us
Prayer for missionaries
The grounds of this appeal.
1. The character of the men required. “Pray ye, therefore, the Lord of the harvest,” etc. The work requires fully qualified workers. It must have apostolic, unselfish, unworldly, spiritual, sympathetic, brotherly men. Pray for such. Only God can send them.
2. The work they are called to accomplish--
(1) There are evils to be vanquished before the good can be created--apathy, a dead conscience, helpless dependence on others. On the other hand, the missionary has to create a spirit of hopefulness and of self-help, and the recognition of the Divine claim. He has to secure a quickened conscience to stand trembling in the presence of sin, and yet able to rest immovable in the recollection of free grace and dying love.
(2) There are special difficulties he has to overcome.
(a) He has no human constraints. At home if a man neglects his work his material interest suffers; the salary of the missionary is constant. At home the pastor has his equals; abroad he is supreme. At home we are under constant inspection; the missionary is thousands of miles away from criticism. These constraints are very helpful, however unpalatable; and lacking them the missionary needs our prayers.
(b) He has no human helps of association and sympathy to which we owe so much, of these the missionary often knows nothing. What solitude of mind, heart and sorrow! far from country, kindred, home! All sights and sounds uncongenial.
(c) He meets with frequent and bitter disappointment--rank hypocrisy where conversion seemed sound.
(d) Then there is the climate and its effects. How much we are indebted to our much complained of and variable weather for the strength of our physique. In India the more regular climate seems to dry up all the energies. But this is nothing compared to the vitiating moral atmosphere.
II. The nature of this appeal.
1. What it supposes.
(1) Faith in prayer. Prayer is of the essence of religion, and if prayer be not availing then religion is an illusion and must die. But if it be availing then religion is a practical force and cannot die.
(2) Faith in the gospel, for it is the universal law of God’s service that no man shall take a share in His work without faith. Without it we cannot please Him, secure His Spirit, nor rouse and devote our energies to the conversion of souls. But given faith all things are possible.
(3) Brotherly sympathy. Missionaries are “brethren” calling on the same Father, steeped in the same temper, going to the same reward.
2. What, if we comply with it, will it bring?
(1) All will be occupied at the same time and in the same work. Some are strong, some weak; some are rich, some poor; some are learned, others ignorant--but all can pray, and this is the grandest privilege and mightiest power of all.
(2) All will be benefitted by it. He who prays, he for whom prayer is offered.
(3) It will be for the Divine honour, “Not by might nor by power,” etc.
(4) It will appropriate and apply God’s benefits. (J. Aldis.)
The prayers of Christian people in relation to ministerial work
It is useless for any man to pray unless he has, even to every human being, this brotherly feeling. True prayer is the outflowing of a kind and loving heart. Ministers need specially the sympathies and prayers of their people on account of--
1. The difficulties of their work.
2. The peculiar trials of their work; and
3. The twofold results of their work.
I. The difficulties of ministerial work. The first difficulty here is to be always in a proper mental mood for mental work. There is--
1. A work of preparation for the pulpit, and--
2. A work of communication in the pulpit. The result in either case depends upon the atmosphere which surrounds the preacher’s soul--upon the current of his inmost feeling. It is the duty of every Christian minister, however great his mental culture and creative genius, to make special and careful preparation for the pulpit. To keep clear of all disturbing forces, so as, at the proper time to retain the power of fixing the mind upon the subject to be investigated, and to be just then in a state of spiritual repose “in the spirit,” the state which is the condition of spiritual perception, as the truth is spiritually discerned, requires great grace. The second difficulty is the finding of a variety of subjects--subjects which shall--
(1) Be taken hold of by the preacher’s own mind.
(2) Be relished by the people; and--
(3) Prove permanently profitable to both.
II. The trials of ministerial work. The first of these trials arises from a deep consciousness of personal weakness and inadequacy for the work. These trials arise from want of success.
III. The two-fold effect of ministerial work, The final result of every human work is solemn. The day of final reckoning is solemn to every one, but yet the issues in that day, of ministerial work here, will be perhaps the most solemn of all solemn things. I have spoken of the minister’s need of an interest in your prayers. I have spoken of the cheering influence which an assurance of this will have upon his own spirit, how it will actually give a richer tint to the glorious truths of God’s Holy Book as they will be, from time to time, presented in his discourses. But, as all forces in nature are reciprocal in their action, so does prayer act upon him who prays as well as upon him for whom the prayer is offered. If you wish to be profited by the preaching, pray for the preacher. (Evan Lewis, B. A.)
The force of prayer
What is the prayer for which I ask? It is not the self-willed importunity of him who thinks he shall be heard for his much speaking. It is not the opening to God of thoughts which His love has not anticipated. It is not the pleading of our personal wishes as isolated objects of Divine favour; say, rather, it is the humblest, tenderest, most unquestioning expression of our dependence, the confession of our wants and weaknesses, as we have felt them, the firmest resolution to rest in God’s will, and to make His will our own; the energy of a spiritual communion by which we realize our own well-being in the well-being of others; the endeavour to quicken and chasten and hallow every prompting of duty by the light of heaven. In this sense, “brethren, pray for us.” Such prayer corresponds--
I. With our Christian fellowship. We are not, we cannot be, alone. In itself the fact is fitted to oppress us with the feeling of our powerlessness. But it can be transfigured. And to pray one for another is to transfigure it. When St. Paul speaks of Christians being “in Christ,” he has gathered up the gospel in two syllables; he has proclaimed the unfailing bond of fellowship, the adequate provision for effective ministry, the victorious sovereignty of redeeming love.
II. With our present needs.
III. With our Divine assurance. Christianity deals with social problems, not accidentally, but in virtue of its existence. For us the Incarnation is the rule and the motive power. The Resurrection is the sign of God’s purpose for all material and transitory things, the transfiguration of the completeness of human life. The Christian Church is, as we believe, the present organ of a living Spirit. We claim for it, in virtue of the assurance of the Lord, not simply the right of existence or the power of self-defence, but the certainty of conquest. (Bp. Westcott.)
The ministers’ plea for the peoples’ prayers
I. Directions. Pray for us.
1. That we may be furnished with all proper gifts and graces for our work.
2. That we may be preserved from the defections of the age.
3. That we may be helped to fulfil our ministry in the best manner.
4. That our ministry may be accepted of God in Christ, and of His people.
5. That we may be made successful in our work.
6. That the usefulness of our lives may be continued.
7. That we may be united with one another, and with the Churches of Christ, in carrying on the work of the Lord.
8. That our own souls may be saved, and that we may give up our accounts with joy in the day of the Lord Jesus.
1. Our work is very important.
2. Our difficulties in managing it are many--arising from the work, ourselves, and our hearers.
3. Our strength is small.
4. The residue of the Spirit is with the Lord, and there is room for hope that, by the help of your fervent prayers, it may be brought down upon us.
5. Our prayers and labours for you call for a return of your prayers for us.
6. The answer of your prayers for us will turn to your own benefit, and to the advancement of Christ’s kingdom and glory. (J. Gouge, D. D.)
Prayer for ministers
Pray for us--
I. As teachers, that we may be taught of the Holy Spirit, and have more of the mind of Jesus; and that eschewing all false doctrine--the materialistic and the sensuous on the one side; and the rationalistic and the sceptical on the other--we may hold, and teach, and feel, the truth in all its proportions.
II. As preachers and evangelists, that we may never preach ourselves, but Christ only, in all His fulness, without limit: affectionately, earnestly, persuasively, lovingly, savingly: give true bread to our people: speaking as a dying man to dying men; as a redeemed soul to souls for whom Jesus died.
III. As ministers of holy sacraments, the Word, and services of the Church. That her beauty and grace may never be injured by us, and that we may do all holy things with a holy mind; and that God will so honour His own ordinance, that, even at our lips, His Word may go with the greater power; and when there shall be made a true confession, the assurance of absolving grace may reach comfortably even through us, to the yet unquiet conscience; and true sacrifices arise at our hands, from fervent and united hearts; and the whole Church “grow up into Him in all things which is the Head.”
IV. As men, “Brethren, pray for us.” Acknowledging and claiming, by that word, a common brotherhood,--lest, perhaps, they might think of him only in his official capacity. “Pray for us” as men, subject as much--if not more--to the same infirmities that you are; poor, ignorant men, that know nothing as they ought to know it; wanting guidance at every step, and sympathy, and the blood of Jesus to wash both their bodies and their souls. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The value of prayer for ministers
John Livingstone, of Scotland, once spent a whole night with a company of his brethren in prayer for God’s blessing, all of them together beseiging the throne; and next day, under his sermon, eight hundred souls were converted. All the world has known how the audience of President Edwards was moved under his terrible sermon on “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” But the secret of that sermon is known to but few. Some Christians in the vicinity had become alarmed, lest while God was blessing other places He should in anger pass them by; and so they met on the previous evening and spent the whole night in agonizing prayer. (H. C. Fish, D. D.)
The minister’s prayer book
A worthy minister of the gospel, in North America, was pastor of a flourishing Church. He was a popular preacher, but gradually became less to his hearers, and his congregation very much decreased. This was solely attributed to the minister; and matters continuing to get worse, some of his hearers resolved to speak to him on the subject. They did so; and when the good man had heard their complaints, he replied, “I am quite sensible of all you say, for I feel it to be true; and the reason of it is, that I have lost my prayer book. They were astonished at hearing this, but he proceeded: “Once my preaching was acceptable, many were edified by it, and numbers were added to the Church, which was then in a prosperous state. But we were then a praying people” They took the hint. Social prayer was again renewed and punctually attended. Exertions were made to induce those who were without to attend the preaching of the Word. And the result was, that the minister became as popular as ever, and in a short time the Church was again as flourishing as ever. (Clerical Library.)
Prayer helps preaching
There was once in the old days a famous mission preacher; whenever he preached he was accompanied by a little blind boy, his brother. As the great preacher stood on chancel step, or in pulpit, and people wept or trembled at his words, close by would be the blind child, with his sightless eyes turned upward, as though watching his brother. One night, the preacher saw a vision in church, he thought an angel touched him, and pointed to the blind boy. Then he saw a stream of light from heaven shining on the sightless eyes, and he understood now that it was not the eloquence of the preacher, but the prayers of the blind child which wrought such wonderful results. (W. Buxton.)
1 Thessalonians 5:26
Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss
The holy kiss
This exhortation in various forms is frequent (Romans 16:16; 1Co 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Peter 5:14); and it must be borne in mind was addressed to men with respect to men, and to women with respect to women only.
At this time worship would be conducted in accordance with the strict customs of the East, the men being separated from the women. It is still altogether contrary to “chastity” or “good fame” for a man and woman to greet one another in public, even though members of the same family. Hence the embarrassment of the disciples (John 4:27). Had anything been intended so monstrous to the notions of the Greeks as the fact of all men indiscriminately kissing all women it must have been distinctly stated, and that with restrictions to guard against its abuse. Moreover, had such indiscriminate salutation been allowed it would have formed a damaging charge, sure to have been brought by Pagan and Jewish objectors; but no such charge is discovered in the writings of the early centuries. The custom was practised for a long time. It was called “the kiss of greeting,” “the kiss of peace,” sometimes only “the peace.” One special time when it was employed was during Divine service just before Communion. In the Apostolic Constitutions, a work of the third century, the author says, “On the other side let the men sit with all silence and good order; and the women, let them also sit separately, keeping silence Then let the men salute one another, and the women one another with the kiss in the Lord.” There are two distinct kinds of kissing--one is that of dependants or suppliant’s kissing a supreme hand, feet, hem of garment, or dust on which he has trodden. The other is that which takes place between equals. When these are relatives or dear friends each in turn places his head face downwards upon the other’s left shoulder, and afterwards salutes the right cheek, and then reverses the action (Genesis 33:4; Genesis 45:14-15! Acts 20:37). Between the first and last mentions of this custom stretches a period of more than eighteen hundred years! What wonder, then, that after the lapse of another eighteen hundred years, we find it still the same in the changeless life of Bible Lands! When a kindly, but somewhat more formal and respectful, salutation passes between those of the same rank, they will take hold of each other’s beards and kiss them, and it is a great insult to take hold of a man’s beard for any other purpose (2 Samuel 20:9-10). There is, however, another common occasion of kissing, viz., between a host and his guests, when one places the right hand upon the other’s left shoulder and kisses the right cheek, and then the left hand on the right shoulder, kissing the left cheek (2 Samuel 15:5). For the neglect of this Simon the Pharisee was rebuked (Luke 7:45), by our Lord, committing, as he did, a gross breach of the laws of hospitality. Another formal mode of salutation between equals is to join the right hands; then each kisses his own hand and puts it to his lips and forehead or over his heart. Most probably it was by laying the hand on the shoulder and kissing the cheek that the early Christians saluted one another. It was intended to teach believers of their common brotherhood in Christ, without distinction of caste or rank. It answers exactly to our hearty shaking of the hands. (J. Neil, M. A.)
I. The practice itself. It was an ordinary mode of salutation, and had been practised at all times in eastern countries, sometimes even by men, and that, too, for opposite purposes. Hence Judas, when he wished to betray his Master, he did so with a kiss, testifying his apparent friendship on the one hand, and his abominable treachery on the other. A kiss was the sign of affection; and so by that slight artifice Judas thought to conceal his base purpose. Jesus, with severity, reproached him justly for it: “Betrayest thou,” He said, “the Son of Man with a kiss?” As if He had said, Dost thou violate all thy obligations of fidelity to thy Master, and thus deliver Him up to death? The kiss is the outward token of inward affection, but thou dost employ it basely and wickedly, intending to add deceit, disguise, and the prostitution of a mark of esteem to the crime of treason. Every word of Christ’s reproach must surely have gone to the heart of Judas. The same artifice, however, was frequently resorted to for a like purpose. Take, as proof, that between Joab and Abner (2 Samuel 3:27).
II. The sanctity of this practice. St. Paul speaks of “a holy kiss,” to denote that he intended it to be an expression of Christian affection, and so to guard it against all improper familiarity and scandal. Thus he sends a friendly salutation from himself, and Silvanus, and Timotheus; and he would have them signify their mutual love and affection to one another by “the kiss of charity.” So far this was well; but there are other ways of showing attachment to Christian brethren of a less suspicious and more certain character, such as rejoicing with them when they rejoice, and weeping with them when they weep, bearing their burdens and relieving their wants. This is indeed good and acceptable in the sight of God. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
Shake hands with somebody as you go out of church. The more of it the better, if it is expressive of real interest and feeling. There may be a great deal of the spirit of the gospel put into a hearty shake of the hand. Think of St. Paul’s four times repeated request, “Greet one another,” after the custom then in common use, and one which is expressive of even warmer feeling than our common one of hand shaking. Why not give your neighbours the benefit of the warm Christian feeling that fills you to your finger tips, and receive the like from them in return? You will both be benefited by it; and the stranger will go away feeling that the church is not, after all, so cold as he had thought it to be.
A smiling greeting
A lady of position and property, anxious about her neighbours, provided religious services for them. She was very deaf--could scarcely hear at all. On one occasion, one of her preachers managed to make her understand him, and at the close of their conversation asked: “But what part do you take in the work?” “Oh,” she replied, “I smile them in and I smile them out!” Very soon the preacher saw the result of her generous, loving sympathy in a multitude of broad-shouldered, hard-fisted men, who entered the place of worship, delighted to get a smile from her as she used to stand in the doorway to receive them. Why do not the working classes attend the house of God? They would, in greater numbers, if self-denying, Christ-loving Christians would smile them in and smile them out. (The Christian.)
1 Thessalonians 5:27
I charge you by the Lord that this Epistle be read unto all the holy brethren
The authority of St.
This is by implication a remarkable ecclesiastical sanction claimed for this Epistle. In the Jewish Church Moses and the Prophets were constantly read (Luke 4:16; Acts 13:27; Acts 15:21). The injunction here reminds us of the blessing in Revelation 1:3, and the impressive solemnity with which it is given is worthy of note. Surely it suggests the duty of reading passages of the New Testament in church, and even the guilt of neglecting it, or of keeping it from the people. This is one of the passages which give us an idea of the great authority attributed to the Epistles from the earliest times. They were carried by the apostle’s delegates (like the iggereth of the synagogues); they were held to have equal dogmatic authority with the apostle himself; they were read out and finally deposited among the archives of the church; they were taken out on solemn days and read as sacred documents, with a perpetual teaching. Thus the epistolary form of literature was peculiarly the shape into which apostolic thought was thrown--a form well adapted to the wants of the time, and to the character and temperament of St. Paul. (Bp. Alexander.)
Bible reading in the Church
The solemnity of this charge suggests--
1. The coordinate authority of the Epistles with other portions of Holy Writ. The Old Testament lessons came as messages from God in the synagogue; the New Testament lessons come as the same in the church.
2. The prominent place they should occupy in public worship. Too many regard them as amongst the “preliminaries,” and treat them accordingly. Singing, prayer, reading, preaching are each of the utmost importance. If any deserve prominence it is reading, for that is the declaration of the pure Word of God.
I. How the Bible should be read in church.
1. Distinctly. When mumbled the time is simply wasted, and the people deprived of edification and comfort. Those who protest against their being read in a dead language should beware of reading them in a dead voice.
2. Reverently. Carelessness is a grave fault; it begets careless hearing. The Word read is a savour of life unto life or of death unto death. What a responsibility, therefore, rests on the reader!
3. Impressively. The art of elocution is by no means to be despised. We take all possible pains to impress our own messages on the minds of those who listen. We are pathetic, earnest, persuasive, as the case may be; how much more then should we be with the message from God?
4. Without note or comment. This should be the rule, although there may be exceptions. Comment comes naturally in the sermon. The Bible should be allowed a fair chance to do its own work. “My Word”--not a comment on it “shall not return unto Me void.” “All Scripture … is profitable for doctrine,” etc.
1. As a perpetual safeguard against heretical teaching. The preacher may err from the truth, but if the Bible be in the reading desk, the antidote is always at hand.
2. As a continual supply of teaching, comfort, and edification. If the preacher be inefficient, the reading of the lessons will do much to supply the want.
3. As an ever-recurring reminder of the duty of searching the Scriptures. It is to be feared that the Scriptural knowledge of multitudes is just what they learn on Sunday.
4. As a constant witness of God’s presence in His Church. The speaker is not far away from his speech. (J. W. Burn.)
A solemn mandate
This is not only an exhortation, but an adjuration by the Lord that must not be set aside for any consideration. What was the special reason for this serious order at Thessalonica is not stated; but it is possible that an opinion had begun to prevail even then and there that the Scriptures were designed to be kept in the hands of the ministers of religion, and that their common perusal was to be forbidden. At all events it is not unreasonable to suppose that the Holy Spirit, by whom this Epistle was dictated, foresaw that the time would come when this prohibition would be broached and upheld by certain ecclesiastics and councils, and that acted upon it would be one of the means by which a huge religious fabric would be established. Hence the mind of the apostle was supernaturally directed to give this solemn injunction, that the contents of this Epistle should be communicated without reserve to all the Christian brethren in Thessalonica.
I. The apostolic injunction is an express Divine command. All the people must have access to the Word of God. So important was this considered that it was deemed necessary to enjoin those who should receive the Word of God, under the solemnities of an oath, and by all the force of apostolic authority to communicate what they had received to others.
II. The unlimited character of this apostolic injunction. Not a single member of the Church at Thessalonica was omitted from it, whether high or low, rich or poor. The command is, indeed, that the Word of God be “read unto all the holy brethren,” but by parity of reasoning it would follow that it was to be in their hands; that it was to be ever accessible to them; that it was in no manner to be withheld from them. Probably many of them could not read, but in some way the contents of revelation were to be made known to them; and not by preaching only, but by reading the words inspired by God. No part was to be kept back; nor were they to be denied such access that they could fully understand it. It was presumed that all the members of the Church would understand what had been written to them, and to profit by it.
III. The sin of violating the injunction. If all be true we have stated, and true all is, it follows that there is great sin in all decisions and laws which are designed to keep the Scriptures from the people, and great sin in all opinions and dogmas which prevail anywhere, denying them the right of private judgment. The richest blessing of heaven to mankind is the Bible; and there is no book ever written so admirably adapted to the popular mind, and so eminently fitted to elevate the fallen, the ignorant, and the wicked; and there is no more decided enemy of the progress of the human race in intelligence and purity than he who prevents in anywise the free circulation of the Holy Volume, while there is no truer friend of his species than he who causes it to be read by all men, and who contributes to make it accessible to all the peoples of the world. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
Desire to know God’s Word
The following is an extract from a petition which was signed by 416 Roman Catholics in the vicinity of Tralee, the parents and representatives of more than 1,300 children, and presented to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Kerry in 1826:--“May it please your reverence,--We, the undersigned, being members of the Roman Catholic Church in your bishopric, beg leave to approach you with all the respect and deference due to our spiritual father, and to implore your pastoral indulgence on a subject of much anxiety to us, and of great importance to the bodies and souls of our dear children. We approach your paternal feet, holy father, humbly imploring that you will instruct the clergy to relax that hostility which many of them direct against the Scripture schools, and to suspend those denunciations and penalties which are dealt to us merely because we love our children and wish to see them honest men, loyal subjects, good Christians, and faithful Catholics. In short, permit us to know something of the Word of God, so much spoken of in these days.” (Religious Tract Society Anecdotes.)
The authenticity of the Epistle
To produce a letter purporting to have been publicly read in the Church of Thessalonica, when no such letter in truth had been read or heard of in that Church, would be to produce an imposture destructive of itself. At least it seems unlikely that the author of an imposture would voluntarily and even officiously afford a handle to so plain an objection. Either the Epistle was publicly read among the Thessalonians during Paul’s lifetime or it was not. If it was, no publication could be more authentic, no species of notoriety more unquestionable, no method of preserving the integrity of the copy more secure. If it was not, the clause would remain a standing condemnation of the forgery, and one would suppose, an invincible impediment to its success. (Archdeacon Paley.)
The witness to Christ of the oldest Christian writing
This Epistle is of peculiar interest, as being the most venerable Christian document, and as being a witness to Christian truth quite independent of the Gospels. There are no such doctrinal statements in it as in the most of Paul’s longer letters; it is simply an outburst of confidence and love and tenderness, and a series of practical instructions. But if it be so saturated as it is with the facts and principles of the Gospel, the stronger is the attestation which it gives to the importance of these. I have, therefore, thought it might be worth our while if we put this--the most ancient Christian writing--into the witness box, and see what it has to say about the great truths and principles which we call the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us hear its witness--
I. To the Divine Christ.
1. Look how the letter begins (1 Thessalonians 1:1). What is the meaning of putting these two names side by side, unless it means that Christ sits on the Father’s throne, and is Divine.
2. More than twenty times in this short letter that great name is applied to Jesus, “the Lord”--the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament Jehovah.
3. Direct prayer is offered to our Lord. Thus the very loftiest apex of revealed religion had been imparted to that handful of heathens in the few weeks of the apostle’s stay amongst them. And the letter takes it for granted that so deeply was that truth embedded in their new consciousness that an allusion to it was all that was needed for their understanding and their faith.
II. To the dying Christ.
1. As to the fact. “The Jews killed the Lord Jesus.” And then, beyond the fact, there is set forth the meaning and the significance of that fact--“God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us.” I need but mention in this connection another verse which speaks of Jesus as “He that delivereth us from the wrath to come.” It is a continuous deliverance, running all through the life of the Christian man, and not merely to be realized at the far end; because by the mighty providence of God, and by the automatic working of the consequences of every transgression and disobedience, that “wrath” is ever coming towards men and lighting on them, and a continual Deliverer, who delivers us by His death, is what the human heart needs. This witness is distinct that the death of Christ is a sacrifice, is man’s deliverance from wrath, and is a present deliverance from the consequences of transgression.
2. And if you will take this letter, and only think that it was merely a few weeks’ familiarity with these truths that had passed before it was written, and then mark how the early and imperfect glimpse of them had transformed the men, you will see where the power lies in the proclamation of the gospel. The men had been transformed. What transformed them? The message of a Divine and dying Christ, who had offered up Himself without spot unto God, and who was their peace and their righteousness and their power.
III. To the risen and ascended Christ. “Ye turned unto God … to wait for His Son from heaven whom He raised from the dead.” And again, “The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout.” The risen Christ, then, is in the heavens.
1. Remember we have nothing to do with the four Gospels here: we are dealing here with an entirely independent witness. And then tell us what importance is to be attached to this evidence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Twenty years after His death here is this man speaking about that resurrection as being the recognized and notorious fact which all the churches accepted, and which underlay all their faith. Then if, twenty years after the event, this witness was borne, it necessarily carries us back a great deal nearer to the event, for there is no mark of its being new testimony, but every mark of its being the habitual and continuous witness that had been borne from the instant of the alleged resurrection to that present time. The fact is, there is not a place where you can stick a pin in, between the resurrection and the date of this letter, wide enough to admit of the rise of the faith in a resurrection of the Church to the admission that the belief in the resurrection was contemporaneous with the alleged resurrection itself.
2. And so we are shut up to the old alternative, either Jesus Christ rose from the dead, or the noblest lives that the world has ever seen, and the loftiest system of morality that ever has been proclaimed, were built upon a lie. And we are called to believe that at the bidding of a mere unsupported, bare, dogmatic assertion that miracles are impossible. I would rather believe in the supernatural than the ridiculous. And to me it is unspeakably ridiculous to suppose that anything but the fact of the resurrection accounts for the existence of the Church and for the faith of this witness that we have before us.
IV. To the returning Christ. That is the characteristic doctrinal subject of the letter. The coming of the Master does not appear here with emphasis on its judicial aspect. It is rather intended to bring hope to the mourners, and the certainty that bands broken here may be reknit in holier fashion hereafter. But the judicial aspect is not, as it could not be, left out. And the apostle further tells us that “that day cometh as a thief in the night.” That is a quotation of the Master’s own words, which we find in the Gospels; and so again a confirmation, from an independent witness, as far as it goes, of the Gospel story. And then he goes on, in terrible language, to speak of “sudden destruction, as of travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.” These, then, are the points of this witness’s testimony as to the returning Lord--a personal coming, a reunion of all believers in Him, in order to eternal felicity and mutual gladness, and the destruction that shall fall by His coming upon those who turn away from Him. What a revelation that would be to men who had known what it was to grope in the darkness of heathendom and to have no light upon the future! I remember once walking in the long galleries of the Vatican, on the one side of which there are Christian inscriptions from the catacombs, and on the other heathen inscriptions from the tombs. One side is all dreary and hopeless, one long sigh echoing along the line of white marbles--“Vale! vale! in aeternum vale!” (“Farewell, farewell, forever farewell!”)--on the other side, “In Christo, In pace, In spe” (“In hope, in Christ, in peace”). That is the witness that we have to lay to our hearts. And so death becomes a passage, and we let go the dear hands, believing that we shall clasp them again. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Thessalonians 5". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28