2 Thessalonians 3:1
Finally, brethren, pray for us
The power of prayer
The Apostle Paul is now writing from Greece, either from Athens or from Corinth.
The note at the foot of the epistle mentions Athens. The same ancient subscription testifies that the first epistle was written from Athens. There is, however, the strongest reason for believing that both the epistles were written from Corinth; and without discussing the question we will assume that at least this second epistle was. Thus we see that Paul desired that the Word of the Lord might be as unimpededly spread and as illustrious in renown when he preached it in Corinth as when he had published it in Thessalonica.
I. And first, an apostle asking help of private Christians. God alone is really independent. Only God can say, “I am that I am.” All the creatures of God within the range of our knowledge are mutually dependent, including man, the divinest of all terrestrial beings. The highest officers which the Church of Christ has known were apostles, and those were extraordinary functionaries; yet one of these, and that the greatest, pens the words of our text, saying to the young men and to the little children in the Church of Thessalonica, “Brethren, pray for us.” The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Now, ye are the body of Christ and members in particular, and it is just this mutual dependence which is recognized in the request of Paul as embodied in the text. There are four things which are likely to make us forget our dependence upon others--gifts or endowments, office, position or standing, and past successful service. These four things--gifts, office, position, successful service--are very likely to make us forget our dependence upon others unless we be on the watch against the mischievous influences which occasionally proceed from them. And there are four things in others which tend to make us overlook the assistance they can afford us--low temporal estate (especially in these days when wealth is becoming in our churches a false god), the possession of a single or but few talents, a retiring disposition, and the not holding any office in the Church of Christ.
II. Let us look at prayer cooperating with preaching and securing its success. Who can tell what is being wrought, and what has been effected, by the ordinance represented by this Little word “pray”? In asking his friends in Thessalonica for assistance the apostle said to them “Pray.” Prayer is very different from preaching, and yet a moment’s reflection will show how they work together. Prayer speaks to God for man; preaching speaks to man for God. Prayer seeks to bring God to man; preaching aims to bring man to God. Prayer moves God towards man; preaching persuades man to seek after God. Prayer makes known unto God man’s request; preaching reveals to man God’s mind and will. Preaching casts in the seed; prayer brings the rain and the sunshine. Preaching deposits the leaven; prayer secures the hand which adds its working. Preaching utters the good tidings; prayer carries the sound to the ear and makes that all sensitive. Preaching is doing the practical work which man can do; prayer asks for what God only can do, and for that which is necessary to the success of that which the man can do. But although prayer occupies this lofty position, we are all more or less in danger of being diverted from it. Those who reason much upon religious matters are diverted by a secret scepticism. Those who are carnal and walk as men are diverted by their fondness for a quick and visible return for all their efforts. Those who think of themselves more highly than they ought to think are diverted by self-sufficiency. Those whose estimate of human nature is too valuable are diverted by their too strong expectation of what may be done by the simple presentation of the truth; for there are men so excessively simple that even now, after eighteen centuries of trial, they will tell you that if you only put God’s truth as well as you can before men they will take it in.
III. Thirdly, at a Church in a Macedonian city being requested to sympathize with a Church in a city of Achaia. This request recognizes the common relations of man and the supreme relations of Christ. Thessalonica, as the school boy knows, was a chief city of Macedonia, a then northern and Roman division of Greece, as Corinth of Achaia was the southern division of the same country. The Macedonian city had become, under the Romans, great, populous, and wealthy, and contained a large number of Jews. It has been called, very justly I think, the Liverpool of Northern Greece, on account of its commerce, ships sailing from its harbours to all parts of the then commercial world. Corinth was also a magnificent mercantile city, extremely rich and densely populated; the population consisting of Jews, Greeks, and Romans, with a smaller proportion of Jews than were found in Thessalonica. Where Thessalonica has been compared to Liverpool, Corinth has been likened to modern Paris. Now considering that the two cities were but some four or five hundred miles apart--that they were chief cities in two provinces of the same country--and that they had several national and civic features in common, the existence of sympathy, it may be said, must be taken for granted, and as scarcely worthy of remark. But would such a saying be reasonable and true? Men in great cities are generally inclined to become isolated, and exclusive, and self-absorbed. Moreover great cities are proverbially envious, and jealous, and contemptuous of each other--compare, for instance, Glasgow and Edinburgh--so that it is no small thing to have the men of one city greatly concerned for the men of another. Now Paul would have the Gentile in Thessalonica lovingly interested in the Jew of Corinth, and the Jew of Thessalonica in the Gentile of Corinth. The disposition which looks upon all men now as a family, and all Christians as a household, is preeminently the spirit of Jesus Christ, and to this Paul appeals when he writes: “Brethren, pray for us that the Word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified, even as with you.”
IV. The latter part of the text expresses the one thing to be desired wherever the Gospel is preached. This is the fourth object at which we said we would look. The language here employed is evidently derived from the public races. The word here rendered “have free course” is elsewhere translated “run.” Paul in passing from Athens to Corinth would go along the isthmus where the Grecian games were celebrated. He would see the stadia and theatre; he would look upon the busts and statues of successful competitors, and would see the very trees which yielded the corruptible crown. Accustomed, like the Great Teacher, to draw his illustrations from near sources, he would naturally use an institution which increased the fame of the renowned city. Hence he speaks of the Word of the Lord running as a racer without impediment, or as a chariot without a drag on the wheel, and being honoured and applauded at the end of the course. In plain language Paul requests the Thessalonians to pray that the Word of the Lord may speedily be communicated to man, may be cordially received, may appear to be not the word of man but the Word of God, and may produce all promised results, being universally acknowledged as worthy of all acceptation. Now these words imply that there were hindrances to the spread of the Gospel in Corinth. Some of these were peculiar to Corinth and others were common to all places. Our Lord Jesus Christ had forewarned his apostles of these obstacles when he spoke to them of the hatred and persecution which they would encounter for the Gospel’s sake, also in some of the similitudes by which he represented the kingdom of heaven, especially in the parable of the sower. Therein Christ teaches that the counteracting work of sense, the want of comprehension and appreciation in the hearers, the lack of depth of feeling, the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, the lust of other things, the wealth and pleasures of this life impede the Word. All this every hearer has more or less experienced, and every preacher more or less observed, ever since Christ spake the parable whose lessons we are quoting. Now from the commencement of his apostleship Paul saw this. Paul was not a man to look on the most pleasant side of an object. Invariably, as we all know, he turned a thing round and round, and looked at it on all sides. Heathenism and Judaism had opposed the spread of that Word in Thessalonica, especially Judaism. The Jews envied the apostles their miraculous powers and their influence over the Gentiles, and raising a fierce tumult against them, drove them from the city; but they could not banish the word of the Lord, and now in Corinth it found embodiment again. The luxury of the city, the vain show, the expensive habits of the people, the attractive immorality, the self-indulgent habits of the citizens, presented peculiar obstacles in Corinth, but the chief of them are common to all places, all races, and all ages of the world. Men do not care for any word of the Lord. They do not feel their need of this peculiar Word of the Lord that we call the Gospel. Men have their ears filled with the words of man. But, it here occurs to me that we have scarcely noticed recently what is meant by the Word of the Lord. According to the text the Word of the Lord is something definite and positive. That of which Paul speaks, is not any or every word of the Lord, but some word which, on account of its importance and blessedness, he calls “The Word.” It is the Gospel of our salvation, which is sufficiently definite to enable one to detect “another Gospel.” Now some men seem to say that the Gospel of our salvation is not definite at all. As the God revealed in the Bible is a personal God, so the Word of the Lord is a peculiar and positive revelation that Paul here actually personifies, so distinct and well defined does it appear to his eye. Then this Word of the Lord has a special mission to mankind. It needs to have free course. Its free course is like the going forth of the sun from horizon to meridian, spreading on its way light and heat, fruitfulness and life. Or, returning to the allusion of the text, its free course is like the successful running of a racer, or the driving of the charioteer, upon whose supremacy is staked, not the laurel, but liberty and life--not crowns, but the very existence of peoples and of kingdoms. Hence the prayer that the Word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified. Brethren, you who know the Word of the Lord publish it. Keep it not as a sacred trust in the treasury of your spirit. As you, then, publish the Word of the Lord, lay your account to the existence and to the manifestation of impediments. Expect to see it proceeding, sometimes, slowly as a chariot whose wheels are locked--slowly as a racer encumbered by reason of long and heavy train. Yet imagine the reverse of this--the Word of the Lord having free course. Think of this; nay, more expect this. Remove impediments by your own hands if possible; but in every instance ask the Lord who spake the Word to give His Word free course. Give others who are publishing the Word of the Lord your interest. Pray for all mothers and fathers of the land. (S. Martin.)
Prayer for ministers
If Paul with all his supernatural endowments required the prayers of God’s people, how much more ordinary ministers. The progress of the gospel is not to be attributed to the power of the minister, however great, but to the power of God in answer to prayer.
I. The nature of prayer generally.
1. Sincere desire.
2. Believing expectation of the blessings supplicated. The prayer of the man who doubts, of the heart which wavers, refuses to give glory to God by confiding in the promises He has made. But there must be some ground on which the believing expectation rests, viz., the testimony of God concerning His Son, and not mere sincerity, good character, attendance or the ordinances of religion.
3. The influence of God’s Spirit. Without the Spirit’s regenerating power, we can have no spiritual vision or believing confidence. We cannot call God “Father” but by the Spirit of adoption, and therefore cannot offer the prayer of children.
4. Petitions in accordance with the revealed will of God. It is possible to seek what God has never promised, and even what He has forbidden. It is important, therefore, not to trust our own feelings, but to rely upon God’s Word.
II. The duty of prayer for ministers in particular. Such prayer--
1. Connects devotion with public instruction. Mere critical hearing or indifferent hearing destroys the chances of edification. We should remember that we are not only in the presence of the preacher, but of the preacher’s God. When we link the pulpit to the throne, there will be a blessing in the feeblest ministrations.
2. Associates ministerial success with its true cause. There is a great danger of attributing this to the talent of the preacher, and giving the glory to man which is due to God alone. Prayer will help us to recognize the agency of God in the instrumentality of man.
3. Creates a right state of mind in regard to ministerial failure. The blame may be not his but yours. Success may be withheld not because of any failure in his powers, but in the failure of your prayers.
III. The influence of a praying people on the state of the world and the Church with regard to the diffusion of the Gospel. Prayer exercises an important influence in this direction because it--
1. Increases and maintains love to God. Prayer leads to acquaintance with God, and the more we are acquainted with God the more we shall love Him.
2. Love to man. Prayer for conversion is at once an evidence and a means of growth of that love.
3. Zeal. Without zeal there will be no success; but what promotes love to God and man will inflame zeal; and inflamed zeal gives energy to philanthropy.
4. Practical activity, which is inseparable from love and zeal.
5. Patience. Without prayer, difficulty assumes unreal proportions and begets despondency; but by prayer the believer knows that they are not unsurmountable, and works hopefully for their removal.
6. Devotedness. Prayer is the secret of entire consecration, without which there can be no success. (J. Burnet.)
The power of prayer
I once knew a minister who was constantly successful, who enjoyed a revival every year for twelve years, and could not account for it until one evening at a prayer meeting a brother confessed that for a number of years past he had been in the habit of spending every Saturday evening till midnight in prayer for his pastor the next day. That explained the secret, in part, at least. Such a man praying would make any ministry successful. (C. G. Finney, D. D.)
Prayer and success
No one can tell how much power maybe imparted to a pastor’s preaching if even one person be among his hearers whose thoughts are wrestling with God that the word may be made effective unto salvation. In a church it was noticed that for several years one young man after another became a communicant. This could not be referred to the preaching of the pastor, nor to any known agency. At last it was found that an old coloured woman who sat in the gallery had been doing this. She selected one young man whom she saw in the congregation, and made him the object of her prayers. She prayed for him in her home and when she was at church. After he united with the church she selected another. And thus for years She had been praying. This reminds us of the legend so sweetly put into verse by Adelaide Procter:
“The monk was preaching: strong his earnest word,
From the abundance of his heart he spoke,
And the flame spread,--in every soul that heard
Sorrow and love and good resolve awoke;
The poor lay brother, ignorant and old,
Thanked God that he had heard such words of gold.
‘Still let the glory, Lord, be thine alone,’
So prayed the monk, his breast absorbed in praise;
‘O Lord, I thank Thee that my feeble strength
Has been so blessed; that sinful hearts and cold
Were melted at my pleading,--knew at length
How sweet Thy service and how safe Thy fold;
While souls that love, Thee saw before them rise
Still holier heights of loving sacrifice.’
So prayed the monk, when suddenly he heard
An angel speaking thus: ‘Know, O my son,
Thy words had all been vain, but hearts were stirred,
And saints were edified, and sinners won
By his, the poor lay brother’s, humble aid
Who sat upon the pulpit stair and prayed,’”
God give us in all our churches the lay brother who prays. He is the best prayer book. (George S. Mort, D. D.)
Confidence in prayer
Upon one occasion of great difficulty, Melancthon and Luther had met together to consult about the best means to be adopted. After having spent some time in prayer, Melancthon was suddenly called out of the room, from which he retired under great distress of mind. During his absence, he saw some of the elders of the reformed church, with their parishioners and families. Several children were also brought hanging at the breast; while others a little older were engaged in prayer. This reminded him of that passage, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings has thou ordained strength, because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and avenger.” Encouraged by this pleasing scene, he returned to his friends with a mind set at liberty, and a cheerful countenance. Luther, astonished at this sudden change, said, “What now! what has happened to you, Philip, that you are become so cheerful?” “O Sirs,” replied Melancthon, “let us not be discouraged, for I have seen our noble protectors, and such as, I will venture to say, will prove invincible against every foe!” “And pray,” returned Luther, filled with surprise and pleasure, “who, and where are these powerful heroes?” “Oh!” said Melancthon, “they are the wives of our parishioners, and their little children, whose prayers I have just witnessed--prayers which I am sure our Godwill hear: for as our heavenly Father, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has never despised nor rejected our supplications, we have reason to trust that He will not in the present alarming danger.” (Scottish Christian Herald.)
That the Word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified--
The unfettered gospel
St. Paul had just prayed for the Thessalonians, he now asked them to pray for him. But it is worthy of remark that the first point mentioned has no reference to himself, but to his work. His life was in danger, and in verse 2 he begs them to pray that he may be delivered, etc.; but this was not the thing nearest his heart.
I. The Word of the Lord. What this was we may gather from the record of another missionary (Acts 10:36-43). It included the heavenly mission, miracles, life, death, resurrection and future coming of Christ, and the certainty of pardon through trust in Him.
1. How inestimable this privilege.
2. How universal.
II. Its free course. Marg. “run,” indicating progress overcoming whatever obstructions. The psalmist prayed that God’s saving health might be “known among all nations:” how much more should we, the professed servants of Him who said “Go ye into all the world,” etc. We should pray that the gospel may have free course--
1. In ourselves.
2. In our families, including servants.
3. In our neighbourhoods.
4. Among our countrymen in overgrown towns and neglected villages.
5. Among our emigrants, so many of whom go forth, no man caring for their souls, to found our colonies.
6. Among the heathen.
III. Its glorification, i.e., its eminent success. What kind of success the Apostle explains, “as it is with you.” How was that? The word of the Lord came to them--
1. In power (1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-20; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-28), as a fire burning in the conscience; as a hammer breaking their wills; as a two-edged sword, discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart. This glorious power was given to the Word by the Holy Ghost.
2. Bringing assured peace and joy. They were not merely startled by it at first, but the more they heard the more they were edified.
3. Resulting in continued obedience.
4. Ministering to the increase of holiness.
IV. The connection of prayer with all this. The gospel will not run and succeed as a mere matter of course. But prayer lays hold of the power of God which alone can--
1. Overcome difficulties. “Is anything too hard for the Lord.”
2. Make the gospel effectual in salvation. (D. Fenn.)
The glorification of the Gospel
I. The great object of Christian devotion.
1. The free and unimpeded circulation of the gospel.
2. The removal of hindrances was only a means to the end of the glorification of the gospel.
II. The duty of fervent prayer in order to its accomplishment. The connection between prayer and the success of the gospel involves many important principles.
1. Prayer honours the agency of God. If we have the ear of God we are sure of His hand. If the spirit of supplication be poured out upon us, that itself is a pledge of success. And God honours prayer because prayer acknowledges that “it is not by might, nor by power,” etc.
2. Prayer is expressly enjoined. “Ask, and it shall be given you.” “For all these things I will be inquired of,” etc.
3. All history demonstrates that the spirit of prayer is invariably connected with success. No one ever prayed for himself that did not succeed. Let this encourage the anxious inquirer. Can you refer to any praying church that was not a successful church?
4. Those engaged in promoting this object have especial claims on you. “Pray for us.” It is the prayer of the Christian minister. Like Moses of old, he is upheld in the hands of prayer.
5. In proportion to the spirit of prayer shall we cherish the spirit of activity, liberality, and zeal.
III. Known instances of success are grounds of encouragement. “As it is with you.” Not that we are to be satisfied with success; on the contrary, notwithstanding it, we have much cause for humiliation. Still humiliation is not incompatible with thanksgiving for what has been done in and by us. The apostle quotes the case of the Thessalonians as an illustration of what God can do and a pledge of what He will do. Look upon the history of your own conversion. What God can do for you He can do for every one. Conclusion: The subject--
1. Demands inquiry.
2. Encourages hope.
3. Enjoins activity. (J. Fletcher, D. D.)
The success of the gospel
I. The object proposed. That the Word of the Lord may have free course, etc.
1. By the Word of the Lord we understand that revelation of God’s will contained in the Holy Book, a revelation of every doctrine necessary to be believed, and of every duty to be practised. This is the Word of the Lord--
2. This gospel is the great instrument which is intended for human salvation. It is God’s instrument for enlightening the mind; His tender of pardon; His directory of the way to heaven. The age prior to the gospel abounded with great men; but the world by wisdom knew not God. The gospel, however, is the power of God unto salvation.
3. The object proposed is that this Word of God may have free course. Some see here a reference to the Greek races. Here is a course to be run, and the glory relates to the crown and the plaudits of the spectators. But the more natural view is that of a river. The gospel is the river of the water of life. Wherever it comes the wilderness and solitary place are made glad. Trees of righteousness laden with fruits of peace overhang its margin.
4. “And be glorified.” It is glorious in itself, but it is the manifestation of this glory that the text has in view. The Word of the Lord is glorified--
II. The means indicated. Pray for your ministers because--
1. They are instruments of God for the dissemination of the gospel. The gospel is an offer of peace and they are ambassadors of God; it is good news and they are the messengers; it is a mystery for man’s benefit and they are the stewards; the world is a field and they are the cultivators; the Church is an edifice and they are the builders. Other powers are auxiliary, e.g., Sunday schools, tract and Bible societies; but preaching leads the way and has the special sanction of Christ. In view of all this, “pray for us.”
2. They meet with many discouragements, arising from their weakness, their responsibility, and their failures.
3. The efficacy of their preaching depends upon the unction of the Spirit, and this can be secured only by prayer.
4. It is your duty. It is enjoined by God. They pray, study, preach for you; the least that can be asked is that you should pray for them.
5. It will be beneficial to yourselves. Without prayer you cannot expect to profit by their ministrations.
1. Great is the efficacy of prayer.
2. You cannot be neutral in this work. You are either for the gospel or against it, and prayer or the neglect of it will determine which. (J. Brown.)
The gospel’s conquests
A captain once rushed into the presence of the general in hot haste, and said: “General, we can never fight them, they are so numerous.” “Captain,” said the general, coolly, “we are not here to count them, but to conquer them, and conquer them we must.” And conquer them they did. (J. Ossian Davies.)
The diffusion of the gospel
It begins in the individual’s heart; and secretly, silently, but powerfully, it spreads till the whole nature is penetrated by its influence, and animated to a new character. It is silent as the dew of heaven, but as saturating also. Like a sweet stream, it runs along many a mile in silent beauty. You may trace its course, not by roaring cataracts, and rolling boulders, and rent rocks, but by the belt of verdure and fertility that extends along its margin. The fact is all great forces are silent; strength is quiet; all great things are still. It is the vulgar idea that thunder and lightning are the mightiest forces. Gravitation, which is unseen, binds stars and suns in harmony. The light which comes so silently that it does not injure an infant’s eye, makes the whole earth burst into flowers, and yet it is not heard. Thus love and truth, the compound elements of the gospel leaven, are quiet but mighty in their action; mightier far than hate, persecution, bribes, falsehood, and swords. Souls are won, not by might, or by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord of Hosts; and this Spirit is secured by the quiet efficacy of prayer. (J. Cumming, D. D.)
Spreading the gospel
At the close of the war with Great Britain I was in new York. One Saturday afternoon a ship was discovered in the offing, which was supposed to be a cartel, bringing home our commissioners at Ghent from their unsuccessful mission. The sun had set before any intelligence from the vessel had reached the city. Expectation became painfully intense as the hours of darkness drew on. At length a boat reached the wharf, announcing the fact that a treaty of peace had been signed, and was waiting for nothing but the action of our government to become law. The men on whose ears these words first fell, ran in breathless haste to repeal them to their friends, shouting as they rushed through the streets, “Peace, peace, peace!” Every one who heard the sound repeated it. From house to house, from street to street, the news spread with electric rapidity. The whole city was in commotion. Men bearing lighted torches were flying to and fro, shouting like madmen, “Peace, peace, peace!” When the rapture had partially subsided, one idea occupied every mind. But few men slept that night. In groups they were gathered in the streets and by the fireside, beguiling the hours of midnight by reminding each other that the agony of war was over. Thus every one becoming a herald, the news soon reached every man, woman and child in the city; and in this sense the whole city was evangelized. All this, you see, was reasonable and proper; but when Jehovah has offered to our world a treaty of peace, why is not a similar zeal displayed in proclaiming the good news? Why are men perishing a all around us, and no one has ever personally offered them salvation through a crucified Redeemer? (Dr. Wayland.)
The progress of Christianity
In the first 1,500 years of its history Christianity gained 100,000,000 of adherents; in the next 300 years 100,000,000 more; but in the last 100 years 210,000,000 more. Make these facts vivid. Here is a staff. Let it represent the course of Christian history. Let my hand represent 500 years. I measure off 500, 1,000, 1,500 years. In that length of time how many adherents did Christianity gain? 100,000,000. I add three finger breadths more. In that length of time how many adherents did Christianity gain? 100,000,000. In the 800 years succeeding the Reformation Christianity gained as many adherents as in the 1,500 years preceding. But I now add a single finger’s breadth to represent one century, How many adherents has Christianity gained in that length of time? 210,000,000 more. Such has been the marvellous growth of the Christian nations in our century, that in the last eighty-three years Christianity has gained more adherents than in the previous eighteen centuries. These are facts of colossal significance, and they cannot be dwelt on too graphically and too often. By adherents of Christianity I mean nominal Christians, i.e., all who are not Pagans, Mohammedans, or Jews. At the present rate of progress, it is supposed that there wilt be 1,200,000,000 of nominal Christians in the world in the year 2,000. (Joseph Cook.)
2 Thessalonians 3:2
That we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men--The curious word rendered “unreasonable” is rendered “amiss” in Luke 23:41, “wickedness” in Acts 25:5, “harm” in Acts 28:6, occurring nowhere else in the New Testament.
It properly means something “misplaced,” hence “extravagant,” “monstrous.” Thus the dying robber says that our Lord has done “nothing so monstrous” as to deserve crucifixon; Festus ironically invites the priests to a serious journey to St. Paul’s trial, “if there be something so monstrous in him”; the Maltese “say that nothing so monstrous happened to him after all.” So St. Paul wishes the Thessalonians to pray for his deliverance “from those monstrous and depraved people.” He is evidently meaning some particular foes whom he fears, for the original has the definite article. Who, then are those monstrous persons? If we turn to Acts 18:6; Acts 18:9; Acts 18:12, and observe the circumstances under which the letter was written, we can hardly doubt that they are the unbelieving Jews of Corinth. From these Jews he was narrowly delivered. It was perhaps in direct answer to the prayers for which St. Paul here asks that he received the vision and assurances of our Lord, and that Gallio was moved to quash so abruptly the proceedings of the Jews. (Canon Mason.)
A marvellous deliverance
A worthy servant of God, pastor in one of the cantons of Switzerland, took a lively interest in a prisoner condemned to death. On the evening before the execution the pastor could not account for a strange repugnance to perform a duty that he had hitherto discharged without hesitation. A voice within him seemed to say, “Do not go.” Fearing to neglect a duty, he ran to the prison. Arrived at the gate, the same irresistible voice seemed to say to him, “Do not enter.” The pastor returned to his study, assured that he was obeying the will of Him whom he desired to serve. He afterwards learned that the prisoner had resolved to make a desperate effort to escape, and as soon as the pastor entered that day, to attack him, and then escape to some place of concealment. The unhappy prisoner, exasperated by disappointment, roared with anger. The gaoler, hearing an unaccountable noise, suddenly entered the cell. The condemned man, supposing this was his intended victim, threw himself, with the fury of despair, on the gaoler, and struck him on the head with his irons. The gaoler fell dead, while the prisoner ran towards the gate to escape, and was only secured after a terrible conflict. (J. L. Nye.)
God a protector
Some years ago, a band of missionaries in the Fiji Islands found their home surrounded by a troop of savages armed for battle. Being both unable and unwilling to fight, they shut their door and began to pray. Presently the howling of the savages ceased. Then one of the missionaries went out, and found only one savage there. Said the missionary: “Where are your chiefs?” “They are gone. They heard you praying to your God; and they know yours is a strong God, and they are gone.” The savages were right at last. God is a strong God; strong to help those who love Him--strong to punish His enemies.
All men have not faith--
Lacking the essential
I. What faith is.
1. It is taking God at His word. Noah did it about a thing unknown (Hebrews 11:7); Abraham did it about a thing unlikely (Hebrews 11:17-19); Moses did it about a thing untried (Hebrews 11:28).
2. It is trusting Jesus at His invitation. The Jews who had no faith, had no profit (Hebrews 4:2); Peter who had little faith, had little comfort (Matthew 14:28; Matthew 14:30-31); the woman of Canaan, who had great faith, had a great blessing (Matthew 15:28); the centurion, who had most faith, had most honour (Matthew 8:10). Trust your souls to Christ’s care (Acts 7:59); trust your sins to Christ’s cleansing (1 Peter 1:18-19); trust your life to Christ’s keeping (Colossians 3:3-4).
II. Whence faith comes.
1. From God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8; Romans 12:3).
2. From God’s Word (Romans 10:17; 2 Timothy 3:15).
3. From God’s working (1 John 5:1; Colossians 2:12).
4. From man’s heart (Romans 10:10; Romans 6:17).
III. How faith works.
1. It overcometh the world (1 John 5:4).
2. It purifieth the heart (Acts 15:8-9).
3. It worketh by love (Galatians 5:6). Two great benefits come from faiths.
2 Thessalonians 3:3
The Lord is faithful
The faithfulness Of God
No apostle insisted more strongly on the liberty of God than St.
Paul. This is understood when we remember that he wrote to churches largely composed of Jews whose inveterate inclination was to believe that God had bound Himself to them by an inviolable and exclusive covenant. To uproot this he teaches that the covenant with Israel did not prevent God being the God of the Gentiles. But that teaching may raise a formidable objection. The freedom of God; is not that arbitrariness? No; Paul the great defender of Divine liberty is also the one who insists with most force on the Divine faithfulness, that attribute which affirms that God is without shadow of turning. The two truths thus balance each other.
I. The Lord is faithful--has not God written that thought in all His works? Do we not each spring read it in the renewed nature?
1. Alas I we can count on that faithfulness and not recognize its source. The peasant who, perhaps, has never bent his knee to God, turns up the ground, confides the grain to its furrows, and awaits the future with confidence. The atheist who denies the sovereign ordainer believes in universal order in nature. The scientist counts so on the exactitude of the laws of nature that a thousand years beforehand he announces the minute when two stars will meet in space. Everything in our plans for the future rests on the confidence that what God has done until now, He will do again. Yet the carnal man stays himself in this very fidelity in order to dispense with God, and because everything happens as it did in the time of his fathers, he infers the uselessness of prayer. The very faithfulness which ought to fill him with gratitude serves as an excuse for his unthankfulness.
2. What then is necessary that God’s action may be manifested? That He interrupts the course of His benefits? This He does sometimes, and with what results? Man says “Chance alone governs us.” Thus whatever God does, man succeeds in eluding Him. If order reigns, the sinner says “I can dispense with God”; if disorder occurs, “There is no God.”
II. God’s faithfulness appears in the moral order.
1. What are moral laws? Not variable commands which God is able to change when He likes, but expressions of His very nature, “Be ye holy for I am holy.”
2. This being so, I can understand why God cannot contradict Himself, and that at all costs His law must be accomplished. You would regard him as a fool who would trifle with steam, but look without terror on the sinner who violates the Divine will. Yet which is the most certain. I can conceive of a world where the law of gravity does not exist, but not one where, by the will of God, evil would be good. I cannot believe, without tearing my conscience in two, that if the seed buried in the soil must appear, yet what a man sows he will not reap.
3. On what does the confidence of the greater part of men rest? On the idea that God’s justice is never vigorous. Who told us so? Sinners interested in believing it. But is a criminal to witness in his own cause and pronounce his own verdict? Let us not abase God by such an idea under the pretext that He is good. God is faithful to Himself, cannot give the lie to His holiness, and according to His immutable laws sin must entail suffering.
4. Though all sinners should agree in denying God’s judgment that will not hinder them from being carried each minute towards the judgment which awaits them. I can believe everything except that God ceases to be holy; and convicted of that, the only suitable prayer is “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
5. There is the admission the gospel wishes to draw from us. And when repentant men by faith throw themselves on the Divine mercy, they find in God a reconciled Father, and the thought of His faithfulness becomes the source of the firmest assurance, and the sweetest consolation.
6. God’s faithfulness, like the wilderness pillar, is at once dark and light: to the sinner it is justice, to the penitent mercy.
7. Not that God in pardoning sacrifices His righteousness; righteousness has received this sanction on the Cross.
8. But will not such a doctrine countenance presumption. Yes, just as if you take one of the elements out of air you can make it poison. But the perversity of man must not prevent us from preaching God’s mercy. For wherever that was believed it has produced obedience. Do you encounter the most lax lives among those who believe most in the love of a faithful God? The danger is in believing in it too little. At the time of the errors of your youth, did the pure and holy kiss of your mother make you indifferent and trifling? Inspire an army, weak and demoralized, with a steadfast confidence in its general, and they are already half-way to triumph; and the Christian’s cry of victory is “The Lord is faithful.”
III. What part does this faithfulness play in our lives?
1. Have you understood it? Is there anything below more beautiful than a faithful attachment? Ah, perhaps you enjoyed it yesterday. That happiness was only lent you for a few days. Sooner or later the strongest and tenderest ties must be broken; but if you have known them only for a single day, you have caught a glimpse of the faithfulness of God.
2. The Lord is faithful. Lay hold of that word and oppose it--
Divine faithfulness and Christian obedience
I. Encouragement to depend upon God.
1. The Divine Promiser. “The Lord is faithful” to His promises, and is the Lord who cannot lie (Numbers 23:19), who will not alter the thing that is gone out of His mouth. He is faithful to His relation to us, to His own truth, to His own character. Men may be faithless and false, but God never. They may refuse to embrace the gospel, and set themselves against it, but God will not abandon His great purpose on which He has set His heart, and on which He has pledged His word. Even many who are members of the Church may forget their sacred and solemn vows, and may show no fidelity to the cause of their Redeemer, but God Himself will never abandon that cause. To a pious mind it affords unspeakably more consolation to reflect that a faithful God is the friend of the cause which we love, than it would were all men, in and out of the Church, its friends.
2. The Divine Performer. When once the promise has been made, performance is sure and certain. There may be indifference in man on the one hand, and opposition on the other, “but the Lord will work, and who shall let it?” and the result will correspond both with the work and the Worker.
II. A further ground of encouragement.
1. Their obedience in the past. The Apostle had, in the Lord’s stead, commanded them to do certain things, and for the Lord’s sake they had done all they were commanded to do. They were not like Saul, the first king of Israel, who, tempted by Satan, preferred rather to do as he wished than as he was divinely directed, not knowing then that obedience was better than all the sacrifices ever offered to the Lord, and hearkening to Him than the fat of countless rams (1 Samuel 15:16-23).
2. Their obedience in the future. The experience the Apostle had of their obedience in the time past was firm ground for his confidence that they would do the things commanded them for the time to come, and it was also firm ground to hope that whatever they asked of God they should receive from Him, because they kept His commandments, and did those things that were pleasing in His sight (1 John 3:22; 1 John 5:14-15).
3. But chiefly the Apostle’s confidence in them was founded upon his confidence in God. Though they had done well in the past, they might, some time or other, weary in well-doing; but the Lord would remain faithful; and though heaven and earth might pass away, not one jot or tittle of His word would fail. “The foundation of the Lord is sure.” (D. Mayo.)
The certainty of final salvation
I. The faithfulness of God.
1. God is faithful to His covenant engagements (Hebrews 10:23).
2. Faithful to His Son Jesus Christ (Hebrews 7:21-22; Hebrews 8:6).
3. Faithful to His redeemed people (Isaiah 49:15).
4. Christ is faithful as a Mediator (Hebrews 2:17).
5. The Spirit is faithful in His administration (1 Corinthians 1:9).
II. The establishment of the Church.
1. To fix and settle our faith in Christ (Colossians 2:7).
2. To confirm the understandings of His people in His truth (Colossians 2:2).
3. Establishing them in the fulfilment of His promises (2 Corinthians 1:20).
4. To bring to a good issue all that concerns us (Psalms 73:24).
5. To give fixation to our love in Him (2 Corinthians 1:21).
This establishment is--
1. By the written Word.
2. By the preached Word.
3. By the sacraments.
4. By Divine ordinances.
5. But always by His Holy Spirit.
III. The Divine preservation of His people.
1. From the torments of the damned (Job 33:24).
2. From the condemnation of the law (Romans 8:1).
3. From the anger of God (Isaiah 12:1),
4. From the injury done by persecutions (Micah 4:10),
5. From sin and overcoming temptations (2 Peter 2:9).
He will keep them--
1. In sickness (Psalms 41:3),
2. In health (1 Corinthians 3:21-22),
3. In fear (1 Corinthians 2:8),
4. In peace (Isaiah 26:12),
5. In war (Romans 8:37).
6. In their bodies (Romans 8:13),
7. In their souls (1 Corinthians 3:16).
8. In ordinances (Exodus 20:24).
9. In providences (Romans 8:28).
10. In life and death (1 Corinthians 15:57),
11. And forever (John 6:51). (T. B. Baker.)
Who shall stablish you--
The established Christian character
I. The Christian is to be established. Consider what this means--
1. Progress. The foundation is laid; now the superstructure must be built upon it.
2. Fixity. The progress is not that of a flowing river, but that of a building in the course of erection. We are to hold fast what we have attained. A periodic unsettlement, pulling down to day what we built up yesterday, will have a poor result.
3. Strength. The building is to be no mere bower of branches, no tent of the wilderness, for temporary occupation, but a permanent, solid house in the eternal city of God. It will have to stand the stress of wind and weather.
4. Order. That which is established is not heaped together in a rude formation, like the cyclopean walls seen in granite mountains. The true building follows the designer’s plan. The Christian life must be built on the pattern of its great Architect.
5. Elevation. The house is built up. We raise the structure tier after tier. So in Christian life we should rise nearer heaven. Like the soaring pinnacles of a Gothic cathedral, the latest aspirations of the Christian experience should rise far above the earth and point to the sky.
6. Room for contents. The house has its inhabitants and furniture. The established Christian should have room for Divine stores of truth and holy thought, and for thief and fire proof safes which can keep his treasures in security. The complete building is not to be a solid pyramid for the sole purpose of hiding the mummy of its owner, but a glorious temple in which God may dwell.
II. The Christian is to be established by God. Men tried to raise the tower of Babel up to heaven, but failed in their pride and self-will. We cannot build up our own characters. God is the great Builder, and He is raising the structure of the Christian life by all the discipline of daily experience.
1. Truth. Solid character must be built of solid materials--realities, facts, truths. By His revelations in nature, the Bible, Christ, God brings the stones of truth with which to establish our characters.
2. Work. The human building, unlike the material, is not inactive. Character is built up by means of service. God sets us this, and raises us from childish pettishness to manly largeness of soul by the discipline of duty.
3. Trial. Trouble and temptation help to wedge the character into place, as the arch is strengthened by the very weight laid upon it, driving its stones more closely together.
4. Spiritual grace. We are built up from precious stones hewn in the quarries of the everlasting hills of God, not from the clay bricks of earth. The great Builder brings His own heavenly materials.
III. The establishment of the Christian is assured by the faithfulness of God.
1. It is not yet accomplished. It took forty years to build Herod’s temple. It takes well nigh twice forty years to establish the characters of some of God’s children. Nay, who shall say that the process is completed when brief life is done? Christian people die in all stages of imperfection and partial progress. Are they to be fixed forever in these initial conditions, half a column here, a wall commenced there, arches not yet locked with their key stones? There must be a continued establishing in the future life, till the last golden spire gleams aloft in the cloudless blue of heaven.
2. How do we know that this will ever be realized? We are often tempted to despair at our own slow progress. Now it is much to be assured that it is all assured by the faithfulness of God. Of course, this implies our continued faithfulness. The whole tenor of God’s Word implies that He will not abandon the good work He has commenced. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
The soul’s establishment and safety secured by the faithfulness of God
I. The promise.
(a) A wave of the sea.
(b) A house built on the sand.
(c) A plant that has no root.
II. The foundation of the promise.
1. There are several ways of denying God--grossly by atheism, practically by ungodliness, mentally by want of trust in His faithfulness.
2. Faithfulness is the glory of Deity.
3. This perfection makes all His threatenings certain as to their accomplishment. Look at the flood, Sodom, Babylon, Jerusalem! Was He not faithful to His threatenings in these, instances?
4. But it is the foundation of all His promises. “He cannot deny Himself.”
1. What a sweetness there is in this truth! We may be weak and in danger, but here is the promise. And remember who gives it; Jehovah Himself. In God’s dealings there is always something that exhibits His own grandeur. He establishes and defends just like Himself.
2. Seek these blessings, and remember the means of securing them. God gives them, but we must pray and watch.
3. These blessings come in God’s way, not yours. The unlikeliest ways may be the best. (J. H. Evans.)
And keep you from evil--
An effectual guard
The expression imports an effectual guard. We know what the garrison of a city is; to keep watch by night and by day, summer and winter, in the brightest sunshine and the thickest midnight, foul weather and fair, from the beginning of the year to the end. The protection of the city is its guard. We know the comfort, peace and well-being of the inhabitants of that city stand most intimately connected with their indoor arrangements; but if you ask what is the security of the city, it is not their domestic arrangements--it is the guard of the city. Thus is it with the people of God. How much there stands connected with the watchfulness of God’s saints, as to their peace and well-being and holy walking, no language of mine can ever describe. “Keep thy heart with all diligence,” says the wise man. “What I say unto you I say unto all,” says our blessed Lord; “watch.” And by His apostle--“Watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication.” But if you ask who is the Guardian of the city, he gives but a blind answer who will say anything short of a covenant God. Let me just refer you to the hundred and twenty-seventh Psalm. “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” I would pray that yours might be that state of watchfulness, that the outgoings of thought might be watched over, the first elements of evil and the first mark of spiritual declension: but I would have you live upon this as a cardinal truth never to be lost sight of--that the Guard of the city is Jehovah Himself--Father, Son, and Holy Ghost--the covenant God of Israel. The expression is most blessedly extensive: “The Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you and keep you from evil.” Is it evil men? He “will keep you.” Is it Satan, the evil one? Is it sin, the evil thing? He
“will keep you;” for there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. From its reigning power He “will keep you” and that, by the power of His love “shed abroad in your heart through the Holy Ghost.” And He “will keep you” from its in being, in that happy world, where you shall have to sing the praises of this triune God throughout an endless eternity. (J. H. Evans.)
2 Thessalonians 3:5
The lord direct your hearts into the love of god, and into the patient waiting for christ
There are many kinds of elevation that man aspires to.
1. Mercantile elevation: men struggle to become the leading merchants of the age.
2. Civic: men strive hard for the posts of magistrate, mayor, statesman, premier.
3. Ecclesiastical: men labour to attain the posts of canon, dean, bishop. But all these involve not the true elevation of man. What, then, is true elevation?
I. A certain state of heart in relation to the Divine.
1. “The love of God”--the love of gratitude for the kindest Being, the love of reverence for the greatest Being, the love of adoration for the holiest and best Being. And all this is supreme. Thus centreing the soul on God we dwell in love, and therefore dwell in Him.
2. “Waiting for Christ.” Looking forward and anticipating His advent to release us from all the sorrows and sins of this mortal state. This waiting requires patience: the wheels of His chariot seem to tarry.
II. A certain state of heart produced by the Divine. “The Lord direct your hearts.” The hearts of men in their unregenerate state are everywhere but in this direction, they are as sheep that have gone astray, prodigals that have left their Father’s house, stars that have wandered from their orbits. Who shall bring them back? None can but the Almighty. Ministers may argue and entreat, but unless the Lord come to work their labour is all in vain. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Love and patience
1. This prayer bears that peculiar triune stamp which we often meet, and which cannot be satisfactorily accounted for save on the theory of a Trinity in all Christian supplication. The Holy Ghost is always to be regarded as referred to when a Third Person joins the Father and the Son.
2. The prayer is one of those terse sentences which exhibit all religion in a symmetrical pair of counterparts, the precise relation of which is shown by the context.
I. The love of god is exhibited under two aspects in the New Testament.
1. Our love to God; but that is not here meant. When the Apostle makes that the object of prayer, he asks it as a benediction of God.
2. It means here God’s love to us.
II. The patience of christ.
1. The Apostle prays literally for the steadfastness of patience of which Christ is at once the source, example, and reward. “Patient waiting for” or “patience for the sake of” Christ would have required different words, although both meanings are included and are appropriate. The Divine Spirit does direct the souls of believers into tranquil and earnest expectation of Christ’s coming, and into the patient endurance of trials for His sake. But the specific meaning here is, that it may please the Lord to remove every hindrance to our perfect union with Christ in His example of obedience unto death.
2. Our way is directed into this patience when we are led into self-renouncing submission, when all things that minister to earthly mindedness are put away, and when we are brought into fellowship with His mind, who “endured the cross” for the joy that was set before Him.
3. We can offer no more important prayer than that we may have our self-will bound, and be girded and led by Another into the way of our Saviour’s self-sacrifice.
III. The full force of the prayer is not felt unless we unite its two branches. Love and patience are here for the first and last time joined.
1. In our salvation their union has its most impressive exhibition. The mercy of the Father reaches us only through the endurance of the Son: at the Cross the love of God and the patience of Christ are blended in the mystery of their redeeming unity; and only that union saved the world.
2. The mercy of God waits on the free will of man with a patience that owes its long-suffering to the intercession of Christ.
3. The economy of grace provides the full power of the love of God for the progressive salvation of the saints, waiting for their full conformity to holy law with a patience that is the most precious fruit of the Redeemer’s passion.
4. Eternal glory will be the last demonstration of the love of God and the crowning victory of the patience of Christ.
IV. We must regard this combination as the object of our prayer. With St. Paul, all that the Christian needs for the struggle and victory of life is the love of God in the heart as an active principle, and the patience of Christ as a passive grace. But the form of the prayer shows that he did not separate the two as much as we do. All duty and resistance find their strength in the love of God, and must be perfected in the patience of Christ In due time the patience of Christ shall be lost in the “partaking of Christ,” and the great surviving grace, the love of God in us, will abide forever. (W. B. Pope, D. D.)
The love of God and the patience of Christ
I. The love of god is employed in three senses--God’s love to us; our love to Him; and Divine love in us, i.e., a love like God’s. The latter is probably the meaning here. What then is God’s love? And may the Divine Spirit direct us into the enjoyment of it. God’s love is--
1. The very Being of God; and when love is the supreme and dominating motive and energy in us, swaying all the powers and manifesting itself to the utmost, we are directed into the love of God.
2. Comprehensive: it knows no limit. So our love, if Divine, will not be fettered by circumstances or the character of the objects. Like God’s, it will be discriminating, and discern differences in moral character, but it will seek the good of all.
3. Unstinting. God gave His only-begotten Son--this is the characteristic of true love everywhere. It never calculates the cost, and when the best is done there is the willingness to do more.
4. Constant in its manifestation: it never wearies or ceases: And Divine love in man knows no discouragement, is baffled by no obstacles, succumbs to no injury.
II. The patience of Christ--a patience like Christ’s. How much this is needed is shown by the fact that Christ our example was and is patient, and taught patience by word and life.
1. To understand this we must travel beyond the millenniums to the foundation of the world when, the Lamb to be slain was foreordained for sacrifice. Then over the long centuries during which sin held sway when the Son was waiting for the fulness of time. And then during that earthly life in which he endured unimaginable suffering waiting for the accomplishment of His baptism. Then waiting for Pentecost; and now waiting with unwearied patience until those in Christian countries who are resisting the Spirit shall yield, and those in heathen lands shall own His sway, and those who profess to be His people shall consecrate themselves wholly to His work.
2. It is a patience something like that we want. And if Christ can afford to work and wait, surely we can. What are you? A Sunday school teacher? A preacher? A church officer? Working, praying, your heart discouraged, and sometimes ready to question whether the glad day will ever dawn? He can be patient; be patient with Him and like Him. The counsel of the Lord, it shall stand. (G. W. Olver, B. A.)
The love of God
I. The natural feelings of the heart towards god. Originally man delighted in God; but the moment he sinned, fear and distrust entered his mind, and he became a “child of wrath.” Notice--
1. Man’s enmity against God, “the carnal mind,” etc. We think it would be a happy thing were there no God to trouble us. It is this feeling that makes prayer burdensome instead of delightful, and duty irksome instead of a means of happiness. And so men converse with God, and do for Him as little as possible.
2. The consequent misery of man. Cut off from the fountain of happiness, he hews broken cisterns, and places his delight in the disappointing creature instead of the unchangeable Creator.
II. The mind of God toward men in this condition. Consider--
1. The love of God to sinners. This is the true source of His dealings with men, and His love is not like ours, but disinterested, free, costly, pure. How we wrong it when we try to merit it! “God commendeth His love,” etc.
2. The effects of this love.
III. The heart directed into this love.
1. The means. Ample provision is made for its enjoyment. No man can direct his own heart, nor his parent or minister. But Christ has given His Spirit who can change the heart by directing it into the love of God. This Spirit is secured by prayer.
2. The consequence. Love begotten in our hearts to God and men. (E. Bickersteth.)
The love of God
It is sometimes difficult when we meet the expression, “the love of God,” to discriminate whether it means God’s love to us, or our love to God. But the truth is, they are one and the same thing. We cannot love God, but as He loves us; it is the consciousness of His love to us which makes our to Him. Just as any object I see is only an image of the object formed on the retina of my eye, so whatever love I feel is only the reflection of the love of God laid upon my heart; and the ray which lays the image is the Spirit of God. The love of the saints in heaven is the brightest and truest because the Original is nearest and dearest. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Waiting for the second Advent
The first epistle was written to correct certain enthusiastic views concerning that advent; but the second tells us that the effort had failed. For meanwhile a forged epistle (2 Thessalonians 2:2), asserting that the day was near, opened the floodgates of fanaticism. Consequently men forsook their employments, and, being idle, indulged in useless discussions and in prying curiously into the affairs of others. Hence the injunctions (1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-8). Moreover two opposite lines of conduct were adopted by persons of different temperament. Some greedily received every wild tale about the advent; others perceiving that there was so much imposture, concluded that it was safest to believe nothing. To the first Paul says, “Prove all things,” etc.; to the second, “Quench not the Spirit,” etc. These opposite tendencies of scepticism and credulity will be found near together in all ages; some refusing to believe that God speaks in the signs of the times; others running after every book on prophecy, and believing anything providing it be marvellous. To meet this feverish state Paul takes two grounds. He first points out the signs which will precede the advent; self-idolatry, excluding the worship of God--sinful humanity “the man of sin.” These signs worked then and now. Next Paul called the Church to a real preparation for that event in the text. The preparation is twofold.
I. The love of God.
1. The love of God is the love of goodness. God is the Good One--personified goodness. To love God is to love what He is.
2. The love of God is the love of man expanded and purified. We begin with loving men. Our affections wrap themselves round beings created in God’s image--then they widen in their range. “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another … His love is perfected in us.” “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen,” etc. An awful day is coming. How shall we prepare for it? Not by unnatural forced efforts at loving God, but by persistence in the appointed path of our common attachments. “Inasmuch as ye did it unto the least of these,” etc.
3. It is not merely love of goodness, but love of goodness concentrated on the Good One. Nor merely love of man, but love of man expanded into love of Him in whom all that is excellent in men is perfect.
II. Patient waiting.
1. What is waited for? There are many comings of Christ, in the incarnation, at the destruction of Jerusalem, as a spiritual presence when the Holy Ghost was given in every signal manifestation of redeeming power, in any great reformation of morals and religion, in revolutions which sweep the evil away to make way for good, at the end of the world, when the spirit of all these comings will be concentrated. Thus we may see in what way Christ is ever coming and ever near, and how the early Church was not deceived in expecting Christ. He did come, though not in the way they expected.
2. What is meant by waiting? Throughout St. Paul’s writings, the Christian attitude is that of expectation--salvation in hope. Not a perfection attained, but one that is to be. The golden age lies onward. We are longing for, not the Church of the past, but that of the future. Ours is not yearning for the imaginary perfection of ages gone by, nor a conservative content with things as they are, but hope. It is this spirit which is the preparation for the advent.
3. It is patient waiting. Every one who has longed for any spiritual blessing knows the temptation to impatience, “Where is the promise of His coming?” The true preparation is not having correct ideas of how and when He shall come, but being like Him (1 John 3:3).
III. The Lord will direct us into this. Not an infallible human teacher, but God. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Love begets love
Love begets love. It is a process of production. You put a piece of iron in the mere presence of an electrified body, and that piece for a time becomes electrified. It becomes a temporary magnet in the presence of a permanent magnet, and as long as you leave the two side by side, they are both magnets. Remain side by side with Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us, and you too will become a permanent magnet--a permanent attractive force; and like Him you will draw all men--be they white men or black men--unto you. That is the inevitable effect of love. Any man who fulfils that cause must have that effect produced in him. Gentlemen, give up the idea that religion comes to us by chance, or by mystery, or by caprice. It comes to us by natural law; or by supernatural law, for all law is Divine. Edward Irving went to see a dying boy once, and when he entered the room, he just put his hand on the sufferer’s head, and said, ”My boy, God loves you,” and went away. And the boy started from his bed, and he called out to the people in the house, “God loves me! God loves me!” One word; one word! It changed that boy. The sense that God loved him had overpowered him, melted him down and begun the making of a new heart. And that is how the love of God melts down the unlovely heart in us, and begets in us this new creature, who is patient and humble and unselfish. And there is no other way to get it. There is no trick about it. Oh, truth lies in that!--we love others, we love everybody, we love our enemies, because He first loved us. (Prof. Drummond.)
A brief prayer for great things
Two blessings only are here prayed for, but they are of transcendent moment.
I. That the hearts of the Thessalonians might be brought into the love of God. To be in love with God as the most excellent and suitable Being--the best of all beings, is not only most reasonable and necessary in order to happiness, but is happiness itself. It is the chief part of the beatitude of heaven where this love will be made perfect. But none can ever attain to this unless the Lord, by His grace and Spirit, direct the heart aright; for the love of the best creature is apt to go astray after other things. Great damage is sustained by misplacing the affections upon Wrong objects; but if He who is infinitely above and before all things, control and fix the love of the heart on Himself, the rest of the affections will thereby be rectified.
II. That a patient waiting for Christ might be joined with this love of God. There is no true love of God without faith in Christ. To wait for Christ, supposeth faith in Him--that He came to our world once in flesh, and will come again in glory. This second coming must be expected, and careful preparation must be made for it. There must be a patient waiting, enduring with courage and constancy all that may be met with in the interval. We not only have great need of patience, but of great need of Divine grace to exercise it--“the patience of Christ,” as some interpret the words, that is--patience for Christ’s sake and after Christ’s example. (R. Fergusson.)
St. Paul’s Kindness
The Apostle meant only to express a benevolent wish on behalf of the Church at Thessalonica: but he expressed it in such terms as a person habituated to the doctrine of the Trinity would naturally use: he prayed that the Lord the Spirit would direct their hearts into the love of God the Father, and into the patient waiting for Christ.
I. The objects of the apostle’s wish. A very little observation of the world is sufficient to convince us that the love of God is not the supreme passion of mankind, nor a due preparation for a final advent of Christ. Nevertheless, to possess this state of heart and mind is essential to the Christian character. Of ourselves we never shall, or can, attain to this. In full persuasion of this fact, St. Paul poured out the benevolent aspiration that the Christians to whom he wrote might experience more deeply the truths they possessed.
II. The reasons of that wish. Among the most important of these were doubtless two.
1. The attainment of such a state would prove highly conducive to their present happiness. This the Apostle knew: he knew it from the universal tenor of the Holy Scripture (Psalms 63:5; Matthew 5:3-12); and he knew it from his own experience (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
2. It was also indispensably necessary to their eternal welfare. What is a Christian without the love of God? He cannot call himself a disciple of Christ who has no delight in following the steps of Christ, or in looking forward to His future advent. Application--
2 Thessalonians 3:6
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly
The needs be for this command. Rather abruptly, the Apostle turns from a very important and pleasant subject to one of a totally different character--the proper method of treating those who were idle and disorderly in the Church. He had adverted to this subject in his previous epistle, but in the mild language of exhortation. When he wrote to the Thessalonians, he was aware that there were some among them who were disposed to be idle, and he had tenderly exhorted them “to be quiet, and to mind their own business, and to work with their own hands.” But it seems that the exhortation, and the example of Paul himself when at Thessalonica, had not been effectual in inducing them to be industrious. It, therefore, became necessary to use the strong language of command, and to require that if any members would not work, the Church should take due action concerning them. What was the original cause of their idleness is not known. There seems no reason, however, to doubt that it was much increased by their expectation that the Saviour would soon appear, and that the world would soon come to an and. If this was to be so, of what use would it be to labour? Why strive to accumulate property with reference to the wants of a family, or to a day of sickness, or to the requirements of old age? Why should a man build a house that was soon to be burnt up? Or why buy a farm which he was soon to leave? The effect of the expectation of the speedy coming of the Lord Jesus has alway been to induce men to neglect their worldly affairs, and lead idle lives. Man, naturally disposed to be idle, wants the stimulus of hope that he is labouring for the future weal of himself, his family, or society; nor will he labour if he believes that the Lord is just about to appear.
II. The authority for the command. “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” says the Apostle, using all the appellations of his Divine Master to stamp his mandate with full authority. By thus using “the name,” he means that he was acting on the behalf of Christ, or by His commission or power (Acts 3:6; 2 Corinthians 2:10). A judge occupies the seat of justice on behalf of the monarch who rules the kingdom, and pronounces judgment in his stead on the guilty. But St. Paul’s authority was higher than that from the kings of the earth; it was authority derived from the Divine Head of the Church, and his command therefore was paramount.
III. The matter of the command. “That ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.” This is the true notion of Christian discipline toward an erring member. Cease to have fellowship with him: do not regard him any longer as a Christian brother. No effort to affect him in any other respect must be made: neither name nor standing must be injured; nor must he be held up to reprobation, or followed with a spirit of revenge. When he shows that he is no longer worthy to be recognized as a Christian brother, leave him to himself and his God. Peradventure God may bring him to repentance. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
Withdrawal from the disorderly
The striking word “withdraw” is, in its simple form, found only besides in 2 Corinthians 8:20. In a still more striking compound it occurs in Acts 20:20-27; Galatians 2:12; Hebrews 10:38. It is a metaphor from the language of strategy; a cautious general shrinking from an engagement and timidly drawing off under cover. Perhaps we might illustrate it by the familiar “fight shy.” A social excommunication rather than ecclesiastical seems chiefly meant, though the latter might be involved. The word “disorderly” is rendered “unruly” in 1 Thessalonians 5:14. The kind of irregularity is made clear in verses 10, 11. Bengel quaintly makes this an opportunity for denouncing the Mendicant Orders. “An order of mendicants is not an order; if the Thessalonians had bound themselves to it by a vow, what would Paul have said?” (Canon Mason.)
Withdrawal from such as walk disorderly
1. The matter of the text is separation from those that walk out of line, and keep not their ranks: a word borrowed from military discipline, which requires every soldier to march in his file. But because there can be no irregularity without a rule, and no disorder where no orders have been given, the Apostle explains that he means those who walk not after the tradition, etc., i.e., the doctrine of the apostle. The following therefore are branded--
2. To this we are bound by an express and urgent command, on authority the most absolute and sovereign; but we are reminded that the sinner is still a brother.
I. State the duty.
1. Cases wherein we are not bound to with draw from them that walk disorderly.
(a) Watchfulness over the heart and actions when in wicked company even with a design of doing good, else we may get the infection instead of curing it.
(b) That we venture not unless we have good grounds for the hope that we shall do them good. This we may expect if we have prudence enough to divert them, authority enough to affright them, or reverence enough to overawe and shame them. Otherwise it is hazardous whether we shall keep our conscience safe or maintain our zeal.
(a) Christ ate with Judas (Luke 22:20-21; Mark 14:23).
(b) Admitting the contention, your duty is not to withdraw yourselves but to remove them.
If you have followed out Matthew 18:15-16, the offender will be removed by the proper authority, or if not you do not partake of his sin by partaking of the same ordinance.
2. Cases in which we are bound to withdraw.
(a) We ought to distinguish between our brother’s person and his vices, and neither hate nor love the one for the other. He who loves his person for his vices is a devil; he who loves his vices for his person is a flatterer; he who hates his vices for his person is a murderer; and he who hates his person for his vices is unchristian (Leviticus 19:17). This duty is difficult, and can only be done by using the utmost efforts to reclaim our brother, for thereby we express our hatred of his sins by seeking to destroy them, and our love for his person by seeking to save him.
(b) We must not withdraw the civility which is due to his station, nor refuse the offices of humanity. The one is not religion but rudeness, and the other unnatural. Religion teaches not churlishness but obligingness.
II. Reasons to enforce this duty.
1. It is an act of the greatest love to their persons. We are not to separate out of spite or peevishness, but out of goodwill, it being the last and probably the most effectual means of reclaiming them (verse 14).
2. It is an act of self-protection. There is no plague so catching as sin, for--
III. Application. Ought we to withdraw from those that walk disorderly? Then--
1. Let not wicked men condemn conscientious Christians as though they were proud or unsociable.
2. Let this serve to break all combinations of wicked men. God has prescribed this rule, and converse not regulated by it is conspiracy against heaven. Flee then from wicked companions.
3. See the misery of the wicked. They are deemed unfit for Christian society on earth, much more for that society in heaven.
4. Christians! be exhorted to withdraw.
4. Christians I so demean yourselves that the wicked shall see that your company is the more desirable.
(a) Some pretend to be very exact in giving every one his due--and triumph over those professors who do not.
(b) Others brag of their courtesy and affability.
(c) Others of their love and agreement among themselves.
(d) Others of their charity and good works. (E. Hopkins, D. D.)
Withdrawal from the disorderly
A military metaphor lies in the latter word (1 Thessalonians 5:14). It describes the unruly as men who are not in their places in the ranks of the Christian army, men who are setting aside the strict rules of discipline, thereby causing disorder and courting disaster. In every such case of insubordination the offender is to be first warned (1 Thessalonians 5:14); but continued contumacy is to be punished by withdrawal. In this word some see a nautical figure, suitable to a maritime and commercial community like the Thessalonians, and we have such a figure in 2 Thessalonians 2:2. It would thus mean, “As you take in your sails to steer clear of a rock or reef, so give a wide berth to every disorderly brother. He and all like him are hidden rocks of danger” (Jude 1:12, R.V.). But it is better to take the metaphor as military, and a natural continuation of the previous one. Thus understood it suggests a strategic movement--the withdrawing, prudent and cautious, but not necessarily timid, on the part of a general with his soldiers from the enemy. It is wise to withdraw from such stragglers out of the ranks; they give the Christian army a bad name, they exert a bad influence, lower the general feeling, and retard progress. They have, therefore, to be avoided even more than if they were openly ranged on the opposite side. They are the most dangerous of foes who belong to the ranks and yet are out of them. It is the disorderly brother and not the heathen who is to be shunned; yet although thus severely treated, he is to be looked upon as a brother after all (2 Thessalonians 2:15). (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
Coming clear out
Ko-san-lone, a converted Chinese, when in America on a visit, was deeply impressed with the little difference he saw between the style of living of many professing Christians and the people of the world. Adverting to the matter on one occasion, he said, making at the same time a large sweep with his arm, “When the disciples in my country come out from the world, they come clear out.”
2 Thessalonians 3:7-9
For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us
Apostolic example and precept concerning industry
Paul found it expedient on many accounts to commend industry.
2. St. Paul, therefore, recommended industry by precept and example. He had a strong claim to maintenance as an apostle of Christ, and especially to the Gentiles, and a very small sum would have been sufficient for a man who only required food and raiment. Yet he chose to waive this right, and laboured night and day rather than eat any man’s bread for nought. Such a person, therefore, might well lay the stress he does here on labour; elsewhere he condemns what we should regard as carelessness or indolence, denial of the faith and infidelity. Consider this example as a precept of industry in--
I. Our worldly callings. This is necessary, because--
1. We came naked and destitute, both physically and mentally, into the world. But both body and soul are designed by God, the one to improve in understanding and the other to increase in strength. Thus, by the voice of nature, God teaches us to be improvable and industrious beings.
2. The Scriptures echo the voice of reason, and command and commend industry throughout.
3. God has made us dependent on others, and teaches us, by the voice of reason, that we ought in return to promote the welfare of others.
4. The Gospel commands us to do good--i.e., what an idle person has not the power or inclination to perform. He who is negligent of his own interests will hardly be serviceable to others.
5. Whosoever is slothful in business will be a slothful Christian, for the same temper disposes to both.
6. Idleness is the parent of vice. He who has some good end to pursue is too busy for temptation; but the idle, having nothing else to do, is tempted to yield. A vacant mind is a proper habitation for the devil. An idle person loathes his own company, and thus gets into worse, and, unless favoured by an extraordinary concurrence of circumstances, falls into want and thence into wickedness.
7. Of all bad dispositions, laziness is the most vexatious. The love of ease and pleasure produces idleness; yet such is the nature of things, idleness produces neither ease nor pleasure, but the reverse.
8. By industry we obtain credit and reputation.
9. By industry we shut out many fretting desires, sorrowful reflections, and turbulent passions.
10. By industry we become beneficial to others, and thereby secure many blessings for ourselves.
II. Our religious affairs.
1. The shortness and uncertainty of life warn us not to neglect it, since upon our present behaviour depends our future state.
2. The reward before us excites us to it.
3. Gratitude to Him who has done so much for us moves us to do something for Him.
4. The punishment allotted to the idle and wicked servant calls us to it.
5. Our present interest invites us to it, bringing as it does peace of mind and the blessing of God upon our worldly affairs. (J. Jortin, D. D.)
2 Thessalonians 3:9
Not because we have not the power, but to make ourselves as ensample unto you to follow us
Paul relinquished his right to support, that he might set a much needed example of industry- Let us consider--
Example in respect of other things which have great influence on conduct.
1. Advice is persuasive, but example more so. Let a man advise his friend contrary to his own conduct, and his friend will imitate his conduct and reject his advice.
2. Authority is great, but example is greater. A parent’s habits have more force than his precepts.
3. The law of the land is not equal to the law of example. Written law must yield to common law, and common law is only immemorial example.
II. The force of example on the various stages of life.
1. Children are wholly subject to it.
2. Youths, thrown into the society of men, immediately assume the airs and manners of men, have their own leaders, and follow them.
3. Men aim at distinguishing themselves, but can only do so by imitating the distinguished in every department of active or studious life.
4. Old men both set and follow examples.
III. The influence of example on human societies.
1. A family is a small but important society; and here it is not so much what parents command or others advise as what everybody does, that forms the characters and manners of children. Take a child from one family (although a foreign one), and place him in another, and he will more resemble that in which he was brought up than that in which he was born.
2. If you go into a little neighbourhood, parish, or town, you will find a similarity in their manners and customs which can be due to nothing but the force of example.
3. If we consider the peculiarities in national characters, we must ascribe them to the same. A nation takes its character from the stock from which it originates.
IV. Example governs all the modes of human conduct.
1. The modes of speaking, reading, writing, vary according to the practice of the best instructors.
2. The higher branches are subject to the same sovereign authority. Sometimes mathematics, sometimes metaphysics, sometimes fine arts are in fashion; and each of these is principally cultivated according to the example of those who reign in the republic of letters.
3. Example governs the various modes of building. Different nations, states, towns, and even villages, commonly construct their houses in a different manner.
4. Example fixes the various degrees of reputation which belong to various stations and employments. Among the Jews it was reputable to labour in any of the mechanic arts. To cultivate the soil was honourable among the Romans. Elsewhere manual labour is thought a degradation.
5. The same law applies to the affairs of government. A single nation follows some great general or politician, and one nation treads in the steps of another.
6. So even in religion. The peculiarities and ceremonies of each took their origin from the opinion and practice of one or a few; and when a sect is formed, example preserves its existence and its peculiarities. Take the Friends, for examples.
7. Modes of mourning and rejoicing take their rise from the same cause. Savage nations mourn and rejoice according to nature; polished nations according to art.
8. In dress, modes of living, and diversion, example reigns alone and supreme. Example commands the French always to change, and forbids the Spaniards ever to alter.
V. The improvement. We learn from the great influence of example--
1. Why parents are so unsuccessful in the education of their children. They defeat their instructions and corrections by their examples.
2. Why it is so difficult for any not to deviate from the path of virtue. It was through example that so many of the good men of the Bible went astray.
3. The importance of avoiding bad company.
4. That no man can live in the world without doing good or hurt to others.
5. The account which great and influential men will have to give for their use of example.
6. How easy it is to effect a reformation. A few can do it anywhere by a good example. (W. Emmons, D. D.)
Example better than precept
Felix Neff, pastor of the High Alps, finding his people miserably poor, through ignorance of the proper methods of agriculture, endeavoured in vain to persuade them to a change. At length, having himself a garden at Queyros, he determined to plant it with potatoes. They watched him planting in the way he had recommended to them, and ridiculed what they were sure was a waste of labour. But when the gathering time came, and they saw him turning up plants with sixty tubercles, they begged that he would teach them next season to do the same. (J. F. B. Tinting, B. A.)
Commands to be enforced by example
During the siege of Sebastopol, Gordon was one day going the round of the trenches when he heard an angry altercation between a corporal and a sapper. On examining the cause, he learned that the men were instructed to place some gabions on the battery, and that the corporal had ordered the sapper to stand on the parapet, where he would be exposed to the enemy’s fire, and to place the gabions, while he, perfectly sheltered, handed them up from below. Gordon at once jumped on the parapet, ordering the corporal to join him, while the sapper handed them the gabions. When the work was done, and done under the fire of watchful Russian gunners, Gordon turned to the corporal and said, “Never order a man to do what you are afraid to do yourself.” (Life of General Gordon.)
2 Thessalonians 3:10
We commanded you that if any man would not work, neither should he eat
The law of labour
It is a curious circumstance that the first subject that disturbed the apostolic church was not of a profound character.
It was the question of temporal relief--the early budding of a poor law. From that time forth the mode and measure of the administration of charity has been a vexed question in church and state. Here St. Paul lays down the grand principle which is applicable to all relief. We have here a common law to guide all our alms, national and individual. It is a law against wilful idleness. This is plain from the context. But we are not to withhold the hand from the necessitous (2 Thessalonians 3:13). Let us apply this law that labour is life and life is labour to--
I. The irrational creation.
1. The inanimate creation is God’s great chemical laboratory.
2. His animated creation is one enormous factory where the law of labour is rigidly enforced, from the royal eagle to the meanest reptile. The swallows skimming round us seem to be only sporting in the air. In reality they are working for their food, opening their beaks as they fly, and carrying home insects to their young. How many miles daily does a sheep walk to get its living? Look into the insect world (Proverbs 6:6; Proverbs 30:24) at the ant hills, spider’s webs, coral reefs, marvels of scientific, artistic, and laborious industry. The law everywhere is--no work, no life.
II. The spiritual life of man.
1. Here we might imagine that another great law meets us in opposition--the law of grace. Scripture teaches us that we are saved not by our own endeavours but by God’s free and unmerited mercy. May we then lie down in antinomian security? That moment we cease to live. Antinomianism is spiritual suicide. Hear the word of God: “Agonize to enter into the strait gate.” “Labour for the meat which endureth,” etc. How is a Christian described? As a soldier, husbandman, pilgrim, and by other figures, every one of which implies exertion of the most strenuous character. Every promise is held out to the energetic; and not only so, but the result is proportionate. “The diligent soul shall be made fat.” The more we pray and toil, the richer will be our present harvest in peace of conscience, the sense of pardoning love, and in the world to come eternal glory.
2. And if this be true individually in what we have to do in working out our own salvation, how much more in our labours of love. Here nothing is done without toil. You need but look at all the benevolent institutions of the country to see that no real good is done without trouble.
III. Man in his natural state. Work was the law of Paradise; it only became a painful one after the fail. From the moment of its utterance, “By the sweat of thy brow,” this law has ruled all human life. There is not a man who has attained to eminence save in obedience to it. In our country, whose distinction is that the paths of fame and wealth are open to the meanest, it is a fact that the vast majority of our greatest men in Parliament, the army, science, the law, the Church, have sprung from the lower or middle classes. It is not the poor mechanic only, but all must work or die. But what about the born wealthy? Well, that is the result of their ancestor’s labour. It did not originally come by chance or fortune. And even those who are under no obligation to toil for their daily bread are obliged to have recourse either to it or to artificial labour in travel or sport to maintain their health and save their life. (Dean Close.)
In writing to his step-brother Johnston, who had requested a loan of money, Abraham Lincoln says: “The great defect in your conduct is, not that you are lazy, but that you are an idler. This habit of uselessly wasting time is the whole difficulty, and it is vastly important to you and to your children that you should break the habit. Go to work for the best money wages you can get, and for every dollar that you will get for your own labour I will give you another one. If you will do this you will soon be out of debt, and what is better you will have gained a habit that will keep you from getting in debt again.” (H. O. Mackay.)
No work, no pay
Here is a large vineyard. Many men and maidens are busy on the hillside. They are coming and going, and singing the vintage songs. Here is the master. He sees that the rules are kept. There must be no disorder, no profanity. Each must keep his place. The baskets must be clean. The master is counting the baskets that are brought to the vats. After each name he writes the number of baskets brought. At last the week is ended, and the men and maidens come to receive their pay. Here among them is a man whom the master has been watching day by day. He kept his basket clean; he kept his place; he used no profane language; he enjoyed the companionship of the others; he joined merrily in the vintage songs. But in all this time he gathered no grapes. “What is your name?” says the master. “Menalque,” says the man. “I find your name upon the book,” replies the master, “but I do not find that you gathered a single cluster; there is therefore no pay for you.” “No pay?” says the man. “What have I done wrong? I have kept my place, used no improper language, kept my basket clean, and joined heartily in the songs.” “You did no wrong,” says the master, “but you did no work. There is nothing for you.” “No pay for me!” exclaimed the man. “Why, that is the one thing I came in the vineyard for. The pay constituted my chief interest in it.” Is not this the history of thousands in the Lord’s vineyard? They come, their names are upon the book. They do no special wrong; they do not swear, or steal, or commit adultery. They break no rule. They sing the vintage songs. They hear sermons, if they are entertaining. They attend church, if it is quite convenient. But are they in any true sense labourers in God’s vineyard? Have they done any honest work for Christ and His Church? Have they performed one hard task, done one unpleasant duty, spoken one brave word, lifted one fallen sinner, lightened one heavy burden, crucified one loved comfort, or done any one thing or series of things that would justly entitle them to the name of labourer, or the hope of reward when the great day of reckoning comes? (R. S. Barrett.)
Work necessary for man
John the Dwarf wanted to be “without care like the angels, doing nothing but praise God.” So he threw away his cloak, left his brothers and the Abbot, and went into the desert. But after seven days he came back and knocked at the door. “Who is there?” asked the Abbot. “John.” “John is turned into an angel, and is no more among men.” So he left him outside all night, and in the morning gave him to understand that if he was a man he must work, but that if he was an angel he had no need to live in a cell.
The danger of idleness
Notice the invention used by country people to catch wasps. They will put a little sweet liquor into a long and narrow-necked phial. The do nothing wasp comes by, smells the sweet liquor, plunges in and is drowned. But the bee comes by, and if she does stop for a moment to smell, yet she enters not, because she has honey of her own to make; she is too busy in the work of the commonwealth to indulge herself with the tempting sweets. Master Greenham, a Puritan divine, was once waited upon by a woman who was greatly tempted. Upon making inquiries into her way of life, he found she had little to do, and Greenham said, “That is the secret of your being so much tempted. Sister, if you are very busy, Satan may tempt you, but he will not easily prevail, and he will soon give up the attempt.” Idle Christians are not tempted of the devil so much as they tempt the devil to tempt them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The cure for idleness
The wife of a certain chieftain who had fallen on idle habits, one day lifted the dish cover at dinner, and revealed a pair of spurs; a sign that he must ride and hunt for his next meal. (H. O. Mackay.)
How to deal with beggars
Oberlin was distinguished by his benevolence and charity; hence he was beset with beggars. “Why do you not work?” said he to a man one day. “Because no one will employ me.” “Well, then, I will employ you; there, carry those planks; break these stones; fill that bucket with water, and I will repay you for your trouble.” Such was his usual mode, and idle beggars were taught to come there no more. (J. L. Nye.)
2 Thessalonians 3:11-12
For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies
Apelles, who flourished in the time of Alexander the Great, never permitted a day to pass without practice in his art.
He was accustomed, when he bad completed any one of his pieces, to expose it in some public place to the view of the passers-by, and seating himself behind it to hear the remarks which were made. On one of these occasions a shoemaker censured the painter for having given to the slippers a less number of ties than it ought to have. Apelles, knowing the man must be correct, at once rectified the mistake. The next day the shoemaker, emboldened, criticised one of the legs, when Apelles indignantly put forth his head and bid him keep to that line of criticism which he justly understood. Here we have the disorderliness of 2 Thessalonians 3:6-7 defined. There is a scornful play of words here in the Greek which is lost sight of in the English: the word for busybodies being merely a compound form of the word “working.” Quite literally, the compound means “working enough and to spare,” “being over busy,” “overdoing”; then, as a man cannot possibly overdo what it is his own duty to do, it comes to signify--
I. Doing useless things, things which concern no one, and might as well be left alone: as, e.g., magic, which is described by this word (Acts 19:19); or natural science, which is so described in the Athenians’ accusation of Socrates!
II. Meddling with matters which do not concern the doer, but do concern other people (1 Timothy 5:18). Bishop Lightfoot suggests, that the play can be kept up through the words “business” and busy; we might perhaps say, not being business men, but busy bodies. But which of the two notions mentioned above is to be considered most prominent here, we cannot tell for certain.
1. The Thessalonians do not seem to have been much carried away by the first class of dangers--idle speculations such as those of the Ephesian and Colossian churches. Yet we cannot altogether exclude this meaning here. St. Paul’s readers had been overbusy in theorizing about the position of the departed at Christ’s coming (1 Thessalonians 4:15), and had been so eager over their idle doctrines of the Advent as to falsify, if not actually to forge, communications from St. Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:2). Such false inquisitiveness and gossiping discussions might well be described by the Greek word we are now considering.
2. Everything, however, points to a more practical form of the same disposition to mask idleness under cloak of work; feverish excitement, which leads men to meddle and interfere with others, perhaps to spend time in “religious” work which ought not to have been spared from everyday duties (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). There is nothing to shew definitely how this busy idleness arose, but it may very probably be the troubled and shaken condition of mind spoken of in 2 Thessalonians 2:2. (Canon Mason.)
That with quietness they work--
The blessedness of work
1. There is probably no means of grace more strengthening against temptation, more healthful for the spirit, more uplifting towards God, than honest, earnest work. When God placed man in the Garden of Eden, He placed him there not for the sole purpose of contemplation, but to dress the garden and keep it. The Saviour is reputed to have worked at His foster father’s bench, and thus to have consecrated all human toil. Even His Sabbaths were spent in worship and in doing good. The most religious life is often thus a life of unremitting toil.
2. Upon the scroll of Nature is written the gospel of work. For Nature seldom supplies our necessities or meets our conveniences by provisions ready made for use. Nature furnishes the raw material: the Clay to be fashioned into bricks, the iron to be converted into machinery, the fertility of the soil to be husbanded by cultivation, the produce of distant lands to be first transferred by the seaman’s endurance and the merchant’s enterprise to the place of manufacture, and then to be spun and woven by the diligence of the artizan into cloth suitable for wear. Even Nature declines to satisfy our wants unless we work in her laboratories, and recognize the Divine obligation of earning our bread by the sweat of the brow. Nature thus exalts every labourer into a disciple of God, learning in the Book of Nature the dignity and value of toil.
3. History harmonizes with Nature in the pronouncement of this verdict upon the blessedness of work. The most forward nations of the world are those which have been compelled by the necessities of climate and geographical position to labour most diligently for their daily sustenance. The most backward races are those which dwell in sunny lands, where fruits grow without strenuous husbandry, and where the glow and inspiration of effort are only partial and weak.
4. The experience of the Church may be added in favour of the elevating influence of work. Where does infidelity most abound? Not among the busy and industrious classes, but among the luxurious, the leisurely, the indolent. Doubters may not be always drones, but drones are commonly doubters. The pests of the commonwealth and the poisons of society are its loungers, its idlers, its non-working element; those who simply “eat the fruits of the earth and do no good and die”; who neither work for their own private advantage, nor devote themselves to the public weal. The idle man is in the full glare of temptation, and upon the high road to iniquity.
5. Work is a great preservative for the soul. It drains off the evil humours of the flesh; it parries the thrusts of temptation; it yields the fruits of a peacable heart; it delights with the reflection of useful service to others; it gives to man the exalted sense of being a cooperator with God in Nature, in the world, and in the Church, (J. W. Diggle, M. A.)
2 Thessalonians 3:14-15
If any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man
How to deal with the erring
No Christian duty more delicate and difficult than that we owe to the unbelieving, the disobedient, the erring, even for the haters and despisers of Christ and His Church.
1. “Note this man.” There should be a full realization of his error; no ignoring of it, or acquiescence in it; no belittling of it.
2. We are to note all such, separate ourselves from them, have no fellowship with them. And this implies--
3. But we are not to cast them off--abandon them as hopeless reprobates--withdraw sympathy, anxiety, prayer, effort in their behalf. “Count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” Kindness, gentle entreaty, Christian endeavour, persisted in, may finally make him “ashamed,” and win him over. Oh, had heretics, schismatics, apostates, erring brethren of every kind, been always dealt with in this Christian way, how different had been the result! It is not too late to begin. (Homiletic Monthly.)
The Revised Version well brings out the meaning--“Note that man, that ye have no company with him.” It is no mark that is to be set upon him--no stigma, though this as a matter of fact would follow. It is to be a mental marking, and the purpose of it no formal excommunication but an avoidance (2 Thessalonians 3:6), which would in the nature of things carry with it a kind of ecclesiastical censure and suspension. Thus it appears that such a one sets a mark upon himself. The disorder of his life is the mark of spiritual disease--the beginning of what may end in death. Like the spots on the body, indicating the first stages of the plague, which the Armenians call the pilotti, the pilots or harbingers of death, so upon the character of such “unruly” ones there are spots, which are pilots of the ruin of the soul. It is therefore dangerous for those who are whole to have company with these; but it is especially needful for the good of the erring brother himself. He may be led in this way to a wholesome shame, which Carlyle has called “the soul of all virtues, of all good manners, and good morals.” Yet he is still one of them, “a brother,” notwithstanding the severity of the treatment to which he is to be subjected. He is to be won back in the right way by brotherly admonition. “Too harsh chiding,” says Gregory Nazianzen, “is like an axe which flieth from the handle. It may kill thy brother, when it should only cut down the briars of sin.”
A faithful admonisher
Do you know nine-tenths of the trouble in this world is the manifestation of a wrong spirit? There was a man down in Georgia, one of the leading members of the Methodist Church in his place. He paid liberally, was wealthy and respected. There was a renter on his farm who belonged to the same church. They had a quarrel, came to harsh words, almost to blows. On Friday the preacher heard of this difficulty. On Saturday he came to his appointment. He first went to the renter and said, “I hear that you and Brother So-and-So have had a difficulty. That won’t do for brethren. I want you to agree with me, your pastor, that you will settle it and bury the whole question.” “I am perfectly willing to do anything that is right about it. I am ashamed of the way I did and talked. I am perfectly willing to do anything that you and the congregation say is right to do.” He drove over to the rich man’s and said, “I understand you had a quarrel or difficulty with another brother of our church. I want you to promise me that you will drop the whole matter, and let us all go along as if nothing had happened.” This brother said, “That man has treated me badly. I will quit myself if you don’t turn him out of the church.” The pastor soon saw that he was possessed of a bad spirit. They walked out in the grove together, and the pastor said, “Let us pray,” and said he, finally, “My brother, for the cause of Christ, for the sake of souls and harmony in the church, will you not give me your promise?” “If you don’t turn him out I will never pay another cent.” The preacher looked at him and said, “I have done my best on you, and unless you become reconciled to your brother I will turn you out, if you paid 1,000,000 dols. a year!” That man left the church and became a common drunkard, and has gone to ruin. What was the matter with him? Just a bad spirit. O Lord, create in us a right spirit. If you have a right spirit you will do right. (S. Jones.)
2 Thessalonians 3:16
Now the Lord of Peace Himself give you peace always by all means
Peace from the Lord of peace
There is another reading of this passage, which modern editors have preferred, and I think with good reason; for πρόπῳ they substituted πότῳ--“in every place” for “by all means.
” The expression in our version may, no doubt, have a good and important sense; but it sounds like a tame addition to the words which have preceded. The other suggests a new thought, which enlarges and completes the prayer. “May the Lord of Peace give you peace at all times and in all places.” Such a petition must needs have a deep and solid ground to rest upon. “The Lord of Peace,” he says, “give you peace.” This he assumes as the very name of God. A god of war they had all heard of. He was said to have watched over the infancy of the greatest city in the world, to have been the father of its first king. Whithersoever the Roman Eagle had been borne, there were the tokens of his presence. The name Thessalonica testified that he had been on that soil. He knew that the heathens had never been satisfied with the idea of a god of war, however much it might have possessed them. They felt that the olive was a sacred emblem as well as the laurel. There must be some One from whom it came--of whom it testified. The quiet homestead, the growth of trees and flowers, the power and art of tillage, must have an origin, as well as the skill and feats of armies. Surely tempests did not witness of unseen power more than a still lake or an evening of clear starlight. All sweet notes and their intricate combinations told of some secret source of harmony. The heart which responded to these sights and sounds demanded a Lord of Peace nigh, and not afar off. Was He a different Being from the other? It was the misery of Polytheism to believe that He must be different. How could such opposite effects proceed from the Same Cause? It was the blessed privilege of the Jew to be taught in direct words, and by the whole course of his history, that the Lord his God was one Lord, that the God of armies was the same as the Lord of Peace. The acts of His power were the manifestations of His righteous will. He was the Lord God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy; therefore would He not clear the guilty; therefore was all evil, everything unmerciful and oppressive, hateful in His eyes; therefore was He pledged to destroy it. There was no actual or implicit contradiction in His nature.
I. The words are very emphatic. May He himself give you peace. As if he had said, “I know and am persuaded that no one else can give it you; not I, not all the preachers and doctors in the universe. Properly speaking, you do not even receive it at second hand through us. He gives you the thing itself; we present you with the seals and sacraments of it. He opens a direct communication with your hearts; he conveys into them that which we only stand offering to them from without. “May He,” says the apostle, “Himself give it you! Be not content to take it from any other.”
II. And be sure also that He gives it. You do not purchase it by prayers or faith or good deeds. He receives the gift of a higher life, or he sinks into death. In other words, God gives him peace, or he continues in a state of perpetual war.
III. This peace the apostle desires for the Thessalonians. Not some image or shadow of peace, but peace itself, in its full meaning. Not a peace which depends upon pacts and bargains among men, but which belongs to the very nature and character and being of God. Not a peace which is produced by the stifling and suppression of activities and energies, but the peace in which all activities and energies are perfected and harmonized. Not a peace which comes from the toleration of what is base or false, but which demands its destruction. Not a peace which begins from without, but a peace which is first wrought in the inner man, and thence comes forth to subdue the world. Not a peace which a man gets for himself by standing aloof from the sorrows and confusions of the world into which he is born, of the men whose nature he shares, choosing a calm retreat and quiet scenery and a regulated atmosphere; but a peace which has never thriven except in those who have suffered with their suffering kind, who have been ready to give up selfish enjoyments, sensual or spiritual, for their sakes, who have abjured all devices to escape from ordained toils and temptations; the peace which was His who bore the sorrows and infirmities and sins of man, who gave up Himself that He might become actually one with them, who thus won for them a participation in the Divine nature, an inheritance in that peace of God which passeth understanding.
IV. St. Paul could then say boldly, “The Lord give you peace is all times.” He was living in a time of exceeding restlessness. All about him were wars and rumours of wars. The Jewish commonwealth was breaking to pieces, from the hatreds of its sects, from its mad desire to measure its strength with its Roman masters. St. Paul was the object of the fiercest spite of those fighting sects. They did not abhor each other so much as they abhorred him. And he knew that the end was coming--that God Himself had pronounced the doom of the city of David; that if he did not witness the fall of that nation, to save which he was willing to be accursed, it would be only because some violent death would take him sooner than it out of the world. In this time, which affected all his disciples as well as himself, which had caused great sufferings to the Thessalonian Church, both from present Jewish persecutions and from the dim feverish apprehension of some day of the Lord which was near at hand; in this time, he could ask the Lord of Peace to give himself and them peace. He could ask it confidently, nothing doubting that the petition would be heard and answered, nay, that the very tumults in the world and in themselves were intended to awaken it and to accomplish it. He knew that easy and comfortable circumstances do not impart the peace which men want. He knew that the most disastrous may drive them to that centre where it dwells and Where they may possess it.
V. He prayed also, if the reading I have spoken of is the true one, that they might have peace in every place. He had some experience of different places, of Greek cities and Jewish, if he had not yet seen Rome, as he purposed to do; and all his experience hitherto had been of strifes, tumults, persecutions. He had come to Thessalonica because he had been thrown into prison at Philippi. He escaped from Thessalonica to Beraea, thence to Athens. In Corinth the continued Jewish opposition was trifling compared with the struggle in his own spirit, which made him despair even of life. At Ephesus he was destined to fight with men who assailed him as the beasts assailed those who were exposed in the Amphitheatre. At Jerusalem voices cried, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! it is not fit that he should live.” Bonds and imprisonments awaited him in the capital of the world. And yet he could say, “The Lord of Peace give you peace in all places.” In the prison he had found it; in that infinite tumult and despair of his own spirit he had found it. And this, he was certain, was not because he was an apostle--because he had Divine revelations--because he had singular gifts. It was because he was a man, sharing the temptations of men, experiencing in himself the redemption which had been wrought out for men.
VI. Do we not need to hear at this time, in this place, the same message?
VII. But is not the week that witnesses of the sacrifice of the Victim one that brings peace, if it finds but little? Is not the week that commemorates the completion of the sacrifice one that carries peace even into the midst of war? Yes! this, and nothing less, is what these days signify. “The Lord of Peace Himself give you peace in all places.” You want a Lord of Peace, One in whom Peace dwells always, under all conditions, amidst all turmoils. Here, in the agony of the garden, on the cross of Calvary, behold Him! (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
Peace from the Lord of Peace
I. The lord of peace is Jesus. St. Paul habitually calls Him Lord, and brings His name into special relation with peace. This is an apt compendium of His other titles and gives in one perfect phrase the whole sum of His mediatorial work.
1. The appellation is only another form of the title by which His coming was fore-announced. It was declared that He should vanquish Satan, turn aside the Divine displeasure, and establish a government of peace. Isaiah makes all His glorious names merge into “The Prince of Peace.” His mediatorial obedience is bearing “the chastisement of our peace.” The increase of His kingdom would be the “abundance of peace” (Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 53:5; Isaiah 9:7; Psalms 72:7).
2. The manner of His coming was a token of peace. “God with us.” “Peace on earth.” These announcements declared that the world’s Peace was born, and that the alliance of God with our nature was the reconciliation which had been preached. This was the “everlasting sign that should not be cut off” (Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 55:13).
3. But He who brought that sign was Himself cut off that it might be everlasting. Though the reconciliation was virtually effected from the beginning, for the “Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world,” yet it required the atonement of “the blood of the Cross” (Colossians 1:20-22).
4. The title, however, is a glorious one, and directs our thought to Christ’s exaltation. Our Melchizedek became King of Salem, i.e. peace, by virtue of the sacrifice which He first offered as Priest of the Most High God. But the Royal title tells us that He has achieved our peace with the power of an endless life. Yet, like His ancient type, He was never other than a King.
5. Whilst this is true, it must not be forgotten that the term “Lord” is for the most part applied to Christ in respect of the jurisdiction He obtained in death (Romans 14:9; Matthew 28:18; Acts 10:36). Everything became Dominical from that time: the Lord’s “house,” “supper,” “day,” and so “peace.”
6. Christ is Himself the Publisher of His own peace. The terms on which the sinner may make his peace with God are prescribed by the Lord Himself; nor does He permit any human authority to interfere with them.
II. The bestowment of peace.
1. Our Saviour Himself administers His own government by His Spirit, and imparts with His own hands the blessings of His peace. As He presents His atonement in heaven He imparts it on earth (Romans 5:11). He dispenses the forgiveness of sins, permitting none to interpose between Himself and the penitent save as the simple ambassadors of His will. He commanded His apostles to preach and to utter the salutation of peace, but the assurance of remission He reserved for His own lips. But in proportion to the restraint upon them was the freedom with which He dispensed it to the penitent. And still “the Lord of Peace” speaks the word that tranquillizes the conscience and gives the heart rest.
2. “Give you peace always.” This means--
3. “By all means.” We must expect it to come through strange and seemingly discordant methods. He who is “Lord of Peace” shows His supremacy in this, that He can make all things contribute to His servants’ prosperity. We pray not merely that the Redeemer may shed peace through His Word and ordinances, but in tribulation, and make that minister to the profound communion of the soul with God; that He may preserve to the spirit interior peace, whilst the surface is harassed by temptation; that the very turbulence of the world may be made not only to heighten our peace by contrast, but to confirm it by driving us to more perfect fellowship with Him (John 16:33).
III. The guarantee of this peace. ‘‘The Lord be with you all.” Where He dwells there must be peace, but this indwelling is only secured by prayer. He commanded His disciples to pronounce their peace in every house they entered. Much more does He observe His own law. Entering our hearts, He speaks His “peace”; abiding in us, He gives us peace “always”; and by the secret energy of His grace He turns all events to our good “by all means.” (W. B. Pope, D. D.)
Benediction and invocation
Before closing his letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul desires three Divine things for them.
I. That the Lord of Peace would give them peace. By peace some understand all manner of prosperity; but the apostle meant, in particular, peace with God--peace in their own conscience--peace among themselves--peace among others. And this peace he desired for them always, and in everything, and by all means. As they enjoyed the means of grace, he would have them successful in the use of all the means and methods of grace; for peace is often difficult, as it is always desirable. The gift of peace is God’s, who is “the Author of peace and Lover of concord.” And of this we may be firmly assured--that we shall neither have peaceable dispositions ourselves, nor find men disposed to be at peace with us, unless the Lord of Peace Himself give us both.
II. That the presence of the Lord might be with them. How intensely the great leader of Israel desired the Divine Presence to go with him and the people to the land of promise may be gathered from his own words to Jehovah Himself: “If Thy Presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.” He knew full well not only the absolute need of His presence to guide them, but also that His presence really included every other good. Paul felt as did Moses. He was sure that if the Lord was with the Thessalonians, all would be well with them. And we need nothing more to make us safe and happy, nor can we desire anything better for ourselves and our friends than to have the Lord’s gracious presence with us and them. This will be a guide and guard in every path we may go, and a real comfort in every condition in which we may be placed. It is the presence of God that maketh heaven to be heaven, and the presence of God will make this earth, albeit cursed with sin and sorrow, like unto heaven. No matter where we are if God be with us; no matter who is absent from us if God be present with us.
III. That the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ might also be with them. Whatever the eminence of the Thessalonians for their inherent virtues and gracious qualifications, yet the apostle knew that it was only God’s sovereign grace, and not their own merit, which must be relied upon for obtaining any temporal or spiritual mercy from the hands of God; for though he commended them for their faith, and love, and patience, and other excellences, yet he closeth and crowneth all by wishing God’s free grace and favour to them as the fountain-cause of all they stood in need of or could expect. This grace or favour flows to us through Jesus. And it is this that is “all in all” to make us pure and happy. The apostle admired and magnified this grace on all occasions: he delighted and trusted in it: it had made him the saint, and the preacher, and the hero that he was; and no marvel that, as he loved his Thessalonian converts with a deep and holy passion, he took his leave of them with words so meet arid precious. (D. Mayo.)
The jewel of peace
I. The many-sided blessing. The peace of the text is a gem with many facets, but--
1. Its main bearing is towards God.
2. This peace spreads itself abroad, and covers all things with its soft light. He who is at peace with God is at peace with all things that are God’s, and all things work together for his good.
3. This practically shows itself in the Christian’s inward peace with regard to his present circumstances. He sees God’s hand in everything, and is content. Is he poor? The Lord makes him rich in faith. Is he sick? The Lord endows him with patience.
4. This peace is mainly to be found in the soul itself as to its thoughts, believings, hopings, and desires: “the good man is satisfied from himself.” Some minds are strangers to peace.
II. The special desirableness of this peace.
1. It is essential to the joy, comfort, and blessedness of the Christian life.
2. Without peace you cannot grow, A shepherd may find good pasture for his flock, but if they are hunted about by dogs they will soon become skin and bone.
3. Without peace you cannot bear much fruit. If a tree is frequently transplanted, you cannot reasonably look for many golden apples.
4. Stability is dependent on peace. The doctrine can soon be driven out of a man’s head which affords no light and comfort to his heart.
5. You must have peace for your soul’s wealth. As war spends and peace gathers the riches of nations, so does inward strife devour us, while spiritual peace makes the soul fat.
III. The sole Person from whom this peace must come--the Lord Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Who else can it be but He whom the angels announced with “Peace on earth”; who made peace by the blood of His Cross; who is “our Peace,” having broken down the middle wall of partition; who said, “My peace I leave with you,” etc.?
1. The apostle does not say, “May the Lord of Peace send His angel or His minister to give you peace,” or “May you have it at the communion table, or in reading the Word, or in prayer.” In all these we might be refreshed--but “Himself” give you peace.
2. “The Lord be with you all”--as much as to say, “That is what I mean; if He is present, you must enjoy peace.” Let the sea rage, yet when Jesus arises there will be a great calm.
IV. The sweep of the prayer.
1. “Always.” On weekdays as well as Sundays; in the prayer meeting and in the workshop; with the Bible and with the ledger; at all times, under all circumstances, and everywhere. Why are we troubled, when we may have this peace always?
2. “By all means.” Some agencies evidently make for peace, but He can give us peace by opposing forces; by the bitter as well as the sweet; the storm as well as the peace; loss as well as gain; death as well as life. There are two grand ways of giving us peace.
Peace of conscience and heart the element of holiness
1. “Always”--i.e., absolutely permanent. The same word is used of the angels, who always behold the face of God; and of Christ, who “foresaw the Lord always before Him.” The constancy of the Christian’s peace is to be the same as that wherewith angels wait on the behests of God and Jesus realizes God’s presence.
2. “In every manner.” There are different modes and circumstances of its manifestation, according as the heart is burdened with anxiety, or depressed with a sense of sin, or feverish with excitement, or distracted by business. We may taste it in every form, according to the special need of the moment.
3. The Lord of Peace, its Author and Source, is called upon to bestow it (John 14:27; Philippians 4:4-7).
4. This peace is a main essential to holiness; it is not only the root out of which it grows, but the strength in which alone it can be successfully pursued, and the element in which it moves. Its spheres are--
I. The conscience.
1. It must be admitted by faith in Christ--such an act as shall shed abroad in the heart a sense of God’s pardoning love. This act is simply a cordial acceptance of God’s gift of Christ. Having performed this, we place ourselves in the condition described in Romans 5:1.
2. But it must be detained. It is a sensitive guest, apt to take flight at the slightest affront, The conscience, once cleared by faith, must be kept clear by effort, the use of appropriate means, sad repeated acts of faith. “Herein do I exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offence.” But as faults will accrue, we need for the maintenance of peace periodical examinations of the conscience.
II. The heart. Peace under the vexations and frettings of life.
1. This fretting may arise from anxieties, the right method of dealing with which is in Philippians 4:4-7. Whatever may be your wishes on the subject which makes you anxious, refer them to God in prayer; and having done so, leave them with Him, assured that He will order the matter for the best. Drop them altogether. They are off your hands now, and are in better hands. They are no longer your business; they need not be your care. Thinking is utterly fruitless, and fruitless thinking is waste of the energy needed for progress, and is also a positive breach of God’s precept--“Be careful for nothing.” The spiritual life of the present moment is the one thing needful. As for future evil, it may never come; and if it does, it will prove less in reality than in anticipation. The women going to the sepulchre troubled themselves unnecessarily about the stone, for it was rolled away.
2. This discomposure may arise from things going cross in daily life, rubs of temper, annoyance, etc. The rule for the maintenance of peace is here the same. Never let your thoughts dwell on a matter in which another has made you sore. If you do, a hundred aggravations will spring up. With a brief prayer for him who has offended you, keep your thoughts away from what he has done. Try to realize God’s presence. “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” But the great point is to let the mind settle. Turbid liquids will clear themselves, and precipitate their sediment simply by standing. Be still, then. Conclusion:
1. Those who indulge fretful feelings, either of anxiety or irritation, give an opening to the devil in their hearts. “Fret not thyself, else thou shalt be moved to do evil.” “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath, neither give place to the devil.” Peace is the sentinel of the soul; only so long as this sentinel is on guard the castle is kept secure.
2. Be careful to maintain peace, if thou wouldst not only resist the devil, but receive the guidance of God’s Spirit. That Spirit cannot make communications to a soul in a turbulent state. The Lord is not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire. Not until these have passed, can His still small voice be heard. (Dean Goulburn.)
Peace versus war
I. First, then, we have a peaceful designation.
1. He who is the eternal and omnipotent Jehovah--“The man of war,” “The lion of the tribe of Judah,” is here described as “The Lord of Peace.” He is so in His disposition. Peace, like silver sheen, is woven in His nature. His life manifested it, His words breathed it, His looks beamed with it, His prayers pleaded for it, His chastisement was to procure it, and His death was to seal it.
2. This fact may be yet more clearly seen if we remember how longsuffering He is with His enemies. What trifles prove sufficient to light the torch of war, if there be the desire first. Contrast with this what our Lord bears from His avowed foes, and His long suffering towards them, and you will then be enabled in some measure to grasp the peaceableness of His disposition. Oh, what affronts does He receive, and yet forbears to smite! What indignities are heaped upon Him! How is His name profaned, His Sabbath desecrated, His laws broken, His Book derided, His worship neglected! What monarch on earth has ever been so openly defied, and that by creatures who are at His mercy for their very breath and bread?
3. This peace loving disposition of our Lord can also be demonstrated by His forbearance with His friends. A slight from an open enemy is insignificant in its power to wound, compared with one that comes from a professed friend. What weakness, what base ingratitude, what falseness of affection are shown to Him, by the very ones whose names are engraven on His heart. And yet He bears with us and loves us still. Surely God’s grace is not more marvellous in its first love than in that love’s continuation.
4. The Lord is also the “Lord of Peace” in His actions. This is seen in the fact that He purchased it at a tremendous cost. Peace could only be procured by His own humiliation, agony, and death. At His baptism the peaceful nature of His mission was again made known, by the descent of the Holy Spirit. In what form was it that the Spirit alighted upon Him? He is His people’s Ambassador above; and whilst He remains our representative there, our peace is secured, and glorious truth, “He ever liveth to make intercession for us.”
5. The peace that was purchased by His blood is now secured by His life, and He only waits to place the crown upon the whole by perfecting our peace. Peace without the alarm of battle; peace beyond the noise or even rumour of strife; peace, deep and calm as mountain lake unruffled by a breeze, yet glittering in the sunlight, is the sweet consummation of the dealings of the Lord of Peace with us.
II. We have, in the second place, a peaceful supplication. “The Lord of Peace, give you peace.”
1. A conscience peace. This is one of the greatest gifts the Lord can bestow. What is a man without it? He may be surrounded by every luxury; but if he lacks this, he lives in a perpetual hell. That this happy experience might be theirs was prayed for by the apostle.
2. But as these words were addressed unto the Church at Thessalonica, they may also be understood as praying for their Church peace. A Church without peace is in just as wretched a condition as a heart without it. No country has ever suffered half so much through the ravages of war as has God’s Church from its internal strifes. And, alas! as in other wars, what trifles kindle the flame. Some little grievance between two members, which a word of explanation on either side would heal at once, is allowed to grow and rankle, whilst partisans flock to the rival standards, and the few neutrals left find themselves powerless to avert the calamity.
3. Notice, further that the peace desired was a perpetual one. “Peace always” was the apostle’s prayer. Very different this to the peace which has been Europe’s of late. A peace so long, that war shall be forgotten; a peace so complete, that the probability of war shall cease.
4. It was also to be a peace that came by all means. May every privilege (Paul seems to say) which, as Christians, you possess, be so many golden pipes conveying to your hearts the oil of joy and peace 1 When you pray, may you lose your burdens and your cares, and find in it sweet peace. When you gather for the holy purposes of public worship, may a heavenly calm be yours, and may you find the sanctuary a means of peace. When alone, you meditate upon the promises, may they be to you as songs of consolation.
III. A peaceful benediction. “The Lord be with you all.”
1. His presence be with you to comfort. May you never miss His smile or mourn His absence.
2. His power be with you to keep. In the seasons of temptation, may He hold above thy head His shield.
3. His Spirit be with you to guide. In the daytime may a cloudy pillar go before thee, and in the night season may one of fire direct thee.
IV. An interrogation. “Have you this peace?” Is there within your breast a pacified conscience and a soul that has found its rest? (A. G. Brown.)
2 Thessalonians 3:17
The salutation of Paul with Mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle
Was the mark by which to tell an authentic epistle of his from those forged letters with which false brethren had troubled the Church (2 Thessalonians 2:2).
At first sight it seems to us too audacious for any one to have conceived the thought of writing a letter under the name of Paul; but, on the other hand, we must recollect several points.
1. St. Paul’s genuine first epistle, in spite of its claim to inspiration (1 Thessalonians 4:15), could not yet have acquired in the eyes of the Thessalonians the sanctity it wears for us. They had no notion of such a thing as Holy Scripture; and even if they had, St. Paul was a familiar figure, a mechanic, who had just left them, not yet invested with the heroic halo.
2. Such literary forgeries were not uncommon in that age, and scarcely considered reprehensible, unless they were framed to inculcate with authority some heretical teaching. Apocryphal gospels soon after abounded, under false titles, and works fathered on Clement and other great Church teachers.
3. There need not always have been a direct intention to deceive the readers as to the authorship; but the renowned name acted as a tempting advertisement for the work, and the theories thus shot forth hit their mark; whether the real authorship were discovered or not mattered little in comparison. Such points must be borne in mind before we accept as genuine any of the early Christian writings. (Canon Mason.)
There is the suggestion here that other letters may have passed between the apostle and the Thessalonian believers. If there were such a correspondence, we may regard it as having no doctrinal interest, and so was allowed to disappear. The amanuensis--probably Timothy--has now finished his work, and the apostle authenticates it. He gives his sign manual as a guarantee of the genuineness of the letter. He calls attention to it. Though his readers were doubtless acquainted with it, he asks them to mark it well--its large and, it may be, uncouth characters (Galatians 6:11) were to be “the token” in every epistle he might in future send to them or to others, where attestation was needful. “So I write.” (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
2 Thessalonians 3:18
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
I. Its contents. Grace.
II. Its comprehensiveness. It embraces all.
III. Its power. It is yea and amen. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
What Paul calls his “salutation” is the prayer, showing that the whole business they were then about yeas spiritual; and even when he must give a salutation there must go some benefit along with it, and it must be a prayer, not a mere symbol of friendship. It was with this he would begin, and with this he would end, fencing round that which be said with mighty walls on either side; and safe were the foundations he laid, and safe the conclusion that he laid thereon. “Grace to you,” he cries, “and peace”; and, once more, “Peace always,” and “The grace,” etc. (Chrysostom.)
The benediction is the same as in the First Epistle, with the significant addition of “all.” It serves a loving purpose here. Caught up, as it may be, from 2 Thessalonians 3:16, where it is so prominent, it is meant to include the disorderly brethren, regarding whom he had painfully dictated words of severity. He would, indeed, have the censure written; but he would, before he closes, take away its sting. All, without exception, are enfolded in his loving embrace. Upon all he asks the Divine grace to descend. (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
I. Its source.
II. Its fulness.
III. Its flow.
IV. Its power. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Without the grace of Christ
The late Rev. Mr. Brown, of Haddington, towards the close of life, when his constitution was sinking under his multiplied and unintermitted labours, preached on the Monday after the dispensation of the Lord’s Supper, at Tranent, a serious and animated sermon from these words: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” After the service was concluded by prayer and praise, and he was just about to dismiss the congregation, it occurred to him that he had made no direct address to those who were destitute of the grace of the Lord Jesus; and, though worn out by his former exertions, he at considerable length, and with the most intense earnestness, represented the horrors of their situation, and urged them to have recourse, ere the season of forbearance was past, to the rich and sovereign grace of the long despised Saviour. This unlooked for exhortation apparently made a deep impression, and was long remembered by the more serious part of the hearers. (J. Whitecross.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Thessalonians 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany