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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary

1 Thessalonians 1

Verse 1

Chapter 1

THE CHURCH OF THE THESSALONIANS

1 Thessalonians 1:1 (R.V.)

THESSALONICA, now called Saloniki, was in the first century of our era a large and flourishing city. It was situated at the northeastern corner of the Thermaic gulf, on the line of the great Egnatian road, which formed the main connection by land between Italy and the East. It was an important commercial centre, with a mixed population of Greeks, Romans, and Jews. The Jews, who at the present day amount to some twenty thousand, were numerous enough to have a synagogue of their own; and we can infer from the Book of Acts {Acts 17:4} that it was frequented by many of the better spirits among the Gentiles also. Unconsciously, and as the event too often proved, unwillingly, the Dispersion was preparing the way of the Lord.

To this city the Apostle Paul came, attended by Silas and Timothy, in the course of his second missionary journey. He had just left Philippi, dearest to his heart of all his churches; for there, more than anywhere else, the sufferings of Christ had abounded in him, and his consolations also had been abundant in Christ. He came to Thessalonica with the marks of the lictors’ rods upon his body; but to him they were the marks of Jesus; not warnings to change his path, but tokens that the Lord was taking him into fellowship with Himself, and binding him more strictly to His service. He came with the memory of his converts’ kindness warm upon his heart; conscious that, amid whatever disappointments, a welcome awaited the gospel, which admitted its messenger into the joy of his Lord. We need not wonder, then, that the Apostle kept to his custom, and in spite of the malignity of the Jews, made his way, when Sabbath came, to the synagogue of Thessalonica.

His evangelistic ministry is very briefly described by St. Luke. For three Sabbath days he addressed himself to his fellow countrymen. He took the Scriptures into his hand, -that is, of course, the Old Testament Scriptures, -and opening the mysterious casket, as the picturesque words in Acts describe his method, he brought out and set before his auditors, as its inmost and essential secret, the wonderful idea that the Christ whom they all expected, the Messiah of God, must die and rise again from the dead. That was not what ordinary Jewish readers found in the law, the prophets, or the psalms; but, once persuaded that this interpretation was true, it was not difficult to believe that the Jesus whom Paul preached was the Christ for whom they all hoped. Luke tells us that some were persuaded; but they cannot have been many: his account agrees with the representation of the Epistle {1 Thessalonians 1:9} that the church at Thessalonica was mainly Gentile. Of the "chief women not a few," who were among the first converts, we know nothing; the exhortations in both Epistles make it plain that what Paul left at Thessalonica was what we should call a working class congregation. The jealousy of the Jews, who resorted to the device which had already proved successful at Philippi, compelled Paul and his friends to leave the city prematurely. The mission, indeed, had probably lasted longer than most readers infer from Acts 17:1-34. Paul had had time to make his character and conduct impressive to the church, and to deal with each one of them as a father with his own children; {1 Thessalonians 2:11} he had wrought night and day with his own hands for a livelihood; {2 Thessalonians 3:8} he had twice received help from the Philippians. {Philippians 4:15-16} But although this implies a stay of some duration, much remained to be done; and the natural anxiety of the Apostle, as he thought of his inexperienced disciples, was intensified by the reflection that he had left them exposed to the malignity of his and their enemies. What means that malignity employed-what violence and what calumny-the Epistle itself enables us to see; meantime, it is sufficient to say that the pressure of these things upon the Apostle’s spirit was the occasion of his writing this letter. He had tried in vain to get back to Thessalonica; he had condemned himself to solitude in a strange city that he might send Timothy to them; he must hear whether they stand fast in their Christian calling. On his return from this mission Timothy joined Paul in Corinth with a report, cheering on the whole, yet not without its graver side, concerning the Thessalonian believers: and the first Epistle is the apostolic message in these circumstances. It is, in all probability, the earliest of the New Testament writings; it is certainly the earliest extant of Paul’s; if we except the decree in Acts 15:1-41, it is the earliest piece of Christian writing in existence.

The names mentioned in the address are all well known-Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. The three are united in the greeting, and are sometimes, apparently, included in the "we" or "us" of the Epistle; but they are not joint authors of it. It is the Epistle of Paul, who includes them in the salutation out of courtesy, as in the First to the Corinthians he includes Sosthenes, and in Galatians "all the brethren that are with me"; a courtesy the more binding on this occasion that Silas and Timothy had shared with him his missionary work in Thessalonica. In First and Second Thessalonians only, of all his letters, the Apostle adds nothing to his name to indicate the character in which he writes; he neither calls himself an apostle, nor a servant of Jesus Christ. The Thessalonians knew him simply for what he was; his apostolic dignity was yet unassailed by false brethren; the simple name was enough. Silas comes before Timothy as an older man, and a fellow labourer of longer standing. In the Book of Acts he is described as a prophet, and as one of the chief men among the brethren; he had been associated with Paul all through this journey; and though we know very little of him, the fact that he was chosen one of the bearers of the apostolic decree, and that he afterwards attached himself to Paul, justifies the inference that he heartily sympathised with the evangelising of the heathen. Timothy was apparently one of Paul’s own converts. Carefully instructed in childhood by a pious mother and grandmother, he had been won to the faith of Christ during the first tour of the Apostle in Asia Minor. He was naturally timid, but kept the faith in spite of the persecutions which then awaited it; and when Paul returned, he found that the steadfastness and other graces of his spiritual son had won an honourable name in the local churches. He determined to take him with him, apparently in the character of an evangelist; but before he was ordained by the presbyters, Paul circumcised him, remembering his Jewish descent on the mother’s side, and desirous of facilitating his access to the synagogue, in which the work of gospel preaching usually began. Of all the Apostle’s assistants he was the most faithful and affectionate. He had the true pastoral spirit, devoid of selfishness, and caring naturally and unfeignedly for the souls of Philippians 2:20 f. Such were the three who sent their Christian greetings in this Epistle. The greetings are addressed "to the church of (the) Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." No such address had ever been written or read before, for the community to which it was directed was a new thing in the world. The word translated "church" was certainly familiar enough to all who knew Greek: it was the name given to the citizens of a Greek town assembled for public business; it is the name given in the Greek Bible either to the children of Israel as the congregation of Jehovah, or to any gathering of them for a special purpose; but here it obtains a new significance. The church of the Thessalonians is a church in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the common relation of its members to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ which constitutes them a church in the sense of the Apostle: in contradistinction from all other associations or societies, they form a Christian community.

The Jews who met from Sabbath to Sabbath in the synagogue were a church; they were one in the acknowledgment of the Living God, and in their observance of His law; God, as revealed in the Old Testament and in the polity of Israel, was the element or atmosphere of their spiritual life. The citizens of Thessalonica, who met in the theatre to discuss their political interests, were a "church"; they were one in recognising the same constitution and the same ends of civic life; it was in that constitution, in the pursuit of those ends, that they found the atmosphere in which they lived. Paul in this Epistle greets a community distinct from either of these. It is not civic, but religious; though religious, it is neither pagan nor Jewish; it is an original creation, new in its bond of union, in the law by which it lives, in the objects at which it aims; a church in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ.

This newness and originality of Christianity could not fail to impress those who first received it. The gospel made an immeasurable difference to them, a difference almost equally great whether they had been Jews or heathen before; and they were intensely conscious of the gulf which separated their new life from the old. In another epistle Paul describes the condition of Gentiles not yet evangelised, "Once," he says, "you were apart from. Christ, without God, in the world." The world-the great system of things and interests separated from God-was the sphere and element of their life. The gospel found them there, and translated them. When they received it, they ceased to be in the world; they were no longer apart from Christ, and without God: they were in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing could be more revolutionary in those days than to become a Christian: old things passed away; all things became new; all things were determined by the new relation to God and His Son. The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian was as unmistakable and as clear to the Christian mind as the difference between the shipwrecked sailor who has reached the shore and him who is still fighting a hopeless fight with wind and waves. In a country which has long been Christian, that difference tends, to sense at least, and to imagination, to disappear. We are not vividly impressed with the distinction between those who claim to be Christians and those who do not; we do not see a radical unlikeness, and we are sometimes disposed to deny it. We may even feel that we are bound to deny it, were it only in justice to God. He has made all men for Himself; He is the Father of all; He is near to all, even when they are blind to Him; the pressure of His hand is felt and in a measure responded to by all, even when they do not recognise it; to say that any one is αθεος, or χωρις χριστου, or that he is not in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ, seems really to deny both God and man.

Yet what is at issue here is really a question of fact; and among those who have been in contact with the facts, among those, above all, who have had experience of the critical fact-who once were not Christians and now are - there will not be two opinions about it. The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian, though historical accidents have made it less visible, or rather, less conspicuous than it once was, is still as real and as vast as, ever. The higher nature of man, intellectual and spiritual, must always have an element in which it lives, an atmosphere surrounding if, principles to guide it, ends to stimulate its action; and it may find all these in either of two places. It may find them in the world-that is, in that sphere of things from which God, so far as man’s will and intent goes, is excluded; or it may find them in God Himself and in His Son. It is no objection to this division to say that God cannot be excluded from His own world, that He is always at work there whether acknowledged or not; for the acknowledgment is the essential point; without it, though God is near to man, man is still far from God. Nothing could be a more hopeless symptom in character than the benevolent is this truth; it takes away every motive to evangelise the non-Christian, or to work out the originality and the Christian life itself. Now, as in the apostolic age, there are persons who are Christians and persons who are not; and, however alike their lives may be on the surface, they are radically apart. Their centre is different; the element in which they move is different; the nutriment of thought, the fountain of motives, the standard of purity are different; they are related to each other as life in God, and life without God; life in Christ, and life apart from Christ; and in proportion to their sincerity is their mutual antagonism.

In Thessalonica the Christian life was original enough to have formed a new society. In those days, and in the Roman Empire, there was not much room for the social instincts to expand. Unions of all kinds were suspected by the governments, and discouraged, as probable centres of political disaffection. Local self-government ceased to be interesting when all important interests were withdrawn from its control; and even had it been otherwise, there was no part in it possible for that great mass of population from which the Church was so largely recruited, namely, the slaves. Any power that could bring men together, that could touch them deeply, and give them a common interest that engaged their hearts and bound them to each other, met the greatest want of the time, and was sure of a welcome.

Such a power was the gospel preached by Paul. It formed little communities of men and women wherever it was proclaimed; communities in which there was no law but that of love, in which heart opened to heart as nowhere else in all the world, in which there were fervour and hope and freedom and brotherly kindness, and all that makes life good and dear. We feel this very strongly in reading the New Testament, and it is one of the points on which, unhappily, we have drifted away from the primitive model. The Christian congregation is not now, in point of fact, the type of a sociable community. Too often it is oppressed with constraint and formality. Take any particular member of any particular congregation; and his social circle, the company of friends in which he expands most freely and happily, will possibly have no connection with those he sits beside in the church. The power of the faith to bring men into real unity with each other is not lessened; we see this wherever the gospel breaks ground in a heathen country, or wherever the frigidity of the church drives two or three fervent souls to form a secret society of their own; but the temperature of faith itself is lowered; we are not really living, with any intensity of life, in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ. If we were, we would be drawn closer to each other; our hearts would touch and overflow; the place where we meet in the name of Jesus would be the most radiant and sociable place we know.

Nothing could better illustrate the reality of that new character which Christianity confers than the fact that men can be addressed as Christians. Nothing, either, could better illustrate the confusion of mind that exists in this matter, or the insincerity of much profession, than the fact that so many members of churches would hesitate before taking the liberty so to address a brother. We have all written letters, and on all sorts of occasions; we have addressed men as lawyers, or doctors, or men of business; we have sent or accepted invitations to gatherings where nothing would have astonished us more than the unaffected naming of the name of God; did we ever write to anybody because he was a Christian, and because we were Christians? Of all the relations in which we stand to others, is that which is established by "our common Christianity," by our common life in Jesus Christ, the only one which is so crazy and precarious that it can never be really used for anything? Here we see the Apostle look back from Corinth to Thessalonica, and his one interest in the poor people whom he remembers so affectionately is that they are Christians. The one thing in which he wishes to help them is their Christian life. He does not care much whether they are well or ill off in respect of this world’s goods; but he is anxious to supply what is lacking in their faith. {1 Thessalonians 3:10}

How real a thing the Christian life was to him! what a substantial interest, whether in himself or in others, engrossing all his thought, absorbing all his love and devotion. To many of us it is the one topic for silence; to him it was the one theme of thought and speech. He wrote about it, as he spoke about it, as though there were no other interest for man; and letters like those of Thomas Erskine show that still, out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh. The full soul overflows, unaffected, unforced; Christian fellowship, as soon as Christian life is real, is restored to its true place.

Paul, Silas, and Timothy wish the church of the Thessalonians grace and peace. This is the greeting in all the Apostle’s letters; it is not varied except by the addition of "mercy" in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus. In form it seems to combine the salutations current among the Greeks and the Jews (χαιρειν and μωολς), but in import it has all the originality the Christian faith. In the second Epistle it runs, "Grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Grace is the love of God, spontaneous, beautiful, unearned, at work in Jesus Christ for the salvation of sinful men; peace is the effect and fruit in man of the reception of grace. It is easy to narrow unduly the significance of peace; those expositors do so who suppose in this passage a reference to the persecution which the Thessalonian Christians had to bear, and understand the Apostle to wish them deliverance from it. The Apostle has something far more comprehensive in his mind. The peace, which Christ is; the peace with God which we have when we are reconciled to Him by the death of His Son; the soul health which comes when grace makes our hearts to their very depths right with God, and frightens away care and fear; this "perfect soundness" spiritually is all summed up in the word. It carries in it the fulness of the blessing of Christ. The order of the words is significant; there is no peace without grace; and there is no grace apart from fellowship with God in Christ. The history of the Church has been written by some who practically put Paul in Christ’s place; and by others who imagine that the doctrine of the person of Christ only attained by slow degrees, and in the post-apostolic age, its traditional importance; but here, in the oldest extant monument of the Christian faith, and in the very first line of it, the Church is defined as existing in the Lord Jesus Christ; and in that single expression, in which the Son stands side by side with the Father, as the life of all believing souls, we have the final refutation of such perverse thoughts. By the grace of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ, the Christian is what he is; he lives and moves and has his being there; apart from Christ, he is not. Here, then, is our hope. Conscious of our own sins, and of the shortcomings of the Christian community of which we are members, let us have recourse to Him whose grace is sufficient for us. Let us abide in Christ, and in all things grow up into Him. God alone is good; Christ alone is the Pattern and the Inspiration of the Christian character; only in the Father and the Son can the new life and the new fellowship come to their perfection.

Verses 2-4

Chapter 2

THE THANKSGIVING.

1 Thessalonians 1:2-4 (R.V.)

THE salutation in St. Paul’s epistles is regularly followed by the thanksgiving. Once only, in the Epistle to the Galatians, is it omitted; the amazement and indignation with which the Apostle has heard that his converts are forsaking his gospel for another which is not a gospel at all, carries him out of himself for a moment. But in his earliest letter it stands in its proper place; before he thinks of congratulating, teaching, exhorting, admonishing, he gives God thanks for the tokens of His grace in the Thessalonians. He would not be writing to these people at all if they were not Christians; they would never have been Christians but for the free goodness of God; and before he says one word directly to them, he acknowledges that goodness with a grateful heart.

In this case the thanksgiving is particularly fervent. It has. no drawback. There is no profane person at Thessalonica, like him who defiled the church at Corinth at a later period; we give thanks, says the Apostle, for you all. It is, as far as the nature of the case permits, uninterrupted. As often as Paul prays, he makes mention of them and gives thanks; he remembers without ceasing their newborn graces. We ought not to extenuate the force of such words, as if they were mere exaggerations, idle extravagances of a man who habitually said more than he meant. Paul’s life was concentrated and intense, to a degree of which we have probably little conception. He lived for Christ, and for the churches of Christ; it was literal truth, not extravagance, when he said, "This one thing I do": the life of these churches, their interests, their necessities, their dangers, God’s goodness to them, his own duty to serve them, all these constituted together the one dear concernment of his life; they were ever with him in God’s sight, and therefore in his intercessions and thanksgivings, to God. Other men’s mind might surge with various interests; new ambitions or affections might displace old ones; fickleness or disappointments might change their whole career; but it was not so with him. His thoughts and affections never changed their object, for the same conditions appealed constantly to the same susceptibility; if he grieved over the unbelief of the Jews, he had unceasing (αδιαλειπτον) pain in his heart; if he gave thanks for the Thessalonians, he remembered without ceasing (αδιαλειπτως) the graces with which they had been adorned by God.

Nor were these continual thanksgivings vague or formal; the Apostle recalls, in each particular case, the special manifestations of Christian character which inspire his gratitude. Sometimes, as in 1st Corinthians, they are less spiritual-gifts, rather than graces; utterance and knowledge, without charity; sometimes, as here, they are eminently spiritual-faith, love, and hope. The conjunction of these three in the earliest of Paul’s letters is worthy of remark. They occur again in the well-known passage in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, where, though they share in the distinction of being eternal, and not, like knowledge and eloquence, transitory in their nature, love is exalted to an eminence above the other two. They occur a third time in one of the later epistles-that to the Colossians-and in the same order as here. That, says Lightfoot on the passage, is the natural order. "Faith rests on the past; love works in the present; hope looks to the future." Whether this distribution of the graces is accurate or not, it suggests the truth that they cover and fill up the whole Christian life. They are the sum and substance of it, whether it looks back, or looks around, or looks forward. The germ of all perfection is implanted in the soul which is the dwelling place of "these three."

Though none of them can really exist, in its Christian quality, without the others, any of them may preponderate at a given time. It is not quite fanciful to point out that each in its turn seems to have bulked most largely in the experience of the Apostle himself. His earliest epistles-the two to the Thessalonians-are pre-eminently epistles of hope. They look to the future; the doctrinal interest uppermost in them is that of the second coming of the Lord, and the final rest of the Church. The epistles of the next period-Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians-are as distinctly epistles of faith. They deal largely with faith as the power which unites the soul to God in Christ, and brings into it the virtue of the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus. Later still, there are the epistles of which Colossians and Ephesians are the type. The great thought in these is that of the unity wrought by love; Christ is the head of the Church; the Church is the body of Christ; the building up of the body in love, by the mutual help of the members, and their common dependence on the Head, preoccupies the apostolic writer. All this may have been more or less accidental, due to circumstances which had nothing to do with the spiritual life of Paul; but it has the look of being natural, too. Hope prevails first-the new world of things unseen and eternal outweighs the old; it is the stage at which religion is least free from the influence of sense and imagination. Then comes the reign of faith; the inward gains upon the outward; the mystical union of the soul to Christ, in which His spiritual life is appropriated, is more or less sufficient to itself; it is the stage, if it be a stage at all, at which religion becomes independent of imagination and sense. Finally, love reigns. The solidarity of all Christian interests is strongly felt; the life flows out again, in all manner of Christian service, on those by whom it is surrounded; the Christian moves and has his being in the body of which he is a member. All this, I repeat, can be only comparatively true; but the character and sequence of the Apostle’s writings speak for its truth so far.

But it is not simply faith, love, and hope that are in question here: "we remember," says the Apostle, "your work of faith and labour of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." We call faith, love, and hope the Christian graces; and we are apt to forget that the associations of heathen mythology thus introduced, are disturbing rather than enlightening. The three Graces of the Greeks are ideally beautiful figures; but their beauty is aesthetic, not spiritual. They are lovely as a group of statuary is lovely; but though "by (their) gift come unto men all pleasant things and sweet, and the wisdom of a man and his beauty, and the splendour of his fame," their nature is utterly unlike that of the three powers of the Christian character; no one would dream of ascribing to them work, and labour, and patience. Yet the mere fact that "Graces" has been used as a common name for both has diffused the idea that the Christian graces also are to be viewed mainly as the adornments of character, its unsought, unstudied beauties, set on it by God to subdue and charm the world. That is quite wrong; the Greek Graces are essentially beauties; they confer on men all that wins admiration-personal comeliness, victory in the games, a happy mood; but the Christian graces are essentially powers; they are new virtues and forces which God has implanted in the soul that it may be able to do His work in the world. The heathen Graces are lovely to look at, and that is all; but the Christian graces are not subjects for aesthetic contemplation; they are here to work, to toil, to endure. If they have a beauty of their own - and surely they have-it is a beauty not in form or colour, not appealing to the eye or the imagination, but only to the spirit which has seen and loved Christ, and loves His likeness in whatever guise.

Let us look at the Apostle’s words more closely: he speaks of a work of faith; to take it exactly, of something which faith has done. Faith is a conviction with regard to things unseen, that makes them present and real. Faith in God as revealed in Christ and in His death for sin, makes reconciliation real; it gives the believer peace with God. But it is not shut up in the realm of things inward and unseen. If it were, a man might say what he pleased about it, and there would be no check upon his words.

Wherever it exists, it works: he who is interested can see what it has done. Apparently the Apostle has some particular work of faith in his mind in this passage; some thing which the Thessalonians had actually done, because they believed; but what it is we cannot tell. Certainly not faith itself; certainly not love, as some think, referring to Galatians 5:6; if a conjecture may be hazarded, possibly some act of courage or fidelity under persecution, similar to those adduced in Hebrews 11:1-40. That famous chapter contains a catalogue of the works which faith wrought; and serves as a commentary, therefore, on this expression. Surely we ought to notice that the great Apostle, whose name has been the strength and shield of all who preach justification by faith alone, the very first time he mentions this grace in his epistles, mentions it as a power which leaves its witness in work.

It is so, also, with love: "we remember," he writes, "your labour of love." The difference between εργον (work) and κοπος (labour) is that between effect and cause. The Apostle recalls something which the faith of the Thessalonians did; he recalls also the wearisome toil in which their love spent itself. Love is not so capable of abuse in religion, or, at least, it has not been so rankly abused, as faith. Men are much more apt to demand the proof of it. It has an inward side as much as faith; but it is not an emotion which exhausts itself in its own transports. Merely as emotion, indeed, it is apt to be undervalued. In the Church of today emotion needs rather to be stimulated than repressed. The passion of the New Testament startles us when we chance to feel it. For one man among us who is using up the powers of his soul in barren ecstasies, there are thousands who have never been moved by Christ’s love to a single tear or a single heart throb. They must learn to love before they can labour. They must be kindled by that fire which burned in Christ’s heart, and which He came to cast upon the earth, before they can do anything in His service. But if the love of Christ has really met that answer in love for which it waits, the time for service has come. Love in the Christian will attest itself as it attested itself in Christ. It will prescribe and point out the path of labour. The word employed in this passage is one often used by the Apostle to describe his own laborious life. Love set him, and will set everyone in whose heart it truly burns, upon incessant, unwearied efforts for others’ good. Paul was ready to spend and be spent at its bidding, however small the result might be. He toiled with his hands, he toiled with his brain, he toiled with his ardent, eager, passionate heart, he toiled in his continual intercessions with God, and all these toils made up his labour of love. "A labour of love," in current language, is a piece of work done so willingly that no payment is expected for it. But a labour of love is not what the Apostle is speaking of; it is laboriousness, as love’s characteristic. Let Christian men and women ask themselves whether their love can be so characterised. We have all been tired in our time, one may presume; we have toiled in business, or in some ambitious course, or in the perfecting of some accomplishment, or even in the mastery of some game or the pursuit of some amusement, till we were utterly wearied: how many of us have so toiled in love? How many of us have been wearied and worn with some labour to which we set ourselves for God’s sake? This is what the Apostle has in view in this passage; and, strange as it may appear, it is one of the things for which he gives God thanks. But is he not right? Is it not a thing to evoke gratitude and joy, that God counts us worthy to be fellow labourers with Him in the manifold works which love imposes?

The church at Thessalonica was not old; its first members could only count their Christian age by months. Yet love is so native to the Christian life, that they found at once a career for it; demands were made upon their sympathy and their strength which were met at once, though never suspected before. "What are we to do," we sometimes ask, "if we would work the works of God?" If we have love enough in our hearts, it will answer all its own questions. It is the fulfilling of the law just because it shows us plainly where service is needed, and put us upon rendering it at any cost of pain or toil. It is not too much to say that the very word chosen by the Apostle to characterise love- this word κοπος -is peculiarly appropriate, because it brings out, not the issue, but only the cost, of work. With the result desired, or without it; with faint hope, or with hope most sure, love labours, toils, spends and is spent over its task: this is the very seal of its genuine Christian character.

The third grace remains: "your patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." The second coming of Christ was an element in apostolic teaching which, whether exceptionally prominent or not, had made an exceptional impression at Thessalonica. It will more naturally be studied at another place; here it is sufficient to say that it was the great object of Christian hope. Christians not only believed Christ would come again; they not only expected Him to come; they were eager for His coming. "How long, O Lord?" they cried in their distress. "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly," was their prayer.

It is matter of notoriety that hope in this sense does not hold its ancient place in the heart of the Church. It holds a much lower place. Christian men hope for this or that; they hope that threatening symptoms in the Church or in society may pass away, and better things appear; they hope that when the worst comes to the worst, it will not be so bad as the pessimists anticipate. Such impotent and ineffective hope is of no kindred to the hope of the gospel. So far from being a power of God in the soul, a victorious grace, it is a sure token that God is absent. Instead of inspiring, it discourages; it leads to numberless self-deceptions; men hope their lives are right with God, when they ought to search them and see; they hope things will turn out well when they ought to be taking security of them. All this, where our relations to God are concerned, is a degradation of the very word. The Christian hope is laid up in heaven. The object of it is the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not precarious, but certain; it is not ineffective, but a great and energetic power. Anything else is not hope at all.

The operation of the true hope is manifold. It is a sanctifying grace, as appears from 1 John 3:3 : "Everyone that hath this hope set on Him, purifieth himself, even as He is pure." But here the Apostle characterises it by its patience. The two virtues are so inseparable that Paul sometimes uses them as equivalent; twice in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus, he says faith, love, and patience, instead of faith, love, and hope. But what is patience? The word is one of the great words of the New Testament.

The corresponding verb is usually rendered endurance, as in Christ’s saying, "He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved." Patience is more than resignation or meek submission; it is hope in the shade, but hope nevertheless; the brave steadfastness which bears up under all burdens because the Lord is at hand. The Thessalonians had much affliction in their early days as Christians; they were tried, too, as we all are, by inward discouragements-that persistence and vitality of sin that break the spirit and beget despair; but they saw close at hand the glory of the Lord; and in the patience of hope they held out, and fought the good fight to the last. It is truly significant that in the Pastoral Epistles patience has taken the place of hope in the trinity of graces. It is as if Paul had discovered, by prolonged experience, that it was in the form of patience that hope was to be mainly effective in the Christian life. The Thessalonians, some of them, were abusing the great hope; it was working mischief in their lives, because it was misapplied; in this single word Paul hints at the truth which abundant experience had taught him, that all the energy of hope must be transformed into brave patience if we would stand in our place at the last. Remembering their work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope, in the presence of our God and Father, the Apostle gives thanks to God always for them all. Happy is the man whose joys are such that he can gratefully dwell on them in that presence: happy are those also who give others Cause to thank God on their behalf.

The ground of the thanksgiving is finally comprehended in one short and striking phrase: "Knowing, brethren beloved of God, your election." The doctrine of election has often been taught as if the one thing that could never be known about anybody was whether he was or was not elect. The assumed impossibility does not square with New Testament ways of speaking. Paul knew the elect, he says here; at least he knew the Thessalonians were elect. In the same way he writes to the Ephesians: "God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world; in love He foreordained us to adoption as sons." Chose whom before the foundation of the world? Foreordained whom? Himself, and those whom he addressed. If the Church has learned the doctrine of election from anybody, it has been from Paul; but to him it had a basis in experience, and apparently he felt differently about it from many theologians. He knew when the people he spoke to were elect; how, he tells in what follows.

Verses 5-8

Chapter 3

THE SIGNS OF ELECTION

1 Thessalonians 1:5-8 (R.V.)

THE Revised Version renders the οτι, with which ver. 5 begins, "how that," the Authorised Version, "for." In the first case, the Apostle is made to explain in what election consists; in the other, he explains how it is that he knows the Thessalonians to be among the elect. There is hardly room to doubt that it is this last which he intends to do. Election does not consist in the things which he proceeds to enlarge upon, though these may be in some sense its effects or tokens; and there is something like unanimity among scholars in favour of the rendering "for," or "because." What, then, are the grounds of the statement, that Paul knows the election of the Thessalonians? They are twofold; lying partly in his own experience, and that of his fellow labourers, while they preached the gospel in Thessalonica; and partly in the reception which the Thessalonians gave to their message.

I. The tokens in the preacher that his hearers are elect: "Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance." That was the consciousness of the preachers themselves, but they could appeal to those who had heard them: "even as ye know what manner of men we showed ourselves toward you for your sake."

The self-consciousness of the preacher, we see from these words, is a legitimate though a perilous study. Everyone has been told that there is no relation whatever between his own consciousness when preaching, and the effect of what is preached; but has anybody ever quite believed this? If there were no relation whatever between the preacher’s Consciousness and his conscience; if he did not know that many a time neglect of prayer or duty had separated him from God, and made him useless as an evangelist, it would be easier to believe it; but as our life is, the preacher may know quite well that it is no proof of God’s good will to men that he is sent to preach to them; or, on the other hand, he may have a humble but sure trust that when he Stands up to speak, God is with him for good to his hearers. Thus it was with Paul at Thessalonica.

The heartiness with which he speaks here justifies the inference that he had had experiences of an opposite and disappointing kind. Twice in Asia {Acts 16:6 f.} he had been forbidden by the Spirit to preach at all; he could not argue that the people so passed by were specially favoured of God. Often, especially in his intercourse with the Jews, he must have spoken, like Isaiah, with the depressing consciousness that it was all in vain; that the sole issue would be to blind their eyes and harden their hearts and seal them up in impenitence. In Corinth, just before writing this letter, he had come forward with unusual trepidation-in weakness and fear and much trembling; and though there also the Holy Spirit and a divine power brought home the gospel to men’s hearts, he seems to have been so far from that inward assurance which he enjoyed at Thessalonica, that the Lord appeared to him in a vision by night to reveal the existence of an election of grace even in Corinth. "Fear not: I have much people in this city." In Thessalonica he had no such sinking of heart. He came thither, as he hoped to go to Rome, in the fulness of the blessing of Christ. {Romans 15:29} He knew in himself that God had given it to him to be a true minister of His grace; he was full of power by the Spirit of the Lord. That is why he says so confidently, "Knowing your election."

The Apostle explains himself more precisely when he writes, "not in word only, but in power and in the Holy Ghost and in much assurance." The gospel must come in word at least; but what a profanation it is to preach it only in word. Not preachers only, but all Christians, have to be on their guard, lest familiarity rob the great words of the gospel of their reality, and they themselves sink into that worst atheism which is forever handling holy things without feeling them. How easy is it to speak of God, Christ, redemption, atonement, sanctification, heaven, hell, and to be less impressed and less impressive than if we were speaking of the merest trivialities of everyday life. It is hard to believe that an apostle could have seen such a possibility even from afar; yet the contrast of "word" and "power" leaves no room to doubt that such is his meaning. Words alone are worthless. No matter how brilliant, how eloquent, how imposing they may be, they cannot do the work of an evangelist. The call to this requires "power."

No definition of power is given; we can only see that it is that which achieves spiritual results, and that the preacher is conscious of possessing it. It is not his own, certainly: it works through the very consciousness of his own want of power; "when I am weak, then am I strong." But it gives him hope and confidence in his work. Paul knew that it needed a stupendous force to make bad men good; the forces to be overcome were so enormous. All the sin of the world was arrayed against the gospel; all the dead weight of men’s indifference, all their pride, all their shame, all their self-satisfaction, all their cherished wisdom. But he came to Thessalonica strong in the Lord, confident that his message would subdue those who listened to it; and therefore, he argued, the Thessalonians were the objects of God’s electing grace.

Power stands side by side with the "Holy Ghost." In a sense, the Holy Ghost is the source of all spiritual virtues, and therefore of the very power of which we have been speaking; but the words are probably used here with some narrower meaning. The predominant use of the name in the New Testament bids us think of that divine fervour which the spirit kindles in the soul-that ardour of the new life which Christ Himself speaks of as fire. Paul came to Thessalonica aglow with Christian passion. He took that as a good omen in his work, a sign that God meant well to the Thessalonians. By nature men do not care passionately for each other as he cared for those to whom he preached in that city. They are not on fire with love, seeking each other’s good in spiritual things; consumed with fervent longing that the bad should cease from their badness, and come to enjoy the pardon, the purity, and the company of Christ. Even in the heart of apostles-for though they were apostles they were men-the fire may sometimes have burned low, and a mission have been, by comparison, languid and spiritless; but at least on this occasion the evangelists were all on fire; and it assured them that God had a people waiting for them in the unknown city.

If "power" and the "Holy Ghost" are in some degree to be judged only by their effects, there can be no question that "much assurance," on the other hand, is an inner experience, belonging strictly to the self-consciousness of the preacher. It means a full and strong conviction of the truth of the gospel. We can only understand this by contrast with its opposite; "much assurance" is the counterpart of misgiving or doubt. We can hardly imagine an apostle in doubt about the gospel-not quite certain that Christ had risen from the dead; wondering whether, after all, His death had abolished sin. Yet these truths, which are the sum and substance of the gospel, seem, at times, too great for belief; they do not coalesce with the other contents of our mind; they do not weave easily into one piece with the warp and woof of our common thoughts; there is no common measure for them and the rest of our experience, and the shadow of unreality falls upon them. They are so great that it needs a certain greatness to answer to them, a certain boldness of faith to which even a true Christian may feel momentarily unequal; and while he is unequal, he cannot do the work of an evangelist. Doubt paralyses; God cannot work through a man in whose soul there are misgivings about the truth. At least, His working will be limited to the sphere of what is certain for him through whom He works; and if we would be effective ministers of the word, we must speak only what we are sure of, and seek the full assurance of the whole truth. No doubt such assurance has conditions. Unfaithfulness of one kind or another is, as our Lord teaches, {John 7:17} the source of uncertainty as to the truth of His word; and prayer, repentance, and obedience due, the way to certainty again. But Paul had never been more confident of the truth and power of his gospel than when he came to Thessalonica. He had seen it proved in Philippi, in conversions so dissimilar as those of Lydia and the jailor. He had felt it in his own heart, in the songs which God had given him in the night while he suffered for Christ’s sake. He came among those whom he addresses confident that it was God’s instrument to save all who believed. This is his last personal reason for believing the Thessalonians to be elect.

Strictly speaking, all this refers rather to the delivery of the message than to the messengers, to the preaching than to the preachers; but the Apostle applies it to the latter also. "Ye know," he writes, "what manner of men we showed ourselves toward you for your sakes." I venture to think that the word rendered "we showed ourselves" has really the passive sense-"what God enabled us to be"; it is God’s good will to the Thessalonians which is in view, and the Apostle infers that good will from the character which God enabled him and his friends to sustain for their sakes. Who could deny that God had chosen them, when He had sent them Paul and Silas and Timothy; not mere talkers, cold and spiritless, and dubious of their message; but men strong in spiritual force, in holy fervour, and in their grasp of the gospel? If that did not go to show that the Thessalonians were elect, what could?

II. The self-consciousness of the preachers, however, significant as it was, was no conclusive evidence. It only became such when their inspiration was caught by those who listened to them; and this was the case at Thessalonica. "Ye became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost." This peculiar expression implies that the signs of God’s election were to be seen in the evangelists, and eminently in the Lord. Paul shrinks from making himself and his companions types of the elect, without more ado; they are such only because they are like Him, of whom it is written, "Behold my servant whom I uphold; Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth." He speaks here in the same strain as in 1 Corinthians 11:1 : "Brethren, be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ." They who have become like the Lord are marked out as the chosen of God.

But the Apostle does not rest in this generality. The imitation in question consisted in this-that the Thessalonians received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost. It is, of course, in the last part of the sentence that the point of comparison is found. In a sense it is true that the Lord Himself received the word which He spoke to men. "I do nothing of Myself," He says; "but as the Father hath taught Me, I speak these things." {John 8:28} But such a reference is irrelevant here. The significant point is that the acceptance of the gospel by the Thessalonians brought them into fellowship with the Lord, and with those who continued His work, in that which is the distinction and criterion of the new Christian life - much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost. That is a summary of the life of Christ, the Apostle of the Father. {John 17:18} It is more obviously a summary of the life of Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ. The acceptance of the gospel meant much affliction for him: "I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake." It meant also a new and supernatural joy, a joy arising from, and sustained by, the Holy Spirit, a joy triumphant in and over all sufferings. This combination of affliction and spiritual joy, this original, paradoxical experience, is the token of election. Where the children of God live, as Christ and His apostles lived, in the midst of a world at war with God and His cause, they will suffer; but suffering will not break their spirit, or embitter them, or lead them to desert God; it will be accompanied with spiritual exaltation, keeping them sweet, and humble, and joyful, through it all. Paul knew the Thessalonians were elect, because he saw that new power in them, to rejoice in tribulations, which can only be seen in those who have the spirit of God.

This test, obviously, can only be applied when the gospel is a suffering cause. But if the profession of the Christian faith, and the leading of a Christian life entail no affliction, what shall we say? If we read the New Testament aright, we shall say that there is a mistake somewhere. There is always a cross; there is always something to bear or to overcome for righteousness’ sake; and the spirit in which it is met tells whether God is with us or not. Not every age is, like the apostolic, an age of open persecution, of spoiling of goods, of bonds, and scourging, and death; but the imitation of Christ in His truth and faithfulness will surely be resented somehow; and it is the seal of election when men rejoice that they are counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. Only the true children of God can do that. Their joy is in some sense a present recompense for their sufferings; but for suffering they could not know it. "I never knew," said Rutherford, "by my nine years preaching, so much of Christ’s love as He hath taught me in Aberdeen, by six months imprisonment." It is a joy that never fails those who face affliction that they may be true to Christ. Think of the Christian boys in Uganda, in 1885, who were bound alive to a scaffolding and slowly burned to death. The spirit of the martyrs at once entered into these lads, and together they raised their voices and praised Jesus in the fire, singing till their shrivelled tongues refused to form the sound:-

"Daily, daily, sing to Jesus, Sing, my soul, His praises due;

All He does deserves our praises, And our deep devotion too".

For in deep humiliation, He for us did live below;

Died on Calvary’s cross of torture, Rose to save our souls from woe.

Who can doubt that these three are among the chosen of God? And who can think of such scenes, and such a spirit, and recall without misgiving the querulous, fretful, aggrieved tone of his own life, when things have not gone with him exactly as he could have wished?

The Thessalonians were so conspicuously Christian, so unmistakably exhibited the new Divine type of character, that they became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. Their conversion called the attention of all men to the gospel, like a clear and far-resounding trumpet blast. Thessalonica was a place of much coming and going on all sides; and the success of the evangelists there, being carried abroad in various ways, advertised their work, and so far prepared for their coming. Paul would naturally have spoken of it when he went to a new city, but found it unnecessary; the news had preceded him; in every place their faith to God-ward had gone forth. So far as we learn, it was the most impressive incident which had yet occurred in the progress of the gospel. A work of grace so characteristic, so thorough, and so unmistakable, was a token of God’s goodness, not only to those who were immediately the subjects of it, but to all who heard, and by hearing had their interest awakened in the evangelists and their message.

This whole subject has a side for preachers, and a side for hearers of the gospel. The preacher’s peril is the peril of coming to men in word only; saying things which he does not feel, and which others, therefore, will not feel; uttering truths, it may be, but truths which have never done anything for him-enlightened, quickened, or sanctified him-and which he cannot hope, as they come from his lips, will do anything for others; or worse still, uttering things of which he cannot even be confident that they are true. Nothing could be less a sign of God’s grace to men than to abandon them to such a preacher, instead of sending them one full of power, and of the Holy Ghost, and of assurance. But whatever the preacher may be, there is something left to the hearer. There were people with whom even Paul, full of power and of the Holy Ghost, could not prevail. There were people who hardened their hearts against Christ; and let the preacher be ever so unworthy of the gospel, the virtue is in it, and not in him. He may not do anything to commend it to men; but does it need his commendation? Can we make bad preaching an excuse for refusing to become imitators of the Lord It may condemn the preacher, but it can never excuse us. Look steadily at the seal which God sets upon His own-the union of affliction with spiritual joy-and follow Christ in the life which is marked by this character as not human only, but Divine. That is the way prescribed to us here to make our election sure.

Verses 9-10

Chapter 4

CONVERSION

1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 (R.V.)

THESE verses show what an impression had been made in other places by the success of the gospel at Thessalonica. Wherever Paul went, he heard it spoken about. In every place men were familiar with all its circumstances; they had heard of the power and assurance of the missionaries, and of the conversion of their hearers from heathenism to Christianity. It is this conversion which is the subject before us. It has two parts or stages. There is first, the conversion from idols to the one living and true God; and then the distinctively Christian stage of waiting for the Son of God from heaven. Let us look at these in order.

The Apostle, so far as we can make out, judged the religions of heathenism with great severity. He knew that God never left Himself without a witness in the world, but God’s testimony to Himself had been perverted or ignored. Ever since the creation of the world, His everlasting power and divinity might be seen by the things He had made; His law was written on conscience; rain from heaven and fruitful seasons proved His good and faithful providence; yet men were practically ignorant of Him. They were not willing, in fact, to retain Him in their knowledge; they were not obedient; they were not thankful; when they professed religion at all, they made gods after their own image, and worshipped them. They bowed before idols; and an idol, says Paul, is nothing in the world. In the whole system of pagan religion the Apostle saw nothing but ignorance and sin; it was the outcome, in part, of man’s enmity to God; in part, of God’s judicial abandonment of men; in part, of the activity of evil spirits; it was a path on which no progress could be made; instead of pursuing it farther, those who wished really to make spiritual advance must abandon it altogether.

It is possible to state a better case than this for the religion of the ancient world; but the Apostle was in close and continuous contact with the facts, and it will take a great deal of theorising to reverse the verdict of a conscience like his on the whole question. Those who wish to put the best face upon the matter, and to rate the spiritual worth of paganism as high as may be, lay stress on the ideal character of the so-called idols, and ask whether the mere conception of Zeus, or Apollo, or Athene, is not a spiritual achievement of a high order. Let it be ever so high, and still, from the Apostle’s ground, Zeus, Apollo, and Athene are dead idols. They have no life but that which is conferred upon them by their worshippers. They can never assert themselves in action, bestowing life or salvation on those who honour them. They can never be what the Living God was to every man of Jewish birth-Creator, Judge, King, and Saviour; a personal and moral power to whom men are accountable at every moment, for every free act.

"Ye turned unto God from. idols, to serve a living and true God." We cannot overestimate the greatness of this change. Until we understand the unity of God, we can have no true idea of His character, and therefore no true idea of our own relation to Him. It was the plurality of deities, as much as anything, which made heathenism morally worthless. Where there is a multitude of gods, the real power in the world, the final reality, is not found in any of them; but in a fate of some sort which lies behind them all. There can be no moral relation of man to this blank necessity; nor, while it exists, any stable relation of man to his so-called gods. No Greek or Roman could take in the idea of "serving" a God. The attendants or priests in a temple were in an official sense the deity’s ministers; but the thought which is expressed in this passage, of serving a living and true God by a life of obedience to His will, a thought which is so natural and inevitable to either a Jew or a Christian, that without it we could not so much as conceive religion-that thought was quite beyond a pagan’s comprehension. There was no room for it in his religion; his conception of the gods did not admit of it. If life was to be a moral service rendered to God, it must be to a God quite different from any to whom he was introduced by his ancestral worship. That is the final condemnation of heathenism; the final proof of its falsehood as a religion.

There is something as deep and strong as it is simple in the words, to serve the living and true God. Philosophers have defined God as the ens realissimum, the most real of beings, the absolute reality; and it is this, with the added idea of personality, that is conveyed by the description "living and true." But does God sustain this character in the minds even of those who habitually worship Him? Is it not the case that the things which are nearest to our hand seem to be possessed of most life and reality, while God is by comparison very unreal, a remote inference from something which is immediately certain? If that is so, it will be very difficult for us to serve Him. The law of our life will not be found in His will, but in our own desires, or in the customs of our society; our motive will not be His praise, but some end which is fully attained apart from Him. "My meat, said Jesus, is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work"; and He could say so because God who sent Him was to Him the living and true God, the first and last and sole reality, whose will embraced and covered all His life. Do we think of God so? Are the existence of God and the claim of God upon our obedience the permanent element in our minds, the unchanging background of all our thoughts and purposes? This is the fundamental thing in a truly religious life.

But the Apostle goes on from what is merely theistic to what is distinctively Christian. "Ye turned to God from idols to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead."

This is a very summary description of the issue of Christian conversion. Judging by the analogy of other places, especially in St. Paul, we should have expected some mention of faith. In Acts 20:1-38, e.g., where he characterises his preaching, he names as its main elements, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. But here faith has been displaced by hope; the Thessalonians are represented not as trusting in Christ, but as waiting for Him. Of course, such hope implies faith. They only waited for Him because they believed He had redeemed them, and would save them at the great day. If faith and hope differ in that the one seems to look mainly to the past and the other to the future, they agree in that both are concerned with the revelation of the unseen.

Everything in this revelation goes back to the resurrection and rests upon it. It is mentioned here, in the first instance, exactly as in Romans 1:4, as the argumentum palmarium for the Divine Sonship of Jesus. There are many proofs of that essential doctrine, but not all can be brought forward in all circumstances. Perhaps the most convincing at the present time is that which is drawn from the solitary perfection of Christ’s character; the more truly and fully we get the impression of that character, as it is reflected in the Gospels, the surer we are that it is not a fancy picture, but drawn from life; and that He whose likeness it is stands alone among the sons of men. But this kind of argument it takes years, not perhaps of study, but of obedience and devotion, to appreciate; and when the apostles went forth to preach the gospel they needed a more summary process of conviction. This they found in Christ’s resurrection; that was an event standing alone in the world’s history. There had been nothing like it before; there has been nothing like it since. But the men who were assured of it by many infallible proofs, did not presume to disbelieve it because of its singularity; amazing as it was, they could not but feel that it became one so unique in goodness and greatness as Jesus; it was not possible, they saw after the event, that He should be holden by the power of death; the resurrection only exhibited Him in His true dignity; it declared Him the Son of God, and set Him on His throne. Accordingly in all their preaching they put the resurrection in the forefront. It was a revelation of life. It extended the horizon of man’s existence. It brought into view realms of being that had hitherto been hidden in darkness. It magnified to infinity the significance of everything in our short life in this world, because it connected everything immediately with an endless life beyond. And as this life in the unseen had been revealed in Christ, all the apostles had to tell about it centred in Him. The risen Christ was King, Judge, and Saviour; the Christian’s present duty was to love, trust, obey, and wait for Him.

This waiting includes everything. "Ye come behind in no gift," Paul says to the Corinthians, "waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ." That attitude of expectation is the bloom, as it were, of the Christian character. Without it, there is something lacking; the Christian who does not look upward and onward wants one mark of perfection. This is, in all probability, the point on which we should find ourselves most from home, in the atmosphere of the primitive Church. Not unbelievers only, but disciples as well, have practically ceased to think of the Second Advent. The society which devotes itself to reviving interest in the truth uses Scripture in a fashion which makes it impossible to take much interest in its proceedings; yet a truth so clearly a part of Scripture teaching cannot be neglected without loss. The door of the unseen world closed behind Christ as He ascended from Olivet, but not forever. It will open again; and this same Jesus shall so come in like manner as the apostles beheld Him go. He has gone to prepare a place for those who love Him and keep His word; but "if I go," He says, "and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and take you to Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." That is the final hope of the Christian faith. It is for the fulfilment of this promise that the Church waits. The Second Coming of Christ and His Resurrection stand and fall together; and it will not long be possible for those who look askance at His return to receive in all its fulness the revelation of life which He made when He rose again from the dead. This world is too much with us; and it needs not languor, but strenuous effort on the part of faith and hope, to make the unseen world as real. Let us see that we come not behind in a grace so essential to the very being of Christianity.

The last words of the verse describe the character in which the Son of God is expected by Christians to appear-Jesus, our deliverer from the wrath to come. There is, then, according to apostolic teaching, a coming wrath - a wrath impending over the world, and actually on its way towards it. It is called the wrath to come, in distinction from anything of the same nature of which we have experience here. We all know the penal consequences which sin brings in its train even in this world. Remorse, unavailing sorrow, shame, fear, the sight of injury which we have done to those we love and which we cannot undo, incapacity for service, -all these are Dart and parcel of the fruit which sin bears. But they are not the wrath to come. They do not exhaust the judgment of God upon evil. Instead of discrediting it, they bear witness to it; they are, so to speak, its forerunners; the lurid clouds that appear here and there in the sky, but are finally lost in the dense mass of the thunderstorm. When the Apostle preached the gospel, he preached the wrath to come; without it, there would have been a missing link in the circle of Christian ideas. "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ," he says. Why? Because in it the righteousness of God is revealed, a righteousness which is God’s gift and acceptable in God’s sight. But why is such a revelation of righteousness necessary? Because the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. The gospel is a revelation made to the world in view of a given situation, and the most prominent and threatening element in that situation is the impending wrath of God. The apostles do not prove it; they declare it. The proof of it is left to conscience, and to the Spirit of God reinforcing and quickening conscience; if anything can be added to this, it is the gospel itself; for if there were no such thing as the wrath of God, the gospel would be gratuitous. We may, if we please, evade the truth; we may pick and choose for ourselves among the elements of New Testament teaching, and reject all that is distasteful; we may take our stand upon pride, and decline to be threatened even by God; but we cannot be honest, and at the same time deny that Christ and His apostles warn us of wrath to come.

Of course we must not misconceive the character of this wrath. We must not import into our thoughts of it all that we can borrow from our experience of man’s anger-hastiness, unreason, intemperate rage. The wrath of God is no arbitrary, passionate outburst; it is not, as wrath so often is with us, a fury of selfish resentment. "Evil shall not dwell with Thee," says the Psalmist: and in that simple word we have the root of the matter. The wrath of God is, as it were, the instinct of self-preservation in the Divine nature; it is the eternal repulsion, by the Holy One, of all evil. Evil shall not dwell with Him. That may be doubted or denied while the day of grace lasts, and God’s forbearance is giving space to the sinful for repentance; but a day is coming when it will no more be possible to doubt it-the day which the Apostle calls the day of wrath. It will then be plain to all the world that God’s wrath is no empty name, but the most terrible of all powers-a consuming fire in which everything opposed to His holiness is burnt up. And while we take care not to think of this wrath after the pattern of our own sinful passions, let us take care, on the other hand, not to make it an unreal thing, without analogy in human life. If we go upon the ground of Scripture and of our own experience, it has the same degree and the same kind of reality as the love of God, or His compassion, or His forbearance. In whatever way we lawfully think of one side of the Divine nature, we must at the same time think of the other. If there is a passion of Divine love, there is a passion of Divine wrath as well. Nothing is meant in either case unworthy of the Divine nature; what is conveyed by the word passion is the truth that God’s repulsion of evil is as intense as the ardour with which He delights in good. To deny that is to deny that He is good.

The Apostolic preacher, who had announced the wrath to come, and awakened guilty consciences to see their danger, preached Jesus as the deliverer from it. This is the real meaning of the words in the text; and neither "Jesus which delivered," as in the Authorised Version, nor, in any rigorous sense, "Jesus which delivereth," as in the Revised. It is the character of Jesus that is in view, and neither the past nor the present of His action. Everyone who reads the words must feel, How brief! how much remains to be explained! how much Paul must have had to say about how the deliverance is effected! As the passage stands, it recalls vividly the end of the second Psalm: "Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish in the way, for His wrath will soon be kindled. Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him." To have the Son a friend, to be identified with Jesus-so much we see at once-secures deliverance in the day of wrath. Other Scriptures supply the missing links. The atonement for sin made by Christ’s death; faith which unites the soul to the Saviour, and brings into it the virtue of His cross and resurrection; the Holy Spirit who dwells in believers, sanctifying them, and making them fit to dwell with God in the light, -all these come into view elsewhere, and in spite of the brevity of this notice had their place, beyond doubt, in Paul’s teaching at Thessalonica. Not that all could be explained at once: that was unnecessary. But from imminent danger there must be an instantaneous escape; and it is sufficient to say that it is found in Jesus Christ. "Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him." The risen Son is enthroned in power; He is Judge of all; He died for all; He is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him. To commit everything definitely to Him; to leave Him to undertake for us; to put on Him the responsibility of our past and our future, as He invites us to do; to put ourselves for good and all at His side, -this is to find deliverance from the wrath to come. It leaves much unexplained that we may come to understand afterwards, and much, perhaps, that we shall never understand; but it guarantees itself, adventure though it be; Christ never disappoints any who thus put their trust in Him.

This description in outline of conversion from paganism to the gospel should revive the elementary Christian virtues in our hearts. Have we seen how high a thing it is to serve a living and true God? Or is it not so, that even among Christians, a godly man-one who lives in the presence of God, and is conscious of his responsibility to Him-is the rarest of all types? Are we waiting for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead? Or are there not many who hardly so much as form the idea of His return, and to whom the attitude of waiting for Him would seem strained and unnatural? In plain words, what the New Testament calls Hope is in many Christians dead: the world to come and all that is involved in it-the searching judgment, the impending wrath, the glory of Christ-have slipped from our grasp. Yet it was this hope which more than anything gave its peculiar colour to the primitive Christianity, its unworldliness, its moral intensity, its command of the future even in this life. If there were nothing else to establish it, would not its spiritual fruits be sufficient?

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/1-thessalonians-1.html.