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CONTENTS.—Paul, after the address and salutation, testifies that he renders constant thanks to God for the Thessalonians, calling to remembrance their faith, love, and hope, being assured of their election. He expresses his joy in their cordial reception of the gospel and the Christian character which they exhibited, being examples to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia. He mentions the favorable report which he had of their conversion to God from idols, and of their waiting for the advent of Christ.
1 Thessalonians 1:1
Paul. He does not call himself "an apostle," not because the Thessalonians were newly converted (Chrysostom), or from tenderness to Silvanus who was not an apostle (Estius), or because his apostolic authority was not yet recognized (Jowett), or because he had merely commenced his apostolic labors (Wordsworth); but because his apostleship had never been called in question by the Thessalonians. For the same reason he omits this title in the Epistle to the Philippians; whereas he strongly insists upon it in his Epistles to the Corinthians and Galatians, because among them there were many opposed to his authority. And Silvanus. The same as the Silas of the Acts. He is mentioned as a chief man among the brethren, and a prophet or inspired teacher (Acts 15:22, Acts 15:32). His Latin name renders it probable that he was a Hellenistic Jew, and, like Paul, he was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37). He was sent with Judas Barsabas from Jerusalem, to convey the apostolic decrees to Antioch; and he accompanied Paul instead of Barnabas on his second missionary journey (Acts 15:40). He suffered imprisonment with Paul at Philippi; and was engaged with him in preaching the gospel in Thessalonica, Beraea, and Corinth. His ministry at Corinth is honorably mentioned by Paul in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:9). After this there is no more mention of Silvanus in the Acts, and it is doubtful whether he was the Silvanus by whom the First Epistle of Peter was conveyed to the Churches of Asia (1 Peter 5:12). £ Ancient tradition, erroneously supposing that Silas and Silvanus were different persons, makes Silas the Bishop of Corinth, and Silvanus the Bishop of Thessalonica. And Timotheus. The well-known disciple of Paul. He was a native of Lystra, having a Greek father and a Jewish mother (Acts 16:1). He joined Paul and Silas on their second missionary journey at Lystra, and was with them in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth. He was with Paul on his third missionary journey, and was sent by him on a mission to Macedonia and Corinth (Acts 19:22; 1 Corinthians 16:10), and accompanied him into Asia on his last journey to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). He was also with Paul during his first Roman imprisonment, when he wrote the Epistles to the Philippians and Colossians (Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1). Afterwards he resided at Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3); from which he was recalled to Rome by Paul shortly before his martyrdom (2 Timothy 4:21). The last mention of Timothy is in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you" (Hebrews 13:23). According to ecclesiastical tradition, he became Bishop of Ephesus, and there suffered martyrdom. Silvanus and Timotheus are associated with Paul in his address to the Thessalonians, not to give weight and authority to his Epistle, but because they assisted him in the planting of the Church at Thessalonica, and were now with him at Corinth, when he was writing this Epistle. Silvanus is placed first, because he was the older and had been longer with the apostle, and, as is evident from the Acts, was at this time the more important of the two (Acts 16:19; Acts 17:4). By being included in the address, they are represented as joint authors of the Epistle with Paul, although they were only so in name. It is possible that Paul employed one of them as his amanuensis in writing the Epistle. Unto the Church. The word "Church" denotes a select assembly; here, Christians selected from the world. It does not denote in the New Testament, as with us, a building, but the congregation. In Paul's later Epistles, those addressed are called, not the Church, but saints. Of the Thessalonians. In other Epistles the address is to the city, as Rome, Philippi, Colosse; here it is to the inhabitants. The Church of the Thessalonians was chiefly composed of converted Gentiles, with a small number of converted Jews (see Introduction). Which is; to be omitted, as not being in the original. In God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ. The characteristic peculiarity of the Church: they are in God and Christ, that is, in fellowship with them, united to them. "In God the Father" characterizes them as not being heathens; "in the Lord Jesus Christ" characterizes them as not being Jews. Grace be unto you, and peace. The usual apostolic benediction. "Grace" is the Greek and" peace" is the Jewish form of salutation. The Greeks commenced their epistles with wishing grace for those to whom they wrote; and the usual form of salutation among the Jews was Shalom or "peace;" the apostle combines them, thus intimating that both Greeks and Jews are one in Christ Jesus. In the Pastoral Epistles and in the Second Epistle of John the form is "Grace, mercy, and peace" (2 John 1:3.), and in the Epistle of Jude it is "Mercy, peace, and love" (Jude 1:2). From God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. These words are wanting in some important manuscripts, and are omitted in the R.V. The preponderance, however, of external authority is in their favor.
1 Thessalonians 1:2
We. Many expositors (Cony-beare, Koch, Jowett) suppose that the plural is here used for the singular; as Paul elsewhere does in other parts of this Epistle. Thus: "Wherefore we would come unto you, even I Paul, once and again" (1 Thessalonians 2:18); "Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone" (1 Thessalonians 3:1). In these verses the pronoun "we" is evidently restricted to Paul. Still, however, Silvanus and Timotheus being mentioned directly before, it is most natural to include them here. Give thanks to God always for you all. All Paul's Epistles, with the solitary exception of the Epistle to the Galatians, commence with an expression of thanksgiving. Making mention of you in our prayers; whilst we are engaged in prayer for you. Paul's prayer for the Thessalonians took the form of thanksgiving.
1 Thessalonians 1:3
Remembering without ceasing. Some attach the words, "without ceasing," or "unceasingly," to the previous clause; "making mention of you unceasingly in our prayers" (so Alford). Your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope. These expressions are not to be weakened, as if they were a mere Hebraism for active faith, laborious love, and patient hope. We have here the three cardinal virtues—faith, love, and hope (1 Corinthians 13:13). Elsewhere these graces are combined. Thus again in this Epistle: "Putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation" (1 Thessalonians 5:8); and in the Epistle to the Colossians: "Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all saints, for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven" (Colossians 1:4, Colossians 1:5). By the "work of faith" is not meant faith itself as the work of God (John 6:29), but that faith which is energetic, which is active and living, productive of good works. By the "labor, or toil, of love" is not meant that love which is devoted to God, but that love which manifests itself in acts of kindness toward our fellow-Christians and toward the human race. And by the "patience of hope" is meant that constancy which remains unconquered by trials and persecutions. There is a climax here; faith manifests itself by its works—its active exertion; love by its toils—its works of self-denial; and hope by its patience—its endurance amid trials and discouragements. "Remembering, the apostle would say, your faith, hope, and love: a faith that had its outward effect on your lives; a love that spent itself in the service of others; and a hope that was no mere transient feeling, but was content to wait for the things unseen, when Christ should be revealed" (Jowett). In our Lord Jesus Christ. These words do not refer to all three virtues (Hohnann), but only to the last, specifying its object, namely, that it is hope in the advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is hope s highest expectation, because at the advent the kingdom of Christ will come in its glory. In the sight of (or rather, before) God and our Father. These words are to be conjoined with "remembering:" "remembering unceasingly before God and our Father your work of faith," etc. According to the English idiom, the conjunction "and" is dropped—"God our Father."
1 Thessalonians 1:4
Knowing; that is, not the Thessalonians themselves, but we, Paul and Silvanus and Timotheus; knowing, being well assured of. Brethren beloved, your election of God; or rather, as it is in the margin and in the R.V., Knowing brethren, beloved of God, your election. By election is meant that act of free grace by which God destines individuals to become believers in Christ. Thus the Thessalonian converts were chosen or elected by God from among their heathen countrymen to become Christians. The ultimate reason of their Christianity was their election of God.
1 Thessalonians 1:5
For; or rather, how that (R.V.); or, because; assigning the reasons for Paul's confidence in their election; and these reasons were two: first, the powerful entrance which the gospel had among them; and secondly, the joyful reception which was given to it by the Thessalonians. Our gospel; that is, the gospel which was preached by us. Came not unto you in word only. The gospel came in word, for this was a necessary pre-requisite, but "not in word only," that is, it was not a bare publication or communication in human words. But in power. Some restrict the epithets which here follow to the teachers, as denoting the mode in which they preached the gospel; but it is better to refer them both to the teachers and the taught. By "power" is not meant miracles, but, in contrast to "word," the power with which Paul and his companions preached, and the impression which the gospel made on the hearers. And in the Holy Ghost. Here also the reference is, not to miraculous gifts, but to the influences of the Spirit accompanying the preaching of the gospel; such was the efficacy of Paul's preaching that it proved itself to be accompanied by the operation of the Holy Ghost in the conversion of his hearers. There is here an ascent: the gospel came in power, and, what is more, it came in the Holy Ghost. And in much assurance. By "assurance" here is meant the confidence with which Paul and his fellow-workers preached the gospel to the Thessalonians, and the fullness of conviction with which the Thessalonians received it. As ye know. An appeal to their knowledge that what he now states is true. What manner of men we were among you. Alluding to the blamelessness of their behavior when in Thessalonica. For your sake; namely, that we sought not our own profit or advantage, but your spiritual good.
1 Thessalonians 1:6
Now follows the second reason assigned by Paul for his confidence in their election. And ye became followers (or, imitators) of us, and of the Lord; of Christ. By becoming imitators of the apostle, they became imitators of Christ. "Be ye followers of me," writes St. Paul to the Corinthians, "even as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). The point of imitation did not consist in their cordial reception of the gospel, for that could not apply to Christ; but in their joyful endurance of suffering. Having received the word in much affliction. We learn from the Acts that the unbelieving Jews stirred up the heathen rabble, and raised a persecution against Paul and his associates, in consequence of which they had to depart from Thessalonica (Acts 17:4-10). It would appear that, after the apostle had left the city, the persecution, far from abating, rather increased, and the Gentile inhabitants united with the unbelieving Jews against the Christians; the Thessalonian converts suffered from their own countrymen as well as from the Jews (1 Thessalonians 2:14). With joy of the Holy Ghost; that is, not merely spiritual joy, or joy in the Holy Ghost, but joy which proceeds from the Holy Ghost—joy which is produced by him, of which he is the Author.
1 Thessalonians 1:7
So that ye were ensamples. The word here rendered "ensamples" literally signifies "types." It is used to denote a form or figure (Acts 7:43), a model or likeness (Acts 7:44), a mark or impression (John 20:25). Hence, in a metaphorical sense, it came to signify an example, a pattern for imitation. "Now these things are our examples" (1 Corinthians 10:6). To all that believe—to all believers—in Macedonia and Achaia. These are the two provinces into which ancient Greece was divided by the Romans, each of which was governed by a proconsul Macedonia was the northern portion, including Macedonia proper, Epirus and Illyricum; at first it was divided into four districts, but afterwards united into one province, of which Thessalonica was constituted the capital. Achaia was the southern portion of ancient Greece, including the Peloponnesus, Attica, Boeotia, etc., and, until recently, was nearly of the same dimensions with the modern kingdom of Greece; its capital was Corinth.
1 Thessalonians 1:8
For; or, because the proof of tiffs praise conferred on the Thessalonians. From you sounded out. Resounded like the sound of a trumpet. Comp. Romans 10:18, "Their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the end of the world." The word of the Lord. This does not intimate that the Thessalonians by their missionary activity disseminated the gospel, but that from them locally the-gospel had spread. Not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad. There is a slight difficulty in the construction. The sentence is complete without the addition, "your faith to God-ward is spread abroad," and, therefore, we must consider these words as equivalent to "from you sounded out the word of the Lord." When the apostle says that "the faith of the Thessalonians is spread abroad in every place," the meaning is that the report of their joyful reception of the gospel had excited universal attention. There is here a certain use of the figure hyperbole. The words, "in every place," are not to be taken in their full literal sense, but are merely a strong expression for the wide diffusion of the faith of the Thessalonians. Paul uses similar hyperboles in other places, as when he speaks of the faith of the Romans being spoken of throughout the whole world (Romans 1:5), and of the gospel having come into all the world (Colossians 1:6). This wide diffusion of the Faith of the Thessalonians, notwithstanding the recent date of their conversion, may be accounted for when we consider that Thessalonica and Corinth were two great commercial cities, from and to which there was a constant coming and going, so that reports might easily be transmitted by merchants and strangers. It has also been suggested that Aquila and Priscilla, who had lately come from Rome (Acts 18:2), must in their journey have passed through Thessalonica, and would bring with them to Corinth such a report of the faith of the Thessalonians (Wieseler). So that we need not to speak anything; that is, of your faith, as this is already so well known and applauded.
1 Thessalonians 1:9
For they themselves; that is, the reporters, those in Macedonia, Achaia, and every other place. Show of us; or, report concerning us (R.V.) in regard to our preaching or entrance among you. Instead of questions being asked of us by them, as would naturally be expected, they of their own accord give information. What manner of entering in we had among you. "Entering" here evidently refers, not merely to the outward entrance, the mere preaching of the gospel among the Thessalonians; but to the access, the internal entrance, which the gospel found into their hearts; that is, with what power and fullness of the Holy Ghost we preached the gospel unto you, and with what joy and confidence and contempt of danger ye received it. And how ye turned to God from idols. This, as already remarked, is one of the proofs that the Church of Thessalonica was chiefly composed of Gentile converts, though, of course, not to the exclusion of the Jewish element (Acts 17:4). To serve the living and true God. Two epithets there employed in contrast to the idols of the heathen: "living," in opposition to dead idols, which were nothing in the world; "true," not in the sense of veracious, but of real in opposition to the imaginary gods of the heathen.
1 Thessalonians 1:10
And to wait. The faith of the Thessalonians took the form of hope or expectation for the coming of the Lord; an element of Christian feeling, perhaps, not so prominent in the present day. For his Son from heaven; referring to the second advent. Christ on his departure from this world went to heaven, where he resides, making intercession for us, but from thence he will come to judge the quick and the dead. In the primitive Church the advent of Christ was not regarded as at a distance, but as an event which might at any moment occur. Whom he raised from the dead; with emphasis placed before "Jesus," because his resurrection from the dead was the open declaration, the public inauguration, of his Divine sonship (Romans 1:4). Even Jesus which delivered us. The participle is present; not past, "who delivered us," namely, by his death; nor future, "who shall deliver us," at the judgment; but present," who delivers us;" the deliverance is going on—it commenced with Iris death, but will not be completed until his advent. Or the word may be used as a substantive, "Jesus, our Deliverer." From the wrath; or righteous indignation of God; here punishment as the effect of wrath. "The wrath of God is, in its deepest ground, love; love itself becomes a consuming fire to whatever is opposed to the nature of goodness" (Koch). To come; literally, which is coming, the coming wrath, denoting its absolute certainty. This coming wrath will take place at the advent of Christ, when he appears, not only for the salvation of his people, but for the destruction of his enemies.
1 Thessalonians 1:1, 1 Thessalonians 1:2
The character of Christians.
1. They are converted; they turn to God from idols. As the heathen turned from material idols, so do believers from spiritual idols. A change is effected in their disposition; their chief affection is now fixed on God and Christ; they serve the living and true God.
2. They wait for the Lord Jesus Christ; they expect salvation from him, and look forward to his second craning.
3. They live a holy life; they possess the three cardinal virtues, and prove that they do so by their outward manifestations.
1 Thessalonians 1:3
The three cardinal virtues
faith, love, and hope.
1. Their order. Faith is the commencement of the spiritual life, love its progress and continuance, and hope its completion; faith is the foundation, love the structure, and hope the top-stone of God's spiritual temple in the soul.
2. Their manifestations. Faith is seen by its works; love, by its self-denying exertions; and hope, by its patience and endurance.
3. Their reference to time. Faith refers to the past, love to the present, and hope to the future.
1 Thessalonians 1:5
The entrance of the gospel.
1. Negatively. "Not in word only." The preaching of the gospel will only add to our condemnation if we do not by faith accept it; not nominal, but real Christianity is the chief matter; the entrance must not be external, but internal.
2. Positively. "In power," arresting us in our worldly career; "in the Holy Ghost," being the Agent of our conversion; "in much assurance," so that we know from experience its truth and efficacy.
1 Thessalonians 1:6
The imitation of Christ.
Christ not only died as a Sacrifice, but lived as an Example. He is the great Example whom we must imitate, the Pattern of the new creation, the Original of which all believers are copies. Especially we must imitate him in his patient endurance of suffering. The cross is ever the Christian's motto; and we can only enter into heaven through tribulation.
1 Thessalonians 1:6
The union of affliction with joy.
The Thessalonians "received the word with much affliction and joy of the Holy Ghost." Christianity makes no stoical demands. Spiritual joy does not exclude, but even includes, sorrow. "Sorrowing, yet always rejoicing," is the Christian's condition. To glory in tribulation is the Christian's experience. "In the spiritual world joy and sorrow are not two, but one."
1 Thessalonians 1:7
The example of Christians.
It was greatly to the praise of the Thessalonians that they were examples to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia.
1. Consistent believers are living evidences of the truth of Christianity. By the purity of their conduct, by their unselfishness, by their patience in suffering, they prove that there is something real and living in Christianity.
2. Inconsistent believers are obstacles in the way of the gospel. They confirm the worldly in their worldliness, as if Christianity were a mere pretence, and thus give occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme.
1 Thessalonians 1:10 - The expectation of the advent.
Believers are here described as waiting for the Son of God from heaven. Certainty of the fact of the advent; Christ shall come from heaven. Uncertainty of the time of the advent; "Of that day knoweth no man, not even the angels who are in heaven." It would appear that the early Christians believed that Christ might come at any time, even in their days; the first advent, being so recent, excited within them the expectation of the immediateness of the second. Hence the doctrine of the second advent occupied a much more prominent place in the thoughts of the primitive Christians than it does in ours. It was to them a living power; believers then lived in constant expectation of the coming of the Lord; whereas the teaching of the present day has in a measure passed from it; its uncertainty, instead of exciting us to holiness and watchfulness, is too often abused as an encouragement to sloth and security.
HOMILIES BY T. CROSKERY
1 Thessalonians 1:1 - Address and salutation.
At a point almost midway between the apostle's call and his martyrdom he penned this first of his thirteen Epistles, which was, perhaps, the earliest book of New Testament Scripture, and addressed to one of the primary centers of European Christianity.
I. THE AUTHORS OF THE SALUTATION. "Paul, and Silvanus, and Timothy." Simply Paul, without official adjunct of any sort, for there was no one in the Thessalonian Church to challenge his apostleship or his relationship to Christ. He associates Silvanus and Timothy with himself in the salutation as they were associated with him in the original foundation of the Church; Silvanus being placed next to himself, because he was of older standing and greater weight in the Church than Timothy, a comparatively young evangelist.
II. THE CHURCH TO WHICH THE SALUTATION WAS ADDRESSED. "To the Church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
1. Its situation. Thessalonica was the capital of all Macedonia, and is still the second city of European Turkey. Important then as now by its commerce; important by its place on the great road which connected Rome with its Asiatic dependencies; but more important in the eye of the apostle as a grand center of missionary operations both by laud and sea, and with a mingled population of Jews and Gentiles.
2. Its true character as a Church. It was "the Church of the Thessalonians"—a regularly organized community of Christians, mostly Gentiles, having the root and ground of its spiritual existence in union with the Father and the Son. They were "in the fellowship of the Father and the Son," because they were "dwelling in God, and God in them," and "they were in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ." The one fellowship implies the other; for Jesus said, "No man cometh unto the Father but by me;" yet it is also true that it is "God who calls us into the fellowship of the Son" (1 Corinthians 1:9). This double fellowship is secured by the bond of the Holy Spirit. As enjoyed by the Thessalonians it implied:
(1) Their devotion to the truth; for only "as abiding in the doctrine of Christ" they would have "both the Father and the Son" (2 John 1:9; 1 John 2:24). There is no fellowship but in the truth. To be in darkness is to be out of fellowship (1 John 1:6).
(2) Their unity. "Even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us" (John 17:21).
(3) Their love to one another. "If we love one another God abideth in us" (1 John 4:12).
(4) Their boldness in the day of judgment (1 John 2:28).
(5) Their ultimate perfection. "I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one" (John 17:21-23). Behold thus the high dignity and blessed privilege of the Church at Thessalonica.
III. THE SALUTATION. "Grace and peace be unto you." (See homiletical hints on Galatians 1:5; Colossians 1:2.)—T.C.
1 Thessalonians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:3 - Heartfelt thanksgiving for spiritual prosperity.
The apostle begins by a full and earnest expression of thanksgiving such as is characteristic of all his Epistles except that to the Galatians.
I. THE GROUND OF THANKSGIVING. "Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." We consider here:
1. The graces of the Christian life. We have here, in the first Epistle ever written by the apostle, his favorite trilogy of Christian principles.
(1) The three graces are fundamental. As the three principal colors of the rainbow—red, yellow, and blue, representing respectively heat, light, and purifying power—supply in their combination all the other colors, so, by a sort of moral analysis, it can be shown that faith, hope, and love lie at the foundation, or enter into the composition, of all other Christian graces whatever.
(2) They are three inseparable graces. Faith always works by love, and love is inseparable from hope, for "hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost" (Romans 5:5). Faith is the necessary root, as hope and love are its unfailing fruits. As faith works by love, it is also the substance of things hoped for.
(3) They are at once the defense and the adornment of Christian life. "Let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation" (1 Thessalonians 5:8).
(4) They are the abiding principles of Christian life: "Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three" (1 Corinthians 13:13). They do not die with death; for in eternity the Church will 'be made perfect in love, as it will ever continue to trust in the Lord, and hope for new developments of truth and new disclosures of blessedness.
2. The practical aspect of these graces as forces in the life of the Church. There is a climax in the exhibition of the three graces. The apostle does not say, "the work of faith, the work of love, the work of hope," but ascends from work to labor, and from labor to endurance. There is a work that is a refreshing exercise of our energies, but it involves no exhaustion or fatigue; but when work has deepened into labor we become conscious of the limitation of our strength, and then we have to call in the new principle of endurance, or "patience," if we are to carry it to a triumphant result.
(1) The work of faith points to a work springing out of faith; for faith is the most active of all the principles which influence human conduct. Their faith was, therefore, a fruitful faith.
(2) The labor of love suggests the sacrifices which we are ready to make for the objects of our love. It was not "love in word or in tongue," but "in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18).
(3) The patience of hope suggests the severity of present afflictions, which are borne with constancy and perseverance because the sufferers arc cheered by hope. But it is "hope in our Lord Jesus Christ;" that is, hope of his second advent; for the Thessalonians had a constant and overwhelming sense of the nearness of his coming, which in some cases broke in upon the continuity of their daily duties.
II. THE OCCASION, CIRCUMSTANCES, AND FREQUENCY OF THE APOSTLE'S THANKSGIVING. "We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers."
1. It was in his prayers for them that he expressed his thanksgiving. "Even in the sight of God and our Father." The care of all the Churches was upon him daily (2 Corinthians 11:28), and under such a burden he "bowed his knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." It is happy for Christians to be remembered in the prayers of saints, to be borne upon their hearts, to be borne up before God in intercessory prayer (Romans 1:9; Ephesians 1:16). His thanksgivings were as constant as his prayers.
2. Tile thanksgivings were addressed to God because the spiritual prosperity at Thessalonica was due neither to the converts themselves nor to the preachers of the gospel. We must ever speak of the grace of God, and exalt it in our praises.
3. The thanksgiving was all the more hearty and full because it had regard to the prosperity of the entire community. "All of you," because they were an eminent seal Of his apostleship, a blessed effect of his ministry among them.—T.C.
1 Thessalonians 1:4-6 - Their election and its fruits another ground of thanksgiving.
The apostle, Jew as he was, addresses these Gentiles as his brethren, and represents them as the objects of Divine love. "Knowing, brethren beloved of God, your election."
I. THERE IS AN ELECTION ACCORDING: TO GRACE.
1. The election referred to here was not an election to external privilege or ecclesiastical relationship; for that might have had a very uncertain issue, and would not have been the subject of such abounding thankfulness as he expresses in this passage.
2. It was not even the call to obtain glory, which they had received through his gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Thessalonians 2:14); for the election only realized itself in that call, Scripture always distinguishing the order of election and calling. "Whom he did predestinate, them he also called" (Romans 8:30).
3. Much less is the election to be identified with regeneration, conversion, or faith. These were its effects.
4. It was an election to eternal life, involving all the various processes of his grace. (Romans 11:5.)
(1) It is an election in Christ (Ephesians 1:4).
(2) It is irrespective of merit (Romans 9:11).
(3) It is through faith and the sanctification of the Spirit (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
(4) It is to eternal glory (Romans 9:23).
II. THE KNOWLEDGE OF THIS ELECTION IS A POSSIBLE AND AN ACTUAL EXPERIENCE. The apostle's knowledge was not derived from special revelation, neither was it the mere credulity of a kindly charity, "hoping all things" in the absence of evidence. It had a double ground—one subjective and the other objective; one based upon the apostle's conscious experience in preaching the gospel, the other upon their practical and hearty reception of the truth.
1. The subjective evidence. "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance."
(1) It did come in word, for it was conveyed to the Thessalonians in human speech, albeit not "in the enticing words of man's wisdom," but it passed beyond the word. It did not merely sound in the ear nor touch the understanding.
(2) But it came in power—on the part of the preachers with an overwhelming force and persuasiveness, so that "the faith of the people should not stand in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God" (1 Corinthians 2:5). There was a conscious abounding energy which carried them beyond themselves, with an overmastering conviction that they would prevail.
(3) It came also "in the Holy Ghost," or, as the apostle elsewhere phrases it, "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Corinthians 2:4). The Word would otherwise have been a dead letter and a killing letter, but the Spirit gave it life. The power of the gospel, therefore, was due to the efficient operation of the Spirit.
(4) It came also "in much assurance," not on the part of the Thessalonians, but on the part of the preachers of the gospel, who were fully convinced of its truth, and had thorough confidence in its power.
(5) This subjective evidence was confirmed by their own recollection of the three preachers of the gospel—"As ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake." The Thessalonians would have a very vivid recollection both of the preaching and the preachers. The three brethren were conspicuous by their holiness, their zeal, and their interest in the welfare of the Thessalonians. This was no self-flattery, for it was confirmed by the knowledge of their converts.
2. The objective evidence of their election. "And ye became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the Word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost." Their ready imitation of the apostle and his colleagues—which was, in truth, an imitation of Christ, so far as they were connected with him in his life and truth—was a practical proof of the sincerity of their conversion. The imitation was manifest in the spirit and circumstances of their reception of the truth.
(1) The truth was received "in much affliction." The history of their conversion confirms this statement (Acts 17:5, Acts 17:9). But the persecution continued after the departure of the apostle. The gospel had its drawbacks, but the Thessalonians were steadfast in their allegiance to the truth.
(2) Yet it was received "with joy of the Holy Ghost;" that is, the joy that springs from his presence in the soul. They were thus imitating that apostle who "took pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake" (2 Corinthians 12:9, 2 Corinthians 12:10). The joy in question is
(a) a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22);
(b) it is essentially connected with the kingdom of God as part of its blessedness (Romans 14:17);
(c) it is capable of increase through the very presence of affliction (Acts 5:41);
(d) it is the strength of the believer—"The joy of the Lord shall be your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10);
(e) its advent marks a distinct change in the world's history;
(f) it ought to be constant (Philippians 4:4);
(g) it is maintained through abiding in Christ (John 15:10, John 15:11).—T.C.
1 Thessalonians 1:7, 1 Thessalonians 1:8 - The profound impression made by the conversion of the Thessalonians.
Having become imitators of the apostles and of our Lord, they soon became examples for the imitation of other Churches. Their conversion lifted them up into a sudden and distinct visibility in two directions.
I. THE GOSPEL WAS TITUS CARRIED THROUGH NORTHERN AND SOUTHERN GREECE LIKE THE RINGING SOUND OF A TRUMPET. "For from you hath sounded out the Word of the Lord in Macedonia and Achaia." These two divisions of Greece, included in the Roman empire, received the report of the gospel, which went forth like a joyful sound, proclaiming with no uncertainty liberty to the captives.
1. A work of grace in one place quickly leads to a work of grace in other places. The tale of wonder is repeated with solemn surprise, gratitude, and expectation.
2. Churches already in existence were stirred and stimulated by the visible work of grace at Thessalonica.
II. THE REPORT OF THEIR FAITH RECEIVED A WIDE PUBLICITY EVERYWHERE, EVEN OUTSIDE THE LIMITS OF GREECE. This was not wonderful, for the city was, as Cicero says, in the very bosom of the Roman empire, a center of business and influence which touched its furthest limits. Their faith must have had the solid stamp of reality to produce such a widespread sensation. It must have been practical and self-mantles-tattoo, for they did not hide it in their own breasts, but declared it by words and deeds. There was, therefore, no necessity for the apostle speaking about it—"so that we need not to speak anything."—T.C.
1 Thessalonians 1:9, 1 Thessalonians 1:10 - The nature of the impression made upon the world by the spectacle of Thessalonian piety.
It was a truly providential foresight that led the apostles at the beginning of the gospel to plant it first in the great cities of the world. Thus it first appeared at Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Rome, and Corinth.
I. THE WORLD WAS FIRST IMPRESSED BY THE RAPID AND IMMEDIATE SUCCESS OF THE APOSTLES. "For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you." The world seemed to appreciate the boldness, the sincerity, the uprightness of the preachers, as elements of their success; for there was no dexterous flattery, there was no spirit of self-seeking, there was no guileful strategy, in the proclamation of the gospel.
II. THE WORLD WAS STILL MORE DEEPLY IMPRESSED BY THE BLESSED EFFECTS OF THE APOSTLES' PREACHING, "And how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God."
1. It was a conversion from idolatry, Immediately and at once they received converting grace, under the influence of which they turned to the Lord from their dead and fictitious deities.
(1) Idolatry is apostasy from God. These Thessalonians" had changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things" (Romans 1:23). They had been "joined to their idols" for ages (Hosea 4:17). They had been hitherto walking just like other Gentiles, in all moral blindness and carnality of heart (Ephesians 4:17, Ephesians 4:18).
(2) Their conversion was a repudiation of idolatry. It was not mere proselytism. It was the bursting asunder of ties which had an immense social as well as religious weight in pagan life.
(3) It was a thorough consecration to the service of the living and true God. As their God was true God and living God, having life in himself and a true and faithful relation to his worshippers, they could give him the living service of faith, obedience, and dependence.
2. Another effect of the apostles' preaching was their expectation of our Lord's coming. The doctrine of the advent occupies the foreground in the thoughts of the Thessalonians, as in the two Epistles addressed to them. As faith underlies the service of the true God, so hope underlies the expectation of the Lord's coming. "And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivereth us from the wrath to conic."
(1) This implies the belief that Jesus is in heaven, to reign, to plead, to prepare a place for us.
(2) It implies the belief that he will return from heaven. The Thessalonians may have believed that he would return in that age, but all Christians live in the "blessed hope" of his second coming.
(3) This waiting attitude implied the recognition of a certain connection between Christ's resurrection and our deliverance from the wrath to come. They were not waiting for a dead man lying in a Jewish grave, but for One raised from the dead, and living in the power of an endless life. His resurrection implied the completion of his atoning work, as the work of atonement supplies the ground for our continuous deliverance from the wrath that is coming. There is a wrath coming upon disobedient sinners, but there is a way of deliverance provided in the Word of Jesus Christ ratified by his resurrection from the dead.—T.C.
HOMILIES BY B.C. CAFFIN
1 Thessalonians 1:1 - The address.
I. THE WRITER.
1. He uses no title. He does not style himself apostle. He asserted his apostolic authority when it was necessary to do so; for the sake of others, as in his Epistles to the Corinthians and Galatians. Now it was not necessary; the Macedonian Churches regarded him with affection and reverence. He simply gives his name, his new name—Paul. He had laid aside his old name with all its associations. It recalled the memory of the famous king, Saul the son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin. It recalled to the apostle the memories of his own old unconverted life, his self-satisfied Pharisaism, his persecution of the Church, especially that one saddest day of his life, when he consented to the death of the first martyr of the Lord, the holy Stephen. He had laid aside his old name, and with it his old modes of thought, his old life. Paul was, we may say, his Christian name; we do not read of it before the beginning of his first missionary journey; it was consecrated now by constant, untiring, self-sacrificing labor. It was known wherever Christ was preached as the name of the great missionary, the apostle of the Gentiles, the first of the noble band of Christian missionaries, who had left his home and all that once he loved to devote himself, heart and soul, to the mission work with all its hardships, all its dangers. Many holy men have trodden in his steps; but it was Paul who first set the high example, who kindled the sacred enthusiasm which has led so many saints in every age to fulfill the Lord's command, to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Paul is a Latin name; it means "little." St. Augustine in one place suggests that St. Paul may have chosen it to mark himself as "the least of the apostles." There are other possible reasons for the change, and it may be thought that St. Paul would have shrunk from what might seem almost like a parade of humility. But at least we may find a lesson here. God exalteth the humble. Paul is a famous name. Others have borne it—some distinguished Romans; but it was reserved for the apostle to make the name honored and beloved throughout the civilized world. The Paulus who conquered Macedonia for Rome is far less famous now than the Paul who won the Macedonian Churches for Christ.
2. He associates others with himself. Paul is the spiritual father of the Thessalonian Christians; he is the writer of the Epistle, not Silvanus or Timotheus (see 2 Thessalonians 3:17). But they had labored with him in Thessalonica; Silvanus certainly, Timotheus in all probability; they had shared his dangers there; they were well known to the Thessalonians. So he joins their names with his own, recognizing their brotherly fellowship, their faithful co-operation, and shrinking, it may be, kern putting himself into unnecessary prominence. He seeks not honor ion himself; he has no literary ambition; his one aim is the salvation of his converts, the glory of God.
(1) Silvanus, or, in the shortened form of the name, Silas. tic, like St. Paul, was a Roman citizen, and bore a Latin name. It was, in the Latin mythology, the name of the sylvan god, who was supposed to protect the sheep, and save them from wolves. When he became a Christian, that name might perhaps serve to remind him of the great duty of tending the flock for which the good Shepherd died. He had leech a leader in the Church at Jerusalem; he was a prophet (Acts 15:32), that is, he had the gift of spiritual, inspired eloquence; he used it to exhort and confirm the brethren. He accompanied St. Paul in his first missionary journey; he worked with him, he suffered with him. In the dungeon at Philippi, his feet made fast in the stocks, he prayed and sang praises unto God. His presence and sympathy had cheered St. Paul in his dangers. Companionship in affliction had bound them very close to one another. When working together at Thessalonica they must have still felt the effects of the many stripes which they had received at Philippi. It was natural that St. Paul should mention Silas in writing to the Thessalonians. We may notice here that he furnishes one of the links which couple together the two apostles whose differences (Galatians 2:11-21) have been so much magnified by heretics of old, by unbelievers now. St. Paul loved Silvanus; St. Peter counted him a faithful brother (l Peter 5:12).
(2) Timotheus, St. Paul's dearest companion, his own son in the faith, bound to him with the closest ties of tender, personal affection. He stands first among the noble company of holy, loving fellow-workers whom St. Paul had drawn around himself. He was known to the Thessalonians; his name, indeed, does not appear in the record of St. Paul's visit to Thessalonica in the Acts of the Apostles. But we know that he was sent there afterwards to establish and to comfort the Thessalonian Christians concerning their faith (1 Thessalonians 3:2). Doubtless he was chosen for that work because of the Christian zeal, the loving, gentle sympathy which marked his beautiful character. He fulfilled his mission, and brought back to the apostle good tidings of the faith and charity of the Thessalonians. He greets them now.
II. THE CHURCH.
1. The foundation of the Thessalonian Church. St. Paul had been shamefully treated at Philippi; he had not lost courage. He came to Thessalonica; he went, as he was wont, to the synagogue. There he preached for three sabbath days; he "reasoned with them out of the Scriptures." He showed (as our Lord himself had shown to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus) that it was necessary that the Messiah should suffer, and should rise again from the dead; he showed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ. All true preaching must be full of Scripture; all true preaching must be full of Christ. St. Paul's words were greatly blessed. Some Jews believed, a great multitude of Greek proselytes, many ladies of rank. Those three sabbaths had been wonderfully fruitful; a Church was formed at Thessalonica.
2. The word "Church." This is the earliest of St. Paul's extant Epistles; it may be (possibly the Epistle of St. James was written earlier) the earliest of all the writings of the New Testament. Then, if we were to read the New Testament in chronological order, we should meet here with the word "Church" for the first time. St. James 2:2 uses the word "synagogue," not "Church." Our Lord, of course, used it earlier. He founded the Church. He had said, "On this rock wilt I build my Church;" and again, "Tell it to the Church." But the date of St. Matthew's Gospel is probably later than that of this Epistle. The Greek word means simply an assembly, a congregation, as the word "synagogue" means a meeting. It is derived from a verb which means to call out or summon, and is regularly used in classical Greek of the assemblies of citizens summoned by the magistrate in the Greek commonwealths for legislative or other political purposes (comp. Acts 19:39); sometimes of other assemblies, as of the crowd of artisans collected by Demetrius (Acts 19:32, Acts 19:41). It is used of the congregation of Israel in Acts 7:38; Hebrews 2:12; and sometimes in the Septuagint. The New Testament has taken the word and filled it with a new and holy meaning. It is the assembly which Christ hath chosen to himself out of the world—the flock of Christ. The visible Church of Christ is "a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same." The great day of Pentecost was the true birthday of the Church; the gift of the Holy Ghost then sent down from heaven knit together the disciples into one body, the mystical body of Christ. St. Luke gives us, in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, a description of the Church at that time. "Then they that gladly received the Word were baptized… and they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." Thus the notes of the Church, according to Holy Scripture, are baptism, fellowship with the apostles, the doctrine of the apostles, the holy communion, public worship. The Church is also one, for it is one body in Christ, united into one fellowship by the indwelling of the one Spirit. It is holy, because it is being sanctified by the Holy Ghost; all its members are dedicated to God in holy baptism; they are all pledged by that dedication to follow after holiness of heart and life. It is catholic, because it is not confined to one nation, like the synagogue, but universal, world-wide, open to all who receive the Word of God. It is apostolic, because it is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief Corner-stone; and because it continues in the doctrine and fellowship of the apostles. It is the bride of Christ. "Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that he might present it unto himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish."
3. The Church of the Thessalonians. Now there was a branch of the one Church at Thessalonica.
(1) It was the second Church founded in Europe. The first was at Philippi, a small place, though a Roman colony. Thessalonica was a populous city, the metropolis of Macedonia. God plants his Church everywhere. It embraces all who will accept the gospel—poor and rich, ignorant and learned; it meets the deepest needs of all places alike—the quiet country and the stirring city.
(2) It was already organized. It had its ministers (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:13), and its assemblies for public worship (1 Thessalonians 5:27). Short as St. Paul's visit was, he had, it seems, ordained elders there, as he was wont to do in every Church (Acts 14:23), and had provided for the regular meetings of the brethren.
(3) It was in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ. This was its essential characteristic. As Chrysostom says, "There were many e)kklhsi&ai, many assemblies both Jewish and Greek. St. Paul writes to that assembly, that congregation, which was in God. It is a high exaltation, above all other possible dignities, to be in God." Thessalonica formerly lay in wickedness, in the evil one (1 John 5:19), in the sphere of his activity. Now, the Church there was in God. The presence of God was the very atmosphere in which the Church lived and moved. It lay in the everlasting arms, encircled with his embrace, guarded by his love. The words imply a close intimate union, an exceeding great depth of love and tenderness, a very great and profound truth, which does not admit of formal definition, and cannot be adequately expressed in language; but it is realized, in a greater or less degree, in the inner life of those true members of the Church who abide in that invisible, but most holy and most blessed, union with the Lord. God had breathed into the Church of the Thessalonians the breath of life—that new life, that eternal life, which consists in the personal knowledge of God. That life is in his Son. Christ is the Life. "He that hath the Son hath life." The Thessalonian Church was in the Lord Jesus Christ, as it was in God. "We are in him that is true," says St. John, "even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life." The Church is in Christ, then surely Christ is God. The Church cannot be said to be in any creature; in St. Paul, for instance, or in any other of the holiest saints of God. Such an assertion would be unmeaning, blasphemous. Then in the first verse of the first of St. Paul's Epistles (the least dogmatic, some say, of all his Epistles, possibly the earliest of the New Testament writings), he distinctly teaches the great doctrine of the divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. "In Christ," "in the Lord," is a constant formula of St. Paul's; he is never weary of repeating it, never weary of enforcing the great truth that the Christian lives in Christ. Here he asserts the same thing of the Church as a whole. It is in Christ, living in his life, holy in his holiness, strong in his strength, glorious (John 17:22) in his glory; the glory of his presence now, the glory of eternal life with him henceforth in heaven. The Church is "in Christ;" its members must strive to realize the blessedness of that holy fellowship in their own individual souls. Outward membership will not avail for our salvation, unless we abide in living spiritual communion with the Lord.
III. THE SALUTATION.
1. Grace. It is one of those words which the Holy Spirit has taken from common use and filled with a sweet and sacred meaning.
(1) It is the gracious favor of God which rests upon all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. That favor is essentially free, spontaneous, flowing out of that eternal love which is intimately one with the very being of God. "God is love." It is given in and through the Lord Jesus; it is "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ."
(2) It is the gratitude, the spirit of joyful thankfulness, which should be the happy temper of those who believe in the grace of God.
(3) It sometimes (as in Colossians 4:6) expresses the sweetness, the winning beauty, the dignified gracefulness of the true Christian character. The grace of God produces thankfulness, and gives grace and beauty to the life.
2. Peace. It was the first greeting of the risen Lord to his apostles, "Peace be unto you." It became the apostolic greeting. The Macedonian Churches had little outward peace; they were early called to suffer. They needed that blessed peace which God alone can give. (See homiletics on Philippians 1:2 and Philippians 4:7.)
1. Imitate St. Paul in his humility. Notice every feature, every manifestation of that great grace; it is hard to learn.
2. The Church, as a whole, is in God; in his guardianship, in his encircling love. We must strive and pray to realize that loving presence individually, to be in God ourselves.
3. Pray that grace and peace may rest on all who bear the Name of Christ.—B.C.C.
1 Thessalonians 1:2-6 - The apostle's thanksgiving.
I. ITS CHARACTER.
1. It is shared with his companions. "We give thanks." The three friends prayed and gave thanks together. It is true that the plural number is characteristic of these Epistles to the Thessalonians; the singular is avoided, it seems, from motives of modesty. But here, immediately after the mention of the three names, it is natural to regard the thanksgiving as proceeding from all. It is a true Christian feeling that draws friends together for religious exercises. The faith, the love, of the one kindles, strengthens, the like graces in the other. The tide of prayer and praise from many hearts flows in deeper, fuller volume towards the throne. And we know that where two or three are gathered together in his Name, there is he in the midst of them.
2. It is constant. "We give thanks to God always." Thanksgiving is the joy of the redeemed in heaven; it is the outpouring of the Christian heart upon earth. The nearer we can approach to perpetual thanksgiving, the nearer we draw to heaven. "Sursum corda!"—"Lift up your hearts!" is an exhortation which we daily need. May God give us grace to answer daily, hourly, "We lift them up unto the Lord."
3. It is for all. The true shepherd knows his sheep; he loves them all, he prays for all. He does not divide them into parties. The closer his own walk with God, the more he is enabled to keep himself apart from and above party divisions. But the infant Thessalonian Church seems to have enjoyed the blessing of unity. It was not, like Corinth, distracted by strife and party feeling.
4. It accompanied prayer. Thanksgiving and prayer ever go together. The man who prays earnestly must give thanks, for prayer brings him into the sense of God's most gracious presence; and with that presence cometh joy—joy in the Lord. True prayer must involve intercession, for in answer to prayer the Holy Spirit is given; and the first, the chief of the fruits of the Spirit is love. St. Paul is a remarkable example of perseverance in intercessory prayer.
II. ITS GROUNDS.
1. His remembrance of their spiritual state. He was working hard at Corinth; in the midst of his labor, with all its new interests, he remembered without ceasing the Christians of Thessalonica. The care of all the Churches was already beginning to press upon him. He was unwearied in his labors, in his supplications, in his constant thoughtfulness for all the Churches which he had founded, for all the converts whom he had brought to Christ. Mark the extent, the comprehensiveness of his love for souls.
2. His description of that state. The Thessalonian Christians already exhibited the three chief Christian graces.
(1) Faith, and that not a dead faith, but a faith that was ever working through love. St. Paul remembered their work of faith. Faith is itself a work, the work of God. "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." It is itself a work, and it must work in the soul, for it is an active principle. It cannot exist without working. Its working may not always express itself in outward action; it will do so when possible; but it will be always working in the inner sphere of the heart, producing self-purification, self-consecration, spiritual self-sacrifice. Each step towards holiness is a work of faith, hidden, it may be, from the eyes of men, but seen by him who searcheth the heart. The Thessalonians had shown their faith by their works.
(2) Love, the greatest of the three, manifests itself in labor. The word is a strong one; "toil," perhaps, is a better rendering. Toil is not painful when it is prompted by love. True Christian love must lead the believer to toil for the gospel's sake, for the souls and bodies of those whom Jesus loved. The abundance of the Christian's labors is the measure of his love. "I labored more abundantly than they all" (says St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:10): "yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me."
(3) Hope. The object of the Christian's hope is the Savior—our "Lord Jesus Christ, which is our Hope." We hope for him—for his gracious presence revealed in fuller measure now, for the blissful vision of his glorious beauty hereafter. That hope is patient. The husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth; the Christian waits patiently for Christ. It works patience in the soul. He can endure the troubles of life who is blessed with the lively hope of the inheritance reserved in heaven. The Thessalonians showed in their lives the presence of this lively hope. All this the apostle remembered without ceasing before God in his prayers and meditations.
3. His confidence in God's election; Himself "a vessel of election" (Acts 9:15), he felt sure that the same gracious choice had rested on the Thessalonian Christians. God had "chosen them to salvation," he tells them in the Second Epistle. St. Paul loves to dwell on the great truth of God's election.
4. The evidence of that election. St. Paul finds it:
(1) In the lives of the Thessalonians. Archbishop Leighton beautifully says, "If men can read the characters of God's image in their own souls, these are the counterpart of the golden characters of his love in which their names are written in the book of life. He that loves God may be sure that he was first loved of God; and he that chooses God for his delight and portion may conclude confidently that God hath chosen him to be one of those that shall enjoy him and be happy in him for ever; for that our love of him is but the return and repercussion of the beams of his love shining upon us." The Thessalonians received the Word; they showed the martyr spirit; they were content to suffer as Christians for the gospel's sake. They had joy amid tears—that holy joy which the presence of the blessed Spirit can give even in the midst of afflictions. They were learning in their own experience the meaning of that seeming contradiction, "Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing." They imitated the holy life of St. Paul, the holiest life of the Lord Jesus Christ. By this patient continuance in well-doing they were making their calling and election sure.
(2) In the energy and success of his own preaching among them. He had brought them the gospel, the glad tidings of great joy. He had delivered his message with power, with the strength of deep conviction. The Holy Ghost was with him, teaching him what to speak, filling him with a Divine fervor and enthusiasm. His words were more than mere sounds; they were a message full of intense meaning—a message from God. The Thessalonians had felt the power of his preaching; they were his witnesses. This energy was not his own; it came from God; it proved that God was with him; it was a sure evidence that God was blessing the apostle's work; it was given for the sake of the Thessalonians; it surely meant that God had chosen them to be his own.
1. To take delight in the spiritual progress, in the, faith, hope, love of our fellow-Christians.
2. To thank God for it.
3. To refer all that seems good in us to God's electing grace.
4. To look for the evidence of that election in holiness of life.—B.C.C.
1 Thessalonians 1:7-10 - The happy results of the conversion of the Thessalonians.
I. THEY BECAME AN EXAMPLE TO OTHERS.
1. True piety tends to propagate itself. The Thessalonians had not long embraced Christianity. But they had learned much; they had given their hearts to God. The Macedonian Churches gave St. Paul, from the first, deep and unmingled satisfaction. Thessalonica was the metropolis of Macedonia, the seat of government, and of trade. It became a center of spiritual life. All believers throughout Macedonia and Achaia looked to the Thessalonians. St. Paul was now at Corinth, the chief city of Achaia. The Lord had much people in that city; but there were grave evils at Corinth, many causes for anxiety and distress. St. Paul must have told the Corinthians often of the simple faith and obedience of the Macedonians. So the Thessalonians became an example to the converts whose lot was cast among the sensual temptations anti the intellectual restlessness of the famous Peloponnesian town. The lives of good men are very precious; they are a living proof of the power of God's grace; they arc facts which can be seen and tested; facts from which the reality of the forces which are working in the unseen sphere of God's spiritual agency can be inferred with as much certainty as the laws of nature from the facts of observation and experiment.
2. The Word of God is living and powerful. The Thessalonians had received it; it was in their hearts and on their lips. As the starry heavens with their silent witness declare the glory of God, so it is with the stars that are in the right hand of the Son of God (Revelation 1:20); their sound goeth forth into all the earth. That heavenly melody was issuing now from Thessalonica. "It hath sounded forth," St. Paul says, like a clear, thrilling trumpet-strain. It hath sounded, and still it sounds, reaching far and wide with its penetrating tones. The conversion of the Thessalonians was known not only in the neighboring regions of Greece. The glad news had brought joy wherever the gospel had reached. It was not necessary for the apostle to praise the faith of the Thessalonians; men knew it., talked of it among themselves, reported it to the great missionary himself.
II. THE TESTIMONY THAT WAS BORNE TO THE FAITH OF THE THESSALONIANS. Christians talked:
1. Of the wonderful success of St. Paul's preaching. Those three weeks had been a time of marvelous fruitfulness. It was but an entrance, the time was so short; but what an entrance!—so full of power, so manifestly under the Divine guidance. The three men—Silas, of whom we know so little; Timotheus, shy and timid; Paul, of whom it was said in Corinth that his bodily presence was weak, and his speech contemptible,—they had done wonders in Thessalonica. God was with them plainly; there could be no other explanation of such strange unexampled energy.
2. Of the change wrought in the Thessalonians. They turned from idol-worship. The Thessalonian Church was mainly Gentile; there were a few Jews among them, but the Jews as a body bitterly persecuted the infant Church. The gospel was glad tidings indeed to thoughtful Gentiles. The Jews had great and precious truths, though their teachers had well-nigh hidden them under a mass of traditions and idle forms. But what was there in the heathenism of the day on which a thinking man could rest his soul? There were temples everywhere, but what man who felt the yearnings of the human soul for righteousness and God could in his heart reverence the deities who were worshipped there? So the Thessalonians turned from their idols:
(1) To serve the living and true God. The Gentiles did not serve their gods. It could not be. They admired the temples and the statues as works of art; they regarded their religion as of some political importance, a part of statecraft. But now the converts were ready to serve God, for they began to know him. Their idols were dead things; the God whom Paul preached was living, loving, and powerful; they felt his power in their hearts, nay, he was the Life; all life (they knew now) came from him, and was his gift. Their idols were false gods, there was no truth in them; they were images of that which was not; for an idol, as St. Paul taught them, was "nothing in the world." The Thessalonians could see the snowy top of Olympus; the stories of the gods who dwelt there were but idle tales. St. Paul had taught them of the great Creator who is very God, living and true; nay, the one only Source of real life and being, He is the very God, the self-existing One, I AM THAT I AM. There is none other.
(2) To wait for his Son from heaven. Hope is the key-note of this Epistle, as joy and faith are of the Epistles to the Philippians and the Romans. St. Paul had taught his converts not only to believe in God the Father who made us, but also in God the Son who redeemed us. He taught them the great truths of the Resurrection and Ascension, the blessed doctrine of the atonement. Some of the Thessalonians, perhaps, had tried to grapple with the dark mysteries of life, sin and misery. St. Paul pointed them to Jesus. "Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world." There is wrath coming in its awfulness; but there is a Deliverer—One who is delivering us now, who is daily delivering us from the power of sin, as we draw nearer and nearer to him; who will deliver us from the punishment of sin, if by the gracious help of the blessed Spirit we abide in him. And this Deliverer is Jesus.
1. The holy lives of Christian people help the blessed work of saving souls; holy lives are more persuasive than holy words. Let each Christian strive to do his part.
2. We are not in heathen darkness; God has given us the light of his gospel. Let us be thankful, and show our thankfulness in our lives.
3. Wait for the coming of the Lord Jesus; all our hopes are in him.—B.C.C.
HOMILIES BY R. FINLAYSON
1 Thessalonians 1:1 - Introduction.
This Epistle has the distinction of being the first in time of all Paul's Epistles. The leading thought, to which there is reference toward the close of each of the five chapters into which the Epistle has been divided, is the second coming of our Lord. The first three chapters are personal, setting forth the apostle's connection with the Thessalonians, and interest in them as a Church. In the remaining two chapters he addresses them in view of their condition as a Church, and especially in view of anxiety connected with the second coming. Pleased with the progress they were making, he writes to them in a quiet, practical, prevailingly consolatory strain.
I. THE WRITERS. "Paul, and Silvanus, and Timothy." Paul comes first, as preeminently the writer. It can be made out that the matter and style are characteristically Pauline. It speaks to his humility that he does not claim it as his own, that he does not put forward his official position, but associates two brethren with him as joint-writers. These, Silvanus (to be identified with Silas) and Timothy (less prominent at the time), assisted at the founding of the Thessalonian Church. Timothy had just returned from a visit of inquiry to Thessalonica. He therefore claims them as adding the weight of their influence with the Thessalonians to his own. And their place as joint-writers is accorded to them throughout. Only in three places, for a special reason in each case, does he make use of the singular number.
II. COMMUNITY ADDRESSED. "Unto the Church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Thessalonica—so named by Cassander in honor of his wife, who was a sister of Alexander the Great—was well situated for commerce "on the inner bend of the Thermaic gulf—half-way between the Adriatic and the Hellespont—on the sea-margin of a vast plain watered by several rivers," the chief of these being the Axius and Haliacmon. Under the Romans it became a large, wealthy, and populous city; and was chosen as the Macedonian capital. Its importance has been well kept, up to the present day. Saloniki (slightly altered from Thessalonica) ranks next to Constantinople in European Turkey, with a population of seventy thousand. Paul visited Thessalonica in his second missionary tour, after the rough handling he had received in the other Macedonian city of Philippi. The Jews, being more numerous here than at Philippi, had a synagogue; and in this, Paul, for three sabbath days, reasoned with them from the Scriptures, opening and alleging that it behooved the Christ to suffer and to rise again from the dead, and that this Jesus is the Christ. The result was so far favorable. Some Jews were persuaded, and consorted with Paul and Silas; of the Gentile proselytes attached to the Jewish synagogue, a great multitude, and, among these, not a few chief women. But there was also what was unfavorable. The Jews as a body, being moved with jealousy, took unto them certain vile fellows of the rabble, and raised a tumult against the Christian preachers, which ended in their departing by night for Beraea. Paul and his assistants had a very short time in which to found a Church in Thessalonica. For three sabbath days Paul reasoned in the Jewish synagogue. We may allow a little longer time for the ripening of Jewish opposition. Short as the time was, they had settled down to supporting themselves by laboring with their own hands. Short as the time was, the Philippian Christians, in their eagerness, had managed once and again to send unto Paul's necessity. What would render the formation of a Christian Church at Thessalonica easier was the number of Gentile proselytes who embraced Christianity. These had received training in monotheistic ideas, and had already the elements of a godly character. But, beyond this, many Gentile idolaters must have been brought in; for the entering in of Paul and his companions was signalized as a turning of the majority of them from idols unto the living and the true God. Under the conditions of time and manual labor and Jewish fanaticism, the founding of the Thessalonian Church was a most marvelous work. So short time with them, Paul wrote to them when he got to Corinth, after Visiting Beraea and Athens, about the close of the year 52. The Thessalonians are addressed as a Church, i.e. in their corporate capacity, with corporate responsibilities and privileges, not as saints, i.e. in respect of the consecration of the members-individually. They are addressed as a Church in God the Father, i.e. as having all the position of sons. They are also addressed as a Church in the Lord Jesus Christ, i.e. as a Christian family where the sons are all saved men placed under the superintendence of him who has the position of Lord, and distributes to their need.
III. GREETING. "Grace to you and peace." This did not necessarily exclude favor and peace from men, from these persecuting Jews. But whether it had that sweep or not, it certainly meant the Divine treatment of them, not according to merit, but according to infinite mercifulness, and the consequent freeing of them from all disturbing influences. It is what we should invoke for all our friends.—R.F.
1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 - Manifestation of interest.
I. HOW THEY THANKED GOD FOR THE THESSALONIANS. "We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers." The three Christian preachers away at Corinth, and in the midst of their engagements there, were interested in their Thessalonian converts. They were so interested as to act as priests for them. This they did at the throne of grace, praying for them by name, in view of their special needs as a Church. This they would also do unitedly, praying to all the more purpose that they united their prayers; for a threefold cord is not easily broken. Noah, Daniel, and Job in a land may not counteract all wickedness; but Paul, Silas, and Timothy, agreeing as touching what they asked for a progressing Church like Thessalonica, would certainly mean valuable help to them from heaven. Praying, they gave thanks always. This designation of time is not to be understood with the utmost strictness. It is prescribed in Exodus that Aaron should bear the judgment of the children of Israel (the Urim and Thummim) upon his heart before the Lord continually, i.e. whenever he went into the holy place to discharge the pontifical functions. So the meaning here is that, whenever these men of God went into the presence of God to discharge the priestly function of prayer for the Thessalonians, their hearts were filled with gratitude for them, which they poured forth in thanksgiving. They gave thanks to God, who had made the Thessalonians a Church, who had blessed them hitherto, and upon whom they depended for future blessing. They gave thanks to God for them all. They did not know of any (and their information was recent) who were bringing dishonor on the Thessalonian society. They were all with one heart helping forward the common Christian good.
II. UPON WHAT THEY PROCEEDED IN THANKING GOD FOR THE THESSALONIANS. "Remembering without ceasing." They proceeded in their thanksgivings upon what they remembered of the Thessalonians. The impression produced at the time had not been effaced by fresh scenes, new engagements, the lapse of time. By thinking of them and hearing from them their impression of them had not ceased to be lively. This impression concerned the three Christian graces—faith, love, hope. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. love is placed last, the object being to exalt it, in its permanent value, over the other two Here, as also in the fifth chapter and in Colossians 1:1-29., and virtually in Titus 2:1-15., the natural order is followed, faith manifesting itself in love (Galatians 5:6), and hope rising out of love (Romans 5:5). Hope is also properly held to come last, as the link between the present and the future. What the Christian pioneers remembered was the practical outcome of each grace.
1. "Your work of faith." In the eleventh of the Hebrews we read of special works which were produced by faith. But the work, in its totality, which each man produces, is the life which be lives before the world. And he who believes that there is the eye of the holy, heart-searching God upon him; that he is here to carry out the Divine behests; that according as he does or does not carry out these behests does he lie under the Divine approval or disapproval; that there is a judgment coming which shall prove each man's work of what sort it is;—such a man will surely produce a work very different from him who habitually looks only to the seen and the temporal. The adoption of faith as the principle of their lives meant to the Thessalonians the abandonment of many vices, and the cultivation of sincerity, humility, purity, temperance, and other Christian excellences.
2. "And labor of love." The word translated" labor "approaches the meaning of painful effort. We are not merely to wish well to others and to rejoice in their good;—that implies no laboriousness of love. But we are to burden ourselves with the wants of others, and to undertake labors on behalf of the sick, on behalf of the poor, on behalf of the oppressed, on behalf of the ignorant, on behalf of the erring. The Thessalonian Christians were full of these labors; their Church life had become one labor of love, a putting forth of painful effort for each other, without thought of reward, with only the desire to please the Master. It was a labor of purest, freest love, that the Master himself undertook on behalf of those whom he was not ashamed to call his brethren.
3. "And patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." Hope was the characteristic grace of the Thessalonians. It was hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, which is more exactly defined in the Epistle as hope with regard to his coming. It was a hope which burned in them with, extraordinary intensity. So eager were they as to the time of its realization that there was a likelihood of impatience being engendered by delay. When the Thessalonians are remembered here for the patience of their hope, we are to understand the brave way in which they maintained the conflict with sin within, and especially with persecution without. It is the hope of victory that sustains the soldier under all the hardships of the march and the dangers of the battle-field. So it was the hope of the infinite compensation that there would be at the confine of Christ that sustained them under the disadvantages of their position. What to them were all that their enemies might inflict on them, when any day Christ might come among them for their deliverance? They could say with their teacher," For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed to us-ward." Additional circumstance. "Before our God and Father." This points to the solemnity and also the joy of the remembrance. It was in prayer that it took place. It was there before the God of Paul and Silas and Timothy, the Heart-searching One, who could testily that it was no formal remembrance, but was marked by sincerity. It was also before their Father, who, as Infinite Benevolence, regarded it with pleasure.
III. THERE IS NOTED THE FACT OF THE ELECTION OF THE THESSALONIANS. "Knowing, brethren beloved of God, your election." Paul, for himself and his helpers, addresses them as brethren. What they had in common was that they were beloved of God. What marked them as objects of Divine love was their election. This is a word of deep and gracious import, which is more opened up in other places in Scripture. What marked ancient Israel was that they were the election. In succession to ancient Israel, Christians were the election. Among others these Thessalonian Christians had most of them been elected out of heathenism, elected to all the privileges of the new covenant. They owed this their position not to their own merits. It was no doings of their own that brought Christ into the world. It was by circumstances over which they had no control that the gospel was preached to them in Thessalonica. It was not in their own strength that they believed. It was Divine love, then, that gave them their position among the election, and to Divine love was to be all the praise.
IV. PAUL AND SILAS' HELPERS CAME TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF THEIR ELECTION BY CONSIDERATION OF DIVINE ASSISTANCE VOUCHSAFED IN PREACHING TO THEM. "How that our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy' Ghost, and in much assurance; even as ye know what manner of men we showed ourselves toward you for your sake." The gospel is the glad tidings of salvation to all men. It could only be called their gospel inasmuch as they used it instrumentally in the conversion of souls. It was Christ who was the great Subject of it. "Neither is there salvation in any other." These three agreed as to the purport of the gospel. It was not different from the gospel as preached by Peter or any other Christian teacher. In dealing with the Jews in Thessalonica, as we learn from the Acts of the Apostles, the gospel proper was accompanied with the producing of proof from the Old Testament Scriptures that the Messiah was to suffer and to rise from the dead; and the fitting into it of other proof that the historical Jesus, who had lately been on the earth, met all the requirements of their Scriptures. But to Jews and Gentiles alike it was the free offer of salvation, based on the great facts of the death and resurrection of God's Son in our nature. This gospel had come to them in Thessalonica; it had providentially been directed their way. It had come to them in word, in the Word preached, and that was a great point gained. "For how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?" But it had not come in word only, but also in power. They felt power descending on them in the delivery of their message. This was nothing else than the assistance of the Holy Ghost. And it was accompanied with the deep assurance that their message was taking effect. The Thessalonians themselves had the proof of their being men who were divinely assisted toward them. And, as this Divine assistance was granted in their interest, it pointed to their being in the number of the elect.
V. PAUL AND HIS HELPERS CAME TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE ELECTION OF THE THESSALONIANS BY CONSIDERATION OF THEIR POWER OF IMITATION. "And ye became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the Word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost." There is a point of difference. They preached the Word, or rather—for a new aspect is brought up—the Lord in them. It was the Lord's message they delivered; they were the instruments of the Lord in its delivery. It was, therefore, the Lord as well as they, and more than they, in the preaching. On the other hand, the Thessalonians received the Word. This is not inconsistent with what is said in the Acts of the Apostles in connection with Beraea: "Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind, examining the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so." For the meaning there is that the Beraean Jews were a nobler class than the Thessalonian Jews, which is no reflection on the Thessalonian Christians, who, with few exceptions, were Gentiles. The testimony of this Epistle is that they were a Church peculiarly receptive of the Word. Allowing for this difference which the sense requires, the imitation is to be restricted to the associated circumstances and spirit. "In much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost." It was the Word that gave rise to much affliction. And it is not to be wondered at that, when the light comes into conflict with darkness, this should be the result to those who are associated with the light. In much affliction the three subordinates and the great Superintendent in them drew joy from the Word preached. "Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing," said the greatest of the three. In the same affliction the Thessalonians were imitators, in drawing joy from the Word received. They were not crushed under the affliction, but, imbibing the comfort of the Word, they rose triumphant over it. In both cases the joy, which was not to be thought of as earthly, proceeded from the Holy Ghost dwelling within. This was the second thing that pointed to their election.
VI. THE THESSALONIANS WERE SO GOOD IMITATORS AS TO BECOME AN ENSAMPLE TO OTHERS. "So that ye became an ensample to all that believe in Macedonia and in Achaia." These were the two Roman divisions of Greece. It is implied that the circumstances of the Grecian Churches were similar. To believe was, more or less, to be opposed, to be afflicted. The Thessalonians were an encouragement to the other Churches. Philippians, Bermans, Athenians, Corinthians, might all take heart from the manner in which the Thessalonians triumphed over their affliction.
VII. THERE WAS A WIDESPREAD REPORT REGARDING THESSALONICA WHICH WAS VERY SERVICEABLE. "For from you hath sounded forth the Word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith to God-ward is gone forth; so that we need not to speak anything." This shows how the Thessalonians could be an ensample to so many. There was the condition of publicity. In the language which is used, prominence is given to the Word, and it is characterized, not now as "our gospel," but as "the Word of the Lord." From them at Thessalonica the Word of the Lord had sounded forth. The Word of the Lord sounds forth, not merely when we preach it, but also when, as these Thessalonians did, we receive it and allow it to have influence upon our lives. From them at Thessalonica there had been a notable sounding forth. The image employed is that of a trumpet, filling with its clear sound all the surrounding places. Hill and valley, hamlet and homestead, arc waked with it. So the gospel-trumpet had been sounded at Thessalonica, and the result is represented as the filling of all Greece with the clear sound of the gospel. Its wakeful sound had reached the important places, not only in Macedonia, but in Achaia. There is suggested by this what the Church has to do for the world; it has to sound the gospel-trumpet, so that, without any hyperbole, the whole world shall he filled with the clear sound of the gospel. The sounding forth from Thessalonica had reached even to places beyond Greece. And, in giving expression to this, Paul, as he sometimes does, gives a different turn to the sentence. We should have expected it to run so as to be complete: "Not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in places beyond." He, however, lays hold on what the Word had notably done for the Thessalonians, viz. made them monotheists, given them faith to God-ward, and the sentence is made to run: "But in every place your faith to God-ward is gone forth." "The currency of the reports was probably much promoted by the commercial intercourse between Thessalonica and other cities, both in Greece and elsewhere. Wieseler suggests that Aquila and Priscilla, who had lately come from Rome to Corinth (Acts 18:2), might have mentioned to the apostle the prevalence of the report even in that more distant city. If this be so, the justice and truth of the apostle's hyperbole is still more apparent; to be known in Rome was to be known everywhere." This may be true, but still it is to be borne in mind that the sounding forth to distant places is rather ascribed to the vigor with which the gospel-trumpet bad been sounded at Thessalonica. By the going forth of their faith there was great service done. In preaching the gospel in new places, it was Paul's custom to hold up what it bad done for other places. With regard to Thessalonica, he was placed in an exceptional position. In Beraea, in Athens, in Corinth, wherever he went, he needed not to labor in language to create an impression of what the gospel had done for Thessalonica. He needed not to say anything, the work being already done for him.
VIII. THE TWO POINTS TO WHICH THE REPORT REFERRED.
1. The entering in of Paul and his helpers. "For they themselves report concerning us what manner of entering in we had unto you." This has already been particularized. It was their gospel coming unto the Thessalonians, not in word only, but also in power, and the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance. It was that attested by the Thessalonians. It was the Lord in them preaching the Word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost. Now it is generalized—"what manner of entering in we had unto you." They did not need to enter upon that; the people themselves in the various places came forward with their acknowledgments. This was important to the three ministers; it was a seal to their ministry, it was added influence in the proclamation of the gospel. A minister may well aspire to have such a record.
2. The response of the Thessalonians. "And how ye turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead." This is an expansion of the previous words," your faith to God-ward." They had been idolaters. This is to be understood of the Thessalonian Church as a whole, which points to its composition. They turned unto God from idols. There is marked their conversion to monotheism. They turned from idols "to serve a living and true God." The old translation is better here: "to serve the living and true God." Idols are dead; their living touch upon the soul can never be felt. They turned from dead idols to the living God, the God in whom we live and move and have our being, who giveth to all life and breath and all things. Idols are false and vain, they can do no good to their votaries. They turned from false and vain idols to the true God, who cannot deceive his worshippers, who comforts and cheers them, who is the Rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Turning from idols, they made their life a service of this living and true God—not a dead, make-believe service, but characterized, from its object, by life and truth, a waiting on him to carry out his behests. There is marked their conversion to Christianity. They turned from idols to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead. They laid hold on the great Christian fact, that God gave up his Son to die for man. They also laid hold on the other great Christian fact, that God raised him from the dead and raised him to heaven. They further believed, on Divine authority, that God's Son was to come from heaven. Round this their life as a Church very much revolved; they were fascinated by its influence. They waited for his Son from heaven; they lived in daily expectation of his coming. While we are not curious about the time of Christ's coming, let us not lose the influence of the fact of Christ's coming. Let us consider whether we are prepared for his coming. Let us be dead to the charms of the world, dead also to its opposition. Let us take comfort, under present troubles, from this coming (John 14:1-3). Let us joyfully anticipate the coming (1 Peter 1:8). We may well learn from the Thessalonians to give this subject greater prevalence in our thoughts. Let us, like them, be found in the attitude of expectancy. Christ's last message to man is this: "Yea, I come quickly." And the reply which we are expected to make is this: "Amen: come, Lord Jesus." "Even Jesus, which delivereth us from the wrath to come." This is the first of the three references to the wrath of God in this First Epistle to the Thessalonians. It is an element that is more largely prevalent in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians. It was natural that, writing so much to the Thessalonians about the second coming, he should introduce the future wrath. The full expression in this place, "the wrath to come," had already been used by one who could preach the terrors of the Law. When the Baptist saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said unto them, "Ye offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" Paul, standing after the great Messianic manifestation, could say more definitely and mildly, "Even Jesus, which delivereth us from the wrath to come."
(1) The reality of the wrath. By the wrath of God we are to understand the disposition which leads him to inflict punishment for sin. It cannot be said of God that he is wrathful, or that wrath is the predominant feature in his character. For "he delighteth in mercy;" but "judgment is his strange work." When men put themselves in opposition to God, while he is displeased, he is also grieved. We read of the grieving of the Spirit; of Christ, while looking round on his audience with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their hearts. Even when God, from necessities of government, may have to remove the reprobate from his presence, there is not wanting the tone of indignant rebuke, "Cast ye out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and gnashing of teeth." But with this righteous indignation there is no mingling of malice, but only a feeling of infinite reluctance to resort to such a measure with any of his creatures. It is supposed to be derogatory to the Divine character that there should be wrath in the heart of God at all. But how is he to regard sin? Is sin to be committed under his government, and no notice to be taken of it, especially when it is of the very nature of sin to strike at the Divine government? Such an idea would certainly be repudiated in connection with human government. Or are we to suppose that he can become accustomed to the sight of sin, so as not to heed this sin or that sin in the great multitude that are committed every day upon this earth? But God can never see sin to he other than it really is. It stands out before him in all its details and in all its vileness, as that which interferes with his government, thwarts his holy ends among men. And as he has taught us to flash out in anger against wrong-doing, so we must believe that his own soul flashes out in anger against wrong done to his government. But we must exclude from the Divine out-flashing such inequality as attaches to human outflashing. The Thrice-holy One never knows the perturbing influence of passion; sin is not felt mere keenly at the first, and less keenly when time has exerted its sway—it is ever unchanged before his mind. He continues unsatisfied, and the fire burns within him against it, until it is removed out of his sight. So far from wrath being derogatory to God, it must enter into a right conception of the Divine character. It is necessary to the consistency of the Divine character. To favor the following of a certain course, and yet to view with indifference the following of an opposite course, is simply characterlessness. According to the ardor with which we regard one course must we burn against its opposite. We must think of God as infinitely favoring righteousness; and he would not be true to himself if his feelings did not infinitely burn against iniquity. According as he is attracted to the pole of holiness, so powerfully must he be repelled from the opposite pole of sin. Even under the New Testament economy it is said that "our God is a consuming fire." More prominence is given to this in the Old Testament, but it is a necessary conception of God, that, as he is consumed with zeal for the cause of truth and love, so he is a consuming fire to all that is opposed to it. There is a certain course which he favors—which he puts forward as obligatory. He gives us every encouragement to follow this course; it is the consuming desire of his heart to see it followed by us. This may be said. to he the course of humble dependence upon him. If we follow this course, he is pleased, and- he marks his pleasure, by making our humility return in liberty and happiness upon ourselves. But if we willfully assert our independence and follow our own course, then God will make our willfulness recoil in bondage and misery upon our own souls. Wrath is even necessary to our rising to a proper conception of the Divine compassion. We miss what the Divine compassion is, unless we first apprehend ourselves as objects of the Divine wrath. "That heathen antiquity had no idea of God's love is attributable to the fact that it had no living conviction of the world being under God's wrath. Plato and Aristotle rise only to the bare representation of God as being a jealous God; and men who in our day speak of dispassionate love rise no higher than they."
(2) The time to which the wrath is referred. The wrath to come is the disposition of wrath in its future manifestation. It is in the next world that it is to come to its full manifestation. Even now God manifests his displeasure against sin. The Flood was an early and signal instance of God's wrath burning against a wicked world. And the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was another signal instance of God's wrath burning against wicked communities. But under the present order of things God does not ordinarily deal with man in unmixed wrath. He has ends of redemption in view. And, though he does give experience of judgment that men may not be forgetful of him, still he mingles mercy with judgment. And usually he gives us to experience far more mercy than judgment, that thereby he may commend redemption to us. He exercises wonderful forbearance toward us, that thereby he may win us over to himself. Thus it is that meantime there is no adequate impression given of the punitive justice of God. We do not see punishment following always upon sin. We do not see punishment proportioned to sin. The more hardened in sin men are, the more may they escape present punishment. It does not yet appear what God's displeasure against sinners is, any more than it yet appears what his love to his people is. There are hindrances which prevent a full manifestation in both cases. In the next world these hindrances will be removed, and then it will be seen clearly how God views every one who through a period of grace continues to oppose himself to Divine love. The sins of this life, unforgiven, will cry unto God; and his wrath, no longer restrained, will go forth. There are things for which, it is said in the Epistle to the Ephesians, the wrath of God cometh upon the children of disobedience. There is a certain open defiance and forgetfulness of God (encouraging to ungodliness) which in a special manner attracts the Divine judgment. But it is true of a sinful life as a whole, that what there is in it of resistance to God draws down on it, when the time comes, the Divine wrath. This is to be at the day of judgment, which is called "the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." Then there will be a righteous summing-up of the life lived on earth as a whole; and the wrath that descends will exactly indicate what. God's estimate of the life is. That there will be retribution, and retribution exactly proportioned to each life, some being punished with few stripes and others with many stripes, is most certain. We cannot define with exactness the manner and contents of the retribution. The language employed in Scripture is sufficiently fitted to create alarm: "But unto them that are factious and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that worketh evil." What is at first the assertion of independence toward God, will become, retributively, hindrance and bondage in complete subjugation and environment by God. What is, in its working, excitement and self-gratification, will become, retributively, in the distraction of the mind, in the upbraidings of conscience, a feeling of anguish. There is thus before the life of sin a dark future. "There remaineth a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire which shall devour the adversaries." And the life of sin is not to be judged by what it is at present in its license and excitements and restraint of judgment, but is to be judged by what it is to come to. It is in the next world that the nothingness and wretchedness of a life of sin will be fully evidenced. And what a powerful deterrent is this to continuing our resistance to Divine grace!
(3) The Deliverer from the wrath to come. This is the gracious side which is now presented in the gospel. We must think of the wrath to come, in order that we may properly conceive of the Deliverer. He is appropriately called Jesus. "Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for it is he that shall save his people from their sins." Here it is saving from the wrath of God on account of their sins. We read of heroes of antiquity who were renowned for delivering countries from the monsters with which they were infested. The New Testament tells of One who delivers from the evil most to be feared of man—the wrath to come. It is not to be understood that Jesus did deliver (on the cross) or will deliver (at the last day), but rather that it is his office to deliver. This is the great part which he performs for men; it belongs to Jesus to deliver from the wrath to come. This office entailed on the Holder of it infinite self-abnegation. "The Son of God... even Jesus." And, as the Son of God, he had to begin by laying aside his Divine glory, not counting it a prize to be clutched at by him. Anti he came down into our nature, that he might receive into himself the wrath due to our sin. He became the great vessel of wrath. What should have been poured into us was poured into him. Thus the Deliverer is the greatest of all sufferers. He is one who has marks of mysterious sorrow and anguish upon his nature. And that shows how far it is from being according to the heart of God to make men miserable, to send wrath upon them. He interposes between the sinner and the results of his sin in this great Deliverer sent forth from his own bosom. He says, "Save from going down to the pit, for I have found a ransom." Rather does he inflict wrath upon his Son than inflict it on us. So far as his doing is concerned, he has removed the wrath to come—he has made it non-existent. Is that not proof, the most conclusive, that wrath is most abhorrent to him, that in his heart of hearts he wishes us to escape from wrath, wishes to make us all happy?
(4) Our relation to the Deliverer. It is said here, "which delivereth us from the wrath to come." And the context shows that the reference is to believers. All are welcome to come into a saving relation to Christ; but, as a matter of fact, all do not come. In Thessalonica there were many to whom the gospel of deliverance came, who, in their idolatrous life, thought it an idle tale. There were some who, tired of their idolatrous life, welcomed the thought of deliverance, and gave a ready ear to the apostle when he told them of Jesus "which delivereth from the wrath to come." And there are many still in our more enlightened times who treat wrath and deliverance from it as an intrusion. The great work which Jesus accomplished has no interest to them. They like to go on in their own self-pleasing way, heedless of the issues. There are others, and these are the believers, who are unsatisfied in a life merely in the present. They are anxious to know how they are to meet the eternal issues. And feeling unable to do this themselves, as guilty before God, they shelter themselves in Jesus, "which delivereth from the wrath to come." Taking him as their Representative, entering into the full benefit of his deliverance, the future is relieved to them, and, for the first time, they breathe freely as in the atmosphere of heaven. Out of Christ the wrath to come is still a reality, and a reality which has been made more dreadful to those who refuse to escape from it. In Christ let us take the comfort of our position, let us dismiss our fear of future wrath; and let us remember him to whom we owe our escape, and let us prove our gratitude by a life of loyalty to our Deliverer.—R.F.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
1 Thessalonians 1:3 - Works of grace.
In writing to the Corinthians St. Paul singles out three Christian graces for supreme honor—faith, hope, and love. Here he selects the same three graces, but not simply to praise them for their own inherent merits. They are now regarded in their energetic operation, as powers and influences; and the fruits of their activity are the subjects of the apostle's thankful recognition. He makes mention in prayer of the work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope.
I. CHRISTIAN GRACES ARE ACTIVE POWERS. They are beautiful in themselves, but they are not to exist solely for their own beauty. Flowers are lovely, but the object of the existence of flowers is not that they may dream through the summer hours in their loveliness, and then fade and wither and die. They serve an important end in the economy of plants by preparing fruit and seeds.
1. The active operation of Christian grace glorifies God. While dwelling only in the depths of the soul, quiescent and secret, they do not show forth the glory of God. "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit" (John 15:8).
2. The active operation of the Christian graces is a means of benefiting our fellow-men. Faith, love, and hope are not given to us for our own enjoyment only. They are aids for our mission in life—the mission of serving God by serving mankind. We must let them have their perfect work, that this mission may be fulfilled.
3. The active operation of the Christian graces is a proof of their vital health. "Faith apart from works is barren" (James 2:20). By the fruits they bear we know how far we have the graces within us.
II. CHRISTIAN GRACES HAVE THEIR SEPARATE SPHERES OF ENERGY.
1. Faith has its work. When we both believe and actively trust in the helps of the Unseen, we are encouraged to use them, and when we yield ourselves in faith to the will and law of the Unseen, we learn to obey the authority above us. Hence the work of faith. This is characterized by decision—it is no wavering, hesitating, intermittent activity—by calmness and by energy.
2. Love has its labor. Labor is harder than work. It implies great effort, toil, and trouble. Love goes beyond faith and undertakes greater tasks. But with love "all toil is sweet." An enthusiasm amounting to passion characterizes this activity and distinguishes it from the sober work of faith. Love to God and love to man are necessary for the hardest work. It was not mere faith, it was love, that inspired the awful toils and sacrifices of Christ.
3. Hope has its patience. This is the passive fruit of Divine grace. It is not therefore the less important, nor does it therefore show the less energy. We need strength for endurance as much as strength for action. Christian hope manifests its energy by unflinching perseverance in spite of present crosses and distresses.
III. CHRISTIAN GRACES MUST CO-OPERATE FOR THE RIPENING OF THE FULL CHRISTIAN LIFE. St. Paul rejoices that all three of the primary graces were in active operation in the Thessalonian Church. Characters are too often one-sided. Faith is hard if love is wanting. Love is weak and wild if it is not supported and guided by faith. Hope is an idle dream without these two graces, and they are sad and gloomy if they are not cheered by hope. As the cord is far stronger than the separate strands, faith, hope, and love united produce energies many times greater than the results of their individual efficacy. The perfect Christian character is the character that is developed into rich fruitfulness on all sides. All the colors in the bow must blend to produce the pure white of saintliness.—W.F.A.
1 Thessalonians 1:5 - The dynamic gospel.
If we may illustrate spiritual truths by describing them in the terminology of physical science, we may say that the great mistake which the Church, as well as the world, has been making over and over again is that of treating the gospel statically instead of dynamically—as a settled creed to be embraced in its rigid form rather than as a power to be submitted to in its progressive influence. But it is evident that the apostles cared not one straw for their preaching except in so far as it was the vehicle of Divine energy. They taught the truth, not as professors of metaphysics in a college, but as workmen who were bringing a new force to bear on the reconstruction of society.
I. IT IS VAIN TO RECEIVE THE GOSPEL IN WORD ONLY.
1. It may be published. A heathen country may open its ports to missionaries. Bible societies may circulate the Scriptures through every country and hamlet. Preachers may never cease to expound it. And all this will be as nothing for the spiritual welfare of people who will not hear, understand, believe, and submit to the truth.
2. It may be heard. Crowds may flock to the churches. Attentive congregations may hang upon the lips of popular preachers. And still no good may be done while the truth is not understood, believed, and obeyed.
3. It may be understood. The meaning of the language used may be intelligible enough. People may give themselves the trouble of thinking out the subjects presented to them by the preachers. Still all is vain if the gospel is not believed and submitted to.
4. It may be believed. The truth may not be doubted. We may have a certain conviction of it, and yet even this may count for nothing without the faith that accepts the influences and follows the directions of the gospel. There is a world of difference between believing the gospel and believing in Christ; at least, in the only way in which this is of practical importance, viz. as a trustful acceptance of his grace and a loyal devotion to his will. So long as we come short of this we may have the gospel, but it will be "words, words, words"—the letter that killeth, not the spirit that quickeneth.
II. THE GOSPEL MAY BE RECEIVED IN POWER. This very statement seems to strike some people who have long been familiar with the words of the gospel as a new revelation, as itself a fresh gospel. But we have to learn the power as well as the truth of the gospel if it is to be of any real good to us.
1. The operation of the power of the gospel consists in changing the hearts and lives of men. The gospel does not simply promise future salvation. It effects present regeneration. The new birth is the essential beginning of redemption, Nothing but a Power, vast, overwhelming, penetrating, and omnipotent, can make new creatures of old, stubborn profligates and hypocrites, men of the world, and self-righteous Pharisees.
2. The secret of the power of the gospel is in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The new man is "born of the Spirit" (John 3:5). Christ is "the Power of God," because he baptizes with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11). Christ expressly connected the power of apostolic preaching with the gift of the Holy Spirit: "Ye shall receive power, when the Holy Ghost is come upon you" (Acts 1:8). Preachers need this to give force to their words, and hearers to receive the truth effectually.
3. The sign of the power of the gospel will be much assurance. The faith which grows out of experiencing this power will be much stronger, more vivid, and more joyous than that of first believing the truth of the gospel.—W.F.A.
1 Thessalonians 1:6 - Affliction with joy.
The Christians of Thessalonica had no sooner accepted the gospel than they were attacked with swift, sharp persecution; and it is to be remarked that, while in other places the apostles were often assailed and the converts spared, here the full force of the assault fell on the infant Church (Acts 17:5-10). St. Paul frequently refers to the sufferings that so quickly tested the faith of this brave Christian community at the very commencement of its new life (1 Thessalonians 2:14; 1 Thessalonians 3:2-5). But in spite of persecution a peculiar joy seems to have possessed the Church at Thessalonica. The Epistles to the Thessalonians are to be distinguished for hearty congratulations and a spirit of gladness. Here is an apparent paradox, which, however, when regarded from a higher standpoint, resolves itself into a spiritual harmony.
I. AN EARTHLY PARADOX. St. Paul was much inclined to the use of startling paradoxes. His vigorous mind seemed to delight in facing them. Thus his style is rugged with great contrasting ideas.
1. The gospel does not prevent affliction. To the Thessalonians it was the means of bringing suffering. Christians often suffer more of earthly trouble, rather than less, than others (Hebrews 12:8). Though the gospel is good news, and though it brings gladness to the soul, it may be ushered in with storms and sufferings in the outer life. This might be expected, seeing that it is in conflict with the prince of this world.
2. Affliction does not prevent the experience of the joy of the gospel. In spite of much affliction, the Thessalonians had joy. The world sees only the outside. Hence its common verdict that religion must be melancholy. It can see the flaming fagots; it cannot see the exultant heart of the martyr. It is a great truth to know that, when God does not remove trouble, he may give us such gladness of heart as shall entirely counteract it. Surely it is better to rejoice in tribulation than to be sad in prosperity.
II. THE SPIRITUAL HARMONY.
1. The affliction is external, while the Joy is internal The two belong to different spheres. It would be impossible for one and the same person to be in temporal prosperity and adversity at the same moment, or to be at once m spiritual sunshine and under spiritual clouds. But it may well be that, while the earthly sun is shrouded in gloom, the heavenly sun is shining in full splendor.
2. The affliction comes from earthly causes, the joy from heavenly. Men persecute, the Holy Spirit inspires joy. Here are different sources of experience, and accordingly the experiences differ.
3. The affliction rather helps the spiritual joy than otherwise. It prevents men from looking to external things for comfort. It enables them to see that true joy must be inward and spiritual.
In conclusion, observe that affliction is no reason for the rejection of the gospel, since this is not therefore the less true, and it claims to be received on its truth, not on our pleasure, and also because the joy it brings will not be lessened by any external trouble.—W.F.A.
1 Thessalonians 1:8 - How the Word is sounded forth.
I. THE NEED OF SOUNDING FORTH THE GOSPEL. This is a fine expression, "sounded forth;" not merely whispered in the ear, but proclaimed far and wide, with a fullness, a richness, and a power that command attention. Such is the proclamation that the royal message of the gospel deserves.
1. The gospel comes from God. It is not like the composition of an obscure man. If God. opens his mouth, surely his words must be worthy of publishing in trumpet-notes.
2. The gospel is for all men. It is not a secret doctrine for the cultured few. All the world needs it, all the world has a right to have it. Therefore it should spread over wide territories and penetrate to remote districts. The alarm-bell must be resonant, the bugle-call must be clear and piercing, the shepherd's voice must be high and full that the wandering sheep may hear it and return to the fold.
3. The gospel is conflicted by other voices. Men are preoccupied. The din of the world renders them deaf to the message from heaven. The world will not lie in solemn stillness to hear the angels sing. The sound of the gospel must go forth so that deaf ears shall be unstopped, and walls of prejudice fall flat like those of old Jericho at the trumpet-notes of Israel's priests.
II. THE METHOD OF SOUNDING FORTH THE GOSPEL.
1. It must be sounded by living men. A written gospel is not enough. Soul must stir soul.
2. It must be sounded in the conduct of Christians. It would seem that St. Paul was thinking rather of the influence of the heroic endurance of the Thessalonians and of their spiritual prosperity than of the missionary labors of evangelists sent out by them, for he writes of how they became an ensample to all that believe in Macedonia and in Achaia, and how in every place their faith to God-ward was gone forth. The loudest, clearest, most eloquent, most unanswerable proclamation of the gospel is the unconscious testimony of Christian living.
3. It may be sounded forth with redoubled energy from the midst of affliction. The troubles endured by the Thessalonians tested and revealed their faith, and so led to the fuller proclamation of the gospel. "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." Men never preach Christ so perfectly as when they die for him. The torch that kindled Latimer's fagots at Oxford kindled a glorious fire of reformation throughout England.
4. It can be sounded forth with greatest effect from central positions. Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia. What happened there was not done in a corner. Christian testimony witnessed at this great center would spread far and wide. It is our duty to establish Christian influences in prominent places. While not boasting of our own doings, and not letting our left hand know what our right hand doeth, we should still not hide our candle under a bushel, but so let our light shine before men that we may glorify our Father which is in heaven, and remember that, if a city which is set on a hill cannot be hid, it is most important that the light of the gospel should shine from such a place.—W.F.A.
1 Thessalonians 1:9, 1 Thessalonians 1:10 - The great change.
The Thessalonians were converted heathens. To them the blessedness of the gospel would be largely measured by its contrast with the darkness of paganism. In Christendom the language descriptive of the acceptance of the spiritual blessings of the gospel would, of course, be different. But little else than the language; anti with the essential, spiritual signification of it, even this would scarcely need altering. St. Paul regards the great change in two aspects, present and future.
I. THE PRESENT ASPECT OF THE GREAT CHANGE. "Ye turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God."
1. It is emancipation from an evil service and enlistment in a good service. In the old condition a man is a servant, of idols, of sin, of passion, of the world, of Satan. He thinks himself free, but he is really a miserable slave. In the changed condition the Christian is freed from this thraldom. But he is not the leas a servant. He no longer serves in hard bondage. Love is his chain, and free devotion his service. Still he serves.
2. It is the giving up of death and falsehood and the acceptance of truth and life.
(1) The idol is lifeless. All worldly, sinful living is a devotion to lifeless gods, to mere material things that perish in the using. The Christian serves a living God, who can give vital grace, accept loving devotion, and commune with his people.
(2) The idol is false. Idolatry is a lie. All earthly things when exalted into gods become unreal and only mock their devotees. God is real, and he only can be rightly served in spirit and in truth. We come to reality, to fact, to truth, when we come to God.
II. THE FUTURE ASPECT OF THE GREAT CHANGE.
1. It consists in a tutoring from wrath. Whether we anticipate it with fear, or delude ourselves in the dream of evading it, or simply ignore it with stolid indifference, the fact remains that for all of us, while in ore' sins, there is a certain looking for of judgment. If we are children of sin we must be children of wrath. It is no small blessing to be able to face the future and to see that reasonably and righteously all the horror of Divine wrath is gone in the free pardon of sin. It is like turning one's face from the lowering thundercloud to the silver light of sunrise.
2. It leads on to an anticipation of the coming glory of Christ. All the early Christians were much occupied with this anticipation, but none more so than the Thessalonians. The hope of the Parousia is an ever-recurrent theme in the two Epistles of St. Paul to this Church. His own mind must also have been very full of it when he wrote these letters. In their immediate expectation-at least, as far as a visible appearance and triumph of Christ was concerned—the first Christians were disappointed. But the great promises still cheer us as we wait for the glory that is reserved in the future. The Christian conversion thus not merely results in a deliverance from wrath; it inspires a grand hope and promises a rich glory in the days to come.—W.F.A.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADNENEY
Steadfastness in prayer.
I. IT IS GREATLY NEEDED. The seven deacons were chosen partly in order that the apostles might not be hindered by temporal affairs from continuing steadfastly in prayer (Acts 6:4). St. Paul exhorts the Roman Christians to this same steadfastness (Romans 12:12). It is requisite on many accounts.
1. There are never wanting subjects that claim our prayers.
2. When we are least inclined to pray we are in most need of prayer.
3. Only constant prayer can be profoundly spiritual. It is the ever-flowing stream that wears the deep water course. The bird that soars high must be much on the wing.
4. Steadfastness in prayer is rewarded by Divine responses; e.g. Abraham's intercession for Sodom, the parable of the importunate widow, etc.
II. IT IS A SIGN OF SPIRITUAL HEALTH. After the ascension of their Lord the early Christians continued steadfastly in prayer (Acts 1:14); so did the converts of the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:42).
1. It shows a spiritual tone of mind. We may pray in special need without this, and we may pray at set seasons of devotion without it. But to live in an atmosphere of prayer, to pray because it is natural to us to talk with God, because we love communion with him, because prayer is our vital breath, and so to pray without ceasing from inward devotion rather than from external prompting,—all this is a sign of true spirituality.
2. It shows spiritual vigour. Such prayer is no mere listless droning of empty phrases, no sudden burst of temporary ejaculations. It implies a strong, deep energy of devotion.
III. IT IS DIFFICULT TO MAINTAIN. It is easy to cry out to God in great extremities. Prayerless men pray under such circumstances. It is easy, too, to pray when we are in a mood of devotion. The difficulty is to continue steadfastly in prayer. The hindrances are numerous.
1. Lack of interesting subjects of prayer. There may be nothing that touches us as a great want or strongly appeals to our sympathies at some seasons like the dire needs and touching claims that inspire our petitions at other times.
2. External distractions. The pressure of business, the din of the world's affairs, uncongenial society, even too absorbing Church work, especially in this age of rich activity and meagre contemplation, check prayer.
3. Internal hindrances. We are not always in the mood for prayer. Sometimes --
"Hosannas languish on our lips.
And our devotion dies."
This may result from physical weariness. The spirit may be willing though the flesh is weak. We should then turn aside and rest awhile from the tiring work of the world. But it may result from sin. Sin is the greatest hindrance to prayer.
IV. IT MAY BE MAINTAINED BY THE GRACE OF GOD.
1. It is not to be revived in weakness by greater assiduity in formal devotion. It is a fatal mistake to confound long prayers with steadfast prayers, and to suppose that spending more time in saying prayers will strengthen our enfeebled spirit of prayer. It will have the opposite effect. Nothing hinders true prayer so much as continuing the form of devotion without the power.
2. The secret is to seek the reviving Spirit of God. If prayer is growing faint, there may still be energy for uttering the petition, "My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy Word" (Psalms 119:25). All true prayer is an inspiration. The deepest prayer comes from the striving of God's Spirit within us. "The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities … the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Romans 8:26).—W.F.A.
Colossians 4:5(first clause)
The wisdom of the Church in its relations to the world.
I. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS WISDOM. The Church needs wisdom. Christians must be wise as serpents as well as harmless as doves. We are to blame for lack of wisdom as well as for lack of other graces, for this is a gift of God (James 1:5).
1. This wisdom is practical. It concerns itself with behaviour rather than with speculation.
2. It must be pure. There must not be the slightest unfaithfulness to Christ, tampering with truth, or casuistic deviation from the highest principles.
II. THE OCCASIONS FOR THIS WISDOM. It was most necessary in the apostolic age, when the Christians existed only as small communities scattered about among adverse populations. But it is always more or less called for.
1. For lawful self protection. If persecuted in one city the servant of Christ was to flee to another, lie was not to court opposition. Martyrdom is only a glory when it comes in the path of duty, and never when men go out of that path to seek it. Then it degenerates into little better than suicide.
2. To conquer opponents. The Church has a mission to the world, and she will fail in this mission if she cannot win her enemies over to her own side. For Christ's sake, and for the good of men who need his gospel, this wisdom must be observed in conciliating foes that they may themselves be brought into the Church.
III. THE MANNER OF EXERCISING THIS WISDOM.
1. In understanding those who are without. We often provoke opposition because we do not study the weaknesses and prejudices of others. On the other hand, Christians have shown a needless scorn for the good in others. True charity will take note of all that is admirable, and think of whatsoever things are worthy in the world outside the Church.
2. In an attractive exhibition of the blessings of Christianity. Souls are not saved by rating and scolding men. The world must be drawn, not driven, to Christ. A morose Church will only repel an unsympathetic world. Wisdom towards them that are without will forbid the scandal of quarrelling among Christians.—W.F.A.
Our speech is to be "seasoned with salt." The context shows that this advice is given especially in regard to the conversation of Christian people with men of the world. It is part of the "wisdom towards them that are without." Instead of offensive fault finding, haughty self assertion, or morose indifference, our speech is to be courteous—"with grace;" and pleasant—"seasoned" Salt stands for wit in Greek references to it as seasoning speech. But with St. Paul it seems rather to mean a pleasant, kindly, interesting characteristic of speech.
I. SPEECH SHOULD BE COURTEOUS. "Be courteous" is advice that comes to us from the sturdy fisherman (1 Peter 3:8). If we cannot agree with another there is no reason why we should treat him unkindly. If we must even oppose him, still we can do it with consideration and gentleness of manner. In general intercourse it is well that an affability of behaviour should characterize the Christian. How courteous Christ was with all classes! St. Paul is a model of the true Christian gentleman. The essence of courtesy is sympathy for others in small things. It is hollow if we manifest hostility or selfishness in large things. The courtesy of a Chesterfield has a flavour of hypocrisy about it because it is based on selfishness. Still, if we are sympathetic in serious matters we may be much misunderstood, and we may really give much pain by a needless brusqueness of manner.
II. SPEECH SHOULD BE INTERESTING. Salt is seasoning. It gives pungency. Something similar should be found in our conversation. Dulness is an offence. It is an infliction of intolerable weariness on the listener. On the part of the speaker it shows either want of interest in his subject (in which case he should let it alone), or want of interest in his hearer (which is a direct result of lack of sympathy). Moreover, the Christian is called to be frequently bearing testimony for his Master. He weakens that testimony by giving it in an uninteresting manner, lie should study his words. But, better than that, he should have his theme so much at heart as to speak with the eloquence of enthusiasm.
III. SPEECH SHOULD BE PURE. Salt is antiseptic. The Christian should not only avoid unwholesome topics and styles of speech; he should bring into conversation a positive, purifying influence. This does not mean that he should be always quoting texts and set religious phrases, or always dragging in religious subjects out of place and season. He degrades them, provokes his hearers, and stultifies himself by so doing. But he should seek to elevate the tone of conversation, to guide it from unworthy subjects and to infuse into it a pure tone. There are Christ-like men whose very presence in a room seems to rebuke evil talk and to breathe a higher atmosphere into the conversation. How purifying was the conversation of Christ!—W.F.A.
A friendly exchange.
I. SCRIPTURE IS INTENDED FOR GENERAL READING. The two Epistles are to be read in the Churches. They are not to be reserved for the bishops, the more initiated or the more advanced Christians. All members of the two Churches, young and old, slaves and freemen, illiterate and cultured, imperfect and spiritual minded, are to hear the two Epistles. Now, these Epistles contain about the most advanced doctrine of all writings of the Bible. They approach nearest to what is analogous to the inner Gnostic doctrines of all Scripture teaching. If, therefore, any portions of Revelation should be reserved for the few, it would be these. If these are for public perusal, surely the simpler Gospels and psalms must be also public property. The Bible is a book for the people. It is free to all. No man has a right to bar access to the tree of life on the plea that the ignorant do not know how to help themselves from it and must have its knits doled out by official guardians. The greatest philosopher may find unfathomable depths in Scripture; but a little child may also read clear truths therein. If it be said that the ignorant will misunderstand, the reply is—They will gain more truth on the whole, in spite of misunderstanding, by free access to the Bible than when only led to it by others. God can take care of his own truth; the Bible was written for the people, and the people have a right to their own. No guardians of Scripture who are to measure it out to others at their discretion were ever appointed by Christ or by his apostles.
II. THE SCRIPTURE THAT IS USEFUL TO ONE CHURCH WILL BE USEFUL TO ANOTHER. The two letters were written with special regard to the peculiar circumstances of the two Churches. Yet they were to be exchanged, Much more, then, should Christians who have not had any private Epistle of their own benefit by the public Scriptures. Special wants are not primary wants. The great need of revelation is common to all. The fundamental truths of the gospel are needed by and offered to all. The highest glories of revelation are for all.
III. OUR READING OF SCRIPTURE SHOULD NOT BE CONFINED TO ISOLATED FRAGMENTS. A Church which had been honoured by receiving an apostolic Epistle written expressly for itself would be tempted to depreciate other apostolic writings, or at least to consider that for its own use its own Epistle was of paramount if not of exclusive importance. It would be in danger of making its one Epistle its own New Testament, to the disregard of all the rest. But the advice of St. Paul shows that such an action would be a mistake.
1. Our reading of Scripture should be wide and varied. We must beware of confining our attention to favourite portions. By doing so we get one-sided views of truth, and probably, even if unconsciously, select what seems to support our own notions to the neglect of what would modify them. We may most need to read those Scriptures in which we feel least interest.
2. Scripture balances and interprets Scripture. The doctrine of the Christ which is the leading theme of the Epistle to the Colossians is closely related to the doctrine of the Church which is the central subject of the so-called Epistle to the Ephesians (that, probably, referred to by St. Paul as the Epistle to the Laodiceans).
IV. THERE SHOULD BE INTERCOMMUNION BETWEEN CHRISTIAN CONGREGATIONS. There is too much corporate selfishness in the Church. We should be the better for more ecclesiastical altruism, or rather communism.
1. This is most to be looked for between neighbours. Laodicea was near to Colossae.
2. And it should be cultivated between the prominent and the obscure. Laodicea was an important city, Colossae a small town. Yet the Churches in the two places were to show brotherly sympathy on equal terms and to be mutually helpful to one another. While the strong should help the weak, the weak should beware of selfishness and do their best to serve the strong.—W.F.A.
"Remember my bonds."
St. Paul's occasional references to his bonds are never thrust forward in the spirit of the histrionic martyr and never expressed in a murmuring tone, but they evince the irksome restraints under which he laboured, and they give a certain pathos to his entreaties. To be always chained to a soldier, possibly one of rude and coarse manners, must have been peculiarly distressing to a man of sensitive, refined disposition like St. Paul. Feeling the burden of his bonds, the apostle prays his readers to remember them.
I. REMEMBER THEM IN SYMPATHY. It is something to know that friends are feeling with us, when they can do nothing directly to remove the cause of trouble. The lowliest may help the greatest by his sympathy. An apostle seeks the sympathy of obscure Christians. Christ looked for the support of his disciples' sympathy in the hour of his greatest agony, and had the last drop of his bitter cup in the failing of that sympathy (Matthew 26:40).
II. REMEMBER THEM IN PRAYER. When we cannot work for our brother's release from trouble, we may pray. With all the power of Rome at his back, Nero cannot prevent the feeble Christians from having recourse to the mighty weapon of prayer. Let us beware of a selfish narrowness of sympathy in prayer. There are always many calls for prayers of intercession. Very touching is the ancient prayer that has come down to us from the dark ages of persecution, and is presented in the so-called 'Divine Liturgy of St. James:' "Remember, O Lord, Christians sailing, travelling, sojourning in strange lauds; our fathers and brethren, who are in bonds, prison, captivity, and exile; who are m mines, and under torture, and m bitter slavery.
III. REMEMBER THEM IN GRATITUDE. St. Paul was suffering for the gospel. The real cause of his imprisonment was the persecution of the Jews, who were more bitter to his liberal version of Christianity than to the more Judaistic Christianity of the other apostles. Thus he described himself, "I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of you Gentiles" (Ephesians 3:1). Therefore his bonds merit our grateful memory; and the sufferings of the champions of Christian liberty merit similar reverent and grateful recollections. It is well that these memories should be handed down from father to son, that the stories of the heroes of Christendom through whose toils and sufferings we now enjoy so many privileges should be taught to our children.
IV. REMEMBER THEM IN REVERENCE FOR ST. PAUL'S AUTHORITY. His bonds lend weight to his words. They prove his sincerity. They are a reason for listening to his entreaties. By his sufferings he entreats us to walk worthily of our Christian calling. So the greater sufferings of a greater Friend give force to his persuasion when he bids us follow him.—W.F.A.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30