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CONTENTS.—With this chapter the second portion of the Epistle—its practical application-commences. The apostle exhorts and entreats the Thessalonians to make progress in the Christian life, and to practice those commandments which, when he was with them, he gave them by the authority of Jesus Christ. God had called them to holiness and to the renunciation of their heathen practices. They must especially be on their guard against impurity, to which as Gentiles they were formerly so prone. He who rejected his injunctions rejected, not man, but God, whose commands they were. As they were already taught of God in the active practice of Christian love, so they must abound therein. They must not allow themselves to be led away by excitement, as if the day of Christ were at hand, but with quietness and honesty perform the duties of their earthly calling, and so commend the gospel to unbelievers. And with regard to their anxiety concerning the fate of their deceased friends, they were to be comforted by the thought that the dead in Christ would be no losers at the advent, but would rise first, and, along with the living, would be caught up to meet the Lord at his coming, and so they shall all be united in one holy fellowship with him.
1 Thessalonians 4:1
Furthermore; literally, finally; for the rest—introducing the closing or practical part of the Epistle. The apostle uses the same word elsewhere at the close of his Epistles. Then; or rather, therefore; connecting this exhortation with the closing verses of the last chapter: In order that you may be established un-blamably in holiness at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, you must do your part, you must earnestly strive after holiness. We; to be restricted to Paul. Beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus; or rather, in the Lord Jesus; that is, in fellowship with him—the sphere or element within which the apostle besought and exhorted the Thessalonians. He wrote as the organ or instrument of the Lord Jesus. That as ye have received of us. Paul here appeals to the exhortations which he gave them during his residence among them at Thessalonica. How ye ought to walk and to please God; how you ought to conduct yourselves so as to please God. The walking was the means of pleasing. The R.V., after these words, on the authority of manuscripts, adds, "even as ye do walk." So ye would abound more and more. The apostle acknowledges their Christian walking; they had already entered upon the road; their conduct was sanctified; but he exhorts them to abound therein with still greater care and fidelity.
1 Thessalonians 4:2
For ye know; appealing to their memory in confirmation of what he had said. What commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus; or, through the Lord Jesus; that is, not merely by his authority, but by means of him, so that these commandments did not proceed from Paul, but from the Lord Jesus himself. We have here, and indeed in this chapter throughout, an assertion of the inspiration of the apostle: the commandments which he gave to the Thessalonians were the commandments of the Lord Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 4:3
For this is the will of God. The phrase, "the will of God," has two significations in Scripture: the one is the determination of God—his decree; the other is his desire, that in which he delights—a will, however, which may be frustrated by the perversity of his creatures. It is in this latter sense that the word is here employed. Even your sanctification; complete consecration; holiness taken in its most general so. use. Our holiness is the great design of Christ's death, and is the revealed will of God. Some (Olshausen, Lunemann) restrict the term to moral purity, and consider the next clause as its explanation (comp. Romans 12:1). That ye should abstain from fornication; a vice fearfully prevalent among the heathen, and which, indeed, they hardly regarded as wrong. Especially it was the great sin of Corinth, from which the apostle wrote, the patron goddess of which city was Venus.
1 Thessalonians 4:4
That every one of you should know how to possess. The word here rendered "possess" rather signifies "acquire." The R.V. renders the clause, "that each one of you know how to possess himself of;" hence it admits of the translation, "to obtain the mastery over." His vessel. This word has given rise to a diversity of interpretation. Especially two meanings have been given to it. By some it is supposed to be a figurative expression for "wife," in which sense the word is used, though rarely, by Hebrew writers. Peter speaks of the wife "as the weaker vessel" (1 Peter 3:7). This is the meaning adopted by Augustine, Schott, Do Wette, Koch, Hofmann, Liinemann, Riggenbach; and, among English expositors, by Alford, Jowett, Ellicott, and Eadie. This meaning is, however, to be rejected as unusual and strange, and unsuitable to what follows in the next verse. The other meaning—"one's own body"—is more appropriate. Thus Paul says, "We have this treasure," namely, the gospel, "in earthen vessels" (2 Corinthians 4:7; comp. also 1 Samuel 21:5). The body may well be compared to a vessel, as it contains the soul. This meaning is adopted by Chrysostom, Calvin, Grotius, Bengel, Olshausen, Meyer; and, among English expositors, by Macknight, Conybeare, Bishop Alexander, Wordsworth, and Yaughan. In sanctification and honor. What the apostle here requires is that every one should obtain the mastery over his own body, and that whereas, as Gentiles, they had yielded their members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity, they should now, as Christians, yield their members servants to righteousness unto holiness (Romans 6:19).
1 Thessalonians 4:5
Not in the lust of concupiscence—not in the passion of lust (R.V.)—even as the Gentiles which know not God; and therefore from whom nothing better was to be expected. The moral sense of the heathen was so perverted, and their natures so corrupt, that they looked upon fornication as a thing indifferent.
1 Thessalonians 4:6
That no man go beyond; or, transgress. And defraud; or, as it is in the margin of our Bibles, oppress, or, overreach; wrong (R.V.). His brother. Not an exhortation against dishonesty, or prohibition against all attempts to overreach in usual mutual intercourse, as the words would at first sight seem to imply, and as some consider it (Hofmann, Lunemann, Riggenbach); but, as is evident from the context, a continuation of the former exhortation, a prohibition against impurity. In any matter; or, more properly, in the matter, namely, that about which I have been discoursing. "An example of the modest reserve and refined delicacy which characterize the holy apostle's language in speaking of things which the Gentiles did without shame, and thus, by a chaste bashfulness of words, commending the duty of unblemished purity in deeds" (Wordsworth). ‹ ›Because the Lord is the Avenger of all such; either of all such as are thus defrauded or of all such sinful practices. As we also have forewarned you and testified.
1 Thessalonians 4:7
For God hath not called us unto; or, for the purpose of. Uncleanness; moral uncleanness in general. But unto; or, in; in a state of Holiness; or sanctification; the same word as in the third verse; so that holiness is the whole sphere of cur Christian life.
1 Thessalonians 4:8
He therefore that despiseth; or, as it is in the margin, rejecteth (R.V.). What is rejected is either the above commands to moral purity, or the Christian calling to holiness, or, better still, Paul himself, as the organ of God. Despiseth; or, rejecteth. Not man; that is, not me, as if the commands were given from myself—were of mere human origin. But God; the Giver of these commands. So also Peter said unto Ananias, "Thou hast not lied unto man, but unto God" (Acts 5:4); and our Lord says, "He that rejecteth you rejecteth me" (Luke 10:16). Who hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit. If this is the correct reading, then the apostle here again asserts his own inspiration, and that in the strongest and plainest terms. The best manuscripts, however, read, "who giveth his Holy Spirit unto you" (R.V.)—a strong enforcement of holiness, inasmuch as the Holy Spirit was given them for the express purpose of producing holiness within them.
1 Thessalonians 4:9
The apostle now proceeds to a new exhortation. But as touching brotherly love. Brotherly love is the love of Christians to Christians, that special affection which believers bear to each other; a virtue which was carried to such perfection in the primitive Church as to call forth the admiration of their heathen adversaries. This virtue is often inculcated in Scripture (Hebrews 13:1; 1 John 3:14), and is distinguished from love in general (2 Peter 1:7). Ye need not that I write unto you; a delicate and gentle reproof. For ye yourselves are taught of God. We are not here to think of the new commandment of brotherly love given by the Savior, nor on the Divine compassion exciting us to love; but "taught of God" by the influences of the Spirit on their hearts and consciences to love one another.
1 Thessalonians 4:10
And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia. Not only to those in Thessalonica, but to all believers in your country and neighborhood. But we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; that ye make progress in brotherly love—that it increase in purity, in warmth, and in extent.
1 Thessalonians 4:11
And that ye study; literally, that ye be ambitious. To be quiet; to avoid unrest, to live in peace. Worldly ambition excludes quietness and prompts to restlessness; so that the apostle's admonition really is, "that ye be ambitious not to be ambitious." The unrest which disturbed the peace of the Thessalonian Church was not political, but religions; it arose from the excitement naturally occasioned by the entrance of the new feeling of Christianity among them. It would also appear that they were excited by the idea of Christ's immediate advent. This had occasioned disorders, and had caused several to neglect their ordinary business and to give themselves over to an indolent inactivity, so that Christian prudence was overborne. Perhaps, also, the liberality of the richer members of the Church was abused and perverted, so as to promote indolence. And to do your own business; to attend to the duties of your worldly calling, to avoid idleness. And to work with your own hands. From this it would appear that the members of the Thessalonian Church were chiefly composed of the laboring classes. As we commanded you. A precisely similar exhortation is given in the Epistle to the Ephesians: "Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good" (Ephesians 4:28).
1 Thessalonians 4:12
That ye walk honestly; that is, honorably; seemly. Toward them that are without; without the pale of the Christian Church, toward those who are not Christians, whether Jews or Gentiles, the unbelieving world. So also, in another Epistle, the apostle says, "Walk in wisdom toward them that are without" (Colossians 4:5). That ye may have lack of nothing; either neuter, of no thing; or perhaps rather masculine, of no man; that ye be under no necessity of asking assistance either from heathens or from fellow-Christians; inasmuch as working with your hands will put you in possession of what is necessary for life; whereas idleness necessarily involves poverty and dependence on others.
1 Thessalonians 4:13
With this verse the apostle proceeds to another subject, namely, to comfort those who were mourning the death of their friends. It would appear that the Thessalonians were in perplexity and distress concerning the fate of their deceased friends, fearing that these would miss those blessings which they expected Christ to confer at his advent. Their views of the time and nature of the advent and of the future state in general were confused. They expected that Christ would come immediately and establish his kingdom on earth; and consequently they feared that those who had died would be excluded from it. But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren; a phrase often used by the apostle, when he makes a transition to new and important matters (comp. Romans 1:13; Romans 11:25; 1Co 10:1; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 2 Corinthians 1:8). Concerning them which are asleep; or, are fallen asleep. The death of believers in the New Testament is frequently called "sleep." "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth" (John 11:11). Of Stephen it is said that "he fell asleep" (Acts 7:60). "Many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep" (1 Corinthians 11:30). "Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished" (1 Corinthians 15:18). "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed" (l Corinthians 15:51). "He fell asleep" is a common epitaph on early Christian tombstones. It is to be observed that it is not of the dead generally that the apostle speaks, but of the dead in Christ, and especially of those members of the Thessalonian Church who had died. That ye sorrow not. Some suppose that sorrow for our deceased friends is here utterly prohibited; inasmuch as if we had a firm belief in their blessedness we would rejoice and not mourn. But the sorrow here prohibited is a despairing and an unbelieving sorrow; we are forbidden to sorrow as those who have no hope, no belief in a blessed resurrection. The tears of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus have authorized and sanctified Christian sorrow. "Paul," observes Calvin, "lifts up the minds of believers to a consideration of the resurrection, lest they should indulge excessive grief on occasion of the death of their relatives, for it were unseemly that there should be no difference between them and unbelievers, who put no end or measure to their grief, for this reason, that in death they recognize nothing but destruction. Those that abuse this testimony so as to establish among Christians stoical indifference, that is, an iron hardness, will find nothing of this nature in Paul's words." Even as others; literally, as the rest; namely, the heathen. Which have no hope; no hope of immortality beyond death, or no hope of the resurrection. The heathen, with very few exceptions, had no hope of a future life, and hence they mourned over the death of their friends as an irreparable loss. This disconsolate feeling is apparent in their writings (for examples, see Lunemann, Alford, and Jowett, in loco).
1 Thessalonians 4:14
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again. The apostle's argument proceeds on the supposition that Christ and believers are one body, of which Christ is the Head and believers are the members; and that consequently what happens to the Head must happen to the members. Our knowledge and belief of a future state, and especially of the resurrection, is founded on the resurrection of Christ. Even so them also which sleep in Jesus; or more literally, through Jesus. Will God bring with him; namely, with Jesus. These words are differently construed. Some read them thus: "Even so them also which sleep will God through Jesus bring with him" (De Wette, Lunemann); but this appears to be an awkward construction; as we must then render the clause, "will God through Jesus bring with Jesus." It is, therefore, better to refer the words, "through Jesus," to the first clause. It is through Jesus that believers fall asleep; it is he who changes the nature of death, for all his people, from being the king of terrors into a quiet and gentle sleep, from which they will awaken to eternal life.
1 Thessalonians 4:15
For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord; or rather, by a word of the Lord. The apostle does not refer to those portions of the gospel which record our Lord's discourses concerning the last things; nor to some sayings of Christ preserved by tradition; but to a direct revelation made unto himself by the Lord. We know from Scripture that Paul had many such revelations imparted to him. That we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord. These words are the occasion of an important discussion. It has been affirmed that the apostle here asserts that he himself expected to be alive, with the majority of those to whom he was writing, at the Lord's advent; that, according to his expectation, Christ's second coming was close at hand. "Those who are alive and remain" are distinguished from "those who are asleep," and in the former class the apostle includes himself and his readers. And a similar declaration is contained in the First Epistle to the Corinthians: "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:51). Such is the view adopted by Grotius, Olshausen, Koch, Neander, Lechler, Baur, Winer, Reuse, Lunemann, Riggenbach; and, among English divines, by Alford, Jowett, Stanley, and Conybeare. Some of them suppose that Paul changed his opinion on this point—that whilst in his earlier Epistles he taught the immediateness of the advent, in his later Epistles he renounced this hope and looked forward to his own departure. There does not seem to be any ground for this opinion. On the contrary, it would appear from the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, written only a few weeks after this Epistle, that Paul did not expect the advent immediately, but mentions a series of events which would intervene before its occurrence (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3). And in this Epistle he represses the curiosity of the Thessalonians about the precise time of the advent by telling them that it was beyond the sphere of his teaching (1 Thessalonians 5:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:2). We consider, then, that the apostle speaks here as a member of the Christian body, and uses a very common form of expression—that we Christians which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord; but not at all intending to express his confidence that he himself and his converts would be actually alive at the advent. "He spake," says St. Chrysostom, "not of himself, but of Christians who would be alive at the day of judgment." Such is the view adopted by Chrysostom, Calvin, Bengel, Hofmann, Lunge, Macknight, Ellicott, Bishop Alexander, Wordsworth, and Vaughan. At the same time, it must be remembered that the time of the advent was expressly concealed (Matthew 24:36; Acts 1:7), and that it might occur at any period; and, by reason of their proximity to the first advent, the primitive Christians would be deeply impressed with the possibility or even probability of its occurrence in their days. Christians were to be living always in readiness for this great event, and thus it became a matter of expectation. "Strictly speaking, the expectation of the day of the Lord was not a belief, but a necessity in the early Church; clinging as it did to the thought of Christ, it could not bear to be separated from him; it was his absence, not his presence, that the first believers found it hard to realize" (Jowett). Hence Paul might not regard the advent as far removed into the distant future, as wholly impossible to happen in his days, but as an occurrence which might at any time take place; but he did not teach anything definite or certain on the subject. £ Shall not prevent; go before or anticipate, obtain the preference over, get before, so that those that are asleep might be left behind and fail of the prize. Them that are asleep; those who are dead, so that they, the living, should be glorified before them, or perhaps hinder their glorification.
1 Thessalonians 4:16
For; assigning a reason for the above assertion, "because." The Lord himself; not merely the Lord as the chief Person and Actor on that day, in contrast to his saints, but emphatic, "the Lord himself," the Lord in his own proper Person. Shall descend from heaven; where the crucified and risen Jesus is now enthroned, seated at the right hand of God. With a shout; a word denoting a commanding shout as that of a leader to his host when he leads them into the battle, or of the army when it rushes to the fight. Some refer this shout to what follows—the voice of the archangel and the trump of God; but there are three particulars here mentioned. Others attribute it to Christ himself. With the voice of the archangel; or rather, of an archangel. There is only one archangel mentioned in Scripture (Jude 1:9); the word denotes, not "chief angel," but "chief or ruler of the angels." Accordingly, same suppose that Christ himself is here meant, as to him alone, it is asserted, does this title belong; but the Lord and the archangel are here evidently distinguished. Others strangely imagine that the Holy Ghost is here meant. Others fix on the archangel Michael (Jude 1:9). Christ is represented as accompanied by angels to the judgment; and it is futile to inquire who this leader of the angels is. And the trump of God; even as the trumpet sounded at the giving of the Law from Sinai. Also the advent of Christ to judgment is represented as heralded by the sound of a trumpet (Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:51, 1 Corinthians 15:52). "We are to recognize three particulars, following each other in rapid succession—the commanding shout of the King himself, the voice of the archangel summoning the other angels, and the trump of God which awakens the dead and collects believers" (Riggen-bach). And the dead in Christ shall rise first. Some suppose that the reference here is to the first resurrection; that the righteous, "the dead in Christ," shall rise before the wicked, "the dead not in Christ;" and that a thousand years, or the millennium, will intervene between the first and second resurrections (Revelation 20:4, Revelation 20:5). But this is an entirely erroneous supposition. All that is here asserted is that the dead in Christ shall rise before the living in Christ shall be changed; there is no contrast between the dead in Christ and the dead not in Christ, nor any allusion to the resurrection of the wicked.
1 Thessalonians 4:17
Then we which are alive and remain; or, are left; that is, the saints who shall then be found alive on the earth. The apostle classes himself among the living, because he was then alive. Shall be caught up. The expression describes the irresistible power with which the saints shall be caught up, perhaps by the ministry of angels. Together with them; with the dead in Christ who are raised. In the clouds. Our Lord is described as coming to judgment in the clouds of heaven (Matthew 24:30; Revelation 1:7). According to the Old Testament representation, God is described as making the clouds his chariot (Psalms 104:3). To meet the Lord; in his descent from heaven to earth. In the air. Not that he shall fix his throne in the air, but that he passes through the air in his descent to the earth. And so shall we ever be with the Lord; shall share a blessed eternity in the vision and participation of his glory. The apostle does not here describe the solemnities of the judgment; but stops at the meeting of Christ and his risen saints, because his object was to comfort the Thessalonians under bereavement.
1 Thessalonians 4:18
Wherefore comfort one another with these words; on the ground of that Divine revelation which I have made unto you.
1 Thessalonians 4:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:7 - Holiness the design of revelation.
Holiness is the end aimed at in all the dispensations of God.
(1) God has chosen us before the foundation of the world that we should be holy (Ephesians 1:4);
(2) Christ gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity (Titus 2:14);
(3) the Holy Spirit is conferred to sanctify us (Titus 3:5; 2 Thessalonians 2:13);
(4) the Word is the instrument of sanctification (John 17:17); and
(5) God chastens us in order that we might be made partakers of his holiness (Hebrews 12:10). In short, holiness is salvation—our restoration to the moral image of God.
1 Thessalonians 4:9 - Brotherly love.
1. Its nature. It is a love to all believers as believers, as being the children of the same Father, the brethren of the same Savior, the members of the same family, the sharers of the same grace, and the expectants of the same glorious immortality. To all men we are related by a common humanity, but to Christians we are still more closely related by a common Christianity.
2. Its manifestations. It will show itself in acts of kindness done to believers, in preferring their company to that of worldly men, and in conversing with them on religious subjects.
3. The evidence arising from brotherly love. It is a proof that we are not of the world, that we love God and that we are Christ's friends and disciples.
1 Thessalonians 4:11 - Quietness and faithfulness in worldly duties.
1. Quietness. A true Christian is of a quiet and retiring disposition; he shrinks from worldly bustle; he is free from worldly ambition; like the lily of the valley, he loves the shade; he knows that this is not his home, and he looks for a better country, even a heavenly.
2. Faithfulness. A true Christian faithfully performs his worldly duties, because be believes them to be assigned him by the Lord; and he labors assiduously at his calling, because he recognizes it as the law of Providence that if any man do not work neither shall he cat.
1 Thessalonians 4:12 - Honesty.
1. Its nature. We must guard against commercial dishonesty; all attempts to go beyond and defraud our brother; all overestimating what we sell, and underestimating what we buy; all shrinking from the payment of debts; all mean practices to gain customers.
2. Its importance. Temptations to dishonesty in this commercial age. Dishonesty combined with religious profession gives occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme. We must walk honestly toward them that are without. The independence and loftiness of character which honesty imparts.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 - The death of friends.
1. The Christian's sorrow for the death of friends. All sorrow not here forbidden; only commanded not to sorrow as those who have no hope. The Christian sorrow is a submissive sorrow, which discerns the hand of God; a holy sorrow, which improves the affliction; a disinterested sorrow, which, whilst it mourns over the loss, is comforted at the thoughts of the happiness of the departed; an enlightened sorrow, which looks forward to the future, and regards our separation from our departed friends as being neither final nor complete.
2. The Christian's improvement of the death of friends. It teaches us the vanity of the world, the power of religion, and the necessity of preparation for our own death.
1 Thessalonians 4:14 - Resurrection of believers.
The ground of their resurrection rests on their union to Christ and on his resurrection. Not only are their souls immortal, but their bodies shall be redeemed from the grave. The voice of the archangel and the trump of God will call them from their graves, and, endowed with spiritual bodies, they shall be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. The resurrection is purely a doctrine of revelation; it formed no part of the religion of nature; the natural analogies which are adduced are defective in essential points.
HOMILIES BY T. CROSKERY
1 Thessalonians 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 4:2 - The importance of living in harmony with the Divine will.
The practical part of the Epistle begins at this point.
I. MARK THE AFFECTIONATE MANNER OF THE APOSTLE'S ADDRESS. "We beseech you and exhort by the Lord Jesus." He does not speak in the language of command, much less assume the air of a lord over God's heritage, but meekly and affectionately in the way of entreaty. But there was all the force of authority in the very entreaty because it was grounded in the Lord Jesus as its source and element.
II. THE IMPORTANT NATURE OF HIS REQUEST. "That according as ye received from us how ye ought to walk and please God, ye would abound yet more."
1. It is the duty of a minister to enforce moral duties as well as gospel doctrines. Scripture knows nothing of antinomianism except to condemn it. It is necessary for ministers to expound duty as well as doctrine.
2. It is possible to please God in holy walking. This does not imply that the saints' acceptance depends upon themselves, but that God is pleased with what a believer does in faith from a principle of love, in the grace of Christ, for the Divine glory. "The Lord taketh pleasure in his people." Even when our hearts condemn us, "he upbraideth not" (James 1:5).
3. It is necessary to increase in godliness. "So ye would abound yet more."
(1) The apostle recognizes their begun sanctification. The best texts add the words, "even as also ye walk."
(2) He enforces the necessity of making further increase in holy walking. There must be an "exercising of themselves unto godliness," a resolute "going on unto perfection" in the exercise of every grace, in the discharge of every duty, "perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1).
III. ENFORCEMENT OF THE EXHORTATION. "For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus."
1. The apostle's position was purely ministerial, for he merely delivered what he bad received from the Lord.
2. The moral duties he enjoins are based in the gospel of Christ, which supplies the motives to a full-hearted obedience.—T.C.
1 Thessalonians 4:3 - Sanctification, a Divine Arrangement.
"For this is God's will, your sanctification." The first duty expressed is personal holiness.
I. THE NATURE OF SANCTIFICATION.
1. It implies the consecration of all our faculties and powers, both of body and mind, to God's service.
2. It implies personal purity in heart and life. We are to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1).
II. THE GROUND OF THE EXHORTATION.
1. It is God's will. That ought to stimulate to exertion and encourage to prayer. "Teach me to do thy will, for thou art my God."
2. It was the design of Christ's death; for he "gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14).
III. THE MEANS OF SANCTIFICATION.
1. It is by the truth. "Sanctify them by thy truth: thy Word is truth."
2. It is by his ordinances.
3. It is by his providences. (Psalms 119:71; Hebrews 12:10; Romans 2:4.)
4. It is, above all, by the Spirit of holiness, as its sole Author.—T.C.
1 Thessalonians 4:3 - Warning against sins of impurity.
The apostle comes at once to particulars. "That ye should abstain from fornication." Though adultery and incest were crimes among the heathen, fornication was not accounted a sin at all. Therefore we can understand the emphatic place which is assigned to this sin in the synodal letters to the Gentile Churches (Acts 15:20-29), The Gentiles "walked after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness."
I. CONSIDER THE HEINOUSNESS OF THIS SIN.
1. It is a sin against God. So Joseph regarded it (Genesis 39:9). The law to restrain from this sin is grounded in the reason, "For I the Lord am holy" (Leviticus 19:2), The Divine nature which believers share through grace is quite inconsistent with "the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1:4). This sin is likewise inconsistent with the design of the gospel of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 7:1; Ephesians 4:29, Ephesians 4:30).
2. It is a sin against our neighbor. This is implied in the seventh commandment.
3. It is a sin against our own bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:18.) Sinners dishonor their own bodies (Romans 1:24).
4. It is a sin against the soul. "Whoredom takes away the heart" (Hosea 4:11).
II. CONSIDER THE FATAL CONSEQUENCES OF THIS SIN.
1. It Wastes the body. (Job 20:11.)
2. It wars against the soul. (1 Peter 2:11.)
3. It causes shame. (Proverbs 6:33; Ephesians 5:12.)
4. It entails poverty. (Proverbs 6:26.)
5. It excludes from the kingdom of God. (1Co 6:9, 1 Corinthians 6:10.)—T.C.
1 Thessalonians 4:4-8 - How personal purity is to be maintained.
The sanctification which is God's will requires that "every one of you know how to possess himself of his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust." The vessel is not a wife, but a man's own body. If it meant a wife, it might be said that every man would be bound to marry. The wife is no doubt called the "weaker vessel," the evident meaning of the term of comparison being that the husband is also "a vessel;"
I. HOW THE BODY IS TO BE USED.
(1) It is not to be regarded as outside the pale of moral obligation, as antinomian perverters say, basing their error on the words of the apostle, "It is not I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me;" "In me, that is, in my flesh, there dwelleth no good thing."
(2) It is not to be injured or mutilated by asceticism, after Romish example. The apostle condemns "the neglecting of the body" and "the not sparing of the body" (Colossians 2:23).
(3) It is not to be made "an instrument of unrighteousness" through sensuality—"not in passion of lust." Sensuality is quite inconsistent with the very idea of sanctification.
(1) The body is to be kept under control; the Christian "must know how to possess himself of his own vessel." He "must keep under the body;" he must make it servant and not master, and not allow its natural liberty to run into licentiousness.
(2) He must treat it with all due honor—"in sanctification and honor;"
(a) because it is God's workmanship, for "we are fearfully and wonderfully made;"
(b) because it is "the temple of the Holy Ghost" (1 Corinthians 6:19);
(c) because it is an heir of the resurrection;
(d) because it is, and ought to be, like the believer himself, "a vessel unto honor, sanctified and meet for the Master's use," for the body has much to do in the economy of grace.
II. DISSUASIVES AGAINST PERSONAL IMPURITY.
1. The knowledge of God received by the Christian ought to guard us against it. The apostle here attributes Gentile impurity to ignorance of God. "Even as the Gentiles who know not God." The world by wisdom knew not God, was alienated from the life of God, and thus sunk into moral disorder. The apostle shows in the first chapter of Romans how God, as a righteous retribution, gave over the idolatrous Gentiles to all sorts of moral dishonor.
2. Another dissuasive is the regard we ought to have for a brother's family honor. "That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in this matter." A breach upon family honor is a far worse offence than any breach upon property. The stain is indelibly deeper.
3. Another dissuasive is the Divine vengeance. For "the Lord is the Avenger concerning all these things." If the vengeance does not reach men in this world, it will in the next, where they will have their portion in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone. They shall "not inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9).
4. The nature of the Divine call is another dissuasive. For "God did not call you for uncleanness, but in sanctification." They had received "a holy calling," a "high calling;" and though "called unto liberty," they were "created unto good works." They were "called to be saints;" for God says, "Be ye holy, for I am holy."
5. Another dissuasive is that the sin involves a despisal of God, who has given us his Holy Spirit that we may attain to sanctification. "He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man but God, who hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit." God has ordered all our family relations, and any dishonor done to them involves a contempt of his authority. We have in this passage God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—interested in man's salvation and holiness.—T.C.
1 Thessalonians 4:9, 1 Thessalonians 4:10 - Inculcation of brotherly love.
The apostle next reminds the Thessalonians of the duty of abounding in brotherly love.
I. THE NATURE OF THIS LOVE.
1. It is the affection of those who are children of the same Father. (Galatians 4:26.) Members of the same "household of faith" (Galatians 6:10). "Every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him' (1 John 5:1).
2. It is a practical love. "Not in word only, bat in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18). It showed itself in "labors of love," add especially through the whole of Macedonia.
3. It was a duty thoroughly understood by believers, because they were "taught of God to love one another" in both Testaments.
4. It was the test of regeneration. (1 John 3:14.)
5. It was a token of discipleship. (John 13:35.)
6. It was essential to the growth of the Church. (Ephesians 4:16.)
II. THE MOTIVES TO THIS LOVE.
1. The command of Christ. (John 13:34.)
2. The example of Christ. (Ephesians 5:2.)
3. The glory of Christ in the world is promoted by it. (John 13:35.)
4. It will be a powerful means towards the world's conversion (John 7:21.)
III. THE MANIFESTATION OF THIS LOVE.
1. In bearing one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2). The Thessalonians several years afterwards showed this spirit, as we see by 2Co 8:1, 2 Corinthians 8:2, toward the Churches of Macedonia.
2. "In honor preferring one another" (Romans 12:10).
3. "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another" (Colossians 3:13).
4. "Not suffering sin upon a brother" (Leviticus 19:17).—T.C.
1 Thessalonians 4:11, 1 Thessalonians 4:12 - Inculcation of the duty of quiet and honest industry.
"And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you."
I. A WARNING AGAINST THREE INCONSISTENT AND UNPROFITABLE MODES OF LIFE.
1. They were to guard against a spirit of restlessness. "That ye study to be quiet." There had, perhaps, arisen an unsettlement of mind on account of their belief in the nearness of Christ's advent, as well as some uneasiness on account of the fate of their deceased brethren. It led to a desultoriness of life little effective for any good end. The apostle, therefore, counsels sedateness and calmness. We ought to live "a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty" (1 Timothy 2:2).
2. They were to guard against a meddling and pragmatical spirit. "Do your own business." Love naturally inclines us to "look not on our own things, but also on the things of others" (Philippians 2:4), but it must not prompt either to the neglect of our own business or to undue interference with that of others. We must not be "busybodies in other men's matters."
3. They were to guard against idleness. "Work with your own hands." The converts probably belonged mostly to the artisan class. The belief in the nearness of the advent had unhinged their minds, and led them to neglect the duties of their secular calling. Industry is a commanded duty. "Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called" (1 Corinthians 7:20). The Thessalonians needed to be reminded of it, for he had occasion to speak of it in his first visit. Idleness has peculiar temptations.
II. MOTIVES TO THE DISCHARGE OF THESE DUTIES. "That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have need of nothing."
1. We are to have consideration to the opinion of those without. They may misjudge us, yet their judgments may be often true. We must not repel them by our inconsistencies of conduct. We must give "none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully" (1 Timothy 5:14).
2. We are to provide a supply for our own wants,
(1) so as to support ourselves respectably,
(2) and to enable us to supply the need of others.
Christianity is above all things a self-respecting religion, and has the promise even "of the life that now is." Mendicancy is essentially degrading.—T.C.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 - Sorrow for the dead.
The apostle next refers to the share of the Christian dead in the coming of Christ, respecting which some misapprehensions seem to have existed at Thessalonica.
I. THE DEATH OF FRIENDS IS A CAUSE OF DEEP SORROW TO SURVIVORS. Such sorrow is instinctive, and is not forbidden by the gospel: for "Jesus wept" at the grave of Lazarus, and the friends of Stephen "made great lamentation over him." True religion does not destroy, but restrains, natural affections.
II. THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CHRISTIAN AND HEATHEN SORROW. That of the heathen is extravagant, because there is "no hope" in the death of their relatives. It is "the sorrow of the world," which is utterly uncheered by hope. The sorrow of the Christian is sober, and chastened by the hope of the gospel.
III. THE CAUSE OF THESSALONIAN SORROW.
1. It was not that there was a denial or doubt of the resurrection from the dead, such as existed at Corinth.
2. Nor was it that the resurrection was regarded as past already, according to the heresy of Hymenaeus and Philetus.
3. But it was that it was feared the Christian dead would not be raised to share with the living in the coming glories of the advent.
IV. THE RESURRECTION HAS CHANGED DEATH INTO A SLEEP. "Those that are asleep."
1. There is nothing in the word to justify the idea of the soul's unconsciousness in the period between death and resurrection.
2. Sleep implies an awaking. This will occur at the resurrection. Thus the hope of the Church is the hope of the resurrection.
V. THE IMPORTANCE OF EXACT KNOWLEDGE RESPECTING THE FUTURE DESTINY OF THE SAINTS. "I would not have you ignorant." Ignorance of the truth mars our spiritual comfort.—T.C.
1 Thessalonians 4:14, 1 Thessalonians 4:15 - Reasons against sorrow for the dead.
The apostle gives several reasons why the Thessalonians ought not to sorrow for their dead.
I. THE FUNDAMENTAL REASON IS THE DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF CHRIST. "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again." These are the primary facts of Christianity. They are inseparably linked together, for the resurrection was the crown of the redeeming sacrifice; for if he was delivered for our offences, he was raised again for our justification. Deny either or both, we "are yet in our sins."
II. THE SECOND REASON IS, WHEN CHRIST COMES AGAIN FROM THE FATHER'S RIGHT HAND, HE WILL BRING WITH HIM THE SLEEPING SAINTS. "Even so them also who sleep in Jesus will God bring with him."
1. The dead saints sleep in Jesus. They arc associated with him both in life and in death. They "die in the Lord;" "they are present with the Lord."
2. They will accompany Jesus at his second coming. This includes
(1) their resurrection from the dead,—for "he who raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus" (2 Corinthians 4:14);
(2) their joining the retinue of Jesus to share his triumph. As risen from the dead, he becomes "the Firstfruits of them that slept."
III. THE THIRD REASON IS THAT THE LIVING SAINTS WILL NOT PRECEDE THE DEAD SAINTS AT THE COMING OF CHRIST. "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep." This fact would effectively dissipate their sorrow for their departed friends.
1. It is a fact wade known by special revelation. Such revelations were frequently made to the apostle, as in the case of his special mission field (Acts 22:18-21), the position of Gentile saints (Ephesians 3:3), the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23), and the reality and proofs of Christ's resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3).
2. It is a fact that does not imply either the nearness of the second advent, or the apostle's own share as a living man in its glories. He says, "We which are alive and remain to the coming of Christ;" he merely identifies the living believers of the last age with himself, as if he said, "Those of us Christians who may be alive at the advent." He could not have believed that he would not die before the advent, for
(1) that would imply that "the word of the Lord" had misled him;
(2) he actually preferred to be absent from the body, and toward the end of his life spoke of death as "gain," and of his desiring "to depart and be with Christ," words quite inconsistent with this theory;
(3) he virtually declares in the Second Epistle that the advent could not happen in his lifetime (2 Thessalonians 2:1-17.);
(4) he knew that no man, not even the Son of man, knew the time of the advent (Mar 13:1-37 :42).
3. It is a fact that the living saints will not get the start of the dead saints in the coming of the Lord. This is his express revelation from the Lord. "The dead in Christ shall rise first," or before the living are changed (1 Corinthians 15:1-58.). The Thessalonians need not, therefore, sorrow for their departed friends, neither be afraid themselves to die.—T.C.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 - The order of events at the second advent.
The apostle justifies his statement by a fuller revelation of the truth. He sets forth the order of events.
I. THE DESCENT OF THE LORD FROM HEAVEN. "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God."
1. It will be a descent of our personal Lord. "No phantom, no providential substitute, no vicarious spirit;" the same Person that ascended is he that will descend
2. It will be a descent with awe-inspiring accompaniments.
(1) "With a signal shout" by the Lord himself, which will be taken up and prolonged by
(2) "the voice of the archangel;" for he is to come, "bringing with him all the holy angels" (Matthew 25:31); and
(3) "the trump of God," for "the trumpet shall sound" (1 Corinthians 15:52), and "he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet" (Matthew 24:31). It is God's trumpet because employed in his heavenly service. It will be the sound of a literal trumpet, like that which was heard upon Sinai (Exodus 19:16, Exodus 19:19). These various sounds are to herald the descent of the Lord, and to gather the elect together from the four winds of heaven.
II. THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD SAINTS. "And the dead in Christ shall rise first." There is no allusion to the resurrection of the wicked. The apostle is concerned at present with the destinies and glories of a single class. So far from the sainted dead being overlooked, the priority of resurrection is to belong to them.
III. THE CHANGE OF THE LIVING SAINTS. This wonderful transformation is here rather implied than asserted. "For we shall not all die, but we shall be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:51).
IV. THE SIMULTANEOUS ASSUMPTION OF BOTH CLASSES OF SAINTS. "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air."
1. As one united band, the saints, in spiritualized bodies, will be caught up in clouds—those "clouds which are his chariot"—just as he himself ascended "in a cloud," and "a cloud received him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9). The new bodies of believers will be able to pass with ease through the air.
2. The saints will then "meet the Lord in the air"—not in heaven as he leaves it, nor in earth as he approaches it, but between heaven and earth. The apostle does not say whether they will at once descend to earth and return with him to heaven. He is silent upon the question of the judgment or the entry into final glory.
V. THE PERPETUAL RESIDENCE OF THE SAINTS WITH THE LORD. "And so shall we ever be with the Lord."
1. It will be a meeting without a parting. The intercourse begun will have an endless duration. Believers shall "go no more out."
2. It implies an intimate fellowship with the Lord.
3. It will be the fulfillment of our Lord's prayer: "That they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory" (John 17:24).
VI. THE CONSOLATORY INFLUENCE OF ALL THESE TRUTHS. "Wherefore comfort one another with these words." Chase away your sorrow; the dead are not lost or forgotten; they shall share in the glories of the advent. There was surely deep and lasting consolation in such truths.—T.C.
HOMILIES BY B.C. CAFFIN
1 Thessalonians 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 4:2 - Exhortation.
ST. PAUL'S AFFECTIONATE IMPORTUNITY.
1. He beseeches. He has finished the personal part of his letter; he has told them of his love, his constant remembrance of them, his prayers for them, his thanksgiving; he has reminded them of the close spiritual ties which bound them to him. Now he beseeches them to persevere. He knows the exceeding difficulty of maintaining a Christian life in this sinful world; he knows the momentous issues that depend on perseverance; he loves his converts with an intense love; therefore he beseeches. He uses all means of persuasion in turns. Now he commands, now he beseeches. Sometimes entreaty is more prevailing than commandment, gentleness than authority. No qualities are more important in the work of the ministry than a genuine love for souls, a real and evident anxiety for the spiritual welfare of our people. St. Paul beseeches; it is an example to all Christian ministers.
2. He exhorts them in the Lord Jesus. Christian people need all manner of encouragement, comfort, exhortation. That exhortation prevails which is in the Lord Jesus. His presence, his grace, himself, is the sphere of the Christian's spiritual activity. He who lives habitually in "that fellowship which is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ," is best able to lead others to God and heaven. For he who hath the Son hath life. The Lord Jesus is the Life; and he who hath that life himself, hath from the life that abideth in him the warmth, the fervor, the holy enthusiasm, without which religious exhortation has no power, no reality. "In the Lord Jesus." Mark how frequently those words, "in Christ," "in the Lord," are on the lips of St. Paul. It is a constant formula with him. But it is a formula full of life, full of holy meaning. "Not I, Christ liveth in me."
3. He reminds them of his former teaching. He had given them a charge, and that through the Lord Jesus. He had received of the Lord that which he delivered unto them. The commandments were not his; they were the commandments of Christ. He had received them from Christ; and through Christ's appointment, guidance, presence, he delivered them to the Thessalonians. He appeals to their recollection. They knew them; they had the knowledge; that knowledge involves a deep and solemn responsibility. The Lord tells us in the Gospel of the condemnation that hangs over the careless servant who knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will. Hence the force of the apostle's words, "Ye know." Much had been given to them, much would be required. It is a warning to be always remembered, to be urged constantly upon ourselves, upon those who are brought in any way under our influence. "Ye know." Knowledge, if it issue in obedience, is exceeding precious; knowledge without obedience involves an awful danger. "Ye know;" therefore we must use that knowledge, that precious talent entrusted to our keeping. The tremendous alternative lies before us—the blessed words, "Welt done!" or the sentence that fills the heart with shuddering awe, "Thou wicked and slothful servant!"
4. He urges them to continual progress. He had taught them how to walk and to please God. The subject of his practical teaching was how to walk, not how to talk. They must walk in the Spirit, he had told them; their daily life in all its details and circumstances must be guided by the promptings of the Holy Spirit. "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth," is the key-note of the true Christian life. Thus living they would please God. To please God is the highest Christian ambition; the consciousness of pleasing him is the highest Christian joy. But walking implies progress. Standing still is dangerous; it must issue in backsliding. They must go on from strength to strength; they must forget those things that are behind, and press on to those that are before. The grace of God abounds; it is without limit. He giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not. So must the Christian abound more and more in the exercise of the graces communicated to him by God; he must work the works of righteousness with ever-increasing energy, as the grace of God more and more fills his heart.
1. Do all things in the Name of the Lord Jesus; learn by experience the meaning of those deep words, "in the Lord."
2. Remember that knowledge implies responsibility.
3. Strive to maintain continual progress in all Christian graces, in faith, hope, love, humility, patience.—B.C.C.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 - The law of purity.
I. PURITY OF HEART.
1. The will of God the rule of the Christian life. To please God is the strongest desire of the true Christian; and we please him by obedience. The Lord delighteth not in outward observances as he doth in "obeying the voice of the Lord." The Christian's prayer is, "Thy will be done." The standard of that obedience is the obedience of the angels in heaven. It is above our reach; but it is what we are bidden to aim at, what we are told to pray for in our daily prayers. It should be the effort of our lives to lift ourselves up, by the grace of God assisting us, nearer and nearer to that heavenly rule. Without that grace we are helpless; but "I can do all things," says St. Paul, "through him that strengtheneth me."
2. The will of God is our sanctification. He willeth that all men should be saved; but salvation is possible only through sanctification; for without holiness no man shall see the Lord. Sanctification is the separation from all that is evil, the entire consecration of the whole man to the service of God, the gradual conforming of the human will to the blessed will of God. Christ is our Sanctification. "He of God is made unto us Wisdom, and Righteousness, and Sanctification." Faith brings us near to him, and he becomes our Righteousness; then the work of sanctification begins. It is a progressive work, slow and gradual. The more the believer grows in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, the more does that blessed knowledge exert its hallowing power. The beauty of holiness, the sweetness of fellowship with God, the glories of his coming kingdom, are more and more deeply felt. Then, when the affections are set upon things above, and the heart's love is centered upon God, the soul reacheth forth after Christ, longing above all things to be like him, yearning after holiness with a strong, intense desire, eagerly striving to purge itself from the defilement of sin, and to advance ever onwards in the work of sanctification; and that because the Lord. Jesus Christ dwelleth there himself, and the pulses of his love beat in the converted heart. He is our Sanctification. He abideth in his people's heart by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. All holy desires, all good counsels, all just works, come from him—from his inspiring, elevating present. This is the will of God; this is what God would have us to be. It is a very high and heavenly state; yet in its various degrees it must be by the grace of God within our reach. For he is the God of truth; his promises are not deceitful; his commandments do not mock us with a standard impossible of attainment.
II. PURITY OF LIFE.
1. Chastity. The apostle is writing to converts who but a short time before had been heathens. It was necessary to speak very plainly and solemnly on this subject; for the heathen commonly regarded that impurity, which is so great a sin in the sight of God, almost as a thing indifferent. But the will of God is our sanctification, and sanctification involves purity. Without sanctification we cannot see the Lord; but the pure in heart shall see him. God is light; in him is no darkness at all. There is something awful in the stainless purity of the starry heavens. As we gaze into them, we feel ourselves oppressed with an overwhelming sense of our own uncleanness. It is a parable of the ineffable purity of God. In his sight the heavens are not clean. He is of purer eyes than to behold evil; therefore only the pure in heart can see his face. That inner purity covers the whole spiritual life. It implies freedom from all lower motives—all that is selfish, earthly, false, hypocritical; it is that transparency of character which flows from the consciousness of the perpetual presence of God. But that inner purity, which is so large an element in sanctification, involves the perfect purity of the outward life. Religion is not morality, but it cannot exist without morality. It transcends morality, but it implies it. This was not the teaching of the religion which the Thessalonians had abandoned. That admitted immorality. Their very gods were immoral. They were served, not by purity of life, but by sacrifices and outward rites often leading to impurity. Hence the urgency of the apostle's appeal Amid the evil surroundings of a heathen town, living in an atmosphere of depraved public opinion, new converts were exposed to constant and great dangers. St. Paul reminds them that holiness, without which there is no salvation, is impossible without chastity. Fornication is not, what they once deemed it, a thing indifferent. It is an awful sin against God. Christianity has taught us this. We know it well. We wonder at the light way in which heathen writers speak of abominations which now we shrink from naming. But the sin exists still in terrible strength. It hides itself, indeed; it walketh in the darkness; Christianity has driven it there. But still, alas! it slays its thousands and its ten thousands. It cuts a soul away from God with a fearful rapidity. It fills the man with impure images, unholy desires. It drives out of the heart the thought of God. The soul that is tainted with this foul leprosy cannot pray. It cannot endure the thought of the presence of God in his heart-searching nearness, in his awful purity. Impurity destroys the possibility of the slightest approach to that sanctification without which we cannot see God. Hence the necessity of the apostle's earnest words, "The will of God is your sanctification; and there can be no sanctification if ye live in uncleanness."
2. Honor. The unclean life of the heathen cities was full of sin and shame. The Christian life is truly honorable. The Christian's body is a holy thing. It has been dedicated to God. It is "for the Lord" (1 Corinthians 6:13). The Christian must acquire a mastery over it in honor. He must yield his "members as instruments of righteousness unto God." The Christian husband must give honor to his wife. Christian marriage must be honorable, for it is a parable of the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church. The life of holiness and purity is a thing to be honored. Those who honor holiness honor God, who is the most holy One, the one Fountain of holiness.
3. The knowledge of God. The heathens knew not God. They might have known him. He had manifested in the works of creation his eternal power and Godhead. But they did not like to retain God in their knowledge. They changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man. Their false gods resembled men, not only in their form, but also in their sins and uncleanness. Men had framed a conception of Deity from their own corrupt nature, and that conception reacted powerfully upon their character. Their gods were like them, and they were like their gods. The Thessalonian Christians had learned a holier knowledge. They must not live like the heathen, who knew not the true and living God. Their knowledge must act upon their life. They must be pure.
4. Impurity is a sin against man. "Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light." Impure desires assume the form of love; uncleanness usurps and degrades the sacred name of love. The sensual man ruins in body and in soul those whom he professes to love. He uses words of tenderness. He is the most cruel, the deadliest enemy in his wicked selfishness. He cares not for the nearest and holiest ties. He sins against the sanctity of matrimony. He brings misery upon families. Seeking only the gratification of his own wicked lust, he transgresses and wrongs his brethren. But his sin will bring swift punishment upon him. The Lord is the Avenger in all such things. He called us not for uncleanness, but in sanctification. Sanctification is the very sphere in which the new life moves and energizes. Uncleanness is utterly alien to it. The Lord who called us in sanctification will punish with that awful vengeance which belongeth to him all who for their wicked pleasure sin against their brethren.
5. It is a sin against God. God hath given us his Holy Spirit. He hath given that great gift "unto you," the apostle says—to you Thessalonians. He gave it once, he is giving it still. It is this great fact which makes uncleanness in Christians a sin of such exceeding awfulness. Their bodies are the temples of God the Holy Ghost. To bring impure thought into that most sacred presence, to defile that body which he has taken to be his Church and shrine, is an outrage, an insult to that Divine Majesty. Such a man hath done despite to the Spirit of grace. Of what punishment shall he be thought worthy? The Spirit of purity cannot abide in an impure heart. He will depart, as he once departed from Saul. There are awful things in Holy Scripture said of those who resist the Holy Ghost, who will not listen to his still small voice speaking in the heart, but continue to vex him by willful and persistent disobedience, till at last his voice is heard no more, and his gracious influences are quenched. It is enough to fill the thoughtful Christian with shuddering awe when he reflects on that sanctification which the Word of God requires, and contrasts it with the fearful prevalence of sins of impurity.
1. Long after holiness, pray for it, struggle for it with the deepest yearnings of the heart, the most earnest efforts of the life.
2. Flee from the slightest touch of impurity—the thought, the look, the word. It is a deadly poison, a loathsome serpent; it stingeth unto death.
3. Remember God the Holy Ghost dwells in the Christian's heart. Keep thyself pure.—B.C.C.
1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 - The law of love.
I. ON ITS POSITIVE SIDE.
1. It is taught by God. God is love, and love is of God. The Church of God is the school of love. God himself is the great Teacher. He teaches us by his own example. "So God loved the world, he gave his only Son;" "The Son of God loved me, and gave himself for me." The cross of the Lord Jesus Christ reveals to us the blessed love of God. God the Holy Ghost teaches his people to comprehend with all saints what is the length, and breadth, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge. He shows us something of his own blessed love, and bids us learn of him. "This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you." We are his disciples, his pupils; we learn of him. What should we learn, if we learn not to love? It is the great task of life. Our lives are wasted if we have not learned that holiest lesson before we die; for heaven is the home of love. There is no place there for the soul that hath not learned to love. God is the Teacher. He had taught the Thessalonians. They did love the brethren. They needed not, the apostle says in his tenderness, a human teacher.
2. Yet St. Paul exhorts them. For love is a debt which is never fully paid. The great lesson of love is never fully learned. We are dull scholars. Our natural selfishness keeps us back. We need every incentive, every help. There must be a continual growth. To stand still is to lose ground. We must urge ourselves, we must urge others, to abound more and more. The Lord Jesus is our Example. "As I have loved you," he says. The depth, the purity of that holiest love is altogether above us, out of our reach; we cannot attain unto it. We see its effects in the lives of his saints. We know how the love of Christ constrained the holy apostle St. Paul to live no longer to himself, but to him who died for him and rose again. We despair of ever reaching that high degree of holy love; but it must be the strongest yearning of our hearts to advance continually, to abound more and more.
II. ON ITS NEGATIVE SIDE.
1. Christian ambition. Ambition (filotimi&a) is a common word in Greek ethics and history, a prominent characteristic of Greek political life. There is a Christian ambition; its object is not to be first in the arena of political strife, but to preach the gospel, to please God, to live a quiet, holy life (compare in the Greek, Romans 15:20; 2 Corinthians 5:9). Political filotimi&a, Bengel says, blushes to be quiet. The Greeks were eager, bustling, restless, each longing to be first. The apostle seeks to turn the ambition of the Thessalonians into another channel. Their ambition should be to be quiet—to keep themselves free, as far as might be, from political excitement and social rivalry, that they might cultivate the inner life of love and peace and com-reunion with God. Love would lead them to abstain from meddling with other men's matters—to do their own duty in the station where God had called them. Love would keep them free from envy and party spirit, and help them to maintain a current of quiet, peaceful thought within their souls.
2. Christian dignity. Love would keep them from everything that might bring the gospel into discredit. The Christian has duties towards those who are without. His light must shine before men, that they may be led to glorify him from whom the light cometh. The life of the Thessalonian Christians must be honest, becoming. The apostle insists on the dignity of honest labor. It was little regarded. Educated Greeks and Romans spoke of it as coarse and vulgar. The Lord Jesus worked with his hands, so did St. Paul. Christianity has invested the life of industry with a grace of its own. St. Paul here uses the same word in connection with honest labor which in the Acts of the Apostles is employed to designate the ladies of rank at Beraea, the "honorable women" who believed. The Christian must be careful to use words in their true sense. It is not wealth or rank that is truly respectable, but virtue and holiness. Thus living, thus laboring, they would have need of nothing; rather, perhaps, of no man. They would attain that honorable independence which enables one to "look the whole world in the face, for he owes not any man."
1. Covet earnestly the best gifts; pray for growth in charity.
2. Let your ambition be a Christian ambition; try to be first in humility, first in self-sacrifice, first in the quiet discharge of daily duties.
3. Never despise labor; it was the lot of the Lord Jesus; it has its own moral beauty and dignity.—B.C.C.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 - The resurrection.
I. COMFORT FOR THE SORROWING.
1. The dead in Christ sleep. The Lord Jesus Christ hath abolished death; he has changed it into sleep. "She is not dead, but sleepeth," he said of the little daughter of Jairus. The sting of death is sin, but the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin. The Lord died and rose again. He died; he encountered the king of terrors in all his awful power; but by his death he hath abolished death to his saints. Stephen fell asleep under the crushing shower of stones. So is it with believers now; they are laid to sleep through Jesus. Through his atonement, through his loving care, through his gracious presence, death is but sleep to them. They die in the Lord; they rest from their labors. They are not unconscious; they do not "sleep idly," for they are blessed; they are "with the Lord, which is far better." Yet that quiet rest of the holy dead in Paradise is as a peaceful slumber compared with the entrancing joy of the glorious resurrection. Yes, they sleep; they have not yet attained unto that perfect consummation and bliss both in body and soul which shall be theirs in God's everlasting glory. There the redeemed of the Lord, perfected in strength and gladness, entranced in the contemplation of the beauty of the Lord, the beatific vision, need rest no longer. "They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come." But now they rest. They are in peace; they are happy, for they are with Christ.
2. Therefore the Christian's sorrow is full of hope. We must sorrow when our loved ones fall from our side. The Lord wept over the grave of Lazarus. Not to sorrow would be the hard stern temper of stoicism. The Christian sorrows over the grave, but it is a sorrow chastened by faith, cheered by hope. The heathen might envy the very flowers of the field. "They die, indeed, but it is to spring up again with renewed life and beauty; while man, when he dieth, sleepeth on for ever—a still, silent sleep; he waketh nevermore." Such was the wailing of the heathen poet. It is not so with the Christian. He finds comfort himself, he comforts others, with the blessed words of Holy Scripture. His sorrow is not hopeless, like that of the heathen: he looks for a happy meeting in that blessed place where there is "no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying."
3. That hope springs out of faith. We believe that Jesus died and rose again. The resurrection of Christ is the earnest of our resurrection. He is the Firstfruits, the First-begotten from the dead; they that are his shall follow him. The resurrection of Christ was one principal topic of the apostolic preaching; it is now one of the most precious articles of the Christian faith, the very center of our most cherished hopes. He was seen by many, by Mary Magdalene, by the other holy women, by the apostles, by more than five hundred brethren at once. "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."
II. THE COMING OF THE LORD.
1. Its solemn accompaniments. He shall come, the Lord Jesus himself, with his holy angels. He shall descend from heaven with a shout. His voice will pierce through the universe; all they that are in the graves shall hear it. The trumpet shall sound. The voice of the trumpet, exceeding loud, filled the people of Israel with trembling at Mount Sinai. More awful by far will be the voice of the archangel and the trump of God that wakes the dead. What that trumpet may be we cannot tell; but sound it will, "for this we say unto you by the word of the Lord."
2. Its end and purpose. The dead in Christ shall rise first. They shall hear his voice, though they have lain in their graves, some of them, almost from the beginning. They shall come forth, and that first. Then follows the assumption of the living. Those who are found alive, who have not entered into the deep, quiet rest of Paradise, shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. We shall meet one another; we shall meet him; we shall be for ever with him. "Wherefore comfort one another with these words."
1. Let sorrow in bereavement be Christian sorrow, softened by faith and hope.
2. The holy dead are at rest. Do not call them "poor;" they are blessed.
3. Let us strive to walk with God now, that we may be ever with the Lord.—B.C.C.
HOMILIES BY R. FINLAYSON
1 Thessalonians 4:1-5 - Sanctification.
With this chapter commences the hortatory part of the Epistle.
I. EXHORTATION TO ADVANCE IN ACCORDANCE WITH WHAT HAD BEEN DELIVERED TO THEM OF THE DIVINE WILL. "Finally then, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as ye received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, even as ye do walk,—that ye abound more and more." The announcement which is made by "finally" of the close of the Epistle is to be taken as meaning that the remaining part is to be taken up with that which is now introduced. There is a natural transition from the prospect of being unblamable in holiness, with which the personal part of the Epistle ends, to this hortatory part. The exhortation is very affectionate in tone. The Thessalonians are addressed as brethren. And there is not the simple form, "We exhort you," but it is preceded by a less frequent form (only once used by Paul beyond these Epistles to the Thessalonians), "We beseech you," which is the language in which friend earnestly presses home a request on friend. "We exhort you" is more the language in which a teacher earnestly presses home duty on his hearers. "We exhort you" is, moreover, defined and heightened by the addition of the words "in the Lord Jesus." The three Christian teachers found the element of their exhortation, net in themselves, but in him who, as Savior, has a right to rule all lives. It is implied that the tone of Christ toward us is that of earnest exhortation, in which he perfectly reflects God; for it is said, in 2 Corinthians 5:20, that God exhorts, which should have been the translation there. There had been delivered by the teachers to the Thessalonians the knowledge of the true God, and, as they had formerly sought to please their false deities, so, when they came to the knowledge of the true God, it became their duty to please him. There had also been delivered to them how they ought to walk and to please God, i.e. to say, tiffs had been presented to them in considerable detail, so that they could readily follow the course of life that was pleasing to God. To their credit it could be said that they were following in their God-pleasing course, and what is pressed home on them is, that they should abound more and more in it. "The Lord make you to abound," is language which has already been used; and this exhortation to abound more and more, which recurs in the tenth verse, may be said to be the watchword given to the Thessalonians. However much we have walked and pleased God, we have not done it enough. Let us abound more and more in the course that is pointed out to us in the Bible as pleasing to God.
II. APPEAL TO THEIR MEMORY IN CONNECTION WITH WHAT HAD BEEN DELIVERED TO THEM OF THE DIVINE WILL. "For ye know what charge we gave you through the Lord Jesus." There is not a happy change made from "commandments" in the old translation to "charge" in the revised translation here. There is an obscuring of the idea, which is that the Divine will has been delivered in the form of commandments. There were the ten commandments of the moral Law. These, possessed by the Israelites, placed them far in advance of the heathen around them. Coming out of heathenism, it would be a great boon to the Thessalonians to have these fixed in their memory. Presented along with Christian considerations, they would become Christian commandments. There were other Christian commandments, of which we have examples toward the close of the Epistle, which would be reiterated and reinforced until they also were fixed in the memory. In these commandments Paul and Silas and Timothy were only the medium of delivery. Given by the authority of the Lord Jesus, they were to be regarded as his commandments. These being now to be referred to, they are indirectly asked to call them to mind.
III. PURPORT OF THE DIVINE WILL.
1. Generally. "For this is the will of God, even your sanctification." It was affirmed by William of Ockham that "if God had commanded his creatures to hate himself, the hatred of God would ever be the duty of man." It was a violent supposition to make of him, whose will is absolutely wedded to holiness, and who can only command his creatures to be holy. The will of God is here said to be our sanctification. This is a word which is very often used in a passive sense. "Sanctification is the work of God's free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness." The Greek word here has, however, the active sense. The way in which we are actively to advance the work of our sanctification, is by yielding up our will to the will of God in all that he requires of us from moment to moment. 'By abounding more and more in the course that is pleasing to God, we shall more and more die unto sin and live unto righteousness, more and more be made according to the Divine idea, from our inmost life to its most outward manifestation.
(1) Fornication. "That ye abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to possess himself of his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in the passion of lust, even as the Gentiles which know not God." This is one of the commandments in which the Divine will finds expression. In 1 Corinthians 7:2 marriage is put forward as the remedial course against fornication. The form here is, that there can be the possession of a wife in consistency with sanctification and honor. This is put in favorable contrast with another possession belonging to Gentilism, possession in the passion of lust, i.e. in which the morbid sensual desire acquires the force of a passion. The fact of fornication being so rife in the Gentilism with which they were surrounded, and out of which they had lately come, is the reason why the Thessalonians are specially guarded against it. What was to be accounted for in the Gentiles by their ignorance of God, was not to be excused in them who had been blessed with the knowledge of God.
(2) Adultery. "That no man transgress, and wrong his brother in the matter." This sin is not named, but only that mentioned in which it differs from the preceding. Being an overreaching and wronging, not a neighbor, but a Christian brother, in the matter involved, it is "doubly flagitious."
IV. WARNING. "Because the Lord is an Avenger in all these things, as also we forewarned you and. testified." In Ephesians the warning is, "Let no man deceive you with empty words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience." In Colossians it is similar: "For which things' sake cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience." The idea here is that the Lord is Avenger in all the things that have been referred to. "For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son." As Judge, he is to be thought of as Righter between man and God. When men give themselves up to sensuality, God has a controversy with them. And, by appeal from God against men, Christ comes in as Righter in the controversy, to vindicate the holy character of his Father's laws, to punish for the unholy use of his Father's gifts. From the immediate context we are also led to think of Christ as Righter between man and man. He is the Righter of the slave who is trampled upon without pity by his unlawful owner. He is the Righter of the man who has the purity and peace of his house invaded by the adulterer. When with the Thessalonians, the teachers had made this their teaching clear. In view of judgment they had warned them, and solemnly testified to them, that these things would not go unpunished.
V. THE HOLY OBJECT OF THEIR CALLING. "For God called us not for uncleanness, but in sanctification." The thought is similar to what is expressed in the third verse. There is this difference, that the will of God there is here connected with a historical point. Let them remember the great turning-point from heathenism to Christianity. Then God graciously called them in the gospel of his Son. And to what did he call them? It was not to a life of uncleanness, but, in keeping with the holy life of Christ, in keeping with the holiness of God vindicated on the cross, it was to find the sphere of their calling in the pursuit of holiness.
VI. THE REJECTER. "Therefore he that rejecteth, rejecteth not man, but God, who giveth his Holy Spirit unto you." This is drawn as a conclusion from the object of their Christian calling. There is not singled out an actual rejecter among the Thessalonians. But, should such a rejecter arise among them, let it be known that he is not a rejecter of man in his interests and rights, but a rejecter of God, who has laid down laws and limits for his creatures. He is especially a rejecter of God, who gives, to those whom he has called in Christ, his Holy Spirit. Sanctification is pre-eminently the Holy Spirit's work. And for any of them to indulge in the sins referred to, would have this as its gravest condemnation, that it was a thwarting and grieving of the Spirit in his holy strivings.—R.F.
1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 - The Christian circle and accounting by them that are without.
I. BROTHERLY LOVE.
1. The disposition. "But concerning love of the brethren ye have no need that one write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another." There is a rhetorical touch here which is called "passing over"—not saying what might be said with a view to gaining over. For while it is said, "Ye have no need," the design is more effectually to impress on the Thessalonians the necessity of brotherly love. While they are graciously commended, they are at the same time shown how proper it is for them to love the brethren as being taught of God. Their education in this important department was a reality. To be taught of God does not exclude human help, the help of others, or, as contrasted with that, self-help. Only human help does not avail, unless it is taken up and made effectual by the Holy Spirit. Teachings and experiences must be inwardly interpreted, and made luminous to us. We must therefore stand in an immediate relation to God as his disciples who are taught of him; who, according to another representation, have an anointing from the Holy One to know all things. It is fitting that he who has made our minds, and retains sovereign power over them, should teach us. It is also fitting that he should teach according to his own nature. As Love, he has created us, sustains us in being, earnestly desires our well-being, places us under numberless obligations to him. Shall he not then school us to love? As under the Divine teaching we form a brotherhood of Christian disciples. And this is the only fellowship of minds that is right to the core, that will stand all the tests, that will stand out in eternal permanence. In the brethren there is something of Christian excellence on which to rest our love, and we are to recognize and value and delight in that, even under an uninviting exterior, and, in the name of Christ, to desire its increase and perfectness.
2. Its manifestation. "For indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia," An argument has been founded on this statement against the early date of the Epistle; but it tells the other way. For the love is not said to be manifested toward all the brethren, but" toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia;' i.e. to say, its manifestation was yet limited to the Christian circle nearest to the Thessalonians. We are to think of Philippi, a hundred miles distant on the one side, and Beraea, twenty miles on the other. To the Christians in these places they had found opportunities of showing their Christian love. It was just such an outgoing as might commendably be connected with the short period of a few months. The word "do" is emphatic after "taught." The lesson is that Divine teaching is to be followed by suitable practice. Love must be allowed free outlet. "Love," says Barrow, "is a busy and active, a vigorous and sprightful, a courageous and industrious disposition of soul which will prompt a man, and push him forward to undertake or undergo anything—to endure pains, to encounter dangers, to surmount difficulties for the good of its object. Such is true charity; it will dispose us to love, as St. John prescribeth, in work and in truth; not only in mental desire, but in effectual performance; not only in verbal pretence, but in real effect."
3. Its increase. "But we exhort you, brethren, that ye abound more and more." What Paul had prayed for (1 Thessalonians 3:12) is now made subject of affectionate exhortation. The watchword formerly applied to the whole of a God-pleasing course is now specially applied to brotherly love. Let them abound more and more. Let them seek opportunities of manifesting their interest in Christ's people beyond Macedonia. And let them look to the purifying and intensifying of their love to the brethren. And, with a longer Christian history than they had, have we not need of the same watchword? If we have abounded, let us abound more and more. Let us embrace, in intelligent practical interest, a wider and wider extent of the Christian world. The great obstacle to love is selfishness, or exorbitant fondness for our own interests, for which we have all reason to humble ourselves before God. When shall we be taught to abandon this? When shall we be taught as in the great school of Christ, by the great lesson of the cross, to give love the unlimited sway of our being, so that we shall uugrudgingly delight in our Christian brethren, seek their advancement in Christian excellence, and help them in all ways that we can?
II. ACCOUNTING BY THEM THAT ARE WITHOUT THE CHRISTIAN CIRCLE.
1. Quietness and doing our own business. "And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business." "Be ambitious" is the marginal reading for "study," and the idea of honor which is in the Greek word is to be regarded as thrown into prominence by the association. "Be ambitious to be quiet." This is a paradox; for whereas restlessness belongs to ambition, we are to make it the object of our ambition to be quiet. "Political ambition," says Bengel, "blushes to be quiet;" and, it may be added, Christian ambition rejoices to be quiet. What is it that is here commanded to us? It is not a mere negation. To be quiet is not necessarily to be without strong force in our nature; but it is to have those forces so placed under Divine restraints, so moderated by reason, justice and charity, modesty and sobriety, as that we can do our own business, can confine ourselves to the sphere of our own proper duties. We may indeed interpose, when the honor and interest of God is much concerned, when the public weal and safety are much endangered. We may interpose for the succor of right against palpable wrong, for our own just and necessary defense. We may interpose when our neighbor is plainly going to ruin, "snatching him," as Jude says, "out of the fire." We may also interpose when we can do our neighbor considerable good. For all that is really doing our own business. But we are not to be impelled by ambition, or covetous desire, or self-conceit, or any other disturbing influence, beyond our own proper bounds. We are not to attempt, unasked, to manage for another, to overbear his will, to impose on him our opinions, to make free in conversation with his character, to pry into his affairs. We are not to thrust upon him our advice, to reprove him unbecomingly, or rashly, or unreasonably, or harshly. We are not to interpose in the contentions of others so as to make ourselves parties, or so as to raise or foment dissensions. For all that, against what is here commended, is turbulent meddling with what God has not made our business. "We may consider," says Barrow, "that every man hath business of his own sufficient to employ him; to exercise his mind, to exhaust his care and pains, to take up all his time and leisure. To study his own near concernments, to provide for the necessities and conveniences of his life, to look to the interests of his soul, to be diligent in his calling, to discharge carefully and faithfully all his duties relating to God and man, will abundantly employ a man; well it is if some of them do not encumber and distract him. Seeing, then, every man hath burden enough on his shoulders, imposed by God and nature, it is vain to take on him more load, by engaging himself in the affairs of others; he will thence be forced, either to shake off his own business, or to become overburdened and oppressed with more than he can bear. It is indeed hence observable, and it needs must happen, that those who meddle with the business of others are wont to neglect their own; they that are much abroad can seldom be at home; they that know others most are least acquainted with themselves. Philosophers therefore generally have advised men to shun needless occupations as the certain impediments of a good and happy life; they bid us endeavor to simplify ourselves, or to get into a condition requiring of us the least that can be to do."
2. Working with our own hands. "And to work with your hands, even as we charged you." This is to be regarded as a particular injunction under the foregoing. In the Second Epistle the language is, "that they quietly work." The language here seems to point to this, that many of the members of the Thessalonian Church were handicraftsmen. From this injunction, and the way in which the second coming is introduced in the next paragraph, it would seem that the disturbing influence in the Church of Thessalonica was religious excitement., called forth by the new world of thought into which Christianity had brought them. They were especially excited by the prospects connected with the second coming. Paul, for one, saw the danger of their being carried away by the excitement—not so as to be meddlesome, but so as to be negligent of their earthly calling. Therefore he charged them well to work with their own hands, which also he enforced by his example. In this he showed his sense of the importance of quiet industry. However much we may be under the influence of the great truths and prospects of our religion, let us not be without the steadying condition of our earthly calling.
3. We are to be quietly industrious so as not to produce a bad impression on them that are without. "That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and may have need of nothing." What there is of connection between the two parts of the paragraph seems to be this. We are to exhibit love within the Christian circle; we are also, within the Christian circle, to be quietly industrious, so as not to give occasion of offence to them that are without. We are to remember that the eye of the world is upon us, and that we are subjected to its judgment. And there are certain external features of the Christian circle upon which the world is quite fitted to pronounce judgment. Upon none is it more ready to fix than upon anything like the neglect of the ordinary duties of life. Therefore it is recommended that we quietly work with our own hands, with this specially in view, that we may walk becomingly (i.e. honestly) toward them that are without, and have all that is necessary for our wants. By industry and honesty we shall commend our religion to them that are without; for these are things which they can appreciate and by which they are likely to be attracted. Whereas, by idleness and indisposition to pay our debts, we shall bring a reproach upon our religion which does not belong to it, and repel from us them that are without. In early times the heathen called healthy beggars traders on Christ, in allusion to what is here guarded against. Let us not by meddlesomeness, or by any want of industry, or honesty, or prudence, or straightforwardness, present Christ in an unlovely aspect to them that are without.—R.F.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 - Anxiety about the state of the Christian dead.
I. STATE OF THE CHRISTIAN DEAD NO CAUSE FOR SORROW. "But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that fall asleep; that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, which have no hope." Paul (the principal writer) sets himself here to administer consolation to the Thessalonians. In doing so he practices the duty he lays down in the concluding words of the paragraph. Himself in possession of comfort about the state of the Christian dead, he could not leave them in ignorance of it. As his Christian brethren, they must be sharers with him. Timothy had probably communicated to him the occasion of their anxiety. It was in the Thessalonian Church as in other Churches—there were those who, from time to time, were falling asleep. The change in the translation extends the scope of the language beyond the actually dead. How did it fare with their dead, and how also would it fare with those whom death would yet overtake? Christians are distinguished from the rest of mankind. It is said of the latter as a class, that they sorrow having no hope. What did the men of the old heathen world think with regard to their dead? Theoeritus says, "The living have hopes, but the dead are without hope." AEschylus says, "Of the once dead there is no resurrection." Lucretius says, "Nor does any one stand forth awaked, whom once the cold pause of life has found." Catullus says, "Suns may set and return; when once our brief day has set we must sleep one everlasting night." It is a sad thought that some modern thinkers have given expression to the same blank hopelessness. Strauss has said, "A life beyond the grave is the last enemy which speculative criticism has to oppose and, if possible, to conquer." The whole hope of John Stuart Mill was an earthly future, not for the individual, but for the race, created by science "when all the greater evils of life shall have been removed." If such were our creed, or want of creed, we might well sorrow when our friends have been taken away. Our only feeling could be that we had seen the last of them. Their memory might remain (John Stuart Mill, writing after the death of his wife, said, "Her memory is to me a religion"); but that cannot lift the gloom from the extinction of personal existence. Let no rude hand rob us of the comfort which our Christianity brings. It tells us here that we are not to sorrow for the state of our Christian dead. We may indeed sorrow for our being deprived of their earthly society. The Master himself gave relief to his nature in weeping, even in view of a speedy resurrection. Paul tells us that the removal of his friend Epaphroditus would have been to him sorrow upon sorrow. But, as for the state of our Christian dead, we are here told that they are fallen asleep. The description is in respect of the body, and contains three ideas.
1. Continued existence. A man continues to exist, though he is in a state of sleep. The body is still, but the mind may be active in dreams. And so, when the bodies of our Christian dead are in the stillness of the grave, there is no cessation of their existence. All doubt on this subject must be put to rest by the words of our Savior on the cross to the dying penitent at his side, "Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise." The souls of the departed are not in a state of sleep; but they are wakened up to a higher life.
2. Repose. In sleep we lose our hold upon the world; we forget its cares and pleasures; we are being calmed and soothed in our feelings. And so we are to think of our Christian dead as for ever released from the work and toil, the pain and sorrow, of this life, and as now calmed and soothed in the presence of God. "And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, for their works follow with them."
3. Wakening. We think of sleep as followed by a waking. And so we are to think of a wakening for our Christian dead, though it may be after long years. They are awake now in respect of their souls; our fuller comfort is that they shall yet be awake in respect of those bodies which we have sorrowfully laid in the grave. "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction."
II. REASON FOR THE CHRISTIAN DEAD BEING ASSOCIATED WITH THEIR LORD AT HIS COMING. "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with him." The apostle goes back to the cardinal facts of Christ's death and resurrection. These are facts for which those who reject our continued existence after death have little respect; but they are dear to the Christian heart, and the more firmly our faith lays hold upon them, the more animated is our hope for our Christian dead. We believe that Jesus died; thus briefly does the apostle state the fundamental article of our Christian faith. "Such is the historical and supernatural basis of Christianity—its very definition, its breath of life, the source from whence springs all its greatness, strength, and uniqueness." The apostle states the fact plainly, "Jesus died," which is all the more observable that it is followed by a statement not plain but consolatory—our Christian dead are fallen asleep. We believe in a God who, in infinite love, became man, that he might verily (not in semblance) die, and who was not less truly God than man when he was nailed to the cross. We believe in a God-Man who came under the broken Law, and endured death as the curse due for sin. And our faith follows him beyond his death. We believe that Jesus rose again. That is the second great article of our Christian faith. Having in his death made full atonement for sin, he could not be holden of death. He rose victoriously out of the state of insensibility and lifelessness in which his body lay in the tomb. He rose with the same body, but changed to a nobler quality. We further believe that he died and rose again, not for himself, but for those whom he represented. He experienced death and conquest as Jesus—Savior, Leader of his people. United to him, his people are not to be separated from him in destiny. He is here associated with their death. They are laid to sleep by Jesus, as the preposition should be. There is called up the image of Jesus himself caring for his own when the life departs—laying them to rest in the grave, and watching over them there with his omnipotent love. And, as he is associated with their death, so they are to be associated with his coming. Them that are laid to sleep by Jesus wilt God bring with Jesus. We are brought in view here of what distressed the Thessalonians. It was not a question simply of the resurrection; in that case the language would have been, "them will God raise up." But we are carried a point beyond that, to their being brought as raised with Jesus. We may, therefore, understand that what distressed the Thessalonians was the bearing of the coming of Christ on them who did not live to see that event. Would they not stand at a great disadvantage? Would they have any share at all in his coming? Were they not to be sorrowed over as those who had missed the great object of their hope? For the relief of the Thessalonians Paul tells them this, to begin with, that the Christian dead are to be brought with Jesus. We are not to think of them as brought from heaven, for they are viewed in respect of their being in their graves. But we may think of them as joining their descending Lord, and brought with him to earth.
III. REVELATION MADE TO PAUL THAT THE CHRISTIAN LIVING ARE NOT TO HAVE THE PRECEDENCE OF THE CHRISTIAN DEAD AT CHRIST'S COMING. "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep." It is true that in all he says in this Epistle he is under the direction of the Spirit of the Lord. In what he is now to say he proceeds on a word of the Lord such as there is in the Epistles to the seven Churches. He was privileged to announce directly from the heavenly Christ what had hitherto been concealed. The heavenly Christ was so interested in the Thessalonians that he had given his servant this revelation for them. The apostle divides Christians into two classes—"we that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord," and "they that are fallen asleep." He includes himself in the former class, and from this it has been very confidently inferred that he had a definite expectation of living unto the coming of Christ. But he includes, not only himself and Silas and Timothy, but also the Thessalonians, about whom he has said that there were those among them who from time to time were falling asleep. Did he, then, having a definite expectation for all, believe in all being saved from death by an immediate coming of Christ? Is it not more reasonable to suppose that he thought of the living and left as in a continual flux? This is borne out by the use of the present instead of the future—"we who are for the present the living and left, who have no certainty that we will not remain unto the coming of Christ, but have also no certainty that another moment will not transfer us to the class of them that are fallen asleep." The revelation made to Paul related to a question of priority of time. It is strongly denied of the Christian living that they will come into the presence of the Lord at his coming before the Christian dead. This was further relief to the distressed Thessalonians. Their departed Christian friends would not only be brought with Jesus; it was also true that this bringing would not be deferred until after the Christian living had taken their places in nearer relation to their Lord.
IV. GREAT DRAMA OF THE FUTURE. Here we are supplied more particularly with the contents of "the word of the Lord."
1. Prelude: The Lord descending in majesty. "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God." The central Figure is the Lord himself. He now sits enthroned in heaven, Lord over all. But he shall yet descend from heaven. There is thus confirmation of the announcement made by the heavenly visitants to the disciples gazing after their vanished Lord: "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." We are left to think of the majesty of our descending Lord chiefly from the accompaniments of the descent. He shall descend with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump. The shout is such a shout of command as is given by a leader to his host. There are some who think of the shout of command as given by Christ. This is the view which is adopted by Milton in his conception of another scene.
"The Son gave signal high
To the bright minister that watched: he blew
His trumpet, heard in Oreb since perhaps
When God descended; and perhaps once more
To sound at general doom."
There is this consideration which tells against that interpretation, that God has been introduced as bringing them that are asleep with Jesus. We are thus led to think of God as the Actor behind the scene, which is confirmed by the expression following—"the trump of God." This makes it more natural to think of the accompaniments of the scene as arranged by God. Are we, then, to think of God as giving the shout of command? The objection to that view is, that the shout is represented not as preceding (as befitting God) but as accompanying the descent. It seems better, then, to think of the shout as given by the archangel in the Name of God, and as comprehending the two things which follow. First, the moment that the Lord descends from his heavenly throne, the archangel, apprised of what is to happen, marshals his innumerable host. The shout of command he gives in this case with the living voice—the voice of the archangel. The angels are an orderly multitude. "He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth" (with whom the idea of orderliness is not associated). We read of "twelve legions of angels." The angels are led by an archangel. We read in Scripture of the angel Gabriel, and also of the seven angels that stand before God, but only in another place of an archangel who is there named Michael. Our Lord prepared us himself for this glorious accompaniment of his coming: "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him;" "When he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels;" "When he cometh in his own glory, and the glory of the Father, and of the holy angels." Au army associated with royalty gives an impression of power and grandeur. So how mighty and glorious a Personage must he be, in whose honor all the legions of angels are marshaled! They are mighty angels, and holy angels, and especially are they in sympathy with the work of honoring Christ. As they sang over his birth on earth, so do they accompany him in his triumphal descent to earth, having this to rejoice their hearts, that they also are to share in the glorious consummation. The archangel, having marshaled his host to move in harmony with the descending Lord, at a subsequent stage is to give another shout of command, this time not with the living voice, but with the trumpet put into his hand by God. Milton thinks of the trumpet that was used "when God descended" in Horeb, calling the congregation of Israel, as being the same trump of God. Very vividly in 1 Corinthians 15:1-58. is it associated with the resurrection: "At the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound."
2. First act: Resurrection of the Christian dead. "And the dead in Christ shall rise first." "The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible." The trumpet is simply the instrument; it is the power of God, communicated through the trumpet, that raises the dead. A trumpet supposes a faculty of hearing; but this trump of God has miraculously to supply the faculty of hearing. The remains of our Christian friends which we lay in the grave soon mingle with the dust. They hear not any sound of earth that passes over them. But there is a trumpet-call, with Divine, all-penetrating power in it, that one day they shall hear in their graves, and hearing they shall start up as once they were, and yet how changed! It was beside the purpose of the revelation to bring into view the resurrection of others than Christians, or the nature of the resurrection-body. The Thessalonians were so taken up with the coming, that the resurrection was thrown out of view. It did not enter, or did but little enter, into their understanding of the last things. Therefore their attention is concentrated upon the simple fruitful fact of the resurrection. It meant the presence of their departed Christian friends in the body on the earth ready to meet Christ. And that all fear of their being anticipated might be removed, it is stated not only that the dead in Christ shall rise, but that they shall rise first, i.e. to say, they shall rise before the assumption of the Christian living. The Christian dead now in the resurrection-body, and the Christian living, will be on the earth at the same time, equally ready for the approach of Christ.
3. Second act: Assumption of the Christian living. "Then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." The Christian living are to be swiftly, irresistibly caught up. This implies their transformation in their bodies. They are to be caught up at the same time with the Christian dead who have been raised. The two classes will form one great blessed company, between whom what distinguished them has passed away. How they will be marshaled does not appear. We do read of leading places being assigned to the twelve apostles. That they will be as orderly in their multitudinousness as the innumerable company of the angels, we do not doubt. Caught up in the enveloping upbearing clouds in one body, they are to meet their descending Lord with the marshaled army of angels in the air. As persons of distinction go forth to meet their prince, so they now, all of them glorified persons, are caught up to meet their Lord in his triumphal descent.
4. Finale: Perpetual enjoyment of the society of Christ. "And so shall we ever be with the Lord." There is a blank here, which it did not lie within the purpose of the revelation to have filled up. That the Lord actually descended to earth may be regarded as certain. The air was his pathway to earth. When it is said that the fallen asleep God will bring with Jesus, the meaning plainly is (taken in connection with the language which has just been used) that, joining our Lord in the air, they will be brought with him to earth. We may think of the earth as transformed, in preparation for the Lord's coming. Some would interpose here a lengthened personal reign of Christ on earth with his saints. We are only on sure ground when we think of Christ as coming for judgment. "But when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory, and before him shall be gathered all the nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats." All that is here passed over, and we are presented simply with the final state of the two classes that have been united. "And so shall we ever be with the Lord." The meeting referred to shall be followed by no parting. It is Christ's wish and promise that we should be with him. "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am there ye may be also." Christ has prayed to the Father that we should be with him. "Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am." And when we have been brought into his presence, in spite of death and all opposing powers, separation will be impossible. As members, we must be with our Head; as loving, we must be with the great Object of our love. To be with the Lord is to be in the most favored position for the enjoyment of his love, for the comprehension of his mind, for the reception of his Spirit, for the accomplishment of his plans. To be with the Lord is also to be with that great and blessed company who shall be gathered round him, comprehending the eider sons of creation, the great and good of all ages, and those Christian friends we have "loved ere since and lost awhile." What is the position we shall be carried forward to through the course of eternal ages is more than tongue can tell, more than heart can conceive.
V. MUTUAL COMFORTING. "Wherefore comfort one another with these words." We might read "exhort one another." But in view of the sorrow of the Thessalonians we rightly read "comfort one another." We might even read "cheer one another;" for the words are not only of a comforting, but of an inspiriting nature. It is not Christian teachers, but Christians generally, who are addressed. Knowing what comfort is, let us not selfishly allow our Christian brethren to be ignorant of it. Even in our ordinary partings in the world there is an element of sadness that calls for comfort. As Shakespeare has it—
"So part we sadly in this troublous world
To meet with joy in sweet Jerusalem."
How thankful ought we to be that we are not in the position of those who have no hope; that we can tell those who have lost Christian friends of the sweet and cheering truth of Christ's coming! It is sad to think of them sleeping in the dust of the earth; but, laid to sleep by Christ, then they shall awake. They shall rest and stand in their lot at the end of the days. They shall hear the resurrection-call, and stand in the body as once they stood upon this earth. They shall be present as witnesses and actors at the most glorious event the universe shall ever have seen. They, and we too, shall be borne up in the clouds to meet and welcome our descending Lord. And from that first united meeting of him in our embodied, completed state, we shall be forever with the Lord.—R.F.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
1 Thessalonians 4:1 - Christian progress.
This verse introduces a series of practical exhortations by an urgent entreaty to general Christian progress. The details of conduct must be considered. But the spirit and character of the whole life are of primary importance. First see to the health of the whole tree; then prune and train the several branches.
I. THE GREAT OBLIGATION OF CHRISTIAN PROGRESS.
1. It requires a full, round development of spiritual graces. It is not satisfied with a shrunken, shriveled life of the soul. The meager Christianity of those who are only concerned with the minimum requirements of religion is foreign to the very nature of a true spiritual life. This should abound; it should overflow; it should be developed in all directions. A one-sided life is maimed and marred, however advanced it may be in a particular direction. We should aim at completing the circle of graces. This is what is meant by being "perfect."
2. It proceeds by gradual growth. We are to abound "more and more." The, attainment which is respectable today will become despicable if it is not exceeded to-morrow. The growth is double—a greater achievement according to our present capacities and an enlargement of those capacities. The precious wine rises higher in the vessel; and the vessel itself expands.
II. THE DISTINCTIVE CHARACTERISTICS OF CHRISTIAN PROGRESS.
1. It consists in conduct. We are required to grow in knowledge. But this is not the most important form of spiritual progress. It has come about, unfortunately, that the phrase "advanced Christianity" stands for a certain doctrinal movement. It should be chiefly used for moral and spiritual progress. The great advance is to be in the walk and conversation of life—the daily, normal conduct.
2. It is guided by knowledge. St. Paul exhorts his readers to abound more and more in the conduct which follows his directions, "As ye have received of us." This progress is not to be according to our own fancied ideal of perfection. It is in pursuit of clear duty, and that duty is declared in Christian teaching.
3. It is grounded on previous experience. In the Revised Version we read the addition, "even as ye do walk." Future progress depends on our present position. We must not be always laying a new foundation. The Christian life is not a series of revolutions. Because more is required of the Christian, the good already attained is not ignored.
4. It aims at pleasing God. Thus it is characterized by a regard for the will of God. It is not satisfied with reaching any human standard. It is required to be pure, true, and spiritual.
III. THE STRONG INDUCEMENTS TOWARDS CHRISTIAN PROGRESS.
1. They are urged with personal appeals. St. Paul beseeches and exhorts. He appeals to the brotherhood of Christians and its tie of mutual affection between himself and his readers.
2. They are centered in regard for Christ. "By the Lord Jesus Christ." This is a sort of adjuration. The close relation of the Christian to Christ is his grand motive for striving after true progress. The grace of Christ supplies the power; the love of Christ brings the obligation. By all that he is to us we are urged to be worthy of him in an even richer and fuller Christian life.—W.F.A.
1 Thessalonians 4:9 - Love of the brethren.
Christianity introduced a new word into the speech of mankind—"philadelphia," "love of the brethren." This word distinguishes a remarkable characteristic of the early Church. It describes how the first Christians regarded themselves as the members of one family. It was no visionary socialism, no communistic scheme, that led them to have all things common. They felt like the members of one household, like the nearest kindred in one home, and in the spirit of home life they shared their possessions. This was only possible so long as the family spirit pervaded the Church. Circumstances altered the habits of the Church as it grew in numbers and spread over a wider area. But all through the Epistles of St. Paul the same family affection of Christians is apparent. Love of the brethren is a leading feature of Christianity.
I. ITS SCOPE AND AREA.
1. It is specially confined to fellow-Christians. It is to be distinguished from philanthropy. We should love all men. Our neighbor, be he of the house of Israel, a Samaritan or a heathen, has claims upon us. But love of the brethren is to be distinguished from this general love of one's kind. It is the Christian's love of the Christian.
2. It is due to all Christians. It should not be given to a particular chosen circle of intimates only, nor simply to the members of one sect, nor to those only who excite our admiration. All Christians, of all ranks and orders, rich and poor, cultured and ignorant, saintly and imperfect, orthodox and heterodox, in every branch of the Catholic Church of Christ, have claims upon our love.
II. ITS ORIGIN.
1. A common fatherhood. We all have the same Father in heaven. In proportion as we realize the broad fatherhood of God shall we enter into the brotherly love of his family. He is the Father of whom "every family in earth and heaven is named."
2. A common brotherly relation to Christ. Every Christian can claim Christ as his Brother. The great elder Brother binds all the members of the family together by attracting them all to himself. We learn to love our fellow-Christian by seeing the Christ in him.
3. Common interests. We share the same blessings, enjoy the same redemption, walk in the same pilgrimage, and are traveling towards the same home.
III. ITS INFLUENCE. True love of the brethren cannot be without effect. Only the lack of it could have permitted the fearful quarrels and enmities that have divided Christendom. Regard a man as your brother, and you will be loath to hound him to death. Were this love stronger many blessings would result.
1. Mutual forbearance. We permit our brother to hold his own opinion and follow his own conscience.
2. Mutual helpfulness. Selfish Christianity is a contradiction in terms. To bear one another's burdens is just to fulfill the law of Christ.
3. Power to influence the world. Civil war in the Church means paralysis of the army that should conquer the world for Christ. When Christians again learn the almost lost art of loving one another, they will attract converts from the world outside by better means than reasoning and preaching.—W.F.A.
1 Thessalonians 4:11 - The industrial life.
Christianity has something to say on the industrial life. It has been charged with discrediting industry. No calumny could be more false. It certainly discourages engrossing worldly cares, and bids men remember their heavenly citizenship. But it only inculcates a more faithful discharge of earthly duty by insisting on lofty views of life and the pure principles which should inspire it. Three duties in regard to the industrial life are here urged by St. Paul.
I. AN AMBITION TO BE QUIET. The word "study" means literally, "be ambitious." This is a remarkable collocation of ideas—ambition and quiet. It is as though the apostle said, "You have been ambitious to make a noise in the world; reverse your aim: be ambitious of quiet." This striking piece of advice is urged in close connection with directions regarding the industrial life. Probably the Church at Thessalonica was largely composed of working-men. There was a danger lest the new privileges of Christianity should make some of these men foolishly anxious to make themselves conspicuous.
1. We should aim at doing much good without attracting attention to ourselves. The Christian should not clamor for recognition. He should be content that his work prospers, though he remains obscure.
2. We should be too busy with work to have much time for talk. Busybodies are generally drones. How silent is the work of God in nature! Silently the forest grows. So let our work be done.
3. We should work peaceably. The noisy man is too often the quarrelsome man. In the ambition to sound a name abroad, bitter envy and jealousy are excited.
4. Ignorant people should not suppose that the privileges of Christian brotherhood qualify them to teach others. "Be not many teachers" (James 3:1).
II. A DOING ONE'S OWN BUSINESS.
1. The claims of the Church are no excuse for the neglect of a man's secular business. It is wrong to become so much the slave of business as to have no time or energy for mission work, Sunday school teaching, etc. But it is also most certainly wrong to fail in our duty in the secular sphere. The Christian should be the most punctual, prompt, and energetic man of business. He should serve Christ in it. If he is responsible to others, his religion should strengthen his fidelity not to give eye-service as a man-pleaser.
2. Religion does not remove a man from the station in which he is placed by Providence. It may so improve his habits of work and may bring such blessings upon him as may enable him gradually to rise in the social scale. But it may permit no such external change; it should not be expected to do so in every case. And however that may be, religion can make no sudden change in a man's circumstances. The Christian slave was in outward circumstances a slave still. The artisan remained an artisan.
3. Christianity forbids us to be envious of the more prosperous condition of other people. It is not for us to snatch at their privileges to the neglect of our own duty. Every man has his Divine vocation It is the Christian's duty to find his special vocation and to follow it, whether it lead him up the Beulah heights or down through the valley of humiliation. In the Church let each man find his own place and do his own work. There is a diversity of gifts. One has a gift of speech, another a gift of deft handiwork. Let neither be ambitious to usurp the place of the other.
4. Christians should be too busy with their own work to have time to judge their neighbors. We are workmen, not judges. To his own Master each man stands or falls.
III. AN HONEST DILIGENCE IN MANUAL LABOR. This duty is clearly brought out in the Revised Version, which omits the word "own" before "hands," so that we read the clause, "Work with your hands." Thus we have a direct recommendation of manual labor.
1. Manual labor is necessary. There is hard, rough work of this kind that must be done. It is cowardly to shirk it. Cultivated people do not object to hard work for amusement, e.g. rowing, Alpine climbing. Why should it be shunned when it is useful?
2. Manual labor is honorable. Any work done with a good purpose is honorable. The work of the carpenter is often more honorable than that of the financier. The dirtiest work is not always done by the roughest hands. The crowding of the sons of working men into the ranks of clerks is not a healthy sign if it betokens a shame of honest toil.
3. Manual labor is wholesome. The punishment of Adam is no curse. It is a blessing that man has to "eat his bread in the sweat of his face." While the early monks were busy, building, digging, weaving, monasticism presented a picture of pure Christian living. Riches brought superiority to physical industry, and corruption speedily followed. The best of Christ's apostles were working men.—W.F.A.
1 Thessalonians 4:12 - Christians before the world.
In the previous verse St. Paul has been urging upon his readers the duty of quiet industry. He now gives two reasons for this advice—first, that they may walk honestly before the world; and secondly, that they may have need of nothing. The apostle turns to the same subject in his Second Epistle. "If any man will not work, neither let him eat," he says (2 Thessalonians 3:10). God only provides for us when we cannot provide for ourselves; or, rather, he provides for us by helping us to provide for ourselves. He feeds the ravens by giving them strong wings and claws and beaks, and by. providing them prey. But the birds must catch their quarry. We need not be anxious about the morrow if we are diligent in doing our own business. So much for the second reason for diligence. The first demands more extended inquiry, and may be taken by itself as a fertile subject for meditation. We are to be diligent in our secular business in order that we may "walk honestly towards them that are without."
I. CHRISTIANS OWE DUTIES TO THE WORLD, Christians have no right to treat "them that are without" as outlaws. If we should pray for those who despitefully use us, much more should we treat them honestly. And if we are to be kind to our enemies, certainly we are required to be just to those who are not inimical to us. The Christian must pay his debts to an infidel. The temperate man must fulfill his obligations to the drunkard. The spiritually minded man must be just to the worldly minded man. Christians should respect the rights of the heathen in foreign countries.
II. THE WORLD JUDGES CHRISTIANS ACCORDING TO THEIR DISCHARGE OF THESE DUTIES. These it can appreciate. It knows nothing of the behavior of Christians in the Church. It cares nothing for orthodox creeds or devout psalm-singing. But it can estimate the value of a thorough piece of work, and it can see the merit of a prompt payment. If we are wanting in these things, the world will only regard us as hypocrites when we make much of our religion in spiritual matters—and rightly, for if we arc not honest men we cannot be saints.
III. THE WORLD JUDGES OF CHRISTIANITY ACCORDING TO THE EXTERNAL CONDUCT OF CHRISTIANS IN THIS RESPECT. Here is a graver consideration. The honor of Christ is concerned. The defaulting Christian gives a shock to Christian evidences. One glaring instance of misconduct in secular affairs does more to hinder the progress of true religion than volumes of sermons can do to advance it. Even the negligent and idle Christian brings discredit on his Master. The Christian artisan should be known from the secularist by the greater diligence and thoroughness of his work.
IV. CHRISTIANS HAVE NO RIGHT TO EXPECT GOOD TREATMENT FROM THE WORLD UNLESS THEY BEHAVE HONESTLY TOWARDS IT. The Church at Thessalonica lived in constant danger of an assault from the hostile heathen population of the city. It was most desirable that no shadow of an excuse should be given for an attack. Idleness, noisy restlessness, interference with other people, would provoke opposition. Quiet industry was most safe. When a master found that the Christians were his best hands he would not be inclined to molest them. We shall best conciliate opponents and silence enmity and at last win respect by a quiet, unassuming, diligent discharge of our daily duty.—W.F.A.
1 Thessalonians 4:13, 1 Thessalonians 4:14 - Sorrow for the dead transfigured by the resurrection of Christ.
In the neighborhood of Thessalonica—Salonica it is now called—there may be seen at the present day ancient tombs on which are to be read inscriptions expressing hopeless regret for the dead. The Church addressed by St. Paul was a little community which had learnt to enjoy a strange, new view of the state and prospects of the departed, planted in the midst of a great pagan populace that held the melancholy sentiments of these epitaphs. Contrasting the Christians with "the rest" of the people, the apostle reminds them that they should not give way to the despairing sorrow that was natural to men who had no hope.
I. OUTSIDE CHRISTIANITY SORROW FOR THE DEAD IS HOPELESS.
1. History and experience establish this fact. Pagan tombs everywhere express themselves with various degrees of despair, but never with cheerful hope. Nations like the Egyptians that had a firm faith in a future life can scarcely be said to have enjoyed any hopes respecting that life. A general dream of immortality pervades our race; but it is everywhere dim and cheerless. Many men at all times have broken away from it altogether, and have said with Catullus, "When once our brief day has set we must sleep one everlasting night."
2. Reasoning cannot conquer the common hopelessness of sorrow for the dead. The arguments outside Christianity may be divided into two classes:
(1) Naturalistic; e.g. from the nature of consciousness, from the indestructibility of all known existences, from the general instinct of immortality, from analogies of sleep, transformations of insects, succession of winter, spring, etc. Less and less weight is being ascribed to all such reasoning. It will not bear the strain of anxious doubt. The mourner turns his eyes in vain to nature for comfort.
(a) In the wisdom of God. Man's life being but imperfectly developed here, the Divine idea of humanity would be vain and futile without a larger world for realizing it.
(b) In the justice of God—the necessity of a future judgment.
(c) In the goodness of God. A father would not mock his child by creating him so that he has a great hunger for a future which is unattainable. Nevertheless even these arguments do not satisfy, for who can venture to speak with assurance of the high counsels of the Almighty? and, moreover, they presuppose a knowledge of the character of God which only Christianity clearly furnishes.
II. CHRISTIANITY DRAWS THE STING OF HOPELESSNESS FROM SORROW FOR THE DEAD.
1. It does not destroy that sorrow. To do so would be impossible. We must grieve at parting from those who are dear to us. Indeed it would be unhealthy for us entirely to conquer natural sorrow. We should have to conquer natural love first. A softening, subduing, purifying mission comes with this grief, and is one of the best means of helping us to receive Christian truth.
2. But Christianity removes the sting from this sorrow by depriving it of hopelessness. The hope which St. Paul refers to is plainly the hope of receiving back those who have been taken from us by death. They are gone, but not gone forever. Every weary year as it passes bring us nearer to the happy reunion. The words of St. Paul plainly show that he believed in the mutual recognition of friends in the future life.
III. THE DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF CHRIST ARE THE SECRET OF THIS CHRISTIAN TRANSFIGURATION OF SORROW FOR THE DEAD.
1. The strongest argument to convince men generally of a future life is to be found in the resurrection of Christ taken in connection with his life and teaching. He spoke of judgment and of eternal life. He confirmed his words by rising from the dead. The confirmation is twofold.
(1) The resurrection is a Divine authentication of the claims and mission of Christ.
(2) It is an instance, a crucial test, a proof that a future life is possible.
2. For Christians the death and resurrection of Christ are grounds for enjoying the hope of a reunion of all the dead who die in the Lord.
(1) The triumph of Christ is here shown. Now, the object of his death and resurrection was to redeem the world. But this redemption would be vain if there were no resurrection. "If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable." The resurrection of Christ proves that the object of his death was obtained, it must therefore be followed by the resurrection of his people in order that the redemption thus accomplished may be fully realized in them.
(2) The union of Christians with Christ secures their resurrection. His experience becomes the experience of his people, because he lives in them and they live in him (1 Corinthians 15:22).—W.F.A.
1 Thessalonians 4:15, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 - The order of the second advent.
The subjects here brought before us are entirely beyond the reach of speculation. We have no data whatever to go upon beyond the authoritative declarations of the Word of God. St. Paul himself was not prepared to reason about them. He could simply declare what was revealed to him. But this he did declare with marvelous, unhesitating positiveness. He prefaces his declaration by distinctly claiming the authority of inspiration for it. "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord." So remarkable a revelation as that of the following verses needed some such assurance of its origin to commend it to us. We must take it in the spirit in which it is written, or we must leave it alone. It is useless to begin rationalizing with it. It is foolish to attempt to go one step beyond what is written. A sermon on such subjects must be as purely expository of the words of Scripture as possible. We note here three events in time, and their external consequence. The order of these three events is what St. Paul is most immediately concerned with. The occasion of his writing on them appears to have been the trouble felt by his readers as to the condition of those Christians who died before the second advent of Christ which they were expecting shortly to happen. Would these departed brethren miss the joy of welcoming their glorified Savior? The order of events described by the apostle removes this difficulty.
I. THE FIRST EVENT IS THE ADVENT OF CHRIST.
1. He is to come in Person. He does not forget the world for which he died. He will return to his weary, waiting Church.
2. He is to come in glory. His first advent was humble and obscure. Few knew the Babe in the manger. Lowly and self-sacrificing was the whole life that followed. But every one that humbleth himself shall be exalted. The humble Jesus is to come again as the exalted Lord.
3. He is to come conspicuously. The shout, the full voice of an archangel, the blast of a trumpet—these awful sounds surely betoken no obscure mystical advent which can be questioned after it has occurred. When Christ comes a second time no one will say, "Is the Lord among us or no?" All will hear the great shout and the pealing angel-notes.
II. THE SECOND EVENT IS THE RETURN OF THE DEPARTED. Instead of missing the joy of that great advent, as their friends sadly feared, those Christians who had fallen asleep will be the first to share it. The trumpet will awake the dead before it arouses the living. There will be no advantage in being among the living at the time of the second coming of Christ. Some, even in our own day, have fondly hoped for some such privilege. But St. Paul distinctly tells us that the privilege is the other way. The departed will be the most privileged. This is fair; for if they have endured the pangs of death to reach Christ, it is right that they should see him first.
III. THE THIRD EVENT IS THE ASSOCIATION OF LIVING CHRISTIANS WITH THE SECOND ADVENT OF CHRIST. They take the second place in honor, not having wrestled with death and conquered the dread foe, as their departed brethren have done. But they also join in the glad triumph of their Lord. Of the physical process described as being "caught up into the clouds" we know nothing, and therefore cannot tell how it will be realized till it is accomplished. The attempt to explain it has only made the subject ridiculous. But the two spiritual facts accompanying it are clear. A joyous meeting with Christ and the departed, and a change of state and sphere; the earthly life and its limitations giving place to the heavenly life and its more exalted powers.
IV. THE ETERNAL CONSEQUENCE IS THE PERMANENT DWELLING OF CHRISTIANS WITH CHRIST. The second advent here described is not a passing event which ends. It is not a mere visit of Christ. It is not like the first advent, which, after a few years, was followed by the death and, after his resurrection, the ascension of Christ. Christ will never leave his people again.
1. It secures joy. The joy of love is to be with those we love. The highest Christian happiness is to be "forever with the Lord." This is heaven.
2. It protects from trouble. God wipes away tears from all eyes. Associated with Christ for ever, his people can never weep again.
3. It guards from sin. Where the triumphant Christ always is, the defeated tempter can never come.
4. It accomplishes the reunion of friends. All being with Christ, all are also together. The home is perfected by the gathering of the blessed dead with the glorified living around the abiding Christ.—W.F.A.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany