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CONTENTS.—The apostle now proceeds to the principal object which he had in view in writing this Epistle. The Thessalonians had adopted erroneous notions concerning the advent; they supposed that the day of the Lord was imminent, and, in consequence of this belief, they were thrown into a state of excitement and alarm. The apostle reminds them of his former instructions on this subject; how he bad told them that before the coming of the day of the Lord there should be a great apostasy, and the man of sin, whose nature and characteristics he had described to them, should be revealed; but that at present there was a restraining influence which prevented his appearance.
When that restraining influence was removed, the man of sin would be revealed, accompanied with powers and signs and wonders of falsehood, and would succeed in deceiving those who were destitute of the love of the truth. Then would the Lord Jesus Christ come and destroy him by the breath of his mouth and the appearance of his presence. The apostle thanks God that the Thessalonians, on the contrary, were chosen to salvation and to a participation of the glory of the Lord; he exhorts them to stand fast in the instructions which he had delivered them; and he concludes with a prayer for their consolation and confirmation.
This chapter is involved in difficulties; it is the obscurest passage in the writings of Paul; it is pre-eminently one of those things in his Epistles which are hard to be understood (2 Peter 3:16). But it is to be observed that the description of the man of sin, though obscure to us, was not necessarily obscure to the Thessalonians. They had information on this point which we do not possess. The apostle, when at Thessalonica, had instructed them in this subject, and to these instructions he refers in the description which he here gives (2 Thessalonians 2:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:6). Nor was the information which he imparted to them indefinite and general, but definite and precise. He had described the nature of the apostasy, the characteristics of the man of sin, and the influences which retarded his manifestation (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 2 Thessalonians 2:4); and if these points were known to us, as they were to the Thessalonians, most of the obscurity which rests on this prediction would disappear. At present we give the exposition of the passage, reserving the discussion of the various theories concerning its interpretation to an excursus at the end of the chapter.
2 Thessalonians 2:1
Now; literally, but; a particle of transition. We beseech you. Passing from what he besought God for them to what he beseeches them. Brethren, by. Considered by some, as in the A.V., as a form of adjuration. Thus Calvin: "He adjures believers by the coming of Christ; for it is customary to adjure by those things which are regarded by us with reverence." But such a construction is unknown in the New Testament, and is besides unnatural. Others render the preposition "in behalf of" or "in the interest of," "as though he were pleading, in honour of that day, that the expectation of it might not be a source of disorder in the Church" (Jowett); but such a sense is too artificial. It is best to render it "concerning," or, as in the R.V., "touching." The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some (Whitby, Hammond) suppose that by the coming of the Lord Jesus was here meant his coming in spirit at the destruction of Jerusalem, and that the apostasy was the revolt of the Jews from the Romans; the restraining power being differently interpreted. But this is a forced and extravagant interpretation, and is completely overthrown by what the apostle says in the next verse, for the destruction of Jerusalem was imminent. Besides, the Thessalonians, who were chiefly Gentile converts, were too distant from Jerusalem to be much troubled by the destruction of that city. By the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, then, is here meant, as is the uniform meaning of the phrase in the writings of Paul, the second advent. And by (or, concerning) our gathering together unto him. The word translated "gathering together" occurs only once again in the New Testament, where it is used with reference to the assembling of Christians for worship (Hebrews 10:35). Here it is used with reference to the assembling of believers to Christ, when he shall be revealed from heaven; it refers, not to the raising of the dead, but to the gathering together of those who are then alive (see 1 Thessalonians 4:17).
2 Thessalonians 2:2
That; to the end that, the purpose for which the apostle besought the Thessalonians. Ye be not soon; quickly. This has been variously interpreted, "so soon after my exhortation," or "so soon after my departure from Thessalonica," or "so soon after your reception of the gospel," or "so soon after this opinion of the imminence of Christ's coming was promulgated." Others refer it to manner rather than to time—"soon and with small reason" (Alford). Shaken; agitated like the waves by a storm, as the word signifies. In mind; or rather, from your mind from your sober reason. Or be troubled; a still stronger expression; "terrified." Neither by spirit; not any falsely understood prophecies of the Old Testament, nor any mistaken revelations, whether by visions or dreams; but prophetical discourses delivered by members of the Church in a state of excitement, announcing the immediate coming of Christ, and which were mistaken for Divine communications. There does not appear to have been any intention to deceive; the Thessalonians erred in neglecting "to try the spirits" and to "prove the prophecies." Nor by word; not any traditional word of Christ, nor any misinterpretation of his prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, nor a calm discourse in distinction from prophetic utterances; but the report of some of the apostle's words, either erroneous or misunderstood. Nor by letter. Not the apostle's former Epistle to the Thessalonians, the passages in which concerning the advent had been misinterpreted (Paley); for, if this were the case, the apostle would have expressed himself more plainly and would not have repudiated it; but some letter, either forged in the apostle's name or pretending to inculcate his views. As from us. These words apply to the last two particulars: "Let no pretended saying or pretended letter of mine disturb you in this matter." As that—to the effect that—the day of Christ; or, as the best manuscripts read, of the Lord. Is at hand; literally, is present, so R.V. The verb is so translated in the other passages where it occurs (Romans 8:38; 1 Corinthians 3:22; Galatians 1:4; Hebrews 9:9), except in 2 Timothy 3:1, where it ought also to have been so rendered. It is, however, difficult to conceive how the Thessalonians could think that the day of the Lord was actually present. We cannot imagine that they thought that Christ had already come for judgment. To escape the difficulty, some conceive that "the day of the Lord" is not identical with "the coming of the Lord," but that, besides the actual advent, it includes the events which are its antecedents and concomitants (Eadie). It appears, however, best to suppose that the word is a strong expression for the imminence of that day; that the hour of the advent was about in strike. The Thessalonians ought always to be living in a state of preparation for the day of the Lord, as that day would come suddenly and unexpectedly; but they were not to be so impressed with a sense of its immediateness as to be deprived of their sober reason.
2 Thessalonians 2:3
Let no man deceive you by any means; in any way, not only in any of the foregoing methods, "by spirit, or word, or letter," but in any way whatever. For (that day shall not come). The bracketed words are not in the original, but are correctly supplied for the completion of the sense. Except there come a falling away; or, the apostasy; namely, that apostasy about which the apostle, when in Thessalonica, had instructed his readers. The falling away here alluded to is evidently religious, not political. Hence it cannot be the revolt of the Jews from the Romans, or any of those revolts and disturbances which then occurred in the political world. Nor must we conceive that the man of sin himself is here meant; for this apostasy precedes his coming—prepares the way for his advent; it is not the result, but the cause, of his appearance. The word, then, is to be taken generally to denote that remarkable "falling away" from Christianity concerning which Paul had instructed the Thessalonians. First; namely, before the coming of the day of the Lord. And that man of sin; in whom sin is, as it were, personified, as righteousness is in Christ. Be revealed. The apostle considers the man of sin as the counterpart of Christ; as Christ was revealed, so shall the man of sin be revealed. The son of perdition; whose sin necessarily conducts to perdition; not here the perdition of his followers, but his own perdition. The same name which was applied by our Lord to Judas Iscariot (John 17:12).
2 Thessalonians 2:4
Who opposeth; or, the opposer, taken substantively. The object of opposition is not so much believers, as Christ; he is antichrist, the opponent of Christ. And yet antichrist is not Satan, the great adversary (1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 12:10), for he is expressly distinguished from him (2 Thessalonians 2:9), but the instrument of Satan. As Satan entered into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of perdition, so does he take possession of the man of sin. And exalteth himself above; or rather, against, in a hostile manner. All that is called God; not only against all the false gods of the heathen, but also against the true God (comp. Daniel 7:25; Daniel 11:36). Or that is worshipped; that is an object of worship. The same word that is used in Acts 17:23, "As I passed by and beheld your devotions"—the objects of your worship. So that he as God. The words "as God" are to be omitted, as not found in the best manuscripts. Sitteth in the temple of God. According to some, the temple of Jerusalem (De Wette, Lunemann, Eadie), either as it then existed or as restored according to the prophecy of Ezekiel But it appears more correct to refer the expression metaphorically to the Christian Church. It is a favourite metaphor of Paul to compare believers in particular, or the Church in general, to the temple of God. Showing—exhibiting—himself that he is God. His sitting in the temple of God was an assertion of his divinity; he claimed to be regarded and worshipped as God. This was the crowning act of his impiety; not only, like the Roman emperors, he demanded to be worshipped as one of many gods, but he claimed to himself the prerogative of the Godhead, not only to the exclusion of the false gods of heathenism, but even of the tree God.
2 Thessalonians 2:5
Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? These words contain a reproach. Had the Thessalonians remembered the instructions of the apostle, they would not have been so soon shaken from their sober reason or troubled. The apostle, when he was in Thessalonica, had told them of these things; he had instructed them concerning the nature of the apostasy and the coming of the man of sin; so that, as already observed, this description, so obscure to us, was not obscure to the Thessalonians,—they possessed the key to its interpretation.
2 Thessalonians 2:6
And now. The particle "now" has been variously interpreted. Some connect it with the restraining influence: "And ye know what now withholdeth;" but if so, there would have been a different arrangement of the words in the original Others consider it as a mere particle of transition: "Now, to pass over to another subject;" but there is no transition, the apostle continues his description of the man of sin. It is rather to be considered as a particle of time: "Now ye know, because you have been instructed on this point." Ye know; Paul having told them when he was at Thessalonica. What withholdeth; hindereth. The hindrance does not refer to the prevention of the apostle from speaking freely on this subject, lest he should involve himself in political difficulties; nor to any delay in the coming of Christ; but to a restraint upon the appearance of the man of sin: "Ye know what prevents his open manifestation." That he; namely, the man of sin. Might be revealed in his time; literally, in his season; in his proper time, the time appointed by God. Events were not yet ripe for his appearance. Just as there was a "fulness of time" when Christ should appear (Galatians 4:4), so there was a "fulness of time" when the man of sin should be revealed; there was a series of events going on which would culminate in his revelation. The nature of this restraining or withholding influence will afterwards be considered; whatever it was, the Thessalonians were formerly explicitly informed.
2 Thessalonians 2:7
For the mystery. "Mystery" here denotes something which was unknown or secret before it was revealed (comp. Ephesians 3:3-49.3.5). So also one of the names of Babylon, the seat of the antichristian power, is Mystery (Revelation 17:3). Of iniquity; rather, of lawlessness; namely, this apostasy which shall precede the coming of the man of sin. The genitive here is that of apposition—"that mystery which is lawlessness,'' whose essence and sphere of operation is lawlessness. Doth already work; or, is already working. The mystery of iniquity even now works in secret; but the man of sin himself will not appear until the restraining power be removed. Even at the time the apostle wrote the seeds of apostasy were already sown; the leaven of lawlessness was fermenting inside Christianity; the foundations of a false Christianity were being laid. Thus the apostle warned the Ephesians that false teachers would arise from among themselves; to Timothy he writes of those perilous times which were then present; and, in his Epistles, mention is made of false practices and doctrines, such as the worship of angels, abstinence from meats, bodily mortifications, and the honour conferred on celibacy. So also John, in his First Epistle, refers to this working of this antichristian power when he says, "Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists ...Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world" (1 John 2:18; 1 John 4:3). "Antichrist does not step on the scene suddenly without any preparations; on the contrary, a stream of anti-christian sentiment and conduct pervades the whole history of the world" (Olshausen). Only he that now letteth; or, restraineth, the old meaning of the word "let." Will let. These words are not in the original, and ought to be omitted. Until he be taken out of the way. The whole clause ought to be rendered, "The mystery of lawlessness is already working, only until he who restraineth is removed;" when that takes place, when the restraining influence is removed, the mystery of lawlessness will no longer work secretly, but will be openly manifested.
2 Thessalonians 2:8
And then; namely, so soon as he that restraineth is taken out of the way. Shall that Wicked; or, that lawless one, in whom the mystery of lawlessness is realized; not different from, but the same with, the "man of sin, the son of perdition." Be revealed; appear unveiled in all his naked deformity. No longer working secretly, but openly, and in an undisguised form; no longer the mystery, but the revelation of lawlessness. The apostle now interrupts his description of the man of sin by announcing his doom. Whom the Lord; or, as the best attested manuscripts read, whom the Lord Jesus. Shall consume; or rather, shall slay (R.V.). With the spirit (or, breath) of his mouth. Various interpretations have been given to this clause. Some refer it to the Word of God, and others to the Holy Spirit, and suppose that the conversion of the world is here predicted; but this is evidently an erroneous interpretation, as the doom of antichrist is here announced. Others refer the term to a cry or word, and think that the sentence of condemnation pronounced by the Lord Jesus on the wicked is intended. But the words are to be taken literally as a description of the power and irresistible might of Christ at his coming—that the mere breath of his mouth is sufficient to consume the wicked (comp. Isaiah 11:4, "He shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked"). And shall destroy (or, annihilate) with the brightness (or, appearance) of his coming. The two words, epiphany and parousia, which are elsewhere used separately to denote the coming of Christ, are here employed. There is no ground for the assertion that the first is the subjective and the second the objective aspect of Christ's coming (Olshausen). The brightness of Christ's coming is not here expressed; but the meaning is that the mere appearance of Christ's presence will annihilate the wicked.
2 Thessalonians 2:9
The apostle resumes his description of the man of sin. Even him; not in the original, but necessary for the sense. Whose coming. The use of the same term, parousia, employed to denote the coming of Christ exhibits the counterpart of the man of sin. Is after the working—according to the energy—of Satan. Satan is the agent who works in the man of sin; he being the organ or instrument of Satan. With all power and signs and lying wonders. The adjective "lying" ought to be rendered as a substantive, and applied to all three: "With all powers and signs and wonders of falsehood;" whose origin, nature, and purpose is falsehood. Here, also, the counterpart to Christ is manifest; for the same terms—"powers," "signs," and "wonders," are employed to denote his miracles (Acts 2:22; Hebrews 2:4). The miracles of Christ were miracles of truth; the miracles of the man of sin would be miracles of falsehood. There does not seem to be any essential difference between powers, signs, and wonders; but the words are employed as a mere rhetorical enumeration. It is not to be supposed that the man of sin will be enabled to perform real miracles; they are the wonders of falsehood; but still by them his followers will be deceived (comp. Matthew 24:24).
2 Thessalonians 2:10
And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness; or rather, with all deceit of unrighteousness (R.V.); either with all deceit leading to unrighteousness or with all deceit which is unrighteousness. The man of sin works by deceit and falsehood; and by means of imposture and wonders and high pretensions he will succeed in imposing on the world. The energetic power of the man of sin is, however, by no means irresistible; only they who perish will succumb to it. In them. In the best manuscripts the preposition "in" is wanting; therefore the words are to be translated for them or to them. That perish; because they received not the love of the truth. Not only did they not receive the truth when it was offered them, but, what was worse, they were destitute even of a love of the truth. By the truth here is meant, not Christ himself, as some expositors think, but primarily the Christian truth, and secondarily the truth generally. There was in them a want of susceptibility for the truth, and thus not only were they prevented embracing the gospel, but they were led astray by numerous errors and delusions. That they might be saved. The result which naturally would arise from the reception of the truth.
2 Thessalonians 2:11
For this cause; on account of their being destitute of a love of the truth. God shall send them; or rather, God sends them; the present being chosen because the apostasy had already commenced, the mystery of lawlessness was already working. Strong delusion; or, a working of error (R.V.). These words are not to be weakened, as if they meant merely that in righteous judgment God permitted strong delusion to be sent them; the words are not a mere assertion of judicial permission, but of actual retribution. It is the ordinance of God that the wicked by their wicked actions fall into greater wickedness, and that thus sin is punished by sin; and what is an ordinance of God is appointed by God himself. That they should believe a lie; or rather, the lie, namely the falsehood which the man of sin disseminates by his deceit of unrighteousness. Being destitute of the love of the truth, they are necessarily led to believe a lie—their minds are open to all manner of falsehood and delusion.
2 Thessalonians 2:12
That; in order that. The statement of purpose depending, not upon "that they should believe a lie," but upon "God sends them a strong delusion"—denoting a still more remote purpose of God. God, as the moral Ruler of the universe, will pronounce sentence of condemnation against them, this sentence being the necessary result of their receiving not the love of the truth. Its reception would have been the cause of their salvation; its rejection results in their condemnation. They all might be damned; or rather, judged (R.V.). The verb employed does not here, or elsewhere, express the idea of condemnation, though this is implied by the context. Who believed not the truth; namely, the Christian truth; their unbelief of it was the consequence of their want of love of the truth, and was the cause of their being judged. But had pleasure in unrighteousness. Their delight in unrighteousness was wholly incompatible with their belief in the truth; their want of faith arose, not from any defect in their understanding, but from the perversion of their moral nature.
Here the description of the man of sin concludes, and hence the second division of the Epistle closes. The succeeding verses should have been attached to a new paragraph, being the commencement of the third or hortatory portion of the Epistle.
2 Thessalonians 2:13
But; this may be considered as a simple particle of transition, or as containing a contrast to these alluded to in the previous verses. I thank God that you are not exposed to the delusions of the man of sin and to the destruction of his followers. We. By some restricted to Paul, and by others as including Silas and Timotheus (2 Thessalonians 1:1). Are bound to give thanks alway to God. Notwithstanding the disorders which had arisen in the Church of Thessalonica, Paul had abundant reason to thank God for his great grace vouchsafed to the Thessalonians, in retaining them in the gospel, and in enabling them to abound in faith and love. For you, brethren beloved of the Lord; that is, of Christ. In the former Epistle he calls them "beloved of God" (1 Thessalonians 1:4), here "of Christ;" one of the numerous indirect proofs in these Epistles of the 1)trinity of Christ. Because God hath from the beginning. Some valuable manuscripts read, "because God hath chosen you as firstfruits," and this rendering has been adopted by several eminent expositors (Jowett, Hofmann, Riggenbach); but the preponderance of authorities is in favour of the reading in our A.V. The phrase, "from the beginning, does not denote "from the beginning' of the gospel," but "from eternity.'' The apostle refers the salvation of the Thessalonians to the eternal election of God. Chosen you to salvation—the final purpose of God's election. Through; or rather, in, denoting the elements in which the salvation consisted, or, which is the same thing, the state into which they were chosen. Sanctification of the Spirit—the Divine side—and belief of the truth—the human side of the element in which the salvation was realized.
2 Thessalonians 2:14
Whereunto; to which. The reference being to the whole clause, being "chosen to salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." He called you. Whom God elects from eternity, he calls in time. By our gospel; the gospel preached by us. To the obtaining (or, acquisition) of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Different meaning's have been attached to these words; some render them "for the purpose of an acquisition of glory to Jesus Christ;" others, "for a glorious possession of Jesus Christ;" and others, "to be possessors or sharers in the glory of Jesus Christ." The last meaning is the correct one. Believers are constituted "heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ."
2 Thessalonians 2:15
Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions. Traditions generally denote statements orally delivered and reported; here the word denotes the apostle's instructions in Christianity, whether these are given by word of mouth or by letter. Which ye have been taught, whether by word; referring to the apostle's preaching when in Thessalonica. Or our Epistle; referring to the First Epistle to the Thessalonians.
2 Thessalonians 2:16
Now our Lord Jesus Christ, and God, even our Father, who hath loved us. These last words, "who hath loved us," are to be restricted to God our Father, whoso love was manifested in sending his Son to rescue sinners from destruction. And hath given us everlasting consolation; or, comfort; everlasting as contrasted with the temporary and deceitful comfort which the world gives. And good hope through grace; or, in grace. "In grace" belongs to the verb "hath given," and denotes the mode of the gift—of his own free grace, in contrast to personal merit.
2 Thessalonians 2:17
Comfort your hearts, and stablish you; or, according to the best manuscripts, stablish them. namely, your hearts. These verbs are in the singular, but their nominative is our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father, thus implying the unity between these Divine Persons. In every good word and work.
2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2 Thessalonians 2:2.—The second advent.
1. The time of the advent. The erroneous notions of the Thessalonians concerning the advent. Our Lord's references and the references in the Epistles to the advent. There is no reason for the assertion that the apostles believed in or taught the immediate coming of Christ. They announced the certainty of the advent, but the precise time was not within the sphere of their inspiration.
2. The practical influence which the doctrine of the second advent should have upon us. Negatively, it should not deprive us of our sober reason or fill us with alarm. Posttively, its certainty should inspire us with hope and fill us with joy; its uncertainty should stir us up to watchfulness and preserve us in patience. We must not measure by our impatience the purposes of him with whom "one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."
2 Thessalonians 2:3.—Importance of religious knowledge.
We are surrounded by many influences tending either to lead us into error and delusion, or into scepticism and infidelity. We must add to our faith knowledge, and seek to be rooted and grounded in the faith. The truth ought to be the great subject of inquiry. Let us cultivate the love of the truth; let us pursue the truth wherever it leads, lest we should render ourselves liable to the condemnation of those who believe not the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness; and lest we should be led from error to error, and be lost in a perfect maze of falsehood.
2 Thessalonians 2:3-53.2.9.—The doctrine of antichrist.
Antichrist is the caricature or counterpart of Christ.
1. He is the man of sin, the personification of iniquity; whereas Christ is the righteous One, the personification of righteousness.
2. He is the mystery of iniquity; whereas Christ is the mystery of godliness.
3. His advent is announced by the same word as the advent of Christ.
4. His coming occurred in its proper season; so also Christ came in the fulness of time.
5. His coming is after the working of Satan; whereas Christ's coming is in the power of the Holy Ghost.
6. He performs miracles of falsehood, a counterpart of the real miracles which Christ performed.
7. He sitteth in the temple of God, thus occupying the proper seat of Christ.
8. He shows or exhibits himself as God, whereas Christ is the true manifestation of the Godhead. In short, the kingdom of light which Christ has established has its counterpart in the kingdom of darkness.
2 Thessalonians 2:13.—Sanctification.
1. Its nature. It denotes separation and consecration. It consists in the mortification of sin and the production of holiness.
2. Its properties. Universal, adapted to our peculiar characters, discernible, progressive, in this life always imperfect, constant, and eternal.
3. Its Author. The Holy Spirit the immediate Author; it is his peculiar office to produce holiness in the soul. He not only purifies our affections, but takes up his abode in our hearts.
4. Its instrument. The belief of the truth. The instrument with which the Spirit works is the Word of God. We must not disjoin these two; the agency of the Spirit and the instrumentality of the Word are both equally essential and equally important.
2 Thessalonians 2:15.—Retention of Scripture.
Whilst we reject the false and wrong, we must hold fast to the true and right. This is an age of testing.
1. We must examine the evidences of the Word of God.
2. We must endeavour to find out its meaning by careful study, and by prayer for the guidance and teaching of God's Spirit.
3. We must bring all doctrines and opinions to the test of Scripture, and draw our belief from the Word of God, and not from the opinions and traditions of men.
4. We must ever walk up to the light which we have. The Spirit is promised to guide us into all truth, and if we depend upon him and follow his guidance, we shall not be suffered to go astray.
HOMILIES BY T. CROSKERY
2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2 Thessalonians 2:2.—A misapprehension, respecting the time of the second advent.
The apostle's main design in this Epistle is to correct a most disquieting error that had arisen upon this point.
I. THE PANIC IN THE THESSALONIAN CHURCH.
1. It was concerning the date of the second coming of Christ. "Touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto him." The facts of this august event had been prophetically described in the First Epistle.
(1) It was the personal coming of Christ in "the day of the Lord" to judge the quick and the dead.
(2) It was an event involving their "gathering together unto him" to meet the Lord in the air: a happy meeting, a marvellously glorious sight.
2. The misapprehension caused a sort of panic. "That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled"—like a ship tossed upon a stormy sea. It was this deep agitation of mind, this consternation and surprise, which led to the unsettled spirit that manifested itself in the Thessalonian Church. Errors in the region of dispensational truth often have this tendency.
3. The panic was due to one or other of three sources. "Neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us."
(1) It may have had its origin in some pretended revelation or spiritual utterance in the Thessalonian Church. Our Lord had predicted false alarms of this sort. "Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe him not" (Matthew 24:23).
(2) Or it may have come "through word," that is, word of mouth, supposed to be spoken by the apostle during his visit to Thessalonica.
(3) Or "through letter as from us," apparently forged letters such as had already become rife in the early Church.
II. THE GROUND OF THE PANIC. "As that the day of the Lord is now present." This is the correct translation; not "it is at hand."
1. It could inspire no terror for the Thessalonians to know that the day was at hand, for this had always been the apostle's teaching, as well as that of all Scripture (Matthew 24:1-40.24.51.; Romans 13:12; Philippians 4:5; Hebrews 10:25, Hebrews 10:37; James 5:8; 1 Peter 4:7). They had been already familiar with the doctrine, which ought rather to have filled their hearts with transcendent gladness.
2. Their disquietude and distress arose from the belief that the Lord had already come without their sharing in the glory of his kingdom. Their relatives were still lying in their graves without any sign of resurrection, and they themselves saw no sign of that transformation of body in themselves that was to be the prelude to their meeting the Lord in the air. The apostle tells them distinctly that the day has not come, and that the signs of its approach had not yet been exhibited.—T.C.
2 Thessalonians 2:3-53.2.8.—The rise of the apostasy and the revelation of the man of sin must precede the second advent.
This fact would assure them that a period of time of at least indefinite extent would intervene before the day of the Lord. "Let no man deceive you by any means."
I. THE COMING OF THE APOSTASY. "Because the day will not set in unless there come the apostasy first."
1. The apostasy is so described because it was already familiar to their minds through his oral teaching. "Remember ye not, that, when I was with you, I was telling you of these things?"
2. It points to a signal defection from the Christian faith. We imagine that the primitive Churches were signally free from error or fault of any sort. The apostle himself notes the signs of beginning apostasy even in his own day.
(1) "The mystery of lawlessness doth already work."
(2) There were for himself "perils from false brethren."
(3) There were in the Church itself "enemies of the cross of Christ."
(4) Later still "many deceivers had entered into the world."
(5) The apostle foresaw that the evil "would increase unto more ungodliness."
(6) This apostasy was to precede the revelation of the man of sin, not to be regarded as identical with it. Yet the two movements were not to be regarded as independent of each other, except in the order or time of their development.
(7) The signs of the apostasy in Christendom are to be seen principally in the Papacy, but likewise in the kindred errors and corruptions of the Greek Church as well as in the delusions of Mohammedanism. The elements of the apostasy were, however, to be gathered up and concentrated at last in a single person as their final embodiment.
II. THE REVELATION OF THE MAN OF SIN. "And that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above every one called God, or an object of worship." His characteristics are here distinctly described.
1. He does not represent a system of error, like Romanism, or the papal hierarchy, or a succession of Popes, but a single person. The man of sin has not yet appeared. Yet Romanism, or the papacy, comprehends much that is involved in the idea of this terrible person, who, however, goes beyond it in the appalling extent of his wickedness. The passage is not symbolic, but literal. It is a literal person who is described.
2. He is "the son of perdition."
(1) Not because he brings ruin to others, but
(2) because he is himself doomed to ruin—going literally to "his own place," like Judas, who may be regarded as a type of him.
3. His boundless and blasphemous assumptions.
(1) His opposition to every God, true and false.
(2) His self-elevation above every God, true and false. His action recalls the prophecy of Daniel: "The king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods" (Daniel 11:36). This prophecy refers to a polytheistic king. The apostle refers to the man of sin as repudiating all worship, as if he represented a higher divinity than anything worshipped on earth.
(a) The description does not apply to the pope or the papacy:
(α) Because the pope, though the head of a system of idolatry, does not oppose God or exalt himself above him, but rather owns himself "a servant of servants of the most high God," and blesses the people, not in his own name, but in the Name of the Triune God.
(β) Because, instead of exalting himself above God or objects of worship, he multiplies the objects of worship by the canonization of new saints, and submits, like the humblest of his followers, to the worship of the very saints he has made.
(γ) Because the pope, though guilty of arrogating almost Divine powers to himself, does not supersede God so as to make himself God. The man of sin "sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." Though votaries of the papacy have often given Divine titles to the popes, the Popes have never assumed to be God, but only vicars of Jesus Christ on earth. They have claimed to be viceroys of God. The temple of God cannot be the Vatican; nor the Christian Church, which is an ideal building; nor can Rome be regarded as the centre of the Christian Church.
(δ) Because this prophetic sketch contains no allusion to strictly papal peculiarities, such as idolatry, either as to the Virgin Mary, saints, angels, or relics, the invention of purgatory, priestly absolution, bloody fanaticism, debased casuistry, lordship over the world of spirits.
(b) The description applies to the man of sin—the lawless one—for whom the Papacy prepares the way by a long course of apostasy from the truth.
(α) This terrible person is to oppose God and all worship of every sort, and may therefore be regarded as an impersonation of infidel wickedness.
(β) He is to sit down in the vacated "temple of God" and claim all the attributes of divinity. He sits down in God's place—for the temple is God's dwelling—in some actual temple, and appropriates it to his own use. Wherever the scene of this marvellous usurpation may be, it signifies the obliteration of all Christian interests and the triumph of atheistic malignity. When the Lord comes, "shall he find faith in the earth?" We see how Positivism in our own day has forsaken the worship of a personal God and betaken itself to the worship of concrete humanity. The man of sin will use the papacy as Anguste Comte travestied it in constructing forms of Positivist devotion, by turning it into some darker shape and. making it the tremendous instrument of the world's final ruin.
III. THE CHECK TO THE FULL DEVELOPMENT OF THE MAN OF SIN. "And now what restraineth ye know, in order that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of iniquity is already working only till he who now restraineth be taken out of the way." These words imply:
1. That the apostasy was already in being; for "the mystery of lawlessness is already working." The two, if not identical, are closely connected together.
(1) It antagonizes Christ, who is "the mystery of godliness" (1 Timothy 3:16). The mystery is a process, not a person, yet it works against the person of Christ.
(2) Many of the elements of the "apostasy" were in existence in the days of the apostles, at least in the germ state. The Epistle to the Colossians and the Second Epistle to Timothy point to an early development of Gnostic error which found its place in due time in the papal system (Colossians 2:1-51.2.23; 2 Timothy 3:1-55.3.17.). The self-deifying Tendency was manifested in the conduct of several of the Caesars.
2. The words imply that the working of the apostasy was still undefined and as yet unguessed at. It was still "a mystery," to be revealed in due time. Nothing is more remarkable than the gradual growth of error in the patristic age. False opinions held by pious Fathers in one age were held by errorists in the next age to the exclusion o! the truth.
3. The words imply that, as the apostasy would last through ages, the check would likewise exercise a continuous effect. The common opinion is that the Roman empire was the restraining power upon the development of the man of sin. It was certainly such upon the course of the apostasy, which was to prepare the way for the man of sin. It held the Papacy in check till it was itself swept away by barbarian violence. Because it has passed away, it does not follow that the man of sin must have been revealed at once; for other checks have been supplied, and are being still continuously supplied, in the polity of nations and in the face of Divine truth, to restrain the last terrible manifestation of his power.
IV. THE DOOM OF THE MAN OF SIN. "Whom the Lord Jesus shall consume with the breath of his mouth, and shall destroy with the appearance of his coming."
1. This does not refer to the Word and Spirit of Christ working in the minds of men for the destruction of antichristian error and antitheistic wickedness, but to the actual personal advent of Jesus Christ.
2. The language implies the suddenness and the completeness of the overthrow of the man of sin, who thereby becomes "the son of perdition."
3. The picture presented may be identical with the Got and Magog conspiracy which is to follow the millennium. (Revelation 20:7, Revelation 20:8.) The Lord puts the question, "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith in the earth?" (Luke 18:8). Thus the apostle assures the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord cannot have come, because all the events here pictured must happen before that great and terrible day.—T.C.
2 Thessalonians 2:9-53.2.12.—The methods of the man of sin and the retribution that overtakes his victims.
The apostle, after telling the doom of the man of sin by anticipation, goes back upon his description so as to bring out the contrast between the coming of Christ and the coming of his arch-enemy.
I. THE METHODS OF THE MAN OF SIN. "Whose coming is after the working of Satan in all powers and signs and prodigies of lying."
1. The source of all this wonder working activity—Satan. There is more than human depravity at work in this tremendous revelation of evil power. As Satan is a liar and the father of lies, he will stamp falsehood upon the whole system, which he will elaborate with superhuman craft for the misguidance of men.
2. The character of this activity. It is external and internal.
(1) It is externals" in powers and signs and prodigies of lying."
(a) These are to be a mimicry of Christ's miracles, for the three words here used are twice applied to our Lord's miracles (Hebrews 2:4; Acts 2:22).
(b) They were not real miracles, as if they had been done by Divine power, but jugglers' tricks or such like startling wonders as might delude "the perishing" into the belief that they were done by Divine power. The signs were to be as false as their author.
(c) Their design was to attest the truth of the doctrine of the man of sin.
(2) It is internal—"in all deceit of unrighteousness"—so as to pass sooner for truth. Guile marks his whole career and unrighteousness is the aim and result. He "speaks lies in hypocrisy;" "by good words and fair speeches he deceives the hearts of the simple" (1 Timothy 4:2; Romans 16:18). The ministers of Satan can as easily transform themselves into ministers of righteousness as Satan himself become an "angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14, 2 Corinthians 11:15).
3. The effects of this wonder working activity. They are confined "to those that are perishing." It is not possible "to deceive the elect" (Mark 13:22). Those who are blinded to the glory of the gospel are in the way of easy deception (2 Corinthians 4:3). It is those on the way to perdition who are so easily deceived.
II. THE RETRIBUTION THAT OVERTAKES THE VICTIMS OF THE MAN OF SIX. "Because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved." The causes of the success of the man of sin are first described on the side of man and then on the side of God. The whole case is one of just retribution.
1. The sin of the perishing.
(1) The truth was that which brought salvation near, disclosing at once their need of a Saviour and the readiness of Christ to save them.
(2) They did not receive it, though it was offered them, but rejected and despised it.
(3) They rejected it because they had "not the love of the truth." Without this love, the truth will do us no good; it must be received into the heart as well as the head. Augustine prayed, "Lord, make me taste that by love which I taste by knowledge."
2. The Divine retribution for the sin of the perishing. "And for this cause God is sending them an inworking error, that they should believe the lie" of the man of sin. They rejected the truth of God; God will, as a judicial, punitive infliction, send them blindness so that the error of the man of sin will be received as truth. "A terrible combination when both God and Satan are agreed to deceive a man!" There is a double punishment here.
(1) They will actually believe the lie of the man of sin. Sin often in the moral government of God is punished by deeper sin. Those who care nothing for the truth are easily seduced into the worst errors. Men will at last become so perverse as to call "evil good, and good evil."
(2) They will be finally judged for the pleasure they have taken in unrighteousness. "That all may be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." It follows:
(a) That error is not an innocent thing. It has practical issues of the most momentous character.
(b) That it is a fearful perversion of the human soul to take pleasure in what God hates.
(c) That God allows the sin and madness of men to develop themselves to their fullest extent.
(d) That God in this way will be finally justified in their judgment; he "will be justified in his speaking, and shall be clear in his judging" (Psalms 51:4).—T.C.
2 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Thessalonians 2:14.—Apostolic thanksgiving for the election and the calling of the Thessalonians.
I. THE DIVINE ELECTION. "God hath from the beginning chosen you."
1. There is an "election according to grace" (Romans 11:5). It is not to be confounded with the calling, which is an effect of it. "Whom he predestinated, them he also called" (Romans 8:30). Our salvation is always traced to "his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began."
2. The date of the election. "From the beginning." It is "from the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1:4), and therefore does not rest upon the personal claims of individuals.
3. The means of the election. "In sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." The election is to the means as well as the end; it cannot take effect without the means. There is an objective as well as a subjective side in the sphere of the election.
(1) The sanctification of the Spirit. This is the objective side.
(a) It implies a spiritual change of nature. The Spirit applies the salvation, and regeneration is his first work.
(b) Sanctification is the evidence as well as the fruit of election.
(2) "The belief of the truth." This is the subjective side. Man is not passive in his salvation.
(a) As the Spirit is the agent, the truth is the instrument of salvation.
(b) The truth must be believed in order to salvation. As men are chosen to be saints, they are chosen also to be believers.
(3) The necessary connection between the sanctification and the belief. It might appear as if the belief of the truth ought to precede the sanctification of the Spirit. But there cannot be faith without the operation of the Spirit, while, on the other hand, the sanctification is "through the truth." The two are inseparably joined together.
4. The end of the election. "God hath chosen you to salvation."
(1) It is not an election to Church privileges.
(2) Nor to national privileges.
(3) But to salvation itself.
(a) This is salvation from sin and sorrow, death and hell.
(b) It is "the end of our faith" (1 Peter 1:9).
II. THE DIVINE CALLING. "Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." The election issues in the call.
1. The Author of the call. God. "There is one Lawgiver who is able to save and to destroy." He has the right to call and the power to call. Nothing but Divine power can save the soul.
2. The means of the call. "Our gospel." The ministry of the Word was the great instrument in the Spirit's hand of their conversion.
3. The end of the call.
(1) It was to obtain the glory of Christ. It was to be obtained, not purchased or wrought out by their personal righteousness.
(2) Believers are to share in the very glory of their Redeemer.—T.C.
2 Thessalonians 2:15.—Exhortation to a steadfast maintenance of apostolic traditions.
"Therefore stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our Epistle."
I. THE GROUND OF THIS EXHORTATION. It was their election and calling. There is a perfect consistency between the Divine election and the obligations of Christian duty.
II. THE NECESSITY OF CHRISTIAN STABILITY. It was specially needful at Thessalonica, in the midst of the agitations and shakings and restlessness that prevailed on the subject of the second advent. Believers were not "to be carried about by every wind of doctrine," lest "being led away with the error of the wicked, they should fall from their own steadfastness." They were to "hold fast the beginning of their confidence," and not "be moved away from the hope of the gospel."
1. There is safety in stability.
2. There is comfort in it.
3. It gives glory to God.
4. It gives strength and encouragement to the weak and vacillating.
III. THE MANIFESTATION OF THIS STABILITY. "Hold fast the traditions."
1. They were of two kinds, oral and written. "Whether by word, or our Epistle."
(1) They included apostolic doctrines—"the form of doctrine delivered to them."
(2) Apostolic ordinances, such as baptism and the Lord's Supper, which they had received from the apostles, as the apostles from the Lord.
(3) Apostolic rules and usages for the government of the Church.
2. The traditions in question afford no warrant for the Roman, Catholic doctrine of traditions handed down through ages. Because:
(1) The word is here applied to both oral and written teaching.
(2) The traditions were not handed down from some one anterior to the apostle, and from the apostle handed down to the Thessalonians; nor were they committed to the Thessalonians to be handed down to future ages. They were handed over directly by the apostle to the Thessalonians.
(3) The doctrine of tradition dishonours the Scriptures, because the traditions are said to be necessitated by the defectiveness and obscurity of Scripture.—T.C.
2 Thessalonians 2:16, 2 Thessalonians 2:17.—Prayer after exhortation.
The comprehensive prayer for blessing with which he concludes is strictly after the apostle's manner.
I. THE AUTHORS OF THE BLESSINGS PRAYED FOR. "Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father." The order of mention is unusual, though the name of Jesus occurs first in the apostolic benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14).
1. God the Father is the ultimate Source of blessing, as it is through Jesus Christ the blessing comes to us.
2. There is an entire equality between them, seeing the blessing is attributed to both.
3. There is oneness of essence, as is indicated by the singular verb used in the passage.
II. THE GROUND OF EXPECTATION THAT THE BLESSINGS ASKED WILL BE GIVEN. "Who loved us, and gave us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace."
1. The Divine love is the true ground of all our hopes of blessing, for it is everlasting, unchangeable, practical in its ends.
2. The two elements in the Divine gift.
(1) "Everlasting consolation."
(a) A source of unfailing comfort in the midst of the trials of life, springing out of everlasting sources and sufficing to all eternity; for God is a "God of all comfort," and "if there be any consolation," it is in Christ.
(b) This comfort is a gift—a mark of Divine favour, not of human merit.
(2) "A good hope through grace."
(a) This is "the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began" (Titus 1:2).
(b) It is a good hope
(α) because of its Author;
(β) because of its foundation, "through grace;"
(γ) because of its purifying effects (lJn 2 Thessalonians 3:4).
III. THE BLESSINGS PRAYED FOR.
1. Heart-comfort. "Comfort your hearts." They needed to be comforted on account of their troubles respecting the second advent. None but God can give true and lasting comfort. "Thou hast put gladness into my heart."
2. Establishment and perseverance. "And stablish you in every good word and work."
(1) This blessing is to be sought especially in restless and unsettled times.
(2) Stability is to be sought in "every good word," so that believers may not be carried away by "winds of doctrine;" and in "every good work," so that they may not be shaken by doubt and thus become restless and disorderly in conduct. Instability is weakness, as stability is strength.—T.C.
HOMILIES BY B.C. CAFFIN
2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2 Thessalonians 2:2.—The day of Christ not immediate.
I. THE MISTAKE OF THE THESSALONIANS.
1. In itself. The day of the Lord is present; it is already dawning; it is close upon us. This thought had taken possession of their souls; it filled their hearts; it left no room for ordinary commonplace duties. They were neglecting these in their strong excitement, in their eager anticipation of the approach of the great day. What was the use of attention to business, of daily labour, of the quiet performance of their accustomed tasks, when the Lord was to be expected at once, when they were to be caught up, away from earth and its employments, to meet the Lord in the air. "We which are alive and remain shall be caught up," St. Paul had said in his First Epistle. They misunderstood his words; they supposed that it must be during their own lifetime; that it might be, that it would be, immediate.
2. Its origin. Spirit, word, or letter. "Believe not every spirit" (St. John said); "try the spirits whether they are of God." There were utterances which claimed to be inspired and were not so. The discerning of spirits was one of the manifold gifts of the Holy Ghost. It was their duty not to despise prophesying, but yet to prove all things. There were also words quoted as if spoken by St. Paul; letters, too, purporting to come from him. Men misrepresented him; they attributed the sayings of others, their own, perhaps, to the holy apostle; even letters, it seems, were current, said to be the apostle's, but not really his. People are perplexed often nowadays by the many differences of opinion which exist among Christians. The fact of this diversity is to some an excuse for unbelief or for sloth in spiritual things; to others, a real temptation, a great trial of faith. But we see it has been so from the beginning. There were errors of belief in this infant Church of Thessalonica while the apostle, who had founded it, was still near at hand—at Corinth. Even in these early days things which he had said were misunderstood; his authority was claimed for words which he had never spoken; and, strangest of all, there were written letters bearing his name which were falsely ascribed to him. We have our trials now. We are troubled, some of us, by the difficulties which arise from various readings or interpretations, by the doubts thrown by modern writers on this or that book of Holy Scripture, by the conflict of opinions in the Church. It is some comfort to think that we of this age are not alone in our temptations; our position is not one of such singular perplexity as some of us are apt to think. If we persevere in prayer, if we try to live by faith looking to the Lord Jesus Christ, the doubts which vex us will soon be cleared away.
II. ST. PAUL'S WAY OF DEALING WITH THAT MISTAKE.
1. He beseeches them. He is very gentle with his converts, very earnest too, and affectionate; full of deep anxiety for their spiritual welfare. And it was a matter of great importance. St. Paul had dwelt much upon the coming of the Lord. The Parousia was a subject of much excited talk, much stirring of heart among the Thessalonians. St. Paul had spoken in his First Epistle of "our gathering together unto him;" how "we that are alive and remain shall be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." It was a prospect very blessed, very awful too; it had been opened out in strong, startling words. They inferred from his way of expressing himself that it was very close at hand, to be looked for immediately; their excitement was intense. He beseeches them to listen.
2. They rest be calm. Religion lies in a calm, quiet walk with God. It has its emotions, they are at times deep and strong; it has its enthusiasm, but it is ordered and grave. They must not allow themselves to be shaken from their settled judgment; they must not give way to this trembling, uneasy excitement. They must return to the quiet, steady discharge of the common duties of life; their best strength was in quietness and confidence. This was the best preparation for the coming of Christ. That coming was not immediate; much was to happen first.
1. Learn to be sober, thoughtful, to distrust excitement, to live in patient continuance of well doing.
2. There will be difficulties, perplexities; they are trials of faith; they must be endured in patience and overcome by faith.
3. Prepare for the coming of Christ. The best preparation is to perform each duty as it comes in faith and prayer as unto the Lord.—B.C.C.
2 Thessalonians 2:3-53.2.12.—The man of sin.
I. HE MUST COME BEFORE THE DAY OF THE LORD.
1. His revelation. He is antichrist—the evil counterpart of the most holy Saviour; he has his revelation, his apocalypse. There must be an apostasy before the coming of the Lord—a great, notable apostasy. The apostle had warned the Thessalonians of it; we need these warnings now. We must not be discouraged when we see scepticism, unbelief, rampant around us. These things must be; Holy Scripture has forewarned us. We must be prepared; we must be calm and steadfast, looking for the coming of the Lord. Such apostasies there have been; there have been precursors of the man of sin, such as Caligula shortly before the date of this Epistle, or Nero shortly after. There have been evil men among the popes of Rome who have exhibited in their lives some of the characteristic features of the antichrist. But the apostasy is yet to come; the man of sin is yet in the future; the mystery of iniquity is working even now; it is working below the surface, in secret; hereafter, we know not when, it will burst forth into open day in the revelation of the man of sin. We must not look forward to a continual, unopposed progress of the gospel; we must not expect that religion will go on in ever-extended triumphs, with no checks, no defeats, overspreading the earth more and more with its blessed influences. Such an expectation is not warranted either by Scripture or by the signs of the times. Scripture tells us of the coming apostasy, of the revelation of the man of sin. And in the world the forces of unbelief and evil are evidently gathering themselves for a mighty conflict. In our own country, it is true, there has been a great revival of religious zeal, great love for Christ, much earnest, self-denying work for his sake. But alongside of this there has been a great outburst of infidelity, a widespread scepticism, a hatred of revelation, manifesting itself in the life and works of men of learning and culture; while elsewhere the revolt against all forms of authority, Divine and human, has been more outspoken and far more widely spread. The armies of God and Satan, the powers of good and evil, light and darkness, faith and unbelief, seem to be already marshalled in preparation for an awful struggle. It must come, Holy Scripture warns us; it will culminate in the revelation of the man of sin. He will be revealed—out of previous obscurity; the apparition will be unveiled out of darkness.
2. His character. He is a person, a man of mighty intellect and giant strength of will, who will take advantage of a general development of unbelief and lawlessness, and gain for a time a widespread sovereignty. Sin fills his being; it becomes, as it were, incarnate in him; it dominates his entire personality. He is "a son of perdition" like Judas (compare the common Hebraism, "a son of death"), destined himself to eternal death, involving in utter death all who follow him. He is an adversary, a human Satan, filled with all the awful energy, the concentrated malice of the evil one. He is the antichrist, the avowed and bitter enemy of the holy Saviour, bringing with his intense wickedness the horrible cry of "Ecrasez l'infame!" into awful prominence. He exalts himself against every one that is called God; he sits in the temple of God, reviving the madness of Antiochus Epiphanes, the impious attempt of Caligula. Such a man the world has not yet seen. There have been many outbursts of wickedness, many evil men in the long course of history have risen to sovereign power; but no one yet has combined in himself all the characteristics ascribed to the man of sin in this Epistle. It is a fearful spectacle which is yet to come. St. Paul warned the Thessalonians that such things there would be, uprisings of malice and persecution, anticipations of the man of sin. He warns the whole Church throughout all time that such things are to be looked for; that sooner or later, before the end cometh, the man of sin himself shall be revealed in all the awful energy of unmingled wickedness, relieved by no one trace of goodness.
II. THE OBSTACLE.
1. The Thessalonians knew what it was. St. Paul had told them of this during his short residence in Thessalonica. For some reason he had dwelt much on this awful subject; it must have been necessary for the Thessalonians in their special circumstances, though we know not why. They had knowledge which we have not; they knew precisely what we cannot find out for certain with all our searching. We may be satisfied that this knowledge, then good for them, is not now necessary for us, or it would have been more clearly revealed. "Ye have an unction from the Holy One," St. John says of believers, "and ye know all things"—all that we need to know for life and godliness.
2. What was it? The Roman empire, the power of Roman law, the emperor as embodying that power. This was the answer of most ancient writers; it seems to be the most common answer now. Then the power of Rome checked the outburst of anarchy and lawlessness. It is still the majesty of law, the authority of well ordered governments, that fulfils the same office. The mystery of lawlessness is working now; it has not reached its height, it has not embodied itself in the fearful personality of the man of sin. But it is working; and it is a mystery, the terrible counterpart of the mystery of godliness. There is a mystery in evil, a strange, fearful mystery, dark secrets not yet revealed; a mystery which suggests awful, heart-rending questionings—questionings which can be quieted only in his presence who giveth rest to the troubled, anxious soul. This mystery of lawlessness was working even then in the world which the God of love created; it is working now; but it is held down by the restraining power; it cannot give birth to the man of sin till his time shall come, the time foreordained in the counsels of God. Then the restraining power will be taken out of the way; lawlessness will prevail, and its creature and embodiment, the lawless one, will come.
III. HIS ACTIVITY.
1. It is but for a short time. The Lord Jesus shall destroy him, and that in an instant, when he cometh. He needs only to speak the word of power; the breath of his mouth shall sweep the adversary into that perdition to which he was appointed. The manifestation of his coming, the very sight of the awful Judge, shall slay the wicked one. This must be our consolation when the dark problems of life distress our souls—"the Lord cometh." Then shall come the assured triumph of righteousness, the crowning victory over all the powers of evil.
2. But it is tremendous. As God is revealed in Christ, so is Satan revealed in the man of sin, the antichrist. The "miracles and wonders and signs" (Acts 2:22) which God did by Christ are parodied by the power and signs and wonders which Satan will work through the agency of the man of sin. As Christ's coming is with power, with his mighty angels in:flaming fire, so is the coming of the lawless one with all power according to the working of Satan. As God worketh in his saints both to will and to do of his good pleasure, so Satan worketh in this his representative with all the awful energy of diabolical wickedness. The antichrist, says Bengel, stands in the same relation to Satan as Christ to God. The antichrist will work miracles, but they are by the energy of Satan, wonders of falsehood. They are net mere deceptions, they are real miracles; but they are the works of him who is the father of lies; and they are lies, inasmuch as they are intended to mislead men into worshipping him as God who is the personation of Satan, the liar from the beginning. Lies, too, they are, because they are the signs of a power which is only a miserable imposture, which must soon end in death and ruin. Our Lord has warned us (Matthew 24:24) of false Christs and false prophets whose signs and wonders should be so startling as to deceive, if it were possible, the very elect. The false prophet, the second beast, of the Revelation doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire to come down from heaven, and deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he hath power to do. Then there may be, there will be, false miracles, lying wonders. Miracles alone do not always prove the agency of God, but miracles with holiness, works of faith issuing out of a life filled with the presence of God. The blessed life of Jesus Christ our Lord is a mightier miracle than the physical wonders which he wrought. A life of perfect purity and transcendent holiness in the weakness of human flesh, amid all the temptations of this wicked world, is to us a more convincing proof of the Divine mission of Christ than the signs from heaven would have been which the Jews so often asked for. The Church must expect the coming of lying wonders; she must stand unshaken amid all the developments of Satanic energy. The elect will not be deceived, for they will recognize the notes of antichrist, "all the deceivableness of unrighteousness;" they will remember the warnings of Holy Scripture: "Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God," "He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning."
IV. ITS RESULT.
1. He deceiveth them that dwell on the earth; not the elect—the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God; but those who have not been sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise which is the earnest of our inheritance, the pledge of that seal of the living God which his angel shall one day set upon the foreheads of his chosen. But there are, alas! those that are perishing, who have not passed from death unto life through faith in the Son of God, but still abide in death. Such men the man of sin, the lawless one, deceives and engulfs in his own utter destruction.
2. Their own wilfulness is the cause of their ruin. "God is not willing that any should perish." The true light lighteth every man. It came to them, but they received it not. They received not Christ. He is the Truth, and he is Love. He came into the world that the world through him might be saved. But they received not him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. They had no love for the truth, no desire for it. They were quite indifferent to the truth, though their conscience told them that it was the truth; they were worse than indifferent, they rejected it. They might have been saved; the truth would have made them free. They might have been sanctified through the truth; for the truth of God, received into the heart, hath power to cleanse, to purify, to save the soul. But they loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
3. It ends in judicial blindness. God's Spirit will not always strive with man. In his awful justice he gives over to a reprobate mind those who persevere in disobedience. He sendeth them a strong delusion, a working of error. As virtue is its own reward, so sin is its own punishment. Eternal sin is the fearful end of the obstinate sinner. That hardening of the heart, in which habitual sin must at last result, is ascribed in Holy Scripture sometimes to God, sometimes to the sinner himself, sometimes to the deceitfulness of sin. They are different modes of expressing the same law of God's government. He has so ordered our moral nature, that sin, when it is full grown, bringeth forth death. He lets the rebel have his own will; he leaves him to be "lord of himself, that heritage of woe." The Spirit is withdrawn at last from those who vex, grieve, resist, his gracious influences. But there is something more awful still. Not only did the Spirit of the Lord depart from Saul, but "an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him." God himself sends at the last, in his most awful justice, the strong delusion, the inworking of error. It is the last state, worse than the first; after which comes that dreadful sentence, "It is impossible… to renew them again unto repentance." This thought gives a most terrible significance to every act of wilful, unrepented sin; every such act brings a man nearer (how near he cannot tell) to that most awful state whence there is no repentance. Then comes judicial blindness; the light that was within them becomes darkness. They would not believe the truth of God, now they believe the lie of the man of sin. It is the judgment of God. We see indications of it from time to time in the credulity of unbelief. Men who reject the Bible are sometimes ready to believe anything except the Bible; they will greedily accept any legend, any scientific hypothesis, though evidently not more than a provisional hypothesis, which seems to contradict the Bible; they will deify humanity, they will worship the idol which is the creature of their own thoughts rather than the living God. This unbelief sprang out of sin; they "had pleasure in unrighteousness." There is such a thing as honest doubt; such were the doubts of Asaph, of Thomas. But unbelief in a very large measure comes from moral causes. Sin darkens the heart and the mind; sin always leads to practical, often to intellectual, unbelief. "Every one that doeth evil hateth the light;" he walketh in darkness; he seeth not the coming judgment.
1. Be prepared for times of darkness—they must come; be strong in faith.
2. If unbelief becomes dominant, still believe; God has forewarned us.
3. Anarchy, confusion, leads to the predominance of sin. "Give peace in our time, O Lord."
4. Even miracles may deceive. Christ remaineth faithful; trust always in him.
5. Hate sin with utter hatred; it ends in hardness of heart.—B.C.C.
2 Thessalonians 2:13-53.2.17.—St. Paul's hopes for the Thessalonians.
I. HE THANKS GOD FOR HIS PAST MERCIES SHOWN TO THEM.
1. For their election. He turns front prophecies of coming terrors to thoughts of hope and consolation. He repeats the words of 2 Thessalonians 1:3, "We are bound to give thanks." He felt the greatness of God's mercies to the Thessalonians. Mercies shown to them were shown to him; he so dearly loved them. It was his bounden duty to thank God for them; how much more was it their duty to be thankful for the grace granted to them! God had set his love upon them; God had chosen them from the beginning. This was the source of their blessedness; not any merits, any good deeds, of theirs. All our hopes rest on the electing grace of God. That thought is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons. It was so to the Thessalonian Christians, especially at this time, when awful anticipations of the coming end were casting a dark shadow over them. That election manifests itself in holiness of life. The seal of the Spirit is the earnest, the pledge, of the heavenly inheritance. God's elect must feel within themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their minds to high and heavenly things. The sanctification of the Spirit is the sphere in which the life of election moves and energizes. And with the growth of holiness in the heart faith is ever deepened and strengthened. The working of the Spirit greatly confirms the faith of eternal salvation to be enjoyed through Christ; it convinces the Christian soul with a mighty power, with the certainty of intuition, of the reality of the great truths of the gospel, so that the Christian walks in ever increasing faith, in the power of that victory which overcometh the world.
2. For the hope of glory. God had predestinated the Thessalonians to be conformed to the image of his Son; by the preaching of St. Paul he had called them to that state of salvation. They were living in a present salvation; they were looking forwards to a future glory; their high hope was the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. His glory will be the glory of his saints, for he has given it them (John 17:22). They are heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. All that Christ has is theirs in hope; for Christ himself is theirs, and they are Christ's. The Christian who cherishes this high and blessed hope must live in continual thankfulness.
II. HE URGES THEM TO STEADFASTNESS.
1. In the life of faith. Stand fast, he says; fight the good fight of faith. You must do your part. God has chosen you; he has given you his Spirit; he has called you to salvation. Yet you must work out that salvation. We need not perplex ourselves with the deep mysteries which thought cannot fathom; in practice, the duty of perseverance follows from the electing grace of God. He has chosen you; persevere, for he gives you the power; be steadfast, for you owe a great debt of gratitude to him who has so greatly loved you.
2. In doctrine. Hold the traditions. St. Paul had taught the Thessalonians by word of mouth. We must remember that in all probability not one of our four Gospels was yet written. The Thessalonians knew the history of our Lord's life and death, and the doctrines of the Christian faith, only through the oral teaching of St. Paul. The First Epistle was the only part of the New Testament Scriptures known to them; probably the only part as yet in existence. St. Paul had taught orally for several years before he began to write. Oral teaching was often misunderstood, often forgotten, as this Epistle shows. But the teaching of an apostle, whether by word or by writing, was a precious deposit, for that which he delivered to his converts he had himself received of the Lord. Be it ours to continue steadfast in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship.
III. HE SUMS UP HIS HOPES IN A BENEDICTION.
1. He points them to God. The clause begins in the Greek with the emphatic αὐτός, himself. We must stand fast, we must persevere; but it is he who establishes the hearts of his chosen; he only is our everlasting Strength, the Rock of ages. The apostle in this place, as in 2 Corinthians 13:14, puts the Saviour's name first, because it is by Christ that we have access to the Father. We feel that this order would have been incongruous, impossible, unless Christ were indeed God; we feel that the singular verb could not be used, as it is twice, in verse 17, unless he and the Father were one. God the Father is our Father, St. Paul says emphatically. He loved us; on his fatherly love rests our election, our hope of glory. He has given already to his saints eternal comfort, a comfort independent of the changes and chances of this earthly life—a comfort eternal, for it rests on him who is eternal; and with that comfort which is present, though not temporal, not confined within the limits of time, he has given also a good hope of future glory, the blessed hope of everlasting lifo with God in heaven. And this he has given in grace, in the encompassing atmosphere of his favour, without merit or works of ours.
2. He prays that God's blessing may still rest upon them. He who loved them, and gave them eternal comfort and good hope, will surely comfort and establish them. His first gifts are a pledge of their continuance. He will not leave his work unfinished. His love is like himself, eternal. He can shed that blessed comfort into the heart, the inmost seat of joy and sorrow. When there is hidden comfort there, outward troubles may cause sorrow, but cannot take away the fulness of joy. He can establish our heart; he can give us that established heart, fixed, trusting in the Lord (Psalms 112:7, Psalms 112:8), which the world, the flesh, the devil, cannot shake. Then we shall speak only words of truth and love, and do only works of righteousness and faith through that inner comfort and strength which comes from God alone.
1. In the midst of dangers there is comfort for the saints; they are in the hands of God; God hath chosen them.
2. Look for the evidence of God's election in holiness of life; without holiness we cannot see him.
3. Be steadfast; make your calling and election sure; take heed lest ye fail.
4. Only God can give "eternal comfort." Seek that precious gift of him; it is given to those whom he stablishes in every good word and work.—B.C.C.
HOMILIES BY R. FINLAYSON
2 Thessalonians 2:1-53.2.12.—Antichrist.
I. ERROR REGARDING THE COMING OF CHRIST. "Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him; to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by Epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is now present; let no man beguile you in any wise." The apostle beseeches the Thessalonians as brethren, in the interest of correct views of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is his principal topic in both Epistles. The comforting side of the coming is the gathering together of all believers unto him, never to be followed by a separation, as set forth in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, "Then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them" (the dead in Christ who have been raised) "be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord? By the way in which he introduces this gathering together, it can be seen that it was very attractive to him. It was that in the coming which he especially wished to be conserved. In the beginning of 1 Thessalonians 5:1-52.5.28. the apostle had distinctly taught the uncertainty of the time of the coming. But representations had been made to the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord was actually beginning. Three forms which these representations might take, or, more probably, did take, are specified. There were representations founded upon pretended prophecy. There were also representations founded upon an alleged oral communication of the apostle. There were farther representations founded upon an alleged Epistle of the apostle. The existence and circulation of a fabricated Epistle seem to be hinted at in the words at the close of this Epistle: "The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every Epistle: so I write." If the Thessalonians accepted of these representations, there was danger of their being precipitately shaken from their composure of mind and even thrown into a terrified state, as at sea men are discomposed and even horrified by the bursting of a storm upon them. The apostle, therefore, considered it necessary to write this Epistle, to put them on their guard against their being led away by these representations. Let no man beguile them in these ways, or, making it wider, in any other way.
II. THE ANTICHRISTIAN MANIFESTATION.
1. The coming of Christ to be preceded by apostasy. "For it will not be, except the falling away come first." "Apostasy" (after the Greek) is the more technical word—the apostasy of which the Thessalonians had been told. There is, particularly, meant falling away from the faith of Christ. It is a movement begun by those who have been within the Christian circle, and who, after having been advantaged by Christianity in outward enlightenment and quickening, have ungratefully turned away. Or the movement away from Christ may dishonourably be encouraged by those who still remain within the Christian circle, but have lost faith in the distinctive teachings of Christianity. The name of "apostate" has been given to the Emperor Julian for his signal renunciation of Christianity, but it is a name which belongs to every one who in the struggle of life parts with his early Christian convict, ions, his good traditions. Let us see that we are not, in the smallest degree, contributing to the movement away from Christ.
2. The revelation of the man of sin. "And the man of sin be revealed." It is now an exploded idea that the man of sin means popery. The principal interpreters—Olshausen, Ellicott, Alford, Eadie—hold to the idea of the man of sin being a person. He is supposed to be the last and worst product of the apostasy. He is a caricature of Christ, having a mystery, and revelation, and miracles, and claim of divinity, a coming and preparation, even as Christ has. He is as inclusive of all the bad forms of humanity, as Christ is of all its good forms. It cannot be said of this most unlovely conception that it has the similitude of truth. It cannot be dogmatically laid down as a matter of interpretation that the man of sin is a person, any more than the restrainer is a person. The designation "man of sin" points, in the first place, to sin as the essence of the apostasy. The moving away from Christ is an opposing of the Divine authority. The designation "man of sin" points, in the second place, to sin as working under human (not angelic) conditions, and, taken along with apostasy, points especially to the development of sin in human history. The designation "man of sin" points, in the third place, to this historical development, not as actual, but as idealized. As the language, "O man of God," is a call to consider the true ideal of manhood, so the man of sin may be viewed as the ideal of the development of sin among men. In so far as popery is after this ideal may it be said to be the man of sin. In so far as any of us take after the bad ideal of manhood may it be said to us, "O man of sin!" calling us to consider what we are following after. Let us see that we do not in the least merit the designation. By the revelation of the man of sin is to be understood the bringing out of the real nature of sin. It may put on specious forms, but it is essential vileness; it is uglier than the ugliest of creatures, it is more venomous than the serpent, it is more grovelling than the earthworm, it is blacker than darkness. And in the working of Providence in human history, it is intended that this should be, with accumulating evidence and unmistakably, brought out. And we are here taught that there cannot be the revelation of Christ at his coming until all that is evil in sin has been brought out.
3. The son of perdition. "The son of perdition." The common Hebrew form is followed. Sprung from perdition, he has perdition as his destiny. The designation marks the result of the movement away from Christ. Every such movement must prove in the end abortive. How many of those movements that once had vitality in them have already ended in perdition! The designation was given by our Lord to Judas Iscariot: "And none of them is lost, but the son of perdition." And it is certainly not to be wondered at that he whose apostasy was aggravated by the proximity in which he stood to Christ should strikingly be shown in his suicidal end to be the son of perdition. In so far as any of us are moving away from Christ we are placing our paternity in perdition, and are working out perdition as our destiny. Let us, then, be warned by what will yet be seen to come out of sin.
4. The opposer of Christ. "He that opposeth." It is not said, "He that opposeth Christ," but, from the way in which Christian thought is interwoven with the whole paragraph, we may understand that to be the meaning. We may, therefore, regard the movement as described by the designation "antichrist" with which John supplies us. As it is in its origin a movement away from Christ, so it comes to have the character of being directed against Christ. It is a movement in which advantages gained from Christ are unworthily used against him. As it is the object of God in the Church to put forward Christ for the acceptance of men, so it is the object of antichrist to draw away men from Christ. Popery is antichrist in so far as it does not give Christ and his words and his death their proper place in Christian belief and life. It may be said of us that we are antichrist in so far as we do not yield ourselves up to Christ, and do not to our utmost ability help forward the cause of Christ. "He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad."
5. The deeper of self. "And exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God." There is strong confirmation here of the doctrine of Muller, that all sin is of the nature of selfishness. Antichrist is selfishness rising to the impious height of self-deification. He raises himself above and against him who is truly called God, without thereby falling into idolatry; for he also raises himself above and against those that have only the name of gods, and, it is added (going beyond the actually named), above and against all that can be turned into an object of worship. He does not, therefore, shut out the sacred sphere; rather does he fill it with himself. He is the centre of all wisdom, power, and glory for which worship is due. The startling language is that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God. There is supposed to be meant a session in the actual temple in Jerusalem by those who, laying undue stress upon the language here, regard the paragraph as having already received its fulfilment. But there is reference to the actual temple only by way of illustration. As God was represented as sitting between the cherubim, requiring the adoration of all Israelites (as he was the object of adoration to the highest intelligences), so antichrist entertains the thought of divinity and strictly requires adoration. While in Christ's consciousness of divinity there was the element of infinite self-sacrifice, in antichrist's presumptuous thought of divinity there is only the element of utter selfishness. We are not to think here merely of him who sits in the Church and arrogantly wields spiritual power. Rather are we to see the tendency of the whole movement away from Christ. This is how it aims at expressing itself. This is the dreadful interpretation of what it would be at. And it is true of us all, in so far as we are selfish, that we are aiming at making a temple for ourselves in which to sit down and to require adoration. As we in our present state of feeling can only recoil from such self-deification, let us beware of that selfishness which is at the heart of sin.
6. The Thessalonians reminded of former teachings on the above points. "Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?" In his teachings on the coming he was not corrected or supplemented by recent revelation. He had occupied the same position from the beginning; such is undoubtedly his own contention, and is against the contention of some who attribute to him that he believed that he would live to see the coming. He reminds the Thessalonians here, not without some measure of blame, that when he was with them (and he singles out himself in making this statement) he told them some things which he was now putting down in his letter.
III. THE RESTRAINING POWER.
1. What restrains the antichristian manifestation. "And now ye know that which restraineth, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season." This was another point on which he had given them information. It is left indefinite what the restraining power is. The prevailing opinion, as expressed by Ellicott, is "well-ordered human rule, the principles of legality as opposed to those of lawlessness—of which the Roman empire was the then embodiment and manifestation." It is true that civil rule keeps back many of the manifestations of evil. The civil ruler is a terror to evil doers. If men were allowed to give vent to their evil passions without dread of punishment, this world would be a pandemonium. But, at the same time, it is true that the worst manifestations of evil, of proud defiance of God, of bitter rancour against Christ (which are chiefly to be thought of in connection with the anti-christian movement), are those with which the civil magistrate has little to do. The condition upon which these manifestations depend is rather the increased setting forth of Christ. There is a manifestation of good going forward, as well as a manifestation of evil. It must yet be shown in human history that there is an essential loveliness belonging to the Christian life. Many Scriptures promise a period of conquest for the Church. When the Church extends its conquests there will be a solidarity of influence on the side of Christ of which no adequate conception can now be formed. The result of that wilt be, among those who participate in the antichristian movement, deepened hatred against Christ. As when he conquered on the cross there was a calling forth against him of the worst elements especially of superhuman evil, so when he advances to conquest in human history there will be a similar calling forth of the worst elements especially of human evil. The time when evil is thus powerfully to be revealed has been fixed by God. It may be said that the apostle should, according to the interpretation, have regarded the Christian manifestation as coming to a head. But it was open to him to regard it under a special aspect as that which in its yet partial character held back the full manifestation of antichrist.
2. The present working of the mystery of lawlessness. "For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work." "Lawlessness," which corresponds to "sin," formerly used, is not to be taken as favouring the view that the restraining power is human rule. It points to the antichristian movement as characterized by a disposition to cast off all authority, especially the highest authority. The stress is to be laid on "mystery." Evil was then working, and in working was revealing itself, but its true nature as opposition to Christ was largely concealed, was only very partially revealed. A lurid light was thrown upon it by the ten great persecutions which, under the Roman emperors, were directed against Christianity. Light is thrown upon it by the attacks which in the present day are made upon Christianity. But it would seem that we have not seen all that is in it of opposition to Christ. The mystery of lawlessness still works.
3. The removal of the restrainer. "Only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming." Ellicott regards the use of the masculine gender as a realistic touch, by which what was previously expressed by the more abstract "restraining power" is now represented as concrete and personified. It is strange how this should not be regarded as applying also to the "lawless one" to whom the restrainer is here opposed. If the restrainer is human rule, then his removal must mean the upturning (apparently general) of human rule. And that is what is contemplated by some as the conclusion to human history. But the restrainer being "Christianity not come to the season of its full manifestation," his removal must mean the arrival of that season. When Christianity, working among the multitudes of men, brings its full influence to bear on the antichristian movement, in what it calls forth of opposition, that movement will come to the completeness of its exposure. And antichrist, thus morally defeated, eternally disproved, will have taken away from it its sphere of operation. It will be slain with the breath of Christ's mouth, and brought to nought by the manifestation of his coming.
IV. THE LYING CHARACTER OF THE ANTICHRISTIAN MOVEMENT.
1. Lies of Satan. "Even he, whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders." As Satan is a liar and the father of lies, so the antichristian movement which he inspires is characterized by lying. As Christ has power and signs and wonders of truth, so the antichristian movement has power and signs and wonders of lying. It is remarkable that the Church of Rome puts forward a claim of miracle working, which helps it to preserve its influence over minds, but which it cannot establish. The power and signs and wonders by which men are apt to be deluded now are more of an intellectual nature. It is objected to Christianity that the miracles with which it is bound up are shown by science to be impossible, it is objected that it presents too severe a view of our human condition, in representing us as standing in need of salvation. It is objected that it presents too severe a view of the character of God, in representing him as punishing sin in Christ. It is objected that it presents too severe a view of human duty, in calling upon us to forsake all and follow Christ. When these objections are powerfully presented, and so as to have the appearance of saving the character of God from aspersions, there may be the effect, which false miracles have often had, of men being deluded.
2. Lies of Satan leading to unrighteousness. "With all deceit of unrighteousness." When men entertain false views, especially of the character of God, there is an easy transition to unrighteousness. There are many ways in which they can persuade themselves, that they may exercise liberty in their manner of living. They do not need to pray to God; they do not need to read God's Book; they do not need to keep God's day; they do not need to be strictly honourable in their transactions; they do not need to make sacrifices for others. It is enough that they keep up an appearance of probity and purity, and, it may be, of religion, before men. They can leave all their failings to the general mercy of God.
3. Unrighteousness leading to destruction. "For them that are perishing. From unrighteousness there is a necessary, though, it may not be, an immediate, transition to destruction. When men do not observe the rules which are laid down for them by God, they are contending with God, and, contending with God, they cannot in the end succeed; for God is stronger than they. There were those who were perishing in their unrighteousness in Paul's day. And there are still those who seem to be perishing in their unrighteousness.
4. The just dealing of God.
(1) What those who are in the antichristian movement reject. "Because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved." The apostle holds that it was their own fault if they were perishing. And, in doing so, he brings forward very precious truth. God has in view our salvation, he willeth that all men should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. For this end he makes us the offer, not of the truth, but of the disposition which is necessary for finding it—the love of the truth. Of all dispositions it is that which is most needed to begin with. It is that which is needed against the deceitfulness of the heart. It is that which is needed against the delusive lies of Satan. If we accept of the love of the truth, if we have the disposition to know the truth about ourselves, and to follow the Divine leading—and God promises us this disposition—then we shall certainly be led unto salvation. But if we do not accept of the love of the truth, if we have the disposition to flatter ourselves, and to follow some ignis fatuus of our own imagination—and that is only too natural to us—we shall as certainly be led on to destruction.
(2) What they induce. "And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie: that they. all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in righteousness." Receiving not the truth, it was not with them as though the oiler had not been made to them. There was induced a state of judicial blindness. As it was induced in connection with the Divine offer which was refused, and in accordance with the Divine laws in their nature, it could be attributed to God. It could be said that God sent them a working of error, that they should believe a lie. Christianity is the most reasonable, most beautiful thing in existence. But when men are in a state of judicial blindness, they do not see its reasonableness and beauty; they believe men who lie about it, and treat it with indifference, or disdain, or hatred. This can only lead on to their being judged and condemned, the ground of their condemnation being their not believing the truth especially about Christ, but taking pleasure in unrighteousness. Let us see, then, that we accept the great offer from God of veracity, of love for the truth. Let us be willing to take a truthful view of things; not taking darkness for light, and evil for good. Let us be willing to follow the Divine leading. Let us especially be open toward Christ—toward the efficacy of his blood, toward the convincing power of his teachings, toward the enjoyment of his fellowship. And, if the antichristian manifestation goes forward around us, let us be all the more decided on the side of Christ.—R.F.
2 Thessalonians 2:13-53.2.17.—Exhortation to steadfastness.
I. HOW GROUNDED.
1. The election of the Thessalonians. "But we are bound to give thanks to God alway for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, for that God chose you from the beginning unto salvation." This is another overflowing of gratitude for the Thessalonians, who are described not, as in 1 Thessalonians 1:4, as "brethren beloved of God," but as "brethren beloved of the Lord," i.e. sharing with Paul and his colleagues in the special love and care of him who presides over the brotherhood. There is the same inward binding that there was before (2 Thessalonians 1:3) to give thanks to God, and to give thanks to God alway. What gave perpetual matter of thanksgiving, as in 1 Thessalonians 1:4, was the election of the Thessalonians. There is not brought in here, as there is there, their being chosen out of a condition of sin, but it is implied in their being chosen unto a condition of salvation. They had been chosen from the beginning, i.e. from eternity. When God contemplated the creation of a race of men, and contemplated at the same time the incursion of evil into human nature and human history, he also contemplated human salvation. It was also within the Divine plan (going out into all particulars) that the Thessalonians among others should be saved.
2. Means of the realization of their election.
(1) Inward means.
(a) From the Spirit. "In sanctification of the Spirit." Precedence is naturally given to the work of the Spirit. For we must feel that, if God had not approached us first, we never should have approached him. The work of the Spirit, from beginning to end, is a work of sanctification. It is a saving work, inasmuch as it is the reclamation of our nature from unholy uses. On the positive side it is the fitting our nature for Divine uses. As the Spirit is the Agent of our sanctification, his all-sufficient help must be entirely depended upon.
(b) From themselves. "And belief of the truth." In election we are responsible for our state of mind. The Spirit works on our mind through the truth. We may think of the truth that God has provided salvation for us. We may also think of the truth that God (according to 1 Thessalonians 1:10) has made us the offer of the love of the truth. We may further think of the Divine ideal to which our life is to be brought up. The Spirit has sovereign power in the presentation of truth to the mind; and what we have to do is to be receptive, to offer no obstacle to his presentation of the truth. And we are sanctified only in so far as we have received the truth into us.
(2) Outward means. "Whereunto he called you through our gospel." The gospel is especially the offer of salvation on the ground of Christ's death. It was their gospel, as that in connection with which they served God. There was Divine sovereignty in the Thessalonians being favoured with the gospel. It was by circumstances over which they had no control that Paul and Silas and Timothy were sent to Thessalonica. These servants of Christ stood forward and preached the gospel to them, and it was when they received it as a message from God that they were called to salvation. From that point their calling dated. There is added the outward aspect of the salvation to which they were called. "To the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." This is characteristic of the Epistle. The glory to which we are called is the glory which is possessed by Christ, and which he, as sovereign Dispenser, is to make our possession. We are to be glorified with nothing less than the glory of Christ. It will be seen that God, in electing, has in contemplation all the means of the election being realized. We may assure ourselves of belonging to the number of the elect, in so far as we have evidence of our election in our sanctification.
II. HOW PUT. "So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or Epistle of ours." Election contemplating the means of its realization in faith, it is not improper to found upon election an exhortation to steadfastness. They had taken up their Christian position. Attempts would be made in the way of persecution to move them away from their position. The ill-grounded expectation of the immediate coming was fraught with perils to them. It was already having a bad effect upon some in making them idle. It would be trying, to think that it was well grounded and not to have it realized. It would even be trying, to know that it was ill grounded and to have to give it up. There would be danger of religious excitement being followed by reaction. Let them beware, then, of apostatizing; let them stand fast. The way in which they were to stand fast was by holding fast the traditions. By the "traditions" we are to understand the truths handed to men. For instance, there was the revelation which was necessary for the stablishing of the Thessalonians, that there was to be an apostasy before the coming of Christ. In the traditions they had been instructed both orally and by writing. We are limited to the latter mode of instruction. What are known as ecclesiastical traditions have not independent authority, but have to be tested by the written Word. All our oral instruction has to be founded upon the written Word. By being in writing, the truths handed to us are preserved from corruption. We know that we have them in the form in which God wishes us to have them. It is difficult to escape the influence of traditional interpretation. Yet there is always the opportunity of a true interpretation, while we have the text as it was left by inspired men. The written Word is one of the great boons conferred on men. It is a great advantage to a child that he has not everything to learn for himself, but has the benefit of the experience of his parents.
So it is a great advantage to us, that we are not left to our own childish and foolish thoughts, but that we have the written instructions of our heavenly Father. It is by holding to these written instructions, as an unchanging element in the midst of all the tests to which we are subjected, in the midst of all the temptations to which we are exposed, that we shall be enabled valiantly to maintain our Christian position.
III. HOW FOLLOWED UP. Invocation of the Divine blessing.
1. How God is invoked.
(1) In the Second Person. "Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself." From evangelical activity there is a rise first to the Mediator and lordly Dispenser of blessings in the Church. After the preachers have done their best for the Thessalonians, they have the painful consciousness left that they are impotent in themselves. At Corinth Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So Paul and Silas and Timothy, feeling that they, in speaking and writing to the Thessalonians, were only held by him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, implore his help to make their activity successful. "Our Lord Jesus Christ himself accomplish what we are aiming at for them. Let his almighty efficacy be communicated through our feeble instrumentality." If we would do any good to any in whom we are interested, Christ must do it for us. His high priestly service must be recognized by us. Therefore let us ever rise above our mere wishing and striving for others to him who can make our wishing and striving effectual.
(2) In the First Person.
(a) His fatherhood. "And God our Father." From evangelical activity there is a rise, through the Mediator, to him who is the Final Reason and Contriver of redemption. We have some influence with God when we can call him our Father. We naturally expect to have more influence with a friend than with a stranger. We can appeal to him as a friend. We can, if need be, intercede on the score of friendship and long acquaintance. So we can appeal to God as our Father, to bless not only ourselves but others. And, should every other appeal fail, surely this shall not fail. When the cry comes up on behalf of his needy children, "Our Father, wilt thou not bless?" surely he will not turn away his ear.
(b) Wherein it was manifested. "Which loved us." This is timed in the past, and calls up the great act of love—the gift of the Son. Our Father, who gave his Son for us. We can behold in this how God can love. Some would represent it as very unfatherly. But, apart from the Son's unforced consent, there is this consideration, that, where there is true fatherly feeling, it is not more easy to sacrifice a son than to sacrifice one's self. David felt this when he uttered his lamentation over Absalom: "Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!" We must hold that, loving the Son infinitely, the Father could as well have sacrificed himself as his Son. The marvel and mystery is, that, loving his Son infinitely, he could be moved to sacrifice him for us his undeserving creatures. But surely by this act of devotion the love of God for us is placed forever beyond all doubt. In presence of the cross, to doubt, or to act as though we doubted, that God loves us, is doing him the most glaring injustice.
(c) What it obtained for us. "And gave us eternal comfort." There is no hiding it, that it is comfort that we all need. There is an evil heart, to keep us from being happy. It gives rise to slavish fear of God and forebodings of judgment. There is also an evil world, which alone is sufficient to keep us from being perfectly happy. It is an evil world, where there is exposure to poverty, to sickness, to bereavement, to death. It is an evil world, where, with sensitive spirits, we have to look forth on so much sin and wretchedness. Where, then, is the comfort? There is no real comfort for a guilty conscience in ignorance or distraction. It is unsubstantial comfort, to know that our suffering is common. There is some substantial comfort in the sympathy of our fellow men, but it is variable. We may not find friends all that we would desire them to be to us. Those by whom we are most comforted may be taken away, and we have to be comforted for their loss. But there is comfort provided by eternal love, and comfort that is eternal in its nature. There is comfort in knowing that our great Substitute has made full satisfaction for our sin. There is comfort in knowing that we are clasped to the heart of the everlasting Father. That is comfort which is neither deceitful nor fleeting. It is sufficient for us amid all the cares of life. It is independent of all contingencies. "And good hope." Comfort refers to time present; hope refers to time future. Beyond all that we have of good and of comfort under evil, there is hope. And what is this hope? It is the hope of our real joys being perfected, of our being delivered from the plague of an evil heart and the burden of an evil world, of our being placed where there will be no more need of comfort—in the presence of the eternal Love. It is also a good hope, in its being well founded—not founded on our own thoughts, but founded on the character and work and promise of God. It is a hope which is even now good in its cheering influence upon our hearts.
(d) Obtained without deserving of ours. "Through grace." The comfort is not self-created; we have had nothing to do with the procuring of it. But, seeing it has been graciously provided for us by eternal Love, we have good reason for taking it in the whole benefit into our hearts. The hope is one which we could not have dared to cherish of ourselves. It is far beyond anything that we could have thought of. But we cannot limit the grace of God. If it is his good pleasure to give us this hope, we have good reason for cherishing it.
2. For what end God is invoked.
(1) To bless the Thessalonians with comfort. "Comfort your hearts." There is another incidental proof here of the Divinity of our Lord in the use of a singular verb, while both our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father are the subject. The hearts of the Thessalonians were full of hopes and fears in view of the coming which was thought to be imminent; comfort is, therefore, invoked for their hearts. It cannot but be congenial to God to comfort the Church. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins." Having provided the comfort in Christ, he must best know how, through Christ, to apply it to our need.
(2) To bless them also with stability. "And stablish them." Comfort is invoked partly with a view to stability. When we are uncomforted we are unstable as water. Our energies are relaxed, and we are unfitted for our work. Sorrow is weakness, but comfort is strength. Double sphere in which stability is invoked for them.
(a) Work. "In every good work." It was not unnecessary that they should be reminded that they were called to work, even to work with their hands. God grant them all the good elements which belong to work. Let the simplest work be done honestly. Let not their works "with self be soiled." Let them be done unto the glory of God. In these, and in all the elements of good work, let them be confirmed.
(b) Word. "And word." Good speaking is even more difficult than good acting. "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man." God grant them all the good elements which belong to speaking. Let every word be characterized by truthfulness. Let it also have fitness; for "a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver." Let it also have wholesomeness, and not be like bad fruit. Let it breathe kindliness. Let it breathe loyalty to Christ. In these, and in all the elements of good speaking, let them be confirmed.—R.F.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2 Thessalonians 2:2.—A great delusion.
One object, perhaps the principal object, of this Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, following as it does so closely upon the First Epistle, is to correct a disturbing error that was obtaining some considerable footing among the Macedonian Christians.
I. THE GREAT DELUSION. The First Epistle contains repeated references to an expectation of the second advent of Christ which was evidently very strong in the Thessalonian Church. The wish is father to the thought. From expecting "the day of the Lord" to arrive at any moment, some had been led, on most insufficient evidence, to ask whether it had not already come. The great delusion was that "the day of the Lord is now present." It is not likely that any supposed Christ to have come, though in an invisible way, and in a different manner from which it was expected, or that they thought be might have come to another place, unseen and unknown to the Churches of northern Greece. What they were inclined to think seems to have been that the new era in which Christ was to appear had already dawned, though he himself had not yet come. Similar is the delusion of any who suppose that the day of grace is over and the time of judgment come, or that of those who think they have got into a new dispensation beyond the dispensation of the New Testament.
II. THE SOURCES OF THE DELUSION.
1. Latter day prophecy. The expression "either by spirit" seems to refer to the supposed inspiration of Christian prophets. St. Paul had previously warned his friends to prove all things, while not quenching the Spirit by despising prophesyings (1 Thessalonians 5:19-52.5.21). We must beware of self-deluded fanatics as well as of deliberate deceivers.
2. False apostolical tradition. "By word" probably means by reported word of St. Paul, which word, however, never really came from him. Thus early were false traditions afloat. See the mistaken tradition about St. John (John 21:23). If these erroneous traditions were current during the lifetime of the apostles, how can we accept so called "apostolic tradition" as an authority?
3. A forged Epistle. The mistake could scarcely have arisen from our First Epistle to the Thessalonians, since that Epistle referred to the great day as future, while the error made it present. It is important to ascertain the authenticity of the books of Scripture.
III. THE DANGER OF THE DELUSION. St. Paul warns against it as something to be carefully avoided. Many evils attached to it.
1. Erroneous views. These are bad in themselves, as true views are desirable on their own account. The soul suffers for want of truth as the body for want of light.
2. Dishonouring conceptions of the seceded advent. If the day were already come, where was the glory, the judgment, the rectification of all things? False doctrines dishonour Christ even when they are meant to glorify him.
3. Confusion of conduct. Such a delusion as that which was creeping into the Thessalonian Church would disarrange all practical life. Delusions about the second advent distract attention from sober Christian work.
IV. THE WARNING AGAINST THE DELUSION.
1. Form no hasty opinion. "Be not quickly shaken," etc. Specious arguments should be examined at leisure before they are adopted.
2. Do act permit novel teaching to give distress. If the heart is well settled in Christian truth, though the mind should be open to receive new light, no distress or disturbance need be felt.
3. Beware of deception. "Let no man beguile you." Christians should be watchful and "wise as serpents," each having his own independent convictions.—W.F.A.
2 Thessalonians 2:3.—The man of sin.
The man of sin and his awful character and career, here described by St. Paul, are subjects of such deep and dreadful mystery, that we may well take warning from the intricate confusion of the interpretations put forth by those people who profess to expound the fulfilment of prophecy, and content ourselves with accepting the prediction as it stands without attempting to identify it with particular historical events. Though some of its terms apply well to certain explanations, and others to different explanations, no explanation has yet been furnished which fairly and without any straining of words covers the whole of them. From Nero to the pope, from the days of the siege of Jerusalem to those of the yet future millennium, certain odious persons and systems have been selected for a realization of the prophecy. Leaving these dubious identifications, let us look at the main outlines of the picture.
I. THERE IS A MAN OF SIN. Whether he lived in the past or has yet to appear, a man to whom this awful name belongs is described in inspired Scripture. The Bible does not ignore the awful depths of human wickedness. It is dreadfully significant that this evil being is a man, not a devil. Humanity, which was created in the image of God and intended to be a temple of God, may be degraded into the image of Satan and become a haunt of iniquity. As good works through human sympathies, so does evil. A bad man is more dangerous than a fallen angel, because he is nearer to his fellow men.
II. THE MAN OF SIN FOLLOWS AN APOSTASY.
1. Spiritual apostasy leads a man to moral corruption. The man who has forsaken Christ is tempted to fall into gross sin. Faith is the great preservative of morals.
2. Apostasy lays the Church open to attacks from her enemies. The "man of sin" could not arise before the Church had fallen, nor if he had appeared could he have had any power against a faithful Church.
III. THE MAN OF SIN PRECEDES THE SECOND ADVENT OF CHRIST. It was a mistake on the part of the Thessalonian Church to suppose that "the day of the Lord" had arrived, because the dreadful appearance of the man of sin which was to precede that day had not yet been seen. St. Paul warns us that apostasy and the frightful life of this wicked man—whoever he may be—must come before Christ returns. He does not encourage us to look for a gradual, unbroken progress of Christianity. The growth of the harvest fruit is arrested and delayed by frost and storm. Christ even wondered whether he should find any faith left on the earth at his return (Luke 18:8). The glorious consummation of all things to which the Christian looks forward is not to be expected as the result of quiet improvement without relapse. Between the present and that "great Divine event" dark chasms of iniquity yawn. Every age has thought it could detect signs of this evil in its midst. So the unbelief and corruptions of our own day are taken by some to be "signs." Unhappily the language of the apostle warns us to expect more terribly demonstrative signs than any yet seen.
IV. THE APPEARANCE OF THE MAN OF SIN IS A SGN OF THE APPROACHING ADVENT OF CHRIST. Here is some encouragement for the Church to endure the trials of the darkest times. These times are to usher in the great and glorious day of the Lord. Evil, when most triumphant, is nearest defeat. Dreadful as may be its transient success, it will soon be swept away. When the horror of sin is blackest, the judgment which is to sweep it away is nearest at hand. Christ will come again when he will be most needed.—W.F.A.
2 Thessalonians 2:7, 2 Thessalonians 2:8.—The mystery of lawlessness.
The exact, objective application of this prediction, like that of the preceding description, is not easy to discover. But principles are involved which are susceptible of general application.
I. THERE IS A MYSTERY OF LAWLESSNESS. By this expression the apostle probably means a mystery the character of which is lawless.
1. We may expect to meet with new mysteries. While time and inquiry resolve some mysteries, they bring upon us fresh ones. We are not to expect to be able to understand all the forces and influences with which we are surrounded. It is enough that we are in the hands of God who knows all, and trusting in Christ who can lead us safely through the darkness.
2. New mysteries may be characterized by new lawlessness. The answer to our inquiries may be very unsatisfactory in revealing only evil. There are strange novelties which are obscure in all points but their moral character, and that is plainly evil. If so, we may hope for no good from them, and need not further interest ourselves in them.
3. All lawlessness is mysterious. How did it originate? How is its existence possible? Why does not God sweep it away? These questions have perplexed men in all ages. We bow before them in helpless, pained wonder.
II. THERE IS A RESTRAINT ON THE MYSTERY OF LAWLESSNESS.
1. Its full power is not yet revealed. There are those who treat all sin with unbecoming levity, because they do not yet see its terrible fruits. They are playing with a torpid adder, that may awake at any moment and inflict a fatal wound. No one knows what hidden possibilities of harm lurk in the deep caverns of undeveloped sin. There are volcanoes in the hearts of some quiet men which may burst into destructive fires.
2. Human means may be used to restrain the mystery of lawlessness. Government, law, society, healthy habits of the majority, keep it down for a time.
3. God holds the mystery of lawlessness in check. He is supreme over its wildest raging. "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh." God restrains the superabundant wrath of man (Psalms 76:10).
III. THE HIDDEN MYSTERY OF LAWLESSNESS WILL BE REVEALED. The volcano must break into eruption some day. Evil cannot slumber forever. Hypocrisy will tire of its meek, innocent demeanour. The harvest of sin will have to be reaped. Let not any man put his confidence in the secretness or slowness of the processes of evil. The more they are hidden now, the worse will be the appalling outburst of them when the restraint under which they groan at present is released. The longer the wild horses are held in by the leash, the fiercer will be their mad gallop when they break loose.
IV. CHRIST WILL CONQUER THE MYSTERY OF LAWLESSNESS. Evil will not long be rampant. One fearful rebellion and then a tremendous defeat.
1. Christ is to be the Conqueror of it. He came to destroy the works of the devil. We could not effect this great work. He, our Saviour, does it for us.
2. Christ is to come again for this object. When the mystery is revealed, Christ's "manifestation" follows.
3. Christ conquers with a breath. His first work was difficult, involving his death. His last work will be divinely simple, and yet sublimely successful.—W.F.A.
2 Thessalonians 2:10-53.2.12.—The love of the truth.
The reason for the doom of those who are to be destroyed at the second coming of Christ here given, is that they do not receive the love of the truth.
I. GOD EXPECTS US TO RECEIVE THE LOVE OF THE TRUTH.
1. Truth is good in itself. Truth is to the soul what light is to the body. It is natural for men to love the day, unnatural for them to shun it. In a right and healthy state we should love truth simply as truth, whatever else it be.
2. Christian truth is peculiarly attractive. Scientific truth is beautiful, philosophic truth is valuable; but the truth of the gospel has far deeper attractions, because it contains revelation of the love and fatherhood of God, of the grace and goodness of Christ, of the redemption of the world, of the way of salvation, of the heavenly rest, etc.
3. Truth should be welcomed with love. We cannot accept it to any advantage until we love it; for
(1) love opens our eyes to a sympathetic understanding of it, and
(2) love saves us from a cold, barren acceptance of it, and helps us to receive it profitably.
II. IT IS AN EVIL HEART THAT PREVENTS MEN FROM RECEIVING THE LOVE OF THE TRUTH. St. Paul traces back the bad condition of those who reject the love of the truth to the fact that they "had pleasure in unrighteousness." The pleasures of sin cannot exist side by side with the love of the truth. Evil hates the light (John 3:19). Moral corruption has no sympathy for the lofty thirst for truth of a pure soul. Hence it may be concluded that indifference to truth is a sign of moral evil. The corrupt life is a false life, and its departure from truth reveals the baseness of the character beneath. This is why the rejection of the truth is culpable. Intellectual doubt is of quite a different character. Indeed, it often arises from genuine love of truth, while self-satisfied orthodoxy is often quite indifferent to verifiable facts, preferring respectable error to painful truth.
III. THE PENALTY OF REJECTING THE LOVE OF THE TRUTH IS INCAPACITY TO KNOW TRUTH FROM ERROR. God punishes men in this condition by sending "them a working of error, that they should believe a lie." This is an awful fate. Truth is too precious a pearl to be cast before swine. They who do not love it shall not have it. Liars become incapable of knowing truth. The habit of indifference to truth so grows upon some people that the whole idea of truth becomes obscure and meaningless to them, and they ask with Pilate, half bewildered, half scornful, "What is truth?" Is not this a veritable destruction—the spiritual eye blinded and burnt out by the fires of falsehood and unrighteousness; the highest intellectual faculty, that of grasping truth, killed by corruption and falsehood? God save us all from this hideous doom!—W.F. A,
2 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Thessalonians 2:14.—The Divine work of salvation.
We are to be thankful to God for the happy spiritual prospects of our fellow Christians, because they all spring from his good purpose and work. The most striking characteristic of the description before us is its attributing the whole process from beginning to end to the will and action of God.
I. THE BEGINNING.
1. An initial Divine choice. This dates back to the dim ages of an awful antiquity. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. In the beginning was the Word. In the beginning God chose his people for himself. Salvation is no after thought coming in to redeem the failure of creation. It was all planned from the first. When God made man he foresaw sin and determined on redemption. Each one of us is thought of by God from the first. We come into the world to fulfil vocations which God designed for us when he first planned the universe.
2. A present Divine call. The choice would be of no use if it were not made known to us. But when the time for executing God's great design has arrived, he makes it sufficiently known for us to be able to follow it. He calls by the preaching of the gospel. The gospel, then, is an invitation. It is good news, but only for those who will accept the invitation. This new gospel came to bid men fulfil an ancient destiny. The latest work accomplishes the oldest thought of God.
II. THE PROCESS.
1. Sanctification of the Spirit. This is the Divine side of the process. Prior to it is the great atoning work of Christ. But that work is done for us that we may receive the Spirit of God as its fruit. Now we are looking at the work of God in us. God purifies and consecrates his people by an inspiration of his own Spirit. No safety is possible to the guilty, no glory to the unholy. The cleansing process must come before the great end can be reached.
2. Belief of the truth. This is our side of the process. It is useless for us to wait for our sanctification and for the baptism of the Holy Spirit which is to produce it. It will not come without our active reception of it. There is no magic about the process of the descent of the Holy Ghost. It comes on certain conditions being fulfilled by us.
(1) Truth is the vehicle that conveys it into our hearts.
(2) Faith is the door in our hearts that opens to receive it.
III. THE END.
1. Salvation. Take this word in the largest, roundest sense, as deliverance from all evil. It is painfully true that in our greatest joy and thankfulness we have to recollect that at best we are plucked as brands from the burning. No blessing can be enjoyed till the awful ruin into which our souls were all of them sinking through our great and dreadful sin has been stayed.
2. Glory. Salvation is the beginning of God's work in us; glory is the completion of it. We can have no glory while we are in the mire of sin and wretchedness. But when we are delivered, God will not leave us like drowning men on a barren rock, saved from present destruction indeed, but with dreary future prospects. He will not have ended his work with us till he has exalted us into the region of his own glory.—W.F.A.
2 Thessalonians 2:16, 2 Thessalonians 2:17.—A benediction.
I. THE SOURCES OF THE BENEDICTION. A true benediction is more than an expression of good wishes. It is a prayer by one who has especial weight in intercession, although it is expressed to the person for whom it is offered. The benediction of so great and good a man as St. Paul is of great value, because the "effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." But the blessings desired by the apostle are not given by him any more than the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to their children were given by the patriarchs. The sources of the blessings of a benediction are not human nor earthly at all. Here they are declared.
1. The personal influence of Jesus Christ. This is strikingly expressed by the reference to "our Lord Jesus Christ himself." His brotherhood and his love lead him to bless us. His Divinity, his goodness, and his sacrifice give him authority in heaven. In his own right he blesses. And he does not delegate the blessing. He confers it himself.
2. The fatherhood of God. Because God is "our Father" we may expect blessings from him. Fears and doubts arise from partial views of God, and views which leave out of account his great fatherly nature. He does not bless as a Master paying wages, but as a Father dealing affectionately with his children.
II. THE ASSURANCES OF THE BENEDICTION. Grounds for believing that God will give the blessing are given for the encouragement of faith.
1. Love in the past. He has revealed his character by his providence, and he has proved in this way that he loves his children. But a parent's love is distinguished from all other kinds of love by its permanence. If God ever did love, he still loves.
2. Eternal comfort. This we have now in the peace of forgiveness and the rest of faith. The peace is such that the world can neither give nor take away. The rest is beneath the shadow of a great rock that outlasts even the seemingly everlasting hills.
3. Hope for the future. God has uttered promises and encouraged hopes. We cannot believe that he will mock the expectations which he has raised.
III. THE OBJECTS OF THE BENEDICTION.
1. Heart comfort. We have eternal comfort; nevertheless we need more comfort. No soul is yet perfectly at rest. Sorrow distresses the most trustful.
(1) Observe the breadth of the Divine comfort. We may have it in some departments of life and yet miss it in others. The Greek word paraklesis has a wider, fuller meaning than our word "comfort." It stands for all help, and help in every direction is what our souls need.
(2) Note the home of the Divine confront. It is to be in our hearts. Comfort anywhere else is vain. Comfortable houses, clothes, etc., leave the deepest trouble untouched. The heart may be on a rack when the body is on a downy couch. God's comfort reaches the heart.
2. Stability in work and word. We must not stop at comfort. We are consoled in distress that we may be free and strong and glad for service.
(1) The service must come from the heart. "The heart" is to be stablished for service.
(2) It must be various and complete—"every good work."
(3) It must extend to speech—"and word." The Scriptures lay great stress on a right use of speech.
(4) It must be steadfast. This is the end of the benediction. Eternal comfort must be balanced by steadfast faithfulness.—W.F.A.
EXCURSUS ON THE MAN OF SIN
THIS is one of the most remarkable prophecies in the New Testament. It occurs in the writings of St. Paul, whose practical mind constituted him rather the preacher of the present than the prophet of the future. There is an obscurity in the language which, as already observed, could not have been so great to those to whom the apostle wrote, for he had previously instructed his readers in the nature of the occurrence (2 Thessalonians 2:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:6); but our ignorance of these instructions renders the passage to us enigmatical and difficult to understand; and perhaps, also, this obscurity is increased by reason of our distance from the time when the apostle wrote. There are in this prediction several points requiring consideration: the apostasy or falling away which was secretly working even in the apostle's days; a withholding or restraining influence which prevented its open manifestation and full development; the advent of the man of sin, his characteristics and final doom. We shall, first, give a history of the various opinions concerning this subject in past ages, and then consider those views which are most prevalent in our days.
The following is a literal translation of the passage, in accordance with the exposition given in the foregoing pages: "But we beseech you, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our assembling together unto him, that you be not soon shaken from your sober mind, nor be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by epistle as from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is imminent.£ Let no man deceive you by any means, because that day shall not come, except there come the apostasy first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God, or is an object of worship; so that he sits in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Remember you not that when I was with you, I told you these things? And now you know what restraineth, that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already working, yet only until he that restraineth is removed;£ and then shall the lawless one be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and annihilate by the appearance of his coming; even him whose coming is after the working of Satan, in all power and signs and wonders of falsehood, and in all deceit of unrighteousness for them that perish, because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God sends to them the working of error, that they might believe the lie; that they might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness."
According to these words, this much is evident—that the apostle expected a falling away from the purity of Christianity. Nor is this the only passage where St. Paul alludes to such a declension from primitive faith and holiness; there are allusions to it in his other Epistles, but especially in the Pastoral Epistles, where he describes the apostasy of the latter days: "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth" (1 Timothy 4:1-54.4.3). So also, in his Second Epistle to Timothy, he alludes to the impending nature of this period of apostasy—the mystery of lawlessness was already working: "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come," or rather, "are present" (2 Timothy 3:1-55.3.5). And St. Peter affirms that there shall arise in the Church false teachers, who shall privily "bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and shall bring upon themselves swift destruction" (2 Peter 2:1); and that "in the last days there shall be scoffers, walking after their lusts" (2 Peter 3:2). And a similar declaration is made by St. Jude: "Remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts" (Jude 1:17, Jude 1:18). And our Lord himself, in his eschatological discourse, warned his disciples that there should arise false Christs and false prophets (Matthew 24:24)—a declaration which probably lies at the root of all similar apocalyptic assertions.£ In these passages, however, it is to be observed that a plurality of false teachers is asserted; whereas, in our passage, they are concentrated in an individual—the Man of Sin.
Especially in the Epistles of St. John—there is express mention of Antichrist of a person (or persons) who is the opponent of Christ. It is only in these Epistles that the word occurs, and it does so four times: "Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that [the] Antichrist shall come, even now there are many Antichrists." "Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is Antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son." "Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of Antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world." "For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an Antichrist" (1 John 2:18, 1Jn 2:22; 1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:7). Now, the Man of Sin of St. Paul has been identified with the Antichrist of St. John. They agree in several points: in both he is described as an individual, whose coming will be foreshadowed by many forerunners;£ in both his advent is future, but the evil principle, the apostasy or spirit of Antichrist, is already at work; and in both there is open opposition to God and Christ. It is, however, to be observed that in St. John the Antichristian error is more positively stated as consisting in the denial that Jesus Christ came in the flesh,—accordingly, as Gnosticism, which we know was already secretly corrupting the Church; and hence the reason why some have connected the Man of Sin with the errors of the Gnostics, whereas it does not appear from St. Paul's words that the characteristics of the Gnostics correspond with the characteristics of the Man of Sin; but, on the other hand, the denial of the Father and the Son is common to both.
It would far exceed the limits of this excursus to compare the Man of Sin with the declarations concerning the manifestations of evil in the Apocalypse of St. John. In that mysterious book there appears to be two centres or impersonations of evil: the one described as the beast coming out of the sea, to whom the dragon gave his power and seat and great authority (Revelation 13:1, Revelation 13:2); and the other, as another beast coming out of the earth, who had two horns like a lamb, and spake like a dragon (Revelation 13:11), and who has been identified with the false prophet (Revelation 16:13; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10).£ Whether there is a resemblance between the Man of Sin and either or both of these beasts, we do not inquire; in both a manifestation or revelation of evil, and the concentration of it in an individual or individuals, is predicted.
The prediction of St. Paul bears a still more striking resemblance to the vision of Daniel concerning the wicked and persecuting king (Daniel 11:1-27.11.45.) than to either the Antichrist of St. John or the beasts of the Apocalypse. That prophecy of Daniel received its primary accomplishment in Antiochus Epiphanes, the great persecutor of the Jews, but the concluding portion is applicable to a future opponent of God and his people, and finds its full accomplishment in him.£ Now, the imagery employed by the prophet and the apostle is the same. Paul predicts a falling away; and Daniel tells us that the king shall "have intelligence with them that forsake the holy covenant" (Daniel 11:30). Paul tells us that the Man of Sin shall sit in the temple of God, displaying himself as God; and Daniel, in the passage quoted by our Lord, speaks of the abomination of desolation being set up in the holy place (Daniel 11:31). Paul foretells that the Man of Sin shall oppose and exalt himself against all that is called God or is an object of worship; and Daniel tells us that the king shall exalt and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished (Daniel 11:36). This resemblance between the persecuting king of Daniel and the Man of Sin is repeatedly noticed by the early Fathers. Thus Origen observes, "What is stated by Paul in the words quoted by him when he says, 'so he sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God,' is in Daniel referred to in the following manner: 'And on the temple shall be the abomination of desolation, and at the end of time an end shall be put to the desolation'" (Origen, 'Contra. Cels.,' 6:46).£ There can hardly, then, be a reasonable doubt that Paul in his prediction had this prophecy of Daniel in view.£
The prediction of St. Paul concerning the Man of Sin made a deep impression upon the early Fathers, and the references to it in their writings are numerous. There is also a comparative unanimity in their sentiments. In general, they considered that the fulfilment of the prediction was future; that the Man of Sin was Antichrist, and an individual; and that the restraining influence was the Roman empire. Justin Martyr speaks of the Man of Sin as the man of apostasy, who speaks strange things against the Most High, and shall venture to do unlawful deeds on earth against Christians. Irenseus observes "that he, being an apostate and a robber, is anxious to be adored by God; and that, although a mere slave, he wishes himself to be proclaimed as a king. For he, being endued with the power of the devil, shall come, not as a righteous king in subjection to God, but as the lawless one; concentrating in himself all Satanic apostasy, and, setting aside all idols, he shall persuade men that he himself is God" ('Adv. Haer.,' Daniel 5:25. Daniel 5:1). Tertullian alludes to the Roman empire as the restraining power: "What obstacle is there but the Roman state, the falling away of which shall introduce Antichrist, for then shall be revealed the lawless one?" ('De Resurr.,' e. 24). And again, "We Christians are under peculiar necessity of praying for the emperors and for the complete stability of the empire, because we know that dreadful power which hangs over the world and the conclusion of the age, which threatens the most horrible evils, is only retarded by the continued existence of the Roman empire. This is what we would not experience. And, while we pray that it may be deferred, we hereby show our good will to the perpetuity of the Roman state" ('Apol.,' c. 32). Hippolytus supposes that Antichrist wilt be a Jew, belonging to the tribe of Dan:£ "As Christ springs from the tribe of Judah, so Antichrist is to spring from the tribe of Dan" ('De Antichristo,' c. 14). Cyprian regards Antiochus Epiphanes as the type of Antichrist. And Jerome observes, "As the Saviour had Solomon and other saints as types of his coming, so we may rightly believe that Antichrist had, as a type of himself, that most wicked king Antiochus, who persecuted the saints and profaned the temple" (on Daniel 11:35). There was a diversity of opinion among them regarding the meaning of the temple of God, in which the Man of Sin was to seat himself. Some of the Fathers interpreted the expression figuratively as denoting the Christian Church; whilst others (Irenaeus, Cyril) took it literally, and referred it to the temple of Jerusalem, supposing that the Man of Sin would rebuild the temple.
It was an opinion in the early Church, continuing even to the date of the fourth century, that Nero was Antichrist. Of course, such an opinion cannot refer to the Man of Sin, as this would involve an anachronism; but can only be applied to Antichrist as described in the Apocalypse. Too much has been made of this Nero myth, as it is seldom alluded to by the early Fathers until the close of the third century. Nero was the first emperor who persecuted the Christians, and was therefore peculiarly obnoxious to them. After his death, there was a general impression throughout the Roman world that he was not really dead, but was living in concealment in Parthia, and would return to regain his empire. "About this time," observes Tacitus," a report that Nero was still alive, and on his way to the East, excited a false alarm throughout Achaia and Asia" ('Hist.,' Daniel 2:8). And Suetonius mentions that it was thought that Nero was still alive, and would shortly return to Rome, and take vengeance on all his enemies ('Nero,' 57). Mention is made in history of three impostors who personated Nero: one in Achaia and Proconsular Asia, in the reign of Otho; a second, also in Proconsular Asia, in the reign of Titus; and a third, protected by the Parthians, in the reign of Domitian. From this notion appears to have arisen the Christian idea that Nero would be again raised up as Antichrist.£ The earliest notice of this opinion appears in the fourth of the Sybilline books (A.D. 80), which, however, is considered by critics to be not of Christian, but of Jewish origin. In the fifth Sybilline book, supposed to be of the time of Hadrian, according to some by a Jewish Christian, and according to others by an Egyptian Jew, the Antichrist Beliar is identified with Nero.£ Not until the close of the third century does Victorinus, Bishop of Pettau, in his exposition of the Apocalypse, identify the beast rising out of the sea with Nero: "Now that one of the heads was, as it were, slain to death, in this he speaks of Nero;" and Chrysostom regarded Nero as the type of Antichrist.£ The great reason, however, on which certain writers ground their opinion that the author of the Apocalypse considered Nero to be Antichrist, was the declaration contained in Revelation 17:10, Revelation 17:11, "And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. And the beast which was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition"—a passage referred to by Victorinus.£ By the five kings they understand the five emperors who had already reigned—Augustus, Tiberius, Caius, Claudius, and Nero; by the sixth, Galba (or, according to others, Vespasian: Galba, Otho, and Vitellius being omitted, as their reigns were short); by the seventh, Otho (or, according to others, Titus); and by the eighth, who was also one of the seven, Antichrist or Nero restored to life. This passage is still appealed to by recent writers who adopt the Nero hypothesis.£ Lactantius, on the other band, repudiates this hypothesis as extravagant: "Some persons of extravagant imagination," he observes, "suppose that Nero, having been conveyed to a distant region, is still alive; and to him they apply the Sybilline verses concerning 'the fugitive who slew his own mother, being to come from the uttermost boundaries of the earth;' as if he who was the first, shall also be the last persecutor, and thus prove the forerunner of Antichrist. But we ought not to believe those who, affirming that the two prophets, Enoch and Elijah, have been translated into some remote place, that they might attend our Lord when he shall come to the judgment, also fancy that Nero is to appear hereafter as the forerunner of the devil, when he shall come to lay waste the earth and overthrow mankind."£
The opponents of hierarchical power in the Middle Ages regarded the pope as Antichrist, and considered the passage in question as a prediction of the origin and growth of the papal authority. Thus as early as the close of the tenth century, Arnulph, Bishop of Orleans, declared at the Council of Rheims that if the Roman pontiff was destitute of charity, and puffed up with knowledge, he was Antichrist. This view was entertained by Robert Grostete the celebrated Bishop of Lincoln, by Savonarola, by the Albigenses, the Waldenses, Wickliffe and the Wickliffites, the Hussites, and all those sects who were in opposition to the Roman hierarchy. Even St. Bernard uses this bold language: "The ministers of Christ are become the servants of Antichrist, and the beast of the Apocalypse has seated himself in the chair of St. Peter."£
The Reformers in general adopted this opinion. Such was the view of Luther, Calvin, Zuinglius, Melancthon, Beza, and Bucer; and, among English Reformers, Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, Hooper, and Jewell. According to them, the apostasy is the falling away from evangelical doctrine to the traditions of men and the corruptions of popery; the Man of Sin, or Antichrist, is not, as the Fathers conceived, an individual, but the succession of popes—series et successio hominum; and the restraining power is the Roman empire, out of whose ruins the papacy arose. The Lutheran Church inserted this opinion as an article in their creed (Articl. Smalc., Revelation 2:4). In the dedication of the translators of the Authorized Version to King James, it is assumed that the pope is the Man of Sin; and that monarch is complimented for writing in the defence of the truth, which gave "such a blow unto that Man of Sin as will not be healed." And the assertion that the pope is Antichrist and the Man of Sin forms one of the articles of the Westminster Confession: "There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ; nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof, but is that Antichrist, that Man of Sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ and all that is called God" (ch. 25:6).
The Romanists, on the other hand, were naturally led by opposition to consider the passage as a prediction of the rise and growth of Protestantism. The apostasy was the falling away from the Romish Church by the doctrines of the Reformation. The Man of Sin denoted heretics in general, but especially Luther, the chief of the Reformers. The restraining influence was the German empire, considered as a continuation of the Roman empire. This, however, was not the general opinion of the Church of Rome; most of their theologians supposed that Antichrist, or the Man of Sin, was an individual whose coming is yet future.
The Greek Church was naturally led to regard the prophecy as a prediction of Mohammedanism; the apostasy was the falling away of many Greek and Oriental Churches to Mohammedanism; the man of sin was Mohammed; and the restraining influence the power of the Roman empire.£ Some of the Reformers (Melancthon, Bucer, Musculus) considered that there were two Antichrists—one belonging to the Eastern Church and the other to the Western; the Eastern Antichrist was Mohammed, and the Western was the pope. It is a remarkable circumstance that all three—the Greeks, the Romans, and the Protestants—were at one as regards the restraining influence; this they regarded as the imperial power—the Roman empire, either in itself or continued in the Greek and German empires.
The modern views concerning the Man of Sin are chiefly four: the Rationalists, who consider that there is no prophecy; the Praeterists, who consider the prophecy as already fulfilled; the Progressionists, who regard it as being fulfilled or in the course of fulfilment; and the Futurists, who regard the fulfilment as still future.
1. The first class of expositors are those who regard all the usual interpretations as proceeding from a fake assumption as if there were a prophecy, whereas there is in reality no prediction at all. This opinion is adopted by Koppe, Pelt, De Wette, Lunemann, Jowett, and Davidson. Koppe appears to have been the earliest who took this view of the passage. He idealizes the prediction, and supposes that the apostle is only stating his impressions of what might be the future state of the Church from a consideration of the times in which he lived. The apostle was profoundly impressed with the prophecies of Daniel, and from them he dreaded an outburst of evil after his death, and he expressed his forebodings in language coloured from Daniel. Pelt supposes that the mystery of iniquity was the inward principle of evil which the apostle foresaw would afterwards break forth in a more open and violent form; that the restraining power was the wilt of God holding back the kingdom of Satan; and that the coming of Christ was the final victory of good over evil. So also De Wette observes, "He goes altogether wrong who finds here any more than the apostle's subjective anticipation, from his own historical position, of the future of the Christian Church. Instead of rising to the example of Christ, acknowledging the limitation which there is to a definite foreknowledge of the future, the apostle pays a tribute to human weakness, since he wanted to know too much beforehand."£ Lunemann considers that Paul was so entirely engrossed by his ideas of the proximity of the advent that, carried away by his individuality, he "wished to settle more exactly concerning its circumstances and conditions the historical relations of the coming of Christ than is allotted to man in general to know, even although he should be the apostle, the most filled with the Spirit of God."£ "Such passages [Colossians 2:8, Colossians 2:16; Ephesians 6:12]," observes Professor Jowett, "are a much safer guide to the interpretation of the one we are considering than the meaning of similar passages in the Old Testament. For they indicate to us the habitual thought of the apostle's mind; 'a falling away first,' suggested, probably, by the wavering which he saw among his own converts, the grievous wolves entering into the Church of Ephesus (Acts 20:29), the turning away of all them of Asia (2 Timothy 1:15). When we consider that his own converts and Jewish opponents or half converts were all the world to him; that through them, as it were in a glass, he appeared to see the workings of human nature generally, we understand how this double image of good and evil should have presented itself to him, and the kind of necessity that he felt that Christ and Antichrist should alternate with each other. It was not that he foresaw some great conflict, decisive of the destinies of mankind. What he anticipated for man nearly resembled the spiritual combat in the seventh chapter of the Romans."£ And Dr. Davidson remarks, "The passage does not contain a prophecy, but rather the writer's notion on a subject which did not concern the proper faith and duty of mankind. Those notions were shaped by the floating belief of his day, and have nothing beyond an historical interest. They belong to the past of Christianity—to its infantine state, when it was emerging out of Judaism, and assuming that independent position to which no man contributed so much as the apostle of the Gentiles.£
Such a view is at variance with the ides of inspiration—in other words, with the supposition that the apostle was guided in writing by a higher Spirit than his own. The supernatural is entirely overlooked; the apostle writes according to his own fancies; he is led astray by his erroneous opinions. How such a view is "entirely consistent with the apostle's inspiration" is difficult to understand, even although we employ the term "inspiration" in a very broad sense. The power of foretelling the future is denied to the sacred writers. "We take them," observes Dr. Davidson, "as guides to faith and practice generally without adopting all that they propounded, or believing that they could foretell events."£ It is evident the apostle is here giving a prediction of what shall take place; and therefore, if there were no real prediction, he was on this point mistaken and in error, and consequently uninspired. If we admit inspiration, we must receive the truths declared as the revelation of God: the Scripture contains truths to be received, and not the mere opinions of fallen men to be canvassed.
2. The second class of interpreters are those who, recognizing a prediction, regard it as already fulfilled. To this class belong Grotius, Wetstein, Hammond, Le Clerc, Whitby, Schottgen, Wieseler, Kern, Dollinger, and Baumgarten. These generally agree in considering that the prophecy received its accomplishment in Christ's coming in spirit to destroy Jerusalem, although they differ widely in details. Grotius supposes that the Man of Sin was Caligula, who demanded supreme and universal worship as god, and ordered his statue to be placed in the temple of Jerusalem; he who restrained was Vitellius, the Proconsul of Syria, who, at the risk of his life, refused to obey the order of Caligula; and the lawless one was Simon Magus. It seemed to Paul that the delineation of Antiochus Epiphanes in Daniel was to be realized in Caligula.£ But the distinction between the Man of Sin and the lawless one is incorrect, and besides, the interpretation involves an anachronism, as the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians was written after the death of Caligula. Wetstein adopts the extravagant opinion that the Man of Sin was Titus, "the delight of the human race," whose army brought their idolatrous ensigns into the captured temple and offered sacrifices there; and that the restraining influence was Nero, that monster of iniquity, whose death was necessary for the rule of Titus. Hammond imagined that, by the Man of Sin, Simon Magus, together with his followers the Gnostics, was meant; the apostasy was the falling away of the Christians into Gnosticism; and the restraining influence was the apostles, who, by still preaching to the Jews, preserved the union still subsisting between Jews and Christians.£ Le Clerc supposes that the apostasy was the revolt of the Jews from the Romans; the Man of Sin was the rebellious Jews, and especially their leader Simon the son of Giora; and the restraining power was the chief of the Jewish nation, who were against the revolt. Whitby also considers the apostasy was the revolt of the Jews from the Roman empire or from the faith; the Man of Sin was the Jewish nation, with their high priest and Sanhedrim; and the restraining power was Claudius, during whose reign the Jews would not rebel, as they were under great obligations to him.£ Schottgen also agrees with Whitby in considering that by the Man of Sin is meant the Pharisees, the rabbis, and the doctors of the Law; but he differs from him in considering that the restraining power was the prayers of the Christians, which warded off the destruction of Jerusalem until they had left the city and retired to Pella. Much more ingenious is the opinion of Wieseler. He also considers the prophecy as a prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem. "He that restraineth" must be some good influence which delayed the catastrophe, and this he considers to be the pious Jews then living, particularly the Christians; and if the singular number requires an individual, then the restrainer is James the Just, the Lord's brother. Not until James was murdered and the Christians had removed from Jerusalem was the city taken.£ Kern considers that the Man of Sin is Nero; he that restraineth is Vespasian and his son Titus; and the apostasy is the revolt of the Jews or the departure of the Christians.£ Dollinger, like Kern, supposes Antichrist to be Nero. Nero was already adopted by Claudius, and was regarded by many as the future Caesar. "He that restraineth" was Claudius. The coming of Christ was his coming to execute judgment on Jerusalem; and although Nero did not personally undertake anything against the Jews, yet he did so by his lieutenant Vespasian. The apostasy was the departure of the Christians into the errors of the Gnostics. Dollinger, however, considers that there may be a more complete fulfilment in the last days.£ Baumgarten thinks that the prophecy reflects the experience of the apostle: the Man of Sin was the Jews who everywhere opposed his preaching the gospel; the apostasy was the renunciation of Jesus as the Messiah; and the restraining influence was the imperial authority which hitherto had protected the apostle and kept the Jews in check. This opinion appears to be partially adopted by Bishop Lightfoot: "It seems, upon the whole, probable,'' he observes, "that the Antichrist is represented especially by Judaism. With a prophetic insight, the apostle foresaw, as he contemplated the moral and political condition of the race, the approach of a great and overwhelming catastrophe ... It was to Roman justice and Roman magistrates that the apostle had recourse at this time to shield him from the enmity of the Jews and to check their violence."£ At the same time, he thinks that the prophecy has not yet received its most striking and complete fulfilment.
It would be a mere waste of time to examine these views seriatim. So far as they consider the prophecy as having received its full accomplishment, they do not satisfy its conditions, and have only a general and fancied resemblance. Especially it is fatal to the views of this class of interpreters that the coming of Christ alluded to is evidently not his coming in spirit to destroy Jerusalem, but, as the context shows, and as is the uniform meaning of the phrase in the Epistles of Paul, his coming in person to establish his spiritual kingdom.
3. The third class of exponents are those who regard the prophecy as being fulfilled, or as in the course of fulfilment; that is, as already partially fulfilled, but awaiting its complete accomplishment: we allude to those who find in the passage a prediction of popery. Besides the early Reformers, this opinion is advocated by Hooker, Hurd, Newton, Turretin, Benson, Bengel, Doddridge, Macknight, Michaelis, Elliott, and Bishop Wordsworth.
This opinion proceeds on the assumption that the restraining influence is the Roman empire. In the prediction, that influence is both masculine and neuter; by the masculine the emperor is meant, and by the neuter the empire. This opinion is that of the early Fathers, and was generally adopted with various modifications by Greeks, Romanists, and Protestants.£ it is in itself highly probable, and may have been handed down by tradition from the Church of Thessalonica, who had been instructed concerning its nature (2 Thessalonians 2:6). If the restrainer was the Roman emperor, we may understand the reason of the reserve of the apostle. If he had stated this in so many words, he would have been regarded as an enemy to the Roman government, because he would then teach the destruction of the empire, and would have involved Christians in persecution. Prudence required a discreet silence on this point. This reason for reserve was recognized by the early Fathers. "If St. Paul," observes Chrysostom, "had said that the Roman empire will soon be dissolved, the heathen world would have destroyed him as a rebel and all the faithful with him, as persons who took up arms against the state. But St. Paul means the Roman empire; and when that shall have been taken away, then the Man of Sin will come. For as the power of Babylon was dissolved by the Persian dynasty, and the Persian was supplanted by the Greek, and the Greek by the Roman, so the Roman will be dissolved by Antichrist, and Antichrist by Christ" (in loco). Now, in the view of those who regard the pope as the Man of Sin, this prediction was fully verified. No sooner was the restrainer removed than the Man of Sin was revealed. As long as the Roman emperor continued heathen and resident at Rome, no ecclesiastical power was permitted to exalt itself; but no sooner did the emperor remove from Rome to Constantinople, than the papacy arose—the restraint on the Bishop of Rome was removed; and after the Roman empire in the West came to an end by the dethronement of Augustulus, the power of the pope mightily increased.
But the great point of inquiry is—Is there a sufficient resemblance between this prophecy and Romanism, so that we may conclude that they are related to each other as prediction and fulfilment? Are the characteristics of the Man of Sin found in popery? Those who belong to this class of interpreters assert that the resemblance is striking and obvious. An apostasy is predicted, and there is in Romanism a falling away from the pure gospel to the traditions of men; the doctrines of purgatory, transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the Mass, the adoration of the Virgin and the saints, are adduced as examples. The Man of Sin is represented as opposing and exalting himself against all that is called God or is an object of worship; and this is considered as receiving its fulfilment in the pope exalting himself above all human and Divine authority, claiming the title "king of kings, and lord of lords," applying to himself the words of the psalmist, "All kings shall bow down before thee," styling himself universal bishop,£ and asserting his power to dispose of the kingdoms of the earth. The Man of Sin is said to seat himself in the temple of God, showing himself as God. The temple of God is here understood to be the Christian Church, and the pope places himself in it as its supreme head, the vicar of Jesus Christ. He shows himself as God by claiming Divine attributes, as holiness and infallibility; assuming Divine prerogatives, as the power of pardoning sins and the opening and shutting of the kingdom of heaven; and using such Divine titles as "Our Lord God the pope," "Another God on earth."£ Every pope, on his election, is placed on the high altar of St. Peter's, and receives the adoration of the cardinals. The coming of the Man of Sin is after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and wonders of falsehood. And this is considered as receiving its fulfilment in the false miracles of popery; in the impositions of indulgences and purgatory; in the wonders done by sacred images moving, speaking, bleeding; in the prodigies effected by sacred relics; in the supernatural visitations of the Virgin; and in the pretended power of working miracles which the Church of Rome still claims; as Bellarmine reckons the glory of miracles as the eleventh mark of the Catholic Church. God is represented as punishing sin by sin, "sending to them the working of error that they might believe the lie." The popish legends, which have gained such credit as to be admitted among their ceremonies, and especially the monstrous doctrine of transubstantiation, are regarded as the fulfilment of this part of the prophecy.£ And, besides, in the other passage where Paul predicts the failing away of the latter times, the marks which he gives find their counterpart in the corruption of popery: "Giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats" (1 Timothy 4:1-54.4.3).
Paul represents the system as working even in his days: "For the mystery of lawlessness is already working" (2 Thessalonians 2:7). It works inwardly; it is a mystery, something concealed and unknown until it is revealed; the germs of the Antichristian system were already in the Church; the leaven of corruption was at work. Paul knew this because he was inspired by the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Ghost can see what man cannot see (Wordsworth). But, in truth, the germs of the Antichristian system are discernible in the false doctrines and superstitious practices alluded to in Paul's Epistles; and it is asserted that there is a striking resemblance between them and the doctrines and practices of Romanism; as, for example, the worship of angels (Colossians 2:8), the abstinence from certain foods (1 Corinthians 8:8), bodily mortification (Colossians 2:23), the traditions and doctrines and commandments of men (Colossians 2:8, Colossians 2:22); so that, as Bishop Newton observes, "the foundations of popery were laid, indeed, in the apostles' days, but the superstructure was raised by degrees, and several ages passed Before the building was completed, and the Man of Sin was revealed in full perfection."£
Of course, according to this view of the subject, the complete fulfilment of the prophecy is still future. The destruction of the Man of Sin—that is, according to this view, Romanism—is also predicted: "Whom the Lord Jesus will slay with the breath of his mouth, and annihilate by the appearance of his coming" (Titus 2:8). We have shown, in the Exposition, that by this cannot be meant the preaching of the pure gospel, or the diffusion of the Word of God at the Reformation; the language is denunciatory. As, however, this portion of the prophecy is unfulfilled, it is not required to offer any explanations. The interpretation of unfulfilled prophecy is probably beyond the powers of the human mind; the fulfilment is the only key to the interpretation.
To this view of the subject numerous objections have been raised: there are three which merit consideration.
(1) It is affirmed that the Man of Sin is distinctly asserted to be an individual; he is called "the lawless one," "the son of perdition;" whereas, according to the above view, he is an ecclesiastical system, or a succession of individuals. But, as Bishop Lightfoot observes, "in all figurative passages it is arbitrary to assume that a person is denoted when we find a personification. Thus the Man of Sin here need not be an individual man; it may be a body of men, or a power, or a spiritual influence."£ The restraining influence, which is put at one time in the neuter and at another time in the masculine, is almost universally acknowledged to be, not a person, but an influence or series of persons. So, in like manner, the Man of Sin may be a succession of individuals; at least, there is no absolute necessity arising from the terms of the prophecy to regard him as a person.£
(2) It is affirmed that, even admitting all the striking coincidences, yet the idea of popery does not and never did fulfil the prophecy in verse 4. So far from the pope opposing and exalting himself against all that is called God or is an object of worship, his "abject adoration and submission to them has ever been one of his most notable peculiarities"£ (Alford). But to this it has been replied that the arrogance of the pope, his assertion that he is the vicar of Christ, his claim of infallibility, which has lately been conceded to him, are a distinct fulfilment of this prediction.
(3) It is said that, "if the papacy be Antichrist, then has the manifestation been made and endured now for nearly fifteen hundred years, and yet the day of the Lord has not come, which, by the terms of our prophecy, such manifestation is immediately to precede" (Alford). But to this it has been answered that it is not asserted that the coming of Christ follows directly on the coming of the Man of Sin, but merely that the Man of Sin will precede; the interval between the two comings is nowhere defined. Besides, it may be that there is a development of Antichrist, and that his final destruction by the coming of the Lord will not occur until his full development. Thus, for example, the spiritual power of popery may be unfolding itself; the mystery of lawlessness may be still working, as was lately seen in the introduction of two new dogmas into the Romish Church—the immaculate conception of the Virgin, and the personal infallibility of the pope. The career of the Man of Sin has not yet run.
Upon the whole, on an impartial review of the subject, we cannot avoid the impression that the points of resemblance between the prophecy and Romanism are numerous, varied, and striking. Our forefathers had no doubt as to the application of the prediction, and perhaps they were nearer the truth than we in modern times who hesitate. Such an opinion may be considered as uncharitable and unjust, and is certainly not in accordance with the more liberal spirit of our age, where popery is viewed as it presently exists, divested of its power to persecute, and as seen in the culture, refinement, and piety of many of its adherents. But when we reflect upon the abominable persecutions of the Inquisition, the monstrous wickedness of the popes prior to the Reformation,£ the atrocities perpetrated in the name of religion,£ the crimes committed by the priests,£ and the general corruption of the whole system; and when we think that it is only the restraining influence of Protestantism which prevents a repetition of such actions, we may see reason, if not to affirm positively, yet to suspect that such an opinion may be founded on truth, and, if so, be neither uncharitable nor unjust.
4. The fourth class of interpreters consider the fulfilment as future, and that we are not to look for any past occurrences as answering all its requirements. This opinion is the one which is chiefly favoured in our days. It has been adopted by Hofmann, Ewald, Olshausen, Riggenbaeh, Lunge, Alford, Ellicott, Lillie, Eadie, Meyrick, and Bishop Alexander, although there is a considerable difference in their views.
It is maintained that it is unwarrantable to consider the pope as Antichrist, and the papacy as an Antichristian system. The essential doctrines of Christianity are maintained and defended by the Romanists. The cross of Christ is exalted, and his sufferings are declared to be an atonement for sin. The great doctrine of the Trinity is not only maintained, but prominently brought forward. The influences of the Spirit are recognized and depended on. And the pope, instead of opposing himself to God, owns himself to be the servant and worshipper of God.£ Hence it is considered that in the future there may be a fuller completion than has ever yet taken place in the past. Prophecy has many partial fulfilments, until it reaches its climax in a complete accomplishment. Thus the Messianic prophecies of our Lord were partially fulfilled in David, in Solomon, in the Jewish nation. So it may be with this prediction; its final application may be reserved for the last days of this world's probation. The anti-christian elements, which are now found dispersed, may be collected and exhibited in an individual who will be the realization of the Man of Sin.
According to Hofmann, the whole passage refers to the visions of Daniel. Paul applies the prophecy therein contained to the latter days. The power that restraineth the outburst of evil is a good principle; just as Michael, the guardian angel of the Jews, withstood the Prince of Persia (Daniel 10:20). When the good principle which was preserving the world in agreement with God is removed, then Antichrist will appear in the form of some mighty lawless conqueror. Hofmann appcars actually to expect the revivification of Antiochus Epiphanes.£ Ewald, again, applies to the prophecy the prediction of Malachi concerning the coming of Elijah. He supposes that by that which hinders the appearance of Antichrist the coming of Elijah is meant, and that Antichrist will not be revealed in all his atrocious wickedness until Elijah be taken out of the way and again translated to heaven.£
Omitting these interpretations, which must appear to our English minds fanciful and extravagant, based on mere conjecture, and wholly arbitrary in their nature, we come to the more rational statements of other divines. In general, according to them, the Man of Sin is an individual of gigantic mental power, enormous daring, and extreme wickedness, who shall appear on the earth in the latter days; and the restraining influence which prevents the appearance of such an individual is moral order or government. Thus, according to Olshausen, the Man of Sin is an individual. All the manifestations of evil, the revolt of the Jews from the Romans, Nero, Mohammed, the development of the papacy in the Middle Ages, the French Revolution of 1789, with the abolition of Christianity, and the setting up of a prostitute as the goddess of Reason in the cathedral church of Paris, and the present diffusion of infidelity and atheism, are the precursors of Antichrist; but they contain only some of his characteristics, not all.£ Similarly Dean Alford observes, "Though eighteen hundred years later, we stand, with regard to this prophecy, where the apostle stood; the day of the Lord not present, and not to arrive until the Man of Sin be manifested; the mystery of iniquity still working, and much advanced in its working; the restrainer still hindering. And let us ask ourselves—What does this represent to us? Is it not indicative of a state in which the lawlessness is working on, so to speak, underground, under the surface of things, gaining throughout these many ages more expansive force, more accumulated power, but still hidden and unconcentrated? And might we not look, in the progress of such a state of things, for repeated minor embodiments of this lawlessness; the many Antichrists (1 John 2:18) springing up here and there in different countries, the apostasy going onward and growing, just as there were of Christ himself frequent types and minor embodiments before he came in the flesh? Thus in the papacy, where so many of the prophetic features are combined, we see, as it were, a standing embodiment and type of the final Antichrist—in the remarkable words of Gregory the Great, the praecursor Antichristi; and in Nero, and in every persecutor as he arose, and Mahomet, and Napoleon, and many other forms and agencies of evil, other and more transient types and examples of him."`£ And Bishop Ellicott remarks, "The adversary is Antichrist, no mere set of principles or succession of opponents, but one single person, being as truly man as he whom he impiously opposes." And he observes, "The restraining principle is the power of well ordered human rule, the principles of legality as opposed to those of lawlessness, of which the Roman emperor was the then embodiment and manifestation."£ Similiar views are adopted by Bishop Alexander,£ Dr. Eadie, Lillie, and Riggenbach. Meyrick, in his interesting and exhaustive article on "Antichrist," in the appendix to Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible,' thus expresses his view of the sum of Scripture teaching with regard to Antichrist: "It would appear that there is to be evolved from the womb of the corrupt Church an individual Antichrist, who, being himself a scoffer and contemner of all religion, will yet act as the patron and defender of the corrupt Church, and compel men to submit to her sway by the force of the secular arm and by means of bloody persecutions. He will unite the old foes, superstition and unbelief, in a combined attack on liberty and religion. He will have the power of performing lying miracles and beguiling souls, being the embodiment of Satanic as distinct from brutal wickedness." Or, as Lange puts it, "Antichrist may proceed from a coalition between completed absolutism and completed radicalism."
Of course, according to this view, the fulfilment being yet future, we cannot apply to its truth or falsehood the characteristics given us in the prophecy itself. It appears to be the uniform doctrine of Scripture, as seen both in the prophecies of the Old Testament and of the New, that before the consummation of all things there will he a final and desperate struggle between the principles of good and evil. The revolt against all rule and authority, the spread of Nihilism, the increase of infidelity and agnosticism, the unblushing proclamation of atheism and the support given to it in the scientific and political world, the deification of materialism, are all the precursors of Antichrist. It may only require a dissolution of order and a corruption of morals, greater and more universal than that which occurred in the great French Revolution, to usher in the coming of the Man of Sin, who, amid the confusion, will seize upon the sceptre of dominion. We may figure him as an individual, a man of more commanding abilities and far greater wickedness than the first Napoleon; one who will subdue the world, and in the height of his impiety and ambition proclaim his atheism, and that man himself is God. We cannot penetrate into the future, but we may rest confident that, if such a state of things should happen, the final victory of the good over the evil cannot be doubted; the breath of the Lord is sufficient to overthrow the kingdom of Antichrist, and to baffle all his pretensions. "Whom the Lord shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and annihilate by the appearance of his coming."
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent