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As if the apostle had said, "Brethern, we beseech you, as you assuredly expect the coming of Christ, and do love, look, and long for, that day when it shall go well with you, and Christ will appear to your glory, that you be not troubled," &c.
Learn hence, that the coming of Christ to judgment is a truth well known, firmly believed, and earnestly desired, by all true Christians; well known, because the apostles, when they went abroad to proselyte the world, usually began with this point; firmly believed, for a day of judgment was never denied by any but those whose interest it was that there should be none; and earnestly desired, in respect of Christ our Judge and Saviour, and in respect of ourselves, who shall be sharers in the happiness of that day.
Observe, 2. The apostle calls the coming of Christ, a gathering together unto him; intimating, that when Christ shall come, all the saints shall be gathered together unto him: at the day of judgment there shall be both a congregation and a segregation; a congregation of all believers, to make up the number of Christ's train and attendants, and that in one troop they may be brought unto his heavenly kingdom; and a segregation, he shall separate the sheep from the goats, and sever the wicked from among the just; Matthew 13:44.
Note here, 1. The error which the apostle disproves, namely that the day of Christ, that is, the day of judgment, was then at hand, to come in a few years; which was very true with respect to his coming to destroy Jerusalem, but not as the final judgment.
Learn hence, That the time of Christ's coming to judgment must be patiently expected, but not postively determined.
Note, 2. The effect which this error might produce, namely, trouble and unsettledness of mind: That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or troubled: implying,
(1.) That errors breed trouble and disquietude of mind.
(2.) That Christians should be so established, and have such constancy of mind, that they should not be easily shaken and moved from the faith.
Note, 3. A removal of all the supposed foundations of this error, or the means which these imposters used to entice the Thessalonians to embrace it; and they are three, namely, spirit, word, and letter; Not by spirit, that is, be not shaken in mind by any pretence of spiritual or divine revelation; nor by word, by any pretended message or word from us; nor by letter, that is, nor by any thing contained in our former epistle, or in any spurious and counterfeit writings, passing under the apostle's name: mentioning as if Christ should come in that age wherein they loved. We need not wonder that St. Paul is so careful to obviate this error of the present coming and appearance of Christ, because, should the Thessalonians have depended upon it, and found themselves deceived in their expectation of it, it might have caused great trouble to them, and even shaken their steadfastness in faith.
As if the apostle had said, "Let no man deceive you in this article of your faith, by any pretence whatsoever; for before Christ's coming there shall come a great falling away from the catholic faith, and by that means the man of sin will be revealed, who is the son of perdition:"--
Note here, 1. Such a proneness there is in the nature and mind of man to embrace and entertain error, when once vented, that there is need of repeated dissuasives from it, and to guard persons against the poison and infatuation of it. Let no man deceive you by any means.
Note, 2. A general apostasy or defection of the visible church from the faith of Christianity, must be before Christ's coming to judgment; Except there come a falling away first. It is foretold as a thing that would certainly come to pass.
Note, 3. The revelation of Antichrist declared, That man of sin shall be revealed, the son of perdition; where by the man of sin, understand not a particular individual person, but a society and succession of men, such as is found in and amongst the papacy, where the sodomy, blasphemy, incest, adultries, sorceries, murders, treasons, which are not only committed, but countenanced; not only acted, but authorized; do most evidently declare that there never was such an apostasy from Christianity since it had a being in the world, as is found amongst them.
Note, 4. This man of sin is also styled the son of perdition.
(1.) Actively, a destroying son, one that brings others to destruction.
(2.) Passively, a son that shall be destroyed; Antichrist and all his adherents shall be destroyed, utterly destroyed, by Jesus Christ, and his kingdom shall perish without any hope of recovery; first destroying, and at last destroyed.
Where note, That our apostle at the first, the very first, mentioning Antichrist, doth declare his destiny; at his first rising he declares his fall and ruin. That man of sin, the son of perdition.
Our apostle proceeds in the further description of this man of sin, by a two-fold note of distinction, namely, by his enmity and opposition, and by his dignity and exhaltation.
Observe, 1. His enmity and opposition; He opposeth himself, that is, against Christ, as his name Antichrist signifies, opposing him in his doctrine, in his offices, in his members; corrupting his doctrine, debasing his offices, persecuting his members.
Observe, 2. His dignity and exaltation, which consists of two parts,
1. He exhalteth himself above all that is called God, or is worshipped; that is, he exalteth himself above all magistrates, emperors, kings and princes, who are called gods, because representing his person, as his vicegerents, usurping a power over all civil authority, enthroning and dethroning princes at his pleasure.
Observe, 3. His arrogance is set forth, in relation to God himself, that as God he sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. By the temple of God, understand the church of God, the external, visible church, which professeth the faith of Christ and bears his name; in this temple of God he sitteth as an officer or bishop: and sits as God, that is, as God upon earth, whom all must adore: kings kissing his feet, emperors holding his stirrup; and claiming the same power that Christ hath in and over the church, namely, an universal supremacy, an absolute authority, and an unerring infallibility.
And the usurped titles given to him declare that he sheweth himself that he is God; he is called supremum numen in terris; "the chief god upon earth;" and that from him it is affirmed, that no appeals are to be made, no, not to God himself; that he can change the sacraments delivered by Christ, and decree contrary to scripture. Now to accept of these flattering titles, and to pretend to such an unlimited power, is to shew himself that he is God.
Observe here, That the doctrine of the rise and ruin of Antichrist is necessary to be made known; for though these things were not to come to pass in their days, yet St. Paul taught them before when present, and now repeateth it again when absent, to fasten it upon their mind and memories; it is necessary to deliver this doctrine, both to warn the faithful against delusion, and to fortify the faithful against persecution, and to keep them patient under it; for when Antichrist is discovered, Christians under his tyranny submit to sufferings more cheerfully: suffering under Antichristian persecutors is martyrdom and suffering for Christ, as well as under pagan persecutors.
Observe here, 1. How our apostle intimated to the Thessalonians that Antichrist was not then revealed, and consequently that they were not then to expect the coming of Christ to judgment.
Observe, 2. The impediment that then hindered his revelation: Now ye know what withholdeth; by which the Roman empire is generally understood: the man of sin could not rise to his greatness, so long as the Roman emperor possessed Rome, and the seat was full, until it was void it could not be the seat of Antichrist.
But why did not the apostle name it then?
Ans. That he might not incense the Roman emperors against the Christians, as he must have done, had he openly said, "Antichrist shall not come till the Roman empire is destroyed;" he therefore covertly says, Ye know what witholdeth.
That is, the beginnings of Antichristianity are secretly and mysteriously already working, which will bring Antichrist himself forth in time, even Antichristian doctrines, and the affecting of Antichristian dominion: only the empire that now hindereth must be removed and taken out of the way.
Note here, so great an enemy is Satan to the salvation of mankind, that no sooner did Christ erect a kingdom in the world for saving sinners, but the devil set up his ensign in opposition thereunto. Antichristianism is almost as old as Christianity; the mystery of iniquity soon appeared after the revelation of the mystery of godliness; though truth be error's elder, yet error is not much truth's younger: The mystery of iniquity doth already work.
And from these words, He that letteth, will let, till taken out of the way, learn, That the greatest empires and monarchies upon earth have their final and fatal periods determined by God, beyond which they shall not stand; the Roman empire that letteth, shall be taken out of the way.
These words contain both the risk and ruin of Antichrist, his revelation and destruction.
Observe, 1. The title given to him, o Anomos, the lawless one, he that boasts himself to be above all law, and assumes to himself a power to dispense with all the laws of God, as we well know who does.
Observe, 2. His revelation, Then shall that wicked be revealed. God has revealed Antichrist to the world, let none wilfully shut their eyes against him, but let him be shunned and abhorred; if his adherents will not fall off from him, but be partakers with him in his sins, let them expect to be partakers also with him in his plagues; to continue his adherents is dangerous, but to turn his disciples is more dangerous: for that is a downright apostasy, and flat revolt from Christ to Antichrist. How Almighty God may dispense mercifully with errors imbibed in our education we know not, but to turn our back on the truth wherein we have been educated and instructed, makes it more dangerous to our salvation.
Observe, 3. Antichrist's ruin, Whom the Lord shall consume and destroy.
Here note, That the apostle had no sooner discovered Antichrist's rise, but he presently declares his ruin: The Lord shall destroy him; that is, the Lord Jesus Christ shall destroy him gradually, he shall waste away by little and little; as his rise was, such shall his ruin be: destroyed and consumed he shall be, but not presently; because God has an use for him, work to do for him, to scourge his people, to try his people, to unite his people.
Observe, 4. How Antichrist's ruin is accompolished,
(1.) With the spirit of his mouth, or the breath of his mouth: the expression denotes, the facility and easiness of his destruction: it is done with a breath; the breath of God here denotes the preaching of the gospel, and intimates, that Antichrist's destruction shall be by the ministry of the word, and the victorious evidence of truth; but besides this ministerial word, there will be a providential word, which God will make use of for Antichrist's destruction: the former means we are to use, the latter God is to make use of.
Again, (2.) The destruction of Antichrist shall be by the brightness of Christ's coming; at Christ's coming to judgment, the final ruin and utter destruction of Antichrist shall be accompolished; let not the church then be discouraged, though Antichrist remains, after all endeavours used for his ruin, it is sufficient we are assured that Antichristianism shall be finally destroyed; for the time, leave we that to God; if it be not till the day of judgment, or Christ's final conquest over all his adversaries, why should not we be contented to tarry for it; seeing infinite wisdom determines the time, as well as the thing itself.
An account is here given how Antichrist doth acquire and keep up his power in the world: the first and great instrument is Satan; after the working of Satan, is as much as, by the working of Satan, denoting not only his pattern but his influence. The devil has a great hand over wicked men in the world, his way of dealing with them is most efficacious and powerful; he is certainly the first founder and supporter of the Antichristian state.
Observe, 2. The subordinate instrumental means by which Antichrist gained his power in the world; namely, by pretended miracles: With all power, and signs, and lying wonders. Miracles are called powers, because the effects of extraordinary powers; signs, from their use, because they sealed the doctrine to which they are applied; wonders, because they breed astonishment in the minds of beholders. Now Antichrist pretends to all these, but his are lying powers, lying signs, and lying wonders; because the greatest of his pretended miracles are fables, forgeries, impostures, diabolical delusions.
Learn hence, That Antichrist doth uphold and support his kingdom by a false show of signs, wonders, and mighty deeds; they are mira, but not miracula; what he cannot prove by the oracles of God, he endeavours to prove by the miracles of Satan.
Here we have a threefold description given of the subjects of Antichrist's kingdom: they are described,
1. By the ways and means how they are drawn into this apostasy and defection, and that is, with all deceivableness of unrighteousness; where, by unrighteousness, understand his false doctrine and wicked laws, which tend to the making his disciples and followers injurious to God, unjust to men, and cruel to themselves; and by deceivableness, is meant all manner of deceits and wiles, tricks and cunning persuasions, to make the world believe his unrighteous errors to be pure and innocent truths.
Learn, That such as are ringleaders to error, are men of no conscience, but find out all unrighteous ways and means to make their tenets plausible, and pass for truth; they come with all deceivableness of unrighteousness.
Again, 2. They are described by the doom and misery which await them, they are such as perish; that is, such as are in an actual state of perdition, and, without hastening out of it, are undone for ever.
Learn hence, That the subjects of Antichrist's power and seduction are those that perish.
And, 3. They are described by their sin, which is the cause and reason of this doom: Because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
Where mark, It is not enough to receive the truth in the light of it, but we must also receive it in the love of it, or it will do us no good; to make truth operative, there is required, besides knowledge, faith and love, there may be knowledge without faith, and there may be faith without love, that is, without any affection to the truth believed; it was therefore a pious prayer of St. Austin, Fac me, Domine, &c. "Lord, make me taste that by love, which I taste by knowledge." As the certainity of truth calls for faith, so the amiableness of truth calls for love: if truth be not received into the heart as well as the head, it will not secure against apostasy, nor prevent perishing.
The sin of those who are seduced by Antichrist was mentioned in the foregoing verse, the judgment of such is here declared in these verses, which is twofold, delusion in this world, and damnation in the next.
1. Delusion in this world.
Here note, 1. The author of this judgment, God shall send them strong delusions; as it is a sin, God has no hand in it; but as it is a punishment, God has to do in it; there is a judicial traduction or delivering them up to a spirit of error, who do not receive the truth in the love of it, and this without the least shadow of unrighteousness, punishing sin with sin.
Note, 2. The degree or nature of the punishment: delusions, strong delusions: given up to the efficacy of error, which is discovered by the absurdity of those errors which they cleave unto, and by the obstinacy wherewith they cleave unto them.
Learn hence, (1.) That strong delusions may be, and sometimes are, of God's own sending.
(2.) That by God's just judgment there is an infatuation upon the followers and abettors of Antichrist, that they swallow the grossest errors, and believe the strongest delusions, to their own destruction.
Note, 3. The issue and result of this punishment, That they should believe a lie; false doctrines are often called a lie in scripture: all the doctrine of the man of sin, with which he hath deceived the world, under the notion of truth, is one great lie; but beside this, he approves and applauds the doctrine of equivocation, and teaches, that in many cases it is necessary, and in some very lawful, to lie; these they call pious frauds, but they are indeed diabolical forgeries.
Observe, 2. Their dreadful punishment in the other world, That they all might be damned, &c.
Where mark, the punishment itself, damnation, for filling up the measure of their obduration, together with the justice and equity of it; expressed negatively, they believed not the truth, received it not with simplicity of mind, to be instructed and directed by it; positively, they had pleasure in unrighteousness, in unrighteous doctrines and practices.
Learn hence, 1. That errors in judgment, as well as sins in practice, may bring damnation upon the soul's of men. Error is as damnable as vice, for it is as contrary to the law of God as vice is.
Learn, 2. That though all errors may bring damnation upon men's souls, yet some may be said more especially than others to be damning errors; such are the errors of Antichrist, the man of sin.
Oh, how dangerous then it is to be found amongst his followers! To be sharers with them in their sins, will render us partakers of their plagues.
Our apostle, having in the foregoing verses set forth a fatal apostasy from the sincerity of the Christian faith and worship, here in this verse exempts the Thessalonians from the number of those that were endangered by it; and this he makes mention of, to their great comfort, and with thanksgivings to God: We are bound to give thanks, &c.
Observe here, 1. The titles given to the Thessalonians by our apostle, Brethren, and beloved of the Lord; not beloved of the apostle only, but of the Lord also, both with an antecedent love, bestowing grace upon them, and with a consequent love, believing in his name, and suffering for his sake.
Observe, 2. His obligation to bless God on their behalf, he gave thanks: this showed his esteem of the blessing; he gave thanks always, which showed how deeply he was affected with the blessing, and he owns it as a debt which was due unto them; We are bound to give thanks, &c.
Observe, 3. The matter of his thanksgiving, or the mercy which he was thus thankful for, and that was their election to salvation; We are bound to give thanks, because God hath chosen you.
Whence learn, That God's election either of ourselves or others to salvation, is, and ought to be, great matter of thanksgiving unto God.
Observe, 4. Their election is amplified,
(1.) By the antiquity of it, from the beginning, that is, from all eternity, In the beginning was the word, John 1:1 that is, before the beginning, before God began to create any thing, the Word was.
(2.) From the means of its accomplishment; and they are two, one on God's part, the sanctification of the Spirit; the other on their part, the belief of the truth.
Where note, 1. That election is to the means as well as to the end; and without the means, can the end never be attained; he that hath chosen us to salvation, hath chosen us to be holy, and to believe the truth, in order to salvation.
Note, 2. That sanctification and holiness are not the cause of our election, but the effect and fruit of it.
Note, 3. That sanctification being the fruit, it is also the evidence of our election; Sic se apeit decretum, thus the decree of God is made evident to us; the election of God is a secret in the bosom of God, it is only manifested to us by the effects, which are sanctification by the Spirit, and a sound belief of the gospel.
Where mark, a bare belief of the doctrine of the gospel saves none, unless accompanied with the sanctification of the Spirit.
Note, 4. The necessary connection between the sanctification of the Spirit, and the belief of the truth, even as between the cause and the effect, and they do also accompany one another; the gospel was a supernatural doctrine, and it was fit that it should be accompanied with a supernatural operation, how else should it be known to be of God? The gospel and the Spirit are inseparable companions; where the gospel is little known, there is little of the Spirit found: He hath chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth.
The apostle comforted the Thessalonians in the former verse from their election, in this from their vocation; whereunto, that is, to which salvation, sanctification, and belief of the gospel, God hath called you, by our preaching of the word, to the obtaining of the glory purchased, and conferred by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Note here, 1. The author of the Thessalonians' vocation, God the Father; he calleth you, that is, God, who from the beginning chose you to salvation.
None but God, (1.) Hath authority to call; He only is our proper Lord, and rightful Sovereign, our Creator, and our owner; therefore he has a right to call us to duty, and to require duty from us, James 4:12 There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy.
None but God, 1. Hath power to call; for to effectual calling there is required, not only the invitation of the word, but also the effectual operation of the Spirit; it is a work of divine power to give grace to graceless souls.
Note, 2. The means, that is, the external and outward means, by which they were called; By our gospel, that is, by our preaching of the gospel to you. The ministry of the word is the great instrument in the hand of the Spirit for a sinner's effectual vocation, and bringing home to God.
But why doth our apostle call it our gospel? Doth not that derogate from the authority of it, to appropriate it to any man?
No; he calls it not his gospel by way of revelation, but in regard of dispensation only; and his gospel, imported the great pains which he took in preaching of the gospel, and the hazard he ran in dispensing of the gospel to them. It is also a word of esteem, love, and affection; what we love, we call ours.
Note, 3. The end of this calling, which is twofold,
1. Ultimate, to obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ; that is, the glory of heaven, and of the whole man, whole soul and body in heaven, called the glory of Christ, because purchased by him, promised by him, prayed for by him, conferred by him, and enjoyed eternally with.
2. Subordinate, they are called to faith and holiness, in order to salvation: for there must be a likeness between the person calling, and the persons called; without likeness to him we can never love him, and without loving of him must never expect to live with him.
From the whole, learn, That such as are elected and chosen of God, are in time effectually called by faith and holiness to obtain eternal glory and happiness.
Our apostle having abundantly comforted the Thessalonians in the former verses, from their election and vocation, he closes the chapter with an exhortation to them to perseverance and constancy in the truth; Therefore, brethren, stand fast.
Observe, 1. The illative particle, therefore that is, because God hath chosen and called you, and given you such assurance of his favour, and such advantages against error and seduction, therefore let it be your care to persevere; assurance of salvation doth not encourage negligence, but engage to greater diligence.
Observe, 2. The duty inferred: stand fast; it is a military word, used by captains to their soldiers, to prevent a cowardly and treacherous revolt; he had been describing a great apostasy that would come, now bids them be upon their guard and stand fast.
Observe, 3. The means directed to, in order to their steadfastness and perseverance, namely, to hold the traditions which they had been taught, either by word or by epistle.
Here note, (1.) The act, hold, with a strong hand, hold against all assaults, whether of error or persecution.
(2.) The object, the traditions taught, either by word, or by epistle.
Where mark, That all the apostle's doctrines, whether preached when amongst them, or written to them in his absence from them, he calls traditions; so that holding the traditions here, is nothing else but perseverance in apostolical doctrine.
From the whole note, 1. That what assurance soever we have of God's preserving us in the truth, yet are we bound to use all possible care and caution in order to our own preservation.
Note, 2. That it is our duty to stand fast in the faith of Christ, and professions of godliness, whatsoever dangers or temptations we may be exposed to.
Note, 3. That the doctrine of Christianity taught by the apostles is a tradition, and that holding this tradition is the best means for standing fast in the faith of Christ.
Note, 4. That while the apostles were in being, there were two ways of delivering the truth, namely, by word of mouth and writing; Whether by word or our epistle.
Note, 5. That now, when they are long since dead, and we cannot receive the doctrine of life from them by word of mouth, we must stick to the scriptures and written word, against all pretences to unwritten traditions, or pretended revelations, because the scriptures are a perfect rule both for our faith and practice.
Our apostle having abundantly comforted and affectionately exhorted the Thessalonians in the former verses, now concludes with fervent prayer for them.
Where observe, 1. The persons prayed to: our Lord Jesus Christ, and God our Father.
Where note, (1.) That prayer must be made to God alone, he only knows all our wants, and he alone is capable of hearing and helping us.
Note, (2.) That Jesus Christ is here invocated, together with God the Father; surely his Godhead is hereby proved, for he that is the object both of internal and external worship, is God: our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God even our Father, &c.
Observe, 2. The ground of audience and success in prayer: Which hath loved us, and given us everlasting consolation, and good hope through grace.
Where note, (1.) That God's love to sinners, manifested in their redemption by Jesus Christ, giveth great boldness and encouragement in the duty of prayer.
Note, (2.) That God hath given all believers solid ground of substantial and perpetual consolation; he hath given us everlasting consolation.
Note, (3.) That God has given all believers hope, a good or well- grounded hope of eternal life, and this hope is a great encouragement to the duty of prayer.
Observe, 3. The blessings prayed for: increase of comfort, and perseverance or establishment.
(1.) The apostle prays for increase of comfort; Our Lord Jesus Christ, and God our Father, comfort your hearts.
Where note, that true comfort flows from God, and that the heart is the proper seat of spiritual comfort. Thou hast put gladness into my heart. Psalms 4:7
(2.) For establishment and perseverance; And establish you in every good word and work. By every good word, is meant sound doctrine; by every good work, holiness of life.
Learn hence, That establishment in faith and holiness is a great and necessary blessing, earnestly to be sought of God in prayer; as at all times this blessing is to be sought, so especially in unsettled times, that when we are most in danger of falling by temptation, we may be kept by the mighty power of God through faith unto salvation.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany