Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. GOD HAS TIMES AND SEASONS IN HIS OWN POWER. It is solemnly true that "to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). God has "determined the times before appointed" (Acts 17:26). His Son came "in the fullness of time" (Galatians 4:4). There is often a curious periodicity in the great time-intervals marked in sacred history.
II. GOD HAS HID FROM MAN THE PRECISE DATE OF THE SECOND COMING. "Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father" (Mark 13:32); "It is not for you to know the times and the seasons the Father hath put in his own power" (Acts 1:7).
III. THE DAY OF THE LORD WILL BE PERFECTLY UNEXPECTED. "The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night."
1. It is the day of the Lord, as it is "the day of the Son of man. The day of God;" "the day of redemption," involving that of the body as well as the soul; "the last day," the day which winds up the destinies of the universe.
2. It will be sudden and unexpected. It will be "as a thief in the night," who comes without previous warning at such an hour as we are not looking for him. This is true, even though there may be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and distress of nations, and men's hearts failing them for fear (Luke 21.). These will be the first signs to break up the calm, but the wicked will not see them in their true light. There is nothing in the simile of the thief to justify the opinion that Jesus will come in the night.
IV. THE SECURITY OF THE WICKED. "For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape."
1. Their condition is one of " peace," inner quiet, and "safety," external tranquility.
2. Their fate. "They shall not escape." It will be with them as with the men in the days of Noah and Lot (Matthew 24:36-39). The catastrophe will be as inevitable and as full of fear as in the case of a "woman in travail."
V. THE PREPAREDNESS OF THE RIGHTEOUS. This lies in their character. "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief."
1. They were "not in darkness. They were sons of light, sons of the day." Darkness is the characteristic of the wicked.
(1) There is darkness in their understanding.
(2) There is darkness in their hearts. "Their foolish hearts are darkened."
(3) They walk in darkness, and therefore stumble and go astray.
(5) But the darkness does not hide them from God's vengeance.
2. Believers are "sons of light. Sons of the day."
(2) They are in fellowship with God, for they cannot have it and walk in darkness (1 John 1:6, 7).
(3) They "have cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light" (Romans 13:12).
(4) They are in fellowship with all believers; for "he that walketh in darkness hateth his brother" (1 John 2:9) - T.C.
I. THE TIME OF ITS COMING.
1. There was no real need to write to them about this. St. Paul had spoken of it; it had been a principal subject of his teaching. They knew all that could be known, all that they needed to know for their souls' health. But there was a restless curiosity, an eager longing "to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power." Such knowledge was not for the apostles; it is not for the Church. "Of that day and that hour knoweth no man." But, in spite of these words of Christ, human thought has ever busied itself, it busies itself still, to pry into this awful secret. St. Paul had told the Thessalonians all he knew; there was no need to write it again. But he deals gently with them. He tries to quiet their restless anxiety.
2. They knew that it could not be known. It cometh suddenly, when men are least expecting it; when they say, "Peace and safety." It cometh as a thief in the night. They knew the Lord's illustration. St. Paul had told them. It was enough for them to know. Suddenly, as the lightning that cometh out of the east and shineth even to the west, the Son of man shall come. That we know; nothing more can be known. It is a thought full of awfulness, full of deep lessons and solemn warnings.
II. READINESS FOR ITS COMING.
1. Christians are not in the darkness. Darkness is the element, the sphere of the unconverted life. Darkness is ignorance of God, ignorance of the atoning work of Christ, ignorance of the blessed influences of God the Holy Ghost. Such darkness is either intellectual, darkness of the understanding; or spiritual, darkness of the heart and will. The two act and react upon one another. Darkness of the understanding produces in some cases and in some measure darkness of the heart. Darkness of the heart often results in darkness of the understanding. There are cases of darkness which seem to us the most perplexing of problems; men and women who have from the very beginning of life been enveloped in an atmosphere of ignorance, brutality, and sin, from which there seems to be no escape - who seem to us, as people say, to "have no chance," no possibility, humanly speaking, of attaining to enlightenment and the knowledge of God. What can be done in such cases? We must, each one of us, do all that lies in our power to help the helpless and to teach the ignorant; and then, when we have "done what we could," we can only leave them, in the trustfulness of faith, to his mercy who, we know, will require little of those to whom little has been given. But the darkness which we have to face in our daily walk is, more commonly, not like this, but willful darkness. "He that hateth his brother" (St. John says) "is in darkness even until now." Any willful sin deliberately indulged darkens the heart. "If thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness." The soul that cherishes a secret sin cannot believe, cannot see God, cannot be in readiness for the coming of the Lord. If such are not awakened to a sense of guilt and danger, the great day must overtake them as a thief, coming upon them in all its sudden awfulness.
2. They are sons of light. "God hath shined in their hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." The true light now shineth. We are in the light, the light of the knowledge of God, the light of the presence of God. We belong to the light; it is all around us; it is in us. Indeed, the true light "lighteth every man." The Lord is loving unto every man. "The Lamb of God taketh away [beareth] the sin of the world." We must believe, in spite of sad and dark appearances, that there is no child of man on whom the heavenly Father hath not shined; none who are left to perish without a hope of salvation. The light shineth upon all; but they are sons of light whose souls within are lighted with that heavenly glow, who come to the light and rejoice in the light, and in the brightness of that light see what others cannot see because their eyes are holden - the fair beauty of the Lord, the exceeding loveliness of the blessed Savior's life, the aureole of golden light that bathes the cross of Christ in a glory of unearthly radiance.
3. Therefore they must walk in the light. They must live in the consciousness of that light, feeling its warmth and glory; as they move hither and thither in their daily life, they must walk in the sense of that light which is all around them. It shows things in their true colors. Sin is hateful, loathsome; you see its utter hideousness when the light shines upon it. Holiness is fair and bright; you see its attractive beauty when the heavenly light shines on it in its glory. The light shines into our hearts; it shows us our guilt, our misery, our danger. But, blessed be God, it does more than that. It hath a purifying power; it cleanses what was unclean; it brightens what was dark. "If we walk in the light... the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin."
4. They are sons of day, therefore they must watch. The light shows the danger of sloth; it rests upon those awful words, "Thou wicked and slothful servant," and brings them out into full distinctness. They must not sleep, as do others. Indifference and apathy are deadly enemies of the soul. The unbelieving multitude sleep; they are thoughtless about their souls, careless of the awful destinies which lie before us. The believer will watch; for he will remember the reiterated commandment of his Lord, "Watch, therefore.... What I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch." Watch. fullness is thoughtfulness; it is a vivid interest in everything that belongs to the spiritual life, an earnest desire to quicken it into ever new energies, a freshness of spirit, an active vigilance in guarding against all the dangers and temptations that surround us. "They that sleep, sleep in the night," but we are sons of day. We must watch as men that wait for their Lord. We know not when he cometh; we must be watchful always lest that day overtake us as a thief. It cometh as a thief. This warning of our Lord is not only recorded in the Gospels, but St. Paul, St. Peter, St. John, re-echo the solemn words, it made a deep impression on the minds of the early Christians; witness the name Gregory ("watchful") so common in the ancient Church. Would that that impression remained, that we too might be stirred to ever-deepening watchfulness. "The Lord is at hand."
5. They must be sober. "They that be drunken are drunken in the night." The Christian must he sober. Intoxication causes drowsiness; it is inconsistent with watchfulness. The intemperate cannot watch. The Christian must be temperate in all things; strictly temperate as regards food and drink, for temperance is the fruit of the Spirit, and drunkenness is one of those works of the flesh of which it is written that "they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." He must be temperate in all his enjoyments; for all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, - all these things intoxicate their votaries, and make them slothful and drowsy in the concerns of the soul. But we must be sober, for we are of the day; we walk in the light of day and are looking for the coming of the day of the Lord.
6. They must be prepared for the assaults of temptation. They must be clothed with the armor of light.
(1) The breastplate of faith and love. The hosts of darkness will gather round the Christian warrior as he stands watchful at his post. They cannot harm him if he continue faithful; the fiery darts of the wicked one cannot pierce the breastplate of faith and love. Faith is trustfulness. The soul that trusts in Christ is fixed and steadfast. Trust not in earthly things; they will fail you at the last. But trust in Christ; he abideth faithful; he is able to save even to the uttermost; his love is stronger than death. Faith protects the Christian's heart. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be saved." Faith overcomes the world. Love springs out of faith, and quickens faith. Believe in Christ, and love him you must, for faith realizes his presence in all his grace and tenderness. "We have known and believed the love that God hath to us;" "We love him, because he first loved us." Love reacts on faith; for God, who is Love, can be known only of those who have learned of him the great lesson of love. "Every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God." Like is known by like. He who knows not in his own heart what it is to love, cannot know God, who is the eternal Lure. Love grows out of faith, and love fills faith with life and joy and holy enthusiasm. Love and faith protect the Christian as he watches; they sustain his energies. Faith preserves him from anxious doubts; the holy love of God keeps out all carnal loves.
(2) The helmet of the Christian warrior. The hope of salvation guards his head. Other hopes may fall in shattered ruins on him; they will not crush him; they may vex and bruise, but they will not reach a mortal part; they may strike him as he stands erect and fearless; they will glance off from the polished surface of the helmet of salvation. The blessed hope of Bib eternal living in the heart supports the Christian in toil, in sorrow, in sickness, and in death. "Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three." He will watch who hath these blessed graces; he will persevere, faithful unto death, looking always for the coming of the great and awful day.
7. God is their Strength. Without him they can do nothing, He did not appoint us to wrath, He is our Father; he is not willing that any should perish. He willeth that all men should be saved. Salvation, great and blessed word, is what God willeth for us all.
8. The work of the Lord Jesus. Our salvation is his work. He died for us, on our behalf and in our stead; his precious death is the high example of entire self-sacrifice for the sake of others; it is the atonement for our sins. "For us. Those great words stimulate us to love and serve him; they should be constantly in our thoughts; they should fill us with wonder, awe, and adoring love. For us," though we were sinners; "for us," though he is God; "for us" - we can never reach the depths of mysterious, blessed meaning which He hid in those two simple words. He died that we, whether we watch or sleep, while we remain among the living, watching for his coming, and while we sleep with those who are laid to sleep through Jesus, should ever live together with him. His death is cur life; by his death he took away the power of sin, which is the death of the soul. He died that we might live in that holy life which is in fellowship with him. That life begins now. "Ye have eternal life," St. John says. Christ's saints live with him and in him, for he is their Life. They live with him during their earthly pilgrimage; they live with him in Paradise, where the holy departed are with Christ; they shall live with him in that glory which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man.
9. Practical conclusion.
(1) They must comfort one another. The word wavers in its meaning between comfort and exhortation. The two ideas, indeed, run very near together, as the etymology of the English word "comfort" suggests. To comfort, according to its derivation, is to strengthen. Comfort, consolation, is a source of strength. The despondent, those who brood over their sufferings and fret themselves in their troubles, are timid, devoid of energy and strength. Comfort helps them to "lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees," and stimulates them to look forward to the future with hope and courage. The Thessalonian Christians needed both comfort and exhortation. They had a great trial of affliction; they suffered much persecution from the beginning. No earthly comfort is so great as the sympathy of loving Christian friends. And. those who sympathize with us stir us up by their example, by their loving words; their sympathy implies exhortation; it issues in exhortation, it makes exhortation real and effective.
(2) They must edify one another. To edify is to build up. The wise builder builds his house on the rock, which is Christ. He is the Foundation; Christians are "built up in him." In the deepest sense he is the Builder. "On this rock I will build my Church." "But," St. Paul says, "we are laborers together with God." Such grace he gives to his servants that they are privileged to help on the great work, to build upon the one Foundation. There is no higher, holier work than this, to prepare the living stones, to build them up into the one holy temple, the Church of the living God. The Thessalonians were doing it. St. Patti recognizes their loving labors, and urges them to persevere. Be it ours to follow them.
1. It is not for us to know the times and seasons; be not too curious; but:
2. Prepare in quiet faith: "the Lord is at hand."
3. Live as sons of light; pray for grace to realize the presence of God, to see the cross by faith, to watch in hope and love.
4. Each Christian, however humble, has his place in building up the Church of Christ; let each do his part. - B.C.C.
I. HOW THE DAY OF THE LORD IS SUDDEN AND UNEXPECTED IN ITS COMING. "But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that aught be written unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night." By the same method which is followed in 1 Thessalonians 4:9, the apostle seeks to impress on the Thessalonians a certain point relating to the times and. the seasons which make up the period of the Lord's dealing with men. This related more particularly to the day of the Lord, the day when the Lord is to descend to earth, which is to be thought of as the completing point of the times and the seasons. It is practically to each of us the day of our death. When with them he had taken care that they should accurately understand the sudden and unexpected nature of the advent. There were decisive words of the Lord on which to proceed. "But of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only;" "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power." There was even the same image employed by our Lord which is employed here. "But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what hour the thief was coming, he would have watched, and not have left his house to be broken through." As a thief, without notice given and under cover of the night, approaches the dwelling which its occupant thinks secure, so stealthily approaches the day of the Lord. To all alike the uncertainty exists, and will exist. All fixings of the time, such as are sometimes attempted, are wholly unwarranted. God does not mean that either the Church or the world should know the time, any more than he means that any of us should know the time of our death.
II. HOW TO THE CARNALLY SECURE THE DAY OF THE LORD IS TO COME AS A TERRIBLE SURPRISE. "When they are saying, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall in no wise escape." The image is carried forward, and we are to think of those who confine their interest to the earthly sphere, and do not dream of their possession as ever to be disturbed. But, having sown carnal security, they are to reap destruction, and not only in their earthly but also in their higher interest. It is a strong word which is employed, and corresponds to "wrath," which is afterwards employed. This feeling of carnal security grows upon men. At first they chide themselves that they neglect Christ and their everlasting salvation. But, carried forward by the desire or' earthly gratification and in confidence in their own strength, they find excuses for the course which they are following. A state of moral darkness is produced in them. They become blinded to the character of God, and the opposition which is ever widening between their life and the will of God. The result is, that qualms of conscience leave them, and they say, "I have a feeling of peace within, and there is no trouble from without." But just when they crone to this height of carnal security, then sudden destruction comes upon them, from which there shall be no escape. Thus, it would seem, wilt it be at last. All men wilt not be ready for the descending Lord. "As were the days of Noah, so shall be the coming of the Son of man. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and they knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall be the coming of the Son of man." So it would seem is it, anticipatively, now. Men go on in their sinful courses, until they are suddenly overtaken by death and destruction.
III. HOW TO SONS OF LIGHT AND SONS OF THE DAY THE DAY OF THE LORD SHOULD NOT BE A SURPRISE. "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief: fur ye are all sons of light, and sons of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness." The Thessalonian brethren are excluded from the darkness which is implied in the state of carnal security; it was not, therefore, designed that that day should overtake them as a thief. The class to which they, as Christians, properly belonged, was that of sons of light and sons of the day. They are those to whom the Lord has been revealed, especially to whom it has been revealed that he will come, and who thus have light in them. They are those upon whom the Sun of righteousness has risen, making day aroused them. Welcoming the light, even in its reproving power, they come to be made of light and enveloped with light, so that they are sons of light (which is the Divine nature) and sons of the day (which is the Divine encompassment). When it is always light, the thief has not opportunity of approaching without being seen. So those who have abundance of light in them and around them should not be surprised by the day of the Lord. The class from which we as Christians are excluded is that of those who are of the night and of darkness. They are those who have moral night drawn around them. They are those into whose nature the light of God's mercy and truth has not penetrated. Loving the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds are evil, they come to have darkness as their surrounding and their nature, so that they are of the night and of darkness. It was open to the apostle, from the use of similar expressions by our Lord ("sons of this world," "sons of the devil"), to have said sons of the night and sons of darkness. He seems to have chosen his language purposely to avoid the idea of freedom, to bring out the idea of servitude. They are not like the free sons of light and free sons of the day. They are rather those who are hemmed in by the night, who are enslaved to darkness. When there is darkness in and around a dwelling there may be said to be an invitation to the thief to approach. So those who have darkness in and around their being may be said to invite a surprise from the day of the Lord.
IV. HOW WE ARE BOUND, AS ENLIGHTENED CHRISTIANS, TO WATCH AND BE SOBER. "So then let us not sleep, as do the rest, but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night." There is put forward what we are not to do. Let us not sleep, as do the rest of mankind. Sleeping implies obliviousness and inactivity. The rest of mankind are in an oblivious, inactive state, especially with regard to the solemn issues of life. Let us who have light not be like them. What we are to do is to watch. We are to have the wakeful activity of the sentinel at his post. He knows not from what side or what hour the enemy may approach, so he has altogether and always to be vigilant. In like manner, let us take full account of the fact that death is coming. And, seeing we know not how or what hour it may come, let our vigilance all round never sleep. What we are to do is also to be sober. A subject should be in a fit state when ushered into the presence of his sovereign. It will be a solemn thing for us to be ushered into the presence of the Lord at death; and we should be in a fit state for the occasion. We should especially have our appetites in proper restraint. We should have the full command of our powers. We should be so employed from moment to moment that, when the last moment comes, we can fitly leave our employments and pass into the presence of our Judge. Not to be doing this, is to be conforming to unenlightened practices. "They that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night." The literal fact is stated as the basis for thought. Night is the congenial time for sleep. So those who are in the night of sin are in a drowsy, unalarmed state with regard to their spiritual concerns. They do not take into account that they have to meet death, and yet, however deep their sleep, they have to meet it and the realities to which they will be wakened up after death. Night is also the congenial time for drunkenness. How much of the drinking that is to be deplored goes on after darkness has set in! So those who are in the night of sin are in a state of spiritual intoxication. And that is the worst thing that can be said of the literal drunkard. His spiritual nature is in a bad state. In not restraining his appetites he is rebelling against God. In continuing in sin he is hardening his heart. And he is not fit for passing into the presence of his Judge. And so is it, too, with those who are drunken with the world's engagements and cares. They become incapacitated for spiritual exercise, and for the enjoyment of the Lord's presence. "But take heed to yourselves, lest haply your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that day come on you suddenly as a snare."
I. HOW WE ARE TO GIVE PROOF THAT WE ARE SOBER BY BEING ARMED WITH FAITH, LOVE, AND HOPE. "But let us, since we are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation." Having the light of day, and knowing what is coming, let us, as sober men, take all due precautions. For us to be forewarned should be to be forearmed. It is only defensive armor that is thought of here as brought into requisition. The idea seems to be, that we are to be armed against all that would unfit us for our Lord's coming.
1. The breastplate. This is a double piece of armor. It is faith and love combined. Faith apprehends the Lord's coming, in opposition to blind unbelief which says, "Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fall asleep, all things continue as they were." Faith defends by encircling us with the Divine strength, which is as though every part of our defenseless hearts were covered with armor. But faith only rightly defends when, at the same time, love gives Christ the possession of our hearts. It is the world that tempts us to forget the Lord's coming, to make no preparation for death. When our hearts are filled with love to the Savior, we are enabled to keep out the world. The breastplate of our defense being completed by love, brings it into agreement with what, in Ephesians 6:14, and also in Isaiah 59:17, is called "the breastplate of righteousness."
2. The helmet. This is a single piece of armor. In Ephesians 6:17, and also in Isaiah 59:17, it is simply called "the helmet of salvation." But what is meant is what is here called "the hope of salvation." We have a certain experience of salvation already in the working of faith and love. Hope reaches beyond this experience forward to the salvation which is to be completed at the Lord's coming. This hope is a defense to us, as the helmet used to be to the warrior. Wearing this provided armor, we can hold our head high and scathless above present troubles. Let us, then, as sober men, not unclasp our breastplate, not lay aside our helmet.
VI. HOW THE SALVATION HOPED FOR HAS BEEN MADE A DIVINE CERTAINTY TO US. "For God appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." For those who are sunk in spiritual slumber and intoxication there is an appointment unto wrath! The Divine displeasure must be manifested against the rebellious course which they have been following. But for us who are acting as sober men there is an appointment unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, i.e. at his coming. And what God has appointed will be carried out. A soldier endures in the hope of victory. But the victory is to him an uncertainty; it may not be realized, or he may not live to share in it. But the Christian soldier has a Divine appointment on which to proceed. If even now we take Christ as our Savior, and from this point wait for his coming, then God intends that we shall conquer. Let us seize the advantage of our position. While we have our faith and. love in vigorous exercise, let us know also the sustaining power of a lively hope.
VII. HOW THE OBTAINING OF SALVATION HAS BECOME ASSURED TO US. '"Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him."
1. Our life has its source in Christ's death. Christ died for our benefit, and, by implication, in our stead. He died in the way of making satisfaction for our sin. In him, as our Representative or Head, we obtain the benefits of his work. It is as though we had died, as though we had made satisfaction for sin. Thus in condescending love, in accordance with eternal principles, are we introduced into salvation.
2. The final end of Christ's death is that we should live together with him. Christ died with this view, that we should ultimately live along with him, and have fellowship with him; we entering into his thoughts and delighting in his love, while he enters into our thoughts and delights in our love.
3. This end is independent of our waking or sleeting at Christ's coming. Our waking or sleeping is accidental; the essential thing is that we shall have fellowship with Christ, and fellowship, as it then shall be, in the body. Both classes, those who wake and those who sleep, have the same reason for assuring themselves that they shall live together with him, viz. in the fact that he has died to merit it for them, as he lives to secure it for them. Those who wake shall be changed without the union between soul and body being broken; and, changed, they shall live together with him. Those who sleep have the union between the soul and body broken, without any break in the union between the soul and Christ and in fellowship with him; and, raised from their graves, they shall live together with him. Thus the ultimate state of both classes is to be the same, the apostle returning here to the conclusion reached in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, where it is said of the same two classes united that they shall be for ever with the Lord.
VIII. HOW IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES THEY ARE TO ACT TOWARD EACH OTHER. "Wherefore exhort one another, and build each other up, even as also ye do." There is an unhappy change from "comfort" to "exhort" in the translation. It ought to be "comfort," as in the parallel verse at the close of the previous paragraph. They were to comfort one another with what was blessed in the Lord's coming. They were also to edify each other, in preparation for the Lord's coming - communicating knowledge to each other, praying for each other, pressing duty on each other, stimulating each other by example. This they were doing, and in that way were admirably answering the ends of their being in a Christian society. But let them go on, and not, while only a little away from the starting-point, suppose that they have reached finality. Let us, to, o, make the end of our being in a Christian society comfort and, especially, edification to all the members. - R.F.
Matthew 24:43, 44). The "day of the Lord" which is to come thus suddenly is often referred to in the Old Testament. There it is a dreadful occasion of Divine manifestation for judgment, to be hailed with gladness when the judgment falls on the enemies of Israel and brings the chosen people deliverance, but to be regarded with terror by sinful Israelites (Amos 5:18). St. Paul regards it as the day of Christ's second advent. But the general use of the expression in the Old Testament justifies us in applying the warning concerning it to various forms of the parousia.
I. THE DAY OF THE LOUD WILL COME UPON THE BENIGHTED AS A THIEF.
1. The day is unexpected. What did the heathen fellow-citizens of the Thessalonians know, or think, or care about the glorious advent of Christ, with its angel-summons and its trumpet-blast for which the Christians were watching so eagerly? The Jews did not expect the coming of the Son of man in the destruction of Jerusalem. The world does not think of the great judgment-day. Worldly people do not contemplate death.
2. No signs are given to the world of the dawning of this dread day. No lurid twilight betokens the tempestuous morning. It bursts suddenly upon a world slumbering in darkness. Science, philosophy, ordinary signs of the times, give no hint of it to the unspiritual. The biblical arithmetic of our modern prophets is always proving itself at fault. No bare intellectual calculation will ever discover the "day of the Lord."
3. It is best for the world that no natural signs should herald this day.
(1) Christian people are better without the common signs which could be discerned by ordinary observation. To possess them would be to walk by sight. They are not given in order that faith may be exercised.
(2) The world at large is better without these signs. They would disarrange all the necessary pursuits of life. Some would cry abjectly for mercy without really repenting at heart. Some, as when plagues raged in cities, would fling off all restraints and plunge into a reckless course of debauchery. Some would coldly calculate the time allowed for sinning before they would need to bethink them of preparing for the end.
II. THE DAY OF THE LORD WILL NOT COME UPON THE ENLIGHTENED AS A THIEF. St. Paul makes an important distinction here - one that is not always recognized: "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief."
1. No men are enlightened as to the date of the second advent. Even Christ did not know it. This he distinctly says (Mark 13:32).
2. Christians are enlightened as to the fact and the character of the second advent.
(1) They know that Christ will come again, which is more than the unbelieving world knows. They have Christ's own promise to rely upon (Matthew 24:30).
(2) They know that Christ will come unexpectedly. At least, they ought to know this if they read the teachings of Scripture on the subject.
3. The enlightenment of Christians will prevent the second advent from coming upon them like a thief. When we are prepared for a surprise, it is no longer a surprise. If we know a thing may happen at any time, its occurrence will not give us the shock of an unexpected event. Christ, longed for, eagerly desired, fondly expected, will come at an hour when his people know not, but not when his true disciples are unprepared to welcome him. - W.F.A.
I. THE SIN AND DANGER OF SPIRITUAL SLEEP. "Let us not sleep, as do others." There are three kinds of sleep spoken of in Scripture - the sleep of nature, which restores the wasted energies of the body; the sleep of death; and the sleep of the text, which is always fraught with peril, its prevailing idea being insensibility. The sleeper is:
1. Not aware of his danger.
2. Forgetful of his duty.
3. Unconscious of the real world around him.
4. Immovable to all appeals.
5. May not even know that he is asleep.
II. THE DUTY OF WATCHFULNESS AND SOBRIETY. "But let us watch and be sober," so as to be always prepared for the Lord's coming. We are not to be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, so that that day should overtake us unawares. Let us watch that we may be sober.
1. The reason is that sleep and drunkenness are works of darkness done in the night. "They that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night." Those spiritually asleep "sleep through all life's agitations, beneath the thunders of Sinai, and the pleadings of mercy from the cross." Like drunken men, they are intoxicated with life's delights, "minding earthly things," occupied supremely with "the unfruitful works of darkness." Believers are not so, into whose heart "God has commanded the light to shine out of darkness, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus" (2 Corinthians 4:6).
2. Another reason for watchful sobriety is that our life is a spiritual warfare. The believer is to be a sentinel always on guard, or a soldier on the battle-field - "having on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation." As a good soldier, bound to endure hardness, he goes forth into the conflict of life, equipped in Divine armor, not for aggression but for defense. The pieces of armor here enumerated are for the protection of vital parts, the heart and the head.
(1) Faith is the principal part of this spiritual armor. "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (1 John 5:4, 5). It is by faith they resist the devil (1 Peter 5:9). It is by it all difficulties are overcome (Matthew 17:20). If it is by the "sword of the Spirit, the Word of God," we are to conquer, faith is the arm that wields the sword. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews illustrates the power of faith as a principle of action and as a principle of endurance.
(2) Love is joined with faith to form the breastplate, for "faith worketh by love" (Galatians 5:6). Love preserves from apostasy, and knits the saints together, because it is the bond of perfection, and thus enables us to bear all trial through love to the Redeemer.
(3) The hope of salvation is the helmet. In the corresponding passage in Ephesians, the helmet is salvation itself; but the difference is not material, the salvation in the one case being partially enjoyed, in the other an object of future hope. Hope is a protection to the believer, as it nerves him to meet danger, and enables him to brave difficulties, by looking to the glorious objects in view. Therefore it is "the patience of hope." Thus the three Christian graces make the soul watchful and ready for the Lord's coming. - T.C.
I. THE CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT.
1. These are in darkness. The darkness is not confined to the illiterate. Nor is it confined to the inhabitants of heathen lands. People in Christian countries, who are familiar with the language of the New Testament, may be totally ignorant of its spiritual thought. Such people, though they sit in university chairs as professors of divinity, are blinded with midnight blackness. Was not Faust in the night?
2. Some of the children of the night sleep. These are the thoughtless and careless. They may be awake to secular business. But they slumber over moral and spiritual subjects. If they think of them at all it is with dreamy unconcern.
3. Others of the children of the night are awake only to evil. They spend the night in drunkenness. They hide shameful practices under the cloak of darkness.
4. The guilt of the children of the night is mitigated just in proportion as their benighting is not willful. If it arises from their unhappy circumstances, these unfortunate people cannot be condemned to the same doom as that of men who sin with their eyes open, or as that of those who willfully put out their eyes because they love darkness.
II. THE SONS OF THE DAY.
1. These are enlightened. They may not be brilliantly intellectual nor highly educated. They may be illiterate in human lore. But the "eyes of their hearts" (Ephesians 1:18) are opened. By faith and love and obedience they have come to know what God has revealed through his Spirit.
2. Sons of the day are expected to be wakeful. It is natural to sleep in the night. Sleep in the day betokens sinful indolence. The indifference of spiritually ignorant people is natural. That of Christians on whom has risen "the Dayspring from on high" is monstrous.
3. Sons of the day are expected to be sober. It is bad enough to be drunken in the night, but a debauch which is not shamed by the light of day proves itself to be scandalously depraved. There are excesses of passion, of self-will, and of worldly excitement which Christian people who have escaped the coarser sins fall into. These are not excusable in the children of the night, but they are much less excusable in the sons of the day. Sobriety becomes the enlightened Christian. This sobriety need not consist in Puritan rigor; much less should it partake of sourness, gloom, or prim formality. The sober Christian should remember that the typical citizen of the kingdom of heaven is a little child. Sobriety is just the opposite to unrestrained passionateness of pleasure or anger.
4. Sons of the day are provided with armor. The three graces - faith, hope, and love - constitute the armor of the Christian. They protect the two most vital parts - breast and head. Faith and love come together, for they interact. Faith working by love protects the heart. Hope, the hope of final deliverance from trial and temptation, is the helmet, because it protects the head by keeping the thoughts clear and calm. - W.F.A.
I. ITS SOURCE. "For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to the obtaining of salvation."
1. The calling is according to the purpose. "Whom he predestinates, them he also calls." The security of the believer depends, not upon himself, but upon God's unchangeable and loving purpose.
2. The purpose is not to wrath, but to salvation. Though believers were once '"children of wrath," they are now reconciled to God, and saved from wrath to come.
3. God's purpose of mercy toward us does not free us from the necessity of being watchful concerning the means of salvation.
II. THE CHANNEL OF SALVATION. "By our Lord Jesus Christ."
1. The covenant was "ordained in the hand of a mediator. (Galatians 3:19.)
2. His death, not his doctrine or example merely, was necessary to our salvation. Who died for us."
3. His death was substitutionary. It was "for us."
III. THE END OF THIS SALVATION. "Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live with him together." This was "the joy set before him" for which "he endured the cross" (Hebrews 12:2) that we might live to him in order to our living with him.
1. It is life with Christ. Not merely life in him, but life with him in glory. "I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better" (Philippians 1:23). It is the greatest joy and glory of heaven (Romans 14:8, 9; 1 Corinthians 5:9).
2. It is life with all believers. They are to live with him, unsevered from one another; for whether they "are alive and remain," or whether they are of those who "have fallen asleep," they will be together, in Christ's society. Thus the great salvation is the "common salvation."
IV. THE CONSOLATORY ASPECT OF THESE TRUTHS. "Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do. These truths afforded a grand basis for mutual comfort and edification. The Thessalonians ought, therefore, to dismiss their despondency and alarm, and encourage each other with the blessed hopes of the gospel. - T.C.
precedes. St. Paul has been contrasting the condition of the sons of light with that of the children of darkness. Among the latter are to be found all degrees of that conduct which bides under the cloak of night - from the carelessness that sleeps, down to the debauchery that is awake only to cause its own shame. Such things must bring wrath in "the day of the Lord" (ver. 2). But Christians are called to quite another life. They are not destined to wrath. Let them, therefore, not behave as the sons of the night, but in a way that is worthy of their call to salvation, with sobriety and confidence, strong in faith and love, and rejoicing in hope (ver. 8).
I. THE DIVINE APPOINTMENT TO SALVATION.
1. It springs from an august Source. God appoints to salvation. He has a hand in our destinies. We are not left to discover a way of escape from ruin for ourselves. God has interfered for our deliverance.
2. It is determined by a firm ordinance. God "appointed." This word signifies prevision, arrangement, definite order. Redemption is not an irregular makeshift brought about by a hasty after-thought. It enters into the calm, eternal thoughts of God, and takes its place in the orderly disposition of the Divine government.
3. It aims at securing a large result. When God makes bare his arm and settles a solemn appointment, this must be for some adequate result. The object must be large to justify so large an action. Here it is nothing less than perfect deliverance from the ruin of sin. Salvation is not a technical phrase. It is too big a word to be defined by a theological sentence. It is deliverance all round - from root and fruit of evil, from wrath of justice, from penalty of law, from tyranny of Satan, from vice of heart, from judgment without, from corruption within.
4. It is to be personally accepted. We are appointed to "the obtaining of salvation;" for
(1) though ordained by God, it is not enjoyed by us until we have personal experience of it;
(2) this personal acceptance depends on our own will and act;
(3) the full consequences of the Divine ordinance of salvation are still future.
II. THE METHOD OF ACCOMPLISHING THIS DIVINE APPOINTMENT.
1. It is secured by the mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus it is to be obtained "through" him, which means
(1) that the salvation itself is brought about by the action of Christ; and
(2) that it becomes ours when we are united to Christ.
Now each of these points has its own distinct position in the great work. Too often they are confused together. It is not necessary for us to comprehend all that Christ does. Our part is to see that we are united to him. He will do his part whether we understand it or not.
2. It involved the death of Christ for us. So much we know as a fact, whatever theory we may have as to the bearings of the crucifixion upon the process of redemption. And it is the great fact which is of supreme importance to us. It is unfortunate that abstract propositions concerning the theological aspects of it should confuse our vision of the simple, touching statement, "He died for us."
III. THE END FOR WHICH THIS DIVINE APPOINTMENT IS MADE.
1. This is flint we may live in fellowship with Christ. Strictly speaking, the fellowship with Christ is given as the object of the suffering of death by Christ. But the earlier part of the passage shows us the Divine appointment of salvation as secured through Christ. Putting the two together, we see that salvation is worthless without the life in Christ, as well as that salvation is only possible to those who are in fellowship with Christ. Salvation is in itself a negative term. Bare deliverance is of little use unless some good is to be made of the liberty and immunity. While a fellow-creature is being saved from death by drowning we follow the process with intense interest; but after his deliverance we may not feel much concern with his future career. It may be that he will make but a poor use of his restored life. If we finished the story we might find the issue to be a pitiable anti-climax. God is guarding his great appointment from a similar catastrophe. They who are saved live in fellowship with Christ. Such a life is worth securing at the greatest cost.
2. This fellowship with Christ is independent of the greatest outward changes. It remains whether we wake or sleep, i.e. whether we live or die. - W.F.A.
I. THE APPOINTMENT OF PASTORS IN THE CHURCH.
1. This was by Divine appointment. "He gave pastors and teachers" (Ephesians 4:11). There is no hint given in Scripture of a time when pastors would cease to be necessary, and when the Church would be served by an "any-man ministry."
2. It was the custom of the apostles to "appoint elders in every city," for they understood the advantages of a full ecclesiastical organization.
II. THE OFFICIAL POSITION AND DUTIES OF PASTORS.
1. They are laborers in the Church. "We beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you."
(1) This work is no sinecure, but a hard exhausting service, with heavy responsibilities and many cares.
(a) It is labor in preaching. For they "labor in the Word and doctrine" (1 Timothy 1:5), "rightly dividing the Word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15), giving each of the household of faith "a portion of meat in due season" (Luke 12:42).
(b) It is labor in earnestly contending for the faith as well as in dispensing the ordinances of religion.
(2) It is labor in a Divine partnership. For pastors are "laborers together with" God in the work of perfecting the Church (1 Corinthians 3:9).
2. They are presidents in the Churches. "Those which are over you in the Lord." This refers to the elders or presbyters, who are also called pastors, or shepherds, or bishops (Acts 20:17, 28).
(1) The appointment of rulers is essential to order and harmony m the Church.
(2) Yet they are not a sacerdotal caste, nor "lords over God's heritage" (1 Peter 5:3).
(3) Their official superiority is "in the Lord," because from him deriving its warrant, motive, and blessing.
3. They are spiritual guides. "And admonish you." They have "to watch for your souls as they that must give account" (Hebrews 13:17). Therefore they must "reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine" (2 Timothy 4:2). They have to "warn every man, and teach every man in all wisdom, that they may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus" (Colossians 1:28). They have to warn against sins committed, and urge to duties neglected.
III. THE OBLIGATIONS OF CHRISTIAN PEOPLE TO THEIR PASTORS.
1. They must give them due recognition as pastors. They must "know them." They must make themselves acquainted with them, that pastors may be the better able to know the state of their souls, and they must acknowledge their position as "stewards of the mysteries of God," and submit to their ministry.
2. They must "esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake.
(1) The bond is not to be one of mere official relationship, but of affection.
(2) A due respect for the ministry is an important element in its efficiency and success. Therefore we are to hold such in reputation," and to count them "worthy of double honor."
3. The ground of this claim is "for their work's sake. Not for the mere office, which may be often filled unworthily, though it is still entitled to consideration, but for the sake of the labors of love" involved in its faithful discharge. Ministers who "make full proof of their ministry" challenge the abiding respect of their flocks. - T.C.
I. THE MINISTERS OF THE CHURCH.
1. Their duties.
(1) They labor. The work of the Christian ministry involves much labor - unseen labor in prayer and study, outward labor in preaching, in visiting the sick and aged, in feeding the Church of God, which he purchased with his own blood. They are unworthy of their high calling who do not labor.
(2) They preside over the flock, but it is "in the Lord;" by his appointment, in his strength, in accordance with his will, with a view to his glory, not their own. They must not seek to be "lords over God's heritage," but rather be ensamples to the flock, first in humility, first in self-denial, first in Christian love.
(3) They admonish - a difficult, a painful duty, but often the duty of a minister; not to be neglected by those who watch for souls as they that must give account, but to be performed in humility and gentleness, with many prayers for guidance and for wisdom.
2. The respect due to their office. St. Paul beseeches the Thessalonians (mark his earnestness) to recognize the labors of their presbyters; perhaps there had been some neglect of them. It is good for Christians themselves to know the ministers who work among them, to take a lively interest in their work, their difficulties, their necessities: so they may share in that; holy work themselves. Such an interest will lead them to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake, for its dignity and. importance, but also for the faithfulness with which it is performed. The indolent and. careless will not win this esteem. Reverence towards those set over us and due subordination, tend to promote the peace of the Church. That peace is of the utmost moment. Our unhappy divisions give occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully, and draw Christians away from the quiet pursuit of holiness into the unhealthy atmosphere of controversy.
II. THE DUTIES OF THE BRETHREN GENERALLY.
1. Admonition and encouragement. All Christians must take their part in the great work of saving souls; all are responsible, in a greater or less degree, for the welfare of the souls that come within their influence. All true Christians must admonish when admonition is needed; all must comfort those who stand in need of comfort. All must support the weak, and all must practice patience towards all men, unbelievers as well as believers. For these duties are so many different phases of Christian love, and Christian love is the highest of all graces. The love of the brethren is the proof that we have passed from death unto life. Then the Christian who is living in that life which is hid with Christ in God must take a deep and holy interest in the souls around him. The nearer he lives to God the better he will be able to admonish, to comfort, to support; the more willing he will be to labor in the cause of Christ.
2. They must teach the unlawfulness of revenge. The heathen almost universally applauded it. To return evil for evil, they thought, was as commendable as to requite good with good. The Christian must learn of Christ, the blessed Master, to pray, "Father, forgive them." He must crush out of his heart all revengeful feelings; he must learn to love his enemies, to pray for those who use him despitefully. It is a hard lesson sometimes. We shall learn it if we are living by faith in the presence of the cross. He died for the Thessalonians when they were enemies; they must learn of him to be kind to all men, even to the unthankful and to the evil.
3. Christian joy. It is a duty, not merely a privilege. A sullen, joyless temper implies a wart of faith, the absence of hope and love. "The kingdom of God is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. He dwelleth in the Christian heart, and his presence bringeth joy. There must be joy where God is; the joy of heaven lieth in this, "He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them." And the joy of the faithful on earth is joy in the Lord, joy in his presence, in his love. Not to rejoice is want of trustfulness in him whose love should gladden the Christian heart. Barrow begins his great sermon on this text with the words, "O good apostle, how acceptable rules dost thou prescribe! O gracious God, how gracious laws dost thou inspire!" but "resevera verum gaudium." Many rejoice at times, in seasons of excitement; but to rejoice evermore, in sickness, and pain, and disappointments, and bereavements - this is difficult indeed; this implies a high degree of self-mastery, a living faith in God. We must learn to regard joy as our bounden duty, a duty which flows out of the great debt of love which we owe to God. Joy is the expression of our gratitude; it ought to be the free-will offering of a thankful heart. "Rejoice evermore" is the commandment of the Lord. He who commands gives also power to obey. He giveth to all men largely. He gives his Holy Spirit to all who ask in faith, and with the Spirit comes the gift of joy.
4. Perseverance in forayer. The whole of the Christian life should be consecrated to God - every action, word, thought. This involves a constant reference of all the little details of our daily lives to the will of God. We should refer them all to him, as Hezekiah spread the letter of Sennacherib before the Lord. No emergency is so great as to keep the faithful Christian from his God, none of our little difficulties is so small as to make it needless or unseemly to consult the Lord in prayer. "Whatsoever ye do in word or in deed, do all in the Name of the Lord Jesus." Thus the whole life must be sanctified by habitual communion with God, while in the stated hours of prayer the believer will constantly entreat the Giver of all good with unceasing and ever more urgent importunity for more abundant grace, for larger spiritual gifts, for strength from on high to offer daily a more acceptable service. Thus prayer will be without ceasing. The heart prays when the lips are silent.
5. Thankfulness. Thanksgiving must always accompany prayer. It springs out of faithful prayer; for faithful prayer brings us into the presence of God, and in that presence we must give thanks. Thanksgiving, like prayer, should be without ceasing, in everything. We thank God for his unspeakable gift, the gift of Christ; we thank him for our access to him in prayer and praise and holy sacrament; we thank him for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life. We must learn to thank him, not only in our joys, but in our sorrows too. We must thank him for his chastisements, for they are sent in love. "Hast thou suffered any evil," says Chrysostom; "if thou wilt, it is no evil; give thanks to God, and the evil is turned to good." He practiced what he taught; in the midst of cruel afflictions he died with the words, "Glory be to God for all things," on his lips. This is the will of God - God would have the Christian's life to be a life of joy, a life of unceasing prayer, of perpetual thanksgiving. This is his will in Christ Jesus, revealed in the words of Christ; exemplified in the life of Christ, rendered possible by the grace of Christ to those who abide in him.
6. Spiritual gifts. The Divine fire was kindled at the great day of Pentecost in the baptism of fire; the like holy flame burns in all true Christian hearts. It is of all gifts the most precious. It involves an awful responsibility.
(1) It is our part to stir up the gift of God that is in us; to watch very carefully lest, through sin or carelessness or indifference, the holy fire lose its brightness and its power. The foolish virgins were suddenly aroused to the consciousness that their lamps were going out. The Lord was come; they had no oil, they were not ready. It was too late. Arise and trim your lamps; take warning in time; quench not the Spirit. An unclean life, says Chrysostom, quenches that holy fire; so does apathy, indifference in religion. Sin is like water poured upon the flame. There is no fellowship between light and darkness; the Holy Spirit dwelleth not in the impure heart. Indifference gradually quenches the fire. The lamp will not burn without the oil; the daily renewal of the Holy Ghost is necessary for the support of the spiritual life within us. The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul; he may depart from us if we live, like Saul, in willfulness and disobedience. It is a tearful thought that we have the awful power of quenching that Spirit which is the very life of our souls. It should stimulate us to constant, anxious watchfulness.
(2) Quench not the Spirit in others; despise not prophesyings, but prove all things. There is a holy enthusiasm which comes from God; there is a fanaticism, a mere fervor of excitement, which is not of God. We must not believe every spirit, lest we be carried about with every blast of vain doctrine. We are bidden to "try the spirits whether they are of God." There were prophesyings in the apostolic times, flowing from the direct inspiration and impulse of the Holy Spirit; there are such utterances now. There were then, and there are now, counterfeit likenesses of these spiritual gifts. There is need of care. God giveth to his chosen a power of spiritual discernment. "He that is spiritual judgeth all things;" he will hold fast that which is good.
7. All evil must be avoided. Every form of evil; little sins, as they are called, as well as great sins. Little sins are the first symptoms of the deadly disease. It may be checked at its outbreak; if neglected, it may slay the soul. The danger is great; the enemy is awful in his power and malignity. Hate all that comes from him. - B.C.C.
1. DUTY TOWARD THE PRESIDENTS. "But we beseech you, brethren, to know them that labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them exceeding highly in love fur their work's sake." The Greek bears that those who labor, preside, and admonish are all one class. From other places in the New Testament we must understand that the reference is to the class of the elders. "And when they had appointed for them elders in every Church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they had believed." "For this cause," Paul says to Titus, "left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and. appoint elders in every city, as I gave thee charge." From 1 Timothy 5:17 it appears that there were elders who simply ruled, and others who both ruled and taught. The language employed in the description of the elders here does not require a restriction in the application to teaching elders. It can only be said that the greater extent of their duties warrants a special application to them. There is put forward the idea of their being workers. In any office the first thing to be looked to is the amount of real honest work that is done in it. Certainly it is not meant that any ecclesiastical office should be a sinecure. There was spiritual work to be done among the Thessalonians, and there were those who were appointed for the doing of it. These did their work even to weariness. Next to their being workers, they were presidents. In 1 Timothy 5:17 the elders are described as thus ruling or presiding, hi this presidency there is implied the possession of ecclesiastical power; but it is with limitations. Believers stand in an immediate personal relation to the Lord. But there is also the relation in which believers stand collectively to the Lord. In this relation Christ is not only President; but there are those who in each Christian society preside in the Lord, i.e. they preside in his Name, they represent his authority in the relation. To them belongs the power of the keys, or of admitting and excluding. To them it belongs to preside at the ordinance of the supper. To them it belongs to sit in judgment in matters connected with the efficient working of the society. As presidents, they are also monitors, not restrictively teachers. It belongs to them as characterized by piety and practical wisdom, and as foremost in every good work themselves, in a special manner, in virtue of their office, to press duty on those over whom they have been placed, to stir up the negligent, to administer rebuke to the erring. It is the duty of the members of a Christian society toward their laborious presidents and monitors to know them. It is usual to take this knowing as equivalent to knowing with appreciation, which is afterward defined as esteeming in love. It seems better not to bring forward the ideas of esteem and love, but to think only of that on which the esteem and love are founded, viz. such a marking of the presidents as leads to their being esteemed and loved. The esteem is to be founded on the work belonging to their office. They are engaged in the Lord's work, in seeking the spiritual good of those over whom they have been placed. And as that is the most important of all kinds of work, they are not only to be esteemed, but esteemed exceeding highly for their work's sake. While they are to be esteemed, they are also to be loved. Love is to be the element in which the esteem is to have its subsistence and nourishment. They are not to be judged harshly, but, in love, a kindly view is to be taken of them, and their defects overlooked.
II. DUTY OF REGARDING THE PEACE OF THE CHRISTIAN CIRCLE. "Be at peace among yourselves." Our Lord exhorts the twelve in almost the same terms: "Be at peace one with another." The exhortation means that we are to cultivate toward the members of the Christian circle such good feeling as will dispose us not only to refrain from strife, but also to be on good terms with them. And if we are to be peaceably disposed, as we are elsewhere exhorted, toward all men, much more are we to be peaceably disposed, as we are here exhorted, to those to whom we stand in nearer alliance and engagement, who are subjects with us of the same Prince of peace. The most fruitful cause of congregational or more widely ecclesiastical dispeace is fondness for power or honor. It was when the twelve had disputed one with another who was the greatest (Mark 9:34), and had turned against one who used Christ's Name yet followed not them (Mark 9:38), that they were exhorted to be at peace one with another (Mark 9:50). John refers to a certain Diotrephes, in a Church to which he wrote, who loved to have the pre-eminence among them. There are those who are more concerned to advance themselves, or their family connection, or their party, than the common ends for which the society exists. A co-operating cause is prejudice. There are those who are more attached to opinions hastily formed, or traditionally received, or to which they are constitutionally inclined as more liberal or more conservative, than to the truth honestly inquired into. When, with this, there conspires worldly motive, leading to worldly policy, the result, on occasion or, it may be, on little occasion, is dispeace. One cure for dispeace is respect for the properly constituted authorities, or good feeling toward the presidents. This wilt often carry a society through a difficult trial. A more effective cure is abundance of Christian work. It was when the twelve were in the way (unemployed so far) that they disputed who was the greatest. When afterward they were in the midst of their work, the question would not be who was the greatest, but who could do the most work for Christ. For a Church to he actively engaged in real work for the Master is to be in the best position for its own peace. Pray, then, for the peace of Jerusalem, and for its orderliness and holy activity, as conducive to peace.
III. DUTY TOWARD THREE CLASSES WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN CIRCLE.
1. The disorderly. "And we exhort you, brethren, admonish the disorderly." This class is described by a word which is used of soldiers who do not keep their rank. There were those in the Thessalonian Church who were out of rank, in the way of being negligent of their business, under the influence of the coming of Christ. In Christian Churches still there are those who are out of rank, in the way of being careless in attendance on ordinances, in the way of being dissipated, in the way of being chargeable with dishonorable actions. If it is a grave fault to be disorderly in a military sense, it is no less grave a fault to be disorderly in a Christian sense. Must it not be offensive to him who is pre-eminently charged with the order of the Church, the Captain of our salvation? And his command, laid not merely on the presidents but on all, is that such should be admonished. They all need to be admonished to the performance of the duty with regard to which they are at fault; and some of them need to he admonished to take the first step in the Christian life.
2. The faint-hearted. "Encourage the faint-hearted." In our Churches there are those who are faint-hearted on account of the loss of friends, as the Thessalonians were faint-hearted on account of the supposed fate of Christian friends taken away before the coming. There are those who are depressed by the state of their temporal affairs, as the Thessalonians would have a depressing influence in the way in which maintenance and home and even life were affected by persecution. There are always those who are apt to be faint-hearted on account of their spiritual state. Have they a real interest in Christ? Are they making progress in the Christian life? Are they doing any good? Are they having an influence for good upon those over whom they are immediately placed? The command of Christ, laid on all, is that such are to be encouraged. Let them be encouraged by the thought of the kind Providence that is exercised over them. Let them be encouraged to the exercise of faith. "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God."
3. The weak. "Support the weak." There would be those among the Thessalonians who felt the weakening influence of the heathenism out of which they had come. Heathen habits could not be laid aside in a day. So there are those in our Churches who are anxious to do well, but are apt to stumble from the strength of evil habit. The command of Christ, laid on all, is that such are not to be left to stand or fall by themselves; but they are to be supported by sympathy and counsel and. example until they attain to greater moral strength - as infants, or those weakened by disease, need to be supported, until they can go about freely.
IV. THE ONE DUTY TOWARD ALL WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN CIRCLE. "Be long-suffering toward all." It seems better to confine the reference to the Christian circle, and to consider the reference as widened in the following verse. This is the condition of mind that will fit us for dealing with all. It was not unfitting that the duty should be laid upon a young Church like that of Thessalonica. Young Christians are of a sanguine disposition. In their own enthusiasm they look for others being enthusiastic. They need, in their experience of the difficulty of evil being cast out of their own hearts, of keeping up their own enthusiasm, to be taught the lesson of patience. Let them not be less earnest, but let them bear long, in the hope of seeing those who are lukewarm and faulty brought into a better state.
V. DUTY ESPECIALLY TOWARD THOSE WHO INJURE US. "See that none render unto any one evil for evil; but always follow after that which is good, one toward another, and toward all." The heathenish idea is to return evil for evil. Even Aristotle regarded it not less reasonable to return evil for evil, than to return good for good; "for otherwise," he says," if a man must not retaliate, his condition appears to be as bad as slavery" ('Ethics,' bk. 5. 1 Thessalonians 5). This heathenish disposition to take revenge on those who injure us needs to be conquered by us. Hence there is enjoined on us care: "Take heed that none render unto any one evil for evil." There is danger, if we are not careful, of our giving way to revengeful feelings. The Christian idea is that we are to resist not evil: "Whosoever smiteth thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." The meaning here is that, instead of returning evil for evil, we are to do kind offices to those who injure us. This is the best way of gaining our offending brethren. It is also the best way of gaining over them that arc outside. There is no more powerful argument in favor of Christianity than its conquest of revengefulness, its disposing us to return good for evil.
VI. DUTY OF REJOICING. "Rejoice always." The happy God designs us to be happy like himself, and not merely in heaven. We cannot, indeed, have a light heart when we think of the evil in us and around us. But while sorrowful, we can always rejoice in the thought of our Christian advantages. "He that hath the inexhaustible Spring of good for his portion, that hath his welfare entrusted in God's most faithful hand, that hath the infinite Beauty and Excellency for the perpetual object of his contemplation, that enjoyeth the serenity of a sound mind, of a pure heart, of a quiet conscience, of a sure hope, what can he want to refresh or comfort him? If we scan all the doctrines, all the institutions, all the precepts, all the promises of Christianity, will not each appear pregnant with matter of joy, will not each yield great reason and strong obligation to this duty of rejoicing evermore?" (Barrow).
VII. DUTY OF PRAYER. "Pray without ceasing." This cannot mean that prayer is to occupy our whole time. For prayer is only one duty, and we have to proportion our time between our various duties. But it means that we are to make prayer part of the great business of our life, and not a by-business. It means that we are to connect prayer with the principal occasions of our life. It means that in particular matters we are to pray on, until we succeed in the object of our requests. It means that we are to have stated times for prayer, especially the natural seasons of morning and evening. It means that in the intensity of our earnestness we are to overleap these stated times. "Devotion is the best food of our souls, which preserveth their life and health, which repaireth their strength and vigor: if we, therefore, long abstain from it, we shall starve or pine away; we shall be faint and feeble in all religious performances; we shall have none at all, or a very languid and meager piety" (Barrow).
VIII. DUTY OF THANKSGIVING. "In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus to you-ward." To give thanks means that, sincerely, duly sensible of our benefits, we are to make cheerful acknowledgment of them to God. To give thanks in everything means that we are to thank God, not only in great things, but also in small things; not only in rare things, but also in common things. It means that we are to thank God, not only in present things, but for past mercies as well, and even for what is laid up for future enjoyment. It means that we are to thank God, not merely in things affecting ourselves, but also in things affecting others. It means that we are to thank God, not merely in prosperous things, but also in adverse things, recognizing the merciful moderating of them, the merciful design in them, the supporting grace under them, and the benefit resulting from them. It means that we are to thank God not merely in things affecting our bodies, but also in things affecting our souls. The duty of thanksgiving is here enforced by the consideration that thin is the will of God in Christ Jesus to us-ward. In Christ Jesus he is infinite kindness, always overflowing in blessing on us. How fitting, then, that we should, through Christ Jesus, "offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, the fruit of our lips!" This has the distinction of being the most delightful of all duties. "For praise and thanksgiving are the most delectable business of heaven; and God grant they may be our greatest delight, our frequent employment upon earth" (Barrow).
IX. DUTY TOWARD THE SPIRIT. "Quench not the Spirit." The Spirit is compared here, as in other places in Scripture, to fire. There is the beginning of spiritual life in every man. There is the depraved nature, but there is also the Spirit with his vital energy to be cherished or quenched. It is especially in connection with the gospel that the Spirit is given to men. In the gospel there is presented a Divine call to accept of Divine mercy, and there is, in connection with it, a Divine warning against refusing Divine mercy. "He that believeth on the Son hath eternal lice; but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him." The Spirit, in the Word read or preached, brings the gospel call to bear upon the conscience and heart. The feeling that we ought to accept of salvation and not throw away our existence, the desire to give Christ our confidence and not spurn his love, is the working of the Spirit. And, in providence after providence, does the Spirit more gently whisper to us, or more loudly rouse us up to the importance of the Divine call and warning. It is suggested by the context, that what those who have felt the power of the Spirit have to fear is the repression of enthusiasm. Let them give free outlet to the working of the Spirit, and not be deterred by the conventionalities even of religious society. If they feel prompted to pray, let them not restrain prayer. If they feel prompted to study God's Word, let them sit down and pore over it. If they feel prompted to throw themselves into Christian work, let them not hold back. It was by a strange perversity of will on the part of Saul that he was deserted by the Spirit. David feared that his outbreak of sin would drive away the Holy Spirit from him. What prevents men feeling the power of the Spirit is especially an irregular life. They turn away from good, and give the reins to their passions, and another spirit than God's takes possession of them. But there is not needed outward irregularity to quench the Spirit. The essential thing is the withdrawing of the mind from the range of the Divine revelation, the paying no heed to the Divine voice, the smothering good feeling even under the ordinary engagements of life, the neglecting to follow up good impressions by a decisive step for Christ. The result in the following out of trial is a state of mind in which there is an insensibility to the importance of the Divine call and warning. Conviction of sin or uneasiness about it ceases; interest in what is good dies out. The Spirit of God takes his departure, and an evil spirit takes full possession. There is this encouraging thought to those who have been resisting and grieving the Spirit, that while there is the slightest thought of good remaining in their hearts, it may be fanned into a flame. The Spirit, long slighted, at last cherished, will come, and with his vital energy fill their whole being.
X. DUTY WITH REGARD TO PROPHESYINGS. "Despise not prophesyings." These were special manifestations of the Spirit. As in the Corinthian Church, and also in the Galatian Churches, so in the Church of Thessalonica, there was the presence of miracles. There was the gift of healing; there was also the gift of tongues. As striking manifestations the use they served was especially in impressing and drawing the attention of them that were outside. Prophesyings were intelligent and, probably, impassioned utterances of Divine truth under the inflatus of the Spirit. As such the use they served was especially in promoting the edification of the Church. Let none, then, run the risk of quenching the Spirit by placing a low value on his less striking but far more important manifestations.
XI. DUTY OF PROVING ALL THINGS. "Prove all things." The language is taken from the art of the assayer. He has special skill in applying tests, with the view of discovering what is real and what is counterfeit in metals, what is good coin and what is bad coin. So the Christian assayer is to be specially skilled in testing the real nature of things. There is nothing in the language to restrict the reference to the prophesyings which have been mentioned. It is not said "all prophesyings," or "all these things." And if there is an antithesis, as some authorities have it, in the assertion of "but," yet is it preserved by regarding prophesyings as included, among all things. The wideness of the reference is confirmed by the consideration that things as proved are divided into things to be chosen and things to be rejected. In prophesyings, as inspired, there was no element to be rejected. Proving them could only mean learning to put due value upon them, partly in comparison with other Divine gifts. Ordinary teachings have not till the true ring or composition. "O holy simplicity!" exclaimed Huss, when he saw an aged devout woman throwing a fagot on to his burning pile. But our safeguard is not a holy simplicity, believing all that we have been told by good men; it is rather, in dependence on the direction of God, the exercise of an independent judgment. That is the sheet-anchor of our Protestantism. We reject the claim of the Roman Catholic that we are to accept of things because they are taught by the Church, because they have been ordained by councils, because they have even the support of the apostolic Fathers. The thing to be deplored is that much of our Protestantism is traditional, an unreasoning acceptance of belief. With regard to opinions which pass current in society, we are not to accept of them because they are popular, because they are well-sounding, because they are associated with particular names or parties; but we are to have a Divine insight into them as true or false. With regard to what is presented for the regulation of our conduct, there is evil as well as good presented for our acceptance. And evil is not presented to us as evil; it takes specious forms - even Satan puts on the garb of an angel of light. We have need, therefore, to be on ore' guard; we have need to have our senses exercised to discern good and evil. Let us inquire, regarding an action or course of action, whether it is fitted to yield not simply a present but a solid and lasting satisfaction, without regrets in the future; whether it is according to right principle and conducive to strength of character, and fitted also to be beneficial to others. "If we discerned ourselves," says the apostle, "we should not be judged." Let us be just with ourselves, that we may escape the consequences of a false judgment. Let us impartially apply the tests now, as those to whom they arc to be impartially and convincingly applied at the day of judgment.
XII. DUTY IN VIEW OF THE RESULT OF PROVING ALL THINGS.
1. On the one hand to hold fast the good. "Hold fast that which is good." It is implied that we are not to be always proving. As a result of our proving, we find out that which is good. It is a duty we owe to that which is good to hold it fast, arid not to let it go. If we have found the Bible to be the Word of God, let us hold it fist. Let us take it as nutriment to our souls. Let it be the test by which we try things. "To the Law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." If we have satisfied ourselves as to the claims of Christ as our Divine teacher, let us hold him fist; let us take his teachings into our being, and let the confessing of Christ be that by which we try the spirits, not persons, but rather the spirit by which individuals, communities, institutes, systems, are animated. If we have satisfied ourselves that Christ has made full atonement for our sin, let us hold that truth fast as central, let us take all the comfort there is in it, and let it be the test of loyalty to Christ. If we have found out what a good life is as commended and exemplified by Christ, and as lint to the proof by ourselves, let us hold it fast as what has held us up in the past, as what has held up the good in all the generations, as what will hold us up until we obtain an immutable standing in heaven. And let us not, with a false toleration, think that any life can be good which wants the great theistic, and especially the great Christian, elements.
2. On the other hand to abstain from evil. "Abstain from every form of evil." The old translation is indefensible here. The words should not have formed a verse by themselves; they should have been added on to the former words. In view of the good and evil that are separated in the proving of things, we arc on the one hand to hold fast that which is good, and on the other hand to abstain from every form of evil. If anything is yet undetermined to our mind, our duty as already laid down is to find out its true nature. If, after examination, it is of a doubtful nature, or seems to be bordering on evil, our duty certainly is to abstain from it. But the duty laid down here is different from that. It is our duty with regard to what we have found out to be one of the many forms of evil. Having found it out to be evil in reality, let us not hesitate about our course, let us abstain from it, let us refuse to taste it even as we would not take poison, let us turn away from it as from that which is alien from our being and fitted only to work our destruction. - R.F.
I. THIS PEACE DEPENDS UPON OUR DIVINE CALLING. For it is the "peace unto which we are called" (Colossians 3:15).
III. IT IS ONE OF THE BLESSINGS ALWAYS TO BE PRAYED FOR. (Psalm 122:6-8.)
IV. IT IS ONE OF THE BEATITUDES WITH A PROMISE. (Matthew 5:9.)
V. IT IS ONE OF THE FAIREST GROWTH OF THE SPIRIT. (Galatians 5:22.) - T.C.
I. ADMONITION TO THE DISORDERLY. "Warn them that are unruly."
1. The unruly are, literally, those who break rank, taking exceptional courses, to the injury of the peace or unity of the Church. Probably the apostle refers to the unhinging effect of the error concerning the near approach of the advent, leading individuals to abandon work and loiter about in a sort of meddlesome idleness.
2. Such persons need to be warned, even with sharpness of reproof, yet in love; for "God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, in all the Churches of the saints" (1 Corinthians 14:33). Warn them to "do their own business, and work with their own hands."
II. COMFORT THE FEEBLE-MINDED. "Comfort the feeble-minded."
1. These persons were overburdened with sorrow on account of the dead, under the influence of error respecting their safety. They were not intellectually feeble, but had become dispirited and desponding through their failure to realize the hope of the resurrection at the advent.
2. They were to be comforted; not rebuked or admonished for their sins, but exhorted lovingly in the truth. It is the Lord's way "to raise them that are bowed down," and "to comfort them which be in any trouble" (2 Corinthians 1:4). There is "consolation in Christ."
III. SUPPORT FOR THE WEAK. "Support the weak."
1. The weak in faith, or other Christian graces, who may still feel the lingering influence of Jewish prejudice and pagan delusions. We are to "bear the infirmities of the weak."
2. They must be sustained, not despised for their weakness. "Be eyes to the blind; be feet to the lame." Thus "we fulfill the Law of Christ." We must "lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees" (Hebrews 12:12, 13).
IV. PATIENCE TOWARD ALL MEN. "Be patient toward all men."
1. Patience or long-suffering, in view of the perverseness, or defects, or follies, or sins of men. It points to a temper not easily moved or offended, to a disposition to bear and forbear after the example of that Father who "is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). This disposition greatly promotes the comfort and usefulness of life.
2. It is to be exercised toward all men. Even to those outside the household of faith who may gainsay or persecute the truth. - T.C.
I. WARNING AGAINST RETALIATION. "See that none render evil for evil to any man."
2. It is condemned by Christ's beautiful example of forbearance. (1 Peter 2:23.) "Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, threatened not."
3. It is expressly rebuked by Christ in the case of the disciples James and John. (Luke 9:54, 55.)
4. It springs from a spiteful heart. (Ezekiel 25:15.)
5. It indicates a want of trust in God. (Proverbs 20:22.)
II. INCULCATION OF THE PURSUIT OF GOOD. "But ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves and to all men." Believers are not to resist evil, but to return good for evil - to overcome evil with good.
1. The good to be done is after the example of Christ, who "went about every day doing good."
3. It is the preordained pathway of God's children. (Ephesians 2:10.)
4. Christians ought to provoke each other to good. (Hebrews 10:24.)
5. It is a grand argument for the gospel. (Matthew 5:16.)
6. It is to be catholic in its spirit; for it is to he done, not to believers only, but "to all men." The believer is to have "brotherly kindness" as well as "love" (2 Peter 1:7).
7. It is to be earnestly pursued. "Follow after that which is good."
(1) Because it glorifies God (Matthew 5:16).
(2) Because God remembers it (Hebrews 6:9, 10).
(3) Because it is an evidence of faith (James 2:14-20).
(4) Because it shall be brought into judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10). - T.C.
Philippians 3:1; Philippians 4:4.) - T.C.
be seen in Christian people.
I. PERPETUAL REJOICING. Christians are, of course, subject to natural fluctuations of mood and feeling. They are also liable to the changes of fortune; and they are not callous to the perception of them. None of us can escape sorrow. Some good people have the greatest troubles. The only perfect Man who ever lived was "a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." How, then, can we rejoice always? St. Paul was too real and too sympathetic to mock the sorrowing with the glib words of cheer that shallow comforters administer. If he exhorted, he knew that the exhortation was practicable.
1. Christian rejoicing is a deep, calm joy. The surface may be ruffled while the depths are still; cross-currents may vary while the undercurrent runs steadily on. Surface pain may conceal sacred joys which it cannot destroy.
2. The secret of Christian joy is inwardness. These Christians do not depend on external circumstances for their happiness. The spiritual sources of rejoicing in the love and presence of God are not disturbed by earthly calamities. Often they give forth sweetest blessedness under the blows of affliction, as the waters flowed out when Moses struck the rock. If we want to rejoice always we must live always near to God. The first exhortation is closely connected with the second.
3. Christians are also helped to rejoice always by living in the future (2 Corinthians 4:17, 18).
II. CEASELESS PRAYING. It is needless to say that this does not mean that we are to be always on our knees. That is not possible; nor would it be right, for the work of life must be done. We are not only worshippers; we are servants.
1. Ceaseless praying is a continuous direction of the heart towards God. The essence of prayer is not the uttering of devout phrases. God does not hear us for our much speaking. Christ condemned long prayers, not because we could pray too much, but because they became superstitious as though a worth lay in their length, and also because they became formal when the spirit flagged. Prayer is essentially spiritual communion with God. This must be supported, however, and inspired by definite seasons wholly given to devotion. People often abuse the motto, Laborare est orare. It is only true of the prayerful man.
2. Ceaseless praying is attainable through the enjoyment of unbroken union with God. Our thought may not be always occupied with. God because the duties of life demand our attention, and its recreations are requisite for our health. But if we live near to God we shall have an abiding sense of God's nearness, a quick uplifting of the heart to him in quiet moments, and many a secret talk with him even in our busiest hours.
III. UNIVERSAL THANKSGIVING. The difficulty is to make this honest. For it is an insult to God to utter words of thanksgiving while the heart is ungrateful. How can we thank God for pain, for loss, for things the good of which we cannot discover?
1. Universal thanksgiving is possible through the perception that under all circumstances blessings outnumber and outweigh troubles. We fix our thoughts on our trouble to the neglect of a thousand blessings. A fairer, wider consideration would call up more grateful thoughts.
2. Universal thanksgiving is possible by means of faith that holds troubles sent by God to be blessings in disguise. A mere consideration of the facts of life will not create it. But when we have come to believe that "the mercy of the Lord endureth for ever," we have learnt the secret of universal thankfulness. - W.F.A.
Philippians 3:4-6; Colossians 4:2).
I. PRAYER THE DUTY, THE PRIVILEGE, THE INTEREST, OF ALL BELIEVERS.
1. It is a commanded duty. (Matthew 7:7.)
2. It is a sign of conversion. (Acts 9:11.)
4. It is recommended:
(1) By the example of Christ (Luke 22:32).
(2) By the experience of past mercies (Psalm 4:1).
(3) By the faithfulness of God (Psalm 143:1).
II. THE NECESSITY OF CONSTANT SUPPLICATION. ¢¢ Pray without ceasing."
1. There is nothing in the words to justify the neglect of other duties. The apostle traveled and preached and labored with his hands as well as prayed; but he cultivated a constant spirit of supplication. It is not true, therefore, that it can be fulfilled only in idea.
2. It is a command not to be fulfilled by set hours of prayer, much less by adherence to a monastic ragout of devotion. Yet it is not inconsistent with set hours. The psalmist prayed at evening, morning, and noon (Psalm 55:17). Yea, "seven times a day do I praise thee" (Psalm 119:164). Daniel prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10).
3. The apostle enjoins a constant spirit of prayer in view of our constant dependence on the Lord. Prayer should interspace all our works. The heart may rise to a throne of grace in inward prayer when the hands are busy with the duties of life. - T.C.
I. THANKSGIVING IS THE EXERCISE OF A JOYFUL AND PRAYING HEART.
1. It is a mark of the wicked that they have no thankfulness. They who glorified not God "neither were thankful" (Romans 1:21). It is a sign of the antichristian apostasy that men "shall he unthankful" (2 Timothy 3:2). Since "every good gift and every perfect gift" comes from the Father of Lights, the guilt of such ingratitude is great.
3. It is likewise a mark of the saints on earth. "Blessed are they which dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee" (Psalm 84:4). They abound in faith with thanksgiving (Colossians 2:7). They offer sacrifices of thanksgiving (Psalm 116:17). They habitually offer thanksgiving (Daniel 6:10).
II. THANKSGIVING MUST BE UNIVERSAL IN ITS SPHERE. "In everything give thanks."
1. For the supply of our bodily wants. (1 Timothy 4:3, 4.)
2. For the gift of Christ. (2 Corinthians 9:15.)
3. For the goodness and mercy of the Lord. (Psalm 106:1.)
4. In all circumstances of prosperity and adversity, joy and sorrow, health and sickness. Job could say in the depth of his affliction, "Blessed be the Name of the Lord" (Job 1:8, 20, 21).
III. THE GROUND AND REASON OF THIS DUTY. "For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." The Scripture as well as the light of nature directs to it, as it sets forth that "good and perfect and acceptable will of God," "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me." In Jesus Christ is this will revealed and made effectual; for all God's mercies reach us through the channel of his mediation. Therefore we "are to give thanks unto God and the Father by him" (Colossians 3:17); therefore "by him let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually" (Hebrews 13:15). - T.C.
I. THE SIN AND DANGER OF QUENCHING THE SPIRIT. "Quench not the Spirit." Perhaps there was a tendency to repress spiritual utterances, either because they had become fanatical, or from an undue love of order. It is possible to resist the Spirit. God strives with man, who may yet resist all his importunities (Acts 7:51.), "insulting the Spirit of grace" (Hebrews 10:29). Even in the case of believers, "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh" (Galatians 5:17). It is both sinful and dangerous for believers to "grieve the Holy Spirit of God, whereby they are scaled to the day of redemption" (Ephesians 4:30). The text suggests the idea of quenching a fire.
1. The Spirit acts upon the believer's nature like a fire, warming, purifying, refining.
2. The fire may be quenched by neglecting it quite as much as by casting water upon it. This is the tendency of neglect.
3. Sin has a tendency to quench the Spirit, as water quenches fire. We ought to stir up our gifts and graces that they may shine the brighter, and give both light and heat around us. Yet provision is made in the covenant of grace that the fire once kindled will never be quenched.
II. THERE MUST BE NO UNDERVALUATION OF PROPHESYINGS. "Despise not prophesying."
1. These were spiritual utterances, sometimes in psalms and hymns, "for the edification and exhortation and comfort" of believers, though they had the effect sometimes of laying bare the hearts of unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:25). They were more important than other gifts of the Spirit, and therefore more to be coveted (1 Corinthians 12:31).
2. They were, therefore, not to be despised.
(1) Perhaps there had been "false prophets" at Thessalonica who had tried to pervert the truth, or weak members who had abused the gift of prophecy. The tendency, therefore, to underrate the gift was natural, but not proper.
(2) Perhaps the exercise of this gift created less wonder or made less visible impression than other gifts, like those of tongues and healing. Therefore it came to be rather despised.
III. THE NECESSITY OF TESTING SPIRITUAL GIFTS. "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." Instead of rejecting prophesyings, they were to test them by a due spiritual discernment.
1. They were to be tested:
(1) By a comparison with the original tradition given to them (2 Thessalonians 2:2).
(3) By marking the practical fruits of these prophesyings. "Hold fast that which is good." Our Lord said, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits" (Matthew 5:15, 16). True doctrine is "according to godliness" (1 Timothy 6:3). Thus Christians are to examine the grounds of their faith, to hold fast nothing that has not first been tried, and to retain only "that which is good."
2. Believers have the capacity as well as the right to test all things. They are "to try the spirits whether they are of God" (1 John 4:1).
(2) A right state of heart is necessary to this power of insight. "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God" (John 7:17). "Walk as children of light... proving what is acceptable unto God" (Ephesians 5:8-10). - T.C.
I. THERE IS A FIRE OF THE SPIRIT. It is fire that is not to be quenched. In Old Testament times a prophet was fitted for his mission by having a live coal from off the altar laid upon his lips (Isaiah 6:6). Christ, who came to baptize with the Holy Ghost, came also to baptize with fire. The Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost under the form of tongues of flame. God's Spirit deepens feeling, kindles enthusiasm, rouses sacred passion, sets the soul aflame with love. He who has not felt the fire knows nut some of the strongest working of the Spirit, as the psalmist knew it when he said, "While I was musing the fire burned" (Psalm 39:3).
II. THERE IS A DANGER LEST WE SHOULD QUENCH THE SPIRIT.
1. In our own hearts. If we check our more generous emotions, and harden ourselves with maxims of the world, and so immerse ourselves in grinding business cares that we have no thought or heart left for spiritual feelings, we shall quench the Spirit in ourselves. For us there will be no revelation. To us heaven will be black as midnight, silent as the grave. No warmth of devotion nor flash of spiritual perception will brighten up the dull and dreary chambers of our souls.
2. In others. Beware of checking young enthusiasm. It may err; but it had better err than die. Middle-aged common sense may not understand it. But this may not be the fault of young enthusiasm. It may result from the deadened perceptions of an unsympathizing mind. If we cannot follow, at least let us not check an inspiration which may be too high for our low sunken lives.
3. In Scripture. Absolutely, of course, we cannot quench the Spirit in Scripture. The Book remains, whatever we may think of it. But to ourselves we may quench the Spirit. A dry, hard critical examination of the Bible, ignoring all devotional, practical, and spiritual uses of it, will rob it of all inspiration for the reader. With some the fires are burnt out; they only grope among the ashes, and cannot find. a lingering spark. To such people the Bible is the most dreary book in the world. In order that the fire of inspiration should touch us, the fire of love and faith must be kept alive on the altar of our hearts. - W.F.A.
accepting every saying which professes to be the outcome of spiritual influences. We must try the spirits and accept each only as its claim is proven. But the universal character of the verse before us gives it a more general application to all teaching.
I. ST. PAUL RECOGNIZES THE RIGHT AND DUTY OF PRIVATE JUDGMENT. This fundamental principle of Protestantism is Pauline. The apostle is not writing to doctors of divinity or authorized teachers; he is addressing the whole Church (see 1 Thessalonians 1:1). To the general congregation of Christians he says, "Prove all things." The advice was in accordance with his own practice. He speaks of himself and his colleagues - "by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Corinthians 4:2). Contrast the Koran with the New Testament. Mohammed dogmatizes; St. Paul reasons. We cannot shelter ourselves in error under the aegis of high authority. St. Paul abandoned with contempt the errors which he cultivated while he sat at the feet of Gamaliel. It is our duty as well as our right to have independent personal convictions.
II. THE REQUIREMENT OF INQUIRY IS UNIVERSAL. "All things." We must take nothing for granted. Some of the surest convictions of one age are absolutely repudiated by another age. This statement becomes softened in practice by the ease and unconsciousness with which many things may be proved to us. We have not to carry on elaborate, original inquiries to establish every point of our belief. There are beliefs which are best proved without any such inquiry. But all must be proved. The reason is twofold.
1. Many specious delusions threaten to deceive us. There have been false prophets flattering the people with smooth words since the days of Jeremiah's opponents. Truth and error are mixed. Forged coins closely resemble good sovereigns. Care must be taken to sift the chaff from the wheat.
2. Truth is most valuable to us when we have tested and proved it for ourselves. Then we understand it most clearly, believe it most heartily, and value it most highly. The few islands of truth for which a man has labored and fought through seas of difficulty are more precious to him than vast continents of truth which he inherits at second hand.
III. THE METHOD OF INQUIRY MUST BE EXPERIMENTAL. This is implied by the word "prove," which means test, and is used of the assaying of precious metals. High it priori argument is a dangerous guide. The more tedious and less pretentious methods of observation and experiment, are safer. To this method Christ referred when, speaking of the various teachers who should arise, he said, "By their fruits ye shall know them." This does not mean that we are to taste the fruits, i.e. to adopt every system in order to discover its merits. We can observe its working in others. Therefore the first requisite in regard to any new teaching is patience. Give it time to reveal itself by its fruits, and do not pass a hasty judgment upon it. If you do not wait for the harvest, you may eel out wheat with tares. Next, careful inquiry is to be made; ideas and their fruits are to be tested. But two cautions should he borne in mind.
1. The experience and testimony of other people is evidence. We may not accept what any say simply on the authority of their official position. We who do not believe in the Pope of Rome would be very foolish if we adopted a little private pope of our own creation. But the authority of knowledge, experience, and ability is weight in evidence.
2. We must not assume that nothing is true but what we can prove. To do this is to dethrone the pope only to set up our own infallibility.
IV. THE END OF INQUIRY IS TO DISCOVER AND TO HOLD TO WHAT IS GOOD. It is not reasonable, nor happy, nor healthy to live in a permanent condition of unsettled conviction. It is useless to inquire at all if our inquiry is not to lead us to some decisive issue. When we have arrived at a truth, we need not repeat the process of seeking for it over and over again. Having proved certain things to be good, we may rest satisfied with the result - always preserving an open mind for new light, for it is a great mistake to confound an open mind with an empty mind.
1. The result of inquiry should be to discover what is good. The good is more important than the beautiful, the pleasant, the convenient, the striking, and the novel.
2. When the good is discovered it should be held firmly. Then the seeker after light is to become the guardian and champion of truth. - W.F.A.
I. WE NEED TO BE WARNED AGAINST EVIL.
1. Because we naturally tend to do evil.
2. Because evil is so injurious to our spirits, in repressing joy, prayer, and thanksgiving.
3. Because it gives offence to others. Therefore we ought to abhor that which is evil, to cleave to that which is good.
II. THE FORMS OF EVIL ARE VERY VARIOUS, AND THEREFORE NOT EASILY DETECTED. Truth is one; error is manifold. Satan can disguise error under forms difficult of detection. It is sometimes difficult to decide what is evil. But "a sound heart is the best casuist." - T.C.
I. IT IS A PRAYER FOR PERFECT SANCTIFICATION. "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly."
1. It is the design of the God of peace to do this. Our Lord came to "save his people from their sins," to "redeem them from all iniquity."
2. This sanctification is to extend to body, soul, and spirit.
(1) The body is to be sanctified, for it is to become an "instrument of righteousness," a "temple of the Holy Ghost," and eventually will receive its "redemption" in the resurrection (Romans 8:23).
(2) The soul is to be sanctified. It is the principle of animal life. It is the self. The individual life of man is to be fully sanctified.
(3) The spirit points to the inner life as coming from God, as the soul is life as constituted in man. The spirit is the higher aspect of self, the spiritual man being man as grace has reconstructed him. Yet the two words are parallel, though not equivalent; signifying not two separate natures in man, but two separate functions of the same nature. Provision is made for the sanctification of the whole man.
3. It is not perfect in the present life. The very prayer that God might sanctify them wholly implies that it was an attainment yet to be reached.
II. IT IS A PRAYER FOR THE PRESERVATION OF SAINTS TILL THE COMING OF CHRIST. "May your spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless."
1. It is God only who can keep us. He "keeps us from falling," that "he may present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 1:24). He "keeps us from evil" (John 17:15). Saints are "kept by his power" through faith unto salvation (1 Peter 1:5).
2. The preservation is to extend till the second advent. Not till death, but till his coming, implying that body and soul are alike to share in the final redemption. "He that hath begun a good work in you will perform it till the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
III. THE GROUND OF HIS CONFIDENCE IN GOD'S PURPOSE OF SANCTIFICATION AND PRESERVATION. "Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it."
1. God's faithfulness is the guarantee. He "also will do it." He will be faithful to his oath, to his promises, to his covenant; for he has promised to cleanse his people from all their sins, and preserve them to his kingdom and glory. God is faithful "by whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son" (2 Corinthians 1:8, 9).
2. Effectual calling is another guarantee. For whom he calls he justifies and glorifies. If he gives grace, he gives glory. The calling implies perfection, as it is the first step to it. - T.C.
I. IT IS THE GIFT OF GOD.
1. Peace. Peace is the blessed fruit of obedience. Be careful for nothing; live in prayer and thanksgiving, and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and thoughts. But it comes from God. He is the God of peace. It is his; "My peace," the Lord Jesus says. It is God who maketh peace, who reconciles the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.
2. Holiness. Holiness is the sum of all Christian graces. All the precepts contained in the previous verses are here taken together; they meet and are summed up in holiness. But no human effort can sanctify the heart without the grace of God. Therefore the apostle is not content with exhorting the Thessalonians; he prays that God may sanctity them. May he himself (he says emphatically), "the God of peace, sanctify you wholly." He goes on to expand the last word.
II. IT MUST PERVADE THE WHOLE BEING.
1. The spirit. This is the highest part of our immaterial nature, the breath of life, inbreathed by Almighty God. It is the part receptive of Divine communications, which, in the regenerate, holds converse with God; which is the sphere of the operations of God the Holy Ghost. That man is spiritual in whom the spirit rules; he is natural (ψυχικός) in whom the soul (ψυχή) has usurped the place of the spirit. The evil spirit seeks to enslave the spirit of man; he strives to enter in and dwell in the spirit which should be God's. The peace of God is the true garrison; it guards the heart and thoughts of the faithful, leaving no ingress for the wicked one.
2. The soul. Each of the two words is sometimes used for our whole invisible nature; but, when distinguished from the spirit, the soul is the lower part of our immaterial being, which belongs in common to the whole animal creation; the seat of the appetites, desires, affections. Those men in whom the animal soul predominates are called by St. Jude "sensual, not having the spirit" (ψυχικοὶ πνεῦμα μὴ, ἔχοντες). The soul is sanctified when it submits itself to the divinely enlightened spirit, when all its appetites, feelings, longings, are controlled and regulated by the sanctified spirit.
3. The body. The Christian body is a holy thing. It should be the temple of the Holy Ghost; it should be presented unto God a living sacrifice. It is sanctified when it is ruled by the spirit, when it is kept pure from the defilements of sensual sin, when its members are made instruments of righteousness unto God. The apostle prays that the whole man, spirit, soul, and body, may be preserved in the whole sphere of its existence, so as to be without blame in the great day.
4. How is this possible? God is faithful; he will do it. He calleth us. His calling is not vain, his promises are not delusive; they are true, for he is the Truth. He will do it - all that he has promised, all that we pray for, more than we pray for, above all that we can ask or think; for his power worketh in us. He will do it. He will give us his Holy Spirit; he will sanctify us wholly if we yield ourselves to his purifying influences; he will preserve our entire being blameless at the coming of the Lord, if only we persevere - if we abide in him. This little verse has been well called "the sum of all consolation."
1. Work, but pray. Be obedient, but always look to God, and trust only in his grace; it is he that giveth holiness.
2. Pray for entire sanctification. Body, soul, and spirit - all are God's; glorify him in all.
3. Obey his calling; he will fulfill his promises. - B.C.C.
I. PRAYER FOR THE SANCTIFICATION OF THE THESSALONIANS. "And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." From the object of the prayer God is here named the God of peace. The peace which takes away the discord of our nature and restores its harmony is his will and gift. But he is only the God of peace to us in our sanctification. The apostle had been exhorting to various forms of holiness. Feeling, however, how feeble his part was in their sanctification, he makes his appeal to the first Cause of Sanctification. "The God of peace himself sanctify you." In sanctification there is the idea of being set apart to the service of God. In the prayer the stress is laid on the wholeness of the sanctification. In the word translated "wholly" there is the idea of wholeness in the way of the end being reached. The materials of the temple-building and vessels were originally in a rough state. But, put into the hands of cunning workmen, they were brought up into apt and consistent and beautiful forms. And not without sprinkling of blood were they dedicated to God. So the stuff of which we are made is originally in an unpolished, defiled condition; but, in the hands of the great Artificer, through the efficacy of the blood of Christ, are we being brought up into a state in which, in our whole being, we shall be fit for being employed in the service of God. In the second part of the prayer there is brought in another aspect of the wholeness of sanctification. And the word which indicates it is brought forward in the original out of its natural position, so as to be separated from the similar word translated "wholly" only by "and." It conveys the idea of being whole in the way of being entire in its parts. "It means what represents the whole undivided possession, what is not weakened by division, and thus subsists in perfect integrity" (Delitzsch). The integrity refers to the three parts into which our nature is here regarded as divided - spirit and soul and body. In some places Scripture language turns upon the distinction between the material and immaterial nature of man. Here the immaterial nature is divided into spirit and soul. And this is in keeping with the dividing asunder of soul and spirit in Hebrews 4:12, and also with the contrast between the present psychical body and the future spiritual body in 1 Corinthians 15. "Whilst the soul," says Olshausen, who has made a special study of this subject, "denotes the lower region of the inner man - comprises, therefore, the powers to which analogous ones are found in animal life also, as understanding, appetitive faculty, memory, fancy - the spirit includes those natural dispositions which constitute the true human, life; viz. reason, as the faculty of perceiving the Divine; conscience, as the faculty of distinguishing moral good and evil; free-will, as the faculty of moral choice, by which the ability to form a history is purchased." The spirit, we may say, is that by which we have the power of knowing and serving God, and of making character, and in which, in its whole range, we are separated from the brutes. The soul is the lower part of the inner man, in which, in its judgments, and longings, and recollections, and imaginings, the spirit is designed to bear rule. The body, or outer man, which is quickened by the soul, and has the power of exciting the soul, is another sphere in which, in its appetites and powers, the spirit is designed to bear rule through the soul. The spirit is wholly sanctified in the sense intended when, through the possession of the Spirit of God, reason and conscience faithfully represent the Divine voice, and the will is faithfully responsive; when, as a whole, it is the ruling center with reference to the rest of the nature. The soul is wholly sanctified when the understanding is used as a help to the keeping of Divine precepts; when the desires and affections are divinely regulated and purified and tempered; when there is a ready memory for the Word of God, and a readiness from past associations in calling up good thoughts; when the imagination is filled with Christ and the Christian ideal and the Christian prospect; when, as a whole, this part of our nature does not assert its independence of the spirit above, and can resist the charms of the senses below. The body is wholly sanctified when its various members are used as instruments of righteousness; when, as a whole, it does not aspire to rule in the soul; when it takes its law from pure judgments, and desires, and recollections, and imaginings. Such is the wholeness of sanctification in the integrity of the nature. And what, on the positive side, is represented as integrity of nature, on the negative side is represented as being without blame. Here there is a glance forward, as there frequently is in this Epistle, to the coming of Christ. It is then that the integrity of our nature is to be fully realized, and to be placed in inviolable keeping. Beyond that point, the integrity of our nature perfectly attained, no power in the universe can ever break.
II. THE PRAYER GROUNDED IN THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD. "Faithful is he that calleth you, who will also do it." There is a distinct covenanting on the part of God to bring about our sanctification. "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and on their heart also will I write them: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people." God, in calling, actually begins the covenant work of our sanctification, and an appeal can be made to him as the faithful God, by ourselves or others, to carry out what he has begun. Let us not be backward to remind him of his promise, or to look for it being followed by performance.
1. Request for prayer. "Brethren, pray for us." This request for prayer conies from the three Christian workers. They were thrown upon those for whom they labored, in being themselves also compassed with infirmity. They felt that, if the Divine blessing was to rest upon their work in the highest measure, then the Thessalonian Church must join with the other Churches in giving them the assistance of their prayers.
2. The holy kiss. "Salute all the brethren with a holy kiss." This was the common Eastern form of salutation, associated with religion. Apparently the elders were thus to salute the members of the Thessalonian Church, one by one, in the name of Paul and Silas and Timothy. Propriety does not allow with us the use of this form of salutation between the various members of the Christian circle. But there is no reason why there should not be all the good feeling and fellowship with Christ of which the holy kiss is symbolic. At the same time, if love is to be sustained, it must be allowed all suitable forms of manifestation.
3. Direction as to the public reading of the Epistle. "I adjure you by the Lord that this Epistle be read unto all the brethren." The direction is given in the most solemn manner. Paul writes in his own name, and adjures by the Lord. The adjuration was apparently founded on the importance of the Epistle, not merely to the elders to whom it was handed, but to the whole community. Let it be brought directly to bear upon all, that they may each for themselves have their impression of its contents. Such an adjuration in the first of Paul's Epistles significantly points to the right of every Christian member to have direct access to the Word of God. "What Paul," says Bengel," commands with an adjuration, Rome prohibits with an anathema."
4. Benediction. "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you." He ends his Epistle as he began, by imploring grace. It is to the ever-living Divine Head of the Church that we must look for the bestowal of the blessing, and not according to the merit of any for whom we implore it, but only according to the abundance of the merit that he has obtained for them. - R.F.
I. CONSIDER THE NATURE OF SANCTIFICATION. The sanctification of a man makes a sanctuary of him. It consecrates him to the service and for the presence of God. It includes two things, the second of which is essential to the first.
1. Dedication. The sanctified man is dedicated to God. He yields himself up to the will of God. He is ready for any use to which God may put him. He lives to glorify God.
2. Purification. We have come to regard this as essentially the same as sanctification. It is not so, for Christ was sanctified (John 17:19), and he never needed to be purified. But the great hindrance to our consecration of ourselves to God or to any special Divine purpose, is sin. Therefore for us the one great preliminary is purification.
II. OBSERVE THE SCORE OF SANCTIFICATION. It is to be complete:
1. In range. It affects spirit, soul, and body - St. Paul's human trinity.
(1) Spirit. Our highest thoughts, aspirations, and efforts are to be sound, pure, and devoted to God.
(2) Soul. Our lower capacities of feeling and acting in our natural human life are to be equally sanctified. We cannot have a devout spirituality side by side with a carnal natural imagination. Moreover, our natural humanity, in its lower perceptions and energies, should be used for the service of God.
(3) Body. This is not only not to be degraded by vicious appetite, but to be used as an instrument for God's service. It is unchristian to mutilate or weaken the body. This should be kept sound and healthy and vigorous for our Master's use.
2. In intensity. The sanctification is to be thorough. Each part of our nature is to be "wholly" sanctified. We must not dedicate ourselves to God half-heartedly. He requires the whole surrender of our whole nature.
III. NOTE THE SOURCE OF SANCTIFICATION. It is in God. St. Paul turns from exhortation to prayer. Here and there little duties are directed by our own will and energy. But the grand work of complete purification and consecration must be God's.
1. By means of his spiritual influence. He sanctifies by breathing into us his Holy Spirit. Contact with God burns out sin, and lifts the soul into an atmosphere of holiness.
2. By means of his providential care. St. Paul prays that God will keep his readers "entire" - as we read in the Revised Version. He guards from too great temptation.
IV. LOOK AT THE END OF SANCTIFICATION. This is to be "blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."
1. Preparation for the second advent. We are required to be ready to meet Christ. The glad expectation should encourage every effort to prepare, lest we should be like the foolish virgins.
2. Blamelessness. Christ comes as Judge. How sad, after longing to see him, to meet, instead of a welcome from our Lord, only stern words of rebuke! - W.F.A.
I. CHARACTERISTICS OF GOD'S FAITHFULNESS.
1. God performs what he promises. God promises in his Word. He promises most solemnly, and as it were by oath, in his covenants, e.g. with Noah, with Abraham, with Moses and Israel, and the new covenant sealed by the blood of Christ. God also promises by his actions. Natural instincts, such as the innate thirst for light, the yearning for immortality, etc., are the Creator's promises written on the very being of his creatures. God's faithfulness means that he will not belie these promises.
2. God is true to himself. His consistency and immutability are the grounds of his faithfulness. Because he is true to himself he will be true to us: "The mercy of the Lord endureth for ever." If we are left to "the uncovenanted mercies" of God, these are large and sure enough to dispel all fear.
3. God justifies the confidence of his children. Faithfulness implies trustworthiness. If we commit our souls to God as to a faithful Creator, he accepts our trust, and thereby pledges his honor not to desert us.
II. GROUNDS FOR BELIEVING IN GOD'S FAITHFULNESS.
1. Our knowledge of the nature of God. If we believe in God at all, we must believe in him as moral, good, nay, perfect. A weak and limited being may change and fail. God is too great to be faith less.
2. The testimony of those who can best speak for God. We judge of a person's character largely on the evidence of those who have the most intimate acquaintance. Now we find prophets and saints who are nearest to God in thought and life most positive in asserting his faithfulness. Only they who dwell in the outer courts of his temple, or altogether away from his presence, venture to deny it.
3. The evidence afforded by the life of Christ. Christ was the great Revealer of the character of God; and Christ was faithful even to death.
4. The witness of history to the past faithfulness of God; e.g. the deliverance from Egypt, the return from the captivity, the advent of Christ, the presence of Christ in his Church to guide and strengthen and bless.
5. The confirmation of personal experience. Many have proved God's faithfulness in their own lives. They can say, "This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his' troubles."
III. TEMPTATIONS TO DOUBT GOD'S FAITHFULNESS.
1. The weary time of waiting. God does not fulfill his promises as soon as he makes them. Long intervals try our faith. So was it with the Jewish expectation of the Messiah; so is it with the Christian expectation of the second advent. The heart is sickened with hope deferred. But this doubt is as foolish as that of one who, seeing the morning to be long in coming, begins to distrust the promise of sunrise.
2. Appearances of unfaithfulness. Nothing tries love so painfully as the necessity of so acting as to provoke doubts of its own constancy. Yet the truest love will not shrink from this necessity when it arises. God seems to desert us, or he visits us in chastisement. It is his greater faithfulness that leads him so to act as to cloud our vision of his love.
3. The unexpected fulfillment of Divine promises. God does not always fulfill his promises in the way expected by us. Then we are disappointed. But the error was in our previous delusion, not in any change on God's part. Moreover, the true Divine fulfillment, though at first less pleasing to us than our expectation of it, always proves in the long run to be far better.
IV. THE RESPONSE WHICH GOD'S FAITHFULNESS SHOULD CALL FORTH FROM US.
1. Adoration. The faithfulness of God is one of the most worthy themes of worship.
2. Trust Faithfulness merits confidence, and it encourages it.
3. Fidelity. If God is faithful to us, he has a right to bid us be faithful. - W.F.A.
I. THE APOSTLE ASKS AN INTEREST IN THE PRAYERS OF THE THESSALONIANS. "Brethren, pray for us."
1. He did not feel himself independent, in spite of all his high graces and gifts, of the intercessions of the humblest disciples. His request is a proof of his deep humility.
2. His position, with the care of all the Churches upon his heart, entitled him to their prayers. He said to the Roman Christians, "Strive together with me in your prayers to God for me."
(1) He wanted a door of utterance as well as a door of entrance.
(2) He wanted to be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men.
(3) He wanted to see the gospel flourishing in all the Churches.
II. EXHORTATION FOR CHRISTIANS TO SALUTE EACH OTHER. "Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss." Eastern customs differ from Western; but the salutation ought still to prevail in all our Churches, not in the letter, but in the spirit. It ought to express the feeling of oneness, of affection, of equality among the disciples of the same Lord. Christianity purifies and elevates worldly courtesy.
III. SOLEMN ADJURATION TO HAVE THE EPISTLE READ TO ALL THE BRETHREN. "I charge you by the Lord that this Epistle be read unto all the holy brethren." Conjectures have been freely expressed that the elders at Thessalonica may have been disinclined to read the letter to the Church. There is not much ground for the opinion.
1. This Epistle was the first ever written by the apostle to any Church; and as the disciples may not have known how to use it, he gives specific directions on the subject.
2. He recognizes the right of all the brethren to read it. Rome denies to the laity this right. - T.C.
I. HE ASKS FOR THEIR PRAYERS. He, the great apostle, begs for the prayers of these neophytes, these babes in Christ. It shows:
1. His humility.
2. The value of prayer. A good man has said, "Prayer is possession. Faithful prayer is the sure possession of all that the redeemed will of man can desire. The man who is full of prayer is full of power. I would rather have the gift of a brother's faithful prayers than of his plentiful substance. And I feel that when I have given to a brother my faithful prayers I have given him my best and greatest gift."
3. The duty of praying for the clergy. They have a great charge, an awful responsibility. They might well shrink from the burden, conscious as they are of sin and weakness. But they work, if they are faithful, in the strength of God and in the strength of prayer - their own prayers and the prayers of the Church. The prayers of the Church are their due, for it is the commandment of the Lord. When they fail in energy, in self-denial, in holy example, it may be in part the fault of those who do not pray, as they are bidden, for the ministers of God.
II. THE KISS OF PEACE. St. Paul four times, St. Peter once, bid Christians to salute one another with a holy kiss. The practice was universal in ancient times; it was associated with the Holy Communion. Now it exists only in the Coptic Church of Egypt. The outward form has passed away; ancient customs may be disused when changes in habits and feeling render them no longer suitable. The sacred duty of brotherly love remains unchanged forever. "By this shall men know that ye are my disciples, when ye have love one towards another."
III. THE EPISTLE TO BE READ IN THE CHURCH. Mark his earnestness: he adjures them by the Lord. It was his first Epistle. This solemn injunction was more needed now than afterwards. Then the Epistle was to stand on a level with the ancient Scriptures; it was to be read publicly, as Moses and the prophets were read in the synagogues. It was to be read to all. The open Bible must be given to all. All need its holy lessons; all have a right, by the gracious gift of God, to the blessings which it offers.
IV. THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. He begins his Epistle with grace; he ends it with grace. The grace of God is the beginning and the end of our salvation. "By the grace of God I am what I am;" "By grace are ye saved." All our truest happiness here, all our hopes for blessedness hereafter, come from the grace of God.
1. Try to realize the great value of prayer; desire the prayers of the saints.
2. Pray for the clergy; it is a sacred duty.
3. Love the brethren.
4. The Bible is a precious book; see that you prize it. - B.C.C.