Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE ADDRESS.
1. The description. St. Paul repeats the opening words of the First Epistle. He addresses the same Church; he describes it in the same sacred words. It is "in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." He could say of it nothing higher, nothing holier. To be in God, in Christ, is of all positions the loftiest, of all blessings the most precious. None are so highly exalted as those who are nearest to Christ; none have such rich store of heavenly treasure as those who abide in him, in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead. There is but one slight variation. In the First Epistle he said, "the Father;" here it is "our Father." The pronoun implies a close, endearing, affectionate relationship. The Church is in God our Father, in the embrace of his fatherly love, chosen by his electing grace; in the Lord Jesus Christ, saved by his precious death, living in that life which flows from Christ, which is Christ.
2. The salutation. He uses the same words as in the First Epistle; he could find no more suitable terms to express his good wishes for his converts. He could desire nothing better for them than grace, and peace; grace, the origin, the source, of every highest blessing; peace, the sweet and holy end, the very crown, of the Christian life. It is from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ that these and all other blessings flow. St. Paul joins together the two Divine Persons; they could not be thus associated as the one ultimate source of grace and peace, were they not both alike Divine. Peace is the fruit of the Spirit; with the Holy Spirit whom the Lord Jesus sends unto us from the Father comes the sacred gift of peace. Grace and peace come from God the Father by the incarnation, atonement, intercession of God the Son, through the indwelling presence of God the Holy Ghost. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God flow into the Christian heart through the fellowship of the Holy Ghost. All that the Christian can desire for himself, for his friends, for the whole Church, comes from God; he seeks it of God in prayer; he knows that God will hear. "This is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us."
II. THE THANKSGIVING.
1. The duty. Thanksgiving is a debt which we owe to God, a debt which we must always acknowledge, which we can never fully discharge. It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks for all things unto God. We must thank him for his grace given to ourselves; and if that grace abides in us, we shall feel ourselves bound to thank him for the working of the same grace in others. We shall regard every true conversion, every increase of grace in others, as a blessing granted to the whole Church and to ourselves. We shall feel a keen, living interest in each soul that is gathered into Christ's flock, and so share the angels' joy over one sinner that repenteth. For the welfare of each member affects the whole Church; when "one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it." Such was the feeling of St. Paul. "We are bound," he says - we owe it as a debt - "to thank God always for you." He fulfils his own precept; he gives thanks always. The thanksgiving of the faithful Christian must be continuous, never ending.
2. The ground of St. Paul's thanksgiving.
(1) The faith of the Thessalonians. He had gladly recognized their faith and love in his First Epistle; he had again and again exhorted them to abound more and more. Now, writing a second time after a short interval, he thanks God for the growth of their faith. It had increased "exccedingly;" he uses one of those strong words which his ardent feelings so often suggested. "Lord, increase our faith," is a prayer which we cannot make too often. Faith must grow if it is true and living; for it is the evidence of things not seen; it brings the cross of Christ, the presence of God, within the range of our mental view. That holy vision will draw us nearer ever by its constraining power, quickening and deepening in our hearts the faith which first brought us by the leading of the Spirit to the Saviour. The faith of the Thessalonians was growing exceedingly; so it will be with us, in spite of the unbelief and indifference which so fill the air, if we persevere in prayer, and try, in humble dependence on the grace of God to fashion our lives according to our prayers.
(2) Their love was abounding also. Love is the fairest ornament of a Christian Church. Faith is the root, love is the fruit. The tree that grows downwards will grow upwards also; the fair growth of foliage, flower, and fruit will bear some proportion to the unseen depth and strength of the root below. The Thessalonian Church was rich in the fruit of the Spirit. And their love was not only increasing in fervour, but in range also. It was not partial, not limited to this man or that man according to natural tastes and similarities of disposition. It extended throughout the Church; the love of each one of them all was abounding toward one another. It is a bright picture. Indeed, the Thessalonians were not without their faults, as we find in ch. 2. and 3.; but the apostle, in his love and thankfulness, gladly dwells on the spiritual progress of the Church before he proceeds to notice the shortcomings of individual members. It shows his love and his wisdom. The encouragement of the opening verses would dispose the Thessalonians to receive in a good spirit the few reproofs that follow.
3. The expression of his thankfulness. He not only gives thanks to God; he glories before men. "We ourselves," he says - "we glory." Though his deep humility might have withheld him from glorying over a result which was due, under God, to his own zealous labours, the rapid growth of their faith and love so filled him with exuberant gladness that he could net refrain his lips. "God forbid," he says elsewhere, "that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." But he is really glorying in the cross now; he glories, not in his own achievements, but in the triumphs of the cross. It was the work of God in real truth, not his work; he knew it well. Indeed, he had laboured abundantly - that he knew, he could not help knowing it; but he gladly explains the abundance of his labours by the abundance of grace that was vouchsafed unto him. "Yet not I," he says, "but the grace of God that was with me." The faith, hope, and love of the Thessalonians proved, as he said in the First Epistle, their election. God had chosen them to be his own; his grace worked mightily in them. And now St. Paul was glorying in the faith and patience of his converts. They were in great affliction; he sympathized with them, he comforted them; but yet he rejoiced over them. Their affliction by the grace of God was turned to a blessing; it proved the steadfastness of their faith and their patience, and it strengthened them.
1. Thankfulness is the Christian's duty; thank God always. 2, Especially thank him for his grace working in his people.
3. Glory in the victories of grace, not in worldly successes.
4. Pray for continual progress in faith, love, patience. - B.C.C.
Address and salutation. "Paul, and Silvanus, and Timothy, unto the Church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." The address is the same as in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, with the exception of the substitution of "our Father" for "the Father." The salutation is also the same, with the addition of the twofold source from which grace and peace are invoked, which is the same as in many of Paul's Epistles, with the exception of the substitution of "the Father" for "our Father."
I. RECOGNITION OF THE SATISFACTORY CONDITION OF THE THESSALONIAN CHURCH.
1. Before God. "We are bound to give thanks to God alway for you, brethren, even as it is meet, for that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the love of each one of you all toward one another aboundeth." We are to understand that information had reached Paul and his companions from Thessalonica since the despatch of their first letter to that place. It was information of faith and love on the part of the Thessalonian converts, of such a nature as to make Paul (taking him as representative)feel inwardly bound to thank God alway for them. This inward feeling answered to an outward fitness of circumstances. In the previous letter he had shown a deep interest in the perfecting of the lacking elements in their faith. We may think of a tree that has not come to its full proportions. It could now be said of them, after an interval of less than a year, that their faith was growing exceedingly. It was exhibiting such increase as a healthy faith always exhibits, and this in a marked degree. For such large realization of his wishes in the time it was only meet that he should thank God. He had also expressly prayed that the Lord would make them to abound in love one toward another. It could now be said that this was in the way of fulfilment. Their love was in process of enlargement as all love should be, and in a marked degree as the word would seem to imply. Their love was markedly individual. There was love toward the circle as a whole which was real and commendatory, but there was also personal attachment between the various members of the circle, individual toward individual. Their love was also markedly universal within the circle. The abounding was in the love of each one of them all toward one another. That testified to a harmonious circle. "When we love in part," says Theophylact, "this is not love, but division. For if it is for God's sake thou lovest, see that thou love all." There is a symmetry in love which requires that, loving our heavenly Father, we should love all his children; that, loving Christ, we should love the whole Christian circle. In the Thessalonian circle no exception is made of the busybodies afterwards referred to as loved or loving. In being busybodies they were not doing their duty by the other members of the circle; but the obstacle thus presented to their brethren loving them was commendably surmounted. As for the love of the busybodies themselves, it was not sufficiently characterized by wisdom, and did, therefore, contain something to be subtracted. Still, his prayer had been in so large a degree answered that it was only meet that he should give thanks to God for them. What obstacles there are to our loving in the Christian circle let us try to surmount, and let us not ourselves present any obstacles. And let us be thankful before God for what harmony is enjoyed.
2. Before the Churches. "So that we ourselves glory in you in the Churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which ye endure." Formerly there was no need to say anything of their faith to God-ward. Their conversion to Christianity, with joyfulness in attendant persecution, was widely known. It was not now that others were behindhand; for they had warm friends, and these not a few, who gloried in them. But Paul and his companions were so overjoyed that they were moved to join with others in glorying in them. The sphere of glorying was the Churches of God, i.e. Corinth, from which this letter was written, and other Churches with which they had correspondence. What they especially gloried in was the patience of the Thessalonians. Persecution had come upon them after persecution; they were then enduring afflictions. But they had nobly stood their ground. Their patience was sustained by faith - faith in a kind and wise Providence that was watching over them, that made use of their afflictions for the spread of the gospel, that would not leave them in the end unrewarded. This patience sustained by faith, Paul and his companions held up before the Churches for their encouragement in like circumstances. This being their motive, there was no breach of modesty in the instructors of the Thessalonians themselves glorying in them.
II. RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT OF GOD.
1. With reference to the Thessalonians. "Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God; to the end that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer." The patience sustained by faith, which was held up for the encouragement of the Churches, is now used for the encouragement of the Thessalonians themselves. Let them think of the judgment of God that was coming. That judgment would be righteous in dealing with men according to character. The character they possessed left no doubt as to what the righteous judgment of God would be. It looked forward to their being in the end counted worthy of the kingdom of God. For that kingdom they were suffering; but let them know that they who thus suffered would also reign.
2. With reference to their persecutors. "If so be that it is a righteous thing with God to recompense affliction to them that afflict you, and to you that are afflicted rest with us." The persecutors had no source of encouragement in their character. They also had to pass under the judgment of God; but what could righteous judgment mean to them? Their character was that of cruelly afflicting God's people. Could it be a righteous thing with God to place them alongside of patient sufferers as worthy of the kingdom? That would be to have no regard to distinction in character, to make God the friend of cruelty as much as of patience, and in that way to contradict the very idea of righteous judgment. The incontestably righteous thing could only be that with what measure they meted it should be measured unto them; that, giving affliction, there should be given back to them affliction; while, to the afflicted Thessalonians, the righteous opposite would be release from the strain of affliction - release in company with Paul and Silas and Timothy in like manner afflicted.
III. JUDICIAL PROCEDURE UNDER WHICH DEALING WITH THE THESSALONIANS AND THEIR PERSECUTORS FALLS.
1. Toward the ungodly.
(1) Judge and time of judgment. "At the revelation of the Lord Jesus." The righteous judgment of God is now associated, as in other Scriptures, with the Second Person of the Godhead. It is as Jesus, or Saviour, that he is to fill the lordly office, and to exercise the lordly prerogatives of Judge. He is now concealed from human view, upon which the ungodly presume. But one day he shall appear upon this earthly scene, and not in the lowly form in which he before appeared, but in a form that shall mark his Divine sovereignty.
(2) Place from which revealed. "From heaven." When before he appeared there was no impression of his coming from heaven. He was born upon this earth; he wore the earthly form of our humanity until, having made atonement for our sin, he ascended into heaven and sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. The heaven which then opened to receive him will again open, that he may reveal himself on earth for judgment. It will be observed that this revelation from heaven is identical with the descent from heaven described in 1 Thessalonians.
(3) Manner of revelation. First circumstance. "With the angels of his power." In the former description the Lord appeared, attended by the archangel and (by implication) his angelic host. The old translation here is "mighty angels." Their attendance, as of an army upon an earthly sovereign, is intended to give an impression of his power. This they give by their numbers; they may also give it by the personal might, more than human, with which they are endowed. Second circumstance. "In flaming fire." In the former description it is the clouds that are mentioned. Here the Lord appears encircled with a flame of fire. The clouds conceal and moderate for the saints that have been acknowledged. The uncreated splendour displayed before men in view of judgment is as fire. In 1 Corinthians 3:13 fire is associated with judgment: "Each man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed by fire; and the fire itself shall prove each man's work of what sort it is." As separating from it all impurity this judicial fire must have a fearful aspect to the ungodly. The description here bears a close resemblance to what is found in Daniel 7:9, 10: "I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand limes ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened." The description is here transferred from the Ancient of days to him who is there styled the Son of man.
(4) Judicial action toward two classes of the ungodly. "Rendering vengeance." Judgment is the manifestation of the justice of God. When men are convicted before a human tribunal they have to give an equivalent for the wrong they have done to others. Society in that way not only protects itself, but expresses its indignation against their crimes. The Lord is to take his seat as Judge, first convicting and then pronouncing sentence. In this there is implied no revengeful feeling; but there is implied holy indignation, in the name of the highest Authority in the universe, against all the ungodly for all their works of ungodliness which they have ungodly wrought. First class of the ungodly. "To them that know not God." This is a description of the heathen. And it is to be noticed that vengeance is to be rendered not merely to the wicked world rulers (Pharaohs and Neros), to those who have traded in their fellow men, to those who have been covenant breakers, to those who have taken away the life of the innocent, but to the heathen as a whole. On the other hand, it is to be noticed that they are not regarded historically, but from the point of view of the writers as those who have had to do with their not knowing God. In so far, therefore, as it can be justly said that, from their bad environments, they have not had to do with this not knowing God, vengeance shall not be rendered to them. But, in so far as they have not followed their light, there shall not any of them escape. Second class of the ungodly. "And to them that obey not. the gospel of our Lord Jesus." Our Lord Jesus is identified with gospel as well as with Law, with mercy as well as with judgment. What is the gospel but the good news of the Son of God coming into our nature, and suffering vengeance, just indignation and death, in room of the transgressors? And when he comes forward now in the ministration of the gospel, and commands men everywhere to repent of their sins and to accept of mercy, has he not a right to be obeyed? And will the most humanitarian maintain that he who obeys not should go unpunished?
(5) Their punishment in its contents. "Who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might." Such being their character (as "who" implies), they shall suffer punishment. The suffering of punishment by them corresponds to the rendering of vengeance by the Lord. The punishment is declared to be destructive. This may mean, and in some of its applications does mean, annihilation. But there is not good reason for supposing that it means annihilation in its application to the punishment of the ungodly. It seems to involve a low conception of the nature of man and of the moral government of God, to suppose that human beings are to be placed under trial, and to work out a moral history, and that after their failure they are in multitudes to be quenched in the darkness of nonexistence. It seems more reasonable to take the meaning to be that they shall be destroyed, in being consigned to a state of misery for which in their creation they were not intended. Their nature (unlike that of Christ's people, 1 Thessalonians 4:23) being disintegrated by sin, their peace shall be completely broken. The epithet "eternal" which is applied to destruction is of terrible import. It points to the punishment as stretching away into the eternal world. It may be doubted whether by itself it is decisive for the absolute eternity of future punishment. It is not so decisive as if the form had been endless. On the other hand, it is not decisive against the endlessness of future punishment that the word means age long. It needs to be considered in connection with the subjects to which it is applied. Eternal sin, as the right reading now is in Mark 3:29, apparently means sin for which there is no escape from punishment. Eternal punishment does not mean that judgment is eternally proceeding, but that its issues reach into eternity. The similar word which in the Old Testament is applied to the mountains from the nature of the case imports a limited eternity. The eternal times through which the mystery was hidden can only mean limited times into which the past eternity was regarded as divided. Applied to God, as the word is in the same sentence at the close of Romans, it indicates the absolute eternity of God.. Applied to life, as it very frequently is, from the nature of life and from the Divine guarantee, it means life that is endless and, as it is expressed in one place, indissoluble. It still remains a question whether, from the nature of spiritual death and from the character of God along with other teachings, destruction is to be regarded as eternal in the sense of being endless. It certainly is a word which is fitted to strike terror into the ungodly. The destruction is further represented as the greatest of all deprivations. It is to be away from the face of the Lord. The supreme pleasure of Christ's people is to be their beholding his face of infinite benignity turned toward them. "As for me," says the psalmist, "I will behold thy face in righteousness." "And they shall see his face," it is said in the last chapter of Revelation. So the bitterest element in the case of the ungodly will be that no look of love, no look of the infinite benignity of the Saviour, will be turned toward them. As the earth without sunshine, so must it be to be away from the face of Christ. It is also to be away from his glory. Three disciples were taken up to the Mount of Transfiguration to see his glory. He also encouraged the eleven at the last by the prospect of their seeing his glory. "That where I am they also may be with me, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me." It is particularly here the glory of his might. He who has the look of infinite benignity gives also in his appearance the impression of infinite might. How glorious a Being to be privileged, without fear, yet with solemn awe, to look upon! To be eternally destroyed, then, from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might, such will be the terrible punishment awarded to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
2. Toward the saints. "When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and be marvelled at in all them that believed (because our testimony unto you was believed) in that day." Contemporaneous with his judicial action toward the ungodly, is to be his judicial action toward his own. They are here called his saints, answering perfectly to that description then as they only imperfectly do now. As his saints, they shall be acknowledged on the day of judgment; and their reward shall be to have their outward condition brought into perfect correspondence with their inward character. This is called their glorification. The Lord, having given grace, will also give glory. We may think of the glory as the blossoming forth of the grace. As the flower comes to beauty of form, so they shall be made beautiful to look upon in their higher order of being. Their glorification is here presented under the special aspect of the glorification of Christ in them. As Judge, he is to carry out his own word. "And the glory which thou hast given me I have given unto them." As he is in them as the source of their holiness, so is his beauty to shine forth in their outward form. From heaven we "wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself." This glorification of Christ in the saints shall call forth the wonder of the assembled universe. They shall marvel at the infinite benignity and power of him who out of darkness has made light, who upon rebels against his Father's authority has stamped his own glorious image. In connection with the marvelling, is brought in the condition of our future glorification. With a look back from judgment it is said, "in all them that believed." And believing is taken up and connected particularly with the Thessalonians - "because our testimony unto you was believed." In keeping with this language, faith is defined by Bishop Pearson "as an assent unto truths credible upon the testimony of God delivered unto us by the apostles and prophets." Let us give cordial assent to the facts and truths of the gospel, which we have upon the best of testimony, that we may not come short of the glorification which shall be the marvel of the universe. There was not needed further predication of time, but it is emphasized by the addition of the words, "in that day." The day when the Lord is to render vengeance to the ungodly, that is to be the day when he is to be glorified in his saints, and to be marvelled at in all them that believed.
IV. PRAYER IN CONNECTION WITH THE GLORIFICATION OF THE THESSALONIANS. "To which end we also pray always for you, that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfil every desire of goodness and every work of faith, with power; that the Name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ." Toward their glorification the wishes, and not only the wishes but the prayers also, of Paul and his companions were directed, and always directed. As believing, God was calling them to glory. Our God, say the petitioners, grant to the Thessalonians at the last to be counted worthy of their calling. For this end let power sufficient be granted to bring to completion every inward desire and the outward work appointed them. They had aspirations after goofiness; let these receive fulfilment. They had a life to live before the world according to the faith by which they were actuated; let it be as a finished piece of work. Thus, having real excellence, would they be adjudged worthy of glory. The final end of their glorification is emphasized by repetition, with some modification of form. There is brought in "the Name of our Lord Jesus," i.e. as he is revealed to men as Saviour, exalted to sovereignty. And, as they are to he the clement in which his Name is to be glorified, so reciprocally is he to be the element in which they are to find their glorification. Thus is identification with Christ in glory made cleat' as clear can be. This final end of glorification is looked for in prayer on behalf of the Thessalonians, not according to their deservings, but, say the petitioners, according to the grace (undeserved and rich) of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (in his superabundant merits). - R.F.
I. GRACE IS THE SOURCE OF CHRISTIAN PROSPERITY.
1. Christian grace is essentially God's free favour. This is the first characteristic of the new covenant It starts with mercy to the sinner; it continues with grace to the saint. It is beyond nature which leaves us to our own devices, and law which directs but does not aid, and justice which rewards according to our works, because it offers its blessings to the undeserving "without money and without price." Grace is the key note of the anthem of the Bethlehem angels.
2. Christian grace is an active energy of God. It is not the bare negative mercy that lets off penalties, that withholds the hand of justice from striking the blow of doom. Nor is it only a kindly disposition. It is the highest Divine energy and the most vigorous fruitful activity. God works upon us in grace.
3. Christian grace works through the whole of the Christian life. We do not simply depend upon God's grace for the pardon of our sins and the renewal of our hearts at the commencement of our better life. We continue to live upon grace. It begins by delivering us from our Egyptian bondage; it continues by supplying our daily bread. Christians would as surely perish without these supplies of grace, even after the first forgiving act of salvation, as the Israelites would have perished without the manna even after they had crossed the Red Sea.
II. PEACE IS THE CROWN OF CHRISTIAN PROSPERITY.
1. Peace is the first interest of a nation, a Church, a soul. We cannot enjoy wealth, pleasure, or comfort if we have not peace. For peace we pine and yearn.
2. Peace is the most perfect of blessings. When this is rich and full we want little else. We can afford to suffer if we bear our lot with interior peace. It may be said of peace, as it is said of love, it "suffereth long."
3. Peace is the greatest outcome of grace. It cannot be had without grace. Grace restores us to peaceable relations with God, gives us peaceable dispositions to bear and forebear one with another, and breathes into us a spirit of content, submission, and holy calm. We may advance far in activity, etc., before we gain this precious gem of grace. Inward serenity in all weathers of outward circumstance is the last product of spiritual culture.
III. GRACE AND PEACE ARE ENJOYED THROUGH OUR UNION WITH GOD AND CHRIST. The twofold benediction has a twofold reference.
1. Grace originates in the Father. The first thought of redeeming the world arose in the bosom of God. The secret of these wonderful blessings is a Father's love.
2. Peace is found in union with God. We enjoy the peace that is never absent from the Spirit of God when we approach his holy, serene presence.
3. Both are received by us through Christ. He is the incarnation of God's grace. He makes a way by his sacrifice for us to enjoy it. He is also "our peace." When we learn the "secret of Jesus" we shall have the peace of God which passeth all understanding. - W.F.A.
I. THE GROUNDS OF HIS THANKSGIVING. "Because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the love of each one of you all toward each other aboundeth."
1. The marked growth of their faith. At his last writing to them he had hinted at deficiencies in their faith (1 Thessalonians 3:10), but he had now learned that it had grown exceedingly.
(1) Growth is a sign of a living faith.
(2) It is right to pray for the increase of faith (Luke 17:5).
(3) Faith grows
(a) in its strength
(b) and in its range.
The Thessalonians had been able to receive new truths, and to bear the shock of persecution with calmness. Their faith worked by love (Galatians 5:6), and the trial of their faith worked patience (James 1:3).
2. The marked growth of their love to one another. He had prayed for an increase of love among them, and he was thankful that his prayer had been heard.
(1) Their love had grown in fervour.
(a) Their persecutions had endeared them the more to each other.
(b) They "looked not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others" (Philippians 2:4).
(2) Their love had grown in its range. They had an individualizing solicitude in each other's welfare, no saint being outside the pale of their kindly regards.
II. THE OBLIGATION AND APPROPRIATENESS OF HIS THANKSGIVING. "We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet."
1. The apostle regards it as a positive debt which it would be injustice not to discharge, for he feels that God is the true Author of all the blessings they had received.
2. He regards it as demanded by the very proprieties of the case. "As it is meet" - that this recognition should be made. - T.C.
1 Thessalonians 1:3), and he prayed for the increase of their love (1 Thessalonians 3:12). Now he is thankful that their faith continues to grow, and that their mutual affection is full and overflowing. Let us consider the first of these two signs of progress. (For the "increase of love," see on 1 Thessalonians 3:12.)
I. THE SIGNS OF GROWING FAITH. Faith is an invisible spiritual grace. How, then, did St. Paul know that it was increasing in the distant Church of the Thessalonians? We need not suppose that he possessed any supernatural insight for reading the hearts of men. If faith grows the fruits of faith grow. A feeble faith makes a feeble life. When the whole heart is faint the whole head is sick (Isaiah 1:5). Faith is always known by its works, and the health and vigour and stature of faith by the character and measure of Christian activity. Note some of the signs of growing faith.
1. Brighter cheerfulness. We are less distressed with doubt, have little torment of fear, bear present ills patiently, when we trust the goodness of God more fully.
2. Deeper devotion. Slight faith means cold prayer. We are near to God just in proportion as we have faith in him.
3. Fuller activity. We work half-heartily when we believe half-heartedly. A strong trust in the grace of God gives a strong energy for doing the work of God.
4. Warmer love. Faith worketh by love (Galatians 5:6). When we trust Christ more truly we feel the force of his love more deeply and love him more warmly in return, and then our love to Christ shows itself in love of the brethren.
II. THE SECRET OF GROWING FAITH. Faith flows from the grace of God. It is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). Nevertheless, God is always willing to bestow this gift, and our reception of it depends on what we do. Faith will not grow without cultivation. Two most important truths, too often ignored, help us to the secret.
1. Faith grows by means of what it feeds on. This is in harmony with a law of all growth. Nothing can come from nothing. If a child is not fed it will die, certainly it will not grow. Growing plants take nourishment from air and soil. Faith will not grow by our wishing it to grow, nor by any manipulation with it. Yet people, so to speak, take out their faith and try to do something with it in order to improve it. The great mistake is to think of increasing our faith by any consideration of the faith itself. We must forget our faith and look at Christ, and then our faith will grow unconsciously. We have too much introspection. An intelligent consideration of the grounds of faith, especially a study of Christ, reading of Scripture, prayer, "means of grace," etc., help faith to grow.
2. Faith grows by exercise. This is also natural. Children need exercise that their bodies may grow. Unused limbs shrink and shrivel up. The arm of the blacksmith is strong with work. The intellect grows by being employed. The torpid intellect becomes stupid. So faith must be used in order that it may grow. Instead of deploring our little faith, let us use it and it will grow larger. This is Christ's own advice; for when his disciples said, "Lord, increase our faith," instead of doing as they wished by a miracle, he almost rebuked them by saying that if they had faith as small as a grain of mustard seed, even that when fully exercised would be enough to remove a mountain; and, like the seed which is a living thing, it would grow when planted. It is as foolish not to use our faith because it is small as it would be not to plant the seed for a similar reason. Thus we keep faith small. It must be employed if it is to grow. - W.F.A.
I. THE GROUND OF HIS PRAISES. "For your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure."
1. Afflictions, whether in the form of sharp persecution or of more general trouble, are the lot of God's faithful children. They are "appointed thereunto" (1 Thessalonians 2:3).
2. It is the glory of a Christian to bear such afflictions with patience and faith. The Thessalonians had not been "moved by these afflictions" (1 Thessalonians 3:3).
(1) Their patience was the result of their faith. "The trial of your faith worketh patience" (James 1:3). Their trials did not uproot their faith. They had "the patience of hope." The faith and the patience are always closely allied. "I know thy faith and thy patience" (Revelation 2:19).
II. IT IS NOT UNLAWFUL, BUT EXPEDIENT, THAT A MINISTER SHOULD GLORY IN HIS PEOPLE. Not in their social rank, or riches, or numbers, but in the graces of the Spirit manifested in their life. The apostle elsewhere advises us not to glory in men, but in the Lord. But in this case the glory is given to God, not to man.
III. IT PROMOTES THE SPIRITUAL WELFARE OF CHURCHES TO HEAR OF THE SUCCESS OF THE GOSPEL IN OTHER CHURCHES. The example of faith, love, and patience at Thessalonica would stimulate the saints in all Greece. - T.C.
I. THERE WILL BE A RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT OF MEN. "Verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth" (Psalm 58:11). The afflictions of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked in the present world are not inconsistent with this righteous judgment. The problem is an old one, how to understand the mystery of Divine providence. The Book of Job sets forth its conditions and its mysteries. The disturbing effect of sin is not sufficiently considered in estimating the character of the Divine administration. It is the inequalities in Divine providence that lead us to expect a future rectification of wrongs; for God's judgment is righteous.
II. THE PATIENT HEROISM OF THE SAINTS IS ITSELF A SIGN OF GOD'S RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT. "Which is a token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may he counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer."
1. It is not that believers suffer, receiving here their evil things, while the wicked receive their good things.
2. It is not because God is just and there rest be a future judgment.
3. It is not that the persecution was an indication how the judgment would go at the last clay.
4. It is that the patience of the saints accredited them, by the righteous judgment of God, as meet heirs of his kingdom, while it was a presage of the coming judgment, when the future would bring its double compensation for the present. The idea is the same as in the Philippian Epistle: "And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God" (Philippians 1:28). It follows, therefore,
(1) that God is not forgetful or indifferent to the sufferings of his saints;
(2) that patience is a special qualification for the enjoyment of God's kingdom;
(3) that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the future happiness of the saints, who will have an eternal weight of glory. - T.C.
I. THE MEANING OF AFFLICTION.
1. It does not mean, that God is angry with us. Job's friends thought so. So did Asaph once; but when he went into the sanctuary of God his eyes were enlightened; he understood then that God himself is the Portion of his people; that there is nothing upon earth to be desired in comparison with him; that though heart and flesh may fail, God is enough, and more than enough, for his chosen in this world, and in the world to come will receive them to glory. God's dealings with men are often misinterpreted; people use the word "judgment" carelessly and without knowledge. Affliction would be almost intolerable, if it were indeed always a proof of the Divine wrath. But, God be thanked, he himself has told us it comes in love.
2. It is a trial of our faith. Satan said, "Doth Job serve God for nought?" The world often says so now; it imputes lower motives; it refuses to believe in unselfish goodness. The man who can say in the midst of troubles, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord," is a living proof of the reality, of the sustaining power, of the presence of God; one of those miracles of grace which, thank God, are still daily wrought around us in the world. These things are among the facts registered by the observer of spiritual truths - facts as real as the facts of external nature, and of far deeper and more abiding moment.
3. It worketh patience. The trial of God's saints is more precious than that of gold which perisheth. Gold is tried by fire; God's people are tried in the furnace of affliction. Affliction, meekly borne, hath a refining power; it elevates and refines the whole character; "it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby." Faith is strengthened by trials; patience is acquired by the habit of enduring affliction. Without endurance, without suffering, there is no opportunity of developing the grace of patience.
II. THE ULTIMATE ISSUE OF PERSECUTION.
1. To the persecuted. Rest - rest with all saints; with St. Paul who had been the means of their conversion, who was then writing to comfort them. The weary and heavy laden who come to Christ, as he bids them, find in him rest for their souls even in this present life. There is an inner rest of the spirit, amid outward unrest and trouble, which is the pledged possession of the soul that hath found Christ and resteth in faith on him. "Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the Lord forever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength;" or rather as in the margin "the Lord Jehovah is the Rock of ages." The only rest for the penitent, for the sorrowful, is on the breast of Jesus. We find rest there now; but the truest, deepest rest is yet to come in the kingdom of God. "Requiescat in pace," we say of the departed. They are found worthy of that rest in the kingdom of God who have endured affliction in faith and patience. God is pleased, in his gracious condescension, to call them worthy. "They shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy." That worthiness is of God; it is his gift; he makes them worthy by his grace. He called them not because they were worthy, says St. Augustine; rather by his choice he makes them worthy. It is not their merit but his election, not their goodness but his grace, that makes them what they are. They have not chosen him, but he hath chosen them that they should bring forth much fruit. They are not wise, or strong, or holy; but Christ their Lord is all. He is present with them, abiding in them by his Spirit, purging away their sins, communicating to them more and more of his own holiness and love. As he is, so are they in this world; and they know that, when he shall appear, they shall be like him, for they shall see him as he is. For his sake they are counted worthy of the kingdom of God, and in the hope of that kingdom they are willing now to suffer. But these present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the coming glory. They know it, and they suffer patiently, for they recognize that great truth that only by the way of the cross can we enter into the kingdom of heaven.
2. To the persecutors. God will recompense affliction to those who afflict his saints. They who persecute the Lord's disciples persecute the Lord himself. It pertains to his justice that such must receive the due reward of their deeds. It is right; and because it is right, it must be so. Christians must pray for their persecutors; they must do what lieth in them to soften their hearts, to save their souls, to avert the coming judgment. But when the judgment comes they can but stand by, and recognize in solemn awe the justice of the most holy God.
1. Chastisements are sent in mercy; be patient, be thankful.
2. Chastisement is only grievous if we do not understand its meaning; accept it as sent from God; take it as a cross; be careful not to lose its blessed fruits.
3. Think of the great joy of those who are counted worthy of the kingdom of God; let that high hove be your comfort in trouble.
4. Envy not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways. - B.C.C.
Psalm 73:17). His faith in the supremacy and justice of God leads the apostle to put the contrary construction on passing events to that which would be laid upon them by unbelief.
I. THE PATIENT ENDURANCE OF PERSECUTION IS A TOKEN OF GOD'S COMING JUDGMENT OF REWARD. The judgment has two sides. There are sheep as well as goats. To those who groan under the yoke of present injustice the coming of a future judgment must be hailed with joy. Then the cruelty will cease, the calumny will be repudiated, the wrong will be righted. But how is the patient endurance of persecution a token of the coming judgment?
1. It shows the necessity of it. Of course, this argument is only addressed to faith. If we believe in God and his righteousness we cannot suppose that he will permit wrongs to remain unredressed. If justice were done on earth we need expect no further rectification. But the postponement of justice makes the future coming of it certain. Here is a reason for looking forward to a future life. If this life were rounded into perfection we should not have so much occasion for expecting another life. But now that it is broken and not justly completed there must be a future. If the wages of God's labourers are not paid today there must be a morrow when they will be paid.
2. It permits the persecuted to look forward to a happy issue from it. They will not be counted worthy of the kingdom of God simply because they endure persecution. Suffering is not merit. Heaven is not bare compensation. But the patient endurance is a sign of character, and it reveals a fitness for the future award of blessings. The untried may be uncertain of their fate. The tried and faithful have reason for more confidence.
II. THE UNAVENGED INFLICTION OF PERSECUTION IS A TOKEN OF GOD'S COMING JUDGMENT OF PUNISHMENT. The blood of Abel cries to God from the ground. The meek, patient endurance of the martyr demands future retribution more powerfully than the loudest cry for vengeance. The better the character of the persecuted is, the less they deserve their ill treatment and the more patiently they bear it, the greater will the guilt of the persecutors appear. Thus this condition of affairs is a token of a coming judgment of wrath.
1. It shows the necessity of it. If justice were already done, guilty men might have some excuse for denying the probability of a future judgment. But now they cannot speak of it as an idle threat of the Church. Justice demands it.
2. It warns the wicked to expect a dreadful doom. It reveals the guilt of their sin; and it makes so glaringly apparent the contrast between their conduct and that of their victims that a difference of destiny of corresponding magnitude may be expected. - W.F.A.
I. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THIS JUDGMENT. "Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense affliction to them that afflict you; and to you who are afflicted rest with us."
1. An appeal is made to man's innate sense of justice. A want of this element of justice in human character is regarded as a defect. A right-minded man is indignant at wrong, and delights in the retribution that fails upon wrong doers. This sentiment of justice is but a reflection of Divine character, for we are made in the image of that God who hates sin with "a perfect hatred' (Psalm 139:22).
2. God is "not unrighteous who taketh vengeance" (Romans 3:5), for he has established in his government of the world an inseparable connection between sin and misery. Therefore we may expect to see a Divine retaliation upon transgressors - "affliction to them that afflict you" - the penalty partaking of the very character of the sin. On the other hand, God is not "unrighteous to forget your work of faith and labour of love." The afflicted shall be recompensed with "rest," as well as reward for all their patience.
II. THE TIME OF THE JUDGMENT. "When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven."
1. There is a day appointed for the judgment of the world; for God "hath appointed a day in which he wilt judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom he hath ordained" (Acts 17:30, 31).
2. The day is that which is to be the manifestation of the Lord from heaven. He is now in heaven, "sitting at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56); but he shall then come forth in glory to those who "wait for him," to the judgment of the world.
3. The time of the judgment is unknown to man. The day of the Lord "shall come as a thief in the night."
III. THE SUBORDINATE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE JUDGMENT.
1. The angelic retinue. "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with the angels of his power."
(1) They manifest his power and enhance his glory. They will be with him when he "shall come in glory, and shall sit on the throne of his glory" (Matthew 25:31).
(2) They execute his purposes, whether of wrath or mercy.
(a) They "gather together his elect from the four winds" (Mark 13:27).
(b) They "shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them that do iniquity, and shall east them into a furnace of fire" (Matthew 13:41, 42).
2. The flaming glory of his manifestation. It shall be "in flaming fire;" not as the instrument of vengeance, but as enhancing the glory of the Divine presence. "Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him. He shall call to the heavens flora above, and to the earth, that he may judge his people" (Psalm 50:3, 4).
IV. THE RESULTS OF THE JUDGMENT TO THE TWO CLASSES.
1. The class of persecutors. "Those which afflict you."
(1) Wicked men cannot endure the saints. It is with them as with Cain, who slew his brother. Wherefore? "Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous" (1 John 3:12).
(2) The cry of the saints rises to heaven against them. "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" (Revelation 6:10).
(3) The persecutors are of two classes. "Them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ."
(a) The first class refers to Gentile persecutors. "They know not God." Ignorance is their great sin. They had resisted the light of nature.
(α) It was wilful ignorance, for they had the truth brought to their doors in Thessalonica;
(β) their ignorance made confidence in God impossible,
(γ) as well as an intelligent worship of God.
(b) The second class refers to Jewish persecutors - "that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." As ignorance was the sin of the Gentiles, disobedience was the sin of the Jews. They knew God, but rejected the gospel of Christ. They were fiercer persecutors of the saints even than the Gentiles.
(α) Christ is the Author of the gospel as well as its theme.
(β) The gospel is to be obeyed as well as received, and is therefore called "the obedience of faith;" for faith without obedience is dead, as obedience without faith has no value.
(4) The judgment upon the persecutors. It is described first generally and then more definitely. The Lord Jesus shall take vengeance upon them. They "shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." This represents "the wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:16, 17).
(a) The judgment is everlasting destruction. This does not imply annihilation - an idea equally opposed to Scripture and to the facts of natural science. The term "everlasting" associated with it neutralizes the idea of annihilation, which implies a point of time in which the wicked cease to exist. The duration of the punishment will be as the duration of the blessedness (Revelation 16:26; Hebrews 9:14; Matthew 25:46).
(b) It involves separation from "the face of the Lord, and the glory of his strength." It is heaven to "see Christ as he is," to be "with him where he is, that they may behold his glory." The sum of all woe is, "Depart from me." A great gulf is fixed between the saved and the lost (Luke 16:26). The wicked are to be outside the apocalyptic city of God. "Outside are dogs" (Revelation 16:14, 15).
2. The class of saints. The results of the judgment as affecting them are thus described.
(1) They are to be accounted "worthy of the kingdom of God."
(a) They are heirs of it, as children of God.
(b) They are called into it.
(c) The kingdom "shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High" (Daniel 7:27). "The saints shall judge the world" (1 Corinthians 6:2, 3). They shall "inherit the kingdom" (Matthew 25:34). This is "the grace that is to he brought to them at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:13).
(2) They shall receive rest - "rest with us," as the Lord's recompense for all their sufferings. It points to their release from persecutions.
(b) It is rest in the fellowship of all saints - "rest with us."
(3) The effect of the Lord's second advent - "that he may be glorified in his saints, and be admired in all them that believe."
(a) The Church is to be "the glory of Christ." Jesus said, "The glory which thou gavest me I have given them" (John 17:10, 22). "The beauty of the Lord God shall be upon her," and "his glory shall be seen upon her" (Psalm 90:17); Isaiah 60:2). The Church is addressed thus: "There shall also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God" (Isaiah 62:3).
(b) Christ shall be an Object of wonder to believers in that day. "To be admired in all them that believe." The wonder will spring out of the extraordinary manifestations of his glory and power. - T.C.
righteous thing," etc. The details of the great day can only be revealed by Divine inspiration. But the great outlines of its proceedings may be predicted by our own consciences.
I. THE SEPARATION OF DESTINIES. Destinies are now apparently mixed and disarranged without any evident regard to justice. They will not be so then. There will be a clear division between the sheep and the goats.
1. Suffering to the persecuters. They who give affliction shall suffer affliction. There is a law of nature as well as a principle of fairness in the lex talionis when it is rightly applied. A bad man's doom is to be the recoil of his evil deeds upon his own head.
2. Rest to the persecuted. The specially coveted reward of the afflicted is rest. To the weary sufferer that alone is an immeasurable blessing. There is some compensation in the fact that rest, which to the idle and comfortable is itself a weariness, becomes the most happy solace to the suffering. Note:
(1) This rest is the more enjoyable because it is shared with beloved friends (Paul, Silas, etc).
(2) It is not given to all the afflicted, but to afflicted Christians.
II. THE TIME OF THE JUDGMENT. It is here synchronized with the second advent of Christ. He is King and Judge as well as Friend and Saviour. His repudiation of the office of Judge during his earthly humiliation (Luke 12:14) should only make us feel how surely the exercise of his rightful judicial functions must be reserved for some future occasion. Jesus Christ cannot endure eternal injustice. He is strong to execute as well as righteous to desire judgment.
III. THE PERSONS CONDEMNED. Two classes are named.
1. Those who are ignorant of God. The heathen world seems to be here referred to. Why should these benighted people be punished for their ignorance? Because they might have known God (Romans 1:18-20). But they can only be punished in so far as their ignorance was wilful and came from moral causes, i.e. in so far as they "held down the truth in unrighteousness." Doubtless there have been good heathen men who have not committed that offence.
2. Those who obey not the gospel. People of Christendom are now referred to. It is of no use to live in a Christian nation, nor to belong to a Christian Church, nor to believe in the truths of the gospel, if we do not obey the gospel. Obedience is the one test. Heathen are only condemned for wilful neglect of God, Christian nations for disobedience to the Christian gospel.
IV. THE DOOM OF THE GUILTY.
1. They are to suffer punishment. Their doom will not be purely privative, nor will merely natural consequences follow their evil conduct. Distinct penalties will be imposed.
2. The punishment will chiefly consist in "eternal destruction." This dreadful phrase certainly cannot be taken as an equivalent foreverlasting torment. Is not sin everywhere destructive? The wages of sin is not pain - though pain does follow it - but death. This destroying process, left to itself, will go on forever. All hope of a far off end to it must be in some interference with its action by the Divine mercy, which is also eternal.
3. The punishment will be increased by the measure of the glory that is missed. The eternal destruction involves separation "from the face of the Lord." In his presence there is fulness of joy. Spiritual destruction includes the killing out of the spiritual eye that beholds the beatific vision. - W.F.A.
I. THE JUDGMENT OF THE WICKED.
1. The revelation of the Judge. It is the Lord Jesus, who once was despised and rejected of men; he is ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. He shall come as God once came down on Mount Sinai, in the like awful glory.
(1) With the angels. They shall gather the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire. The angels will be the ministers of his justice - the blessed angels who are now the messengers of his love and grace. Now they rejoice over each sinner that repenteth; then they will cast the impenitent into the everlasting fire. We think of the angels as gentle, loving, holy, as our friends and guardians; they are so, so far as we are Christ's. They desire to look into the mysteries of redemption; they announced the Saviour's birth; they ministered to him in his temptation, his agony; they celebrated his resurrection and ascension. Now they are sent forth to minister for them that shall be heirs of salvation; they encamp round about those who fear the Lord, and deliver them. They help in carrying on his blessed work of love. But they are holy; they hate evil; they must turn away from those who have yielded themselves to the dominion of the evil one; they must execute at the last the awful judgment of God. Fearful thought, that the blessed angels, loving and holy as they are, must one day cast the hardened sinner into hell, as once they cast Satan out of heaven.
(2) In flaming fire. The Lord shall be revealed in flaming fire, in that glory which he had before the world was. His throne is fiery flame (Daniel 7:9). He himself is a consuming fire. The sight will be appalling to the lost, full of unutterable terror; "they shall say to the rocks, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us." "By thine agony and bloody sweat, by thy cross and passion, good Lord, deliver us."
2. The lost. Two classes are mentioned here.
(1) Those who know not God - the heathen. They might have known him. Some of them did know him. They had not the Law, the outward Law, but it was written in their hearts; God spoke to them in the voice of conscience. They listened; they did by nature the things contained in the Law. Such men, we are sure, God in his great mercy will accept and save. But, alas! the fearful picture drawn by St. Paul in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans represents with only too much truth the general state of the heathen world in the apostolic times. Their blindness was criminal; it was the result of willful and habitual sin; their ignorance was without excuse.
(2) Those who obeyed not the gospel. All, whether Jews or Gentiles, who had heard the preaching of Christ. They had heard, as we have, all that the Lord Jesus had done and suffered for us; they had had the opportunity of hearing his holy precepts. "This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light." To know the gospel and not to obey it, to have the light around us and not to admit it into our hearts, not to walk as children of light - this must bring the judgment of God upon the disobedient. The greater the light, the heavier the responsibility of those who sin against light and knowledge.
3. The punishment. The Lord Jesus will award vengeance. "Vengeance is mine; I will recompense, saith the Lord." Terrible thought, that vengeance must come from him, the most loving Saviour, who loved the souls of men with a love so burning, so intense in its Divine tenderness! But it must be so. The exceeding guilt of sin is manifest in this; it turns the chiefest of blessings into an increase of condemnation; the cross is utter death to the impenitent and the ungodly. And that vengeance takes effect in destruction. The destruction is eternal; then it is not annihilation. It is the destruction of all gladness, hope, all that makes life worth living; it is the exclusion from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. Only the pure in heart can see God. The lost souls cannot see his face. The exclusion is eternal; is it endless? It continues through the ages; will those ages of misery ever end in restoration? Can a soul, once so hardened in guilt that it must be shut out of the presence of God, ever repent in that exclusion? It sinned obstinately against light during its time of probation; can it recover itself now that the light is withdrawn? It is hardened through the deceitfulness of sin and the power of evil habits; can it break those chains of darkness now? These are dark, awful questions. We may ask, on the other hand, how can "God be all in all," if sin is to exist forever? how can it be that "in Christ shall all be made alive," while there is still a hell in the universe of God? The subject is beset with difficulties and perplexities; it excites bewildering, harrowing thoughts. We must leave it where Holy Scripture leaves it. We would gladly believe, if it were possible, that there is hope beyond the grave for those who die unblest; but such an expectation has no scriptural authority beyond a few slight and doubtful hints. Who would dare to trust to a hope so exceeding slender? No; if we shrink in terror from the thought of being one day shut out of God's presence into the great outer darkness, let us try to live in that gracious presence now.
II. THE GLORY OF THE RIGHTEOUS.
1. Its time: when he shall come. They suffer now; sometimes they are persecuted, their name is cast out as evil. But they have their consolation; they see indeed through a glass darkly, but yet they do see by faith the glory of the Lord; they are changed into the same image from glory to glory as by the Lord the Spirit. They have a glory now; but it is an inner spiritual glory derived from the indwelling of the blessed Spirit whom the world seeth not, neither knoweth. Now they are the sons of God; when he shall appear, they shall be like him, for they shall see him as he is.
2. Its nature: the unveiled presence of Christ. He shall be glorified in his saints. "I am glorified in them," he said, when about to leave them. When he comes again, that glory shall shine forth in all its radiant splendour. He shall be admired in all them that believe. The glory of his presence abiding in them shall arouse the wondering admiration of all. The lost spirits will wonder; they will be amazed at the strangeness of the salvation of the blessed. "This is he" (Wisd. 5:3, 5) "whom we sometimes had in derision... how is he numbered among the children of God, and his lot is among the saints?" The very angels will wonder at the exceeding glory of the Lord shining in his saints. For he will change the body of their humiliation, and make it like the body of his glory.
1. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; let us keep that awful day in our thoughts.
2. Think on the fearful misery of eternal separation from God; live in his presence now.
3. We hope to be like him in his glory; let us take up the cross. - B.C.C.
I. A PRAYER THAT HIS CONVERTS MIGHT APPROVE THE REALITY OF THEIR CALLING BY THEIR FAITH AND LIVE. "Whereunto we pray always for you, brethren, that God would count you worthy of his calling."
1. The nature and intent of the calling.
(1) It is the effectual call of the Spirit in conversion (1 Corinthians 1:24).
(2) It is according to the Divine purpose (Romans 8:28).
(3) It is
(a) high (Philippians 3:14);
(b) holy (2 Timothy 1:9);
(c) heavenly (Hebrews 3:1).
(4) It is a call
(a) to fellowship with Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9);
(b) to holiness (1 Thessalonians 4:7);
(c) to liberty (Galatians 5:13);
(d) to peace (Colossians 3:15);
(e) to glory and virtue (2 Peter 1:3);
(f) to eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12).
2. A walk worthy of such a calling. "That God would count you worthy of this calling." How can any sinful man be accounted worthy of it? He is already called, and God's counting him worthy proceeds on the supposition of that pre-existing fact. It supposes:
(1) That their life would be found at the last day in harmony with the call (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
(3) That they would have occasion to praise God for the call (1 Peter 2:9).
II. A PRAYER THAT HIS CONVERTS MIGHT FULLY REALIZE THE BLESSED PROCESS THROUGH WHICH THE APOSTLE'S OBJECT MIGHT BE SECURED. The process is twofold.
1. That God would work in them every delight in moral goodness. "Fulfil every good pleasure of goodness."
(1) Good men delight in goodness and in doing good.
(2) It is God who implants this delight in them; for they are "his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Ephesians 2:10). They are, therefore, to be "zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14), and to provoke one another to "good works" (Hebrews 10:24). This goodness is one of the Spirit's fruits (Galatians 5:22).
2. That God would fulfil the work of faith with power.
(1) Faith is an operative grace; it "worketh by love;" it justifies itself by good works.
(2) It is a Divine work. Therefore, as something may have been lacking therein, the apostle prays that he who is the Author of their faith would he the Finisher of it (Hebrews 12:2).
(3) It is a work done with power. At their conversion, the Thessalonians felt the "greatness of his power to usward who believe" (Ephesians 1:19), and the same power is needed to make it triumphant as a principle of action and as a principle of endurance. "Our sufficiency is of God;" we are "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation" (1 Peter 1:5).
III. THE ULTIMATE OBJECT OF THE APOSTLE'S PRAYERS FOR THE THESSALONIANS. "That the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him."
1. The very Name of Christ is to be gloried in the saints.
(1) Because it is "a Name that is above every name, at which every knee should bow" (Philippians 2:10).
(2) Because it is the Name for the sake of which the saints are now "hated of all nations" (Matthew 24:9).
(3) Because it is the Name by which the saints are called (James 2:7),
(4) It is glorified in the saints
(a) in their holiness of life;
(b) in their victory over the world and sin;
(c) in their steadfast loyalty to him;
(d) in their final exaltation to "his kingdom and glory."
2. The saints will be glorified in Christ.
(1) In his wearing their nature on the throne; for "he is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Hebrews 2:11).
(2) In their being clothed with his righteousness - "comely with the comeliness he has put upon them."
3. The spring or source of all the blessings of the saints. "According to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ."
(1) The whole work of salvation till it ends in glory illustrates "the exceeding riches of his grace."
(a) The purpose of the Father is of grace;
(b) the mediation of the Son is of grace;
(c) the blessings of the new covenant are all of grace.
(2) This grace has a unity of source - "in our God and the Lord Jesus Christ;" implying oneness of essence and the coequal Godhead of Father and Son. - T.C.
I. ITS PURPORT.
1. He prays that God's favour may rest upon them. That he may count them worthy. We feel that we are all unworthy - unworthy of his grace and presence. We are not worthy that he, the blessed One, should enter under our roof, into our heart. But whom he loves, those he makes worthy of his love. He counts them worthy, though they are in themselves unworthy; his grace makes them worthy in Christ. He calls them; they through grace obey the calling. He calls them ever higher, nearer to himself, till they reach at length the prize of the high calling.
2. That God who began the good work in them would complete it. He prays
(1) that God would fulfil in them every desire of goodness. He had used the same word of himself (Romans 10:1): "My heart's desire and prayer for Israel is, that they might be saved." His heart's desire (εὐδοκία) was a good desire: it issued from goodness - goodness given by God, inwrought into his heart by the working of the good Spirit of God. All holy desires come from God; he prompts them; they issue out of the goodness which comes from him, from his grace. He will fulfil such desires, for he has promised, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled." The holy desire will issue, if we persevere in prayer, in the good counsel, in the just work. He prays
(2) that God would fulfil the work of faith. In his First Epistle he spoke of his affectionate remembrance of their work of faith; now he prays that God might fulfil that work in power. Faith is itself a work, "the work of God" - a work which issues from God, from his grace; a work which is pleasing to God, for it is his will; a work which ends in God, in the contemplation of God, in the glory of God. And faith works; it is a living principle, an active energy. It will lead on to ever more earnest prayer, to a closer walk with God. And that prayer, that communion with God, will continually deepen and strengthen faith; for in answer to faithful prayer the Holy Spirit is given, and the Spirit is power - power from on high.
II. ITS FINAL END - THE GLORY OF GOD.
1. That the Name of the Lord Jesus might be glorified in the Thessalonians. That men might see their good works, and glorify the Lord that bought them, the Father that called them. We say in our daily prayers, "Hallowed be thy Name." We have been baptized into that great Name; that holy Name is upon us. Very weak and sinful as we are, that great Name may be hallowed, glorified in us, if we do all things, great or small, in the Name of the Lord Jesus; if we always give thanks to the Father by him; if we show in our daily walk before men the power of his grace. It is the great end of the Christian life. "Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."
2. That they might be glorified in him. His saints share his glory. "The glory which thou gavest me, I have given them." He dwelleth in them, and they in him. His glory is theirs, for they are his. "Ye are Christ's." And he is theirs. The Father gave the Son, the Son of God gave himself for us, to us. Hence it is that his true people, beholding (though now in a glass darkly) his glory, are changed into the same image from glory to glory. And that according to the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ. All our blessings come from his grace; he is our God, therefore we can trust in him. He is able to save to the uttermost, for he is Almighty. He is our Lord Jesus Christ, therefore we may cast all our care upon him, for he will save us; he loveth us even to the end.
1. Our salvation is of God; its beginning, course, end - all is of grace.
2. Every good desire comes from him; ask him to strengthen the desire, to develop it into action.
3. Seek power from him - power to fight the good fight of faith, and win the victory at last.
4. Let the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ be the one great aim above all other motives. - B.C.C.
I. THE HEAVENWARD ASPECT OF THE PRAYER. St. Paul has just been describing the great and terrible judgment day in language of fire and thunder. Now he expresses his anxiety that all may be well with his readers on that day, when they will be called to account to ascertain how far they have walked worthily in respect of their vocation.
1. Christians have a calling. We are called to be Christians, and being Christians, to enter the pilgrimage of the heavenly life. The object of this general calling is to follow Christ. But we are also each of us called to some specific individual vocation.
2. The Christian calling involves high obligations. It is no light matter to be found worthy of it. When a great trust is put upon a man a heavy responsibility accompanies his discharge thereof. So is it with every Christian.
3. God watches us in the pursuit of our calling. We are observed of God, neither escaping his eye in our most secret hours, nor disregarded by him in our least important actions.
4. God will bring us to account for our fulfilment of our calling. It is most important that he should reckon us to have worthily discharged our vocation because "his favour is life." But he who calls us to the Christian life can give us grace to discharge its obligations. We can pray that we may be accounted worthy.
II. THE EARTHWARD ASPECT OF THE PRAYER.
1. It seeks the fulfilment of every desire of goodness. These are the desires which spring out of the good disposition of a Christian heart.
(1) It is not every desire of a good man that is to be fulfilled. Good people may have foolish wishes. The desires to be prayed about are those which spring directly out of goodness.
(2) Good desires may be unsatisfied. We may wish well and not have opportunity or power for executing our wishes. The spirit may be willing while the flesh is weak, or the spirit may be weak in energy while it is good in intention.
2. It seeks the fulfilment of every work of faith. St. Paul agrees with St. James that faith shows itself by works. But he sees deeper into the difficulties of weak human nature. Though our trust and fidelity prompt us to obedient service, innumerable hindrances intervene and frustrate our energies. We need that God should establish the work of our hands. Even when we sow and water well he must give the increase.
3. The accomplishment of these ends depends on a gift of power. Goodness without strength is futile. But the strong God infuses strength (Psalm 73:26). The Holy Spirit is a Spirit of power. The Church should pray more earnestly for the grace of energy. - W.F.A.
I. THE GREAT END OF THE CHRISTIAN VOCATION IS TO GLORIFY THE NAME OF CHRIST. The blessings for which St. Paul has been praying are to lead up to this great result.
1. The Christian lives for Christ. Christ is the chief Cornerstone of the finished temple as well as the Foundation with which the building is begun. He is the Omega as well as the Alpha. We begin with him; in him, too, we end. Receiving all our grace from Christ, we are to devote our lives to him.
2. The Christian lives for the glory of Christ. We cannot minister to his wants directly as did those women who gave of their substance during his earthly humiliation - though we can do so virtually when we give to his brethren. But we can minister to his glory as directly as did those disciples who cast their garments in his path and hailed his entrance into Jerusalem with shouts of praise.
3. The Christian honours Christ by glorifying his Name. The Name is not merely the distinctive appellation, but the descriptive characteristic. To Jesus there is given "the Name which is above every name" (Philippians 2:9). His Name is what is known of him and praised in him, i.e. his fame. So we speak of cue making a name. We cannot add to the greatness and gloriousness of our Lord. But we can make his fame to be more widely spread and more highly exalted among men.
II. WHEN THE NAME OF CHRIST IS GLORIFIED HIS PEOPLE SHARE THE GLORY.
1. There is a prospect of glorification for Christians. The doleful plaint of the despised sufferer is not to be the only song of the Church. Not only will joy follow sorrow, but exaltation will succeed humiliation. The Thessalonian Christians were a despised and persecuted community living among cruel, scornful neighbours. This trying condition was not to be permanent. For their shame they would have double glory in the end.
2. Christian glorification follows the glorification of Christ. The first point is the glorifying of our God's Name; that of his people comes second. The order is significant.
(1) We must not seek our own glory, but in seeking Christ's ours will follow unsought.
(2) Until the master is glorified the servants must remain in obscurity. The great glory of the second advent will be followed by the exaltation of the Church.
3. Christian glorification depends on union with Christ. We are to be glorified in him.
(1) All that makes the Christian glorious comes from Christ. Without him we are shamed and dark and dead.
(2) Glory comes to us through our sharing Christ's glory, as the clouds are glorified in the light of the rising sun.
III. THE GLORIFICATION OF CHRIST AND HIS PEOPLE ARISES FROM A WORTHY FULFILMENT OF THE CHRISTIAN CALLING ACCORDING TO DIVINE GRACE.
1. It arises from a worthy fulfilment of the Christian calling. St. Paul prayed that God would count his people worthy of their calling for this express purpose, that they might glorify Christ, etc. (ver. 11). We glorify Christ by our lives. Songs of praise go for little if our conduct dishonours our Lord. The richest anthem of praise rises from the silent living of a pure and useful Christian life. Our own glory is also only possible when our life in Christ has been fruitful.
2. It depends on Divine grace. It is "according to the grace," etc., i.e. the glory corresponds to the grace. The more grace we have the greater will be the glory. Fulness of grace brings fulness of glory. - W.F.A.