Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE PANIC IN THE THESSALONIAN CHURCH.
1. It was concerning the date of the second coming of Christ. "Touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto him." The facts of this august event had been prophetically described in the First Epistle.
(1) It was the personal coming of Christ in "the day of the Lord" to judge the quick and the dead.
(2) It was an event involving their "gathering together unto him" to meet the Lord in the air: a happy meeting, a marvellously glorious sight.
2. The misapprehension caused a sort of panic. "That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled" - like a ship tossed upon a stormy sea. It was this deep agitation of mind, this consternation and surprise, which led to the unsettled spirit that manifested itself in the Thessalonian Church. Errors in the region of dispensational truth often have this tendency.
3. The panic was due to one or other of three sources. "Neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us."
(1) It may have had its origin in some pretended revelation or spiritual utterance in the Thessalonian Church. Our Lord had predicted false alarms of this sort. "Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe him not" (Matthew 24:23).
(2) Or it may have come "through word," that is, word of mouth, supposed to be spoken by the apostle during his visit to Thessalonica.
(3) Or "through letter as from us," apparently forged letters such as had already become rife in the early Church.
II. THE GROUND OF THE PANIC. "As that the day of the Lord is now present." This is the correct translation; not "it is at hand."
1. It could inspire no terror for the Thessalonians to know that the day was at hand, for this had always been the apostle's teaching, as well as that of all Scripture (Matthew 24.; Romans 13:12; Philippians 4:5; Hebrews 10:25, 37; James 5:8; 1 Peter 4:7). They had been already familiar with the doctrine, which ought rather to have filled their hearts with transcendent gladness.
2. Their disquietude and distress arose from the belief that the Lord had already come without their sharing in the glory of his kingdom. Their relatives were still lying in their graves without any sign of resurrection, and they themselves saw no sign of that transformation of body in themselves that was to be the prelude to their meeting the Lord in the air. The apostle tells them distinctly that the day has not come, and that the signs of its approach had not yet been exhibited. - T.C.
I. THE MISTAKE OF THE THESSALONIANS.
1. In itself. The day of the Lord is present; it is already dawning; it is close upon us. This thought had taken possession of their souls; it filled their hearts; it left no room for ordinary commonplace duties. They were neglecting these in their strong excitement, in their eager anticipation of the approach of the great day. What was the use of attention to business, of daily labour, of the quiet performance of their accustomed tasks, when the Lord was to be expected at once, when they were to be caught up, away from earth and its employments, to meet the Lord in the air. "We which are alive and remain shall be caught up," St. Paul had said in his First Epistle. They misunderstood his words; they supposed that it must be during their own lifetime; that it might be, that it would be, immediate.
2. Its origin. Spirit, word, or letter. "Believe not every spirit" (St. John said); "try the spirits whether they are of God." There were utterances which claimed to be inspired and were not so. The discerning of spirits was one of the manifold gifts of the Holy Ghost. It was their duty not to despise prophesying, but yet to prove all things. There were also words quoted as if spoken by St. Paul; letters, too, purporting to come from him. Men misrepresented him; they attributed the sayings of others, their own, perhaps, to the holy apostle; even letters, it seems, were current, said to be the apostle's, but not really his. People are perplexed often nowadays by the many differences of opinion which exist among Christians. The fact of this diversity is to some an excuse for unbelief or for sloth in spiritual things; to others, a real temptation, a great trial of faith. But we see it has been so from the beginning. There were errors of belief in this infant Church of Thessalonica while the apostle, who had founded it, was still near at hand - at Corinth. Even in these early days things which he had said were misunderstood; his authority was claimed for words which he had never spoken; and, strangest of all, there were written letters bearing his name which were falsely ascribed to him. We have our trials now. We are troubled, some of us, by the difficulties which arise from various readings or interpretations, by the doubts thrown by modern writers on this or that book of Holy Scripture, by the conflict of opinions in the Church. It is some comfort to think that we of this age are not alone in our temptations; our position is not one of such singular perplexity as some of us are apt to think. If we persevere in prayer, if we try to live by faith looking to the Lord Jesus Christ, the doubts which vex us will soon be cleared away.
II. ST. PAUL'S WAY OF DEALING WITH THAT MISTAKE.
1. He beseeches them. He is very gentle with his converts, very earnest too, and affectionate; full of deep anxiety for their spiritual welfare. And it was a matter of great importance. St. Paul had dwelt much upon the coming of the Lord. The Parousia was a subject of much excited talk, much stirring of heart among the Thessalonians. St. Paul had spoken in his First Epistle of "our gathering together unto him;" how "we that are alive and remain shall be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." It was a prospect very blessed, very awful too; it had been opened out in strong, startling words. They inferred from his way of expressing himself that it was very close at hand, to be looked for immediately; their excitement was intense. He beseeches them to listen.
2. They rest be calm. Religion lies in a calm, quiet walk with God. It has its emotions, they are at times deep and strong; it has its enthusiasm, but it is ordered and grave. They must not allow themselves to be shaken from their settled judgment; they must not give way to this trembling, uneasy excitement. They must return to the quiet, steady discharge of the common duties of life; their best strength was in quietness and confidence. This was the best preparation for the coming of Christ. That coming was not immediate; much was to happen first.
1. Learn to be sober, thoughtful, to distrust excitement, to live in patient continuance of well doing.
2. There will be difficulties, perplexities; they are trials of faith; they must be endured in patience and overcome by faith.
3. Prepare for the coming of Christ. The best preparation is to perform each duty as it comes in faith and prayer as unto the Lord. - B.C.C.
I. ERROR REGARDING THE COMING OF CHRIST. "Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him; to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by Epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is now present; let no man beguile you in any wise." The apostle beseeches the Thessalonians as brethren, in the interest of correct views of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is his principal topic in both Epistles. The comforting side of the coming is the gathering together of all believers unto him, never to be followed by a separation, as set forth in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, "Then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them" (the dead in Christ who have been raised) "be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord? By the way in which he introduces this gathering together, it can be seen that it was very attractive to him. It was that in the coming which he especially wished to be conserved. In the beginning of 1 Thessalonians 5. the apostle had distinctly taught the uncertainty of the time of the coming. But representations had been made to the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord was actually beginning. Three forms which these representations might take, or, more probably, did take, are specified. There were representations founded upon pretended prophecy. There were also representations founded upon an alleged oral communication of the apostle. There were farther representations founded upon an alleged Epistle of the apostle. The existence and circulation of a fabricated Epistle seem to be hinted at in the words at the close of this Epistle: "The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every Epistle: so I write." If the Thessalonians accepted of these representations, there was danger of their being precipitately shaken from their composure of mind and even thrown into a terrified state, as at sea men are discomposed and even horrified by the bursting of a storm upon them. The apostle, therefore, considered it necessary to write this Epistle, to put them on their guard against their being led away by these representations. Let no man beguile them in these ways, or, making it wider, in any other way.
II. THE ANTICHRISTIAN MANIFESTATION.
1. The coming of Christ to be preceded by apostasy. "For it will not be, except the falling away come first." "Apostasy" (after the Greek) is the more technical word - the apostasy of which the Thessalonians had been told. There is, particularly, meant falling away from the faith of Christ. It is a movement begun by those who have been within the Christian circle, and who, after having been advantaged by Christianity in outward enlightenment and quickening, have ungratefully turned away. Or the movement away from Christ may dishonourably be encouraged by those who still remain within the Christian circle, but have lost faith in the distinctive teachings of Christianity. The name of "apostate" has been given to the Emperor Julian for his signal renunciation of Christianity, but it is a name which belongs to every one who in the struggle of life parts with his early Christian convict, ions, his good traditions. Let us see that we are not, in the smallest degree, contributing to the movement away from Christ.
2. The revelation of the man of sin. "And the man of sin be revealed." It is now an exploded idea that the man of sin means popery. The principal interpreters - Olshausen, Ellicott, Alford, Eadie - hold to the idea of the man of sin being a person. He is supposed to be the last and worst product of the apostasy. He is a caricature of Christ, having a mystery, and revelation, and miracles, and claim of divinity, a coming and preparation, even as Christ has. He is as inclusive of all the bad forms of humanity, as Christ is of all its good forms. It cannot be said of this most unlovely conception that it has the similitude of truth. It cannot be dogmatically laid down as a matter of interpretation that the man of sin is a person, any more than the restrainer is a person. The designation "man of sin" points, in the first place, to sin as the essence of the apostasy. The moving away from Christ is an opposing of the Divine authority. The designation "man of sin" points, in the second place, to sin as working under human (not angelic) conditions, and, taken along with apostasy, points especially to the development of sin in human history. The designation "man of sin" points, in the third place, to this historical development, not as actual, but as idealized. As the language, "O man of God," is a call to consider the true ideal of manhood, so the man of sin may be viewed as the ideal of the development of sin among men. In so far as popery is after this ideal may it be said to be the man of sin. In so far as any of us take after the bad ideal of manhood may it be said to us, "O man of sin!" calling us to consider what we are following after. Let us see that we do not in the least merit the designation. By the revelation of the man of sin is to be understood the bringing out of the real nature of sin. It may put on specious forms, but it is essential vileness; it is uglier than the ugliest of creatures, it is more venomous than the serpent, it is more grovelling than the earthworm, it is blacker than darkness. And in the working of Providence in human history, it is intended that this should be, with accumulating evidence and unmistakably, brought out. And we are here taught that there cannot be the revelation of Christ at his coming until all that is evil in sin has been brought out.
3. The son of perdition. "The son of perdition." The common Hebrew form is followed. Sprung from perdition, he has perdition as his destiny. The designation marks the result of the movement away from Christ. Every such movement must prove in the end abortive. How many of those movements that once had vitality in them have already ended in perdition! The designation was given by our Lord to Judas Iscariot: "And none of them is lost, but the son of perdition." And it is certainly not to be wondered at that he whose apostasy was aggravated by the proximity in which he stood to Christ should strikingly be shown in his suicidal end to be the son of perdition. In so far as any of us are moving away from Christ we are placing our paternity in perdition, and are working out perdition as our destiny. Let us, then, be warned by what will yet be seen to come out of sin.
4. The opposer of Christ. "He that opposeth." It is not said, "He that opposeth Christ," but, from the way in which Christian thought is interwoven with the whole paragraph, we may understand that to be the meaning. We may, therefore, regard the movement as described by the designation "antichrist" with which John supplies us. As it is in its origin a movement away from Christ, so it comes to have the character of being directed against Christ. It is a movement in which advantages gained from Christ are unworthily used against him. As it is the object of God in the Church to put forward Christ for the acceptance of men, so it is the object of antichrist to draw away men from Christ. Popery is antichrist in so far as it does not give Christ and his words and his death their proper place in Christian belief and life. It may be said of us that we are antichrist in so far as we do not yield ourselves up to Christ, and do not to our utmost ability help forward the cause of Christ. "He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad."
5. The deeper of self. "And exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God." There is strong confirmation here of the doctrine of Muller, that all sin is of the nature of selfishness. Antichrist is selfishness rising to the impious height of self-deification. He raises himself above and against him who is truly called God, without thereby falling into idolatry; for he also raises himself above and against those that have only the name of gods, and, it is added (going beyond the actually named), above and against all that can be turned into an object of worship. He does not, therefore, shut out the sacred sphere; rather does he fill it with himself. He is the centre of all wisdom, power, and glory for which worship is due. The startling language is that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God. There is supposed to be meant a session in the actual temple in Jerusalem by those who, laying undue stress upon the language here, regard the paragraph as having already received its fulfilment. But there is reference to the actual temple only by way of illustration. As God was represented as sitting between the cherubim, requiring the adoration of all Israelites (as he was the object of adoration to the highest intelligences), so antichrist entertains the thought of divinity and strictly requires adoration. While in Christ's consciousness of divinity there was the element of infinite self-sacrifice, in antichrist's presumptuous thought of divinity there is only the element of utter selfishness. We are not to think here merely of him who sits in the Church and arrogantly wields spiritual power. Rather are we to see the tendency of the whole movement away from Christ. This is how it aims at expressing itself. This is the dreadful interpretation of what it would be at. And it is true of us all, in so far as we are selfish, that we are aiming at making a temple for ourselves in which to sit down and to require adoration. As we in our present state of feeling can only recoil from such self-deification, let us beware of that selfishness which is at the heart of sin.
6. The Thessalonians reminded of former teachings on the above points. "Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?" In his teachings on the coming he was not corrected or supplemented by recent revelation. He had occupied the same position from the beginning; such is undoubtedly his own contention, and is against the contention of some who attribute to him that he believed that he would live to see the coming. He reminds the Thessalonians here, not without some measure of blame, that when he was with them (and he singles out himself in making this statement) he told them some things which he was now putting down in his letter.
III. THE RESTRAINING POWER.
1. What restrains the antichristian manifestation. "And now ye know that which restraineth, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season." This was another point on which he had given them information. It is left indefinite what the restraining power is. The prevailing opinion, as expressed by Ellicott, is "well-ordered human rule, the principles of legality as opposed to those of lawlessness - of which the Roman empire was the then embodiment and manifestation." It is true that civil rule keeps back many of the manifestations of evil. The civil ruler is a terror to evil doers. If men were allowed to give vent to their evil passions without dread of punishment, this world would be a pandemonium. But, at the same time, it is true that the worst manifestations of evil, of proud defiance of God, of bitter rancour against Christ (which are chiefly to be thought of in connection with the anti-christian movement), are those with which the civil magistrate has little to do. The condition upon which these manifestations depend is rather the increased setting forth of Christ. There is a manifestation of good going forward, as well as a manifestation of evil. It must yet be shown in human history that there is an essential loveliness belonging to the Christian life. Many Scriptures promise a period of conquest for the Church. When the Church extends its conquests there will be a solidarity of influence on the side of Christ of which no adequate conception can now be formed. The result of that wilt be, among those who participate in the antichristian movement, deepened hatred against Christ. As when he conquered on the cross there was a calling forth against him of the worst elements especially of superhuman evil, so when he advances to conquest in human history there will be a similar calling forth of the worst elements especially of human evil. The time when evil is thus powerfully to be revealed has been fixed by God. It may be said that the apostle should, according to the interpretation, have regarded the Christian manifestation as coming to a head. But it was open to him to regard it under a special aspect as that which in its yet partial character held back the full manifestation of antichrist.
2. The present working of the mystery of lawlessness. "For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work." "Lawlessness," which corresponds to "sin," formerly used, is not to be taken as favouring the view that the restraining power is human rule. It points to the antichristian movement as characterized by a disposition to cast off all authority, especially the highest authority. The stress is to be laid on "mystery." Evil was then working, and in working was revealing itself, but its true nature as opposition to Christ was largely concealed, was only very partially revealed. A lurid light was thrown upon it by the ten great persecutions which, under the Roman emperors, were directed against Christianity. Light is thrown upon it by the attacks which in the present day are made upon Christianity. But it would seem that we have not seen all that is in it of opposition to Christ. The mystery of lawlessness still works.
3. The removal of the restrainer. "Only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming." Ellicott regards the use of the masculine gender as a realistic touch, by which what was previously expressed by the more abstract "restraining power" is now represented as concrete and personified. It is strange how this should not be regarded as applying also to the "lawless one" to whom the restrainer is here opposed. If the restrainer is human rule, then his removal must mean the upturning (apparently general) of human rule. And that is what is contemplated by some as the conclusion to human history. But the restrainer being "Christianity not come to the season of its full manifestation," his removal must mean the arrival of that season. When Christianity, working among the multitudes of men, brings its full influence to bear on the antichristian movement, in what it calls forth of opposition, that movement will come to the completeness of its exposure. And antichrist, thus morally defeated, eternally disproved, will have taken away from it its sphere of operation. It will be slain with the breath of Christ's mouth, and brought to nought by the manifestation of his coming.
IV. THE LYING CHARACTER OF THE ANTICHRISTIAN MOVEMENT.
1. Lies of Satan. "Even he, whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders." As Satan is a liar and the father of lies, so the antichristian movement which he inspires is characterized by lying. As Christ has power and signs and wonders of truth, so the antichristian movement has power and signs and wonders of lying. It is remarkable that the Church of Rome puts forward a claim of miracle working, which helps it to preserve its influence over minds, but which it cannot establish. The power and signs and wonders by which men are apt to be deluded now are more of an intellectual nature. It is objected to Christianity that the miracles with which it is bound up are shown by science to be impossible, it is objected that it presents too severe a view of our human condition, in representing us as standing in need of salvation. It is objected that it presents too severe a view of the character of God, in representing him as punishing sin in Christ. It is objected that it presents too severe a view of human duty, in calling upon us to forsake all and follow Christ. When these objections are powerfully presented, and so as to have the appearance of saving the character of God from aspersions, there may be the effect, which false miracles have often had, of men being deluded.
2. Lies of Satan leading to unrighteousness. "With all deceit of unrighteousness." When men entertain false views, especially of the character of God, there is an easy transition to unrighteousness. There are many ways in which they can persuade themselves, that they may exercise liberty in their manner of living. They do not need to pray to God; they do not need to read God's Book; they do not need to keep God's day; they do not need to be strictly honourable in their transactions; they do not need to make sacrifices for others. It is enough that they keep up an appearance of probity and purity, and, it may be, of religion, before men. They can leave all their failings to the general mercy of God.
3. Unrighteousness leading to destruction. "For them that are perishing. From unrighteousness there is a necessary, though, it may not be, an immediate, transition to destruction. When men do not observe the rules which are laid down for them by God, they are contending with God, and, contending with God, they cannot in the end succeed; for God is stronger than they. There were those who were perishing in their unrighteousness in Paul's day. And there are still those who seem to be perishing in their unrighteousness.
4. The just dealing of God.
(1) What those who are in the antichristian movement reject. "Because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved." The apostle holds that it was their own fault if they were perishing. And, in doing so, he brings forward very precious truth. God has in view our salvation, lie willeth that all men should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. For this end he makes us the offer, not of the truth, but of the disposition which is necessary for finding it - the love of the truth. Of all dispositions it is that which is most needed to begin with. It is that which is needed against the deceitfulness of the heart. It is that which is needed against the delusive lies of Satan. If we accept of the love of the truth, if we have the disposition to know the truth about ourselves, and to follow the Divine leading - and God promises us this disposition - then we shall certainly be led unto salvation. But if we do not accept of the love of the truth, if we have the disposition to flatter ourselves, and to follow some ignis fatuus of our own imagination - and that is only too natural to us - we shall as certainly be led on to destruction.
(2) What they induce. "And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie: that they. all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in righteousness." Receiving not the truth, it was not with them as though the oiler had not been made to them. There was induced a state of judicial blindness. As it was induced in connection with the Divine offer which was refused, and in accordance with the Divine laws in their nature, it could be attributed to God. It could be said that God sent them a working of error, that they should believe a lie. Christianity is the most reasonable, most beautiful thing in existence. But when men are in a state of judicial blindness, they do not see its reasonableness and beauty; they believe men who lie about it, and treat it with indifference, or disdain, or hatred. This can only lead on to their being judged and condemned, the ground of their condemnation being their not believing the truth especially about Christ, but taking pleasure in unrighteousness. Let us see, then, that we accept the great offer from God of veracity, of love for the truth. Let us be willing to take a truthful view of things; not taking darkness for light, and evil for good. Let us be willing to follow the Divine leading. Let us especially be open toward Christ - toward the efficacy of his blood, toward the convincing power of his teachings, toward the enjoyment of his fellowship. And, if the antichristian manifestation goes forward around us, let us be all the more decided on the side of Christ. - R.F.
I. THE GREAT DELUSION. The First Epistle contains repeated references to an expectation of the second advent of Christ which was evidently very strong in the Thessalonian Church. The wish is father to the thought. From expecting "the day of the Lord" to arrive at any moment, some had been led, on most insufficient evidence, to ask whether it had not already come. The great delusion was that "the day of the Lord is now present." It is not likely that any supposed Christ to have come, though in an invisible way, and in a different manner from which it was expected, or that they thought be might have come to another place, unseen and unknown to the Churches of northern Greece. What they were inclined to think seems to have been that the new era in which Christ was to appear had already dawned, though he himself had not yet come. Similar is the delusion of any who suppose that the day of grace is over and the time of judgment come, or that of those who think they have got into a new dispensation beyond the dispensation of the New Testament.
II. THE SOURCES OF THE DELUSION.
1. Latter day prophecy. The expression "either by spirit" seems to refer to the supposed inspiration of Christian prophets. St. Paul had previously warned his friends to prove all things, while not quenching the Spirit by despising prophesyings (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21). We must beware of self-deluded fanatics as well as of deliberate deceivers.
2. False apostolical tradition. "By word" probably means by reported word of St. Paul, which word, however, never really came from him. Thus early were false traditions afloat. See the mistaken tradition about St. John (John 21:23). If these erroneous traditions were current during the lifetime of the apostles, how can we accept so called "apostolic tradition" as an authority?
3. A forged Epistle. The mistake could scarcely have arisen from our First Epistle to the Thessalonians, since that Epistle referred to the great day as future, while the error made it present. It is important to ascertain the authenticity of the books of Scripture.
III. THE DANGER OF THE DELUSION. St. Paul warns against it as something to be carefully avoided. Many evils attached to it.
1. Erroneous views. These are bad in themselves, as true views are desirable on their own account. The soul suffers for want of truth as the body for want of light.
2. Dishonouring conceptions of the seceded advent. If the day were already come, where was the glory, the judgment, the rectification of all things? False doctrines dishonour Christ even when they are meant to glorify him.
3. Confusion of conduct. Such a delusion as that which was creeping into the Thessalonian Church would disarrange all practical life. Delusions about the second advent distract attention from sober Christian work.
IV. THE WARNING AGAINST THE DELUSION.
1. Form no hasty opinion. "Be not quickly shaken," etc. Specious arguments should be examined at leisure before they are adopted.
2. Do act permit novel teaching to give distress. If the heart is well settled in Christian truth, though the mind should be open to receive new light, no distress or disturbance need be felt.
3. Beware of deception. "Let no man beguile you." Christians should be watchful and "wise as serpents," each having his own independent convictions. - W.F.A.
I. THE COMING OF THE APOSTASY. "Because the day will not set in unless there come the apostasy first."
1. The apostasy is so described because it was already familiar to their minds through his oral teaching. "Remember ye not, that, when I was with you, I was telling you of these things?"
2. It points to a signal defection from the Christian faith. We imagine that the primitive Churches were signally free from error or fault of any sort. The apostle himself notes the signs of beginning apostasy even in his own day.
(1) "The mystery of lawlessness doth already work."
(2) There were for himself "perils from false brethren."
(3) There were in the Church itself "enemies of the cross of Christ."
(4) Later still "many deceivers had entered into the world."
(5) The apostle foresaw that the evil "would increase unto more ungodliness."
(6) This apostasy was to precede the revelation of the man of sin, not to be regarded as identical with it. Yet the two movements were not to be regarded as independent of each other, except in the order or time of their development.
(7) The signs of the apostasy in Christendom are to be seen principally in the Papacy, but likewise in the kindred errors and corruptions of the Greek Church as well as in the delusions of Mohammedanism. The elements of the apostasy were, however, to be gathered up and concentrated at last in a single person as their final embodiment.
II. THE REVELATION OF THE MAN OF SIN. "And that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above every one called God, or an object of worship." His characteristics are here distinctly described.
1. He does not represent a system of error, like Romanism, or the papal hierarchy, or a succession of Popes, but a single person. The man of sin has not yet appeared. Yet Romanism, or the papacy, comprehends much that is involved in the idea of this terrible person, who, however, goes beyond it in the appalling extent of his wickedness. The passage is not symbolic, but literal. It is a literal person who is described.
2. He is "the son of perdition."
(1) Not because he brings ruin to others, but
(2) because he is himself doomed to ruin - going literally to "his own place," like Judas, who may be regarded as a type of him.
3. His boundless and blasphemous assumptions.
(1) His opposition to every God, true and false.
(2) His self-elevation above every God, true and false. His action recalls the prophecy of Daniel: "The king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods" (Daniel 11:36). This prophecy refers to a polytheistic king. The apostle refers to the man of sin as repudiating all worship, as if he represented a higher divinity than anything worshipped on earth.
(a) The description does not apply to the pope or the papacy: (α) Because the pope, though the head of a system of idolatry, does not oppose God or exalt himself above him, but rather owns himself "a servant of servants of the most high God," and blesses the people, not in his own name, but in the Name of the Triune God. (β) Because, instead of exalting himself above God or objects of worship, he multiplies the objects of worship by the canonization of new saints, and submits, like the humblest of his followers, to the worship of the very saints he has made. (γ) Because the pope, though guilty of arrogating almost Divine powers to himself, does not supersede God so as to make himself God. The man of sin "sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." Though votaries of the papacy have often given Divine titles to the popes, the Popes have never assumed to be God, but only vicars of Jesus Christ on earth. They have claimed to be viceroys of God. The temple of God cannot be the Vatican; nor the Christian Church, which is an ideal building; nor can Rome be regarded as the centre of the Christian Church. (δ) Because this prophetic sketch contains no allusion to strictly papal peculiarities, such as idolatry, either as to the Virgin Mary, saints, angels, or relics, the invention of purgatory, priestly absolution, bloody fanaticism, debased casuistry, lordship over the world of spirits.
(b) The description applies to the man of sin - the lawless one - for whom the Papacy prepares the way by a long course of apostasy from the truth. (α) This terrible person is to oppose God and all worship of every sort, and may therefore be regarded as an impersonation of infidel wickedness. (β) He is to sit down in the vacated "temple of God" and claim all the attributes of divinity. He sits down in God's place - for the temple is God's dwelling - in some actual temple, and appropriates it to his own use. Wherever the scene of this marvellous usurpation may be, it signifies the obliteration of all Christian interests and the triumph of atheistic malignity. When the Lord comes, "shall he find faith in the earth?" We see how Positivism in our own day has forsaken the worship of a personal God and betaken itself to the worship of concrete humanity. The man of sin will use the papacy as Anguste Comte travestied it in constructing forms of Positivist devotion, by turning it into some darker shape and. making it the tremendous instrument of the world's final ruin.
III. THE CHECK TO THE FULL DEVELOPMENT OF THE MAN OF SIN. "And now what restraineth ye know, in order that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of iniquity is already working only till he who now restraineth be taken out of the way." These words imply:
1. That the apostasy was already in being; for "the mystery of lawlessness is already working." The two, if not identical, are closely connected together.
(1) It antagonizes Christ, who is "the mystery of godliness" (1 Timothy 3:16). The mystery is a process, not a person, yet it works against the person of Christ.
(2) Many of the elements of the "apostasy" were in existence in the days of the apostles, at least in the germ state. The Epistle to the Colossians and the Second Epistle to Timothy point to an early development of Gnostic error which found its place in due time in the papal system (Colossians 2; 2 Timothy 3.). The self-deifying Tendency was manifested in the conduct of several of the Caesars.
2. The words imply that the working of the apostasy was still undefined and as yet unguessed at. It was still "a mystery," to be revealed in due time. Nothing is more remarkable than the gradual growth of error in the patristic age. False opinions held by pious Fathers in one age were held by errorists in the next age to the exclusion o! the truth.
3. The words imply that, as the apostasy would last through ages, the check would likewise exercise a continuous effect. The common opinion is that the Roman empire was the restraining power upon the development of the man of sin. It was certainly such upon the course of the apostasy, which was to prepare the way for the man of sin. It held the Papacy in check till it was itself swept away by barbarian violence. Because it has passed away, it does not follow that the man of sin must have been revealed at once; for other checks have been supplied, and are being still continuously supplied, in the polity of nations and in the face of Divine truth, to restrain the last terrible manifestation of his power.
IV. THE DOOM OF THE MAN OF SIN. "Whom the Lord Jesus shall consume with the breath of his mouth, and shall destroy with the appearance of his coming."
1. This does not refer to the Word and Spirit of Christ working in the minds of men for the destruction of antichristian error and antitheistic wickedness, but to the actual personal advent of Jesus Christ.
2. The language implies the suddenness and the completeness of the overthrow of the man of sin, who thereby becomes "the son of perdition."
3. The picture presented may be identical with the Got and Magog conspiracy which is to follow the millennium. (Revelation 20:7, 8.) The Lord puts the question, "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith in the earth?" (Luke 18:8). Thus the apostle assures the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord cannot have come, because all the events here pictured must happen before that great and terrible day. - T.C.
I. HE MUST COME BEFORE THE DAY OF THE LORD.
1. His revelation. He is antichrist - the evil counterpart of the most holy Saviour; he has his revelation, his apocalypse. There must be an apostasy before the coming of the Lord - a great, notable apostasy. The apostle had warned the Thessalonians of it; we need these warnings now. We must not be discouraged when we see scepticism, unbelief, rampant around us. These things must be; Holy Scripture has forewarned us. We must be prepared; we must be calm and steadfast, looking for the coming of the Lord. Such apostasies there have been; there have been precursors of the man of sin, such as Caligula shortly before the date of this Epistle, or Nero shortly after. There have been evil men among the popes of Rome who have exhibited in their lives some of the characteristic features of the antichrist. But the apostasy is yet to come; the man of sin is yet in the future; the mystery of iniquity is working even now; it is working below the surface, in secret; hereafter, we know not when, it will burst forth into open day in the revelation of the man of sin. We must not look forward to a continual, unopposed progress of the gospel; we must not expect that religion will go on in ever-extended triumphs, with no checks, no defeats, overspreading the earth more and more with its blessed influences. Such an expectation is not warranted either by Scripture or by the signs of the times. Scripture tells us of the coming apostasy, of the revelation of the man of sin. And in the world the forces of unbelief and evil are evidently gathering themselves for a mighty conflict. In our own country, it is true, there has been a great revival of religious zeal, great love for Christ, much earnest, self-denying work for his sake. But alongside of this there has been a great outburst of infidelity, a widespread scepticism, a hatred of revelation, manifesting itself in the life and works of men of learning and culture; while elsewhere the revolt against all forms of authority, Divine and human, has been more outspoken and far more widely spread. The armies of God and Satan, the powers of good and evil, light and darkness, faith and unbelief, seem to be already marshalled in preparation for an awful struggle. It must come, Holy Scripture warns us; it will culminate in the revelation of the man of sin. He will be revealed - out of previous obscurity; the apparition will be unveiled out of darkness.
2. His character. He is a person, a man of mighty intellect and giant strength of will, who will take advantage of a general development of unbelief and lawlessness, and gain for a time a widespread sovereignty. Sin fills his being; it becomes, as it were, incarnate in him; it dominates his entire personality. He is "a son of perdition" like Judas (compare the common Hebraism, "a son of death"), destined himself to eternal death, involving in utter death all who follow him. He is an adversary, a human Satan, filled with all the awful energy, the concentrated malice of the evil one. He is the antichrist, the avowed and bitter enemy of the holy Saviour, bringing with his intense wickedness the horrible cry of "Ecrasez l'infame!" into awful prominence. He exalts himself against every one that is called God; he sits in the temple of God, reviving the madness of Antiochus Epiphanes, the impious attempt of Caligula. Such a man the world has not yet seen. There have been many outbursts of wickedness, many evil men in the long course of history have risen to sovereign power; but no one yet has combined in himself all the characteristics ascribed to the man of sin in this Epistle. It is a fearful spectacle which is yet to come. St. Paul warned the Thessalonians that such things there would be, uprisings of malice and persecution, anticipations of the man of sin. He warns the whole Church throughout all time that such things are to be looked for; that sooner or later, before the end cometh, the man of sin himself shall be revealed in all the awful energy of unmingled wickedness, relieved by no one trace of goodness.
II. THE OBSTACLE.
1. The Thessalonians knew what it was. St. Paul had told them of this during his short residence in Thessalonica. For some reason he had dwelt much on this awful subject; it must have been necessary for the Thessalonians in their special circumstances, though we know not why. They had knowledge which we have not; they knew precisely what we cannot find out for certain with all our searching. We may be satisfied that this knowledge, then good for them, is not now necessary for us, or it would have been more clearly revealed. "Ye have an unction from the Holy One," St. John says of believers, "and ye know all things" - all that we need to know for life and godliness.
2. What was it? The Roman empire, the power of Roman law, the emperor as embodying that power. This was the answer of most ancient writers; it seems to be the most common answer now. Then the power of Rome checked the outburst of anarchy and lawlessness. It is still the majesty of law, the authority of well ordered governments, that fulfils the same office. The mystery of lawlessness is working now; it has not reached its height, it has not embodied itself in the fearful personality of the man of sin. But it is working; and it is a mystery, the terrible counterpart of the mystery of godliness. There is a mystery in evil, a strange, fearful mystery, dark secrets not yet revealed; a mystery which suggests awful, heart-rending questionings - questionings which can be quieted only in his presence who giveth rest to the troubled, anxious soul. This mystery of lawlessness was working even then in the world which the God of love created; it is working now; but it is held down by the restraining power; it cannot give birth to the man of sin till his time shall come, the time foreordained in the counsels of God. Then the restraining power will be taken out of the way; lawlessness will prevail, and its creature and embodiment, the lawless one, will come.
III. HIS ACTIVITY.
1. It is but for a short time. The Lord Jesus shall destroy him, and that in an instant, when he cometh. He needs only to speak the word of power; the breath of his mouth shall sweep the adversary into that perdition to which he was appointed. The manifestation of his coming, the very sight of the awful Judge, shall slay the wicked one. This must be our consolation when the dark problems of life distress our souls - "the Lord cometh." Then shall come the assured triumph of righteousness, the crowning victory over all the powers of evil.
2. But it is tremendous. As God is revealed in Christ, so is Satan revealed in the man of sin, the antichrist. The "miracles and wonders and signs" (Acts 2:22) which God did by Christ are parodied by the power and signs and wonders which Satan will work through the agency of the man of sin. As Christ's coming is with power, with his mighty angels in:flaming fire, so is the coming of the lawless one with all power according to the working of Satan. As God worketh in his saints both to will and to do of his good pleasure, so Satan worketh in this his representative with all the awful energy of diabolical wickedness. The antichrist, says Bengel, stands in the same relation to Satan as Christ to God. The antichrist will work miracles, but they are by the energy of Satan, wonders of falsehood. They are net mere deceptions, they are real miracles; but they are the works of him who is the father of lies; and they are lies, inasmuch as they are intended to mislead men into worshipping him as God who is the personation of Satan, the liar from the beginning. Lies, too, they are, because they are the signs of a power which is only a miserable imposture, which must soon end in death and ruin. Our Lord has warned us (Matthew 24:24) of false Christs and false prophets whose signs and wonders should be so startling as to deceive, if it were possible, the very elect. The false prophet, the second beast, of the Revelation doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire to come down from heaven, and deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he hath power to do. Then there may be, there will be, false miracles, lying wonders. Miracles alone do not always prove the agency of God, but miracles with holiness, works of faith issuing out of a life filled with the presence of God. The blessed life of Jesus Christ our Lord is a mightier miracle than the physical wonders which he wrought. A life of perfect purity and transcendent holiness in the weakness of human flesh, amid all the temptations of this wicked world, is to us a more convincing proof of the Divine mission of Christ than the signs from heaven would have been which the Jews so often asked for. The Church must expect the coming of lying wonders; she must stand unshaken amid all the developments of Satanic energy. The elect will not be deceived, for they will recognize the notes of antichrist, "all the deceivableness of unrighteousness;" they will remember the warnings of Holy Scripture: "Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God," "He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning."
IV. ITS RESULT.
1. He deceiveth them that dwell on the earth; not the elect - the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God; but those who have not been sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise which is the earnest of our inheritance, the pledge of that seal of the living God which his angel shall one day set upon the foreheads of his chosen. But there are, alas! those that are perishing, who have not passed from death unto life through faith in the Son of God, but still abide in death. Such men the man of sin, the lawless one, deceives and engulfs in his own utter destruction.
2. Their own wilfulness is the cause of their ruin. "God is not willing that any should perish." The true light lighteth every man. It came to them, but they received it not. They received not Christ. He is the Truth, and he is Love. He came into the world that the world through him might be saved. But they received not him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. They had no love for the truth, no desire for it. They were quite indifferent to the truth, though their conscience told them that it was the truth; they were worse than indifferent, they rejected it. They might have been saved; the truth would have made them free. They might have been sanctified through the truth; for the truth of God, received into the heart, hath power to cleanse, to purify, to save the soul. But they loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
3. It ends in judicial blindness. God's Spirit will not always strive with man. In his awful justice he gives over to a reprobate mind those who persevere in disobedience. He sendeth them a strong delusion, a working of error. As virtue is its own reward, so sin is its own punishment. Eternal sin (see Mark 3:29 in the best-supported reading) is the fearful end of the obstinate sinner. That hardening of the heart, in which habitual sin must at last result, is ascribed in Holy Scripture sometimes to God, sometimes to the sinner himself, sometimes to the deceitfulness of sin. They are different modes of expressing the same law of God's government. He has so ordered our moral nature, that sin, when it is full grown, bringeth forth death. He lets the rebel have his own will; he leaves him to be "lord of himself, that heritage of woe." The Spirit is withdrawn at last from those who vex, grieve, resist, his gracious influences. But there is something more awful still. Not only did the Spirit of the Lord depart from Saul, but "an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him." God himself sends at the last, in his most awful justice, the strong delusion, the inworking of error. It is the last state, worse than the first; after which comes that dreadful sentence, "It is impossible... to renew them again unto repentance." This thought gives a most terrible significance to every act of wilful, unrepented sin; every such act brings a man nearer (how near he cannot tell) to that most awful state whence there is no repentance. Then comes judicial blindness; the light that was within them becomes darkness. They would not believe the truth of God, now they believe the lie of the man of sin. It is the judgment of God. We see indications of it from time to time in the credulity of unbelief. Men who reject the Bible are sometimes ready to believe anything except the Bible; they will greedily accept any legend, any scientific hypothesis, though evidently not more than a provisional hypothesis, which seems to contradict the Bible; they will deify humanity, they will worship the idol which is the creature of their own thoughts rather than the living God. This unbelief sprang out of sin; they "had pleasure in unrighteousness." There is such a thing as honest doubt; such were the doubts of Asaph, of Thomas. But unbelief in a very large measure comes from moral causes. Sin darkens the heart and the mind; sin always leads to practical, often to intellectual, unbelief. "Every one that doeth evil hateth the light;" he walketh in darkness; he seeth not the coming judgment.
1. Be prepared for times of darkness - they must come; be strong in faith.
2. If unbelief becomes dominant, still believe; God has forewarned us.
3. Anarchy, confusion, leads to the predominance of sin. "Give peace in our time, O Lord."
4. Even miracles may deceive. Christ remaineth faithful; trust always in him.
5. Hate sin with utter hatred; it ends in hardness of heart. - B.C.C.
I. THERE IS A MAN OF SIN. Whether he lived in the past or has yet to appear, a man to whom this awful name belongs is described in inspired Scripture. The Bible does not ignore the awful depths of human wickedness. It is dreadfully significant that this evil being is a man, not a devil. Humanity, which was created in the image of God and intended to be a temple of God, may be degraded into the image of Satan and become a haunt of iniquity. As good works through human sympathies, so does evil. A bad man is more dangerous than a fallen angel, because he is nearer to his fellow men.
II. THE MAN OF SIN FOLLOWS AN APOSTASY.
1. Spiritual apostasy leads a man to moral corruption. The man who has forsaken Christ is tempted to fall into gross sin. Faith is the great preservative of morals.
2. Apostasy lays the Church open to attacks from her enemies. The "man of sin" could not arise before the Church had fallen, nor if he had appeared could he have had any power against a faithful Church.
III. THE MAN OF SIN PRECEDES THE SECOND ADVENT OF CHRIST. It was a mistake on the part of the Thessalonian Church to suppose that "the day of the Lord" had arrived, because the dreadful appearance of the man of sin which was to precede that day had not yet been seen. St. Paul warns us that apostasy and the frightful life of this wicked man - whoever he may be - must come before Christ returns. He does not encourage us to look for a gradual, unbroken progress of Christianity. The growth of the harvest fruit is arrested and delayed by frost and storm. Christ even wondered whether he should find any faith left on the earth at his return (Luke 18:8). The glorious consummation of all things to which the Christian looks forward is not to be expected as the result of quiet improvement without relapse. Between the present and that "great Divine event" dark chasms of iniquity yawn. Every age has thought it could detect signs of this evil in its midst. So the unbelief and corruptions of our own day are taken by some to be "signs." Unhappily the language of the apostle warns us to expect more terribly demonstrative signs than any yet seen.
IV. THE APPEARANCE OF THE MAN OF SIN IS A SGN OF THE APPROACHING ADVENT OF CHRIST. Here is some encouragement for the Church to endure the trials of the darkest times. These times are to usher in the great and glorious day of the Lord. Evil, when most triumphant, is nearest defeat. Dreadful as may be its transient success, it will soon be swept away. When the horror of sin is blackest, the judgment which is to sweep it away is nearest at hand. Christ will come again when he will be most needed. - W.F.A.
I. THERE IS A MYSTERY OF LAWLESSNESS. By this expression the apostle probably means a mystery the character of which is lawless.
1. We may expect to meet with new mysteries. While time and inquiry resolve some mysteries, they bring upon us fresh ones. We are not to expect to be able to understand all the forces and influences with which we are surrounded. It is enough that we are in the hands of God who knows all, and trusting in Christ who can lead us safely through the darkness.
2. New mysteries may be characterized by new lawlessness. The answer to our inquiries may be very unsatisfactory in revealing only evil. There are strange novelties which are obscure in all points but their moral character, and that is plainly evil. If so, we may hope for no good from them, and need not further interest ourselves in them.
3. All lawlessness is mysterious. How did it originate? How is its existence possible? Why does not God sweep it away? These questions have perplexed men in all ages. We bow before them in helpless, pained wonder.
II. THERE IS A RESTRAINT ON THE MYSTERY OF LAWLESSNESS.
1. Its full power is not yet revealed. There are those who treat all sin with unbecoming levity, because they do not yet see its terrible fruits. They are playing with a torpid adder, that may awake at any moment and inflict a fatal wound. No one knows what hidden possibilities of harm lurk in the deep caverns of undeveloped sin. There are volcanoes in the hearts of some quiet men which may burst into destructive fires.
2. Human means may be used to restrain the mystery of lawlessness. Government, law, society, healthy habits of the majority, keep it down for a time.
3. God holds the mystery of lawlessness in check. He is supreme over its wildest raging. "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh." God restrains the superabundant wrath of man (Psalm 76:10).
III. THE HIDDEN MYSTERY OF LAWLESSNESS WILL BE REVEALED. The volcano must break into eruption some day. Evil cannot slumber forever. Hypocrisy will tire of its meek, innocent demeanour. The harvest of sin will have to be reaped. Let not any man put his confidence in the secretness or slowness of the processes of evil. The more they are hidden now, the worse will be the appalling outburst of them when the restraint under which they groan at present is released. The longer the wild horses are held in by the leash, the fiercer will be their mad gallop when they break loose.
IV. CHRIST WILL CONQUER THE MYSTERY OF LAWLESSNESS. Evil will not long be rampant. One fearful rebellion and then a tremendous defeat.
1. Christ is to be the Conqueror of it. He came to destroy the works of the devil. We could not effect this great work. He, our Saviour, does it for us.
2. Christ is to come again for this object. When the mystery is revealed, Christ's "manifestation" follows.
3. Christ conquers with a breath. His first work was difficult, involving his death. His last work will be divinely simple, and yet sublimely successful. - W.F.A.
I. THE METHODS OF THE MAN OF SIN. "Whose coming is after the working of Satan in all powers and signs and prodigies of lying."
1. The source of all this wonder working activity - Satan. There is more than human depravity at work in this tremendous revelation of evil power. As Satan is a liar and the father of lies, he will stamp falsehood upon the whole system, which he will elaborate with superhuman craft for the misguidance of men.
2. The character of this activity. It is external and internal.
(1) It is externals" in powers and signs and prodigies of lying."
(b) They were not real miracles, as if they had been done by Divine power, but jugglers' tricks or such like startling wonders as might delude "the perishing" into the belief that they were done by Divine power. The signs were to be as false as their author.
(c) Their design was to attest the truth of the doctrine of the man of sin.
(2) It is internal - "in all deceit of unrighteousness" - so as to pass sooner for truth. Guile marks his whole career and unrighteousness is the aim and result. He "speaks lies in hypocrisy;" "by good words and fair speeches he deceives the hearts of the simple" (1 Timothy 4:2; Romans 16:18). The ministers of Satan can as easily transform themselves into ministers of righteousness as Satan himself become an "angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14, 15).
3. The effects of this wonder working activity. They are confined "to those that are perishing." It is not possible "to deceive the elect" (Mark 13:22). Those who are blinded to the glory of the gospel are in the way of easy deception (2 Corinthians 4:3). It is those on the way to perdition who are so easily deceived.
II. THE RETRIBUTION THAT OVERTAKES THE VICTIMS OF THE MAN OF SIX. "Because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved." The causes of the success of the man of sin are first described on the side of man and then on the side of God. The whole case is one of just retribution.
1. The sin of the perishing.
(1) The truth was that which brought salvation near, disclosing at once their need of a Saviour and the readiness of Christ to save them.
(2) They did not receive it, though it was offered them, but rejected and despised it.
(3) They rejected it because they had "not the love of the truth." Without this love, the truth will do us no good; it must be received into the heart as well as the head. Augustine prayed, "Lord, make me taste that by love which I taste by knowledge."
2. The Divine retribution for the sin of the perishing. "And for this cause God is sending them an inworking error, that they should believe the lie" of the man of sin. They rejected the truth of God; God will, as a judicial, punitive infliction, send them blindness so that the error of the man of sin will be received as truth. "A terrible combination when both God and Satan are agreed to deceive a man!" There is a double punishment here.
(1) They will actually believe the lie of the man of sin. Sin often in the moral government of God is punished by deeper sin. Those who care nothing for the truth are easily seduced into the worst errors. Men will at last become so perverse as to call "evil good, and good evil."
(2) They will be finally judged for the pleasure they have taken in unrighteousness. "That all may be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." It follows:
(a) That error is not an innocent thing. It has practical issues of the most momentous character.
(b) That it is a fearful perversion of the human soul to take pleasure in what God hates.
(c) That God allows the sin and madness of men to develop themselves to their fullest extent.
(d) That God in this way will be finally justified in their judgment; he "will be justified in his speaking, and shall be clear in his judging" (Psalm 51:4). - T.C.
I. GOD EXPECTS US TO RECEIVE THE LOVE OF THE TRUTH.
1. Truth is good in itself. Truth is to the soul what light is to the body. It is natural for men to love the day, unnatural for them to shun it. In a right and healthy state we should love truth simply as truth, whatever else it be.
2. Christian truth is peculiarly attractive. Scientific truth is beautiful, philosophic truth is valuable; but the truth of the gospel has far deeper attractions, because it contains revelation of the love and fatherhood of God, of the grace and goodness of Christ, of the redemption of the world, of the way of salvation, of the heavenly rest, etc.
3. Truth should be welcomed with love. We cannot accept it to any advantage until we love it; for
(1) love opens our eyes to a sympathetic understanding of it, and
(2) love saves us from a cold, barren acceptance of it, and helps us to receive it profitably.
II. IT IS AN EVIL HEART THAT PREVENTS MEN FROM RECEIVING THE LOVE OF THE TRUTH. St. Paul traces back the bad condition of those who reject the love of the truth to the fact that they "had pleasure in unrighteousness." The pleasures of sin cannot exist side by side with the love of the truth. Evil hates the light (John 3:19). Moral corruption has no sympathy for the lofty thirst for truth of a pure soul. Hence it may be concluded that indifference to truth is a sign of moral evil. The corrupt life is a false life, and its departure from truth reveals the baseness of the character beneath. This is why the rejection of the truth is culpable. Intellectual doubt is of quite a different character. Indeed, it often arises from genuine love of truth, while self-satisfied orthodoxy is often quite indifferent to verifiable facts, preferring respectable error to painful truth.
III. THE PENALTY OF REJECTING THE LOVE OF THE TRUTH IS INCAPACITY TO KNOW TRUTH FROM ERROR. God punishes men in this condition by sending "them a working of error, that they should believe a lie." This is an awful fate. Truth is too precious a pearl to be cast before swine. They who do not love it shall not have it. Liars become incapable of knowing truth. The habit of indifference to truth so grows upon some people that the whole idea of truth becomes obscure and meaningless to them, and they ask with Pilate, half bewildered, half scornful, "What is truth?" Is not this a veritable destruction - the spiritual eye blinded and burnt out by the fires of falsehood and unrighteousness; the highest intellectual faculty, that of grasping truth, killed by corruption and falsehood? God save us all from this hideous doom! - W.F. A,
I. THE DIVINE ELECTION. "God hath from the beginning chosen you."
1. There is an "election according to grace" (Romans 11:5). It is not to be confounded with the calling, which is an effect of it. "Whom he predestinated, them he also called" (Romans 8:30). Our salvation is always traced to "his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began."
2. The date of the election. "From the beginning." It is "from the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1:4), and therefore does not rest upon the personal claims of individuals.
3. The means of the election. "In sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." The election is to the means as well as the end; it cannot take effect without the means. There is an objective as well as a subjective side in the sphere of the election.
(1) The sanctification of the Spirit. This is the objective side.
(a) It implies a spiritual change of nature. The Spirit applies the salvation, and regeneration is his first work.
(b) Sanctification is the evidence as well as the fruit of election.
(2) "The belief of the truth." This is the subjective side. Man is not passive in his salvation.
(a) As the Spirit is the agent, the truth is the instrument of salvation.
(b) The truth must be believed in order to salvation. As men are chosen to be saints, they are chosen also to be believers.
(3) The necessary connection between the sanctification and the belief. It might appear as if the belief of the truth ought to precede the sanctification of the Spirit. But there cannot be faith without the operation of the Spirit, while, on the other hand, the sanctification is "through the truth." The two are inseparably joined together.
4. The end of the election. "God hath chosen you to salvation."
(1) It is not an election to Church privileges.
(2) Nor to national privileges.
(3) But to salvation itself.
(a) This is salvation from sin and sorrow, death and hell.
(b) It is "the end of our faith" (1 Peter 1:9).
II. THE DIVINE CALLING. "Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." The election issues in the call.
1. The Author of the call. God. "There is one Lawgiver who is able to save and to destroy." He has the right to call and the power to call. Nothing but Divine power can save the soul.
2. The means of the call. "Our gospel." The ministry of the Word was the great instrument in the Spirit's hand of their conversion.
3. The end of the call.
(1) It was to obtain the glory of Christ. It was to be obtained, not purchased or wrought out by their personal righteousness.
(2) Believers are to share in the very glory of their Redeemer. - T.C.
I. HE THANKS GOD FOR HIS PAST MERCIES SHOWN TO THEM.
1. For their election. He turns front prophecies of coming terrors to thoughts of hope and consolation. He repeats the words of 2 Thessalonians 1:3, "We are bound to give thanks." He felt the greatness of God's mercies to the Thessalonians. Mercies shown to them were shown to him; he so dearly loved them. It was his bounden duty to thank God for them; how much more was it their duty to be thankful for the grace granted to them! God had set his love upon them; God had chosen them from the beginning. This was the source of their blessedness; not any merits, any good deeds, of theirs. All our hopes rest on the electing grace of God. That thought is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons. It was so to the Thessalonian Christians, especially at this time, when awful anticipations of the coming end were casting a dark shadow over them. That election manifests itself in holiness of life. The seal of the Spirit is the earnest, the pledge, of the heavenly inheritance. God's elect must feel within themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their minds to high and heavenly things. The sanctification of the Spirit is the sphere in which the life of election moves and energizes. And with the growth of holiness in the heart faith is ever deepened and strengthened. The working of the Spirit greatly confirms the faith of eternal salvation to be enjoyed through Christ; it convinces the Christian soul with a mighty power, with the certainty of intuition, of the reality of the great truths of the gospel, so that the Christian walks in ever increasing faith, in the power of that victory which overcometh the world.
2. For the hope of glory. God had predestinated the Thessalonians to be conformed to the image of his Son; by the preaching of St. Paul he had called them to that state of salvation. They were living in a present salvation; they were looking forwards to a future glory; their high hope was the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. His glory will be the glory of his saints, for he has given it them (John 17:22). They are heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. All that Christ has is theirs in hope; for Christ himself is theirs, and they are Christ's. The Christian who cherishes this high and blessed hope must live in continual thankfulness.
II. HE URGES THEM TO STEADFASTNESS.
1. In the life of faith. Stand fast, he says; fight the good fight of faith. You must do your part. God has chosen you; he has given you his Spirit; he has called you to salvation. Yet you must work out that salvation. We need not perplex ourselves with the deep mysteries which thought cannot fathom; in practice, the duty of perseverance follows from the electing grace of God. He has chosen you; persevere, for he gives you the power; be steadfast, for you owe a great debt of gratitude to him who has so greatly loved you.
2. In doctrine. Hold the traditions. St. Paul had taught the Thessalonians by word of mouth. We must remember that in all probability not one of our four Gospels was yet written. The Thessalonians knew the history of our Lord's life and death, and the doctrines of the Christian faith, only through the oral teaching of St. Paul. The First Epistle was the only part of the New Testament Scriptures known to them; probably the only part as yet in existence. St. Paul had taught orally for several years before he began to write. Oral teaching was often misunderstood, often forgotten, as this Epistle shows. But the teaching of an apostle, whether by word or by writing, was a precious deposit, for that which he delivered to his converts he had himself received of the Lord. Be it ours to continue steadfast in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship.
III. HE SUMS UP HIS HOPES IN A BENEDICTION.
1. He points them to God. The clause begins in the Greek with the emphatic αὐτός, himself. We must stand fast, we must persevere; but it is he who establishes the hearts of his chosen; he only is our everlasting Strength, the Rock of ages. The apostle in this place, as in 2 Corinthians 13:14, puts the Saviour's name first, because it is by Christ that we have access to the Father. We feel that this order would have been incongruous, impossible, unless Christ were indeed God; we feel that the singular verb could not be used, as it is twice, in ver. 17, unless he and the Father were one (comp. 1 Thessalonians 3:11). God the Father is our Father, St. Paul says emphatically. He loved us; on his fatherly love rests our election, our hope of glory. He has given already to his saints eternal comfort, a comfort independent of the changes and chances of this earthly life - a comfort eternal, for it rests on him who is eternal; and with that comfort which is present, though not temporal, not confined within the limits of time, he has given also a good hope of future glory, the blessed hope of everlasting lifo with God in heaven. And this he has given in grace, in the encompassing atmosphere of his favour, without merit or works of ours.
2. He prays that God's blessing may still rest upon them. He who loved them, and gave them eternal comfort and good hope, will surely comfort and establish them. His first gifts are a pledge of their continuance. He will not leave his work unfinished. His love is like himself, eternal. He can shed that blessed comfort into the heart, the inmost seat of joy and sorrow. When there is hidden comfort there, outward troubles may cause sorrow, but cannot take away the fulness of joy. He can establish our heart; he can give us that established heart, fixed, trusting in the Lord (Psalm 112:7, 8), which the world, the flesh, the devil, cannot shake. Then we shall speak only words of truth and love, and do only works of righteousness and faith through that inner comfort and strength which comes from God alone.
1. In the midst of dangers there is comfort for the saints; they are in the hands of God; God hath chosen them.
2. Look for the evidence of God's election in holiness of life; without holiness we cannot see him.
3. Be steadfast; make your calling and election sure; take heed lest ye fail.
4. Only God can give "eternal comfort." Seek that precious gift of him; it is given to those whom he stablishes in every good word and work. - B.C.C.
I. HOW GROUNDED.
1. The election of the Thessalonians. "But we are bound to give thanks to God alway for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, for that God chose you from the beginning unto salvation." This is another overflowing of gratitude for the Thessalonians, who are described not, as in 1 Thessalonians 1:4, as "brethren beloved of God," but as "brethren beloved of the Lord," i.e. sharing with Paul and his colleagues in the special love and care of him who presides over the brotherhood. There is the same inward binding that there was before (2 Thessalonians 1:3) to give thanks to God, and to give thanks to God alway. What gave perpetual matter of thanksgiving, as in 1 Thessalonians 1:4, was the election of the Thessalonians. There is not brought in here, as there is there, their being chosen out of a condition of sin, but it is implied in their being chosen unto a condition of salvation. They had been chosen from the beginning, i.e. from eternity. When God contemplated the creation of a race of men, and contemplated at the same time the incursion of evil into human nature and human history, he also contemplated human salvation. It was also within the Divine plan (going out into all particulars) that the Thessalonians among others should be saved.
2. Means of the realization of their election.
(1) Inward means.
(a) From the Spirit. "In sanctification of the Spirit." Precedence is naturally given to the work of the Spirit. For we must feel that, if God had not approached us first, we never should have approached him. The work of the Spirit, from beginning to end, is a work of sanctification. It is a saving work, inasmuch as it is the reclamation of our nature from unholy uses. On the positive side it is the fitting our nature for Divine uses. As the Spirit is the Agent of our sanctification, his all-sufficient help must be entirely depended upon.
(b) From themselves. "And belief of the truth." In election we are responsible for our state of mind. The Spirit works on our mind through the truth. We may think of the truth that God has provided salvation for us. We may also think of the truth that God (according to ver. 10) has made us the offer of the love of the truth. We may further think of the Divine ideal to which our life is to be brought up. The Spirit has sovereign power in the presentation of truth to the mind; and what we have to do is to be receptive, to offer no obstacle to his presentation of the truth. And we are sanctified only in so far as we have received the truth into us.
(2) Outward means. "Whereunto he called you through our gospel." The gospel is especially the offer of salvation on the ground of Christ's death. It was their gospel, as that in connection with which they served God. There was Divine sovereignty in the Thessalonians being favoured with the gospel. It was by circumstances over which they had no control that Paul and Silas and Timothy were sent to Thessalonica. These servants of Christ stood forward and preached the gospel to them, and it was when they received it as a message from God that they were called to salvation. From that point their calling dated. There is added the outward aspect of the salvation to which they were called. "To the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." This is characteristic of the Epistle. The glory to which we are called is the glory which is possessed by Christ, and which he, as sovereign Dispenser, is to make our possession. We are to be glorified with nothing less than the glory of Christ. It will be seen that God, in electing, has in contemplation all the means of the election being realized. We may assure ourselves of belonging to the number of the elect, in so far as we have evidence of our election in our sanctification.
II. HOW PUT. "So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or Epistle of ours." Election contemplating the means of its realization in faith, it is not improper to found upon election an exhortation to steadfastness. They had taken up their Christian position. Attempts would be made in the way of persecution to move them away from their position. The ill-grounded expectation of the immediate coming was fraught with perils to them. It was already having a bad effect upon some in making them idle. It would be trying, to think that it was well grounded and not to have it realized. It would even be trying, to know that it was ill grounded and to have to give it up. There would be danger of religious excitement being followed by reaction. Let them beware, then, of apostatizing; let them stand fast. The way in which they were to stand fast was by holding fast the traditions. By the "traditions" we are to understand the truths handed to men. For instance, there was the revelation which was necessary for the stablishing of the Thessalonians, that there was to be an apostasy before the coming of Christ. In the traditions they had been instructed both orally and by writing. We are limited to the latter mode of instruction. What are known as ecclesiastical traditions have not independent authority, but have to be tested by the written Word. All our oral instruction has to be founded upon the written Word. By being in writing, the truths handed to us are preserved from corruption. We know that we have them in the form in which God wishes us to have them. It is difficult to escape the influence of traditional interpretation. Yet there is always the opportunity of a true interpretation, while we have the text as it was left by inspired men. The written Word is one of the great boons conferred on men. It is a great advantage to a child that he has not everything to learn for himself, but has the benefit of the experience of his parents. So it is a great advantage to us, that we are not left to our own childish and foolish thoughts, but that we have the written instructions of our heavenly Father. It is by holding to these written instructions, as an unchanging element in the midst of all the tests to which we are subjected, in the midst of all the temptations to which we are exposed, that we shall be enabled valiantly to maintain our Christian position.
III. HOW FOLLOWED UP. Invocation of the Divine blessing.
1. How God is invoked.
(1) In the Second Person. "Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself." From evangelical activity there is a rise first to the Mediator and lordly Dispenser of blessings in the Church. After the preachers have done their best for the Thessalonians, they have the painful consciousness left that they are impotent in themselves. At Corinth Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So Paul and Silas and Timothy, feeling that they, in speaking and writing to the Thessalonians, were only held by him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, implore his help to make their activity successful. "Our Lord Jesus Christ himself accomplish what we are aiming at for them. Let his almighty efficacy be communicated through our feeble instrumentality." If we would do any good to any in whom we are interested, Christ must do it for us. His high priestly service must be recognized by us. Therefore let us ever rise above our mere wishing and striving for others to him who can make our wishing and striving effectual.
(2) In the First Person.
(a) His fatherhood. "And God our Father." From evangelical activity there is a rise, through the Mediator, to him who is the Final Reason and Contriver of redemption. We have some influence with God when we can call him our Father. We naturally expect to have more influence with a friend than with a stranger. We can appeal to him as a friend. We can, if need be, intercede on the score of friendship and long acquaintance. So we can appeal to God as our Father, to bless not only ourselves but others. And, should every other appeal fail, surely this shall not fail. When the cry comes up on behalf of his needy children, "Our Father, wilt thou not bless?" surely he will not turn away his ear.
(b) Wherein it was manifested. "Which loved us." This is timed in the past, and calls up the great act of love - the gift of the Son. Our Father, who gave his Son for us. We can behold in this how God can love. Some would represent it as very unfatherly. But, apart from the Son's unforced consent, there is this consideration, that, where there is true fatherly feeling, it is not more easy to sacrifice a son than to sacrifice one's self. David felt this when he uttered his lamentation over Absalom: "Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!" We must hold that, loving the Son infinitely, the Father could as well have sacrificed himself as his Son. The marvel and mystery is, that, loving his Son infinitely, he could be moved to sacrifice him for us his undeserving creatures. But surely by this act of devotion the love of God for us is placed forever beyond all doubt. In presence of the cross, to doubt, or to act as though we doubted, that God loves us, is doing him the most glaring injustice.
(c) What it obtained for us. "And gave us eternal comfort." There is no hiding it, that it is comfort that we all need. There is an evil heart, to keep us from being happy. It gives rise to slavish fear of God and forebodings of judgment. There is also an evil world, which alone is sufficient to keep us from being perfectly happy. It is an evil world, where there is exposure to poverty, to sickness, to bereavement, to death. It is an evil world, where, with sensitive spirits, we have to look forth on so much sin and wretchedness. Where, then, is the comfort? There is no real comfort for a guilty conscience in ignorance or distraction. It is unsubstantial comfort, to know that our suffering is common. There is some substantial comfort in the sympathy of our fellow men, but it is variable. We may not find friends all that we would desire them to be to us. Those by whom we are most comforted may be taken away, and we have to be comforted for their loss. But there is comfort provided by eternal love, and comfort that is eternal in its nature. There is comfort in knowing that our great Substitute has made full satisfaction for our sin. There is comfort in knowing that we are clasped to the heart of the everlasting Father. That is comfort which is neither deceitful nor fleeting. It is sufficient for us amid all the cares of life. It is independent of all contingencies. "And good hope." Comfort refers to time present; hope refers to time future. Beyond all that we have of good and of comfort under evil, there is hope. And what is this hope? It is the hope of our real joys being perfected, of our being delivered from the plague of an evil heart and the burden of an evil world, of our being placed where there will be no more need of comfort - in the presence of the eternal Love. It is also a good hope, in its being well founded - not founded on our own thoughts, but founded on the character and work and promise of God. It is a hope which is even now good in its cheering influence upon our hearts.
(d) Obtained without deserving of ours. "Through grace." The comfort is not self-created; we have had nothing to do with the procuring of it. But, seeing it has been graciously provided for us by eternal Love, we have good reason for taking it in the whole benefit into our hearts. The hope is one which we could not have dared to cherish of ourselves. It is far beyond anything that we could have thought of. But we cannot limit the grace of God. If it is his good pleasure to give us this hope, we have good reason for cherishing it.
2. For what end God is invoked.
(1) To bless the Thessalonians with comfort. "Comfort your hearts." There is another incidental proof here of the Divinity of our Lord in the use of a singular verb, while both our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father are the subject. The hearts of the Thessalonians were full of hopes and fears in view of the coming which was thought to be imminent; comfort is, therefore, invoked for their hearts. It cannot but be congenial to God to comfort the Church. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins." Having provided the comfort in Christ, he must best know how, through Christ, to apply it to our need.
(2) To bless them also with stability. "And stablish them." Comfort is invoked partly with a view to stability. When we are uncomforted we are unstable as water. Our energies are relaxed, and we are unfitted for our work. Sorrow is weakness, but comfort is strength. Double sphere in which stability is invoked for them.
(a) Work. "In every good work." It was not unnecessary that they should be reminded that they were called to work, even to work with their hands. God grant them all the good elements which belong to work. Let the simplest work be done honestly. Let not their works "with self be soiled." Let them be done unto the glory of God. In these, and in all the elements of good work, let them be confirmed.
(b) Word. "And word." Good speaking is even more difficult than good acting. "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man." God grant them all the good elements which belong to speaking. Let every word be characterized by truthfulness. Let it also have fitness; for "a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver." Let it also have wholesomeness, and not be like bad fruit. Let it breathe kindliness. Let it breathe loyalty to Christ. In these, and in all the elements of good speaking, let them be confirmed. - R.F.
I. THE BEGINNING.
1. An initial Divine choice. This dates back to the dim ages of an awful antiquity. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. In the beginning was the Word. In the beginning God chose his people for himself. Salvation is no after thought coming in to redeem the failure of creation. It was all planned from the first. When God made man he foresaw sin and determined on redemption. Each one of us is thought of by God from the first. We come into the world to fulfil vocations which God designed for us when he first planned the universe.
2. A present Divine call. The choice would be of no use if it were not made known to us. But when the time for executing God's great design has arrived, he makes it sufficiently known for us to be able to follow it. He calls by the preaching of the gospel. The gospel, then, is an invitation. It is good news, but only for those who will accept the invitation. This new gospel came to bid men fulfil an ancient destiny. The latest work accomplishes the oldest thought of God.
II. THE PROCESS.
1. Sanctification of the Spirit. This is the Divine side of the process. Prior to it is the great atoning work of Christ. But that work is done for us that we may receive the Spirit of God as its fruit. Now we are looking at the work of God in us. God purifies and consecrates his people by an inspiration of his own Spirit. No safety is possible to the guilty, no glory to the unholy. The cleansing process must come before the great end can be reached.
2. Belief of the truth. This is our side of the process. It is useless for us to wait for our sanctification and for the baptism of the Holy Spirit which is to produce it. It will not come without our active reception of it. There is no magic about the process of the descent of the Holy Ghost. It comes on certain conditions being fulfilled by us.
(1) Truth is the vehicle that conveys it into our hearts.
(2) Faith is the door in our hearts that opens to receive it.
III. THE END.
1. Salvation. Take this word in the largest, roundest sense, as deliverance from all evil. It is painfully true that in our greatest joy and thankfulness we have to recollect that at best we are plucked as brands from the burning. No blessing can be enjoyed till the awful ruin into which our souls were all of them sinking through our great and dreadful sin has been stayed.
2. Glory. Salvation is the beginning of God's work in us; glory is the completion of it. We can have no glory while we are in the mire of sin and wretchedness. But when we are delivered, God will not leave us like drowning men on a barren rock, saved from present destruction indeed, but with dreary future prospects. He will not have ended his work with us till he has exalted us into the region of his own glory. - W.F.A.
I. THE GROUND OF THIS EXHORTATION. It was their election and calling. There is a perfect consistency between the Divine election and the obligations of Christian duty.
II. THE NECESSITY OF CHRISTIAN STABILITY. It was specially needful at Thessalonica, in the midst of the agitations and shakings and restlessness that prevailed on the subject of the second advent. Believers were not "to be carried about by every wind of doctrine," lest "being led away with the error of the wicked, they should fall from their own steadfastness." They were to "hold fast the beginning of their confidence," and not "be moved away from the hope of the gospel."
1. There is safety in stability.
2. There is comfort in it.
3. It gives glory to God.
4. It gives strength and encouragement to the weak and vacillating.
III. THE MANIFESTATION OF THIS STABILITY. "Hold fast the traditions."
1. They were of two kinds, oral and written. "Whether by word, or our Epistle."
(1) They included apostolic doctrines - "the form of doctrine delivered to them."
(2) Apostolic ordinances, such as baptism and the Lord's Supper, which they had received from the apostles, as the apostles from the Lord.
(3) Apostolic rules and usages for the government of the Church.
2. The traditions in question afford no warrant for the Roman, Catholic doctrine of traditions handed down through ages. Because:
(1) The word is here applied to both oral and written teaching.
(2) The traditions were not handed down from some one anterior to the apostle, and from the apostle handed down to the Thessalonians; nor were they committed to the Thessalonians to be handed down to future ages. They were handed over directly by the apostle to the Thessalonians.
(3) The doctrine of tradition dishonours the Scriptures, because the traditions are said to be necessitated by the defectiveness and obscurity of Scripture. - T.C.
I. THE AUTHORS OF THE BLESSINGS PRAYED FOR. "Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father." The order of mention is unusual, though the name of Jesus occurs first in the apostolic benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14).
1. God the Father is the ultimate Source of blessing, as it is through Jesus Christ the blessing comes to us.
2. There is an entire equality between them, seeing the blessing is attributed to both.
3. There is oneness of essence, as is indicated by the singular verb used in the passage.
II. THE GROUND OF EXPECTATION THAT THE BLESSINGS ASKED WILL BE GIVEN. "Who loved us, and gave us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace."
1. The Divine love is the true ground of all our hopes of blessing, for it is everlasting, unchangeable, practical in its ends.
2. The two elements in the Divine gift.
(1) "Everlasting consolation."
(a) A source of unfailing comfort in the midst of the trials of life, springing out of everlasting sources and sufficing to all eternity; for God is a "God of all comfort," and "if there be any consolation," it is in Christ.
(b) This comfort is a gift - a mark of Divine favour, not of human merit.
(2) "A good hope through grace."
(a) This is "the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began" (Titus 1:2).
(b) It is a good hope
(α) because of its Author;
(β) because of its foundation, "through grace;"
(γ) because of its purifying effects (l John 3:4).
III. THE BLESSINGS PRAYED FOR.
1. Heart-comfort. "Comfort your hearts." They needed to be comforted on account of their troubles respecting the second advent. None but God can give true and lasting comfort. "Thou hast put gladness into my heart."
2. Establishment and perseverance. "And stablish you in every good word and work."
(1) This blessing is to be sought especially in restless and unsettled times.
(2) Stability is to be sought in "every good word," so that believers may not be carried away by "winds of doctrine;" and in "every good work," so that they may not be shaken by doubt and thus become restless and disorderly in conduct. Instability is weakness, as stability is strength. - T.C.
I. THE SOURCES OF THE BENEDICTION. A true benediction is more than an expression of good wishes. It is a prayer by one who has especial weight in intercession, although it is expressed to the person for whom it is offered. The benediction of so great and good a man as St. Paul is of great value, because the "effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." But the blessings desired by the apostle are not given by him any more than the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to their children were given by the patriarchs. The sources of the blessings of a benediction are not human nor earthly at all. Here they are declared.
1. The personal influence of Jesus Christ. This is strikingly expressed by the reference to "our Lord Jesus Christ himself." His brotherhood and his love lead him to bless us. His Divinity, his goodness, and his sacrifice give him authority in heaven. In his own right he blesses. And he does not delegate the blessing. He confers it himself.
2. The fatherhood of God. Because God is "our Father" we may expect blessings from him. Fears and doubts arise from partial views of God, and views which leave out of account his great fatherly nature. He does not bless as a Master paying wages, but as a Father dealing affectionately with his children.
II. THE ASSURANCES OF THE BENEDICTION. Grounds for believing that God will give the blessing are given for the encouragement of faith.
1. Love in the past. He has revealed his character by his providence, and he has proved in this way that he loves his children. But a parent's love is distinguished from all other kinds of love by its permanence. If God ever did love, he still loves.
2. Eternal comfort. This we have now in the peace of forgiveness and the rest of faith. The peace is such that the world can neither give nor take away. The rest is beneath the shadow of a great rock that outlasts even the seemingly everlasting hills.
3. Hope for the future. God has uttered promises and encouraged hopes. We cannot believe that he will mock the expectations which he has raised.
III. THE OBJECTS OF THE BENEDICTION.
1. Heart comfort. We have eternal comfort; nevertheless we need more comfort. No soul is yet perfectly at rest. Sorrow distresses the most trustful.
(1) Observe the breadth of the Divine comfort. We may have it in some departments of life and yet miss it in others. The Greek word paraklesis has a wider, fuller meaning than our word "comfort." It stands for all help, and help in every direction is what our souls need.
(2) Note the home of the Divine confront. It is to be in our hearts. Comfort anywhere else is vain. Comfortable houses, clothes, etc., leave the deepest trouble untouched. The heart may be on a rack when the body is on a downy couch. God's comfort reaches the heart.
2. Stability in work and word. We must not stop at comfort. We are consoled in distress that we may be free and strong and glad for service.
(1) The service must come from the heart. "The heart" is to be stablished for service.
(2) It must be various and complete - "every good work."
(3) It must extend to speech - "and word." The Scriptures lay great stress on a right use of speech.
(4) It must be steadfast. This is the end of the benediction. Eternal comfort must be balanced by steadfast faithfulness. - W.F.A.