The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain:The Apostolic Album
1 Thessalonians 2
We have our albums now. We put one another, in picture, into appropriate cases, so that we can remind ourselves of each other when not face to face. They had no albums in apostolic times. What would we give for a likeness of the apostle Paul, that most heroic and Christlike of all souls? Yet, broadly and imaginatively speaking, these epistles are albums of the apostles and of the churches and of the times in which they lived. They bear looking at again and again. No man has seen all the picture; no man can see all the portraiture: every eye sees it own delineation, and every age creates its own gallery of beauty and vitality out of these marvellous sketches. We may see the Apostle and we may see the Thessalonians vividly photographed in this second chapter.
How did the apostles preach? What were they like when they stood up? Did they apologise for their existence? Did they stand cap in hand, and say, If you please, gentlemen, we will speak, if you will allow us? The Apostle says, "We were bold in our God to speak unto you." They were bold speakers; not in the sense of being physically violent, they were bold with a courage grand enough to be quiet. They were not to be moved. When the Apostle saw bonds and imprisonments, and all manner of insult, and tumult and danger, he said, "None of these things move me." The word "move" is full of varied suggestion; it is an action itself. These things do not even create in me a momentary spasm; I care nothing for them, I challenge them, I despise them, I defy them; nay, I will not anger myself sufficiently to speak about them in emphatic language: I will simply say, none of these things cause me a moment's flutter. Bold men must have bold messages to deliver, otherwise there will be a disparity between the preacher and his gospel. Anything feeble delivered with violence aggravates its own imbecility: it should never thunder but when it lightens. Men should pronounce great gospels with great earnestness. There is more in human nature than there is often supposed to be. Sometimes flippant critics say, It was largely in the manner. But what is the manner? The manner is the man; it is the attitude of the soul, it is the native expression of God's eternal purpose. There is but little "bold" preaching now: there is much bold hearing—that is to say, there is much bold scepticism, bold criticism, bold indifference; everything has lost its first blood-flush, and has become of a pale, neutral tint. Is it the Sabbath day? it has not been destroyed, but all its edges have been clipped. The Church has not been burned with fire, but it has been left to rot with mildew. Scepticism does not hide its head: why should Christianity peep and mutter in the twilight? If you have a gospel, do make it known; if it is not a gospel, say nothing about it. The Apostle was not afraid of "contention." That is the word he uses in the second verse—"we were bold in our God to speak unto you the Gospel of God with much contention": everybody was contradicting us; men were spitting upon us, smiting us upon the face, scorning us in every possible variety and tone of satire and sarcasm. But through all the tumult there sounded that wondrous voice of tenderness and love and pity and persuasion. Let us be bold men in Christ if we would be apostolic.
Then the Apostle need scarcely have said that his "exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness," yet it was well for him to say, "nor in guile": for guile is a peculiar word with peculiar meanings. If the Apostle had known our English and had written in it, he would have said, Nor was our exhortation by the use of tricks. There are pulpits that are built upon nothing else. But woe unto the apostle who would seek to make a mere trick of the Gospel of Christ or any of its issues and uses. There are men who do not openly despise the Bible who yet make as little use of it as possible even in the pulpit. The only thing that is wanting in some discourses, is the Bible—the living word, the only word worth speaking. Hence we have our discourses upon earthquakes and shipwrecks and imperial circumstances and all manner of political change and action; and this is called preaching to the times: and it is wisely called such preaching, for with the times it dies, there is nothing of eternity in it. He preaches best even about momentary incidents who preaches eternal words: the greater includes the less, the profound eternal principle carries with it the local, incidental, transitory incident. Do not let us be pulled down by those who want so much preaching to the times. We should sometimes be enabled to get away from that which is momentary and local and irritating, we should get into the quietness which soothes and heals and renews the soul. Blessed solitude, companionable loneliness, I would be much with thee: when most alone I am least alone. Said Christ, "I am alone, yet not alone, for the Father is with me." If we would have in the Christian sanctuary wise masterly handling of the affairs of life our teachers must come from the sanctuary of eternity to tell us how to live out our little day. The minister who lives by tricks shall perish by tricks: he who speaks the eternal word with a faithful heart and a fearless tongue shall have a great harvesting. Cheer thee, O brother; it is not to be conceived that God will allow his faithful to return with empty hands and disappointed hearts.
The Apostle might be followed up to this point, but he leaves us here wondering how he could do what he did, for he boldly says that he spoke "not as pleasing men." There he stands alone, as a celibate could, a man who has nor wife, nor home, nor child, nor kith, nor kin, nor silver spoon, nor chariot of gilt. You cannot do him any favour; your favours would oppress him, your "How-do-you-do?" would interrupt his prayer. Is there not a temptation to live so as to please men? Is there not an easy road to popularity by saying to men, You are right, you are good, and you are wise; continue in the course which you are now pursuing, and at the end you will enter into God's heaven as if by right of claim? Men must be offended before they can be saved; men must be trampled upon before they can stand erect; men have to be depleted, utterly impoverished, before God can do anything with them. Said the Founder of the kingdom, the Peasant-Sovereign, the Peasant-Prophet, "I am come to send fire on the earth, and a sword:" we have come to quench the fire and to sheathe the sword.
The Apostle makes this still more clear, for he says, in 1Thessalonians 2:5, "Neither at any time used we flattering words." Have you ever seen an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile, try for one little moment to put a misleading colour upon something? He contradicts himself by his very face; his eye says, I am trying to deceive you, and you know it. It would have been interesting to have seen the Apostle Paul trying to use a flattering word, to lie by compliment. Yet he was courteous, he was a gentleman of the olden type; every turn of that old body, so bruised and crumpled, was the curve of poetry; every address he made to high office and dignity was the address of a king. Courtesy is perfectly compatible with candour. A man need not be rough and violent in speech, in order to be truthful. In Paul, see how gentlest courtesy wedded frankest candour, and how the strongest speaker in the Church could lower his voice into all the subtleties of minor music. Do not imagine that when you insult a man you treat him candidly. Candour—fair, white-faced, blue-eyed candour—child of the morning, child of summer, is not to be wedded to brusqueness and violence and madness of speech. Men can be very candid, yet very courteous: oh, that some men would try to work that miracle!
The Apostle, working and talking so, was able to add, in the sixth verse, "Nor of men sought we glory." That is a word we ought to take pains to understand. Christ says, "How can ye receive me or my word who receive honour one of another?" The word "honour" is the wrong word, it should be "glory"—"How can ye receive God's word who receive glory one of another,"—not respect, not courtesy, not grateful recognition; all that is right and necessary: but we must take care that we do not make even the Apostle equal to God. Glory belongeth unto the Lord. Literally, the Apostle will read thus:—Neither sought we recognition of our splendid position. That is the full meaning of the word "glory" as here used. Give your ministers all the respect that is due to their sanctified humanity and their useful ability; love and honour and cherish them, because of spiritual benefit: but remember that glory belongs to God only. Let us take care how by conferring exalted title we may seem to divide the sovereignty of God. There be those who can say with an honest heart, "Our Lord God the Pope"; there be those also who count such speech profanity.
This is the negative aspect of the Apostolic relation to service and to ecclesiastical life. Is there anything more positive and direct? The following verses answer the inquiry:—"We were gentle among you." The servant of the Lord must not strive, but he must be gentle, easy to be entreated; he must be a mother, a nurse, as well as a shepherd and a soldier. He must be a many-sided man. When the strong man is gentle even women adore him: there is a strange, weird, fascinating quality of tenderness about him; when his great strength bends over us we feel a sense of security; his arms represent a still higher strength, and his lower voice affects us by its pathos. "Even as a nurse cherisheth her children"—yes, a mother-nurse. There be nurses that are paid for their love, and there be mother-nurses no gold could ever pay for tears and tenderness, and sitting up through the weary night, and watching every change of the countenance, and administering even to wants that are beyond the uses of words. That was apostolic life. The apostles lived in their work; they did not do something else six days in the week and play the nurse on the seventh: a child so treated would die.
Paul makes the matter still more broadly conspicuous by the use of these words: "So being affectionately desirous of you," wanting you, crying for you, saying, Come to us! Oh, these outstretched arms of apostolic solicitude and interest! are they not the shadow of other arms? Are there not arms stretched out over all the universe that it may be secured and saved and sanctified? We cannot do without that element in life. We cannot live on thunder and storm. We could not live on Mount Lebanon. It would be a halting-place to be desired for a day, but when we want to live we come down to the corner field and the garden, the simple beauties and tender hospitalities of nature. So we need the Church amongst us, that mother that wants us, that hugs and kisses, embraces and protects us; we want the quiet sanctuary, never so pleasant to any man as to the man who has hurried in from the market-place where he has been worried and fretted by a thousand contentions, and who feels that quietness is healing, and silence the noblest speech. We need the altar, the sanctuary, the quiet book full of healing, soothing, psalm, and doctrine; above all we want that "affectionateness" which cannot rest until the very last wanderer is at home.
How did the apostles conduct themselves? Honest men are not afraid of egotism; honest men are not afraid to speak about themselves: hypocrites and pedants are. Hypocrites and pedants are always trying to blot themselves out. Whenever you find a man who wants to blot himself out, do not lend him any money, do not invite him to your house, do not introduce him to your children—he is a liar! Believe the honest man who knows his stature and his weight, his bulk and his force, and who speaks of himself modestly before God, but with a right stern dignity towards men. How did the apostles behave themselves?—"Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe." We ought to be able to say these very words. This is a marvellous character for any man to give himself, even though he be an apostle of Jesus Christ. The words are worth repeating—"how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe." This is possible in purpose. Let us never forget that the purpose is the life. As for conduct, it is always breaking down; otherwise we should not need to be continually praying, confessing, and supplicating God's forgiveness: but purpose may be everlasting, consistent, irrefragable, a thing not to be broken, perverted, the constant prayer of conscious want. We are what we are in purpose, not what we are in little incidents. Yet it is dangerous, as we have often said, to say this, because there are those who will take licence to sin in the incident who will not be careful to maintain the integrity of the purpose. This is the interruption to a Christian ministry which often enfeebles it. The minister has to pause that he may make parentheses, exceptions, and reservations: whereas he ought with a bold fine fluency to pour out his solaces, comforts, and inspirations so that all might take them and turn them to honest uses. It is the same in civilisation. Every honest man has to lock his door before he can go to bed. That would seem to be absurd. Watch your household life, and see if you too are not always making reservations. You concluded your nocturnal eloquence after a hearty supper by declaring that the world is in your estimate getting much better, and that on the whole life is very good. Then you rose, and before extinguishing the light you fastened the window. What did that fastening mean? It meant such a parenthesis as the preacher is obliged always to use. You had just taken an optimistic view of society, and, having done so, you punctuate your eloquence by bolting the front door. How inconsistent, how flagrantly inconsistent is mankind! The preacher must of necessity do this. He, good soul, wants to believe well of everybody, and he proclaims that all men may be saved; and yet he has to cool his own passion by reminding himself that in every church their may possibly be an Iscariot.
How did the Thessalonians receive this word?—"not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God." We have lost that genius of hearing. We now listen to every speaker with the view of contradicting him. There never was a sermon delivered yet, but the churchwarden, or the deacon, or the hearer of some other kind, thought it could have been better. Even preachers sometimes find fault with their own brethren. That must be a modern practice, it surely never was discovered in the book of Genesis; yet even there, methinks, there was a case in which a man who had a dream was sold by his own brethren into Egypt. "Not as the word of men." The difficulty is to keep the man out of the speech, in so far as he is a mere artist or a mere inventor of words. The word is within the word: how is it that we have no understanding? The nut is in the shell, the shell is not in the nut; yet we cannot do without the shell, we want the shell, but he who takes the shell and chews it and tries to masticate it is a foolish man: the shell was made for momentary uses—throw it away, and eat the kernel. So within the discourse you must find the object of the discourse. Do not find fault with words, phrases, plannings, and sentences, but say in your soul, What is it the man is driving at? and if you can answer the question in these words, He is trying by some means to do me good, seize that purpose, and forget all the rest.
The Thessalonians were more than hearers, they "also" had "suffered." Until a man has suffered the word he cannot understand it. Every man must pay that penalty before he can pray really; he must have his prayer choked in his throat before he can really and truly take the kingdom of heaven by violence. If our Christianity has become our chief luxury, we have lived an inverted life, we have taken down the Cross of Christ and set up some velveted throne in its place. He that will live godly shall suffer persecution even now. The honest man shall have a hard time of it in this world. The man who wants to eat bread unleavened by dishonesty will not have much bread to eat, but it will be sweet, vitalising, nutritious bread.
What was the relation between the Church and the Apostle, the Apostle and the Church? "What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy." (1Thessalonians 2:19, 1Thessalonians 2:20.) The true minister cares for nothing but his work. What does he do? He lives in the work, he prays at the altar he lives for his people; every time he rises he is as a fruit tree in the midst of the Church. A tender, beautiful, mutually-helpful relation is this: let pastors and churches, apostles and communities, live together in reciprocal trust and honour. We should seek our whole satisfaction within the sanctuary. So the apostles had their summer-times, even churches in the earliest era of our Lord's epoch had their festivals and banquets of love. Brethren, let us love one another: "We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren." Are some of you ministers, and do you see but small fruit of your labour? It is not for you to look for the fruit or to measure the result; God will see that you do not die of hunger. You cannot tell to whom you are ministering, whom you are helping and sustaining by prayer and speech and patience that watches over the salvation of the soul. There be some in the Church who are not in the outward register of the ecclesiastical body. I find as I go along in life that there are souls hovering around us; they want to alight upon this church-tree, but they do not know whether they will be welcomed; they have peculiarity of view, singularity of opinion, difficulties in matters of speculation, and they wonder whether they would be received with open love and trust if they came amongst us: and to such I say—In proportion as you are honest you will be received with entireness of love. If we are setting up little rules and tests and standards, and saying, "Let us measure you by these," they will never come; they must be given a wondrous, sometimes inexplicable, sense or consciousness of welcome.
The Apostle welcomed men; in this very chapter he talks of Jews who would have forbidden him to preach to the Gentiles. These Jews still live. They are to be found in every church. They do not want everybody to be preached to and everybody to be saved and everybody to be blessed, but Jesus Christ himself does. If there are any souls here, odd, peculiar, eccentric in thought, difficult to manage, I would not have them driven away with contempt or despair, or even with cold indifference, I would say to them, If in your heart of hearts you want God, and Christ, and truth, and heaven, you may have them all, and you may have them in your own way: not in my way; your way is not my way; I do not like your way, but your way may be right, it is at all events right for you; what I want you to do is to take hold of Christ wherever you can. Where can you get hold of him? He is talking to a woman who is a sinner: can you seize him there? Here he is taking up little children and blessing them: does that melt your heart? seize the child-Christ. There he is doing mighty miracles: does that action effect your imagination, appeal to your wonder, and draw you forth in reverence? Then along the line of miracle go to him. Only by this way or that, or your own way, or some way—go to him, go to him.
Almighty God, teach us the value of things, for we know them not. Give us the spirit of discernment; may we be wise men. If we be wise we shall redeem the time, we shall know one season from another, we will work diligently, faithfully, expectantly. The Lord enable us to know what true wisdom is; the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; in wisdom may we grow, and in understanding may we become men. Open our understanding that we may understand the Scriptures; open our eyes that we may behold wondrous things out of thy law; open our eyes that we may see the inner circle of fire, and angel, and chariot of glory. Save us from folly; save us from self-trust, which is the beginning of unwisdom: may we live in God, and in God may we move and have our being. Thus shall we be truly as God, perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect, holy as our Father in heaven is holy. Oh, the mystery of this growth—the pain, the change, the tumult, the agony, the peace, the joy, the wondrous combination of emotion and experience. What tongue can express that miracle of discipline? Show us that all things work together for good, if in our hearts there be the love of God; show us that there shall be no contraries in thy dispensations that shall not be reconciled into music. When the burden is too heavy, increase our strength; when we are blind with tears, may the eyes of our soul be wide open; when the cloud fills the frowning heaven, may we hear a voice in the cloud, alway the same voice, calling us to thy Son, thy Son, thy Son. In him may we find the cradle, the Cross, the crown—all in all. Amen.
1 He willeth them to continue stedfast in the truth received, 3 sheweth that there shall be a departure from the faith, 9 and a discovery of antichrist, before the day of the Lord come. 15 And thereupon repeateth his former exhortation, and prayeth for them.
1. Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
2. That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled [with a view to your being not quickly shaken from your sober mind, nor yet be troubled], neither by spirit [supernatural impulse], nor by word [ordinary instruction], nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
3. Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day shall not come, except there come a [the] falling away [the word is often applied to desertion of the true religion and true God] first, and that man of sin [patristic expositors impress upon us the individuality of the lawless one. Mediaeval writers bring out the idea, not only that there are many Antichrists, each a type of the perfect incarnation of Lawlessness (which is a Scriptural and patristic idea), but that such types may be found in isolated popes] be revealed the son of perdition [see St. John 17:12. One by his crimes fitted for death, and sure to be destroyed];
4. Who opposeth and exalteth himself [exceedingly] above all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he [taketh his seat in the temple of God] as God [omit "as God"] sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself [off] that he is God. [The ambitious self-designation of the Man of Sin is indicated (see note at the end of this chapter).]
5. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?
6. And now ye know what withholdeth that I might be revealed in his time [his own season—not before].
7. For the mystery of iniquity [lawlessness] doth already work; only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.
8. And then shall that Wicked [the lawless One] be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit [breath. Cf. Isaiah 11:4] of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: [Cf. the half line of Milton: "Far off his coming shone."]
9. Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,
10. And with all deceivableness ox unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
11. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a He [the lie: referring to Isaiah 11:9]:
12. That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. [That they might be judged, all collectively, who have not believed the truth, but have taken their pleasure in the unrighteousness (sc. of the Man of Sin).]
13. But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:
14. Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
15. Therefore, brethren stand fast and hold the traditions which ye have been [were] taught, whether by word, or our epistle.
16. Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself [Chrysostom invites the special attention of those who deny the co-equal divinity of the Son, because he is named after the Father in the baptismal formula. Here he stands first], and God even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace.
17. Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.
"The most striking feature in the Epistle is this apocalyptic passage, announcing the revelation of the 'Man of Sin' (2Thessalonians 2:1-12)...
"The passage speaks of a great apostasy which is to usher in the advent of Christ, the great judgment. There are three prominent figures in the picture, Christ, Antichrist, and the Restrainer. Antichrist is described as the Man of Sin, the Son of Perdition, as the Adversary who exalteth himself above all that is called God, as making himself out to be God. Later on (for apparently the reference is the same) he is styled the 'mystery of lawlessness,' 'the lawless one.' The Restrainer is in one place spoken of in the masculine as a person (ό κατέχωυ), in another in the neuter as a power, an influence (τό κατέχου)- The 'mystery of lawlessness' is already at work. At present it is checked by the Restrainer; but the check will be removed, and then it will break out in all its violence. Then Christ will appear, and the enemy shall be consumed by the breath of his mouth, shall be brought to naught by the splendour of his presence.
"Many different explanations have been offered of this passage. By one class of interpreters it has been referred to circumstances which passed within the circle of the Apostle's own experience, the events of his own lifetime, or the period immediately following. Others again have seen in it the prediction of a crisis yet to be realised, the end of all things. The former of these, the Praeterists, have identified the 'Man of Sin' with divers historical characters—with Caligula, Nero, Titus, Simon Magus, Simon son of Giora, the high-priest Ananias, &c., and have sought for a historical counterpart to the Restrainer in like manner. The latter, the Futurists, have also given various accounts of the Antichrist, the mysterious power of evil which is already working. To Protestants for instance it is the Papacy; to the Greek Church, Mohammedanism. And in the same way each generation and section in the Church has regarded it as a prophecy of that particular power which seemed to them and in their own time to be most fraught with evil to the true faith."—Smith's Dictionary of the Bible.