Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
2 Thessalonians 2:1
The Re-gathering of the Saints.
We have now before us the time and the season of which St. Paul speaks in the text, and we have to observe that he uses it not as a terror but as an attraction—"we beseech you"—as those that would not part with it for their lives. The advent, a re-gathering, is in St. Paul's view a prospect full of consolation. What is it that makes the world the wilderness it is? In a large part it is that of which the re-gathering is a direct reversal—dispersion. There are senses, no doubt, in which dispersion is tolerable; the separation and severance of nations, not more by dividing seas and deserts than by dividing tongues. It would be foolish to say that this is to any one man a loss or an affliction. It is as a type that we must read it if we would enter into its significance. Sin is the great dividing force. Sin divides even its joys. Where sin is there is selfishness. Hand may trust hand, lips may speak of love and vow affection, yet in the very sinning there is a breach, and in the recoil and rebound there is severance. Sin is selfishness hidden in the act; selfishness perceived in the consequences. Sin is dispersion alike in its loves and its remorses. Well may it close the dark category in the dark page of sorrow for one of light and gospel consolation.
II. On the loving heart of St. Paul—a heart large without limit, yet stretched almost to bursting by the multitude of its sympathies, there lay the sorrow of the dispersion. He felt it in every sense; felt it in its very distance. Yet more bitterly did Paul feel this dispersion to be an intolerable burden of suspense and anguish, while he knew not for certain how a letter had been taken or an injunction obeyed, or whether a door had been opened for successful ministry. It is the division of bodies or the division of souls which distracts him. Even death—and you might think that St. Paul would have been above it with his strong faith and bright hope—even death troubled him. He felt as a dispersion that death which he dreaded not as a destruction.
III. Therefore, with St. Paul, as to all whose hearts are like his, big and warm in their affections and sympathies, there was a peculiar charm in the thought of the advent as a re-gathering. "I beseech you," he says, as though no other entreaty could equal it in strength, "by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him." Here we meet and part; we commune and separate with a sense of unrest and dissatisfaction which leaves us in the end desolate. To the friend of our soul we say not one half of that which we meant to say; we said not the thing which we meant, or he misheard or misinterpreted the thing spoken. Our love he read not; our passing humour he took as a change of affection; our soul speaking to his soul with the soul's voice was not recognised as the soul's, and we almost begin to say, "I will keep my love till it can speak the one tongue of the immortals." When Christ comes friend shall meet friend in absolute oneness—no earthborn, sinborn cloud to come between; knowing at last as known, because loved as loving.
C. J. Vaughan, Penny Pulpit, new series, No. 514.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-4I. The first part of this second Epistle aims at widening the view of the Thessalonian converts into the future—the future bliss of believers, the future doom of the rebellious. The second part, embraced in this chapter, seeks to guard them beforehand against delusion as to the nearness of that future, and the mischief which the cherishing of such delusion would produce. The Apostle wishes them to be forearmed by being forewarned. His chief design is to impress upon their minds the one truth, that the proper attitude to be assumed towards the day of the Lord is that not of idle curiosity, but of steadfast and untroubled faith. The spirit of restless eschatological excitement meets, sooner or later, only with disappointment. It brings with it no increase of joyful hopefulness; it rather ministers ultimately to the service of the world. Whatever be the value of Apocalyptic study, it must ever, as these Epistles themselves so strikingly illustrate, find its balancing and regulating principle in the study of Christian ethics, and in the homage of Christian work.
II. The day of the Lord will not be "except the falling away come first." Chrysostom curiously says, "He calls Antichrist himself the apostasy, as being about to destroy many, and make them fall away." But obviously this apostasy is rather that which is simply to precede and usher in the revelation of the great Apostate himself, "the man of sin." He is described not as an ideal, but as an historical personage—the man who is regarded as the very embodiment of all evil—the hideous consummation and manifestation of all that sin can make man. Depravity is in him personified. The sanctuary or inmost shrine, in which he is to take his seat, is not to be explained with rigid literalness as referring to the temple of Jerusalem. We must regard it as representing the Church of Christ—not any material structure, such as St. Peter's at Rome, but the universal company of professed believers. "He sets himself forth as God." It is the act of one who, while he is, as never man was before, the representative of evil, represents himself in his own person and deeds, as the individual manifestation of Divine power and grace.
J. Hutchison, Lectures on Thessalonians, p. 280.
Reference: 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10.—Homilist, vol. vi., p. 392.
2 Thessalonians 2:5-12Can we fix down the description of the man of sin to any one system or person? or ought we simply to say, with Augustine, that we must remain in total ignorance as to the Apostle's meaning? Between these two extremes we may occupy a middle position.
I. The theory must be set aside which declares these words have been long ago fulfilled. It would, in no sense, be either easy or useful to trace this view through its many varieties and intricacies. It is enough to say that the passage presents to us no mere allegory, refusing to be minutely scanned. The description is far too minute and specific to be thus explained away.
II. Nor is the question to be solved by supposing the words to be descriptive of a growing tendency, which the Apostle may have noticed in the Church, to fall back into the beggarly elements of Judaism, or to be seduced by any grotesque manifestations of the Judaistic spirit which might take place before the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple.
III. The points in which the identification of this passage with the Church of Rome is held to be complete are well known. They are undeniably striking. The prominent errors of the Church of Rome, the gradual growth of these from principles and practices which can be traced in their germ to the very earliest Christian times—the gathering together of the power and authority of the Church into one head, the despotic pride and pomp which clung to that Church as prominent characteristics, the imposture which in lying wonders, is so conspicuous in that Church, all these have often been marshalled in order, so as to appear a long line of evidence which cannot be broken. None the less it is to be observed, and more candidly acknowledged than it often is, that there are aspects of the case which the explanation by no means fits. It would be the spirit of antichrist itself at work if we were to deny the many elements of true Christianity in the Church of Rome. Besides, even the corrupt elements in Romanism do not in all respects correspond with the clauses of this passage. We seem rather to be directed to look for the coming of one who shall combine in himself—in what way we cannot know—the two elements of unbelief and superstition, and will work towards the overthrow of all that is good and true. Thus drawing men after him to destruction, he is himself to be destroyed.
J. Hutchison, Lectures on Thessalonians, p. 292.
References: 2 Thessalonians 2:7.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 236; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 86.
2 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:5I. The salvation to which the Thessalonians are described as chosen of God is regarded chiefly in the aspect of a present possession, and it is "in (not through) sanctification of the Spirit." The words surely mean spiritual sanctification; an inward process, not merely outward change of conduct. The salvation without doubt is that which is possessed in advancing holiness, the sanctification wrought in the spirit of man by the Divine Spirit. A renewal of the spirit of the believer which of necessity manifests itself in the renewal of his life.
II. "Stand fast." The duty of perseverance is enforced upon the Thessalonians, both as a Church and as individuals—steadfast adherence to all truly Christian doctrine and practice—and that is possible only where there is loving loyalty to Jesus Christ Himself.
III. After precept comes prayer, and the prayer is that their hearts may be comforted and stablished in every good word and work. Thus, through meditation and action alike, the one ministering to the other, would they attain to tried Christian character—the crown of Christian life. It is instructive to notice that, as in 1 Thessalonians 3:11, the Saviour is associated in prayer with God the Father as directing the outward movements, the external details of Paul's work, so in this passage He is similarly associated with God the Father in ministering to the soul-prosperity of believers. God the Son is thus represented as one with God the Father in being the Source of all guiding and protecting care, and the Source of all spiritual blessing.
IV. While Paul directs his readers' thoughts to the faithfulness of their Saviour, he will also encourage them by the assurance that he himself has confidence in them—a confidence which he holds fast, because he rests on the faithfulness of their common Lord. He believes that they are even now doing, and that they will continue to do, all that he enjoins, whatever be the tendency to faintness (for Christian work is toil); he is persuaded that the grace of perseverance will be theirs. So long as men have their hearts ever turning to the love of God, they will be "strengthened with all might unto all patience," so that they, doing whatsoever is commanded, may endure unto the end.
J. Hutchison, Lectures on Thessalonians, p. 308.
References: 2 Thessalonians 2:13.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. v., p. 178; Magee, Church of England Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 272. 2 Thessalonians 2:15.—H. Hitchens, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvi., p. 284; F. Pigou, Ibid., vol. xxvii., p. 289. 2 Thessalonians 2:16.—J. Baldwin Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 387; R. Tuck, Ibid., vol. xix., p. 291.
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17Life's Trouble and its True Remedy.
I. By Divine will there is a trouble common to man—a trouble of life in which all and each may expect some share, and which, at particular times of life, grows very intense. If any one seems to be excepted, such an one might almost fear Divine desertion thereby, or some Divine displeasure resting on him; for how few of God's own children get through the world and into the heavenly home with little or no trouble by the way. There is a sense in which Christians drink more deeply of trouble than ordinary men, for in proportion as they are really Christian they have more refined and developed sensibilities. They live with Christ; therefore they feel with Christ, and receive life's trouble full on the Christian moral sense; and if that does not make the trouble more in itself, it makes it more to them.
II. There are many kinds of so-called consolation in which men seek relief from the trouble and sorrow of their life. (1) First, there is what may be called the desperate consolation of the ostrich when it sticks its head into the sand, and does not see the pursuing foe. I mean the way of complete thoughtlessness, of designed, persistent thoughtlessness—indifference to the deepest things of human life and experience. It is a poor policy; it is unworthy of a man, and it does not succeed. (2) Then there is another kind of so-called consolation which is quite insufficient for the strong trouble of life, and which may be called the presumptuous consolation. "Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God," and then, indeed, you may expect to be "exalted in due season;" (3) There is the superficial consolation for the trouble and sorrow of life—that, I mean, which soothes the mind, and quiets certain feelings, without going down to the roots and foundations of things. No consolation can be suitable to man, or can be a real strength and confirmation if it does not sink down to the foundation of things. In one word, we want nothing else than "everlasting consolation and good hope through grace." Work your way by any of these lines, or by all of them. See what men can do by their thinking and their endeavours, and you will find, when you come at length to this consolation, that it stands sublimely alone.
III. You cannot think through the problem by the unaided human faculty, and you cannot drive yourself through it by the unaided human faculty, and you cannot forget it. No, there is but one way, and that is to come to God; all consolation is in Him. He is everlasting, and from everlasting He hath loved us. Believe the Gospel; accept its truth; hold its truth; do its duty; breathe its spirit; conform to its ideal—in no transcendental spirit, but humbly and earnestly, in common things and in daily life—and you have the everlasting consolation of God. Our God consoles us not only by surprising us with mercies, and lighting all our great future by hope, but by binding us to daily duty, and helping us day by day, amid trouble and care and toil, from the fountains of His everlasting care and purity, so that we are in some humble measure stablished in every good word and work.
A. Raleigh, Penny Pulpit, new series, No. 822.
The Eternal Comforter.
I. Our sorrow is greatly enhanced by the mystery of life. If we could only understand the reason of it, it would be easier to bear. But the tears seem to be so unnecessary, the wounding so needless, the pain and anguish so inexplicable. Life is a tangled skein, and we can get no clue. Now in this mystery and perplexity of life there comes One who says, "Trust Me." He does not, indeed, throw scientific light on the mystery of life. He does not solve its enigma. He does not put the clue into our hands. But He says "Trust Me." It is not a poet who speaks to us, who has gotten a little deeper insight than we have gotten. It is a witness-bearer, who out of the eternal life is come and into the eternal life is going. His is the witness; and in this is the root and ground of all that Christianity has offered us—faith, not in a poet, not in a philosopher, not in a theologian, but faith in a witness-bearer.
II. But this mystery of life does not so greatly enhance the pain of life as the fragmentariness of it. It is not without semblance of reason, at least, that the broken column is put up in our graveyards. Life seems to be such a series of separated fragments; it seems to be so broken, so inharmonious, so discordant. And now Christ brings us this further message. Life is not fragmentary. There is no break. Life is like a song, and the singer goes from us, and the song grows dimmer and more indistinct and fades away; but the singer has not stopped his singing, though our eye cannot follow him into the unknown whither he is gone.
III. The injustice of life is hardest of all to bear. He who has shed on the mystery of life the light of trust, and He who has shed on the fragmentariness of life the light of hope, sheds on our awful unfaith in God, our awful sense of injustice and wrong against which we protest in vain endeavour, the light of love: for this is Christ's declaration everywhere and always; that the devil is not the god of this world, nor humanity the god of this world, nor furies, nor a god of fury, but infinite and eternal love is working out the web of human destiny.
L. Abbott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxvi., p. 161.
References: 2 Thessalonians 2:16, 2 Thessalonians 2:17.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi., No. 1542; vol. xix., No. 1096. 2 Thessalonians 3:1.—E. Cooper, Practical Sermons, vol. iii., p. 312.
That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?
And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.
For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.
And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:
Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,
And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:
That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
But we are bound to give thanks alway 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:
Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.
Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace,
Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.