1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
But of the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need that I write to you.…
I. THE TIME OF ITS COMING.
1. There was no real need to write to them about this. St. Paul had spoken of it; it had been a principal subject of his teaching. They knew all that could be known, all that they needed to know for their souls' health. But there was a restless curiosity, an eager longing "to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power." Such knowledge was not for the apostles; it is not for the Church. "Of that day and that hour knoweth no man." But, in spite of these words of Christ, human thought has ever busied itself, it busies itself still, to pry into this awful secret. St. Paul had told the Thessalonians all he knew; there was no need to write it again. But he deals gently with them. He tries to quiet their restless anxiety.
2. They knew that it could not be known. It cometh suddenly, when men are least expecting it; when they say, "Peace and safety." It cometh as a thief in the night. They knew the Lord's illustration. St. Paul had told them. It was enough for them to know. Suddenly, as the lightning that cometh out of the east and shineth even to the west, the Son of man shall come. That we know; nothing more can be known. It is a thought full of awfulness, full of deep lessons and solemn warnings.
II. READINESS FOR ITS COMING.
1. Christians are not in the darkness. Darkness is the element, the sphere of the unconverted life. Darkness is ignorance of God, ignorance of the atoning work of Christ, ignorance of the blessed influences of God the Holy Ghost. Such darkness is either intellectual, darkness of the understanding; or spiritual, darkness of the heart and will. The two act and react upon one another. Darkness of the understanding produces in some cases and in some measure darkness of the heart. Darkness of the heart often results in darkness of the understanding. There are cases of darkness which seem to us the most perplexing of problems; men and women who have from the very beginning of life been enveloped in an atmosphere of ignorance, brutality, and sin, from which there seems to be no escape - who seem to us, as people say, to "have no chance," no possibility, humanly speaking, of attaining to enlightenment and the knowledge of God. What can be done in such cases? We must, each one of us, do all that lies in our power to help the helpless and to teach the ignorant; and then, when we have "done what we could," we can only leave them, in the trustfulness of faith, to his mercy who, we know, will require little of those to whom little has been given. But the darkness which we have to face in our daily walk is, more commonly, not like this, but willful darkness. "He that hateth his brother" (St. John says) "is in darkness even until now." Any willful sin deliberately indulged darkens the heart. "If thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness." The soul that cherishes a secret sin cannot believe, cannot see God, cannot be in readiness for the coming of the Lord. If such are not awakened to a sense of guilt and danger, the great day must overtake them as a thief, coming upon them in all its sudden awfulness.
2. They are sons of light. "God hath shined in their hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." The true light now shineth. We are in the light, the light of the knowledge of God, the light of the presence of God. We belong to the light; it is all around us; it is in us. Indeed, the true light "lighteth every man." The Lord is loving unto every man. "The Lamb of God taketh away [beareth] the sin of the world." We must believe, in spite of sad and dark appearances, that there is no child of man on whom the heavenly Father hath not shined; none who are left to perish without a hope of salvation. The light shineth upon all; but they are sons of light whose souls within are lighted with that heavenly glow, who come to the light and rejoice in the light, and in the brightness of that light see what others cannot see because their eyes are holden - the fair beauty of the Lord, the exceeding loveliness of the blessed Savior's life, the aureole of golden light that bathes the cross of Christ in a glory of unearthly radiance.
3. Therefore they must walk in the light. They must live in the consciousness of that light, feeling its warmth and glory; as they move hither and thither in their daily life, they must walk in the sense of that light which is all around them. It shows things in their true colors. Sin is hateful, loathsome; you see its utter hideousness when the light shines upon it. Holiness is fair and bright; you see its attractive beauty when the heavenly light shines on it in its glory. The light shines into our hearts; it shows us our guilt, our misery, our danger. But, blessed be God, it does more than that. It hath a purifying power; it cleanses what was unclean; it brightens what was dark. "If we walk in the light... the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin."
4. They are sons of day, therefore they must watch. The light shows the danger of sloth; it rests upon those awful words, "Thou wicked and slothful servant," and brings them out into full distinctness. They must not sleep, as do others. Indifference and apathy are deadly enemies of the soul. The unbelieving multitude sleep; they are thoughtless about their souls, careless of the awful destinies which lie before us. The believer will watch; for he will remember the reiterated commandment of his Lord, "Watch, therefore.... What I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch." Watch. fullness is thoughtfulness; it is a vivid interest in everything that belongs to the spiritual life, an earnest desire to quicken it into ever new energies, a freshness of spirit, an active vigilance in guarding against all the dangers and temptations that surround us. "They that sleep, sleep in the night," but we are sons of day. We must watch as men that wait for their Lord. We know not when he cometh; we must be watchful always lest that day overtake us as a thief. It cometh as a thief. This warning of our Lord is not only recorded in the Gospels, but St. Paul, St. Peter, St. John, re-echo the solemn words, it made a deep impression on the minds of the early Christians; witness the name Gregory ("watchful") so common in the ancient Church. Would that that impression remained, that we too might be stirred to ever-deepening watchfulness. "The Lord is at hand."
5. They must be sober. "They that be drunken are drunken in the night." The Christian must he sober. Intoxication causes drowsiness; it is inconsistent with watchfulness. The intemperate cannot watch. The Christian must be temperate in all things; strictly temperate as regards food and drink, for temperance is the fruit of the Spirit, and drunkenness is one of those works of the flesh of which it is written that "they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." He must be temperate in all his enjoyments; for all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, - all these things intoxicate their votaries, and make them slothful and drowsy in the concerns of the soul. But we must be sober, for we are of the day; we walk in the light of day and are looking for the coming of the day of the Lord.
6. They must be prepared for the assaults of temptation. They must be clothed with the armor of light.
(1) The breastplate of faith and love. The hosts of darkness will gather round the Christian warrior as he stands watchful at his post. They cannot harm him if he continue faithful; the fiery darts of the wicked one cannot pierce the breastplate of faith and love. Faith is trustfulness. The soul that trusts in Christ is fixed and steadfast. Trust not in earthly things; they will fail you at the last. But trust in Christ; he abideth faithful; he is able to save even to the uttermost; his love is stronger than death. Faith protects the Christian's heart. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be saved." Faith overcomes the world. Love springs out of faith, and quickens faith. Believe in Christ, and love him you must, for faith realizes his presence in all his grace and tenderness. "We have known and believed the love that God hath to us;" "We love him, because he first loved us." Love reacts on faith; for God, who is Love, can be known only of those who have learned of him the great lesson of love. "Every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God." Like is known by like. He who knows not in his own heart what it is to love, cannot know God, who is the eternal Lure. Love grows out of faith, and love fills faith with life and joy and holy enthusiasm. Love and faith protect the Christian as he watches; they sustain his energies. Faith preserves him from anxious doubts; the holy love of God keeps out all carnal loves.
(2) The helmet of the Christian warrior. The hope of salvation guards his head. Other hopes may fall in shattered ruins on him; they will not crush him; they may vex and bruise, but they will not reach a mortal part; they may strike him as he stands erect and fearless; they will glance off from the polished surface of the helmet of salvation. The blessed hope of Bib eternal living in the heart supports the Christian in toil, in sorrow, in sickness, and in death. "Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three." He will watch who hath these blessed graces; he will persevere, faithful unto death, looking always for the coming of the great and awful day.
7. God is their Strength. Without him they can do nothing, He did not appoint us to wrath, He is our Father; he is not willing that any should perish. He willeth that all men should be saved. Salvation, great and blessed word, is what God willeth for us all.
8. The work of the Lord Jesus. Our salvation is his work. He died for us, on our behalf and in our stead; his precious death is the high example of entire self-sacrifice for the sake of others; it is the atonement for our sins. "For us. Those great words stimulate us to love and serve him; they should be constantly in our thoughts; they should fill us with wonder, awe, and adoring love. For us," though we were sinners; "for us," though he is God; "for us" - we can never reach the depths of mysterious, blessed meaning which He hid in those two simple words. He died that we, whether we watch or sleep, while we remain among the living, watching for his coming, and while we sleep with those who are laid to sleep through Jesus, should ever live together with him. His death is cur life; by his death he took away the power of sin, which is the death of the soul. He died that we might live in that holy life which is in fellowship with him. That life begins now. "Ye have eternal life," St. John says. Christ's saints live with him and in him, for he is their Life. They live with him during their earthly pilgrimage; they live with him in Paradise, where the holy departed are with Christ; they shall live with him in that glory which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man.
9. Practical conclusion.
(1) They must comfort one another. The word wavers in its meaning between comfort and exhortation. The two ideas, indeed, run very near together, as the etymology of the English word "comfort" suggests. To comfort, according to its derivation, is to strengthen. Comfort, consolation, is a source of strength. The despondent, those who brood over their sufferings and fret themselves in their troubles, are timid, devoid of energy and strength. Comfort helps them to "lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees," and stimulates them to look forward to the future with hope and courage. The Thessalonian Christians needed both comfort and exhortation. They had a great trial of affliction; they suffered much persecution from the beginning. No earthly comfort is so great as the sympathy of loving Christian friends. And. those who sympathize with us stir us up by their example, by their loving words; their sympathy implies exhortation; it issues in exhortation, it makes exhortation real and effective.
(2) They must edify one another. To edify is to build up. The wise builder builds his house on the rock, which is Christ. He is the Foundation; Christians are "built up in him." In the deepest sense he is the Builder. "On this rock I will build my Church." "But," St. Paul says, "we are laborers together with God." Such grace he gives to his servants that they are privileged to help on the great work, to build upon the one Foundation. There is no higher, holier work than this, to prepare the living stones, to build them up into the one holy temple, the Church of the living God. The Thessalonians were doing it. St. Patti recognizes their loving labors, and urges them to persevere. Be it ours to follow them.
1. It is not for us to know the times and seasons; be not too curious; but:
2. Prepare in quiet faith: "the Lord is at hand."
3. Live as sons of light; pray for grace to realize the presence of God, to see the cross by faith, to watch in hope and love.
4. Each Christian, however humble, has his place in building up the Church of Christ; let each do his part. - B.C.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.