Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
The State of the Thessalonian Church
2 Thessalonians 1:3–7. We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith grows exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other abounds; so that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure: which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer: seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled, rest.
ONE advantage which we derive from the epistles of Paul is, that we are enabled to see in them an endless diversity both of characters and attainments. Every occurrence in the different cities where the apostolic churches were planted, has given occasion for suitable remarks, which, though adapted in the first instance to a particular place or circumstance, are applicable in some considerable degree to the Church of God in all ages. In some of the epistles we have the Church presented to us in a declining state; and suitable admonitions are given to her: in others we see her prospering, and hear the counsels of infinite wisdom proclaimed unto her. The Thessalonian Church was of the latter character, and seems to have been eminently favored of her God. She was high in the esteem also of the Apostle Paul; and deservedly so, because she was conspicuous among all the Churches of that age for her high attainments. The words I have just read will lead me to consider,
I. The happy state of the Thessalonian Church.
In her infant state she was highly commended for "her works of faith, and labors of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." But here we view her in her more adult state: we behold,
1. Her increasing faith.
The Apostle testifies respecting the believers there, that their faith "had grown exceedingly," being daily more vivid in its apprehensions, more vigorous in its actings, more uniform in its effects. It is of the very nature of faith to fix on things that are invisible, and to make them, as it were, present to the soul. And in this their faith had evinced its growth, in that it had enabled them to see, almost as with their bodily eyes, the Savior whom they loved, enthroned above all powers and principalities, invested with a fullness of all spiritual gifts, ordering all things both in Heaven and earth, and, by his prevailing intercession at the right hand of God, securing to his believing people all the blessings of grace and glory. They further saw, as from Mount Pisgah, the land of which they were before long to take possession: the thrones, the crowns, the harps of gold, all prepared and made ready for them, against the time appointed for their complete possession of their inheritance. Of these things they had some view at first, just as a man has of the firmament on a cloudy night: but now, as when through a pure unclouded atmosphere, a man beholds the vast canopy of Heaven studded in every part with stars more brilliant than the brightest gem; so now their view of Christ, and of all the inconceivable glories of redeeming love, was clear and full. A corresponding energy too was felt through all the powers of their souls, accompanied with a fixed determination of heart to live for Him who lived and died for them.
2. Her abounding love.
This was no loss remarkable. In almost every Church, partly from a diversity of views and interests, and partly from the infirmity of our common nature, there are some comparative alienations of heart, if not some actual disagreements. But here "the charity of every one of them all towards each other abounded." One spirit pervaded the whole body: and time, instead of giving occasion to the enemy to foment differences, had only cemented and confirmed their mutual affection. In this they showed how much they were grown in grace, seeing that they were so greatly assimilated to the image of their God, whose name and nature is love. Happy, happy people, where "the unity of the Spirit was so perseveringly kept in the bond of peace!"
3. The invincible firmness of her patience.
Great had been their trials from the very beginning: and though we know but little of particulars, we are assured in general, that the persecutions which they experienced from their own countrymen were of the most cruel and bitter kind. But were they intimidated? No; "they held fast the profession of their faith without wavering," they "were in nothing terrified by their adversaries," "they had respect unto the recompense of the reward;" and took joyfully the afflictions with which they were visited, knowing that they had in Heaven enough to compensate for all. They even "gloried in the cross of Christ," and "rejoiced that they were counted worthy to bear it for his sake." In the midst of all, they "possessed their souls in patience," and suffered "patience to have its perfect work."
What an enviable state was this! But,
That we may form a right estimate of this state, let us consider,
II. In what light the Apostle viewed it.
He knew not to give flattering words to any man: yet he could not but declare that he regarded their state as a fit subject,
1. Of thanksgiving to God.
God was the author of the grace they first received: and he was the giver also of all the improvement they had made of it. "Of him, and him alone, was all their fruit found." To him therefore the Apostle gave the glory, "as it was fit" he should, and as he found himself "bound" to do. The creation of the material world was his: nor was the new creation of their souls at all less the work of his hands. True, he made use of the will of men: but he first of all implanted that will in them, and then made use of it for the accomplishment of his own most gracious purposes. From first to last "he gave them both to will and to do of his good pleasure," being alike "the author and the finisher" of all.
Thus then should we also do for all that is good, whether in ourselves, or others. We should acknowledge him in it, and glorify him for it, and confess, in relation to it all, that "by the grace of God we are what we are."
2. Of commendation in the Church.
"He gloried of them" in the different Churches where he ministered: for he not only found pleasure in speaking well of them, but he thought it of great utility to the Church of God to hear of the proficiency which others had made; inasmuch as it would stimulate them also to greater exertions, and encourage them to expect greater measures of divine grace, in order to their own more exalted proficiency. This was the case with respect to the Corinthian Church. Paul boasted of them to the Churches in Macedonia, that Achaia had shown extraordinary readiness in providing for the poor saints in Judea; and, in speaking of this to the Corinthians, he says, "Your zeal has provoked very many." And so should it be with us. When we look at Prophets and Apostles, we are apt to think that it would be presumptuous to hope for such grace as they possessed: but when we see common individuals, or whole churches, far exalted above us in everything that is good, we should be ashamed, and never cease to emulate and rival their attainments.
3. Of congratulation to themselves.
These graces, exercised under such peculiar circumstances, were sufficient to demonstrate, that there must be a future state of retribution, where the present inequalities of the Divine procedure should be rectified: they were an evidence too that in that day "they should be counted worthy of that kingdom for which they suffered such things." It could not fail, but that in that day a suitable recompense should be given both to themselves and their oppressors: to those "who caused their tribulation, trouble," proportioned to the trouble they had occasioned: but "to those who had endured the trouble, rest," even everlasting rest in the bosom of their God, "with all the Prophets and Apostles" who had endured the same things before them.
Now to know this, must be an exceeding great consolation to them under their multiplied afflictions: and therefore he could not but declare to them, that, if they had, on the one hand, so much reason to complain, they had, on the other hand, abundantly more reason to rejoice; since they had, even in these very afflictions, an evidence of their fitness for glory, and a pledge that in due season it should be conferred upon them.
To us also will this account of them be profitable, if we duly consider,
III. What lessons we should learn from it.
Two things it may well teach us:
1. That opposition, how formidable soever it may be, is no excuse for our turning back from God.
What are our persecutions, in comparison of those which they endured? Yet they were "steadfast, immoveable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord." Should we then be intimidated? Should we hesitate whom to obey, or what course to follow? No; we should take up our cross cheerfully; and having counted the cost, should be content to pay it. The stony-ground hearer, when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, may well draw back, because he has no root in him: but the true disciple will go with his life in his hand, and be willing not only to make minor sacrifices, but even to lay down his life for Christ's sake. We must not imagine that such a line of conduct was necessary for the primitive Christians only: it is equally necessary for Christians in every age: and "he who loves his life shall lose it; and he only who is willing to lose his life for Christ's sake, shall find it unto life eternal."
2. That whatever proficiency we have made in the Divine life, we should still press forward for higher attainments.
Certainly the proficiency of the Thessalonians was very eminent, even in the earlier state of their progress; for even then "they were examples to all believers, both in Macedonia and Achaia." But they had not rested in their attainments: they had pressed forward for the highest possible degrees of grace: and through mercy they had attained a most uncommon eminence in the divine life. So we, if we had advanced as far as Paul himself, should, like him, "forget all that was behind, and reach forward to that which was before, and press forward to the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." We should aspire after a perfect resemblance to our Savior's image; and seek, if possible, so to be poured into the mold of the Gospel, as to have every lineament of our character conformed to it. We should think nothing attained, as long as anything remained to be attained. We should seek to "grow up into Christ in all things, as our Head," and to "be changed into his image from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord."
1. How different from the Thessalonian Church are the generality of those who call themselves Christians!
Many have heard the Gospel to little purpose; or rather, "our entering in unto them has been altogether in vain." If we look for their works of faith, and labors of love, and patience of hope, as evidences that the word has come to them with power, we find no more than others have who never heard the Gospel at all. As to a visible growth in these things, there is no symptom of it: they have continued from the beginning even to the present hour nearly the same persons, perfectly satisfied with themselves, and not less unconscious of the need of any change, than unconcerned about it. But let not such persons account themselves Christians indeed; or imagine that they can be thought worthy of that kingdom for which they have never suffered, never labored, never cared. To such persons the conduct of the Thessalonians, if exhibited before their eyes, would be rather an object of derision than of admiration and love: and consequently they have in themselves "a manifest token," that they have nothing to expect at God's hands, but the measure which they have dealt out to his obedient people. I entreat you, brethren, consider that in the day of judgment the righteousness of God will be so visibly displayed, as to constrain the whole assembled universe to acknowledge it, as well in those that are saved, as in them that perish. How it can be displayed in the salvation of such as you, judge you. Mercy, I grant, might be exhibited; but righteousness would find no plea for rewarding you, no justification in your acquittal: for if God be just, there must be a difference put between those who have served him, and those who have served him not—a difference, which may well make every one of you to tremble.
2. How diligently should the most exalted among you press forward in your heavenly course!
There is room enough for improvement in every child of man. think, beloved, how much more strong and operative your faith might be; how much more ardent and influential your love; how much more firm and patient your hope. You know but little of yourselves, if you are not daily mourning over your short-comings and defects. Let all of you then, without exception, seek to "grow in grace," if you are "children," seek to become "young men;" if you are "young men," seek to become "fathers in Christ," and if you are fathers, still seek to become more and more like to Christ, until you "stand perfect and complete in all the will of God." If, as is probable, your zeal will provoke the greater opposition against you, welcome it, as "turning to you for a testimony." and as rendering you more like to Him who endured the contradiction of sinners against himself, and suffered even unto death. So will your fitness for Heaven daily increase, and be more fully recognized by your God and Savior in the last day: and you need never tear but that the recompense which he will bestow, will amply compensate for all that you can do or suffer in this valley of tears.
Christ's Coming to Judge the World
2 Thessalonians 1:7–10. The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe.
WE cannot behold the state of the world around us, but we must feel a need of some future day of retribution. Multitudes there are, in every place, who are racked with incessant pains, or pining all their days in want and misery; while others, in no respect superior to them in moral qualities, pass their time in ease and affluence. From hence it is reasonable to conclude, that there will be a period wherein the present inequalities in the dispensations of Providence shall be so adjusted, as to mark more clearly God's regard to equity. If we look into the Church of God, this argument receives additional strength: for there we see the holiest and best of men, men "of whom the world is not worthy," hated, reviled, persecuted; while their proud oppressors exult in their tyranny, and glory in their shame. Can it be imagined that God will never recompense the fidelity of his servants, or notice the impiety of his enemies? Shall religion always suffer? Shall iniquity always triumph? It cannot be. The very existence of such enormities is "a manifest proof," or demonstration, that there will be a "righteous judgment of God," wherein he will show it to be "a righteous thing with him to recompense tribulation to the troublers of his Israel, and rest to the troubled." The mention of this period is introduced by the Apostle in this very view: and, to impress the thought more powerfully on our minds, he describes, in most energetic terms, the manner in which our Lord will come to judgment, and the ends for which he will come. Let us consider,
I. The manner in which our Lord will come to judgment.
This, though solemn and instructive, must not occupy much of our attention at this time, because of the superior importance of the latter part of our subject. "The Lord Jesus" is the person that is "ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead." He is at present in Heaven, where he ascended from Mount Olivet, and "where he will continue until the time of the restitution of all things," but at the appointed time he "will be revealed from Heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire. When he first came into the world, his advent was obscure; but at his second coming it will be exceeding glorious. He will be attended with an innumerable host of angels, who, on account of their inconceivable strength and power, are called "mighty;" and who are represented as "his" angels, because they were created by him, and are continually employed in his service. At the day of judgment in particular they will be actively engaged, in separating the righteous from the wicked," in "binding up, as it were, the wicked in bundles to cast them into the fire" of Hell, and in "gathering together the elect," in order to their more complete enjoyment of the glory prepared for them. The majesty of his appearance will be greatly increased by his being surrounded with "flaming fire." When formerly he descended on Mount Sinai, "the whole mountain burned with fire," in so awful a manner, that the whole nation of Israel, and even "Moses himself, exceedingly trembled and quaked." But on his future descent from Heaven, "his throne will be like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire; and a fiery stream will issue and come forth from before him," at the same time the earth itself also shall be on fire, the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the whole globe whereon we live shall burst forth in one vast and universal conflagration.
How terrible this scene will be, no words can express, no imagination can conceive: but that day is justly characterized as "the great and terrible day of the Lord."
This description is doubly awful as connected with,
II. The ends of his coming.
1. The punishment of the wicked.
It is commonly thought, that if we be moral in our conduct, we need not trouble ourselves about religious principles. But whom will the Lord punish in that day? the immoral and profane? Yes, doubtless: but shall these be the only monuments of his indignation? No, he will "take vengeance also on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." In these words are comprehended not only the idolatrous Gentiles, and the unbelieving Jews, but all among ourselves also who do not practically know God, and unreservedly obey the Gospel. Theoretical knowledge, or hypocritical profession, will be of no avail: we must feel our obligation to God as our Benefactor, our duty towards him as our Governor, and our dependence on him as our Father and our Friend. We must, moreover, embrace the salvation which he has offered us in the Gospel, trusting solely in the merit of our Redeemer's blood, living wholly on the fullness that is treasured up for us in him, and devoting ourselves entirely to him, as his redeemed people.
Would to God this point were sufficiently considered! Brethren, mark attentively the declaration in the text, and then see what becomes of those presumptuous sentiments which are so confidently asserted, and so generally received. See whether morality be all: see whether you are at liberty to disregard the Gospel: see whether the principles of Christianity are of so little consequence, that you may be saved without them: see whether that obedience to the Gospel, which is derided as fanaticism, be a matter of indifference, or deserving of the odium cast upon it. Ah! be assured that, whatever the ungodly world may say or think, all they who do not truly know God, and cordially obey the Gospel, shall perish forever.
Nor let it be thought that the punishment of such persons shall be light, or of short duration. The Apostle enlarges on the idea, in order to fix it more deeply in our minds. Such persons shall be banished "from the presence of the Lord," and from all the bright displays of "his power and glory." Nor shall they merely suffer this loss (though that were inexpressibly dreadful): they shall also be exposed to pain and anguish, such as God alone can inflict, and such as would destroy their very existence, if the same power that inflicted it did not uphold them under it. To this punishment there shall be no mitigation, no intermission, no end: it will be "everlasting," they will have "no rest day or night; and the smoke of their torment will ascend up forever and ever." The Judge himself will pronounce this sentence on them, "Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."
2. The salvation of the righteous.
As the honor of God is pledged for the condemnation of the wicked, so is it also involved in the happiness of the righteous. But who are the righteous? Mark the description given of them in the text: they are "the saints," and "those who believe." Here then again let infidels and scoffers read their doom: the people, the only people that shall be saved, are they who believe in Christ, and are sanctified by his Spirit. Let the term "Saints" or "Believers" be used as expressions of contempt: the time is coming, when they who are worthy of those names shall be held in different estimation, and receive a juster recompense.
The Savior, at his coming, shall be "glorified and admired by them." Now he appears exceeding glorious in their eyes, even "fairer than ten thousand, and altogether lovely;" and now he is the one object of their love, their praise, their glorying: but, in that day, how will they be filled with wonder at the sight of him! How will they admire his sovereign grace, that chose them from the midst of an ungodly world; his love, that undertook to save them by his own blood; his patience, that bore with them under all their backslidings; his power, that kept them amidst so many enemies; his faithfulness, that accomplished to them so many promises! How will they adore his wisdom and goodness, in every one of his dispensations towards them! And how will the countless multitudes of the redeemed unite in one universal chorus, singing, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain;" "Salvation to our God, and to the Lamb, forever!"
Then also will the Savior be glorified and admired in them. While they were in this world, they sinned as lights in it, and were "his epistles, known and read of all men."
But how will he be glorified in them in that day, when all their unworthiness shall be contrasted with his goodness, and the work that he has wrought in them shall fully appear! If, in beholding a curious work, we begin to admire the artist, how will he be admired when all the millions of his redeemed shall stand together, all of them "his workmanship," transformed from the image of the devil into the very image of their God! How will the virtue of his sacrifice, the prevalence of his intercession, the efficacy of his grace, and all the wonders of his love, then appear! When all, without exception, shall ascribe their salvation to him, how, I say, will he be admired in all, and glorified by all!
For this end then will he come, as well as to condemn the wicked: he will come to consummate the happiness of his saints, by discovering to them fully his own unveiled glory, and by putting upon them such a measure of his glory as their diversified capacities shall enable them to bear.
1. How studious should we be to obtain the knowledge of the Gospel.
It cannot be too often repeated, that our salvation depends on our "obeying the Gospel of Christ," yes, there is the greater necessity to repeat it, because men are so riveted to the idea, that morality is all. But before we suffer ourselves to be thus deceived, let us contemplate the inevitable consequences of yielding to that delusion: perish we must, as sure as God is true. Read but the text, and judge for yourselves. If it be the word of man, reject it; and suffer nobody to disturb your peace: but if it be the word of God, remember that neither you nor all the world can alter it. And let the recollection of what is there spoken dwell upon your minds, until it have brought you to the foot of the cross, and "determined you to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified."
2. How earnest should we be in diffusing the knowledge of the Gospel.
If we have spoken strongly on this subject, we have done so, because we believe the declaration in the text, and are convinced that they who now deny or disregard it, will find it true to their cost. Does not then this earnestness become us? If you were in as imminent danger with respect to your bodily life, as you are with respect to your souls, should we not be inexcusable, if we neglected to warn you, and to warn you with all earnestness? Surely, if all ministers felt the importance of these truths, they would "cry aloud, and not spare." If we had a due concern for the welfare of others, there would also be a greater readiness among us to go unto the heathen, and to show unto them the way of salvation. Would a few trials or difficulties discourage us, if we considered the benefit that would accrue to our perishing fellow-creatures, or the recompense which we ourselves should in due time receive?
Beloved brethren, let us not fear the face of man; let us not regard a few scoffs or reproaches for the Lord's sake; let us not be backward to endure hardness as good soldiers: but let us look unto the end of all things; when the state of all shall be fixed in perfect correspondence with their present characters and conduct, and every individual in the universe receive a just "recompense of reward."
Fitness for Heaven Desired
2 Thessalonians 1:11, 12. We pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power: that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
VARIOUS are the offices of Christian love; but none more valuable than that of intercession. In all its personal efforts, it communicates only such benefits as a creature can bestow: but in its applications to God in the behalf of any one, it brings down all the blessings of grace and glory. We say not indeed that intercession must of necessity prevail to the full extent of the blessings asked, or for every individual in whose behalf they are solicited: but they do prevail to a far greater extent than we are apt to imagine: and we know of nothing wherein love can exercise itself so profitably, as in frequent and fervent supplications to God for the object beloved. Paul's love was of no common cast: in fact, it knew no bounds: the sacrifice of life itself was welcomed by him, if it might but subserve the interests of immortal souls. In his prayers for them, there is a richness and fullness which marked at once the ardor of his mind, the depth of his knowledge, and the enlargement of his heart. No petition he could offer seemed sufficient to express the full extent of his desires. This appears in many of his prayers: and it is abundantly evident in that which we have selected for our consideration at this time.
Three things we must distinctly notice;
I. The great object which he desired in their behalf.
This was, that they might find acceptance with God in the day of judgment.
Of that day he is speaking in the preceding context: and he declares, that a sweet "rest" in the bosom of their God will be the portion of all who have approved themselves faithful to him under all their trials. This is the "calling" of which he speaks, and which he so designates, because it is the object to which believers are called: "They are called unto God's eternal glory by Christ Jesus."
Of this calling he prays that they may "be counted worthy." What is the import of this expression, may be seen in the foregoing context, where it evidently refers, not to any merit in man, whereby he shall be justified before God, but to that fitness for Heaven which shall serve to illustrate and display the equity of the Judge in his final decisions. The day of judgment is appointed not altogether for the purpose of awarding to men their proper doom; (for that, in reference to the soul at least, is adjudged to every one at the instant of his death:) it is rather appointed for the displaying before the whole assembled universe the righteousness of God in his dealings with the children of men; on which account it is called "the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God," and the description given of that day in the preceding context particularly presents it to us in that view. We say then, that "the being accounted worthy" of that calling refers to the fitness of the soul for the participation of it; and the petition thus expressed, must be understood to this effect: 'I pray, that in the last day you may be found to have possessed such a character, to have maintained such a conduct in this world, as shall "be an evident token of the righteous judgment of God" when he shall assign to you the everlasting possession of "his kingdom" and glory.'
We have dwelt the more carefully on this, that we might cut off all occasion for mistake respecting the Apostle's meaning in the text, throughout every part of which he most determinately marks the whole of our salvation as altogether of grace.
Taking the petition then in this sense, we ask, Is it not such a petition as we are all concerned to offer both for ourselves and others?
Who can reflect on the solemnities of that day, who can think of the discoveries which will then be brought to light, and the unexpected sentences that will be then awarded, and not earnestly desire, both for himself and for all who are dear to him, that the sentence which God shall pass on them may be one of approbation, and not of condemnation? I pray you, brethren, lay to heart this infinitely important subject; and never cease to pour out your souls before God, that you and yours may find acceptance before him in that day.
In his further petitions for this object, he specifics,
II. The means by which he expected it to be accomplished.
He considers the work as altogether of grace, in its origin, its progress, its consummation. God, in his infinite "goodness," has ordained that his people shall possess such a measure of piety, as shall render them fully meet for the enjoyment of his presence and glory in the eternal world: and in reference both to the persons who shall possess it, and the measure in which they shall partake of it, he has exercised "his good pleasure," disposing of all according to his own inscrutable purposes, and the eternal counsel of his own will. This good pleasure the Apostle desired might "be fulfilled in them" by the mighty working of God's power, calling forth into activity the faith he had bestowed, and giving it a more transforming efficacy upon their souls.
It is in this way, and this way alone, that the divine life is carried on and perfected. It is by the production of faith in the soul that the soul begins to live: it is by the exercise of that faith that the soul is enabled to do and suffer what God requires: and it is by the augmentation of that faith that the soul is perfected after the Divine image. It is faith which realizes the things that are invisible to mortal eyes, and gives to futurity a present existence. It is the one principle in the soul, by which all its energies are called forth, and all its efforts are made effectual. The whole eleventh chapter to the Hebrews proves and illustrates this; and shows with what wisdom, as well as piety, the Apostle poured out his supplications before God.
We shall not wonder at his desiring this great object, if we notice,
III. The end which he foresaw was to be accomplished by it.
Then "will the name of our Lord Jesus Christ be glorified in them."
Even in this world he is glorified in and by his saints, as he himself has expressly declared. But the Apostle has respect rather to that day, wherein Christ will "come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe." Truly he will then be glorified in them. In what bright colors will then the whole assembled universe behold the virtue of his sacrifice, and the efficacy of his grace, and his fidelity to all his promises! Of those that have been given him by the Father, not one will be lost: not one will be found to have been ever "plucked out of his hands." What hosannahs will resound to him from all the hosts of the redeemed, all singing, "To Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and our Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever; Amen!"
Then will the saints also be "glorified in him."
Already, as members, do they participate in the glory of their Head, "in and with whom they are already sitting, as it were, in heavenly places," they may be considered also as already glorified in and with him, in that they are placed by him as a city set on a hill, and made both the salt of the earth, and the lights of a dark world. But in that day their glory will he complete: for they shall then be "like him," even in his perfect image, and be acknowledged by him in the presence of his Father and his holy angels, as his peculiar people, the purchase of his blood, the fruit of his travail, the jewels of his crown. Then shall all that is his, be theirs: his crown, his throne, his kingdom, his glory, all will be theirs, their inalienable property, their everlasting possession.
Then too will all the wonders of God's covenant, and the purposes of his grace, be unveiled and complete.
All will then be seen to have been "according to the grace of our God, and the Lord Jesus Christ;" between whom all was concerted from eternity: "The counsel of peace," says the prophet, "was between them both." What wonder will not the development of these stupendous mysteries excite throughout all the regions of the blessed; and to what songs of praise will it not give rise, through the never-ending ages of eternity!.
Contemplate these things, the object desired, the means by which it was to be effected, and the wonderful ends to be attained by it; and this prayer will be found no less instructive to the mind, than it is reviving and refreshing to the soul.
1. Those who have no experience of the things here prayed for.
How many are at this moment ignorant of "the work of faith," and of that "divine power" with which it operates in the soul! How many are altogether strangers to the idea of Christ being glorified in them, or their being glorified in him, or of the eternal purposes of God's grace being displayed in them! Little have such persons known of true religion: they even "need to be taught the very first principles of the oracles of God." O brethren, the Gospel is not such a meager thing as you make it! it is a wonderful display of God's mercy and grace in the redemption of a ruined world: and, wherever it is received aright, it will fill the soul with such views and such desires as are expressed in our text. Do not, I beseech you, continue ignorant of these things: for, if you know them not, or feel not their influence, how shall you stand accepted at the judgment-seat of Christ? It will be too late to commence your inquiries then: they must be begun now: yes, you must now glorify Christ by a life of faith in this world, if ever you are to be glorified with him in the world to come.
2. Those whose prayers and intercessions accord with those of the holy Apostle.
Doubtless there are many among you whose hearts go forth with the petitions in our text; and who shall ultimately experience all that our text unfolds. But, in order to this desirable end, we recommend to all to consider the strictness of the scrutiny at that day. Truly, the Judge, as he himself tells us, has "eyes like a flame of fire," and he "tries the very hearts and reins, in order to give to every man according to his works." It will be to little purpose to be "accounted worthy" by your fellow-creatures, if you he not so accounted by your God: and it must not be forgotten, that there are many who "have a name to live, while" yet, in reality, "they are dead." O dread lest that should prove your state at the last: and be earnest with God in prayer, that he would "fulfill in you all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power." Be satisfied with nothing short of this. Aspire after the highest possible attainments, that the Lord Jesus Christ may even now be glorified in you, and that your fitness for his glory may be conspicuous in the eyes of all. So shall your intercessions prevail for others also; and in that great day, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, you shall shine forth as the sun in the firmament forever and ever.
Progress of Unbelief
2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12. 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.
THE Apostles, even as our Lord himself had done, spoke of the day of judgment as near at hand. To individual souls it was so; because at the instant of our death our state is irrevocably and eternally fixed. But, as it respects the world at large, it was, and still is, far distant; there being many prophecies yet to be accomplished, previous to its arrival. The Thessalonian converts, interpreting too literally some expressions in Paul's former epistle, had formed an expectation that the day of judgment was almost instantly to appear: the Apostle therefore, in this epistle, rectifies the mistake; and informs them that before that time there would be a most grievous apostasy in the Church, which would issue most fatally to the souls of all who should bear a part in it. It would originate in unbelief, and terminate in perdition.
The words which I have just read will lead me to trace the progress of unbelief; from its commencement, in the rejection of the Gospel, to its termination, in the destruction of the soul. When suffered to prevail, it leads to,
I. A willful rejection of God's mercy in Christ.
It is not from a want of evidence that men reject the Gospel.
There is in the Gospel evidence enough to satisfy any candid inquirer. But men have an aversion to the truth. The Gospel requires of them a humiliation of soul, a renunciation of self-dependence, and a sanctity of heart and life, to which they are utterly indisposed. "They love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil."
Their rejection of it arises altogether from "an evil heart of unbelief."
The Gospel offers salvation, "salvation with eternal glory." But, however desirous men may be of happiness, they will not accept it on the terms proposed. The truth is offensive to their pride, their worldliness, their carnal inclinations; and therefore they hate it. and will not receive it, even though, "if received ill the love of it, it would save them."
As the just punishment of this unfaithfulness, they are often left to experience,
II. A dereliction of God to judicial blindness.
Men, from love of error, often persuade themselves that it is truth.
There are no persons more confident than those who reject the Gospel. some will pour contempt upon it, as foolishness: others will make it a stumbling-block, as opposing some opinions which they are determined to maintain. And so resolutely will both the one and the other exclude all light from their minds, that they will not only hold fast their delusions, but will really "believe their own lie."
To this delusion God himself will often "give them up."
"His Spirit shall not always strive with man." Both under the; Jewish and Christian dispensation, "he has given over to a reprobate mind" those who shut their eyes against the truth, and "did not like to retain him in their knowledge." Nor can there be anything more just, than that, if we determinately "join ourselves to idols," he should say, "Let them alone."
This sentence once passed, the obstinate unbeliever suffers,
III. A final abandonment to everlasting damnation.
The very thought of damnation is terrible in the extreme.
Who can contemplate what is implied in that judgment, and not tremble at it?.
Yet, to that shall the unbeliever be finally consigned.
Plainly is this declared: and our blessed Lord commanded all his servants to declare it to the whole world. In truth, this is no other than the necessary consequence of unbelief: for the Gospel is the only remedy for the salvation of fallen man; and they who reject it have no other alternative than this. There is no medium between the salvation of the soul and its eternal condemnation: they who, through "love of unrighteousness," disregard the one, must inevitably and eternally endure the other.
Inquire then, I pray you,
1. What is your disposition towards the Gospel?
Do not too hastily conclude that you love it: for if you love it, you cannot but hate and abhor every kind of unrighteousness; yes, and Christ himself must be precious to your souls. "Examine yourselves" by such tests as these, before you persuade yourselves "that you are in the faith," and remember, that there is nothing more fatal, or indeed more common, than an ungrounded confidence. Many are "given over to a strong delusion; and so believe their own lie," that they will never admit a fear of damnation, until they are left to endure it without a remedy.
2. What are your prospects in the eternal world?
If they who reject the Gospel are given over to damnation, need I say, what is the happy state of those who receive the Gospel? But, if I had the tongue of an angel, I could not adequately declare what salvation is. This however I can declare, that it is yours, it is yours infallibly, if you believe in Christ, and cast yourselves altogether on him. Nothing have you to fear, if He be yours: for "in him you have both righteousness and strength;" righteousness, to justify you before God; and strength, to fulfill his holy will. Look then to the Savior, and you may regard Heaven as yours. Look to the Savior; and, as from Pisgah's top, you may survey the promised land, and live in the sweet anticipation of all its blessedness and glory.
The Salvation of Men Traced to Its Proper Source
2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14. We are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God has 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.
MUCH as the heart of man rises against the doctrine of election, it must be confessed that it occurs very frequently in the Holy Scriptures; and therefore it ought not to be passed over in silence: and, if the advocates of that doctrine would be contented to state it as the Holy Scriptures state it, and to give it only that measure of prominence which it bears in the inspired writings, I cannot but think that much of the prejudice against it would subside. It is true, that nothing but deep humility of mind can ever lead a man so to acquiesce in it as to approve of it in his soul, and to adorn it in his life. But where that humility exists, as it did in the Apostle Paul, the doctrine will be most grateful to the soul, and will form a ground of most sincere praise to Almighty God. The Apostle is contrasting the state of the Thessalonians with that of many who should, at a future period, arise in the Church, whose presumption would know no bounds, and who, for their impiety, would be given over by God to final impenitence. While those transgressors were doomed by God to everlasting misery, the Thessalonian converts were ordained to eternal life, having been from the beginning chosen of God to salvation, and having been in time called to the enjoyment of it through the ministry of that Gospel which the Apostle preached. For them therefore he gives thanks, as indeed he was bound to do, since it was a mercy that called for the devoutest praises and thanksgivings, from themselves and from all others in their behalf.
The grounds of his thanksgiving are,
I. Their election of God to the blessings of salvation.
In his thanksgiving he distinctly specifies,
1. The end to which they were elected.
It was "salvation," even "the salvation that was in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." It was not to the means of salvation merely; for many enjoyed the means of salvation, on whose behalf he could not give thanks, yes, on whose account "he had continual heaviness and sorrow in his heart," it was to salvation itself, with all its inconceivable and everlasting blessings that they were chosen; and this too, not merely from the beginning of the period when the Gospel was preached to them, or that they began to listen to it, but "from before the foundation of the world."
From hence it appears, that there is, and ever has been, "a remnant according to the election of grace," unknown indeed to man, but known to God, and from all eternity given by him to his Son, to be the purchase of his blood, and the partners of his glory.
2. The means by which that end is to be attained.
The great argument against the doctrine of election is, that if we are elect, we shall be saved, even though we live in all manner of sin; and that if we be not elect, we cannot be saved, even though we live the most holy and blameless life. But that argument, especially the former part of it, is most effectually answered; for God has ordained the means as well as the end: and he has ordained the end no otherwise than by and through the appointed means. God decreed to add fifteen years to the life of Hezekiah: but did this supersede the necessity of his subsisting by daily food? Yet the use of food is not so inseparably connected with the animal life as holiness is with the life of the soul: for Elijah lived forty days, and Moses twice forty days, without food; and God, if he had pleased, might have supported Hezekiah fifteen years without it: but he cannot save a man without holiness, because he has declared he will not; and "he cannot lie," "he cannot deny himself," and therefore to expect to attain salvation in any other way than that which is here ordained, is to expect from God what he has never promised, and what, so far from having ever ordained, he has ordained shall never come to pass: for "without holiness no man shall see the Lord."
God had chosen them to salvation "through sanctification of the Spirit." Sanctification is necessary for the enjoyment of Heaven. Heaven would afford no happiness to an unsanctified soul. The presence of a holy God would inspire nothing but terror: and an unintermitted engagement in holy exercises would be an insupportable burden to one who had no taste for them. God therefore has connected sanctification with salvation, in order that the soul on its exaltation to glory may possess a fitness for the enjoyment of it. And, that his people may be sanctified he sends down his Holy "Spirit" into their souls; and, by the same power whereby he raised the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, raises them from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness. Thus by transforming them into his own image, he fits them for his glory.
Further; he had chosen them to salvation "through a belief of the truth." It is by faith, and by faith alone, that we apprehend the blessings of salvation. By faith we lay hold on the promises of God: by faith we become united to Christ: by faith we bring down from Christ all those supplies of grace which are necessary for us in this state of warfare. We should fall and perish instantly, if we were not armed with "faith, as our shield;" and "hope, as our helmet;" and "the word, as the sword," whereby the Spirit of God enables us to inflict a deadly wound on our enemies. It was by holding fast the written word, that Jesus triumphed over Satan in the wilderness: and by a constant reliance on the word are we also to overcome him. Hence God had ordained for them, as he has for all his people, that they shall attain salvation "through belief of the truth."
Thus are faith and holiness inseparably connected with salvation; and to them are men elected, as much as to salvation itself: so that to hope for Heaven in any other way than through a perseverance in these, is an unwarrantable presumption, and will only deceive our own souls.
While the Apostle traces thus all the blessings of salvation to God's electing love, as their true and only source, he reminds his Thessalonian converts of,
II. Their effectual calling by his ministry to a participation of them.
It is by the word that God imparts his blessings to the souls of men.
It is by the word that God acts. As far as his providence concurs in the salvation of men, it is only in subserviency to the word. The word is "the rod of his strength," by which all the wonders of his grace are wrought. Miracles gave credibility to the testimony which Christ and his Apostles bore: but it was the testimony itself, as applied by the Holy Spirit to the soul, that wrought effectually upon the hearts of men. And in all ages it is the same word, either read or preached, that is effectual to convert them to God. Hence the Apostle reminds the Thessalonians that, notwithstanding they were from eternity chosen of God to salvation, they were "called" to the possession of it through the ministry of the Gospel which he had preached unto them.
Wherever that word is received aright, it will operate effectually to the desired end.
Thus it had wrought on the Thessalonians: it had "turned them from idols to serve the living God." And thus it will work on all who cordially embrace it. "It is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword." "It is mighty to the pulling down of all the strong-holds of sin and Satan." "It invariably accomplishes that which God has pleased, and prospers in the thing whereunto he has sent it." It is the instrument whereby God fulfills his eternal counsels in the conversion of men. When the time fixed by him for the bringing home of his wandering sheep is arrived, "he apprehends them" by his word, and brings them home with power to his fold, constraining them by his grace, and "making them willing in the day of his power." This is his invariable process towards them: "Whom he has predestined, those he first calls, and then justifies, and then glorifies," he brings them not to the profession of the Gospel merely, but "to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."
1. Those who have never yet obeyed "the Gospel call."
Who these are may be easily ascertained: they have been "called" to a "belief of the truth," even such a belief as should lead them to rely entirely upon the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation; "and to the sanctification of the Spirit," even such a sanctification as should progressively transform them into the Divine image in righteousness and true holiness—and, if you have not these marks upon you—you are the persons whom I now address.
Say not you, 'I am not of God's elect, and therefore I cannot help myself.' No; you shall not thus cast the blame of your condemnation upon God. Who has told you, that you are not of God's elect? Who has searched the book of God's decrees, or been told by God that your name is not inserted there? Then you have no right whatever to conclude that you are not elect of God, or to make his supposed decrees any excuse for continuance in sin. On the contrary, I am authorized by Almighty God to declare, that "he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and live." "He would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth." He even confirms this truth with an oath: "As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that he turn from his wickedness and live. Turn you, turn you from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel" The truth is, as our Lord informs us; "You will not come unto me," says he, "that you might have life." "Him that should come unto me I would in no wise cast out." Know you then that the fault is yours, and not God's. Our Lord complains over you, "How often would I have gathered you, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, but you would not!" Yes; whatever excuses you may now make from the doctrine of election, your mouths shall be stopped in the day of judgment: "I would, but you would not." Do not reply, that, until God has given you his grace, you cannot come to Christ: for, if you would only attempt in faith to stretch out your withered hand, in the very attempt he would enable you to do it. Now then, in the name of Almighty God, I call you to him, and invite you to receive freely at his hands all the blessings of salvation. And, if you will not obey the call, your blood shall be upon your own heads.
2. Those who through grace have obeyed the call.
Remember, brethren, "who it is that has made you to differ." You are "beloved of the Lord." "You have not chosen him; but he has chosen you, and ordained you that you should go and bring forth fruit; and that your fruit should remain." "You love him because he first loved you," "He loved you with an everlasting love; and therefore with loving-kindness has he drawn you." "He loved you," not for any good that he either saw, or foresaw, in you; but simply of his own will, "because he would love you." Say then, whether you have not reason to thank your God; or rather, whether your every breath should not be an effusion of praise?
But forget not that the path by which alone you can arrive at your desired home is that of faith and holiness. This is the king's "highway," by a patient continuance in which you are to "obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." "Hold last then the faith without wavering;" and pray constantly to God for fresh "supplies of his Spirit," that you may be sanctified throughout, and "be changed into his image from grace to grace, and from glory to glory." Meditate deeply and continually on his word, and treasure it up in your hearts, that you may be "sanctified by the truth," and ever remember, that to the very last it is by the word that the Lord Jesus Christ will perfect his good work within you. Thus, while "those who loved unrighteousness, and were therefore given over to a delusion to believe a lie," are left to the "damnation" which their own sins have merited, you shall have all the purposes of God's electing love completed in you, and shall spend an eternity in singing praises "to Him who loved you, and washed you from your sins in his own blood, and has made you kings and priests unto your God forever and ever."
God Our Benefactor
2 Thessalonians 2:16, 17. Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which has loved us, and has given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and establish you in every good word and work.
IN reading the epistles of Paul, we cannot but be struck with the devout and grateful manner in which he introduces, at all times, the mention of Jehovah's name. He almost invariably combines with it some of those perfections which God has displayed in the Gospel of his Son; and expatiates upon them, either as the theme of his adoring gratitude, or as the foundation of all his hopes. And not unfrequently does he unite the Lord Jesus Christ with the Father, as equally entitled to our adoration with the Father himself, and equally deserving our entire confidence. In the passage before us, both these things are conspicuous: and, that we may bring them clearly before you, we shall endeavor to show,
I. What a Benefactor we have.
Hear what "God, even our Father, has done for us."
Desperate, even as the state of the fallen angels, was the state of man, through the fall of Adam—But God, "who passed by the angels that sinned," was pleased, of his unbounded mercy and grace, to make provision for the recovery of man, by the gift of his only-begotten Son, to die in his place and stead—In truth, "he loved us with an everlasting love;" and, in due season, called us, by his grace, to the knowledge of his dear Son, and enabled us to believe in him; and thus "gave us a good hope" of re-possessing the inheritance which we had forfeited. O what "consolation" does this afford us! Truly, it is "strong consolation," yes, and "everlasting consolation" too: for not only will it abide with us under all possible afflictions—but, when all the things of time and sense shall have passed away, and been utterly forgotten, it shall remain forever, with unabated vigor, on our souls.
But in all this "the Lord Jesus Christ himself has also borne his part."
He willingly undertook our cause; and never ceased from his labors, until he could say, "It is finished." Truly he "loved us, and gave himself for us," and, by the operations of his grace upon our souls, and his promises that "none shall ever pluck us out of his hands," he has "made us to abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit, and has filled us with all joy and peace in believing." While, therefore, we make our acknowledgments to God the Father, we must with equal gratitude trace all our blessings to his only dear Son, by whose transcendent merits alone, and through whose almighty agency, they all flow down unto us.
In this intercessory prayer to our heavenly Benefactor, we see,
II. What benefits we may yet further hope for at his hands.
We are yet exposed to many trials, and to great dangers; and shall be so, as long as we continue in the body. But "God will never leave us nor forsake us." On the contrary, his past benefits are a pledge and earnest of future blessings, to the utmost extent of our necessities. He will, under all the circumstances that can ever occur, impart to us,
We carry about with us, and shall to our dying hour be oppressed with, a body of sin and death; such as made Paul himself to exclaim, "O wretched man that I am!"—Nor can we hope to be freed from the assaults of Satan, even such as Paul complained of, when, with repeated cries, he implored the removal of "the thorn in his flesh," which so sorely pained him—But the same "God who comforted him will comfort us with similar consolations;" and, "if our afflictions abound as his did, will make our consolations to abound also." And so effectual shall these be, that we shall be enabled to "glory in our tribulations," and even to "take pleasure in our infirmities and distresses."
To serve the Lord with steadfastness and fidelity, in the midst of all the difficulties which we have to encounter, is no easy matter. But "God is able to hold us up: and we shall be upheld," if we simply rely on him. Yes; "God is faithful to his promises; and he will establish us, and keep us from evil;" and enable us to maintain our integrity before him, both in word and deed.
And here let me observe, that it is not from "God the Father" only that we may hope to obtain these benefits, but from "the Lord Jesus Christ also, whom the Apostle frequently unites with the Father, as equally the object of our worship, the source of our blessings, the rock of our dependence." If we "be strong, it must be in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the power of his might." "His grace," under whatever circumstances, "shall be sufficient for us," and if we trust in him, we may confidently say, "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me."
In all your addresses, whether for yourselves or others, at the throne of grace, look to God,
1. With adoring gratitude.
It is not possible that you should be in any state, wherein this frame of mind is not called for—And think what boldness the recollection of God's undeserved love and unbounded mercies will give you, in your addresses to him—Truly, if you had but the slightest sense of what God has already done for you, you could not but find your hearts enlarged towards him; and would "open your mouths wide," whensoever you came into his presence.
2. With humble confidence.
See how God the Father, and God the Son, and I may add too, God the Holy Spirit, have concurred in all that has already been given unto you. For, whether the Father or the Son confer the benefit, it is by the Holy Spirit that it is imparted to you—And with such benefactors, each pledged to the other, by an everlasting covenant, to bestow on you whatever shall most conduce to your welfare, what can you want? Truly, you shall want no manner of thing that is good. Only cast all your care on your reconciled God in Christ Jesus, and you shall find, to your comfort, that "he is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy."
The Spread of the Gospel
2 Thessalonians 3:1. Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you.
THE light of the material sun is hailed and welcomed by every nation under Heaven: but how much more is the light of the Sun of Righteousness to be desired! If the one be necessary for our comfort in this life, the other is necessary to guide us in the way to life eternal. Hence the Apostle not only labored to spread the Gospel himself, but endeavored to interest all the Lord's people in its behalf; that by their united supplications they might obtain from God whatever should conduce to its establishment in the world.
In this request of his we see,
I. What we should desire for the word of God.
1. That it should "have free course."
It is surprising that any should be averse to the circulation of the Scriptures; or should be jealous of the Scriptures, unless accompanied with human compositions to forestall and determine the judgment of the reader. What is this but to supersede the use of that judgment which God requires us to exercise? yes, what is this, but to return to popery? The Papists locked up the Scriptures in an unknown tongue, and forbad the laity to read them; and sent forth among the people small portions of them only, and counteracted those portions by the most erroneous comments and grossest superstitions. Far be such conduct from Protestants: freely have we received, and freely we should give: nor should we relax our efforts to disseminate the Scriptures, until every human being shall have them in his possession, and be enabled to read in his own native language the wonderful works of God.
2. That it should "be glorified."
What is implied in this expression, we are at no loss to determine. We have only to see how it was glorified "with them," that is the Thessalonian converts, and we have the perfect model of its being glorified among ourselves.
In two ways is the word of God glorified; first, in the conversion of sinners; and, next, in the edification and salvation of saints.
How the Gospel wrought to the conversion of the Thessalonians, we are distinctly informed: they received it, "not as the word of man, but as the word of God," it "came to them, not in word only, but in power," and by it "they were turned from idols to serve the living God"—Similar effects were produced by it in other churches—And who must not confess that the word is glorified when such wonders are wrought by it?—But that it is so, is expressly affirmed by the voice of inspiration itself.
Nor was the Gospel less powerful for their continued edification. This was greatly advanced among them, as the Apostle himself testified—Yet nothing but the pure word of God was, or could be, effectual for this end. As the rod of Moses wrought all those miracles in Egypt and the wilderness, so was the Gospel "the rod of God's strength," and in the production of such miraculous events, both the word itself, and God in it, were greatly glorified: nor is it possible to see such effects yet produced in the hearts and lives of men, without acknowledging, that "he who has wrought them to the self-same thing is God."
Let us next inquire,
II. How that desire is to be obtained.
The Apostle speaks of himself and all his fellow-laborers, as instruments whereby the Gospel was propagated throughout the world. And the same is true of ministers in all succeeding ages, even to the present day: they are God's ambassadors to a rebellious world. But the prayers of God's people are no less necessary than the efforts of his ministers: for it is God alone that can give effect to any exertions; and it is prayer alone that can interest him in our behalf.
It is God alone that can raise up ministers, or fit them for the work—Hence we are directed to "pray that God would send forth laborers into his harvest."
It is God alone that can open places for them to labor in. Men universally of themselves reject the Gospel: but when God opens a door for his servants, no attempts of his enemies can shut it
It is God alone that can give success to their endeavors. That same divine power, which first opened the understandings of the Apostles, must open the hearts of others to attend to them—And then only does the word effect any radical change in men, when it comes "in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power."
Hence Paul so earnestly entreated the prayers of the Thessalonian Church, and yet more earnestly the intercessions of the saints at Home. God has in mercy made his servants and his people mutually dependent on each other: the people being quickened by the exertions of their ministers; and ministers being strengthened by the prayers of their people: and thus the builders and the building are advanced together, and all are edified in love.
We conclude this subject with,
1. A word of admonition.
Many profess a reference for the Bible, and even display a zeal for conveying the Holy Scriptures to heathen lands, who yet make but little use of it for themselves. But this zeal for the good of others will never be admitted as a substitute for personal religion—Many of the religious world also, who study the Bible and profess to love the Gospel of Christ, are far from adorning that Gospel by holy tempers, and by heavenly lives—Let such persons look well to themselves; for "not he who says Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of our Father which is in Heaven."
2. A word of encouragement.
Let any one see what was effected in the days of old by a few poor fishermen: and take courage to exert himself for God—The same power that wrought effectually in that day will concur with us—Let us not then despond, as though our weakness were any obstacle to success; for God will display his own power by means of it, and "ordain strength in the mouths of babes and sucklings." Whether therefore we address ourselves to the translation of the Scriptures into foreign languages, or labor for the circulation of them at home, let us only implore help from God, and we shall not be permitted to "labor in vain, or run in vain."
All Men Have Not Faith
2 Thessalonians 3:2. All men have not faith.
IF we considered the condition of fallen man, and the merciful provision which God has made for him in the Gospel of his Son, we should think it impossible for any one, who heard the glad tidings of salvation proclaimed to him, not to embrace the offers of mercy, and to bless God for such a marvelous dispensation of his grace. But the fact is, that there is no other thing in the whole world so hated and despised as this very Gospel. Persons of every description combine against it. To the Jews it is a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness: and multitudes, even of those who profess to receive the sacred records as inspired, are found among the enemies of the Gospel: for, as the Apostle justly says, "all men have not faith."
I. Show to whom this charge applies.
It doubtless comprehended, in the first instance, the Jews, who professed to believe in the One true God. And it also referred to those who, while they ostensibly embraced the faith of Christ, were, in reality, no better than hypocrites; deceiving others, and deceiving also their own souls.
Among those who have not faith, we may fitly number,
The very term Infidel does, in fact, imply this. Not but that persons of this description would be grievously offended, if you should represent them as no Christians. Yet it is, in fact, their character: for, in holding up to derision the great truths of revelation, they show, beyond all doubt, that they possess not the faith of Christ.
These take credit to themselves as having attained a high degree of righteousness. But, while they "go about to establish a righteousness of their own, instead of submitting to the righteousness of God which is by faith in Christ," they show, that they have no just views of the Savior's office, or of the salvation which he has wrought out for us by his own obedience unto death. The Gospel which they maintain is "another Gospel;" and not that which Christ has revealed, and which his Apostles preached.
How many of these do we read of in the sacred records; men who, having "a form of godliness, denied the power thereof!" Of such Jude speaks; saying, "Clouds are they without water, carried about of winds; trees, whose fruit withers, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever."
If it be thought hard to say, of all these persons, that they have not faith, I will,
II. Adduce evidence in confirmation of it.
Among the persons that have been specified, not a few are "unreasonable and wicked men."
All of them will, more or less, unite in reviling and persecuting the Gospel of Christ. Though there is no other point in which they are agreed, they will stand together readily and harmoniously upon this ground. Who were greater enemies to the Gospel than "the false brethren" whom Paul enumerates among the catalogue of those who sought his life? That a profligate and abandoned rabble should seek to destroy him, we do not wonder: but that "devout and honorable women" should lend themselves as instruments to persecute him, we should scarcely conceive, did we not know it as a fact recorded by the inspiration of God. But the truth is, that no persons under Heaven are more adverse to the pure doctrines of the Gospel, and to those who preach it, than the self-righteous Pharisees. The conduct of Paul, previous to his conversion, fully evinces this; and the experience of the Church, in all ages, bears witness to it.
But the true believer is the very reverse of these.
Compare him with the Infidel.—A man who believes in Christ cannot make the truths of revelation a subject of profane mockery: no; he reverences the word of God, and "trembles at it;" and is as much assured, as he is of his own existence, that every jot and tittle of it shall be fulfilled in its season.
Compare him with the Formalist.—The believer in Christ, so far from seeing any thing of merit in himself, is humbled in the dust, under a sense of his own demerit; and, renouncing utterly all dependence on himself, he looks for salvation simply and entirely through Christ alone.
Compare him with the Hypocrite.—The believer endeavors as much to fulfill the law, as if he thought he was to be saved by his obedience to it. Could he attain his heart's desire, he would "stand perfect and complete in all the will of God."
Compare him with the "unreasonable and wicked" Persecutor.—The true Christian has received "a spirit of love, and of power, and of a sound mind," and, so far from wishing to obstruct the Gospel by an envious opposition to those who are more distinguished than himself, he esteems himself "less than the least of all saints," and rejoices in all the good that is done by God's most-favored servants. Whether, therefore, we view the unbeliever as he is in himself, or as contrasted with a believing soul, the truth of the Apostle's assertion will be placed beyond a doubt.
1. "Examine carefully, whether you be in the faith."
2. Be careful, also, to show "forth your faith by your works."
2 Thessalonians 3:5. The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.
IT might well be expected that the fundamental doctrines of our religion should be found, not only in passages whore the truths were expressly insisted on, but in others where they were casually introduced. Accordingly we find this to be the case respecting every important doctrine of the Gospel; but in none more than that which relates to a Trinity of persons in the Godhead. If we wished to convince an unbeliever, we should doubtless select such passages as most plainly contain the doctrine in question: but to confirm the mind of a believer, we should rather refer to places where it was only incidentally mentioned: because, if once we see that the idea was familiar to the minds of the inspired writers, and to the minds of those to whom they wrote, we have the strongest proof of which any doctrine is capable. Thus, in the passage before us, the Apostle meant only to express a benevolent wish on behalf of the Church at Thessalonica: but he expressed it in such terms as a person habituated to the doctrine of the Trinity would naturally use: he prayed that "the Lord (the Spirit) would direct their hearts into the love of God (the Father), and into the patient waiting for Christ."
The point however to which we would direct your attention, is not so much the terms in which the Apostle's wish is conveyed, as the objects and reasons of that wish.
I. The objects of that wish.
A very little observation of the world is sufficient to convince us, that "the love of God" is not the predominant passion of mankind; nor a preparation for Christ's second coming their chief employment.
Men in general are not so impressed with a view of God's excellency, as to feel any love to him: much less have they obtained such an acquaintance with him, as to enjoy in their souls any sense of his love to them. Nor is there much of "the patience of Christ" to be found among them. To "deny themselves, and take up their cross, and follow him," is a lesson which they have never learned. As for looking forward with comfort to the second coming of their Lord, and waiting patiently for it as the completion of their hopes and the consummation of their joys, they know it not. "Their affections are set on things below, rather than on things above;" and the acquisition of some earthly good is that which alone engages their attention.
But to possess the state of mind described in the text, is essential to the Christian character.
How can a man be a Christian, and not love his God? or how can he belong to Christ, and not resemble him, "who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God?."
Yet of ourselves we never shall, or can, attain to it.
The heart is altogether averse to spiritual exercises; and turns away in disgust from the contemplation of those things which make for our everlasting peace. If we try to fix our minds on the love of God to man, or on the nature and extent of that obedience which we owe to him, or on the solemn account which we roust give of ourselves before him, we cannot long keep our attention to such subjects, nor can we get them suitably impressed upon our hearts.
Hence Paul prayed, that the Lord, even the Holy Spirit, would direct the hearts of his people into that state.
It is the province of that Divine Agent to give a right direction to the heart. But his influence must be sought by prayer. Nevertheless God will hear also the intercessions of others in our behalf, and give us a supply of his Spirit in answer to them—In the full persuasion of this, Paul poured out the benevolent aspiration which we have been considering.
Such then were the objects of the Apostle's wish; namely, that the Thessalonian Christians might experience more deeply the truths they professed. Nor are we at any loss to state,
II. The reasons of it.
Among the most important of these were doubtless the two following: he knew that the attainment of such a state was,
1. Highly conducive to their present happiness.
There is a most absurd prejudice against religion, that it tends to make persons melancholy. That some religious persons are inclined to melancholy, is true enough: but it is not true, that religion makes them so. In all human probability they would have manifested the same disposition (as thousands of others do) if they had never known anything of religion. As far as religion is concerned, it is from erroneous and distorted views of religion, and not from any just apprehensions of it, that they are rendered melancholy. Where, in all the word of God, do we find this effect ascribed to religion, or arising from it? Peter wept bitterly, and Judas hanged himself: but was it religion, or sin, that was the occasion of their sorrows? not religion surely, but sin. Religion was a balm to Peter, and kept him from despair; and it was Judas's want of religion that drove him to suicide.
But the truth is, that men make this a mere pretext to reject religion; they do not really, in their hours of sober reflection, think that religion has any such tendency. Where will he found a man in the whole universe who really thinks that love to God, or a sense of God's love to him, would make him less happy?—Where is there one who really believes that an habitual preparation for death and judgment would make him less happy?—Nay, where is there one who does not in his heart envy a truly pious character, and entertain the secret wish, O that I might be found in that man's place at the day of judgment!.
The Apostle knew that the graces which he desired for the Thessalonian Christians would make them truly happy both in life and death. He knew it from the universal tenor of the Holy Scriptures—and he knew it from his own experience, and therefore he prayed the Lord to direct their hearts to the attainment of them.
2. Indispensably necessary to their eternal welfare.
What is a Christian without the love of God? What pretensions has he to the name of Christian?—or how can he call himself a disciple of Christ, who has no delight in following his steps, or in looking forward to his future advent? What an appearance will such an one make at the tribunal of his Judge! Will he not be ashamed before him at his coming? Has he any reason to think that the God whom he never loved, will love him? or that the Savior whom he never served, will say to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant?" Whatever they may say to the contrary, the careless world have their misgivings even now; they have a secret fear that God will put a difference between those who served him and those who served him not—On this subject Paul had no doubt—and therefore, "knowing the terrors of the Lord, he both persuaded men" to seek these necessary attainments, and implored of God to communicate to them all needful supplies of his Spirit and grace.
Permit me now to express the same benevolent wish respecting you.
We have no wish to proselyte men to a party, or to lead them into any enthusiastic notions or pursuits. All we desire is, that they should love that God who has so loved them, and be found patiently waiting for the Bridegroom when he shall call them to the marriage. And, I ask, is this unreasonable? Is it anything more than what I ought to wish; or than you yourselves either do, or will soon, wish for yourselves?—Be not offended, then, if we express this wish: be not offended, if we urge upon you what we know will tend so much to your present happiness, and what we are assured is necessary to your happiness in the future world.
Let me also request that you will adopt this wish for yourselves.
Surely I shall have spoken to good effect, if only one among you all shall be stirred up to pray for himself, "Lord, direct my heart into the love of God, and into a patient waiting for Christ." Happy will it be, if any of you begin to wish that you had loved God, and that you might from this time become objects of his favor. Happy will it be, if any of you begin to say, 'I will take up ray cross and follow Christ: I will follow him without the camp, bearing his reproach. He died for me; O that I might have grace to live and die for him! He is coming to judge me; O that I might be ready for his appearing, and give up my account to him with joy and not with grief!'—Cultivate these desires: beg of God to stir them up in your hearts by his Holy Spirit: and when you have attained a measure of this grace yourselves, cultivate it to the utmost in the hearts of others.
The Desirableness of Peace
2 Thessalonians 3:16. Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means.
CONTENTIONS too naturally spring from our corrupt nature, the fruitful parent of everything that is evil. There are indeed occasions when it is necessary to act in a manner that seems not pacific; and that too even towards those who call themselves the Lord's people: if, for instance, any member of a Christian society were notoriously defective in any one brunch of moral duty, and persisted in his misconduct notwithstanding the remonstrances of those who were both authorized and qualified to advise him, it would be necessary to cut off such a corrupt member from the Church, and to cease from all needless or familiar fellowship with him, until he had repented of his wickedness. But these are only extreme cases, where milder means will not avail. As a general rule, we should strive to the utmost to walk in peace both towards those who are without, and them that are within, the Church: the disposition of our hearts should exactly accord with the desire contained in the words before us.
The expressions in the text being general, it is not necessary to limit them to one particular point: we shall therefore take them in the most comprehensive sense as relating,
I. To nations.
No language can fully express the miseries of war: it turns mankind into ferocious beasts, that seek only to overpower and destroy each other. It spreads desolation over whole countries. It cuts off thousands, and ten thousands in a day; and turns that into an occasion of joy and triumph, which ought rather to overwhelm us with distress and anguish. Even those who are not actively engaged with the enemy, are yet no light sufferers through the burdens which are imposed to support the war, and through the loss of near and dear relatives. Peace is, under God, the remedy of all these evils: not that it can ever repair the losses that have been sustained; but it prevents the progress of these evils, and restores to the world those friendly and commercial relations which war had interrupted. O that the governors of all nations did but know how to appreciate this invaluable blessing!
But whence can this blessing be obtained? It should seem that the termination of war depends wholly on the will of the contending parties. This indeed is true in some sense: but who shall make them willing? who shall put an end to their ambitious or vindictive projects? None but he, "in whose hands are the hearts of kings, and who turns them wherever he will," he alone can "break the bow, and cut the spear asunder." He who in righteous displeasure has "vexed us with adversity by means of war," he it is, even "the Lord of peace himself," who has now caused the din of war to cease, and "given us peace in our borders." O that he might give it us "always," and dispose us to seek it "by all means!" Whatever be the terms on which the contending parties have agreed to compose their differences, there will be some found, probably on both sides, to complain of them as below their just expectations. But it were better far to make sacrifices for peace than to persist in a destructive war: and better to exercise forbearance towards an offending enemy, than to precipitate a nation, without the most imperious necessity, into a renewal of such bloody conflicts. Peace retained almost by any means, is preferable to the calamities of war.
II. To societies.
Scarcely is there any society of men on earth, where feuds and animosities do not awfully prevail. Nor is this true with respect to the unregenerate only, even in the Church of God itself disputes and divisions are too often found. But, O! how lamentable is it when the seamless coat of Christ is rent asunder: and the subjects of the Prince of Peace are engaged in mutual hostilities! Surely the most desirable of all blessings to any society whatever, and above all to the Church of Christ, is peace.
But here again recurs the question, Who shall so govern the sinful passions of men as to bring them into habitual subjection? Who shall impose such restraints on all, as to make them "prefer, not every man his own, but every man another's good?" No human wisdom or power can accomplish so great a work. He alone who has united Jews and Gentiles in one body, and slain their enmity, can enable us to "preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." He engaged to make the wolf and the lamb to dwell together in love and amity; and, when he shall see fit to exert his power, he will realize again what he once accomplished in Noah's ark, and will unite the most contrary dispositions in the bonds of social affection.
Happy are the societies, the families, the Churches, that are governed by such a spirit. Happy indeed if they could "always" enjoy uninterrupted harmony! It is the interest of all the members of a body to forget, as it were, their own individual concerns, and to conspire together for the general good; all using for that end whatever means appear most suitable to the attainment of it. Is forbearance requisite? or friendly rebuke? or even the amputation of an offending member? Every one should be ready to do his part, whatever it may be, and, by his individual exertion, to promote to the utmost the peace and welfare of the whole body. As no means would be left untried for the extinction of flames that threatened the destruction of a city; so should none be omitted, that may secure from injury the union and happiness of mankind.
Let all of us then look to "the Lord of peace himself," that by the influence of his grace these holy dispositions may be wrought within us; and that through the mighty working of his Spirit we may every one of us supply our part toward the compacting together of all the members, in order that the whole body may be edified in love.
III. To individuals.
Whatever be the state of the nation in which we live, or of the society in which our lot is cast, we are concerned at least to obtain peace in our own souls, and to preserve it "always by all possible means." What can ever make us happy if our conscience be disquieted with a sense of guilt, and with apprehensions of God's wrath? Or, "if God have given us quietness, who, or what, can make trouble?"
As far as respects inward tranquility of mind, all are agreed in esteeming it the richest blessing, and in desiring to possess it. But the generality of men are lamentably mistaken with respect to the means by which it is to be obtained. Some hope to find it by dissipating all thoughts of the eternal world: some by silencing all the convictions of their conscience: some by abounding in the external duties of religion: and some by "healing their wounds slightly, and saying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace," But true peace can never be obtained but from Jesus, "the Prince of Peace." He it is that has purchased it for his believing people; and that has left it them as his best legacy, saying, "Peace I leave with you; my peace give I unto your."
But though this peace is the gift of Christ, we must seek it in the use of means. We must humble ourselves before him for the multitude of our offences; and turn from our transgressions with an sincere abhorrence of them. Above all we must view Jesus as making atonement for us, and as reconciling us to God by the blood of his cross. We must renounce all self-righteous methods of appeasing God's anger, or of pacifying the clamors of a guilty conscience. We must trust in Jesus alone; and in him with our whole hearts: and when he has "spoken peace to our souls, we must no more return to folly." Then shall we have that "peace which passes all understanding," and enjoy it "always," in life, in death, and forever.
Let nothing then be esteemed painful that may be necessary for the acquiring or preserving of so rich a blessing; but let us seek it at the Lord's hands, "always and by all means."