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"Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia 
they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews : and 
Paul, as Iiis custom was, went in unto them, and for three sabbath 
days reasoned with them from the scriptures, opening and alleging, 
that it behoved the Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead ; 
and that this Jesus, whom, said he, I proclaim unto you, is the Christ. 
And some of them were persuaded, and consorted with Paul and Silas; 
and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women 
not a few. But the Jews, being moved with jealousy, took unto them 
certain vile fellows of the rabble, and gathering a crowd, set the city 
on an uproar; and assaulting the house of Jason, they sought to bring 
them forth to the people. An-l when they found them not, they dragged 
Jason and certain brelhren before the rulers of the city, crying. These 
that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; whom 
Jason hath received : and these all act contrary to the decrees of Csesar, 
saying that there is another king, one Jesus. And they troubled the 
multitude and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things. And 
when they had taken security from Ja^ron and the rest, they let them 
go." — Acrs xvii. 1-9 (R.V.). 


"Paul, and Silvanus, and Timothy, unto the church of the Thessa- 
lonians in God the Father and the Lord Je^us Christ : Grace to you 
and peace." — i TuESS. i. i (R.V.). 

^pHESSALONICA, now called Saloniki, was in the 
-*- first century of our era a large and flourishing 
city. It was situated at the north-eastern corner of 
the Thermaic gulf, on the line of the great Egnatian 
road, which formed the main connection by land 
between Italy and the East. It was an important 
commercial centre, with a mixed population of Greeks, 
Romans, and Jews. The Jews, who at the present 
day amount to some twenty thousand, were numerous 
enough to have a synagogue of their own ; and we 
can infer from the Book of Acts (xvii. 4) that it was 
frequented by many of the better spirits among the 
Gentiles also. Unconsciously, and as the event too 
often proved, unwillingly, the Dispersion was preparing 
the way of the Lord. 

To this city the Apostle Paul came, attended by 
Silas and Timothy, in the course of his second 



missionary journey. He had just left Philippi, dearest 
to his heart of all his churches ; for there, more than 
anywhere else, the sufferings of Christ had abounded 
in him, and his consolations also had been abundant 
in Christ. He came to Thessalonica with the marks 
of the lictors' rods upon his body ; but to him they 
were the marks of Jesus ; not warnings to change his 
path, but tokens that the Lord was taking him into 
fellowship with Himself, and binding him more strictly 
to His service. He came with the memory of his 
converts' kindness warm upon his heart ; conscious 
that, amid whatever disappointments, a welcome 
awaited the gospel, which admitted its messenger into 
the joy of his Lord. We need not wonder, then, that 
the Apostle kept to his custom, and in spite of the 
malignity of the Jews, made his way, when Sabbath 
came, to the synagogue of Thessalonica. 

His evangelistic ministry is very briefly described 
by St. Luke. For three Sabbath days he addressed 
himself to his fellow-countrymen. He took the 
Scriptures into his hand, — that is, of course, the Old 
Testament Scriptures, — and opening the mysterious 
casket, as the picturesque words in Acts describe his 
method, he brought out and set before his auditors, as 
its inmost and essential secret, the wonderful idea that 
the Christ whom they all expected, the Messiah of God, 
must die and rise again from the dead. That was not 


what ordinary Jewish readers found in the law, the 
prophets, or the psalms ; but, once persuaded that this 
interpretation was true, it was not difficult to believe 
that the Jesus whom Paul preached was the Christ for 
whom they all hoped. Luke tells us that some were per- 
suaded ; but they cannot have been many : his account 
agrees with the representation of the Epistle (i. 9) that 
the church at Thessalonica was m.ainly Gentile. Of 
the " chief women not a few," who were among the 
first converts, we know nothing ; the exhortations in 
both Epistles make it plain that what Paul left at 
Thessalonica was what we should call a working-class 
congregation. The jealousy of the Jev/s, who resorted 
to the device which had already proved successful at 
Philippi, compelled Paul and his friends to leave the 
city prematurely. The mission, indeed, had probably 
lasted longer than most readers infer from Acts xvii. 
Paul had had time to make his character and conduct 
impressive to the church, and to deal with each one of 
them as a father with his own children (ii. 11) ; he had 
wrought night and day with his own hands for a liveli- 
hood (2 Thess. iii. 8) ; he had twice received help from 
the Philippians (Phil. iv. 15, 16). But although this 
implies a stay of some duration, much remained to be 
done; and the natural anxiety of the Apostle, as he 
thought of his inexperienced disciples, was intensified 
by the reflection that he had left them exposed to the 


malignity of his and their enemies. What means that 
malignity employed — what violence and what calumny 
— the Epistle itself enables us to see ; meantime, it is 
sufficient to say that the pressure of these things upon 
the Apostle's spirit was the occasion of his writing this 
letter. He had tried in vain to get back to Thessa- 
lonica ; he had condemned himself to solitude in a 
strange city that he might send Timothy to them ; he 
must hear whether they stand fast in their Christian 
calling. On his return from this mission Timothy 
joined Paul in Corinth with a report, cheering on the 
whole, yet not without its graver side, concerning the 
Thessalonian believers ; and the first Epistle is the 
apostolic message in these circumstances. It is, in all 
probability, the earliest of the New Testament writings ; 
it is certainly the earliest extant of Paul's ; if we except 
the decree in Acts xv., it is the earliest piece of 
Christian writing in existence.-"- 

The names mentioned in the address are all well 
known — Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. The three are 
united in the greeting, and are sometimes, apparently, 
included in the " we " or " us" of the Epistle ; but they 
are not joint authors of it. It is the Epistle of Paul, 
who includes them in the salutation out of courtesy, as 

' The date cannot be precisely assigned, but it is not later than 
54 A.D., and cannot be so early as 52. Most scholars say 54. It was 
written in Corinth. 


in the First to the Corinthians lie includes Sosthenes, 
and in Galatians " all the brethren that are with me " ; 
a courtesy the more binding on this occasion that Silas 
and Timothy had shared with him his missionary work 
in Thessalonica. In First and Second Thessalonians 
only, of all his letters, the Apostle adds nothing to his 
name to indicate the character in which he writes ; he 
neither calls himself an apostle, nor a servant of Jesus 
Christ. The Thessalonians knew him simply for what 
he was ; his apostolic dignity was yet unassailed by 
false brethren ; the simple name was enough, Silas 
comes before Timothy as an older man, and a fellow- 
labourer of longer standing. In the Book of Acts he 
is described as a prophet, and as one of the chief men 
among the brethren ; he had been associated with Paul 
all through this journey ; and though we know very 
little of him, the fact that he was chosen one of the 
bearers of the apostolic decree, and that he afterwards 
attached himself to Paul, justifies the inference that 
he heartily sympathised with the evangelising of the 
heathen. Timothy was apparently one of Paul's own 
converts. Carefully instructed in childhood by a pious 
mother and grandmother, he had been won to the faith 
of Christ during the first tour of the Apostle in Asia 
Minor. He was naturally timid, but kept the faith in 
spite of the persecutions which then awaited it; and 
when Paul returned, he found that the steadfastness and 


Other graces of his spiritual son had won an honour- 
able name in the local churches. He determined to 
take him with him, apparently in the character of an 
evangelist ; but before he was ordained by the presby- 
ters, Paul circumcised him, remembering his Jewish 
descent on the mother's side, and desirous of facilitating 
his access to the synagogue, in which the work of 
gospel preaching usually began. Of all the Apostle's 
assistants he was the most faithful and affectionate. 
He had the true pastoral spirit, devoid of selfishness, 
and caring naturally and unfeignedly for the souls of 
men (Phil. ii. 20 f ). Such were the three who sent 
their Christian greetings in this Epistle. 

The greetings are addressed " to the church of (the) 
Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus 
Christ." No such address had ever been written or 
read before, for the community to which it was directed 
was a new thing in the world. The word translated 
" church " was certainly familiar enough to all who 
knew Greek : it was the name given to the citizens 
of a Greek town assembled for public business ; it is 
the name given in the Greek Bible either to the children 
of Israel as the congregation of Jehovah, or to any 
gathering of them for a special purpose ; but here it 
obtains a new significance. The church of the Thes- 
salonians is a church in God the Father and the Lord 
Jesus Christ. It is the common relation of its members 


to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ which 
constitutes them a church in the sense of the Apostle : 
in contradistinction from all other associations or 
societies, they form a Christian community. The Jews 
who met from Sabbath to Sabbath in the synagogue 
were a church ; they were one in the acknowledg- 
ment of the Living God, and in their observance of 
His law ; God, as revealed in the Old Testament and 
in the polity of Israel, was the element or atmosphere 
of their spiritual life. The citizens of Thessalonica, 
who met in the theatre to discuss their political interests, 
were a " church " ; they were one in recognising the 
same constitution and the same ends of civic life; it 
was in that constitution, in the pursuit of those ends, 
that they found the atmosphere in which they lived. 
Paul in this Epistle greets a community distinct from 
either of these. It is not civic, but religious ; though 
religious, it is neither pagan nor Jewish ; it is an 
original creation, new in its bond of union, in the law 
by which it lives, in the objects at which it aims; 
a church in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus 

This newness and originality of Christianity could 
not fail to impress those who first received it. The 
gospel made an immeasurable difference to them, a 
difference almost equally great whether they had been 
Jews or heathen before ; and they were intensely 


conscious of the gulf which separated their new life 
from the old. In another epistle Paul describes the 
condition of Gentiles not yet evangelised. Once, he 
says, you were apart from Christ, without God, in the 
world. The world — the great system of things and 
interests separated from God — was the sphere and 
element of their life. The gospel found them there, 
and translated them. When they received it, they 
ceased to be in the world ; they were no longer apart 
from Christ, and without God : they were in God the 
Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing could 
be more revolutionary in those days than to become 
a Christian : old things passed away ; all things became 
new ; all things were determined by the new relation 
to God and His Son. The difference between the 
Christian and the non-Christian was as unmistakable 
and as clear to the Christian mind as the difference 
between the shipwrecked sailor who has reached the 
shore and him who is still fighting a hopeless fight with 
wind and waves. In a country which has long been 
Christian, that difference tends, to sense at least, and 
to imagination, to disappear. We are not vividly 
impressed with the distinction between those who 
claim to be Christians and those who do not; we do 
not see a radical unlikeness, and we are sometimes 
disposed to deny it. We may even feel that we are 
bound to deny it, were it only in justice to God. He 


has made all men for Himself; He is the Father of 
all ; He is near to all, even when they are blind to 
Him ; the pressure of His hand is felt and in a measure 
responded to by all, even when they do not recognise 
it ; to say that any one is ciOeo^, or %<wpk Xpiarov, or 
that he is not in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus 
Christ, seems really to deny both God and man. 

Yet what is at issue here is really a question of fact ; 
and among those who have been in contact with the 
facts, among those, above all, who have had experience 
of the critical fact— who once were not Christians and' 
now are — there will not be two opinions about it. The 
difference between the Christian and the non-Christian, 
though historical accidents have made it less visible, 
or rather, less conspicuous than it once was, is still 
as real and as vast as ever. The higher nature of 
man, intellectual and spiritual, must always have an 
element in which it lives, an atmosphere surrounding 
it, principles to guide it, ends to stimulate its action ; 
and it may find all these in either of two places. It 
may find them in the world — that is, in that sphere of 
things from which God, so far as man's will and intent 
goes, is excluded ; or it may find them in God Himself 
and in His Son. It is no objection to this division 
to say that God cannot be excluded from His own 
world, that He is always at work there whether ac- 
knowledged or not ; for the acknowledgment is the 


essential point ; without it, though God is near to man, 
man is still far from God. Nothing could be a more 
hopeless symptom in character than the benevolent 
neutrality which evades this truth ; it takes away every 
motive to evangelise the non-Christian, or to work 
out the originality and distinctiveness of the Christian 
life itself. Now, as in the apostolic age, there are 
persons who are Christians and persons who are not ; 
and, however alike their lives may be on the surface, 
they are radically apart. Their centre is different ; 
the element in which they move is different ; the nutri- 
ment of thought, the fountain of motives, the standard 
of purity are different ; they are related to each other 
as life in God, and life without God ; life in Christ, 
and life apart from Christ ; and in proportion to their 
sincerity is their mutual antagonism. 

In Thessalonica the Christian life v/as original enough 
to have formed a new society. In those days, and in 
the Roman Empire, there was not much room for the 
social instincts to expand. Unions of all kinds were 
suspected by tlie governments, and discouraged, as 
probable centres of political disaffection. Local self- 
government ceased to be interesting when all important 
interests were withdrawn from its control ; and even 
had it been otherwise, there was no part in it possible 
for that great mass of population from which the Church 
was so largely recruited, namely, the slaves. Any 


power that could bring men together, that could touch 
them deeply, and give them a common interest that 
engaged their hearts and bound them to each other, 
met the greatest want of the time, and was sure of a 
welcome. Such a power was the gospel preached by 
Paul. It formed little communities of men and women 
wherever it was proclaimed ; communities in which 
there was no law but that of love, in which heart 
opened to heart as nowhere else in all the world, in 
which there was fervour and hope and freedom and 
brotherly kindness, and all that makes life good and 
dear. We feel this very strongly in reading the New 
Testament, and it is one of the points on which, un- 
happil}'', v/e have drifted away from the primitive model. 
The Christian congregation is not now, in point of 
fact, the type of a sociable community. Too often it 
is oppressed with constraint and formality. Take any 
particular member of any particular congregation ; and 
his social circle, the company of friends in which he 
expands most freely and happil}^, will possibly have 
no connection with those he sits beside in the church. 
The power of the faith to bring men into real unity 
ivith each other is not lessened ; v/e see this wherever 
the gospel breaks ground in a heathen country, or 
wherever the frigidity of the church drives two or three 
fervent souls to form a secret society of their own, 
but the temperature of faith itself is lowered ; we are 


not really living, with any intensity of life, in God the 
Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ. If we were, we 
v.'ould be drawn closer to each other ; our hearts would 
touch and overflow ; the place where we meet in the 
name of Jesus would be the most radiant and sociable 
place we know. 

Nothing could better illustrate the reality of that new 
character which Christianity confers than the fact that 
men can be addressed as Christians. Nothing, either, 
could better illustrate the confusion of mind that exists 
in this matter, or the insincerity of much profession, 
than the fact that so many members of churches would 
hesitate before taking the liberty so to address a brother. 
We have all written letters, and on all sorts of occa- 
sions ; we have addressed men as lawyers, or doctors, or 
men of business ; we have sent or accepted invitations 
to gatherings where nothing would have astonished 
us more than the unaffected naming of the name of 
God ; did we ever write to anybody because he was 
a Christian, and because we were Christians ? Of 
all the relations in which we stand to others, is that 
which is established by " our common Christianity," 
by our common life in Jesus Christ, the only one which 
is so crazy and precarious that it can never be really 
used for anything ? Here we see the Apostle look 
back from Corinth to Thessalonica, and his one interest 
in the poor people whom he remembers so affection- 


ately is that they are Christians. The one thing in 
which he wishes to help them is their Christian life. 
He does not care much whether they are well or ill 
off in respect of this world's goods ; but he is anxious 
to supply what is lacking in their faith (iii. lo). How 
real a thing the Christian life was to him ! what a 
substantial interest, whether in himself or in others, 
engrossing all his thought, absorbing all his love and 
devotion. To many of us it is the one topic for 
silence ; to him it was the one theme of thought and 
speech. He wrote about it, as he spoke about it, as 
though there were no other interest for man ; and 
letters like those of Thomas Erskine show that still, 
out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh. 
The full soul overflows, unaffected, unforced ; Christian 
fellowship, as soon as Christian life is real, is restored 
to its true place. 

Paul, Silas, and Timothy wish the church of the 
Thessalonians grace and peace. This is the greeting 
in all the Apostle's letters ; it is not varied except by the 
addition of " mercy " in the Epistles to Timothy and 
Titus. In form it seems to combine the salutations cur- 
rent among the Greeks and the Jews (j(aipeLv and ^f''^), 
but in import it has all the originality of the Christian 
faith. In the second Epistle it runs, "Grace and peace 
from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." 
Grace is the love of God, spontaneous, beautiful, 


unearned, at work in Jesus Christ for the salvation of 
sinful men ; peace is the effect and fruit in man of the 
reception of grace. It is easy to narrow unduly the 
significance of peace ; those expositors do so who 
suppose in this passage a reference to the persecution 
which the Thessalonian Christians had to bear, and 
understand the Apostle to wish them deliverance from 
it. The Apostle has something far more comprehensive 
in his mind. The peace, which Christ is ; the peace 
with God which we have when we are reconciled to 
Him by the death of His Son ; the soul-health which 
comes when grace makes our hearts to their very depths 
right with God, and frightens away care and fear ; this 
" perfect soundness " spiritually is all summed up in the 
word. It carries in it the fulness of the blessing of Christ. 
The order of the words is significant ; there is no peace 
without grace ; and there is no grace apart from fellow- 
ship with God in Christ. The history of the Church 
has been written by some who practically put Paul in 
Christ's place ; and by others who imagine that the 
doctrine of the person of Christ only attained by slow 
degrees, and in the post-apostolic age, its traditional 
importance ; but here, in the oldest extant monument 
of the Christian faith, and in the very first line of it, 
the Church is defined as existing in the Lord Jesus 
Christ ; and in that single expression, in which the Son 
stands side by side with the Father, as the life of all 


believing souls, we have the final refutation of such 
perverse thoughts. By the grace of God, incarnate in 
Jesus Christ, the Christian is what he is ; he lives and 
moves and has his being there ; apart from Christ, he 
is not. Here, then, is our hope. Conscious of our 
own sins, and of the shortcomings of the Christian 
community of which we are members, let us have 
recourse to Him whose grace is sufficient for us. Let 
us abide in Christ, and in all things grow up into Him. 
God alone is good ; Christ alone is the Pattern and the 
Inspiration of the Christian character ; only in the 
Father and the Son can the new life and the new 
fellowship come to their perfection. 





" We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you 
in our prayers ; remembering without ceasing your work of faith and 
labour of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, before 
our God and Father; knowing, brethren beloved of God, your 
election.''— I Thess. i. 2-4 (R.V.). 



'nr^HE salutation in St. Paul's epistles is regularly 
-*- followed by the thanksgiving. Once only, in the 
Epistle to the Galatians, is it omitted ; the amazement 
and indignation with which the Apostle has heard that 
his converts are forsaking his gospel for another which 
is not a gospel at all, carries him out of himself for a 
moment. But in his earliest letter it stands in its 
proper place ; before he thinks of congratulating, 
teaching, exhorting, admonishing, he gives God thanks 
for the tokens of His grace in the Thessalonians. He 
would not be writing to these people at all if they were 
not Christians ; they would never have been Christians 
but for the free goodness of God ; and before he says 
one word directly to them, he acknowledges that good- 
ness with a grateful heart. 

In this case the thanksgiving is particularly fervent. 
It has no drawback. There is no profane person at 
Thessalonica, like him who defiled the church at 
Corinth at a later period ; we give thanks, says the 
Apostle, for you all. It is, as far as the nature of the 



case permits, uninterrupted. As often as Paul prays, 
he makes mention of them and gives thanks ; he 
remembers without ceasing their new-bom graces. 
We ought not to extenuate the force of such words, as 
if they were mere exaggerations, the idle extravagances 
of a man who habitually said more than he meant. 
Paul's life was concentrated and intense, to a degree 
of which we have probably little conception. He lived 
for Christ, and for the churches of Christ ; it was 
literal truth, not extravagance, when he said, " This one 
thing I do " : the life of these churches, their interests, 
their necessities, their dangers, God's goodness to 
them, his own duty to serve them, all these constituted 
together the one dear concernment of his life ; they 
were ever with him in God's sight, and therefore in his 
intercessions and thanksgivings to God. Other men's 
minds might surge with various interests ; new am- 
bitions or affections might displace old ones ; fickleness 
or disappointments might change their whole career ; but 
it was not so with him. His thoughts and affections 
never changed their object, for the same conditions 
appealed constantly to the same susceptibility; if he 
grieved over the unbelief of the Jews, he had unceasing 
{ahiakeiiTTov) pain in his heart ; if he gave thanks for 
the Thessalonians, he remembered without ceasing 
(aS/aXeiTTTft)?) the graces with which they had been 
adorned by God. 


Nor were these continual thanksgivings vague or 
formal ; the Apostle recalls, in each particular case, the 
special manifestations of Christian character which 
inspire his gratitude. Sometimes, as in ist Corinthians, 
they are less spiritual — gifts, rather than graces ; utter- 
ance and knowledge, without charity ; sometimes, as 
here, they are eminently spiritual — faith, love, and hope. 
The conjunction of these three in the earliest of Paul's 
letters is worthy of remark. They occur again in the 
well-known passage in i Cor. xiii., where, though 
they share in the distinction of being eternal, and not, 
like knowledge and eloquence, transitory in their 
nature, love is exalted to an eminence above the other 
two. They occur a third time in one of the later 
epistles — that to the Colossians — and in the same order 
as here. That, says Lightfoot on the passage, is the 
natural order. "Faith rests on the past; love works in 
the present ; hope looks to the future." Whether this 
distribution of the graces is accurate or not, it suggests 
the truth that they cover and fill up the whole Christian 
life. They are the sum and substance of it, whether 
it looks back, or looks round, or looks forward. The 
germ of all perfection is implanted in the soul which 
is the dwelling-place of " these three." 

Though none of them can really exist, in its Christian 
quality, without the others, any of them may pre- 
ponderate at a given time. It is not quite fanciful to 


point out that each in its turn seems to have bulked 
most largely in the experience of the Apostle himself. 
His earliest epistles — the two to the Thessalonians — 
are pre-eminently epistles of hope. They look to the 
future ; the doctrinal interest uppermost in them is that 
of the second coming of the Lord, and the final rest ot 
the Church. The epistles of the next period — Romans, 
Corinthians, and Galatians — are as distinctly epistles of 
faith. They deal largely with faith as the power which 
unites the soul to God in Christ, and brings into it the 
virtue of the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus. 
Later still, there are the epistles of which Colossians 
and Ephesians are the type. The great thought in 
these is that of the unity wrought by love ; Christ is 
the head of the Church ; the Church is the body of 
Christ; the building up of the body in love, by the 
mutual help of the members, and their common depend- 
ence on the Head, preoccupies the apostolic writer. All 
this may have been more or less accidental, due to 
circumstances which had nothing to do with the spiritual 
life of Paul ; but it has the look of being natural too. 
Hope prevails first — the new world of things unseen 
and eternal outweighs the old ; it is the stage at which 
religion is least free from the influence of sense and 
imagination. Then comes the reign of faith ; the inward 
gains upon the outward ; the mystical union of the soul 
to Christ, in which His spiritual life is appropriated, is 


more or less sufficient to itself; it is the stage, if it be 
a stage at all, at which religion becomes independent 
of imagination and sense. Finally, love reigns. The 
solidarity of all Christian interests is strongly felt ; the 
life flows out again, in all manner of Christian service, 
on those by whom it is surrounded ; the Christian 
moves and has his being in the body of which he is a 
member. All this, I repeat, can be only comparatively 
true ; but the character and sequence of the Apostle's 
writings speak for its truth so far. 

But it is not simply faith, love, and hope that are in 
question here : " we remember," says the Apostle, " your 
work of faith and labour of love and patience of hope 
in our Lord Jesus Christ." We call faith, love, and 
hope the Christian graces ; and we are apt to forget 
that the associations of heathen mythology, thus intro- 
duced, are disturbing rather than enlightening. The 
three Graces of the Greeks are ideally beautiful figures ; 
but their beauty is aesthetic, not spiritual. They are 
lovely as a group of statuary is lovely ; but though 
" by (their) gift come unto men all pleasant things and 
sweet, and the wisdom of a man and his beauty, and 
the splendour of his fame," their nature is utterly unlike 
that of the three powers of the Christian character ; no 
one would dream of ascribing to them work, and labour 
and patience. Yet the mere fact that " Graces " has 
been used as a common name for both has diffused the 


idea that the Christian graces also are to be viewed 
mainly as the adornments of character, its unsought, 
unstudied beauties, set on it by God to subdue and 
charm the world. That is quite wrong ; the d'eek 
Graces are essentially beauties ; they confer on men all 
that wins admiration — personal comeliness, victory in 
the games, a happy mood ; but the Christian graces are 
essentially powers ; they are new virtues and forces 
which God has implanted in the soul that it may be 
able to do His work in the world. The heathen Graces 
are lovely to look at, and that is all ; but the Christian 
graces are not subjects for aesthetic contemplation ; 
they are here to work, to toil, to endure. If they have 
a beauty of their own — and surely they have — it is a 
beauty not in form or colour, not appealing to the eye 
or the imagination, but only to the spirit which has 
seen and loved Christ, and loves His likeness in what- 
ever guise. 

Let us look at the Apostle's words more closely : he 
speaks of a work of faith ; to take it exactly, of some- 
thing which faith has done. Faith is a conviction with 
regard to things unseen, that makes them present and 
real. Faith in God as revealed in Christ, and in His 
death for sin, makes reconciliation real; it gives the 
believer peace with God. But it is not shut up in the 
realm of things inward and unseen. If it were, a man 
might say what he pleased about it, and there would 


be no check upon his words. Wherever it exists, it 
works ; he who is interested can see what it has done. 
Apparently the Apostle has some particular work of 
faith in his mind in this passage ; some thing which the 
Thessalonians had actually done, because they believed 
but what it is we cannot tell. Certainly not faith itself; 
certainly not love, as some think, referring to Gal. v. 6 ; 
if a conjecture may be hazarded, possibly some act of 
courage or fidelity under persecution, similar to those 
adduced in Heb. xi. That famous chapter contains a 
catalogue of the works which faith wrought ; and serves 
as a commentary, therefore, on this expression. Surely 
we ought to notice that the great Apostle, whose name 
has been the strength and shield of all who preach 
justification by faith alone, the very first time he mentions 
this grace in his epistles, mentions it as a power which 
leaves its witness in work. 

It is so, also, with love: "we remember," he writes, 
" 3'our labour of love." The difference between ep^ov 
(work) and kotto^; (labour) is that between effect and 
effort. The Apostle recalls something which the faith 
of the Thessalonians did ; he recalls also the wearisome 
toil in which their love spent itself. Love is not so 
capable of abuse in religion, or, at least, it has not 
been so rankly abused, as faith. Men are much more 
apt to demand the proof of it. It has an inward side 
as much as faith , but it is not an emotion which 


exhausts itself in its own transports. Merely as emo- 
tion, indeed, it is apt to be undervalued. In the 
Church of to-day emotion needs rather to be stimulated 
than repressed. The passion of the New Testament 
startles us when we chance to feel it. For one man 
among us who is using up the powers of his soul in 
barren ecstasies, there are thousands who have never 
been moved by Christ's love to a single tear or a 
single heart throb. They must learn to love before 
they can labour. They must be kindled by that fire 
which burned in Christ's heart, and which He came to 
cast upon the earth, before they can do anything in 
His service. But if the love of Christ has really met 
that answer in love for which it waits, the time for 
service has come. Love in the Christian will attest 
itself as it attested itself in Christ. It will prescribe 
and point out the path of labour. The word employed 
in this passage is one often used by the Apostle to 
describe his own laborious life. Love set him, and 
will set every one in whose heart it truly burns, upon 
incessant, unwearied efforts for others' good. Paul 
was ready to spend and be spent at its bidding, how- 
ever small the result might be. He toiled with his 
hands, he toiled with his brain, he toiled with his ardent, 
eager, passionate heart, he toiled in his continual inter- 
cessions with God, and all these toils made up his 
labour of love. " A labour of love," in current language, 


is a piece of work done so willingly that no payment 
is expected for it. But a labour of love is not what 
the Apostle is speaking of; it is laboriousncss, as love's 
characteristic. Let Christian men and women ask 
themselves whether their love can be so characterised. 
We have all been tired in our time, one may presume ; 
we have toiled in business, or in some ambitious course, 
or in the perfecting of some accomplishment, or even 
in the mastery of some game or the pursuit of some 
amusement, till we were utterly wearied : how many 
of us have so toiled in love ? How many of us have 
been wearied and worn with some labour to which we 
set ourselves for God's sake ? This is what the Apostle 
has in view in this passage ; and, strange as it may 
appear, it is one of the things for which he gives God 
thanks. But is he not right? Is it not a thing to 
evoke gratitude and joy, that God counts us worthy to 
be fellow-labourers with Him in the manifold works 
which love imposes ? 

The church at Thessalonica was not old ; its first 
members could only count their Christian age by 
months. Yet love is so native to the Christian life, 
that they found at once a career for it ; demands were 
made upon their sympathy and their strength which 
were met at once, though never suspected before. 
" What are we to do," we sometimes ask, " if we would 
work the works of God ? " If we have love enough in 


our hearts, it will answer all its own questions. It is 
the fulfilling of the law just because it shows us plainly 
where service is needed, and puts us upon rendering 
it at any cost of pain or toil. It is not too much to 
say that the very word chosen by the Apostle to char- 
acterise love — this word /cotto? — is peculiarly appro- 
priate, because it brings out, not the issue, but only 
the cost, of work. With the result desired, or without 
it; with faint hope, or with hope most sure, love 
labours, toils, spends and is spent over its task : this 
is the very seal of its genuine Christian character. 

The third grace remains : " your patience of hope in 
our Lord Jesus Christ." The second coming of Christ 
was an element in apostolic teaching which, whether 
exceptionally prominent or not, had made an exceptional 
impression at Thessalonica. It will more naturally 
be studied at another place; here it is sufficient to 
say that it was the great object of Christian hope. 
Christians not only believed Christ would come again ; 
they not only expected Him to come ; they were eager 
for His coming. " How long, O Lord ? " they cried in 
their distress. " Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly," was 
their prayer. 

It is matter of notoriety that hope in this sense does 
not hold its ancient place in the heart of the Church. 
It holds a much lower place. Christian men hope for 
this or that ; they hope that threatening symptoms in 


the Church or in society may pass away, and better 
things appear ; they hope that when the worst comes 
to the worst, it will not be so bad as the pessimists 
anticipate. Such impotent and ineffective hope is of 
no kindred to the hope of the gospel. So far from 
being a power of God in the soul, a victorious grace, 
it is a sure token that God is absent. Instead of 
inspiring, it discourages ; it leads to numberless self- 
deceptions ; men hope their lives are right with God, 
when they ought to search them and see ; they hope 
things will turn out well, when they ought to be taking 
security of them. All this, where our relations to God 
are concerned, is a degradation of the very word. The 
Christian hope is laid up in heaven. The object of 
it is the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not precarious, but 
certain ; it is not ineffective, but a great and energetic 
power. Anything else is not hope at all. 

The operation of the true hope is manifold. It is 
a sanctifying grace, as appears from i John iii. 3 : 
" Every one that hath this hope set on Him, purifieth 
himself, even as He is pure." But here the Apostle 
characterises it by its patience. The two virtues are 
so inseparable that Paul sometimes uses them as 
equivalent ; twice in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus, 
he says faith, love, and patience, instead of faith, love, 
and hope. But what is patience ? The word is one of 
the great words of the New Testament. The corre- 


spending verb is usually rendered endurance, as in 
Christ's saying, " He that endureth to the end, the same 
shall be saved." Patience is more than resignation or 
meek submission ; it is hope in the shade, but hope 
nevertheless ; the brave steadfastness which bears up 
under all burdens because the Lord is at hand. The 
Thessalonians had much affliction in their early days 
as Christians ; they were tried, too, as we all are, by 
inward discouragements — that persistence and vitality 
of sin that break the spirit and beget despair ; but they 
saw close at hand the glory of the Lord ; and in the 
patience of hope they held out, and fought the good 
fight to the last. It is truly significant that in the 
Pastoral Epistles patience has taken the place of hope 
in the trinity of graces. It is as if Paul had discovered, 
by prolonged experience, that it was in the form of 
patience that hope was to be mainly effective in the 
Christian life. The Thessalonians, some of them, were 
abusing the great hope ; it was working mischief in 
their lives, because it was misapplied ; in this single 
word Paul hints at the truth which abundant experience 
had taught him, that all the energy of hope must be 
transformed into brave patience if we would stand in 
our place at the last. Remembering their work of 
faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope, in 
the presence of our God and Father, the Apostle gives 
thanks to God always for them all. Happy is the man 


whose joys are such that he can gratefully dwell on 
them in that presence : happy are those also who give 
others cause to thank God on their behalf. 

The ground of the thanksgiving is finally compre- 
hended in one short and striking phrase : " Knowing, 
brethren beloved of God, your election." The doctrine 
of election has often been taught as if the one thing 
that could never be known about anybody was whether 
he was or was not elect. The assumed impossibility 
Joes not square with New Testament ways of speaking. 
Paul knew the elect, he says here ; at least he knew 
the Thessalonians were elect. In the same way he 
writes to the Ephesians: "God chose us in Christ before 
the foundation of the world; ... in love He foreordained 
us to adoption as sons." Chose whom before the 
foundation of the world ? Foreordained whom ? Him- 
self, and those whom he addressed. If the Church has 
learned the doctrine of election from anybody, it has 
been from Paul ; but to him it had a basis in experience, 
and apparently he felt differently about it from many 
theologians. He knew when the people he spoke to 
were elect ; how, he tells in what follows. 




" How that our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in 
power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance ; even as ye 
know what manner of men we showed ourselves toward you for your 
sake. And ye became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received 
the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost ; so that ye 
became an ensample to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For 
from you hath sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in 
Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith to God- ward is gone 
forth ; so that we need not to speak anything." — I Thess. i. 5-8 (R.V.). 




'nr^HE Revised Version renders the on,, with which 
-*" ver. 5 begins, "how that," the Authorised Version, 
" for." In the first case, the Apostle is made to explain 
in what election consists ; in the other, he explains 
how it is that he knows the Thessalonians to be among 
the elect. There is hardly room to doubt that it is 
this last which he intends to do. Election does not 
consist in the things which he proceeds to enlarge 
upon, though these may be in some sense its effects 
or tokens ; and there is something like unanimity 
among scholars in favour of the rendering " for," or 
" because." What, then, are the grounds of the state- 
ment, that Paul knows the election of the Thessa- 
lonians ? They are twofold ; lying partly in his own 
experience, and that of his fellow-labourers, while they 
preached the gospel in Thessalonica ; and partly in 
the reception which the Thessalonians gave to their 

I. The tokens in the preacher that his hearers are 


elect : " Our gospel came not unto you in word only, 
but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much 
assurance," That was the consciousness of the preachers 
themselves, but they could appeal to those who had 
heard them : " even as ye know what manner of men 
we showed ourselves toward you for your sake." 

The self-consciousness of the preacher, we see from 
these words, is a legitimate though a perilous study. 
Every one has been told that there is no relation what- 
ever between his own consciousness when preaching, 
and the effect of what is preached ; but has anybody 
ever quite believed this ? If there were no relation 
whatever between the preacher's consciousness and 
his conscience ; if he did not know that many a time 
neglect of prayer or duty had separated him from God, 
and made him useless as an evangelist, it would be 
easier to believe it ; but as our life is, the preacher 
may know quite well that it is no proof of God's good 
will to men that Jie is sent to preach to them ; or, on 
the other hand, he may have a humble but sure trust 
that when he stands up to speak, God is with him 
for good to his hearers. Thus it was with Paul at 

The heartiness with which he speaks here justifies 
the inference that he had had experiences of an opposite 
and disappointing kind. Twice in Asia (Acts xvi. 6 f.) 
he had been forbidden by the Spirit to preach at all ; 


he could not argue that the people so passed by were 
specially favoured of God. Often, especially in his 
intercourse with the Jews, he must have spoken, like 
Isaiah, with the depressing consciousness that it was 
all in vain ; that the sole issue would be to blind their 
eyes and harden their hearts and seal them up in im- 
penitence. In Corinth, just before writing this letter, 
he had come forward with unusual trepidation — in 
weakness and fear and much trembhng; and though 
there also the Holy Spirit and a divine power brought 
home the gospel to men's hearts, he seems to have 
been so far from that inward assurance which he 
enjoyed at Thessalonica, that the Lord appeared to 
him in a vision by night to reveal the existence of an 
election of grace even in Corinth. " Fear not : I have 
much people in this city." In Thessalonica he had no 
such sinking of heart. He came thither, as he hoped 
to go to Rome, in the fulness of the blessing of Christ 
(Rom. XV. 29). He knew in himself that God had 
given it to him to be a true minister of His grace ; 
he was full of power by the Spirit of the Lord. That 
is why he says so confidently, " Knowing your 

The Apostle explains himself more precisely when 
he writes, " not in word only, but in power and in the 
Holy Ghost and in much assurance." The gospel must 
come in word at least ; but what a profanation it is to 


preach it only in word. Not preachers only, but all 
Christians, have to be on their guard, lest familiarity 
rob the great words of the gospel of their reality, and 
they themselves sink into that worst atheism which 
is for ever handling holy things without feeling them. 
How easy is it to speak of God, Christ, redemption, 
atonement, sanctification, heaven, hell, and to be less 
impressed and less impressive than if we were speaking 
of the merest trivialities of every-day Hfe. It is hard 
to believe that an apostle could have seen such a possi- 
bility even from afar ; yet the contrast of " word " and 
"power" leaves no room to doubt that such is his 
meaning. Words alone are worthless. No matter how 
brilliant, how eloquent, how imposing they may be, 
they cannot do the work of an evangelist. The call 
to this requires " power." 

No definition of power is given ; we can only see 
that it is that which achieves spiritual results, and that 
the preacher is conscious of possessing it. It is not 
his own, certainly : it works through the very con- 
sciousness of his own want of power ; " when I am 
weak, then am I strong." But it gives him hope and 
confidence in his work. Paul knew that it needed a 
stupendous force to make bad men good; the forces 
to be overcome were so enormous. All the sin of the 
world was arrayed against the gospel ; all the dead 
weight of men's indifference, all their pride, all their 


shame, all their self-satisfaction, all their cherished 
wisdom. But he came to Thessalonica strong in the 
Lord, confident that his message would subdue those 
who listened to it; and therefore, he argued, the 
Thessalonians were the objects of God's electing grace. 
" Power " stands side by side with the " Holy Ghost." 
In a sense, the Holy Ghost is the source of all spiritual 
virtues, and therefore of the very power of which we 
have been speaking ; but the words are probably used 
here with some narrower meaning. The predominant 
use of the name in the New Testament bids us think of 
that divine fervour which the spirit kindles in the soul — 
that ardour of the new Hfe which Christ Himself speaks 
of as fire. Paul came to Thessalonica aglow with 
Christian passion. He took that as a good omen in his 
work, a sign that God meant well to the Thessalonians. 
By nature men do not care passionately for each other 
as he cared for those to whom he preached in that city. 
They are not on fire with love, seeking each other's 
good in spiritual things ; consumed with fervent long- 
ing that the bad should cease from their badness, and 
come to enjoy the pardon, the purity, and the company 
of Christ. Even in the heart of apostles — for though 
they were apostles they were men — the fire may some- 
times have burned low, and a mission have been, by 
comparison, languid and spiritless ; but at least on this 
occasion the evangelists were all on fire ; and it assured 


them that God had a people waiting for them in the 
unknown city. 

If " power" and the " Holy Ghost" are in some degree 
to be judged only by their effects, there can be no 
question that " much assurance," on the other hand, 
is an inner experience, belonging strictly to the self- 
consciousness of the preacher. It means a full and 
strong conviction of the truth of the gospel. We can 
only understand this by contrast with its opposite ; 
" much assurance " is the counterpart of misgiving or 
doubt. We can hardly imagine an apostle in doubt 
about the gospel — not quite certain that Christ had 
risen from the dead ; wondering whether, after all, His 
death had abolished sin. Yet these truths, which are 
the sum and substance of the gospel, seem, at times, 
too great for belief; they do not coalesce with the 
other contents of our mind ; they do not weave easily 
into one piece with the warp and woof of our common 
thoughts ; there is no common measure for them and 
the rest of our experience, and the shadow of unreality 
falls upon them. They are so great that it needs a 
certain greatness to answer to them, a certain boldness 
of faith to which even a true Christian may feel 
momentarily unequal ; and while he is unequal, he 
cannot do the work of an evangelist. Doubt paralyses; 
God cannot work through a man in whose soul there 
are misgivings about the truth. At least. His working 


will be limited to the sphere of what is certain for him 
through whom He works ; and if we would be effective 
ministers of the word, we must speak only what we are 
sure of, and seek the full assurance of the whole truth. 
No doubt such assurance has conditions. Unfaithful- 
ness of one kind or another is, as our Lord teaches 
(John vii. 17), the source of uncertainty as to the truth 
of His word ; and prayer, repentance, and obedience 
due, the way to certainty again. But Paul had never 
been more confident of the truth and power of his gospel 
than when he came to Thessalonica. He had seen it 
proved in Philippi, in conversions so dissimilar as those 
of Lydia and the jailor. He had felt it in his own heart, 
in the songs which God had given him in the night 
while he suffered for Christ's sake. He came among 
those whom he addresses confident that it was God's 
instrument to save all who believed. This is his last 
personal reason for believing the Thessalonians to be 

Strictly speaking, all this refers rather to the delivery 
of the message than to the messengers, to the preaching 
than to the preachers ; but the Apostle applies it to the 
latter also. "Ye know," he writes, "what manner of 
men we showed ourselves toward you for your sakes." 
I venture to think ^ that the word rendered 'Sve showed 

' With Godet and P. Schmidt ; against Ellicott. 


ourselves " has really the passive sense — " what God 
enabled us to be " ; it is God's good will to the 
Thessalonians which is in view, and the Apostle infers 
that good will from the character which God enabled him 
and his friends to sustain for their sakes. Who could 
deny that God had chosen them, when He had sent them 
Paul and Silas and Timothy ; not mere talkers, cold 
and spiritless, and dubious of their message; but men 
strong in spiritual force, in holy fervour, and in their 
grasp of the gospel ? If that did not go to show that 
the Thessalonians were elect, what could ? 

II. The self-consciousness of the preachers, however, 
significant as it was, was no conclusive evidence. It 
only became such when their inspiration was caught 
by those who listened to them ; and this was the case 
at Thessalonica. "Ye became imitators of us and of 
the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, 
with joy of the Holy Ghost." This peculiar expression 
implies that the signs of God's election were to be seen 
in the evangelists, and eminently in the Lord. Paul 
shrinks from making himself and his companions types 
of the elect, without more ado ; they are such only 
because they are like Him, of whom it is written "Behold 
my servant whom I uphold ; Mine elect, in whom My 
soul delighteth." He speaks here in the same strain 
as in I Cor, xi. i : " Brethren, be ye imitators of 
me, even as I also am of Christ." They who have 


become like the Lord are marked out as the chosen 
of God. 

But the Apostle does not rest in this generality. 
The imitation in question consisted in this — that the 
Thessalonians received the word in much affliction, 
with joy of the Holy Ghost. It is, of course, in the 
last part of the sentence that the point of comparison 
is found. In a sense it is true that the Lord Himself 
received the word which He spoke to men. " I do 
nothing of Myself," He says ; " but as the Father hath 
taught Me, I speak these things " (John viii. 28). But 
such a reference is irrelevant here. The significant 
point is that the acceptance of the gospel by the Thes- 
salonians brought them into fellowship with the Lord, 
and with those who continued His work, in that which 
is the distinction and criterion of the new Christian life 
— much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost. That 
is a summary of the life of Christ, the Apostle of the 
Father (John xvii. 18). It is more obviously a summary 
of the life of Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ. The 
acceptance of the gospel meant much affliction for him : 
" I will show him how great things he must suffer for 
My name's sake." It meant also a new and super- 
natural joy, a joy arising from, and sustained by, the 
Holy Spirit, a joy triumphant in and over all sufferings. 
This combination of affliction and spiritual joy, this 
original, paradoxical experience, is the token of election. 


Where the children of God live, as Christ and His 
apostles lived, in the midst of a world at war with God 
and His cause, they will suffer ; but suffering will not 
break their spirit, or embitter them, or lead them to 
desert God ; it will be accompanied with spiritual 
exaltation, keeping them sweet, and humble, and joyful, 
through it all. Paul knew the Thessalonians were 
elect, because he saw that new power in them, to rejoice 
in tribulations, which can only be seen in those who 
have the spirit of God. 

This test, obviously, can only be applied when the 
gospel is a suffering cause. But if the profession of 
the Christian faith, and the leading of a Christian Hfe 
entail no affliction, what shall we say ? If we read the 
New Testament aright, we shall say that there is a 
mistake somewhere. There is always a cross ; there 
is always something to bear or to overcome for righteous- 
ness' sake; and the spirit in which it is met tells 
whether God is with us or not. Not every age is, like 
the apostolic, an age of open persecution, of spoiHng 
of goods, of bonds, and scourging, and death ; but the 
imitation of Christ in His truth and faithfulness will 
surely be resented somehow; and it is the seal of 
election when men rejoice that they are counted worthy 
to suffer shame for His name. Only the true children 
of God can do that. Their joy is in some sense a 
present recompense for their sufferings ; but for suffer- 


ing they could not know it. " I never knew," said 
Rutherford, " by my nine years' preaching, so much of 
Christ's love as He hath taught me in Aberdeen, by six 
months' imprisonment." It is a joy that never fails 
those who face affliction that they may be true to 
Christ. Think of the Christian boys in Uganda, in 
1885, who were bound alive to a scaffolding and slowly 
burned to death. " The spirit of the martyrs at once 
entered into these lads, and together they raised their 
voices and praised Jesus in the fire, singing till their 
shrivelled tongues refused to form the sound : — 

"'Daily, daily, sing to Jesus, 

Sing, my soul, His praises due ; 
All He does deserves our praises, 
And our deep devotion too. 

"'For in deep humiliation. 

He for us did live below ; 
Died on Calvary's cross of torture, 
Rose to save our souls from woe.' " ' 

Who can doubt that these three are among the chosen 
of God ? And who can think of such scenes, and such 
a spirit, and recall without misgiving the querulous, 
fretful, aggrieved tone of his own life, when things have 
not gone with him exactly as he could have wished ? 

The Thessalonians were so conspicuously Christian, 
so unmistakably exhibited the new Divine type of 

' /{/t? of Bishop Hannington. 


character, that they became a model to all the believers 
in Macedonia and Achaia. Their conversion called the 
attention of all men to the gospel, like a clear and far- 
resounding trumpet blast. Thessalonica was a place 
of much coming and going on all sides ; and the success 
of the evangelists there, being carried abroad in various 
ways, advertised their work, and so far prepared for 
their coming. Paul would naturally have spoken of it 
when he went to a new city, but found it unnecessary ; 
the news had preceded him ; in every place their faith 
to God-ward had gone forth. So far as we learn, it was 
the most impressive incident which had yet occurred in 
the progress of the gospel. A work of grace so charac- 
teristic, so thorough, and so unmistakable, was a token 
of God's goodness, not only to those who were imme- 
diately the subjects of it, but to all who heard, and by 
hearing had their interest awakened in the evangelists 
and their message. 

This whole subject has a side for preachers, and a 
side for hearers of the gospel. The preacher's peril 
is the peril of coming to men in word only ; saying 
things which he does not feel, and which others, there- 
fore, will not feel ; uttering truths, it may be, but truths 
which have never done anything for him — enlightened, 
quickened, or sanctified him — and which he cannot 
hope, as they come from his lips, will do anything for 
others ; or worse still, uttering things of which he 


cannot even be confident that they are true. Nothing 
could be less a sign of God's grace to men than to 
abandon them to such a preacher, instead of sending 
them one full of power, and of the Holy Ghost, and ot 
assurance. But whatever the preacher may be, there 
is something left to the hearer. There were people 
with whom even Paul, full of power and of the Holy 
Ghost, could not prevail. There were people who 
hardened their hearts against Christ ; and let the 
preacher be ever so unworthy of the gospel, the virtue 
is in it, and not in him. He may not do anything to 
commend it to men ; but does it need his commenda- 
tion ? Can we make bad preaching an excuse for 
refusing to become imitators of the Lord ? It may 
condemn the preacher, but it can never excuse us 
Look steadily at the seal which God sets upon His 
own — the union of affliction with spiritual joy — and 
follov/ Christ in the life which is marked by this 
character as not human only, but Divine. That is 
the way prescribed to us here to make our election 




" For they themselves report concerning us what manner of entering 
in wc had unto you ; and how ye turned unto God from idols, to serve 
a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He 
raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivereth us from the wrath to 
come." — I Thess. i. 9, 10 (R.V.). 




nr^HESE verses show what an impression had been 
-*- made in other places by the success of the gospel 
at Thessalonica. Wherever Paul went, he heard it 
spoken about. In every place men were familiar with 
all its circumstances ; they had heard of the power and 
assurance of the missionaries, and of the conversion 
of their hearers from heathenism to Christianity. It is 
this conversion which is the subject before us. It has 
two parts or stages. There is first, the conversion 
from idols to the one living and true God ; and then 
the distinctively Christian stage of waiting for the Son 
of God from heaven. Let us look at these in order. 

The Apostle, so far as we can make out, judged the 
religions of heathenism with great severity. He knew 
that God never left Himself without a witness in the 
world, but God's testimony to Himself had been per- 
verted or ignored. Ever since the creation of the world, 
His everlasting power and divinity might be seen by 
the things He had made ; His law was written on con- 



science ; rain from heaven and fruitful seasons proved 
His good and faithful providence ; yet men were practi- 
cally ignorant of Him. They were not willing, in fact, 
to retain Him in their knowledge ; they were not 
obedient ; they were not thankful ; when they professed 
religion at all, they made gods after their own image, 
and worshipped them. They bowed before idols ; and 
an idol, says Paul, is nothing in the world. In the 
whole system of pagan religion the Apostle saw nothing 
but ignorance and sin ; it was the outcome, in part, of 
man's enmity to God ; in part, of God's judicial aban- 
donment of men ; in part, of the activity of evil spirits ; 
it was a path on which no progress could be made ; 
instead of pursuing it farther, those who wished really 
to make spiritual advance must abandon it altogether. 

It is possible to state a better case than this for the 
religion of the ancient world ; but the Apostle was in 
close and continuous contact with the facts, and it will 
take a great deal of theorising to reverse the verdict of 
a conscience like his on the whole question. Those 
who wish to put the best face upon the matter, and 
to rate the spiritual worth of paganism as high as may 
be, lay stress on the ideal character of the so-called 
idols, and ask whether the mere conception of Zeus, or 
Apollo, or Athene, is not a spiritual achievement of a 
high order. Let it be ever so high, and still, from the 
Apostle's ground, Zeus, Apollo, and Athene are dead 


idols. They have no life but that which is conferred 
upon them by their worshippers. They can never 
assert themselves in action, bestowing life or salvation 
on those who honour them. They can never be what 
the Living God was to every man of Jewish birth — 
Creator, Judge, King, and Saviour ; a personal and 
moral power to whom men are accountable at every 
moment, for every free act. 

"Ye turned unto God from idols, to serve a 
living and true God." We cannot overestimate the 
greatness of this change. Until we understand the 
unity of God, we can have no true idea of His 
character, and therefore no true idea of our own 
relation to Him, It was the plurality of deities, as 
much as anything, which made heathenism morally 
worthless. Where there is a multitude of gods, the 
real power in the world, the final reality, is not found 
in any of them ; but in a fate of some sort which lies 
behind them all. There can be no moral relation of 
man to this blank necessity ; nor, while it exists, any 
stable relation of man to his so-called gods. No Greek 
or Roman could take in the idea of " serving " a God. 
The attendants or priests in a temple were in an 
official sense the deity's ministers ; but the thought 
which is expressed in this passage, of serving a 
living and true God by a hfe of obedience to His 
will, a thought which is so natural and inevitable to 


either a Jew or a Christian, that without it we could 
not so much as conceive rehgion — that thought was 
quite beyond a pagan's comprehension. There was no 
room for it in his rehgion ; his conception of the gods 
did not admit of it. If Hfe was to be a moral service 
rendered to God, it must be to a God quite different 
from any to whom he was introduced by his ancestral 
worship. That is the final condemnation of heathenism ; 
the final proof of its falsehood as a religion. 

There is something as deep and strong as it is simple 
in the words, to serve the living and true God. Philo- 
sophers have defined God as the ens Tealissimum, the 
most real of beings, the absolute reality ; and it is this, 
with the added idea of personahty, that is conveyed 
by the description " living and true." But does God 
sustain this character in the minds even of those who 
habitually worship Him ? Is it not the case that the 
things which are nearest to our hand seem to be 
possessed of most life and reality, while God is by 
comparison very unreal, a remote inference from some- 
thing which is immediately certain ? If that is so, it 
will be very difficult for us to serve Him. The law of 
our life will not be found in His will, but in our own 
desires, or in the customs of our society ; our motive 
will not be His praise, but some end which is fully 
attained apart from Him. " My meat," said Jesus, " is 
to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His 


work " ; and He could say so because God who sent 
Him was to Him the Hving and true God, the first and 
last and sole reaHty, whose will embraced and covered 
all His life. Do we think of God so ? Are the existence 
of God and the claim of God upon our obedience the 
permanent element in our minds, the unchanging back- 
ground of all our thoughts and purposes? This is the 
fundamental thing in a truly religious life. 

But the Apostle goes on from what is merely theistic, 
to what is distinctively Christian. "Ye turned to God 
from idols ... to wait for His Son from heaven, 
whom He raised from the dead." 

This is a very summary description of the issue of 
Christian conversion. Judging by the analogy of other 
places, especially in St. Paul, we should have expected 
some mention of faith. In Acts xx., e.g., where he 
characterises his preaching, he names as its main 
elements, repentance toward God and faith toward our 
Lord Jesus Christ. But here faith has been displaced 
by hope ; the Thessalonians are represented not as 
trusting in Christ, but as waiting for Him. Of course, 
such hope implies faith. They only waited for Him 
because they believed He had redeemed them, and would 
save them at the great day. If faith and hope differ 
in that the one seerns to look mainly to the past and 
the other to the future, they agree in that both are 
concerned with the revelation of the unseen. 


Everything in this revelation goes back to the resur- 
rection and rests upon it. It is mentioned here, in 
the first instance, exactly as m Rom. i. 4, as the 
argumentum pahnariiim for the Divine Sonship of 
Jesus. There are many proofs of that essential doc- 
trine, but not all can be brought forward in all circum- 
stances. Perhaps the most convincing at the present 
time is that which is drawn from the solitary perfection 
of Christ's character ; the more truly and fully we get 
the impression of that character, as it is reflected in 
the Gospels, the surer we are that it is not a fancy 
picture, but drawn from life ; and that He whose like- 
ness it is, stands alone among the sons of men. But 
this kind of argument it takes years, not perhaps of 
study, but of obedience and devotion, to appreciate ; 
and when the apostles went forth to preach the gospel 
they needed a more summary process of conviction. 
This they found in Christ's resurrection ; that was 
an event standing alone in the world's history. There 
had been nothing Hke it before ; there has been nothing 
like it since. But the men who were assured of it 
by many infallible proofs, did not presume to disbelieve 
it because of its singularity ; amazing as it was, they 
could not but feel that it became one so unique m good- 
ness and greatness as Jesus ; it was not possible, they 
saw after the event, that He should be holden by the 
power of death; the resurrection only exhibited Him 


in His true dignity ; it declared Him the Son of God, 
and set Him on His throne. Accordingly in all their 
preaching they put the resurrection in the forefront. 
It was a revelation of life. It extended the horizon 
of man's existence. It brought into view realms of 
being that had hitherto been hidden in darkness. It 
magnified to infinity the significance of everything in 
our short Hfe in this world, because it connected every- 
thing immediately with an endless life beyond. And 
as this life in the unseen had been revealed in Christ, 
all the apostles had to tell about it centred in Him. 
The risen Christ was King, Judge, and Saviour; the 
Christian's present duty was to love, trust, obey, and 
wait for Him. 

This waiting includes everything. " Ye come behind 
in no gift," Paul says to the Corinthians, " waiting for 
the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ." That attitude 
of expectation is the bloom, as it were, of the Christian 
character. Without it, there is something lacking ; the 
Christian who does not look upward and onv/ard wants 
one mark of perfection. This is, in all probability, the 
point on which we should find ourselves most from 
home, in the atmosphere of the primitive Church. Not 
unbelievers only, but disciples as well, have practically 
ceased to think of the Second Advent. The society 
which devotes itself to reviving interest in the truth 
uses Scripture in a fashion which makes it impossible 


to take much interest in its proceedings ; yet a truth 
so clearly a part of Scripture teaching cannot be neglected 
without loss. The door of the unseen world closed 
behind Christ as He ascended from Olivet, but not for 
ever. It will open again ; and this same Jesus shall 
so come in like manner as the apostles beheld Him go. 
He has gone to prepare a place for those who love Him 
and keep His word ; but "if I go," He says, "and prepare 
a place for you, I will come again, and take you to 
Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." That 
is the final hope of the Christian faith. It is for the 
fulfilment of this promise that the Church waits. The 
Second Coming of Christ and His Resurrection stand 
and fall together ; and it will not long be possible for 
those who look askance at His return to receive in all 
its fulness the revelation of life which He made when 
He rose again from the dead. This world is too much 
with us ; and it needs not languor, but strenuous effort 
on the part of faith and hope, to make the unseen world 
as real. Let us see that we come not behind in a grace 
so essential to the very being of Christianity. 

The last words of the verse describe the character 
in which the Son of God is expected by Christians to 
appear — Jesus, our deliverer^ from the wrath to come 
(t?}9 0/37779 T^? ep')(o[xevT}<i). There is, then, according 

' The present participle here is simply equivalent to a substantive. 


to apostolic teaching, a coming wrath — a wrath impend- 
ing over the world, and actually on its way towards it. 
It is called the wrath to come, in distinction from any- 
thing of the same nature of which we have experience 
here. We all know the penal consequences which sin 
brings in its train even in this world. Remorse, 
unavailing sorrow, shame, fear, the sight of injury which 
we have done to those we love and which we cannot 
undo, incapacity for service, — all these are part and 
parcel of the fruit which sin bears. But they are not 
the wrath to come. They do not exhaust the judgment 
of God upon evil. Instead of discrediting it, they bear 
witness to it ; they are, so to speak, its forerunners ; 
the lurid clouds that appear here and there in the sky, 
but are finally lost in the dense mass of the thunder- 
storm. When the Apostle preached the gospel, he 
preached the wrath to come ; without it, there would 
have been a missing link in the circle of Christian 
ideas. " I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ," 
he says. Why ? Because in it the righteousness of 
God is revealed, a righteousness which is God's gift 
and acceptable in God's sight. But why is such a 
revelation of righteousness necessary ? Because the 
wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all 
ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. The gospel 
is a revelation made to the world in view of a given 
situation, and the most prominent and threatening 


element in that situation is the impending wrath of 
God. The apostles do not prove it ; they declare it. 
The proof of it is left to conscience, and to the Spirit 
of God reinforcing and quickening conscience ; if any- 
thing can be added to this, it is the gospel itself; for 
if there were no such thing as the wrath of God, the 
gospel would be gratuitous. We may, if we please, 
evade the truth ; we may pick and choose for ourselves 
among the elements of New Testament teaching, and 
reject all that is distasteful ; we may take our stand 
upon pride, and decline to be threatened even by God ; 
but we cannot be honest, and at the same time deny 
that Christ and His apostles warn us of wrath to come. 
Of course we must not misconceive the character of 
this wrath. We must not import into our thoughts 
of it all that we can borrow from our experience of 
man's anger — hastiness, unreason, intemperate rage. 
The wrath of God is no arbitrary, passionate outburst ; 
it is not, as wrath so often is with us, a fury of selfish 
resentment. " Evil shall not dwell with Thee," says 
the Psalmist; and in that simple word we have the 
root of the matter. The wrath of God is, as it were, 
the instinct of self-preservation in the Divine nature ; 
it is the eternal repulsion, by the Holy One, of all evil. 
Evil sJiall not dwell with Him. That may be doubted 
or denied while the day of grace lasts, and God's 
forbearance is giving space to the sinful for repentance; 


but a day is coming when it will no more be possible 
to doubt it — the day which the Apostle calls the day of 
wrath. It will then be plain to all the world that God's 
wrath is no empty name, but the most terrible of all 
powers — a consuming fire in which everything opposed 
to His holiness is burnt up. And while we take care 
not to think of this wrath after the pattern of our own 
sinful passions, let us take care, on the other hand, not 
to make it an unreal thing, without analogy in human 
life. If we go upon the ground of Scripture and of our 
own experience, it has the same degree and the same 
kind of reality as the love of God, or His compassion, 
or His forbearance. In whatever way we lawfully 
think of one side of the Divine nature, we must at the 
same time think of the other. If there is a passion of 
Divine love, there is a passion of Divine wrath as well. 
Nothing is meant in either case unworthy of the Divine 
nature ; what is conveyed by the word passion is the 
truth that God's repulsion of evil is as intense as the 
ardour with which He delights in good. To deny that 
is to deny that He is good. 

The apostolic preacher, who had announced the 
wrath to come, and awakened guilty consciences to see 
their danger, preached Jesus as the deliverer from it. 
This is the real meaning of the words in the text ; and 
neither "Jesus which delivered," as in the Authorised 
Version, nor, in any rigorous sense, "Jesus which 


delivereth," as in the Revised. It is the character of 
Jesus that is in view, and neither the past nor the 
present of His action. Every one who reads the words 
must feel, How brief! how much remains to be ex- 
plained ! how much Paul must have had to say about 
how the deliverance is effected ! As the passage stands, 
it recalls vividly the end of the second Psalm : " Kiss 
the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish in the way, 
for His wrath will soon be kindled. Blessed are all 
they that put their trust in Him." To have the Son 
a friend, to be identified with Jesus— so much we see 
at once — secures deliverance in the day of wrath. 
Other Scriptures supply the missing links. The atone- 
ment for sin made by Christ's death ; faith which unites 
the soul to the Saviour, and brings into it the virtue of 
His cross and resurrection ; the Holy Spirit who dwells 
in believers, sanctifying them, and making them fit to 
dwell with God in the light, — all these come into view 
elsewhere, and in spite of the brevity of this notice 
had their place, beyond doubt, in Paul's teaching at 
Thessalonica.^ Not that all could be explained at 

' Much has been made, by writers who wish to trace the spiritual 
development of St. Paul, of the absence from his earliest epistles of 
explicit teacliing on the atonement and on justification by faith. But 
we have to remember that the Epistles to the Thessalonians, like most 
of his writings, were incidental ; their topics were provided, and limited, 
by special circumstances. The doctrinal matter in i Thessalonians 
was not even the principal thing ; the Xombv in iv. I shows that by 


once : that was unnecessary. But from imminent 
danger there must be an instantaneous escape ; and it 
is sufficient to say that it is found in Jesus Christ. 
" Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him." 
The risen Son is enthroned in power ; He is J'udge of 
all ; He died for all ; He is able to save to the utter- 
most all that come unto God by Him. To commit 
everything definitely to Him ; to leave Him to undertake 
for us ; to put on Him the responsibility of our past 
and our future, as He invites us to do ; to put ourselves 
for good and all at His side, — this is to find deliverance 
from the wrath to come. It leaves much unexplained 
that we may come to understand afterwards, and much, 
perhaps, that we shall never understand ; but it 
guarantees itself, adventure though it be ; Christ never 
disappoints any who thus put their trust in Him. 

This description in outline of conversion from pagan- 
ism to the gospel should revive the elementary 
Christian virtues in our hearts. Have we seen how 

the end of chapter iii. the Apostle has done what he intended to do 
when he began ; even the paragraphs on the Paiousia are casual and 
supplementary. But if we consider that Paul had now been preaching 
for perhaps seventeen years, and that within a few months he delivered 
to the Corinthians (i Cor. xv. 1-4) the one gospel known alike to him 
and to the twelve, — the gospel which had for its fundamental article 
"that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures," — we shall 
see how unreal it is to exclude this doctrine from his evangelistic woik 
at Thessalonica. No doubt there, as at Corinth, he delivered this 
"first of all," — See also chap, v, 10. 



high a thing it is to serve a living and true God ? Or 
is it not so, that even among Christians, a godly man — 
one who lives in the presence of God, and is conscious 
of his responsibility to Him — is the rarest of all types ? 
Are vi^e waiting for His Son from heaven, whom He 
raised from the dead ? Or are there not many who 
hardly so much as form the idea of His return, and to 
whom the attitude of waiting for Him would seem 
strained and unnatural ? In plain words, what the 
New Testament calls Hope is in many Christians dead : 
the world to come and all that is involved in it — the 
searching judgment, the impending wrath, the glory of 
Christ — have slipped from our grasp. Yet it was this 
hope which more than anything gave its peculiar colour 
to the primitive Christianity, its unworldliness, its 
moral intensity, its command of the future even in this 
life. If there were nothing else to establish it, would 
not its spiritual fruits be sufficient ?■ 




" For yourselves, brethren, know our entering in unto you, that it 
hath not been found vain : but having suffered before, and been shame- 
fully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we waxed bold in our God to 
speak unto you the gospel of God in much conflict. For our exhortation 
is not of error, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile : but even as we have 
been approved of God to be intrusted with the gospel, so we speak ; 
not as pleasing men, but God which proveth our hearts. For neither 
at any time were we found using words of flattery, as ye know, nor 
a cloke of covetousness, God is witness ; nor seeking glory of men, 
neither from you, nor from others, when we might have been burden- 
some, as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle in the midst of you, 
as when a nurse cherisheth her own children : even so, being affection- 
ately desirous of you, we were well pleased to impart unto you, not the 
gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were become 
very dear to us. For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail : 
working night and day, that we might not burden any of you, we 
preached unto you the gospel of God. Ye are witnesses, and God also, 
how holily and righteously and unblameably we behaved ourselves 
toward you that believe : as ye know how we deali tuith each one of 
you, as a father with his own children, exhorting you, and encouraging 
you, and testifying, to the end that ye should walk worthily of God, 
who calleth you into His own kingdom and glory." — i Thess. ii. I-12 




OUR first impression, as we read these verses, is 
that they contain Httle that is new. They simply 
expand the statement of ch, i., ver. 5: "Our gospel 
came not unto you in word only, but in power, and in 
the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance ; even as ye 
know what manner of men we showed ourselves toward 
you for your sake." But if their substance is the same, 
their tone is very different. It is obvious at a glance 
that the Apostle has a definite purpose in view in 
appealing so pointedly as he does here to facts with 
which his readers were familiar. The truth is, he is 
standing upon his defence. Unless it were so, he 
would not think of writing, as he does in ver. 5, that he 
had never had recourse to flattery, nor sought to make 
gain out of his apostleship ; nor as he does in ver. 10, 
that God knows the entire purity of his life among 
them. Although he does not name them, it is quite 
plain that he was already suffering from those enemies 
who never ceased to vex him while he lived. As we 


learn afterwards, these enemies were the Jews. When 
they had opportunity, they used open violence ; they 
roused the Gentile mob against him ; they had him 
scourged and stoned. When his body was out of 
their reach, they assailed him through his character 
and affections. They crept into the churches which 
his love and zeal had gathered here and there, and 
scattered injurious suspicions against him among his 
disciples. He was not, they hinted, all that he seemed 
to be. They could tell stories about his early days, 
and advised those who did not know him so well to 
be on their guard. Evangelising paid him quite as 
well as harder work, and his paltry ambition was 
gratified by lording it over his ignorant converts. 
Such messengers of Satan had apparently made their 
appearance in Thessalonica since Paul left, and this 
chapter is his reply to their insinuations. 

There is something exquisitely painful in the situation 
thus created. It would have been like a sword piercing 
the Apostle's heart, had his enemies succeeded in their 
attempt to breed distrust in the Thessalonians toward 
him. He could not have borne to think that those 
whom he loved so utterly should entertain the faintest 
suspicion of the integrity of his love. But happily he 
is spared that pain. He writes, indeed, as one who 
has felt the indignity of the charges brought against 
him, but with the frankness and heartiness of a man 


who is confident that his defence will be well received. 
From baseless insinuations he can appeal to facts 
which are well known to all. From the false character 
in which he has been dressed by his adversaries he 
can appeal to the true, in which he lived and moved 
familiarly among them. 

The first point in his favour is found in the circum- 
stances under which he had preached the gospel in 
Thessalonica. Had he been an insincere man, with 
bye ends of his own to serve, he would never have 
faced the career of an apostle. He had been scourged 
and put in the stocks at Philippi; and when he left 
that city for Thessalonica, he brought his troubles with 
him. Here also he had much conflict ; he was beset 
on every hand with difficulties ; it was only in the 
strength of God that he had courage to preach at all. 
You yourselves, he says, know that ; and how, in spite 
of that, our coming to you was not vain, but full of 
power; surely it needs no more to prove the disin- 
terestedness of our mission. 

From this point onward, the apology falls into two 
parts, a negative and a positive : the Apostle tells us 
what his gospel and the proclamation of it are not ; and 
then he tells us what, at Thessalonica, it had been. 

In the first place, it is not of error. It does not rest 
on mistakes, or imaginations, or cunningly devised 
fables; in the fullest sense it is the truth. It would 


have taken the heart out of the Apostle, and made him 
incapable of braving anything for its sake, had he been 
in doubt of this. If the gospel vv^ere a device of man, 
then men might take liberties with it, handle it deceit- 
fully, make their own account out of it ; but resting as 
it does on facts and truth, it demands honest dealing in 
all its ministers. Paul claims here a character in agree- 
ment with the dispensation which he serves : can a 
minister of the truth, he asks, be other than a true man ? 
In the next place, it is not of uncleanness ; that is, it 
is not prompted by any impure motive. The force of 
the word here must be determined by the context ; and 
we see that the impure motives specially laid to the 
charge of Paul were avarice and ambition ; or, to use 
the words of the Apostle himself, covetousness, and the 
seeking of honour from men. The first of these is so 
manifestly inconsistent with any degree of spirituality 
that Paul writes instinctively " a cloke of covetousness " ; 
he did not make his apostolic labour a veil, under cover 
of which he could gratify his love of gain. It is im- 
possible to exaggerate the subtle and clinging character 
of this vice. It owes its strength to the fact that it can 
be so easily cloked. We seek money, so we tell our- 
selves, not because we are covetous, but because it is 
a power for all good purposes. Piety, charity, humanity, 
refinement, art, science — it can minister to them all ; 
but when we obtain it, it is too easily hoarded, or spent 


in indulgence, display, and conformity to the world. 
The pursuit of wealth, except in an utterly materialised 
society, is always clokcd by some ideal end to which it 
is to minister ; but how few there are in whose hands 
wealth is merely an instrument for the furtherance of 
such ends. In many men the desire for it is naked 
selfishness, an idolatry as undisguised as that of Israel 
at Sinai. Yet all men feel how bad and mean it is to 
have the heart set on money. All men see how base 
and incongruous it is to make godliness a source of 
gain. All men see the peculiar ugliness of a character 
which associates piety and avarice — of a Balaam, for in- 
stance, a Gehazi, or an Ananias. It is not ministers of 
the gospel only, but all to whom the credit of the gospel 
is entrusted, who have to be on their guard here. Our 
enemies are entitled to question our sincerity when we 
can be shown to be lovers of money. At Thessalonica, 
as elsewhere, Paul had been at pains to make such 
calumny impossible. Although entitled to claim support 
from the Church in accordance with the law of Christ 
that they who preach the gospel should live by the 
gospel, he had wrought night and day with his own 
hands that he might not burden any of them. As a 
precaution, this self-denial was vain; there can be no 
security against malice ; but it gave him a triumphant 
vindication when the charge of covetousness was 
actually made. 


The other impure motive contemplated is ambition. 
Some modern students of Paul's character — devil's advo- 
cates, no doubt — hint at this as his most obvious fault. 
It was necessary for him, we are told, to be first ; to 
be the leader of a party; to have a following of his 
own. But he disclaims ambition as explicitly as avarice. 
He never sought glory from men, at Thessalonica or 
elsewhere. He used none of the arts which obtain 
it. As apostles of Christ — he includes his friends — 
they had, indeed, a rank of their own ; the greatness 
of the Prince whom they represented was reflected on 
them as His ambassadors ; they might have " stood 
upon their dignity," ^ had they chosen to do so. Their 
very self-denial in the matter of money formed a new 
temptation for them here. They might v/ell feel that 
their disinterested service of the Thessalonians entitled 
them to a spiritual pre-eminence ; and indeed there is 
no pride like that which bases on ascetic austerities the 
claim to direct with authority the life and conduct of 
others. Paul escaped this snare. He did not compensate 
himself for renouncing gain, with any lordship over 
souls. In all things he was the servant of those to 
whom he preached. 

And as his motives were pure, so were the means 
he used. Plis exhortation was not in guile. He did 

' So Alford renders twdfievoi. iv ^dpei etvai. 


not manipulate his message ; he was never found using 
words of flattery. The gospel was not his own to do 
what he pleased with : it was God's; God had approved 
him so far as to entrust it to him ; yet every moment, 
in the discharge of his trust, that same God was 
proving his heart still, so that false dealing was 
impossible. He did not make his message other than 
it was; he did not hide any part of the counsel of God; 
he did not inveigle the Thessalonians by any false 
pretences into responsibilities which would not have 
been accepted could they have been foreseen. 

All these denials — not of error, not of uncleanness, 
not of guile ; not pleasing men, not using words of 
flattery, not cloking over covetousness — all these denials 
presuppose the contrary affirmations. Paul does not 
indulge in boasting but on compulsion ; he would never 
have sought to justify himself, unless he had first 
been accused. And now, over against this picture, 
drawn by his enemies, let us look at the true likeness 
which is held up before God and man. 

Instead of selfishness there is love, and nothing but 
love. We are all familiar with the great passage in 
the epistle to the Philippians where the Apostle depicts 
the mind which was in Christ Jesus. The contrast in 
that passage between the disposition which grasps at 
eminence and that which makes itself of no reputation, 
between dp7ray/jLb<i and Kepwai'i, is reproduced here. 


Paul had learned of Christ ; and instead of seeking in 
his apostolic work opportunities for self-exaltation, he 
shrank from no service imposed by love, "We were 
gentle in the midst of you, as when a nurse cherisheth 
her own children." " Her own " is to be emphasised. 
The tenderness of the Apostle was that of a mother 
warming her babe at her breast. Most of the ancient 
authorities, the R. V. tells us in the margin, read " We 
were babes (vyTnoi,) in the midst of you." If this were 
correct, the thought would be that Paul stooped to the 
level of these infant disciples, speaking to them, as it 
were, in the language of childhood, and accommodating 
himself to their immaturity. But though this is appro- 
priate enough, the word vijirioi is not proper to express 
it.^ Gentleness is rtally what is meant. But his love 
went further than this in its yearning over the Thessa- 
lonians. He had been accused of seeking gain and 
glory when he came among them ; but his sole desire 
had been not to get but to give. As his stay was pro- 
longed, the disciples became very dear to their teachers; 
" we were well pleased to impart unto you, not the gos- 
pel of God only, but also our own souls." That is the 
true standard of pastoral care. The Apostle lived up to 
it always. "Noiu we live" he writes in the next chapter, 
" if ye stand fast in the Lord." "Ye are in our hearts," 

' priTTios always includes the idea of being undeveloped, unripe, and 
has often a shade of censure in Paul. 


he cries to the Corinthians, "to Hve together and to 
die together." He not only kept back from them 
nothing of the whole purpose of God ; he kept back 
no part of himself. His daily toil, his toil by night, 
his prayers, his preaching, his spiritual ardour, his 
very soul, were theirs. They knew his labour and 
travail ; they were witnesses, and God also, how holily 
and righteously and unblaraably he had behaved toward 

As the Apostle recalls these recent memories, he 
dwells for a moment on another aspect of his love. It 
had not only the tender fondness of a mother's, but 
the educative wisdom of a father's. One by one he 
dealt with the disciples — which is not the way to gain 
glory — exhorting, encouraging, bearing solemn testi- 
mony to the truth of God. And his end in all this, as 
they knew, was ideal and spiritual, an end as remote 
as possible from any worldly interest of his own ; that 
they might walk worthily of God who was calling them 
into His own kingdom and glory. How far from the 
rewards and distinctions of the present must that 
man's mind be who sees, as Paul saw steadily, the 
things that are invisible. If he who is blind to the 
golden crown above his head grasps the muck rake 
tightly and clutches eagerly all it brings within his 
reach, surely he whose eye is set upon the crown must 
be superior alike to the gain and the glory of the 


world. That, at least, is the claim which the Apostle 
makes here. Nothing could be more incongruous than 
that a man to whom the visible world was transitory 
and unreal, and the invisible kingdom of God real and 
eternal, should be eager for money and applause, and 
forget the high calling with which he himself was 
calHng men in Christ. So far the apology of the 

The practical application of this passage is different, 
according as we look at it in detail, or as a whole. It 
exhibits to us, in the charges brought against Paul, 
those vices which even bad men can see to be rankly 
inconsistent with the Christian character. Covetous- 
ness is the foremost. No matter how we cloke it — 
and we always cloke it somehow — it is incurably un- 
christian. Christ had no money. He never wished to 
have any. The one perfect life that has been lived in 
this world is the life of Him who owned nothing, and 
who left nothing but the clothes he wore. Whoever 
names the name of Christ, and professes to follow Him, 
must learn of Him indifference to gain. The mere 
suspicion of avarice will discredit, and ought to dis- 
credit, the most pious pretensions. The second vice 
I have spoken of as ambition. It is the desire to 
use others for one's own exaltation, to make them the 
stepping stones on which we rise to eminence, the 
ministers of our vanity, the sphere for the display 


of our own abilities as leaders, masters, organisers, 
preachers. To put ourselves in that relation to others 
is to do an essentially unchristian thing. A minister 
whose congregation is the theatre on which he displays 
his talents or his eloquence is not a Christian. A 
clever man, to whom the men and women with whom 
he meets in society are merely specimens of human 
nature on whom he can make shrewd observations, 
sharpening his wits on them as on a grindstone, is 
not a Christian. A man of business, who looks 
at the labourers whom he employs as only so 
many instruments for rearing the fabric of his pros- 
perity, is not a Christian. Everybody in the world 
knows that ; and such men, if they profess Chris- 
tianity, give a handle to slander, and bring disgrace 
on the religion which they wear merely as a blind. 
True Christianity is love, and the nature of love 
is not to take but to give. There is no limit to the 
Christian's beneficence ; he counts nothing his own ; 
he gives his very soul with every separate gift. He is 
as tender as the mother to her infant ; as wise, as 
manly, as earnest as the father with his growing boy. 

Looked at as a whole this passage warns us against 
slander. It must needs be that slander is spoken and 
believed ; but woe to the man or woman by whom it 
is either beUeved or spoken ! None are good enough 
to escape it. Christ was slandered ; they called Plim a 


glutton and a drunkard, and said He was in league 
with the devil. Paul was slandered ; they said he was 
a very smart man, who looked well to his own interest, 
and made dupes of simple people. The deliberate 
wickedness of such falsehoods is diabolical, but it is 
not so very rare. Numbers of people who would 
not invent such stories are glad to hear them. 
They are not very particular whether they are true 
or false ; it pleases them to think that an evangelist, 
eminent in profession, gets a royalty on hymn-books ; 
or that a priest, famous for devotion, was really no 
better than he should have been ; or that a preacher, 
whose words regenerated a whole church, sometimes 
despised his audience, and talked nonsense impromptu. 
To sympathise with detraction is to have the spirit of 
the devil, not of Christ. Be on your guard against 
such sympathy ; you are human, and therefore need 
to. Never give utterance to a suspicious thought. 
Never repeat what would discredit a man, if you have 
only heard it and are not sure it is true ; even if you 
are sure of its truth, be afraid of yourself if it gives 
you any pleasure to think of it. Love thinketh no evil ; 
love rejoiceth not in iniquity. 




"And for this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that, when 
ye received from us the word of the message, even the word of God, 
ye accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word 
of God, which also worketh in you that believe. For ye, brethren, 
became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judaea in Christ 
Jesus ; for ye also suffered the same things of your own countrymen, 
even as they did of the Jews; who both killed the Lord Jesus and the 
prophets, and drave out us, and please not God, and are contrary to all 
men; forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved; 
to fill up their sins alway : but the wrath is come upon them to the 
uttermost."--! Thess. ii. 13-16 (R.V.). 




' I ^HESE verses complete the treatment of the subject 
-^ with whicli this chapter opens. The Apostle has 
drawn a moving picture of his life and labours in 
Thessalonica ; he has pointed to it as his sufficient 
vindication from all the charges laid against him. 
Before carrying the war into the enemies' camp, and 
depicting the traditions and the spirit of his traducers, 
he lingers again for a moment on the happy results 
of his work. In spite of persecution and calumny, he 
has cause to thank God without ceasing when he 
remembers the reception of the gospel by the Thessa- 

When the message v/as brought to them, they ac- 
cepted it, he says, not as the word of men, but as what 
it was in truth, the word of God. It is in this character 
that the gospel always presents itself. A word of men 
cannot address men with authority; it must submit 
itself to criticism ; it must vindicate itself on grounds 
which man's understanding approves. Now, the gospel 
is not irrational; it is its own demand that the Christian 


shall be ready to answer every one who demands a 
rational account of the hope that is in him. But 
neither does it, on the other hand, come to us soliciting 
our approval ; submitting itself, as a system of ideas, 
to our scrutiny, and courting approbation. It speaks 
with authority. It commands repentance ; it preaches 
forgiveness on the ground of Christ's death — a supreme 
gift of God which may be accepted or rejected, but 
is not proposed for discussion ; it exhibits the law of 
Christ's life as the law which is binding upon every 
human being, and calls upon all men to follow him. 
Its decisive appeal is made to the conscience and the 
will ; and to respond to it is to give up will and con- 
science to God. When the Apostle says, " Ye received 
it as, what it is in truth, the word of God," he betrays, 
if one may use the word, the consciousness of his own 
inspiration. Nothing is commoner now than to speak 
of the theology of Paul as if it were a private possession 
of the Apostle, a scheme of thought that he had framed 
for himself, to explain his own experience. Such a 
scheme of thought, we are told, has no right whatever 
to impose itself on us ; it has only a historical and 
biographical interest ; it has no necessary connexion 
with truth. The first result of this line of thought, in 
almost every case, is the rejection of the very heart of 
the apostolic gospel ; the doctrine of the atonement is 
no longer the greatest truth of revelation, but a rickety 


bridge on which Paul imagined he had crossed from 
Pharisaism to Christianity. Certainly this modern 
analysis of the epistles does not reflect the Apostle's 
own way of looking at what he called " My gospel." 
To him it was no device of man, but unequivocally 
Divine ; in very truth, the word of God. His theology 
certainly came to him in the way of his experience ; 
his mind had been engaged with it, and was engaged 
with it continually ; but he was conscious that, with all 
this freedom, it rested at bottom on the truth of God ; 
and when he preached it — for his theology was the 
sum of the Divine truth he held, and he did preach it — 
he did not submit it to men as a theme for discussion. 
He put it above discussion. He pronounced a solemn 
and reiterated anathema on either man or angel who 
should put anything else in its stead. He published 
it, not for criticism, as though it had been his own 
device ; but, as the word of God, for the obedience of 
faith. The tone of this passage recalls the word of our 
Lord, " Whoso shall not receive the kingdom of God 
as a little child shall in no wise enter therein." There 
are difficulties enough connected with the gospel, but 
they are not of a kind that disappear while we stand 
and look at them, or even stand and think about them ; 
unquestioning surrender solves many, and introduces 
us to experiences which enable us to bear the rest with 


The word of God, in other words the gospel, proved 
its Divine character in the Thessalonians after it was 
received. " It also worketh," says Paul, " in you that 
believe." The last words are not superfluous. The 
word preached, we read of an earlier generation, did 
not profit, not being mixed with faith in them that 
heard. Faith conditions its efficacy. Gospel truth is 
an active force when it is within the heart ; but it can 
do nothing for us while doubt, pride, or unacknow- 
ledged reserve, keep it outside. If we have really 
welcomed the Divine message, it will not be inopera- 
tive; it will work within us all that is characteristic of 
New Testament life — love, joy, peace, hope, patience. 
These are the proofs of its truth. Here, then, is the 
source of all graces : if the word of Christ dwell in us 
richly ; if the truth of the gospel, deep, manifold, 
inexhaustible, yet ever the same, possess our hearts, — 
the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. 

The particular gospel grace which the Apostle has 
here in view is patience. He proves that the word of God 
is at work in the Thessalonians by pointing to the fact 
that they have suffered for His sake. " Had you been 
still of the world, the world would have loved its own ; 
but as it is, you have become imitators of the Christian 
churches in Judaea, and have suffered the same things 
at the hands of your countrymen as they from theirs." 
Of all places in the world, Judaea was that in which 


the gospel and its adherents had suffered most severely. 
Jerusalem itself was the focus of hostility. No one 
knew better than Paul, the zealous persecutor of heresy, 
what it had cost from the very beginning to be true to 
the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Scourging, imprison- 
ment, exile, death by the sword or by stoning, had 
rewarded such fidelity. We do not know to what 
extremity the enemies of the gospel had gone in 
Thessalonica ; but the distress of the Christians must 
have been great when the Apostle could make this 
comparison even in passing. He has already told 
them (ch. i. 6) that much affliction, with joy of the 
Holy Ghost, is the very badge of God's elect ; and here 
he combines the same stern necessity with the opera- 
tion of the Divine word in their hearts. Do not let us 
overlook this. The work of God's word (or if you 
prefer it, the effect of receiving the gospel), is in the 
first instance to produce a new character, a character 
not only distinct from that of the unconverted, but 
antagonistic to it, and more directly and inevitably 
antagonistic, the more thoroughly it is wrought out ; 
so that in proportion as God's word is operative in us, 
we come into collision with the world which rejects it. 
To suffer, therefore, is to the Apostle the seal of faith: 
it warrants the genuineness of a Christian profession. 
It is not a sign that God has forgotten His people, but 
a sign that He is with them ; and that they are being 


brought by Him into fellowship with primitive churches, 
with apostles and prophets, with the Incarnate Son 
Himself. And hence the whole situation of the Thes- 
salonians, suffering included, comes under that heart- 
felt expression of thanks to God with which the passage 
opens. It is not a subject for condolence, but for 
gratitude, that they have been counted worthy to suffer 
shame for the Name. 

And now the Apostle turns from the persecuted to 
the persecutors. There is nothing in his epistles else- 
where that can be compared with this passionate 
outburst. Paul was proud with no common pride of 
his Jewish descent ; it was better in his eyes than any 
patent of nobility. His heart swelled as he thought 
of the nation to which the adoption pertained, and the 
glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and 
the service of God, and the promises ; whose were the 
fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ 
came. Apostle of the Gentiles though he was, he had 
great sorrow and unceasing pain in his heart, when he 
remembered the antagonism of the Jews to the gospel ; 
he could have wished himself anathema from Christ 
for their sakes. He was confident, too, that in some 
glorious future they would yet submit to the Messiah, 
so that all Israel should be saved. The turning of the 
heathen to God would provoke them to jealousy ; and 
the Divine calling with which the nation had been 


called in Abraham would reach its predestined goal. 
Such is the tone, and such the anticipation, with which, 
not very long afterwards, Paul writes in the epistle to 
the Romans. Here he looks at his countrymen with 
other eyes. They are identified, in his experience, 
with a fierce resistance to the gospel, and with cruel 
persecutions of the Church of Christ. Only in the 
character of bitter enemies has he been in contact with 
them in recent years. They have hunted him from 
city to city in Asia and in Europe ; they have raised 
the populace against his converts ; they have sought 
to poison the minds of his disciples against him. He 
knows that this policy is that with which his country- 
men as a whole have identified themselves ; and as he 
looks steadii}^ at it, he sees that in doing so they have 
only acted in consistency with all their past history. 
The messengers whom God sends to demand the fruit 
of His vineyard have always been treated with violence 
and despite. The crowning sin of the race is put in 
the forefront ; they slew the Lord, Jesus ; but before 
the Lord came, they had slain His prophets ; and after 
He had gone, they expelled His apostles. God had 
put them in a position of privilege, but only for a time ; 
they were the depositaries, or trustees, of the knowledge 
of God as the Saviour of men ; and now, when the 
time had come for that knowledge to be diffused 
throughout all the world, they clung proudly and stub- 


bornly to the old position. They pleased not God and 
were contrary to all men, in forbidding the apostles 
to preach salvation to the heathen. There is an echo, 
all through this passage, of the words of Stephen : 
"Ye stiflfnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, 
ye do always resist the Holy Ghost." There are sen- 
tences in heathen authors, who repaid the contempt 
and hatred of the Jev;s with haughty disdain, that have 
been compared with this terrible impeachment by the 
Apostle ; but in reality, they are quite unhke. What 
we have here is not a burst of temper, though there is 
undoubtedly strong feeling in it ; it is the vehement 
, condemnation, by a man in thorough sympathy with 
the mind and spirit of God, of the principles on which 
the Jews as a nation had acted at every period of their 

What is the relation of God to such a situation as 
is here described ? The Jews, Paul says, did all this 
" to fill up their sins at all times." He does not mean 
that that was their intention ; neither does he speak 
ironically ; but speaking as he often does from that 
Divine standpoint at which all results are intended and 
purposed results, not outside of, but within, the counsel 
of God, he signifies that this Divine end was being 
secured by their wickedness. The cup of their iniquity 
was filling all the time. Every generation did some- 
thing to raise the level within. The men who bade 


Amos begone, and eat his bread at home, raised it 
a little ; the men who sought Hosea's life in the 
sanctuary, raised it further; so did those who put 
Jeremiah in the dungeon, and those who murdered 
Zechariah between the temple and the altar. When 
Jesus was nailed to the cross, the cup was full to the 
brim. When those whom He left behind to be His 
witnessei^, and to preach repentance and remission of 
sins to all men, beginning at Jerusalem, were expelled 
or put to death, it ran over. God could bear no more. 
Side by side with the cup of iniquity the cup of judg- 
ment had been filling also ; and they overflowed 
together. Even when Paul wrote he could say, "The 
wrath is come upon them to the very end."^ 

It is not easy to explain the precise force of these 
words. They seem to point definitely^ to some event, 
or some act of God, in which His wrath had been 
unmistakably made manifest. To suppose that the 
fall of Jerusalem is meant is to deny that Paul wrote 
the words. All that is certain is that the Apostle saw 
in the signs of the times some infallible token that the 
nation's day of grace had come to an end. Perhaps 
some excess of a Roman procurator, now forgotten ; 
perhaps one of those famines that desolated Judaea in 
that unhappy age ; perhaps the recent edict of Claudius, 

' Weiss renders eU r^Xos "im hochsten Masse." 
* Observe the aorist iSOacev. 


expelling all Jews, from Rome, and betraying the temper 
of the supreme power ; perhaps the coming shadow ot 
an awful doom, obscure in outline, but none the less 
inevitable, gave shape to the expression. The Jews 
had failed, in their day, to recognise the things that 
belonged to their peace ; and now they were hid from 
their eyes. They had disregarded every presage of 
the coming storm ; and at length the clouds that could 
not be charmed away had accumulated over their heads, 
and the fire of God was ready to leap out. 

This striking passage embodies certain truths to 
which we do well to give heed. It shows us that there 
is such a thing as a national character. In the provi- 
dential government of God a nation is not an aggregate 
of individuals, each one of whom stands apart from the 
rest; it is a corporation with a unity, life and spirit 
of its own. Within that unity there may be a conflict 
of forces, a struggle of good with evil, of higher with 
lower tendencies, just as there is in the individual soul; 
but there will be a preponderance on one side or the 
other ; and that side to which the balance leans will 
prevail more and more. In the vast spirit of the nation, 
as in the spirit of each man or woman, through the 
slow succession of generations as in the swift succes- 
sion of years, character gradually assumes more fixed 
and definite form. There is a process of development, 
interrupted perhaps and retarded by such conflicts as 


I have referred to, but bringing out all the more 
decisively and irreversibly the inmost spirit of the 
whole. There is nothing which the proud and the 
weak more dread than inconsistency ; there is nothing, 
therefore, which is so fatally certain to happen as what 
has happened already. The Jews resented from the 
first the intrusion of God's word into their lives ; they 
had ambitions and ideas of their own, and in its 
corporate action the nation was uniformly hostile to 
the prophets. It beat one and killed another and 
stoned a third ; it was of a different spirit from them, 
and from Him who sent them ; and the longer it lived, 
the more like itself, the more unlike God, it became. It 
was the climax of its sin, yet only the climax — for it had 
previously taken every step that led to that eminence 
in evil — when it slew the Lord Jesus. And when it 
was ripe for judgment, judgment fell upon it as a whole. 
It is not easy to speak impartially about our own 
country and its character ; yet such a character there 
undoubtedly is, just as there is such a unity as the 
British nation. Many observers tell us that the cha- 
racter has degenerated into a mere instinct for trade ; 
and that it has begotten a vast unscrupulousness in 
dealing with the weak. Nobody will deny that there 
is a protesting conscience in the nation, a voice which 
pleads in God's name for justice, as the prophets pled 
in Israel ; but the question is not whether such a voice 


is audible, but whether in the corporate acts of the 
nation it is obeyed. The state ought to be a Christian 
state. The nation ought to be conscious of a spiritual 
vocation, and to be animated with the spirit of Christ. 
In its dealings with other powers, in its relations to 
savage or half-civilised peoples, in its care for the weak 
among its own citizens, it should acknowledge the laws 
of justice and of mercy. We have reason to tliank God 
that in all these matters Christian sentiment is begin- 
ning to tell. The opium trade with China, the liquor 
trade with the natives of Africa, the labour trade in 
the South Seas, the dwellings of the poor, the public- 
house system with its deliberate fostering of drunken- 
ness, all these are matters in regard to which the nation 
was in danger of settling into permanent hostility to God, 
and in v;hich there is now hope of better things. The 
wrath which is the due and inevitable accompaniment 
of such hostility, when persisted in, has not aime on 
us to the very end ; God has given us opportunity to 
rectify what is amiss, and to deal with all our interests 
in the spirit of the New Testament. Let no one be 
backward or indifferent when so great a work is in 
hand. The heritage of sin accumulates if it is not 
put away by well doing ; and with sin, judgment. It 
is for us to learn by the word of God and the examples 
of history that the nation and kingdom that will not 
serve Him shall perish. 


Finally, this passage shows us the last and worst 
form which sin can assume, in the words " forbidding 
us to speak to the Gentiles that they should be saved." 
Nothing is so completely ungodly, so utterly unlike 
God and opposed to Him, as that spirit which grudges 
others the good things which it prizes for itself. 
When the Jewish nation set itself relentlessly to 
prohibit the extension of the gospel to the Gentiles — 
when the word was passed round the synagogues 
from head quarters that this renegade Paul, who was 
summoning the pagans to become the people of God, 
was to be thwarted by fraud or violence — God's 
patience was exhausted. Such selfish pride was the 
very negation of His love ; the ne plus ultra of evil. 
Yet nothing is more easy and natural than for men 
who have occupied a position of privilege to indulge 
this temper. An imperial nation, which boasts of its 
freedom, grudges such freedom to others ; it seems 
to lose the very consciousness of being free, unless 
there is a subject people over which it can tyrannise. 
In many relations of minor consequence, political and 
social, we have cause to make this reflection. Do 
not think that what is good for you, is anything else 
than good for your neighbour. If you are a better 
man because you have a comfortable home, leisure, 
education, interest in public affairs, a place in the 
church, so would he be. Above all, if the gospel of 


Christ is to you the pearl above all price, take care 
how you grudge that to any human soul. This is 
not an unnecessary caution. The criticism of mis- 
sionary methods, which may be legitimate enough, 
is interrupted too often by the suggestion that such 
and such a race is not fit for the gospel. Nobody 
who knows what the gospel is will ever make such 
a suggestion ; but we have all heard it m.ade, and we 
see from this passage what it means. It is the mark 
of a heart which is deeply estranged from God, and 
ignorant of the Golden Rule which embodies both 
gospel and law. Let us rather be imitators of the 
great man who first entered into the spirit of Christ, 
and discovered the open secret of His life and death, — 
the mystery of redemption — that the heathen should 
be heirs with God's ancient people, and of the same 
body, and partakers of the same promises. " What- 
soever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye 
even so to them." 




"But we, brethren, being bereaved of you for a short season, in 
presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more exceedingly to see your 
face vi^ith great desire : because we would fain have come unto you, I 
Paul once and again ; and Satan hindered us. For what is our hope, 
or joy, or crown of glorying? Are not even ye, before our Lord Jesus 
at His coming ? For ye are our glory and our joy. Wherefore when 
we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left behind at 
Athens alone ; and sent Timothy, our brother and God's minister in the 
gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your 
faith ; that no man be moved by these afflictions ; for yourselves know 
that hereunto we are appointed. For verily, when we were with you, 
we told you beforehand that we are to suffer affliction ; even as it came 
to pass, and ye know. For this cause I also, when I could no longer 
forbear, sent that I might know your faith, lest by any means the 
tempter had tempted you, and our labour should be in vain."— I Thess. 
ii. 17-iii. 5 (R-V.). 



'T^HE Apostle has said all that he means to say of 
-^ the opposition of the Jews to the gospel, and in 
the verses before us turns to his own relations to the 
Thessalonians. He had been compelled to leave their 
city against his will ; they themselves had escorted him 
by night to Bercea. He cannot find words strong 
enough to describe the pain of separation. It was a 
bereavement, although he hoped it would only last for 
a short time. His heart was with them as truly as 
if he were still bodily present in Thessalonica, His 
strongest desire was to look upon their faces once 

Here we ought to notice again the power of the 
gospel to create new relations and the corresponding 
affections. A few months before Paul had not known 
a single soul in Thessalonica ; if he had been only a 
travelling tent-maker, he might have stayed there as 
long as he did, and then moved on with as little 
emotion as troubles a modern gipsy when he shifts his 



camp ; but coming as a Christian evangelist, he finds 
or rather makes brothers, and feels his enforced parting 
from them like a bereavement. Months after, his heart 
is sore for those whom he has left behind. This is 
one of the ways in which the gospel enriches life^ 
hearts that would otherwise be empty and isolated are 
brought by it into living contact with a great circle 
whose nature and needs are like their own ; and capa- 
cities, that would otherwise have been unsuspected, have 
free course for development. No one knows what is 
in him ; and, in particular, no one knows of what love, 
of what expansion of heart he is capable, till Christ 
has made real to him those relations to others by 
which his duties are determined, and all his powers of 
thought and feeling called forth. Only the Christian 
man can ever tell what it is to love with all his heart 
and soul and strength and mind. 

Such an experience as shines through the words of 
the Apostle in this passage furnishes the key to one 
of the best known but least understood words of our 
Saviour. "Verily I say unto you," said Jesus to the 
twelve, " there is no man that hath left house, or wife, 
or brethren, or parents, or children, for the Kingdom 
of God's sake, who shall not receive manifold more in 
this time, and in the world to come eternal life." 
These words might almost stand for a description of 
Paul. He had given up everything for Christ's sake. 


He had no home, no wife, no child ; as far as we can 
see, no brother or friend among all his old acquaint- 
ances. Yet we may be sure that not one of those 
who were most richly blessed with all these natural 
relations and natural affections knew better than he 
what love is. No father ever loved his children more 
tenderl}^, fervently, austerely and unchangeably than 
Paul loved those whom he had begotten in the gospel. 
No father was ever rewarded with affection more 
genuine, obedience more loyal, than many of his 
converts rendered to him. Even in the trials of love, 
which search it, and strain it, and bring out its virtues 
to perfection — in misunderstandings, ingratitude, wil- 
fulness, suspicion — he had an experience with blessings 
of its own in which he surpassed them all. If love is 
the true wealth and blessedness of our life, surely none 
was richer or more blessed than this man, v/ho had 
given up for Christ's sake all those relations and con- 
nections through which love naturally comes. Christ 
had fulfilled to him the promise just quoted ; He 
had given him a hundredfold in this life, houses and 
brothers and sisters and mothers and children. It 
would have been nothing but loss to cling to the 
natural affections and decline the lonely apostolic 

There is something wonderfully vivid in the idea 
which Paul gives of his love for the Thessalonians. 


His mind is full of them ; he imagines all the circum- 
stances of trial and danger in which they may be 
placed ; if he could only be with them at need ! He 
seems to follow them as a woman follows with her 
thoughts the son who has gone alone to a distant 
town ; she remembers him when he goes out in the 
morning, pities him if there are any circumstances of 
hardship in his work, pictures him busy in shop or 
office or street, looks at the clock when he ought to be 
home for the day ; wonders where he is, and with 
what companions, in the evening ; and counts the days 
till she will see him again. The Christian love of the 
Apostle, which had no basis at all in nature, was as 
real as this ; and it is a pattern for all those who try 
to serve others in the gospel. The power of the truth, 
as far as its ministers are concerned, depends on its 
being spoken in love ; unless the heart of the preacher 
or teacher is really pledged to those to whom he speaks, 
he cannot expect but to labour in vain. 

Paul is anxious that the Thessalonians should under- 
stand the stsength of his feeling. It was no passing 
fancy. On two separate occasions he had determined 
to revisit them, and had felt, apparently, some peculiar 
malignity in the circumstances which foiled him. 
"Satan," he says, "hindered us." 

This is one of the expressions which strike us as 
remote from our present modes of thought. Yet it is 


not false or unnatural. It belongs to that profound 
biblical view of life, according to which all the opposing 
forces in our experience have at bottom a personal 
character. We speak of the conflict of good and evil, 
as if good and evil were powers with an existence of 
their own but the moment we think of it we see that 
the only good force in the world is the force of a good 
will, and the only bad force the force of a bad will ; 
in other words, we see that the conflict of good and 
evil is essentially a conflict of persons. Good persons 
are in conflict with bad persons ; and so far as the 
antagonism comes to a head, Christ, the New Testa- 
ment teaches, is in conflict with Satan. These persons 
are the centres of force on one side and on the other; 
and the Apostle discerns, in incidents of his life which 
have now been lost to us, the presence and working 
now of this, and now of that. An instructive illustra- 
tion is really furnished by a passage in Acts which 
seems at the first glance of a very different purport. 
It is in the i6th chap., vv. 6 — 10, in which the historian 
describes the route of the Apostle from the East to 
Europe. " They were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to 
speak the word in Asia" .... "they assayed to go 
into Bithynia ; and the Spirit of Jesus suffered them 
not'' .... Paul saw a vision, after which they "sought 
to go forth into Macedonia, concluding that God had 
called them to preach the gospel unto them." Here, 


we might almost say, the three Divine Persons are 
referred to as the source of intimations directing and 
controlling the course of the gospel ; yet it is evident, 
from the last mentioned, that such intimations might 
come in the shape of any event providentially ordered, 
and that the interpretation of them depended on those 
to whom they came. The obstacles which checked 
Paul's impulse to preach in Asia and in Bithynia he 
recognised to be of Divine appointment ; those which 
prevented him from returning to Thessalonica were of 
Satanic origin. We do not know what they were ; 
perhaps a plot against his life, which made the journey 
dangerous ; perhaps some sin or scandal that detained 
him in Corinth. At all events it was the doing of 
the enemy, who in this world, of which Paul does not 
hesitate to call him the god, has means enough at his 
disposal to foil, though he cannot overcome, the 

It is a delicate operation, in many cases, to interpret 
outward events, and say Vv'hat is the source and what 
the purpose of this or that. Moral indifference may 
blind us ; but those who are in the thick of the moral 
conflict have a swift and sure instinct for what is 
against them or on their side ; they can tell at once 
what is Satanic and what is Divine. As a rule, the two 
forces will show in their strength at the same time ; 
"a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and 


there are many adversaries : " each is a foil to the 
other. What we ought to remark in this connection 
is the fundamental character of all moral action. It 
is not a figure of speech to say that the world is the 
scene of incessant spiritual conflict ; it is the literal 
truth. And spiritual conflict is not simply an inter- 
action of forces; it is the deliberate antagonism of 
persons to each other. When we do what is right, we 
take Christ's side in a real struggle ; when we do what 
is wrong, we side with Satan. It is a question of 
personal relations ; to whose will do I add my own ? 
to whose will do I oppose my own ? And the struggle 
approaches its close for each of us as our will is more 
thoroughly assimilated to that of one or other of the 
two leaders. Do not let us dwell in generalities which 
disguise from us the seriousness of the issue. There 
is a place in one of his epistles in which Paul uses 
just such abstract terms as we do in speaking of this 
matter. " What fellowship," he asks, "have righteous- 
ness and iniquity ? or what communion hath light with 
darkness ? " But he clinches the truth by bringing 
out the personal relations involved, when he goes on, 
" And what concord hath Christ with Belial ? or what 
portion hath a believer with an unbeliever ? " These 
are the real quantities concerned — all persons : Christ 
and Belial, believers and unbelievers ; all that happens 
is at bottom Christian or Satanic ; all that we do is on 


the side of Christ or on the side of the great enemy of 
our Lord. 

The recollection of the Satanic hindrances to his visit 
does not detain the Apostle more than a moment ; his 
heart overflows them to those whom he describes as 
his hope and joy and crown of glorying in the day of 
the Lord Jesus. The form of words ^ implies that 
these titles are not the property of the Thessalonians 
only ; yet at the same time, that if they belong to 
anybody, they belong to them. 

It is almost a pity to analyse words which are 
spoken out of the abundance of the heart ; yet we pass 
over the surface, and lose the sense of their truth, 
unless we do so. What then does Paul mean when 
he calls the Thessalonians his hope ? Every one looks 
at least a certain distance into the future, and projects 
something into it to give it reality and interest to him- 
self. That is his hope. It may be the returns he 
expects from investments of money; it may be the 
expansion of some scheme he has set on foot for the 
common good ; it may be his children, on whose love 
and reverence, or on whose advancement in life, he 
counts for the happiness of his declining years. Paul, 
we know, had none of these hopes ; when he looked 
down into the future he saw no fortune growing 
secretly, no peaceful retirement in which the love of 
' T/s -yap . . . ^ oi^x' '^''' ^1^^'^^ > 


sons and daughters would surround him and call him 
blessed. Yet his future was not dreary or desolate; 
it was bright with a great light ; he had a hope that 
made life abundantly worth living, and that hope was 
the Thessalonians. He saw them in his mind's eye 
grow daily out of the lingering taint of heathenism 
into the purity and love of Christ. He saw them, as 
the discipline of God's providence had its perfect work 
in them, escape from the immaturity of babes in Christ, 
and grow in the grace and in the knowledge of our 
Lord and Saviour to the measure of the stature of 
perfect men. He saw them presented faultless in the 
presence of the Lord's glory in the great day. That 
was something to live for. To witness that spiritual 
transformation which he had inaugurated carried on to 
completion gave the future a greatness and a worth 
which made the Apostle's heart leap for joy. He is 
glad when he thinks of his children walking in the 
truth. They are " a chaplet of victory of which he 
may justly make his boast"; he is prouder of them 
than a king of his crown, or a champion in the games 
of his wreath. 

Such words might well be charged with extravagance 
if we omitted to look at the connection in which they 
stand. " What is our hope, or joy, or crown of glory- 
ing ? Are not even ye, before our Lord Jesus at His 
coming ? " Before our Lord Jesus at His coming: this 


is the presence, this the occasion, with which Paul 
confronts, in imagination, his hope and joy and triumph. 
They are such as give him confidence and exultation 
even as he thinks of the great event which will try 
all common hopes and put them to shame. 

None of us, it may be presumed, is without hope 
when he looks into the future; but how far does 
our future extend ? For what situation is provision 
made by the hope that we actually cherish ? The one 
certain event of the future is that we shall stand 
before our Lord Jesus, at His coming ; can we 
acknowledge there with joy and boasting the hope on 
which our heart is at present set ? Can we carry 
into that presence the expectation which at this 
moment gives us courage to look down the years to 
come ? Not every one can. There are multitudes of 
human hopes which terminate on material things, and 
expire with Christ's coming ; it is not these that can 
give us joy at last. The only hope whose light is not 
dimmed by the brightness of Christ's appearing is 
the disinterested spiritual hope of one who has made 
himself the servant of others for Jesus' sake, and has 
lived to see and aid their growth in the Lord. The 
fire which tries every man's work of what sort it is, 
brings out the imperishable worth of this. The Old 
Testament as well as the New tells us that souls saved 
and sanctified are the one hope and glory of men in 


the great day. " They that be wise shall shine as the 
brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many 
to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever." It 
is a favourite thought of the Apostle himself : " appear 
as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life, 
that I may have whereof to glory in the day of Christ." 
Even the Lord Himself, as he looks at the men whom 
He has gathered out of the world, can sa}', / am 
glorified in them. It is His glory, as the Father's 
servant, that He has sought and found and sanctified 
His Church. 

We ought not to pass by such fervent utterances 
as if they must mean less than they say. We ought 
not, because our own hold on the circle of Christian 
facts is weak, to glide over the qualification, " before 
our Lord Jesus at His coming," as if it were with- 
out any solid meaning. The Bible is verbally inspired 
at least in the sense that nothing in it is otiose ; every 
word is meant. And we miss the main lesson of this 
passage, if we do not ask ourselves whether we have 
any hope which is valid on the grand occasion in 
question. Your future may be secured as far as this 
world is concerned. Your investments may be as safe 
as the National debt ; the loyalty and virtue of your 
children all that heart could wish ; you are not afraid 
of poverty, loneliness, age. But what of our Lord 
Jesus, and His coming ? Will your hope be worth 


anything before Him, at that day ? You do not know 
how near it is. For some it may be very near. There 
are people in every congregation who know they 
cannot live ten years. No one knows that he will 
live so long. And all are summoned to take that great 
event into their view of the future, and to make ready 
for it. Is it not a fine thing to think that, if we do 
so, we can look forward to the coming of our Lord 
Jesus with hope and joy and triumph ? 

The intensity of Paul's love for the Thessalonians 
made his longing to see them intolerable ; and after 
being twice baffled in his attempts to revisit them he 
sent Timothy in his stead. Rather than be without 
news of them he was content to be left in Athens 
alone. He mentions this as if it had been a great 
sacrifice, and probably it was so for him. He seems 
to have been in many ways dependent on the 
sympathy and assistance of others ; and, of all places 
he ever visited, Athens was the most trying to his 
ardent temperament. It was covered with idols and 
exceedingly religious ; yet it seemed to him more 
hopelessly away from God than any city in the world. 
Never had he been left alone in a place so un- 
sympathetic ; never had he felt so great a gulf fixed 
between others' minds and his own ; and Timothy had 
no sooner gone than he made his way to Corinth, 
?vhere his messenger found him on his return. 


The object of this mission is sufficiently plain from 
what has been already said. The Apostle knew the 
troubles that had beset the Thessalonians ; and it was 
Timothy's function to establish them and to comfort 
them concerning their faith, that no man should be moved 
by these afflictions. The word translated " moved " 
occurs only this once in the New Testament, and the 
meaning is not quite certain. It may be quite as 
general as our version represents it ; but it may also 
have a more definite sense, viz., that of allowing oneself 
to be befooled, or flattered out of one's faith, in the 
midst of tribulations. Besides the vehement enemies 
who pursued Paul with open violence, there may have 
been others who spoke of him to the Thessalonians 
as a mere enthusiast, the victim in his own person of 
delusions about a resurrection and a life to come, which 
he sought to impose upon others; and who, when 
affliction came on the Church, tried by appeals of this 
sort to wheedle the Thessalonians out of their faith. 
Such a situation would answer very exactly to the 
peculiar word here used. But however this may be, 
the general situation was plain. The Church was 
suffering; suffering is a trial which not every one 
can bear; and Paul was anxious to have some one 
with them who had learned the elementary Christian 
lesson, that it is inevitable. The disciples had not, 
indeed, been taken by surprise. The Apostle had told 


them before that to this lot Christians were appointed ; 
we are destined, he says, to suffer aflliction. Never- 
theless, it is one thing to know this by being told, and 
another to know it, as the Thessalonians now did, by 
experience. The two things are as different as reading 
a book about a trade, and serving an apprenticeship 
to it. 

The suffering of the good because they are good 
is mysterious, in part because it has the two aspects 
here made so manifest. On the one hand, it comes 
by Divine appointment ; it is the law under which 
the Son of God Himself and all His followers live. 
But on the other hand, it is capable of a double issue. 
It may perfect those who endure it as ordained by 
God ; it may bring out the solidity of their character, 
and redound to the glory of their Saviour ; or it may 
give an opening to the tempter to seduce them from 
a path so full of pain. The one thing of which Paul 
is certain is, that the salvation of Christ is cheaply 
purchased at any price of affliction. Christ's life here 
and hereafter is the supreme good ; the one thing 
needful, for which all else may be counted loss. 

This possible double issue of suffering — in higher 
goodness, or in the abandonment of the narrow way — 
explains the difference of tone with which Scripture 
speaks of it in different places. With the happy issue 
in view, it bids us count it all joy when we fall into 


divers temptations ; blessed, it exclaims, is the man 
who endures ; for when he is found proof, he shall 
receive the crown of life. But with human weakness 
in view, and the terrible consequences of failure, it 
bids us pray, Lead us not into temptation, but deliver 
us from the evil one. The true Christian will seek, in 
all the afflictions of life, to combine the courage and 
hope of the one view with the humility and fear of the 




" But when Timothy came even now unto us from you, and brought 
us glad tidings of your faith and love, and that ye have good remem- 
brance of us always, longing to see us, even as we also to see you ; for 
this cause, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our distress and 
affliction through your faith : for now we live, if ye stand fast in the 
Lord. For what thanksgiving can we render again unto God for you, 
fur all the joy wherewith we jny for your sakes before our God ; night 
and day piaying exceedingly that we may see your face, and may perfect 
that which is lacking in your faith ? Now may our God and Father 
Himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way unto you : and the 
Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and 
toward all men, even as we also do toward you ; to the end He may 
sfablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and 
Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints." — 
I Thess. iii. 6-13 (R.V.). 




' I "^HESE verses present no peculiar difficulty to the 
-*- expositor. They illustrate the remark of Bengel 
that the First Epistle to the Thessalonians is charac- 
terised by a kind of unmixed sweetness, — a quality 
which is insipid to those who are indifferent to the 
relations in which it is displayed, but which can never 
lose its charm for simple, kindly, Christian hearts. 

It is worth observing that Paul wrote to the Thes- 
salonians the moment Timothy returned.^ Such 
promptitude has not only a business value, but a moral 
and Christian worth as well. It not only prevents 
arrears from accumulating ; it gives those to whom we 
write the first and freshest feelings of the heart. Of 
course one may write hastily, as well as speak hastily ; 
a living critic has had the audacity to say that if Paul 
had kept the Epistle to the Galatians long enough to 
read it over, he would have thrown it into the fire ; 
but most of our faults as correspondents arise, not from 

' ApTi is naturally taken with iXdovrot : as by Ellicott. 


precipitation, but from undue delay. Where our hearts 
prompt us to speak or to write, let us dread procras- 
tination as a sin. The letter of congratulation or con- 
dolence is natural and in place, and it will be inspired 
by true feeling, if it is written when the sad or joyful 
news has touched the heart with genuine sympathy ; 
but if it is put off till a more convenient season, it will 
never be done as it ought to be. How fervent and 
hearty is the language in which Paul here expresses 
himself. The news that Timothy has brought from 
Thessalonica is a veritable gospel to him. It has 
comforted him in all his necessities and distresses ; it 
has brought him new life ; it has been an indescribable 
joy. If he had not written for a fortnight, we should 
have missed this rebound of gladness ; and what is 
more serious, the Thessalonians would have missed it. 
Cold-hearted people may think they would have sur- 
vived the loss ; but it is a loss which the cold hearted 
cannot estimate. Who can doubt that, when this letter 
was read in the little congregation at Thessalonica, 
the hearts of the disciples warmed again to the great 
teacher who had been among them, and to the message 
of love which he had preached ? The gospel is won- 
derfully commended by the manifestation of its own 
spirit in its ministers, and the love of Paul to the 
Thessalonians no doubt made it easier for them to 
believe in the love of God, and to love one another. 


For good, as well as for evil, a little spark can kindle 
a great fire; and it would only be natural if the 
burning words of this letter kindled the flame of love 
anew in hearts in which it was beginning to die. 

There were two causes for Paul's joy, — one larger 
and more public ; the other, proper to himself The 
first was the faith and love of the Thessalonians, or, 
as he calls it further on, their standing fast in the 
Lord ; the other was their affectionate and faithful 
remembrance of him, their desire, earnestly recipro- 
cated on his part, to see his face once more. 

The visitation of a Christian congregation by a 
deputy from Synod or Assembly is sometimes em- 
barrassing : no one knows exactly what is wanted ; 
a schedule of queries, filled up by the minister or the 
office-bearers, is a painfully formal affair, which gives 
little real knowledge of the health and spirit of the 
Church. But Timothy was one of the founders of the 
church at Thessalonica ; he had an affectionate and 
natural interest in it ; he came at once into close 
contact with its real condition, and found the disciples 
full of faith and love. Faith and love are not easily 
calculated and registered ; but where they exist in any 
power, they are easily felt by a Christian man. They 
determine the temperature of the congregation ; and 
a very short experience enables a true disciple to tell 
whether it is high qx low. To the great joy of 


Timothy, he found the Thessalonians unmistakably 
Christian. They were standing fast in the Lord. 
Christ was the basis, the centre, the soul of their life. 
Their faith is mentioned twice, because that is the most 
comprehensive word to describe the new life in its 
root ; they still kept their hold of the Word of God 
in the gospel ; no one could live among them and not 
feel that unseen things were real to their souls ; God 
and Christ, the resurrection and the coming judgment, 
the atonement and the final salvation, were the great 
forces which ruled their thoughts and lives. Faith in 
these distinguished them from their Pagan neighbours. 
It made them a Christian congregation, in which an 
Evangelist like Timothy at once found himself at home. 
The common faith had its most signal exhibition in 
love ; if it separated the brethren from the rest of the 
world, it united them more closely to each other. 
Every one knows what love is in a family, and how 
different the spiritual atmosphere is, according as love 
reigns or is disregarded in the relations of the house- 
hold. In some homes, love does reign : parents and 
children, brothers and sisters, masters and servants, 
bear themselves beautifully to each other ; it is a 
delight to visit them ; there is openness and simplicity, 
sweetness of temper, a wihingness to deny self, a 
readiness to be interested in others, no suspicion, 
reserve, or gloom ; there is one mind and one heart 


in old and young, and a brightness like the sunshine. 
In others, again, we see the very opposite : friction, 
self-will, captiousness, mutual distrust, readiness to 
suspect or to sneer, a painful separation of hearts that 
should be one. And the same holds good of churches, 
which are in reality large families, united not by natural 
but by spiritual bonds. We ought all to be friends. 
There ought to be a spirit of love shed abroad in our 
hearts, drawing us to each other in spite of natural 
differences, giving us an unaffected interest in each 
other, making us frank, sincere, cordial, self-denying, 
eager to help where help is needed and it is in our 
power to render it, ready to resign our own liking, 
and our own judgment even, to the common mind and 
purpose of the Church. These two graces of faith and 
love are the very soul of the Christian life. It is good 
news to a good man to hear that they exist in any 
church. It is good news to Christ. 

But besides this more public cause for joy, which 
Paul shared to some extent with all Christian men, 
there was another more private to himself, — their good 
remembrance of him, and their earnest desire to see 
him. Paul wrought for nothing but love. He did not 
care for money or for fame ; but a place in the hearts 
of his disciples was dear to him above everything else 
in the world. He did not always get it. Sometimes 
those who had just heard the gospel from his lips, and 


welcomed its glad tidings, were prejudiced against 
him ; they deserted him for more attractive preachers ; 
they forgot, amid the multitude of their Christian in- 
structors, the father who had begotten them in the gospel. 
Such occurrences, of which we read in the Epistles 
to the Corinthians and Galatians, were a deep grief to 
Paul ; and though he says to one of these thankless 
churches, " I will very gladly spend and be spent for 
you, though the more abundantly I love you the less 
I be loved," he says also, " Brethren, receive us ; make 
room for us in your hearts ; our heart has been opened 
wide to you." He hungered and thirsted for an answer 
of love to all the love which he lavished on his 
converts ; and his heart leapt up when Timothy 
returned from Thessalonica, and told him that the 
disciples there had good remembrance of him, that is, 
spoke of him with love, and longed to see him once 
more. Nobody is fit to be a servant of Christ in any 
degree, as parent, or teacher, or elder, or pastor, who 
does not know what this craving for love is. It is not 
selfishness : it is itself one side of love. Not to care 
for a place in the hearts of others ; not to wish for 
love, not to need it, not to miss it if it is wanting, does 
not signify that we are free from selfishness or vanity : 
it is the mark of a cold and narrow heart, shut up in 
itself, and disqualified for any service the very essence 
of which is love. The thanklessness or indifference of 


Others is not a reason why we should cease to serve 
them ; yet it is apt to make the attempt at service 
heartless ; and if you would encourage any who have 
ever helped you in your spiritual life, do not forget 
them, but esteem them very highly in love for their 
works' sake. 

When Timothy returned from Thessalonica, he found 
Paul sorely in need of good news. He was beset by 
distress and affliction ; not inward or spiritual troubles, 
but persecutions and sufferings, which befell him from 
the enemies of the gospel. So extreme was his distress 
that he even speaks of it by implication as death. 
But the glad tidings of Thessalonian faith and love 
swept it at once away. They brought comfort, joy 
thanksgiving, life from the dead. How intensely, we 
are compelled to say, did this man live his apostolic 
life ! What depths and heights are in it ; what de- 
pression, not stopping short of despair ; what hope, not 
falling short of triumph. There are Christian workers 
in multitudes whose experience, it is to be feared, gives 
them no key to what we read here. There is less 
passion in their life in a year than there was in Paul's 
in a day ; they know nothing of these transitions from 
distress and affliction to unspeakable joy and praise. 
Of course all men are not alike ; all natures are not 
equally impressible ; but surely all who are engaged 
in work which asks the heart or nothing should suspect 


themselves if they go on from week to week and year 
to year with heart unmoved ? It is a great thing to 
have part in a work which deals with men for their 
spiritual interests — which has in view life and death, 
God and Christ, salvation and judgment. Who can 
think of failures and discouragements without pain and. 
fear ? who can hear the glad tidings of victory without 
heartfelt joy ? Is it not those only who have neither 
part nor lot in the matter? 

The Apostle in the fulness of his joy turns with 
devout gratitude toward God. It is He who has kept 
the Thessalonians from falling, and the only return the 
Apostle can make is to express his thankfulness. He 
feels how unworthy words are of God's kindness ; how 
unequal even to his own feelings ; but they are the first 
recompense to be made, and he does not withhold them. 
There is no surer mark of a truly pious spirit than this 
grateful mood. Every good gift and every perfect gift 
is from above ; most directly and immediately are all 
gifts like love and faith to be referred to God as their 
source, and to call forth the thanks and praise of those 
who are interested in them. If God does little for us, 
giving us few signs of His presence and help, may it 
not be because we have refused to acknowledge His 
kindness when He has interposed on our behalf? 
" Whoso offereth praise," He says, " glorifieth Me.' 
" In everything give thanks." 


Paul's love for the Thessalonians did not blind him 
to their imperfections. It was their faith which com- 
forted him in all his distress, yet he speaks of the 
deficiencies of their faith as something he sought to 
remedy. In one sense, faith is a very simple thing, 
the setting of the heart right with God in Christ Jesus. 
In another, it is very comprehensive. It has to lay 
hold on the whole revelation which God has made in 
His Son, and it has to pass into action through love 
in every department of life. It is related on the one 
side to knowledge, and on the other to conduct. Now 
Timothy saw that while the Thessalonians had the root 
of the matter in them, and had set themselves right 
with God, they were far from perfect. They were 
ignorant of much which it concerned Christians to 
know ; they had false ideas on many points in regard 
to which God had given light. They had much to do 
before they could be said to have escaped from the pre- 
judices, the instincts, and the habits of heathenism, and 
to have entered completely into the mind of Christ. 
In later chapters we shall find the Apostle rectifying 
what was amiss in their notions both of truth and 
duty ; and, in doing so, opening up to us the lines 
on which defective faith needs to be corrected and 

But we should not pass by this notice of the defi- 
ciencies of faith without asking ourselves whether our 


own faith is alive and progressive. It may be quite 
true and sound in itself ; but what if it never gets any 
further on ? It is in its nature an engrafting into 
Christ, a setting of the soul into a vital connection 
with Him ; and if it is what it should be, there will be 
a transfusion, by means of it, of Christ into us. We 
shall get a larger and surer possession of the mind 
of Christ, which is the standard both of spiritual truth 
and of spiritual life. His thoughts will be our thoughts ; 
His judgment, our judgment ; His estimates of life and 
the various elements in it, our estimates ; His disposi- 
tion and conduct, the pattern and the inspiration of 
ours. Faith is a little thing in itself, the smallest of 
small beginnings ; in its earliest stage it is compatible 
with a high degree of ignorance, of foolishness, of 
insensibility in the conscience ; and hence the believer 
must not forget that he is a disciple; and that though 
he has entered the school of Christ, he has only 
entered it, and has many classes to pass through, and 
much to learn and unlearn, before he can become a 
credit to his Teacher. An Apostle coming among us 
would in all likelihood be struck with manifest defi- 
ciencies in our faith. This aspect of the truth, he would 
say, is overlooked ; this vital doctrine is not really 
a vital piece of your minds ; in your estimate of such 
and such a thing you are betrayed by worldly pre- 
iudices that have survived your conversion ; in your 


conduct in such and such a situation you are utterly 
at variance with Christ. He would have much to 
teach us, no doubt, of truth, of right and wrong, and 
of our Christian calling ; and if we wish to remedy 
the defects of our faith, we must give heed to the 
words of Christ and His Apostles, so that we may 
not only be engrafted into Him, but grow up into 
Him in all things, and become perfect men in Christ 

In view of their deficiencies, Paul prayed exceedingly 
that he might see the Thessalonians again ; and con- 
scious of his own inability to overcome the hindrances 
raised in his path by Satan, he refers the whole matter 
to God. " May our God and Father Himself, and our 
Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you." Certainly 
in that prayer the person directly addressed is our God 
and Father Himself; our Lord Jesus Christ is intro- 
duced in subordination to Him ; yet what a dignity 
is imphed in this juxtaposition of God and Christ ! 
Surely the name of a merely human creature, even if 
such could be exalted to share the throne of God, could 
not possibly appear in this connexion. It is not to 
be overlooked that both in this and in the similar 
passage in 2 Thess. ii. 16 f, where God and Christ 
are named side by side, the verb is in the singular 
number. It is an involuntary assent of the Apostle to 
the word of the Lord, " I and My Father are one." We 


can understand why He added in this place '* our Lord 
Jesus Christ " to " our God and Father." It was not 
only that all power was given to the Son in heaven and 
on earth ; but that, as Paul well knew from that day 
on which the Lord arrested him by Damascus, the 
Saviour's heart beat in sympathy with His suffering 
Church, and would surely respond to any prayer on 
its behalf. Nevertheless, he leaves the result to God ; 
and even if he is not permitted to come to them, he 
can still pray for them, as he does in the closing verses 
of the chapter : " The Lord make you to increase and 
abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, 
even as we also do toward you ; to the end He may 
stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our 
God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with 
all His saints." 

Here it is distinctly Christ who is addressed in 
prayer; and what the Apostle asks is that He may 
make the Thessalonians increase and abound in love. 
Love, he seems to say, is the one grace in which all 
others are comprehended ; we can never have too much 
of it ; we can never have enough. The strong words 
of the prayer really ask that the Thessalonians may be 
loving in a superlative degree, overflowing with love. 
And notice the aspect in which love is here presented 
to us : it is a power and an exercise of our own souls 
certainly, yet we are not the fountain of it ; it is 


the Lord who is to make us rich in love. The best 
commentary on this prayer is the word of the Apostle 
in another letter : " The love of God hath been shed 
abroad in our hearts through the Holy Ghost which was 
given unto us." "We love, because He first loved us." 
In whatever degree love exists in us, God is its source ; 
it is like a faint pulse, every separate beat of which 
tells of the throbbing of the heart ; and it is only as God 
imparts His Spirit to us more fully that our capacity 
for loving deepens and expands. When that Spirit 
springs up within us, an inexhaustible fountain, then 
rivers of living water, streams of love, will overflow 
on all around. For God is love, and he that dwells in 
love dwells in God, and God in him. 

Paul seeks love for his converts as the means by 
which their hearts may be established unblameable 
in holiness. That is a notable direction for those in 
search of holiness. A selfish, loveless heart can never 
succeed in this quest. A cold heart is not un- 
blameable, and never will be ; it is either pharisaical 
or foul, or both. But love sanctifies. Often we only 
escape from our sins by escaping from ourselves ; 
by a hearty, self-denying, self-forgetting interest in 
others. It is quite possible to think so much about 
holiness as to put holiness out of our reach : it does 
not come with concentrating thought upon ourselves 
at all; it is the child of love, which kindles a fire in 



the heart in which faults are burnt up. Love is the 
fulfilling of the law ; the sum of the ten command- 
ments; the end of all perfection. Do not let us 
imagine that there is any other holiness than that which 
is thus created. There is an ugly kind of faultless- 
ness which is always raising its head anew in the 
Church ; a holiness which knows nothing of love, but 
consists in a sort of spiritual isolation, in censoriousness, 
in holding up one's head and shaking off the dust of 
one's feet against brethren, in conceit, in condescension, 
in sanctimonious separateness from the freedom of 
common life, as though one were too good for the com- 
pany which God has given him : all this is as common 
in the Church as it is plainly condemned in the New 
Testament. It is an abomination in God's sight. Except 
your righteousness, says Christ, exceed this, ye shall in 
no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. Love exceeds 
it infinitely, and opens the door which is closed to every 
other claim. 

The kingdom of heaven comes before the Apostle's 
mind as he writes. The Thessalonians are to be blame- 
less in holiness, not in the judgment of any human 
tribunal, but before our God and Father, at the 
coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints. 
At the end of each of these three chapters this great 
event has risen into view. The coming of our Lord 
Jesus Christ is a scene of judgment for some ; of joy 


and glory for others ; of imposing splendour for all. 
Many think that the last words here, " with all His 
saints," refer to the angels, and Zech. xiv. 5, — "The 
Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with 
Thee," — in which angels are undoubtedly meant, has 
been quoted in support of this view ; but such a use 
of " saints " would be unexampled in the New Testa- 
ment.^ The Apostle means the dead in Christ, who, 
as he explains in a later chapter, will swell the Lord's 
train at His coming. The instinctiveness v/ith which 
Paul recurs to this great event shows how large a 
place it filled in his creed and in his heart. His hope 
was a hope of Christ's second coming; his joy was 
a joy which would not pale in that awful presence ; 
his holiness was a holiness to stand the test of those 
searching eyes. Where has this supreme motive gone 
in the modern Church ? Is not this one point in 
which the apostolic word bids us perfect that which is 
lacking in our faith ? 

' Yet see Jude 14, quoting from Enoch. 



"Finally then, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord 
Jesus, that, as ye received of us how ye ought to walk and to please 
God, even as ye do walk, — that ye abound more and more. For 
ye know what charge we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this 
is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye abstain from 
fornication ; that each one of you know how to possess himself of his 
own vessel in sanctification and honour, not in the passion of lust, 
even as the Gentiles which know not God; that no man transgress, 
wid wrong his brother in the matter : because the Lord is an avenger 
m all these things, as also we forewarned you and testified. For God 
called us not for uncleanness, but in sanctification. Therefore he that 
rcjecteth, rejecteth not man, but God, who giveth His Holy Spirit 
unto you." — i Thess. iv. i-8 (R.V.). 




'"T^IIE "finally" with which this chapter opens is 
-^ the beginning of the end of the Epistle. The 
personal matter which has hitherto occupied us was 
the immediate cause of the Apostle's writing ; he 
wished to open his heart to the Thessalonians, and to 
vindicate his conduct against the insidious accusations 
of his enemies ; and having done so, his main purpose 
is fulfilled. For what remains — this is the meaning 
of " finally " — he has a few words to say suggested 
by Timothy's report upon their state. 

The previous chapter closed with a prayer for their 
growth in love, with a view to their establishment in 
holiness. The pra3'er of a good man avails much 
in its working ; but his prayer of intercession cannot 
secure the result it seeks Vv'ithout the co-operation of 
those for whom it is made. Paul, who has besought 
the Lord on their behalf, now beseeches the Thessa- 
lonians themselves, and exhorts them in the Lord 
Jesus, to walk as they had been taught by him. The 



gospel, we see from this passage, contains a new law ; 
the preacher must not only do the work of an 
evangelist, proclaiming the glad tidings of reconcilia- 
tion to God, but the work of a catechist also, enforcing 
on those who receive the glad tidings the new law of 
Christ. This is in accordance with the final charge 
of the Saviour : " Go and make disciples of all nations, 
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the 
Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe 
all things whatsoever I have commanded you." The 
Apostle had followed this Divine order; he had made 
disciples in Thessalonica, and then he had taught 
them how to walk and to please God. We who have 
been born in a Christian country, and bred on the 
New Testament, are apt to think that we know all 
these things; our conscience seems to us a sufficient light. 
We ought to know that, though conscience is universal 
in the human race, and everywhere distinguishes 
between a right and a wrong, there is not one of our 
faculties which is more in need of enlightenment. No 
one doubts that men who have been converted from 
heathenism, like the Thessalonians, or the fruits of 
modern missions in Nyassaland or Madagascar, need 
to be taught what kind of life pleases God ; but in 
some measure we all need such teaching. We have 
not been true to conscience ; it is set in our human 
nature like the unprotected compass in the early 


iron ships : it is exposed to influences from other parts 
of our nature which bias and deflect it without our 
knowledge. It needs to be adjusted to the holy will of 
God, the unchangeable standard of right, and protected 
against disturbing forces. In Thessalonica Paul had 
laid down the new law, he says, through the Lord 
Jesus. If it had not been for Him, we should have 
been without the knowledge of it altogether ; we 
should have had no adequate conception of the life 
with which God is well pleased. But such a life is 
exhibited to us in the Gospels ; its spirit and require- 
ments can be deduced from Christ's example, and are 
explicitly set forth in His words. He left us an 
example, that we should follow in His steps. " Follow 
Me," is the sum of His commandments ; the one all- 
embracing law of the Christian life. 

One of the subjects of which we should gladly 
know more is the use of the Gospels in the early 
Church ; and this passage gives us one of the earliest 
glimpses of it. The peculiar mention of the Lord 
Jesus in the second verse shows that the Apostle used 
the words and example of the Master as the basis ot 
his moral teaching; the mind of Christ is the norm 
for the Christian conscience. And if it be true that 
we still need enlightenment as to the claims of God 
and the law of life, it is here we must seek it. The 
words of Jesus have still their old authority. They 


Still search our hearts, and show us all things that 
ever we did, and their moral worth or worthlessness. 
They still reveal to us unsuspected ranges of life and 
action in which God is not yet acknowledged. They 
still open to us gates of righteousness, and call on us 
to enter in, and subdue new territories to God. The 
man who is most advanced in the life which pleases 
God, and whose conscience is most nearly identical 
with the mind of Christ, will be the first to confess 
his constant need of, and his constant dependence 
upon, the word and example of the Lord Jesus. 

In addressing the Thessalonians, Paul is careful to 
recognise their actual obedience. Ye do walk, he writes, 
according to this rule. In spite of sins and imperfec- 
tions, the church, as a whole, had a Christian character ; 
it was exhibiting human life in Thessalonica on the 
new model ; and while he hints that there is room for 
indefinite progress, he does not fail to notice their 
present attainments. That is a rule of wisdom, not 
only for those who have to censure or to teach, but 
for all who wish to judge soberly the state and pro- 
spects of the Church. We know the necessity there 
is for abounding more and more in Christian obedience ; 
wc can see in how many directions, doctrinal and 
practical, that which is lacking in faith requires to be 
perfected ; but we need not therefore be blind to the 
fact that it is in the Church that the Christian standard 

Personal purity. 139 

is held up, and that continuous, and not quite un- 
successful efforts, are made to reach it. The best men 
in a community, those whose lives come nearest to 
pleasing God, are to be found among those who are 
identified with the gospel ; and if the worst men in the 
community are also found in the Church at times, that 
is because the corruption of the best is worst. If God 
has not cast off His Church altogether, He is teaching 
her to do His will. 

" For this," the Apostle proceeds, " is the will of God, 
even your sanctification." It is assumed here that the 
will of God is the law, and ought to be the inspiration, 
of the Christian. God has taken him out of the world 
that he may be His, and live in Him and for Him. 
He is not his own any longer ; even his will is not his 
own ; it is to be caught up and made one with the will 
of God ; and that is sanctification. No human will 
works apart from God to this end of holiness. The 
other influences which reach it, and bend it into accord 
with them, are from beneath, not from above ; as 
long as it does not recognise the will of God as its 
rule and support, it is a carnal, worldl}', sinful will. 
But the will of God, to which it is called to submit, is 
the saving of the human will from this degradation. 
For the will of God is not only a law to which we are 
required to conform, it is the one great and effective 
moral power in the universe, and it summons us to 


enter into alliance and co-operation with itself. It is 
not a dead thing ; it is God Himself working in us in 
furtherance of His good pleasure. To tell us what the 
will of God is, is not to tell us what is against us, but 
what is on our side ; not the force which we have to 
encounter, but that on which we can depend. If we 
set out on an un-Christian life, on a career of falsehood, 
sensuality, worldliness, God is against us ; if we go 
to perdition, we go breaking violently through the 
safeguards with which He has surrounded us, over- 
powering the forces by which He seeks to keep us in 
check ; but if we set ourselves to the work of sancti- 
fication. He is on our side. He Vvorks in us and wilh 
us, because our sanctification is His Vv'ill. Paul does 
not mention it here to dishearten the Thessalonians, 
but to stimulate them. Sanctification is the one task 
which we can face confident that we are not left to our 
own resources. God is not the taskmaster we have to 
satisfy out of our own poor efforts, but the holy and 
loving Father who inspires and sustains us from first 
to last. To fall in with His will is to enlist all the 
spiritual forces of the world in our aid; it is to pull 
with, instead of against, the spiritual tide. 

In the passage before us the Apostle contrasts our 
sanctification with the cardinal vice of heathenism, 
impurity. Above all other sins, this was characteristic 
of the Gentiles ivho knew not God. There is some- 


thing striking in that description of the pagan world 
in this connection : ignorance of God was at once the 
cause and the effect of their vileness ; had they retained 
God in their knowledge, they could never have sunk 
to such depths of shame ; had they shrunk from 
pollution with instinctive horror, they would never 
have been abandoned to such ignorance of God. No 
one who is not familiar with ancient literature can 
have the faintest idea of the depth and breadth of the 
corruption. Not only in writers avowedly immoral, 
but in the most magnificent works of a genius as lofty 
and pure as Plato, there are pages that would stun 
with horror the most hardened profligate in Christen- 
dom. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that on the 
whole matter in question the heathen world was with- 
out conscience : it had sinned away its sense of the 
difference betv/een right and wrong ; to use the words 
of the Apostle in another passage, being past feeling 
men had given themselves up to work all manner of 
uncleanness. They gloried in their shame. Fre- 
quently, in his epistles, Paul combines this vice with 
covetousness, — the two together representing the great 
interests of life to the ungodly, the flesh and the world. 
Those who do not know God and live for Him, Hve, 
as he saw with fearful plainness, to indulge the flesh 
and to heap up gain. Some think that in the passage 
before us this combination is made, and that ver. 6 — 


" that no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any 
matter" — is a prohibition of dishonesty in business; 
but that is almost certainly ^ a mistake. As the 
Revised Version shows, the Apostle is speaking of the 
matter in hand ; in the Church especially, among 
brethren in Christ, in the Christian home, the un- 
cleanness of heathenism can have no place. Marriage 
is to be sanctified. Every Christian, marrying in the 
Lord, is to exhibit in his home-life the Christian law 
of sanctification and noble self-respect. 

The Apostle adds to his warning against sensuality 
the terrible sanction, " The Lord is an avenger in all 
these things." The want of conscience in the heathen 
world generated a vast indifference on this point. If 
impurity was a sin, it was certainly not a crime. The 
laws did not interfere with it ; public opinion was at 
best neutral ; the unclean person might presume upon 
impunity. To a certain extent this is the case still. 
The laws are silent, and treat the deepest guilt as a 
civil offence. Public opinion is indeed stronger and 

' Still I do not feel quite certain (in spite of 2 Cor. ii. ii) that 
irXeoveKTetv and TrXeove^'ia in St. Paul can refer to anything but covetous- 
ness. This is the view taken by Schmidt, wlio refers to the combination, 
in I Cor. v. lO, vi. lO, of irXeoviKTrjs with Hpira^ and /cX^tttijs. If it is 
correct, iv ry vpayfiaTi must be translated "in business"; " dass in 
geschdftlichen Dingcn Kemer atisschreite und seinett Bruder ausbeute." 
Certainly the combination of sensuality and avarice as the cardinal 
Tices of heathendom is characteristic of the Apostle. 


more hostile than it once was, for the leaven of 
Christ's kingdom is actively at work in society ; but 
public opinion can only touch open and notorious 
offenders, those who have been guilty of scandal as 
well as of sin ; and secrecy is still tempted to count 
upon impunity. But here we are solemnly warned that 
the Divine law of purity has sanctions of its own above 
any cognisance taken of offences by man. "The Lord 
is an avenger in all these things." " Because of these 
things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of 

Is it not true ? They are avenged on the bodies of 
the sinful. " Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he 
also reap." The holy law of God, wrought into the 
very constitution of our bodies, takes care that we 
do not violate it without paying the penalty. If it 
is not at the moment, it is in the future, and with 
interest, — in premature old age ; in the torpor which 
succeeds all spendthrift feats, excesses of man's prime ; 
in the sudden break-down under any strain put on 
either physical or moral courage. They are avenged 
in the soul. Sensual indulgence extinguishes the 
capacity for feeling : the profligate man would love, 
but cannot ; all that is inspiring, elevating, redeeming 
in the passions is lost to him ; all that remains is the 
dull sense of that incalculable loss. Were there ever 
sadder lines written than those in which Burns, with 


his life ruined by this very thing, writes to a young 
friend and warns him against it ? 

" I wave the quantum o' the sin, 

The hazard o' concealing ; 

But Och ! it hardens a' within, 

And petrifies the feehng." 

This inward deadening is one of the most terrible 
consequences of immorality ; it is so unexpected, so 
unhke the anticipations of youthful passion, so stealthy 
in its approach, so inevitable, so irreparable. All 
these sins are avenged also in the will and in the 
spiritual nature. Most men repent of their early 
excesses ; some never cease to repent. Repentance, 
at least, is what it is habitually called ; but that is 
not really repentance which does not separate the soul 
from sin. That access of weakness which comes upon 
the back of indulgence, that break-down of the soul in 
impotent self-pity, is no saving grace. It is a counter- 
feit of repentance unto life, which deludes those whom 
sin has blinded, and which, when often enough repeated, 
exhausts the soul and leaves it in despair. Is there 
any vengeance more terrible than that ? When Christian 
was about to leave the Interpreter's house, " Stay," 
said the Interpreter, " till I have showed thee a Httle 
more, and after that thou shalt go on thy way." What 
was the sight without which Christian was not allowed 
to start upon his journey ? It was the Man of Despair, 


sitting in the iron cage, — the man who, when Christian 
asked him " How camest thou in this condition ?" made 
answer : " I left off to watch and be sober ; I laid the 
reins upon the neck of my lusts ; I sinned against the 
light of the word and the goodness of God ; I have 
grieved the Spirit, and He is gone ; I tempted the devil, 
and he is come to me ; I have provoked God to anger, 
and He has left me ; I have so hardened my heart that 
I cannot repent." This is no fancy picture : it is drawn 
to the Hfe ; it is drawn from the life ; it is the very 
voice and tone in which many a man has spoken who 
has lived an unclean life under the cloak of a Christian 
profession. They who do such things do not escape 
the avenging holiness of God. Even death, the refuge 
to which despair so often drives, holds out no hope 
to them. There remaineth no more a sacrifice for sin, 
but a fearful expectation of judgment. 

The Apostle dwells upon God's interest in purity. 
He is the avenger of all offences against it ; but ven- 
geance is His strange work. He has called us with a 
calling utterly alien to it, — not based on uncleanness 
or contemplating it, like some of the religions in 
Corinth, where Paul wrote this letter ; but having 
sanctification, purity in body and in spirit, for its very 
element. The idea of " calling " is one which has been 
much degraded and impoverished in modern times. 
By a man's calling we usually understand his trade, 



profession, or business, whatever it may be ; but our 
calling in Scripture is something quite different from 
this. It is our life considered, not as filling a certain 
place in the economy of society, but as satisfying a 
certain purpose in the mind and will of God. It is 
a calling in Christ Jesus ; apart from Him it could not 
have existed. The Incarnation of the Son of God ; 
His holy life upon the earth ; His victory over all our 
temptations ; His consecration of our weak flesh to 
God ; His sanctification, by His own sinless experience, 
of our childhood, youth, and manhood, with all their 
unconsciousness, their bold anticipations, their sense 
of power, their bent to lawlessness and pride ; His 
agony and His death upon the Cross ; His glorious 
resurrection and ascension, — all these were necessary 
before we could be called with a Christian calling. 
Can any one imagine that the vices of heathenism, lust 
or covetousness, are compatible with a calling like 
this ? Are they not excluded by the very idea of 
it ? It would repay us, I think, to lift that noble 
word "calling" from the base uses to which it has 
descended ; and to give it in our minds the place it 
has in the New Testament. It is God who has called 
us, and He has called us in Christ Jesus, and therefore 
called us to be saints. Flee, therefore, all that is 
unholy and unclean. 

In the last verse of the paragraph the Apostle urges 


both his appeals once more : he recalls the severity 
and the goodness of God. 

"Therefore he that rejecteth, rejecteth not man, but 
God." " Rejecteth " is a contemptuous word ; in the 
margin of the Authorised Version it is rendered, as in 
some other places in Scripture, " despiseth." There are 
such things as sins of ignorance ; there are cases in 
which the conscience is bewildered ; even in a Christian 
community the vitality of conscience may be low, and 
sins, therefore, be prevalent, without being so deadly to 
the individual soul ; but that is never true of the sin 
before us. To commit this sin is to sin against the light. 
It is to do what every one in contact with the Church 
knows, and from the beginning has known, to be wrong. 
It is to be guilty of deliberate, wilful, high-handed 
contempt of God. It is Httle to be warned by an apostle 
or a preacher ; it is little to despise him : but behind 
all human warnings is the voice of God ; behind all 
human sanctions of the law is God's inevitable ven- 
geance ; and it is that which is braved by the impure. 
" He that rejecteth, rejecteth not man, but God." 

But God, we are reminded again in the last words, 
is not against us, but on our side. He is the Holy 
One, and an avenger in all these things ; but He is 
also the God of Salvation, our deliverer from them all, 
who gives His Holy Spirit unto us. The words put 
in the strongest light God's interest in us and in our 


sanctification. It is our sanctification He desires ; to 
this He calls us ; for this He works in us. Instead 
of shrinking from us, because v/e are so unlike Him, 
He puts His Holy Spirit into our impure hearts, He 
puts His own strength within our reach that we may 
lay hold upon it. He offers us His hand to grasp. It 
is this searching, condescending, patient, omnipotent 
love, which is rejected by those who are immoral. 
They grieve the Holy Spirit of God, that Spirit which 
Christ won for us by His atoning death, and which is 
able to make us clean. There is no power which can 
sanctify us but this ; nor is there any sin which is too 
deep or too black for the Holy Spirit to overcome. 
Hearken to the words of the Apostle in another place : 
" Be not deceived : neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor 
adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves 
with men, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, 
nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the Kingdom 
of God. And such were some of you : but ye were 
washed, but ye were sanctified, but ye were justified 
in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the 
Spirit of our God," 




" But concerning love of the brethren ye have no need that one write 
unto you : for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another ; 
for indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia. 
But we exhort you, brethren, that ye abound more and more ; and that 
ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with 
your hands, even as we charged you ; that ye may walk honestly toward 
them that are without, and may have need of nothing." — I Thess. iv. 
9-12 (R.V.). 




W 7" HEN the gospel first came abroad in the world, 
^ ^ two characteristics of its adherents attracted 
general attention, namely, personal purity and brotherly 
love. Amid the gross sensuality of heathenism, the 
Christian stood out untainted by indulgence of the 
flesh ; amid the utter heartlessness of pagan society, 
which made no provision for the poor, the sick, or the 
aged, the Church was conspicuous for the close union 
of its members and their brotherly kindness to each 
other. Personal purity and brotherly love were the 
notes of the Christian and of the Christian community 
in the early days ; they were the new and regenerating 
virtues which the Spirit of Christ had called into exist- 
ence in the heart of a dying world. The opening verses 
of this chapter enforce the first ; those at present before 
us treat of the second. 

" Concerning love of the brethren ye have no need 
that one write unto you : for ye yourselves are taught 
of God to love one another." The principle, that is, of 



brotherly love is of the very essence of Christianity ; 
it is not a remote consequence of it which might easily 
be overlooked unless it were pointed out. Every 
believer is taught of God to love the brother who 
shares his faith ; such love is the best and only guaran- 
tee of his own salvation ; as the Apostle John writes, 
" We know that we have passed out of death into life, 
because we love the brethren." It is perhaps not un- 
necessary to remark that, in the New Testament, 
brethren means fellow-Christians, and not fellow-men. 
We have duties to all men, which the Bible does not 
fail to recognise and enforce ; we are one with them in 
the nature God has given us, and the great alternatives 
life sets before us ; and that natural unity is the basis 
of duties which all owe to each other. Honour all 
men. But the Church of Christ creates new relations 
between its members, and with these new relations 
mutual obligations still more strong and binding. God 
Himself is the Saviour of all, specially of them that 
believe ; and Christians in like manner are bound, as 
they have opportunity, to do good unto all men, but 
specially to those who are of the household of faith. 
This is not sufficiently considered by most Christian 
people ; who, if they looked into the matter, might find 
that few of their strongest affections were determined 
by the common faith. Is not love a strong and peculiar 
word to describe the feeling you cherish toward some 


members of the Church, brethren to you in Christ 
Jesus ? yet love to the brethren is the very token of 
our right to a place in the Church for ourselves. " He 
that loveth not knoweth not God ; for God is love." 

These words of John give us the key to the expres- 
sion " taught of God to love one another." It is not 
likely that they refer to anything so external as the 
words of Scripture, "Thou shalt love thy neiglibour as 
thyself," Even in the Old Testament, to be taught of 
God was something more spiritual than this; it was the 
same thing as to have the law written on the heart. 
That is what the Apostle has in view here. The 
Christian has been born again, born of God ; he has 
a new nature, with new instincts, a new law, a new 
spontaneity ; it is now native to him to love. Until 
the Spirit of God enters into men's hearts and recreates 
them, life is a war of all against all ; man is a wolf to 
man ; but in the Church that internecine strife has 
ended, for its members are the children of God, and 
" every one that loveth Him that begat loveth him also 
that is begotten of Him." The selfishness of man's 
nature is veiled, and to some extent repressed, in other 
societies; but it is not, as a principle, exterminated 
except in the Church and by the Spirit of Christ. A 
family ought to be an unselfish place, ruled only by 
love, and fostering the spirit of love ; yet if Christ be 
not there, what selfish passions assert themselves in 


spite of all restraint. Any association working for 
the common good — a town council even — ought to be 
an unselfish body ; yet how often, in such places, is 
rivalry conspicuous, and self-seeking, and envy, and 
detraction, and all that is unlike Christ. In the Church 
which has been taught of God, or, in other words, which 
has learned of Christ, we find at least some manifesta- 
tions of a better spirit. It does contain people who 
love one another because they are Christians ; who 
are unselfish, giving way to each other, esteeming each 
other, helping each other ; if it contained none such, 
it would not be a Church at all. 

The brotherly love of the early Church was not only 
visible to the world ; it was its great recommendation 
in the world's eyes. It had brought a new thing into 
being, a thing for which the world was pining, namely, 
vital society. The poor people in the cities of Asia 
and Europe saw with wonder, jo}', and hope, men and 
women united to one another in a spiritual union, which 
gave scope to all their gifts for societ}', and satisfied 
all their desires for it. The early Christian churches 
were little companies of people where love was at a 
high temperature, where outward pressure very often 
tightened the inward bonds, and where mutual confid- 
ence diffused continual joy. Men were drawn to them 
irresistibly by the desire to share this life of love. It 
is the very same force which at this moment draws 


those who are outcasts from society into the Salvation 
Army. Whatever the failings of that organisation may 
be, its members are as brothers ; the sense of union, 
of mutual obHgation, of mutual confidence, in one word, 
of brotherly love, is very strong ; and souls that pine 
for that atmosphere are drawn to it with overpowering 
force. It is not good for man to be alone ; it is vain 
for him to seek the satisfaction of his social instincts 
in any of the casual, selfish, or sinful associations by 
which he is often betrayed : even the natural affection 
of the family, pure and strong as it may be, does not 
answer to the width of his spiritual nature ; his heart 
cries out for that society founded on brotherly love 
which only the Church of Christ provides. If there is 
one thing more than another which explains the Church's 
failure in missionary work, it is the absence of this 
spirit of love among her members. If men were com- 
pelled to cry still, as in the early days of the gospel, 
" Behold these Christians, how they love one another," 
they would not be able to remain outside. Their hearts 
would kindle at the glow, and all that hindered their 
incorporation would be burned up. 

The Apostle acknowledges the progress of the Thes- 
salonians. They show this brotherly love to all the 
brethren that are in all Macedonia ; but he beseeches 
them to abound more and more. Nothing is more 
inconsistent with the gospel than narrowness of mind 


or heart, however often Christians may belie their 
profession by such vices. Perhaps of all churches in 
the world, the church of our own country is as much 
in need of this admonition as any, and more than most. 
Would it not be higher praise than some of us deserve, 
to say that we loved with brotherly cordiality all the 
Christian churches in Britain, and wished them God 
speed in their Christian work ? And as for churches 
outside our native land, who knows anything about 
them ? There was a time when all the Protestant 
churches in Europe were one, and lived on terms of 
brotherly intimacy ; we sent ministers and professors 
to congregations and colleges in France, Germany, and 
Holland, and took ministers and professors from the 
Continent ourselves ; the heart of the Church was 
enlarged towards brethren whom it has now completely 
forgotten. This change has been to the loss of all 
concerned ; and if we would follow the Apostle's 
advice, and abound more and more in this supreme 
grace, we must wake up to take an interest in brethren 
beyond the British Isles. The Kingdom of Heaven 
has no boundaries that could be laid down on a map, 
and the brotherly love of the Christian is wider than 
all patriotism. But this truth has a special side con- 
nected with the situation of the Apostle. Paul wrote 
these words from Corinth, where he was busily engaged 
in planting a new church, and they virtually bespeak 


the interest of the Thessalonians in that enterprise. 
Christian brotherly love is the love which God Himself 
implants in the heart ; and the love of God has no 
hmitations. It goes out into all the earth, even to the 
end of the world. It is an ever advancing, ever vic- 
torious force ; the territory in which it reigns becomes 
continually wider and wider. If that love abounds in 
us more and more, we shall follow with live and growing 
interest the work of Christian missions. Few of us 
have any idea of the dimensions of that work, and 
of the nature of its successes. Few of us have any 
enthusiasm for it. Few of us do anything worth men- 
tioning to help it on. Not very long ago the whole 
nation was shocked by the disclosures about the 
Stanley expedition ; and the newspapers were filled 
with the doings of a few profligate ruffians, who, what- 
ever they failed to do, succeeded in covering them- 
selves, and the country they belong to, with infamy. 
One would fain hope that this exhibition of inhumanity 
would turn men's thoughts by contrast to those who 
are doing the work of Christ in Africa. The national 
execration of fiendish wickedness is nothing unless it 
passes into deep and strong sympathy with those who 
are working among the Africans in brotherly love. 
What is the merit of Stanley or his associates, that 
their story should excite the interest of those who 
know nothing of Comber and Hannington and Mackay, 


and all the other brave men who loved not their 
lives to the death for Christ's sake and Africa's ? Is 
it not a shame to some of us that we know the 
horrible story so much better than the gracious one ? 
Let brotherly love abound more and more ; let Chris- 
tian sympathy go out with our brethren and sisters in 
Christ who go out themselves to dark places ; let us 
keep ourselves instructed in the progress of their work ; 
let us support it with prayer and liberality at home ; 
and our minds and hearts alike will grow in the 
greatness of our Lord and Saviour. 

Brotherly love in the early Church, within the limits 
of a small congregation, often took the special form of 
charity. Those who were able helped the poor. A 
special care was taken, as we see from the Book of 
Acts, of widows, and no doubt of orphans. In a later 
epistle Paul mentions with praise a family which 
devoted itself to ministering to the saints. To do good 
and to communicate, that is, to impart of one's goods to 
those who had need, is the sacrifice of praise which all 
Christians are charged not to forget. To see a brother 
or a sister destitute, and to shut up the heart against 
them, is taken as proof positive that we have not the 
love of God dwelling in us. It would be difficult, one 
might think, to exaggerate the emphasis which the 
New Testament lays on the duty and the merit of 
charity. "Sell all that thou hast, and give to the 


poor," Christ said to the rich young man, " and thou 
shalt have treasure in heaven." "Give alms," He 
cried to the Pharisees, " of such things as ye have ; 
and behold, all things are clean unto you." Charity 
sanctifies. Nor have these strong sayings been 
without their due effect. Charity, both organised 
and private, is characteristic of Christendom, and 
of Christendom only. The pagan world made no 
provision for the destitute, the sick, the aged. It had 
no almshouses, no infirmaries, no orphanages, no con- 
valescent homes. The mighty impulse of the love of 
Christ has created all these, and to this hour it sustains 
them all. Acknowledged or unacknowledged, it is the 
force which lies behind every effort made by man for 
the good of his fellows ; wherever this disinterested love 
burns in a human bosom, it is the fire which Christ cast 
upon the earth, and He rejoices at its kindling. As a 
recent example, look at the great scheme of General 
Booth : it is the love of Christ which has inspired it ; 
it is the love of Christ that must provide all the 
subordinate agents by whom it is to be administered, 
if it is ever carried into effect ; it is on the public 
conviction that he is animated by the love of Christ, 
and has no by-ends of his own to secure, that General 
Booth depends for his funds. It is only this Christ- 
enkindled love which gives charity its real worth, and 
furnishes any sort of guarantee that it will confer 


a double blessing, material and spiritual, on those who 
receive it. 

For charity is not without its dangers, and the first 
and greatest of these is that men learn to depend upon 
it. When Paul preached the gospel in Thessalonica, 
he spoke a great deal about the Second Advent. It 
was an exciting subject, and some at least of those 
who received his message were troubled by " ill-defined 
or mistaken expectations," which led to moral disorder 
in their lives. They were so anxious to be ready for 
the Lord when He came, that they neglected their 
ordinary duties, and became dependent upon the 
brethren. They ceased working themselves, and so 
became a burden upon those who continued to work. 
Here we have, in a nutshell, the argument against a 
monastic life of idleness, against the life of the begging 
friar. All men must live by labour, their own or some 
other's ; and he who chooses a life without labour, as the 
more holy, really condemns some brother to a double 
share of that labouring life to which, as he fancies, the 
highest holiness is denied. That is rank selfishness ; 
only a man without brotherly love could be guilty of 
it for an hour. 

Now in opposition to this selfishness, — unconscious 
at first, let us hope, — and in opposition to the un- 
settled, flighty, restless expectations of these early 
disciples, the Apostle propounds a very sober and 


humble plan of life. Make it your ambition, he says, to 
be quiet, and to busy yourselves with your own affairs, 
and to work with your own hands, as we commanded 
you. There is a grave irony in the first words — make 
it your ambition to be quiet ; set your honour in that. 
The ordinary ambition seeks to make a noise in the 
world, to make itself visible and audible ; and ambition 
of that type is not unknown even in the Church. But 
it is out of place there. No Christian ought to be 
ambitious of anything but to fill as unobtrusively as 
possible the place in life which God has given him. 
The less notorious we are, the better for us. The 
necessities of our situation, necessities imposed by God, 
require most of us to spend so many hours a day in 
making our daily bread. The bulk of most men's 
strength, by an ordinance of God that we cannot 
interfere with, is given to that humble but inevitable 
task. If we cannot be holy at our work, it is not worth 
taking any trouble to be holy at other times. If we 
cannot be Christians and please God in those common 
activities which must always absorb so much of our 
time and strength, the balance of life is not worth 
thinking about. Perhaps some of us crave leisure, 
that we may be more free for spiritual work ; and 
think that if we had more time at our disposal, we 
should be able to render many services to Christ and 
His cause which are out of our pov.'er at present. But 



that is extremely doubtful. If experience proves any- 
thing, it proves that nothing is worse for most people 
than to have nothing to do but be religious. ReHgion 
is not controlled in their life by any contact with 
realities ; in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred they 
do not know how to be quiet, but are vain, meddle- 
some, impracticable, and senseless. The man who has 
his trade or his profession to work at, and the woman 
who has her household and social duties to attend to, 
are not to be condoled with ; they are in the very 
place in which religion is at once necessary and 
possible ; they can study to be quiet, and to mind 
their own business, and to work with their own hands, 
and in all this to serve and please God. But those 
who get up in the morning with nothing to do but to 
be pious, or to engage in Christian works, are in a 
position of enormous difficulty, which very few can 
fill. The daily life of toil, at the bench or the desk, 
in the shop, the stud}^, or the street, docs not rob us 
of the Christian life ; it really puts it within our reach. 
If we keep our eyes open, it is easy to see that this 
is so. 

There are two reasons assigned by the Apostle for 
this life of quiet industry, both of which are noticeable. 
First, " That ye may walk honestly toward them that 
are without." Honestly is too colourless a word in 
modern English ; the corresponding adjective in different 


places is translated honourable and comely.^ What the 
Apostle signifies is, that the Church has a great 
character to sustain in the world, and that the in- 
dividual Christian has that character, to some extent, 
in his charge. Idleness, fussiness, excitability, want 
of common sense, these are discreditable qualities, 
inconsistent with the dignity of Christianity, and to 
be guarded against by the believer. The Church is 
really a spectacle to the world ; those who are with- 
out have their eye upon it ; and the Apostle would 
have it a worthy and impressive spectacle. But what 
is there so undignified as an idle busybody, a man 
or woman neglecting duty on the pretence of piety, 
so excited by an uncertain future as to disregard 
the most crying necessities of the present ? Perhaps 
there is none of us who does anything so bad as this ; 
but there are some in every church who are not 
careful of Christian dignity. Remember that there is 
something great in true Christianity, something which 
should command the veneration of those who are with- 
out ; and do nothing inconsistent with that. As the 
sun breaks through the darkest cloud, so honour peereth 
in the meanest habit ; and the lowliest occupation, 
discharged with diligence, earnestness, and fidelity, 
gives scope enough for the exhibition of true Christian 

' S^e I Cor. xii, 24; vii. 35; Acts xiii. go; xvii. 12. 


dignity. The man who does his common duties as 
they ought to be done will never lose his self-respect, 
and will never discredit the Church of Christ. 

The second reason for the life of quiet industry 
is, " That ye may have lack of nothing." Probably the 
truer interpretation would be. That ye may have lack 
of no one. In other words, independence is a Chris- 
tian duty. This is not inconsistent with what has 
been said of charity, but is its necessary supplement. 
Christ commands us to be charitable ; He tells us 
plainly that the need for charity will not disappear ; 
but He tells us as plainly that to count upon charity, 
except in the case of necessity, is both sinful and 
shameful. This contains, of course, a warning to the 
charitable. Those of us who wish to help the poor, 
and who try to do so, must take care to do it in such 
a way as not to teach them to depend on help ; that 
is to do them a serious wrong. We are all familiar 
with the charges brought against charity ; it demoral- 
ises, it fosters idleness and improvidence, it robs 
those who receive it of self-respect. These charges 
have been current from the beginning ; they were 
freely brought against the Church in the days of the 
Roman Empire. If they could be made good, they 
would condemn what passes for charity as unchristian. 
The one-sided enforcement of chanty, in the sense 
of almsgiving, in the Romish Church, has occasionally 


led to something like a glorification of pauperism ; 
the saint is usually a beggar. One would hope that 
in our own country, where the independence of the 
national character has been reinforced by the most 
pronounced types of Protestant religion, such a 
deformed conception of Christianity would be im- 
possible ; yet even among us the caution of this verse 
may not be unnecessary. It is a sign of grace to be 
charitable ; but though one would not speak an un- 
kind word of those in need, it is not a sign of grace to 
require charity. The gospel bids us aim not only 
at brotherly love, but at independence. Remember 
the poor, it says ; but it says also, Work with your 
hands, that you may preserve a Christian dignity in 
relation to the world, and have need of no one. 



" But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them 
that fall asleep ; that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, whieh have no 
hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them 
also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring wltli Him. For this 
we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that 
are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them 
that are fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven, 
with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of 
God ; and the dead in Christ shall rise first : then we that are alive, 
that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to 
meet the Lord in the air : and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 
Wherefore comfort one another with these words." — I Thess. iv. 
13-iS (R.V.). 

1 68 



'~P^HE restlessness of the Thessalonians, which 
-*- caused some of them to neglect their daily work, 
was the result of strained expectations of Christ's 
second coming. The Apostle had taught them that 
the Saviour and Judge of all might appear no one 
knew when ; and they were consumed with a feverish 
anxiety to be found ready when He came. How 
terrible it would be to be found unready, and to lose 
one's place in the heavenly kingdom ! The Thessa- 
lonians were dominated by such thoughts as these 
when death visited the church, and gave rise to new 
perplexities. What of the brethren who had been 
taken away so soon, and of their part in the glory to 
be revealed ? Had they been robbed, by death, of 
the Christian hope ? Had the inheritance which is 
incorruptible, undefiled, and imperishable, passed for 
ever beyond their grasp, because they had died before 
Christ came to take His people to Himself? 

This was what some of the survivors feared ; and 


it is to correct their mistaken ideas, and to comfort them 
in their sorrow, that the Apostle writes the words we 
are now to study. " We would not have you ignorant," 
he says, " concerning them that fall asleep ; that ye 
sorrow not, even as the rest, which have no hope." The 
last words refer to those who are away from Christ, and 
without God in the world. It is a frightful thing to say 
of any man, and still more of the mass of men, that 
they have no hope ; yet it is not only the Apostle who 
says it ; it is the confession, by a thousand voices, of 
the heathen world itself. To that world the future was 
a blank, or a place of unreality and shades. If there 
were great exceptions, men who, like Plato, could not 
give up faith in immortality and in the righteousness of 
God, even in the face of death, these were no more than 
exceptions ; and even for them the future had no sub- 
stance compared with the present. Life was here, and 
not there. Wherever we can hear the pagan soul speak 
of the future, it is in this blank, heartless tone. " Do 
not," says Achilles in the Odyssey, "make light of 
death to me. Rather would I on earth be a serf to 
another, a man of little land and little substance, than 
be prince over all the dead that have come to nought." 
" Suns," says Catullus, " may set and rise again. When 
once our brief light has set, one unbroken night of 
sleep remains." These are fair specimens of the pagan 
outlook ; are they not fair enough specimens of the 


non-Christian outlook at the present day ? The secular 
life is quite avowedly a life without hope. It resolutely 
fixes its attention on the present, and avoids the dis- 
traction of the future. But there are few whom death 
does not compel, at some time or other, to deal 
seriously with the questions the future involves. If 
we love the departed, our hearts cannot but go with 
them to the unseen ; and there are few who can assure 
themselves that death ends all. For those who can, 
what a sorrow remains ! Their loved ones have lost 
everything. All that makes life is here, and tJiey 
have gone. How miserable is their lot, to have been 
deprived, by cruel and untimely death, of all the 
blessings man can ever enjoy ! IIow hopelessly must 
those who are left behind lament them ! 

This is exactly the situation with which the Apostle 
deals. The Christians in Thessalonica feared that 
their brethren who had died would be shut out of the 
Messiah's kingdom ; they mourned for them as those 
mourn who have no hope. The Apostle corrects their 
error, and comforts them. His words do not mean 
that the Christian may lawfully sorrow for his dead, 
provided he does not go to a pagan extreme; they 
mean that the hopeless pagan sorrow is not to be 
indulged by the Christian at all. We give their 
proper force if we imagine him saying : " Weep for 
yourselves, if you will; that is natural, and God 


does not wish us to be insensible to the losses and 
sorrows which are part of His providential government 
of our lives ; but do not weep for them ; the believer 
who has fallen asleep in Christ is not to be lamented ; 
he has lost nothing ; the hope of immortality is as sure 
for him as for those who may live to welcome the Lord 
at His coming ; he has gone to be with Christ, which is 
far, far better." 

The 14th verse gives the Christian proof of this con- 
soling doctrine. " For if we believe that Jesus died and 
rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in 
Jesus will God bring with Him."^ It is quite plain that 
something is wanting here to complete the argument. 
Jesus did die and rise again, there is no dispute about 
that ; but how is the Apostle justified in inferring from 
this that God will bring the Christian dead again to 
meet the living ? What is the missing link in this 
reasoning ? Clearly it is the truth, so characteristic 
of the New Testament, that there is a union between 
Christ and those who trust Him so close that their 
destiny can be read in His. All that He has experienced 
will be experienced by them. They are united to Him 
as indissolubly as the members of the body to the 

• There is a certain difficulty about the connection of the words in 
the last clause ; it would probably be more correct to render them : 
Even so them also that are fallen asleep will God through Jesus bring 
with Him. 


head ; and being planted together in the likeness of 
His death, they shall be also in the likeness of 
His resurrection. Death, the Apostle would have us 
understand, does not break the bond between the 
beUeving soul and the Saviour. Even human love is 
stronger than the grave ; it goes beyond it with the 
departed ; it follows them with strong yearnings, with 
wistful hopes, sometimes v,^ith earnest prayers. But 
there is an impotence, at which death mocks, in earthly 
love ; the last enemy does put a great gulf between 
souls, which cannot be bridged over ; and there is no 
such impotence in the love of Christ. He is never 
separated from those who love Him. He is one with 
them in death, and in the Hfe to come, as in this hfe. 
Through Him God will bring the departed again to 
meet their friends. There is something very expres- 
sive in the word "bring." "Sweet word," says 
Bengel : " it is spoken of living persons." The dead 
for whom we mourn are not dead ; they all live to God ; 
and when the great day comes, God will bring those 
who have gone before, and unite them to those who 
have been left behind. When we see Christ at His 
coming, we shall see also those that have fallen asleep 
in Him. 

This argument, drawn from the -elation of the 
Christian to the Saviour, is confirmed by an appeal to 
the authority of the Saviour Himself "For this we 


say unto you by the word of the Lord : " as if he said, 
" It is not merely a conclusion of our own ; it is sup- 
ported by the express word of Christ." Many have 
tried to find in the Gospels the word of the Lord 
referred to, but, as I think, without success. The 
passage usually quoted (Matt. xxiv. 31: "He shall 
send forth His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, 
and they shall gather together His elect from the four 
winds, from one end of heaven to the other "), though 
it covers general!}' the subject with which the Apostle 
is dealing, does not touch upon the essential point, the 
equality of those who die before the Second Advent 
with those who live to see it. We must suppose that 
the word of the Lord referred to v/as one which failed 
to find a place in the written Gospels, Hke that other 
which the Apostle preserved, " It is more blessed to 
give than to receive " ; or that it was a word which 
Christ spoke to him in one of the many revelations 
which he received in his apostolic work. In any case, 
what the Apostle is going to say is not his own word, 
but the word of Christ, and as such its authority is 
final for all Christians. What, then, does Christ say 
on this great concern ? 

He says that " we that are alive, that are left unto the 
coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that 
are fallen asleep." The natural impression one takes 
from these words is that Paul expected himself to be 


alive when Christ came ; but whether that impression 
is justifiable or not/ it is no part of the truth which 
can claim the authority of the Lord. Christ's word 
only assures us that those who are alive at that day 
shall have no precedency over those that have fallen 
asleep ; it does not tell us who shall be in the one 
class, and who in the other, Paul did not know when 
the day of the Lord would be ; but as it was the duty 
of all Christians to look for and hasten it, he naturally 
included himself among those who would live to see it. 
Later in life, the hope of surviving till the Lord came 
alternated in his mind with the expectation of death. 
In one and the same epistle, the Epistle to the Philip- 
pians, we find him writing (iv. 5), "The Lord is at 
hand"; and only a little earlier (i. 22,), "I have the 
desire to depart and be with Christ ; for it is very 
far better." Better, certainly, than a life of toil and 
suffering; but not better than the Lord's coming. 
Paul could not but shrink with a natural horror from 
death and its nakedness ; he would have preferred to 
escape that dread necessity, the putting off of the body ; 
not to be unclothed, was his desire, but to be clothed 
upon, and to have mortality swallowed up of life. 

' It is easy to state the inference too strongly. Paul tells us expressly 

that he did not know when Christ would come ; he could not therefore 
know that he himself would have died long before the Advent ; and it 
was inevitable, therefore, that he should include himself here in the 
category of such as might live to see it. 


When he wrote this letter to the Thessalonians, I do 
not doubt that this was his hope; and it does not 
impugn his authority in the least that it was a hope 
destined not to be fulfilled. With the Lord, a thou- 
sand years are as one day; and even those who are 
partakers in the kingdom seldom partake to an eminent 
degree in the patience of Jesus Christ. Only in the 
teaching of the Lord Himself does the New Testament 
put strongly before us the duration of the Christian 
era, and the delays of the Second Advent, How many 
of His parables, e.g., represent the kingdom as subject 
to the law of growth — the Sower, the Wheat and the 
Tares which have both to ripen, the Mustard Seed, and 
the Seed Growing Gradually. All these imply a natural 
law and goal of progress, not to be interrupted at 
random. How many, again, like the parable of the 
Unjust Judge, or the Ten Virgins, imply that the delay 
will be so great as to beget utter disbelief or forgetful- 
ness of His coming. Even the expression, " The times 
of the GejJtiles," suggests epochs which must intervene 
before men see Him again.-^ But over against this deep 
insight and wondrous patience of Christ, we must not 
be surprised to find something of impatient ardour in 
the Apostles. The world was so cruel to them, their 
love to Christ was so fervent, their desire for re-union so 

' On this subject see Bruce's Kingdom of God, chap. xii. 


strong, that they could not but hope and pray, " Come 
quickly, Lord Jesus." Is it not better to recognise the 
obvious fact that Paul was mistaken as to the nearness 
of the Second Advent, than to torture his words to 
secure his infallibility ? Two great commentators — 
the Roman Catholic Cornelius a Lapide, and the 
Protestant John Calvin — save Paul's infallibility at a 
greater cost than violating the rules of grammar. They 
admit that his words mean that he expected to survive 
till Christ came again ; but, they say, an infallible 
apostle could not really have had such an expectation ; 
and therefore we must believe that Paul practised a 
pious fraud in writing as he did, a fraud with the good 
intention of keeping the Thessalonians on the alert. 
But I hope, if v/e had the choice, we would all choose 
rather to tell the truth, and be mistaken, than to be 
infallible, and tell lies. 

After the general statement, on Christ's authority, 
that the living shall have no precedency of the de- 
parted, Paul goes on to explain the circumstances of 
the Advent by which it is justified. " The Lord Him- 
self shall descend from heaven." In that emphatic 
Himself we have the argument of ver. 14 practically 
repeated : the Lord, it signifies, who knows all that 
are His. Who can look at Christ as He comes again 
in glory, and not remember His words in the Gospel, 
" Because I live, ye shall live also ; " " where I am, there 



shall also My servant be " ? It is not another who 
comes, but He to whom all Christian souls have been 
united for ever. " The Lord Himself shall descend 
from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the 
archangel, and with the trump of God." The last two 
of these expressions are in all probability the explana- 
tion of the first ; the voice of the archangel, or the 
trumpet of God, is the signal-shout, or as the hymn 
expresses it, " the great commanding word," with 
which the drama of the last things is ushered in. The 
archangel is the herald of the Messianic King. We 
cannot tell how much is figure in these expressions, 
which all rest on Old Testament associations, and on 
popular beliefs amongst the Jews of the time ; neither 
can we tell what precisely underlies the figure. But 
this much is clearly meant, that a Divine summons, 
audible and effective everywhere, goes forth from 
Christ's presence ; that ancient utterance, of hope or 
of despair, is fulfilled : " Thou shalt call, and I will 
answer Uiee." When the signal is given, the dead 
in Christ rise first. Paul says nothing here of the 
resurrection body, spiritual and incorruptible ; but 
when Christ comes, the Christian dead are raised in 
that body, prepared for eternal blessedness, before 
anything else is done. That is the meaning of " the 
dead in Christ shall rise first.^^ It does not contrast 
the resurrection of the Christian dead with a second 


resurrection of all men, either immediately afterwards, 
or after a thousand years; it contrasts it as the first 
scene in this drama with the second, namely, the 
rapture of the living. The first thing will be that the 
dead rise ; the next, that those that are alive, that are 
left, shall at the same time, and in company with them, 
be caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord 
in the air. The Apostle does not look beyond this ; 
so, he says, shall we — that is, we all, those that live 
and those that are fallen asleep — be ever with the Lord. 
A thousand questions rise to our lips as we look at 
this wonderful picture; but the closer we look, the 
more plainly do we see the parsimony of the revelation, 
and the strictness with which it is measured out to 
meet the necessities of the case. There is nothing in 
it, for instance, about the non-Christian. It tells us 
the blessed destiny of those who have fallen asleep in 
Christ, and of those who wait for Christ's appearing. 
Much of the curiosity about those who die without 
Christ is not disinterested. People would like to know 
what t/iei'r destiny is, because they would like to know 
whether there is not a tolerable alternative to accepting 
the gospel. But the Bible does not encourage us to 
look for such an alternative. " Blessed," it says, " are 
the dead who die in the Lord " ; and blessed also are the 
living who live in the Lord ; if there are those who 
reject this blessedness, and raise questions about what 


a life without Christ may lead to, they do it at their 

There is nothing, again, about the nature of the life 
beyond the Advent, except this, that it is a life in 
which the Christian is in close and unbroken union 
with Christ — ever with the Lord. Some have been 
very anxious to answer the question, Where ? but the 
revelation gives us no help. It does not say that those 
who meet the Lord in the air ascend with Him to 
heaven, or descend, as some have supposed, to reign 
with Him on earth. There is absolutely nothing in it 
for curiosity, though everything that is necessary for 
comfort. For men who had conceived the terrible 
thought that the Christian dead had lost the Christian 
hope, the veil was withdrawn from the future, and 
living and dead alike revealed united, in eternal life, to 
Christ. That is all, but surely it is enough. That is 
the hope which the gospel puts before us, and no 
accident of time, like death, can rob us of it. Jesus 
died and rose again ; He is Lord both of the dead and 
the living ; and all will, at the great day, be gathered 
together to Him. Are they to be lamented, who have 
this future to look forward to ? Are we to sorrow 
over those who pass into the world unseen, as if they 
had no hope, or as if we had none ? No ; in the 
sorrow of death itself, we may comfort one another 
with these words. 


Is it not a striking proof of the grace of our Lord 
Jesus Christ, that we have, on the express authority of 
His word, a special revelation, the exclusive aim of 
which is to comfort ? Jesus knew the terrible sorrow 
of bereavement ; He had stood by the bedside of 
Jairus' daughter, by the young man's bier at Nain, by 
Lazarus' tomb. He knew how inconsolable it was, 
how subtle, how passionate ; He knew the dead weight 
at the heart which never passes away, and the sudden 
rush of feeling which overpowers the strongest. And 
that all this sorrow might not rest upon His Church 
unrelieved. He lifted the curtain that we might see 
with our eyes the strong consolation beyond. I have 
spoken of it as if it consisted simply in union to 
Christ ; but it is as much a part of the revelation that 
Christians whom death has separated are re-united to 
each other. The Thessalonians feared they would 
never see their departed friends again ; but the word 
of the Lord says. You will be caught up, in company 
with them, to meet Me ; and you and they shall dwell 
with Me for ever. What congregation is there in 
which there is not need of this consolation ? Comfort 
one another, the Apostle says. One needs the comfort 
to-day, and another to-morrow ; in proportion as we 
bear each other's burdens, we all need it continually. 
The unseen world is perpetually opening to receive 
those whom we love ; but though they pass out of 


sight and out of reach, it is not for ever. They are 
still united to Christ ; and when He comes in His 
glory He will bring them to us again. Is it not 
strange to balance the greatest sorrow of life against 
words ? Words, we often feel, are vain and worth- 
less ; they do not lift the burden from the heart ; they 
make no difference to the pressure of grief. Of our 
own words that is true ; but what we have been 
considering are not our own words, but the word of 
the Lord. His words are alive and powerful : heaven 
and earth may pass away, but they cannot pass ; let 
us comfort one another with that. 




'* i^ut concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no 
need that aught be written unto you. For yourselves know perfectly 
that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. When they 
are saying, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon 
them, as travail upon a woman with child ; and they shall in no wise 
escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should 
overtake you as a thief : for ye are all sons of light, and sons of the 
day : we are not of the night, nor of darkness ; so then let us not sleep, 
as do the rest, but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep 
sleep in the night ; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. 
But let us, since we are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate 
of faith and love ; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God 
appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation 
through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake 
or sleep, we should live together with Ilim. Wherefore exhort one 
another, and build each other up, even as also ye do." — I Thess. v. 
l-li (R.V.). 




'T^HE last verses of the fourth chapter perfect that 
-■- which is lacking, on one side, in the faith of the 
Thessalonians. The Apostle addresses himself to the 
ignorance of his readers : he instructs them more fully 
on the circumstances of Christ's second coming; and 
he bids them comfort one another with the sure hope 
that they and their departed friends shall meet, never 
to part, in tlie kingdom of the Saviour. In the passage 
before us he perfects what is lacking to their faith 
on another side. He addresses himself, not to their 
ignorance, but to their knowledge; and he instructs 
them how to improve, instead of abusing, both what 
they knew and what they v.'ere ignorant of, in regard 
to the last Advent. It had led, in some, to curious 
inquiries ; in others, to a moral restlessness which 
could not bind itself patiently to duty; yet its true 
fruit, the Apostle tells them, ought to be hope, watch- 
fulness, and sobriety. 

" The day of the Lord " is a famous expression in the 


Old Testament; it runs through all prophecy, and is 
one of its most characteristic ideas. It means a day 
which belongs in a peculiar sense to God : a day which 
He has chosen for the perfect manifestation of Himself, 
for the thorough working out of His work among men. 
It is impossible to combine in one picture all the traits 
which prophets of different ages, from Amos downward, 
embody in their representations of this great day. It 
is heralded, as a rule, by terrific phenomena in nature : 
the sun is turned into darkness and the moon into 
blood, and the stars withdraw their light ; we read of 
earthquake and tempest, of blood and fire and pillars 
of smoke. The great day ushers in the deliverance 
of God's people from all their enemies ; and it is 
accompanied by a terrible sifting process, which separ- 
ates the sinners and hypocrites among the holy people 
from those who are truly the Lord's. Wherever it 
appears, the day of the Lord has the character of 
finality. It is a supreme manifestation of judgment, 
in which the wicked perish for ever ; it is a supreme 
manifestation of grace, in which a new and unchange- 
able life of blessedness is opened to the righteous. 
Sometimes it seemed near to the prophet, and some- 
times far off; but near or far, it bounded his horizon ; 
he saw nothing beyond. It was the end of one era, 
and the beginning of another which should have no 


This great conception is carried over by the Apostle 
from the Old Testament to the New. The day of the 
Lord is identified with the Return of Christ. All the 
contents of that old conception are carried over along 
with it, Christ's return bounds the Apostle's horizon ; 
it is the final revelation of the mercy and judgment of 
God. There is sudden destruction in it for some, a 
darkness in which there is no light at all ; and for 
others, eternal salvation, a light in which there is no 
darkness at all. It is the end of the present order of 
things, and the beginning of a new and eternal order. 
All this the Thessalonians knew ; they had been care- 
fully taught it by the Apostle. He did not need to 
write such elementary truths, nor did he need to say 
anything about the times and seasons^ which the 
Father had kept in His own power. They knew 
perfectly all that had been revealed on this matter, 
viz., that the day of the Lord comes exactly as a thief 
in the night. Suddenly, unexpectedly, giving a shock 

' ^' The times (xP^voi) are, in Augustine's words, 'ipsa spatia tem- 
porum,' and these contemplated merely under the aspect of their 
duration, over which the Church's history should extend ; but i/ie 
seasons (/catpoi) are the joints or articulations in these times, the critical 
epoch-making periods foreordained of God (/cotpoi TrpoTerayixivoi, Acts 
xvii. 26; cf. Augustine, Conf., xi., 13: 'Deus operator temporum 'j ; 
when all that has been slowly, and often without observation, ripening 
through long ages is mature and comes to the birth in grand decisive 
events, which constitute at once the close of one period and the com- 
mencement of another." — Trench, Synonyms, p. 21 1. 


of alarm and terror to those whom it finds unpre- 
pared, — in such wise it breaks upon the world. The 
telling image, so frequent with the Apostles, was 
derived from the Master Himself; we can imagine the 
solemnity with which Christ said, " Behold, I come as 
a thief Blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his 
garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame." ^ 
The New Testament tells us everywhere that men will 
be taken at unawares by the final revelation of Christ 
as Judge and Saviour; and in so doing, it enforces 
with all possible earnestness the duty of watching. 
False security is so easy, so natural, — looking to the 
general attitude, even of Christian men, to this truth, 
one is tempted to say, so inevitable, — that it may well 
seem vain to urge the duty of watchfulness more. As 
it was in the days of Noah, as it was in the days of 
Lot, as it was when Jerusalem fell, as it is at this 
moment, so shall it be at the day of the Lord. Men 
will say. Peace and safety, though every sign of the 
times says. Judgment. They will eat and drink, plant 
and build, marry and be given in marriage, with their 
whole heart concentrated and absorbed in these tran- 
sient interests, till in a moment suddenly, like the 
lightning which flashes from east to west, the sign of 
the Son of Man is seen in heaven. Instead of peace 

' Rev. xvi. 15. 


and safety, sudden destruction surprises them ; all that 
they have Hved for passes away ; they awake, as from 
deep sleep, to discover that their soul has no part with 
God. It is too late then to think of preparing for the 
end : the end has come ; and it is with solemn emphasis 
the Apostle adds, "They shall in no wise escape." 

A doom so av/ful, a life so evil, cannot be the 
destiny or the duty of any Christian man. " Ye, 
brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should 
overtake you as a thief." Darkness, in that saying of 
the Apostle, has a double weight of meaning. The 
Christian is not in ignorance of what is impending, and 
forewarned is forearmed. Neither is he any longer in 
moral darkness, plunged in vice, living a hfe the first 
necessity of which is to keep out of God's sight. Once 
the Thessalonians had been in such darkness; their 
souls had had their part in a world sunk in sin, on 
which the day-spring from on high had not risen ; 
but now that time was past. God had shined into 
their hearts ; He who is Himself light had poured the 
radiance of His own love and truth into them till 
ignorance, vice, and wickedness had passed away, and 
they had become light in the Lord. How intimate is 
the relation between the Christian and God, how com- 
plete the regeneration, expressed in the words, " Ye are 
all sons of light, and sons of the day ; we are not of 
the night, nor of darkness " 1 There are shady things 


in the world, and shady persons, but they are not in 
Christianity, nor among Christians. The true Christian 
takes his nature, all that characterises and distin- 
guishes him, from light. There is no darkness in him, 
nothing to hide, no guilty secret, no corner of his 
being into wiiich the light of God has not penetrated, 
nothing that makes him dread exposure. His whole 
nature is full of light, transparently luminous, so that 
it is impossible to surprise him or take him at a dis- 
advantage. This, at least, is his ideal character; to 
this he is called, and this he makes his aim. There 
are those, the Apostle implies, who take their cha- 
racter from night and darkness, — men with souls that 
hide from God, that love secrecy, that have much to 
remember they dare not speak of, that turn with in- 
stinctive aversion from the light which the gospel 
brings, and the sincerity and openness which it claims ; 
men, in short, who have come to love darkness rather 
than light, because their deeds are evil. The day of 
the Lord will certainly be a surprise to them ; it will 
smite them with sudden terror, as the midnight thief, 
breaking unseen through door or window, terrifies the 
defenceless householder ; it will overwhelm them with 
despair, because it will come as a great and searching 
light, — a day on which God will bring every hidden 
thing to view, and judge the secrets of men's hearts by 
Christ Jesus. For those who have lived in darkness 


the surprise will be inevitable ; but what surprise 
can there be for the children of the light ? They are 
partakers of the Divine nature ; there is nothing in their 
souls which they would not have God know ; the light 
that shines from the great white throne will discover 
nothing in them to which its searching brightness is un- 
welcome ; Christ's coming is so far from disconcerting 
them that it is really the crowning of their hopes. 

The Apostle demands of his disciples conduct 
answering to this ideal. Walk worthy, he says, of 
your privileges and of your calling. " Let us not 
sleep, as do the rest, but let us watch and be sober." 
" Sleep " is certainly a strange word to describe the 
life of the Vt^orldly man. He probably thinks himself 
very wide awake, and as far as a certain circle of 
interests is concerned, probably is so. The children 
of this world, Jesus tells us, are wonderfully wise for 
their generation. They are more shrewd and more 
enterprising than the children of light. But what 
a stupor falls upon them, what a lethargy, what a deep 
unconscious slumber, when the interests in view are 
spiritual. The claims of God, the future of the soul, 
the coming of Christ, our manifestation at His judg- 
ment seat, they are not awake to any concern in these. 
They live on as if these were not realities at all ; if 
they pass through their minds on occasion, as they 
look at the Bible or listen to a sermon, it is as 


dreams pass through the mind of one asleep ; they go 
out and shake themselves, and all is over ; earth has 
recovered its solidity, and the airy unrealities have 
passed away. Philosophers have amused themselves 
with the difficulty of finding a scientific criterion 
between the experiences of the sleeping and the 
waking state, i.e., a means of distinguishing between 
the kind of reality which belongs to each; it is at 
least one element of sanity to be able to make the 
distinction. If we may enlarge the ideas of sleep and 
waking, as they are enlarged by the Apostle in this 
passage, it is a distinction which many fail to make. 
When they have the ideas which make up the staple 
of revelation presented to them, they feel as if they 
were in dreamland ; there is no substance to them in 
a page of St, Paul ; they cannot grasp the realities 
that underlie his words, any more than they can 
grasp the forms which swept before their minds in 
last night's sleep. But when they go out to their 
work in the world, to deal in commodities, to handle 
money, then they are in the sphere of real things, 
and wide awake enough. Yet the sound mind will 
reverse their decisions. It is the visible things that 
are unreal and that ultimately pass away ; the spiritual 
things — God, Christ, the human soul, faith, love, 
hope — that abide. Let us not face our life in that 
sleepy mood to which the spiritual is but a dream ; on 


the contrary, as we are of the day, let us be wide 
awake and sober. The world is full of illusions, 
of shadows which impose themselves as substances 
upon the heedless, of gilded trifles which the man 
whose eyes are heavy with sleep accepts as gold ; 
but the Christian ought not to be thus deceived. Look 
to the corning of the Lord, Paul says, and do not 
sleep through your days, hke the heathen, making 
your life one long delusion ; taking the transitory for 
the eternal, and regarding the eternal as a dream ; that 
is the way to be surprised with sudden destruction 
at the last ; watch and be sober ; and you will not be 
ashamed before Him at His coming. 

It may not be out of place to insist on the fact 
that " sober " in this passage means sober as opposed 
to drunk. No one would wish to be overtaken drunk 
by any great occasion ; yet the day of the Lord is 
associated in at least three passages of Scripture with 
a warning against this gross sin. " Take heed to 
yourselves," the Master says, " lest haply your hearts 
be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and 
cares of this life, and that day come on you suddenly 
as a snare." " The night is far spent," says the Apostle, 
" the day is at hand. . . Let us walk honestly as in the 
day ; not in revelling and drunkenness." And in this 
passage : " Let us, since we are of the day, be sober ; 
they that be drunken are drunken in the night." The 



conscience of men is awakening to the sin of excess, 
but it has much to do before it comes to the New 
Testament standard. Does it not help us to see it in 
its true light when it is thus confronted with the day 
of the Lord ? What horror could be more awful 
than to be overtaken in this state ? What death 
is more terrible to contemplate than one which is not 
so very rare — death in drink ? 

Wakefulness and sobriety do not exhaust the 
demands made upon the Christian. He is also to be 
on his guard, " Put on the breastplate of faith and 
love ; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation." While 
waiting for the Lord's coming, the Christian waits 
in a hostile world. He is exposed to assault from 
spiritual enemies who aim at nothing less than his 
life, and he needs to be protected against them. In 
the very beginning of this letter we came upon the 
three Christian graces ; the Thessalonia-ns were com- 
mended for their work of faith, labour of love, and 
patience of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. There 
they were represented as active powers in the Chris- 
tian life, each manifesting its presence by some appro- 
priate work, or some notable fruit of character; here 
they constitute a defensive armour by which the 
Christian is shielded against any mortal assault. We 
cannot press the figure further than this. If we keep 
our faith in Jesus Christ, if we love one another, if our 


hearts are set with confident hope on that salvation 
which is to be brought to us at Christ's appearing, 
we need fear no evil ; no foe can touch our lif?. It 
is remarkable, I think, that both here and in the 
famous passage in Ephesians, as well as in the original 
of both in Isaiah lix. 17, salvation, or, to be more 
precise, the hope of salvation, is made the helmet. 
The Apostle is very free in his comparisons ; faith is 
now a shield, and now a breastplate ; the breastplate 
in one passage is faith and love, and in another 
righteousness; but the helmet is alwa3'3 the same. 
Without hope, he would say to us, no man can hold 
up his head in the battle; and the Christian hope is 
always Christ's second coming. If He is not to come 
again, the very word hope may be blotted out of the 
New Testament. This assured grasp on the coming 
salvation — a salvation ready to be revealed in the 
last times — is what gives the spirit of victory to the 
Christian even in the darkest hour. 

The mention of salvation brings the Apostle back 
to his principal subject. It is as if he wrote, " for a 
helmet the hope of salvation ; salvation, I say ; for 
God did not appoint us to wrath, but to the obtain- 
ing of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." The 
day of the Lord is indeed a day of wrath, — a day when 
men will cry to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall 
on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth 


upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb ; 
for the great day of their wrath is come. The Apostle 
cannot remember it for any purpose without getting 
a glimpse of those terrors ; but it is not for these he 
recalls it at this time. God did not appoint Chris- 
tians to the wrath of that day, but to its salvation, — 
a salvation the hope of which is to cover their heads 
in the day of battle. 

The next verse — the tenth — has the peculiar interest 
of containing the only hint to be found in this early 
Epistle of Paul's teaching as to the mode of salvation. 
We obtain it through Jesus Christ, who died for us. It 
is not who died instead of us, nor even on our behalf 
(uirip), but, according to the true reading, who died 
a death in which we are concerned. It is the most 
vague expression that could have been used to signify 
that Christ's death had something to do with our salva- 
tion. Of course it does not follow that Paul had said 
no more to the Thessalonians than he indicates here ; 
judging from the account he gives in 1st Corinthians of 
his preaching immediatel}' after he left Thessalonica, 
one would suppose he had been much more explicit ; 
certainly no church ever existed that was not based 
on the Atonement and the Resurrection. In point of 
fact, however, what is here made prominent is not the 
mode of salvation, but one special result of salvation as 
accomplished by Christ's death, a result contemplated 


by Christ, and pertinent to the purpose of this letter ; 
He died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we 
should together live with Him, The same conception 
precisely is found in Rom. xiv. 9 : "To this end Christ 
died, and lived again, that He might be Lord of both 
the dead and the living." This was His aim in redeem- 
ing us by passing through all modes of human exist- 
ence, seen and unseen. It made Him Lord of all. He 
filled all things. He claims all modes of existence as 
His own. Nothing separates from Him. Wb.ether we 
sleep or wake, whether we live or die, we shall alike 
live with Him. The strong consolation, to impart 
which was the Apostle's original motive in approaching 
this subject, has thus come uppermost again ; in the 
circumstances of the church, it is this which lies nearest 
to his heart. 

He ends, therefore, with the old exhortation : " Com- 
fort one another, and build each other up, as also 
ye do." The knowledge of the truth is one thing ; the 
Christian use of it is another : if we cannot help one 
another very much with the first, there is more in our 
power with regard to the last. We are not ignorant 
of Christ's second coming ; of its awful and consoling 
circumstances ; of its final judgment and final mercy ; 
of its final separations and final unions. Why have 
these things been revealed to us ? What influence 
are they meant to have in our lives ? They ought 


to be consoling and strengthening. They ought to 
banish hopeless sorrow. They ought to generate and 
sustain an earnest, sober, watchful spirit ; strong 
patience ; a complete independence of this world. It 
is left to us as Christian men to assist each other in 
the appropriation and application of these great truths. 
Let us fix our minds upon them. Our salvation is 
nearer than when we believed. Christ is coming. 
There will be a gathering together of all His people 
unto Him. The living and the dead shall be for ever 
with the Lord. Of the times and the seasons we can 
say no more than could be said at the beginning ; the 
Father has kept them in His own power ; it remains 
with us to watch and be sober ; to arm ourselves with 
faith, love, and hope ; to set our mind on the things 
that are above, where our true country is, whence also 
we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. 




" But we beseech you, brethren, to know them that labour among 
you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you ; and to esteem 
them exceed hig highly in love for their work's sake. Be at peace among 
yourselves. And we exhort you, brethren, admonish the disorderly, 
encourage the fainthearted, support the weak, be longsu tiering toward 
all. See that none render unto any one evil for evil ; but alway follow 
after that which is good, one toward another, and toward all." — i Thess. 
V. 12-1=; fR.V.). 




\ T the present moment, one great cause of division 
■^ ^ among Christian churches is the existence of 
different forms of Church government. Congregation- 
alists, Presbyterians, and EpiscopaHans are separated 
from each other much more decidedly by difference of 
organisation than by difference of creed. By some of 
them, if not by all, a certain form of Church order 
is identified with the existence of the Church itself. 
Thus the English-speaking bishops of the world, who 
met some time ago in conference at Lambeth, adopted 
as a basis, on which they could treat for union with 
other Churches, the acceptance of Holy Scripture, of 
the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, of 
the Apostles' and Nicene creeds, and of the Historic 
Episcopate. In other words, diocesan bishops are 
as essential to the constitution of the Church as the 
preaching of the Word of God and the administration 
of the Sacraments. That is an opinion which one may 
say, without offence, has neither history nor reason on 


its side. Part of the interest of this Epistle to the 
Thessalonians lies in the glimpses it gives of the early 
state of the Church, when such questions would simply 
have been unintelligible. The little community at 
Thessalonica was not quite without a constitution — no 
society could exist on that footing — but its constitution, 
as we see from this passage, was of the most elementary 
kind ; and it certainly contained nothing like a modern 

" We beseech you," says the Apostle, " to know them 
that labour among you." " To labour " ^ is the ordinary 
expression of Paul for such Christian work as he 
himself did. Perhaps it refers mainly to the work of 
catechising, to the giving of that regular and connected 
instruction in Christian truth which followed conversion 
and baptism. It covers everything that could be of 
service to the Church or any of its members. It would 
include even works of charity. There is a passage 
very like this in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, 
(xvi. 1 5 f.), where the two things are closely connected : 
" Now I beseech you, brethren (ye know the house of 
Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that 

' Those " who toil among you and preside over you and admonish 
you " are identified by Wright ( Composition of the Four Gospels, p. 1 2) 
as " the catechists, the presbyters, and evangelists." The third case is 
certainly doubtful ; and the fact that the article is used only once^makes 
the whole attempt at such a discrimination of officials illegitimate. 


they have set themselves to minister unto the saints), 
that ye also be in subjection unto such, and to every 
one that helpeth in the work and laboureth." In both 
passages there is a certain indefiniteness. Those who 
labour are not necessarily official persons, elders, or, as 
they are often called in the New Testament, bishops, and 
deacons ; they may have given themselves to the work 
without any election or ordination at all. We know 
that this is often the case still. The best workers in 
a church are not always or necessarily found among 
those who have official functions to perform. Especially 
is it so in churches which provide no recognition for 
women, yet depend for their efficiency as religious 
agencies even more on women than on men. What 
would become of our Sunday Schools, of our Home 
Missions, of our charities, of our visitation of the sick, 
the aged, and the poor, but for the labour of Christian 
women ? Now what the Apostle tells us here is, 
that it is labour which, in the first instance, is entitled 
to respect. " Know them that labour among you," 
means " Know them for what they are " ; recognise 
with all due reverence their self-denial, their faithful- 
ness, the services they render to you, their claim upon 
your regard. The Christian labourer does not labour 
for praise or flattery ; but those who take the burden 
of the church upon them in any way, as pastors or 
teachers or visitors, as choir or collectors as managers 


of the church property, or however else, are entitled 
to our acknowledgment, and ought not to be left with- 
out it. There is no doubt a great deal of unknown, 
unheeded, unrequited labour in every church. That is 
inevitable, and probably good ; but it should make us 
the more anxious to acknowledge what we see, and to 
esteem the workers very highly in love because of it. 
How unseemly it is, and how unworthy of the Christian 
name, when those who do not work busy themselves 
with criticising those who do, — inventing objections, 
deriding honest effort, anticipating failure, pouring cold 
water upon zeal. That is bad for all, but bad especially 
for those who practise it. The ungenerous soul, which 
grudges recognition to others, and though it never 
labours itself has always wisdom to spare for those 
who do, is in a hopeless state ; there is no growth for 
it in anything noble and good. Let us open our eyes 
on those who labour among us, men or women, and 
recognise them as they deserve. 

There are two special forms of labour to which the 
Apostle gives prominence : he mentions as among those 
that labour " them that are over you in the Lord, and 
admonish you." The first of the words here employed, 
the one translated " them that are over " you, is the 
only hint the Epistle contains of Church government. 
Wherever there is a society, there must be order. 
There must be those through whom the society acts, 


those who represent it officially by words or deeds. 
At Thessalonica there was not a single president, a 
minister in our sense, possessing to a certain extent 
an exclusive responsibility ; the presidency was in the 
hands of a plurality of men, what Presbyterians would 
call a Kirk Session. This body, ..s far as we can make 
out from the few surviving indications of their duties, 
would direct, but not conduct, the public worship, and 
would manage the financial affairs, and especially the 
charity, of the church. They would as a rule be 
elderly men ; and were called by the official name, 
borrowed from the Jews, of elders. They did not, in 
the earliest times, preach or teach ; they were too old 
to learn that new profession ; but what may be called 
the administration was in their hands ; they were the 
governing committee of the. new Christian community. 
The limits of their authority are indicated by the words 
" in the Lord." They are over the members of the 
church in their characters and relations as church 
members; but they have nothing to do with other 
departments of life, so far as these relations are 
unaffected by them. 

Side by side with those who preside over the church, 
Paul mentions those "who admonish you." Admonish 
is a somewhat severe word ; it means to speak to one 
about his conduct, reminding him of what he seems to 
have forgotten, and of what is rightly expected from 


him. It gives us a glimpse of discipline in the early 
Church, that is, of the care which was taken that those 
who had named the Christian name should lead a truly 
Christian life. There is nothing expressly said in this 
passage about doctrines. Purity of doctrine is cer- 
tainly essential to the health of the Church, but right- 
ness of life comes before it. There is nothing expressly 
said about teaching the truth ; that work belonged to 
apostles, prophets, and evangelists, who were ministers 
of the Church at large, and not fixed to a single con- 
gregation ; the only exercise of Christian speech proper 
to the congregation is its use in admonition, i.e., for 
practical moral purposes. The moral ideal of the 
gospel must be clearly before the mind of the Church, 
and all who deviate from it must be admonished of 
their danger. " It is difficult for us in modern times," 
says Dr. Hatch, "with the widely different views 
which we have come to hold as to the relation of 
Church government to social life, to understand how 
large a part discipline filled in the communities of 
primitive times. These communities were what they 
were mainly by the strictness of their discipline. . . . 
In the midst of * a crooked and perverse nation ' they 
could only hold their own by the extreme of circum- 
spection. Moral purity was not so much a virtue at 
which they were bound to aim as the very condition of 
their existence. If the salt of the earth should lose its 


savour, wherewith should it be salted ? If the lights 
of the world were dimmed, who should rekindle their 
flame ? And of this moral purity the officers of each 
community were the custodians. * They watched for 
souls as those that must give account.' " This vivid 
picture should provoke us to reflection. Our minds 
are not set sufficiently on the practical duty of keeping 
up the Christian standard. The moral originality of 
the gospel drops too easily out of sight. Is it not the 
case that we are much more expert at vindicating the 
approach of the Church to the standard of the non- 
Christian world, than at maintaining the necessary 
distinction between the two ? We are certain to bring 
a good deal of the world into the Church without 
knowing it ; we are certain to have instincts, habits, 
dispositions, associates perhaps, and likings, which are 
hostile to the Christian type of character; and it is 
this which makes admonition indispensable. Far 
worse than any aberration in thought is an irregularity 
in conduct which threatens the Christian ideal. When 
you are warned of such a thing in your conduct by 
your minister or elder, or by any Christian, do not 
resent the warning. Take it seriously and kindly ; 
thank God that He has not allowed you to go on 
unadmonished ; and esteem very highly in love the 
brother or sister who has been so true to you. No- 
thing is more un-Christian than fault-findng, nothing 


is more truly Christian than frank and affectionate 
admonishing of those who are going astray. This 
may be especially commended to the young. In 
youth we are apt to be proud and wilful ; we arc 
confident that we can keep ourselves safe in what 
the old and timid consider dangerous situations ; we 
do not fear temptation, nor think that this or that 
little fall is more than an indiscretion ; and, in any 
case, we have a determined dislike to being interfered 
with. All this is very natural ; but we should re- 
member that, as Christians, we are pledged to a course 
of life which is not in all ways natural ; to a spirit 
and conduct which are incompatible with pride; to a 
seriousness of purpose, to a loftiness and purity of 
aim, which may all be lost through wilfulness ; and 
we should love and honour those who put their 
experience at our service, and warn us when, in light- 
ness of heart, we are on the way to make shipwreck 
of our life. They do not admonish us because they 
like it, but because they love us and would save us 
from harm ; and love is the only recompense for such 
a service. 

How little there is of an official spirit in what the 
Apostle has been saying, we see clearly from what 
follows. In one way it is specially the duty of the 
elders or pastors in the Church to exercise rule and 
discipline; but it is not so exclusively their duty as 


to exempt the members of the Church at large from 
responsibility. The Apostle addresses the whole 
congregation when he goes on, " Be at peace among 
yourselves. And we exhort you, brethren, admonish 
the disorderl}^, encourage the fainthearted, support the 
weak, be longsuffering toward all." Let us look more 
closely at these simple exhortations. 

" Admonish," he says, " the disorderly." Who are 
they ? The word is a military one, and means properly 
those who leave their place in the ranks. In the Epistle 
to the Colossians (ii. 5) Paul rejoices over what he 
calls the solid front presented by their faith in Christ. 
The solid front is broken, and great advantage given 
to the enemy, when there are disorderly persons in a 
church, — men or women who fall short of the Christian 
standard, or who violate, by irregularities of any 
kind, the law of Christ. Such are to be admonished 
by their brethren. Any Christian who sees the dis- 
order has a right to admonish them ; nay, it is laid 
upon his conscience as a sacred duty tenderly and 
earnestly to do so. We are too much afraid of giving 
offence, and too little afraid of allowing sin to run its 
course. Which is better — to speak to the brother 
who has been disorderly, whether by neglecting 
work, neglecting worship, or openly falling into sin : 
which is better, to speak to such a one as a brother, 
privately, earnestly, lovingly ; or to say nothing at all 



to him, but talk about what we find to censure in him 
to everybody else, dealing freely behind his back with 
things we dare not speak of to his face ? Surely 
admonition is better than gossip ; if it is more difficult, 
it is more Christlike too. It may be that our own 
conduct shuts our mouth, or at least exposes us to 
a rude retort ; but unaffected humility can overcome 
even that. 

But it is not always admonition that is needed. Some- 
times the very opposite is in place ; and so Paul writes, 
" Encourage the fainthearted." Put heart into them. 
The word rendered " fainthearted " is only used in 
this single passage ; yet every one knows what it 
means. It includes those for whose benefit the 
Apostle wrote in chap. iv. the description of Christ's 
second coming, — those whose hearts sunk within them 
as they thought they might never see their departed 
friends again. It includes those who shrink from 
persecution, from the smiles or the frowns of the un- 
christian, and who fear they may deny the Lord. It 
includes those who have fallen before temptation, and 
are sitting despondent and fearful, not able to lift 
up so much as their eyes to heaven and pray the 
pubUcan's prayer. All such timid souls need to be 
heartened ; and those who have learned of Jesus, who 
would not break the bruised reed nor quench the 
smoking flax, will know how to speak a word in 


season to them. The whole Hfe of the Lord is an 
encouragement to the fainthearted; lie who welcomed 
the penitent, who comforted the mourners, who 
restored Peter after his triple denial, is able to lift 
up the most timid and to make them stand. Nor is 
there any work more Christlike than this. The faint- 
hearted get no quarter from the world ; bad men 
delight to trample on the timid ; but Christ bids them 
hope in Him, and strengthen themselves for battle 
and for victory. 

Akin to this exhortation is the one which follows, 
"Support the weak." That does not mean, Provide for 
those who are unable to work ; but. Lay hold of those 
who are weak in the faith, and keep them up. There 
are people in every congregation whose connection 
with Christ and the gospel is very slight ; and if some 
one does not take hold of them, they will drift away 
altogether. Sometimes such weakness is due to 
ignorance : the people in question know little about 
the gospel ; it fills no space in their minds ; it does 
not awe their weakness, or fascinate their trust. Some- 
times, again, it is due to an unsteadiness of mind or 
character ; they are easily led away by new ideas 
or by new companions. Sometimes, without any 
tendency to lapsing, there is a weakness due to a 
false reverence for the past, and for the traditions and 
opinions of men, by which the mind and conscience 


are enslaved. What is to be done with such weak 
Christians ? They are to be supported. Some one 
is to lay hands upon them, and uphold them till their 
weakness is outgrown. If they are ignorant, they 
must be taught. If they are easily carried away by 
new ideas, they must be shown the incalculable weight 
of evidence which from every side establishes the 
unchangeable truth of the gospel. If they are pre- 
judiced and bigoted, or full of irrational scruples, and 
blind reverence for dead customs, they must be con- 
strained to look the imaginary terrors of liberty in 
the face, till the truth makes them free. Let us lay 
this exhortation to heart. Men and women slip away 
and are lost to the Church and to Christ, because 
they were weak, and no one supported them. Your 
word or your influence, spoken or used at the right 
time, might have saved them. What is the use of 
strength if not to lay hold of the weak ? 

It is an apt climax when the Apostle adds, " Be 
longsuffering toward all." He who tries to keep these 
commandments — "Admonish the disorderly, encourage 
the fainthearted, support the weak " — will have need of 
patience. If we are absolutely indifferent to each other, 
it does not matter ; we can do without it. But if we 
seek to be of use to each other, our moral infirmities 
are very trying. We summon up all our love and all 
our courage, and venture to hint to a brother that 


something in his conduct has been amiss ; and he flies 
into a passion, and tells us to mind our own business. 
Or we undertake some trying task of teaching, and 
after years of pains and patience some guileless ques- 
tion is asked which shows that our labour has been 
in vain ; or we sacrifice our own leisure and recreation 
to lay hold on some weak one, and discover that the 
first approach of temptation has been too strong for 
him after all. How slow, we are tempted to cry, men 
are to respond to efforts made for their good ! Yet 
we are men v/ho so cry, — men who have wearied God 
by their own slowness, and who must constantly appeal 
to His forbearance. Surely it is not too much for us 
to be longsuffering toward all. 

This little section closes with a warning against 
revenge, the vice directly opposed to forbearance. 
"See that none render unto any one evil for evil; but 
alway follow after that which is good, one toward 
another, and toward all." Who are addressed in this 
verse ? No doubt, I should say, all the members of 
the Church ; they have a common interest in seeing 
that it is not disgraced by revenge. If forgiveness is 
the original and characteristic virtue of Christianity, it 
is because revenge is the most natural and instinctive 
of vices. It is a kind of wild justice, as Bacon says, 
and men will hardly be persuaded that it is not just. 
It is the vice which can most easily pass itself ofif as 


a virtue ; but in the Church it is to have no opportunity 
of doing so. Christian men are to have their eyes 
about them ; and where a wrong has been done, they 
are to guard against the possibility of revenge by 
acting as mediators between the severed brethren. Is 
it not written in the words of Jesus, "Blessed are the 
peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God ? " 
We are not only to refrain from vengeance ourselves, 
but we are to see to it, as Christian men, that it has 
no place among us. And here, again, we sometimes 
have a thankless task, and need to be longsuffering. 
Angry men are unreasonable ; and he who seeks the 
blessing of the peacemaker sometimes earns only the 
ill name of a busybody in other men's matters. Never- 
theless, wisdom is justified of all her children ; and no 
man who wars against revenge, out of a heart loyal 
to Christ, can ever be made to look foolish. If that 
which is good is our constant aim, one toward another, 
and toward all, we shall gain the confidence even of 
angry men, and have the joy of seeing evil passions 
banished from the Church. For revenge is the last 
stronghold of the natural man ; it is the last fort which 
he holds against the spirit of the gospel ; and when 
it is stormed, Christ reigns indeed. 




" Rejoice alway ; pray without ceasing ; in everything give thanks : 
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus to you-ward." — i Thess. v 
16-18 (R.V.). 




'nr^HE three precepts of these three verses may be 
-*- called the standing orders of the Christian Church. 
However various the circumstances in which Christians 
may find themselves, the duties here prescribed are 
always binding upon them. We are to rejoice alway, 
to pray without ceasing, and in everything to give 
thanks. We may live in peaceful or in troubled times ; 
we may be encompassed with friends or beset by foes ; 
we may see the path we have chosen for ourselves open 
easily before us, or find our inclination thwarted at every 
step ; but we must always have the music of the gospel 
in our hearts in its own proper key. Let us look at 
these rules in order. 

" Rejoice alway." There are circumstances in which 
it is natural for us to rejoice ; whether we are Christians 
or not, joy fills the heart till it overflows. Youth, 
health, hope, love, these richest and best possessions, 
give almost every man and woman at least a term of 
unmixed gladness ; some months, or years perhaps, of 



pure light-heartedness, when they feel like singing all 
the time. But that natural joy can hardly be kept up. 
It would not be good for us if it could ; for it really 
means that we are for the time absorbed in ourselves, 
and having found our own satisfaction decline to look 
beyond. It is quite another situation to which the 
Apostle addresses himself. He knows that the persons 
Vvho receive his letter have had to suffer cruelly for 
their faith in Christ ; he knows that some of them have 
quite lately stood beside the graves of their dead. 
Must not a man be very sure of himself, very confident 
of the truth on which he stands, when he ventures to 
say to people so situated, " Rejoice alway " ? 

But these people, we must remember, were Chris- 
tians ; they had received the gospel from the Apostle ; 
and, in the gospel, the supreme assurance of the love 
of God. We need to remind ourselves occasionally 
that the gospel is good news, glad tidings of great 
joy. Wherever it comes, it is a joyful sound ; it puts 
a gladness into the heart which no change of circum- 
stances can abate or take away. There is a great deal 
in the Old Testament which may fairly be described as 
doubt of God's love. Even the saints sometimes won- 
dered whether God was good to Israel ; they became 
impatient, unbelieving, bitter, foolish ; the outpourings 
of their hearts in some of the psalms show how far they 
were from being able to rejoice evermore. But there 


is nothing the least hke this in the New Testament. 
The New Testament is the work of Christian men, of 
men who had stood quite close to the supreme mani- 
festation of God's love in Jesus Christ. Some of them 
had been in Christ's company for years. They knew 
that every word He spoke and every deed He wrought 
declared His love ; they knew that it was revealed, above 
all, by the death which He died ; they knew that it 
was made almighty, immortal, and ever-present, by His 
■resurrection from the dead. The sublime revelation of 
Divine love dominated everything else in their experi- 
ence. It was impossible for them, for a single moment, 
to forget it or to escape from it. It drew and fixed 
their hearts as irresistibly as a mountain peak draws 
and holds the eyes of the traveller. They never lost 
sight of the love of God in Christ Jesus, that sight 
so new, so stupendous, so irresistible, so joyful. And 
because they did not, they were able to rejoice ever- 
more ; and the New Testament, which reflects the life 
of the first believers, does not contain a querulous 
word from beginning to end. It is the book of infinite 


We see, then, that this command, unreasonable as it 
appears, is not impracticable. If we are truly Chris- 
tians, if we have seen and received the love of God, 
if we see and receive it continually, it will enable us, 
like those who wrote the New Testament, to rejoice 


evermore. There are places on our coast where a 
spring of fresh water gushes up through the sand 
among the salt waves of the sea; and just such a 
fountain of joy is the love of God in the Christian soul, 
even when the waters close over it. " As sorrowful," 
says the Apostle, " yet alway rejoicing." 

Most churches and Christians need to lay this ex- 
hortation to heart. It contains a plain direction lor 
our common worship. The house of God is the place 
where we come to make united and adoring confession 
of His name. If we think only of ourselves, as we 
enter, we may be despondent and low spirited enough ; 
but surely we ought to think, in the first instance, 
of Him. Let God be great in the assembly of His 
people ; let Him be lifted up as He is revealed to us in 
Jesus Christ, and joy will fill our hearts. If the 
services of the Church are dull, it is because He has 
been left outside ; because the glad tidings of redemp- 
tion, holiness, and life everlasting are still waiting for 
admission to our hearts. Do not let us belie the 
gospel by dreary, joyless worship : it is not so that it is 
endeared to ourselves or commended to others. 

The Apostle's exhortation contains a hint also for 
Christian temper. Not only our united worship, but 
the habitual disposition of each of us, is to be joyful. 
It would not be easy to measure the loss the cause of 
Christ has sustained through the neglect of this rule. 


A conception of Christianity has been set before men, 
and especially before the young, which could not fail 
to repel ; the typical Christian has been presented, 
austere and pure perhaps, or lifted high above the 
world, but rigid, cold, and self-contained. That is not 
the Christian as the New Testament conceives him. 
He is cheerful, sunny, joyous ; and there is nothing so 
charming as joy. There is nothing so contagious, 
because there is nothing in which all men are so 
willing to partake ; and hence there is nothing so 
powerful in evangelistic work. The joy of the Lord 
is the strength of the preacher of the gospel. There 
is an interesting passage in I Cor. ix., where Paul 
enlarges on a certain relation between the evangelist 
and the evangel. The gospel, he tells us, is God's free 
gift to the world ; and he who would become a fellow- 
worker with the gospel must enter into the spirit of it, 
and make his preaching also a free gift. So here, one 
may say, the gospel is conceived as glad tidings ; and 
whoever would open his lips for Christ must enter into 
the spirit of his message, and stand up to speak clothed 
in joy. Our looks and tones must not belie our words. 
Languor, dulness, dreariness, a melancholy visage, are 
a libel upon the gospel. If the knowledge of the love 
of God does not make us glad, what does it do for us ? 
If it does not make a difference to our spirits and our 
temper, do we really know it ? Christ compares its 


influence to that of new wine ; it is nothing if not 
exhilarating ; if it does not make our faces shine, it is 
because we have not tasted it. I do not overlook, any 
more than St. Paul did, the causes for sorrow ; but the 
causes for sorrow are transient ; they are like the dark 
clouds which overshadow the sky for a time and then 
pass away; while the cause of joy — the redeeming love 
of God in Christ Jesus — is permanent ; it is like the 
unchanging blue behind the clouds, ever-present, ever- 
radiant, overarching and encompassing all our passing 
woes. Let us remember it, and see it through the 
darkest clouds, and it will not be impossible for us to 
rejoice evermore. 

It may seem strange that one difficult thing should 
be made easy when it is combined with another; but 
this is what is suggested by the second exhortation of 
the Apostle, " Pray without ceasing." It is not easy to 
rejoice alway, but our one hope of doing so is to pray 
constantly. How are we to understand so singular a 
precept ? 

Prayer, we know, when we take it in the widest 
sense, is the primary mark of the Christian. " Behold, 
he prayeth," the Lord said of Saul, when He wished to 
convince Ananias that there was no mistake about his 
conversion. He who does not pray at all — and is it 
too much to suppose that some come to churches who 
never do ? — is no Christian. Prayer is the converse 


of the soul with God ; it is that exercise in which we 
hold up our hearts to Him, that they may be filled 
with His fulness, and changed into His likeness. The 
more we pray, and the more we are in contact with 
Him, the greater is our assurance of His love, the 
firmer our confidence that He is with us to help and 
save. If we once think of it, we shall see that our very 
life as Christians depends on our being in perpetual 
contact and perpetual fellowship with God. If He 
does not breathe into us the breath of life, we have no 
life. If He does not hour by hour send our help from 
above, we face our spiritual foes without resources. 

It is with such thoughts present to the mind that 
some would interpret the command, " Pray without 
ceasing." " Cherish a spirit of prayer," they would 
render it, "and make devotion the true business of 
life. Cultivate the sense of dependence on God ; let 
it be part of the very structure of your thoughts that 
without Him you can do nothing, but through His 
strength all things." But this is, in truth, to put the 
effect where the cause should be. This spirit of 
devotion is itself the fruit of ceaseless prayers ; this 
strong consciousness of dependence on God becomes 
an ever-present and abiding thing only when in all our 
necessities we betake ourselves to Him. Occasions, we 
must rather say, if we would follow the Apostle's thought, 
are never wanting, and will never be wanting, which call 


for the help of God ; therefore, pray without ceasing. 
It is useless to say that the thing cannot be done, before 
the experiment has been made. There are few works 
that cannot be accompanied with prayer ; there are few 
indeed that cannot be preceded by prayer ; there are 
none at all that would not profit by prayer. Take the 
very first work to which you must set your mind and 
your hand, and you know it will be better done if, as 
you turn to it, you look up to God and ask His help 
to do it well and faithfully, as a Christian ought to 
do it for the Master above. It is not in any vague, 
indefinite fashion, but by taking prayer with us 
wherever we go, by consciously, deliberately, and 
persistently lifting our hearts to God as each emer- 
gency in life, great or small, makes its new demand 
upon us, that the apostolic exhortation is to be obeyed. 
If prayer is thus combined with all our works, we shall 
find that it wastes no time, though it fills all. Cer- 
tainly it is not an easy practice to begin, that of 
praying without ceasing. It is so natural for us not 
to pray, that we perpetually forget, and undertake this 
or that without God. But surely we get reminders 
enough that this omission of prayer is a mistake. 
Failure, loss of temper, absence of joy, weariness, and 
discouragement are its fruits ; while prayer brings us 
without fail the joy and strength of God. The 
Apostle himself knew that to pray without ceasing 

The standing orders of the gospel. 225 

requires an extraordinary effort ; and in the only 
passages in which he urges it, he combines with it 
the duties of watchfuhiess and persistence (Eph. vi. 
15; Col. iv. 2; Rom. xii. 12). We must be on our 
guard that the occasion for prayer does not escape 
us, and we must take care not to be wearied with this 
incessant reference of everything to God. 

The third of the standing orders of the Church is, 
from one point of view, a combination of the first and 
second ; for thanksgiving is a kind of joyful prayer. 
As a duty, it is recognised by every one within limits ; 
the difficulty of it is seen when it is claimed, as 
here, without limits: "In everything give thanks." 
That this is no accidental extravagance is shown by its 
recurrence in other places. To mention only one : in 
Phil. iv. 6 the Apostle writes, " In everything by prayer 
and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests 
be made known to God." Is it really possible to do 
this thing ? 

There are times, we all know, at which thanksgiving 
is natural and easy. When our life has taken the 
course which we ourselves had purposed, and the 
result seems to justify our foresight ; when those 
whom Vv-e love are prosperous and happy ; when we 
have escaped a great danger, or recovered from a 
severe illness, we feel, or say we feel, so thankful. 
Even in such circumstances we are possibly not so 



thankful as we ought to be. Perhaps if we were our 
lives would be a great deal happier. But at all events 
we frankly admit that we have cause for thanksgiving ; 
God has been good to us, even in our own estimate of 
goodness ; and we ought to cherish and express our 
grateful love toward Him. Let us not forget to do so. 
It has been said that an unblessed sorrow is the 
saddest thing in life ; but perhaps as sad a thing is an 
unblessed joy. And every joy is unblessed for which 
we do not give God thanks. " Unhallowed pleasures " 
is a strong expression, which seems proper only to 
describe gross wickedness ; yet it is the very name 
which describes any pleasure in our hfe of which we 
do not recognise God as the Giver, and for which we 
do not offer Him our humble and hearty thanks. We 
would not be so apt to protest against the idea of 
giving thanks in everything, if it had ever been our 
habit to give thanks in anything. Think of what you 
call, with thoroug'h conviction, your blessings and your 
mercies, — your bodily health, your soundness of mind, 
your calling in this world, the faith which you repose 
in others and which others repose in you ; think of the 
love of your husband or wife, of all those sweet and 
tender ties that bind our lives into one ; think of the 
success with which you have wrought out your own 
purposes, and laboured at your own ideal; and with 
all this multitude of mercies before your face, ask 


whether even for these you have given God thanks. 
Have they been hallowed and made means of grace to 
you by your grateful acknowledgment that He is the 
Giver of them all ? If not, it is plain that you have 
lost much joy, and have to begin the duty of thanks- 
giving in the easiest and lowest place. 

But the Apostle rises high above this when he says, 
" In everything give thanks." He knew, as I have 
remarked already, that the Thessalonians had been 
visited by suffering and death : is there a place for 
thanksgiving there ? Yes, he says ; for the Christian 
does not look on sorrow with the eyes of another man. 
When sickness comes to him or to his home ; when 
there is loss to be borne, or disappointment, or 
bereavement ; when his plans are frustrated, his hopes 
deferred, and the whole conduct of his life simply 
taken out of his hands, he is still called to give thanks 
to God. For he knows that God is love. He knows 
that God has a purpose of His own in his life, — a 
purpose which at the moment he may not discern, but 
which he is bound to believe wiser and larger than 
any he could purpose for himself. Every one who has 
eyes to see must have seen, in the lives of Christian 
men and women, fruits of sorrow and of suffering 
which were conspicuously their best possessions, the 
things for which the whole Church was under obliga- 
tion to give thanks to God on their behalf. It is not 


easy at the moment to see what underlies sorrow ; it 
is not possible to grasp by anticipation the beautiful 
fruits which it yields in the long run to those who 
accept it without murmuring : but every Christian 
knows that all things work together for good to them 
that love God ; and in the strength of that knowledge 
he is able to keep a thankful heart, however mysterious 
and trying the providence of God may be. That 
sorrow, even the deepest and most hopeless, has been 
blessed, no one can deny. It has taught many a 
deeper thoughtfulness, a truer estimate of the world 
and its interests, a more simple trust in God. It has 
opened the eyes of many to the sufferings of others, 
and changed boisterous rudeness into tender and 
delicate sympathy. It has given many weak ones the 
opportunity of demonstrating the nearness and the 
strength of Christ, as out of weakness they have been 
made strong. Often the sufferer in a home is the 
most thankful member of it. Often the bedside is the 
sunniest spot in the house, though the bedridden one 
knows that he or she will never be free again. It is 
not impossible for a Christian in everything to give 

But it is only a Christian who can do it, as the last 
words of the Apostle intimate : " This is the will of 
God in Christ Jesus to you-ward." These words may 
refer to all that has preceded : " Rejoice alway ; pray 


without ceasing ; in everything give thanks " ; or they 
may refer to the last clause only. Whichever be the 
case, the Apostle tells us that the ideal in question has 
only been revealed in Christ, and hence is only within 
reach of those who know Christ. Till Christ came, no 
man ever dreamt of rejoicing alway, praying without 
ceasing, and giving thanks in everything. There were 
noble ideals in the world, high, severe, and pure ; but 
nothing so lofty, buoyant, and exhilarating as this. 
Men did not know God well enough to know what 
His will for them was ; they thought He demanded 
integrity, probably, and beyond that, silent and passive 
submission at the most ; no one had conceived that 
God's will for man was that his life should be made 
up of joy, prayer, and thanksgiving. But he who has 
seen Jesus Christ, and has discovered the meaning of 
His life, knows that this is the true ideal. For Jesus 
came into our world, and lived among us, that we 
might know God ; He manifested the name of God that 
we might put our trust in it ; and that name is Love ; it 
is Father. If we know the Father, it is possible for us, 
in the spirit of children, to aim at this lofty Christian 
ideal ; if we do not, it will seem to us utterly unreal. 
The will of God in Christ Jesus means the will of the 
Father; it is only for children that His will exists. 
Do not put aside the apostolic exhortation as paradox 
or extravagance ; to Christian hearts, to the children 


of God, he speaks words of truth and soberness when 
he says, " Rejoice alvvay ; pray without ceasing ; in 
everything give thanks." Has not Christ Jesus given 
us peace with God, and made us friends instead of 
enemies ? Is not that a fountain of joy too deep for 
sorrow to touch ? Has He not assured us that He is 
with us all the days, even to the end of the Vv'orld ? Is 
not that a ground upon which we can look up in 
prayer all the day long ? Has He not told us that all 
things work together for good to them that love God ? 
Of course we cannot trace His operation always ; but 
when we remember the seal with which Christ sealed 
that great truth ; when we remember that in order to 
fulfil the purpose of God in each of us He laid down 
His life on our behalf, can we hesitate to trust His 
word ? And if we do not hesitate, but welcome it 
gladly as our hope in the darkest hour, shall we not 
tiy even in everything to give thanks ? 




"Quench not the Spirit; despise not prophesyings ; (but) prove all 
things ; hold fast that which is good ; abstain from ever)' forai of evil.' 
I Thess. v. 20-22 (R.V.)- 



I ^HESE verses are abruptly introduced, but are not 


unconnected with what precedes. The Apostle 
has spoken of order and discipline, and of the joyful 
and devout temper which should characterise the 
Christian Church ; and here he comes to speak of that 
Spirit in which the Church lives, and moves, and has 
her being. The presence of the Spirit is, of course, 
presupposed in all that he has said already : how 
could men, except by His help, "rejoice alway, pray 
without ceasing, and in everything give thanks " ? But 
there are other manifestations of the Spirit's power, of 
a more precise and definite character, and it is with 
these we have here to do. 

Spiritus iihi est, ardet. When the Holy Spirit 
descended on the Church at Pentecost, "there appeared 
unto them tongues parting asunder, like as of fire ; and 
it sat upon each one of them " ; and their lips were 
opened to declare the mighty works of God. A man 
who has received this great gift is described as fervent, 



literally, boiling {^ewv), with the Spirit. The new birth 
in those early days was a new birth ; it kindled in the 
soul thoughts and feelings to which it had hitherto been 
strange; it brought with it the consciousness of new 
powers ; a new vision of God ; a new love of holiness • 
a new insight into the Holy Scriptures, and into the 
meaning of man's life ; often a new power of ardent, 
passionate speech. In the First Epistle to the 
Corinthians Paul describes a primitive Christian con- 
gregation. There was not one silent among them. 
When they came together every one had a psalm, a 
revelation, a prophecy, an interpretation. The mani- 
festation of the Spirit had been given to each one to 
profit withal ; and on all hands the spiritual fire wa? 
ready to flame forth. Conversion to the Christian 
faith, the acceptance of the apostolic gospel, was not a 
thing which made little difference to men : it convulsed 
their whole nature to its depths ; they were never the 
same again ; they were new creatures, with a new fife 
in them, all fervour and flame. 

A state so unlike nature, in the ordinary sense of 
the term, was sure to have its inconveniences. The 
Christian, even when he had received the gift of the 
Holy Ghost, was still a man ; and as likely as not a 
man who had to struggle against vanity, folly, ambition, 
and selfishness of all kinds. His enthusiasm might 
even seem, in the first instance, to aggravate,, instead 


of removir.g, his natural faults. It might drive him 
to speak — for in a primitive church anybody who 
pleased might speak — when it would have been better 
for him to be silent. It might lead him to break out 
in prayer or praise or exhortation, in a style which 
made the wise sigh. And for those reasons the wise, 
and such as thought themselves wise, would be apt to 
discourage the exercise of spiritual gifts altogether. 
*' Contain yourself," they would say to the man whose 
heart burned within him, and who was restless till the 
flame could leap out; "contain yourself; exercise a 
little self-control ; it is unworthy of a rational being 
to be carried away in this fashion." 

No doubt situations like this were common in the 
church at Thessalonica. They are produced inevitably 
by differences of age and of temperament. The old 
and the phlegmatic are a natural, and, doubtless, a 
providential, counterweight to the young and sanguine. 
But the wisdom which comes of experience and of 
temperament has its disadvantages as compared with 
fervour of spirit. It is cold and unenthusiastic ; it 
cannot propagate itself; it cannot set fire to anything 
and spread. And because it is under this incapacity 
of kindling the souls of men into enthusiasm, it is for- 
bidden to pour cold water on such enthusiasm when 
it breaks forth in words of fire. That is the meaning 
of "Quench not the Spirit." The commandment 


presupposes that the Spirit can be quenched. Cold 
looks, contemptuous words, silence, studied disregard, 
go a long way to quench it. So does unsympathetic 

Every one knows that a fire smokes most when it is 
newly kindled ; but the way to get rid of the smoke 
is not to pour cold water on the fire, but to let it bura 
itself clear. If you are wise enough you may even 
help it to burn itself clear, by rearranging the materials, 
or securing a better draught ; but the wisest thing most 
people can do when the fire has got hold is to let it 
alone ; and that is also the wise course for most when 
they meet with a disciple whose zeal bums like fire. 
Very likely the smoke hurts their eyes ; but the smoke 
will soon pass by ; and it may well be tolerated in the 
meantime for the sake of the heat. For this apostolic 
precept takes for granted that fervour of spirit, a 
Christian enthusiasm for what is good, is the best thing 
in the world. It may be untaught and inexperienced ; 
it may have all its mistakes to make ; it may be wonder- 
fully blind to the limitations which the stern necessities 
of life put upon the generous hopes of man : but it is 
of God ; it is expansive ; it is contagious ; it is worth 
more as a spiritual force than all the wisdom in the 

I have hinted at ways in which the Spirit is 
quenched ; it is sad to reflect that from one point of 


view the history of the Church is a long series of 
transgressions of this precept, checked by an equally 
long series of rebellions of the Spirit. " Where the 
Spirit of the Lord is," the Apostle tells us elsewhere, 
"there is liberty." But liberty in a society has its 
dangers; it is, to a certain extent, at war with order; 
and the guardians of order are not apt to be too 
considerate of it. Hence it came to pass that nt a very 
early period, and in the interests of good order, the 
freedom of the Spirit was summarily suppressed in 
the Church. "The gift of ruling," it has been said, 
" like Aaron's rod, seemed to swallow up the other 
gifts." The rulers of the Church became a class 
entirely apart from its ordinary members, and all 
exercise of spiritual gifts for the building up of the 
Church was confined to them. Nay, the monstrous 
idea was originated, and taught as a dogma, that they 
alone were the depositaries, or, as it is sometimes said, 
the custodians, of the grace and truth of the gospel ; 
only through them could men come into contact with 
the Holy Ghost. In plain English, the Spirit was 
quenched when Christians met for worship. One 
great extinguisher was placed over the flame that 
burned in the hearts of the brethren ; it was not 
allowed to show itself; it must not disturb, by its 
eruption in praise or prayer or fiery exhortation, the 
decency and order of divine service. I say that was 


the condition to which Christian worship was reduced 
at a very early period ; and it is unhappily the con- 
dition in which, for the most part, it subsists at this 
moment. Do you think we are gainers by it ? I do 
not believe it. It has always come from time to time 
to be intolerable. The Montanists of the second 
century, the heretical sects of the middle ages, the 
Independents and Quakers of the English Common- 
wealth, the lay preachers of Wesleyanism, the Sal- 
vationists, the Plymouthists, and the Evangelistic 
associations of our own day, — all these are in various 
degrees the protest of the Spirit, and its right and 
necessary protest, against the authority which would 
quench it, and by quenching it impoverish the Church. 
In many Nonconformist churches there is a movement 
just now in favour of a liturgy. A Hturgy may indeed 
be a defence against the coldness and incompetence 
of the one man to whom the whole conduct of public 
worship is at present left ; but our true refuge is not 
this mechanical one, but the opening of the mouths of 
all Christian people. A liturgy, however beautiful, is 
a melancholy witness to the quenching of the Spirit : 
it may be better or worse than the prayers of one 
man ; but it could never compare for fervour with the 
spontaneous prayers of a living Church. 

Among the gifts of the Spirit, that which the Apostle 
valued most highly was prophecy. We read in the 

fHE SPIRIT. 239 

Book of Acts of prophets, like Agabus, who foretold 
future events affecting the fortunes of the gospel, and 
possibly at Thessalonica the minds of those who were 
spiritually gifted were pre-occupied with thoughts of 
the Lord's coming, and miade it the subject of their 
discourses in the church ; but there is no necessary 
limitation of this sort in the idea of prophesying. The 
prophet was a man whose rational and moral nature 
had been quickened by the Spirit of Christ, and who 
possessed in an uncommon degree the power of 
speaking edification, exhortation, and comfort. In 
other words, he w^as a Christian preacher,^ endued 
with wisdom, fervour, and tenderness ; and his spiritual 
addresses were among the Lord's best gifts to the 
Church. Such addresses, or prophesyings, Paul tells 
us, we are not to despise. 

Now despise is a strong word ; it is, literally, to set 
utterly at naught, as Herod set at naught Jesus, when 
he clothed Him in purple, or as the Pharisees set at 

' The contrast drawn by Dr. Match in his Ilibbert Lectures between 
the early Christian prophet and the modern Christian preacher — the 
"rhetorical religionist,'' as he calls him — is, like every other contrast 
in that notable book, strained till it becomes utterly false. It would 
not be true to say that there was no difference between the prophet and 
the preacher ; but it would be far truer than to say that there was no 
likeness. The prophet M-as one who spoke, as Paul tells us, edification, 
exhortation, and comfort ; and as that, we may hope, is what most 
preachers try to do, the ideal of the callings is identical. And it is 
only by their ideal* that they ought to be corrvparcd or criticised. 


naught the publicans, even when they came into the 
Temple to pray. Of course, prophecy, or, to speak 
in the language of our own time, the preacher's calling, 
may be abused : a man may preach without a message, 
without sincerity without reverence for God or respect 
for those to whom he speaks ; he m.ay make a mystery, 
a professional secret, of the truth of God, instead 
of declaring it even to little children ; he may seek, as 
some who called themselves prophets in early times 
sought, to make the profession of godliness a source of 
gain ; and under such circumstances no respect is due. 
But such circumstances are not to be assumed without 
cause. We are rather to assume that he who stands 
up in the Church to speak in God's name has had a 
word of God entrusted to him ; it is not wise to despise 
it before it is heard. It may be because we have been 
so often disappointed that we pitch our hopes so low ; 
but to expect nothing is to be guilty of a sort of 
contempt by anticipation. To despise not prophesy- 
ings requires us to look for something from the 
preacher, some word of God that will build us up in 
godliness, or bring us encouragement or consolation ; 
it requires us to listen as those who have a precious 
opportunity given them of being strengthened by 
Divine grace and truth. We ought not to lounge or 
fidget while the word of God is spoken, or to turn over 
the leaves of the Bible at random, or to look at the 


clock ; we ought to hearken for that word which God 
has put into the preacher's mouth for us ; and it will 
be a very exceptional prophesying in which there is 
not a single thought that it would repay lis to consider. 

When the Apostle claimed respect for the Christian 
preacher, he did not claim infallibility. That is plain 
from what follows ; for all the words are connected. 
Despise not prophesyings, but put ail things to the 
test, that is, all the contents of the prophesying, all the 
utterances of the Christian man whose spiritual ardour 
has urged him to speak. We may remark in passing 
that this injunction prohibits all passive listening to 
the word. Many people prefer this. They come to 
church, not to be taught, not to exercise any faculty 
of discernment or testing at all, but to be impressed. 
They like to be played upon, and to have their feelings 
moved by a tender or vehement address ; it is an easy 
way of coming into apparent contact with good. But 
the Apostle here counsels a different attitude. We are 
to put to the proof all that the preacher says. 

This is a favourite text with Protestants, and 
especially with Protestants of an extreme type. It has 
been called " a piece of most rationalistic advice " ; 
it has been said to imply "that every man has a 
verifying faculty, whereby to judge of facts and doc- 
trines, and to decide between right and wrong, truth 
and falsehood." But this is a most unconsidered 



extension to give to the Apostle's words. He does not 
say a word about every man ; he is speaking expressly 
to the Thessalonians, who were Christian men. He 
would not have admitted that any man who came in 
from the street, and constituted himself a judge, was 
competent to pronounce upon the contents of the 
prophesyings, and to say which of the burning words 
Were spiritually sound, and which were not. On the 
contrary, he tells us very plainly that some men have 
no capacity for this task — " The natural man receiveth 
not the things of the Spirit"; and that even in the 
Christian Church, where all are to some extent spiritual, 
some have this faculty of discernment in a much higher 
degree than others. In i Cor. xii. lo, "discernment 
of spirits," this power of distinguishing in spiritual 
discourse between the gold and that which merely 
glitters, is itself represented as a distinct spiritual gift; 
and in a later chapter he says (xiv. 29), " Let the 
prophets speak by two or three, and let the others " 
(that is, in all probability, the other prophets) " discern." 
I do not say this to deprecate the judgment of the 
wise, but to deprecate rash and hasty judgment. A 
heathen man is no judge of Christian truth ; neither 
is a man with a bad conscience, and an unrepented sin 
in his heart ; neither is a flippant man, who has never 
been awed by the majestic holiness and love of Jesus 
Christ, — all these are simply out of court. But the 


Christian preacher who stands up in the presence of 
his brethren knows, and rejoices, that he is in the 
presence of those who can put what he says to the 
proof. They are his brethren ; they are in the same 
communion of all the saints with Christ Jesus ; the 
same Christian tradition has formed, and the same 
Christian spirit animates, their conscience; their power 
to prove his words is a safeguard both to them and to 

And it is necessary that they should prove them. 
No man is perfect, not the most devout and enthusiastic 
of Christians. In his most spiritual utterances some- 
thing of himself will very naturally mingle ; there will 
be chaff among the wheat ; wood, hay, and stubble in 
the material he brings to build up the Church, as well 
as gold, silver, and precious stones. That is not a 
reason for refusing to listen; it is a reason for listening 
earnestly, conscientiously, and with much forbear- 
ance. There is a responsibility laid upon each of 
us, a responsibility laid upon the Christian con- 
science of every congregation and of the Church at 
large, to put prophesyings to the proof. Words that 
are spiritually unsound, that are out of tune with the 
revelation of God in Christ Jesus, ought to be dis- 
covered when they are spoken in the Church. No 
man with any idea of modesty, to say nothing of 
humility, could wish it otherwise. And here, agair., 


we have to regret the quenching of the Spirit. We 
have all heard the sermon criticised when the preacher 
could not get the benefit ; but have we often heard it 
spiritually judged, so that he, as well as those who 
listened to him, is edified, comforted, and encouraged ? 
The preacher has as much need of the word as his 
hearers ; if there is a service which God enables him 
to do for them, in enlightening their minds or fortifying 
their wills, there is a corresponding service which 
they can do for him. An open meeting, a liberty 
of prophesying, a gathering in which any one could 
speak as the Spirit gave him utterance, is one of the 
crying needs of the modern Church. 

Let us notice, however, the purpose of this testing 
of prophecy. Despise not such utterances, the Apostle 
says, but prove all : hold fast that which is good, and 
hold off from every evil kind. There is a curious 
circumstance connected with these short verses. Many 
of the fathers of the Church connect them with what 
they consider a saying of Jesus, one of the few which 
is reasonably attested, though it has failed to find a 
place in the written gospels. The saying is, "Show 
yourselves approved money-changers." The fathers 
believed, and on such a point they were likely to be 
better judges than we, that in the verses before us the 
Apostle uses a metaphor from coinage. To prove is 
really to assay, to put to the test as a banker tests a 


piece of money ; the word rendered " good " is often the 
equivalent of our sterHng ; " evil," of our base or forged ; 
and the word which in our old Bibles is rendered 
" appearance " — " Abstain from all appearance of evil " 
— and in the Revised Version "form" — "Abstain from 
every form of evil " — has, at least in some connections, 
the signification of mint or die. ■ If we bring out this 
faded metaphor in its original freshness, it will run 
something like this : Show yourselves skilful money- 
changers ; do not accept in blind trust all the spiritual 
currency which you find in circulation ; put it all to 
the test ; rub it on the touchstone ; keep hold of what 
is genuine and of sterling value, but every spurious 
coin decline. Whether the metaphor is in the text or 
not, — and in spite of a great preponderance of learned 
names against it, I feel almost certain it is, — it will 
help to fix the Apostle's exhortation in our memories. 
There is no scarcity, at this moment, of spiritual 
currency. We are deluged with books and spoken 
words about Christ and the gospel. It is idle and 
unprofitable, nay, it is positively pernicious, to open 
our minds promiscuously to them ; to give equal and 
impartial lodgment to them all. There is a distinction 
to be made between the true and the false, between the 
sterling and the spurious ; and till we put ourselves 
to the trouble to make that distinction, we are not 
likely to advance very far. How would a man get on 


in business who could not tell good money from bad ? 
And how is any one to grow in the Christian life 
whose mind and conscience are not earnestly put to it 
to distinguish between what is in reality Christian and 
what is not, and to hold to the one and reject the 
other ? A critic of sermons is apt to forget the prac- 
tical purpose of the discernment here spoken of. He 
is apt to think it his function to pick holes. " Oh," 
he says, " such and such a statement is utterly mis- 
leading : the preacher was simply in the air ; he did not 
know what he was talking about." Very possibly ; 
and if you have found out such an unsound idea in the 
sermon, be brotherly, and let the preacher know. But 
do not forget the first and main purpose of spiritual 
judgment — hold fast that which is good. God forbid 
that you should have no gain out of the sermon except 
to discover the preacher going astray. Who would 
think to make his fortune only by detecting base coin ? 
In conclusion, let us recall to our minds the touch- 
stone which the Apostle himself supplies for this 
spiritual assaying. " No one," he writes to the 
Corinthians, "can say Jesus is Lord except by the 
Holy Ghost." In other words, whatever is spoken in 
the Holy Ghost, and is therefore spiritual and true, 
has this characteristic, this purpose and result, that it 
exalts Jesus. The Christian Church, that community 
which embodies spiritual life, has this watchword on 


its banner, "Jesus is Lord." That presupposes, in 
the New Testament sense of it, the Resurrection and 
the Ascension ; it signifies the sovereignty of the Son 
of Man. Everything is genuine in the Church which 
bears on it the stamp of Christ's exaltation ; every- 
thing is spurious and to be rejected which calls that 
in question. It is the practical recognition of that 
sovereignty — the surrender of thought, heart, will, and 
life to Jesus — which constitutes the spiritual man, and 
gives competence to judge of spiritual things. He in 
whom Christ reigns judges in all spiritual things, and 
is judged by no man ; but he who is a rebel to Christ, 
who does not wear His yoke, who has not learned 
of Him by obedience, who assumes the attitude of 
equality, and thinks himself at liberty to negotiate and 
treat with Christ, he has no competence, and no right 
to judge at all. "Unto Him that loveth us, and loosed 
us from our sins by His blood ; ... to Him be the 
glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen." 




" And the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly ; and may your 
spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the 
coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He that calleth you, who 
will also do it. Brethren, pray for us. Salute all the brethren with a 
holy kiss. I adjure you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all 
the brethren. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you." — 
I TllESS. V. 23-28 (R.V.). 




' I ^HESE verses open with a contrast to what pre- 
-*- cedes, which is it. ore strongly brought out in the 
original than in the translation. The Apostle has 
drawn the likeness of a Christian church, as a Christian 
church ought to be, waiting for the coming of the 
Lord ; he has appealed to the Thessalonians to make 
this picture their standard, and to aim at Christian 
holiness ; and conscious of the futility of such advice, 
as long as it stands alone and addresses itself to man's 
unaided efforts, he turns here instinctively to prayer : 
"The God of peace Himself" — working in independ- 
ence of your exertions and my exhortations — "sanctify 
you wholly." 

The solemn fulness of this title forbids us to pass 
it b3\ Why does Paul describe God in this particular 
place as the God of peace ? Is it not because per.ce is 
the only possible basis on which the work of sancti- 
fication can proceed ? I do not think it is forced to 
render the words literally, the God of the peace, i.e., the 



peace with which all believers are familiar, the Christian 
peace, the primary blessing of the gospel. The God 
of peace is the God of the gospel, the God who has 
come preaching peace in Jesus Christ, proclaiming 
reconciliation to those who are far off and to those who 
are near. No one can ever be sanctified who does not 
first accept the message of reconciliation. It is not 
possible to become holy as God is holy, until, being 
justified by faith, we have peace with God through 
our Lord Jesus Christ. This is God's way of holiness ; 
and this is why the Apostle presents his prayer for the 
sanctification of the Thessalonians to the God of peace. 
We are so slow to learn this, in spite of the countless 
ways in which it is forced upon us, that one is tempted 
to call it a secret ; yet no secret, surely, could be more 
open. Who has not tried to overcome a fault, to work 
off a vicious temper, to break for good with an evil 
habit, or in some other direction to sanctify himself, 
and withal to keep out of God's sight till the work was 
done ? It is of no use. Only the God of Christian 
peace, the God of the gospel, can sanctify us ; or to 
look at the same thing from our own side, we cannot 
be sanctified until we are at peace with God. Confess 
your sins with a humble and penitent heart ; accept 
the forgiveness and friendship of God in Christ Jesus ; 
and then He will v;ork in you both will and deed tc 
further His good pleasure. 


Notice the comprehensiveness of the Apostle's prayer 
in this place. It is conveyed in three separate words — 
wholly (oXoreXet?), entire {oXoicXijpov), and without 
blame (d/j-efxTrro)^). It is intensified by what has, at 
least, the look of an enumeration of the parts or ele- 
ments of which man's nature consists — "your spirit and 
soul and bod3\" It is raised to its higliest power when 
the sanctity for which he prays is set in the searching 
light of the Last Judgment — in the day of our Lord 
Jesus Christ. We all feel how great a thing it is 
which the Apostle here asks of God : can we bring its 
details more nearly home to ourselves ? Can we tell, 
in particular, what he means by spirit and soul and 
body ? 

The learned and philosophical have found in these 
three words a magnificent field for the display of 
philosophy and learning ; but unhappily for plain 
people, it is not very easy to follow them. As the 
words stand before us in the text, they have a friendly 
Biblical look ; we get a fair impression of the Apostle's 
intention in using them ; but as they come out in 
treatises on Biblical Psychology, though they are much 
more imposing, it would be rash to say they are more 
strictly scientific, and they are certainly much less 
apprehensible than they are here. To begin with 
the easiest one, everybody knows what is meant by 
the body. What the Apostle prays for in this place 


is that God would make the body in its entirety — 
every organ and every function of it — holy. God made 
the body at the beginning; He made it for Him- 
self; and it is His. To begin with, it is neither holy 
nor unholy ; it has no character of its own at all ; but 
it may be profaned or it may be sanctified ; it may be 
made the servant of God or the servant of sin, con- 
secrated or prostituted. Everybody knows whether 
his body is being sanctified or not. Everybody knows 
"the inconceivable evil of sensuality." Everybody 
knows that pampering of the body, excess in eating 
and drinking, sloth and dirt, are incompatible with 
bodily sanctification. It is not a survival of Judaism 
when the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us to draw near 
to God "in full assurance of faith, having our hearts 
sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies 
washed with pure water." But sanctification, even of 
the body, really comes only by employment in God's 
service ; charity, the service of others for Jesus' sake, 
is that which makes the body truly His. Holy are the 
feet which move incessantly on His errands ; holy are 
the hands which, like His, are continually doing good ; 
holy are the lips which plead His cause or speak 
comfort in His Name, The Apostle himself points the 
moral of this prayer for the consecration of the body 
when he says to the Romans, " Present your members 
as servants to righteousness unto sanctification." 


But let us look, now, at the other two terms — spirit 
and soul. Sometimes one of these is used in contrast 
with body, sometimes the other. Thus Paul says that 
the unmarried Christian woman cares for the tilings 
of the Lord, seeking only how she may be holy in 
body and in spirit,— the two together constituting the 
whole person. Jesus, again, warns His disciples not 
to fear man, but to fear Him who can destroy both 
soul and body in hell ; where the person is made to 
consist, not of body and spirit, but of body and soul. 
These passages certainly lead us to think that soul 
and spirit must be very near akin to each other ; and 
that impression is strengthened when we remember 
such a passage as is found in Mary's song : " My soul 
doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced 
in God my Saviour " ; where, according to the laws of 
Hebrew poetry, soul and spirit must mean practically 
the same thing. But granting that they do so, when 
we find two words used for the same thing, the natural 
inference is that they give us each a different look at 
it. One of them shows it in one aspect ; the other 
in another. Can we apply that distinction here ? I 
think the use of the words in the Bible enables us to 
do it quite decidedly ; but it is unnecessary to go into 
the details. The soul means the life which is in man, 
taken simply as it is, with ^\] its powers ; the spirit 
means that very same life, taken in its relation to God. 

2s6 The epistles to the thessalonians. 

This relation may be of various kinds : for the Ufe that 
is in us is derived from God ; it is akin to the Hfe of 
God Himself; it is created with a view to fellowship 
with God ; in the Christian it is actually redeemed and 
admitted to that fellowship ; and in all those aspects it 
is spiritual life. But we may look at it without think- 
ing of God at all ; and then, in Bible language, we 
are looking, not at man's spirit, but at his soul. 

This inward life, in all its aspects, is to be sanctified 
through and through. All our powers of thought and 
imagination are to be consecrated; unholy thoughts are 
to be banished ; lawless, roving imaginings, suppressed. 
All our inventiveness is to be used in God's service. 
All our affections are to be holy. Our heart's desire 
is not to settle on anything from which it would shrink 
in the day of the Lord Jesus. The fire which He 
came to cast on the earth must be kindled in our 
souls, and blaze there till it has burned up all that 
is unworthy of His love. Our consciences must be 
disciplined by His word and Spirit, till all the aberrations 
due to pride and passion and the law of the world 
have been reduced to nothing, and as face answers 
face in the glass, so our judgment and our will answer 
His. Paul prays for this when he says. May your 
whole soul be preserved blameless. But what is the 
special point of the sanctification of the spirit ? It is 
probably narrowing it a little, but it points us in the 


right direction, if we say that it has regard to worship 
and devotion. The spirit of man is his life in its 
relation to God. Holiness belongs to the very idea 
of this ; but who has not heard of sins in holy things ? 
Which of us ever prays as he ought to pray ? Which 
of us is not weak, distrustful, incoherent, divided in 
heart, wandering in desire, even when he approaches 
God ? Which of us does not at times forget God 
altogether ? Which of us has really worthy thoughts 
of God, worthy conceptions of His holiness and of 
His love, worthy reverence, a worthy trust ? Is there 
not an element in our devotions even, in the life of our 
spirits at their best and highest, which is worldly 
and unhallowed, and for which we need the pardoning 
and sanctifying love of God ? The more we reflect 
upon it, the more comprehensive will this prayer of 
the Apostle appear, and the more vast and far-reach- 
ing the work of sanctification. He seems himself to 
have felt, as man's complex nature passed before his 
mind, with all its elements, all its activities, all its 
bearings, all its possible and actual profanation, how 
great a task its complete purification and consecration 
to God must be. It is a task infinitely beyond man's 
power to accomplish. Unless he is prompted and 
supported from above, it is more than he can hope for, 
more than he can ask or think. When the Apostle adds 
to his prayer, as if to justify his boldness, " Faithful is 



He that calleth you, who will also do it," is it not a 
New Testament echo of David's cry, " Thou, O Lord of 
Hosts, the God of Israel, hast revealed to Thy servant, 
saying, I will build thee an house : therefore hath Thy 
servant foundin his heart to pray this prayer unto Thee"? 
Theologians have tried in various ways to find a 
scientific expression for the Christian conviction impUed 
in such words as these, but with imperfect success. 
Calvinism is one of these expressions : its doctrines of 
a Divine" decree, and of the perseverance of the saints, 
really rest upon the truth of this 24th verse, — that 
salvation is of God to begin with ; and that God, who 
has begun the good work, is in earnest with it, and 
will not fail nor be discouraged until He has carried it 
through. Every Christian depends upon these truths, 
whatever he m.ay think of Calvinistic inferences from 
them, or of the forms in which theologians have 
embodied them. When we pray to God to sanctify us 
wholly ; to make us His in body, soul, and spirit ; to 
preserve our whole nature in all its parts and functions 
blameless in the day of the Lord Jesus, is not our 
confidence this, that God has called us to this life of 
entire consecration, that He has opened the door for 
us to enter upon it by sending His Son to be a 
propitiation for our sins, that He has actually begun 
it by inclining our hearts to receive the gospel, and 
that He may be depended upon to persevere in it till 


it is thoroughly accomplished ? What would all our 
good resolutions amount to, if they were not backed 
by the unchanging purpose of God's love ? What 
would be the worth of all our efforts and of all our 
hopes, if behind them, and behind our despondency 
and our failures too, there did not stand the unwearying 
faithfulness of God ? This is the rock which is higher 
than we ; our refuge ; our stronghold ; our stay in 
the time of trouble. The gifts and calling of God are 
without repentance. We may change, but not Fie, 

What follows is the affectionate desultory close of 
the letter. Paul has prayed for the Thessalonians ; he 
begs their prayers for himself. This request is made 
no less than seven times in his Epistles — including 
the one before us : a fact which shows how priceless 
to the Apostle was the intercession of others on his 
behalf. So it is always ; there is nothing which so 
directly and powerfully helps a minister of the gospel 
as the prayers of his congregation. They are the 
channels of all possible blessing both for him and those 
to whom he ministers. But prayer for him is to be 
combined with love to one another : " Salute all the 
brethren with a holy kiss."^ The kiss was the ordinary 
greeting among members of a family; brothers and 

' Is it a fair inference from these words that the Epistle was to be 
delivered to the elders or ruling body in the church ? In other places 
the Apostle writes, " Greet one another " 


sisters kissed each other when they met, especially 
after long separation ; even among those who were 
no kin to each other, but only on friendly terms, it 
was common enough, and answered to our shaking 
of hands. In the Church the kiss was the pledge of 
brotherhood ; those who exchanged it declared them- 
selves members of one family. When the Apostle says, 
"Greet one another with a holy kiss," he means, as 
holy always does in the New Testament, a Christian 
kiss ; a greeting not of natural affection, nor of social 
courtesy merely, but recognising the unity of all 
members of the Church in Christ Jesus, and express- 
ing pure Christian love. The history of the kiss of 
charity is rather curious, and not without its moral. 
Of course, its only value was as the natural expression 
of brotherly love; where the natural expression of such 
love was not kissing, but the grasping of the hand, or 
the friendly inclination of the head, the Christian kiss 
ought to have died a natural death. So, on the whole, 
it did ; but with some partial survivals in ritual, which 
in the Greek and Romish Churches are not yet extinct. 
It became a custom in the Church to give the kiss of 
brotherhood to a member newly admitted by baptism ; 
that practice still survives in some quarters, even when 
children only are baptized. The great celebrations at 
Easter, when no element of ritual was omitted, retained 
the kiss of peace long after it had fallen out of the 


Other services. At Solemn Mass in the Church of 
Rome the kiss is ceremonially exchanged between the 
celebrant and the assistant ministers. At Low Mass 
it is omitted, or given with what is called an osculatory 
or Pax. The priest kisses the altar; then he kisses 
the oscillatory, which is a small metal plate ; then he 
hands this to the server, and the server hands it to the 
people, who pass it from one to another, kissing it as 
it goes. This cold survival of the cordial greeting of 
the Apostolic Church warns us to distinguish spirit 
from letter. " Greet one another with a holy kiss " 
means. Show your Christian love one to another, 
frankly and heartily, in the way which comes natural 
to you. Do not be afraid to break the ice when you 
come into the church. There should be no ice there 
to break. Greet your brother or your sister cordially 
and like a Christian ; assume and create the atmosphere 
of home. 

Perhaps the very strong language which follows 
may point to some lack of good feeling in the church 
at Thessalonica : " I adjure you by the Lord that this 
epistle be read unto all the brethren." Why should he 
need to adjure them by the Lord ? Could there be 
any doubt that everybody in the church would hear 
his Epistle ? It is not easy to say. Perhaps the 
elders who received it might have thought it wiser 
not to tell all that it contained to everybody ; we know 


how instinctive it is for men in office — whether they 
be ministers of the church or ministers of state — to 
make a mystery out of their business, and, by keeping 
something always in reserve, to provide a basis for 
a despotic and uncontrolled authority. But whether 
for this or some other purpose, consciously or un- 
consciously influencing them, Paul seems to have 
thought the suppression of his letter possible ; and 
gives this strong charge that it be read to all. It is 
interesting to notice the beginnings of the New Testa- 
m.ent. This is its earliest book, and here we see its 
place in the Church vindicated by the Apostle himself 
Of course when he commands it to be read, he does 
not mean that it is to be read repeatedly ; the idea 
of a New Testament, of a collection of Christian books 
to stand side by side with the books of the earlier 
revelation, and to be used like them in public worship, 
could not enter men's minds as long as the apostles 
were with them ; but a direction like this manifestly 
gives the Apostle's pen the authority of his voice, and 
makes the v/riting for us what his personal presence 
was in his lifetime. The apostolic word is the 
primary document of the Christian faith ; no Chris- 
tianity has ever existed in the world but that which 
has drawn its contents and its quality from this ; and 
nothing which departs from this rule is entitled to be 
called Christian. 


The charge to read the letter to all the brethren is 
one of the many indications in the New Testament that, 
though the gospel is a niysterion, as it is called in 
Greek, there is no mystery about it in the modern 
sense. It is all open and aboveboard. There is not 
something on the surface, which the simple are to 
be allowed to believe ; and something quite different 
underneath, into which the wise and prudent are to be 
initiated. The whole thing has been revealed unto 
babes. He who makes a mystery out of it, a pro- 
fessional secret which it needs a special education to 
understand, is not only guilty of a great sin, but proves 
that he knows nothing about it. Paul knew its length 
and breadth and depth and height better than any 
man ; and though he had to accommodate himself to 
human weakness, distinguishing between babes in 
Christ and such as were able to bear strong meat, he 
put the highest things within reach of all ; " Him we 
preach," he exclaims to the Colossians, "warning every 
man, and teaching every man in every wisdom, that 
we may present every man perfect in Christ." There 
is no attainment in wisdom or in goodness which is 
barred against any man by the gospel ; and there 
is no surer mark of faithlessness and treachery in a 
church than this, that it keeps its members in a 
perpetual pupi'age or minority, discouraging the free 
use of Holy Scripture, and taking care that all that it 


contains is not read to all the brethren. Among the 
many tokens which mark the Church of Rome as 
faithless to the true conception of the gospel, which 
proclaims the end of man's minority in religion, and 
the coming to age of the true children of God, her 
treatment of Scripture is the most conspicuous. Let 
us who have the Book in our hands, and the Spirit to 
guide us, pi ize at its true worth this unspeakable gift. 

This last caution is followed by the benediction with 
which in one form or another the Apostle concludes 
his letters. Here it is very brief: "The grace of 
our Lord Jesus Christ be with you." He ends with 
practically the same prayer as that with which he 
began : " Grace to you and peace, from God the Father, 
and from the Lord Jesus Christ." And what is true 
of this Epistle is true of all the rest : the grace of the 
Lord Jesus Christ is their A and their /2, their first 
word and their last. Whatever God has to say to us — 
and in all the New Testament letters there are things 
that search the heart and make it quake— begins and 
ends with grace. It has its fountain in the love of 
God ; it is working out, as its end, the purpose of that 
love. I have known people take a violent dislike to 
the word grace, probably because they had often 
heard it used without meaning; but surely it is the 
sweetest and most constraining even of Bible words. 
All that God has been to man in Jesus Christ is 


summed up in it : all His gentleness and beauty, all 
His tenderness and patience, all the holy passion of 
His love, is gathered up in grace. What more could 
one soul wish for another than that the grace of the 
Lord Jesus Christ should be with it? 






" Paul, and Silvanus, and Timothy, unto the church of the Thessa- 
lonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ ; Grace to you 
and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

" We are bound to give thanks to God alway for you, brethren, even 
as it is meet, for that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the love 
of each one of you all toward one another aboundeth ; so that we 
ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and 
faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which ye endure." 
— 2 TuESS. i. 1-4 (R.V.). 



T N beginning to expound the Second Epistle to the 
■*• Thessalonians, it is necessary to say a few words by 
way of introduction to the book as a whole. Certain 
questions occur to the mind whenever such a document 
as this is presented to it ; and it will put us in a better 
position for understanding details if we first answer 
these. How do wc know, for instance, that this Epistle 
is really the second to the Thessalonians ? It has 
been maintained that it is the earlier of the two. Can 
we justify its appearance in the place which it usually 
occupies ? I think we can. The tradition of the 
church itself counts for something. It is quite unmis- 
takable, in other cases in which there are two letters 
addressed to the same people, — e.g., the Epistles to the 
Corinthians and to Timothy, — that they stand in the 
canon in the order of time. Presumably the same is 
the case here. Of course a tradition like this is not 
infallible, and if it can be proved false must be 
abandoned ; but at the present moment, the tendency 



in most minds is to underestimate the historical value 
of such traditions; and, in the instance before us, 
tradition is supported by various indications in the 
Epistle itself. For example, in the other letter, Paul 
congratulates the Thessalonians on their reception of 
the gospel, and the characteristic experiences attendant 
upon it ; here it is the wonderful growth of their faith, 
and the abounding of their love, which calls forth his 
thanksgiving,— surely a more advanced stage of Chris- 
tian life being in view. Again, in the other Epistle there 
are slight hints of moral disorder, due to misapprehen- 
sion of the Lord's Second Coming ; but in this Epistle 
such disorder is broadly exposed and denounced ; the 
Apostle has heard of unruly busybodies, who do no 
work at all; he charges them in the name of the Lord 
Jesus to change their conduct, and bids the brethren 
avoid them, that they may be put to shame. Plainly 
the faults as well as the graces of the church are seen 
here at a higher growth. Once more, in chap. ii. 1 5 
of this letter, there is reference to instruction which 
the Thessalonians have already received from Paul in 
a letter ; and though he may quite conceivably have 
written them letters which no longer exist, still the 
natural reference of these words is to what we call the 
First Epistle. If anything else were needed to prove 
that the letter we are about to study stands in its right 
place, it might be found in the appeal of chap. ii. I. 


"Our gathering together unto Him" is the characteristic 
revelation of the other, and therefore the earher letter. 

But though this Epistle is certainly later than the 
other, it is not much later. The Apostle has still the 
same companions — Silas and Timothy — to join in his 
Christian greeting. He is still in Corinth or its neigh- 
bourhood ; for we never find these two along with him 
but there. The gospel, however, has spread beyond the 
great city, and taken root in other places, for he boasts 
of the Thessalonians and their graces in the churches 
of God. His work has so far progressed as to excite 
opposition ; he is in personal peril, and asks the prayers 
of the Thessalonians, that he may be delivered from 
unreasonable and evil men. If we put all these things 
together, and remember the duration of Paul's stay in 
Corinth, we may suppose that some months separated 
the Second Epistle from the First. 

What, now, was the main purpose of it ? What 
had the Apostle in his mind when he sat down to 
write ? To answer that, we must go back a little way. 

A great subject of apostolic preaching at Thessalonica 
had been the Second Advent. So characteristic was 
it of the gospel message, that Christian converts 
from heathenism are defined as those who have 
turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true 
God, and to wait for His Son from heaven. This 
waiting, or expectation, was the characteristically 



Christian attitude ; the Christian's hope was hidden in 
heaven, and he could not but look up and long for its 
appearing. But this attitude became strained, under 
various influences. The Apostle's teaching was pressed, 
as if he had said, not only that the day of the Lord was 
coming, but that it was actually here. Men, affecting 
to speak through the Spirit, patronised such fanaticism. 
We see from chap. ii. 2 that pretended words of Paul 
were put in circulation ; and what was more deliberately 
wicked, a forged epistle was produced, in which his 
authority was claimed for this transformation of his 
doctrine. Weak-minded people were carried off their 
feet, and bad-hearted people feigned an exaltation 
they did not feel ; and both together brought discredit 
on the church, and injured their own souls, by neglect- 
ing the commonest duties. Not only decorum and 
reputation were lost, but character itself was endangered. 
This was the situation to which Paul addressed 

We do not need to be fastidious in dealing with the 
Apostle's teaching on the Second Advent ; our Saviour 
tells us that of the day and the hour no man knows, 
nor angel ; nay, not even the Son, but the Father 
only. Certainly St. Paul did not know ; and almost 
as certainly, in the ardour of his hope, he anticipated 
the end sooner than it was actually to arrive. He 
spoke of himself as one who might naturally enough 


expect to see the Lord come again ; and it was only 
as experience brought him new Hght that in his later 
years he began to speak of a desire to depart, and 
to be with Christ. Not to die, had been his earlier 
hope, but to have the mortal being swallowed up 
of life ; and it was this earlier hope he had com- 
municated to the Thessalonians. They also hoped 
not to die ; as the sky grew darker over them with 
aftliction and persecution, their heated imaginations 
saw the glory of Christ ready to break through for 
their final deliverance. The present Epistle puts this 
hope, if one may say so, to a certain remove. It does 
not fix the date of the Advent ; it does not tell us when 
the day of the Lord shall come ; but it tells us plainly 
that it is not here yet, and that it will not be here 
till certain things have first happened. What these 
things are is by no means obvious ; but this is not 
the place to discuss the question. All we have to 
notice is this : that with a view to counteracting the 
excitement at Thessalonica, which was producing bad 
consequences, St. Paul points out that the Second 
Advent is the term of a moral process, and that the 
world must run through a spiritual development of a 
particular kind before Christ can come again. The 
first Advent was in the fulness of the times ; so will 
the second be ; and though he might not be able to 
interpret all the signs, or tell when the great day 


would dawn, he could say to the Thessalonians, " The 
end is not yet." 

This, I say, is the great lesson of the Epistle, the 
main thing which the Apostle has to communicate 
to the Thessalonians. But it is preceded by what 
may be called, in a loose sense, a consolatory para- 
graph, and it is followed up by exhortations, the same 
in purport as those of the First Epistle, but more 
peremptory and emphatic. The true preparedness 
for the Lord's Second Coming is to be sought, he 
assures them, not in this irrational exaltation, which 
is morally empty and worthless, but in diligent, 
humble, faithful performance of duty; in love, faith, 
and patience. 

The greeting with which the Epistle opens is almo^ 
word for word the same as that of the First Epistle. 
It is a church which is addressed ; and a church 
subsisting in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus 
Christ. The Apostle has no other interest in the 
Thessalonians than as they are Christian people. 
Their Christian character and their Christian interests 
are the only things he cares for. One could wish 
it were so among us. One could wish our relation 
to God and His Son were so real and so dominant, 
that it gave us an unmistakable character, in which 
we might naturally address each other, without any 
consciousness or suspicion of unreality. With every 


desire to think well of the Church, when we look to 
the ordinary tone of conversation and of correspond- 
ence among Christians, we can hardly think that 
this is so. There is an aversion to such directness 
of speech as was alone natural to the Apostle. Even 
in church meetings, there is a disposition to let the 
Christian character fall into the background ; it is a 
sensible relief to many to be able to think of those 
about them as ladies and gentlemen, rather than as 
brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet it is this last 
relation only in virtue of which we form a church ; 
it is the interests of this relation that our intercourse 
with one another as Christians is designed to serve. 
We ought not to look in the Christian assembly for 
what it was never meant to be, — for a society to fur- 
ther the temporal interests of its members ; for an 
educational institution, aiming at the general enlighten- 
ment of those who frequent its meetings; still less, as 
some seem to be inclined to do, for a purveyor of 
innocent amusements : all these are simply beside the 
mark ; the Church is not called to any such functions ; 
her whole life is in God and Christ ; and she can say 
nothing and do nothing for any man until his life has 
been brought to this source and centre. An apostolic 
interest in the Church is the interest of one who cares 
only for the relation of the soul to Christ ; and who 
can say no more to those he loves best than John 


says to Gaius, " Beloved, I pray that in all things thou 
mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul 

It is in accordance with tins Spirit that the Apostle 
wishes the Thessalonians not any outward advantages, 
but grace and peace. Grace and peace are related as 
cause and effect. Grace is God's unmerited love. His 
free and beautiful goodness to the sinful ; and when 
men receive it, it bears the fruit of peace. Peace is a 
far bigger word in the Bible than in commiOn usage ; 
and it has its very largest sense in these salutations, 
where it represents the old Hebrew greeting Shalum. 
Properly speaking, it means completeness, wholeness, 
health — the perfect soundness of the spiritual nature. 
This is what the Apostle wishes for the Thessalonians. 
Of course, there is a narrower sense of peace, in which 
it means the quieting of the perturbed conscience, the 
putting away of the alienation between the soul and 
God ; but that is only the initial work of grace, the 
first degree of the great peace which is in view here. 
When grace has had its perfect work, it results in a 
more profound and steadfast peace, — a soundness of the 
whole nature, a restoration of the shattered spiritual 
health, which is the crown of all God's blessings. 
There is a vast difference in the degrees of bodily 
health between the man who is chronically ailing, 
always anxious, nervous about himself, and unable to 


trust himself if any unexpected drain is made upon his 
strength, and the man who has sohd, unimpaired health, 
whose heart is whole within him, and who is not 
shaken by the thought of what may be. It is this 
radical soundness which is really meant by peace ; 
thorough spiritual health is the best of God's blessings 
in the Christian life, as thorough bodily health is the 
best in the natural life. Hence the Apostle wishes it 
for the Thessalonians before everything else; and wishes 
it, as alone it can come, in the train of grace. The 
free love of God is all our hope. Grace is love im- 
parting itself, giving itself away, as it were, to others, 
for their good. Only as that love comes to us, and is 
received in its fulness of blessing into our hearts, can 
we attain that stable spiritual health which is the end 
of our calling. 

The salutation is followed, as usual, by a thanks- 
giving, which at the first glance seems endless. One 
long sentence runs, apparently without interruption, 
from the third verse to the end of the tenth. But it is 
plain, on a more attentive glance, that the Apostle 
goes off at a tangent ; and that his thanksgiving is 
properly contained in the third and fourth verses : 
" We are bound to give thanks to God alway for you, 
brethren, even as it is meet, for that your faith groweth 
exceedingly, and the love of each one of you all toward 
one another aboundeth ; so that we ourselves glory in 


you in the churches of God for your patience and faith 
in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which 
ye endure." It is worthy of remark that the mere 
existence of faults in a church never bhnded the 
Apostle to its graces. There was much in this con- 
gregation to rectify, and a good deal to censure ; there 
were ignorance, fanaticism, falsehood, sloth, unruliness ; 
but though he knew of them all, and would rebuke 
them all before he had done, he begins with this 
grateful acknowledgment of a Divine work among 
them. It is not merely that Paul was constitutionally 
of a bright temperament, and looked naturally on the 
promising side of things, — I hardly think he was,— but 
he must have felt it was undutiful and unbecoming to 
say anything at all to Christian people, who had once 
been pagans, without thanking God for what He had 
done for them. Some of us have this lesson to learn, 
especially in regard to missionary and evangelistic 
work and its results. We are too ready to see every- 
thing in it except what is of God, — the mistakes made 
by the worker, or the misconceptions in new disciples 
that the light has not cleared up, and the faults of 
character that the Spirit has not overcome ; and when 
we fix our attention on these things, it is very natural 
for us to be censorious. The natural man loves to find 
fault ; it gives him at the cheapest rate the comfortable 
feeling of superiority. But it is a malignant eye which 


can see and delight in nothing but faults ; before we 
comment on deficiencies or mistakes which have only 
become visible against the background of the new 
life, let us give thanks to God that the new life, in 
however lowly and imperfect a form, is there. It 
need not yet appear what it shall be. But we are 
bound, by duty, by truth, by all that is right and 
seemly, to say. Thanks be to God for what He has 
begun to do by His grace. There are some people 
who should never see half-done work ; perhaps the 
same people should be forbidden to criticise missions 
either at home or abroad. The grace of God is not 
responsible for the faults of preachers or of converts ; 
but it is the source of their virtues ; it is the fountain 
of their new life ; it is the hope of their future ; and 
unless we welcome its workings with constant thanks- 
giving, we are in no spirit in which it can work 
through us. 

But let us see for what fruit of grace the Apostle 
gives thanks here. It is because the faith of the Thes- 
salonians grows exceedingly, and their mutual love 
abounds. In a word, it is for their progress in the 
Christian character. Here is a point of the first 
interest and importance. It is the very nature of life 
to grow ; when growth is arrested, it is the beginning 
01 decay. I would not like to fall into the very fault 
I have been exposing, and speak as if there were no 


progress, among Christians in general, in faith and 
love ; but one of the discouragements of the Christian 
ministry is undoubtedly the slowness, or it may be the 
invisibility, not to say the absence, of growth. At a 
certain stage in the physical life, we know, equilibrium 
is attained : we are at the maturity of our powers ; our 
faces change little, our minds change little ; the tones 
of our voices and the character of our handwriting are 
pretty constant; and when we get past that point, the 
progress is backward. But we can hardly say that 
this is an analogy by which we may judge the spiritual 
life. It does not run its full course here. It has not 
a birth, a maturity, and an inevitable decay, within the 
limits of our natural life. There is room for it to grow 
and grow unceasingl}', because it is planned for eternit}^ 
and not for time. It should be in continual progress, 
ever improving, advancing from strength to strength. 
Day by day and year by year Christians should become 
better men and better women, stronger in faith, richer 
in love. The very steadiness and uniformity of our 
spiritual life has its disheartening side. Surely there 
is room, in a thing so great and expansive as life in 
Jesus Christ, for fresh developments, for new mani- 
festations of trust in God, for new enterprises prompted 
and sustained by brotherly love. Let us ask whether 
we ourselves, each in his own place, face the trials of 
our life, its cares, its doubts, its terrible certainties, 


with a more unwavering faith in God than we had 
five years ago ? Have we learned in that interval, or 
in all the years of our Christian profession, to commit 
our life more unreservedly to Him, to trust Him to 
undertake for us, in our sins, in our weakness, in all 
our necessities, temporal and spiritual ? Have we 
become more loving than we were ? Have we over- 
come any of our irrational and unchristian dislikes ? 
Have we made advances, for Christ's sake and His 
Church's, to persons with whom we were at variance, 
and sought in brotherly love to foster a warm and 
loyal Christian feeling in the whole body of believers ? 
God be thanked, there are some who know what faith 
and love are better than they once did ; who have 
learned — and it needs learning — what it is to confide 
in God, and to love others in Him ; but could an 
Apostle thank God that this advance was universal, 
and that the charity of every one of us all was 
abundant to all the rest ? 

The apostolic thanksgiving is supplemented in this 
particular case by something, not indeed alien to it, 
yet on a quite different level — a glorying before men. 
Paul thanked God for the increase of faith and love 
at *Thessalonica ; and when he remembered that he 
himself had been the means of converting the Thessa- 
lonians, their progress made him fond and proud ; he 
boasted of his spiritual children in the churches of 


God. " Look at the Thessalonians," he said to the 
Christians in the south ; "you know their persecutions, 
and the afflictions they endure ; yet their faith and 
patience triumph over all ; their sufferings only serve 
to bring their Christian goodness to perfection." That 
was a great thing to be able to say ; it would be par- 
ticularly telling in that old pagan world, which could 
meet suffering only with an inhuman defiance or a 
resigned indifference ; it is a great thing to be able 
to say yet. It is a witness to the truth and power of 
the gospel, of which its humblest minister may feel 
justly proud, when the new spirit which it breathes 
into men gives them the victory over sorrow and pain. 
There is no persecution now to test the sincerity or 
the heroism of the Church as a whole ; but there are 
afflictions still ; and there must be few Christian 
ministers but thank God, and would do it always, as 
is meet, that He has allowed them to see the new life 
develop new energies under trial, and to see His 
children out of weakness made strong by faith and 
hope and love in Christ Jesus. These things are our 
true wealth and strength, and we are richer in them 
than some of us are auare. They are the mark of 
the gospel upon human nature ; wherever it comes, 
it is to be identified by the combination of affliction 
and patience, of suffering and spiritual joy. That 
combination is peculiar to the kingdom of God : there 


is not the like found in any other kingdom on earth. 
Blessed, let us say, be the God and Father of our 
Lord Jesus Christ, who has given us such proofs of 
His love and power among us ; He only doeth such 
wondrous things ; let the earth be filled with His 




" A manifest token of the righteous judgment of God ; to the end 
that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye 
also suffer : if so be that it is a righteous thing with God to recompense 
affliction to them that afflict you, and to you that are afflicted rest with 
us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with tlie angels of 
His power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them that know not 
God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus : who 
shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the 
Lord and from the glory of His might, when He shall come to be 
glorified in His saints, and to be marvelled at in all ihem that believed 
(because our testimony unto you was believed ') in that day. To which 
end we also pray always for you, that our God may count ^w< worthy 
of your calling, and fulfil every desire of goodness, and (every) work 
of faith, with power ; that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified 
in you, and ye in Him, according to the grace of our God and the 
Lord Jesus Christ."— 2 Tiiess. i. 5-12 (R.V.). 

' " It seems hopeless to find an intelligible meaning for ^(/)' ii/xas in 
connection with iiruTevOr]. Apparently, as conjectured by Markland, 
iinaTivdri is a primitive corruption of inLffTdidrj, suggested by the 
preceding TncTeveaaiv, as well as by the familiarity of vicrrevb} and 
its prima-facie appropriateness to ixaprvpiov. The reference is 
probably to vv. 4, 5 : the Christian testimony of suffering for the faith 
had been confirmed and scaled upon the Thessalonians. Cf, l Cor. i. 6: 
Ka^tiis TO /.capri'piov rod "KpiaTov i^efiaiwdr] iv vplv ; also Ps. xciii. (xcii.) 
4, 5 : Gaii/xaoTos ev viprfKots 6 Kvpios' to, fxaprvpid cov iTTKXTudritrav 
ff<p65pa ; and for an analogous use of iriaTovadai followed by ctti 
with the accusative, i Chr. xvii. 23 ; 2 Chr. i. 9."— F. J. A. Hort. 




T N the preceding verses of this chapter, as in the 
-*- opening of the First Epistle, the Apostle has spoken 
of the afflictions of the Thessalonians, and of the 
Christian graces which tliey have developed under 
them. To suffer for Christ's sake, he says, and at 
the same time to abound in faith and love and spiritual 
joy, is to have the mark of God's election on u?. It is 
an experience so truly and characteristically Christian 
that the Apostle cannot think of it without gratitude 
and pride. He gives thanks to God on every remem- 
brance of his converts. He boasts of their progress 
in all the churches of Achaia. 

In the verses before us, another inference is drawn 
from the afflictions of the Thessalonians, and their 
gospel patience under them. The whole situation is 
a proof, or manifest token, of the righteous judgment 
of God. It has this in view, that the Thessalonians 
may be deemed worthy of the (heavenly) kingdom of 
God, on behalf of which they suffer. Here, we see, 

2S9 i^ 


the Apostle sanctions with his authority the argument 
from the injustices of this hfe to the coming of another 
life in which they will be rectified. God is just, he 
says ; and therefore this state of affairs, in which bad 
men oppress the innocent, cannot last for ever. It 
calls aloud for judgment; it proclaims its approach; 
it is a prognostic, a manifest token of it. The suffer- 
ing which is here in view cannot be an end in itself. 
Even the graces which come to perfection in maintain- 
ing themselves against it, do not explain the whole 
meaning of affliction ; it would remain a blot upon 
God's justice if it were not counterbalanced by the joys 
of His kingdom. " Blessed are ye when men shall 
reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner 
of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and 
be exceeding glad : for great is your reward in 
heaven." This is the gracious side of the judgment. 
The suffering which is borne with joy and brave 
patience for Christ's sake proves how dear Christ is 
to the sufferer ; and this love, tried with fire, is 
requited in due time with an answer in love that makes 
him forget it all. 

This is one of the doctrines of Scripture that un- 
tioubled times find it easy to dispense with. There is 
even an affectation of superiority to what is called the 
moral vulgarity of being good for the sake of some- 
thing beyond goodness. It is idle to enter on any 


abstract discussion of such a question. We are called 
by the gospel to a new Hfe under certain definite con- 
ditions, one of them being the condition of suffering 
for its sake. The more thoroughly that condition is 
accepted, the less disposition will there be to criticise 
the future blessedness which is its counterpoise and 
compensation. It is not the confessors and martyrs of 
the Christian faith — the men who die daily, like Paul, 
and share in the tribulations and patience of Jesus 
Christ, like John — who become weary of the glory 
which is to be revealed. And it is such only who are 
in a position to judge of the value of this hope. If it 
is dear to them, an inspiration and an encouragement, 
as it certainly is, it is surely worse than vain for those 
who are living an easier and a lower life to criticise 
it on abstract grounds. If we have no need of it, if 
we can dispense with any sight or grasp of a joy 
beyond the grave, let us take care that it is not owing 
to the absence from our life of that present suffering 
for Christ's sake, without v/hich we cannot be His. 
" The connection," Bishop Ellicott says, " between 
holy suffering and future blessedness is mystically 
close and indissoluble " ; we must through great 
tribulations enter into the kingdom of God ; and all 
experience proves that, when such tribulation comes 
and is accepted, the recompense of reward here 
spo^-^n of, and the Scriptures which give prominence 


to it, rise to the highest credit in the mind of the 
Church. It is not a token of our enlightenment and 
moral superiority, if we undervalue them ; it is an 
indication that we are not drinking of the Lord's cup, 
or being baptized with His baptism. 

But the reward is only one side of the righteous 
judgment foretold by the suffering of the innocent. It 
includes punishment as well. " It is a righteous thing 
with God to recompense affliction to them that afflict 
you." We see here the very simplest conception of 
God's justice. It is a law of retribution, of vindication ; 
it is the reaction, in this particular case, of man's sin 
against himself. The reaction is inevitable : if it does 
not come here, it comes in another world ; if not now, 
in another life. The hope of the sinner is always that 
in some way or other this reaction may never take 
place, or that, when it dees take place, it may be evaded ; 
but that hope is doomed to perish. " If it Vvcre done 
when 'tis done," he says as he contemplates his sin in 
prospect ; but it never is so done ; it is exactly half 
done when he is finished with it ; and the other half 
is taken in hand by God. Punishment is the other 
half of sin ; as inseparable from it as heat from fire, 
as the inside of a vessel from the outside. " It is a 
righteous thing with God to recompense affliction to 
them that afflict you." " Whatsoever a man soweth, 
that shall he also reap." 


One of the favourite pastimes of some modern 
historians is the whitewashing of persecutors. A 
dispassionate interest in the facts shows, we are told, 
in many cases, that the persecutors were not so black 
as they have been painted, and that the martyrs and 
confessors were no better than they should have been. 
Where fault is found at all, it is laid rather at the 
door of systems than of individuals ; judgment is 
passed on institutions and on centuries that persons 
and their actions may go free. Practically that comes 
to writing history, which is the story of man's moral life, 
without recognising the place of conscience ; it may 
sometimes have the look of intelligence, but at bottom 
it is immoral and false. Men must answer for their 
actions. It is no excuse for murdering the saints that 
the murderers think they are doing God service ; it 
is an aggravation of their guilt. Every man knows 
that it is wicked to afflict the good ; if he does not, 
it is because he has quite corrupted his conscience, 
and therefore has the greater sin. Moral blindness 
may include and explain every sin, but it justifies none; 
it is itself the sin of sins. " It is a righteous thing 
with God to recompense affliction to those who afflict." 
If they cannot put themselves by sympathy into the 
place of others — which is the principle of all right 
conduct — God will put them in that place, and open 
their eyes. His righteous judgment is a day of grace 


to the innocent sufferers ; He rewards their trouble 
with rest ; but to the persecutor it is a day of vengeance ; 
he eats the fruit of his doings. 

It is characteristic of this Epistle, and of the pre- 
occupation of the Apostle's mind when he wrote it, 
that he here expands his notice of the time when 
this judgment is to take place into a vivid statement 
of its circumstances and issues. The judgment is 
executed at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from 
heaven, with the angels of His power, in flaming fire. 
"At this moment," he would say, "Christ is unseen, 
and therefore by wicked men ignored, and sometimes 
by good men forgotten ; but the day is coming when 
every eye shall see Him." The Apostle Peter, who 
had seen Christ in the flesh, as Paul had never done, 
and who probably felt His invisibility as few could feel 
it, is fond of this word " revelation " as a name for 
His reappearing. He speaks of faith which is to be 
found unto praise and honour and glory at the revelation 
of Jesus Christ. "Be sober," he says, "and hope to 
the end for the grace that is being brought to you at 
the revelation of Jesus Christ." And in another passage, 
much in keeping with this of St. Paul's, he says, 
" Inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings, 
rejoice ; that at the revelation of His glory also ye may 
rejoice with exceeding joy." It is one of the great 
words of the New Testament ; and its greatness is 


heightened in this place by the accompanying des- 
cription. The Lord is revealed, attended by the angels 
of His power, in flaming fire. These accessories of 
the Advent are borrowed from the Old Testament ; the 
Apostle clothes the Lord Jesus at His appearing in all 
the glory of the God of Israel. ^ 

When Christ is thus revealed, it is in the character 
of a Judge : He renders vengeance to them that know 
not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our 
Lord Jesus Chrirt. Two classes of guilty men are 
quite plainly distinguished by these words ; and as 
plainly, though the English alone would not enable us 
to lay stress upon it, those two classes are the heathen 
and the Jews. Ignorance of God is the characteristic 
of paganism ; when Paul wishes to describe the 
Gentiles from the religious point of view, he speaks 
of them as the Gentiles which know not God. Now, 
with us, ignorance is usually regarded as an excuse for 
sin ; it is an extenuating circumstance, which calls 
for compassion rather than condemnation ; and we are 
almost astonished in reading the Bible to find it used 
as a summary of the whole guilt and offence of the 
heathen world. But we must remember what it is that 
men are said not to know. It is not theology ; it is 
not the history of the Jews, or the special revelations 

' For an excellent and inslnictive study of the relations of Jewish 
rnd Christian eschatology, see Stanton's /t'wn/i a7id Christian JlJessia/i. 


it contains ; it is not any body of doctrines ; it is God. 
And God, who is the fountain of life, the only source 
of goodness, does not hide Himself from men. He has 
His witnesses everywhere. There is something in all 
men which is on His side, and which, if it be regarded, 
will bring their souls to Him, Those who know not 
God are those who have stifled this inner witness, and 
separated themselves in doing so from all that is good. 
Ignorance of God means ignorance of goodness ; for 
all goodness is from Him. It is not a lack of acquaint- 
ance with any system of ideas about God that is 
here exposed to the condemnation of Christ ; but the 
practical lack of acquaintance with love, purity, truth. 
If men are familiar with the opposites of all these ; if 
they have been selfish, vile, bad, false ; if they have 
said to God, " Depart from us ; we desire not the 
knowledge of Thy ways ; we are content to have no 
acquaintance with Thee " — is it not inevitable that, when 
Christ is revealed as Judge of all, they should be 
excluded from His kingdom ? What could they do in 
it ? Where could they be less in place ? 

The difficulty which some have felt about the 
ignorance of the Gentiles can hardly be raised about 
the disobedience of the Jews. The element of wilful- 
ness, of deliberate antagonism to the good, to which 
we give such prominence in our idea of sin, is con- 
spicuous here. The will of God for their salvation 


had been fully made known to this stubborn race ; 
but they disobeyed, and persisted in their disobedience. 
" He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck " 
— so ran their own proverb — " shall suddenly be 
destroyed, and that without remedy." Such was the 
sentence to be executed on them in the day of 

When it is said that ignorance of God and dis- 
obedience to the gospel are here presented as the 
characteristics respectively of Gentile and Jew, it is 
not said that the passage is without significance for us. 
There may be some of us who are sinking day by day 
into an ever deeper ignorance of God. Those who 
live a worldly and selfish life, whose interests and 
hopes are bounded by this material order, who never 
pray, who do nothing, give nothing, suffer nothing for 
others, they, whatever their knowledge of the Bible 
or the catechism may be, do not know God, and fall 
under this pagan condemnation. And what of dis- 
obedience to the gospel? Notice the word which is 
here used by the Apostle ; it implies a conception of 
the gospel Vvhich we are apt, in magnifying the grace 
of God, to overlook. We speak of receiving the 
gospel, believing it, welcoming it, and so forth ; it is 
equally needful to remember that it claims our obedi- 
ence. God not only beseeches us to be reconciled, 
He commands us to repent. He makes a display of 


His redeeming love in the gospel — a love which con- 
tains pardon, renewal, and immortality ; and He calls 
on all men for a life in correspondence with that love. 
Salvation is not only a gift, but a vocation ; we enter 
into it as we obey the voice of Jesus, " Follow Me " ; 
and if we disobey, and choose our own way, and live 
a life in which there is nothing that answers to the 
manifestation of God as our Saviour, what can the 
end be ? Can it be anything else than the judgment 
of which St. Paul here speaks ? If we say, every 
day of our life, as the law of the gospel rings in our 
ears, " No : we will not have this Man to reign over us," 
can v/e expect anything else than that He will render 
vengeance ? " Do we provoke the Lord to anger ? Are 
we stronger than He ? " 

The ninth verse describes the terrible vengeance of 
the great day. "Such men," says the Apostle, "shall 
pay the penalty, everlasting destruction, away from 
the face of the Lord and from the glory of His might." 
These are awful words, and it is no wonder that 
attempts have been made to empty them of the mean- 
ing which they bear upon their face. But it would be 
false to sinful men, as well as to the Apostle, and to 
the whole of New Testament teaching, to say that any 
art or device could in the least degree lessen their terrors. 
It has been boldly asserted, indeed, that the word 
rendered everlasting does not mean everlasting, but 


age-long ; and that what is in view here is " an age- 
long destruction from the presence and glory of Christ, 
i.e., the being shut out from all sight of and participation 
in the triumphs of Christ during tJiat age " [" the age 
perhaps which immediately succeeds this present life"]. 
And this assertion is crowned by another, that those 
thus excluded nevertheless " abide in His presence and 
share His glory in the ages beyond." ^ Anything more 
gratuitous, anything less in keeping with the whole 
tone of the passage, anything more daring in its 
arbitrary additions to the text, it would be impossible 
even to imagine. If the gospel, as conceived in the 
New Testament, has any character at all, it has the 
character of finality. It is God's last word to men. 
And the consequences of accepting or rejecting it are 
final ; it opens no prospect beyond the life on the one 
hand, and the death on the other, which are the results 
of obedience and disobedience. Obey, and you enter 
into a light in which there is no darkness at all : 
disobey, and you pass eventually into a darkness in 

' The quotations are from Cox's Salvator Ahindi, 13th Edition, 
pp. 128 9. ^^ hen the time import of alwvios is in view, many writers 
render it, like Dr. Cox, age-long, intending thereby to signify that 
seonian time has an end ; its finitude, in fact, is the one thing of which 
Dr. Cox consents to think. But the very point of the meaning is 
that no end is visible. ^Eonian time is time that fills the mind and 
imagination to the furthest horizon and beyond it ; there is no ulterior 


which there is no light at all. What God says to us 
in all Scripture, from beginning to end, is not, Sooner 
or later? but, Life or death ? These are the alternatives 
before us ; they are absolutely separate ; they do not 
run into one another at any time, the most remote. It 
is necessary to speak the more earnestly of this matter, 
because there is a disposition, on the plea that it is 
impossible for us to divide men into two classes, to blui 
or even to obliterate the distinction between Christian 
and non-christian. Many things prompt us to make 
the difference merely one of quantity — a more or less 
of conformity to some ideal standard — in which case, 
of course, a little more, or a little less, is of no great 
account. But that only means that we never take the 
distinction between being right with God, and being 
wrong with God, as seriously as God takes it ; with 
Him it is simply infinite. The difference between those 
who obey, and those who do not obey, the gospel, is 
not the difference of a little better and a little worse ; 
it is the difference of Hfe and death. If there is any 
truth in Scripture at all, this is true — that those who 
stubbornly refuse to submit to the gospel, and to love 
and obey Jesus Christ, incur at the Last Advent an 
infinite and irreparable loss. They pass into a night 
on which no morning dawns. 

This final ruin is here described as separation from 
the face of the Lord and the glory of His might. In 


both the Old Testament and the New, the vision of 
God is the consummation of blessedness. Thus we 
read in one psalm, " Before Thy face is fulness of joy " ; 
in another, "As for me, I shall behold Thy face in up- 
rightness : I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy 
likeness." In one of the Gospels, our Saviour says 
that in heaven the angels of the little ones do always 
behold the face of their Father who is in heaven ; and 
in the Book of Revelation it is the crown of joy that His 
servants shall serve Him and shall see His face. From 
all this joy and blessedness they condemn themselves 
to exclusion who know not God, and disobey the gospel 
of our Lord Jesus Christ. Far from the face of the 
Lord and the glory of His power, their portion is in the 
outer darkness. 

But in vivid contrast with this — for the Apostle does 
not close with this terrible prospect — is the lot of those 
who have chosen the good part here. Christ is revealed 
taking vengeance on the wicked, as has just been des- 
cribed ; but He comes also to be glorified in His saints 
and to be admired in all them that believed — including 
those Christians at Thessalonica. This is the Lord's 
and the Christian's interest in the great day. The 
glory that shines from Him is mirrored in and reflected 
from them. If there is a glory of the Christian even 
while he wears the body of his humihation, it will be 
swallowed up in a glorj mere excellent when his 


change comes. Yet that glory will not be his own : it 
will be the glory of Christ which has transfigured him ; 
men and angels, as they look at the saints, will admire 
not them, but Him who has made them anew in the 
likeness of Himself. All this is to take place " on that 
day " — the great and terrible day of the Lord. The 
voice of the Apostle rests with emphasis upon it ; let 
it fill our minds and hearts. It is a day of revelation, 
above all things : the day on which Christ comes, 
and declares which life is eternally of worth, and 
which for ever worthless ; the day on which some are 
glorified, and some pass finally fiom our view. Do not 
let the difficulties and mysteries of this subject, the 
problems we cannot solve, the decisions we could not 
give, blind our eyes to what Scripture makes so plain : 
we are not the judges, but the judged, in this whole 
scene ; and the judgment is of infinite consequence 
for us. It is not a question of less or m.ore, of sooner 
or later, of better or worse ; what is at stake in our 
attitude to the gospel is life or death, heaven or hell, 
the outer darkness cr the glory of Christ. 




"Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord 
Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto Ilim ; to the end that ye 
be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by 
spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord 
is now present ; let no man beguile you in any wise : for it will not be, 
except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the 
son of perdition, he that opposeth and exalteth himself against all that 
is called God or that is worshipped ; so that he sitteth in the temple of 
God, setting himself forth as God. Remember ye not, that, when I was 
yet with you, I told you these things?" — 2 Thess. ii. 1-5 (R.V.). 




T N the first chapter of this Epistle Paul depicted the 
righteous judgment of God which accompanies the 
advent of Christ. Its terrors and its glories blazed 
before his eyes as he prayed for those who were to 
read his letter. " With this in view," he says, " we also 
pray always for you, that our God would count you 
worthy of the calling." The emphatic word in the sen- 
tence IS you. Among all believers in whom Christ was 
to be glorified, as they in Him, the Thessalonians were 
at this moment nearest to the Apostle's heart. Like 
others, they had been called to a place in the heavenly 
kingdom ; and he is eager that they should prove worthy 
of it. They will be worthy only if God powerfully 
carries to perfection in them their delight in goodness, 
and the activities of their faith. That is the substance 
of his prayer. " The Lord enable you always to have 
unreserved pleasure in what is good, and to show the 
proof of faith in all you do. So you shall be worthy 
of the Christian calling, and the name of the Lord shall 
be glorified in you, and you in Him, in that day." 

305 20 


The second chapter seems, in our English Bibles, 
to open with an adjuration : " Now we beseech you, 
brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and 
by our gathering together unto Him." If that were 
right, we might suppose Paul's meaning to be : As you 
long for this great day, and anticipate its appearing as 
your dearest hope, let me conjure you not to entertain 
mischievous fancies about it ; or, as 3'ou dread the day, 
and shrink from the terrible judgment which it brings, 
let me adjure you to think of it as 3'ou ought to think, 
and not discredit it by unspiritual excitement, bringing 
reproach on the Church in the eyes of the world. 
But this interpretation, though apt enough, is hardly 
justified by the use of the New Testament, and the 
Revised Version is nearer the truth when it gives the 
rendering " touching the coming of our Lord Jesus 
Christ." It is of it the Apostle wishes to speak ; and 
what he has to say is, that the true doctrine of it 
contains nothing which ought to produce unsettlement 
or vague alarms. In the First Epistle, especially in 
chap, v., he has enlarged on the moral attitude which 
is proper to those who cherish the Christian hope : 
they are to watch and be sober; they are to put off 
the works of darkness, and put on, as children of the 
day, the armour of light ; they are to be ready and 
expectant always. Here he adds the negative counsel 
that they are not to be quickly shaken from their mind, 


as a ship is driven from her moorings by a storm, nor 
yet upset or troubled, whether by spirit, or by word 
or letter purporting to be from him. These last ex- 
pressions need a word of explanation. By " spirit " 
the Apostle no doubt means a Christian man speaking 
in the church under a spiritual impulse. Such 
speakers in Thessalonica would often take the Second 
Advent as their theme ; but their utterances were open 
to criticism. It was of such utterances that the Apostle 
had said in his earlier letter, " Despise not prophcsyings; 
but prove all that is said, and hold fast that which is 
good." The spirit in which a Christian spoke was not 
necessarily the spirit of God ; even if it were, it was 
not necessarily unmixed with his own ideas, desires, 
or hopes. Hence discernment of spirits was a valued 
and needful gift, and it seems to have been wanted at 
Thessalonica. Besides misleading utterances of this 
kind in public worship, there were circulated words 
ascribed to Paul, and if not a forged letter, at all 
events a letter purporting to contain his opinion, none 
of which had his authority. These words and this letter 
had for their substance the idea that the day of the 
Lord was now present — or, as one might say in Scotch, 
just here. It was this which produced the unspiritual 
excitement at Thessalonica, and which the Apostle 
wished to contradict. 

A great mystery has been made out of the paragraph 


which follows, but without much reason. It certainly 
stands alone in St. Paul's writings, an Apocalypse on a 
small scale, reminding us in many respects of the great 
Apocalypse of John, but not necessarily to be judged 
by it, or brought into any kind of harmony with it. 
Its obscurity, so far as it is obscure, is due in part to 
the previous famiharity of the Thessalonians with the 
subject, which allowed the Apostle to take much for 
granted ; and in part, no doubt, to the danger of being 
explicit in a matter which had political significance. 
But it is not really so obscure as it has been made out 
to be by some ; and the reputation for humility which 
so many have sought, by adopting St. Augustine's con- 
fession that he had no idea what the Apostle meant, is 
too cheap to be coveted. We must suppose that St. 
Paul wrote to be understood, and was understood by 
those to whom he wrote ; and if we follow him word by 
word, a sense will appear which is not really question- 
able except on extraneous grounds. What, then, does 
he say about the delaying of the Advent ? 

He says it will not come till the falling away, or 
apostasy, has come first. The Authorised Version 
says " a " falling away, but that is wrong. The falling 
away was something familiar to the Apostle and his 
readers ; he was not introducing them to any new 
thought. But a falling away of whom ? or from what ? 
Some have suggested, of the members of the Christian 


Church from Christ ; ^ but it is quite plain from the 
whole passage, and especially from ver. 12 f., that the 
Apostle is contemplating a series of events in which 
the Church has no part but as a spectator. But the 
" apostasy " is clearly a religious defection ; though the 
word itself does not necessarily imply as much, the 
description of the falling away does ; and if it be not of 
Christians, it must be of the Jews ; the Apostle could 
not conceive of the heathen " who know not God " as 
falling away from Him. This apostasy reaches its 
height, finds its representative and hero, in the man 
of sin, or, as some MSS. have it, the man of lawless- 
ness. When the Apostle says the man of sin, he 
means the man, — not a principle, nor a system, nor a 
series of persons, but an individual human person who 
is identified with sin, an incarnation of evil as Christ 

' There are indications of such a thing in various words of Jesus. 

Many false prophets shall arise, and sliall lead many astray. And 
because iniquity shall be multiplied, the love of the many shall wax cold." 
— Matt. xxiv. 1 1 f. " There shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, 
and shall show great signs and wonders ; so as to lead astray, if possible, 
even the elect." — Matt. xxiv. 24. " When the Son of Man cometh, 
shall He find faith on the earth ? " — Luke xviii. 8. What answers to 
these in St, Paul's writings we see in Acts xx. 29 f. ; Eph. iv. 14; i 
Tim. iv. I. But these passages belong to the very latest years in his 
life, and they are not connected with any such anticipations as are 
characteristic of the Thessalonian Apocalypse. The history of the 
Church, as Paul foresaw it, did not include in itself a phenomenon which 
could be described as ?'; droo-Tao-i'a, 


was of good, an Antichrist. The man of sin is also 
the son of perdition ; this name expressing his fate 
— he is doomed to perish — as the other his nature. 
This person's portrait is then drawn by the Apostle. 
He is the adversary par excellence, he who sets himself 
in opposition, a human Satan, the enemy of Christ. 
The other features in the likeness are mainly borrowed 
from the description of the tyrant king Antiochus 
Epiphanes in the Book of Daniel: they may have gained 
fresh meaning to the Apostle from the recent revival of 
them in the insane Emperor Caligula. The man of sin 
is filled with demoniac pride ; he lifts himself on high 
against the true God, and all gods, and all that men 
adore ; he seats himself in the temple of God ; he 
would like to be taken by all men for God. There has 
been much discussion over the temple of God in this 
passage. It is no doubt true that the Apostle sometimes 
uses the expression figuratively, of a church and its 
members — " The temple of God is holy, which temple 
ye are " — but it is surely inconceivable that a man 
should take his seat in that temple ; when these words 
were fresh, no one could have put that meaning on 
them. The temple of God is, therefore, the temple at 
Jerusalem ; it was standing when Paul wrote ; and he 
expected it to stand till all this was fulfilled. When 
the Jews had crowned their guilt by falling away from 
God ; in other words, when they had finally and as a 


whole decided against the gospel, and God's purpose 
to save them by it ; when the faUing away had been 
crowned by the revelation of the man of sin, and the 
profanation of the temple by his impious pride, then, 
and not till then, would come the end. " Do you not 
remember," says the Apostle, " that when I was with 
you I used to tell you this ? " 

When Paul wrote this Epistle, the Jev/s were the 
great enemies of the gospel ; it was they who perse- 
cuted him from city to city, and roused against him 
everywhere the malice of the heathen ; hostility to God 
was incarnated, if anywhere, in them. They alone, 
because of their spiritual privileges, were capable of 
the deepest spiritual sin. Already in the First Epistle 
he has denounced them as the murderers of the Lord 
Jesus and of their own prophets, a race that please not 
God and are contrary to all men, sinners on whom the 
threatened wrath has come without reserve. In the 
passage before us the course is outlined of that wicked- 
ness against which the wrath was revealed. The 
people of God, as they called themselves, fall definitely 
away from God ; the monster of lawlessness who rises 
from among them can only be pictured in the words in 
which prophets pourtra3^ed the impiety and presump- 
tion of a heathen king ; he thrusts God aside, and 
claims to be God himself 

There is only one objection to this interpretation 


of the Apostle's words, namely, that they have never 
been fulfilled. Some will think that objection final ; 
and some will think it futile : I agree with the last. 
It proves too much ; for it lies equally against every 
other interpretation of the words, however ingenious, 
as well as against the simple and natural one just 
given. It lies, in some degree, against almost every 
prophecy in the Bible. No matter what the apostasy, 
and the man of sin, are taken to be, nothing has 
ever appeared in history which answers exactly to 
Paul's description. The truth is that inspiration did 
not enable the apostles to write history before it 
happened ; and though this forecast of the Apostle's 
has a spiritual truth in it, resting as it does on a 
right perception of the law of moral development, 
the precise anticipation which it embodies was not 
destined to be realised. \ Further, it must have 
changed its place in Paul's own mind within the next 
ten years ; for, as Dr. Farrar has observed, he barely 
alludes again to the Messianic surroundings (or 
antecedents) of a second personal advent. " He 
dwells more and more on the mystic oneness with 
Christ, less and less on His personal return. He 
speaks repeatedly of the indwelling presence of Christ, 
and the believer's incorporation with Him, and hardly 
at all of that visible meeting in the air which at this 
epoch was most prominent in his thoughts." 


But, it may be said, if this anticipation was not to 
be fulfilled, is it not altogether deceptive ? is it not 
utterly misleading that a prophecy should stand in 
Holy Scripture which history was to falsify ? I think 
the right answer to that question is that there is 
hardly any prophecy in Holy Scripture which has 
not been in a similar way falsified, while nevertheless 
in its spiritual import true. The details of this pro- 
phecy of St. Paul were not verified as he anticipated, 
yet the soul of it was. The Advent was not just then ; 
it was delayed till a certain moral process should be 
accomplished ; and this was what the Apostle wished 
the Thessalonians to understand. He did not know 
when it would be ; but he could see so far into the 
law of God's working as to know that it would not 
come till the fulness of time ; and he could under- 
stand that, where a final judgment was concerned, 
the fulness of time would not arrive till evil had had 
every opportunity, either to turn and repent, or to 
develop itself in the most utterly evil forms, and lie 
ripe for vengeance. 

This is the ethical law which underlies the Apostle's 
prophecy ; it is a law confirmed by the teaching of 
Jesus Himself, and illustrated by the whole course 
of history. The question is sometimes discussed 
whether the world gets better or worse as it grows 
older, and optimists and pessimists take opposite sides 


upon it. Both, this law informs us, are wrong. It 
does not get better only, nor worse only, but both. 
Its progress is not simply a progress in good, evil 
being gradually driven from the field ; nor is it simply 
a progress in evil, before which good continually 
disappears : it is a progress in which good and evil 
alike come to maturity, bearing their ripest fruit, 
showing all that they can do, proving their strength 
to the utmost against each other ; the progress is not 
in good in itself, nor in evil in itself, but in the 
antagonism of the one to the other. This is the 
same truth which we are taught by our Lord in the 
parable of the wheat and the tares : "Let both grow 
together until the harvest : and in the time of harvest 
I will say to the reapers, Gather up first the tares," 
etc. In the time of harvest: not till all is ripe for 
judgment, not till the wheat and the tares ahke 
have shown all that is in them, will the judgment 
come. This is what St. Paul understood, and what the 
Thessalonians did not understand ; and if his ignorance 
of the scale of the world, and the scale of God's 
purposes, made him apply this law to the riddle of 
history hastily, with a result which the event has not 
justified, that is nothing to the prejudice of the law 
itself, which was true when he applied it with his 
imperfect knowledge, and is true for application still. 
One oUier remark is suggested by the description 


of the character in which sin culminates, viz., that 
as evil approaches its height it assumes ever more 
spiritual forms. There are some sins which betray 
man on the lower side of his nature, through the per- 
version of the appetites which he has in common with 
the brutes : the dominance of these is in some sense 
natural ; they are not radically and essentially evil. 
The man who is the victim of lust or drunkenness may 
lose his soul by his sin, but he is its viciim ; there is 
not in his guilt that malignant hatred of good which 
is here ascribed to the man of sin. The crowning 
wickedness is this demoniac pride : the temper of one 
who lifts himself on high above God, owning no 
superior, nay, claiming for himself the highest place of 
all. This is rather spiritual than sensual : it may be 
quite free from the gross vices of the flesh, though the 
connection between pride and sensuality is closer than 
is sometimes imagined ; but it is more conscious, 
deliberate, malignant, and damnable than any brutality 
could be. When we look at the world in any given 
age — our own or another — and make inquiry into its 
moral condition, this is a consideration which we are 
apt to lose sight of, but which is entitled to the utmost 
weight. The collector of moral statistics examines the 
records of criminal courts; he investigates the standard 
of honesty in commerce ; he balances the evidences of 
peace, truth, purity, against those of violence, fraud, 


and immorality, and works out a rough conclusion. 
But that material morality leaves out of sight what 
is most significant of all — the spiritual forms of good 
and of evil in which the opposing forces show their 
inmost nature, and in which the world ripens for God's 
judgment. The man of sin is not described as a 
sensualist or a murderer; he is an apostate, a rebel 
against God, a usurper who claims not the palace but 
the temple for his own. This God-dethroning pride 
is the utmost length to which sin can go. The judg- 
ment will not come till it has fully developed ; can any 
one see tokens of its presence ? 

In asking such a question we pass from the inter- 
pretation of the Apostle's words to their apphcation. 
Much of the difficulty and bewilderment that have 
gathered about this passage are due to the confusion 
of these two quite different things.-' The interpretation 
gives us the meaning of the very vv^ords the Apostle 
used. We have seen what that is, and that in its 
precise detail it was not destined to be fulfilled. But 
when we have passed behind the surface meaning, and 
laid hold on the law which the Apostle was applying 
in this passage, then we can apply it ourselves. We 

' A conspectus of the historical interpretations, most of which are 
really applications, of this passage, is given in mo>t commentaries. The 
Rillest is Liinemann's, which is followed by Alford, Farrar's Appendix 
is briefer, 


can use it to read the signs of the times in our own 
or in any other age. We may see developments of 
evil, resembUng in their main features the man of sin 
here depicted, in one quarter or another, and in one 
person or another ; and if we do, we are bound to see 
in them tokens that a judgment of God is at hand ; but 
we must not imagine that in so applying the passage 
we are finding out what St. Paul meant. That lies 
far, far behind us ; and our application of his words 
can only claim our own authority, not the authority 
of Holy Scripture. 

Of the multitude of applications which have been 
made of this passage since the Apostle wrote it, one 
only has had historical importance enough to be of 
interest to us — I mean that which is found in several 
Protestant confessions, including the Westminster 
Confession of Faith, and which declares the Pope of 
Rome, in the words of this last, to be " that Antichrist, 
that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth 
himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is 
called God." As an interpretation, of course, that is 
impossible ; the man of sin is one man, and not a 
series, like the Popes ; the temple of God in which 
a man sits is a temple made with hands, and not the 
Church ; but when we ask whether or not it is a fair 
application of the Apostle's words, the question is altered. 
Dr. Farrar, whom no one will suspect of sympathy 


with the Papacy, is indignant that such an uncharitable 
idea should ever have crossed the mind of man. Many 
in the churches which hold by the Westminster 
Confession would agree with him. Of course it is a 
matter on which every one is entitled to judge for 
himself, and, whether right or wrong, ought not to be 
in a confession ; but for my own part I have little 
scruple in the matter. There have been Popes who 
could have sat for Paul's picture of the man of sin 
better than any characters known to history — proud, 
apostate, atheist priests, sitting in the seat of Christ, 
blasphemously claiming His authority, and exercising 
His functions. And individuals apart — for there have 
been saintly and heroic Popes as well, true servants ot 
the servants of God — the hierarchical system of the 
Papacy, with the monarchical priest at its head, incar- 
nates and fosters that very spiritual pride of which the 
man of sin is the final embodiment ; it is a seed-bed 
and nursery of precisely such characters as are here 
described. There is not in the world, nor has ever 
been, a system in which there is less that recalls Christ, 
and more that anticipates Antichrist, than the Papal 
system. And one may say so while acknowledging 
the debt that all Christians owe to the Romish Church, 
and while hoping that it may somehow in God's grace 
repent and reform. 

It would ill become us, however, to close the study 

tHE MAN OF SIN. 319 

of so serious a subject with the censure of others. 
The mere discovery that we have here to do with a 
law of moral development, and with a supreme and 
final type of evil, should put us rather upon self- 
scrutiny. The character of our Lord Jesus Christ is 
the supreme and final type of good ; it shows us the 
end to which the Christian life conducts those who 
follow it. The character of the man of sin shows 
the end of those who obey not His gospel. They 
become, in their resistance to Him, more and more 
identified with sin ; their antagonism to God settles 
into antipathy, presumption, defiance ; they become 
gods to themselves, and their doom is sca'ed. This 
picture is set here for our warning. We cannot of 
ourselves see the end of evil from the beginning; we 
cannot tell what selfishness and wilfulness come to, 
when they have had their perfect work ; but God sees, 
and it is written in this place to startle us, and fright 
us from sin. "Take heed, brethren, lest haply there 
shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, 
in falling away from the living God : but exhort one 
another day by day, so long as it is called To-day ; 
lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness 
of sin." 



S«' 27 

" And now ye know that which restraineth to the end that he may 
be revealed in his own season. For the mystery of lawlessness doth 
already work : only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken 
out of the way. And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the 
Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of His mouth, and bring to nought 
by the manifestation of His coming ; even he, whose coming is accord- 
ing to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 
and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that are perishing; 
because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be 
saved. And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that 
they should believe a lie : that they all might be judged who believed 
not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." — 2 TllESS. ii. 6-12 




/ *HRIST cannot come, the Apostle has tdd us, 
^-^ until the falling away has first come, and the 
man of sin been revealed. In the verses before us, we 
are told that the man of sin himself cannot come, in 
the full sense of the word, he cannot be revealed in 
his true character of the counter-Christ, till a restrain- 
ing force, known to the Thessalonians, but only 
obscurely alluded to by the Apostle, is taken out of 
the way. The Last Advent is thus at two removes 
from the present. First, there must be the removal 
of the power which holds the man of sin in check ; 
then the culmination of evil in that great adversary 
of God ; and not till then the return of the Lord in 
glory as Saviour and Judge. 

We might think that this put the Advent to such a 
distance as practically to disconnect it from the pre- 
sent, and make it a matter of little interest to the 
Christian. But, as we have seen already, what is 
significant in this whole passage is the spiritual law 



which governs the future of the world, the law that 
good and evil must ripen together, and in conflict with 
each other ; and it is involved in tJiat law that the 
final state of the world, which brings on the Advent, is 
latent, in all its principles and spiritual features, in the 
present. That day is indissolubly connected with this. 
The life that we now live has all the importance, and 
ought to have all the intensity, which comes from its 
bearing the future in its bosom. Through the eyes of 
this New Testament prophet we can see the end from 
the beginning ; and the day on which we happen to 
read his words is as critical, in its own nature, as the 
great day of the Lord. 

The end, the Apostle tells us, is at some distance, 
but it is preparing. " The mystery of lawlessness doth 
already work." The forces which are hostile to God, 
and which are to break out in the great apostasy, and 
the insane presumption of the man of sin, are even 
now in operation, but secretly. They are not visible 
to the careless, or to the infatuated, or to the spiritually 
blind ; but the Apostle can discern them. Taught by 
the Spirit to read the signs of the times, he sees in 
the world around him symptoms of forces, secret, un- 
organised, to some extent inscrutable, yet unmistakable 
in their character. They are the beginnings of the 
apostasy, the first workings, fettered as yet and bafQed, 
of the power which is to set itself in the place of God. 


He sees also, and has already told the Thessalonians, 
of another power of an opposite character. " Ye know," 
he says, " that which restraineth . . . only tliere is one 
that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way." 
This restraining power is spoken of both in the neuter 
and the masculine, both as a principle or institution, 
and as a person ; and there is no reason to doubt 
that those fathers of the Church are right who identified 
it with the Empire of Rome and its sovereign head. 
The apostasy was to take place among the Jews ; and 
the Apostle saw that Rome and its Emperor were the 
grand restraint upon the violence of that stubborn race. 
The Jews had been his worst enemies, ever since he 
had embraced the cause of the Nazarene Messiah 
Jesus; and all that time the Romans had been his 
best friends. If injustice had been done him in theii 
name, as at Philippi, atonement had been made ; and, 
on the whole, he had owed to them his protection 
against Jewish persecution. He felt sure that his 
own experience was typical ; the final development of 
hatred to God and all that was on God's side could 
not but be restrained so long as the power of Rome 
stood firm. That power was a sufficient check upon 
anarchic violence. While it held its ground, the powers 
of evil could not organise themselves and work openly ; 
they constituted a mystery of iniquity, working, as it 
were, underground. But when this great restraint was 


removed, all that had been labouring so long in secret 
would come suddenly to view, in its full dimensions ; 
the lawless one would stand revealed. 

But, it may be asked, could Paul imagine that the 
Roman power, as represented by the Emperor, was 
likely to be removed witliin any measurable time ? 
Was it not the very t3'pe and symbol of all that was 
stable and perpetual in man's life ? In one way, it 
was ; and as at least a temporary check on the final 
eruption of wickedness, it is here recognised to have 
a degree of stability ; but it was certainly not eternal. 
Paul may have seen plainly enough in such careers as 
those of Caligula and Claudius the impending collapse 
of the Julian dynasty ; and the very obscurity and 
reserve with which he expresses himself amount to a 
distinct proof that he has something in his mind which 
it was not safe to describe more plainly. Dr. Farrar 
has pointed to the remarkable correspondence between 
this passage, interpreted of the Roman Empire, and a 
paragraph in Josephus, in which that historian explains 
the visions of Daniel to his pagan readers. Josephus 
shows that the image with the head of gold, the breast 
and arms of silver, the belly and thighs of brass, and 
the ankles and feet of iron, represents a succession of 
four empires. He names the Babylonian as the first, 
and indicates plainly that the Medo-Persian and the 
Greek are the second and third ; but when he comes 


to the fourth, which is destroyed by the stone cut out 
without hands, he does not venture, as all his country- 
men did, to identify it with the Roman. That would 
have been disloyal in a courtier, and dangerous as 
well ; so he remarks, when he comes to the point, 
that he thinks it proper to say nothing about the stone 
and the kingdom it destroys, his duty as a historian 
being to record what is past and gone, and not what 
is yet to come. In a precisely similar way does St. 
Paul here hint at an event which it would have been 
perilous to name. But what he means is : When the 
Roman power has been removed, the lawless one 
will be revealed, and the Lord will come to destroy 

What was said of the man of sin in the last lecture 
has again its application here. The Roman Empire 
did not fall within any such period as Paul anticipated; 
nor, when it did, was there any such crisis as he 
describes. The man of sin was not revealed, and the 
Lord did not come. But these are the human elements 
in the prophecy ; and its interest and meaning for us 
lie in the description which an inspired writer gives 
of the final forms of wickedness, and their connection 
with principles which were at work around him, and 
are at work among us. He does not, indeed, come to 
these at once. He passes over them, and anticipates 
the final victory, when the Lord shall destroy the man 


of sin with tlie breath of His mouth, and bring him to 
nought by the appearance of His coming ; he would 
not have Christian men face the terrible picture of 
the last workings of evil until they have braced and 
comforted their hearts with the prospect of a crowning 
victory. There is a great battle to be fought ; there 
are great perils to be encountered ; there is a prospect 
with something in it appalling to the bravest heart ; 
but there is light beyond. It needs but the breath 
of the Lord Jesus ; it needs but the first ray of His 
glorious appearing to brighten the sky, and all the 
power of evil is at an end. Onl}' after he has fixed 
the mind on this does St. Paul describe the supreme 
efforts of the enemy. 

His coming, he says — and he uses the word applied 
to Christ's advent, as though to teach us that the event 
in question is as significant for evil as the other for 
good — his coming is according to the working of Satan. 
When Christ was in the world, His presence with men 
was according to the working of God ; the works that 
the Father gave Him to do, the same He did, and 
nothing else. His life was the life of God entering 
into our ordinary human fife, and drawing into its own 
mighty and eternal current all who gave themselves up 
to Him. It was the supreme form of goodness, abso- 
lutely tender and faithful ; using all the power of the 
Highest in pure unselfishness and truth. When sin 


has reached its height, we shall see a character in 
whom all this is reversed. Its presence with men 
will be according to the working of Satan ; not an 
ineffective thing, but very potent ; carrying in its train 
vast effects and consequences ; so vast and so in- 
fluential, in spite of its utter badness, that it is no 
exaggeration to describe its "coming" (jrapouaio), 
its " appearing " (i7rL(j)di'ei,a), and its " revelation " 
{u7roKd\vylri<;), by the very same words which are 
applied to Christ Himself. If there is one word 
which can characterise this whole phenomenon, 
both in its principle and in its consummation, it 
is falsehood. The devil is a liar from the beginning, 
and the father of lies ; and where things go on ac- 
cording to the working of Satan, there is sure to be 
a vast development of falsehood and delusion. This 
is a prospect which very few fear. Most of us are 
confident enough of the soundness of our minds, of 
the solidity of our principles, of the justice of our 
consciences. It is very difficult for us to understand 
that we can be mistaken, quite as confident about 
falsehood as about truth, unsuspecting victims of pure 
delusion. We can see that some men are in this 
wretched plight, but that very fact seems to give us 
immunity. Yet the falsehoods of the last days, St. 
Paul tells us, will be marvellously imposing and suc- 
cessful. Men will be dazzled by th^m, and unable to 


resist. Satan will support his representative by power 
and signs and wonders of every description, agreeing 
in nothing but in the characteristic quality of falsehood. 
They will be lying miracles. Yet those who are of the 
truth will not be left without a safeguard against them, 
a safeguard found in this, that the manifold deceit of 
every kind which the devil and his agents employ, is 
deceit of unrighteousness. It furthers unrighteous- 
ness ; it has evil as its end. By this it is betrayed to 
the good ; its moral quality enables them to penetrate 
the lie, and to make their escape from it. However 
plausible it may seem on other grounds, its true 
character comes out under the touchstone of conscience, 
and it stands finally condemned. 

This is a point for consideration in our own time. 
There is a great deal of falsehood in circulation — partly 
superstitious, partly quasi-scientific— which is not 
judged with the decision and severity that would be 
becoming in wise and good men. Some of it is more 
or less latent, working as a mystery of iniquity ; 
influencing men's souls and consciences rather than 
their thoughts ; disinclining them to prayer, suggesting 
difficulties about believing in God, giving the material 
nature the primacy over the spiritual, ignoring immor- 
tahty and the judgment to come. The man knows 
very little, who does not know that there is a plausible 
case to be stated for atheism, for materialism, for 


fatalism, for the rejection of all belief in the life beyond 
the grave, and its connection with our present life ; but 
however powerful and plausible the argument may be, 
he has been very careless of his spiritual nature, who 
does not see that it is a deceit of unrighteousness. I 
do not say that only a bad man could accept it ; but 
certainly all that is bad in any man, and nothing that 
is good, will incline him to accept it. Everything in 
our nature that is unspiritual, slothful, earthly, at 
variance with God; everything that wishes to be let 
alone, to forget what is high, to make the actual and 
not the ideal its portion ; everything that recalls 
responsibilities of which such a system would dis- 
charge us for ever, is on the side of its doctrines. But 
is not that itself a conclusive argument against the 
system ? Are not all these most suspicious allies ? 
Are they not, beyond dispute, our very worst enemies? 
and can it be possible that a way of thinking is true, 
which gives them undisputed authority over us ? Do 
not believe it. Do not let any plausibility of argument 
impose upon you ; but when the moral issue of a 
theory is plainly immoral, when by its working it is 
betrayed to be the leaven of the Sadducees, reject it 
as a diabolical deceit. Trust your conscience, that is, 
your whole nature, with its instinct for what is good, 
rather than any dialectic ; it contains far more of what 
you are ; and it is the whole man, and not the most 


unstable and self-confident of his faculties, that must 
judge. If there is nothing against a spiritual truth 
but the difficulty of conceiving how it can be, do not 
let that mental incapacity weigh against the evidence 
of its fruits. 

The Apostle points to this line of thought, and 
to this safeguard of the good, when he says that those 
who come -under the power of this vast working of 
falsehood are those who are perishing, because they 
received not the love of the truth that they might 
be saved. But for this clause we might have said, 
Why expose men, defenceless, to such a terrific trial 
as is here depicted ? Why expect weak, bewildered, 
unstable creatures to keep their feet, when falsehood 
comes in like a flood ? But such queries would show 
that we mistook the facts. None are carried away by 
the prevailing falsehood but those who received not the 
love of the truth that they might be saved. It is a 
question, we see, not of the intelligence simply, but of 
the whole man. He does not say, They received not 
the truth ; that might have been due to some cause 
over which they had no control. They might never 
have had so much as a good look at the truth ; they 
might have got an incurable twist in their education, 
a flaw in their minds like a flaw in a mirror, that 
prevented them from ever seeing what the truth was 
like. These would be cases to stand apart. But he 


says, " They received not the love of the truth." That 
truth which is presented for our acceptance in the 
gospel is not merely a thing to scrutinise, to weigh, 
to judge by the rules of the bench or the jury box : 
it is a truth which appeals to the heart ; from cultured 
and uncultured, from the clear-headed and the puzzle- 
headed, from the philosopher and the message boy, 
it demands the answer of love. It is this which is 
the true test of character — the answer which is given, 
not by the brain, discipHned or undisciplined, but 
by the whole man, to the revelation of the truth in 
Jesus Christ. Intelligence, by itself, may be a very 
little matter ; all that some men have is but a tool 
in the hands of their passions ; but the love of the 
truth, or its opposite, shows truly what we are. 
Those who love it are safe. They cannot love false- 
hood at the same time; all the lies of the devil and 
his agents are powerless to do them any harm. Satan, 
we see here, has no advantage over us that we do not 
first give him. The absence of liking for the truth, 
want of sympathy with Christ, a disposition to find less 
exacting ways than His, a resolution to find them 
or to make them, ending in a positive antipathy to 
Christ and to all the truth which He teaches and 
embodies, — these give the enemy his opportunity and 
his advantage over us. Put it to yourself in this 
light if you wish to discern your true attitude to the 


gospel. You may have difficulties and perplexities 
about it on one side or another ; it runs out into 
mystery on every hand ; but these will not expose 
you to the danger of being deceived, as long as you 
receive the love of it in your heart. It is a thing to 
command love ; the truth as truth is in Jesus. All 
that is good in us is enhsted in its favour ; not to 
love it is to be a bad man. A recent Unitarian 
lecturer has said that to love Jesus is not a religious 
duty ; but that is certainly not a New Testament 
doctrine. It is not only a religious duty, but the 
sum of all such duties ; to do it, or not to do it, is 
the decisive test of character, and the arbiter of fate. 
Does not He Himself say — He who is the Truth— 
"He that loveth father or mother more than Me is 
not worthy of Me " ? Does not His Apostle say, " If 
any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be 
anathema"? Depend upon it, love to Him is all our 
goodness, and all our defence against the powers of 
evil. To grow cold and indifferent is to give the 
enemy of our souls an opening against us. 

The last two verses in this passage are very 
striking. We have seen already two agents in the 
destruction of men's souls. They perish by their 
own agency, in that they do not welcome and love 
the truth ; and they perish by the malevolence of the 
devil, who avails himself of this disUke to the truth to 


befool them by falsehood, and lead them ever further 
and further astray. But here we have a third agent, 
most surprising of all, God Himself. " For this cause 
God sendeth them a working of error, that they should 
believe a lie: that they all might be judged who believed 
not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." 
Is God, then, the author of falsehood ? Do the 
delusions that possess the minds of men, and lead 
them to eternal ruin, owe their strength to Him ? Can 
He intend anybody to beheve a lie, and especially a 
lie with such terrific consequences as are here in view ? 
The opening words — " for this cause " — supply the 
answer to these questions. For this cause, i.e., because 
they have not loved the truth, but in their liking for 
evil have turned their backs upon it, for this cause 
God's judgment comes upon them, binding them to 
their guilt. Nothing is more certain, however we may 
choose to express it, than the word of the wise man : 
" His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and 
he shall be holden with the cords of his sin." He 
chooses his own way, and he gets his fill of it. He 
loves the deceit of unrighteousness, the falsehood which 
delivers him from God and from His law; and by God's 
righteous judgment, acting through the constitution of 
our nature, he comes continually more and more under 
its power. He believes the lie, just as a good man 
believes the truth ; he becomes every day more hope- 


lessly beclouded in error ; and the end is that he is 
judged. The judgment is based, not on his intellectual, 
but on his moral state. It is true he has been deluded, 
but his delusion is due to this, that he had pleasure 
in unrighteousness. It was this evil in him which 
gave weight to the sophistries of Satan. 

Again and again in Scripture this is represented as 
the punishment of the wicked, that God gives them 
their own way, and infatuates them in it. The error 
works with ever greater power in their souls, till they 
cannot imagine that it is an error; none can deliver 
himself, or say, Is there not a lie in my right hand ? 
" My people would not hearken to My voice, and Israel 
would none of Me. So I gave them up unto their own 
hearts' lust : and they walked in their own counsels." 
" When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, 
neither were thankful ; . . . wherefore God gave them 
up to uncleanness." " They changed the truth of God 
into a lie ; . . . for this cause God gave them up unto 
vile affections." " They did not like to retain God in 
their knowledge. . . . God gave them over to a reprobate 
mind." " They received not the love of the truth : and 
for this cause God sendeth unto them a working of 
error." Sin bears its punishment in itself; when it 
has had its perfect work, we see that it has been 
executing a judgment of God more awful than anything 
we could conceive. If you would have Him on your 


side, your ally and not your adversary, receive the 
love of the truth. 

This is the final lesson of the passage. We do not 
know all the forces that are at work in the world in the 
interest of error ; but we know there are many. We 
know that the mystery of iniquity is already in opera- 
tion. We know that falsehood, in this spiritual sense, 
has much in man which is its natural ally ; and that 
we need to be steadily on our guard against the wiles 
of the devil. We know that passion is sophistical, and 
reason often weak, and that we see our true selves in 
the action of heart and conscience. Be faithful, there- 
fore, to God at the core of your nature. Love the 
trufh that you may be saved. This alone is salvation. 
This alone is a safeguard against all the delusions of 
Satan ; it was one who knew God, who lived in God, 
who did always the works of God, who loved God as 
the only begotten Son the Father, who could say, " The 
prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me." 





" But we are bound to give thanks to God alway for you, brethren 
beloved of the Lord, for that God chose you from the beginning unto 
salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth : where- 
unto He called you through our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory 
nf our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the 
traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or by epistle of ours. 

"Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father which 
loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 
comfort your hearts and sUolish them in every good work and word." 
—2 Thess. ii. 13-17 (R.V.). 




*' I ^HE first part of this chapter is mysterious, awful, 
-^ and oppressive. It deals with the principle of 
evil in the world, its secret working, its amazing 
power, its final embodiment in the man of sin, and 
its decisive overthrow at the Second Advent. The 
characteristic action of this evil principle is deceit. It 
deludes men, and they become its victims. True, it 
can only delude those who lay themselves open to its 
approach by an aversion to the truth, and by delight 
in unrighteousness; but when we look round us, and 
see the multitude of its victims, we might easily be 
tempted to despair of our race. The Apostle does not 
do so. He turns away from that gloomy prospect, and 
fixes his eyes upon another, serene, bright, and joyful. 
There is a son of perdition, a person doomed to 
destruction, who will carry m.any to ruin in his train ; 
but there is a work of God going on in the world as 
well as a work of evil ; and it also has its triumphs. 
Let the mystery of iniquity work as it will, " we are 



bound to give thanks ahvay to God for you, brethren 
beloved of the Lord, for that God chose you from the 
beginning unto salvation^ 

The thirteenth and fourteenth verses of this chapter 
are a system of theology in miniature. The Apostle's 
thanksgiving covers the whole w^ork of salvation from 
the eternal choice of God to the obtaining of the glory 
of our Lord Jesus Christ in the world to come. Let 
us observe the several points which it brings out. As 
a thanksgiving, of course, God is the main subject in 
it. Every separate clause only serves to bring out 
another aspect of the fundamental truth that salvation 
is of the Lord. What aspects, then, of this truth are 
presented in turn ? 

(i) In the first place, the original idea of salvation 
is God's. He chose the Thessalonians to it from the 
beginning. There are really two assertions in this 
simple sentence — the one, that God chose them ; the 
other, that His choice is eternal. The first of these 
is obviously a matter on which there is an appeal to 
experience. These Christian men, and all Christian 
men, could tell whether it was true or not that they 
owed their salvation to God. In point of fact, there 
has never been any doubt about that matter in any 
church, or, indeed, in any religion. All good men have 
always believed that salvation is of the Lord. It begins 
on God's side. It can most truly be described from His 


side. Every Christian heart responds to the word of 
Jesus to the disciples: "Ye have not chosen Me, but 
I have chosen you." Every Christian heart feels the 
force of St. Paul's words to the Galatians : " After that 
ye have known God, or rather were known of God." 
It is His taking knowledge of us which is the original, 
fundamental, decisive thing in salvation. That is a 
matter of experience ; and so far the Calvinist doctrine 
of election, which has sometimes an unsubstantial, 
metaphysical aspect, has an experimental basis. We 
are saved, because God in His love has saved us; that 
is the starting-point. That also gives character, in all 
the Epistles, to the New Testament doctrine of election. 
The Apostle never speaks of the elect as an unknown 
quantity, a favoured few, hidden in the Church, or 
in the world, unknown to others or to themselves: 
"God," he says, "chose you,'" — the persons addressed 
in this letter, — " and you know that He did." So does 
every one who knows anything of God at all. Even 
when the Apostle says, "God chose you from the 
beginning," he does not leave the basis of experience. 
" Known unto God are all His works from the be- 
ginning of the world." The purpose of God's love to 
save men, which comes home to them in their reception 
of the gospel, is not a thing of to-day or yesterday; 
they know it is not ; it is the manifestation of His 
nature; it is as eternal as Himself; they can count on 


it as securely as they can on the Divine character ; if 
God has chosen them at all, He has chosen them from 
the beginning. The doctrine of election in Scripture 
is a religious doctrine, based upon experience ; it is 
only when it is separated from experience, and becomes 
metaph3'sical, and prompts men to ask whether they 
who have heard and received the gospel are elect 
or not — an impossible question on New Testament 
ground — that it works for evil in the Church. If you 
have chosen God, you know it is because He first 
chose you ; and His will revealed in that choice is the 
will of the Eternal. 

(2) Further, the means of salvation for men are of 
God. " He chose you," says the Apostle, " in sancti- 
fication of the Spirit and belief of the truth." Perhaps 
"means "is not the most precise word to use here; 
it might be better to say that sanctification wrought by 
the Spirit, and belief of the truth, are the state in which, 
rather than the means by which, salvation is realised. 
But what I wish to insist upon is, that both are included 
in the Divine choice ; they are the instruments or the 
conditions of carrying it into effect. And here, when 
we come to the accomplishment of God's purpose, we 
see how it combines a Divine and a human side. 
There is a sanctification, or consecration, wrought by 
the Spirit of God upon the spirit of man, the sign and 
seal of which is baptism, the entrance of the natural 


man into the new and higher life ; and coincident with 
this, there is the beHef of the truth, the acceptance 
of God's message of mercy, and the surrender of the 
soul to it. It is impossible to separate these two 
things, or to define their relation to each other. Some- 
times the first seems to condition the second ; some- 
times the order is reversed. Now it is the Spirit which 
opens the mind to the truth ; again it is the truth 
which exercises a sanctifying power like the Spirit. 
The two, as it were, interpenetrate each other. If the 
Spirit stood alone, man's mind would be baffled, his 
moral freedom would be taken away ; if the reception 
of the truth were everything, a cold, rationalistic type 
of religion would supplant the ardour of the New 
Testament Christian. The eternal choice of God 
makes provision, in the combination of the Spirit and 
the truth, at once for Divine influence and for human 
freedom ; for a baptism of fire and for the deliberate 
welcoming of revelation ; and it is when the two are 
actually combined that the purpose of God to save is 
accomplished. What can we say here on the basis of 
experience ? Have we believed the truth which God 
has declared to us in His Son ? Has its belief been 
accompanied and made effectual by a sanctification 
wrought by His Spirit, a consecration which has made 
the truth live in us, and made us new creatures in 
Christ ? God's choice does not become effective apart 


from this ; it comes out in this ; it secures its own 
accomplishment in this. His chosen are not chosen 
to salvation irrespective of any experience ; none are 
chosen except as they believe the truth and are sancti- 
fied by His Spirit. 

(3) Once more, the execution of the plan of salvation 
in time is of God. To this salvation, says Paul, He 
called you by our gospel. The apostles and their 
companions were but messengers : the message they 
brought was God's. The new truths, the warnings, 
the summonses, the invitations, all were His. The 
spiritual constraint which they exercised was His also. 
In speaking thus, the Apostle magnifies his office, and 
magnifies at the same time the responsibiUty of all 
who heard him preach. It is a light thing to listen 
to a man speaking his own thoughts, giving his own 
counsel, inviting assent to his own proposals ; it is a 
solemn thing to listen to a man speaking truly in the 
name of God. The gospel that we preach is ours, 
only because we preach it and because we receive it ; 
but the true description of it is, the gospel of God. It 
is His voice which proclaims the coming judgment; it 
is His voice which tells of the redemption which is in 
Christ Jesus, even the forgiveness of our trespasses ; 
it is His voice which invites all who are exposed to 
wrath, all who are under the curse and power of sin, 
to come to the Saviour. Paul had thanked God in the 


First Epistle that the Thessalonians had received his 
word, not as the word of man, but as what it was in 
truth, the word of the Hving God ; and here he falls 
back again on the same thought in a new connection. 
It is too natural for us to put God as far as we can 
out of our minds, to keep Him for ever in the back- 
ground, to have recourse to Him only in the last resort ; 
but that easily becomes an evasion of the seriousness 
and the responsibilities of our life, a shutting of our 
eyes to its true significance, for which we may have 
to pay dear. God has spoken to us all in His word 
and by His Spirit, — God, and not only some human 
preacher : see that ye despise not Him that speaketh. 
(4) Lastly, under this head, the end proposed to 
us in obeying the gospel call is of God. It is the 
obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul 
became a Christian and an Apostle, because he saw 
the Lord of Glory on the way to Damascus ; and 
his whole conception of salvation was shaped by that 
sight. To be saved meant to enter into that glory 
into which Christ had entered. It was a condition 
of perfect holiness, open only to those who were 
sanctified by Christ's Spirit ; but perfect holiness did 
not exhaust it. Holiness was manifested in glory, 
in a light surpassing the brightness of the sun, in a 
strength superior to every weakness, in a life no 
longer assailable by death. Weak, suffering, destitute 


— dying daily for Christ's sake — Paul saw salvation 
concentrated and summed up in the glcry of Christ. 
To obtain this was to obtain salvation. " When Christ 
who is our life shall appear," he says elsewhere, 
" then shall ye also appear with Him in glory." ** This 
corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal 
must put on immortality." If salvation were any- 
thing lower than this, there might be a plausible case 
to state for man as its author ; but reaching as it does 
to this immeasurable height, who can accomplish it 
but God ? It needs the operation of the might of His 
power which He wrought in Christ when He raised 
Him from the dead. 

One cannot read these two simple verses without 
wondering at the new world which the gospel created 
for the mind of man. What great thoughts are in 
them — thoughts that wander through eternity, thoughts 
based on the most sure and blessed of experiences, 
yet travelling back into an infinite past, and on into 
immortal glory ; thoughts of the Divine presence and 
the Divine power interpenetrating and redeeming 
human life; thoughts addressed originally to a little 
company of v/orking people, but unmatched for length 
and breadth and depth and height by all that pagan 
literature could offer to the wisest and the best. 
What a range and sweep there is in this brief summary 
of God's work in man's salvation. If the New 


Testament is uninteresting, can it be for any other 
reason than that we arrest ourselves at the words, 
and never penetrate to the truth which Hes beneath ? 

On this review of the work of God the Apostle 
grounds an exhortation to the Thessalonians. "So 
then, brethren," he writes, " stand fast, and hold the 
traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, 
or by epistle of ours." The objection that is brought 
against Calvinism is that it destroys every motive 
for action on our part, by destroying all need of it. 
If salvation is of the Lord, what is there for us to do ? 
If God conceived it, planned it, executes it, and alone 
can perfect it, what room is left for the interference 
of man ? This is a species of objection which would 
have appeared extremely perverse to the Apostle. 
Why, he would have exclaimed, if God left it to us to 
do, we might well sit down in despair and do nothing, 
so infinitely would the task exceed our powers ; but 
since the work of salvation is the work of God, since 
He Himself is active on that side, there is reason, 
hope, motive, for activity on our part also. If we 
work in the same line with Him, toward the same 
end with Him, our labour will not be cast away ; 
it will be triumphantly successful. God is at work ; 
but so far from that furnishing a motive to non- 
exertion on our part, it is the strongest of all motives 
to action. Work out your own salvation, not because 


it is left to you to do, but because it is God who is 
working in you both will and deed in furtherance 
of His good pleasure. Fall in, the Apostle virtually 
says in this place, with the purpose of God to save 
you ; identify yourselves with it ; stand fast, and hold 
the traditions which ye were taught. 

" Traditions " is an unpopular word in one section 
of the Church, because it has been so vastly abused 
in another. But it is not an illegitimate word in any 
church, and there is always a place for what it means. 
The generations are dependent on each other ; each 
transmits to the future the inheritance it has received 
from the past ; and that inheritance — embracing lav/s, 
arts, manners, morals, instincts, religion— can all be 
comprehended in the single word tradition. The 
gospel was handed over to the Thessalonians by St. 
Paul, partly in oral teaching, partly in writing ; it was 
a complex of traditions in the simplest sense, and 
they were not to let any part of it go. Extreme 
Protestants are in the habit of opposing Scripture to 
tradition. The Bible alone, they say, is our religion ; 
and w^e reject all unwritten authority. But, as a httle 
reflection will show, the Bible itself is, in the first 
instance, a part of tradition ; it is handed down to us 
from those who have gone before ; it is delivered to 
us as a sacred deposit by the Church ; and as such we 
at first regard it. There are good reasons, no doubt, 


for giving Scripture a fundamental and critical place 
among traditions. When its claim to represent the 
Christianity of the apostles is once made out, it is 
fairly regarded as the criterion of everything else that 
appeals to their authority. The bulk of so-called 
traditions in the Church of Rome are to be rejected, 
not because they are traditions, but because they are 
not traditions, but have originated in later times, and 
are inconsistent with what is known to be truly 
apostolic. We ourselves are bound to keep fast hold 
of all that connects us historically with the apostolic 
age. We would not disinherit ourselves. We would 
not lose a single thought, a single like or dislike, a 
single conviction or instinct, of all that proves us 
the spiritual posterity of Peter and Paul and John. 
Sectarianism destroys the historical sense ; it plays 
havoc with traditions; it weakens the feeling of spiritual 
affinity between the present and the past. The 
Reformers in the sixteenth century — the men like 
Luther, Melanchthon, and Calvin — made a great point 
of what they called their catholicity, i.e., their claim to 
represent the true Church of Christ, to be the lawful 
inheritors of apostolic tradition. They were right, 
both in their claim, and in their idea of its import- 
ance ; and we will suffer for it, if, in our eagerness for 
independence, we disown the riches of the past. 

The Apostle closes his exhortation with a prayer. 


" Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our 
Father which loved us and gave us eternal comfort 
and good hope through grace, comfort ^ your hearts 
and stablish them in every good work and word." All 
human effort, he seems to say, must be not only 
anticipated and called forth, but supported, by God. 
He alone it is who can give steadfastness to our pursuit 
of good in word and deed. 

In his prayer the Apostle goes back to great events 
in the past, and bases his request on the assurance 
which they yield : "God," he says, "who loved us and 
gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace." 
When did God do these gracious things ? It was 
when He sent His Son into the world for us. He 
does love us now ; He will love us for ever ; but we go 
back for the final proof, and for the first conviction of 
this, to the gift of Jesus Christ. There we see God 
who loved us. The death of the Lord Jesus is specially 
in view. " Hereby know we love, because He laid 
down His life for us," "Herein is love, not that we 
loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son 
to be the propitiation for our sins." The eternal 
consolation is connected in the closest possible way 
with this grand assurance of love. It is not merely 
an unending comfort, as opposed to the transitory and 

' For the verb in the singular, and its import, compare ist Epistle iii. II. 


uncertain joys of earth ; it is the heart to exclaim with 
St. Paul, " Who shall separate us from the love of 
Christ ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, 
or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword ? . . . Nay, 
in all these things we are more than conquerors through 
Him that loved us." Here, and now, this eternal 
consolation is given to the Christian heart ; here, and 
now, rather, it is enjoyed ; it ivas given, once for all, 
on the cross at Calvary. Stand there, and receive that 
awful pledge of the love of God, and see whether it 
does not, even now, go deeper than any sorrow. 

But the eternal consolation does not exhaust God's 
gifts. He has also in His grace given us good hope. 
He has made provision, not only for the present 
trouble, but for the future uncertainty. All life needs 
an outlook ; and those who have stood beside the empty 
grave in the garden know how wide and glorious is 
the outlook provided by God for the believer in Jesus 
Christ. In the very deepest darkness, a light is 
kindled for him ; in the valley of the shadow of death, 
a window is opened to him in heaven. Surely God, 
who sent His Son to die for us upon the Cross ; God, 
who raised Him again from the dead on our behalf, and 
set Him at His own right hand in heavenly places, — 
surely He who has been at such cost for our salvation 
will not be slow to second all our efforts, and to 
establish our hearts in every good work and word, 



How simply, one is tempted to say, it all ends — 
good works and good words ; are these the whole 
fruits which God seeks in His great work of redemp- 
tion ? Does it need consolation so wonderful, hope 
so far-reaching, to secure patient continuance in well- 
doing ? We know only too well that it does. We 
know that the comfort of God, the hope of God, prayer 
to God, are all needed ; and that all we can make 
of all of them combined is not too much to make us 
steadily dutiful in word and deed. We know that it 
is not a disproportionate or unworthy moral, but one 
befitting the grandeur of his theme, when the Apostle 
concludes the fifteenth chapter of 1st Corinthians in 
a tone very similar to that which rules here. The 
infinite hope of the Resurrection is made the basis 
of the commonest duties. " Therefore, my beloved 
brethren," he says, "be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always 
abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye 
know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." 
That hope is to bear fruit on earth — in patience and 
loyalty, in humble and faithful service. It is to shed 
its radiance over the trivial round, the common task ; 
and the Apostle does not think it wasted if it enables 
men and women to do well and not weary. 

The difficulty of expounding this passage lies in the 
largeness of the thoughts ; they include, in a manner, 
every part and aspect of the Christian life. Let each 


of US try 1.0 bring them near to himself. God has 
called us by His gospel : He has declared to us that 
Jesus our Lord was delivered for our offences, and that 
He was raised again to open the gates of life to us. 
Have we believed the truth ? That is where the 
gospel begins for us. Is the truth within us, written 
on hearts that God's Spirit has separated from the 
world, and devoted to a new life ? or is it outside of us, 
a rumour, a hearsay, to which we have no vital rela- 
tion ? Happy are those who have believed, and taken 
Christ into their souls, Christ who died for us and 
rose again ; they have the forgiveness of sins, a pledge 
of love that disarms and vanquishes sorrow, an infall- 
ible hope that outlives death, Happy are those to 
whom the cross and the empty tomb give that con- 
fidence in God's love whicti makes prayer natural, 
hopeful, joyful, Happy are those to whom all these 
gifts of grace bring the strength to continue patiently 
in well-doing, and to be steadfast in every good work 
and word. All things are theirs — the world, and life, 
and death ; things present and things to come ; ever- 
lasting consolation and good hope ; prayer, patience, 
and victory : all are theirs, for they are Christ's, and 
Christ is God's. 




" Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run 
and be glorified, even as also it is with you ; and that we may be 
delivered from unreasonable and evil men ; for all have not faith. P.ut 
the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and guard you from the 
evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye 
both do and will do the things which we command. And the Lord 
direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patience of Ciirist.' 
—2 Thess. iii. i-S (R.V.). 




'' I ^HE main part of this letter is now finished. The 
-*- Apostle has completed his teaching about the 
Second Advent, and the events which precede and 
condition it ; and nothing remains to dispose of but 
some minor matters of personal and practical interest. 

He begins by asking again, as at the close of the 
First Epistle, the prayers of the Thessalonians for him- 
self and his fellow-workers. It was a strength and 
comfort to him, as to every minister of Christ, to know 
that he was remembered by those who loved him in 
the presence of God. But it is no selfish or private 
interest that the Apostle has in view when he begs a 
place in their prayers ; it is the interest of the work 
with which he has identified himself " Pray for us, 
that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified." 
This was the one business and concern of his life ; if 
it went well, all his desires were satisfied. 

Hardly anything in the New Testament gives us a 
more characteristic look of the Apostle's soul than his 



desire that the word of the Lord should run. The 
word of the Lord is the gospel, of which he is the 
principal herald to the nations ; and we see in his 
choice of this word his sense of its urgency. It was 
glad tidings to all mankind ; and how sorely needed 
wherever he turned his eyes ! The constraint of 
Christ's love was upon his heart, the constraint of 
men's sin and misery ; and he could not pass swiftly 
enough from city to city, to proclaim the reconciling 
grace of God, and call men from darkness unto light. 
His eager heart fretted against barriers and restraints 
of every description ; he saw in them the malice of the 
great enemy of Christ : " I was minded once and again 
to come unto you, but Satan hindered me." Hence it 
is that he asks the Thessalonians to pray for their 
removal, that the word of the Lord may run. The 
ardour of such a prayer, and of the heart which 
prompts it, is far enough removed from the common 
temper of the Church, especially where it has been long 
established. How many centuries there were during 
which Christendom, as it was called, was practically a 
fixed quantity, shut up within the limits of Western 
European civilisation, and not aspiring to advance a 
single step beyond it, fast or slow. It is one of the 
happy omens of our own time that the apostolic con- 
ception of the gospel as an ever-advancing, ever-vic- 
torious force, has begun again to take its place in the 


Christian heart. If it is really to us what it was to 
St. Paul — a revelation of God's mercy and judgment 
which dwarfs everything else, a power omnipotent to 
save, an irresistible pressure of love on heart and will, 
glad tidings of great joy that the world is dying for — 
we shall share in this ardent, evangelical spirit, and 
pray for all preachers that the word of the Lord may 
run very swiftly. How it passed in apostolic times 
from land to land and from city to city — from Syria 
to Asia, from Asia to Macedonia, from Macedonia to 
Greece, from Greece to Italy, from Italy to Spain — 
till in one man's lifetime, and largely by one man's 
labour, it was known throughout the Roman world. 
It is easy, indeed, to over-estimate the number of the 
early Christians ; but we can hardly over-estimate the 
fiery speed with which the Cross went forth conquering 
and to conquer. Missionary zeal is one note of the 
true Apostolic Church. 

But Paul wishes the Thessalonians to pray that the 
word of the Lord may be glorified, as well as have free 
course. The word of the Lord is a glorious thing 
itself. As the Apostle calls it in another place, it is 
the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. All that 
makes the spiritual glory of God — His holiness, His 
love. His wisdom — is concentrated and displayed in 
it. But its glory is acknowledged, and in that sense 
heightened, when its power is seen in the salvation of 


men. A message from God that did nothing would 
not be glorified : it would be discredited and shamed. 
It is the glory of the gospel to lay hold of men, to 
transfigure them, to lift them out of evil into the 
company and the likeness of Christ. For anything 
else it does, it may not fill a great space in the world's 
eye ; but when it actually brings the power of God to 
save those who receive it, it is clothed in glory. Paul 
did not wish to preach without seeing the fruits of his 
labour. He did the work of an evangelist ; and he 
would have been ashamed of the evangel if it had not 
wielded a Divine power to overcome sin and bring the 
sinful to God. Pray that it may always have this 
power. Pray that when the word of the Lord is 
spoken it may not be an ineffective, fruitless word, but 
mighty through God. 

There is an expression in Titus ii. lo analogous to 
this : " Adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour in all 
things." That expression is less fervent, spoken at a 
lower level, than the one before us ; but it more readily 
suggests, for that very reason, some duties of which we 
should be reminded here also. It comes home to all who 
try to bring their conduct into any kind of relation to 
the gospel of Christ. It is only too possible for us to 
disgrace the gospel; but it is in our power also, by 
every smallest action we do, to illustrate it, to set it off, 
to put its beauty in the true light before the eyes of 


men. The gospel comes into the world, like everything 
else, to be judged on its merits ; that is, by the effects 
which it produces in the lives of those who receive it. 
We are its witnesses ; its character, in the general 
mind, is as good as our character ; it is as lovely as we 
are lovely, as strong as we are strong, as glorious as 
we are glorious, and no more. Let us seek to bear it 
a truer and worthier witness than we have yet done. 
To adorn it is a calling far higher than most of us have 
aimed at ; but if it comes into our prayers, if its swift 
diffusion and powerful operation are near our hearts 
in the sight of God, grace will be given us to do this 

The next request of the Apostle has more of a 
personal aspect, yet it also has his work in view. He 
asks prayer that he and his friends may be delivered 
from unreasonable and wicked men : for all men, he 
says, have not faith. The unreasonable and wicked men 
were no doubt the Jews in Corinth, from which place 
he wrote. Their malignant opposition was the great 
obstacle to the spread of the gospel ; they were the 
representatives and instruments of the Satan who 
perpetually hindered him. The word here rendered 
unreasonable is a rare one in the New Testament. It 
occurs four times in all, and in each case is differently 
translated: once it is "arniss," once "harm," once 
" wickedness," and here " unreasonable." The margin 


in this place renders it "absurd." What it literally 
means is, "out of place" ; and the Apostle signifies by 
it, that in the opposition of these men to the gospel 
there was something preposterous, something that 
bafQed explanation ; there was no reason in it, and 
therefore it was hopeless to reason with it. That is a 
disposition largely represented both in the Old Testa- 
ment and the New, and familiar to every one who in 
preaching the gospel has come into close contact with 
men. It was one of the great trials of Jesus that He 
had to endure the contradiction of those who were 
sinners against themselves; who rejected the counsel 
of God in their own despite ; in other words, were 
unreasonable men. The gospel, we must remember, 
is good news ; it is good news to all men. It tells of 
God's love to the sinful; it brings pardon, holiness, 
immortal hope, to every one. Why, then, should any- 
body have a quarrel with it ? Is it not enough to drive 
reason to despair, that men should wantonly, stubbornly, 
malignantly, hate and resist such a message ? Is there 
anything in the world more provoking than to offer a 
real and indispensable service, out of a true and dis- 
interested love, and to have it contemptuously rejected ? 
That is the fate of the gospel in many quarters ; that 
was the constant experience of our Lord and of St. Paul. 
No wonder, in the interests of his mission, the Apostle 
prays to be delivered from unreasonable men. Are 


there any of us who come under this condemnation ? 
who are senselessly opposed to the gospel, enemies in 
intention of God, but in reality hurting no one so much 
as ourselves ? The Apostle does not indicate in his 
prayer any mode of deliverance. He may have hoped 
that in God's providence his persecutors would have 
their attention distracted somehow ; he may have hoped 
that by greater wisdom, greater love, greater power of 
adaptation, of becoming all things to all men, he might 
vanquish their unreason, and gain access to their souls 
for the truth. In any case, his request shows us that 
the gospel has a battle to fight that we should hardly 
have anticipated — a battle with sheer perversity, with 
blind, wilful absurdity — and that this is one of its most 
dangerous foes. " O that they were wise," God cries 
of His ancient people, " O that they understood." He 
has the same lament to utter still. 

We ought to notice the reason appended to this 
description of Paul's enemies : absurd and evil men, he 
says; for all men have not faith. Faith, of course, 
means the Christian faith : all men are not believers in 
Christ and disciples of Christ ; and therefore the moral 
unreason and perversity of which I have spoken actually 
exist. He who has the faith is morally sane ; he has 
that in him which is inconsistent with such wickedness 
and irrationality. We can hardly suppose, however, 
that the Apostle meant to state such a superfluous 


truism as that all men were not Christians. What he 
does mean is apparently that not all men have affinity 
for the faith, have aptitude or Hking for it ; as Christ 
said when He stood before Pilate, the voice of truth 
is only heard by those who are of the truth. So it 
was when the apostles preached. Among their hearers 
there were those who were of the truth, in whom there 
was, as it were, the instinct for the faith ; they wel- 
comed the message. Others, again, discovered no such 
natural relation to the truth ; in spite of the adaptation 
of the message to human needs, they had no sympathy 
with it ; there was no reaction in their hearts in its 
favour ; it was unreasonable to them ; and to God they 
were unreasonable. The Apostle docs not explain 
this ; he simply remarks it. It is one of the ultimate 
and inexplicable facts of human experience ; one of 
the meeting-points of nature and freedom which defy 
our philosophies. Some are of kin to the gospel when 
they hear it ; they have faith, and justify the counsel 
of God, and are saved : others are of no kin to the 
gospel ; its wisdom and love wake no response in 
them ; they have not faith ; they reject the counsel of 
God to their own ruin ; they are preposterous and evil 
men. It is from such, as hinderers of the gospel, that 
Paul prays to be delivered. 

In the two verses which follow, he plays, as it were, 
with this word " faith." All men have not faith, he 


writes ; but the Lord is faithful, and we have faith in 
the Lord touching you. Often the Apostle goes off 
thus at a word. Often, especially, he contrasts the 
trustworthiness of God with the faithlessness of men. 
Men may not take the gospel seriously ; but the Lord 
does. He is in indubitable earnest with it ; He may be 
depended upon to do His part in carrying it into effect. 
See how unselfishly, at this point, the Apostle turns 
from his own situation to that of his readers. The Lord 
is faithful who will stablish you, and keep you from the 
evil one. Paul had left the Thessalonians exposed to 
very much the same trouble as beset himself wherever 
he went ; but he had left them to One who, he well 
knew, was able to keep them from falling, and to preserve 
them against all that the devil and his agents could do. 
And side by side with this confidence in God stood 
his confidence touching the Thessalonians themselves. 
He was sure in the Lord that they were doing, and 
would continue to do, the things which he commanded 
them ; in other words, that they would lead a worthy 
and becoming Christian life. The point of this sen- 
tence lies in the words "in the Lord." Apart from the 
Lord, Paul could have had no such confidence as he 
here expresses. The standard of the Christian life is 
lofty and severe ; its purity, its unworldliness, its 
brotherly love, its burning hope, were new things then 
in the world. What assurance could there be that 


this Standard would be maintained, when the small 
congregation of working people in Thessalonica was 
cast upon its own resources in the midst of a pagan 
community ? None at all, apart from Christ. If He 
had left them along with the Apostle, no one could 
have risked much upon their fidelity to the Christian 
calling. It marks the beginning of a new era when the 
Apostle writes, "We have confidence in the Zor<f touch- 
ing you." Life has a new element now, a new atmo- 
sphere, new resources ; and therefore we may cherish 
new hopes of it. When we think of them, the words 
include a gentle admonition to the Thessalonians, to 
beware of forgetting the Lord, and trusting to them- 
selves ; that is a disappointing path, which will put the 
Apostle's confidence toward them to shame. But it is 
an admonition as hopeful as it is gentle ; reminding 
them that, though the path of Christian obedience 
cannot be trodden without constant effort, it is a path 
on which the Lord accompanies and upholds all who 
trust in Him. Here there is a lesson for us all to 
learn. Even those who are engaged in work for 
Christ are too apt to forget that the only hope of such 
work is the Lord. " Trust no man," says the wisest of 
commentators, " left to himself." Or to put the same 
thing more in accordance with the spirit of the text, 
there always is room for hope and confidence when the 
Lord is not forgotten. In the Lord, you may depend 


upon those who in themselves are weak, unstable, 
wilful, foolish. In the Lord, you may depend on them 
to stand fast, to fight their temptations, to overcome 
the world and the wicked one. This kind of assurance, 
and the actual presence and help of Christ which 
justified it, are very characteristic of the New Testa- 
ment. They explain the joyous, open, hopeful spirit 
of the early Church ; they are the cause, as well as the 
effect, of that vigorous moral health which, in the decay 
of ancient civilisation, gave the Church the inheritance 
of the future. And still we may have confidence in 
the Lord that all whom He has called by His gospel 
will be able by His spiritual presence with them to 
walk worthy of that calling, and to confute alike the 
fears of the good and the contempt of the wicked. For 
the Lord is faithful, who will stablish them, and preserve 
them from the evil one. 

Once more the Apostle bursts into prayer, as he 
remembers the situation of these few sheep in the 
wilderness : " The Lord direct your hearts into the love 
of God, and into the patience of Christ." Nothing could 
be a better commentary than one of Paul's own affec- 
tionate Epistles on that much discussed text, " Pray 
without ceasing." Look, for instance, through this one 
with which we are engaged. It begins with a prayer for 
grace and peace. This is followed by a thanksgiving 
in which God is acknowledged as the Author of all 



their graces. The first chapter ends with a prayer — 
an unceasing prayer — that God would count them 
worthy of His calHng. In the second chapter Paul 
renews his thanksgiving on behalf of his converts, and 
prays again that God may comfort their hearts and 
stablish them in every good work and word. And 
here, the moment he has touched upon a new topic, 
he returns, as it were by instinct, to prayer. "The 
Lord direct your hearts." Prayer is his very element ; 
he lives, and moves, and has his being, in God. He 
can do nothing, he cannot conceive of anything being 
done, in which God is not as directly participant as 
himself, or those whom he wishes to bless. Such an 
intense appreciation of God's nearness and interest in 
life goes far beyond the attainments of most Christians; 
yet here, no doubt, lies great part of the Apostle's 

The prayer has two parts : he asks that the Lord 
may direct their hearts into the love of God, and into 
the patience of Christ. The love of God here means 
love to God ; this is the sum of all Christian virtue, 
or at least the source of it. The gospel proclaims that 
God is love ; it tells us that God has proved His love 
by sending His Son to die for our sins ; it shows us 
Christ on the cross, in the passion of that love with 
which He loved us when He gave Himself for us ; and 
it waits for the answer of love. It comprehended the 


whole effect of the gospel, the whole mystery of its 
saving and re-creating power, when the Apostle 
exclaimed, "The love of Christ constraineth us." It 
is this experience which in tJie passage before us he 
desires for the Thessalonians. There is no one without 
love, or at least without the power of loving, in his 
heart. But what is the object of it ? On what is it 
actually directed ? The very words of the prayer 
imply that it is easily misdirected. But surely if love 
itself best merits and may best claim love, none should 
be the object of it before Him who is its source. God 
has earned our love ; He desires our love ; let us look 
to the Cross where He has given us the great pledge 
of His own, and yield to its sweet constraint. The 
old law is not abolished, but to be fulfilled : " Thou 
shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and 
with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with 
all thy mind." If the Lord fix our souls to Himself 
by this irresistible attraction, nothing will be able to 
carry us away. 

Love to God is naturally joyous ; but life has other 
experiences than those which give free scope for its 
joyous exercise ; and so the Apostle adds, " into the 
patience of Jesus Christ." The Authorised Version 

I renders, " the patient waiting for Christ," as if what 

the Apostle prayed for were that they might continue 

I steadfastly to hope for the Last Advent ; but although 


that idea is characteristic of these Epistles, it is hardly 
to be found in the words. Rather does he remind 
his readers that in the difficulties and sufferings of 
the path which Hes before them, no strange thing is 
happening to them, nothing that has not already been 
borne by Christ in the spirit in which it ought to be 
borne by us. Our Saviour Himself had need of 
patience. He v/as made flesh, and all that the children 
of God have to suffer in this world has already been 
suffered by Him. This prayer is at once warning and 
consoling. It assures us that those who will live 
godly will have trials to bear : there will be untoward 
circumstances ; feeble health ; uncongenial relations ; 
misunderstanding and malice ; unreasonable and evil 
men ; abundant calls for patience. But there will be 
no sense of having missed the way, or of being for- 
gotten by God; on the contrary, there will be in Jesus 
Christ, evtr present, a type and a fountain of patience, 
which will enable them to overcome all that is against 
them. The love of God and the patience of Christ 
may be called the active and the passive sides of 
Christian goodness, — its free, steady outgoing to Him 
who is the source of all blessing ; and its deliberate, 
steady, hopeful endurance, in the spirit of Him who 
was made perfect through suffering. The Lord direct 
our hearts into both, that we may be perfect men in 
CLrist Jesus. 




"Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus 
Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother tliat walketh 
disorderly, and not after the tradition which they received of us. For 
yourselves know how ye ought to imitate us : for we behaved not our- 
selves disorderly among you ; neither did we eat bread for nought at 
any man's hand, but in labour and travail, working night and day, that 
we might not burden any of you : not because we have not the right, 
but to make ourselves an ensample unto you, that ye should imitate us. 
For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, If any will 
not work, neither let him eat. For we hear of some that walk among 
you disorderly, that work not at all, but are busybodies. Now them 
that are such we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ, that 
with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. But ye, brethren, 
be not weary in well-doing. And if any man obeyeth not our word by 
this epistle, note that man, that ye have no company with him, to the 
end that he may be ashamed. And yet count him not as an enemy, but 
admonish him as a brother." — 2 Thess. iii. 6-15 (R.V.). 




'nr^HIS passage is very similar in contents to one 
-■- in the fourth chapter of the First Epistle. The 
difference between the two is in tone ; the Apostle 
writes with much greater severity on this than on the 
earlier occasion. Entreaty is displaced by command ; 
considerations of propriety, the appeal to the good name 
of the church, by the appeal to the authority of Christ ; 
and good counsel by express directions for Christian 
discipline. Plainly the moral situation, which had 
caused him anxiety some months before, had become 
worse rather than better. What, then, was the situa- 
tion to which he here addresses himself so seriously ? 
It was marked by two bad qualities — a disorderly walk, 
and idleness. 

" We hear," he writes, " of some that walk among you 
disorderly." The metaphor in the word is a military 
one ; the underlying idea is that every man has a post 
in life or in the Church, and ihat he ought to be found, 



not away from his post, but at it. A man without a 
post is a moral anomaly. Every one of us is part of 
a whole, a member of an organic body, with functions 
to discharge which can be discharged by no other, 
and must therefore be steadily discharged by himself. 
To walk disorderly means to forget this, and to act as 
if we were independent ; now at this, now at that, 
according to our discretion or our whim ; not render- 
ing the community a constant service, in a place of our 
own — a service which is valuable, largely because it can 
be counted on. Every one knows the extreme unsatis- 
factoriness of those men who never can keep a place 
when they get it. Their friends plague themselves to 
find new openings for them ; but without any gross 
offence, such as drunkenness or dishonesty, they per- 
sistently fall out of them ; there is something about 
them which seems to render them incapable of sticking 
to their post. It is an unfortunate constitution, per- 
haps ; but it is a grave moral fault as well. Such men 
settle to nothing, and therefore they render no per- 
manent service to others ; whatever they might be 
worth otherwise, they are worth nothing in any general 
estimate, simply because they cannot be depended 
upon. What is more, they are worth nothing to them- 
selves ; they never accumulate moral, any more than 
material, capital ; they have no reserve in them of 
fidelity, sobriety, discipline. They are to be pitied. 


indeed, as all sinners are to be pitied ; but they are 
also to be commanded, in the name of the Lord Jesus, 
to lay their minds to their work, and to remember that 
steadfastness in duty is an elementary requirement of 
the gospel. Among the Thessalonians it was religious 
excitement that unsettled men, and made them abandon 
the routine of duty ; but whatever be the cause, the 
evil results are the same. And, on the other hand, 
when we are loyal, constant, regularly at our post, 
however humble it be, we render a real service to 
others, and grow in strength of character ourselves. 
It is the beginning of all discipline and of all goodness 
to have fixed relations and fixed duties, and a fixed 
determination to be faithful to them. 

Besides this disorderly walk, with its moral in- 
stability, Paul heard of some who worked not at all. 
In other words, idleness was spreading in the church. 
It went to a great and shameless length. Christian 
men apparently thought nothing of sacrificing their 
independence, and eating bread for which they had not 
wrought. Such a state of affairs was peculiarly offen- 
sive at Thessalonica, where the Apostle had been 
careful to set so different an example. If any one 
could have been excused for declining to labour, on the 
ground that he was preoccupied with religious hopes 
and interests, it was he. His apostolic ministry was 
a charge which made great demands upon his strength ; 


it used up the time and energy which he might other- 
wise have given to his trade : he might well have 
urged that other work was a physical impossibility. 
More than this, the Lord had ordained that they who 
preached the gospel should live by the gospel ; and on 
that ground alone he was entitled to claim maintenance 
from those to whom he preached. But though he was 
always careful to safeguard this right of the Christian 
ministry, he was as careful, as a rule, to refrain from 
exercising it ; and in Thessalonica, rather than prove 
a burden to the church, he had wrought and toiled, 
night and day, with his own hands. All this was an 
example for the Thessalonians to imitate ; and we 
can understand the severity with which the Apostle 
treats that idleness which alleges in its defence the 
strength of its interest in religion. It was a personal 

Over against this shallow pretence, Paul sets the 
Christian virtue of industry, with its stern law, " If any 
man will not work, neither let him eat." If he claims 
to lead a superhuman angelic life, let him subsist on 
angels' food. What we find in this passage is not the 
exaggeration which is sometimes called the gospel of 
work ; but the soberer and truer thought that work is 
essential, in general, to the Christian character. The 
Apostle plays with the words when he writes, " That 
work not at all, but are busybcdies " ; or, as it has 


been reproduced in English, who are busy only with 
what is not their business. This is, in point of fact, 
the moral danger of idleness, in those who are not 
otherwise vicious.^ Where men are naturally bad, it 
multiplies temptations and opportunities for sin ; Satan 
finds some mischief still for idle hands to do. But 
even where it is the good who are concerned, as in the 
passage before us, idleness has its perils. The busy- 
body is a real character — a man or a woman who, 
having no steady work to do, which must be done 
whether it is liked or disliked, and which is therefore 
wholesome, is too apt to meddle in other people's 
affairs, religious or worldly ; and to meddle, too, with- 
out thinking that it is meddling ; an impertinence ; 
perhaps a piece of downright, stone-blind Pharisaism, 
A person who is not disciplined and made wise by 
regular work has no idea of its moral worth and oppor- 
tunities; nor has he, as a rule, any idea of the moral 
vcorthlessness and vanity of such an existence as his 

There seem to have been a good many fussy people 
in Thessalonica, anxious about their industrious 
neighbours, concerned for their lack of interest in the 
Lord's coming, perpetually meddling with them — and 

' Cf. t Tim. V. 13; "And withal they learn also to be idle, going 
about from house to house ; and not only idle, but tattlers also and 
busybodies, speaking things which they ought not." 


living upon them. It is no wonder that the Apostle 
expresses himself with some peremptoriness : " If any 
man will not work, neither let him eat." The difficulty 
about the application of this rule is that it has no 
application except to the poor. In a society like our 
own, the busybody may be found among those for 
whom this law has no terror ; they are idle, simply 
because they have an income which is independent of 
labour. Yet what the Apostle says has a lesson for 
such people also. One of the dangers of their situation 
is that they should under-estimate the moral and 
spiritual worth of industry. A retired merchant, a 
military or naval officer on half-pay, a lady with 
money in the funds and no responsibilities but her own, 
— all these have a deal of time on their hands ; and 
if they are good people, it is one of the temptations 
incident to their situation, that they should have what 
the Apostle calls a busybody's interest in others. It 
need not be a spurious or an affected interest ; but it 
misjudges the moral condition of others, and especially 
of the labouring classes, because it does not appreciate 
the moral content of a day full of work. If the work is 
done honestly at all, it is a thing of great price ; there 
are virtues embedded in it, patience, courage, endur- 
ance, fidelity, which contribute as much to the true 
good of the world and the true enrichment of personal 
character as the pious solicitude of those who have 


nothing to do but be pious. Perliaps these are things 
that do not require to be said. It may rather be the 
case in our own time that mere industry is overvalued ; 
and certainly a natural care for the spiritual interests 
of our brethren, not Pharisaic, but Christian, not 
meddlesome, but most earnest, can never be in excess. 
It is the busybody whose interference is resented ; the 
brother, once he is recognised as a brother, is made 

Convinced as he is that for mankind in general " no 
work " means " no character," Paul commands and 
exhorts in the Lord Jesus all such as he has been 
speaking of to work with quietness, and to eat their 
own bread. Their excitement was both unnatural and 
unspiritual. It was necessary for their moral health 
that they should escape from it, and learn how to walk 
orderly, and to live at their post. The quietness of 
which he speaks is both inward and outward. Let 
them compose their minds, and cease from their fussi- 
ness ; the agitation within, and the distraction without, 
are equally fruitless. Far more beautiful, far more 
Christlike, than any busybody, however zealous, is he 
Who works with quietness and eats his own bread. 
Probably the bulk of the Thessalonian Church was 
quite sound in this matter ; and it is to encourage them 
that the Apostle writes, " But ye, brethren, be not 
weary in well-doing." The bad behaviour of the busy- 


bodies may have been provoking to some, infectious in 
the case of others ; but they are to persevere, in spite 
of it, in the path of quiet industry and good conduct. 
This has not the pretentiousness of an absorbed 
waiting for the Lord, and a vaunted renunciation of 
the world ; but it has the character of moral love- 
liness ; it exercises the new man in the powers of the 
new life. 

Along with his judgment on this moral disorder, 
the Apostle gives the Church directions for its treat- 
ment. It is to be met with reserve, protest, and 

First, with reserve : " Withdraw yourselves from 
every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after 
the tradition which they received of us ; . . . note that 
man, that ye have no company with hiui." The Chris- 
tian community has a character to keep, and that cha- 
racter is compromised by the misconduct of any of its 
members. To such misconduct, therefore, it cannot be, 
and should not be, indifferent : indifference would be 
suicidal. The Church exists to maintain a moral testi- 
mony, to keep up a certain standard of conduct among 
men ; and when that standard is visibly and defiantly 
departed from, there will be a reaction of the common 
conscience m the Church, vigorous in proportion to her 
vitality. A bad man may be quite at home in the 
world ; he may find or make a circle of associates like 


himself ; but there is something amiss, if he does not 
find himself alone in the Church. Every strong life 
closes itself against the intrusion of what is alien to it 
— a strong moral life most emphatically of all. A 
wicked person of any description ought to feel that 
the public sentiment of the Church is against him, 
and that as long as he persists in his wickedness he 
is virtually, if not formally, excommunicated. The 
element of communion in the Church is spiritual 
soundness ; " If we walk in the light as He is in the 
light, we have fellowship one with another." But it 
any one begins to walk in darkness, he is out of the 
fellowship. The only hope for him is that he may 
recognise the justice of his exclusion, and, as the 
Apostle says, be ashamed. He is shut out from the 
society of others that he may be driven in upon him- 
self, and compelled, in spite of wilfulness, to judge 
himself by the Christian standard. 

But reserve, impressive as it may be, is not enough. 
The erring brother is to be admonished ; that is, he 
is to be gravely spoken to about his error. Ad- 
monition is a difficult duty. Not every one feels at 
liberty, or is at liberty, to undertake it. Our own 
faults sometimes shut our mouths; the retort courteous, 
or uncourteous, to any admonition from us, is too 
obvious. But though such considerations should make 
us humble and diffident, they ought not to lead to 


neglect of plain duty. To think too much of one's 
faults is in some circumstances a kind of perverted 
vanity; it is to think too much of oneselt. We have 
all our faults, of one kind or another ; but that does 
not prohibit us from aiding each other to overcome 
faults. If we avoid anger, and censoriousness ; if we 
shun, as well as disclaim, the spirit of the Pharisee, 
then with all our imperfections God will justify us in 
speaking seriously to others about their sins. We do 
not pretend to judge them ; we only appeal to them- 
selves to say whether they are really at ease when 
they stand on one side, and the word of God and the 
conscience of the Church on the other. In a sense, 
this is specially the duty of the elders of the Church. 
It is they who are pastors of the flock of God, and 
who are expressly responsible for this moral guardian- 
ship ; but there is no officialism in the Christian com- 
munity which limits the interest of any member in all 
the rest, or exempts him from the responsibility of 
pleading the cause of God with the erring. How many 
Christian duties there are which seem never to have 
come in the way of some Christians. 

Finally, in the discipline of the erring, an essential 
element is love. Withdraw from him, and let him feel 
he is alone ; admonish him, and let him be convinced 
he is gravely wrong ; but in your admonition remember 
that he is not an enemy, but a brother. Judgment is 


a function which the natural man is prone to assume, 
and which he exercises without misgiving. He is so 
sure of himself, that instead of admonishing, he de- 
nounces ; what he is bent upon is not the reclamation, 
but the annihilation, of the guilty. Such a spirit is 
totally out of place in the Church ; it is a direct defiance 
of the spirit which created the Christian community, 
and which that community is designed to foster. Let 
the sin be never so flagrant, the sinner is a brother ; 
he is one for whom Christ died. To the Lord who 
bought him he is inexpressibly valuable ; and woe to 
the reprover of sin who forgets this. The whole 
power of discipline which is committed to the Church 
is for edification, not for destruction ; for the building 
up of Christian character, not for pulling it down. 
The case of the offender is the case of a brother ; if 
we are true Christians, it is our own. We must act 
toward him and his offence as Christ acted toward 
the world and its sin : no judgment without mercy, no 
mercy without judgment. Christ took the sin of the 
world on Himself, but He made no compromise with it ; 
He never extenuated it ; He never spoke of it or treated 
it but with inexorable severity. Yet though the sinful 
felt to the depth of their hearts His awful condemna- 
tion of their sins, they felt that in assenting to that 
condemnation there was hope. To them, as opposed 
to their sins, He was winning, condescending, loving. 



He received sinners, and in His company they sinned 
no more. 

Thus it is that in the Christian religion everything 
comes back to Christ and to the imitation of Christ. 
He is the pattern of those simple and hardy virtues, 
industry and steadfastness. He wrought at His trade 
in Nazareth till the hour came for Him to enter on 
His supreme vocation ; who can undervalue the 
possibilities of goodness in the lives of men who 
work with quietness and eat their own bread, that 
remembers it was over a village carpenter the heavenly 
voice sounded, " This is My beloved Son " ? Christ is 
the pattern also for Christian discipline in its treatment 
of the erring. No sinner could feel himself, in his sin, 
in communion with Christ : the Holy One instinctively 
withdrew from him, and he felt he was alone. No 
offender had his offence simply condoned by Jesus : the 
forgiveness of sins which He bestows includes con- 
demnation as well as remission ; it is wrought in one 
piece out of His mercy and His judgment. But 
neither, again, did any offender, who bowed to Christ's 
judgment, and suffered it to condemn him, find himself 
excluded from His mercy. The Holy One was the 
sinner's friend. Those whom He at first repelled were 
irresistibly drawn to Him. They began, like Peter, with 
"Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord"; they 
ended, like him, with "Lord, to whom shall we go?' 


This, I say, is the pattern which is set before us, for 
the discipline of the erring. This includes reserve, 
admonition, love, and much more. If there be any 
other commandment, it is summarily comprehended in 
this word, " Follow Me." 



"Now the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times in all 
ways. The Lord be with you all. 

" The salutation of me Faul with mine own hand, which is the token 
in every epistle : so I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be 
with you all."— 2 TliESS. iii. 16-18 (R.V.). 




'' I ^HE first verse of this short passage is taken by 
-*- some as in close connection with what goes 
before. In the exercise of Christian discipline, such 
as it has been described by the Apostle, there may be 
occasions of friction or even of conflict in the Church ; 
it is this which he would obviate by the prayer, "The 
Lord of peace Himself give you peace always," The 
contrast is somewhat forced and disproportioned ; and 
it is certainly better to take this prayer, standing as it 
does at the close of the letter, in the very widest sense. 
Not merely freedom from strife, but peace in its largest 
Christian meaning, is the burden of his petition. 

The Lord of peace Himself is Christ. He is the 
Author and Originator of all that goes by that name 
in the Christian communion. The word " peace " was 
not, indeed, a new one ; but it had been baptized into 
Christ, like many another, and become a new creation. 
Newman said that when he passed out of the Church 
of England into the Church of Rome, all the Christian 



ideas were, so to speak, magnified; everything appeared 
on a vaster scale. This is a very good description, 
at all events, of what one sees on passing from natural 
morality to the New Testament, from writers so great 
even as Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius to the Apostles. 
All the moral and spiritual ideas are magnified — sin, 
holiness, peace, repentance, love, hope, God, man, 
attain to new dimensions. Peace, in particular, was 
freighted to a Christian with a weight of meaning 
which no pagan could conceive. It brought to mind 
what Christ had done for man. He who had made 
peace by the blood of His Cross; it gave that assurance 
of God's love, that consciousness of reconciliation, 
which alone goes to the bottom of the soul's unrest. 
It brought to mind also what Christ had been. It 
recalled that life which had faced all man's experience, 
and had borne through all a heart untroubled by 
doubts of God's goodness. It recalled that solemn 
bequest : " Peace I leave with you ; My peace I give 
unto you." In every sense and in every way it was 
connected with Christ ; it could neither be conceived 
nor possessed apart from Him ; He was Himself the 
Lord of the Christian peace. 

The Apostle shows his sense of the comprehensive- 
ness of this blessing by the adjuncts of his prayer. 
He asks the Lord to give it to the Thessalonians 
uninterruptedly and in all the modes of its manifesta- 


tion. Peace may be lost. There may be times at, 
which the consciousness of reconcihation passes away, 


and the heart cannot assure itself before God ; these 
are the times in which we have somehow lost Christ, 
and only through Him can we have our peace with 
God restored. "Uninterruptedly" we must count upon 
Him for this first and fundamental blessing; He is 
the Lord of Reconciling Love, whose blood cleanses 
from all fsin, and makes peace between earth and 
Heaven for ever. Or there may be times at which the 
troubles and vexations of life become too trying for 
us; and instead of peace within, we are full of care 
and fear. What resource have we then but in Christ, 
and in the love of God revealed to us in Him ? His 
life is at once a pattern and an inspiration ; His great 
sacrifice is the assurance that the love of God to man 
is immeasurable, and that all things work together for 
good to them that love tlim. When the Apostle prayed 
this prayer, he no doubt thought of the life which 
lay before the Thessalonians. He remembered the 
persecutions they had already undergone at the hands 
of the Jews; the similar troubles that awaited them; the 
grief of those who were mourning for their dead ; the 
deeper pain of those on whose hearts rushed suddenly, 
from time to time, the memory of days and years 
wasted in sin ; the moral perplexities that were already 
rising among them, — he remembered all these things, 


and because of them he prayed, " The Lord of peace 
Himself give you peace at all times in every way." For 
there are many ways in which peace may be possessed; 
as many ways as there are disquieting situations in 
man's life. It may come as penitent trust in God's 
mercy ; it may come as composure in times of excite- 
ment and danger; as meekness and patience under 
suffering ; as hope when the world would despair ; it 
may come as unselfishness, and the power to think of 
others, because we know God is taking thought for us, 
— as " a heart at leisure from itself, to soothe and 
sympathise." All these are peace. Such peace as this 
— so deep and so comprehensive, so reassuring and so 
emancipating — is the gift of Christ alone. He can give 
it without interruption ; He can give it with virtues 
as manifold as the trials of the life without or the life 

Here, properly speaking, the letter ends. The 
Apostle has communicated his mind to the Thessa- 
lonians as fully as their situation required; and might 
end, as he did in the First Epistle, with his benediction. 
But he remembers the unpleasant incident, mentioned 
in the beginning of ch. ii., of a letter purporting to be 
from him, though not really his; and he takes care 
to prevent such a mistake for the future. This Epistle, 
like almost all the rest, had been written by some one 
to the Apostle's dictation ; but as a guarantee of 


genuineness, he closes it with a line or two in his own 
hand. "The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand, 
which is the token in every epistle : so I write." What 
does "so I write" mean ? Apparently, "You see the 
character of my writing ; it is a hand quite recognisable 
as mine ; a few lines in this hand will authenticate 
every letter that comes from me." 

Perhaps " every letter " only means every one which 
he would afterwards write to Thessalonica ; certainly 
attention is not called in all the Epistles to this auto- 
graphic close. It is found in only two others — 1st 
Corinthians (xvi. 21) and Colossians (iv. 18) — exactly 
as it stands here, "The salutation of me Paul with 
mine own hand " ; in others it may have been thought 
unnecessary, either because, Hke Galatians, they were 
written throughout in his own hand ; or, like 2nd Corin- 
thians and Philemon, were conveyed by persons equally 
known and trusted by the Apostle and the recipients. 
The great Epistle to the Romans, to judge from its 
various conclusions, seems to have been from the very 
beginning a sort of circular letter ; and the personal 
character, made prominent by the autograph signature, 
was less in place then. The same remark applies 
to the Epistle to the Ephesians. As for the pastoral 
Epistles, to Timothy and Titus, they may have been 
autographic throughout ; in any case, neither Timothy 
nor Titus was likely to be imposed upon by a letter 


falsely claiming to be Paul's. They knew their master 
too well. 

If it was possible to make a mistake in the Apostle's 
lifetime, and to take as his an Epistle which he never 
wrote, is it impossible to be similarly imposed upon 
now ? Have we reasonable grounds for believing that 
the thirteen Epistles in the New Testament, which bear 
his name upon their front, really came from his hand ? 
That is a question which in the last hundred years, 
and especially in the last fifty, has been examined with 
the amplest learning and the most minute and searching 
care. Nothing that could possibly be alleged against the 
authenticity of any of these Epistles, however destitute 
of plausibility, has been kept back. The references 
to them in early Christian writers, their reception in 
the early Church, the character of their contents, their 
style, their vocabulary, their temper, their mutual 
relations, have been the subject ot the most thorough 
investigation. Nothing has ever been more carefully 
tested than the historical judgment of the Church in 
receiving them ; and though it would be far from 
true to say that there were no difficulties, or no 
divergence of opinion, it is the simple truth that the 
consent of historical critics in the great ecclesiastical 
tradition becomes more simple and decided. The 
Church did not act at random in forming the apostolic 
canon. It exercised a sound mind in embodying in 


the New Testament of our Lord and Saviour the 
books which it did embody, and no other. Speaking 
of Paul in particular, one ought to say that the only 
writings ascribed to him, in regard to which there 
is any body of doubtful opinion, are the Epistles to 
Timothy and Titus. Many seem to feel, in regard to 
these, that they are on a lower key than the un- 
doubtedly Pauline letters ; there is less spirit in them, 
less of the native originality of the gospel, a nearer 
approach to moral commonplace ; they are not unlike 
a half-way house between the apostolic and the post- 
apostolic age. These are very dubious grounds to 
go upon ; they will impress different minds very 
differently ; and when we come to look at the outward 
evidence for these letters, they are almost better 
attested, in early Christian writers, than anything else 
in the New Testament. Their semi-legal character, 
and the positive rules with which they abound, inferior 
as they make them in intellectual and spiritual interest 
to high works of inspiration like Romans and Co- 
lossians, seem to have enabled simple Christian 
people to get hold of them, and to work them out in 
their congregations and their homes. All that Paul 
wrote need not have been on one level ; and it is 
almost impossible to understand the authority which 
these Epistles immediately and universally obtained, 
if they were not what they claimed to be. Only a 


very accomplished scholar could appreciate the his- 
torical arguments for and against them ; yet I do not 
think it is unfair to say that even here the traditional 
opinion is in the way, not of being reversed, but of 
being confirmed. 

The very existence of such questions, however, 
warns us against mistaken estimates of Scripture. 
People sometimes say, if there be one point uncertain, 
our Bible is gone. Well, there are points uncertain ; 
there are points, too, in regard to which an ordinary 
Christian can only have a kind of second-hand 
assurance ; and this of the genuineness of the pastoral 
Epistles is one. There is no doubt a very good case 
to be made out for them by a scholar ; but not a case 
which makes doubt impossible. Yet our Bible is not 
taken away. The uncertainty touches, at most, the 
merest fringe of apostolic teaching; nothing that 
Paul thought of any consequence, or that is of any 
consequence to us, but is abundantly unfolded in 
documents which are beyond the reach of doubt. It 
is not the letter, even of the New Testament, which 
quickens, but the Spirit; and the Spirit exerts its 
power through these Christian documents as a whole, 
as it does through no other documents in the world. 
When we are perplexed as to whether an apostle 
wrote this or that, let us consider that the most im- 
portant books in the Bible — the Gospels and the 


Psalms — do not name their authors at all. What 
in the Old Testament can compare with the Psalter? 
Yet these sweet songs are practically anonymous. 
What can be more certain than that the Gospels bring 
us into contact with a real character — the Son of Man, 
the Saviour of sinners ? Yet we know their authors 
only through a tradition, a tradition indeed of weight 
and unanimity that can hardly be over-estimated ; but 
simply a tradition, and not an inward mark such 
as Paul here sets on his letter for the Thessalonians. 
" The Church's one Foundation is Jesus Christ her 
Lord ; " as long as we are actually brought into con- 
nection with Him through Scripture, we must be 
content to put up with the minor uncertainties which 
are inseparable from a religion which has had a birth 
and a history. 

But to return to the text. The Epistle closes, as the 
Apostle's custom is, with a benediction : " The grace 
of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all." Grace 
is pre-eminently a Pauline word ; it is found alike in 
the salutations with which Paul addresses his churches, 
and in the benedictions with which he bids them fare- 
well ; it is the beginning and the end of his gospel ; the 
element in which Christians live, and move, and have 
their being. He excludes no one from his blessing ; 
not even those who had been walking disorderly, and 
setting at nought the tradition they had received from 


him ; their need is the greatest of all. If we had 
imagination enough to bring vividly before us the con- 
dition of one of these early churches, we would see 
how much is involved in a blessing like this, and what 
sublime confidence it displays in the goodness and 
faithfulness of our Lord. The Thessalonians, a few 
months ago, had been heathens; they had known 
nothing of God and His Son ; they were living still in 
the midst of a heathen population, under the pressure 
of heathen influences both on thought and conduct, 
beset by numberless temptations ; and if they were 
mindful of the country from which they had come 
forth, not without opportunity to return. Paul would 
willingly have stayed with them to be their pastor and 
teacher, their guide and their defender, but his mis- 
sionary calling made this impossible. After the merest 
introduction to the gospel, and to the new life to which 
it calls those who receive it, they had to be left to 
themselves. Who should keep them from falling? 
Who should open their eyes to understand the ideal 
which the Christian is summoned to work out in his life ? 
Amid their many enemies, where could they look for a 
sufficient and ever-present ally ? The Apostle answers 
these questions when he writes, " The grace of our Lord 
Jesus Christ be with you all." Although he has left 
them, they are not really alone. The free love of God, 
which visited them at first uncalled, will be with them 


Still, to perfect the work it has begun. It will beset 
them behind and before ; it will be a sun and a shield 
to them, a light and a defence. In all their tempta- 
tions, in all their sufferings, in all their moral per- 
plexities, in all their despondencies, it will be sufficient 
for them. There is not any kind of succour which a 
Christian needs which is not to be found in the grace 
of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Here, then, we bring to a close our study of the two 
earliest Epistles of St. Paul. They have given us a 
picture of the primitive apostolic preaching, and of the 
primitive Christian Church. That preaching embodied 
revelations, and it was the acceptance of these revela- 
tions that created the new society. The Apostle and 
his fellow-evangelists came to Thessalonica telling of 
Jesus, who had died and risen again, and who was 
about to return to judge the living and the dead. 
They told of the impending wrath of God, that wrath 
which was revealed already against all ungodliness and 
unrighteousness of men, and was to be revealed in 
all its terrors when the Lord came. They preached 
Jesus as the Deliverer from the coming wrath, and 
gathered, through faith in Him, a Church living in God 
the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ. To an 
uninterested spectator, the work of Paul and his com- 
panions would have seemed a very little thing ; he 
would not have discovered its originality and promise ; 



he would hardly have counted upon its permanence. 
In reality, it was the greatest and most original 
thing ever seen in the world. That handful of men 
and women in Thessalonica was a new phenomenon 
in history ; life had attained to new dimensions 
in them ; it had heights and depths in it, a glory 
and a gloom, of which the world had never dreamed 
before ; all moral ideas were magnified, as it were, 
a thousandfold ; an intensity of moral life was 
called into being, an ardent passion for goodness, a 
spiritual fear and hope, which made them capable of 
all things. The immediate effects, indeed, were not 
unmixed ; in some minds not only was the centre of 
gravity shifted, but the balance utterly upset ; the 
future and unseen became so real to them, or were 
asserted to be so real, that the present and its duties 
were totally neglected. But with all misapprehensions 
and moral disorders, there was a new experience ; a 
change so complete and profound that it can only be 
described as a new creation. Possessed by Christian 
faith, the soul discovered new powers and capacities ; 
it could combine "much affliction" with "joy of the 
Holy Ghost " ; it could beheve in inexorable judgment 
and in infinite mercy ; it could see into the depths of 
death and life; it could endure suffering for Christ's 
sake with brave patience ; it had been lost, but had 
found itself again. The life that had once been low, 


dull, vile, hopeless, uninteresting, became lofty, vast, 
intense. Old things had passed away ; behold, all 
things had become new. 

The Church is much older now than when this 
Epistle was written ; time has taught her many things ; 
Christian men have learned to compose their minds 
and to curb their imaginations ; we do not lose our 
heads nowadays, and neglect our common duties, in 
dreaming on the world to come. Let us say that this 
is gain ; and can we say further that we have lost 
nothing which goes some way to counterbalance it ? 
Are the new things of the gospel as real to us, and as 
commanding in their originality, as they were at the 
first ? Do the revelations which are the sum and 
substance of the gospel message, the warp and woof of 
apostolic preaching, bulk in our minds as they bulk in 
this letter ? Do they enlarge our thoughts, widen our 
spiritual horizon, lift to their own high level, and 
expand to their own scale, our ideas about God and 
man, life and death, sin and holiness, things visible 
and invisible ? Are we deeply impressed by the 
coming wrath and by the glory of Christ ? Have we 
entered into the liberty of those whom the revelation 
of the world to come enabled to emancipate themselves 
from this ? These are the questions that rise in our 
minds as we try to reproduce the experience of an early 
Christian church. In those days, everything was of. 


inspiration ; now, so much is of routine. The words 
that thrilled the soul then have become trite and in- 
expressive; the ideas that gave new life to thought 
appear worn and commonplace. But that is only 
because we dwell on the surface of them, and keep 
their real import at a distance from the mind. Let us 
accept the apostolic message in all its simplicity and 
compass ; let us believe, and not merely say or imagine 
we believe, that there is a Hfe beyond death, revealed 
in the Resurrection, a judgment to come, a wrath of 
God, a heavenly glory; let us believe in the infinite 
significance, and in the infinite difference, of right and 
wrong, of holiness and sin ; let us realise the love of 
Christ, who died for our sins, who calls us to fellowship 
with God, who is our Deliverer from the coming wrath; 
let these truths fill, inspire, and dominate our minds, 
and for us, too, faith in Christ will be a passing from 
death unto life. 

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BS Denney, James 

2725 The Epistles to the 

D4 Thessalonians 





FEB 8 1990