John Ritchie, Publisher Of Christian Literature
First Epistle to the Thessalonians
There are three leading lines of truth in the New Testament Epistles, as given by the inspired writers, Paul, Peter, and John.
Paul deals with the Gospel of God, the heavenly calling, the seating of the saints with Christ in the heavenlies, and the Church.
Peter views the children of God as down here in the wilderness, passing along to the rest beyond, guarded and kept by the power of God.
John treats of the family of God, and shews how the children are related to the Father, to each other, and to the world.
Each of the seven Epistles addressed by Paul to the Gentile churches, has a distinct subject, for God never repeats Himself. When this is observed and apprehended, then the reader of the Word will see how that subject is opened out piece by piece by the Holy Ghost, in each Epistle. It will also be seen that the subject is mentioned in Paul’s writings, at least, near the beginning of each of his letters.
Romans is occupied with “the Gospel of God,” which expression occurs in chap. 1:1.
The Corinthian Epistles instruct us concerning the Church, the assembly of saints, and are so addressed. (See 1 Cor. 1:2: 2 Cor. 1:2.)
Galatians warns against “another Gospel,” (chap. 1:6,)—the admixture of law and grace, Judiasm and Christianity.
Ephesians treats of the Church in the heavenlies, the body of Christ, the highest picture of Pauline teaching.
Philippians views the saints as pressing on to the mark of God’s calling up on high, through God working in them, the path marked out for them as in chap, 2, chap. 1:6, being an epitome of the entire Epistle.
Colossians shews the fulness of the Head, the Lordship of Christ, and warns against the traditions of men, which detract from Christ.
Thessalonians crowns all, by directing us to the coming One. The subject appears in every chapter. In the first Epistle, His coming for His saints; in the second, His appearing with His saints, and interposition by judgment on things below. May the Lord exercise our hearts and make them burn with love to Him, as we read and meditate on this grand and intensely practical theme.
The word “Thessalonians” means “Those who win the victory,” so at the end we are exhorted to put on the “breastplate of faith and love, and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.”
Verse 1.—“Paul and Silvanus and Timotheus,” are here all called apostles, (chap. 2:6). Silvanus is the same as Silas, (Acts 17:1-14). “In God the Father.” There is not another Epistle so worded. What a wonderful expression! We too are “In God the Father.” Is it not wonderful? Never forget it. That is the right way of looking at other Christians. “In God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Why is it said so? Some think because they were advanced Christians, others because they were babes in Christ, young converts. This is more likely, but it is my opinion that this Epistle contemplates us as very near the end. So God looks at the things from the beginning again, and sees how His people were then on His heart, and on Christ’s heart; sees their position before Him, how dear they were from the beginning, and thus they are said to be “In God the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
These words remind us of John 10:28, 29. “In My hand, in My Father’s hand:” doubly secure. “Grace be unto you and peace.” This expression is mentioned at the beginning of all the Epistles. We must not be tired of reading it, if our Heavenly Father says it. May we have the spiritual appetite to enjoy the words every time we read them. He must have a reason for saying it so many times, “Grace and peace.” By nature our hearts are strangers to both. We know the words very well, but what do we know of the things? Have you got established in “grace and peace?” It implies we have a great deal to learn about His “grace and peace” yet. ‘Grace and peace” are not just the same. First, Grace. God is doing everything to us and for us, without our desert at all. Next Peace. To establish us in the confidence of His love. May our hearts get more and more steeped in the peace He is so desirous we should enjoy.
Verse 2.—“We give thanks to God, always for you all.” A beautiful trait in the divine life is, to rejoice in the spiritual prosperity of others. It is the work of a shepherd to mourn over the naughtiness and wilfulness of his flock, and to rejoice when he sees them “growing in grace.
“Making mention of you in our prayers.” Giving thanks and praying for others. How often the apostle tells the saints of this. What a heart he had! Are we thus unselfish, and do we pray for the “growth in grace” of others, even those we have not seen?
Verse 3.—“Remembering without ceasing” etc. Then later, “Pray without ceasing.” (Ch. 5:17). So we get the words twice, at the beginning and at the end. It is so easy to remember one another’s bad qualities; the Lord save us from all that. Do you think the Thessalonians were all like Paul or John? Oh, no. I daresay they were just the same sort of Christians we meet with now. And what does he remember? First, their “work of faith,” that is, work, the result of faith. “Labour of love,” that is work constrained by love, the knowledge of God’s love. If we say we love God, what are we doing for Him? “Patience of hope,” toiling on patiently, waiting for the Master’s coming, “all in the sight of God the Father.” There is a great deal of work not done under the eye of God. It is a very searching thought, though a very precious expression. It is a very blessed position to be in. “He gives to every man his work.” What a blessed thing. It is possible to work without it being the “work of faith,” or to labour without its being the “labour of love.” There is a striking variation in the words to the church of Ephesus in Rev. 2:2. “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience.”
The same words are there, only they are clipped. There was something lacking. Better do a little with faith than a great deal with bustle and noise, and much that men admire. Supposing the Ephesian church and the Thessalonian were compared outwardly, they would appear just the same. But how did the Omnipotent One see them? Faith, love, hope, cut off in the one. Let us be solicitous that our works be the “works of faith,” our labour the “labour of love,” and our patience the “patience of hope.” In Thessalonians “work,” in Rev. 2:2, “works,” perhaps a deal more externally, but not in the sight of the great Being, “God and our Father.” This shows us we are to do our work to please Him, and that the motives that move us are all known to Him. The hidden springs are under His eye. Then in 1 Peter 1:17, we learn, that the Father’s eye is ever on our work.
Verse 4.—“Knowing brethren beloved, your election of God.” We cannot begin that way; God does. We begin by finding out that we are sinners; then we find out whether Christ is the Saviour of sinners such as we are, after we know our salvation secure, we can look back and know our election, and look forward to the glory. Election is the work of God. God began it, it is all of Him together. If we look within, there is plenty to distress us; if we look around, there is plenty to humble us, but if we look at God, and at Christ on the throne, there is plenty to rejoice in. Ah! we little knew once what God had done for us, what thoughts He had toward us; that our names were in the Book of Life, that we were given to Christ, before the world began.
Verse 5.—“For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, in much assurance.” What is the difference between the three? When the Word is pressed on the spirit with power, it is a proof that the Holy Ghost is present; much assurance, increasing power. We need this, not only in public but in private. We should have our ears and hearts so open that the Word may come like precious things from another world, so that we may feed upon it.
Verse 6.—“Imitators of us and of the Lord,” true marks of conversion. “Having received the Word in much affliction.” If there is not open opposition in these days there will be covert opposition. We need to be on our guard against the devil as a serpent, if not, as a roaring lion. If we are not drawn away with the fascinations around, we shall find the world’s hostility as real as ever it was, only here is the comfort. “With joy in the Holy Ghost.” God will never let His people suffer, without at the same time giving them joy. We may have joy in the Holy Ghost before the suffering, but we may be sure if we are called to suffer shame or loss for His Name’s sake, to have His presence and His joy amid it all.
Verses 7, 8.—“Ye became ensamples.” How? It is explained in verse 8, “Your faith to God-ward.” This is the distinctive mark of a Christian. Every creature must have a centre; if below God, he is a loser. If God in Christ is the centre, he is ennobled. “Faith to God-ward.” What a beautiful position for a Christian! God ever present in the minutest details of life, in every circumstance. As the Psalmist says, “I have set the Lord always before me.” It is a life-long lesson to learn, to bring God into our daily lives. We come to know a Friend we never knew before, and this knowledge of God and of Christ we already have, is to be eternal. He knows us well enough, but we don’t know Him well enough, so we are to grow in acquaintance with Him. We learn first His love, but now we have to do with Him, learn gradually all that there is in Him, all His holiness, purity, and we don’t want God in anywise altered, but just as He is. “Your faith God-ward.” What does the world say of the mass of professors? With the great majority, the very name provokes a curl of the lip. What about ourselves? Could they talk of our “faith God-ward?” Of our joy in the Holy Ghost? It was the lives of these people the world noticed, and the question is, whether this is the testimony which those who have to do with us would be able to give. It is an easy Christianity now-a-days. Of course it is possible to get sorrow and affliction through our own inconsistencies. If we suffer, let us see to it that it is for the testimony we are bearing to Christ. May it be our “faith to God-ward.” In Acts 17, where we get an account of the Gospel’s introduction to Thessalonica, we read that the unconverted soon took notice of Jason and the others. Their lives were different. God grant it may be so with us. We are called to be as steadfast and true in our day as they were in their days. When it entails suffering, God has linked on joy with it. You never have suffering for the Lord by itself. Joy in the Holy Ghost accompanies it.
Verse 9.—“For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had.” The results of their visit to Thessalonica was manifest: the ungodly talked about it: even the magistrates and civil rulers were moved by it. There was this in Paul’s preaching, that is often left out now-a-days—Jesus as the King.
In the Acts, we read of Paul “preaching the kingdom of God.” The privilege side of Scripture is more preached than this in our day. Paul told of a King, a Lord, a Proprietor, a Master. God grant we may ever realize we have been put in “the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ,” to be broken in, to be made kind, lowly, humble, good, everything that is God-like. Every bit of insubordination, self-will, haughty spirit, must be broken down by the Master. He is not hard and severe, He does it by washing our feet, and He does it effectually. “Full of goodness, able to admonish one another.” Different to what we are by nature. Our Lord is training us, and He will do it in such a way as to make us weep to think we should ever grieve One who loves us so well. His sway is gentle but real. Like a refined mistress who speaks gently to her servant, but expects to be obeyed, so the Lord Jesus expects prompt and thorough obedience from those who are His own by redemption.
“Ye turned to God from idols.” An idol is nothing, a sound, and nothing more. We have to do with a real God, a Christ and Master who expects our thoughts, minds, hearts, and wills to be won over to Him, to be advancing in the knowledge of Him in every way. “To serve a living God,” a real God. It is not the common word for living. It means One who is really God; we have to do with Him now. We have been delivered from the life of the flesh, that we may live the life of faith and obedience. We must have it in our minds every day, and not only at conversion, lest we prove to be like those who, having no root, only endure for a while. If I have been really converted, I shall have to do with God more and more every day. Every part of my being will be more taken possession of for God. Clinging to Him by faith, like ivy round the tree. You were converted for a distinct object. To have to do with a “living God,” to bring Him into everything, to serve Him. That is where thousands make shipwreck. They rest upon past experience, instead of having to do with a living God. Oh just to know His eye is right down upon our hearts, our spirits, our motives, our actions, every moment. We must not think we are wholly broken in yet, it is a lifelong lesson.
Verse 10.—“To wait for His Son from heaven.” The coming of the Lord is spoken of five times in this Epistle. This is the first. The Person who is coming is the Person who has saved us from the “wrath to come.” “Who deliveied us from the wrath to come.” It is spoken of as past, and a present thing to enjoy. “Wrath to come.” Whenever it does come it will be no trifle, for whatever God does, He does it thoroughly, so that anyone can see it is the work of God. But “Jesus has delivered us.” He gave Himself. “Raised from the dead” implies He died. The older I get, the more do I feel what I owe to Jesus my Lord, and to God who gave Him up for me. I want my whole being to be swayed by it. The thing is sweet, the order is beautiful. Jesus, first known as Deliverer; then as the Coming One, the same Person. There is nothing to be afraid of. “No condemnation.”
When He comes, we shall see our Deliverer, our Redeemer. The saved one rejoicing with others that he has been instrumental in saving. All gathered home together. Christ’s work first, not yours, then— “are not even ye?” (chap. 2:19). When we believe, rivers of living water are to flow out. Others are to be won for Christ. “Serving, and waiting.” What a blessed position! What is the relation of the two? The one looks at the life, the other at the heart. What is your life? Are you serving God? The moment you are saved, God will accept your service as one of His children. “Whose I am, and whom I serve.” (Acts 27:23.) Serve Him, how? The Divine idea is, to obey His Word, with all the heart. “Serve a living and real God.” “And to wait.” The one is like the oil inside, the other like the light outside. What is my strength for having my will crucified? for being a separated man? “I am waiting for my Lord.” The Being that hung upon the Cross, who is sitting upon the right hand of God, who made all things. He is coming again. “His Son.” These words do not occur in the Epistles, so oft as you might think. Wherever they do, there is great emphasis on them. I have to do with a living God, and the Person who is coming for me, will tell me all He has done for me, and that person is “His Son.” I shall not regret then, any suffering that obedience to His Word may have caused. Let us pass through this world as pilgrims and strangers waiting for “His Son.” Are you waiting for Him? Longing for His return? This will enable you to bear up under the trials of life, and all the opposition which you must expect as you pass along through an enemy’s country.
What a beautiful chapter! How full of encouragement and cheer to our hearts! The very remembrance of these great realities should nerve us to live for God, and serve Him here. Our whole life one continued act of obedience to the One who has redeemed us. Turned to God, to serve Him, to know Him every day as a living and real God, keeping, guiding, upholding us. Waiting for His Son: the One who loved us in the past and died for us on the Cross, our Deliverer. Who loves us still in the glory with an unchanging love, and who is our Master and Lord. Who will love us for ever, and for whom we wait. O how soon we shall see Him as He is, and gaze upon His beauty! Surely the thought ought to make us watchful, and keep us on the tip-toe of expectation as we wait for His coming.
The “Gospel of God” occurs three times in this chapter, see verses 2, 8, 9. “God’s own Gospel,” or as in Timothy, “The Gospel of the glory of the happy God.” (1 Tim. 1:11). God is so happy at being able to send out His message of love far and wide.
Verse 2.—“Gospel of God.” It shows that the origin and the source of all our blessings is from that good One whom we once hated, and thought so little of. Not merely Christ brought us to God, but God would have it so. God Himself, the source of our salvation, to whom we owe everything, who loves us so, as only God can, and now He has got us. He has only got His purpose attained upon which He had set His heart from all eternity. It is so nice to think that God is not looking on me listlessly or grudgingly, or that He was persuaded to have mercy on me because of Christ’s importunity. No! but that the blessed God wanted me for Himself.
Three times also, in this chapter, there is a solemn appeal to God.
1. In verse 4: “God who trieth our hearts,” realising God knows all about us. “Thou most upright dost weigh the path of the just.” It makes one feel what a real, and true God He is.
2. In verse 5.—“God is witness.” It is a solemn thing, a blessed thing, when we can feel the searching eye of God while we serve Him. We are all called to serve Him. “God is witness.” Dare you in the presence of the Searcher of hearts say in every detail of your life, “God is witness?” I could not say this of all my life, as the Apostle did. There have been failures many. God knows when any work is commenced and carried on to serve Him, or for self-praise.
3. In verse 10.—“God is witness also, how holily and justly.” It seems as if he anticipated the judgment-seat of Christ. Let us remember we have to stand before that judgment-seat. The Lord will uncover every spring of our actions. The great secret is to anticipate the judgment-seat by keeping a good conscience. When we fail, to confess it to God, and be done with it. Keep short accounts with God. Thus you will be like what an established Christian ought to be, knowing that he pleases God. What is the difference between “holily, justly and unblamably?” “Holily” as respects God. “Justly” as respects himself, his conscience not blaming him. “Unblamably” as respects other people. Oh! what a life a Christian is called to live! Oh! to be holy, just, and unblamable as God calls us to be.
Verse 11.—“As ye know how we exhorted and comforted, and charged you.” Such was the character of the Apostle’s ministry. It is to be our pattern still. Let us heed the advice and example of those who have trodden the path before us, (Heb. 13:7), rather than be influenced by mere professors.
Verse 12.—“That ye would walk worthy.” What a standard! “Called to His kingdom and glory.” What a wonderful expression! That is our proper place. “Called saints.” (Rom. 1:7.) The call makes us so. “His glory!” Oh! what a home ours is, so different to anything the world has ever seen. “The glory which Thou gavest me, I have given them,” (John 17:22). In Rom. 3:21, we read, “All have sinned and come short of the glory.” A sinner cannot stand that glory. Once Peter, as he felt he was in the presence of God, said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” And Isaiah said, “Woe unto me, for I am a man of unclean lips.” Either that glory is our home, or hell. Not merely to glory, but to “His glory.” Where His Word, and way, and smile are everything. Brought out of the kingdom of darkness “into His marvellous light.” Now “the God of all grace who hath called you to His own eternal glory.” (1 Pet. 5:10.) “God hath, from the beginning, chosen you to salvation.” “He called you through our Gospel to the obtaining of the glory.” (2 Thess. 2:13, 14.) It is enough to make us give up everything in this world. He calls you to His glory, then let this world go.
Verse 13.—“For this cause thank we God without ceasing.” It is possible not to receive the Word as the Word of God, to listen to it like a lovely song, or as the word of men. Whether it be promise or precept, may it come always to us as a mandate from Heaven.
“Which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” The Word of God has not done its work until it has fashioned us like Christ. We don’t tremble at the Word, we don’t obey it, we don’t know it as we should. Oh to let that Word search, cleanse, separate and fashion us as God would have it. This would be letting it “work effectually.”
Verse 14.—“For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God,” etc. Strictly speaking, there is only one church, the body of Christ, composed of all true believers of this age. But while we are here upon earth the Lord would have us gather in His Name, as He has commanded, to worship Him. There is only one pattern for such churches. Alas! how it has been neglected. Still there will be such “churches” till Christ comes.
Verse 15.—“Who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets,” etc. A list of the Jews’ sins. Which was the worst?
Verse 16.—“Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles.” That “filling up sins,” is to hinder others from coming to hear the Word. It is a great thing to feel we are servants of God. And we have to give an account to God. Plenty that has passed current with men will be seen in the true light to be varnished sin. “Fill up.” When the patience of God is exhausted, and judgment comes, God will turn the cup upside down, and that is wrath. Oh! when God speaks! but He is so patient, they think He will never speak, but He will. What a mercy that Jesus drank the cup of wrath for “all that come unto God by Him.”
Verse 17.—“Being taken from you for a short time,” etc. How He seems to have loved these Thessalonian converts. It is the mark of a pastoral spirit to love the saints.
Verse 18.—“Wherefore we would have come unto you, but Satan hindered us.” It is remarkable how he refers to Satan twice; here and in chap. 3:5. Hindering and tempting, that is his work. The work of the devil is a real work. The devil is busy still, and tries to hinder God’s work. If it is God’s work the devil will try and do it mischief if he can.
Verse 19.—“For what is our hope,” etc. Here is the heart of a true pastor. Five things He says about these converts: Hope, crown, joy, glory, rejoicing. He did not let them run any way they pleased. “Who is that faithful and wise servant, whom his Lord shall set over His household to give them their portion of food?” (Luke 12:42.) It is not the way of the Lord, that saints should be without shepherding. “At His coming.” Then the pastoral work will be finished. It is very blessed to have care for redeemed souls, saved souls. How blessed when the Lord can take Paul, or those who have cared for believing souls, and give them a crown. It is possible that these principles should be ignored, forgetting that the Good Shepherd has given under-shepherds to feed and take care of the flock (Heb. 13:7). There are some that cause sorrow, but don’t throw up the work because of that.
“At His coming.” Coming means “presence.” Going up before Him to give account. This is the second aspect of “the coming of the Lord.” If you do not care for the growth in grace of the children of God, nor for the salvation of the unsaved, it is very probable you are not saved yourself. “In that day he that soweth and he that reapeth shall rejoice together.”
“Before our Lord Jesus Christ at His presence.” He is present to faith now, but will be bodily present with His saints some day. There is something intensely solemn as well as intensely joyous here. Solemn for those who have sought to feed and serve themselves, instead of Him. There is one thing that all saints can do, and that is to pray. Pray one for another, (Jas. 5:16): pray for the servants of Christ preaching the Word, (Heb. 13:18): pray for all saints, (Eph.6:18).
The coming of the Lord is presented in this chapter in connection with the home-bringing of the children of God, the glory and the crown. Faithful service may pass unnoticed here, but not in heaven. Oh, the joy of having from the Master’s lips, “Well done:” of receiving from His hand a crown, and of seeing there gathered those for whom toil and tears and prayers have been spent in earthly days, all safely home at last!
This chapter again brings before us the coming or “presence” of the Lord, but here in yet another light. It views the time when He will have all His saints around Him. What a wonderful thing that is. This chapter is about believers loving one another, being drawn in heart to one another. Quite a change of thought from chap. 2:There, the under-shepherds care for the flock, here, all the flock are to love and care for one another.
Verses 1:2.—The apostle had been quickly moved from Thessalonica. The saints there had only a short time of his ministry and shepherd-care. They were left in the midst of persecution and “much affliction,” so that the apostle yearned to hear of them. It is the true mark of a shepherd to have a burdened heart, the care of the sheep pressing continually upon it, especially when they are in danger, and passing through times of trouble. What a beautiful character is given to Timothy in verse 2. “Brother, servant of God, and fellow-labourer.” He began well, (Acts 16:1-3), not running too fast, but serving with the apostle, as a son with a father, (Phil. 2:20-22). Now he can be entrusted with the work of “establishing” and “comforting” these persecuted and tempted saints. What an honour to be helpers of such.
Verse 3.—“That no man should be moved by these afflictions.” Acts 17:shows, what the afflictions were. But God is above the devil, and the effect was, instead of scattering them, the afflictions only drew them closer together, and made them love one another more. I think it would have the same effect now. Christians are so divided, but if persecution arose, the chaff would drop off, and the true saints would get together. The difficulty in these days is to know true Christians, for in those early days, if a man named the Name of Christ, he suffered persecution and affliction,
“We are appointed thereunto.”
Verse 4.—The apostle told them what awaited them. He did not give them all the bright side and keep back the dark. The Lord Himself gave both. (See John 14:1-3: 16:33). We have not so much of this now. Empty profession is the snare in our day.
There is an awful word in 2 Tim. 3:4—“heady.” Some persons can talk fluently of their conversion, give the exact date, and yet are not changed in their lives, while a few others cannot tell you exactly the date when they were converted, and yet their lives show you they have been. So these are “perilous, difficult times,” so many having the “form of godliness,” and we are told to turn away from such. Truly we need heavenly wisdom, to know how we are to act. Sometimes the devil appears as in 1 Thess. 3, and sometimes as in 2 Tim. 3 Let us watch.
Verses 6-10.—“Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and love.” There is nothing said about their hope: that had been somewhat disturbed. In chap. 1:3, faith, hope, and love all appear. Here faith and love alone. The first thing the enemy assails is “the hope.” He seeks by one means or another, to obscure and deprive the saints of their proper hope, the personal coming of the Lord Jesus, to take us to be with Himself. Oh how the devil hates that, for well he knows the power of it on the lives of God’s saints. “Let us hold fast the profession of our hope without wavering,” (Heb. 10:23.)
How the apostle loved these Thessalonian saints! He and his fellow-labourers had their very lives bound up in their steadfastness, their joy and comfort was in their welfare, they were in their thoughts by day and by night.
True Christians are to be drawn together, to love more. How? Think how Christ loves that one, that there is Christ in him, that you have to spend eternity with him. It is possible to love a man, and yet not to like his ways. There are some Christians who have so much of the flesh and the old nature in them, they are so selfish and bad tempered, that we should not like to live twenty years under the same roof with them. But when they and we are changed, how nice to spend eternity together. Look at that striking passage in Mal. 1:2, “I have loved you,” saith the Lord, but their ways were so naughty that Jehovah had to add in verse 10: “I have no pleasure in you.” So in one another we see things we do not like, but we are to love what is of Christ. “A new commandment I give you, that ye love one another as I have loved you.” He sacrificed Himself in love to us, and we are to sacrifice ourselves and our personal interests, in love to others.
Verse 13.—“I sent to know your faith, lest by some means, the tempter had tempted you,” etc. As sure as the Word is preached, the devil is busy. We little realize Satan’s wiles to what we should.
Verse 13.—“To the end He may establish you.” Love leads to holiness; we must not separate the two. I am to love where I see the divine life, and a trembling at God’s Word, and so to have my heart established “in holiness before God, even our Father.” Our Father loves all His children, let us love them all, too. Our Father may not approve of all their ways, neither are we to. No one will be ashamed in that day of having loved the people of God. Oh! what a grand moment when the Lord gathers all His saints together around Himself.
We should make mistakes as to who are His saints, but the Lord won’t. “He knoweth them that are His.” He will have them, no more, no less. When He comes, will He take you? You ought not to have a doubt about it. “To the end he may establish you.”
“Christ the Lord will come again,
None shall wait for Him in vain.
I shall then His glory see.
Christ will come and call for me.”
In this chapter, the eye is fixed on the Lord “Himself” It is remarkable how the little affairs of everyday life are placed in the light of the “coming of the Lord.” There are two great matters here spoken of. The first is our personal purity, verse 8. Christians should not be guilty of impurity, because the Holy Ghost dwells in them. What a remarkable reason! So in 1 Cor. 6:18-20, the same reason is assigned. The very highest motives are given to guide us in our daily walk. God would have us ever remember that we are His children, and that in everyday matters there is nothing trifling.
The second; brotherly love, verse 9. How often the Holy Ghost enjoins us to this, for well He knew how quickly it would ebb even among God’s children, save as they abide in His love.
Then the chapter closes as the others do, with “The coming of the Lord.” Verse 13, “Them that are asleep.” In verse 16 called “dead.” Scripture does sometimes speak of Christians as being “the dead in Christ,” so we need not be afraid to use the word. It does not mean that their spirits, but their bodies. When believers die, their spirits are not unconscious, they consciously enjoy His presence. “In Thy presence there is fulness of joy.” “To depart and be with Christ which is very far better!” (Phil. 1:23.) “That ye sorrow not as those which have no hope.” What a solemn thing for the lost! “No hope,” a vain, empty, groundless hope, but we have a. hope, and we know we shall be with those who have died in Christ. Here the eye is directed to Himself. “Himself” is the big word of this chapter. “Would not have you ignorant.” They had not the full revelation that we have. They needed further revelation regarding the sleeping saints. They feared they might miss them.
Verse 14.—“If we believe that Jesus died and rose again.” What a simple thing salvation is! He died and rose again according to the Scriptures. These are fundamental matters. So the Holy Ghost has been pleased to show us where all rests. “Even so them also which sleep through Jesus.” If not for Jesus, instead of being “asleep” they would have been in torment. When the Lord comes, God will bring His saints “with Him.” He will bring them bodily, when Jesus comes in His resurrection body.
Verse 15.—“For this we say unto you by the Word of of the Lord.” That is a striking expression. It had been specially revealed to the Apostle, as in 1 Cor. 15:34. “Behold! I show you a mystery.” “The living shall not precede them that are fallen asleep.” That is a comfort to the saints dying. When the Lord Jesus comes back, He will begin with those whose bodies are in the tomb.
Verse 16.—“For the Lo’rd Himself” etc. The Spirit of God calls attention to the fact that He Himself will come. Our eye is fixed on one object “Himself.” Oh! what a wonderful thing to see Him. “The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven.” He has too much respect for His Church to send for her; He will come Himself. Though so many have departed to be “with Him,” still the Church is regarded as here. We are as much loved and as much responsible, as when the Lord rose, or went to heaven. People think a little laxity may be allowed. No, not a bit of it, and when the Lord comes, He will come for His Church. “He will descend,” that shows it will be a bodily, real descent.
“The Lord Himself,” the Master, the Divine One, the human One, Himself! Reading this so often, perhaps we do not realize the force of it. It is the One that is to fill heaven and earth.
“With a shout,” the word denotes a signal, which He will give to His own. Like as the soldier knows the signal of the general, or the sailor of the captain, so the Lord’s people will understand the signal, and no one else. He will come secretly. We read in Acts 8:39, “The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip.” It is the same word from which our word “rapture” comes. “If the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead,” etc. The Holy Ghost will do it. What a wonderful hope is ours! Thank God we have such a prospect, such a hope! How can it be secret if it is a “shout.” Did anybody track the way the Spirit took Philip? No one: “he was found at Azotus,” so the Spirit is here to form and maintain the Church of God, and when the Lord comes, the Spirit will take away the Church. When Paul was converted, those with him heard a voice, but saw no man. In another place it says, “they heard not the voice of him that spake.” (Acts 9, 22:10.) It denotes they heard something, but could not unravel it. The Church will know. “It is the voice of my Beloved,” at last. It also denotes triumph and joy. Oh! when He comes, when we hear His voice, it will be a sound in our ears, enough to make us leap for joy. These verses are specially our portion, on which our souls should feed.
“The voice of the Archangel and the trump of God.” The same as the “shout.” The Lord Jesus is the only Archangel we read of in the Scriptures. It may denote a voice, that which thrills the earth, and electrifies heaven. The world may hear a sound. Christ in the Government of the world is the Archangel. What that voice will be, we know not, but we ought to be every moment on the tiptoe of expectation, and never be doing a thing which if He came we should be ashamed of. “The dead in Christ rise first”; that is as to their bodies; their spirits will come down with Him, and both will be joined together. Oh! what a worker Christ is. Then the living saints will be changed as to their bodies, (1 Cor. 15:52.) Then all together caught up. Oh! what a moment.
Verse 17.—“Together with them,” i.e., simultaneously; won’t it be a grand moment?
“We that are alive, that are left.” The Lord always has had a people waiting for Him. For eighteen centuries the church has been waiting for that coming.
“In clouds.” It may refer to shoals of saints from all parts, rising up in all directions, but the great point is what we are caught up for. “To meet the Lord.” We have often got away from Him here, we shall not get away from Him any more. “So shall we ever be with the Lord.”
“Oh! the blessed joy of meeting, all the desert past.” This is your hope? Which would you rather have? This Hope, or a million pounds? This Hope or to be a nobleman? Oh! if you have only this world it will soon fade and pass away. Oh! to have this Hope! To be with the Lord. With the uncreated One, who made all things Himself. Surely it is a moment we must rejoice in. Like as the bride and the bridegroom are glad when their union takes place, so shall the joy of Christ be “exceeding joy,” (Jude 23), and our joy shall be “full.” Is it not wonderful so few Christians care for it? Is it not strange that our own hearts are not listening for that signal every moment?
Verse 18. “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” Is it done? I may be bold to say, a great many real Christians never think of comforting one another with these words. They are looking for death, and for the world’s conversion rather than “The Coming of the Lord.”
Verse 1. —“But of the times and seasons.” The coming of the Lord is a blessed truth. It is for the family of God. “The day of the Lord” is an awful thought. It refers to the time when He comes in judgment to the world. The time we do not know, but He will come for He has promised. He will not disappoint us. His promise is, “I am coming again to receive you, to Myself.” (John 14:3.) Oh, what a hope! The reason He does not tell us the time is, to keep us on the tip-toe of expectation every day.
Verse 2.—“For yourselves know perfectly, the Day of the Lord will come as a thief.” The meaning is, the Lord will come unexpectedly, while the world says, as in 2 Peter 3:“Where is the promise of His coming?” It will take them with awful surprise. They are seen trembling in Rev. 6:17.
Verses 4, 5.—We are called “sons of light.” Because as “sons of light,” we rise when the sun rises. When Jesus comes, we come, like as when the sun comes, the rays come with him. It implies we come with Him, and must have gone away first. All come together. Instead of counting days and looking for signs, our part is to be watching for the signal, with our ears on the alert for the sound. “Be sober.” Let our judgments be unbiased by the things of the world. If we reason as men of the world, we become spiritually intoxicated. If we are not believers in the coming of the Lord, waiting for Him we are not “sober.”
Verse 8.—“Putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope.” These three, are continually put together. At the beginning of this Epistle we read of them, (chap. 1:3.) There to work with, here to fight with. In Eph.6:11, believers are to take the whole armour. The high priest of old had a breastplate with the names of the tribes of Israel engraven. The Lord Jesus, our Great High Priest, has a breastplate with the names of all His saints on His breast. He bears our names on His heart: how blessed! His breastplate tells of His love to us. God sees our names, and His love to us. Here we are to put on the “breastplate of faith and love.” The world is to see our faith in Him, our love to Him, and to prove that we represent Him here. He owns us there, confesses us there: we are to own and confess Him down here. “I believe in Jesus,” is right enough for the tongue to say, but it is better for the life to say it, that others may see we believe in and love Him. There are correlative duties on our part, corresponding with His actions up there. These are little known. To own them will bring us into trouble, especially if we contend for those truths which tend to separate us from the world.
“For a helmet the hope of salvation.” There is nothing of doubt here, but the hope that He will come and save us. I hope He will come back very soon. You are to hope it whether He comes or not. “The Hope” is His return, when He will save the body as well as the soul. We look for Him to come a second time without sin unto salvation. (Heb. 9:28.) It is assumed we have only one Hope. One promise shines out more brightly than the others, it is, “I am coming again.” It is “The Hope,” (Rom. 8:24), and “The Promise,” (Heb. 10:36, 37.)
Verses 9, 10.—“For God hath not appointed us to wrath,” etc. These verses are very sweet. People will spend hundreds of pounds on pictures and then tire of them. Here is a beautiful picture we cannot tire of. “God hath not appointed us to wrath.” He had us in His heart from all eternity, “Not for wrath.” He has been carrying that out, “Not for wrath.” “But to obtain salvation;” alluding to the words before, the “Hope of salvation,” that final, full salvation, which shall be ours at His coming.
Verse 10.—“Whether we watch or sleep.” In the Greek, there are two different words for sleep. 1. Moral sleep: 2. Sleep of the body. Now here it means moral sleep as verse 7. Chap. 4:15, is the sleep of the body. It is the same word from which the word “cemetery” comes. In Matt. 25:5, “Whilst the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept” There it is moral sleep, not watching for Him. Christ died for us, that whether watchful or unwatchful we shall be taken home. It shows us, that even if we are not as we ought to be, on the tip-toe of expectation, if we are more or less living negligently and carelessly, still He won’t leave one of His saints behind. It is very comforting, precious and gracious, for the most godly dare not say, he is always watching, and always doing those things which please God. Of course, though all are taken away, there will be a solemn difference made as regards reward. (2 John 8.) Some will be ashamed before Him at His coming, (1 John 2:28), but not one true saint watching, or sleeping, shall be left. “Who died for us.” It all depends on His death; He died to get us, He cannot lose or leave one, not the feeblest of His own.
Verse n.—“Wherefore comfort yourselves together.” What a pity to talk about all the wretched things which divide Christians, instead of “Jesus died for us,” and is coming for us, and we are to live with Him; and so we should “build up one another.” We need these things to buoy us up in the world. Satan is prone to fill our minds either with the frivolities of the world, or the feuds and strifes of the children of God. God grant we may heed this exhortation.
Verses 12, 13.—Here we have pastoral work. “Be at peace,” showing there may be occasions for strife. It shows there was imperfection even in those days. Need we wonder if there are in ours?
Verse 14.—“Warn the unruly,” etc. Yet what a mercy, all are dear to God, all in Christ. All needed patience. Some needed to be warned, some to be comforted, some strengthened, but all needed patience. Do not we?
Verse 16.—“Rejoice evermore.” And yet it is true, as Peter says, “Ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations.”
Verse 17.—“Pray without ceasing.” To turn everything to something to talk to God about. It is utterly opposed to self-will, to refer everything to God, little and big. It is good of God to encourage us to this sort of life.
Verse 18.—“In everything give thanks,” etc. Talk to Him before it comes, as it comes, and then “in everything give thanks.” It is easy to thank God when all goes smoothly, but God would encourage us to a thankful spirit at all times. “For this is the will of God” that overseeing One who is ever watching us while we pass the time of our sojourning here.
Verse 19.—“Quench not the Spirit.” That is, in others chiefly, while gathered for worship, or to minister. It is possible to quench the Spirit’s ministry, and hinder it, either by human arrangement, or lawlessness. In ourselves we may “grieve the Spirit.” (Eph. 5:30.)
Verse 20.—“Despise not prophesyings.” Many profess to show God’s will nowadays; we must not rashly reject or receive. There are no revelations or prophesyings now outside God’s written Word. The teacher opens up the Word. The two hang together. “Despise not prophesy-ings”—” Prove all things.” When you have proved all things, retain the wheat and throw away the chaff. “Holdfast that which is good.”
Verse 22.—“Abstain from all appearance of evil.” That is a very peremptory command about evil. The world’s motto is, “Of two evils choose the less;” that is not God’s. If there is sin in anything, have nothing to do with it, whether it is in one’s own individual walk, socially, or ecclesiastically. “Abstain from the very semblance of evil.” Do not try how close to it you can walk and remain undefiled. Flee from it altogether.
Verse 23.—“And the very God of peace.” What a beautiful name. He wants every atom of us, without any reserve whatever. Our whole “spirit, and soul, and body.” He hasn’t got us all for Himself yet. It’s a lifelong struggle, for there is the flesh in us, and the flesh will never be subdued to the Holy Ghost, so the Holy-Ghost never speaks of sanctifying the flesh, but “the body.” Only as we come to know the love and grace and affection of God better, do we give in to Him. He means us well we know at the bottom, but sometimes we distrust and oppose Him. It shows that, in one sense, sanctification is progressive, though in another it is finished. Here it is the surrender of the will, everything yielded up to the Spirit which dwells within. Remember the double aspect of the truth. Like as we are saved and are being saved. It is the keeping of the two sides together, which does us good. “The very God of peace sanctify you:” showing the way to enjoy His presence is to keep His Word.
Verse 24.—“Faithful is He that calleth you.” We have been called, He is calling us, and He will call us by and bye, when we hear His signal. The call is going on from the moment the voice of Jesus gladdened our hearts, till His call will gladden our ears, and we shall be with Him for ever. He will, for He is a faithful God, blessed be His Name.
Verse 25.—“Brethren pray for us.” How wonderful that the apostle needed the prayers of saints. He greatly valued them. We should pray for one another.
Verse 26.—“Greet all the brethren.” The reverse of a cold shake of the hand. Oh! the warmth of the gush of affection; the warm, loving spirit between one another. How different to the jarring discords of the present day. “All the brethren,” not only the loveable and amiable. If they be God’s children they are our brethren. Let us love them, though we may not love or imitate all their ways.
Lectures on the Epistles to the Thessalonians.