The Biblical Illustrator
1 Thessalonians 2
1 Thessalonians 2:1-2
For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain
Essential elements of success in preaching: Boldness
Outsiders testified of the success of the gospel; and the apostles could confidently appeal to the converts in confirmation of the report.
“For yourselves,” etc. Dr. Lillie observes: “Paul’s entrance was no easy, random, careless matter--not at all an affair of rhetoric or ostentation--no holiday diversion or intellectual pastime; but a fact of the utmost gravity for him and for that renowned city--a crisis, an epoch in the history of both.” We trace in their ministerial endeavours four essential elements that are ever found in all successful preaching--boldness, sincerity, gentleness, moral consistency. Consider, first, their boldness.
I. This boldness manifested in the earnest declaration of the truth. “We are bold in our God,” etc.
1. Bold in their conception of the Divine origin and vast scope of the gospel, and its adaptation to the wants of man, they were not less hold in its faithful proclamation. Their deep conviction of the supreme authority of the truth gave them unusual courage. We see the same spirit in Paul, when his fearless words roused the ire of Festus, shook the conscience of the thoughtless Felix, or swayed the heart of Agrippa. We see it in Elijah as he rebuked the sins of the wicked Ahab or threw the baffled priests of Baal into maddening hysteria--himself the while unmoved and confident. We see it conspicuously in Him whose burning words assailed every wrong, and who denounced the leaders of a corrupt Church as “serpents!” “generation of vipers!”
2. “With much contention”--amid much conflict and danger. This kind of preaching provoked opposition, and involved them in great inward struggles. The faithful messenger of God fears not the most violent assault from without: but the thought of the fatal issues to those who obstinately reject and fight against the gospel fills him with agonizing concern.
II. This boldness no suffering could daunt. “Even after that we had suffered before,” etc. They had come fresh from a city where they had been cruelly outraged. But their sufferings only deepened their love for the gospel, and inflamed the passion to make it known. A German professor has lately made experiments with chalcedony, and other quartzose minerals, and he has demonstrated that when such stones are ground on large and rapidly revolving wheels, they exhibit a brilliant phosphorescent glow throughout their entire mass. So is it with the resolute worker. The more he is ground under the strong wheel of suffering and persecution, the more intensely will his character glow.
III. This boldness was Divinely inspired. “In our God.” It was not presumption or bravado; but tire calm, grand heroism of a profound faith in God. The prophet Jeremiah, in a moment of despondency, decided to “speak no more in the name of the Lord;” but when he could say, “The Lord is with me as a mighty terrible One,” his courage returned, and he obeyed implicitly the Divine mandate--“Thou shalt go,” etc. Similarly commissioned, Paul once exclaimed, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Endowed with the like spirit Luther uttered his noble protest at the Diet of Worms--“Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me!” Lessons:
1. Boldness is indispensable in attacking the evils of the age--not in the mass, but in detail.
2. Boldness acquired only by studious and prayerful familiarity with God and His message. (G. Barlow.)
The true pulpit
I. Its sublime courage. “We were bold in our God.” True pulpit courage must not be con founded with that audacity, impudence, self-assurance, which, alas! is so prevalent. It is courage in God, and springs from--
1. Love for God’s character. Love is the soul of courage. Strong love absorbs all selfish fears and makes the soul heroic. Paul loved his God so strongly that he lost all selfish feelings in the passion.
2. Confidence in God’s gospel. Paul knew that the gospel he had received and that he preached was not of men, but of God. No infidel argument could shake his faith in this. It was to him a subject beyond question and debate, settled amongst the immoveable facts of his own consciousness. Boldness in God is what the pulpit wants now. Some preachers speak as if they were bold in their theology, in their sect, in their own capacities; but Paul was “bold in God.” He felt himself to be nothing.
II. Its transcendent theme. The glad tidings.
1. That God loves all men, although they are sinners. Nature shows that God loves all men as creatures; but the gospel alone reveals His love to sinners (John 3:16).
2. That God’s love for sinners is so great that He gave His only begotten Son. This is God’s gospel; and what a transcendent theme for the preacher! This Paul preached: not theology, science, philosophy, metaphysical theories. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
is cool and calm. The bravest of men have least of a brutal bullying insolence, and in the very time of danger are found the most serene and free. Rage, we know, can make a coward forget himself, and fight. But what is done in fury or anger can never be placed to the account of courage. (Shaftesbury.)
Archbishop Whately once said, when a friend asked him whether he did not feel nervous about preaching, that he dared not; for nervousness implied thoughts of oneself, when we ought only to be thinking of God’s message. (J. Hutchinson, D. D.)
A minister without boldness
is like a smooth file, a knife without an edge, a sentinel that is afraid to let off his gun. If men will be bold to sin, ministers must be bold to reprove. (W. Gurnal.)
Influence of character
The daily influence of Christ-like ministers streams into the character of their people as the imponderable sunlight enters into the solid substance of vegetation. (Boston Review.)
Rev. Mr. Johnson, a Baptist missionary in China, relates this fact of a native convert who, when trying to persuade his countrymen to give up their idols and believe in Christ, was ridiculed and scorned, and at last pelted with mud and stones till his face was red with the blood that flowed from the cuts in his temples. Mr. Johnson meeting him said, “You have had bad treatment today.” He smilingly replied, “They may kill me if they will love Jesus.”
A courageous preacher
Mr. Moody tells us that there was a celebrated preacher in one of the Southern States of America, who went to a place where they told him if he dared to speak they would rotten-egg him. But he went right on. He said he wanted to tell them a story. A man in Texas went to town and sold a drove of cattle; he put the money in his saddlebags, got on his horse and started for home, his dog with him. He got tired after awhile, and laid down under a tree and went to sleep, laying the saddlebags by him. After awhile he awoke, took up the bags, got on his horse and rode off. But his dog kept barking and running back, and would not go along with him and keep quiet. So he finally, in his anger, took out his revolver and shot the dog, and rode on. But the more he thought about what he had done, the more he was troubled. He turned his horse and rode back, and found that the dog had dragged himself along until he had reached the tree where he had slept. There he was, dying; but by his side was his master’s bundle of money, which he had dropped and was going off without, and which his faithful dog had lost his life in trying to save. “Now,” said the minister, “I am here like that dog, to tell you of the treasure you are losing. Rotten-egg me if you want to.” But they didn’t; they heard him gladly.
Not in vain
A young man was engaged in teaching a class of rather wild lads in a Sabbath school: He thought that he was not qualified to make any impression upon them, and got much discouraged. By the inducements of his fellow teachers and superintendent, he was prevailed upon to keep at the work for years, till at last he absolutely refused to continue it longer. Many years afterward an eminent missionary wrote home: “Is that gentleman who taught in the Sabbath school still living? If he is, please let him know that there is at least one living who dates his conversion to Christ from the lessons received in his class.” So you see that, although the teacher gave up his work because he saw no fruit, yet the seed sown was not lost; one soul, if not more, was saved, and used as God’s means for saving many others.
1 Thessalonians 2:3-6
For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile
The whole gospel preaching and message is so called, as permeated by, and living in, an atmosphere of gentle, soothing affection.
Religion has been defined as “morality tinctured by emotion.” Much more truly is the whole gospel a system “tinctured by emotion,” i.e., a paraklesis. Hence two different shades of meaning are blended in the word. As addressed to the careless, slothful, tempted, fallen, it is exhortation; as addressed to the sad and seeking it is solace and comfort. It is the gospel exhortation, which is never without a certain soothing, sympathetic sweetness. The two senses of paraklesis exhortation and consolation, so easily passing into one another (1 Thessalonians 2:11) are suggestive of the external state of the early Church, sorrowing amid the evils of the world, and needing as its first lesson to be comforted, and not less suggestive of the first lesson of the gospel to the individual soul of peace in believing. (Prof. Jowett.)
Essential elements of success in preaching: sincerity
This is no less essential than courage. As the mountain turn reflects the clear light of the stars so the preacher reflects in his conduct the motives by which he is sustained.
I. Sincerity in motive (1 Thessalonians 2:3). The Apostle disclaims the harbouring of evil intentions.
1. In relation to God. “Not of deceit.” Having received the truth from God and about God, he transmits it in all its integrity without error or imposture.
2. In relation to himself. “Not of uncleanness.” Pure in his own affection and purpose, he preached a gospel that was pure in itself, in its tendency, and in its experienced results.
3. In relation to others. “Not in guile.” He sought not to propagate the gospel by fraudulent wiles or false representations. He descended not to hypocrisy to catch men. “Hypocrites,” says Bernard, “desire to seem, not to be good; not to seem, but to be evil; they care not to follow or practice virtue, but to colour vice, by putting in it the painted complexion of virtue.” The life of a man whose motives are sincere, will be transparent as the light. A certain king of Castile, who had only been too familiar with the duplicity of mankind, once arrogantly said, “When God made man, He left one capital defect: He ought to have set a window in his breast.” The sincere man opens a window in his breast, by the whole tenor of his words and actions, so that his innermost thoughts are apparent.
II. In speech.
1. They speak under a solemn sense of responsibility. “But as we were allowed,” etc. (1 Thessalonians 2:4). To their charge, as men tested and approved of God, was committed the precious treasure of the gospel; and conscious of its riches they were solicitous to distribute them in all faithfulness and sincerity.
2. They sought chiefly the Divine approval. “Not as pleasing men,” etc. There is much in the gospel distasteful to the natural man--its humiliating exposure of our depravity and helplessness, its holiness, its mysteries, the unbending severity of its law, and the absolute character of its claims. The temptation is sometimes great to temper, and modify the truth to carnal prejudice, and sacrifice faithfulness to popularity. But the apostles risked everything, so that they secured the Divine approval.
3. They practised neither adulation nor deception. “For neither at any time used we flattering words,” etc. (1 Thessalonians 2:5). “Flattery,” says Plutarch, “has been the ruin of most states.” But alas! who can tell the souls it has forever undone!
III. Of aim (1 Thessalonians 2:6). Seen--
1. In the generous suppression of the authority with which they were armed. “When we might have been burdensome,” etc. Whether in foregoing their legitimate claim of maintenance, or, as restraining the exhibition of the dignity and power of their apostleship as generally admitted--it was equally honourable to the pure and disinterested character of their highest aim.
2. In the absence of all selfish ambition. “Nor of men sought we glory.” They could conscientiously aver--“we seek not yours but you.” “I love a serious preacher,” says Fenelon, “who speaks for my sake, and not for his own: who seeks my salvation and not his own glory.” It is said of one of the ancient fathers that he would weep at the applause given to his discourses. “Would to God,” said he, “they had rather gone away silent and thoughtful!” It is a sorry end to preach for mere ephemeral human praise. Such a man may sink into the grave with the touching lament of Grotius--“Alas! I have lost my life in doing nothing with great labour!”
1. Sincerity in proclaiming the truth can be acquired only by a personal experience of its power.
2. Sincerity is deepened by a conscious Divine commission.
3. Sincerity is unmistakeably evidenced in word and deed.
4. Sincerity is satisfied only in aiming at the highest results in preaching. (G. Barlow.)
The gospel and its preachers
I. The Gospel.
1. It belongs to God; hence it is denominated, “the Gospel of God.” He indeed was its author; and because He is good, He bestows His gospel on men for their good.
2. It claims universal acceptance. If it is not received in the love of it, there is no other gospel for mankind; it is the only star by which men can navigate the sea of life, and securely gain the shores of eternity.
3. It is benedictive in its influence.
II. The preachers of the Gospel.
1. They were men and not angels. Angels know nothing experimentally of human failings and regrets--human difficulties and trials, therefore are incompetent to preach the gospel. It must be preached by such men as Paul and Silas--“men of like passions with ourselves.” They are on the same footing with the Thessalonians and all of humankind.
2. They were holy men. In the Divine order of things the blessing of conversion precedes the call to the ministry as surely as the morning star precedes the orb of day. In other words--men are not preachers first and then true Christians, but true Christians and then preachers.
3. They were sincere and bold. They had suffered acutely for the gospel at Philippi, had been shamefully ill-treated by its citizens; but many waters could neither quench their love for the gospel nor for the souls the gospel could save. So they preached it at Thessalonica with the same burning zeal they had done at Philippi. (J. Cumming, D. D.)
St. Paul’s ministry--Described
1. No of deceit. The word thus translated, as distinguished from “guile,” denotes mental error without respect to any bad design (see Proverbs 14:8). It was no false theory, wild vagary, empty speculation, that Paul preached.
2. Not of uncleanness. To understand by this fraud or imposture would not only introduce needless tautology, but would interfere with the acknowledged ethical sense of the word, which is bad morals, especially sensuality. The Apostle affirms that he and his associates did not preach a doctrine which warranted or connived at vice, and did not seek, by preaching, to gratify any sensual passions of their own. The contrary character is exemplified in Jezebel (Revelation 2:20), and in the persons described in 2 Peter 2:1-22; 4:10-13; 4:16-19.
3. Not in guile. They had not acted the part of imposters or hypocrites.
1. Paul and Silas were--
2. They spoke in a manner corresponding to the twofold fact of their vocation by God and their responsibility to Him, “Not as pleasing men,” etc.
Deceit an unsafe element in moral building
It is difficult to maintain falsehood. When the materials of a building are solid blocks of stone, very rude architecture will suffice; but a structure of rotten materials needs the most careful adjustment in order to make it stand. (Archbishop Whately.)
Advantages sometimes acquired by guile
Advantages may sometimes be acquired by craft. A fox got into a hen roost one night, and so gorged himself that he could not make his exit through the narrow hole by which he entered. So he lay down pretending to be dead when the hen wife came to look for her fowls. Thinking reynard was really dead, in her vexation for the loss of her hens, she took him by his brush and threw him outside, when he scampered off. Sixtus, Pope of Rome, owed his election to his cleverly counterfeiting sickness and old age; so he got most votes, as other cardinals, who probably hoped to be pope, thought he would soon die. (H. K. Burton.)
But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the Gospel.
I. What does the word “allowed” mean? The Greek word means--
1. To try.
2. To approve.
3. To see fit.
As in Romans 1:25, the heathen, it is said, did not like to retain God in their knowledge, i.e., they did not see fit to do it. Allowed does not mean to judge fit, in the sense that Paul was made a minister on account of his own merits, nor on the ground of the foresight of what he would be, but it was an act of God’s sovereign grace. So in the account of his conversion (1 Timothy 2:13) he gives thanks to Christ. In 1 Corinthians 7:25, he says he had obtained mercy to be found faithful. He regarded his being put in the ministry as a great and undeserved mercy.
II. What is the Gospel? The glad news of salvation revealed in the Scriptures. It is not a code of morals, nor a cultus, nor a life; it is the system of doctrines concerning God and man and Christ. It is called the wisdom of God, so contrasted with the wisdom of men, i.e., what God has revealed as opposed to what reason teaches. Hence to be put in trust with the gospel means to be a steward of the mysteries, i.e., the truths revealed by God. Two things are included in the gospel: the truth and its proclamation. The gospel is a report--something heard.
III. In what sense is the Gospel a trust. Two things are included in a trust or two duties of a trustee.
1. The safe custody of what is committed to his care.
2. Right administration. As to the first, it must he preserved in safety and preserved from deterioration. If gold is committed to a man, he must not deposit it in an insecure place; he must defend and preserve it. He can’t substitute worthless paper for it. The gospel is the most precious treasure, far more so than gold or power. The minister is bound to preserve it, and not substitute the worthless products of his own brain for it. He must use it, not keep it hid in a napkin. He must use it for the purpose for which it is designed, not for his own advantage. Paul says of himself, that he acted--
The guilt of an unfaithful trustee is great. His doom dreadful. The reward and blessedness of a faithful minister the greatest conceivable. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
The Christian ministry
I. Its privilege--“allowed of God.”
II. Its sublime responsibility--“put in trust.”
III. Its faithful administration--“even so we speak.”
IV. Its awful scrutiny--“God which trieth the hearts.” (W. Bengo Collyer, D. D.)
I. The apostle’s reasons for preaching the Gospel.
1. He was a steward, “put in trust with the gospel.” It was therefore not the Gospel of Paul, but the Gospel of God. All ministers of it have a great honour put upon them and trust committed to them. They must not dare to corrupt the pure Word of God, but diligently make use of what is intrusted with them, knowing they will he called to give an account of it.
2. His design was to please God and not man. God is a God of truth, and requireth truth in the inward parts. The gospel is not accommodated to the vain fancies and lusts of men; but, on the contrary, it was designed for the mortifying their corrupt affections, and delivering them from the power of fancy, that they might be brought under the power of faith.
3. He acted under the consideration of God’s omniscience. This is indeed the great motive to sincerity--to consider God not only seeth all that we do, but knoweth our thoughts afar off, and searcheth the heart; and it is from God that we must receive our reward.
II. The evidences of the apostle’s sincerity.
1. He avoided flattery. He and his fellow labourers preached Christ and Him crucified, and did not aim to gain an interest in men’s affections for themselves, by glorying, and fawning, and wheedling them: they were far from that. Nor did they flatter men in their sins, or tell them that if they would be of their party, they might live as they listed. They did not build them up with vain hopes, nor indulge them in any evil work or way, promising them life, and so daubing with untempered mortar.
2. He avoided covetousness. He did not make the ministry a cloak or covering for this carnal desire, as God was witness. He would not enrich himself by preaching the gospel; so far from that, he did not burden them for bread. He did out in anywise like the false apostles, who “through covetousness with vain words made merchandise” of the people.
3. He avoided ambition and vain glory. He neither expected people’s purses nor their caps, neither to be caressed or adored by them, and called rabbi. He might have used greater authority as an apostle, and expected greater esteem, and demanded maintenance; but some might perhaps have thought all this too great a burden for them to bear, and hence he avoided all mention of such things. He thought ever of his Divine Lord, and seldom of himself. (R. Fergusson.)
The minister’s trust, faithfulness, and trials
I. The minister’s trust.
1. Its basis. The Divine permission--“allowed of God.” This is the minister’s prerogative and authority.
2. Its subject--the gospel.
3. Its object--the salvation, edification, comfort, and eternal blessedness of men.
II. The minister’s faithfulness.
1. The minister who is conscious of his responsibility speaks as one who will have to render an account of his stewardship, thoughtfully, cautiously, humbly, prayerfully, boldly.
2. This faithfulness is expressed in the singleness and sacredness of its object. “Not as pleasing men,” etc. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
3. This singleness of purpose in pleasing God rather than man is also a test of our fidelity. The faithful minister is content to labour without human applause.
III. The minister’s trials.
1. He is subject not only to those trials which are common to all men, but to those which are peculiar to his office: discouragement, anxiety for souls, doubts as to past labours, a sense of his unworthiness in His sight who trieth the heart.
2. But God trieth the heart for wise and benevolent ends--
Trustees for God
I. The trustees.
1. Christian ministers are trustees for God. They have a charge to keep other than that which is common to Christians. It matters little by what channel the Great Head of the Church has communicated His will to the individual; it is enough that he is “allowed of God.”
2. A trustee is chosen as being a man of character, one who can be relied upon to administer his trust fairly, Generally he is a friend chosen because of his superior qualifications. And, whatever may be said about truth being independent of the preacher, yet as light is tinged and refracted by the window through which it passes, so it is impossible to separate a man from the system he advocates. It is difficult to believe that to be good which expresses the feelings of a bad man. “Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine.” Self modifies doctrine. Men universally recognize this, and the first necessity of success is to give no occasion for slanderous lies. That which is culpable in an ordinary Christian is doubly so in a minister.
3. But while as trustees we do well to look to ourselves, yet that does not mean that we should be burdened with the sense of our own importance. It has been the reproach of priests in all ages that they have been more anxious to magnify than to use their office. Without falling back on the exploded fallacy of apostolical succession we may find a platform sufficiently strong and broad in the priceless value of what has been committed to our trust. The trustee of a prince, heir to an ancient throne, is necessarily charged with more responsibility than a homeless wanderer.
II. Their trust. That one word “Gospel” suggests the nature of it. Not simply the proclamation of a sovereign to his subjects, though that would involve a heavy responsibility; but the revelation of the very nature of Deity, and how that nature has wrought his working for the salvation of men.
1. Even with the Bible in their hands, and the multiplied helps to its study, it is possible for ministers to underrate its importance, and to allow the gospel to be only one among many agencies by which God is renewing the heart of mankind. There is a strong tendency among liberal thinkers to extol what is good in each of the religions of the world, and to conceal the defects which are everywhere visible. But we have a religion which has no defects, and is perfectly adapted to every man, and remake him wiser, nobler, and happier; and which God has designed as the one religion for man. To deal tenderly with false religions is to imperil our trust.
2. Without any intention of substituting another gospel for that of the New Testament, it is possible to so place the emphasis in teaching as to seriously weaken the force of our message; possible so to present Divine love and truth as to add to the weight of the many burdens which almost crush humanity. Any presentation of this solemn trust which fails to strengthen faith, hope, and love, must necessarily be defective. If our gospel be one of perpetual condemnation, destroying the old and not building up the new, it is not in sympathy with Him who came not to condemn but to save, and will win no confidence, and stir no enthusiasm.
III. The administration of this trust.
1. It is required of a steward that he be found faithful.
2. The danger of most is that they are called to administer a trust of which they have no adequate appreciation. Conceive of a man put in trust of an estate rich in gold and precious stones, and allowing an absolute lease of it for the value of the mere timber on it. What an outcry there would be against his intellectual and moral unfitness! Our peril is lest, overcome by the spirit of the age, we should take too great heed to all and everything that is said against the gospel, and fail to appreciate the force of the argument which comes from eighteen centuries of positive evidence.
3. Unwittingly we may be helping into popularity men and their theories whose influence but for us would be confined within a very narrow area. Nine out of every ten men in our congregations know nothing of these, and the tenth man who knows something is likely to be more advantaged by the preaching of positive truth than by mere controversy. When an epidemic is abroad, the men of robust health are least in danger of infection, and our aim should be to get and keep men in a state of robust moral health, by feeding them with the Bread of Life.
4. When men seem disposed to break away from our influence we ought to search our hearts and methods, and everything which concerns us and our ministry, and see if there be anything in the spirit of our action which accounts for such restlessness. We ought to ask ourselves whether our administration of our trust be right, or whether we are the mere teachers of a science of religion, which informs the mind, but leaves the heart unmoved; whether there be not some vital element in the gospel which we have largely left out, which would have roused men to defend a treasure so valuable. Ministers not seldom so present the truth as to convince without persuading. We have knocked men down by the force of argument, and despoiled them without giving them anything in return.
5. Instead of patiently and faithfully administering our trust, we are apt to fall into the error of supposing that men know all that is knowable of Scriptural truth, and thus work outside the facts and truths of the gospel. (Reuen Thomas, D. D.)
I. The preciousness of the Gospel. It is precious because--
1. It reveals God.
2. It offers salvation--
3. It breathes hope into every man.
II. It has been entrusted to us in order that by its means we might save our fellow men. How great is our responsibility to let it speak in our words and deeds! (W. Birch.)
Not as pleasing men but God--This should be the supreme and controlling purpose of life.
I. To please God is possible, because--
1. He has revealed what will please Him: His will in His Word.
2. We know this or may learn it.
3. His Spirit will help us if we seek His aid.
II. To please man is impossible.
1. AS it is impossible to please all men, so it is almost as impossible to please one. The same man is different at different times. What may please him today may displease him tomorrow.
2. God has failed to please man even more signally than man himself. Chiefly see how He failed when He came in the likeness of man that He might purify him and fit him for heaven.
3. By seeking to please men instead of God, or more than God, men must doom the world to perpetual darkness and stationariness, or rather, as this is not possible, to sure retrogression and decay. How blessed, then, is the truth that it is easier to please God than man! (E. Mellor, D. D.)
The true missionary spirit
Bravo Paul! He spoke the Word, whether sinners would hear or not, whether men were converted or not. If it pleased God he was content. Just like that grand man who kept working away in isolation in the heart of China, and for years saw no conversion. A lady said to him, “What good are you doing in China, Mr. Burns?” To which he replied, “Madam, I did not go to China to convert the Chinese, I went to glorify God.” He went to serve and please his Master. I was asked to examine a young man who wanted to give up his business and go to Africa as a missionary. I asked him, “What is your motive in wanting to take this step? Suppose you go to the heart of Africa, and, seeing thousands bowing down before their idols and refusing to hear of Christ, what would you do?” He replied, “I’d just keep pegging away.” That is the right spirit of service: to keep pegging away for the Master, not to please the society, not to have a large place on the statistics, not to have a great following, but to please God. If we go forth to any service according to the will of God, and only to please Him. He will bless us in our souls, and in the end give us to see His power in the salvation of sinners. (G. C. Needham.)
An unfaithful preacher
We were sitting under the shade of an oak tree comparing notes and conferring with one another as to the best methods of service, especially in reference to effective preaching. “I always write my sermons,” said my friend, “and then carefully revise them, so that, if anything is written calculated to offend any of my hearers, I may at once erase it.” This was said by a young clergyman, who was evidently anxious to make his mark as a preacher. Desirous to know that I heard correctly, I replied, “Do you mean that forcible statements, either of your own writing or from Scripture, concerning sin and the terrors of the judgment to come, are either toned down or avoided?” “Yes,” was the reply; “if I think they will offend any one I do so.” I fear this candid testimony indicates the reason so many ministers are powerless amongst their fellows. “The fear of man bringeth a snare indeed.” (Henry Varley.)
The danger of popularity
To one who warned him (Whitefield) to beware of the evils of popularity he replied, “I thank you heartily. May God reward you for watching over my soul; and as to what my enemies say against me. I know worse things of myself than they can say concerning me.” “I bless God for my stripping seasons,” he would say; “nothing sets a person so much out of the devil’s reach as humility.” (J. R. Andrews.)
You know the anecdote of Louis and Massilon. After Massilon had preached rather an agitating sermon, I suppose, Louis sent for him. “Massilon,” said he, “you have offended me.” “That is what I wished to do, sire,” said the preacher. And we would not give much for a minister who did not offend two-thirds of his congregation at times--arouse them up--smash against the conscience of the bigot, and baulk party prejudices, and touch the secret sin, which, if they do not confess, they still feel.
Tried by God
Some things, if they be tried once, they are tried forever; if we try gold, it will ever be as good as we found it, unless we alter it; as we find it, so it will continue to be. But try the heart of man this day, and come again the next, and you may find it in a different condition; today believing, to morrow unbelieving; today humble, tomorrow proud; today meek, tomorrow passionate; today lively and enlarged, tomorrow dead and straightened;--pure gold today, tomorrow exceeding drossy. As it is with the pulse of sick man, it varies every quarter of an hour, therefore the physician tries his pulse every time he comes, because his disease alters the state of his body: so it is with the distempered condition of man’s spirit. God having tried our pulse, the state of our spirit, by crosses, or by mercies, this day, next day He tries us too, and the third day He tries us again, and so keep us in continual trials, because we are continually varying. Our comfort is, that there is a time coming, when God will establish our souls in such a spiritual and heavenly frame, so that He will need to try us no more. (J. Caryl.)
Disregarding the slanders of men
John Wesley once stood out very nobly in disregarding the eyes of men so long as he stood acquitted in the sight of God. Among his many persecutions are to be numbered the falling back of former friends, including him wife. These turned against him, and published many spiteful things, even defaming his character in a shocking manner. Brother Charles hastened off in alarm and indignation to inquire what defence Brother John would set up. There was no time to lose! The eyes of the world were upon him, and God’s enemies and his own would be glad to make capital out of so contemptible a business! What was Charles’ surprise to find that John was resolved on doing simply nothing! The great preacher was calm and comfortable in mind, being entirely free from any concern for the future. Why should he be perplexed when he had entrusted God with his all--even with his reputation? None are so safe as those whose characters are in God’s keeping. Such often consider that they dishonour God by setting up puny defences of their own against the cavils of the wicked. They think more of that one eye of God which is ever looking upon them, than of the eyes of men. For neither at any time used we flattering words--
The mean between flattery and severity
Paul avoided the extremes alike of obsequiousness and churlishness. The man whose independence forbade him to use flattering words was yet gentle enough in persuading the Thessalonians to embrace and make progress in the truth. And he who would be truly useful must strike this golden mean as we are warned by the following fable: A chameleon once met a porcupine, and complained that he had taken great pains to make friends with everybody; but, strange to say, he had entirely failed, and could not now be sure that he had a friend in the world. “And by what means,” said the porcupine, “have you sought to make friends? By flattery,” said the chameleon. “I have adapted myself to all I have met; humoured the follies and foibles of every one. In order to make people believe I liked them, I have imitated their manners, as if I considered them models of perfection. So far have I gone in this that it has be come a habit with me; and now my very skin takes the hue and complexion of the thing that happens to be nearest. Yet all this has been in vain; for everybody calls me a turncoat, and I am generally considered selfish, hypocritical, and base!” “And no doubt you deserve all this,” said the porcupine. “I have taken a different course; but I must confess that I have as few friends as you. I adopted the rule to resent every encroachment upon my dignity. I would allow no one even to hush me, without sticking into him one of my sharp quills. I determined to take ears of number one; and the result has been that while I have vindicated my rights, have created a universal dislike. I am called ‘Old Touch-me-not,’ and if I am not as much despised I am even more disliked than you, Sir Chameleon.”
One of the first acts performed by George III, after his accession to the throne, was to issue an order prohibiting any of the clergy who should be called to preach before him from paying him any compliment in their discourses. His Majesty was lead to this from the fulsome adulation which Dr. Thomas Wilson, Prebendary of Westminster, thought proper to deliver in the Chapel Royal, and for which, instead of thanks, he received from his royal auditor a pointed reprimand, his Majesty observing, “that he came to the chapel to hear the praises of God, and not his own.” This circumstance operated wonderfully on the reverend orator, as from that moment he became a flaming patriot. The Doctor took part with Wilkes, was made liveryman of the Joiner’s Company, and lavished large sums upon Mrs. Macaulay, the Republican historian, in whose honour he caused a marble statue to be erected in his church at Walbrook, though before he died he caused it to be removed, not indeed so much from a sense of the impropriety of the thing, as out of resentment to the lady, who had displeased him by her marriage.
“I resolve,” said Bishop Beveridge, “never to speak of a man’s virtues before his face; nor of his faults behind his back;” a golden rule I the observation of which would, at one stroke, banish flattery and defamation from the earth. (Bp. Home.)
“Flattery is false money, which would not be current were it not for our vanity.” (La Rochefoucauld.)
Nor a cloke of covetousness--
The word “cloke” here is very significant. In this fallen world of ours there are some sins which men may even glory in--many the indulgence of which entails little or no shame. But this sin of covetousness is one which no man will ever dream of boasting of. Men, while they indulge it, always to hide it. As Bishop Sanderson says, “No man will profess himself covetous, be he never so wretchedly sordid within; but he will for very shame cast as handsome a cloak as he can over it--frugality, good husbandry, providence--some cloak or other to hide the filthiness of it from the sight of others. But filthy it is still, be it cloaked never so honestly. God abhorreth it as a filthy thing” (Psalms 10:3). It appears, then, that this covetousness, however often it may evince its presence among men, must have its cloke or mask. Were it at once and invariably to rythe in its real colours, even the children of the world would not endure it. It would be loathsome. But the Apostle adds, “God is witness” (Romans 1:9; 2 Corinthians 1:23; Philippians 1:8). In reference to the language of flattery, he says, “as ye know.” Man can judge thereon. Hence he appeals to his readers. They themselves were good enough judges as to whether he had ever flattered them. But it is otherwise with covetousness and its mask. “Neither man nor angel can discern hypocrisy, the only evil that walks invisible, except to God alone. By His permissive will through heaven to earth.” In regard to it--the hypocrisy of covetousness--therefore, Paul lays bare his heart before the all-seeing eye. (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
“When I gave up my business sixteen years ago, after three months of the severest struggle of my life, whether I should go for dollars and cents or for souls, from that day to this I have no more lived for money than I have lived for water. My friends have blamed me because I have not laid aside something for my family. Some of them insisted upon my wife having some money, and they bought her a home in the country, and the rumour is that it cost 30,000 dollars, and 30,000 dollars to furnish it. The home cost 3,500 dollars, and there have been some improvements, and the furniture and everything cost 10,000 dollars. It belongs to my wife and children. My father died at the early age of forty-one, and if I died tomorrow there will be a roof over the heads of my wife and children. I have been offered 500 dollars to lecture, when I might talk an hour, and then go to a comfortable hotel; but as it is now, I work at the Tabernacle all day, and talk till midnight with inquirers, and when I am done have hardly strength enough left to go to my room. The royalty on the hymn books amounted last year to 68,000 dollars, but it all went to three trustees, and not one dollar came into the hands of Mr. Sankey or myself. It belongs to us as much as the income of your business belongs to you but we give it up. We do not want one dollar of your money in Boston. Give it to the Lord as long as you please. I would rather live on a crust of bread than have people think we came for your money. If any young man here wants to go into the work of the Lord for money, I advise him not to do it. Now, I do not want any one to go off and say that we preach for nothing, for we do not. We preach for souls, and the Lord takes care of us. I never have known what it is to want money in the sixteen years I have been at work for Him. The Lord has taken good care of me, and I have not known what it is to want.” (D. L. Moody.)
Nor of men sought we glory--Why should the Apostle so repeatedly repudiate the imputation that he sought glory of men? He was one of those who instinctively knew the impression produced by his character and conduct on the hearts of others. What was the motive of this “vain babbler” would be a common topic of conversation in the cities at which he preached. “To get money; to make himself somebody,” would be the ordinary solution. Against this the Apostle protests. His whole life and conversation were a disproof of it. It may have been that he was aware also of something in his manner which might have suggested such a thought. It was not good for him to glory, and yet he sometimes spoke as a fool. Rightly understood, this glorying was but an elevation of the soul to God and Christ, or at worst the assertion of himself in moments of depression or ill-treatment, but to others he might have been conscious that it must have seemed a weakness, and may have been made a ground of the imputation of his adversaries. (Prof. Jowett.)
Glory claimed for God alon
e:--Cromwell in announcing the victory at Naseby to the Speaker of the House of Commons, added, “Sir, this is none other but the hand of God, and to Him alone give the glory wherein none are to share with Him.” (C. E. Little.)
Emptiness of worldly glory
When Henry Martyn went in for and obtained the high distinction of senior wrangler at Cambridge, his mind was kept, he tells us, in a state of calmness by the recollections of a sermon he had heard from the text, “Seekest thou great things for thyself, seek them not, saith the Lord.” James Brainerd Taylor was announced as being Number One in the class of students at college. The emptiness of honours struck him as it had done Henry Martyn. “What are honours?” he said. “What is fame? These are not my God.” In such a spirit, the soul, while using honours to God’s glory, is freed from that vexation of spirit which chafes some men of the world in high life, because a few inches of riband have been bestowed upon a favoured rival. How touching, we may add, it is to see the vain pursuit of human ambition acknowledge its emptiness when gratified. Madame Maintenon, when elevated to the throne of France as wife of Louis XIV, wrote to her friend Madame de la Mainford: “Do you not see that I am dying with melancholy, in a height of fortune which my imagination could scarcely have conceived?” When sick, too, of high society, the wife of Thomas Carlyle wrote to her gifted husband: “Ah! if we had been left in the sphere of life we belonged to, how much better it would have been for both of us!” (Sunday at Home.)
All glory to God
Said a converted Hindoo, addressing a number of his countrymen, “I am by birth a man of low and despised caste--and yet God has called me not only to know His gospel, but to teach it to others. Do you know why He did so? I will tell you. If God had selected one of you learned Brahmins, and made you His preacher, and you were successful in winning converts, the bystanders would have said, ‘It is the amazing learning of the Brahmin, the Brahmin’s influence, the Brahmin’s great weight of character that has done this;’ but now, when hearers are convinced and brought to the truth by my instrumentality, nobody thinks of the preacher, and God gets all the glory.” When we might have been burdensome as the apostles of Christ--This has been referred in different senses either to what precedes or to what follows. In the first case the sense would be, although we might have been oppressive to you with our glorying and claims. But even though the words be thus humoured, the antithesis is not quite sound. Without wholly losing sight of what has preceded, it is better to connect them with what follows. The Apostle means to say that he might have oppressed them with apostolic claims and pretensions. He might have commanded where he entreated; he might have “come to them with a rod,” and he came to them “in love and in the spirit of meekness” (1 Corinthians 4:21); he might have claimed the right of support from them as an apostle of Christ, and he waives it for their sake (comp. 1 Corinthians 9:1-27). It is true that this last point is not referred to until 1 Thessalonians 2:9. But nothing is more in the Apostle’s manner than to drop a thought and then resume it. (Prof. Jowett.)
Labour of love
Sixteen years ago a godly man and his wife were sent out to evangelize these then-heathen people (Sambaina, a remote place in Madagascar); and the people hated them, and for long they would not listen. They broke into their house at night again and again, and threatened to burn them out; but they would not go away, but quietly and lovingly waited and prayed and worked. By and by the contributions from Ambohipotsy, from the Society on which these good people depended, were completely dried up. And when the heathen people heard that they rejoiced, for “now at last they will go,” they said. But they did not go, but held on to their work; and they are there yet, working “all for love and nothing for reward.” And God has blessed their work and raised many helpers and spiritual children for them there. “The wilderness and solitary places are glad because of them;” and some of those who persecuted them at the first told me the story with tears standing on their faces … On the Sunday a large congregation filled their new chapel. (W. Montgomery.)
1 Thessalonians 2:7-8
But were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children
Were the person here meant only the stranger to whom a feeble mother, or, when the mother is no more, the sad and stricken father, entrusts their little one, still the image would express the ideas of kindness and care.
But the pronoun “her own” ( ἐαυτῆς) clearly shows that the picture in the apostle’s eye is that of the mother herself nursing her tender offspring. And oh! what a love is hers!--how deep, how mild, how strong, how practical! Who, from his observation of the world, and from his own experience--in other stages, haply, than that of infancy--does not associate with the name of mother the idea of a gentleness the gentlest that ever, in this low world, takes up its home in a human voice, a human hand, a human heart? And what “man of woman born” may not catch the meaning, and feel the force, of the prophet’s words--“As one whom his mother comforteth”? (A. S. Patterson, D. D.)
Essential elements of success in preaching: Gentleness
There is a power in gentleness to subdue the mightiest opposition, and to triumph over the most gigantic difficulties. The gentle rays of the sun melt the ponderous iceberg more speedily than the rolling billows of an angry ocean; the silent action of the atmosphere wastes the rock which remains immovable under the strokes of the heaviest weapon. A look from Moses vanquished the calf idolatry of the Israelites which the fluent eloquence of Aaron had been powerless to resist; a calm, quiet word from Jesus paralyzed with fear the band of soldiers who came to arrest Him in Gethsemane. True gentleness is never weak. It is the tough, indestructible material out of which is formed the hero and the martyr. This quality was conspicuous in the preachers at Thessalonica.
I. It was the gentleness of patient endurance.
1. It enabled them to bear the insult and outrage of their enemies. Their preaching roused violent opposition. They retaliated by praying for their persecutors. Against physical force they fought with moral weapons; and this attitude had a powerful influence on their adversaries. The modern preacher can adopt no better method. The offence of the Cross still stirs the enmity of the carnal mind. “And the servant of the Lord must not strive,” etc. The power of a man is seen, not so much in what he can do as in what he can endure. It is only the Christian spirit that unites the utmost gentleness with the utmost strength.
2. It enabled them to bear with the weakness and imperfections of their converts--“As a nursing mother cherisheth her own children.” They watched over them with the tenderest assiduity, instructed them with the most disinterested solicitude, accommodated themselves to their infant standpoint, with parental devotion. In order to successful teaching, in spiritual as in secular subjects, we must study the child nature. Take into account the influence of surroundings, early prejudices, capacity, temperament. See this illustrated in the Divine treatment of Israel under Moses, etc., and the intercourse of Jesus with the disciples.
II. It was the gentleness of self-sacrificing love (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
1. Their gentleness arose from a genuine love of souls. “Because ye were dear.” Love is the power of the preacher. After this he toils with increasing earnestness as the years speed on; and it is the grace that comes latest into the soul. No amount of scholarship, exposition, or eloquence can atone for the absence of love. The fables of the ancients tell us of Amphion, who, with the music of his lyre, drew after him the huge stones with which the walls of Thebes were built; and of Orpheus, who, by his skill on the harp, could stay the course of rivers and tame the wildest animals. These are but exaggerated examples of the charm of love. “I have always been afraid,” said a devoted young minister, “of driving my people away from the Saviour. I would rather err on the side of drawing them.” John Fletcher once said, “Love, continual, universal, ardent love, is the soul of all the labour of a minister.”
2. The intensity of their love awoke a spirit of voluntary self-sacrifice. “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing,” etc. To accomplish the salvation of their hearers they were willing to surrender life itself. This was the temper of the Divine Preacher, who “came not to be ministered unto,” etc. A similar spirit imbued the apostle when he met the weeping elders of Ephesus. The love of science nerves the voyager to brave the dangers of the Arctic ice, amid which many have found a crystal tomb; but a nobler love inspires the breast of the humble worker who cheerfully sacrifices all this world holds dear, to rescue men from woe.
1. That gentleness is power, not only in patient endurance, but also in enterprising action.
2. That gentleness is indispensable to effectiveness, either in warning or reproof. It succeeds where a rigid austerity fails.
3. That gentleness is fostered and regulated by a deep, self-sacrificing love. (G. Barlow.)
Ministerial work and character
(text in conjunction with 1 Thessalonians 2:1-11):--
I. The trust reposed in the minister of Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:4). Other trusts are temporary and inconsiderable; this unbounded in its consequences and spiritual in its effects. In stating the doctrines committed to him by this trust, the minister has--
1. To prepare for the gospel by teaching men their guilt and condemnation as sinners, their accountability to God, and their impotency to save themselves.
2. To tell what is properly the gospel he must explain that salvation begins in the purpose and love of God the Father, is wrought out by the incarnation and obedience unto death of God the Son, and is communicated and applied by God the Holy Ghost.
3. To show the effect of the gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).
II. The manner in which the ministry of the Gospel is to be discharged. Besides the announcement of doctrines, much depends on the spirit in which they are announced.
1. Fidelity (1 Thessalonians 2:2-5) in the discharge of a trust is the primary quality, without which subsidiary qualities do not deserve the name of virtues. The minister must not aim at pleasing men, but God. Heathen priests and false apostles were notoriously guilty of guile, deceit, impurity. To gain their ends they flattered men and concealed what was displeasing. So, alas! some professed ministers of Christ hide some part of the truth, soften the declarations of God’s anger against sin, weaken, if they do not deny, the doctrines of the gospel, pass slightly over repentance, regeneration, separation from the world, etc.
2. Disinterestedness (1 Thessalonians 2:5-6). “Filthy lucre” is the term Scripture employs for appetite for gain in the minister of Christ. He has a right to demand that, preaching the gospel, he should live of the gospel; but the spirit of self-denial which willingly yields its strict rights, and is careful not to appear to drive a trade under the cloak of religion, and “seeks not yours, but you,” is ever the distinguishing mark of the true minister.
3. Humility (1 Thessalonians 2:6). The man that courts popularity, that frames his doctrines to the fashion of the day or the taste of his hearers, that cultivates the arts of human oratory, has his reward. But the faithful minister exhibits not himself, but Jesus Christ his Lord.
4. Mildness and gentleness of heart. What is there in nature so tender as a nursing mother? Different ministers excel in different graces. Though possessing all in a measure, yet they commonly surpass in some one or more--some in boldness, some in judgment, some in zeal, but the most useful in love.
III. The conduct of a minister of Christ as a result of the doctrines he has imbibed and the spirit with which he is animated.
1. Laboriousness (1 Thessalonians 2:9). The ministry is a “work.”
2. Purity (1 Thessalonians 2:10).
5. Usefulness. (Bp. D. Wilson.)
Ministerial affection and devotedness
The Apostle Paul had, in the former part of the chapter, reminded his Thessalonian brethren in what manner the gospel had been brought and preached to them, viz., “not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile.” After thus stating what was not the character of his ministrations among them, he proceeds to state what it was: “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8). What a beautiful description is this of the feelings and conduct of St. Paul to his Thessalonian converts! It is proper that I should first inform you that the apostle was addressing real Christians, truly converted characters: “For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain” (1 Thessalonians 2:1). So in the first chapter, 1 Thessalonians 2:2-7. He, indeed, bears them all in his heart, but not equally so: some are closer there than others. Think you not that although our Lord had a most tender and affectionate spirit towards all the Jews, He had yet a peculiar and stronger affection for those who faithfully and closely followed Him? At the same time, of course, any unfair or undue partiality is to be carefully avoided.
1. “We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children.” Gentleness, or kindness, and softness of manner, and of treatment, peculiarly characterizes a nursing mother. Her little infant is a tender, delicate plant, and will not bear rough usage. The outward frame of an infant is so very weak, that it is liable to sustain an injury even by improper handling, much more by any violent treatment; and its nerves are so very fine and tender, that any great shock would weaken them, perhaps ruin them entirely.
2. The very idea of a nursing mother is connected with the nourishment which she gives to her child. As a mother will not give her infant any strange food, so will not a faithful and judicious minister add anything to, nor take away from, what is written in the Bible.
3. Another characteristic of a nursing mother, by which she shows her gentleness towards her child, is being patient towards it--in not only waiting upon it in all the kind and affectionate offices of a parent, but waiting for it; giving it time, not hurrying it, but bearing with its infirmities, it may be, even with its petulance, and fretfulness, and oppositions. So the “servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves” (2 Timothy 2:24). We must not be disappointed if the tender plants of our spiritual nursery do not thrive as we could wish or hope. We must make allowances for their natural infirmities, as well as for their spiritual weakness.
4. The apostle goes on to say, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls.” Here, again, the image of an affectionate mother strikingly represents the devotedness of affection which the apostle bore towards his spiritual children. Many a mother has sacrificed her life for the sake of preserving the life of her child! And is not this precisely the spirit and the conduct of St. Paul? What was his language to the Corinthians? “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you” (2 Corinthians 12:15). Would that we could feel and manifest the same devotedness to our Master’s cause, and the same love for souls! There remains one point to be considered in connection with the declaration of the apostle in my text, and a very important point it is, viz., the motive or reason which he assigns for the affectionate interest which he took, and the devoted zeal which he manifested, on behalf of his Thessalonian brethren. It was this: “Because ye were dear unto us.” And here, again, the image of a nursing mother will illustrate this feature in the apostle’s character, and in the character of every faithful minister. What is it that impels the fond and anxious parent to cherish and nourish the child of her womb? Does she do it from any interested motives? Will she be repaid for all her care and all her labour? Not always. She does it for this simple but strong reason, because her child is dear to her. That which is a natural feeling in the bosom of the mother, by Divine grace becomes a spiritual affection in the breast of every faithful minister of the gospel. Thus the spirit of a faithful minister of Christ is an affectionate, devoted, and enlarged spirit. And why? Because it is the “Spirit of Christ.” Of Him, indeed, it might be truly said, in the days of His flesh, “He was gentle among us,” and was “affectionately desirous of us.” Do you not remember the affecting and affectionate image under which He represented Himself as feeling for perverse Jerusalem? (Matthew 23:37). (R. Grant.)
Gentleness essential to nurses
After all, it is only the sympathetic person who is fit for the office of nurse. There are born nurses, as there are born artists or poets--gentle, soft stepping creatures, who let in the sunshine with their very presence, just with their cheerful voices and beaming eyes, and all-embracing charity, which, Christ-like, places no blame on jangling nerves for the extorted word of impatience, when flesh and heart are fainting, and the silver cord is well nigh loosed, but with softest touch and pitying eyes soothe in place of condemning, and help the poor sufferer just as a mother’s warm breast lulls her babe to forget its pain. A cheerful inflection of the voice is often worth more than a whole apothecary’s shop. Your dull, silent croake is a walking hearse in a sick room. After all, in this, as in every other successful profession, intelligence must rule; but, alas! intelligence is the rarest of gifts. We may buy jellies and hothouse fruits, but who has intelligence to sell combined with kindness, though the mines of Golconda bid for it? (Fanny Fern.)
Ministers the nursing fathers of the Church
In a church in Verona stands, or rather sits, a wooden image of St. Zeno, an ancient bishop, with knees so ludicrously short that there is no lap on which a babe could be dandled. He was not the first nor the last ecclesiastic who has been utterly incapable of being a nursing father to the Church. It were well if all ministers had a heavenly instinct for the nourishing and bringing up of the Lord’s little ones. Is there not much lack in this? At the Synod of Moscow, held by King Goutran, A.D. 585, bishops were forbidden to keep dogs in their houses or birds of prey, lest the poor should be bit by these animals instead of being fed. Should not all ministers be equally concerned to chase away all morose habits, angry tempers, and repulsive manners, which might encourage the approach of inquiring souls who desire to know of us the way of salvation? Sunday school teachers may also take the hint. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Ministers should be gentle
St. Anselm was a monk in the Abbey of Bec, in Normandy; and upon Lanfranc’s removal became his successor as abbot. No teacher ever threw a greater spirit of love into his toil. “Force your scholars to improve!” he burst out to another teacher who relied on blows and compulsion. “Did you ever see a craftsman fashion a fair image out of a golden plate by blows alone? Does he not now gently press it and strike it with his tools; now with wise art, yet more gently raise and shape it? What do your scholars turn into under this ceaseless beating? They turn only brutal,” was the reply. “You have bad luck,” was the keen answer, “in a training that only turns men into beasts.” The worst natures softened before this tenderness and patience. Even the Conqueror, so harsh and terrible to others, became another man, gracious and easy of speech, with Anselm. (Dean Church.)
Tenderness prepares for usefulness
Speaking of the temper requisite to the right discharge of ministerial duty, Payson said, “I never was fit to say a word to a sinner, except when I had a broken heart myself; when I was subdued and melted into penitency, and felt as though I had just received pardon to my own soul, and when my heart was full of tenderness and pity. No anger, no anger.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls--
The love of souls a necessary qualification for the ministerial office
History cannot furnish us with a more striking instance of the love of souls than we find in St. Paul. Here he may mean--
1. That such was his affection for his converts, that he, as it were, breathed out his soul in every word. He spoke as though he would have died on the spot, through earnestness to affect them with what he said.
2. Or that so ardent was his love for them, that he was willing not only to preach to them, but to die for them. Some of the patriots of antiquity loved their country so well that they generously sacrificed their lives for it. And shall not love of souls be as heroic? (Philippians 2:17; 1 John 3:16).
I. The happy effect of the love of souls on the office of the ministry.
1. It will contribute to ingratiate us with mankind, and so promote our usefulness. It is not to be expected that those should receive advantage by our labours to whom we are unacceptable. The ministry of a contemptible minister will always be contemptible, and consequently useless. But when a minister in his congregation appears in a circle of friends whose affections meet in him as their common centre, his labours are likely to be at once pleasing and profitable. When the heart is open to the speaker his words will gain admission. There will be no suspicion of imposition or sinister design. Even hard things will be received as wholesome severities. Love has a language of its own which mankind can hardly fail to understand, its own look, voice, air, and manner. When dissimulation mourns and puts on airs of sorrow and compassion it is but whining and grimaces, and when she smiles it is but fawning and affectation; so hard is it to put on the face of genuine love with out being possessed of it; and so easy is it for a real friend to appear such.
2. It will enable us to affect our hearers and make deep impressions on their hearts. Love will render us sincere, and the sincerity of the speaker will have no small influence upon the hearers.
3. It will make us diligent and laborious. How indefatigable are we in pursuing a point we have at heart, and in serving those we love. Therefore, if the love of souls be our ruling passion, with what zeal shall we labour for their immortal interests! (2 Corinthians 12:15). There will then be no blanks in the page of life; all will be filled up with the offices of friendship. Ever-operating love will keep us busy (Acts 10:38; 2 Timothy 4:2). As souls are equal in worth, this love is impartial. Love will inspire our prayers with an almighty importunity, and render idleness an intolerable burden.
4. It will enable us to bear hardships and difficulties with patience, and even cheerfulness. The love of fame, of riches, of honour, etc.
what obstructions has it surmounted, what dangers dared! And shall not the nobler passion do vastly more? (Acts 20:24). Labour is delight, difficulty inviting, and peril alluring in this benevolent enterprise.
5. It will restrain from everything unworthy the ministry. If the love of men be warm in our hearts--
II. What ministers are to expect from their people in return.
1. To be looked upon as the friends and lovers of their souls.
2. To be treated as such. To have their instructions, warnings, etc., regarded as those of friends, and to be obeyed as such. “We live, if ye stand fast in the Lord,” but it kills us to see you destroy yourselves.
3. To be loved. Since your ministers love you, they deserve to be loved in return (1 Thessalonians 5:13); and since they speak the truth in love, it should be received in love.
4. To be generously and cheerfully supported. (S. Davies, A. M.)
Loved into life
One of the most beautiful of the legends of classical mythology is that of Pygmalion the sculptor, who became so passionately enamoured of a statue of his own creation that he implored Heaven to bestow upon it life. As the story goes the prayer was granted, and the beautiful image that his genius had evoked from the rude block began to show signs of vitality. The cold marble grew warm as the life blood began to course; the hueless cheeks gradually glowed with a modest blush; the dull, expressionless eye gave back an answering glance to the artist’s ravished gaze; the rigid tresses relaxed into a silky softness, and waved with a golden sheen; the stony bosom heaved with deep-drawn breathing, and reciprocated the passion of that to which it was clasped until at last the fair creature stepped down from her pedestal to be the bride of him who had loved and prayed her into life. There is a lesson for us, as Christian workers, in this old world fable. We must love the souls we would quicken. Love must be the inspiration of our prayers. It is so loving and so praying, with the arms of our affection and our faith around the objects of our solicitude, that we shall sooner or later witness the result on which our hearts are set, and behold them “alive unto God.” (J. Halsey.)
Truth warmed by love
Humbolt, in his travels, observes: “It seems remarkable that in the hottest as well as the coldest climates people display the same predilection for heat. On the introduction of Christianity into Iceland, the inhabitants would be baptized only in the hot springs of Hecla; and in the torrid zone, in the plains as well as on the Cordilleras, the natives flock from all parts to the thermal waters.” The fact is not less noteworthy that men love spiritual warmth. Cold truth, even cold gospel truth, is never attractive. Ministers must be fervent, their spirit earnest, and their style energetic, or the many will not resort to them. Religion is a dish to be served hot; when it once becomes lukewarm it is sickening. Our baptism must be with the Holy Ghost and with fire if we would win the masses to hear the gospel. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1 Thessalonians 2:9-12
For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail
Essential elements of success in preaching: Moral consistency
As time indicated on the dial answers to the perfect mechanism of the watch, so the personal example of the preacher must answer to the words he utters.
The most accomplished elocution, the most captivating style, will be fruitless unless backed with the strength of a complete, beautiful, spiritual character. Their moral consistency seen--
I. In the unselfish principle that governed them in their work (1 Thessalonians 2:2). The apostle invariably asserted the right of ministerial maintenance. In another place he affirms that, not merely naked equity and the spirit of the Mosaic law, but also a positive ordinance of Christ requires this. In this early stage of the work, the apostle waived this claim. It might be on account of the poverty of the converts, or on account of the calumnious charge of covetousness. To crush all suspicion of interested motives, these noble missionaries refused “to be chargeable unto any one of them,” depending for their support upon the remittances of the Philippians, and on their own labour. Thus did they evidence their supreme desire to be, not gain, but the proclamation of the gospel; an example which has its counterpart in the brave, devoted, self-denying labours of many a modern missionary.
II. In the maintenance of a blameless deportment (1 Thessalonians 2:10). A Roman prince of the celebrated house of Colonna, whose virtues had sustained him alike in prosperous and adverse times, was once driven into exile, and when reduced to extremity he was asked, “Where is now your fortress?” He laid his hand upon his heart, and answered, “Here!” A conscious sense of integrity threw a strength and majesty around him in his sufferings. An inward consciousness of purity prompted these workers to appeal to those who were best acquainted with them. They behaved holily toward God, justly toward men, and unblameably in every regard. “Among you that believe.” Believers could best understand the secret of their whole life, its aims and motives, its tendencies and issues; and on them it would have an irresistible impression. It is often the fate of the public teacher, while blameless, to be unmercifully blamed by those who are outside the circle of his work. The world retains all its historic enmity to the truth, and is as venomous as ever in its expression.
III. In their endeavours to stimulate their converts to the highest attainments (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12). Observe--
1. The lofty standard set, up. “That ye would walk worthy of God.” How sublime and dignified the Christian character may become--to walk worthily of God! in harmony with His nature, His law--with our profession of attachment to Him. To the production of this grand result all their efforts were bent. “As a father doth his children,” so they “exhorted” with all earnestness, “comforted” with all loving sympathy, and “charged with all fidelity and authority.” The preacher must be master of every art necessary to success.
2. The motive to reach the standard. “Who hath called you unto His kingdom and glory”--His own glorious kingdom. We are invited to enter this kingdom on earth, and participate in its blessings; but the full splendours of that kingdom are reserved for the heavenly world. How brief and insignificant will the sufferings and sorrows of the present appear, contrasted with the ineffable bliss of the future state! “Do you want anything?” eagerly asked the loved ones who surrounded the dying couch of Melancthon. “Nothing but heaven,” was the gentle response, and he went smiling on his way.
1. That in order to success in preaching, moral consistency of life must accompany and sustain the faithful declaration of the truth.
2. That the greatest success is achieved when the highest experience of the Christian life is constantly enforced by both precept and example. (G. Barlow.)
An unmercenary teacher
The Evangelist told the story of a young minister in whom the true spirit of his calling was evidently present. He went from a Congregational seminary to a Missouri town. His church was the feeblest one in the place, and soon men said, “No Congregational element in this town.” He created one. Through many discouragements he remained at his post, never once complaining or “craning” his neck for a richer church, a larger field, or a more conspicuous position. At last he began to get influence, and to use it aright. He had a call to a stronger church at £1,500 salary. He quietly refused. Then a call came from a great church east of the Alleghanies, with a larger offer of salary and moving expenses. None of these things stirred him. He never even told of it in his parish. The call was repeated. He said, “No, my work is here till God shuts the door.” And a goodly inheritance was his.
St. Paul’s labours in Thessalonica
The narrative in the Acts, if very strictly pressed, might lead us to suppose that the apostle had only spent at Thessalonica twenty-seven days at the utmost--perhaps only twenty-one or twenty-two (Acts 17:1-2; Acts 17:10); but it does not absolutely demand such narrow limits of time, and two circumstances seem to require its extension--the conversion of many idolaters (1 Thessalonians 1:9), and Paul’s own expressed statement that he remained long enough in Thessalonica to receive assistance “once and again” from Philippi (Philippians 4:16). In any case, the spectacle of such an one as Paul so working, even for something less than a month, would be a memorable one--a thing to attract attention, and to be long remembered and discussed. This would especially be the case n the Church of Thessalonica. A shopkeeping and industrial community would instinctively know whether such an exhibition was a piece of charlatanism or a reality. Even if St. Paul’s stay was cut short by a riot, they might be perfectly aware whether these few weeks were a fair representation of the frame and mould of his general life. It is certainly strange to think how far the idea which we instinctively form of the great apostle, as one utterly absorbed in theological thought or seraphic devotion, when not employed in preaching or missionary work, must be modified by such a passage as this. The language here used about “working night and day,” would show that in Thessalonica, at least, one unbroken day in the week only could be undividedly given to directly apostolic labour. It is vain to conjecture how much time may have been at his disposal upon the other days of the week. It has been added to the list of St. Paul’s difficulties that he thus worked manually “at an age when the bodily frame refuses to perform a new office.” This is surely not so. Men of station and education among the Jews diligently learned trades. The same obligation has been imposed by custom upon persons even of royal birth in different nations and countries. Eginhard tells us that Charlemagne had his sons taught mechanic trades, and his daughters spinning and weaving. Each member of the Prussian royal family at the present time is apprenticed, and enters into a guild of tradesmen. St. Paul’s motives in continuing to work were three--
I. Independence, the being able to take what has been ingenuously called “a lay position.”
II. Example. (2 Thessalonians 3:8-9).
III. Charity, having something to give in alms (Acts 20:34). (Bp. Alexander.)
Ye are my witnesses, and God also, how nobly, and justly, and unblameably we behaved--
Apostolic behaviour and methods
The apostle had previously made an appeal to his readers, and an appeal also to God; he now blends the two into one.
I. Apostolic behavior (1 Thessalonians 2:10).
1. “Holily,” a word which looks specially towards God. A common Biblical phrase is “holy to the Lord.” The Divine command is “Be ye holy towards your God,” and the announcement is made, “‘The Lord will show who are His, and who is holy.” The word is applied to--
2. “Justly” represents the side of the apostle’s behaviour towards men. It means righteously, and defines the believer’s conduct as upright in all its connections and dealings with others. He is just in God’s sight, through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness; and, standing in a new relation to God, he strives to live in obedience to God’s law of love. We often use the word in a narrower sense, as when we say of a man that he is just but not generous. But that is an unwarrantable limitation. According to God’s law, no man is just who is not generous, kind, forbearing, helpful. Love is a debt we owe to our neighbour, and we are not just if we neglect to pay it. “Owe no man anything, but to love one another.”
3. “Unblameably” is a negative word, but on that account all the more comprehensive. As servants of Jesus Christ, they gave “no offence in anything, that the ministry be not blamed.” In applying these three words to himself and his companions, Paul could speak not merely of a good heart and a good life, but also of a good name--“better than precious ointment.” He who keeps his life free from sin does good to himself; he who keeps it clear of suspicion is merciful to others. The apostle is here a pattern to pastors and people; but we must ever rise from human examples to Divine. Christ is set before us as “the Holy One,” “the Just One”; and as to blamelessness, He could say, “Which of you convinceth me of sin”; and the Roman governor could testify, “I find no fault in Him.” It is when we stedfastly and lovingly look towards Him that we come at length to be “holy and without blame before Him in love.” Note that this was the light that Paul and his associates appeared in the estimation of those that “believed.” More than this could not be said, for by Jews and Gentiles their character and conduct were furiously assailed (Acts 17:1-34). Paul represents himself, therefore, as turning aside from the reproaches and enmity of the world to the judgment of his fellow believers. In their hands his reputation was safe.
II. Apostolic methods (1 Thessalonians 2:11). Already he had used the figure of a nursing mother in the tenderness of her self-sacrificing devotion to her children. He now shifts the figure, and is a father. Two points are to be noticed in the latter comparison--
1. As a wise father suits his training and teaching to the case of each child, so he acted towards his converts--“every one of you.” It was the apostle’s invariable procedure to deal with individuals. He “ceased not to warn every one of” the Ephesian elders. To the Colossian she says, “Warning every man,” etc. Christianity has brought out into clearest light, and assigned the greatest prominence to, the worth of the individual soul. The rulers and teachers of heathen society thought of men as a body, and used or influenced them in the mass, but seldom thought of the individual. But the religion of Christ takes account of each. Its foundation rests on individual conviction. Individualism, not multitudinism, is the law of its growth, until it comes to leaven the whose mass of humanity.
2. As a father is intensely earnest in giving his children right guidance and instruction, so was Paul in his yearning care of his converts. As he had described his behaviour in threefold way, so he describes his ministry.
III. Apostolic aim (1 Thessalonians 2:12). The method was necessarily diverse: some needing exhortation, others comfort, others charging; but the end was one, because they all needed to walk worthy.
1. By “walking” we are to understand the whole character and conduct.
2. Calling means not merely God’s invitation, but that invitation as accepted; hence effectual calling. His Church is called out of bondage and corruption into the light and liberty of the gospel. We must, then, walk worthy of the dignity of God’s freed men. This calling is unto--
(a) Faithful allegiance to its King.
(b) Joyful obedience to its laws.
(c) Affectionate interest in all its subjects.
(d) Valiant fighting in its service.
(e) Cooperation in all good work.
(a) Likeness to Christ (1 John 3:2). Our glory will be “the beauty of holiness.”
(b) Sharing Christ’s sovereignty. “To him that overcometh,” etc.
Believers walk worthy of this destiny when they share it as fully as may be here, and when they lovingly look forward to its perfection hereafter. (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
The faithful pastor
I. In his personal character, as an example to the flock. Consider him as behaving
1. Holily before God. He was made a new creature in Christ Jesus. Throughout life he exhibited the evidences of, and made continual advancement in, the graces of the new creation. Notice some of the characteristics of Paul’s holiness, which are always in some degree in every holy character.
2. Justly before man--
3. Unblameable in general deportment. Free from minor (so-called) imprudences; abstaining from all appearance of evil. Blamed indeed he was, as all who live holily will be, but only “as concerning the law of His God” like Daniel. With regard to everything that involved duty and faithfulness he was firm as an oak, but in everything relating to personal convenience and benefit yielding in any way he could for the glory of God and the good of man.
II. As the instructor and guardian of the flock.
1. He “exhorted,” setting forth the whole truth, not simply as a matter of theory but practically. There was no reserve in his doctrine, pandering to individual tastes or to the fashion of the day. Hence his preaching afforded tests--
2. He “comforted.” His own heart was full of love to God and man, and rejoiced in the experience of Divine consolations, so that he was duly qualified to sympathize with others (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). Cold is the comfort which arises from the mere theoretical statement of points calculated to give comfort; but when that consolation flows from a heart that can say, “I have tried it myself and know its power,” then God works by means of the minister, and the heart receives comfort indeed.
3. With holy authority and deep solemnity. Paul charged the Thessalonians--
III. The object he had in view--“That ye would walk,” etc. The arguments by which he enforced this charge were three-fold.
1. God had called them not only generally but effectually, and as He who had called them was holy so He urged them to be holy.
2. God had given them a place in His kingdom. That kingdom was one of--
3. God had prepared for them a state of glory. The heirs of that glory, therefore, must live--
The power of a Christian life
This does not sound like Christian modesty, but Paul frequently talked like this; yet he was one of the humblest of men, “less than the least of all saints.” The fact is, that Paul felt it incumbent upon him to bear witness for Christ by his life as well as his lips, and there were circumstances which constrained him to vindicate the excellence of his life as well as the truth of his doctrine.
I. The power of a Christian life as it serves to vindicate and recommend a Christian’s doctrine.
1. Men’s principles have ever been tried by their practices. If we find Mohammedans or Mormons living good lives we feel sure that there must be some truth in what they believed. In this way men judge in relation to the gospel. When the life of a believer is bad it is taken as an evidence against the truth of the gospel; when good it is taken as a proof of its truth. And no wonder; for it is easier to judge of a doctrine in a man’s life than in abstract forms. And then the gospel comes not as a speculation that the intellect may be gratified, but that man’s heart and life my be transformed, and professes that it can be brought to the test of experiment. It follows, then, that when the lives of Christians are bad they are the worst enemies of the gospel; when good its best friends.
2. Examples open on all bands.
II. The power of a Christian life as it serves to enforce a Christian speech. There are some in every Christian man’s sphere to whom he ought to speak on the subject of Christian faith and practice. To do this effectually it is necessary that there should be wisdom in the choice of time, circumstances, manner, subject, etc., but more than all a life in harmony with what is spoken. The want of this is the real reason why professing Christians speak so little to others on these subjects. There are other reasons it is true--a humble estimate of self, delicacy and reserve, but the true reason is because they feel that they would be acting in a way that would bring condemnation on themselves. How can a man speak against bad tempers, if his children and servants see him indulging them? or speak about the Bible if he neglects it? Or about extravagance if he is expensive? Or about the value of the soul, if he cares little about his own? He cannot speak, because he is ashamed, and because he feels that it would be little use. But let the life speak as well as the words, and then the words will be effectual as witnessing to the sincerity and earnestness of the speaker. It is better not to talk at all about religion, if we do not live it; and if we live it religion will often speak when we are silent.
III. The power of a Christian’s life in blessing his death.
1. Inasmuch as because of the death, the power of the life is more forcibly brought before the mind. Often we do not know the value of our blessings until we lose them. When we do appreciate the worth of a Christian friend while living it is not as we do when he is dead. We were sufficiently alive to his imperfections, but now he is gone we think only of his excellence, and yield to the influence of that.
2. In its influence in drawing the Christian’s affections upward. When our friends are with us shining in their consistent life this world satisfies us more than when they are gone. Their life is a force of attraction to this earth where they are: but their death attracts us to the heaven whither they have gone. If they had not lived Christian lives we should be thinking of them as somewhere we know not where, but recalling their lives as being Christian we are compelled to look upward for them in glory.
Conclusion: Seeing that the power of a Christian life is thus great, it becomes us--
1. To inquire very earnestly whether we have experienced it and yielded to it. We have all known some true Christians, and also some false professors. In regard to the latter many like well enough to see and condemn them, but with satisfaction as furnishing an excuse for irreligion. It is poor work to use Christian inconsistency for that end. If all Christians were inconsistent there might be something in it. But there are some who do lead Christian lives, and when near them we feel their power. What use are you making of them? Are you accepting their Saviour and imitating their example? And now if they are gone are you following them to heaven? You have to answer for the gift of every Christian man made unto you and not only for sermons, etc.
2. To inquire whether we are putting forth the power of a Christian life. Are we commending Christ’s doctrine by our lives? When we are gone will men be remembering us to their advantage?
3. A Christian life is such a life that Christ requires and that Christ lived, and that Christ enables those who really follow Him to live. Without Him we cannot live it (Galatians 2:20). (D. Thomas, B. A., of Bristol.)
Consistency at home
The son and biographer of Caesar Malan, after describing the openness and impulsiveness of his father’s nature, and the close intimacy in which he had always lived with him, remarks: “I never saw anything in him which did not renew the impression that he lived as seeing Him who is invisible. Never was I witness of a gesture, never did I hear a word, with respect to which I had to feel that it would become to him the subject of serious regret.”
How diligently the cavalry officer keeps his sabre clean and sharp! Every stain he rubs off with the greatest care. Remember you are God’s sword, His instrument, I trust, a chosen vessel unto Him to bear His name. In great measure, according to the purity and perfectness of the instrument will be success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. (R. McCheyne.)
The influence of a holy life
About the mere presence and person of good men there hangs a charm and a spell of good which makes them do good even when they are not consciously thinking of doing good at all. Their very presence does good as if there were an angel there, and from their mere silence there spreads an influence, a flowing in of higher motives and purer thoughts into the souls of men. It was said of the ancient Cato that when he entered, the young Roman nobles blushed for their base amusements. It is said of one of old that even as a boy all bad words were hushed at once when he joined a crowd of his companions. (F. W. Farrar.)
A holy life recognized
It was said of McCheyne, of Scotland, that people felt him when he entered a meeting or private home. Although not a stern, sanctimonious man, but a very cheerful one, yet people recognized him as a man of God who carried the atmosphere of heaven with him, and lived out the gospel of Christ. The inward spirit shone out from him, in his language, and conduct, just as a blazing lamp always reports itself.
Sixty years of pure life
“Citizens,” exclaimed Lamartine to a Parisian populace during the revolution of 1848, as he introduced an honest man to them--“Citizens! listen! for a sixty years of pure life is about to address you.” The mob stood silent. And so the unconverted world will listen to a godly life in which the Divine Spirit dwells, when such a life comes in close contact with them.
That ye would walk worthy of God--It has often been charged upon Christianity that it is a narrow and belittling system, and that there is no scope in it for the highest development, and for the finest and most commanding type of character. If this be so it can only be because there is no fit conception of God, a thing which might have been affirmed with propriety at the foot of Olympus, but which it calls for a good deal of rashness to avow at the foot of that mountain on which the preacher said, “Be ye perfect as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” And here Paul adjures men to acquit themselves in a way to reflect and magnify the excellencies of Him in whom all excellencies meet and harmonize. There are two general thoughts involved in the idea of walking worthy of God.
I. Men are to keep always in mind that they bear God’s image on their souls.
1. There are those who tell us that our creation in the Divine likeness is a myth; that mind is only a function of matter; that what we are pleased to call the soul is only the outcome of physical organs in a certain state of adjustment and action; and that we have simply struggled up through lower forms and survive because the fittest. There may be some truth in evolution. Subsequent to the great creative acts, and within the sweep of laws and orders established by God, something like the principle of evolution does come into play. But there is nothing in this to disturb our faith in a distinguishing creation of man in the image of the Maker. God’s stamp is on the human heart and brain. Man is separated in his moral nature and boundless aspirations from all other orders because he has something of God in him. In virtue of this he is an evidence of God. His soul is a mirror which reflects God. Through this likeness our relation to Him is that of a child to a Father.
2. True this image is marred, but it is still on the soul. To be a man, no matter how low down or far away, is to have some trace of ancestry in God. It is the work of Christ to restore this image and bring men back to a filial acknowledgment of the Father. In every one who has accepted Him and is sincerely trying to do His will, this image is emerging into more and more of prominence, and by and by it will be complete.
3. To walk worthy of God this dignifying fact must be kept to the forefront. Princes are taught that they are sons of kings and must, therefore, conduct themselves in royal fashion. By every man it should be kept in perpetual remembrance that he is a child of the King of kings. What an uplifting power! What a help in the struggle to do the right! What a shield against evil assaults! Is there anything which gives us a larger notion of manliness, or supplies us with higher motive forces?
II. The new relations, privileges, and outlooks into which one is introduced by faith in Christ.
1. This is the central argument here. Men are to walk worthy because of the call into God’s kingdom and glory. They have come into a new estate, and are expected not only to show gratitude for it, but to feel its inspiration and advance into a grander mood of life. It is a thing of immense import that a man should be taken out of the kingdom of sin and set down securely in the kingdom of God. Pardon is a great thing, conversion is greater, but heirship to all the wealth of the heavenly inheritance is greater still.
2. Being called by God “into His own kingdom and glory” means much more than a standing in the Church, and a hope of admission into heaven. It means a fellowship with God in His blessedness now and forever. At present it is incomplete, but real. We see through a glass darkly; we know only in part; but we do see and know, and these experiences are prophetic of a seeing and knowing that shall one day be perfect.
3. No man can take this in without feeling that his walk ought to be very close with God and wholly in the line of His will. We are told that we are heirs of all the ages, that poets have sung, philosophers taught, legislators ruled, and martyrs suffered, etc., and that to us has fallen the precious fruitage of all this sacrifice and toil. But they who, through faith in Christ, have a standing in the kingdom and glory of God are heirs to something more than all this. Surely the thought that he is heir to the measureless riches of Divine favour is to put heart into a man and to stir him to the utmost stretch of endeavour. Within the sweep of these general thoughts there are some specific requirements.
Walking worthy of God
I. The kingdom and glory to which God has called us. He calls to possess--
1. Himself--to take Him by the spirit, the heart, and the knowledge which is love.
2. Ourselves--we are lost if we lose God.
3. Our brethren. If we possess God we must possess as our brethren all who are His children.
4. All things “All are ours for we are Christ’s.”
II. God has called us to His kingdom and glory.
1. The ground of this call--His own character.
2. The methods.
III. Our duty with reference to this call--to walk worthy of God, by contemplating the life and following the example of the only man who walked worthy of God--Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us. (N. Macleod, D. D.)
Not to disgrace religion
It was the custom among the old Greeks that every Athenian youth, as soon as he could carry weapons, should take this oath--“I will not disgrace the sacred arms entrusted to me by my country, and I will not desert the place committed to me to defend.” (W. Buxton.)
A walk worthy of God
1. Letters disclose the character of the writer. No two persons write exactly alike because no two persons have precisely the same character. In many cases we should know the writer even if the handwriting were concealed. There is a difference of tone and thought which either helps to form, or corresponds with our idea of the character of the writer. Some letters soothe, others irritate; some elevate us, others draw us down.
2. Letters disclose the character of the receivers. We write differently to different persons, and in the very act of revealing our own we indicate not obscurely our conception of another’s character.
3. These remarks are appropriate to this epistle. Paul is writing to a Church about which he is particularly anxious and hopeful. He gives us a graphic picture of himself and of his mode of dealing with his congregations. It is a beautiful portrait of a Christian pastor. And how much does the letter tell us of the persons addressed. We seem to learn from the Acts that St. Paul had been but a short time at Thessalonica, and yet he is able to record “a work of faith,” etc., and to speak to them throughout not only as persons interested in the gospel, but exemplifying its rules of life and acquainted with its deepest doctrines. We are taught--
I. In general. The words are like, yet in one point different from, several other expressions elsewhere. The worthy walk in Ephesians is of the calling; in Philippians, of the Gospel; in Colossians, of the Lord; here, of God.
1. This, in all ages, must be the aim of all Christian teaching. Sometimes it may be done by giving details of duty; sometimes by laying down principles; sometimes, best of all, by touching the spring of motive, and dwelling upon that love of God which alone can make us love Him. But the object is ever the same.
2. “Walk” is a lively figure, and suggests--
3. But though life be a walk rather than a journey, inasmuch as it traverses over and over the same ground, there is all the difference in the world in our mode of exercising it. We may live at random with no rule or guidance; we may live on a principle not the right one; we may live according to the direction or example of others which may lead us quite astray. Paul’s is a very short rule--“Walk worthy of God.” My conduct, then, in the little affairs of my daily life, so insignificant as they may appear, are in some way capable of high and glorious uses; capable of bringing honour upon, or detracting from the honour of God. We may help others to forget or to remember God. If we live in one way we show that we think God of importance; if we live in another, we show that we think He may be disregarded and no harm come of it.
II. In particular. There are some ways in which we could not, if we would, walk worthily of God. We could never so live as to remind men of the creative power, eternal existence, absolute sovereignty of God: but in the following ways we may, and can, walk worthily of Him.
1. By the cultivation of reverence. No one walks worthily of God who takes His name on his lips lightly, or refers in a trifling spirit to the solemn realities of His word or judgment. These are the ways in which wicked or thoughtless persons put God out of sight amongst their companions. Let, then, those about you be aware that though you may be merry and amusing about other things, you are always grave and reverent when God is concerned, and that you are shocked at the slightest allusion to Him in any but a serious spirit.
2. The cultivation of thankfulness. The thankful spirit is that of one who gives God the glory for all he has, and looks not at what He withholds.
3. The cultivation of holiness. “As He which hath called you is holy,” etc. He whose conversation is impure, whose heart cherishes impure thoughts, is doing the greatest dishonour to the God of holiness. On the other hand no one witnesses for God as one who is noticed for his perfect purity of speech and conduct.
4. The cultivation of kindness. When our Lord said, “Be ye perfect as your Father,” etc., He said it, with regard to kindness. This is what tells while a man lives, and is remembered when he is gone. (Dean Vaughan.)
Here we have the whole law of Christian conduct in a nutshell. There may be many detailed commandments, but they can all be deduced from this one. We are lifted up above the region of petty prescriptions, and breathe a bracing mountain air. Instead of regulations, very many and very dry, we have a principle which needs thought and sympathy, in order to apply, it, and is to be, carried out by the free action of our own judgments. We are told in our text to “walk worthy of God.” Then again, we are enjoined, in other places, to “walk worthy of the Lord,” who is Christ. Or again, “of the Gospel of Christ.” Or again, “of the calling wherewith we were called.” Or again, of the name of “saints.” And if you put all these together, you will get many sides of one thought, the rule of Christian life as gathered into a single expression--correspondence with, and conformity to, a certain standard.
I. We have this passage of my text, and the other one to which I have referred, “Walking worthy of the Lord,” by whom we are to understand Christ. We may put these together and say that the whole sum of Christian duty lies in conformity to the character of a Divine person with whom we have loving relations. The Old Testament says, “Be ye holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” The New Testament says, “Be ye imitators of God, and walk in love.” So then, whatever in that Divine nature of flashing brightness and infinite profundity is far beyond our apprehension and grasp, there are in that Divine nature elements--and those the best and divinest in it--which it is perfectly within the power of every man to copy.
II. The next form of this all-embracing precept. The whole law of our Christian life may be gathered up in another correspondence, “Walk worthy of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27), in a manner conformed to that great message of God’s love to us. That covers substantially the same ground as we have already been going over, but it presents the same ideas in a different light. It presents the gospel as a rule of conduct. The Cross is your pattern, as well as the anchor of your hope and the ground of your salvation, if it is anything at all to you. And it is not the ground of your salvation and the anchor of your hope unless it is your pattern. It is the one in exactly the same degree in which it is the other. So all self-pleasing, all harsh insistence on your own claims, all neglect of suffering and sorrow and sin around you, comes under the lash of this condemnation. They are not “worthy of the gospel.” And all unforgivingness of spirit and of temper in individuals and in nations, in public and in private matters, that, too, is in flagrant contradiction of the principles that are taught on the Cross to which you say you look for your salvation.
III. Then again, there is another form of this same general prescription which suggests to us a kindred and yet somewhat different standard. We are also bidden to bring our lives into conformity to, and correspondence with, or, as the Bible has it, “to walk worthy of the calling wherewith we are called” (Ephesians 4:1). God summons or invites us, and summons us to what? The words which follow our text answer, “Who hath called us unto His kingdom and glory.” Men that are called to high functions prepare themselves therefor, If you knew that you were going away to Australia in six months, would you not be beginning to get your outfit ready? You Christian men profess to believe that you have been called to a condition in which you will absolutely obey God’s will, and be the loyal subjects of His kingdom, and in which you will partake of God’s glory. Well, then, obey His will here, and let some scattered sparklets of that uncreated light that is one day going to flood your soul lie upon your face today. Do not go and cut your lives into two halves, one of them all contradictory to that which you expect in the other, but bring a harmony between the present, in all its weakness and sinfulness, and that great hope and certain destiny that blazes on the horizon of your hope, as the joyful state to which you have been invited. “Walk worthy of the calling to which you are called.” And again, that same thought of the destiny should feed our hope, and make us live under its continual inspiration. A walk worthy of such a calling and such a Caller should know no despondency, nor any weary, heartless lingering, as with tired feet on a hard road. Brave good cheer, undimmed energy, a noble contempt of obstacles, a confidence in our final attainment of that purity and glory which is not depressed by consciousness of present failure--these are plainly the characteristics which ought to mark the advance of the men in whose ears such a summons from such lips rings as their marching orders. And a walk worthy of our calling will turn away from earthly things. If you believe that God has summoned you to His kingdom and glory, surely, surely, that should deaden in your heart the love and the care for the trifles that lie by the wayside.
IV. And the last of the phases of this prescription which I have to deal with is this. The whole Christian duty is further crystallized into the one command, to walk in a manner conformed to, and corresponding with, the character which is impressed upon us. In Romans 16:2, we read about a very small matter, that it is to be done “worthily of the saints.” It is only about the receiving of a good woman that was travelling from Corinth to Rome, and extending hospitality to her in such a manner as became professing Christians; but the very minuteness of the details to which the great principle is applied points a lesson. The biggest principle is not too big to be brought down to the narrowest details, and that is the beauty of principles as distinguished from regulations. Like the fabled tent in the old legend that could contract so as to have room for but one man, or extend wide enough to hold an army; so this great principle of Christian conduct can be brought down to giving “Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the Church at Cenchrea,” good food and a comfortable lodging, and any other little kindnesses, when she comes to Rome. And the same principle may be widened out to embrace and direct us in the largest tasks and most difficult circumstances. “Worthily of saints”--the name is an omen, and carries in it rules of conduct. The root ides of “saint” is “one separated to God,” and the secondary idea which flows from that is “one who is pure.” All Christians are “saints.” They are consecrated and set apart for God’s service, and in the degree in which they are conscious of and live out that consecration, they are pure. So their name, or rather the great fact which their name implies, should be ever before them, a stimulus and a law. Walk “worthily of saints” is another way of saying, Be true to your own best selves. Work up to the highest ideal of your character. That is far more wholesome than to be always looking at our faults and failures, which depress and tempt us to think that the actual is the measure of the possible, and the past or present of the future. There is no fear of self-conceit or of a mistaken estimate of ourselves. The more clearly we keep our best and deepest self before our consciousness, the more shall we learn a rigid judgment of the miserable contradictions to it in our daily outward life, and even in our thoughts and desires. It is a wholesome exhortation, when it follows these others of which we have been speaking (and not else), which bids Christians remember that they are saints and live up to their name. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Walk worthy of God
I. By cheerfulness. Nothing is more Christlike and winsome. Every flower, even, tries to make itself as pleasant as possible. Let us copy the flowers. Our cheerfulness honours God, and shows that He is a good Master, and make him a blessing to his neighbours. When your lose comes do not dishonour God by fretting. Do not draw your joy from the world’s broken cisterns, but from the inexhaustible fountain of happiness.
II. By not being afraid of the truth. Many would be willing to follow the truth if it were fashionable; but if we would walk worthy of God we shall follow it not only at the risk of popularity but of life. Let the example of Christ and the martyrs and reformers nerve you to uphold and proclaim the truth. Show by your life that you dare rest your life on the word of Christ. This needs a new heart and a right spirit.
III. By earnestness in all we do. Our Divine trusts will not bear trifling with, and there is but a short time in which to discharge them. How energetic all have been who have walked worthy of God--Christ, the Apostles, etc. We work hard for our worldly employers, shall we work less for our heavenly?
IV. By genuine discipleship. Our practice should, like a good sovereign, ring properly when it is sounded. God is foully dishonoured when we are inconsistent. Be Christlike--
1. In word: truthful, clean, sympathetic.
2. In deed: pure, kind, helpful. (W. Birch.)
The dignity and duty of God
’s called ones:--
I. This vocation is an act of God’s grace whereby we are invited to fellowship with Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9; Luke 14:16).
1. It is therefore opposed to works (Romans 9:11; 2 Timothy 1:9).
2. This invitation may be regarded two ways: barely by the word, or as implying our consent. When a man is called to an office in Church or State, he is said to be called though he declines; but when election and acceptation meet together, then there is a call. This distinction is necessary in Divine things (Matthew 22:14; Romans 8:30). In a strict sense men are called only when they accept God’s invitation.
3. This calling implies that men are afar off. We call men that are afar, we speak to those who are near (Acts 2:14; Acts 2:39).
II. The duty of those who are called is to walk worthy of God.
1. There is a fourfold worthiness.
2. We should walk worthy of God because--
III. When may we be said to be called, and how may we know it?
1. God ordinarily calls men by the preaching of the Word; but also by direct impressions made by the Holy Spirit on the heart, and by afflictions, etc.
2. A man may know that he is called when he is--
IV. What shall we do to walk worthy of God?
1. Observe the excellencies of God and let them shine forth.
2. Observe what the great design of God is, and labour all you can to advance the same.
3. Israel sacrificed to God the gods of other nations, and herein they honoured God; and so shall we if we surrender our idols to Him.
4. Take heed of sinning in secret, and be much in private duty because God sees you. Walking in the eye of an all-seeing God is most worthy walking. (W. Bridge, M. A.)
I. The principles of magnanimity in general as a natural quality. As there is a difference between bodies as to size, so there is a real character of greatness or meanness applicable to the mind. It belongs to magnanimity--
1. To attempt great and difficult things. Those who from love of ease neglect the improvement of their powers, or who apply them, however assiduously, to things of small consequence, are destitute of this quality, as are those also who fall below their rank in life.
2. To aspire after great and valuable possessions. A great mind has great capacities of enjoyment, and will not be satisfied with trifles.
3. To encounter danger with resolution. No weakness is more contemptible than cowardice.
4. To struggle against difficulties with steadiness and perseverance. Few things are more contrary to magnanimity than fickleness. We commonly identify weakness and changeableness.
5. To bear sufferings with fortitude and patience. This virtue has always had the greatest reputation.
II. What is necessary to give it real value as a moral virtue.
1. The object of our desires must be just as well as great. Some of the noblest powers of the human mind have been exerted in invading the rights, instead of promoting the benefit of mankind. Some of the ablest men have borne the most detestable of characters.
2. Our desires must be governed by wisdom and prudence, as well as justice. Exertion in feats, which have little value except their difficulties or rareness, is no more the operation of magnanimity than rope dancing is the work of a hero. To spend a whole life in the accumulation of a vast fortune is of small merit.
3. The principle of action must be honourable, as well as the achievement illustrious. If a man does extraordinary things merely to make his name famous, it is mean; but the sacrifice of name and riches to duty and usefulness is glorious.
4. Every attempt must be possible and rational; otherwise it is only extravagant, not great.
III. Not only is there nothing in real religion contrary to it, but there only it appears in its beauty and perfection.
1. Religion calls us to the greatest and most noble attempts.
2. The truly pious man aspires after the greatest and most valuable possessions. He despises the unsatisfying enjoyments of time, and reaches out after God and heaven.
3. True piety encounters the greatest dangers with resolution. The fear of God is the only effectual antidote to the fear of man.
4. The Christian perseveres in opposition to continued trial. This is what distinguishes Christian warfare from every other. It lasts through life.
5. He endures suffering with patience and fortitude. Witness the martyrs.
IV. Practical improvement. Learn from what has been said--
1. That whenever honour differs from conscience, it is a treacherous guide.
2. That as Christian magnanimity is more excellent than that of the world, it is also more practicable and universal. It is open to all. (J. Witherspoon, D. D.)
Eagles and flies
Says Manton on this text: “Live as kings, commanding your spirits, judging your souls to be above ordinary pursuits. It is not for eagles to catch flies. As of old it was said, ‘Cogita te Caesarem esse’--‘Remember that thou art Caesar’--so say we to each believer, ‘Remember that thou shalt one day be a king with God in glory, and therefore walk becomingly.’” This is important teaching, and much needed in these days. Many who declare themselves to be eagles spend the most of their lives in hawking for flies; we even hear of professing Christians frequenting the theatre. Instead of acting like kings, many who claim to be the sons of God act as meanly as if they were scullions in the kitchen of Mammon. They do not judge themselves to be Caesars, but they demean themselves as if they were Caesar’s slaves, living upon his smile, and asking his leave to move. What separation from the world, what brave holiness, what self-denial, what heavenly walking with God ought to be seen in those who are chosen to be a peculiar people, the representatives of God on earth, and courtiers of the new Jerusalem above! As the world waxes worse and worse, it becomes men of God to become better and better. If sinners stoop lower, saints must rise higher, and show them that a regenerate life cannot share in the general corruption. O Lord, I know that in Christ Jesus thou hast made me a king, help me, then, to live a right royal life. Lay home to my conscience that question, What manner of persons ought we to be? and may I so answer it that I may live worthy of my high calling. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Preaching while walking
The good St. Francis of Assist once stepped down into the cloisters of his monastery, and laying his hand on the shoulder of a young monk, said, “Brother, let us go down into the town and preach.” So they went forth, the venerable father and the young man. And they walked along upon their way, conversing as they went. They wound their way down the principal streets, round the lowly alleys and lanes, and even to the outskirts of the town, and to the village beyond, till they found themselves back at the monastery again. Then said the young monk, “Father, when shall we begin to preach?” And the father looked kindly down upon his son, and said, “My child, we have been preaching; we were preaching while we were walking. We have been seen, looked at; our behaviour has been remarked; and so we have delivered a morning sermon. Ah! my son, it is of no use that we walk anywhere to preach unless we preach as we walk.” (Paxton Hood.)
1 Thessalonians 2:13
For this cause also thank we God
A happy ministers’ meeting
(text and 1 Thessalonians 2:14):--Paul unbosoms his heart to the loving Church at Thessalonica.
He knew what it was to be worried by others, but found rest when thinking of them. The most tried ministers have some bright spots. In setting forth his joyful memories of Thessalonica, the Apostle gives us a sight of three things.
I. Ministers giving thanks. “We also thank God.” Ministers are not always weeping, though they often do so. They have their time of thanksgiving, as Paul had.
1. This followed upon sore travail (see 1 Thessalonians 2:9). As we sow in tears, we reap in joy.
2. This was backed by holy living (1 Thessalonians 2:10-11). Unholy ministers, will have scant cause for joy.
3. It prevented all self-laudation. To thank God is the opposite of glorifying self.
4. It was of a social character. “We”--Paul, Silas, and Timothy--“we hold a fraternal meeting of joy when God blesses us among our beloved people.”
5. It was of an abiding character. “Without ceasing.” We can never cease praising the Lord for His goodness in saving souls.
6. It cheered them for further service. They wished (1 Thessalonians 2:17) to visit the friends again, and further benefit them. What a mercy for us all when God’s servants are glad about us! Their joy is in our salvation.
II. Hearers receiving the Word. “Ye received.” Not all receive it. How badly do some treat the gospel. Not all receive it as did the Thessalonians, for--
1. They received the Word of God; they heard it calmly, attended to it candidly, considered it carefully.
2. They received the Word of God with a hearty welcome. They accepted it by faith, with personal confidence and joy.
3. They did not receive the word of man. It is well to keep the doors locked in that direction. We cannot receive everything; let us reject merely human teaching, and leave the more room in our minds for the Lord’s word.
4. They did not receive the gospel as the word of men. Their faith was not based on the clever, eloquent, logical, dogmatical, or affectionate way in which it was preached.
5. They received it as God’s revealed Word, and therefore received it with reverence of its Divine character, with assurance of its infallibility, with obedience to its authority, with experience of its sacred power.
6. They received it so that it effectually worked in them. It was practical, efficient, and manifestly operative upon their lives and characters.
III. Converts exhibiting the family likeness.
1. They were like Judaean Christians, the best of them--in faith, in experience, in afflictions.
2. Yet many of them as heathen began at a great disadvantage.
3. They had never seen the church of God in Judaea, and were no copyists, yet they came to be facsimiles of them.
4. This is a singular confirmation of the Divine character of the work. The same Lord works in all believers, and in the main the same experience occurs in all the saints, even though they may never have seen each other. This similarity of all regenerated men furnishes a valuable set of experimental evidences of the Divine origin of conversion. Let us not be daunted by opposition, for at Thessalonica Paul was persecuted and yet triumphant. Let us rejoice in the effects of the Word everywhere. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The correct estimate of Gospel truth
The population of Thessalonica consisted of two diverse classes--Greek and Jew--the one representing the philosophy of Paganism, the other being the custodian of the truths of revelation. Among the Hebrews, Moses was recognized as the head of their system, and his words were profoundly venerated; and the Gentiles were not less devout and ardent in their admiration of Plato. The gospel impinged on these ancient and revered institutions. The followers of Moses and Plato were compelled to admit the higher authority of the apostolic message. They formed a correct estimate of it when they “received it not as the word of men,” etc.
I. The Gospel is superior to all human wisdom. Human wisdom is--
1. Limited. The greatest mind is imperfect in its knowledge, and restricted in using what it knows.
2. Changeable. Aristotle said, “There is no difference between what men call knowledge and mere opinion; therefore, as all opinion is uncertain, there can be no certainty in human knowledge.”
3. Unsatisfying. Another great thinker said, “Nothing can be known; nothing, therefore, can be learned; nothing can be certain; the senses are limited and delusive; intellect is weak; life is short.”
II. The Gospel is essentially divine.
1. It is authoritative. When God speaks, unbelievers may well be filled with fear. His Word comes with the majesty of its own innate power. It bends the ear to attention, the mind to faith, the heart to reverence, the will and conscience to obedience.
2. It is immutable. It is “the Word of the Lord that liveth and abideth forever.”
3. It is complete. There is nothing to add, nothing to subtract. It contains the fullest revelation of God, of man, of eternal issues, such as can never be found elsewhere.
4. It is worthy of universal credence. “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater.” It is to the everlasting commendation of the Thessalonians, and of millions since their day, that when they heard the Word of God, they “received it not as the word of men,” etc.
III. The Gospel is efficacious in transforming character. “Which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” As the planet receiving the light of the sun is transformed into an imitation sun, so the believing soul, receiving the light of the Word, is changed into the image of that Word. Whatever the Divine Word prescribes, that it works in us. Does it prescribe repentance?--it works repentance; faith?--it works faith; obedience?--it works obedience; knowledge?--it enlightens to know. Its transforming power is continually demonstrated. It makes the niggardly generous, the profane holy, the drunkard sober, the profligate chaste. Faith is the vital force that connects the soul with this converting power.
IV. The correct appreciation of gospel truth is matter of ceaseless thanksgiving to the preacher. “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing.” No disappoint ment is keener than that of unproductive labour. Some of the choicest ministers of God have had to mourn over comparative failure. Think of the anguish of Jeremiah, when the Word of the Lord, which he declared, was turned into daily reproach and derision; and of Ezekiel, when he wept over rebellious Israel! But the joy of success is inexpressible; and the full heart pours out its thanks to God. “They joy before Thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.” Lessons:
1. The word of man, while it may charm the understanding, is powerless to change the heart.
2. The correct estimate of gospel truth is to regard it as the Word of God.
3. The Word of God is efficacious to the individual only as it is received believingly. (G. Barlow.)
The gospel message: its instrument and reception
I. The gospel is a message from God to man. A message is a special communication, directly sent by one person to another, affecting matters of immediate interest. It is in this light that the gospel was regarded by its first preachers. They were ambassadors for Christ to men.
1. The message is special. Creation and Providence declare the glory of God, His power, wisdom, goodness. They have spoken with a thousand tongues, but they have not told us all. Their speech could not convey to the heart of man the hidden thought of the gospel, “But the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.”
2. The message has been directly sent. At sundry times, and in divers manners, through dream and vision, by the prophets, the communication was made at first, but in these last: days He has spoken to us by His Son.
3. It demands our immediate attention. The answer is to be made by return. We must not turn away from Him who speaketh from heaven.
II. That message is conveyed by human instrumentality. This is so obvious as to require no elucidation; but in the special light of the text it demands the closest attention. Touching this, St. Paul said to the Corinthians, “And my speech and my preaching was not with the enticing words of man’s wisdom,” etc. The preacher must be so impressed with the solemnity of his position as to make his own glorification impossible. This was a charge made by the Redeemer against the Pharisees, “Ye receive glory of men.” The hearer must also rise above many of the peculiarities of the messenger to the message itself, “See how ye hear.”
III. The message, when received in faith, exerts an immediate influence. “Which also worketh in you that believe.” The whole soul is moved to action.
1. There is a response to its call. “Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief.”
2. There is a conformity to its demand. “Take up the Cross, and follow Me.”
3. There is a realization of its peace. It is a message of mercy offering peace and joy to the believer. “Peace be unto you.” (Weekly Pulpit.)
The Preaching of the Word and its effects
I. When may it be said that the Word, not of men, but of God, is preached--
1. Negatively. Not--
II. What is implied in their receiving it, not as the word of men, but the Word of God?
1. Negatively. It is not received as “the Word of God, but as of man,” if received with inattention, irreverence, unconcern, unbelief, or with after neglect and disobedience. Not that the word even of man may not be attended to and heard with much respect, belief, and obedience; but if what is really the Word of God be not attended to, believed, and obeyed, it is evident it is received only as the word of man.
2. Positively. It is received as the Word of God if received with fixed and serious attention. Shall not the creature attend when the Creator, Preserver, and Redeemer speaks, and we know that He speaks to us?--with deep reverence, self-abasing humility, lively concern on account of the interest we have in the things revealed; assured faith as to the truth, importance, and suitableness of what is spoken; fervent prayer, since we cannot understand the Word unless we are taught by God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:11); sincere gratitude. What a blessing to have God speak to us!--ardent love of the truth, though it may condemn and distress us, though it be “quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12); a meek and patient mind (James 1:19-21); a firm purpose of obeying the will of God (James 1:22).
III. The effects produced by it when thus received. “It effectually worketh in you that believe.” Amongst its happy effects, are repentance, viz., illumination, conviction, humiliation, hatred of sin, and change of life (Acts 2:37; 1 Corinthians 14:24-25; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10). Confidence, and peace with God (Romans 10:17; Romans 5:1); regeneration (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23); a lively hope of immortality (2 Timothy 1:10; 2 Timothy 1:12; Titus 1:2-3; 1 Peter 1:3); a spiritual and heavenly mind (Colossians 3:1; Philippians 1:20); and deadness to the world (1 John 5:4); love to God and man (1 Thessalonians 3:12); this love is humble, resigned, zealous, obedient (1 Corinthians 13:4; John 14:15; John 14:21; John 14:23; 1 John 5:3); benevolence to all men; the Word of God, showing that all are the workmanship of one Creator, under the care of the same Divine providence, and the subjects of the same call in the gospel: a meek, gentle, and long-suffering mind towards all: a merciful, sympathizing, and liberal mind: a sober, temperate, and pure mind (Titus 2:11-12): a watchful and serious mind (1 Thessalonians 5:4-9): the Word of God, revealing serious and awful things, should create a corresponding temper in us: a courageous and brave mind (2 Timothy 1:7-8): a growing and progressive conformity to Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16; 2 Timothy 3:17). (J. Benson.)
The authenticity of the Scriptures
They are the Word of God on several grounds.
I. From the majesty and sublimity of the style in which they were written.
II. From the great and holy design of their Divine Author, and the harmony of all their parts.
III. From the character of the sacred writers. They lived at different times and in different parts of the world; their adversaries were many and mighty; they had no worldly advantages; they relate their own imperfections; they were either good or bad men.
IV. From the testimony of God himself. Miracles--prophecy, the evidences of which increases the farther it goes.
V. From the satisfaction which believers obtain from the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit. The inspiration of the sacred writers was supernatural and extraordinary; that of believers is extraordinary, but not supernatural. (A. Barber.)
Receiving the Word
I. The description of the Gospel--the Word of God.
1. It was given by God to the World.
2. It reveals to us His will in the salvation of ruined man.
3. He has commissioned His ministers to publish it.
II. The act of receiving it.
1. Hearing it as the Word of God, and not merely as the word of man.
2. Listening to it with attention.
3. Accepting it with the fullest credence.
4. Taking it wholly in all its parts.
III. The effect it produces.
1. It works a complete conformity to the character of Christ.
2. It supports the mind under all the difficulties and trials of life.
IV. The gratitude expressed for it.
1. Because it is all the gratuitous work of God’s Spirit.
2. Because the safety and happiness it confers and ensures.
1. Have we received the gospel?
2. Are we bringing forth its fruits? (E. Brown.)
The efficacy of the Word of God and the way of receiving it
Ministers and hearers are alike responsible, the one for preaching and the other for receiving. The Word of God is not to be trifled with. It is either a savour of life unto life, or the reverse.
I. The description given of the Word.
1. As to its Author.
(a) Such was the gospel as preached by the apostles (1 Thessalonians 2:2; Galatians 1:11-12; Matthew 10:20).
(b) Such also is the Written Word--the Bible. Men wrote as they spoke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).
(c) The same may be said of the Word as preached by true ministers now. They claim no inspiration, but if their teaching be founded upon and drawn from the Bible it is “in truth the Word of God.”
2. As to its effects. The Word is not only the channel of Divine revelation, it is the instrument of Divine quickening. The Spirit not only inspires it, but conveys Himself with it. Thus the Word is made effectual (1 Peter 1:22-23). Hence it is called “the rod of God’s strength,” a “fire,” a “hammer” (Psalms 110:2; Jeremiah 23:29), and the converter of the soul (Psalms 19:7). It works effectually in--
II. The manner in which it ought to be received.
1. With attention, because of its importance.
2. With reverence, as coming from a holy God to sinful men.
3. With humility and teachableness, making the requisite effort to understand it, and when understanding it receiving it without question.
4. As God’s appointed instrument for the conversion and edification of our souls. (E. Cooper, M. A.)
Hearing and receiving the Word
I. Hearing the Word. The temper of soul in the Thessalonians was so great a favour that Paul thought he could never praise the Author of it sufficiently. He knew his spiritual children could not but thrive when they received their meat in such a manner as the Word of God. It is the speech of Senaclaeus concerning Diarius the martyr--“Methought when I heard him speak, I heard the Holy Ghost Himself preaching to me.” Truly the want of this hearing is one main cause why the Word of God doth so little good. The devil is very diligent at duties: he is every Lord’s day the first at church. The children of God never gather together but Satan is among them. His great design is to render this engine of the Word fruitless, whereby the strongholds of His kingdom have been battered and broken down. Therefore, as a jailer will sometimes let his prisoners have their hands and feet at liberty so long as the doors of the prison are barred that they cannot run away, so he will let men have their hands at liberty for some acts of charity, and their feet at liberty to walk in some paths of virtue, so long as he can have the doors of their ears and hearts locked fast that they cannot get from him. He knoweth that Christ waiteth at the outer door of the ear, that He might thereby come to the inward door of the heart, and deliver the poor captives out of his hands. For this cause, it it be possible, he will keep the street door shut; he will hinder men from hearing as in God’s presence; he will find them other work to do than to hear. It may be he will get them to play and toy, or to talk to their pew fellows, or to be reading, or to have their hearts in their own houses, while their bodies are in God’s house; or as a child, though they are at their book, he will make them look off, if but a butterfly come by; he will set them about some business or other, unless they are serious as in God’s sight, that they shall never have so much leisure as to hear even when in church. Yet did they but believe the invaluable worth of their souls, the consequence and weight of their unchangeable estates, what a searching time the hour of death will be, and what dreadful things will be seen at the day of judgment! Good Lord, how would they hear! The minister need not then call them to attend to the Word of God; they would of themselves give it their ears, and minds, and hearts, and think all too little for it.
II. Receiving the Word. The Word is a salve of sovereign virtue. Some talk of the weapon salve that it heals at a distance: but the Word will not; it must be applied to the sore, or it will never cure. The Word is seed; preaching is the sowing of this seed; application of it to the heart is the harrowing of this seed into the earth. If the seed be thrown on the ground and not harrowed in, it can effect no harvest. It must be received. A good hearer is said to eat the Word (Jeremiah 15:16; Proverbs 9:5). It is not the bread in the cupboard of the Bible, or on the table of a sermon, which will nourish the soul, unless it be by application of it, eaten and taken into the stomach; the glass of wine in the hand will not make the heart glad; the precious promises in the ears will not rejoice the spirit; they must by application be drunk down, then they will refresh and comfort the conscience. Faith is both the mouth to receive in, and the stomach to digest, this spiritual food. It is worthy of observation how frequently the Holy Ghost attributeth the famous effects and heroic acts of the Word to this commander-in-chief, under whose courageous and wise conduct it warreth. The Word fighteth boldly, and worketh miraculously under the banner of faith (Romans 1:16). If the threatenings and curses of the Law are preached, faith is to them as the powder is to the bullet, causing them to make great havoc upon the lusts of a man. Faith turns stones into bread, and helpeth the Christian, like Samson, to fetch meat out of the eater. If the precepts and commands of the Law are preached, faith is the eye to see the equity in them, and the excellency of them; and faith is the hand to put them into practice. If the promises and comforts of the gospel are preached, faith is to them as induction to a minister; and gives him actual possession of them, making them his own. Faith in the threatenings causeth humiliation; faith in the precepts causeth subjection; and faith in the promises worketh consolation. If at any time thou goest from hearing both dead and undone, thou mayest say to faith as Martha did to Christ, “If thou hadst been here my soul had not died.” The unbeliever, like a man in a swoon, shuts his mouth against those life-recalling cordials which are before him in the gospel. Other sins wound the soul, but unbelief, like Joab, strikes under the fifth rib, and kills outright. So it cometh to pass that the Word is preached to many, but not to their profit. They hear the minister as chickens hear the hen; the hen calls them to come to her; they lie scraping in the dust, and will not hear her, till the kite cometh and devoureth them. But when the Word cometh with power the soul heareth it, as Peter heard the cock; he goeth out and weepeth bitterly when he hears of the boundless mercy he hath deserted, the matchless misery he hath deserved, and the infinite love he hath abused. When we are hearing, like the Thessalonians, our souls must be changed into the similitude of the Word, that it may come to us with power. As the working of physic kindly and well commendeth both the physician and body of the patient, so the powerful operation of the Word doth highly applaud both the skill of the Saviour and the state of the soul. It is written of Philetus, a disciple of Hermogenes, that, going to dispute with St. James the elder, the apostle preached Christ to him so powerfully, that he returned to his master, and said to him, “Majus abieram, Christianus redeo;”--I went forth a conjurer, but am come back a Christian. Oh, how happy will it be for us, whatever our end in going to church, yet when we return, we may upon good ground say, “We went forth proud, but are come home humble! We went forth bond slaves of Satan, but are returned free men of Christ! We went forth carnal, malicious, and obstinate sinners, but are come back spiritual, gracious, and heavenly saints!” (G. Swinnock, M. A.)
The Word and its works
I. The reception of the Gospel.
1. There is something in the source of the Word which claims our reverential regard. It is not the word of man, but of God. Yet the word of man claims to be heard. The utterances of the wise and good cannot be disregarded without blame; how much more the revelations of the supreme intelligence and goodness.
2. There is something in the intrinsic importance and manifest adaptation of this word which gives it claim to our regard. It speaks to our deepest wants and longings, and unfolds the “unsearchable riches of Christ” for their satisfaction.
3. There is something in the truthfulness of God’s Word which gives it certainty. Man yearns for certainty, and is unhappy till he find it. He cannot find it in philosophy and speculation, but he can in Him who is “the Truth,” who reveals Himself and speaks in the Word.
4. There is that in the nature of this Word which gives it authority. Mere human teaching has always wanted this: but the Word like its Author “speaks with authority, not as the Scribes.”
II. The operation of the Gospel. To be effectual it must be received, but being received it works--
1. The conviction of sin. To leave us in our spiritual slumber because of the unpleasant sensations of the awakening were false mercy; but the power which rouses conscience is beneficent.
2. It leads to reconciliation with God. There can be no happiness while the soul is estranged from God. The Word brings us back by revealing the fulness and sufficiency of redemption.
3. It sanctifies the heart (John 17:17). Pardon is not sufficient by itself. The Christian life is progressive holiness. The Word quickens holiness and promotes its growth.
4. It supplies consolation in time of trial. (G. Swinnock, M. A.)
God’s Word intelligently received
The following strikingly interesting story was lately related to me by the Lord Bishop of Derry: During Lord Lyndhurst’s last illness, he received a visit from Lord Harrowby. The latter’s eyes happening to fall upon some books popular among infidels, Renan’s “Life of Jesus” among others, which were lying upon a table by the side of the sick man’s bed, and had evidently recently formed the subject of his reading, he expressed in his countenance no inconsiderable amount of distress and disappointment. Upon this Lord Lyndhurst, who observed this change come over him, assured him that he need not be in the least degree alarmed, for that he had studied with the utmost care both sides of the question (and never was there an abler and more expert judge of the nature and value of evidence, no matter how entangled and conflicting such evidence might be, than Lord Lyndhurst), and was accordingly perfectly acquainted with all that had been urged against as well as for Christianity, but that (observe, I pray, his beautiful conclusion), his belief in the mission and resurrection of Jesus Christ had never been even for one second shaken. (Maurice C. Hime, M. A.)
God’s Word prayerfully received
Dr. Schauffler, the missionary at Constantinople, relates the following story: A Turk of Thessalonica bought a Bible and read it diligently, lie was asked what he thought of the Bible--if it was a book like other books. “No,” said he; “this is a book which man could mot have written. God must have written it Himself.” “Have you not also found that Christ must have been the Son of God?” He shook his head. On his next visit he returned again to the subject, and said, “When I visited you last I could not answer your question truthfully from my heart. That Christ was the Son of God was the only point I could not believe. I went away to my closet and prayed for light, that I might believe; and in answer to my prayer that I might know Christ as the Saviour of the world, light broke on my spirit, and since then I have believed.” (Der Glaubensbote.)
God’s Word soul quickening
A lady who was present at the dispensation of the Lord’s Supper, where the Rev. Ebenezer Erskine was assisting, was much impressed by his discourse. Having been informed who he was, she went next Sabbath to his own place of worship rehear him. But she felt none of those strong impressions she experienced on the former occasion. Wondering at this, she called on Mr. E., and stating the case, asked what might be the reason of such a difference in her feelings. He replied, Madam, the reason is this, last Sabbath, you went to hear Jesus Christ, but today you have come to hear Ebenezer Erskine.
Life-giving energy of the Word of God
A native minister of Madagascar, who has since been an assistant in the revision of the book of Genesis, attributes his conversion entirely to his having accidentally met with a small scrap torn from a Malagasy Bible. While walking past the spot where the Memorial Church of Ambantan-kanga now stands, he saw upon the ground a small scrap of printed paper. Taking it up, he found that it was a mere fragment of the book of Psalms. He began to read, and was especially struck with one verse, which speaks of the power and majesty of God. He could not get rid of the impression it made on his mind, that the God revealed in the Bible was the true and living God. He accordingly sought out a Christian, and inquired about the faith they possessed. The result was that he accepted Christ as his Saviour, joined himself to the persecuted company of believers, and endured with them privation and loss for Christ’s sake. He has now been for some years a native pastor, and is a most zealous and godly man. What other word is so full of life-giving energy as this? What other book can so change men for time and for eternity? Surely, this is God’s book.
A due reception of the gospel
I. The occasion of Paul’s thankfulness.
1. The manner in which the Thessalonians received the Word of God.
2. The manner in which it operated in--
II. The ground which ministers have for thankfulness whose labours are so blest.
1. For the people’s sake.
2. For the Church’s sake.
3. For the world’s sake.
4. For the Lord’s sake.
1. Whence it is that the Word preached is so generally ineffectual to any saving purpose.
2. How it may be made effectual to the good of souls. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
The right reception of the gospel
I. The right reception of the gospel (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
1. They listened to it not as the word of men, but as the Word of God. Paul refers to the danger of listening to the gospel as if it were the word of men. How many treat it as merely the preacher’s message.
(a) Listen to it with reverence.
(b) Feel its authority.
(c) Rejoice in its preciousness.
(d) Be impressed with a due sense of responsibility.
2. They received it in faith, “Also in you that believe.” This is the only way in which it can be received. Hearing is not receiving it, nor an intelligent comprehension of its nature and relationships. Not until a man accepts Christ as his Redeemer and Righteousness is the gospel received. It should be thus received because of--
3. It follows that in thus receiving the gospel as the Word of God--
II. The efficacy of the Word when rightly received. It will have an effect, but what each must choose.
1. The mighty power which the Word had on those who believed, “Which effectually worked.” By means of it they were--
2. The explanation of this effectual working--because they believed (Hebrews 4:2). In proportion to our faith will be our profit from the Word.
III. The thankfulness. Inspired by this right reception and effectual working of the Word. Paul felt, thankful because of--
1. His sympathy with the Lord Jesus in His work and triumphs “He shall see of the travail of His soul,” etc.
2. The blessings realized by those who received the Word. The liberator feels joy in freeing the slave; the physician in making the diseased healthy. (G. W. Humphreys, M. A.)
The logic of life
I wish to point out the evidences of the faith of Christ in its effectual working; that it is the Word of God is declared by its practical working; its Divinity, its validity, its preciousness are alike evidenced by its action and consequences in the experience and life of all those who truly receive it. Its practical working shows that it is no cunningly devised fable, but the very truth and power of God. There are three grand tests.
I. In circumstances the test of truth is utility. A belief is not shown to be true because it works to the profit of one man or a few men, or because it works to the profit of many men during a limited period; but a belief is shown to be true if it works to the profit of vast masses of men, in all kinds of conditions, through one generation after another. That which uniformly tends to the enrichment of society is manifestly in harmony with the law of the world. Now, I am bold to affirm that the faith of Christ will bear this test. It vindicates itself by stimulating life, enriching it, adorning it.
II. In character the test of truth is beauty. What is false in doctrine and ideal will tell in deformity, weakness, incompleteness of character. What is true in doctrine and ideal will illustrate itself in nobility of character and life. Beauty is the splendour of truth. Here again Christianity finds attestation in the logical life. Proof that Christ brought the eternal doctrine was seen in His own personal perfection. He who was the Truth was the Beauty. And the same splendour of character has been revealed in all generations of Christ’s saints. But it is objected that these characters are not what they are in beauty by virtue of Christianity. Some sceptic said of Sister Dora, “She’s a noble woman, but she’d have been that without her Christianity.” But we cannot accept that. Could we accept it if a man were to say of a great golden sheaf of wheat that had brought forth a hundred-fold, “Yes, it has grown on ploughed land, it has been manured, weeded, watched, but it would have grown just the same on a prairie”?
III. In consciousness the test of truth is happiness. If a man’s faith gives him joy of the very highest kind--a joy altogether pure and unselfish, a joy that is intelligent, a joy that promotes the growth of the moral nature, a joy that persists through change and sorrow--I say that in such gladness he finds one of the strongest proofs of the divinity of his creed. It is a matter of the first import that a faith makes myriads nobly happy. Now, the logic of life once more accredits the faith of Christ--it makes its disciples truly happy. (John 14:27). Those who rest in the great doctrines of Christ share the peace and joy of Christ. Just as the eye is delighted with the lustre of the sun shine, the ear with the concord of sweet sounds, the nostril with the fragrance of the flower, so the soul is delighted with the truths revealed in Jesus Christ (John 15:11). (W. L. Watkinson.)
Inspiration of the spoken Word
The “Word” here is the spoken in contrast with the written Word (1 Thessalonians 1:8), the Third Gospel which, it has been conjectured, had possibly been entrusted to the keeping of the Thessalonian Church. The bearing of the text on the doctrine of the inspiration of the spoken Word of the apostles is very evident. This effectual working, this energy which is ascribed to the Divine Word is seen in its revealing to men, both what they are by nature and may be by grace. It is, as it were, the mirror which, as legend has it, can alone stay the basilisk. That creature which neither fire nor sword can overcome, is destroyed at once so soon as, the mirror being set before it, it sees itself and its hideousness. The corruption of the natural man dies when it sees itself in the mirror of God’s Word. Not only so, that Word is also like the fabled mirror, which, the longer it is gazed upon, transforms and beautifies the beholder, till at last it reflects to all who bend lovingly over it the perfected beauty of holiness. Such an all transforming energy pertains to God’s Word in the experience of all who believe. (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
The unity of the Bible
“Word of God” is one of the most common, ancient, and accurate titles of the Bible. It is a name to be specially valued because it carries with it the doctrine that the Bible is one whole, has one Author, subject and object, and as the text states, works with like power in all who receive it.
I. In anything that has organic unity, all the different parts, however many and alike, are yet so related as organs that every one of them is essential to the integrity and completeness of the whole.
1. This needs illustration.
2. These examples make it plain what organic unity is in any production of the mind whether of God or man. Remember, however, two qualifications--
II. The bible has this unity. It came from one Spirit, as one whole, with one design. Every part has vital connection with every other and with that design. You cannot tear any portion out without vitally hurting the integrity and authority of it as one Book. Hence it is what it is declared to be, the indestructible” Word of God.” If it has not this unity, then human reason may take it to pieces, like the useless links of a broken chain, and sit in judgment on each one, and throw any one away, This experiment has long ago been tried, but the Church has held the Bible fast, and kept it one.
III. In what does the unity of the Bible consist.
1. Not in the absence of variety or diversity in the parts. No book ever written approaches it in the diversity of its contents. It is not like the unity of a Doric column, a blade of grass or a single portrait; but rather like the unity of nature in the variety of her manifestations and operations.
2. Look at this diversity as bringing out the unity by contrast in a striking and impressive light.
2. Yet after all it is one Word. This unity is--
1. You say that you cannot see the connection of some parts of the Bible with its principal object. There are passages and even books so apparently detached from the main drift that you cannot trace the links which join them with the rest. This is just what might have been expected in a message sent by God to a short-lived and ignorant child, but meant also to be for all time, lands and conditions. If certain pieces of mortar and timber from a building were brought to you, you would confess that you could not see what relation they bore to the structure. A young child sees no use in half the things that the grownup world deems quite necessary to keep society safe and strong. Could you see as the inspiring Spirit sees you would confess that either to the narrative, or moral impression, or spiritual power, directly or indirectly, to some past, present or future, this very part was an essential contribution.
2. You say that some parts are unedifying. To you, perhaps, but not to differently constituted persons, nor even to yourself if you sought more prayerfully. (Bp. Huntington.)
Receiving the Scriptures as the Word of Man
I remember in Archbishop Magee’s book on the Atonement, allusion to a commentary on a very difficult text, which seemed to the person who was handling it certainly to contain the doctrine of our Lord’s pre-existence and divinity, The man who found this a hard nut to crack had no other way of solving it except by saying that probably the old apostle had dictated one thing, and his amanuensis had written down another. (Archbishop Tait.)
God’s Word and man’s; their relative value
There is gold in the rocks which fringe the pass of Splugen, gold even in the stones which mend the roads, but there is too little of it to be worth extracting. Alas, how like too many books and sermons! Not so the Scriptures; they are much fine gold; their very dust is precious. (W. Baxendale.)
God’s Word and man’s; their relative effect
A clergyman had prepared a certain sermon with great care, and had reason to hope that it would be attended with a great blessing, for which he had sought with earnest prayer. The sermon was preached with great effect, and he came down from the pulpit full of hope. A widow stopped him on his way to the vestry and begged a word. “Ah!” he said to himself “it is coming as I expected. I thought it would not be preached in vain.” Then to the woman “What part of the sermon struck you most, the beginning or the ending?” “Well sir,” she replied, “I do not know much about the beginning or the ending; but you said ‘God so loved the world that He gave,’” etc. The doctor was struck to the heart. All his fine words forgotten, but one of God’s words made effectual. (W. Baxendale.)
The power of the Word
When I read Romans 9:1-33; Romans 10:1-21; Romans 11:1-36, to that fine old man, Mr.
, at Ramsgate, he shed tears. Any Jew of sensibility must be deeply impressed by them. (S. T. Coleridge.)
Converted by the Word
It is well known that the Earl of Rochester was for many years an avowed infidel, and that a large portion of his time was spent in ridiculing the Bible. One of his biographers has described him as “a great wit, a great sinner, and a great penitent.” Even this man was converted by the Holy Spirit in the use of His Word. Reading Isaiah lift he was convinced of the truth and inspiration of the Scriptures, and the Deity and Atonement of Christ. On that atonement he rested, and died in humble expectation of heavenly happiness.
Experimental evidence to the Word
In order to appreciate this come with me to some sequestered glen amid the hills of Scotland, to the patriarchal occupant of a lonely cabin, where you may behold the grey-headed man, amid intermingling smiles and tears, bending morning, noon and night, over one book, “the big ha’ Bible.” Let us ask him, “How do you know that that book is the Word of God? You never read the ‘Evidences’ of Paley, the ‘Analogy’ of Butler, the ‘Credibility’ of Lardner, the eloquent ‘Demonstrations’ of Chalmers; how came you to believe it?” “Come to believe it,” would the peasant say, “I have felt it in my heart and conscience to be the Book of God; it has taught me the truths I never knew before; it has given me a peace the world could never give; it has calmed my beating heart; it has stanched my bleeding wounds; it has kindled within me the love of God, and the hope of glory. Not the Book of God! I am convinced of it as I am that I am here a living man.” (J. Cumming, D. D.)
1 Thessalonians 2:14
For ye, brethren, became followers of the Churches of God which are in Judaea
Church followers. The Thessalonian believers, acquainted with the important fact that there were several holy brotherhoods in Judaea which were united to Jesus Christ by faith in His truth, strove to imitate them in their spiritual virtues, and thus show that they were one with them--were united to them in and through the same Lord. The union of Church members is not a mere outward adhesion, like the way in which the stones of a building are joined to one another, but it is a living organic union, like the members of one body, possessed of a common life, constituting together one living whole, so that all are parts of one and the same being; hence it is a union which cannot be severed without doing violence to that blessed Spirit by whose act it has been brought about. The Church of Christ, which is His mystical body, cannot be Otherwise than one, wherever it may be--in Judea or Thessalonica, and its members, wherever living, cannot be otherwise than imitators of each other.
II. Church sufferers. The Word preached to the Thessalonians had wrought so effectually in them that they became examples unto others not only in faith and good works, but in patience and suffering, also for the Word’s sake. With unflinching courage and steady constancy they met the fierce opposition of their own fellow tribe or clansmen, beside that of others--the Jews--all enemies of the Cross of Christ. Christ Himself never used anything like force or violence, except once, and that was to drive ungodly men not into the Temple, but out of it. To ill-treat, and stone, and crucify good men for their religion is not the gospel of Christ, but the direct instigation of the devil. He is the father of lies, and truth is almost invariably on the side of the persecuted. Yet, though believers suffer persecution for it, they are benefitted by persecution, just as the giant of the forest becomes all the stronger and more deeply rooted for the strong blasts which have shaken and tried it. (M. F. Day, D. D.)
Suffering the test of conversion
It often happens that suffering reveals new features of character and awakens powers before dormant. It is said that Agrippa had a dormouse that slumbered so profoundly that it would never wake till cast in a cauldron of boiling lead. So there are some natures which put forth their powers only when in extremity. The piety of God’s people is often tested by affliction. The faith of thousands has sunk, while those who have borne the strain have gained an accession of moral nerve. The Thessalonians imitated the churches of God in facing the storm of persecution with unconquerable firmness.
I. Their suffering had a common origin. “Ye of your own countrymen”--they “of the Jews.”
1. It is the unkindest cut of all that comes from the sword of our own people--people with whom we have lived in amity, but from whom conscience compels us to differ (Psalms 55:12), when natural love is turned into unnatural enmity.
2. What a revelation this of the devilish nature of persecution. Its insensate malice rudely sunders all bonds of fatherland, friendship, or kindred. The close affinity between Cain and Abel does not arrest the murderer’s hand. The tender ties between Saul and David avail not to curb the mad cruelty of the king.
3. How deep and changeless is the truth--“All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” The suffering that tests is still from the same source. “A man’s foes are they of his own household.”
II. Their suffering was borne with exemplary Christian fortitude. The same thought is expressed in 1 Thessalonians 1:6. At the head of the long line is Jesus, the captain of salvation; and all whom He leads to glory walk in His steps, imitate His example, and so become followers one of another.
1. It is not suffering in itself that purifies, so much as the spirit in which it is borne. It was enough to cool the fiery ambition of the aspiring disciples when Jesus said, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?” And yet the following of Christ in suffering is the true test of discipleship. “He that taketh not his cross and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me.”
2. It is a proof of the supernatural efficacy of the gospel that it inspires so intense a love of it as to make us willing to endure suffering for its sake. The love of truth becomes supreme. John Huss, lamenting the rupture of an old and valued friendship, said, “Paletz is my friend; truth is my friend; and both being my friends, it is my sacred duty to give the first honour to truth.”
3. The soul, penetrated with this devotion, will pass unscathed the fiery test. On the destruction of the London Alexandra Palace by fire, it was found that, while many specimens of old English porcelain exhibited there were reduced to a black, shapeless mass, the true porcelain of Bristol, though broken into fragments, still retained its whiteness, and even its most delicate shades of colour uninjured by the fire. So the truly good, though wounded, shall survive the fiercest trial, and retain intact all that distinguishes the Christian character.
1. Our love of the Gospel is tested by what we suffer for it.
2. The similarity of experience, in all times and places, is a strong evidence of the truth of the Christian religion.
3. Suffering does not destroy, but builds up and perfects. (G. Barlow.)
The secret of persecution
A wolf flies not upon a painted sheep, and men can look upon a painted toad with delight. It is not the soft pace, but the furious march of the soldier that sets men a-gazing and dogs a-barking. Let but a man glide along with the stream of the world, do as others do, he may sit down and take his ease; but if he once strive against the stream, stand up in the cause of God, and act for Christ, then he shall be sure to meet with as much malice as men and devils can possibly throw upon him. (J. Spencer.)
The honour of persecution
One who was persecuted in Queen Mary’s time wrote thus, “A poor prisoner for Christ! What is this for a poor worm! Such honour have not all His saints. Both the degrees I took in the university have not set me so high as the honour of becoming a prisoner of the Lord.”
Consolation in persecution
Do they cast us out of the city? They cannot cast us out of that which is in the heavens. If they who hate us could do this, they would be doing something real against us. So long, however, as they cannot do this, they are but pelting us with drops of water or striking us with the wind. (Gregory Nazianzen.)
Persecution elicits sympathy
A coloured man applied to a New York merchant for a subscription, who at once knocked him into the street. The coloured man started on telling the story of his abuse, won sympathy by it, and, before night, collected fifty dollars. The persecutor, hearing the story, desired to silence the man, sent for him, and gave him a liberal subscription,
Benefit of persecution
As frankincense, when it is put into the fire, giveth the greater perfume; as spice, if it be pounded and beaten, smelleth the sweeter; as the earth, when it is torn up by the plough, becometh more fruitful; the seed in the ground, after frost and snow and winter storms, springeth the ranker; the nigher the vine is pruned to the stock, the greater grape it yieldeth; the grape, when it is most pressed and beaten, maketh the sweetest wine; linen, when it is bucked and washed, wrung and beaten, is so made fairer and whiter: even so the children of God receive great benefit by persecution; for by it God washeth and scoureth, schooleth and nurtureth them, that so, through many tribulations, they may enter into their rest. (Cawdray.)
Persecution a stimulus
A certain amount of persecution rouses a man’s defiance, stirs his blood for magnificent battle, and makes him fifty times more a man than he would have been without the persecution. So it was with the great reformer when he said, “I will not be put down, I will be heard.” And so it was with Millard, the preacher, in the time of Louis XI. When that sovereign sent word to him that unless he stopped preaching in that style he would throw him into the river, he replied, “Tell the king that I shall reach heaven sooner by water, than he will by fast horses.” (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
1 Thessalonians 2:15-16
Who both killed the Lord Jesus and their own prophets
Paul’s indictment of the Jews
The apostle “goes off” upon the word “Jews” to describe the evil deeds of his countrymen.
I. The explanation of the indictment. Various views have been offered.
1. That as the persecution of believers in Thessalonica, though from the heathen, was yet directly instigated by the Jews, it was natural that Paul should turn aside to speak of them and their wickedness.
2. That the apostle, at the very time of writing, was himself suffering at their hands (Acts 18:5-6; Acts 18:12). His mind, therefore, we can well conceive, was full of thoughts regarding these Jewish misdeeds, and hence he bursts forth into utterances of sorrowful indignation.
3. That the Thessalonians were converts from Polytheism to a monotheistic religion which was a growth out of Judaism, They could, consequently, hardly fail to stumble by seeing Jews everywhere its most violent opponents. Paul may have striven to meet this state of mind, by showing that the opposition of the Jews was in keeping with their whole character and conduct.
II. Its subject matter.
1. The culminating point in Jewish wickedness is the casting out and murder of their Messiah. In ignorance they did it, it is true. Yet that ignorance was no justification, for the prophets, whose testimony was to Christ, the Jews had also slain. This is the indictment of the Old Testament, and also of Christ (Matthew 23:29-39). Paul’s words are but an echo of his Master’s.
2. Seeing, then, that such was their past conduct, Paul adds, as naturally following, “and have persecuted us.” What had been meted out to God’s servants in the past it was to be expected would be extended to the apostles and believers. Under new conditions the Jewish character would again assert itself.
3. Hence he declares “They please not God and are contrary to all men.” The more he came in contact with Gentile life, the more he must have observed the intense dislike with which the Jews were everywhere regarded. Despising other nations, they were themselves only loathed by these nations in return; and now that Paul’s feelings had broadened into the love of all mankind, he could not but recognize them as showing what Tacitus called “adversus omnes alios hostile odium.” The mark of God’s anger had been set upon them, and the Divine judgment had been ratified by men. “When God loathes aught, men presently loathe it too.”
4. But here it is not the dislike felt by others towards the Jews as the animosity of the Jews towards all others. “Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles,” etc. Like their own Pharisees they would neither enter in themselves nor allow others to enter.
5. In thus standing in the way of the Gentiles’ salvation they were acting so as “to fill up their own sins alway” with fearful perseverance; alike before Christ had come, when He came, and now that He had gone, they had been filling up the measure of their guilt.
6. And now retribution was approaching. Wrath had already fallen, and was falling upon them; but in a short fourteen years it came upon them to the utmost in the destruction of their city and the dispersion of their race. (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
The fury of the old religion against the new
The transition from the old to a new order of things in the progress of religion is not always accomplished without opposition. Age is naturally and increasingly tenacious: and the old religion looks upon the new with suspicion, jealousy, fear, anger. The Jews had resisted the attempts of their own Divinely commissioned prophets to rouse them to a purer faith and life; but their fury reached its climax in their opposition to Christianity. Observe--
I. The fury of the Jews in their inhuman treatment of the great leaders of religious thought.
1. They plotted against the life of the world’s Redeemer; and, in spite of insufficient evidence to convict, and the endeavours of the Roman Procurator to release, they clamoured for His crucifixion, exclaiming, “His blood be on us and on our children”--a self-invoked imprecation that fell on them with terrible and desolating vengeance!
2. The sin of murder already darkly stained their race--the best and noblest of their prophets being the unoffending victims. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Zechariah met with violent deaths. The charge of Stephen was unanswerable (Acts 7:52).
3. The apostles were subjected to similar treatment--“Have chased and driven us out.” They drove them out of Thessalonica, afterwards out of Berea, and were at that moment engaged in instigating an insurrection to drive the apostle out of Corinth. The spirit of persecution is unchanged. Wherever the attempt is made to raise the Church, it is met with a jealous, angry opposition. And yet what a wretched, short-sighted policy does persecution reveal! It is the idolized weapon of the tyrant and the coward, the sport of the brutal, the sanguinary carnival of devils.
II. The fury of the Jews was displeasing to God. They fondly imagined that they were the favourites of heaven, and that all others were excluded from the Divine complacency. They could quote the words of their law, such as Deuteronomy 14:2, with the utmost facility, to support their assumption of superiority and exclusiveness, wilfully shutting their eyes to the difference between the holy intention of Jehovah, and their miserable failure to realize that intention. In all their opposition to Christianity they thought they were doing God service. How fatally blinding is sin--goading the soul to the commission of the most horrible crimes under the guise of virtue.
III. The fury of the Jews was hostile to man.
1. Their hostility was directed against the world of mankind. “Are contrary to all men.” The Jews of that period were the adversaries and despisers of all. Tacitus brands them as “the enemies of all men:” and Apion, the Egyptian, calls them “Atheists and misanthropes, in fact, the most witless and dullest of barbarians.”
2. Their hostility was embittered by a despicable religious jealousy. “Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles,” etc. Here the fury of the old religion against the new reached its climax. It is the perfection of bigotry and cruelty to deny to our fellow men the only means of salvation! Into what monsters of barbarity will persecution convert men! Pharaoh persisted to such a degree of unreasonableness as to chastise the Hebrews for not accomplishing impossibilities! Julian the Apostate, carried his vengeful spirit to his deathbed.
IV. The fury of the Jews hurried them into irretrievable ruin.
1. Their wickedness was wilfully persistent. “To fill up their sins alway”--at all times, now as much as ever. So much so, the time is now come when the cup of their iniquity is filled to the brim, and nothing can prevent the consequent punishment. The desire to sin grows with its commission. St. Gregory says, “Sinners would live forever that they might sin forever”--a powerful argument for the endlessness of future punishment--the desire to sin is endless!
2. Their punishment was inevitable and complete. “For the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost”--is even now upon them. The process has begun. Their fury to destroy others will accelerate their own destruction. Punishment descended upon the wicked, unbelieving, and resisting Jews; and utter destruction upon their national status and religious supremacy.
1. There is a fearful possibility of sinking into a lifeless formality, and a blind, infatuate opposition to the good.
2. The rage of man against the truth defeats its own ends and recoils in vengeance on himself. (G. Barlow.)
Guilty of the death of Christ
Bridaine was one of the most celebrated of the French preachers. Marmontel relates that in his sermons he sometimes had recourse to the interesting method of parables, with a view the more forcibly to impress important truths on the minds of his hearers. Preaching on the passion of Jesus Christ, he expressed himself thus:--“A man, accused of a crime of which he was innocent, was condemned to death by the iniquity of his judges. He was led to punishment, but no gibbet was prepared, nor was there any executioner to perform the sentence. The people, moved with compassion, hoped that this sufferer would escape death. But one man raised his voice, and said, ‘I am going to prepare a gibbet, and I will be the executioner.’ You groan with indignation! Well, my brethren, in each of you I behold this cruel man. Here are no Jews today, to crucify Jesus Christ: but you dare to rise up, and say, ‘I will crucify Him.’” Marmontel adds, that he heard these words pronounced by the preacher, though very young, with all the dignity of an apostle, and with the most powerful emotion; and that such was the effect, that nothing was heard but the sobs of the auditory. For the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost--
The Jews under the wrath of God
Bishop Patrick quotes the following affecting inquiry addressed by Rabbi Samuel Moraccanus to a friend in the eleventh century:--“I would fain learn from thee, out of the testimonies of the law, and the prophets, and other Scriptures, why the Jews are thus smitten in this captivity wherein we are, which may be properly termed the perpetual anger of God, because it hath no end. For it is now above a thousand years since we were carried captive by Titus; and yet our fathers, who worshipped idols, killed the prophets, and cast the law behind their back, were only punished with a seventy years’ captivity, and then brought home again; but now there is no end of our calamities, nor do the prophets promise any.” “If,” says Bishop Patrick, “this argument was hard to be answered then, in his days, it is much harder in ours, who still see them pursued by God’s vengeance, which can be for nothing else but rejecting and crucifying the Messiah, the Saviour of the world.”
Severity consistent with benevolence
Take the case of an earthly parent. Suppose him to be endowed with all the tenderest sensibilities of nature, conceive of him as delighting in the health and welfare of his children, and, in the exercise of every benevolent affection, lavishing on them all the riches of a father’s kindness and a father’s care. You say, on looking at his benignant countenance and his smiling family, this is an affectionate father. But a secret canker of ingratitude seizes one or more of his children, they shun his presence, or dislike his society, and at length venture on acts of positive disobedience; he warns them, he expostulates with them, but in vain, they revolt more and more; and at length, in the exercise of deliberate thought, he lifts the rod and chastens them; and he who once was the author of all their happiness has become also their calm but firm reprover. And who that knows the tenderness of a father’s love will not acknowledge that, severe as may be the suffering inflicted, such a man doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of his love? Again, conceive of a man of benevolent feelings invested with the office of magistrate or judge--conceive that Howard, the unwearied friend of his race, who visited the prisons of Europe to alleviate the miseries of the worst and most destitute of men--conceive of such a man sitting in judgment over the life or liberty of another, and can you not suppose, that while every feeling within him inclined him to the side of mercy, and his every sensibility would be gratified, were it possible to make the felon virtuous and happy, he might, notwithstanding, have such a deep moral persuasion of the importance of virtue and order to the well-being of the state, that he could consign the prisoner to a dungeon or the gallows, and that, too, with the perfect conviction that it was right and good to do so; while still, every sentiment of the heart within him, if it could be disclosed, would bear witness, that he afflicted not willingly, and that he had no pleasure in the death of the criminal? Such a father, and such a judge is God; and the sufferings which he inflicts, whether they be viewed as corrective or penal, are compatible with the loftiest benevolence in the Divine mind. (Dr. J. Buchanan.)
1 Thessalonians 2:17
But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time
The power of Satan great but restricted
Paul had a very profound belief in the reality and activity of the evil one (Ephesians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Acts 26:18; 1 Timothy 5:15; Ephesians 4:27; 2 Corinthians 12:7). The powers of Satan--
I. Forcing an unwilling separation.
1. The separation was painful but temporary--“Being taken from you” literally, “being orphaned of you.” Their grief was like that of a father bereaved of his children, or children of their parents. They hoped speedily to return, and after a lapse of five years, that hope was realized. Satan acted by means of wicked men (Acts 17:5-8; Acts 17:13).
2. The separation did not lessen their spiritual attachment. “In presence, not in heart.” Satan may deprive of the opportunity of social intercourse, but not of reciprocal Christian love. Augustine, referring to different kinds of friendship, shows the preeminence of the spiritual, when the link is grace and the Spirit of God. “Natural affections, want of presence diminisheth; mundane friendship, where profit makes the union, want of profit unlooseth; but spiritual amity nothing dissolves, no, not that which dissolves all others, lack of society.”
II. Hindering an earnestly desired visit.
1. Opposition intensified their desire to see their converts. “Endeavoured the more abundantly,” etc. As lime is inflamed by water, as a stream grows more furious by the obstacles set against it, so genuine affection is increased by that which opposes it.
2. The opposition succeeded in baffling repeated attempts to carry out that desire. “Once and again, but Satan hindered us.” The apostle halted at Berea on his way to Athens, and probably attempted then to return to Thessalonica, but was thwarted in his design. Though no express reference is made in the history to the agency of Satan, Paul had unmistakeable evidence of its operation in many wars. Satan hindered us--perhaps by sickness, imprisonment, tempests at sea, or by keeping him so fully occupied with incessant conflicts and ever new tribulations of his own, as to leave him no leisure for carrying out his plan. The verb signifies to cut a trench in the way of a pursuing enemy, so as to hinder his progress.
III. Unable to rob the Christian worker of the joy and reward of success. Great as is the power of Satan, it is not omnipotent. The Christian warrior can successfully withstand it (Ephesians 6:11-13; Romans 16:20).
1. Success in soul saving is productive of joy. “For what is our hope,” etc. The merchant rejoices over his gains, the warrior ever his victories, the artist over the achievements of genius; but there is no joy so sweet as that of the successful winner of souls.
2. The joy of success in soul saving will be among the highest rewards of the future. “In the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” etc. The return of Christ to heaven, after the judgment, is here compared to the solemnity of a triumph, in which the apostle is to appear crowned in token of victory over the false religions of the world, attended by his converts, and because they are the cause of his being thus crowned, they are, by a beautiful figure of speech, called his crown of rejoicing. Special honour is promised to the successful worker (Daniel 12:3).
1. The power of Satan works through many agencies; therefore we have need of watchfulness.
2. The power of Satan is limited; therefore we need not be discouraged (G. Barlow.)
Paul’s absence from the Thessalonians
For this he apologizeth.
I. He was rudely forced away from them, such was the rage of his persecutors, who, by certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, stirred all the city of Thessalonica into an uproar, and would have taken summary vengeance upon him and Silas; but their brethren interposed, and ere long they sent them away by night to Berea. The body of Paul was at Berea, but the heart of Paul was at Thessalonica. He could not forget the Thessalonians. Sooner might the stars forget their courses at night time, or the sun forget to shine at noon day.
II. Even his bodily absence was but for a brief space--the time of an hour, as it were. All time on earth is brief and uncertain, whether we are present with our friends or absent from them. This world is not a place where we are long together. It is in heaven holy souls shall meet and never part more.
III. He earnestly endeavoured to see them again. How strong and beautiful his words, “We endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire!” Who could doubt his affection for his converts after this? He knew they esteemed him very highly in love for his works’ sake, and was therefore attracted to them by the force of the same holy passion. Love alway begets love, and hearts thereby influenced would never be separated. But even apostles are not masters of their own time. Paul did his best, and angels could do no more.
IV. But Satan hindered his return to them. The great enemy of mankind is especially opposed to those who would destroy his kingdom of lies by declaring the truth of another kingdom. The child of God can no sooner enterprise that which is really good, but he meets with some impediment; so, whoever be the means or instruments for impeding us in the way of duty, the devil himself, through God’s permission, is the prime author of that woeful work, and all others do but fight under his banner; for, though other means were doubtless accessory to Paul’s stay at Berea, yet Satan hindered him from returning at once to Thessalonica. (D. Mayo.)
The discipline of absence
A little party of friends had been making a fortnight’s excursion among the Alps, in high enjoyment and good fellowship. Among them were two lovers in the first happiness of their engagement. The company broke up by degrees, and on the shore of the Lake of Geneva the young man took leave for a while of his betrothed. As the little steamer carried her away, and the twilight fell upon the lake, she sat alone, and her face grew pensive with a loneliness which was new to her. Her friends were walking the deck--a husband and wife, who for many years had walked together, and to whom sweet alike were the deck or the shore, Switzerland or England, if they were side by side. Their glances fell on the girl, and they said to each other, “Today she was happy, and now she is sad; but she could not spare the sadness. She will be the fitter for a wife’s joy if she learns to love through missing him as well as through having him.” So, perhaps, may higher intelligences look upon us in our saddest hours, and say, “Now they are learning to love.” (Free Methodist.)
1 Thessalonians 2:18
Satan hindered us
Satan the hinderer
It may he profitable to remind ourselves of two or three things bearing upon the nonfulfilment of our best purposes.
We have schemes which come to nothing; wishes which perish in disappointment vows which fall so far short of realization as to afflict our hearts with a sense of self-perjury and self-contempt. What is that malign power which hinders us when we start on any holy errand? Why is there not a clear path to the soul’s feet, so that we may run the way of the Lord? The question is all-important. If we know the hinderer we may address ourselves to the speciality of his power; but if we misconceive his individuality or resources we may exhaust our strength in profitless labour.
I. There is a hinderer. Not only are there hindrances; there is a personal hinderer. He is not visible. He is not persuadable; resist is the right word, not persuade. Is the tiger ever persuaded to spare the prey? God can be entreated the devil must be resisted. One man says there is no devil. Who is that one man? Where does he live? What has he done for the race? “Jesus I know, Paul I know, but who is this?” The devil tempted Jesus, entered into Judas, desired to have Peter, hindered Paul. I prefer that my faith should run in the line of these statements, notwithstanding their mystery, than that it should espouse the suggestions of speculators who have not yet established their claim to the confidence of souls.
II. The hinderer assails the most eminent workers in the Church--The Saviour even, and here Paul. We are apt to think that the greatest escape the temptations which fall to the lot of others. But the greater the man, the greater the temptation. It is so in other things. The more refined the taste, the more sensitive to vulgarities. Our temptations--
1. Show our unity as members of a common race.
2. Should awaken our sympathy as partakers of a common suffering.
III. This hinderer seeks to foil the aggressive intentions of the Christian.
1. In being a hinderer the enemy has the decided advantage.
2. Did Satan ever hinder a man from doing a bad action? When we were about to give a pound to a good cause, did Satan ever say, “Give two.”
3. Remember the enemy deals with the purposes as well as the performances. He fights battles in the mind. What a wreck is the inner life of some of us!
1. Satan comes to us sometimes through the medium of bad men.
2. Sometimes through the gratification of apparently harmless wishes (“There is no harm in it”).
3. Sometimes through friendly but incapable advisers--men who are so far below our level, as utterly to miscalculate us. But there is hope. There is a helper. The Holy Spirit alone can overcome the spirit of evil. (J. Parker, D. D.)
All agree about the hindrances, but some deny that there is a personal hinderer. They hoot at the idea that a God of infinite power and beneficence would permit so malignant a rebel to exist. But where have such people lived? There are thousands of visible devils, why not one invisible? The devil hinders--
I. By suggesting doubts. The terrible catastrophe of the fall was accomplished by a doubt. One of his greatest achievements is to create the doubt of his own existence. We live in an age in which nearly everything that is necessary to be believed is doubted. Depravity is seen in nothing more clearly than the manner in which people act when in doubt religiously. Instead of wisely protecting our own interests, we often give Satan the benefit of our doubts. Nothing pleases Satan so well as to get people in doubt as to the Atonement, the Bible, Judgment, Hell, etc. If he can do this, he will soon have them acting in accordance with their doubts.
II. By magnifying difficulties. By this me as he hinders multitudes, young and old, from giving their hearts to God. He is not honest enough to tell people that this life is one of difficulty, whether they are good or bad; but insinuates that the most crushing difficulties are in the paths of righteousness. But he is a liar. We are not at home yet, only at school. Our work is to master the hard curriculum; but God’s cheering promise is, “All things work together for good,” etc.
III. By distractions. He dislikes a fixed purpose for the right, and loves to disincline the mind to think on eternal realities. He does not mind men being piously inclined, and purposing to do better. If he can keep them from immediate surrender, he knows that all the rest will be of no avail in the final issue. Conclusion:
1. As a hinderer Satan is the cause of two things--
2. Our helper is greater than our hinderer. (T. Kelly.)
Satan as a hinderer
Satan bears a threefold character--tempter, accuser, hinderer. As a hinderer he is obstructive, while as a tempter and accuser, he is destructive.
1. He inspires indifferentism where there ought to be enthusiasm.
2. He influences men to oppose inertia to advancement.
3. He fosters extraconservatism. They used to say of Lord Eldon, that “he prevented more good than any other man ever did.” Wilberforce breasted opposition for forty six years, in fighting for abolition of the slave trade. William Carey for fifteen years faced the opposition of his own brethren in furthering missions.
4. He leads to criticism and ridicule of what is good.
5. He moves men to determined and open antagonism to what is good--under every pretext. (Homiletic Review.)
I. That there is a personal hinderer in the spiritual life of men. Both the tenor and history, and the assignment of personal attributes prove it. He is mighty, malignant, spiritual, invisible, and impersuadable.
II. This hinderer assails the most eminent personages and workers in the Church. This shows the unity of the race, and suggests a common sympathy.
III. This hinderer seeks to foil every aggressive Christian intention. Easier to “hinder” than counteract: to suggest difficulties and magnify obstacles. Satan hinders the cause of religion in the world by creating, and then pointing to the foibles and sins of professors.
1. Their inconsistencies--pride, worldliness, divisions, selfishness, covetousness, gloominess.
2. Their crimes--drunkenness, fraud, etc.
3. Lukewarmness. (J. M. McNulty, D. D.)
s:--Paul and his companions were unable to revisit Thessalonica.
1. Not from want of will.
2. Not through the interpositions of Providence.
3. But because Satan hindered them. The hindrance was perhaps--
I. It has been Satan’s practice of old to hinder, whenever he could, the work of God. “Satan hindered us” is the testimony which every saint will bear against the arch enemy. He endeavours to hinder--
1. The completeness of the personal character of individual saints. Take the case of Job.
2. The emancipation of God’s redeemed ones.
3. The history of the New Testament Church no less than that of the Old is a history of Satan’s hinderings. When Christ was on earth, Satan hindered Him personally, and through the Pharisees, etc. When the apostles began their ministry, Herod and the Jews sought to hinder them, and when persecution prevailed not, all sorts of heresies and schisms broke out. When the reformation dawned, if God raised up Luther, Satan brought out Loyala to hinder him. If God had His Wycliffes and Latimers, Satan had his Gardiners and Bonners.
II. The ways in which Satan has hindered us. He is very busy in hindering--
1. Coming to Christ: perplexing with the guilt of past sins, or with the doctrine of election. But you must surmount both, feeling that your great business is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. Christian work.
4. Christian union.
5. Communion with Christ: distracting us in our most sacred ordinance.
III. The rules by which we may detect Satanic hindrances. I do not believe that Satan generally hinders people from getting rich. He delights to see God’s servants set upon the pinnacle of the temple, for he knows the position is dangerous. You may tell when Satan hinders.
1. By the object. Satan’s object is to prevent our glorifying God. If anything has happened to prevent your growing holy, useful, humble, you may trace it to Satan.
2. By the method. God employs good motives, Satan bad ones.
3. By their nature. Whenever an impediment to usefulness is pleasing it comes from Satan. He never brushes the feathers of his birds the wrong way; he generally deals with us according to our tastes and likings.
4. By their season. They come in prayer and while engaged in God’s work. But we ought carefully to watch that we do not put the saddle on the wrong horse. Do not blame the devil when it is yourself. On the other hand, when the Lord puts a bar in your way, do not say, “That is Satan,” and so go against the providence of God.
IV. Supposing that we have ascertained that our hindrance comes from Satan, what then? Go on, hindrance or no hindrance.
1. If Satan hinders opposition should cheer you. It is your duty to show that Satan is your enemy; rejoice when a prospect of overcoming him transpires.
2. Stand out against him, because you have now an opportunity of making a greater gain than if he had been quiet.
3. Consider what you lose if you do not resist and overcome him. It will be eternal ruin; or at the very least the ruin of Christian usefulness.
4. Feed your courage with the recollection that Christ has overcome.
5. Remember the promise, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Satan hindering Paul
The word “hinder” is a metaphor taken from military operations--the breaking up of reads, the destroying of bridges, and the interposing of varied obstacles, to cut off the enemies’ approach or retreat. Or the figure may be that of the racecourse, the upsetting of a chariot by being brought into violent contact with another. Either way we have a graphic description of the obstructions in the way of the apostle’s advance. Just as an angel stood in the evil way of Balaam, the apostate prophet, to intercept him, so is Satan here represented as standing in the good way of Paul. It is worthy of note that the personal spirit of evil is mentioned by his Hebrew name in this, Paul’s earliest epistle--an epistle, too, addressed to a Gentile Church, and containing no direct quotation of Scripture. How, then, had these Gentile believers come to know his name and nature? By Paul’s oral teaching, and probably also by a written Gospel. Now, of all the Gospels there is none which speaks so clearly concerning the personality and operations of the tempter under the name of Satan than that written by St. Paul’s fellow traveller, Luke. Here we have, therefore, another incidental confirmation of the view that that Gospel may have been entrusted to the Church of Thessalonica to disseminate. However, such an allusion to the adversary of souls points very strongly to the doctrine of his personality. But to what form of hindrance does the apostle allude? It was not, we may be sure, to any pressure of labour; Paul would regard this as a burden of honour laid upon him by the Master. It may have been the danger to which he would be ex!nosed, as he had been previously, if he repaired to Thessalonica; but this cannot have bulked very largely in his view at the time; he is so sympathetically alive to the same danger as besetting his much loved friends. It is more likely that the restraint arose from trials befalling believers in the districts where Paul himself was; but this has no support from the context, for it would seem from that to have been one in which Paul preeminently was concerned--“Even I, Paul.” He makes something like a severance of himself from his companion in regard to it, and the “once and again” seems to point not to habitual or prolonged hindrance such as arose from dangers besetting the Church, but rather to some sudden, unexpected, and powerful obstacle such as bodily sickness, which, after passing away, had come upon him once more. These considerations seem to point to the “thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan sent to buffet him.” Like the mysterious agony which now and again seized King Alfred in the midst of intensest activity, this thorn in the flesh was an interruption for the time being to all apostolic plans. This hindrance, however, sent of Satan, as it was declared to be, was yet blessed of God to Paul himself, doubtless for the increase of his patience, the purifying of his desires, the quickening of his zeal, and his growth in grace. It was also blessed of God to others. To the apostle’s enforced absence from Thessalonica we owe this Epistle, fraught with its words of warning, comfort, and direction for all time. (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
Satan a hinderer
I remember standing in the front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, in Paris, admiring its beautiful statuary. As I did so a Parisian approached me and said, “Do you not see something amusing up there?” “No!” I said, “it seems to be all religious.” Inwardly I was asking myself, “Is this an Atheist, or is he making a fool of me?” “Do you see those figures?” he inquired, pointing to a group representing a soul being weighed to see if it should be found wanting. “You observe that there is an angel standing on the one side and Satan on the other. Satan seems as if he were just watching to see that there was fair play” “Yes,” I answered, “but I fail to see anything amusing in that.” “Just look under the scales!” he replied. I looked, and there underneath was a little imp pulling down the scale. That is the way Satan gives fair play. A man says, “I will reform. I’ll mend my life. I’ll give up drink.” “All right,” says Satan, and he seems to stand aside and give fair play. Do not trust him. He has some unseen imp hanging on against you. If it be not strong drink, it will be some other sin. The only way to get clear of all these is to get Christ beside you; His power and grace will outweigh all the evil influences of Satan. (Christian Herald.)
1 Thessalonians 2:19-20
What is our hope, or Joy, or crown of rejoicing?
Those we lead to Christ an element of our final reward
Paul wrote this letter from Corinth. He had, probably, just witnessed the Grecian games and the crowning of the victors. Then, says he, “What is our crown? Are not even ye?” They were also his glory. God desires and expects honour. We have a right to desire it. His prayer was that his pupils might be perfect in Christ at His coming. The “coming” is associated with the resurrection. Then the apostle’s hope was to see his pupils complete in Christ at the resurrection.
I. Paul was not concerned about his own salvation. That was as far behind him as that spot on the way to Damascus. His hope, his joy, was in the salvation of others.
II. He expected to know them in the resurrection. For this would be the source of his joy. They, for whom he laboured, would then be his crown. The indefinite thought that somewhere in the universe were a crowd of persons who had been saved through his labour would not have satisfied. There follows the inference that identity will not be destroyed. To destroy identity is to destroy the person. Nor is there continuity of existence save in memory. We go into the other world with the totality of our natures. There can be no reward save there is a consciousness of work done, and this consciousness will depend on the memory being intact. Otherwise, God may give joy, but that will not be reward; He may torture, but that will not be punishment.
III. Then it will be known to these saved ones what Paul had wrought for them. Else, how could their salvation be his joy and his crown? He would need more than the unselfish thought of what he had done. God will have glory. Christ was never more unselfish than when on the cross, despising the shame, yet He thought of the “joy that was set before Him.” An element in Paul’s joy will be the honour and praise given him by those who will be conscious of the good he did them.
IV. Paul was not a mere instrument, but a co-worker with God. He was a factor in the power that saved his pupils. He speaks of God and the Holy Spirit, and also of himself, and claims for himself a crown of rejoicing in the work wrought Then God, Paul, and you are to work out the salvation of men.
V. Paul will take his crown in the presence of the Lord. Christ will recognize him as a factor. Christ will not be jealous. The elder brother goes out to find file prodigal. Observe--
1. Selfish motives are admissible in our Christian work. The Lord, perhaps, never had a more self-sacrificing servant than Paul. He cultivated such familiarity with the spiritual world as to make it present. He thought Christ might come any minute. His was a personal hope, a personal joy, a personal crown. Heaven to us is a pretty place, talked about in Revelation, or by Milton. It is not to us sufficiently real to dry our tears.
2. The selfish interests we aim at in this world are but trifles, compared with the crown, the joy, the hope, we may have. We take from this life nothing but our characters, and there await us cycles of eternities upon eternities, and yet what time we devote to our wardrobes, to trifles. Think of our translation to that other world; think of meeting men, women, and children leaping for joy, harp in hand, singing praises to God, and, at the same time, acknowledging us, with grateful hearts, as factors in the power that secured their salvation.
3. What dignity this gives the work of the Church. We are living in a time when the dignity of Christianity seems endangered. (T. T. Duryea, D. D.)
The grand reward anticipated by the genuine gospel minister
It is natural for men to work for rewards, to have an eye in all their labours to compensation. There is a selfish and a disinterested aim after rewards. The selfish is not only seen in the mere worldling, whose rewards are confined to the present life, but also in the religious professor, who here works, sacrifices, and prays in order to get for himself a blessed heaven at last. The disinterested reference to rewards is peculiar to the genuinely Christian worker, and is exemplified in the text. Notice--
I. The nature of the good which he regarded as a reward for his labours. It was not wealth or enjoyment on earth, nor his own heaven in the future, but the spiritual excellence of those for whom he laboured; their deliverance from moral evil; their restoration to the image of God. He sought nothing higher as a recompense. This was his highest hope--his joy. Nothing thrilled him with a keener delight than to see sin crushed and virtue triumphant. This was his crown of glorying. The pleasure which the victor in the Grecian games felt in the garland he had won was nothing compared to Paul’s.
II. The period when this good would be manifested to his admiring eyes. “Are not ye,” etc., which implies--
1. His belief in the final advent of Christ. Paul never doubted this, nor did the early disciples. They were not inspired as to its specific time; hence the latter mistook and thought it just at hand.
2. His belief that at that period when he should meet and recognize all his converts, and they would be presented to the Great Head “without spot or wrinkle,” filled him with joy. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The minister’s joy
1. Numerous causes of depression are connected with the lives of faithful ministers. Their office necessarily brings them into collision with the passions of others. Hostility to the truth frequently assumes the character of personal spite against the preacher, who is misrepresented, contemned, and persecuted.
2. During these seasons the apostles were able to state their possession of supports and consolations which had imparted to them animation and perseverance (2 Corinthians 4:8-9; 2 Corinthians 4:16; 2 Corinthians 6:9-10). These are comforts permanently provided for the work of the ministry, and not the least is that of the text.
I. There is a strong religious affection cherished by ministers of the Gospel towards their relieving hearers. This is well illustrated by previous expressions in this Epistle.
1. The relation of ministers to their people must of necessity always involve the exercise of kindly solicitude on their behalf. This is clear from Scriptural designations of their vocation. It is impossible to fulfil that vocation without feeling towards those whom they feed as shepherds, protect as watchmen, instruct as teachers, lead as guides, an affectionate interest.
2. This affection is also founded, as is all intelligent affection, on the possession of some common property. Both have been “called in one hope of their calling,” received the same Divine grace in their hearts, brought from the same spiritual bondage, washed in the same fountain, justified by the same righteousness, etc.
3. This affection becomes still more powerful when pastors have reason to conclude that to their instrumentality believers have been indebted for their introduction to spiritual life. Thus it was here. This connection is more close than others. It is not the relation of a friend to a friend, but of a father to a son (3 John 1:2-4).
II. There is an important event which it becomes ministers and their believing hearers to anticipate. Those who are united in the bond of Christian attachment ought to hold in remembrance that their communion on earth must soon terminate. But we have not to stay our contemplation of the future with the point of death. We have to look beyond to a period of high restoration. Throughout the Epistle the thought of the Lord’s coming is associated with the well-being of the saints.
1. Let the minister habitually anticipate this, and he cannot but be careful that he may answer the claims and fulfil the obligations of his office.
2. Let private Christians regard this, and they, too, will earnestly cultivate the graces appropriate to their station.
III. The event anticipated will involve the mutual recognition of those who have been spiritually related on earth. This involves the general principle that all pious friendships will be restored to be perpetuated forever.
1. The ultimate recognition of the saints is a truth adapted to administer substantial consolation amidst the numerous and painful separations inflicted by death. What gratitude should arise towards that religion which affords such a hope!
2. This doctrine is applied to the recognition of preachers and believers. That connection which on earth is the parent of so much pure enjoyment will then be restored.
IV. This recognition will to ministers be connected with elevated joy (2 Corinthians 1:13-14; Philippians 2:15-16; Philippians 4:1). In contemplating the reasons for ministerial joy we may name--
1. The consideration of the unspeakable misery which believers have avoided, and the happiness to which they are exalted.
2. Saved believers will be a public testimony to the universe of official faithfulness and success. What a transcendent honour to be acknowledged in the presence of the Father and the holy angels. Here we do not witness all the results of our ministry.
3. The salvation of others will add new and permanent value to ministerial reward. (James Parsons.)
Culture of character the work of the Christian pastor
How thoroughly Paul’s work is charged with personal feeling. There are times in which this personal feeling should be allowed its proper expression.
I. The aim of a true ministry. To get men ready to stand in the presence of Christ. The apostle lived in expectation of the appearance of the Saviour. That great hope was his own perpetual inspiration, and by the teaching of it he ever urges his disciples to live holier and more consecrated lives.
II. The joy it gives the minister to work with this for his aim. There is a passionate kind of joy known by the man who is the means of many conversions. There is surely a deeper, holier joy known by him who watches over the growth of holy character, and the settling of holy principle, and the arrangements of a holy life--those further stages of the work of conversion. There must have been a great thrill of joy in the heart of the old alchemist as he watched the metals simmering, and changing form; and as he fancied he caught, again and again, signs that the long-sought elixir was yielding to the fires. How intense must be the joy of the sculptor who works at the rough quarry block, and sees under each chisel stroke a new proof that the image of his soul is gaining form before him! The artist must know true joy in his work as the bare canvas gradually fills with the creations of his genius. The architect watches stone laid on stone, and fair proportions and graceful forms growing up before him with ever-new delight, We know there is no joy on earth like that of the mother who watches the babe unfold in strength and intelligence; and on up through the stages of childhood and youth that mother watches with a perpetual soul thrill as intelligence and character are developed and perfected. I have sometimes tried to conceive the inconceivable, and imagine I stood beside Jehovah, and felt the thrill of His great joy as He watched creation unfold all its fitnesses and beauties before His Divine commands: as chaos broke up into movement, and rocks gathered round their centre, and water floods separated themselves from the land. Who shall tell the joy of Him who watched the stages of that wondrous growth? It is but suggested in the words, “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good.” But all these fail before the joy to God, and to the good, that is found in watching the new creation of a soul, the regeneration and sanctification of a soul. All these can be but images and suggestions of the far greater joy he knows who watches the growth of souls, and can say, “What is our joy?…are not even ye in the presence of the Lord Jesus at His coming?” God must have more joy in the sanctifying of a soul, for He gave His only Son to accomplish that end.
III. The hope the minister may cherish that in some his aim will be realized. When we stand in the presence of Christ we shall each have several persons to thank for helping us forward on the road to holiness and God. (R. Tuck, B. A.)
The minister’s joy
I. The reasons upon which Christ’s faithful ministers are so seriously engaged in saving souls, making it the great object of their desire and hope, the scope of their prayers, and the business of their lives.
1. The Divine command and charge laid upon them (Acts 20:28; Colossians 4:17; 2 Timothy 4:1-2; 1 Corinthians 9:16).
2. The Spirit and Grace of Christ. They preach no unknown Saviour, but one in whom and in whose work they have a special interest (Romans 10:1; Galatians 4:19; Acts 20:31; 2 Corinthians 12:15).
3. The example of Christ, who came “to seek and save the lost”; and whose meat was to “do the will of His Father,” etc.
4. The worth of souls.
5. The danger they are in from the world without and corruption within.
6. The price paid for souls (Acts 20:28).
7. The strict account they will have to give of their ministry (Ezekiel 3:17-18).
8. Future glory.
II. The joy they will have in the souls they win in the presence of Jesus Christ.
1. Every recovered soul will be a jewel added to their crown.
2. Their converts will be eternally safe.
3. They will spend eternity in their company whom they have loved most below.
4. They will receive the special commendation of the Lord.
1. How important the work of labouring for souls.
2. The prospect should animate pastors and people in times of depression.
3. How heavy will be the doom of those who have despised the preached gospel. (D. Wilcox.)
The pastor’s joy and crown
(Farewell sermon). Let us consider--
I. What you are to me in the present.
1. Some of you are my hope. Joy comes of anticipations realized, but we hope for that we see not. Some of you are my hope because there are possibilities which have never been developed, aspiration s which have never been fulfilled, blessings not yet experienced. At the same time you have not yet turned your backs upon them. You and I are hoping that the seed may yet bear fruit.
2. Some of you are my joy. My hopes have been realized. You have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. Cleave to Him and work for Him so that you may continue to be my joy, and be something more by and by.
II. What you may be to me in the future. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ: I as your pastor to render an account of my ministry. Whether I have done my work well or ill it cannot be altered now; but if you have been unprofitable hearers you may remember in days to come what you have heard, and by giving yourselves to Christ be my “crown of rejoicing.” Then I shall be able to point to you and others and say, “Here am I and the children Thou hast given me.” And if any shall say, “He did not feed the flock, comfort the sorrowful,” etc., I shall be able to point to you in refutation. (R. Davey.)
The pastor’s crown of rejoicing
I. The text points to the future. Instead of indulging in fond regrets, lamenting over the severance of old ties, and giving himself up to the fascination of sentimental reminiscences, Paul looks onward to the future--hopefully, cheerfully, anticipating renewed friendship, calculating on continued usefulness. But beyond the horizon of time, Paul’s eager gaze penetrates eternity. He and his brother believers did not forget the first Advent, but they seem to have been more mightily moved by the hope of the second. When this hope will be consummated they could not tell, neither can we; but it will be some day.
II. The text recognizes an everlasting bond of union between a Christian pastor and his flock.
1. Moral influences work forever. Mind affects mind, and will affects will, and character, character in everlasting consequences of action and reaction. People cannot live and work together without making one another different. All relationships may be said to be interminable, because the influence for good or evil is perpetually operative.
2. But the relation between pastor and people is noticed in Scripture in a way no other is. Nothing is said about the meeting of kings and subjects, brothers and sisters, etc. This relationship of ministerial labour and oversight is alone placed in the eternal light; because a preacher has to do a work which no others do. He toils for eternity; and the result of his employment will not appear till time shall end. Many kinds of efforts produce immediate results; but with our sacred occupation “the harvest is the end of the world.”
III. The text suggests the conditions on which the apostolic hope expressed may be fulfilled. This hope is sublimely disinterested. Paul here stands before us, a true philanthropist, who loses himself in the good of others, whose heaven is to lead others to heaven. The hope of the salvation of others is his own great hope; their joy his own joy; their crowns his own crown. The conditions upon which such a lofty hope can be fulfilled are these--
1. The conversion of men to Christ through repentance and faith. The feelings with which one regards a pupil or adopted child may be very tender and grow into the semblance of paternal affection, but it is only a semblance at best. A father’s love and joy no stranger intermeddleth with. And so there is pure ministerial satisfaction in being an instructor of Christianity; but to be really a father in God, to beget a soul for Christ through the gospel--that is a joy which no man knoweth save he who receiveth it. The thought of that fills an apostolic mind with ecstasy.
2. The edification, improvement, growth in holiness of those so converted, whether by the minister himself or his brethren. To educate one’s child is a most precious task; to have under one’s pastoral care a person who attributes to you his conversion is a similar and yet nobler employment. To carry on step by step the purifying and ennobling process; to help to polish pillars in the house of God that are to go out no more forever; to add any touches to the likeness of Christ drawn in the lives of His people--that is to enter into the noblest kind of partnership, to share in the consummation of the grandest of purposes. And it all bears on the anticipated felicity at “the coming of the Lord Jesus.”
3. The consolation of the afflicted in this world of trial. No man entered more deeply into the feelings of others than did Paul. Perhaps the strongest of all ministerial power is sympathy in affliction; and the prospect of spending eternity together with the sons and daughters of sorrow in that world where tears are wiped from all faces will form no small part of our crown of rejoicing. (J. Stoughton, D. D.)
The way to the crown
The crown of a man’s life is that which he desires above all things. A crown of rejoicing is that which gives him the greatest joy. The apostle’s life joy was bound up with the salvation of souls. If that failed his life was joyless.
I. The sweetest joy that earth gives is the joy of doing good.
1. Here is a high hill, its sides rocky, its surface sterile, its contour uncomely. Nobody wants it or values it. Presently a wise man walks over it, purchases it, cuts away at its sides, and after long and expensive toil lays bare a wealth of precious minerals. So there is many a deed of kindness that waits to be done; yet no one does it. It seems an unpleasant, hard, costly thing; yet he who at last does it finds in it a treasure. In every kindness there is a joy locked up for your own soul, and the more difficult it is the sweeter the joy. It is sweet to take a loaf of bread to the starving, although it may leave you hungry; to deny yourself of some ornament to clothe the naked; to lose your own sleep to watch beside the suffering. Pearls are found in the unsightly oyster, so pearls of joy are found in tasks from which we shrink.
2. But the sweetest joy is that of saving souls. A man once saved a child’s life by snatching it from under the feet of a galloping horse, and ever after that one deed illumined that man’s life. He lay for years in prison cells, but the joys of that heroic hour shone ever in upon his gloom. If it is so blessed to save from physical, how much more to save from eternal death! When Dr. Lyman Beecher was dying some one asked him what was the greatest of all things. He answered, “It is not theology; it is not controversy; it is saving souls.” As the Christian approaches the sunset of life he feels that this is the only work worth doing, A preacher may draw crowds, and be rewarded with academic titles, and achieve great fame; but if souls are not saved his ministry is a failure.
II. Those whom we lead to Christ will be our crown of joy in heaven.
1. Reference is here made to the ancient games. At the end of the race the victor is crowned. So at the end of the apostle’s course he should receive a crown jemmed with saved souls. He who gives a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple will be rewarded, and he who saves souls will receive the most glorious rewards.
2. There seems also to have been in the apostle’s mind the thought that his spiritual children would be grouped round him as a glory, as children gather round a parent. Jesus is the Saviour around whom all the saved shall gather. But that one family will be broken up into countless groups gathered about those who have led them to Jesus. All whom we have helped to the Saviour will greet us as we pass inside heaven’s gates. Every Christian pastor or worker will, in heaven, be like a tree with many or few branches on which all the fruits of his life will hang. Conclusion: Our joy in heaven will be measured by our deeds of kindness on earth. The gold and silver we have spent in benefitting our race, will be transmuted into crowns of glory. Those who are spending themselves for Christ are weaving fadeless garlands for their brows. They who are saving souls are gathering and polishing jewels for their heavenly crowns. (J. R. Miller.)
Believers the joy of ministers
I. Inquire when Christian professors may be styled the hope, the joy, and the crown of their ministers.
1. When they appear to be truly converted to God.
2. When they grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ.
3. When they walk worthy of their heavenly calling, and bring forth the fruits of righteousness, such as closet duties, family religion, love for Divine ordinances, and Christian ministers, and consistent deportment in the world.
II. The solemn time in which they shall be the hope, the joy, and the crown of their ministers.
1. The second coming of Christ.
2. Ministers and hearers must then meet.
3. Their hope is to meet them at the right hand of God.
4. Their joy to see them partakers of Divine glory.
5. Their crown of rejoicing to behold them as the seals to their ministry. (C. Evans, D. D.)
Consistent Christians a minister’s joy
I do not know when I ever felt more gratified than on one occasion, when sitting at a Church meeting, having to report the death of a young brother who was in the service of an eminent employer, a little note came from him to say, “My servant, Edward--is dead. I send you word at once, that you may send me another young man; for if your members are such as he was, I never wish to have better servants around me.” I read the letter at the Church meeting, and another was soon found. It is a cheering thing for the Christian minister to know that his converts are held in repute. Of another member of my Church an ungodly employer said, “I do not think anything of him; he is of no use to anybody; he cannot tell a lie!” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Hope, joy, crown
There are some who are our hope, who are not our joy; and others who are our hope and joy too, for a time, who will never be our crown; who hold not out to the end, and therefore will never be our rejoicing in the presence of the Lord at His coming. Some are under serious impressions, and excite a hope and joy, like that felt at the sight of blossoms in the spring, and yet are afterwards blighted. There are some that have made even a public profession, and yet, like the thorny and stony ground hearers, produce no fruit. The object desired, therefore, is not only your setting out, but your holding on, walking in the truth, and holding fast your profession to the end. Then, indeed, you will not only be our hope and joy, but our crown of rejoicing. (Andrew Fuller.)
Paul’s crown and glory
That one word “glory” gathers up all the rays of light which stream from the others into its focus. They are his halo of glory now and evermore. Believers, or at least those who are specially engaged in His service, are described in 2 Corinthians 8:23 as “the glory of Christ.” They are also in a lower sense the glory of Christ’s ministers. The pastor will find in his congregation either his glory or his shame. It was the boast of the Jews that to them had been given three crowns--the crown of the law, the crown of the priesthood, and the royal crown. These they highly prized, but they often added, better than these is the crown of a good name. Paul’s crown of a good name in the presence of Christ Jesus was his converts. The same crown is offered to us all, and is in keeping for us all if we are found faithful. History tells us that when in Philip II’s reign a rebel claimed and gained the crown of Granada, he bore at the ceremony of coronation in his right hand a banner bearing the inscription “More I could not desire, less would not have contented me.” These words cease to be presumptuous and become the utterance of truest wisdom only, when they refer to the crown of heavenly rejoicing, and when they are the legend of the banner under which he fights in “the sacramental host of God’s elect.” In view of the truth that converts are the crown of boasting in store for all faithful witnesses for Christ, the words are invested with a solemn significance “We live if ye stand fast in the Lord.” “Now, little children, abide ye in Him, that when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
It is natural for those who are travelling to an unknown land, in which they are soon to make their residence, to enquire frequently anent its manners, its customs, and its modes of intercourse; it is therefore not surprising that Christians, travellers to the kingdom of God, frequently endeavour to lift the veil which covers futurity, and to learn what are the holy delights of that heavenly world in which they hope to dwell forever. To these inquiries, Paul’s statement to the Thessalonians affords the most precious consolation: it teaches that the friendship founded on piety is imperishable--that those who were friends to the Redeemer, as well as to each other, shall have mutual knowledge and recollection in the future world, which shall result in intercourse with each other and the whole triumphant Church.
I. The doctrine of heavenly recognition.
1. The enjoyments and occupations of heaven are uniformly represented as social; but where is the charm of society without mutual knowledge?
2. Heaven is uniformly represented as perfecting all our faculties. Is it then probable that it will diminish, nay, entirely abolish memory, one of the most important of them?
3. The chief grace that will be exercised in the regions of the blest, next to love to God, will be love to our companions in glory. But what kind of love is that which is felt for an object which we know not?
4. In the general judgment which is appointed to vindicate the ways of God to man, it is certain that every individual will be known to the vast assembly as distinct from all other persons. Is it probable that God, after thus making the blessed acquainted with each other, should immediately afterward obliterate this knowledge?
5. It is certain that we shall see and know the glorious manhood of our blessed Saviour, elevated above all the heavenly powers; and if we shall know one body, why not mere? During His abode on earth, He afforded to three favoured disciples a glimpse of His Divine glory. He was transfigured, and Moses and Elias descended in celestial brilliancy: the disciples knew them distinct from the Saviour, and each as distinct from the other; and if they knew them on the solitary mount, why should they not know them in the New Jerusalem?
6. We find the apostle Paul very frequently consoling himself under the sufferings and persecutions which he had to endure, by the prospect of meeting in heaven those who had been converted by his ministry on earth.
II. The teaching of this doctrine.
1. What a delightful idea does it give of the felicity of the celestial world! Surely nothing, except the vision and enjoyment of God and the Lamb, can equal the joys of knowing and being known to all the Church triumphant above--of living in an eternal brotherhood--of forming an indissoluble connection with all the good men that ever have existed, or that ever shall exist, till the trump of the archangel shall shake the earth to its centre. Who can even conceive the raptures of such an intercourse?
2. The doctrine that in heaven we shall know each other, and all the pious who have preceded us, affords one of the sweetest consolations to the Christian against the natural fear of death. To a soul that has made its peace with God, death has nothing so terrible as those agonizing adieus which are to be given to those whom we love; but the anguish arising from this source is removed when the dying believer can strain his closing eyes upon those who surround his bed of death, and say to them, “Suffer me to go and join yon heavenly company with the bright hope that you will ere long come to me, and we shall be beyond the reach of death, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
3. The doctrine of future recognition teaches relatives and friends how they should act in order that the sentiments of affection which they entertain for each other may have their greatest force, and they be saved from the severest pains. Form your attachments for eternity; build them on the basis of religion; strive to cement the ties of relationship by the more indissoluble bonds of grace; and then your future will be ineffably blessed and glorious. (H. Kollock, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Thessalonians 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25