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THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS - Chapter 1 - Verse 10
Verse 10. And to wait for his Son from heaven, It is clear from this and from other parts of these two epistles, that the return of the Lord Jesus to this world was a prominent subject of the preaching of Paul at Thessalonica. No small part of these epistles is occupied with stating the true doctrine on this point, (1 Thess 4, 5) and in correcting the errors which prevailed in regard to it after the departure of Paul. Perhaps we are not to infer, however, that this doctrine was made more prominent there than others, or that it had been inculcated there more frequently than it had been elsewhere; but the apostle adverts to it here particularly because it was a doctrine so well fitted to impart comfort to them in their trials, 1 Th 4:13-18, and because, in that connexion, it was so well calculated to rouse them to vigilance and zeal, 1 Th 5:1-11. He makes it prominent in the second epistle, because material errors prevailed there in reference to it, which needed to be corrected. In the passage before us, he says that the return of the Son of God from heaven was an important point which had been insisted on when he was there, and that their conduct, as borne witness to by all, had shown with what power it had seized upon them, and what a practical influence it had exerted in their lives. They lived as if they were "waiting" for his return. They fully believed in it; they expected it. They were looking out for it, not knowing when it might occur, and as if it might occur at any moment. They were, therefore, dead to the world, and were animated with an earnest desire to do good. This is one of the instances which demonstrate that the doctrine that the Lord Jesus will return to our world, is fitted, when understood in the true sense revealed in the Scriptures, to exert a powerful influence on the souls of men. It is eminently adapted to comfort the hearts of true Christians in the sorrows, bereavements, and sicknesses of life, Joh 14:1-3; Ac 1:11; 1 Th 4:13-18; 2 Pe 3:8,9; to lead us to watchfulness, and to an earnest inquiry into the question whether we are prepared to meet him, Mt 24:37-44; 25:13; to make us dead to the world, and to lead us to act as becomes the children of light, 1 Th 5:5-9; to awaken and arouse impenitent and careless sinners, 1 Th 5:2,3; 2 Pe 3:3-7; and to excite Christians to self-denying efforts to spread the gospel in distant lands, as was the case at Thessalonica. Every doctrine of the gospel is adapted to produce some happy practical effects on mankind; but there are few that are more full of elevated and holy influences than that which teaches that the Lord Jesus will return to the earth, and which leads the soul to wait for his appearing. Comp. See Barnes "1 Co 1:7"; See Barnes "Php 3:20".
Whom he raised from the dead. See Barnes "Ac 2:24, also Ac 2:25-32; See Barnes "1 Co 15:4"; also 1 Co 15:5-9. Paul probably means to intimate here, that this was one of the great truths which they had received, that the Lord Jesus had been raised from the dead. We know it was a prominent doctrine wherever the gospel was preached.
Which delivered us from the wrath to come. Another of the prominent doctrines of Christianity, which was undoubtedly always inculcated by the first preachers of religion. The "wrath to come" is the Divine indignation which will come upon the guilty, Mt 3:7. From that Christ delivers us by taking our place, and dying in our stead. It was the great purpose of his coming to save us from this approaching wrath. It follows from this
(1.) that there was wrath which man had to dread, since Jesus came to deliver us from something that was real, and not from what was imaginary; and
(2.) that the same wrath is to be dreaded now by all who are not united to Christ, since in this respect they are now just as all were before he died; that is, they axe exposed to fearful punishment, from which he alone can deliver. It may be added, that the existence of this wrath is real, whether men believe it or not; for the fact of its existence is not affected by our belief or unbelief.
This chapter teaches,
(1.) That it is right to commend those who do well, 1 Th 1:3. Paul was never afraid of injuring any one by commending him when he deserved it; nor was he ever afraid to rebuke when censure was due.
(2.) Christians are chosen to salvation, 1 Th 1:4. Their hope of heaven depends on the "election of God."
(3.) It is possible for a people to know that they are chosen of God, and to give such evidence of it that others shall know it also, 1 Th 1:4. It is possible for a church to evince such a spirit of piety, self-denial, love, and holiness, and such a desire to spread the gospel, as to show that they are "chosen of God," or that they are a true church. This question is not to be determined by their adherence to certain rites and forms; by their holding to the sentiments of an orthodox creed; or by their zeal in defence of the "apostolic succession," but by their bringing forth "the fruits of good living." In determining that the church at Thessalonica was "chosen of God," Paul does not refer to its external organization, or to the fact that it was founded by apostolic hands, or that it had a true ministry and valid ordinances, but to the fact that it evinced the true spirit of Christian piety; and, particularly, that they had been zealous in sending the gospel to others. There were three things to which he referred:
1. That the gospel had power over themselves, inducing them to abandon their sins;
2. that it had such influence on their lives that others recognised in them the evidence of true religion; and,
3. that it made them benevolent, and excited them to make efforts to diffuse its blessings abroad.
(4.) If a church may know that it is chosen or elected of God, it is true of an individual also that he may know it. It is not by any direct revelation from heaven; not by an infallible communication of the Holy Spirit; not by any voice or vision; but it is in the same way in which this may be evinced by a church. The conversion of an individual, or his "election of God," may be certainly known by himself, if,
1. the gospel is received as "the word of God," and induces him to abandon his sins;
2. if it leads him to pursue such a life that others shall see that he is actuated by Christian principles; and,
3. if he makes it his great aim in life to do good and to diffuse abroad, as far as he can, that religion which he professes to love. He who finds in his own heart and life evidence of these things, need not doubt that he is among the "chosen of God."
(5.) The character of piety in the life of an individual Christian, and in a church, is often determined by the manner in which the gospel is embraced at first, and by the spirit with which the Christian life is entered on. See Barnes "1 Th 1:5"; See Barnes "1 Th 1:6".
If so, then this fact is of immense importance in the question about organizing a church, and about making a profession of religion. If a church is so organized as to have it understood that it shall be to a considerable extent the patron of worldly amusements—a" half-way house" between the world and religion—that purpose will determine all its subsequent character, unless it shall be counteracted by the grace of God. If it be organized so as to look with a benignant and tolerant eye on gayety, vanity, self-indulgence, ease, and what are called the amusements and pleasures of life, it is not difficult to see what will be its character and influence. How can such a church diffuse far and near the conviction that it is "chosen of God," as the church at Thessalonica did? And so of an individual. Commonly, the whole character of the religious life will be determined by the views with which the profession of religion is made. If there be a propose to enjoy religion and the world too; to be the patron of fashion as well as a professed follower of Christ; to seek the flattery or the plaudits of man as well as the approbation of God, that purpose will render the whole religious life useless, vacillating, inconsistent, miserable. The individual will live without the enjoyment of religion, and will die leaving little evidence to his friends that he has gone to be with God. If, on the other hand, there be singleness of purpose, and entire dedication to God at the commencement of the Christian life, the religious career will be one of usefulness, respectability, and peace. The most important period in a man's life, then, is that when he is pondering the question whether he shall make a profession of religion.
(6.) A church in a city should cause its influence to be felt afar, 1 Th 1:7,9. This is true, indeed, of all other churches, but it is especially so of a church in a large town. Cities will be centres of influence in fashion, science, literature, religion, and morals. A thousand ties of interest bind them to other parts of a land; and thought in fact, there may be, as there often is, much more intelligence in a country neighbourhood than among the same number of inhabitants taken promiscuously from a city; and though there may be, as there often is, far more good sense and capability to appreciate religious truth in a country congregation than in a congregation in a city, yet it is true that the city will be the radiating point of influence. This, of course, increases the responsibility of Christians in a city, and makes it important that, like those of Thessalonica, they should be models of self-denial, and of efforts to spread the gospel.
(7.) A church in a commercial town should make use of its peculiar influence to spread the gospel abroad, 1 Th 1:7-9. Such a place is connected with remote lands, and those who, for commercial purposes, visit distant ports from that place, should bear with them the spirit of the gospel. Such, too, should be the character of piety in the churches in such a city, that all who visit it for any purpose, should see the reality of religion, and be led to bear the honourable report of it again to their own land.
(8.) Such, too, should be the piety of any church. The church at Thessalonica evinced the true spirit of religion, 1 Th 1:7-9. Its light shone afar. It sent out those who went to spread the gospel. Its members, when they went abroad, showed that they were influenced by higher and purer principles than those which actuated them before conversion, and than were evinced by the heathen world. Those who visited them, also, saw that there was a reality in religion, and bore an honourable report of it again to their own lands. Let any church evince this spirit, and it will show that it is "chosen of God," or a true church; and wherever there is a church formed after the primitive model, these traits will always be seen.
(9.) It is our duty and privilege to "wait for the Son of God to return from heaven." We know not when his appearing, either to remove us by death, or to judge the world, will be; and we should therefore watch and be ready. The hope of his return to our world to raise the dead, and to convey his ransomed to heaven, is the brightest and most cheering prospect that dawns on man; and we should be ready, whenever it occurs, to hail him as our returning Lord, and to rush to his arms as our glorious Redeemer. It should be always the characteristic of our piety, as it was that of John, to say, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus," Re 22:20.
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