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1 Thessalonians 5:15-22

15. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men

15. Videte, ne quis malum pro malo cuiquam reddat: sed semper benignitatem sectamini, et mutuam inter vos, et in omnes.

16. Rejoice evermore.

16. Semper gaudete.

17. Pray without ceasing.

17. Indesinenter orate.

18. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

18. In omnibus gratias agite: haec enim Dei voluntas in Christo Iesu erga vos.

19. Quench not the Spirit.

19. Spiritum ne extinguatis.

20. Despise not prophesyings.

20. Prophetias ne contemnatis.

21. Prove all things: hold fast that which is good.

21. Omnia probate, quod bonum est tenete.

22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.

22. Ab omni specie mala abstinete.

 

15 See that no one render evil for evil. As it is difficult to observe this precept, in consequence of the strong bent of our nature to revenge, he on this account bids us take care to be on our guard. For the word see denotes anxious care. Now, although he simply forbids us to strive with each other in the way of inflicting injuries, there can, nevertheless, be no doubt that he meant to condemn, at the same time, every disposition to do injury. For if it is unlawful to render evil for evil, every disposition to injure is culpable. This doctrine is peculiar to Christians — not to retaliate injuries, but to endure them patiently. And lest the Thessalonians should think that revenge was prohibited only towards their brethren, he expressly declares that they are to do evil to no one. For particular excuses are wont to be brought forward in some cases. “What! why should it be unlawful for me to avenge myself on one that is so worthless, so wicked, and so cruel?” But as vengeance is forbidden us in every case, without exception, however wicked the man that has injured us may be, we must refrain from inflicting injury.

But always follow benignity. By this last clause he teaches that we must not merely refrain from inflicting vengeance, when any one has injured us, but must cultivate beneficence towards all. For although he means that it should in the first instance be exercised among believers mutually, he afterwards extends it to all, however undeserving of it, that we may make it our aim to overcome evil with good, as he himself teaches elsewhere. (Romans 12:21) The first step, therefore, in the exercise of patience, is, not to revenge injuries; the second is, to bestow favors even upon enemies.

16 Rejoice always. I refer this to moderation of spirit, when the mind keeps itself in calmness under adversity, and does not give indulgence to grief. I accordingly connect together these three things — to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks to God in all things. For when he recommends constant praying, he points out the way of rejoicing perpetually, for by this means we ask from God alleviation in connection with all our distresses. In like manner, in Philippians 4:4, having said,

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known to all. Be not anxious as to anything. The Lord is at hand.

He afterwards points out the means of this—

but in every prayer let your requests be made known to God, with giving of thanks.

In that passage, as we see, he presents as a source of joy a calm and composed mind, that is not unduly disturbed by injuries or adversities. But lest we should be borne down by grief, sorrow, anxiety, and fear, he bids us repose in the providence of God. And as doubts frequently obtrude themselves as to whether God cares for us, he also prescribes the remedy — that by prayer we disburden our anxieties, as it were, into his bosom, as David commands us to do in Psalm 37:5 and Psalm 55:22; and Peter also, after his example. (1 Peter 5:7.) As, however, we are unduly precipitate in our desires, he imposes a check upon them — that, while we desire what we are in need of, we at the same time do not cease to give thanks.

He observes, here, almost the same order, though in fewer words. For, in the first place, he would have us hold God’s benefits in such esteem, that the recognition of them and meditation upon them shall overcome all sorrow. And, unquestionably, if we consider what Christ has conferred upon us, there will be no bitterness of grief so intense as may not be alleviated, and give way to spiritual joy. For if this joy does not reign in us, the kingdom of God is at the same time banished from us, or we from it. 609609     “N’est point en nous, ou pour mieux dire, nous en sommes hors;” — “Is not in us, or as we may rather say, we are away from it.” And very ungrateful is that man to God, who does not set so high a value on the righteousness of Christ and the hope of eternal life, as to rejoice in the midst of sorrow. As, however, our minds are easily dispirited, until they give way to impatience, we must observe the remedy that he subjoins immediately afterwards. For on being cast down and laid low we are raised up again by prayers, because we lay upon God what burdened us. As, however, there are every day, nay, every moment, many things that may disturb our peace, and mar our joy, he for this reason bids us pray without ceasing. Now, as to this constancy in prayer, we have spoken of elsewhere. 610610     Our author probably refers here to what he has said on this subject when commenting on Ephesians 6:18. — Ed. Thanksgiving, as I have said, is added as a limitation. For many pray in such a manner, as at the same time to murmur against God, and fret themselves if he does not immediately gratify their wishes. But, on the contrary, it is befitting that our desires should be restrained in such a manner that, contented with what is given us, we always mingle thanksgiving with our desires. We may lawfully, it is true, ask, nay, sigh and lament, but it must be in such a way that the will of God is more acceptable to us than our own.

18 For this is the will of God — that is, according to Chrysostom’s opinion — that we give thanks. As for myself, I am of opinion that a more ample meaning is included under these terms — that God has such a disposition towards us in Christ, that even in our afflictions we have large occasion of thanksgiving. For what is fitter or more suitable for pacifying us, than when we learn that God embraces us in Christ so tenderly, that he turns to our advantage and welfare everything that befalls us? Let us, therefore, bear in mind, that this is a special remedy for correcting our impatience — to turn away our eyes from beholding present evils that torment us, and to direct our views to a consideration of a different nature — how God stands affected towards us in Christ.

19 Quench not the Spirit. This metaphor is derived from the power and nature of the Spirit; for as it is the proper office of the Spirit to illuminate the understandings of men, and as he is on this account called our light, it is with propriety that we are said to quench him, when we make void his grace. There are some that think that it is the same thing that is said in this clause and the succeeding one. Hence, according to them, to quench the Spirit is precisely the same as to despise prophesyings. As, however, the Spirit is quenched in various ways, I make a distinction between these two things—that of a general statement, and a particular. For although contempt of prophesying is a quenching of the Spirit, yet those also quench the Spirit who, instead of stirring up, as they ought, more and more, by daily progress, the sparks that God has kindled in them, do, by their negligence, make void the gifts of God. This admonition, therefore, as to not quenching the Spirit, has a wider extent of meaning than the one that follows as to not despising prophesyings. The meaning of the former is: “Be enlightened by the Spirit of God. See that you do not lose that light through your ingratitude.” This is an exceedingly useful admonition, for we see that those who have been once enlightened, (Hebrews 6:4) when they reject so precious a gift of God, or, shutting their eves, allow themselves to be hurried away after the vanity of the world, are struck with a dreadful blindness, so as to be an example to others. We must, therefore, be on our guard against indolence, by which the light of God is choked in us.

Those, however, who infer from this that it is in man’s option either to quench or to cherish the light that is presented to him, so that they detract from the efficacy of grace, and extol the powers of free will, reason on false grounds. For although God works efficaciously in his elect, and does not merely present the light to them, but causes them to see, opens the eyes of their heart, and keeps them open, yet as the flesh is always inclined to indolence, it has need of being stirred up by exhortations. But what God commands by Paul’s mouth, He himself accomplishes inwardly. In the mean time, it is our part to ask from the Lord, that he would furnish oil to the lamps which he has lighted up, that he may keep the wick pure, and may even increase it.

20 Despise not prophesyings. This sentence is appropriately added to the preceding one, for as the Spirit of God illuminates us chiefly by doctrine, those who give not teaching its proper place, do, so far as in them lies, quench the Spirit, for we must always consider in what manner or by what means God designs to communicate himself to us. Let every one, therefore, who is desirous to make progress under the direction of the Holy Spirit, allow himself to be taught by the ministry of prophets.

By the term prophecy, however, I do not understand the gift of foretelling the future, but as in 1 Corinthians 14:3, the science of interpreting Scripture, 611611     See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 1, p. 415, 436. so that a prophet is an interpreter of the will of God. For Paul, in the passage which I have quoted, assigns to prophets teaching for edification, exhortation, and consolation, and enumerates, as it were, these departments. Let, therefore, prophecy in this passage be understood as meaning — interpretation made suitable to present use. 612612     “Interpretation de l’Escriture applicquee proprement selon le temps, les personnes, et les choses presentes;” — “Interpretation of Scripture properly applied, according to time, persons, and things present.” Paul prohibits us from despising it, if we would not choose of our own accord to wander in darkness.

The statement, however, is a remarkable one, for the commendation of external preaching. It is the dream of fanatics, that those are children who continue to employ themselves in the reading of the Scripture, or the hearing of the word, as if no one were spiritual, unless he is a despiser of doctrine. They proudly, therefore, despise the ministry of man, nay, even Scripture itself, that they may attain the Spirit. Farther, whatever delusions Satan suggests to them, 613613     “Leur souffle aux aureilles;” — “Breathes into their ears.” they presumptuously set forth as secret revelations of the Spirit. Such are the Libertines, 614614     See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 2, p. 7, n. 3. and other furies of that stamp. And the more ignorant that any one is, he is puffed up and swollen out with so much the greater arrogance. Let us, however, learn from the example of Paul, to conjoin the Spirit with the voice of men, which is nothing else than his organ. 615615     “L’organe et instrument d’celuy;” — “His organ and instrument.”

21 Prove all things. As rash men and deceiving spirits frequently pass off their trifles under the name of prophecy, prophecy might by this means be rendered suspicious or even odious, just as many in the present day feel almost disgusted with the very name of preaching, as there are so many foolish and ignorant persons that from the pulpit blab out their worthless contrivances, 616616     “Leurs speculations ridicules;” — “Their ridiculous speculations.” while there are others, also, that are wicked and sacrilegious persons, who babble forth execrable blasphemies. 617617     “Horribles et execrables;” — “Horrible and execrable.” As, therefore, through the fault of such persons it might be, that prophecy was regarded with disdain, nay more, was scarcely allowed to hold a place, Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to prove all things, meaning, that although all do not speak precisely according to set rule, we must, nevertheless, form a judgment, before any doctrine is condemned or rejected.

As to this, there is a twofold error that is wont to be fallen into, for there are some who, from having either been deceived by a false pretext of the name of God, or from their knowing that many are commonly deceived in this way, reject every kind of doctrine indiscriminately, while there are others that by a foolish credulity embrace, without distinction, everything that is presented to them in the name of God. Both of these ways are faulty, for the former class, saturated with a presumptuous prejudice of that nature, close up the way against their making progress, while the other class rashly expose themselves to all winds of errors. (Ephesians 4:14.) Paul admonishes the Thessalonians to keep the middle path between these two extremes, while he prohibits them from condemning anything without first examining it; and, on the other hand, he admonishes them to exercise judgment, before receiving, what may be brought forward, as undoubted truth. And unquestionably, this respect, at least, ought to be shewn to the name of God — that we do not despise prophecy, which is declared to have proceeded from him. As, however, examination or discrimination ought to precede rejection, so it must, also, precede the reception of true and sound doctrine. For it does not become the pious to shew such lightness, as indiscriminately to lay hold of what is false equally with what is true. From this we infer, that they have the spirit of judgment conferred upon them by God, that they may discriminate, so as not to be imposed upon by the impostures of men. For if they were not endowed with discrimination, it were in vain that Paul said — Prove: hold fast that which is good. If, however, we feel that we are left destitute of the power of proving aright; it must be sought by us from the same Spirit, who speaks by his prophets. But the Lord declares in this place by the mouth of Paul, that the course of doctrine ought not, by any faults of mankind, or by any rashness, or ignorance, or, in fine, by any abuse, to be hindered from being always in a vigorous state in the Church. For as the abolition of prophecy is the ruin of the Church, let us allow heaven and earth to be commingled, rather than that prophecy should cease.

Paul, however, may seem here to give too great liberty in teaching, when he would have all things proved; for things must be heard by us, that they may be proved, and by this means a door would be opened to impostors for disseminating their falsehoods. I answer, that in this instance he does not by any means require that an audience should be given to false teachers, whose mouth he elsewhere teaches (Titus 1:11) must be stopped, and whom he so rigidly shuts out, and does not by any means set aside the arrangement, which he elsewhere recommends so highly (1 Timothy 3:2) in the election of teachers. As, however, so great diligence can never be exercised as that there should not sometimes be persons prophesying, who are not so well instructed as they ought to be, and that sometimes good and pious teachers fail to hit the mark, he requires such moderation on the part of believers, as, nevertheless, not to refuse to hear. For nothing is more dangerous, than that moroseness, by which every kind of doctrine is rendered disgusting to us, while we do not allow ourselves to prove what is right. 618618     “Tellement que nostre impatience ou chagrin nous empesche d’esprouuer qui est la vraye ou la fausse;” — “So that our impatience or chagrin keeps us from proving what is true or false.”

22 From every evil appearance. Some think that this is a universal statement, as though he commanded to abstain from all things that bear upon their front an appearance of evil. In that case the meaning would be, that it is not enough to have an internal testimony of conscience, unless regard be at the same time had to brethren, so as to provide against occasions of offense, by avoiding every thing that can have the appearance of evil.

Those who explain the word speciem after the manner of dialecticians as meaning the subdivision of a general term, fall into an exceedingly gross blunder. For he 619619     “S. Paul;” —”St. Paul.” has employed the term speciem as meaning what we commonly term appearance. It may also be rendered either—evil appearance, or appearance of evil. The meaning, however, is the same. I rather prefer Chrysostom and Ambrose, who connect this sentence with the foregoing one. At the same time, neither of them explains Paul’s meaning, and perhaps have not altogether hit upon what he intends. I shall state briefly my view of it.

In the first place, the phrase appearance of evil, or evil appearance, I understand to mean — when falsity of doctrine has not yet been discovered in such a manner, that it can on good grounds be rejected; but at the same time an unhappy suspicion is left upon the mind, and fears are entertained, lest there should be some poison lurking. He, accordingly, commands us to abstain from that kind of doctrine, which has an appearance of being evil, though it is not really so — not that he allows that it should be altogether rejected, but inasmuch as it ought not to be received, or to obtain belief. For why has he previously commanded that what is good should be held fast, while he now desires that we should abstain not simply from evil, but from all appearance of evil? It is for this reason, that, when truth has been brought to light by careful examination, it is assuredly becoming in that case to give credit to it. When, on the other hand, there is any fear of false doctrine, or when the mind is involved in doubt, it is proper in that case to retreat, or to suspend our step, as they say, lest we should receive anything with a doubtful and perplexed conscience. In short, he shews us in what way prophecy will be useful to us without any danger — in the event of our being attentive in proving all things, and our being free from lightness and haste.


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